About the book
She yearns for his lips, firmly against her, with all the unspoken promises they would never be able to utter...
Lady Caroline Beauchamp has a scandalous secret.
Publicly expressing her views on society through articles and an alias has forced her to turn down several suitors.
Estranged from his father, Mr. Jasper Langley is an ambitious lawyer with a single goal: establish his business and face his colleagues' hostility towards him. Until the day his crosses paths with the most alluring lady he has ever met.
Passion and longing brew beneath their skin, a fire that starts where the heart is.
With Jasper's office lost to a fire, and Caroline forced into an arranged marriage, realization dawns: destruction is never a coincidence. The only one who can help Jasper escape death and save Caroline from making the worst mistake of her life is a stranger. A woman who has left no tracks to find her...
The carriage rumbled forward, every now and then bumping harshly from unevenness in the country road. Lady Caroline Beauchamp, the daughter of the Earl of Brighney, moved in her seat, feeling nauseous from this seemingly endless journey. She had made the mistake of trying to read for the remainder of the trip to London, which had caused her stomach to turn violently. Caroline brought her muslin handkerchief to her delicate face, her pallor even paler than her usually lily-white complexion.
"Caroline, whatever is the matter, child?" Philip Beauchamp, the Earl of Brighney, observed his daughter over his reading spectacles, holding a folded letter in his right hand.
"It's nothing, Father," she said, mustering a smile. "I do wish we arrive in London soon." She pulled the small burgundy curtain back and peered out of the carriage window. The sunshine blinded her eyes, but she could clearly see the outlines of the countryside. The ride was still far from over.
How long will I be trapped inside here?
Caroline groaned softly, causing her father to chuckle good-naturedly.
"Cheer up, poppet. I'll read you the latest development from Her Grace’s predicament with the ton." Her father shook his head and began reading the letter his sister, the Dowager Duchess of Winfair, had sent them prior to their journey. Caroline giggled, pulled back the curtain, and enjoyed the soft timbre of her father's voice. Inevitably, this journey would end.
Caroline was returning to London for the Season, after a quiet and uneventful winter. Unlike many other young ladies, Caroline had never been interested in marriage. During the last Season, she had turned down several hopeful suitors, much to her father’s chagrin. She was sure her Aunt would be overbearing once they finally arrived.
The Dowager Duchess lost her husband from a sudden illness three years ago, and as she had never had any children, she always treated Caroline as her own daughter.
The carriage halted, startling Caroline. She sat up straight and could hear the hustle and bustle outside their carriage. Lord Brighney folded the letter he had been writing.
I must have fallen asleep. Goodness, I must look an absolute mess!
One of the footmen opened the carriage door and assisted her father out. She was still disoriented from her slumber and half-blinded by the stark contrast from the brightness outside and the dark interior of the carriage.
"Lady Caroline?" The timid voice of Caroline's young lady's maid, Madeleine, was barely audible.
"I'm coming," Caroline responded as she stepped out, inhaling the scent of the city. There really was no other place like London.
Brighney Manor was filled with life once more. All around were footmen and housemaids carrying luggage, disappearing through the service quarters. Caroline sat in the parlor with her Aunt, who was pouring her tea.
"How was the journey, dear?" the Dowager Duchess asked. "You look rather pale," she added sternly. The Dowager Duchess was very concerned about appearance, and Caroline often felt that nothing she did was quite right.
"Come now, let the child be." Lord Brighney had just entered the parlor, looking far more awake and energetic than Caroline felt. The Dowager Duchess looked irritated, but she did not let it bother her. "We will go over to the linen draper tomorrow," she said casually, then added with a pointed glance at Caroline. "I desperately require a new ball gown, and judging by the state of your travel gown, the same goes for you, My Lady."
"Certainly, Your Grace." Caroline dreaded it already. Now, if her aunt would have said, “We should spend tomorrow perusing the vast library,” that would have been ideal. Yet the idea was almost ludicrous. How Caroline could lose herself when surrounded by books. She had been fortunate to have been educated well, her father saw to that.
Caroline was well-versed in French and literature, as was expected of young ladies of her stature. However, she held a keen interest in law and politics, but was careful never to make that apparent. It was not fit for a lady to study such things, as the purpose of a young lady’s education was to prepare her for married life.
The Earl of Brighney was the Lord Chief Justice, and Caroline had been sneaking into his office to read his law books for as long as she could remember. It fascinated her immensely, and her thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. The mere idea of marriage was enough to make her insides twist.
None of the suitors she had met during the previous year had sparked the slightest interest with her. Some had been rather polite, young sons of Earls and Barons, others—to her horror—were widowers who were around the same age as her father. Caroline was sure she would not be permitted to reject all the suitors during this Season, not with the constant emphasis on marriage from both her aunt and her father.
The following morning, Caroline lay in her four-poster bed, her blonde locks surrounding her head like a halo. She turned to her side as she contemplated the night's dream. It had been a strange one—she had been standing at the altar in a bridal gown, which was made out of pages from books.
As she turned to see who she was marrying, she saw no one, but had been certain someone had been there before. Caroline sat up and the book she had been reading before she fell asleep fell to the ground. She knew she'd better not let the Dowager Duchess see what she'd been doing.
Heaven forbid that I find some true solace around here. This endless discussion of courting and marriage is making my head hurt!
The dinner last night had been not so much a family meal, as a prolonged monologue from her aunt about the upcoming ball at Almack’s, which was supposedly going to be much grander than the previous one. The Dowager Duchess was one of the Patronesses of Almack's, the committee which consisted of a few of the most distinguished ladies of the ton.
A soft knock on the door made her turn around. "My Lady, are you ready?" The soft-spoken lady's maid stood in front of her bedroom door, and Caroline wondered whether she was ever going to stop quivering around her. Madeleine had been in her service for only a few months now, recently emigrated from France.
Caroline supposed she was a good lady's maid, but she did not feel close to her, not like her previous maid, Emma, who had turned in her notice rather unexpectedly the past year. Emma had been a wonderful companion, loyal and faithful through and through.
"Lady Caroline?" Another knock.
"I'm ready," called Caroline.
The sooner this day starts, the sooner it will be over. At least I hope so!
Caroline sat at the breakfast table and had barely finished her egg and bread roll when her aunt snapped her fingers, and a maid scurried forward to remove her plate, her head bowed.
"A lady must be mindful of her waist," the Dowager Duchess said sternly. "It would be a great shame if you would gain too much weight during this most important time in your life. Even you, with your slim figure, need to be careful."
Caroline stared at her aunt, biting her tongue to stop her retort. Instead, she smiled sweetly, "You're right, Your Grace, of course."
"Mrs. Wilson," the Duchess called.
"Your Grace." The housekeeper of Brighney Manor stepped forward. Mrs. Wilson was rather short, with a round figure and a kind smile. She was a gentle and warmhearted woman, who had been Caroline's confidant and supporter all her life.
As usual, she had her flaming red hair, which was now speckled with gray, tied in an elegant knot at the back, two unruly curls framing her face. The sight of her helped quell Caroline's frustration. Mrs. Wilson often seemed to be the only one that truly understood her.
"Tell the coachmen to have the barouche ready." The Dowager Duchess stood up gracefully.
"Of course, Madam."
"Luckily, we are to see the tailor, my sweet Caroline. You cannot be seen wearing these out-of-date gowns." At that, the Duchess left the room. Caroline sighed loudly.
"Don't you fret, Lady Caroline," Mrs. Wilson said softly. "Her Grace cares about you a great deal. You know she's only concerned for your well-being, dear."
"Thank you, Mrs. Wilson." Caroline inhaled deeply before standing up.
Oh, dear, I fear this is going to be a long day.
Thankfully, the carriage ride to the linen draper wasn't long, and with the open compartment, Caroline didn't feel at all queasy. She actually rather enjoyed being back in the hustle and bustle of the city. All around were people walking, chatting on corners, and the sound of horses’ hooves and children playing filled the air. Spring was here!
