Juliana lifted her face to the sun, enjoying its warm rays for a brief moment before covering it under the shade of her parasol. Winter had finally relinquished its hold on Northamptonshire, and spring had taken its place.
Her friends chatted on either side of her as they walked through the village park late one morning, each one talking over the other as they discussed their plans for the warmer season.
“I cannot bear this sun!” Hannah suddenly wailed, startling them all. “Why did we choose to go walking today?”
Juliana laughed. “How can you ask that? You wished to promenade through the park to catch the attention of potential male suitors. I suggested fishing in Lord Richardson’s lake. At least be thankful this spring has not started out as wet as the previous year.”
The year 1811 had been a miserable wet spring and a dry summer by most standards, and many hoped for a better year.
“Be reasonable, Juliana,” said Emma. “How can you believe fishing in Lord Richardson’s lake is a worthy activity for us?”
“I would not have suggested it unless I thought it worthy,” Juliana insisted.
All three of her friends curled their lips in distaste at the very thought of standing with a fishing rod in their hands and catching stinky fish. Juliana sighed and shook her head. She loved her friends, but they had no sense of adventure.
“I would rather have my fish served on a platter and covered in parsley or butter sauce,” Emma claimed.
“I do not even like fish!” Phoebe added. “And fishing is a man’s sport. Why step on their terrain?”
“Do you not ever grow tired of the monotony?” Juliana asked, her exasperation growing. “We walk in the park, write letters, paint and draw, play instruments, dance … why not widen our repertoire and try such things as fishing, archery, hunting, or perhaps even cooking?”
All three women gasped.
“Cooking?” Emma asked. “Surely you do not mean that? Have you attempted to cook?”
Last week, Juliana had attempted to flavour a stew while no one was looking, but she had not been successful. Their poor cook still had no explanation for the sudden bitterness of her venison stew, and Juliana had been too embarrassed to reveal what she had done.
“I said try,” she told Emma, ignoring her question. “You make it sound as though I have just asked you to become a servant.”
“You might as well have asked that very thing,” Hannah insisted. “Cooking is not for people of our class, and neither is all that manly sport acceptable for ladies. I cannot understand why you find such things interesting, Juliana. I still cannot believe you convinced your father that you should join his hunting club.”
“I’m a better hunter than most of the men in his club,” Juliana said with a shrug. “Why not include me?”
Phoebe shook her head. “You do all these odd things and still win our quarterly popularity contests. Why?”
“What do you wish me to say?” Juliana asked her. “I have never asked anyone to favour me above others.”
Northampton had a long-standing tradition of holding numerous contests throughout the year, such as catching the biggest fish or who could grow the biggest pumpkin. Phoebe’s mother had come up with the idea of having all the eligible young men and women cast a vote for who they believed was best suited for “Most Well-liked Person” title. It was silly, really, but it amused some.
“When shall we sit and rest our weary feet?” Hannah asked some moments later.
Of the four of them, Hannah was the one who detested long walks, but she was determined to be the first of the group to get married, and that included a sacrifice of doing what she hated.
“The closest bench is up ahead,” Juliana said. “Another minute or two of walking, and you can sit down. I wonder if Mr Giles is about? We can buy a few ices from him while we rest.”
“If he is, I would like the blackcurrant flavour,” Emma piped in. She seemed to think about that for a moment and shook her head. “Perhaps not. It dyed my mouth purple and made me look hideous in front of Geoffrey. Apple might be best.”
Juliana almost laughed as she recalled that day, but that would send Emma into tears, and she would have to spend the rest of the day making it up to the sensitive woman.
“Geoffrey didn’t mind,” Hannah told her.
“He couldn’t get away soon enough the second I opened my mouth,” Emma protested. “I doubt he’ll wish to dance with me at our next ball.”
Hannah and Phoebe tried to comfort the woman, but Juliana wisely said nothing. Geoffrey Atkins was a superficial man and would have found Emma’s stained mouth distasteful. He was already showing interest in Mary Peeple, the vicar’s wayward daughter.
They reached the bench, and fortunately, it wasn’t occupied. Juliana went off to look for the street vendor for their ices, worried he might be sold out or the ices had melted. The warm spring sun would not help keep his blocks of ice solid for long, even if they were packed with salt.
A statuesque woman and her little dog passed her, nearly blinding Juliana with the number of jewels they were both wearing.
Goodness! Surely one does not need to wear that much jewellery in the park? And why on earth would one put a diamond necklace around a dog’s neck?
The fluffy, white Pomeranian appeared just as haughty as her owner up until a flock of geese settled on the pond nearby. The dog’s high-pitched barks could probably be heard in the next town and were near-deafening for Juliana, who was only a few feet away from them. The cheeky thing refused to calm down despite her owner trying to soothe her, even straining at her leash.
“Penny!” she heard the woman protest. “Do stop it. You will not run after those geese like some common dog. Remember who you are.”
Juliana chuckled silently. An animal was an animal, no matter the breed or the number of jewels it wore. Penny wanted to run after those geese, and by Jove, she would try all she could to do it.
“Penny!” the woman wailed as the dog broke free and sprinted towards the pond.
Will the silly dog indeed jump into the pond?
Juliana watched in amazement as the dog took a flying leap and landed in the water with a loud splash.
