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Angelica Dawson’s fiery temper often flared as red as her hair. But finding out from her Uncle Thomas that she was totally without options for her home and future, took the wind completely
out of her sails. He was bringing a perspective husband to meet her the following day. All she knew about him was that he was wealthy, and that her uncle thought he would be kind to her.
“He might have pointy ears and horns, for all I know,” she told her housekeeper, in tears. She had no idea what to expect. However, the handsome stranger who accompanied her uncle the next afternoon, with censorship in his silver eyes and definite ideas on how a young lady was to behave, was definitely not what she expected. Or wanted.
Geoffrey Wellington came to Philadelphia in the spring of 1850 to meet Angelica because it was his father’s dying wish. Now that he was in charge of Pembroke’s Estate, along with families of a huge staff, he knew his father was right; he needed a wife by his side. When he walked in to find a young lady who was as defiant as she was beautiful, he found himself determined to tame her. But behind those emerald green eyes, a heart of generosity and kindness existed; he could see it. She, however, was every bit as determined not to be tamed, as he was to tame her.
But before she had been married to him a month, she had been shot at, assaulted by highwaymen, and taken to a clinic where the woman in charge was determined to spirit her away into a brothel. Geoffrey found himself in constant worry about her safety. Who was behind this? Constant battles of wills accompany their journey as what begins as a marriage of convenience becomes one of depth and eternal love neither of them expected!
Publisher's Disclaimer: Mild sexual scenes and adult discipline are a part of this action-filled romance.
"You do realize, Angelica," Thomas Dreifus said, as he tapped his pencil on the desk, trying to be understanding. "That with little inheritance left, and little prospects, you are in a difficult situation."
"Yes, Uncle Thomas, I do. Do I not have enough funds to manage for at least a few months?" Angelica Dawson raised her green eyes to his defiantly.
Thomas looked down at his niece and sighed. He wished he could tell her what she wanted to hear. She so looked like his sister, Lizzy, had, at her age, with her dark green eyes and long red, curly hair. The innocence of the few freckles that marched across the bridge of her nose made her resemble Lizzy even more.
"You could always come and live with us, Angelica. I could accept the servants into the house as well, for a few months, at least until they could find other employment. But you must come with them; you cannot stay in the house without a chaperone; you realize that."
Angelica sighed as well. "So they say. I am sorry, Uncle. I had no idea the estate was this low on funds. But I cannot move in with you and Aunt Sarah. I fear she would be frantic, having me there. I am certain it would not work." Her gaze moved past him, toward the window, and she troubled her full lower lip with her teeth. "I miss my mother so much, it hurts."
Now why had she allowed that to come out? She bolted from her chair and turned away, pacing; she was determined not to let her uncle see the threatening tears.
What she did not see was that her uncle was having trouble fighting his own.
"But not your father?" he finally said.
Angelica's chin came up; her eyes looked directly into his. "You mean my step father? The one who squandered my mother's inheritance; the one who mistreated both of us; who—" Now, she looked away. "No, Uncle. I do not miss him. My mother might have been able to have better care, had he not used up the family fortune totally before he died."
"I hear your frustration, Angel," he said softly, using her childhood name this time. "But I do not know how her care could have been any better. I spoke with Dr. Biggs myself, regularly. If there had been any chance at all of her improvement, he would eagerly have sent her to a specialist. And I would have gladly paid for it myself."
Angelica ran to him and flung her hands around his neck. "I know you would have, Uncle," she whispered. His arm went around her shoulders, and she straightened.
Turning away and walking toward the window that overlooked the street, she looked down at the horses and buggies that made their way across. She watched as a very tall man made his way across it, picking his way among the traffic. Well dressed and handsome, with dark hair and a nice smile, he presented a stunning figure. She wondered idly what it must be like to be so tall.
Suddenly, as if he knew she was watching, his eyes rose toward the window. They were almost a silver grey, glinting in the sun, and an expression of amusement showed on his face, even reaching his eyes.
Embarrassed that he had seen her watching him, Angelica turned away and quickly brushed the remaining tears from her face.
"All right, Uncle Thomas," she sighed. "What is it that you wished to tell me?" She had not realized he was standing behind her until he tugged on a red curl, affectionately, much as he had when she was a little girl.
"Sit down, Angelica," he said softly. "Please."
Angelica walked back around to the chair that sat in front of his desk and faced him bravely, sitting.
"I'm listening, sir."
Thomas, now at his desk, leaned forward, studying his niece a moment before proceeding.
"I have an old friend, Angelica, who has recently passed on. He had the title of Viscount, in England. He renounced it when he came to America. His only son has inherited his estate. The young man is responsible, seems to be managing the estate very well. It is quite a large one."
"And?" Her only word was cold. Dread fell like a stone, crushing Angelica; there was suddenly no doubt where this was going. Her green eyes lost color, and her gaze lowered to the Turkish rug on which her small feet were resting.
"The answer to your unspoken question, Angel, is, yes. He needs to marry."
Of course, he does, Angelica thought bitterly.
"He needs a wife at his side to help run it. He is in his early thirties and has always refused to settle down and take a bride. But he feels he no longer has that luxury. And he, for some reason, prefers not to choose locally." He read her expression of sadness and leaned back in his desk chair. "Angelica, I know this young man; he is responsible; mature; he seems kind; I would not recommend him unless I thought he would be good to you." He watched his niece closely. She had not moved. "It is a large estate, Angelica, and he is a wealthy man; he does not need a large dowry from his bride. You have no idea how lucky you are that he would even consider you."
She sat in front of him in silence for what seemed an eternity.
"Angelica? Have you no questions?"
She raised sad eyes to his, before rising and shaking her head in despair. Taking her bag in her hand, she moved toward the door.
She paused, her hand on the doorknob, waiting.
"I shall bring him by tomorrow afternoon at two, to meet you. We shall not stay long; but I do wish to see how the two of you seem to get on. It would please me greatly if you were gracious to him."
Angelica made no response, suddenly feeling the need to escape. Her hand twisted the door handle, pulling it open. It was as if being on the other side of the door was crucial. She left, hurrying down the hall toward the stairs.
She did not see the tall gentleman who passed her in the hall, wondering at the tears she attempted to hide, and hoping they were not due to him.
Angelica stopped, just outside the courthouse, and leaned back on the brick wall, her chest heaving. She failed to hear the sudden clap of thunder; failed to notice the rain that had suddenly begun pelting her face. Tears flowed, mixing with them.
So, that's the way it was? Just like that? She had failed to stay long enough to find out exactly where this 'huge estate' was. Not that it mattered. She was being sent away, to be a man's wife, regardless of her own will, her own desires. It would not matter what she thought, what she wanted.
She looked around her, suddenly. People were staring now. Angelica forced herself to straighten up and began hurrying home. She would have to tell the staff she was being sold to the highest bidder.
The staff. Her heart hung heavy for them; they had cared for her since she was born. She had been forced to let the rest of the staff go earlier; her own lady's maid, her mother's, the rest of the stable hands and horses. She had agonized over the decision and had taken over her mother's care, determined that she would do everything she could to help her mother get better. But Lizzy had not improved; she had, instead, grown worse. Angelica, sitting with her mother day and night, had been heartbroken.
Her mother's funeral had taken place six months ago. Angelica had changed into mourning wear. But since she only had one mourning dress, she saved that for outdoor wear and used her other dresses for every day. The few ball gowns hanging in her closet had been there over a year, made for her eighteenth birthday. She had never worn any of them. Her mother's few jewels were still here; Angelica knew she could sell those to keep the household going for a while; but it would be prolonging the inevitable. Slowly, she had made her way inside and up the stairs, her gown soaked. Maddie had put her head outside the kitchen just in time to see her.
The housekeeper looked in on her a few moments later, to find that she was sitting sideways on the seat in front of her vanity, in her wet gown. She was staring at the room, but seeing nothing.
"Miss Angelica! You're soaked to the skin!" Maddie was dismayed. "We must get you out of that wet dress and get you warm and dry.
"It has finally happened, Maddie," she whispered. "And it will affect us all." She turned toward the housekeeper, whose eyes were also sad. "Uncle Thomas has decided that I am to be married off. And… I suppose the house must be sold." She looked up apologetically. "I am so sorry."
Maddie came to her and knelt down, taking Angelica's face in her hands gently. "Now you listen to me, Miss Angelica. We will be fine here. We'll find places of employment. And you—I pray that you will adore your husband and that he will be kind to you. What do you know about him?"
"Nothing." Angelica's voice was sad, as Maddie began helping her out of her gown. "Uncle Thomas says he believes he is kind. And rich; the heir of the estate. But that is all. Maddie. He may have horns and pointy ears, for all I know."
