Lady Elizabeth Byrd stood at the teensy height of just five foot two. Her russet hair curled wildly down her back, after it dropped from her bun midway through the day, and her eyes were curious and alight—scouring the newspaper for the best political, philosophical, and satirical essays of the day. At twenty-nine years old, her mind was a whirring mechanism, never-stopping. Her best friend, Irene, said that was her top redeeming quality, and also her biggest fault.
“It’s why I took you in,” Irene had sighed frequently, rolling her eyes back. “You’re never boring. You’re frequently annoying.”
It was true that Irene Follett had seen more promise in Elizabeth—known as Bess amongst her closest friends (Irene being one of the only ones)—than anyone else, and had yanked her out of the terrors of society after a particularly wretched year in Bess’ life.
Things that seemed difficult to verbalise, in everyday conversation.
The death of her fiancé. The running away of her father.
The loss of her entire fortune.
Every possible horrendous thing that could happen to a young woman, they had all occurred to Bess before her 25th year. So: what was there left for a woman to do?
Secretarial work, of course. At least, that’s what the unequivocally bright Lady Elizabeth Byrd had been hunkering down with in the years since she’d abandoned Society for good. Gone were the endless nights of dancing quadrilles. Gone were the days of thinking of ways to please men—Lords, Earls, what have you. Suddenly, she had her entire life before her—entirely hers to sculpt. It was the most terrifying thing in the world.
“And, perhaps, the most liberating,” Irene reminded her frequently.
Now, Bess heard the cackle of her best friend and roommate, Irene, as she burst open the door of their London apartment—deep in what was often termed the “dangerous” neighbourhood—to discover a mighty bouquet of roses. Bess rushed from her bedroom, her curls falling down her back. When she reached Irene, she blared, “What is it?” her heart racing wildly in her throat.
But Irene just spun back, her eyes glowing above bright pink cheeks. She pressed the roses forward, grinning wildly. Lady Bess turned back towards the kitchen of their home, watching as the kettle billowed smoke above the small fire in the corner. She rolled her eyes, guiding Irene back into the house.
“Is he really so amazingly cartoony?” Bess sighed, speaking of the roses. She gripped the kettle with a towel and tapped it atop the counter, swishing her palms together. “I mean, really, Irene. The man belittled your intelligence the last time you spent time together. I was seated directly beside you. I thought for sure you were going to smack him.”
Irene giggled again, slipping the roses into a vase atop the table and plumping them at the bottom to make the bouquet look full. She grinned to herself, speaking in a soft voice, “You know, Lord Charles can be a complete imbecile. And the fact that he said that, well. I’ve been avoiding him at all costs. Making sure he knows what kind of mistake he made.”
Bess poured them each a cup of tea, arching her brow. “So you think he learned his lesson?”
“It’s impossible to know.” Irene sighed. “But I agreed to meet with him at the ball next Saturday evening, to give him a dance.”
“All because of some silly flowers?” Bess asked, rolling her eyes. “Lord Charles doesn’t know what he has. You’re the editor of a newspaper, for goodness sake, Irene. And he treats you like you’re a child.”
At this, Irene sniffed, drawing her chin higher. She gave a sharp look to Bess, who was a good half-a-head shorter than her good friend, and spoke with a harsh tone. Bess waited, sensing that her friend Irene was falling from the clouds and dropping, dropping back to the reality of this dismal morning in mid-April. Rain peppered the glass windows. The tea was a necessary warmth, coating their throats.
“As if you know anything about courting,” Irene said.
It was a fair point. Bess opened her lips, arching her brow with curiosity. Ordinarily, when Irene turned a strange shade of angry—she did it because she cared more.
But then, with a jolt, Bess realised she had to be at the homeless shelter within fifteen minutes. She rushed up from her chair, tossing her tea back to the table before them. “Can we finish this later?” she called, darting towards the coat rack. “It’s not because I don’t care …”
“I know, I know.” Irene sighed. “It’s because you care too much. About everyone.”
“I can’t help it,” Bess stammered, giving Irene a sly grin.
“I’ll see you later, my darling imbecile,” Irene said with a sigh.
“Love you, too,” Bess affirmed.
