‘Your Grace, it is a pleasure to see you again.’ The well-presented young, blonde-haired man bowed respectfully to her brother. ‘An invitation to a ball by the Duke of Whitfield was most difficult to ignore.’
‘I am delighted you could attend and grateful that my invitation reached you in good time,’ the duke replied, returning a customary nod. ‘Please, let me introduce you to my sister, for I have been eager for you to meet her.’
Fiona stood beside her brother, Whitfield, as she called him when they were not in company, and waited for the introduction, though she was well aware of the man’s identity before his name was announced.
Recently arrived in the area, she had heard Whitfield speak of him often, as it now emerged that the man had somehow sidled himself into their inner circle. He appeared to be a little older than her, but not by many years, and though he was of reasonable handsomeness, what she already knew of him, and his present demeanour, took any benefit that may have had away from him.
Fiona had been informed that he, amongst other noted nobles and gentlemen would be present at the ball and, having spoken to her friends, did not relish meeting him at all. For whilst her brother, for some reason, seemed completely besotted with the newcomer from the North, there were others closely acquainted to her, who seemed to know things about him that her brother evidently did not.
‘Sir Bradley Harding,’ The duke gestured towards her, ‘my sister Lady Fiona Burgess.’ Sir Harding bowed gracefully, a strange, smug smile lining his mouth.
Fiona, out of necessity of gracefulness, nodded her head forward, but little more. Happy to move on to speak to and mingle with other guests, she was more than a little frustrated at her brother holding her back further.
‘Sir Harding is a decorated war hero, is that not correct?’ He nodded to the man, encouraging his reply with an open-handed gesture.
‘I think many men did their part, Your Grace. Some more than others, of course.’ His nasally tone sounded pious and false and his obvious insincerity sickened her. ‘But yes, I am proud to say I served my country with courage.’
‘Have you finished your move to Essex now?’ Whitfield turned to address Fiona once more. ‘Sir Harding is from the North. He is the third son of the Earl of Swanton.’
‘I see,’ was Fiona’s only reply, for whilst her manners refrained her from revealing her complete disinterest, she could think of nothing more to say, knowing that any further conversation would only encourage her necessity to stay in his vicinity. Besides, she knew this information already, not only from Whitfield’s constant chatter, but from others she was already acquainted with – but, knowing this small talk was necessary on these occasions, felt it rude to say so.
‘I have, Your Grace,’ Sir Harding replied. ‘I am now settled into a quite suitable cottage. I am only renting it for now, until I find something of a more permanent nature. Your Grace and Lady Burgess must come and visit soon.’
‘Oh, we absolutely will,’ her brother practically gushed. ‘I am sure my sister and I would be delighted to visit. Is that not right, Fiona?’
Fiona smiled ambiguously. She could hardly understand her brother’s behaviour for he barely knew the man, and yet here he was, acting as if they had been close companions for many years. It made little sense.
‘Perhaps Lady Burgess would do me the honour of the next three dances.’
It was meant to sound like a request, but it failed just enough to be more of a statement, or perhaps a demand. And in front of her brother, no less, and yet he did not protest.
In fact, about to excuse herself for a certainty she wanted to be anywhere else than near the man, Whitfield, much to her utter disgust and annoyance, answered for her.
‘But, of course, Sir Harding. Fiona loves to dance, do you not, my dear sister?’
Fiona could not quite believe what she was hearing. For at any other time he would have been more than protective of her virtue, almost adamant in his principles. Yet, without any regard for her own consent, Whitfield just handed her out like an hors d’oeuvre.
How dare he do such a thing? Her older brother by fifteen years and a duke he may be, but to assume what she wanted or desired without her consideration was more than patronising. Not to mention humiliating. She was not a child who was in need of another to speak for her.
Unable to think of a way to retreat, she knew she could not protest – something both her brother and the gentleman in question were aware of, for it would not be fitting for a lady to refuse.
Thus, against her wishes, she was guided to the dancefloor by a man she barely knew, but whose reputation had seemingly already travelled before him. Fiona, in hindsight, began to wonder, for she knew that Whitfield would not have been so light-handed with her at other times, even with people he knew much better than Sir Bradley Harding.
