To Heal a Brokenhearted Lord – Bridget Barton

At just eighteen years old, Honoria Harding had spent much time wondering how her life would turn out. If left to her parents, she would marry well and become the wife of a respectable man, bear him children and run his household, just as her mother had done for her father. If it had been left to her, Honoria would have married for love just as they did in the great romance novels she read all the time. But, even though young, she knew the chances of that were slim. It did not stop her from dreaming, however. Did not stop her remembering the pact she and her best friend, Lord Guy Mansfield, had made when they were just twelve years of age. Now, though, six years on, she knew it was simply not to be. News had come that morning of his betrothal to Miss Judith Ingram, the lady his parents had decided was a better match for him. Honoria had seen it long ago in the way his mother had always insisted he dance with the young woman at formal gatherings and the way she fluttered her eyelashes at him whenever she got the chance. It had always infuriated Honoria, wishing she could warn the girl away and tell her all about the pact they had made to be wed, long ago. Now, she sat in the gardens among the flowerbeds, hiding from her mother who had just delivered the news. Though her heart was broken she would not allow the tears to fall. She would not show her parents the trauma the news had caused her. It wasn’t until she heard the hurried steps, disturbing the pebble stone path behind her, that she realised hiding her emotions might not be an option. “Honny?” Guy’s voice was filled with trepidation as he approached behind her.

Taking a deep breath, Honoria imagined ignoring him completely, hoping that he might simply disappear from her presence. The sound of his pet name for her, which had always been a gesture of affection, now felt like a bee sting to her heart. “Honoria?” he said, stepping closer, and she finally twisted where she sat on the marble garden bench. “I did not expect to see you here,” she mused, forcing herself not to scowl at him. The last thing she wanted was for him to know how much the news had hurt her. “May I sit?” he asked, gesturing to the empty space on the bench beside her. Honoria held her breath even as she nodded, and he swept down onto the seat beside her. Shock overwhelmed her when he reached out to take hold of her hands in his. Glancing this way and that, she needed to be sure that nobody was around to see the exchange. “Honny, I’m so sorry,” he gasped, as though he could see the emotion she had tried so desperately to hide from him.

The way he squeezed her hands gave little comfort in the wake of the news. “You have nothing to be sorry for,” she assured him, snatching her hands away from his grip and turning her head so that he might not see the tears that pricked the corners of her eyes. “You must know that I never asked for this,” Guy insisted. She could feel the hurt coming off him at her reluctance to feel his touch. “I should have known your parents would never entertain the idea of you marrying an aristocrat’s daughter.” Honoria shrugged as though it was no big deal, even as she felt her heart aching. “You must know, had it been left to me, I intended to honour our pact.” Guy’s words stung because they meant nothing now. There was absolutely nothing that could be done. Even if it had not been for his parents, the news was out, and he would marry Judith Ingram as soon as their courtship had exceeded its proper time.

“It was a childish fancy anyway,” Honoria growled back at him, though she could not bring herself to look him in the eye. “Something we never should have discussed in the first place.” She could feel his crystalline blue eyes upon her even as she tried to avoid his gaze. “You don’t mean that.” The hurt was obvious in his voice, but what did it matter? Soon he would be lost to her forever, whether she liked it or not. “I do mean it, Guy. You never should have come here,” she snapped at him, jumping to her feet. The urge to run was growing ever stronger, almost impossible to resist. Guy was on his feet just as suddenly. He gripped her by her upper arms and forced her around to face him.

When she kept her gaze firmly planted upon his broad chest, he reached up and placed his fingertips beneath her chin, forcing her brown gaze up to meet his blue one. “Honny, you must know I do this out of obligation.” He sighed. “I must respect my parents’ wishes.” Another stab to the heart that left Honoria weak at the knees. She knew that this might very well be the last time she was close to him and a part of her desperately wanted to steal a kiss. But what good would that do other than make her long for something she could never have? “Why have you come if only to tell me what I already know?” She glared back at him. Guy stepped back, breaking the closeness between them and leaving a void that Honoria knew would never be filled. “Answer me one thing,” she requested, feeling her heart pounding, desperately close to tears. “Anything,” he breathed, and she longed to be close to him once more.

“Do you love her?” Honoria whispered, terrified of the answer. Guy’s eyes widened in astonishment at the question and he quickly shook his head. “I barely know the girl,” he pointed out. “And if it were up to me it would remain that way.” “Do you think that you could love her?” Honoria asked, although she was almost entirely sure she didn’t really want to know the answer. The affection that had always been between them was slowly slipping away. She could feel it as though it was water slipping through her fingers, never to be possessed. “She is to be my wife so I suppose that I must come to have some affection for her.” Guy shrugged. “You should go,” Honoria suggested.

