A Match of Hearts: A Regency Romance

BOOK: A Match of Hearts: A Regency Romance
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Hilary
Gilman

 

A Match

of

Hearts

 

 

 

 

 

Pleasant Street Publications

Cover
Design by Lee Wright, Halo Studios London

www.halostudios.co.uk

Copyright
© Hilary Gilman 2014

www.hilarygilman.com

 

All rights
reserved: No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording,
or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publisher

 

 

By
the same author

 

Historical Romance

 

Dangerous
Escapade

Gamble
with Hearts

The
Cautious Heart

Her
Foolish Heart

Moonlight
Masquerade

Mysterious
Masquerade

Merry
Masquerade

Magical
Masquerade

 

Fantasy

 

Tides
of Fire (as Hilary Lester)

 
One

The
afternoon was well advanced and, in the library, the candles had already been
lit and a good fire was crackling in the hearth. A tray laid with tea and little
cakes was placed temptingly on a small table in front of a deep brocade-covered
armchair. However, the only occupant of the room, a drooping figure in black,
ignored the warmth within and looked out instead across a dreary landscape of
leaden skies, sodden meadows and bare trees. The gloom without was mirrored in
a face that was not intended for sorrow. Despite the widow’s cap, the heavy
crepe weepers, and the large mourning brooch at her throat, her face was young
and blooming; and the irrepressible curls that escaped confinement under the
cap were of pure guinea-gold.

In fact, the lady was only five-and-twenty,
having been married for six years and widowed for almost eighteen months. Lord
Brookenby, many years her senior, had been a doting husband but not an exciting
one. The widow had dared to hope that his death would prove a release, but she
had been dismayed to find her bondage had only deepened. Mama-in-Law had very
decided views on the proper behavior for her son’s widow, views that excluded almost
anything that was agreeable.

Lady Brookenby brightened a little when
she saw a gentleman’s carriage approach the turn into the driveway but returned
to her pensive attitude when a few minutes more proved the visitor to be no one
more interesting than Mama-in-Law’s doctor. She sighed, picked up a book of
improving sermons, and attempted to read.

A few minutes later, the door opened,
and another lady entered the room. She began scolding fondly as soon as she saw
the widow. ‘My dear Zanthe, what are you thinking of to be sitting without even
a shawl? It is freezing cold in here, indeed everywhere, for if ever a house was
a desolate pile of draughts, this is it! But really, you should know better by
now.’

The widow looked up with a sweet smile. ‘Don’t
fuss me, Margery, there’s a love. I’ve but now escaped from your Mama, who was
worrying and fretting me until I could have screamed.’

Margery shook her head in sympathy and
sat down beside her sister-in-law. They made an entertaining contrast. Margery
was of her deceased brother’s generation and would never see forty again. She
was a tall woman with an imposing Roman nose and massive bosom. Her face, never
pretty even in youth, was high-coloured and her expression severe; but this was
the misleading consequence of her extreme shyness. Her heart was warm, and her
affection for her lovely young sister-in-law sincere.

‘Poor dear
,
I know, believe
me, I know! But recollect that your year of mourning has passed and, as the
weather improves, you will be able to go into Society a little.’

‘Yes, with your mother watching like a
hawk every time a gentleman approaches me,’ said Zanthe pettishly. ‘She
pretends to believe my heart is buried in the grave, although she must know
that it is not. I became sincerely attached to my Lord, but you and she both
know perfectly well I was never in the least in love with him. And now that we
have had to remove to this horrid, draughty dower house, she keeps glaring at
me, and I know very well that she is thinking that, if I had produced an heir, she
would not have had to see William step into his uncle’s shoes.’  Zanthe stood
up and began to pace restlessly as her grievances overtook her. ‘It is so
unfair, for I was a dutiful wife and never once refused—well, never mind that.
But considering that Brookenby’s first wife was childless, as well, I don’t
think I can be blamed.’

Margery had nothing to say to this. She
knew that her mother would never forgive Zanthe her childlessness, especially
as the prospect of an heir was the only reason she had given her blessing to
her son’s marriage to a young person she considered quite unworthy of the
position she was called upon to occupy.

