About the book
He is her only escape. She is his only prison.
When Jemima Livington, only daughter of the Duke of Cowden, is forced to marry a man she loathes, she runs away. Disguised as a young sailor, she boards the Evening Star to escape her horrid fate.
Simon Fitzwalles, Earl of Burhill, has the sea as his only mistress. Lonely but mysterious, his life changes unexpectedly when he saves a young, handsome sailor from assault.
But Jemima’s betrothed is an obsessive man who won’t stop until he finds her…and he is getting closer by the minute.
Soon Jemima will find out that he and the ravishing Earl share a common past. The answer to an old calamity, that, once exposed, will be either her ticket to freedom or to her eternal captivity.
You cannot hide from me. I will have you for myself.
Peter Sheton, the Marquess of Beaurgant, prowled the halls of Cowden Manor, in search of the young lady who had caught his eye. It was not only her looks that had captivated him with such intensity, but the fortune that would undoubtedly come with her, should he secure his prize. She was the daughter of the Duke of Cowden—a remarkable beauty with the most exquisite, raven-black hair and dark, blue eyes that reminded him of rare sapphires. The kind worn on the pallid décolletage of far inferior ladies.
As he scoured the corridors for her, he thought how delighted he would be to purchase some such gems for her. A gift, to bring out the delightful shade of her eyes. A prominent piece, perhaps, so that everyone would know where the jewels had come from. Something around her neck, to show the ton who she belonged to.
She does not belong to me yet, but she will soon enough.
He smiled to himself as he kept on down the wide hallway. His eyes took in the portraits that hung from the walls, showing the Cowden dynasty in all their glory. He paused for a moment beside one of Lady Jemima—the young lady he sought. With a sigh, he brushed his fingertip across the contours of her soft jaw, feeling the ridges of the oil paint.
As he stared intently into the impression of her dark blue eyes, he wondered what it might be like to feel her real flesh beneath his fingertips. He would claw and grasp and clutch at her, desperate to make her entirely his. There would be children, no doubt, but he would make sure she kept her fine figure. Just because she would become a mother did not mean she would escape the obligations of being a dutiful wife.
“You will blossom as the Marchioness of Beaurgant,” he whispered.
Casting a shy glance along the corridor, to make sure there was nobody around to see him, he leaned into the portrait and placed a kiss upon her painted lips. The prospect of the real thing made him shiver with pleasure, imagining her smooth skin beneath his touch and the softness of her breath against his cheek.
First, however, he had to get her to agree to a dance. Thus far, she had rebuffed him, but that only spurred him on to pursue her harder. He was not the sort of gentleman who gave up on what he desired. A challenge was a thrill to him, and the wildest horses were the most satisfying to break. Lady Jemima Livington was no exception. Fortunately for her, he was an exceptional horseman, well versed in the whims of the strong-willed.
He will not find me here. Please, do not let him find me here.
Jemima Livington pressed herself back against the doorway of her father’s study, as the sound of the ball raged on below. Laughter and music drifted down the hallways, but she could not enjoy a single note. Her heart pounded in her chest as she struggled to catch her breath. She felt like prey within her own home. And it did not sit well with her at all.
She had spent the evening running from the lecherous advances of Lord Peter Sheton, the Marquess of Beaurgant. He seemed almost maniacal in his pursuit of her, hardly giving her a moment to herself, despite her polite rebuffing of his endless requests to dance. She was not one for social graces, but she did not think her father would look too kindly on a coarser form of rejection to this unyielding gentleman.
“Ah, there you are.” A voice called up from the bottom of the winding staircase, prompting her heart to leap into her mouth. She knew that voice. She had heard it, perpetually in her ear, for the last two hours.
Her shoulders sagged. Am I never to escape this uncouth fellow?
“Lady Jemima, did you not hear me?” Lord Beaurgant said. He had one hand on the banister, as though he intended to follow her up to the first floor of the house. That, in itself, spoke volumes. To step into private territory was tantamount to searching through someone’s personal belongings, as far as Jemima was concerned.
