“Dianna? Come, come. There he is,” Lady Cobston said, rather eagerly as she always did.
Lady Dianna Blackstone drew nearer to her mother. A moment ago, she had been happily enjoying her time walking around Hyde Park with her mother, greeting friends, and seeing acquaintances. Now, however, she could see the object of her mother’s attention, and Dianna immediately shrank back with disdain, wishing that she could be anywhere else.
“Oh, dear, I wish you had worn the burgundy. It goes so much better with your complexion than this,” her mother said, looking at Dianna’s pale blue dress. She thought it was a perfectly fine complement to her brown eyes and light, straw-coloured hair.
“Mother, I am hardly bothered. You know I have no interest at all in Lord Wharton,” Dianna said.
“Oh, but look at him! He would be such a tremendous match for you,” her mother insisted.
Dianna did as instructed, taking in the sight of Lord Jonas Haddon, the Duke of Wharton. His blond hair was cut short, and his strikingly blue eyes seemed to be drinking in the attention he was given. He had always been a man capable of drawing the attention of others, but Dianna wished that he would simply be gone from her life altogether.
“He is no match for me. I do not like the man, and you know that,” Dianna said, hoping that her mother would be understanding.
“He is so handsome. Do you not want a husband who is devastatingly handsome?” her mother asked.
“I care nothing for his looks if he is not a good man. Lord Wharton is arrogant and a fool. He knows that he is attractive and believes he may have whatever he wishes because of it,” she said.
Dianna glanced in his direction again. He stood there, tall and proud, his head held high. He was dressed in finery to the extent that she pictured him more as a pampered peacock than a reasonable man. There was nothing about him that she might find endearing. He was absolutely the last man in the world with whom she desired to become close.
“Clearly, you are the only one who is unimpressed by him. You know, I do believe that he could have his pick of any woman he desired. It truly is a shame that you will not allow him to show such an affection for you,” her mother said.
“If he wishes to have any other woman, he may have her. I will not be shamed for the fact that I care nothing for him. Besides, I have seen how he treats women, and that is nothing of what I would like from a husband,” Dianna expressed.
“You have not seen anything of how he treats women. I cannot comprehend what you are speaking of. It makes no sense, my dear,” her mother disputed.
“Have you not seen him? I have heard stories in which he allows young women to be interested in him, allows them to believe that he will make a proposal, and then he simply vanishes without an explanation. He cares nothing for the heart and feelings of others,” Dianna insisted.
“Perhaps he courted those young women only to find them wanting. Did you not consider that he might have liked them from the beginning and then learned they were not at all the sort of women he would like to marry? It is possible that he changed his mind,” her mother reasoned.
Dianna sighed, shaking her head. She’d heard more than enough to know that it was not just a woman or two who had come to disappoint him. He had disparaged several decent ladies. It was only a matter of pride and his own hopes of being desired and pursued. Dianna found it to be utterly distasteful, and she could hardly believe there were so many who had faith in him.
The way he strutted around, he may as well have thought himself to be royalty. It was utterly unattractive, and it brought to mind the exact opposite of anything she would have wanted in a husband. Whatever it was that led her mother to encourage this, it was certainly not anything by which Dianna would be swayed.
When it came to men and the idea of being with a gentleman, Dianna had no desire to marry at all. She could not understand why she would give herself over to a life in which she was simply the whim of a gentleman who might wish to parade her around, showing her off as though she was something to prove his own worth. What was the point in that life?
Dianna would not allow herself to become anyone’s prize. She knew she was worth far more than that, and it was a travesty to be seen as so much less. Although her life had been marked by the fact that she was the daughter of an earl and, therefore, nobility, she could not imagine what it would be like to give herself over to the life her mother had.
To be constantly searching and craving a world in which she had a higher status was simply an unbearable thought. There had to be more than this. There had to be meaning. There had to be a life in which she could think and decide for herself, regardless of the expectations surrounding her.
