Since the girl fully intended to run from her present situation and start life anew, why not really run? Why not venture somewhere the earl would never think to look?
With great enthusiasm, the doctor used his persuasive abilities and painted a picture of freedom and happiness like no other with his description of the newly formed country. A country founded on the preface of freedom.
Elizabeth had not really thought of traveling far away from the only home she ever knew, especially as far away as across the ocean. She had never been to sea. To travel across the expansive ocean to a land as raw as that of the colonies was a frightening concept to her. There were a copious amount of whispers in good society concerning the barbarians who fought against the king’s army alongside half-naked natives. It was reported they even practiced slavery, something that was no longer done in civilized countries. The colonies the doctor described sounded nothing like the barbaric land the gossip so vividly portrayed. When he reminded her that the very refined and respected Lord Stephen Carlson, the very man her uncle chose for her to wed, spent the last decade of his life there she agreed it must indeed be the kind of land he was describing to her. It truly must be the land of new beginnings and freedom.
The picture the good doctor painted for Elizabeth made the newly emancipated country sound like a dream come true. Noting that a trip of this magnitude would prove costly, she agreed to fund their travel as long as he took care of the arrangements and acted as her escort for not only the duration of the trip, but also once they reached land.
The doctor assured her it would be an honor and a privilege to become her guardian until she met and fell in love with the man of her dreams. He urged her to tell no one of their plans. Her uncle was an influential man and the Carlson’s equally so, if not greater. Should their plans be discovered before they were executed, the consequences could be far too dire to even whisper about.
They parted company with the promise to meet again within the week. Both walked with a lighter foot. Both moved with an air of excitement. They had a plan. For Doctor Michael Jameson it represented the adventure of a lifetime. For Lady Elizabeth Nottingham it held freedom and the promise of a new life with love and happiness.
“Beyond the pale, girl, tell me you did not come alone!” Doctor Michael Jameson bellowed as he entered the room with his steward, John, close at heel.
The genuine petulant fretfulness expressed in the doctor’s voice as he strode across the thickly woven wool carpet and took his seat in an overstuffed, green tapestry chair startled Elizabeth. She had not witnessed this side of her old friend during his short visits over the years. He had always been jovial and warm while telling her stories of when he and her father were young doctors making their way in the world.
“Why, yes I did,” she replied stoically.
“Now, why would you do something so bloody stupid? Why, ‘tis unheard of! Do you not know how dangerous the streets are at night? And... devil take me... what nonsense did I hear? You came through the alley?”
They were about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime and he was nervous and decidedly anxious. The last thing he needed was undue stress upon his aging countenance because of the thoughtless actions of this young woman.
“’Twas faster sir,” Elizabeth replied hesitantly.
Hearing her response to the doctor’s fury, Elizabeth, regrettably, had to agree with him. What had she been thinking? His reaction to her thoughtless method of travel was surprisingly vivid. What would he say if he knew the rest? Dare she tell him she confided, just a little, to Madeleine about her plans and the fool woman turned her in? Dare she admit that her uncle insisted on marrying her immediately to Lord Carlson in order to avoid yet another family scandal? Dare she tell him she had been Lady Carlson for well over a week?
She dared not.
“I thought it best to keep as few people as possible in-formed of our plans, thus I did not hire a carriage and took a route that would prove speedy and require less walking. I am sorry if I upset you, sir,” she replied as she looked at the floor.
She suddenly felt quite foolish.
“No matter, dear child,” the doctor sighed. He seemed to realize his harshness and put his temper in check. Returning to the man she knew so well he continued, “You are probably right on that account. The less informed the better. Even a cabbie knowing your whereabouts could prove a risk. ‘Tis a might scandalous an act we are up to, I dare say.” He shook his head, allowed a broad smile to consume his face, and chuckled, “‘Tis indeed an adventure.”
“Indeed,” snorted John, seemingly not enthused. “One that could cost you dearly, you old fool. You are very likely sailing to the heathen colonies to be scalped, or worse.”
Elizabeth raised a brow in surprise at the unusual familiarity Doctor Jameson’s man servant used while in his company. Noticing her reaction, her new guardian threw his head back in hearty laughter.
“Lady Elizabeth Nottingham, might I introduce my brother, Sir John Jameson? I realize you have met, but I am certain you were not properly introduced.”
John bowed low, concealing his amusement as best he could.
“Your brother,” Elizabeth gasped, “but, I thought...”
“Yes, and you are correct. He does indeed serve as the household steward,”
Doctor Jameson chuckled. “Not because he needs to, mind you. In fact, he is my eldest brother. The family fortune,” the doctor swept his arm around the room, “this house, and all that is in it belongs to him. No, he does it not out of necessity but out of desire. For some unfathomable reason, he enjoys playing the role of my man servant.”
“Quite right,” John nodded enthusiastically as he did his best to conceal his amusement.
“How very strange,” Elizabeth mused.
“Indeed,” the doctor agreed.
Somehow Elizabeth did not feel she was privy to the entire story but she accepted their explanation. For the moment, there were more important issues to tend to. John’s strange behavior could be addressed at a later time, if it was to be addressed at all.
“Am I correct in understanding that you stepped in a rather strange substance while journeying here?” her host asked.
“Yes, I am so very sorry. It was extremely difficult to see my way tonight.” Upon noticing the dark look returning to the doctor’s face, Elizabeth checked her words, “Your house maid did her best to get most of it off to avoid my tracking it through the house. I am sorry to say my slippers did not fare well, but I believe nothing was tracked in.”
“I am not as worried about you mucking up my house as much I am about you infecting yourself. These alleys are full of disease. I shall have a bath set up for you. Sally will help. We shall burn those clothes. The wardrobe I ordered for you arrived yesterday. Select a sensible travel costume after you have cleaned up and meet me in the dining room. We shall have a light fare before heading down to the docks.” He stood up to leave, “I beg you do not dawdle, my dear child. I have no doubt that they will be looking for you at first light. We must make haste if we are to accomplish this.”
Fortunately for all concerned, Elizabeth had not discussed the whole of her plans to Madeleine and Doctor Jameson’s identity was spared. Knowing the good doctor as she felt she did, she was certain he would not have followed through with their plans had he realized that she was already wed to the very man she sought his help to escape. She decided that it was best to keep that fact a secret until after they set sail for the former colonies.
Stephen leaned against the ship’s weathered rail and made a mental note of its need for maintenance while he watched the English shore transform into a tiny, thin line that looked about to fall off the edge of the ocean’s waters. It was good to be back on the open sea, even if it was under such unhappy circumstances. Sailing always made him feel free and alive. It was a feeling he especially craved after the heartache and trauma the last few months provided.
The stuffiness of London society was in stark contrast to the freedom of his life in the raw and newly formed United States. Even if he had not learned of his bride’s voyage to the new world, he would have returned to it eventually. His bride’s outrageous antics provided him with the excuse to do so earlier, and with his father’s blessings.
Upon summons of his ailing father Stephen returned to England immediately, although reluctantly. The affairs of his family’s estate were in turmoil and he was required at home to assist. The duke was unwell and his physicians were unable to diagnose the cause of his ever worsening breathing ailment. To add to the upheaval, the overseer, Mr. Eversmith, suffered a tragic fall from his mount while chasing poachers off their land and died from a broken neck. With his father bedridden and the overseer deceased, the lands and management of the estate were in dire need of attention. His mother’s letter begged him to make haste in returning to assume his father’s duties as the duke of their grand lands, even if he had yet to inherit the title.
Concerned that his son was still unwed and the possibility that he may not see the birth of the future of his bloodline, the duke made inquiries about eligible young ladies for his son. He finally settled on the daughter of Sir Thomas Nottingham. Although born a merchant’s son, Nottingham had been a distinguished physician who caught the king’s eye and was awarded a title and a fortune. He also managed to marry into an old and established family, which took away a considerable amount of the sting of his less than noble birth. Whatever the girl lacked in pedigree, she made up for with her delicate, aristocratic beauty and sizable dowry. The Duke was taken by the way wisps of dark, unruly hair framing her delicate oval face. It accentuated her deep violet eyes, prominent cheekbones and thick, lush lips. She proved well-schooled in etiquette, displaying ever the demure and well-bred lady whenever seen in public. Although slight in frame, she seemed hearty enough. Inquiries provided nary a report of illness to her credit. Yes, Elizabeth Nottingham would do nicely to add to the duke’s legacy, very nicely indeed.