“Penny!” the woman screeched, her voice breaking at the end as she ran to the edge of the pond.
The geese scattered, squawking their protest as they took flight. The dog resurfaced for just several seconds before it went down again, its paws the last to disappear. Heavens! Her collar had to be weighing her down.
The dog’s distraught owner started yelling, her voice piercing the otherwise tranquil park environment.
“Oh! Oh! She’s drowning! Penny! Penny!”
The dog came back up, its little legs kicking hard, but it wasn’t enough because she disappeared under the water again.
People started to gather around the pond, but not one man offered to help.
Does chivalry not extend to assisting women in rescuing their dogs? I suppose not.
There was no way that Juliana could watch the poor thing die, so she threw her parasol to the side, took her shoes off, and waded into the water, much to the surprise of the onlookers.
“What on earth is she doing?” she heard a woman ask.
“Saving the dog, Henrietta,” another answered her. “What does it look like? Foolish thing to do, you know. Her dress will be ruined!”
Meanwhile, the dog’s owner had half-collapsed against an unwilling gentleman and was crying about her poor dead Penny. Fortunately for Juliana, the water came to her hips, so she wouldn’t have to get completely wet, but her feet were touching slimy things that made her wish she had kept her shoes on.
Where was the dog? Juliana heard splashing on her right and the gurgled sounds of the dog trying to communicate its distress. She moved towards the creature, crying out in surprise when the land beneath her shifted. Juliana fell forward, the water closing over her head as she went under. She emerged quickly, pushing the hair from her eyes as her feet found solid ground.
“Drat!” she complained. “All this for a little dog that likely would have bitten my hand if I had tried to pet it.”
Where was it? She yelled when something with claws bumped her leg, taking her a second longer to realise it was the dog. Juliana immediately reached down and dragged the dog up, getting scratched in the process as it tried to climb up her.
“Just a minute!” she told the dog and had to hold it tightly against her chest to stop the scratching.
Penny eventually calmed down and gave a whimper, shivering against Juliana’s bosom. Despite being wet and a little hurt, she was relieved the dog was still alive if soaking wet and terrified.
“Time to get out and get you back to your mistress,” she told the dog and moved back towards dry ground.
Penny’s owner was waiting with open arms, snatching the dog from Juliana before she was entirely out of the water.
“Oh, Penny! Don’t you ever do that to me again!” the woman tearfully scolded.
Juliana looked down at herself and was grateful she had chosen a dark colour today, or she might have been indecently exposed to the gathered crowd.
“Julie!” she heard her friends call out to her.
A gentleman offered his hand to pull Juliana out of the water, but what use was he to her now? She declined the hand and moved past the crowd to where her friends stood.
“What were you thinking?” Phoebe cried. “Look at you!”
“No one else was going to save the dog, so I did. I wasn’t expecting to swim in the pond, but I must say that it was rather refreshing. Perhaps I’ll make it a daily routine.”
“Foolish woman,” Emma scolded. “You’ll catch a cold if we don’t get you out of these clothes. Come, we have to get you home.”
“I need my parasol and shoes,” said Juliana, looking back towards the pond.
“I have them,” Hannah informed her. “Here, put your shoes on at least. I don’t want your feet getting cut on the stones. No more heroics for today, you hear?”
Hannah narrowed her eyes but said nothing. They helped wring out her dress and hair as much as they could, still scolding her for her actions. Juliana received another reprimand when she arrived home and was sent straight to bed, where she was subjected to herbal remedies to avoid a cold.
All this, and I didn’t even get a thank you.
However, a letter addressed to her did come to the house several days later during her morning tea with her mother. Juliana put down her teacup and took the letter from her abigail, not recognising the image on the wax seal.
“Thank you, Kersey,” she said, giving the abigail a brief smile.
“Who is it from, dear?” her mother asked.
“I’ll find out in just a moment, Mama.” Opening the letter, Juliana took a moment to read it before looking up at her mother in mild surprise. “I suppose I have received my ‘thank you’ after all.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s from Penny’s owner— the dog I rescued last week. The woman wishes to thank me for rescuing her dog and has invited me to dinner tomorrow. How on earth did she find me?”
“Who is the woman?” her mother wanted to know. “What is her name?”
“The Countess of Somersby. I feel that I know that name.”
Her mother gasped. “The Countess of Somersby? You rescued her dog?”
“Yes. Why? Do you know her?”
“Of course! She is one of the wealthiest dowagers in England and has come to town to spend a few months here. She usually goes to London for the Season but decided against it this year. Who would have thought that my daughter would save her dog? Wait until Marian hears of this! You simply must go, dear. Does the invitation extend to your parents?”
Amused by her mother’s reaction, Juliana gave a little chuckle and reread the letter. Sure enough, the invitation was extended to her parents.
“How wonderful!” the viscountess gushed. “Did you say it’s tomorrow? Goodness! Do I have anything appropriate to wear? I wonder if Louise will be able to put something together by tomorrow?” the woman said more to herself.
“No more spending, Mama,” Juliana protested. “You promised you wouldn’t use any more of our monthly budget.”
“But this is important, dear. We must make a good impression.”
“I already did that when I saved her dog,” Juliana protested. “We simply do not have the funds for a new dress. Besides, Louise cannot sew a dress in a day. That wouldn’t be fair to her.”
