Lady Honor's Debt: The Baxendale Sisters Series by Maggi Andersen - Read Online
Lady Honor's Debt
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Summary

Freedom. That’s all Lady Honor Baxendale wants—for her sisters and for herself. Honor has a bold plan to become financially independent, using a skill she learned at her father’s knee. She seeks the help of a solicitor and is pleased with her choice...as long as she can resist the solicitor himself.
Lord Edward Winborne has been happy to come to the aid of his four sisters in the past. But when a neighbor’s daughter, Lady Honor Baxendale, requests his help for a dangerous scheme she has in mind, he feels it his duty to dissuade her. When that fails, he wants to protect her, and then somehow finds he wants to do more. Much more.

Published: Maggi Andersen on
ISBN: 9780994229106
List price: $0.99
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Lady Honor's Debt - Maggi Andersen

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Andersen

Lady Honor’s Debt

It’s as pleasing to me as, they say,

that golden apple was to the swift girl,

that loosed her belt, too long tied.

Atalanta, Catullus

Chapter One

Highland Manor, Royal Tunbridge Wells, 1822

Lady Honor Baxendale left the cook in the kitchen, mulling over the receipts for the following week’s dishes. Her mother was lying down in her bedroom suffering from one of her megrims. Mama’s nerves had worsened of late, especially since Honor’s stepfather had developed such a bad temper.

The house seemed to be constantly in an uproar.

Honor searched for her younger sister, Faith, and found her curled up in the corner of the cerise-striped chintz sofa in the morning room, beside the canary in its gilded cage.

You might take a walk in the sunshine, Faith. It does lift one’s spirits.

After Honor opened the French windows, a perfumed breeze swept in to ruffle the curtains. Beyond the terrace, the azalea bushes flaunted their mass of pink and mauve blossoms. Why not go outdoors on such a beautiful day?

Faith gestured to the bird which chirped and hopped about. I am talking to someone who will listen.

Honor joined her on the sofa. I am listening. Don’t I always?

Yes. But you cannot help me with this, Honor.

You’ve been so horribly bored shut away in the country, dearest. Have you asked Papa to take a house in London for the Season?

This morning. I begged him, but he was deaf to my pleas. He means to marry me off to Lord Gillingham. And I have no say in the matter.

Honor drew in a breath. With me still unwed, I had hoped he’d give you one Season, at least.

It’s business. One of us must marry a Gillingham.

I’ll talk to him. Honor doubted anything she said to her stepfather would hold weight. She was aware that she wasn’t in his favor.

It won’t help, Faith said in a doleful tone. His mind is made up.

You get on well with Lord Gillingham. Honor tried to sound positive while appalled at the notion. She would have to think of a way to prevent it. He’s a personable man, is he not?

He’s an amusing partner to sit beside at dinner, but I don’t love him. Faith poked a restless finger through the bars of the cage, and the bird hopped along the perch to inspect it. You are fortunate, Honor. Papa doesn’t force you to marry.

I am a lost cause. I would not like to see you become one.

Faith gave a watery sigh and sniffed. I shouldn’t like that. Just think, if tragedy hadn’t befallen you, you would be happily married now, with children of your own.

Yes, dearest. Honor patted her sister’s hunched shoulder. She couldn’t shrug off the guilty feeling. She’d been glad when her stepfather failed to consider her attractive enough for his business partner’s son. But Faith should not be denied the excitement of London, with its routs, balls and soireés. Faith was so pretty. She would cause quite a stir, and would enjoy the whirlwind of a Season so much. Honor’s mind skittered away at the thought of her own Season, some years ago, which had ended in disgrace. Faith’s come-out would be far more successful. Why couldn’t her stepfather trust her to find a suitable husband? He seemed too panicked to consider things carefully.

I shall speak to Mama. We might wrangle a Season out of Father yet. Honor opened the birdcage and removed the water tray to refill it.

You are wasting your time. Faith stood and picked up her shawl. If anyone needs me I’ll be on that walk.

****

Brandreth Park, two hours later

A startled deer darted away into the undergrowth as Lord Edward Winborne rode through the leafy glade. He enjoyed his occasional visits to his family’s country seat. Life had settled down somewhat, now that Sibella, the last of his sisters to wed, had married Stathairn. His elder brother, Chaloner, and his wife, Lavinia, seemed content, raising their young brood with less interference since his mother had moved to the dower house. With the exception of his tearaway younger brother, Vaughn, whom one could never be completely sure of, life was, at the moment, free from worry. That is, apart from his mother’s insistence that Edward find a wife.

