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“Look at this Mr Coomb?”
Emerald looked up as the Duke of Sunderland threw his morning paper across the breakfast table. It landed before her uncle, folded back on a certain page.
“Wroxeter’s son is back,” the Duke said before Emerald’s uncle could begin reading. “The heir. Have you heard the tails of the prodigal son? My father knew old Wroxeter well, the son is an utter bounder? He disappeared when he came of age, letting the old man down. I’d just left Oxford myself. He’d attended Cambridge. My father had no regard for the son. He was a disappointment, he’d no manners nor morals. He was a constant trial to the old man and now he shall inherit. His father must be rolling over in the grave.”
The Duke looked at Emerald then. “The paper says he was in India, did you meet him there?”
“I have never met anyone called Mr Wroxeter.”
He gave her a smile that was indulgent and benevolent – and said he thought her foolish, young and naive. “Lord Wroxeter, and he is the Earl of Wroxeter now.”
She had never heard anyone speak of a man named Wroxeter in India, certainly she’d not known an Earl of Wroxeter. “I did not hear of him in Calcutta.”
“Well then, he cannot have been much in India, can he?” The Duke’s smile broadened. He was annoyingly subjective at times, and yet despite his habit of speaking to her as though she was a child to be taught, he was kind.
Since she had arrived in his home two days ago she had felt as though the world swayed as the ship had done – everything shifted unsteadily. These people were her relatives, they wore black armbands for her mother although they had never known her mother, and the Duke was supposed to be her fiancé. “We shall, of course, wait until the end of your mourning before anything is announced,” he had said. Emerald did not want anything to be announced ever; her whole heart longed for her father to come as Richard had thought he would, and save her from this – no matter that the Duke was kind.
Her aunt had taken Emerald’s purse and jewellery, the things that had belonged to her mother, and put them in a safe, and she was going shopping with Emerald today to buy black crepe to make dresses for Emerald to wear in her mourning.
“Indeed, Cousin,” her uncle said to the Duke, “Wroxeter sounds a very ill-mannered man.” He passed the newspaper back across the table.
“With the audacity to return the week after the old earl was buried, a vulture to pick over his bones. Still he’ll come back to little else but bricks and mortar the earl left everything un-entailed to his younger son.”
“And I am sure this Wroxeter fellow deserves that,” her uncle replied. He seemed to toady to the Duke, saying yes even if an answer ought to be no.
“Yes, certainly, he must deserve it,” her aunt added.
Emerald had noticed that her aunt and uncle constantly flattered the Duke.
Emerald set her knife and fork down. The action drew the Duke’s gaze back to her. “I think I shall go up and see the children. Would you excuse me?” Her mother had never mentioned to her that the Duke had been married before. His first wife had died in childbirth, while bearing twins, a boy and a girl. They were the most charming children. They were eight years old and full of life and laughter and their innocent enthusiasm had eased some of the pain in Emerald’s heart. Playing with the children cheered her as nothing else did.
The children had also made her think about the possibility that Richard had voiced, that inside her there might be a child of theirs. The idea of it had been growing like a planted seed. It ought to frighten her. But a part of her hoped for a child to distract her from the loss of her mother. But if that happened, she would not turn to Richard. He had said he would call here, she hoped he never did. Her father would come before any child of theirs arrived and he would know what to do.
“Stay with us a little longer,” The Duke urged. “I would like to talk to you.” He looked at her uncle, though. “Did you see, as I told you.” he continued their conversation. “He has been left with little beyond stone. The younger son has everything, portraits, porcelain, even down to the pots and pans in his kitchens.” The Duke laughed.
Her Uncle scoffed and clucked his tongue, agreeing with the Duke’s amusement, even though he had never met this man Wroxeter.
Emerald pushed her plate,away. She had begun to feel bilious. But she had hardly slept.
“Cousin? You look pale are you ill?” It was the Duke who asked.
She smiled, weakly. She was not really ill but heart sore.
“You are sad,” he said, presumably seeing it in her eyes. “I shall cheer you up. We will take the children to the park when you have returned from the shops. Open air and sunshine should do the trick?”
“That would be nice. Thank you.”
“We shall ensure you have something to wear immediately then,” her aunt said. “You cannot go abroad without your blacks, and you will need a black bonnet and parasol.” Her tone of voice seemed to make a great show of caring and desire to be a part in both the conversation and the Duke awareness.
“And then tomorrow, I think we ought to begin to prepare you,” the Duke stated.
“Prepare me?” Emerald leant back with surprise. “Why? For what?”
“To be a duchess, my dear,” her aunt said.
“But I thought -”
“You have so much to learn,” the Duke said. “You shall be in the society of the queen when we marry.”
That was what her mother had wanted, for Emerald to achieve the recognition due to her mother’s bloodline. That was what Emerald should think of, that being here was fulfilling her mother’s wishes.
She looked into the Duke’s blue eyes, and imagined brown eyes. He smiled. “What do I need to do?”
“You must practice dancing and deportment,” it was her aunt who spoke, “your singing, of course, and can you even play an instrument?”
Of course she had been taught an instrument, she had been taught all of those things. Her aunt spoke as though Emerald was feral. She had been brought up in India not raised by wolves. She would have said that answer aloud to Richard on the ship, here she kept is silent. “I play the harp.”
“Very well, you will show me and we shall see how suitably. You will be expected to entertain at smaller affairs.”
Emerald looked at the Duke and not her aunt, wondering what his thoughts were. He seemed to think her in need of being taught everything.
“Preparing will take your mind of the loss of your mother,” he said.
That was true. It would do that, and so she committed herself to practicing to be a respectable wife – even though she hoped to never become a wife. She would perform like a monkey in the market in Calcutta, or a puppet dancing on its strings, and practice everything, and hope her father came quickly.
A sticky warmth between her thighs made Emerald rise from the bed during the night.
She could tell it was blood.
“Rita,” Emerald whispered into the darkness.
Rita slept in a small bed in the room. Emerald had insisted they stayed close, even though her aunt had considered it an oddity.”Rita.” Emerald was afraid of stumbling into her.
Emerald heard Rita sit up.
“I need rags. I am bleeding. Where are they?”
A few moments later the oil lantern was alight and Rita was finding out the rags that they had used on the ship and washed in water on the decks.
The last time that had been done she had not yet shared Richard’s bed. Her mother had died, her innocence had been lost, and she had arrived in a new country since she had last bled.
When she returned to the bed she curled up, bracing her knees, and once Rita had blown out the light and lain down, Emerald let silent tears fall, admitting to herself that she had wanted what Richard had offered, and she had wanted his child… But she could have neither thing. He had lied and the child was lost and now she was truly alone until her father came.
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama
The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last book in the Marlow Intrigues series out in May and available to preorder
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75 now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks)
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark