“I just don’t understand how you could have done this without discussing it with me first,” the Earl of Gilchrist said to his only son.
“I am twenty-six years of age, Father; I don’t need your permission to purchase a commission,” Lord Colton Frasier, the Viscount Dunthorpe, responded.
“But how could you have possibly purchased a lieutenant’s commission on the allowance given? I understand that it would normally be rather sufficient, but you so often spend yours at the gentlemen’s club or on races.”
Lord Gilchrist was not the type of man to be angered or raise his voice. The most emotion he ever showed to others was the furrowing of his soft blonde brows and declarations of the impossibility of an action he didn’t agree with.
“As you said, Father, my allowance is sufficient. I have grown bored with both the tables and the races. I want to experience some of life. I would have thought I chose a noble course.”
“Noble? Are you not aware that we are in the midst of a war with Napoleon? What is so noble about my only son dying on the battlefield?”
The Viscount softened his demeanor. He certainly knew this announcement to his father would stir up mixed emotions. He had yet to tell his sister or mother. Lord Dunthorpe would have liked to at least have his father on his side before that time came.
“I am aware of the battle, Father. I can assure you that as a lieutenant, and with an earldom in my future, I will be sure to take the proper precautions necessary.”
Lord Dunthorpe got up from his leather seat and paced his father’s office.
“I want to see some of the world, Father,” he said, waving his arms around him. “I want to have experiences and adventures. It is not fair that such things should be taken from me purely because I am your only son. Had you another son, it would not have mattered what adventures I wished to embrace.”
“But you are my only son, and very dear to me for that matter,”his father retorted, still seated behind his desk.
Lord Gilchrist knew his son was a spirited man, always hungry for the next excitement. He somewhat wished he was more like his sister, Lady Louisa. She was perpetually quiet and reserved. Where Lord Dunthorpe jumped before he thought, Lady Louisa always profoundly considered before she even spoke.
“I suppose what is done is done,” Lord Gilchrist said, laying his weathered hands upon the oak desk in front of him. “I will never say I agree with this choice but, as you said, you are a grown man and able to make your own decisions.”
Lord Dunthorpe sat down in relief. Perhaps with his father now surrendered to his choice it would be easier to tell the rest of the household.
“I thought perhaps that I might announce it to Mother and Louisa this evening at dinner.”
“Why so soon?”
“I leave at the end of the week, Father. There is a great need at this time for willing and capable men.”
Lord Gilchrist gave out a long sigh. He would have rather liked some time to adjust to his son’s new course in life.
In all honesty, Lord Gilchrist rather hoped that Colton would be forced to consider the choice he made before going straight into it. So often, his only son was prone to making rash decisions, but he would soon see rational reason if given the time.
“I suppose you hoped that with coming here and telling me first in private, I might ease the blow to the others,” Lord Gilchrist said with a shuffling of papers on his desk. “I cannot promise that will be the case.”
“But think of Mother,” Lord Dunthorpe said with an ease of charming manipulation. “She will be so frightened at the prospect. If you support me, she will be assured that it is safe. I would ask for your agreement only for the sake of her nerves.”
“You are using the delicate nature of a lady to support your own devilish devices, and I don’t think I particularly like that,” Lord Gilchrist retorted.
He softened into a smile, however. There was much of himself he saw in his son.
“But because I do care so dearly for your mother and her constitution, I will give in to your demands.”
Lord Dunthorpe eased into a smile. He had overcome his first hurdle. With his father now on his side, the next would be much easier.
Lord Dunthorpe was well aware that his father, and no doubt the rest of his family, would see his choice to join the Regulars as a rash decision. He, on the other hand, found it to be the most promising course of action he had ever taken in the whole of his life.
He knew that soon the time would come for him to have to settle down, take a wife, and continue the legacy of his father’s earldom. He had enjoyed the prospects of the peerage and the social discretions that came with it.
He was now finding himself a grown man, no longer enamored of the artless pleasure of a gentleman’s life. He wanted to have some importance attached to his life. The constant revolutions of seasons at his family’s country estates no longer seemed worthwhile or meaningful in Colton’s mind.
That evening at dinner, Lord Dunthorpe tried his best to be a perfect son for the sake of his mother. Anything to help ease the blow he was about to give was worth the sacrifice.
“Mother, I have just received a letter from Isabella. I can scarcely believe the words she wrote,” Lady Louisa Frasier said to her mother across the dinner table.
“Oh, does that mean she has given birth? Do tell me quickly! Are both Isabella and the babe doing well?”
“Well,” Lady Louisa said, not usually the one excited to be in the limelight. Her news, however, was just so fantastical that it made her forget her normally timid demeanor. “She told me first that everything went wonderfully and that she is recovering very quickly.
“She also reported that not only did she have a healthy baby boy,” Lady Louisa paused for dramatic effect, “but also a beautiful baby girl.”
The Countess of Gilchrist raised both hands to her face in shock.
Lady Louisa nodded in the affirmative.
“She also inquired if we all might be able to visit her at Wintercrest Manor at our earliest convenience. Won’t that be wonderful to go and see both beautiful babies?”
“How very exciting. We will have to find the time to go before the winter storms settle in. It is already very near to autumn.”
“I am sure she would be more than happy if we stayed the whole holiday season through,” Lady Louisa added.
“What do you think, Lord Gilchrist? Shall we all go up north to see the Duke and Duchess’s new babies?”
Lady Gilchrist turned to her husband at the other end of the table. His eyes flickered on each member seated before saying anything.
“I think it would be a lovely diversion to spend the holidays up north,” Lord Gilchrist agreed.
The Frasier household rarely left their London home, all finding it to be comfortable and inviting. From time to time, as it suited their fancies, they would spend short occasions at their country seat. It was along the western coast of the country and boasted beautiful views of the Bristol Channel very near to the fashionable retreat town of Bath.
“Colton, you must come with us too,” Lady Louisa said, turning to her brother. “I know you and the Duke of Wintercrest got on very well. He will no doubt be most happy to have your company.”
Both Lord Dunthorpe and his father exchanged a nervous look. This was no doubt the right window of opportunity for Lord Dunthorpe to tell his sister and mother of his alternate future to that of Wintercrest Manor.
“It seems like a charming diversion, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to join you,” Lord Dunthorpe said, doing his best to ease into his own arrangement.
“Why ever not?” Lady Louisa asked, raising one of her mousey brows as she lifted some cured ham casually to her mouth.
“I am afraid I have my own announcement to make. The cause of it will keep me detained for quite some time.”
“Don’t tell me you bought another racing horse,” Lady Gilchrist chimed in. “The last one you got, you spent a whole year with the trainers and we scarcely ever saw you.”
Lord Dunthorpe recalled with fondness that particular diversion a few years back. He had grown tired of just watching the gig races and wanted to try his hand at it himself.
Lord Dunthorpe was never one to do something halfway. For that reason, he searched the whole country over for the most outstanding racing horse stock and the fastest gig. Then he spent every waking moment training with his horse and buggy.
He had to admit it did pay off in the end. He had won almost every race. It was entertaining at first. However, winning continually quickly soured Lord Dunthorpe’s taste for racing. What was the point if there was no fear of losing?
“I have not purchased a horse. In fact, I can promise you that I won’t even be attending any races for quite some time. I have bought a commission.”
He looked back and forth between his sister and mother. Poor Lady Louisa held a boiled potato mid-air, with her mouth agape, unable to move.
“I don’t understand,” Lady Gilchrist finally said.
It was enough to wake her daughter and Lady Louisa set down her fork, suddenly put off her meal.
“I will be joining the Regulars, Mother. I have bought a lieutenant’s commission and will be doing what is necessary for king and crown.”
Lord Dunthorpe couldn’t help but hold his head up high as he said these words. It was not for pride, but to show that he was confident in his choice.
“Did you know about this, Lord Gilchrist?” the Countess asked, turning significantly pale as she faced her husband.
“He informed me earlier this afternoon in my office, my dear.”
“And you are in agreement with it?” she struggled out.
The Earl of Gilchrist looked between his wife and son. He would not lie for one, nor would he willingly bring more unease than necessary on the other.
“I am settled to the fact. Colton is old enough to do what he wishes with his own life. If this is the course he chooses, I will not stand in his way.”
“But Colton,” Lady Gilchrist said, with a visible shake to her voice, “what of the danger?”
“I promise I will be very considerate of my actions, Mother.”
Lady Gilchrist promptly excused herself from the table, too overcome with emotion to stay much longer.
The room was silent as she left. Soon after, Lord Gilchrist went to console his wife. This left the two siblings alone in the dining room.
“You are very set on this, then?” Lady Louisa finally asked.
Colton felt his first pang of regret. Their whole lives, Colton had made it his mission to take care of and protect his younger sister. She was not only younger than him, but of a very meek nature. Between this and her moderately plain-featured looks, she had often been an easy target for a cruel miss.
“I am very set on this,” he said softly.
“Then you will promise to write me often?”
Lord Dunthorpe and Lady Louisa may have had a few years of age between them, but they were still very close siblings. Lady Louisa had counted on him on a number of occasions to be her champion in times of distress. Not only that, but he had also brought much light and laughter to what might otherwise have been a very dull life for her.
“Of course I will,” Lord Dunthorpe said, reaching across the table and taking his sister’s hand. “Every day, if you wish it. So much, in fact, it will be as if I am still here and you wish me gone.”
Lady Louisa gave a soft smile of relief at this promise. She had been at her brother’s side so much of her life, she feared how she would go on with him away. What brought an even colder shudder to her was the thought that this endeavor might result in losing her brother permanently.
“James, you little rascal. Where are you hiding?” Jackie called out down the long hall of Wintercrest Manor.
She took her slippered steps very carefully with her little cousin, Elisabeth, holding her hand. They paused for a moment, as Jackie was sure she heard a giggle.
Sure enough, the sound came again. It was the soft laughter of a three-year-old who couldn’t contain himself. Elisabeth gave her own toddler laugh in reply, covering her mouth with her free cherubic hand.
“We’ve caught them now,” Jackie said to her partner.
Jackie slid open the door to what seemed like an empty bedroom. She could, however, hear the rustle of bedding.
Jackie put a finger to her lips and pointed under the bed for Elisabeth’s benefit. They both snuck over and got down on their knees before the long bed covering.
With a swift movement, Jackie lifted the bedding to reveal Elisabeth’s twin brother hiding under the bed.
“Got you!” Elisabeth called out to him.
“Where is Aunt Abigail?” Jackie asked as she helped pull the three-year-old from under the bed.
It wasn’t a room that was often used, and his clothes and dark hair were now covered in a light coating of dust.
James promptly sneezed as Jackie attempted to brush it off. Mrs. Murray wasn’t one to rise to a temper, but she would be very unhappy to see the boy in such a state.
Elisabeth decided to search the room as Jackie did her best to brush her brother off. She knew her Aunt Abigail couldn’t be far away from her hide-and-seek partner.
“Found you, too,” Elisabeth called out as she poked behind a privacy screen.
There, she did find her Aunt Abigail, much too old for silly games, but still happily playing with her two nieces and nephew.
“Oh, dear. I thought I really had you fooled that time,” Lady Abigail Grant said as she was led by the hand from behind the curtain.
“Aunt Abigail couldn’t fit under the bed,” James said with a giggle.
“I could so fit,” Lady Abigail retorted with a hand on her hip. “I just didn’t want to get all dusty like you.”
The children all happily laughed with their aunt before she returned them all to the nursery. It would soon be time for Lady Abigail to dress for dinner.
“May I come down with you too, tonight?” Jackie asked.
“I am afraid not. We are to have Captain Jones and a few of his officers from the militia with us tonight.”
“But I am almost twelve years old. Certainly that is old enough,” Jackie retorted.
Lady Abigail knew that her niece was now at that age where she no longer wanted to be treated as a child left in the nursery. She had struggled with the same frustrations as a young girl.
“I know it doesn’t seem fair now, but you would not want to come anyway. “Captain Jones is an ancient, very boring man. I fear you would fall asleep during your first course and never want to come to dinner again,” Lady Abigail added, trying to make it seem less enticing.
“I don’t care, I still want to go,” Jackie grumbled.
“I know, my dear. Very soon you will and wish you didn’t have to.”
Lady Abigail would have been more than happy to stay the night in the nursery with the twins and let Jackie go in her place. Not only was Captain Jones incredibly unentertaining, he was also very long-winded.
It was going to be a very long night of pretending to be interested. Lady Abigail’s only hope was that at least one of the three lieutenants that would be joining the captain would be of some interest.
Lady Abigail was now nineteen years old and of a marrying age. She thought the prospect of finding a gentleman who would interest her very unlikely. They all wanted a quiet, prim, proper lady. That was not Abigail at all.
She much rather fancied the idea of marrying an officer instead. Though he might not have been one of the peerages, he was undoubtedly considered a gentleman. Men of this social standing would also be less likely to be put off by a less than gentle manner.
Lady Abigail had of course been bred to be an entirely proper lady by her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Wintercrest. They also had, however, given her the freedom to grow into her own personality.
Lady Abigail hoped to marry someday. She wished to find that love that seemed to defy any barricades of social standards, as her brother, the current Duke of Wintercrest, had done when he first met his wife, Isabella.
She, however, did not want to marry solely because social graces dictated that she do so. If she did marry, she had long ago determined it would be someone she loved dearly and who would care for her just as she would them.
Sadly, Lady Abigail was sorely disappointed with the night’s dinner guests. Captain Jones had brought three of his lieutenants and a colonel. The colonel was much too old for Lady Abigail’s liking, two of the three lieutenants were already married, and the third betrothed.
Lady Abigail half wondered if her brother had purposefully only invited the otherwise unavailable to dinner that night.
The duke often had the high-ranking officers from the militia come to dinner when they were in the area. It was an important gesture for him to give, but it also allowed nostalgia for his own days in the Royal Navy.
The duke was aware that Abigail was now of the age when courtships became pressing and engagements were on the horizon. He rather overprotected her when it came to opportunities of meeting gentlemen.
“You know he did it on purpose,” Lady Abigail said softly to her sister-in-law after dinner.
The whole party was now seated in the drawing room. The men were by the fire talking politics while Lady Abigail, Isabella, the Duchess of Wintercrest, and the dowager duchess played a game of cards.
“I am quite certain he did do it on purpose,” the duchess agreed.
“What a rotten thing it is to do,” Lady Abigail said, setting down her cards rather exaggeratedly.
“What is it you two are whispering about?” Lady Abigail’s mother asked over her own hand of cards.
The dowager duchess was now deteriorating quickly in her older age. Lady Abigail suspected, with the loss of her husband a few years back, her mother had since lost much of the light in her life.
Lady Abigail’s parents could not have been more opposite creatures. Not only were they different in manners and personality, but there was a very vast age difference. For an outsider to look in on their marriage, it would have been assumed the arrangement was made for practical purposes.
It was well known, however, by all the late duke and dowager duchess’s children that their parents did, in fact, have a deep affection for each other.
“Abigail is not very happy to see that the gentlemen invited tonight are not of her preference,” the duchess explained to her mother-in-law.
“Your brother hopes better for you than a common militiaman,” Lady Abigail’s mother explained.
Lady Abigail didn’t like this response, nor did she look forward to the idea of her overly protective brother choosing dinner guests in the future.
“Don’t worry,” the duchess said, taking her sister-in-law’s hand and patting it softly. “Soon, the season will be upon us. You will have more suitors than you know what to do with.”
It was an accurate statement that, due to Lady Abigail’s beauty, she caught the eye of many potential suitors during her time in London each year. What was upsetting to her was that, so far, no one had caught her eye in return.
Lady Abigail brushed a rust-colored ringlet back from her shoulder. It was an act of irritation that both the duchess and Lady Abigail’s mother knew well.
“I have to say, I am surprised that His Grace is allowing you to go at all,” Lady Abigail said with emphasis on her brother’s proper title.
The duchess patted her belly that was beginning to show the swell of life beneath.
“ I have plenty of time before this little one comes. I have been away from London for so long, I could not bear to spend another season away. And as for the duke,” she said with a raised brow, “I did not ask. I merely announced my intentions.”
All three ladies laughed at this. They had become quite a close trio with all the time they had spent together over the last four years.
Though up until now the duchess had chosen to stay home with her young children, Lady Abigail and her mother had still attended the season at their lavish city house. They always came home in time to spend the remainder of the year with the duke, duchess, their ever-growing family, and the late Lord James Grant’s daughter, Jaqueline De’belmount.
“You will give my best to my sister, won’t you?” Lady Abigail’s mother asked after they all contained their rather girlish giggles.