“Come, dear. You must give me an ear. This is a very fine gentleman, and I know that he would be happy to be your husband. Why should he not? It is perfectly reasonable to expect that he might even wish to marry you at once, very quickly and with great eagerness,” her mother said, eyes bright as though it would make a difference to Dianna whether he liked her.
“This is not about my fears that he will not like me, Mother. I am telling you that I would never consent to marry a man like him. He may be a duke, but that is not enough to impress me. I truly would rather not marry at all. It does not matter if he is a man or a peacock; I have no desire to be sold off to whoever is willing to pay Father a few coins for me,” Dianna insisted, trying to maintain a calm appearance although she knew she was struggling a great deal in doing so.
Her mother’s eyes widened, and she pasted a terse smile on her face.
“Dianna, my dear, we are in public, and we are to act like ladies. Shall we behave thusly or would you rather depart?” her mother asked in a tense voice, clearly panicked by Dianna’s outburst.
No one had noticed, as far as Dianna could tell. Although she was certain that her cheeks were red, she had managed to maintain her composure enough that she didn’t think anyone had really seen how furious she was. There was no reason to let them all know that she was upset, but she did need her mother to understand. Without that understanding, she was unsure whether she could escape an arranged marriage against her will.
“Mother, I did not mean to embarrass you. No one has noticed anything I have done. You need not be concerned. I simply wished to express my unhappiness regarding the insistence that I must marry at once or that Lord Wharton is a man worth my devotion,” she said.
Dianna’s mother sighed, and she knew there was a risk. Dianna feared that her mother might begin to urge her to marry this man she so detested, but there was nothing to be done about it. She only imagined that she would have to argue with her mother for a while before her mother would relent and understand that it was not a good match in the least.
If Dianna was forced to marry someone, she wanted it to at least be for love. Although she would rather avoid the thing altogether, she knew she might not be so fortunate. Her mother and father would not understand. However, Dianna had always been quite stubborn. Perhaps, if she were fortunate enough to be heard, they might allow her a bit of freedom, and she might manage to get her desire.
Although her mother had been quiet for a moment, looking off at Lord Wharton, the breeze in her hair, the sun shining down on them as others passed by, Dianna knew that the matter had not been settled. Any moment now, she would be told what her mother did and did not expect of her.
At last, her mother turned back to her.
“Dianna, I understand that you are a young woman with spirit, and you do not wish to be tamed. However, your father and I have no choice but to urge you otherwise. This is the way of things and the consequence of our position in society. As a young lady of noble birth, you are expected to marry, whether you wish to or not.
“You must listen to this and understand that it is not out of any cruelty or wish to punish you. It is for the sake of your future, as well as the family’s name and reputation. If you would be so inclined as to accept what is best for us all, I am sure that you will be reasonable,” her mother said.
Dianna had no desire to be reasonable, as her mother put it. She had no desire to be used as a pawn in the game of society. She had no desire to allow her mother and father to trade her as though she had no meaning or purpose in her own right.
“Mother, I do not understand why you push this so, but I shall not relent. I will not marry someone because you and Father insist upon it. It is only going to be out of my own heart and desire to marry that I will do so,” she insisted, a childish stomp of her foot leading to immediate embarrassment and regret. The tears in her eyes threatened to expose the most vulnerable parts of her. Dianna knew she was making a mistake, but so overwhelmed was she by the circumstance that she did not know how to stop it from happening.
Her mother sucked in another panicked breath before looking around and smiling with those wide, anxious eyes at the passersby who clearly noted Dianna’s improper demeanour.
“Mother, forgive me,” Dianna said at once, dropping her shoulders back and taking on a calm posture to fight against the behaviour she had just displayed. It was not going to win her any battles, nor did it have the appearance of decorum that she otherwise hoped to maintain.
“I believe we must depart at once,” her mother said in that tense voice of hers.
Dianna nodded, and the two calmly, patiently walked from Hyde Park as though nothing of note had just taken place.
The ride home in the coach was utterly silent, and Dianna had no idea what consequences awaited her. She understood there would be some sort of price to pay for how she had acted, what with all of her complaints and furies, but she hoped that it would lead to a calm, peaceful conversation with her mother and father in which she might be allowed to express her hopes and opinions on the matter.
They arrived at the estate, and Dianna turned to her mother to speak, but her mother held up a hand.
“Go to your room. I do not wish to see you for the time being. I would like to forget about this afternoon, but I must take some time to consider the best decision for our family after the display you put on,” her mother said.
Dianna nodded and made her way up the stairs, knowing that none of this was over.
The bell rang for dinner, and Dianna assumed she would be allowed to make her way down to join. As she traipsed down the staircase, the sound of her mother’s and father’s voices drifted up towards her. She froze and leaned against the wall to listen to her mother and father from within the dining room.
“I simply do not know what to do with that girl anymore,” her mother said in exasperation.
“I know, darling. She is a most infernal child, completely full of her own, strong will,” her father replied.
“So, what shall we do? I believe the only option is to urge her to marry, but I am certain that she is only going to argue against it,” her mother said.
Dianna felt sick with regret, wishing she had not behaved in such a way. She was adamant that she could not possibly marry now—and certainly not that particular man. However, she had behaved abhorrently and knew that there would be consequences. She felt certain she was soon to learn what those consequences might be.
“If Dianna is going to maintain any sort of respectability, there is only one thing for it. We must marry her off at once. There is no room for this insolence. If we find her a husband now, it will save us a bleak future,” her father determined.
Dianna saw a maid enter the dining hall from where she stood on the stairs. The maid carried a tray of food as she entered. Nearly instantly, Dianna heard her father’s raised voice.
“What are you doing? Did I give you leave to enter here? Can you not hear that we are in discussion? Get out! Get out of here with that pitifully arranged platter and come back when you are told. Foolish maids! Why do we even keep such witless creatures?” he demanded.
The maid rushed from the room, food spilling over the tray and onto the floor. She was clearly upset about such treatment.
Dianna’s father was not typically a cruel or rude man, and she felt quite guilty, knowing this behaviour was due to his exasperation with her.
Still, seeing that the girl was visibly shaken, Dianna quietly rushed down the hall after her, determined to make amends. Perhaps it was not too late to show the maid a bit of kindness.
As for her own situation and how her mother and father would respond to it, Dianna was perfectly aware of her own reality.
It was too late.
“Ah, Jonas, darling,” Lady Wharton greeted, coming to meet her son. He was seated in the study, and she was lavishly covered in gems, ready for the ball that evening. Jonas had decided he would not attend. It was not out of any sort of spite or disdain, but rather that he was tired, and he was not overly fond of the gentleman hosting the ball.
“Mother? Good heavens, you look ravishing. I am certain that you are going to draw the attention of every last eligible bachelor in the room this evening,” he said, complimenting her.
“And I am certain you know it is the farthest thing from what I am hoping to find. There is no gentleman there who will pique my interest, my dear. I have loved, and I have lost, but no one is going to replace what I was so blessed to have. Now, shall we move on to discuss other matters?” she asked.
“What sort of matters, Mother?” Jonas asked.
“I have received the most intriguing letter. It is from Lady Cobston,” she said.
“And what is it about this letter that you find so intriguing?” he asked.
“She mentions that she is hoping to arrange a match for her daughter and that she has set her sights on you for a son-in-law,” Lady Wharton informed him with a playful smile on her lips.
“Is that so? Lady Cobston, I do believe she is the one with the rather beautiful daughter, is she not? Then again, are they not all beautiful?” he asked his mother, teasing her. After all, he was supposed to notice just a few things about the women with whom he was meant to consort. They were all beautiful. They were all wealthy. And they were all daughters of earls and barons who had hopes of rising higher in society—or rather, their families had those hopes.
“You are so cheeky. Of course she is lovely. And you are considered quite a desirable bachelor amongst young women such as Lady Dianna Blackstone. So, my dear, what do you say? Would you agree to meet her?” his mother asked.
Jonas took a deep breath as he considered the request. Just as quickly, he released it. This was an intriguing proposition. He had seen her before, and he really did find her beautiful, although she seemed perfectly aloof whenever a gentleman came around. Something was intriguing about her, something different. She wasn’t the sort of woman to just hand over her attention.
He was so accustomed to young ladies fawning over him that the idea of having to pursue a woman was certainly new to him, and he wondered whether she would respond to him positively, negatively, or even at all. Regardless, Jonas couldn’t help feeling a surge of interest, thinking that this could be the exact sort of woman he had been hoping for.
Although he had never spoken with her directly, Jonas had heard Lady Blackstone’s reputation as being rather witty. That only led him to further wonder about her. At last, he felt ready to respond to his mother, having taken a moment to decide whether he might want to meet her and see if they could possibly have a connection.
“Indeed, Mother. I believe it would be interesting to meet her. I have heard much about her, and I would not mind learning whether she lives up to the hype,” he said.
“I see. So that is how you look at it? You think she is just a young woman for your own entertainment? Very well, I understand. Young men such as yourself are always going on about young ladies who do or do not live up to your expectations, but here you are, clearly intrigued by her. I have little doubt you are just as curious about her as most women are about you,” his mother said, giving a small laugh of her own.
“I should not be opposed to meeting her to determine whether I like her, that is all. Is that not what you hoped I would say? Am I not giving you precisely what you wished for?” he asked.
“Yes, yes. I suppose you are right. Now, I think it would be best if we simply invite Lady Blackstone and her mother around for tea. What do you say?” his mother suggested.
“Very well. It is the best way to make introductions, I suppose, and I have nothing else to do tomorrow. If I have the opportunity to regale a young lady with all my charm, I might as well accept it,” he said.
“Indeed, it is as good an opportunity as any,” his mother said.
Jonas chewed the inside of his cheek, thinking about what might happen when he had the opportunity to meet her individually and whether they would truly get along. He was certainly intrigued by Lady Blackstone. But would she feel the same? Would she be curious and wish to know more about Jonas? Or would he find that she was every bit as ambivalent about gentlemen as she appeared from a distance?
He could hardly wait to find out, but a small piece of him knew with certainty, this would not be as easy as he might like.
Lady Blackstone barely made eye contact with Jonas across the table. As they sat outside, the little round, tea table shifting beneath them due to one foot of the table being just a fraction too short, she continually glanced off and away at their mothers, who walked diligently nearby, arm in arm, pretending to gaze upon the flowers in the garden.
“Well, it would seem we have a match,” Jonas quipped, hoping that Lady Blackstone might be amused by his humour in reference to their mothers. Instead, she finally looked at him, but it was not with a spark of interest. Her expression was that of boredom and wishing she might be anywhere but there, sitting with Jonas.
“Lady Blackstone, you have a reputation for wit and cleverness. I am curious as to whether I might have the opportunity to see some of that,” he said.
She cocked her head to the side as though examining him. Her eyed narrowed just enough that he could see the challenge behind her expression.
“Is it so rare for a woman to be clever that I am expected to perform at your will?” she asked.
“Wha-no! No, not at all!” he exclaimed, feeling quite the fool as he bumbled his way through to an apology. “That was not my meaning, Lady Blackstone. I was only asking if we might have a conversation. You have a reputation for sparring, and I am quite fond of such conversations. There was no insult meant by my request,” he clarified.
“No, insult, I see. Well, that is a relief. Many young ladies might expect nothing but insult from a gentleman such as yourself. After all, I understand that young ladies are expected to do little more than entertain fine gentlemen, but I am not such a sort of woman, and I fear that I run shy of the patience that might be required for such an exchange,” she said.
For a long moment, Jonas was quiet and somewhat confused. He had expected to meet Lady Blackstone and charm her at once. Instead, she was proving rather volatile. He sensed that she did not wish to be there with him. Although he had known she was rather cold towards certain gentlemen, he had not expected to be one of them. He had believed that she would prove rather comfortable being herself around him and at least give him a chance. But she appeared far more bent on finding her own independence and not giving him even a moment to express his own personality.
