Lady Margaret Whitfield was watching eagerly from her window as her brother Leonard, the Marquess of Cunningham, and his friends played in the sprawling yard of Bartley Manor. “Miss Joan!” she called out, kicking her legs against the divan she was sitting on, her dress brushing against her shins. “He is here! The boy I keep telling you about!” Miss Joan, the governess, sighed loudly, to prove that she had long suffered at the hand of such nonsense. She lifted the gauze curtain by the window and peered out. “So I see, Lady Margaret. But you know, you should focus on your studies while you are with me. Boys will not elevate your mind. They are distracting you already.” Margaret scrunched up her nose as she was wont to do when upset or confused. “Is there not plenty of time for lessons? There are only some days when Lord Durby comes around.” Margaret had a book open on her lap, and she closed it loudly. Pushing herself off of the divan she ran to the door. Miss Joan clutched at her chest, her eyes wide with horror. “Child! Where are you going?” Margaret pointed a thumb at her chest. “I am going outside to play.
I am tired of sitting in here watching him and reading stuffy old books. Why do the boys get to play and I do not?” Miss Joan’s strangled cry of disapproval did nothing to stop young Margaret leaping from the study room into the hall and out the door to her garden. There, she spied her brother, Leonard, her brother’s friend Philip Winston, and Charles, her dearest love. At eight years old, she did not entirely know what love was. All she knew was that it was all she could think about. Charles Hitchcock, the Lord of Durby, was exactly what she thought a boy ought to be. He was tall, had good hair and teeth, and he could run fast. She wanted to race him to show him that she could run fast too! She rushed outside and crept against the side of the house, watching the three boys in their game. It looked like the green-eyed boy, Philip Winston, the Earl of Camden’s younger son, was trying to show his best friends Leonard and Charles the latest moves he’d learned from his fencing instructor. Leonard had told her once that Philip was very skilled at fencing.
She thought it sounded like a magical word but didn’t understand how it worked. It looked even stranger, for the boys were plunging their arms forward into the air and spinning about. “This is ridiculous!” Charles cried, and Philip frowned. Margaret’s eyes widened. Perhaps it was not so nice a game after all, if Charles thought it was stupid. She wanted to think whatever he thought. Charles was the wisest boy she had ever known, better than her brother. Philip said, “Are we too old to use our imaginations? Come on, you will be jealous unless you know the latest move. The other boys at school will knock you down during fencing instruction.” With a frown, Charles leaned forward and pushed Philip on the shoulders.
“Hey!” Philip yelled out and pushed back. Her brother rushed forward and pushed the two of them hard in the chest. “Come, you two. Let us just find some sticks or something. Why does it matter? Or we can find something else to play.” “Yes, you could!” Margaret called out to them in her best, most adorable voice. No one could resist Margaret when she used her best voice. All three boys turned, and she grinned widely. Her brother narrowed his eyes at her and crossed his arms. “Margaret, what are you doing out here? Are you not supposed to be with your governess?” Margaret made a yawning motion with her hand.
She preferred to be as dramatic as possible. “I was too bored. I thought it would be much more exciting watching you out here. Come, race me!” “We cannot race you! You are a girl!” her brother pointed at her, and it made her angry. When she got angry, her face turned the color of a beet. She didn’t know why it happened, but it always made her mother sigh and scold. She kept telling Margaret that ladies did not resemble vegetables. “You will see. Charles, race me!” She rushed forward to him and pulled on his arm, jumping up and down. She wanted him to see just how well she could jump too.
Wasn’t she marvelous? She hoped Charles thought so. Her brother was always spoiling everything with his mean words, and Philip often just looked at her with a strange look on his face. She didn’t like to talk to him. Charles frowned. “No, I cannot race you. Like your brother said, you are just a girl. No one would want to run against you. Especially not boys.” The three boys laughed at Charles’ comment, and Margaret felt her anger and humiliation expand and grow. She kept becoming more like a beet when Leonard said, “I think my sister likes you, Charles.
” He laughed loudly. Philip chimed in, “A little girl likes you, Charles!” All three of the boys erupted into raucous laughter. Margaret felt like her face was on hot coals, the flush of embarrassment was on her cheeks. What rude boys they were! They did not even want to race her! She rushed forward to her Charles and with all her strength, she kicked him in the shin and gave him her meanest look. “You will regret that, Charles Hitchcock!” She didn’t want to see what his stupid face did, or look at him any longer after he’d embarrassed her so, and she ran off back to the governess. In the study room, Miss Joan was standing in her dark gown and cap, her arms crossed, making a tsking sound with her tongue. Margaret sighed. “I know. It was foolishness.” “So it was, Young Lady.
” Margaret wanted to forget that Charles Hitchcock ever existed. Clutching her chest and feeling perspiration break out on her forehead, Margaret woke. She blinked into the darkness, and once she realized she was home, in her own room, she laid back on her pillow trying to catch her breath. A few strands of dark, raven-black hair were clutching to her forehead and she swept them away, feeling the cold moisture on her fingertips. The dreams continued, and while they weren’t always horrible nightmares, they troubled the previously blissful sleep she used to enjoy. She covered her eyes with her hands. Tears pricked at her eyes. Her father, Lord George Whitfield, Duke of Bartley, had just passed away a few months before, and ever since then, Margaret’s dreams were relentless. Most of them were innocuous, full of nothings, but they often turned back to when she was a child, the time of innocence before the world’s cruelty was revealed. Unfortunately, they often contained thoughts of Charles.
He had been coming to their home nearly every day in recent months, and while he had never paid any mind to her as more than Leonard’s younger sister, little Margaret was still inside of her, feeling that same childlike passion she had felt for him all those years ago. Now, at twenty she wished that he would see her as a woman, and not as the girl who kicked him in the leg at eight years old. “There is no more chance for sleep tonight,” she whispered from inside her bed curtains, and so decided to swing out of bed and find occupation until the morning hours. Once she exited the cocoon of her bed, she could detect the slightest bit of dawn creeping in through her windows. At least she had her eyes closed in a sort of sleep for most of the night. She moved to the window and clutched her arms to herself. The world was a strange place without her father. She wasn’t sure who she was anymore. She had now been given a new sister-in-law, Juliet, married to her brother, Leonard, but there would always be a chasm yawning deep within her at the loss of her father, and so early. He did not even get to see her wed! Life would continue on, she supposed.
And somehow she could find a way back from the sorrow that threatened to suffocate her. A Chapter One few hours later, Margaret was dressed and walking to breakfast, hoping against hope that her sleepless night would not be etched on her face. But she was not to be rewarded. When she arrived in the breakfast room, her sister-in-law, Juliet, drew in a sharp breath. She rushed to Margaret’s side, and Margaret silently thanked Heaven that no one else was about. Juliet said urgently, “Margaret, you look terrible.” “Why, thank you, my dearest Sister.” “No, I mean you have not slept again? Are you ill?” Margaret felt Juliet’s hand clutching her own. She had never had a sister, and so did not know what it would be like. To her delight, it had been a wonderful, beautiful thing, but Margaret did not feel worthy of it.
Juliet was like a bright spot of sunshine with her hazel eyes and heart-shaped face, and she was a dark cave with brooding glances underneath her raven hair. “Let us sit down, Juliet. I do not want to be the cause of you not taking breakfast. What would my brother say?” Margaret attempted to lighten the mood. Juliet did as she was asked, but as soon as they were both seated, Juliet said again, “You must tell me. Is there anything I can do for you?” Margaret poured herself tea from a white steaming pot in the center of the table. “No, there is nothing you can do. It is the dreams I told you about. They keep coming, and while my eyes may be closed and my mind closed to the present world, I awake exhausted from my ventures into the past.” “I see.
” Juliet leaned back a little, and Margaret could tell she was scrutinizing her. “Is Charles a common feature in your dreams?” Margaret lifted an eyebrow and clutched her tea cup. “What do you think, dear Sister?” Juliet sighed. “Blast him! I think you should just forget about him. I had hoped for it, but then he started coming around nearly every day to talk business with Leonard!” Margaret watched Juliet’s tiny fit of anger with amusement. “At least I have you to defend me, Juliet. Good thing Leonard knows nothing of my feelings. But Charles is not as bad as all that. He is intelligent, interesting, and handsome. I could have fallen in love with a far less suitable person.
Are not those wonderful qualities one can find in a man?” Juliet tapped her fingers on the table with irritation. “Of course they are, Margaret, but what of kindness? Generosity? Mutual feeling?” At the last words, Margaret blushed and looked away, ashamed of the fact that she knew and Juliet knew that Charles felt nothing for her. It was this extra pain during her time of mourning that sent her over the edge and made her feel like she was drowning. Juliet squeaked a little in embarrassment. “Oh, Margaret, do forgive me. I do not wish to cause you any kind of pain. I am simply infuriated that this man does not know how wonderful you are! He is too blind to see, and I call him a fool for it. I wish he would simply stay away and leave you be!” Margaret smiled. “Thank you, Juliet. Now I say we take our breakfast and leave men behind.
” She began to butter a piece of toast even though she did not really feel like eating. Juliet looked at her for another moment, and then pulled the pot of jam next to her. “I suppose you are right. They are foolish beings after all.” Juliet giggled. “Who are foolish beings, My Love?” Margaret’s brother Leonard’s loud, deep voice filled the room, and Margaret was glad that at least he had not heard her mention the name of Charles. Juliet grinned. “Men. Who else could we be discussing who would fit under that description?” Leonard laughed and kissed his wife on the head. “You are quite right, My Dear.
How could I have thought otherwise? Good morning, Margaret.” Margaret wanted to hate her brother for so many reasons. He had teased her relentlessly over the years, but in the end, he turned out quite well, always being kind to her and never pushing her to do something she did not want to do. He never discussed marriage with her, and so she felt free to allow her heart to latch on to whoever it wanted. Even though no one else had caught her interest since she was a child. Leonard was also very loving and tender to his wife and new child. “Good morning, Leonard.” “And so, what do you two ladies have planned for the day?” Juliet began, “I do not know, but I am certain I will be taking young George out to the gardens, if Margaret will join me.” “Of course. And you, Brother? What will you be doing?” Leonard was shuffling through a few letters he had brought to the table.
Juliet highly disapproved of reading correspondence during mealtimes, but at breakfast she was a little more lenient. “I have another appointment with Charles. He is coming by in a little while.” Margaret’s heart clenched painfully. Would there be no end to his appearances? He would sweep in the room and look around in that handsome, lordly way of his. Margaret always felt weak under his gaze, and she dreaded each of the moments that he arrived. She wanted to stay tucked away in the library, lost in a book, but she knew that she would not be able to resist sharing at least a few words with him or getting another glimpse of him. Juliet glanced her way and then said, “Darling, when will these appointments be finished? Charles has been coming nearly every day. Has he nothing else to do?” Leonard chuckled and looked at his wife. “Have you grown tired of him, My Love?”