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Courtship of Convenience Preview

Observations of a Wallflower

Journal Entry of December 5, 1816

Society can be odd and those within the ton do not always behave as expected.

For example, Lady Violet Claxton spent more time in the gardens admiring flowers, plants, and bushes than she did inside any ballroom, and I left London wondering why she preferred roses over bachelors. Though perhaps it’s because she’s grows bored with tedious conversation, as her intelligence is beyond most, she’s pragmatic, and lacks patience when time is wasted. Therefore, a London Season must be trying indeed for someone such as she.

Then there was Lord Emory Talbot, Viscount Ferrard, who behaved exactly as one would expect of a rake. Though he is expected to marry and produce an heir and a spare, Ferrard showed no interest in any lady or miss for longer than an evening. Further, I have it on good authority that he fears any form of commitment, which may explain why he’s not even kept a mistress or settled on a wife. However, rumors have recently reached me that he may no longer have the option of waiting. The details have not been shared, but I’m certain they are drastic as I’m to understand that he is to attend a house party where Lady Violet is in residence. And, I have also learned from the most trusted authority that Ferrard never attends house parties.

I cannot begin to imagine how the two might get on when they do finally meet. Will he show interest for no more than a night or will she spend all her time in the gardens avoiding all guests? Regardless of any interaction the two may share, I’m certain nothing will come from their association as I can’t think of two less likely candidates to enter into a courtship.

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CHAPTER ONE Laswell, Devon, England, December 27, 1816 “Measles!” Mrs. Harley exclaimed from the front parlor. Lady Violet Claxton grasped the railing of the stairs as alarm rushed through her being. It was a common disease, that she well knew, but it could also be deadly—a harsh reality that she had become painfully aware of as a child, and why she suffered such an irrational response at the mere pronouncement of the disease. “Yes,” a deep voice answered. “Did he have the rash before he left your home yesterday?” Was that Dr. Talbot? Violet tilted an ear toward the door as she slid one slippered foot onto the next step, quietly and slowly edging her way to the landing, thankful that the stairs were thickly carpeted so that none could hear her approach. “He had the sniffles, if I recall,” Mrs. Harley answered. “And a slight cough. Mrs. Buckley sent him to his bed following the Christmas festivities and when his duties were complete.” Mrs. Buckley was the housekeeper and diligent in her duties, even though the Harleys had few servants, as this was a modest household. Well, it was modest compared to Violet’s home, Forester Hall, a sprawling manor that had been the estate belonging to the Duke of Arscott for nearly two centuries. “Is anyone else within your household ill?” Dr. Talbot asked. Violet had had few encounters with Dr. Talbot since he’d arrived in Laswell to take over the medical practice of the now retired Dr. Pierce. While he was a handsome fellow, it was Silvia Harley, her dearest friend, who suffered from the certain signs of attraction when he was near. On the authority of female acquaintances in London, the certain signs were a racing pulse and heart palpitations. As Violet had yet to be attracted to any gentleman, she had not suffered from such symptoms, thus she must trust in their experience.

“Not that I’m aware,” Mrs. Harley answered. Violet stepped onto the white and grey marble entry of the entrance hall and twisted around the corner just enough to see into the parlor, bright from the sunlight reflecting off the stark white walls. All the rooms within the Harley household were equally bright, decorated in yellows, peaches, whites, and lavenders, as Mrs. Harley detested dark colors since she deemed them depressing. “Perhaps I should ask the housekeeper,” Mrs. Harley suggested. “It would be best if we know for certain if anyone else is ill.” As the parlor door was open, Violet decided that their conversation was not meant to be private. Therefore, it wasn’t necessary that she linger in the corridor. Besides, she needed to know if Silvia was within. If not, Violet would alert her friend immediately so that she’d not miss this opportunity to be near the good doctor in hopes that he too might experience the certain signs of attraction and desire to court Silvia. At her entrance, Dr. Talbot came to his feet and nodded in greeting. “Lady Violet.” “Dr. Talbot,” she returned. “Did I hear correctly? Has someone contracted measles?” “Henry,” Mrs. Harley answered. Violet frowned. “The young footman? How dreadful.” “Would you please summon the housekeeper, dear.” “Of course.” Violet crossed to the bellpull, noting that Silvia was not within. With those thoughts, she would need to excuse herself to locate her dear friend. “Have you been in the household long, Lady