Lightning flashed against the dark wood panelling of the hallway, causing Caroline to jump. The flame of her candle flickered, sending a shiver up her spine. She had never liked storms, even as a child. Now that she was older, she tried to mask her fear. However, a part of her still reverted to the childhood terror of being alone in her room, listening to the thunder as it shook the walls of their home. It had been a night much like tonight when they had been forced to leave their country estate over ten years before. It had grown too costly to run with the multitude of servants. With her father’s taste for spending more money than they had, it had been necessary for them to leave their country house. It was the only home she had ever known, but they had been forced to leave in favour of smaller lodgings in London, with some help from her generous aunt.
Caroline hurried down the darkened hallway toward her room, carrying a cup of warmed milk. She had gone to the kitchen and requested the beverage in hopes that it would help her fall asleep, although she had little faith that it would work. As she neared the library, another flash of lightning illuminated the night sky, and she grimaced. She halted, and it was then she heard muted voices floating to her from within the room. The door to the library stood ajar, and while she knew it was impolite of her to eavesdrop, she grew curious. She stepped over to one of the hall tables and set down her candle. She then approached the door and peeked through the crack to see her parents facing off in what looked like a very unpleasant conversation.
“I have told you repeatedly that this would happen, Bertram,” her mother said. “I warned you, but you never listen!” she hissed.
Her father waved her off. “It is not as bad as all that, Adaline. I am sure something can be done.”
Her mother huffed, planting her hands on her hips. She was dressed in a nightgown, over which was a dressing gown of blue silk. Her hair was covered with a white linen nightcap, but it lay askew atop her head, no doubt from shaking her head back and forth at her husband. “There is nothing else to be done, Bertram. The household bills are being called in, and we have no money to pay them! My sister refuses to help us any longer.” She threw a stack of papers down on the coffee table between them, which Caroline surmised were the household accounts. Her heart fluttered. What would happen to them if they could not pay? She had heard stories of the workhouses. Few that went in ever came out of the awful places.
“Nonsense. She will not want to see her nieces starved. Or worse,” her father said. He was always so optimistic that things would turn out alright in the end. All the while, his family was left to worry. At the same time, he flitted through life, seemingly superior to the pressures his spendthrift nature placed on his loved ones. The problem was that he had a love of gambling, with no skill to turn a profit at the game.
“Perhaps it is time we reconsider the offer for her hand–?” his father whispered. Caroline’s heart nearly stopped. Had her father meant the proposal had come for Caroline or her younger sister, Grace? It seemed unlikely that it would be Grace, for even though she was fifteen and the right age to be coming out, her mother had decided to stall her coming out for one more year. It was likely that their family did not have enough money to bring her younger sister out. She did not wait to hear where the conversation would go but burst into the room. Both her parents turned, looking shocked at the intrusion.
“What is this?” she asked, her anger rising.
Her father soon recovered from his shock and pasted a smile on his face. “Caroline! Whatever are you doing up at this hour?” he asked.
Caroline did not return his smile. “I could ask you the same,” she said. “What is this about an offer for my hand?” she asked.
Her father and mother exchanged glances, and he turned to her, holding his hands as if trying to calm a rabid dog. “Now, darling, come in and sit by the fire. We have just received an invitation from Lord Highclere. He will have a dinner party in a few days, and your mother and I were just discussing the details.”
Caroline felt her knees sway under her, and her father seemed to sense her unevenness. Why did he always lie to her to cover up what they were really discussing? It was as if he thought of her as a child still. Had she misunderstood what her parents were arguing about?
Her father took her by the elbow and led her to a chair. “Here, my darling. Sit down. You look as white as a sheet. I know that storms upset you. Here,” he said, directing her to a chair. She followed him as if floating through a vat of molasses.
Caroline glanced at her mother, whose lips had thinned to an almost invisible line. Her father captured her attention once more, kneeling in front of her. “You shall have a new gown for the occasion. Money is no object,” he promised, smiling a little too brightly. Caroline raised a brow, her mother’s angry scowl not lost on her. Her mother stood, giving a loud huff before she stormed out of the room. Caroline frowned.
“What is the matter, Papa?” She did not want to admit that she had been eavesdropping at the door, but she wanted to know just how bad things were. Obviously, money was of concern, or else her mother would not have been pleading with him a few short minutes ago.
He waved her off, standing. “Your mother worries too much. Something will turn up, you know. It always does,” he said. He went to the drink cart, uncorked a bottle of Scotch, and poured himself a glass. “We are only a little short this month. But you should not have to worry about such things, my love. Now, off to bed with you. We shall talk about your new gown in the morning,” he said. He took a swig of the amber liquid, and Caroline stood. She exited the room, retrieving her candle from the side table.
Even as she made her way back up the stairs to her bedroom, she had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Her father always looked on the bright side of things, and there was the part she had overheard about an offer of marriage.
