“Catherine Tilburne, what are you doing?”
Catherine glanced up with a guilty look on her face as her grandmother entered the room. She turned around and smoothed her skirts, wanting nothing more than to gain her grandmother’s approval. Her mother had brought her straight from the modiste after the last fittings for the several dresses her mother had ordered. From now on, she would no longer wear dresses with skirts that stopped a foot below the knee. She was a young woman now and would wear the ‘grown-up’ dresses with hems that reached the floor.
Her grandmother paused as she entered the room. She handed her hat and gloves to her maid and swiftly shooed the woman away. “Well, I see that you are in leading strings no longer,” she said with a somewhat disillusioned tone.
Catherine hung her head. She had not been in leading strings for twelve years, but her grandmother always compared her to a baby. She seemed to have no use for her or her younger sister. Perhaps now that she was older, things would be different as it was for their older sister, Saara. Her grandmother doted on Saara, as if she could do no wrong.
“Well, I am glad to see you, dear. You are becoming a young woman and the next few years will be imperative to your future.” Her grandmother came into the sitting area and sat down with a sigh. “Come here, child. Let me look at you.”
Catherine did as she was told, feeling a nervous lump forming in her throat. Her grandmother raised a brow, giving her a serious looking over. “Turn,” she instructed.
Catherine turned, shooting a cautious glance over her shoulder as she did so. When she faced her grandmother again, she was surprised that she reached out her hands and took them.
“Hmm. Thirteen. It is a good age to be. And you wear the silks well. There will be no more tearing about the garden as you used to do,” her grandmother said. She motioned for Catherine to sit down.
She went over to a chair that was positioned beside the sofa that her grandmother occupied. She was sure to keep her back straight and fold her hands gracefully in her lap, as her mother and governess had told her. She seemed to hear the phrase, “Sit up straight, you are not a savage,” at least a hundred times a day.
“Well, I do hope your mother had some more vibrant colours chosen for your other dresses. That light pink is doing nothing for your complexion. Next time, I will come with you to the modiste,” she said. Her grandmother stood, leaning heavily on a wooden and ivory cane. “Come with me.”
Catherine’s eyes smarted. She had been the one to choose the colours of her new dresses and had thought the softer shades were more feminine and elegant. She lowered her gaze to the floor, trying to push away the sting of her grandmother’s words. Would she ever be able to be good enough for her?
She quickly wiped her tears away when her grandmother’s back was turned and followed her up the stairs to the second floor. The dower house was modest but beautiful, with only six bedrooms compared to the 21 in the main manor house where Catherine lived with her parents and younger sister, Danielle.
Her grandmother led her down the hall, with its dark wooden floors and long oriental rugs. Mirrors hung in intervals down the corridor, making it appear larger than it was. The curtains were parted away from the tall windows, which allowed the hall to be flooded with warm spring sunshine. Catherine had rarely been allowed to come to the second floor of her grandmother’s home, and she looked around at the lavish furnishings and paintings hung on the walls as they made their way to her grandmother’s suite of rooms.
She had only been allowed in her grandmother’s room on one occasion. She had joined her mother for a visit a few years after her grandmother had taken a nasty fall in the garden. She had been forced to remain in her bed for weeks while her shin bone healed, fractured by the force of her fall. That incident left her with damage to her right ankle, leaving her with a permanent limp.
Catherine took a steadying breath as she entered her grandmother’s bedchamber. It was lighter than she remembered. Of course, when she had come to visit her during her recovery after the fall, the curtains had been drawn over the windows, contributing to the gloominess of the situation.
However, this time the curtains were parted, and Catherine walked over to the window to look at the brilliant green rolling hills and cherry trees starting to bud. One of the windows was partially open, allowing a soft breeze to flow into the room. It carried the scent of fresh-tilled earth and flowers from the garden. She looked down and saw the gardeners’ hard work as they cut dead foliage from the previous year and made way for new rose bushes. The rose transplants were wrapped in bits of gunny sack, and the gardeners were placing them in intervals around the house.
“I have an affinity for roses,” her grandmother said, stepping up beside her. “When I came to live in the dower house, you should have seen the state my mother-in-law had left it in. It has taken years to bring it back up to snuff, but it is finally getting to the place where I can enjoy my garden.” Her grandmother motioned her to follow her to a small sitting area a few yards away. She sat down with a heavy sigh once more. “Go over to my vanity and get the jewellery box with the gold hinges.”
Just then, her grandmother’s maid entered the room, balancing a large silver tea tray. Catherine went to the vanity while her grandmother talked with her maid. She found the jewellery box and lifted the lid. Sparkling jewels greeted her, arranged on the navy blue velvet inside. She frowned when she saw a tiny black velvet ring box tucked in the back corner. She picked it up and opened it; the hinges creaking loudly. Catherine gave a surprised gasp as she was faced with the most brilliant sapphire she had ever seen, almost as big as a cherry seed. Surrounding the centre sapphire stone were tiny diamonds, of which there must have been a hundred. She turned it to the light, and it glinted in the sun.
