Twenty-two years old, red-headed, and whip-smart, Abigail Young drew herself off horseback and swept to the ground, gripping the reins of her beautiful glossy black beauty, whom she’d named Rain. On the other side of the horse, she heard her dear cousin and best friend Tabitha’s cry of alarm.
“Goodness me!” she hollered.
“What is it this time?” Abigail demanded.
“Nothing. Well,” Tabitha staggered for a moment, considering her words. “It’s only that I’ve stepped directly into a mighty pool of mud.”
Abigail giggled and rushed around the side of her horse to find Tabitha ankle-deep in mud, gripping the reins of her horse sheepishly. “You must be joking, Tabitha,” Abigail tried.
“Why on earth would I joke about something like this?” Tabitha demanded. “It might surprise you, but it truly doesn’t please me to play any sort of fool.”
“Oh, but darling Tabby, you’re ever so good at it,” Abigail said with a wide grin. “Come now. Hand me the reins.” She collected Tabitha’s horse and led both beasts to the stables, where she bellowed a wild greeting to the stable hand, Martin, who’d worked at her parents’ estates for the previous fifteen years, since she’d been a girl.
“Did you have a fine ride, Miss Abigail?” he asked, taking the reins.
“Indeed. We avoided disaster until the very final part,” Abigail affirmed. “Tabitha’s decided to make herself useful to the mud.”
“Oh, dear me,” Martin said, chortling. “She always does get herself into such situations, doesn’t she?”
“I can hear you, Martin,” Tabitha cried.
“I’d better run,” Abigail whispered conspiratorially, before rushing back into the ruins to collect Tabitha. It was late May, and the clouds had brewed over the glowering, massive estate. As she dragged Tabitha out from the muck, droplets of rain splattered across their cheeks.
“Abigail, I know I’ve said this before,” Tabitha said. She sped up to stay with Abigail, whose longer legs stretched out beautifully beneath her skirts. “But we aren’t children anymore. I can’t very well arrive back at my parents’ estate with mucky dresses. It isn’t becoming. And suppose Reginald were to stop past? He might end our engagement on the spot.”
Abigail stopped short and flashed her eyes towards Tabitha, who staggered to a halt, as well.
“I asked you not to bring him up today,” Abigail blurted.
“I know. I just …”
“It’s my birthday, Tabitha,” Abigail shot back.
Tabitha grimaced. “Your birthday was several days ago. Some of us have to move on.”
“I just don’t want to be reminded that you’ll soon be a wife and mother,” Abigail returned. “I’m twenty-two years old, but I feel much more like fifteen, sixteen. You’ve given up on our pact to be youthful forever.”
“We made that pact when we were youthful,” Tabitha returned.
“Yes. Because we liked it so much,” Abigail spat. She crossed her arms tightly over her chest and glowered. “You know, you’ll lose all your independence when you marry him. Reginald.” She said his name as though it was an insult.
“As though I have a great deal of independence now?” Tabitha said. “All I’ve done today is follow you on horseback across the countryside.”
“You could lead once in a while,” Abigail shot back.
“You know I get apprehensive that you’ll fall off your horse and I won’t realize it, and I …”
“It’s all right, Tabby. Come on. You’re shivering,” Abigail said. She grabbed Tabitha’s elbow and dragged her back towards the garden entrance of the estate, where they could easily slip off their wet and mucky gowns and tap up the back staircase, towards Abigail’s bedroom.
Abigail’s bedroom was glossy, refined, with a four-poster bed in the corner, a porcelain washbasin covered with painted flowers, and a stunning old portrait of her once-gorgeous mother on the wall. Her mother was, of course, still rather beautiful—but liked to point to this painting as a means to illustrate just how quickly time passed. Often, this conversation was linked with one regarding Abigail’s seeming inability to court anyone. “Your looks will fade, my darling. It’s best that you find a man now before it’s too late,” Lady Young had said.
Tabitha sat on the floor, studying her newly-scrubbed, pale feet. She wore only her underthings, and Abigail was reminded of long-ago days when they’d frequently slept over at one another’s estates and whispered secrets to one another through the night.
“Tell me, Tabitha. What on earth do you like about dear Reginald, in any case?” Abigail asked.
