Esther Harris gazed longingly out the window of her father’s modest country estate, watching the sun dip behind the bare limbs of the trees. Despite all that had brought them to her parent’s country seat, she sighed contentedly.
“Esther, are you paying attention to a word I’ve said?”
Glancing across the table, she met her sister Clarissa’s eyes with an apologetic question. “I beg your pardon, sister. What were you saying?” she asked.
Clarissa clicked her tongue in a mockingly serious scold. “Still prone to daydreaming, I see. Or would it be night-dreaming, since it is sunset?” she joked. Her husband laughed heartily at her mildly amusing quip. Esther took a sip of her watered wine. One could not blame the man, for he was still head over heels for her sister. As well, he should be. Her eldest sister had married Howard Evansby a little over a fortnight prior to them coming on this visit from their London abide. They were still very much in the “honeymoon phase” of their marriage.
“One has to have dreams,” Esther argued. “But forgive me all the same. I should leave off such endeavours when in company,” she apologised.
Her sister waved her off. “I am used to it. I was asking about the new vicar, Father Fairweather, or something, is it not?”
Esther shook her head. “His name is Isaac Weatherford. He has been a leader in the community for years, Bridgett has told me.”
“Well, I hope you do not think too highly of him,” Clarissa chimed in.
Esther’s mother, who had until then remained quiet to allow their children some time to catch up, took the opportunity to enter the conversation. “Whatever do you mean, my dear?” she asked.
“Well, we would not want Esther getting ideas of becoming a vicar’s wife, would we?” Clarissa teased. She could be devilish sometimes.
“I have no intention of becoming anyone’s wife, at present,” Esther shot back. Now that Clarissa and Howard were married, she hoped she would not have to worry about marriage for some time to come. Her parents were more than pleased to have Clarissa marry such an influential and wealthy gentleman, albeit untitled, as Howard. His family owned one of the largest shipping companies in all of England, and despite him coming from a “working family,” Esther’s father had been proud to give his consent for the pair to marry.
“Nonsense, Esther. Now that Clarissa is married and settled, it will be your turn,” her mother put in.
A nervous knot twisted in the pit of Esther’s stomach. At nineteen, she would not be allowed to retain her freedom for long. However, after the ordeal she and her family had been through over the last couple of years, she wished for nothing more than peace and quiet, time to be alone with her thoughts and books before she plunged into married life.
Esther glanced at her father, Lord Harris. For most of Esther’s upbringing, her family had enjoyed a life of ease and luxury. However, last year, they had been forced to leave London when a partner of his had swindled him out of a substantial amount of money and very shortly thereafter disappeared. The scandal and loss of finances had forced them to leave London in shame and take up residence at her late uncle’s abode, which her father had inherited from him upon his death several years before. She had been to the charming country house only a handful of times after her father had inherited it, but then only for a few weeks at a time and only in the summer. It had been a lot to adjust to in winter, where it rained almost constantly for months straight and where there was little to entertain as far as social engagements.
The conversation had turned to other things, thankfully, but Esther was still caught in the world of unknowns that awaited her in future. As the daughter of a ruined viscount, her options for a match were limited. At least, that is how she saw things. Her mother, on the other hand, had said that it would be no trouble for her to “snatch up” a wealthy, titled young man with her timeless beauty and quiet charm.
Esther was not interested in “snatching up” anyone or tricking them into marriage. She had always held to the idea that she would hold out for a love match, no matter how long it took. And if no one ever came, then she would spend the rest of her life a happy spinster, left alone with her novels and able to take care of her parents as they aged.
Clarissa, seated beside Esther, turned to her and grasped her hand. Everyone else had moved on in the conversation, so her sister lowered her voice. “You will find someone, do not worry. I know it seems like it will never happen. But then it does, and you are left wondering how you ever got on without the person you love.” She glanced at her husband. Esther smiled at her. It would seem that the love Clarissa shared with her husband was equal. Many of the marriages she had witnessed over the years could boast no tender feeling or common ground. Matches were usually made to better the situation of the families involved, not based on love and mutual companionship. What Clarissa and Howard had was a scarce and precious thing, indeed.