The Dowager Duchess was droning on and on about the upcoming ball, still, and Caroline had to try her hardest to be polite and proper. Especially when they passed a bakery with the most decadent looking pastries on display in the shop window.
Caroline's mouth watered at the sight. After a short ride, the barouche came to a gentle stop, and the coachman jumped from his raised high box seat to help them down.
What seemed like an eternity later, Caroline stood inside the small dress boutique. Her feet and back ached from standing in front of the seamstress, who had just finished measuring for her new gowns. They had been to the haberdashery to choose trimmings.
At the linen drapers, the Dowager Duchess had picked out for her a pale primrose that suited Caroline's fair complexion very well, and a Pomona green color, which Caroline thought was much too bold. Still, she agreed with her aunt's every choice, lest this day be longer than absolutely necessary.
"You may step down, Lady Caroline," the dressmaker said before turning to the Dowager Duchess to discuss her new ball gown. Caroline walked to the back of the shop, followed by Madeleine. She knew that her aunt would be preoccupied for a while, which gave Caroline an idea.
I should pop by the bakery—I am absolutely famished. I'm sure Her Grace will not notice that I have gone. I need to get away from her fussing, if only for a brief moment.
She looked surreptitiously at her aunt. As she had suspected, all focus was on the Duchess' new gown, with all the shop assistants tittering around her and the seamstress. This was Caroline's opportunity. Very carefully, she opened the shop door and slipped outside. Madeleine followed her looking shocked, but thankfully did not utter a word. Caroline looked at her lady's maid curiously and then hurried forward.
The bakery was not far away, but Caroline would need to be quick. Heaven knows what would happen if her aunt realized that she was gone. Although she could have spent half a day just perusing and inhaling the sweet scent inside the shop, Caroline quickly chose her pastry and left the shop.
Just as she was debating whether she ought to engulf the sweet now or wait until she returned home, something knocked into her, causing her pastry to fly away, and her to fall to the ground. Madeleine shrieked, and Caroline was utterly confused about what happened. The next thing she noticed was a figure in front of her with an outstretched hand, and eyes of such a breathtaking shade of hazel-green that she felt her breath quicken.
The man helped her stand up with ease, and as Caroline stood, to her surprise, she felt her cheeks burn crimson, staring at the handsome stranger in front of her.
"Are you all right? That was quite the stumble." The tall man looked with concern at Caroline. He had a neatly trimmed beard, which was a shade lighter than his chestnut brown hair, which had fallen slightly over his eyes as he bent down to help her.
He had a chiseled jaw, and his strong arms were clearly visible through his fitted, deep green tailcoat. Caroline didn't know what was happening. Her heart was racing, and she didn't seem to be able to look away from this man.
"Are you hurt?" The question brought her back to her senses, and at once, it was as if the volume of the surroundings had been amplified.
"Oh, no, I’m all right," Caroline mumbled, looking around her. "I'm just confused about what happened."
"I'm afraid the pickpocket that I saw running down the street did not see you," the man said.
"Pickpocket?" Caroline gasped, and immediately her hand shot to her neck. Her necklace was still there, and everything seemed to be in place. As she relaxed, she noticed that she was still holding his hand from when he helped her up. She let go of it, immediately missing his warmth.
"I do beg your pardon," the man apologized, taking a small step back, "I haven't even introduced myself." He bowed his head, not looking away from her.
"Langley. Jasper Langley." Caroline felt a strange warmth fill her insides, as his name echoed over and over in her heart.
"Lady Caroline Beauchamp," she finally replied. Caroline noticed Madeleine looking at her sharply, no doubt judging her improper introduction and their prolonged eye contact, which was on the border of indecent.
"Pleased to meet you." Mr. Langley seemed to feel Madeleine's stare. He looked away from Caroline, seeing the now filthy pastry on the ground.
"Allow me to buy you a new one, and perhaps a coffee as well?" He gestured at the bakery she had just vacated, with a hopeful smile. Caroline wanted to scream, “Yes,” but Madeleine took a step closer to her, looking anxious.