“Of course I will,” Lady Abigail assured her mother.
Lady Abigail rather looked forward to her time each year in London, less for the prospects and more for time with her favorite cousin, Lady Fortuna Rosh. She dearly loved this extension of her family and, in times past, had spent many weeks visiting with her uncle and aunt, the Marquess and Marchioness of Huntington.
“I do wish you would come though, Mother,” Lady Abigail added.
“I am not feeling at all up to it this year. Plus, with all three of my grandchildren staying here at Wintercrest, I dare say I will be much happier to have them about than the ladies of the town.”
“I must confess, I am happy to have you here with them too,” the duchess added. “It will be my first time away from the twins. I didn’t think I could do it but knowing you will be with them brings me comfort.”
“Remember you said that, my dear, for when you return, you may find them entirely spoiled,” Lady Abigail’s mother said with a happy glow around her aging face.
Lady Abigail couldn’t help but notice that, despite the wrinkles that now curled around her brown eyes and the large amounts of silver hair that glowed in the light of candles, her mother was still a gorgeous woman.
“I still don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go,” the duke said the following night as the whole household sat around the fire.
“Don’t worry, my love,” the duchess reassured her husband. “I will be able to go to town and return home at the end of the season all before this little one is even ready to come out.”
“But the twins came early. What if that happens again?”
“It has only been two months since we discovered the pregnancy. I can’t imagine that this child will make its debut so vastly early as to arrive in London.”
“Still, all this traveling in your condition makes me nervous,” the duke said, taking his wife’s hand and kissing it gently.
“I don’t want to go to town just for myself, but also for Abigail. With your mother not feeling up to it this year, she will need a chaperone.”
“I can be her chaperone,” the duke retorted.
Isabella had to smile at this idea. Protecting Lady Abigail from having her brother as her chaperone was what she had meant. She loved her husband dearly, but he was far too protective of his younger sister.
Not to mention the fact that there would be many instances where Lady Abigail would be in need of a female chaperone to make her way among afternoon parties with other ladies. Finding your place was just as much dependent on these social gatherings as the more commonly thought of balls and large evening events.
“I think it will be more to her comfort if I am there with her,” the duchess tried to explain as efficiently as possible to her husband.
She watched the fire glow reflected off his red hair as he swiveled his look from his wife on the couch to his sister sitting at a distant table with the twins. His angular face darkened as he tried to make sense of her meaning.
“I am not that horrible,” he said once all the lines connected in his head.
“My love, were you not there at last night’s dinner party? Could you not have invited at least one gentleman for Abigail to have found even an ounce of interest in?”
“She is far too good for a militiaman,” the duke retorted.
“I didn’t mean for her to marry, though I would be happy for her no matter what vocation the person she chooses to marry has. She is young and in want of some excitement. I fear, with just you taking her to London, her whole season would be much like that dinner party.”
“It’s just hard for me. She is my little sister, after all.”
“I know,” the duchess said softly, touching her husband’s cheek. “I fear the day that Elisabeth comes of age. Even Jackie, for that matter,” Isabella added with a smile.
The duke looked at the whole of his family in the drawing room. Though Jackie was his niece, he had treated her as if she was his own daughter and not just his ward to take care of. He could scarcely imagine his own behavior when the time came for either Jackie or his darling little Elisabeth.
Lady Abigail couldn’t help but sneak a peek at her brother and his wife as they spoke on the couch by the fire. Though their relationship had begun on unsure waters, it had blossomed into something wonderful.
As Isabella ran a soft hand along her husband’s face, Lady Abigail felt that pang of wistfulness deep inside her heart. She wondered if she, too, would ever find someone that she could look upon with such love and admiration as her sister-in-law did on her brother.
“Lord James, Lady Elisabeth,” the children’s governess, Miss Smith, called from her seat. “It is just about time to retire to bed.”
The announcement woke Lady Abigail from her wishful thinking. Her young niece and nephew’s governess was a very time efficient lady. Everything seemed to run on an exact schedule.
Lady Abigail expected it was a necessity when dealing with two children of the same age. Not only did that mean double the mischief, but they also seemed to have a unique connection between them that often led to more trouble.
Miss Smith had taken over the task of educating Miss Jackie after the previous governess had found a better situation. That, of course, was the Duchess of Wintercrest. Though the twins were still too young for formal education, Miss Smith had happily taken on the task of including them whenever possible.
“Aunt Abigail, will you read to us before we have to go to bed?”James asked in his sweet voice.
Lady Abigail saw that Elisabeth already had a book in hand for her to read to them.
“We only have but a moment. I would hate to make Miss Smith cross,” Lady Abigail said, taking the book from the little hand.
“Do come read it over here, so we may all hear it,” Lady Abigail’s mother called from her seat close to the fire.
Lady Abigail did as she was bid. With a child on either side, she walked over and sat before the fire.
Jackie, too, who was at first playing the piano, also stopped to come and listen. She happily took the spot next to her grandmother.
Sitting on the floor near the warm glow of the fire, Lady Abigail began to read. It was an enjoyable pastime that the family participated in each night.
The twins, and even Jackie, though she felt herself now too old to admit it, loved when Lady Abigail read to them.
She always did it with the most animated of voices and emotions that it quite nearly brought the stories right off the pages of the book.
By the end of the week, matters between the duke and duchess were all settled and the pair, along with Lady Abigail, were setting out on the long journey to town.
The duchess tried her best to hide her tears as she kissed her children goodbye. Though it might have been a very usual thing for a duchess to leave her children to see to social duties, it was not something Isabella did.