Tabitha rolled her eyes. “You’ve asked me this question nearly every day since the engagement began,” she said. “And you know I always say the same thing.”
“Say it again,” Abigail insisted. She bounced on the edge of her bed, drawing her pillow across her chest and squeezing it tight.
Tabitha heaved another sigh. “I told you. I think he’s a confident, proud, and regal sort of man, the kind of man it would be difficult to top, should I continue on the often admittedly horrible adventure of courting through the season.”
“You make it sound as if all this life was meant for was pursuing a mate,” Abigail said.
“My parents have willed it. As have yours,” Tabitha said, arching her brow. “Your two elder sisters already have young children of their own. They must look to you with such expectation.”
Abigail snapped her fingers. “My mother has taken you to the side in attempts to knock some sense into me again, hasn’t she? My goodness, she’s stooped low.”
“She’s only worried about you,” Tabitha insisted.
“Please. Don’t give her any sort of support,” Abigail returned. “Whose side are you on, in any case?”
“You know I’m on your side,” Tabitha murmured. “It’s only that I can’t envision this going on so much longer. There have been countless men who’ve been interested in you. Last year, don’t you remember how remarkable it was? That trader from London, who’d lived in the West Indies for a time and pledged to take you wherever you wanted to go. He was incredibly handsome. You treated him as though he was scum between your toes. I’ve never witnessed anything like it.”
“He was altogether too arrogant for my liking,” Abigail returned. “Don’t you remember? He seemed sure that I would swoon over him.”
“All the other women swooned over him,” Tabitha said.
“Including you, a tiny bit,” Abigail teased.
“Perhaps a bit,” Tabitha offered, her cheeks brightening.
“But he’s no Reginald. He’s not your beloved,” Abigail said.
“You’ve really got to give him a chance,” Tabitha insisted.
“But there were other men as well,” Tabitha continued. “Men who really could have made you happy if you’d allowed them the chance.”
“Yes. Let’s continue down memory lane,” Abigail remarked, bouncing a bit on the edge of her bed. “Remember that man who looked almost like my twin? What was his name?”
“Christopher,” Tabitha said. “You wanted nothing at all to do with him.”
Abigail scrunched her nose. “Can you imagine our children? Redheads, all of them.”
“For some, that’s quite a thing to wish for,” Tabitha returned. “I would adore red-headed children.”
“Perhaps you and I should make a baby, then,” Abigail teased.
Tabitha buzzed her lips in exasperation. “You’re exhausting. I don’t know what your parents will do with you in the end.”
“Neither do I!” Abigail said. “And it’s such an exciting ride, wondering what will come next.”
Abigail fetched two gowns for them, as Tabitha planned to stay for dinner with Abigail’s mother and father. Together, they hovered over the washbasin, ensuring their curls were set in-place after their monstrous horseback ride across the moors.
They took the grand staircase from the upper quarters, down into the glossy, marble foyer below. Abigail’s curls bounced down her back; she felt light, free, energetic—just a few days past her twenty-second birthday, and ready for another luxurious summer. Of course, it was regrettable that Tabitha had decided upon an engagement—but Tabitha had never had the gumption Abigail had. Abigail’s vision for her life had nothing at all to do with courting or matrimony. She had only to continue her stubborn streak; she felt sure she could carve out her place in the world without a man beside her.
“Good evening, Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Peter,” Tabitha said.
Already, Lady Evelyn Young and Lord Peter Young sat at either end of the overly long dining table, their hands folded in their laps. They gave Tabitha and Abigail expectant looks. After a strained silence, Evelyn said, “Good evening, girls. We imagined you’d be much later than even this.”
“What a lovely way to greet us,” Abigail said. She slipped into a chair in the centre of the table, as Tabitha flopped into the one opposite. The girls gave one another annoyed glances, then forced themselves to grin.
“Where on earth were you this afternoon?” Evelyn demanded, lifting her wine glass and furrowing her brow. “I imagined the two of you could sit with me and work on your stitching. It was such fun last time we did that together.”
“Yes. Really, such fun,” Abigail returned, allowing a sarcastic edge to lift into her syllables just a bit.
Luckily, her mother didn’t notice.
“How have you been, Tabitha?” Peter asked. “It’s such an exciting thing, your engagement to Reginald Thompson. Evelyn and I spoke of it this afternoon, didn’t we? You planned a wedding for early August?”
