“An arranged marriage. Why, it’s simply unbelievable. It’s as though my parents haven’t given a single thought to my happiness. It’s as if they haven’t spoken a single word to me a day in my life!” Charlotte Grant sighed, smashing her fists atop her house dress. Her lower lip buzzed slightly as she frowned at her childhood best friend, the rosy-cheeked Margaret, who was perched on the edge of Charlotte’s bed. It was Margaret’s position to listen to Charlotte’s woes. It was her life-long duty, at least until both girls were married off to higher-titled men: boosting them beyond their lower-level nobility.
If that was truly what they were both “meant” for. Just another woman, with another title. Sometimes, it sickened Charlotte to her core: knowing that her life was little more than a filler for her parents’ status.
“Lord Seymour isn’t what I would term the greatest match for you, ’tis true,” Margaret said. It was clear she was trying to form the right words so as not to rile Charlotte up even more. “But–”
“There’s simply no buts, Margaret,” Charlotte stammered, strutting across the room. She nabbed a brush from her chest of drawers and began to sweep it through her often wild, near-black locks, which curled outrageously as summer crept closer. “It’s not how I envisioned my life. It’s not as though I was an enormous imbecile when it came to this courting business. I could have found a match myself. And perhaps that match could have pleased my parents.”
“Charlotte, your parents … They care about you. They truly do,” Margaret began. “And that’s why they’ve chosen Lord Seymour. They know, deep down, that …”
“Nonsense,” Charlotte scoffed. “My entire life, my father has looked past me, wishing and aching for the son he never had. And now, they want only to adopt Lord Felton Seymour—what a wretched name, no?—and ensure that their family name continues. And what with Felton’s incredible wealth from his grandfather, what could be a more perfect piece of the puzzle?”
Margaret seemed not to know what to say. Since the girls were young things, scampering across the fields of Northern England with wild eyes and scabbed knees (entirely unladylike, assuredly), they’d long played different roles. Charlotte was the loud one, the popular one: the one apt to lash out with whatever her opinion was, uninhibited. Margaret was far more sensible, and, Charlotte knew, was more the sort to marry whomever her parents pleased. She longed for the comfort of building her own family, of making her own home.
Sometimes, Charlotte sensed that her life would be far easier if she simply administered Margaret’s way of being. But she felt a burning in her stomach, one that told her that was simply no option for her.
It was her position to be unruly. She saw no other possibility.
“Absolutely ridiculous,” Charlotte stammered again.
Addie, the maid, rapped at the side of the half-cracked door and peered her crooked nose through. She gave Charlotte a grin and her eyes sparkled as if she already knew what Charlotte was up to. Addie had been around since Charlotte was a teensy thing and had been privy to some of Charlotte’s most mischievous acts.
“What are you two up to? Nothing good, I can only assume,” Addie said.
“Addie, I simply cannot marry him,” Charlotte said, crossing her arms hard across her chest. “It’s outside the bounds of reason. The man is an imbecile.”
Charlotte was half-conscious of Addie and Margaret making eye contact, seemingly exchanging some sort of agreement. Probably something along the lines of, Here she goes again.
“I know, darling. But I’ve come to fetch you. You know Lord Seymour will arrive for lunch in only an hour’s time, and you haven’t yet begun to prepare.” Addie scanned Charlotte’s housedress, the brush in her hair. “Please. You know your mother will have my head if you don’t make it in time.”
Margaret snapped up from the bed, ready to bolt into action. Charlotte sighed, allowing her shoulders to droop. As usual, she felt pressed toward a hard, impenetrable future she didn’t want. One that involved Lord Felton Seymour, her mother and father’s overwhelming joy, and her, stuck in some sitting room somewhere with a pile of stitching to do.
For Charlotte—who longed for inventive conversation, for creativity, for hours atop her horse, Goldie (her best friend, besides Margaret)—this was a death sentence.
But Charlotte managed. She slipped into the appropriate light-pink gown, with its low-cut neckline. Her tiny breasts bulged up only slightly beneath the line, and her waist was cinched tight. The pink skirt swirled around her ankles, and her black curls hung with more arrangement than they ordinarily did (especially as she spent so much time riding horses, letting her hair whoosh back in the breeze).
Margaret bid Charlotte goodbye fifteen minutes prior to the arranged lunch, giving her a hard-eyed look. She gripped Charlotte’s shoulders, whispering, “You know that whatever happens, I’m here for you. Just because you’re married to some arrogant nobleman …”
Charlotte rolled her eyes back. “Darling Margaret, I know you’re always here for me. And I, you. But if you’re ever engaged to someone as wretched as Felton, my goodness, I will do anything in my power to end it. For I believe that we, as women, deserve so much more.”
Charlotte stepped into the foyer to find her mother touching her face, frowning into the mirror. Her mother, Lady Theodosia Grant, was a good six inches shorter than her daughter, with a bird-like, sharp nose. Her eyes were piercing and bright green, just like Charlotte’s. At one time, Theodosia had been a remarkable beauty, capturing the attention of a traveling portraitist who’d come through Northern England only to paint her. The painting now hung in the sitting room of a much, much richer woman, who resided in London. Theodosia didn’t speak about it much anymore.
Theodosia sprung around the moment she realised her daughter was in the room with her. She flashed a false smile. “Darling,” she said. “You look absolutely stunning. I’m rather certain Lord Seymour will be pleased.”
“He’d better be,” Charlotte said, her nostrils flared. “For he’s engaged to me without trying at all. Imagine it. I’ve worked the entirety of my life to be well-read, well-spoken. I’ve learned four different languages, am the county’s best rider …”
“Enough,” Theodosia said, pursing her lips. “I understand that you think you’re too good to marry for the benefit of this family. But you’re simply incorrect, Charlotte.”
That moment, Lord Ernest Grant entered the foyer. He was tall, broad-chested, with cheeks that sagged down toward his neck. His sideburns were thick and dark grey, and his eyes were far away as if he was continually thinking of anything else. Immediately, Theodosia perked up, arching her brows toward her husband. Despite their seeming inability to understand their daughter, Charlotte was relatively aware that they both still held the other in incredible regard. Perhaps it wasn’t love; perhaps nobody truly remained in love. But if it wasn’t love, it was rather like it.
“What’s this all about?” Ernest asked, his voice jocular. “I imagine the only bickering you girls are doing is playful in nature. Charlotte?” He turned his eyes toward his one and only daughter, standing to the side of his wife. They looked like judges, preparing to tell Charlotte her official punishment—how she would spend the rest of the years of her life.
“Yes,” Charlotte murmured. “Playful.”
As if on cue, there was a knock on the door. Theodosia turned quickly and snapped her feet across the foyer marble. Charlotte remained back, conscious that her father continued to study her. He seemed to look at her like a strange specimen, something he could never possibly understand.
“Lord Felton Seymour. What a pleasure it is to see you!” Theodosia said, her voice bright and sunny and false.
Charlotte’s heart dripped somewhere into her stomach. She swallowed hard. Everything within her told her to spin back, to rush out the back door of their crumbling family estate and leap atop Goldie. She imagined herself tearing across the moors, tears streaking down her face. “I can’t possibly live this way,” she would murmur to herself. “I’ll find another place to roam. Change my name. Charlotte Grant will be nevermore.”
Lord Felton Seymour greeted her mother and then stepped into the foyer, bowing to both her father and to Charlotte. His eyes were strangely small and watery, and his chin was weak and teensy and shiny. It looked rather like the chin of a much younger boy, perhaps twelve or thirteen. For whatever reason, Charlotte fixated on this chin, feeling a frown form.
“Charlotte, you’re looking lovely this afternoon,” he said. His voice was pompous and bouncy. The very nature of it turned Charlotte’s stomach over.
Theodosia glared at Charlotte from behind Felton’s shoulder. Charlotte forced a smile, a response. “As are you, Lord Seymour.” But in her own ears, her voice was remarkably sterile. It didn’t even sound like hers.
