- Story Highlights!
After a disastrous first season in London, Rose Wilde finds herself torn between two men who love her — but who both hide secrets that could ruin her. *****
Rose Wilde has always considered herself plain, especially when compared to her beautiful older sister Charlotte, and has practically given up on the idea of being romanced. But when American hotelier Derek Montgomery comes to revolutionise her little, sleepy English village of Ascot, Rose starts to revisit the idea of falling in love. However, Derek brings with him many secrets and obligations, some that might prohibit him from pursuing Rose — and push her into the arms of her friend, Michael Cornell, the Marquess of Juniper. Will fate allow Rose and Derek to marry for love? Or will she indeed become the reluctant marchioness?
The Reluctant Marchioness is brought to you by 009 Corporation
Dedicated to Kassilassie
“How we need another soul to cling to, another body to keep us warm. To rest and trust; to give your soul in confidence: I need this, I need someone to pour myself into.” Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
A week had passed since Emmett had announced that an American hotelier father and son had purchased Pendleton Park from Ascot. It was also the day that they were supposed to be arriving for their stay.
Rose sat idly in the library, pretending to be immersed in a novel while she watched maids scurry about dusting surfaces that had already been dusted. Even she had to admit, it was quite exciting to have two foreign guests come to Ascot. It was even more exciting to think that the once beautiful manor house, which was now quite tired, would be turned into a beautiful hotel. Perhaps, as the previous owners, she and her family might be permitted to dine there every once in a while.
“Oh, Rosie, there you are!” exclaimed Bess as she pulled Alexandra and Imogen into the library by their hands. “Could you mind Allie and Imogen for me? I need to go and speak to Mrs Weston about the menu tonight and Emmett is taking Davy to Pendleton Park to meet our guests. Lord, everyone is so frantic. Poor Mr Hartley. I fear he may have a coronary!”
Rose loved caring for her nieces, and she hoped it would fill the void as she grew to be a spinster. It saddened her at times, knowing that she would not become a mother. Although Bess, her mother Marie, and her sister Charlotte often laughed off these fears, Rose knew them to be true. She’d had a London season. Three months of balls, assemblies and dances. She’d been in rooms filled with eligible gentlemen, and the only one to ask her to dance was one who knew of her dowry, and only because Emmett had told him. Though Emmett had only been trying to appease her, it brought her to the true realisation that she was not tempting to men. Not like her beautiful sister.
While Charlotte was statuesque, slim, fair and beautiful, Rose was small, with dark and plain features. Her lacklustre height overemphasised her hips, which was just another feature about herself that caused her to be self-conscious.
Bess looked unusually dressed up. Her usual loose, wavy hair was pinned up and away from her face in a neat knot. She wore a lovely sky blue gown and some beautiful jewellery pieces — a matching blue bauble around her neck and a sapphire encrusted tiara on her head. She couldn’t help but think that Emmett may have insisted that she abandon her usual simple attire for their special guests. She’d never looked more aristocratic.
“Anyone would think we were hosting the King,” Rose joked.
“One would think that,” Bess said, smirking, “with the way Emmett is behaving. Anyway, girls, be good for Aunt Rose.” With that, she left the twins and made her way swiftly from the library.
Alexandra and Imogen were very attractive children. Alexandra’s hair was dark and curly, like Emmett’s, and she had big hazel eyes. She was taller than Imogen, who had wispy blonde hair, but the same hazel eyes.
Alexandra, as the taller and slightly older of the two, often took charge of Imogen. She had Bess’ boisterous personality. Imogen didn’t seem to mind though.
“Aunt Rose, what is happening?” Alexandra asked Rose.
Rose lifted Alexandra and then Imogen up onto the settee with her, both girls getting comfortable on Rose’s lap. Rose wrapped her arms around both of them. Yes, this could fill her void. “We have some very important guests joining us,” Rose replied. “So you have to be on your
very best behaviour, Allie,” Rose warned. “You, too, Imogen,” she added, tapping her niece on the nose, making her giggle. To entertain the girls while their parents were elsewhere, Rose decided to order some sweets from the kitchen. Maids were still going about their business, walking throughout the rooms of Ascot cleaning and cleaning again. “Excuse me?” she asked, to get one of the maids’ attention. Unfortunately, Rose only knew the names of a handful of maids. They came and went ever so frequently, leaving to get married and start families. She silently cursed herself for feeling envious.
🔴A young maid turned around, looking only about eighteen years old. She had fair skin and a few curly, red tendrils slipping out from underneath her maid’s cap. “Me, milady?”
“Yes, I’m sorry, what is your name?” she asked.
“Florence, milady,” she replied nervously.
“Could you please go and ask Mrs Weston if she could fix Lady Alexandra and Lady Imogen something sweet to eat? She shall be occupied with the Duchess, so perhaps ask the kitchen maids.”
No sooner had Florence departed the library, Charlotte entered, carrying baby Georgie in her arms. Charlotte looked frazzled herself, though she still looked effortlessly beautiful in her red silk gown. She too had decorated herself in some lovely jewels. Rose had never resented her sister’s beauty as Charlotte had never flaunted it. But she’d envied it. She’d envied the attention Charlotte received, and she envied the fact that she’d once had both Nate and her previous fiancé, Eric, both vying for her.
“Nate has taken Edward and Maggie to Pendleton Park with Emmett and Davy. Apparently the Americans want to talk business before they’re brought to Ascot and introduced to the wives and sisters.” Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Maggie went with Nate as she was curious as to who the Americans were.”
“Are they bringing their wives with them to meet us?” Rose asked curiously as Charlotte sat down on the settee next to her. While holding Georgie close to her chest, Charlotte kissed both Alexandra and Imogen and then Rose’s cheek.
“I don’t know,” Charlotte replied honestly. “I’ve never heard wives mentioned, but then again, they were writing to enquire after a house. Why would they mention wives?”
“How are you?” Rose asked, changing the subject.
“Severely regretting not taking on a nanny,” chuckled Charlotte. “She sleeps now.” She motioned down to the quietly sleeping Georgie in her arms. “I am just tired.”
“You don’t look it,” Rose said honestly. Georgie was a very pretty baby. She had to be. She was the product of Charlotte and Nate. Any
child of theirs was bound to be gorgeous.
“Thank you, Rosie,” replied Charlotte gratefully. “Where is Mama?”
Marie didn’t often surface from her bedchamber, especially when preparations were being made for the American guests. While she was opposed to things being run in the way that John Wilde had instigated, she wasn’t used to change. Bess was as big a change as she could handle.
“Hiding.” Rose laughed lightly.
“And how are you, miladies?” Charlotte asked Alexandra and Imogen on Rose’s lap, her voice changing to that of a child.
The girls only giggled, awkwardly shifting on Rose’s lap so that they could see Georgie.
“And how is your friend, the Marquess?” Charlotte asked, continuing on their conversation while she let the twins play with Georgie’s tiny fingers.
Michael Cornell, the Marquess of Juniper, had been the only positive to come out of Rose’s horrid season in London. She’d thought him a handsome man, as well as very charming and kind. She’d also thought that he’d taken an interest in her. But he hadn’t. He’d noticed that she was alone, and he thought that they could be alone together.
