Pining for Lord Lockhart – Jen Geigle Johnson

Sometimes, secretly, Miss Charity Standish wished she could be like everyone else. She sat in front of a small mirror while her maid, Lily, pinned extra jewels in her hair, gifts from the Duchess of York, who waited downstairs for her so they could attend the first big ball of this season. Typically, Charity would have balked at such an extravagance and such an obvious attempt to shop her womanly wiles around the ton; but as she turned her red locks this way and that, she couldn’t resist the pinpoints of light as they reflected off the candles. Was she vain after all? Certainly not. Appreciating the effect did not mean she valued her looks above all else. After the Duchess of Sussex sponsored Lucy, and things went in a completely different direction for Charity’s sister, and happily so, the Duchess of York determined to outdo her age-old rival, the Duchess of Sussex, and marry Charity off to someone truly renowned. Charity humored the effort because it gave her another Season in London, access to anyone she would care to know, and the chance to build her reading salons and philanthropist activities. Come to find out, the Duchess of York was a secret bluestocking. She had been for years, since the days it was à la mode to do so. She studied herself in the mirror, something she rarely took the time to do. Lily sighed. “I wish you’d notice how stunning you are, miss.” She laughed. “Everyone in the room is going to be watching just to have a look at you.” For the briefest moment, Charity let her maid’s compliment have its way inside, boosting her vanity, but then she just laughed.

“Perhaps I should wear a ‘votes for women’ sign as well then? Use the attention to garner some suffrage support?” “Perhaps. That would certainly be something, wouldn’t it?” Charity studied her maid. “Do you think I should take all of this more seriously? Be about the business of getting married?” Lily made a pretense of touching Charity’s dress here and there before responding. “Now, it’s not my place to say.” “When have I been a stickler for a person’s place?” “All the same, I remember my place. But here’s what I think, plain and simple.” Charity smiled. Lily could rarely resist what she thinks. “I think there’s a reason you’re so beautiful, and it isn’t just so that you can march around in your intellectual ways, telling all the men what they should think.” Charity’s eyebrow rose ever higher on her brow.

“I told you it’s not my place.” “And what is the reason for feminine beauty then? You too are beautiful. And you are not parading about the ton trying to catch a husband.” “Those opportunities aren’t mine.” She laughed. “As if, the likes of me, parading about as you do.” She shook her head. “I just think that you could keep doing all you do and be happily married while you do it.” She curtseyed. “But that’s all I’ll say about that.

You’re ready and looking as beautiful as you ever have, if I do say so.” “Thank you, Lily. I couldn’t do any of this without you. Nor would I try. If I do marry, it will be all because of your efforts, and that of Her Grace, of course.” The gown Charity wore sparkled to match her hair. The modiste had been instructed to outdo any other debutante that Season. And she had. Charity was certain of it. Charity hadn’t been looking forward to such a to-do about her clothing, but when she saw the gowns, she was admittedly pleased.

They were beautiful in a manner she had not expected. They made her look strong and feminine at the same time. And she was infused with a new confidence. She gathered her reticule and a fan to dangle at her wrist. She’d found the fan particularly useful if she wished to pretend not to see someone. None of her sisters would be present at this ball, and none of her bluestocking friends. She was free to be and do whatever she wished if she liked, and a part of her wondered what it would be like to simply enjoy a ball. Must she always attend with a goal to spread important truths to the influential people in the room? Surely she’d done so enough; at this point, they all understood her standing on most things. She tapped the fan into her hand. But there was that upcoming bill to consider.

Logan, her sister Kate’s husband, had sponsored it, and where they assumed it would pass without problem, a few of the Tories were up in arms. She stopped her thoughts. Perhaps she would just simply attend the ball sponsored by one of the most influential women in London. If the bill came up, she would offer her opinion. And Lord Lockhart might be there. Her insides twisted up in excitable knots at the thought of that handsome and attentive friend. She couldn’t stop the rise of color to her cheeks as she descended. The Duchess of York stood at the base of the stairs as Charity descended, and the dear woman raised hands to her face. “I am enchanted. You, Charity, have far exceeded even my expectations.

