About the book
When the terrible news of their father’s sudden death is brought to Repington Hall, Anna Hoskins and her little sister are utterly devastated. Now orphans, the two sisters have no other family in the world except for the Buxton siblings.
Being captivated by Anna’s unprecedented beauty since forever, Harry Buxton, the handsome Earl of Creassey, finally seizes the opportunity to pursue his secret feelings of love for his gorgeous childhood friend.
But the girls’ tragedy is quickly followed by the fast-spreading news of them receiving a grandiose inheritance and Anna’s honor is threatened to be ruined forever. Harry is the only man willing to risk everything to save her.
In this game of courtship, where a dowry appears to be more of a curse than a blessing, Anna learns the hard way just how easily happiness can turn into a complete disaster.
The English lady sat relaxed in the front of the boat. Her eyes focused on the dense green foliage along the bank. She held the rim of her large straw hat with one hand and with the other pointed to a primate swinging through the canopy of trees above their heads.
“And just what is that?”
The young chap interrupted his stroke from the back of the long native canoe and looked where the lady was pointing.
“It must be a monkey.”
Using both hands, the lady lifted her veil for a better look. “No, it is too large for a monkey.”
“Then it must be a baboon.”
She held her hands loosely on the rim of the canoe, turned her head and glared at him. She had to challenge his assertion. “And how would you know about these things?”
He rolled his eyes and shrugged. “I read books. And I go to museums.”
“How very noble,” she said. She turned back around, lowered her veil, and once again, placed her hands on the rim of the boat.
The current was steadily flowing, and they paddled at a leisurely pace.
The lady started to fidget on her seat. “How do you stop this thing?”
He closed his eyes and shook his head. “I guess I would paddle to the bank and park it.”
She took in a sharp breath and snorted. “You guess? Your books and museums do not tell you that for certain?”
“Well, the native guide suggested that.” He chuckled.
The young man felt the pull of his paddling slowly increase as the water became swifter.
The Lady squinted her eyes and her nostrils flared like a raging bull. “And tell me again why, in God’s name, we did not bring him along to steer this… toy boat?”
“We came on this trip for an adventure and we wanted to experience life in Africa for ourselves as much as possible.”
He was exerting more energy as he paddled harder in deeper water and faster current. He was panting. Under his hat, sweat dribbled down his neck and along his spine. The once-loose and dry linen shirt was now soaked and stuck to his back.
The river was becoming swifter and water was beginning to slosh over the sides of the canoe. He struggled to maintain control and attempted to maneuver the boat through the narrowing.
“This just might be a little more African life than I anticipated or desired,” she said now becoming panicky.
Her breath quickened. Her knuckles were whitening as she tightened her grasp on the sides of the boat. “I think you had better paddle us to any shore immediately.”
They heard the roar of falling water up ahead.
“I am trying to,” the young man said.
He tightened his grip on the paddle, desperately trying to steer the boat toward the bank, but to no avail. The muscles in his arms and shoulders were cramping. His chest rose and fell with rapid breaths.
The boat was now pitching and rocking as the previously placid river was quickly flowing into a series of rapids.
He was breathing harder now.
However hard the young man paddled, the canoe continued to careen down the center of the river. He felt his grip on the paddle slipping. His fingers were cold and numb.
The lady now had a death grip on the rim of the canoe. She noticed the caps of the water whiten and the waves rise and crash fiercely on each other. She narrowed her eyes and raised her voice.
“And just where is the next bend in the river?”
He breathed in fire; his lungs burned with each inhale. The young man answered as they heard a thundering roar.
“I hate to say this, but I do not believe there is a bend in the river.
The paddle tore from his grip and flew in the air. His hat took off in the spiraling wind.
He yelled. “I believe we are about to encounter a waterfall.”
His eyes widened, and he felt the sting of the crashing waves slam into his face.
The lady bowed her head, and tightly closed her eyes. Her cries drowned in the spray as the force of the raging water swallowed them up.
“I got one,” Harry exclaimed to his friend, Percy, as he gave a swift yank on the rod and began reeling in the large trout. Percy reached for the net and prepared to capture the fish, as Harry brought it close to the bank of the stream, although the fish bucked and struggled.
