About the book
Jenny Barnett dreams of becoming a chef. She works in the family business her parents worked so hard to create from scratch and finds great pleasure in her simple, country life.
When meeting the very handsome but alarmingly popular among the ladies Thomas Haddington, the famous Duke of Pemberton, a whole new world full of possibilities opens up to her and she goes through a complete makeover to win over his heart.
However, battling her feelings of love seems to be the only way in a society ruled by status and social standing...
With not only his entire dukedom’s future at stake but also his painful past forever hanging upon him like a dark cloud, Thomas soon discovers that everything in his life left worth fighting for is suddenly threatened by absolute extinction.
And the enemy is no other than the only person he would put his hand in the fire to prove him innocent…the scheming Earl of Denham or, in other words, his very own uncle.
The London docks was no place for a gentleman. The putrid smells from the river permeated the cobblestones and the brick. Once thriving warehouses that crowded along the sides of the main streets were now dirty, run-down, locked and shuttered. The streets were poorly lit—if there was any street lighting at all. The filth, grime, and ash hovering in the air blackened every surface along these dark streets and alleyways. These conditions were not fit for man or beast, and there were no signs of any residences or pedestrians. Yes, this was no place for a gentleman to be seen. Not unless there was a bodyguard or several burly footmen by his side.
The gentleman carried only his walking stick and a hooded lantern to keep himself concealed. He picked his way along these cobbled streets. He raised the cover on the lantern now and then to look for some kind of street identification—but in this part of London, there were few if any street signs. His lantern reflected some of its light off the sooty windows casting a ghostly shadow across the few parked wagons.
The gentleman walked alone. He turned the corner and heard faint singing in the silent and eerie darkness. There must be a pub tucked away in some narrow side street.
He could not find what he was looking for, and the gentleman grumbled. He hurried his pace and soon the music from the pub drifted away. He could hear only his footsteps. Then he listened to the echo of two sets of footsteps running toward him. The gentleman stopped, raised the cover on his lantern, and turned to find the source.
Suddenly, the lantern was struck from his hand. Amidst the pitch black and moonless night, he felt two large muscular hands seize his shoulders. With a loud shriek, he fell to the cobbles. He heard the throaty sounds of a harsh voice.
“Aye, it be time, fine gentleman,” the thug said, “Barker wants ‘is money. All of it. Paid now. You understand?”
The gentleman struggled to free himself and crawl away. He felt another set of hands grab his free arm. With the foulest of breath, the second man whispered, “He means business, he does. And it is not just your sweet self who’ll suffer. But kith and kin. You understand me meaning?”
“I will do what I can. I am a little short just at the moment but with a day or two…”
“Tomorrow noon—or we guarantee you will regret it.”
The gentleman lay petrified on the ground. The larger goon kicked him in stomach while the other snatched up the lantern, and together they ran away. The gentleman struggled to his feet, and by feeling the contours of the buildings with his hand, he attempted to retreat to a safer place.
* * *
Her father made meat pies. Her mother baked the bread and Jenny made the cakes and fruit pies—six days a week every week of the year—even on the sacred Sundays leading up to the Christmas holidays when special breads, cakes, and pies were in great demand.
As the eldest child at two-and-twenty, Jenny Barnett was responsible for not only the baking but was expected also to help keep an eye on the younger children—Sally aged eleven; Robert at thirteen was already helping serve customers; and Claudia, seventeen, was being trained to start the morning dough, clean the pans and bowls, and prepare the bakery for the next day of baking.
But one thing their parents insisted on was the children’s education. Even though the younger children needed to be trained in the business, they were also required to have an education, and they spent part of each day at the local school.
It was not until the shop closed in the late afternoon—after all the goods were sold—that Jenny had any time to herself. Her two favorite activities were reading and taking walks around the beautiful Cotswold countryside—often with her friend, Helena Comerford. She was the daughter of Lord Comerford, who owned a large estate near the small town of Chatsworth in Gloucestershire, where Jenny and her family had their home and bakery.
Chatsworth was a typical Cotswold village with a population of about six hundred. The streets, the houses, the bridge, and the church were all constructed of the same sandy colored stone quarried from the surrounding hills, and the roofs were covered with locally sourced slate tiles. The main road entered from the east, and crossing the Camber River, exited to the southwest. The heart of Chatsworth was centered on the town square where the best shops were located—including the Barnett Bakery. There were very few side streets, so all the social activity was centered on the square where the daily market was held.