Along with the identity of his choice of brides, Stephen’s father provided him with a brief history of her family. As the only surviving heir to the family’s mercantile business, Thomas Nottingham inherited at an early age after his mother, father, sister and brother were stricken by a gripping illness that took hold of their bodies and possession of their lives so quickly there was no time to diagnose, let alone treat the horrendous affliction. When Thomas returned from a buying trip, he discovered he was not only an orphan, but the new owner of a business he cared little about. Grief stricken, he decided to sell the business and study medicine. He was determined to become the best in the medical field so he could help prevent what happened to his family from happening to others. His choice in vocations proved to be a very wise decision. Skilled as a physician and eager to progress in life and make himself worthy to stand beside the woman who stepped down in her station the day she agreed to be his wife, Thomas managed to catch the King’s eye and affection enough to be awarded a knighthood and a rather extensive estate. To this he added his own considerable inheritance. Out of this estate, Elizabeth stood to receive a respectable fortune upon her wedding day. The duke felt these factors far outweighed the scandal of her parent’s defiant elopement.
The earl’s description of Lady Elizabeth to the duke was that of a dutiful, young woman who was well schooled in the social graces and worldly events. Although he would sometimes witness an occasional high spirit not suitable of a lady -no doubt inherited from her father’s common side- he was certain was well influenced by proper society and educated enough to be a model wife, mother, and head of household to compensate for any undesirable residue that may have remained within her common breeding.
Stephen wrestled with telling his father he developed an acquaintance with a socialite in the colonies. She was a striking southern belle from the plantation nearest his in Georgia. He found her witty, as well as lovely to look at. He was considering courting her prior to being summoned to return home. It even crossed his mind to court her in spite of the summons.
After much thought, he decided against it. He knew that once his father made a decision of such magnitude, he would not be prone to change it. There was also the fact that even though she was not of the purest pedigree, the Lady Elizabeth Nottingham was still of a higher and much more acceptable station for the taste of British society, than Miss Paulette Moore. This was something a future Duke needed to keep in mind.
Stephen sighed and braced himself for the inevitable. He would have to shift his attentions from the fiery warmth of his beautiful and charming southern belle who he had grown quite fond of to the cold aloofness of a prim and proper English gentlewoman whom he knew nothing about but had apparently managed to somehow pass the scrutiny of his father enough to be selected as his bride. Such an undertaking might take a bit of getting used to.
Keenly aware that neither the earl nor his father’s description of Elizabeth included beauty, Stephen appealed to be allowed to view her on a few occasions without her knowledge of their intended nuptials. He explained that he wished to see her in her own element when she was not necessarily at her best behavior as a woman might be should a man be courting her. To himself he admitted that if she was not comely -which he assumed she was not- he would like to be prepared for that fact and have time to adjust to the sacrifice he would be making for his family’s sake. It would also afford him the opportunity to discover what it was about the young chit that gave his father cause to overlook her less than perfect pedigree and acceptance into the family. It was a puzzlement that weighed heavy on him.
Had he not been absent from London society for such a long time Stephen would have been aware of Lady Elizabeth’s rich, exotic beauty and witnessed her impeccable manners and perfect etiquette during the many events she attended since her coming out ball. Taking into consideration the ten years that Stephen was away from London society while residing in a primitive land, Earl Roberts humored him and granted his odd request. Besides, there was the matter of the marital contract to be worked out before they could even think of going public with such an announcement. A marriage was a serious business venture and need not be rushed. He would allow Lord Carlson the time he requested to observe his niece, although an odd request it was.
Stephen was invited to several events where he was able to interact with Elizabeth. Although his young bride-to-be was far more reserved thank his fiery southern belle, Miss Paulette Moore, she still displayed a warmth and innocent zest for life that Stephen had not anticipated and was extremely pleased to discover. As a bonus, and much to his relief, he found her beauty to exceed any of the women he ever laid eyes on, including Miss Paulette.
I all his travels he had never seen such a combination of porcelain skin, rosy cheeks, rich violet eyes, and thick, carefree raven hair on a petite, perfectly proportioned female body. The fact that she appeared fragile, but healthy, only served to make her even more appealing to him.
He found her irresistible.
It took every ounce of his strength and reserve to hold back and not declare his love for her the moment he was introduced at the Regent’s party. Knowing she was his betrothed, he struggled vehemently with the jealousy that swelled within him each time he watched her dance with the most eligible gents in the room. Never before had he found his emotions so difficult to keep in check.
The tortuous delight of being seated so near Elizabeth during the opera Countess Westbury invited him to almost proved to be Stephen’s undoing. Upon a few stolen glances in the countess’s direction, he could have sworn he caught a fleeting look of amusement on the Countess’s gracefully aged face before she pulled it into check. Was her amusement at his expense? Did she realize his torture? He would put nothing past the bored aristocracy that was always in search of some small amusement to help them get through their days.
The terms of marriage negotiations with the earl were decidedly more complex than Stephen would have expected. He heard whispers here and there that Earl Roberts found caring for his niece troublesome and tedious. Wagging tongues insisted that the earl would have much preferred taking on the care of his nephew and being spared that of his niece. When his negotiations with Stephen proved in favor of his niece’s future wellbeing, it came as a great surprise.
Although the earl’s demands were fair and just, they took time to arrange. This caused a delay in the announcement of their intended nuptials, which was something Stephen found regretfully tortuous. He would have much preferred to have London know the beautiful Lady Elizabeth would soon belong to him. He particularly wanted to flaunt this fact to the wolf-like gents who flocked around her at every public event she attended.
Stephen found his meetings with Lord Roberts difficult to endure when he knew Elizabeth was somewhere under the same roof. He struggled with a burning longing to be sitting in her company and would have agreed to anything to shorten the meetings to be free to seek her out. Much to the earl’s delight, he practically did.
It was common for women to seek the company of Lord Stephen Carlson and he found them easy to entertain. It was because of this fact that he was so frustrated when he finally had the opportunity to be alone with the beautiful Lady Elizabeth and could not summons his manly charms. He thought her lovely and so delicate like an exotic bird. For some unknown reason, he could not shake the gnawing fear that his exotic bird might fly away. Her overall effect on him was overwhelming and he inevitably became embarrassing-l and un-characteristically over-heated and tongue-tied. Within minutes of seating himself in the room with her all wittiness and gifts of conversation left him. Frustrated by his boyish behavior, he found himself making excuses to shorten his stay and escape to the welcoming embrace of the fresh air outside.
Immediately upon his first encounter with Elizabeth, he realized how ridiculous his request to have their arrangement kept secret had been. He loved her from the minute he set eyes on her. When the earl finally surprised him and announced their engagement during the intimate dinner party, Stephen’s heart almost leapt from his body with excitement and anticipation. Without thinking, he placed his hand over hers in open display of affection.
The cold clamminess of Elizabeth’s velvety skin as he enveloped her hand with his was the first indication that perhaps the beautiful and delicate Elizabeth was not as happy about their intended union as he. It was like a bucket of ice thrown in his face. He never expected her to be non-desirous of a union with him. It was every woman’s goal to make a fine match. He was so accustomed to women practically throwing themselves at him in pursuit of marriage that the possibility of a woman not wanting to marry him never even crossed his mind.
He cursed himself for catering to his own selfishness and not courting Elizabeth properly right from the start. If he learned nothing else, he was certain that a woman expected and desired to be wooed and cooed into loving her future husband. Even those who were in loveless marriages gone awry at one time enjoyed the pleasures of a courtship. His selfish fears had denied this lovely woman one of the most important experiences of a woman’s life. He was woefully sorry. Fully intending to make it up to her, Stephen made a silent vow to court her for the time remaining in their short engagement.
Since Stephen’s father was seriously ill, the doctor whispered concerns on more than one occasion that if he did not soon improve soon, death would more than likely ensue. Because of this, the wedding was set for less than forty-five days from the announcement, providing only enough time for the banns to be read, Elizabeth’s wedding gown to be made by the best dressmaker in London, and a menu to be planned by the best cooks and pastry makers in the city. Lord Cyrus Roberts may not have concerned himself with Elizabeth’s happiness, but he certainly monitored his own reputation with great care. Therefore, only the best of the best would be allowed to create a wedding that would be the talk of London society for months to come.
