Lucy peered through the slightly open doorway and rolled her eyes. The young man was probably around her age, wearing very expensive clothes that neither fit nor flattered him properly. He stood with his right shoulder slouched and fiddled with a bookmark.
She continued to hesitate, watching his actions, wondering whether she even should bother with this one, or whether it would spare everyone’s emotions if she were to just walk away. Well, at least his emotions. It was not as though she intended to marry anyone at all, let alone someone as young and green as him.
She did not understand why her parents insisted on putting her through… this. Setting her up with the young sons of any and every man of some status in the area. Of course all of them were of age. But they were all still naïve, coddled, ill-suited to courting a woman. They did not know how to dress themselves, where their family income came from, or what they would do when they were the man of the house.
She may as well have been dating schoolboys. They were that much less educated, less experienced, and less inquisitive than her. Some were even a few years younger than she was. At the very least her parents could have chosen her suitors she did not feel compelled to look down on.
Walking into the room she smiled as politely as she could manage. She would have to make something of an impression, after all. She had taken her time to dress up and make herself presentable and it would be a real shame if all that effort went unnoticed.
The young man grinned nervously and had the presence of mind to stand and bow as she curtsied. Some had not even managed this much. But then he was stuck. Still standing before his chair, he had forgotten what to do next. She waited a few more seconds for at the very least a handshake or a verbal greeting, but when none was forthcoming she quietly made her way to her seat and sat down.
Seeing her sit back down he seemed to realize that he could, fell backwards into his seat, and laughed nervously.
He was yet another buffoon. Back when she still had hopes for ideal love she found these behaviours to be a sort of endearing clumsiness, a little like seeing a kitten fall over its own paws. But now she knew what men could really be like, she found his awkwardness repulsive. How could he be so innocently clumsy and yet at once be of the same sex as the man who had broken her heart?
The young man introduced himself as “Terrence” and asked her to call him by his first name, not his last one. Which was just as well considering that she could not remember the last name her mother had hurriedly told her the night before.
“My family owns a lot of land, so you would be well provided for,” he said with a smile.
“Farmers also own a lot of land,” Lucy retorted. She could not believe how blatantly some of these men tried to win her over with power and money.
He laughed nervously. “But I am not a farmer. I have a good name, I am strong and healthy, I have four private tutors…”
Lucy nodded and smiled. “I suppose you are a lion tamer also?” she asked. She could see that she was already beginning to get on his nerves. It would not take much more pressure to cause him to throw a fit and leave, vowing never to return. “Or, let me guess, a Saint?”
“I have never met a woman as rude as you,” he said, his expression somewhere between indignation and the verge of tears.
“Then you have never met an honest one.” Lucy raised her chin.
Her mind was telling her not to be so cruel. In many ways it went against her core self, the way she had been her entire life. But her heart…nothing else protected her heart like pushing these men away. If she continued to be mean, perhaps it would chase all men away.
She had a multi-stage attack for breaking down the focus of any suitor who outlasted her cold shoulder. First, she would seek out his insecurities by picking on his flaws, to make him hate her. Then, she would mock his way of speaking, or his interest in her, to make him feel he was beneath her.
And if none of that worked she would turn to pure rudeness.
She had sped up the process a little bit for this young man. She wanted him gone, and fast. There was no chance at all and he needed to know that. She tried to tell herself that in the long run it would help him. Perhaps she would put him off trying to marry some other poor, naïve girl. But deep down she knew it helped only herself.
Terrence stood up and glared at her. “I do not know why I bother. All women my age are just stuck up brats. I ought to wait until I am older and time has made you nicer.”
And with that, he stormed out the room.
Lucy liked to pretend that their words never hurt her. The truth was, they always did. She was not stuck up, or prude. She was not just looking for money. She was not spoilt. She was simply disillusioned and afraid of ever trusting a man. She had learned that the hard way.
But if she said that she might endear herself to them, and they might try harder. If they believed she was a spoilt brat then they would likely not return. It was for the best. Wiping a single tear from her cheek, she stood up and left the room also.
Her mother, Baroness Fitzgerald, was waiting for her at the foot of the stairs, a look of exhausted frustration on her face. “I cannot believe you, Lucy.”
Lucy shrugged. “I did nothing. I dressed well, I did my makeup, I went to see him and talked to him just as you asked. I did not speak out of turn, I answered all his questions—”
“And if you did so like this, it is no wonder he left,” Lady Fitzgerald said, rubbing her temples. “How did you ever become so rude?”
