Perhaps one of the finest moments in Lord James Melton’s life, and one he most appreciated, was the quiet that surrounded him when he arrived at Finley Manor. The grand mansion rested on lush grounds overlooking the rolling hills, and in the distance were the waves of the ocean. The calm soothed his soul, an immaculate spectre of peace that only Weymouth offered. James drew in a deep breath as he stepped out of the carriage, filling his lungs with the fresh air as he gazed at the beach. There were no guns firing or bombs exploding. No barking of orders, or men dying around him. There was only peace and quiet. Perhaps not in his heart, but all around him. “Daydreaming again, little brother?” Charles Melton, the Duke of Waign, and James’ older brother, asked with a smile. James turned to greet Charles as they stood atop a hill not far from the main house. The grass below them was green, as it was the middle of summer. The cloudless sky above them was a bright shade of blue. A perfect day to arrive. “Daydreaming is not how I would refer to it, Charles,” he answered with a grin. James and his three brothers, of which he was the second born, all possessed similar features – a strong, square jaw, dark brows, broad shoulders and a thick mop of dark curls varying in colour, from dark brown to black.
As young boys, their resemblance was quite strong, and even their governess had a difficult time telling them apart. Of course, they had taken advantage of that and, much to Miss Laurette’s dismay, played innocent yet rather frustrating tricks on the poor woman. Still, she had adored them as her own. A smile formed on James’s lips as he reminisced for a moment. He was trying not to turn into the bitter old man he was terrified of becoming. He had seen what war had done to his grandfather and he had vowed never to become the same. He was the most patriotic of the Melton sons, and despite the pleas from his mother and the disapproval of his father, he’d become a soldier for his King and country. “James?” Charles’ voice pulled him back once more to the present and he glanced at his older brother with raised brows. “My apologies. My thoughts seem to speed away from me lately.
” “Need I worry about you?” “Not in the least. I am perfectly fine.” James decided to change the subject back to his brother’s life. “How are you and Emma? Are you well?” Charles lowered his gaze and his jaw clenched. “Have I struck a nerve?” James cocked his head at his brother and wondered what ailed him. The Duchess was a lovely and witty young woman. She was a good match for Charles. Despite their marriage being one of convenience, Charles and Emma possessed mutual respect for one another. It was more than mere tolerance that some arranged couples unfortunately experienced. They had been acquainted since they were children and had always been very good friends.
Emma’s relations, the Spencers, were a wealthy and influential family who lived in the county and it had made perfect sense to everyone for them to marry. James had observed them speaking to one another with respect, but there was no evidence of any sparks between them of the romantic type. P Charles did not love Emma, or if he did, it was not in the manner of a love match. Charles was far too aware of the obligations connected to his title. Emma was a good wife and supported him when it was required, or so James had assumed. But now, there was a thickness in the air that he did not understand. “I do not wish to discuss it at this time.” Charles’ response was short and abrupt. “There is no need to pretend things are fine when they are not,” James said. What could be so wrong with his brother’s life? “You are a fine one to talk.
” Charles gazed at the horizon and his jaw clenched tightly. James ignored the jibe. He knew he bottled things up inside, but that didn’t mean his brother had to. “You can talk to me, brother. About anything.” Charles sighed and he turned to James. “Emma removed herself to a separate bedchamber, further down the hallway. We were engaged in an argument last evening and I apparently hurt her feelings.” “What did you say to her?” What could cause Emma to move away from her husband? Charles shrugged. “We spoke of you, and how she wished to introduce you to a few of her unmarried friends.
I merely commented that you did not need a woman in your life at this moment, and that she should stop attempting to play matchmaker. Love cannot be forced.” James cringed at his brother’s words and pursed his lips. “Perhaps you should not have said that.” “But it is true.” James shifted his weight and scoffed. “I’ve had adequate experience with women, Charles. That was not the right thing to say. You most certainly hurt her feelings.” “How?” Could his brother be that thick-headed? “You were clearly insinuating that you don’t love her, and that she most likely does not love you.
” Charles stared at him as though James had grown a second head. “That is not what I meant, at all. I do love Emma. Not in the conventional manner perhaps, but—” “You ought to apologise to her. You can’t leave things as they are,” James interrupted. “How do you know so much about women?” Charles asked, raising an eyebrow. “It’s not a matter of knowing women, it is a matter of knowing people. I have spent enough time with individuals in vulnerable and dangerous positions. It makes one empathetic to other’s feelings.” Charles put a hand out and touched James on the arm.
“I am truly sorry you are forced to deal with this, brother.” James shrugged and moved away so his brother was no longer touching him. “It is of my own doing.” And it was. It had been his decision to go to war. No one else’s. “Are you certain you will be all right? I will be more than happy to call upon Dr. Moore to examine you.” James scoffed and shook his head. “And have him inform me of my broken mind? He will surely send me to an asylum.
