The Most Scandalous Lady Preview

About the book

“He burns for her and she burns for him...”

Elizabeth Simmons has learnt from a young age how cruel the world can be. After her parents die, she and her sister are left in the care of their cruel and insufferable cousins, who miss no opportunity to berate them. 

And Elizabeth’s worst nightmare soon comes true as it is announced that she needs to marry a high-rank man. But what she didn’t anticipate was having two suitors —a Duke and a viscount — at the same time who, despite their many flaws, spark a passion she thought was lost. But there is only one man who can truly show her what desire and love means.

But that is all gone once Elizabeth is injured and left for dead. Only one man will be there for her. Who will it be? The powerful and alluring Duke? Or the sensible and desirable Viscount?

Chapter One

“How are you feeling this morning, papa,” asked Elizabeth, her eyes limpid with the care she felt for Harry Simmons, her long-suffering father, the handsome landed gentleman who had lavished his attention on her and her sister Julia since they were orphaned the year before.

“Ah! Lizzie,” he laughed lightly. “You need not fear the Grim Reaper for my part. I am as hale as a horse, and twice as strong.”

“I do not doubt it, father,” said Elizabeth, taking a crumpet and placing it gingerly on her plate. The fact was, she was particularly sensitive to the symptoms of consumption, especially since her mother, Helena, had died of it only the year before. “It is just that you look a trifle tired of late.”

“Well, making sure the family is taken care of requires diligent study,” he said. “And I was working until late last night, burning the midnight oil, as you say. Not to worry though,” he said, coughing into his napkin. “I have secured your futures, regardless of what happens to me.”

“What do you mean, father?” asked Julia, Elizabeth’s sister. As the elder sibling by two years, she had developed many of the characteristics of a domineering older sister, doting on Elizabeth and meting out her plans and ideas for her with great hope. Unlike Elizabeth, though, whose dark hair and luminescent blue eyes made her the most eligible young lady in the Ton, Julia, at one-and-twenty, had a more pragmatic approach to the whole situation. She was pretty, doubtless, but her mousey auburn hair didn’t have the luminescence of Elizabeth’s, and her brown eyes didn't have the glimmer of perfection either. She was also aware that Gideon, her cousin, was set to inherit the fortune her father had made, leaving the two sisters’ futures somewhat unclear.

“It’s only that I was working to make sure all should be taken care of – your dowries, your needs and desires, in the unlikely event that I am taken from you prematurely.

“Father,” exclaimed Elizabeth. “You really mustn’t occupy yourself with these sorts of morbid ideas. As delightful as Gideon is, he is not well house-trained.”

“What do you mean?”

“I never like to complain, father,” said Julia. “But Gideon and his family have a way of leaving their things everywhere. Perry, as delightful as he is, for a child of his tender years, is frightfully…” and here, she looked around to make sure none of Gideon’s family was within earshot. “... messy. And Maurine, Perry’s mother, is not very attentive to his needs. I am forever washing his face or hands, because they have been caked with all manner of dirt.”

“Boys will be boys,” laughed Harry, chuckling himself into a coughing fit. He carefully coughed into his handkerchief, hiding the spots of blood that escaped his lips. It was clear that he was not well, and Elizabeth was never one to embarrass her father in public, but she knew perfectly well that Gideon was not working with him last night, because she saw him return after gallivanting all over the countryside. She knew that he did not return until nearly midnight. Furthermore, she had seen the barouche of Dr. Wetherby leaving late the night before, and suspected that he was there to see to her father’s illness.

After he had composed himself again, he smiled. “Well, I know that Gideon has his foibles, but he has a fine heart and his love of life is quite infectious. Furthermore, I believe strongly that he will be much improved by the country air. He has been too much a city mouse, with his gambling and his club. Riding to the hounds and playing at shuttlecocks is the only remedy for that. Fresh air and sunshine clear the cobwebs!”

There was a stirring in the hallway outside the breakfast room. Raised voices could be heard and there was a scurrying from the servants that boded ill.

Suddenly, Gideon, looking tousled and harried, bounded into the breakfast room, his long hair unkempt and dirty-looking. He was dressed in his going out clothing, which had the distinct look of linens that had been slept in. “Good Lord, but this house rouses early!” he yelped, looking as though he were afraid of the three of them sitting at the table.

“Good morning, dear boy!” said Harry, half rising from the table. “I was just telling my delightful daughters that you and I were hard at work last night, burning the midnight oil.”

“I need a spot of tea before I can face the day!” said Gideon. Maurine, his pinch-faced wife, blundered into the room, trailing a shrieking Perry behind her as though he were a dead weight. “Mamma!” he bellowed with a voice that was far larger than his thin frame should ever be able to produce. “I want a sweetie! A sweetie!”

Maurine ignored him, and tossed him into a chair where his head bashed against the back, causing him to begin his complaints again.

“Dear God, give me some tea! Now, before I lose my temper,” said Gideon above the din. The servants scurried to provide him with his tea, and as Timothy, the serving boy stepped back after pouring half a cup of tea, and Gideon filled the remainder of the handleless cup with brandy from a metal flask he had in his hand. He then wolfed down the hot tea, nearly scalding himself in the process. He then returned it to the saucer with a clang, and sighed, leaning back while his son carried on shrieking.

“What is it you want, Perry?” asked Maurine, as if Perry had not made his desires crystal clear.

“A sweetie!” he bellowed. “A sweeeeeeeeetie!”

Timothy looked at the table, elegantly set with scones and preserves, teacups and saucers, and his eyes danced wildly, desperately looking for something to shut the young boy up. His head shuttled back and forth, realizing he needed to get something else. He ran out of the room and returned within seconds with a large bowl of candied apricots. “Will these please the little lad?” he asked meekly.

“Give them here, you doddering fool!” said Maurine, with a scowl. She ripped the bowl out of the poor servant’s hands and stuffed several of the apricots into Perry’s still shrieking mouth, muffling his cries and, within seconds, silencing him. “Mothering is an art,” she said, looking at Elizabeth and Julia, both of whom looked horrified at this display. They both managed meek smiles as Perry chewed noisily.

“Boy!” said Maurine, gesturing to Timothy. “Get me a muffin.”

“Cook made scones this morning, my lady, and they are first rate,” he said.

“I’m not interested in what ‘cook’ has decided. I want a muffin and I want it now.”

“But there are no muffins to be had, my lady,” said Timothy, with a disheartened look of desperation.

“Maurine!” interrupted Elizabeth, trying to diffuse this awkward conversation. “You must try them. They really are delightful.”

An inhuman moan escaped Maurine’s lips. “Give them here,” she said. Elizabeth noticed that Maurine was looking very tired.

“Did you sleep well last night?” she asked.

“Sleep well?  With this little hellion? Heaven forbid!”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Elizabeth, looking at her father, who was displaying his discomfort with this display by quietly coughing uncontrollably into his handkerchief.

“Nobody cares what I want, so I simply must make do,” she said, snatching several more candied apricots and stuffing them unceremoniously into her son’s mouth, preemptively stopping his cries. With her other hand, she pinioned several crumpets with a fork, transferring them to her plate.

“Father?” said Elizabeth, putting her hand on her father’s arm. “I fear you are not well. You have been working too hard lately. And the strain of losing our mother is wearing on you. I really think it best if you retire to your bedchamber and recuperate.”

“You are correct, Lizzie,” he sighed. “It is a terrible pain to lose the one you love so much. Sometimes the pain is too great to bear, but I have the solace that her two beautiful daughters will be entering society very soon. And my dear nephew, Gideon will aid us in this, as he is a frightfully well-connected fellow, aren’t you, Gideon?”

“Hm?” said Gideon, slathering preserves on several crumpets. “I dare say. I’m a member of the most exclusive club in London.”

“And what club is that, dear cousin?” asked Julia pointedly.

“I’ve been a Brook’s man since I wasn’t of age,” he said with pride.

“Ah. Of course, out here in the wilderness of Surrey, there are no clubs. Makes one wonder what a gentleman such as yourself does by night.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve always been able to entertain myself,” snarled Gideon.

Harry Simmons looked as though he were about to come to the aid of poor Gideon, but he had trouble catching his breath.

“May I help you father?” asked Julia, helping him to his feet.

“Thank you,” he said meekly. “I am terribly sorry about this. I suppose at my age I should know my own strength. Girls, would you be so kind as to help me back to my chamber? I fain would lie down.”

Julia leapt to her feet and helped him by pulling his chair out from under the table. Standing, he leaned heavily on Julia’s arm, and Elizabeth, noting that Gideon was making no move to help, arose too, taking her father’s right arm, thereby helping him out of the room, which had begun once again to echo again with the bellows of young Perry.

“For a lad of only four years, he will make quite the singer,” muttered her father, as he headed to his bedchamber, with his daughters on either side of him.

Elizabeth noted the weakness in his frame and suspected he had been ailing for a while. “Father, I do hope the fresh air here will do you some good. I fear we have been in London too long, and the air here at Ephore Park is much cleaner than smoky London.”

Harry nodded, unable to speak, lest he break into another coughing fit.

When they got him to his room, he sat heavily on the side of his bed. “Daughters,” he said with gravity, reminding Julia of an actor portraying King Lear in his dotage. “I have something rather heavy to discuss with you. I suspect I should have told you this earlier, but I only just heard the news myself last night when Dr. Wetherby was by. The fact is, he believes I am suffering from consumption as well, having contracted it from Helena. He says it is past the stage where I could be effectively treated and told me I must get my affairs in order.”

“Oh father, I am sure that is not so,” said Elizabeth.

“Ah, but it is, I’m afraid. It is true that I was working late to make sure the transition will be smooth after my passing. I had asked Gideon to come to my study and formalize the arrangement, but he had pressing business in Guildford, I am told. But the long and the short of it is that he will inherit my lands and fortune on the understanding that he will take care of you until such time as you are both happily married.” He paused, gasping for air.

Elizabeth patted his hand, which was cold and feeble. “We understand, father, and we have every confidence that Gideon realizes the trust you are putting in him.”

Downstairs in the breakfast room, Maurine and Gideon had begun to speak in harsh tones which could be heard even in the bedchamber of Harry Simmons. The racket was disconcerting and somewhat disheartening. For Gideon, although it was true that he was well-connected to some of the most eligible gentlemen in the Ton because of his membership at Brook’s, was known to be a profligate gambler and given to overindulging in his favorite drink, port. Although neither Julia nor Elizabeth was insensitive enough to point out to their father the obvious fact that they were almost certainly not in good hands, both of them knew things were not going to get better if their father should succumb to his illness. Both of them lowered their heads and prayed for his recovery, knowing at the same time that it was out of their hands entirely.

“Father,” said Julia quietly. “You may have every confidence that I am able to take care of Elizabeth. Gideon has enough on his hands trying to take care of his family. Should he move here to Ephore Park permanently, I fear he should become disenchanted with the lifestyle, given his preference for London society.”

“It is the law of the land that a male heir is to inherit the estate, my dear,” said Harry with a gasping wheeze. “I shall summon him to my study a little later to discuss the transfer of power. I know him to be a very good-hearted man.”

“His heart is not what concerns me,” said Julia. “It is his wife.”

“Julia! Worry not about her. Maurine is not the fine lady you both are, to be sure, but she is also not given to impudence or selfishness. Just look at how she dotes on young Perry. It is a model of motherly love.”

“It is disconcerting,” said Julia softly, looking at Elizabeth, who smiled, listening to the protestations of the young man downstairs. “But I trust you know what you are doing, father. You have always done the very best for us, and anything we are is a direct result of your kindness and thoughtfulness.”

Harry, ashen and still, had closed his eyes and did not respond. “I fear the end is nearing, Elizabeth,” whispered Julia. “Come, let us leave him to gather his strength. I shall have a talk with Gideon and make sure you are taken care of. In the meantime, why don’t you and I visit some of our friends? I believe the carriage is available and we could visit Emily Barstow. You remember how kind she is.”

“I do. I also know she and her family are fine players of shuttlecock. Do you think we could bring our racquets?”

“What a wonderful idea!” said Julia, rushing down the stairs. As she descended, she heard the door slam, and silence from the breakfast room. Cautiously, she entered the breakfast room where she found Timothy clearing up the considerable mess left by the family of Gideon. “Timothy, can you ask Snider, the footman, to prepare the barouche?” she asked.

“Gideon has just taken it, I’m afraid, Miss Julia. Perhaps you’d like to ride horseback?”

Julia sighed. “No, thank you, Timothy. We shall just stay here.”

“Very good, Miss Julia.” He went back to cleaning the very many tossed apricots and scones that had landed on the floor, while Julia returned to Elizabeth disconsolate.

“That impudent whelp!” said Julia, as she entered Elizabeth’s chambers.

“Which one?” laughed Elizabeth.

“I mean Gideon. He behaves as though he is lord of the manor. He’s made off with the barouche, leaving us horseback.”

“Oh, I don’t really fancy visiting friends on horseback. Perhaps I could entertain you with some music in the library?”

“I think that would be lovely, Elizabeth,” smiled Julia. “Do let’s.”

“And you know, Julia, I think your thoughts about Gideon are not misplaced. I fear he is not the solid fellow father has convinced himself he is. Profligate, feather-headed, and foolish, I think we need to make sure we are well looked-after.”

“I agree, but how. That is my real concern.”

“Well, father is in no condition to be helping, sadly.”

“No. You and I know that too well. Perhaps some music will inspire us to solve our dilemma.” She rose and began to move toward the stairs. “Or perhaps it will simply serve to distract us from the inevitable.”

Chapter Two

“I called you here to discuss a matter that is of the utmost importance. To me,” wheezed Harry Simmons, sitting as upright as he was able in his bed.

Gideon was fidgeting with some coins that jangled absurdly in his pockets as he paced at the foot of the bed, while Julia and Elizabeth sat, mopping their father’s brow, and offering him water to keep up his strength. Even so, it was evident that he was failing fast.

“Well, what is it?” said Gideon. “I am wanted in London and I fear that if I spend much more time here, my mind will turn to mush. This country air is most disconcerting.”

Ignoring this comment, Harry pointed to a paper he held in his hand. “Would you?” he said weakly, looking at Julia.

“Of course,” she said. “Gideon Simmons, I want you to sign this paper, swearing that you will become heir to my fortune, with all the benefits and obligations associated with it,” read Julia.

Gideon, who was unaccustomed to listening to women, at first was not aware that he was the subject of the discussion, but when Julia stopped, looked at him, and opened her eyes questioningly, he stopped fidgeting.

“Once more?” he said, his cheeks reddening.

“Gideon Simmons, I want you to sign this paper,” she said, pointing to the paper below the one from which she was reading. “Swearing that you will become heir to my fortune, with all the benefits and obligations associated with it.”

“Where do I sign, and what are the obligations?”

“Take care of my daughters as though they were your own,” whispered Harry with an air of seriousness rare in him. “You will be lord of Ephore Park, of course, and all its attendant income and land.

“By Jove, Uncle Harry, you needn’t make me swear to this. I consider the primary duty of an heir to your fortune to be certain that your daughters are well taken care of, even after they are married. You can trust me on that. I am nothing if not a man of my word.”

Harry smiled, nodding. “Glad to hear it, my boy. I knew you were the right person for this job.”

Gideon bowed his head modestly. Elizabeth and Julia smiled, visibly relieved. Elizabeth, particularly, being of an open and trusting nature, had always liked Gideon, despite his profligate ways, because he was fun loving, with a joie-de-vivre that was infectious. She looked from Gideon to Julia, who had been smiling, but began to frown suddenly. Elizabeth followed her gaze, and observed Maurine at the door which was ajar.