“Damn, that is a nice one,” Percy said, as he held up the net with the snagged fish for Harry’s examination. “What fly are you using?”
“One I made myself.” Harry unhooked the fish and showed Percy what he had made—a hook tied with an assortment of brightly colored feathers.
Harry Buxton, the Earl of Creassey, was a handsome young man of seven-and-twenty, with dark hair that was prematurely graying at the temples. But his youthful face with dark eyes, a generous smile, and a strongly defined face was what attracted admiring glances from both ladies and gentlemen. And, as he was an active manager of his estate, he was not shy when it came to doing the hard work required. As a result, he had broad shoulders, strong arms and legs, and his skin was tanned by constant exposure to the sun.
“You are a much more dedicated fly fisherman than I am,” Percy said. “I would not have the patience to construct my own flies.”
“It relaxes me. Working on the estate all day, I like to have some quiet time to reflect and think and working on my flies does that for me.”
Percy Garvey was the youngest son of the Duke of Crauford, who held the neighboring estate of Billingsford. But the young Percy seemed to have no direction, and after a few years at Cambridge University was sent down for misbehaving and never returned.
The young Percy and Harry had been friends since childhood and often spent time together for fun and sport and confided in each other over any personal matters that might be troubling them.
Percy was nearly the same age as his friend, at four-and-twenty. But he was slight of build, shorter and with blond hair, a fair complexion and no sign that he ever contemplated hard work let alone did any. His family despaired for his future, but so far, Percy had no discernable direction for his life other than enjoying it however he could.
But the two young men’s friendship overrode any reservations Harry might have about Percy’s lazy character.
“Do you want to take any of the fish with you?” Harry laughed. “Even though you caught only one. Maria does not like trout, so it is just Mother and I who shall dine on it this evening.”
“No thank you,” Percy said, as he untethered his horse from a nearby tree. “I do not much care for fish of any kind. I just fish to accompany you mostly.”
“What a heathen you are, Percy. You have no taste or refinement.”
Percy punched Harry in the arm and assumed a boxing stance. “I challenge you on that point, Harry. There is no one more refined than I am. Ask all the ladies. They will tell you.”
Harry scoffed. “Yes, I have seen some of the ladies with whom you keep company. I hardly think they are the arbiters of the best taste. I do not see, what you see in those tavern wenches, my friend.”
“Just a dalliance from time to time. Nothing serious. Papa will arrange the perfect bride for me. One with great beauty and with a great deal of money.”
“You are a scoundrel, my friend, but I love you nonetheless.”
Percy mounted his horse, tipped his hat to Harry and said, “Give my best to your dear sister… and your mother, of course. But you can give Maria a kiss for me.”
“I am certain my sister will be delighted with that, as she hardly pays you any attention at all.”
“Liar. She adores me,” he added, and then he rode off.
Creassey Manor was set at the far end of a fertile valley that comprised the Earl’s estate near Aldbourne in Wiltshire. The manor house was surrounded by low wooded hills and spread out, before the sixteenth century house, were lush formal gardens, hidden secret gardens, and expansive walks through woods and fields where Maria, Harry’s sister, loved to walk, book in hand, or with her dearest friend, Anna Hoskins, the daughter of a near neighbor, the Viscount Repington.
Harry’s mother, Leah—the Lady Creassey—always waited to have afternoon tea until Harry and Maria were present. It was a family tradition that had been observed ever since her husband had passed away five years ago. But while Maria was always punctual, Harry was often late or did not show at all—his excuse being, that the duties of managing the estate would not often yield to his mother’s rigid schedule.
Maria was just a few years younger than her brother, with the same coloring and familial features. It was clear they were brother and sister. But she had a beauty that was delicate and pleasing, even though she worked hard at co-managing their estate. Thinking this was one of the afternoons when Harry would not be present for tea, Maria had just poured her mother’s tea and was handing her the cup when the parlor door opened.
“Mother, as you can see I made it this afternoon,” Harry announced, as he came into the yellow parlor, favored by his mother for tea service.
“We have some particularly lovely cucumber sandwiches, just the way you like them, Harry,” his mother said. “Come sit with us.” She then looked at her son’s boots. “And you are tracking mud all over our lovely Persian carpet. Do try to be more careful.”
