In his childhood, this place had been one of laughter and fun. It had been home. But now, as Henry Carlton stood looking up at the manor, he wished there was some way he could have avoided ever coming back here.
It was inevitable; his return. He was the baron of this estate now. He was Lord Blackwood. With his father gone, the title and the land had come to him, as he’d always known it would. He had spent the last few years enjoying freedom from this place, but that wasn’t something that ever held long-term promise. He was always going to have to come back.
“Lord Blackwood, you’ve returned.”
He focused his attention on the butler. Manfred had come out to greet him and was now standing in front of him waiting for instructions. The sight of a familiar face didn’t make this moment any easier, though Henry had wondered whether perhaps it would. Instead, seeing the old butler only served to remind him of the things that had happened before he had left home—things he had no desire to think about.
“I believe I’m expected,” he said.
Manfred nodded. “Lady Spencer awaits you in the sitting room. She’s had tea prepared.”
Wonderful. So he would have to face his aunt right away. He had rather hoped that could be avoided for the entirety of his first day back but, of course, that was highly unlikely. It made sense that she would want to see him, even though he had no desire to see anyone at all.
He held no ill will toward his aunt. It wasn’t her fault that she was his mother’s sister and that every time Henry looked at her face all he could think about was the mother he had lost.
It wasn’t her fault, but that didn’t make seeing her any easier for Henry.
He allowed himself to be shown into the sitting room. Aunt Agatha stood as he entered and came to his side to embrace him. Though Henry was in no mood for an embrace, he permitted it, knowing what it would mean to her to have him home again after all these years. He did care for his aunt. He simply would have preferred to keep his distance from this house and everything associated with it.
When they pulled away, he saw her eyes dart quickly to the scar on his cheek, then away. This was so familiar that it shouldn’t have bothered Henry anymore. In fact, he rarely noticed the way people did a double take the first time they saw him. Most people didn’t think anything too horrible when they saw that scar. He didn’t often volunteer the information about where he had gotten it, simply because his hunting accident was an unpleasant memory, and he knew that fact made people curious. But if people were speculating as to where he had gotten the scar, they had never said anything to him. In his opinion, that removed him from the responsibility to address the question.
“Henry,” Aunt Agatha said. “It’s so good to see you home again, after all this time. Come and sit down. Have a drink.”
He followed her to the chairs before the fire and took a seat in one of them. A cup of tea had already been poured for him, and he picked it up and sipped gratefully. It was nice to be greeted with something warm upon his return home.
“How was your journey?” Aunt Agatha asked.
“Long,” Henry said. “Tiring. I had hoped to retire early.” He didn’t want to be rude, but he craved some time alone.
“I quite understand,” Aunt Agatha said. “And I won’t keep you here, but there are things we must discuss before you can turn in for the evening.”
“What sorts of things?” Henry asked.
“I have letters from your father here,” Aunt Agatha said. “They were found among his things following his death.”
“Letters for me?” That was a surprise. He had delayed his return home following his father’s death. The two of them had never been on good terms, but after the death of Henry’s mother, they had fallen out with one another completely. It was odd to think of his father taking the time to write to him at all. But then, perhaps it made sense. His father had never thought highly of Henry, but he had cared deeply for the dukedom, so of course he would want to see it managed effectively.
Now Aunt Agatha handed Henry the sealed letters. “I haven’t read them, of course,” she said. “I did hope you might tell me what they contained, but the decision is yours.”
Henry opened the first letter and read:
My good friend Gregory Preston has recently died. Mr. Preston was a prosperous merchant, business partner, and a companion. Following his death, he appointed me as custodian of his only daughter, Emma. When I die, that duty will pass to you. You must take responsibility for the young lady at once, for she is now alone in the world and only nineteen years of age. She currently resides at her late father’s home in the countryside with his staff. You must bring her to London at once and see to her care.
The letter ended there. Henry turned it over to see whether perhaps there was something more, but there wasn’t. That was all his father had written.
He opened the second letter. This was even less personal; it contained nothing but an address to Emma Preston’s home. His father must have remembered the need for this after concluding the first letter.
He handed both of them to his aunt, who was waiting expectantly. She read them, a frown growing deeper and deeper on her face as she did so, then passed them back.
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Henry admitted. He felt a bit stunned. “I’m not sure what I can do. I’m not yet thirty-years-old myself. How can I be the guardian of this Emma Preston? I wouldn’t know what to do with her. Perhaps some other arrangement can be made.”
“Henry,” Aunt Agatha chided, folding her arms across her chest. “That poor girl is alone in the world. She must be brought to a place of safety at once and provided for.”
