“Oh, I can’t wait for this!” Frederica squealed, bouncing up and down on the cushions.
Sitting across from her, Dorothy couldn’t help laughing at her friend’s excitement.
“You need to be careful, Frederica. The carriage will lurch again, and you’ll end up on the floor.”
“No, I won’t!”
“The last time happened ten minutes ago! You were complaining about your knee hitting the edge of the seat.”
Frederica Colt shrugged.
“The pain is overshadowed by the excitement of knowing we’re going to a house party!”
“Isn’t overshadowed a bad word?”
“No, not at all. The delight is bigger than the throbbing in my knee, even if I’m sure I’ll be limping for a while.” Frederica shook her head, still grinning. “Why aren’t you jumping around? You were just as excited as I am when I told you that Aunt Annabelle had invited both of us.”
“But I know how to behave myself, especially in a swaying carriage.”
Frederica stuck her tongue out at her, and Dorothy rolled her eyes.
“Now that isn’t very ladylike.”
“Nobody’s here to say anything. When you’re alone, nobody is going to know or care that you’re behaving in a conduct that is unbecoming.”
Her words became more flamboyant towards the end of the sentence, and Dorothy had no idea how she was supposed to maintain her composure when her friend was making her laugh and groan all the time. She was far too amusing for her own good.
She leaned over and took Frederica’s hand.
“Well, you’d better take a deep breath and calm down before we get there. While your Aunt is a lovely lady, I do not think she would appreciate her niece practically bouncing off the walls.”
“Oh, Aunt Annabelle knows what I’m like.” Frederica giggled. “She tolerates me better than my own parents. You know that.”
“But she’s gotten married again. She’s going to want you to behave, isn’t she?”
“I’ve met my new uncle. He’s probably the nicest man you’re ever going to meet.” Frederica winked. “I have a feeling he and I are going to get along very well.”
Dorothy didn’t doubt it. Her friend of nearly twenty years could make friends with anyone. She was warm, outgoing, and fun. Of course, she stayed within the confines of what society dictated for women, but it still seeped out. It would be no surprise that her aunt’s new husband would be charmed by her as well.
She settled back and looked out of the window. The Derbyshire countryside rushed by, looking lush and green. All she could see were hills, a lot of them. Having lived in Bedford all her life, Dorothy wasn’t used to so many rolling hills. According to Frederica, they were higher than where they lived. It might explain why she was feeling a little light-headed.
Even with the dizziness, Dorothy was looking forward to this. After the disaster that had been last Season, she had wanted to have some freedom. Unfortunately, while the freedom was revitalising, it also brought some frustration. It hadn’t been as successful as she wanted it to be. London had failed her in more ways than one.
It would do her good to get away from all this for a while. A week in her friend’s aunt’s new home in the Peak District would be just what she needed to make herself feel better. Annabelle Samuels, formerly Annabelle Carter, had found love again after losing her husband when she was young. Dorothy was pleased for her; she was fond of the older woman.
And it felt like an honour to be invited to her new home so everyone could meet the new couple who couldn’t go to the wedding. Then again, they had eloped to Gretna Green, so that would be pretty much everyone.
Frederica was dusting down her skirts with a brisk gesture that made Dorothy wonder if she would tug her skirt off completely.
“What are you thinking about? You have that pensive look on your face.”
“Oh.” Dorothy hadn’t realised. She smiled at her friend. “It’s nothing. I’m just getting used to the change in the air.”
“I know. It’s a lot fresher up here, isn’t it? Better than the smell of the factory that drifts in our direction from over a mile away.” Frederica sat forward and took a deep sniff. Then she made a face. “Although maybe not right now. We must be passing a farm.”
“It’s not as bad as the factory fumes.” Dorothy paused. “Or the tannery.”
“Oh, God, that thing!” Frederica shuddered. “That is probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever had go up my nose! Who thought it was a good idea to heat up dog dung and chicken dung to soften cow hides?”
“It makes really good leather, so it must be effective.”
“It’s still disgusting! If those men are married, I’m surprised the wives are still around.”
“I’m sure they’re used to it by now.”
“They’re stronger than I am, then.” Frederica sat back. “I wonder how long it’ll be until we get there. Mother did say it would take a few hours to get there, and the hills weren’t going to be letting us off lightly.”
