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Genre: Historical Romance
Lady Victoria was born into high society and high standards in the the English country side. The dictates of Victorian society do not provide a good fit for a 17 year old free spirit. Lady Victoria is as wild as the lavender growing on the white cliffs of Dover. She is a dreamer when her life is thrown into turmoil with the arranged marriage to the much older Lord Hawthorne.
He is the Duke of Wellington, a womanizer looking for his next conquest. Lady Victoria is just the type of woman the Duke can love and leave.
Will Lady Victoria give in to the dashing Duke of Wellington and risk causing a scandal to her husband’s name? Or will the Duke of Wellington discover love for the first time.
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It was late morning and Victoria was deep in slumber beneath piles of linen sheets and goose down puffs. Heavy emerald velvet covered enormous windows to shield out the early spring sunshine. The sun was a tease at this time of year. Boots were beginning to dry from the winter rains and the lawn was ready to explode with fresh sprouts. The staff at the Markham Estate was busy preparing the equipment for spring sports. The moment before the bloom, the deluge reared its head again. This Saturday was a bonus day. A peak at the summer that all of Dover would welcome.
“Good morning my Lady. There you are love. Come. It is time to reveal yourself. Tea, before we prepare for repast with the man and your brother and sisters? Your Mother is half-way to London by now. She will be with her sister at Persimmon house. She is already preparing for June social season. Your father is about and out on horse. You will want to be ready upon his return.”
Lady Victoria was in her seventeenth year. She was hopeful. Her world was getting larger as time passed and she had dreams of finding love like all girls of her age. She was sandwiched between an older brother and two younger sisters. Peter was 19, his military plans delayed due to sickness. Elaine was the baby at 15 and Mary was 16 years of age. Her mother was quick to have her children but for unknown reasons she stopped producing after Elaine. It left The Countess with time on her hands at an early age.
Countess Tompkins travelled to London in the springtime to assist her sister. Lady Sterling was preparing Persimmon House for the social season beginning in June. Peter met an appropriate girl in London the year prior and the marriage between the two was to be officially finalized. They had shared a lengthy courtship. The Honorable Jane Marley was a worthy match for Peter. She was 18 years old and guaranteed a healthy virgin. Peter would eventually inherit the entire Markham Estate and Jane was well suited to fill it with children. Victoria noticed a change come over her cherished brother with the mention of Jane. A delicate love born of mutual respect had blossomed between them. It gave Victoria hope that a similar love would fill her world someday.
“Lady Victoria. I sense the daydream in which you are lost. Time does not allow for it at this moment. Rush, you father will be waiting.”
The Earl was a brutish sort to most who only briefly made his acquaintance. Victoria knew her father was a solitary man who loved his wife and children very much. He was actually a humorous gentleman, especially among his girls who were a constant source of amusement. He was like a cat in ways. Lady Victoria’s father retained a sense of mystery and aloofness, but when treated in distinct manner by those close to him he was embraceable.
“I will be ready Esther. I want to roam the grounds in comfort today. Presentable yes, but something which allows for free movement.”
Esther pulled out a light pink cotton dress with sky blue flowers and a velvet sash. It was high in the neck. She would go uncorseted. Her coltish figure did not require such impediments when not necessitated by custom. Victoria ran wild when allowed. With the Countess away in London and Father reading in his study, she would be free to do so. Esther had been with Lady Victoria since infancy. She was her maid, but so much more. Esther was a mother figure to Victoria, as her mother was busy with the younger girls. She shared and kept all of Victoria’s privacies as she bolted through adolescence into young womanhood. Esther knew that matters between Peter and Jane were to be finalized but she was also aware that Victoria’s betrothment was keen on her mother’s mind. There was certainly something at hand. Powerless, she hoped for the best.
Victoria emerged from the washroom ready to be dressed for the day. Her alabaster skin showed a natural peach glow. Her sapphire eyes showed a good night’s rest and a lack of years. She sat at the vanity to have her gossamer hair pulled back sensibly.
“My Lady, your golden locks look as though you have just emerged from a gale. I dare not imagine your dreams as you toss and turn so much. Your night cap is always discarded next to your bed by morning.” Esther tamed her hair with a pearl handled hairbrush.
“Esther. Please, gentle. My tender scalp.” Victoria fussed until Esther laid down the paddle. She stepped into her dress and fussed a bit more. A quick glance in the head to toe mirror tilted to welcome her presence and led to a nod. “Perfect as always Esther. I love you.”
Victoria ran down the long corridor, which led to the imposing mahogany staircase. Portraits of people who Victoria had never known frowned upon her through ornate frames. She vowed never to sit for such a depiction. What could cause such ominous scowls? She thought for a moment about slithering down the black bannister. It was something she did often as a young girl, but her 5’5” delicate frame was not suited for such folly.
“Good morning father.” Victoria gently bussed her father before taking her seat at the dining table. She sunk into the ivory upholstered chair, which had become accustomed to her form. Her place was designated between her two sisters who were first to arrive. Peter sat alone across the table and father took the head. Mother’s chair remained vacant due to her travels.
“Good Morning Victoria. You are late to arrive which has become the custom. Peter is about to lead prayer. You are just in time.”
Victoria smiled at young Elaine who was rarely at a loss for words. Elaine was at times a plaything to her older siblings but even Elaine herself knew it was heartfelt affection. She enjoyed the ribbing, as it gave her relevance among the Tompkins children.