“I heard you, Lord Beaurgant,” she replied, eyeing the hallway ahead. If she made a run for the shadows there, he might hesitate to follow her. Then again, from what she had garnered of him in the past few hours, he would only wait until she emerged again. And her mother would never believe her, if she claimed she had taken suddenly ill with a mystery malaise, especially as she had slipped away from her chaperone in her haste. She was more likely to receive a scolding than any sympathy.
“Is something the matter, Lady Jemima?” He looked at her curiously, his brown eyes glinting with amusement. Did he know how uncomfortable he was making her? If he did, it only seemed to excite him.
“Not at all,” she replied, steeling herself. “I was simply too hot in the ballroom and needed to partake of some cooler air.”
“And how are you feeling now?”
“I am still somewhat stifled.” She hoped he understood the subtext in her words, but it did not seem as if he was listening. Either that, or he simply did not care for her feelings.
He smiled. “Perhaps, you and I may take a walk in the gardens? The air is much fresher out there.”
“I do not think so, Lord Beaurgant, though I thank you for your concern.”
“I could send for your lady’s maid to chaperone, if that is your worry?”
Jemima gritted her teeth. “It was drizzling earlier this evening, and I should hate to catch cold.” With it being the end of September, the last breath of Summer was beginning to fade from the land. Already, the emerald green of the leaves had begun to darken to an autumnal amber, the edges curling in readiness to drop to the ground below. The balmy warmth of the evenings had given way to a permeating chill, the tentative winds nipping at bare cheeks.
And I sense that having you beside me would only turn the evening colder.
She did not say so out loud, though she dearly longed to. This gentleman was treading a fine line between propriety and dishonorable intention, and she did not want to give him any opportunity to lean towards the latter. If she had only been brazen enough, she would have made a terse comment to send him on his way.
“Then, perhaps you might accompany me back to the ballroom? We do not need to dance if you are unwell, but we may converse at our leisure there.” Lord Beaurgant had a fixed smile upon his lips that unnerved Jemima. She had never known a gentleman to be so unrelenting, and she had experienced her fair share of potential suitors.
“I think I will rest awhile here, instead,” she replied.
“Come now, what is the use in standing alone, when you may sit in comfort? The orchestra is very fine. The music will do you some good, I am certain of it.”
Would you leave me be! She wanted to scream it at the top of her lungs, but her throat had tightened.
Since coming out into society a year ago, when she came of age, she had endured the advances and affections of several charming young gentlemen. She knew how to be polite and courteous, and how to decline with grace, but she had never entertained the idea of their courtship.
Ever since she was a little girl, she had dreamed of a love that could overcome anything. She felt that she would know the gentleman who would provide her with that, the moment he appeared. Thus far, he had not, and she would not settle for anything less. She had seen enough marriages of convenience within her family to persuade her that such a thing was nothing short of a lifetime entrapment.
And if this loutish gentleman thought he was somehow different, he was desperately wrong. Of all the gentlemen who had made their affections known to her, he was, by far, the most insufferable. She would rather have settled for a lackluster marriage with one of the other suitors than this vile specimen, who seemed determined to back her into a corner. He screamed ‘danger’ through his every pore.
“No, thank you,” she reiterated. “I am quite content to catch my breath here for a time. You may return to the ballroom. I will do well enough by myself.”
“If you are unwell, it would be improper of me to leave you alone. What if something were to happen to you?”
“Please, Lord Beaurgant, I assure you I will be quite well by myself.” She wanted nothing more than for him to go away. This was not the way she wished to spend her evening. Indeed, she was not particularly fond of social occasions at the best of times, but she loathed them all the more when there were ulterior motives afoot.
When the ball had been announced, she had already been dubious about the entire affair, but the Duke and Duchess had convinced her that it was to be a simple celebration, to honor their twenty-year anniversary. They promised her they would not attempt matchmaking, though her mother was eager to see her wed before she reached her twentieth year. Jemima had been foolish enough to believe them, hoping that, for once, nothing would be expected of her.
Although, she did not entirely think they had orchestrated this. Even her father would have disapproved of such outward pursuit by a gentleman. Her mother, on the other hand, would likely have thought it sweet, merely putting such intensity down to the passion of Lord Beaurgant. That was the trouble with the Duchess of Cowden—if a potential engagement was at stake, she saw the very best in everyone.
“I must insist that you return to the ballroom. I believe I saw the Duke and Duchess in there, not a moment ago. It may be of benefit to you, to let them know that you are not feeling quite yourself,” Lord Beaurgant urged.
He is not going to relent, is he?
Heaving out a weary breath, Jemima realized that she only had one option before her; to do what was required of her and play up to the role of the sole daughter of the Cowden dynasty. It would keep the peace, if nothing else.
“Very well,” she said quietly, smoothing down the front of her emerald green, silk gown. The necklace around her throat felt impossibly tight, as though it might choke her at any moment. She pushed her fingers beneath the green ribbon, to try and loosen it, but she knew it was not really the necklace that bothered her. Still, it served as another stark reminder of the restraints that rested upon the young ladies of England.
An emblem of the ties that bound them to family and duty.
“You will return to the ballroom with me?” Lord Beaurgant smirked in triumph.
“If only to speak with my mother and father, yes.”
He held out his hand to her. Reluctantly, she rested her gloved fingertips gingerly atop the proffered hand and allowed him to lead her back to the revels within the main body of the house.
As they walked, he stood a little too close to her, the side of his tailcoat brushing against her hip. She arched herself away, resenting the fact that he had bullied her into joining him. The moment she walked into the ballroom at his side, people would gossip. And the one thing she hated more than social gatherings was gossipmongers. That, and getting her mother’s hopes up.
I will not settle for you, Lord Beaurgant. You may be assured of that.
“I think you are starting to enjoy my company, are you not?” Lord Beaurgant chuckled, as he escorted her back into the ballroom. The dancing and the music almost seemed to stop, all eyes turning towards Jemima. Her eyes narrowed, her chest clenched in a vise-like grip.
She did not want to be here. Not just in this ballroom, but in this house, surrounded by these people. She did not want any part in it. Her stomach churned as she tried to avoid the curious stares that bombarded her. Meanwhile, Lord Beaurgant beamed like the cat who had managed to get a taste of the cream.
No…I will not perform for you all. I will not be a monkey, chained up for your entertainment. Tearing her hand away from Lord Beaurgant, she sketched a clumsy curtsey at him.
“I am sorry, Lord Beaurgant. I really do feel unwell. Please, excuse me.” Turning away from him without another word, she hurried from the ballroom and raced for the staircase, praying he would not intercept her before she reached the sanctuary of her chambers. As she ran, she felt the heat of a thousand eyes upon her back.
One thing was for certain, after such a dramatic departure, the rumor mill would be in full swing. And there was nothing she could do, or say, to silence it.
Simon Fitzwalles stood upon the wharf, looking out at the sea as the sun came up.
Vibrant bolts of blush pink and visceral scarlet shot through the dusky mauve of the sky, tinged with burnished orange and a hint of gold. It reminded him of the rolls of silk that were stowed away on his ship, ready to be offloaded and sold to the highest bidder, where they would be fashioned into gowns of true beauty and style.
As the cold breeze swept up from the water, bringing with it the briny tang of salt and festering fish, a small smile crept onto his lips. He adored the ocean, more than anywhere else in the world. There was a freedom there that could not be denied and could not be found upon land.
Although he had an estate of his own, as the Earl of Burhill, he rarely found himself within the claustrophobic walls of his household. He had never wanted to be handed anything in life, though that had been his destiny from birth. The notion of inheritance had always stuck like a fishbone in the back of his throat. It came with too many provisos, and too much power in the hands of the person who would pass that inheritance down.
In his case, that person had been his father. Gerald Fitzwalles, the previous Earl of Burhill, had not been a cruel man, nor had he been a particularly unjust man. But he had always been a gentleman of duty and of certain expectations, especially when it came to his only son. Those expectations had been impressed upon Simon for the entirety of his life. He had always kept to the heel of his father, doing as he was told, the moment he was told to do it.
