About the book
She must marry of convenience. Until she falls in love with a stranger...
Lady Daphne Tilcott twists her nose up at the idea of ever being married. The only gentleman she's interested in is her penpal whom she's never met. Much to her disappointment, she must stop writing to him when she’s betrothed to a man twice her age.
Elton Kirkham, the Duke of Hearton, is surrounded by ladies who think of wedding him solely as a high-speed ticket to an updated social status. Bitterly disappointed with the relationship standards of the world he lives in, he is relieved to find that for every rule, there is an exception.
Just as Daphne realizes that running away from her feelings is pointless, Elton's decision to keep his title a secret from her becomes the reason for her mistrust. And when someone plots against their future together, putting Daphne in grave danger, he will leave no stone unturned to find their rival. Because Daphne might have stolen his heart, but he'll let her keep it...
The dull chime of the only clock in the house sounded to mark the hour, but Daphne Tilcott was so engrossed in the words on the page before her that she barely registered the noise. The letter in her hands was signed by herself, but Daphne hadn’t written it. She certainly wouldn’t have expressed herself as boldly as the words on the page were stating.
“And so I must implore you that if we were ever to meet and be within the same room, I’m not sure that I would be able to contain myself from the thoughts of you that have taken such a large residence in my mind!” Daphne could hold her horror back no longer as she stared up at Sophie. “What were you thinking writing this to him?”
“I was thinking that you need to hurry along with finding a husband for yourself, otherwise you’re going to end up just like your aunt,” Sophie responded quickly. Her hands were behind her back, and while her shoulders were relaxed, Daphne could see that her agitation was making itself apparent in the form of shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She pursed her lips, her mind still reeling from the letter.
“He must know that it was not me who wrote this,” Daphne said as she put down the letter and leaned back in her chair. “He must know that I would never write such things to him.”
“Then I don’t understand what business you have with a ‘penpal’ like this,” Sophie said while shrugging her shoulders.
Daphne’s blonde hair was flowing over the back of her chair, and she was already dreading having to sit with Sophie for even longer while she would pin it up for her as Daphne had asked her before reading the letter. Sophie was her younger sister, and she often liked to pry into things that shouldn’t concern her.
"You need to do something about this man,” Sophie continued. “It’s clear that you like him very much — don’t give me that look — I’ve seen when his letters arrive. You smile while you read them, and I’ve caught you going off into the gardens to read them again and again. You clearly like him—”
“I like that he takes the time to write to me, we have a friendly correspondence, but that’s it,” Daphne said while shrugging her shoulders and rising from her seat. She still couldn’t quite believe that Sophie had sent the letter she’d just read to the man that she had been writing to for quite some time.
She hoped that her sister hadn’t noticed the light flush that coated her cheeks as she walked over to the window that overlooked the gardens. She was embarrassed that such a letter would be in his hands, that words which weren’t hers would be spoken from his lips should he ever read the letter aloud.
“I’m sorry for sending it without your permission,” Sophie said finally as she crossed the chamber to stand by Daphne’s side. Daphne kept her eyes fixated on the manicured gardens which lay to the rear of their family home, she focused on the trimmed hedges and rows of flowers that were already starting to wilt as spring gave way to summer heat.
“I have spoken with Elton for so long now,” Daphne said after sighing heavily. “I just don’t want him to think of me as strange or that I have other intentions with my letters.”
“And what intentions do you think he has? He writes to you openly and his words are always filled with honesty as to how he’s feeling,” Sophie prompted her.
Her younger sister had always meant well, she was always looking out for her, but sometimes Daphne wished that she would stay out of her business. Especially when it came to men; a subject that Daphne never liked to speak about too much.
“I don’t even know what he does or much about him at all. To even start thinking of him as a potential husband seems wrong.”
“But you agree that it is time to start thinking of a husband?” Sophie prompted her.
“No,” Daphne said while groaning and staring up at the ceiling. “You are married, and I’m happy for you. Marriage becomes you and Lloyd, little sister. But I have already come to accept that marriage is not for me.”