"Well there you are, then. You'll be the mistress of a big house. And have lots of servants. You'll forget all about—"
"No!" Angelica met her gaze again, shaking her head with vehemence. "No, Maddie. I will never forget you—or the home I've grown up in. Never." She rose and slowly walked toward the window, looking out as she reached it.
"Never…" she whispered, once again.
* * *
When the sun came streaming through her organdy curtains the next morning, she awakened. Yawning, she looked toward the brightness, and smiled. She had padded over to her window in bare feet and was stretching, when she remembered. Uncle Thomas had said something about coming by, accompanied by 'Mr. Pointy ears and horns.' Tomorrow? No, it was today, was it not? Angelica had been so shocked and dismayed when he had mentioned it, she could not be sure.
She straightened up. Surely, Uncle Thomas would send a note to let her know when he intended to come. All she could remember for sure was that he had asked her to be gracious.
Gracious? Truly? Uncle Thomas could hardly expect her to be gracious, under the circumstances. She opened the door to her wardrobe and pulled out something that she could greet company in. Hopefully, she wouldn't soil it before they arrived. She put it on, slowly fastening the tiny buttons that marched delicately up the front of the bodice. Her curly hair she wore loose this morning; the length of it almost reached her waist. She tied a ribbon the same color of her dress into a bow on top of her head. At least that would keep it out of the way.
She descended the stairs, to find Maddie, Elizabeth, and Benjamin in the kitchen.
"Good morning, Miss Angelica." Elizabeth left the stove, to envelop her in loving arms. "Do not worry about us." Maddie and Benjamin both nodded.
"Of course I shall worry about you," Angelica whispered. "How could I not? You are my only family now."
Elizabeth moved back to the stove, dishing out eggs and ham, coated with cheese, and set it on the table. Toast, with orange marmalade was next, followed by coffee. Milk was a luxury now; they had all accepted that and learned to do without it. They kept only small containers of cream when company was expected.
"Is it possible to have tea for them when they come? I believe Uncle Thomas said that they would be here this afternoon; I am not completely sure of the time." She scrunched up her face. "I think it might have been three."
"Tea and crumpets will be ready, Miss Angelica, by half-past two. Blackberry tarts made fresh; they are your uncle's favorite, are they not?"
Angelica nodded, dipping her fork into the delicate eggs. She took a bite, savoring them. "I know nothing about being the mistress of a large house. What shall I do? How shall I manage not to be a laughing stock? And what if the staff hates me there?"
"Miss Angel, no one will laugh at you; you will be mistress there. And I know you; you will have them eating from your hand by the time you have been there only a few minutes." Maddie's voice was encouraging.
But Angelica was pushing the food around on her plate now, her appetite gone. Finally, she set her fork down.
"Eat, Miss Angel," Elizabeth said softly. "You need your strength."
Angelica managed a smile. "Thank you, Elizabeth, but I cannot. I suppose I should be…" She looked up. "What should I be doing? Packing? He may hate me when he sees me. I may not need to pack. What if he does hate me? What shall I do then? What will happen to us?" She was still talking to herself when she exited the kitchen, wandering into the dining room.
* * *
Elizabeth watched her go, shaking her head. "This breaks my heart for her. She is only nineteen. It is too much."
But Maddie was also shaking her head. "She is resilient. She will be all right. She will give it every ounce of effort she has. I know our Angel."
Elizabeth sighed and turned back to the stove, saying only, "I hope you are right, Maddie."
* * *
Angelica had wandered outside and decided to go toward the stable, where Pitney stood. He watched her approach and whinnied quietly.
"Hello, handsome boy." Angelica reached into her pocket, holding out a carrot. He took it from her gratefully. "Are you hungry?" she asked softly, scratching his ears. She wondered who would buy him. Would they be good to him? She blinked back the tears that formed behind her eyes.
She took a deep breath, realizing that she did not even know the name of the man who might soon become her husband. Her green eyes flashed, suddenly, at the terrible injustice of it.
"Damn it!" she said, turning to go back to the house. "Damn it all!"
Maddie and Elizabeth looked up when she came flying through the back door and slammed it behind her.
"This is just wrong!" she said, furiously looking around her. "I hate it. I hate it!"
"Miss Angelica?" Maddie said, after her.
But she had already fled the kitchen.
"Miss Angel?" Maddie's soft voice was heard, outside her door.
Angelica blinked and opened her eyes upon hearing it. "Come in, Maddie."