The houses were built against the street, with no front gardens, although some of the houses had managed to plant a few shrubs, bushes, or climbing roses to soften the front of the house and provide a modicum of privacy.
It was a sleepy village with only one constable and a volunteer fire brigade. The mayor was the village smithy.
Helena came into the shop just after Jenny had taken off her apron and was running her hand through her flour-dusted hair.
Helena burst out laughing. “Jenny, Jenny, what am I to do with you?”
Jenny turned to her friend and asked, “What? What did I do now?”
“Look at you. You look like you just fell out of a flour sack.”
“Well, I have just put in a full day’s work. What do you expect? It is not as though I am going to a ball.”
Helena went over and tried to tidy Jenny’s hair after running her hands through it to shake out most of the flour.
Without a doubt, Jenny was a very handsome young woman. She had raven black hair which set off her fair skin and blue eyes. She was tall and had refined looking features. But what everyone noticed first about Jenny were her sparkling, smiling eyes and her full generous mouth. Many a young man in town was anxious to make Jenny their young lady, but she was in no position to be thinking about romance just now. Her family needed her in the business. She so thoroughly enjoyed baking and was seriously thinking of becoming a pastry cook in some fine country home one day.
Helena stood back and cocked her head to see if she had made any improvement in Jenny’s appearance. “There,” Helena said, “You look much better.” But she scolded, “My dear Jenny, I have to say, you really do not take very good care of yourself. You are so beautiful, but you hide your beauty from the world by dressing like a ruffian. And your hair…”
“But these are my working clothes, Helena. You cannot expect me to dress up when I need to heave flour and sugar sacks and chop bushels of fruit all day long. Really… be reasonable.”
“But how are you ever going to find romance?”
Jenny sighed. “Oh, my dear friend, romance could not be further from my mind. You know what my ambition is—I want to be the pastry cook in a fine aristocratic house someday. And who knows, I might even bake a splendid cake or pie for the King.”
“Well your pastries are certainly a delight. All of Chatsworth flock to your doors each day begging for more.”
Helena was the same age as Jenny, but she was the complete opposite—while Jenny was dark, Helena was fair. She cut a fine figure in her form-fitting muslin dress with few adornments. Helena had naturally curly blonde hair which she wore charmingly pinned up—often with a few flowers woven in. She was more petite than Jenny, but her brightness shown in her pleasing smile and bright blue eyes.
Jenny went to the shop door and opened it. “I was hoping we might hike up to Randall’s Craig today. Is that too much for you?” Jenny asked.
“Not at all. But might I leave my shopping basket with you? I had a number of errands to perform this afternoon.”
“Let me take it upstairs. We will be locking the shop soon.” She turned and called into the shop, “I am leaving.”
Her father replied from the back, “Very well, my dear. Shall we see you at supper?”
“Yes, Father. I shall be home in time to help Mama.”
They left the bakery and went to the door, just to the left of the shop, which leads to the family’s living quarters above the bakery.
“Wait here,” Jenny instructed, and she ran up the stairs and left Helena’s basket. She grabbed a shawl and ran back to the street.
“All ready,” she said, taking her friend’s arm and they headed off down the street and out of town.
Just a short distance outside the village, they turned onto a path that led deeper into the countryside. Randall’s Craig had a commanding view of the landscape and, as the friends began climbing toward the Craig, Jenny asked, “Have you told your father about George yet?”
Helena looked at Jenny and frowned. “Oh, Jenny, that I only could. Father is so intent that Thomas and I marry he absolutely refuses to allow me to consider any other gentleman.”
The path up to the Craig was becoming steeper and Jenny had to reach out and grab hold of a limb to help with the climb. Her attention was momentarily distracted, but once she was a little higher, she asked again, “And how does George feel about the two of you meeting in secret? I cannot think he is very happy about that—being the fine and open gentleman that he is.”
“It is all very complicated as George and Thomas are such good friends, and Thomas and I have been friends since we were children. Can you imagine… both George and I must each keep our courting from our very best friend? It is agony.”
They finally reached the top of the Craig and sat on a rock outcrop gazing across the lovely rolling landscape. Jenny took a napkin out of her pocket, unwrapped it, and took out two apple tarts, giving one to Helena.
“Here is a little treat.”
“Why is your father so insistent that you marry Thomas?” Jenny finally asked as she licked her fingers after finishing the tart.
“Oh, Jenny, Thomas is the Duke of Pemberton and father wants me to be a Duchess.”
“But you have been friends a long time. Why can you not consider marrying him?”
