About the Book
“I have tried many things over the years to tend to this wound, but your touch is so far the only thing that has managed to alleviate my pain.”
Selina Lancaster, the Dowager Countess of Egliston, has made peace with her fate. Determined to live a secluded life from now on, she never expected to find what she thought she had lost forever.
For Henry Montgomery, Marquess of Newmont, nothing in life can hold an interest. Isolated and wounded in every way possible, he must return to the place where he once met love, only to battle death.
Selina and Henry’s consuming passion leaves them little choice but to reconcile. Hoping to make up for the seven-year estrangement and incapable of resisting their instincts, they fell for one another once again, breathtakingly and with no regrets.
But they can never be together as long as they are chased by their past. Betrayed, hurt, and in dire peril, Selina soon discovers that trust is a contract written with blood. Her own...
London, 24 April 1807
The little cabin was dimly lit, but beautiful. Never before had she been in there, but seeing it from outside, Selina always believed it to be a wreckage. She had imagined the interior to be dirty, abandoned and neglected; it was anything but.
Someone had cleaned the one and only room; she could smell the pleasant fragrant of the soap the moment she stepped in. The fire in the hearth was the only source of light and it casted shadows on the bare walls. An armchair was placed before it, vast and comfortable, while on the opposite side a massive four-poster bed was taking half the space of the room. A thick carpet underneath the two bottom legs of the bed spread all the way to the opposite wall, where a basket full of fruit laid on the floor.
The sound of the teapot on the stove alarmed her; it hissed, calling for someone to pick it up.
“Don’t fret, my love,” he said and rested his hand on her waist to calm her. He moved to the little kitchen in the back and removed the teapot from the stove. He then added the tea to two white cups, decorated with blue painted-by-hand flowers, and lit an oil lamp which he gave her to hold, while he followed with the cups.
The light from the lamp secured her a better view of the bed; there were rose petals on the duvet and the floor. Selina felt her heart skip a bit. She turned to look at him, the person she loved the most in the world, and attempted to take in his beloved features. She did give him her heart and there would be no one else for her, ever.
He left the cups on the mantelpiece, next to a book, and turned around. He looked at her and smiled, possibly amused to see her staring at him, and then he took her face in his hands. He kissed her little nose and then her lips and she felt so overwhelmed that she dove into his arms and hugged him tightly.
“Did you do all this?” she asked him, realizing the moment she said it that it was probably a silly question.
“Well, I had a bit of help…” he said, smiling.
Oh, that smile. I wonder if he knows what I would do for that smile…
“I wanted everything to be perfect.”
“You are perfect,” she said and moved closer to his lips. He bent down and kissed her, softly, as he always did in the start, but then stopped.
“We should talk…” he said, but she did not let him finish.
“No talk, remember?” she reminded him and locked eyes with his ever so affectionate beautiful stare. There were no words to be said.
They kissed again, this time more passionately as they moved toward the bed. She longed for him, for this moment, and there was nothing that could take it away from her. They went to bed. She had never even imagined what his warmth would feel like, but now she knew. She would always know. She was his now, in every way possible.
After so many hours of his body on hers, she could feel as if she knew every inch of his warm skin and every notch and scar of his beloved parts. They were laying, hugging, cuddling on the bed and his fingertips were running on her back, up and down. Her hands were on his bared chest, caressing him.
“I think our tea is getting cold,” he said and they both giggled.
She raised her head and looked at him; there was no person to have walked this earth that has loved another as much as she loved him. He bent his head and kissed the tip of her nose first, her lips afterwards.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you,” she responded.
Her eyelids felt heavy, comfortable as she was in his arms and lullabied by the cracks of the fire in the hearth. She was feeling worn out and his hands on her, going up and down rhythmically, sealed her eyes in an undisturbed sleep.
The sun was not yet up in the sky, when the first hints of the day started to arrive. The fire had died, but the room was still warm. The cups were still on the mantelpiece.
Selina looked beside her at the empty bed. Even though she was expecting this to happen, she could have not been more ill-prepared. Her heart shuttered in a mere moment. She could still smell him in the empty room and she buried her head on his pillow to take a big sniff. Her tears wetted the cloth and the plumpness of the feathers muffled her scream.
