Authors: Samantha Garman
The Defiant Lady
Published by Samantha Garman at Smashwords
Copyright 2011 Samantha Garman
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Also by Samantha Garman:
Secrets of a Heart
Tales of a New York Waitress
Hampshire, England, February of 1815
The Dowager Duchess of Cavehill sat on a white chintz settee in the pink drawing room drinking her morning cup of tea, as a fire blazed in the ornate marble hearth dispelling winter’s chill. Firelight made the room warm and inviting, and it reminded her how much she loved her country home. Still, she longed for spring, when the gardens would be in bloom, and she could walk among the fragrant white and red rose bushes. The manor was extravagant and lavish, and even though she had not entertained in years, the gold-leafed ballroom could easily hold five hundred guests. The house was too large for just one person, but she never considered a smaller residence. Her home was three stories high, and a hodge-podge of architectural styles. Each successive Duke of Cavehill had made changes that were relevant in their time, and so the Duchess was left with an exceedingly interesting manor that showed the prestige and age of her title.
She smoothed a non-existent crease in her gray dress, a color that signified she was still in mourning. Shut away for nearly a year after the death of her son, Edward, she had not felt the desire to entertain or socialize in months.
She admitted to being lonely, yet the idea of idle conversation over dinner with old friends was unappealing. Perhaps it was time for a companion, someone to sit and read to her.
I am not old enough for a companion
, she thought derisively. She was still young, just past sixty with an upright carriage and a nearly unlined face. Though her hair was mostly gray, her clear, brown eyes sparkled with intellect.
There was a sharp knock on the door, startling the Duchess from her reverie. “Come in,” she called. The Duchess’s aging butler stepped into the room and handed her a letter.
“This just came for you, Your Grace,” Benson spoke.
“Thank you. I will have another cup of Twinings.” She quickly dismissed him and examined the nondescript, white envelope. It had come from Paris, and though she had many friends there, she did not recognize the return address, or the handwriting. Perhaps someone was writing with news of Napoleon and his dastardly war.
Opening the letter, she scanned it quickly and then let it fall to her lap. She sat in silence awhile and gazed out the window. Swirling snow drifted down from the white sky and covered the bare trees, and even after Benson brought her another cup of tea, she did not move. She was lost in thought regarding the letter’s contents.
Cursing the dead would be in bad taste, but she could not stem her angry thoughts. Her son was deceased, yet his indiscretions remained. Edward had done his duty as any good son would, and at five and twenty, had married a woman of quality. He subsequently produced an heir who ensured proper succession of the dukedom. And, like other men of the gentry, Edward kept a mistress discreetly tucked away—a Parisian ballet dancer who had given him two daughters.
Two daughters the Duchess had known nothing about until Benson handed her a letter that irrevocably changed her life.
The note was from the eldest girl, Ivy Sinclair.
Ivy’s letter dripped with desperation, beseeching the Duchess’s aid to save them from the misery of peasant life. The older woman was still reeling from the scandalous news, even as she contemplated what to do. She was at the pinnacle of society, and had more to lose, farther to fall with such disgrace.
Damn Edward for leaving me such a mess.
It was good fortune her grandson, Robert, was away touring the Continent. She could only imagine his outrage to learn of his father’s indiscretions and that he had two half sisters. She contemplated sending him a letter apprising him of the situation, but there had been no word from him for months and she had no clue as to his current location. Robert’s communication had been non-existent since the death of his father. The Duchess simply awoke one morning to find Robert gone, with no hint as to his plans for return. At least he had left a note stating his desire to see the continent, and not done something asinine like join in the war against Napoleon.
The Duchess had lost her husband five years prior; she had married for love, though it was good fortune that William had been a duke. Their only child and heir had died and now, her grandson was gallivanting on a war stricken continent.
She was alone, and she had never been so lonely.
How could my son have two children out of wedlock without providing for them financially?
The Duchess thought acerbically. His mistakes were not only glaring her in the face, but it was her duty to attend to them. If she sent for them, all of London would know her shame, yet she could not turn her back on their plight. They were family, after all. Perhaps there was a way to minimize the damage.
The Duchess would not yield to the baser instincts of her displeasure, as was her right. Recently, her physician had told her to be mindful of her temper. It was not good for her heart. She wished she were fifteen years younger so she could rant as she pleased.
She closed her eyes all of a sudden feeling very weary. She had asked Benson for a second cup of tea, but she should have demanded a tall glass of sherry instead.
Le Havre, France
“What do you think the Duchess of Cavehill is like?” Willow asked curiously. She pulled the collar of her thin, light-blue coat against her neck in hopes of blocking the sea wind.
Ivy shrugged and huddled closer to her younger, taller sister. “Probably like any other high society woman. Cold. Polite. Angry to find out that she has two illegitimate grandchildren.”
“She did send for us,” Willow pointed out.
“Duty, not want,” Ivy stated. “Mark my words.”
