Marlena sat in the drawing-room and looked down at her hands where they rested on the black taffeta of her gown, the white skin contrasting with the dark fabric. She focused on them, willing herself to feel something. She wished she could feel some emotion that would connect her to herself. Right now, she felt like those were someone else’s hands and not hers, as if she was somewhere else, floating above the black-clad young woman with the pale brown hair pulled back in a severe style.
“Can I fetch you something, Marlena?” her mother asked. She was standing across from her, black-dressed, her own dark hair pulled back from her face. She had a teapot in her hand, from which she poured cups of tea for the guests.
“No, thank you,” Marlena said.
She didn’t want to eat or drink anything. She didn’t want to be here. If she had the choice, she would be out riding in the fields, her hair loose, soaked with the rain as she screamed her pain and sorrow to the empty skies. She would not be here in this cold, emotionless drawing-room with cold, silent people pretending they felt nothing.
If she could, she would scream James’ name so loud the windows would shatter.
He was her brother, and he was dead, and it was wrong.
Why could she not cry?
“Would you care to go outdoors?”
Marlena nodded. Charles, her elder brother, was here, newly returned from the army. She was so grateful that he had managed to attend and cared for her as always. He sat across from her on the chaise-longue beside their father, and his blue eyes were gentle as they regarded her. Marlena felt like he understood her. He was, in many ways, like her. He would rather be elsewhere, she thought.
“Thank you,” she said. “I would.”
She knew that if there were any difficulty in leaving, he would attend to it. He had a strong character like hers, not like James, who lay in the churchyard. James was so gentle, so tender. He was the younger of her two brothers, and he had never hurt anyone, never so much as said a cross word.
He nodded to her and stood, stretching his back as he did so. “Mother, Father … we are going to take the air outside a moment. Excuse us.”
“Charles, that isn’t proper …” his mother began.
He smiled at her gently. “Mother, it’s quite acceptable. Nobody will mind if we take five minutes to walk and stretch our legs. We shall be back in plenty of time.”
Marlena looked gratefully at Charles. He had always had a good way about him – able to stand firm but without needing to resort to anger to do so. He would make a fine viscount, she was sure.
She glanced at their father on the way to the door. He nodded to her from where he sat on the chaise-longue, blue eyes troubled. He looked drawn and pale, and she felt her heart thump, filled with worry for him. She squeezed her own blue eyes shut for a moment as she walked along with Charles. Her father had been so ill, and she feared the shock of James passing would challenge his already-weakened health.
“Thank you,” she said again when they were out of earshot.
Charles smiled at her. His blue eyes were sad, but he still managed to find the strength somewhere to grin at her. “I thought we could both use some fresh air.”
“Yes,” Marlena murmured. It was stifling in the drawing-room – stiflingly silent. She couldn’t bear it. She looked up at Charles. “I can’t make sense of it,” she said.
Charles inclined his head, agreeing distantly. “I know,” he said. He looked out over the lawns, his own face still. “I think it makes no sense. Someone so young, to be gone so quickly.” Charles was older than Marlena by eight years and older than James by five.
“I don’t mean that,” Marlena said softly. “I mean, it makes no sense that our brother passed in a riding accident. You knew how good he was.” She walked across the grass beside him, feeling the need to move.
Charles looked into her eyes, stopping beside her. “Marlena, it doesn’t always matter. Some accidents have very little to do with skill. Anyone can have an accident.”
Marlena shut her eyes a moment, feeling distressed. This was her brother, the one person who she could talk to besides her maidservant Henriette. Why could he not understand what she meant?
She felt as though there was something behind James’ death, something more. That it hadn’t been as told in the story they had received. She knew James, and what she might not have known about him in person, she knew about his skill as a horseman. She had raced him so often! She knew his strengths and knew without question how good he was – she reckoned him to be among the best riders in the ton. He would not have come off his horse as they had been told he had.
“I just can’t help how I feel about it,” she said. She didn’t know what to say to him to make him hear her.
Charles took her hand. “Grief is a strange thing, my sister. It can take years before one comes to terms with something. I feel we would do better not to try to make sense of it now … maybe in a year, we will be able to see it with a clearer perspective. For now, we should just weep and scream if we have to, and let ourselves slowly heal.”
