“Miss Bolton, here are the flowers that you ordered,” the thin man behind the counter said, handing them over.
Margaret Crowley had been to the flower shop only a few times, and for the life of her, she couldn’t remember the fellow’s name. “I fear that I don’t come into this shop often enough. You are called?”
“This is a gorgeous bouquet, Mr. Hutchins. I thank you,” Margaret replied.
Margaret turned to her maid and chaperone, Jane Harrington, and grinned from ear to ear from the excitement over the flowers. Yes, Margaret could not make such purchases often, what with her father’s dwindling funds. But Viscount Bolton allowed her to make a purchase on this occasion, and for whatever reason, Margaret took this to be foreboding.
“Come along, Miss,” Jane said, encircling her arm in Margaret’s. “We’re going to be late for tea with his lordship.”
“Must we? There are so many things that I wish to see in the village,” Margaret remarked, looking out the light-filled windows and still clutching the flowers. “For instance, we could go for a walk in the park.”
Jane’s plump face was subtly scolding Margaret for saying such a thing. “You know how his lordship feels about such things.”
“Indeed. Oh, it’s so vexing,” Margaret bemoaned, making her way to the door whilst Jane followed her.
Before exiting Mr. Hutchins’ flower shop, Margaret caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and it led to contemplation. Her brown hair and green eyes were cause for attention she’d often been told. But her figure had grown thin, and her blue gown hung on her awkwardly. Thinking of all of this, Margaret felt a lump come to her throat. Most of the kitchen staff had been let go at Pelham Downs, and although the food was still good, it was dwindling in abundance. Alas, this was all due to her father’s dwindling funds—the explanation of which Margaret had a hard time admitting to herself.
“Such a lovely day, Miss,” Jane said, taking the flowers from Margaret’s hand so that she didn’t have to carry them herself.
“Oh, Jane. You know that when no one is around, you are free to call me Margaret.”
“Not whilst walking through the village, Miss! I may be your friend, but I still have a job to do.”
Margaret turned introspective once more. Yes, Jane was her only friend and companion, and this had been the case for several years—in fact, since her mother passed away. Margaret and Jane had been very young then, and Jane had been more of a companion than anything else, but after the death of Lady Bolton, Jane had taken on the position of handmaid and head maid of Pelham Downs.
Margaret bemoaned the fact that Jane had to do so much work. It didn’t seem fair in the slightest, but Margaret knew that her father had cut every possible corner in order to make ends meet. Would this decline go on in perpetuity?
Sadly, Margaret had to wonder if any of her dowry left.
“Can we please walk through the park?” Margaret begged. “Farthington is beautiful this time of year.” Margaret was referring to the charming village that was adjacent to the family estate.
Jane stopped and turned towards Margaret, a sad expression upon her face. “Do you fear that he’s in his cups, Miss?”
Margaret froze. Yes, sometimes it was as though Jane could see right through her! “I know that he is, Jane.” Her face mournful, Margaret realized that it was common for Viscount Bolton to begin his drinking just before tea. And sometimes, even earlier than that. So it was unpredictable what kind of state he would be in.
Margaret gazed towards the little park, thinking that she didn’t visit Farthington often enough, mainly because it was hard to get away from Pelham Downs, what with her father’s condition. She and Jane would often at this time be walking in the field behind the estate so that they didn’t venture too far. This was a rare treat, and Margaret was not going to let it go.
“Well, I am going to stroll through. You can come if you like,” Margaret went on.
Jane sighed and slumped her shoulders. “I suppose, Miss. Unfortunately, you leave me no other choice.”
The two girls strolled in silence, each close to one another in years. Jane was twenty-three, whilst Margaret was twenty-one. This closeness in age lended them an understanding of one another. Still, they were very different in appearance. Margaret marveled at how she’d become so slim over the years whilst Jane had become rather plump. Margaret was envious of this, for she wanted more womanly curves.
And although Jane felt like a sister, they would never be mistaken as such. Jane was short, with blonde hair and whimsical grey eyes. Margaret admired these qualities as well, for she always thought that blonde hair was rather appealing.
Jane was the one who broke the silence. “I’m sure his lordship will be in a good state. He seemed most optimistic at breakfast.”
“Yes, he did seem rather in a good mood. One can only hope for the best.”
“And he retired to his chambers rather… early last night.”