Daphne was fine on her own, she had decided that a very long time ago and she had accepted it too. She was a spinster now, and the title felt fitting. She couldn’t imagine that title becoming ‘wife’ in the future, and she certainly twisted her nose up at the idea of ever being a mother.
“Will you pin my hair in the library?” Daphne asked, desperate to change the subject.
“But I brought my pins up here,” Sophie said with a groan. She was only a few years younger than Daphne, and not even the youngest of their family, yet Sophie sometimes still acted as though she were but a child.
“All right, but at least let me fetch a book to read while you pin,” Daphne responded.
“You don’t want to continue talking to me?” her sister’s face was one of mocking hurt.
“No, because all you will speak of is this fantasy that I will one day marry Elton — who I have never met just to clarify — and you will continue trying to defend your decision to write such a ghastly letter to him,” Daphne said, sensing the annoyance in her own tone of voice.
She couldn’t truly be angry at her sister, not when she knew that Sophie had only written the letter with good intentions on her mind. But it was still vexing to her that her sister was so persistent to put her nose in business where she wasn’t welcome.
“You know that you can have love, Daphne, right?” Sophie said after a long pause.
Daphne stared back at her younger sister’s wide, blue eyes, Sophie meant well, but her words had struck something inside of her that caused her to stiffen.
Daphne had forsaken any attempt at love outside of their family when their mother died. She was the eldest girl, she was the one that her sisters had turned to, she and her older brother, William, had been in charge for a while.
“You love me, don’t you?” Daphne asked carefully.
“Of course I do,” Sophie nodded quickly.
“And Helena loves me, though she’s so very far away. Father loves me, as does William, and Aunt Valerie. I, therefore, do not need the love of some man in London that I have never met before. I’m lucky to have my loving family, and I will always put each of you first,” Daphne said with a rather final tone to her voice.
She didn’t want to be so stern with her sister, but she just wanted to show her that there was no point to her pleas or efforts to start something with Elton.
“I know how you stepped up after Mother’s passing,” Sophie said as she took a step closer to her sister. “It was hard for everyone, but I know that it was even harder for you to deal with. I’m grateful every day that I got to grow up with a big sister like you, but I just wish that you would put your own happiness first for once. That’s all I was trying to do when I sent your Elton the letter.”
“He isn’t my Elton, he’s just Elton,” Daphne said quickly. “And I am happy here. I’ve always been happy, thank you. I don’t need a man to feel complete.”
“You must be the only woman in the world to think so,” Sophie said while letting out a short laugh.
“You forget that Aunt Valerie is the same,” Daphne pointed out.
“Aunt Valerie is not known for her looks,” Sophie said while keeping her voice a little quieter than before. “She is…plump, and old. You have youth and beauty on your side, I know that other women in the area talk about you at the Season’s balls. They say that God gave you these virtues and that you waste them every day that you spend in this house.”
“Well then they don’t understand the importance of family, I do not sit idle in this house,” Daphne said while holding her ground. She could feel her skin prickling at the thought of being the center of conversation while she wasn’t in the room. “I have sacrificed everything for this family, and it’s really starting to feel like nobody appreciates that I have done so.”
She crossed the room, moving closer to the lit fireplace for some warmth. The thought of being a topic for gossip, the tail-end of a joke that would entertain people for an evening was causing her cheeks to heat up. Daphne stayed close to the fire, knowing it would at least hide the color in her face.
She sat down on the rug nearest to the fireplace, uncaring for the way that it was sure to dirty her skirts while she was so close to the hearth. It wasn’t as though she had anyone to impress in her life, her family accepted her somewhat, and they weren’t expecting any visitors that day.
Daphne had always admired that her sister always managed to appear presentable. Sophie carried herself with such poise, as though a Duke or Earl could walk in at a moment’s notice. Her husband Lloyd was always away for some business or other, and Daphne knew that if she ever was to have a husband who was the same, she would like to take advantage of the time to relax.
“I apologize again for writing the letter. I see now that it was out of place for me to do so,” Sophie spoke up after clearing her throat.
“It’s all right, but don’t ever do anything like that again,” Daphne said, exhaling deeply as she continued staring into the flames. The fire was dying as nobody had come to top up the stock of wood in the drawing room, however, Daphne didn’t mind. “I want this to be the last time that you or any of my family try to help me get a husband. I don’t want suggestions, or suitors found and told that I’m eligible, I just want to be left alone.”
Daphne had barely finished speaking as her brother rushed into the room. William’s cheeks were flushed from moving so quickly, and he caused the door to thud against the wall as he swung it open. His brown eyes were wide and his sandy hair tousled so that a few stray strands flopped over his brow. But the smile on his face as he looked at Daphne was what intrigued her the most.
“We’ve found you a husband!” he beamed while holding up both of his hands. “Aunt Valerie and I have found a man that really wishes to marry you!”
Daphne turned back to the flames. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or cry. All she knew was the whoever her aunt had picked for her, she wasn’t going to have much of a choice in the matter.
“But I don’t want to go to a ball this evening,” Daphne said with a groan as she was led through the house by her brother and sister.
“Oh, but you must!” William gushed, the idiotic smile still plastered across his lips. “You must go to the ball to see the man who has agreed to have your hand in marriage.”
“And what if I disagree?” Daphne said as she stopped walking.
William and Sophie glanced at one another before looking back at Daphne.
“But, Sister, I don’t think you understand,” William said as he stepped closer to her. “We have already agreed for you.”
Daphne could feel the air in her lungs being sucked out from the shock of what he was telling her. She couldn’t believe that her own brother would agree to something so drastic.
“What?” her voice was much smaller than she had been expecting.
“Aunt Valerie already knew the man, he’s a solicitor, a good and respectable job,” William continued, acting as though he was oblivious to the clear upset on Daphne’s face.
She pushed back the tears that were threatening to spill from her eyes as she swallowed down the lump in her throat and tried her best to appear unaffected by the news.
“And I will be meeting this man at a ball tonight?” she asked as they continued walking once more.
“Yes, he will be in attendance. The ball is in London, and so you must be ready to leave as soon as possible.”
Daphne didn’t bother looking down at the dirt that lined the bottom of her dress, she would have to clean herself up before going anywhere. She decided to take as long as she could to put as much time as possible between that moment and meeting her fiance.
She didn’t find it fair that such an important thing had been decided for her, and she couldn’t believe that her brother had been dragged into one of her aunt’s schemes. Sophie was silent at her side, but Daphne had seen the shock register on her younger sister’s face too. She believed that Sophie knew nothing of the plan either.
“Daphne? Are you almost — oh my! Did William not tell you that we have to leave soon?” her aunt’s voice was grating as she lay bathing herself.
Daphne didn’t bother turning around to face her aunt as she rose from the tub and stepped behind the screen to dry herself.
“I want to be presentable, which is quite hard on such short notice,” Daphne said as she kept her gaze on the floor.
Her aunt continued into her room, muttering to herself and fussing about one thing or another. Daphne cast her eyes up, but only to see that her aunt was dressed in one of her finest gowns and clearly ready to go.
“I promise that I won’t be much longer,” Daphne said.
“I will make sure of it by lacing up your bodice,” her aunt said while waiting on the other side of the screen for her.
Daphne thought for a moment about putting on her petticoats wrong and delaying the process even further, but she could tell that her aunt was anxious, and it was never wise to get on her bad side when she was in such a state.
“I hear that you aren’t exactly elated by this decision?” Their Aunt Valerie had taken care of them ever since the passing of their mother, she was a lot harsher with her words, more disciplined on how each of the children should behave. Daphne had learned the hard way how to deal with her aunt, and she wasn’t looking forward to being in conflict with her over the marriage.
“I was upset that nobody had come to ask for my own opinion about it,” Daphne said while pulling her underskirts up.