Lucy bowed her head in slight shame.
“What did you say to him?” her mother asked.
“Nothing. I just answered his questions,” Lucy insisted.
“A man does not leave the house like that when ‘nothing’ happens… I have half a mind to chaperone your dates again myself,” she said.
“I suppose he isn’t suited to me either,” Lucy remarked.
“No man is suited to a petulant child that answers back,” Lady Fitzgerald said with a stern glare.
Lucy shrugged. “I did my best. If they will not love me for who I am…”
“But this is not who you are,” her mother replied. “This is not the girl I knew, or the girl that came back from school. You are different. I can only hope it is a phase.”
“And if it is not?” Lucy asked.
Her mother shook her head. “Very well, just… leave.”
Lucy knew better than to reply when her mother asked her to leave. It would invariably result in being banished to her room for a day or more. She just nodded, curtsied, and went off to have a nice, quiet walk in the gardens.
She did not care if her mother sat in on her meetings with her suitors. Lady Fitzgerald had done this before and even then it only took one or two dates for them to become disinterested. Lucy had her little ways of getting under their skin so that her mother would not notice she was doing so on purpose. She could be under the watch of an entire room of chaperones and still find a way to put her suitors off her.
She felt a little sad about this. She and her mother had been so close when she was little. But their values had become starkly divided as Lucy grew older, and now what her mother wanted for her and expected from her in no way reflected her own ideals.
Lucy could not bear to tell her mother the truth. That she was rejecting these men on purpose. And it was all because of… him. Because of that outrageous man who had made her fall in love with him, only to sweep the carpet out from under her feet and leave her confused and angry as he married her best friend.
Antoinette she could forgive. After all, one could not help who they fell in love with. What she could not forgive was Duke Perry’s deceit leading up to the incident. If he had never loved her, then why had he given her the impression he did? Why had he allowed her to fall so deeply in love with him? It all came down to one thing…
“It is all just money, money, money with men,” Lucy sighed as she sipped tea with her friend, Mary.
“Not all of them,” Mary assured her. “Many men are very pleasant to spend time with.
Lucy wrinkled her nose and said nothing.
“You cannot continue to run from love because of Duke Perry,” Mary said.
Mary was not as close a friend to her as Antoinette had been. In many ways, despite the physical and emotional distance between them, Antoinette was still Lucy’s best friend. But she needed to have someone to talk to, to share these thoughts with, to spend time with. She could not simply bottle them up forever.
And Mary, as Antoinette’s cousin, was also a valued friend to Lucy, and came a close second when it came to good advice. Except now.
“Look at myself and Christopher,” Mary continued to elaborate. “We have had our ups and our downs, and we both have our flaws, but above all he is a good man.”
“It is different for you, I suppose. But there are many people who are unhappy in marriage,” Lucy insisted. “And I have no intention of joining them.”
“Then be careful who you choose to marry,” Mary replied. “Rejecting everyone will just cause you more heartache when you realize how many good men you have hurt and pushed out of your life.”
Lucy sipped her tea again and sighed a little. “But how can I tell a good man from a bad one? I thought I had found the best man in the world and that was all a facade. What looks like a good man… anything could be lurking behind that character. I almost married Duke Perry. I thought he loved me.”
“But you did not marry him,” Mary countered.
“Only because he became a Duke and had enough money to marry his sweetheart,” Lucy said with a huff. “Had he remained poor he would have continued permitting me to believe he loved me until he was nice and secure.”
“It would not have happened if it was not supposed to,” Mary insisted.
Lucy could not see why Mary was so determined to defend men. Her man was fine, sure. She was lucky. But Lucy had courted many more men in the last year than Mary had done in her whole life. Lucy had the true volume of experience here. And men were most definitely in it for the money and little else.
“All sorts of things happen which are not supposed to,” Lucy finally said. “So many people are miserable in their marriages.”
Mary shook her head. “You will understand these things in time. But romance is not all fairy tales. Things happen that will make you angry, people do things that disappoint you. But when a man and a woman are united by God, these little things melt away and the bigger picture takes over.”
But she already understood. And that was precisely why she was not going to get married. Ever. Lucy used to believe in the fairy tale version of romance. She had liked that version. It was nice. It was fun. It was natural. Two perfect souls coming together, overcoming all kinds of odds in the name of love, and being just right for one another and living happily ever after without a single argument. The fairy tale was the good version.
The real version of romance just did not live up to her ideal. And so, she would not have it. She wanted the perfect romance or nothing at all, and if the perfect romance did not exist, then she would choose nothing.
“Let us talk of more pleasant matters,” she said, forcing out a smile. “I have seen our roses are beginning to bloom. How are yours doing?”
Mary smiled and nodded knowingly before explaining the development of her garden to Lucy. Lucy had said what she needed to say and got it off her chest. Any further conversation would only be frustrating to both of them.
After tea with Mary finished, Lucy made her way back home only to be immediately intercepted by a maid with a letter as soon as she stepped through the front door. The envelope had already been opened, no doubt by Lady Fitzgerald, who did not trust Lucy to share all her news with her parents. She read it as she walked upstairs to her bedroom.
It was a note from another suitor, inviting her to a garden party where she would be his date and they could dance and talk and get to know one another properly. He had apparently heard of her from some of his friends. She recognized the names as men she had rejected particularly viciously. Why did it always go like this?
Lucy sighed and fell back on her bed. She had assumed these men would get the message and stop propositioning her. But it seemed her meanness only made them more eager. It was as though they just saw her as a challenge, as though conquering her would be some mighty feat.
Nothing she did would chase them away properly. If she was not mean enough then her present suitors would not get the message and would continue to see her for weeks or even months. If she was mean, then her suitors would not stay long, but other men from their social circles would cluster in, ready to have a go at seducing the ogress.
Lucy cast the letter to the floor. Because her mother had read it, she was probably already obligated to go. She buried her head in her pillow and wondered whether she ought to scream or cry. All she wanted was to be left alone to become an old spinster in peace. Was that too much to ask?
“I do not wish to go, that is all,” she said, avoiding her mother’s steely gaze. “It is nothing personal, but I think a garden party at this time of year would be too cold.”
“You always have an excuse,” her mother said with a heavy sigh. “And do not assume I do not know they are excuses. I am older and wiser than you and I know how to spot these things.”
Lucy sighed and shook her head. “It is not an excuse, I genuinely do not wish to attend a garden party in this cold, damp weather. I could catch a cold.”
“That does not stop you from walking up and down our garden every day,” Lady Fitzgerald replied.
Lucy shrugged. “That is different.”
“Lucy… Please, just say what I can do to help you,” her mother pleaded.
“I do not need help, I need to be left alone,” Lucy insisted again. “I am sure that in time the right man will appear, but I do not intend to settle for less. Nor do I intend to go to some cold, damp garden and stand around catching cold for a man.”
Lady Fitzgerald looked about to cry. “What happened to you?” she asked, shaking her head.
Lucy shrugged. “I thought you would be pleased that I have standards. You do not wish for your daughter to marry just anyone, do you?”
Lady Fitzgerald shook her head some more. “I hope someday you realize you are not above every man on this planet, and I hope that day does not come too late.” She stared out the window as rain began to fall lightly.
It hurt Lucy to see her mother like this. But she was in no way going to give in. Her mother did not understand the severity of what had happened with Duke Perry. She did not know how deeply in love Lucy had fallen, or how painful it was to make the discovery that he had deceived her. It had done damage which would not be undone easily. It would probably never be undone at all.
“Who knows, even if you do not like Sir Connor, perhaps whilst you are there you could meet a young man who does suit your interests?” her mother put forward hopefully. “You will never meet anyone if you do not go out.”
“I do not intend to go, and that is final.” Lucy sat back in her seat and also began watching the rain bouncing off the window as the droplets grew heavier and more frequent.
“Oh, that reminds me, Sir Garvey and the Timpson girl are getting married in a week, aren’t they?” Lady Fitzgerald remarked.
Lucy paused, then nodded. “I do believe so,” she replied.
Susan Timpson. She had been Lucy’s friend as well when they were little. She had remained her friend when Lucy came back from boarding school, but they had grown a little distant over the course of Susan’s engagement.
Lucy could not make sense of it. All her childhood friends were getting married. They knew what they were risking, she had tried to warn them, and none of them listened. All they cared about was their fancy wedding and their marriage and the prospect of having children. None of them gave a second thought to the very real risk that the man they were marrying was a lying curr.
“I suppose you will not be coming to the wedding, either?” Lady Fitzgerald said with a low tone.
Lucy hesitated. A garden party was one thing, but a wedding… She was deeply torn. She did not really believe in marriage anymore, and as such a wedding seemed far, far too much to her. But this was also not about her. This was her friend’s celebration of love and friendship with a man she would spend the rest of her life with. This was the sanctification of a union between a man and a woman. She did not want to ruin that for Susan.