” She turned to her husband who had just joined her. “Don’t you think?” He took a moment to glance her way. Then nodded. “Yes, she will be a credit to your name. Well done, my dear.” Charity dipped her head. “Thank you both. I don’t know how to appropriately thank such a kind gesture.” “Think nothing of it. Do good with what we’ve given you.

That’s the best manner in which to thank my wife.” The duke’s oft-stern face showed off some of his laugh lines and Charity curtseyed to them both. “I shall do my best.” “That’s a girl. And with a dress like that, and your natural beauty, I think the duke will be in high demand this evening, being asked for introductions.” He grunted as they exited the townhome. “True. You might wish to thank me again at the end of the evening. That or conquer the hearts of every man there in one go.” He chuckled to himself.

“You know, Her Grace was quite the catch. I had to fend off many a young hopeful in order to win her affection.” The two smiled in a rare moment of tenderness toward each other. The duke helped them both up into the carriage and as Charity adjusted her skirts, she felt herself lucky indeed. Blessed. Thinking of Lily, she couldn’t account for the different stations in people’s lives, for their upbringing, for the incredible good fortune of some and the utter devastation of others. She only knew that where she had been given much, she must do the same in return. They pulled in front of the Duke of Stratton’s home. Thankfully, Lord Fellon held no ill feelings toward Lucy or the family for her sudden decision not to marry him. In fact, he may have been relieved.

He was now courting a woman who made him laugh more than she’d even seen a smile appear on his face, and the two seemed well-suited indeed. If she were to guess, there might be an engagement announcement at the end of this ball. She and the duchess entered on either arm of the duke, the doors opened wide to receive them. The house had been decorated with extra lighting. More candles than she’d seen anywhere lit the halls, the ceilings, the tables, everywhere she looked. And she could only be grateful at the extravagance. “Oh, I do like to actually see a person while dancing.” The duchess followed her gaze. “Oh yes, they’ve rather lit the place, haven’t they?” “Indeed.” Her husband’s attention was elsewhere, on a group of men exiting toward what Charity could only guess was the card room.

“And what if Charity needs to scare away a scoundrel?” The duchess tapped his arm with her fan. “Our Miss Charity has proven herself capable of handling any sort of man, but if something untoward is at risk of befalling our guest, summon me immediately. They will rue the day.” The spark of protective power that lit his eye gratified Charity. She nodded. “Thank you, Your Grace.” What would it have felt like to come to these sorts of events with her own father? She could only guess. So far, she’d been well cared for by her brother-in-law, Lord Morley, and dear friends. But for a moment, that protective glint in the Duke of York’s eye filled her with loneliness by comparison. She’d not experienced much of that protection in her life.

She stood taller, but perhaps the Duke was correct. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind if needed. For this, she’d learned to hold her own. All this talk of catching herself a husband had softened her. She looked around, needing an unwitting victim of her tongue. But the music began, and Lord Lockhart bowed to them all. “Why, Lord Lockhart.” The duchess almost clapped with glee, and Charity wished she could perhaps mellow her response to the old friend. He behaved as the perfect gentleman with a side wink to Charity. “It is a pleasure to see Your Grace, as always.

I look forward to our next salon.” She eyed her husband for a moment and then nodded. “I as well, that musicale was delightful.” Her secretive smile made Charity laugh. She didn’t know if the Duchess enjoyed their meetings more for the actual topics presented or for the intrigue of hiding her involvement. The duke was not as enamored with bluestocking ideas as she, apparently. “Quite right.” He nodded. “And perhaps Charity will grace us with her singing at one in the not-too-distant future?” His daring expression told Charity he knew exactly what he was doing. “Oh, there is no need to hurt the ears of all and sundry.

” She shook her head. “Come now. How are you, my lord?” “I am well. Aunt Victoria is here, in the corner. And we are bound and determined to enjoy ourselves at this smash.” “Excellent. And how is your aunt?” “She fares well. I heard this morning that all her gout and other ailments of the nerves have bettered just in time to attend. I’m unsure how long she will last, but at any rate, she seems pleased to have come.” Charity never knew if Aunt Victoria’s ailments were to be trusted.

