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Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 ,19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33,34,35,36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66
“I shall take you to the ladies’ retiring room, to freshen up,” Rose whispered as they left Richard.
Emerald sat in a chair staring at her reflection while a maid repositioned the slipped pins in her hair. Rose remained beside her and when the maid moved away she asked quietly, ‘Did Richard cause your distress?’
‘No.’ He had not upset her, everything had suddenly simply overwhelmed her, everything she missed. His reassurance and comfort had uncorked the pain she had tried to bottle up inside.
Richard had said her father would come and if he believed it, she did, despite his earlier lies.
When they left the room, Rose wrapped her arm about Emerald’s. “He means no harm. He does not relate to people easily,” she said quietly as they walked along the upper landing. “He has not been close to us.” Then she stopped, half turning and looking Emerald in the eyes. “He will not thank me for saying this, but I think I should. Richard was not born the heir. He and my father never got along. Richard was wild in nature, he liked exploration. He would not sit in a school room. He always absconded. My parents hated him. They called him a devil child. He was forever fighting with my eldest brother whom they adored and so he was punished, beaten, made to sit in a chair for hours and tied to it if he would not stay. When he was twelve, scarlet fever struck my family. Three of my brothers and sisters were taken by it, including my eldest brother. Richard became heir then.
“They made him fit my eldest brother’s mould. He was locked away with tutors and beaten more frequently if he did not listen and learn. He was never sent to school or college for fear he would rebel. I am too young to remember it but Amelia is older than Richard, she remembers it all. Once she saw him held down and being beaten. He is not bad, Miss Martin. He was just full of life and they tried to crush him. They did not succeed.
“My mother mourned my eldest brother’s loss for years and my father told Richard he would rather the line ended than pass to him. The day he became twenty-one there was a ball arranged, he did not even stay for it, he had his freedom. He took nothing from Papa but found a position in the East India Company and simply left.
“He is not cold, as he seems, Miss Martin, he does not hold people at a distance because it is his choice. Others have pushed him away. Their lack of love has made him hold people at an arm’s length. Even since he has returned he retired to the country to be alone, until your engagement ball. It has become a way of life for him.
“I wish him happy, Miss Martin. We all do. We think you can make him happy, you draw him out, and I think he would make you happy.”
Emerald did not know what to say.
Rose gripped her elbow. “I should not have spoken. You are in no state to hear it. Forgive me. Let me take you back to your aunt. But please do not think ill of Richard. He is not what he seems.”
Rose’s words rang in Emerald’s ears as she sat across from The Duke in the carriage. He is not what he seems. No. Richard had lied to her and pretended to everyone that he had no family. But he had been kind tonight. The carriage rocked gently over the cobbles as it travelled in a swift pace, reminding her of the sway of the sea.
“It was very inconvenient of you to feel unwell,” her aunt complained, Emerald turned to look out through the window, catching glimpses of the houses in the gas light.
“Emma was feeling unwell,” her cousin stated, “it was not a choice.” The Duke had insisted that they all accompany Emerald.
Richard’s words passed through Emerald’s thoughts. ‘That is what you are choosing, a lifetime in a loveless match. You cannot imagine it. You have only known love. You are not happy now. You will be unhappy for the rest of your life.’
She could not do it. She could not marry The Duke.
As they rode through the streets, in silence now, she thought of the words, how she would tell him, and the children would need to be told too. She could not allow this to continue. It was wrong.
The coach drew to a halt in front of The Duke’s townhouse.
Her cousin, stepped down first, followed by her uncle, who turned to take her aunt’s hand. When Emerald descended, The Duke offered his hand palm upwards. She accepted the offer of help and his fingers closed around hers. He did not let go but walked her on into the house.
She would do as Richard had said and sleep before she told The Duke. She was too tired to face any arguments tonight.
“May I speak with you a moment before you retire.” But perhaps it would not be her choice.
“I have a headache, your Grace.”
“Just for a moment,” he asserted. “We will speak in the library?”
Her aunt and uncle looked back as they walked in to the hall. The Duke waved a hand, encouraging them silently to walk on and leave Emerald with him.
A footman moved to open the doors of the library. The Duke walked Emerald through the double doors that were shut in their wake.
She pulled her hand free from his and stepped backwards a couple of paces. “Your Grace?” They may be engaged but they still ought not to be in a room alone, she looked towards the closed doors.
“I have something important to ask you, Emma, and I am sure you would prefer no one hear this conversation. Sit down.” He pointed at a winged armchair near the hearth. She walked to it and then sat in a rigid position, her hands in her lap, uncertain of what would come next.