Throughout his childhood, and into his adulthood, Simon had always felt trapped by the establishment he had been born into. Yes, he had stood to inherit a grand title and a pleasant estate, when the time came, but it came at a price. One that he had grown tired of paying, when it meant his endless presence in society, and bowing and scraping to the upper echelons he was supposed to be equal to.
So, when his father had died but two years ago, Simon had decided to make a bold change in his life. He had paid his dues to his father, whilst the gentleman had been alive, and to the title that had become his. For the first time, with his father’s passing, he had finally had the opportunity to do something for himself. And he had seized that chance with both hands.
No longer content to wander about the empty halls of Burhill Towers, he had made the unprecedented decision to delve into the merchant trade. He still saw to his duties at Burhill Towers, but he only did so when he was not traveling. In the interim, he left those duties in the capable hands of his steward, Asher.
This is living.
He gazed upon the ships coming in and out of the harbor, wondering what treasures they held, and what business they provided for. He had purchased several ships of his own, with some of the inheritance he had received from his father, and had chosen to trade in silk and spices.
Already, in the years that had gone by since his father’s death, he had traveled farther than any of the Fitzwalles before him. He had been to India, to Africa, to Europe, to the Americas, stopping at exotic ports all across the world—more than he could even remember. And yet, he treasured each one, for they reminded him that there was so much more to this Earth than one tiny island.
“It looks to be a fine morning, My Lord.” Simon turned to find the Captain of his flagship, the Evening Star, approaching him. Captain James McMorrow was a seasoned sailor with a fine reputation. Simon had personally handpicked him to lead his fleet and enjoyed sailing alongside him. Indeed, Simon had come to think of James as more of a friend than an employee. Spending so much time out at sea with a man would do that.
“I was just thinking that very thing,” Simon replied.
“Are we still sailing on Wednesday morn?”
Simon nodded. “With the dawn tide.”
“Your thirst for the sea gets stronger each time we come back to England, My Lord.” James chuckled. “We’ve barely been back two days, and yet we sail again in four.”
“Do you not believe we can sell our wares in such a short time?” Simon often looked to James for business advice, for even though he had been part of this merchant world for a few years, he still felt like a novice from time to time.
“Our wares will be gone by Monday’s auction, My Lord. There’s no fear in that. I just thought I’d note how eager you are to be back upon the ocean. There’s a charm to it, if I may say so. Once it’s cast its spell on you, there’s no going back. That’s why we sailors keep on, no matter the hardships of the last voyage or the challenges of the next.”
Simon smiled. “You think the ocean has cast its spell on me?”
“For sure, My Lord. She’s got her claws into you, and no mistake.”
“Then, the ocean may be the only wife I ever take,” he said, with a sad heaviness in his chest.
Spending so much time away from England left no time for the pursuit of a wife. He did not mind so much, at the present moment, but he often wondered if that would change. After all, he was not getting any younger. Then again, he could not think of a single lady who would take on such a gentleman as him. To the ton, he was a peculiarity, and nobody wanted to marry their daughter off to a peculiarity.
“There are worse wives to have, believe me,” James replied, with a smirk. “She’s not so different to most of them. When she’s angry, there’ll be a storm. When you’ve done wrong, you’ll wish you’d never set out with her. And when she’s at peace, she’ll seem the most beautiful thing in all the world.”
Simon laughed. “Very poetic, Captain.”
“It’s the truth.”
“And how is your lady wife? I trust she was glad to see you safely returned?”
James nodded. “Aye, she was singing your praises, right enough. Says she’s never worried when I’m out on the Evening Star. She thinks you were born under a lucky one—a star, that is. The boys are much bigger now, though. They’ll be young men soon enough, and I’ll wonder where all them years went.”
“Is that why you want us to remain here a while longer?” Simon eyed James, feeling a small twist of guilt in his chest. The sailors on board his vessels had chosen this life, but he could not help feeling slightly responsible that those with families were missing out on so much of the ordinary, day-to-day business.