He was gone.
London, 15 March 1814
The Season had arrived along with spring this year. Oddly enough, winter had been quite long and in early March, the trees had only just started to blossom, dressing the city in white and pink.
Selina Lancaster, the Dowager Countess of Egliston took a short break from her duties this Thursday afternoon and was sitting in the drawing room, enjoying her tea. She was tired and busy, but she had to do her best for Cordelia. This was her very first Season and if everything turned out well, it might even be the last. Selina had more than once in the last month entertained the thought that the more she tried now, the least she would have to try later, as if Cordelia’s matching with a good lord was a matter of effort.
I wish it was!
But if this were to be true, the desperate mothers of the young ladies coming out every Season, would be less troubled, indeed. But it was not like that, at all. Cordelia Lancaster, the daughter of her late husband, deserved the best, especially considering everything she had been through the last few years. Losing a parent was one thing, but losing both and at such a tender age was cruel. Thus, it was Selina’s duty, as her stepmother, to perform the best to her efforts and make this Season, if not successful, at least memorable for her.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.
“Come in,” Selina called, only to see Farris, the butler, coming in with the mail.
“My Lady,” he said, putting the silver tray out for her to take the paper.
It was an invitation from the Marquess of Wittenbury, but with the artistic intervention of his wife Lucinda Huxley, the Marchioness of Wittenbury, and Selina’s good friend. The celebration of the Marquess’s birthday was to be held next Saturday and they were invited to attend.
She entertained the thought for no more than a few moments, before she moved to the stationery to write her reply. She would accept of course; not only did she long for Lucinda’s company, but it was always advisable during the Season to appear in as many high regarded gatherings as possible. Cordelia would certainly not find a match on the route from their house to the modiste’s neither will she find one shut in her room trying her dresses on.
Sometimes, Selina felt that the idea of a good match and a wonderful ball was greater than the actual event. That was probably due to the lack of fear that accompanied imaginations, as opposed to reality.
Reality is cruel, I am afraid.
It was an uneventful Monday morning and Henry Montgomery, the Marquess of Newmont was enjoying the early mist from the terrace of his home. The serenity of the countryside was divine and what he most needed after years of pistol firing and canon shots ringing in his ears and sound of bloody flesh being teared apart next to him. Wars have always been dreadful affairs and it was no wonder that they were mostly entertained by people with so little respect for the human life.
Now, all he needed was to be surrounded by calm and quiet. He would wake up just before sunrise, so his morning walk would be accompanied by the sun climbing up on the sky and filling it with orange, red, and yellow shades. After breakfast, which would mostly be just coffee for him, he attended to his affairs in his study, and today was no exception.
Henry retreated into the room and closed the door to the terrace. The sound of the clicking door almost made him miss the knock on the other door, the one that lead to the house. But he didn’t.
“My Lord,” Regis, his butler, said and bowed. He left the mail and exited the room as quietly as he had entered.
That was how long his peace of mind lasted; it was time to attend business. Little did he know, however, that not only would he be occupied from now on, but he would also be upset. Because a letter from Her Grace, his mother, had arrived, and this rarely meant good news.
His parents still lived in London, in spite of his father’s advanced years, as it afforded him the opportunity to easily attend to his business affairs.
Faithful to the Crown and a fine business man, the Duke of Burkwood still found great joy in the belief that his shipping company offered valuable funds and network to his beloved country. His Dukedom was very finely settled and could secure many generations of Montgomerys without any further financial endeavors.
But his father believed that his occupation aided in the furtherance of the majesty of the British Empire.
He would starve and die had he thought this would make the Empire shine brighter…
He opened the letter, only to discover that his father had fallen ill.
…at your earliest convenience, his mother wrote. His heart thrusted in fear and worry, and he immediately regretted everything he had thought about while opening the letter. He felt awful for thinking these things about his father and also guilty, as if, had he not thought about them, the content of the letter would be different.
He had no time to waste. As much as he despised London, especially during this time of the year, he might not have another chance to see his father.
No, I must not think this way. He will be all right, I am sure of it.
