Beatrice looked up when someone touched her shoulder. Mrs Marsters stood beside her, giving her a gentle smile.
“Your mother wants to see you, Lady Beatrice.”
“She’s in the morning room.”
Beatrice sighed. She didn’t want to leave her room. It felt like the safest room in the house—the one with the most comfort. Every other room seemed to have memories of her father and they would threaten to set Beatrice off into tears.
A year had passed since his death. Ever since Beatrice walked into his study and found him dead in front of the fire. She couldn’t get that memory out of her head, nor could she forget the horror at finding the man she adored stiff and cold on the floor.
The doctor had said his heart had simply given out and dropped where he stood. Beatrice had thought that her father was a really healthy man. There was no way he could have simply dropped dead. However, she wasn’t about to argue with the doctor. It wasn’t like her father would come back if she argued.
Although she really wished that he would.
Closing her book and putting it aside—she hadn’t really been reading it, anyway—Beatrice got to her feet.
“Did Mother say what she wanted me for, Mrs Marsters?”
“No, my Lady. She just wanted to speak to you. Mrs Dominic is here as well.”
“And before you ask—no, I don’t know why she’s here.”
“All right. I’ll go and find Mother.”
The housekeeper nodded and left the room. Beatrice followed her, feeling a wash of coldness when she stepped into the hallway. It had been like that for a long time, and Beatrice couldn’t find anything that could make her feel warm again until she crawled into bed and pulled the sheets over her head.
The house just felt empty without her father. The Duke of Morley was a larger-than-life character. So warm and friendly. Beatrice couldn’t remember a day when she didn’t see him smile. And he always had time for her. No matter what he was doing, Morley would stop to be with his only child. Beatrice had worshipped him.
And she desperately wanted that back.
The Duchess of Morley was in the morning room, working on her embroidery that was set up in a small stand to keep her hands free. She looked up and gave her daughter a smile.
“Good afternoon, Mother.” Beatrice approached the older woman and kissed her cheek. Then she turned to the plump, handsome woman sitting on the settee across from her mother, giving her a smile. “Mrs Dominic.”
“Beatrice.” Mrs Edwina Dominic gave her a nod and a warm smile. “I’m glad to see you up and around.”
Beatrice bit back a response. Really, she wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for her mother summoning her. She didn’t want to be rude to the woman, though. She had been around the family since Beatrice was born. Being a close childhood friend of Lady Morley, Mrs Dominic was more like an aunt than a companion when Beatrice needed one. She was good fun, and their excursions were far more relaxed than what they should be.
That had been a while, though. Beatrice couldn’t bring herself to go out, not without being paranoid that people were staring at her. It felt like she was on a pedestal.
It did feel nice seeing her companion after shutting herself away for most of the year.
“Come and sit down, Beatrice.” Lady Morley patted the cushions beside her. “I’ve got something to discuss with you.”
“What is it, Mother?”
“If you sit down, I’ll be able to tell you.”
Beatrice frowned, but she did as she was asked. Lady Morley stuck the needle into the fabric and shifted back, dusting stray threads off her skirts.
“It’s been a week since the anniversary of your father’s death.”
“And do you notice anything different?”
It took a moment for Beatrice to know what she was talking about. She looked at Lady Morley’s attire. She was dressed in pale pink muslin with white trimming. She looked brighter and much more alive than before.
“You’re not dressed in mourning anymore.”
“I’m not. Because the anniversary of your father’s death was a week ago, and we should move on and try to enjoy what is left of our life. That’s what he would have wanted.” Lady Morley gestured at her daughter’s clothes. “Normally, it’s to be expected that the widow is the last to come out of mourning, and yet you’re still wearing black.”
“What’s wrong with that? Aren’t I allowed to mourn my own father?”
“That’s not what I’m saying, darling. You should have come out of mourning months ago.”
“I’m not going to follow what Society dictates, Mother. I want to mourn him for longer, and I should have a right to do it.”
“I know, love, but people are going to talk.” Lady Morley touched her daughter’s hand. “I know it’s really hard on you, especially when you were the one who found him, but you do need to embrace life again and get back into Society. You’ve already missed one Season, and I don’t want you to miss anymore.”
