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Glitter, Page 2

Abbi Glines

  I was sure my letters about my outings with Aunt Harriet had amused Whitney to no end. I could almost hear her musical laughter as she read my penned descriptions of my days spent at 18 Mayfair. I missed her terribly and hoped soon she would be sent for a visit. Mother was too concerned about my introduction into society that she didn’t want Whitney here this soon to distract me. I was already distracted with what was expected of me. Even with the daily entertainment provided by Aunt Harriet, I did so miss my home.

  “I’ll send Betsey up to you shortly. Your hair is always glamourous, but I believe, given the time, Betsey can place it so that even a crown would pale in comparison.”

  I doubted my aunt’s fanciful belief, but it was no hardship to sit for Betsey and let her do what she would with my hair. I had wanted to trim it for so long, but mother refused. The heaviness of my auburn locks often caused my head to ache. However, mother seemed to believe it was one of my finest attributes. I disagreed, but my opinion was of no value, it would seem.

  “Thank you, Aunt Harriet,” I replied simply. For I was thankful. For many things. I was thankful that she wasn’t an uptight bore. I was thankful she was happy with the fact my uncle had dumped me on her to marry off. I was thankful that if I behaved properly, I’d have a good chance at giving my sister a better life.

  “I can’t help but notice that you aren’t happy about all of this,” Aunt Harriet said with a small frown on her lips. She rarely frowned. I felt guilty to have caused my ever-chipper aunt to frown.

  “I am thankful,” I said, because I couldn’t describe myself as happy and mean it. “I miss my sister,” I admitted. “But I am grateful that Uncle Alfred and you have given me this opportunity. I want nothing more than to make sure Whitney is properly taken care of.”

  My aunt continued to frown. “What about you, honey? You always mention your sister’s happiness and that’s a very commendable attribute but what of your own happiness? Do you not want to enjoy the London season and be the bell of the ball? Are there no dreams of your future that you think about? All girls have dreams. I was once a girl too, you know. I do remember all my dreams.”

  I had dreams. Dreams that would not be because they couldn’t be. I knew if I told Aunt Harriet these dreams, she’d understand and not look down at me for them. But they were my dreams, my secrets, and I wanted to keep them that way.

  “Finding a husband who will be kind to me and my family is my dream,” I lied. That was why I was here. It was my duty, but it was not my dream.

  Aunt Harriet sighed and walked over to pat my shoulder, as if she must console me. “Perhaps one day you’ll realize I’m a good listener. I have several younger sisters, you know. I’m more wise than I appear.” She then turned and with a swoosh of her skirts, she walked out of the room. Before the door closed behind her, she called out much too loudly, “Betsey!”

  I winced at her shrill voice and then I had to cover my mouth to muffle my laughter. The stories I would send back to Whitney after tonight’s ball would be colorful indeed. Aunt Harriet would steal the show without meaning to. I wondered if she would shout at everyone she spoke to… I truly hoped she would. That would entertain me for a fortnight, at least.

  Standing, I walked over to the blue gown. It was the most beautiful dress I had ever owned. When I was younger, much younger than Whitney, I too had dreamed of wearing a gown such as this. I’d never seen so much silk. I touched it briefly and smiled. Whitney would truly love this gown. I would describe it for her perfectly in my next letter.

  There was a very small part of me who wanted to hope for something more than just a marriage of convenience. My parents hadn’t been a love match by any means. I hadn’t believed that was part of a marriage until now. My uncle truly adored his wife and she very nearly worshiped him. They were refreshing to watch and I feared the more I was around them, the more I’d wish silently for a match like theirs. The idea was unrealistic and I had no time to waste with such a whimsical idea of falling in love. What did I know of love? Very little indeed.

  Turning my attention elsewhere was for the best, as not to let vanity take hold of any of my thoughts. The street outside my window was busy as usual. I often watched the people as they strolled by in their day gowns, wanting to be seen. This was all so different from my home in the country. We rarely had company and the need to outshine others wasn’t understood. At home, I had found myself in the kitchen most days, attempting to cook food that was edible or washing bedding. We all had taken up household tasks since father had passed away. Whereas my mother often complained and sighed in weariness from the work, it had made me feel useful. There had been a purpose to it all that I greatly enjoyed.

  I saw nothing useful about the activity on the street below. The people out there had no worries in the world, except what they were wearing to the next ball or reading whatever gossip paper they could find. Sinking down on the window seat, I sighed once more because that was what would become of me too. My future sounded very boring. Even I couldn’t write myself out of this if I wanted to.

  Chapter Two

  The Earl of Ashington

  The last time I poured a glass of brandy before noon had been the day I removed my stepmother from this house. That had been for celebration purposes as well as preparation for when my brother would return from Paris irate with me. Today, however, was not celebratory, in nature but rather, solely preparatory. I did not attend the ridiculousness that the London season entailed. It was a marriage mart, and I had no need of it until recently.

  If marrying and having an heir meant that at my death, my brother would not become the next Earl of Ashington, then that was a strong push for me to do so. However, it wasn’t my priority. If it was, I would have been in search of a wife before now. I had something more important than a title to protect and it was indeed time I married. Finding a wife that could step into the role as countess was easy enough. There were plenty young women in London who had been groomed to become a proper countess. However, I didn’t require just a properly trained lady, but one who would fulfill yet another role much more important to me. Finding a lady who would do so, without issue, would not be an easy task.

  Being a countess was one thing but being my wife was another. I was a package deal and no one realized it… yet. I took another drink of the brandy in my hand and leaned back in my chair with a long, deep sigh. This past year had been chaos indeed. I’d found I had more patience than I had previously believed. No doubt the memories of my childhood had played a factor in my willingness to keep from giving up and tossing my responsibility aside.

  At this point, I had done all I could do and a wife was beyond a simple decision. It was a requirement. I would rectify that as swiftly as I could. After much research, I had my intentions set on a one Miss Lydia Ramsbury. She was the granddaughter of a Duke. Her demeanor was soft and quiet. She was quintessentially English and exactly what this house needed. I did not take choosing a mother for my children lightly and a pretty face would not be enough.

  The heavy door to my office swung open with more force than necessary, and I knew who the intruder was without looking. She would have been informed of my plans for the evening and I had no doubt that she was going to have her own set of questions. Sitting up from my relaxed state, I met the curious eyes of my inquisitor.

  “You are going to a ball?” she asked, her eyes slightly brighter as she said the last word. I was sure she believed balls to be much different than their reality.

  “I am sorry, my lord. Miss Emma was supposed to be taking her rest. I realized too late that she had escaped, again.” Alice, the most durable governess in England I’d wager, said as she entered the room.

  “I want to go to a ball,” Emma added as she did a twirl in front of my desk before giggling. “I dance like a princess.”

  I gave a nod and let the smile that Emma so often elicited from me show clearly on my face. She hadn’t seen many smiles in her short life and I never wanted to withhold one from her
. I knew all too well what coldness did to a child. My brother and I were examples of just that.

  “Miss Emma, you are not of age to attend balls. It is time for your rest. Come now,” Alice said in her typical stern voice.

  Emma wasn’t bothered at all by Alice’s tone, giving Alice a sharp frown then turning her attention back to me. “Will you go alone?” Emma asked me.

  I nodded my head. “Yes, I will attend alone.”

  That seemed to bother her and her frown deepened. “You will be lonely,” she stated.

  “His lordship will have many friends in attendance and ladies to dance with, Emma. This is not a child’s concern. It is to the nursery for you.” Alice was still trying to sound as if she were in control when all three of us were aware that she had no control over the child but then neither did I.

  “Alice is rude,” Emma replied with a scowl. “She is often rude, Ashington,” Emma told me and I did attempt to hide my smile this time.

  “Miss Emma!” Alice exclaimed horrified. “How many times have I told you that you are to address the Earl as Lord Ashington!”

  Emma placed one very small hand on her waist and lifted her shoulder in a shrug. “I don’t know. I can only count as far as ten and sometimes twenty, if I so choose.”

  A chuckle escaped me and this time, Alice was frowning at me in disapproval. “If I’m to teach her properly, my lord, we cannot encourage this… this rebellious behavior. It is unacceptable.”

  Emma flipped her long blonde hair behind her shoulder and beamed brightly at me. She enjoyed it when I laughed at her antics and when I, in turn, was scolded by Alice.

  “She’s only four,” I reminded Alice, feeling rather proud of her intelligence and quick wit at such a young age.

  “I question that and her certificate of birth, my lord. She’s much too… advanced and difficult to be so young.”

  I had no question of her age. I knew full well the timeline in which her mother must have conceived her. Solange Bisset had once been my mistress for well over a year when we ended our agreement. Emma’s eyes had been the only proof I’d required when she’d arrived on my doorstep a year ago. Seeing them staring up at me, I had known she was a Compton.

  “Emma, it’s time you go with Alice to the nursery. I will tell you all about the ball tomorrow over breakfast. How does that sound?”

  Her mood brightened and she nodded her head with enthusiasm. I doubted Alice would manage to convince Emma to take a nap today. She was full of energy. Emma turned and headed to the door quickly. “Make haste Alice, I must take a nap.”

  Alice glanced at me and the weariness in her eyes was amusing. Emma could keep one on their toes. She needed a mother and of that I was certain. Solange hadn’t been much of a one to her before she left her in the hands of a stranger. I would not allow another Compton child to be treated as I had been in this house. Her illegitimacy, I was working hard to cover up, although I wasn’t certain my lie would hold solid. Not with Emma’s ability to use the English language so well at such a tender age. The child’s memory was incredible and that I regretted simply because there were things I wished she could forget.

  The door closed with a soft click and I reached for my drink once more. Emma had changed everything for me. My future especially. There was no longer time for me to waste. The grudge I once harbored for my stepmother was forgotten. The riding accident that had taken her life last year ended any untoward feelings I had toward the woman. The hatred I received from my brother, however, especially after his mother’s death, as if that had been my fault, was of no consequence. Not when I had Emma to consider. When Emma arrived here, I had planned on finding her a good home with a distant relative in the country. A place where she could grow and be trained to be something as ambitious as a Governess.

  Within a fortnight of her arrival, I had known she would stay here. There was no sending her away when she could be given the life she deserved. I had a chance to give her a good home, to be raised properly, and I fully intended to do just that. My plan would begin with a proper wife that was willing to accept Emma as my child. Lydia appeared fit for the position. I did hope I was not wrong.

  Chapter Three

  Miss Miriam Bathurst

  I had often read the word “lavishness” and I understood it well enough, but I had not, until this moment, experienced it. The word was an intriguing one that I liked to say aloud for the way it rolled off my tongue, yet being placed in the center of such a description was surreal. My books hadn’t given adequate description to a ball being held at the home of nobility. I realized now that Whitney’s fanciful ideas may hold more truth than I had believed. I was already writing her letter in my head as I took in the entire experience. She would need all the details I could give her. The society balls were something I was determined to give her one day, but for now, I would describe them in a way that she felt as if she were here herself.

  Aunt Harriet was beside me and I glanced at her to see if she too were in awe by our surroundings. Her expression didn’t appear to be anything other than typical. She turned her head to smile at me. “And so it begins,” she said then did a small gesture with her hand as if she were offering me a buffet of food to choose from. In truth, I had no idea what we were to do, and this might have been why my mother requested I had a proper chaperone. I was sure Aunt Harriet had no idea what was to happen next either.

  “Lady Wellington, I presume?” We both turned at the use of my aunt’s proper title. That was something that often caused her to chuckle and I was thankful she hadn’t done so tonight. The woman in front of us was the Duchess of Rothesborne and tonight’s hostess. Although I had never met her, I had done my studies in preparation for the season.

  “Yes, hello,” my aunt began, and I quickly curtsied before she could mess this up. “Your Grace,” I said and my aunt realized her mistake and followed my greeting.

  “Your home is lovely,” Aunt Harriet said much too loudly and gave the Duchess a big toothy, gum flashing grin. It was too bright and much too sincere for this setting. My aunt didn’t understand that of course. I added this to the mental letter I was already writing to Whitney.

  The Duchess’s intimidating gaze was now on me and I tried not to fidget. “You’re Miss Miriam Bathurst,” she stated as if I needed to be informed. “I have been curious about you.”

  I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. I kept my smile in place but said nothing. What was one to say after all?

  “You’ll do well,” the Duchess then added. “Enjoy your evening,” she said with a small nod, before moving past us with a gentle swoosh of her skirts.

  “I feel mentally exhausted already,” my aunt said under her breath, while continuing to smile much too brightly.

  “Indeed,” I agreed.

  “Excuse me but I do so hope there is a place left on your dance card,” a gentleman, not much older than myself, said as he stopped before me with a small tilt of his head.

  Aunt Harriet nudged my arm and I tried not to wince when she giggled. I doubted very much that this man would be the one to save my family. He was far too young. However, I needed to be seen and hopefully attract the attention of other possible suitors.

  It didn’t take long at all before I was weary of the dancing, listening to much talk about nothing that interested me, and three glasses of lemonade before I realized that promenading in the Park no longer felt foolish but a much-preferred pastime. At least then I just had to appear attractive without the bothersome conversation. It was a bit smothering having several men surrounding me with endless talk. This was why I had come to London or at least this was what I must do in order to find a husband. However, the longer they gathered around me the more I realized how difficult my reclusive tendencies may make things.

  “Excuse me, gentlemen, but I do believe I’m next on the lady’s dance card,” a deep voice silenced the others, and as if they’d been commanded, the small collection of suitors moved to allow the man adequate space. I would thi
nk this surprising, but upon seeing the owner of the deep voice, I understood. He had an intimidating presence and I was sure his name was not on my card. He held an important title and from the quick glance I’d taken of my card earlier, I did not recall a title that went with that face. I would, no doubt, remember such as that.

  “If I may, Lord Ashington, I believe I am, in fact, next on Miss Bathurst card,” a man who had introduced himself as Mr. Fletcher spoke up, although there was a slight quiver in his voice.

  Ignoring Mr. Fletcher, Lord Ashington stood before me, waiting with a challenge in his eye that I believed must have been for me. Was he suggesting I tell an untruth? I did not expect Mr. Fletcher to be my future husband, but he was kind, and he’d obviously just done something that wasn’t easy for him. The nervous tremble in his voice had given that away. I wouldn’t embarrass him for the attention of the more powerful man before me. Although, I was positive Lord Ashington expected me to do just that. Arrogance was never appealing, at least not to me.

  “I am most positive that Mr. Fletcher is correct,” I replied, looking up at the tall dark-haired man refusing to feel intimidated. I had only focused on studying those of the ton whose homes we would be visiting this season. Ashington wasn’t one of them. I did not recognize his face, but I could assume by the others’ response to him that he was important. That was all well and good for him, but I wasn’t important and I would not act as his silly puppet.