Bristol, South East England, 1814
Emma Templeton gazed out her bedroom window, from the second floor of her family home, her heart tightening as she viewed the grand houses, all in a row. She had taken this view for granted, she realised; it was so familiar, that even though she often stood here, contemplating it, she felt like she had never truly seen it. But she was paying attention, now.
Her eyes swept over the street, a fashionable one, in the best part of town. A street where grand gentlemen and ladies raised their families in lofty sandstone houses, often for generations. She had been born and raised here – she had never known another home. In some of those houses lived her dearest friends, and she knew everyone else, besides. A whole web of community that she was a part of.
It was sheer madness to think that she might never see this street, or any of those people, again.
Her heart tightened further, her breath coming in short gasps of pure panic. It was madness, what she had decided. But they had all given her no choice. And now, the moment was upon her.
The moment which would change the course of her life … forever.
It was dark now. She had waited patiently for the cover of night, enduring a torturous family dinner, which had seemed to go on forever. It had been just another weekday evening meal, the same as any other, completely unremarkable. Mama had fussed and fretted, as was her habit, complaining that the peas were not fresh, and that the pudding was overdone. Papa had grunted, as always, shovelling food into his mouth without enjoyment as if it was a chore he must accomplish. Thus it had ever been, and Emma had little doubt it would continue so, forevermore.
The only difference was, going forward, that she would not be sitting at the dining table anymore, bearing witness to it.
She gave a strangled sigh, her heart twisting. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her parents. They had been good to her, although always sticklers for every petty rule that society decreed, straitlaced and completely conventional. But they had done their best by her, and she did not blame them for being the people they were. It was just sad that their desire for her to be a respectable lady had led to their obstinacy over something that she could not tolerate any longer.
She turned away from the window with a determined breath. It was time.
Quickly, she started throwing things into the small bag, her mind whirring like a cog on a wheel. She could not take much, that was certain. Her hands hovered over items in an agony of indecision. Her favourite book had to be included. Her journal, in which she wrote her innermost thoughts. Small pieces of jewellery, mostly sentimental, including the lovely necklace her dear cousin had given her for her sixteenth birthday.
She stopped for a moment, gazing at the necklace. Dear Joanna. Had it really been five years ago, since she had turned sixteen, and the grand party that had been arranged to celebrate it? How vividly she recalled that night. The dinner party, and dancing afterwards, in the parlour. But mostly, she recalled Joanna’s gift, slipped to her between courses. She had gasped with pure delight; she had her eye on this particular necklace for a long time, and Joanna had remembered. They had been so close, then, always shopping together, before her cousin had abruptly married and moved far away.
Emma’s eyes filled with tears, gripping the necklace tightly. She had barely seen her cousin since and never visited her at her new home in Oxfordshire. However, they had sent many letters, so many that she had memorised her cousin’s address: Foxdale Park, an estate just on the outskirts of a little village, called Camwold-on-Thames.
She repeated it, over and over in her mind now, as if it were a mantra.
She stepped back, looking at the bag. It was done; she could not fit another thing into it. Everything that she valued was in that bag. She could not fit in any items of clothing, not even a flimsy shawl. She must leave behind her dozens of gowns hanging in her wardrobe. She didn’t know what she was going to do for clothing. But then, she was trying not to think ahead too much. The only thing she could afford to focus on was getting out of this house undetected. The rest would just have to take care of itself.
Her gaze drifted towards the wardrobe, which held all those gowns that she must abandon. There was one, brand new, which had been hung on the outside of the wardrobe, taking pride of place. It had only been delivered from the dressmakers yesterday afternoon.
And it had been the sight of it, so fresh and new, that had made up her mind, once and for all. For she knew that if she did not act now, soon she would be wearing that dress, and her life would be over.
She gazed at it fearfully. It was beautiful, of course. A dream of a dress. Ivory silk, edged with cream Valenciennes lace, the best that money could buy. Her father had spent a small fortune on it. But to Emma’s eyes, it looked like a strait jacket, that would slowly strangle her if she let it.
Her wedding dress that she was supposed to wear in five days’ time.
