About the book
Without feet he'd make his way to her, and without a mouth he'd still swear her name...
Her shopping trip, Lady Alice Longman knows, was not supposed to end with a carriage almost killing her. Or with finding out that she is to marry a deformed stranger.
Darian Herington, Duke of Belmont, lost himself the day his wife was killed, and his leg was amputated. Though angry at his aunt for finding a wife for him without his consent, everything changes upon their meeting…as he saves her from certain death.
When the face of a stranger awakens old memories in Darian, he realizes that fate is cruel: Alice is the key to a truth locked away years ago. A truth that he has been waiting for his entire life: finding out what really happened the night his wife died.
The arrival of a guest at Belmont Manor was always a source of great excitement, in large part because it was such an infrequent occasion.
Though they would certainly never have said so, Darian knew that his servants would have been elated at the prospect of a fine dinner or a ball. Such a fancy affair would have served to break up the monotony of their days. And it was because of him—because of his own resistance to the company of his peers—that they had no such opportunities.
“Still,” he said to his butler, Campbell, “I don’t see why the arrival of my Aunt should create such a stir. You all know her quite well.”
“When one never has guests, even an ordinary guest is cause for excitement,” Campbell said. “And I’ve been told the kitchen is preparing an exquisite meal for the occasion. In my opinion, Your Grace, you ought to be more excited. How long has it been since you’ve seen Lady Belmont?”
“It’s been a few weeks,” Darian acknowledged. He knew Campbell wouldn’t be able to understand his reluctance to see his aunt. He had trouble putting the feeling into words himself.
She had certainly always been kind to him. After the death of his parents, she had raised him as her own, and she had done so over the objections of her husband, who was the brother of Darian’s father. Darian’s uncle would have seen himself and his wife move into Belmont Manor and take over the Dukedom permanently. It was only his aunt’s insistence that Darian maintained his inheritance that had led to him being here now.
So it wasn’t a dislike of his aunt that made him reluctant to see her tonight.
He only wished he could say exactly what the cause of his unease was.
Darian made his way into the dining room and checked that the table was prepared. His aunt was demanding when it came to etiquette. She would expect to be shown right in and seated, and she would want the meal to start promptly.
She cares for me, he knew. But any delay will bring judgment upon me.
Perhaps that was why he dreaded her visit so. Although he was a man now, he still craved her approval. She had been the only parental figure he had known for many years. He longed for her to look kindly on his maintenance of Belmont Manor.
After all, if she had not stood by me as a child, my uncle would have taken ownership of the Dukedom. And then the Manor would not have belonged to me until his death.
Darian cared little for the title he bore, although he was mindful of his responsibilities as Duke of Belmont. But this Manor—this was his home. This was the place he had lived with his parents, and they had often spoken of how it would be his one day.
His memories of his mother and father were foggy now, obscured by time. He had been so young when they had died. But every memory he had of them took place in this Manor. It would have been painful to see it in the hands of another, especially a selfish man like his uncle.
He heard the clatter of carriage wheels on the cobblestones outside and hurried back into the foyer. Campbell was at the door. He bowed as Darian’s aunt made her entrance. “Lady Belmont,” he said. “Welcome. May I take your cloak?”
She whisked the garment off and handed it over. Then she held out her arms to Darian and hurried to his side. “Don’t you look handsome!” she praised.
This was getting off to a good start. Darian smiled. “Aunt Miriam,” he said, embracing her. “I hope your journey was pleasant?”
“Quite pleasant, thank you,” she said. “It’s good fortune that my own home is on the opposite side of town from Belmont Manor, as it allows me to ride through the city center on my way to see my favorite nephew.”
“You have no other nephew,” he pointed out, laughing.
“Then you can hardly argue against my calling you so,” she said with a smile. “Now, come. I assume dinner is ready? You and I have much to discuss.”
“Do we?” Darian followed her into the dining room. His aunt was such a commanding presence that he always felt young again when she was around. She had instantly taken control of the situation, even though she was the guest in his home, even though he was the Duke of Belmont. In her eyes, he knew, he was and would always be nothing more than her nephew.
She took her seat at the table. “What are we having for supper?” she asked as Campbell appeared silently behind her and lit the tapers.
“You’re in luck,” he said. “I sent Campbell to town earlier today and he returned with a fine big turkey. The kitchen has been working on it for hours.”
“Lovely!” his aunt said. “Why, it’s almost as if you knew.”
“Almost as if I knew what?” Darian asked. “That you would be joining me for supper? Of course I knew. We made the arrangement over a week ago.”
“That’s not the only arrangement that’s been made,” his aunt said, and Darian detected a sly note in her tone that was not usually present.
“What do you mean?” he asked her.
She waved a hand at him. “First, we dine,” she said. “We can discuss the second reason I came—the more important reason—over our wine, once it has been poured.”
Darian felt uncomfortable. Though he cared for his aunt, he also knew her well. She was prone to making decisions without consulting the people in her life. It was that tendency that had served Darian so well after the death of his parents, when she had chosen to take him in without consulting with her husband.
But he knew her impulsiveness might also serve him ill. What kind of arrangement could she have made, intending to surprise him with it?
If there was one thing Darian did not like, it was surprises.
Perhaps his feelings were only natural. Surprises had rarely been for the good in his life. All too keenly he remembered the shock he’d felt as a child when he had been told of his parents’ deaths. And then, of course there was his wife…
Eleanor. Even thinking of her in passing was still painful. Their marriage had been an arranged one, set up for them by her father and by Darian’s aunt. But from the moment he had seen her, he had loved her.
It was five years ago now that their carriage had been set upon by highwaymen. Five years since he had lost her.
Nothing, not even the deaths of his parents, could have prepared Darian for the shock of thinking he was happily married, thinking he had found the person he would eventually grow old with, only to have her brutally taken from him. He felt as though he would never recover from the pain of that loss.
Of course, whatever Aunt Miriam had planned for him today wouldn’t be that manner of painful surprise. She would never do anything to harm him. Darian knew that.
Still, a surprise was a surprise, and given his way, he would rather have had nothing to do with it.
The turkey was brought out and the wine was poured, and for several minutes Darian was able to put off any talk of surprises by asking after his uncle. Though his father’s brother was in truth another topic Darian cared very little for, there was nothing unexpected in it.
“He stays in his library all day long and reads his books, just as he always has,” Aunt Miriam said. “You know, you’re at risk of becoming just like him. Neither one of you makes time for socializing. You both seem determined to spend as much of your time on your own as you possibly can.”
“Well, I’m perfectly content on my own,” Darian said. “The company of others is a chore to me, and I see no need to put myself through it. Who does it benefit?”
Aunt Miriam shook her head. “You feel that way because you’ve been on your own for too long, Darian. You were not always so isolated. Do you not remember what a cheerful fellow you were before the death of your wife?”
“I don’t want to talk about Eleanor,” he said sharply, surprised that she would dare to bring the subject up. She knew he didn’t like to talk about his wife. She had always been respectful of that fact.
“Oh, my dear nephew,” she said. “I know you don’t want to talk about her. But you simply can’t spend the rest of your life denying your loneliness.”
“I’m not lonely,” he insisted. “I have a house full of people here.”
“Your servants are hardly the same,” she insisted. “They may serve you well, and I don’t doubt that they care for your well-being. But Darian, they are not family. You must have a family.”
“I have family,” he said. “I have you. I have Uncle Ambrose.”
“You do,” she agreed. “And you always will, so long as we live. But you need a family of your own, Darian.”
He set his wine down, taking care not to slam it against the table. He was furious. “I did wed once,” he said. “I lost her. She was murdered before my eyes. What do you want from me?”
