Read the prologue here, chapter two will follow in about a week.
Constance Ossolinska Lubienska by François Gérard
“Marry me Claire,” Viscount Westmorland said to the stunning redhead seated across from him in his mother’s grand salon. “I can’t go on like this, another year. One of those ravenous maidens pinched me this afternoon in
Harrison’s sitting room.”
“Shall I pour you a lemonade, my lord?” she asked.
“Marriage Claire. With children, grand estates and my eternal gratitude… Doesn’t that sound lovely?”
“And it would have to be you I marry?” she asked, eyes sparking with mischief as she extended a hand with the aforementioned lemonade.
“What keeps me suffering your awful company?”
“Does that mean you no longer wish to marry me?” she laughed.
“Did I tell you how Lady Riley lured me to tea with that sumptuous body of hers then tried to marry me off to her daughter.”
“She’s a lovely girl.”
“It’s perverse Claire. I could be that child’s father.”
“Oh, that’s right. You did court her mother when she was a débutante. Didn’t you?”
“Are you deliberately trying to provoke me?”
“No, my lord, but after a lifetime of knowing you I find I no longer have to make an effort. It just sort of happens.”
“I never liked you.”
“And still you would marry me?”
“Taking joy from my humiliation makes you depraved. You see that, don’t you?”
“Surely you don’t begrudge me my one happiness.”
“I realized something in coming here to see my mother.”
“And what is that, my lord?”
“I don’t like the company she keeps.”
“But I’m not company so much as companion and you pay my keep so you could, I suppose, instruct her to have me behave.”
“You only say that because you know full well she prefers you to me and would have me banished from the premises.”
“Nonsense,” his mother said as she entered, “Now stop bothering Claire and come take my hand. I have wonderful news.”
“I warn you, my dear. If this wonderful news of yours has anything to do with some suitable maiden I won’t be able to bear it,” Henry said as he greeted his mother with kind hand and a miserable smile.
“I’ve given up on finding you a bride and have instead found a husband for myself,” Blanche St John said pertly as she brushed pass her son to sit next to her companion.
“This is new,” Henry said to Claire as his mother settled.
“Have I your blessing, my angel?” his mother continued in spite of his rude dismissal.
“To whom have you decided to marry my dear?” he asked indulgently though he did not believe his mother would, at five and fifty, remarry.
“Lord Philippe Marcel. We are both widowed now and I should like to live out the rest of my days in the land of my birth away from this constant chill here in
“Et tu Maman?”
“This was not done to you my angel,” his mother said defensively. “You’re three and thirty and I’ve dedicated a decade and a half to finding you a wife to no avail. No more. I will return to
at season’s end and you will wish me well.” France
“And what of Claire?”
“Claire knows she will always have a place in my home, no matter where.”
“And you, Claire. You are willing to abandon
for my mother’s whims?” England
“Your mother has been nothing but kind to me and if it is her wish to return to the land of her birth I will, if she requires it, attend her there.”
“Who else knows of this?” Henry demanded.
“If you’re asking whether or not your siblings know,” his mother said patiently, “Then yes, I’ve told them.”
“Don’t sulk, Henry,” his mother said, “It reduces you to a child.”
“Lest you forget, my Lady. I’m your child.”
“You, my Lord, are also peer of this realm, head of your brood and well past the hour where I’m required to suckle you at my bosom,” his mother retorted.
“What a thing to say to me.”
“You are a good man, my son, and you have seen us all well since your dear Papa’s death but it is time you saw to yourself.”
“Meaning what exactly?”
“You use our care as a crutch,” his mother said plainly. “Your father was a lovely man even if a little rotten with the practical. I see that and understand how difficult it had been for you to care for us but you are now as wealthy as Midas. You did your duty and saw your siblings happily settled. For that reason I have not, until now, pushed, but I must insist.”
“Have I been a terrible burden to you maman?”
“No child,” his mother said, “But I worry we’ve hindered your pursuit of happiness with our unyielding demands and near constant crisis.”
“You mustn’t feel it is so.”
“And still I do.”
“Take heart my dear,” Henry said with guilt at having upset his mother. “I’ve been rotten in spite of your efforts. Marry Marcel and be happy.”
“You would pacify me now that I’m attempting to see you well?”
“I’m well when you are happy Maman,” he assured her, his voice warm but his tone firm and she knew there was nothing else for it.
“Will you come with me to Evelyn’s?”
“I’m not much for my sister and her constant offer of cheer just now, thank you.”
“Ah, ‘tis a pity for Philippe will be there and I so want the two of you to be better acquainted.”
“Don’t you worry, my dear, I shall make it my sole duty in the coming weeks to make myself known to your intended,” he vowed.
“Now, Henry. You must not terrify Philippe with your inquisition tactics. I want you two to get on.”
“And we will. The instant that I’ve instilled unholy fear in him,” Henry said with a charming smile.
“See me to my carriage,” she said with extended hand, “And Claire, my dear, see to it that he eats something before he leave.”
“Yes, my lady.”
The instant they cleared the salon his mother said, “There is a matter I need for you to see to?”
“You need but ask.”
“What do you feel for Claire, Henry?”
“She and I are friends, mother. But then, you know that so I suppose that isn’t what you’re asking.”
“You do not love her?”
“You ask as if you believe I do,” he said.
“I presume nothing but I see the way she is careful not to look at you and I’m a woman so I understand what that means,” his mother sighed. “That and I feel responsible for allowing it to go on so long.”
“What do you want me to do, maman?”
“Forgive Viola and embrace the possibility of happiness with Claire.”
“I’ve long made my peace with Viola and her betrayal.”
“Westmorland it does not serve you to hold tight to injury when so much awaits you on the other side.”
“My dear,” Henry said with measure and his mother adjusted her approach.
“Then release Claire. She is nearly thirty and has made no attempt to marry in spite of my encouragement and offered assistance.”
“And you feel this is due to her friendship with me?”
“You doubt it?”
“I never gave it much thought.”
“Don’t you think it’s time you did?”
There was nothing else for it and suddenly his head hurt like the very devil. He watched his mother pull away in her carriage and lamented having answered her summons.
Chapter two here
Happy New Year to you all,
Happy New Year to you all,