“I am happy for you and my brother-in-law to be sure,” Esther whispered back. “However, I am not in as big a rush to tie the knot. I am content as I am now, and will continue to be if I never find a husband.”
Clarissa’s face bloomed with shock. It was inconceivable that any young woman of class and breeding would not want to find a husband. “Do not say such things, Esther. To be labelled a spinster is to be regarded as pitiable and ridiculous for the rest of one’s days. I would never wish such a fate for my only sister.”
Esther could not make her, or her parents understand. She sighed, looking back out the window and the now-darkened landscape. Only a few vestiges of sunlight remained, silhouetting the landscape. After coming out the previous Season, she had thought she would find a match and be married at the same time as Clarissa. But with their hasty exit from London, all thought of her future had been put on hold for several months. However, now that the Season was again approaching, her parents had been hounding her about finding someone to settle down with.
“Leave off of all this talk of marriage, if you please,” Esther’s father said, putting his foot down. “When the time comes, I shall make the arrangements and that shall be the end of it.” Her father met Esther’s gaze and gave her a tight smile. “No need to worry, my dear.”
Esther nodded but said nothing. She turned her attention to her simple meal of roasted fish, boiled potatoes, and carrots. She picked at her food, having lost her appetite with everyone bent on planning her life for her.
“Ahh, I shall be glad when Lent is over, won’t you? I tire of fish,” Clarissa said, but with a good-natured smile. She had always been the one more likely to complain of the two sisters. However, marriage had softened some of the hardness from her personality. Esther wondered if it would last when the newness of her life wore off.
“I look forward to celebrating the Resurrection of our Saviour,” Esther said softly. She, unlike her sister, was much more observant of her faith and looked forward to the quiet reflection that Lent afforded. However, she was also looking forward to the time of celebration with her friends. Especially a young woman named Bridgett, with whom she had become fast friends upon entering country life.
“Well, shall we go through?” her mother asked after wiping her mouth with a linen napkin. Everyone else had finished their meals, while Esther’s plate had remained almost untouched. Esther nodded and rose with the ladies to head into the drawing room while her father and Howard stayed behind to smoke their pipes and drink a glass of Port.
Esther followed her mother and Clarissa out into the hall and back into the drawing room. A cheery fire burned in the hearth, dispelling the gloom of winter. Esther longed for spring and the warmth that it would afford. She longed to take her constitution about the countryside every morning and evening, as she had become accustomed to before winter had set it.
“Are there any interesting gentlemen in the area that might catch your fancy, Esther? I must confess, I am eager to see you as happy as I am. I think everyone should be married,” Clarissa breathed. This set her mother off again on all the eligible young gentlemen in the area.
“Well, there is a gentleman who has shown interest, although he is not as young as Esther would like, I think. Is that not right, dear?” her mother asked Esther, but then kept right on talking before she had a chance to answer. “His name is Mr Cheltnam, and he owns an expansive estate just west of here. He is a widower, with two young boys.”
Esther chimed in, not wanting to draw any more attention to herself to the question of her marriage. “Mama, Clarissa does not need to know that particulars–”
“Nonsense, I am very interested. Go on, Mama. I want to be of help while I am here, if I can.”
To Esther’s horror, her mother went on. “Well, he has been to call several times since we entered the neighbourhood. And I am almost certain that he is falling in love with Esther.”
“Mama, he is not the least bit interested in me. He is thirty years my senior. Surely he will want someone closer to his own age,” Esther argued.
“Men do not care about such things as long as the woman comes from good stock and can run a home. You have both, thank heavens, thanks to my tutelage.”
“Come, now, Esther. You must really start to see yourself as desirable to a man. You are young, beautiful and healthy. I have no doubt that any number of gentlemen would have no troubke falling in love at your feet, if you would only give them a chance.” Clarissa turned to her mother once more, and Esther was practically forgotten.
