Sir Charles Brentwood stood at the window, looking out at the bright green landscape. The trees were filled with new leaves, unfolding in the sun’s warmth. The garden was also in full bloom, with roses of every colour soaking up all the soil’s richness and rain that June had to offer. It was a peaceful scene but a contradiction of what he battled in his private thoughts.
Two years ago, his wife had passed away, leaving him alone to raise their only surviving child. His mother had moved in to help him with his daughter since his father had passed away several years earlier.
“Papa, will you play with me?” Lyda asked. He turned, glancing at her from her spot on the oriental rug near the hearth. She had all her dolls spread out around a doily, having a miniature version of high tea.
He was about to join her when the parlour door opened, and his mother entered.
“Ahh, Charles. There you are.” She stopped near one of the tables by the doorway and rearranged a few of the blooms in a tall porcelain vase. When she was satisfied with the changes, she turned to him once more and smiled. “How are you today?” she asked.
Charles walked away from the window, sighing. “I am well, Mama.”
She raised a brow, drawing her mouth into a thin line. She glanced at Lyda, who had gone back to arranging her dolls, murmuring to herself. “Really?” she said, her voice tinged with sadness. Her brows drew into a concerned frown.
“I am. At least, I will be,” he said. He joined his daughter on the floor for a moment, and she handed him a doll.
“That is not quite the same,” his mother replied. He looked up at her, uttering a long-suffering sigh. He was grateful that she had given up his childhood home to come and live with them, especially when he had been so lost immediately after Katherine’s death. Now, he sometimes longed for privacy to get on with his life. He knew it was selfish to feel that way, but her gentle prodding set his nerves on edge.
“It may not be the same, but it will have to do.” Charles reached for Lyda, leaning down to kiss her on the forehead. “I am going to have a chat with Grandmama for a bit, okay?”
Lyda paused for a moment, taking the doll from his hands. “Well, hurry back. The queen is coming for tea after she inspects the troops.”
Charles smiled at this, loving how imaginative his daughter was. “I shall hurry back, I promise,” he said. He stood up from his place beside his daughter on the rug and sat beside his mother on the settee. She placed her hand on his knee, the simple gesture bringing tears to his eyes. He blinked repeatedly, unwilling to lose control of his emotions even in front of his mother. He was a military man, after all.
She glanced over at the end table, her eyes alighting on the vase of roses beside him. “I noticed you had her favourite roses placed all over the house,” she said softly. “I know this day cannot be easy for you.”
Charles stood up with a huff, raking his hands through his hair. “Of course, it is not easy, Mama,” he almost growled. He had lost his wife two years previous after complications with a miscarriage. The anniversary of her death was always painful, but he found that spreading her favourite blooms around the house helped to honour her memory.
“Forgive me; I do not mean to sound crass, my son. I worry for you, that is all. And for Lyda. Whether you like it or not, she is growing up. She needs a woman to help guide her and prepare her for the world.”
“She will have a governess soon. There is no need for me to marry again,” he replied.
His mother glanced at Lyda and turned away, lowering her voice. “You will need a wife if you are to have a male heir,” she argued.
He closed his eyes for a split second, well aware that his name would die with him if he did not marry again. But what did it matter? His wife was gone, and he had given up on ever finding a love like the one they had shared. She had completed him in every way, his equal in intelligence and spirit.
A pang of guilt stabbed his heart. He had been away for much of their marriage, fighting in the war to stop Napoleon and his visions of a French Empire that stretched the globe. Charles had been so focused on distinguishing himself and had even earned the title of a knight in service of king and country. However, what was it worth now? He had missed so much of his life with his young wife and watching his child grow. Nothing could replace those moments.
He was thankful he had been home when his wife had gone into premature labor with their son. It had been far too early, with little chance of the babe surviving. He had never dreamed he would lose Katherine, too. It had all happened so fast. He supposed he was reluctant to marry again lest he also lost her. He would much rather focus his attention on Lyda rather than trying to find another wife.
“Come for a walk with me,” his mother suggested. She waved Lyda over, who jumped to her feet. She tucked her favourite doll onto the crook of her arm as she grasped her grandmother’s hand. Charles followed the ladies out to the patio and into the sunshine. Lyda bounded down the steps and went straight to the little fountain, pretending that her doll was contemplating a dip in the cool water.
Charles strolled beside his mother along the path around the fountain so they could talk in a semblance of privacy. “I remember Katherine tending these roses. She was out here almost every day during the summers.”
His mother halted near a flowering Cherry tree and plucked a blossom, twirling it between her fingers. “She was a beautiful creature. I am not suggesting that any woman could ever replace her, Charles. But perhaps, if you are willing to open your heart, God will provide you with someone to offer some companionship—even love?”