“Well, Dear, we know what your opinion would have been,” Aunt Valerie said. Her voice sounded as though she had tasted something sour and was complaining in disgust. “I would have been wasting my breath if I would have asked you about this match which — may I say — is a very smart match indeed.”
“He is a solicitor, but that is all that I know about the man that I’m supposed to let take care of me in the future,” Daphne said dryly.
“His name is Solomon, he is…a little older than you,” Aunt Valerie said, unable to hide the hesitation in her voice. “But he is a good man with many great connections, but most of all, he’s willing to take care of you and your dowry.”
“And that’s why he is so interested in a spinster from the Tilcott family, whose father is but third in line to inherit an Earlship,” Daphne couldn’t help but chuckle as she spoke.
“Don’t be so rude about a man that you haven’t met yet,” Aunt Valerie scolded her.
Daphne ignored her comment as she put the final layers of her dress over her head and adjusted the way that they sat on top of one another. Finally, she stepped out from behind the screen to let her aunt tie the back of her bodice.
“Sophie was talking about some sort of correspondence that you have with a man from London?” Aunt Valerie said as she started tying up her dress. Daphne held onto one of her bedposts as she did so, noticing just how tight her aunt was making the adjustments.
“That’s my business,” Daphne said while trying to act nonchalant about it. She was angry that Sophie was talking to people in the house so openly about something that was private to her.
“Well, I want it to stop,” Aunt Valerie said. “It will only bring you trouble if you are caught talking to other men while you have a husband.”
“He is only a friend…a pen pal, even,” Daphne said as she turned around to stare at her aunt with wide eyes.
“I don’t care if he’s a footman, what will Solomon say if he finds letters addressed to you from another man?”
“Don’t be so rude about a man that you haven’t met,” Daphne said, remembering what her aunt had said to her.
Daphne couldn’t have been dreading meeting Solomon any more than she already was. She winced as the laces were pulled even tighter.
“Is this really necessary if he has already agreed to marry me?” Daphne asked over her shoulder.
“He has agreed to it, but he could very easily call it off,” her aunt warned her. “Tonight he needs to see that the woman he has been promised is everything that he imagined.”
“Can’t I be that while still being able to breathe?” Daphne dared to ask.
“Daphne, you are seven-and-twenty, this man is eligible, he has money and a good job, there will be many other women there this evening that could easily steal him away from you.”
Daphne didn’t tell her aunt, but she hoped that one of these women would just hurry up and steal him already.
“Now, we are going to have to do something with your hair. Perhaps some blue pins, to match your eyes and your dress, Solomon won’t dare to look at another woman if you have your hair pinned up.”
The back of her neck felt bare and cold while her blonde curls were pinned back and kept at bay. Daphne wanted nothing more than to tear the small drops of blue from her hair and let it fall loose over her shoulders.
The closer the time drew to the start of the ball, the quicker that her heart started to pound. Daphne was nervous. She didn’t want to marry, she had always made that clear. She had successfully navigated many years of her life without having to find a suitor, favoring her family over love. But it was clear that her time had finally run out.
She thought of Elton and how dull her life would be if she was not allowed to write to him anymore. He was someone that she could confide in who knew nothing of her life or her family. He never judged or knew of the full consequences of actions, Daphne knew that she would miss writing to him. It was a thrill that she had come to look forward to; waiting every week for the post to arrive, she would instantly recognize his handwriting and take the letter up to her chamber, or disappear into the gardens to read it.
She wasn’t sure if he would even respond again after the letter that Sophie had sent to him, and so she smiled sadly at the thought of a man out there having no idea what she even looked like, pouring over a letter that she hadn’t written.
“There,” her aunt said as she stepped away from her. “You look beautiful, Daphne. You’re really going to capture Solomon’s heart tonight, I just know it.”
Daphne wasn’t sure what to make of her aunt’s comments, she could be unusually affectionate, but it was only when she wanted something.