I really ought to hurry back to the boutique. How strange it is that I wish that I could simply stand here, being in Mr. Langley's company, if only for a short while.
Before she managed to inform him that she must go back, he rummaged in his coat pocket. "Perhaps it would be better to arrange our rendezvous at another time," he said, handing her a small business card.
"Thank you again for your help. I am ever so grateful." Caroline accepted the card, placing it carefully in her reticule.
"I pray we will meet again." He bowed low before turning away from her and walked away. Caroline stood still, watching him leave, feeling inexplicably somber at the sight.
"My Lady..." Madeleine's voice was so high and nervous that she sounded like a bird.
"All right, let's hurry back." Caroline walked back toward the boutique, and once they had arrived, she thought for one horrible moment that the Dowager Duchess was no longer inside. Thankfully, she was still inside, trying on a new gown. Caroline was about to push open the door when Madeleine stopped her.
"Please, My Lady," Madeleine said, fetching a small brush from a pocket in her skirt. "Allow me." She began to brush off the dirt from Caroline's fall, which would no doubt have aroused questions from the Duchess.
"Thank you," Caroline said sincerely. They managed to slip back inside without anyone noticing. In the carriage ride back home, Caroline read the inscription on the card Mr. Langley had given her.
Jasper Langley - Langley Legal Practice
Jasper entered his office, his mind replaying his short moment with Lady Caroline. Suddenly, he couldn't remember why he had left the office in the first place. All he could think of were her eyes—as blue and deep as the ocean. He didn't hear Malcolm Holmes, his assistant, calling his name.
"Langley!" The young man had stood up and moved to Jasper's desk, looking bemused.
"I'm sorry, old chum." Jasper shook his head slightly, regaining his sense. "What were you saying?"
"I asked whether I should read over the Turner brief?" The young man looked hopefully at Jasper, his dark hair carefully trimmed and combed.
"Yes, that's a good idea, we can then discuss it once you're fully informed."
"Thank you," the younger man said, trying, without success, to hide his jubilation. Mr. Holmes had been working in Jasper's legal practice for a few months. He was still studying to become a solicitor but needed more experience.
It could be challenging to get ahead in the practice of law, without the right family and status, and Mr. Holmes, who was the youngest son of a poor cobbler, struggled to find someone who was willing to employ him. Jasper offered him an assistant position. The wages weren't high, but he was ready to assist Mr. Holmes whenever he could and was more than happy to let the solicitor-in-training try his strength with actual law cases.
Caroline sat at the pianoforte in the drawing room and played a sonata by Haydn. She knew this was one of the Dowager Duchess' favorite pieces. She needed to be on her best behavior since all afternoon Caroline kept gazing out the window, thinking about the handsome solicitor.
On more than one occasion, the Dowager Duchess reprimanded her for this. Caroline tried to soothe her aunt by telling her she could not stop thinking about how lovely her new gown was going to be, which seem to appease her aunt. She finished the tune and turned to her aunt.
"I ought to change for dinner." Caroline stood up and approached her aunt.
"Very well, dear." The Dowager Duchess was busy with her needlework, and she did not look up as her niece left the room. However, Caroline did not go straight to her room but made a stop at the library. Her aunt would not be pleased if she found out about this, but Caroline didn't care.
The door creaked slightly as it opened, but she knew it did not matter. Her father was still at court and would not return until later, and Caroline suspected her aunt might have fallen asleep in the warm drawing room.
The library was a magnificent place—shelves up to the ceiling, all filled with volume after volume of books on many subjects. Already, Caroline had read a great many of them. Since she had been a child, she had sought the comfort of this room. Caroline's mother had died when she was only five years old.
Her father had allowed her in here, and here their bond grew. Caroline remembered sitting in the brown leather armchair by the fire, with a book that was almost too big for her lap, asking every now and then the meaning of a word she had not yet encountered.
But lately, there had been few moments like that. In fact, Caroline couldn't remember when she last spent time with her father. The emphasis seemed to be entirely on preparing her for marriage. With age, the Earl had become stricter, and his views on Caroline's role in the world turned archaic. He felt that she should not have strong views or be well versed in politics.