Juliana was tired of her parents’ overspending. Her grandfather refused to give them any more money because the couple wouldn’t curb their spending habits, and Juliana didn’t blame him.
“I suppose I can find something to wear,” her mother replied, pouting. “But do not blame me when she looks at us as though we are not worth her time.”
“You are Lady Torrey, a well-respected woman in our town. Why would the dowager think such a thing? I’m certain all she’ll feel is gratitude. Our attire will be the last thing on her mind.”
“I certainly hope so. I would hate to be ridiculed.”
“You won’t be,” Juliana assured. “You have many lovely dresses to choose from. Why don’t you narrow down your choices, and I’ll help you choose one?”
The viscountess’ eyes lit up. “Will you give me one of your own gowns?”
“I didn’t say that,” Juliana argued.
The viscountess was a little wider and fuller around the bosom and hips and would ruin Juliana’s dresses.
“Very well. I’ll go through my armoire after tea. Perhaps I can add a few bits of lace to one of the gowns to make it look newer.”
“I could not have thought of a better solution myself,” Juliana said, readily agreeing.
The viscountess continued to talk about the dinner, telling Juliana everything she knew about the dowager countess. Being invited by the woman was supposedly an honour, but Juliana had rescued the woman’s dog, so it should be an honour for the dowager to meet her.
Tomorrow evening should be interesting.
“Do you think she’ll wish to reward you with something monetary?” Juliana’s father asked on their way to Lady Somersby’s manor.
The viscount had asked the question at least three times already, and Juliana’s answer had been the same each time.
“No, Papa. She has invited us to dinner— is that not thanks enough?”
“You nearly died to save that dog,” her father protested. “The least she could do is give you something worth having. A piece of jewellery or some money would be appropriate.”
“Oh, hush, Peter,” his wife said. “Do not embarrass us with your questions about rewards.”
“You asked the same thing,” the viscount accused.
Juliana’s mother had the decency to blush. “Yes, but I haven’t asked since then. Let’s simply enjoy this dinner, and hopefully, the countess will consider us as people she wants to associate herself with. Everyone must be on their best behaviour.”
Juliana sighed and leaned her head on the carriage backrest. Money was always on her parents’ minds, and people were only interesting and worthy of attention if they could provide them with something. It was rather embarrassing, to say the least, but they were still her parents for all their faults, and she loved them.
Fortunately, the carriage ride was not too long because Juliana’s patience was running out. She silently prayed her parents would behave themselves in the dowager countess’ presence and stepped out after her mother. She hadn’t bothered to look out the carriage window to catch her first glimpse of the manor because she had been too busy diffusing another potential argument about money.
Now, looking up at the building, Juliana had to admit that it was something special. She had heard about Clarington Manor, but she had never been to the estate because it was by invitation only, and given by whoever had taken up residence until their lease was through.
“The manor is even more impressive than I recall,” her mother said in awe.
“She has a son, doesn’t she?” the viscount asked.
“I think so, but he’s likely married,” his wife replied. “What I would give to be related to the old crone.”
“Mama!” Juliana protested. “That is rude, and she is not that old.”
“Yes, yes, I didn’t mean it,” her mother insisted. “Oh, look, someone has come out to greet us. My, isn’t he handsome! I do not think he is the butler.”
Juliana groaned. It was probably too much to hope that one of her parents wouldn’t make an inappropriate comment. They knew better, but their mouths tended to run away with them at times.
However, her mother was right about calling the approaching man handsome. There was still enough sunlight left to notice his lovely facial bone structure; full, dark hair, and when he was close enough, the brightest corn blue eyes Juliana had ever seen. Judging by the way he was dressed, she doubted he was a servant.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lord and Lady Torrey,” the man greeted. “And this must be the heroine my mother has not stopped talking about. Miss Hathaway, it is an honour.”
The man bowed to her and raised his head to reveal his brilliant smile and deep dimples. Perhaps beautiful was a better word to describe him.
“The honour is all ours,” her mother replied, her tone vaguely flirtatious.
“You must be Lord Somersby,” said Juliana’s father, holding a hand out to him. “We did not realise you had come with your mother.”
The earl gave a shallow bow before the viscount. “I have only come for a week or two, but something tells me I might stay longer,” he said, looking briefly at Juliana.
Her cheeks bloomed with colour, forcing her to look away from those searching blue eyes. The man was flirting, and she should have found him forward, but the earl was too charming to think any less of him.
“Where are my manners?” the earl said. “Please, come in. Mother is waiting anxiously to meet you all. May I escort you in, Miss Hathaway?”
“Yes, thank you,” she said and meant it.
They led the way while Lord Somersby made light conversation, asking Juliana questions about her day.
“The weather was lovely, and that contributed to a good day,” she answered. “How was your day, My Lord?”
“I had an impatient day because I wished to meet the selfless woman who saved Penny from certain doom. When my mother told me how a beautiful lady jumped into the pond after Penny and fished her out, I couldn’t believe it. I assumed she was teasing, but one trip into town confirmed the story. You are quite popular.”
“Being friendly makes one more approachable.”
“So does being beautiful. I must say you are prettier than people described, Miss Hathaway.”
“Th-thank you, My Lord,” she said, biting her lower lip and looking away. “This is a splendid home. How long will your mother be here?”
