Authors: Lilia Birney
A Second Chance
A Second Chance
Copyright © 2013 by Lilia Birney
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Previously published as
A Second Chance For Christmas, A Summons From the Duke
Copyright © 2011 by Lilia Birney
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without written permission.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Great Yarmouth, England
Philip Whitton shook off the fog that still clung to his brain, wrinkling his nose at the stench of herring that wafted up from Yarmouth's banks. 'Twas too much for any man to bear, that was for certain. The sooner he was in the Danby traveling Berlin, with its ducal crest and luxurious appointments, the better. He could sleep until they reached the first stop of their journey home. The passage from Den Haag had been rough, but Philip was not one to suffer any pain or discomfort. Fortunately, Captain Baines had been most forthcoming with the beer and ale on board, as one would expect for the second son of a marquess. And when the ale or the wine wasn't enough to dull his sensibilities, there was always the poppy. Laudanum always fed Philip's art, fueled his desires, and dampened reality to a dull roar. Between the liquor and the tinctures, the sailing from Den Haag to Yarmouth was really not as bad as one might expect.
"Well, sir?" Giles' boots thudded down the gangplank, each footstep a hammer to Philip's temples. "We'd best be on our way. The duke's summons was most urgent."
Phillip slanted his gaze at his manservant. "The old fellow's not really dying, you know."
Giles nodded. "I know, but without his support, you can't continue your studies in Rome. He as good as said he would cut you off if you didn't return."
Philip shook his head. "No. He didn't hint around, Giles. That threat of poverty was all too real. I'd have to sing for my supper then, wouldn't I?"
The cacophony of seagulls was suddenly pierced by the sweet trill of a nightingale. Philip turned towards the sound, his senses coming back to life. What a fluid sound. He could replicate it if only his harpsichord or even his violin was with him, but the violin was still in the ship's hold. And the nearest harpsichord was a week-long journey away. He rubbed his hands together to stop their sudden tingling—a sensation that could only be dulled by playing or by his vices.
"Come, let us go." Philip jerked his head towards the carriage, and Giles nodded. There was no register of surprise on Giles's face, no confusion at his master's sudden change of topic or his abrupt need to begin the journey. Giles had been with him during the most tumultuous years of his life, and knew him well. A little too well. It was damned embarrassing to have anyone know the extent of your suffering, or the depths you were capable of plumbing.
He climbed into the carriage, thankful for the thick curtains blotting out the daylight. Giles, with infinite tact, climbed onto the box with the coachman. Philip rapped on the window once, blinking at the sound, and the carriage rolled into motion. He rested his aching head against the plush velvet seat and tugged a silver flask from his coat pocket. A little hair of the dog was just the thing right now, but he'd have to ration it. Unless—Philip fumbled under the window, seeking the little pocket that hugged the wall of the coach. It was empty. Of course. No doubt his grandfather had seen to that. Oh well, he'd just have to ration what he had left most carefully.
He allowed himself one long, burning draught of the flask's contents and settled back into the cushions. This was a deuced sight different from the way he'd left England two years ago. Philip touched his neck gingerly, but of course the rope burns were no longer there. The marks of his suicide attempt had faded long ago, though the memory was as fresh as yesterday. The days following his attempted hanging were chaotic, jumbled together not by the passage of time but his own befuddled mind. His sister Emma had found him, just in the nick of time. Her screams had echoed through Danby Castle, bringing Giles running. Through the haze of his own misery, he could still recall his mother's tearful pleading, his father's face settling into lines of despair. And then the visit from grandfather, his lectures on fortitude and courage, his elderly voice questioning in detached horror, "All of this nonsense? Over the Ware gel?"
And then, the hurried passage to Italy to study music. "A fresh start," his family declared. As though a new beginning really mattered at that moment. He took another fortifying draught. He'd tried to forget Emily Ware—had done everything he could to forget her. Wine, women, and song. Rome was nothing if not ripe with amusements and amusing people. A different soubrette every night, sometimes more than one in a night. His lips curved downwards at the memory. A return to England meant a return to the land of Emily Ware—no, now she was Emily Barlow, nee Ware. Of course, she wouldn't be anywhere near Danby. She was likely to be settled near Sheffield with her portly little prick of a husband.