“What is keeping you, Catherine?” her grandmother asked, annoyed that she had kept her waiting. Catherine closed the larger jewellery box, picked it up, and took it over to her grandmother. She took it and placed it on a side table beside her chair.
“What were you doing over there?” she asked.
Catherine gulped, producing the black ring box. She held it out to her grandmother. “I found this in the back of the jewellery box–”
Her grandmother snatched it out of her hand. “Do not touch that!” she said. She quickly closed the lid and shoved it back into the recesses of the jewellery box. “Don’t you know it’s extremely rude to poke your nose in places it does not belong? I told you to bring me the box, not rummage around in it.”
Catherine sat down, feeling thoroughly chastised. “Forgive me, Grandmama. I should not have done that.” She licked her lips nervously, wondering if she would tell her parents what she had done. “It is a beautiful ring, though.”
“Yes, well, beauty is fleeting,” her grandmother snapped. She started going through the pieces in the jewellery box and finally produced a simple pearl necklace. “Here, this is what I wanted you to have. My mother commissioned these for me when I entered society. They belonged to your aunt after me, God rest her soul.” Her grandmother turned away, closing the lid of the jewellery box. “They belong to you now.”
She held out the string of elegant pearls to her, and Catherine took them, awed by the gift. “Thank you, Grandmama.”
Her grandmother gave a severe nod, but Catherine could see tears in her eyes. Any mention or thought of Catherine’s aunt elicited the reaction. She had died shortly after coming out and was rarely spoken of. Catherine believed it was too painful for her grandmother to talk about. Perhaps her aunt’s death was one of the reasons her grandmother was so cold and closed off.
“I shall cherish this forever,” Catherine promised. Her grandmother took a deep breath and waved her maid over.
“Yes, well, I should hope so. Someday all of these baubles will go to you. If you can learn to care for them the way they should be cared for. Many of them have been in the Tilburne family for generations.” When her maid appeared at her side, Catherine leaned down to hear what her grandmother wanted.
“Help her fasten the necklace. I want to see how it looks,” her grandmother instructed. Catherine handed the necklace to the maid and turned around so she could fasten the clasp. The pearls were cool against her skin, and she touched them gently as the maid helped her.
Her grandmother gave a decided nod. “Yes, very pretty. I do not believe a young lady should be too gaudy with her jewellery choices, but as you get older, I will allow you to wear some of the family diamonds.” Her grandmother seemed pleased with herself, and Catherine smiled.
“Thank you, Grandmama,” she said softly. Curiosity still niggled at the back of her mind, however. Why had she snatched the sapphire ring out of her hands and hidden it away again? “Did the sapphire ring belong to one of our ancestors?” she asked.
Her grandmother’s face again clouded with dark emotion. Catherine’s heart skipped a beat, wishing she had kept her questions to herself. Her grandmother shifted in her seat, gripping the armrest with white knuckles.
“You are never to ask about that ring again. Do you understand?” she said with finality. Catherine hung her head. When she looked back up, her grandmother’s features had softened, but only slightly. “It is a reminder of a painful family drama that is best left in the dark. At least until you are a little older.”
Catherine had heard whispers of the “family drama” in passing, but no one had ever explained anything. Catherine kept her questions locked inside. Her grandmother’s evasiveness had only increased her curiosity. What could be so harmful about a ring?
Henry Briddley, future Duke of Lancaster, entered his family home and breathed a sigh of relief. The butler hurried over to the door with a look of surprise pasted on his aged features.
“Lord Henry! How good to see you, sir. Her Grace told us not to expect you for another week!” he said. “Forgive me for not opening the door for you. I was just finishing with His Grace on the household accounts.”
“Do not worry, Jenson. You look well,” he replied with a smile.
The butler took his hat and gloves while Henry gave him a broad smile, sighing happily as he travelled further into the brightly lit foyer. “No, I travelled day and night on the London stage to be here early. I have missed everyone,” he said.
“Well, I am sure Europe was wonderful, my lord?”
“It has many excellent qualities, Jenson, but I am glad to be home,” Henry replied. He took a deep breath before heading into the parlour to greet his family. One of the best things about being away in Europe was the sense of freedom that he felt. To not have his father constantly looking over his shoulder, criticising his every move, had been a relief. However, now that he was home, the Duke was sure to find something wrong with how he had handled the business.