“Six months, I think. She didn’t want to be in London for the Season, and someone recommended Clarington Manor. I’m happy I decided to join her for a little while … or a long while. Time will tell.”
Was he flirting or showing genuine interest?
Recently, Juliana had been seeking a marriage-worthy gentleman at the various dinner parties given by her parents, but no one had caught her eye yet. Well, until Lord Somersby. He was handsome and charming, which was a good start. She just needed to know a little more about him to see if they would suit.
Provided he thinks the same way about me.
They entered the drawing-room to find the dowager in an armchair with Penny on her lap. The woman immediately stood up when she saw them, put the dog down, and came towards Juliana with her outstretched arms.
“There is the young lady I have been so impatient to meet!” the dowager exclaimed, enveloping Juliana in a warm embrace.
Juliana was taken aback by the warm greeting, but she responded in kind, even patting the woman’s back.
“Lovely to meet you, My Lady,” she said when the woman pulled back.
“And these must be your parents,” the dowager continued, but she didn’t step towards them. “You have raised a courageous daughter. You must be proud.”
“Oh, we are,” the viscountess readily agreed. “We were extremely proud when we heard what Juliana had done.”
Proud? Juliana had received a sound scolding and was forced to drink a broth that could put hairs on anyone’s chest.
“You have such a pretty name,” the dowager complimented, touching Juliana’s cheeks. “Come, sit down. Dinner is almost ready, so we can have a little conversation in the meantime. I must hear more about you, my dear. Sit beside me.”
Juliana was taken by the arm and sat down on a plush, gold-coloured settee. Penny jumped up and put herself in her lap, making the dowager chuckle.
“She likes you! Penny is as fussy as I am, but we have both agreed that you are a wonderful person. Oh, before I forget, Penny has a gift for you.”
The dog has a gift for me? How does a dog select a gift?
“That is not necessary, My Lady,” Juliana said, stroking the dog’s fluffy head.
“But it is,” the woman insisted. “Would you bring me that case, Ralph?” she asked her son, pointing at a black velvet case on the table beside him.
“With pleasure, Mother,” the earl replied, smiling.
So, his name is Ralph? I have always liked that name.
The man brought the case to his mother, who then turned to Juliana and placed it in Juliana’s hand. “Open it, my dear,” said the dowager countess. “Penny chose it herself.”
It remained a mystery how a dog could choose a gift for a human. Perhaps Juliana could ask the dowager at some point during the evening.
Juliana opened the case, gasping at the brilliant diamond and emerald necklace. “This is too much,” she protested, handing it back to the dowager.
“No, no, no, dear,” the woman insisted. “It’s all yours. This is but a token of our gratitude, and we would be insulted if you didn’t take it.”
“Dear,” her mother called. “Listen to Lady Somersby.”
If Juliana accepted the gift, her parents would probably sell the necklace the first opportunity they got. She wouldn’t get to wear it once. How did she tell the dowager it was pointless gifting her such an expensive piece of jewellery? It didn’t matter that the woman could probably afford several more, only that Juliana would not be able to appreciate it fully.
“Very well. Thank you, My Lady.”
The dowager beamed. “Do you like it? I recall seeing the sun shining on your hair, and it looked red. Green and red always go well together, but your hair looks a bit browner today.”
“Less light makes it look brown, but the red shows when I’m in the sun. The green will go perfectly—thank you.”
Everyone insisted that she put it on, but Juliana was saved from wearing the heavy piece when a servant announced dinner was ready. Lord Somersby appeared at her side to escort her in and seated her between him and his mother.
“We had no clue what you might like,” the dowager explained. “So I had my cooks create a menu with many different dishes. I hope the fare this evening will satisfy you.”
Juliana’s gaze travelled the length of the table, amazed it could hold so much food. She was full just looking at everything!
“It all looks delicious, My Lady,” she replied. “My parents and I will not lack for anything.”
“I’m glad. Eat, please. We have an entire evening ahead of us, and I hope that we can get to know each other well.”
“I agree entirely,” Ralph added, leaning a little towards her.
Dinner was pleasant, and thankfully, Juliana’s parents did not embarrass her or themselves. They kept their conversation respectful and only discussed whatever the dowager started. However, Juliana was relieved when dinner was over. Sitting next to Ralph was a tad too intense. The man was undoubtedly interested in her, and he didn’t try to hide it. It was a bit too much for Juliana, who preferred a softer approach.
I suppose he is the type of man who sees something and just goes after it. I can respect that, but I have only just met him.
“May I be excused, My Lady? I wish to refresh myself.”
“I’ll have one of the servants take you to where you need to go, my dear,” the woman said. “We’ll be in the drawing room once you’re ready to join us.”
Juliana thanked her and followed a female servant by the name of Biddy. The woman was quiet and barely spoke despite the small conversation Juliana tried to make with her.
“Do you need anything else, Miss?” Biddy asked.
“No, thank you.”
The woman curtsied and hurried off, leaving Juliana with questions about the woman’s nervousness. Was she naturally an anxious person?
Once refreshed, Juliana took a slow stroll back to the drawing room. She was admiring the paintings when she heard a harsh male voice followed by a soft cry. What was going on? Not wishing to be discovered, Juliana crept closer to the murmurs of two people, surprised when she saw Biddy and Lord Somersby. She was cowering in the corner, and he had his finger pointed at her while he spoke words Juliana couldn’t hear. Biddy looked up and said something, almost falling to the floor when the earl raised his hand.