“Sorry Mother,” he said going to the fireplace and knocking his boots against the dormant fire grate.
“Percy sends you both a greeting, and you Maria, a kiss,” Harry said with a teasing smile to his sister.
“Cheeky devil,” Maria said, blushing slightly, as she poured the tea.
Harry went to sit at the tea table and shook out his napkin and placed it on his lap as Maria handed him his cup and a small plate of cucumber sandwiches.
Lady Leah Creassey was a severe looking woman. Perhaps she had been beautiful at one point in her life, but she was now an invalid. She had been injured in the same accident that had killed her husband, when their carriage tipped over on a narrow road and tumbled into a ravine.
She wore her graying hair tight around her face and pulled back into a bun at the back of her head. Leah always wore black, sat stoically upright in her wheelchair, and was always in pain.
“Dear Brother, have any of the pregnant cows calved yet?” Maria asked. “I know you were expecting the first birth this morning.”
“Actually, the first came last night and Daniels discovered the calf this morning when he was putting out the feed.”
“And it is all right?”
“It is. Healthy and suckling.”
“How many more are there waiting to give birth?” Mother asked.
“We actually have two-and-thirty this year,” Harry answered. “Five more than last year.”
“I am so happy we do not slaughter our cattle. It is so much better to raise breeding cattle.” Maria said, pouring another cup of tea for her mother.
“And raising prize winning Kerry cattle is a great deal more profitable, as well. We will be showing again at the Winchester fair this year. It has been so profitable for us the past three years.”
“Did you catch your supper?” Maria asked. “Cook was asking as I was passing through the kitchen.”
“I did.” He turned to his mother. “I have a nice fat one for you, Mother.”
She smiled tightly. “Lemons are so difficult to come by in Wiltshire, how will it be served?”
“I can ask cook to do a nice béarnaise sauce using white wine vinegar instead of lemon,” Maria said.
“That will do.”
The butler, Daniels, appeared with a pot of hot water. “Refresh your teapot Miss Buxton?” he asked Maria.
“More tea, anyone?” Maria asked. No one responded. “I think we are done, Daniels.”
“Lady Buxton, are you ready to be taken to your rooms for your nap?” Daniels asked.
Leah sighed. “If you would, please.”
“Carter is standing by and will assist you.”
Nurse Carter came into the parlor, adjusted Leah’s lap rug, and wheeled her out of the room.
As Mother left, Maria lowered her eyes and softly asked Harry, “How is Percy?”
Harry laughed, “The same rascal as ever, but a charming one.”
Maria sighed, “Yes that he is. But it is my contention he just needs a good woman to tame him.”
“I am not certain he is quite ready to be tamed just yet.”
Maria put her hands together in her lap, affected a smile, and asked, “Now then, when is the Winchester Fair and will you take me with you this year?”
“It is in August, and I do not see why you should not come along.”
Anna Hoskins had the kind of face that one looks at and thinks, “lovely girl,” and then immediately dismisses. Not because she is not beautiful, but because it is the kind of quiet beauty that is enhanced by a vibrant personality. With Anna, her fires were banked and smoldered deeply—not prone to flashes of flames. But when she was excited, her face radiated fire and light that was unmatched by anyone who was not her equal in intelligence, humor, and goodwill.
Dorothy, Anna’s younger sister, however, was considered the great beauty of the family with her blonde curls, round pixy face, and large expressive eyes. Anna was darker, taller, and her features were strong and almost masculine. But she was every inch a fine woman.
Anna and Dorothy were the daughters of Frederick Hoskins, the Viscount Repington—their mother was deceased. The Viscount was one of the current directors of the East India Company and was abroad in India at least six months out of the year, so the two sisters relied almost exclusively upon each other.
Anna was at her desk in the library where she often spent her time with her beloved books on architecture—both classical and modern. And, when she was not reading, she was drawing, drafting plans and elevations, or creating elaborate structural details in ink sketches.
Dorothy burst into the room wearing a yellow summer dress, carrying an armful of flowers “Just look,” she exclaimed, “Are they not lovely? I really do believe this has been the best summer of all for my flower garden. Where shall I put these? Would you like some for your room? Or in here? I have so very many.”
