“Mary Roberts, I understand that this might be difficult for you to hear,” Walter, the elderly gentleman with deep dark brown eyes told her with a firm tone. “But that is the stipulation your father has set. As his lawyer, I must relay this information to you.”
Mary straightened her back, the bones from her corset digging deeper into her ribs. That was not the only thing that made the air squeeze from her lungs, however. The situation closed her throat over and made it challenging to breathe. In all her eighteen years of life, never had she heard anything so terrifying.
“I do not understand.” She shook her head desperately. Her reddish curls shook as her head moved. “This does not make any sense.”
Mary never got to know her mother. Unfortunately, despite the family’s wealth, there was not enough available health care to keep her alive during what turned out to be a very challenging and problematic childbirth. According to what Mary had been told, her mother held her for all of two minutes before death claimed her. Just long enough to smile at her youngest daughter before she was stripped from the world forever. The woman who was supposed to be the most important to her was taken from her before she even got a chance to build a bond with her.
It was a hole that Mary had always left gaping in her life.
As far as she knew, her father was aware of that. Maybe they could not spend too much time together because Mr Roberts was a very busy and important man, but she always thought that he understood her nature. She was not like the other girls her age, especially not the ones with titles. The label ‘Lady’ usually brought with it a set of expectations, but Mary had always struggled with them. She had no self-confidence, and she battled with shyness that was almost crippling. She thought her father knew; she thought he cared.
“When your father learned that he was battling a sickness that he would never recover from, he knew that he needed to set some rules to ensure that you get everything that you want from life.” Walter relayed this to Mary as if it were matter of fact. To him, it was not shocking, he had known about it for years, and it did not directly affect him.
“So he wishes that I get married? He has decided that, despite the fact that it has been years since he passed away.”
Maybe it was not unheard of, maybe many girls Mary’s age were getting married, but she did not feel ready for anything like that. With no mother, a sister who got married six years ago and left the family home, and now no father, Mary did not know how to communicate well in polite society. She had always found it difficult to make friends, so she did not have anyone to let her know where she was going wrong. She certainly did not feel emotionally capable of meeting a man, let alone get married.
“Now that you are an adult, you are old enough to inherit the family home. Your sister received her financial gain five years ago. Now it is your turn.”
Mary’s heart thumped wildly in her chest, and sickness swirled in her stomach as her brain span with anxiety. She curled her fingers around the chair beneath her, trying to prevent herself from falling to the ground in a heap at the terrible news.
“Did Charlotte have stipulations to her inheritance too?”
In her state of panic, Mary acted out in a way that she had never done before. Usually, she was very respectful to her elders, but she had never been told that she was about to be forced into marriage before. This changed her and brought out a desperate side of her.
“Mary.” Walter clasped his hands together, and he narrowed his eyes. “Your father did not want you to end up alone. You must continue on the family line. As a Lady, you have been given many privileges in life that others do not get. This is what you must do.” He shrugged his shoulders upright and gave what he thought would be a reassuring smile. “It is your father’s dying wish for you.”
Mary pouted out her bottom lip as childish anger raced through her veins. She had heard about the lives of the working classes; the stories were told as horror-filled tales to ensure no one stepped out of line when it came to the unwritten rules of the regency classes, but at that moment, the freedom to do what she wanted with her life would have been preferable.
“Is there a time limit set on this rule?” Mary leaned forward, trying to read the document set in front of Walter. “Does it have to be right away?”
“There is not necessarily a time set,” Walter replied cautiously. “But your father has chosen a Duke that he would prefer you to marry.”
Now I cannot even choose who I marry?
Mary could not believe it; it was all too much. There were supposed to be society events that girls in season attended. There was supposed to be courting. Even Mary, who spent a lot of time shutting the world out, knew that.
“Duke Edmund Smith,” Walter continued, seemingly unaware of Mary’s inner turmoil. “He is someone that your father worked with, years back.”
“He is … is he …” Mary could hardly bring herself to ask the next question. She felt it essential, though; she needed all the details that she could get her hands on. “Is he the same age as my father would be?”
“I believe him to be four and twenty years of age.”
The tight knot loosened ever so slightly in Mary’s chest. Charlotte had warned her what was expected after marriage as a wife, and that was not something she could imagine doing with a man who was so much older than her. Not that any of this felt acceptable. Surely, there had to be some way out of it?
