About the book
He loved every part of her, even those she hid from the world…
With her father on death’s door, Lady Annalise Langley must find a husband before the year is out. A task a lot more daunting than she had anticipated, she must renounce her wild ways. Like a whisper from the past, an old nickname returns to haunt her.
Carlisle Mullens, the Marquess of Stowerling, never cared much for his reputation as a rake. Until the day Lady Annalise reenters his life and in the race for her hand, he finds himself in second place.
When an urgent letter from Annalise’s father pushes for her immediate wedding, Carlisle knows he must act fast. Annalise’s life has been traded for an inheritance that never existed, and the knives in her back are signed by a familiar name.
Carlisle Mullens drained his drink and rose to his feet, pushing the glass back across the bar toward the bartender who had been serving him. “Thank you for your hospitality, as always,” he said. “It’s time I returned home.”
“Are you sure I can’t tempt you with another?” the bartender asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Quite sure,” Carlisle said. “Tomorrow ought to be a busy day for me, if all goes as I think it will, and I want to be well rested.”
The bartender nodded and accepted the glass. “As you wish, My Lord,” he said. “Is your coachman here to take you home?”
“No,” Carlisle said. “It’s a short walk for me, though. In fact, I sent my coachman home when he brought me here. I’d prefer the opportunity to get a little fresh air and sort through my thoughts, and I’ll be home in no time at all.”
“Well, get yourself home safely, My Lord,” the bartender said. “These streets can be a little rough after dark, even—perhaps especially—for a marquess.”
“You’re good to be concerned for me,” Carlisle said. “But truly, there’s no need. I know this part of town like the back of my hand.”
And besides, my worries won’t start until tomorrow. Walking home is nothing compared to what I’ll have to face then.
“Good evening to you,” he said to the bartender. He pulled on his coat and headed for the door to the club. Although the walk home would be short, as he had said, he was eager to get started. White’s was a fine enough place—it was his favorite club, in fact—but tonight it simply hadn’t driven the worries from his mind the way it usually did.
Then again, he supposed he had quite a bit more to worry about tonight than he usually did.
Don’t think about it, he told himself sternly. He could die a thousand deaths worrying about what might happen tomorrow, but in the end, he had no control over it. Whatever happened would happen, and Carlisle would respond as best he could when it did.
Until then, the best thing he could do was to relax, clear his mind, and get a good night’s sleep.
Out on the street, people were still approaching White’s, still getting their evenings started. Laughing young gentlemen, most of them a few years older than Carlisle himself, made their way to the club, some of them alone, others in packs.
It wasn’t so long ago that Carlisle himself would have been a part of one of those packs. He would have been making his way from one club to another with a group of acquaintances, ready for a night of drinking and gambling and smoking cigars. They would have shared stories about the young ladies they had their eyes on…
It was like looking at himself through a window, remembering that time. It felt like another lifetime.
But it was so recent. Not long ago at all.
So deep in thought was he that he didn’t even notice the footsteps behind him. He had turned onto a quiet street, the kind of street where he could reasonably have expected to be the only person around at this time of night. And yet, he didn’t register that someone was here—following him—until the footsteps accelerated.
Then he realized—someone was running behind him.
His first instinct was curiosity. He turned to see who it might be—a friend, perhaps, hoping to catch up to him and say good evening?
But the figure’s face was obscured by a hood. Carlisle had no way of determining who it was.
Just as fear began to take hold, the hooded figure reached Carlisle and drew his hand out from within his cloak. The moonlight glinted on a silver blade.
Knife! Carlisle thought in sudden alarm.
He turned to run, but a sharp pain in his right shoulder stopped him. He grunted in shock, and his stomach lurched at the wrongness of the sensation of a knife withdrawing from his body.
Then the real pain washed over him, leaving him dizzy. His knees buckled, and he very nearly fell to the ground. He staggered, doing his best to move away from the hooded man, but it was hard to control himself.
The man had put his knife away. He had a burlap sack in his hands now. He lifted it in the air as Carlisle watched dumbly.
Then he began to lower it over Carlisle’s head.
Horror surged through Carlisle. He was being kidnapped!
He struck out with his fists, beating at his assailant, tripping over his feet and finally forcing himself into a run. He couldn’t let this happen.
Not now. Not when I’ve finally started to turn my life around. Everything was just about to change for the better. I can’t let this happen.
He staggered away down the street, conscious of the fact that he was bleeding, trying desperately to keep his wits about him. There were no people on this road—none but his pursuer, that was. He needed to find his way back to a more public place. If there were witnesses, they could prevent him from being taken. They could help him.
His arm began to feel numb. He wasn’t sure if it was his mind blocking the excruciating pain he had felt, or if the knife had done some kind of serious damage. He wanted to reach back with his other hand, to see how much blood he was losing, but he was afraid to stop running.
His head swam. His breath came in short, painful gasps.
He rounded a corner and felt a burst of relief for a moment—he had escaped the abandoned road, he had made it back to a populated area. He was going to be all right.
But his relief was quickly followed by an overwhelming surge of despair.
He had gotten lost somehow. It seemed impossible, in this town that he knew so well. He hadn’t been lost here since he was a child. And yet, it had happened. He must have gotten turned around. He was sure his body was functioning on pure fear by now. It felt miraculous to him that he was still on his feet at all.
His pursuer rounded the corner, burlap bag in hand, bearing down on him.
And this time, Carlisle didn’t have the strength to fight him off.
He tried. He raised his uninjured arm, shielding his face, hoping to prevent the bag from being placed over his head, but the hooded man was taller and stronger than he was. He shoved the bag down hard, cruelly knocking Carlisle’s arm aside, and tightened it around his neck.
Carlisle tried to pull away. If he could put some distance between himself and the man, he could tear the thing off. He could keep running. He could still get away—
He felt himself fall. A moment later, hard ground slammed into him as if it had leapt up to slap him. He cried out and tried to scramble to his feet, knowing that he had only moments to save himself now.
He was too late. A heavy presence settled above him, weighing him down, keeping him from moving.
The dizziness and nausea that Carlisle had been keeping at bay since he’d been stabbed overwhelmed him now, and he groaned and gagged. He forced himself to breathe deeply. The last thing he wanted was to vomit while he had this bag over his head.
There was a foot on his chest, he realized. That was what the weight he felt was. Someone—the hooded man, no doubt—was pressing down on him with his boot, holding him to the ground.
Carlisle groaned again. He pushed at the boot with his hands, feeling how weak his own efforts were. It was like trying to accomplish something while extremely drunk. He was too disoriented to do himself any good.
The boot was lifted of its own accord. Or perhaps it had been gone for some time. Carlisle realized he had begun to lose track of his surroundings. He tried to lift his hand to his face to remove the bag that had been placed over his head and found, to his surprise and alarm, that his hands had been tied together. When he tried to lift one, they both raised, and his injured shoulder protested.
I must have been unconscious. But for how long? And if I missed having my hands tied, what else might I have missed?
He tried to roll onto his stomach, hoping that if he could get his legs under him he might still be able to run away.
It was a fruitless endeavor, though. He realized that almost immediately. His assailant wasn’t even trying to stop him. Under ordinary circumstances, he might have been able to get to his feet that way, but he was too lightheaded. He couldn’t keep his mind on what he was trying to accomplish for more than a few moments.
And his feet were tied. At some point, whoever was attacking him had tied his feet.
If only I’d made it back to the public road.
His memories were blurry—he suspected the blood loss was to blame—but he did remember that he had unwittingly turned from one deserted road onto another. He was far away, now, from any main thoroughfares. He was somewhere this villain felt safe in standing here tying him up without fear of being seen by a constable or a passerby.
“Who are you?” he tried to say, but the words were muffled and incoherent. He could barely understand them himself. So he was unsurprised when he received no answer.