“I saw a sign for Wirksworth a short while ago. We must be nearly there.”
“I hope so. My rear end is getting really sore.”
“We only stopped half an hour ago,” Dorothy reminded her.
“And? I don’t like long journeys.”
Dorothy knew about that. Frederica had been complaining since they had reached Leicester. They had stopped quite a few times as part of the journey, but it didn’t seem to stop the whining. Dorothy loved her friend, but this was beginning to get on her nerves.
At least it would stop when they finally got there.
The sun was a little lower in the sky, indicating that it was later in the afternoon by the time they turned through the gate and went up a sweeping drive. Dorothy stuck her head out the window, and her mouth dropped at the house. It was beautiful, a huge structure that looked like it had been perfectly carved. She couldn’t see the garden behind it properly because it had sloped down out of sight, almost like it was on the edge of a sheer cliff in the middle of the valley.
This looked like a stunning place to live. Dorothy could only hope she had something like it when she got married.
If she ever got married, that was.
“Here we are!” Frederica squealed and started jumping up and down again. This time she fell over and landed on Dorothy. Dorothy cried out as elbows dug into her stomach.
“Frederica, calm down! We’re here now!”
“I know! I just can’t wait to get out.” Frederica scrambled for the door handle. “I’m going to get out now. I don’t want to wait any longer.”
But her friend was already out, jumping onto the gravel drive and running up towards the house. Dorothy grabbed the door as it swung back again, pulling it closed. Then she leaned out and watched as her friend rushed past the carriage and up towards the front terrace, her long dark hair flowing out behind her. They had both unpinned their hair during the journey, the long travelling and the heat hurting their heads. Both of them looked a little unkempt, but it didn’t seem to matter much, seeing as it was just the two of them.
Dorothy couldn’t help smiling at Frederica’s excitement. She was like a little girl at times. It was somewhat adorable, although seeing it up close and personal was sometimes frightening.
She watched as a tall, statuesque woman with dark hair and a red dress came out onto the terrace. She stood there and waited for Frederica to join her. Even at a distance, Dorothy could see her smile. Then Frederica had thrown herself on the other woman, both of them embracing. She could feel the warmth even where she was.
Finally, the carriage pulled up outside the house, and Dorothy waited for a servant to open the door for her. She got up and walked over to where Frederica and her aunt were talking. Her aunt turned to Dorothy with a big smile.
“Aunt Annabelle.” Dorothy then remembered and dropped into a curtsy. “I mean, Lady Derbyshire.”
Lady Derbyshire laughed.
“You can still call me Aunt Annabelle. I’ve known you since you were crawling.”
“But you’re a marchioness now.”
“That doesn’t mean we have to stand on ceremony all the time.” Lady Derbyshire approached her and held out her arms. “Come here. Let me look at you.”
Dorothy smiled and walked over, embracing the woman she had seen as family since she was a little girl. Then she stepped back, and the new marchioness looked her up and down.
“You look just as beautiful as ever. If not better.” She tapped Dorothy’s nose with her finger. “Far better than last Season. There’s a sparkle in you now.”
“I don’t know about that.” Dorothy shrugged. “But last Season was a pain if you recall.”
“I can imagine. I’m glad I’m at an age where arranged matches don’t happen for me anymore. Not that I need it anymore.” Lady Derbyshire put an arm around Dorothy, beckoning Frederica over. “Come along, you two. I’ll show you to your rooms. Everyone else is arriving tomorrow, so you’ve got plenty of time to explore and make yourselves at home before the rest of the guests invade the house.”
“Invade?” Frederica giggled. “You make it sound like a chore when you’re the one who wanted the house party.”
“I know. I do it because it’s only to be expected that the new marquess and marchioness host once they’re married. The others are dear friends, but it’s a little too much for me. You two?” Lady Derbyshire squeezed their shoulders. “I would happily have you two living with me if I were allowed. You two have an open invitation to visit whenever you want.”
“Is your husband alright with that?” Dorothy asked.
“He will be once I talk to him. Let’s go inside. We’re going to have tea now. Then I’ll show you where you’ll be staying this week.” The older woman looked really happy. “I’m so glad you two could come.”