Zanthe was fast working herself into a
passion. ‘Well, I will not stay here to be worried and fretted and talked at
forever. I am five-and-twenty, I have as much money as anyone could possibly
want, and it is settled upon me—so nothing Mama-in-Law may say or do can take
it away from me.’

‘Not stay!’ said Margery, alarmed. ‘But
where shall you go?’

Zanthe glanced out of the window. ‘I was
thinking perhaps—Bath.’ She dimpled mischievously, ‘I might even drink the
waters.’

‘Alone?’ asked Margery, a little
wistfully.

‘Don’t be silly. Of course, you are to
come too. I shall require a duenna. You shall come along to play the dragon,
and I’ll make Paris accompany us!’

‘Much use he will be,’ snorted Margery.

‘Yes, but no one, not even your Mama,
can call it improper if I move to a watering place for the sake of my health
accompanied by my sister-in-law and brother.’

‘As long as they don’t know your
brother.’

In the event, Zanthe was proved to be overly
optimistic regarding her mother-in-law’s reception of her proposal. That lady
found a great deal to say about the impropriety of the scheme.

The Dowager Lady Brookenby was not one
of those matriarchs who hold sway over a family through fragile health and
plaintive murmuring. She was still, at seventy, a big woman, with a loud voice,
unalterable opinions, and a habit of quoting Holy Writ to serve her own
purposes. Having buried her husband, three sons, and two daughters, she lived
to terrorise the parish, bully her surviving daughter, and criticise her
daughter-in-law.

When the scheme was first broached to
her after dinner that evening, her response was to issue an immediate
prohibition.

‘Nonsense, nonsense! It is not to be
thought of!’

Zanthe and Margery exchanged glances. Margery
plainly considered the matter closed, but Zanthe was made of sterner stuff. ‘Why
is it not to be thought of, Ma’am?’

Her mother-in-law was majestically
displeased by the question. ‘It is enough that I have said so. However, if you
will have it, I cannot think it right that you, my dear son’s widow, should wish
to go pleasuring, so soon after his demise. I am seriously displeased that you
should even contemplate it.’

‘It has been over a year, Mama,’ said Margery
timidly. Zanthe shot her a grateful glance.

‘When the sixth baronet departed this
life, I did not leave this house for three years—three years! And then only to
go to Harrogate to drink the waters.’

‘But Ma’am, indeed, I don’t wish to go
pleasuring,

declared Zanthe. ‘Only I feel so low in Lincolnshire, and I think I need a
change of scene.’

‘Do not tell me! I know very well that,
once you are where no one knows you, you will be going into Society, wearing
colours, flirting, disgracing us all. Remember

the daughters of Zion
are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and
mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet.
”’

‘Mama, are you not being a little unjust?’
protested Margery. ‘Zanthe is so young it is only natural that she should be
moped after all these months of seeing no one but the family.’

‘Be quiet, Margery. This is nothing to
do with you!’

‘Well, yes it is, for I hoped Margery
would come with me, for propriety’s sake,’ said Zanthe with a courage that
commanded her sister-in-law’s admiration.

‘Margery?’  The Dowager seemed
thunderstruck. ‘Margery to leave Baguely? I have never heard the like of it.’

Zanthe always believed, when in the
privacy of her own room, that she would be able to stand up to her
mother-in-law. She would rehearse her arguments in her mind and, sometimes,
even in front of the mirror. But when she was confronted by reality in the
shape of a selfish, domineering old woman, her courage would ebb away and, like
all their small circle, she retired defeated.

The truth was that her mother-in-law had
not the slightest authority to prevent Zanthe doing whatever she chose; but,
like all tyrants, she depended upon her victim’s dread of the kind of noise and
upset that she herself delighted in. Her family submitted to her simply for the
sake of peace and quiet.

Zanthe, however, had not lived under her
mother-in-law’s thumb for over seven years without learning how to circumvent
her. The following day, she enlisted the aid of her mother’s doctor, an old
ally.