Moments later, Addie announced lunch. The four of them marched into the dining room, where the table had been set with a white tablecloth, flickering candles, and light pink flowers plucked from the newly-growing garden. Charlotte sat across from Felton, trying her hardest not to glare at him. Instead, her eyes floated across the room, atop her parents’ heads, towards the window. The April sun steamed in between the lace drapes.
“It looks marvellous, Lady Grant,” Felton said, sweeping his napkin across his lap and reaching for his fork. “I’ve told my mother time and again, if we don’t find a better cook like yours, I’m leaving the family estate.”
Theodosia chuckled. She brought a teensy morsel of chicken from her platter to her lips and chewed slowly, letting her green eyes turn towards Charlotte. After swallowing her baby morsel, she said, “Charlotte was quite good at cooking when she was a bit younger. It was one of her moods, you know. Until next, it was the pianoforte. And next, it was painting …” Theodosia gave Charlotte a half-smile.
“Oh, are you quite interested in music? I say, I’m terribly good at the pianoforte, myself,” Felton said, his voice bouncing along, even in the midst of his chewing. “It’s terribly difficult for me to find another person with quite my skills. You can imagine how I’ve always wanted to find a partner to play a duet with.”
“Why! That’s marvellous news. Something in common,” Ernest said. “You must play for us, both of you. I imagine that will make for a wonderful afternoon treat.”
“Splendid!” Felton said, his smile stretching wide enough for Charlotte to see the gravy frothing around behind his teeth.
Charlotte couldn’t have verbalised a worse way to spend her time. She hardly nibbled at her lunch, feeling too tight and stitched up. She felt the colour draining from her face and thought very seriously about feigning an illness. But as her betrothed, her mother, and her father scraped their platters clean, she realised it was time for this charade to begin.
“Shall we journey into the sitting room, then?” Theodosia said. “I, for one, believe it’s time for the two of you to begin your duet for us.”
“I’m afraid I …” Charlotte began before watching her father slice a particularly dark look towards her. She cleared her throat, and then nodded. She knew better than to act like her wild self in front of Felton. She fought at every single urge.
Once in the sitting room, her parents tossed themselves back in their chairs, seemingly exhausted post-lunch. Charlotte perched atop the piano bench, feeling Felton move alongside her. His elbow bumped into her upper arm. She cleared her throat, feeling her eyes well up with tears. How ridiculous this all was! She was eighteen years old, on the brink of the rest of her life. And yet, she would be forced to do this life, this wretched literal duet, for what felt like forever.
“Shall we begin in the key of A?” Felton offered, glancing her way.
“Whatever pleases you,” Charlotte said.
Felton struck forward, drawing his fingers atop the higher octaves in a sort of Minuet. Charlotte bided her time before bringing her fingers to the lower notes and playing along with minor chords, ensuring that everything stayed in-tune but not bothering to add any flourishes. It seemed that Felton had enough flourishes for the both of them. In fact, as they played along, he bobbed his entire body back and forth—knocking his left shoulder into her and making her shiver.
Charlotte flashed her eyes towards her mother, giving her a sombre glare. Her mother arched her brow, giving what could only be a look of warning. If Charlotte didn’t behave herself, Theodosia would see to a punishment. “All women must think of their family first and foremost,” Theodosia had told her, time and time again. “Your father. Our name. It’s the essential thing. It will continue long after we’re buried, Charlotte. You must stop thinking that all you are, all you can be, is the only thing. Your painting. Your music. Your horse riding. It is nothing when compared to the importance of name.”
Lost in thought, Charlotte flubbed a chord in her left hand. Immediately, the sound became clunky and foreign. Felton drew his hands from the keys, flashing his fingers skyward.
“Dear me!” he cried, his eyes widening towards Charlotte. “I can’t imagine why you thought that would be a relevant chord at this time, dear Charlotte.”
Charlotte shot up from the piano bench, her cheeks growing rosy. Her mother’s face darkened still more. Felton remained on the bench, seemingly incredulous. Charlotte tittered, sensing that everyone in the room thought her a fool.