Attempting to avoid any interaction with the man, her mind wandered to recent events, namely the timely news of the estate. The visit of the family lawyer only last week had brought with it some dire news, though Fiona knew her brother had probably refrained from telling her the full truth.
What he had disclosed to her was that currently, the family estate had been over extended. Due to necessary purchases and expenses, they were running low on funds.
‘I am confused and I do not understand, Whitfield. How is that possible?’ Fiona had asked. ‘For we have the same number of servants, and nothing has been purchased for the estate recently.’
By her brother’s evasive reply, Fiona had deduced quite swiftly that it had actually been his irresponsible management of the estate that had brought them to this point.
‘Can we not just sell off some of the land?’
‘If we sell much more, there will be nothing left,’ he retorted.
‘Oh, come now, Whitfield. It is not that that we do not have enough to spare, for the estate is vast.’
‘Something I am well aware of, Fiona, but I refuse to let any more of it go. This is my inheritance and I intend to keep hold of it. You are too young and have no idea of the ways of the world, or what is expected from a man in my position.’
His arrogance at times could not only be tiresome but utterly boorish. For she knew him very well. Grasping tightly to outer appearances, his snobbishness would be the despair of the family.
Evidently, his lavish spending to impress others had already put them in a precarious position, and if he was not careful they would be left entirely destitute. But what was she to do? He was her older brother and guardian, and she was far too young and of no stature at all to prevent him.
Enquiring of him how they were to retrieve themselves from the situation, he had passed her off with some absent comment.
‘Oh, I am sure I will think of something.’
He had followed this with an arrogant rant of how he was always the one who had to deal with these things and she should not worry herself about it.
Fiona would have liked to retort that he may be the one that always dealt with these things, but if it were not for his reckless snobbery, they would never have been in these messes to begin with. If he were not willing to sell off the land, she could not comprehend by what other means he could solve their problem.
Sir Harding’s attempts to make her acquaintance brought her back into the room and to the unwilling situation she found herself in. As the music played gaily and all around her seemed to be enjoying their evening as they waltzed, Fiona was forced to reply to his questions.
‘Your brother tells me that your family estate is rather grand?’ he ventured.
‘Yes,’ she smiled with politeness, ‘it is the Duke’s inheritance.’
‘Which, of course, will be passed on to you eventually.’
‘You mean when he dies?’ She looked at him evenly, for there was something in his tone that caused her discomfort.
Her direct comment took him a little off-guard, and she was pleased by his shocked expression. It was exactly the reaction she was wishing to attain, for perhaps if their conversation were not so amicable, he would stop making further attempts at engaging her.
‘Well, I am sure it does not need to come to that,’ he floundered. ‘I would imagine that when you are wedded, there will be a gift of property to you.’
‘Indeed,’ she replied vaguely. ‘I would imagine that will not be for some time, as I am not yet even engaged.’
There was suddenly a strange look in his eye that Fiona could not quite place. A look that suddenly unnerved her, for it was as though he knew something that she did not. Whilst she had verged on the very cusp of rudeness with her replies, she did not feel she could progress any further by enquiring of the meaning.
On the second dance, he had commented on how much he enjoyed Essex and that the move from the north had taken some doing with all his particulars. How with all his possessions, it had taken several carriages and numerous journeys. Fiona, bored entirely with his constant talking and mainly about himself, had already attempted to seek out her brother.
To tolerate another dance with this pompous gentleman would be torture, yet on the third dance, having caught her brother’s eye, she insinuated by her pleading look that he release her from this prison. The duke, knowing well her meaning from across the room, simply nodded and ignoring her plea, smiled disingenuously. And it was in that smile that Fiona suddenly felt a strange feeling in her gut.
The journey home was quiet for some time, which was unusual in and of itself, as Whitfield usually talked incessantly of his conquests with the women he had met and would probably further engage with. Either that, or she would have to tolerate his bragging of the numerous people of interest in society that had spent time with him in engaging conversation.
Unable to tolerate the silence and still simmering with annoyance having been subjected to the constant blabberings of Sir Harding, Fiona addressed her brother on his actions.