Charles sighed heavily. “I tire of this conversation, Mama,” he snapped. “If and when I decide to marry, it will not be from your prodding.”
He immediately felt guilty for his crosswords. His mother nodded sadly, looking away from him. “Very well. I shall let the matter rest.” She held up her hand to signify her surrender. Turning away, she made her way over to the fountain and tapped Lyda on the shoulder. “Come along, darling. It is time for your nap,” she said.
Lyda gave a little pout and ran over to Charles, taking his hand. “Must I, Papa? I am not even tired,” she said.
He knelt, placing his hands on her hips and pulling her close. “I think you had better listen to Grandmama,” he said. “I will see you at dinner.”
Lyda hung her head. “Very well.” She leaned in, wrapping her little arms around his neck. “Don’t listen to Grandmama. I don’t want a new mama,” she whispered.
He was stunned into silence for a moment, blinking slowly as she removed her arms from his neck and skipped over to his mother. She took her grandmother’s hand and skipped alongside her as they returned to the house.
Charles stood, pained by his daughter’s words. He brushed off the knee of his trousers, watching as his daughter and mother disappeared into the house. How could he move forward when Lyda was so against the idea of having another woman in their lives?
Sighing, he sat down at the edge of the fountain. “Oh, Katherine, I wish you were here,” he whispered. He felt like a total failure. It was his job to ensure his daughter was prepared for her future, providing all the love and care she needed to thrive. And he did love her more than his own life. However, he was often at a loss regarding how he could show it. Lyda often woke up in the middle of the night, tormented by nightmares that he felt powerless to help her combat. His wife’s death had been traumatic not only for him but for Lyda as well. While he had had the chance to say his last goodbyes, Lyda had not.
Whenever he heard her screams in the middle of the night, he would rush to her bedroom and try to calm her. Katherine had been so much better at it than he was.
“I don’t want you! I want Mama!” Lyda would often cry, caught between wakefulness and sleep.
“I know,” he would say, rocking her in his arms. “I want her, too.” Pain riddled his chest at the memories of her death. Shaking his head, he tried to rid himself of the harrowing events that had taken his wife and son from him.
His mother tried to encourage him that this would pass, but he was not so sure. He stood and plucked a yellow rose from a nearby bush. They had been his wife’s favourite. “They are such happy flowers, don’t you agree?” she had asked during one of their first meetings. He had planted rows and rows of the yellow blooms in the garden of their home.
He twirled the bloom between his fingers for a moment and went to sit back down at the fountain’s edge. He placed it face up in the water, watching it float to the fountain’s centre. It moved slowly around the small pool, pushed by the ripples created by the water spouting from the top of the sculpture. Usually, listening to the running water helped to calm his raw nerves. But today was not one of those days.
It did not seem right that life continued to propel them forward while he was stuck in the past. Perhaps his mother was right. It might not be easy at first, but surely things would get better with Lyda as she got used to a new woman in her life. And it was not like he wanted her to forget her birth mother—quite the contrary.
A few minutes later, he saw his mother coming back to him and stood to greet her. “How is she?” he asked.
His mother splayed her hands in front of her. “She was a little upset, but she is asleep now. I think she remembers her mother, which made today’s conversation all the more difficult. I apologise for bringing it up in front of her.”
“It is alright. As much as I do not want to think about it, you may be right.”
“I only brought it up this afternoon because I know we will soon be leaving for London. There will be ample opportunity to meet people there.”
He nodded, secretly vowing that it would not be for his sake but Lyda if he were to look for a wife. He could not afford to let his heart be entangled again, could not risk having it broken. Love was too painful when the person one shared it with was ripped from this world.
“I will do my best to be personable, but I beg you not to force something to happen. Allow me to find someone in my own time and in my own way.”
This request did not seem to please her, but she did not argue. “Very well,” she sighed. She turned around and started back towards the house, and he followed her. “I implore you to keep an open mind, my son. Perhaps the outcome will surprise you.”
He said nothing to this but inwardly doubted that anything would come of his search.
Lady Elizabeth Cromwell yawned, covering her mouth with her gloved hand. She stretched her lower back, trying to relieve the kink in her spine. “Pardon me,” she said to her parents. “I did not realise I had fallen asleep.”
At that instant, the carriage dipped into a particularly large pothole and threw her to the side. She gripped the windowsill with one hand and braced herself against the opposite door, frowning in annoyance. “You would think they would be able to miss at least one pothole. I think the drivers are trying to kill us.”
Her father chuckled softly, taking her mother’s hand. “You complain about this trip to London every season. I would think you would be used to it by now.”
