It was a complete mess. A dreadful, awful, disastrous mess. Alina Goodwin sat at the desk in her father’s study, dropped her head into her hands and sighed with a feeling of heavy overwhelm. Loosened strands of long, brown locks fell forward, tugged out from the pins in her hair after all the stress and her growing anxiety of what she had encountered and discovered.
Splayed before her lay bill after bill—papers piled on top of each other, there were so many of them. Having begun with a determination to go through her father’s things, to organise his accounts, tend to his affairs and discover what she and her mother may owe to any debtors, Alina could not have imagined what she would find. Nor could she now think of how they would meet her father’s agreements and pay them.
Their London residence had always been her mother’s pride and joy, and with her proud and self-indulgent ways, Bette Goodwin was determined not to be left behind when it came to the latest fashions or the extravagant décor of their home. Her father had always appeased his wife, for as far as Alina witnessed, it was easier for him to give in to her mother, rather than listen to her constant bleating.
Yet, her father was now gone. Having buried him less than a month ago, Alina and her mother had not expected to discover what they would find, tucked away in his study. Indulging his wife’s tastes may well have given her father a little peace, but what he had not disclosed to the family, was the cost of such indulgence, and the fact that many of the beautiful things they currently owned, were not yet paid for. Bought with promissory notes that her father had evidently intended to fulfil at a later date, his need to please his wife had now put Alina and her mother in a rather precarious position.
Alina could hardly blame her father. He could not have known that his untimely death was on the horizon. Hard-working and determined to give the best life to his family, he had expanded his wine and spirit business over the years. Distributing to some of the wealthiest families in London and often being away from home on his visits to France to source new products a meet his suppliers, he had always ensured that she and her mother were cared for. Having been given the privilege of a rather comprehensive education, Alina could only be grateful for how hard her father had worked. And yet now, after paying for his funeral and the many other legal expenses, there was little left of his business to help them.
The study door opened and lifting her head slowly, Alina turned to see her mother approaching her and the mess that still lay before her.
‘Oh, my good heavens, Alina,’ she breathed in distress. ‘Are they all bills?’
‘Yes mother, they are.’ Alina sighed heavily, her head now aching from the time spent attempting to read through them all and come to a conclusion of some solution.
‘Well, what are we to do?’ her mother cried shrilly. ‘How will we survive? What are we to live off? There is no possible way we can fulfil that many notes, for neither of us bring in any other income. Alina, are we to be doomed?’
Bette Goodwin flurried back and forth in her near hysterics, which did nothing to help the thumping that appeared to be gaining strength in Alina’s head. A plump, but good-looking woman, her mother always ensured she looked her absolute best even when she had no intention of leaving the house. Today was no exception as her skirts swished around about her as she flurried back and forth in her distress. She had always instructed Alina to remain presentable at all times. ‘For you never know who may call upon you,’ she had said.
The only people that may be calling upon them now, would be debtors demanding to be paid and in that thought, it may be better if they stopped answering the door at all. Yet, that would hardly be the solution. Alina needed time to think, yet with the ache in her head and her mother’s agitated state, she was finding it difficult to concentrate on any solution.
‘What about father’s family?’ Alina asked, attempting to remain calm. ‘Perhaps Uncle James could assist us.’
‘Uncle James!’ her mother balked, stopping in her tracks and glaring over at Alina. ‘Your father’s brother was near the ruin of us on many occasions. It is almost ironic that your father became a wine merchant and his brother far too fond of the drink. If your father bailed that man out once, he bailed him out a thousand times. No, Alina, I am afraid there will be no assistance from that vagabond. Besides, I would not even know where to look to find him. The man has moved that many times, or perhaps he has been evicted for non-payment, who knows. And now, that may be our plight too!’ she cried.
‘Mother, please. You are hardly helping our situation with your hysterics.’
‘And how would you prefer me to react, Alina? We have debts beyond our ability to pay and we could lose our home entirely. I think I have every right to be in hysterics.’
Alina had to bite her tongue, for she was close to telling her mother that it had been her own extravagance that had gotten them into this mess in the first place. Yet, it would hardly help the current situation and no matter how frustrated Alina felt, her mother had not long lost her husband. It would be cruel and uncalled for. One of them needed to keep a cool head, and, evidently, it was not going to be her mother.
There was little point in wishing on what could have been and yet, Alina could not help herself. If only her father had told them of the debt they currently carried. Perhaps, if her mother had known how much her indulgences were costing the family, she could have been reasoned with to curtail her need to keep up with the rest of the neighbours in their fashionable London neighbourhood.
They did have a very beautiful home, and her father’s business had brought in a sizable income, and yet, they were not of any noble lineage, whereas many of the people who lived around them, were. Not wanting to be seen as lower than they, in wealth at least, her mother had played a constant game of matching their extravagance without having the income they received in which to do so. It was bound to end in tears sooner or later.
There were only two real solutions and Alina knew well that her mother would not be pleased with either of them. Yet, she simply could not see any other way out. They could move out of their extravagant home and rent somewhere farther out of town. A smaller house in a less fashionable area would be much more affordable. The house they lived in was rented, yet the items and articles within it belonged to them. They could be sold at auction to pay off their debts. Her mother would be mortified, but it would be better than being put out on the streets. Or Alina could source employment, perhaps in a shop or in a noble’s home. Her education would be more than enough to secure work, for she was well-read and could write. Educated in mathematics too, she could be an asset to any shopkeeper.
Perhaps that solution would be easier for her mother to hear, rather than having to give up the home she had spent years perfecting, only to perfect it some more when the fashions changed. With wages coming in, Alina could make payment arrangements with their debtors and agree to pay the bills in instalments. It may take a little longer, but at least the bills would be getting paid.
‘I think I have a solution, Mother, but I must warn you. You are not going to be pleased with it.’
‘You do not know that for certain, Alina. Tell me please,’ her mother near begged. ‘What solution have you come up with? You were always a smart and intelligent girl, and I am open to quite anything rather than being put from our home.’
‘I think it will be in our best interests, if I find a source of income. It is the best solution. There are always nobles who need governesses and shopkeepers who need assistance to run their businesses. The wages can pay off the bills, admittedly perhaps a little slowly, yet at least we will not lose our home. We will be able to remain living here, only now, mother, we must be careful with our purchases.’
‘Absolutely not!’ her mother barked in reply. ‘No daughter of mine is going to go and work in a shop for all of our neighbours to witness. Can you imagine the gossip? I would be the laughingstock of the neighbourhood. No, I simply will not allow it.’
‘Mother, we do not have any choice. Can you not see how dire the situation is?’ Alina gestured to the pile of promissory notes on the desk before her.
‘I do not care. There is bound to be another way. I will not hear of you going and getting a job, Alina.’
‘Why, Mother? Because of your pride? Father did not mind working hard to provide for us,’ Alina defended.
‘That is what a man is supposed to do, Alina. Do not act as though you do not know the ways of the world. Your father worked hard, and I furnished him a good home and repaid him with my loyalty and integrity. Not to mention, giving him a beautiful daughter.’ Her mother gestured toward her. ‘Your father wanted for nothing. If he were still here now, he would agree with me.’
If he were still here now, we would not be in this mess.
‘Mother, please,’ Alina pleaded.
Her mother must surely see reason given the position they now found themselves in. ‘We are in serious danger of losing our home, do you not see? We could lose everything if I do not try and find a way to bring in some sort of income.’
‘We will find a way, Alina. We always found a way.’
‘No, Mother. Father always found a way. He found a way by working very hard to provide for us.’
‘And look where that got him,’ her mother retorted.
‘Mother!’ Alina glared at her. ‘How could you say such a thing?’
Suddenly, her mother burst into tears standing right there in front of her. Her emotion pouring from her, no doubt exacerbated by all the stress, piled on top of the grief she was suffering from the sudden loss of her beloved husband.
‘Oh, Mother. I am so sorry.’
Alina jumped up from her seat at the desk and moved swiftly across the study toward her. Taking her in a warm embrace, she held her mother tightly as her shoulders shook with the spasms that jolted through her body as she sobbed.
They had suffered enough. Losing her beloved father and her mother losing her husband and having to suffer the draining ordeal of a funeral and burial, they now had to face another trying obstacle. It was hardly fair and yet, life was not always fair. Alina, whilst comforting her mother, could at least be grateful that their life and how they had lived up to now had been far better than others in the town. She had never taken her luxury’s for granted and had always been thankful for all of their blessings. But it did almost appear as though they had had their run of fortune—that now, their luck had run dry. Left to face whatever their future held, a sense of insecurity enveloped Alina and she could not help but wonder what would become of them.
After some time, Bette calmed a little, and plucking a handkerchief free that had been tucked discreetly up her sleeve, she dabbed at her eyes. Taking a step back, she turned away from Alina, suddenly embarrassed at her open display of emotion. Alina remained where she was, allowing her mother a moment to clear her throat and gather herself, before her mother once more turned to address her.
‘I apologise, Alina. I do not know what came over me.’
‘It is called grief, Mother. And I do not need your apology. I would not expect anything else than your sadness. I know you miss father, for I miss him dearly too. This situation we now find ourselves in, is hardly helping given our current circumstances. Yet, I must press once more mother, that I think it would be a good idea for me to find work. It is either that, or we will have to move.’
‘No, Alina. It will be neither. I refuse to believe that there is not another way. Something will come to us, for fortune has always shone upon this family. I will not consider my daughter serving my neighbours in a shop, nor can I consider my home being taken from me.’
Alina had little chance to reply, for her mother once more, turned her back on her and left the room without another word. It was her mother’s way. Not able to tolerate conflict, she could not stay and have a discussion with another who may see things differently from her. Yet, she had been wrong on one thing. Fortune had not always shone upon them. It had been her father’s hard work that had blessed them with a lifestyle that her mother had become accustomed to, and now he was no longer here. Sooner or later, her mother would have to accept that things would need to be different. Alina could only hope it would be sooner rather than later, for whilst they hesitated in their actions, the bills still needed to be attended to.
Staff needed paying and the house costed money to run. Every coal delivery and grocery order and all the necessities that they were used to still needed to be paid for. Perhaps her mother needed to take some time to allow the idea of Alina looking for work, to ruminate in her mind before she was able to accept it. And if that were the case, Alina would not mention it again. That did not mean, however, that she would not start actively looking for opportunities that may be open to her.
Bette Goodwin did not want to see the reality that blatantly stared her in the face, and somehow, she was lying to herself in thinking that another solution could be sought. Father was gone, they had no family to speak of that could help them, and there were no miracles that were about to occur to relieve them from their situation. Action needed to be taken, and whilst her mother procrastinated in her denial, it appeared that it would be left to Alina, to source their solution.
Mr Maxwell Guzman had been teaching Alina for nearly a year now. Having recognised that his daughter’s voice was more than ordinary, her father had been determined to ensure that Alina had received the best tuition and that had come in the form of the celebrated and distinguished reputation of Mr Guzman. Her father had heard of him in the process of his travels, and having sourced his whereabouts, had told Mr Guzman that money was no barrier, if he would be willing to teach his daughter.
A tall and slender gentleman of about her father’s age, his hair greying at the temples, Mr Guzman had praised Alina’s talent from the beginning. Yet, what Alina had thought had been good enough before she began her classes, had been far from the realisation of her abilities. Mr Guzman did not have the reputation for being the best voice teacher in London for no reason. Between breathing exercises and practising scores over and over, he had managed to extract a sound of beauty from her, that had surprised even Alina.
Over their time together, not only had her voice improved tremendously, but they had also built a strong bond, and whilst he had been her teacher first and foremost, Mr Guzman had inadvertently taken on the role of her mentor also. No one could ever replace her father, and yet, with his constant trips and long times away from home, Alina found solace in the wisdom and advice of the older man. Often, within their lessons, she would ask him about the ways of the world and sought his advice on a range of different topics. Some subjects were quite insignificant, other’s a little more serious.
They had spoken of life and of her future, of the places she would like to explore and of travel. Their discussions had included suitors—men and husbands and of the kind of scoundrels that roamed about. Mr Guzman had instilled in Alina the need to be honest and trustworthy, but to also be wary of the promises others’ made, for men could whisper sweet nothings in one moment, and break her heart in the next.
Kind in his way with words, he had also been rather adamant and sombre at times. He told her that whilst her innocence was a thing of beauty and an asset that enhanced her attractiveness, she also needed to be intuitive to the things going on around her. His declarations were always for her benefit, for as Alina had deduced, he had taken on a role of some form of father figure toward her.
Sadly, having been married for only three years, he had lost his beautiful and adorable wife, as he had described her, whilst she was giving birth to their first child. Tragically, the baby girl did not survive the birth either. Mr Guzman’s heart had been too broken to marry again and after a length of dire straits and depression, had thrown himself back into his work. Clearly, the reason he was now so very celebrated. He could have taken several paths, one of which could have led to utter despair. Instead, he had chosen to channel his energy for the sake and memory of Elsa, his wife and Anna, the name he had given to his daughter who had lived for only two hours.
Alina had been discerning enough to realise that their relationship was closer, not only because he desired to impart advice to her, but that perhaps, as he had subtly insinuated, he saw her as the daughter he might have had.
‘I can only imagine, Alina,’ he had said one day in their lessons. ‘What my daughter may have been like if she had had the chance of life. I know if she had survived and grown up into a beautiful young lady, I would like to think she would not be unlike yourself.’
It was a compliment that Alina had hardly known how to respond to and instead of words, Alina could only nod and turn her gaze away bashfully. There were no words of comfort to give him, for what does one say to a man who has lost so much? Perhaps a person with more life experience could have plied him with platitudes and soothed him in some way, yet Alina did not have such experience, and therefore, stumbled for any words, let alone the right ones.
She had been taught that if words escaped her, it fared better to stay silent. Words were only noise if they carried little meaning, and if she could not convey the meaning with her declarations, then what was the point of speaking at all?
Mr Guzman had been more than supportive when he had learned of her father’s death. He had arrived at the house at a time different to their usual appointment, simply to offer his sincere condolences and any assistance that they may need. Having buried his own wife and daughter, he understood well, the heavy weight of grief and had told both Alina and Mrs Goodwin that he would be at their disposable if they needed his assistance in any way further, during this difficult time.
Having waded through bill after bill, it became very clear to Alina quite early on in her discovery of their circumstances, that her lessons must come to an end. At least her father had not owed Mr Guzman, for that situation would have been more than awkward. Yet, they could barely afford to live, let alone pay huge sums of money for her singing lessons. As she had already told her mother, they would now need to be careful with their money and Alina knew well, that her lessons would be the first thing that they would have to terminate.
‘I am afraid I have sad news, Mr Guzman,’ Alina began, after she had greeted him on their next lesson, and he had settled himself in his usual position.
It had been several days since her mother had broken down in the study, and the atmosphere, whilst not entirely sour between them, had hardly been as easy as beforehand. Keeping to her idea that her mother may need time to see the situation with a little more clarity and what next steps needed to be taken, namely, that Alina would need to find employment, Alina had not mentioned it to her again.
Not yet having the chance to do so, she had decided to discreetly inquire of both those in the household and any that they might know, if anyone in the location might be looking for an employee or have work to offer. It would be a first step before she began looking in the paper for adverts, for she would prefer to find work closer to home to keep an eye on her mother at this difficult time, at least to begin with.
‘What is it, Alina?’ Mr Guzman frowned, evidently noting the sincerity in her tone. ‘You look rather concerned. Please tell me nothing more has happened to cause you and your poor mother further distress.’
