The Baroness of Sin – Ava MacAdams

Can you believe it? What my gentleman is willing to do to please his lady! I am the happiest I have ever been, marrying the man I love, but the way that he makes me feel when he touches me-” With an unladylike huff, Martha set the letter down in front of her again. She turned to her other sister, Emma, who had been placidly chewing her breakfast as Martha grew more and more agitated in front of her. Emma and Martha were both beautiful and shared a resemblance as sisters; both had long golden blonde hair and green eyes. While Martha was a tad curvier with an hourglass shape, though, Emma had a slightly lither frame, which was only punctuated more by her large round spectacles that rested gently on the end of her nose. “Am I to assume that your letter is much the same, then?” “Much the same as what?” Emma asked, not seemingly at all put off herself. “This… Mine was almost improper,” Martha hesitated at the last moment, not wanting her criticism of their sister to come off as too severe. “I suppose my letter may have been a bit informal, but we are sisters, after all,” Emma nodded, “and your sister is excited to tell you that her marriage is going well. Should we not be happy?” “Of course, I am happy,” Martha said more quietly as she considered picking up the letter again out of desperate curiosity. “Then why are you so put off?” Emma asked. She had always been one to encourage her younger sisters to speak their feelings amongst each other. Martha had been bothered by that just a moment ago but was now thankful. “I am happy for her. Really, I am.” Martha reassured Emma, “I just never had that sort of relationship with… my late husband. I never felt the… excitement that she is expressing.

” Martha considered herself for a moment. “I suppose I am a bit envious.” Emma nodded, “It is a poor situation and an understandable one. But I am sure Harriet only wishes to express her happiness to you, not weigh you down.” “I know.” Martha felt the tempest of emotions inside her calm until she saw a single word within the letter. One word and she read enough to glean its context. “Child” And just like that she felt her soul grip tightly within her chest once more. She had little pity for the fate that befell her late husband, but in those dark lonely hours of the night, she wondered, if she had the ability to sire children, might that have not turned him to another path. But no, her father and brother had made it clear to her on multiple occasions in recent history.

“To hold ourselves accountable to the sins of others is the path to ruin.” Her brother even elaborated on that point one night soon after her husband’s death. “All good people of faith must lead by example, but to punish oneself for sins that others commit is not only poor practice but arguably trying to put ourselves in the position of our creator and savior. Hardly a humble place to be,” he said with a bit of a sad laugh. Those words had made Martha feel much better during her mourning, but, once in a great while, doubt would still creep in. She put down the letter and examined her black clothes. The dark colors never did her complexion justice, and she was quite done with wearing black. The same was to be said for the black drapery and the like that decorated her room for the duration of her stay in Mayfair. It was customary, even in these unfortunate circumstances, for a widow to observe a certain period of public mourning for her departed husband. Wasn’t a year of thinking of that scoundrel enough? “I am going to host a ball,” Martha said so loudly and so suddenly that the servant who had come to clean up breakfast let out a surprised squeak at her exclamation.

“A ball?” Emma asked with a mixture of dismay and incredulity. “Why? When?” She couldn’t seem to decide which question she thought was more important. “As soon as possible,” Martha said more calmly while standing up and smoothing her dress, “and namely for making the acquaintance of some gentlemen. If Harriet can meet the husband of her dreams, then one must surely be out there somewhere for me, filled with passion and love.” “A ball…” Emma said thoughtfully and then with a measure of caution as to not come across as judgmental, “Is it not improper? So soon after your husband’s death?” “It has been a year. I believe that is a proper amount of time,” Martha remarked, her tone hinting at the greater contention. She had given her former husband more than enough of her time, and he needed no more of it. “It has been a while since we entertained in the manor. I don’t know if we are prepared for such an event in the near future,” Emma countered without much enthusiasm. She knew she wouldn’t win much ground here.

“Then it will be a proper test of me as a hostess and of the house staff,” Martha said with a triumphant tone as if the party had already been hailed as the highlight of the season, “and a fitting sort of end to my mourning. A celebration of sorts!” “Now that is hardly proper,” Emma remarked dryly, but her sister hadn’t heard her. Martha was too busy giving her new lady maid a list of instructions to prepare for the ball. Martha’s lady maid Letty was newly hired and often seemed shy and flustered, but Martha never minded and felt the girl was worth the patience. Letty, a young woman who was small even for her age, might just appear nervous because of her demeanor and deserved the benefit of the doubt. She had yet to make even a single error, after all. “We are done discussing this matter, I see. Do try and keep the affair civil,” Emma instructed with only a small measure of concern in her voice. Martha knew Emma wanted her to be happy as much as she wanted Harriet to be happy, and if that meant that people might talk, well, they were already talking. Nothing that Martha could do would make her more of a target for gossip than her former husband’s attempted kidnapping and defilement of Harriet.

