A Lady's Mystery: Regency Romance (Ladies, Love, and Mysteries), page 1
A Lady’s Mystery
Ladies, Love, and Mysteries
Love Light Faith
Love Light Faith
More Stories You’ll Love
A Lady’s Mystery
Text Copyright © 2019 by Joyce Alec
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
First printing, 2019
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Nineteenth Century England
“That one I dislike intensely.”
Marion resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead tried to assume an enquiring expression. “What is wrong with it, Mama?” she asked, looking down at her new gown and thinking to herself that even if the gown was quite perfect and proper in every way, her mother would still find something to complain about. “It fits me very well.”
Lady Audley shook her head and waved one hand in Marion’s direction. “It is much too tight in certain places,” she said vaguely. “That is not at all suitable.”
“This is the gown I am wearing to the ball this evening, Mama,” Marion answered, as patiently as she could. “I cannot understand what you find so distasteful.”
Lady Audley sighed heavily, turning her head away just a little as though she could not even bear to look at Marion. “Even the color drains you, Marion!” she protested, shaking her head now. “You must change. Why do you not wear that satin gown from last Season? I know the lace was a little frayed, but it is very easily hidden.”
Marion lifted her chin a notch, looking at her mother and trying to ascertain if there was another reason for her to be so critical for not only this gown, but the one that Marion had put on previously. They were both new gowns and had been bought and paid for by Marion’s father, the Earl of Audley. The dressmaker was one of the best in all of London and Marion knew that the gowns were of the highest fashion and boasted a beauty and delicacy in their creation that other, cheaper gowns could not. Her mother had not wanted to join her when it had come to purchasing new gowns—for Lady Audley showed very little interest in anything her daughter did—and so Marion now felt that her mother could not complain about the color or the cut of the gowns. And to suggest that she wear a gown that was from last Season, with the cut no longer in style and the lace—as her mother had said—a little frayed, was quite ridiculous. As far as Marion was concerned, she liked them both very well indeed and would be ordering more from the dressmaker very soon.
“I am going to wear this gown, Mama,” she said firmly, seeing the flash of anger in her mother’s eyes. “There is nothing I can see to be wrong with it. I myself quite like it.”
Lady Audley grimaced. “If you were a better daughter, you would do as you were told. You are much too stubborn, Marion. That is not an attractive quality for a young lady. It would be much better for you if you did as you were asked.” There was a slight warning in Lady Audley’s voice now, as though she were threatening some sort of dire consequence for Marion if she did not do as her mother asked of her, but Marion took no notice. Her mother had always been this way and Marion had learned from a young age that her mother’s threats carried no weight. Not that she wished to be disobedient, of course, but Marion had always known her own mind. It had brought about many an argument over the course of Marion’s life, and it seemed that this evening was to be no exception.
“That may be so, Mama, but I find nothing wrong with this gown. I like it. Therefore, I shall wear it.”
Her mother closed her eyes and pressed one hand to her forehead, as though Marion were paining her by her refusal to obey. “You will be the laughingstock of London in that gown.”
Marion could not help but laugh at this, knowing full well that the dressmaker would never risk such a thing occurring for fear of what it would do to her reputation. “Mama, I am not as foolish as all that,” she stated firmly. “I know that there is nothing wrong with this gown.” Her laughter died away and she narrowed her eyes just a little in Lady Audley’s direction, suddenly wondering what was behind her mother’s insistence that she change. “Why do you insist otherwise?”
Lady Audley said nothing, looking away from Marion, her face pinched. Marion waited quietly, not wanting to say another word until her mother had answered, but beginning to think that her mother was now using the quiet to search for a reason for her insistence that Marion change. The truth was Lady Audley always had something to complain about, something to argue with Marion over, and there was never any reason for her to do so other than what seemed to be a desire to be at loggerheads with her daughter. Marion suspected that this particular argument was an attempt by her mother to lord her opinion over her daughter, to state that she knew the ton better than Marion and, therefore, Marion ought to trust her judgement and do as was asked of her. It was Lady Audley doing her utmost to have her daughter bend to her will and Marion was not about to do so.
“I just want you to make a favorable impression, my dear girl,” Lady Audley sighed, her expression still tight and her voice low. “That is all.”
“This is my second year in London, Mama,” Marion reminded her mother. “I am not the green young lady that was here last Season. I know what is expected of me and am able to act accordingly. There is no need for you to worry.” She tried to smile and speak kindly to her mother whilst inwardly battling the anger that came with the knowledge that Lady Audley was trying to manipulate her in any way she could so that Marion would do what her mother wanted. “I know that I am to seek out a favorable match this Season and I have every intention of doing so.”
