Lady Henrietta harbours a secret, so appalling, she cannot tell even her closest friend, the Lady Isabella. As her wedding approaches, it preys on her mind, and she pleads with her fiancé Lord Vaughan Bruges, the Marquess de Courres, to delay the consummation of the marriage. They have a shocking argument, in which Lord Vaughan refuses to declare any love for her, and to her anguish is unwilling to give up his mistress.
Henrietta wishes to call off the marriage, but knows it would ruin her family's reputation. However, Lord Vaughan too harbours a secret, one that could break Henrietta's heart, even wreck her life. There is a certain prince, who is determined to have her, married or not, but what is his true title? A romance set in 1815 as the clouds of war gather over Brussels.
‘You should never have come to my room when I stayed at Isabella’s – never.’ she said, pulling at a blond ringlet. ‘You should not have tried to anticipate our vows. I was happy Vaughan, happy, and you destroyed it all with your intentions, and that book.’
Her voice trailed away, as she fought to retain her composure. She must not break, must not reveal her real terror. As her father would say, ‘Stop that whimpering this instant. Remember your station – daughter of a duke – you are an equestrian, archer, and an excellent shot. Yet, even now, her hands trembled if she held a pistol. She grimaced; to her mama’s horror, her father treated her in the same manner as her four brothers, and indeed, pushed her to train as hard as them. However, that seemed to increase her fears; yes, she could ride, hunt and shoot, but she was terrified of it all.
The only exertion she truly loved was swimming; which her father forbade; it was not for young ladies to disrobe outdoors, where they could be seen by the estate workers. Nevertheless, when her governess was abed, she would steal away to meet her two friends, Phillipa and Isabella, for clandestine visits to a pond on the outskirts of the estate. There they would swim free, far from prying eyes. She wished she was like Isabella or Phillipa, self-possessed, confident, outspoken, but no, she was like a lark with one wing, unable to fly with the flock.
She jumped, as Vaughan bellowed. ‘All I did was kiss you, and lie beside you. I sought only to help you. I did not realize you had no idea of love making.’
‘How could I my lord?’
‘Come, come,’ he expostulated, ‘The book is quite innocent. The positions only show—’
‘I do not wish to pursue such an indelicate matter, especially with a man.’
‘What the deuce am I to do?’ he thundered, his face reddening.
‘I need time…. Is it too much to ask to delay the consummation?’
His words rang like the cracked bell of a church. ‘My decision is final; after the nuptials, you may stay at Denning Castle. You will have all the time you need to reflect.’
Spurned, Henrietta felt her heart breaking; still she could not tell him the truth. Holding her face in her hands, she sought to hide the tears streaming down her cheeks.