The cold was finally starting to leave, but a sudden burst of wind made Alice shiver. Tightening the shawl around her shoulders, she unconsciously sank further into the bench from where she looked over the small garden behind the townhouse.
“What are we going to do now?” Josephine asked, the worry trickling in her voice.
“I’m not sure,” Alice confessed.
It had been her duty for eight years to have answers to Josephine’s questions. For eight years, she had tried to calm her sister’s worries.
After their mother had died, it had fallen to Alice, a child of merely twelve years then, to care for Josephine. With five years between them, the Earl of Drakemyre had expected his eldest to do her part.
“I never imagined this would happen,” Josephine said, her eyes bloodshot and wet, her nose cold and red.
“Nor did I. But father is gone now. Despite everything that had happened, we needed him. And now I am not sure what to do. But I promise you this, I shall make every effort to take care of you,” Alice promised, although it felt hollow. Making a promise that she likely could not keep was done only for the sake of cold comfort.
“Are we expected to pay his debts?” Josephine asked.
The question hung in the air. For three days, neither woman had dared to ask it. It seemed insensitive somehow. Was a young lady in mourning allowed to worry about such things?
Alice had been trying not to think about it. She didn’t want to acknowledge the debts. If she pretended they did not exist, she would not have to take responsibility for tracking down those owed by their father. She would not have to find out just how much he had borrowed.
Ambition was a blessing for many, but to their family, it had been a curse. The Earl of Drakemyre had fallen time and time again for his quests for fortune. But wealth had continued to allude him in that he had only his inheritance and position to show for it.
Every conquest he attempted seemed to fail. And now his daughters were left to clean up after each of them.
“I think it is possible. They have not come back to me yet to discuss it, but it will likely impact our inheritance,” Alice answered.
“I thought as much,” Josephine sighed, her shoulders slacking beneath her loose, black hair.
Alice looked at her sister, a mirror of herself. The same black hair, the same hazel eyes, the feminine form of their father’s chin. They had so little of their mother in their appearances, but they had all of her heart.
“Don’t worry, Josephine. We’re going to be alright,” Alice said, trying to encourage her sister.
She placed a hand of comfort on Josephine’s shoulder and gave a brave smile. Trying to convince herself that they really would be alright, Alice made every effort to turn cheerful.
“Will Charles help us?” Josephine asked.
“I’m certain that he will,” Alice answered, too quickly.
In truth, she had no knowledge as to their cousin’s intentions. Now that he was to inherit the estate and their father’s title, Charles could do whatever he wanted.
He had been helping their father, which gave her a bit of comfort. At least he had shown respect for the Earl. In addition to being overly courageous as their father had been, Charles had been trying to help him through the debts.
Bearing all of this in mind, Josephine hoped that they would be shown a similar grace.
“You don’t think that he’s going to kick us out, do you? Now that he has the estate?” Josephine asked.
“I honestly don’t know. He may do as he pleases. But we shall not end up homeless. I promise you that. You know that I am going to ensure that you are looked after, Josephine. Please, do not worry yourself on that matter. There are many other things in this world to be concerned about and this is the last of them,” Alice said.
“But how can it be the last of them? If we are forced into the street, of course I ought to be worried,” Josephine said. “So should you.”
Alice glanced away again. So much for all of her attempts to bring encouragement to her sister. Josephine was willing to admit what even Alice wasn’t.
“Yes, I suppose that’s true. But I don’t like to think of it. Our cousin will take care of us, he has to. As the new Earl of Drakemyre, he will want to have a good reputation. He will look after us,” Alice said, more to herself than to her sister.
“What if he tries to marry me off to one of his friends?” Josephine asked, worry peppering her voice.
That truly made Alice smile and she looked at her sister with a hint of amusement.
“Don’t worry about that. I have to marry before you do and you know that I should never allow him to trade you like that. You haven’t even entered society. I promise, you will be kept safe from having to marry any of his friends for now,” she promised.
Josephine did not appear convinced. Her hazel eyes shone with the same fear and anxiety that they had for days. It was almost enough to make Alice wonder if her cousin would really do that.
As two unmarried young women, they were certainly at risk for someone trying to use their desperate situation for their own gain. More than likely, the offers would begin soon, coming from men who knew that the young ladies had so few other choices.
But Alice tried to maintain her confidence. She could avoid all of that. She could make certain that Josephine wanted for nothing. She simply hadn’t yet determined how.
With nothing else but worry between them, Alice wrapped an arm around Josephine’s shoulder and pulled her close. Her sister leaned in, accepting the bit of comfort.
“I just don’t know how it all came to this,” Josephine said, her voice betraying the tears that threatened.
“Me either. But we are going to figure it all out. We have to. And we will. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Have I ever let you down?” Alice asked.
“Never,” Josephine sniffed.
“And I never will. We may not have Father anymore, but we have each other. You are not going to live a life that wants for anything. I will make sure that you are provided for,” she declared again.
Josephine nodded against her, accepting the consoling comments. Even if Alice didn’t know how she would live up to her promises, she knew that she would find a way.
She would always find a way to take care of Josephine.
The door from the townhouse opened behind them and the two young women turned.
“Lady Addington? Your cousin is arriving. I thought I ought to let you know,” Miss Stafford said, softly.
The housekeeper had been immensely caring in the midst of their tragedy. Alice was always grateful for her, but these days it had been a step above and beyond. A bit of kindness when they needed it the most.
“Thank you, Miss Stafford. We are coming,” she said, releasing Josephine from her grasp.
They stood and followed Miss Stafford inside, where the warmth hit them in the loveliest of ways.
“Right, let us greet him when he reaches the door,” Alice instructed, wanting to continue instilling proper etiquette in her sister.
When they reached the door, Charles was just entering.
“Ah, my cousins,” he greeted, kicking the crusted dirt from his boots.
Alice tried not to cringe. The dirt must have been there for at least two days since the last rain. It would have been nice if he had cleaned them prior to entering the home he was inheriting.
The home that had been theirs all their lives.
“My lord,” the young women greeted in unison, curtseying before the new Earl.
Charles held his head up high in a display of pride that he now had such a tremendous position. Indeed, he had known for some time that he would inherit the title from his uncle, but now that it was his, Alice saw that he wore it well.
“I am glad to come and see you both. Are you well? I know this is a most grievous time for you,” he said.
It was a polite thing to say and it gave Alice some comfort that he might be good to them. In truth, she had not known him all that well and few people had ever spoken of his reputation.
When they had been young, there were times that they played together as children, but as they aged, he had far more important matters as a young man. Since then, Alice knew him only for the work he did with their father.
“Yes,” she sighed. “It has been extremely difficult. We know that there are better days ahead, but our father was a good man. We miss him very much,” she confessed.
“I imagine you do. I always enjoyed working alongside him. To know that he is now gone is extremely disappointing. I can only hope to do his name and title honor by bringing further respect to the position,” he said.
“Thank you for that. I am certain you shall do a tremendous job in his stead,” Alice said.
“Well, as it happens, I do have a few matters to discuss with you. May we sit in the parlor?” he asked, gesturing in that direction.
“Certainly,” Alice nodded, giving way for him to lead.
She looked at Josephine who trailed behind, keeping quiet to allow Alice all of the decisions and speaking. Josephine had been livelier in times past, but these days, Alice was concerned for her. There had been too much tragedy.
When all were seated, Miss Stafford brought the tea and they drank it while continuing polite discussion about the weather and the horses at the country estate. Charles commented on the gardens and Alice responded about the gardenias.
In all, it was the sort of conversation that she knew was leading up to something far more difficult.
“Now, I suppose we must attend to the real business at hand,” he finally said.
“Yes, I think that would be good,” she replied, relieved that her waiting was coming to a close.
“Your father and I had been working on a new business endeavor. I am sure he never mentioned it, but the first shipment has just been sent to us from the West Indies,” he told them, only glancing their way now and then.
Alice had not heard any detail of this, but had known that their father had begun a new investment. It seemed as though everyone was trying to get things from the West Indies these days. If it had been promising for so many others, Alice hoped that it would be for them as well.
“What sort of shipment?” she asked.
“Tobacco. The finest tobacco. The region we are working with is magnificent and you cannot imagine what a fortune this will be, should all go well,” he said, reassuringly.
“What is it that you plan to do with it?” Alice asked.
An amused smile played on her cousins lips and she felt the small hint of condescension.
“Why, sell it, of course,” he replied.
That had not been the answer she was looking for, but realized it was not something to bother him for further detail on. Alice knew that he would be selling it, she simply wondered to whom and where and when.
But those were details for the men to work through and she remained confident that Charles knew what he was doing. He had always been bright, from what she remembered. And if there had ever been any sort of reputation she ought to have known for him, it was that.
“What of the money from the sales?” she pressed, realizing that this was the question she truly needed answered.
“Well, there will certainly be plenty of it. You know that your father had a great many debts,” he said, looking as though he felt bad bringing it to their attention.
“Yes, we know,” she said stoically, not looking at Josephine.
“With the sale of this tobacco, those will all be paid off. There is going to be enough that we can still keep the two of you above scandal, the debt collectors will be paid, and there should be enough to have more shipped. That, of course, will allow us to continue going,” he said.
“Continue going?” she asked, needing clarification.
“In the future. Pay all of the bills that will come next. Your food, your clothing, everything. This endeavor shall keep us all afloat. You needn’t worry about anything else,” he guaranteed.
It was quiet when he stopped talking and Alice suddenly noticed the little sounds around the room. The crackle of the fireplace, the ticking of the clock, the creaks in the floor outside the room where Miss Stafford was busy arranging things.
It was maddening to hear those little things when her thoughts were otherwise busy.
“So…” Josephine began to say. Alice saw her sister second guess her words.
“Yes, Cousin?” Charles asked, prompting her to speak the thoughts.
“I only wondered, you will make sure that some of the money helps us?” she asked.
Charles looked at her in surprise and…hurt? As if he could not believe she would even ask the question.
“That is the most important thing of all. I will not leave the two of you to suffer in poverty,” he promised.
Alice felt her sister release the breath she had been holding in. And then she felt her own escaped.
They were going to be alright. Without their cousin, without the tobacco, without his help, they would stand to lose everything.
The port was near at hand and James was relieved to know that he had finally arrived. Home was near at hand and Adelaide was within his reach.
He could picture her face, the brightness of her smile, the warmth of her eyes. He would see all of it once they reached land.
It took another fifteen minutes or so before James was walking down the wooden plank to the ground of England. He looked in every direction, but could not find Adelaide with his eyes.
“Waiting on your woman?” Glendale asked, placing a gruff hand on James’s shoulder.
“She’s probably just late. It’s hard to say when a ship will arrive. She knew only that it would likely be this morning sometime,” he excused her.
“This morning? It’s evening,” Glendale laughed.
“You’re right. I’m a fool for thinking she would wait here at the docks. I’ll head into town and find her at her home. No sense in waiting here,” James said, feeling ridiculous for having expected her to wait.
Adelaide was hardly the sort of woman who was going to sit in the breeze for a day. No matter how she may have longed for James to finally arrive, she would not put herself in such a position of discomfort.
Again, he considered the fact that a ship was unpredictable and most likely, she hadn’t even expected him to arrive that day.
With all of these thoughts in mind, James hailed a coach and hoisted him bag into it. Giving the driver the address of his own home, James decided to take care of leaving his things there before making his way to Adelaide’s family estate.
“Mother,” James greeted, wrapping his arms around Lady Hastings.
“My boy, you’ve returned to me,” she grinned, patting his cheek with her frail hand.
His mother appeared aged even further than when he had left. Although she had been older than most when she gave birth to him, James was still often surprised that she appeared to be growing old so quickly. His heart nearly broke with the knowledge of her dwindling youth.
“I could not stay away from you, Mother,” he said.
“How are the West Indies?” she asked, leading him to sit across from her in the drawing room.
“A vision. I should like to stay there for all time. The people, the food, all of it makes England appear rather dull,” he chuckled, running a hand through his hair as if tugging at the memories he had made.
“You must feel very fancy now that you are a man of the world, all traveled and experienced,” Lady Hastings commented.
“Hardly. I wish I could say that, but as it is, I am just glad to be with you now,” he said, remembering himself. No matter how he had enjoyed the adventure, he was back with his mother and would soon be back with Adelaide.
“Are you staying long?” his mother asked, as if reading his thoughts.
“I think it best that I make my way to Miss Hatfield’s estate quickly. The poor dear probably doesn’t even realize that I’m here,” he said, feeling the itching beneath his skin to see the woman he loved.
“Well, don’t let me keep you. I shall be here when you return. I’m going to head back to the country with your aunt soon, but wanted to be here when you returned,” his mother said.
“I am glad for it. I’ve missed you,” he said, meaning it with all his heart.
