To Love A Lady's Scars
“Oh, Mother,” Josephine Belfour said, barely able to contain her excitement, “I cannot believe I am about to get my very first grown-up dress.”
Frances Balfour looked at her daughter with loving amazement.
“Nor can I, my darling,” she said, stroking Josephine’s smooth, smiling face. “It is still difficult for me to believe you are three-and-ten now.”
Josephine beamed at her mother, whom she loved and idolized. Even though they were not a titled family, Josephine couldn’t imagine a woman who was a more perfect, elegant lady than her mother. There were certainly none as beautiful in Josephine’s eyes. She knew she shared her mother’s olive complexion. But she believed her mother’s blue-green eyes were prettier than her plain green ones, and that Frances Balfour had higher, more prominent cheekbones than she did.
Her father often told her she was the spitting image of her mother, and Josephine hoped that was true. To be as beautiful and graceful as her mother would make her the happiest girl in all of London.
“Soon, I will be able to begin seeking a husband,” she said, sighing.
“You still have a few years yet before that, my dear,” she said.
Josephine sighed dreamily and nodded.
“I know,” she said. “But it is never too early to ensure that I am ready for that day.”
Mrs. Balfour laughed again at her daughter, still looking at her with affection.
“You are not wrong,” she said. “But you mustn’t forget to enjoy your childhood too. You can never get it back once it’s gone.”
Josephine nodded again, but she was hardly listening to her mother. In her thirteen-year-old mind, she was already practically grown, and she loved every minute of it. She loved the idea of a future where she was of marriageable age, dreaming of a happy life with a man she loved and a family of her own. To her, that part of her life promised to be much more fun than her youth, and she was beside herself about reaching that point in her life. She certainly never could have imagined that those things could ever be taken away from her.
Before she could continue gushing about her impending adulthood, the stagecoach jerked wildly on the road. Josephine shrieked as her mother leapt from her seat across from her and took her into her arms.
“Get down with me, darling,” her mother said, pointing toward the floor of the coach. But as they tried to slip down onto the ground, the coach jerked again. Only, instead of righting itself, it rolled over. Both Josephine and her mother were tossed around the coach like paper dolls in a windstorm. The last thing Josephine heard before everything went black was her mother’s blood-curdling scream.
Josephine awoke with a start. The room was lit only by the early morning streaks of sunrise. She tried to get up, feeling disoriented and uncertain as to how she had ended up in her bed. But pain exploded all through her body as she attempted to push herself to a sitting position. She yelped loudly, falling back down onto the pillow, where more pain seared up the left side of her face.
Nancy, her nursemaid and governess, was at her side at once.
“Do not move, darling,” she said, her voice filled with fright and concern. “I shall fetch your father at once.”
Before Josephine could say anything, Nancy ran from the room. Josephine was forced to lie back on the pillow, but her mind was racing. What had happened? How did she come to be in her bed? Why did her entire body hurt? She closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing, reassuring herself that her father would soon be there. Then, all at once, the horrific events of earlier came back to her.
“Mother,” she tried to call, but her voice was hoarse and as weak as she felt. She looked around, trying to see the rest of the room, but her mother was nowhere to be seen. Why hadn’t Nancy said she would fetch her mother, too? Was she badly injured?
Her father rushed in just as she called out for her mother again. He hurried to her side and took one of her hands in both of his. Only then, feeling the soothing warmth of his hands, did she realize how cold her own skin was. The businessman leaned over his daughter so that she could see his face. His eyes were red and puffy, but he gave her a big smile.
“I am so glad you are awake,” he said. “I will send for the physician at once.”
Josephine tried again to sit up, only to fail once more. The pain was horrible, and the left side of her face felt as though it was roasting in a blazing fire.
“What . . .” she tried to speak again, but she couldn’t manage more than a few weak croaks.
Her father pulled his chair closer, sighing as he patted her arm.
“You and your mother were in a carriage accident, darling,” he said. “You have been unconscious for a week. You must not try to move quickly, as you were injured pretty badly.”
Josephine nodded, hoping to convey that she remembered the accident. She was frightened, however, to learn she had been unconscious for so long. She glanced at the bedside table, on which sat a glass of water. Her father wetted a cloth in it and held that to her lips rather than the glass.
“Mother,” she said again when a little of the burning in her throat subsided.
Her father’s eyes filled with tears, and he looked away.