‘I am afraid I cannot, in good faith, tell you as much, Mr Guzman. I finally found the courage to enter my father’s study to deal with his affairs and see what needed to be put in order. However, what I discovered was nothing less than dismal. It appears that our lifestyle has been near on credit for quite some time. Father owes many debtors, and it is now left to myself and Mother to pay what is owed.’
‘Oh, Alina, this is quite dreadful. Do you need money at the moment? I am certain, I can help tide you over if that is the case.’
‘I could not possibly agree to your offer, Mr Guzman. Yet, I am extremely grateful for your kindness. I am afraid it is much more dire than that. Besides, you would then become just another person we owed money to. No, the reason I am disclosing this to you, is because in our current circumstances, and realistically, for the foreseeable future, our lessons must come to an end.’
‘Nonsense!’ the older man retorted.
His reply rather took Alina by surprise and in her shock, was unable to respond to him. She could only look at him as he gazed kindly toward her, shaking his head.
‘I will not hear of it, Alina. We have worked far too hard and progressed far too much for us to give up now.’
‘But, Mr Guzman I cannot…’
‘Yes, I am well aware of your circumstances. Yet, for you Alina, I am willing to make an exception.’
‘Mr Guzman, I could not possibly accept.’
‘Of course, you can. I insist. You do not realise how much I enjoy coming here to teach you, yet I do think you are aware of how I see you. Unbeknownst to you, Alina, you have assisted me in my own process of grief and whilst I must admit, it has been a far longer time since I have lost my loved ones, the grief never leaves you.’
‘Mr Guzman, I do not know what to say,’ Alina replied.
As the heat raised in her cheeks, she felt more than a little embarrassed at his charity, and yet, she could not inwardly deny her relief. Her lessons were her solace and apart from learning from a master teacher, they also had a firm bond of friendship that she knew, she would miss dearly. It was difficult enough losing her father, but the idea of losing Mr Guzman so soon afterward, had quite depressed her.
‘There is nothing to say, Alina. We will keep this arrangement between us alone. No other needs to know that I am not taking payment from you.’
Alina knew it was not only that he did not want others to think he gave away free lessons, that he suggested such a notion. It was far more likely that his words were to save herself and her mother from public humiliation, for word travelled fast in London town.
‘Thank you, Mr Guzman. I am quite overwhelmed by your kind charity.’
‘Let us not talk of it again,’ he said, swiping a hand in dismissal.
He wanted to move away from the topic, perhaps because her gratitude embarrassed him also, but no doubt, for Alina’s sake more than his own.
‘I must ask then, Alina. How will this affect your season? You will still have one, will you not?’
Alina slowly shook her head. ‘I am afraid it will simply not be possible, Mr Guzman. If I do not find a solution, we may well lose our home. That, at this moment, is more important than me having a season.’
Alina sighed deeply, a sense of sadness washing over her, as she thought of it. The season had been simmering at the back of her mind, and she had wondered how their new circumstances would affect her being able to enjoy the balls and gala’s that were soon to light up London, as they always did. And yet, now, as Mr Guzman had made her address the question so explicitly, it was clearly evident that it simply would not be a possibility for her.
‘I did have great hopes of meeting a husband this season, Mr Guzman, and I cannot say that it is not with a heavy heart that I now have to confess my absence from all the wonderful excitement of the dances. Yet, now Father is gone, it appears as though it is going to be up to me, to get us from under this debt. Mother, as you know well, is still rather distraught.’
‘It is only to be expected, Alina. It has hardly been a month since she lost her husband.’
‘Of course, I do know that. I suppose we did not ever consider that we would find ourselves in this situation. Father was always here to take care of us, and we had always relied upon his strength and leadership, for he had never failed us. We were lucky to have had such a lifestyle as we have experienced, so far, however, it now appears, my search for a husband will need to be put on hold until I can get us back on some track, particularly with our debtors.’