Of course, though the duchess knew that her children would be more than well cared for in the hands of her mother-in-law and Jackie, she was still torn by the thought of leaving them. The added emotions that came with her pregnancy didn’t seem to help the matter much.
“I received a letter from Fortuna yesterday,” Lady Abigail said once they were all seated in the carriage and away down the road.
Lady Abigail hoped that some exciting conversation might help distract her sister-in-law from her sorrowful feelings.
“How lovely,” the duchess said, doing her best to put on a brave face. “Did she have anything of interest to say?”
Isabella was happy for the distraction, just as much as Lady Abigail was for giving it.
“They have already arrived in London. With the weather being so warm, they went early this year.”
The duke and duchess both looked out their windows at this, almost to confirm that it was, in fact, unusually warm for the time of year.
“Aunt Amelia has invited us all over for dinner at our earliest convenience.”
“That was very kind of her,” Isabella responded. “I have been looking forward to meeting these relations that I have heard so much about over the years.”
“You will really like Fortuna, I think,” Lady Abigail continued, now falling into an ease of conversation. “She is very much like Lady Louisa.”
“How so?” the duchess asked, intrigued.
They spent the remainder of the day describing every last detail of the relatives Isabella was soon to meet. The duchess was always happy to meet the family of her husband, as she was very limited in her own.
Lady Louisa Frasier and her family had often taken Isabella under their wing as her only family, since her father, the Baron Leinster, had often been away attending to business before his passing. The Frasiers were the closest thing that Isabella had ever had to family dynamics.
When she and the duke had married, she was joyful to find that she was welcomed with open arms into not just his heart, but the whole of his household and family.
“Perhaps we should plan our own event,” Lady Abigail said, after a time. “We could invite Lord and Lady Gilchrist, as well as our aunt and uncle. I think we would all get on as such a happy party.”
“I think that would be a splendid idea,” the duchess agreed.
“It seems to me,” interjected the duke, who, for the most part, had kept to observing the scenery as they went along the road, “that it might be a lot of work for someone who promised to take it easy.”
The duchess waved him off as a silly man.
“It will give me something to occupy my mind with.”
For the next three days, as the trio traveled from the estate up north to the prestigious house in London, Lady Abigail and the duchess were hard at work making plans for a beautiful dinner party.
Arriving, finally, at their destination, both women could honestly say they would be happy never to sit in another carriage again. They made their way into the home already opened and prepared for their arrival, ready for a peaceful day of relaxation and recuperation.
“Perhaps both you ladies should retire early for the night,” the duke said as the carriage arrived at the house at dusk.
“I promised Louisa I would send her a note as soon as I got here.”
The duke didn’t like his wife’s answer to his suggestion, but allowed it nonetheless. He therefore had some tea brought into the evening sitting room so she could write her letter and regain some energy from the refreshments.
“I thought I might call on my aunt tomorrow,” Lady Abigail said between sips of tea. “I’m sure she would be happy to see you, Christian, and meet you, Isabella, if you’re feeling up to it.”
“Well, I think after talking about them for three days, I can’t bear to go much longer without meeting them,” Isabella said as she finished her letter and folded it for a servant to deliver.
Normally Isabella would have just waited to put it with the post, but since Lady Louisa seemed most anxious to know that Isabella was safely in London, she thought it best to have it taken to the Frasier household right away.
“And perhaps we could take a walk around the park, too,” Lady Abigail added.
“Perhaps it’s best to stick to one event at a time,” the duke admonished.
“You’re a ball of fun,” his sister retorted back in a teasing fashion.
“Yes, well you know how much your brother loves to spend the season in town,” the duchess added to the jeering.
“Well, I would guess that you just want to catch the next gig race,” the duke retorted to his sister with a raised red brow. “I am not at all certain that it’s a very good idea for you.”
“Why, because ladies should be abashed by such behavior?” Lady Abigail retorted.
“No, because I fear you might climb into one and show them all up. Then I would have to write to Mother and explain why her daughter is now a pariah.”
“You wouldn’t do that, would you?” the duchess asked Lady Abigail.
It was not at all shocking to hear that Lady Abigail wanted to attend a race, but to be a part of one seemed like an even more drastic line to cross than she could imagine for her sister-in-law.
“I may have done it, once before. But that was at Fortuna’s house and in a basket, not a gig,” Lady Abigail corrected her brother.
“Yes, well, things are different when you are in London. You are also a very prestigious member of the town, whether you want it or not, and that comes with more judgmental appraisals.”
“This is not my first time, Christian. I am well aware of the conduct I must follow.”
“ I don’t think you do fully understand,” the duke retorted. He should have uttered it in a reprimanding tone, but instead, he wore a smirk of pride.
The duke detested the time in town because, unlike his sister who still had a bit of leeway to enjoy herself, he had to act exactly as expected of someone of his social status.
“Do try not to make too big a spectacle of yourself this year, Abigail,” the duke finally sighed.
“Of course not, dear brother. Plus, Isabella will keep me in line, won’t you?”
It was right that, of the trio, the duchess was the one most keen to sensibility and propriety. She sincerely hoped that she could instill some of those values in Lady Abigail without disrupting her free spirit too much.
Lady Abigail couldn’t have been more excited to see her cousin. Though it had scarcely been a year since seeing Lady Fortuna Rosh last, it still seemed too long to Lady Abigail.
The two cousins had grown up as close friends since childhood. There was not much that happened to one that the other did not know about.
The Duchess of Wintercrest was a little nervous to meet the family she had heard such great praise about, from both Lady Abigail and her husband.
“Oh, Abigail, I’ve missed you so,” Lady Huntington said as she hugged her niece. “And Christian, look at you,” she added, raising a hand to a plump, rosy cheek at the appearance of her nephew. “You have grown into quite a man. How long has it been?”