“It’s time you married again, Darian,” she said gently.
He stared across the table at her, shocked by what he was hearing.
“Absolutely not,” he managed at last.
“Darian,” she said quietly. “This house has been quiet since Eleanor’s death. I don’t know when was the last time I heard you laugh. Even your smiles have been difficult to come by. You cannot spend the rest of your life in misery.”
“I’m not miserable,” he argued. “But I married once, and I have no desire to do so again.”
“You’re afraid,” she suggested. “You’re frightened that if you allow yourself to care for someone again, you might lose her in a painful way, just as you did with Eleanor.”
Darian got to his feet. “Do not speak her name under this roof,” he said.
“I know you still love her,” Aunt Miriam said. “Darian, sit down. I’m still speaking to you.”
Darian sank slowly back into his chair. Though his anger burned hot, he did not want to defy his aunt.
“What you had with Eleanor will always be a part of you,” she said. “No one expects that you ought to forget her. But it’s all right for you to move on with your life as well. She would want you to be happy. You can love someone else without doing any dishonor to what you shared with Eleanor.”
Darian stared into the bottom of his wine glass.
“What you say is sensible,” he said. “But how could I find and court a lady when I can barely entertain the suggestion sitting here with you? I’d be sure to drive her away. And even if I could keep my feelings for Eleanor from becoming a problem…there are other things about me that would turn a lady away from me, Aunt Miriam. You know there are.”
“You think too little of yourself,” she said. “But no matter. I’ve taken this into my own hands.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, frowning. “What is it you’ve done, Aunt Miriam?”
“Lady Alice Longman, daughter of the Duke of Ashmont, has just come of age,” she explained. “I’ve been to call on her Mother, and the two of us have reached an arrangement.”
“You haven’t.” He knew what she was going to say, and yet he could hardly believe he was about to hear it.
Aunt Miriam nodded. “You and Lady Alice are to be wed.”
Behind my back.
She made these arrangements behind my back.
For the first time in his life, Darian had walked out on a meal with his aunt. He had left her behind at the table, gaping, and he knew that she had never anticipated that he would be strong enough to walk away from her like that.
She shouldn’t underestimate me.
What she had taken for weakness had been courtesy. But he wasn’t feeling very courteous toward her tonight.
After all, had she been courteous to him when she had gone behind his back and made this arrangement?
Of course, it wouldn’t be impossible to get himself out of it. But it would require a great deal of unpleasant conversation, and it would be a disaster for his reputation among the ton. And Darian’s reputation was not exactly stellar to begin with.
His aunt was not the only person who underestimated him. Who thought him weak.
She probably believed she was doing me a favor, he thought. He had resisted when she had arranged his marriage to Eleanor, after all, and that had turned out to be a perfect match. The success of that union must have led her to believe he would be happy to see her do the same thing again.
But it’s completely different this time.
At the time of his engagement to Eleanor, Darian had taken it as a given that he would have to marry sometime. He hadn’t expected it as soon as it had come, certainly, and he had anticipated that he would be more involved in the selection of his wife than he had been. But the marriage itself, that had been no surprise at all.
This time, though…
Darian had never intended to marry again after Eleanor. Too many people he loved had been taken away from him. Aunt Miriam is right. I don’t want to risk getting hurt again. Why should I?
If his aunt was to be believed, the risk was worth it because he was so alone and so unhappy now.
It was certainly true that the Manor was a very empty place. Darian passed most of his days without ever speaking to anyone. Often, he didn’t even have to give instructions to his servants—they were familiar with his routines, and they knew what he needed and when he needed it without having to be told.
And it was true that it had been different when Eleanor had been there. She had brought light to the dark corners of this place in a way that Darian had never been able to manage on his own.
But that doesn’t mean that I need to marry again, he thought stubbornly. And even if I did want to marry, it’s a matter that should have been left in my own hands. I’m far beyond the age where my Aunt ought to be intervening on my behalf.