“The last thing you want is for it to get back to Judith that you’ve been here.” With that Honoria turned her back on him again and felt a tear roll down her cheek. “Honny, don’t be like that,” Guy protested, and she felt his hand come to rest on her forearm as though he was pleading with her to turn back to him. Honoria held her breath as she stayed rooted in place, determined not to let him see her cry. “You should probably stop calling me that,” she said, shrugging off his arm. “Please, just go.” An exasperated sigh left Guy’s lips as he removed his hand from her arm and began to walk away. Honoria continued to hold her breath until she was sure he was gone. Then she let the tears begin to fall, dropping back down into her seat as though a heavy weight had landed on her heart. 1806 After two years of reluctant courting, Guy found that it was next to impossible to hold off the inevitable.

The date had been set and in a year, he would be married to Judith Ingram, a young woman of beauty from a respectable family. The only problem was, she was not her. No matter how hard he tried, he could not force the memory of his promise to Honoria from his mind. The hard, heavy feeling in his stomach would not abate no matter what he did. Every time a member of his family brought up the upcoming union, he had to bite his tongue to stop himself snapping their head off. To marry Judith was the last thing he wanted. Of course, she was a nice enough girl, and many would say she was quite the catch. But to Guy, she was an unwanted possession, forced upon him by his parents who believed they were doing what was right for him. Not to mention the fact that Judith was the right person to help him continue the Mansfield line, if it so pleased God for her to do so. If Guy were asked the truth of what he wanted it would not be this.

Unfortunately for him, he knew that nobody cared about what he wanted. They simply wished to see him married in the proper fashion, in a union arranged by his parents, with no thought to his feelings on the matter. It was a fact that caused him many sleepless nights and restless days in which he found himself thinking of Honoria evermore. The more he tried not to think of her, the more her beautiful heartshaped face seemed to pop into his mind. He saw her everywhere he went, even in the face of his betrothed and, had he allowed himself to slip, he may have called his fiancée by the wrong name several times. His only solace was knowing, or at the very least hoping, that his intended hadn’t learnt of his feelings on the matter. His parents had been most careful not to let it slip. He had come to sit in the drawing-room upon the window seat where he would often find Honoria sitting, waiting for him, when they were children. If he tried hard enough, he was sure he could still smell the sweet scent of her floral perfume clinging to the cushions. Deep down, he knew it was not possible.

Honoria had not been permitted to enter the house in some years, exiled from his company by his parents to avoid a scandal. Oh, how I wish you were here, Honny, he sighed to himself as he glanced out of the window at his sisters, who seemed to walk the gardens without a care in the world. No doubt one day soon they too would know the heartache of being forced into unions they could not abide. He only hoped that he would be around to sway their parents’ choice in the hope of finding them a match they would be comfortable with. Luckily for his sisters, they did not seem as choosy as he was. He often caught them gossiping about the eligible men in London and the surrounding counties and thought how easily they might find the match they hoped for. Elizabeth, the older of the two sisters, seemed to sense him watching them and paused in a turn of the garden loop to stop and wave at him with a happy smile on her face. “Guy?” The sound of his mother’s voice almost caused him to jump out of his skin, and he turned to find her standing in the doorway, her hands clasped before her in her usual graceful fashion. “Yes, Mother?” he said as politely as possible, almost sure that she had come to convince him he was doing the right thing. “Are you well?” She eyed him with a concerned expression that told him she knew every well of his mood and the fact that he was not well at all.

But he knew it would do no good to voice his opinion as he had so many times before. She would not be willing to hear it. “Yes, I am.” He nodded instead of beginning an altogether angrier conversation that he knew would get him nowhere. “Am I to believe that Judith will be joining us for dinner this evening?” she asked, her expression still grave. If she is so happy for this union, why does she always hold it in such contempt? Guy couldn’t help but wonder. He knew the answer, but it was not one that appeased his wishes to change the matter. As all others in high society, his parents wished to better their standing. What better way to do so than marry of your eldest son and only heir? Guy thought begrudgingly. “She shall be.

” He nodded, but they both already knew that. Judith had been coming for dinner three or four times a week from the moment their courtship had been announced. Where Honoria had once sat at their table, now she sat, as though she had always been there, all memory of his closest friend practically wiped from existence. He had thought several times of writing to her, possibly even meeting her in secret. But what good would that do? It would only give her hope that they might be able to change things or – worse – give him hope that he would not find himself doing something he was sure he would regret for the rest of his life. Even at such a young age he had seen the consequences of such marriages. He had seen the false smiles that lords and ladies, gentlemen and gentle ladies plastered upon their faces in order to look as though they were content with their lives. But the moment his intentions, or rather his parents’ intentions, towards Judith had been announced, he had become attuned to spotting those who were pretending. After all, he had become one of them himself, smiling and nodding whenever someone offered him congratulations on his future. “It really won’t be so bad.

” His mother sighed and crossed the room in order to sit on the window seat beside him. For the first time in many years he began to feel as though she was his mother again. She placed her hand upon his knee and gave it a gentle, comforting squeeze, as she might have done when he was having a bad day as a young boy. “We both know you have no knowledge on the subject,” Guy grumbled, struggling not to raise his voice. They both knew that she and his father had been the lucky ones. They had both been born to respectable households, finding an affection for each other long before they ever knew they were to spend the rest of their lives together. “Do you trust your mother?” she asked. Guy always hated it when she spoke of herself in the third person like that. Instead of pointing it out, he simply nodded. It would do no good to get on her bad side.

But then again, what harm could it do when the damage already seemed to have been done? Again, he thought of Honoria and how he wished that she had been the woman his parents had picked for him. Though she was not a lord’s daughter or even the daughter of a nobleman, her father had good standing within high society, and she would make a good match for herself. Just not me. Guy sighed, his heart aching with the knowledge. His parents believed that he was too good for her and so he was. That was all there was to it. “Think yourself lucky, my beautiful boy,” his mother smiled softly and lifted her hand to his face, brushing his fringe away from his forehead before cupping his cheek. “There are far worse matches to be made.” He knew his mother was right, but had he had it his way he would have been married years ago, to the only woman he had ever really seen himself spending the rest of his life with. “You will be happy.

” His mother assured him. But for the first time in his life, he couldn’t help but think that his mother was mistaken. 1814 Having been married for seven years, Guy found that he was still at odds trying to find his footing. By now it was judged that they should have a whole brood of children running about the place, but it seemed that God had not been willing to grant the requests of his parents for their much-wanted grandchild. It was just one of those things that added to him believing his parents had been wrong all along. Though he held a great affection for his wife, he could never have said that he loved her, at least not as he had hoped to love his wife when he thought about marriage as a child. Even to this day he found himself thinking of the pact he had once made with his childhood friend all those years ago. He would sit beside the fireplace, wondering what had become of her, wondering why she had never married even after he had been betrothed to Judith. It was on a night such as that, sitting beside the fire in the library of his father’s great manor, that he received the letter that was certain to change his life forever. Sipping the whiskey he had poured for himself, swirling it in the glass before him as he mused over the past, he was startled by the sound of the door crashing open behind him.

The elder Lord Mansfield, his father, dashed into the room as Guy twisted in his armchair. Upon seeing the worry spread across his father’s face, he hurried to his feet. “Father? What is it?” he demanded. “I thought you had gone home with Judith after dinner,” his father huffed. “When Mr. Branson brought me this letter and said you were still here, I had to come and find you.” He sounded out of breath as though he had run the entire length of the manor. Unhealthy as his father was, Guy was instantly worried for him and gestured for him to sit down on the couch. “I was not ready to go home yet,” Guy admitted as he sat beside his father. The red-faced older man looked shaken.

“I’m glad you didn’t, although I’m sure you have most certainly received the same letter at home,” he gasped. “Slow down, Father,” Guy urged him. “Catch your breath.” “I believe it is you who will need to catch your breath when you read this.” Lord Mansfield shook his head and handed the letter to Guy. When Guy read the words written on the yellow paper, he felt his stomach churn. “All young men of fighting age are being called-up?” he gasped and looked at his father. “I prayed this day would never come.” The older lord continued to breathe deeply, even though he had recovered from his bursting into the room. “How am I to lose you? My only son, off to war.

” His face paled as he spoke, and Guy had to admit that the idea didn’t appeal to him either. “Just because I have been called-up does not mean I will have to fight,” Guy pointed out, although he knew the chances of his not seeing battle were slim. From what he had heard, things in France were not going well. “Your mother will be devastated when she hears the news,” his father continued, almost as though he was already signing his death warrant. “What am I to do if we lose you?” he continued without giving Guy a moment to get a word in edgeways. “You are my only heir.” “Then I suppose I shall just have to take good care of myself while I am over there,” Guy said, plastering a smile upon his face for his father’s benefit. Inside he was filled with turmoil. There were so many things he still had to do, so many experiences left unseen. “You must go home at once,” his father said, jumping to his feet as though he meant to push him out of the door.

“You must go to your wife. This might be the last night you spend with her.” Guy couldn’t help but roll his eyes. He was sure that there wouldn’t be soldiers knocking on his door in the morning to drag him away and throw a uniform at him. Still, he knew that his father was right. Their marriage had not been one of love, but he held enough affection for Judith to honour her with one final night before he had to report in. “I will do as you bid me.” He nodded and pushed himself to his feet. Finishing off the dregs of his whiskey, he offered his father a brief handshake before making his way to the door. In the morning everything would change.

He would be dragged away from all he knew and held dear, left to face unimaginable circumstances. But for tonight he would return to his wife and spend one last night in his own bed.

.

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