She felt herself grow a little dizzy, as she gazed at it. The familiar tightening sensation, across her head. That feeling, that she was about to be buried alive, that her life was over. The dread had been growing, over months. The terror. She had begged and pleaded with her parents, but to no avail.
The dress seemed to whisper to her now. It seemed to contain everything within it. The whole of her life: what had been, and what was to come, if she did not stop it. The dress was unleashing everything that she was trying to escape from. She sobbed quietly as the months leading up to this awful day flooded into her mind …
She had not suspected a thing when her father had called her into his study, six months prior. She had gone willingly, a little puzzled, but with no foreshadowing in her mind of what he was going to say to her. And of who she would meet.
She had opened the door. Her father was standing against the mantelpiece, looking a bit wary, as he beheld her. There was another gentleman in the room with him. A tall, thick set man, in his mid-thirties, with slightly greasy black hair. He turned on hearing the door open, and stared at her, quite rudely, his gaze assessing her as it might a prize sow at market.
“Ah, there you are, Emma,” said her father, his voice strangely high pitched. “May I introduce Mr. Charles Gregory.” He paused, turning to the gentleman. “My daughter, Emma.”
The man had walked up to her, bowing slightly. Up close, she noticed that his eyes were small, as black as ink, and cold. He was large featured, with a patrician nose.
She decided, quite instantly, that she did not like him at all.
“Miss Templeton,” said the man, looking strangely pleased. “It is a delight to finally meet you. I must say they have not exaggerated your beauty.” He glanced back at her father. “I can only hope she is as accomplished as her reputation suggests, too. I think it most important in a lady. A sign of good breeding.”
Her father coughed uncomfortably. “Indeed. My daughter is quite accomplished, Mr. Gregory …”
Emma’s eyes had swivelled between the gentlemen. She didn’t like being discussed as if she weren’t even in the room. And why was this man talking about her like that, anyway? More to the point, why was her father allowing it?
“It is settled, then,” said the man, with an air of satisfaction. “The contract can commence.” He ran a cold eye over Emma again. “I am most pleased, Miss Templeton. I shall call on you at an appropriate time. But I am afraid that I have a prior appointment now and cannot tarry. Good day to you both.”
He swept out of the room without another word.
Emma had turned to her father, gobsmacked. “What was that all about? Who was that man?”
And then, the whole awful truth, had been revealed. Her father had accepted an offer of marriage from Mr. Charles Gregory, on her behalf. The man that she had just met was apparently her fiancé.
She had pleaded with her father, but he had been adamant. Mr Gregory was from a very good family who lived in a village not far from Bristol. One of the eminent families in the district. He was wealthy, too. He could provide well for Emma. It was all settled.
Her impressions of the gentleman hadn’t improved on further acquaintance. He had a brusque and rude manner about him, talking to her in a condescending way, as if he was doing her a great favour by marrying her. And the way that he looked at her made her shudder. If his gaze wasn’t coldly assessing, it was lascivious. Many times she had to duck away from his wandering hands; he slyly sought liberties, whenever they were briefly alone. The thought of marrying him filled her with revulsion.
He didn’t try to win her over, to woo her, as a gentleman might. Instead, he talked about her as if she was a piece of chattel that he could not wait to acquire. She felt that she was never a person to him at all.
And then, she had heard the rumours about him.
One day, she had overheard Hettie, her maid, chatting to Mrs Grey, the cook, as she had been passing by the kitchen. They were whispering furtively, obviously gossiping. Emma was used to it and would have carried on, except that she heard Mr Gregory’s name mentioned. A cold wind had whipped through her, and she had leant against the wall, listening intently.
“Poor Miss Emma,” said Hettie, sighing dramatically. “She is in for a rough time with that one. I know Fanny who works for the Gregory family, and she has told me everything, of what that man is like.”
“Go on,” breathed Mrs Grey. “I am listening.”
Hettie had paused for a moment. “Fanny says that he is a brute of a man,” she continued. “He was always a spoilt monster in the home, with a nasty temperament, terrorising the servants. But his mama indulged him, wouldn’t hear a word against him.” She paused again. “He beat one of the servants to a pulp, once, for being insolent, even though Fanny says he was no such thing. The man’s nose was broken – he never looked the same again.”