‘Do not lose hope, Alina. I do not think, with your beauty and your wit and charm, that it will take you long before you find a suitor. Besides all of that, is your beautiful voice. Any man with ears could not fail to fall in love with such a sweet sound.’ Mr Guzman smiled tenderly. ‘You have an extraordinary gift, Alina. A man who realises such exquisite talent will struggle not to appreciate you for all your wonders.’
Alina smiled, though the sadness remained, and yet she could not help feeling a little embarrassed by Mr Guzman’s overt praise for the person she was.
Moving across the room to the windows, he opened them wide, as he had done many times before.
‘Come now,’ he said, as he turned back to face her. ‘You must sing to your love, Alina. Tell him that you are searching for him, that you desire a man whose heart is large and open and who will care for you because of your specialness. Perhaps, your voice may be carried on the wind and into his heart.’
Mr Guzman had always had a flamboyant way with words and, in his enthusiasm over the year they had worked together, his gusto had encouraged Alina’s confidence. Helping her believe more in herself and her abilities, she had raised the bar on even her own expectations. In their time together, they had both grown, for whilst he had been a little dour at the beginning, Alina’s voice had tempered him, softening him to finally open up to her about his own circumstances.
With the realisation that he would continue to visit with her, and their lessons could continue, Alina felt a sense that at least not everything around her was falling apart. That something, something of deep importance to her, would remain the same. It was strange to think that her singing lessons would be an anchor to her in such times of desperation and uncertainty, and yet, the power of song and the spiritual heights it sometimes took both herself and Mr Guzman to, could not be compared to any other experience. More than once, her voice had reduced him to tears, perhaps not sobbing as her mother had done several days previously, yet certainly, raising such emotion within him that he had had to clear his throat and dab his watery eyes.
Yet, unlike other men who might have been embarrassed by such displays, he had only praised Alina for being able to elicit such a reaction from him, for he had told her that, that was what music and song ought to do. Take a person to a place they would not ordinarily find oneself, soaring on the wave of emotion as the music touched their souls deeply on a level that nothing else could.
Alina now smiled at Mr Guzman, a gesture that conveyed both her confidence and her gratitude for his ongoing encouragement. Perhaps things would all work out better than she might have expected, perhaps her love was out there, and somehow, he would find her. She had to hope, for without hope, despair quickly crawled into the vacant space. She could not allow despair to overtake her, whether it had to do with their home or a chance of employment or finding a man she could love.
Taking a deep breath, she opened her mouth, and sang a sweet love song. The gentle wind carried her voice out through the window and into the street, and as passers-by heard her, they smiled with a warm appreciation of the beauty of it. Perhaps the wind would carry it even further, for who knew, at that moment, what her future held.
“A Nightingale for the Lonely Duke” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Miss Alina Goodwin has always enjoyed a comfortable and happy life, until her father’s untimely passing leaves her and her mother with an unbearable debt. Alina will inevitably have to be employed by the wealthy Duke of Griffinstead, to assist his younger sister in deportment, etiquette and music. Within a short space of time, she finds herself mesmerised by him and whatsmore, those feelings seem to be mutual. Her world, however, turns upside down once again by an infuriating accusation of deceit…
Will she disappear forever, ignoring the signs that a genuine love was about to bloom?
Frederick Tomlinson has returned from war with a heavy duty to carry. As well as the title of the Duke of Griffinstead, he is also now responsible for his younger sister and her future. His prayers for a suitable companion for her are answered by the arrival of Miss Alina Goodwin, whose angelic voice and striking beauty stir his heart for the very first time. Yet, he is already betrothed to Lady Honoria Richardson, a pious woman who will try her best to drive Alina away from the manor. Her success however will not dissolve Alina’s divine figure from his mind…
Will he eventually comply with society’s rules and let his heart down?
As two different worlds become entwined, Alina’s and Frederick’s true love grows, and yet, a divisive and jealous presence drives them apart. In the end, will they break all the barriers that stand between them, or will internal battles and outside forces overpower them? After the truth is finally revealed, will they dare to give love a second chance?
“A Nightingale for the Lonely Duke” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.