“You may enter, Maurine!” said Julia loudly.

“I thought it might be a personal or family matter,” said Maurine timidly. She entered, and looked around. “What is happening?”

“I am dying,” said Harry, with a modest chuckle. “And making sure that all of you will be well taken care of.”

“Even me?” said Maurine with a smile.

“All my family,” he said. “And you are a part of that family.” He paused, catching his breath. “I have divided it up in parts that my solicitor, Mr. Mawson has deemed to be equitable. Read it at your leisure, but use your best judgment too, if I am in error. Make sure none of you ever goes without.”

“Of course, uncle,” said Gideon, taking the pen from his uncle and scrawling his signature across the page. “You can rely on me.”

“I never had any doubt, my boy,” said Harry. “And now, I shall say my goodbyes, as I fear I shall not from this bed rise again.”

“What do you mean, father?” said Julia. “You will recover, of course. Dr. Wetherby was quite hopeful when we last spoke.”

He shook his head sadly. “Dr. Wetherby is a fool,” he whispered. “I want you all to know that I love you with all my heart, and I shall watch over you from heaven. But now, I am afraid, it is time for me to pass on to my reward. Do close the drapes and I shall sleep. I suspect you shan’t see me wake up.”

Elizabeth heaved a sigh that turned into tears, and Julia, feeling the pressure of the moment, threw herself on her father, and, with great wracking sobs, embraced him. “Oh father.  You are far too young to leave us. Please father. Fight on.”

“I fought the good fight, my dear. And I fear I lost. I shall be with you always.”

“No father! No” cried Elizabeth, horrified by the situation.

Gideon, spurred into action by the sudden emotion of the sisters, pulled her back. “He needs sleep, cousin!” he said softly. Maurine could be heard sucking her teeth as she surveyed this intimate family scene with a peculiar disinterest. She was nodding as she turned to leave the room. She said not a word to bid him farewell.

Chapter Three

“I feel I need to express my extreme sorrow at the passing of your father, my uncle. He was a man of great strength and fortitude, and a wonderful man of business. You can both rest assured I shall do my utmost to ensure your happiness and wealth for as long as you are under my care,” said Gideon, standing at the grave site, speaking to Elizabeth and Julia, both dressed in black with crepe.

“I am very glad to hear that, Gideon. It is a great comfort to us both. I, myself, cannot imagine what to do next,” said Elizabeth, looking at Julia.

“We must do what he wanted us to do – get on with it,” said Julia, drying the tears from her face. “Gideon, if you are a man of your word, I will be very satisfied with this arrangement, and grateful for your help.”

“We best get away from this grave site,” said Maurine, looking at the grave diggers as they shoveled spades full of dirt on the coffin. “I’m liable to spoil my frock!”

She leapt backward, nearly bowling over the two sisters who had not been expecting her to move so quickly. “And of course, you are in my way,” she muttered, sighing.

Neither of the sisters paid her much mind. She had complained through the entirety of the funeral, first that it was stuffy in the old church, and then, when they opened the doors, that it was too chilly. Her coarse manner, combined with her insistence that her son attend, despite his own protestations, was the last straw for Julia. If Elizabeth had not held her back, there would have surely been violence at the funeral.

“I’m really terribly sorry for your loss,” said Gideon, as Maurine pulled him with force back from the gravesite.

“Yes dear,” muttered Gideon as he did her bidding, and slunk away from the two sisters.

*  *  *

The following day, Elizabeth awoke to the sound of packing and furniture moving across the ancient oaken flooring. She sprang out of bed, disconcerted, and threw on a dressing gown, made her way down the stairs, and was confronted with a myriad of new furniture pieces that had arrived at dawn. Maurine was loudly instructing the servants to move out the antique pieces that had been there for more than a century.

“These things are frightful!” she cooed. “We really need to spruce up the place. Elizabeth, you need to vacate your room. We are having painters come this afternoon. You can stay in the guest room on the third floor.”