Juliana clamped a hand on her mouth and quickly retreated, horrified by what she had seen. Lord Somersby no longer looked like the handsome man she had met but a terrifying man with features twisted by a savage rage.
So, this is who he really is. To think I was almost fooled by him!
No one could have such different sides to them and still be good. There was a cruel streak in the earl that Juliana wanted nothing to do with. The sooner they left Clarington Manor, the better.
The renovations to Stratford Manor looked even better than Nash had envisioned. This was one more thing to tick off his list.
“You have spent a fortune,” his sister complained.
“But it was well worth it. You could get married here if you wanted to, you know. I’m certain David would not object.”
Eleanor rolled her eyes. “Stop talking about this wedding, Nash. Nothing has been finalised.”
Nash sighed. His sister was so stubborn at times. She had a wonderful man who adored her, and his parents already considered her as their daughter-in-law. All that was left were the banners to be read and the date to be set.
“Be reasonable, Ellie. Didn’t you accept his proposal?”
“I didn’t say yes. In fact, I didn’t give an answer! Everyone just cheered and clapped around me and assumed I was engaged.”
Nash’s brow puckered into a deep frown. “Do you not wish to marry David? Was I wrong in thinking you had some affection for him?”
“I do like David, but I’m not ready for marriage. I have another year before I reach the legal age to be married.”
“But your age doesn’t matter if your guardian or parent accepts the marriage. You could be married at sixteen if by parental consent.”
Eleanor scrunched up her nose. “That is far too young. Women need more time to have experiences before getting married. If David cannot wait until I turn twenty-one, then perhaps he is not the right man for me.”
Nash pulled his head back in surprise. “Where is this coming from, Ellie? I’ve seen how you interact with David. I think you’re made for each other. What has brought on all this talk?”
His sister turned away. “Nothing. Mrs Black wishes to discuss the dinner menu with me.”
Nash put his hand on his sister’s shoulder. “I’m your brother, Ellie. You know you can tell me anything. Are you having doubts about David? Has he done anything to—”
“No!” the young woman interrupted. “Nothing is wrong, Nash. I simply want more time to myself before I become someone’s wife. I enjoy the freedom I have.”
“I doubt David will stifle you.”
“He probably wouldn’t,” Ellie agreed. “But I’m not going to rush anything. Now, I must go before Mrs Black adds anything else to the list. She is as elaborate as Mama was.”
The woman walked away, leaving Nash confused. Where was all of this coming from? Eleanor had seemed so in love with David and had gushed about one day marrying him. Now, she wished to prolong the wedding. The poor man had been patient so far, but what would he say about postponing everything once again?
Ellie was Nash’s responsibility, and he wanted to ensure that she was happy and well-settled with the right man. David was that man, so why the hesitance?
If only I could read minds!
Somewhat disappointed, Nash left the newly renovated drawing room and headed to the dining room. It was one of the ten rooms he had renovated to suit his vision for the manor. Nash wanted something more sophisticated, subdued, and luxurious to match his own tastes. His parents had had eclectic tastes and hoarded everything they had found interesting. African tribal masks, animal heads, busts of every family member, too many landscape paintings, tapestries from the east, and ancient artefacts had littered the house.
Now, most of the things they collected during their marriage were put into a room as a memorial to them.
“Your Grace,” his valet called after him.
Nash turned around and waited for his valet to catch up to him. “Yes?”
“I was notified that the lanterns you ordered have arrived. Should we keep them at the warehouse, or would you prefer they be brought here?”
The lanterns were for his sister’s engagement party, but that didn’t look like it was going to happen any time soon. They were custom made and had cost a pretty penny, but he doubted Ellie would appreciate them in the mood she was currently in.
“Keep them at the warehouse, Johnson, but emphasise to the workers that they must thoroughly search for possible breakages. I will not pay for broken glass. Have the candles arrived as well?”
Nash had discovered a French candle maker who mixed floral scents and dried flowers into the candle wax. He had ordered the candles to go into the glass lanterns to light up the garden— his sister’s favourite place on the estate— but there had been some delay due to the ongoing tension between England and France.
“Not yet, Your Grace, but I was promised they would arrive next week. I’ll have our men look them over for scratches and such.”
“Thank you, Johnson. Handle anything else I’ve ordered for the engagement party, and make sure no one says anything to my sister. I’m not even confident there will be an engagement party.”
“Forgive me my forwardness, Your Grace, but has something happened to put such a thought in your mind?”
“Ellie is having doubts about the wedding and getting married,” Nash admitted.
The valet frowned. “But I believed she wished to be married, Your Grace. She seemed so excited about it.”
“Precisely. I do not know what has changed her mind so suddenly.”
“Should I cancel the seamstress coming to take her measurements for her trousseau?”
“Yes, please,” said Nash. “Ellie might throw a fit if the woman arrives. In fact, put everything on hold until further notice.”
Nash was not afraid of his sister, but he disliked seeing her upset. Although Ellie was typically a level-headed person, she did have her brief moments of emotional outbursts from time to time.
“Of course, Your Grace,” Johnson replied. “I’ll go over to the warehouse and see about those lanterns and deal with the rest later. Have you looked through the house yet?”