Violet?” Dr. Talbot asked. “I arrived yesterday afternoon.” He pulled back, his brown eyes widening in surprise, or perhaps it was alarm. Violet did not yet know him well enough to interpret his facial reaction, and she hated to assume when not certain. “I was to understand that your father was having a house party,” he said after a moment. All of Laswell knew of her father’s plans, but few knew why. “That is the very reason I’m visiting with Silvia, and the Harleys were kind enough to extend an invitation so that I could vacate Forester Hall until the guests have departed.” “I believe you are the first lady who has avoided a house party.” “Its purpose is matchmaking, and I have no desire to be matched.” “I hope your decision does not cause you to become ill.” It was almost as if Dr. Talbot were scolding her. As he was not a relative, it should not be his concern. “I experienced measles as a child. A rather severe case. Or so I’m told.” “Such a terrible tragedy,” Mrs. Harley tsked. Violet inwardly groaned. She detested having her family discussed, and Mrs. Harley did love to gossip. “The entire family was afflicted, with the exception of His Grace and his mother.” Mrs. Harley shook her head. “Violet’s mother and her sister didn’t survive.” “I’m terribly sorry for your loss, Lady Violet,” Dr. Talbot murmured. “Thank you,” she returned, not wishing to discuss the matter any further. It still pained her, even though it had been several years since the occurrence. Violet had been one of the last in her family to become ill and by the time she’d been allowed to leave her sick bed, Amelia and Mother were already gone and buried. Violet hadn’t even been given an opportunity to say goodbye. For an eight-year-old, that had been more traumatic than nearly dying from the disease. To make the year more painful, her beloved grandfather had died a few months later. As she had no desire to reminisce about those painful days, Violet turned her thoughts to something over which she had some semblance of control: Silvia had not yet come downstairs. Her friend would be devastated at having missed the visit from Dr. Talbot, even if he were only here to deliver distressing news. “Yes, Mrs. Harley?” the housekeeper asked as she entered the parlor. “Is anyone else ill.” Mrs. Buckley frowned. “Miss Harley is still abed and complained of a cough and the sniffles. Cook has sent up some tea.” Violet sucked in a breath and dearly hoped her friend suffered only a minor ailment and not the dreaded measles. She quickly pushed the panic aside. It was an irrational response, as she had no control over the situation. As much as she wished there were a cure, there wasn’t, and getting upset would solve nothing and often robbed the person from acting in a sensible manner. Dr. Talbot focused on Mrs. Harley. “Did your daughter have measles as a child?” Mrs. Harley brought a hand to her breast as the color left her face, leaving only the brushed rouge strikingly bright upon her cheeks. “No. She did not. When others in the area became afflicted, and after the horrible deaths, we didn’t let her leave the house.” “I am afraid she might have contracted the disease.” Dr. Talbot straightened. “I should examine her to be certain.” “I will check on her.” Violet started for the door. She needed to see Silvia for herself. Not only for the reassurance that her friend was not seriously ill, but also to warn her that Dr. Talbot was soon to grace her presence. “You wait here, Violet,” Mrs. Harley insisted as she rushed toward the entry. “I’ll see that my daughter is prepared.” At least Silvia was to be alerted, though it did little to ease Violet’s concern for her friend. “I hope Henry hasn’t spread the measles to anyone else.” “Unfortunately, it is likely that he has,” Dr. Talbot grumbled. If Silvia were ill, it was likely that others within the Harley household would be afflicted as well. “Henry didn’t want to miss the Servants’ Assembly, and even though he was feeling ill, he attended regardless. Once he’d spent hours dancing and mingling, he collapsed, and the rash was noted by another.” “Goodness, he could have spread the disease to everyone.” The Servants’ Assembly was held every Boxing Day, which was yesterday. It had been a tradition from long before Violet was born. Most of their servants attended, and it was the very reason why Father’s house party wasn’t scheduled to begin until today. "In an attempt to keep the illness from being spread to all households, I decided to quarantine everyone in attendance. The men are to remain at the Assembly Hall and cots have been brought in for their comfort. The women have been placed in the three inns until we know for certain.” How would her father and grandmother manage the additional guests without servants? “Only those who had contracted the illness previously were allowed to return to their homes.” Violet relaxed at the news. Many of their servants had been with the household when her family had taken ill, so it was likely only a few had been asked to remain in Laswell. At least, she hoped that were the case given guests were soon to arrive at Forester Hall. It wouldn’t