His One True Passion by Penelope Redmont by Penelope Redmont - Read Online

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His One True Passion - Penelope Redmont

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Prologue

London, 1812

On an early spring day, in a house rented for the season in Half Moon Street, Lady Hedworth and Major Lord Cambwell shared breakfast.

Frances was in riding dress, after spending an hour riding with a groom in the Row. Peter was dressed in evening attire. She knew that he'd spent the night gambling, and that he was in funds.

Guise, Frances's butler, told her that his lordship was in the breakfast room when she entered the house. He rose from his chair when she entered. You won again, my lord? She asked.

He bowed to her, graced her with a sardonic smile, and winked. Of course I did, my lady. And I had to come to you. You're the only soul I know who rises with the dawn — the only person who can celebrate my winnings with me.

She dropped her gaze from his a moment too late. Warmth tingled through her, and she knew that that was dangerous.

Daniel, Frances's personal footman, set a plate in front of her, and Frances began eating, refusing to be flustered by him. She felt his intense gaze on her for a few moments more, then he picked up the newspaper.

They were business partners, and this made Frances feel both guilty and annoyed. She couldn't ban him from her house, and she didn't wish to. But she had to keep reminding herself that she was married.

She set down her fork, and leafed through her letters. Two were from her family, and her eyebrows lifted. One from her sister, and one from her mother. She had expected a letter from her mother, but why had Mary written to her? She set both letters aside for the moment, and opened the rest of her mail.

I'm for Tattersall's today, Peter said in his deep voice.

He'd sensed her unease over the letters. She knew that he was trying to give her courage, and she adored him for it. And felt guilty again.

She smiled. What of your decision to stay within your budget? she asked. Peter was wonderful at making good investments, but he was hopeless at maintaining his personal budget.

He returned her smile. Read your letters, he nodded at the letters on the table, then went back to reading his newspaper to give her privacy.

Her gaze rested on him for a moment.

Peter sat very erect, as became the soldier he'd been. He’d sold his commission when he was wounded. Frances was continually struck by what a handsome man he was. His broad shoulders were smoothly covered in elegant tailored blue superfine. His dark blond hair was cropped a la Brutus, and that drew attention to his high cheekbones. If only… But no. Peter had never shown that he cared for her as more than a friend.

She shuddered. An intimate friend. She refused to think about what had once happened between them. She couldn't think about it, because it must never happen again.

He caught her glance again, his brown eyes warm. The skin around his eyes crinkled at the corners, and his broad, well-shaped lips curved in a broader smile. I shall attend Tattersall's but I shall look, only. Of course.

She couldn't suppress a chuckle. She knew he was trying to distract her from the letters. Of course. But if you should see something that has potential for a hunter…

A commission for me? Bless you, my dear. But I thought that we agreed that you would practice economy too — to show me how I must go on? You know that I rely on you to be guide.

She shrugged. Certainly. Economy always. But… Until we hear something about Alaric. She frowned for a moment. She always flipped through the mail when it arrived, her heart stuttering. Always anxious, she thought. Why am I still so anxious after four years? Surely with every day that passes…

But?

She forced her mind away from those thoughts. But I've decided to sell that bottom land at Longfield. It's one of Oscar's ideas for us to get additional investment capital. It seems he's found a new investment. He suggested selling the land in order to finance it… You might talk to him about the idea — he wants to put money into a new ship. It's rather risky, but those kinds of investments appeal to you.

The greater the risk, the greater the return. Peter laid down his newspaper. He'd leafed through it rapidly, glancing swiftly up and down each page, before he settled down to read it. He did the same thing whenever they breakfasted together. She knew why he did it. He was looking for newspaper accounts of India.

I'll speak to Oscar, then. I might sell something too. Put some money in. Why not?

She had to laugh at that. She teased him gently. Is that so, truly? You mean that you'll spend hours — days — gambling to get the money.

Read your letters. He tried to sound stern, but his lips twitched.

She picked them up, and cracked the seal on her mother's. Oh no…

What?

