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  • Unlocking the Secrets of a Duke’s Heart

Prologue

The boy had spent every moment looking over the side of the ship and into the depths of the waters below.

 

He was a big boy now, a man, even. He was big enough to go on this journey with his uncle. He was seeing the world. He was getting the chance to look out at creation and enjoy all that was before him.

 

It was a great adventure, with the sky above marred only by the sails, which acted as a reminder that this was quite an impressive, magnificent journey.

 

He had been journeying for weeks now, and had almost reached the New World, where he and his uncle would spend some time before returning to England. It was going to be a great time; he was sure of it. After all, adventures were the key to any young boy’s heart, were they not? At least, that was what his mother always said.

 

His uncle had promised him that he was going to see amazing new places. They would have a splendid time! He could only imagine what it was going to be like. He could only imagine everything awaiting him.

 

The boy watched as land came into view, growing larger and larger, along with his own excitement. He was really going to see it all! He would get to experience the adventures he had been promised.

 

“Well, it looks as though we will be arriving soon enough,” his uncle said, a grin spreading across his face.

 

An hour of watching the land draw near went by in only the briefest moment. As they disembarked from the ship that had been their home for weeks, the boy could hardly contain his joy.

 

Urged forward by his uncle, he took his first steps on the land of the New World and felt a great, sweeping feeling of pride run through him. Not one of his playmates had ever traveled outside of England. Then again, most of them were a mere five years of age, so they would have time to go somewhere when they were bigger and older. They were not like him, getting to experience so much at his age.

 

“Ah, there they are,” the boy’s uncle said.

 

The boy saw a man and woman rushing up to them, appearing very eager and excited.

 

“Good afternoon! We are so happy that you have arrived. I trust that it was a pleasant journey?” the woman asked.

 

“Oh, it was amazing! You can’t imagine what it is like to be at sea. It was the greatest thing in all the world!” the boy said.

 

The woman cheerfully laughed, and the man appeared delighted, too. He returned her smile with a grin of his own, looking up at his uncle and then back at the two strangers who had come to meet them.

 

He could see that they were rather nice people.

 

His uncle handed the man a piece of paper, folded neatly.

 

“In this letter, I have disclosed everything you need to know. As well as some rules…,” he said.

 

The boy looked on inquiringly, as the paper was handed over. He did not know what sort of rules were being given, but he was glad that these two grown-ups also had to live by rules. It was not fair when only children had to do that.

 

Unless, of course, those rules were meant for him. But he didn’t think there was any reason his uncle would be handing those over.

 

Curiously, his uncle shook both the man’s and the woman’s hands, nodding as though settling some agreement. The boy did not know what kind of agreement it was, but he could see that it was very important.

 

“Thank you both,” his uncle said, before turning to the boy and giving him a sharp nod.

 

With that, his uncle turned to walk back towards the ship.

 

“Uncle?” the boy called. But his uncle did not turn.

 

The woman took his hand and held onto it firmly.

 

The boy suddenly felt fear course through his veins, as though something was very wrong, and he was completely alone.

 

“No! Wait, Uncle!” he cried out.

 

The boy began to sob as his uncle left without a backward glance. He cried out in despair, not knowing what was happening.

 

The woman wrapped an arm around his waist before he could go running after his only living relative, the only person he had left in the world to look after him.

 

But now, he was left with two strangers, as though he was merely a stray animal, a creature without a soul to care for him, without anyone at all to care.

 

He let out a deep moan, unable to stop himself as the sounds of mourning came from him.

 

“Shhh,” the woman said, as if to comfort him.

 

But there was no comfort. A hard, cruel coldness began to creep through the boy’s veins, as though everything he had ever known was now lost to him.

 

The boy would not be moved, although the woman tried to pull him away, holding tightly to his hand.

 

“There’s nothing for it,” she said to the man.

 

“He won’t leave on his own accord until that ship is halfway out to sea again,” the man replied.

 

Finally, the boy felt the man’s arms scooping him up.

 

He screamed and fought with all his might, but he was overpowered. There was no chance that he would be able to get the man to put him down, to let him go, to give him the freedom to run back onto the ship and be with his uncle again.

 

It had to be a mistake. His uncle would not do this to him. It had to be a mistake.

 

But the man carried him from the dock, and soon the boy could see the water no longer.

 

His uncle was lost to him.

Chapter 1

Amelia Shenton was relaxing in the parlor, enjoying the sun’s rays slanting through the window. She heard a shuffle, and her grandmother, Beatrice, entered the room with a flourish.

 

“Oh, good! Your brother will be arriving from Scotland tomorrow,” she said, her light green eyes gazing upon a letter in her hands that seemed to sway with each of her own motions.

 

Amelia tried to hide the amusement that was reflected in eyes the same color as her grandmother’s. Only Beatrice was capable of turning the simple act of reading a letter into a form of dance.

 

“That is wonderful, Grandmama!” Amelia exclaimed, with genuine excitement. She had not seen her brother in several months, and she missed him terribly. It had been difficult to be separated from him for so long. He was truly a friend, in addition to being a brother.

 

And yet, Amelia understood the importance of his time away. Her poor, dear brother needed to grieve. He had been through so much and had barely been hanging on by the time he had previously returned to England. She hoped this visit to Scotland would be a breath of fresh air and open the doors to his heart being healed.

 

However, she had also enjoyed this time with her grandmother. Just the two of them. It had been such an unexpectedly pleasant surprise, although she had always enjoyed living with Beatrice.

 

Without the seriousness and the tension that had existed between Jacob and their father, there had been nothing but games, and walks, and enjoyment. Her grandmother’s wit and humor, all of it was just delightful, and Amelia imagined that anyone would envy her the opportunity to spend time with a woman like Beatrice Shenton.

 

“You ought to wear something nice. And we shall have to contrive something to do with that hair of yours. Oh, it is so long now. I wonder if we ought to trim it a little,” her grandmother said.

 

Amelia reacted defensively, tugging at the length of her black hair, and holding it close. It was one of the few things that gave her an intense pride, and she had no intention of having it hacked away to a more manageable length.

 

“Oh, stop it. I shall not chop it off, even if I think it could do with a fair bit of shortening,” Beatrice said.

 

“You have no taste at all, Grandmama,” Amelia said, shaking her head.

 

“And you must concentrate on making yourself presentable for the return of your brother. The rest you must forget about for now. He must be the priority for the time being,” Beatrice said.

 

Amelia nodded in agreement. Jacob would need a good deal of special care from both of them. He would need to be treated delicately until his heart was able to heal.

 

“I have already instructed Miss Hanover to prepare everything. If we are lucky, this time he will actually stay put once he arrives,” Beatrice said, a flair still in her every movement.

 

“I am sure that he will stay this time,” Amelia said. “Where else can he go? He has already been everywhere.” Deep down, she hoped that he would stay. Although she spoke as though there were no chance of him leaving, she really could not be sure.

 

“Oh, you know what young men are like,” Beatrice said. “Always searching for something else to entertain them.”

 

“I suppose,” Amelia replied.

 

“At any rate, he cares for you, and I expect he misses you as much as you miss him. Your brother deserves to have time with you, and you with him.”

 

“We shall,” Amelia said. “I am certain of it. He was so upset over that woman, and I do not think that he even truly considered the fact that he could have done far better than her to begin with.”

 

She had always tried not to judge her brother for his choice, but it had bothered her that he had decided to marry someone so far away from England, someone who would have taken him even further from them than he already was.

 

Still, she could not have told him of her disapproval. Not only had she wanted to appear supportive of his happiness, but she knew her opinion would hardly have mattered anyway.

 

The fact that they had not married had been something of a relief, and yet Amelia was still not entirely sure how she could tell her brother that when he was grieving so deeply.

 

Hopefully, she would not have to. Hopefully, the subject would not even arise.

 

“Well, at any rate, I am looking forward to your brother’s arrival. I cannot wait for him to return and ward off all those boys out there who are wanting to marry you purely for the sake of our fortune,” Beatrice said with a grimace.

 

Amelia laughed.

 

“Oh, I should like that very much,” she replied.

 

“And dare I say, if you do not soon marry, I believe that you shall wither like the pages of a book. Like that one,” Beatrice said, pointing to the rather aged book that rested beside Amelia.