“The Lord preserve us,” said Mrs Grey, sighing deeply. “What else?”
Hettie sighed, too. “It is not the worst of it,” she said. “He has a … certain reputation in the village. The local lasses are all wary of him.” She hesitated. “He takes them without asking, pounces on them, and he is not gentle. They say he has sired one or two bastards but will not help the girls at all. Fanny says that he preyed on Kitty, a parlour maid in the house, and got her in the family way. His mother dismissed her without pay, and he just watched.”
Emma felt cloying horror rise up in her chest as she listened to them talk. This was truly terrible. She had suspected, instinctively, that the man was a brute. She had not liked the way that he treated her, or how he spoke to her, as if she did not have a mind or thought of her own. But this … this was something else, entirely.
She felt so sick that she had to walk away, feeling as if she might faint.
She had begged her father again after that. Pleaded with him, that Mr Gregory was a bad man, and that she could not marry him. That she did not like him at all, and that her life would be a misery if this marriage went ahead. Didn’t he want her to be happy, for her to enter matrimony with expectation of a good life?
Her father had grown angry with her, reiterating that Mr Gregory was from a very good family, and they could not expect a better offer. He had put his foot down, telling her that the engagement was arranged and could not be broken. There would be a scandal. It was settled, and that was that.
She had tried talking with her mother, to win her over, so that she might convince her father. But Mama had refused, telling her not to listen to scurrilous gossip. Mr Gregory was a fine upstanding gentleman. His family were eminent; the first family in their village. Why, they had their own pew in the local church, right at the front. Emma would be a fine lady; the first lady of the village. Everywhere that she went, she would be respected and esteemed. Feted like a queen, no less.
There was no use in trying to convince them. So, she had started to do other things to try to subvert the engagement. She had been downright rude to Mr. Gregory, talking back to him, and sometimes standing him up entirely, so that he might grow weary of her and decide to break the engagement of his own accord.
But, strangely, he seemed to take a perverse pleasure in her insolence. His unwanted attentions grew more frequent, and he would whisper to her that he could not wait to make her submit to him on their wedding night. That he would break her, just like a horse. That she would know, very soon, who her one and only master was.
Her mind had been in utter turmoil, and her heart a mess. She had started to lose her appetite, once the wedding date had been set. Her mother had noticed, frowning, telling her that no man liked a bag of bones; that if Emma were not careful, she would fade away to nothing. Emma had not even bothered to reply.
She would sit in her bedroom for hours, doing nothing, her mind blank. She knew that her life would be an utter misery when she married him. The years stretched before her, endlessly. Years of unhappiness, married to a brute of a man, who would treat her terribly.
She knew that he would not let her do any of the things that gave her pleasure. She was used to a certain amount of freedom in her own home and knew that would be taken away from her entirely. The man viewed women as possessions to be owned and controlled. It did not matter if that woman was the lowliest servant or a grand lady. It was all the same to him.
Her life was over, and there wasn’t a single thing that she could do about it.
She had tried pleading with her parents one last time. But they had grown ever more intransigent on the subject. The weeks had sped by, and suddenly, the wedding arrangements were upon her. The banns had been called, the dress fittings commenced, and the wedding breakfast arranged, down to the last cucumber sandwich.
She had felt as if she were staring down a long, long tunnel, and could not see a glimmer of light.
But yesterday, when the dress had arrived, something had finally broken within her. And she had known, then and there, that there was only one course of action that she could take now.
Emma picked up the bag, her heart beating fiercely in her chest.
She took a deep breath, carefully thinking through her plan. She had saddled the horse earlier in the day when no one was around. Blackie was waiting for her now, tethered in the stable. She knew how to ride, of course, but she had never ridden alone before. Especially not at night, on unfamiliar roads.
She took another deep breath for courage. She could do it. She must do it. She must leave her life behind, entirely, and take up another. She would miss everyone, of course, but they had given her no option at all.
Her heart lurched for a moment, thinking of everything that she was leaving behind. Everything that was familiar to her. Her whole life, going up in smoke, just like that. She could still barely believe that she was doing it, that she was being so reckless. Her parents had always warned her that she was too impetuous, too rash. She knew that she had always led them on a merry dance.
