April Kihlstrom

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Regency Christmas Wishes Anthology

The Dutiful Wife

 

 

April Kihlstrom

 

 

 

InterMix Books, New York

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have control over and does not have any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

THE DUTIFUL WIFE

An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY

InterMix eBook edition / October 2012

 

Copyright © 2012 by April Kihlstrom.

Excerpt from
The Ambitious Baronet
copyright © 2001 by April Kihlstrom.

All rights reserved.

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ISBN: 978-1-101-58969-4

INTERMIX

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Prologue

Beatrix Trowley crouched on the rock near the boy who was visiting. His name was Edmund Hetherton and he seemed so very sad. He hadn’t seen her yet. Not that he would mind her being here, at least she didn’t think he would. Unlike her brothers, not once in the few days since he arrived had he told her to go away and leave him alone. Yet he had chosen to come to this spot and be alone. Her spot. The one where she came when she was upset and needed to think.

“It’s all right,” he said. “You can come and sit with me, if you want. I don’t mind.”

Beatrix hesitated. Mama had told her not to bother the boy. But he didn’t look as if he was bothered. Slowly she stood up and walked over to where he was sitting with his feet in the pond. She sat down beside him and took off her shoes so that she could dangle her own feet in the water.

“I’m Beatrix,” she said. “I know you’ve been told all our names but, well, there are so many of us that I thought it best to remind you. In a year or two you will have to call me Miss Trowley. But not yet. At least I don’t think so. There are so many rules to remember. I am doing my best to learn them all, but I don’t always succeed.”

He grinned then and said, “Well, if I am to call you Beatrix, you must call me Edmund. My father would be unhappy if he heard you do so. He would say you ought to call me Master Hetherton. But I should prefer Edmund, and since he isn’t here, he doesn’t get to say what we do.”

Beatrix blinked. In one short moment he had said more than the entire family had heard in the day and a half since he’d arrived with Lady Kenrick. Something about him made her feel he was a kindred soul. She splashed the water with her feet and confided, “Mama would say I should not do this, either, but at times I cannot help myself. I shall have to follow all the rules when I am older, and indeed I shall do my best, but . . . ” Her voice trailed off.

Edmund smiled. “But perhaps not just yet?” he hazarded. She nodded and he went on, “There are an awful lot of rules, aren’t there? When I grow up, I shall do just as I please. I won’t let anyone tell me what I must and must not do. If they try, I shan’t listen!”

“Won’t you get in trouble?” Beatrix asked doubtfully.

“Probably, but I shan’t care,” he said stoutly. Then, a trifle shyly, he added, “At least I hope I shall have the courage to do so. My father has lots of rules, even more than most.”

“What about your mother?” Beatrix asked, then clapped a hand over her mouth. Slowly she took it away and said, “I’m sorry. I’m not supposed to ask you about her. She died last year, didn’t she?”

He nodded. Almost immediately he wiped away a tear. Beatrix held her handkerchief out to him and angrily he waved it away. “I am not crying,” he said fiercely. “My father says men don’t cry.”

“My father does,” Beatrix answered softly, “and he’s a man. He’s a good man, a kind man. He would tell you it’s all right to cry. And if you wish to tell me about your mother, I shall be happy to listen.”

Edmund only shook his head. “I am not to speak of her. Had she listened to my father, she might not have gotten so wet and taken so ill and died so suddenly.”

The words had all come out in a rush, betraying the intense emotion the boy must feel. Beatrix pulled her feet out of the water and hugged her knees to her chest as she said, “I can’t imagine what I would do if Mama died. I think I should feel lost and angry and as if there was a big, gaping hole inside of me.”

He turned and looked at her, really looked at her. “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel,” he exclaimed. Then, recollecting himself, he looked away, out over the water of the small pond. “But I don’t want to talk about her,” he said. “My father is right about that. It doesn’t help.”

His expression was so fierce that Beatrix did not even try to press the point. Instead she said, again softly, “Tell me about your dreams.”

“My dreams?” He looked at her, confusion evident in the way his brow furrowed and in the timbre of his voice.

“Yes. What you hope to do one day. How you want your life to be,” Beatrix persisted.

He tilted his head as if he thought her a strange creature but in the end he did answer her. “Someday, I shall go all over the world,” he said, the fierceness back in his voice. “I shall visit places like Egypt and the former colonies in America. Perhaps I’ll sail around the world. I’ll stand up in Parliament, once I become Viscount after my father dies, and change things that aren’t right or fair.”

He paused and looked at Beatrix as though he dared her to laugh at him. But there was no laughter in her voice as she said, seriously, “I think those are very good dreams.”

“What are your dreams?” he asked in return.

Now it was her turn to gaze out over the water. “I want to be happy, as Mama and Papa are happy together. I shall live in the countryside and have a husband who will be tall and handsome and take care of me. I shall look up to him and do all that I can to please him. And I shall have children. Lots of children and enough money to feed them all so that none ever has to go hungry so the younger ones can eat!”

This last was said with a fierceness that betrayed too much of how
she
felt. Hastily Beatrix forced herself to smile and look at the boy. “Never mind me
,”
she said. “My dreams must seem very foolish compared to yours. Yours are ambitious dreams, wonderful dreams. Someday I hope you get to do all those things!”

When had her hand crept out to cover his where it rested on the ground? When had his turned over to clasp hers so that now he could squeeze in reassurance even as he said, with utmost seriousness, “I hope you have your dreams as well. I think you will be a wonderful wife and mother when you are all grown up. I hope—”

Whatever else he might have said was lost as her brothers suddenly appeared, whooping and calling her name, teasing her for being here, alone, with Edmund. Hastily she pulled her hand free and stood, hiding her shoes behind her back in hopes her brothers would not notice her bare feet.

Behind her, Beatrix felt, rather than saw, Edmund retrieve his own shoes, put them on and then stand at her back, daring her brothers to voice the jests they’d been about to say.

“Did you need us?” Edmund asked politely.

“Er, no, that is—“

“We came to, er, see if you wanted to play, but it’s taken so long to find you. We all ought to head back to the house. I daresay Cook will have a nice luncheon ready by now,” the most civilized of her brothers told Edmund.

Edmund stood a head or more taller than all of them. He could have routed them with a word or well-chosen snub. Instead, he straightened up, threw back his shoulders and met their eyes squarely. Edmund smiled as he answered, “Then by all means let us return to the house. Miss Trowley, I believe I managed to get those stones out of your shoes so you may put them back on,” he added, giving her an excuse that her brothers and even her mother couldn’t argue with for the fact she was barefoot.

In that moment, a young girl’s heart was lost to the handsome boy who had just been so kind to her, and who so desperately needed someone to believe in him. If only, she thought, there was even the merest chance that he might one day feel the same.

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