 

But Amelia shook her head and sighed.

 

“Oh, Grandmama, you know that I am not interested in all that. Not now, at least,” she said, meaning the words sincerely.

 

“Oh? Not a single man on the list has managed to capture your interest?” Beatrice asked, although Amelia was quite certain that she knew the answer well enough.

 

“Not a one, Grandmama,” she replied.

 

“If I were a little younger, I would gladly shorten your list by one,” her grandmother said, sighing dramatically.

 

“Grandmama! Good heavens,” Amelia exclaimed with a chuckle.

 

She was delighted that her grandmother could always draw such emotions from her, always amuse her with such teasing. At times, it felt as though her grandmother were a younger sister of sorts.

 

Although she would have been delighted to have her mother, Amelia recognized the sacrifices that her grandmother had made in raising her and taking care of her. She was deeply fortunate and made every effort to appreciate her grandmother, and not take her for granted.

 

Still, she often found herself in the greatest deal of mischief, thanks to Beatrice.

 

But Jacob would be coming the following day! She would don a beautiful gown to greet her brother, make every effort to help him feel at home and forget about that dreadful woman from the New World who had broken his heart.

 

Beyond that, Amelia could only imagine what might come next. She hoped that everything would settle down for her brother, and that he would find a good English lady who would make him happy.

 

Perhaps, then, he would stay in place and not be so determined with his adventuring and nonsensical demands to explore the world.

 

“Anyway, I simply wished to remind you to prepare yourself,” her grandmother said.

 

“Certainly, Grandmama,” she replied.

 

“And I ought also to warn you that he, too, is planning to help us in our quest to have you married off. I have already written to him and instructed him to be prepared to help you find the best match,” Beatrice said.

 

Amelia could not hide her displeasure, but she knew that there was no point in fighting her grandmother about it. This was one area in which they would never agree.

 

Beatrice was rather desperate to see Amelia married. Everyone was. No matter how young she was, no matter how many suitors had been badgering her for attention, she could not convince her family to simply be patient and wait.

 

She looked around the room at everything her family had. The beautiful manor that held many rooms like this one, complete with the fireplace, and the mantle, and the most elegant settee.

 

Yes, they were fortunate. No wonder she had men surrounding her. There was no reason to fear the possibility of being alone.

 

“What is it? What are you thinking?” her grandmother asked.

 

Amelia sighed, and scrunched up her face.

 

“I know you all mean well, but I simply cannot bear the thought of marrying a man just for the sake of being married,” she said.

 

“I did not say you had to marry for the sake of marriage. But that does not mean I cannot urge you to find the right match,” Beatrice said.

 

“Yes, well, the right match will come in time, Grandmama. But for now, I just want to live my life in peace. I am certain that I shall not be alone forever,” Amelia said, grudgingly.

 

She told herself often that she wanted to wait before getting married, this was simply not the right time. The reality, she could hardly confess, was that she did not think there would ever be a right time. Marriage was simply not something she desired the way other young women did.

 

Thinking that there was nothing at all wrong with that, Amelia had pushed to be left alone on the issue. But she had not been so fortunate. She would never escape what her family wanted for her.

 

“I know you do not think you will, but your beauty will only last for so long and eventually the offers will fade,” Beatrice said.

 

“If they fade, they fade,” she replied with a shrug.

 

“Oh, dear. Your nonchalance is crippling,” Beatrice said.

 

“My nonchalance is, potentially, the most honest thing I have,” Amelia replied.

 

“Try telling that to your brother,” Beatrice added.

 

“Oh, he would hardly understand. He is a man, and men are exempt from these trifles,” Amelia said.

 

“Careful, now, my dear. You are beginning to sound bitter, and I don’t like that at all,” her grandmother warned.

 

Amelia glanced away, knowing that Beatrice was right. Indeed, she was bitter in some ways. Particularly as she felt as though no one valued her at all, aside from what she might fetch for them in terms of a husband.

 

It was unfair, and that was all there was to it. She could not be seen for her own worth and did not mind being the sort of young woman who was not craving marriage at any cost.

 

Amelia glanced at the book beside her. Yes, perhaps she would wither as her grandmother threatened, but she didn’t mind so much.