The duke happily took his aunt’s hand and kissed it lovingly. Lady Huntington blushed an even more profound crimson as the small ringlets encircling her face shook with her giggles.
“And Your Grace, of course, it is lovely to finally make your acquaintance,” Lady Huntington said as the duke introduced his wife.
“I must confess, poor Isabella must feel as if she knows you already, dear aunt,” Lady Abigail said as they all entered the home and came to sit in the morning room. “I about chewed her ear off the whole way from Wintercrest.”
“Where is Fortuna?” Lady Abigail asked when her cousin did not greet her or appear in the sitting room.
“She went out already this morning. It was a little early if you ask me, but she insisted on going with Josie to pick out the fabric.”
“Fabric for what?” Lady Abigail asked as she took a seat on a mint-colored couch.
The whole room was decorated in a soft green color with gold accents all around. Between that and the excellent light coming in through the window, it gave the room an air of freshness that would brighten even the saddest of moods.
“I will have to let her tell you. She is quite excited about it,” Lady Huntington said before beginning to pour the tea set before them.
Lady Abigail enjoyed the company of her aunt as she drank her delicate morning tea and ate moist muffins. The whole party, including her brother, seemed utterly at ease as they shared stories of memories from the past.
Lady Abigail was just picking at a loose thread coming off the embroidered cuff of her morning dress and wondering where her cousin could be when Lady Fortuna finally returned home.
Immediately, Lady Abigail rose to greet her cousin, forgetting all about the rose-colored cuff. It also didn’t escape her eye that behind Lady Fortuna’s entrance into the party was a maid heavily weighed down with a massive amount of fabric.
“Now, before you do anything,” Lady Abigail said after new introductions were made between the duchess and Lady Fortuna, “you must enlighten me on your mysterious morning endeavors.”
Lady Fortuna, who sat perfectly next to her mother, looked more akin to a china doll than lady. She seemed far too fragile to be traveling about in early morning dew.
She was always one to think things through before speaking, so instead of starting right in, as Lady Abigail might have done, she instead smoothed the folds of her cream morning dress as she collected her thoughts.
As Lady Abigail waited, she wondered over the color of her cousin’s dress. It somewhat made her look more pale and fragile. She thought to perhaps tell Lady Fortuna that cream was not a preferable color for her. Certainly, a soft blue would do better to bring out the little color in her cheeks and azure color of her cousin’s eyes.
“Well, upon arriving in London last week, I was determined to find a good use of my time. While at home, I have been very fortunate to have a large amount of work for myself, under the request of Reverend Brown, attending to the needs of our local girls’ school.”
She took a deep breath of air. Lady Abigail couldn’t help but wonder why her cousin always looked about to faint from weariness when she knew Lady Fortuna to be a lady of many talents and busy hands.
“He recommended, before our leaving for town, that I get in touch with a very good friend of his, a Mr. Thomas Bloomsbury. Mr. Bloomsbury is a rector at the Foundling Hospital here in London.”
Lady Abigail was familiar with the Foundling Hospital. It was a place for children whose parents had, unfortunately, had to surrender them. The hospice was used to care for the children, as well as give them a good education and means for apprenticeship when they came of age.
It had already been around for several decades and had received not only high praise for its work but had also been replicated a few times in different areas of the country since.
“Mr. Brown informed me that his friend was concerned about the constant need at the hospital. They have more children than required funds for the necessary provisions.”
Lady Abigail knew that helping less fortunate children was very dear to her cousin’s heart. She had been given the Christian name Fortuna because she had been a miracle in her parents lives. For many years they had tried unsuccessfully to have children, and then when they were finally able, their plans seemed destined for heartache and pain.
They buried four of Lady Fortuna’s siblings before she was born. With her sickly demeanor, they had expected her to go the way of all her predecessors. Lady Fortuna had grown and thrived, however. Her parents instilled in her the deep gratitude of her survival.
For Lady Fortuna, this gratitude showed in her constant willingness to help all other children as much as she could. She felt that if she were able to help one sick child get better, or perhaps give one impoverished child a better start in life, she would be doing the work that God had preserved her for.
“I wrote to Mr. Bloomsbury and asked to help in any way they needed. I met with him and toured the hospital. He explained to me that, more often than not, the funds they receive go to clothing and bedding, making it difficult for them to buy supplies for educational purposes. He wondered if I might be willing to donate clothing and the like so that their funds could be used for a better cause.”
“Which explains the need to go to the fabric store so early in the morning and to burden your maid so heavily,” the duke said with a teasing smile.
“I thought perhaps I could start with making nightgowns, uniforms, pinafores, and bonnets for the children. They are also in need of proper bedding and winter garments.”
“That is quite a tall order for just beginning,” Lady Abigail said. She often feared her cousin took on more than she was able to adequately cope with.
“Well, I rather hoped to start a sewing group. This is where I was hoping you could help me, Abigail,” Lady Fortuna continued. “You are so good at making friends. I hoped you would help me organize a group of ladies to meet a few times a week.”
“Well, I have your first candidate right here,” Lady Abigail said, pointing to the duchess. “I have never seen anyone embroider as finely as Isabella.”
“I would love to join if you would have me. The idea sounds wonderful,” Isabella agreed.
“Oh, Your Grace, I would appreciate that very much if you would be willing.”
“I also might suggest another addition if you would let me,” the duchess continued.
Lady Fortuna nodded in encouragement.
“My friend Lady Louisa Frasier is a very talented seamstress. I am sure she too would be happy to join your worthy cause.”