“I do apologise, Lord Seymour. It seems that I haven’t practiced nearly enough in the previous months. It had been a habit of mine to practice frequently, to fill my days with music. But as of late, I’ve spent the majority of my free hours atop my horse, Goldie.”
Felton drew his arms across his chest. He looked like a sour child at a birthday party, one who’d lost a game. Charlotte imagined him now as a much older man: fifty-something, his jowls hanging on either side of his teensy chin. She imagined reaching across the table and dotting a napkin across a flick of forgotten food. She shuddered.
“I really am not feeling terribly well, Mother. Father,” Charlotte continued. Her stomach clenched as her fingers fluttered over it. Although she’d eaten very little, she and Addie had strung her dress far too tight, and the world felt as though it was enclosing itself over her. She forced herself to take a deep breath insisting internally that she could never be one of those women who “fainted” or “grew woozy.” How childlike. How silly.
Felton stood and marched beside her, furrowing his brow. “You are looking a bit peaked, Charlotte,” he offered. “Wouldn’t you like to sit? I don’t mind playing the pianoforte myself, you know. It’s swell to have a duet every once in a while, but you must listen to me play alone. I really am quite marvellous.”
Charlotte gave him a lacklustre grin before perching on the edge of the chair next to her mother. Her eyes grew glazed as Felton returned to the pianoforte, whipping his coattails out behind him and flipping his fingers across the keys. Charlotte’s eyes flickered towards her father, who seemed to be struggling to keep his eyes open. She snickered softly.
Nearly an hour later—or perhaps a small infinity—Charlotte, her mother, and her father walked Lord Felton Seymour to the door of their crumbling mansion. As Felton dropped his hat upon his golden curls, his eyes scanned the surrounding moors, the rusted-out door hinges, the busted bricks along the south end of the mansion. Charlotte’s brain spat with anger at his rueful gaze.
“It really does have rustic charm, doesn’t it?” Felton said, his voice slimy and ill-mannered. “Goodness me, if every mansion kept itself up, how boring the world would be. Eh?”
Theodosia’s laugh was violent and false. Ernest lent Felton a large smile. Charlotte felt apt to smack Felton across the cheeks, but she knew that in her parents’ eyes, he was their ticket to passing along the family name. And his grandfather’s money: it would certainly play a part in the upkeep of their crumbling mansion. This sniveling 20-year-old man, who’d forced them through a dire afternoon of his (albeit very good) pianoforte playing—they were at his mercy.
The moment the door clicked closed behind him Charlotte whirled towards her parents, drawing her arms tight across her chest. She felt her cheeks grow bright red with anger. Her parents stood as a united force, seemingly bracing themselves for the brunt of her attack. Certainly, no son they could have had would have the sort of volatility of Charlotte. Certainly, she had more power in her pinky than any potential son.
“What would you like to say for yourselves?” Charlotte began, her voice low.
“Charlotte. It’s forbidden that you take such a tone of voice in this house,” Theodosia said.
“Forbidden? You’re saying it’s forbidden for me to ask a question? It’s apparent to me, Mother and Father that you think very little of that man—nay—boy who was just in our midst. How can you possibly send me off with him, for the rest of my life? How can you possibly not see the error in this decision?”
Ernest took a mighty step towards his study. His eyes burned towards Theodosia. “I’ll let you girls work this out yourselves,” he said.
“Wonderful, Father,” Charlotte scoffed. “It’s absolutely appropriate for you to be here for me, for you to fight for my rights and my happiness. But instead, you’ll spend your afternoon reading old historic texts about other people who are already dead, just like always. Marvellous, Father. Thank you ever so much for your assistance.”
Theodosia shot forward. She drew her fingers around Charlotte’s chin and gripped it tightly, almost shaking her head for her. Charlotte let out a tiny peep.
“Charlotte,” Theodosia said, her voice a rasp. “You are a girl with a powerful tongue. And yet it seems I haven’t taught you to use it correctly.”