Esther cringed. “I would really rather not discuss it,” Esther said. She felt the start of a headache coming on. However, her gentle pleas did nothing to deter her mother and Clarissa. Before long, she stood, and made her excuses, saying that she was tired from all the excitement of welcoming her sister and brother-in-law from town.
After assuring her mother and sister that she was well, and only needed some rest, she retired from the drawing room and made her way upstairs. Her anxieties followed her as she made her way up the stairs to her small but comfortable room. She had only been allowed to bring a few things from their London home–her bed, writing desk, and hope chest among the larger articles. And, of course, she had put her foot down when it came to her books. They were as dear and precious to her as any friends, keeping her company during the long winter months she had been locked inside.
Once in her room, she went and sat at the window seat, looking out over the pitch-dark landscape. Coming to the country had been a blessing in disguise. It fitted Esther’s personality to a T, even though her mother and Clarissa longed for the excitement of town. Esther would be glad if she did not step foot in the noisy, bustling city ever again.
A single star appeared on the horizon, the first shimmering point in the black sky. Esrther’s heart lifted with hope. Only God knew what her future held. And she would leave her worries and cares in His capable hands.
Robert Montgomery stood in the corner of the ballroom, suffering through yet another of his mother’s stuffy gala’s. It was true that she had outdone herself with the decorations and the food, but these events were all the same, filled with all the same dull, unimaginative conversation. It was the debutantes that got under his skin most of all. Many of them were beautiful, to be sure. However, their lack of genuineness led to his ire being raised whenever he had to endure their idle chatter.
He looked about the room and was glad when he spotted his old friend, Miss Violet Pembroke, standing beside Lady Winifred Pembroke. In all reality, Miss Pembroke was not a Pembroke by blood but had been taken in as a ward of the family when she was only a toddler. Now that Lady Winifred was out in society, Violet acted as a companion for the young woman, as she had no siblings of her own.
Robert lifted a hand to greet her as Lady Winifred was asked to dance by another gentleman. Once Lady Winifred was safely away, he approached Violet with a smile. “Miss Pembroke, it will not do! It will not do at all for such an amiable young lady, such as yourself, to remain without a partner. Will you do me the honour of dancing with me?” he asked.
Miss Pembroke blushed as she took his offered hand. “You are too kind, Lord Robert. I do not mind watching. It is all so thrilling,” she said in her usual mousy tone.
Robert only shook his head and gave a mock frown. “Nonsense. If we are to suffer through this soiree, we might as well make the most of it. And I will not allow you to be a wallflower throughout this party. No, ma’am. It is not to be borne.”
Miss Pembroke glanced in Lady Winifred’s direction and hung her head. “She would not be happy to see us dancing together. She is wildly jealous of anyone who pays attention to you,” she whispered, although there was no possible way of Lady Winifred overhearing them with the music and the chatter around them.
Robert took a moment to look around at the other young couples on the dancefloor and the older folk standing around the sides of the room, talking and imbibing. This would be the last hurrah for everyone as Lent began, leading up to the Easter celebrations. And while he and his family were not religious, it was extremely important to his parents that they keep up appearances in front of the ton.
“Well, Lady Winifred will have to get over it. My intentions are pure, I assure you, Miss Pembroke. You are perhaps the truest friend I have ever had,” he said with genuine affection for the girl. She was too young to tempt him when it came to seeking her as a mate, but she was a sweet girl nonetheless. A healing balm on his restless soul. How he wished he could escape the confines of his strict, meaningless world. However, it was near impossible. As the second son of an earl, he would be expected to marry well and do his duty for the family–namely, sire an heir in case his brother was unable to do so, heaven forbid.
As the dance set came to an end, he bowed to Miss Pembroke, and she curtsied. He glanced over her shoulder and saw Lady Winifred smiling at him from across the room. He was immediately put on the alert.