Damn them both.
All of this nonsense. Over the Ware gel.
"I don't understand." Emily Barlow leaned forwards in her chair, eyeing the solicitor with growing unease. "My husband was a wealthy man. He assured me that his business affairs were in order. Why do you make it sound as though everything is on the verge of collapse?"
"Mrs. Barlow, let me assure you that everything has collapsed. We have long gone past the verge." The solicitor pronounced the words with a flourish and removed his spectacles. Holding them up to the ceiling, he squinted and then rubbed them with his handkerchief.
Emily watched this performance in frozen horror, her breath coming faster. Surely the man was joking. Charles had given every indication that they had plenty of money to live on forever. "What happened?" she managed to gasp, clasping her hands together to still their shaking.
"Mr. Barlow invested in a mine—a chancy practice, you know. This was a mine in the West Indies, supposedly filled with diamonds. Needless to say, the mine came up empty. Not a stone in it worth a penny. Yet your husband sank everything he had in it. He mortgaged your home and everything he owned. I'm very sorry to say it, Mrs. Barlow, but you are close to being a pauper."
"Surely there is something left, Mr. Brown."
"Nothing except the clothes you and your daughter own and any jewels you managed to hide away."
Jewels? She hardly had any precious stones at all. Only the brooch her former beau, Lord Philip Whitton, had given her, the one she had hidden from Charles to keep from provoking any jealousy. She shook her head, her eyes downcast.
"Well, then. You will need to move back in with your family, Mrs. Barlow. Or…find some means of occupation." He flicked an insolent glance over her widow's weeds, stopping pointedly at her bosom.
Emily stood up abruptly, sending her chair scraping back across the wooden floor. "I shall go home to my uncle this week. How much longer do we have the use of the house? After all, it may take some time to gather our things."
"You and your daughter may stay there one last week, Mrs. Barlow. That should give you time to go home and gather what is left to you. After that, I shall put everything up for sale to cover your husband's debts." He gave her an icy smile and shuffled the sheets of foolscap littering his desk into an untidy pile.
"Thank you," she snapped, turning on her heel. Outside his office, she leaned against the wall, panting and fanning herself. She was no better than a pauper—no better than she had been when she went to live with Uncle Arthur and Aunt Millie as a young girl. The only child of penniless parents, taken in as a charity case. Her marriage was supposed to secure her place in society, not simply rent that place to her only to snatch it away with Charles's death.
She wept when her husband died, for while she didn't love him she was grateful to him for all he had given her. But now, if he was here and standing beside her, she'd give his eyes a jolly good scratching. She'd trusted him with everything, and how was that trust repaid?
Gathering her skirts with her courage, she headed down the steps and back to the Bridge Inn. How far away home was—and little Rose. Her heart gave a flip-flop and she calculated how quickly she could reach Sheffield. From here in Norwich, she'd take the public post tomorrow morning and be home within four days. If only there was a way to send word home and beg Anna to pack and ready baby Rose for the journey. Well, she'd just have to pack quickly once they arrived. And then she'd have to decide what she was going to do with the rest of her life.
She plodded along the High Street, briefly noting the sun's icy bright glare. Really, it was quite cheeky of the sun to look so cheerful on such a miserable day. Her options were limited, her future bleak. She could go back to Uncle Arthur and Aunt Millie, but that surely would mean a return to that charitable style of living she'd grown up with. Did she really want Rose to grow up thinking she was only a second-class citizen? Enduring her cousins' smirks and raised eyebrows? Or could she find some occupation?
She ran nervous fingers over her figure. She couldn't bring herself to do what the solicitor had implied. She never let any man touch her except her husband. And, well, if one were to be honest, Philip Whitton. In fact, she had allowed herself to get too swept away by Philip, and his single-minded, dashing ways. So swept away that she had nearly allowed herself to be compromised. And would the second son of a Marquess stoop to marry a penniless commoner? Of course not. So, marriage to Charles seemed infinitely better and more secure. She suppressed an urge to snort in derision. So much for security.