“Is it true that he …” Charlotte quietened her voice. “Keeps company with men?” Charlotte spoke the word as though it was taboo.
“Hush, Charlotte,” Rose scolded. “Do not spread rumours.”
What she’d asked was indeed true. Michael Cornell did keep company with men. Rose was the only one he’d ever admitted it to. Otherwise it was just rumours. His family had tried to send him away for treatment as a teenager but Michael had refused, electing to instead live away from his family’s estate. They hadn’t spoken for years, not until Michael’s father had died. He was still the heir, regardless of how he behaved behind closed doors. He became the Marquess of Juniper, and his family didn’t speak to him. They treated him as if he were diseased.
🔴Rose was unsure of how she felt about his behaviour. She’d never heard of a man keeping company with other men before, but she didn’t feel as though she had any right to pass judgement. It was Michael’s business, and before he’d revealed himself to her, they’d had many merry conversations. He was a friend, and in her opinion, no different to her than Emmett or Nate. His estate was in Sheffield, Derbyshire’s neighbour to the north, and he often made the trip down to Ascot to visit his friend in Rose.
He’d also proposed to her on three occasions. He had no interest in a wife for romantic reasons, but he believed that he and Rose could be happy in each other’s company. He also would need an heir at some point.
While Rose couldn’t deny that she would be comfortable in a marriage with a friend, she also didn’t want to marry for anything less than love, and if that meant no marriage at all, then so be it. Which was why she’d refused every time.
“Sorry,” Charlotte apologised bashfully. “I’d just heard …”
“Rumours,” interrupted Rose. “Nasty rumours.” While it was true, she did not want Michael to be ostracised. He didn’t deserve it.
“Alright.” Charlotte nodded, accepting Rose’s word. “I wonder if either of our guests are unmarried,” Charlotte pondered, changing the subject.
“Charlotte,” exclaimed Rose. “You are married, if you do not remember.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “I meant for
you, silly,” she replied. “Wealthy hoteliers. You might be able to see America.”
She had absolutely no idea of how old the two Americans were. Derek, the son, was old enough to be clever with business so he had to be at least in his twenties. But any man with a fortune and a clever head on his shoulder did already have a wife. And even if he weren’t married, why would he have any interest in her?
“Because you’re lovely, Rosie,” Charlotte answered, as if reading Rose’s mind.
“How did you know?”
“You have an identifiable look on your face when you are mentally chiding yourself. I wish you would stop. If you believe yourself worthy, others will too.”
At that moment, the maid, Florence, returned to the library with a tray of miniature lemon slices.
“Oh, excellent,” Charlotte said excitedly, eyeing the tray hungrily.
“Her Grace instructed me to tell you that the girls shall only be permitted one.” Florence blushed. “Otherwise
you will be the one trying to get them to sleep at two o’clock in the morning while the sugar is still coursing through them.”
Both sisters laughed as Florence set the tray down. Bess had clearly requested that Florence relay the message exactly. Rose fished two of the lemon slices from the tray and fed them to Alexandra and Imogen. Charlotte pouted comically so Rose reached for another and popped it into Charlotte’s mouth. Rose settled onto the settee with her own slice, enjoying the acidic citrus mixed with the sweetness of the sugar.
Several hours later, once the dinner gong had been rung and everyone had changed, the Ascot carriage was sighted entering through the iron gates. Rose had been laced into a sapphire blue gown by her lady’s maid, Gabrielle. She had also completed her outfit with the London blue topaz ear bobs that Bess had given her and Charlotte for Christmas all those years ago.
She did feel she looked nice, or was
dressed nicely. There was nothing particularly dazzling about her features but perhaps some fine accessories could improve her.
Marie, too, had accessorised with her favourite piece of jewellery, the black onyx necklace that Bess had given to her. Her mother did look very lovely in her dark purple gown that was decorated with fine, silver embroidery. She also wore a silver tiara and a reserved expression.
🔴Bess had already put the girls to bed, Georgie with them, and they were in the care of Anna, her lady’s maid. When David, Maggie and Edward returned with their fathers, they too would be sent upstairs to be fed and then put to bed.
Rose could hear the carriage pull up outside the house, and they all waited in the foyer to receive their guests.
Mr Hartley opened the door and they all heard Emmett’s voice. “Ah, Mr Hartley. Gentlemen, Ascot’s butler, Mr Hartley. We would not function without him!”
Mr Hartley chuckled bashfully. “Thank you, Your Grace.” He opened the door widely and allowed the party to enter into the house.
Emmett came in first, carrying a lethargic David, while Nate followed carrying a sleeping Edward and holding Maggie’s hand. Then came their mysterious guests. The first was an older man, who looked to be in his fifties. His hair was silver and neatly styled, and he wore a smart day suit, though it was not English. One could tell it was a foreign suit as it didn’t wear a white cravat, more a black silk ribbon tied around the shirt collar. His trousers were not tucked into his boots and he wore a simple coat. He looked kind, though, and he wore a wide smile that crinkled the skin on his face. He had to be Stephen Montgomery.
The man that followed him was the younger version of Stephen. He looked to be of a similar age to her brother. His hair was fair coloured, and she could see from where she was standing that he had green eyes. She thought him quite handsome, though he had a look of mystery about him. He looked to be quite reserved and careful, as though he was deliberating. Perhaps this was how clever businessmen were?
No wives followed. Interesting, Rose thought. Perhaps they’d left them behind in Pennsylvania.
“Mr Montgomery,” Emmett said, referring to Stephen. “This is my wife, Bess, the Duchess of Ascot.” He took hold of Bess’ hand and brought her forth.
Rose wondered if the two Americans had been taught how to behave in front of the British aristocracy. Both Stephen and Derek bowed respectfully to her.
“Your Grace, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Stephen said sincerely, kissing her knuckles. “You must call me Stephen. We are to be cohabitating for a while.” He chuckled. His voice was hearty, and strong, and his accent was completely different to Maggie’s original accent.
“And you must also call me Derek,” Derek added, kissing Bess’ knuckles as well. Derek’s voice was different to his father’s. Calmer, more soothing. Rose enjoyed it.
“Stephen, Derek, it’s lovely to meet you. I’ll insist on being called Bess, too,” she said kindly.
“Bess it is,” Derek agreed.
“And you must be Momma Wilde,” Stephen guessed, moving on to Marie who stood next to Bess. He held his hand out for hers but Marie refused.
Marie arched her eyebrow distastefully. “I have not, nor will I
ever answer to that,” she snapped. Rose internally groaned. These men would soon learn that their mother was a difficult woman to get along with at the best of times. Marie was harmless though, and she loved her family, even if she didn’t show it particularly well.
Emmett cleared his throat. “This is my mother, Marie, the Dowager Duchess of Ascot.”
“Dowager?” Derek furrowed his eyebrows. “What does that mean?”
“It means that she is the widow of a previous Duke,” Emmett explained.
“Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am,” Stephen apologised sympathetically.
“I’m not,” Marie huffed. “And you shall henceforth refer to me as Your Grace,” she insisted.
Stephen looked a little confused, but unless one was well informed on the previous Duke and Duchess’ disdain for each other then they were bound to be confused.
“This is my wife, Charlotte,” Nate introduced, changing the subject and drawing the attention away from Marie. Charlotte took the sleeping Edward from Nate as she smiled in greeting.
“Lady of Montrose, correct?” Derek guessed.
“Yes, the Countess of Montrose,” Charlotte corrected. “But calling me Charlotte is perfectly alright.”
Derek smiled, running his hand through his fair hair. “Your peerage system is confusing. I thought a countess was the wife of a count.”
“You will learn eventually,” Emmett replied. “And finally, my youngest sister, Lady Rose Wilde.”
Both men turned their attention to Rose. Stephen kissed her hand first, followed by Derek. She felt a little foolish as she smiled widely, enjoying their attention.
“Nice to meet you, milady,” Derek said kindly.
“You, as well,” she replied nervously. “Please, call me Rose.”
“Derek,” he countered, flashing her a smile. His smiles weren’t as wide as his father’s, which brought Rose back to her original assumption of him. He was reserved, as if he had a lot on his mind.
“Your Grace, dinner is served,” Mr Hartley announced.
Derek, nearest to Rose, offered her his arm. “May I escort the lady to dinner?” he asked. Rose felt rather flattered. Just as soon as she’d taken his arm, he added, “You Brits encourage this, don’t you?”
Rose merely nodded, realising that Derek thought it his obligation.
“I knew how to be a friend, a lover, a partner. I knew how to make someone feel cherished and seen and listened to — everything I had myself always so desperately wanted and been afraid I might never have because I was so used to being overlooked.” Alexis Hall, Waiting for the Flood
Once they’d all been seated, Rose forgot all about her thoughts on Derek feeling obligated to escort her into the dining room. Emmett sat down at the head of the table with Bess and Marie beside him. Rose took her seat between Bess and Charlotte with Nate beside her sister. Maggie sat beside her father while their guests sat opposite them, Derek beside Marie and Stephen beside his son.
The meal was delicious, as was anything that Mrs Weston prepared. The conversation started off quite casually. The guests described their journey across the Atlantic Ocean and their relief to step onto dry land once more. They also spoke about how they’d already organised for men to begin work on Pendleton Park at the beginning of the following week, with hopes that the hotel would be ready to open within three months.
Rose finally understood Emmett’s description of Derek as ‘business savvy’ when he began to speak about land management, though.
“So often, you landlords allow your tenants to live on hundreds, if not
thousands of acres of good farming land, and you only have rental income coming from onetenant. My theory is that if you quarter these portions of land and instead have four tenants working it at the least, you will produce more crops and livestock, and it will generate four times the rental income for you.” Derek spoke so passionately and intelligently. He was not forceful, but in the way he spoke, with such conviction, one could tell that he knew of what he was speaking. “I’ve found that you British aristocrats often shy away from modernisation in favour of tradition. Believe you me, sir, I know what I am talking about.”
How he spoke marvelled Rose. She’d never before encountered such a revolutionary, one who wasn’t afraid to move forward.
“How would you go about approaching a farmer, who has had the land in his family for generations, and telling him that you are to take away three quarters of his livelihood?” Emmett pondered. He was not being condescending, but was purely asking the question out of curiosity.
“That is the thing about modernisation,” Derek replied. “You’ve got to make hard decisions. But when you think about it logically, if a man farms a thousand acres of land, reducing it down to two hundred and fifty is still a substantial amount of land to control. You would then lessen the rent. I’d wager the man would gladly take the offer. Less work, and less rent.”
“Isn’t he brilliant?” Stephen boasted with a wide smile on his kind face. “He gets his mind from his mother.”
“So you cannot boast a brain then?” Marie said distastefully as she sipped her wine.
“Marie!” hissed Bess, who sat opposite to her.
Stephen didn’t look as though he took offense though. “Not one the size of my son’s, ma’am,” he replied cheerfully. “Much like you, I suppose, in regards to your boy.” The jab was a dangerous one, and he was brave to want to trifle with Marie.
Marie didn’t respond though; she just arched an eyebrow slyly with a touché
expression on her face. “Do not
address me so informally, Mr Montgomery,” was all she said in reply.
Derek chuckled. “Your Grace, you must excuse my father. Ever since my mother passed he’s had a horrible habit of speaking his mind without thinking of the consequences, or his audience. She used to be able to rein in his poor behaviour.”
🔥”Oh, I’m so sorry, Stephen,” Bess said sympathetically. “And to you, Derek. Forgive me, how long ago did she pass?”
Stephen managed a small smile. He clearly had loved his wife dearly. “Addison passed on about seven years ago. She was a good woman, and a good mother to Derek. She inspired our business.”
“How so? If you don’t mind my asking,” Nate queried.
“I was actually born right here is your beautiful country,” Stephen replied. “A bit further south though, in Surrey.”
“I was born in America and now I live in England,” Maggie added excitedly. “The opposite!” She was not often permitted to eat in the dining room with the adults, and Rose was impressed with her behaviour. Not once did she complain during dinner, and she did her best to consume three quarters of every course.
“Really?” Derek raised his eyebrows. “I’d noticed your accent was peculiar today, young lady. Where exactly were you born?”
“North Carolina,” she replied. “Charlotte, North Carolina. The same as my Momma’s name.”
It was quite easy to deduce that Maggie was not related to either Nate or Charlotte. Her skin colour alone made that obvious. But their love for each other made it irrelevant.
“A beautiful place,” Derek replied. “I’ve visited several times. I was born in Philadelphia. Have you ever been?”
Maggie shook her head. “Just to Raleigh and Boston.”
Rose thought it very sweet that he was talking to her as if she were one of the adults.
“And how does England compare to home?” he continued to ask.
This question intrigued all around the table. Maggie didn’t often speak about missing her home. But what if she did?
“England is home,” Maggie replied simply. “Is it your home now?”
Derek chuckled. “Ah, no.” He shook his head. “I’ve too many responsibilities back in America to call England home.”
Rose noticed that his reserved expression had returned to his face. Perhaps Stephen was putting too much responsibility onto Derek’s shoulders. He must undertake all of the financial aspects regarding their hotels. Rose imagined it could be very stressful.
“But we do love it here, don’t we, son?” Stephen interjected. “We sail over every few years. I like to visit the house where I was born. My Momma was one of your fine London ladies once upon a time. She’d taken a step down in the world to marry my Pa. After they married and had me, they knew that England could no longer provide for them. They sold everything they owned, boarded a ship and set off for the new world. They settled in Philadelphia and bought a house that had four bedrooms. That was their first hotel and they ran it successfully for the rest of their lives. Addison, Derek’s mother, was the one who encouraged my ambition to do more with the Montgomery name. I went to the bank and received a loan and I bought another hotel. I’ve been doing the same ever since, and here we are.” Stephen grinned and settled back in his chair.
