About the book
Love is blind, they say...and doesn't mind riches. Such is the love of a merchant's daughter, Louisa, and the charming young nobleman Felton. Crazy in love and emboldened by the passion of their youth, they seek for their families' blessing for their union.
However, the Duke, Felton's father, demands of him to marry a certain Lady of the peerage. As his family's obsession lacks any profound reason, Felton will try to investigate this mystery only to be caught in a web of shameful lies and political scandal...
Felton's parents are willing to sacrifice their son's happiness for their own good and will do anything to break the two lovers apart. He took an oath to fight for Louisa's love against all odds, but she is too hurt to carry on...
Two stalwart horses and their riders came tearing over the ridge, down the narrow trail, and along the bank of the river. The lead rider turned over his shoulder and called out to the rider behind him, “Are you ready to stand for the drinks? Because you are about to lose.”
He turned to the front again, but he was too late. He was struck by a low hanging branch and tumbled backward. The second rider pulled up, jumped off his horse, and went over to his friend who lay unconscious—his leg twisted at an odd angle.
“Felton, Felton… Oh, my God… Felton,” he said, shaking his friend by the shoulders trying to revive him.
Evan, the second rider, ran over to the bank of the river and cupped his hands, scooping up water and trying to run back with it to his friend, but he could not hold it as it dribbled away.
He kneeled down and patted Felton’s face with his wet palms. “Felton, old boy, wake up.”
Felton groaned, his eyes flickering. “I fell…”
“You certainly did, but do not move. It looks like you have broken your leg, and you have a nasty slash across your face where the branch hit you.”
“A real cock-up, eh?” Felton said in a weak, scratchy voice.
“I do not think I should try to move you. Let me ride into the village to get help.”
Felton tried to sit up on his elbows but he was shot through with a stab of pain and he fell back, passing out again.
“Damn it to hell!” Evan said, rising up. He went to his horse, after securing Felton’s horse, threw himself onto the saddle and raced toward the village.
Louisa Turner often took long walks in the morning where she could think and dream. Not that she could not do the same at home, but she loved the sound of the flowing water, the music of the birds, and the gentle cooling summer breeze when the weather was fair.
This morning was fresh as there had been a shower overnight and the air smelled of wet leaves and that sweet smell that enlivens the air after a rain.
Louisa was from the West Sussex village of Petworth. She was the eldest child, at nineteen, of the cotton merchant, Arthur Turner and his wife Martha—a decent and well respected local middle-class family.
As Louisa walked along the riverbank, she carried herself with an elegant grace that most of the village girls did not possess. She was taller than her family, with dark curly hair, expressive sparkling eyes, and a self-assured patrician air that set her apart from her more mundane peers.
Louisa saw a horseman approaching at a fast pace. She stepped aside to let him pass and, although he looked at her, he did not stop, say hello, or give her anything but a curt nod.
Most strange, she thought. Could he be fleeing the law, late for an appointment, or pretending he is in a race? Those thoughts set her chuckling, but not for long for she stooped over, picked a stem of grass, and absentmindedly tied it into a bow.
She was coming up to a bend in the river, beyond which was her favorite rock for sitting. It was situated at the river’s edge and had a most pleasant view in the shade. She often took a break there before starting back home.
As she rounded the bend, she was surprised to see someone stretched out on the ground not far from her rock. Her first thought was that he had been struck by the racing horseman who did not stop to help.
She immediately ran over and kneeled beside the man who appeared to be unconscious.
“Sir, sir, can you hear me?” Louisa asked, as she lightly patted the young man’s face.
The man turned his head from side to side as he regained consciousness. His eyes flickered open and he looked up at her with a surprised expression.
“Evan, what has happened to Evan?” he asked, as if from far away.
“I saw a horseman racing by earlier. Might that be your friend?” She took a handkerchief from her pocket and began dabbing his brow which was covered with sweat, dirt, and leaves. “Are you in a lot of pain?” she asked. “It looks to me like you have hurt your leg.”
“I think it is broken. Do you fix legs, by any chance?”
She laughed. “I am afraid I do not. So sorry, but are you thirsty? Might I fetch you some water from the river?”
“Yes, that would be lovely. Are you to carry it in your hands, for that was not so successful for my friend?”
“Not so, I carry a flask when I walk for just such occasions.”
“So, you meet fallen strangers on your walks regularly?”
“Not so regularly but I, too, often need a drink when I am out on a summer’s day.”
“Then I would welcome your assistance, for I am dry.”
