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By: Ashe Barker
Published By: Baronet Press
Copyright: Copyright © 2016 by Baronet Press. All Rights Reserved
Fourteen Chapters / 79,600 Words
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The past is only a heartbeat away
Right from the start she knew it wasn't about love. As the youngest daughter of a wealthy family in medieval England, Lady Jane of Acton has been betrothed to Gerard Twyfford, the son of the Earl of Roseworth, since she was a baby. A dynastic marriage such as theirs is about power and property, not love but even so Jane desperately yearns for her husband's approval. But Gerard’s rare visits to her bed are for the sole purpose of producing an heir, and she’s even failed at that. How can Jane win Gerard over when she cannot even be the wife he needs her to be?

Would one last chance be enough? Could he make things right, even now?.

Ged Twyfford doesn't know what he's missing in life. A powerful vampire, he’s lived for close to six hundred years and seen a lot during his time but his past still haunts him. On a whim, he purchases Roseworth castle, the keep he used to rule as lord. Mostly in ruins now, Roseworth is a shell of what it was when he was still a mortal but Ged is determined to make it his home again. Maybe this is what he's been missing, maybe he needs a place to belong at last.

When a woman emerges from the lake beside his castle, looking and sounding a lot like the wife he lost over five centuries ago, Ged assumes she's a witch out to dupe him. But what if she is who she claims to be? Ged finally realizes just what he had, and just how precious to him was the wife he betrayed all those hundreds of years ago.
Do they really have a second chance or is it just too late to start over?

Chapter One

Northern England, 1475 

"Jane, come here at once." The strident tone rang out across the bailey. Heads turned, then were quickly bowed. Servants scurried even more swiftly about their business. No one would cross Margaret of Acton if they wished to keep the roof of their cottage over their head or their plough firmly embedded in the good, rich Northumbrian earth.

"Jane, where are you? Idiot girl." Lady Margaret muttered the last two words under her breath as she strode down the stone steps in front of the main portal and started to pick her way with care across the filth-spattered cobbles underfoot. Her aristocratic nose wrinkled in distaste as she navigated the slop and stench. "You! You, boy, get a broom and make this place habitable."

A hapless lad who had failed to absent himself in time fell victim to the countess' fierce glare as she extricated her satin slipper from a pile of some substance all within earshot would prefer not to name. "Yes, m'lady," he muttered, charging off in the direction of the stables to gather the necessary equipment for the task. Lady Margaret, Countess of Acton resumed her search for her missing and somewhat wayward daughter.

Jane had heard her mother's irritated tone, and she knew what the summons must mean. The horses prancing into their bailey earlier that afternoon, the noise and fuss and rowdy crowd now thronging in the hall as she slunk around the edge to slip unseen from the back door, could only mean one thing. Twyfford was here.

Or at least his father was. Her betrothed himself, the terrifying and strangely beautiful Gerard Twyfford, would not bother to come and see her in person. Why would he? He was more interested in his dogs and his horses than he was in his twelve year old bride. He would wed her, because his family required it, and once she was safely and inextricably ensnared as his wife Jane knew she would have to endure the rest of whatever that married state might entail. Her childlike understanding of the details was patchy at best, but Jane was adept at listening in doorways and behind curtains. She had heard the whispered horror of her elder sisters as they contemplated their forthcoming marriages.

Now, it was her turn. Her parents had negotiated a fine match and she knew she should be grateful for their diligence in the matter. She was to be lady of Roseworth castle, that proud, if somewhat dilapidated, stronghold in the north of the county on the banks of the River Coquet. In terms of her social standing it was a glittering match, and one only made possible by the fact that the Twyffords found themselves strapped for coin. Their noble keep was in dire need of fortification and repair and Jane's dowry would prove vital to their endeavours. In exchange for access to her funds her family would become allied to one of the most powerful houses in the land. The Twyffords were favourites of the court, confidantes of King Edward, and close friends of the king's brother, the powerful Duke of Gloucester who effectively ruled the whole of the north of England on his brother's behalf.

Jane pressed her forehead against the forelock of the grey pony she was petting in the stables. Cloud was her favourite, the mount she had learnt to ride on, and still her source of comfort when her world conspired against her.

"I must go, Cloud. They want me, you see. I am to marry, and then I shall leave here." Even to her own ears the wistfulness in the girl's tone was woefully apparent.

But perhaps not yet. Not quite yet. Jane straightened, did what she might to brush the stains from the front of her rough woolen day dress, though her efforts were quite futile, and she turned to answer her mother's call.