 

It was far better to wither than to want.

Chapter 2

Edwin sighed, taking his final steps off the ship, and breathed in the air of England.

 

Something felt very familiar. It was as though this was not his first time here. And yet, as he looked around, there was nothing he could see to trigger his memory, nothing to alert him to a memory of a place he had once been.

 

The only familiar thing he saw was Jacob Shenton, standing not far from him, waiting. As nearly the tallest person upon the dock, it was easy for Edwin to look down through the crowd and spot his friend.

 

Jacob was dressed in rather fine attire. It was not the colonial garb that Edwin was accustomed to, but instead very English apparel. Edwin’s first reaction was nearly to laugh at this, as he had seen Jacob dressed so differently back in the colonies.

 

But here, in his own land, Edwin could not blame Jacob for wearing exactly the sort of clothing he was used to wearing.

 

With a smile and a brotherly embrace, the two men greeted one another.

 

“You have lost weight,” Edwin observed, his hazel eyes sharp. “Something seems different about you,”

 

“Oh, it is nothing. Anyway, we have much to do, haven’t we?” Jacob asked.

 

“Right you are,” Edwin replied, as his things were hauled into the coach.

 

Once the two men were seated and they were on their way, Jacob immediately jumped to what he knew must be discussed.

 

“Now, tell me about this letter you have spoken of,” Jacob said.

 

Edwin eagerly took the letter from his coat, feeling the weight of its contents in his hands. He handed it over to Jacob and let it go with something akin to fear. His hand felt strangely empty, so he leaned his head into it, feeling the curl in his light brown hair.

 

“This … this says very little about who I may be,” he began. No matter how hard he had tried to prepare himself to tell Jacob about the letter, he was not ready. It was all too strange, and he did not want his friend to think him mad for hoping there were something more for him now that he was in England.

 

But Jacob looked up at him with curiosity in his eyes. He looked back to the letter and then to Edwin once more.

 

“It is clear to me that I was abandoned, and from an early age at that,” he added quickly, hoping it would somehow qualify what he was suggesting.

 

Jacob began to read the letter aloud.

 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Foster, I bring you this boy, the one whom we discussed previously. You shall find enclosed my first payment to you. As previously mentioned, the funding shall be made regularly for the next two years. After that, I trust you shall continue to maintain your silence.

 

Jacob looked up at Edwin, who understood the look in his eyes, knowing that this was a rather upsetting piece of information. The discovery of the letter had already wounded his heart deeply, and he could not quite fathom the fact that he was now having Jacob read it.

 

You must raise the boy as though he is your own son. While he may, initially, speak of his lost family, you must instill in him the belief that you are the only family he has ever known, and this is the only country in which he has ever resided. He must never know about me or anything of his former life,” Jacob continued, pausing for a breath.

 

“It is rather heavy, is it not?” Edwin asked.

 

“I cannot imagine how it must have pained you upon the first reading,” Jacob replied.

 

“Indeed. Now, please finish it,” Edwin said.

 

However, I believe this concludes our business. After the final payment in two years, I must insist that we have no further contact. Thank you.

 

Jacob sealed up the letter and looked at Edwin.

 

“It is not signed,” he said.

 

“No, it is not. Whoever had written the letter clearly did not wish to be known. However, I do have the original seal,” Edwin said, showing it to Jacob.

 

“Very interesting,” Jacob said.

 

“Yes, I thought so, as well. It was still attached to the letter and is the only clue I have to go by,” Edwin said.

 

“You must be deeply curious as to who wrote it. I trust that you are hoping to find out whether or not it was a family member?” Jacob asked.

 

“I can only imagine so,” Edwin said. “Who else would be sending me away like that? Who else could simply pass me off? I don’t know who wrote this, but I am determined to find out. I want to learn the truth.”

 

“Do you have any memory of anything that could be related to it?” Jacob asked. “Memories of England or of another family, or anything?”

 

“No. That is … I remember faces of people who were not my mother and father. I have snippets of memory I have always assumed to be friends of my mother and father, or some such. But I cannot recall any events that feature them from those early years. I never thought anything of it until I came upon this letter,” Edwin said.