“I shall be but a moment.”
She returned shortly with the water and put her hand under the young man’s head to raise it up so he could drink. He seemed to be regaining his faculties.
“Thank you, Miss…?”
“Louisa Turner of Petworth and you are, sir?”
“Felton Windham, at your service, or, I would be if I could move.”
“Windham? Windham? Are you of the Burlington Abbey Windhams?”
“None other.” Felton said. “Son of the Duke. Can you believe that?
“The Marquess of Harwood?”
“That is I, but do not let me scare you off. Stay with me for a few moments until my friend returns.”
Louisa made herself as comfortable as she could while kneeling on the ground. She studied the man before her.
Felton Windham, the Marquess of Harwood—the son of the Duke and Duchess of Stapleton—was a young man of twenty. When he did not have lacerations across his face and no broken leg, he cut quite a handsome figure in the county of West Sussex where he lived with his family at Burlington Abbey. He stood tall at well over six feet. He wore his dark, nearly coal black, hair long and tied loosely away from his handsome face. He had dark eyes and an open gracious smile—always ready with a quick laugh and a cheery greeting. His athletic build was honed by his constant riding, his love of pugilism, and the long runs and walks he took on the grounds of the family estate.
“But what happened to you?”
“Stupid riding accident. Broken leg and a scratch on the head.”
“More than just scratches it looks like to me.”
“I cannot see myself. Is it really that bad?”
“I have no mirror. So, I shall be your mirror.”
“Very well,” he said, with as much of a smile as he could muster.
“Now then, there is this large red welt going from here to here.” She drew a line in front of his face from the top of his forehead, across his nose, and down his left cheek. “Then, here is a gash that goes across part of this other cheek, and there are at least three or four abrasions that are starting to scab over.” She squinted. “Are you in great pain?”
“I have certainly been better, but your charming face is already healing my wounds. Ow-w-w,” he said wincing.
“And what do you do, Miss Louisa Turner?”
“I spend my time being an obedient daughter… for the time being. However, I should like to teach, eventually. I have a good education and would like to put it to good use.”
“Young ones, I think.”
“Might you be a governess?”
“No, I would prefer a proper school room full of rambunctious ruffians.”
She made a gruff face. “I can be very severe. I will take no nonsense.”
“Then I am happy you were not my governess for you would have me with a dunce cap in the corner most afternoons.”
He was looking at her with the sweetest smile even though he looked a mess.
“Miss Louisa, might you consider going for a ride with me some afternoon?”
“Not if it involves broken legs and scratches.”
“No, no… I promise. It shall be very sedate and it may even involve a picnic and tea at Burlington Abbey afterward.”
“I think it might be some time before you can contemplate that,” Louisa said, standing, as a wagon and the rider who had passed her came toward them.
“But you will consider it?”
“And how might I find you for an invitation when I am up and about again?”
“The Rookery, Pelham Way.”
“I know that place, and your father is Arthur Turner?”
“He is, and now you must excuse me. Help is coming for you and you will no longer need my assistance. Good day, My Lord.”
“Good afternoon, Miss Turner.”
Louisa turned toward home and passed the rider and wagon as they approached.
Evan spurred his horse forward, and jumped off, and ran to his friend.
Evan Beaumont was slightly older than Felton but they had been friends since childhood. Since Felton was an only child, it had been decided that there should be another child in the Burlington classroom while Felton was being instructed by the governess. The Beaumonts were a neighboring aristocratic family and they offered to let Evan be tutored along with Felton. As a consequence, the two boys became fast friends.
Felton was dark, but Evan was fair, and while he was of slighter build than his friend, he was also wiry and quick on his feet, making him a natural sparring partner for Felton in the boxing ring.
“Felton, you rogue, who was that charming young woman?” he asked as he brushed the leaves and dirt off his friend’s jacket.
“A young lady from the village. She stopped to help me after you ran off leaving me all alone.”
“I needed to get help.”
“And have you?”
At that moment the wagon drew up.
“I have borrowed a wagon and a few lads to help me take you home. I have sent for a surgeon to do whatever they do to set your leg, and I have sent a messenger to inform your parents of your accident, but you lost your bet and you owe me that drink.”
“You are such a good friend,” Felton said, patting his friend’s cheek. “But I really do not feel very well. I…” and he passed out again.
“Help me get him on the wagon, but be careful of his leg,” Evan said to the two men from the wagon who had come forward. “There will be a crown each and a pint when we are done.”