“I’d not realised you were British,” Emmett remarked. “Well, we must welcome you home then.” He raised his wine glass and toasted Stephen.
“Thank you,” Stephen replied gratefully. “Derek is responsible for our success though,” he continued. “Just as soon as he finished school he got me out of debt with his business smarts.”
“I’d like to talk to you more about your ideas, Derek,” Emmett said curiously. “You could certainly make this land prosper. Nate, don’t you agree?”
“I certainly do,” Nate concurred. “If it wouldn’t trouble you, perhaps you’d like to peruse my legers?”
Derek nodded. “I’d be happy to. We don’t start at Pendleton Park until next week so I am at your disposal.”
🔥”In the meantime, I propose we give a ball to welcome you both to Derbyshire,” Emmett suggested. “A terribly English tradition but a pleasant one. Plenty of dancing, plenty of lovely young ladies,” Emmett hinted.
His not-so-subtle approach to the mention of debutantes allowed Rose to realise that both men were indeed single.
While she wasn’t looking forward to being ignored once again in a ballroom, she was looking forward to spending the time with their American guests. She found them interesting and intriguing, Derek in particular.
She would write to her friend, Michael, and invite him to Ascot for the ball. He would dance with her regardless.
“That sounds excellent,” Stephen said enthusiastically. “Though I’m afraid I am an awful dancer.”
“It’s quite simple,” Rose added, surprising even herself at her sudden contribution. “All dances are sequenced routines. Once watched a few times one can easily join in.”
Stephen smiled widely, making the skin on his face crinkle. “Perhaps you would grant me the honour of a dance then, Lady Rose?”
Rose was a little taken aback. She could see that there was no ulterior motive or romantic interest behind his offer. If there was then she was sure Emmett would have stepped in.
Just as she was about to respond, Marie interjected. “Rose respectfully declines,” she said spitefully. What was it about the American guests that irked her so?
“Mama,” Charlotte snapped. “Let Rosie answer for herself.”
“Rose did answer,” Marie retorted. “And mind your tone, I am your mother!”
Rose rolled her eyes, and as she did so, she heard a subtle, light laugh coming from Derek’s direction. She looked up to see him trying to hide his amused expression.
“You know, Maggie, it is time you went upstairs to bed. Aunt Rose, would you please take her?”
Rose knew Charlotte was trying to lessen the tension but it only irritated her. She rose from the table, which in turn made the men stand up, and she went to collect a disappointed Maggie from her chair. “Perhaps Rose would like to answer for herself,” she whispered under her breath.
She held Maggie’s hand as they walked out into the foyer towards the stairs. “Aunt Rose, I did as I was told. I don’t want to go to bed yet,” protested Maggie.
“It’s alright, Maggie, I’m fairly sure all you will be missing is Grandmamma being rude,” Rose replied. Marie was
being rude. Stephen seemed like a kind, harmless man. She could be more like him, perhaps even smile once in a while. What harm would it do if she danced with Stephen?
“But she’s always like that,” Maggie retorted. Rose’s put out demeanour evaporated as Maggie said that and Rose laughed heartily.
“She is,” Rose agreed. She took Maggie up to the third floor which consisted of all the family’s staterooms. While guests usually resided on the second floor when at Ascot, Charlotte resided in her previous bedchamber. Maggie’s usual bedroom was one that adjoined her parents’. She and Maggie quietly crept inside the bedroom as not to wake her sleeping siblings. Maggie’s bed had already been turned down by the maids and her night things were folded up and waiting for her.
Rose unbuttoned Maggie’s dress and helped her to step out of it. She then helped her out of her undergarments and into her nightdress. Rose brushed Maggie’s hair and then fixed it in a braid for her to wear overnight.
“Will Momma and Daddy come in to say goodnight?” Maggie as Rose as she helped her into bed.
“I’m sure they will when they retire,” Rose replied. At that moment, the bedroom door opened and Charlotte crept in, placing a hand on Rose’s waist.
🔥”Are you warm enough?” Charlotte asked Maggie. “Shall I ring for a maid to come and build the fire up?” The fire was just embers at that moment.
“I’m fine, Momma,” Maggie promised.
“Alright.” She smiled and kissed Maggie’s forehead. “Sleep well, my darling.” Charlotte checked on Edward and Georgie, then took Rose’s hand and led her into her and Nate’s bedchamber and closed the door behind them so they would not be overheard. Like Maggie’s, Charlotte’s bed had been turned down as well. “I’m so sorry, Rosie,” she apologised sincerely. “Mama was being ridiculous and it was my first instinct to remove you from the situation.”
“It’s alright,” Rose replied, forgiving her. “Mama was being very ridiculous.”
“She’s sensitive to anyone who does things differently to her. Remember how much she detested Bess when she first arrived?”
Marie and Bess were not friends when Bess and Emmett had married. Bess was the definition of Marie’s worst nightmare when it came to having a daughter-in-law. Though Marie had warmed up to her eventually. Rose hoped she would do the same with their guests. She didn’t want to have to endure uncomfortable dinners every night.
“We’ve retired,” Charlotte continued. “At least the women have. Mama and Bess have both gone to bed while the men have gone to enjoy a whiskey or two in Emmett’s study.” She rolled her eyes. She pulled Rose into a tight hug. “I love you, Rosie.”
“I love you, too,” she replied, hugging her sister tightly. “I’ll see you in the morning.” They kissed each other on the cheek and Rose departed Charlotte’s bedroom.
Rose immediately froze though as she saw Derek standing in the hallway, looking quite lost. Rose placed a hand on her chest in an attempt to calm her heart and catch her breath. “You frightened me,” she exclaimed, not meaning to sound accusing.
“I’m sorry,” he apologised immediately.
“I’d thought the men had gone to drink whiskey in my brother’s study.”
“I’m not a drinker,” he replied. “I followed them up here without realising that I had no idea where I would be sleeping.”
“So you were standing out here because …?”
Derek looked a little embarrassed. “I heard your voice. You and your sister’s. I was hoping that one of you would emerge eventually.”
“You could have just rung the bell for a servant,” she suggested, gesturing to the rope a little way down the hall. Every room and hallway had a bell.
“I didn’t want to be a bother. I’m used to being self-sufficient,” he replied.
How Rose identified with those words. She hated to be a bother and a burden. She was afraid of becoming one in the coming years. Spinsters were often financial burdens on their families. Although Ascot would never be in financial strife, she didn’t want to be a burden on Emmett. “Come, I’ll show you,” she offered. “The third floor consists of the private staterooms belonging to the sitting family,” she explained. “The second floor is where Ascot houses its guests.”
“Right.” Derek nodded and he began to follow Rose back towards the staircase. “This is a truly magnificent house. Have you ever thought about making a profit from it? Renting out a wing, for example?” he suggested.
“That is not exactly how things are done here,” Rose replied. “Another nasty, British tradition, I’m afraid,” she joked, making Derek laugh.
“Understandable,” he replied.
“The house is very ostentatious,” Rose admitted. “But the sitting duke has resided here for centuries. That’s tradition that you don’t want to change.”
“I do enjoy your history,” Derek continued. “I find it fascinating. Much like you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I find you fascinating, as well.” He offered her a small smile.
Rose furrowed her eyebrows. “Why?” The way she said it was not exactly ladylike, but she couldn’t help it.
“I admire your patience, Lady Rose,” he explained. “You have the inability to hide your thoughts and they show on your face, but you don’t voice them. And with such a boisterous family, I find that a fascinating quality.”
Rose knew she did not hide her thoughts well. It was how Charlotte knew when Rose was doubting herself. But she’d never seen it as patience before. “Is fascinating good?”
“I have encountered one too many uninteresting women in my time, Lady Rose,” Derek elaborated. “Predictable women.” He gritted his teeth. “Deceitful women.” He took a calming breath. “Yes,” he said coolly. “Fascinating is good.”
Rose wondered what he meant by that. Just who had he encountered?
They came to the second floor and Rose led him down the hallway towards the bedchamber that Mr Hartley had prepared for Derek.
“Here you are,” she announced, stopping at the door belonging to him. “You have a bell in there. Ring it in the morning if your require anything. Breakfast is served at nine o’clock and I apologise in advance for my mother.”
Derek smirked. “The Dowager Duchess is amusing. My father enjoys teasing those he can irk.”
Rose had noticed. “Goodnight, Mr Montgomery.” She smiled at him. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight, Lady Rose,” Derek replied. “And thank you. I don’t know you well, but can I give you some advice?”
Rose nodded. Derek seemed to be the source of all knowledge, or at least his father thought so.
“Speak up,” he urged. “I saw you at dinner when your sister and mother were speaking for you. Speak up.”
“They were only doing what they thought was best,” Rose said defensively.
“Nevertheless, don’t shy away from speaking.”
It was obvious that he didn’t know Rose that well. All she did was shy away, and she couldn’t help it. “Who would listen?” she mumbled to herself.
“I would,” he said sincerely.
The fact that he’d heard her had startled her, but his response even more so.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Lady Rose.” He bowed his head and disappeared inside his bedchamber.
“There are only 3 things that can make your dreams come true: your thoughts, your words, and your actions.” Mike Dooley
Rose’s sleep that night was light as she couldn’t stop thinking about what Derek had said.
Though Charlotte had never made her feel inferior, Rose had always felt as though she’d grown up in her shadow. It was only natural, after such a disastrous and humiliating season, for her voice to fall into the shadows as well.
To have someone like Derek, a successful and respected businessman, talk directly to her and tell her that she needed to speak up made her feel quite … giddy.
She was quite tired when the sun rose the next morning, and her bedroom door opened promptly as seven o’clock chimed. It wasn’t her maid, Gabrielle, though, as she hadn’t rung the bell. It was Charlotte.
She climbed into bed with Rose and sighed, sounding as lethargic as Rose felt, but for different reasons. “Good morning, my love,” murmured Charlotte as she cuddled up to Rose.
“Georgie?” Rose guessed.
Charlotte nodded. “Nate might as well be a corpse. Georgie screams and he doesn’t hear her. I just want to sleep, five minutes please.”
Before Rose had the opportunity to answer, Charlotte’s breathing become even and deep as she drifted off to sleep. Rose knew that Georgie wouldn’t always be difficult. Edward wasn’t. She would soon learn to sleep through the night.
Rose carefully slipped out of bed and rang the bell for her lady’s maid. Traditionally, married women were served breakfast in bed and unmarried women dined downstairs with the family, but Rose thought that she and Charlotte would both remain upstairs for the duration of the morning. She deserved a little break away from the children. Rose admired her for refusing to hire a nanny, but every mother needed some time away every so often. Nate was a wonderful and doting father, and he could take care of the little ones for an hour or so.
Ten minutes later, Rose’s lady’s maid, Gabrielle Chamberlain, arrived at Rose’s door. Gabrielle was a few years older than Rose was, and had originally worked as a housemaid in London while taking courses to secure work as a lady’s maid. She was a skilled and loyal maid, but she and Rose were not confidantes, not like Bess and Anna were.
“Good morning, milady,” Gabrielle greeted, smiling. She was a pretty, young lady with auburn coloured hair and warm, hazel eyes. “Shall I have a bath brought up or are you ready to dress? Breakfast is not for a little while. Would you like some tea in the meantime?”
“Good morning, Gabrielle,” Rose replied. “No, Lady Montrose and I will have our breakfast upstairs today. Could you ask Mrs Weston for some eggs and some fresh bread and butter?”
“Of course, milady.” Gabrielle nodded. “Will there be anything else?”
“No, that’s all for now.” Rose smiled.
Gabrielle curtseyed and then retreated back down the hallway.
Rose closed the door and then decided to dress herself. She selected a simple button-down gown that she could fix herself and then laced herself as best she could into her corset. The gown, a day dress, was a pale green and embroidered with a similar coloured cotton along the hem and over the bodice. The sleeves were short, which was comfortable considering the September weather was still quite warm.
Rose brushed her long, dark hair and twisted it to the best of her ability on top of her head and fixed it with some hair pins.
She looked back at Charlotte in her bed who looked practically unconscious. The poor thing was exhausted.
🎀Twenty minutes later, Gabrielle arrived back upstairs with her breakfast tray and she set it on the table beside the settee and fireplace.
“Could you tell His Grace and Lord Montrose where we are if they ask?”
“Yes, milady,” replied Gabrielle. “Is she alright?” she asked timidly, gesturing to the sleeping Charlotte. “Shall I ask Mr Hartley to call for the doctor?”
“No, she’s just tired,” Rose assured her.
“Very good, milady.” Gabrielle curtseyed once more.
“I will ring if I need anything else. Thank you, Gabrielle.” Rose then dismissed her. She went over to inspect the breakfast tray and hungrily spread some butter onto the freshly baked bread. She loved it when it was still warm. She then cracked a boiled egg with her spoon and then salted it. Breakfast in the comfort of her own bedchamber was a treat.
Once she’d finished her breakfast, she covered Charlotte’s so that it would remain warm. As she sat idly, her thoughts drifted to Derek, as they had so many times during the night.
Perhaps it was presumptuous of her, but she didn’t believe that a man like him would have ever given her the time of day. She was twenty years old and a lacklustre debutante, proficient in embroidery and the pianoforte. She was small and unassuming with a less than impressive face. The only tempting part of her was the thirty thousand pounds that would be given to the man who would eventually marry her. Though that was unlikely to happen.
Derek Montgomery was a clever man with an incredible knowledge of how to make things profitable. He looked sensible, experienced and worldly, with other thoughts occupying his head aside from whether he would ever marry or not. Although he could. The longer Rose thought of him, the more she thought him handsome. Unconventionally, perhaps, as he did not have the conceit that came with the handsome men she’d encountered in London. He had a nice, kind face with a strong jaw and a lovely head of hair with such sincere green eyes.
“Why do you look so quizzical?” Charlotte asked, yawning, as she sat up in Rose’s bed. “What is perplexing you so?”
“Do you think that Mr Montgomery is handsome?” Rose asked her, genuinely curious as to what her sister thought.
Charlotte furrowed her brow. “I suppose so, though I didn’t realise you enjoyed men of a certain age, Rosie.” She smirked.
Rose’s eyes widened. “I didn’t mean the elder Mr Montgomery,” she clarified. “Derek.”
“Oh,” Charlotte realised. She climbed down from the bed and made her way over to Rose, rubbing her eyes. “Yes, I think he is. He’s a little reserved though, don’t you agree? I’d wager him a very hard man to get to know and understand.”
“Do you think me an easy person to understand?” Rose continued to question, remembering how Derek had mentioned that he’d noticed she wasn’t able to hide her thoughts, even if she didn’t voice them.
“Yes, I do.” Charlotte nodded. “Because you are so pure of heart.” She smiled. “But Rosie, where is all this coming from?” Charlotte queried. Charlotte uncovered the breakfast tray and immediately selected an egg to eat.
“Nowhere,” Rose replied. “I was only wondering.”
Charlotte smiled slyly. “Rosie, have you taken a fancy to our guest?”
“No!” she retorted. She was intrigued, but she certainly didn’t fancy him. After all, she barely knew him.
“Alright.” Rose could tell that Charlotte didn’t believe her.
Rose helped Charlotte dress for the day and Charlotte, in turn, fixed Rose’s hair. Rose was left to walk downstairs by herself though as Charlotte had to returned to tend to her children’s needs for the morning.
🎀”Where were you this morning?” Emmett asked her as she reached the foyer. He was dressed to go out, wearing his travelling coat and top hat.
“With Charlotte,” replied Rose. “Where are you going?”
“Pendleton Park,” answered Emmett. “Stephen and Derek wish to inspect it further.”
“How long will they be staying here?” Rose asked, purely out of curiosity.
“Why? Are you itching to get rid of us?” Derek asked.
Both Emmett and Rose turned around to see Derek and Stephen descending the stairs wearing their day suits and travelling coats.
“Not at all,” Rose stammered, feeling flustered and embarrassed.
Derek chuckled. “We won’t be imposing on you for too long, I promise, Lady Rose. Just as soon as Pendleton Park is suitable, we’ll be residing there, and just as soon as it is profitable we’ll be going back home.”
Rose knew it wasn’t feasible to imagine that their guests would be staying in England permanently, but she couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed.
“I don’t know,” Stephen said, slapping his son lightly on the shoulder. “I like it here. It’s quiet. Peaceful.”
“Someone alert Mr Hartley,” Marie announced. “We’ve a rodent in the foyer.” Marie looked more glamorous than usual as she swept into the room. Her dark hair, she same shade as Rose’s, was curled and pinned around a tiara encrusted with red rubies, the same shade as the gown she wore. The tight bodice of the waist emphasised the feminine figure she still had. She looked upon Stephen with disdain.
“Did I say peaceful? I meant hellish,” retorted an amused Stephen.
“Mother!” exclaimed Emmett. “Honestly, you are being so rude. These are my guests and I am the head of this house!”
Stephen didn’t seem to take offense. Instead he laughed. “I bathed this morning, Your Grace,” he replied, using the address that Marie had insisted upon.
“Mama,” Rose said, finding her voice. “How is the future Duke of Ascot in Davy supposed to learn about respect when his own Grandmamma cannot be polite to a man who has done her no wrong?” Rose had never spoken to her mother about her behaviour before. She’d never dared. She’d wanted to so many times as she’d grown up but she’d kept quiet. But she had a voice, and she needed to speak up. Marie needed to know that she couldn’t treat people that way.
Marie’s dark eyes narrowed as she glared at Rose. Rose instantly felt two inches tall. “Hold your tongue,” she snapped.
Nate had caught Marie’s angry reply as he’d started down the stairs as well, carrying Georgie in one arm and holding Maggie’s hand with the other. Charlotte was behind him with Edward. “Marie,” he called. “Let us all calm down and separate for the day. We are going to take our leave as Maggie’s lessons are to start soon. Derek, are you still able to review Montrose’s legers later today?”
Marie huffed impatiently as she stormed towards the library where Rose knew she would remain all day to sulk.
“Absolutely.” Derek nodded. “In fact, why doesn’t Lady Rose come with us to Pendleton Park? Afterwards I can escort her to Montrose so that she may visit with her sister,” Derek suggested.
Rose definitely wanted to be away from Ascot if her mother was to behave sourly all day. She didn’t know why she disliked Stephen so. Perhaps Marie was just distrustful of men in general. Emmett and Nate were the only two men she tolerated.
“Rosie doesn’t want to spend the day talking about business,” Emmett replied, sounding as if the idea was ridiculous. “Why don’t you go to Montrose with Nate and Charlotte now?” he told Rose.
🎀Rose caught Derek’s eye in that moment. He arched his eyebrow ever so slightly and she knew what he was thinking. Perhaps he wasn’t so hard to understand. Not always, anyway. “Actually, I would like to go,” Rose said firmly. “Will you wait while I fetch my coat?”
“Of course we will,” Derek replied.
Once Rose was properly dressed, wearing a travelling coat, gloves and a bonnet, they set off towards Pendleton Park.
“Whatever happened to that woman?” Stephen remarked. “Has your mother always been this way?”
Emmett took Rose’s hand as he spoke. “No,” he replied. “I’m told my mother was quite kind a long time ago. She had a sense of a humour.” Rose had never known that side of her mother. Neither had Emmett. “Stephen, my father happened to my mother,” he said simply. “You see, we aristocrats marry for financial gain. We marry for power and to climb the social ladder. Love is rare, almost unheard of.”
“Is that how it was when you married your wife?” Derek asked. “Because she seems very warm.”
Emmett laughed lightly. “I was fortunate. I didn’t know it at first, but I have married for love. Mother thought she had too. She was born in Northumberland. Northumberland is the northernmost county in England, and she had a very distinct accent. She was also nothing more than a pauper. But she was happy with nothing. Could you believe that?”
“The woman who traipsed downstairs wearing a crown? Hardly,” chuckled Stephen. “I’d wager your mother requires a lot of effort to keep happy.”
“She does now,” Rose murmured.
“She didn’t always,” Emmett added. “Mother, like any other young girl, wanted to be loved, and she thought she was loved when she accepted my father’s proposal. He only desired her for her beauty and when he tired of her, Mother realised her true worth. She had produced an heir in me and he no longer needed her.”
“That’s terrible,” remarked Stephen. “And she became like this?”
“She did everything in her power to refine herself but my father didn’t care,” Emmett continued. “My mother’s impossible. She’s rude and at times cruel, but she despises herself more than she despises others.”
Stephen looked as though he felt incredibly sorry for Marie, but Rose knew if he mentioned John Wilde then Marie would most definitely explode.
“How did you handle her growing up?” Derek asked Rose. “I had some terrible arguments with my mother as a boy, but she was always kind and nurturing.”
“We never really saw her,” Rose replied truthfully. “Emmett raised Charlotte and I. He was both a mother and father to us.” Rose looked up at her brother affectionately. No matter what, he would always be her favourite man in the world, the one she could always depend on.