Instead, a firm kick landed against his hip. Carlisle grunted in pain.
“Quiet,” a low voice said. “If you can’t keep quiet, I’m going to have to knock you out, and I really don’t want to do that, unless you make me.”
Carlisle didn’t think he was going to be conscious much longer anyway. His vision was tunneling, his nausea building. The inside of the burlap bag over his head was a light brown color, but right now all he could see were big black spots.
His assailant’s hand closed around his ankle, and he began to drag Carlisle along.
Carlisle couldn’t help it—he let out a scream of pain. His injured shoulder was now dragging along the road. It was excruciating.
The man stopped and dropped Carlisle’s feet. Though he couldn’t see, Carlisle sensed his nearness as he bent over and brought his lips close to Carlisle’s ear.
“You know I have a knife,” he said. “You think you’re in pain now? I promise you, you could be in a whole lot more. Don’t scream again unless you want to test me.”
He stood, took Carlisle’s leg again, and resumed dragging him.
Carlisle bit down on the inside of his cheek until his mouth filled with blood, determined not to make another sound. He was in a bad situation, it was true, but things could always get worse.
Right now he had a shoulder wound. It was painful, but he forced himself to think through the pain.
He clearly wants me alive. He has a knife. He has the opportunity he would need to murder me here and now, but he’s chosen not to do it.
That was both comforting and fear-inducing. Why would this person want to capture him alive? What did he hope to accomplish?
Whatever’s happening to me here, what will happen next will undoubtedly be worse.
But it wouldn’t be worse than being murdered in the street. As long as he was alive, there was hope.
So even as the pain in his arm threatened to overwhelm him and his body felt sapped of every last ounce of strength, Carlisle forced himself not to cry out. Not to fight.
It was the only way to ensure he would have a chance to fight later.
Six Weeks Earlier…
Annalise Langley sat out in the garden at Oakenfield Manor, feeling as though she didn’t belong.
The flowers here were so carefully groomed and tended. She had observed the gardeners as they worked, carefully pruning away any offending stems, removing the weeds that tended to encroach, ensuring that the garden was picture perfect.
At nineteen years of age, Annalise knew that she had never been picture perfect.
Most of the time, she was able to forget. She could run wild on her father’s property, enjoying the generous freedom he permitted her without worrying about her disheveled appearance.
She shook her head. It didn’t matter what anyone else said, what anyone else thought. It didn’t matter that when she went into town, she heard whispers of “ugly duck” behind her back. She didn’t care for any of them anyway.
Edith, her aging governess, was bustling across the lawn. Annalise half wished she could get to her feet and run down to the brook that ran behind the Manor, that she could hide herself among the reeds as she had so often done when she was a child. Whatever Edith wanted, she was sure, it would not be pleasant.
I wonder if all young ladies have such contentious relationships with their governesses, or if it’s just me.
“Lady Annalise,” Edith called as she approached. “Your father is asking for you.”
That was enough to bring Annalise to her feet. Though she found Edith tiresome and chafed against her authority, she adored her father and would have done nearly anything to make him happy. She knew all too well how devastating the loss of her mother had been for him. In a way, she considered it her duty to compensate for that absence in his life.
“What does he need?” she asked.
Edith eyed her hawkishly. “To speak with you.”
Annalise simmered with frustration. Edith was always so determined to make things as difficult as possible. Why couldn’t she just answer the question?
But of course, she knew why. Her governess felt that young ladies shouldn’t question their fathers. That had been made clear on countless occasions.
“Where is he?” she asked. “I’ll go to him at once.”
“He’s in the sitting room,” Edith said.
Annalise started to hurry toward the Manor.
Edith stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “If you ever listen to me in your life, child, let it be now,” she said. “Do as your father wishes. He has earned that much regard from his only daughter.”
Annalise frowned. What was her father going to ask of her? It must be something difficult, if Edith was afraid that Annalise would not comply.