It's from Mother. She's heard about my house, and she says she's coming up to town. She hadn't realized that she was holding her breath, and blew out air in a long sigh. Frances rubbed her temple. Any interaction with her mother was always guaranteed to give her an instant headache. "She says that I'm to engage two seamstresses — and a French maid — for her. A French maid, if you please."

Peter smiled. I like Theo — she's always amusing. She has energy — and your temper.

She refused to spend the summer in the same house as her mother. Although she loved Theodosia, Lady Sydham, Theo would spend the next few months devising schemes to force Frances to look for another husband. The mere fact that Frances already had a husband wouldn't trouble her.

London, that was the problem. Theo had heard that Frances had rented a London house from one of her cronies. Frances wished she'd stayed at Longfield. She should have come to London for just a month. And taken lodgings, rather than a house. She expects to stay here, but that's impossible. I haven't the room, she said, her mind made up, and so I shall tell her. If she wants to come up to town she can spend her own money.

Impatient now, and braver, she cracked the seal on the second letter. Why had Mary written to her? Mary had shunned her for four years. The letter was short. She read it a second time, and held it across the table to Peter. I can't make sense of it. Please read it.

Peter took the letter.

Why she should should invite me — She'd been able to say, when she disapproves of me so completely, and thinks that I am a fallen woman, but she glanced at the impassive footman standing behind Peter's chair. She trusted Daniel, her personal footman, and Guise, but not her other servants. Better to keep silent.

She wants you to visit Trevenlea House. And me, as well, by heavens.

He handed the letter back, and Frances studied it again.

Frances, do join us at Trevenlea House for a party to celebrate the engagement of my darling Sophia Anne to Sir Thomas Croke. Admiral Lord Trevenlea sends his compliments, and will be pleased to welcome you and Major Lord Cambwell, Saturday next, to Trevenlea for the party on the following Friday. DO NOT tell Mother.

She'd signed the letter Mary, in a small, cramped hand. It was as if she and Frances had never fallen out.

Frances studied the letter. Why on earth?

An invitation to you, but seemingly her estrangement from your mother continues. Will you go? Theo might not like it.

She blames Mother for taking me in. But it seems that I'm forgiven. How odd. It's an olive branch, and not what I expected at all.

She thought for a moment. Mary wants something. She rubbed her forehead. Our quarrel, if that was what it was, has gone on too long. She hesitated. I must go, but the invitation is for you too… Will you accompany me? She hadn't realized that she had made up her mind to go, until she said the words.

He smiled at her again. I am yours to command, always. If you wish it, I will indeed. A long visit?

Thank you. A couple of weeks, I daresay. That means that Mother can stay here, until Oscar finds her her own house for the Season. She studied the letter again, troubled by it. I shall write her immediately that I'll be out of London — and that I will arrange a house for her. I'll have to tell her that I'm visiting Mary, even though Mary wishes secrecy.

I told you your sister would come around.

Frances frowned. Mary wants something — or she wants not to do something, and wants me to do it.

Late that night, in bed, Frances found it hard to fall asleep.

When Peter had brought her home from India, she'd assumed that she'd stay with Mary. At that time, Mary a two-years widow, still hadn't met Admiral Lord Trevenlea. She'd lived in a large house in Grosvenor Square.

Mary's first words to her sister, whom she hadn't seen in six years, were: You can't stay here. Everyone knows about you.

Frances rarely allowed herself to remember that. The memory of Mary's rejection hurt too deeply. She tossed and turned for another hour, then sat up. She climbed out of bed and used the tinderbox to light the candles in the candlestick on the table beside her bed. Then she lit the lamp on the small table in the center of her bedroom.

She sat down on the carpet, and crossed her legs. She rested her hands casually on her thighs, and closed her eyes. An Indian holy man had taught her how to calm her mind. Sometimes she thought that meditation was the only way in which she survived the years with Alaric.

She closed her eyes and allowed herself to relax. Her mind still buzzed, but she focused her attention her in-breaths and out-breaths. Invariably her mind wandered. She didn't try to order her thoughts or to calm her mind, she simply acknowledged each thought, then went back to counting her breaths.

Within ten minutes, her body had stilled completely, and her mind had calmed. She kept sitting.

After almost an hour, she shuttered the lamp, snuffed the candles, and went back to bed. When she closed her eyes, she dropped off to sleep immediately.

Chapter 1

Trevenlea House

Frances's eyes widened as she looked out of her carriage window when Trevenlea House came into view at the end of a long avenue of trees. The house was a large and elegant mansion, set in rolling parkland. Newly built, it gleamed white in the sun.

The avenue of well-grown trees indicated that another house had stood there before. She wondered which ancient mansion had been torn down to build this large and elegant home… at great expense.

It's lovely, Tamzin Smith breathed.

Frances glanced at her maid of the past four years. Tamzin, a distant relation on her family tree, was a plump pigeon of a woman, not given to deep thought. Perhaps she was naive, but she was also warm-hearted and kind. Tamzin's eyes were wide. She clutched onto the window shade of the carriage, pink with excitement.

Frances had made up her mind some months ago that she would find a husband for Tamzin during the Season if she could. There might be a candidate for that position at the house party. At 45, Tamzin night be considered by some to have settled into spinsterhood. But she was a kind soul. She'd looked after her parents for many years, and had never had her own home.

When Frances offered her home to Tamzin, Tamzin had refused. No, my lady. No. I will come to you, but only as your maid. I wish to be independent, you see. I shall earn my way.

Nothing that Frances said could dissuade her. No matter how many times Frances told Tamzin that she was a gentlewoman, and gentlewomen were ladies, not lady's maids, Tamzin remained firm.

The idea of playing matchmaker was new to Frances, but she wanted to do something for Tamzin. After her return from India, Tamzin had given her unquestioning friendship. She'd stood by Frances, and the least Frances could do was to try to give her friend what she most wanted.

Then Frances turned her attention back to the house, her gaze narrowing. This may be the reason Mary sent for me, she thought. Mary needs help. A part of her was disappointed. She'd hoped that Mary missed her. They had been close, as children. She sighed.

Oh look — a folly.

Frances, by far less naive than Tamzin, saw folly of a different kind. Where had the money come from for a house like this? She didn't begrudge Mary. Of course she didn't. However, her own strictures of the past few years had been difficult. Alaric's money and properties were tied up because he was missing, not dead. The estates had gone to ruin.

All Frances had had to live on had been her income from investments that Peter had helped her to make. She'd had a home at Longfield, a small estate which was an inheritance from her grandfather. Alaric hadn't liked that. He'd teased her many times to sell Longfield, but her marriage settlement was clear: the estate was Frances’s, for her lifetime. Then it would go to her eldest child, even if the child were a daughter. It was only in the past year that the income from her investments had grown. She'd put money into Alaric's estates, which Theo thought complete foolishness.

I don't know what went on in your marriage, she'd told Frances. But I can see that it wasn't anything good. Now you want to maintain his estates? What if he returns?

You keep telling me that he won't return — he's dead.

Let's hope that he is. You still haven't found his will?

I haven't.

Well then. That's even more reason to guard your income. Alaric's relatives will insist that they get the bulk of his estate. You'll only have Longfield.

During her lean years, Frances had had a lot of time to think. When she thought about Mary, she wondered whether Mary would have been as cold to her if she had had access to Alaric's fortune. If she had, she could have sold Alaric's smaller estates, and lived well.

Would she have done that? She didn't know, and it didn't matter. She forced her mind away from her own problems, and told herself to forget the past.

A house so large had to have cost many thousands of pounds to build. She made up her mind that she would write immediately to Oscar, her man of business. She wanted to know all about Trevenlea House. She knew that the Admiral had had prize money from his years as a naval captain. He'd been promoted high enough to retire as an admiral, but did he have enough money to build a house like this? She had a bad feeling that she was looking at Mary's money, Mary's inheritance from their grandfather, as well as from her first husband.

Their carriage rolled to a stop at the front door of the house, and Daniel opened the carriage door and handed Tamzin down.

Suddenly Frances was pleased that Peter would follow them from town in a couple of days. From the first moment she'd glimpsed Trevenlea House she'd had a bad feeling. Something was wrong. When she was married to her first husband Mary would never have considered ostentation like this. She should have made an attempt to reconcile with her sister long before.

Thank you Daniel, Frances said. On impulse, she'd decided to bring her personal footman with her. Now she was glad that she had. With her own footman and Tamzin, she had friends around her. And with her own carriage, if she had the inclination, she could leave Trevenlea at any time.

I'll see to the baggage my lady, Daniel said.

The front door of the house opened, and the butler and housekeeper descended the steps. Several liveried footmen followed them. They bowed courteously to Frances. The butler introduced himself as Mr Jones, and the housekeeper as Mrs Milton.

The butler was large, and portly. Lady Trevenlea and Miss Martin are visiting friends, Lady Hedworth. Your rooms are ready, of course. We didn't expect you until later in the day.

Mrs Milton took the women upstairs.

Thank you, Frances said to the housekeeper, who said that she would send hot water and tea up to Frances's suite of rooms immediately. Frances stepped into a cream and gold sitting room, many times larger than her own drawing room at Longfield. She took in the elegant furniture, and the printed wallpaper.

The housekeeper curtsied herself out of the room.

Tamzin opened a door. It's a dressing room… And here's the bedroom. My heavens, look at the size of the bed! Come look, Frances. I've never been in a home as well-appointed as Trevenlea House. The Admiral must be a very rich man.

Yes, he must. Frances walked through the dressing room and entered a bedroom as large as the sitting room, and as richly appointed. The bed had embroidered silk hangings.

Mary and Sophia Anne were out visiting friends, so Frances didn't see Mary or any other member of the family until dinner.

When Daniel tapped on her door, she followed him downstairs. Tamzin had gone her own rooms. Frances had written to Mary, telling her that Tamzin was her companion. She didn't want Tamzin to have to share an attic bedroom, but Tamzin insisted that she would dine in the servants' hall.

If she'd been expecting that the family would congregate for a chat before dinner, or that there would be dinner guests, she was mistaken. When Daniel led her into a large dining room she saw that only Mary and Sophia Anne were seated at one corner of the long dining table. The Admiral either hadn't come down, or he was away. The three place settings looked lonely.

There you are Frances, Mary said. It's good to see you again. You're looking well. Do sit down. The Admiral and Sir Thomas send their apologies, they are dining with neighbors.

Frances walked along the table, until she reached her niece.

Sophia Anne Martin was 16, she knew. The beauty of the girl shocked her. She hadn't seen her for years, and had never expected her to turn out so well. As she kissed her niece's cheek, she gained an impression of a small, heart-shaped face, and crystal-clear, large blue eyes. The child's complexion was flawless, pale ivory against her glossy fair hair. She would cause a riot at her first season. Then she remembered — the child was engaged, and wouldn't have a season. What a shame.

My dear, you're lovely, she smiled at Sophia Anne, patted her shoulder, and then bent down to kiss Mary's cheek as well.

Mary flinched away from her, but Frances ignored it. Even as a child, Mary hadn't liked to be touched.

She sat down opposite Mary and her niece. A footman poured a glass of wine for her. She busied herself arranging her skirts, and her shawl about her shoulders. Then she took a sip of wine.

All the while, her mind worked.

Where Sophia Anne had shocked her with her beauty, Mary shocked her in another way. She looked ill. Both Mary and Frances had their mother's coloring: blonde hair, with pale ivory complexions. Mary had always inclined to plumpness. The woman sitting opposite her was gaunt, her face narrow, and heavily lined. How could that be? She knew that Mary was ten years older than she was, which made her 35. She looked all of 55. Was she ill?

Frances mentally castigated herself again for allowing their estrangement to go on for so many years. Mary was her sister, and once she had loved her. She still did, she told