“You must focus on getting well, my dear,” he said, his voice cracking almost as hers had.
Josephine felt dread begin to form in her stomach, especially when he looked away from her.
“Mother,” she repeated once more. She hated the look on her father’s face, but she needed to know where her mother was.
Her father sighed, wiping at his eyes. When he looked up at her again, they were filled with a sorrow that cut through her heart and soul like a dull, rusty sword.
“She is gone, my dear,” he said. “She succumbed to her injuries the day after the accident.”
Josephine tried to shake her head, but the pain was immense. Tears of both pain and grief began streaming down her cheeks, setting the left side of her face on fire. She groaned weakly, trying to wipe her cheek or cover her eyes to cease her tears.
Her father reached for her hands, folding them over her stomach and patting them gently.
“No, darling,” he croaked. “You mustn’t touch your face. Let me help you.”
He left her side, and she could hear water splashing. When he returned, she realized he had been wetting a cloth. He placed it over her eyes, tracing his finger over something on her face before retracting his hand quickly.
“The physician will be here shortly,” he murmured, more to himself than to her. “I’d best let him tend to that.”
“And tend to it, I shall, Mr. Balfour,” said a kind voice from the doorway.
Josephine couldn’t see the physician until he was standing over her, and even then, his face was blurred. Tears still stood in her eyes, and she realized for the first time that there was something shielding part of her left eye. She could see a mass of dark hair and a stocky frame, but the doctor’s face looked as though it was in moving water.
“You must try not to cry, Miss Balfour,” he said gently. “My name is Dr. Brass, and I am here to help you. Please, try to stay calm for me.”
Josephine nodded, though she wondered how she could possibly help herself. She was in terrible pain, and she had just learned that her mother was dead. That her body wasn’t racked with sobs was solely because the pain prevented it. How could she stay calm and not cry at such a time?
The physician turned away from her briefly.
“If you will excuse me, Mr. Balfour,” he said. “I must examine your daughter and change out her bandages. I will give her laudanum for the pain and to help her sleep. She should be resting by the time I have finished.”
Josephine could feel her father’s hesitation, and she wondered if he would argue with the physician.
“Very well,” he said with clear distrust. “I will be right outside. I love you, my dear Josie.”
Josephine’s lip trembled. She nodded once more, knowing better than to try to speak again. When the door closed, Dr. Brass opened his medical bag and began pulling out various items. He then poured a substantial portion of laudanum into a large spoon and helped Josephine drink it. It tasted like spoiled butter and liquor, and it burned horribly.
“I will quickly conduct another exam of your limbs while you are awake,” he said with kind concern. “Then, I will change your bandages. By then, however, you should be resting comfortably.”
Josephine nodded, wondering about him examining her limbs. Had she broken any bones in the accident? It certainly felt like it. She wondered if her father would tell her about her injuries. She knew the physician would not, as she was just a child. But she wanted to know what had happened to her and when she would recover. Especially her face, which hurt so badly that she wished she could crawl out of her skin and away from it. That was the last thought she remembered before drifting off to sleep again.
Each day for the following two weeks after she had regained consciousness passed in much the same fashion. She was hardly allowed to leave her bed, and she had to have Nancy feed her meals to her. She begged to see how her face was healing, but even Nancy refused to bring her a hand mirror, for her father had commanded she should not have one. She couldn’t understand why no one would let her see. The physician had been treating her every single day since she had woken up. Surely, the injuries must be better than they were when they first occurred.
But one month later, after the physician left her bedchambers, her father entered with a grim expression on his face. It was not unlike the one he’d worn when he had told her mother had passed away.
“Darling,” he said, entering her room and closing the door behind him, “I have something to tell you. It isn’t easy to say, and I’m afraid it will be no easier to hear.”
Josephine searched her father’s face. It could only be about her condition. But she was feeling a little better every day as her bones and cuts healed.
“What is it?” she asked. “Just say it, Father. Please.”
Mr. Balfour sighed heavily, taking his daughter’s hands.
“Dr. Brass has worked tirelessly to tend to the wounds on your face,” he said. “He’s tried every known remedy in all of London and even some from overseas. But he says that none of them are producing any results.”
Josephine touched the left side of her face gingerly.
“But it doesn’t hurt so much anymore,” she said. “Surely, the scars are healing.”
Her father looked at her with tears in his eyes yet again and slowly shook his head.
“The lacerations are healing,” he said. “But the scars have resisted all treatment.”
Tears stung Josephine’s eyes, and she shook her head. She understood, but she didn’t want to.
“That can change with time, can it not?” she asked desperately. “It’s only been a month. Surely, over time, my skin will repair itself with further treatment.”
Her father shook his head once more, wiping at his eyes.
“Dr. Brass says that the wounds went deep,” he said. “You had stitches just above your eyebrow, all the way down to your jawbone. And the impact with the broken parts of the carriage cut deeply into your skin. Those kinds of scars cannot be repaired, not if they haven’t improved in the first few weeks. I’m afraid the scarring as it is now will be permanent.”
Josephine sobbed. She cupped her left hand over the scars, flinching despite the minimized pain. They felt rough and raised, but she still couldn’t imagine how they looked.
“Let me have a mirror,” she whispered. If she was going to suffer with disfigurement for the rest of her life, she wanted to see herself. She needed to see, so she could understand her situation.
Her father hesitated, clearly not wanting to comply. But she looked at him with pleading eyes until he went to her vanity and fetched her hand mirror. He gave it to her with a trembling hand.
“Darling,” he began, but she held up a hand to stop him. With her own hands shaking, she opened the mirror. She took a deep breath and held it up to her face. Then, she began to scream.
Her once uniformly olive-toned skin was now a network of red, pink, and white marks covering the left side of her face. The marks looked similar to thick veins from hairline to jawline. Part of her eyebrow was gone, and in its place was a paling scar. Only patches of darker skin were still visible between the weave of scars. I am a monster, she thought as she collapsed onto her bed in tears.
Josephine spent the next few weeks refusing to leave her bedchambers. She would hardly eat, and she yelled at anyone who tried to coax their way in or her to come out. Her father promoted Nancy and hired Grace, a lady’s maid for Josephine, even though it would normally be another couple of years before she would have one.
The lady’s maid was very young, just eighteen. She was short and round, with pale skin, red hair and cheeks. She was the sweetest, most gentle soul Josephine had ever met, and she tried to be grateful for her. But Josephine often lashed out in anger because of her deformity. The world was not any place for her any longer, and she wanted to be left alone in her misery. She was too ugly for the world, and she wanted no part of it.
But Josephine discovered something in the months following the news of her permanent deformity. Shortly after Grace was hired, she coaxed Josephine to take a walk with her before sunrise. It was a cool spring morning, so the girl and the maid wore cloaks. Grace took her hand and led her to the stables, leading her to the stall of a young black colt.
“I have always loved horses,” Grace said, taking a sugar cube and holding it out to the animal. “I think you might, as well, miss.”
Josephine watched, first with annoyance, and then with curiosity, as the horse sniffed the maid’s hand. He licked at the cube, then stomped, stepping to the side.
“Does he not want it?” she asked.
Grace smiled at Josephine and shrugged.
“Perhaps he just likes you better,” she said, holding out the cube. “Here. Why don’t you try?”
Josephine laughed bitterly.
“Even a beast knows to despise me,” she said. “It is probably me he doesn’t like.”
Grace gave her a sympathetic look. Then, she took Josephine’s hand and put the sugar cube in her palm.
“Try,” she said gently. “If he was afraid of you, he would never have approached.”
Josephine sighed. She was sure the horse was nervous around her. But if it would make Grace leave her alone so she could go back to her room, she would do it. She held out the sugar cube, and Grace stepped back. To her surprise, the horse immediately stepped forward again.
The animal’s tongue tickled her palm as it took the cube. She laughed for the first time since before the accident as he sniffed her now empty palm. And she fell into hysterics when the horse threw a mild tantrum, whinnying and stomping with his front hooves.
“He wants more,” Grace said, fetching more cubes and handing them to Josephine.
For the next hour, Josephine fed the horse sugar cubes and oats and stroked his thick black mane. He threw the same tantrum each time she withdrew her hand from his coat, causing her to giggle again. Grace had been right, and Josephine fell instantly in love with horses.
From that day on, Josephine visited the stables every single day. She and her new friend, whom she soon named Midnight, became almost inseparable. She rode him at every chance she got, and she even took him treats from the kitchen, with Grace’s help. She found comfort and solace in those stables. Suddenly, her scars weren’t the biggest thing in the world to her. She could forget them there and pretend there was nothing in all of London except her and the horses. That was when her true healing began.
Josephine sat atop Midnight, her favorite steed, guiding him on a light, pleasant trot through the countryside. It was a beautiful summer’s morning, and she never tired of exploring the country near her family’s home on horseback. When she was out riding, she could forget all the troubles she and her father had endured. The only things in the world to her during her rides were her and her beloved horse.
The sun had dried all the early morning dew, but the grass still appeared to glisten with its deep, rich green. The blue sky was filled with white, fluffy clouds, and it looked to Josephine as if the birds flying overhead were trying to reach them. Bees hovered over the yellow and purple wildflowers scattered all over the pastures and clearings, collecting nectar, no doubt, to take back to their queen and their hive. The air smelled sweet and felt warm on her skin, and she tilted her face up toward the sun and smiled.
Is there anything more wonderful than this? She turned Midnight around and slowly headed back toward home. She wished she could live with her horses. They had been the only true friends in her life for the past ten years, and she loved them as though they were family.
She loved riding more than she had once loved the idea of marriage, a prospect now lost to her. When she rode, she didn’t even think of it. She only thought of the freedom and joy she felt, not of the anguish and grief she had suffered.
She unsaddled Midnight herself when she returned to the stables. She always made a point of spending a little extra time caring for the horses when she had finished her rides. Not only did it allow her to bond with the animals, but it also gave her more time with her beloved beasts. She would talk to them, just like the dear friends she considered them to be. And even though they couldn’t speak to her in a way most people would understand, she knew they loved her in their own way, just as she loved them in hers.
When she returned to the house, she went in search of her father. She often worried about him since his once trusted and beloved business partner had crossed him by stealing the last of their profits and then disappearing.
She knew he had been under a great deal of stress since then, and she wished she could do more than simply offer him words of comfort. He always tried to hide his distress from her, but it showed in the dark circles under his eyes and the note of strain in his voice whenever spoke of business.
She found her father in his study, going through various ledgers. She knocked gently on the open study door, waiting for him to acknowledge her. He looked up at her, but he didn’t give her his usual smile. Instead, he rose, gesturing for her to join him and sit in the seat beside him.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, already knowing she wouldn’t like the answer.
Her father gave her an apologetic look and sighed.
“It is much worse than we first thought, darling,” he said. “Not only has that man taken the last of our profits, but he has also managed to cut me out of a couple of potentially lucrative investments, it seems. He had put money into a couple of ventures, but he has stolen the profits from those, as well. I will speak with our solicitor soon, but I fear the news from him will be just as bad.”
Josephine nodded, staring helplessly at her hands. She was furious with her father’s former partner, but she was also angry with herself. If it wasn’t for her hideous deformity, she might be able to get work outside of her father’s business to help them financially. But no one in the world would ever hire such an ugly woman. Certainly not for the positions that were acceptable for women to hold, such as governess and nursemaid.
“What will we do?” she asked, even though she knew there wasn’t much to be done.
Her father shook his head, running his hand through his silver hair.
“I’ve been in here, combing through these ledgers and trying to calculate how much profit we can turn as things are and how quickly,” he said. “But even with the biggest business boom we’ve ever seen, which lasted two straight months, we won’t break even. And the only way that would sustain us is if it lasts another six months or more.”
Josephine felt her heart sink. She knew what her father said was impossible for them to accomplish. They had always done well with their profits, and her family had been very wealthy. Their business had always thrived, and her father was invited to many of the social events hosted by the nobility of London.
However, with the partner’s betrayal, he had taken a large enough sum of the profits from their horse farming business to render them virtually penniless. Her father’s remaining business investors had been backing out one by one, afraid that the floundering business would cost them their stake if they didn’t.
“Do we have any other options?” she asked.
Her father glanced up at her almost guiltily.
“There is one,” he said at last. “And no matter how I work it, it seems it is the only one we have left.”
Josephine smiled encouragingly at her father.
“Well, what is it?” she asked. “Surely, any solution is a good one. Even if it seems horrible temporarily. So long as we have each other and the horses, I know we can get through this.”
But instead of looking reassured, her father looked still more guilty.
“That’s just the trouble,” he said. “We will have to sell some of our prized stallions. That is the only way to get the money we need to salvage what partnerships I still have and to break even to try to get the business back on track.”
Josephine gaped at her father, stunned. It was all she could do not to cry as she took in what her father had just said. He might as well have told her that she had to get rid of her best friends; that was essentially what his proposition amounted to. Each one of the horses was her pride and joy, and more beloved by her than any human, apart from her father, ever could be. She couldn’t imagine having to say goodbye to a single one of them.
“Papa,” she whispered, shaking her head in disbelief. “You can’t mean it. How can we keep the farm going if we have no horses?”
Her father’s face was etched with anguish as he reached for her hand.
“It is not an easy decision to make,” he said, his voice heavy. “But our financial situation is as dire as it could be. And perhaps the hardest part of all this will be choosing which ones to sell.” He paused, his look of remorse and shame terrible to her. “I know this is heartbreaking for you, and I am truly very sorry. We will not sell them all, but I believe we must sell some of them. Please, forgive me, darling.”
Josephine’s heart ached, not only for the impending loss of any of the horses, of which she was so greatly fond, but also for the sorrow in her father’s face. It was an expression she had seen there far too many times over the past ten years. She was well aware that the plan must be his last resort. It wasn’t his fault that his partner had crossed him in the way he had. And it didn’t seem fair that her father and their family business were paying the price for the criminal’s actions.
Despite her own grief, she gave her father a small smile. She walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“I know you are doing the best you can under the circumstances,” she said, pretending she wasn’t as devastated as she truly was. “If this is what must be, then so be it. I will help you choose which horses to sell and which to keep.”
The words alone filled her with a sadness deep enough to mar her soul, but she kept her head high as she kissed her father on the forehead.
The horse farmer looked at his daughter with damp eyes. She could see he felt a measure of relief, however small, that she agreed with him. She knew he understood how unhappy she was about the idea, but he needed her to absolve him of blame for the necessity of selling the horses. She absolved him, of course. She could never blame him for a situation that the terrible thief had caused. She could also see that the decision was a difficult one for him to have to make.
“Thank you, darling,” he said. “We can discuss this more tomorrow. I won’t put either of us through making any decisions today.”
Josephine nodded. She was putting on a brave face, but she didn’t know how long she could dam her tears. She kissed her father again and gave him the warmest smile she could muster.
“I agree, Papa,” she said. “Do you need anything?”
Her father shook his head sadly and gave her another weak smile.
“How could I possibly ask for more than your love and understanding?” he asked. “I do hope you can forgive me for this, however.”
Josephine shook her head and patted her father’s shoulder.
“There is nothing to forgive, Papa,” she said.
As her father turned to pour himself a drink, Josephine left his study. She felt her heart breaking as she made her way to their small portrait room. It was the one place in their home that made her feel better whenever she was sad. She would normally groom or ride the horses, but just then, she knew it would crush her. What she needed was the comfort of her mother’s face.
She stared at the portrait of her mother, and tears began to stream down her cheeks. She had thought there could be no worse pain in the world than losing her beloved mother. But as she watched her family’s business struggle and her father bending under the pressure to save them from bankruptcy, she felt the same pain and sense of loss. She desperately wished that her mother was still alive. Would their family be in such a terrible position if she had never died?
Rupert Calvert worked carefully in front of one of the horse stalls at Carlswood estate, reaching for a handful of fresh oats from a bucket at his feet. He had only been back at the estate for a month, and half of that time had been spent doing exactly what he was doing right that moment.
He glanced up at the skittish, silvery-white Spanish mare, which he had acquired at the end of his four-year long stint in Spain, to discover that she had already retreated to the corner of the stall. She was by far the most difficult horse he had ever owned, even after all the time he had spent with her.
He sighed, wishing the stable boy had not had to take a temporary leave. And if he comes back at all, he will not get anywhere near this horse, I fear. For the very same horse with which he had been working since before sunrise that morning had recently bitten the young stable hand when he’d tried to feed the beast a sugar cube.
Rupert had feared the boy would lose the use of his hand completely. But it turned out that the mare’s bite had looked worse than it truly was, and he had only needed a few stitches. Rupert was glad, though that did little to alleviate his guilt, or to assure him that the boy would return to work.
He was good with horses, and he loved the animals dearly. But he didn’t know what he would do with the mare if he couldn’t get her to calm down, especially not if he didn’t have someone experienced to help him.
“Come, Silver, darling,” he said in his most soothing, calm voice. “It’s all right. I have a treat for you.”