Anna laughed. “They are, indeed, lovely. But keep them for the dining room and perhaps the drawing room where we can see them together to brighten our evenings. Too bad Papa is not here to enjoy them with us.”
“Any letters from him today?” Dorothy asked.
“I am afraid not, dear. He writes so seldom. And India is so very far away. The mail is so slow Papa sometimes arrives home even before his letters do.”
“Well, I shall take your suggestion,” Dorothy said, “and have Warrick distribute these flowers between the dining and drawing rooms. They shall be so lovely and will brighten both rooms.”
She turned to leave but stopped and asked, “Have you seen Percy recently?”
Anna blushed, and said, “No, he has not stopped by in quite some time. I think he only stops by when he is riding this way and wants some tea.”
“Surely not. He comes to see you, is that not so?”
Anna shook her head. “I believe he has his heart set on our dear friend, Maria—although she denies it.”
“Nonsense, I feel certain it is you he delights in.”
“Now that is what is nonsense,” Anna insisted.
Dorothy dashed over to where Anna was working. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“I am copying out a Greek temple,” Anna replied.
“Why do you do these things? Whatever for? You are never going to build anything. It is quite useless. Women are not architects or builders. You should be studying the pianoforte or drawing. Something useful that will attract Percy more than your endless drawings of buildings, old temples, and floor plans.”
“My dear, I do not know how you can berate me with you, on your hands and knees, digging around in your garden? Who is that going to attract? You know Papa has high hopes for an advantageous marriage for you.”
Dorothy danced around the room, playing at throwing flowers at suitors. “Yes, he wants to take me to London for the season when he returns from Inja. Thinks it is so-o-o easy to find a suitable husband. He sees it like shopping. One store sells brides and another store sells grooms.”
Anna laughed. “Ah, that it were so easy. But I have to say, I am not in that great of a rush to be married. I like my freedom.”
Dorothy danced back to Anna and bent over her. “Unless Mr. Percy Garvey was to dance your way.”
Now Anna blushed, as that was what she secretly desired. “Oh, Dorothy, there is never an opportunity for us to dance. No one has given a ball or even an evening dance for ages. Has there even been one this year? I think not.”
“Then perhaps we should give one,” Dorothy suggested.
Anna took charge, as the eldest sister, and said, “Not without father present. You know we cannot.”
“But when he comes home then?” Dorothy asked hopefully.
“We will ask him then.”
“But when will he return? It seems he has been gone forever!”
Anna sighed as she stood and placed her watercolor brush in a glass of water to soak. “One never knows with Father. He comes and goes as he must for the good of the company.”
Dorothy went to one of the large library windows and gazed wistfully over the rolling hills outside and mused, “I do miss Mother. She would have been so good at directing us to find suitable young men to court us.”
“I miss her too.”
Dorothy wheeled around and said, “I must get these flowers in water or they will wilt away like I feel I am doing these lazy summer afternoons.”
“And which young gentleman would you wish to court you?” Anna asked.
“Why, His Lordship the Earl of Creassey, of course.”
Anna laughed, “But he is like our brother. We have known him and Maria forever.”
“Nonetheless, it is he who I should choose for my first dance partner—and perhaps my last,” she said and then danced out of the room.
Arnold Garvey, the Duke of Crauford paced his study as his property manager, Dirk Cooper, stood before him. The Duke waved a sheaf of papers in his hand. “This is totally unacceptable. Each month the total amount of collected rents continues to fall. Why is this? Are we losing tenants or are they not paying?”
“I am sorry to say, Your Grace, that these be hard times for the folks in Marlborough. A lot of the men be out of work due to the work on the canal being completed. Most workers laid off. There be no new jobs at present, and the womenfolk try to take up the slack by taking in gentlefolk’s washing, but there just not be enough to go around.”
“Then throw those who do not pay out! I will not have slackers in my buildings. The income to run this estate comes from rents. No rents—no income and we all suffer.”