“P Chapter Two apa, did you hear me?” The Earl of Barristen, James Williams, looked up from the paperwork he had lost himself in to see the pouting face of ten-year-old Amanda Williams, his daughter. “I’m sorry, dear one.” He smiled sheepishly. “I was distracted.” “You said that you wouldn’t work while we were playing,” Amanda said while stamping her foot. “Now, Lady Amanda, remember that your father works very hard and has a very important job.” Amanda’s governess, Sarah Blake, spoke up from the corner of the room where she stood. James always found that the governess was more than noteworthy in appearance. Tall with black hair and dark piercing eyes, she made a striking figure, and, admittedly, it gave James second thoughts about hiring her on to take care of his daughter. But she had proven to be a more than a capable choice.

“It’s quite all right, Miss Blake,” James reassured the governess. “Fathers should keep their promises, after all,” he said, turning to address his daughter. The little girl acknowledged this lapse in parental decorum with a nod and a hum, then, forgiving and changing the subject as quickly as only children can, asked, “Papa, what happened to mommy?” The question struck James like a physical blow. Each time he thought that the next time the subject of his wife was brought up he would be more prepared, but that was never the case. Leave it to a child’s social naivety to disarm even the most stoic of gentlemen. “Do you not recall from the last time I told you?” James asked. He tried to keep his tone light and playful, not wanting to deter his daughter from asking about her own mother, but his words sounded hollow on his dry lips. “I remember,” Amanda told him, almost hesitantly. “There are just some things I don’t remember about mommy, since I was so little, and I don’t want to forget what you told me.” She looked thoughtful before adding, “Like the things I forgot from when I was a baby.

I don’t remember any of that.” The Earl took a deep breath before recounting the tale. It was a carefully crafted version of events that was honest but told in such a way to spare his daughter the more dire and painful aspects of that night, perhaps to protect himself a bit as well. “I was traveling back from Boulogne, and you and your mother had come with me in order to see the coast. She always loved the sea. We had returned to England and were staying in an inn called the Salt and Spray, just a small distance from the port. Late that night, there was a fire. No one was able to determine how it started, but it started on the second floor while I was in the common room reading over some business papers.” The Earl took another deep shuddering breath before he could continue. “I ran upstairs to the room to try and get to you and your mother.

The fire had spread in front of the door to our room. Your mother handed you to me; you were so small I could carry you in one arm. When I took your mother’s hand to pull her from the room, a burning ceiling beam fell on my…” James looked down at the light burn scars that traced his right hand and disappeared into his sleeve. “Fell in my way. I didn’t want to leave your mother, but we both knew that I had to get you to safety. By the time I got you outside, the fire had consumed the entire top of the inn. I couldn’t go back in to get her,” James looked at his daughter, “and while that makes me very sad, I was glad that I could save you.” Amanda sniffled as she usually did when she heard the story. “I am sad too, Papa. Not too sad though,” she said and brightened up a little.

“Oh?” James asked with genuine curiosity, “and why is that?” “My friend Posey says that when her Mommy died when she was little, she got a new one. That means we can have a new mommy, right Papa?” Amanda asked her father with a sniffling smile. Lord Barristen struggled to maintain a weak smile. “I’m afraid it isn’t all as simple as that,” he told his daughter, not dismissively but honestly. Unfortunately, no matter how gently bad news is delivered, some children still struggle to understand. Big wet tears were streaming down young Amanda’s face now as she wept for the loss of a mother she could only barely remember, not that James could blame her. As her wails of sadness became louder and more distressed, James swept his adolescent child up into his arms, cuddling her like he did when she was much younger. James was able to do this with surprising ease, speaking both to his strength and gentle fatherly concern. “I’m so sorry, dear one. Maybe someday we will be able to find you a nice mother,” he promised, this time knowingly lying to his daughter.

The guilt panged lightly in his chest. James knew that the chance of him wanting to marry again, to risk his heart in that way again, was very unlikely. But not impossible, he told himself mostly to assuage his guilt. No, not impossible.


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