The horse, her feet planted firmly on the ground, extended her neck as far as she could, sniffing in the direction of Rupert’s oat-filled hand. She tilted her head, looking from the oats to Rupert’s face. Then, she snorted and whinnied, trying to retract further into the corner despite being backed as far against the wall as she could go.
Rupert sighed again. He knew that travel could be upsetting for horses. But Silver behaved as though she had been through something even before the trip from Spain to London that had rendered her incapable or unwilling to cooperate with people. And despite Rupert’s previous experience with troubled horses, her skittishness seemed to be worsening.
The stable hand had been the most successful of anyone who had tried to approach her. But as the lad’s reward had been a bite bad enough to require stitches, Rupert felt he couldn’t risk bringing anyone else near. If she didn’t start to turn around soon, he would be forced to sell her, and for less than half of what he had paid. He didn’t want to fail the poor thing, but he couldn’t keep a beast so dangerous either. He gave the animal a sad smile and shook his head.
“Whatever will I do with you, Beautiful?” he asked softly, putting his other hand up on the gate.
As if in response, the mare snorted again and stomped her front hooves defensively. Rupert returned the oats to the bucket and slid it beneath the gate. The horse’s agitation continued until he held up his hands and slowly backed away.
“All right,” he said, his voice sounding as exhausted as his body felt. “I’ll leave you alone for today.”
He immediately exited the stable, knowing Silver wouldn’t go near the oats until long after he had left. He also knew she would kick the bucket back under the gate, spilling leftover oats all over the ground. She seemed to hate everything about human beings, including their scent. Rupert didn’t know who would buy such a horse if he were forced to sell her. But he knew he couldn’t keep her if she didn’t come around soon.
He entered the mansion, asking the first maid he saw to send his valet to his bedchambers. Then, he went upstairs, searching through his wardrobe to choose a suit for dinner. He selected a light-blue one he had purchased while in Spain. It had a matching ruffled shirt and ocean blue coat. He laid it on the bed and washed up quickly at his wash basin. He was just finishing when Dennis, his valet, entered his room.
“Shall I ready you for dinner, Lord Rudmore?” he asked crisply.
Rupert nodded curtly, drying his face and going back to the center of the room. He appreciated his valet’s no-nonsense, professional demeanor, even though the man had made little in the way of an agreeable companion during their four years in Spain.
“Yes, thank you, Dennis,” he said, waiting for the valet to begin his work.
The man worked quickly, which was another quality Rupert liked about him. He was tall and portly, but he moved with the grace and dexterity of a once slenderer man. It never took Dennis long to help his lordship get dressed. The only time it ever took more than an hour for Rupert to get ready for an event was when he bathed. He had decided he would not bother that evening.
It was a skill Rupert had come to depend on in his valet, as he sometimes spent more time with the horses than he realized. Getting dressed quickly had served Rupert well on many occasions, and even though Dennis was not the warm or friendly sort, he always performed his duties above and beyond all Rupert’s expectations.
True to form, Dennis had Rupert dressed and his hair combed and styled in less than an hour. Rupert examined his yellow hair in the mirror as Dennis dabbed him with some Bay Rum cologne, which carried with it the scent of spicy rum and bay leaves. It was a surprisingly delightful scent, one which Rupert preferred over many of the others to be found in London. After one final adjustment of his suit jacket, Rupert dismissed Dennis and went downstairs to join his family in the main dining hall.
Carlswood estate had been his childhood home and was still the home of his father, the Duke of Carlswood. It hadn’t changed at all in Rupert’s thirty years of life, and he found that remarkably comforting. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed home until he had returned. His time away had helped him a great deal, but he couldn’t deny that part of him was glad to be home.
He had just entered the dining hall when the servants came out to serve the first course of the meal. He took his seat quickly, smiling sheepishly at his aunt and father.
“Forgive my tardiness,” he said. “I was working with my wild girl, Silver.”
His father shook his head and smiled.
“Think nothing of it, Rupert,” he said. “Is she still giving you fits?”
Rupert sighed and nodded.
“She is a very troubled thing,” he said. “I do not think it is meanness, but I cannot identify what it is that keeps her in such a state of distress.”
The duke looked thoughtful for a moment.
“Have you considered hiring a horse trainer?” he asked.
His aunt gasped, clasping her hands together and giving them both a smile that said it was a brilliant idea.