“That’s our aim,” Tabitha said.
Abigail coughed once, loud enough to force Tabitha’s eyes towards her. Immediately, she stuck out her tongue, ever-so-slightly, an indication that Reginald-talk was lacklustre.
“How was it the two of you came to meet?” Lord Young asked.
Tabitha stuttered for a moment. “My father encountered him through business dealings and … and I believe the two of them, well …”
Abigail hadn’t known this portion of the tale. Her eyes snapped up, ogling Tabitha. “Your parents arranged your marriage?”
Tabitha’s cheeks were tomato-red. Under her breath, she muttered, “It’s not as though I wouldn’t have courted him, given the chance …”
“But you weren’t given any sort of chance,” Abigail blurted. “You were forced into this engagement, without any sort of regard for your feelings. Do you have any idea how strange that is? It’s the rest of your life, Tabitha. It’s …”
“That’s enough, Abigail,” Lady Young said. She placed the flat of her palm against her forehead and rubbed it slowly. “Let’s all just eat in silence for a few moments, shall we?”
Tabitha shot Abigail a strange look. Abigail groaned inwardly. It was a common thing, especially over the past few years, for her parents to grow outraged with her at the dinner table. More than once, they’d threatened to dismiss her—something she usually challenged with words like, “Please, do. I can hardly take it.”
To put it frankly, neither Peter Young nor Evelyn Young knew quite what to do with their youngest daughter.
Very quickly, Tabitha—ever the people-pleaser—suggested a fresh topic of conversation. News from London, how vibrant the rose bushes looked, even the concept of rain, were tossed about the dinner table, while Abigail moved around various food items on her plate.
After dessert, Tabitha excused herself, declaring that it was time to return to her estate. Her father was Abigail’s father’s older brother, yet Tabitha was the oldest in her family, with a younger brother, aged twenty named Timothy. Throughout their lives, Abigail had almost continually informed Timothy of just how lucky he had it: he was allowed to live out his existence as a man, making decisions as he went without regarding anyone else’s opinion of him. “You’re free,” she’d whispered to him, even in their early teenage years. “Make use of it.”
At the door, Tabitha wrapped her arms around Abigail and whispered, “Don’t make such a fuss about Reginald. Nothing is going to change between the two of us. Don’t worry yourself.”
Abigail’s nostrils flared. “That has nothing to do with why I’m upset.”
“Whatever you say,” Tabitha returned before disappearing with the stable hand, assigned to take her home in a carriage.
Abigail pondered Tabitha’s last words in the foyer, her hand still splayed across the door. Was there any reality in what she’d spoken? Was it true that Abigail’s anger over Tabitha’s engagement extended no further than her annoyance that she might lose Tabitha’s dear friendship for good? Certainly, it all wasn’t so simple.
Far behind her, down the hall, she heard the soft murmurings of her parents’ voices. Although she loved them dearly, she hardly had the words to relate to them. Within seconds, she’d crafted a plan to dart to her bedroom and avoid continued correspondence. However, the moment her foot crept atop the first stair, her father’s voice boomed down the hall.
“Darling Abigail. Would you mind coming to the parlour for a moment?”
Abigail froze. Her mind raced over several different options, ways to draw herself out of whatever cage had presented itself.
“It will only take a moment, darling!” her mother echoed.
Her younger self—a young woman on the brink of courting—had had far more responsibilities, and thus, would have been able to spout something now like, “I have a bit of French to study,” or, “I’ve only a few inches left on the painting.” At twenty-two, however, she had very little to prove to anyone and had generally planned little more than laying on her back and digging into her book.
“Just a moment, Abigail. We promise you that,” her father said.
After a gruff sigh, Abigail forced herself down the hall and appeared in the doorway to the parlour. Eerily, her mother and father sat atop the same light green sofa, their hands folded in their laps. They looked as though they were connected at the hip.
Abigail lent them an ominous smile. “What’s this about?”
“Why don’t you sit down for a moment, darling?” her mother said. Her voice was syrupy sweet and bright, similar to the way it was when she spoke to her niece, Abigail’s eldest sister’s daughter, who was three.
“Perhaps I should remain standing,” Abigail returned.
Her mother forced a wider smile. “Always so difficult. I can’t imagine how we had such a difficult child.” She tittered, as though it was all a big joke—and not something that, Abigail knew, kept her awake at night.
Finally, after a strange moment of silence, Abigail bumbled forward and perched at the edge of the light pink chair across from them. She folded her hands as they had, mocking them, and said, “What’s all this about, then? I’ve a book to return myself to.”
Her parents studied her for what seemed to be a long time. Finally, her father cleared his throat and uttered, “Having three daughters was quite a curse.”
Abigail raised her eyebrows. “I must say, I didn’t envision such words from my father.”
“What your father means is, it’s been a trial, ensuring all of you are married off to proper men,” her mother said hurriedly. “Your sisters, they took to courting easily—even yearned for it before they were allowed to go. You’ve always had an independent streak that neither of us could comprehend.”
“I assumed you loved this about me,” Abigail returned.
“Of course we do, darling,” her mother continued. Perhaps to beat the point down harder, she dotted a handkerchief next to her eye, pretending she was crying.
Abigail saw no tears.
“After our discussion with Tabitha today, we’ve decided that it’s essential you move on to the next stage of your life—sooner, rather than later,” her father said. “We cannot wait around for you to secure a husband for yourself. It’s clear that you haven’t given it much thought whatsoever.”
“You seem content never to have a husband!” her mother blared.
Abigail felt as though she’d been stabbed through the heart. Her eyes widened at this horrendous prospect. Certainly, the likes of Tabitha would lay down at such a concept, allow the world to roll over her, suit her up with a husband and force her to live out the rest of her days as a second-rate creature—someone’s wife. But Abigail was no such woman.
“You can’t be serious about this,” Abigail returned. She kept her words flat, unwavering, and her eyes focused. “You know that something like an arranged marriage goes against everything I believe in.”
Again, her mother and father cast one another strange glances. It seemed as though they could trade several conversations with just a flicker of their eyes.
“We know that, darling. But there comes a time in every woman’s life for her to grow up,” her mother continued. “I had that time. My mother did before me. And of course, your sisters have created beautiful families for themselves already, absolutely thrilling your father and me with their gorgeous children.”
“I’m not Esther, nor am I Georgina,” Abigail blared. “They’ve given you children, yes. Then why must I? You have the perfect grandchildren, the perfect daughters. Won’t you allow me to be your little imperfect one? Won’t you allow me the benefit of plotting out the course of my own life?”
Her mother gave her a look of immense regret. Her father, on the other hand, seemed more than willing to snip the conversation to a halt.
“You must have someone in mind already, then,” Abigail said. She now struggled to keep control over her voice.
“We’ll let you know as soon as we do, darling,” her mother recited.
“And you’ll be grateful for whoever he is,” her father insisted, annoyance making his voice boom. “I look forward to you growing up, Abigail. After twenty-two years, it will be a remarkable thing to witness. I thought it not possible.”
Abigail stormed out of the parlour, stomped up the staircase, and smashed the door to her room closed. She heaved as she leaned against the closed door, gazing out across the moors. A glossy sunset smeared itself into pinks and purples over the moor hilltops. The colour was enough to break her heart. She’d seen countless sunsets over the years, many from that very bedroom—and yet this one ached with the enormity of losing the life she loved.
Slowly, Abigail removed her dinner garments and sat at the edge of her bed in her bedclothes, staring at the floor. Throughout her life, she’d never understood the formation of marriage. It had seemed strange to her that any man was meant to swoop into her perfectly constructed mind and demand differences within herself. She’d heard from her sisters that their husbands frequently told them what to wear, where to shop, what to buy, how to raise their children—even what to read to them. Men, it seemed to Abigail, wanted unique and all-powerful control. And she detested it.
It was wretched to blame Tabitha for her newfound situation, but Abigail couldn’t help it at this moment. If Tabitha hadn’t confessed the nature of her engagement, perhaps her parents would never have braved it for Abigail.
Still, arranged marriages were something of a commonplace thing in England. Abigail marvelled at this. She lived in a society that was borderline obsessed with nearly every element of romance, of courting, of ballroom dancing. Yet still, parents were required to pair off their children, in order for procreation to begin.
It disgusted her.
Abigail wasn’t entirely sure she believed in love. She felt that, if it did exist, love was the only true reason to be married; however, she’d never felt any sort of real attraction towards anyone and had assumed that love only happened to overly lonely people. Case in point: Tabitha didn’t love Reginald, because Tabitha and Abigail had always had one another, and needed nobody else.
Still, Tabitha’s forced marriage to Reginald could very well push Abigail into a territory of her own loneliness, which was fearful in and of itself.
She never wanted to be desperate for someone else’s affirmation. She never wanted to need anyone but herself.
If her parents wanted to arrange her marriage, however, Abigail wasn’t entirely sure how on earth to wiggle herself out of it. She was no longer twelve, attempting to get out of eating her vegetables. This was a far more difficult feat, something that required planning and unique skill.
“Think, Abigail,” she muttered to herself. She splayed herself across her bed and blinked at the ceiling, as the orange and pink sunset dribbled into darkness.
Over and over again, it seemed, she reached the same conclusion. Her family, the Youngs, was an immaculate one—certainly the type of family a man would long to marry into. Indeed, both Esther and Georgina’s husbands had leapt at the chance, and many men Abigail had encountered at various balls over the years had further indicated that it would be a prosperous marriage for them. Thus, whoever her parents found would certainly not disagree with the arrangement.
If only she’d come from an unrespectable family. If only she could besmirch her name.
If only …
Ah! The thought smacked her over the head. What if she didn’t have such a stellar reputation?
What if she could ruin her name, make herself out to be a wretched match—the kind of woman one had to poke with a stick before getting closer to?
Oh, but how?
Again, her thoughts raced. She considered making up a terrible rumour about herself, something that skated through the various alleys and parlours and ballrooms of the surrounding counties in such a manner that it forced any man to think twice about an engagement with her.
Of course, such a rumour could very well be doubted. If someone dug deep enough, the rumour would be proven to be just that—lacking in any real fact.
This meant that she had to perform some action so wretched that memory of it latched to her forever. She had to do something that forced the rest of the world to take notice. If she had such a horrid reputation, it would put real issue on her parents’ search—such that, perhaps, they could even put the marriage search off for a bit, maybe even a few years, to allow people to forget about Abigail’s little mistake.
By that time, Abigail assumed that she would discover yet another reason not to wed whoever came next.
The idea of it all was entirely delicious. It allowed for a lot of her favourite things: disobedience, outlandish behavior, shock.
But what must she do to generate such an outcry against her very person?
Of course, in the country of England, it seemed that every rule, every idea, revolved around the concept of romance. Many women became worried if a man with an off-putting reputation so much as breathed in their general direction, for fear that her association with him might put off other men in the area.
“I’ve only to find a man with a questionable reputation,” she whispered into the darkness. “Someone entirely wretched. Someone willing to have a public kiss with me, one that will force gossip and rumours to fly.”
A public kiss with a questionable man was a nearly perfect solution. It wouldn’t completely ruin her reputation; rather, it would hamper it for only a few years’. Besides: men with questionable reputations seemed far more interesting to her than, say, the likes of Reginald.
Finally, her mind made up, she closed her eyes and fell into a deep slumber. Her plan was foolproof: certainly the sort of thing to drive her parents wild with anger, to confuse the rest of the county, and to allow her a cushion of solitude for many years more.
Seth propped his feet up on his father’s desk and gazed down into the glossy, honey-coloured liquid, a glass of his father’s old Scotch. The old grandfather clock in his father’s study ticked ominously, a reminder of the coming lateness of the hour. It was just after nine in the evening, and Seth hadn’t seen anyone at all at the estate—no one except the single remaining butler, who longed to leave as soon as he could.
There was a boisterous knock on the front door. Seth hadn’t expected anyone to arrive, not so soon after his father and mother’s departure for the other estate, and he listened intently as the butler greeted the visitor and then led him down the long hallway. At the door, the butler rapped his knuckles and said, “Lord Nicholson, you’ve a visitor.”
“Come in,” Seth said.
When the door cracked open, Seth was warmed to see the friendly brown eyes of his good friend, Giles Clarke, a sort of a mastermind in terms of raucous season antics—a man Seth would have done anything for, as he’d livened up his life for as long as he could remember.
“Giles! I hadn’t a clue you’d planned to stop by,” he said, as Giles strode into the study and slipped the door closed.
“I hadn’t heard from you after my last letter,” Giles returned.
“Ah, well. I didn’t receive it. The estate has been in a state of chaos the past few weeks, and it must have slipped through a servant’s fingers.
“Yes. I see that,” Giles said. “It feels like a haunted house. What’s happened?”
“My parents took the majority of the servants and returned to the other estate,” Seth affirmed.
“That’s right. It’s always a surprise when they run off like that,” Giles said.
“It’s always a surprise to me, as well, as they hardly make any bother to tell me. Of course, I love the feeling of the house to myself, no matter how haunted it may be. I like the little gasps and groans of the old construction,” Seth said.
Seth grabbed his father’s bottle of Scotch and poured Giles a glass. Giles blinked around the shadowed study, lit only with candlelight, and said, “It’s always a funny thing to be in here without the old man.”
“He hardly likes knowing that I use it when he’s gone,” Seth admitted. “He’s quite selfish with his things.”
“I hope he’s not so selfish about his Scotch,” Giles said with a laugh.
“He’ll assume that he drank it himself,” Seth affirmed, clicking his glass with Giles’s. “To summertime, just around the bend.”
“Another summer of chaos, I hope,” Giles offered.
“Ah, Giles. You know I’m trying to be a far different man these days,” Seth said.
Giles considered this for a moment, seemingly turning the Scotch over his tongue. “You mentioned that you wanted to try. But I assumed it would be different. I haven’t seen you around town at all in previous weeks. It’s felt a bit empty to tell you the truth.”
Seth slipped his hand across the back of his neck, his heart thudding. “I’ve told you. I’m on my best behaviour.”
Giles clucked his tongue. “Seth Nicholson, on his best behaviour. I never imagined I would see the day.”
“Well, here is that very day for you,” Seth said. “We had some mighty wild times. Now, those days have ended for me.”
Giles clucked his tongue. “Come now. You must understand how silly you sound. This is no way to act. You’re a twenty-seven-year-old man, still in the prime of your life.”
“I told my parents that I would calm down a bit,” Seth said, his words heavy with regret. “You know that I want nothing more than to follow you into the impossibly raucous night.”
“And that’s yet another reason that I’m here,” Giles recited. “There’s a stellar party this evening. Ian Montgomery’s place. You remember the last one he held last year, don’t you?”
Seth clamped his eyes closed. In fact, he did remember it. It had been one of the most remarkable nights of his life. Ian Montgomery was something of a town miscreant, nobody his parents had ever wanted him to hang around—but he was stellar in conversation, always the first to make a joke, and he knew some of the wilder and frivolous people in town.
“You know it will be just as frantic as last year,” Giles affirmed. He lifted his Scotch and swirled it contemplatively. “And I really think you should come.”
Again, Seth groaned. “Your words are entirely too tempting.”
“So you’ll come?”
Seth turned his forehead to the edge of his father’s desk. His thoughts hammered out, louder and louder, as he imagined the various potential routes of the evening. On the one hand, he yearned to grow glossy with drink, to flirt and banter, to cause a ruckus. On the other, he wanted none of the news of the party to reach his father’s ears. Already, his parents had threatened him, declaring that he was on the verge of receiving a lacklustre reputation.
“I really cannot, Giles,” he muttered.
Giles lifted his Scotch back and sipped down the rest. His eyes glistened with regret. “If you’re really certain about it, then I suppose I’ll bid you goodbye.”
“Giles, I’m quite sorry,” Seth said.
Of course, it wasn’t nothing—it was very much something. Seth knew that he’d broken some sort of code between them, something that had once assured they would always have someone with whom to sit and make horrendous decisions with. Now, Giles had to find another, he supposed.
This, in and of itself, made Seth burn with jealousy.
“I’ll see you soon, then, My Lord,” Giles said with a slight wink.
“Don’t have too much fun without me. Or do,” Seth said, heaving a sigh. “Perhaps you can come back soon. We can play croquet in the garden. Drink Scotch all night.”
“Perhaps,” Giles said, although he seemed less-than thrilled about the prospect. “Goodnight, Seth.”
With that, Giles rose, nodded, and eased out of the study, leaving Seth alone in the chaotic stirrings of his own head. Long after he left, Seth remained staring into his half-drunk Scotch, marvelling at his own boredom.
It hadn’t been anything he’d planned for, this reputation. Most of it had come from stirring gossip that he had had nothing to do with. Perhaps he’d kissed a few too many high-society women; perhaps he’d “pretended” to court a few, for the benefit of their conversation and company. He hadn’t been serious about any of it, as, in his mind, he was still only twenty-seven, and still had a few years left before he was required to settle. His life wasn’t like a woman’s life. He had time to flourish, to become something else.
Of course, he’d never heard a woman complain about that lot in life. It seemed that every woman he knew yearned to marry early and begin to craft babies until an entire estate seemed to teem with them. Many-a woman had attempted to latch him to this sort of fate.
Giles felt similarly to this future. He wanted to draw out the events of their youth as long as he could—and hadn’t been as unlucky as Seth had, in that the majority of gossip had slipped over him without tainting.
Still, when gossip about his exploits had reached his father’s ears, he’d been angry, his cheeks bright red, and his voice monstrous. Seth had never seen him like that. It was enough to keep him at home, at least for a little while—at least until the gossip surrounding him cooled.
“You’re my son!” his father had spewed. “Poised to be a Duke! I cannot envision this future for you if you keep up these exploits. I will disown you as a son. Mark my words, I will.”
Thus, Seth sat alone on yet another evening, drinking Scotch alone in the shadows of his father’s study. He visualized the party: the beautiful women with their low-cut gowns and their vibrant laughs and their chaotic eyes.
What had he done before his beautiful life of grandeur and parties? He struggled to remember. He supposed he’d been a boy, then: the sort overly willing to grow lost in the forest, or in a good book, or both at once. Now, in the growing dead of night, he searched his father’s bookcase for something, anything to read. He leafed off a book of poetry and placed it atop his lap, flicking through the pages.
Back in the old days, he’d utilized poetry as a way to grow closer to women. He was a firm believer in the beauty of poetry—yes—but he also knew that proof of this big, beating heart within his chest lured women closer to him. Usually, he just adored making them adore him, nothing more. Giles had called this “going fishing.” Still, Seth had always taken unique pleasure in quoting some of his favourite poets, listening to the syllables as they left his tongue. “Monstrous,” Giles had said of his mode of attack.
Now that there was nothing in his life to call his own, however, Seth struggled with what came next. Even his eyes couldn’t latch onto the poetry; his mind couldn’t bend around the metaphors. He felt akin to the colour grey: a twenty-seven-year-old man with absolutely nothing to offer the world. He was lost.
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Abigail George resolved long ago to never marry, but at twenty-two, the stakes are high and her parents simmer for a marriage. As their hunt for an appropriate suitor begins, Abigail starts one of her own: to find a man of ill reputation in order to darken society’s opinion of her long enough to escape marital bliss. The dashing man she chooses couldn’t be worse in society’s eyes, but he has several secrets up his sleeves, ones Abigail cannot possibly prepare herself for. But as the two grow closer, and her father has found an otherwise delightful, intelligent suitor, time is of the essence. Will Abigail ruin her reputation and abandon the idea of marriage forever? Or will she find a way to unite with her true love, despite her volatility toward the entire sanctity of marriage and his terrible reputation?
Even though Seth Nicholson is a Duke, society has long-since turned its back on him. Gossip, rumors and scandals swirl around his name, and his father has demanded he take a step back from his raucous party days in order to clean up his image. It is within this timeframe that he encounters the gorgeous, red-haired spitfire, Abigail George, whilst on a ride across the moors. Abigail is the most bull-headed, beautiful creature Seth has ever met, but it’s only when their conversation goes deeper that he recognizes she’s trying to set him up…When their arrangement becomes so deep and passionate that threatens to make him lose his mind, will he decide to dance on the wild side and let his fate in her hands?
Slowly, over the span of sizzling summer weeks, they find common ground with one another and begin an impossible but yet so passionate affair within the empty walls of his estate. Will they lose their hearts in the most reckless caprice of their life, or will they discover the most scandalous pleasure they’ve ever known?
“Private Affairs of a Wicked Duke” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.