“God bless all present and Dear Mother, may she be safe in her travels. Please make the food sustaining and palatable. Amen.”
“Clever Peter. You always have a way of getting to the significant part. Your brevity is appreciated, although the words are hardly prosaic.”
“Thank you Victoria.” Peter waited until Father and his sisters were served before he devoured his oysters and bacon.
“I am happy to see you all this morning. We have no callers today. With your Mother at Persimmon House, I thought it best we not receive today. I am certain you can all busy yourselves on a sunny day. I gave notice at the stables should any of you wish to ride the grounds. I may take a jaunt myself. I would like to have tea with you Victoria, in my study at half past three”
“Yes father. I plan to stroll the hop gardens but I will plan tea. I promise to be timely. I will alert Esther of my engagements.”
Victoria spent the day on the many acres gardens of the Markham Estate. It was her favorite spot, encircled with stonewalls covered in early spring hops. Azalea beds showed no bloom as of yet but they would burst in bright hues come summer. As Victoria walked, she dreamed of life beyond the Estate grounds. She welcomed what London would bring. The adventures ahead seemed endless. Victoria was unaware that the machinations of the Earl and Countess. As her parents they had already forged a path towards her future.
At 17 and the eldest of 3 girls it was dictated by society that a suitable mate be found for carefree Victoria. Peter was the male heir. He would inherit the title of Earl and everything that would entail including land and other assets. A man of means and title would care for Victoria. She would provide him with an ample flock of descendants. Dreams of ambling down the Champs Ellysees with a man whom she loved were to be just that – dreams. It was not an urgent reality. She remained blissful.
“Come along now Victoria. Your Father will look for you at half past. We must begin our journey back to the house. You have a time for a quick refresher before tea.”
“Always prompt Esther. We must arrange for a change of fragrance. I am tired of Lavender. It has become too youthful and common. I prefer something mature. Fetch me some samples as the week passes. More sophisticated and dare I say – alluring.”
Esther laughed, amused by the request.
“Hello Father. I am weary from the afternoon and ravenous.” Victoria fell onto the cushioned sofa.
“My dear Victoria, I need not ask you to make yourself comfortable.”
“If you expect formality you u have chosen the wrong Tompkins to join you to tea.” Victoria filled her mouth with smoked salmon on toast. It was rare to have tea alone with her Father in his study. It was a dark and comfortable room. To be invited to his inner sanctum was an honor. Books lined the shelves, which reached the ceiling. She imagined he had read them all, as he was not one for show in his private space.
“Victoria, we anticipate your mother’s arrival home by next week end. Any longer and I worry she will never find her way back to Dover. She gets lost in the excitement of London as the season approaches.”
“I shall welcome her of course. She will need time to recover before we should receive visitors. The staff will be alerted. Everything will be in place for her return to Markham. Is there anything specific I should arrange upon her return?” Victoria shifted as she expected to receive instructions.
“We will receive a caller the day following the Countesses return. He is a gentleman. He is Lord Hawthorne from the upper region of Kent. He has joined us for a hunt in years past here at the estate. He travels with his brother, Lord Damian. He is a widow and a pal from years ago. Victoria, he is a dear friend similar in years to me and a man of superior manners.”
“Yes father. I shall make plans for his arrival. Are overnight accommodations required?”
“Juliet and Samuel are preparing quarters for them. I will expect you to be dressed in your finest attire for receiving a guest of his high honor. Preparations have already begun for Lord Hawthorne’s arrival.”
Victoria became confused by the grandeur behind Lord Hawthorne’s visit. She awaited her Father’s explanation.
“My dear daughter, you are to be married to Lord Hawthorne.”
“Oh.” Ann was speechless and astonished by her father’s announcement. She was not planning to be promised to another before laying eyes upon him. Her dreams only hours past were unattainable musings. A man her father’s age was a sour joke. “No father.” Her face grew wet in reaction to the horrible news.
“Your mother and I have considered the matter carefully. It is to be Victoria. Lord Hawthorne can provide you with substantial wealth and a proper place in society. You are betrothed to Lord James Hawthorne. Go to your quarters and rest up before dinner. Allow time for the shock of the announcement to settle in.”
“I ask to be excused from dinner father. The day has proved too much.”
“Good day Victoria. I will see you when the sun rises on a new day. You know what is expected.”
Victoria returned to her room and collapsed on a chaise. She was devastated with a hyperventilating fit. Drops fell from her eyes. Esther came to console the sweet girl she helped bring into the world. She cradled Victoria’s head in her fleshy arms.
“Esther, I must tell you what my parents have done. They….” Victoria was cut off.
“I knew this was coming me dear. I was powerless.”
“Oh, Esther. You knew and you held it a secret? You are like me mum. How could you keep secrets? The whole world is against me.”
“I let you dream. I could not devastate you with the impeding arrangement.”
“I will not be happy. I will wish for the day I die.”
About Keegan Lace:
Keegan Lace was born and raised in North Carolina, currently residing in the Charlotte area. She has always loved books, especially romance novels and wished that everyone would find love, romance and happiness.
When she is not writing, reading, or being a wonderful mother to her children; she can be found enjoying some of her favorite hobbies: yard sales, house hunting and traveling.