“I know a wonderful horse trainer,” she said. “My good friend is married to him, in fact. She’s told me of horses that would otherwise have been deemed a grave danger to all living things which have been successfully tamed and trained by him.”
Rupert smiled, but he shook his head.
“He sounds wonderful, Aunt Faye,” he said. “But I adore my horses, and I always prefer to do my own training. I find it helps my relationship with them if I can help them come to trust me and regard me as a friend as well.”
His aunt smiled at him, but he could see she disagreed with his logic. She didn’t understand horses as he and his father did, but he knew she was just trying to help.
“I support you, of course, Rupert,” the duke said. “But if you change your mind, just let us know.”
Rupert nodded, knowing he wouldn’t change his mind. Horses who dealt with just one person during the crucial phases of their adjustment to a new home and training usually did better in the long run when it came to long-term cooperation and trust.
“I will,” he said, giving his aunt a sweet smile. “Thank you, Aunt Faye.”
His aunt beamed at him, seemingly satisfied he had halfheartedly agreed to ask for her help if he needed it.
“Of course, darling,” she said. “I am honored to help you in any way I can, always.”
Rupert smiled. His father looked at him, setting aside his soup spoon.
“Has your aunt told you about the house party she is hosting?” he asked.
Rupert inwardly winced. She had mentioned it to him shortly after his return home. But in his efforts to tame his difficult mare, it had slipped his mind. Now he remembered, he wished his father had said nothing to him about it. He might have managed to get away with missing it because he hadn’t remembered it until the last minute.
“She did,” he said carefully.
His aunt brightened, and she grinned at her nephew.
“It will be such a lovely time,” she said. “I am so thrilled you are home now, and just in time to attend alongside your father.”
“How fortunate,” he teased, to mask his genuine reluctance to attend the party.
His aunt laughed lightly.
“You are as charming as always,” she said, smiling at him. “That will serve you very well, dear. There will be many young ladies in attendance. I am sure you will not want their attention.”
It was Rupert’s turn to laugh. He raised his eyebrow at his aunt and shook his head.
“I am hardly home, and you’re already trying to play matchmaker,” he said.”
Faye sighed dramatically.
“Well, darling, I long to be a grand auntie,” she said.
Rupert’s expression softened. She had never married, and thus, had never had children of her own. Helping to raise Rupert was as close as she would ever have to having a child, so he wasn’t surprised she would consider his children her own grandchildren. He felt bad for her, especially since she had been a wonderful mother to him. But he hadn’t even considered the idea of marriage and children since his former love, Beatrice, had left him for another man. She had never loved him, as he had later learned. She had merely used Rupert to make the man she had eventually married jealous, leaving Rupert crushed. His failed courtship had been his primary reason for spending so much time traveling. And yet, his aunt was suggesting that he try again to find a bride.
“Oh, darling, don’t look so glum,” his aunt continued. “I have invited my good friend, the Dowager Countess of Tilhurst, and her two children to the party. Her son, the Earl of Tilhurst, is hoping to make a good match for his sister, Lady Lila. I do hope you will, at least, consider getting to know her.”
Rupert nodded, but his mind had not yet fully returned from his painful memories of Beatrice.
“I shall make her acquaintance at the party,” he said casually.
His aunt smiled at him.
“That is wonderful,” she said. “And perhaps the two of you can spend more time together at the events we will be hosting during their stay here.”
Rupert raised his eyebrows and glanced at his father, who made a show of looking away to pick up his own wine glass.
“Their stay?” he asked.
Faye nodded, practically glowing.
“Yes, dear,” she said. “They will be staying a couple of weeks here with us, so that Cressida and I can spend some time together. And, of course, so they can attend the parties.”
Rupert nodded slowly, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. Even after being home for a month, he was still not ready to begin engaging with the ton. But it was clearly important to his aunt, and he loved seeing her happy.
“Sounds delightful,” he said. But as his aunt continued gushing about the upcoming events and the house party, Rupert secretly decided something—he would make himself acquainted with Lady Lila. And he might even introduce himself to a few more young women. But there was not a chance he would consider marriage anytime soon, perhaps never.
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This Post Has 3 Comments
Loving it already. Can’t wait to see things (love, acceptance) unfold. Excited!!!
I already love this book. I can’t wait to see what happens next, especially with the horses.
Looks to be a very good read. But having scares we know the ton is heartless so I hope she has a strong backbone. I hope he has one too. With females and males. I know she will have to strong to deal with the ton