“But Your Grace, these folks…”
“I do not care. I have my own troubles. I have mortgaged the estate up to the hilt and I have no wiggle room. I have a lazy, no good son and heir who thinks the world owes him a living and all he does is spend, spend, and spend. Damn the lazy lout.”
Arnold Garvey was as unlike his handsome son, Percy, as possible. Even though Arnold was not that old—not much more than fifty-years-of age—he had hard cold eyes, a roughly lined face, and walked with a limp from a fall off his horse while hunting in his youth. It seemed to sour him for the rest of his life, and he only became meaner and meaner with time.
“Then what would you have me do?” Dirk asked.
“Toss everyone who cannot pay onto the street. I have been thinking of tearing down those slums in any case. There are so many new opportunities these days I might, for example, partner with an industrialist to build a cotton mill on that prime land. Put the land to better use. Cotton is becoming king and it might solve all of my problems.”
“But the workers will need places to live, Your Grace, might you not consider that as well?”
“Hmm. Not a bad point.” Arnold threw the papers on his desk and stared at his manager. “But there will need to be a mill before there can be workers. I am up to Marlborough next week to see what I can arrange. Damn debt is driving me crazy. For now, do as I say. They pay up or out they go.”
“Your Grace,” Dirk said, touching his forehead in a salute. “Until next month then.” He turned and left the study, passing Percy, who was entering, as he left.
“There you are. Where have you been?” the Duke asked.
“Fishing with Harry,” Percy said. He leisurely strolled around his father’s study examining the family portraits.
“What am I to do with you? You do nothing of value for this family. Your mother despairs, I am aghast at your laziness. You are either going to have to get a job or find a wife with money. I cannot continue to support your idle lifestyle.”
Percy turned to his father leisurely and asked, “But what about the estate? Do we not have income from it? Certainly, with all this land and as the Duke of Crauford you must be at the top of the heap, no?”
Arnold threw his hands in the air in exasperation. “How many times do I have to tell you we are in debt? Our income is faltering and we must find new sources of income to survive.”
“But you have all that property in Marlborough. Certainly that must bring us a nice living.”
“If you ever paid any attention to what I told you, you would know that is no longer sufficient. Damn, boy, you must do something for this family or, I swear, I shall toss you out without a penny, and you can go and grub for yourself and see how the real world operates.”
“Oh, father dear, how you do exaggerate.”
“Just try me,” Arnold said slapping his hand on his desk.
“Very well then, perhaps I shall travel to London and scout around for a bride. There must be any number of available young ladies with substantial livings who would jump at the chance to marry the heir apparent to a Dukedom.”
“Land. You must find one with money but also land. That is what counts the most. Knowing you, you would run through a dowry in short order, but land can bring a steady income if properly handled.”
“Then why is our land not doing that?” Percy insisted.
Arnold was embarrassed and turned away. “Because your grandfather gambled and either sold or mortgaged much of our land. All we have that brings in any income are our properties in Marlborough. Unless you want to work what little land we have left and make something of that?”
“Sheep. Cattle like Harry does. Grains, produce, any damn thing.”
“Me? Work the land? Are you crazy? I am to be a duke. I do not work.”
“Then you must marry money and soon. Am I understood?”
“Oh, Father… really.”
Anna had not visited with her good friend, Maria, for ages. As it was a pleasant sunny day with innocuous white fluffy clouds that did not portend rain, she decided to take a leisurely walk to Creassey Manor to visit Maria unannounced. She set out at a good pace to enjoy her afternoon with a light heart.
Maria and Harry ran the Creassey Estate together. He managed all the business end of things, while she ran the household. She was not some spoiled Earl’s sister who spent her days coiffing her hair and reading romance novels. No, she worked. If she was not overseeing the laundry, she was conferring with Cook or giving instruction to Daniels about the day’s work for the footmen and chambermaids.
Today’s work was the making of tallow candles. The household used a prodigious number of candles and every several months it was time to make a new batch. This was usually done in the kitchen as the tallow needed to be heated to be poured into the candle molds.
“Almost there, Lady Buxton. Another five minutes, I would say,” the senior kitchen maid, who regularly assisted in the candle making, said.
“Who is helping you today, Bridget?”
“Charles and Robert, Milady.”