“Goodness me, no. My wife and I can only be in the same house for a week or two before one of us wants to kill the other,” he replied, with a grin. “She knows my mistress is the sea, and she’s more than happy to share me. And the boys are always pleased to see me back. I doubt they’d be as eager if I were home all the time. They’d get tired of me, right quick.”
“You are a good man, Captain.”
“As are you, My Lord.”
In companionable silence, they both turned their gaze out towards the water, watching the burning horizon give way to the new day. As Simon saw the first rays peeking through the wispy clouds, he wondered what adventures lay before him. Four days until they set sail seemed like four days too many. He was desperate for the freedom of the ocean waves again, and the gentle rock of the Evening Star beneath his feet.
Here on land, he risked the ghosts of Burhill Towers coming back to haunt him, impressing his duties upon him, and the incessant pull of the ton trying to rope him back into a more respectable existence. He had lived too long under the duress of others, and he would never do so again.
TheEvening Star was his ticket to the rest of the world. And he would not give that up for anything.
Not too far away, sitting in the drawing room of Beaurgant House, Peter Sheton tapped his fingertip against his brandy glass and stared into the dying embers of the night’s fire. The sun was almost coming up outside the window, though he had only returned home an hour ago.
Even without Lady Jemima’s company, there had been plenty to keep him occupied at the Cowden residence. In fact, her absence had given him the prime opportunity to speak with Andrew Livington, the Duke of Cowden, who just so happened to be Lady Jemima’s father. The gentleman was a logical, sensible man, which worked well in Peter’s favor.
He had heard whisperings from several guests at the Cowden’s ball that Lady Jemima was proving rather difficult when it came to marriage. At nineteen years of age, she was not yet beyond the pale, but it appeared as though her mother was extremely keen to see her wed before the year was out. And Peter had the perfect solution. One that benefitted himself and the Duke and Duchess of Cowden.
He had been plain about his intentions, and the Duke had responded well. True, he was only an Marquess, but the Duke was a reasonable fellow. Rumors of a difficult, headstrong daughter were hard to quell amongst the social elite, and there were very few gentlemen who were up to the task of bringing such a lady into obedience.
Peter liked to think of himself as precisely that sort of gentlemen. Indeed, he prided himself on it.
“And you are of good standing?” the Duke had asked him, over brandy in the gentlemen’s smoking room.
“Of greater wealth than one would expect of a Marquess,” Peter had replied. “And I have the means to ensure the happiness of your daughter. I would take great pains to give her all she could ever hope for, and I would honor her to the end of my days. I am an honest gentleman, of excellent reputation, and I am eager to make a proposal of marriage, if you would accept such a thing?”
Peter smiled contentedly as he recalled the Duke’s favorable response. Feeling victorious, he downed the dregs of his brandy and rang the bell for another. He had cause to celebrate.
Lady Jemima might have thought she could escape him, and embarrass him by running from his side, but he would be the one to have the last laugh. Whilst it was true that he intended to give her all she could ever wish for, he did not expect it to be an easy road ahead. Nor did he want it to be. Her indifference, and near disdain, towards him was intoxicating. And he could not wait for the day when she had no choice but to obey him.
You will be mine, Lady Jemima. I will have you, one way or another. And, if you fight…oh, I hope you fight…that will only make the experience more enjoyable for me.
Andrew, the Duke of Cowden, sat patiently at the breakfast table, awaiting the arrival of his daughter. He had always hoped for sons, but they had not been gifted with any, throughout his marriage to Leonora, the Duchess. There had been the chance of one, many years ago, before Jemima was even born, but the infant had not survived past a week old. It was still a difficult memory for him to recall, even after so long.
That was not to say that he did not love his daughter, for he cared about her deeply, but it had come as quite the surprise to discover how trying young ladies could be, once they reached womanhood. Duty and responsibility had always been of paramount importance to him, and his family, and he could not understand her reluctance to marry. She was far too much of a dreamer, with her head forever in the clouds.
She will be content once she is wed.
He had come to the conclusion shortly after Jemima had come of age, though he had left the matchmaking endeavors up to his wife, for the most part. She seemed to know more about romance than he did, for he did not believe it was a requirement in the contract of marriage. And yet, he had been happy enough these past twenty years. He had come to love Leonora above all others, and he knew his daughter would experience the same, once a husband had been chosen.
