12 January 1812
Park Street, Mayfair, London
“Number 14,” announced the hackney driver, pulling up outside a row of neat, brick townhouses, all trimmed in white, fronted in black wrought iron and darkly lit by a handful of lamp posts. George was accustomed to returning home in darkness, but he’d left the office more than an hour earlier than usual and it was already dark. London winters were always dark. There were days when the only light he saw was when he went to the windowed waiting area to greet a client.
George tossed a coin to the driver and strode toward the door of his sister’s home, wondering what Eliza needed to discuss with him so urgently. It had to be something to do with Louise, he conjectured. Although he had the impression that his daughter was quite happily settled with her aunt’s family by now. He knew she had bonded with her much-younger cousins and Eliza declared her a delightful addition to the household. So what could have gone wrong?
“Good evening, Mr. Durand. Mrs. Childers is expecting you.”
The butler led him upstairs to Eliza’s sitting room, where he found her at her writing desk. She put down her pen when she saw him and rose to greet him with a fond embrace.
“George! How good of you to come so soon! I hope my scribbled note did not alarm you unnecessarily. Nothing dreadful has occurred, after all. It’s just that I have so many things to do now. My mind is scattered in so many directions since William told me the news.”
“News?” George’s eyebrows furrowed as he tried to imagine what sort of news would have sent his generally level-headed sister into such a tizzy.
Eliza twisted her wedding ring on her finger. “William has accepted a new post, George. Quite an honor, really. We are all very proud of him, of course. But to move the entire household to St. Petersburg—if only we had more time. I hardly know where to start!”
George blinked. “You are moving to St. Petersburg?”
“Yes. In a month’s time. Lord Cathcart chose William personally to serve with his staff. He is wanted straight away, but thankfully, William said he would not go on ahead and leave me to make the journey unaccompanied.” She brought a shaky hand to her forehead. “There is so much to do, George. Decisions to make about packing and servants and—”
“—Louise,” finished George. “You needn’t worry about my daughter, Eliza. I shall take her back to St. Albans with me tonight, and her belongings can be sent later.”
“Oh!” Eliza’s eyes widened. “I didn’t mean to imply that Louise is a burden, George. Not at all. The children love her—we all do—and we would be pleased to take her with us, as part of our family.”
George blinked. They wanted to take his daughter to Russia? Where he wouldn’t see her for years?
“You can’t be serious.”
Eliza took his arm. “But I am, George. We are. And Louise is eager to go. Aux anges, in fact. It will be so good for her, you know, to meet new people, experience other cultures. We will be on the invitation list for the most exclusive balls and receptions—just think how thrilling it will be for her to socialize with dukes and princes!”
George pulled away from his sister. “Have you lost your mind? She’s only fifteen, Eliza! She won’t come out for at least two more years, and besides, I don’t want her to be encouraged to see herself as part of the European aristocracy. Her grandfather’s title was lost at the guillotine, and if it were not for all the false hope instilled in her head by her mother and grandmother, she’d be content with her situation as the daughter of a solicitor.” He began pacing in front of the fireplace.
Eliza sighed. “I know that was a bone of contention between you and Genny for years before she died, but George, Louise is happy with us. We will love and protect her as though she were our own daughter. What will you—a man alone—do for her if she remains? Especially when you spend nearly all waking hours at your place of business?”
What indeed? He hadn’t been much of a father to her, even before the carriage accident that took her mother nearly two years ago. He’d left all that to Genny, and then, to Eliza. But he’d never meant it to be a permanent placement. It was simply a temporary solution that had continued primarily because of his own indecision.
Which ended now. He stopped pacing and straightened his spine. “No.”
He’d hire a governess. Perhaps find a gentlewoman who could be more of a companion of sorts, who would take over the tasks of the mother she no longer had. Louise did have a father, though, and he determined then and there that he would start behaving like a father from that point on.
Because Louise was all he had. Without her, he was alone, and he didn’t really want to be alone.
“She won’t be happy,” warned Eliza.
“Well, well,” said George, unmoved. “I daresay she’ll get over it.”
Does Louise indeed “get over it” as her father predicts? To find out, you’ll have to read Valuing Vanessa, Book 2 of The Hertfordshire Hoydens, which will appear in the Bluestocking Belles’ 2016 holiday anthology, Holly and Hopeful Hearts.
In the meantime, why not read Treasuring Theresa, Book 1 of the series?
About Treasuring Theresa
Lady Theresa despises London society. What’s worse is that she has to attend the betrothal ball of the young man she expected to marry. To deflect all the pitiful glances from the other guests, she makes a play for the most striking gentleman there—who happens to be her Cousin Damian, who is everything she despises.
Damian, Lord Clinton sees a desperate young lady with no social graces, and it solidifies his opinion that country folk are beneath him. But it so happens that he is the heir to that young lady’s father’s title and estate, and the time comes when he finds himself obliged to spend some time there.
Thrown together, both Damian and Theresa discover each other’s hidden depths. But are their differences too much to overcome to make a successful match?
About the Author
Susana has always had stories in her head waiting to come out, especially when she learned to read and her imagination began to soar. Voracious reading led to a passion for writing, and her fascination with romance and people of the past landed her firmly in the field of historical romance.
A teacher in her former life, Susana lives in Toledo, Ohio in the summer and central Florida in the winter. She is a member of the Central Florida Romance Writers and the Beau Monde chapters of RWA and Maumee Valley Romance Inc.