But what she was about to do now … well, it was a whole new level of recklessness, entirely. Running away from home was not something that well brought up young ladies did. Not if they valued their reputations.
But what did she care about her reputation if her life was an utter misery?
Her resolve was strong now as she strode towards the door. Her parents had already retired for the night, and the servants were all abed, as well. Hopefully, nobody would be wandering the house to question her.
She glanced back at the wedding dress for a moment. The wedding dress that would never be worn. She would be the runaway bride, wouldn’t she? She could just picture the servants gossiping about her now.
She opened the door, sliding out, stealthily, tiptoeing down the dark hallway. Her heart lurched again. Hopefully, if all went well, she would be seeing her beloved cousin, very soon.
Resolutely, she did not contemplate how Joanna was going to react when she saw her.
The house was larger than she had expected. Quite sprawling, in fact. Emma had little idea how much of the land around it they owned, but the gardens were quite extensive. She spotted three extensive paths and a large gazebo. The flowers were blooming with abandon.
She sighed with utter weariness, shifting painfully in the saddle as she gazed at the house from the top of the hill. Foxdale Park, at long last. She had stopped in the local village to ask directions. The man in the blacksmith’s shop had looked at her oddly but told her just the same.
Emma grimaced. She could just imagine what she looked like after a whole day in the saddle. It had rained intermittently, for the entire journey; she had been soaked to the skin, on a few occasions. Her black velvet cloak with the deep hood was clinging to her like seaweed. She was wet, tired, and utterly uncomfortable.
But her heart soared, looking at the house, nonetheless.
The home of her beloved cousin, Joanna, and her husband, Leonard Godwin. Joanna had described it in one of her letters. She had told her that it was the most beautiful house she had ever seen and that she and Leonard were utterly delighted with it. Leonard had bought it just before their marriage as a surprise for his new wife. Joanna had said that he had always yearned to be a country squire, and that she was surprisingly enjoying being a country mistress.
That had been four years ago. Joanna had just turned two and twenty. A whirlwind romance, for a lady who had never had high hopes for matrimony. Emma had been a bit jealous at the time, not because she did not want her dear cousin and friend to have a happy life, but because she was going so far away from her. She had resented Leonard Godwin, just a little.
She took a deep breath. It was just after twilight; she could see candles being lit within the house, illuminating the windows. Soon, the blanket of night would descend. She needed to keep going before that happened.
She leant over the tired horse, whispering into his ear. “Not long to go, now, Blackie. Not long at all.”
The front door was large and imposing. Wearily, Emma knocked on it, glancing behind her at Blackie. She had tethered him to a lamppost, not knowing what else to do.
She heard footsteps within. And then, the door swung open. A butler stood there, gazing at her. He looked shocked; his eyes drifted over her from head to toe, disbelievingly.
“Hello,” she said, her voice cracking slightly. “Are Joanna and Leonard at home, by any chance?”
She was led into the foyer and told to wait there. To her dismay, she saw that she was dripping puddles onto a beautiful red and blue Persian rug. It had started to rain again, quite fiercely, on her final leg towards the house. But she had gritted her teeth, letting it slide off her. Soon, the ordeal would be over.
She turned around. Leonard Godwin stood there looking at her as if she were an apparition that had just materialised through the floor.
They studied each other for a moment. He was a little heavier than when she had last seen him. But that had been four years ago, after all, on his wedding day. He had not accompanied Joanna on her rare trips back home to Bristol. In fact, she barely knew Leonard Godwin at all.
She forced a smile onto her face. “Hello, Leonard. It has been rather a long time …”
“I’ll say.” His voice was incredulous. “How … how did you get here? Are you quite alone?”
She nodded slowly. “Quite alone …”
But before he could question her further, there was a voice from the top of the stairs. Emma glanced up, her heart thudding painfully in her chest.
It was Joanna, gripping the bannister tightly as if she might tumble down the stairs entirely without its support.
“Emma.” Her voice faltered alarmingly. “Is that truly you?”
Emma nodded wordlessly. She just couldn’t think of a thing to say, now that she was finally here. Now that her long, arduous journey was blessedly over.
Joanna was coming down the stairs towards her. She seemed to fade in and out of her vision. She tried to walk towards her, but suddenly, her legs collapsed beneath her, and she fell forwards, her head so dizzy that she could not see anything at all.
She woke up slowly, her eyelids fluttering. Joanna was sitting next to her, leaning over her, her face creased with concern.
Emma gazed around, painfully. There was a roaring fire in the grate, the flames almost licking the chimney. She was in a bed – a comfortable bed, with blankets piled high. A candle was burning on the bedside table, casting light on her cousin’s beloved face.
She was warm. She was safe. She mouthed a silent prayer of thanks.
She gazed back at Joanna, not having seen her cousin in over two years, but she still looked exactly the same. The same golden-brown hair pulled back into a low bun at the nape of her neck. The same kind blue eyes and snub nose, within her round face.
“Emma,” she said, her frown deepening. “What have you done?”
Emma bit her lip, gazing at her cousin beseechingly. She would know by now that she had not arrived in a carriage. They had probably discovered Blackie, tethered to the lamppost. They would know that she had travelled by horseback, by herself, through the rain. Over miles and miles of rough roads and through fields.
She could see the shock on her cousin’s face. It simply was not done for a young lady of good breeding to travel by herself on horseback. Especially not for such a great distance.
“I am so happy to see you, Joanna,” she whispered, her eyes filling with tears. “You have no idea how happy I am …”
Joanna leaned forward, stroking her face gently. “As I am to see you, cousin. But you must tell me what is going on here.” She paused, her frown deepening. “You arrive on our front doorstep alone, with no prior warning, looking like a drowned rat, and collapse entirely. And then we discover a single horse, which has obviously been your sole means of transport …”
Emma nodded slowly, tears trickling down her cheeks. “Yes …”
Joanna sighed, deeply. “I know that you are spent, dear cousin. Utterly exhausted, from your perilous journey. Did you truly ride the whole distance from Bristol to Oxfordshire by yourself?”
Emma nodded again. A lump had formed in her throat, and she did not trust herself to speak at all without sobbing.
“Why are you here?” Joanna whispered. “You are supposed to be getting married in a few days’ time. We were due to leave for Bristol, in two days, to attend your wedding …”
Emma sobbed, then, turning her face towards the wall. The tears were so thick now that she couldn’t see anything. It was as if all her pent-up pain and fear had suddenly loosened, and it was all tumbling out.
Joanna gathered her up in her arms, crooning to her, gently. She buried her face into her cousin’s shoulder, sobbing her heart out. It felt so good to be with her at long last. She had missed her so much. And Joanna had always been the one to comfort her when she was upset. From when they had been little girls, growing up in Bristol, it had always been Joanna that she had turned to.
She supposed it was natural that such a relationship had developed between them. Her cousin was five years older than her, after all. Joanna had always looked after her, wiping her tears, making sure that she did not fall. And they were both only children, with no siblings. They had become as close as sisters.
There had been nowhere else she had thought to go when she had made her impetuous plan to run away. No one else that she had wanted. She had also known that Joanna would be the only one who would take her in and not immediately demand that she turn around and go back home, like a good girl should, and do her duty. Joanna was not like that at all.
Her sobs slowly died down, and her cousin’s tight grasp released. Emma sank back into the pillows, gazing softly at her cousin, feeling overwhelmed with love for her.
“Thank you, Joanna,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
Joanna frowned again. “You have nothing to thank me for yet, cousin. I have done nothing, except pick you up off my floor and make you warm.” She paused. “Are you going to explain to me, at last, what is going on?”
Emma sighed deeply. She was so exhausted; she could barely keep her eyes open any longer. The heat in the room and the comfort that her cousin was giving her were making her so drowsy.
She didn’t have a skerrick of energy left within her to explain everything now. To explain why she had made this shocking decision to leave her life and land on her cousin’s doorstep, like a lost dog.
“I am so very tired, cousin,” she said slowly. “I promise I shall explain everything, but could it please wait until the morning?”
Joanna looked grim. But then, her face softened, and she slowly nodded.
“I suppose so,” she sighed. “You are exhausted and have probably given yourself the death of cold, riding in that rain. We shall talk in the morning after you have had a good night’s rest.” She stood up, gazing down at her cousin. “But you must explain yourself, then, Emma. Do you promise?”
Emma nodded slowly. “I promise.”
Joanna smiled faintly, walking towards the door. “Good night, then. Sleep well …”
“Joanna.” Emma’s voice was faint. “Please … can you not tell anyone in your home who I am?”
Joanna froze, gazing back at her. “What do you mean?”
Emma took a deep breath. “I have never visited your home before, and none of the servants know me,” she said slowly, her heart beating painfully. “The only one other than you who knows who I am is Leonard. Could you both not tell the servants, or anyone else in the house, who I am. Please, Joanna. It is very important.”
Joanna paled slightly. “I do not understand, in the least,” she said faintly. “But we shall do your bidding. At least, until you can properly explain what exactly is going on.” She paused. “Remember, Emma. In the morning, you tell me all. Agreed?”
Emma nodded. “Agreed. Good night, sweet cousin.”
Joanna smiled faintly. “Sweet dreams, dear one.”
And then, she was gone.
Emma yawned. It was all starting to swim in her mind, swirling like a maelstrom now.
Charles Gregory. The wedding dress. The long flight to Foxdale Park. Her abandoned life …
What on earth had she done?
But before she could think it through anymore, the weariness suddenly overwhelmed her, and she had fallen into a deep, heavy sleep as if someone had just snuffed out a candle.
Joanna opened the study door, walking quickly inside. Leonard was sitting at his desk, writing a letter. He looked up as soon as he heard the door open.
“Well?” he said, gazing at his wife. “Did she awaken and explain anything as to why she is here?”
Joanna sighed deeply, sitting down in a chair near the fire. “No. She is utterly exhausted, and I have concerns that she might have caught a bad cold. I did not wish to push her before she is ready …”
“Joanna.” Leonard’s voice was stern. “We require an explanation. She just arrives on our doorstep, all alone, having ridden miles from her home on horseback.” He paused. “I have never seen a young lady in such a state! Her clothes were saturated, covered in mud …”
“I am very well aware of her state,” said Joanna, frowning. “She has always been impetuous, but this … this is unusual, even for Emma.” She hesitated. “Something very bad must have happened, for her to do this, Leonard. She was so very upset, as well as exhausted.”
“What of her wedding?” asked Leonard slowly. “She is supposed to be getting married in a few days. Do you think her reckless flight here has something to do with it?”
Joanna sighed again, putting her hands towards the fire to warm them. “I suspect so,” she said quietly. “Her letters over the past few months have become increasingly despondent at the thought of her impending marriage. She does not like her fiancé at all. That much, I do know.”
Leonard shook his head as if he could not believe that this was happening. “We must write to her parents immediately,” he said. “They will be frantic to know where she is …”
“No, Leonard.” Joanna’s voice was firm. “We will not do that. Not before I have spoken to her and ascertained the situation.” She paused. “Emma is like a younger sister to me. I have always taken care of her, and I must do so now.”
Leonard looked gobsmacked. “Joanna, she asks too much of us,” he said slowly. “The sudden disappearance of a well brought up young lady will not go unnoticed, nor the fact that one has just landed on our doorstep. We do not want to be embroiled in scandal …”
Joanna gazed at him sharply. “Emma lives in Bristol, which is seventy miles at least from Foxdale Park,” she said. “Any scandal from there will not reach this district for quite a long time, if at all. We have time.”
Leonard stared at her. “Time to do what?”
Abruptly, Joanna stood up, pacing the floor. “Time to discover what has gone on,” she replied. “Time to let her tell her story and figure out the best way to proceed. You have not shared her identity with any of the servants, have you?”
Leonard shook his head slowly. “No. They are curious, of course, but I have not spoken to them about her. I thought it best to hear what she has to say, before relaying any information to them. You know how they gossip.” He paused. “Talk of the mysterious young lady who collapsed in our foyer will probably be doing the rounds of Camwold-on-Thames by the morrow.”
“Just so,” said Joanna, stopping her pacing to stare at him. “There shall be talk, but we can contain it.” She paused. “Emma asked that we not tell anyone who she is. She pleaded with me. She seemed scared, Leonard. So very scared.”
Leonard sighed, standing up, approaching her. He took her hands in his, staring down at her intently.
“I can see how concerned you are for her welfare,” he said quietly. “And while I do not know Emma very well at all, I trust your judgement, implicitly. If you do not wish her identity to be known, then I shall respect that, at least for the moment.” He paused. “But in return, she must tell us why she is here. She owes us that, Joanna. We may be placing ourselves in the eye of a coming storm by sheltering her here.”
Joanna felt weak with relief as she gazed at her husband. She had expected no less from him, of course. Leonard Godwin was the finest man that she had ever met, and they always worked as a team. It had always been like that, ever since they had married four years ago. She knew what a lucky woman she was; she thanked the Lord daily, for bringing him into her life. She had given up hope of finding love, by then, and fully expected she would become an old maid. And now, her life was blessed in so many ways.
But still, what she was suggesting was fraught with danger for all of them. Everything that Leonard had said was right, after all. Sheltering Emma could impact on their lives. She only hoped that her young cousin’s reason for fleeing her home, so dramatically, was worth it.
Joanna bit her lip, thinking about it. It had something to do with her impending marriage, that much was obvious. The timing was not coincidental. And she knew that Emma had not been looking forward to it at all.
She had tried to counsel her, tell her that perhaps she must accept her lot, but she had been very worried. Emma had not gone into any detail as to why she disliked her fiancé so much, but she could read her deep unhappiness between the lines. She had tried to brush it off as the normal misgivings of a young, inexperienced girl, but some instinct had nagged at her, that perhaps there was more to it than mere stage fright.
She took a deep breath. First thing in the morning, she would question Emma again, and get the whole story. Then they could decide what would be the best way to proceed. There was only one other thing to do now.
“Thank you, my love,” she whispered, gazing up at her husband. “Thank you for your trust in me.” She took a deep breath. “And now, even though I told you not to write to my aunt and uncle in Bristol, I must sit down, and pen them a letter, immediately.”
He gazed at her questioningly.
“I will not inform them that Emma is here,” she said slowly. “But they are expecting us, after all, for her wedding. I shall tell them that I have been struck down with a terrible cold and cannot travel. Send our regrets …”
Leonard frowned. “Are you sure? She might as yet come to her senses and return in time for her wedding…”
“There shall be no wedding,” said Joanna, in a hard voice. “Of that much, I am very sure.”
“Temptations of a Mysterious Lady” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Who is the dazzling Miss Elizabeth Godwin who arrived so unexpectedly from York? Having heard the whispers, the district is buzzing with talk about the mysterious lady…
Desperate to escape her scheming fiancé, Emma changes her identity and seeks shelter in a distant cousin, Leonard Godwin. However, things turn dangerously complicated when she meets the lavish Philip, and she soon finds herself unable to resist him, and the fierce desire that burns between them. How long can she hide herself from her fiancé and her father, who are both desperately looking for her? When her secret is revealed, will this growing romance be doomed forever?
Philip Hoskins, the Duke of Bambury, is a man with a tarnished past. No apologies, no excuses. Philip knows that he must marry soon and he must marry well, but fate may have other plans for him. Even though he believes marriage is nothing but a business arrangement, when he meets the gorgeous Emma, his world instantly turns upside down. But he quickly realises that, even though they might be a match made in heaven, her public outbursts, her wild temper and the rumours that she’s run away from her fiancé, are enough to destroy every possibility of having a happily ever after. Will he take all of his courage to face a peril that could destroy everything he has ever achieved in the name of all- consuming love?
In the midst of their passionate love affair, Emma struggles with telling the truth of who she is. As her life of deception grows ever more tangled, and her feelings for Philip ever deeper, Charles Gregory, her fiancé, the most dangerous man she’s ever known, is coming for her. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her and make her pay, for what she has done to him… Will she manage to run away from him once again, and find happiness in a dashing Duke’s arms? After all, with such a difficult beginning, can Emma and Philip ever hope to trust one another, let alone find everlasting love?
“Temptations of a Mysterious Lady” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.