“Pa,” Derek said after a moment of silence. “I am so sorry for any lip I ever gave you.”
Stephen laughed heartily. “You were a good boy, Derek, and an even better man.”
Derek smiled widely, causing the skin around his eyes to crinkle endearingly. “I don’t think I will ever understand the dynamics of the British aristocracy. The families are very complicated.”
“And ours isn’t?” Stephen murmured.
“Don’t,” muttered Derek in reply.
Rose thought his reaction was curious. Was his mother’s death why he was so reserved? Rose couldn’t empathise. When her father died, it felt as though she hadn’t lost any more than a stranger.
“We have a relatively normal family,” Emmett interjected. “I raised two beautiful, intelligent, kind and considerate young girls. I married the only woman who has ever challenged me. My best friend and I grew up as brothers, and he is now my brother-in-law. And I have the three most incredible children. We didn’t have parents. But we didn’t suffer for it.”
“You consider yourself lucky?” Derek deduced.
“Exceptionally,” replied Emmett with a smile. “Look here,” he said, gesturing to Rose. “Did I not do well?”
“You did very well,” commended Derek.
“Mama’s not all bad, though,” Rose insisted, feeling the need to defend her mother, and also to save Stephen from thinking he should never say anything to Marie. “She loves us fiercely. She just doesn’t show it well.”
Just as Pendleton Park came into view, Stephen replied to Rose. “Oh, trust me, Lady Rose, we know all about betrayal in this family.”
For the first time, Rose saw a spark of anger flash through Derek’s eyes. “I told you to stop,” he snapped.
The carriage came to a halt and Derek climbed out quickly, leaving Rose and Emmett bewildered, and Stephen looking incredibly guilty.
“The problem with human attraction is not knowing if it will be returned.” Becca Fitzpatrick, Hush, Hush
“Forgive me, Lady Rose, Emmett,” Stephen apologised immediately. “Please forget this conversation ever took place for my son’s sanity … and pride.” He ran a hand through his silver hair as he frowned regretfully. “Just watch him. He’ll be more focussed than ever.”
“It’s forgotten, Stephen,” Emmett promised, looking just as confused as Rose did. But it was the polite thing to do. It was neither Emmett nor Rose’s business.
They all climbed out of the carriage and Rose set her eyes on Pendleton Park for the first time in years.
What once was a magnificent, Jacobethan style house was now a weathered building in desperate need of some attention. It was of a similar size to Ascot but with the added beauty of having Derbyshire’s famous hills and boulder formations surrounding it.
It was a shame that nobody had taken it. But she supposed having several families stay in Derbyshire was better than only one.
“Are you alright after that display, Rosie?” Emmett asked Rose quietly as they walked together towards Pendleton Park.
As they approached, Rose noticed that several of the windows were damaged and were in need of replacing. “Yes,” she assured him.
“We shan’t be long,” he promised her. “Then you can spend the rest of the day with Charlotte.” He kissed her forehead
“I don’t mind being here,” replied Rose. “I’d like to learn about this sort of thing.” Her instructors at finishing school had never taught her how to run a business, only to smile in a man’s presence and to never sound too intelligent.
“Alright,” he agreed.
The smell of dust hit her just as soon as they crossed the threshold into Pendleton Park. The furniture was covered but dust and cobwebs had taken up residence on every surface. There were so many doors and the house seemed to echo every step they took. It was almost eerie. She couldn’t wait until it was clean and filled with people.
Derek appeared from down the main hallway, looking as focussed as his father had described. “We’ll need to expand the kitchen substantially and a lot of the glass and a lot of the wallpaper needs to be replaced in upstairs rooms. I’ll work closely with the men we’ve got coming, complete some of the labour myself, but I’d wager to turn this house into a hotel we’d need to spend about five thousand dollars.”
Rose didn’t know the difference between dollars and pounds, but by Stephen’s reaction, it was clear that five thousand was a substantial amount.
“Five thousand?” he repeated back, gasping.
“Yes,” Derek answered, sounding emotionless. “We will reap the rewards within a few months of opening. Mark my words. I know how to run a hotel. Don’t you trust me, Pa?”
“Of course I do,” Stephen murmured.
“Won’t English guests differ?” Rose asked. “Running a hotel in England might be more challenging. When we travel we often stay with acquaintances, never communal places.”
“Rose is right,” Emmett said regretfully. “Are you sure you can make this profitable? If you’ve changed your mind we can undo the purchase.”
“When I am finished this is where everyone will want to stay,” Derek said determinedly. “I am not only accounting for English guests. I will use my connections back home to send guests over to England as well.”
🔚Rose noticed how intense Derek had suddenly become. She believed him when he said that he knew how to run a hotel. But she also felt very sorry for him. Clearly he’d suffered at some point in his life.
“When do you plan on holding that ball, Emmett?” Derek asked curiously, reminding Rose about the welcoming ball that had been proposed.
“In the coming week. Invitations will be sent out just as soon as we’ve settled on a day.”
“I’ll need to travel to London to confirm some orders I’ve made and I’ll escort them back to Derbyshire. Do you think the ball could be held on Friday night? That way I could set out to London on Saturday and be in London by Monday.” Derek then disappeared up the stairs without another word.
“Do you see?” Stephen shook his head. “This will end up killing him. It’ll put him into an early grave.” He was talking to himself, and he sounded like a caring father worried for his son.
Derek spent the time at Pendleton Park making notes to himself, talking about the household they would hire and the number of rooms that would need revision.
Rose did learn some things about business, though. She learnt that it could suddenly turn a kind man into someone she didn’t recognise. Rose knew it wasn’t business, per se, but whatever it was, it was throwing Derek into his work much too hard.
Rose amused herself while at Pendleton Park by exploring the various rooms on the ground floor. She found her way into the music room. Like the other rooms in the house, it smelled of dust and all the furniture was covered with white sheets. She uncovered a harp first and ran her fingers along the strings that hadn’t been played for years. Again, it was eerie to think that once upon a time a family had gathered in that room to hear and play music. Perhaps Derek and Stephen would have hired harpists and pianists to entertain the guests. She hoped so.
Rose then uncovered the piano and stifled a gasp as she marvelled at the astonishingly beautiful cherry wood pianoforte. The pink undertone to the timber made it one of the most beautiful instruments she’d ever seen. She immediately sat down, ready to play scales up the keys, but stopped just as soon as she heard it was terribly out of tune.
“Do you play, Lady Rose?”
Rose looked up from the pianoforte to see Derek standing in the doorway watching her intently. He still looked stiff, as though he hadn’t relaxed from before. “Yes, I do. This instrument, however, is out of tune. Look at it though, isn’t it magnificent?” She loved the feeling of heavy, ivory keys. She preferred the sound that way.
“It is very nice,” he replied with a slight smile, crossing the threshold. “I never learned. I wish I had.”
“My sister and I were forced to learn. It wasn’t until later that I actually started to enjoy it,” Rose mused, remembering the governesses of her childhood. When Emmett was away at school, she and Charlotte were a little difficult to handle.