Margaret had little response, for she knew that what was considered early for Viscount Bolton was indeed very late for anyone else. Margaret could always hear the gambling taking place in the parlor and Wednesdays and Fridays. The other nights of the week, Viscount Bolton would venture into Farthington for his gambling, and sometimes, he would travel all the way to London for a week. His love of gambling was insatiable, and Margaret sincerely wished that her father would find another hobby and not propel them into ruin.
As they passed through the lovely park, with its magnificent fountains and flowers, Margaret noted that she and Jane received a few glances. Yes, everyone in Farthington probably knew of the viscount’s habits. It pained Margaret to think that they might have a sour opinion of him or herself.
Once they’d made it through to the other side—a wrought-iron gaze showing their exit—Jane’s impatience returned once more.
“That was enough for one day.” She regarded the flowers in her hand. “Let us bring these back to his lordship and carry on with the afternoon. I’m positively famished.”
“Very well,” Margaret replied, feeling a constriction in her chest. It always made her stomach flip when she returned to Pelham Downs. When she was out and about, Margaret felt free, but she was uncertain what she might encounter once it was time to return home.
The walk back to Pelham Downs was pleasant enough. There was no need for a carriage, and what’s more, they only had one horse left at the estate, and for it to pull a post-chaise or phaeton would be too much. Margaret did not mind this so much, as it allowed her to achieve much exercise, but it also made Pelham Downs seem like something of a prison!
As they approached the grand estate, Margaret noted what disrepair it was in. Oh, when she was a girl, and Lady Bolton was still alive, Pelham Downs was quite the sight to behold! They had such marvelous parties, and dignitaries and bon ton would travel from London to stay for the weekend. But, sadly, with her mother gone—and the gardeners being let go—Pelham Downs was no longer what it used to be. Margaret would undertake some gardening work, but it was too much for just her and Jane to handle. Every once in a while, Viscount Bolton would hire a day laborer to undertake some of the tasks, but this was quite rare. Margaret had to wonder if one day the hedges would completely overgrow the once marvelous estate.
“Hand me those flowers so that I can bring them to Father,” Margaret requested, putting out her hand. Jane handed her the flowers, and Margaret brought the bouquet to her nose, delighting in the fragrance. “He’ll either be pleased or furious,” Margaret replied with humor in her voice.
“It matters not, Margaret. What is done is done.”
Margaret often admired Jane’s resolute character. She was not fussy when it came to many things, and Margaret viewed all of this as being stoical. But still, didn’t Jane ever find Pelham Downs to be irksome? Surely, though she showed little emotion, she must have had some sense of what an impression the estate purveyed.
Once inside the great home, Margaret delighted in the cool, quiet air. Down the hall, Margaret could hear footsteps, and she assumed this to be her father. Sure enough, he walked into his study without saying a word, and Margaret quickly pursued him.
“I’ll meet you at tea, Jane.”
“Very well. I’ll prepare your afternoon gown.”
As Margaret walked down the hall, she considered how senseless it was that she even had an afternoon gown. Of course, Viscount Bolton insisted upon this decorum, but her gowns needed mending, and the fabrics were tarnished.
Upon entering the study, she was not surprised by what she saw. Her father sat slumped at his desk, a glass of brandy in front of him. Margaret sighed. It was what she was hoping not to see, but here the image was, right before her very eyes.
“I bought some flowers, Father. I’m hoping they might cheer up the tearoom.”
Viscount Bolton did not look up. Instead, he stared into his drink. “Fine.”
“Do you wish to smell them? They’re most fragrant and appealing, in my estimation.”
The viscount muttered something unintelligible.
Margaret went on. “Will you be coming to tea soon? Jane says that she is famished, and I even find that I have quite the appetite.”
“Be seated, Margaret,” he finally said, gazing up at her.
From the look in his eyes, Margaret could tell that something unsavory was about to transpire. She placed the bouquet upon a marble side table and seated herself in front of her father, waiting as he took another sip of his drink.
“What is it, Father?”
“There is an important matter that we must discuss.”
As Margaret waited for him to speak, she couldn’t help but notice her father’s sallow skin, once healthy with color. His tall frame once brought distinction to his bearing, but now, Arthur Crowley was the kind of man that slumped and had bad posture. His brown hair and eyes were much the same, although some salt and pepper was showing through.
“We can discuss anything, Father,” Margaret went on.
“I need to find you a husband. The time has come.”
Margaret gripped her chair, having expected this conversation. It filled her with a great deal of trepidation. “But… who am I to marry?”
“Someone with an income, Margaret. You’re all that I have left.”
Margaret’s chin trembled. “What do you mean that I’m all that you have left?”
“There’s no more money, Margaret. It’s nearly gone. I can barely keep the cook and Jane. If you are to marry someone of means, then I can get myself out of this disaster.”
There was only one question that Margaret could ask. “But… what of my dowry?”
The viscount froze, seemingly not wanting to answer this question. “It has dwindled but not extinguished. If we find someone… perhaps a widowed man who is older in years, he will take you for your charm instead of your dowry.”
Margaret’s hair stood on end at the mere mention of this. Marry someone much older than herself? Was that what her father was implying? If so, it would turn Margaret’s stomach, for she wished to marry a gentleman for love, above all else.
“Father, there must be another way,” Margaret reasoned.
“What do you suggest?”
“Perhaps… sell Pelham Downs. We could find a charming cottage somewhere.”
Her father appeared indignant. “Sell Pelham Downs? Have you lost your mind, young lady? I am Viscount Bolton, owner of Pelham downs. You are my only daughter, Margaret. You must understand that you shall not inherit my title, but you will inherit this property. I’m hoping that that will offer enough appeal to the man that takes your hand.”
The man that takes her hand? What about the hand that Margaret takes? Her father made it sound as though she would be lucky to have a man give into her father’s request. It was all so ghastly and unsavory that Margaret stood from her chair.
“Father, I don’t need to inherit Pelham Downs. There have been many happy memories here, but I fear that it only reminds me of Mother.”
“What did I tell you about mentioning her?” Viscount Bolton asked. “Do you want to make the situation any more trying than it has already been? We are to forget about the past and live in the moment. And that requires you to take a husband. I cannot afford to bring you to the season in town, so we must find someone near Farthington. There are plenty of great houses and persons of distinction. I merely must wrap my head around who would be the most suitable selection and how you might endear yourself to him.”
Margaret had the mind to get up from her seat and remove herself from the study instantly. Oh, how she wished to run outside into the field and never look back! There, amidst the sunshine and clean air, Margaret could taste her freedom once more and be done with the viscount’s unsavory habits.
Sadly, none of this was possible. Margaret was aware of her duty to her father, and since he had just expressed that she was to be his last hope, she knew that she could not abandon him in his time of need, however much she wished it.
Margaret exhaled mournfully, gazing at the grandfather clock that was situated by the window. It informed her that they were twenty minutes late for tea, not that punctuality had any meaning any longer at Pelham Downs.
“Father, let us discuss this more anon. I fear that I need some nourishment.” What Margaret most decidedly needed was a cup of tea to help quicken her mind.
“Yes, we shall discuss more. I need something to go with this.” The viscount motioned towards his brandy, which was nearly gone.
After they had made their way to the tearoom, Margaret noted that familiar selection of cold sandwiches. Hot food was never served at tea, primarily due to the expense. And there were often times when the leftover sandwiches were served for supper. No wonder Margaret was so thin. If only she enjoyed cold sandwiches as much as Jane did.
The tearoom was silent, but the light that cascaded in through the windows was transfixing. The cook—who also served as their footman—entered to replenish the tea and bring the viscount more brandy, which he drank copiously. Margaret gave Jane a withering glance, and she saw that same stoic expression upon Jane’s face, as though she did not pay any mind to the viscount’s conduct.
“I, for one, am very fond of these salmon sandwiches,” Jane said, taking a hearty bite.
Margaret replied, “Yes, they are rather appealing.”
The viscount said nothing, and Margaret found herself grateful that Jane was allowed to dine with them, as otherwise, there would be no one to talk to. But the memory of the conversation in the study lingered, and Margaret found that she was filled with uneasy nerves. Must she be married so soon? She didn’t feel as though it was the right time. Margaret still had so many things that she wished to pursue, and she enjoyed her freedom heartily. Now would be the time for all of that to come to an end. What’s more, Margaret would have to say a prayer that Jane would come along with her wherever she went.
These thoughts were silenced once the viscount spoke. “Margaret, are you familiar with Lord Darkmoor?”