Lord Nathaniel Linfield, the 7th Earl of Dartmouth, stood nearly six and a half feet tall, a full two heads over his mother, Lady Eloise Linfield, the Dowager Countess of Dartmouth. Regardless of his clear swagger, his dashing good looks, his broad shoulders and swept-back, blond curls, Lady Eloise had a way of staring her nose down upon him as if he was still that fourteen-year-old, cunning teen who’d sneaked out of the estate to toil in the forest for hours at a time—hunting, fishing, hiking. “Oh, Nathaniel. Is it possible that you’ll ever grow up?” his mother had sighed countless times back then.
Now, she had a habit of speaking in a similar, scathing tone, despite his thirty-three years. They stood in his father’s study, their feet atop the oriental rug his father had purchased on a long-ago journey through India.
“You can’t possibly believe you can just void yourself from society in this manner, Nathaniel,” his mother said, her voice studied and sharp.
“Void myself? Why, I can’t possibly understand what you mean,” Nathaniel said, turning towards the window. He latched his hands behind his back, at waist-level, and studied the trees as they tossed themselves to and fro in the fresh spring air. The smell of flowers whirled through the crack in the window, overpowering the gritty air of the city. He willed himself to be far from indoors—deep in the woods, his dog darting along at his side.
“You think you can step aside from a season of dancing quadrilles. Of meeting debutantes who are appropriate to extend our line, Nathaniel. But it’s simply not true. Which is why I’ve arranged a dinner with Lady Theresa Chesterson, a perfectly lovely girl with a stellar reputation. Her father is, of course, the nobleman Lord Chesterson …”
Nathaniel’s mother continued to prattle on, wielding her hand about the space around her while Nathaniel’s thoughts turned elsewhere. This certainly wasn’t the first time that his mother had set him up with a debutante with a crystal clear reputation. Always, they were apt to converse about the most meaningless things—topics that made Nathaniel’s eyes glaze over and his hands twitch. “Is this really the best of London?” he’d frequently asked his mother, each time the women took their leave. “The very best we can do?”
Of course, Lord Linfield now faced another season of this drivel—of attending balls, of being introduced to bright-eyed ladies, bowing his head cordially, before shuffling back home as quick as his feet could take him. How small-minded it all felt! How foolish!
“Dinner will be at seven-thirty,” his mother said, her words blaring through his chaotic thoughts. “I expect you to be on your best behaviour.”
Nathaniel spun back towards her, giving her that killer, handsome smile—the one, he knew, had melted the hearts of half a dozen women on London’s east side. “Oh, Mother. When am I not?” he asked.
At seven-thirty, Nathaniel slipped his suit coat over his burly shoulders and sauntered down the sweeping staircase to enter the foyer. His mother had pulled out all the stops for the entryway decor, assumedly for their guest. A mighty green plant—its leaves the size of plates—stretched to the ceiling in the corner. The antique mirror along the wall, said to be at least a hundred years old, reflected Nathaniel’s stellar good looks, his well-cut suit that highlighted the flat of his stomach and the curve of his biceps. He paused, his smile faltering in the mirror.
Was his entire life worth tied up in whoever he “matched” with? Wasn’t that disgusting? For a moment, he thought back to his father—a renowned leader within the Tories. As a child, years before his father’s death, Nathaniel had stood on the sidelines at his father’s speeches, watching as the man ripped his fist through the air, declaring a kind of reality that the people, the people who followed him, deserved.
His father had been a passionate, zealous man—a man with fine opinions and a way about him that made you want to lean closer, ask him for more. Nathaniel had never assumed himself to be much like his father, as he’d always been a bit quieter, a bit less social. He’d always been the first to race from the country home and fall into the wooded trails, retreating to the natural world. “What will become of him?” his father had once enquired of his mother. “I don’t suppose he’s a born political orator …”
Nathaniel shook the thoughts from his brain, turning his eyes towards the door. Someone knocked, causing the maid, Millie, to rush in from the kitchen, her hat nearly toppling from her head. She opened the door to uncover a rather pretty, delicate-looking woman, in her mid-20s, perhaps, wearing a light blue dress that swept to the floor. Beside her was an older woman, someone who seemed to be a sister or cousin, as their looks were similar but more rugged.
On cue, Nathaniel’s mother appeared in the two-storey entryway, just below the steps. “Good evening,” Lady Eloise said, strutting forward to greet the two women. “Lady Theresa, it’s marvellous to have you in our home. And I trust you’re Lady Sarah.” She reached out to kiss both women on the cheek.
She was always the most brilliant host, Nathaniel thought. Almost to an annoying degree.