As always, she thought too little of him.
But on the other hand…
Could her estimation of him be correct?
Lady Alice Longman. He knew nothing about her. Not even the name was familiar. And he was sure she knew nothing about him.
If she did, if her family did, they would likely have refused Aunt Miriam’s proposal. Darian knew enough to know that.
No one would want to wed me if they knew.
He sat down on the edge of his bed and carefully removed his prosthetic foot. The device connected just below Darian’s knee, where his leg terminated in an abrupt stump, having been amputated years ago.
It had happened the same night Eleanor had died. He had tried to protect her, of course. He had jumped in front of her, hoping to shield her, when the highwayman had pulled his gun on them. And in doing so, he had gotten himself shot in the leg.
The bullet had penetrated right to the bone, splintering it, destroying his right leg below the knee. Darian still had nightmares about the pain, and about the horror of the physicians removing his mutilated limb.
He had given up his leg to save Eleanor’s life that night, and he knew he would make the same choice again a hundred times.
But the horrible truth was that he had not managed to save her. In spite of his sacrifice, she was still gone, lost to him forever.
My leg and my wife. I lost both that night. And now I’m left alone and crippled.
Darian was sure his aunt had kept the truth of his deformity a secret from Lady Alice and her family in hopes of winning their approval. But it wasn’t a secret that could be kept forever. She would have to be told eventually.
There was always the potential of keeping the secret until after they were wed. But Darian couldn’t bring himself to enter into a marriage dishonestly.
Besides, if she is going to despise me then let her do so, and let me be aware of her disregard for me before we are tethered to one another for life.
He certainly had no desire to be wed to a lady who found him repulsive.
My Aunt is a clever lady, though.
For all her many flaws, she was certainly clever. It could not be denied. It was possible, then, that she had a plan. Some means through which she intended to win Lady Alice and her family over, so that when they learned of Darian’s missing foot, they wouldn’t be driven away by it.
Perhaps my money will be sufficient to entice her.
Darian knew that his wealth was enough to tempt many young women. Though Eleanor had loved him for who he was, he knew that her parents had been enamored of his money too when they had arranged the match.
But then again, Lady Alice was the daughter of a duke in her own right. Finding a wealthy match should be no particular trouble for her. No doubt her own father had enough money to offer her, without her needing to marry into wealth.
And yet, if his aunt was to be believed, she had agreed to marry him. Sight unseen.
Or at least, somebody agreed for her.
He thought back over Aunt Miriam’s words. She had been to call on Lady Alice’s mother. There was no indication there that she had seen Lady Alice herself.
She also mentioned that the young lady had just come of age.
That would put her at roughly the same age Darian himself had been at the time of his first marriage. Young. Young enough that it’s probable someone is still making her decisions for her.
So Lady Alice’s mother had agreed to the arrangement. The lady herself might not even know, as yet, that she had been promised in marriage.
It was all so unromantic. He couldn’t help but compare this situation with his engagement to Eleanor. That situation had been distressing at first, but it had almost immediately turned to pleasure. From the moment he and Eleanor had met, there had been a spark between them. He had been enraptured by her loveliness and charmed by her manners.
This time, though, it felt like a business arrangement.
Darian rubbed the palm of his hand over the stump of his leg. It was always a bit sore after a full day of wearing the prosthetic, which chafed at his skin and left him with bruises. He lay back on his bed, resting his leg on a pillow, grateful for the eight hours he had before he had to put the thing on again.
He had adjusted to the sight of his missing leg, after five years without it. But he could well remember how horrified he had felt the first time he had looked down and seen nothing there.
That’s what it will be like for Lady Alice.
With a pang, he thought of Eleanor. Could she have loved him like this?
He would never know.
She had never known him without his leg. When Darian and Eleanor had met, he had been strong and solidly built. He had felt flawless.
Well, and what of it? I’m still strong.