‘Why on earth did you force me to dance with that man all evening? I, too, wanted to socialise and meet other people at the ball as I observed you doing, but it was impossible having Sir Harding clinging to me all night like a limpet.’
‘Do you realise how unladylike you sound at this moment, Fiona? It does not become you to whine.’
‘I am not whining, Whitfield. I am asking a question.’
‘And within your question, you are whining,’ he drawled. ‘You cannot have your own way at all times. That is just the way of the world.’
‘My own way,’ Fiona nearly spat. ‘I hardly think wanting to speak to more than one person at a ball is me having my own way.’
‘Fiona!’ Whitfield spoke sharply. ‘That is enough of your pettiness.’
His sharpness stilled her and confused her at the same time, for it was not often he raised his voice, but at this moment her brother appeared riled and for no reason that she could comprehend. Her words had certainly not justified his sharp reply.
She remained silent for some time, put in her place and feeling that his reaction had been completely uncalled for. Surely, under the circumstances she had every right to feel annoyed, for he had entirely ruined her evening, forcing her to spend time with a man she neither knew nor had the inclination to.
Eventually, she heard him sigh heavily and he addressed her once again.
‘I must tell you something and you are not to become petulant.’
‘Why would I become petulant?’
‘Because of what I have to tell you. I have arranged your marriage to Sir Harding.’
‘I beg your pardon?!’ Fiona lost all ladylike delicacy and glared at her brother. ‘You cannot do that. Why would you do that? You barely even know him and I know him even less. I cannot marry him, Whitfield. I will not. Why would you do this to me?’
‘I told you not to become petulant,’ he reprimanded sharply.
‘But you do not know him. I have heard things about him already, and he is not to be trusted.’
‘From whom have you heard these things?’
‘My friends have already told me stories…’
‘Stories? So, idle gossip from your lady friends. That is fine evidence of a man’s reputation, Fiona.’
‘But they are not idle stories. Please, Whitfield, do not make me marry this man. I just know in my heart – he is not a good person. Would you please just look into his background? Find out for yourself, for you will know. It will not then be from idle gossip that you will have discovered the truth.’
‘I will do no such thing. He is a fine, upstanding war hero and a nobleman. He fought hard for our country, and I will not lower myself to go snooping for skeletons I know do not exist. Harding is a good match.’
‘But why?’ Fiona cried. ‘Why are you marrying me off like this, for I am barely 20 years old? I have hardly had the time to see anything of the world, never mind explore any options.’
‘There are no options,’ he replied briskly. ‘It is a simple necessity. You know well the situation we are in with the estate.’
‘And to solve a problem that you have caused, I must be the one to pay the price?’ she retorted, suddenly realising the circumstances.
‘Be careful of your tongue, young lady. It is a good solution. We all have to make sacrifices.’
‘So, am I to be your sacrifice to save your precious estate?’
Whitfield glared angrily at her. ‘How dare you.’
Fiona had crossed a line but cared little. Her entire life had suddenly been whipped from beneath her and the swiftness of her fate belied any decorum she may ordinarily possess. ‘Well, tell me it is not true? For I see no other way of looking at it.’
‘I have given you everything, Fiona. I have taken care of you when I had other things I could have been doing with my time, and I have made enough sacrifices for the two of us.’
‘My governess was there much more than you ever were, and we would not be in this predicament if it were not for your reckless spending,’ Fiona blurted out.
Whitfield’s eyes moved swiftly from wide at her impertinence to suddenly narrow as he glared at her. For a heavy pause, he remained silent as he regarded her, before he spoke once again.
‘You would be wise to be careful with your words, my dear sister.’ His voice was now deathly calm and his tone dangerously low. ‘For it is within my power to discern the direction of your future. Believe me, there are worse fates than marriage.’
The intention of his sentence sent a shiver of fear through her. Up to this point, she could not have imagined her brother would ever have put his own happiness and stature before her choices, but it was now clearly evident that was exactly what he planned to do.
Marriage to a man she barely knew would be bad enough, but he could choose to do worse. A thought that settled Fiona swiftly, if her retreat were rooted in only fear alone.