“Oh, this is so exciting,” Lady Fortuna said, clapping her hands with delight. “To already have so many potential ladies, I do not doubt that we will make a wonderful improvement to the Foundling Hospital and its residents.”
“Well, just two besides yourself,” the duke said with a little laugh.
“Three you mean, dear cousin,” Lady Fortuna countered. “There is your lovely wife, possibly her friend, and Abigail, of course.”
The duke struggled to hold back his laughter.
“Oh, Fortuna, I would be happy to rally to your cause, but you know I have no ability when it comes to sewing. I am dreadful at it, in fact.”
“I know it isn’t your strong suit,” Lady Fortuna said, always trying to see the light through the clouds. “I thought perhaps we could just start you on something very simple like the bedding or pinafores.”
“Oh, yes, Abigail. That would be easy enough,” the duchess added encouragingly. “You could make the pinafores; it’s just a simple stitch. Then when you are done, I could embellish them just a little to give each girl her own special pattern.”
“Maybe you should have Abigail start with a handkerchief instead. That way if it goes wrong, at least it will spend most of its time in a pocket or up a sleeve,” the duke said with a hearty laugh.
Lady Abigail gave her teasing brother a pointed look. She knew Christian meant his words all in good fun. To be completely honest with herself, she partly agreed with him. But Lady Abigail also was not one to shy away from a challenge.
So often, Lady Abigail found sewing and embroidery too dull to catch her attention for very long. She would much rather be out and about exploring the beautiful earth.
She was sure the image of children wearing comfortable, warm clothes and having the tools necessary for their education would be more than sufficient inspiration to put her whole focus to the task.
“I would be more than happy to help,” Lady Abigail said, wrinkling her freckled nose at her brother.
As decided earlier, on the way home from their aunt’s house, the party paused to take a ride around the very popular Hyde Park. It didn’t escape the duke’s attention that his sister’s whole intent behind this diversion was not to be seen as most fine ladies wished, but instead to peek her own glance at the notorious activity.
“Come now, let your sister have some enjoyment,” Isabella said to her husband when he seemed to be steering their open carriage completely clear of the route.
What had once been the King’s private road was now more commonly used by daring gentlemen in gigs with fast horses.
“It is not as if she is asking to witness dueling. You, yourself, told me that on occasion you drove your witnessed races along that course. Do not deprive her of a small amount of fun.”
The duke seemed to roll this over in his mind, before finally turning down the desired path. With any luck, no one would be there. It was, after all, just starting to be the fashionable time for turns around the park. More often, races occurred toward the end of night.
Much to the duke’s disappointment, and his sister’s excitement, there was, in fact, a group of gentlemen preparing for a friendly race.
Lady Abigail sat up immediately in her spot to scan the crowd for familiar faces. She was acquainted with several of the ladies who stood off to the side as the gentlemen prepared their steeds.
Lady Abigail was happy to see that the race at that moment would be between three men on horseback. She found this to be far more exciting than gig races.
Without hesitation, she hopped down from the carriage and made her way over to some familiar ladies.
“This seems like it will be quite the exciting event,” Miss Mary Johansson said after Lady Abigail made her introductions and inquiries to friends since last they met.
Miss Mary was the daughter of a Baron who had not much more than the title to his name. She was, however, a beauty in the extreme and Lady Abigail did not doubt that she would marry up in life.
Though they were not entirely close friends, they were, however, acquaintances that often frequented the same groups and less than desirable events for ladies such as this.
Lady Abigail looked over the riders. Two she knew well. They were usual contestants here on the King’s private road. Though they had long since outgrown the age of young pups, they still seemed to wish to prove themselves.
The third rider was a man she had never seen before. She couldn’t help but let her eyes linger on him as he checked his saddle and the condition of his horse.
He was dressed very finely in a velvet riding jacket and matching brown trousers. His high boots looked to be of excellent black leather, and the crop in his hand was held with an air of confidence.
“Who is that gentleman in the middle? I don’t think I have ever made his acquaintance.”
“Why, that is Lord Franklin Stuartson, Earl of Heshing, Lady Abigail,” Miss Mary instructed, happy to have a bit of information to dole out.
“Heshing,” Lady Abigail thought the name over. It did have a bit of familiarity to it.
“I believe this is one of his first seasons in town. He has just taken his father’s seat in the House of Lords this year.”
Lady Abigail figured the name was only familiar to her by way of passing word from her father or brother. She took a mental note to perhaps ask the duke about the gentleman when he was slightly less of a vexing older brother.
The riders mounted their steeds and prepared for the long stretch of road ahead of them. The small crowd clapped in excitement.
“Have you placed a bet?” Miss Mary asked, motioning to Lord Fenton, who was the usual orchestrator of such events.
Lady Abigail looked over at her brother. He had just finished helping Isabella down from the carriage and together they were making their way over. Had she been here without him, she would have happily placed a sixpence on Lord Heshing.
It was not at all proper for ladies to witness such events, let alone bet on them. She decided it was best, with her brother present, not to do so.
Lady Abigail couldn’t help but notice the gasp and whispers that surrounded her brother as he escorted his wife over to witness the race. It made more sense to her now why he had been so uptight over the course of their trip. People undoubtedly thought differently of him now that he was the Duke of Wintercrest.
“I have never seen one of these before,” the duchess said, coming to Lady Abigail’s side. “It does seem rather exciting.”
She leaned closer to Lady Abigail’s ear, “Don’t tell Christian, but I put a bet on the chestnut mare.”
Lady Abigail looked at her sister-in-law with shock. The Duchess of Wintercrest, for the most part, was a very proper lady. It was no surprise that this was her first race, but slightly scandalous that she had placed a bet.