Nervous now, she made her way across the grounds and up to the Manor door. The sitting room was on the first floor, on the left side of the foyer, and the door stood open. As Annalise hurried over, she caught a glimpse of her father, seated in his favorite chair.
For the first time, it truly struck her that he was beginning to look old.
Perhaps she hadn’t looked at him closely enough lately. His face was gaunt, giving him the hollowed out look of someone who has lost a considerable amount of weight in a short time. His hair was gray and thinning. He gazed off into the distance as if burdened by something.
“Father?” she said.
He looked at her, and his eyes seemed to come to life. A smile spread across his face. Annalise saw the younger man he had been. “Annalise,” he said fondly. “Come and sit with me, daughter.”
She did as he’d asked. He reached over and pulled a leaf from the tangles of her hair, holding it up to show her. “You’ve been running wild again, I see.”
“It’s a beautiful day outside,” she said.
He nodded, glancing back toward the window. “I can see that it is,” he agreed. “But Annalise—you are beyond the time in your life when you can simply play freely, without a care. You are a young lady now. You must begin to act like one.”
“What do you want me to do, Father?” she asked. If he instructed her not to go down to the brook anymore…well, she didn’t know if she could bear it. It was her favorite place in the world.
“The Season is beginning,” he said. “There will be balls and parties…” He closed his eyes for a moment, as if he was remembering something. “I met your mother at just such a party, many years ago.”
Annalise never tired of hearing her father talk about her mother. She had been so young when her mother had died that she hardly remembered anything about her. Her father’s reminiscences were the only thing that kept her alive.
But her father opened his eyes again, and his face was set. “I want you to attend the social events this Season, Annalise. I want you to present yourself to the other members of society as the young lady you are, not as the wild girl you’ve allowed yourself to become.”
She shook her head. “Father…I thought we agreed that I would be permitted to wait until I’m ready to have a Season.”
He raised his eyebrows. “We never discussed that,” he said. “I have been lenient with you all your life, Annalise. I’ve allowed you to put this off. Perhaps I should have been more stern. Perhaps I should have done a better job of controlling you. Lord knows your governess has had a hard time of it throughout the years.”
“Is that what this is about?” Annalise asked. “Did Edith say something about my behavior? Are you punishing me?”
“Punishing you.” Her father shook his head. “Just the fact that you see it as a punishment shows me how badly this is needed.” He looked up at her. “Aren’t you ready to be rid of your governess? A young lady of nineteen years really shouldn’t have need of one.”
“I’ve wanted to dismiss her,” Annalise said. “You know I have. And I’m sure she would be more than happy to go and find a new position.”
“So she would,” Annalise’s father agreed. “She has told me as much. But you know how I feel about this. I want you to have a governess until your first Season. And it’s long since time you made an appearance in society.”
“I don’t want this, Father,” Annalise said. “I’m not ready.”
Her father reached out and took her hand. “Tell me why. What worries you?”
“I’ll lose my freedom,” she said. He could argue the fact, but she knew she was right. “I have the ability to spend my time as I see fit now. I know you don’t always approve, but truly, I do things that are worthwhile.”
“I know you do,” he allowed. “You may feel badly because I scold you for running rampant, but I see you educating yourself as well. I see the hours you spend in the library, reading and learning. You must be the most well-read young lady of your age for miles.”
“And you would have me leave that behind,” she said. “You would ask me to put on pretty gowns and parade myself in front of the ton for gentlemen to stare at?”
“It’s more than staring that interests me,” her father said. “Gentlemen may stare—in fact, they will—but what I want is to find someone who wishes to marry you, hopefully by the end of the Season.”
“Father, I’m only nineteen!” Annalise was struck dumb. Having her first Season was one thing, but that he actually wished her to marry this year—nothing could have prepared her for that.
“A year older than your mother was when we married,” he pointed out. “I had so little time with her…”
“Is that why you’re in a hurry to see me married?” she asked. She didn’t want to be indelicate. She knew the loss of her mother pained her father to this day. But that was hardly a reason to rush her own engagement.