Marlena felt tears down her cheeks. She looked up at her brother and rested a hand on his shoulder. She knew he was being kind, and his words had touched her heart. She knew, too, that in many ways, he was right. Her heart would slowly heal over the years, and she would slowly come to an understanding of what happened. But there were things that didn’t fit.
“Thank you, Charles,” she said. She knew she would not make him understand.
He rested a hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes. “You are my dearest sister,” he said gently. “You’re so strong; your spirit inspires my own.”
“Thank you, Charles,” she repeated. She felt his kindness melted her heart, and, suddenly she found herself clinging to him, tears pouring down her cheeks as she held him, like when she was a toddler, and she had come to Charles, her safe place in a cold and confusing world. He wrapped his arms around her, like he had when she was just a baby, and held her and let her weep. It was the first time she had cried, and she knew that it would be months – maybe years – before she could cry for James properly. Now, she cried mainly for herself.
Charles held her for a long moment. After she sniffed slowly, her tears running down her face, he stood back. “All right?”
She nodded, reaching into the little drawstring bag she had around her wrist, where she kept a handkerchief. She blew her nose, sniffing noisily. “Yes,” she said.
He smiled. “My wild sister. Look at you … all windswept.”
She lifted a hand to her head where some of her honey-blonde hair had escaped. She shook her head, flushing.
“It just does that.”
He smiled softly, took her hand, and led her back to the house.
She held his hand and felt better, but she could not shake the feeling that the story they had heard of James’ death was not quite right. She could not accept that he had simply been thrown from his horse.
And she was going to London to find the truth, whatever anyone said to her.
Ryan looked around the hall at Almack’s, feeling weary. He had attended the event mainly because he had to, not necessarily because he wished to. He didn’t care for crowds of people or for socializing in general, especially not in London. He glanced across at a young lady – Lady Camelia – who had been introduced to him by her father. She was pretty – brown-haired, round-cheeked, and with big brown eyes. He reckoned he might as well dance with her.
He was not particularly keen on balls, dances, or socializing in general. He tried his best not to form connections with anyone if he could avoid it. Being raised in almost isolation at his manor – with just tutors – following his father’s death, had ensured that he had no preparation for society at all. It was easier he had found over the years, to adopt an indifferent air than to let people close.
“My Lady?” he said, approaching the young woman. “Would you like to dance?”
“Your Grace! I would be honoured.” She curtseyed, and he could see how flustered she seemed, her eyes downcast, breath quickening.
“Well, then. I think there’s a Polonaise next. Shall we?”
“Yes, Your Grace! Why, what an honour. I’m quite dizzied.”
Ryan felt his own eyes squeeze shut a moment. He felt so awkward! What was he supposed to do or say? He stood silently beside her, waiting for the musicians to provide the opening melody.
He let his dark eyes wander across the dance floor, to where he could just spot the dark hair of his friend, Jasper, standing out against the white wall behind. He was leaning on the wall, drinking, and Ryan was sure it wasn’t cordial in that glass he held. He felt a little disgruntled: he could have done with Jasper’s assistance just then, he thought.
The music was starting, lively and melodic, and he took her hand and led her through the paces, feeling like he was a wooden marionette. He had to admit that Lady Camelia was a good dancer – elegant and gracious – but he couldn’t match her. He was tolerable as a dancer, he knew – his tutors had told him so, and at Cambridge, nobody had noticed anything else – but he didn’t feel right when he danced in London.
He didn’t feel right in London at all.
The music was moving to a new key, and he reckoned they were getting close to halfway. He counted his steps and focused firmly on the bright hall and the people, doing his best to ignore everyone and everything around him. He could feel her ladyship’s hand in his own, and he wished he could think to make conversation, but he’d never been much good at it. He felt relieved when the music changed again, indicating they were nearing the end.
“Thank you,” he said as he bowed to Lady Camelia.
“Thank you, Your Grace,” she said. She looked at him as if she expected him to say something. Ryan took a deep breath.
“I will go and take refreshments,” he said. He turned around before she could ask him to fetch something and walked briskly to the table.
When he got there, Jasper walked over.
“I saw you, Ryan,” he said. His voice sounded pointed.
“What, old boy?” he asked mildly. He felt uncomfortable – like Jasper had something to pick him out about.
“I saw you run away from one of the prettier girls in the room without saying anything to her.” His expression showed hurt.
“I didn’t run away!” Ryan hissed, feeling annoyed. “I simply politely distanced myself.”
Jasper raised a brow. “Like always?”
