The Viscount Needs a WifeBy: Jo Beverley
With thanks to my editor, Claire Zion, and my agent, Meg Ruley, and to all my wonderful readers, who make creating books so much fun.
The Offspring of King George III in November 1817
Prince George, the Prince Regent, age 54
Prince Frederick, Duke of York, age 52
Prince William, Duke of Clarence, 51
Charlotte, Queen of Württemberg, 50
Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, 50
Princess Augusta, 49
Princess Elizabeth, 47
Prince Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, 46
Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex, 44
Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, 43
Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, 41
Princess Sophia, 40
November 7, 1817
Cateril Manor, Gloucestershire
“Kathryn, your dog is looking at me again.”
Kitty Cateril looked up from her needlework to see that indeed her King Charles spaniel was sitting in front of her mother-in-law, eyes fixed on her face. She bit the inside of her cheek to hold back a smile as she patted her leg. “Sillikin, come.”
The small black and tan dog cocked its head, then trotted over, as if expecting a reward for a job well done. Kitty wasn’t sure why Sillikin sometimes stared at people, but it seemed to be in disapproval, and her mother-in-law sensed that.
What secret sins could lurk in the soul of straight-backed, gray-haired Lady Cateril? She was the sort of woman often described as beyond reproach. These days, dressed permanently in mourning black, she had been canonized by the heroism and death of her younger son—Kitty’s husband, Marcus.
Had Sillikin caught Lady Cateril wishing that the heroism and death had come together? That Marcus hadn’t lived, wounded and broken, for seven more years and married someone like Kitty? That devotion to Marcus’s memory hadn’t required her to offer Kitty a home? Kitty and her irritating dog.
“I will say again, Kathryn, that you should rename that creature.”
And I will say again, Kitty supplied silently before saying, “She’s too used to the name by now.”
“She’s a dumb creature. She cannot care.”
“Then why do dogs respond to their names as people do, Mama?”
Names. So powerful and so often poorly considered. Six years ago, she’d named a wriggling ball of fluff Sillikin. Three years before that, when Kitty had married Marcus, she’d called his mother Mama, in the hope of pleasing the disapproving woman. It had never seemed possible to change to something more formal.
Her bid for approval had been a hopeless cause. Lady Cateril’s favorite son, the wounded hero of Roleia, bound to a seventeen-year-old chit? Had she hoped that by using the name Kathryn, the chit would become a sober matron? “Kitty,” she’d said at first meeting, “is a romping sort of name.” There’d been a clear implication that Kitty was a romping sort of person.
Better that than being starchy as a frosted petticoat on a winter washing line!
The weather today wouldn’t freeze cotton as stiff as a board, but it was raining. That trapped Kitty in the house, and effectively in this small parlor that smelled of wood smoke and the mustiness that came from long-closed windows. The larger, airier drawing room was rarely used in the colder months, so the fire there was unlit.
She would have liked to retreat to her bedroom even though that, too, lacked a fire, but in Lady Cateril’s domain, bedrooms were not sitting rooms. They weren’t dining rooms, either. The only time anyone was served food in her bedroom was if she was ill.
Kitty knew she should be grateful to be housed here. Her only other option was to live in cheap lodgings somewhere. At least there she had everything she needed and the estate to walk in.
She had everything except freedom.
In the beginning, she’d rubbed along well enough with her mother-in-law, united in grief. However, when six months had passed, Kitty had followed custom and prepared to put off her widow’s weeds. When Lady Cateril realized Kitty had ordered new gowns in gray, fawn, and violet, she’d reacted as if she’d spat on Marcus’s grave. When reproaches and then tears hadn’t changed Kitty’s intent, Lady Cateril had taken to her bed and sent for the doctor. Kitty had been badly shaken, but the rest of the family hadn’t seemed alarmed, so she’d stuck to her guns. The first gown had arrived, a very plain gray wool round gown, and she’d worn it, quaking. The next day Lady Cateril had emerged. Nothing more had been said, but a frost had settled.