“Well, you certainly do not appear as though you wish to be here,” he observed, deciding to simply address the matter as opposed to pretending that it did not exist. For a moment, she had a flash of intrigue, as though she appreciated his willingness to acknowledge this fact.
“I do not care to be paraded like a peacock, even before those who think themselves to be such magnificent birds,” she said, pointedly.
“And I assume, based on your tone, that this is not the first time in which you have likened me to a peacock,” he said.
“Ah, there you are. So you have a bit of cleverness, after all?” she asked.
“It is a shame that you believed otherwise. As it happens, I may not be as clever as some, but there are many who are far less. And shall I, the peacock, prove myself to you?” he asked.
“Only if you would like,” she replied, allowing him to make up his own mind.
There was a great deal of pressure at that moment, but Jonas realised that he finally had a chance to prove himself and show Lady Blackstone that he really did have good reason for his pride and was not simply some fool trying pointlessly to make himself out to be important.
Jonas was unaccustomed to women who were unimpressed by him, and he found it strangely exhilarating—as well as painfully uncomfortable. He could not quite understand why she wasn’t more intrigued by him or why she behaved as though he was completely uninteresting when most women constantly wanted his attention.
Lady Blackstone surely had a reason for her behaviour, but he could not fathom what it was. All he knew was that she didn’t seem to care one whit as to whether he was as impressive as he tried to make himself out to be. He realised at that moment that he would need to try a bit harder.
“Very well. Shall I tell you of my athletic achievements or my business success?” he asked.
“Whatever you wish and whatever you believe I might deem to be more interesting,” she said.
Jonas thought for a moment, understanding that she was giving him a challenge, which she did not think he could live up to. It was not as though he wanted to show off, but he was eager to ensure that she recognised his worth; otherwise, she might not be willing to give him even a moment of her attention. He would need to throw all he had in order to make a point.
For a long moment, he wondered whether she would be more interested in sport or industry, but she was completely unreadable. At last, Jonas decided he would simply have to give her one thing at a time and see how she responded before moving on.
“Would you like to hear about the time that I defeated Lord Chadwick—who is rather infamous for his skill—in a boxing match?” he asked.
Lady Blackstone raised an eyebrow and appeared perfectly unimpressed.
“Very well, what about the time I won while fencing with the captain of the guard?” he offered, which was a far more impressive feat.
“Any man might say he has done such a thing,” she replied, looking bored.
“And of the work I have accomplished on behalf of the London economy? Have you a head for business?” he asked.
“I have a head for many things, but young ladies are not allowed to have a head for business and, if we do, we are certainly not allowed to confess it before a gentleman,” she said in answer.
Stuck and unbelievably curious about Lady Blackstone, he paused for a long moment.
This woman was completely unlike any other he had ever met. She was fascinating and bewildering and a perfect chase. She did not bat her lashes and pretend to be a fool for the sake of his pride. She did not agree with everything he said or act as though she might flutter upon a word from his lips.
He could not have been more interested in her, and that thought was a relief. He had always wished to find a woman who might be a real enigma. Here she was before him. There was nothing about Lady Blackstone to bore him.
She was the perfect chase that he had always hoped for. He would have to work hard to impress her, to make her see that he was worthy of her attention. And he would be able to give her all manner of reason to eventually come around to him, of that he was sure. He would show her the sort of man he was, and soon enough, she would be willing to hear him out. He only needed to find the one thing that might fit into place.
She may not have felt a connection yet, but Jonas did, and that was all he needed. The rest, he believed, would follow.
“Lady Blackstone, you are quite bold. I find that intriguing as most young women, as you have expressed, are not allowed to be so. I cannot help wondering whether you have something, deep down perhaps, that has equipped you to say what is truly on your mind,” he enquired.
“I understand what it is that you would like from me, Lord Wharton,” she replied, straightening her back to get comfortable. “You wish to know if there is a way that you might sway me to swoon as other young women do.”