Sadly, before Stephen was even able to begin his courting ritual, his intentions came to a crashing halt. His opportunities were severely impaired when his father’s health took an acute turn for the worse. The demands for the wellbeing of his family’s estate that were placed on the newly engaged Lord Carlson were of such that he found little time for anything other than keeping a close watch on business affairs. Sadly, his visits with Elizabeth were far and few between. What worsened the situation was how his continual and irritating shyness impaired his ability to express his thoughts and feelings whenever he did find the time to be in her company.
Even though the earl’s sudden request for a quick and quiet wedding took Stephen and his family by surprise, it was generally well received. His father was most anxious to see his only son and heir to his fortune and title satisfactorily wed before he died, and Stephen as equally eager to take this beautiful and exotic goddess, Elizabeth, as his wife. The groom and his family were more than happy to oblige.
Even so, reasons for the rushed marriage danced through Stephen’s head as he stood in the cozy, ancient chapel with only a few of their closest relatives in attendance and watched Elizabeth slowly make her way down the aisle toward him. Since their engagement was not a lengthy one from the start, he was certain something was amiss to cause this unexpected shortening of it.
Stephen frowned as he took in the vision of beauty that was now standing so near that he could revel in her sweet, delicious scents. She had been robbed of the pleasures of a proper courtship and now her right to experience a dream wedding. He did his best to peer through the silver threads of the thick, white voile shrouding her beauty. He may have been a man who appreciated and respected customs, but at this particular moment he wished they had forgone the custom of the veil. There should be a law against covering such beauty for even the briefest of moments.
The fact that Elizabeth was wearing the latest in wedding gown colors did not go unnoticed. She looked a vision in her billowing layers of rich, white satin adorned with creamy pearls. She decided against the modern hip and buttock pads, opting for the older and more traditional pannier beneath her skirts; creating a somewhat regal swag when she slowly made her way down the isle. They may have eliminated the big wedding, but they at least managed to procure the perfect gown. Surely this fact pleased his beautiful young bride.
His frown deepened as he thought about the social association with the color of her gown. Although white was the latest rage in fashion, a white wedding gown was also intended to portray virginity and innocence. For a while, the church was in an uproar over the open flaunting of what should be kept private, but with both the fashion world and social mind-set insisting on it, the church eventually calmed down and accepted the new trend.
Could Elizabeth's virginity be a factor in rushing this wedding? After all, their marriage was unexpectedly and most urgently pushed forward by several months and practically being held in secret. They had not even completed the reading of their banns. This was a concern Stephen expressed. He was assured by the earl that it was a small issue that they could work around as he urged the young lord to move forward with the wedding. The earl’s determination to marry his niece off so quickly could only mean one thing. The lady was wearing virgin white falsely and was probably with child.
Although the thought that another man enjoyed what he coveted as his own and had planted his seed within her velvety depths was difficult to bear, Stephen did his best to look past it. He was, after all, a man of the world and therefore should understand such things. The closed doors of London society did not necessarily promote the chastity in their women like one might assume. Since he became her betrothed but a few short weeks ago, he would accept her indiscretions as the actions of a foolish girl who grew up without the proper guidance a mother would have normally provided. One could hardly expect a governess who was very nearly the age of her protégé to give the girl the same guidance as a mother might give. As for her uncle... it was clear from the start that he was neither up to, nor desirous, of the task.
Suspecting something was amiss, Stephen engaged in a brief discussion with the earl about the possibility of Elizabeth having experienced an interlude and the need to marry being so great that even a day’s delay would not do. He expressed clearly that although he would oblige the earl with his request, if his niece was with child, he must insist on reserving the option of sending the child to the earl for care. Not only did Stephen feel he should not be expected to care for the result of the foolish girl running amiss due to improper supervision by her guardian, there was also the possibility of a male child being born. Surely the earl realized that it would be impossible for him to claim such a child as his own when the laws required the family fortune go to the first born son. After all, his primary purpose for marrying Elizabeth was to produce an heir to carry on his family bloodline. Of course, something of such a delicate nature would not be further addressed until the sex of the child was known.
Although it was obvious that the earl was mildly put out by Stephen’s assumptions, mode of conversation, and insult to his guardianship, he readily agreed. His desire to be free of his niece seemed overwhelmingly acute.
Now, seeing his bride-to-be standing so lovely and so near his body quivered with anticipation, Stephen regretted his words with her uncle. It did not matter if Elizabeth was with child. It did not matter that she had gone amiss. All that mattered was that she was going to be his. He was marrying the sweetest, most beautiful woman in the land. No... in the world. That was all that mattered. All he had to do was shed his foolish awkward nervousness whenever she was near and life would be perfect.
Although Elizabeth never voiced as such, her actions made it painfully clear during their brief engagement and equally brief wedding ceremony that she did not desire marriage to him. Assuming her heart was captured by the father of the child budding in her womb, Stephen overlooked her obvious sulking and resigned himself to the possibility that theirs was likely to be one of the typical marriage of arrangement. Such marriages were all too common in London society. Although he prayed she might one day love him, he hoped they would at least work things out enough to be friends. After all, the bonds of a genuine friendship could prove to be quite rewarding. He regretted his arrogance and thoughtless assumptions as he recalled their wedding night.
Thinking he was not dealing with a virgin, his only focus in mind was to possess her wholly and wipe away any trace of the man who tasted her pleasures before him. To add to the situation, he drank his fill of courage during the reception as a precaution against that cursed nervousness that always arose in her presence. It would not do to have his body fail him during the sealing of the nuptials.
She fought him, of course. But that was to be expected. They were after all purposes strangers and she was forced to marry him when she loved another. Curiosity for her lover’s identity entered his mind only fleetingly before his intoxicated lust for his new bride took over. It did not matter that she resisted. He was certain she would come around after a few evenings in his bed and forget all about the man she left behind. He was, after all, a very accomplished lover.
If only he had not been so foolish and drank so much during their small, but elaborate reception.
She remained by his side as a new wife should for the majority of the evening, excusing herself only to take care of necessities. As per usual, her nearness caused his emotions to run rampant. He wanted to hold her close and whisper that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and declare how he loved her from the moment he met her, but his tongue would not cooperate. His loins ached with excruciating anticipation. He would have given anything for the opportunity to take her there and then, but social etiquette kept them apart.
While he remained distorted inside from the tortures of her nearness yet calm on the outside for all eyes to see, those in attendance praised what a lovely couple they made. Stephen could hardly endure it. He saw only one recourse for a man who suffered so.
And drink he did.
By the time he finally found himself alone with his beautiful bride in their newly acquired townhouse and was free to adorn her with his professions of love without the risk of a room full of listening ears, his mind was duly dulled by champagne and cognac. He was unable to articulate a single word. His body, on the other hand, came alive with a mind of its own. Frustrated over his incapacitated speech and unable to keep his urges in check, he wasted no time in bedding his new bride and claiming her sweetness as his own.
That was an act he would regret for the rest of his life.
Had Stephen’s mind not been so fogged with alcohol, he would have realized his new bride was not fighting him off with all her might because of her love for another man. She was battling out of fear and confusion over what was happening to her.
Had Stephen’s senses been more alert, he would have recognized that his delicate flower was not educated as to what went on between a husband and wife. He would have realized that she needed coaxing and caressing to bring her to a state of acceptance of what was about to occur before he plunged his manhood deep into her velvety depths so unceremoniously.
Had Stephen been sober, he would have noticed the resistance that her virgin body gave him.
Alas, Stephen had not been sober.
Upon awakening the following morning with a head that felt like someone bashed it with the dull side of an ax. He was immediately humbled by his drunken folly. His heart twisted and he was filled with remorse when he rose onto one elbow and looked down at his still sleeping bride laying pinned beneath his bulk. Elizabeth’s eyes were swollen and red from a tear-filled night and the remnants of her finely sewn dressing gown were all askew. In his haste to possess her, Stephen had not even taken the time to remove it and spare the expertly sewn silk from his ravaging. Needless to say, the gown was ruined.
It was painfully clear that he passed out atop her small, but beautifully shaped, bosom upon completion of their consummation. If not for the softness of the thick feather mattress, his muscular body would have surely crushed her petite and delicate frame. As Stephen moved to the side of the bed the unmistakable signs that he bedded a virgin boldly coated Elizabeth’s gown and the bed covering, as well as parts of his own body. He groaned, sickened by his own actions.
Never before had he been so brutish with a woman - not even with the whores he occasionally bedded. How could he have been so idiotic as to allow himself so much drink? How could he have been such an animal, such a monster? What was it about Elizabeth Nottingham that caused him to act outside himself?
Stephen found the experience of a willing seductress much more compatible to his tastes and had therefore never bedded a virgin. Even so, he knew they needed to be treated much differently than the way he treated his poor young bride. His recollection of their battle was a hazy fog. From the bruises on her tender flesh, her swollen eyes, the torn gown, the stained bed covering, and the scratches on his chest, he was positive he treated her more like a whore than a new bride. No, worse than a whore. He provided no cooing and coaxing her fears away. Even a whore would have received that courtesy. The unbridled lust Stephen worked so hard to control had gotten the better of him. The fact that it was released by an excess of alcohol magnified the situation.
Ashamed and embarrassed by his barbaric actions, he debated what to do. Since it was clear she had not been pouting over the loss of a lover, he could only assume that his new bride simply did not find him appealing enough to want to marry. Of course, after last night, he could hardly expect her to like him enough to be his friend, let alone love him.
Resigning himself to his self-inflicted fate, Stephen decided to bed her until she got with child. Then he would leave her alone and allow her to live as the rest of London society seemed to live. He had no desire to force himself on a woman who truly found him repulsive any more than he had to. If it were not for the fact that he was expected to produce an heir he would have walked away and never touched her again.
He sighed. Such is the lot of the aristocracy. Surely Elizabeth understood this. She may not have had a mother to instruct her, but she was a lady born and bred and some things were simply common knowledge. She would have to endure bedding him until the family line was secure and then he would set her free. She could remain in London and he would travel between his estate in England, his plantation in Jamaica, and his plantation in Georgia. Surely she would be tolerant of the rare visits this type of schedule would allow him.
The only flaw in Stephen’s plan -besides the tortuous fact that he loved her- would be if the first child Elizabeth bore was a girl. If that should happen he would have to remain in England and bed her until an heir was presented.
He would worry about that later.
Stephen avoided Elizabeth all day. He was far too ashamed to look at her, let alone enter into a conversation. If their paths did happen to cross and they had a need to address each other, the bare minimum was spoken.
When evening came and he once again entered her chambers, he found her reluctantly huddled in the middle of her bed with the richly embroidered covers pulled tight around her neck. His petite young bride looked small, innocent, and frightened on a mattress that looked spacious enough for her entire wait staff to slumber on.
He moaned with remorse for his own stupidity. If he had not been expected to impregnate Elizabeth immediately for his ailing father's sake, he would have left the room and allowed her the peace her rich violet eyes so clearly begged him for. If only his father was not so ill, he could delay things and give her time to recover from their wedding night fiasco. Actually, he too would have appreciated some time for the memory and guilt of his drunken abandonment to dissipate.
Stephen did his best to avoid Elizabeth’s haunting stare as he crossed the room and poured himself a hefty amount of brandy in a straight stemmed, intricately etched, wide-mouthed crystal goblet.
Her wide eyes never left him.
Tossing back the amber liquid as quickly as he could, he had another, and then another. Relaxation spread through his body almost instantly as the brandy’s warmth reached his stomach. Its artificial power surged through his veins, giving him the courage he needed to finally face her.
Glancing in Elizabeth’s direction, he poured a small amount into another glass and walked to the bed.
Cringing as far away from her new husband she was able, while still retaining coverage over her slender body proved impossible. The weight of his bulk as he sat down on the edge of the bed tossed her closer and the covers no longer guarded her as they had once done. Her chemise slipped, exposing her silken shoulders, as she struggled to regain composure.
He absent mindedly traced her exposed flesh along her collar bone with a finger as he offered her the brandy. His thoughts fought his lustful anticipation of what was to come. She was so lovely, so delicate and beautiful, his body responded on its own. It would be different this time the told himself. He consumed only enough brandy to take the edge off his boyish nervousness, not enough to make him drunk. He was in complete control now and would move slowly, sensually. He would woo her and show her what it was like to be loved by a man. He would wipe the memory of last night with his kisses and tender touch.
“Drink this. Twill loosen you up,” Stephen cooed.
“I do not wish to drink.” Elizabeth spat with squeaking emotion.
She may not know her husband well, but she conversed with him enough over the months to know she detected a mild slur in the handsome man’s voice and wondered how much he drank before he entered her bed chambers and downed half a decanter of brandy before her very eyes. It was all too obvious that Stephen disliked bedding her just as much as she disliked bedding him.
“Tonight you do,” Stephen commanded with a little more force than he intended.
Upon seeing Elizabeth’s eyes open wide with fright, he heaved a deep sigh. This was not going well. He had no experience wooing a reluctant woman. If only she could like him just a little. This would be so much easier... and pleasurable. He wanted to walk away and leave her at peace. He was at a loss at what to do or how to act.
Taking a deep breath, he continued in a manner less abrupt, “Please drink this. ‘Twill relax you just a little.”
Elizabeth raised her chin defiantly, “I do not wish to...”
“Drink it,” He blurted in frustration with a controlled voice that was barely above a whisper.
Stephen found the entire situation incredibly frustrating. He was not prepared to deal with a woman who resisted him in this manner night after night. He had no idea how he should be acting. The fact that Elizabeth was so obviously repulsed by him when he wanted nothing more than to lay with her forever surprised, infuriated, and devastated him.
Elizabeth was stunned by her new husband’s sudden display of aggression. What type of man had she married? Her uncle assured her he was a well-bred young man who came from the finest of the finest. He would be able to provide for her and her children better than most husbands could. He seemed so quiet and, well... dull during their brief times together. He certainly managed to fool people by hiding this horrific side of his nature quite efficiently. One would never guess this side of his persona when he is out and about. Never.
It was no secret that Lord Stephen Carlson was the most sought after bachelor in London society. Her good fortune was pointed out to her by more than one person on many an occasion. If they knew about his drinking problem would they think so highly of him?
Had it really been good fortune? Remembering Stephen’s drunken assault on her tender and innocent flesh just the night before, and hearing his aggressive manner just now gave Elizabeth cause to wonder just how fortunate she really was to have married the most sought after bachelor in London society.
Having watched him drink far more in a short period of time than was recommended over the course of a full night she determined she had the misfortune to have married a drunk. She heard whispers about such things. Would he beat her now? She prayed for a reprieve until she and the doctor could execute her plan of escape.
Thinking it best not to provoke him, Elizabeth took the glass and unceremoniously tossed the amber liquid down her throat. She rarely found cause to drink brandy. On the few occasions she did she found it quite distasteful and rarely let more than a few drops touch her lips. Therefore, she was not prepared for its fiery assault as it caused her throat to contract. Spinning into a fit of coughs and gasps, she struggled to suck in air.
Stephen pulled her close and patted her back in an effort to ease her discomfort. The sweet scent of lavender that mingled with the coarse heavy curls of her shiny, thick raven hair filled his nostrils, accentuated his headiness, and tantalized his loins. He groaned with dismay as unbridled lust twisted and beat at him in an unmistakable demand to be set free. It was like a wild beast seeking freedom from its cage.
Stephen summoned all his might to subdue his urges, for subdue them he must. He had no intention of repeating his actions from the night before. Tonight he would move slowly, carefully. Even if his wife did not desire him, she could at least enjoy the experience. He pleasured enough women to know that the mind did not require love for the body to enjoy its pleasures.
Realizing his intentions, Elizabeth pushed Stephen away with all her might while she struggled to free herself. In doing so, the lace of her loosely draped chemise fell off her shoulders, exposing a small, perfectly formed breast. Was this seemingly innocent goddess torturing him on purpose?
“Please. Not tonight. I... I hurt,” Elizabeth wailed in frustration.
Although she did not want to anger him, she wanted even less to repeat the nightmare of the night before.
“Sadly, my dear wife, I know of no way of avoiding the hurt. I assure you that you will not feel hurt tonight like you felt last night, if you feel hurt at all.” Stephen looked away and sighed, “Had I realized, I would have done things differently.”
“Realized?” Elizabeth had no idea what he was referring to.
“’Tis no matter,” Stephen smiled. “Now, remove your gown please.”
Elizabeth froze. Was he serious? Did he actually expect her to remove her clothes like a wanton woman? Surely he was jesting.
“Shall I remove it for you?” Stephen asked gently.
When Stephen moved to do just that, Elizabeth scrambled quickly to the other side of the bed. She had no intention of baring her body for this brute of a man. Not now, not ever. A sudden decision struck her and she was no longer concerned about angering him. Let him beat her until her body was covered with bruises. Surely the pain would be less to endure than a repeat of the night before.
Stephen caught the edge of her gown and tugged in an effort to subdue her. He wanted nothing more than to make this night a pleasurable experience for the young, exotic beauty before him, but her repulsion of him was not making things easy. He never had to force a woman to bed him. He found the experience degrading. He was at an absolute loss at what to say or do.
“We must create an heir,” Stephen growled in frustration. Perhaps if he explained the situation to her, she would calm down. “Then, my dear wife, I shall leave you alone.”
Elizabeth stopped short. What was it that she detected in his tone of voice? Could it be that her new husband found this situation just as distasteful as she did? She had not taken into consideration the fact that perhaps Lord Stephen Carlson married her to appease his father and not out of a desire for her. It had not occurred to her that he may have been forced to marry her, like she was forced to marry him. Was that why he drank himself drunk on their wedding night? Was it to block out the fact that he must bed her? Did he find her so undesirable?
Having no mother to confide in and no married friends, Elizabeth was not clear on what really went on between a wife and a husband. She assumed what she experienced the night before was typical behavior. That being the case, she was not anxious to repeat it. Could it be that he too was reluctant? Had it hurt him like it hurt her? These were things she did not know and had no one to ask. She certainly was not going to ask him.
The thought that the two of them were coupled against their will never entered her mind. Until now.
Noticing his wife was deep in thought, Stephen took advantage of her unguarded state and reached for her shoulders. His large, weathered, yet well-manicured, hand barely gripped her gown before she spun away, leaving him with a fist full of fabric. As she pulled against his hold, the delicate trimming of her light weight garment tore from its meticulous stitching. He scowled. It was not his intention to ruin yet another gown. What would the servants think? If he kept this up, he would not have to worry about how to get the gown off this breath taking creature for she would have nothing left to don.
In her struggles to release herself from Stephen’s ever increasing grip, Elizabeth unwittingly forced an arousal in him that he could no longer deny. With a goodly amount of brandy coursing through his veins, all sensibility and caution was lost as his body took charge on its own accord. It ignored anything his mind might think that would stop him from fulfilling his needs and desires.
His lips burned against her skin, while he explored her wantonly. Within seconds he regained control of his senses and his love making shifted from that of a heated animal to the soft and sensual caresses of a most adept lover.
Stephen spoke the truth. The experience was not painful for Elizabeth as it was the night before. In fact, his tender ministrations were so wildly enjoyable that she was sure she would lose herself in ecstasy at any moment. Her mind reeled in confusion. Was she supposed to enjoy it like this? Was she expected to respond or should she simply allow him his pleasures like a dutiful wife? She had no idea.
Although Madeleine proved more than efficient when it came to her education on etiquette within society, a wife’s house management duties, and world affairs, not once had she carried on a woman to woman discussion with Elizabeth about husbands and wives and what happened between them behind closed doors. The subject seemed practically taboo. If it was referred to at all, it was with a whisper that crept out from behind her hand. Elizabeth attributed it to the fact that Madeleine never even possessed a beau to kiss, let alone a man to marry.
Accustomed to being on guard so as not to displease the man of the household, Elizabeth decided it was best to remain as still as she could while her husband took his pleasures. She held her breath and closed her eyes as tight as they would close and used every ounce of strength she could find while she struggled to keep her composure in check. It took all her strength to subdue the moans of pleasure that threatened to escape her throat. It would not do to upset him with her selfish wiggling and squealing from this absolutely incredible experience.
The thought of having to remain stoic and stiff while she endured such delightful pleasures for the rest of her life was crushingly sad. Was this her fate? How did wives around the world do this? Those who did received her humble admiration, for she did not think she could possibly bear it night after night. It was no small wonder why so many women encouraged their husbands to take a mistress. Being alone in bed would be far less punishment than the tortures of having to subdue one of the most pleasurable sensations a body could have.
Elizabeth did her best to remove her thoughts from the pleasures of the flesh in hopes it would help her retain her calm demeanor under Stephen’s wildly arousing ministries. In doing so, she found herself recalling the laughter and pleasurable conversation that transpired between the two during the many social engagements they simultaneously attended. She recalled how handsome he looked as he stepped onto the dance floor at Lord Milo’s ball. His deep throated laughter had caused shivers of delight up her arms and down her back at the Andersen’s picnic. She recalled how well his muscular thighs rippled when he maneuvered his stallion next to her carriage while outing in the park. He was a handsome and virile man any woman would be overjoyed to claim as hers. Yet he was hers. He was hers and he was here doing the most marvelous things to her body while whispering the most wondrous devotions in her ear. She loved him for it. She loved him for everything. Oh dear, she loved him.
The ecstasy of realizing the truth of her feelings for Lord Stephen Carlson clashed with the knowledge that he married her out of duty and nothing more. She was crushed to the core. She loved a man who did not love her. Yes, he spoke devotions while in the throes of passion, but surely they were simply words in a moment of passion. He made no mention of love outside their coupling. He'd made it perfectly clear that once she gave him a son they would have nothing more to do with each other. What joke of fate? How could God be so cruel? She was a dutiful ward of her uncle and a model young lady to society. She accepted her situation after the death of her parents with grace and dignity. All she desired in return was one thing and one thing only... to be loved. Now, her dreams of that happening were crushed. She was married to a man who did not return her love. She was no fool. She listened to enough conversations to understand that men enjoyed women without loving them. This was certainly what must be happening now. It was impossible for him not to be enjoying the sensations of their coupling, was it not? He certainly seemed to be enjoying himself.
The situation was just too saddening. Thank goodness her plans to escape with Dr. Jameson were still in the making. Would the doctor come through with a message that all was in order soon? She fervently prayed that it be so.
Feeling Elizabeth’s stiff body beneath him frustrated Stephen even more. After his initial lustful attack on her person, his senses returned and he did his best to show as much tenderness and consideration as he could. It was a difficult task to be sure. The woman’s beauty and appeal was of such to drive the best of men mad. One could not be too harsh on him for his occasional loss of control.
He pulled himself up and looked down on Elizabeth’s slight frame while she lay looking anywhere but at him. She seemed so small and vulnerable. Her eyes were dry of tears but filled with what looked be sorrow. He sensed her mind preoccupied. Did she wish herself away? Did she find being with him that distasteful? Did he sicken her to such an extent that she could not allow her body to relax and enjoy his expert ministries of pleasure? Never had he failed in bringing a woman to the heights of passion, yet it seemed he had failed now... and with his own wife.
Stephen prayed Elizabeth would conceive an heir soon so he would no longer be required to force himself upon her. As beautiful as she was, he found the situation sickening. There were plenty of women in wherever he traveled who were willing to throw themselves at him for just one night in his bed. He had no need or desire to keep returning to a woman who recoiled and remained like a piece of wood beneath him, even if she had captured his heart and he thought her to be the most beautiful creature he ever encountered.
Having been summoned by his father to assist with matters of estate after only a few nights with his passionless bride, Stephen expected to be gone the better part of a fortnight. Although he was remorseful about leaving his young wife so soon without having accomplished the removal of the cold barrier between them, it could not be helped. Their fortune, and the inheritance of their future heir, required his immediate attention.
He questioned the waiting maid selected from his staff by Elizabeth upon the dismissal of Madeleine Hardy after her treason -at least that was how Elizabeth viewed it- about her mistress’s female cycle and learned she was expecting her moon time soon. He would have liked to have continued to lay with her in the night for at least another week to fortify the possibility of producing an heir as well as break through that shell of resistance and get her to realize, understand, accept and respond to his love. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done about it. If he was unsuccessful at begetting her with child already he would simply have to start again in her new month cycle when he returned. At least it would provide him with a greater opportunity to win her over - not to mention additional time making love to her.