Ryan drew a breath. He didn’t need Jasper to act as though he was the voice of rationality. He had his own system when it came to London and the ton. He didn’t need his friend to be so difficult. The most annoying thing about it was that he knew his friend was right. He was rude and what he did was unkind.
“Yes, all right. I don’t tend to make friendships easily. I am rude quite a lot of the time because I barely talk. But I don’t need my best friend – my only friend – to be so critical.”
He felt overly warm, his black velvet jacket seeming suddenly too hot. He wished he could take it off, but nobody would attend Almack’s in just shirtsleeves. He looked up at Jasper, who smiled fondly.
“I am aware you don’t,” he said. “But I will be critical, anyway – I offer it as a service, absolutely without asking any money for it.”
They looked at each other. Ryan grinned. He could never resist his friend’s jokes; not for long, anyhow.
“Very well, Jasper. You are right. I am rude. And quite probably worse, too. But you know what it’s like – I’m too old to learn new ways.”
Jasper looked at him, and Ryan could see fondness in his brown eyes.
He was about to say something when Jasper’s wife came across to join them. A pretty woman – plump, with reddish hair and the palest, softest skin Ryan had ever seen – she looked up at Jasper. Ryan saw his friend’s expression soften. He looked down at his wife, Adeline, with such tenderness that Ryan felt his breath almost stop.
“Dearest,” Adeline said with a teasing look in her green-flecked eyes, “won’t you come here a moment? I’m arguing with Lord Rockley, and we need you to settle the conversation.”
Ryan looked at Jasper, who smiled lovingly at Adeline. He glanced at Ryan apologetically, but Ryan could see he didn’t regret for a moment going with Adeline.
“Excuse me, old chap,” he said.
Ryan inclined his head. “Of course, Jasper.” He gestured at the refreshments table. “I’ll just stay here, I reckon.”
Jasper smiled. “You could go and dance again, you know.”
Ryan shot him a look that was slightly exaggerated – he wasn’t really annoyed – and they both laughed. Lady Adeline smiled and curtseyed to Ryan. “Good evening, Your Grace,” she said.
Ryan bowed, greeted her politely, and turned to the refreshments table. He felt strangely awkward and a little confused, too.
He had never seen anyone look at someone the way Jasper looked at Adeline. She looked just the same at him, too. He wondered at it. How might it feel to love someone the way the two of them loved one another? He couldn’t imagine.
“Why are you thinking about that?” he asked himself, annoyed.
He was the sort of fellow who liked his own company. He had told himself that repeatedly at Cambridge, and he told himself now that nothing had changed. The further you kept from people, the happier you would be – that was his phrase. He would believe that, too, except for how blissfully Jasper and his wife smiled at each other.
“Damn it, you’re moody today,” he told himself. He went to the table – where a small crowd had developed – and tried to reach a glass of something. There were two footmen in livery pouring drinks, and he nodded to one, receiving a glass of sparkling wine.
“Ah! Your grace! What an honour to see you here. It’s been years since I last called at Claypool.”
Ryan raised a brow. He recalled the fellow vaguely – Viscount Alsworth. He had been a captain in the army and was distantly related to the family. Ryan wasn’t in the mood for conversation right now, and he hastily looked about for an escape.
“Good to see you, Lord Alsworth. It’s so hot in here, isn’t it?” Ryan said, making a step towards the exit. There were two doors leading onto the balcony, and he went quickly in that direction. Lord Alsworth followed him a few paces.
“A fine evening. Yes, very warm! It’s all the bodies, you know.” He gestured at the room. “So many people, and you get a fine heat.”
Ryan nodded. He enjoyed Lord Alsworth’s company sometimes – he was at least unconventional in the extreme, saying whatever happened to pop into his head – but right now, he wasn’t equipped with enough energy. He walked to the doors, managed to slip in front of a few people, and hurried to the exit. There were some people by the door, but he managed to step outside.
He stood there on the balcony, taking gasps of air. He felt as if he’d been stifled underground in there, surrounded by so many people. Gradually becoming calmer, after a moment or two out there, he looked over the city. He could see lights here and there in windows, but it was mostly dark, the rooftops black against the midnight-dark sky. Stars twinkled overhead, silver and remote. He looked up, feeling oddly empty inside.