But her father shook his head. “No,” he said. “Your mother’s death isn’t what I’m concerned about. Not now.”
“Then what is it?” Annalise asked.
He closed his eyes briefly. “The physician has just been to see me, Annalise,” he said.
“Are you ill?” She frowned, taking in his appearance again. She had noticed that he wasn’t looking well, hadn’t she? “What’s wrong?”
“I’m dying,” he said, quietly and frankly.
His words hit her like a slap. “Father—what do you mean?”
“I mean what I say,” he said gently. “Oh, Annalise. I wish I did not have to give you this news. You’re too young to lose both of your parents. But I have to tell you, because you have to be aware. The physician was unable to figure out what’s causing my illness, unable to provide any sort of treatment or cure. I have only a few months to live.”
“And you ask me to attend parties?” Her eyes filled with tears. “Father, I couldn’t possibly do that. I need to be here with you.”
“No,” he said. “The only thing I worry about now is that you will be provided for when I’m gone. Once I know that you will be, I’ll be able to die happy. It’s all I want. I must see you married before this illness claims me. I must know that you won’t be left alone.”
Annalise was trembling. What he was asking of her—it was too much. She would have found it difficult to endure the social events of the Season under the best of circumstances. She knew that she would have found them shallow and dull, and she would have been hard-pressed to care at all about the people who attended.
But now that she knew her father was ill, the idea of participating in such trivial pastimes felt obscene. How could she worry about gowns and dancing when her days with him grew short? How could she even think about marrying at a time like this?
But how could she refuse him?
She had never been able to refuse her father anything. And it occurred to her now that this was probably the last thing he would ever ask of her.
At that thought, the tears she had been holding back finally spilled over.
“Oh, Annalise,” he said, holding out his arms. “Don’t cry.”
“I can’t lose you, Father,” she wept, embracing him.
“All I need is to be sure you’ll have a good life,” he said. “Will you do that for me? Will you attend this Season’s events and try to find yourself a husband?”
“Of course, Father,” Annalise said. “I’ll do whatever you ask of me. You know that.”
But in her mind, a tiny seed of resistance had been planted.
She wouldn’t argue with what he was asking of her. She wouldn’t do anything to make him feel badly. If her time with him was limited, Annalise wanted it to be as pleasant as possible.
But she certainly wasn’t going to be spending any evenings in the near future out at parties or balls worrying about making an impression on young gentlemen. She would stay at home and spend her father’s remaining days in his company.
She would just have to hope that he would forget this mad plan to see her married by the end of the Season. But if he didn’t forget, Annalise was sure she was capable of distracting him. Diverting him. When he asked about her progress, she would simply give him vague answers that would reassure him that she was working toward the goal he had set for her.
She would make him comfortable. She would reassure him.
But she would not allow the social events of the Season to tear her away from her father during his last days.
Annalise’s determination to circumvent her father’s request lasted until dinner the following evening.
He waited until the wine had been poured, then set down his fork and looked at her across the table. “I’ve come to a decision, Annalise,” he said.
“Have you?” she asked mildly, but her heart fluttered. Could this decision have something to do with his treatment? Perhaps he had decided to try a radical approach to dealing with his illness. Perhaps there was still hope that he might overcome it and be made well again!
Her hopes were dashed with his next words. “I’ve decided to send you to stay with your old friend, Lady Burmstone.”
“Eloise?” Annalise asked. She shook her head. “You can’t send me to Eloise, Father. She lives in London. That’s much too far away.”
“And that’s why I must send you,” her father said. “You need to be where the social events are happening, Annalise, if we are to find you a husband. London is the only fitting place for you at this time in your life.”
“But I can’t go without you,” Annalise protested.
Her father nodded. “I had always hoped that you and I would make the journey together, when the time came,” he said. “You know how very much I would have liked to be there with you. But it isn’t to be. My health won’t permit me to travel. You’ll have to go without me. Have no fear. I know the Baroness will take excellent care of you.”
