A Poetess and an Heir
A Poetess and an Heir
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Felicity Deacon's darkly passionate poetry is known in the bookshops of London and the withdrawing rooms of noblewomen... until a mysterious tragedy robs her of any will to write. She accepts the invitation of a wealthy squire's widow, hoping the quiet summer away from the town will help her recuperate. However, the name of the country house is known to her - the place now belongs to a childhood friend who broke her heart...
Edmund Winters' life has been laid out for him by his ambitious father: he had to do whatever it takes to get away from his trade-bound roots and prove himself every inch a gentleman. If that requires marrying the haughty daughter of a local grandee, a loveless match is a small price to pay for acceptance by the ton. His youthful rebellion long forgotten, he is now planning to carry his late father's plans out. However, these are thrown into disarray when the living, breathing, and captivatingly beautiful reminder of that youthful rebellion arrives in Morwood Hall at his stepmother's invitation...
However dutiful and strait-laced Edmund is trying to be, he cannot quite get away from his true feelings. However, he doesn't know that Felicity is harbouring a dark secret...
Intro Into Chapter 1
Intro Into Chapter 1
Felicity Deacon hadn't seen the inside of Morwood Hall for almost ten years. As far as her hostess was concerned, she has never seen it at all, and Felicity thought this blissful ignorance should be allowed to live on.
Although her memories were partly blurred by the inevitable passing of years, and partly suppressed with her considerable force of will, Felicity still couldn't help but notice the changes. The dark, thick Aubusson carpets that had once smothered the floors had been replaced by lighter Axminster ones. Either Mr. Winters started to interest himself in the niceties of fashion in the last years of his life, or, more likely, his second wife had.
Most of the withdrawing room, however, remained the same as Felicity remembered—a touch more grandiose than such a place for intimate gatherings strictly required to be, luxurious as thick cream, with brocatelle curtains framing the windows.
Mrs. Abigail Winters, surprisingly young, smiled benevolently as she had probably noticed her guest's curiosity. A guest was a rather generous word, however—whatever courtesies were preserved, no one could pretend that Felicity was on anything like an equal footing with the dainty Mrs. Winters. The former might have been the veritable toast of London's literary gatherings, and the latter a widow of a trade-wealthy squire whose name was hardly known outside Somerset, but it mattered not. One had to earn her living, however genteel the profession; the other did not.
'I am so glad you have accepted my invitation, Miss Deacon', Abigail said, pouring them both a cup of pekoe—flowery orange, of course, the highest grade. 'Summer in the country can be so very dreadfully boring. When my dear husband was still with us, we used to mostly live in town. His matters of business demanded it, of course. Edmund had free run of Morwood Hall'.
'I imagine that has changed, now that your stepson is a man grown and likely to be in want of a wife'. Felicity's memories of Edmund Winters, the playmate of her childhood games who she had once considered to be her twin soul created for her by the Almighty himself, were rather better than those of his house. She recalled the stubborn gray eyes, the dark hair soft under her fingers as she teased him over this joke or other, the lanky limbs.
He had never been the kind of ravishing creature who would set any novel-reading lady's heart aflutter. This she could judge now with the ruthlessness and experience of years. Nonetheless, she could imagine he would not lack for invitations by these ladies' rather more level-headed mothers. His name might be young and green, and his family's possession of Morwood Hall anything but ancestral, but the prospective of having a son-in-law who actually can pay the tradesmen's bills must be enticing indeed at least to some.
This, too, Felicity could judge with experience.
'Oh, Edmund would not hear of that', Mrs. Winters suddenly replied. 'One would never find a young man less interested in the delights of the town, or in anything to do with the marriage mart, than him. To hear my stepson, he would be perfectly happy conversing with trees, brooks, and tenants.'
Had the circumstances been different, Felicity would have bristled at the fact that all these entities were evidently perceived by Mrs. Winters to be of the same order. She would have had to keep that response under control, in the grim confines of her head, but she would have bristled nonetheless.
As it was, however, she had to put her cup back very, very carefully, for the fear of spilling the contents on the carpet—such was the shiver that ran through her.
'Do you mean that Mr. Winters is here?' Felicity asked, hoping her voice was as steady and courtly as she had trained it to be when dealing with influential patrons.
'Why, yes. Pray do not worry, Miss Deacon, he is unlikely to be a nuisance. He has little interest in poetry and even less interest in human company.”
Felicity could only bear to answer something so noncommittal that it didn't even touch her mind on the way to her lips.
Edmund Winters was here, on this estate. Perhaps, in this very house. What was he going to think when he saw her—which he would inevitably do one day, if in passing, if from afar? Was he going to even remember her? Or, if he would, was he going to look upon her with pity? Once the daughter of an ambitious father, a neighbor, someone striving to be an equal, now a supplicant before a patron?
Perhaps, she reflected, she made a mistake when she accepted the sudden invitation. But she had been so sure that a young man of considerable fortune would never choose to spend the summer in the country. Besides, she was so desperate...
On the other hand, Edmund Winters had never been the sort of gentleman one imagined upon hearing about a young man of considerable fortune. Even as a child, even as a youth, he had always been rather solitary, fond of strenuous exercise, and proud to the point of sullenness.
Solitary, that is, with one exception. That exception had been the neighbor's daughter, the girl with unruly dark curls and the kind of energy that could not be satisfied by running with hoops to improve her figure (which her mother insisted she do).
But that had been a long time away, Felicity reminded herself. A great gulf of years separated her from that girl with her innocent wildness. For all she knew, he was a veritable rake now, perhaps, or at the very least a man-about-town.
'The Lavender Cottage had been prepared for you, Miss Deacon', Mrs. Winters mentioned. 'It's a trifle far from the house proper, that is true, but...'
Felicity put on a smile that felt like a counterfeit porcelain even before Mrs. Winters finished speaking. She was grateful for a small cottage on the premises, of course—ever, ever so grateful! She, who had once taken tea with this woman's rather more stern predecessor countless times, who had ridden dappled horses with the estate's heir, was now grateful to be housed in the Lavender Cottage safely far from the stately home itself.
She did not get a chance to utter the supposed gratitude in question, however—any more than Mrs. Winters herself got a chance to finish her phrase. For, at that moment, the door to the withdrawing room opened abruptly, and a tall young man strode in. Although he was dressed with stern impeccability, he had the ruffled air of someone who had just come back from a bout of riding.
'Mrs. Winters', he addressed the older woman. 'We need to speak of...'
Abigail Winters coughed with the utmost delicacy.
'Edmund, we have a guest'.
At this, Edmund Winters—for, of course, it could be no one else—turned, and looked Felicity in the eye.
She stared back.
He had changed, that much was true. Although he still was no perfect beau of Viscountess Granville's novels, the last years had been kind to him. The uncomfortably lanky limbs were no longer so; rather, he was slim in the way that hinted that his horse-riding expeditions must have been rather frequent.