“Was it very strict growing up here?” Derek asked, coming to lean on the top of the pianoforte. “Did you enjoy it? Were you able to enjoy your childhood?”
“Oh, yes.” Rose nodded. Had not Emmett explained it all in the carriage? “I suppose it was a little
strict. Charlotte and I were never allowed to attend dinners or balls until we were of age. I didn’t like finishing school but Mama insisted. Husbands look upon proper young women with fondness, she says.” Rose turned her nose up.
Derek chuckled. “I’ve encountered my fair share of proper women, Lady Rose. In my experience, they are the women who disguise themselves behind a false smile.”
“We are told to smile,” she informed him. “Smile and say nothing. Do not let on that you have an ounce of cleverness. What need would a man have for a clever wife?”
“One who’d actually like to have an honest and intellectual conversation or two?” Derek quipped, making Rose laugh. “You fail dismally, though, Lady Rose,” Derek said after a moment. “At hiding behind a smile. I find it refreshing.”
“It’s a shame,” Rose replied, attempting to sound mysterious. “Because you do it so well.”
Derek grinned, nodding. “A talent I’ve come to need.” He ran his hand over the shiny, cherry wood. “I apologise if I made you uncomfortable earlier. My behaviour was abhorrent. I usually am better prepared for my father’s slip of the tongue.”
Rose still knew it was none of her business. “I wasn’t uncomfortable. I’m sorry, though, for whatever happened to you,” she said sincerely.
Derek’s smile shrunk to be something more genuine. “Thank you, Lady Rose. But nothing happened to me. There isn’t anything I can’t handle.”
“Like turning this house into a hotel?”
Derek scoffed comically. “Easy as pie,” he replied simply. “This is what I do. I take something ordinary and I turn it into something beautiful.”
Rose immediately wondered what he would do with her, if given the chance. “But you don’t experience the fruits of your labour when it’s finished? You move on to your next project?”
“I experience it with the money I earn. I suppose I don’t like to stay put.”
She immediately knew he was lying when he said that nothing had happened to him. He was running, from what she didn’t know, but he was running and using the excuse of running hotels to justify it.
“I don’t travel nearly as much as you, but I like knowing I have a home to come back to with my family waiting for me,” Rose said fondly.
“I have a home. Philadelphia,” he retorted.
Which was why he was in England. If he was planning on spending months in Britain, how was it his home? Rose didn’t say it though.
Derek laughed lightly. “I can see your counter remark on your face.”
Rose blushed slightly.
“Nevertheless, I apologise. I am never short-tempered and I should not have behaved that way in front of you. My father knows exactly how to irk me, just as he does to your mother.”
“Mama doesn’t like anybody,” replied Rose. “She and Emmett have only reconciled these past few years. I wouldn’t take offense.”
“Your mother has an excuse. The poor woman.” Derek frowned, lines forming on his forehead.
Rose did often pity her mother. She only wished that Marie had put her anger aside when she and Charlotte were children so as to permit even a daily viewing like most aristocratic lords and ladies. Usually the children that were cared for by nannies were presented to their parents for an hour or so before dinner. But not Charlotte and Rose. Rose honestly couldn’t remember seeing her parents when she was young.
Rose stood up from the piano and smoothed out her gown. “You and your father would do best to avoid Mama,” Rose advised. “She is a prickly woman on a good day. Take me for example.”
“Your mother is prickly towards you?” he asked in disbelief.
Rose nodded. “When she’s feeling particularly sorry for herself she calls me Rosamund.”
“And Rosamund is not your name?” he guessed.
“No, it is,” Rose clarified. “I was named during a period when my parents were getting along, for my father’s mother, a witch of a woman apparently, or so my mother says. A short time later my father betrayed my mother again and all were forbidden to call me by that name. And so I’m Rose.”
“I think that Rosamund is a pretty name,” Derek told her honestly. “It belongs to a very pretty woman.”
Rose frowned, furrowing her brow. It was all good to run away from one’s problems but it was another thing to tease. “Please don’t make fun of me, sir,” she insisted sadly. “It isn’t nice to lie.”
“If you’re waiting until you feel talented enough to make it, you’ll never make it.” Criss Jami, Healology
“Why would I lie?” Derek immediately demanded to know, looking incredibly concerned as he furrowed his brow.
Rose bit down on her lip. “Perhaps you are trying to curry favour with my family, I don’t know.”
Derek scoffed, looking utterly offended at the insinuation, and Rose felt incredibly guilty for assuming it. At that moment, Rose wanted nothing more than to be away from Pendleton Park and safely confined in her bedchamber. “Curry favour? I haven’t given a woman a compliment in a long time but I didn’t know it was this hard.”
Was it really a genuine compliment? She’d never received one from a man before. It was strangely unsettling. But that was her own fault. She wasn’t sure how to accept them without sounding facetious. “Please forgive me,” murmured Rose. “Tell Emmett that I’ll await you in the carriage.” She stood up from the piano stool and tried to make her way swiftly to the door, desperate to escape him, but Derek stopped her, holding her gently by the arm. She met his green eyes timidly.
“You are curious, Lady Rose,” he said quietly, searching her face, before releasing her.
Rose quickly escaped from the music room feeling foolish for suggesting that Derek would want to curry favour with her family. He and Stephen had been very pleasant house guests, what need would they have to be false?
She knew it was a rather pathetic reason to be self-conscious. So many other features of one’s self were more important than beauty, but Rose had grown up in an environment where women who were fair of face would secure husbands. Which was why Charlotte was the talk of the town whenever she attended a party. She would have had a thousand offers were she not so miserable in London after Nate had left for America. Obviously beauty was not enough to overcome sullenness.
Rose didn’t see much of Derek or Stephen for the rest of the week. She wasn’t asked to go to Pendleton Park again, not that she was particularly desperate to. Instead she spent the time with Bess and her mother, who were organising the ball for that Friday.
Invitations had already been sent out to every nobleman and woman in the neighbouring counties, a strings band had already been hired and Mrs Weston was well prepared with the sustenance that would be provided.
“Are you alright, Rosie? You’ve been awfully quiet as of late,” Bess asked as they sat down to afternoon tea in the drawing room after dressing the ballroom for most of the day.
“Yes, I’m alright,” lied Rose as she sipped her tea slowly.
“Would you like to try again?” Bess called her on her lie. At that moment, the drawing room door opened and Anna entered the room with the children. David, the attentive older brother that he was, held the smaller Imogen’s hand as they walked while Alexandra wandered in on her own. Bess’ face lit up as she opened her arms to receive her children. “Hello, my darlings!” she cried, lifting each one onto the settee to sit by her. “Thank you, Anna,” Bess said gratefully.
She smiled warmly. “Will there be anything else?” Anna asked.
“No, that’s alright. I’ll ring for you later when it’s time to dress for dinner,” Bess replied, before turning her attention back to her children.
“Mama, is there going to be a party?” David asked curiously.
“Yes, Davy, tomorrow night,” Bess explained. “Are you going to make sure that your sisters are sleeping soundly?”
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