do to be understaffed. “You may go up now, Dr. Talbot.” A maid paused at the door. “I’ll show you the way.” “If you’ll excuse me.” Dr. Talbot offered a slight bow and quit the room. At being left alone, Violet poured a cup of tea to await the prognosis as to whether Silvia had indeed contracted measles. She also pondered her friend’s reaction to Dr. Talbot being in her bedchamber. Silvia had been hoping for an opportunity to gain Dr. Talbot’s attention and had even considered the option of a minor injury, though Violet couldn’t understand why someone would go to such lengths. However, as Violet had never suffered from the obvious signs of attraction, perhaps she simply didn’t understand the use of such manipulation. “I’ve had your trunk packed, Violet, so that you can return home,” Mrs. Harley announced as she bustled into the parlor, Dr. Talbot not far behind. Was Silvia even more ill than she’d realized? Even so, there was no cause for Violet to leave. Besides, she must stay here for reasons that had nothing to do with her friend’s illness. “I cannot return to Forester Hall.” “Come now, I know why you don’t wish to return home, but this simply is not a good time for guests.” “Don’t think of me as a guest,” Violet rushed to say. “I can care for Silvia. What if others become ill? You’ll need my assistance.” Mrs. Harley shook her head. “That is very kind of you, Violet, but I will not have it. I promise you can visit after Silvia has recovered.” That would never do. She must think of something. “How can I return with my trunk when you don’t have a driver to take me.” “I’m certain Dr. Talbot won’t mind delivering you to Forester Hall.” Dr. Talbot blinked at Mrs. Harley, then frowned. Had he not been consulted prior to being offered up as her driver? Either way, it didn’t matter, as he’d not be driving her anywhere. “I’m certain Dr. Talbot’s patients need him, Mrs. Harley.” “Nonsense,” Mrs. Harley insisted. “I’ve already had your trunk placed in the back of his curricle.” Why would Mrs. Harley do such without consulting her or Dr. Talbot first? “Dr. Talbot understands the need for this household to remain undisturbed, and he is a gentleman.” Mrs. Harley led them toward the door. “As a curricle is an open conveyance, there is no need for your reputation to be called in to question.” Violet hadn’t even considered damage to her reputation. She’d not been given a proper amount of time to consider any concern, other than an acceptable excuse for not returning home. Acceptable to others, that is. As they gained the entrance hall Mrs. Buckley was already waiting, holding her pelisse, and a footman held Dr. Talbot’s greatcoat and hat. “Allow me to see you home, Lady Violet,” he finally offered. “Thank you, Dr. Talbot,” she muttered, though she still had no intention of him doing so. They’d barely stepped outside when the door was shut soundly behind them. “What odd behavior.” The doctor chuckled. “It was as if Mrs. Harley couldn’t wait for us to leave.” Violet glanced back at the house as she attempted and failed to understand the reasoning for what had just occurred. “If you don’t mind, I will need to stop by the Assembly Hall, and then the inns while we pass through Laswell before returning you to your estate.” “You’ve a number of patients that have a much higher priority than seeing me home. Had Mrs. Harley not thrust me upon you, you’d not need to take time out of your busy schedule.” Further, the delay offered her time to consider an alternative plan to returning home. “She was rather forceful about you leaving.” Dr. Talbot shook his head. “Yes. It was very unlike her. I’ve spent many visits at their home, but this was the first time that I’ve been asked to leave.” “I’m certain it has to do with who you are and that they lack servants to see to your care,” he said in a manner as if to placate her. “I’m hardly useless.” Violet was rather affronted. She was hardly a child on leading strings. “I meant no offense, but a daughter of a duke usually has servants to care for her.” In truth, she relied on servants far less than many. However, Violet said nothing further, as it was unlikely that she’d change his already formed opinion, which was likely founded in what he’d witnessed in Society, or perhaps his own household, without giving consideration that not all daughters of titled gentlemen were the same. “If I am correct, your female servants are within, in the event you wish to check on them,” Dr. Talbot stated as he pulled the curricle to a stop before the Stone Raven Inn. He probably feared leaving her alone without someone to watch over her, being she was the daughter of a duke and must be sheltered or protected. Again, Violet remained silent as she had learned from her two Seasons in London that gentlemen usually could not be swayed in their beliefs when it came to the capabilities of women. While aggravating, she had a far more pressing matter to consider. “Thank you.” Dr. Talbot tossed the reins to a boy waiting to earn a bit of coin then walked around to her side of the curricle. His frown deepened when he noted her already standing on the walk. Violet knew that she