I think not.” “There is no need to be in denial, James.” James stared sharply at his brother and narrowed his eyes. “I am most certainly not the one in denial, dear brother.” Charles backed away from James and this time, James knew there was indeed something deeply wrong between Charles and Emma, despite Charles’ reluctance or inability to admit it. “The vivid imagery of what I experienced in France is not something that will fade in a few weeks, it seems.” James shook his head with a disapproving scoff. “It will in time, although your scars run deeper than others’,” Charles said. “But perhaps there is a reason for that.” “Perhaps.
” “You should consider taking Fortego for a ride. He would relish the fine weather we are having.” “That is an excellent plan, brother. It will assist me in clearing my head also.” Charles lightly patted James’ arm before he motioned behind him. As James turned to see what his older brother was up to, a small grin formed on his mouth as a groom approached, leading Fortego towards them. “You planned this.” Charles shrugged his shoulders and smiled sincerely. “I am worried about you, James. The war has damaged your soul, and you require some release.
Go to the beach, wash away all those weights you carry on your shoulders.” James nodded and reached for Fortego’s muzzle. “You know me well, brother.” “I should think so. I’ve known you your entire life.” Charles’ chuckle made James smile and he nodded furtively. “I shall be off then.” James mounted the stallion and lifted the reins as he tapped his heels on the horse’s flanks. He gave Charles a quick wave before Fortego began to gallop towards the large gates. Even though James had been away from Weymouth for eight years, he hadn’t forgotten his way around, especially the narrow winding roads that led to the beach.
It only took the duo a short while to reach their destination and as Fortego slowed to a trot, James gazed at the waves breaking on the sand. At this point in his life he rather wished to be alone, and he had steered his stallion to a small, private bay, deliberately avoiding the main, sheltered Weymouth Bay. He didn’t wish to encounter any female bathers, although he doubted there would be any this early in the morning. It was surely too cold for any gently bred female. After eight years in the army as a soldier who had fought against the French, he now felt out of place in a world he used to love. As a sergeant in his regiment, he had fulfilled his patriotic duty to his country, and his King. He had earned medals of honour and accolades for his bravery, which meant a great deal to him. That was until he had realised those medals and accolades didn’t mean much in society. In this new chapter of his life, he was convinced that he wouldn’t amount to anything now. Of course, he was courageous and excelled at leading his regiment into battle, but those qualities did not give him a sense of belonging, which was crucial to his state of mind.
James sighed as he dismounted Fortego and tied the stallion to a nearby post, then made his way down the embankment towards the beach. The sun warmed his cheeks as he removed his boots and placed them on the sand. He glanced around him and without a moment’s hesitation, began to peel his clothing off. Standing naked on the beach, he inhaled deeply and with unrivalled confidence, strode towards the water. His feet touched the wet sand and the waves capped over his feet as he slowly made his way into the water, deeper and deeper. A shiver ran up his spine as he waded hip deep then dove into the cold water. His brother had been right. This was exactly what he needed. Chapter Two eymouth Bay was drenched in sunlight and the sea air was fresh, but all those delightful pleasures of the senses did not please Miss Abigail Roth. Not today.
Not when her mother had been so unwell these past months, which was why she and Abigail had moved from their large Bath home to a sea-front townhouse in Weymouth. Abigail was the middle daughter of five, and all four of her sisters had married already, which certainly did not weigh well on her mother, nor in her own heart. After the death of her father, Abigail had felt a melancholy wash over her that had never fully disappeared. Her mother had become detached as well, and most people were convinced this was what had led to her ill health. While finances were low, especially after Mr. Roth’s passing, Abigail’s uncle, the Earl of Somerset, would send funds to them on occasion. It was enough for Abigail and her mother to halt the plummet into financial ruin and ensured their financial stability for a time. Mrs. Roth was unable to provide an income, but Abigail, who was skilled in teaching piano, had a constant flow of students. She adored music and children and had realised after the rather scandalous affair she had found herself embroiled in a few months prior, that she would never have the latter.
She had been engaged to a lovely young earl in Bath but when he realised her family was not as wealthy as he had believed, he had broken the engagement. Furthermore, he had besmirched the Roth family name so badly in Bath that Abigail vowed to never leave the confines of her home, ever again. He had even begun a rumour that she was with child from another man, older and married as well, and it had destroyed her already fragile reputation. That was why, when Mrs. Roth’s physician advised her to move from Bath to the sea-front townhouse in idyllic Weymouth, Abigail had encouraged her mother. It was her only hope of ridding herself of the mean-spirited whispers and judgmental stares from passers-by, who had been her friends and acquaintances just months before. After the scandal, she had resigned herself to spinsterhood and convinced herself it would be best. Despite her young age, Abigail did not possess the mental fortitude nor the patience to spend time with eligible bachelors any longer. Her patience had been drained and she did not wish to have any part of it. “Abigail,” she heard her mother call out to her, and she turned towards her.