Dorothy was glad they could come as well.
“Oh, I love the view!” Dorothy ran to the window and looked out. “This is just exquisite!”
The garden really did slope down. A vast display of flowers edging the enormous lawn stretched out below towards a water feature Dorothy didn’t think was possible on a hill. She didn’t know where the boundary of the garden ended and the rest of the countryside began. And the valley below was simply stunning.
It looked like a painting.
“I thought you would like it.” Lady Derbyshire laughed. “Frederica said you would appreciate the view more than the bedchamber.”
Dorothy giggled and turned back to the older woman.
“Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m so glad you asked me along.”
“Of course, I would. I adore both you and Frederica. You two are practically joined at the hip, anyway. I can’t have one without the other.” Lady Derbyshire gestured towards the clock on the mantel. “Dinner will be at eight. You can do what you want until then. Will that be alright for you?”
“Then I’ll see you later. I’m sure my niece will be here shortly.”
The marchioness left, and Dorothy turned back to the window. She undid the latch and opened it, leaning out and breathing the fresh air. The smell of the farm they had passed a short while ago wasn’t there anymore. The air smelled crisp and clean. The breeze was beautifully cool, just what she needed after being in the stifling carriage all day.
At least they could explore before all the other guests arrived. Frederica would want to explore every inch of the estate.
Dorothy was looking forward to that.
“You’re going to fall out if you lean any further forward.”
Dorothy looked over her shoulder. Frederica was coming into the room, smiling at Dorothy.
“I won’t.” Dorothy pulled back and slipped off the window seat, leaving the window open. “I just wanted to look closer at the marvellous view.”
“So, you tried to do it without squashing your face up against the glass?”
“Something like that.”
Frederica laughed. She went to the bed and practically jumped onto it, giggling as she bounced.
“I’m sure these mattresses are softer than the ones we have at home.”
“Well, your Uncle Mark is a marquess, while your father is a viscount. He would be able to afford something better.” Dorothy approached the bed. “How’s your room?”
“Just incredible. I love it.” Frederica lay on her back. “Oh, Aunt Annabelle said she was giving us two maids to help with dressing and whatnot. I’ve got Alyssa, and you’ve got Teresa.”
“That’s fine. Although we could have brought up our own maids.”
“No, we couldn’t. Our parents gave them time off while we were here, and your maid is making the most of it to go on the honeymoon she and her husband had to put off.”
Dorothy had to concede that. Clarice had married just after Christmas, but they wanted to save up for a small honeymoon later on. Dorothy being in Derbyshire meant this was the perfect opportunity for them to go to Hunstanton and see the sea for the first time.
“That was a big one,” Frederica commented. “What was that for?”
“I suppose it’s just wondering about how my life has been right now.” Dorothy sat on the bed, curling her legs under her. “Everyone around me, even my maid, is getting married, and then there’s me.”
“Oh, Dorothy.” Frederica took her hand. “It’s going to happen soon. And you’ve been given a chance to choose for yourself. It’s not going to happen immediately.”
“I know. I just feel like I’m going backwards.”
“That’s not true. It takes time to find love and happiness. You might not even know it’s happening. It will just jump out at you like that.” Frederica clicked her fingers. “Just be patient. It’s going to come along.”
Dorothy hoped that was the case. She liked the fact that, for the first time since she came out three years ago, she could look for a husband on her own. She had the freedom to choose who she wanted to court her, and who she wanted to be around. There was nobody telling her to do one thing when she wanted to do something else, making her meet people Dorothy wanted nothing to do with.
And no getting let down by an arrangement she hadn’t wanted in the first place.
“Things could have been different,” Dorothy said quietly. “I could be married by now to that Lucas Dashwood. I’d be Lady Dashwood.”
“And you’d probably have at least one child by now or about to have one.”
“God, not that!” Dorothy shuddered. “I don’t think I want to contemplate children!”
“It’s perfectly natural.”
“It’s positively terrifying! Didn’t you hear the horror stories those ladies were telling about their births back in London? I felt nauseous hearing it all.”
“Childbirth is not meant to be easy. And you don’t need to be scared about it.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Dorothy grumbled.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that for a while. Otherwise, you’d be preparing for a little Dashwood.”
Dorothy rolled her eyes. Having the child of someone she would have met for the first time at the altar did not appeal to her at all. Neither did marrying someone she had never met. Dorothy only knew that he was the son of an earl and was a little older than her, but she didn’t know how old. For all she knew, he could be ten years older; his parents were far older than hers. And it was happening so fast that Dorothy didn’t get much time to object. She knew she didn’t have much say over it, but nobody would listen. She was simply dismissed when she expressed her concerns.
Then the engagement had ended. Dashwood’s father, the Earl of Letchworth, had met with Dorothy’s father, and they both declared that the engagement was off. That left Dorothy feeling annoyed and relieved. Annoyed that she had wasted a whole Season unable to do as she wanted because of this impending marriage that never happened, and relieved that she didn’t end up becoming the wife to someone she had never even met. Even though she had met the earl and his wife, she had never met the son.
And she doubted that she would now.
“I don’t know what my parents were thinking of,” she said, picking at a thread on the eiderdown. “They were so intent on getting me married that they rushed to the wedding part without taking part in the formalities. I didn’t even get to meet him.”
“That is normal, Dorothy. I recall a distant cousin getting married to someone she had never met when she was nineteen. They’ve been married for twenty years and have four children.”
“It might have worked for them, but it wouldn’t have worked for me. My parents had to know that.”
“They did, but they still went through with it.”
“Are they still embarrassed by the failure of the engagement?”
Dorothy nodded. It was often brought up in conversation, to the point where it made Dorothy grit her teeth. She really didn’t want to discuss it at all.
“Well, that’s their own fault. They shouldn’t have done that.” Dorothy squeezed her hand. “Now you can do what you want with finding your own husband. You can do it at your pace and have the freedom of choice. That’s what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it?”
“It is, but …” Dorothy grimaced. “I wish it hadn’t come at the expense of a failed engagement. And I wish that wasn’t my only target in life. I mean, I know I need to get married and where I stand in society, but I still wish I could do something different. Even with the freedom of choice, I still feel like I’m stuck in boundaries that I’m not allowed to cross.”
“I know. My parents have been saying the same thing for a while as well.” Frederica winked. “At least they know me well enough not to do that same thing to me. I’m probably harder to tame, though, so it might have been in their best interests to marry me off to someone who doesn’t know me.”
“Don’t say that out loud too much, or you’re going to end up getting into trouble, and it will happen.”
“I’m not about to say that in front of Father. He certainly would do that without my knowledge.” Frederica rolled onto her side. “We’ve got some time until dinner, and it’s still light and warm outside. Shall we go exploring?”
“Exploring? You make us sound like little girls.”
“We might as well be. This is our first time here, so why shouldn’t we explore? Especially while it’s quiet right now.” Frederica sat up and tugged her hand. “Come on, let’s go and see what is out there. I’m eager to see that water feature I spied out of the window.”
Dorothy liked the sound of this. She nodded.
“Alright. Let’s go exploring.”
Although they had to momentarily stop when they tried to get off the bed holding hands, and the bedpost got in the way. They let go of each other and then joined hands again, giggling as they went towards the door.
Lucas winced as the carriage bounced, causing him to get jostled and hit the side of the carriage. Pain shot through his shoulder, and the impact made his teeth rattle.
“That was a nasty one,” the young man sitting across from him commented. He straightened up and picked up his hat from the floor. “I swear the holes underfoot are becoming more frequent since we left the main road.”
“I thought this was a main road.”
“So did I.” Pierce Cowper made a face. “Somebody was lying.”
Lucas grunted and rubbed his shoulder. It was going to be a little tender now. So much for starting this week in a good mood and relatively good health.
Lucas had been curious when one of his father’s friends, the Marquess of Derbyshire, invited the family to Wirksworth to his country estate to introduce his new wife to everyone. He had heard how Lord Derbyshire had suddenly disappeared across the Scottish border to marry a woman out of nowhere. The secrecy around his courtship had been very strong. But, from what Lucas’ father had said, the marquess was very happy, and he was looking forward to being married after being a bachelor for many years.