“Thank you,” Daphne said while staring at herself in the mirror and forcing her lips into a smile. She just couldn’t bring herself to be excited about the thought of going to a ball that evening. Since the death of her mother, she hadn’t wanted to be social and mingle with other members of Society. She simply wanted to stay in the library for the rest of her life and get lost in another adventure, the kind that was so incredible and more imaginative than anything that could ever happen in her own life.
“I’ll be waiting downstairs, but the carriage is ready to go.”
Daphne took a few deep breaths as she listened as the sound of her aunt’s footsteps grew fainter. She couldn’t believe that she was making a public appearance, and she cringed at the thought of all the eyes that would no doubt be on her — especially after what Sophie had told her.
“She isn’t lying, you do look lovely,” Sophie said as she leaned on the doorframe.
“Thank you, Sophie,” Daphne said as she smiled sadly at her younger sister.
“Just keep your chin up and don’t think about the other women in the room. This man has chosen you, and I don’t think he will be disappointed,” she said encouragingly.
“But I don’t want to marry this man,” Daphne admitted to her.
“Then you must find this Elton sometime soon, you should write to him when you get back from the ball and ask him to meet you somewhere,” Sophie said, growing excited by her own idea.
“You don’t understand, I don’t want to marry anyone, especially not this Solomon that Aunt Valerie has picked out for me,” Daphne said while sighing heavily.
“You’re going to have to marry someone, I think she’s made that clear by now. You may as well try to make it someone you want to marry before it’s too late.”
Daphne pondered over her sister’s words as they descended the main stairs of the house and out the front door where a carriage was waiting for her.
“I’ll see you when you get back tonight,” Sophie said as she stopped walking toward the carriage. “Good luck.”
Daphne ignored the concern in her sister’s voice, she didn’t want to think about the older man that would be waiting for her at the ball. Her thoughts were still with the man who she wrote letters to, a man that she didn’t even know in person, yet she was starting to latch onto the idea of him more than she would care to admit.
Her aunt was waiting for her in the carriage, and her brother was at the door. Daphne managed to smile at him while he nodded his head. William was stiff, and his lips were pressed into a tight line. She used his outstretched hand to give her some support with stepping into the carriage, not looking back at him as she sat down in her seat and stared out of the window. Her brother climbed in after her, but Daphne continued to ignore everyone in the carriage.
Daphne was sure that her aunt would have something to say about her reluctant attitude once they were on the road, but she was already preparing herself to appear unfazed.
“You ought to smile more when we arrive,” Aunt Valerie said as the horses started off, pulling their carriage behind them. “It will do you no good to be sad, people will only talk more.”
Daphne continued to stare out of the window as their family home grew smaller in the distance. “How long will we spend at this ball?” Daphne asked while finally turning to look at her aunt.
“You will win no favors with that attitude,” Aunt Valerie said and sniffed. The older woman had developed a habit of looking down her nose at people, and that habit was starting to include her own family too.
Daphne returned her gaze to the passing landscape. In her mind she was praying that the carriage would hit a bump in the road, trapping the wheel, or perhaps becoming stuck in the mud. She knew that it was wishful thinking since it hadn’t rained all week, but a delay could mean that they would have to abandon all attempts at getting to the ball, and that was a thought that appealed to her greatly.
But the journey wore on. Eventually the fields of countryside were replaced by small towns and hamlets that became more and more frequent. The sunlight was fading, and it made London a lot easier to see in the distance as it drew closer. The peaks of church spires and the lights in the streets were still a shock to Daphne, no matter how many times she visited the City.
She found it such a jarring setting compared to their family home in the country that was always surrounded by quiet. The bustle of the City excited her, but it wasn’t enough to lift her spirits as they approached the stately Manor that was hosting the ball that evening. They weren’t late, they weren’t exactly early, but they were on time. Daphne couldn’t believe that the horses had made such a good time in bringing them to the City, she had thought that they would help her succeed in not making it in time.
“All right, time to put that smile on your face,” her aunt nodded to her as the carriage finally came to a stop. Daphne refrained from grimacing, keeping her head down as the door to their carriage was opened by one of the footmen.