Yes, I am certain of it.
He desired to see his daughter protected by a reasonable, kind, well-respected gentleman of good means and excellent character. And he believed he had found the perfect match. As a daughter, she could not inherit Cowden Manor, nor the title that came with it. And he knew that her only means of security would be found within a marriage of her own.
The sooner, the better, as far as I am concerned.
“Must you tell her today, Andrew?” the Duchess asked, as she sipped her tea. Even in her advancing years, Leonora was still a beauty. Jemima had been gifted with the same fine looks and raven black hair, though Jemima’s eyes were more like his own—a dark, stormy blue that were not good at keeping secrets.
“There is no time like the present, my darling,” he replied. “Do you not agree that the match is favorable?”
“I believe it is very favorable, though I always hoped she might marry a Duke. Someone of slightly better standing than a Marquess.”
“The rumors are spreading of her strong will and independent spirit, darling. We cannot allow it to progress so far that no gentleman will dare to make an offer towards her.” He paused. “Unfortunately, I am of the mindset that this is the only choice she may have. There are many jealous, fickle young ladies amongst the ton, and they have taken it upon themselves to deter any of those more fitting prospects.”
Leonora sighed. “Why must they spread such callous rumors?”
“Because she is a threat to them, my dear,” Andrew replied. Although he did not know much of romance and of the whims of young ladies, he was well-versed in the behaviors of the social elite. Those jealous young ladies had no doubt been instructed by their own mothers to sabotage any hopes that Jemima might have of wedding a gentleman of higher station.
Not that it mattered. Andrew’s mind was already set on this path, and he would not be dissuaded against it.
As if drawn by Andrew’s thoughts, Jemima appeared in the doorway to the dining room. She looked well rested after the previous evening’s sudden ailment, though Andrew suspected there had never been such an ailment to begin with.
As everyone knew, Jemima was a willful creature. She did as she pleased, with no concept of how it would appear to those who cast judgment. In the last month alone, she had been spotted at a women’s literary meeting, casting aspersions upon her that she may be a bluestocking.
These actions of hers had to be nipped in the bud, before they ruined her reputation entirely. At nineteen years old, she could not afford to make a bad name for herself. A husband would resolve that immediately, casting aside all gossip and aspersions that were laid upon her. Andrew was certain of it. Not only that, but it would see her future secured, killing two birds with one neat stone.
“Good morning, Jemima,” Andrew said, innocently enough.
She smiled. “Good morning, Father.”
“And how are you feeling this morning? Gemma informed your mother that you took to your bed last night, with a sudden headache. I hope it is much improved?”
“She was rather worried about you, darling,” Leonora chimed in.
“I am much improved, thank you. I think I had imbibed too much, and the heat of the ballroom was somewhat overwhelming.” Jemima moved towards one of the chairs opposite her parents and sat down.
Leonora nodded sympathetically. “I always find that champagne gives me a terrible headache.”
“Well, now that you are feeling much better, there is something we must discuss,” Andrew said, watching his daughter closely.
“Oh?” She looked up, puzzled.
“I happened to have a rather pleasant conversation with the Marquess of Beaurgant, after your unexpected departure from the ball,” he continued. “It would appear that he is very charmed by you, Jemima. Indeed, so much so, that he has asked if he might have your hand in marriage.”
Her face paled. “Father—”
He cut her off before she could say another word. “Naturally, I have agreed to a betrothal between the two of you, for he seems a suitable gentleman and he spoke with marvelous elegance. Moreover, he spoke very highly of you, and of his wishes to make you happy.”
“Father, you have surely taken leave of your senses?”
Andrew held her gaze with steely resolve. “On the contrary, and may I say that I do not appreciate your tone of voice. You will speak to me with the respect I ought to be accorded.”
“He is a weasel, Father!” Jemima cried.