Lucas had planned on going to Wales with Pierce for a little excursion, but then his father told him to go and visit for the week. Lucas’ mother wasn’t very well, and with his father reluctant to leave her side, Lucas had been nudged into making a very long detour. He had tried to get out of it, but if Lucas were honest, he wanted to see the marquess. It had been a while. And, of course, his house in the Peak District was gorgeous. You couldn’t have a better place to spend time.
Even if it meant sharing it with many other people.
“I’m glad you invited me along as well,” Pierce said as he sat back. “Lord Derbyshire is a real gentleman.”
“He was certainly one of my favourite guests when I was a child.” Lucas smiled. “He would always bring me sweets and chocolate, and I would hide them in my room as my nanny wouldn’t let me have them except on special occasions, which wasn’t often. I would end up with an upset stomach and getting scolded for hiding sweets, but I didn’t care.”
“And he still kept getting you treats?”
“He just slipped me the chocolate, winked, and walked away. Or we would eat it together when we were alone.”
“You had a sweet tooth back then, didn’t you? I remember you being rather pudgy.”
“Hey!” Lucas leaned forward and prodded his friend in the ribs. “Less of the pudgy statement. I’m certainly not that anymore.”
“I know. You’re healthier than I am.” Pierce gestured at Lucas’ body. “You certainly don’t look like you ate your weight in chocolate as a child.”
Lucas swatted Pierce’s knee, which caused his friend to laugh. Then he settled back and stared out the window. It was getting into the late afternoon, and the sun was very slowly creeping down the sky. The shadows were changing, somehow changing the scenery in front of him. All the colours looked a lot crisper to his eyes. Lord Derbyshire’s family had certainly chosen a perfect place to put their country house.
“Do you think we’re going to meet any interesting people?” Pierce asked, waggling his eyebrows. “And when I mean people, I mean women.”
“Pierce, we’re not here to look for any women.”
“Well, maybe I’m not, but you are.”
“Your father is going to be mad if you don’t have a wife by the end of the Season,” Pierce pointed out. “He might let you off with being in a courtship when it comes to a close, but if you haven’t got anyone in sight …”
“Father wouldn’t force me into another engagement without my consent. He knows what happened last time.”
“I remember as well. You kicked up such a fuss like a toddler having a tantrum.”
“I wouldn’t take it that far.”
“I would. You were ranting and raving about it the whole time.”
“Come on, Pierce, how would you feel if your father suddenly told you that you were going to marry someone you’ve never met?”
“It’s a common practice nowadays.”
“Not for me.”
When Lucas heard that he was meant to marry Lady Dorothy Napier, he had been furious. He had never met the girl, and he was expected to go along with it without any arguments. For most of the Season, he had fought with his father about it, refusing to have anything to do with the engagement. He would be absent whenever he had to go and see Lady Dorothy, and he outright refused to attend any social engagement on the off-chance that she was there. Why his parents thought he would go along with it, he had no idea.
It had taken almost the whole Season of him fighting it before his father realised he was not budging and that this was heading for disaster. It had taken far too long for the old man to see sense and call off the engagement, as per Lucas’ request.
After that, he was given his freedom back. Somewhat. The only way he could get out of it was to promise that he would look for a wife on his own the Season after. Lucas knew his father wanted to see his son married before he died, and there was a part of Lucas that could understand that. But he didn’t like being forced into something he didn’t want. As far as Lucas was concerned, he would be fine if he didn’t marry. Things were far more interesting as a bachelor. He would have to give up a lot if he got himself a wife, and Lucas didn’t want to do that.
“Look,” Pierce sighed. “You’re supposed to be looking for a wife, and the Season is coming to an end soon.”
“I’ve got a couple of months left.”
“And you’re leaving it until the last minute. I would have thought you would find a woman to marry early on, so you didn’t want to have to think about it.”
Lucas shook his head.
“You know my thoughts on it. There’s nobody I want to marry. And I can’t believe you’re on Father’s side.”
“He said he would disinherit you, didn’t he?”
“He won’t. He’s too soft for that.”
“Do you want to push him to find out?” Pierce demanded.
Lucas harrumphed and scowled out the window. Now the scenery didn’t look as good as it did a moment ago. Talking about the pressure of finding a wife he didn’t want was enough to put him into a bad mood. Why did Pierce have to mention it? His closest and oldest friend was one of the few people who knew the real Lucas Dashwood, and even he was pushing him to get married.