Helena glanced at her friend. “Because we are friends and nothing else. There are no romantic feelings on either of our parts. We are much more like brother and sister than sweethearts. It would be ghastly if we were to marry.” She laughed and then leaned toward Jenny. “Especially with Thomas’s terrible reputation.”
“Oh, yes… there is that,” Jenny smirked.
A cool breeze was picking up as a bank of threatening clouds began heading their way.
Jenny scanned the sky and suggested, “Perhaps we should go before we get drenched.”
They scrambled up and began descending the Craig.
“Did you walk to town or take your carriage?” Jenny asked.
“I walked. It started out such a fine summer’s day.”
“Do you want to stay for supper? Papa made some very fine venison pies this morning. I can promise you a fine meal.”
“That might be lovely but let us see what the weather is like when we get back to the village. I know mater and pater will worry if I do not show up for dinner.”
“But you stay over for supper all the time. Will they not understand that?”
“I expect so.” Then Helena blushed, “But I am not going directly home. You see, George and I…”
“A clandestine meeting?” Jenny teased.
“Exactly. We try to meet on days when I come to the village.”
“Unchaperoned?” Jenny asked with some surprise.
“Actually not. It is at my Aunt Rosemary’s house. We have tea with her, but she always manages to leave us alone for a few moments of private conversation.”
“Then she knows you two are courting?”
Helena nodded. “She does and is very supportive. It is just about the only way we can meet and talk.”
“But at some point, the two of you are going to need to confront your father. This secret courting cannot go on indefinitely.”
They were now entering the confines of the village and soon passed the town square.
Helena tied the ribbons of her bonnet under her chin as the wind was picking up. She looked up at the threatening sky and said, “Oh, Jenny, I think it is indeed going to rain. How can I get to Aunt Rosemary’s without getting soaked?”
“I think you best stay for supper. I can send Joseph to inform your Aunt… and George… that you will not be showing up this afternoon.”
“It will be a disappointment for both of us, but I expect you are right,” Helena sighed.
Just then the first drops of rain began to fall, driven by the increasing wind. They laughed and sprinted the rest of the way down the street to the Barnett residence.
They were just starting to get wet when they rushed in the front door and bolted up the stairs to the sitting room, laughing and shaking their heads to fling off the rain.
Susan, Jenny’s mother, called cheerily from the kitchen, “Have we got a guest for supper then?”
“Yes, Mama, Helena is staying.” She cast a look at Helena who nodded. “And is Joseph about?”
“He and your father are locking up the shop, they will be right up.”
Jenny went to the kitchen. Her mother was putting out the plates and bowls for the table. “Will you call Sally to place the table?”
Susan was a robust and red-cheeked woman with strong arms from years of kneading bread. She seemed to always be laughing and was the heart of the family.
“Why do you need Joseph?” Mama asked.
“I need to send him to Helena’s Aunt’s to say she will not be there for tea because of the storm.”
Mama patted her daughter’s cheek. “You are such a thoughtful girl, little Jenny.”
“Mama, I am not little anymore.”
“But you are to me. Now fetch Sally and I’ll send Joseph to you when he and your father come up.”
“Is there anything I can do to help with supper?” Jenny asked.
“You entertain your friend I will get Claudia to peel the potatoes and carrots.”
Jenny called for Sally to help her mother, and then went back to the sitting room where Helena sat at the desk, writing a note. She looked up when Jenny entered.
“I am sending this to George. He will be upset if I do not send him a personal message.” She folded the sheet of paper, put it in the envelope, sealed it, and wrote his name on the front.
“Miss Jenny, your mother says you needed me to deliver a message?” Joseph, the elderly retainer, asked, as he came from the kitchen.
“I hate to send you out on an errand in this weather, but Miss Helena needs this letter delivered to Rosemary Broadbent’s house as soon as you can.”
“Not to worry, Miss Jenny. I have my rainwear right at hand.”
He took the letter and left.
Jenny held out her hand to her friend. “Come to my room. I have a new book I want to show you. It is a delightful romance that I am certain you will want to read—when I am finished, of course.”
Laughing they ran to Jenny’s room where they threw themselves on Jenny’s bed. Their stockings felt damp, so they undid and kicked off their shoes. They sprawled across the bed, stared up at the ceiling, and listened as the rain pelted the windows and a cozy fire warmed the room.
“It seems like we have known each other forever. Do you remember how we met?” Helena asked, drifting into a fading memory.
Jenny tried to remember and finding it difficult, sat up on her elbows. “Did you come into the shop? Was that it?”