Ernest was out of earshot now. “I cannot marry him, Mother. Not for our family name. Not for any reason. He’s pompous and self-assured and … and there’s not a bone in my body that could ever love him.”
“Love?” Theodosia scoffed. “Darling girl, you have your head in the clouds.”
“Mother, that’s simply not true,” Charlotte said. She yanked herself back, drawing her fingers across her chin. She still felt the weight of her mother’s fingers, the light touch of her nails into her skin. “You know that, left to my own devices, I could manage this estate myself. We don’t need to pass along the family name to someone like Felton Seymour.”
Theodosia rolled her eyes back before crumbling into another false fit of laughter. She shuddered and said, “You have a complete inability to manage your emotions, let alone this entire estate. You think that, after your display with Lord Seymour today, your father will give any thought to putting the estate in your name? You must be more delusional than I first assumed, my girl.
“No. You know very well that the title must go to your suitor. Otherwise, we may lose the title to a terrible distant cousin. Do you wish that for our name, Charlotte Grant? Do you wish that our title is lost, and we remain in this crumbling estate until the day we die?”
The room was taut with tension, making it difficult for Charlotte to breathe. Her lips parted as she hunted for the proper response. But suddenly, quick as a rabbit, she sprung towards the door, flung it open, and rushed out. Her dress whirled behind her, drawing itself across the mud and grass. Addie would be devastated, would have to spend hours wringing out the bottom to clean it. But Charlotte felt like a caged bird, finally freed. She inhaled the bright April air, which was thick with smells of flowers and growing grass and manure.
Immediately, it calmed her. And slowly, the wretched face of Lord Felton Seymour flickered out like a fire going out at the end of the night. With a final jolt of strength, Charlotte pushed herself along the moor, heading towards her favourite place in the world: her horse stables.
Atop Goldie, nothing in the world could devastate her. She was the epitome of free.
Zachary the 20-something stable boy was hunkered in the corner of the little shack-like stables, drawing a shoddy broom across the floor and collecting bits of hay into a pile. His cat-like eyes drew towards Charlotte as she stormed in, huffing. Behind his patchy beard, he gave her a mischievous smile. In a cockney accent, one formed from a life on the streets in London prior to his stable boy gig up north, he asked:
“What’s a lass like you doin’ up in these stables, here, hey? On a day like today? Other stable hand tells me you been havin’ a rather spiffy dinner up yonder.”
Charlotte broke into her first real smile in hours. “It’s good to see you, Zachary. I have to say, you must be one of the only people I can trust in this world. And it’s a good thing, too, what with you spending so much time with my baby.”
The majestic Goldie ripped her head back, tossing her brown mane. Her eyes were sombre, yet fully trusting.
“How’s she been today?” Charlotte asked, tapping forward and drawing her fingers along the horse’s thin, bony cheeks. She dotted the top of the horse’s fuzzy nose with her lips.
“Oh, just as right as rain, this girl always is,” Zachary said. “Course, always hankering for a ride. Didn’t know if you’d be down here, what with your affairs up at the main house.”
Charlotte sighed, rolling her eyes. “I truly wish I could say that those affairs were worthwhile, Zachary. But to put it simply, I only wish to be right here, in the midst of the manure and the grass and the dirt.”
“Seems to me you’ve got a bit of a problem with the bottom of your dress, Lady Charlotte …” Zachary said. His eyes skated along the edge of the bright material. “Can’t imagine that’s proper riding wear.”
“It’ll have to do,” Charlotte stammered. She reached for the top of the wooden barrier between her and Goldie. Just behind was Goldie’s equipment: her harness, her saddle. Occasionally, Charlotte liked to ride barebacked but didn’t trust herself not to fall to her death while wearing such a slippery gown.
“It’s just absolutely ridiculous to me, Zachary,” Charlotte began as she suited up the horse. “Ridiculous that a lady should be filled with such knowledge, such artistry, such passion in this life. And then be faced with a future of childbearing, of listening to her husband chew and chew and chew across the dinner table. And then, round out the day with hours of him marvelling at how wonderful he is at the pianoforte.”