She soon reached her room but decided not to blow out the candle and climb back into bed. Instead, she went to the writing desk and curled up in a blanket, watching as the rain trailed down the glass window panes. The room was slightly chilly, but she made no move to stoke the fire. She was too heartsick, wondering what her future would hold.
James Deveroux, son of the great Lord Jeffrey Deveroux, entered the study with a subtle sigh, wondering what his father wanted this time. Perhaps great was the wrong word to use. His father was undoubtedly feared among his peers in London, both at the House of Lords and at the gaming tables at the club. However, James could not help looking up to him as a role model in many ways. He was a shrewd businessman and had grown the family’s holdings considerably since taking over after his grandfather’s death.
He smiled in his father’s direction and came to sit before the big mahogany desk. “You seem to be in high spirits. What is it you wanted to see me about?” James asked.
His father returned his smile, although it was a calculated one. James could feel that his father was about to ask something of him–something that might not be entirely legal by the way he sauntered around the desk. He sat at the corner of the escritoire and sighed. “I have good news,” he said. James raised a brow, causing his father to give a sardonic laugh. “Why is it that you look at me thus? I have said it is good news.”
“Your definition of good differs from mine at times,” James laughed. “Well, what is it then?” he asked.
His father stood, starting to pace in front of him. He jammed his hands in his jacket pockets and frowned at James. “I do not know why you should be so distrusting of me. I am your father, after all!”
James steeled himself. While being a strong leader, his father also had a bit of an ego, making it difficult to deal with him at times. “Forgive me, Father. I meant it in jest only. Please tell me your news.”
His father brightened at his apology, stopping right in front of his chair and placing a hand on James’s arm with an excited glint in his eyes. “I have done it, my boy! You will be pleased, I am sure.”
“Done what, Papa?” James asked.
His father straightened, puffing out his chest in pride. “I have found you a bride, my dear boy!”
James felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. He blinked, looking at his father with dumbfounded fascination. “A bride?” he repeated. He had known of the expectations that he would be married as soon as he returned from his European tour. Still, he had either not allowed himself to think of it or had simply assumed there would be more time for him to settle in. “Who?” was all he could think to ask from there.
“Do not look so worried. I told you before you left that I would open negotiations for your marriage. And I have found the perfect lady to become your wife.” His father went around the desk and produced a letter, waving it above his head in triumph. “You are to marry Lady Caroline Humphries. I know the name may well be lost on you, but I assure you, she is from a fine family and–” His father stopped mid-sentence, no doubt seeing James’s look of profound displeasure. He let his arm fall to his side. “Now, what is it?”
James straightened in his chair, seemingly snapped out of a trance. He shook his head, shrugging as if it was a small matter. However, his mind was reeling from the implications. “Nothing,” he said quickly. “It is just–” he stopped. How could he explain the emotions roiling inside him? Visions of his last brush with matrimony came flooding to the forefront of his mind. He had loved Lady Beatrice with all his heart, but she had thrown it back in his face after choosing a man twice her age. The only reason that she had not accepted James’s proposal was because the other man had been wealthier than he.
His father seemed to guess the bend of his thoughts. He rolled his eyes and tossed the letter back on the desk. It floated to the wooden surface, and James watched it until his father appeared in his view again, blocking out all distraction as he placed both hands on the arms of his chair, leaning in close. James cleared his throat, unconsciously moving away.
“You must let her go, James. It has been five years, for goodness sake!”
James shifted uneasily in his chair. His father had always made light of the heartbreak that Lady Beatrice had inflicted on him with her betrayal. On the evening he had proposed to her, she had promptly refused, trying to absolve herself of any wrongdoing. Why, then, had she led him on for so long? Indeed, he had been in love with her since they were adolescents, and she had always seemed to go along with his plan that they would someday marry.
He hung his head, trying to push the disturbing memories from his mind. “You are right, I suppose.”
“Suppose? I know I am right.” His father threw up his hands and moved away from the chair. James let out a sigh of relief. “It is high time you were settled. If we are to carry on the Deveroux name, we need an heir, and sooner rather than later.”
His father stomped back behind the desk and sat down, looking glum. James leaned forward, placing his forearms on his knees. He clasped his hands in front of him. “Well, what is she like?” he asked, still not convinced he was ready to move forward with that serious step into matrimony. It was no small matter to consider, especially since there was no going back once the vows had been said.
This concession seemed to please his father. “Lady Caroline is a beautiful girl. She came out a few years ago and, by all accounts, is a paragon of goodness and decency. And that is not all,” he said, his eyebrows dancing in excitement. James had never seen his father look so giddy. He supposed there was some sort of catch.
“I see. Well, what makes you think she will make a good wife?” James asked slowly.