“But what could I possibly provide, Aunt Agatha? I can give her a place to stay, but it sounds as if she has that already, and I don’t know what else I would be able to do for her. Wouldn’t she be better served by hiring a caretaker to go to her so that she can remain in her own home?”
“Of course not,” Aunt Agatha said. “She’s nineteen years old, Henry. She’s of the right age for marriage.”
“You think I should find her a match?” Henry felt his brow furrow.
“I think you should bring her here promptly, in time for the London season, and see to it that she attends all the important social events,” Aunt Agatha said firmly. “That’s the best thing you can do to help provide for her future. Don’t isolate her alone in the countryside with nobody other than a caretaker. She deserves to live a full life, and that won’t happen unless you help her find prospects for marriage right now.”
Henry nodded. That was true. He didn’t know Emma Preston. He’d never met her, nor had he met her late father. But he didn’t want bad things for her.
“This was your father’s dying wish for you,” Aunt Agatha said, fixing him with her sternest gaze.
Henry had to laugh bitterly at that. “It’s not for me at all,” he said. “It may have been my father’s dying wish, but he wasn’t thinking of me when he wrote it. Not that I mind, of course. I left because I wanted to remove myself from his life altogether. I didn’t want him to think about me any more than I want to have to think about him.”
“Don’t you think it might be time for you to consider forgiving your father for what happened all those years ago?” Aunt Agatha asked.
“He never loved me for the man I am,” Henry said. “He always wanted to force me to be someone I’m not. It’s his fault I was out hunting the day of the accident. It’s his fault I bear this scar.” He gestured to his face.
“I know he never intended for that to happen,” Aunt Agatha said. “Your father was a hard man, but he only wanted the best for you, Henry.”
“He hated everything that my mother gave to me,” Henry countered. “My love of music, of nature…even when Mother was alive, he hated those things about me. I thought he might grow to appreciate them after she died. I thought he might come to value the fact that I was keeping her with us, even if it was in a small way. But he never cared. He wanted to remake me in his own image. And that was never going to happen.”
“I don’t suggest you forgive him for his sake,” Aunt Agatha said. “He’s gone now, after all. It will make no difference to him. But I do think you might be happier yourself if you let go of some of your anger, Henry. Don’t you think that might be true?”
“I don’t know,” Henry said. “But I don’t think I can do it, regardless. I don’t think I can stop feeling angry with him. And I’m not sure I want to.”
“Well, I suppose that choice belongs to you,” his aunt said. “But be that as it may, you do need to send for Miss Preston and have her brought to London.”
“To live here?”
“We have plenty of room for her.”
“She won’t want to come and live with a man she doesn’t even know.”
“Don’t trouble yourself about that. I’ll be here too. I’ll help you take responsibility for her. But there are certain doors only a gentleman can open, as you know well. It will be your duty to make sure she’s able to have a season and to meet potential suitors. It will be your responsibility to judge potential courtships and see that she secures a good arrangement. This is what her father wished when he left her in your father’s care, and it’s the duty your father has passed down to you. Whatever you may think of your father, whatever bad blood exists between the two of you, Miss Preston does not deserve to be punished for it.”
“I know you’re right,” Henry said. “I’m just so unprepared for this. Providing for the needs of a young woman? I don’t know the first thing about what to do for her.”
“You’ll be fine,” Aunt Agatha said. “I’ll help you along the way.”
Henry appreciated his aunt’s offer, but he couldn’t help feeling that everything was going wrong. He’d dreaded his return to Blackwood. He knew it was inevitable, but now that he was here, his ability to retreat into the solace of complete privacy was being plucked away. He was going to have to play host to someone he didn’t even know.
He hoped Emma Preston would be charming and beautiful, if only because such qualities would endear her to the gentlemen of the ton and would enable her to find a match quickly. The more quickly her affairs were set in order, the sooner Henry would be able to get her out of the house and to return to the quiet life he craved.
Right now, it seemed a very long way off.
He drained his teacup, murmured an apology to his aunt, and went off to his bedroom, where he would at the very least be able to be alone for a few merciful hours.
Emma felt that her father’s absence from the house was every bit as big as his presence had ever been.
She hadn’t realized how much his personality filled up the space until his death. His booming laugh, the stories he told about his customers at the end of every day…it was all so wonderful, and something she had always taken for granted in the past. And now he was gone, and she felt acutely the fact that part of her life was over.
What was to become of her now?
She ran her fingers over the strings of her violin. Her father had so loved to hear her play. In the last days of his illness, that had been one of the only things they could do together. He would lie in bed with his eyes closed and a faint smile on his face, and Emma would know that her music was bringing him some measure of comfort. The fact that she had been able to do that for him had been a comfort to her as well, something to ease the worry and pain of those dark days. But now that he was gone, it was difficult even to pick up her violin.