Maddie opened the door, looking worried. "It's almost two, Miss Angel. Shouldn't you be getting ready?" She saw Angelica's confused expression and added. "Two in the afternoon. You said your uncle was bringing the—"
"Yes!" Angelica threw her legs over the side of the bed, sitting up. "Oh, Maddie! Can you help me freshen up? My hair—it's dreadful."
Maddie handed her a washcloth, and she ran it over her face. Her eyes were still somewhat red from crying, so she held the cool cloth over them for a moment. Maddie worked on straightening her dress and, running a soft brush through her long hair, she straightened her ribbon as well.
"How do I look, Maddie?"
The housekeeper pinched a little color into her cheeks and smiled. "Perfect. If he doesn't fall for you immediately, there is something indeed wrong with him."
Elizabeth appeared at her door, looking frantic. "Miss Angelica, your uncle is here with the gentleman!"
"I'll answer it," Maddie said, her eyes large; but Angelica shook her head.
"No, Maddie. I may as well do it," she said. "And get it over with. Are the tarts ready—oh, no, they wouldn't be. Wait—they are here at two? I thought Uncle said three!" She ran for the stairs as she heard the knock at the front door. "Just do the best you can with the tarts. I'll try to amuse them!"
Her hair had fallen over one shoulder by the time she made it to the front door. Pulling it open, she looked up, seeing her uncle.
"Oh, Uncle Thomas, do come in. I apologize. I was upstairs…"
"Where is your housekeeper, Angelica?" Uncle Thomas's face held a frown as he looked beyond her.
Without thinking, she raised her chin, her eyes brightening with defiance. "Do not blame Maddie. I told her to wait. I wanted to answer it."
Her uncle's frown now rested on her, his expression telling her to lose her defiance. "I would like to introduce Mr. Geoffrey Wellington. Sir, this is my niece, Miss Angelica Dawson, my late sister's daughter."
"Good afternoon, Miss Dawson. It is my pleasure." He bowed politely,
Angelica lowered her gaze and curtseyed as gracefully as possible. "Sir." But as she rose and lifted her eyes to his, total and utter surprise caused her to stare. He was the excessively tall man she had observed crossing the street yesterday, who had looked up toward the window with silver grey eyes. They were not smiling now; his look of censorship caused her to look back down uncomfortably.
She could have done without Maddie's pinching, her cheeks were flaming, now. "P-please, do come in, sirs. Elizabeth will have tea made in just a few moments." She looked up at her uncle. "And she has prepared blackberry tarts, Uncle, since that is your favorite—but I-I fear that they are still in the oven. Is there s-something I can get for you as we wait?" That stupid stutter. She had not been plagued with it since childhood. Why should it return now?
Neither of them answered immediately. But after a moment, the tall gentleman, what was his name? spoke.
"We shall be happy to wait, Miss Dawson."
Angelica ushered them both forward, into the great room. As she turned, however, the toe of her slipper caught on the edge of the rug that ran between the opposing sofas, and she gasped. She might have fallen, but strong arms reached down and caught her by the waist deftly, lifting her up and bringing her back to her feet. She looked up to smile at her uncle. The hands, however, had not belonged to him, and her cheeks burned brighter.
"Th-thank you…sir. Do sit down," she murmured, glad to have something solid under her. She looked up at her uncle, hoping he would initiate the conversation; she had utterly no idea what to say.
But it was Mr. Wellington, who spoke first. His voice, when he spoke, was deep timbered and strong. "Miss Dawson, I came to meet you in hopes that you would accompany me on a walk, on the morrow. I am away from home and may only stay a few days. I hope to get to know this area of town a bit, before I am required to leave. Would you be kind enough to accompany me? Perhaps to the park?"
It sounded rehearsed, she thought. It was a moment before she spoke, her eyes wide.
"Sir, that is kind, I should be honored. If you are quite sure."
His eyes crinkled at the corners, amused. "If I were not, I should not have asked."
She looked down. He might be amused, but she was not. "I see." She rose. "I shall return in a moment. I-I need to see how the tarts are coming." She made her way into the kitchen, closing the door and leaning against it. Her hand rested against her chest. "Help," she whispered to Elizabeth."
"They are coming out of the oven," Elizabeth whispered to her. "Maddie is making the tea."
Maddie looked over at her, whispering, "Well? Does he have horns and pointy ears?"
A delightful giggle escaped, louder than she intended, and she clapped a small hand over her mouth before answering. "No," she whispered back. "But for some reason, his presence is quite disconcerting."
But Maddie was finishing the tea tray, adding the teapot, and Elizabeth was putting the hot, steaming tarts on chintz dishes. "Do you wish to take it in?"