“No. Your mother was delivering a large order of pastries for a party my mother was giving. You had come along, and, when I came into the kitchen, you and I started to make a racket, banging pots with wooden spoons and saying it was music.”
Jenny fell back onto the bed laughing. “I do remember that—but only just. How ever did we become friends? It is so strange for the daughter of an Earl to make friends with a common baker.”
“That was later at the school. We were in the same class and from then on we were never apart.”
“Yes… I am so fortunate my parents put such a value on education. All of us kids have been to school—even though it was a huge burden for them to pay for us to go.”
“I am sorry to say my father rather frowned on us being friends though,” Helena added sadly.
“Because you were from a working family in the village,” Helena said. “He is rather a stickler for aristocratic traditions.”
“I am certainly happy you did not think that way.”
“You know I never would. Now where is that book?” Helena asked, suddenly bouncing off the bed.
Thomas Haddington, the tenth Duke of Pemberton stood at one of the tall windows of his bedchamber, gazing across the expanse of woodland sloping gently toward the river. Pemberton, the family estate, stretched across his view as far as the Thornton hills to the east and all the way to the river on the west. The setting for Pemberton House had always been informal. There were no neatly laid-out formal, French-style gardens—no statues of Greek or Roman origin—nor follies dotted on hillsides reminiscent of classical pavilions.
At eight-and-twenty years of age, Thomas was an impressive figure. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and carried himself with confidence and grace. His auburn hair was long but neatly trimmed. His handsome regular features—his penetrating green eyes—and his welcoming smile made him attractive to most women and friendly to most men.
The Haddington family income partially came from interests in the West Indies. But because of unrest in the region, this income was in jeopardy his uncle, Wilcox Mowbray, the Earl of Denham, said, and he had been urging Thomas to marry money—and soon. There could be no doubt that Thomas loved women—all women. But he kept telling himself he could only marry the perfect woman. And even though he was delighted with their company, he had, as yet, not found the perfect partner. He was absolutely determined not to be pressured by his uncle to marry for money alone.
Thomas had just come from London where he had engaged in casual dalliances with several notable society women. They were eligible, moneyed, and exactly the sort of woman his uncle had been urging him to find as a wife. But what a pity they do not meet up to my expectations, he thought.
Every time he began to contemplate marriage, he could not help but go back to that dreadful day. Ever since… He could not bring himself to utter her name. He abruptly turned from the window and tried to distract his thoughts of her by leafing through an atlas on his side table next to the globe.
“Amanda,” he said aloud and strove again to forget her… but he could not.
Finally, he charged out of his bed chambers, ran down the grand entrance staircase, and charged to the stables where he had a groom saddle his horse. As soon as he could mount, he galloped across the open fields as fast as he could, burning to erase from his mind that haunting name… Amanda… Amanda.
Exhausted from lack of sleep since his return from London, coupled with the ferocity of his ride, he threw himself on the bank of the river and tried in vain to find some rest. But to no avail. The singing birds reminded him of the day of his wedding. The gently flowing river made him think of her gentle nature, and the soothing rays of the sun made him think of her warm and comforting smile. A smile meant only for him—or so he thought—until the betrayal.
But he was not going to allow himself to wallow in the past. What was done was done. Amanda was married to his best friend—his ex-best friend—and that was the end of it. Life must go on.
He roused himself from his thoughts and walked to where his horse was nibbling at a grassy bank and mounted to return to Pemberton.
Even in his groggy tiredness, he knew he needed to take charge of his own life and find a way to restore the resources of the estate without the need to marry only for money—his uncle be damned.
On his ride back, he decided he needed to speak with his Grandmamma, Augusta Mowbray. She was the only other family member still living in Pemberton and he often sought her sympathetic advice on all matters.
* * *
“I thought I saw you going out for a ride,” Grandmamma said, “And the way you furiously rode off, I thought something must be troubling you. Am I right?” she asked with her accustomed sly smile.
“You know me all too well,” Thomas said, slipping into a chair opposite to where she was sitting by the window counting stitches in her knitting.
Grandmamma turned to her maid, Sithens, and asked. “I think we will have tea now. You can tell Mr. Willoughby.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sithens curtsied and left Augusta’s chambers.
Augusta was the mother of both Thomas’s deceased mother and his Uncle Wilcox. His grandfather had been lost at sea many years ago, and Thomas regretted never knowing him.
His grandmother was in her early seventies and still wore mourning, even though she had lost her husband over thirty years ago. It was clear she had been a great beauty in her day, and she still carried herself as a woman to be reckoned with. She had a cheerful personality and, as a result, she was often consulted by both her son, Wilcox, and her grandson, Thomas.