The older woman, whose voice had the ability to travel unrivalled distances, stared at her impatiently. Her mother was rather buxom, and was accompanied by their maid, Dotty, who was a petite woman. Perhaps Dotty was not the best choice to escort Mrs. Roth to the beach, based on their disparity in size. But she was the only member of the staff who had stayed on with the family. When Abigail and her mother moved into the townhouse, they had to let their butler go, along with several other servants. Dotty had stayed. “Yes, Mother?” Abigail approached the imposing woman with a forced smile. “Did you not hear a single word I said?” Abigail shrugged her shoulders and raised her brow expectantly. “My apologies, Mother.
My thoughts were set adrift by the rolling tides. They certainly allow my soul to be at peace more than in W Bath.” “Weymouth is wonderful, Miss.” Dotty nodded in agreement. “It most certainly is, ladies,” Mrs. Roth said as she glanced at the water lapping along the shore. “I am certain Mr. Roth would have agreed.” “He would have adored the beach,” Abigail said. Mrs.
Roth stared at the horizon and her eyes seemed to fill with tears, a result of strong emotions and nostalgia for her husband. Her mother had loved her father from the moment she gazed upon him for the first time, her had heart belonged to him until the day he passed, and would belong only to him long after his passing. Those romanticised tales were told to Abigail, who now was convinced they were all fabricated. Of course, her mother wished for her to marry—she had been beside herself with joy at Abigail’s engagement to the earl—but Abigail felt a sense of duty to not abandon her mother. After everything they’d been through together, it would be wrong to simply leave her to her own devices. Of course, her mother still had Dotty, but it was not the same. She had to care for her mother, as her mother had provided for her throughout her entire life. “Mrs. Roth, are you ready to enter the bathing machine?” Dotty asked the question Abigail should have asked but was not quite ready to do so. “Indeed, dear girl.
Dr. Lester advised this excursion at least once a week, weather permitting, of course. Although in this fine weather, I might be here every day.” Abigail forced another smile. Wasn’t there a less strenuous manner in which her mother was able to bathe in the water? Of course there was, but it was not something her mother agreed with. She preferred the privacy of the bathing machine and didn’t wish to have leering eyes stare at her physique any more than was necessary. Her mother was filled with pride, and despite her confidence and polite nature, she was very selfconscious of her image. She had raised her five daughters to be well-mannered, as young ladies should be. It had most certainly paid off, or at least until the scandal that Abigail had been unwillingly been a part of. “Come along, ladies.
I do not have all day.” Mrs. Roth motioned to the wooden structure before them. Abigail and Dotty helped her into the wooden chamber of the bathing machine, and they remained inside while it was slowly guided into the water. Abigail sighed to herself as she assisted her mother in undressing, saddened by the thought that this was what her life had now become. Throughout her existence, she had dreamed of finding a wonderful husband who adored her. Of being whisked off her feet and enjoying romantic strolls and carriage rides with her love. Never in her young life had she imagined her happily ever after would end so abruptly. Abigail had adored the earl, though she couldn’t speak his name. It still caused her immense pain.
“There we are, Mother,” Abigail said as she glanced at her mother in her bathing dress. It was an unflattering piece of clothing in Abigail’s opinion, and she refused to wear one of her own. Instead, she was covered in a simple day dress with an extra underdress. “You look lovely, Mrs. Roth,” Dotty said with an encouraging smile. The two younger women opened the door facing the ocean and Abigail climbed rather ungracefully out onto the ramp, clinging onto the side rail. The blue water rippled around the machine and Abigail couldn’t help but notice the naked men splashing in the distance. They were free and happy, without the encumbrances of a bathing machine or an ugly bathing dress. Tingles of jealousy rippled through Abigail. How she longed to be free as those gentlemen, without the constricts of being a woman.
“Where is the attendant and the dipper?” Her mother’s voice caused her to tear her gaze from the men. Her mother had positioned herself onto a wooden chair, ready to be lowered down into the water. The only problem was that due to her large stature, it required the assistance of the attendant of the bathing machine as well as the dipper, but neither one was anywhere to be seen. “Perhaps they are assisting another bather?” Dotty suggested. Abigail’s mother glanced incredulously at Dotty and then at Abigail, infuriated that the attendant was not there to cater to her. “I am certain they will be here shortly, Mother,” Abigail said. “I cannot wait for them. Lower me into the water.”