Frederica Newport, Countess of Carthope entered the Manchester townhome, being ushered into the sitting room, which was not to her taste at all. For Frederica, she considered that one’s surroundings must always reflect their status in the world and their wealth. Her own home in London was upholstered in the finest fabrics and with the utmost lavishness in mind. In fact, many of the fabrics were provided to her by the man that owned the home she now stood in.
“Would you care for some tea as you wait for Mr Baxter?” a servant asked.
“That would be most agreeable,” Frederica replied, toying with the pearls about her neck as she inspected the modest room.
Frederica knew that Mr Baxter was a man of wealth, and that’s why the modest surroundings troubled her. He was considered the finest textile tradesman, and mothers with eligible daughters would come to his Manchester home frequently in order to deal with him directly. For Frederica, it was the first time she’d taken such a drastic step. Her expectations were not met in terms of Mr Baxter’s interior design.
Seating herself upon a stiff sofa, Frederica straightened her blue silk dress and green sash. Her own gown was made from Mr Baxter’s textiles, and alas, Frederica bemoaned the fact that she didn’t know how to afford another.
“Tea, Lady Carthope,” the servant said, returning with the tray.
“Set it over there,” Frederica commanded, as though it were her own home. Of course, the Baxters were impossibly beneath her since she was married to an earl. Still, of late, the earl’s gambling was making it so that, one day, she might not be able to look down upon anyone.
“My lady,” Mr Baxter said, entering wearing a neat brown coat. He was a man that was very affable in appearance, with dark brown hair and eyes. Frederica had to admit that he was handsome, and she could see why her sister once found an appeal. But now, her sister was dead, and Frederica could finally admit to herself that Mr Baxter was not only a merchant; he was a brother-in-law that she always denied.
“Mr Baxter, I’m pleased that you chose to meet with me on such short notice.”’
“I must admit that I was surprised.”
“And why should you be?”
Mr Baxter elevated his brow, challenging Frederica’s question. “Lady Carthope, you know that we have not spoken in some time.”
“And whose fault was that, I dare say?”
Yes, Frederica was positively at odds with her late sister. Only her death would change that, for Frederica felt some small measure of penitence now.
Mr Baxter remained composed and seated himself, folding his hands in his lap. “You and Margaret were at odds.”
“With all due respect, Mr Baxter, my sister could be… unkind. Alas, she had reservations about my marriage.” What Frederica didn’t wish to say was that her sister was jealous all the while
“She never expressed such reservations to me.”
“I’m sure that she didn’t! Margaret was a very stubborn and quiet person.”
“Lady Carthope, don’t you think that’s perhaps insensitive at this time?”
Frederica frowned. “What was insensitive was my sister… banishing me in my time of need?”
Mr Baxter fell silent before replying, “Perhaps I can serve you this cup of tea.”
Frederica inspected Mr Baxter as he poured the tea. How could he remain so composed when the situation between she and Margaret was so dire? Did Mr Baxter not know of how Frederica had been so horribly wronged? She was so incensed by Margaret’s conduct—the memory of it alone making Frederica need her smelling salts—that she hadn’t even bothered to express a desire to meet Margaret’s daughter, who resided in that very home.
Mr Baxter handed Frederica the tea, and she was surprised that she took it with a shaky hand. Yes, all of this was playing upon her nerves so terribly. She was so utterly cross with the Earl of Carthope for the position that he’d put her in. Why was the whole world conspiring against her?
“Your furnishings are very plain,” Frederica remarked, taking a sip of her tea.
“I prefer it that way. I find that simple surroundings help to calm the mind.”
“I cannot agree in the slightest,” Frederica protested. “I think that one’s surroundings must create interest, amusement, and rapture. At least, that’s how my own furnishings were designed.”
Mr Baxter returned to his seat in silence, gazing out the window. “Lady Carthope, I can’t help but ask what has brought you here today.”
“I’ve come to make amends, can’t you see?”
“It seems to me that you’ve come for a reckoning. Perhaps you should have done that when my wife was still alive.”
Oh, none of it was going to plan. Frederica had expected Mr Baxter to be penitent, confirming her belief that she’d been wronged by Margaret. Obviously, such penitence was not written on his brow, and Frederica would have to pivot.
“Mr Baxter, I’m sure that you’re aware of my situation.” Frederica’s voice was hushed.
Mr Baxter cleared his throat, becoming visibly uncomfortable. “I think that I know what you’re referring to.”
“Yes, news has spread to Manchester! Everyone in town already knows. I fear that the earl has lost all control, and now I’m at my wits’ end.”
“Lady Carthope, how is it that I may be of assistance, for I sense that my assistance is required,” Mr Baxter replied wearily.
Frederica, now indignant, jutted her chin into the air and spoke through her teeth. “It’s of the utmost importance now that my daughters marry, and this very season. Latica and Henrietta have laid dormant for too long. They’re remarkably pretty and accomplished girls, and I’m sure that they can be a success.”
“With the right apparel,” Mr Baxter interjected. “I’ve heard this before. In fact, I deal with these situations on a daily basis.”
Frederica brightened, displaying a smile. “Yes, I knew that I could count on you. The fabrics that you secure are of the utmost quality. Everyone in London knows it.”
“Our silk is from France,” Mr Baxter said with no small measure of pride. “And we have new textiles from the Orient. I take great pains to only secure the best.”
Frederica set down her teacup in excitement. “Yes, I know this to be true! Oh, I know that funds are not as they should be right now, but I want only the best for my girls. They will be the sparkling diamonds of the London season! I’m sure of it.”
Mr Baxter remarked, “My lady, do you not think it troublesome that you put so much hope in your girls, in light of your present circumstances? I myself have a daughter, and I understand that that’s… a bit trying.”
Frederica was positively offended. How dare Mr Baxter tell her how to be a good mother. “Successful marriages will make Latica and Henrietta happy. They’ve expressed as much. Oh, Mr Baxter, I know that you’re only a textile merchant, so it must be difficult to understand the hearts and minds of society girls.”
Frederica thought that he might be offended by her statement, but instead, Mr Baxter remained unnervingly calm. “I suppose that we have different perspectives on the matter. My daughter has expressed a desire to come out into society this year, but it will be a far different situation than what your girls might encounter.”
Frederica became intrigued. “She… wishes to come out?”
“Indeed. Eliza is keen upon marriage, but only if she finds the right person. I have expressed to her that there is no rush, despite the fact that she’s twenty years of age.”
Frederica was positively agog! Why Eliza Baxter was nearly a spinster at that age. She retorted under veiled lids, “I suppose at her age she can make such a decision, but I’m horrified that she hadn’t made it sooner.”
“I believe that the death of my wife stalled the matter. Her interest waned as she wore her mourning clothes.”
For a brief moment, Frederica felt compunction. She herself did not wear black after her sister’s death for reasons that were all too clear. Yet still, she felt for Eliza Baxter. Frederica couldn’t imagine the difficulty of losing a mother, even if it was someone as incorrigible as her sister.
“Well… if she ever needs some motherly advice, I’m sure that I can be of assistance. Particularly if I could enjoy some sort of discount on the items I’m purchasing.” To Frederica’s mind, this was not a low blow in the slightest. This was ingenuity and resourcefulness.
“I don’t think that that will be necessary, Lady Carthope. My daughter is perfectly capable of navigating these waters on her own.”
“I highly disagree.” Frederica pulled her shoulders back in pride. “A young girl needs guidance when it comes to these affairs. Surely, she has a governess to chaperone her.”
“Well, that is not enough! A girl needs her mother by her side when fielding the advances of men. I would have it no other way.”
Indeed, Frederica’s mother had been a saint when it came time for her to marry. She was hawk-eyed and perspicacious, making it apparent that no one but a man of the highest quality could marry Frederica. If only her mother could see her now in dire straits!
Frederica’s mother had turned a blind eye when Margaret married Mr Baxter. Of course, Margaret married beneath herself, and she had claimed that it was for love. What a horrible mistake her sister had made.
“I thank you again for your offer, my lady,” Mr Baxter went on. “But Eliza is not in need of your assistance. I think that we can keep her out of these affairs.”
It was all so offensive, but Frederica would endure for the sake of her own daughters. It occurred to Frederica that she had no idea what Eliza Baxter looked like. She never considered Margaret a great beauty, but Mr Baxter was handsome. She feared that Eliza might have male features because of that. Perhaps that was what also kept her from marrying till such a late age?
Getting down to business, Frederica began to explain the fabrics that she required. Mr Baxter excused himself and returned with items that fit her description, and all at once, Frederica was very pleased. The silks that he displayed shone like glassy water, and the colours were understated and muted in just the way that she preferred.
“I must say, Mr Baxter, you have a keen eye for textiles.”
“Textiles are my life. I am very skilled in my trade.”
“Oh, I would very much agree! This particular shade of green will suit Henrietta. She has my light colouring, so this hue shan’t be overpowering.”
Cocking her head to the side, Frederica considered how lucky it had been that she was the lighter sister. Where Margaret had dark hair and eyes, Frederica had sandy blonde hair and soft hazel eyes. It was merely fortune that graced her with these gifts.
“And the sum?” Frederica asked.
Mr Baxter pulled out a piece of paper and wrote upon it, handing her the note. Frederica froze when she beheld the sum.
“I did administer a bit of a discount,” Mr Baxter said in a businesslike fashion.
“But surely, this can’t be correct.”
Frederica gazed up at him in disgust. “I… I will find a way,” Frederica replied with determination. “I know that my husband has savings.”
“That is good to hear.” Mr Baxter returned to his chair with a pleasant smile upon his lips, which Frederica didn’t care for in the slightest.
Just then, the door to the sitting room opened, and a girl entered, wearing a simple white muslin gown. Frederica’s jaw dropped open as she inspected the girl. Yes, that was Eliza Baxter standing before her.
“Father, it’s time for my walk.”
“Very well, Eliza,” Mr Baxter replied. “But first, allow me to introduce you to your aunt. This is Lady Carthope.”
Both Frederica and Eliza gazed at one another. Oh, but it was dreadful! Eliza was far more beautiful than Frederica had expected.
“Lady Carthope has offered to be your chaperone for the season, Eliza,” Mr Baxter continued.
Eliza appeared shocked, then a smile rose upon her lips. “I… I would be grateful.”
Frederica’s eyebrows elevated. Now, she was beginning to regret making the offer.
Latica Newport sat in the parlour of her family’s London home, feeling no small measure of trepidation. Why was it so? Usually, Latica loved coming to London to see all the unique sights and enjoy in the splendour. This season, Latica knew that everything would have to change.
Her mother had said in no uncertain terms that Latica was to marry this season, as would her older sister, Henrietta. Why was this announcement so abrupt, and why did Latica wish that she could wait just one more year? Oh, she knew of her father’s gambling and the dwindling Carthope funds. In fact, everyone knew about it. That was no doubt the reason why her mother was now insisting upon a hurried marriage. What’s more, Frederica had her sights set on Hugh Conrad, the illustrious Duke of Ellis.
“Latica, where are you?” she heard her mother’s voice call out.
“In the parlour, mother.”
Very soon, Frederica arrived with Henrietta by her side. Frederica clasped her hands together. “I have such marvellous news!”
“What is it?” Latica asked, apprehensive for what her mother might say.
“I have just come from the dressmaker. Everything has been arranged.”
“Is that where you’ve been all afternoon?” Latica had to ask, considering that her mother was always disappearing without announcement.
“Indeed. Oh, Latica, you’ll wear such finery this season.” Frederica stopped and placed her hands upon her hips. “Why do you not appear excited.”
Henrietta said, “Because she’d much rather read her silly books.” As Henrietta spoke, she inspected herself in the mirror. She was similar in colouring to Latica, but that was where the similarities ended. Henrietta was a far different specimen. “There are several gowns that I admire, and I dare say that I should be able to select the best ones first, seeing as I’m the eldest.”
“Oh, Henrietta, hush,” Frederica scolded, walking over and seating herself on a plush chair. “You shall both have marvellous gowns.” Frederica, seemingly winded, fanned herself with her hand.
Henrietta mused, “What do you suppose the Duke of Ellis’ favourite colour is? If I knew, I’d wear that colour all season long!”
“Don’t be so gauche, daughter. That would be all too obvious.”
Just then, several servants entered the parlour, carrying rather large white boxes. Frederica began to coo once more, and so did Henrietta, but Latica remained seated.
“Here we are!” Henrietta said, massaging her hands together as though staring at a tasty meal. “My heart is pounding with anticipation.”
“Latica, what are you doing seated there?” Frederica asked. “Come here at once.”
Latica begrudgingly got up from her seat to join her mother and sister. They were both flushed with excitement as the lids to the boxes were removed, and they peered down within. Henrietta was the first to reach down and apprehend a green gown, which she held up to her form.
“Oh, this is a triumph.”
“I like that one, as well,” Latica remarked, delighting in the soft green colour.
Henrietta immediately scoffed. “This is far more suitable for me. Consider how much lighter my skin is, Latica. It’s best that I wear this to the very first ball. I know that the Duke of Ellis will find it fetching.”
Frederica concurred. “Oh, you will turn his head for sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if he asks you to dance twice!”
“Nor would I,” Henrietta agreed.
Witnessing all of this, Latica felt invisible and wondered if it was all for the best. Her sister had been right; she wished to rather read her book in silence and not have to contend with the matter at hand. But sadly, this would be her life for the next several months, and she’d merely have to suffer through it.
“Where is father?” Latica asked.
Frederica became visibly uncomfortable. “Tending to business affairs, I suppose.”
Latica felt her stomach flip. She knew what that insinuated, and it filled her with shame. Why had her father changed so over the years? And what’s more, how could her mother possibly afford the rich apparel in those boxes.
“This is fitting,” Henrietta said, taking out a puce gown and holding it up to Latica. “I think this is a good colour on you.”
Latica crinkled her nose, not thinking the colour flattering in the slightest. “I’m unsure.”
“Your sister speaks the truth,” Frederica insisted. “Do try it on at once. It will look so lovely on your form.”
Before Latica could do so, a steward entered the room and whispered something softly into Frederica’s ear. She coloured once more and exhaled, turning to her daughters with a worried expression.
“Girls, there’s something that I must tell you.”
“The Duke of Ellis is coming for supper?” Henrietta asked.
Frederica frowned. “Don’t be silly, daughter. That would be unsuitable. We must wait for the duke to invite us to his home. Otherwise, it shall be a scandal.”
Henrietta sulked. “I have no patience in these matters.”
Frederica went on, “No, there’s someone very important that I wish for you to meet, and she has arrived just now. I have told you of… my dreadful sister?”
“Indeed,” Henrietta replied.
“Well, what I have not told you is that Margaret had a daughter. And… she’s the daughter to Mr Baxter, the textile salesman who sold me the remarkable fabric for these gowns. Now, there was a bit of a deal struck up and… Eliza Baxter shall be joining us for the season.”
Henrietta was agog, and even Latica’s jaw dropped open. How unlike her mother to make such an arrangement.
“Mother, how on earth did you think that that was a good idea?” Henrietta asked, sulking.
“Please understand, we must be kind in these matters. Once all was said and done, I was able to secure a minor discount which secured you these rich fabrics. Oh, I’m sure it won’t be all that dreadful! I have met the girl on one occasion, and she seems rather… kind.”
From Frederica’s tone, Latica could tell that there was something not being said. It was apparent that Henrietta was furious, but for a brief moment, Latica considered that she might be meeting a new friend.
The whole business surrounding her mother’s sister was something of a mystery. Latica had never had the chance to meet her, but her mother would tell horrid stories about what a pain she was. Considering the natural drama that her mother was prone to, Latica wondered if there was a great deal that went unsaid.
“For my part, I’m excited to meet her,” Latica offered, thinking it best to hold the situation in the proper light.
“Latica, what are you saying? Do you want someone else to vie for the Duke of Ellis’ attentions?” Henrietta asked. “Why, I’m told that his mother wants him married off quickly. We must be cunning in our pursuit of him.”
It was rather ghastly what Henrietta had just said. Latica almost wished that her sister would marry Hugh Conrad quickly so that the whole matter might be over and done with! That way, maybe Latica would have a bit of peace, and it could buy her some time before her own marriage. But considering her own mother’s haste, this was perhaps not to be the case.
“Girls, girls,” Frederica scolded. “I’ll have no more talk of this. She is a commoner, after all. There’s no chance that she will win the duke over… ” Again, Frederica faltered. “But let’s not talk of this any longer. I’ll have the servants bring tea so that we might sit down and meet Eliza in a proper fashion. I want each of you to be cordial.”
Henrietta protested, “But, mother, will she be sharing our gowns?”
“Heavens, no,” Frederica assured her. “Eliza is responsible for her own apparel. You needn’t worry yourself about that.”
“But where will she sleep?”
“In the guest room, you silly goose.”
Henrietta crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Well, I dare say, I hope that she shall be on the first floor instead of the third. I enjoy my peace and quiet in my chambers.”
Latica had the mind to roll her eyes. Her sister was rather a nuisance, and she already felt sorry for poor Eliza for what she would probably endure.
“Now then, let’s have these boxes removed.” Frederica clapped her hands together to order the servants to do so. “And let us be seated. Arrange yourselves in such a way that you look open and inviting, and you,” she said to a servant, “bring in the tea at once.”