“And I, you,” she replied.
James departed his mother’s home and made for the place he wanted to be more than anything.
It was a short drive to Adelaide’s family estate, but the sun had nearly vanished by the time he arrived. The day had been long and full, but wonderful.
Her home was illumined before him, as if it had been waiting for his arrival all this time.
All but bounding to the main doors, he grasped the knocker and gave two forceful thuds. As he waited for someone to come to the door, his heart stirred within him.
But he had to wait only a moment before Mrs. Hudson pulled back the door and revealed the coziness inside.
“Y-Your Grace,” she greeted in surprise.
“Mrs. Hudson, how lovely to see you,” he smiled.
“We were not aware that you would be coming,” she said. “Would you like to come in? I shall call for my lord.”
“That will suit me very well, Mrs. Hudson,” he said.
The housekeeper led him to the parlor where James sat in the quiet for a short span before he heard voices in the hall. It sounded like an argument of some sort. The voices were hushed, but familiar.
Adelaide and her father.
Once more, James felt all of his happiness swell within him.
The door to the parlor opened and in she came.
Slender and beautiful, a petite frame with large, doe eyes and a pert little mouth. Everything of English elegance was wrapped in this woman.
“Adelaide,” he whispered, using the familiar of her given name.
“James,” she said back, her voice less sure.
For a moment, her eyes darted back behind her, out of the door. James wondered if her father was going to join them for tea.
“Please, sit,” she instructed, entering the room herself.
There was a strange hesitation in her steps, but James was not surprised. It had been nearly two years since he had stood before her and he knew that his appearance was rather rugged from the sea.
He ought to have cleaned up better before coming. If only he’d been patient, he could have had his face shaven clean the next morning rather than sporting the short bristles that emerged from it now.
“Forgive me for coming right away. But I had to see you. I could not wait any longer. My dear, I am finally home. After the journey I have had, it is my pleasure to be home once more and to be in your presence,” he said.
“James, Your Grace, I am delighted to see you as well,” she smiled, politely.
“You needn’t call me by any title. Although I shall always deem you to be my Duchess, that is not for propriety’s sake. But when I had to leave and spend time at the plantation, I could not help thinking of finally marrying you when I returned. That day has come, Adelaide,” James said, his voice catching.
“You have returned. It took a very long time, James,” she said, almost appearing frustrated.
“I know. But we knew that before I left. When my father passed, I had little choice. I am so sorry, my dear. I know that our letters were hardly enough. Not compared to being with one another. But wait until I tell you about all that I have done,” he said.
“What have you done?” she asked, leaning back on the settee and searching his face.
“I have taken my father’s tobacco plantation and turned it into an empire. We are the best, fastest growing, highest quality there is,” he said, excitedly.
James thought back to the day he had said goodbye to Adelaide. It had taken place in this very room. His heart had ached for the loss of his father, for having to leave the woman he loved behind.
I promise I shall return. We will marry as soon as I do, he had promised.
And I shall long for that day. Please, James, don’t stay long. You know that I want to marry you. I would marry you today. I would come with you, she had replied.
The West Indies are no place for a young woman like you. But I shall be home soon. I promise.
She had looked very much the same that day as she did now. Her eyes wide in wonder at him. Her face full of wanting to say something, wanting to tell him to stay.
“What is it?” he asked, knowing that she would demand they marry immediately.
“What is it, Adelaide?” he asked again, a smile playing at his lips.
“I have something I must tell you,” she said, her face taking a sour turn.
Suddenly, James was not so certain he knew what to expect from her. Something was different. Her eyes had gone from wide with surprise to a new and apparent unpleasant thought.
“James, you did not return quickly,” she said.
“It has not even been a full two years. You know how long these things take,” he justified. “Did you expect me to be gone mere weeks?”
“I expected you to make me your priority,” she fired back, those doe eyes suddenly venomous.
“But you are,” he replied, confused. “That is why I went. To build a life for us. We have a title, we have wealth, we have a future. Our children will want for nothing.”
“Our children? And how old am I to be when I have children?” she asked.
“You are nineteen, my dear. I think there is still plenty of time,” he laughed. “We may have them right away upon getting married. I cannot wait to see you as a mother.”
She breathed in sharply through her nostrils and glanced up at him only with her eyes, her face still trailing to the side.
“James, I am not going to marry you,” she said in a flat, monotone voice.
The words pulsed in his ears, but James did not comprehend them. A prickling sensation ran along the lengths of his arms and he felt the hairs stand as if rising to attention.
“What did you say?” he asked, his voice sounding underwater.
“I am not going to marry you. I am engaged to another man. One who did not leave me behind,” she said, a haughty note ringing through the words.
“You…you are engaged? To another man?” he asked, his breath shallow and labored.
“You expected me to wait forever? I think that was very foolish of you. Lord Avenwood was entirely displeased with how you treated me. And he knows what men do when they run off to the Indies,” she said.
At the hint of accusation, James’s jaw clenched tightly.
“And what is that?” he asked in a terse manner.
“He said that the women there are exceedingly beautiful heathens. And I am not surprised that you would stay for two years, abandoning and forgetting me. You ran off to those women,” she said.
“You know that is never true,” he insisted, his voice rising in pitch.
“You can’t expect me to know anything. Uncouth business practices and foreign women. That’s what everyone knows,” she said, although the truth was written all over her face.
Adelaide wanted to believe it. She wanted to think that James would be unfaithful to her. Believing such a lie would give her an excuse to marry another man.
She had accused him of misbehaving in business, but that was not the untruth that wounded him. Although it could destroy his reputation in society among his customers, it did not hurt half so much as calling him unfaithful.
“You really think I would do that? Tell me honestly, is that the sort of man you have seen of me?” he asked, leaning forward and holding her eyes captive.
Adelaide was hesitant and swallowed in the knowledge that she was trapped.
“Men change,” she whispered.
“But I never have. You know it. You are choosing to believe this lie. Perhaps you even made it. But you know, in your heart of hearts, that I would never do what you have accused me of,” he said in a frighteningly calm voice.
She looked away, unable to maintain the lie while they still eyed one another.
“What has Lord Avenwood promised you? What sort of life is going to give you that I could not?” he asked, leaning back and accepting the reality of her betrayal.
“A good home, a position, and freedom from scandal,” she said.
“Scandal,” James scoffed. “You mean the scandal of my unfaithfulness. This thing that you made up is what you expect him to keep you from?”