“What if he is already married?” That was very possible. Eligible bachelors never usually reached such an age. “What shall happen then?”
Walter’s eyebrows knitted together, which gave Mary a little glimmer of hope. Maybe if there was nothing written down, that could be her escape route. “I believe we must focus on making contact with Duke Smith first. Any decisions after that can come later on.”
“Will I lose the house?”
Walter did not directly answer her. He did not want to break the young girl’s heart, especially with the news that she would indeed lose the house if she did not do what was asked of her. Her father was so determined that she do as he asked, and Walter believed that he did not think for one second that Mary might protest. “Let us focus on the Duke for now, please.”
“Is there any more information about him?” Mary asked hastily. She could not deal with the massive burden that had been dumped upon her without at least a little bit more. “Has my father said anything about what he is like?”
“This is a legal document, Lady Roberts; it does not come with such information.”
“There is no personal letter from Father? Nothing he has left for me?”
Since he had been gone for five years, there was little chance of Mary getting the information directly from him so it would make things easier to understand if he had given her something. But the sharp shake of Walter’s head told her all that she needed to know.
It was hopeless.
“Right.” Mary let out a deep sigh and pushed herself into a standing position. “I understand. May I please be excused?”
“I do know that it is not easy to take in,” Walter continued, almost as if he had not heard Mary’s desperate plea to escape the situation she currently found herself in. “I would like you to have a few days to think things through, and of course, if you do have any questions, I shall be here for you to speak with. Just know that as requested by your father, I will have to send out a letter to the Duke very soon to let him know of your father’s wishes.”
“So, he does not know either?”
Somehow, that managed to make Mary feel just a little bit better. At least she was not the only one who had this massive shock. She tried to picture this mysterious gentleman receiving a letter with the shocking news that a bride had been chosen for him from beyond the grave. His own father would probably not be too pleased by the demands anyway.
Maybe this was not something that she needed to be worried about at all; it was becoming increasingly obvious to her that it probably would not happen.
“Thank you for meeting with me.” Mary bobbed her head into an almost bow-like gesture. “It has been a pleasure.” They both knew that was not true, but neither of them argued the point. “I hope to speak with you soon.”
“Yes, I will keep you updated.”
Walter pushed back in his chair as he watched the young lady flounce from the room. He had known William Roberts, Mary’s father, very well during his life. Maybe they were not friends, but they did a lot of business together. He was a focused and driven man who strongly believed that every decision he made was the right one.
This was clearly another instance of that.
Of course when he passed away, Mary was only thirteen years of age. There was no telling how she would grow up. Walter felt that without a mother figure in her life, and without a father in her later years, she had become a wallflower. In Walter’s opinion, Mary was much too young in her mind to be someone’s wife. But his opinion was not requested; William made that much very obvious.
He was a lawyer; he had to do what was requested of him in legal documents. If that meant facilitating a marriage that he was not sure about, then so be it.
Walter gathered up his belongings with a deep sigh, and he moved to leave the Roberts’ household with weariness in his brain. The meeting with Mary left him much more exhausted than he expected. He could not wait to return home where he could rest.
Mary watched from the shadows as Walter left her home, her heart racing in her throat. When she was called to a meeting with the man that she barely knew, she had a funny idea that it was not going to result in something pleasant, but she did not know it would be so bad. Ever since her eighteenth birthday, she had been treated very differently, but this was still a step too far.
What will I do? she thought desperately as her tears rolled down her cheeks. How will I survive this?
She needed to go and meet with her sister; she was the only person who could give her any advice at all. But even that was not easy. Charlotte’s life was extremely busy, and she had a lot going on with her own troubling existence. Still, somehow Mary needed to make it happen.
“Are you okay, miss?” Daisy, the housemaid asked Mary softly.
The other staff in the house found Mary intimidating; they thought her extremely quiet nature was something to be feared. It was almost as if they assumed she had some evil plan rolling around in her brain, and she was just waiting for the right moment to unleash it.
Daisy knew different, though. She could tell that Mary was simply shy. Whenever she came across her, she made the effort to speak with her. Especially on a day like today when the Lady looked like she was going to be sick.
Mary twisted her head around to see the maid beside her. In her dark knee-length dress covered by a slightly mucky white apron tied around her waist, she appeared completely different from Mary, but at that moment she was the closest person in the world to her. She was the only one who wanted to know how she was.