At the very least, he should pretend to be trying, but Lucas just couldn’t be bothered to follow through. Hopefully, he could spin a tale about not being able to find anyone suitable, and his father would accept that. Otherwise, he could end up with an engagement he couldn’t get out of again or be disinherited. Or both; Lucas knew his father would follow through on it if he could.
Hopefully, his father wouldn’t have said anything about it to Lord Derbyshire; otherwise, the marquess would be doing his own matchmaking.
They finally entered the grounds and pulled up outside the house. Pierce jumped out first, whistling as he looked past the house.
“Now that is one view I could get used to. Where’s the garden?”
“It slopes down. The house was built practically into the side of the valley.”
“How has the house not slipped into the gorge?”
“Good architecture, I suppose.” Lucas smiled when he saw a familiar figure leave the house behind a servant. “There’s the marquess.”
Lord Derbyshire was a remarkable figure, a handsome man at the age of fifty. Tall and broadly built, his iron-grey hair was immaculate. He had a strong nose, a strong jaw, and the warmest brown eyes Lucas had ever seen. His father’s friend had spent most of his life just doing what he wanted, and he chose when to settle down. It had worked out well for him to go at his own pace.
Lucas wanted that for himself as well. Why couldn’t he be more like Derbyshire.
He approached the older man and bowed.
“Lucas, my boy.” Derbyshire grinned and clasped Lucas’ hand. “I’m glad you could come. How is your mother?”
“She’s still a little under the weather, but I’m sure she’ll be better soon.”
“I hope she will recover. I’d like to have your parents here someday.”
“I’ll let them know.” Lucas turned and beckoned Pierce over. “This is my friend, Pierce Cowper, son of Sir Frances Cowper.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of the Cowper family.” Derbyshire stuck his hand out towards Pierce. “Welcome, Mr Cowper.”
“My Lord.” Pierce looked unsure whether to bow or shake the man’s hand. He chose the latter. “Thank you for allowing me to come along as well.”
“Well, it’s only fair that Lucas had a friend with him. And we have plenty of room. The more, the merrier, my wife said.”
“And where is Lady Derbyshire?” Lucas asked. “Are we going to meet her before dinner tonight?”
“I’m sure you will. She’s helping her niece and her friend get settled in.” Derbyshire signalled at a nearby footman. “Your luggage will be taken to your rooms. Let’s go inside and have something to drink. It’s a long journey from Milton Keynes.”
Lucas couldn’t agree more with that. And he was dying for a drink.
They entered the house, Pierce’s mouth still open as he looked around, almost forgetting to give his coat and hat to the butler. Lucas smiled at his friend’s awe. It was certainly a magnificent place.
Then he spied someone in the drawing room, sitting on the settee and seeming to be talking to someone out of sight. She was petite and slight, with black hair pinned up on her head to reveal a delicately-shaped neck and smooth, pale skin. With that smile of hers, she did look very attractive. Definitely pleasant to look at.
Maybe this would be a good place to find a wife, after all. If not, then he could certainly have a bit of fun. The woman he could see certainly looked like she could have a lot of fun.
“Let’s go and have a drink in my study,” Derbyshire declared, leading the way down the hall. “We can talk without having to censure what we say around the ladies. Then you’ve got time until dinner. Does eight sound good to you?”
“Absolutely fine.” Lucas followed him. “We’ll be looking forward to it.”
Pierce made a slight noise, and when Lucas looked at him he seemed to be holding back a grin. From the knowing look his friend shot at him, Pierce had seen the pretty raven-haired woman as well.
Lucas rolled his eyes and nudged his friend. They would talk about that later.
“How do I look?” Dorothy asked as she checked herself in the mirror. “Do I look presentable enough?”
“That’s the fourth time you’ve said it since I’ve entered the room, Dorothy? You look absolutely fine. Doesn’t she, Teresa?”
She turned to the maid assigned to her friend. Teresa simply smiled and nodded. Dorothy frowned and leaned a little towards the mirror.
“I’m not too sure,” she murmured. “Things don’t seem right …”
“You’re just looking for an excuse not to go downstairs.” Frederica tugged her friend’s arm. “Stop stalling and come on. Everyone will be downstairs by now, and dinner will start soon.”