“How was your London trip?” she asked, as she pulled on her yarn and turned the knitting to start the next row.
Thomas sighed, stood, and gazed out of the window. “Not as productive as I would like.”
“I am sorry to hear that.”
Thomas turned to address his grandmother directly, “I have not discussed this with you yet, but I have only recently learned from Uncle Wilcox that our projected income for the estate this year is drastically compromised.”
Grandmamma stopped her knitting and looked up at her grandson. “And do you know why that might be?”
“It seems there has been a great deal of unrest in the West Indies where we have a lot of our money invested. Apparently, the sugar cane has been affected by blight and the workers are starving. It is a terrible mess.” Thomas ran his hand through his hair.
“Is there anything we can do about that?” she sensibly asked.
“We do not directly control any of the production. It seems Uncle Wilcox purchased shares in a corporation that owns a number of various interests in the Indies. The corporation runs the plantations, and we have no say in how they manage the properties.”
“Why would Wilcox be buying shares using the estate’s money? You are the Duke and should have sole control of our resources.”
“Well, yes… but I have to say. I have been a little lax in oversight recently.” That set Thomas thinking. “I do not know how long ago he purchased those shares. It may have been while he was my guardian—before I had control of the Pemberton estate. But that is an interesting point, and I must talk to him about that.”
His Grandmamma pursed her lips. “Your uncle is somewhat of a schemer, Thomas, and I have often had to call him on his little tricks.”
At that moment Willoughby brought in the tea and set the tray on the table before Augusta.
“I’ll be mother,” she said. “Thank you, Willoughby.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, then turned and left.
Grandmamma busied herself pouring the tea, but asked, “Did you ever have an accounting with the solicitors and the bank after you came of age?”
“I saw no need. Do you think I should?” Thomas asked.
“I think it might be a good idea. One can never be too careful. And if you do not mind me saying, you have, indeed, been neglectful in your oversight of the estate.” She poured milk and added two sugars as Thomas liked. “All those trips to London for the balls, the parties, the assignations… I am well aware of your various city activities,” she said with a slight smile.
“How do you know what I get up to in London,” Thomas asked, a little shocked.
“You forget I came from London and I have maintained many close friends who give me regular reports.”
“You spy on me?” he asked with a nervous laugh.
Handing him the cup of tea, she said, “I care for you, Thomas. Do not mistake my caring for spying. I only have your best interests at heart.” Posing her pincers over a plate of scones, she asked, “Scone?”
“No, thank you.”
“Well, I shall. Current scones are my very favorite, and we have some lovely clotted cream and my very own raspberry jam from my delightful garden.”
There was a knock at the door and Willoughby reappeared.
“Your Grace, Mr. George Edgerton has called upon you. Are you in to him?”
Thomas seemed relieved to discontinue his present conversation. “Most certainly. Show him into the library and I shall join him shortly. And see if he would like some tea.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“Grandmamma, we can continue our conversation later,” he said draining his teacup. “I should very much like to see my dear friend.”
“As you like,” she said. He turned to leave, but she stopped him with, “But be careful, Thomas. I really think you need to spend some time with the estate books. And if necessary, you might want to have a word with the solicitors and your banker.”
Thomas smiled, “As always, I shall keep your generous and wise advice in mind.”
* * *
Thomas bounded down the stairway to the library on the ground floor. He burst in and found his friend, George, examining a sheathed sword hanging on the wall.
“It was my father’s,” Thomas said. “Battle of Waterloo. The day he, unfortunately, lost his life.”
“Yes, I remember you telling me that—about fifteen times now,” George said turning to greet his friend with a wicked smile.
George was only a little younger than Thomas. Slight of build, but wiry, with a wide face, sandy hair, and blue eyes, George and Thomas had been friends since they were children. George’s father’s estate abutted Pemberton, and their families had been cordially connected for as long as Thomas could remember.
“What brings you to Pemberton today, old friend,” Thomas asked going over and clasping George by the shoulder.
“Father wanted me to ask you about the racing mare you were thinking of selling. He might be interested.”
Thomas laughed. “Oh, might he? And what is he proposing to pay me for her?”
George rubbed his stubbled chin. “Well, that depends…”
“Well, what can she do?”
“She’s come in second at Newmarket twice. She took the Oaks blue ribbon last year and is favored at St. Ledger in the spring.” Thomas smiled. “But then, you and your father probably know that, am I right?”