Lady Abigail looked over the chestnut mare and rider. It was Lord Heshing, spoken of before. She certainly hoped he won and told herself it was for the reason of the duchess’s bet.
Within a flash, the race was on, and the three men went speeding down the road. The goal of the race was to travel the whole length, turning just before Kensington Gardens, and making the full length back. The first rider to cross the line drawn at the start would be the winner.
Not only would he have the pride of winning the race, but he would also get to take home his companions’ steeds.
For many gentlemen, the time-consuming act of training, purchasing well-bred horses, and racing was merely to pass the time. For a select few, such as Mr. Shawn James, second son to Viscount Sheffield, who now pressed his horse with every ounce of strength, the gamble of a race was a chance to make something more of oneself.
The crowd quietly chatted together as the riders disappeared from view. Each member had their own opinion of who was in the lead and the prospect of the return trip.
It wasn’t long before the loud sound of hoofs again reverberated on the gravel road. All eyes watched and bodies leaned, to get the first glimpse of the rider first to come into view.
Lady Abigail held in her cheer on seeing that it was Lord Heshing in the lead. Mr. James was quickly gaining on the earl and Abigail was torn with nerves. She knew it would be more right for her to wish Mr. James to win the race, as he was sure to need the win more than an earl, but she couldn’t help but wish the champion to be the intriguing new lord.
Finally, the last seconds of the race were upon them. Some in the crowd began to shout or cheer in the final moments. It was just barely by a nose of the horse that Lord Heshing won the race.
Lady Abigail couldn’t help but cheer along with her sister-in-law who had won the bet, but with no experience, had no idea what that meant, exactly.
“Your Grace,” Lord Fenton said, coming up to the duke, having not yet been introduced to his wife,“here are your winnings. Congratulations.”
“I thank you, Fenton,” the duke said, “but I did not place any bets.”
Lord Fenton looked between the duke and the rest of the trio, a little unsure what to do.
“Was this your doing?” the duke turned on Lady Abigail.
“It was mine, actually,” Isabella said with an upturned chin. “I’ve always wanted to bet on a horse race. I must be very good at it as well, seeing how I won my first try.”
She promptly removed the money from Lord Fenton’s hands as they were introduced to each other by way of her husband.
The duke smiled softly at his wife and, with a shaking head, laughed.
“I believe my sister has been a bad influence on you,” he said.
“Not at all. If anything, my love, it is you that has been the influence. In fact, you seemed to know Lord Fenton very well for someone shaming his sister for attending such adventures.”
“It is one thing for a man to be present at races, a lady is entirely different.”
“And what of a duke and duchess?” she retorted with a smile on her lips.
“I suppose we will discover that tomorrow in the gossip column. Come, you two. Let us be off before we are noticed any more than we have been.”
“Oh, please may I go congratulate the rider first? You said you know him,” the duchess asked her husband in her sweet way.
Lady Abigail’s heart did a little leap at the thought of meeting this handsome man who seemed to be the champion of the hour.
The duke led the two ladies over to Lord Heshing. He was gratefully taking the congratulations from others as he stroked his beautiful steed.
“Your Grace,” he said, with a bow to the duke.
“Please let me have the pleasure of introducing my wife, the Duchess of Wintercrest, and younger sister, Lady Abigail Grant.”
Lord Heshing politely bowed and greeted both ladies.
“It was fortunate you happened to stop by today,” Lord Heshing said to the duke. “I would have hated to lose a race in front of Your Grace.”
“If I heard correctly the rumors swirling around the crowd of onlookers, losing doesn’t happen too often for you,” the duke retorted.
“Though I suspect that would not be the case if it were still your day of horse races.”
Both Lady Abigail and the duchess looked at the duke in utter shock.
“His Grace was quite a legend,” Lord Heshing said in answer to their expressions.
“And here you were giving me such a hard time,” Lady Abigail said. “And you used to actually race horses yourself?”
“It was a very long time ago, when I was just a young pup without a dukedom to consider.”
“Still, you teased me all morning long,” Lady Abigail said with hands on her hips.
“Unfortunately, Lord Heshing, I may never speak to you again as you have just ruined my image in front of my wife and given my sister sufficient cause to vex me for many days,” the duke said in a teasing fashion.
“Oh, absolutely not. I think I rather like Lord Heshing’s honesty about your youthful years. I think we must have him over for dinner soon to hear more of your galivanting tales,” the duchess retorted.
“I would be most honored by such an invitation, Your Grace,” Heshing said with a slight bow.
Lady Abigail couldn’t help but notice that though he spoke the words to Isabella, he did it with eyes on her. It sent little chills of excitement up and down her spine as his soft brown eyes seemed to see deep inside her inner self and find it of interest.
Want to read how the story continues?
Kitty Langley, daughter of Baron Langley, has not led an easy life for a young woman of her standing. Suffering from a health condition since she was a young child, she is only just reaching a point where her health is strong enough to allow her to do all the things she wants to. If only society also allowed her to do such things
Called to the bedside of an acquaintance’s injured younger brother, Kitty leaps at the opportunity. A taste of freedom, and sharing her experience and strength with an unwell child sounds like the first tentative steps into a life of her own. But Augustus Sinclair is not a child. He is the Earl of Stamford, and, although younger than his sister, very much a man.
Persevering in caring for him, Kitty soon discovers that in some ways he is indeed childish, and yet in others, he is so much wiser and more mature than she could ever hope to be. As she begins to fall for a man beyond her station, his sister, Kitty’s own battle with her health, and society itself stand in her way. Must she resign herself to longing for a man who can never be hers?
“The Lady’s Patient” is a historical regency romance novel of approximately 90,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
Page Count: around 350+ pages
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