"Coming, Mama," she mumbled, just as the countess rounded the large stable door. Jane's heart sank. Her mother's face was a mask of irritation, and her slippers were quite ruined.

"What are you doing skulking in here? Did you not see the earl's party arriving? The sweet Lord knows they made enough din and mess about it. You need to get cleaned up before you present yourself in the hall, lest you be mistaken for an urchin crept in from the fields and not the daughter of a fine and noble house. Come, child, at once." The countess grabbed Jane's slender wrist and started to tow her back across the bailey in the direction of the keep's main portal.

Jane followed, trotting to keep up. All the way her mother berated her on every matter she could call to mind—Jane's general lack of grace and ineptitude in the skills befitting a future noblewoman, her grubby appearance, her sun-kissed complexion which her mother observed was more reminiscent of a milkmaid than a fine lady, her inability to dance more than a few faltering steps, her poor grasp of polite manners, and her apparent disinterest in all matters to do with her coming nuptials.

"You should spend your days upon your knees, offering up thanks to the dear Lord that your father has been able to secure such a match for you, and that your betrothed is prepared to overlook your more obvious faults. Sir Gerard is a fine catch, a courageous soldier, and a loyal supporter of our noble King Edward. Already he has distinguished himself in battle and he will make a fine earl when the time comes."

"Yes, Mama, I know that. He is very... very fine indeed,"

"He is. He is indeed. He commands two thousand men, do you realise that, girl?"

Jane tried to imagine two thousand men all lined up in neat and tidy rows awaiting the commands to be issued by her near-enough sainted betrothed, but failed utterly. "Is that a lot, Mama?"

Lady Margaret cuffed her daughter around the back of her head, causing the child's russet waist-length plaits to swing wildly around her narrow shoulders. "Do not make sport of me, insolent chit. Why can you take nothing seriously? Do you not care what happens to your family? Would you have your father's efforts come to naught?"

"No, Mama. I was only—"

"Quiet. You have caused enough upheaval this day with your disappearing to converse with horses. Do you think I have nothing better to do with the house full of visitors than to traipse around the stables looking for you?"

"I am sorry. I never meant to disappear. I just wanted to talk to Cloud."

"That flea-bitten nag? That bag of bones is good for nothing more than feeding the hounds."

"No, Mama! Please—"

"Gloucester is here too, and Her Grace. Why must they all descend upon us at once?" Lady Margaret addressed the bailey at large rather than her grubby little daughter, but her remarks were sufficient for Jane to gather that Richard, Duke of Gloucester and his wife, Anne Neville, were also visiting. Normally her mother would be delighted to welcome the King's younger brother and his wife into their keep and would preen and fuss around such exalted company, but clearly she had other matters taxing her mind today.

Were it not for the dispiriting matter of her coming marriage, Jane herself would be pleased to see the handsome Duke of Gloucester. He had a pleasant smile, and didn't shout like most of the other men of her acquaintance. Richard was a respected and powerful nobleman, second only to the King himself, but he lacked the usual haughty airs of his rank. Jane liked him, though she had never had an opportunity to do more than observe him from a distance. And now, because of this horrible and impending marriage, her hero would gain the impression she was a surly and uncooperative wench. She had no option but to endure and obey, though in truth she would rather spend at least a few more years scrambling around the draughty castle or trotting her little mare over the rolling hills of Northumbria,.

Jane stumbled, only to be hauled back onto her feet. "Clumsy child. Come, we must hurry. The Earl of Roseworth will not relish being kept waiting.”

"Mama, I am hurrying, really I am." Jane panted as she struggled to keep up.

"Hush." The countess towed her reluctant charge through the great door and into the outer hall of Haveringham castle, the Actons' family seat. She gave Jane a hard shove in the direction of a narrow, circular staircase in the corner. "Make your way upstairs, quickly. I shall send Bessie to help you wash and change. Be sure to put on your fine blue damask, and for heaven's sake, cover that mane of yours. There's no need to remind the father of your betrothed of your father’s Celtic origins."

Jane scuttled to the stairs, happy to escape her mother's unsympathetic appraisal. However hard she tried, she could never come close to meeting her exacting standards. Even Jane's very appearance—surely not a failing which could rightly be laid at her door—seemed to enrage and offend. She bolted up the twisting stone stairway, careful to place her feet only on the wider outside edge of the steps as it would be easy to lose her footing and tumble the whole way back. Her half-sister, Mary, lost her life that way just two summers previously, a memory engraved on Jane's consciousness. Mary had been her closest ally in this household, just a couple of years her senior. The girls had grown up together and Jane missed her lost sibling with a passion bordering on obsession. She rarely spoke of her loss, apart from to Cloud, but of course the little mare did not count.