Lady Winifred started toward them, and he quickly led Miss Pembroke off the dancefloor to the corner he had been standing in before. Lady Winifred was a spoilt, conceited young miss. Robert was well aware of her plans to ensnare him in marriage, but he had no intention of giving her what she wanted. Despite his father’s urging that he make a match with the Pembroke family, Robert had other ideas. Silly as it may have sounded to his parents, he had aspirations to marry someone with whom he might at least see the chance of developing a friendship. As it was, Lady Winifred set his teeth on edge whenever she was around, let alone spoke to him.
“Thank you very much for the dance, Miss Pembroke. And now, I will excuse myself, if you do not mind?” he asked, eyeing Lady Winifred as she came ever closer.
Miss Pembroke nodded, casting a glance in Lady Winifred’s direction as well, looking nervous. “Yes, go, Lord Robert. I thank you for condescending to dance with me.”
He wished he could stay and tell her that she was the one who had condescended to dance with him. If only she could see her worth and not allow Lady Winifred to make her feel less than others. Of all the ladies in this room, Miss Pembroke outshone them all in grace, elegance, and humility–all of which were traits much more admirable to a man than fine clothes and a mountain of useless accomplishments. However, there was no time to stay and assure her of all these things, as Lady Winifred was almost upon them.
Robert turned and headed toward the double doors that led out onto the patio, seeking solace in a deeply shadowed alcove. He let out a sigh of relief when Lady Winifred did not appear on the patio for several minutes.
He waited a few more minutes as the music, laughter, and happy mutterings floated to him from the open door a few yards down. Robert went out onto the main body of the terrace and planted his palms against the railing. Looking up into the moonlit sky, he let out a long sigh. He longed to be away from London, to soak in the freedom that the country provided. And even though their London house was on the outskirts of the bustling, noisy city, it was not far enough for Robert. His family did not need him, as his older brother was the one on whom responsibility for the earldom rested. Robert had never hesitated to tell his father that his presence in London was unnecessary. He was only the second son–the spare in case something happened to Charles.
His father had never allowed him to skip the Season, as they needed to appear strong, as a united front. Robert would never have said this to his father’s face, but he had never envied his brother’s position as next in line. He would not want the title, even if something did happen to Charles.
Robert exhaled, his breath misting in the chill spring air before his eyes. The plants and trees had not started to bud as of yet. But it was on the horizon. Soon the whole world would burst into bloom, and he hoped that the spring would chase some of the darkness in his soul away with it.
Unlike his family, who were exceedingly superficial and conceited, he felt like the odd one out. He cared not for keeping up appearances, as they all seemed to be lies anyway. And he had no desire whatsoever for public life. All his family seemed to care about was if their names appeared in gossip columns or who paid notice of them. It was all for the love of money, power, and prestige. Robert had not the stomach for it.
Footsteps echoing off the concrete terrace sounded beside him, and he swung around. He came face to face with Lady Winifred, and his stomach sank. “There you are, Lord Robert. I wondered where you snuck off to,” she said with a smile.
Robert scanned the area behind Lady Winifred and was alarmed to see that she had no chaperone in tow. He backed away a few paces, careful to keep a reasonable distance between them. “Lady Winifred, I suggest you return to the party, as you are not properly chaperoned,” he said as calmly as he could manage.
Lady Winifred pretended that she did not hear, coming steadily closer. “I was hoping that we could share a dance set?” she asked. Robert raised a brow at her bold request. A lady of breeding should never ask a gentleman for a dance, let alone seek him out without a chaperone. Perhaps it was her upbringing, or her mother more likely, who had suggested she come and find him in this compromising position. Whatever the case, he grew more desperate to be away.
“Forgive me, Lady Winifred. I am all danced out for the evening. I hope you will forgive me,” he said. He looked behind him and saw that he had barricaded himself into a corner. There were no steps leading down into the garden from this end of the terrace. If he wanted to escape, he would have to walk by Lady Winifred, and he was loath to do so.