“I take it we’re here talkin’ about a specific person, nay?” Zachary offered, laughing.
“I can’t say for certain, Zachary. But I should say that you’re much more of a catch than some horrendous men with titles and fortunes!” Charlotte sighed.
Zachary scrubbed the back of his neck with blackened fingernails. “You’re gonna make me blush, here, Lady Charlotte,” he teased.
Charlotte led Goldie out the opposite double-wide wooden doors. The wind off the moors whipped through her black curls, now completely unruly, even after she and Addie had laboured so intensely to make them lunch-appropriate. Charlotte drew her left leg into the stirrup and then erupted over the top of Goldie, positioning herself with one leg on either side. She leaned close to the horse’s ears, whispering, “If we run like the wind, my girl, they’ll never catch us. They never will.”
Charlotte shifted her weight, giving Goldie the sign that it was time to go. Goldie shot forward, past the fences and through the wide-open moor. Charlotte’s body rollicked back and forth, but she held tight to the reins, ensuring she didn’t fall to either side of the horse. She’d long heard of devastating stories of horse deaths—of girls spinning off from their beloved horses and cracking their skulls open atop rocks. This couldn’t possibly happen to her. Charlotte felt she had far too much to “do” in this life to allow herself that kind of loss, the loss of everything, before her nineteenth birthday.
The horse shot towards a creek, one that whirled its way from the northern estate, all the way to the tiny town towards the valley. Charlotte brought Goldie to a slight canter. They walked along the edge of the creek while Charlotte’s mind continued to purr with a thousand thoughts a second.
“How do I calm myself down, my girl?” she whispered to Goldie, wishing she could find some sort of answer for her racing thoughts.
The root of the problem wasn’t Lord Felton Seymour. Charlotte knew that. Rather, the root was that her parents simply didn’t trust her abilities, her intelligence, and her manner. Although she’d excelled at nearly everything throughout her life, she’d never been her parents’ raison d’être. Rather, they’d tried and ached and wept for a son—but her mother’s womb had remained barren after Charlotte. And thusly, she was a second-prize token, the only tool they had to adopt. And they’d chosen Lord Felton Seymour for that adoption.
As it was now mere days away from April, the Season was brimming and ready to begin in London. Charlotte could feel the expectation of it. She and Margaret had discussed it at-length as children—marvelling at the dresses they would wear, the men they would meet. As Margaret’s parents had fallen into a sort of ruin, they’d had to sell their London mansion in recent years and had decided, instead, to match Margaret with a suitor in the north.
But although Charlotte had been matched with Lord Felton Seymour, the match hadn’t yet been properly announced. In that case, it was more or less a secret—and not yet “official.” The thought dropped into Charlotte’s mind with immediacy. It felt strangely forceful, this thought. She immediately shot her heels into either side of the horse and felt Goldie stumble slightly, fearful at Charlotte’s reaction.
“I’m sorry, my girl,” Charlotte offered. “Really. I wasn’t thinking.”
The horse continued across the moor. Charlotte kicked up speed, whipping wildly towards the edge of the forest. It was nearing early evening, and the sun had begun to drip towards the tip-tops of the trees. The air had become crisp and chilly and delicious. How precious early spring was! How very soon it gave over to the ferocity of summer.
What had Felton said regarding the Season? Charlotte pondered for a moment, trying to dive through some of the arrogant words he’d spoken for some sort of truth. Finally, she remembered their most previous luncheon when he’d stated that he was grateful not to have to dive through the “charade” of the Season, due to their engagement. “However, I will certainly attend a ball or two, if only Charlotte will dance with me,” he’d said.
Of course, Lord Felton Seymour had his own home in London, a place he frequently journeyed to in the height of Parliament. The home was rather close to Charlotte’s family’s home in London, certainly less than a mile. With that distance, Charlotte could keep tabs on the horrendous man.
She could assess his whereabouts, his actions.