Lady Theresa curtseyed before Nathaniel’s mother, before taking her hand. Lady Sarah beamed at both of them, before turning her dark eyes towards Nathaniel, upon the steps. Millie sneaked the door closed behind them, making a mighty “crack” sound. Nathaniel remained at a distance, watching the pomp and circumstance. He felt incredulous that all of this could possibly be for him. For his “benefit.”
Why couldn’t he just be left alone?
“Darling, I have someone to introduce to you!” his mother called from below, her eyes burning with promise.
Nathaniel felt guided by some unseen force. He draped his fingers over the railing and walked the rest of the way to the marble floor, feeling the heaviness of his feet as he marched toward the pretty girl. When he reached her, Lady Theresa outstretched her hand, and he knelt to kiss it.
“May I present to you Lady Theresa,” his mother said. “And of course, her cousin, the Lady Sarah.”
Nathaniel drew back to his full height, nearly a foot taller than Lady Theresa. He cleared his throat and then boomed, “Charmed, Lady Theresa. Lady Sarah. I am Lord Linfield. I trust you arrived comfortably?”
“Absolutely,” Lady Theresa said. “My carriage hand has just dropped me at the door. I trust that he can water and feed the horses as we dine?”
“That isn’t a problem whatsoever, darling,” Nathaniel’s mother said. She swept her hand to Lady Theresa’s lower back, gesturing towards the dining room. “Now, shall we sit? I know my dear Nathaniel is incredibly famished, as he spent the majority of the morning out in the woods. Didn’t you, darling?”
Nathaniel felt his throat constrict. Could it really be a fact of life that he was meant to remain at this dinner table alongside this young woman, asking dismal questions and waiting for the evening to end? He marched just behind Lady Sarah and Lady Theresa, conscious of a floral smell sweeping out from Lady Theresa’s curls. He imagined her alone at home, putting herself together. Thinking about the kind of life she might have with Lord Linfield, if she was given the chance to match.
Once at the dinner table, the talk continued to toil. His mother, to her credit, was bouncy and active, asking questions of Lady Theresa to allow Nathaniel to get to know her.
“You must have heard of my dear late husband,” Lady Eloise said, turning her fork through a small mound of potatoes. “Nathaniel’s father. He was one of the leaders of the Tories, you know. Quite a prosperous man.”
Lady Theresa blinked wide, deer-like eyes towards Nathaniel. She’d hardly eaten a single morsel on her plate, perhaps because she was anxious, or just stupid, Nathaniel thought. His nostrils flared.
“My father did say something about him,” Lady Theresa said. Her voice was strangely high-pitched, irritating, like a mosquito buzzing in Nathaniel’s ear.
His mother laughed, a strange, bell-like tinkling laugh. “I’m sure it’s none of your concern, hearing anything about politics. Here, darling, why don’t you have another roll? You’re nothing but skin and bone, aren’t you?”
Beside his mother and Lady Theresa, Lady Sarah turned sombre eyes towards her own half-munched roll. Her cheeks sagged slightly. It was clear she was married, another bored housewife watching over her younger, single cousin. Always, during these meetings, Lord Linfield strained, wondering just what someone like Lady Theresa might say if they were ever alone.
He couldn’t imagine her coming up with a single sentence that would captivate him. Couldn’t imagine that she would have a single inkling of anything regarding his father’s political stances, or the ways in which he was attempting to shift the world around him.
God, what on earth was he doing?
Nathaniel’s hands formed to fists. He smashed them against his thigh, forcing himself to speak. The noise didn’t carry, but his mother recognised a shift in Nathaniel. She spun her sharp-nosed face towards him, arching her brow.
“Nathaniel. Is there something you wish to say?” she asked.
Lady Theresa and her cousin, Lady Sarah, gaped at him. Outside, a carriage eased past, with the horses’ hooves crumpling across the cobblestones. Lord Linfield wished he was anywhere else—walking the streets of London alone, or marching his boots across soggy land in one wood or another. But instead, he was trapped at yet another meeting of yet another woman who he couldn’t possibly live with for the rest of his life.
It wasn’t that Lady Theresa was horribly wrong. It wasn’t that she wasn’t lovely, for she truly was. But when Lord Linfield glanced in her direction, he felt as though rocks formed in his stomach. He felt only dread.
“I have an announcement, Mother,” he declared then.