 

“You said that you were only four or five years of age when you remember being on a boat, correct?” Jacob asked.

 

“Yes. I was very young. I remember nothing but a flash of the ocean and the excitement I felt. And I feel as though there were some dark cloud that I felt afterwards,” Edwin said, trying to pull the memory back.

 

“I see…,” Jacob said.

 

Edwin was glad that Jacob did not appear to think he was mad for all of this.

 

“Again, it is all very interesting. Allow me to study the coat of arms. I am confident that I can find the owner of it,” Jacob said, eyeing the seal with an intense look upon his face.

 

“Thank you. If you should find any information, I would be thrilled,” Edwin said.

 

“It would be my pleasure to help you. And, on that note…”

 

“What is it?” Edwin asked.

 

“Well, I require your assistance in kind,” Jacob said.

 

“I am always happy to help. What is it?” Edwin asked.

 

“Well, it is about my sister. Amelia. She is a very nice girl and everything … but she is somewhat … rebellious,” Jacob said, revealing a nervousness on pronouncing the last word.

 

“Rebellious? That is hardly a good thing,” Edwin said.

 

Edwin was dubious already, not liking the thought of handling a rebellious young woman, or whatever it was his friend was going to ask of him.

 

“How exactly is she rebellious?” Edwin asked.

 

“She needs to marry, and she knows it. We have been trying to get her to marry for quite some time. I have had to urge it in letters and the like, but my grandmother has been trying to convince her for a long time,” Jacob said.

 

“And?” Edwin prodded, wanting his friend to come out with it.

 

“She will not marry anyone. No matter how we urge her, she simply will not do it. She has many choices and is wanted by a great number of men, but we cannot convince her to make her choice and be married.”

 

Edwin listened, still uncertain as to what any of this had to do with him. He had not heard anything thus far that could be construed as rebellious. Frustrating, perhaps, for her family. But he hardly considered it to be a rebellion.

 

“Truly, there are any number of men who have made their interest known, but she continues to refuse them. I fear that as she gets older, she will lose the chances she now has for a good suitor,” Jacob said.

 

“You believe none of them will wait for her to give an answer?” Edwin asked.

 

“Precisely. Eventually, they will move on and find someone else, if she is unwilling to express an interest,” Jacob said.

 

“Hmm, I see,” Edwin said, although he still did not know why any of this should concern him.

 

“Good, I am glad that you understand,” Jacob replied, growing quiet for a moment.

 

Edwin waited, but saw that Jacob was lost in his own thoughts.

 

“I’m sorry, Jacob, but you said you needed something from me. How am I to help? What is it you would like me to do for you?” Edwin asked.

 

“Oh, certainly. Of course. Well, I would like it if you would be willing to take my place, accompanying my grandmother and my sister to the ball in my stead. You would be a chaperone of sorts. I need you to ensure she speaks with men and acts as the lady she is,” Jacob said.

 

Edwin was immediately intimidated. He had never been to that sort of event and did not know whether he would fit in with the sort of crowd that would be present.

 

“And not only should she be speaking with the men there, but she must speak with respectable men. Men of honor. It does not matter whether they have a title or wealth, just so long as they are honorable and reputable. I am certain that you are able to pick out the right sort of gentleman,” Jacob said.

 

Edwin continued to eye his friend for a moment, trying to gather himself in order to respond to such a strange request. Finally, he managed to answer.

 

“I will do my best,” he said. I am sure we can find the right sort of man for your sister.”

 

“Very well,” Jacob sighed. “That is quite a load off my shoulders. I must tell you, I have been terribly anxious about it.”

 

“Yes, I suppose I can understand why,” Edwin said, although he was still trying to wrap his thoughts around Jacob’s request.

 

He was not opposed to helping his friend, but he was utterly uncertain as to how he could be of any real use.

Chapter 3

Amelia cranked her neck to each side, trying to stretch. She had been waiting for such a long time, it seemed. When was her brother finally going to arrive?

 

She glanced out of the window and traced the shadows. There were very few. It was already a little after noon.

 

But then, at last, she heard the coach outside.