She could learn about him, beyond the pompous face he presented to her parents. She could learn his weaknesses. And perhaps—if she was clever enough and crafty enough—she could arrange for some sort of “big reveal.” She could catch him being ungentlemanly. And whatever it was he would do, whatever it was she would reveal, it would surely cause her parents to end the engagement. For they wouldn’t wish their name to be matched with someone of such ungentlemanly nature.
Felton was a complete and total imbecile. Charlotte felt certain, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that she could operate this plan. She could be a sort of puppet master, manipulating the people in her life to ensure that her future wasn’t this wretched, unmanageable thing.
Perhaps she could find a better suitor, as well …
Of course, that wasn’t the purpose for any of this. Rather, she felt certain that she couldn’t fall for anyone; that she was strong-willed and purposeful, that she could manage her family’s estate on her own. Her parents had longed for a son since she’d opened her feminine eyes. Yet she was going to prove to them that they’d never needed that son.
That she was strong enough for all of them.
As the sun dipped lower in the sky, Charlotte raced Goldie back to the stables. As she tore from the saddle, she gave Zachary a wild, rosy-cheeked smile. He grinned at her, seemingly drinking in her insanity, her charm.
“Zachary, I must look a fright!” Charlotte said, tittering as she drew the saddle from Goldie’s back. “I simply can’t control myself right now. I do apologise.”
“Ne’er a lass as pretty as you, Lady Charlotte,” he said. “I always see the wheels turning back there between your ears.”
Charlotte helped brush Goldie clean, cooing to the gorgeous creature to calm her after their afternoon across the moors. Then, she bid Zachary adieu, lifted her chin, and sprung back down the path towards the estate with a renewed sense of purpose. When she reached the door, her fingers were nearly wrapped around the handle when it suddenly whipped back, revealing the desolate figures of her mother and father. Ernest and Theodosia scowled at her, pinching their lips together tight.
“Young lady,” Theodosia began, sweeping her hand to Charlotte’s wrist and guiding her into the foyer. “I don’t know what the meaning of your actions is, in this household. It’s as if you believe you own and operate all goings-on, without a thought to your father and me.”
Charlotte quivered slightly, sensing that if she didn’t stitch up her act fast, she’d be in over her head. She turned her eyes to the ground, again mapping out her plan. Her mother had allowed the door to remain open, and it wafted to-and-fro in the breeze behind her. Addie hadn’t yet lit the candles in the hall, and the house was shadowy, creepy. Filled with ghosts, Charlotte felt sure.
“I yearn only to apologise, Mother and Father,” Charlotte said, her voice low.
It was clear that this wasn’t what her parents had expected. They exchanged glances. Theodosia’s hand snuck along her bodice, curving along the skin of her bosom. Again, she gaped at Charlotte.
“Pardon me?” she asked, sounding as confused as a child.
“Mother and Father, it’s simply that—given this new arrangement with Lord Felton Seymour …” Charlotte began.
“Something that your father and I feel incredibly committed to, mind you,” Theodosia warned.
“Certainly. I understand the importance of this engagement,” Charlotte said, her words articulate. She drew her palms together at her chest, flattening them tight against one another as if she was praying, or pleading. “I know that Lord Felton Seymour will be a beneficial part of this family, a man to extend the family line. And, in turn, he will have a title worth naming—our title. And the line will continue.”
Charlotte felt that these words could only be spoken in sarcasm. She was grateful her parents seemed rapt with the meaning of the words, rather than their tone.
“You agree to marry for our line, my dear?” her father asked. He sent a thick tongue across his bottom lip. “This is marvellous news.”
“But what’s on your mind, darling?” Theodosia asked, tilting her head. She knew Charlotte far too well to think she would agree without stipulation.
“It’s simply that, well …” Charlotte sighed, drawing her toe along a crack in the marble floor. “It’s simply I’m envious of all the girls preparing for the Season in London, the girls who haven’t yet found their suitor. The parties, the dances. The gowns.” Charlotte forced her eyes to roll back as if she was some sort of silly girl who could daydream endless daydreams about whirling through ballrooms on the arms of London’s gentlemen.
As if that could possibly compare to being wild and free atop her horse, darting across the moors.
Her father’s thick lips had stretched into a smile. It seemed he was lapping up her story, falsely comprehending Charlotte to be one of these frivolous girls. Of course he did! He’d long looked past her, seeing only a pretty young thing “without a brain.” Only sons could have such a thing.
“I see what she’s saying,” Ernest said, drawing his hand across his wife’s shoulder. “She wishes to be a part of the full fun of the Season. To have the coming out party. To meet the other girls. My goodness, Theodosia, what would your life have been without it?”
Theodosia arched her brow, seemingly tossing around the concept. Charlotte gave her a sombre nod, pushing forward Ernest’s ideas regarding her true intentions.
“And why shouldn’t she be a part of it?” Ernest continued, his smile widening. “Imagine it, darling. You’re constantly complaining about the grey springs of the North. How much you love London, Theodosia. How you ache for it. The art and the music and the life.”
“And at the end of the Season?” Theodosia asked, her voice harsh. “At the end, you will accept the engagement to Lord Felton Seymour? It will be announced, as planned?”
“Yes,” Charlotte said, feeling her throat catch with the lie. Rather: it wasn’t yet a lie. If she ultimately failed in her mission, she deserved something as wretched as a marriage to Lord Felton Seymour.
“Marvellous,” Ernest said. He rapped his hands together, searching for the doorway.
Suddenly, Addie appeared—all bright eyes and whirling, greying curls. It seemed she was continually on call for them, the ears at the doorway. As she approached, she made eyes at Charlotte, seemingly demanding what she was up to. But Charlotte gave nothing away.
“What is it?” Addie asked.
“I would like to celebrate,” Ernest said. “As the evening draws to a close, we shall toast to my daughter’s upcoming Season in London. In three days’ time, we will depart for the city and remain at the London home until summertime, at which time we will begin arrangements for Charlotte’s marriage to Lord Felton Seymour.”
Addie bowed her head as she snuck from the foyer. Charlotte followed her mother and father into the sitting room, where she watched a zombie-like Addie pour them each a glass of wine. When Addie slipped the glass into Charlotte’s hand, she stitched her eyebrows together for a quick moment, demanding answers. But Charlotte just lent a soft smile.
“To my daughter, the belle of every Season ball,” Ernest said, shooting his glass forward.
Theodosia did the same. Charlotte followed suit, wishing she felt the exuberance and excitement they did. Rather, her heart beat wildly in her chest, so much so that she struggled to breathe. As she tilted the glass of wine back, pouring the liquid across her tongue, she thought of a million possible futures for herself: none of which involved Lord Felton Seymour.
It was up to her to change her destiny. It was up to her to outsmart the entire London Society, along with the two people closest to her—her parents.
“The Secret Plan for a Lady’s Liberation” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Charlotte Grand is a wildly intelligent young girl, on the brink of crafting a beautiful life. But there’s just one problem: her parents have agreed to marry her off to a two-faced, arrogant Lord. Since everyone but her seems to be blind to his deceit, she decides to concoct a plan to prove his evil ways. But little did she know, when she traveled to London with her family, that she was about to meet an exciting man, capable of stealing her heart. Will she manage to focus on her mission or will she surrender to her feelings?
Handsome Lord Ewan Conrad is a man of incredible title and status. Despite his wealth, he’s building an importing and exporting business that sends him traveling around different cities and countries. He’s in it for the adventure, even though gossip swirls around him. But when he returns home in London, he’s struck with the beauty and charm of a young Lady. Will he dare to aim at her heart or will the secrets she seems to carry get him away from her?
Soon enough, the heroes are about to find themselves in a whirlwind of gossip, anger and betrayal. Will Charlotte find a way to escape from the terror of the deceitful Lord? And will Ewan and Charlotte find in one another a true soul mate, despite all odds?
“The Secret Plan for a Lady’s Liberation” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.