But the miserable thought could not escape his mind. So he left his study and started preparing to head to London. He needed to keep his mind busy.
“Hastings!” he called his valet. “We are to depart in an hour.”
“Is it not the most peculiar feeling?” Cordelia asked Selina.
Selina was sitting on the sofa of Harding Howell & Co., the best tailor shop in this part of London, trying to conceal her exhaustion from Cordelia who seemed so very pleased with the fitting of her new dress. Betty and Maggie, their identical lady’s maids stood by the door, also tired, but seeming excited at the spectacle. Selina wished she could ask them to sit down, but the shop was full of people of the ton and she knew that they frowned upon such actions.
At least this is our last stop…
They had been in so many shops today, making sure they had plenty of ribbons, hats, pelisses, and dresses for the upcoming ball. And, of course, the unexpected birthday celebration of the Marquess added more pack of items on their list, for Cordelia could not spare any of the dresses she had for the big ball, at a dinner party.
“What, dearest?” Selina replied.
“I enjoy this so much that I wish it not to cease, but at the same time the only reason I am doing it at all is for it to be over!” Cordelia mused, delighted.
“Indeed, this preparation has a purpose and, no matter how much pleasure you take in the process, it is actually the end that makes the means so delightful,” Selina said.
“You are ever so wise!” Cordelia said and stepped down from her stool to hug Selina. “So? What do you think?” she said then, spinning around.
There were pins and different pieces of fabric patched on the original, but Selina could tell that it would become a fine gown.
“You look stunning, dearest. Does she not?” she said and turned to the girls still standing at the door watching them closely.
“Indeed, My Lady,” they said in chorus.
This was the girls’ first Season. Maggie became Selina’s maid after she married Roger. Her father did not allow her own lady's maid to follow her to her new home. He had his reasons… Therefore, when Selina arrived at Egliston Manor, almost at nine-and-ten years of age, she was in need of a maid. Betty, then, suggested to the housekeeper that her sister Maggie could take the position and so she did.
Thus, no one there had witnessed Selina’s first and last Season, and sometimes she wished she had not either. For she did not need it… She had found what she was looking for and she was perfectly happy with all she had. But this was never enough for the ton. The ton never appreciated falling in love; they only deemed worthy the matchings that resembled business deals.
Her mind had drifted off, but not nearly enough to keep from noticing the young gentleman looking at Cordelia. They were out of the fitting room and in front of the register now.
Surely he seemed to like what he was seeing, but if he continued just a tad more, he could bring them into a perilous situation. A scandal was hanging above their heads, threatening to fall heavy on their shoulders, and this only became worse by the realization that Cordelia was also perfectly aware of the glances and returned them.
Selina put her hand on Cordelia’s waist urging her to move on and pretended nothing happened.
For all our sakes…
Later on, however, lying on her bed, she could not help but wonder whether Cordelia knew this gentleman or if she was just flattered by his attention and thus had reciprocated.
Surely she would have greeted him if she knew him, but…
She didn’t have time to continue her thought, however, because a slight and faint knock on her door dissolved all her thoughts. She got up and opened the door.
The light brown hair of her son glistened under the light of her candle. She leaned forward and brought her eyes on the same level as his; his piercing green gaze stared at her, somehow frightened.
“Alexander, what is it, my love? Why are you not in bed?” she asked and put her fingers in his hair.
“I did not see you at all today,” the boy said.
“Yes, I am sorry, my love. I was helping your sister prepare for her Season. It is a very important time for her. You are hardly jealous, are you?” she said, teasingly, knowing how much he loved Cordelia.
“Of course not. It’s just…” the boy hesitated.
“When father left, you said I would be seeing him no more, and now I see you less, too. Does this mean you are going to leave me, too?”
Selina’s heart broke in mere moments. Roger’s death costed Alexander quite much and there weren’t many things she could do about it. She wished she could take his pain away, but he had been only four years of age at the time of Roger’s heart attack. How could she wipe out such a memory?
“Look at me,” she said and raised his chin, so his eyes would look directly at hers. “No one is going to take me away from you. Ever. Do you hear me? I will always be there, by your side,” she said in a steady voice.