He had not sat down but his hands slid behind his back and clasped. “I hope that our privacy will encourage your honesty. What is between you and Wroxeter? You spoke with him tonight did you not? He was not in the ballroom during your absence.”
The sense of a blush warmed her skin. She opened her mouth but could not speak.
“Did something happen on his ship? Were you physical with him? If you were, I would know it?”
“Did he seduce you?”
Not as The Duke was portraying it.
“If there is something between you it cannot go on when we are wed.”
She was certain that the colour in her skin must be growing stronger by the second.
“I will marry you, even if that is the case. My situation is unchanged, I want a wife. You are suitable and I like you. But I will not be made a fool of. I cannot have been the only person who noticed you both gone. If we are to see this through you must end whatever this is with Wroxeter and send him away.”
Like was not enough! “He said my father is coming.” She took a breath and stood, she was tired but she not a coward and his anger was understandable but now was the moment to do as he had asked and speak honestly. “I cannot marry you.”
He looked struck as his lips parted and his eyes widened.
“I am sorry,” she continued.
His expression turned from shock to anger, and then both emotions were secured behind a mask of indifference. “As you will, Emma. I am not sorry as you have proven yourself to be a deceitful woman.”
Had she deceived him?
Someone struck the library door. “You have a visitor, Your Grace,” a voice called through the wood.
“At this hour?” The Duke turned away. “Enter!”
“Who is it, Wallis?” he said as the door opened.
“It is the Governor of Calcutta, Your Grace.”
“Father!” Emerald rise, clasping the skirt of her evening dress as she did so, lifting the hem away from her feet so she could hurry across the room and out into the hall.
He stood there, in that giant room full of cold marble and stone. Her arms lifted as she neared him and then she was holding him, warm and flesh and real in her arms. “Papa.” Her arms clasped tightly about his neck as tears of joy moistened the collar of his coat. “Mama is dead.”
“I know, sweetheart.” His hand rested on back. “I received your letter and your mother’s along with Farrow’s.”
She loosened her hold and stepped back, all though her hands remained at his shoulders. “How did you get here so quickly? Should it not have taken longer.”
“By steamer, child, and across Egypt. Then I picked up one of Farrow’s ships.” His hand braced her cheek as his eyes swept across her face, looking her over, looking for signs of how she had faired. His thumb wiped away the tears on her cheek.
“I did not think you would come,” she breathed, biting her lip to stop more tears.
“Why on earth not? Of course I would come. I left Calcutta within hours of receiving word.” She held him again and he held her.
Emerald let her father go, there was a need for introductions she clasped her father’s hand unwilling to let go of him entirely. “Papa, you must meet my Cousin, and Mama’s cousin, The Duke of Sunderland.”
“Your Grace,” Her father said, bowing slightly. “Would you mind if I stay here this evening? I have only just arrived and have had no chance to seek accommodation.”
“Of course,” The Duke answered, all though his colour was high. He looked at Emerald, his blue eyes speaking of his disapproval, but it was not voiced. “I shall leave you in the company of your Father, Emma, goodnight. Goodnight, Mr Martin.”
Her father bowed once more. “Thank you, Your Grace.”
“Thank you,” Emerald lowered in a deep curtsey. Then as he walked away she looked at the footman. “Please have someone prepare a room for my father.” She smiled at her father. “We shall speak in the library until it is ready.”
“You are engaged to him…” her father said as they walked across the hall once the Duke was out of earshot. “I came in on Farrow’s ship and saw Mr Bishop at the dock, he told me the announcement was made a week or so ago.”
“Mr Bishop, is he not on The Rose?” Surely it was not The Rose that had come into dock.
“No, Farrow has grounded him here in London for some misdemeanour. But, tell me Emma, is that true, are you to marry the Duke of Sunderland? Farrow’s quartermaster seemed very concerned. He did not think it a good thing. He believed you to have been very upset when he last saw you.”
“It was a long time ago that I last saw Mr Bishop, but the engagement was real. I did not know what to do, without anyone to turn to here. But I have ended the arrangement this evening. I thought it would make you happy to know I had made a good match, but I realised tonight I could not accept a marriage without affection.”
As they stood in the library alone, he held her hands in his and looked at her face with the affection he had always expressed for her. “What makes me happy, child, is your happiness. I would not have sacrificed you to a loveless match and nor would your mother. She brought you here in the hope you would find affection, she would not have forced your hand no matter how much she wished you married to a peer.”
“Oh father, I have longed for you so often.” She would go home. She could go home.
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama
The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last episode in the Marlow Intrigues series
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~
The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2
The Passionate Love of a Rake #3
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5
The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6
The Reckless Love of an Heir #7 shortlisted for the UK’s
Historical Romantic Fiction Novel of 2017
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback