Authors: Claire Firth
© 2013 Claire Firth
All Rights Reserved
The right of Claire Firth to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher and author.
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover Design by Linda Boulanger
To my family and friends for their
support and encouragement
After I had such great feedback on Sophia and Ralp
s journey in The Reluctant Bride, it spurred me on to write a follow-up novella about Guy and Isabell
– the two minor characters briefly introduced in that story. Neither of them had had a good time if you remember and I felt they deserved a brea
– with a lot of love and passion thrown in!
Nothing beats a hot, sexy relationship but whether yo
re in one or not, reading about it can be just as much fun.
‘But Isi … things cannot be that bad, surely ...?’
Lady Sophia Montgomery, Countess of Avalon
, looked at her friend’s wan features in absolute horror, her deep blue eyes sparkling at the injustice of what she had just heard.
They were seated in Sophia
’s morning room and Isabelle gave a deep sigh. ’I am afraid they are, Sophia. My husband left me but a pittance – enough only to ensure that I have no course for redress – and nowhere officially to reside.’
But that is terrible, how could he have done such a thing? You must fight it ... go to the new Lord Pennington and demand an income befitting your station as his father’s widow. He would surely not see you reduced to such penury?’
Isabelle sighed, her attitude one of defeat but there was a sparkle in the clear green eyes that stared back at her friend.
from that family,’ she said forcibly. ‘Indeed I made that perfectly clear to my husband when he was still alive. That is why he has done this to me I am sure. It will have afforded him a great deal of satisfaction to comply with my wishes, the evil old goat.’
She stiffened her back.
‘No Sophia, there is nothing for it. I must seek some form of employment, though it is not easy to imagine what that might be other than perhaps a companion to some poor elderly person or child. It is not as if I have any
skills that might be of benefit to anyone.’
She looked so morose that Sophia felt quite distraught looking at her.
‘But that would be hard Isi, doing menial tasks that you are unaccustomed to do. Would you not be better off considering a second husband? You are quite beautiful and still very young. I’m sure …’
I will never marry again.’
’s voice was unexpectedly harsh and Sophia looked at her warily.
How you can even suggest it, Sophia, when you more than anyone know what I was forced to endure.’
But … not all marriages are like that, you know. Look at Ralph and I. As you know, I was not at all happy when Mama and Papa arranged my marriage, but …’ she smiled impishly, ‘truly I could not wish for a better,
husband. I was never so happy as I am now. Think how wonderful it would be if you too could find someone like that.’
It could never happen Sophia even if I were to desire it, which I don’t. For who would want a penniless widow? No - my only chance is to find a position in a genteel household. I daresay I will be quite content to thus pass away my days.’
The resigned expression on her face was quite enough to put her friend into a frenzy of thinking.
‘Well, of course you are welcome to stay here with us for as long as you like, you know that,
she said slowly, ‘but-
’ she declared suddenly, leaping up from her seat and making Isabelle jump. ‘I have just had the most
of ideas. Why did I not think of it before? If you are really so set on becoming a governess or companion then we must arrange for you immediately to meet Ralph’s cousin, the Duke of Rotherham. He is quite desperate to find someone to look after his son and although he is not the most,’ she hesitated not wishing to put her friend off, ‘-
of gentlemen ... he will treat you well I am convinced. And it would mean you would be close by and we can continue our friendship.’ She clapped her hands. ‘Oh I am so excited! It is the most perfect solution to your problems.’
Lady Isabella Pennington
’s expression was not quite so ecstatic. She had acquired a coolness over the last five years that did much to hide her inner feelings and she adopted that coolness now as she surveyed her friend dubiously. ‘Sophia – whilst I appreciate your sentiments, I cannot agree. I am not at all sure it would be a good thing to take a position here in Hertfordshire where I am -
well known by some. It is quite difficult enough that I have to now earn a living to keep myself from penury, without knowing that all around me people are
me. I do not think I could bear it if people were to shun me because of my new lowly status.’
Oh Isi, do not be absurd. Of course they would not.’ But Sophia’s expression faltered, becoming less sure. Of course
would never do such a thing - but there were some who were not so loyal and who might she knew, take a delight in ridiculing others less fortunate than themselves.
‘In any case ...’ she continued spiritedly. ‘Just let them try! If anyone should be disrespectful towards you they would have
to answer to. And to risk being struck off the Earl of Avalon’s visiting list is not something people would consider lightly, I can tell you!’
Isabelle looked at her friend almost pityingly.
‘You do not understand Sophia. How could you indeed? You do not know what it is like to be cast out, no longer a member of the society you have always enjoyed. It will be impossible for me, once I have obtained a position, to continue mixing in the circles I’m used to. We must accept that my love. Can you imagine for example, the Misses Emberly inviting a mere governess to one of their soirees? I think not.’
Pah! As if you would wish to attend one of their soirees anyway.’
Isabelle gave a small smile.
‘It is one thing not to wish to go but quite another to know that you are not even considered good enough to be invited,’ she said gently. She moved over to embrace her friend. ‘I know you mean well Sophia, and our friendship means much to me and will always do so, but you must realise my love that my circumstances have changed dramatically and alas I am no longer a suitable companion for the Countess of Avalon. If we meet in future it can only be in private. There is nothing we can do to change that I am afraid.’
Oh, but it is so absurd.’
It is the way of the world Sophia and I am quite resigned to it. Do not concern yourself with thoughts of me.’
But your brother? Surely he can help you?’
You forget it was Hugo who arranged my marriage in the first place. And whilst I think perhaps he would help me a little if he could, my sister-in-law has made it plain that she considers they did more than enough providing a home for my younger sister until she married. She believes I have brought this catastrophe upon myself by not being more - obliging to my husband. And I have to own, I fear she is right.’
A bleakness descended over her features at the memory of those few brief years of marriage. Nothing she had yet to endure, she told herself fiercely, could be worse than what she had survived as the young wife of the Earl of Pennington.
‘Well. I shall speak to Guy,’ Sophia said decisively. ‘Indeed, even better, I shall invite him to supper tomorrow night and you may meet him. But …’ she hesitated, not sure quite how to continue. ‘Do not be put off
much by his manner. He is divorced and I believe his marriage has somewhat embittered him. He can sometimes appear a little - sombre I fear.’
was rather understating it, Isabelle thought the next evening, eyeing the Duke of Rotherham covertly as they sat around the dinner table and conversed. He was positively ferocious looking with his dark hair and forbidding features. Not an unhandsome man she owned, if only he cared to smile more, but she found herself quaking in her shoes every time he directed that steely grey gaze her way. Had Sophia mentioned her situation? She wished she’d had the forethought to ask her friend because now she was even more decided than before that working for the Duke of Rotherham was the very last thing she would want to do.
From which county are you visiting, Lady Pennington?’ the Duke asked her politely.
From Sussex, Sir.’
Sussex?’ He frowned, looking at her in some puzzlement. ‘But surely that would mean you were married to
Isabelle inclined her head, knowing full well what he was thinking. Her husband had been more than thirty year her senior and well known for his dissolute ways.
‘That is correct, Sir,’ she said stiffly. ‘Sadly my husband died three months ago.’
He raised an eyebrow at her but said no more on the subject, switching instead with disconcerting frankness to her present circumstances.
‘Sophia tells me you are looking for a post as governess or companion?’
She tensed, the blood rushing delicately to her cheeks.
‘That is so, Sir - although I am not sure, that is …’
Come and see me the day after tomorrow,’ he ordered abruptly. ‘I am seeking a companion for my son and whilst I make no promises, I will interview you for the post.’
Something in his manner made her cheeks burn hotly with indignation. She supposed she would need to get used to being treated as if she were of no importance
– indeed she had already adapted to such a situation with her husband – but it was still galling being addressed in such a way.
I regret Sir,’ she stated calmly, ‘but I fear Sophia may have misled you. I do not feel that a post in your household would suit me. I intend taking a post outside of Hertfordshire where I am little known.’
Guy leaned back in his chair and surveyed her indolently, his eyebrows raised at her show of independence.
‘Forgive me if I have misunderstood,’ he said coolly, ‘but I was under the impression your position was quite … desperate.’
Isabelle threw Sophia a reproachful look wondering how much worse this situation could get, but it was Sophia
’s husband Ralph who came to her rescue.
Isabelle is a guest in our home,’ he said pleasantly, ‘and she knows she is welcome to stay for as long as she likes. I hope her desperation would never be that great that she would feel the necessity to take a position she did not wish.’
Please-’ Isabelle looked round the table in anguish. ‘Ralph - Sophia, I appreciate what you are both trying to do for me, but really I am not your responsibility.’
Tears glistened in her eyes but she resolutely refused to let them spill.
‘I count myself truly blessed to have such good friends but I would not wish to outstay my welcome. The first chance of a position I get …’
Lady Pennington, I have already offered you the chance of an interview; yet you appear to be turning it down without even hearing the terms I might offer. Or meeting your possible future charge. It would appear that perhaps your intentions are not as altruistic as you would have us believe.’
Sophia looked at him shocked, her expression full of reproach.
No. He is right.’ Isabelle drew herself up in her chair, her eyes hostile as they met his. She could not believe for one minute that after such a conversation he would even consider taking her on as a governess, or that she would seriously be tempted to accept an offer should he make one; but she would not give him the opportunity to accuse her of being dishonest in her intentions.
If you will give me a time when I might call upon you on Saturday, Sir?’
Shall we say eleven o’clock in the morning? I will send my coach for you.’
She nodded curtly, then turned her gaze away from him - a
tight knot in her stomach alerting her to the worry that she may just have made a very big mistake.