“The baron?” Margaret asked.
“Indeed. He is the sort of fellow that I was referring to. He is widowed and has a lovely estate nearby.”
Margaret felt the sandwich in her mouth turn to chalk. Lord Darkmoor had to be her father’s age. Oh, it was terrible to think that her father might marry her off to someone that was a colleague of his. How desperate was the viscount to suggest such a thing?
Jane appeared confused, as she knew nothing about the discussion that had gone on in the study. Margaret finally replied, “Don’t you think him… unsuitable, Father?”
“Why should he be unsuitable?” The viscount took another sip of his brand.
“He’s rather old in years.”
To this, her father’s reply was indignant. “Are you suggesting that I’m old in years?”
“No.” Margaret shook her head feverishly. “I was merely stating that… he is older than I! Certainly, there must be someone closer to my own age.”
The viscount was in a huff, and Margaret quickly dropped this topic for fear that her father might pursue the Lord Darkmoor idea merely because Margaret protested against it.
Margaret stared down at her sandwich, unable to consume it. That knot reappeared in her stomach, and Margaret excused herself, saying that she felt unwell.
“May I be of assistance?” Jane asked.
“That shall be unnecessary, Jane. I’m merely in need of a nap.”
Margaret felt some measure of relief as she exited the tearoom. Yes, she would retire to her chambers and spend the rest of the afternoon contemplating her fate. With all luck, her father might be too drunk when suppertime came, and then, Margaret could enjoy the peace and quiet. Oh, she needed to tell Jane everything, but now was not the time to do so. Margaret needed solitude. She also needed to think about how she might escape if she were forced to marry Lord Darkmoor.
The following day, Margaret finally had the strength and wherewithal to explain everything to Jane. It was difficult to do, for Margaret wished to banish the whole ordeal from her mind.
“But Lord Darkmoor, of all people?” Jane asked.
“My sentiments exactly.”
“He has quite the reputation.”
As they continued their customary walk through the field, Margaret couldn’t help but share everything she knew about Lord Darkmoor. “The baron is said to detest all women. His late wife, the baroness, lived a sheltered life, and heaven only knows if she was happy.”
“Margaret, perhaps it is best not to overthink it. Maybe the rumors about the baron are only rumors. Someone can’t detest all women.”
“Still, all that I feel is fear. Knowing what he does of Lord Darkmoor, how can my father wish for him to be my betrothed? He’s desperate, Jane. That much is plain.”
As they continued to walk, Jane seemed not to provide enough counsel, for her stoic nature was kept intact, and she thought it best to change the subject. Margaret thought this odd since she was clearly distressed, but she knew that of the two of them, Jane had the most level head on her shoulders.
Just then, a figure appeared off in the distance, riding a horse. Margaret brought a hand up to shield her eyes from the sun. It was rare to find anyone in this field, and she couldn’t help but inquire. “Who do you suppose that is?”
“My word,” Jane replied, bringing her hands to her cheeks. “That’s my brother. John! John!” She waved her hand vigorously and ran towards her brother, who was getting closer and closer. “John!” She called out once more.
Margaret pursued Jane with a smile upon her lips. It was rare to see Jane with such unbounded enthusiasm. Once John Harrington was upon them, Margaret stopped in her tracks, her jaw dropping open. Yes, the resemblance was there, except that John was rather tall and athletic, and his eyes were a sparkling blue.
“Jane,” John said, hopping off his horse and embracing his sister. “It has been too long.”
“But whatever brought you here from Cornwall?” Jane asked.
“I ceased my employment at the dock. It had grown tiresome.”
“What shall you do?” Jane asked in surprise.
“I guess I’ll just haunt you for the rest of your days,” John said playfully, giving Jane a gentle box on the shoulder. That was when John’s gaze turned to Margaret, and if she was shocked upon first seeing him, she noted that his face was equally shocked.
Margaret felt her cheeks color. “Hello.”
“Hello,” John replied softly.
“Oh, where is my mind? John, surely you remember Margaret. It has been some years.”
“I remember. But you have… changed,” John said, gazing into Margaret’s eyes.
Margaret cleared her throat. “You’ve changed, as well. I recall when you were a scrawny lad.”
John smiled bashfully. “You wouldn’t believe what working at a dock does. There’s a great deal of labor.”