Felton had a large splint on his leg but was managing quite well on his crutches. He even made a point of taking the stairs in the entry hall two at time when rushing down to breakfast—late as usual.
Burlington Abbey—the Stapleton Ducal seat—had, indeed, once been an abbey, destroyed by Henry VIII when he declared himself head of the Church of England and sacked the Catholic abbeys and monasteries. The land had been granted to the Windham family for services rendered, and Charles Windham had been made the first Duke of Stapleton.
The house was a rather plain, rectangular, three-story building with little outside decoration. It did, however, maintain fine formal gardens both front and back. However, the inside was a different matter. It was opulent with towering marble halls, ornate baroque sitting rooms, and many bedrooms to entertain large numbers of guests. But the house had a surprisingly modest amount of artworks. None of the previous Dukes had had much taste for art but Felton was resolved that when he became the Duke, that would change. He found the house to be rather cold. He loved fine paintings and sculpture—often traveling to London to browse the galleries and museums.
Fortunately, the Stapleton Dukedom was well established and endowed financially. He would not need to consider how much something might cost. He looked forward to spending lavishly on his taste for the finer things in life, but that was still some time off, as his father was healthy, robust and still very much alive.
Felton took his place at the breakfast table and looked over at his mother and father who were nearly finished with their morning meal.
The Duke had the same coloring as his son, but he was not as tall and had put on a great deal of weight over the years with his fondness for feasting. He still wore a powdered wig in the old style, which constantly shed onto his shoulders. He was red-faced with deep-set eyes that one could barely see as he seemed to have a perpetual squint.
“Father… Mother… I am taking a trip to Siler Hall later this morning. Are there any messages?”
The Duke glowered at his son. “And why are you going there?” he demanded.
“To visit Uncle Silas, of course. I understand he has a quite beautiful new painting and I should like to see it.”
“No,” his father said forcefully. “If you must go gallivanting about, it should be to visit Miss Sinclair. You have neglected visiting her for too long.”
Felton had to hold himself back from showing his anger. “Father, I have been somewhat incapacitated, as you well know,” he said stretching out his mending leg for his father to see.
“If you are well enough to visit your uncle then you can just as easily visit Arabella. After all, she is your intended and deserves a visit from you.”
“But she has not come to visit me since I was incapacitated. Why should I visit her?”
“Because she is to be your wife,” the Duke said slapping his hands flat on the table.
“Might I remind you, we are not yet engaged, and I have told you many times I have no interest in marrying her. I agree she is quite charming. However, the times we have met there has been no spark between us on either side.”
“And what difference does that make? She is the daughter of the Earl of Denham and by far the most suitable young lady for you in the entire county. It would be a great honor for their household to merge with ours. Not to mention the enhancement of our mutual estates.”
“Ah, so that is it. The merger of our estates. No thought as to the two individuals involved in this union. Just the land and the prestige.”
The Duke waved his hand in the air. “What else is there? I have every reason to believe the young Miss Sinclair is intelligent and should make an excellent companion in running the dukedom, in time.”
“My darling,” the Duchess said to her son, “Your father and I had absolutely no love between us when we married and look at us now?”
Felton could not help but smile and, in fact, needed to stifle an outright guffaw at that absurd statement, as it was abundantly clear that neither had any affection for the other—let alone love—and never had.
His mother was slender—one might almost say emaciated. She poked at her food and hardly partook of any substantial nourishment. Her face was pinched and she wore far too much makeup. It made her look like a painted porcelain doll.
Felton grabbed hold of the edge of the table and lifted himself out of his chair, taking hold of his crutches, and preparing to leave the breakfast room.
“Thank you for your considered opinions on how I should live my life but after a great deal of thought and consideration, I believe I will spend my morning visiting Uncle Silas and a very good morning to you both.”
Silas Higginson was as unlike his cool and calculating sister as sunshine is from moonlight. The Duchess’ younger brother represented everything in life that his sister did not—spontaneity, joy, laughter, and celebration. Against their parents’ stern demands, Silas had run off and married his true love, Hannah Pence. Fortunately, his wife had a substantial living, and he controlled a bequest from his grandmother that allowed them the freedom to live as they pleased. The rest of his family had no control over him and he was the only relative that Felton cared for and looked up to for inspiration.
Felton should have taken the small buggy to visit his uncle—because of his broken leg. But, as he was always disregarding what was prudent, he decided to take his horse—partially to prove to himself he was on the mend but also because it was faster and more fun.