When he appeared in the doorway, his brothers sat at a game table, studying a chess board. His brother, Nicholai, now seventeen, was faced off with their fifteen-year-old brother, Andrew. They seemed locked in an epic battle of wits and strategy, while their other brother watched in raptures. Alexai, Andrew’s twin, stood behind him and whispered little encouragements while they waited for Nicholai to make his next move. As the children of an English father and a Russian mother, they were fiercely competitive and passionate, but also well-mannered and gentlemanly… mostly. His brothers were still young and had that very male trait of being sometimes obnoxious. They would learn. Their father would see to that.
Henry cleared his throat and pasted a broad smile as he entered the room. “Well, it seems you are all sitting in the same position as when I left,” he teased. “Do you not do anything but play chess?”
His three brothers looked up at him and took all three seconds to stand clumsily from the game table and rush over to him. There was much slapping on the back and all sorts of questions thrown at him. He laughed as they seemed to fall over each other in their excitement. He held up his hands. “One at a time, boys. One at a time.”
“We did not think you would be home until next week!” Alexai said. “Dasha will be pleased.”
Henry looked around the room, frowning slightly. “Where is the little cherub, anyway?” he asked.
“Do not call me that anymore. I am not a baby,” Dasha said from the doorway. Henry turned, and she looked at him with a serious stare for a moment. However, she could not look so severe for long. A smile began tugging at the corners of her mouth, and soon it was blooming over her face.
Lovely Dasha. She was the youngest of the Briddley children, just thirteen, and was the only girl out of the lot. However, she had all her brothers wrapped around her little finger, especially Henry.
She rushed forward and sailed into his arms. He wrapped his arms around her middle, lifting her off the floor and spinning her around. “Oh, my little Dasha, you will always be a little angel to me. No matter when we are old and wrinkled, and neither of us has any hair left to speak of.”
Dasha slapped his arm playfully when he put her down. “You may be balding, but I assure you I intend to hang onto my hair.”
“Well, if nothing else, you can wear a wig like the French ladies used to do. Perhaps you will bring back the monstrous wigs from the last century.”
“I would rather that than go about with a scarf over my bald head.” She shot back, flipping her hair over her shoulders. She would never have to worry about baldness, although he would go on teasing her about whatever would get a rise. Dasha had the most beautiful, luscious black tresses, still allowed to wear it loose in soft ringlets about her shoulders. Soon, she would be all grown up, with her hair piled atop her head in elaborate styles and beautiful silk gowns–and he having to fend off the young men until the right one came along. Already she was a beauty with whom no one could compare, in his opinion.
He chucked her under the chin and continued with his teasing. “You would not be able to hold your head straight with all that weight on your neck. I daresay you would fall right onto your backside.”
Dasha walked a few feet away, turning to look over her shoulder at him. She stuck out her tongue, and he chuckled.
“Ahh, Henry, there you are! Jenson told us that you had just arrived. Why did you not send a letter ahead and tell us if you’re coming?” Henry turned as his mother entered the room, smiling her usual cold smile that never seemed to reach her eyes. She came over to him, turning her face so he could kiss her.
“Hello, Mama. There was no use in doing so. The letter would have arrived after me anyway,” he explained. She nodded and made room for his father to greet him. Henry felt his heart racing at the very sight of the imposing man. He nodded with nary a smile in sight. He then reached out his hand, and they shook instead of exchanging a hug. Indeed, Henry would have been most uncomfortable if his father had tried to hug him. He could not remember a time in his life, even when he had been a small child, that his father had ever done so.
“Well, back again, I see. How was the journey?” his father asked. He went and sat down on the settee, and Henry followed him over. They all sat down, and his mother rang the bell for tea.
“It was most successful, I think,” Henry replied. He sat on the edge of his chair, looking his father in the eye as he always insisted he do.
His father gave an indiscernible grunt. “Hmm, well, we shall see about that. You kept a detailed report like I asked?”
“Of course, Father–” Henry replied, but his mother interrupted them.
“Give him a chance to settle in, Your Grace,” his mother said in her thick Russian accent. She turned to Henry and smiled. “Did you see the Conte Fournier?”
“No, I did not, Mama. But I did leave a calling card at his house in Paris and a few days later received a letter from him saying he was sorry that he was not able to receive me.”
“That was kind. He has been a friend of the Dosteyevsky family for many years,” she said.
Henry knew. He suspected that his mother had been in love with the Conte before she married his father. He shifted the subject when he saw the keen disapproval in his father’s eyes. “Well, what has been happening with all of you while I was away? Behaving yourselves, hmm, boys?” he asked.
He leaned back and smiled as his brothers told him of all their exploits until spring. Nicholai had purchased a new horse and was doing very well with training him to jump. Andrew, though only fifteen, was becoming very interested in science and was beginning to make leaps and bounds. His father had even spoken with one of the gentlemen at the Royal Society to see if he might find a place there when he finished at university.