Margaret had to marvel at all of this. Yes, he was hardly recognizable now. It was as though the boy that she briefly met had now become a grown man, and a big one at that!
Margaret Crowley was like nothing John had ever seen before. Yes, he recalled meeting her briefly, but she had utterly transformed in ways that John never imagined possible. Her brown hair glowed in the sunlight, and her piercing green eyes sent shivers down his spine. Yes, Margaret had opened like a bright red rose, and her beauty left him in awe.
“You have changed, Miss Crowley. You seemed a little girl the last time that I met you.”
“Much has changed.” Margaret gazed towards the ground. “And Jane and I have been through much.”
Aside from her beauty, John noted a bit of sadness in her expression. That was not there the last time that he had seen her. Turning his attention to Pelham Downs in the distance, John constricted his brow. Yes, something had changed. The house looked unkept, and the grounds were overgrown. Jane had never spoken of any of this in her letters.
“I, for one, needed the expansive countryside,” John went on. “Cornwall was bringing me to my knees. Not for lack of work, but merely for lack of company.”
“Brother, shall you return?”
“I am unsure.”
“So, now you are wandering?” Jane said playfully.
“You have always known me to be a wandered, Jane. The job in Cornwall was to make ends meet, and now that I have sufficient savings, I choose to explore what the world has to offer me.”
At this, Margaret seemed to perk up, leaving a warm feeling in John’s chest. “You intend to travel?” Margaret asked.
“Indeed. It has always been my desire.”
“And where shall you go?”
John shrugged. “Wherever the roads will take me. I have simple tastes, and I hope to find a town that I might call home.”
“You surprise me, Brother,” Jane went on. “The job at the dock was most secure.”
John grinned. “I do believe that security is overrated. What’s more, I wish to be tied to nothing.”
This was not entirely the truth. John wanted to be tied to a wife, a family, and a small town where he could lay down his roots. But such things would need to be found, for he had not encountered them yet. Then again, upon another glance, John concluded that Margaret could serve as a sort of fantasy, helping him visualize this future life.
“We are all tied to something,” Margaret went on, “Whether we know it or not. Some things hold us down.”
“Not unless we break free from said things. It is possible to do so.”
“I might protest. Some ties bind irrevocably.”
Yes, already, there was much that he wished he could impart to Margaret. Did she not know that she was free, no matter what was troubling her? John could prove it to her if he had the chance.
“Brother, where shall you stay?”
John scratched his head. “That’s a rather good question. I don’t suppose you have a spare room,” he added humorously.
“My father is a very… particular man,” Margaret offered. “I hope that you shan’t be offended if he declines.”
“No, no. There was an inn that I spotted in town. I imagine that it could be a fine location to rest my head.”
There was disappointment written on both Margaret’s and Jane’s faces. Yes, it was quite clear that there was something peculiar going on in their estate, and John wished to get to the bottom of it because if nothing else, he was a problem solver, and he didn’t care for the trepidation in Margaret’s eyes.
“Shall we go for a stroll?” John offered. “I fear that my horse is rather exhausted and could use a stretch of the legs.”
“Yes, let us carry on.” Jane began to walk, and Margaret followed behind.
There were several things that he was observing about Margaret during this walk. For one thing, she came across as meek, but John knew this to not to be true from the look in her eyes. There was a fire in those green orbs, but her demeanor spoke of something troubling her. Oh, why was he analyzing her so much when it was his sister that he’d come to visit? It seemed impossibly odd that Margaret was usurping all of his attention, but her quiet grace demanded it.
“The grounds have changed,” John noted.
“You would be correct.” Margaret turned her head towards him. “We have had to let several of the staff members go. I fear that it was necessary. Jane and I tend to the grounds when we can, but there’s only so much that we can do.”
John looked all around, remembering when the hedges were trimmed, and the lawn was clean. Perhaps he could undertake the labor of it, but seeing as the father let everyone go and would perhaps not allow John to stay at the estate, this was to be an impossibility, as well.
Margaret sighed deeply. “I still love it out here, though. These daily walks are fortifying in many ways. Sometimes, I lie in bed at night, dreaming of the next morning when I shall go for a walk!”
John smiled, delighting in Margaret’s enthusiasm. “I’m keen on the fresh air, as well. That was perhaps the only thing that I enjoyed about working the dock. The air was fresh, and when the season was right, the sun shone down brightly. Some days, a tad too brightly.”