Or at least she should not share her opinion.
It is not proper for a lady.
But Caroline couldn't stop herself. Her thirst for knowledge was insatiable.
She strummed her fingers over the different titles until she found the one she was looking for. It was an advanced textbook about the law. A smile on her lips, and she quickly grabbed the book and hurried to her room. In a strange way, this felt like being near Mr. Langley again, holding his strong hand and inhaling his masculine scent. Her face felt warm, and a tingle shot down her core, a new but exciting sensation.
Jasper had read and re-read the same paragraph over a dozen times, but the text did not seem to sink in. This was very unlike him, and he needed to finish his preparation, as he would need to be in court in a few days. He dropped the brief on his oak desk and rubbed his eyes. Mr. Holmes had left to go to class, and Jasper was debating whether he should give up and head on home. Perhaps he ought to pop by his sister's. The distraction might help him.
Lady Selina Featherstone was his older and only sister. She lived not far from his office, with her husband and two children. She was the second wife of Lord Featherstone, a much older Baron that spent most of his time at one of the gentleman’s clubs or out riding. Selina was Jasper’s closest confidant and biggest supporter. Jasper had become estranged from his father at the age of eighteen. Their relationship had never been good, but a fateful day eight years ago, Jasper left his home and joined the military.
He had finally had enough of his father's resentment and cruelty, and he never looked back. His sister wrote to him, but Jasper never spoke to his father again. When he returned to London, his father had passed away, leaving Selina the entire Langley fortune. Penniless and resentful, Jasper had begun contemplating returning to the military, when Selina offered to fund his law studies.
I think seeing my dear sister is just what I need. Perhaps I can even get more information about the lovely Lady Caroline Beauchamp. Selina usually knows those sorts of things.
There was, indeed, something familiar about her name, but Jasper could not for the life of him remember where he had heard it before.
He had just put on his coat and hat when a knock sounded. He opened the door to see a young man, almost as tall as he was, wearing an ornate tailcoat with golden embroidery. His rigid posture could only mean one of two things: the military or a high-class servant. He suspected the latter.
"Afternoon, Mr. Langley."
"Afternoon," Jasper replied.
"The Lord Chief Justice, the Earl of Brighney, has requested your audience." The servant handed Jasper a neatly folded letter, which had an impressive coat of arms pressed into the red wax. Before he could respond, the man continued.
"A carriage will be sent to this address in an hour's time. Good day." At that, the man turned around and left as swiftly as he had arrived.
"Same to you," Jasper muttered, closing the door.
Why on earth does the Lord Chief Justice wish to see me?
As the servant had informed him, a dark blue cabriolet arrived in front of his office an hour later. Feeling apprehensive, Jasper sat in the single seat, and then they were off. After a short ride, they arrived at Brighney Manor. The impressive front door was opened, and a gray-haired butler greeted him.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Langley." The butler ushered him inside a parlor to the right of a grand staircase.
"Lord Brighney will be with you shortly. Please be seated." The butler left the room and closed the door. Jasper had barely sat down when another door at the other end of the room opened. At once, he stood up, seeing the Lord Chief Justice approaching him.
"Ah, Mr. Langley!" A gentleman in his early fifties approached Jasper, his clothing impeccable, gray hair combed back, and his blue cravat was the same shade as his eyes, which watched his shrewdly.
"My Lord." Jasper bowed his head.
"I'm glad to see you. Please sit, Mr. Langley." The Earl himself did not sit down but walked toward a small table to the side, which had a crystal bottle on it, with amber liquid inside. He poured both of them a glass, handing Jasper one, then sat in front of him.
"Thank you, My Lord." Jasper waited until the Earl had taken a sip before tasting the port, which was exquisite—unlike anything he had ever tasted.
"Your work has not gone unnoticed," Lord Brighney said. "Which is why I have requested your audience today. I have invited you here to ask for your assistance." Jasper looked at him, surprised.
"There has come an unusual case for me to preside over, which I believe you will be able to give me valuable input. You will be well compensated for your work."