Beatrice lifted her chin defiantly.
“Maybe I don’t want to go back to London or Bath and enjoy myself, when all I can think of is my father and how I…well…”
She could feel her chest tightening again and she swallowed hard, trying to force back the tears. Lady Morley’s expression softened, and she shifted closer, putting her arms around her daughter and hugging her gently.
“I know it’s hard, love. I miss him every day. But you can’t lock yourself away and mourn him for the rest of your life.”
“Because you’ll waste away, and I don’t want to lose my daughter as well.”
“You won’t lose me, Mother.”
“I feel like that’s what is happening with you locking yourself up in your room all the time.” Lady Morley sighed. “Which is why I’ve made a few plans for you.”
“I’m sending you away.” The Duchess held up a hand as Beatrice started to protest. “It’s just for the summer, and for a change of scenery. I want you to find some joy again, and you won’t be able to do that here if you won’t come out of your room.”
Beatrice couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She didn’t want to go anywhere!
“But Mother…I want to stay here!”
“I know, but it’s for your own good. You need a distraction.” Lady Morley kissed her daughter’s head. “And a summer with the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk would be good for you. I’ve already written to them, and they will be happy to take you in for a few months.”
Beatrice hadn’t heard that name in a while. The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk were old friends of her family, her father and Suffolk having been to school together. Beatrice remembered playing with Suffolk’s two sons, who had been lively but kind enough towards her. That last summer she had spent with them had left her with fond memories.
But that had been almost ten years ago. Things would have changed by now.
“Are you sure about this, Mother?” Beatrice asked. “I don’t want to leave you here on your own.”
“Don’t be silly, dear. You won’t leave me on my own. I’ve got plenty to do.” Lady Morley nodded at Mrs Dominic. “I’ve asked Mrs Dominic to come with you, and she’ll be there if you need anything. But I think going to a different environment and spending time with others will be what you need to lift your spirits. I don’t think I can do enough, and I want you to remember life and love it as you once did.”
It felt like she was trying to get rid of her. But Beatrice knew her mother’s heart was in the right place. She was just thinking about what was best for her daughter.
Even so, Beatrice still didn’t like the thought of leaving the house.
“Beatrice,” Lady Morley went on as her daughter hesitated, “you can’t mourn him forever. Not like this. You can still remember him fondly, but you do need to get back to your own life. He would want that. Your father wouldn’t want to know that you’re still mourning him and wasting away in your room.”
“Wouldn’t he be upset that it feels like I’ve forgotten him?”
“I doubt you could forget a man like him.”
She did have a point. But Beatrice still felt like she was betraying her father’s memory. Wouldn’t he be upset that she was having fun? Or was she thinking too much into it?
“When do you want me to leave?”
“I’ve already written to the Duchess, and she’s got a room ready for you. You’ll be leaving tomorrow.” Lady Morley smiled. “I suggest you start packing now. And try not to have any black in your luggage.”
That was going to be easier said than done.
“Just so you know, we have a visitor coming for the summer.”
Matthew looked up as his father spoke, barely looking up from his newspaper. How a man could talk and read at the same time, he had no idea. He had never managed to do it without sounding like a complete fool. His father was a lot smoother about it.
“Who’s coming, Father?” Gerard asked. “Anyone we know?”
“Beatrice Fortescu, the Duke of Morley’s daughter.”
It took a moment before Matthew remembered the name. Beatrice Fortescu had been the little girl they had played with many times when they were children. That had stopped ten years ago when her father inherited the Dukedom from his uncle, who had died childless, and they moved across the country to live on the Somerset Estate.
Matthew hadn’t given a thought to the girl in years. Now, he put down his knife and fork and sat back as memories came flooding back.
“Why is she coming here, Father? Is something wrong?”
“You know my friend Morley died suddenly last year?”
“Well, Lady Beatrice is still mourning him. Her mother is concerned about her and wants her to have a distraction. So, she asked if the girl could come here for the summer.” Suffolk looked up. “Your mother has already agreed to it, so you’ll have someone to stop you from getting bored.”