His mother waited before forming her lips into a round O. All three women gaped at him as if he were a strange performer. He cleared his throat once more before proceeding. He’d already pushed himself this far.
“I’ve decided that I will follow in my father’s path,” he continued. “I will follow his footsteps into Parliament, as a leader within the Tories.”
He’d dropped the words, and now, he couldn’t take them back. He blinked at the women, waiting for some kind of response. Silence hung heavy in the dining room. In the midst of it, one of the kitchen maids sprung through the door, holding onto a large platter of turkey. Steam erupted from the dead bird, curling towards the ceiling. She dropped it in the centre of the table before offering a slice to each of the members of the table. Each declined. When she retreated, Lady Eloise turned her attention back to her son.
And, to Nathaniel’s surprise, she spoke with a flickering smile.
“Darling, I haven’t heard you say this before. How long have you been considering such a thing?” she asked.
“For quite some time,” Nathaniel lied. He felt awash with the pleasant feeling that although they were shocked, each woman regarded him with intrigue, impressed. “I know he left this world and cannot continue to do his fine work. The work he set out to do,” Nathaniel continued. “And as I’m his only son, it’s up to me to carry on for him. I know it’s the right thing to do.”
Lady Eloise bowed her head. She dotted her napkin just left of her eye as if retrieving a tear before it could muss up her make-up. Lady Theresa tapped her palms together, lending very, very quiet applause.
“My goodness, Nathaniel,” she tittered. “I didn’t imagine I would be privy to such information, straight from your lips this evening. What a remarkable achievement, and the perfect way to honour your father.” She paused, her eyes slipping from Nathaniel’s, back toward his mother’s. It was clear she was trying to deduce what was meant to happen next.
“Yes, well. I shan’t waste another moment,” Nathaniel said. He stood from his chair, walking towards the door.
His mother gaped at him, aghast. He knew that if Lady Theresa and Lady Sarah weren’t present, she would exclaim to him to sit back down that very instant. But he was at the mercy of his very sudden, very sure decision. He couldn’t possibly toil another season through the quadrilles and the debutantes and the tiring conversation. It was all so meaningless, so void of any life and colour. Memory of his father’s speeches had ignited a fire in his belly. And he felt charged with adrenaline to get his campaign going.
He just hadn’t any idea of where or how to start.
That night, Lord Linfield sat at the desk of his father’s study, staring down at an incredibly bright, still-blank piece of paper, his quill in his hand. He’d decided to write a letter to his father’s most-trusted friend and ally in the Tories, John Lodgeman, who himself worked in Parliament. He remembered long nights, his father and Lord John sitting up, arguing, their words cutting out through the black air. They’d quarrelled, only with regard to the best ways to find progress. Lord Linfield knew that John was his father’s most trusted ally. “That’s simply why we bicker. We see everything eye to eye and care about everything more than anyone else. We have to challenge one another,” his father had told him once.
He wrote the leader, explaining his decision, and then sealed it with wax, using his family’s seal. Then, Lord Linfield sat back in his chair, the letter poised for an early-morning delivery the following day, and gazed out his window. He remembered the dismal look Lady Theresa had given her cousin during the moments after he’d announced his run for Parliament and couldn’t help feeling a grin stretch across his face. No, he hadn’t wanted to make that girl feel hopeless in the wake of her singledom, of course not. He simply thought it was ridiculous that he could ever fill the hole of “husband” or “father” for anyone as, well, simple as Lady Theresa.
He was meant for something else. At least, that’s what he’d always assumed. Now, he had to prove that fact to himself. He had a long road to go.
When Bess arrived back from the shelter the following afternoon, Irene was waiting. Bess hobbled forward, gasping. Between the shelter and her work at the paper, her time was stretched thin.
“It’s all work and no play with you, isn’t it, Bess?” Irene sighed. “Regardless, I wanted to discuss something with you. You know Marvin, don’t you? Our political writer?”
Bess nodded, tilting her head. The bumbling man had written a fair share of articles about the various political speeches conducted throughout London in the previous weeks. Bess herself had been the one to edit them, as Irene was in over her head with The Rising Sun’s wide selection of output. Bess herself had seen Irene burst into tears several times, throughout the season—an act of emotion that Irene would have never allowed anyone else on The Rising Sun staff to see.
