Lady Isabel Kendall opened her eyes to the sounds of London coming through her cracked window. It was unseasonably warm for late October, and so she had opened the casement before falling asleep. Now, the morning air was cool and crisp, and full of the rattling of carriage wheels and the calling of servants in the street below.
She climbed sleepily out of bed and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders, walking to the window to look out on the world below. She and her father, the Earl of Kensingdale, had arrived a week before to prepare for the start of the Season. She preferred their country manor, but she felt a strange excitement in the air this year. London seemed full of possibility.
She was 19 years old and had only just been introduced to the ton the year before. She peered through the glass at the street below, noting the people scurrying about their business. She could see coachmen already pulling up to the neighbouring townhouses to take their owners into the heart of the city. Two bold ladies were already strolling arm in arm in the city park across from the earl’s house, and a group of giggling housemaids ducked into the servant’s entrance two rows down.
A servant knocked, and Isabel called for them to enter. It was Betsy, her maid, with a pitcher of fresh water for the nightstand.
“Good morning, m’lady,” she said with a quick curtsy. She shivered as soon as she stepped into the room. “There’s a chill in here. Should I lay a fire?”
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Isabel said brightly, pulling the window closed and latching it. “At least not until the evening. It is only cold this morning because I left the window ajar last night.”
“Heavens,” Betsy exclaimed. “All night? It is a wonder you didn’t catch a cold.”
“I am not so fragile as that,” Isabel laughed.
“They say the air in London is not so good as the air back home,” Betsy said soberly, refusing to be caught up in her mistress’ good mood. “You must be more careful with your health.”
“Quite so,” Isabel said, putting a serious expression on her face and nodding. She did not want to enter into another argument with Betsy about the bad air in London and hedged off the conversation with a diversion instead. “I was thinking of going out into the park after breakfast. Is my father still home?”
“He is taking his morning meal with you this morning,” Betsy said, helping Isabel out of her robe.
Isabel splashed water from the pitcher onto her face, gasping at the chill it brought to her cheeks, and then dabbed her skin dry with a towel. “I did not know he would be staying home today,” she said quietly.
“Only for the morning meal,” Betsy said, not seeming to notice her downcast expression. She helped Isabel into a filmy white muslin day dress and pinned her light brown tresses atop her head.
Isabel bit her lip, examining her face in the mirror as she thought about her father. Their relationship had not been the same since her mother had died six years before, and Isabel’s coming of age seemed to only deepen the tension between them. For the most part, Phillip Kendall avoided his only daughter’s company, and Isabel had grown used to being without him.
Betsy tied a jade green ribbon with a locket around Isabel’s neck, a colour that matched her eyes perfectly.
“There, my lady. If you go out to the park, ring for me.” She patted Isabel’s shoulders with finality. “I’ll have your cloak and gloves sent for, and your bonnet.”
“Thank you, Betsy,” Isabel said. She stood, slipping her feet into a pair of day slippers and heading downstairs.
The breakfast room was located on the lower level of the grand London home, in a room well-situated with windows that overlooked the small city garden behind the town home. The garden was walled in, and already fading in preparation for winter, but looking out on it brought Isabel peace as she waited for her father’s arrival.
She did not have long to wait. Phillip Kendall swept into the room already dressed for his day in the House of the Lords. He was resplendent in a crisp overcoat and elegant cravat, with his greying hair carefully coiffed into side burns and trimmed stiffly across his brow. He was tall and thin. Isabel had received almost all her looks from her mother—her petite stature, pale hair, and large green eyes were all inherited from the late Lady Kensingdale. Isabel wondered, sometimes, if it was this very resemblance that brought such a look of strain into her father’s eyes when he saw her.
It was just so this morning, when he hesitated in the doorway before taking his seat at the head of the table. Isabel was sitting immediately to his left. She looked up with a quick smile, feeling nervous in his presence.
“Good morning, Isabel,” he said formally. He set the paper in his hands at the edge of his plate and motioned to the footman standing nearby. “Tea, please.”
The servant hurried to bring the steaming black tea from the sideboard, pouring it carefully into Phillip and Isabel’s teacups, respectively.
“Good morning, Father,” she answered him. She stirred in some cream and took a sip. The silence seemed to stretch uncomfortably between them, and Isabel found herself desirous to fill it. She reached for the first thing she could think of, prompted by the cup she held in her hand. “How interesting to think that it was Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II, who first popularised tea in England. It seems she drank it as an everyday beverage, and before that, coffee was more popular.”
Philip paused mid-sip, looking at his daughter soberly over the rim of his teacup. “Hm.”
Isabel bit her lip, a blush of embarrassment rising into her cheeks. Why begin with such an obscure fact? I should have simply asked him about his day. She tried again. “I believe Aunt Helena is coming today. She promised to walk with me in the park.”
“How nice for you.”
Another long silence, and then Isabel asked hopefully, “What plans do you have in London today?”
“Business,” he said immediately, seemingly absorbed in the process of spreading clotted cream on a fresh scone.
Isabel waited for him to elaborate, but he said nothing. She cracked the shell on her soft-boiled egg and dipped a piece of toast into the runny yolk within. She would have to let him lead the conversation. She was certain he wanted to talk about something because it was not common for him to share a meal with her. Usually she had her breakfast and tea alone, and their dinners were filled with his friends and colleagues.
She was proved right a few minutes later, when Philip finished his scone and cleared his throat.
“I have been thinking about the Season, Isabel.”
“Yes?” she asked, smiling encouragingly. “And what of it?”
“We ought to prioritise the making of a good match this year.” He raised his eyebrows. “I understood last year that you did not feel ready for marriage, and that was why you turned down the multitude of suitors that appeared at my door. That is all good and well the first year you are introduced to the ton, but such behaviour this year will not be met with understanding.”
“By you, or by the ton?” Isabel asked innocently.
“By the peerage in general, I should say,” he stated frankly. “I am not going to make an effort to protect your feelings, Isabel. You must see that a woman without a husband, her first Season, might be described as ‘coy,’ but if she waits through her second Season without a husband, she begins to appear dowdy. People will think of you as an old maid. They will begin to wonder what is wrong with you.”
“I am still a girl, in many ways,” Isabel protested. “I do not think anyone will begin to assign me white hairs as of yet.”
“You are accomplished and finished properly,” he reminded her. “In every way you are a proper lady. No one thinks of you as a young girl now.”
“Not in every way,” Isabel mumbled.
“What was that?” her father asked sharply.
Isabel knew that her father understood what she was referencing. It was an old argument that had plagued them since her mother’s death. It resurfaced regularly, and always they disagreed. She pursed her lips together and then said openly, “I do not have the necessary musical accomplishment to impress a potential suitor, Father. You have not permitted me to continue my pianoforte lessons.”
He sighed, setting down his fork with an expression of mild exasperation. “Isabel, you have been given the very best in the way of education. I do not believe any gentleman will find you lacking.”
Isabel picked up her teacup, choosing her words carefully. “You know the moment after a dinner party where everyone adjourns to the parlour to listen to the young ladies perform? Miss Arnold has her voice. Lady Elliot, her poetry. Most ladies in my acquaintance play the pianoforte—not Miss Maynard, but you know that she is excellent with the harp.” She looked up carefully at her father. “In such moments, I am conspicuously silent.”
Philip looked down at his hands, his brow darkening. “There is no use complaining about something that is out of your control to change. It is a little late to be refining your musical talents. You are already entering your second Season.”
“It is not too late!” Isabel cried, seeing a rare chink in the armour. Her father wanted her to be married. Perhaps this was the opening she needed to convince him to take up her lessons again. “I am certain that, with the help of a tutor, I could progress quickly.”
“I don’t…” he sucked in his breath. “I don’t care for the pianoforte.”
“You used to care for it very much,” Isabel said quietly. “I remember hearing it in the house when I was a girl. I remember you playing, and mother—”
“That’s enough.” Philip pushed his chair back from the table and stood abruptly. He walked over to the sideboard, where the footman stood looking stiffly forward and pretending, as always, that he could not overhear his master’s conversations.