"No. I have already tripped once. It will be bad enough to have to pour."
Angelica nodded, took a deep breath, and returned, realizing she had left her guests alone far too long. She did not realize that her giggle had carried into the great room. Mr. Wellington was sitting, straight and stiff, when she returned.
"I do so apologize for the delay." She made herself look from one to the other. The look of censorship from her uncle was stern; the look on Mr. Wellington's face, she could not place. Vexed? Angry? She looked down. “The t-tea is ready." She closed her eyes, shaking her head slightly at her stutter.
Mr. Wellington hated her. This was not going well.
He gave her a simple nod, as the door to the kitchen opened and Maddie brought in the tea tray, gracefully setting it on the table. She curtseyed and looked toward Angelica, giving her an encouraging smile.
"Thank you, Maddie." Angelica's returning smile toward her seemed to soften Mr. Wellington's expression. Maddie curtseyed gracefully and returned to the kitchen.
"Tea, sirs?" She looked up at Uncle Thomas and saw a slight softening in his eyes.
She took a deep breath. There was only a slight telltale clatter of the cup and saucer as she handed it over. Mr. Wellington's smile surprised her, as he took the saucer from her trembling hands. She'd managed not to spill them. A sigh of relief escaped. She looked down.
"I am sure, Angelica, that Mr. Wellington has many questions for you."
Her eyes came up at that. First, her gaze met her uncle's, then Mr. Wellington's. He smiled at her, and she managed a small smile back, but her eyes were large and uncertain, and he saw it.
"I do not wish," he said quietly. "To interrogate Miss Dawson on our first meeting." His mouth curled up at the corners. "However," he continued. "I would love to hear her play the pianoforte when she has finished her tea."
Angelica froze, her eyes became huge, and she looked uncertainly at her uncle.
Her guest turned toward her. "Your uncle says that your playing is extraordinary."
"My uncle is far t-too generous," she whispered.
"I am not," Uncle Thomas said, smiling. "Play for us, Angel." It was not a request.
"Yes s-sir." Dismayed, she set her cup and saucer down, trembling, and then looked toward Mr. Wellington. "But I must t-tell you, sir, I have had no formal training a-at all…"
"And I must tell you, Miss Dawson, that formal training is greatly overrated." His expression was amused now. "Do you sing as well?"
She gulped, meeting his silver eyes. "I do not, sir."
Uncle Thomas spoke up, contradicting her. "She does," he said, smiling toward her. "But it is quite difficult to drag it out of her."
"Then I shall not attempt to do that." Mr. Wellington nodded.
Angelica took a deep breath and rose, unsteadily, moving toward the piano. Sitting down, she took a moment, trying to remember the shortest piece she knew. Her first phrase on the piano stuttered, as had her voice. She paused. Blinking, she started again. Try to think no one is listening, she said to herself silently and began in earnest. As usual, her eyes closed, as she lost herself in the music.
As she finished, she looked up. Mr. Wellington had risen and moved to stand beside her, without her knowing. Her eyes grew wide; she did not expect the appreciative expression on his face. Her cheeks flamed.
"Extraordinary," he said softly. "Is far too modest a word." He smiled, reaching for her hand, and raised her to her feet. "Miss Dawson, that was absolutely breathtaking."
Her eyes rose to his face once again. He was serious, she realized. "Thank you, s-sir." She grimaced at the stutter. But he had not seemed to notice. He turned toward her.
"I, unfortunately, have errands I must attend to." He looked down into her eyes. His presence was close, entirely too close, and she found herself wanting to take a step back. He had been disappointed, she thought, and was saying goodbye. Uncle Thomas had also risen from his seat and was frowning, obviously disappointed.
Angelica did not know whether to be upset or relieved.
But Mr. Wellington continued, still holding on to her hand. "But the afternoon is early yet. Perhaps I could return within the hour and take you for that walk to the park? It is a beautiful afternoon."
Angelica looked up, totally surprised. "Y-yes, sir. That would be lovely."
He bowed over her hand. "Then I shall return. Please give Maddie and Elizabeth my thanks for the tea and tarts."
Angelica curtseyed. He was still holding her hand, but finally let go before he turned toward the door.
"Thomas," he said, with a nod toward her uncle. Uncle Thomas turned and winked at Angelica, then took a step toward her for a brief hug.
"We shall speak later, Angel," he said quietly, before following Mr. Wellington outside.
And Angelica stood, watching them both go, in disbelief.