They were convenient to say the least. “I’m happy you could come.” She eyed him, waiting, hoping for the usual first set which was well on its way to beginning. But then he bowed. “Well, I am certain we shall cross paths again this evening.” He turned to leave, and they were all aghast. Charity couldn’t close her mouth at the surprise. “What?” She swallowed. Lord Lockhart always asked her for the first set. In every ball they attended together he had raced to find her, no matter who surrounded her, and asked for the first set.

But right now, he walked away from them, nervously adjusting his sleeves. What had gotten into that man? “I don’t know what to say.” She turned to the duchess. “Nor I. Do you suppose he is intimidated by you?” The duchess looked her over. “He should be enchanted.” His Grace stood taller, his gaze travelling over the attendees. “Perhaps the lad is tongue tied. Happens to a man sometimes, you know, when the lady is particularly beguiling.” The duke nodded as though an expert on the topic of amorous dealings.

“I cannot account for it.” Charity watched him leave the ballroom, growing more puzzled. Then a group of the more handsome set approached. “Oh, dear.” The duchess fanned her face. “They can have nothing to be interested in here.” “Except perhaps she will be all the more beguiling to the others of their sex who might have an interest.” The duke nodded to Lord Granville who paused, greeted the duke and duchess, and then turned to Charity. “I did not know you would be in London for the Season.” He dipped his head.

“Might I have this first set?” “Certainly. It’s always good to see you, Lord Granville.” They didn’t always agree, but who did Charity always agree with? As she placed her hand on his arm and he led her out onto the floor, he grinned. “I already know this set will be the most enlightening and lively in conversation of any I have of the evening.” She laughed. But only nodded. “Come now, what is to be our topic? Wellington’s last battle? The state of the poor and the cost of food? Or is it to be women’s suffrage? Land ownership?” She shook her head. “Have we already addressed all those issues, you and I?” “We certainly have and more besides. You are an uncanny conversationalist. I only ask you for a set when my mind is up to it.

” “And so you are energized and ready for a duel of words, then?” “I am if you are so inclined, but might I say first, that you are particularly stunning this evening. I could hardly resist the set if my mind were mush.” She dipped her head, strangely flattered instead of offended at the mention of her beauty. “Thank you. Then perhaps we might discuss something that does not inspire debate?” “Oh?” his eyebrow rose and the spark of interest in his expression told Charity that flirting might be easier than she imagined. “Yes, I’d be most interested to hear of your estate. Your family. You.” He seemed flustered for a moment, but just briefly. “Well, I’m honored to have garnered a particular personal interest in one so well-read.

” He circled her in the set. “Then I shall tell you, all is well in the lake country. We do boast one of the prettier parts of England for my estate. Lakes, vales, flowers in bloom, plenty of rainfall.” He paused. “And you? How are you and yours? The castle is well-nigh completed I’ve heard.” “It is, yes, thank you. We are all well. Mr. and Mrs.

Sullivan are moved in to the castle and the stables have almost doubled in size.” Charity shook her head. “Grace has opted to move to live with Lord and Lady Morley until her first season. And I move around between the two. Of course, now I am staying with the Duchess of York.” “Lovely people. He is also the man most apt to defend your causes on the floor of the House of Lords.” “Is he?” She turned to find her benefactor, but he had gone, the duchess deep in conversation with a group of her friends. “I did not know that.” A man opposed to bluestockings but so open to change? She was intrigued.

“In truth, since talking to you, I’ve become much more inclined in the direction of universal suffrage. There is talk, you know, and of course the riots.” “And there you go, bringing up interesting topics. Shall we move on from the personal?” “Are they not one and the same to you?” She dipped her head in acquiescence. “I’m certain it seems as much.” They moved down the middle of the line together. When they were facing each other again, she shook her head. “But tell me more of the lake country. I’ve never been.” She could hardly recognize herself.

A perfect opportunity to cheer this lord on in his efforts in the House of Lords and she was bringing up the lake country? She couldn’t account for it, except that she’d agreed to give this evening her best go at perhaps opening up personal connections with someone, more than one if possible. And, if she were being totally honest, she’d always wanted to see the lake district. They talked of simple things, pleasant things; she learned all about his home. And by the end of the conversation, she felt almost as if she’d had a good coze. But she couldn’t resist—as he was leading her off the floor, she pressed her hand into his arm for emphasis. “But I must tell you as well, I am most pleased with your efforts. If we can just get a large enough vote…”

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