“Excellent. I shall pop in now and then to see how it is going. But do not hesitate to come for me if you have any problems.”
“Do not expect there to be any, Your Ladyship.”
Maria turned to leave the kitchen when Daniels appeared and announced, “Miss Hoskins has come for a visit. I put her in the map room, Milady.”
“Oh, good. Thank you, Daniels. And will you bring us some tea?”
He nodded and Maria removed her apron and headed to the map room.
“Oh, it has been ages,” Maria cried out as she threw her arms open to welcome Anna into a hug. Her friend was leaning over the globe and looking at Asia.
“I am so sorry for just popping in unannounced, but it was such a lovely afternoon, and I fancied a walk and a visit.”
“I am so glad you did. I get so caught up with the house business, I forget to lead a normal life from time to time.”
Anna went to her friend for the proffered hug. They took a step backward, clasped hands, and looked at each other in mutual admiration.
“I have ordered tea,” Maria said.
“But it is such a lovely afternoon might we have it in the pergola?” Anna asked.
“That would be lovely. Let me just tell Daniels.”
When Maria returned, the two friends linked arms and left through the French doors onto the terrace. They walked down some steps and across the lawn to the pergola, set in a grove of trees, that was one of the more pleasant places to partake of tea.
When they reached the pergola, the two friends sat at the table and began to chat until the tea arrived and was served.
“Have you had any news from your father?” Maria asked. “He has been gone for so long this time.”
“We have only had two letters. Both were rather brief and to the point. ‘I went here. I went there.’ That sort of thing. But we have not heard from him for a long while now.”
“Then perhaps he is on his way home,” Maria suggested.
“We certainly would like to think so.” Anna was feeling lazy after her first cup of tea and she stretched and yawned. “But Dorothy has it in her mind for us to give a dance. She is longing to be entertained. She thinks we live a dreary life. But I told her it is not proper without father in attendance.”
“Then perhaps we should be the ones to give a dance. It would not be a ball, of course. But we might put together a lighthearted evening with music and a little dancing.”
Anna sat up. “Oh, Maria, that would be splendid. Do you think Harry would agree?”
“I do not see why not. It has indeed been a long while since anyone in the neighborhood entertained.”
Anna felt like teasing and asked, “And would you be inviting Percy? I do believe he has shown interest in you, has he not?”
Maria blushed and busied herself with pouring them each a second cup of tea. “I have no idea what you are talking about, Anna. Mr. Percy is not a very reliable young man. I do not think he would make an appropriate suitor.”
“But he is so-o-o handsome and charming,” Anna said and leaned in to catch Maria’s eye and made her acknowledge the truth of what was in her heart. But Maria avoided Anna’s gaze. “Go ahead, Maria, admit you have feelings for Mr. Percy. You know you do.”
“I might find him a little interesting,” Maria finally conceded.
“Oh, I believe it more than a little. Come, we have been friends for too long to play games with each other.”
But this was one area where Maria did not want to open her heart to her friend. She did have feelings for Percy, but she felt embarrassed by those feelings because she could clearly see that the young man was not a worthy suitor. So she continued to deny her feelings and pretend they did not exist.
“My dear, Anna, as I said, I do find Percy handsome and charming, but also a little too cavalier—and that is not what I am looking for in a young suitor.”
Anna shrugged. “But you would dance with him at your dance, would you not?”
“Of course,” she said with a faked smile. “I am a lady, after all, and he would be a guest. Who am I to refuse a guest a dance?” Then Maria turned the tables. “Anna, while we are on the subject, I believe that you have feelings for Percy, as well. Am I not correct?”
Anna blushed and tried diverting the subject by saying, “Well, I am in a mood to dance with any and every one. It has been a desert in Wiltshire for over a year. We need some gaiety and dancing. And I, for one, would even dance with a stable hand if he were invited.”
Maria laughed. “My dear, you are liable to gain a reputation.”
“I shall risk it.” Then she suddenly got down to business. “So, you and Harry will host a dance? It would be so lovely to hear the gay strains of music and to feel light footed once again.”
“And I imagine Dorothy will join us?”
“Of course—this really was her idea. Poor dear, she has little exposure to young gentlemen, and I fear, with Father away so much of the time, she will rarely have the opportunity to meet any young men soon—unless you hold your musical evening.”
