Authors: Marly Mathews
The agitated expression he wore faded quickly enough. He looked ready to speak when her father beat him to it.
“Your Grace, I’m ever so sorry but I simply had to bring my daughter, Miss Caroline Griffiths.”
She curtsied and Edward bowed. “Miss Griffiths, how nice to see you,” Edward said, bowing his head to her and making her heart flutter.
She glanced sharply at her father, wondering if he would catch the fact that Edward hadn’t said how nice to meet you. Indeed, he still looked a little dazed and sort of overwhelmed.
Curious. Her father never seemed intimidated by anyone before. Of course, Edward was an imposing man with a few inches on her
father, and his position as a duke would impress most subjects of the Realm.
“I would meet with you, sir, in the Library.” Edward addressed only her father. She supposed she could go and sit out in the Gardens. It was much milder today than it had been yesterday and she’d sat outside yesterday with no issue.
“Pray, can my daughter accompany me? She quite delights in books. She is besotted with the written word.”
Edward’s eyes lit on her. His breathtakingly beautiful blue gaze seared right into her soul, making an excited thrill rush up and down her spine.
“Is that so? Then, I shan’t take that pleasure away from you, Miss Griffiths. You may accompany us. The Library is huge, there are volumes of books in there that I haven’t even read. I’m sure you can get lost in it whilst your father and I get down to business.”
Her father fidgeted nervously and kept moving his walking stick from one hand to the other.
“Papa,” she said, looking down at his walking stick. He looked shocked and stopped what he was doing.
“Pray, follow me,” Edward said, walking back into Whitney Park. She inhaled a large lungful of air, and didn’t miss her father mutter beneath his breath.
“God give me strength!”
The sweeping majestic interior of Whitney Park quite literally struck her
dumb. As she hurried after the duke she attempted to study every detail. She walked on black and white marble. Busts of past dukes lined the hallway leading to the enormous library, this palatial house made Banbury House look like a small cottage in comparison. She knew that before they’d been granted the title of duke the family had held the title of earl and had owned these lands for hundreds of years. The grand detailing Whitney Park boasted made her own home look quite unfashionable.
Edward had a fleet of golden liveried footmen, tapestries and portraits galore, and
awe-inspiring crystal chandeliers.
Once she entered the Library, she almost expired from sheer delight. Wall to wall books met her eyes. Richly plush furniture decorated the room, and the cherr
y red sofa called to her. She could easily make herself at home here, tucked up happily with a book in her hands.
The warm company of the blazing fire in the marble fireplace would be so lovely. Along with a large desk at the one end, laden with what looked like missives and an inkwell and feather quill pen.
She could see that Edward had chosen to attend to his affairs in this room—when he probably had scads of other rooms that would have served well as a home office. This meant he too loved to be surrounded by the written word. She let out a little sigh that didn’t escape her father or Edward’s notice.
“I do believe Christmas has come early for my daughter,” Benjamin chuckled, and beamed adoringly at Caroline.
“Whatever you’d like to take back to Banbury House pray set aside and I’ll have a footman take them to your carriage.”
Loud happy barks met her ears, followed shortly by Zeus and Apollo who scampered happily into the Library. They greeted her first, nudging her hands for petting.
“Dear me, well, I always said my daughter had a way with animals, look at how well your hounds take to her, quite astonishing. We used to have a delightful little spaniel. My late wife adored her. After Lady Margaret passed, and her little dog died, we didn’t have the heart to get another.”
“Gertrude doesn’t like dogs,” Caroline stated emotionlessly. She would have happily gotten another puppy to comfort her in her time of grieving. “She likes cats and you know how I get when I’m around them. They make me sneeze in such a frightful way,
and I break out in a terrible rash if I attempt to pet one. They are adorable but I just can’t be around them.”
“Is that so?” Edward asked, his interest seemed piqued by this latest revelation.
“Oh, indeed, yes,” her father confirmed. “She gave her mother a frightful turn once when she wanted to pet the outdoor cats. Of course, most would say it’s unsafe to approach such feral creatures but my Caroline has a way with all animals wild or tame—she has such a gentle nature, you see. She broke out in such awful red blotches. Her mother sent for a physician she was so worried. That was my Margaret, she always fretted over her children’s welfare, more than she cared about her own health.”
Her father’s eyes became mawkish. “Papa,”
she said softly, “I think the Duke wishes to talk to you as privately as possible with me in the same room. I could go out to the Gardens,” she offered.
“Dear me, no. You shall stay with your fat
her. Go and browse through the Duke’s impressive collection while we bandy words.”
“Indeed. Browse to your heart’s content. Do not forget the offer I made,” Edward said, his eyes blazing with emotion. His gaze was so heate
d she felt her cheeks warm. “Might I say that you look quite fetching today, Miss Griffiths.”
That did it. She blushed profusely, smiled, bowed her head and quickly
walked to the other end of the Library, in an attempt to give them as much privacy as was possible.
Zeus and Apollo amiably followed her and settled themselves on the aubosson rug in front of one of the many sofas in the Library.
She started looking through the many volumes of books and had gathered a stack of them that she wanted to read when she heard her father exclaim loudly.
“This is a bunch of fustian nonsense, sir. This is a bag of moonshine! I shall hear no more of it. My daughter and I will not darken your door any longer! Caroline, come immediately. We are leaving!”
Her heart hammered in her chest. She dropped the stack of books she held and they clattered to the floor. This couldn’t be happening, her ears were ringing in despair.
“Mr. Griffiths, there is no need to get in such a high dudgeon. My offer is clear, I
have set my cap on your daughter.”
“And my reply is clear, sir
Caroline gasped loudl
y at her father addressing the duke in such a disrespectful way.
You shall never have my blessing. I shall not allow my daughter to marry into such a family of terrible blackguards. Come now, Caroline.”
Right now, she dearly wished her father to Jericho. She couldn’t wrap her mind around what was happening. Was her father not in jest? H
e couldn’t be refusing the duke, could he? He was throwing a rub in the way and making a muddle of everything! Oh, how horrible this day had turned out!
“No,” she said flatly.
Her life was in ruins. She only had once chance to fix this, and she couldn’t allow her father’s pride to get in the way again. She didn’t know why he’d insulted Edward’s family but he had no right to make such a fuss and bother! No right at all. She had complacently sat idly by while he married that harridan and she would not stay silent while he dashed her dreams on the rocks once again.
Her father started to sputter.
He couldn’t string his words together coherently. He seemed put out by her firm reply, this was the first time she’d ever stood up to him and he was not used to this side of her—at least not when it came to him.
Edward, for his own part, also looked exceedingly perplexed, and he remained disturbingly silent. Would he not fight for her?
Summoning her courage, she crossed the distance that laid between her and them.
“This is not the time to let your stubbornness rear its ugly head, Caroline,” her father said angrily.
“I disagree, Papa. You always told me I was just like Mama, and I do think you’re quite right. Mama had pluck to her backbone like none other I’ve ever known and if she were here she would be quite vexed with you. She would tell you that you were completely off course, she would tell you to be happy for me!”
“Your mother would indeed want to secure your happiness. However, I do not agree that she would bless this particular un
ion. She had her dreams dashed. No, she had them absolutely devastated by this man’s father. He almost ruined your mother’s life and nearly destroyed her reputation. Had her father not set everything to rights who knows how the ton would have viewed your mother, God rest her sweet soul! True, enough, the late duke attempted to mend ways with your mother, and he did all that he could to make certain no blame fell on your mother’s shoulders. Indeed, he told everyone she was a veritable angel. Of which, I can tell you she was. Despite her hotheadedness and her stubbornness, she had the heart and soul of a seraphim, and that is why I fell so madly love with her, and why I pray she felt the same way about me.”
“But…but…yours was a true love match.”
“Indeed, she loved me in her own way, and I for my part, I was desperately in love with her—but perhaps she loved another more. I never could tell, she treated me with such tenderness and we had a contented life. Understand that, Caroline. We had a joyous life living at Banbury House and you and I can thank the Duke’s father for their kindness in allowing us to trespass on their hospitality all of these years. You see, I inherited precious little off my Father’s estate. He did leave me a house in Wales upon his death but that doesn’t matter right now, as he passed after you were born. I never went into the Clergy or into the Military as my father wished me to. I wanted to live the life of a gentleman without having the vast resources most gentlemen have at their disposal.
Your mother was afforded
a sufficient dowry from her blunt strapped parents but nothing like she should have been lavished with as the daughter of an earl. The Old Duke promised we could live at Banbury House until mine and your mother’s death, and I had hoped that they would allow you and Gertrude to remain on there should I die anytime soon. You, I wasn’t too worried about. You can always count on your Aunt Georgia. She would never allow you to be out in the cold. Now, however, I see we shall have to move. We shall have to find alternate lodgings. I shall have to pray that my brother will allow me to stay at Carlton Abbey until I can figure a way out of this cock up. We shall have to go to Wales, there’s no two ways about it. Convincing Gertrude of that shall be a battle and a half. The family currently living at the house there shall have to leave. I’ve never been in such a complete and utter cock up in all of my life!”
She gasped at his use of strong language. “Papa,” she chastised.
“I don’t give a bloody fig about my language at this moment, Caroline. I am riled up, can’t you see that?”
“I can see that you are quite
peeved, Papa, and from what I can understand, I do believe I should be rankled as well. You, sir, told me a host of Canterbury tales!” She said, moving to confront Edward.
“You do not understand, Caroline. I didn’t want to shatter your innocence about the whole thing,” Edward said, his voice plaintive.
Why should she care about this union not coming to fruition? She barely knew Edward. She’d been a foolish girl with her head in the clouds! Her feelings for him were probably not even genuine. Infatuation. Yes, that was what it was. She was besotted with him because of his charming way with her. She’d never had a man pay so much attention to her before and it had quite undone her. He had turned her head. Indeed, he had mesmerized her!
“You told me that my mother wanted us to marry. You told me that it was more or less her dying wish.”
“I didn’t lead you astray, Caroline. My own mother told me the story when I returned from the Peninsula Wars. She found it entertaining, she laughed about the whole thing. She found it quite amusing that both had died without revealing the plot to you—or me.”
“I thought you had proof.
I thought you had a letter, or that your father had told you in person. You are basing this all on what your mother said? Can you trust her at her word? And you, Papa, you never told me that we lived mostly on charity from the duke’s family. You and Mama should have told me—you both kept that from me. What did the Old Duke do to my mother? Surely he didn’t ruin her?” Her breath caught in her throat.
“No. Your mother was pure of heart, body and soul when I married her. Alas, not everyone believed that. She did after all attach herself to a most scandalous man—the scandal he caused when he brought your mother back to England with him raise
d quite a raucous but he was a duke so he was forgiven everything. He was a rakehell of all rakehells. Your father, sir, was a libertine of the worst sort.”
“I do not deny that,” Edward said. “But trust me, he rued every single day of his weakness with the ladies. He regretted the fact that he took my mother to his bed and got her with child, while he
was betrothed to Lady Margaret. He sorely despised himself for having to inflict a breach of promise on your mother. Thus, breaking her heart, and his own. He let temptation ruin his life, and he told me the last time we saw each other that I could not let sin and temptation rule my life.