George squinched his face and seemed to play dumb. “I would not know. And Father just wanted me to ask casually.”
“Then he is not seriously interested?”
“Wouldn’t say that… But… he was thinking three hundred might be a fair offer and he might be interested at that price.”
Thomas gave a hoot of laughter. “Three hundred? That would be just about what it costs to stable her. It is clear to me he really is not seriously interested.”
“Well, hold on now, old friend. He said he might just go to five under the right circumstances.”
“And what would those circumstances be?” Thomas asked, loving the bargaining.
George rubbed his chin again and feigned deep thought. “Well, it would depend on how she does at Epson.”
Thomas stood resolute. “I could not see letting her go for less than a thousand.”
“And if she does well at Epson, the price goes to fifteen hundred. So, if your father is serious, he had better act fast. Epson is coming up before you know it.”
They looked at each other and broke into laughter. They knew each other too well to take this silly game seriously.
“Did Willoughby offer you tea?”
“He did, but I declined,” George said, “I heard you were in London recently.”
“I just returned. How did you hear about that?”
“I might have heard it from Helena.”
“Oh, have you seen her recently?”
“I believe we crossed paths in the village recently. I hardly remember.”
Thomas studied him. He could usually tell when George was not replying with a straight answer, and he said, “I need to pay her a call. She came by when I was away and left me a note. I owe her a visit in any event.”
“Well, tell her I say hello. It has been so long since I saw her last.”
“Did you not just tell me you met in the village?”
The guilty expression on George’s face gave him away, but he brushed off the mistake. “Oh, yes. But it was so brief as not to be a real conversation.”
“Hmm,” Thomas said.
George became animated and slapped his walking stick in his hand. “I should be going. I have a few other errands to attend to. It was wonderful seeing you again. I hope you will be at Pemberton for a while.”
“I expect to be. Perhaps we can go for a ride some afternoon that does not threaten rain.”
“I should like that.”
“And if your father is serious about the mare let me know.”
George smiled. “I shall pass along your message to him.”
Wilcox Mowbray, the Earl of Denham, had a modest estate in Gloucestershire, but he resided mostly in London. His Lordship was a gentleman in his early fifties. And though he kept a trim figure, he had lost a great deal of his sandy hair—his face was sallow and sagging, and he had a lazy eye that was most disconcerting if he trained it on you in a confrontation.
He spent a great many evenings at his town club playing cards with some of the regular players. However, as Mowbray was preparing to leave the club one afternoon, the club’s chairman stepped away from his office and, with a stern expression, stood before His Lordship.
“Your Lordship, if we might have a few words…” He gestured with his hand for Wilcox to precede him into his office. Wilcox obliged.
The Chairman went to his desk and offered Wilcox a chair opposite. He then picked up a statement and offered it to his guest.
“As you can see, you are more than several months behind on your dues and fees. Your Lordship, I thought this might be the perfect time for you to settle your account.” He paused and stared intently at the Earl.
Wilcox shifted in his chair, slowly placed the statement on the desk and folded his hands atop his walking stick. Unfazed by the situation, he said, “Of course, I shall be happy to take care of it in the next few days.”
“We accept cheques, My Lord.”
“I never carry a chequebook with me, I am afraid,” he said with a tight smile.
The Chairman removed his pince-nez, wiped them with his handkerchief, replaced them on his nose, and gazed once more on Wilcox.
“There are one or two other matters…”
“Several club members have spoken to me about your… obligations…”
Preferring not to make this easy on the Chairman, Wilcox asked, “Obligations?”
“We are all gentlemen at this club, as you are well aware.”
“And it is customary, when a gentleman has an obligation—to have it discharged as soon as possible.”
“I quite understand.”
The Chairman paused allowing His Lordship make an offer. But His Lordship chose not to.
“And although the club’s policy is to prohibit gambling… it is… more often than not, a rule that is breached, than is strictly observed. It seems the majority of our members indulge, from time to time, and the board chooses to turn a blind eye to the matter.”
“How progressive of the board.”
Again, the Chairman paused. “And that being said, several members have complained to me about the fact that you have accumulated a number of gaming debts that remain to be satisfied.”
“Ah… I quite understand, and I shall speak with each of the gentlemen in question.”
That seemed to please the Chairman, and he smiled. “Excellent. Then we shall expect your remittance to us in the next few days for your dues and fees, and I shall leave the matter of the…other obligations in your hands for satisfaction.”
Wilcox stood and said, “What an absolutely capital idea.” He placed his hat on his head and strode out of the office.