He looked a bit relieved at her words and a little smile spread on his face.
“My Lady, apologies,” Miss Keaton, the governess, said. “I thought I’d heard him leave his chamber, but by the time I got up he was gone.”
“That is quite all right, Miss Keaton,” she smiled at her son and put a peck on his cheek. “Good night, my love. Sweet dreams.”
“Good night, Mama.”
Henry entered the chamber when his father’s faint voice answered his knock. Rarely had he stepped in his father’s chamber in all the years he had spent in this house; it was always a forbidden area for him and it used to scare him as well as intrigue him. Even so, it was as he last remembered it. Just a few furniture - a stationary, a table, and a chest of drawers - surrounded the massive bed where his ill father now lay.
It was an absolutely distressing view. Never before had he seen his father lying on the bed, let alone so drained off blood. His face looked almost transparent; such was the lack of any color whatsoever.
“Son? Is this you?” he heard his father call him, his voice weak and hoarse.
“It’s me, Father. How are you feeling?” Henry looked at him, very concerned.
“Almost dead,” the Duke jested. “Come. We must speak.”
Henry moved closer and the thick carpet muffled his steps. He sat on his father’s right and took his hand in his. Thankfully, it was still warm.
“Henry, I am not to tell you how to live your life. I know how hard this war was for you, for everyone indeed, and I never intended to see you this… broken.”
Henry almost gasped at the accuracy of his father’s notion.
I am, in fact, broken, Father, in more ways than you could ever imagine.
“Father, do not bother…” he started to say, but the Duke interrupted him.
“It is my duty to bother. I did what I thought was right when I sent you off to war and I wished I could join also. It was an honor to fight under Wellington’s orders, but, son, life goes on. I gave you time to process, to heal, to mend your wounds… But right now, time is the only thing I cannot possibly spare.”
“What do you need from me, Father?”
“I need to see you grow!”
“Do you not think that war has done that to me already?”
“If it made you wanting to live your life as a recluse, apparently not!” the Duke shouted and a series of coughs and chokes followed his remarks. Henry felt powerless; he didn’t know how to help him.
As he was getting up to get help, the Duke waved his hand for Henry to come closer. Then, he almost whispered.
“I… want… progenies!”
Henry’s feelings were a tangled mess. He was worried and mad, disappointed and confused. As if the Peninsular War was not enough of an experience for him!
He had been proud to have joined the war, of course. He had done his duty to his country, his family, and the Crown. But never had he expected the atrocities he witnessed there. It was a fate he would never wish upon anyone. Brutality, mercilessness, and blood - so much blood.
Lost in his thoughts, his hand moved to his wound at once. Deep down, Henry knew his father was right. Having a family was what society would have anticipated, even if he hadn’t gone to war. But he had and he’d lost everything in the process, and he could not pretend that he had not. There was no way that he could be normal again and he knew it.
“Two years… two years is a lot of time to heal,” his father said.
But Henry wasn’t healing, he was grieving. His wounds could never be healed.
His answer was cut short by a knock.
“Come in,” he said.
Yves, the butler, came in and announced the physician, Mr. Thomas.
“Good evening, Your Grace, My Lord,” Mr. Thomas said and bowed.
“I will leave you to it,” was the only thing Henry said and then he exited the room with the butler. He was relieved that he was interrupted; he knew he would have had to stop himself somehow before he said something he could not take back.
He remained outside the bedroom, where his mother found him moments later.
“What is it, dear?” she asked, looking at the door first and then at him.
“Mr. Thomas has not come out yet.”
“You look concerned,” she told him as she removed a tuft of hair from his eyes.
“What am I to do, Mother? I need my peace, I cannot be here. But I could not possibly stand to see him gone. Every word I say to him I gather to be the last. Do you understand how limiting this is? How difficult? I cannot speak my mind without feeling guilty about it. What if something I say… upsets him? For good?” he said with meaning.
“Well, can you not stand us even for a day?” She seemed sad saying this.
“This is not the issue here. I have missed you and you know I am glad to be around you. I just wish it did not have to be associated with yet another thing he asks of me.”
“So, he spoke to you about the Season?”
Henry stared at her, perplexed.