“Oh, well, it is difficult.” A blush filled her cheeks; she felt terrible for getting so worked up about something that would probably be an enviable problem to someone with no money. “I have had some awful news.”
Daisy reached out an arm to rub it comfortingly down the silky sleeve of Mary’s deep red dress, but she halted at the last moment. No matter what, she could not forget her place. She also did not want her dirty fingers to ruin the beautiful material that she could never afford herself.
“I know it is not usual, but if you ever need someone to speak to, I am always here.”
Mary stared at the girl with wide eyes. Maybe this girl would not be able to offer her any realistic advice since it was clearly not something she had been through herself, but maybe it would be nice to talk.
She parted her lips slightly, but for some reason, the words got stuck in her throat. “I … I …”
“It is alright,” Daisy continued with a smile. “Anything that you share with me, I will keep to myself.”
“Yes, I …” Mary breathed deep, trying to steel herself. With her wonderful house surrounding her, the only building she had ever really known her entire life, the thought was even more horrific. “I have been informed that if I do not get married to a Duke chosen by my father many years ago, I will not inherit the family home.”
The tears came back, and this time, Mary had no control over them. They dripped down her cheeks and rolled onto her lips. Their saltiness shocked Mary. She did not often cry.
“Is this a man you know?” Daisy asked cautiously. Mary shook her head. “Then maybe he will be very nice.”
She smiled brightly, hoping to make the Lady of the house feel better. In a way, this news affected her and the rest of the staff too. If the home was not owned by a member of the Roberts family, would they still have jobs?
“Maybe it is someone that you will fall very much in love with. Your father must have chosen him for a very good reason. Perhaps this will all turn out fine.”
Mary pondered this. She had not even thought about it in this way. It terrified her to think about falling in love and getting married, but maybe there was a chance. It was possible … was it not?
Edmund’s eyes widened in surprise when the butler of his grand household handed him a letter. He did not often get personal mail, which left him utterly bewildered as to who might be writing to him now.
“Do you not intend to open that?” his mother, Iris Smith, asked him innocently as she took a sip of her tea.
Edmund looked up at her, almost as if he had forgotten she was there. In her soft cotton night dress, which she did not usually wear to morning breakfast, she looked very different than usual. Edmund was much more used to seeing her in her finery, with silk or satin dresses over the tightest corsets and dressiest petticoats. Her dark hair that matched his perfectly was usually styled into a very complicated chignon, decorated with enough jewels to show off the family wealth. Her face was always painted with make-up. Bare, it appeared very strange. Her green eyes, also exactly the same as Edmund’s, sparkled, but the rest of her seemed slightly dull.
In his stark black trousers, his crisp suit, and finest cufflinks, Edmund appeared ready for a day of business. Even if he did not intend to work, he always preferred to look the part. It was better to be prepared for any occasion.
“Why are you not dressed yet, Mother?” he asked, maybe a little too curtly.
He wanted the focus off of him, which was why he acted in such a way. Edmund never usually spoke to the woman he loved more than anyone else in the world like that. It was not right.
Luckily, she knew him well enough not to be offended. “I shall get dressed when I see fit. I do not see why I always have to follow the unwritten rules inside my own home. Not if there is no one to see me.”
“I can see you.” Iris gave Edmund a shrug and a smile. She felt too old to worry about silly little things anymore. “Or do I not count?”
“Oh, you count.” She picked up her tea again and took a sip. This time, her eyes slid closed as she enjoyed the sensation of the warm liquid running down her throat. “I have just been thinking a lot about the things I do just because I think I must. Such as getting dressed for breakfast.”
“Why is that?”
Edmund tried to lose himself in what his mother was saying, but the constant distraction of the unopened letter was never far from his mind. It burned his fingertips as if it was on fire, sparking his curiosity deeply. If he were alone, he would have torn it open already.
“Your father passed away fifteen years ago. Since then, I have not had any marriage offers.” For a moment, Edmund felt certain he could see some sadness reflected in his mother’s gaze, but it passed before he could comment on it. “Not that I want any, really. I shall never find a man who I love as much as I did him.”
Edmund had heard the story many times. He could not remember his father well, but his mother kept him alive with her constant stories. His parents held on to a love story like nothing he had ever seen with anyone else. It was the very reason he had not hunted out marriage for himself. He did not wish to settle for someone he did not love just because the woman had the right title. He wanted his very own love story to cherish.