A ball awaited her, a magical place where people should feel thrilled to even get an invite to such an event. Yet Daphne felt as though she was boarding a carriage that was going to take her to her own version of Hell.
Elton stared around the vast expanse of the ballroom with a look of disgust on his face. His posture was immaculate, his boots glinted in the fine lighting from above, and to all other guests at the ball, he looked as though he was enjoying himself. But Elton couldn’t have been more bored.
He hated the balls that he was forced to attend; there was so much unnecessary pomp, so much that didn’t need to happen. He was sick of dancing with women that only wanted him because he was a Duke, and his title would serve their families better than the marriage would serve him. He didn’t want to just get married to one of the women who loved power that stalked the ball carefully, picking out only the best men to fill their dance card.
“No, I’m quite tired,” Elton put his hand up to the woman approaching him. He hadn’t even stopped to look at who she was, but he could already tell that she would bore him. Once they got the prize of being a Duchess, he was sure that none of them would show an interest in him. He was there to raise their status in Society.
The woman walked off without another word, but Elton didn’t feel bad for how he had treated her. He simply shrugged and continued to stare at the group of people that were gliding around the dance floor. The music was cheerful, not matching his sour mood, and Elton found himself constantly glancing down at his pocket watch to see how much longer he would have to endure.
The end of the music signaled that another dance would be starting up shortly. The end of each song was beginning to ignite a dread within the Duke as he continued to stare straight ahead, wishing no woman to invite him to dance. His dance card had been filled for him by one of his men, or perhaps it had been his brother, but Elton had no intention of dancing.
“Ah, Your Grace, I was wondering if I might—”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to remain seated for the rest of the night,” Elton cut the woman off, again, not even bothering to look at her. “My feet are sore, and my dinner has become much less agreeable as this evening continues.”
He turned only to see the slight look of disgust that crossed her features. Elton had to suppress a smile as she turned on her heels and quickly moved away from him.
He was once more left alone in peace, just how he liked it. Elton smiled to himself as the music started up again, more couples moving to the floor, he was pleased to have dodged yet another dance.
He knew that he couldn't go on like that though. People were beginning to stare at him, and he didn’t like the quizzical looks that he was receiving as to why he was sitting down and not taking part in the ball.
Finally, he rose from his chair as the music started to pick up, hoping that not too many people would notice his movement. However, just as he started for the door on the other side of the hall, someone bumped his arm.
“Forgive me, Your Grace,” the woman said while looking up at him through her lashes. “I did not see you there.”
“It’s all right,” Elton tried to brush it off and move past the young woman, but he felt her hand on his arm.
“If I could make it up to you—”
He couldn’t help but look down at her with wide eyes as her hand gently caressed his arm. It wasn’t appropriate, and if anyone had seen the encounter, Elton knew that he would soon be the talk of such a nosy City.
“There will be no need,” he said rather curtly. The flirtatious smile on her lips quickly disappeared as she averted her eyes elsewhere. He remembered his brother’s advice that some women would want more than just a dance from him that evening.
Elton continued until he was at the door and quickly moved out of the loud room. The corridors were like a maze, but this wasn’t the first ball that the family had hosted, and it also wasn’t the first ball that Elton had needed to escape from.
He quickly navigated through the Manor to the best of his knowledge, seeking out a particular room where nobody would disturb him. The large Manor was built to hold such extravagant events, but it was the library that captivated Elton the most. It had the most elaborate collections that he had ever seen, and the room itself was designed with reading in mind. It hosted little crooks and corners that were perfect to take a book from the shelves and escape.
He turned the door knob and quickly moved inside, closing the door behind him to not give away that he had gone inside.
“Finally,” he breathed out to himself as he leaned against the closed door and took in the vast amount of shelves and stairs up to the two-level library. The room smelled of dust and that sharp tang of old book, the covers opposite the large windows were kissed by the sun, their words slightly more faded than others.