Interesting. Although Matthew didn’t think he would ever get bored with his estate. He hadn’t so far, and he was five-and-twenty now. Across the table from him, his cousin Caroline frowned.
“Why did she ask Aunt Florence? Why didn’t she ask a relative or something?”
“We’re old friends, Caroline. And your aunt is happy to help.”
Caroline didn’t look keen on that.
“She should be going elsewhere. We’re not a charity.”
Matthew arched an eyebrow at his cousin’s sharp tone. Gerard chuckled and nudged Caroline.
“Scared that people are going to forget you’re here, Caroline, dear? Don’t want competition for you?”
“That’s not fair, Gerard!”
“That’s enough, you two.” Lady Suffolk sighed as she picked up her coffee cup. “Honestly, all of you are over twenty-one, and you still behave like children.”
“I don’t want someone else here. There are too many people present, anyway.”
Matthew arched an eyebrow.
“I didn’t realise you had a say in who came here as a guest, Caroline. You’re a guest yourself.”
“I’m still family, and I don’t want someone else here with us over the summer.” Caroline gestured at them all. “This time is meant to be for family, not for charity purposes.”
Lady Suffolk fixed her niece with a hard stare.
“That is not the kind of talk we want to hear in this house, Caroline,” she said sharply. “Did we not take you in when your father died so you could have time away from your mother and brothers?”
“That was different.”
“How is it different?” Matthew asked. “I can’t see any differences, except you’re closer to us by blood.”
Caroline spluttered, her cheeks going a little pink. Matthew knew his cousin. She was a spoilt young lady who had a lot of airs and graces, and she didn’t like attention off her. In her mind, everyone had to focus on her. Matthew was used to his cousin being a pain and moaning, but there were times when he wished she would just shut up.
“She is coming tomorrow to spend time with us, and hopefully, we can make her get some life back.” Suffolk turned a page in his newspaper. “You are going to be hospitable to our guest, and you’re going to be nice. Understood, Caroline?”
Caroline fell silent, scowling as she went back to her breakfast. Gerard caught Matthew’s eye across the table, and it looked like he was fighting back a smile. Matthew shrugged and picked up a piece of toast. They were used to Caroline behaving like a child when she wasn’t getting her way.
If Matthew was honest, he was excited to have someone at the estate for the summer. Normally, members of the nobility would be in London during the summer and going to multiple social engagements. Matthew liked to spend time with his friends, staying up at all hours playing cards.
But his parents wanted them at the Kettleburgh Estate during July and August, just so they could get away from everyone. It wasn’t too far from London, but it was far enough that it took a whole day to travel to their townhouse. Matthew felt like that was a way to subtly put him and Gerard off from going to London. The brothers hadn’t figured out why their parents did this, but they weren’t about to ask.
So, to have a guest who wasn’t Caroline at the house was a delight. Someone different to talk to, to play cards with or even just larking around. Even with Gerard approaching thirty in a couple of years, they still liked to pretend they still had their youth.
Finishing his breakfast, Matthew excused himself and headed into the library. After a few minutes, when he had selected a book and was heading out onto the terrace, Gerard joined him.
“Fancy!” he said as he caught up with his younger brother. “Beatrice Fortescu is coming to stay. It’s been a while.”
“Ten years, I think.” Matthew went to the table and chairs set up under a parasol and took a seat. Even though it was not even mid-morning, it was already very warm. “She was twelve when she was last here.”
“Do you remember her?”
How could Matthew forget a redheaded pain like Beatrice? He and Gerard had been made to make her feel welcome, and being only two years her senior, it had been mostly on Matthew’s shoulders. He didn’t want to play with the girl, but their parents had pushed them together. It had taken a while before Matthew could warm to her and realised that Beatrice was not a complete pain, but a refined girl with a mischievous streak.
If their parents knew about the antics the two of them had gotten up to, they would have separated them long ago.
“Do you think she’s still the same as before?” Gerard asked as he sat across from his brother, stretching out his long legs. “Is she going to be the same cool creature?”
“Gerard, ten years is a lot of time.” And she is certainly not cool in her temperament. “Besides, I don’t think she’ll be much of a cool ‘creature’ as you call her. She has lost her father, after all.”
“A year ago.”
“Do you think you could move on so easily if Mother or Father died out of the blue?”
Gerard faltered. Then he sighed.
“Fair point. I’ll concede that.”
Matthew grunted. He couldn’t blame Beatrice for still being in mourning. The word that had gone around was that she had found him, dead and ice cold. That last bit was not necessary—finding anyone dead was horrible. And Matthew couldn’t imagine how he would cope if he walked into a room and found his mother or father in that state.
Having something to distract the girl was a good idea, but would she be susceptible to it?
“I don’t think Caroline’s going to like her being here,” he commented as he turned a page in his book.
“Caroline doesn’t like any women near her age here. She hates not being the centre of attention.”
“You would think she would have grown out of it by now.”
“Has Caroline ever grown up?” Gerard sighed. “I love her, but she is a right pain in the backside. I can see her being rather mean towards Lady Beatrice.”
“So can I.” Matthew looked up. He really couldn’t read and talk like his father; it just wouldn’t happen. “Do you think she’s going to make things worse? Remember when Dora Llewellyn visited last summer?”
“I do remember. Caroline was so rude to her that Dora left in tears two weeks into her stay.” Gerard frowned and shook his head. “I still haven’t quite forgiven her for that.”
“Is Dora still ignoring your letters?”
“I gave up after Christmas. If she isn’t going to respond, then I’m going to take the message and leave her alone.”
Matthew remembered Dora. She was a very sweet, gentle girl. And Gerard had been infatuated with her. Unfortunately, Caroline had got in the middle of it and made sure Dora didn’t feel welcome. Matthew and Gerard had tried, but Caroline was intent on making her leave. Which she had, and then cut contact with Gerard. Matthew knew his brother was broken about it; he had been in love with Dora, and he was sure the feelings were returned. But Dora didn’t want to be part of a family where Caroline Balfour was present.
“I still don’t understand why Caroline did that. She should be happy that you were looking to get married.”
“I think she just didn’t want the light off her.” Gerard frowned. “Doesn’t matter who the woman is, she wants everyone to look at her instead. And Dora is far prettier than our delightful cousin.”
“You’re lucky she’s not out here right now, otherwise she would be shouting at you by now.”
“And I’d put her in her place. She messed up a chance for me.” Gerard rubbed his hands over his face. “I still love her—she’s family, after all—but I wish she didn’t have to come here every summer. She drives me mad.”
“Just ignore her. That’s what I do.”
“You haven’t had her sabotage a potential relationship yet. You would find it easy to ignore her, if you had.”
“I just don’t let things get to me.”
“How you manage that, I have no idea.”
“That’s because you’re too serious, my dear brother.” Matthew smiled. “You just need to lighten up and have some fun. It might make things easier for you.”
“I’ll leave that to you, if you don’t mind.” Gerard stretched out his legs. “So, I’m guessing you’re going to be finding different things to keep Lady Beatrice distracted and making her laugh.”
“Of course, I am. Why wouldn’t I?”
“What if she doesn’t want it?”
Matthew arched an eyebrow.
“You think she would not be susceptible to a bit of fun?”
“All I’m saying is, when you’re missing someone you love, finding joy in life is harder to do.” Gerard stretched his arms above his head and rolled his wrists around. “You don’t want her running away from you.”
“She won’t. But I won’t be pestering her about it.” Matthew shrugged. “If she wants enjoyment, I’ll help her with that. But I’m not going to get up in her face and make her laugh.”
“You’ve done it before.”
“When I was a child. I’m older now.”
“And you think that makes a difference?” Gerard ducked as Matthew threw his book at him. “Father’s going to be upset that you’re using books as weapons.”
“Who’s going to tell him?” Matthew winked as he stood up and went to retrieve the book. “I’m not going to say anything if you don’t.”
“You’re incorrigible, Matthew.”
“I know.” Matthew patted his brother’s shoulder. “That’s why you love me.”
“And there are days when I wonder.”
Matthew laughed. At least Gerard made their time secluded in the country more bearable. Even if they were complete opposites.
Beatrice Fortescu was going to have some fun this summer. They were going to make sure of it.
Beatrice grimaced as the carriage bounced again, almost tipping her out of her seat. Why were the roads so bumpy in Suffolk? Everything had been smooth and easygoing until they got past London and headed past Newmarket. It was like everyone had forgotten to look after the county.
She still didn’t like the fact she had to go. Beatrice didn’t want to leave her home. It was what she needed right now, and she didn’t like being away from everything she knew as familiar and associated with her father. The Duke of Morley was a big presence, and whilst his absence was upsetting, Beatrice didn’t want to move away. She wanted her father close in any capacity.
“Beatrice?” Mrs Dominic touched her knee. “You’re looking a little distant.”
“Oh. I… I’m fine.” Beatrice managed a smile. “I just want to be there now. I hate travelling.”
“So do I, but we’ll be there soon.” The older woman returned the smile. “We’ll be at Kettleburgh before you know it.”
Beatrice hoped so. It had been ten years since she had seen the estate, a decade since travelling through Suffolk. And all she could see were rolling green fields. There was the occasional cottage that appeared out of nowhere, but it looked like they were leaving civilization behind completely.
She wanted the carriage to turn around and go back. Even though it meant two days travelling back, Beatrice wanted to go home. She was feeling colder the more she moved away from her home. Everything felt stark and painful.
And Beatrice couldn’t take it.
“Look, there you go.” Mrs Dominic leaned towards the window and pointed. “There’s a signpost. And Kettleburgh is on the sign.”
Beatrice looked, and she saw the signpost as they trundled swiftly past. Not too long now, and they would be with the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. Where Beatrice would be staying for two months.
She didn’t want to spend two months away from home. Why couldn’t her mother see this was a bad idea?
Her chest began to tighten, and her throat closed it. It was getting very hot in the carriage, and Beatrice was sure there had been a breeze a moment ago. She gasped and clawed at her throat, pressing a hand to her chest, and trying to breathe.
“Beatrice?” Mrs Dominic peered at her curiously. “What’s the matter, Beatrice?”
“I… I can’t breathe.” Beatrice scrambled for the door handle. “I need to get out. Stop the carriage.”
“Stop the carriage!”
Mrs Dominic rapped her fist on the ceiling, and the carriage stopped just as Beatrice opened the door. She missed her footing and her ankle flared in pain as she stumbled and fell to the grass shoulder. Ignoring it, Beatrice hobbled into the field and fell to her hands and knees. She drew in several deep breaths, feeling the tightening in her chest ease just a little. Then she collapsed onto the grass and started to sob.
She had to look like a fool. No lady behaved in such a manner, but Beatrice was close to not caring if anyone came by and saw her sprawled on the grass trying to breathe. She just wanted to be left alone.
Beatrice closed her eyes and turned her head. Evidently, being left alone wasn’t going to work when she had a chaperone.
“Oh goodness, Beatrice!” Mrs Dominic fell to her knees beside her, brushing Beatrice’s hair away from her face. “What on earth’s going on? You looked like you were going to faint.”
“I… I just…” Beatrice swallowed hard. Her chest felt like it was on fire, and her throat was beginning to hurt. “I was just…being inside the carriage for so long…it just…”
“I know, dear. I know.” Mrs Dominic patted her shoulder. “It’s difficult to be in a small space for a long time. It’s been a while since you’ve made this journey.”
Beatrice went with that. She wasn’t about to admit that she was already homesick, and she didn’t want to go to the Suffolk Estate. She wanted to be home with her father’s memories. Having them so far away made her panic.
“There’s more going on with you, isn’t there?”
Beatrice blinked away her tears, wiping at her eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“You want to go home, don’t you?”
Beatrice bit her lip. If she said anything, she was going to start crying again.
“Oh, darling.” The older woman sat beside her and crossed her legs, smoothing her skirts out. “It’s perfectly natural to want to be home when you’re not ready to go out into the world. And it’s normal to feel a loss hard. But it’s been a year now, and your mother is right. You need to get out and enjoy yourself.”