“Come now, Lord Robert. Do not cast me aside. I beg of you,” Lady Winifred said with a slight pout. However, her eyes glowed with malicious intent.
“We should not be here alone together like this, Lady Winifred. Think of your reputation,” he pleaded. He glanced over his shoulder again, looking for a means of escape.
Lady Winifred gave a low giggle. “It would not be so bad if we were found in a compromising position, would it?” she asked. “You would be obligated to marry me, and then we could leave off with pretence.”
Robert frowned, but there was no time for him to respond, for the sound of voices drew near. Three faces appeared around the corner, but he gave no further thought to his actions. Robert sprang over the terrace railing and landed in the flower bed below. He hit the ground running, making for the horse stables to find refuge. Robert could hear muffled voices raised in alarm as he hurried into the night, but he did not look back. With any luck, Lady Winifred would get the tongue-lashing that she truly deserved.
By the time he made it to the stables, Robert was out of breath, his chest heaving as he tried to let air enter his lungs. He paced for a few moments in the aisle that separated the forty stalls, twenty on the right and twenty on the left. He laced his fingers behind his head and closed his eyes as he focused on getting his breathing back to normal. What had Lady Winifred been thinking? How could she believe that tricking him into marriage would make him feel any different if he was not attracted to her before? Foolish girl!
He let his hands fall back to his sides and started walking down the aisle, stopping at the stalls on either side to say hello to the horses. Each of them greeted him, as he was a familiar face around the stables. Since he was a boy, the stable had been his place of refuge. He had come here any time he was upset or just needed a break from the plotting and intrigues of his family. When he was about halfway down the aisle, his smile grew even broader, and he stopped at a stall with the nameplate of his favourite horse, “Trigger,” displayed on the front of the half door.
“There you are, old boy,” Robert said as the jet-black horse reached the door and nuzzled his arm. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have any sugar cubes for you at the moment. I had to make a speedy exit from the party, thanks to Lady Winifred’s schemes,” he said. He rolled his eyes, and the horse threw his head up and down, snorting as if he understood.
“Well, I promise I will bring extra tomorrow,” Robert chuckled. He opened the stall door and walked in, rubbing his hand affectionately up and down Trigger’s soft nose. “Good boy,” he said softly. He sank down in the corner of the stall, and Trigger joined him, placing his head right in Robert’s chest.
Robert laughed again and scratched him behind the ear. “You’re the only one who seems to understand me, boy.” Robert sighed, shaking his head. He was unsure if the ladies had seen him before his undignified exit from the terrace. He could only hope that they had not recognised him. If they had, his life might well and truly be over.
Robert lay his head against Trigger’s snout, drawing what little comfort he could from his old friend. “What am I going to do?”
“The Easter Wonder of a Lady” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Esther Harris, daughter of a wealthy viscount, is forced to flee London when her father is swindled out of most of his riches and property. While Esther and her sister must find suitable matches to help the family survive, sweet Esther is paralysed by the fear that marriage will end what little independence she has left. Yet, when she meets a handsome young commoner, all her preconceived ideas are challenged and her heart is put to the test…
Will she manage to overcome her doubts and allow her feelings to flourish?
Robert Montgomery is the second son of an earl, but has never accepted his family’s ideals. Unfortunately, his father has been pressuring him to marry for status and money, as his brother will inherit their entire fortune. When a wicked woman falsely accuses him of impropriety though, Robert has no choice but to adopt a false identity and run. After finding himself in a sleepy village far from London and while working as a humble farm labourer, he will stumble upon an enchanting lady who will irreversibly change his life…
Will he have the courage to reveal his true identity to Esther?
The pressure is on as Easter and the London Season approach, with Esther’s parents pushing her towards the man they have chosen for her. To complicate things further, at the same time, Esther and Robert realise they cannot live without each other. With so many obstacles in the way, can Esther go against her father’s wishes and marry the man of her dreams? Will Robert be able to set things right in London, freeing himself to marry for love instead of unfair duty?
“The Easter Wonder of a Lady” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.