“I have no desire to make you swoon,” he refuted. “I simply wish for the chance to get to know you better.”
She winced as though she did not even realise she had done so. He could see it in her eyes at that moment. There was nothing he could possibly do to perfectly convince her. But regardless of whether she would be impressed by him at that moment, Jonas was ready to try. He was ready to show her the sort of man he really was.
Dianna knew that it was only a matter of time. She had been in her room all afternoon since leaving the Wharton Estate. Although she hoped nothing would come of it, she was convinced that her mother and father were already making plans for her future—a future in which she would be condemned to life with Lord Wharton.
He had spent the whole of the teatime making an effort to impress her, and all it had done was demonstrate how arrogant he was. Moment after moment, he tried to share his accomplishments, and all he had accomplished was proving to Dianna that he was utterly not worth her time or attention.
He had clearly expected her to bow to him as those other young women so frequently did. There was nothing in her, however, that would ever concede to being that sort of woman, and it was a shame if he actually expected that she might be willing to give herself over to him in such a manner.
When the hour arrived, she heard the call of her father’s voice, alerting her that she was to come to speak with him and her mother. Dianna understood that this would be the moment they had tried to prepare her for.
“Father?” she asked, coming into the drawing room where they sat. “You called for me?”
“Yes, Dianna. Please sit. Your mother and I would like to speak with you,” he said.
Dianna did as instructed, swallowing the lump in her throat. She was anxious, afraid that they might have already made a decision.
“Dianna, I trust that you are aware of the reason you were made to visit Lord Wharton today,” her father began.
“Yes, Father,” she replied.
“Well, then, I am glad that we may overlook the importance of explaining it. As it happens, I have already spoken with Lord Wharton. Aware that you and your mother were to visit him today, I arranged to speak with him after. It has been agreed that the two of you will enter into a courtship,” he announced, rather calmly, as though it was a simple matter when Dianna did not feel that it was simple at all.
In fact, the room seemed to spin around her. No amount of preparation had given her a chance to be ready for this. She was full of worry, fear, and anxiety, knowing what was now expected of her.
“Father, please. I ask that you would not make me do this,” Dianna said.
“The match has been made. You cannot refuse it,” he declared.
“But I do refuse it. I cannot be courted by a man I dislike, a man I do not respect,” she said.
“Enough!” her father shouted. It seemed as though he had thoroughly tired of her independence and unwillingness to concede to him of late. Although she could not deny that he had every reason to be angry, Dianna wished he would be more understanding and less furious.
It seemed, however, that she would not be so fortunate.
“You will conduct yourself as a young lady ought to. Now, I understand that you and other young women may have an affinity for the idea of independence, but when I tell you that you will be courted by this man, you must understand that I am not asking whether you wish to be. I am telling you that you will give him a chance to do so, and if you do not like him, you may or may not have a say,” he warned.
“As you say, I am independent, Father. Many women have managed to become self-sufficient. I ask only for the chance to do so,” she begged.
“And I am refusing,” he said through clenched teeth. Her mother simply shook her head as though Dianna was a fool for trying to argue. And perhaps she was. After all, there was no chance that her father was actually going to relent on the matter.
“You are too old for this behaviour, Dianna,” her mother said, interjecting on the matter. “Before long, you will truly be a spinster. You have not found a husband of your own, and you are impossible to tame. You have left us with no choice.”
“Your mother is right. We shall see if Lord Wharton is willing to marry you. That is final,” her father declared.
And there it was. Dianna could see that there was truly no point in trying to argue further. They were not going to listen or allow her the chance to beg any further. Her only chance was to relent and accept that she had no other choice in the matter.
She quickly stood, unable to listen to another moment of this and how they were utterly destroying her life, taking everything of who she was and casting it aside. In the past four years since she had entered society, Dianna had managed to put off any potential suitors, just as she had hoped. But now, without realising it, she had played into the hands of a society that demanded she accept whatever match was thrust in her direction.
