Historical Romance: Regency Romance: A Prize to Be Won (Sweet Regency Historical Romance Short Stories), страница 2
“Is that you, Henry? When did you arrive?” Lady Chelsea Northwall, Lord Henry Northwall’s mother and the Dowager Duchess of Southampton, asked her only son.
“Good evening, Mother. I have just come back from a very important meeting.”
“I know, I know. Michael told me about this ‘important’ meeting of yours. You went gambling again, didn’t you?” Her Grace asked, disdain lacing her words.
“To be honest, yes, I did. But, as usual, I didn’t lose anything. In fact, I won the…..”
“I don’t want to hear about your gambling adventures, Henry! When do you plan to get serious about assuming your responsibilities as the Duke of Southampton?”
Again this conversation! Henry dreaded the mere thought of it. They’d had this conversation innumerable times in the past and each time it left Henry more uneasy than before. He understood that time was fast running out and he’d have to produce an heir soon, but his heart wasn’t willing to marry just any woman. He didn’t exactly know what he was looking for in a wife but one thing he was clear about: he didn’t want to marry a woman just for her looks. She had to be intelligent as well as capable of invoking passion in him. Beauty and brains was a rare combination but he wasn’t willing to settle for anything less.
Not that he had a lot of options at this stage. Apparently most of the mammas had become wary of his reckless behavior and were now looking for more suitable and “respectable” husbands for their daughters. But still, given his vast fortune and title, there were still many in the ton who would jump at the prospect of having their daughters marry him.
“Mother, not again! I am aware of my responsibilities to the estate…..”
“Oh, come now, Henry! If you’d been even a little bit serious about your role as the Duke of Southampton, you’d be happily married with a couple of heirs by now. I am really getting fed up with your carefree attitude. I called you here today to give you an ultimatum,” the Dowager Duchess said in a very serious tone.
“An ultimatum?” asked Henry incredulously.
“Yes. You either get settled in the next six months or be prepared to relinquish your inheritance to Phillip.”
“What? Is this some kind of a joke?” Henry couldn’t believe his ears. Phillip was his first cousin, his late father’s brother’s son.
“No Henry, I am not joking this time. You have exactly six months to prove that you are serious about your responsibility to your estate. I am sorry I had to take such an extreme measure, but you left me with little choice,” Her Grace said matter-of-factly.
Henry now began to feel angry. He took great care of the estate. In fact, his people had flourished considerably under his guidance and leadership. Just because he had not married yet didn’t make him any less of a responsible Duke. He was working diligently to ensure the people of his estate led a comfortable life. To say he was loved by his people would be an understatement. The people of Southampton adored him! Although he knew that producing an heir was of utmost importance, he felt that it could wait ….probably for several more years. You are already one-and-thirty, a voice said from the back of his mind. He asked it to shut up.
“I don’t understand any of this, Mother. Are you trying to blackmail me?”
“No son, I am just saying that I want to see you married in the next six months.” Both her tone and her stance softened a little as she added, “Listen to me Henry. You know very well that you will have to marry sooner or later, so why not marry when you still have options? Didn’t I tell you about that lovely Lady Charlotte Fitzroy? She is Duke of Cleveland’s only daughter and a perfect match for you. She is beautiful, talented and soft spoken….all the qualities one would look for in a wife and a would-be Duchess.”
Henry knew Charlotte very well. She was one of those girls who loved to indulge in meaningless gossip and was a regular at fashionable, extravagant parties that usually bored him to death. No, he could not marry that woman. She would make his life a living hell!
“Mother, I am not promising anything but I assure you that because I take my responsibility as the Duke of Southampton very seriously, I shall be on the lookout for a suitable bride from today onwards. I may not get married in the next six months as you’ve decreed but I will try my best to at least get engaged within that time frame.” Henry noticed that his mother was trying hard to conceal her victorious grin. “As for Lady Charlotte, Mother, I have to tell you that I don’t think we are compatible at all. I find her to be a woman of quite different tastes than mine.”
“Alright then….As you wish! I found her quite charming and that is the reason I mentioned her. But if you are interested in someone else…”
“I am not interested in anyone at the moment, Mother,” Henry stated firmly. “And I would prefer if you let your match-making skills rest for a while and let me choose my own bride.” Henry was fed up with the innumerable proposals that his mother always seemed to have in store for him.
“I am your mother, Henry. I always want the best for you. But if you’d rather choose your own bride, then so be it! I just want to see you settled as soon as possible. I can’t even explain how eager I am to play with my grandchildren.” A huge grin spread across the Duchess’s face as she thought about her future grandchildren. “You know, the other day Lady Rose was telling everyone how her granddaughter, at just three years, can easily play the piano. And Lady Samantha, she is always bragging about her grandson’s riding finesse. I just sit there quietly sipping my tea while everyone else around me talks about their grandchildren and their achievements.”
“So you want me to get married and have children so that you can also brag about your grandchildren’s talents in front of your friends?” Henry asked, unable to hide his slight amusement at his mother’s words.
“Of course not, my dear! I want you to experience how beautiful a marital bond can be. I want you to produce an heir for this huge estate that your father nourished with his sweat and blood. Although I have to admit that the bragging about my grandchildren’s talent part would be icing on the cake,” the Duchess said and winked at Henry.
Henry cannot believe his eyes! Had his oh-so-proper mother actually winked at him? He better get prepared to execute his promise soon. Apparently she had set her heart on getting him married, and once the Dowager Duchess decides to do something with all her heart, there was no stopping her!
Henry has no idea where to look for his future bride. London’s Season wouldn’t begin for three months and he better make sure that he got invited to most of the balls and parties there. As much as he hated attending the seasons, he has no other option. The mere thought of giving away his estate to that Phillip sent a chill down his spine. No, he could never let that happen. It was time to renew his London acquaintances again.
But before that, Henry had to go to Leicester. After all, he had an entire estate to claim there. Henry smiled inwardly at the thought of his latest victory. It had been so easy to defeat that foolish Peter Thompson. While he felt sorry for the poor fellow--Henry recalled his stricken face when he learnt that he’d lost the wager--he could not give up what now rightfully belonged to him.
“Mother, I’ll have to leave for Leicester tomorrow morning for some urgent business. I’ll be back in the next week or so,” Henry informed his mother.
“Leicester? What business do you have there?”
“Uhhh…Let’s just say that I have to go there to claim something that’s mine. And who knows, I may meet your future daughter-in-law on the way!” he joked.
“Well, if that happens, believe me, I would be the happiest woman in the world!”
The next day, Henry left for Leicester at the crack of dawn. It would take him at least three days to reach Leicester. Meanwhile, he asked his confidantes to ensure that he got invited to some of the biggest balls of the coming season. After a restless night, Henry f
But if it were that simple, why did the thought of attending another season make him so uncomfortable?
After about three days of gruesome travel, Henry finally reached Leicester. He was impressed by the flourishing estate and quietly considered that Lord Peter was perhaps not as naïve as he seems. He at least knew how to manage the affairs of his estate. Henry had genuine respect for anyone who toiled hard to make his people’s lives better. He had heard about Lord Peter’s reckless behavior more often than once and wondered how the man managed his business along with his other not-so-flattering escapades. Perhaps he was gifted with a hardworking staff. Whatever the case, Henry felt proud to own this estate. He mentally made a note to retain the current Earl’s staff; they seemed to be very competent.