Six Weeks with a LordBy: Eve Pendle
26 July 1865, London
“I have to marry a lord.” The last word stuck in Grace’s throat.
Maurice paused, his teacup halfway to his mouth, and Caroline gaped at her. In the silence of her friends’ drawing room, she became aware of the sound of her own breathing and the rattle of a carriage in the street outside.
“My father hasn’t left me any inheritance of my own. Just a dowry, conditional on my marrying a peer.” No money to support herself, nor the right to look after her little brother. Father had always been insistent that she marry into the aristocracy, but she’d never imagined he would go so far.
“You don’t have to marry.” Caroline recovered first, standing and pacing across the room, before turning and striding back. “A fortune isn’t necessary. I presume your brother has inherited Alnott Stores. You can both live on that income.”
“Henry’s guardian is Lord Rayner.” His name made sour water flow into her mouth. For a moment, she thought she might retch.
“Not Rayner.” Caroline’s blond curls bounced as she walked, as if moved by her agitation.
“I know,” Grace whispered. Traveling from Geneva after receiving the telegram, she’d had two weeks to mourn her father and fret about Henry. But finally reading her father’s will this morning had emptied all the contents from her chest, leaving a gap where her internal organs should be.
Caroline pinched the bridge of her nose. “Surely, Rayner wouldn’t do anything to Henry? To a four-year-old boy.”
“Servants, women, children. They are all basically property to an earl like Lord Rayner, are they not? They don’t deserve respect, consideration, or kindness.” She wanted to believe Lord Rayner would treat Henry better than he had Anna, her former lady’s maid. But she’d seen him laugh idly when his footman had slapped a cowering hall boy, a child just a few years older than Henry. The man could be charming to those he considered his match, but what was the chance of him seeing a young, low-born ward as his equal? “All I’ve got is one shilling remaining of my pin-money and a dowry I can’t access. There’s nothing I can do.”
“I wonder…” Maurice’s grip was white on his teacup. “It might be worth taking the case to Chancery. Request for you to be Henry’s guardian.”
Hope trickled into her, starting to fill the void underneath the bracket of her corset. “We could do that?”
Caroline snorted. “Chancery will take too long.”
“It’s difficult.” Maurice carefully placed his cup and saucer onto the low, inlaid table. “But things that usually take a lot of time and are difficult can be easier and quicker with money. Lots of money. Enough to assign scores of legal men to arguing your case and make sure the judge would be ‘receptive.’” He slid his hand across the table in the action of someone passing a note. He hesitated. “More money than we can lend you, though.”
“My dowry is the only part of Alnott funds not in Lord Rayner’s control.” And she would give every farthing of it to get her brother back. She couldn’t give herself over to Lord Rayner, but abandoning Henry was unthinkable.
“You can’t access your dowry, even if you marry.” Maurice shrugged. “It will belong to your husband.”
“A detail.” Caroline stopped next to Maurice and addressed him. “What about your friends? Surely, you know some lords.”
“Oh, sister.” Maurice rolled his eyes. “London is just swimming with eligible young aristocrats who wish to marry a young lady they have never met before. All of them are my bosom buddies. No, Caroline, I don’t know anyone.”
“No one from Charterhouse?” Caroline insisted.
“No. Charterhouse school is not Eton,” Maurice said. “Second sons, landed gentry, and wealthy merchants’ sons. Not lords.”
Grace looked at her former neighbors, the first people she’d thought of coming to after reading in her father’s will that, in addition to being an orphan, she had no home and no money. Though not bourgeoisie like Grace, they were gentry. She wasn’t acquainted with any aristocrats, except Lord Rayner. Her father had known that when he’d written his will six months ago, just before he’d sent her to Switzerland. To learn some manners, he’d said, since she’d failed to catch a lord in her lackluster London season and refused to marry her father’s friend, the son he wished he had—Lord Rayner.
Caroline stopped abruptly. “A wealthy merchant would do, if he had a generous nature and a lot of money.”