“Her father has agreed to hand over control of his country estate along with his daughter’s hand. Is that not wonderful news? I must say, I am impressed with my skill in negotiation. You are welcome.” His father bowed his head as if James owed him an outstanding debt of gratitude. However, a warning voice started screaming in the back of his mind.
“Why on earth would Lord Chesterfield agree to give his family estate to us, along with Lady Caroline’s hand?” It was very uncommon to see unless the woman had no dowry. James stood, shaking his head. “That makes no sense whatsoever.”
His father stood as well, coming back around the desk. “It is not so unbelievable. Lord Chesterfield has fallen on hard times, thanks to his gambling habits, as my informants tell me. He is eager to see his daughter settled and likely keep his impending ruin under wraps. With this, he keeps his family safe and finds a good man for his daughter.” His father clasped his hands in front of him, looking pleased with himself. “As I said before, the family is of good stock but a little worse for wear as far as their financial situation goes. You do not mind that she comes with no monetary dowry, do you? You are always saying that you do not care about the fortune and all that nonsense.” His father waved him off, rolling his eyes. “So superior, are you not?”
“I do not mean to come off that way, Father. You know that I do not care for riches–”
“Well, thankfully, I do. I have secured Pembroke Manor for you as an additional house that may be used for whatever purpose you deem fit.”
James blinked in shock. His father rarely let him be in charge of anything regarding business matters. “You will entrust the house to me?” he asked.
“Well, why not? It is your future wife’s old stomping grounds, is it not? From what Lord Chesterfield tells me, the main house has been closed up for quite some time, and there are only a couple of tenants left on the lands. But with some investment, it might be turned into a successful estate once more.” His father gave him a wry smile.
“Will it not be difficult to run two estates at once, Father? Shall we not sell?” James asked.
“You are getting ahead of yourself, lad. I suggest keeping the place, at least for a little while. If, when you inspect it, you feel that it would be better to sell, then I defer to your judgement. However, if you feel it can be made to go again, I will leave the overseeing of the property to you alone.” His father beamed at him in pride. “Indeed, it would be good practice for you. Suppose you can make Pembroke Estate successful again after such a long hiatus. In that case, you will prove that you are worthy of Thorneby Place.” His father raised a brow as if calling him to a higher standard.
James sank back into his chair in disbelief. It seemed that his father had never given his abilities more than a passing thought. However, if he could work on a project that was not as high risk, he would feel much better about shouldering all the responsibility of his father’s empire when the time came.
He sighed, trying to come to terms with the immense weight of information his father had laid on him. “I suppose I can consider it,” he said.
“Consider the marriage or the opportunity I am handing you?” he asked, his eyes burning with a cold glint of frustration.
James did not like to be the argumentative type, but something still did not feel right about the arrangement. “Both, I suppose.”
His father rose out of his chair, looking like an emperor surveying his kingdom, as he went to the window and looked out at the sodden streets of London. “Well, perhaps you will better be able to make up your mind when you meet her at the dinner party her father, and I have arranged a few nights hence.” He turned and eyed James with a mischievous smile. “I think you will be pleased with my choice.”
James gulped nervously. His father was more concerned with looks and wealth than with what really mattered–compassion, kindness, and decency. He stood, nodding. He did not want to prolong the conversation by offering more arguments. He would take his father’s advice and see for himself if this Lady Caroline was worth the effort. “Very well, Father. I shall agree to meet her. However, I would ask for your indulgence as far as rushing ahead into any agreements.” He turned to leave, but just before he exited the room, he heard his father mutter to himself.
“We shall see.”
James turned around, raising a brow at his father. He did not elaborate, however, and James continued on his way. No matter what his father hoped, he would not be wrested into an arrangement for which he wanted no part. They would, indeed, see.
“For a Lady’s Fiery Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Caroline Humphries is a spirited young woman who has experienced a big share of struggle in her short life. Due to her gambling father, she is faced with having to marry a wealthy gentleman to keep them out of debt. Resisting this dreadful future is pointless, as her fate has already been decided by her conniving father and the son of the wealthy Lord Deveroux. Luckily, Caroline is unexpectedly left mesmerised after meeting the charming Lord James Deveroux.
If only the revelation of their fathers’ schemes was not threatening to ruin their only chance of a happily ever after…
Lord James Deveroux is a man of honour and virtue, but his heart has been closed off since his beloved one left him years ago. Therefore, he never expected to fall in love again, let alone be pushed into marriage by his scheming father. However, as soon as he lays eyes on Caroline, he realises that she may be the key to unlocking his heart once again.
Could it be that a love match is still possible after such a rough start?
As Caroline and James navigate the stormy waters of their new marriage, they find themselves drawn to each other in ways they never thought possible. However, their families’ greed and recklessness threaten to tear them apart. Will Caroline and James be able to rise above the obstacles in their path and find happiness in an everlasting union? Or will their growing love collapse under the burden of external pressure and doubt?
“For a Lady’s Fiery Heart” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.