He had to pry any information out of his brother Alexai, who was much quieter than his other brothers. He was the family poet, always living with his head in the clouds and scribbling away his prose to all hours of the night.
Dasha came and sat beside him in a vacant chair when the boys had finished telling him of their exploits. “And what of you, Little Dasha?” he asked affectionately.
“Oh, you know me. I must toil away with my French and Latin. Mama says I have come a long way over the spring.”
“Da. She has,” their mother chimed in.
All the children had been brought up to speak Russian and English from the day they were born. Dasha, however, excelled at languages.
“Well, we will not be able to linger over tea this afternoon. There is a ball this evening, and it is good luck that you have arrived home, Henry, so you can attend with us.”
Henry’s face fell. “A ball? Oh, no, Mama. I am spent. I planned to unpack and spend the evening catching up on some much-needed rest. I have just spent the last three days in a public coach, after all.”
“Nonsense. You must go and that is the end of it,” his father said.
Henry clamped his mouth shut, knowing there was no room for argument. He tried not to let his disappointment show. “Who is hosting this party?”
“The youngest Tilburne girl is coming out this evening,” his mother said.
Tension could be felt all through the room at the very mention of their sworn enemy’s name.
“The Tilburne’s? Must we, Mama?” he asked. He had spent the last few months without a care in the world, save for the simple business matters his father had entrusted to him. He would much rather have travelled around the world than be embroiled in the age-old family feud with the Tilburnes.
“Yes, of course, we must,” his father snapped. “We cannot allow them to think we were giving up ground.” His father began pacing, heading over to the mantel to retrieve his pipe from its decorative box. “Besides, there is a very prominent family that will be there, and the eldest daughter has just come out. I think she would make an excellent bride for you, Henry.”
Henry exchanged a knowing glance with his mother. “I do not understand why we have to keep up with this feud. Has it not gone on long enough?”
His mother, who was usually fairly pleasant and friendly, was anything but when it came to the Tilburne women. “That woman intentionally spelled my name wrong on the invitation. I know it.”
Henry rolled his eyes, feeling a headache coming on. The feud between the Tilburne and Briddley families had started so long ago, a misunderstanding between his great-great grandmother and one of the Tilburne earls during the reign of Henry IV. A plethora of misconceptions and silly bickering had flowed down through the generations. Henry couldn’t care less what had happened, but said nothing. His father was already in a foul mood, as he often was.
“Very well. But I may leave a little early, if that is acceptable, Father? I am exhausted from the journey home.”
“We shall see,” his father mumbled.
Dasha flashed him a sympathetic smile. She was fortunate, for she was still not old enough to attend social gatherings. Not until she came out in society would she have that “honour.” He envied her, wishing he could stay home and spend a leisurely evening by the fire with his young sister. He exhaled, standing.
“Well, if that is the case, I should be sure that my valet airs my suit and prepares it for the festivities this evening. Excuse me,” he said and started out of the room.
When he was safely out in the hall, he let out a breath of frustration. This whole feud business made his head spin. Every season it was the same–a battle of wills between his parents and Lord and Lady Edgewater. He had hoped that, somehow, this season would be different, but it was foolish of him to think that anything would change. However, he vowed that the whole matter would be put to rest if possible when he became Duke. He, for one, did not want to live in the past, embittered by old wrongs.
“A Lady’s Dearest Enemy” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
The day Lady Catherine Tilburne discovers an old ring in her grandma’s house, the feud between the Tilburnes and the Briddleys reignites. When she has the dreamiest dance with a charming man who steals her heart, her father reveals the man’s identity to be no other than his sworn enemy’s son. While the feud’s hatred casts its shadows upon Catherine’s feelings for Henry Briddley, her heart wonders if it could truly belong to her supposed enemy…
Will Catherine’s love for Henry overcome an everlasting conflict?
Lord Henry Briddley, future Duke of Lancaster, was not looking for love. Nevertheless, his unexpected encounter with Catherine fills his soul with unprecedented emotions. After the revelation of her identity, Henry is determined to pursue the dashing beauty regardless of the cost. Their secret meetings begin, but the spark of their hidden romance tears his world apart, making him face his ancestor’s mistakes.
Their lives are soon embroiled in a web of lies and deceit, and it is only a matter of time before their parents find out…
As their love grows from the ashes of an old lost romance, a masquerade ball turns their lives upside down. With Catherine’s father pushing her into a forced marriage, and Henry risking his disownment, the two soulmates must work together to find the truth behind the feud. Will they be able to bring their families together and reveal that what unites them is more powerful than what separates them? Or will they be ripped apart by bitterness, doomed by an unfair past?
“A Lady’s Dearest Enemy” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.