“Brother, did you let your little cottage go? I know how you cherished it,” Jane asked.
“I fear that I did let it go. No sense in being a wanderer when one has a home. But I must say, that is the only thing about Cornwall that I shall miss.”
“I think that you should stay here and give up on this wandering,” Jane went on. “Buy another cottage. I shall love to have you nearby.”
“That’s very endearing, Sister. It is so agreeable to be wanted.”
All at once, John felt very exposed for saying this. What he could not mention was that he felt rather lonely in Cornwall. After their parents had died, John went looking for work, as Jane had already been stationed at Pelham Downs, and John was tied to nothing. There were several prospects there in terms of taking a wife, but none of them were appealing to John. He wanted someone with heart as well as beauty, and this could not be found where he lived in Cornwall.
Alas, he could consider the notion of staying near to Jane, but what was wandering most of all was John’s mind. He had turned into a keen reader, and this practice made him philosophical. This mental hunger led John to want to see new places and experience new adventures.
Whilst he was contemplating all of this, John noticed that Margaret was gazing at him in curiosity. “Pardon me. There are many things on my mind these days.”
“Such as?” Margaret asked.
“Being alone gives one plenty of time for contemplation. I get lost in my thoughts.”
“This happens to me, as well,” Margaret went on. “Oh, I dream of wandering and seeing the world. Sadly… this isn’t to be so.”
“Why?” John asked.
Jane cleared her throat as though they were breeching a difficult subject. “Margaret is to be married,” Jane said.
Why did this statement make John’s heart sink? He felt a constriction in his chest and wondered if this was why Margaret appeared so downcast.
“You are not pleased to be married?” John asked.
Margaret shook her head. “I am afraid that certain circumstances are surrounding the event which are… unsavory. Pardon me. This is a difficult conversation to have.”
Yes, John’s suspicions were correct. This was the very reason that Margaret came across the way that she did. “Can it be prevented?”
“The marriage?” Margaret asked.
“That matter is not within my control, however much I wish that it was.”
“Do not allow someone else to tell you what to do.”
Margaret laughed. “Such as my father? He holds all of the control.”
John felt anger wash over him. There were plenty of things that he wished to say, but considering his anger, John thought it best to hold his tongue, for the most part. “My only hope is that the situation ends in a way that you would deem favorable.”
John noticed that Jane remained silent throughout this exchange. Was there something else that she wished to say? Perhaps, in a private conference, he could learn more. Oh, but he caught himself yet again being keenly interested in Margaret’s affairs, only upon encountering her briefly. This was very odd for John, but his quiet fondness dictated it.
“Oh, let us talk of other matters,” Margaret said, throwing her hands in the air. “I fear that it has been occupying my mind, and I do not wish for such an unsavory topic to ruin a good afternoon.”
As they continued to walk along, John clasped his hands behind his back and smiled to himself. It was a lovely day; the sky was a perfect blue, and there was not a cloud in the sky. He looked over to Pelham Downs, and in the window the viscount stood and abruptly fled upon seeing John. Jane had mentioned some elements of his character in her letters, but John was beginning to see that the situation might be worse than expected.
“Did you ride through Farthington?” Margaret asked. “I love the village so.”
“I must admit that I did not ride through. I came directly here.”
“We should walk there, so that you can see it. There are charming shops, and everyone that resides there is so kind. I think that you will find that staying here is something that you might enjoy.”
So, now Margaret was expressing interest that John should stay? That proved even more intriguing. Still, he was sure that she was merely being polite. There was no chance that she was as struck by him as he was by her upon first glance.
“Quaint villages always remind me of my childhood,” John went on.
“Don’t bring up such grand memories!” Jane protested. “I fear that I shall shed a tear. I miss mother and father so.”
John fell silent. He, as well, missed their mother and father. The illness that took them so suddenly was beyond tragic. John didn’t wish to relive the pain of it, but he often basked in the memory of his kind, compassionate parents.
“I shall not speak of it any further. But I often imagine that they are looking down on us from heaven, and perhaps, they are proud.”
Here John felt another tinge in his chest. Would they be proud of him? He was not yet married, had no family, and had decided to wander. There was nothing about all of this they might find appealing. Still, like his parents, John considered himself to be a good person, and surely that was enough to instill parental pride.