He was used to his own company, so it was strange to him that he should feel alone. But standing there under cold stars, he realised he had been alone most of his life. His parents had both died when he was a child – Mama when he was just two and Papa when he was eight. Tutors had raised him in Claypool, the family manor, which was held in trust for him by his tutor Marlford until he was sixteen.
He was a duke, but he had nobody besides Jasper he felt close to.
“Damn it, you’re being silly,” he told himself harshly. He was twenty-four, a duke, and he liked his own company! He was not – absolutely not – feeling lonely.
He sniffed and walked towards the door leading into the hall. It was still crowded and overheated. He could see a dance beginning, people waltzing on the dance floor to the delicate strains of melody. The hall was a mass of black velvet suits, pale dresses, and bright candlelight, the smells of perfume and wine and beeswax subtle in the air.
Ryan stood by the door and tried to find a sense of peace and calm, though he was feeling shaken again. After that moment outside, realising his own aloneness, the ballroom seemed desperately foreign, as if he had wandered into another world whose rules made no sense to him.
He stepped sideways, avoiding a group who had moved to stand nearer the entrance, and walked into the curtain hanging by the door. It unfurled to reveal a young girl, who looked at him with startled eyes.
“My Lady!” he gasped.
He found himself looking into the loveliest eyes. They were pale blue. He thought of skies and water, of bluebells and summer flowers and rivulets. He was so stunned by her wide gaze that it took him a second to step back, studying her – she had pale brown hair that was straight, drawn back from her face in a bun. She was wearing a plain silk gown with a low-cut neck, simpler than the dresses of other ladies. Her face was heart-shaped and her eyes wide, framed with brown lashes and brows. She was beautiful in a strong, compelling way.
She looked up at him, and he thought shock was what he could read most strongly on her face – shock and insult.
“My Lord,” she said. She curtseyed, and he could tell she was trying to rein in her feelings. She wasn’t able to keep the affronted tone from her voice, and he understood it. He bowed.
“I apologise, My Lady, for having walked into you. But you were hiding behind the curtain.” He couldn’t help a lift of his lips.
“I was simply trying to avoid unwanted company.”
He smiled broadly. “I don’t blame you, My Lady,” he said. “I found myself in the same spot. I went out to take the air. If you like, I could escort you there?” He looked at her hopefully. She was the first person he’d met that drew his heart like this. He felt the urge to speak to her and get to know her better, to understand what had driven her to hide there, and whether she was as much like him as he thought.
“No, thank you, My Lord,” she said. She sounded firm. “I would prefer to remain indoors.”
“Of course,” he said. Perhaps she was offended by the idea of being alone with an unknown gentleman. He glanced about, but if she was accompanied by a maidservant, he could see no sign of her. He turned back to her, bowing again. “I did not intend anything unseemly, My Lady.”
“Well, for that, I commend you, My Lord.” She was teasing him. He grinned, glad she was no longer angry with him.
“My Lady, might I fetch you some refreshment?” he asked. She had moved towards the room, and he followed her, entranced. She walked with easy grace, and he kept up, wanting to be with her. He had never felt like this, so instantly captivated. He was eager to know more about her.
“No, thank you,” she said. She walked towards a group standing at the side of the room, waiting for the sarabande to end. Perhaps she wanted to dance with him. He felt his heart thump. He never enjoyed dancing, but now he was looking forward to it.
“You like to waltz?” he asked her, thinking there might be a waltz next.
She shrugged. “I am not really in the mood for dancing.”
He raised a brow. She was intriguing. So confident – he was not. He pretended to be, but his own attempts were cold and wooden. She was poised and filled with cool assurance.
“I see,” he said. He was about to ask what would entice her onto the floor when she stepped neatly around two people and went across the room.
Ryan stared. She was talking to a group of people – a tall blond man and two or three other men, some accompanied by ladies. He was about to go and ask to be introduced when a man came up to him.
“Your Grace!” he said, bowing low. “I am delighted to see you here. We met at the park if you recall? I am Lord Abermale. You have not yet been introduced to my daughter?”
Ryan took a deep breath. He looked around, wanting to give the unknown woman an earful. She had led him here with intent! She knew he would be lost in a sea of lords and ladies wanting their daughters to meet him. He was known to be young and wealthy, and that was enough to draw them close. He wanted to rebuke her.
He grinned inwardly. She had served him right. He had been rude all evening, and this was exactly the sort of treatment he merited.
He wished that he could have asked her name – he would love to talk to her again sometime.