* * *
Claudia and Jenny, as the elder of the four children, were naturally drawn together as close friends as well as sisters.
Claudia had recently had a spurt in growth and, as a result, she was as lean and sinewy as a reed growing along the bank of a river. Her long brown hair she kept in tight braids rolled around the sides of her head to keep it from falling around her face as she worked. Jenny had no idea what her sister would grow into, but right now she had the potential to be a handsome woman as she grew and filled out.
When Jenny had her pies in the oven, she would often grab Claudia by the hand, and they would escape out the back door of the bakery. And often, in the summer, they would sit together, catch a breath, and share a peach, a plum, or whatever fresh fruit Jenny was making pies with that day.
One late morning, as Jenny was paring a peach to share, Claudia asked, “How come you do not have a beau yet, Jenny?”
Jenny stopped to think about that. “Not met a lad who appeals to me yet. The local boys all seem so… boyish. And the young men seem to be so… uninterested in anything other than games and ogling us lasses as we stroll the street.”
Claudia hung her head and smiled. “Well, there is one…”
Jenny turned to her. “You have found yourself a young man? Who is he?”
“Jeremiah Wisdom, the vicar’s son. You know him, do you not?”
“I know Jeremiah. He seems like a fine young man. How long have you two been meeting?”
“Not long. We stopped at the Penny Farthing Market and had a few words. Then he stopped me on the way out of church last few Sundays and we chatted a little more before Mama pulled me away.”
“Why not invite him to supper some evening?” Jenny asked and passed a few slices of peach to Claudia.
Claudia looked at her sister with a pleading look. “Will you speak to Mama for me about him? I cannot seem to get up the nerve.”
Jenny wagged her head. “Oh, Claudia, I do not know… It seems like something you should do. She needs to see your enthusiasm for this young man herself. I know she will think well of you if you have the courage of your convictions.”
“You may be right,” she answered then nibbled on a slice of peach. “But you truly fancy no young man yourself?”
Jenny scratched her head. “It is not so much that there are no suitable young men as much as I have a dream. Do not get me wrong… I love our village, but I want… I do not know what. But I want… more. I cannot put it into words exactly. But I see fine ladies and gentlemen walking about the village from time to time and I… I want to be like them. I want to make something of myself.”
“But we are just common folk, Jenny. What can we hope to accomplish?”
Jenny put her hands between her knees and considered. “I have always thought I could be a fine pastry cook one day. I might never be an aristocrat, but I could meet and serve them someday. How lovely it would be to live in a fine house… even as a cook. It is a worthy profession and I believe I am good at what I do and have every expectation of being successful.”
“I have no such ambition,” Claudia said. “I just want to be a wife and have a family. That is quite enough for me.”
“What does Jeremiah want to do with his life?” Jenny asked.
Claudia turned to her and smiled. “He is to go to university. He wants to be a cleric like his father. Then we should be able to have our own parish and have a nice living.”
“And he has discussed this possibility with you already?”
“It has come up… more or less.”
“Then you are really serious about each other?”
Claudia nodded. “I best talk to Mama about inviting him to supper, then. Think you not?”
“Most certainly. But we should miss you if you left us.”
“But it will not happen soon. He still has his studies, and I would hate to leave until the other children are grown and take over more of the responsibility in the shop.”
Jenny patted her sister’s arm. “You might be the first of us to marry, dearest.”
Claudia blushed. “It seems rude of me to get married before you do. I shall pray that you find the perfect gentleman to marry you before me.”
* * *
Helena had not yet informed her father of her interest in George Edgerton. In fact, they had not told anyone—except for Helena confiding in Jenny. But Jenny was closer to her than any other person except for dear George, and Helena knew her confidence was safe with Jenny.
Helena lived with her father and mother at Springford Manor—not more than a ten-minute carriage ride from Chatsworth, but a good thirty minutes’ walk—which Helena often took when she had errands in the village. Certainly, they had staff for such errands, but Helena was an independent spirit, and she liked the walk and the activity—not to mention she enjoyed chatting with the shopkeepers and the villagers. And she always had an excuse to stop in and visit with Jenny, even if but briefly.
Helena was quite accomplished at the pianoforte and took it upon herself to find time to practice almost every day. Today she was hunched over, studying the sheet music and trying to master a particularly difficult passage, when Benton, their butler, came into the music room.
“Miss Helena, Mr. George Edgerton has called for you. Will you see him?”