“He wants you to join the Season and find a wife. He wants the family name to be continued.”
Henry felt his blood boiling. He looked at his mother, teeth grinning, lips pursed. She put her hand on his shoulder, protectively.
“My dear, please. Make an effort, I implore you. He needs it,” she said, with tears in the corners of her eyes.
Then, Mr. Thomas came out of the room and closed the door behind him. He looked at them with pity evident in his eyes and shook his head.
“I am afraid the news is bad,” he said.
Selina was looking at the ring in her hand thinking about what Alexander told her the previous night when she heard a knock on her door. Before she could answer, Cordelia entered the room.
“What is it, dear?” Selina asked.
“I am so pleased with the preparations! I cannot wait for the balls to start!” Cordelia said, smiling, as she made her way to the little sofa in front of Selina’s bed.
“I am glad! I hope you enjoy yourself!” Selina answered still thinking of Alexander.
“Do you reckon there will be any eligible matches for me at the Marquess’s house?”
“Why, we shall see…” Selina replied, her eyes fixed on the carpet.
“Mother, what is it? Are you feeling ill?” the young lady asked.
“No, no, I am all right. It’s just… Alexander told me something a few nights ago and I cannot possibly stop thinking about it.”
“What did he say?”
“He said that he is afraid I am going to leave him too, like his father. I know this has been hard for everyone,” Selina said and put her hand on Cordelia’s cheek, “and I wonder whether I have neglected him.”
“You have not! You have not stopped being beside him and me,” Cordelia stressed, “and you did your absolutely best. I was six-and-ten and I had the same fear, let alone him, a mere child!”
“Yes, I was afraid I would be left completely alone when Papa died. I was desperate and I missed him - I still do. But this does not, in the slightest, devalue your help and affection.”
Cordelia’s words eased her a bit. Maybe it was indeed expected of Alexander to feel this way. So, the sooner this Season ended for them the better. With Cordelia looked after and her future secured, she would have more time to devote to him. Of course, she would never stop worrying about Cordelia even after she was married, but at least she would have more time to invest in other things.
“Thank you for your words, dear. You really soothed my pain,” she said and hugged her.
The study had been offered entirely to the solicitor’s disposal. Since his father’s condition did not allow him much movement, Mr. Geoffrey Elvington was kind enough to visit them at their house. The Duke had requested his presence as a witness in his last will and testament, a very morbid but necessary action nonetheless.
Since he was his only heir, undoubtedly the Dukedom would be his. But his father had other businesses as well, which might turn out more difficult to settle, considering he had partners and adversaries… Such issues in trade were certainly differently handled.
In truth, Henry would prefer to be left alone. He would like nothing more than to return home to his peace and quiet, his morning walks and lonely rides. But this was a self-centered thought; he was here for his father. No one could avoid death, thus he could not save him; but he could make his lasting days more agreeable at least.
“I wish we could have a soiree!” his father commented. This was totally unforeseen and Henry blinked, confused.
“Ah, how I wish I could see you dance with the ladies!” the Duke went on. Henry felt agitated.
“Father, please…” he started to protest, but the Duke did not let him finish.
“You promised! You gave me your word that you would attend!” he called out, and one could hardly believe that this yelling came out of the old, withered gentleman who breathed heavily and noisily mere moments ago.
The Duke started to cough uncontrollably, gasping for air. Henry looked at Mr. Elvington and they locked eyes for a split second, both of them unable to do anything. Henry rang the bell for help and, as if standing just outside the door, Yves and two footmen came hastily into the room. They took the Duke in their hands and quickly moved him upstairs.
Henry stood there, frozen. He had caused this. He was the reason for this episode and he barely spoke a word.
Later on, Mr. Thomas met him and his mother in the drawing room.
“Would you like a cup of tea, Mr. Thomas?” his mother offered.
“Thank you, Your Grace, but I really must make haste. And so should you…” he said, mystically.
“What do you mean?” Henry asked.
“His Grace’s health has taken a truly bad turn. To be honest, I knew it was serious, but I never expected it to be so fast. He is in dire condition. I would suggest rest and good will. There is not much we can do for him, apart from being there and being… agreeable,” the physician said, raising his eyebrows meaningfully.