 

Amelia bolted upright and looked out of the window, seeing the coach coming to a stop before the estate. Before she had even seen Jacob disembark, Amelia was rushing down the stairs to greet her brother.

 

The staff was quickly trying to assemble on the steps to welcome home the marquess, but Amelia was faster, rushing out to throw her arms around Jacob.

 

“I have missed you!” she exclaimed, laughing.

 

Jacob laughed too and made to spin her around, although he could not. They were similar in stature, and he was not quite strong enough to do what he wanted.

 

“I have missed you, as well,” he said, shocking Amelia with the strangely dull twang that had entered his voice.

 

But just as she opened her mouth to tease him, Amelia was distracted by the sight of the other man standing just behind her brother.

 

“Oh, forgive me,” she said, trying to temper her behavior.

 

“Good afternoon, Lady Shenton. I am Edwin Foster,” he said, introducing himself.

 

Edwin Foster, Amelia observed, was handsome and aristocratic. That is, he was as aristocratic as a colonial fellow might be, wearing his strange, earth-toned trousers and matching vest.

 

All of this was in addition to that peculiar accent she had heard invading her brother’s voice.

 

It was almost too much for one moment, and she thought she might laugh once more.

 

“Good afternoon, Mr. Foster,” she replied instead. Somehow, Amelia gathered herself and avoided making a scene of her amusement or the fact she had noticed the looks of this stranger.

 

Upon welcoming the men inside, Beatrice appeared and made her greetings, as well, before leading everyone to the dining room for a bite of lunch.

 

“As you can see, we have everything quite ready. The staff has been working very hard to prepare it all,” she said, sounding rather proud.

 

It caused Amelia and Jacob to look at one another knowingly, understanding that their grandmother was filled with pride at her perceived accomplishments.

 

But, as they were all being served around the table, Amelia noted that her grandmother was eyeing the book that lay open in her hands. She very nearly always tried to sneak reading into her mealtimes, no matter how ill-mannered it was considered to be. But her grandmother usually allowed it.

 

Books were an extension of herself, so how could she be expected not to carry one with her at all times?

 

“Darling, put that book down,” Beatrice said, smiling through gritted teeth. “There are much more interesting things to look at around the table.”

 

Her grandmother gave a smile and nod to Mr. Foster, and Amelia could not restrain herself from chuckling. Nevertheless, she set the book to the side, trying to appease her grandmother.

 

“Ah, I can see things have not changed,” Jacob said, smiling at the two of them.

 

“Did you imagine that they would?” Amelia asked, teasingly.

 

“Imagine? No. I should rather think it was more akin to a vain hope,” Jacob said, amused by his own response.

 

“Well, that is not very polite at all. Grandmama, I think Jacob is being rather cruel to us. He does not appear to realize how sad it was to have him gone for such a very long time,” Amelia said with a mocking pout.

 

Jacob laughed, setting down his water glass in order to hold himself steady.

 

“Oh, I ought to have known you would not have learned to behave,” he said.

 

“I behave quite well, thank you very much. It is you who has been off and away, galivanting all this time. Tell me, are you here to stay, brother?”

 

“I am afraid not,” Jacob said, looking down at his food as the words came out.

 

Amelia’s heart sank.

 

“I see…,” she said.

 

“But you must not worry. I have arranged for you to go to the debutante ball anyway,” he declared.

 

Amelia wanted him to understand that she hardly cared about the ball and was far more distraught about the fact he was going to be leaving again.

 

“You shall be attending the ball with Mr. Foster and Grandmother,” he said.

 

“Why? Are you going so soon?” Amelia asked.

 

Her brother cleared his throat and shook his head.

 

“No, that is not the reason. I do not intend to go to the ball. I … I am not yet ready to be seen in public,” Jacob said, his face recalling the pain he had endured after his heart had been broken.

 

“Well, there really is no point in my attendance, either. Why should I go to the ball when all of the suitors are coming here anyway?” Amelia asked, her voice dry and irritated.

 

Jacob looked at her with a face she knew well, one that showcased his disappointment in her and was sure to bring her to reconsider the fact that she had spoken her mind.

 

“You must soon consider marriage, Amelia. You know it as well as I do. We have all been trying to urge you in making that most wonderful of commitments,” Jacob said.