“I’m not afraid of London, Father!” Annalise said. “But you told me just yesterday—you said—”
She broke off, unable to give voice to the thing he had told her. She felt as though, by speaking the news of her father’s imminent death aloud, she would invite it somehow. She would make it come true.
Her father seemed to understand. “I know what I said,” he told her. “I understand why that makes it difficult for you. Truly, I do.”
“It’s not a matter of it being difficult,” Annalise said firmly. “I’m not going to go. I refuse to do it.”
Her father shook his head sadly. “I have allowed you your own way for far too long,” he said quietly. “I haven’t taught you your place. You’re lovely, and you have a brilliant mind, but you never learned obedience.”
“No,” she said hotly. “I never did.”
“But you will,” her father said. “You will go to London, Annalise. The matter is decided. Lady Burmstone and her husband have already been informed. Edith is packing your things for you as we speak—her last act as governess. Tomorrow she will leave this Manor forever. And you will leave as well.”
“I can’t do it!” Annalise cried. “Father, what if something happens to you while I’m away? What will I do? I can’t go off to London while you’re so unwell. Don’t force me to do it.”
“I know it feels cruel to you,” her father said gently. “Try to understand. I am sending you away for your own benefit, because I love you. I am ordering you to go so you’ll never have to question whether or not you made the right choice. You had no choice.”
“Father, please,” Annalise said. “You can’t.”
“I can,” her father said. “I already have.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out some papers. He placed them on the table within Annalise’s reach, but she made no move to pick them up. The situation felt as dangerous to her as if he had placed a live snake on the table between them.
“I’ve been in contact with my solicitor,” he said. “I’ve been working on making arrangements for you, in case…in case my death comes early.”
“I don’t want to hear this,” Annalise said.
He met her eyes and held her gaze. She felt helpless to look away, although she very much wanted to do so. “You must hear it, Annalise. These are things you will need to know in the coming weeks, if you are to survive and create a new life for yourself. I will not have my only daughter thrown to the wolves!”
He sounded so agitated, suddenly, that Annalise couldn’t help softening somewhat. “What do the papers say?” she asked.
“They entrust guardianship over you to Baron Burmstone,” her father said.
She felt as if her heart was breaking. “You’re giving me away.”
“I’m doing no such thing,” he told her. “You are my daughter, and always will be. I am merely allowing the Baron the authority to sign your marriage documents when the time comes. I trust that he will see you into good hands. And if, for some reason, you are still unmarried when the Season ends, Lord Burmstone will see to your needs until a marriage can be arranged.”
“I don’t want this, Father,” Annalise said. “I don’t want any of this.”
“I know that,” her father said, his voice heavy with grief. “I don’t want any of this either. I want you to marry when you’re ready to do so, and not a day sooner. I want to be there to meet your husband and see you take your vows. I want the right to turn away any man I deem unworthy of my beloved daughter.”
“But I have to accept that the things I want may not be possible. And you’ve grown up now, Annalise. You’re a young lady. It is time for you to accept the world as it is, and not as you wish it could be.”
Annalise swallowed hard and forced herself to nod. She refused to break down crying in front of her father again. She didn’t want him to see how distraught she was. She wanted to be strong for him.
“You’ll do as I ask?” he questioned.
She nodded. And this time, she meant it. “Yes, Father,” she said. “I’ll attend the parties. I’ll do my best to find a husband. And…and if I can, I will find someone soon. Before you—” Again, she choked on the word she did not want to utter aloud. “In time for you to meet him,” she said.
He nodded. “You’re a good girl,” he said. “No matter what Edith said about you, I always knew you were a good girl. You have a very big heart.”
He nodded. “Some gentleman will be very lucky, indeed, to have your love,” he said. “I feel sure of that.”
“May I be excused?” she asked. “I’d like to go and help Edith pack my things.”
“You haven’t touched your dinner,” he pointed out.