“I’m on the fourth room,” Nash told him. “Everything looks good so far. I’m glad the renovations were done on time as I was growing tired of living in London. The atmosphere is acceptable for a month or two, but I prefer more greenery.”
“As you always have. You are your father’s son.”
Johnson would know because he had been the former duke’s valet for the last fifteen years of the man’s life.
“Hopefully not too much my father’s son,” said Nash. “I do not wish to continue a legacy of recklessness.”
“Adventure, Your Grace,” Johnson argued. “Your parents were adventurers. God rest their souls.”
Yes, so adventurous that their last adventure took their lives and turned me and my sister into orphans.
Nash had been a young man of eighteen when he took over the estate and dukedom. He hadn’t felt ready for such responsibilities, but he had risen to the occasion and had done the best he could.
“Their adventures were all futile in the end,” Nash countered. “Ellie and I need security and routine, and that is what I know David will provide for her. I pray she comes to her senses before she loses a good man.”
“I pray I do not sound too impertinent, Your Grace,” Johnson began, “but I speak with much concern. Have you given more thought to your own future? Kensington Estate needs a mistress.”
That very topic had been on Nash’s mind lately. With Ellie leaving to start her own happily married life (hopefully), Nash would need a woman to take care of the household. Mrs Black could do it, but she wouldn’t be able to play hostess during necessary dinner parties.
“I know what sort of woman I want, but it’s a little hard to search for her amid all these renovations, preparations, and engagements.”
“Your aunt has offered to help you select a bride,” Johnson reminded him. “Why not take your sister and visit her for a week or two? See the women she has in mind.”
“That sounds like a great idea. Perhaps Aunt Roslyn will convince Ellie to move ahead with the wedding and marry David like we all wish her to. I doubt she will find another man as patient and good as him.”
“I agree, Your Grace. If you write a letter to your aunt now, I can send it with the footman on my way out.”
Nash nodded. “The sooner, the better.”
Johnson followed him to his study, where Nash wrote a quick note to his aunt. She lived further south in the rural countryside with her pets to keep her company. Nash wasn’t confident Ellie would want to go with him because she preferred being closer to a town, but she hadn’t seen Aunt Roslyn in a while, and they both doted on the woman.
Nash handed the note to Johnson and resumed his inspection of the house. They had returned three days ago after its official completion, but the servants had returned sooner to clean, ready the rooms, and familiarise themselves with the changes.
It was dinner time when he finally called it a day and sat down to eat with his sister.
“Does everything meet your high standards?” she asked, piling his plate with mutton.
“So far, yes. I have two more rooms to inspect— the music room and the library.”
Ellie moved to the peas and asparagus, putting some on his plate before adding a few to her own plate. Serving him was her usual habit whenever they dined alone. It had started soon after their parents’ deaths as a source of comfort to her and had simply become part of their daily mealtime routine ever since.
“I was in the music room earlier today, and I must say that I liked the changes,” she said. “I didn’t think you could make it any better than it initially was, but you proved me wrong.”
The woman added gravy and a roll to his plate but only put a drop of gravy on her two slivers of mutton. She had always been a small eater, which helped to maintain her slender figure.
“You should never doubt your brother,” he told her.
“Never,” she said, smiling. “Although I should call you Father, you know. You raised me from the age of ten.”
Nash grimaced. “No, thank you. Only one man held that title in this house, and that’s how I would like to keep it.”
“What will you have your children call you?”
“I haven’t thought that far yet, but I suppose they can call me Nash.”
Ellie rolled her eyes. “Men. Your children cannot call you by your name. They might as well call you Barrington.”
The sound of his first name made Nash wince.
Why did my parents choose such a name? It sounds more like a last name and is far too formal for any child to carry. Thank goodness, they were wise enough to give me a shorter second name.
“They can call me Papa,” Nash decided. “Have you finalised the menu with Mrs Black?”
The smile on his sister’s face died. “Yes. She’ll go to the market in the morning to purchase all the ingredients we need.”
“That’s good. The Ruperts always enjoy your dinners.”
“Yes, I suppose they do,” Ellie half-heartedly agreed. “This will be the tenth dinner with them since David expressed his wish to marry me. Do you not think that excessive?”
“Not for people who will become your in-laws. The dinners also give you time to spend with David.”
“I have spent enough time with him.”
Nash didn’t like where this conversation was going. “What do you mean by that? You haven’t been seeing him in secret, have you?
His sister looked at him as though he had grown horns. “Are you touched in your upperworks? Why on earth would I do that? I would never do anything to breed scandal and bring shame to our family name. The Stratford name will never be sullied by my actions.”
Relief flowed into him. “Thank goodness! Too many young women are taking matters into their own hands and falling prey to temptation.”
“I do not wish to have this conversation with my brother,” Ellie insisted.
“If not me, then who? I am your brother, after all.”
“Precisely. A sister doesn’t discuss such things with her brother, but with her mother or sister.”
“You do not have either of these,” he reminded her.
“Thank you for that reminder. Why don’t we eat our dinner? I tire of this conversation.”