‘The wedding date is set,’ he continued. ‘You will marry Sir Harding.’
An ominous silence fell in the rolling cabin of their carriage. Whitfield, in his haughtiness, stared out of the window, seemingly uncaring of her plight, whilst Fiona, her stomach now churning, could not quite comprehend what had just occurred. How a ride home from a ball, a supposed evening of fun and laughter and gaiety, could have changed her life so drastically in such a very short period of time.
Mulling the situation over in her mind, she realised that her options were tightly limited. In fact, there were really only two. Marry Harding or run away. Fiona had friends in London. Surely they would support her, for a little time, anyway, but after that, then what? Having little skills at all, she would be hard-pressed to support herself.
At least if she married Harding she would be able to remain at the estate, with the servants she knew, and she would be financially supported. But she was not giving in that easily. Having spent her life watching, almost from the wings, as decisions had been made for her, she now wanted to make a choice of her own.
If Whitfield wanted to save his precious estate, if she were to become his sacrificial lamb, she wanted something in return.
‘Given that all my choices have already been made for me, may I request then, that I at least get to choose my own wedding gift?’
Whitfield, now settling back into the seat, seemingly satisfied, by his appearance anyway, that he had won the battle, smiled slightly. ‘I suppose, under the circumstances, that should not be a problem. Certainly, you can choose your wedding gift.’
Fiona took a deep breath, for she knew by his reply that he thought she was going to ask for some trinket, or some family heir loom, but she had a surprise for him. As it appeared, she had no say in the matter, to be forced into this situation and auctioned off to marry a man she had heard so many bad reports of, then her reward ought to be a little more than a trinket.
‘Good, then I would like Langley Hall.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ her brother spat.
‘Indeed,’ she replied smugly. ‘We all have to make sacrifices, Whitfield, and if this is to be mine, if I am to be married off for a price, then I feel it only fair and right that I have that part of the estate.’
‘I cannot allow it. I will not allow it.’
‘Then I refuse to marry,’ she said adamantly. ‘I will run away. You will be left to find another way to keep your precious inheritance. And do not think for a moment that I will not do it.’
Of course, her brother had given in. Not without more protests over the coming days, but still, they both knew that he was now the one with little choice. Fiona hoped he knew, in part anyway, of how she may be currently feeling. For how could he know fully? It was not he who was about to be imprisoned into a life of marriage to someone he had no feelings for nor wanted to spend a moment with, let alone the rest of his life.
For what she already knew of the man repulsed her, and the thought of having to tolerate him near her for the remainder of her years caused her to feel deep despair.
It had been at an afternoon tea only a few weeks previously that Harding’s name had come up. The reports that Fiona had discovered from her friends in that short time together had been the very reason for her ill feeling towards the supposed war hero.
Her friends, Lady Elizabeth and Lady Anna, had both heard something of his reputation, and it had not been anything good.
‘What do you mean, it is not anything good?’ Fiona enquired.
‘Well,’ Lady Elizabeth sipped her tea from the expensive china in her parents’ drawing room, gently replacing the cup on the saucer, before commencing, ‘from what I have heard, he was not as courageous as he is currently portraying himself to be. There have been several reports from men who served beside him who returned from the war injured, that, when the battles raged on, the ‘brave’ Sir Harding was nowhere to be found.’
Lady Elizabeth was of such a delicate disposition, her voice so very soft and low it was almost a whisper, and whilst she did not usually engage in idle gossip, even her eyebrows raised at the news she’d relayed.
‘Yes, but surely when involved with fighting a battle, the soldiers could not know exactly where everyone else was situated,’ Fiona replied.
‘Understandably. And I cannot imagine what it was like, but it appears, he was never seen. Never. It was not that his absence was noticed on just one occasion alone, Lady Fiona.’
Playing the devil’s advocate, Fiona was determined, seeing as her brother had suddenly become quite involved with the man, to source as much truth as she could.
‘Yet, that report could have been passed from a disgruntled soldier who did not like him.’