was to wait for the aid of a gentleman or servant when entering or exiting a conveyance. It was a societal rule that she considered a waste of precious time and only required when the passenger was an invalid, an elder, or a child in need of assistance. Another rule she followed only when in London but did not deem it necessary in Laswell. “I will return as promptly as possible to return you to Forester Hall.” “Please, do take your time. There is no need to rush on my account.” “I’ll return for you when I’m finished,” he reminded Violet with a bit more warning. Much like a father, as if he were in charge of her person, which he most certainly was not. Would the male species ever accept that some women could take care of themselves and were not in need of constant supervision? As that was unlikely to happen, at least in her lifetime, Violet entered the inn and turned at the cry from her maid. She’d not taken Bess with her to the Harleys’ because she wasn’t needed. If she’d required assistance from a lady’s maid, the one employed by the Harleys would have been sufficient, though Violet hadn’t anticipated the necessity. “What are you doing here?” Bess asked with alarm. “Are we to be sacked for not returning?” Her maid wrung her hands together as other female servants from her household gathered around. “Nobody is going to be sacked,” Violet assured them. Though there were far more here than she had anticipated, which meant Forester Hall was going to be severely understaffed. At least Father hadn’t planned a large party, though she wondered how many footmen had been detained at the Assembly Hall. “Have you spoken with His Grace?” a kitchen maid inquired. “No, I have not, but you’ve all worked at Forester Hall long enough to know that my father and grandmother understand the seriousness of the spread of measles.” She frowned when she noted Maggie behind Bess. “Why did Dr. Talbot require you to remain?” Maggie had been with the family since before Violet had been born and was one of the maids who had nursed Violet when she was ill. “I can’t recall ever having measles.” She shrugged. “I tried to explain that I’d treated those with the ailment without becoming ill, but Dr. Talbot wasn’t willing to take a chance on allowing me to return.” It was likely that most of the servants had suffered from the measles as a child and simply didn’t recall. Further, it could be concluded that a person who had nursed those with the illness and did not become ill were immune and thus should not be forced to remain quarantined. However, she must agree with Dr. Talbot that it was safer to proceed with caution if one was not confident in having suffered the illness on a prior occasion. “Why are you here, Lady Violet? I thought you were to remain with the Harleys for the duration of the house party?” Bess asked. Violet blew out a sigh and then explained how she’d been asked to leave. “It is kind of Dr. Talbot to escort you home.” Violet lifted her chin. “I have no intention of returning.” Bess pulled back. “What will you do?” That was the question that had plagued Violet since she was unceremoniously dismissed from the Harley home. Doing a slow turn, she took in the tap room of the inn. It wasn’t large, and the limited tables were filled with servants from Forester Hall, a few from a neighboring estate, and a maid from the Harley household, who was likely exposed to the illness before she ever arrived at the Servants’ Assembly and might very well spread the illness amongst those within the inn. Violet glanced to the stairs leading to the upper levels of the inn. No doubt all the rooms above were already occupied by those within this room. “Are all inns equally filled?” she asked. “I believe so,” Bess answered. “Are any cots still available?” Her maid’s eye widened. “You couldn’t stay here, Lady Violet. Not with us. It would be unseemly.” “Nor can I return to Forester Hall.” “Maybe it won’t be so bad,” Bess cajoled. “You don’t even know who His Grace has invited.” It mattered not who was there. It mattered why they were there. “I have no intention of being an unwilling participant in any of Father’s plans.” “But Lady Violet, he’d be most displeased if you spent these next ten days in an inn.” In that, Bess was correct, but these were extenuating circumstances. “If I cannot remain here, I will simply find somewhere else,” she decided with determination though she could think of no family who would offer her a chamber and the one boarding house in Laswell only lent rooms to gentlemen. Bess looked to Maggie and then the other female servants. Did they not wish for her to remain with them? Was she truly so difficult? “I promise not to be an inconvenience,” she insisted. “Oh, it isn’t that Lady Violet,” Maggie quickly assured her. “You shouldn’t be sleeping in an inn. If His Grace doesn’t sack us for not returning, he’d certainly sack us for allowing you to remain with us.” That was their concern? And with that, a new irritation settled within. Her father’s servants often believed that they knew better of what Violet shouldn’t and couldn’t do, which was often quite maddening. Especially when their reasons