Isabel folded her hands in her lap and waited in silence. She had pushed the matter too far. She could see that now. This was why she was always afraid to meet with her father. He held her at arm’s length, and, in the rare moments when something real was exchanged between them, the great Earl of Kensingdale seemed to break under the pressure.
She let her mind wander back to a faint memory from her childhood: the sound of golden music dancing through the halls, a view of her mother seated elegantly on the bench of the pianoforte, her father leaning over her shoulder and accompanying her with one hand playing the high notes. Isabel had stood in the doorway, feeling as though she was looking in on a private and precious moment. Music hadn’t just been tolerated back then—it had been the lifeblood of their home.
After her mother’s death, everything had changed. Isabel had not only been denied proper pianoforte lessons—she had also been forbidden from touching the instrument at all. Her father, too, stopped playing. The house filled with silence.
Now, the earl turned and walked back to the table, letting out his breath gently. “I am sorry for losing my composure, Isabel,” he said crisply. “It is an unpleasant thing for me to discuss, I will admit.”
Isabel opened her mouth as if to speak, but before she could, her father held up a hand to halt her words.
“Answer me this,” he pressed. “Do you really believe that the pianoforte would help you engage better with potential suitors?”
Isabel held her breath for a moment. She didn’t want to say the wrong thing and drive her father away again. After a moment, she nodded and answered, “It is embarrassing, to be sure, telling these gentlemen that I am unable to play.” She lowered her voice. “You are still renowned for your skills with the pianoforte, Father. People know about your history, even if you… do not engage with it any longer.”
She wondered if she was being manipulative. After all, she had dismissed the other suitors because she did not yet want to be married—not because of difficulties with the pianoforte. Still, the rare opportunity to touch a piece of her lost past was too tempting to pass up. She held her hands quite still in her lap and waited for her father’s response.
He studied her for a long moment and then nodded crisply. “I have heard enough,” he said. “I will allow you to have lessons.”
Isabel could hardly believe it. “Really?” she cried. “Thank you, Father. I am truly—”
“I have a condition, of course.” He pursed his lips together stiffly. “If I am to pay for these lessons, then I will require you to put them to good use. If I allow you to play the pianoforte, then you must be married by the end of the Season.”
Isabel blinked. The suggestion shouldn’t have startled her as much as it did. After all, she was the only daughter of a wealthy earl—she knew she would have to marry one day, and marry well. It was remarkable that she had held off the prospect as long as she did. Most girls of her eligibility would have been properly engaged within a few weeks of their debut. Still, the idea of walking down the aisle towards some dim and unknown gentleman made her uneasy.
She thought about letting the matter go, but then remembered all those years without music and without her father’s affections. Maybe the pianoforte would be her ticket back into his heart. Maybe it would, in some way, bring back the happiness and light that had left when her mother died.
She would have to marry anyway this Season. Why not get what she wanted into the bargain? She nodded at last and smiled at her father.
“I agree to your terms,” she said simply. “If you find me a tutor and allow me to practise the pianoforte, then I will make a real effort to find a husband this Season.”
“Not just an effort,” Philip corrected her firmly. “You will leave the Season a married woman.”
“Yes,” Isabel corrected herself. “I will be married, no matter what.”
Colin Davenport knelt on the walk outside his childhood home, muttering in frustration as he tried to collect the loose sheets of music that had slipped out of his reticule and were trying to escape into the busy London street.
“Curse this breeze,” he mumbled, catching onto the last wayward sheets of Haydn with nimble fingers and tucking the whole affair back under his arm. He straightened and took a deep breath before walking upstairs to knock on the great oaken door.
The house, which to him was as familiar as his own body, belonged now to his eldest brother, Nathan. Nathan had inherited his father’s title, and as the new viscount, he raised his family in the same home where Colin had grown up. Not much had changed—perhaps a few flower beds revived, and a different coachman loitering by the livery—and for the most part, the place felt achingly familiar.
The butler, Mr Thomas, opened the door with a grand gesture and showed Colin into the main hall.
“Good evening, Mr. Colin,” he said quickly. He had been the butler ever since Colin was a boy, and still distinguished the five sons of the viscount—except Nathan, of course—by their first names. “The family is waiting for you in the parlour. They have not yet gone in to the evening meal.”
“Wonderful,” Colin said, looking up quickly at the clock. “It seems I am a bit late.”
The butler said nothing in response, but his face showed a mild disapproval of Colin’s lack of punctuality. Instead of fretting over the matter, however, he simply took Colin’s cloak and hat and disappeared in search of a footman.
Colin paused before the mirror, adjusting his cravat and frowning at the rumpled state of his straw-coloured hair. He had come immediately from a long day of lessons and had not allowed himself time to change for the dinner with his four brothers and their families. As the youngest of the five, he felt keenly his lack of sophistication, and didn’t like to drive the matter home by appearing flustered and out of sorts.
He slipped into the parlour and was greeted by a host of delighted faces. Nathan and his wife were chatting by the fireside with Colin’s second oldest brother, Elliot, and his wife. The third brother, Milton, had his wife on his arm as well, speaking in low tones to Colin’s immediate elder, Evan. Evan and Colin were the only two boys who remained unmarried, and Colin did not expect the matter to change anytime soon. Evan was a wild soul, and, while Colin’s reason for bachelorhood had always been his studies and his music, the result was the same for both brothers. They had neither time nor inclination to settle down.
“Colin’s here,” Milton called out at once, looking up with a broad smile and motioning to his youngest brother near. His eyes fell on the bundle of papers in Colin’s arms. “Ah, and I see he has brought work for all of us.”
The group laughed and gathered around with warmth in their tone and expression. The brothers had their disagreements, as brothers will, but the family was a close one. They supported each other’s endeavours and strove to see the best in each other. Colin laughed at the teasing and set the sheet music aside.
“I had to come straight from a lesson,” he explained. “I am afraid I could not stop off at my flat first and leave behind the tools of my trade.”
“That is evident enough,” Nathan said with a broad smile. “If you had stopped off at your flat, perhaps you would have looked in a mirror before showing up at my house in a cut of coat dangerously reminiscent of last Season.”
“Dear brother,” Colin teased in response, “I commend you on rising above expectations. Usually it is the youngest in a family who, spoiled by attention and wanting all responsibility, falls prey to the allure of foppery. In our family, however, the eldest managed to become the dandy.”
Evan laughed aloud. “He has your number there, Nathan. You do spend far too much time with your attire.”
“And so I must!” Nathan retorted. “For it is my responsibility to uphold the family name. Imagine, if I was seen about town in the sort of rags Colin wears… I shiver to think of it.”
“I hardly think he wears rags,” interjected Milton’s wife, Anne, who always took things very seriously. Her simple and earnest nature had not fared well in the face of the brother’s enduring sarcasm and wit. “I simply think he is more modest in his spending.”
“Yes, dear,” Milton said, patting her hand gently. “That is kind of you to say.”
“Too kind,” Nathan’s quick-witted wife, Marie, said brightly. “Colin has no excuse. He would simply have to ask, and his brother would be willing to take him to the tailor in an instant.”
Elliot pretended utter exhaustion and looked at the clock. “Can it be, dear brothers, that we have wasted a full five minutes discussing Colin’s clothing when we might have gone on in to the dining room?”
Evan levelled a significant glance at Elliot’s well-rounded stomach. “Of course you would be the one to remind us, Elliot.”
Nathan guffawed loudly, and Elliot pretended offence before socking Evan. The group turned and walked together towards the dining room, falling into line as they always had in pairs. Nathan and his wife led the way, followed by Elliot and his wife Elaine, Milton and Anne, and then Evan and Colin. Evan, as though reading Colin’s thoughts, leaned over and winked at his brother.
“We really ought to find wives of our own, don’t you think? It is all fun and games until we are here with this group—then our bachelorhood seems rather unexciting.”
“Why?” Colin asked. “Because you have me for a partner at dinner?”
“Absolutely, that’s why,” Evan retorted without hesitation. He laughed, and then his voice gentled a bit. He looked ahead of him at his brothers with their wives, and his gaze softened. “I am only thinking that they make it look so enticing—marital bliss. They are each happy, in their own way.”