‘It could,’ added Lady Anna, ‘but the same stories are traveling from quite different sources. For the same has had been heard of him not only from Swanton, but also from Kent and Cambridge. It appears that there are several soldiers who have relayed the same experience.’
In quite stark contrast to Lady Elizabeth, Lady Anna spoke in a determined manner, her speech always with speed and focus. Being of an analytical mind, she was the most highly educated of the three ladies. Just like Lady Elizabeth, for Fiona did not surround herself with friends who engaged in gossip for the sake of it, she would be of the sort not to repeat a thing if she felt it were not valid.
‘Of course,’ she continued, ‘no one can know the complete truth and we cannot swear that the stories relayed are indeed accurate, but you know yourself that when several witnesses from different parts of the country all appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet, as it were, then surely, there must be at the very least some element of truth in it.’
‘It would not even be so bad if the man did not shout his bravery from the rooftops, for that is also what I have heard about him,’ Lady Elizabeth said.
Fiona could not deny that, for she too had heard the same, and not just from Whitfield. In fact, since his arrival in Essex, Harding had pointedly brought attention to his brave efforts in the war, openly espousing his valour and heroism on the battlefields in France. However, it now appeared that the stories he relayed seemed to be in stark contrast to the rumours that had travelled before him.
‘One of the stories that came to me actually told of him hiding out when the battles were heavy and difficult,’ Lady Anna said. ‘And, there is even more to it, for if his cowardice and lies were not bad enough, there appears to be some sort of deceit involved.’
‘What do you mean?’ Fiona frowned, but noticed Lady Elizabeth nodding in agreement with her friend.
‘There is not much clarity on the actual subject, but it appears it could have something to do with him lying or deceiving someone, or going against an order, or some such thing. Unfortunately, the substance of the story has lost its validity in the times it has been told. But I for one do not doubt that there is something in it – simply for the very fact he continues to declare his courageous heroism. For that in itself appears to be a complete lie. And an untrustworthy man in one area of his life is likely to be untrustworthy in all.’
Fiona would have liked to get to know more about the story, but she could not disagree with Lady Anna, for the fact that he continued to shamelessly lie so proudly about his courage and valour seemed ruthless enough. Evidently desperate for the approval and praise of those around him, he would prefer to deceive for gain.
Many brave men had lost their lives on the battlefields in France; many men who had actually stood and fought would never return home, nor have the ability to tell the true story of this conman. For, according to the rumours about him, if they be true, the man indeed was a liar and a coward.
A coward who had wheedled his way into Whitfield’s company and lied to his very face. Fiona almost felt Whitfield was more the fool for believing him without gaining any evidence to the contrary. And by their conversation in the carriage on the way home from the ball that evening, her brother had no interest or intentions of finding out.
The soft, furry tail of his pet monkey tickled his nose, as Jean-Michel Delacroix endeavoured to cross the cobbled streets of London. Almost taking his life in his hands, he attempted, with difficulty, to avoid being trampled under the pounding hooves of the huge horses pulling the phaetons and carriages.
Sitting contentedly on his left shoulder, and not needing to worry about thundering hooves and large rolling wheels, Max had been his closest companion for the last three and a half years as Jean-Michel had travelled through Europe. Though the small Capuchin had escaped many times, they had found each other again, and whilst the conversation between them happened to be mostly one-sided, Jean-Michel was certain Max understood every word he spoke.
‘London is a smoggy place, Max, no?’ he said to the monkey, as he managed to sprint across the cobbled road in the direction of the gentleman’s club.
On his way to meet Gilbert White, a man, like himself with a keen interest in nature, Jean-Michel noted the lack of greenery in the busy town. The only connection to nature appeared to be the huge piles of manure that lay, splattered, haphazardly in the streets.
Yet Reverend White had been a great inspiration to him. A noted naturalist for many years now, White’s observations had motivated Jean-Michel and piqued his interest. Whilst White’s latest work on bird migration and the observations of swifts and swallows had been fascinating, it had been his earlier work of fauna that had caught Jean-Michel’s eye, and, from reading his first journal written by the noted deacon, he had found a passion that truly brought him great joy.
Jean-Michel’s own reputation had grown with both his observations and writings of flowers and fauna, not only in the discovery of different species, but in their abilities of where and when they grew, and even in the manner in which they did so.
Eager to share his findings with White, Jean-Michel was indeed looking forward to finally meeting the man who had inspired and started him on such a journey.
‘Ah, Mr Delacroix,’ the older man stood as Jean-Michel was shown to his table in the corner of the club. ‘And this, of course, must be Max.’ White beamed with delighted fascination.
‘Monsieur White, it is such an honour, sir, to finally be in your company.’ Jean-Michel nodded to the monkey, ‘And I think Max is excited to meet you also.’
The older man chuckled as he returned to his seat, gesturing eagerly for Jean-Michel to take the seat across the table.
‘The feeling is mutual, for I have waited in much anticipation to meet you in person, for your letters are always a joy to receive. It is a thrill for me to meet a fellow naturalist, but you have travelled far in such a short period of time. Was it not only a few months previous you were still in Europe?’
‘This is true,’ Jean-Michel nodded. ‘I have travelled over many parts of Europe. There are many fascinating sights to see. I, of course, wanted eagerly to meet you on my visit to London, but I also have other things I feel compelled to do; so now, I am here.’
‘I see. Pardon me for being so presumptuous, but it sounds like your business is of great importance. Is there any way in which I can help? I do not actually reside in London, but I have many friends and am well known here.’
‘Merci, Monsieur White, for you are very kind, but I am afraid not. As you know from my letters, my family lost much in the reign of terror…’
‘Yes, I was most disturbed to hear that, for you are from aristocracy, are you not? Perhaps, I should have addressed you more formally.’
‘Not at all,’ Jean-Michel shook his head vigorously with a frown. ‘I am afraid the family estate in Northern France is all that is left, but my desire is to connect with relations from my mother’s side, here in England.’
‘Ah, your mother is English?’
‘She is. But it is difficult, as I am unsure where to begin. But no matter, we have many other things of which to speak. For I still cannot quite believe I am here, sitting at your very table. You must, please, tell me, what are you presently working on?’
‘Well, I am sure you will find this quite amusing, given your very close companion here,’ White nodded to Max. ‘But I have just inherited a tortoise.’
‘A tortoise?’ Jean-Michel looked evenly at White.
‘Indeed. My aunt, sadly, passed away…’
‘I am very sorry to hear this.’
‘Yes, quite – but these things come to us all eventually I am afraid.’
Jean-Michel nodded and shrugged agreement.
‘However, my latest observations involve Timothy.’
‘Yes. Timothy the tortoise.’
‘Ah. I see. Max the monkey, Timothy the tortoise. Very good,’ Jean-Michel chuckled.
‘Oh yes. What an astute observation.’ White joined him in laughter.
It was at that very moment that Max decided he was bored of the conversation and decided that he would much prefer a little fun instead. Though Jean-Michel often did not share Max’s idea of fun, as it usually involved the small monkey running around the place, causing much mischief and joyfully escaping capture. Today was no different.
The Capuchin could never do things on a small scale. Having leapt from Jean-Michel’s shoulder, he had scuttled across the floor, jumping onto a neighbouring table to greedily help himself to the snacks, freely available on a small plate, but he had not stopped there.
Exclamations of shock and disturbance continued throughout the club from the patrons as Max showed off his climbing abilities across curtains and lamps and other furnishings. Whilst his skilful leaps were fascinating, they were also disquieting a perfectly ordinary morning’s association.
Jean-Michel, in an attempt to grab his mischievous companion, tripped over a chair himself, landing heavily on the lush carpet which Max evidently found hilarious, as he jumped up and down with glee before continuing his act of escapism by scuttling behind the bar, much to the distress of the serving staff.
It was almost a full five minutes of this carry on before, with great dexterity, Jean-Michel finally managed to grabbed him, but not before bumping clumsily into a very well-dressed gentleman standing nearby, who nearly choked on his cigar.
‘I am so very, very sorry.’ Jean-Michel relayed, breathlessly.