His duties at his father’s estate took surprisingly much less time than Stephen anticipated and he found himself returning home after only a few days of absence. Those few days were all it took for his reluctant bride to slip off in the night and disappear. He would have never thought his socially proper Elizabeth capable of doing such a thing. Was the concept of being his bride that reprehensible?
He had initially joined in the general panic of the household while they speculated on what could have become of their young mistress. After questioning Lord Roberts about the possibility of him knowing something of his niece’s whereabouts, he discovered that thwarting her original plan to run away before the wedding could occur was the reason behind their rushed marriage, he quickly realized that the earl’s insistence of an early marriage had not in the least deterred his head strong niece’s plans. His bride had not been kidnapped or taken against her will. It was clear his beautiful, reluctant wife ran away.
Furious with the earl’s deceitful actions, Stephen commanded he remain silent about what occurred. He was certain that the man’s pride would keep him so. After all, he was still suffering -in his mind, if nowhere else- from the shame of his sister’s actions so many years ago. Stephen then put on a ruse to the rest of the world. He claimed his wife longed for time away from the city so they took up residence in a small cottage his family owned in the upper country and would remain there until she was ready to continue their honeymoon abroad.
People smiled and nodded in agreement about how lucky Lady Elizabeth was to have secured such a loving husband. Few husbands would grant his wife’s every wish like Lord Carlson was doing, even if they were just newlywed.
Fortunately for Stephen, his family was long standing in London society and had strong connections in influential places. It took but a few days to trace Elizabeth’s actions to the doorstep of the Jameson household. After a lengthy, heated and impending conversation with John Jameson, Stephen was able to learn of the doctor’s scheme to act as Elizabeth’s guardian in exchange for her funding their journey to the former colonies.
John explained to Stephen how he was the eldest brother and the doctor had been living on his good graces. Because of this, the doctor convinced Elizabeth to use her inheritance money to fund their trip. Knowing how naïve Elizabeth was to the ways of the world, Stephen imagined that would not have been too difficult a task. Somehow, the conniving scoundrel also managed to solicit his other brother, who was a lawyer and the trustee to Elizabeth’s inheritance, to release a considerable amount of her inheritance money to them. It mattered not to Stephen that John had been against the idea. He held the entire Jameson family accountable.
Stephen’s first concern was to find his wayward minx of a bride and bring her home. Once that was completed, this family of scoundrels would be duly dealt with.
READ THE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS HERE.
Copyright 2015 Ailene Frances
The sun rose only an hour earlier, yet it already shone upon the pines with an intensity that denoted the promise of yet another scorching day. Squirrels and chipmunks scurried about in an effort to accomplish their tasks before they were forced to seek shelter from the harshness of the Indian Summer sun.
Elise bent down and carefully relieved her shoulders of the burdensome yoke balancing the water buckets she faithfully hauled from the nearby creek several times a day. Her work-worn hands rested on her slender hips as she twisted and bent in different directions to help ease the tightness in her body that was the result of yet another fitful sleep.
For what seemed like the millionth time, she lamented over blindly responding to the advertisement in the Matrimonial News for mail order brides in the west. She was so eager to escape the mundane existence of the Boston Brahmin society that, when the advertisement crossed her path, she rushed to respond with little thought or investigation about who would be waiting for her on the opposite end of the correspondence, what she would be walking into, or what she was leaving behind. She also never questioned just how a copy of the Matrimonial News made it into the Joselyn family parlor.
Now, finding herself alone, penniless, living in a shanty that would not even qualify for an outhouse at home, and ill-equipped for the months that lay ahead, she had plenty of time to ponder this fact; as well as her foolishness.
She understood her foolishness to some degree. She was young; just barely seventeen. Seventeen-year-old women of privilege were not worldly enough to truly understand the happenings beyond the social cocoon their parents kept them in.
She enjoyed a year of flirtation after her debutante ball before her father announced that she had an excellent offer for a match with Judd Turnham. Judd was fifteen years her senior, barely reached her height when she wore flat-heeled slippers, and had a paunchy middle that spoke of the life of privilege he led. Sure, he was part of the richest family in the Brahmin elite and was due to inherit it all when his ailing father passed, but the thought of his overly soft, stubby fingers touching her the way a man was allowed to touch a wife was more than she could tolerate. It was bad enough when he stole a kiss while escorting her through the gardens. She had to force back the bile that threatened to project up her esophagus. The memory of his acute halitosis and abundant nose hair would probably haunt her forever. So what if the cowboys of the west were notorious for their lack of social etiquette. She would rather have a tough, virile, and socially inept cowboy than stinky, paunchy Judd any day.
The photograph and description the matchmaker, Eliza Farnham, showed her of Douglas Meacham and the description of the life that awaited was so appealing, she made her decision to marry him by proxy that very afternoon. It was done in secrecy, with only the witnesses provided by Eliza to validate its authenticity.
Douglas was a twenty-seven-year-old civil war veteran from Pennsylvania who went west to prospect for gold. He mined long enough to accrue a small financial safety net and acquire a respectable piece of land to ranch in northern Texas. He boasted a small herd of cattle, a solid barn that housed a hearty pig, a milking cow, some chickens, a robust garden, and the beginnings of a house that was strategically placed on the land to allow plenty of room to add on when the children arrived. It lacked only a wife to make it complete.
What started out as a dream adventure quickly turned into a nightmare. Since she never had the occasion to ride in the public car of a train before, Elise was not prepared for the grueling, filthy accommodations that were kept hidden from those fortunate enough to warrant a private car. What little funds she managed to squirrel away during her whirlwind departure were stolen from her reticule while she napped. She had tucked some of her prize jewelry in her travel bag, which went missing somewhere in Oklahoma. By the time she was ready to debark, she had only the clothes on her back and the jewelry on her person. She quickly sold the jewelry to pay for passage on the stagecoach that would take her to the Texas territory of Wichita Falls where Douglas was to meet her.
She spent the entire time on the dusty, rut filled road to Wichita Falls fretting about the poor impression she would make to her new husband because of the unfortunate circumstances that occurred during her travels. She read about husbands having their marriages annulled due to false representation and wondered if the same would happen to her once Douglas took a look at her bedraggled person. There was nothing she could do about it. Her future was in the hands of fate. She just hoped fate would be a little kinder than it had been so far.
That was not to be.
She squatted to reposition the yoke on her shoulders and slowly stood up, being careful not to spill the life-sustaining liquid in the interim. Her thighs proved much stronger since she arrived three months earlier, making her movements look smooth and easy.
As she crossed what constituted as a small courtyard for the humble ranch, she spotted a horse and rider off in the distance. She did not need to strain to see who it might be. She knew it was Nellie Wilson performing her weekly check.
Elise did not know where she would be, had it not been for Nellie's kindness. They stumbled upon each other by chance at the station. Elise was searching the streets for her husband, Douglas, and Nellie was scoping the travelers for her niece, Anna.
Elise met Anna on the train during her trip west. They were about the same age and from similar family backgrounds, but that was where it ended. Anna's father died the year before. Her mother was sending her to live with her mother's sister, Nellie, while she sought a replacement for her late husband. Not only did Anna think finding a husband would be a daunting task amongst the few who survived the war between the states, but she found the concept of being shoved out of the way in order for her mother to have a better advantage in snaring a man revolting. She considered her mother far too old for such shenanigans. Since they were financially well off, she could not comprehend her mother's
Reluctant to leave the luxuries and advanced society of the east, Anna monitored her surroundings carefully as the train continued west. By the time they reached Kansas, she saw enough to make her decide to take matters into her own hands. She bid Elise goodbye, wished her well, and asked her to tell her Aunt Nellie that she was sorry, but she would not be joining her after all before she purchased a ticket to return east.
Nellie reciprocated Elise's disappointing news with some devastating news of her own. Douglas was found dead on the road to town just that morning. Some said he fell from his horse and hit his head on a boulder while others say he was the victim of a robbery. Nellie thought it might be both.
So far, Elise was married on paper only. Now, the paper bride was a paper widow.
"Hello!" shouted Nellie as she reined her mare up next to the hitching post near the front porch.
"I made apple pie," Elise said as she poured the contents of her buckets into a large barrel. "It's still warm."
"What time did ya get up to fuss like that?" Nellie asked with a shake of the head.
"I need better bedding," Elise complained as she held the small of her back and motioned for Nellie to follow her inside.