Yes, maybe that was so. He had never failed to overcome any obstacle that had been put in his way, that was certainly true.
After the robbery, after his wife had been killed and he had been shot in the leg, there had been some doubt as to whether he would walk again. But Darian had been determined. Even as he had grieved Eleanor’s death, he had known that she would expect to see him back up on his feet and that there could be no excuse for complacency.
At the start, he had walked with a limp, and his prosthetic limb had pained him so badly that he had only been able to manage a few hours a day. But he had continued to work at it, improving his skills day by day, until finally he had regained the ability to walk just as easily as he had before his injury.
Yes, it was painful. But Darian never allowed the pain to show on his face. Maybe it was pride, or maybe it was just an understanding that the world already had enough to judge him for. But he was determined that no one should ever know how difficult he found something as basic as moving around.
Eleanor wouldn’t have minded. She would have loved me just the same.
He was almost sure that was true. But the fact was that he could never be completely certain. And he thought that would probably haunt him forever.
He sighed, letting his eyes drift shut.
As difficult as it was to let the past die, he knew that he needed to do so. There was one thing his aunt had been completely right about, and that was the fact that Eleanor would want him to be happy. She would want him to build a life with someone, if he could.
Maybe he had been wrong to be angry with Aunt Miriam.
She had been acting out of concern for his best interests. He knew that. And she had been right once before.
Perhaps he ought to place a little more trust in her.
All right, then. He would meet with Lady Alice, and he would do so with an open mind. He wouldn’t go in planning to end their engagement before it had begun.
It was the most he could promise to himself for now.
What would she be like? She would be young, of course, but that was almost all he knew of her. He imagined that she would probably be timid.
He remembered Eleanor when she had only just come of age, how quiet and reserved she had been. She had always been well mannered, but she had been hesitant to speak before him until they had known each other well.
It seemed likely that Lady Alice would be the same. No doubt he would have to spend many long weeks warming her up, easing her out of her shell. He felt a bit exhausted at the idea. It had been so long since he had found himself in a social setting of any kind, or endeavored to befriend someone he wasn’t already close with.
What would it feel like, after all this time, to get to know somebody new?
Would he be able to open up to her? Or would he hold her at arm’s length, never allowing her to get close to him, forever resenting the fact that she wasn’t and would never be Eleanor?
I’ll do my best, he decided. And tomorrow, he would find his aunt, who had stayed the night, and apologize to her for his behavior tonight. She had only been trying to help, after all. She deserved kindness at his hands, not anger.
But she still should have told me before she made these arrangements. She should have asked my permission.
Alice looked up from the book she had been reading and frowned. There were few things more irritating than the way her mother called out for her from another room.
She could just as easily send a servant to fetch me. There’s no need to shout.
Still, she knew that if she did not respond to her mother’s summons, she would be called over and over, and the sound of it would drive her mad. She set her book aside, got to her feet, and went into the parlor.
Her mother sat in her armchair, a cup of tea in her hand. “Be a dear and fill this up for me,” she said, holding the cup out to Alice.
Alice took it and filled it from the teapot resting on the cart. “I know you have a lady’s maid,” she said, returning the cup to her mother.
“Mind how you speak to me,” her mother said, “and sit down. I want to speak with you.”
Alice could see that she wouldn’t be returning to her book any time soon. Trying not to allow her frustration to show on her face, she took a seat beside her mother.
“Aren’t you going to pour a cup of tea for yourself?” her mother prompted.
“No, thank you.” Alice knew that if she took tea, she would be stuck here for as long as it took to empty the pot. As things stood, perhaps there was a chance of winning back her freedom and returning to her reading if she and her mother could get through their conversation quickly.
Her mother sighed. “You delight in vexing me, don’t you?”
“It’s only tea,” Alice protested.
“If it’s only tea, then take some.”
“What did you wish to speak to me about, Mother?”