Nash widened his eyes but said nothing else. His sister was in a foul mood, and he had no idea what had brought it on. Ellie wasn’t usually one for tempers, preferring to maintain a mild disposition. She was neither too jolly nor too serious and could be depended upon to have a level head in all situations. Nash could rely on his sister for anything and never worried about the household because she took care of everything. While he was happy to see her married, it would also be a sad day for him.
Silence stretched between them as they ate their dinner. They had never had such a quiet meal before, at least, none that he could recall. Was she really so vexed with him?
“Your birthday is in three months,” she said quite suddenly. “What would you like to do?”
She must not be too angry if she could still speak about his birthday. “The same as every year,” he replied.
“I think we should do something different this year.”
She shrugged. “I have yet to think of anything. Do you have any ideas?”
Getting her married would be a wonderful birthday gift, but Nash was wise enough not to say anything. Ellie had just started talking to him after what felt like hours of silence— why spoil it?
“I’m terrible with celebrations. I usually leave them up to you.”
“But you always have such wonderful surprises for my birthday,” she protested.
“That is different. I use all my imagination for your birthday week.”
“I think you could think of something if you tried hard enough,” she insisted. “Why not go away on holiday? I haven’t been to Scotland in years.”
Nash wanted his sister married in three months. Why on earth would he plan a trip to Scotland?
“I prefer something closer to home. We can have one of your famous picnics in the garden.”
Ellie shook her head. “That is not grand enough. I prefer the holiday idea. We could spend a month in Scotland and visit family on our way back.”
“Why not discuss my birthday closer to the date?” Nash suggested. “We might not even need the trip because I have asked Aunt Roslyn if we can visit her for a week or two. We haven’t seen her in some time.”
“You know I do not like to visit such a rural place,” said Ellie. “Why not invite Aunt Roslyn here, and she can see the changes you have made to the manor? I would like to see her, but not at the cost of staying in Edendale.”
Nash had been worried she would say something to that effect. “Well, I would still like to go, so you will have to ask Elizabeth to stay with you while I’m gone.”
Their older, unmarried cousin often chaperoned Ellie when an occasion arose. Nash preferred the woman to be with Ellie whenever he had to leave town, although his sister protested at times.
“I suppose I can stand Cousin Elizabeth for two weeks,” she said.
“You’re not going to argue about it?”
“What is the point?” Ellie asked. “You always get your way in the end. Besides, I prefer putting up with our dreary cousin than visiting Aunt Roslyn in the countryside. The next neighbour is forty-five minutes away, and if I wish to do a bit of shopping, I have to travel for over an hour to get to the nearest town.”
Nash could see her argument and left it at that. He skipped dessert and poured a glass of cognac once they retired to the drawing room. Ellie left him after an hour to do a little reading before bed, but Nash continued to sit and think until he began to nod with fatigue. Before he climbed into bed and fell asleep, his last thought was about finding a way to convince his sister that marrying David was the right thing to do. It was what any good brother would do.
Nash welcomed the Ruperts into their home the following evening, annoyed that his sister wasn’t by his side to do so. She was still in her room getting ready, but he had a feeling she was just sitting about and sulking. Ellie didn’t want to be part of the dinner, but Nash had insisted.
“Where is Eleanor?” Lady Montague asked. “We have become accustomed to seeing her lovely face welcome us into your home.”
“Are you not satisfied with me, My Lady?” Nash said with a little teasing.
“Of course, we are,” the woman replied with a laugh. “But you are not the one marrying my son.”
Both David and Nash grimaced at the thought, making the older couple laugh.
“You should see how horrified you both are,” the viscountess said.
“On that note, I would really love to see my fiancée,” said David. “Is she waiting in the drawing room?”
If only the man knew that Ellie did not consider him as her fiancé. The news would break the sensitive man’s heart.
“She is in her room, but she should be down in a moment. Shall we proceed to the drawing room?”
Nash took Lady Montague’s hand and led her inside, her husband and son trailing behind them.
“I like the changes you have done with the house,” the viscount commented. “The house was good before, but it’s even better now.”
“Thank you. I’m happy with the changes as well and glad that I’m back in my own home again.”
They continued with their small talk, but Nash had no doubt they were wondering where Ellie was. Just when he thought to go and drag her downstairs, she appeared at the door as though she hadn’t just kept them waiting for longer than necessary. Dinner was ready, but they couldn’t go into the dining room without her.
“I am so sorry to keep you waiting,” she said and sounded like she meant it. “Sometimes, it takes a lady some time to get ready. I’m sure you understand, Lady Montague.”
“Perfectly, dear. I must say you look lovelier every time I see you. Doesn’t she, David?”
David nodded, his eyes full of appreciation. “Beautiful.”
Nash could not understand how Ellie could reject a man who was undeniably in love with her.
Ellie sat on the chair closest to the door instead of the armchair beside David. Had the man noticed, or was he so engrossed in staring at her that he didn’t care? Nash hoped for the latter option.
“We should go to the dining room,” Nash said after ten minutes of chatter. “The food is ready.”
David rushed to Ellie’s side to escort her, beaming down at her. Ellie offered up a weak smile in return, but once Nash caught her eye and lifted an eyebrow, she perked up and gave a better smile. If she continued with this behaviour, their meal might turn into one awkward dinner.
Everyone took their usual seats at the table and tucked into the food without hesitation. Well, everyone but Ellie. Nash could not recall a time he had felt this frustrated with her.