He was far too old to be managed, but his mother’s force of will was formidable. As the oldest unmarried son, he was now her focus, and she insisted it was time for him to set up a nursery. His mother had been disappointed when he and Olivia had decided not to marry. Mother was certain that he still suffered from a broken heart, when all he really wished for was to forge his career before taking on the responsibility of a family.

Edward didn’t have time to spare for the mating rituals society required of a man in search of a wife, and why it should be necessary for him to marry, now, escaped him. Edward’s two older brothers had sons, so neither he nor his progeny were ever likely to be the Marquess of Brandreth. Had he met a lady he wished to spend his life with, it might be different. Soon to sit for bar exams, he hoped one day, with an impressive body of work behind him, to be invited to take silk as King’s Counsel, and all his energies were directed to that end.

So lost in thought, Edward almost missed the young woman perched on a log by the side of the path. He reined in when her deep sobs caught his notice. Dismounting, he led his horse over to her.

She raised her tearstained face to his, and sniffed.

Edward pulled his handkerchief from a pocket and held it out to her. Are you lost?

She took it and dabbed at her eyes. A Brandreth, I see.

That is hardly surprising is it? You are on Brandreth Park Land.

Am I?

He swept off his hat and bowed. Edward Winborne. And you are?

Faith Baxendale of Highland Manor. She raised her eyebrows with a censorious expression. I believe we have met, more than once. I am your neighbor’s daughter, my lord.

Edward had a vague memory of meeting a brood of sisters from the neighboring estate at one of those appalling assemblies he was forced to attend. What has happened to distress you, Lady Faith?

My heart is breaking, she murmured.

Surely not, Edward said, resisting a smile.

She took a deep, unsteady breath. Well perhaps not breaking, exactly. But my heart is in danger of it. I’m in hiding.

Hiding? From whom?

She shook her fair ringlets. My papa has turned into a monster.

She was very young and quite pretty, if only she’d stop twisting her lips in that fashion. What manner of monster is he?

He wishes me to marry Lord Gillingham.

Edward rested his foot on the stump. I know Gillingham. He was a man of a similar age to him, and of good standing. Not such a bad fellow, is he?

I am too young to marry, my lord.

Yes, indeed. He refrained from asking her how old she was. A few years younger than his sister Maria, he supposed, but Maria was now a wife and the mother of a baby.

Well, you can’t stay here, can you? He glanced at the sky. It’s going to rain.

She sighed. I got a stone in my shoe, and I’ve bruised my foot.

He held out his hand. Then allow me to escort you home.

Thank you. Standing, she shook out her skirts and offered him back his damp handkerchief.

Please keep the handkerchief. You may have need of it, he said, noting her downcast expression. He hated seeing women weep. Having four sisters, he considered himself an expert at predicting the vapors.

Edward brought his horse over to the log and helped her to perch sideways across the saddle. Taking hold of the reins, he tried to remember more details of her family, but his memory failed him. I seem to recall you have sisters. He clicked at the horse and pulled the rein.

There are five of us. We have no brothers. Grasping the horse’s mane, she rattled off their names.

Edward skirted a rock on the path. All married, I gather?

That produced a stern huff. Of course not. You met us recently at the local fete your mother opened in the village. Her tone condemned his lapse. Mercy is only fourteen, and Charity is sixteen. Hope is seventeen. She’s touring the Continent with Aunt Amelia. Honor is the oldest. She should marry before me, but she prefers to stay at home helping Mama, rather than go to soireés. Honor reads books and writes poetry. Is it fair that I must get married at eighteen? I don’t wish Honor to marry if she doesn’t wish to. But cannot I wait and enjoy a London Season?

I always thought a Season was designed for that purpose? Edward believed it the aim of all women to find a husband. Honor sounded intelligent and independent, as was his former fiancée. Olivia had married a considerably older and wealthier man than Edward after explaining she needed to concentrate on her writings and not be distracted by a more passionate, young man. Well, he’d learned a painful lesson, and his wife, when he chose her, would be very different indeed.

Love is the aim of everyone, is it not? Faith asked. But not everyone manages to find that special person. Her voice filled with frustration. Especially when one cannot choose for oneself.

It seemed quite a sensible observation for one so young. Edward had nothing to add, so he remained silent. He was reassured that Lady Faith required no answer when she continued her one-sided conversation. Come-outs appear to be such fun. She gave another regretful sigh. I want to dance and flirt and make my own choice of a life partner.

Edward thought it an entirely acceptable thing to wish for. He