It was a forty-five-minute ride to his Uncle’s estate. As he rode up to the modest but very attractive house surrounded by trees, shrubs, and flowers, he could see his aunt and uncle seated in an arbor waving to him.
“Have you come to see the new painting?” Hannah called out as he came within hearing.
“I have,” he said as he reined in his horse and unfastened the crutches, trying to dismount. “and my two adorable cousins.” He looked around. “Where are they?”
“Playing at a neighbor’s house. They will be back for lunch.”
“Here, let me help you,” Silas said as he came running up. “Why ever did you ride?”
“Foolishness on my part,” Felton said as his uncle grabbed his arm as he slid from the saddle.
Silas was not an imposing man. He was slight of build and his nearly bald pate shown in the late morning summer sun, but his eyes twinkled, and with his broad smile, he was as warmly welcoming as any middle-aged gentleman could be. His stout wife came running over behind him, her skirts aflutter like sails rapidly losing wind.
She ran up to her nephew, grabbed his face and plastered it with wet kisses—her face as red as an apple. “Look at you all broken like a china plate, but how good it is to see you. Come, I only recently made a dandy pitcher of lemonade. Would you like some?”
“Sounds wonderful.” Before taking up his crutches he put his arms around the shoulders of his favorite relatives and asked, “How are you two faring?”
“Good as can be,” Silas said. “We wanted to visit you after your riding accident, but you know how your parents are about us visiting unless we are invited.”
“You always have my invitation,” Felton said, steadying himself on the crutches and following his aunt and uncle.
“Yes, but you are not the Duke, and unfortunately, his word still rules at Burlington Abbey.”
“Only partially,” Felton said with a laugh. “I am doing everything I can to thwart his all-powerful reign.”
“Be careful. Your father is a cunning man and I have seen his wrath. He will only stand for so much from you,” Silas advised.
The arbor was cool in the shade and a gentle breezed wafted through the boughs of the trees. The lemonade had been served and the three had fallen into a comfortable chat when Felton said, “I want to see your new painting, but first I need your advice.”
“Of course, Nephew,” Silas replied.
“Both Father and Mother are determined I marry Arabella, the Earl of Denham’s daughter, and, while she is pleasant enough, we are not at all interested in marrying.”
“How do you know? Have you asked her for her position?”
“Oh, yes. We discussed it in detail. But it is all political and neither of us wants to be put into a marriage of power and property.”
“And is there anyone else who interests you?” Hannah asked.
Felton hesitated but after giving it some thought said, “Wel-l-l, there might be.”
“But we only just met. I know it is mad to talk about a young lady I barely know but she is from a good family and we had the most delightful first meeting.”
“Hmm. I would advise against rushing into anything. Do not let your animosity to your father drive you to make any rash decisions just to thwart him,” Silas cautioned.
“Who is she?” Hannah asked, always ready for any romantic tale.
“Her name is Louisa Turner. Her father is a well-established cotton merchant and we met just after my accident. She was out walking, and stopped to give me water, and offer me solace.”
Silas laughed. “Oh, then it was probably your delirium. I would highly recommend seeing her again now that you are more clear-headed. She might have three ears, a wart with hair growing out of it, and no teeth.”
“Highly unlikely, Uncle. I may have been woozy but not blind. We chatted for some time and I found her to be witty, intelligent, and learned. She wishes to be a teacher.” And, oh yes—very, very pretty, he thought to himself.
Hannah clapped her hands. “Oh, dear boy, she sounds most promising.”
At that moment, a carriage came up the driveway, and after stopping, his cousins, the twins Ruth and Daniel, came bounding out. They caught sight of Felton and raced over to him, throwing their arms around his neck. They were eight-years-old and looked like the mirror image of each other.
“How are my favorite cousins?” he asked.
“We are your only cousins,” Ruth insisted.
“Perhaps so, but that does not mean you cannot also be my favorites.”
“When is lunch, Mommy?” Daniel asked. “All they had for morning tea was some horrid, old, dry biscuits. I am starving.”
Hannah gathered her two children to her and directed them toward the house. “Let us go see what Cook has prepared for us this afternoon, shall we?”
Silas was smoking his pipe and watching the smoke drift off into the upper branches of the trees above them. “I am going up to London in a couple of weeks on business and to visit a few galleries. Want to come along?”
Felton’s face lit up. “Oh, yes… most definitely. Hopefully, I will be out of my splint by then.”
“If not, I shall pull you by a rope tied to the back of the carriage,” he said mischievously.