“Is that all you are eating, my dear?” Lady Montague asked her.
“I am not terribly hungry, My Lady.”
“Are you ill?” David asked.
“No, not at all. I had tea and biscuits a little while ago, and it has ruined my dinner. It was foolish of me, but I couldn’t help myself.”
The viscountess laughed. “I do that myself at times, dear. There is no need to worry.”
Ellie was fortunate she had such understanding and kind people willing to think the best of her. Others might have criticised her for eating before a dinner party.
Conversation soon moved on to the wedding the Ruperts still believed would happen soon.
“The banners should be read soon,” the viscount said. “When will you two set a date for the wedding?”
Nash held his breath as he waited for his sister to say something. He prayed she wouldn’t say something to insult the man.
“That is the bride’s decision, Father,” David told him. “I’m happy with whatever day Ellie chooses.”
Everyone turned to her. “Well,” she said. “I think we should wait a while.”
Silence. Nash put his head down and cut into his lamb cutlet. He couldn’t look at their faces; he didn’t want to see what they thought about his sister’s answer.
“But why?” the viscountess asked, clearly confused. “You and David are engaged, and we have spoken about a summer wedding. Summer is a month away.”
“I … uh …” Ellie stuttered, swallowing hard. She stood up abruptly, pushing her chair back. “Would you please excuse me?”
The woman ran out of the room, leaving the Ruperts bewildered. Nash groaned inwardly. What a mess this was!
“Is Eleanor not well?” Lady Montague asked.
“I’m sure she’s fine, but I’ll go to her and find out. Please, excuse me.”
Nash hurried after his sister, finding her in the garden. He slowed his pace and came to a stop beside her. Ellie didn’t acknowledge his presence, but the tension in her body spoke volumes.
“Will you tell me what’s going through your mind?” he asked.
“That’s not an answer. This is unlike you, Ellie. What has come over you?”
“I would feel better if everyone would give me space to breathe. All I ever hear about these days is the wedding. Well, what if I’ve changed my mind? What if I don’t ever wish to get married?”
“But that has always been your wish since you were a little girl,” Nash protested. “You used to pretend your dolls were your children and force Mrs Black’s son to play your husband.”
“I was a little girl then, but now I’m a woman. Things change.”
So much? Nash didn’t believe that his sister could change this much seemingly overnight. Something else had to be bothering her.
“Are you nervous about the wedding? About becoming David’s wife?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Then what is it?”
Ellie tilted her head to look up at him. “I do not want to leave you alone, Nash. I was so caught up in my own happiness that I forgot you would be alone once I married David. Who will look after you? Remind you to eat when you’re busy? Host your parties? Plan meals with Mrs Black? Who will do all these things when I’m gone?” She looked away, shaking her head. “I cannot leave you, not when you’ve been everything to me.”
He was a fool for not seeing it before. Ellie was protective over him and often teased him about his inability to run his own life. Nash had considered that he would be alone once she left, but it was for a good cause. Ellie deserved to have her own family, and he refused to stand in the way of that.
“You need not worry about me,” he insisted. “I still have all the servants to help me.”
“But it’s not the same,” she protested.
“Yes, I agree. No one can replace you, but you cannot stifle your own life for me, Ellie. Nothing would make me happier than seeing you settled and happy.”
“What about you? What about your happiness?”
“I’ve decided to look for a wife,” he announced. “That should put you at ease.”
“A wife? Indeed? You’re not just saying that?”
“I promise I’m not lying,” said Nash. “It’s time for me to settle down and provide the next Kensington heir.”
“I’m relieved to hear that,” his sister replied, smiling. “But I insist on inspecting all your choices. I cannot have just any woman marry my brother.”
Nash returned her smile. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Ellie hugged his side and suggested they go back inside so she could apologise for her behaviour. He wholeheartedly agreed, relieved that he had his sister back. Now, he had to make good on his promise and find the perfect wife.
“A Lady’s Tender Remembrance” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Miss Juliana Hathaway had always been aware of her parent’s obsession with wealth. What she didn’t know was that their increasing debt would lead them to trap their own daughter in an unwanted marriage with a dangerous Earl. Unable to face her fate, she escapes in servants’ clothing, only to experience an accident that leads to the loss of her memory. Yet, in an unexpected twist of events, a charming Duke saves her and takes a personal interest in her recovery.
As Juliana’s memory slowly returns, her feelings for the kind Duke grow and her fulfilling new present resists her hollow and dreadful past.
Nash Stratford, the Duke of Kensington is shocked to come across an injured woman on the side of the road. Against his prejudiced sister’s objections, he feels inexplicably drawn to the dashing woman and hires her as his servant in an attempt to help her unmask her identity. However, as he realises Juliana’s higher social status, his vow to help her remember collides with his wish to never let her go…
If only Nash’s daring affection could make Juliana stay and never walk out of his life…
As Juliana and Nash’s tender emotions for each other grow, time will start counting down to her recovery and the end of their dreamy match. Lost between right and wrong, love and duty, they are both trying to face their internal battles. Yet, when Juliana’s past appears at their doorstep in the face of her evil husband-to-be, it will feel like the inevitable end of everything. Will Nash and Juliana take the reins of their lives, or will their enchanting love end up buried under the ashes of a grim reality?
“A Lady’s Tender Remembrance” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.