The Dunne Family; A Regency Collection – Chasity Bowlin

ALGERNON DUNNE ENTERED the Angel and Royal Inn in the wee hours of the morning. Patrons slept on the floor of the tap room, snoring softly from exhaustion or excess. The innkeeper whom he’d roused glared at him. He had no patience for the man’s short temper and little inclination to deal with it. As always, coin was the most expedient method to smooth his way. “Lord Holland has a room here. Direct me to it.” The innkeeper shook his head, “I’ll send up a maid so as not to disturb the lady.” Algernon placed another coin with the first. “There’s no need. The key, if you please.” The innkeeper produced a key and passed it to him. “Get your business done and get gone, the lot of you. I don’t know what either one of you is about but that girl isn’t his wife, and she’s not well. I’ll not have some gently bred girl dying in my inn and ruining my business.

” “What a compassionate soul you are,” Algernon said dryly as he turned toward the narrow stairs. “The room is the last one at the end of the hall,” the innkeeper said, and his tone was just as cool as before. Climbing the stairs slowly, Algernon had no idea what he would find when he opened that door. Whatever lay beyond, he knew that their lives would all be changed irrevocably by it. Fitting the key into the lock, the well-oiled mechanism turned soundlessly. The innkeeper might lack compassion, but he was clearly diligent about the maintenance of his property. The door swung inward with a soft whoosh. There was just enough light streaming through the windows to illuminate the couple lying on the bed. There was no mistaking it for an intimate encounter. The man was clothed, lying atop the covers, watching the pale and wan face of the woman as if every breath might be her last.

“What happened?” Algernon demanded softly. “Melville’s drunkard of a coachman sent them into the river,” came the soft reply, nearly a whisper. “The coachman is dead. Melville as well. But Olivia survived for the simple fact that Melville had bound her hands and secured them to a hook inside the carriage… Otherwise, she would have drowned with them. The impact dislocated her shoulder. I helped the doctor to set it earlier.” Algernon’s heart thundered in his chest. She was his only family, all that he had left. And he’d very nearly lost her.

“You need to leave, Burke. Before anyone discovers you here.” Lord Burke Holland rose from the bed and glared at him. “Then I’ll take my leave before my presence sullies her any further… But you need to ask yourself, Algernon, what part you played in this near tragedy.” “What part I played?” he demanded, outraged at the accusation. “I would never have allowed Melville near her. Olivia was reckless and she very nearly paid the ultimate price for it!” “Not reckless,” Burke corrected him. “Desperate. Lonely. Vulnerable because of your damnable pride.

” The words stung, primarily because they were true. But Algernon was having none of it. Those were admissions he was unwilling to make. “You’ve gone too far.” Burke continued. “You’re so puffed up with your own circumstance you can’t see that you’ve made her life a misery…. She’s just something else you put on display to show the world how far above everyone you are. But she’s not a piece of art, or a priceless artifact. She’s a flesh and blood woman denied her own life for far too long.” The fury that accusation elicited in him was fueled by guilt.

“I’ve denied her nothing! You’re the one who feels denied… Should I have granted you permission to court her then? To ply her with trinkets and romantic gestures until she agreed to wed you?” “I love her! I have loved her for years and would do anything to make her happy!” Algernon was beyond furious, beyond caring that the words escaping him would destroy a man he’d called friend, a man who’d risked everything to save his sister from an opportunist. “You’re no better than Melville. What do you have to offer her? A tattered reputation, a family full or miscreants and a family seat that’s crumbling around your ears? You claim to love her… but she’d never be sure, would she, Burke? There would always be the question of whether you loved her or money!” Burke flew at him then, taking him to the ground. The fist that landed on his jaw was like steel, the impact of it jarring through him. Burke was heavier, larger, but Algernon fought back, landing several staggering blows of his own. They grappled, both men in a fit of fury and temper. They were both bloodied and winded, but neither was giving ground. It was only the soft cry from the bed, a sound of pain and distress that caused the men to break apart. Burke rose and moved toward the bed, but Algernon was having none of it. “It isn’t your place to tend to her,” he said sharply.

Burke stopped, halting mid stride. He snapped over his shoulder at Algernon, “Go to hell.” But he made no move to approach the bed. Instead he grabbed his greatcoat where it had been discarded and stormed out into the night. Algernon moved closer to the bed just as Olivia opened her eyes. Even in the dim light, he could see the dark bruise on her forehead and the numerous scrapes and bruises that accompanied it. Her right arm was bound to her chest “Burke,” she whispered. “He’s gone, Livi,” Algernon said softly. “Melville’s dead,” she whispered. “He’s dead and I’m glad.

I’m a horrible person.” “Nonsense,” he reassured her. There was a bottle on the table that was obviously laudanum. Reaching for it, he placed several drops in a glass and pressed it to her lips. “Go to sleep, Liv. It’ll all look better tomorrow.” 1 London, 1817 AS MORNİNG SUN streamed into the breakfast room of the Dunne townhouse in Mayfair, Olivia sat to her brother’s left as he perused the morning paper. The slip of paper tucked into the sleeve of her morning gown was like a leaden weight. It was not a conversation she looked forward to, but it was necessary. Taking a deep breath, she plunged ahead.