She ran from the room to the sound of her name being called after her. But she did not stop and turn back around. She would not be pushed into a corner or forced to do as her mother and father demanded. This was her own life, and she knew what she wanted for it.
Slamming the door and throwing herself on the bed, Dianna’s anger flowed out in hot, bitter tears. She knew that many would call her spoiled or belligerent, but her circumstance was something so far beyond what she had ever imagined, so much worse. To be forced to marry someone she detested—as she knew would result from the courtship—was positively unfair. She could not understand why they refused to simply give her a chance on her own.
She had never been like the society girls, the young women who craved attention and desired marriage above all else. It had always been difficult to make friends when she was so much more bold and firm. Dianna detested everything society demanded of her, leaving her without the chance for kinship with other young ladies.
She simply did not understand why they would give so much of themselves to this idea of something that meant very little to her. Was there something wrong with her that it was not her first and only priority? Did it make her less than the others? She couldn’t understand and did not know her place in society.
But as Dianna thought about these things, she realised she did have one option that she had not yet pursued. It was going to be difficult. It was quite risky, in fact. It was, however, the only thing she could think of. At that moment, when all hope seemed lost, Dianna decided to give it a try.
She made quick work of it, changing into her drabbest clothing, a grey dress that she most often wore for travelling when her family would visit aunts, uncles, and cousins throughout the empire. It was still far nicer than what most young ladies in England had to wear, but it was all she could think of.
Hurrying as best she could, Dianna was finally ready. She knew her mother and father were likely still in the drawing room, having a bit of tea as they always did after dinner. They would not hear her if she were smart about her movements. She took a small purse of coins and a few luxurious items that she might be able to sell or trade, and then, without another thought, Dianna quietly departed from her room.
Sneaking down the staircase, she remained alert, listening for any movement or a sign that someone might notice her. At last, however, she navigated herself near to the maids’ quarters.
The young women were usually busy cleaning up after dinner, taking care of whatever else had not been done throughout the day. Dianna was not worried about being caught, so long as she was quiet and drew no attention to herself.
As Dianna made her way down the hall, she heard the sound of her mother’s and father’s voices drifting from the drawing room. For a long moment, she reconsidered what she was doing, realising it was quite selfish and that it would break their hearts. After all, they would not know where she had gone or what she had done.
Dianna had thought about this many times before. She was nearly twenty-two years of age, which meant that she was a woman, not simply a girl. She was tired of being treated otherwise. And every time she had considered leaving, it was this very thing that stopped her. It was the thought about how her mother and father would be hurt, upset, and humiliated.
It was too late, however, to go back. She had made up her mind. Even if there were a chance to undo it, she had no intention of that. Dianna simply wanted to push onward into the life she had made for herself. That is, the life she would make for herself. After all, this was just the beginning. She would not allow her life to be determined by some flouncing society fellow like Lord Wharton. She would make decisions of her own.
As Dianna made her way down the hall, she was stopped abruptly.
There, just before her, was the young maid she had spoken to just three evenings before. After her father had snapped at the young woman, Dianna had followed her, apologising for having put him in such a bad mood. The maid was polite and dutiful, saying that it was not Dianna’s fault, that she bore no grudge at all.
Dianna, however, had expressed her regret and continued to apologise until the young woman nearly began to laugh at how desperate Dianna was to make amends. She had said that she understood perfectly well how terrible and difficult it must be to have one’s life decided for them, and Dianna greatly appreciated the empathy. The maid did not judge her as others might.
But now, the situation was different. Dianna knew that her intentions were obvious. The maid could clearly see what was in Dianna’s heart.
The two stared at one another, not moving, waiting for the other to decide. Dianna knew that the maid was probably wondering what she could possibly do. After all, she was subject to Dianna’s mother and father. They were responsible for ensuring that the maid had a place to live, food to eat, and money that she most likely sent home to her family. If she did not tell them that Dianna was trying to escape the house, she would be in a great deal of trouble.
However, Dianna was desperate. She wanted to run. She had decided to use the servants’ quarters and escape out that way but thought she had been careful enough to avoid being seen.