‘Quite alright,’ the gentleman smiled, coughing slightly and turning to the group of men at a table he was evidently sitting with, all of whom had been enjoying the spectacle as it played out. ‘I do not think we are too surprised, given that you are an acquaintance of the great Reverend White, are we gentlemen?’
The men chuckled, much to Jean-Michel’s relief. Holding Max securely, he nodded towards the monkey. ‘Merci, Monsieurs. He can be quite a handful.’
‘Most of us present have wives, or are soon to have.’ The gentleman winked, ‘We know well what you mean.’
Again, a chuckle of laughter rippled around the table and one by one, the gentleman introduced Jean-Michel to the others.
‘This is, His Grace, the Duke of Whitfield.’
‘Your Grace,’ Jean-Michel nodded respectfully.
‘And, Sir Renwick…’
Jean-Michel inclined his head at each man introduced, the process lasting for quite a few minutes, before the offer of him to sit at their table was extended.
‘Pardon Monsieur, but I am with Reverend White.’
‘Oh, we are well aware, for the reverend is quite well-known in these parts, and he is welcome to join us also.’
Two more chairs were placed at the gentlemen’s table, and both Jean-Michel and Reverend White enjoyed the gentlemen’s company for several hours, the subjects running from politics, to botany to the war and all sorts of things in between.
At the end of their time together, Jean-Michel bid a fond farewell to the deacon, promising to write him and let him know as soon as he had secured accommodation, so he had a place to send his return letters.
Jean-Michel, with Max firmly back on his shoulder, was about to exit the gentleman’s club when the Duke of Whitfield approached him.
‘I do not hope you deem me rude Mr Delacroix, but I could not help but overhear that you had nowhere currently to stay.’
‘That is correct, Your Grace. I have yet to find suitable accommodation since arriving in London, and currently have been staying at an inn.’
‘Then perhaps I could propose a solution that would serve us both. Your conversation on your experience and expertise with agriculture and gardens quite fascinated me. I have a large estate that currently could use a man with your very skills. How would you feel about lodging there and to recompense, I will give you free rein to do as you please in managing and improving the extensive gardens?’
Whilst Jean-Michel hardly knew the man, it was evident by the company he kept that he was some sort of high society. Given that he was now, almost penniless, it seemed a fortuitous, yet well-suited proposition. For not only would he and Max have somewhere of their own to lay their heads, but the idea of being left to manage his gardens was too tempting to refuse.
“Once Upon a Blooming Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Fiona Burgess feels utterly devastated when her brother pressures her into an unwanted betrothal to a man of a dubious reputation. When she receives anonymous letters encouraging her to question the source of her intended’s wealth, she knows that his secret is darker than she thought. Her life will take an unexpected turn though, when she sets eyes on their new groundskeeper, who will comfort her with his flower knowledge and gentle soul. Not long after, the tormented lady will find herself deeply in love with the kind gentleman, despite knowing that a romance with him is impossible to flourish. Will Fiona find a way to prove to her brother that the person he forces her to marry is a scoundrel? Or will she be condemned to a loveless marriage, losing the only man that holds the key to her heart?
While Jean-Michel Delacroix is searching for his long-lost family in London, he is offered to work as a groundskeeper for a reputable Duke. Being in need of money, he accepts the offer and dares to think that his life could finally change for the better. What he did not expect though, is that he would be so profoundly touched by the despair of the Duke’s enchanting younger sister. Besotted by her ethereal beauty and intelligence, he secretly plants blooms to see her fragile face lighten up and can’t stop daydreaming about her. When he finds out about her upcoming wedding, he falls into pieces, but decides to do everything in his power to rescue her from her doomed fate. Will Jean-Michel expose the heartless swindler before it’s too late? Most importantly, will he have his fairytale-ending with the woman of his dreams?
Fiona and Jean-Michel are lost in their blossoming feelings for each other, but time is running short and they must battle against the unmoving Duke. However, Jean-Michel also has his own secrets, which could either benefit him or take Fiona away once and for all. Will the two soulmates manage to protect their love and overcome the darkness of the surrounding threats? Could the light of true happiness be waiting on the other end of their struggle?
“Once Upon a Blooming Love” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.