“Algernon, I’ve been thinking that I should like to move to a house of my own.” His surprise was apparent in the cool arching of one brow. “Why would you wish to leave your home?” he asked, reaching for his coffee cup. The bitter drink had become a morning ritual for him. She would shock him. Quite possibly, what she had to tell him would infuriate him, but she’d learned the hard way how dangerous it was to keep secrets from her brother. Memories long buried stirred in her, of Melville and his ham handed attempt to abduct her to Scotland for an elopement. Memories of the pain and fear afterward, of seeing Melville’s lifeless body bobbing in the water that poured into the carriage after the crash. After that, it all became vague and fuzzy, details lost in a haze of pain and laudanum. Disturbed by her own thoughts, she spoke as matter-of-factly as her nerves and embarrassment would permit.

“I’ve decided to take a lover.” Algernon choked on the coffee he had just sipped—his face red and his eyes tearing up as he sputtered. When at last he could breathe again, he demanded, “What the devil has gotten into you, Olivia? That is impossible!” “Algie,” she said, reverting to the childhood nickname that only she was permitted to use for him, “We both know that I will not marry… Not now. My reputation is far beyond salvage and any offers that might come are for old men seeking nurses or young hot heads seeking my fortune. I may have fallen, but my standards have not. I want no part of either but that doesn’t mean I am ready to enter a nunnery.” She’d known that her words, at least at first, would not sway him. She was also certain that if she persevered, he would come around. So she allowed him his protest. His tone was strident and quite firm.

“First, you are an unmarried woman and cannot possibly live alone. Second, regardless of your reputation, you and I both know that you are entirely innocent. While there are women in this world, in far worse situations than yours, who give their bodies without giving their hearts, you are not one of them. You will be heartbroken by this foolishness.” Olivia sighed as she began countering the arguments. She’d come fully prepared for all of them. “I’m not innocent, Algernon. I may be a virgin, but I am not innocent. Not now. Innocence implies that I have no notion of how cruel the world can be, and that is no longer true.

As to being heartbroken, I would rather have my heart broken than allow it to simply wither in my chest…Is it so very wrong to want passion in my life? To feel something other than the dreaded monotony of getting up every morning to have every day be exactly the same?” Algernon started to speak, but she held up her hand and continued. As she spoke, her voice rose unintentionally. Shouting was not something that Olivia Dunne did. She was always calm, always circumspect, and her behavior always proper, but propriety had failed her utterly and left her miserable. “I wake up. We have breakfast. You leave to take care of business or go to your clubs or go to your mistress—and please don’t mistake that I am blissfully unaware—and I sit here. There are no callers. No one will be seen coming into this house to visit me.” She stood up abruptly, her chair nearly tipping backward, and began to pace the room as she continued, “Then I sort through the mail, and the painfully thin stack of invitations that we receive… well, the painfully thin stack that is addressed to us both.

After that, I have lunch. Then I sit. Then I have tea. Then I sit. Then we have supper, and possibly, we go out to a party or a ball afterward, where I will go, and I will sit, because even though I have been invited as a courtesy to you, I am not really welcome. No one will talk to me, no one will dance with me, unless it is some aging roué who thinks I am up for grabs or some grasping fortune hunter who thinks I am desperate for a husband.” When she had finished, Olivia returned to her chair and seated herself. Other than her slightly flushed face, there was no indication that she had just ranted like a madwoman or shouted at her brother like a fishwife. Concern was etched on Algernon’s face. He looked at her as if she were some fragile thing ready to topple and shatter.

“I will stay at home more. We will spend more time together. I have been horribly selfish in leaving you alone so much—.” His offer was interrupted by the smashing of dishes. The breakfast plate that had been sitting before Olivia was now lying in shattered pieces on the opposite side of the room. Surprised, she wasn’t quite sure how it had happened. Surely, she must have thrown it, though such a display was entirely unlike her. Of course, she was arguing with her elder brother about her right to take a lover. Many things about the morning were quite unlike her. “You can’t possibly understand!” she said, her voice trembling with frustration and pent up anger.

“I don’t want you to give up your life. I want to build one of my own! No, it won’t be the one that had been envisioned for me. Marriage, a family… that is gone. But I can have friends and I can have a lover, if I accept that my place in society now is no longer the place in society that I was born to…You need to live your life, Algie. You need to find a wife, and you will not do that as long as I am in this house. No respectable woman will live here while I am in residence. Had it not been for me, you would have married already!” He opened his mouth to protest, but the words to make it all go away simply did not exist. This wasn’t the skinned knee of her childhood, or the slight of a vicious girl. Those small hurts he’d soothed easily enough. This was something altogether different.

“Olivia —“ She held up her hand, stemming his protests. “My reputation, Algie, is already in tatters. It has been for the better part of the past year. I am, in the eyes of the ton, well and truly ruined.” It was a fact he would not be able to argue. Her reputation was beyond repair though it was through no fault of her own. Still, taking a lover was not an endeavor typically undertaken by young ladies of breeding. “And if I forbid it, Liv?” he asked softly. She didn’t flinch, nor did she relent. Instead, she looked him directly in the eye and said with a resolve that rang with conviction, “I was not asking for your permission, Algernon.

I was merely informing you of my plans. I am twenty-five years old and will come into my own fortune soon enough. I have no marital prospects to speak of, certainly none that I would ever consider. The world already believes me to be a woman who played fast and loose with her virtue… Should I not have the benefit of actually experiencing what the world has already condemned of me?” It was an argument that could not be easily refuted, though he persevered. “Marriage is not entirely out of the question for you, Olivia. There have been offers since the scandal broke… But if you do this, even those offers will be withdrawn.”


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