Jasper took a moment to think before he replied. "This is a great honor, My Lord, and an opportunity which I do not take lightly." He took another sip. "However, I have a full load of cases at my practice, and I will not permit myself to fail them. I pray My Lord will show his understanding."
"An honorable man," Lord Brighney said, his gaze penetrating. "How refreshing." He was smiling now, which changed his serious face entirely. "However, I will ask you to think this over and give me a definitive answer later."
"Of course, My Lord," Jasper replied, "Thank you."
"Now, I do insist you join us for dinner." Lord Brighney stood up and walked toward the door Jasper had come through.
"I would be honored, My Lord." They walked past many servants, to a grand dining room. There Jasper saw the footman that had come to his office earlier, standing alongside identically clad men near the wall. The huge windows were covered with lush maroon curtains, and the table was set for four persons.
"Allow me to introduce you to the Dowager Duchess of Winfair." Two ladies had entered the dining room, one who had a strong resemblance to the Earl, the other stood behind her.
"Welcome, Mr. Langley," she said gracefully. Jasper turned to look at the other occupant, and his breath caught in his throat.
"And my daughter, Lady Caroline."
Caroline was at a complete loss for words. He was here—in front of her—next to her father! She blinked, making sure this was not a figment of her imagination. He was still there. He stared back at her, and Caroline felt weak in the knees.
I cannot believe it... He is even more handsome now, if that's even possible. What on earth is he doing here? I fear that my cheeks are burning—surely Father will notice my nerves and my racing heart.
However, her father did not seem to notice anything, thankfully. Caroline realized that she hadn't reciprocated the introduction.
"How do you do, Mr. Langley?" Caroline stared at him, willing him not to mention their earlier encounter.
"Pleased to meet you, My Lady," he replied politely.
"Let us eat." Lord Brighney turned away from the two of them and sat down at the table. Caroline walked over to the Dowager Duchess and sat down. Mr. Langley sat in front of her, chancing a brief glance in her direction.
For a while, there was silence at the table, as the servants entered the dining room carrying the first course, chestnut soup.
"Tell me, what do you do, Mr. Langley?" The Dowager Duchess looked at him. Her tone was polite, but Caroline could tell from her aunt's tone that she did not think much of their dinner companion.
"I am a solicitor, Madam." He was confident when he spoke, and he seemed unperturbed.
"Mr. Langley is a fine solicitor," Lord Brighney said. "With luck, he will accept my proposal to come work for me."
"How exciting," Caroline said, looking from her soup dish to Mr. Langley.
"Lord Brighney shows me great honor to consider me worthy of his audience." Mr. Langley's head was slightly bowed as he spoke to Caroline's father.
"How long have you been a man of the law?" The Dowager Duchess asked.
"I opened my law practice four years ago," he replied.
For the remainder of the dinner, the conversation turned to a scholarly legal discussion between Mr. Langley and Caroline's father. She tried her very best not to stare at him and only spoke when it was appropriate.
Caroline had the impression that the Dowager Duchess was observing her throughout the meal. Once her aunt stood up, signaling that the men should be left to have a drink and discuss politics, Caroline curtsied gracefully before escorting her aunt to the drawing room.
Jasper watched the two ladies leave, looking away much sooner than he would have preferred. Lady Caroline was enchanting, and he wished he could have watched her the entire evening. Lord Brighney had moved through a side door that led to a small staircase, which led to an impressive library. Jasper couldn't stop his gasp of amazement from escaping his lips.
"I quite agree." Lord Brighney chuckled softly, noticing the look on Jasper's face. "My pride and joy, and I have a book here which I believe would be of interest to you." He walked toward a shelf at the far end of the room. After searching for a little while, he turned back to Jasper, his brow furrowed.
"This is strange," he said, glancing at his desk, "I cannot find it. Well, sit down, let's have a drink."
They discussed the political climate in London, and Lord Brighney spoke briefly about the case he wished Jasper's assistance with. The case was indeed intriguing, and Jasper's interest was piqued. He had to admit that he was leaning toward accepting the Earl's proposition, but he wasn't sure whether it had to do with the case or the possibility to see Lady Caroline more.