“Do not accuse me of being a liar,” she said.
“Then do not lie,” he shot back, once more allowing his voice to grow in volume.
James was not proud of himself, but he could not hold back much longer. Adelaide had said everything she thought might justify her actions, but he would never accept her words.
“I have not changed. I am the same man that I always was. But you are quite different, my dear Adelaide. You have allowed yourself to sway with the wind towards a man who knows nothing of me. Or maybe it is quite the opposite. Maybe you wished for a match while I was gone and found someone willing to believe that I had left you,” he said.
“Whatever happened, you are not the woman that I said goodbye to, the woman I promised to marry.”
With that, James stood. Adelaide remained seated, the shame bolting her to the settee.
“I wish you all the best with Lord Avenwood. It is a shame that you shall not be privy to my fortunes and my empire, but I suppose I am glad that I learned your true character now. I wish only that I had not wasted two years of my life longing to return to you,” he said.
With those words, James walked out of the parlor and into the hall where Adelaide’s father stood, frozen in place. His eyes were a mix of fury and apology, as if unsure whether or not James really was the man his daughter claimed him to be.
But there was no reason to convince him and no need for the polite niceties of society.
Instead, James walked past the man and pretended the hallways was barren. After all, there was little point in pretending. Nothing in the world was so bleak now as the heart he had saved for Adelaide.
Nothing was worth wasting his time, hoping that she might take it all back.
Alice looked at the papers spread out before her on the desk of the study. Charles had brought them after a couple of weeks had passed.
They meant nothing to her. Was she supposed to understand these?
“What is it? What are they all about?” she asked.
“Your father’s business. The ship coming from the West Indies,” Charles said, his face serious.
Alice felt her breathing grow difficult. She knew that the news must be bad, but she was still waiting for Charles to tell her exactly what had happened.
“Was the tobacco not good?” she asked.
“There is no tobacco. The ship was lost. We have no idea where it may have gone. There is nothing left,” he said, straightforwardly.
The reality sunk into her bones and Alice felt numb for a moment.
“That cannot be,” she said.
“It is. It happens all the time,” he sighed, leaning back in the leather chair that had once belonged to her father.
“I cannot believe that. If it happens all the time, no one would risk doing business there,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“Ha, really? This business is golden when it goes well. Any man would be a fool not to take such a risk. Your father would have made a fortune, or rather left you one. But these are the risks that come with such a reward,” he said, brushing it off.
“How can you behave like this is nothing?” Alice asked.
Charles smirked, again with that hint of pride that she was not so sure she liked.
“Because it was always a risk. We cannot lose heart because of this,” he said.
“But I have nothing else. Josephine and I have no hope without this,” she said, her pulse quickening with every word she spoke.
“That’s nonsense. We are going to find a solution for you,” Charles said.
“What sort of solution? The last of our inheritance was tied up in that business. We owe my father’s debts. What are we meant to do?” she asked, the words feeling thick on her tongue.
“You needn’t get upset,” he said.
“But we must find a solution,” Alice said, now turning to practicality. She stood and began to pace the length of the study.
“There has to be a way that the ship can be found. Surely the men on board have families. The men will have gone to them,” she said.
“The men are…do you know what it is for a ship to be lost at sea?” Charles asked.
“Yes, of course I know,” she said quickly, waving him away. “But it is tragic. And while I am sorry for them, I also cannot help but be sorry for Josephine and myself. Forgive me if that is callous, but I promised to provide for her.”
“Yes, I understand the difficulty you face. Please, do not think that I don’t recognize that. But you also must remain confident and assured that we are going to find a solution,” Charles said.
“Please, tell me what sort of solution you believe we may find,” Alice begged, continuing to walk from one side of the room to the other and back again.
“I can think of an easy solution,” Charles said, capturing Alice’s attention.
“What is it?” she asked, desperately. Her feet turned in his direction and she stood in place, hope welling in her heart.
“Well, I can see to your comfort. We can clean up your father’s mess,” he said.
“You will provide for us?” she asked, curious what he meant.
“If you marry me. I promise that I will take care of you and Josephine if you just agree to be my wife,” Charles said.
It took a moment for Alice to realize that her jaw had slackened. But when she came to her senses, she snapped it shut again.
“F-forgive me. I am extremely taken aback,” she said, rather boldly.
Alice would not look at Charles, but she sensed his eyes on her. Perhaps she had insulted him, but for the moment, she could not bring herself to care.
The suddenness of his desire to marry her was somewhat overwhelming. Although what she knew of Charles was decent, she had never expected this. She never would have thought that he might have such feelings for her.
And Alice could not deny that it made her uncomfortable to learn that he did.
“Is it really so surprising?” he asked, the edge in his voice alerting her that she had, indeed, offended him.
“I never imagined that you might have feelings for me,” she told him.
“Why shouldn’t I? We are cousins. It would be mutually beneficial. You and your sister would be looked after and I would have a most beautiful and agreeable wife. I can see nothing about this that would be such a shock to you,” Charles stated as if it were the most obvious thing in all the world.
“Yes, we are cousins. But we have had little contact in these recent times. You have worked alongside my father and we have passed one another, but with so little communication,” she pointed out.
“We have needed none. We have shared our glances, said out niceties. Do you mean to tell me that all of it was just to torment me?” Charles accused.
Alice gasped. How could he think that of her? She had never meant to show any interest in Charles. He had been fine enough in helping their father, but marriage had never crossed her mind. To learn that he had thought of it before now was somehow rather disconcerting.
“I never had any intention of tormenting you. What I mean is that I had no knowledge of your feelings towards me. I wish that you had shared them with me before now,” she said, honestly.
“But I have had no occasion. I thought it was clear,” he said.
“It was not,” she replied, having no other words to utter.
“Well, now it has been made clear,” Charles sighed.
“Clear, but I am still confused. Do you really believe that this is the best option that we have? My sister and I are not looking to marry just now. We want to be in control of our own lives, to marry for love-”
“And why should you not love me?” Charles demanded, turning on her with an anger she had never seen before.
Alice stepped back, thinking she could not have any more surprises than she had already face with him.
“I-I don’t. You are asking me to marry you, but do you mean that it is for love?” she asked, trying to discern the thinking of her cousin.
“Of course it is. You have every reason to love me, to look up to me and admire me. I am the Earl of Drakemyre now. I have a title, I have wealth from my own father who was wiser than yours in his investments. I am a bold, strong figure,” he insisted.
