Second Chance Love – Annabelle Anders

Mrs. Amelia Sartin posed at the glittering center of Lady Darlington’s soiree—part participant, part spectator, enthralled by the pageantry and, at the same time, restless within. Her turban’s peacock feather fluttered as she nodded along to her friend Lady Constance’s Bond Street Rodent Shopping Tale—a story Amelia had heard before. Unthinkable to interrupt, however. Beastly rude. Instead, Amelia drifted along with the music while the tide of conversation whirled around her in swirling eddies. Sounds of Tonnish diversion sharply contrasted with the more familiar sounds of Sartin Trading Company’s daily din—clattering delivery cart wheels, bellows of working men, and the whirring chatter of machines. Whenever Amelia complained of the noise, her late husband, and the company’s founder, would lean back in his giant chair, take a pontificating puff on his pipe, and say, “Well, my dear, such are the sounds of commerce, and where there is commerce,”— pause for a knuckle rap to the desk—“there is proof life itself is striving to expand.” Now—she lifted her brows—she practically embodied the disparity between elegance and industry, suspended between two worlds, presenting the face of a wealthy, bejeweled widow to the ton, while secretly—and happily—keeping the same long, working hours she kept when her husband lived. Ah, George. Carrying on hadn’t been easy. In fact, she couldn’t have done so without the discreet assistance of George’s trusted secretary, Mr. Matthew Bellamy. Bellamy, who— bless him—was acting as the male face of a female-led company until her heir, George’s nephew Jeremy Pritchett, was ready to take his place. What would her days be like once Jeremy took on a greater role? Fewer contracts and papers, account books and constant decisions.

No more pouring over Bellamy’s reports, trading ideas and sifting possibilities, often late into the night. A strange sense of purposelessness descended. She resisted the fog with an intentional shiver. She’d spent years in toil. Years. Her white, kid leather gloves concealed plenty of evidence. On the other hand, her sacrifice meant she could now, for the most part, do as she pleased. Triumphantly, she ting-ed the side of her glass with the tip of her finger. Constance stopped speaking. “What was that?” Amelia blinked.

“What was what?” “Didn’t you hear that odd little chime?” “Hadn’t noticed.” She glanced around. “Did someone make a toast?” “Possible.” Constance sighed. “Such a crush tonight! You’d think Lady Darlington would be more circumspect with invitations. Now, where was I?” Amelia took a guess. “You’d just spotted the rodent on the dressing room floor.” “Ah, yes. So, there I stood, eye to eye with an evil, bead-eyed, furry ball of deviltry—” Poor, maligned mouse. “Eye to eye?” Amelia asked.

That bit she’d changed. Constance lifted a shoulder. “In as much as one can be, when standing on a stool. Anyway, the air in the room simply disappeared…” Amelia coasted back to considering one, indisputable benefit of age. Namely, the absence of strict propriety—a young woman’s bane. Happy thought, indeed, and one which brought her around to her purpose tonight. Lord Markham. She hadn’t attended because the Darlington soirees were to social and political discourse what Almack’s was to marriage. Well, less the tasteless punch and unexceptional music. Nor had she attended to savor the warming, nutmeggy taste of Negus.

She’d attended because last season, after a good deal of prompting from her friends, she’d sampled Markham’s famed talents, and, miraculously, found they temporarily cured her restlessness. Tonight she intended to—a-hem—renew their acquaintance. Warmth accompanied the memory of their last tryst. A dare at a horse race: could Markham bring her to climax in her carriage behind the stands before the horses completed the three-mile course? She sighed. Of course he had. And the encounter had been exciting. Satisfying. And, best of all, distracting. She searched the portion of the room she could see for any sign of Lord Markham’s distinctive auburn hair. “…So, I captured the menace, the madame praised my courage, and all was again right with the world.

” Constance finished her story with a characteristic, there-you-go arm-spread. Amelia delivered the obligatory exclamations, and then asked, “Have you happened to see Lord Markham this evening?” Constance smirked before casting a furtive gaze about the room. “Both his sisters are present. But I see no sign of him—not yet, anyway.” “Well,” Amelia huffed. What could possibly be keeping him? “Lady Darlington assured me he would attend.” Constance drew close. “I said you’d appreciate Markham’s talents, did I not? After only a summer apart, here you are bristling to renew your acquaintance.” Amelia lifted her fan and flicked her wrist. The ribs spread open with a flash of color and a cascade of successive clicks.

“Bristling,” she repeated derisively. “I am not bristling.” “You aren’t?” Constance lowered her voice. “Do mean you won’t be upset if I attempt another go?” “Really, Constance,” Amelia said under her breath. “I was teasing.” Constance rolled her eyes. “You know I despise twice dipping a quill.” Amelia slanted Constance a glance, earning Constance’s lyrical laugh. Amelia wasn’t truly offended. Constance was just being, well, Constance.

Also widowed. Also wealthy. The difference? While Amelia was impoverished gentry saved by a marriage to trade, dependent on the intentional cultivation of proper associations, Constance was, and always had been, a duke’s daughter whose greatest pleasure and only concern was skirting scandal with a Gallic shrug and a wink. Constance plucked at her lace. “Might I remind you who introduced you to Lord Markham?” “You,” Amelia conceded. “But only because he required a loan from my husband’s bank.” “I was talking about later, when I encouraged you to pursue an arrangement.” Amelia squinted, recalling. “Emily first raved about him, actually.” Another woman in their mature-and-the-Devil-may-care set.