Jasper fully understood that someone like him was not good enough for a lady. He was nothing—a common solicitor, with no fortune or great family behind him. Still, it might be his only chance to be near her, if only from afar. Feeling the influence of Lady Caroline's proximity, the excellent food, and the drink, Jasper blurted out, somewhat unexpectedly, "I have decided that I will assist you with the case, My Lord."
"Oh, what wonderful news!" Lord Brighney clapped his hands and patted Jasper on the back. "Most excellent, Mr. Langley."
In the carriage ride home, Jasper considered the situation he had landed himself in. His workload was intensive as it was, and this would likely take the majority of his time. Questioning his judgment, he looked out the window of the carriage, which was riding away from Brighney Manor. Just then, he was sure he saw a flicker of a curtain, and the silhouette of a petite lady, with silvery-blonde hair. At once, all his doubts left him, leaving only the beautiful image of Lady Caroline in his mind's eye.
Lady Caroline turned to her side, and something hard and sharp pushed painfully into her midriff. She gasped and looked down at the bed sleepily. It was the law book she had snuck from her father's library. She had fallen asleep reading it the night before. A grin spread her lips as she thought about the wonderful dream she had. It had begun more like a nightmare.
She had been running away from someone. Her heart was beating rapidly, and she was frightened. Just as the dark figure reached out their hand to grab her, Mr. Langley appeared out of nowhere, riding on a white steed. He pulled her up easily and rode away, holding her tightly.
She got up from her bed, clutching the heavy book. She walked toward the carved wooden chest, which was at the end of her bed, and opened it. She placed the book inside, covering it with the white shawl, which her mother had made for her when she was a baby. A brief melancholy spread over her as she caressed the shawl.
Caroline wondered what her mother would have thought of her reading. Would she have approved? Would she have wanted Caroline to marry as soon as possible, just as she had done herself? Caroline desperately wanted to tell someone about...
What is this feeling? An infatuation?
The word felt bitter on her tongue, like a young girl's fantasy. Why did this feel like more?
Am I just being silly? I hardly even know him!
A soft knock sounded, pulling her from her reverie. She replied to Madeleine's soft call, who opened the door just as Caroline closed the chest. "Good morning, My Lady." Madeleine curtsied and began helping Caroline get dressed. She brought out a day gown that Caroline only wore on special occasions, a primrose-colored silk dress, which required a heavy petticoat, and a bone-tight corset.
"Madeleine, what are you doing?" Caroline stared at the gown. She absolutely detested that gown.
"I do beg your pardon," Madeleine whimpered. "Her Grace requested you wear this gown." The young maid looked terrified that Caroline was about to scold her.
"All right, then," she sighed as she removed her nightgown.
Jasper walked down the street, feeling energetic, despite his lack of sleep. He had been up for much too long, preparing for his day of working at Brighney Manor. Although he was absolutely swamped with work, he felt this was all worth it.
Working closely with the Lord Chief Justice was sure to help further along his career. And seeing Lady Caroline again, well, it was only an added benefit—or that's what he told himself. The fact that his dreams had been filled with her smile and tantalizing laugh was something he would never admit to a living soul.
He turned at a side street and pushed open a gate at the second house to the right. It was an impressive house, a much bigger one than his small bachelor's lodgings, and was his sister's home. Jasper knocked on the front door, which was opened a moment later.
"Mr. Langley." Mr. Bolton, the butler, moved aside to let him enter.
"Do come in, Lady Featherstone is in the drawing room." Jasper walked the familiar path and was greeted by his young niece and nephew.
"Uncle Jasper!" The young boy beamed with excitement at the sight of him.
"Good to see you, Ambrose." Jasper ruffled his nephew's hair playfully.
"How do you do, Mr. Langley," Agnes, Ambrose’s older sister, said very politely.
"Why, I am very well, Miss Radcliffe," Jasper replied with a pompous sounding voice, which made young Ambrose fall about in a fit of giggles.