“So, now that I am not looking for marriage, why do I need to behave in a certain way?”
“Because that is how polite society behaves,” Edmund commented idly. “It is simply the way that things are done.”
“In public, yes,” Iris agreed. “But I am not in public now, so I do not see any reason not to do exactly as I please.”
Edmund chuckled as a self-satisfied smile spread across his mother’s cheeks. Her fiery nature always made him feel happier. There was no one like his mother, and that was what he liked best about her. She inspired him to be better himself.
“Well?” Iris nodded back towards Edmund’s hand, reminding him once more of the letter he held. “Do you ever intend to open that?”
He glanced down at it with his heart beating wildly. Edmund knew now that his mother would not let it go. He would never be granted the privacy he so desperately required.
“I suppose so,” he mused quietly. “It is written on rather fine stationery, do you not think? Who could have written it?”
“You will not find out unless you open it.” Iris could feel herself growing impatient. She could not understand how her son had left it unopened for so long. “Let us see now before I drive myself crazy.”
Finally, Edmund could find no more excuses, so he tucked the letter opener into the envelope, and he tore it apart.
“Oh!” His eyes grew wider as he scanned the words. Of all the things he had been expecting – not that he really had any idea what it might be – this was not it. “How very strange.”
“What is it?” Iris could barely contain herself. “Who is it from?”
“A man named Walter Thompson.”
“Walter Thomson?” Iris narrowed her eyes in confusion. “I do not know that name.”
As if simply to frustrate her further, Edmund ran his eyes up and down the page a few times. There had to be something about the information that made him need to continually reread it. It had to be something very exciting … or utterly terrible.
“He is writing on behalf of William Roberts, which is a name you might recognise?” Edmund peered over the top of the page. Judging by his mother’s confused expression, she still did not know what was happening. “I trained with him once after I finished school. He is the one who taught me all that I know about business.”
“So we have him to thank him for that.” Iris smiled widely. She knew that her son worked with many men during his career in finance, but she did not know the details of any of them. If her husband were still alive, that would have been his job. “That is good to know. What does William Roberts want with you now?”
“William Roberts passed away years ago. We went to his funeral. Do you not remember?”
Iris felt bad, but she did not like to pay too much attention to any funeral these days. Especially as they became increasingly regular with each passing year. Her husband’s funeral was the worst day of her entire life, and she did not like to be reminded of it by the passing of others.
Not that she could explain that to Edmund. He did not have such an emotional view of the world.
“Of course, I am sorry. So please tell me what the letter says.”
“William Roberts left a clause in his will all those years ago that affects me now.”
Iris had to clench her fist tight to prevent herself from snatching the page from her son’s hand. She could not understand why he was being so cryptic with her.
“And this has just come to light now?”
Edmund’s skin paled as he continued to speak. “His youngest daughter, Mary Roberts, has just turned eighteen years of age. He wishes her to inherit the family home, but not without being married.”
Iris did not see why this news was letter worthy, but she was doing her best to patiently wait for Edmund to finally get there.
“He wishes for her to marry me.”
Iris’ heart stopped dead in her chest. She did not expect her son’s sentence to end in that way. Her hands gripped onto the teacup so tightly she feared she might smash it. Yet she could not let go; it was almost as if she had no control over her body anymore.
“You must have made quite the impression for him to make such a will,” she replied in almost a whisper.
“He did like me a lot,” Edmund admitted. “We always got on very well, and he was impressed with my strong work ethic.”
Edmund did not say this part aloud for fear of upsetting his mother, but he liked William Roberts a lot too. He helped him in a way that his father would have, had he been alive. They had a family-like bond. He was utterly devastated when the man died. He did not want his mother to think that he ever wanted to replace his father, though. That was never the case.
“Did he ever mention his daughter to you?”
“He did not.” Edmund shook his head firmly. “But I suppose we were both too young then to even think about marriage.”
“You certainly are not too young now.” Iris cocked her head to one side, examining her son curiously. Now that the initial shock had passed, she could see the situation a lot more rationally. Surprisingly, it made a whole lot of sense for this to happen. “At four and twenty years old, you do need to find yourself a wife.”
“I do not see it that way.” Edmund thrust his arms across his chest. “I do not want a wife I do not know. I want a wife I can love.”