"That Eliza Farnham should be shot for her deceit," Nellie huffed as she scuffed the dirt from the soles of her boots on the edge of the roughhewn porch before following Elise into the tiny cabin.
"I'd settle for reimbursement of my money so I could buy passage back home," Elise sighed. "I have been looking and looking for any money or gold Douglas might have hidden away with no luck."
"Are ya sure he had any?" Nellie asked as she helped herself to a slice of pie. "Ya were lied to about the state of this place. He could have lied about being a miner too.
"There's water in the basin to wash your hands with," Elise said in a flat tone.
"You're such a dandy girl, ain't ya?" Nellie chuckled as she made her way to the basin and immersed both weathered and gnarled hands into the shallow bowl. Her head twisted and turned as if she was looking for something. "I thought there was a spring out back."
"He never got around to piping it into the house," Elise said wistfully.
Nellie's brows knit together as she said, "That would sure make life easier."
"I make two trips a day to the creek," Elise volunteered. "Sometimes three."
"Good heavens, gal," Nellie gasped. "Whatever do ya do with all that water?"
"Make tea, for one thing," Elise said as she reached for the can she kept her tea leaves in and opened the lid. "I found this on the back of the top shelf," she said as she pointed to a wooden shelf placed high enough on the wall over the stove to necessitate a stool to reach the things placed on it. "Douglas had a decent supply of tea and coffee. This one smells like home."
"I ain't never developed a taste for tea," Nellie said as she wrinkled her nose and then popped a finger full of pie in her mouth. "It won't keep your belly full in the winter months," Nellie scolded. "What do ya plan on doing when the snow comes?"
"The garden is yielding a goodly amount of crops," Elise said as she continued to prepare the tea. "I have also collected a fair amount of apples and nuts. Do you want me to brew some coffee?"
"Do ya have a root cellar?" Nellie asked as she held up her hand and shook her head to indicate 'no' to Elise's offer to make coffee for her.
"There is a large hole dug in the ground that is covered with wooden planks," Elise said. "I think that might be what Douglas used for a root cellar because I found some old potatoes, onions, and squash in there."
"Any amount of snowfall on those planks and those skinny arms of yours won't be able to lift them off to get to your food," Nellie mused. "What about heat? Have ya been able to handle the axe and cut yourself some wood for the winter?"
"The supply Douglas chopped is running low. I need to find the means to leave here before I die," Elise said as she poured hot water from the kettle she kept hot on the stove into the tin pot she used to brew tea in.
"Maybe ya should winter with me and Jake," Nellie offered.
"What about the daily care of the animals?" Elise asked.
"I thought ya was going to sell them off and use the money as part of your passage home," Nellie said.
"There is only a pig, a milking cow, and a few chickens. I rode out to see the herd yesterday," Elise said. "It looks like it is shrinking."
"Probably thieves," Nellie offered. "The word's out that you're alone. If ya don't sell those beasts soon, there'll be nothing to round up come time."
Elise pushed a stray lock of her thick, auburn hair behind her ear and said, "If I ever get back home, I will never complain about being bored again."
Nate adjusted the collar of his full-length woolen coat as he stepped out of the three-story, faded red brick Philadelphia building into the crisp fall afternoon air. There was a distinctive skip in his step as he placed his bowler hat atop his smooth raven hair. He was just given his first big assignment as an employee of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Up until then, his assignments had been small and seemingly insignificant. He wanted to have an opportunity to prove himself to the agency. This new assignment was that opportunity. He was to be partnered with Joseph Kennedy and Oliver Sullivan; which suited him just fine.
Joseph and Oliver served with him under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Biddle at the battle of Gettysburg. Experiences like that brought people together. That practically guaranteed them to be an efficient working team. At least, that's what Alan Pinkerton thought.
"Kimble, wait up!" Joseph called as he followed Nate down the stone steps.
"Can you believe the luck of it? I just can't seem to shake your sorry ass," Nate laughed.
"We make the complete package, my good man," Joseph said with a grin.
"Where's Sullivan?" Nate asked as he looked in the direction they just came from.
"He's got a woman to appease," Joseph said. "Damned nuisance, if you ask me. You can't do this job with a woman hanging on your arm."
"Not well, I don't think," Nate said with a thoughtful scowl.
"You aren't gonna go get yourself all tied up with one, are you?" Joseph asked in earnest.
Nate scowled as he grumbled, "Lilith pretty much fixed that."
"She sure was a sneaky one," Joseph agreed.
"Damned right," Nate nodded.
"I hear he is a heavy drinker," Joseph said in a hushed tone.
"She wanted his fortune and family name," Nate shrugged.
"Yeah, the name," Joseph smirked.
"She deserves what she got," Nate said with a tone that hinted of bitterness.
"I still can't believe she wrote to you for so long after she married that shit head," Joseph said.
"He saved me," Nate pondered aloud. "I should thank him."
"Yeah," Joseph agreed. "I feel a little sorry for him. All I did was witness the deceit and I'm cured of ever wanting a woman."
"At least not for a long time," Nate said.
"Never," Joseph reiterated.
They walked back to their hotel in silence while their minds worked on making lists of what needed to be done before they boarded the train headed for Oklahoma the following afternoon.
Since the short notice was an inconvenience for Nate and Joseph, they could only imagine the impact it had on Oliver Sullivan. Nate shuddered at the thought of how Oliver's longtime girlfriend and intended fiancé, Alice Smyth, would respond to the news. She made it perfectly clear to Oliver that she expected a proposal, followed by a wedding, before the New Year. This assignment was surely going to twist her pantaloons. He would not put it past the spoiled socialite not to confront old man Pinkerton himself on the matter.
Nate thought Oliver's situation a good example of another reason for him to be grateful he was single and free.
"This assignment will change our careers. Let's get a drink to celebrate," Joseph suggested.
"I have some things to take care of before I leave. A year is a long time," Nate said. "How about we meet up for dinner and then we can celebrate?"
"That's probably a good idea," Joseph said with clear disappointment. "I have some things to take care of too."
Nate studied his friend before asking, "Did you get fitted for your suit?"
"When did you do that?" Joseph asked with raised brows.
"Yesterday," Nate replied.
"Hell, you didn't get assigned until today," Joseph complained.
"I keep my ears to the ground," Nate said with a grin. "Tell Mr. Simon to put I the suit on my bill."
"I can pay for it myself," Joseph said as he squared his shoulders.
"I expect to be paid back out of your first paycheck," Nate said with a firmness he did not mean.
He really did not expect to see any money from Joseph, and he was fine with that. Just a few months earlier, Nate became the most financially fortunate one of the three friends, with Oliver second in line.
Nate was raised in what would be deemed as quality surroundings in the eyes of Philadelphia society. Although he ran in the circle of socialites, he was not considered to be in the hub of that circle; which was one of the things that goaded Lilith. When he received a visit from the Miller Legal Firm informing him of an inheritance from an uncle on his mother's side, all that changed; or would have, had Nate wanted to make the truth of his inheritance public.
Margaret Kimble's brother, Richard Kincaid, was a wealthy, widowed rancher with no children. Since Nate was the closest relation, the fortune Richard amassed -which included an impressive amount of money along with an equally impressive cattle ranch on the Oklahoma/Texas border- was left to him.
Oliver -whose family of equally privileged background operated an apothecary because they wanted to; not because they had to- ran in the same circle of Philadelphia society with Nate. His fortune would have been comparable to the settlement left Nate by his father prior to Nate's inheritance from his uncle.
After learning of his friend's good fortune, Oliver was quick to point out that, had Lilith only fulfilled her promise of waiting for him to return from war, she could have lived wherever and however she desired. This observation stirred panic in Nate over the potential of being taken in by another deceitful female seeking his fortune under the guise of loving him. Right then and there he swore his friends to secrecy. Since he had limited confidence in his sister and mother's ability to abstain from gossiping out of pride and desire to elevate their status amongst the socially elite, he withheld his true worth from them as well. With the exception of Mr. Miller of the Miller Legal Firm, Joseph and Oliver were the only ones who knew the true value of his inheritance. He intended to keep it that way until the time came that he felt confident divulging it. Lilith's lies and deceit had truly left their scars.