Colin was surprised to hear his brother speak so openly about romance and marriage. Evan had never been one to waste breath on the subject before. Usually his language was full of talk of travel and racing and the like. He did not have a chance to respond, however, before everyone had taken their seats around the table and the meal had begun.
The first course passed in much the typical fashion, full of teasing and excited conversation, but at the close of the second course Elliot suddenly stood, sliding his chair back and clearing his throat rather nervously.
“I would like a word,” he said. He turned and smiled briefly at his wife before proceeding. “I ought to have told you in the parlour, but you all know how I like to have my moment. I couldn’t allow our news to be overshadowed by all the nonsense to do with Colin’s sense of fashion.”
There was a small laugh around the table, and then a cloaking silence of anticipation. Elliot’s smile turned to Nathan and Marie.
“I noticed that the children were already upstairs when we arrived for dinner,” he said, “or else I would have taken the time to tell them…” he drew in a deep breath, “that they are to expect a cousin in six months time.”
There was a gasp of delight around the table, followed by a few murmured words between the ladies and a guffaw of delight from the gentlemen. Nathan rose from his seat and went to shake Elliot’s hand, telling him all the time how very proud he was. Colin smiled broadly, happy to see his brother happy.
The atmosphere in the room was filled with celebration, and in this moment of delight, another chair slid back from the table and Evan stood.
“I see that I should have spoken earlier,” he said with a suave smile. “But then again, I always was second to Elliot in my news.”
“Second to Elliot?” Milton cried with mock offence. “Why is it that you always forget about me? You come second to me, brother.”
“Hush,” Elliot chided him teasingly, “you’re the middle son, Milton. Everyone is always forgetting about you.”
“Not me, dear,” Anne interjected earnestly. “I don’t forget about you.”
Colin held back the urge to laugh again, but something in Evan’s face drew his attention away from Milton and Anne. Evan looked quite serious and gentle—just as he had looked earlier when he and Colin had entered the dining room together.
“I am glad to hear of your news, Elliot,” he said, beginning again. “I do so love the little nieces and nephews that you all are forever introducing to the world.” He turned and winked at Colin. “Not you, Colin. You’re still quite alone.”
Everyone laughed, and Colin smiled too. Quite alone. That’s the way I like it, don’t I? After all, he was five and twenty—still a young man by the world’s standards. Evan took a deep breath and continued.
“I know that my bachelorhood has been the cause of much gossip and concern amongst you all, and tonight I come with good tidings.” He clasped his hands together. “I am to be married.”
The hubbub that had followed Elliot’s announcement was brought to a reverent hush. Colin heard a few intakes of breath, and then Nathan asked what everyone was thinking. “Married? To whom?”
Evan raised his shoulders. “That’s just the thing. You all know her. I have made an offer of marriage to Miss Ellen Martin, and she has agreed to be my wife.”
Miss Martin. Colin saw everyone around the table processing the news with the same surprise and delight that was now hitting him. She had been a friend of the family since they were children together, the daughter of an untitled but wealthy merchant who lived next door. She was an heiress of remarkable worth, and a beauty in addition. All the boys in the family had, at one time or other, had a crush on her.
“It is a remarkable catch you’ve made, Evan,” Milton said what everyone was thinking. “How on earth did you manage it? We all thought that you would come back from your tour abroad with a Spanish lass on your arm or some such thing. You always had a thing for the wild ones.”
Evan smiled. “In truth, it was my tour that brought Miss Martin and I together. You see, the night before I left, I danced with her at one of the local assembly rooms. It was such a magical time—my eyes were opened, and I saw her for the first time as a woman instead of that pesky girl that used to follow us around.”
“I am not questioning what you saw in her,” Elliot teased, “but I’m astounded that she saw anything in you.”
“Well, she didn’t,” Evan laughed. “But I asked to write her and, by some stroke of fortune, she agreed. Our courtship was almost entirely on the written page, and when I returned two months past she was the first lady I sought out.”
Nathan blew out his air, leaning back with an impressed expression on his face. “I am not sure how you did it, brother, but you have landed someone far above your station.”