Her mother set her teacup aside. “You’re one-and-twenty years of age, Alice,” she said. “It’s high time you embraced the responsibilities of womanhood.”
“What do you mean?” Alice asked.
“I mean marriage,” her mother said. “When I was your age, I was married a year already.”
“I’m not averse to marriage,” Alice said. “No one has courted me.”
She wasn’t lying. Not exactly. Alice would have been more than willing to wed if she had met a man who suited her fancy. However, she had never met such a man. The idea of marrying for the sake of being married was repellent to her.
“It may be true that no one has courted you,” her mother said. “But what would you say if I were to tell you that your hand has been inquired after?”
“Someone has come to you?” Alice asked, surprised.
“They have indeed,” her mother said. “And what’s more, I’ve given my consent.”
“You’ve given consent for someone to court me?” This was all happening very fast.
“Not at all,” her mother said. “I’ve given my consent for you to be wed.”
It was a lucky thing that Alice wasn’t holding a teacup. In that moment, she knew she would have dropped it.
“You consented to my being wed?” she repeated. “But to whom? I haven’t even had any suitors!” She tried to think of all the men she knew. It was a short list, and the majority of them were either married or far too old for her. Who could her mother have possibly promised her to?
“You’re to wed the Duke of Belmont,” her mother said, a smile taking over her face. “His Aunt came to see me, and we reached an arrangement. Isn’t that lovely?”
“But I don’t even know the man!” Alice protested. “I’ve never even met him! I can’t marry someone I don’t know!”
“You most certainly can,” her mother said. “There’s plenty of time for you to get to know the man. We’ve been invited to dine at Belmont Manor tomorrow evening so that the two of you can meet. What do you think of that?”
“I won’t go,” Alice said. “This is ludicrous.”
“Oh, you’ll go,” her mother said. “You’ll go, and you’ll behave yourself like a proper young lady. I won’t have you shaming me in front of our family-to-be.
Alice’s head spun. How could this be happening? How could her mother have promised her to someone she had never even met?
She tried to reason with her mother. “If you want me to think about marriage, I’m ready to do so,” she said, even though she was nowhere near ready for such things. “But you can’t just give my hand to the first person who asks you for it. Shouldn’t I meet more than one man? Gain an idea of what I might like in a husband before I make a decision?”
“That’s a silly notion,” her mother said.
“I know you married Father out of love,” Alice protested. “You’ve told me many times of the ball where you met one another.”
“That may be true,” her mother said. “And yet, look at us now, your Father and I. One could hardly call it a loving marriage.”
On that point, Alice couldn’t argue at all. Her parents were poorly matched, and she had often suspected that they didn’t even like one another. Alice’s mother was very concerned with manners and what was appropriate in good society, and she was thus very strict with Alice and held high expectations of her behavior.
Her father was different. The Duke of Ashmont was not known as a sentimental fellow, but when it came to his daughter, he was deeply sentimental. Alice knew perfectly well how much he adored her.
In thinking of her father, she spied what might serve as a way out. “Does Father know I’m to be wed?” she asked.
“Of course he knows,” her mother said.
“And he’s happy to allow it?”
“Your Father and I have agreed that I’m to be in charge of seeing you married,” her mother said. “He may not like it, but he will defer to my wisdom on this.”
“But who is this man?” Alice asked. “The Duke of Belmont—I’ve never so much as heard you speak of him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him about town. How can you have decided that he’s the right match for me?”
“You have heard him spoken of,” her mother said. “His first wife died five years ago under tragic circumstances.”
“He’s been married before?” And so long ago. “How old is he?”
“Thirty, or nearly that,” her mother said indifferently.
Alice felt her eyes grow wide. He was so much older than she was. She knew that thirty wasn’t that old, not really, but to her it seemed a lifetime away. And he had so much more worldly experience than she! He had already been married!
“What would a man such as him want with me?” she asked.