Helena was at first a little annoyed at having her practice interrupted, but the thought of seeing George cheered her up and she said, “Yes, please show him to the map room and tell Bridget to order tea and join us.”
Bridget was Helena’s older married sister who was visiting from Bristol with her husband and three children. Helena’s mother never liked being disturbed in the afternoon when she was accustomed to her nap, so it was necessary for Helena to call upon her sister to chaperone.
Helena threw her summer shawl over her shoulders, left the music room and headed to where George would be waiting for her.
“Dearest George,” she greeted, “were you driving by?”
“No, dearest, I came specifically to see you. I have not been able to take my mind off you these past few days since we missed seeing each other at your Aunt Rosemary’s.”
“How sweet you are.” She went over and allowed George to kiss her on the cheek.
At that moment Bridget came into the map room with her basket of toys, accompanied by two of her children—a young girl and slightly older boy.
“I have ordered the tea,” Bridget said, finding a comfortable chair and doling out the toys to her progeny. “Good afternoon, George,” she said, taking up a novel she had in her housecoat pocket.
Bridget looked older than her three-and-thirty years. But that was partially because she dressed so severely. She wore a dark brown, rather shapeless dress and a matron’s cap that covered her dark hair. She turned to her children and said, “Now, play quietly. We must not disturb your Aunt Helena and her friend.” She looked up at her sister. “Carry on,” she said and turned to her reading.
No one in the family thought of George as anything other than a family friend and had no idea they were secretly courting.
George and Helena drifted to the far end of the room where they could speak more privately. They sat in a window seat and stared out at the parkland surrounding the estate with its wide sweeping vistas of open fields and woodland.
George seemed suddenly morose and silent, so Helena spoke up. “Dearest, I have been working on a piece of music I think you will particularly like. It is a piece by Handel, but it has the most difficult trills and, I have to say, I have been struggling with them.”
“I am sorry to hear that. But I look forward to when you can play it for me, for I do love Handel’s music in particular.” But having responded, he hung his head again.
“Is something bothering you?” she asked placing her hand briefly on his.
He looked up at her with pleading eyes. “My very dearest, you know how much I love you and how my heart aches when we are not together. And it hurts me so that I can speak to no one about us. Only yesterday, I visited Thomas again and felt so constrained that I could not share with him my joy in loving you.”
They had had words about this matter previously, but Helena reminded him, “You know father’s position. He absolutely insists that Thomas and I marry. But Thomas and I are both in agreement that that is an impossibility.”
“But why should that restrict us from telling him? I trust him not to tell your father as I am certain you do, as well.”
“Yes, but it would be so easy for the information about us to slip out, and father would be furious. Then he could keep us from ever meeting again. As it is now, he does not suspect, and we are able to meet like this as friends.”
George stood up and began to pace, running his hands through his hair. He turned to her and said, “Step outside with me onto the terrace. I feel the need for fresh air,” then he whispered, “and a little more privacy.” He nodded towards Bridget.
Helena stood and said to her sister, “We are going outside on the terrace for a little air. We shall come in when tea is ready.”
“Very well but keep close by.”
They opened the French doors and stepped onto the terrace and stood to gaze over the landscape.
“I am sorry, I just do not understand your father’s position,” George said, taking Helena’s hand, bringing it to his lips, and kissing it.
She pulled away and took a few steps backward. “Oh, George, he is a fanatic royalist and insists I must marry no lower than an Earl. But he has his sights set on Thomas and me marrying because he is a Duke and he knows that we are old friends and sees us as the perfect match.”
“But I know that Thomas is having money difficulties. He has confided in me about the fact.”
“Yes, he has told me as well.”
“Then your father must also know that I am the eldest son and, although my father is not titled, he runs a very fine estate with sheep, wool, grains and a very substantial variety of profitable other crops. I will inherit the estate, and we shall be well set as landed gentry.”
Helena’s head drooped. “I wish that were enough for him, but I am afraid it is not. He insists on a title.
“And what has your mother to say about such matters?”
“Poor Mama is not in the best of health and defers to him on all matters regarding the family.”
George began pacing again. “It is so unfair. My darling, how are we ever to solve this problem?”
“It would seem to me the solution would be to find Thomas another wife. If he was married he would no longer be available and Father just might consider us as a viable couple.”
George sighed, “Then he would just go hunting for a new nobleman for you to marry.”
“Perhaps. But by then, I might have been able to weaken his resolve.”
Benton appeared at the terrace doors. “Miss Helena, tea is served.”
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to read how the story ends?
A Pure Lady for the Broken Duke is live on Amazon right now!