"Ambrose!" Agnes looked reproachfully at her brother.
"All right now, children." Selina approached them and grinned at Jasper.
"I'm glad you decided to join us for breakfast," she said, and walked toward the dining room. "We missed you yesterday." Jasper made a habit of trying to have dinner with his sister several times a week.
"I was held up with work." Jasper thought about last night, and immediately the image of Lady Caroline reappeared in his mind's eye. Selina looked curiously at him but did not say anything.
After they had eaten, the children were escorted from the room by the governess. Lord Featherstone had already retired to the drawing room. "I gather that Agnes has been impressed by her governess." Jasper chuckled, watching the door through which the children had just left.
"Oh yes," Selina said with a sigh. "She will be a proper lady."
"I have no doubt."
"Jas?" Selina said after a short pause.
"You seem… different." She peered at him, examining him.
"How so?" Jasper stood up from the table and walked toward the window that looked out to the road he had walked earlier.
"I guess I'm tired," Jasper said offhandedly, knowing well that his sister would not give up so easily.
"Has something happened?" Selina now stood next to him. "I'm sure there is something, you look inexplicably happy."
"Is that unusual for me?" Jasper laughed heartily.
"For this early and a simple breakfast? Yes." Selina's suspicious look intensified.
"Well, I was approached by the Lord Chief Justice yesterday," Jasper said, turning to face his sister. He wasn't ready to tell her more, not yet.
"Jasper!" Selina gasped. "How exciting!"
"Yes, quite exciting. I will, therefore, be rather preoccupied in the next weeks, and will have to miss our dinners." He took out his pocket watch and realized he would be late if he did not hurry.
"Darling Selina," he said regretfully, "I really must go now."
"I will try to come back soon, I promise." He pocketed his watch and walked away from his sister. They bade goodbye, but Jasper had an inkling that Selina was still not convinced that his new job was the reason for his jubilant appearance.
Caroline walked into the enormous building. The corset was so tight she could hardly breathe. She suspected that the Duchess had instructed Madeleine to make it as tight as possible. They had just arrived at Wessex Manor for a late breakfast.
The Duchess of Wessex was hosting, along with her eldest daughter, Lady Anna. Inside the exquisite parlor were a few other young ladies with their chaperones, usually their mothers. It was essential to be seen during the Season.
After they had finished their tea, Lady Anna came rushing toward Caroline. The two of them had always gotten along nicely. Lady Anna was a year older than Caroline, was tall and slim, with dark brown hair, and her face was strewn with freckles. Her father was a wealthy Duke, and he and Caroline's aunt were cousins. "Did you hear about Miss Pembroke?" Lady Anna spoke quietly, lest someone scold her for gossiping.
"No, what happened?" Caroline looked curiously at her friend. Miss Pembroke was an acquaintance of theirs, one that always seemed to be on the unlucky side in life. Her father was a Viscount, known for his drinking and gambling. It was common knowledge that her father had squandered most of his wealth, and he had very little left for his five daughters. Caroline had always felt bad for Miss Pembroke.
"She has apparently been married to a Scottish Gentleman, and is expecting already." Lady Anna's eyes were wide as she continued.
"Her husband is ancient, and my lady's maid tells me that it is rumored that he is cruel to both his family and servants." She stopped speaking abruptly as the Dowager Duchess walked passed them. "Some have said that it is very suspicious how she was whisked off so quickly."
"You don't mean—?" Lady Caroline looked horrified at the implication.
"You know how naive she was," Lady Anna said sadly. "Her lady's maid was apparently dismissed, in disgrace, and no one knows why."
"This is a horrible rumor, surely." Caroline said a little too loudly.
"I'm afraid so." Lady Anna turned toward her mother, who had just called her name. She squeezed Caroline's hand affectionately before she stood up and joined her mother. Caroline was speechless. She thought about the little, sweet, innocent, and unfortunately gullible, Miss Pembroke.
If Lady Anna was correct, and usually she was, someone had taken advantage of Miss Pembroke. Anger coursed through Caroline's whole being at the idea alone.
Who could do such a vile thing?
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