“He is nothing of the sort, do not be ridiculous. I have looked into his family, and they seem to be very well-to-do, and he seemed exceedingly polite to me. Indeed, just this morning, I sent word to the local newspaper, to announce your betrothal. It should be in the paper by this evening, or tomorrow at the latest.”
Jemima shook her head. “Father, no. I will not marry him!”
“You will do as you are told,” Andrew shot back. “After your incessant displays of willfulness, your choices are extremely thin on the ground. Your behavior does not become you, and everyone is talking unfavorably of your character. Do you honestly believe that I can sit here, as your father, and allow the ton to look down upon you? I will not. A husband will fix this unruliness in you.”
Jemima gripped her fork. “If it involves marrying that vile little man, I will not do as I am told!”
“The Marquess will return you to the respectful young lady that you ought to be. He will calm all of these peculiar whims of yours. Once you are a wife, you will find your place in this world, and you will no longer have time for these outlandish dreams of yours. Romance is one thing, as I know you young ladies are fixated upon the idea of love, but being seen in improper environs will not be tolerated any longer.”
“So, you would rather see me wed to a gentleman that I openly detest—that I am telling you I despise, and do not trust?” Jemima was shaking now, her eyes wide in horror.
Andrew ignored her obvious aversion. “I cannot understand why you would feel such a way. Clearly, you are the one who has taken leave of your senses. He is a good, sturdy, stoic gentleman, with a remarkable estate and a healthy yearly income. He will do very nicely as your husband.”
“Mother, will you not say something?” Jemima asked in desperation.
“I happen to agree with your father, Jemima. The Marquess seemed very keen on you indeed, and he spoke rather poetically of you. I found him to be charming, with a romanticism about him that most young ladies would be grateful for.”
Jemima shook her head. “Then you have only seen what you wish to see. You did not see him stalking through the hallways in pursuit of me. You did not hear his incessant words in my ear, and how he attempted to encourage me to walk with him outside.”
“Do not make up stories, Jemima,” Andrew snapped.
“I would never tell tales to you! I am speaking the truth. I swear it upon my life.”
“And now you are simply being dramatic.” Andrew heaved out an exasperated sigh. “I have already agreed to the betrothal, and you will come around to the idea in time. As I have said, once you become a wife, you will feel settled within your position. Isn’t that right, Leonora?”
“Quite right, Darling,” she replied.
“This is absurd,” Jemima muttered. “This is entirely absurd.”
“It is the way of things, Jemima,” Leonora said. “Your father knows what is best for you and, given the current circumstances, the Marquess may well be your only chance at future security. I do so hate to say it, but you have brought this upon yourself. Had you behaved with more decorum, things might have been different. However, as your father has said, the Marquess is likely to be the only gentleman brave enough to offer a proposal.”
“When did independence become a crime, for which I must be punished?” Jemima gaped at them both. “When did my life stop being my own, to do with as I please?”
“Do you hear yourself, Jemima? You have buried your nose in one too many of those foul romance novels. Duty ought to be your sole purpose—duty to the mother and father who have raised you, and given you everything you could ever have wanted,” Andrew replied sourly. “Perhaps, in a way, we are to blame for your willfulness. But, no longer. This must be resolved, Jemima. And marriage is the perfect solution.”
“I cannot listen to this a moment longer!” Jemima scraped back her chair and strode from the room, her hands balled into tight fists.
“Get back here this instant!” Andrew shouted after her, but Leonora reached out and placed her hand upon his forearm.
“Give her a moment to let the news sink in, Darling. She is an obedient girl, deep down in her heart. She just needs some time to think about what you have said, that is all. It will have come as a shock to her.”
“You think I should allow her to speak to me like that, in my own home?” Andrew growled.
Leonora smiled. “I think you should allow her one last breath of that rebelliousness, before she marries the Marquess. She will be well again soon enough, once she sees that we are right about this. You know what she is like, Darling. Just give her time. I have been in her position, and I remember railing at my own father in the way that she has just done. And yet, I found a happiness that I could never have expected. So will she.”
Andrew frowned. “She had better come around to the idea. Otherwise, I shall have to take matters into my own hands. And she will like that far less, I guarantee it.”
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