Lady Audley snorted and turned away, as though this were one of the most ridiculous statements she had heard in some time. Marion clenched her fists, hiding her irritation as best she could and praying that her father would soon join them so that they might make their way to the carriage and, thereafter, to the ball. Once they were on their way, her mother could have no more reason to complain about Marion’s choice of gown.
She sat down primly on the edge of a chair, not wanting to wrinkle her gown. Folding her hands demurely in her lap, she waited as patiently as she could whilst keeping her gaze away from her mother. Lady Audley had lapsed into silence and was remaining tight-lipped, her eyes holding anger and irritation whenever she threw a glance in Marion’s direction. Marion, who was well used to her mother’s behavior when she did not get what she wanted, ignored t
The sound of quick footsteps made Marion rise to her feet expectantly, turning toward the door as her father marched inside. He was a good deal taller than Marion, with sharp, piercing blue eyes that Marion herself had inherited, and greying hair that held the same hints of bronze and copper that shone now in Marion’s hair.
“Papa,” Marion said, smiling at him and feeling her anger begin to fade away. “Is the carriage prepared?”
He chuckled, the severe look gone from his face in a moment. “Indeed, it is,” he answered, smiling at her. “That gown is quite perfect, Marion. I see the dressmaker has proven her worth. We must make sure to thank Lady Pottinger for the recommendation.”
“I shall, of course,” Marion agreed, feeling the urge to turn around and smile proudly at her mother but forcing herself to remain still. “Thank you, Papa. I am glad you like it.”
Reaching out, he took her hand and pressed her fingers. “And you are to be wed this Season, my dear girl. What shall we do without you then?” His eyes darted toward his wife, a faint look of worry coming into his expression. “First my son and now my daughter.”
Marion laughed softly, trying to steal away her father’s anxiety. “And look how my brother has fared since his marriage,” she said with a knowing smile. “He has produced not only one, but two beautiful children, and seems to be happier than I have ever seen him.” A faint wistfulness came into her heart. “And I must hope that such a thing can be found for myself also.”
Before Lord Audley could say anything, Lady Audley had risen to her feet and tutted loudly in Marion’s direction. “You will not find a suitable gentleman, Marion, if you do not find within yourself a more pliable spirit. To have such resolve, such force of will, and such singular determination is a less than desirable quality in a young lady.”
Lord Audley said nothing at this remark, turning away and walking back toward the door, holding his arm out wide for both Marion and his wife to walk past him into the hallway. Marion did not seek to disagree with her mother, choosing instead to walk quietly out of the drawing room and into the hallway, feeling the first twinges of excitement begin to rise up within her.
“There are one or two gentlemen I wish you to meet this evening, however,” Lord Audley continued as they made their way toward the open front door, with both Marion and Lady Audley pausing only to put on their cloaks. Whilst it was a summer’s evening, the wind had been very cold of late.
“Gentlemen?” Marion repeated, seeing a sudden hardness come into her mother’s eyes as she glared at Marion as though she had done something wrong. “What do you mean, Papa?”
Lord Audley shrugged, then gestured for her to go outside and into the carriage. “Gentlemen that might make a suitable match for you, Marion, that is all.”
The faint excitement she had been feeling faded away at once as she realized what her father meant. Climbing into the carriage, she sat down as quickly as she could as a numbness began to creep over her. She had always thought that this Season would be the same as her last, that she would be permitted to move about society as freely as she wished and could accept the smiles, the compliments, and the company of any particular gentleman she thought acceptable.
Now, she feared that it would not be so.
“Your father has some specific gentlemen in mind for you, Marion,” Lady Audley said as she sat down opposite Marion, her tone brittle. “It has all been arranged.”
Marion swallowed hard, wondering if she had misjudged her mother. Had Lady Audley been so insistent that Marion change her gown because she did not want Marion to look her best? Because she thought that these gentlemen were not at all suitable for her daughter and wanted Marion, therefore, to make a less than perfect impression so that these gentlemen, whoever they were, might be put off from pursuing any further arrangement?
“You will have your own thoughts on each of them, of course,” Lord Audley said firmly as the carriage door was pushed shut behind him. “And I would like to know your impression of each one, whilst they will have their own opinion of you also, of course.”
“I thought I might be permitted to make my own choice about any potential husband, Papa,” she said quickly, aware that her voice trembled just a little. “After all, you allowed my brother to have his own choice of bride, did you not?” Her heart quickened as her father remained silent for a moment or two, perhaps thinking about what she had said. Was she about to regain her freedom?
“I have considered that, of course,” Lord Audley said eventually as Marion’s fingers crushed together, such was her tension, “but I think it best that I find you a suitable match, Marion. You are the daughter of an earl with a very great dowry and I fear that you might find yourself caught up with the wrong sort of gentleman.”
A sudden anger had Marion bristling. “I am not inclined toward foolishness, Papa,” she said, but her father continued to speak over her as though he had not heard her.
“Gentlemen can be very charming indeed,” he said without any sort of malice or ire. “They can pretend to feel a good deal of emotion when, in truth, they have no sort of affection at all. They can encourage affections in a young lady’s heart so that the match seems to be a very good one indeed. And then,” he finished, sighing heavily as though this were some dreadful fate that he was determined to pull Marion free from, “once the marriage is completed and the dowry his, the gentleman in question cares nothing for his wife. She is left to herself, to slip away into shadow and darkness. And I cannot have that for you, Marion.”
This was said with such firmness than Marion knew there was no reasoning with him. He had already decided that she was lacking wisdom when it came to gentlemen and their potential charms. Evidently, he did not believe her to have the wisdom or the sense to watch out for such things when Marion knew very well what some gentlemen of the ton could be like.
“The gentlemen I wish you to meet have excellent characters,” Lord Audley continued, as if this were everything Marion would want in a suitable husband. “I look forward to introducing you to them.”
Marion said nothing, suddenly wanting to climb out of the carriage, feign illness, and hurry back upstairs to her room. She caught a faint look of triumph on her mother’s face as Lord Audley rapped on the roof, making the carriage lurch as it began to pull away. The sight of it sickened Marion, her hands tightening in her lap as she bit her lip, trying desperately to keep her exclamation of frustration and anger within herself.
“I am sure one of them will suit you very well indeed,” Lord Audley continued, quite matter-of-fact in his manner and continuing to sing the praises of these as yet unknown gentlemen as though this would encourage Marion still further. “They are all wealthy, with excellent titles and good families.”
“And willing to enter into an arrangement, of course,” Lady Audley added with another glance toward Marion. “These gentlemen will expect a good deal from you, Marion. You must behave very well.”
“Papa, I do not want to be thrown into a marriage where I have not been given even the slightest consideration as to my own wishes,” Marion said desperately, looking in her father’s direction, but aware of how his face was hidden in shadow. “Please, might you—”
“I will not reconsider, Marion,” Lord Audley said, a trifle more firmly. “However, I will permit you to share your opinion and the like before anything further is arranged. I promise you that a cour
Marion shook her head to herself, looking out of the carriage window but seeing nothing, such was the whirling of her thoughts. She had never once thought her father would push her into an arranged marriage, having expected to have the same freedoms as last Season. She had anticipated being allowed to make her own choices, to enjoy conversations, flirtations, and the like. To be called upon, to go for walks in the park or to enjoy a dinner party or two so that she might consider the gentleman at length. She had thought there would be courtship, but now it seemed she would have none of what she had hoped for. It would all be arranged for her. Nothing would be left to chance. Her husband would be secured by her father and not by her own choice. Yes, she could have an opinion and could share her thoughts on each gentleman, but she knew her father well. He would look at the gentleman’s suitability in terms of his standing, his fortune, and his title. Her opinion would not be of great importance to him.
Tears sparked in her eyes, but Marion forced them back with an effort. She would not give in to such an emotion, not in front of her parents. Her mother clearly was finding a sense of triumph in this particular situation whilst her father would think he was doing the right thing. Neither of them would find any great concern over how she felt at present.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Marion concentrated on drawing in long breaths and trying to calm her angst. The ball no longer held the same appeal, the same sense of excitement. Instead, there was a dullness there, perhaps even a fear. A fear that she was stepping out into something that would then capture her forever, tying her to someone that she cared nothing for, felt nothing for, and wanted nothing to do with. It had all been taken from her and now Marion felt as though she were stepping into a cage where the locks would be tightly closed, never to be opened again.
JOYCE ALEC SERIES:
Other author's books:
- A Lady's Mystery: Regency Romance (Ladies, Love, and Mysteries)Alice's Arranged Marriage (Home for Christmas Book 1)An Earl's Redemption: Regency Romance (Brides of London)The Shadows: Regency Romance (Ladies, Love, and Mysteries)A Viscount to Remember: Regency Romance (Brides of London)Diamonds of the Marquess: Regency Romance (Season of Brides)The Viscount's Promise: Regency Romance (Weddings and Scandals)The Aristocrat's Charade: Regency Romance (Brides of London)Promise of the Earl: Regency Romance (Season of Brides)
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