“I’m not very hungry,” she admitted. Emotion always robbed her of her appetite.
Her father nodded. “Very well,” he said. “I will have your plate sent up to your room in case you change your mind.”
Annalise rose from the table and walked quickly into the hall. She managed to reach the stairs that led to the second floor before she burst into hot, angry tears.
It is so unfair!
First, to be told that she would soon lose her father—the only family she had left. He had always been enough for her. He had been all she’d needed. She had been too young when her mother had died to experience any lingering grief, and she had never felt the lack of a family, although her father had chosen not to marry again and she never had any siblings.
When he was gone, what would be left? The servant boys who whispered that she was an ugly duck? Her friend Eloise, two years her senior, who Annalise had not seen since Eloise’s own wedding ball last year?
A mysterious husband who Annalise did not even know?
Her father had expressed concern that Annalise would be alone after his death. But that seemed unavoidable. Who could fill the void in her life that he would leave behind? It seemed an impossible task.
And now she was being sent away to London. She would be unable to sit with him. Unable to play chess with him on rainy afternoons, or to drink tea and ask him the questions she still harbored about her mother.
Perhaps she would never see him again after tomorrow.
The idea filled her with a sickening horror. It was too upsetting to contemplate.
In her chambers, she found Edith carefully arranging her things in her trunk. The governess took one look at her tear-streaked face and set down the gown she had been folding. She crossed the room to Annalise’s side and placed her hands gently but firmly on Annalise’s shoulders.
“You’re very strong,” she said quietly.
Annalise looked up through her tears, surprised. As far as she could recall, Edith had never paid her a compliment before.
“You’re prepared for this,” Edith told her. “I know it doesn’t feel like it right now. I know it feels like your whole world is turning upside down. But I have known you since you were a child, My Lady. You’ve always been strong of will and strong of spirit. You never could be tamed. It’s a maddening trait in a young lady, but if you are wise, you may be able to use it to your advantage in the weeks to come.”
“How?” Annalise asked.
“I know how much you love your father,” Edith said. “I know how determined you are to make him happy.”
“Yes,” Annalise agreed. In all of this, it was the one thing that had remained constant—her desire to please her father.
“When you reach London, you may be tempted to hide away and focus on the things that are making you sad,” Edith said. “It would be understandable to do that. But it would not be productive or useful. And so I hope, My Lady, that you can be strong. I hope that you can remember what your father needs from you. If you focus your attention on the fact that you are trying to make him happy, you may find it easier to do what needs to be done.”
Annalise nodded. She thought she understood what her governess was saying. It would be difficult to attend parties and balls, to throw herself wholeheartedly into something that was supposed to be fun, knowing that her father was at home living out his final days.
But if she could keep the goal in mind—find a husband, thus making her father happy one last time before the end of his life—she might be able to do it.
At least she could try.
“I’ll miss you, Edith,” she said.
Edith picked up the gown she had been folding and resumed packing Annalise’s trunk. “No, you won’t,” she said matter-of-factly. “You’ve never liked me, and you’ve never liked having a governess. You’ll be pleased to be rid of me.”
“That’s not true,” Annalise protested. All right, so she had chafed against the authority of her governess, and yes, she supposed she would be glad to be done with her, but it was also true that she would miss Edith in certain ways. She would miss her frankness. She would miss having someone who she could feel certain was always being honest with her.
She’s really not herself today at all. First a compliment, and now a smile.
“You’ve been brought up,” Edith said. “You’re a young lady now, about to embark upon her first Season. My work is finished.”
Annalise nodded. Others in her position might have embraced their governesses, she thought, but she and Edith had never had that sort of relationship.
“Farewell, then,” she said as Edith placed the last of her gowns in the trunk and carefully closed the lid. “I hope you enjoy whatever you go on to do.”
“And best of luck to you, My Lady,” Edith said. “I’m sure you’ll find a worthy husband.”
Annalise sat down on her bed and gazed out the window, hoping that Edith was right.
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