Elton liked being the only person to enjoy such a room, it felt as though he didn’t have to be the Duke of Hearton, who everybody seemed to expect him to be all of the time. While in the library, had the ability to be anybody he wanted to be; a knight on an important journey across Spain, a lover from a rival family, a man who wants to be king. He let his finger trail along the spines of the books as he started walking among the shelves, but it was the letters in his pockets that he really wanted to read. Though there was so much to explore within the library, Elton had his corner of preference.
He crossed the room, moving close to the back of it and not completely in the line of sight of anyone who might come through the door and interrupt him. Elton smiled to himself as he sat down in one of the seats and let the cushion mold around his body.
The letters in his pocket were like some kind of reassurance to him, they comforted him, especially on nights like this. The last thing that he wanted was to dance with another woman, and so he sought comfort in the written words of the letters.
His pen pal was perhaps one of the only women in the world that he didn’t mind talking to. She was clever and witty, but he would have been lying if he’d said that her most recent letter hadn’t shocked him a little.
Elton hadn’t been able to place what it was, but the letter was so much more open and honest than any of the others had been. The tone was slightly different, and it was almost as though she had suddenly found out about his title. Daphne didn’t know of his title, or at least she hadn’t yet mentioned it in her letters. Elton didn’t mention it in his own letters back to her; he didn’t want her knowing like the rest of the women, he liked that she simply enjoyed corresponding with him without knowing he was a duke.
“Elton?” He stopped re-reading over the letters at the sound of his brother’s voice.
“Elton, I know you’re in here,” his brother called from the door of the library. “I saw you come up this way and I know that there’s nowhere else you would have gone.”
Elton stayed quiet, remaining around the slight corner so that his brother would have to venture further into the room if he really wanted to find him. Much to his disappointment, the sound of his brother’s boots was getting closer.
He held his breath, remaining in his seat while trying to fold the letters up so that his brother wouldn’t see them.
“Ah, why do you hide from such an event?” his brother Edmund asked him. He was younger than Elton, and yet he liked to walk around with the kind of self-inflated ego that Elton would not choose for company if he weren’t of his own blood.
“I’m bored of these women wanting dances with me,” Elton grumbled.
“It sounds like you have such a problem,” Edmund said dryly as he shook his head. “Why not try and save some for the rest of us?”
“You can have them all, I’m not interested,” Elton said while throwing his hands up.
“Then your title is wasted on you,” Edmund tutted. “What are you doing in here anyway?”
“I’m just…reading,” Elton said as he watched his brother’s eyes moved to the papers in his lap.
“You’re reading those letters again, aren’t you?” Edmund asked. “The ones from that girl.”
“Yes, they’re from a girl,” Elton said. “But it’s not like that, it’s a friendly correspondence that we have.”
“And you would want more from her?” Edmund asked while cocking up an eyebrow. “She seems too cheeky for you, Brother.”
Elton straightened up at his brother's comment and frowned slightly.
“I never told you that,” Elton said as he rose from his seat, placing the letters back in his jacket pocket. “How could you know that her letters are sometimes like that?”
“I…I—” Edmund swallowed thickly as he stared at his older brother. “I may have seen a few of the letters with my own eyes.”
“You were sneaking around my things!” Elton said while raising his voice slightly.
“No, they were left on your desk. I was helping to clear things, I thought they were other letters, but as I read them—”
“You had no right,” Elton said. His eyes were narrowed at his brother and his fists were clenched.
I’m sorry, you’re right, but I’ve come for another reason,” Edmund said as he straightened up a little and quickly tried to change the subject. “You need to come back to the ball, guests are asking for you.”
“That’s exactly why I don’t want to go back to the ball,” Elton said while groaning.
“You need to be seen dancing with women here, not hanging onto this woman who writes to you,” his brother said.
“But she is the only woman that I find interesting,” Elton responded quickly. “If she were here, I would dance with her all night.”
“I thought that you said it was just friendly correspondence?” Edmund asked while cocking his head to the side.