Felton looked at his uncle and sighed. “How did you ever survive in my mother’s family? They must have thought you were as strange to them, as I am to my family.”
“I think there must be a teeny-tiny amount of pixy blood in the two of us that skipped the rest of the family entirely.”
“Very likely,” Felton said, standing up and readying his crutches. “Now, how about showing me your new painting?”
Louisa had not told her best friend, Joyce, about the meeting with Felton, as she thought absolutely nothing would come of it. It was quite unlikely that Felton, the Marquess of Harwood, would deign to follow through on his promise to ask her for a ride in Stapleton Park.
However, Joyce had just given birth at home to a newborn baby girl and Louisa could not wait to see how she and the baby were doing. Louisa’s mother had knitted several pairs of booties for the new baby and Louisa had gathered a delightful bowl of fresh raspberries as a treat for the new mother.
Louisa took her basket with the berries, the booties, and a small baby’s blanket that she had embroidered, and set out to Joyce’s house which was within easy walking distance. Joyce and her husband, Donald, were living in Joyce’s family home until they could move into their new cottage. Louisa approached the very welcoming white-washed cottage with climbing roses growing on a trellis arched over the front door.
Surprised to see Joyce answering the door, Louisa said, “Oh, Joyce, you are up already?”
“And why should I not be?” she asked gaily, opening the door wide for Louisa to enter.
“But I heard it was such a difficult birth. I thought for certain you would be confined to bed for a while longer.”
“Nonsense. I am chipper as a lark and hearty as a bear. Do come in. And, oh, you have brought me something. Let us go to the kitchen where I have just instructed Cook to serve us some fresh morning tea cake.”
“How did you know I was coming?”
“I did not but I suspected as much.” Joyce peeked into the basket Louisa had handed her. “Oh, my. We shall have berries on the cake and new booties for the baby.”
“Does Baby have a name yet?” Louisa asked.
“Donald wants Hortensia, but I said no. It sounds way too much like someone’s wizened maiden aunt. I favor Joy, April, or even Barbara, but we are still in discussion. For now, we are calling the baby—It.”
“Can I see It?” Louisa asked with a giggle.
“Of course. Come.” Joyce put the basket on the kitchen table and instructed Cook to serve the raspberries with the cake.
Joyce led Louisa through the house to the back door that opened onto a small porch leading to a country garden. The nanny was seated next to a cradle under the broad branches of a beech tree.
Joyce went to her daughter who looked up, waving her arms and legs while cooing. Louisa followed, taking hold of the child’s tiny hand.
“Oh, she is definitely an April.”
“You think so?”
“No doubt at all. The name Hortensia must fly out the window.”
Joyce pulled up two lawn chairs next to the cradle and, just then, the kitchen maid came out with a tea tray and servings of cake.
After the tea was poured, the two friends relaxed against the backs of the lawn chairs as bees buzzed around them, exploring the nearby beds of varicolored penstemon.
Louisa had wanted to tell Joyce about Felton before but this was the first moment the two had been alone and able to speak privately.
“Joyce…” Louisa said, as she continued to relax against the chair with her eyes closed.
“Do you know the Marquess of Harwood?”
“I know of him.”
“Does he have a reputation?” Louisa asked.
Joyce opened her eyes and turned to her friend. “How do you mean?”
“Is he a ladies’ man? Does he gamble? Is he known to frequent the taverns?”
“Hmm. I have not heard anything against him. His family is very stand-offish. They entertain only those of their own class and rarely engage with us common folks. Why ever do you ask?”
Louisa described her coming upon the stricken Felton at the riverside.
“And you said nothing to me about this before now?” Joyce asked, sounding piqued.
“Well, there was nothing to tell, really. I have no expectation that he will ever call on me again. I think he was somewhat delirious after his broken leg. And I doubt that he even remembers me.”
“Well, you never know. Was he nice?”
Louisa blushed slightly. “He was very handsome. He smiled a great deal and he appeared to be very jolly even though he had had an accident. But I do expect that was due to the accident, as well.”
“But he is the eldest son and heir of a Duke, Louisa. And knowing that family, there is not a chance that he will ever have any serious interest in you.”
Louisa leaned back against the chair, closed her eyes again, and said lazily, “Yes, I expect you are right.” She swatted at a fly that had landed on her cheek without giving any further thought to Felton.
Evan and Arabella always met in secret. Evan was Felton’s best friend—Arabella had been selected by her family to marry Felton. It would have been grossly improper for Evan and Arabella to be seeing each other frequently, let alone to be courting. However, Arabella’s chaperone was sympathetic to Arabella’s plight and would allow the two to meet secretly—as long as she sat nearby.