“Very well, I shall go to the wedding,” she said with a sigh.
Lady Fitzgerald perked up a little upon hearing this. “Really? You think you shall be able to?” she asked tentatively.
Lucy nodded. “I think Susan would want me to be there for her. And I am sure it will be a beautiful party. I would not miss it for the world.”
Lady Fitzgerald let out a relieved sigh. “At last you are saying something normal and sensible!” she remarked.
“Well, we cannot disagree on everything.” Lucy laughed nervously.
“Just think of all the wonderful, high-class young men there will be there!” her mother exclaimed in delight.
Lucy winced a little. She had been trying her utmost not to think of that. All she wanted was to be there to offer some support to a friend who had helped her through her own times of trouble. To enjoy the party and the celebration. To forget a little bit about her own life.
But she could trust her mother to make this all about scouting out potential suitors. Was nothing about anything else anymore? She felt that everywhere she went, everything she did, was just an excuse to put her on display and try and get the men bidding.
She felt a shiver run down her spine. This would not do. But what could she do now? Just tell her mother to leave her alone? That she was not going to see any of these men, or talk to any men, or dance with any men? That if the wedding meant seeing men, she would much rather not go at all? She just smiled and nodded.
She’d have to be on her guard the whole time now.
“Come, I do believe dinner is ready,” her mother said.
Listening carefully, Lucy could sure enough hear the bell being sounded. She had very little appetite, but she knew she needed to make an effort and retain her strength, so she followed her mother to the dining room nonetheless.
Her father was already in his seat being served. Everyone else had to wait for him if they arrived first, but he could start whenever he wanted. This was another reminder to Lucy of why she could never marry. After all, it was probably easy to defer to good men like her father, or Mary’s husband, but it would be a nightmare to defer to someone who turned out to hate her.
Dinner had lost all its taste for her. She ate a few potatoes and some peas, but the meat and gravy felt like too much, and the idea of dessert left her stomach churning. Instead, she politely excused herself after her plate was cleared, requesting an early night so she could make sure she was well rested for the day ahead.
In her nightgown, Lucy sat on the edge of the bed, slowly brushing her hair. She could not understand why her peers insisted on continuing to marry. Surely they were beginning to realize by now that it was a scam? These men wanted to marry them for money, or for connections, or to improve their status. They did not care about the woman behind it all.
They would lie to her, let her believe ridiculous things, play with her heart and then turn around and marry someone else, as long as the money was convenient. And yet her friends continued to get married as though these men were making such a valiant sacrifice, as though the partnership were one of equals.
But nothing was about to change as long as it was just her. When it was just one or two young women rebelling it had no meaningful impact. But she knew that if enough of them were to do so, it could make a difference.
Ultimately, she still wanted to get married. She still wanted to be a wife, and to have a loving husband, some children, a happy home. None of that had changed. But she knew it could not happen so long as it was done for money and power. And the only way to stop men lying to trick women into marriage was for women to stand up against it. For young women and their parents to say “no more” to marriages with anyone who had been found to be a liar or greedy.
And that was not about to happen. In fact, a young woman’s parents were often so eager to see her married that on top of a dowry they would usually pay for a lavish wedding to send her off. This would make sense if the parents were genuinely seeing the last of their little girl, and if the wife was nothing but a financial burden to her husband. But from what Lucy had seen, this was rarely if ever the case anymore.
More common was for the husband to become best friends with his wife’s family and turn to them for money and support in his time of need. And the parents would continue to oblige as though their son in law were doing them a service.
None of it made any sense at all to Lucy. The whole affair was just pompous for the sake of it. A waste of everyone’s time and money.
As she drew the comb through her hair again and again she inspected it for flaws. Her mother had taught her it was important to keep an eye out for any problems with her hair or nails, because they would get dramatically worse if not attended to swiftly. She noticed a few split ends and decided to trim the tips of her hair.
Dropping the comb, she picked up a small pair of scissors from her bedside cabinet, stood up, and walked over to her dresser, where she could watch herself in the mirror, to make sure she did not cut her hair too much, or unevenly.
All this grooming was not helping, she was sure. Men liked a woman who was well dressed, put together, groomed, feminine… Trimming, brushing, cleaning… All the care she gave her hair made it so beautifully shiny and luxurious. Even tied up in a bun, it was obvious how thick and healthy her hair was. Many of her suitors had remarked on it, and her mother often praised how beautiful she looked with her hair down ready for bed.