“Emily and I both recommended him, but I kept pressing. I knew you needed a bit of fun.” Fun? Was fun why she had pursued Lord Markham? She’d had no qualms regarding their liaison-without-attachment before, but to think of intimacy as mere fun seemed a touch… well, ill-considered, at the very least. Then again—“Of course I appreciated your encouragement, darling.” Amelia masked unease with a cheerful smile. “Lord Markham is delightful.” Delightful. She mustn’t forget that. And blessedly able to divert her attention. “I look forward to welcoming him back to the city.

I’m not fool enough to seek anything more.” “Heaven forbid.” Constance scowled. “We are free, my dear. And there is absolutely no reason either of us should relinquish such a gift.” Gift. She could never think of George’s loss in such a way. Even setting aside her slowly healing grief for George, she wasn’t, quite frankly, celebrating her single state. She missed some things about marriage. Quiet amity.

The feeling of not being alone. The kind of private amusements couples shared. Constance disturbed Amelia’s reverie with a loud clap. “I believe I just spotted a fresh fish in the pond.” Amelia groaned. “A quill as yet undipped?” “A quill I’d like to dip, anyway. I feel suddenly eager to catch up on my correspondence.” “Or, if you followed your other metaphor, do a little poach—hey.” Amelia rubbed the place Constance had pinched. “Be useful, would you? Tell me what you think.

He’s standing next to a potted palm.” “We’re standing next to a potted palm.” “The one across the room, silly…to the right of the refreshment table. No, wait.” Constance grasped Amelia’s arm, holding her in place. “Let me guess something about him first. Then tell me if you agree.” “Your favorite game.” “Far from my favorite, dear. Indulging in my favorite game would have me expelled.

” Amelia snorted. “Arrested, more-like.” “That, too.” Constance studied her subject. “Well?” Amelia prompted. “Judging by the size of his lapels, he’s not often out. He’s not young…but I wouldn’t describe him as old, either. Nearing his thirtieth year, I suspect. He’s uncomfortable, but not completely unfamiliar, with the ton.” Constance tilted her head.

“An enigma!” She lifted her shoulders in an excited little shrug. “And here I was, thinking this Season would be dull…” Poor man. If Constance decided to pursue him, he was already lost. “May I look, now?” “Of course.” Amelia followed Constance’s gaze. Recognition arrived in stages, as if the man were a conundrum she’d been tasked to solve, phrase by mysterious phrase. First, came the vague sense she had been long acquainted with his wispy brown hair. Then, her heart involuntarily softened as she took in his prominent cheek bones. And the last piece? A small, spontaneous smile the moment she identified his straight, thin, incapable-of-holding-up-his-readingglasses nose. Reading glasses she hadn’t seen Matthew Bellamy without in years.

The missing spectacles must have been the reason she hadn’t known her secretary at once. And the fact she hadn’t ever seen him dressed for an evening among the ton. “I’ve reached a verdict,” Constance announced. “Fortune hunter.” Amelia shook her head, considering Matthew’s investments and the legacy left him by George. “Definitely not a fortune hunter.” A secretary. Her secretary. Disconcerting possessiveness flared in her chest. Why on earth had he come? “Do you know him?” Constance asked.

“Yes,” Amelia clipped. “Sartin Trading Company employs him.” Constance’s lips thinned. “Employs?” “Darling,” Amelia reminded, “I am employed by Sartin Trading Company.” “You own the company.” Constance set back her shoulders. “Entirely different.” That. Amelia scowled. That was why she was never entirely comfortable with Constance.

Constance deemed people in trade beneath her. All except Amelia. Could a friend be a friend if they thought of you as “the exception”? “If it helps,” Amelia said wryly, “his mother is Lady Dorothy, daughter of the late Earl Wentworth.” Constance’s smile returned. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” She looped her arm through Amelia’s. “You may introduce us.” “You want me to introduce you to Mr. Bellamy?” “Yes. Of course. Why not?” Why not, indeed.

Amelia grasped for a valid protestation; none made sense. Because she’d known Bellamy since he’d come to George on his uncle’s recommendation over a decade ago, a lanky, awkward seventeen-year-old, hungry for knowledge? Because George, like the unique, kindhearted, ambitious cultivator of talent he’d been, had made Bellamy his own, second only to the nephew they’d practically raised? Because, after George passed, Bellamy encouraged her decision to defy advice and remain the force behind her late husband’s banking, trading and shipping companies? None of those were reasons she should object to an introduction. Nor did she have any claim on him. They merely spent day after day together. …And the occasional long night. Bellamy was loyal. He was smart. He was sincere. Most importantly, he was essential. But he was one other thing Amelia hadn’t noticed, one thing made plain by the gleam in Constance’s eyes.

Bellamy was a man. Full Stop. A man uncommonly attractive in eveningwear—even outdated eveningwear. She’d been restless before. She was positively alarmed, now.

.

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