“I…it is at the moment,” Elton nodded slowly. He would have been lying if he said that he didn’t want it to be more. Nobody in London intrigued him like Daphne, but he didn’t want to cross that boundary in case she didn’t feel the same way and would stop writing back to him. It made him feel slightly nauseous that she could one day just stop responding to his letters. That would be worse than having never known her at all.
“We need you back at the ball,” Edmund tried again.
“I don’t want to dance,” Elton said a little louder than before.
“Then just come and speak with some men who have arrived,” Edmund groaned. “William Tilcott is down there with a group of solicitors, I’m sure that they would be pleased to see you.”
“You know how I feel about damned solicitors,” Elton grumbled. He would have rather entertained the idea of dancing with money-hungry women than speak with such men.
“Come on, just come back down, people will start to ask questions about where we have both gone,” Edmund urged his brother once more.
“I don’t want to speak with a group of men who disagree with me,” Elton said while putting his foot down.
“You’re going to have to let this go,” Edmund said. “Our parent’s death was ruled an accident, the men downstairs can’t all be wrong.”
“But there are just things that don’t add up,” Elton said quickly. “There are things that don’t make sense and that were overlooked throughout the investigation. I’ve actually just uncovered—”
“Elton, just please come down to the ball and I will hear of your new theories on the journey home?”
Elton stopped for a moment and stared at his brother. Edmund had always been better suited to the life of a duke than him; he was the one who had no guilt in spending their fortune, he could see the way that Edmund wished it was he who the ladies fawned over.
“Fine,” Elton said eventually, knowing that they would just go around in circles for the rest of the night if he didn’t go with his brother.
“Just don’t play investigator in front of William and the others, just try to enjoy yourself. It’s a ball! Enjoy the music, the ladies—”
Elton had to stop himself from rolling his eyes at his brother’s words as they started back toward the main hall. Their parents had died in what had been ruled by the solicitors he was about to talk with as an accident, but Elton just couldn’t move the thought from his head that something bad had happened. His frown deepened as he walked toward the hall, unsure if he was being unreasonable or not. No matter what he thought, he knew that he didn’t like solicitors at all. There was perhaps only one thing that he hated more than a solicitor, a group of them.
Daphne cringed as she looked around the lavish ball. The music was slightly too loud and made it difficult to hear herself think. She didn’t like the way that people were already looking in the direction of her family, the most recent arrivals.
Her brother was quick to find the men who worked as solicitors too, greeting them and managing to escape from their aunt. But Daphne wasn’t granted such a luxury, she knew that the only way she could get away from her aunt was if she were to meet with the man who would marry her soon.
Her stomach felt tight as she tried not to think about the many pairs of eyes that were still on her. Daphne swallowed thickly and kept her gaze down as she followed her aunt through the crowd to where the refreshments were positioned. She had lost her appetite the moment that her aunt announced they would be attending the ball, but it was clear that Aunt Valerie was still hungry.
“You should eat something or you will feel faint later,” her aunt pointed out as they remained seated for a while. She could tell that her aunt was glancing around constantly in search of Solomon, and Daphne could only sense the feeling of dread rising within her.
“I’m fine for the moment, thank you,” Daphne said as she sucked in another deep breath. The lacing at her back making it slightly harder to relax since she felt so constricted by her own gown.
“All right, well I suppose that you will want to keep your good figure for Solomon,” Aunt Valerie said, causing Daphne to flush slightly. “He should be here already, but perhaps he was delayed on the road.”
Daphne tried not to think about how relieved she was that Solomon was running late, it gave her the perfect opportunity to stall even longer by hiding away for a while.
“I’m just going to get some air,” Daphne muttered to her aunt while slowly standing up.
“Oh, but I can see Solomon’s entourage coming through the door now!” she exclaimed while brushing the crumbs from her lap and quickly rising from her seat.
Daphne turned to view the man that she would be marrying without having a say in it as he arrived at the ball on the other side of the room. Her eyes widened and her heart dropped at the sight before her.
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