The servant quickly fled from the room, and the girls sat on a sofa side by side. Henrietta straightened out her skirts and coiffed her hair, but Latica merely sat there blankly, wondering how on earth she was supposed to look pleasing and inviting as her mother instructed. The tea service was brought in, and each girl received a cup, then the butler entered.
“Would now be a suitable time, my lady?” he asked.
“Yes, do send her in.”
There was silence in the parlour as the three of them waited. Then, the door was opened once more, and the butler announced, “Miss Eliza Baxter.”
Latica, entirely in awe, turned to her sister, who coloured a dark crimson. Frederica sat nervously, fiddling with her hands before saying, “We’re so happy to have you in our home, Eliza. These are my daughters, Henrietta and Latica.”
Both girls sat dumb, seemingly unable to speak because Latica considered that Eliza Baxter might just be the most beautiful girl she’d ever beheld. How could her mother agree to chaperone a young lady that was considerably more beautiful than either Henrietta or herself?
“I’m so very pleased to meet you,” Eliza said, elegant in bearing but visibly nervous.
“Speak, my girls,” Frederica instructed.
Latica cleared her throat and spoke. “We’re… happy to meet you, Eliza.”
“You must be Latica.”
“Yes, wonderful to meet you. I do hope that we can be friends.”
From her affable nature, Latica sensed that Eliza was a girl that could perhaps be trusted. Yet, from the scowl on Henrietta’s face, she was under the impression that her sister did not feel the same.
“Charming,” Henrietta said flatly.
“Oh, Henrietta, I’ve heard so much about you,” Eliza went on. “Your gown… is so lovely.”
Henrietta’s response was flat again. “I thank you.”
“Please, Eliza, be seated. Take a cup of tea.” Frederica motioned for the servants to serve Eliza, and as she sat, Latica observed her. Eliza had stunning brown hair and eyes, and her figure was ever so perfect. She gazed down at her own imperfect figure and wondered how it was that Eliza Baxter accomplished such a small waist. Oh, it was so vexing, but Latica must do her best to be kind.
Once Eliza was given her tea, the conversation faltered for some time, as Henrietta still didn’t wish to speak, Latica didn’t know what to say, and Eliza’s nerves would not quell.
“What is your favourite thing to do in town?” Eliza asked.
Latica could finally think of something to say. “I enjoy going for strolls in the park. It’s ever so lovely this time of year.”
Eliza sat up in her seat with enthusiasm. “Oh, I very much love going for strolls as well. I should love to do so often.”
“And how soon do you wish to be married?” Henrietta asked quickly, her brow elevated.
Eliza was made uncomfortable by this and answered slowly, “I suppose that there is no rush. But if I could find a suitable partner this season, I’d be very much pleased.”
“Hmf,” Henrietta uttered.
“Desire Beyond Status” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
The fiery Eliza Baxter lives a peaceful life, until her aunt decides to take her to London for the Season in order to introduce her to the ton. Upon her arrival, the passionate Eliza finds herself in distress as she must endure her devious and jealous cousins, who will do anything to make her time in London unbearable. Yet, at the upcoming ball, Eliza’s fateful encounter with the attractive Duke of Ellis will be her chance to gain a new ally, as they both have to get through the Season avoiding the pretentious nobles. However, Eliza’s growing feelings for the Duke will soon set her heart on a fire she is unable to tame… Will she surrender to her burning desire for the enchanting Duke or will her lack of a title ruin what her heart is deeply longing for?
Hugh Conrad, the new Duke of Ellis, is a war hero and a man of duty, who struggles to accept and live up to his title after the tragic passing of his brother. When his wicked mother insists that he must find a wife, Hugh masters his past strategic skills to sneak out of his troubles. However, a ball will soon be the cause of meeting the most interesting and captivating woman he has ever seen. When Hugh lays eyes on the seductive Eliza, he will not only agree to a fraudulent courtship with her in order to mislead the suppressive relatives, but also to dive into an endless game of lust. Will Hugh overcome society’s norms and fight for his flaming passion?
Even though Eliza and Hugh come together under the most unexpected circumstances, their plan soon turns into a lustful affair and when they cross the line, it is impossible to resist their tantalising romance. As their tremendous affection unfolds, so does the malice of a cunning woman who desperately schemes for their separation. With many forces conspiring against them, will Eliza and Hugh manage to pursue their unconventional attraction? In a society that revolves around titles and income, could that love and desire prevail after all?
“Desire Beyond Status” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.