Perhaps she could make herself more undesirable if… she raised the scissors up to her hair. Yes, that would do nicely. If she cut enough of her hair off then none of these men could bear to look at her so much. Would it do to cut it back just a little? No, the current fashion meant wearing it done up high. She needed to cut it enough to make it impossible to wear a bun, so that everyone would know and see that her hair was short.
Her hand shaking a little, she began cutting through her thick, dark hair, watching it fall to the floor in large clumps, leaving rough, short patches behind with every slice.
Seeing the raven locks falling to the floor, she wondered how short she ought to go. She did not want to look exactly like a man. Deep down, she still desired to be pretty, and to look at herself in the mirror and appreciate herself. But… she could not continue to tolerate all the attention she got. She could not go to another event where her mother spent the entire time setting her up with men. She wanted to do something without being seen as just an item on a shop shelf.
She kept on cutting and cutting until her hair was barely long enough to frame her face. It did not look like a man’s haircut, but it did not look like the long, sophisticated hair of an eligible young woman either. It looked like the cute haircut of a toddler, or an elderly person. She had to go shorter.
Chopping more and more off, she eventually realized that the length was that of a man’s haircut. But she didn’t dislike it. Her hair added a certain hardness to her face, a certain coldness, which she enjoyed looking at.
Lucy smiled approvingly at her reflection and began to trim her hair to make it look a little bit neater. That had always been her problem. She had always looked too sweet. Nobody could take her insults seriously if she looked sweet and lovely. They would think her petulant and spoilt.
But now… Now they would see her as the cold-hearted girl she tried to depict herself as. Or as being on the verge of insanity. Either way, her suitors would probably scatter.
She collected all the offcuts from her hair and, save one lock she put in a jewellery box, she threw it all in a wastebasket that she kept under her dresser. She felt a painful pang of regret as she did this. Seeing her beautiful, thick hair thrown away made her immediately miss it.
But she also felt much better about the wedding now. She would not have to dance with anyone, nobody would approach her and ask to speak to her parents, no older man would make inappropriate remarks. She would be left alone to talk to her friends and eat and drink and have a wonderful time.
She felt she could get used to this haircut, if it did keep suitors away. She could wear this haircut for the rest of her life if it meant nobody would try and trick her into marrying them anymore. Though, on second thought, it would probably take more than a haircut to put these men off. They were not after her, but after her father’s money, after all.
She wondered whether she ought to go downstairs and show her parents. She knew they would be mortified, shout at her, and probably find some way of punishing her that she could not even dream of. They would likely question her sanity for a while. But perhaps that meant it was better to get the big reveal over and done with?
But was she ready to deal with all that anger, all that disappointment, all that drama? She yawned. No, it could wait until the morning… She was far too tired to explain her actions to them yet.
Lucy made her way over to her bed and crept under the covers, relishing the warmth. After a good night’s sleep she would wake up feeling refreshed and alert, and be able to better explain her haircut to her parents.
Of course they would never understand. And they would never know the full truth as to why she did it. But at least she would be ready to argue her case if she was properly rested.
Lucy awoke to the sound of a horrified scream.
Want to read how the story continues?
Betrayed. Hopeless. Cynical. Lucy cannot think of how to mend her broken heart after Duke Perry so cruelly manipulated her. And she cannot understand how all of society continues to fall for the farce of marriage. It is just a means to trade power and wealth, after all, isn’t it? Her friends tell her to hold onto hope, her parents tell her to stop behaving so crudely, and her suitors tell her to treat them with more respect. But honestly, she does not wish to marry any more. The more men she puts off, the better.
In Baron Andrew Jones she meets another cynical heart, a man betrayed by his former fiancée, who abandoned him whilst he was travelling. Like Lucy, he believes marriage is just a way for some people to gain control over others. Most around him are disturbed by his coldness and bluntness. But in this black heart Lucy sees a few shreds of sweetness and hope which draw her in. Between their common suffering and these moments of tenderness, Lucy finds herself slowly doing something she had sworn never to do again: falling in love.
But the Baron is committed to a life free of all attachments, and Lucy is left with a terrible decision: Must she live her life as a mistress? Marry a man she does not love? Or commit herself to a life of chastity and pursue fulfilment through faith instead? Truthfully, none seem right for her. But can she win Lord Jones over before it is too late? Or is his heart
“A Broken Heart’s Redemption” is a historical regency romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.