“I complain because I do not see the point. I am on the verge of being a spinster—even past marriageable age in some people’s eyes. Why should I continue to make myself miserable travelling to London every summer, just to waste my time?” Elizabeth sighed, righting herself in her seat. The carriage continued to bump down the pitted road, but they had a slight reprieve from being thrown about violently, as she had just experienced.
Her parents exchanged glances, and she looked between the two of them, sensing there was a game afoot. “What is it? Are you involved in some conspiracy that I should know about?” Elizabeth quickly changed her tune. “Never mind. If you are in cahoots to get me married off to some high-ranking official of the king or a wealthy earl, you can forget the notion.
Her mother leaned forward, placing a hand over hers. She took a condescending tone. “My dear, we are worried about you. You are nearing twenty-five and still have not settled. There is simply no reason for it. You are still in your prime, beautiful, intelligent–everything a man could ask for. But is anybody good enough? No,” she leaned back in her seat as the carriage went over another considerable pothole, for which Elizabeth was grateful.
“Mama, I have saved myself a world of hurt thanks to my high standards. I told you it would be so when I first came out seven years ago, and I do not plan to lower those standards just because I am nearing spinsterdom.” Elizabeth smoothed down her skirt, glancing out the window at the landscape. The rolling country hills were beginning to give way to more and more houses as they came close to the capital, and she inwardly winced. She hated London. The stench and crowds made her want to escape back to the country as soon as she stepped foot in the cesspool of humanity. The only good thing about London was that her closest friend, Lady Hannah Reise, lived there. They were kindred spirits in almost every way, except that she had done the ‘sensible’ thing, married a peer, and now had two adorable children. Both were her godchildren, and she adored them with all her heart. Thankfully, Lord Reise had become an exceptional man, and she had built a good friendship with him over the years.
“I wish you could talk some sense into her, Everett,” her mother said, throwing up her hands in defeat. “What are we to do with you?”
“If I am such a burden to you, then please, give me the stipend that you have set aside for my dowry, and I shall be on my way,” Elizabeth said, knowing he would never carry out her idle suggestion. Despite their minor disagreements, she and her parents were close and would never want to be separated from her company for any reason except marriage.
“You know very well that we would never even consider such a thing. But we are eager to see you settled in your own home and have a fulfilling life with a husband and children of your own,” her father chimed in. He paused for a moment, and her parents again exchanged glances. He bit his lower lip. “I had a visit from Lord George Stilton a few days ago.”
Elizabeth instantly tensed and began to shake her head. “No, Papa. Please do not tell me–”
Before she could finish, her father hurried on with his explanation. “He is much changed since we last saw him, Elizabeth. He has returned from travelling abroad, and we believe he would be a worthy match for you.”
Despite her father’s friendship with George’s father, she could never see herself married to the spoiled, selfish, wild heir to the Stilton title. She had grown up with George, who was only a few years older than she, but knew that his immaturity and selfishness had cost him and his parents dearly in his youth. She did not trust the man.
“I know that you and Uncle George were close, Papa. However, I am not comfortable allowing his son to court me. He always tore about as a child, making a nuisance of himself with the staff and generally causing all sorts of mayhem and destruction wherever he went. As he grew, he achieved a less than reputable standing with the ladies. I cannot marry him, no matter how his parents might wish it.” Elizabeth hoped this speech would put her father’s hopes to rest once and for all, but she had a sneaking feeling this would not be the last she heard of it.
“He really has matured a great deal during the last few years, Elizabeth. You know I would never willingly put you in danger. If I thought for a moment he was up to his old ways, I would have kept my mouth shut and sent him on his way, never to bother us again. But I do believe he is genuine, my dear.” Her father ran a hand down his white beard, looking a little desperate. “Will you not give him another chance, Elizabeth? For my sake?”
Elizabeth sighed heavily, studying him for a moment. He knew she could not deny him, for she loved him. Pleasing her parents was essential to her. But what of her own happiness? She did not want to encourage George’s pursuit of her, only to find that her feelings were correct.
“Papa, you know that I would do anything to please you. But I do not trust Lord Stilton. He may have seemed to have changed, but you cannot tell from one meeting.” Elizabeth did not like to argue. She was usually so even-keeled and pleasant but could be stubborn about things for which she was passionate. And the truth was something she felt very deeply. George had never had a problem with lying, even to his parents’ faces. Elizabeth suspected his mother was the primary influence behind his behaviour, but she would never say so aloud.
“Well, I have invited him to visit us in London whenever he may be in the capital during the season. I hope you will at least be civil when he does come to call.” Her father said the last words with a flare of finality, turning to gaze out the window. Her mother shot her a disappointed look and followed suit with her father. Elizabeth felt a pang of remorse run through her heart. Was she being stubborn by not giving him a chance? She hung her head and said nothing else on the matter. Perhaps it was unfair for her to judge him by the behaviour he had exhibited in his youth.