“This Lady has a title and wealth; she is exactly the sort of woman who you should be marrying …”
“Which is exactly why I do not wish to marry her,” Edmund interrupted. “I have not yet met a Lady who I like.”
“What is wrong with the Ladies you have met?”
“I do not know exactly. They seem dull and uninspiring.”
Edmund could not quite put his finger on it; they just never inspired anything within him. He kept waiting for that exciting moment when he met a woman who would bring him to life and make him realise just what he was looking for. When it happened, he would know it. If there was one thing he felt certain of, it was that.
“I did not know I would love your father when I first met him,” Iris warned as she spotted the dream-like quality in her son’s eyes. “That did not come right away.”
“I understand that …”
“I do not think you do,” Iris interrupted firmly. “I think you assume that things will happen like they do in a fairy tale, which is not the case.”
Edmund’s entire face reddened and steamed up. He felt utterly appalled by his mother’s comments. “I am not a child,” he hissed back. “I know what the world is like. I just do not wish to have my future dictated for me.”
“Even by a man that you respect?” Iris asked with one eyebrow raised in amusement. “I thought that William Roberts meant a lot to you.”
“He did …” Edmund did not know where his mother was going with this, and the uncertainty shook in his voice. “But I do not think …”
“I do think that you at least need to meet his daughter. It would be terribly rude not to. You do not wish to be seen as rude, do you?”
She had him there. Edmund was a ruthless businessman, which helped him to get very far, but the one thing he always kept up was his level of politeness. His mother was right; he might not wish to marry this stranger – or anyone for that matter, at least at the moment – but he did not want to be seen as someone who was rude.
Even if William was no longer around to judge him for it.
“Fine,” he eventually agreed with an air of nonchalance. “I will send a reply to Walter Thompson and tell him that I will meet Mary. But I will make it clear immediately that I am not agreeable to this plan; I do not think it will work.”
“It would be wonderful if it did, though, would it not?” Iris’ imagination ran away with her. “It would be so lovely to see you with a wife and child. I do believe it is time.”
Edmund pushed his chair back, scraping it along the floor. “Now who is living in a fairy tale?” he shot back sarcastically. “I am warning you now, Mother, do not get too excited. I do not think this is going to work out as you imagine.”
On that note, Edmund strode from the room with a serious expression on his face. Iris might have believed that he was not terribly excited about the news, but with the letter clutched tightly between his fingertips as he went, it seemed he liked the idea more than he was letting on.
For that, Iris felt truly grateful. Edmund seemed to grow lonelier the older he got. He was so focused on the business and making a success of himself to maintain the household that his father left behind, Iris feared he shut people out far too much. He used to have friends, but he did not get to see them as much anymore now that they all had families of their own.
It was not a friend that Edmund needed anyway, it was a wife.
Iris desperately hoped that this situation, however unusual it was, led to that. She feared that he would spend so much of his life searching for someone perfect that he would end up alone. Iris was alone now, but she would not trade the years that she spent with her husband for anything in the world.
As Edmund left his mother behind, his mind churned. His mother’s words made this letter so much weightier than it was before. Now, it was about to force him to do something that he truly did not want to.
It shall be fine, he tried his best to convince himself. I shall meet Mary Roberts, do what is required of me, then continue on with my life.
No one could judge him for not wishing to marry Mary once he met her. He would not be letting William down. Surely, the woman did not have to marry him specifically to gain her inheritance? That would be far too much to put on him.
I will have to ask Walter for more information once I see him. I shall read the document myself.
It was a shock to Edmund to have someone from his past come back into his life in such an unexpected way. It stunned him, turned his life upside down, and left him unsure of what would happen next. And Edmund had a very strong suspicion that was only going to get a whole lot worse …
“Loving a Noble Gentleman” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Mary Roberts thought that losing her father was the worst thing that could happen to her. With her sister married and her mother already gone, he was the last family member she had. Little did she know that five years later things were going to get a whole lot worse…
When Duke Edmund Smith receives a mysterious letter regarding the will of a man that he used to work with, he is intrigued. When he discovers that the man wants him to marry his daughter so that she can inherit the family home, the intrigue turns to horror. He wants to wed for love not convenience!
Despite their reservations, Mary and Edmund meet one another and take an immediate dislike to each other. That, teemed with scandal, theft, family secrets, and ruined reputations, suggests that these two will never be able to make it work.
But sometimes, love comes in the strangest of places…
“Loving a Noble Gentleman” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.