“And he’s not talking about the peerage,” Milton teased. “She’s just too pretty and smart for the likes of you.”
“And kind too,” Marie jumped in. “It is hard to imagine you with someone that kind.”
“Et tu, Marie?” Evan gasped with mock exasperation. “I expected this sort of abuse from my brothers, but from you?”
Everyone at the table laughed, and in that sweep of humour and delight, Colin realised for the first time that he wasn’t feeling completely happy. He was happy for Evan, of course—ridiculously so. It was beautiful to see his brother finally open his heart to a woman. Evan was clearly in love, and Colin was pleased for him.
The dull ache in Colin’s chest didn’t have anything to do with his brother’s good fortune. It had to do with a sudden realisation that he wanted what they had. He had rushed through life to this point, doing what was necessary and not slowing to consider romance or companionship. As the fifth son of a viscount, he would not inherit anything. Penniless, he had considered a profession in the church, or perhaps a commission with the navy—but in the end, it was his skill with the pianoforte that had saved him. People would pay handsomely to have their children tutored by a respected and talented gentleman such as himself, and he was able to make his living in this way.
Music and his career had taken up all of Colin’s time and energy, and for the most part, he was alright with that. He had not been alarmed by the marriages of his three older brothers—it was their duty and responsibility, and it didn’t reflect on him in the least. Evan, though, was closest to Colin in age and there was something about his upcoming marriage that whispered to Colin that he was missing out on something beautiful. Perhaps staying too busy for love had been a mistake.
Evan leaned over to him in this moment, speaking in a low voice. “I see that faraway look on your face. What are you thinking of?”
Colin answered honestly, “You. I am happy for you.”
“I hope that one day you may experience the same happiness for yourself.”
Colin took a drink of sherry, the hard amber liquid putting a fine point on his thinking. “I hope the same thing,” he said, “but it is hard to imagine having the time for courtship and romance.”
“Because of your students?” Evan asked.
Colin nodded, and Evan laughed. In the same low voice he added, “I swear, brother, you should have been born the heir to our father’s title—you have all the seriousness of an eldest brother and the responsibility in addition.” He put a hand on Colin’s arm. “Let a few of your students go. Spend some time doing something enjoyable for a change. The Season is already beginning. Go to a few balls and court a few ladies. Perhaps happiness is just around the corner.”
In the past, Colin would have brushed off these suggestions as the ramblings of a newly engaged man, but something was different this time. Evan knew what it was to enjoy the freedom of bachelorhood. He loved his freedom. Perhaps, if he was suggesting courtship, it was something Colin should genuinely consider.
He looked across the room and saw Elliot catch Elaine’s hand up in his for a moment. It was a private, personal action. Colin looked away, but the picture was there in his memory. The ache returned. He wanted what they had—mutual trust, and the promise of forever.
“A Musician’s Love Song for a Lady” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Isabel is already embarking on her second Season in London. She’s an accomplished young woman, but ever since her mother’s death, her father has forbidden her to learn the pianoforte. When she begs him to relent, he agrees on one condition; she must find someone to marry by the end of the Season. When the talented Isabel decides to start receiving music lessons, she never thought she would come across the man of her dreams. Will she allow herself to surrender to her heart’s love song?
What will happen when her favourite teacher becomes an obstacle to the ambitious future her father has planned out for her?
Colin Davenport is a music instructor of little means and no title. When he is charged with Lady Isabel’s education in the pianoforte, he is so stricken by her beauty and kind spirit, that he irreversibly falls in love with her… Mesmerised by her grace and talent, he is risking everything he has ever worked for just to stay close to her. When a potential suitor enters the equation though, he will be forced to step aside…
Can he overcome his station in society, or will he keep his feelings to himself and let the love of his life slip through his fingers?
Difficulties arise on all sides as a sly Marquess wants Isabel for himself. To make things more complicated, her father still seems reticent about her regular music lessons, and the reason remains unclear… Will Colin and Isabel find an everlasting romance in such an impossible situation or will the schemes of the people around them destroy the music of their love?
“A Musician’s Love Song for a Lady” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.