Currently, Bess was only a secretary, in title, but often her efforts flickered over to the writing and editing side. Beyond Irene, no one else at the paper was a writer; yet Irene had earned her position and her respect, as her father had started the paper nearly 20 years before and she’d grown up in the offices. People didn’t necessarily look to Bess with respect. Even the political writer, Marvin, had been thrilled at his recent political essays, many of which Bess had edited herself. When he’d been told that Bess had been the writer behind the edits, he’d scoffed, saying that no—surely the reason for the essays’ brilliance lay in his increased awareness of the political landscape. Surely, it couldn’t be all for the help of some little know-nothing, wanna-be writer. Surely.
“Well, Marvin’s meant to head-up a new speech for a man poised to head to Parliament,” Irene said. She reached for her gloves, her face becoming stoic and firm as the day crept on. She was no longer the screeching girl, discovering flowers at the door. “However, I haven’t been incredibly thrilled with his output as of late.”
Bess felt her stomach tighten with apprehension. She waited, her eyes burning towards her friend and ally and, in this case, boss.
“I can’t very well take him off the case at this point,” Irene continued. “But I’d like you to attend the event, as well. If possible, perhaps you can write a different spin on the speech. Perhaps give a different dimension to what Marvin will write.”
Bess nearly fell against the countertop with emotion. She nodded her head, trying to remain upright. Irene’s lips flickered as if she was straining not to smile. Of course, she had to know just how immense this was for someone like Bess.
“I would very much appreciate that, Irene,” Bess said, trying to ensure her voice didn’t shake as she spoke. Since she’d been a girl, she’d so yearned to be published, but had assumed it to be an act meant only for a man. That’s why Irene had been such a striking character to her when she’d met her at the age of 12. Already, at that time, Irene had spoken of her life with career in mind, rather than whatever male figure would fill her role as “husband.”
“Good.” Irene searched her, drawing her black, wide-brim hat atop her head and reaching for her umbrella. “Will you wish to write under your own name, Bess?”
Immediately, the thought of having her own name on the newspaper—Lady Elizabeth Byrd, the scorned and embarrassed ex-fiancé of the now-deceased Connor Garvey and the daughter of the runaway Thomas Byrd—filled her with apprehension. Bess shook her head, the motion almost violent, and then stuttered. “I’ll come up with some sort of pen name, if that’s all right for you.”
Nearly an hour later, the women, both 29 years old, fell into easy step as they marched up the last bit of cobblestone to the offices of The Rising Sun. Upon entering, Bess crept back towards her ordinary seat as secretary, peering out across the office at the other male writers—many of whom were balding, their heads shining in the grey light spewing in from the windows. Irene had informed her that the political speech began at one in the afternoon, which meant she would have to conduct a great deal more of her secretarial duties than she was accustomed to in the morning, so that she wouldn’t fall far behind. It was a pity, too, as Bess longed to familiarise herself with the man running for the Parliamentary seat—a man named Lord Nathaniel Linfield, whose father had been a renowned Tory prior to his death, a murder by highwaymen.
From her desk, Bess could hear Marvin complaining about the upcoming speech, his voice high-pitched and straining. “The man’s clearly just a shadow of his father. Doesn’t seem to have a single thought outside what his father put in his head. I mean, honestly, these rich men. They think they can just decide upon a position and land in it, without making the hard commitment that their fathers were forced to …”
Nobody seemed keen to answer Marvin, but Bess inserted this knowledge into her own brain—eager to see what her own opinion would be, after the speech. And just after 12:30, she made heavy eye contact with Irene, who was seated in her office, her quill toiling over a white sheet of paper, before nodding and rising from her desk chair. It was time to go.
Bess donned her hat and marched from The Rising Sun office. Once outside, London seemed more chaotic than ordinary—its carriages bumbling past; its women chattering with wild, flashing hands; its men smoking tightly-rolled cigarettes and grunting, stretching long legs across the slippery cobblestones. Bess joined the chaos, walking towards the square in which the political speech was meant to take place. Everything within her buzzed with excitement. With every step, she reminded herself that this life—one of a journalist, of a real, opinionated writer, was the one she was always meant to have.
Of course, it had been a difficult road, prior to this. The thought of it passed through Beth like a shadow, as if she could never go more than an hour or two without reminding herself of the past.
She’d been a girl much like the others her age—oh, she could list their names, could even remember the way they’d laughed and bantered together as they’d gone through the courting season, several years before. There’d been Lady Ellen and Lady Rachel, Lady Tatiana and Lady Penelope. They’d flounced one another’s dresses, curled one another’s curls. They’d giggled with one another, gossiped. Of course, Bess had always felt she had a “private” side of herself, one involved with books and writing and intellect. But at the time, she’d set that all to the side, with her sights on creating a world with a husband, with crafting a good pair. It was simply what was “done.” And she was willing to do anything for love.
