Authors: Elise de Sallier
“Your mother was a
?” Nathaniel’s father, Thomas, the Duke of Worthington, stared in disbelief when Lisa
shared her news. “Why didn’t you say something when Margaret and I returned from our
honeymoon to find you?”
“Because I didn’t know. It means I am a lady . . .
a lady.” She stepped closer to Nathaniel’s side, still perturbed he could think she
might prefer marriage to another in exchange for a loftier title.
“The King has given his tentative
blessing for our betrothal,” Nathaniel added.
The celebration his words triggered was cut short when Lisa’s father challenged his
“After your son was released from his obligation to the Gladstones, you should have
written to me. Anneliese deserved to know matrimony was an option.”
“But I had no idea the King might approve an alliance.” Thomas raised his chin. “And
what with the antislavery bill at stake—
Lisa’s father cut him off with a slice of his hand. “Something of great importance,
I agree, but it wasn’t your happiness you were willing to sacrifice to ensure its
daughter’s. She’s suffered enough and could have done without the added despair of
believing her future happiness had been sacrificed to expediency.”
Thomas paled at his friend’s bald accounting.
“Anneliese seemed determined to refuse my son’s offer, and I could hardly blame her
considering the way she’d been treated.”
“So you thought it best she relinquish any chance of marital happiness?”
Thomas sent Lisa an apologetic glance. “I didn’t believe there could
be a marriage—not a legitimate one, recognised by the Church. They’d have had to live
abroad, banished from society. Would you have even agreed to an elopement?”
“If it was the only option available to them.”
“That’s very kind of you, Papa.” While touched by her father’s willingness to sacrifice
his reputation, his words reminded Lisa that she’d forgotten about this remaining
obstacle. “But I’m not sure I could
live with myself if I knew my happiness had come at the expense of the abolishment
“About that.” Thomas puffed out his cheeks. “With Wilberforce’s health failing, the
tide of opinion has turned. The consensus is that the bill’s passing is now inevitable.”
“What?” Nathaniel stepped forward. “How long have you known about this?”
Lisa thought Nathaniel’s indignation understandable, and she was relieved to hear
from Thomas it hadn’t been long.
“Of course, I accept your apology,” she said when it was offered by her future father-in-law,
wanting to put the matter behind her. Having endured enough near tragedies based on
ignorance to last a lifetime, Lisa just hoped there would be no more.
Thomas and Margaret readily agreed that Lisa and her father should stay at Stanton
House until the wedding, but any hopes Lisa held that this meant she’d be allowed
time to reacquaint herself with Nathaniel were quickly dashed. As soon as matters
were settled, she was whisked away by Margaret and Rebecca for what felt like a never-ending
discussion of which couturiers, milliners, shoemakers and the like she should give
her patronage. Lisa thought the gowns she’d brought with her from Worthington Hall
were more than sufficient for her introduction to society, but apparently she was
“You’re a member of the aristocracy now,” Rebecca said, arching one brow. “Everyone
will be watching, just waiting for you to make a mistake, at which point they’ll pounce
like a pack of hyenas.”
“I wouldn’t go
that far,” Margaret said. “But I would advise you to put your best foot forward wherever
“Which means being dressed in the latest fashions created by only the most preeminent
dressmakers and the like,” Rebecca added. “It is your duty as Nathaniel’s future marchioness,
as it is my duty as the daughter of a duke, to always look our best.”
A very expensive duty, Lisa gathered from the astonishing sums the two women bandied
“You needn’t worry,” Lisa’s father told her when they met that evening before dinner.
“Once your engagement is made public, I’ll have your marriage settlement drawn up.
I’ve already discussed it with Lord Marsden, and he will pay for your wardrobe and
any household expenses, as well as providing you a generous allowance. You’ll retain
complete control over your mother’s jewels and any funds you derive from their sale.”
“And he agreed to this?” Lisa knew enough to know it was an extraordinary measure.
“Without question. He can afford it, and it’s the least he can do after the way he
has behaved.” Her father sniffed. “Which takes care of your future financial needs,
but as to your current emotional requirements . . .”
Recognising her air of desperation, her father insisted time be allotted in Lisa’s
rapidly filling schedule to see some of the city sights and take a turn around the
“With Nathaniel in attendance?”
“As long as you have the proper chaperonage, I can’t see why not.”
“Thank you, Papa.” Lisa breathed a sigh. Her father wasn’t making things easy on Nathaniel,
but at least he wasn’t planning on keeping them apart until the wedding.
“This afternoon felt like it was never going to end,” Nathaniel whispered as he escorted
Lisa into dinner.
“For me, too.” She gently squeezed his arm, her mood lifting when she was seated between
him and her father for dinner.