“Thank you,” his mother said and seemed as if she could barely hold her tears. “I will escort you…”
“No need, Your Grace. Don’t hesitate to call for me, any time,” Mr. Thomas bowed before he exited the room.
Henry had to remind himself how to breathe. He felt powerless, weak, useless. The gentleman who gave him breath and flesh was dying in the next room and there was nothing he could do.
“Henry, I beg of you. Do as he says,” his mother said now, tears running down her cheeks.
“I will, Mother. It is the least I can do.”
It was not his father’s fault that he missed his chance at happiness, he knew that. Staying in London then, after all, would have broken him too. Witnessing his worst nightmare coming true, would have injured him worse than the bullet he had received in his shoulder. He just needed someone to take the blame for it, that was all.
If he has little time left, I will make it worth the while.
The carriage was a bit bumpy due to the rain of the latest days. Selina could still feel in her nostrils the wonderful smell of Alexander’s hair and she smiled, pleased. She had bent to kiss him goodnight, just before she left the house and she already missed him.
“I knew you would approve,” Cordelia remarked.
“Approve what?” Selina asked, waking up from her fantasy.
“Love!” Cordelia whispered teasingly. Maggie and Betty giggled.
“I do, indeed, approve love. But beware, my dear, for it is not so easy to find it and you cannot always tell it apart from fondness or appreciation,” Selina warned.
She had been fortunate enough to love, but this had not made her life any easier. On the contrary…
“Everyone says you will know when you feel it!” the young lady mused.
Selina only smiled. It was indeed this way, but it burned…
“Here we are,” she announced when the carriage stopped in front of the manor. The coachman helped her first and she went out, the trail of her lavender dress slithering behind her.
The manor was beautifully decorated with white and pink flowers, and the lamps along the path to the front door had been dyed white, to match the flowers.
Lucinda Huxley, the Marchioness of Wittenbury, along with her husband awaited them in the foyer. They gave their wishes to the Marquess and moved forward to give room for the next guest to do the same. Cordelia soon left Selina’s side and started mingling with some ladies her age and Selina remained with Maggie by her side to admire the beautifully decorated room.
“Dearest,” the Marchioness said, approaching her a while later. “I am so glad you came. I was wondering whether you would have some time to spare, now with Lady Cordelia’s preparations.”
“I would not have missed it, you know that. But in reality, the Season is indeed a very tiresome business, is it not?”
“Oh, indeed. Please, let me know if you need anything at all.”
“Thank you, dear. How is the Marquess feeling? Older yet?” Selina jested.
“Well he ought!” the Marchioness laughed.
Right then, Selina felt a peculiar shiver running down her spine as the butler announced the newcomers.
“Her Grace, the Duchess of Burkwoood. The Most Honorable, the Marquess of Newmont.”
Selina thought her heart would fail her. She started breathing harder and faster, unable to make herself look at the entrance. But she did.
He was as handsome as ever. Tall, gracious, strong. His jet black hair fell gracefully on his neck and his hands were as she remembered them exactly; large, white and - she only guessed now, picking her memories - soft. When his piercing green gaze caught her own, she felt as if her legs had suddenly been nailed on the floor. She could not move, she could not breathe. She could only look at him.
He seemed surprised to see her there, she could see it on his face. Selina was certain that her own astonishment was painted on her face as well, for she had not seen him for years.
He used to be the one who knew me better than anyone and now I must pretend to have never known him at all...
Henry’s eyes were piercing her soul; she felt transparent under his gaze. She wished she was able to do the same; see into his soul and heart and mind. She needed to see what he felt and thought at that particular moment. She would give anything to secure one more thought…
She suddenly realized that she had held her gaze a moment too long and she retreated hastily. She did try very hard to come around, before anyone noticed her uneasiness. She nervously fixed her hair and looked around for anything she could use to occupy her hands and mind.
“Come dearest, dinner is ready,” Lucinda told her.
Indeed everyone was making their way to the dining room. She must have missed the announcement; so upset she was.