She’d been such a silly woman, back then. And when Connor Garvey had asked her to dance, bowed deep—casting his dark blue eyes towards hers—she’d fallen into him, emotionally, mentally. As they’d danced their first dance, her mind had skipped ahead the next five, ten, fifteen years. She could imagine him by her side.
Of course, she hadn’t imagined what would happen next.
Bess spotted the crowd in front of the speech platform and darted down the cobblestone road, not wanting to be late. Marvin had left for the speech a bit before her, and she was anxious, her eyes stirring through the crowd to ensure that she didn’t stand anywhere near him. Marvin was competitive, an anxious, snivelling guy. She could imagine the brash way he would sneer at her, if he spotted her: “How dare you think that you could write like me?”
Bess crept towards the front of the crowd, reaching into her bag to draw out her notebook. Around her, people crowded, tittering about the upcoming event. “You know, I really did love his father,” one man blurted, stretching his fingers across his moustache. “I have to assume the son will have similar politics, although, of course, it’s never clear.”
Bess’s eyes turned towards the stage, where a handsome man was scanning a piece of crumpled paper. He was rather tall—perhaps half a foot over six feet, with blond hair that whisked past his ears and curled lightly. His shoulders were broad; his arms muscular. He looked nothing like the other, bumbling politicians that Bess was accustomed to seeing, and seemed almost as though he’d rather be far away from the city, walking alone. His eyes turned towards the edge of the stage, where a short, squat man gestured to him. It was time for him to go on.
The squat man tapped towards the centre of the stage, raising his arms. The crowd’s wild tittering, so much like birds, gradually drew to a halt. Silence formed over them, creating a kind of bubble. Then, the squat man spoke.
“Greetings!” he called. “Good afternoon to each and every one of you. As many of you know, when Lord Nathaniel Linfield announced to me his plans to run for Parliament, I was absolutely thrilled. HIs father, God rest his soul, was a remarkable friend of mine. And I know for a fact he’s passed along a brilliant mind to his son. Now, without further ado. Lord Nathanial Linfield …”
The squat man—who, Bess discovered later, was the Tory-member John Lodgeman—began to clap, leading the rest of the crowd to follow suit. Then, Lord Linfield sauntered to the front of the stage, sliding his crumpled paper across the podium. He cleared his throat, drawing his eyes towards the crowd. The clapping gave a final roar before completely falling away. Then, there was only silence. It was almost like a vacuum. Bess could hear nothing. All eyes were upon Lord Linfield, expectant. Everything hinged on him.
Finally, the man opened his lips. He addressed the crowd, his voice a bit too loud, a bit too brash. It was already clear that Nathaniel hadn’t made many speeches in his life. Immediately, Bess cringed.
“Greetings,” he began. “Many of you, um, many of you are accustomed to hearing my father speak. Of course, he’s been gone these past few years. Leaving me with a kind of—um. I don’t know. He was a brilliant politician, and I always looked up to him. He told the best stories …” Lord Linfield trailed off, turning his eyes towards the ground.
Bess waited, her eyebrows stitching together. Did this man even have a single concept of what politics were? Did he know that he had to have a set opinion regarding the future of the city, of the Tory party, in order to be given a place in Parliament? Around her, people had begun to titter slightly, clearly confused.
“Anyway,” Nathaniel continued. “I wanted to address the various ways in which, erm, I hope to continue my father’s work.”
“GET OFF THE STAGE!” someone cried from the far corner of the crowd.
Bess whirled towards the sound, hoping to catch a glimpse of whoever this person was. But another joined him seconds later. Jeering. Laughing. Bess turned back towards Lord Linfield, her eyes large. Lord Linfield no longer looked anxious. Instead, he scrunched his speech paper into a ball and glared at the jeering members of the crowd. He looked apt to punch them in the face. Bess’s heart sputtered in her chest. Immediately, she began to take notes—already knowing the kind of essay she might write regarding this man, this impossible politician.
Against any good judgement, he continued to speak. But his words were ill-formed, and it was clear that he had only a small inkling of what the Tory party represented. Around Bess, people began to scoff to themselves and their friends, muttering that the man was only half the man his father had been.
