In Love with the Rogue – Lisa Campell

You can’t be serious,” Amelia Gillingham said blankly, staring at her dissolute brother-in-law. It was a feeble protest, she knew, as she gazed at his florid coloring and dull eyes. Once considered a handsome man, George Gillingham had gladly sacrificed his looks and health – for the indulgent life of a rake from the moment he had come into his brother’s fortune. In one short year, George had managed to scandalize the good society of the ton with his exploits, to the extent that Amelia had willfully ignored every story that was brought to her ears. “Surely it can’t all be gone, George.” “Surely it can be, my dearest sister,” George sneered back, no trace of remorse or shame evident in his face or tone. “There is very little indeed left of the family fortune. You must accustom yourself to that idea.” “But how? My understanding was that Richard left us comfortably provided for when he died.” Even now, a year later, the idea of her husband being gone seemed impossible. “I can appreciate that as a woman you have no idea of the sort of expenses a gentleman must necessarily incur,” retorted George in an insufferably superior tone. “But I assure you-” “A gentleman?” Amelia scoffed, her generally mild temper pricked by his condescension. “From the tales which I, unfortunately, have not been able to avoid hearing, your expenses have very little to do with anything a gentleman would associate himself with. Why don’t you tell me exactly what you squandered my husband’s fortune away on?” “I have spent my fortune exactly as I have seen fit,” George snapped, an angry red color rising to his stubble-strewn cheeks. “I’ll not be questioned by you.

I merely came here to inform you of the change in your circumstances.” “You know perfectly well that Richard meant for you to provide properly for Emily and myself. You have disgraced his memory, as well as the family name. I hope it was worth it to you, George.” “As I said, I have only come to inform you of the realities of your situation. I should think that you would be content enough to live a simple life now – after all you do retain possession of this house, and you and the girl are hardly on the brink of starvation. There will be nothing in addition to the sum that I already gave you at the time of Richard’s death.” “But that amount was scarcely enough for Emily and I to live on this past year, and it is quite entirely gone now,” protested Amelia. “Emily is the daughter of a respected and wealthy baron, and it is shameful for her to be forced to live beneath her station simply because her uncle could not be bothered to temper his reckless ways, even for her sake!” “I am afraid that can’t be helped. There is no more money.

You will simply have to find a way to manage, and I insist that you do so without involving me,” George stated flatly. Amelia realized with the vacant expression in his bloodshot eyes that his mind had moved from his responsibilities to his sister-in-law and niece, and back on to the seedy opium dens, gambling halls, and houses of ill-repute that had proven so irresistible to the weakwilled young man. “I can assure you that I will never bother you again with such trivial concerns as the future and well-being of your niece or myself,” snapped Amelia tartly. “I will rely on providence to trouble you sufficiently on that front in due course of time. Good day, George.” Lord George Gillingham did not bother to respond to her parting shot, but turned and left Amelia’s parlor immediately, most certainly making haste to further his own ruin. Amelia sank down onto an armchair, indulging for a moment in the unfamiliar sensation of panic that fluttered through her breast. She always prided herself on her ability to remain calm and unflappable no matter what, but then she had never before encountered a situation that seemed quite so desperate as this. If only Richard were alive! She had not married her late husband for love, but they had undeniably grown to be quite fond of one another over the course of ten years. Their marriage had been comfortable and contented.

They had especially delighted in raising their daughter, Amelia thought, with a fresh wave of grief surging through her at the memories. Richard would have been outraged if he could have seen how his younger brother had squandered the family fortune and left his beloved daughter Emily with such terribly limited prospects. What on earth was to become of the child with no money, even for a new dress, let alone a Season when she came of age? The disparity between the girl and her peers would only increase as the years went on, and Emily might be doomed to a miserable, inescapable spinsterhood marked by poverty and want – a cruel fate for the sweet, charming girl. Amelia caught sight of her own appearance in the parlor looking glass as she considered such a future for her darling child. Against the flame of her red hair, her face looked pitifully pale and woeful. Her usually vivid green eyes were reddened with the tears she couldn’t quite suppress. The sight made her stiffen her spine resolutely. If Richard would have been outraged at George’s reprehensible conduct, surely he would be nearly as disappointed with her weakness. George was right, she had to begrudgingly admit, she would have to find a way to adjust to her new situation. Her child deserved nothing less than the very best and strongest nerve that Amelia had to offer.