I must restrain my instincts… It is but a night… One of the many I wished I was under his sweaty body, gasping as he stole my breath away, again and again…
She shook her head to dissolve the disturbing thoughts. Even though she did not look at him again, she could feel his gaze still on her.
Later on, at the dinner table she became certain of this assertion. Henry was staring at her; she could see him vaguely through the corner of her eye and she trembled at the thought of locking eyes with him again. She wasn’t sure whether she would be able to retreat her gaze this time.
Oh dear, I must stop thinking of him as Henry. Imagine accidentally calling him that in front of others. My Lord… The Marquess… My Lord…
She kept repeating the words in her head, again and again. It’s been a long time since she had last joined this game. She had forgotten how to hide, although years ago this was a source of amusement for the pair of them.
They had met at a soiree and had soon come closer, always under the watchful eye of the ton and her chaperone. Well, not always… Henry never meant for her to be his mistress or lover, she knew that. Even after they separated, she knew that this wasn’t his goal, to just bed her.
They really had no choice; neither him not joining the war nor she not marrying Roger. Her father’s dire financial affairs would be out in the world if it wasn’t for Roger’s fortune. In the eyes of the ton, her father was one of the wealthiest gentlemen in London. In reality, he was as poor as any commoner anywhere in England. And in the world they lived, this state of affairs was more important than her or Henry or their love.
For they were madly in love… but it was not enough for them to be rescued.
How can a person not age at all in seven years?
Henry looked at Selina and felt himself going back in time. Back to that evening he had met her at the soiree. She was the most beautiful Lady he had ever seen and he was not the only one who thought so.
He remembered looking desperately for a common liaison between them to formally introduce them. He knew who she was, after all her debut was widely known in the ton; it always was in the cases of the very wealthy. When he finally managed to be introduced, he recalled her looking at him like he was an exotic bird or wild animal. She looked at him with such interest, examining him, one would think. When he later confronted her and shared his thoughts, she had laughed so loudly!
“A wild animal? You obviously think very highly of yourself, my love!” she had told him.
She was his favorite person in the entire world. She was his friend and his love, all at once. There was no one he trusted more than her; he felt as if he could tell her everything. Her blue eyes were like sources of truth; she never played any games with him, like the other ladies used to. Selina was sincere, amusing, truthful.
When he was in bed with her he always felt like he was opening his soul for her to see. Their bodies together matched like the missing pieces of a machine. When they became one, it felt… right. As if this was what they should be like and not apart, as if their individuality was just temporary before they united again.
And then, the bad news came and almost tore him apart. Selina’s father had agreed to her wedding to some Earl, quite older than her, and surely not her choice. While his own father had enlisted him to join the war.
What could I have done? What should I have done?
If he had tried to fight for her, her father would never have agreed to this union, even considering his high rank in society and the possibility of Selina becoming the Duchess of Burkwood one day. For it was just that; a possibility. They could not have managed to marry before his departure for the war and she could not wait for him either as his betrothed.
It was way too much of a risk. His death on the battlefield would have let her unlooked after, unmarried and possibly too old for marriage, thus ruined. His possible injury would have forced her into a marriage to a crippled man, or even, impotent, which would have meant a life without a family for her.
In any way he had examined it from every angle, and it was not possible for them to be together. Also, since he was not officially courting her, he might have even brought shame to her in case he interfered with her father’s plans. He could have given away their little secret, their love, their plans… And of course eloping was not a choice. What would Selina do, even if they married in Gretna Green, while he was away? By what means would she be able to survive?
Henry looked at her again and even though he could tell she had been avoiding his gaze, she raised her eyes and looked at him also. His heart stopped beating for a moment when their eyes locked.
She is so beautiful…
He almost cried out when he saw her before, such was his astonishment. She must have thought him a coward for not fighting for her then, even though she had told him that she understood. That night, their last night together in the cabin…
And now, how jealous was he! She had a family, she had a home of her own, she had a husband…
He fought hard not to think of Selina in her husband’s arms. He put his two fingers in his collar and pulled it, as he felt it choked him. But it was not the collar at fault. It was him and her…
“Are you all right, dearest?” his mother whispered in his ear.
“Yes, Mother, perfectly all right.”
Or at least I am trying to be…
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