 

She could not help but raise an eyebrow at him, just to let him know that she found his words a little hypocritical, given his circumstances.

 

But Jacob did not budge. He was good at that. He knew Amelia just as well as she knew him, and he knew when she was attempting to make him back down.

 

Nevertheless, Amelia was not prepared to cease entirely. She opened her mouth, ready to give her brother one of her fiery responses, when her grandmother spoke up.

 

“This is a delicious meal, do you not think so, Mr. Foster? Oh, is it terribly rude of me to compliment my own staff when you are the guest?” Beatrice gave a gentle laugh.

 

“It is absolutely marvelous. You have every right to be complimented,” Mr. Foster said, grinning at Beatrice in return.

 

Amelia watched her grandmother’s hand came down to pat the top of the young man’s hand.

 

She could hardly believe the way her grandmother was behaving, being so friendly to this stranger about whom they knew nothing at all.

 

But as a result, everyone’s attention was turned on this newcomer, and he became the focus of the entire table.

 

He had been so quiet and polite thus far, and Amelia was curious about him. He was … mysterious, somehow. It was as though he were not quite certain where he fit but knew that this table was part of finding his answer.

 

He was certainly interesting. And he was very good with their grandmother, which also impressed her. He managed to handle her humor with a lightness. He laughed along with Beatrice, all the while keeping his wits about himself where others might lose theirs.

 

Afterwards, they retired to the drawing room for the whole evening, with Mr. Foster entertaining their grandmother, his smile lighting up the room as he did so. And, of course, Beatrice was thrilled at every turn, delighting in the attentions of this handsome young man.

 

Amelia was annoyed at herself for being intrigued and for allowing herself to get sucked into all the wonder.

 

By the end of the evening, it was as though Mr. Foster was simply one of the family.

 

“I ought to make my way into town,” he said, as they were leaving the dining room and making their way to the parlor.

 

“Town? At this time of night? Why ever would you go into town?” Beatrice asked.

 

“I thank you for the splendid meal, but I need to find a place to stay. It is getting late, and I don’t want to be stranded out in the cold in a place I don’t know,” Mr. Foster shrugged, appearing anxious about the hour.

 

Still, Amelia saw the queer look in her grandmother’s eyes.

 

“That is all utter nonsense,” she said finally.

 

“Begging your pardon?” Mr. Foster asked.

 

“We have many rooms to spare,” Beatrice said. “You are a friend, and a very good lad at that. You ought to stay with us. I am sure that at least one of the guest rooms can easily be made ready for you. If you do not mind waiting but a moment, I shall send one of the maids to ensure it.”

 

Mr. Foster looked ready to protest, but Jacob gave the slightest shake of his head in warning, and Amelia saw the resignation in his friend’s eyes.

 

Indeed, Mr. Foster was going to stay with them that evening. She did not mind knowing that this intriguing young man would be nearby. It meant that in the morning, she might have further opportunity to learn more about him.

 

Just as she had that thought, Amelia scolded herself. She was not the sort of young woman to be taken in by an interest in a random gentleman who happened to have entered their home.

 

“Well, I ought to say goodnight to both of you, I suppose,” Amelia said, readying to go to her room.

 

“Goodnight, Lady Shenton,” Mr. Foster said, bowing to her in a dramatic fashion.

 

Amelia tried not to laugh at him for it, but she found it rather charming all the same.

 

“Yes, goodnight, Amelia,” her brother said.

 

“Goodnight,” she said again, turning to make her way out of the room.

 

But her brother spoke once more before she had managed her escape.

 

“We shall talk about the ball tomorrow,” he said.

 

Amelia tried not to cringe but turned to him and nodded her head in agreement before rushing up the stairs, taking them two at a time.

 

Finally, she reached her room and went inside, closing the door behind her.

 

It had been an exciting day, what with Jacob’s return and his having brought a friend besides. Still, Amelia was curious about this new man.

 

She realized, in the midst of this distraction, that she had left her book downstairs. Tempted to go and fetch it, Amelia convinced herself to wait until morning. She had had enough dealings with others for the night.

 

And, if she were fortunate, the withered pages would last just a little longer.

 


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