Rising smartly from the comfort of the armchair, Amelia shook herself and swiped briskly at the tears that had escaped onto her pale cheeks. If money was needed, she decided, then there was no sense in holding onto her jewelry. Amelia marched up the grand, sweeping staircase to her chambers. In the past year she had barely touched the locked case that held her jewels, leaving them to collect dust in the dark while she wore the black of mourning. It hadn’t irked her the way it did many young widows, who often chafed to dress gaily once again long before the year-long mourning period ended. Bright gowns and social activities had been the furthest thing from her mind, especially as the small sum that George had given her had dwindled and he had refused to respond to her increasingly distressed letters. Unlocking the heavy velvet-lined case and opening it, she caught her breath for a moment. The late afternoon sunlight slanted in through the parted drapes and lit the contents of the case with a dazzling burst of color. She was overwhelmed with the rush of memories associated with each piece of jewelry. Richard had given her nearly every single gem, except for a few simpler necklaces and rings that had been given to her by her parents before her marriage.

Parting with Richard’s gifts felt like a betrayal, but of course that was foolish, she told herself sternly. Richard would expect her to provide for their daughter first and foremost. Amelia took a deep, steadying breath and began the process of setting aside a few special pieces for Emily to have in the future – she would need to do her best to give the poor girl at least a semblance of a dowry– and bundling up the rest unceremoniously into her sensible black reticule. Locking the jewelry case once more, Amelia realized that the true obstacle in this endeavor was not her own sentimental attachment to the memories – the lovely sapphire brooch that Richard had given her on the day of their wedding, the ruby and diamond ring that he had presented her with on the occasion of Emily’s birth, and countless others – it was the simple fact that she had no earthly idea of how to go about selling the jewelry in the first place. What proper lady did? George would undoubtedly know, but Amelia dismissed that idea immediately. She would scarcely stoop to asking him for assistance, and anyway, she had no doubt that he would feel perfectly comfortable pocketing either the jewels, or the proceeds from them. How two brothers come to have such markedly different characters as Richard and George was a baffling mystery, but it was one to ponder another day. It wouldn’t do to be spotted trying to sell off her jewels by any of her friends and acquaintances, Amelia knew. She ought to go to the sort of place that none of them would ever frequent – Cheapside came the most readily to her mind – and perhaps it was also wise to attempt to conceal her identity at least a little. Not wanting even her maid to know what she was planning, Amelia dug out her largest and plainest bonnet and a simple cloak.

Satisfied that her appearance was obscured for the most part, particularly with the glowing flame of her hair covered by the bonnet, she snatched up the reticule filled with jewels and swept from the room. Luckily, Emily was away at her riding lesson for most of the afternoon and would not have any reason to question her sudden, urgent errand. “I am going out for a bit,” Amelia informed the housekeeper airily, pausing in the foyer with what she hoped was a natural attitude. “If Miss Emily returns from her riding lesson before I am back, tell her that I will be home shortly.” “Yes, my lady,” murmured the housekeeper, keeping her expression carefully blank and neutral. She had, of course, overheard the entire exchange between Lady Gillingham and her rake of a brother-in-law. Indeed, she had felt it necessary to air out the parlor as soon as it was vacated for the odor of stale smoke and whiskey had clung offensively to the air in Lord Gillingham’s wake. Even while avoiding meeting her housekeeper’s eye she had sensed that the woman had at least a suspicion of what had taken place between herself and her brother-in-law earlier in the afternoon. It was too bad, really, Amelia thought, for it would have been better if the servants could have been spared the distress of knowing that the household was in such dire straits. It was a bleak prospect, and one which Amelia would much rather not contemplate.

However there was no realistic way that she could afford to keep the full staff employed if her situation failed to improve. Contemplating which servants she ought to let go, and which she could hardly do without, gave her the determination required to keep making her way down the increasingly shabby streets leading from her own fashionable section of London, and into Cheapside. Perhaps if she could barter the jewelry for a healthy enough sum, she could keep everyone on staff – that would certainly be the best-case scenario. If not, at the very least, she was determined to get some new frocks for Emily so the child would no longer be embarrassed around her friends. Emily did her very best to hide her embarrassment from her mother, but Amelia could easily sense it. Only the other day the girl had forgotten herself long enough to mention wistfully that it had been ages since she had had ice cream, a treat that Richard had once insisted on having every Sunday. Emily had caught herself quickly, saying that after all the treat gave her a headache sometimes. So it was probably for the best. But Amelia had experienced a pang of distress at the conversation, nevertheless. Looking back on it, she realized that no matter how carefully she had attempted to keep their financial difficulties hidden from her daughter, the child probably knew at the very least, as much as the servants suspected.

Lovely new dresses and ice cream, then, she told herself decisively. Surely the gleaming jewels would fetch enough for that much at least. Richard had certainly spared no expense in purchasing them, after all.

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