were simply because of the hierarchy of living in England and her being the daughter of a duke and nothing more. “It just isn’t right, Lady Violet,” Maggie claimed. “Shouldn’t I decide what is right and what is not?” “She may have our bed,” the young maid from the Harley household proposed. “Miss Silvia would have my head if I didn’t find a place for you.” Violet doubted Silvia would resort to such punishment but appreciated the sentiment. “You may put a cot in our room, Mary,” another woman said. Violet did not know her but welcomed the offer. “Margaret may have my space and I will have a cot placed in Lady Violet’s chamber.” Bess turned to Violet. “You will not sleep alone in this inn and I will be there to protect you.” It truly wasn’t necessary, as there were no guests other than the female servants, but she also knew that arguing with Bess would be an unnecessary waste of time. And really, all that mattered was that she’d not be required to return home before Father’s guests departed. “Very well,” Violet agreed then looked to the maids who were making room for her. “I thank you for your sacrifice.” Pleased with the outcome, Violet blew out a sigh and relaxed. “Now that the matter is settled, would someone please help me retrieve my trunk from Dr. Talbot’s curricle.” Two maids stepped forward. “Also, when Dr. Talbot returns, please inform him that I am no longer in need of his assistance.” *** Emory Talbot, Viscount Ferrard, knew that when he accepted the invitation for the house party being hosted by the Duke of Arscott that he might very well be betrothed before the Season even began. The intention of the gathering was to court his daughter, Lady Lucinda, and while Emory had met Lady Lucinda two years prior, and he’d called on her, his interest hadn’t lasted beyond a few visits. She was lovely, but he hadn’t experienced any stirrings within to indicate that she might one day be his wife or even a friendly companion. After all, if one were going to spend their life with another, share a household, and beget heirs, wouldn’t it be far more pleasant if that person were at least a friend? It had been his hope to marry someone he might even love one day, not just a woman of good disposition that he found attractive, as such a union would quickly grow tedious. He lost interest in bedpartners after a sennight, and he didn’t wish to suffer such misfortune after marriage. Not that it would keep him from his duty of begetting an heir, but the act was much more enjoyable when passion was shared instead of obligation. Emory was just as certain that he’d know her within the span of a few conversations. He’d simply not met her yet. He’d also believed that there was no rush as marriage was a serious matter. Unfortunately, he was no longer in a position to be as particular about who he’d wed. Even though he knew that he and Lady Lucinda would not suit, this was to be a house party, therefore there would be several ladies and misses with whom he might become acquainted, and hopefully one would cause him to take interest beyond a day. What he found at Forester Hall, however, was not at all what he’d anticipated. The only family members present were Her Grace, who happened to be Lady Lucinda’s grandmother, and Lady Lucinda. Her father, the Duke of Arscott, while still within Forester Hall, remained behind closed doors, not to be disturbed. The only other guests were nine bachelor lords and the Ladies Tilson, who were three maiden sisters, long past the age to be considered for producing heirs. Instead of hoping to meet a lady whom he might wed, Emory was now in a competition for Lady Lucinda’s hand. While he sipped his brandy that evening, Emory gave thought to the many excuses that he might use in order to leave early and hoped for an urgent message requiring him to return home. At least then he’d have a reason that would not be viewed as an insult to their host, but more importantly, an insult to Lady Lucinda. While Emory valued honesty, he had no desire to inflict any form of emotional pain, especially when it came to rejecting another. The other gentlemen, however, did not share his concerns, and while Emory enjoyed one glass of brandy, he settled back in the billiards room and listened as they compared the daughters of His Grace. There was Lady Lucinda, whom they were here to court. Lady Violet, her younger sister and of marriageable age, but not in residence. Lastly was Lady Honora, who was still in the school room. However, as each was a daughter of a duke, the bachelors would be happy to gain any one of them, though the gentlemen spent a good portion of an hour dissecting their personalities, and the benefits and disadvantages of marriage of each daughter. Emory had found the entire discussion distasteful and finally made his way up to bed with still no answer as to how he was going to proceed. When the footman presented him with a message the following morning that stated Lady Lucinda would like him to join her for tea, Emory knew he was out of time. *** “I must admit that I’m rather surprised that you accepted my father’s invitation,” Lady Lucinda offered. “Why, may I