Dorothy knew that. She just wanted to make a good first impression. Most of the guests she wouldn’t have met before, so she would be entering a room of strangers. Dorothy could cope with interacting with others, but the first few minutes of going into a new environment left her with a big flutter of nerves. It made her want to bolt.
“Oh, Dorothy …” Frederica turned her around. “Take a few deep breaths and focus. You’re going to be fine. Once we’re in there, and you’re going with the flow, you’ll be absolutely fine. And I’ll be there as well. Plus, if you need a moment in private to breathe, just let Aunt Annabelle know.”
Dorothy listened to her friend’s calming words, which had a surprising effect. Frederica was the one who would jump out of a carriage without a second thought, but she was also helpful in calming Dorothy’s fears. She was a good influence, and Dorothy knew she wouldn’t be able to cope as well if her closest friend wasn’t here.
She was going to struggle if they were finally separated.
“Better now?” Frederica smiled. “Come on. Let’s go downstairs. I’m starving.”
“Alright.” Dorothy took a deep breath. “Let’s do this.”
They left the bedchamber and were almost at the top of the stairs when they saw a familiar figure coming the other way. A tall, fair-haired young man close to their age, looking splendid in dark green. Dorothy found herself smiling when she recognised him. It had been a while since she had seen him.
Gabriel Burville stopped, staring at them for a moment. Then he seemed to realise who he was looking at and gave Dorothy a warm smile.
“Dorothy!” He approached them, clasping Dorothy’s fingers and kissing her knuckles as he bowed. His eyes twinkled as he looked up at her. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here. I didn’t think you knew the marquess and marchioness.”
“I knew Lady Derbyshire before her marriage.” Dorothy gestured at Frederica. “She is Frederica’s aunt, after all.”
“Oh, of course.” Gabriel kissed Frederica’s outstretched hand. “Forgive me for forgetting about that.”
“You’ll always be forgiven, Gabriel.” Frederica laughed. “So, you’re here because of my Uncle Mark?”
“Hmm? Oh, Lord Derbyshire. His townhouse in London is on the same street as my family’s house. He came over to dinner quite a few times.” Gabriel shrugged. “I must say, my parents were surprised about his marriage. And my aunt Cassandra. I believe she had some … well, she felt something towards him. She wasn’t too happy.”
Dorothy could believe that. Gabriel’s matronly aunt was one of those people who seemed to live in her own world. When she set her sights on something, she wanted it, and it just made everyone around her uncomfortable. She had certainly felt something a bit off about the woman when she was younger.
“I’m glad to see you here, Dorothy,” Gabriel said, offering his arm. “May I escort you to dinner? I’d like to catch up on you and see how things are going.”
Dorothy smiled and took his arm.
“I would like that as well. It’s been a while.”
“Aren’t you going to escort me, or will I have to trail along behind you two?”
Gabriel chuckled and offered his other arm.
“I’m not likely to forget you, Frederica. Just be careful going down the stairs. I don’t want us all to take a tumble.”
Frederica took his arm, and they made their way down the stairs. They were a little wide, so they almost took up the entire staircase. Dorothy was walking down the narrowest part of the stairs as they followed the sweeping curve, so she had to grip tightly onto the bannister to stop herself from slipping. It made for a slower journey down to flatter ground.
“Are you alright, Dorothy?” Gabriel asked as they reached the bottom. “You looked rather uncomfortable there.”
“I’m fine.” Dorothy kicked at her skirts. “I can’t see anything with these in the way.”
“You could always take it off.”
Frederica gasped and swatted Gabriel’s arm.
“Gabriel! Don’t talk like that. What if someone overheard just a comment?”
“There’s nobody around. And Dorothy knows I’m teasing.” Gabriel winked. “Don’t you?”
Dorothy rolled her eyes.
“Your sense of humour is as flat as ever, Gabriel.”
“But you and I are still friends.”
“Sometimes, I wonder why.”