The untimely death of their mother six months ago had thrown the girls’ lives into chaos. Their mother’s small pension from the Paris Opéra Ballet had all but dried up, leaving them bereft of funds while they attempted to finish their dance schooling. Ivy needed just one more year before she was ready to take center stage as a prima ballerina. She had been training all of her life for this moment only to realize her dreams might never come to fruition.
With no skills other than language and dance, the girls were unable to pay rent on their small flat and had been on the brink of eviction. Ivy had stayed up half the night trying to find a way for them to remain in Paris and continue on with their lives, but there was none. They had no immediate family, and no reliable social connections other than a paternal grandmother in England, who quite inconveniently knew nothing of their existence. They were penniless, and Ivy had contacted the Duchess as their last hope. They had almost been thrown out into the streets of Paris to fend for themselves.
The Duchess’s response had been swift. She agreed to take the girls in under two conditions: one, they would enter society as ladies and do away with becoming prima ballerinas, and two, they would marry in accordance with her wishes. Were they to accept her offer, the stipulations were non-negotiable.
Ivy had scraped together the last of their funds to book passage on the next ship out of Le Havre bound for Portsmouth, England. The Sinclair sisters packed their meager belongings and set out on a two-day journey toward the port. The trade vessel to England, with very little in the way of comfort, was their home for the next few days. It gave them both more than enough time to ponder how different their lives were about to become.
It was difficult for Ivy to imagine a life without ballet. Ivy and Willow had studied five days a week for five to eight hours a day. Their lives were consumed with dance. As the ship carried them farther from France’s shore, Ivy’s grasp on her old life slackened. Willow had enjoyed ballet, but did not love it the way Ivy did and was not at all concerned about being thrown into a new world or a new life. Ivy shivered, but not just from the cold.
What would England hold for them? What would it hold for her?
Ivy sat demurely and touched a brash red curl of hair as the Duchess’s shrewd brown eyes coldly raked over her. Ivy’s camel-colored gown was at least three years old, but it was clean if not a tad shabby. Though this was their first meeting, the formidable woman was standoffish and every inch an aristocrat.
“Would you two care for a cup of tea?” The Duchess asked with the barest hint of civility.
“That would be lovely,
,” Willow responded nervously. Ivy’s sister, two years younger and amiable, had no trouble being agreeable. Ivy, however, was bold and spirited, and intended to show no fear or weakness, sensing the Duchess was a noble adversary.
The tension in the room was as thick as a looming fog.
Once the tea was poured, Ivy and the Duchess looked at each other cautiously. Ivy knew there would be no other course except the Duchess’s. She might as well fling herself into the treacherous river and let the current carry her, for swimming upstream would be just as futile as fighting the Duchess.
“How was the journey from Paris?” the Duchess finally asked, slicing into the awkward silence.
“Pleasant, thank you,” Willow answered, looking pointedly at her sister to say something.
“Cold,” Ivy blurted out.
The Duchess raised her eyebrows and then said briskly, “England is colder than France as a general rule.”
Ivy wanted to make a snide remark that the temperature in the drawing room was cooler than outside, but she wisely kept quiet, not believing the Duchess would appreciate her humor.
“Enough about the weather. How old are you?”
“I am nineteen, and Willow is seventeen,” Ivy answered.
“Have either you mastered any feminine accomplishments?”
“What do you mean, Your Grace?” Willow asked.
The Duchess did little to hide her exasperation. “Do either of you paint? Play the pianoforte? Sing? Sketch, or press flowers into a book?”
“Pressing flowers into a book is an accomplishment?” Ivy’s lips twitched in amusement at the absurdity of the Duchess’s comment.
The Duchess’s eyes flashed in annoyance, and Willow interjected hastily, “No, Your Grace. We do none of those things. We had tutors growing up, and we are learned in language and history. And of course, we took ballet dance instruction.”
I should tell her about my love of fishing and riding horses astride.
It might send her into a fit!
Ivy thought better of it and wisely kept quiet.
Puckering her lips in clear disapproval, the Duchess stated, “You both are years behind, and lessons in ballroom dancing, polite conversation and etiquette will begin at once. Curtsying and walking in stiff dresses will occur after Madame LaRue, my personal modiste, outfits you for the Season, and because both of you have no feminine skills to your name, I will have painting, singing, and pianoforte instructors come and gauge your potential talent. You will then spend at least four afternoons a week cultivating a basis of civility so that you will at least
to be ladies of the
. Your appearance and background will no doubt shock the members of my circle.”
Willow blinked owlishly, and sent Ivy a panic stricken look. Ivy’s hand had involuntarily curled into a small fist in her lap, a sign of true distress. The Duchess’s words were assaults, beating down all of Ivy’s reserves, but apparently there was one more devastating blow to deliver.
“Ballet,” the Duchess barked, “will cease.”
Rage boiled in Ivy’s veins, though she managed to hold her tongue at the Duchess’s scornful tone. People of quality had endless amounts of time to groom their daughters into witless mannequins, and it angered Ivy, for she was to become one of them. She had accomplishments more worthwhile, but she was being lectured and ridiculed because she was not able to paint a bowl of fruit. And then to be told that she could no longer continue with her passion was simply too much to bear.