ask?” “I thought you preferred widows.” Her statement nearly made him choke on his tea. It was no secret that he preferred widows, and many in Society considered him a rake. What he didn’t keep was a mistress, and never had, because eventually the association would end and all too often, the woman was left in tears of heartache. That was the very reason when he enjoyed intimacies it was with a widow who only wished for a tumble and nothing beyond a night. “Lucinda, such subjects are not appropriate to discuss in polite company,” Her Grace chastised. “Lord Ferrard is here seeking my hand. Before I can even consider him, I must know if his behavior will continue after the nuptials.” More misses and ladies should ask such questions prior to marriage. However, even if they did, there were several gentlemen who would simply lie and keep their mistresses. “I can assure you, Lady Lucinda, that I would never consider pursuing such after marriage.” It was a vow he intended to keep, even if his marriage was not a happy one. His response seemed to please her, as she gave a quick nod before she sipped her tea. “Then I can assume that you’ve reached an age where you’ve decided that it is time to take a wife, much like a business transaction. Wife, heir, and spare.” “Lucinda!” Her Grace scolded. “I’ve a right to know his purpose,” she insisted. “I’m certain Lord Ferrard is not here to claim undying love and devotion.” She nearly snorted. “He called on me in London, twice, and as pleasant as our discussions were, he never called on me again, nor asked me to dance following our visits. Yet he is here to court me. What am I supposed to think?” Emory’s stomach tightened. This was why he avoided courtships and whatnot because ladies were often hurt after being given the slightest attention and then ignored when a gentleman decided they wouldn’t suit. “It’s possible that Lord Ferrard has had a change of heart,” Her Grace suggested then looked pointedly at Emory in a way that made him want to adjust his tightening cravat. “He’s never even kept a mistress, and his interest in any one widow rarely lasts beyond a sennight and now I am to believe that he is ready for a lifetime devotion?” Lady Lucinda questioned with ridicule. She knew more about him than most, or Emory assumed that to be the case. “Lady Lucinda is correct,” he answered. “I’ve not shown an interest in any one lady for long, but it is time that I consider my future.” Emory appreciated her forthrightness; however, they’d not be happy, which he had known two years ago. But after this discussion, he was certain that they’d be miserable, as it was unlikely she’d trust that his interest would hold beyond their wedding night, and he had the distinct impression that she’d spend their marriage judging him on past behavior. Therefore, even if he did remain for the duration of the house party, it was unlikely that she’d choose him, which was a relief. However, what if she didn’t realize that they’d not make a good match? Was her scorn an attempt to make him beg her for forgiveness and admit that he’d been wrong? Or did she truly dislike him so much and if so, why was he even here? What to do and would he ever understand the female mind? “I have a confession, Lady Lucinda,” he blurted out before the situation became any more uncomfortable in the strained silence. She blinked at him. “Yes?” “While I appreciate the invitation and the opportunity to renew our acquaintance, I do not believe we will suit.” She quickly masked her response by lowering her eyes and taking a sip of tea. So quickly that he had no hint of her reaction to his words. He glanced to Her Grace who had narrowed her eyes and frowned. “Why is that?” her grandmother demanded with a thump of her cane. While he needed to be honest with himself, Emory had no desire to cause Lady Lucinda any pain of rejection, but what excuse could he give? Then he recalled the evening before. The discussion between the invited gentlemen about the Claxton sisters, more particularly of Lady Violet. Emory knew of the younger sister, but he’d not gained an introduction, as she’d spent more time in the gardens at any gathering or entertainment than with the guests. She was one of the most beautiful women he’d ever viewed with her golden hair and pale complexion. A shy, delicate garden nymph who preferred flowers to people. Or that was what he’d decided whenever he glimpsed her among the foliage. However, the varying opinion of others had him wondering as to her personality and the general consensus was that she was odd. However, as she was not present… “Well?” Her Grace demanded when Emory didn’t answer quickly, and he noted that Lady Lucinda watched him, a dark eyebrow raised almost in accusation, as if he’d done something wrong. "I’d hoped that I might have the opportunity to become acquainted with Lady Violet.” Bloody hell! He’d just lied, and he never lied and avoided omissions and half-truths when he could, but he could think of nothing else to say. Lady Lucinda tilted her head as the corner of her mouth quirked. “You came all the way from Sussex, accepted an invitation that was clearly meant