The speech lasted only a few more minutes before John Lodgeman nearly pulled the poor Nathaniel Linfield from the stage and began a speech all his own. He hoped to maintain his Parliamentary seat, it seemed, and wanted to clear the air—ensure that the people knew he still had his wits about him. Behind him, Nathaniel Linfield remained, still glaring at the various audience members who’d jeered at him. His eyes glittered with anger. Bess marvelled that had John Lodgeman not been between them, there might have been a fight.
The crowd broke up after that, leaving Bess to hustle back to her desk at the paper. As she marched along the cobblestones, she sneaked her pad of paper into her bag and adjusted her hat. As the crowd dissipated, however, she heard her name. She spun her head so fast, her hat nearly flung to the ground. With her fingers gripping at the brim, she blinked into the glossy eyes of Marvin, who looked at her, incredulous.
“My goodness, Bess,” he said, his thick eyebrow rising high. “What on earth are you doing all the way over here? I don’t suppose Irene’s sent you on an errand?”
Bess was always a quick thinker, articulate and sharp. She flashed Marvin a sure smile and felt a lie rise to her tongue. “Oh goodness, she did. I was just marching past the political speeches and hung back for a moment. Curiosity got the better of me, you know.”
“Oh, well. Certainly. Although I can’t imagine that you could make sense of it,” Marvin said. He fell into step beside her, falling into his own monologue. “You know, that man. Lord Linfield. I knew his father quite well. And he seems to be of the same ilk. Perhaps you didn’t follow his father’s work with the Tories, but I must tell you …”
Bess marvelled at the idiocy with which Marvin spoke, now. She allowed him the occasional, “Oh, is that so?” and “My goodness, thank you for pointing that out for me!” as they marched back to the paper. But mostly, she was living in a closet in her own mind, lost in thought. She was already writing and re-writing the first few paragraphs of her essay, feeling her creativity flowing through her. It felt like no time at all before they arrived back at the paper offices. She said a final goodbye to Marvin, as he hunkered back to his desk.
To her, he called back, “Good to teach you a bit of something today, Bess. I dare say it’s a rarity to lend a bit of my craft to someone such as yourself. I hope it wasn’t too difficult for you.”
Bess just grinned, turning her eyes toward Irene. Irene smirked at her, arching her brow. They shared this secret, a secret that gave them power over this arrogant man. That was all Bess truly needed in this world. Especially after everything that had happened. She just needed a personal bit of power; no recognition. She wanted nobody to know her name.
For, several years before—only months before she was meant to marry Conner Garvey, her name had been on the lips of so many, many people throughout London. The scandal had nearly destroyed her. “Lady Elizabeth Byrd, don’t you know. What a pity it would be to be her! I dare say, the poor thing. She didn’t see it coming, did she? The moment she introduced her fiancé to her father, she should have seen the world swallowing her up. My, my. What a pity! What a horrible pity.”
But she was stronger now, assured in her singledom. She was a writer, a journalist—a woman of fine opinions and beautiful words. She didn’t need anyone else but herself. And with her pen atop her paper, she began to write up her political opinion piece, signing the essay with a false name—L.B.
L.B. was regarded as nobody except the words on the page. L.B. hadn’t nearly married an incredible con artist; L.B.’s father hadn’t wronged her and joined forces with that evil man. No. L.B. was only a writer, an intellect. Nothing more.
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Lady Elizabeth Byrd is a young clever woman. The future seems bright for her until the people she felt closest to are about to ruin everything. Disgraced by a situation she never intended to be a part of and hidden from society, she starts ghostwriting political analyses. But she was never prepared for the Lord who would ask for her help. Will she risk and accept the challenging deal he suggests or will she condemn herself once more to an inglorious anonymous life?
Lord Linfield is handsome, intelligent and he believes he has all the qualifications needed in order to follow a political career, just like his father. When he fails as a writer and an orator, a helping hand will be more than necessary. In his despair, he decides to meet the mysterious talented writer behind all these positive reviews written about him and to ask for guidance. Will he manage to become the politician he dreams of or will he fail once more, losing the only woman he has come to love in the process?
When the deal between the two heroes becomes far more complicated than either of them could have ever imagined, they will have to make crucial decisions. Will they let their hearts guide them or will they remain firm in the beliefs that have held them back in all their lives?
“The Secret Identity of the Lord’s Aide” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.