About the book
“True love is usually the most inconvenient kind.”
Lady Emily Clifford, daughter of the Duke of Herrington, just saw a ghost.
After two years of mourning her late husband, she is finally ready to get married again to her new love. Until her first husband, Richard Banfield, shows up on her wedding day, very much alive.
Edward Templeton, the Marquess of Frampton, is crushed when his dreams of marrying Emily are shattered. Haunted by the possibility of losing her forever, he must do everything in his power to keep her by his side.
But Richard is here to stay. With law and church on his side, he has every right to claim her for himself. Stuck in the middle between the two men she loves, Emily unwillingly starts a war. Secrets and scandal are hiding behind every corner, so how can she be sure of who to really trust?
The day had come—Emily Banfield née Clifford, the Countess of Browning, soon to be Emily Templeton, Marchioness of Frampton—was preparing for her second wedding day.
The young widow stared at her old wedding ring with a pang of sorrow and pensiveness. Two years ago, almost to the day, the worst news a newlywed woman of three months could have ever heard had come, that her husband had died at sea.
Richard Banfield—the late Earl of Browning—had been on a ship to America when a storm had battered the ship to splinters and sent it to the bottom of the ocean. Of the ten people who had managed to hold onto driftwood and life, he had not been one. They had been married for just under three months.
She reached out and took the small box where the gold band topped with precious gemstones lay. She remembered the day Richard had gotten down on one knee to ask her to marry him.
They had been in one of many gardens on the estate of her father, the Duke of Herrington, and the sunset casting rose-gold light over them had been like God’s blessing on them. The look in his eyes, one of pure love, and the tone of his voice promised eternal happiness.
She had not known that eternity meant seventy-five days.
Refraining from picking the ring up, Emily only stared at it. A thought, one of so many that had gone through her mind in the past two years, resurged—only this time, it did not carry the pain and despondency it once had.
What would have happened if he had lived?
“You are daydreaming again, darling,” her mother, Jane, Duchess of Herrington said, as she glided into the room. “This is a day of happiness, not regret.”
Replacing the box, Emily smiled at her mother. In her deep blue brocade gown, her mother was simply stunning. Her light brown hair was up in a lovey chignon and her warm green eyes, a brilliant shade that Emily had inherited, were filled with joy.
“Not daydreaming, Mother,” Emily said. “I was just reflecting.”
“Hm,” Jane snorted delicately. “On a joyous day like this, I would have assumed you would be using your time expecting, not reflecting.”
“That, too,” Emily said. “Edward is simply a dream come true, Mother. I am so eager to see him standing at the end of the aisle.” She turned to the looking glass, and smiled at the lovely updo, laced through with a strand of seed pearls and a diamond. “I just hope he will like what I have on.”
Her mother rested her hands on Emily’s slim shoulders. “He would be a very daft man to not appreciate how you look.”
She twisted her head to look at her mother. “Has Hanna arrived yet?”
“Not that I am aware,” Jane replied. “But never fear, your bosom friend would never miss your wedding. She probably went to the church instead of coming here.”
Emily hoped so because her day would be dimmed without her best friend there. She had met Lady Hanna Brown at Lady Misset’s finishing school over seven years ago and they had not parted since. The cheery brunette who always had a bright smile and an encouraging word to say, was a staple in Emily’s life and she did not want to go through her happiest day without her.
She stood from her padded chair, and the light skirts of a resplendent pale blue silk gown, ornamented with white trefoils, flowed with her. The bodice slipped just so down her shoulders, the centerpiece clung to her bosom and nipped-in waist, while the fashionably full skirts cascaded to her matching blue slippers.
“Is Father already at St. James’s?”
“Yes, dear,” Jane said, while taking Emily’s vacated place before the looking glass to fix her earrings. “You know how persnickety your father is. Archibald is there to make sure all is ready for you and that there is someone who will answer to him if anything goes awry.”
Laughing softly, Emily reached for a slender silver bracelet on her wrist—it was the last gift Edward, the Marquess of Frampton, had given her before they had parted to prepare for the wedding. Even though she was a few stories up, Emily heard the chimes of the grandfather clock in the middle of their foyer.
“It’s ten, Mother,” she said over her shoulder. “I think we should be on our way.”
As she turned, Jane embraced her warmly, and when she pulled away, her eyes were bright with happiness. “This is a good thing, Emily. God has placed another wonderful man back into your life, as you are deserving of happiness. Do not go into that chapel looking back on what-if’s, dear. Look forward to what will be.”
“I know, Mother,” Emily nodded, while a smile curved her lips.
“Good,” Jane nodded. “The carriage should be ready for us.”
Emily took her soft grey spring cloak and together, they left the room and descended the grand staircase. At the foyer, Jane paused to take her spring cloak and her reticule from her lady’s maid, Sarah Williams, and a footman held the door for them.
At the carriage gate, the black-lacquered carriage stood waiting and another footman helped them in before he closed the door. Emily shifted the thick velvet curtain as her mind flew back to when she had first met Edward—and it had been one of the worst days of her life.
But as her mind began to drift down that road, Emily bit her inner cheek and stopped herself. Her mother was right, the day was to be one of happiness—not grief.
Edward had come into her life during the absolute worst part of it—the days marked with desolation and anguish. Slowly, he had managed to coax smiles and laughs out of her even when she felt like tearing up. He had understood the days when bittersweet memories had overtaken her and her need to be held, just as he knew how to engage her in the happier times and had passed night upon night with her at Drury Lane and musicals.
Not once had he shied away from her when she had grown maudlin and more than often, had held her right over his heart when silent tears dripped down her face.
Their love had grown from his patience to pull the parts not damaged by Richard’s death back to light and show her that love can come twice in one’s lifetime. Emily had not even questioned herself when Edward had asked her to marry him. She knew that she owed the happiness in her life to him and that her life would not be the same without him.
Richard still rested in her heart in a bittersweet pocket of affection, but Edward was going to be her love, adoration, and her future.
Their East London manor was close to the church and as the carriage trundled into the courtyard, a small twist of nerves had her throat feeling tight.
What if this marriage ends up like the last?
“Emily…” her mother’s warning tone snapped her out of her dour thoughts.
Guiltily, she faced her mother, whose lips had started to turn down. “You are doing it again.”
She sighed. “I know, Mother, but I cannot help it. I’ve been down this road before—what is to say that it will not end as the first?”
“It will not,” her mother said decisively as the carriage stopped at the gate. “I cannot think of any way this day will end horribly for you. Unless—unless dear Richard had risen from the dead and had come back for you, I cannot see—”
But the carriage door was yanked open and assuming it was her father, Emily turned to ask him for a moment to collect themselves—but at the sight of who stood there, Emily felt every drop of blood in her body fall to her feet. The Duchess was sickly white, and she stared at the man there with horror.
“Richard?” Her voice was just a bare note above a whisper.
“You cannot remarry, Emily,” her dead husband said harshly. “I’m here. I am alive.”
Utterly astounded, Emily reached a trembling hand to Richard’s handsome, square face. She was very sure that this was a dream—this could be nothing but a dream, one of many she had in the past two years. She knew that just like those nighttime fantasies, her hand would pass through him and—
Her fingertips touched warm, real skin—and Emily screamed. She launched away from Richard.
“Emily—” he reached in for her, but she pressed herself on the wall of the vehicle, forcing herself against the window.
Her breath had changed from normal to a quick, frantic, panicky gasps and soon she felt lightheaded. Richard grabbed the inner frame of the carriage and with one boot in, he tried to enter the vehicle, until someone hauled him away.
“Who the Devil do you think you are?” Edward’s furious voice snapped.
Through her shock, fright took over and Emily scrambled out of the carriage in fear. The sunlight showed a grim situation—Edward, in his formal dark suit was standing between her and Richard.
“What right have you to assault my fiancée?” Edward snapped.
Richard tilted his chin high. “Fiancée? She is my wife.”
Her father, Archibald, came striding out of the church, and a few other people from inside were drifting out as well. Emily felt her mother rest an arm around her and tug her into her side.
Her father assessed the situation in a heartbeat. “Stand back, Frampton,” he said, then gave Richard an impassive look, “Browning, you are alive.”
“Against all the odds, yes,” Richard said. “And I object to this sham of a marriage.”
More people were coming out of the church, the ladies with their fans fluttering open and lords looking aghast. Emily whimpered into her throat and hid her face in her mother’s neck. If only the earth would open up and swallow her. This mortification was more than she could bear.
“It is not as simple as you believe, Browning,” her father said slowly.
“No, it is exactly how I believe it to be,” Richard said. “Emily was and is still my wife. She will not be wed to another.”
Her father, finally noticing the people around them said, “This is not the place to have this discussion.”
Through the racing and looping of her thoughts, Emily tried to think more clearly, to put the pieces together. Richard was alive! He was alive! But through all those long, lonely, agonizing months she had spent alone and mourning, why had he not contacted her?
And now—the wedding! Her wedding! Emily made the mistake of looking and briefly meeting Richard’s brown eyes, only to jerk away. Her gaze landed on Edward, who had his face in a grimace, his right hand was flexing to a fist at his side.
I almost married the man I love, only to have my old—dead—husband destroy this wonderful day. How could this have happened?
Overwhelmed, she felt the word turning black around her.
“Mother…” Emily felt her knees give out from under her. As she collapsed, the last lingering sight was of Edward’s face, white in horror.
The familiar softness and mild rosewater smell of her pillow filtered into Emily’s mind as she gradually awakened. Her heavy eyelids were strenuous to lift and when she did, her gaze rested on the pink, eyelet lace curtains of her bedchamber, fluttering with the wind.
“Your Grace,” Hanna said, from behind Emily. “I believe Emily is awake.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Emily’s mother said, as she hurriedly came and sat on the edge of the bed, then grasped her cold hands. “I am so relieved that you have come around.”
Emily swallowed. “Is what I think I remember a dream, Mother, or is it real? Is-is Richard alive?”
The lines around her mother’s mouth deepened, “Yes, he is, dear. Your father is speaking to him in his study at the moment.”
Slowly, Emily sat up. “And what of Edward? Is he gone?”
“No,” Jane replied. “He is here, waiting for you to awaken. He was the one who caught you, dear, though Richard was calling for him to hold you.”
Shifting her legs off the bed, Emily said, “I must see him. I cannot let him think that this was all some horrid jest.”
“I would think seeing and holding you while you fainted should tell him this was not a ruse,” Hanna said quietly. “You truly scared us half to death.”
Pressing a hand to her chest, Emily sighed. “I know, but I have to speak with both of them. I cannot go around it.”
“I do not think it is prudent for you to go see them now, Emily,” Jane warned. “It is better for your father to handle it.”
While feeling the wisdom in her mother’s words, Emily disagreed. “I cannot hide in here forever, Mother. I cannot escape speaking to them.”
At the same time, voices came from behind her door—arguing voices; one was Edward’s and the other Richard. Both men were justifying why they should see Emily first, with Richard reiterating that he was her husband, while Edward shot back that he was the one Emily loved.
“It is out of our hands now, Mother,” Emily said, as she rested her feet on the floor and found her slippers there. She put them on, then stood and went to the door.
With Jane behind her, Emily pulled the door open and both men went silent. “Richard, Edward, I need to speak to both of you, but separately. Edward, if you would wait with Mother for a while, I will speak with you later on, but Richard, I need to see you now.”
He tilted his head up in pride and flashed a superior look to Edward who had gone silent. Richard then turned to Emily, “Please, lead the way.”
Making sure to keep the door half-open in the drawing room Emily led Richard to, she took a seat on a settee and he perched on the arm of an armchair. She folded her hands on her skirt and before speaking, looked at him.
He was somehow the same—but so much different. He had the same neatly cut brown hair, only a little longer. The same deep brown eyes that were always lit with humor, only this time they carried—pain, anger, grief? His face had aged, and she saw a line creasing his face that had not been there before.
“When did you come back?” she said.
“Barely two days ago,” he said, almost harshly. “I had expected to come home to open arms, only I heard that you are getting married again. I had to stop it.”
Only two days? Where was he before this?
“Where were you all this time?” Emily said. “You could have sent word and someone would have gone for you.”
He seemed impatient. “I don’t remember much of the storm, Emily. I know when I woke, I was on some strange beach on one of the isles in the channel. It took me a long time to get the villagers to trust me, and I worked on a farm just to save enough to buy passage on a boat to the Cornish coast.”
“And what did you do from there?” Emily asked.
Richard stood and began to pace, “The only thing I could do, Emily. I took to walking. I had little money or food and had to beg to get by. Do you know how—how humiliating that was? I am an Earl, a Peer of the Realm, having to beg for scraps of bread.”
“W-why didn’t you send a message?” Emily asked. “Surely there were peers on the coast who could have helped you?”
“And embarrass myself ever more?” his jaw worked. “No, thank you.”
Her throat tightened and her eyes dropped to her lap. His pride, that was what had stopped him. What Richard had endured had to be debasing for a man born and bred in the lap of luxury. His pride was an integral part of him, and to have it shattered like that—it must have hurt.
Richard came back to the chair and braced his palms on the back, then hunched over it. When he spoke, his tone was raw. “And after all that, I come back to find that you have found love again and were going to remarry. It cut me in half, Emily.”
She lifted her head. “And it nearly destroyed me, Richard. When the news came in about your ship, I cried out. And when the authorities published the names of who had survived and your name was not on it, my heart broke in half, and it stayed broken until I met Edward.”
He came around the chair to sit heavily in it, then hunched forward and place his elbows on his knees. The look he gave her was of pure defeat.
“Are you saying that you would rather be with him than with me?”
Stunned—though Emily knew she should not be—she sighed. “I cannot tell you, Richard. I love Edward. After you were gone, he became my friend and from then on, it grew—affection, love. I was going to commit my life to him today.”
“But you loved me first,” Richard said. “Is all your love for me gone? Wiped away like a smudge on the wall?”
“No,” she shook her head. “I don’t know how to accurately phrase it, but I love you, Richard. I suppose I am just not in love with you anymore.”
His eyes took on a strange light. “If you still love me, that means there is a way for me to make you fall in love with me again. Isn’t there?”
Emily opened her mouth to refute his words, but had to close her lips because, truthfully—he was right.
Edward could not sit still. He felt the Duchess’ and Lady Hanna Brown’s eyes on him as he paced. When Emily—dear Emily—had gone off with that man to speak privately, Edward had stripped off his jacket even though it was his cravat that felt as if it were strangling him.
How could this happen? On my wedding day? A day in the making for over six months? What in heaven’s name can they be talking about for so long—is she going to go back to him?
That last thought stopped him in his tracks and a cold, ominous shiver ran down his spine. He could not bear the thought of her leaving him and shattering his heart. He spun on his heel, ready to go to the room Emily was in and beg her not to leave.
But then, the door opened, and she stepped in. The bluster that had built inside him vanished immediately. Emily gave him a small smile, and the lingering hope he had that she was not going to leave him grew.
The Duchess spoke for him, as his tongue felt as if it were cleaved to the roof of his mouth. “How did it go, dear?”
Edward was briefly envious of Her Grace’s calm tone because he felt like shouting out in fear.
Emily sat. “He’s with Father now, Mother, and from what he told me, he had been through a lot. The ship crashed but he drifted to an island in the channel, then he went to Cornwall, and from there had to walk home.”
Yes, yes, all that is fine, but are you going back to him?
He felt his knee start to bounce and could not find it in himself to stop. But he could not rush Emily. After all she had been through that day, she did not need more pressure.
“And what have you decided about Lord Frampton?” Lady Hanna Brown asked.
Edward’s heart stopped for the breath Emily took to speak. “Richard is going to his old home after this, and I am staying here as I had moved out of his estate long ago. I am not sure I am married to him anymore, but there was no article of divorce so…” her slim shoulder shrugged. “I am out at sea about it.”
Jane shot a look to Edward, then stood, “Lady Hanna, we should give Emily and Lord Frampton some privacy.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Lady Hanna got to her feet, but before she joined the Duchess, paused to give Emily a warm hug.
They left and Edward reached out to her. “Love, before you say anything, I cannot describe how horrified and fearful I was when I saw you collapse.”
Smiling tenderly at him, Emily said, “I know, I know, Edward. And Mother told me that you were the one who caught me.”
“I did,” Edward said, swallowing tightly. “Because I hate to see you hurt.”
Emily covered his bigger hand with one of hers. “I can see how anxious you are, Edward. But for the unprecedented events of today, I would be your wife by now. Richard was my old love, I spent countless nights exorcising him out of my soul and spent days praying for strength to move on and love another.”
Her words were soothing balm to his worried soul, but it did not reach as far as he needed. “And about you being wed to him? Do you think you are still married to him?”
“It is possible that I am legally married to him,” Emily said. “And yes, I do have some love for him, as in the memory of him, but it is not to the level it once was.”
“But what if he demands that you go back to him?” Edward asked.
“He has told me that he wants me to go back to him, but I cannot just jump to it, Edward. I love him, I will always have love for him, but not in the way that comes from intimacy. I am in love with you, but if the law says I am still legally his, then there is nothing I can do about it. I’m sorry.”
“There is nothing for you to be sorry about.”
Edward rubbed his face as the reality of the mess he was in made his stomach feel hollow. He felt cheated. He remembered the first time they had met in Hyde Park, on a day that seemed like it was yesterday.
She had sat on a bench, her still, solitary pose had oddly touched his heart. Staring out at the pond, she looked alone, and miserable. As if she carried an unimaginable burden upon her slim shoulders.
Before he had known it, his feet had been in motion, spurring him to sit beside her. Emily had turned to him, taken one look at him, the floodgates had burst open, and she had cried.
He had not run from her—and thank God he had not because this woman, this gentle, gracious, utterly beautiful lady, was his. He knew it—and God help him, he was going to fight for her.
“Emily,” he said gravely. “I think you must realize that we will be the topic of discussion amongst our peers for a long while. I don’t want you to listen to any of it.”
“That too,” Emily sighed. “They had not left me alone when Richard was dead, and now I am sure they will not give me any peace. I plan to stay out of sight for a few weeks. I am sure another scandal will take the attention from ours.”
Edward was not sure if staying out of sight was the best way to mitigate them from gaining attention, but that was the least of his worries—getting Emily back was all that mattered.
A quiet knock on the door had both of them turning to it, and Her Grace came in looking quite somber. “Lord Frampton, my husband wants to speak with you in his study.”
Emily stood with him. “I am going, too.”
“Emily—” her mother’s tone dropped to a warning.
“I know, Mother, but I have to be a part of that discussion,” Emily said. “In this whole situation, I am the crux of it.”
Her Grace looked displeased, but she nodded, and so Emily and Edward, after he had donned his jacket, left for the Duke’s study. Edward immediately tensed when he saw Browning there, sitting and looking smug. The Duke, seated behind his desk that had books—law books—scattered over it, however, was grave.
“Emily, I had not thought to summon you as well, but you should hear this. I have been going over the laws and I have found that the law states an absence of seven years will give grounds for divorce in a marriage. In that case, a magistrate can give permission for the marriage to be dissolved and the present partner can take another. However, Lord Browning was not absent for seven years,” the Duke said.
Edward closed his eyes tight as his heart began to start chipping away—Emily was going to be taken from him, he knew it.
“But then again,” the Duke said. “Lord Browning was officially declared dead—”
“What?” Browning yelled. At the Duke’s withering glare, he amended his tone. “When was I declared dead?”
“After the ship had sunk and there was no record of you anywhere,” the Duke explained. “And the law also states that upon the death of a husband, the wife is legally free from the marriage and she can pursue any relationship she wants.”
Hope surged inside Edward and he listened to the Duke. He knew most of the law, but the way the Duke was phrasing it, gave him a new interpretation. And even before the older man finished his sentence, Edward knew that he was going to say that this matter was going to be a delicate one.
“But, our issue is unique. Based on the law, Emily was a single widow with all the rights to live how she pleased, which included remarrying. And on the other hand, she is still somewhat beholden to Lord Browning as the time of assumed death had not passed. Now that he has returned, he will have to go through the process of reversing his death declaration and then, we will see how to go on about the marriage.”
“And until then, I ask that this so-called courtship be stopped,” Browning said.
“You have no right to request that,” Edward said. “She might not be fully unattached, but, like any human being, she can have friends.”
“Friends, yes,” Browning snapped. “But not a usurper who is bent on stealing my wife from me.”
“I stole nothing,” Edward kept his tone calm, but all of them heard the ice in it. “Emily was in pain and I was there to console her.”
“She had female friends who are more capable of consoling her,” Browning said.
“Not on the day when I saw her, all alone at Hyde Park,” Edward jabbed. “I—”
“Would you two please stop bartering supposed ownership over me as if I were chattel?” Emily cut in quietly, and instantly, Edward clamped his mouth shut.
Browning turned away with a scowl.
The Duke cleared his throat. “Now, as I understand it, my daughter will be staying here until we find out otherwise. Lord Browning, I advise you to go home, begin sorting out your affairs. I can recommend you to a magistrate who can escalate the process, but other than that, all of our hands are tied.”
Browning was not happy, and it showed, but he kept his irritation to himself.
The Duke sat back in his seat while casting a shrewd gaze over the three, and Edward kept his face calm while Emily’s father’s gaze seemed to slip under his skin. When the man’s eyes mercifully moved from him, only then did Edward take a breath.
His gaze rested on Browning with stoicism, but the Earl did not seem to notice, as he was staring out the window. The Duke then stood, and his tone was one that allowed no questions or objections. “Today has been a trying day for all of us. I think it best for both of you men to go to your respective houses.”
“I agree, Your Grace,” Edward said, as he began to feel the exhaustion as well.
“Good,” the Duke stood, and Edward followed him. Browning stood a moment later and his reluctance was clear.
“I know this cannot be easy for either of you,” the Duke said sympathetically. “But we will sort this through.”
Extending his hand to the Duke, Edward shook his. “Thank you, Your Grace.”
He stepped away just as Browning did the same. “And at the end of this all, I will be set back in the right. Emily and I will be at my home as husband and wife.”
You just had to get a parting jab in, you blackguard. But when this is all said and done, Emily will be my wife.
Emily stood, and instead of going to him or Browning, embraced her father. “Thank you, Father.”
“Go up to your Mother,” the Duke said. “I will join you at dinner.”
After the Duke gave him and Browning a few parting words, Emily left the room and Edward could not help allowing his eyes trace after her—to the irritation of Browning, who saw the gesture.
When they were outside, and he was waiting for his carriage, Browning hissed. “Stay away from my wife, or you will regret it.”
“She is not your wife and when I have my way, she will be mine and you will only be a faint memory,” Edward said calmly.
“Stay away from her,” Browning warned again.
As the carriage came to the gate, Edward dismissed him. “No.”
He opened the door and stepped in, deciding that nothing would stop him from finding a way to get the man out of his and Emily’s life. If Browning thought that he was going to give up and leave, the man was a fool.
He and Emily were in love and he was not going to let go of the past two years, months upon months of good days and bad, days when Emily had cried herself to exhaustion because of Richard. They had bonded in those moments and being the one who held her up in her worst, vulnerable times, he felt as if his soul had melded with her.
As the horse pulling the carriage trotted out into the main road, Edward’s mind landed on his mother. A heavy blanket of shame ran through him as he realized that it was his first time thinking about his mother. But what could he have done after being blindsided by Emily’s dead husband?
Knowing the sweet temperament of his mother, Abigail Templeton, The Dowager Marchioness of Frampton, he knew she was worrying, and he hated himself for it.
But no one could have anticipated what happened today.
And moreover, his mother must be ashamed about the happenings and he vowed to explain all of what had happened to her. He could see her, in her dressing gown, with a cup of tea on her tiny table pushed up against a window in her drawing room.
His lips were pressed tight as he stared out at the passing scenery and when they got to town, he looked at the people going about their day without a care.
Sagging back into the seat, Edward grimaced. Something was wrong—very wrong—he just could not place it yet. Maybe when the shock wore off and he had more clarity to think the day through, it would come to him.
His stomach wrenched when he remembered the marital rooms his mother had taken weeks to prepare for Emily and him—now, unless he and the Duke of Herrington found a way to stop Browning from claiming Emily, those rooms were doomed to gather dust.
Mayhap it was his bias, but Edward had a feeling that the Duke did not want his daughter back into Browning’s arms or his house. He arrived at his estate just as his worry was about to eat into his soul. The moment he stepped in, hollow silence met his ears.
Gritting his teeth, Edward took the stairs to his mother’s rooms, knowing that she might have already worried herself into a tizzy. As he approached the set of rooms her lady’s maid, Sarah Evans, was coming out with an empty tray.
“Good evening, My Lord,” she curtsied.
“Same to you, Miss Evans,” he nodded curtly then stepped into the room.
As he had suspected, his mother was in her dressing gown, at a window seat and nursing a cup of tea. She looked up to him and he saw worry and grief painted across her face in broad strokes.
“Mother,” Edward said, and damn it, his voice wavered. “Please do not tell me that you are worrying about me?”
“Of course I am,” Abigail, Dowager Marchioness of Frampton said as she stood. “Your wife was stolen from you today. You were humiliated, and I can only imagine how broken your heart is. Is their marriage still valid after all this time?”
Grimacing, Edward said, “Sit, Mother, and to answer your question about Emily and that… man, the situation is yes and no. She is still legally married to him as the declaration of death is now null and void. By right, it should have taken seven years. But on the other hand, as he was declared dead, she is a widow and can be with whomever she wants. The Duke of Herrington vowed to find a way to sort this confusion out.”
Abigail reached over and rested her hand on his, “I am sorry, son.”
Pulling away, Edward said, “I am going to do what I can to help him prove Browning unworthy of her, because Emily will be my wife.”
She patted his hand, “I hope so, Edward. She is a lovely girl, so sweet and kind, and I would love to have her here with us.”
Sagging in his seat, Edward let his gaze drift to the window and the darkening sky. “Something bothers me about Browning’s timing. How was it that he resurrected on the same day Emily and I were about to get married?”
His mother’s brows furrowed. “Do you think there is something underhanded in that?”
“From what Emily told me, it seems to be just a horrible twist of fate,” Edward sighed.
Abigail shifted the cup of tea away from her and asked a question that Edward had tried hard not to delve into. “Do you think Emily still loves him?”
“She has told me that she loves him as if he were a fond memory, but she is not actively in love with him,” Edward said unhappily, while staunchly hoping that nothing in that regard had changed, and that nothing would.
His mother shook her head, “What a mess this is. Edward, I suppose that you do know this is going to be the talk of the ton, for days to come.”
Scowling, Edward said, “I could not care less, Mother. They can whisper and chatter all they want and make merry about my life. I do not care, but if one of them would assist me instead of gossip-mongering about me, I would be grateful.”
“How about your friend, Joshua?” Abigail suggested. “Joshua Blackstone, I believe, isn’t he a solicitor?”
“He’s been travelling for a while, Mother,” Edward said, as his mind rested on his old Oxford friend, who was as elusive as a leaf in the wind. “I will try and reach out to him, but in the meantime, I will be looking into matters myself.”
His mother held his gaze. “You truly love her, don’t you?”
“With all my heart, Mother,” he said. “Which is why I will be doing all I can to gain the right in this matter. I am not going to stop fighting for her until all is said and done.”
A pleased smiled crossed her face. “As is your duty, son.”
Edward stood and smiled, “Do not fret about it too much, Mother. It will all be set right.”
“I know,” Abigail inclined her head.
Turning away, Edward headed off to his room, trying to reflect on his words and hold them close to his heart. I hope that I will be right.
After a long sleepless night, Edward was awake before dawn and instead of getting up and following up on his activities of last night—searching for a solution to his and Emily’s problems—he closed his eyes. When he did, the memory of meeting Emily at Hyde Park came back vividly.
Standing on the banks of a pond, Edward had tried not to let his dissolution with the ton sink inside him, nor the belief that all the ladies there were as vapid as they acted.
The Season seemed to be getting progressively worse and worse, and Edward was not sure that he would survive another meaningless conversation about the fashion style of France’s Archduchess Marie Louise, or the plays at Drury Lane.
There was another ball that evening, and Edward had been considering how to excuse himself from it. He had turned around then, ready to leave, when a faint flash of porcelain skin and dark clothing in the bushes had stopped him.