for courting me, in hopes of courting my sister.” Emory’s face began to heat, something he’d not experienced since he was a young man and the embarrassment was rather, well, embarrassing. He should have never mentioned Lady Violet, but it wasn’t as if she were around and would expect anything from him. He simply gave a quick nod. “Yet, you did not call on her in London.” “I didn’t feel it right to do so having not gained an introduction.” It was a flimsy excuse, and another lie, which he must cease doing. “Violet avoided those at gatherings as often as possible. It is no wonder you’ve not met.” Inwardly he sighed, otherwise, he’d have been hard pressed to find a reason for not engaging Lady Violet during the Season. Lady Lucinda set her cup and saucer aside, and grinned. Her entire being brightened as if she’d found joy. The transformation from a critical, rigid lady to one of delight was remarkable. However, it didn’t change Emory’s assessment of whether they’d suit. “This is brilliant. I’m just sorry that my sister hadn’t remained at home.” She wasn’t angry? Emory slid a glance to Her Grace, certain that he’d get a dressing down. Instead, she merely chuckled. “I applaud your initiative, Lord Ferrard, and I can tell you exactly where you will find Violet.” Damn and blast! Now they’d expect him to court a lady he’d only glanced in gardens. “Why the interest in my sister if you’ve never met?” Lady Lucinda asked with curiosity, her blue eyes sparkling with amusement. This was certainly a change from how he had anticipated the conversation progressing. “I admired from afar,” he admitted. Further, that wasn’t a lie. Lady Violet had fascinated him, and he had appreciated her beauty, but not so much that he’d follow her into a garden. To do so without a chaperone could lead to consequences he was not willing to entertain. “She took great delight in the gardens, which I found intriguing, but I never had the opportunity to speak with her.” “Yes, well my sister can tolerate crowds for only so long before she feels the need to escape,” Lady Lucinda chuckled. “She’s in the village, Lord Ferrard. Violet wished to avoid the house party and is visiting with a friend. You will find her with the Harleys.” Damn and blast! He’d assumed she was off in some other part of England, not in Laswell. Then he recalled what his brother had told him. “Wasn’t the footman who came down with the measles from the Harley household?” “How are you aware of the footman?” Her Grace asked. “We made no mention of names yesterday.” They had only discussed the concern for measles and why Forester Hall was short of staff. “My brother is Dr. Talbot. I traveled to Laswell early to spend Christmas with him. He informed me of the situation before I traveled to your home.” Lady Lucinda’s eyes widened. “Oh, yes. I’d forgotten the connection.” Emory slid a glance to Her Grace. Certainly, she knew of the connection. “I was aware, Lord Ferrard,” she simply acknowledged. “You needn’t worry about Violet. She’s already suffered from the dreadful illness as a child.” “I’m grateful that you do not have a concern, but I’m afraid that I cannot call on her there.” Her Grace sat forward. “Why is that?” “I have never encountered the measles.” At least that was a truthful statement. So long as he didn’t add any more lies onto the ones he’d just told, this would not get out of hand. Given Lady Violet’s location, he’d not be able to call on her, and perhaps he could put off such an encounter until spring. “It wouldn’t do for you to have come all this way only to become ill,” Lady Lucinda offered. “Hopefully, you can remain in Laswell long enough for an introduction to be gained,” Her Grace ordered, veiled in a comment. “Yes, Your Grace,” Emory answered only to be polite, though he knew that he’d be leaving Laswell as soon as possible to get him out of this predicament. However, perhaps he should at least gain an introduction to the only woman who had ever intrigued him. Then again, the only reason the fascination remained was because he’d not met her. Did he wish to shatter his illusion of her being a shy, delicate garden nymph? “I’m confident something can be arranged,” Lady Lucinda suggested. “After all, Lord Ferrard was scheduled to be here for ten days so I see no reason why we can’t send for Violet and ask her to return home.” He was not staying at Forester Hall, trapped here for nearly a fortnight, and courting a woman he’d not yet met. Bloody hell, he should have thought before he spoke, and he should not have lied to begin with. “Though it is unlikely we’d be able to convince Violet to return and you may have better luck with your quest in Laswell,” Lady Lucinda reconsidered. “I’m certain that my brother will not mind having me. We’ve not seen much of the other since he took his position here.” “A perfect solution, Lord Ferrard.” There was no hope for it. He’d need to remain in the village, meet Lady Violet after he could put it off no longer, then hide in his brother’s house if necessary. Bloody hell! This was why one should always be honest.


Will be released 5/25/21

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