Gabriel laughed, and Dorothy couldn’t help smiling. She and Gabriel had practically grown up together. His family lived in Kempston, not far from the house in Bedford that Dorothy had grown up in. They had spent a lot of time as children, and Dorothy saw him as a brother to her. She had only ever had a sister, and she had wanted a brother. Gabriel filled that part for her and seemed willing to play the role. It had been some time since they had seen each other, Gabriel having spent most of his time following his father around and learning about the family business, so this was refreshing.
Maybe the evening wouldn’t be as unnerving as she was thinking.
“Well, let’s go into the drawing room.” Gabriel squeezed her arm. “I hope they serve dinner soon. It’s almost eight, and I’m really hungry.”
“You’re always hungry,” Frederica teased as they walked across the foyer. “I’m surprised you didn’t end up so fat with the amount of food you eat.”
“You’re still the charmer, aren’t you, Frederica?”
Frederica gave him a sweet smile, which just had Dorothy laughing more. That laughter faded as the drawing room door opened and a petite, raven-haired beauty wearing a gorgeous dark blue dress emerged. She stopped when she saw them, looking Dorothy up and down with a slight sneer. Dorothy bristled at such a brazen expression from someone she had never met before.
Then the woman’s eyes landed on Gabriel.
“Lady Marcia,” Gabriel said smoothly. “I didn’t realise you would be here as well.”
“I’m a friend of Lord Derbyshire’s niece. Of course I would be here.” Lady Marcia arched an eyebrow, looking from Dorothy to Frederica and back again. “Nice to see you’re still having women eating out of the palm of your hand. You certainly know how to make them fall at your feet.”
Frederica cleared her throat.
“I take it you two know each other?”
“This is Lady Marcia Bamfield, daughter to the Earl of Reading. Lady Frederica Colt and Lady Dorothy …Napier.”
His voice faded away as Lady Marcia walked away, her head held high as she turned her back on them. Dorothy didn’t know whether to be bemused or annoyed at the blatant disrespect.
“How on earth do you know a woman like that?”
“I met her in London. Let’s just say she’s a very … flirtatious woman. And she didn’t like that she didn’t have me eating out of her palm.”
“With her attitude, I’m not surprised,” Dorothy grunted.
“Just ignore her. If the gentlemen around her aren’t paying her their full attention, she isn’t interested. She thinks having a strop like that has men running after her.”
“And you’re not?” Frederica asked.
“Why would I? I don’t like her. Now, shall we? I’m sure your aunt will be wondering where you two are.”
Dorothy hoped that not all the other guests were like Lady Marcia, who didn’t seem like a nice woman. She squared her shoulders.
“Let’s go in.”
Gabriel shook his head with a smile.
“You don’t need to look so scared, Dorothy. I know most of the people the marquess has invited, and they’re really nice. It’s only Lady Marcia Bamfield you’ve got to worry about, and I know you’re capable of handling yourself around her.”
“Do you think she’s going to cause trouble?” Frederica enquired.
“Let’s hope not. But I’m sure your aunt will be able to keep her in line.”
Dorothy hoped that as well. She didn’t want the week ruined because of one young woman who had already decided to dislike her.
“An Alluring Lady’s Inevitable Match” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
The enthralling Dorothy Napier is finally allowed to choose the one she wants to marry. Being upset but relieved at the same time about her broken engagement with someone she has never met, she is ready to welcome the new Season. Yet, fate’s perilous games will conspire to turn her holidays into a scandalous coincidence. While attending a soirée, Dorothy encounters a wicked, tempting stranger and passion instantly flares between them.
If she only knew he was her former betrothed…
After Lucas Dashwood denied a forced marriage and broke his engagement, he promised his father to find a wife this Season. He was not really searching for a match, until a social gathering brought him close to the most captivating woman he has ever met, Dorothy. When he realises that she is the one he was about to marry, he finds himself trapped in his own poor decisions. As his burning passion for her becomes unbearable, he wishes he could turn back time.
Is this Lady destined to set his soul on fire?
The more Dorothy and Lucas intertwine with each other, the more temptation breeds desire. As their sizzling romance starts growing, rumours about Luca’s roguish past and other eligible rivals fighting for their hands will risk destroying it forever. Can Lucas battle the obstacles and reach Dorothy’s fiery heart? Or will their unforeseen affair prove to be as vain as it began?
“An Alluring Lady’s Inevitable Match” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
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