Alice was immediately put off by the ways Charles was speaking so highly of himself. Insisting that he was her ideal husband was one thing, but for him to list attributes about himself that should cause her to love him?
It only proved to leave Alice with an unpleasant feeling twisting in her gut. She could not understand why he would be so obtusely arrogant as this.
“I am sorry, but I have no love for you. And when I marry, just as I hope for my sister, it shall be for love. As my mother and father did. We played as children and I have seen you with my father. I am grateful for your willingness to take care of us. But none of that changes my heart,” Alice told him.
“Your heart is wrong,” he growled.
“Then it is wrong. But it is the only thing I have left to guide me and I must follow. I shall find ways on my own to support Josephine and myself. I shall see to it that she is well-matched,” Alice declared.
“And how do you expect to do that? How are you going to overcome all of the misfortunes that have befallen the two of you? You have nothing to your name,” he spat.
“No, but I have my own wits and abilities. I shall seek employment. It may not be so grand as tobacco from the West Indies, but I am certain that I can find something,” Alice said, making up the plan as she went along and believing herself capable in every way.
Charles let out a sharp laugh at her expense.
“Employment? You are going to seek employment? What makes you think anyone is going to employ you?” he asked.
Alice turned her face away, cheeks burning with anger that he would mock her like that after a proposal.
“Truly, it amuses me that you would imagine yourself suited for something like that. More than likely, you will fail and come begging me to marry you and save you from your destitution,” he continued.
“You needn’t say things like that. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” Alice said.
“Yourself, maybe. But you have more than yourself to think about. What of your sister? Do you expect her to just get by on the efforts you make? What if you cannot find placement anywhere? Do you not know how difficult it is? There are many women out there who are far more suited to the task,” Charles said.
Alice could read in his face that his pride was deeply wounded. In return, he sought to wound hers. Charles would not easily give up on his sudden whim of marrying Alice. But he had not taken kindly to the fact that she had refused him.
“I would much rather be in charge of our destinies,” she said, straightening her back and holding her head high.
“Well, isn’t that something? You think that you are in control of anything? You know, when you fail, I am going to be the only chance you have left. Think about that. You may be refusing my kindness now, but you shall come to depend upon it later,” he taunted.
“I never meant to offend you. I mean only to take care of myself and my sister,” Alice said, calmly.
“As do I. It is your stubbornness that is making it unlikely that you shall be able to fulfill whatever promises you have made to Josephine. If you think through it, you shall come to realize that you are deeply mistaken,” he said.
“Please…” Alice breathed, holding up a hand to him and closing her eyes. She tried to steady her heartbeat, but it was racing with anger that he would treat her so rudely.
“You really mean to refuse me?” he demanded.
“I do. It is nothing against you as a man, but I wish to take my chances in the world,” Alice decided.
“Then you are making a mistake. But I suppose it is yours to make. I just hope that Josephine does not pay the price for it,” he said, standing and readying himself to leave.
Alice stayed quiet as Charles walked past her, maintaining his own steady pace. It was clear that he was filled with anger and resentment towards her for the rejection, but he did not wish to show it.
As he stepped through the frame of the door, Charles turned back once and looked at Alice.
“You cannot expect me to wait forever for you to change your mind,” he said. “If you come to your senses, you had best do it quickly.”
Charles turned back and exited without any further ceremony. Alice was left behind, standing uncomfortably. That exchange had not gone how she might have pictured it.
Alice collapsed onto the settee for a moment, glad that Josephine had not been there to see the full conversation. Her sister would likely have been horrified at their cousin’s offer of marriage. It was the very last thing that either of them would have wanted.
Still, Alice was glad that he had the sense to offer her instead of Josephine. If he had made a proposal for Josephine, Alice would never have forgiven him.
But there was still the matter at hand of having to actually secure employment. And for all his rudeness, Charles was right about a few things.
It was not going to be easy by any means. Alice had not had to work for money before and although she had always been a good student and enjoyed keeping her mind busy, she was unsure if she could find a position that suited her.
With no recommendations to her name, how was she supposed to convince anyone to take her seriously and give her a position?
Without any further ideas, Alice realized that she would have to take time to think and pray about it all. Knowing that there was not much time before the debt collectors would call, she deemed it appropriate to make her way to the church and beg the Lord for answers.
“Miss Winston,” she called. “Please have Mr. Peet ready a carriage.”
“Yes, Lady Addington,” Miss Winston replied.
Before long, the carriage had been brought around and Alice was taking her leave from the estate. She was uncertain where her sister might be, but she knew that everything would be fine there for now.
It was only her mind that was ill at ease. It was only when she looked to the future that everything appeared bleak.
But once she reached the church, Alice was convinced she would find clarity. She would find peace. She would find whatever it was that the Lord had in mind for her.
James had made his decision. Firmly.
He would never love again.
It had been two weeks since she had broken his heart. Two weeks since Adelaide had made her shocking revelations and he had learned that everything that he had once hoped for was now out of his grasp.
He would not have his bride.
Sitting in the study, James brooded over his work, determined that he could focus on it and it would make everything better. It had to make everything better.
In the midst of trying to distract himself, James was startled by the sound of an ugly shriek, followed by the screams of a few of the maids.
“Constance!” he shouted, standing and running from the desk and through the hall until he found the source of the commotion.
“Your Grace!” Constance shouted back, closing the distance towards him.
Rather than allowing her time to tell him what happened, James eyed directly past her and see the figure lying on the ground.
“Mum!” he exclaimed, falling to his knees by her side.
“James,” she whimpered.
“What happened?” he asked, cupping her cheek in his hand and laying a hand on her arm.
But he did not give her time to answer, either. His thoughts were in far too great a rush for that.
“Constance, send for the doctor. Mother, please, are you alright?” he asked, trying to focus his thoughts and attention in one place.
“Yes, yes. I am fine. You needn’t worry. I was just walking through the hall towards your study and I took a tumble,” she said.
“Where do you hurt?” he asked.
“My hip,” she winced, placing a hand to her left side.
“Allow me to help you up,” James insisted.
With the assistance of two of the maids, he began to lift his mother, but she cried out in pain all over again.
“Let me sit,” she urged, allowing them to guide her to a sturdy chair nearby.
“Oh, Mother, I am so sorry,” James said, his words panicked.
“You did nothing. It’s not your fault. It could have happened to anyone,” she said.
But James knew that was not true and he knew that his mother was just trying to make him feel better. In truth, his mother was weak in body and he should have taken better care to prevent things like this from occurring.