It was cool in the room, and Marlena sat up, blinking and still sleepy. She slipped out of bed, seeing that her maid Henriette had left one window ajar. She was grateful for the cool breeze, and she went to it, looking through the curtain at the scene below.
Her mind drifted back to the ball as she rubbed her eyes wearily. She had returned home after midnight, tired and half-asleep. She had surprised herself by enjoying the ball, and her mind drifted to thoughts of a particular gentleman she’d met.
“Stop being silly,” she told herself firmly. He was a foppish Londoner with a rude manner, and she was not going to think of him. She stared down at the street, watching the traffic.
Marlena had never been overly fond of London, but it was oddly diverting after spending a year in the countryside. She watched people walking and coaches trying to get around a cart that had tried to turn in the road. She grinned to herself as a constable came over to observe. He wasn’t winning favours from the carter or the gentlefolk, she thought with amusement. She could almost hear them shouting at him.
She went to the pitcher of water on the nightstand and rinsed her face, smiling to herself. She recalled that same reined-in fury from the previous evening.
That gentleman she’d met at Almack’s yesterday night – he’d been as angry when she’d lost him in the crowd! She laughed.
“It served him right,” she said to herself.
He struck her as arrogant, and she reckoned he’d needed the punishment that being hounded all evening would be. At the same time, though, she had seen something in those dark eyes she’d liked. For a moment, she’d seen genuine eagerness and a keen mind. He had been able to joke and to bear her prank admirably, and she had to appreciate this.
She went to the wall to the bell to summon Henriette, feeling chilly and needing to get dressed and take a meal. She had gone to bed so late last night, and she felt weary still – some tea and toast would certainly be welcomed.
“Morning, My Lady,” Henriette greeted her, wearing in a dark dress, her dark hair neatly drawn back from her lively, pretty face.
“Morning, Henriette,” Marlena replied. “I’d like to dress for breakfast. Something simple, I think. I don’t think Charles plans for us to see anyone or go out this morning.” She glanced at the window again, tiredly. A nice day at home would be just what she needed.
“Very good. The green?”
“The one with the little patterns? Yes. I think that will do well.”
Marlena liked plainer dresses and wasn’t usually fussy about what she wore, but in its own way, it was a pleasure to be able to wear white and other colours than black, grey, and navy blue. It had been a year since James’ passing, and she felt good to be wearing ordinary clothes. Her mind had barely begun to comprehend it. She still could barely think of James – it was too painful. But she had finally convinced Papa to let her and the family return to London.
She had to do everything she could to discover what had happened.
“Will you go to the park, do you think?” Henriette asked. She was busy taking shoes and other things out of the wardrobe.
Marlena tilted her head. “I’m not sure,” she said. “We might do. Charles likes being outside.”
“I’m sure.” Henriette nodded. She hated the city, missing her green leafy Kentish countryside. Marlena knew that. Henriette had been raised in a village that was far even from her own manor home, Halford Park. She missed the countryside, so she imagined Henriette would miss it even more sorely.
“Well, if we go to the park, I shall need you to come along,” she said, thinking of Henriette and how tedious it must be for her to be stuck in the house almost the whole day. “Charles is grand company, but he always ends up in a crowd of military types, and then I need someone else to accompany me anywhere.”
She grinned to herself. She would have been talking to Charles yesterday night, except that he ended up talking to his friends from the army, and she’d wondered off. She frowned to herself. She would never have met the annoying but handsome man had she stayed talking to her brother.
It surprised her that she thought of him as handsome. She blushed but was interrupted from her reverie by Henriette, who was clearly pleased by the prospect of going to the park.
“My Lady! It’d be grand to go to the park. I can’t wait.”
Marlena smiled. “Well, then, we shall certainly go, whether Charles wishes to attend or not.”
Henriette grinned. She was a firm friend – she had worked for the family since Marlena was sixteen, just over three years. Marlena was very fond of her and, even if Henriette had a rather quieter nature than her own, she also had uncompromising strength. She always supported Marlena, whether her behaviour was unconventional or not, and she encouraged Marlena in her desire to find out the truth about her brother’s passing.
“I think I’d like my hair arranged simply today if you please,” she said to Henriette. She was sitting before the looking glass, and Henriette brushed Marlena’s long brown hair, rolling it into a neat bun and tucking some pins into it to hold it in place. Marlena surveyed her appearance. She couldn’t help thinking about the man from Almack’s ballroom.