Doctor Miller, a crusty individual with
beetling brows and no-nonsense manner, was the only person to whom the Dowager
listened with anything like respect. He had been acquainted with her since she
had been a bride, delivered her children, tended their childhood complaints and
even relieved the old Lord’s gout.

The doctor, called in to prescribe a
tonic for the young widow, was easily brought to support the scheme. ‘If you
had not thought of it, I should have suggested it myself by-and-by,’ he said. ‘Do
both of you a world of good. Now, do not be concerned about your mother-in-law,
Ma’am, I’ll see to her.’

This he did immediately, representing to
her that he could not be answerable for his young patient’s life if her decline
were not arrested by an immediate change of scene. She should be allowed to go
where she chose and, if the Dowager were anxious about the proprieties, Margery
would act as her deputy.

Furthermore, he counselled his elderly patient
not for a moment to think of accompanying the young people, as this would be
disastrous to her own health. Since, along with the decline of morality in
modern society, her health was the lady’s principal preoccupation, this
argument carried considerable weight with her. Reluctantly, she gave her
consent.

Zanthe’s
brother, Paris,
when summoned to Baguely Hall for an audience, proved even harder to deal with.
‘Damn it, Zan,’ he said in an ill-used voice, ‘I’ve got a dozen engagements in
Town already!’

‘Well, you can just break them,’
answered Zanthe severely. ‘I know exactly the kind of thing you get up to in London,
let me tell you, and who with. It will do you much more good to come to Bath
with me than to go racketing around getting foxed, gaming and making stupid
wagers, and—’

‘Hey, steady on, old girl. It’s not that
bad,’ protested Paris, weakly.

‘Yes it is,’ countered Zanthe ruthlessly.
‘And what’s more, without me to bail you out of trouble, you will be without a
feather to fly with by quarter-day—and very likely before!’

Paris looked pained. ‘You mean you’d
leave me without funds? That’s not like you, Sis.’

Her eyes softened. The Honourable Paris Sidney,
only son of Lord Rothmere
, a noted Grecophile, and his Byzantine-born
wife, was Zanthe’s adored younger brother. He was a handsome boy of
two-and-twenty and very much like his sister in appearance, for all the Sidneys
were remarkably good-looking. Just now, he looked so sulky and put her so much
in mind of the scrubby schoolboy he had once been that she could not be cross
with him.

‘Please, Parry; won’t you do this for me?
I want to go so much and, if you won’t come with me, they are sure to saddle me
with Great-Uncle Horace or some other snuffy, old bore, for Mama-in-Law insists
we cannot go without a gentleman to accompany us.’

‘Aye, very likely,’ agreed her brother,
gloomily. ‘Oh, very well, I’ll do it. How long do you mean to be in Bath?’

‘Oh, just until I catch another
husband.’

Parry, who had just taken a mouthful of
wine, swallowed the wrong way and went into a prolonged fit of coughing. Zanthe
helpfully slapped him on the back several times, laughing, while red wine
streamed out of his nose and mouth down his immaculate shirt front.

‘What did you say?’ he demanded, when he
could speak.

‘I said I am going to catch a husband.’  Her
eyes narrowed. ‘I married Brookenby to oblige the family. You know why.’  She
looked a question at him, and he nodded gravely. ‘I hope I am not unfeeling,
and I am very sorry he is dead. But I simply cannot live with Mama-in-Law a
moment longer. She never liked me, nor I her. I will not stay to be bullied and
put upon like poor Margery has been for all these years. So I must marry again;
it is the only answer. But this time, I’m going to marry to please myself and
no one else. Pray, do not try to stop me!’ 

Paris saw with dismay there were tears
in his sister’s eyes. He moved to the seat beside her and put an arm around
her. ‘This isn’t like you, Zan. Damme, I believe you’re right. You need to get
away. You’re moped to death. Cheer up; after all, it’s not so very terrible to
be a wealthy widow, is it? I’ll wager you’ll have all manner of Lords and Dukes
and whatnot after you.’

Zanthe wiped her eyes. ‘Particularly
whatnots,’ she said.

BOOK: A Match of Hearts: A Regency Romance
13.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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