The maid turned, and Dianna was certain she was on her way to inform Dianna’s mother and father of her escape. Without a moment to lose, she rushed down the hall and turned left, towards the door that led outside. It took her just a moment to draw near, but she tripped over her skirts and had to steady herself against the wall to be sure that she did not fall.
Once she had righted herself, Dianna burst through the last stretch and reached the door. The moment she touched the handle and turned, her gut filled with disappointment.
The door was locked.
Her mother and father would be upon her at any moment, and she had no excuse to offer them. There was nothing she could say to defend herself or to pretend that her intentions were pure. She would be caught without any doubt as to her actions.
As her heart sunk and Dianna knew this would be used as an excuse to marry her off even more quickly, she waited, aware she would be caught before making it back to her room.
At last, the footsteps sounded. But it was not the heavy footfall of her father, nor the tip-toed gait of her mother. Rather, it was the same sound of the maid’s feet that she heard coming back in her direction.
Dianna waited, and much to her surprise, it was indeed simply the maid who had returned. She pressed a finger to her lips to let Dianna know she must remain quiet. It was evident that she had every intention of helping Dianna to escape, although Dianna did not know why she would take such a risk and put herself in jeopardy like this.
The maid revealed a key from behind her back and quickly, quietly unlocked the door and opened it. She chewed her lip and looked up at Dianna.
“Go to Tommy, the groom. Tell him Lindy sent you, and he will help,” the maid said. “No matter what.”
“Why?” Dianna whispered, taking a step out of the door.
“Do you recall what I asked you?” the maid enquired. Without giving Dianna a moment to answer, she hurried Dianna back and then pulled the door closed and locked it, blocking Dianna from returning to the home.
She did, indeed, recall what the maid had asked when Dianna had gone to her in an effort to comfort her after the outburst by her father. The maid had asked that same, simple question.
There was no real reason for it, but Dianna was grateful nonetheless. She could not wait for the new life she intended to dive into. Now, when she was finally going to be free, she realised just how grateful she was.
Dianna turned and looked off into the evening. Dark had nearly set in the sky. She decided to make her way to the stables and find Tommy, the groom, just as Lindy had told her to do. The new beginning she’d hoped for was so near at hand.
The future was now up to Dianna.
“A Duke’s Fleeing Bride” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Dianna Blackstone has no desire for marriage, and as an untamed spirit, she has always craved for more freedom. When her parents announce that she is soon to begin an official courtship with the arrogant Duke of Wharton, Dianna is left with no choice but to run away from her worst nightmare. After disguising her identity, she finds a position as a maid in a nearby village, but unfortunately, her employer turns out to be painfully unpleasant. In an unexpected twist of fate, her detestable intended will track her down, making Dianna’s heart skip a beat as he meets another side of him. Will Lady Dianna manage to escape this living hell and give love a chance? Will she realise that the Duke might be more than what he seems and the one who will bring light to her life?
Lord Jonas Haddon, Duke of Wharton, comes across as very arrogant, but deep inside, he is a caring man who hopes to marry out of love and lead an ordinary life. Intrigued by the boldness and independence of Lady Blackstone, he is determined to find her after hearing she ran away. When he finally discovers she is hiding out as a maid, he does everything in his power to prove that he is not the prideful man she thinks him to be. It won’t be long until he realises that he can’t think of a future without her, seeking to court her even in her position as a maid. Will the charming Duke convince Dianna of his genuine feelings and good intentions? Will he manage to claim the heart of the only woman who has invaded his dreams and occupied his every thought?
While feelings of affection start to blossom between Dianna and Jonas, Dianna’s tyrannical employer makes her life miserable even to the point of her own devastation. On top of this, no matter how hard Jonas tries to persuade Diana to return to her old life with him on her side, her pride does not allow her to give up so early. Will Dianna find her desired escape and could Jonas be the true salvation she has been looking for? Could their everlasting happiness have been right in front of them this whole time or will poor decisions trap them into an unbearable life?
“A Duke’s Fleeing Bride” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.