He had looked at her with such admiration as if she were beautiful.
She blushed. Strangely, that was a new experience for her. She’d had her debut two years ago when she was seventeen but had never really noticed if the men at Almack’s looked at her admiringly or not. She had been too busy taking note of their characters – whether or not she could converse with them, whether or not they struck her as nice people. She didn’t dance much, and she had privately concluded she must be plain-looking.
Until yesterday, when that man looked at her like that.
She blushed pink. She shouldn’t be thinking like this about him! He was a stranger, and she didn’t even know his name. Why was it that he kept on returning to her head?
“That looks nice, thank you,” she said to Henriette, glancing at her hairstyle. It was a plain bun; her brown hair pulled back from her face. She had never noticed that she had a nice forehead before or that her eyes were wide and striking blue. She blushed again, thinking that she really must stop thinking about this man and that it shouldn’t make her feel so much prettier just because someone else paid her interest. He had stared at her, and she couldn’t help admitting she’d liked it.
Henriette shrugged. “Well, then. I reckon you’re ready to go down to breakfast.”
“Thank you,” Marlena said. She looked down at herself, her body clad in the white gown decorated with green sprigs. She could feel the cool muslin against her legs, and she thought the dress suited her – the green colour brought out the blue of her eyes.
She waved to Henriette and went swiftly down the hallway to the breakfast room.
Her feet, quiet on the wooden floors, she glanced at the white walls, lit with lamps, though the day was not particularly dark. She went down towards where she could smell the scent of tea and kedgeree, thinking that she had already become accustomed to the house though they had been in London only three days.
“Morning, Charles,” she greeted her brother, sitting at the breakfast table, the Gazette propped up on his knee. He looked over, smilingly.
“Good morning, sister,” he said. His handsome face was calm, gaze level. He seemed as though he’d slept soundly eight hours. “I trust you enjoyed last night.”
Marlena grinned. She nodded. “It was not bad,” she said.
“Not too bad?” Her brother chuckled. “My dear Marlena! You sound as though you have been stuck in coach traffic and enjoyed it more.”
Marlena made a face. “The analogy isn’t far wrong, brother. But yes, it was truly not bad … the music was good; there were friendly people to talk with, and I got away with not having to dance more than twice. I think it was a successful ball.”
Charles laughed. “Marlena, dear … I do wish you would enjoy balls more.”
Marlena looked at her breakfast. She had been helping herself to a slice of toast with marmalade. She focused on that rather than on what Charles said. She knew he wished for her to enjoy balls so that she would meet people her own age – particularly young lords and gentlemen who might seek permission for courting her.
Charles was a good self-appointed guardian.
“I wish I could enjoy balls, too,” she commented. Her former cheerful humour returned, and she felt one eyebrow rise. “It would make it a lot easier to attend as many of the things as I must.”
Charles chuckled. “Sister, you are right. I apologise. Maybe a salon will be more tolerable for you. I believe we are attending tomorrow afternoon?”
“Yes. I almost forgot,” Marlena agreed. “At three of the clock, is that correct?”
“Absolutely.” Charles nodded. “I’m sorry I will be out most of the day, but I’ll be back in plenty of time to escort you. Should you wish to go elsewhere, you’ll need Henriette as your chaperone.”
“Yes, brother,” Marlena agreed.
They sat quietly, and Marlena bit into her toast, thick with marmalade. She tasted the rich, sweet flavour and thought about her plans for the day. She would certainly be going to the park. She found her thoughts wandering to the gentleman she’d met the previous evening and felt a smile lift the corner of her mouth. She hastily schooled her face to neutral, in case Charles should notice.
She had a sense that he would not approve of the young fellow.
She had to admit, as far as character went, she wasn’t certain of her opinion, either. She didn’t like his arrogance – she wasn’t even sure what it was he did that made her think he was arrogant. It was just something about his attitude that had struck her as the kind of brittle coldness that hid insecurities.
“Marlena, sister?” Charles asked, making her jump. “Sorry. I just wanted to ask if you will be going out today? I have a busy afternoon planned. Mr Marwell is going to be here to discuss the accounts. I know, I hate it, too … but I need to be there. Papa asked if I would sit with him today. It’s easier for him – and for me – if I take over the accounts.”