“Let us sit under this tree for the shade,” Margaret said, pointing to a great oak.
“That is a sound idea.” Jane began to walk towards it. “I fear that I am rather tired from the exertion.”
John wished to tease his sister for saying such a thing, for surely, she could never understand the kind of exertion that he endured in Cornwall. He had enjoyed the challenge of it and how it shaped his body, but John wanted something more meaningful than slaving away each day for a pittance.
The ladies seated themselves, and once they were down, John did the same. He propped one knee up, which he rested his elbow upon. Then, playing with some blades of grass, John looked up and noted that now, he could observe Margaret much more keenly, except he did not wish to be caught staring.
From that vantage, she was even more lovely, and John’s eyes followed the contours of her face and profile. There was something mysterious about Margaret, he noticed. And that was when Jane caught him staring. As they looked at one another, Jane lifted her brow and looked away. A wry smile came to John’s lips as he knew that he had been caught.
“I propose a picnic,” John said, tossing the blades of grass into the air.
“A picnic?” Jane asked.
“Indeed. Have the two of you never picnicked out here? That would be a shame.”
“We never have, but that’s a marvelous idea,” Margaret went on, turning towards Jane. “Why is it that we’ve never proposed such a thing?”
Both Jane and Margaret laughed with one another. Their faces ignited, and John could tell that they were indeed the best of friends. John wished for such a friend, but back in Cornwall, he had acquaintances at best.
John clapped his hands together. “It’s all sorted, then. Tomorrow, we will have a picnic. I’ll procure all the goods.”
Margaret said, “That is unnecessary. I shall have my cook makes sandwiches. That is practically all that she makes!” she added humorously.
“If you insist.”
“In the meantime, Brother, we must find a place for you to stay. Oh, Margaret, I have the most cunning idea.”
“What is that?” Margaret asked.
“What if we sneak John into Pelham Downs? I am sure that the viscount would not notice, if only for the night.”
Margaret broke into a peal of laughter and covered her mouth as she did so. “Do you think that we can get away with it?”
“I am unsure, but it would be fun to try!” Jane exclaimed.
John couldn’t help but join in on their good fun. It would be most intriguing if they could carry the plan out. They sat there for some time, delighting in the shade of the tree as they talked about all manner of things. When the sun finally came down, the girls remarked that it was time for them to return to the estate, and a plan was put in place to have John come to the back door after supper so that they might sneak him in.
John was the first to stand, and he extended both of his arms to help the girls up. As he helped Margaret up, his gaze met hers, and he was momentarily lost in her glittering eyes. Her expression was different than it had been earlier in the afternoon. She was more relaxed now, and yes, she looked happy. All of this made John feel joy.
It was so odd how drawn to her he was. He wanted to hear more about the impending marriage and how Margaret might get out of it.
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Margaret Crowley, the daughter of a ruined viscount, witnessed her life turning into a living hell. After losing her mother, she had to suffer her father’s gambling and drinking obsession that caused them an unbearable debt. Even though she strived hard to keep them from failing, she knew that only a good marriage could save them from their complete decadence. However, when she meets John, the wicked brother of her loyal maid, sparks will fly, leading them to a tempting, flaming romance. Yet, fate will bring Margaret confronted with the grim reality, as her father bets her hand to a cunning, evil Lord. Will her growing passion for the enthralling John, give her the courage to finally face her father and fight against a doomed future?
John Harrington, the alluring brother of Margaret’s maid, has all the qualities of a vigorous gentleman, and has just joined the army. Yet, from the moment he lays eyes on the fiery Margaret, nothing can ever be the same, as he is unable to resist his tantalising desire for her… Soon, his untamed feelings will fatefully make him a part of a perilous game against a very dangerous man. How far is John willing to go to avoid losing the seductive beauty who has captured his heart?
The more they find themselves sinking deeper and deeper into their lustful affair, the more their dream of a common future together seems to fade away… Yet, just before everything seems to be collapsing, the revelation of a hideous lie, might change the course of Margaret and John’s gloomy destiny. Will they manage to escape from the scandalous fraud of a vicious man that craves to steal their happiness? After all the hardships they’ve been through, will Margaret and John manage to make their burning love prevail, or will their lust vanish forever?
“Surrendering to a Lady’s Touch” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.