She arrived in the chamber she had shared with Mary, closely followed by Bessie. The lumbering maidservant had had sole charge of the day-to-day care of the Acton brood for as long as anyone could recall, and she bustled into action now. In just a few well-managed minutes Bessie had Jane stripped, thoroughly scrubbed with a combination of cool water and lye soap, and re-clothed in the requisite pale blue damask and matching slippers. Her hair had been brushed and re-plaited, then tucked discreetly into a cone-shaped headdress and further concealed beneath a veil of fine gauze. The maid stood back, her head cocked to one side, to peruse her work.

"Ye'll do, lass. Get yerself down stairs, now. They're in the hall, awaitin’ on ye."

Despite the maid's urging, Jane still dawdled as she descended the spiral staircase leading back down to the great hall. On the few occasions she had encountered her future father-in-law, Sir Thomas Twyfford, the Earl of Roseworth, he had seemed to her to be a truly fearsome individual. Perhaps he was not quite so terrifying as the prospect of marriage to his son, but he was formidable enough with his stocky build, thick, grey hair and full beard, and a voice which could lift the rafters should he so choose. She had no illusions about her worth to this man. He looked at Jane, and he saw a pile of cash. It was there, in his cold, calculating gaze. Jane was nothing to him but a heap of glittering, golden pieces, the wealth he required to stave off the impending disaster his castle was becoming.

The earl's booming tones reached her long before she arrived at the foot of the stairs. Jane slowed, listened, then made her way across the outer hall at a snail's pace.

The door to the great hall stood open and Jane could hear the babble of voices from within. Roseworth's ringing tone dominated, but she could also pick out her own parents' less strident contribution. They were discussing her, or more specifically, the arrangements for her forthcoming marriage.

"The match has been agreed since the wench was but two years old. We've tarried for long enough, 'tis time to conclude the matter," proclaimed the earl. "She can shift herself to Roseworth and join our household without delay."

"Jane is still but a child. We agreed that we would delay the marriage until she is sixteen summers, another four years at least." Jane's father sounded hesitant, though his assessment of the matter matched Jane's own understanding. To her way of thinking even the advanced age of sixteen seemed far too soon to be marrying.

"Nonsense. Marriage will be the making of her." Lady Margaret clearly did not share her husband's reticence on the matter. "Jane needs a firm hand, discipline, a purpose, and good, honest work to keep her occupied. She can learn to manage a household well enough here, but t'would make better sense for her to hone her skills by her own hearth. I agree with Sir Thomas, there is no cause to delay further."

"Aye… well, I'll own that you are the better judge, madam..." Sir William Acton did not sound to be convinced by his wife's arguments, but there would be no meaningful protest from her father, that much was clear.

With a small, despairing sob Jane stepped back, away from the door.

"Ouch! Have a care, little maid. You are trampling all over my foot."

At the deep, masculine voice behind her Jane whirled, to find herself face to stomach with their most honoured and exalted guest, the Duke of Gloucester. As Jane craned her neck to peer up at him he flattened his lips in a mock wince and rubbed the top of his right foot against his left calf. "Do you make a regular practice of listening at doors, little Lady Jane? If so, may I advise that you refine your methods of subterfuge and indulge your habit in a more secluded setting."

"Your Grace, I... I was not... I am sorry, truly..." Jane stammered, her tears streaming down her cheeks as the enormity of her situation sank in. Not only was she about to be exiled into domestic drudgery at Roseworth castle, but she had managed to offend and injure the King's brother. Without doubt her mother would thrash her for this, and she'd be lucky if she was able to sleep for the next several nights until the soreness abated. The Lady Margaret had a vicious way with a switch, as Jane knew all too well.

Could this day become any worse?

"Richard, you are frightening the child. Please stop play-acting and produce a kerchief if you would. I am ready to wager she will not possess such a thing anywhere upon her person—certainly I would not have at her age." This more sympathetic observation came from Anne, the Duchess of Gloucester, who now appeared from behind her husband to regard Jane with some concern. "The poor child, she is sobbing fit to raise the dead."

"Aye, maybe, if Roseworth has not deafened the poor departed souls already." The Duke glanced toward the open door as the earl's voice rang out again, this time announcing that he'd had enough of this foolery and had need to be on his way back to his keep within the week. Important matters demanded his attention and he could not be dawdling about here for long.

"I trust nothing will occur to delay his lordship's departure..." muttered Her Grace of Gloucester as she crouched to mop Jane's tear-stained face with her husband's handkerchief. She regarded Jane quizzically. "Would I be correct in thinking that the Earl of Roseworth has something to do with these tears? Or more accurately, his son?"

"My lady...?" Jane was not entirely certain how to respond.

"Your forthcoming marriage is not to be considered a matter of great joy and rejoicing then? At least not for you?"

Jane shook her head, at a loss as to what other answer might do.

"There's many a young noblewoman who would be glad enough of him. He's a decent catch." The Duchess handed the kerchief to Jane to finish up her repairs. "Do you really not wish to wed him?"

"Now Anne, pray do not be filling the child's head with over-sentimental notions of love and romance. She's contracted, and—"

"—and she needs time to adjust." Anne straightened and fixed her husband with a firm glare. "And I find myself in need of a breath of fresh air, perhaps a turn around the battlements will help. Lady Jane, might you be so kind as to accompany me, please?"

"Of course, Your Grace. But—"

"My husband will explain to your parents, will you not, Richard? You shall tell Sir William and Lady Margaret what a helpful, obedient daughter they have reared and that she is providing a small service to your wife. Explain that Jane and I will attend them as soon as my headache has abated somewhat."

"Headache? Anne, are you—?" The Duke reached for her, frowning.

Anne turned a brilliant smile on her troubled husband. "Oh, Richard, I am perfectly fine. And I shall be finer still after a few bracing minutes spent admiring the views from the north turret. Please lead the way, Jane dear."

Before Jane could quite fathom what was happening, she found herself whisked back up the twisting stairway and onto a corridor on the upper floor. Despite Her Grace's request that Jane lead, it was the other lady who blazed the trail along the upper floor and out onto an external walkway. The duchess proceeded to skirt the perimeter of the keep until she reached the narrow doorway leading to the steps up the north turret. Jane trotted in her wake, bemused at the turn of events. Was she not after all to face her mother's wrath over mangling the Duke's toes? Would His Grace really be able to stave off the complaints of the adults assembled in the great hall whilst she and the duchess enjoyed the revitalising effects of the fresh spring afternoon? Might he even placate her mama? This last was unprecedented as far as Jane could recall, but the Duke was the most powerful man in her acquaintance, so maybe...

"So, child, tell me of this marriage of yours." The duchess had paused and was now leaning against the parapet, her gaze scanning the far horizon. The day was clear, the view truly spectacular, though Jane could muster little enthusiasm for it.

"My Lady? I mean, Your Grace... I do not understand. My father has agreed the terms..."

The Lady Anne turned to smile at Jane. "I am not interested in your bride price, and I suspect neither are you, though it is clearly a matter of some concern to Sir Thomas. I prefer to hear about your husband to be. I recall having met Sir Gerard on several occasions. He is a handsome devil, would you not agree?"

Jane nodded, unable to take issue with that assessment. She had clapped eyes on her betrothed but once, two years previously, but retained vivid memories of Sir Gerard Twyfford. Handsome, he was most certainly that, and a devil—quite possibly. His dark good looks had terrified the ten-year-old child who found herself promised to him, and on that one occasion of their meeting he had been entirely indifferent in his attitude towards her. He had accompanied his father to Haveringham to complete the formalities. Sir Gerard signed the required documents, then he and his sire conferred at some length with her father in the privacy of the solar. Later the whole household dined in the great hall, a feast to celebrate the joining of their families, and although Jane was present at the table, Sir Gerard made no attempt to engage her in conversation nor to become acquainted with his bride to be.

She watched him, listened as he joked with the men around him, quaked when he occasionally flirted with one of the maidservants, and trembled at his sheer size. Sir Gerard must have been six feet tall, broad, powerful in build. She recalled that his hair was the colour of a raven's wing. He wore it long and his locks flowed freely to his shoulders. His clothing appeared well fitted and even she could tell that his apparel was not made of the cheap cloth she was more accustomed to. The Roseworth keep might require funds, but the heir to the castle apparently did not.

His voice was deep, and something in his tone held her attention despite the chatter of those around her. His eyes were blue, a deep and brilliant shade which reminded her of the vibrant plumage of the kingfishers she often spied from the window of the chamber she shared with her sister. His mouth was wide and he smiled frequently, though never in her direction. The feature she remembered with most clarity though, was his hands. Jane had been present when he took the proffered quill from his sire and scrawled his mark on the paper sealing her fate. She noted that his fingers were long, straight, and had a capable look to them. Later she observed the deft way he handled his dagger at the table, and on one occasion he caressed the rounded bottom of the wench who replenished his wine. Jane's stomach lurched. She felt discomfited at the sight of his hands on another, though she had no desire whatsoever to feel them upon her own person.

And therein lay her present dilemma. Marriage would necessarily entail his hands upon her, and it would not end there. Jane knew next to nothing of the detail, but the murmured innuendo she had been subject to for as long as she could remember was sufficient to strike terror into her. Even a kind, considerate husband would expect her to do her duty—whatever that might amount to—and Jane quaked at the thought. Sir Gerard did not strike her as the type of man to be satisfied with lacklustre performance, and Jane knew she would never measure up.

All in all, Jane had been both captivated and repelled by her betrothed. She could find it in her to harbour no expectation of happiness as his wife.

"Jane? Is it not the wish of any young girl to marry a handsome man?" The duchess prompted her, her voice gentle.

"Yes, Your Grace, I suppose it is."


"He is old, my lady. Much older than I."

The duchess gave a short laugh. "He is not yet twenty, I believe. Your betrothed has many fine years left in him yet, Jane."

"But – I am just twelve summers. I shall be thirteen at Michaelmas."

"I see. But, you do know he will not expect you to be his wife in all respects, not for some time yet."

"I... I do not know that, Your Grace. No one has said..."

"Then they should have. Your mother should have made this clear."

"I do not believe she knows what is to happen after..." Jane hesitated, lacking the words to make her fears clear. "I think she will just be content to see the marriage accomplished and be rid of me. She does not like me very much, you see."

"Then Lady Margaret is a fool."

Buoyed up by the duchess' words of support, Jane babbled on. "I do not believe Sir Gerard really likes me either. He did not speak to me at all the one time he was here. I think my mother fears that he will change his mind and marry another lady more to his liking."

The duchess gave an unladylike snort. "He will not. The contract is signed and is binding. And you must realise that for us, marriage is not about who we like, it is about who we must be allied to. You must do your duty, Jane."

"I know." Jane studied the toes of her pretty slippers as tears again pricked the backs of her eyelids. The duchess had spent more time than any before her in seeking to reconcile Jane to this inevitable marriage, but still the child dreaded what was to come.

Lady Anne tipped up Jane's chin with the tips of her fingers. "You understand your obligation well enough, child, but still you do not wish to be wed to Sir Gerard?"

"It is not so much that I do not wish to. I know that I must. But, I had hoped not to marry him quite so soon. I thought I was to remain here until I am at least sixteen years old, but it seems I must marry now and go to live at Roseworth."

"Ah, yes. I gather the earl wishes to lay claim to your dowry, hence his desire to hurry things along."

"His castle is in need of repairs."

"Yes, so I have heard. And this is the principal reason for your despair then, the timing of the wedding rather than the marriage itself?"

Jane nodded. "I want to stay here. I will have to go to live at Roseworth eventually, I realise that. But I know no one there, and I would not even be allowed to take a servant from here. I would have to learn to be a lady, and keep clean. I could never play in the grounds. Nor would I be able to take Cloud—"

"Cloud?" The duchess frowned as she tried to follow the child's chatter.

"My pony. She is too small for me to ride now, but I love her, and..."

"Ah, I see. You are right, of course. We all need our friends to be around us, especially when venturing toward new and unfamiliar horizons. So tell me, do you have other concerns, Lady Jane?"

Jane shook her head.

"There is nothing you object to in the man himself?"

"No, Your Grace. I do not know him, so how could I object?"

"Quite so. And now, I believe we have held up proceedings in the hall for quite long enough. Do you feel ready to return, Jane?"

Jane nodded, though her heart sank at the prospect. Still, the coming negotiations would proceed no better for keeping. "Yes, Your Grace. Thank you."

"You are quite welcome, Lady Jane. Now, if you would lead the way..."

A few minutes later Jane accompanied the duchess into the great hall. Her parents and the earl still sat at the top table, but now the Duke of Gloucester had joined their group. He smiled broadly as Jane entered with his wife.

"Ah, I trust you are quite recovered, my dear?" He rose to greet them, requiring all the others present to do likewise.