“Well, you’re very young and beautiful,” her mother said. “You mustn’t sell yourself short, Alice. Many men would aspire to wed a girl like you.” She frowned. “At least, they would if your Father hadn’t raised you to be so willful and independent. I expect it will be difficult for you to find suitable matches if you don’t curtail your attitude.”
“My attitude is just fine,” Alice said. “Besides, it doesn’t seem to have stopped this Duke of Belmont from wanting me.”
“The Duke hasn't met you yet,” her mother said. “He doesn’t know yet how difficult you can be.”
“Maybe when he finds out, he won’t want me after all,” Alice said. It could be hoped for, at least.
Her mother shook her head. “No,” she said. “I feel confident he will. His Aunt didn’t want to tell me everything—well, she wouldn’t, of course—but I’m no fool. I asked around, did my research. The Duke is in no position to turn away a good match.”
“What do you mean?” Alice asked. “Why not?”
“The man has a deformity,” she explained. “A prosthetic foot. He’ll have a hard time finding a young lady of good breeding who’s willing to look past that.”
“A prosthetic foot?” Alice felt a shudder take her. She didn’t like to be unsympathetic, and she was sure that it must be hard on the gentleman to have such a physical defect. But could she really love someone who was damaged in such a way?
When I look at him, the only thing I’ll be able to see is his hideousness.
It was difficult to realize this about herself. Alice might have been a burden to her mother, willful and independent, but she didn’t want to think of herself as an unkind person. The Duke couldn’t help it if he had to use a prosthetic. There was certainly no reason to despise him for that.
And I wouldn’t, she thought fiercely, I could like him if I wasn’t being forced into marrying him!
“Do you really think so little of me, Mother?” Alice asked. “Do you truly think that the only man who could want me is one who might very well have no other choice?”
“Oh, Alice,” her mother said with a sigh. “You could have had any man in the world. You’re beautiful, and you come from a good family. But your Father has always been so indulgent with you, and it’s given you a belief that you should never have to compromise.”
Alice felt nothing but confusion at that. Why should she compromise? She was not so desperate for marriage that she was willing to take any man who would have her. I’d rather wait for a good one, someone I really love, she thought bitterly, but of course Mother wants to hand me off to the first man who comes along!
“May I be excused?” she asked her mother.
“Certainly not,” her mother said. “We have much left to discuss. You’ll be accompanying me to meet his family tomorrow, and we need to talk about what kind of impression we want to make upon them. I expect you to act nothing less than fully gratified by your impending union. I hope that’s clear to you.”
But Alice had had enough. She felt desperate, confined, like a caged animal. She jumped to her feet.
“Alice!” her mother cried. “You are to sit back down at once so that we can finish discussing this matter.”
“No,” Alice said. “You’ve decided everything without me. You’ve decided that I must marry, and you’ve even gone so far as to choose my husband with absolutely no input from me. But there are freedoms that remain to me, freedoms you will never be able to take away, and I believe I still have the right to depart a room if I choose to do so!”
Before her mother could answer or object, Alice fled the room, heading for her own bedroom on the second floor of the Manor.
“Alice!” her mother called after her, but Alice ignored her mother’s entreaty. She could not bear another moment in her company.
Upon reaching her room, she closed the door and locked it, then flung herself upon her bed dramatically.
A man with only one leg!
How would she ever be able to spend time in his company without fixating on his deformity? She was meant to see him for the first time tomorrow! That wasn’t nearly enough time to prepare herself for what she was going to face.
My Mother worries that my personality will give offense, she thought, but what if I’m simply unable to disguise my revulsion? He would be rightly offended then!
Alice had little idea of what she was going to do or how she was going to make it through the encounter. But as long as she kept her thoughts firmly on what would take place the following day, she spared herself having to think about anything beyond that.
And that was for the best. Because if she thought ahead, she was quickly confronted with the fact that she would have to spend the rest of her life with a man she could hardly stand to think about.
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