The reports provided to Nate about his uncle's ranch led him to believe that it was in good hands with the current overseer. This was reassuring since, from the way things looked, it would be a while before he would be able to inspect the place. Still, believing the old adage, 'When the cat's away, the mice will play', Nate decided to have his lawyer plant a ranch hand in the mix who would provide regular reports on the happenings of the ranch.
He and Joseph parted company outside of the tailor shop. Nate reiterated the fact that he expected to be billed for Joseph's suit. After a little more grumbling, Joseph agreed and walked inside.
Nate smiled with satisfaction at the thought of being able to help his war buddy. They knew each other growing up and were on friendly terms whenever their path's crossed, but they were part of social classes that kept them separated for the most part. It was not until they fought side by side that a true bond formed.
The war took its toll on everyone, but none more than the disadvantaged. Joseph's father was killed during the second year of fighting. Less than a year later, his mother died of consumption; leaving Joseph's fourteen-year-old sister and ten-year-old brother to do the best they could to keep their little farm operating enough to support them until Joseph returned from fighting and bring some semblance of normality back into their lives. Caring for his siblings when he was barely able to care for himself was a burden Nate's twenty-year-old friend said little about. He did not need to. Nate had eyes to see and ears to hear. He knew fully the struggles Joseph went through without so much as a complaint.
Nate reached the office of the Miller Legal Firm and stopped outside long enough to pull his mind into focus on the matter at hand. He wanted to have his affairs in order as best he could before he embarked on an assignment that would demand his full attention. He also had a family depending on him. Although his mother was still alive and well, she also became a widow during the war and his sister lost her fiancé. This left two needy women looking to him for comfort and support; both emotionally and monetarily. He wanted to arrange for a trust fund to be created for their care, as well as draw up a Last Will and Testament in the event he did not make it back from this assignment alive.
Elise accepted the money Jake received for the sale of her cattle to a nearby rancher with genuine gratitude. He managed to round up enough livestock to sell to get her the funds needed to buy passage back east. Now, she just had to make the arrangements. Why she did not ask him for help when she first arrived was a mystery to her.
"So, Mrs. Meacham, we'll be losing ya soon," Jake said as he mounted his horse. "That's a damned shame. I got used to looking at that pretty face of yours while having my morning coffee."
"Such teasing," Elise giggled. "I want to go to town and wire my father before I do anything else."
"Wantin' to let him know your comin'?" Jake asked.
"I want to see if I'm welcome back," Elise confessed.
"I can't imagine no pa not lettin' his little girl back into his home," Jake mused.
"My father has strong opinions on things," she explained. "Not only did I go against his wishes when I secretly married Douglas by proxy, but I embarrassed him within our social circle. Judd Turnham comes from the most prominent family in Boston. He was the one my father wanted me to marry, not Douglas."
"Just proves ya ain't no fortune hunter," Jake said with a nod as he lifted the reins and nudged his horse with a manner that displayed an ease and confidence that practically living in the saddle created. "Tell the missus I'll be home for supper."
Elise shaded her eyes from the piercing late morning sun as she watched her rugged, yet gentle host ride off to meet with the other riders who waited near the ranch entrance. The intense Texas sun and heat was something she was sure not to miss. Jake told her it was a tradeoff. The Texas heat for the Boston winters. At that point, Elise wasn't sure which was worse.
"So, he's gone?" Nellie asked as she walked up and stood next to Elise.
"Just now," Elise replied with a sigh.
"Not to worry gal," Nellie assured her. "My Jake's a tough old buzzard. It'll take more than a few renegade Indians to put him in his grave."
"I'm not used to this," Elise complained.
"You've been out here half a year, gal," Nellie mused. "It would do ya good to toughen up a bit."
"I have the money to return home," Elise said with satisfaction.
"That's a fine thing," Nellie said with a smile. "I'll sure miss ya."
"I'm not sure what to do," Elise confessed.
"What are ya talking about?" Nellie said with surprise. "You're gonna go to town and purchase the passage back home. That's what you're gonna do."
"What if I'm not welcome?" Elise asked with trepidation.
"I can't imagine a pa not letting his little girl come home. No matter what she did," Nellie said.
"Jake said the same thing," Elise mused.
"We're a lot alike," Nellie chuckled. "Comes with living together so long."
"How long have you been married?" Elise asked.
"Nigh on twenty years," Nellie replied with a wistful sigh. "Just me and Jake for nigh on twenty years."
"I'm sorry you never had the children you wanted," Elise said with genuine affection.
"That's nothing for ya to be sorry for," Nellie said as she turned back toward the house. "I boiled some water for tea. Now that you're fixin' to leave, I'm finally getting the hang of drinking it. It figures."
"I won't be leaving right away," Elise said as she hastened to catch up with her weathered friend. "I want to send a telegraph to father to make sure I'm welcome back before I purchase passage."
"That's something I'll never understand," Nellie said as she slowly shook her head.
"It is not my father as much as it is the society we live in," Elise explained. "He arranged for me to marry into the wealthiest family in Boston. It was quite a boon for our family. We are in the top percentile of wealth in Boston. Under normal circumstances it would be difficult to find a match to compare with our status without having to go outside of Boston; maybe even to Europe. To add to such a handicap, the war was unforgiving and cared not whether the soldier it took was of high society or lowly born. It left the selection of eligible men of any social status severely lacking. Father hates to travel long distances. He thought that pairing me up with Judd was the perfect solution."
"But, ya thought different," Nellie said in a surprisingly soft tone.
"Oh Nellie, I still cringe when I remember that awful kiss he stole in our garden. It makes me want to run to the creek and wash every time. I cannot imagine him doing more," Elise said with angst as she sat down at the small wooden table in the center of the large room that served as both the kitchen and the sitting area.
"Do ya even know what that more might be?" Nellie asked with a chuckle as she poured hot water from the kettle onto the tea leaves she placed in the pot she normally used for brewing coffee. "Ya only had a paper marriage, after all."
"Such things are not spoken about," Elise gasped.
Nellie tossed her head back and emitted a hearty laugh and her weathered eyes lit up with amusement.
"This ain't polite society, missy," she said. "You'd be surprised what's talked about in these parts."
"I- I guess," Elise stammered.
"Didn't your mother never talk to ya about it?" Nellie asked with genuine curiosity.
"That is something we do on the eve of our wedding," Elise said.
"Since ya married on the sly by proxy and then snuck out of town, ya never had the talk," Nellie continued.
"I don't need it now," Elise said with embarrassment. "I'm fine the way I am."
"I guess ya don't," Nellie said with amusement, "but if ya ever do need it, I'm here to help."
"That is kind of you, Nellie. Truly it is, but I think we should change the subject now," Elise said with a voice that showed her uneasiness.
"Do ya plan on going back to your ranch to harvest the rest of those vegetables?" Nellie asked while she slid a tea cup in front of Elise.
Grateful for the reprieve of a topic that made her extremely uncomfortable, Elise nodded. She stood up to relieve Nellie of the makeshift tea pot, secured a small piece of cheesecloth over the spout to catch the loose tea leaves, and poured the aromatic liquid into their cups.
When Nellie's unsightly gnarled hands lifted the delicate cup to her lips, Elise noticed a chip on its edge. She sighed. Nellie and Jake were born and raised in the Wichita Falls territory of Texas. They knew nothing of the wealth and privileges Elise grew up taking for granted, except the little bit she told them. How Elise longed to have them experience it, even just a little. She made a mental note to send a new set of china to them once she was home and settled. She would also send them some proper furnishings. Just because they lived in a small, two-room house with a loft did not mean they could not furnish it with quality pieces. She smiled when she thought of their reaction to receiving such finery.
"Take the wagon when ya go," Nellie said.
"I don't drive it well," Elise admitted.
"It will make it easier to transport the vegetables. I noticed some good sized squash the last time I was there," Nellie said.
"When did you go there?" Elise asked.
"It's become a habit," Nellie said with a shrug as she sipped at her tea. "You'll need to tend to those hands of yours before ya reenter society."
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When a pampered socialite in post civil war Boston seeks adventure and romance, she finds peril, heartache, and tragedy along with it. Answering an ad in The Matrimonial News, she secretly marries by proxy, but is widowed before she gets to meet her husband. The fact that she's naive and unskilled in the ways of love when she finally encounters the man of her dreams only adds to her situation.
RELEASE DATE: 6/23/2017
Available for Pre-Order at your favorite bookseller.
TO BE RELEASED JULY 23,2017