Lady Margaret made no attempt to conceal her scowl of annoyance, though she could say little without running the risk of annoying her exalted guests. "Jane, sit down at once. We wish to proceed."

Jane scurried to take her seat at the bottom of the table, whilst the duchess stepped up to the top to sit next to her husband. She dropped a light kiss onto the Duke's cheek then apologised to the rest for keeping them waiting.

"I am prone to headaches, and a breath of fresh air tends to work wonders. I am so grateful for Jane's kindness in accompanying me. She is a delightful child, Lady Margaret. You must be very proud of her." The duchess' smile bestowed upon Lady Margaret was radiant, but from her seat at the end of the table Jane was sure she detected a note of something else there too. Challenge perhaps? Was her newfound protector ready to sing her praises and daring her mother to disagree?

Lady Margaret apparently found it in herself to incline her head in polite acquiescence as the group all re-took their seats.

"Right, this bloody marriage then. The ceremony can take place next month, as we agreed. Let us sign the final papers and be on with it." The earl announced the state of things and glared around the table.

Lady Margaret opened her mouth to speak, and Jane had no doubt her mother would be all too ready to agree with the earl's requirements.

"Ah yes, Jane is also keen to progress matters." The duchess broke in, effectively cutting off Lady Margaret. "She told me so, just now. In particular, Jane is most eager to make the better acquaintance of her bridegroom. I wonder, could that be arranged, Sir Thomas?"

The blustering earl now found himself on the receiving end of one of Lady Anne's beatific smiles. He squirmed in his seat. "My son has much to concern himself with. He is at court, and occupied in the service of the King. I do not think—"

"My brother would not wish to stand in the way of a match which holds such importance for all parties." The Duke of Gloucester took a sip of his wine as he surveyed those around him. "I daresay something could be arranged. I feel convinced Sir Gerard's duties will bring him in the vicinity of Haveringham in the not too distant future."

The Duke and his duchess exchanged a look, and Jane could swear the lady inclined her head to salute her husband, if only a little.

"Quite, that would be perfectly splendid. Thank you, my lord. Which brings us to the next matter Jane and I discussed, that of the timing of the wedding."

"Now see here—," began Sir Thomas.

"You were saying, my lady?" The Duke interrupted the other man with a glare of admonishment. Sir Thomas sank back into his seat as Lady Anne cleared her throat to continue.

"Ah, yes, as I was saying—Jane is keen to conclude the formalities, as I know you are too, Sir Thomas. Is it really necessary to wait a month? We were thinking we might see the marriage solemnised whilst you are here, my lord, by proxy naturally, given Sir Gerard's pressing commitments. That would release the dowry, I trust?"

"It would," agreed Sir William.

"Excellent. So this eager young couple could be married at once, though naturally, Lady Margaret, given your daughter’s youth, you will wish to insist that she does not actually take up residence in her new home for several years yet."

Now it was the turn of Jane's mama to bear the pleasant if determined scrutiny of the duchess. She muttered something about Jane requiring to learn her wifely duties but the duchess waved that concern away.

"I am quite convinced Jane could learn all she needs to know here, or if wider experience is required she might spend some time with us at York. Yes, I would like that. Of course, she must bring her own servants with her, and her pony, in readiness for when she does eventually remove to Roseworth, for she will require her own attendants at that stage, too."

"Her pony?" Lady Margaret’s expression was one of utter incredulity. "Jane does not possess a pony."

"Does she not? No matter, I am sure you would be able to locate such an animal, in your extensive stables, Sir William."

Jane's father was no match for the duchess. He simply nodded and reached for his tankard of ale.

"It will be so pleasant to have Lady Jane with us, of course, but we must not be selfish. I would not wish to keep her from her husband over-long. I think she should be looking to take up her position by the time she is—should we say fourteen? Or just possibly fifteen?" The duchess cast a glance in her husband's direction.

The Duke straightened in his chair. "You were ever precipitous, my dear, but it does not do to rush these matters. I believe seventeen would be quite soon enough, do you not agree, Sir William?"

Jane's father shrugged, though he did not appear displeased with the arrangements. "What? Seventeen? Yes, yes indeed. Quite soon enough."

Jane did not dare to so much as glance in her mother's direction

Richard's duchess beamed at him. "You are right, as ever, my lord. Seventeen it shall be then, and until she reaches that age Jane should spend as much time as Lady Margaret might spare her for in our household, in preparation for her future role as mistress of Roseworth. Shall we summon a scribe to draft the necessary amendments since we all find ourselves in perfect accord?"    

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