“I understand,” Marlena agreed. She didn’t want to think about her papa and his health – he had a bad incident with his health a few years ago, and the recent shock had affected him. She knew Charles was here in London mainly because their parents needed him.
“So, will you stay here today?” he asked. “I’m sure there are plenty of diversions in London that even you might like to attend instead.”
She chuckled. “I’m not that fussy, am I?” she asked. “Well, mayhap. And yes, I had thought perhaps Henriette might accompany me to Hyde Park. We would both benefit from taking the air.”
“Of course, my dear sister,” Charles said. He leaned back in his chair, smiling fondly. “And should you need anything, I’ll be up in the drawing room. It’s going to be a tedious morning.”
She smiled. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said. “I can only imagine how tedious it must be.”
He chuckled. “Trust me … it’s not too bad. I just sit back and imagine the sea. It’s ever so restful.”
Marlena was still laughing about that when the butler arrived to summon Charles downstairs to meet Mr Marwell. She leaned back in her chair and looked up at the ceiling, feeling strangely excited about the trip outdoors.
She went upstairs to change and to fetch Henriette – they might as well go out now since Charles would clearly be busy all morning, and she might have a chance of seeing him when he came out of the meeting.
“Henriette?” she called at the door. She thought she might be in there cleaning.
“I wanted to get dressed to go out,” Marlena explained to her maid, who was tidying her dressing table. “The accountant is keeping Charles busy all morning, so we could go to the park now if we so chose.”
“Hurrah!” Henriette sounded excited. “Will we be out long, My Lady?”
Marlena shrugged. “It depends on if we meet anyone in the park,” she said. “But I am sure we will return here for luncheon.”
“Grand, My Lady,” Henriette said. “Then let me help you dress. Will you be changing your outfit this morning?”
“Mayhap,” Marlena allowed, going to check her reflection. She thought the dress was suitable for a walk outdoors – a sensible day dress, one that was pretty and fashionable. She just couldn’t decide if it looked good on her.
She blushed, thinking about meeting the young man from last night. She felt her cheeks go red as she realised what a strong impression he must have made upon her.
“No, thank you, Henriette,” she said after a long moment. “I will wear this dress. If you could fetch my white bonnet? And I think my cloak is downstairs. We will need those, I reckon – it seems to be a bit of an unusually cold wind outdoors.”
“Yes, My Lady. I’ll fetch it directly. And my cloak from upstairs … I’ll be needing it.”
“Very sensible,” Marlena agreed.
Henriette went out with a grin in the direction of the stairs, and Marlena stood in her chamber, thinking about the day. She felt surprised by the fact that she hoped to meet the man from the previous night. She had come here with no thoughts like that – her only purpose in London was to find out more about James and his last week here. But now, when she thought of that man, her mood lifted, and she wanted to smile.
“That’s foolish,” she told herself, but she was still grinning as she heard Henriette’s feet come down the hallway towards the bedroom.
Whoever he was – she had no idea who he was right now – he had certainly given her much to consider, but she still didn’t really understand what he made her heart feel.
“What a Duke Does for Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Following the death of her beloved brother, Lady Marlena Ashover finds herself in unbearable grief and suspicious of what truly happened to her brother. Even though she convinces her family to travel to London with the excuse of the Season, Marlena vows to secretly investigate her brother’s loss and find its true cause. When she meets a young Duke who wants to help her in her quest, Marlena finds not only a loyal friend in him, but also the greatest love of her life…
Will Marlena solve the mystery of her brother’s demise despite the lurking dangers? Could the kind hearted Duke be the person who will bring light into her gloomy life?
Ryan Wellston, the Duke of Claypool, has never had genuine feelings for other women except for Marlena. However, no matter how much he wants to help and make her happy, tremendous challenges are threatening his hopes and dreams… Nevertheless, Ryan is determined to do everything in his power to find the answers to the burning questions of who killed James and why. Will the charismatic Duke manage to bring the truth to the surface? Will he eventually shine a smile upon his dear Marlena’s face?
If only things were always as they seemed…
While Ryan and Marlena are unable to deny their blooming feelings, they first have to deal with the chaos that dominates their lives. Especially since someone is determined to separate them and steal their every chance at happiness forever. WIll the two soulmates shed light on an unforgivable truth and heal their past wounds together? Or will the current threats and emotional storm irreversibly overshadow their growing love?
“What a Duke Does for Love” is a historical romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.