Edging closer, he peered through the bushes to see a lady, as beautiful as Aphrodite, sitting on a wooden bench. But her whole body had looked brittle. Her hands had been closed tightly on her lap, her shoulders were stiff, her back was rigid and her face was white and vacant.
Edward had stepped closer. “Excuse me, Miss? I don’t mean to intrude on your thoughts, but is everything all right?”
She had turned her lovely green eyes to him—and then the brittleness of her frame shattered. Tears began to stream down her face and Edward had been at her side in moments. He knew nothing about the lady, but he could not have left her there alone.
He had been hesitant in touching her, but when she had pressed her face on his lapel and sobbed, Edward had held her. Not a word had passed between them until she had exorcised her pain. When he had plucked a handkerchief from his inner pocket and pressed it to her wet cheeks, he had plucked up the courage to ask.
“What is your name, and why the tears?”
Now, two years later, Edward swore that he had fallen in love with Emily that day. Even before she had said her name or why she had cried, his soul had been touched and his heart had been moved. He had sworn that he would never do anything to make her cry again, because it pained him then and it would cut him deep if he was the reason why she had to cry.
Edward sat up in his bed, utterly exhausted, but had a strange burning energy inside his chest. He had to get into action, find every record he could, and call up anyone who could help him.
Last night, after he had spoken to his mother, he had taken a cup of coffee to the library and had plucked out every law book he had on the oak shelves—only to find that the books were on labor, property, and taxes—useless. He had stared at the pile of books on his desk, askance. Nothing he had was going to help, so he had to find help elsewhere.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s office or the law offices on Fleet Street would give him a hand. He swung his legs out from under the sheets and stood. In the dusk, he reached for his banyan, resting on the back of a chair, and donned it.
Last night should have been the best night of my life—instead, it was the worst.
He left the room to his antechamber and utilized the basin of water, then set out for the study. After trimming his lamp, he sat and took out a sheet of paper and began penning a letter to Joshua.
He knew he worked for Whitman and Cobden at times, so he would drop the letter off there in case Joshua came by. He had finished the letter by the time the summer sun came up and began permeating the room.
He was not sure if Joshua was at his home, but penned another note asking his friend to come see him. Dropping the quill on the blotter, he leaned back into his chair, battling anger. This situation was unfair, utterly unjust to him. After all this time, a year of mourning on her part and a year of courtship on his part, the time had come for them to finalize their love—only for it to get blocked.
He burned for justice.
From his study, he rang for his morning meal and then, another fear took root—the morning paper. He knew, just knew, that his name and Emily’s would be splashed on the front page, or if not, it would be a banner across the scandal pages at the back.
When the maid came with his tray of steaming coffee, coddled eggs, grilled kidney, and thick buttered toast, a moment before the footman came in with the paper, Edward thanked them both and dismissed them.
Instead of paying the food any attention, he stirred cream and sugar into the coffee, knowing that he was trying to delay the inevitable. He took a fortifying sip of the heady brew before he shook out the London Gazette—and found nothing.
Not a single page had his or Emily’s names anywhere and the tension inside his stomach disappeared. He managed to eat his breakfast without the sickened feeling he had expected. There was no doubt in his mind that the Duke of Herrington, or his wife, had a hand in forcing the silence on the nosy gossip-mongering reporters.
He skimmed the section, noting the fight on the continent to dispose of the vestiges of Napoleon’s tyranny, and how America was still rebounding from the war with the British. He dropped the paper after scouring the pages again to make sure that there was truly no mention of the shameful events of the day before.
At least there was one mercy there, but he knew without a doubt that the ton was still abuzz with it. Emily was the sole heiress to a dukedom, and her remarriage had drawn peers from all the ranks. The church had been filled with nearly a hundred peers and all of them had witnessed the most wretched degradation in his and Emily’s lives.
Folding the paper, he called for someone to clear his table and to prepare a bath, and have the letters sent off to the law office and Joshua’s home.
Just as he made to go to his room, a maid came in with a letter on a silver platter. “It is from Lady Emily Clifford, My Lord.”
“Thank you, Miss George,” he said while plucking up the letter, and waited until she had left to open it.
Please, God, do not let this letter be one where she tells me that she is going back to Browning.
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