She brought the bow to the strings and played a few notes, a sad, haunting melody. She recalled the days—they seemed so long ago now—when she would play merry tunes and her father would dance about the place like a whirlwind, laughing and so clearly enjoying her music.
Would she ever stop missing him? Would this house ever feel like anything but the place where he had died?
The door opened, and her companion, Fiona, came into the room. Emma lowered the bow.
“You don’t need to stop playing on my account,” Fiona encouraged her. “It’s been such a long time since you seemed happy playing your instrument, Emma.”
“I’m not happy playing it now,” Emma murmured. She didn’t want to make Fiona worry about her. She’d been doing her best to put on a show of contentment, to allow Fiona to believe that she was doing all right following the loss of her father, but the truth was that he was never far from her thoughts. It was impossible to lose herself in the simple joys that had once made her so happy.
Fiona sat down across from her and Emma set her violin in its case. “You’ve received a letter,” she said, and handed it to Emma. “It just arrived.”
Emma turned it over. “This is the Blackwood crest.”
“Blackwood? Baron Blackwood?”
“My father’s friend and business associate.” Emma felt a tremor of unease. “Father told me he was going to make Baron Blackwood responsible for my affairs, but I never heard from the baron after Father’s death. I was beginning to think I never would.”
“I wonder why he’s only reaching out to you now? After all, it’s been two months since your father’s death.”
“I can’t imagine,” Emma said. “But I think he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want anything to do with me, and that he’s happy to allow me to stay here in this country house with you.”
“Maybe something has changed.”
“Why would anything have changed? Why would things be different, just like that?”
“I don’t know, but I think you’d better read that letter,” Fiona advised.
Knowing that her companion was likely right, Emma broke the seal and unfolded the letter. It was written in a tidy hand.
My father, the late Baron Blackwood, and yours shared a friendship that has only recently come to my attention. I have learned that upon your father’s passing, he left my father responsible for your well-being. My own father died before he was able to act on that responsibility, and now it falls to me.
Emma looked up. “Baron Blackwood, the man my father knew, is dead,” she said. “This letter is from his son.”
“That explains why he took so long to reach out to you,” Fiona said.
“It sounds as if the young baron didn’t know I existed until now.” Emma frowned. “I wonder what he means to do about it.”
“Well, finish the letter,” Fiona urged her.
Emma nodded and turned her attention back to it.
After some consideration and in consultation with my aunt, I have decided the best thing to do is to bring you to London. You are to live here at Blackwood Manor and take part in the upcoming season. My carriage will arrive to collect you in three days’ time.
He had signed the letter simply. Just his name, no salutation. She folded it up, feeling ill at ease.
“What does he say?” Fiona urged.
“He’s going to take us to London,” Emma said. “We’re going to live at Blackwood Manor. I don’t suppose we have any choice in the matter.”
“You don’t want to go? I can see you’re not enjoying your life here very much.”
“I’m not, but…” Emma sighed. “My father has told me about this gentleman. His friend’s son. According to my father, he’s a very disagreeable sort. He quarreled constantly with his father while he was alive, and a few years ago he struck out on his own. His father heard nothing from him after that. I can’t imagine that my father thought I would end up in that man’s hands when he made arrangements for my future.”
“Do you think he’s unkind?”
“Terribly so! Who could run away from their father like that? I could never have done such a thing.” Her eyes filled with tears at the very thought of it. “The idea of turning on your family like that…how selfish would you have to be?”
“We don’t know what happened between them,” Fiona reasoned. “There might have been an explanation for it.”
“There might have been, but I just can’t imagine it. It worries me to think of living with him and being under his care. He must be so heartless. Look at this letter.” She handed it to Fiona. “There’s no compassion in these words. He doesn’t express any sorrow at the loss of my father, or even of his own. He doesn’t take pains to reassure me that living at Blackwood Manor will be enjoyable. He doesn’t even consider the fact that I might not want to go. He simply writes that I will be collected in three days and leaves it at that!”
“Well, it does seem that he could have been a little gentler,” Fiona agreed, reading through the letter. “But even so…it is only a letter, Emma. It’s not always possible to interpret someone’s tone of voice in a letter. Maybe it’s just hard to understand the way he really feels. Or perhaps he finds this as uncomfortable as you do. Maybe he simply doesn’t know what to say.”
“You’re trying to make me feel better about all this,” Emma sighed. “And I do appreciate it, Fiona, but I don’t think there’s anything you can say that will make it seem less dreadful. I wish there was some way I could tell him no. I’d much prefer to stay here.”
“You haven’t been happy here,” Fiona pointed out. “What would make you want to stay in a place that’s a source of such misery for you?”