“How am I supposed to do that, when all I can feel is cold?” Beatrice rolled onto her back, pressing her hand on her belly. The corset was really restricting her right now. “I see something that reminds me of Father, or think of something he used to do, and I end up…”
“I know. It was the same for me when my husband died. One minute he was there and the next, he was gone. I didn’t even realise what was going on, and it didn’t truly sink in. Once it did…” Mrs Dominic sighed heavily. “I was a complete mess. I’m sure I wandered around the house without really knowing where I was going. It was…frightening how I went from bright and happy to low and miserable so quickly.”
“Why are you telling me this, Mrs Dominic?”
“Because it was the same for me. I went into a dark depressive state for a long time, and I refused any sort of help to get better. I wanted to keep hold of those memories that I had and keep away from everyone else. But, as you can see,” she gestured at herself, “I’m not that way anymore. I’m back to how I was, and then some.”
Beatrice remembered when Mr Dominic died five years prior. She had been shocked as the man had been so healthy and happy. Then he was gone, without any warning. And Mrs Dominic had pretty much vanished from life. Not just Society, as it dictated during mourning, but afterwards as well. She refused to see anyone, even her daughters, for a time.
“What did you do to get yourself better?” Beatrice asked. “What made the memories go away?”
“They never went away. I just learned to live with them differently. And it was because of my daughters. They strong-armed me into going to the Isle of Wight and going out every day to enjoy the sights. Put me in a cottage near the beach, and they made sure I went for a walk on the sand as much as possible.” Mrs Dominic smiled. “I thought it was ridiculous, and I didn’t want to leave home, but the change of scenery and the calm, quiet atmosphere made me feel better. I was able to mourn, but also realise that I wasn’t missing out on anything with my husband dead. I could go out and enjoy myself and not feel guilty because someone I loved had died.”
“You didn’t let it hold you back.”
“No, I didn’t.” Her companion squeezed Beatrice’s fingers. “That’s what your mother is trying to do for you. She wants you to be elsewhere, something to distract you and make you feel better. You need some laughter in your life now, and some young people around you to help with that. Gerard and Matthew Balfour can do that for you.”
Beatrice had to agree with that. She remembered a lot of good times with the children of her father’s friends. They were a little older than her, but they made time for her. Matthew, especially. He had been the one who was happy to get into trouble, do something carefree and exhilarating. It did result in a few broken bones whenever he went a bit too overboard, but Beatrice had found him fun to be around.
Maybe he was like that as a grown man. Maybe he was still the fun-loving, lighthearted person she remembered. That would be a welcoming distraction.
“They were so kind to offer me an invitation to stay with them for several weeks,” she said as she stared at the sky, the sun beating down on her face. She was beginning to feel warmer now. “They haven’t seen me in so long, and yet they said that I could come to them.”
“That’s because they are nice people. And they’re going to remember their old friend.”
Although Beatrice could hardly remember them. If they came to the funeral, she didn’t remember; it had been a big blur. As soon as the services were over, she had gone to her room and stayed there. Nobody had bothered her, and Beatrice couldn’t remember any names of those who came to pay their respects.
It had been a very long time ago, and most of Beatrice’s memories were of Matthew and Gerard, the people she spent time with the most. Hopefully, they weren’t much different.
“Look, darling, it’s not going to be for long,” Mrs Dominic said gently. “I’m going to be there for a few days to make sure you’ve settled in, so you won’t be alone with them.”
“You mean, to mentally prepare yourself for the journey back.” Beatrice giggled.
“That, too. Just a few days, and then you can do whatever you want. Lady Suffolk will make sure all your needs are met, and I’m sure the boys will find time to distract you.”
“They’re hardly going to be boys now, Mrs Dominic.”
“I know, but at my age, everyone feels so young.” Mrs Dominic got up from the ground with a grunt and dusted herself down. “I think we need to get a move on. Whilst it’s lovely out here, we can’t exactly spend the rest of the day here. And I’m sure someone’s seen us and wondered what on earth we’re doing.”
Beatrice didn’t care about that. But the older woman was right—they did need to move on. Slowly, she sat up and then got to her feet. Her hair was a little dishevelled, and she was sure that there was grass in her hair. That was going to take time to sort out.
“You let me worry about your composure in the carriage.” Mrs Dominic linked arms with her. “Let’s get going again. We’re nearly there. And then you don’t have to see the inside of a carriage for some time.”