When either of them wished to meet—which was often—one would smuggle a private note to the other, setting a time and place. They usually met by the old flour mill where they could sit by the bank or walk along the river in private, sheltered by the overhanging trees.
Today, however, it appeared that a storm might be brewing, so one of their alternative locations had been selected. The village bakery had a tea shop attached to it and no one of their acquaintance ever took tea there, so they could count on being unobserved. They always arrived separately and made certain there was no one they knew nearby before they entered.
“Dearest,” Evan said breathlessly, taking hold of Arabella’s gloved hands as she sat opposite him.
She looked at him with her seductive green eyes. Arabella was a beautiful red haired young woman. She dressed in the latest London fashions, as she visited there frequently.
She was breathless from her anticipation to see Evan and her smile was generously welcoming.
“My beloved, Evan, we meet again.”
Evan had arrived before her and had already ordered the tea service.
They continued to gaze at one another without speaking until the servers came with the tea.
“I suppose there has been no movement on your parents’ position,” Evan asked. Arabella teared slightly and shook her head—too overcome with emotion to be able to speak. “And I can report that Felton remains steadfast in his opposition to his parent’s wishes for him to marry you.
"So there is still hope for us, Precious One, but I fear it is a battle that cannot be won.”
“Please say that is not true. We must not give up hope, but what if Felton wavers? What if his parents are so insistent he cannot budge them? Then he must marry you and we shall be lost to each other forever. I could not bear that.”
The cups of tea the waitress had poured remained untouched before them. However, it was impossible for them to remain at such a heightened state of agitation, so Evan changed the subject and took a sip of his tea.
“I expect you have heard about Felton’s accident.”
“What? I have heard no such thing. Pray, tell me.”
Evan explained in heroic detail how he rescued Felton after his fall from his horse.
“And he will recover?” she asked, finally taking a sip of her own tea.
“He has a broken leg. But they have given him a monstrous thing around his leg to heal the break and he hobbles around like a drunken peg-legged pirate. I think he is secretly enjoying the whole show.”
Arabella laughed. “Yes, I can just imagine he might. I do like Felton, but not as a husband.”
“And he is my very best friend. We have always been inseparable.”
Arabella wandered off into her own thoughts. “I imagine as soon as he is recovered enough his parents will insist he visit me.”
“He did tell me he was to go to London with his Uncle Silas—although he has not informed his parents of that just yet. They will not be happy with him about that. His father loathes the uncle, you know.”
“Felton has told me how much he adores the man and says he is his only refuge from the storm of his family.”
“Yes, I can believe he said that.” Evan suddenly remembered something and pulled a small book out of his coat pocket. “My dear, as promised, I brought you this book to read. You remember, I told you about it when last we met.”
She took the book and looked at the title. “Oh, yes… The Perils of Lady Cavanaugh. How thoughtful of you. You are my very dearest man.” And she placed her hand on his.
He took her hand and held on to it tightly as he hung his head. “I do not know if I can bear this torture much longer, Arabella.”
“I know, my darling. But we must. We have no choice. And even if we were to marry, how would we live? You work with your father on the estate but he gives you no income.”
“But you have some.”
“Yes, but only if the marriage is sanctioned by my parents. Yet they have decided I must marry Felton. You know that.”
Evan smiled sadly, “I do but my mind keeps going in circles looking for an exception, an escape, or a way out of this dilemma.”
Arabella withdrew her hand from his and placed it on the book Evan had given her. “We might as well be living in the pages of this book for all the good it does us. I am afraid we will need to become fictional characters for us to have the life we yearn for.”
Louisa’s family lived in one of the finer houses in the village of Petworth. As one of the most prominent of the village merchants, Arthur Turner had turned a local enterprise into a thriving countywide business. Arthur owned a prime property at the edge of the village and, while the children were still young, had built a very handsome dwelling with four bedrooms, a large family sitting room, a study, a library, and an excellently outfitted kitchen area. Martha, the children’s mother, had worked diligently to create handsome front and back gardens and the property had become one of the most admired residences in not only Petworth, but throughout the entire county.
Louisa had been reading late. The rest of her family were already in bed when she left the sitting room with her single candle. As she passed by the small table in the entranceway she glanced to see if there had been any afternoon post. There was a single letter—addressed to her.
“Oh,” she said, picking up the envelope and turned it over to discover the embossed seal of the Duke of Stapleton.
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