Elizabeth remembered the times she and George had spent in each other’s company. He had always been a bit wild, exhibiting a restlessness that he could never quite get a handle on despite the hand of fortune on his life. He had always exerted himself in some way–as if he had something to prove. His father had been a good man if a little hard on him. On the other hand, his mother was a force to be reckoned with. Uncle George, as she had affectionately called young George’s father even though there was no blood relationship between the families, had died when they were only ten and thirteen. Elizabeth could not help wondering how his son would have turned out if his mother had passed instead of him. Of course, it was a terrible thought, and she had never voiced it to anyone. Even still, it seemed that all the good in George had been overshadowed by the selfish and unyielding nature his mother seemed to pass down to him.
She remembered the times she and George had been together for balls and social events after she had come out. He had always been charming, gallant, flirtatious, and running after the most popular ladies. That was precisely why she did not trust him. How could she, or anyone else, tell if he were genuine? A charming man was more dangerous than anything else. Charm was fleeting and might be a disguise for much darker, masked flaws.
“I can see you are thinking about what I have said. I beg you to give Lord Stilton another chance. Talk to him when he comes to visit and give him the chance he deserves to prove himself to you. The way he spoke about you really was quite moving when he came to see me.” Her father looked at her with such hope that she did not have the heart to turn him down.
Sighing, she folded her hands in her lap and thought for a moment. “Very well. I will give him a chance. But if I sense anything amiss about him, I pray you will not force me into any more meetings or social gatherings with the man.” In truth, she hoped he was quick to show his true nature and be done with him once and for all.
“I promise. If, after spending an adequate amount of time with him, you still have no tender feelings towards him, I will never mention it again. I thought it very sweet what he said about you, though.”
Elizabeth raised a brow, eyeing her father with wariness. “What did he say?”
Her father smiled, pausing for a moment. His silence only proved to increase her curiosity–and annoyance. She did not want to care about what George had to say of her, but she did. He took a deep breath and continued, clearly excited, “He told me of his travels around the Continent, and he said he could not get you out of his thoughts. He said you were like a guiding star, leading him back to where he belonged. I thought it very poetic, really,” he finished.
Elizabeth was immediately put on the alert. Already he was pouring on the charm. Was he trying to soften her up? “I find that hard to believe. We have not seen each other in years, Papa.”
“Well, then, it will be a happy reunion indeed. Just think how lovely it would be to have an autumn wedding,” her mother said. Elizabeth held up her hands, waving them back and forth as if four great runaway horses were charging her.
“Mother, please,” she spat. “I agreed to speak with him and be cordial when he came to visit. Marriage is the furthest thing from my mind when it comes to Lord Stilton. In all reality, nothing will ever come of it, so please put the idea of an autumn wedding entirely out of your mind.”
Her mother shifted in her seat, shooting her father a disappointed look. “Very well, but only for the time being.”
Elizabeth turned to the window and saw the road filled with wagons and other carriages, all making their way to the beating heart of England. She hardened her heart against Lord Stilton, even with her promise to her father. She would not be drawn in by his flirtation and charm. Above all, she must keep a level head about her and, under no circumstances, fall in love with the wrong man.
“Loving a Wounded Gentleman” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Elizabeth Cromwell is a high-spirited woman on the brink of spinsterhood, as no suitor seems good enough for her. After rejecting the last match her parents encouraged, she embarks on her seventh Season, with little hope or interest in finding someone suitable. Yet, fate has other plans, and the upcoming ball will have Elizabeth stunned by a disarming man, different from anyone she has ever met. Even though their first encounter is marked by mutual disapproval, her heart soon begins to spark with unprecedented feelings.
Could Elizabeth find the courage to fall for someone with a tragic past?
Sir Charles Brentwood is fighting with his own ghosts. After his wife’s passing during childbirth, he is left alone to care for his young beloved daughter. Haunted by visions of the untimely death and his guilt, Charles despairs of ever finding love again. However, his daughter needs a mother’s guiding hand and affection, and he needs an heir to pass along his name. Prepared to simply compromise, he is surprised to find love again in the face of a proud, intelligent young lady.
Will he be able to move on from his grief and open his heart again?
When Elizabeth and Charles’s paths cross, he thinks of her as brash and abrasive, and she finds him cold and distant. As they get to know each other though, their mutual detest flowers into the most unexpected love. Yet, there are other forces at work, desperate to keep them apart. Will Elizabeth and Charles be able to give love a second chance? Or will they both be doomed to remain separated and alone for the rest of their lives?
“Loving a Wounded Gentleman” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.