Beatrice hoped that was the case. She was beginning to hate carriage rides now.
Matthew was out riding when he saw the carriage further down the road. It was going at a quick pace. Perfect for racing against, if the driver was agreeable. He nudged his horse into a gallop, and soon he was drawing up alongside the carriage. He signalled to the driver and gave him a wide grin. The driver raised his eyebrows, but Matthew could see the interested gleam in his eye. He was warring with his duties and joining in with a race.
Then Matthew saw someone looking out at him from inside the carriage. He glanced over, and he caught sight of a beautiful young woman with pale red hair watching him with a curious expression. For a brief second, he nearly lost control of his horse. But then he redirected the animal to stay on the path, touching his hat to the woman in greeting.
Then he rode on. Maybe racing the driver and his carriage wasn’t such a good idea. He didn’t want to get a certain young lady into trouble because one of her staff decided to take up a challenge. But Matthew was surprised when, as he turned into the driveway of his home, the carriage followed him. Were they guests? As far as he knew, the only guest they were having was Lady Beatrice Fortescu…
Wait, was that Beatrice he had seen just now? That couldn’t be possible. The Beatrice he remembered had been very much a redhead with a temper to match and a lot of freckles. She had been a fiery little thing, but Matthew couldn’t have described her as beautiful. Fun, yes, but not beautiful.
If that was her, she had really grown into a stunning lady.
Matthew pulled up outside the main steps to the front door, and dismounted lightly as the carriage came to a stop behind him. Whistling sharply, Matthew waited until one of the footmen who had hurried out from the house joined him.
“Take Triumph back to the stables, Torrance. He’s in need of a rest.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
Another footman, Halloran, was opening the door to the carriage. First out came a matronly woman in pale blue, handsome in her plumpness. She looked up at the house with a gasp.
“Goodness, this is one spectacular house.”
“I’m glad you think that’s the case, my Lady.”
The woman squeaked and spun around, clutching at her chest.
“Young man, do you have to approach an old lady from behind? You could have given me more of a fright.”
“I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to do that.” Matthew bowed to her, taking off his hat. “I have a feeling you’re fitter than I am.”
“Oh, tosh! I saw you riding away just now. You’ve got the health and stamina of every young man in England. My charge was certainly impressed, weren’t you, Lady Beatrice?”
So, it was Lady Beatrice he had seen. Matthew turned and saw the red-haired woman coming out of the carriage. He tried not to openly stare as she stood before him, her hair done in a tight braid over one shoulder and wearing a dress in yellow muslin. She was much taller now, almost eye-level with his mouth, and much slimmer. There were still freckles, but they were more muted than before. And those eyes…
Matthew had found her eyes the most fascinating. A very brilliant blue, very startling, and they were always sparkling. Be it anger or joy, there was so much emotion in her eyes. Matthew hadn’t been able to look away when she started showing intense emotion; they were just hypnotic.
Beatrice Fortescu had really grown up.
“And you are, sir?” the matronly woman prompted.
Matthew realised that he was staring. And Beatrice was staring back at him. Did he just see her eyes go a little darker, or was that a trick of the light? Clearing his throat, he gave her a bow.
“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to be so rude. Matthew Balfour, son of the Duke of Suffolk.” He glanced up at Beatrice. “And it’s been a long time, my Lady.”
It took a moment before Beatrice’s mouth dropped open.
“Matthew? But…you look…well, you…you look different.”
Her cheeks went a little pink. Matthew had always thought women looked pretty when they blushed, and Beatrice was no exception. Maybe even more so.
Why was he even thinking that?
“Well, we are all grown up now, aren’t we? I expect we all look a little different.”
“I suppose.” Beatrice cleared her throat. “This is Mrs Edwina Dominic. She was escorting me here.”
“Ah, the chaperone.” Matthew winked at the older woman, who blushed furiously. “I’m sure you’ve made sure Lady Beatrice was a good girl. She tends to get a little lively.”
“Oh, honestly!” Mrs Dominic huffed, but there was a twinkle in her eye as she took Beatrice’s arm. “Come on, dear, let’s get inside. I’m sure the Duke and Duchess are waiting for us.”