“You have painters coming into my room? What on earth for? It has wallpaper, for one thing, and for another, dear God, it is my room. What is this madness?  Where is Gideon?”

“I’m here,” came a little timid voice from behind a large wooden crate. “Elizabeth, as you can see, Maurine seems to have taken it upon herself to redecorate.” He tittered nervously.

“Well, I am sorry, Maurine, but that simply will not do. This is my home, and I shall continue to occupy my room, whether you like it or not. Besides, what difference does it make to you what my room looks like?”

“I can’t stand the smell of old things,” she said. “And they have to go. They make me sneeze. All this old wood. And that room with all the books!”

“The library?” Elizabeth was aghast. “Are you telling me you are planning on getting rid of all the books?”

“I want crystal!” shrieked Maurine. “I cannot abide old dusty tomes.  Crystal! Crystal! Crystal!”

Elizabeth was certain she had lost her senses, and was about to slap her across the face to bring her back to reality, when Julia came down the stairs and stood looking at the mayhem from the new furniture.

“Excuse me, but what is all this shouting and carrying on? It is eight in the morning!”

“Listen you!” cried Maurine. “I have had about enough of your insolence! You too will have to vacate your room. They are coming to paint this very afternoon. We’ve prepared two rooms on the third floor for the two of you.”

“The third floor houses the servants. It always has. We are the ladies of this house and you simply cannot move us bodily from our home.”

“The devil I can’t!” said Maurine. “Out you go, or these big burly fellows will make you.”

Julia looked at the large men who were moving pieces of furniture around the hall and recoiled in horror.

She turned, once she had pulled herself together, and stomped up the stairs, followed by Elizabeth, who was so frustrated she was near tears.

“Julia, this is madness. We are in mourning. Our father has just died, and this fishwife is casting us to the servants’ quarters. What can we do?”

“All we can do is appeal to Gideon. He made a promise always to take care of us. This is not what he promised.”

“I fear he is afraid of that guttersnipe,” said Elizabeth.

“Yes. Perhaps. Let me see what I can do. I must dress properly and go for breakfast.”

*  *  *

An hour later, Julia came up the stairs in shock. Elizabeth could not face any more of this madness, and stayed in her chambers, where she had a cup of tea.

“There was no food to be had,” said Julia. “This is infuriating. She ordered the servants to throw away the breakfast. What kind of a person does that?”

“A harridan,” said Elizabeth. “Did you speak to Gideon?”

“I did. He has announced that we are to be married.”

“To whom?”

“That is not decided yet,” said Julie with a shake of her head. “But he insisted that we both must marry within the year or he would not be able to support us.”

“But that is not what he promised! Not at all,” said Elizabeth. “And, I am only nineteen years of age – I have not even come out. This is madness!” Elizabeth stopped briefly. “No. It is her doing. That awful woman.”

“Indeed, it is. He admitted as much when I got him alone. But Gideon is to blame because he is weak.”

“We always knew that,” said Elizabeth. “And so, it falls to us, I believe, to find a solution.”

“What is your solution to being tossed out of our family home?” Julia was becoming angry.

“I wish I knew. But I am afraid I do not. Can we at least go to our home in London?”

“Well, I think it now belongs to Gideon as well, so we may need his permission!”

“This is absurd! Asking his permission to go to our own house?”

“We always asked father,” admitted Julia.

“But father was a good and fair person, and he was not dominated by a terrible wife like Maurine! It certainly feels different!”

“Yes, it does. But Elizabeth, we really do need to make a decision. Do we want to start a row with Maurine about our bedrooms or should we simply leave?”

“Julia, I am not sure that either solution is a good one. I think, for now, we move our valuables to the servants’ quarters, find some allies, and then plan our escape to London. The trouble here is that there is nobody around, because they’ve all left for the capital, and we had to stay behind to bury our father. Not that I blame him, for goodness’ sake, but it is the reason we are caught without resources.”

“Agreed,” said Julia to Elizabeth’s surprise. “I think this is what Napoleon referred to as a tactical retreat.”