“Mum, you’re going to be alright,” he said, again and again, with great affection.
His mother tried to console him in response, telling him that she was fine, but once the doctor arrived, they saw the extent of her injury. Suddenly, they could not deny it.
“Her hip is broken. And it appears that a rib has been cracked as well. A nasty fall, by all accounts,” Doctor Ambers revealed, a slight wince in his own face.
The Doctor had been a good friend of the family and it hurt him to see Lady Hastings in this state. Particularly without a husband to be with her.
“Oh, Mother,” James said, shaking his head in dismay.
“I shall be fine, James,” she said, trying to remain strong.
James had seen his mother try to be strong through incredibly difficult circumstances. But this was not one of those. This was a time when she would not be able to maintain her strength, for it had already failed her.
“I recommend that you remain in a wheelchair, Lady Hastings. Otherwise, you shall be confined to your bed or the sitting room with no option of moving,” the Doctor said, a comforting smile on his face.
“Well, we cannot have a lack of movement,” she said, grinning back.
“Certainly. So, I must insist on the chair,” he said.
Doctor Ambers had given his mother something for the pain, but James saw how it drained her to maintain any sort of cheer. Nevertheless, she pushed through, pretending the pain was not so bad when he saw that it was far worse than anything she had ever experienced.
“How long do you expect her to remain in the chair?” James asked.
Doctor Ambers looked at him with hesitation and then placed a hand on James’s arm to lead him away from his mother.
“Your Grace, in situations with broken bones, it often takes many months for recovery. But in your mother’s case, I cannot guarantee that she shall ever make it out of the chair,” he whispered, concern peppering his voice.
“Is it so bad as that?” James asked, his eyes feeling the pressure building behind them. He had not thought his mother’s condition to be this bad. Frail and aged, yes. But an invalid?
“I fear it is. Take good care of her and insist that she remain in the chair at all times. If she tries, for even a moment, to be strong and get up, she may do greater damage and cause things to become far worse,” he said.
“I understand. I shall ensure that she remains in the chair and does not try to push herself beyond that,” he promised.
“Very well, then. I shall come back in a couple of days to check on her and see how she is progressing. Should you need anything in the meantime, please inform me,” Doctor Ambers said.
James said his farewell to the Doctor and returned to his mother’s side. She was resting now, thanks to the medication that she had been given. It relieved him to see this as his mother frequently pushed herself to the point of exhaustion.
Making his way to the library where he could relax with a good book, James thought about his plans.
He had intended to return to the West Indies as soon as possible, had even sent a letter just this afternoon regarding his work there. It was a less painful option than remaining in England where the woman that he loved was marrying another.
But this event might have changed everything and he had to decide what he now must do.
Could he really leave his mother in this devastating time? There was no chance of that. He would feel terrible, but more than that, he was far too worried for her.
Although she could stay with her sister, James knew that it was not ideal. This had been her home. This estate was where her heart remained and it was only after the loss of his father that she had spent time with his aunt.
Loneliness had driven her there, but if he stayed behind for a while, she might not have to face that. She could stay at the estate with James and they would both be content.
Well, perhaps not overly content. Not with all of the rumors that were being spread about him.
Then again, that might have been another good reason to remain in the country. Staying in his county seat would mean that he could stand up for himself and show that he was not running rampant in immoral liaisons.
James plopped himself into a chair in the library. He grabbed a book that he had not read yet, but had wished was with him while he had been away all that time.
Opening to the first page, he made every effort to train his eyes on the text that was there before him. Yet, somehow, none of the words made any sense at all.
James thought further about his options.
Yes, it would be good to remain in England for now. But if he planned to do so, he would have to keep busy. He would have to prove himself a serious man of his work and, thus, remove all trace of rumor simply by showing his true character.
But if he stayed so busy as that, he would hardly be the company that his mother clearly needed. Would it entirely defeat the purpose of his plans to remain behind? Would he do her any good at all?
James considered what his other options might be and came to the conclusion that there was only one thing for it.
He would have to stay, but he should also hire his mother a companion. Someone who might spend time with her and help to keep her company when he was out or busy with other things. She would need a friend to remain at the estate with her so that she did not get bored or be anxious on her own.
It could work. He thought it might be an idea to revisit once he had recovered from the initial shock of his mother’s injury.
For now, he tried once more to focus on the book.
There was nothing for it. The book meant nothing to him just now, not with his mind so ill at ease.
“Constance,” he called, as he was so frequent to do.
The housekeeper came swiftly to the library and entered just as James was standing to put the book back on the shelf.
“Your Grace?” she greeted.
“Would you mind calling for the driver?” he asked.
“Certainly, Your Grace,” she replied, taking her leave.
It was not long before James arrived at the church. A place where he could find peace, a place where he could pray about all of the things that were troubling him.
James arrived at the small building. It had been two years since he had lived in England, but even then he was often at his townhouse.
This church had been one he had not visited as frequently as he might have liked. But now that he was here, it was an ideal place to sit and pray.
Inside, it was dim and small, but clean. The Reverend was not present, but he did see the figure of a woman a few rows up, praying as well.
James looked at the otherwise empty space. For some reason, he felt drawn to sit near another person. Certainly not too close, but close enough that he might not feel so alone.
Finding his way to the pew behind her, James took his seat, just a little bit off to the left.
It was then that he noticed, despite the woman having her head covered in a neat, straw hat, that she was crying.
For a moment, he opened his mouth to speak a word of comfort, but then thought again. He might startle her. Furthermore, she may not want his company or his comfort. She had come to the church to be alone, after all.
James closed his eyes and hung his head in his hands, trying to focus on his own prayer. He, too, had come to the church to be alone. Only God was to be his comfort just now and he did not mind that.
However, the sounds of the woman’s weeping were a poor distraction for him. One that moved his heart to try and offer some sort of comfort.
Pulling the handkerchief from his breast pocket, James stretched it out to the lady.
“Here, I believe you need this more than I,” he said, his words sounding loud against the quiet of the church.
The woman froze at the sound of his voice, but turned only enough to nod in appreciation and take the little piece of fabric from him.
“Thank you. You are most kind,” she said.
“It is nothing. I would not be a gentleman if I left you to your sadness and offered nothing,” he laughed lightly.
It elicited a small chuckle of appreciation from her as well, but then the laugh turned to a choke of emotion.
“Forgive me, I must seem like quite a fool just now,” she said, regret filling her tone.
“Not in the least. I think any man or woman who comes to the church to handle their difficulties is nothing but wise,” James said.
“Yes, I suppose that is true. Am I correct in thinking that means you are wise as well?” she asked.
James let out a full laugh, not caring about the quiet of the church.
“I can hardly think myself wise. I may try, but I assure you that I have done a great deal of late to prove otherwise,” he confessed.
“Then that is another similarity that we share,” she replied, all amusement gone from her voice.
James studied the back of her head. The hat covered all but a little of the pitch dark hair that must have covered her head. He saw only a fraction of her neck and cheek, but she continued to face forward.
From what little he saw, and from the musicality of her voice, he thought that she must be quite young, but he knew that he could easily be mistaken on that. Women were difficult to discern unless their faces were in full view.
“I can assure you that you have not lacked wisdom nearly so bad as I have,” he said, offering her a bit of condolence by shaming himself.
“Oh? I think I could prove otherwise,” she chuckled in reply.
“Imagine. Going away for work only to return and find that the woman I intended to marry has found another. Then, just as I intended to leave again for my business, my mother is terribly injured. I was a fool to believe that my intended would wait for me and even more foolish to think I could leave my mother behind again,” James said, hoping that she took comfort in his pain.
“That is a very sad tale,” the woman said, managing to be both sensitive and also matter of fact. “But I fear that I am able to outdo you.”
“Enlighten me,” he offered.
“Imagine the death of your father meaning that you lose everything. Imagine he made many mistakes. And your only way out is to marry someone you could never love. You refuse, but in doing so you potentially destroy the future for yourself and your sister. I think that would be a foolish thing, indeed,” the woman told him.
James considered it for a moment. It was something that he would never have to worry about. He had inherited his father’s title and position. Nothing would ever be taken from him.
But for this poor woman, that was quite the opposite.
“That is a tragedy,” he said.
“Yes, it is foolishness,” she replied.
They were quiet for a moment and James realized that, already, his mood was lighter. Strange, as he had come to pray and be alone, but God had provided someone who might share his burden for a moment.
“Anyway,” she said. “I ought not to remain too much longer, but I have more prayers to pray.”
“Then I shall not keep you,” he said. “I have an appointment in town soon, but I am glad to have spoken with you and to be able to have a brief time in prayer as well.”
“Here,” she said, handing the handkerchief over her shoulder.
“No, please. Keep it. You need it just now,” James said.
“Thank you. For your handkerchief and your kindness,” the woman said.
“Certainly. And I do wish you well with your situation,” he said.
“I wish you the same,” she replied.
James left her to herself and prayed for a few moments, asking God to settle his spirit. He prayed that his mother might recover quickly and be back to her old self. With every word he uttered, he felt his spirit lift.
But soon, James left the church, stopping once to glance at the strange woman he had spoken with.
He did not wish to interrupt her again, but he was glad that she had lightened his mood in their brief chat. Each of them in a terrible state of emotion, but each of them able to perceive it for what it was and speak easily of the circumstances that seemed to crush them.
James turned and left the church, hoping that the rest of the day would be a little bit brighter.
The day was drawing near that the debts would be called in. There was little time left for waiting.
Alice took in a deep breath, leaning back against the settee. Josephine had gone out for a walk with one of the maids, but Alice had not been feeling up to it. More than anything, she just wished for a rest.
Closing her eyes, Alice tried to picture the future. Herself as a governess or a housekeeper or some such. Josephine trying to find a husband but having a reputation as the daughter of a debtor.
Was there any real hope for either of them?
Alice stood as Charles entered the room. She had known he would come by again soon, but when she had seen his carriage coming towards the townhouse, it had grieved her.
“Cousin,” she greeted, curtseying.
He bowed in reply and made his way, comfortably, to one of the other chairs in the room.
“I wished to speak with you about the upcoming matters,” he said.
“Certainly. Would you like some tea? Have you eaten?” she offered, attempting to be a good hostess despite the tension that lingered between them.
“I have eaten and I do not need tea,” he said in a sharp way.
Alice could tell that he as still offended by her refusal and she felt that it was not going to lighten anytime soon.
Charles had pride and she had wounded it. She felt like a fool for not having expected this. Nevertheless, she had been unprepared and it was not until she had time in the church to speak with God and the other man that she found a bit of peace about it all.
“Alright, then. What shall we discuss?” she asked.
“The debts are going to be called in soon enough. I have looked over your father’s estate and all of his resources. I am afraid that you are going to lose nearly everything. Perhaps we shall be able to keep this home, but certainly nothing more,” Charles told her.
It had been the very thing that Alice had feared. If they were able to keep the townhouse, that was more than she had hoped for, but it still left them without much of anything.
And if Charles was the new Earl of Drakemyre, did that not mean that the townhouse would belong to him now? That he could decide whether or not they were allowed to live there?
“Alright. So we have nothing else?” she asked, maintaining her composure.
“No. Nothing. That is, you have nothing but my offer. It still stands, should you choose to accept it. You know that I will not turn you away,” he said.
Alice looked away and smoothed her dress, a nervous habit that distracted her from the difficulty of the situation.
“I am afraid that my answer must remain the same as it was before. I cannot marry you,” she told him.
“Truly? You have not changed your mind?” he asked, the wounded pride appearing more as a gentle hurt.
His demeanor had changed on the matter and that helped Alice to feel somewhat more comfortable in his presence.
“I fear that I have not. I should like to be friends and cousins, but I cannot marry you. I would still like to seek work,” Alice told him, prepared for any backlash or mocking that he may unleash upon her as he had the previous time.
“Then I understand that you have made up your mind. I shall not continue to press the matter,” Charles said.
His words acted as a balm to soothe Alice’s anxious soul. Charles was composed and understanding, entirely different from how he had behaved previously. She wondered if, perhaps, all he needed was time.
Now that he had been able to think through everything, he understood that they would not have made a very good match anyway. Sad though it was that he should be rejected and Alice should be left without so much assistance from him, it was better for them both.
“Thank you for being so understanding,” Alice said. “have been looking at advertisements for positions. Most likely, I should like to work as a governess. But if I end up finding a position as a housekeeper, I would accept that as well.”
There was a glimmer of something in Charles’s eye that Alice could not quite place. She imagined that it must have been compassion or empathy, but the hint of a smile he gave did not quite fit either of those emotions.
“You should like that sort of work?” Charles asked.
“I think being a governess would be a dignified enough duty. I know that there is not the level of respect for the position that there ought to be, but Josephine and I were always rather fond of our governess, Miss Poppelwell,” Alice said.
“Ah, yes. Miss Poppelwell. I do remember her, actually. At times when I would come and see your father. Do you know, she chased me off from you more times than you are apparently aware of?” Charles asked.
Alice looked at him with wide eyes.
“Truly? She did?” she asked.
“Yes. Not that it matters, anyway. You have no love for me and she had nothing to be afraid of,” he said, cutting the bitterness from his voice and speaking as soothingly as he was likely able.
Alice was quiet for a moment, knowing that His remark still rank of his upset, even if he was handling things far better this day.
“I am very sorry for having hurt you,” she said.
“Think nothing of it, for I have all but forgotten. It is what it is and we must move on,” Charles said.
Alice nodded, thankful that he wished to move on from it as well.
“I fear that I was rude. I meant not to disrespect you. I was rather taken aback and I think that my demeanor was not what it ought to have been,” she confessed.
“Forget it,” he said, sounding as though he truly wished for her to move on and leave the conversation behind.
Alice agreed that it was best they not talk about it any further, but rather move on to discuss the rest of their plans.
“Well, then. That is what I intend to do. I know that it shall not provide a home for Josephine at the moment, so I am still trying to decide exactly what I must do for her,” Alice said.
“I have had a thought in that regard as well,” Charles said. “And this is one that I think you shall approve of.”
“Please, do tell,” Alice urged, thankful that he had thought about it at all.
“Well, my mother could use some company in the city. It would be an ideal time as it is during the season and it means that Josephine will be seen by many. She can be a part of polite society and still have a roof over her head,” he suggested.
Alice was delighted by the idea. If their aunt would take Josephine in, they really would have an ideal option for the two of them to continue living their lives without having to worry about a home. Charles seemed more than happy to arrange it all which gave Alice an even greater semblance of peace.
“I should be ever so delighted if you are able to arrange that,” she said.
“Then consider it completed. I shall speak with my mother as soon as possible and make sure that she has a place for Josephine. I know that she will. I’ve mentioned to her that you might need something temporary. But now that you have agreed to one of my suggestions, I think that I can make it all work out,” Charles said.
Alice felt bad about his comment. He was still hurt that she had not agreed to another of his suggestions, the one about them marrying. But she stood firm in the knowledge that she had made the right decision.
His little remarks at times certainly proved to make her feel terribly guilty, but she knew that she had not handled things very well and that her poor cousin had been hurt by her actions and her words.
Perhaps she was working to make it right, but she could not blame him if there were still little cuts now and then.
“I am ever so grateful to you for arranging this. It is an ideal option for Josephine and for me. She is going to enjoy spending time with our aunt, I’ve no doubt about it,” Alice said.
“Yes, my mother is quite lovely and she shall make every effort to get Josephine taken care of in society. She shall wander about with the very best, the most beautiful, the wealthiest,” he said.
Alice considered that and, for a moment, disliked the thought. She wanted Josephine to be comfortable living a simple life as well. But still, if it improved her prospects in finding a match, could it really be all that bad?
“Well, thank you again,” Alice said.
“It is nothing but my duty,” Charles replied.
Alice thought about duty and what hers was now. As she took care of Josephine, she had a great many things that she needed to ensure were put into place.
But in the midst of all of that, she thought about the duty that she would have one day to marry as well. If it ever came to it, she would have to choose for love rather than the provisions being offered by their cousin.
And certainly, she would never be the sort of woman to promise herself to one man and then choose another. Not like the woman spoken of by the man in the church.
It had been such a strange interaction, one so unexpected. Still reeling from it, Alice thought about how hurt the man must have been when he learned that his intended had moved on.
She would not put herself or Charles in the position of having to face such a thing. And if she were to find a match soon, she would want it to be a man like the one in the church who had been so kind, offering his handkerchief so freely.
She felt the wad of it in her bodice where she had tucked it upon departing from the church. It needed to be washed and cleaned from all of her tears.
But Alice had been dealing with far more pressing matters and simply hadn’t given it to the housekeeper yet.
“Anyway, I suppose I ought to depart,” Charles said, cutting through the silence that had settled between them.
“Oh, yes. Well, thank you for speaking with me,” she said.
“Think nothing of it. And I shall keep my ears open for any positions. I think I have just the sort of resources for finding you a position out of the city. You know, now that I am a man with a title I interact with many great men of England. Some of them have daughters and I imagine they are going to be in search of a governess,” Charles said.
“You think? Oh, that would be ever so lovely,” Alice said.
“Then I shall make every effort to find you a position amongst them. Give me some time, but I will do what I can to make it work. And if you are working out of the city and Josephine is still here, I think everything will be alright. My mother will take good care of her,” he said.
Alice agreed, but that did not make it any easier in her mind that leaving Josephine behind was a good idea. No, it would be entirely too difficult. But she had to think about what was best.
At first, Alice had thought about renting a small cottage for Josephine while she worked, but she would still have time in which she had no money to pay for it and it would be difficult to do much of anything to help her sister.
This suggestion form Charles would provide the ideal solution to their problem. Josephine would be looked after while Alice worked and saved some money.
Then, the two could be reunited very quickly and everything would come back together. They would share a home again. It had to work out.
Charles stood and made for the door of the parlor and Alice saw him out.
“Thank you again. And also…I am very sorry for my rudeness previously,” Alice said, feeling the need to apologize one last time.
“I told you to think nothing of it,” he said in a flat voice. “I will do whatever I can for you and your sister. That is my duty and it shall be done.”
“Then you are truly a good man,” Alice said.
“You must remember that. In case you ever change your mind. Remember that I am a good man,” Charles said.
Alice was speechless as Charles turned and left the house for his carriage. It appeared as though he still expected her to consider his proposal even though he had offered her other option and agreed to help with the ones she had decided on.
It would not grow any easier being around him if he continued to hope that they might one day share a home and family. But Alice had made up her mind and she knew that Charles would come to respect it in time.
But for now, Alice went back inside and sat on the settee all over again. Josephine would be back soon.
Alice suddenly remembered the little bulge in her bodice again. She fished out the small piece of fabric and told herself to make sure she got it washed soon.
Looking at it closely for the first time, she saw a small insignia on the handkerchief. Strange that she had not noticed it before.
More than ever, she realized that it had been kind of the man to give it to her. If it had some symbol of his, then he must have been quite intentional about having it.
Yes, he had been a generous man. And despite all of her senses, Alice could not seem to forget that.