“Father’s gone to Ipswich, and he won’t be back until later. But Mother’s home.” Matthew beckoned them to follow him. “If you come with me, I’m sure we can find her.”
So, this was the young girl who they had played with as children. Matthew hadn’t thought it was possible for her to grow up into such a beautiful woman. It was surprising how people could grow up. He must look very different from when he was a child. From the way Beatrice kept glancing over at him, she seemed to be thinking just that.
They entered the foyer just as Beatrice’s luggage was being taken upstairs. As the servants negotiated the huge trunks, Matthew led the ladies towards the morning room where there were sounds of someone playing the harpsichord. Beatrice stopped.
“Oh! I haven’t heard this in years.” She stared at Matthew. “Your mother still plays?”
“Of course. She does most days. I seem to remember you took a great interest in it.”
“Unfortunately, I could never play.” Beatrice bashfully held up her hands. “I’m just too clumsy.”
“I’m sure that’s not the case.”
“You’ll find out when you ask me to play. It’s not very pleasant.”
Mrs Dominic laughed.
“Oh, you put yourself down too much, Beatrice. Of course, you can play. You’ve got a vitality about you that is lovely to watch.”
Beatrice blushed even further, which had Matthew smiling. He could look at her all day and not get bored.
He opened the door to the morning room and beckoned her closer.
“You two go on in. Mother will be delighted to see you, Lady Beatrice.”
“Aren’t you coming in with us, Lord Balfour?”
“I’ve got to get changed so I’m more presentable.”
“Oh. Right.” Beatrice bit her lip. “Thank you, my Lord. And it’s nice to see you again. It’s been a long time.”
Matthew couldn’t agree more. But he didn’t say anything further, stepping aside to let the ladies into the room. Lady Suffolk could entertain them alone without any problems. She was one of those people who could host without any help and still look perfect. Matthew would never know how she did it.
Matthew looked up and saw Gerard coming across the foyer. His brother gestured at the now closed door.
“Yes, that was.” Matthew fanned himself with his hat. He was beginning to feel rather warm. “And she’s all grown-up now.”
“I noticed. I remember a fiery, freckled girl.” Gerard raised his eyebrows. “She’s hardly that anymore.”
“It’s called becoming a woman, Gerard. It’s been ten years.”
“That it has. And I can see her time here being very interesting.” Gerard chuckled. “Imagine what Caroline’s going to say when there’s someone prettier than her in the house.”
“Don’t start that, Gerard, please. That’s really not something we should subject Beatrice to on her first day.”
“Well, someone needs to warn her that Caroline is a little…overbearing.”
“Nobody needs to warn her. She just needs to open her mouth.” Matthew headed towards the stairs. “I’m going to change, and then I’ll join everyone in the morning room. I won’t be long.”
In fact, Matthew wanted to be as quick as possible, and then he could spend more time with the lovely Beatrice Fortescu. And wonder how his childhood playmate had turned into the woman he had just seen.
This summer was going to turn into a very interesting time, indeed.
“Torn between Lust and Duty” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Ever since her father’s death, all the tantalising Beatrice wanted was to be left alone to mourn. However, when she is sent off to the Duke of Suffolk’s estate to spend the summer with her childhood friends, everything is about to change. With both men grown up and trying to win her heart, the most lustful summer is about to begin…
Who will manage to make her surrender once and for all?
Matthew Balfour, son of the Duke of Suffolk, is struck by Beatrice’s ravishing beauty the moment he sees her. The more he tries to tame his attraction to a woman who is meant for his brother, the more he passionately falls for her. He knows he is playing with fire, yet, he simply cannot resist the temptation. How far is he willing to go and how much is he willing to lose for this forbidden romance?
He will soon have to choose between love and family…
Their sinful affair has set their hearts on fire and the risks are unthinkable… However, when Beatrice is about to marry another man, will Matthew step forward and fight his own brother? Will Beatrice find the courage to claim that the only man her heart desires is Matthew? Will they withstand the pressure mounting against them, or will they abandon one another once and for all?
“Torn between Lust and Duty” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.