Elizabeth snapped her head around. “Napoleon? What on earth are you doing learning about Napoleon?”

“I think it is imperative to learn about one’s enemies. That is the only way to defeat them. Or so the Duke of Wellington wrote.”

“You surprise me, Julia. But then again, I suppose you do not. You have always been the bookish one, while I am the dreamer, the musician.”

“I must admit, I love your music, but this is our survival, Elizabeth. I will go back to Gideon and tell him of our plans.”

*  *  *

“I think that is a splendid idea, Jules,” said Gideon, giggling with glee and relief. “I must say, I find you have matured into a jolly responsible adult. You will make a wonderful mother one day.”

“Indeed,” said Julia, with a certain amount of confusion. “I can’t say I’m certain I know what you are talking about. But in the short term, we will acquiesce to your wife’s demands, and move ourselves to the servants’ quarters. I want you to know this is not a long-term solution though, and I shan’t be happy if it does not improve.”

“Of course, cousin. Fear not. You are in good hands.”

“Can I have some help from the servants to move our things?”

“Frightfully sorry, but they are worn out moving all this new furniture and getting rid of the old things.”

“Getting rid of? What do you mean?” She was standing in the hallway where the front and back door remained open, allowing a cold breeze to drift through the house.

“I mean, it is a herculean task to move this much stuff.”

“And what are you doing with the old furniture?”

“I don’t know what you mean?” He was looking away, clearly embarrassed.

Julia frowned. Suddenly, there was a rustling from above and Elizabeth came rushing down the stairs looking perturbed.

“What is that fire outside?” she said, in a voice laden with incomprehension.

“Oh that,” said Gideon. “Maurine insisted. It’s a sort of bonfire.”

“Of our furniture. Some of that is centuries old. It carries with it family secrets, memories, and a great deal of sentimental value.”

“Maurine wanted a fresh start,” said Gideon weakly.

Smoke had begun to waft into the house from the fire.

“What am I hearing? You are burning the old furniture? That is appalling!” said Julia. “Elizabeth, tell me it is not true.”

“Come with me and see,” she said, taking Julia by the arm and leading her to the back of the house. To their dismay, a huge fire was burning, with large oaken pieces going up in smoke.

“This is not right!” said Julia, and as she looked at Elizabeth, she realized she was weeping. “Elizabeth! We must stop this travesty!”

“It’s too late,” said Elizabeth. “All our memories are being burned up. This is incredible. Worse than in my wildest dreams. Julia, I fear I can’t go on.”

“Gideon,” said Julia. “You have revealed yourself to be the most pusillanimous coward imaginable, and my sister and I are removing ourselves forthwith to the house in London. If you are a smart person, you will hand the ownership of that house to us.”

“To you?” said Maurine, trudging into the hallway with a look of victory on her face. “Why on earth should he do such a thing? You are nothing but an impediment to his success, and giving you anything would only diminish his standing in the eyes of the Ton. I suggest you two leave and never come back.”

“Now Maurine,” said Gideon weakly. “There is no need for this sort of tone.”

“Gideon, be quiet. Every time you open your mouth, you make things more difficult. Just be quiet and mind your own business. And as for you two,” said Maurine with venom. “The sooner you get out of here the better. Don’t force me to do something I’ll regret.”

“Julia!” said Elizabeth, holding Julia back from launching herself at Maurine. “Please. Let’s just go and remove our things. There is no hope for some people.”

“And you, you sad sack. Get out of my sight!” roared Maurine. The two sisters hurried up the stairs to their room, and began to remove things to the servants’ quarters as quickly as they could. Both of them were silent. Julia was livid but Elizabeth was terrified, knowing she had no legal recourse, and even Gideon seemed to have no control over the situation anymore.

“We have no hope anymore, do we?” said Julia.

“It does not look very good for us,” replied Elizbeth. “We need a miracle.”

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  • I found the preview to be an emotional introduction to the main characters of the story. I would cheer for the sisters and try to avoid their cousin and his wife. I want to know how they escaped from her.

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