After they’d finished the sumptuous meal, Nathaniel declined brandy and a cigar and
requested leave to accompany the ladies to the adjoining drawing room. Under Margaret’s
watchful eye, he took a seat a little closer to Lisa than propriety would normally
decree. When he clasped her hand in his, she looked to his stepmother. “Do you mind?”
“Under the circumstances, I think some allowances can be made. Just remember to maintain
an acceptable distance if we have guests or when you’re out in public.”
“Of course.” Lisa smiled her thanks then met Nathaniel’s gaze, relieved that nothing
would part them again. Well, nothing other than their chaperones imposing society’s
restraints. By rights, betrothed couples were not supposed to touch one another except
on the dance floor or for the purpose of escorting the lady across a room. While Margaret
was of an ilk to be forgiving, something for which Lisa was immensely grateful, most
ladies of her standing would refuse to even entertain a girl with Lisa’s past, regardless
of the circumstances. Requesting time alone, so she could climb into Nathaniel’s lap,
wrap her arms around his neck, and kiss him the way she wanted to, would be asking
too much of her future mother-in-law.
“Is something troubling you?” Nathaniel asked when her smile fell.
“You’ll think me silly in light of the obstacles we’ve overcome.” He cocked a brow,
encouraging her to continue, though she made sure to lower her voice to a whisper.
“I was thinking how challenging it will be not to bristle at the restrictions with
which we’ll be faced when we’ve known such freedom in the past.”
Nathaniel’s jaw tightened, accentuating the planes and angles of his face.
“Should I not have admitted to such a thing?” Lisa asked, and he shot his stepmother
and sister a furtive glance. “I don’t think they heard me, but I apologise for my
lack of decorum. I fear it may take some time to find my footing in my new role.”
“You’ve nothing to apologise for,” Nathaniel said. “Your honesty is one of the many
things I love about you.”
“My honesty?” Lisa pulled back a fraction.
“Yes, your honesty
” He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “I won’t deny I wish you’d confided in me when
we were at Worthington, but I understand why you didn’t. God knows you tried. When
I think of the night I . . . the night we first.” He ran a hand through his hair.
“You told me your father hadn’t raised you to welcome such an offer, but I was so
obtuse . . .”
“It’s not your fault,” Lisa said firmly. “You offered me an alternative, several actually,
and I chose not to take them because I wanted to be with you. I’m the one who was
in the wrong . . . who
I don’t see how you can call me ‘honest.’ ” Her shoulders slumped.
“Circumstances forced you to keep certain matters hidden, but you’ve always been truthful
in the expression of your thoughts and affections. I wouldn’t change that about you,
even if it does mean I’m sure to be disconcerted on occasion by your openness.”
Leaning closer, Nathaniel whispered, “I’ll admit to being tempted by memories of our
time together, but I am determined to make up for taking advantage of you and show
respect to you and your father. I fear it will take us both a little time to adjust
to the altered parameters of our relationship.”
Lisa silently applauded the strength of Nathaniel’s character while wondering how
many days, and
they must endure until their wedding. He had professed his love and vowed to remain
faithful. Surely, within
parameters, there would be room for them to express their affection for one another
in an acceptable manner.
To her relief, when their fathers entered the parlour, rather than insist the young
couple join in a group activity, they left them to their reacquainting.
“So tell me everything,” Nathaniel said, eliciting a laugh from Lisa when she recalled
his previous inquisitions. “There are so many things I don’t know about you. I’m assuming
much of what you said at Worthington was based in truth, but I want to know it all.
What your childhood was like, your friendships, do you possess any talents I’m unaware
“You mean besides pouring hot tea and baking pastries?” A heated look appeared in
his eyes, and Lisa’s smile faded. If even a relatively harmless reference to their
shared past could incite passion to simmer between them, surviving the weeks of their
betrothal—once it was confirmed—would prove challenging.
Rebecca soon joined them, and Lisa did her best to keep the conversation on safe ground
while answering their numerous questions.
“Enough,” she said with a laugh after a half hour had passed. “I’m sick of the sound
of my own voice. Nathaniel, what have
been up to since we were last together at Worthington Hall? Rebecca has been very
informative, but I fear there are gaps in her knowledge, gaps I’m sure she’d like
to have filled also.”
“Most definitely.” Rebecca nodded, and Nathaniel found himself on the receiving end
of his sister’s demanding interrogative style. Lisa let her do the questioning, happy
to rest against his shoulder.
They had inched closer as the evening progressed with no rebuke from their parents.
While listening to Nathaniel’s accounting of events, she was more than content to
savour the nearness of his body and the press of his long, muscular thigh against
her own. The way his fingers caressed her hand as if he was memorising its lines and
planes anew was a particular delight. Lisa only interjected when he mentioned Hugh’s
role in uncovering Lucinda’s duplicity—the earl’s daughter who tried to trick
Nathaniel into marrying her—and Rebecca visibly tensed.