“Then I will make certain it is done!”
“Please. Let me know if we can help in any way. I know a great deal of your attention is directed at helping to run the estate. But if Dorothy and I can be of assistance, please call on us.”
“I shall keep that in mind.” Maria then gave a wry smile and teased, “And who will be your gentleman of choice for the evening?”
Now it was Anna’s turn to blush again. “I might choose to have a dance or two with Mr. Percy. Yes, I know he is a little wild, but he is a young man, and I feel certain he will come to his senses eventually. After all, he and your sensible brother are good friends. Think you not his influence will eventually smooth young Percy’s rough edges?”
Maria sighed. “One would hope so. But I am afraid I do not hear good things about Percy’s family. It seems his father is a somewhat shady character, even if he is a Duke. He is a brutal landlord and there is even talk of dealings with less than honorable associates.”
“I know nothing about things like that. Dorothy and I lead sheltered lives, and apart from Father’s Indian adventures, we hear of little that might be considered exciting.”
“But you, I, and your sister are all of an age when we must seriously contemplate marriage.” Anna did not immediately respond, but seemed conflicted about something and Maria asked, “Is that not what you want?”
“Of course, I do. But I have to say, I do rather enjoy my single life. Father cares well for us, even though he does urge us to find husbands. But he is away for such long times that there is never any pressure for us to marry quickly. And I do enjoy my freedom. I love our home, and the thought of uprooting myself to go live in some stranger’s house does give me pause.”
“Yes, but certainly you want children and a family life.”
Anna smiled weakly. “Yes, I do. I do. But you know my secret passion is to conceive, design, and build something. I have been urging Father to let me construct a classical folly on the estate, but he prevaricates and will never give me an answer. And, as I have no money of my own, I must abide by his generosity and his decisions.”
“Then let us make our dance a delightful event. I shall send out invitations and invite guests to bring interesting young gentlemen along with them. Who knows who might show up and sweep us off our feet?”
The invitations went out for an evening of supper and dance, and Dorothy eagerly awaited news from Maria about the RSVP’s to find out how many would be attending and if there were any new young gentlemen attending who she might not know. It was always such fun to anticipate a surprise guest or two.
“Why are you not more excited about the dance, Anna?” Dorothy asked her sister at breakfast one morning.
“What makes you ask that?” Anna replied. “I am excited, but also a little overwhelmed by the work that needs to be done before the event. I am over at the Manor almost every day helping Maria.” Anna gave her sister a sour look. “And if you could bring yourself to help some, it would be greatly appreciated. I told Maria that both of us would offer help, but so far you have not participated.”
Dorothy frowned as she cut her fried tomato in the sunny breakfast room. “But what would you have me do? I have no skills.”
“What about organizing the flowers? They are your greatest delight, and you might offer to either make arrangements from your garden, or oversee designing the flowers from the Creassey Manor garden.”
Dorothy brightened up. “Oh, yes… I should like that. Take me with you next time you go, and I shall see what is in their garden and confer with Maria about what her needs are. Yes. What fun!” Dorothy thoughtfully worked on her rasher of bacon then asked, “And what are we to wear? Certainly, we cannot be expected to show up in the tired old dresses everyone for miles around already knows?”
“Are you asking for a new dress, Dorothy?”
“It had crossed my mind. Well, for you too, of course. We could make a day trip to Marlborough and spend the day shopping. What do you say?”
Anna idly played with the salt and pepper shakers as she said, “That might be possible. But nothing extravagant.”
“I should like a rose-colored dress,” Dorothy said. “And I fancy a dark burgundy sash and perhaps small red or pink rosebuds worked into my hair.”
“That sounds nice. And I am thinking about something in blue. A darker blue. Light blue makes we look washed out.”
Dorothy stood up from the breakfast table. “Oh, yes. When can we go?”
“After we visit with Maria about the flowers. You really must lend us a hand.”
Dorothy danced around the breakfast room with an imaginary dance partner. “La, la, la,” she sang as she twirled around the room. She went over to Anna, offered her hands, pulled Anna up and made her dance with her—both laughing.
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