“I was happy here,” Emma said. “This is the place where I was happy with Father. Even though we didn’t move to the countryside until his health began to decline, we spent some of our best days here. I’ll feel as if I’m leaving him behind when I leave this place, and I’m still grieving his loss. Perhaps I should be ready to say goodbye, but I’m not.”
“No one can tell you that you should be ready,” Fiona said. “You’ll be ready when you’re ready, and not before. And that’s all right. You must allow yourself to take your time. But perhaps lingering in this house, where all your memories are of him, is the wrong way to heal. I know you’re struggling to say goodbye. But maybe going to London and distracting yourself with the events of the season will allow you to get some distance.”
“I don’t know if distance is what I want,” Emma murmured.
“Of course it isn’t,” Fiona empathized. “That’s the way grief works. You’re trying to hold on. But what you’re holding onto isn’t there anymore, and the distance will come, whether you want it or not. Even if you never leave this house again, time will come between you and your father as the years go by, and you’ll feel the separation more and more with each passing day. Instead of trying to stay here in a place that’s become empty for you, you ought to embrace this new phase in your life. Go to London. Enjoy everything it has to offer.”
“But this Baron Blackwood…how can I trust him to have my best interests in mind?” Emma asked. “I can’t even trust that this is someone my father would have chosen to send me to, because he didn’t choose this. I was supposed to be in the care of the elder baron, not his son. My father would not have made this choice for me.”
“We can’t know that for certain,” Fiona said. “Your father trusted the baron’s father, and the father trusted the son. That will have to do. What I think we can safely say is that your father would not have wanted you to waste the best years of your life in this house, on your own. He would have wanted you to find happiness in some way. If he could see you right now, how sad you are here, he would tell you to go to London and seek better days. I knew him well enough to feel confident about that.”
Emma smiled. It was a smile that didn’t reach her eyes, she knew, and it felt false. But she was trying. “You’re right, Fiona,” she said. “That is what he would say. He wouldn’t want me to remain unhappy, and he would encourage me to try something new, seeing the distress I’ve been in lately. Perhaps going to London is the best thing I can do. I can’t pretend I’m not frightened of the baron’s disposition. He doesn’t sound like a pleasant man at all. Still, perhaps I won’t have to remain with him for very long.”
“That’s true,” Fiona said encouragingly. “You may find a gentleman who wishes to marry you!”
Emma hadn’t thought of marriage. She had been wondering whether the baron might intend for her to come just for the season, and then allow her to return to the country house for a while. “Do you think so?” she asked.
“It is your very first London season,” Fiona said. “I’m sure that’s why the baron is bringing you to town.”
“You think he means to marry me off?”
“Well, of course! You didn’t think so?”
Emma shook her head. Of course, now that Fiona had said it, it made perfect sense that was what would be expected. But it was so difficult to imagine herself married! She tried to picture it, but the only image she could conjure in her mind was a faceless gentleman, well-dressed and tall, but mysterious to her. It wasn’t an appealing thought. It was an intimidating one.
“I don’t think I’m ready for that,” she admitted.
“Perhaps not now,” Fiona said gently. “But you haven’t yet met the right man. When you do, I believe your outlook will change. And maybe that will happen in London this season.”
Emma nodded. She supposed that outcome was as likely as any other, but it was still hard to believe that in a few months’ time she might actually be married.
In the meantime, there were other obstacles to be faced—namely, that of Baron Blackwood.
“The Melody of a Baron’s Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Emma Preston’s life takes a poignant after the death of her beloved father. She is sent to London and thrust into the austere world of Blackwood Hall under the guardianship of Baron Henry Blackwood. Yearning for an escape, she finds solace in her love for the violin, the only thing that can soothe her mourning soul. Little does she know that her brooding warden also bears deep scars—both physical and emotional…
As Emma’s heart starts to soften for him, will she be able to let her music heal them both?
Henry Carlton, the reluctant Baron Blackwood, bears the weight of his father’s legacy, and is haunted by a tragic hunting accident that left him marked. When he’s tasked with Emma’s guardianship, he’s drawn to her musical prowess, yet, scars and memories hinder a genuine connection with her. Confronting responsibilities and his own insecurities, Henry must navigate the delicate dance of love, overshadowed by whispers and stares.
Can he finally break free from his dark shadows?
When Emma and Henry discover their shared love of music, it leads to a powerful bond between the pair of them. And yet, they both know that their feelings are in vain. Henry’s duty to Emma is to see her married to someone worthy—not a disfigured man. Emma on the other hand seems to have attracted the attention of another charming suitor… Will Emma and Henry’s shared passion for music be enough to transcend societal expectations and mend their wounded hearts, or will the power of music remain an echo in the grand halls of Blackwood Manor?
“The Melody of a Baron’s Heart” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.