- Chapter One
June, 1817—Lady Cicely Hawthorne’s London home
‘You must be absolutely thrilled at the news of Hawthorne’s forthcoming marriage to Miss Matthews!’ Lady Jocelyn Ambrose, Dowager Countess of Chambourne, beamed across the tea table at her hostess.
Lady Cicely nodded. ‘The match was not without its...complications, but I have no doubts that Adam and Magdelena will deal very well together.’
The dowager countess sobered. ‘How is she now that all the unpleasantness has been settled?’
‘Very well.’ Lady Cicely smiled warmly. ‘She is, I am happy to report, a young lady of great inner strength.’
‘She had need of it when that rogue Sheffield was doing all that he could to ruin her, socially as well as financially.’ Edith St Just, Dowager Duchess of Royston, and the third in the trio of friends, said, sniffing disdainfully.
Lady Jocelyn turned to her. ‘How are your own plans regarding Royston’s nuptials progressing, my dear?’
The three ladies, firm friends since their coming out together fifty years ago, had made a pact at the beginning of this Season, to see their three bachelor grandsons safely married, thereby ensuring that each of their family lines was secure. Lady Jocelyn was the first to achieve that success, when her grandson had announced his intention of marrying Lady Sylvianna Moreland some weeks ago, the wedding due to take place at the end of June. Lady Cicely had only recently succeeded in seeing her own grandson’s future settled, his bride to be Miss Magdelena Matthews, granddaughter of George Matthews, the recently deceased Duke of Sheffield. It only remained for Edith St Just, the Dowager Duchess of Royston, to secure a future duchess for her own grandson, Justin St Just, the Duke of Royston.
Not an easy task, when that wickedly handsome and haughtily arrogant gentleman had avowed, more than once, that he had no intention of marrying until he was good and ready—and aged only eight and twenty, he had assured his grandmother that he did not consider himself either ‘good’ or ‘ready’ as yet!
‘The Season will be over in just a few weeks...’ Lady Cicely gave her friend a doubtful glance.
The dowager duchess nodded regally. ‘And Royston will have made his choice before the night of the Hepworth ball.’
Lady Cicely gave a gasp. ‘But that is only two weeks away!’
Edith gave a satisfied smile. ‘By which time St Just will, I assure you, find himself well and truly leg-shackled!’
‘You are still convinced it will be to the lady whom you have named in the note held by my own butler?’ Lady Jocelyn also looked less than confident about the outcome of this enterprise.
At the same time as the three ladies had laid their plans to ensure their grandsons found their brides that Season, the dowager duchess had also announced she had already made her choice of bride for her own grandson, and that Royston would find himself betrothed to that lady by the end of the Season. So confident had she been of her choice that she had accepted the other ladies’ dare to write down the name of that young lady and leave it in the safe keeping of Edwards, Lady Jocelyn’s butler, to be opened and verified on the day Royston announced his intention of marrying.
‘I am utterly convinced,’ Edith now stated confidently.
‘But, to my knowledge, Royston has not expressed a preference for any of the young ladies of the current Season.’ Lady Cicely, the most tender-hearted of the three, could not bear the thought of her dear friend being proved wrong.
‘Nor will he,’ the dowager duchess revealed mysteriously.
‘We must not press dear Edith any further.’ Lady Jocelyn reached across to gently squeeze Lady Cicely’s hand in reassurance. ‘Have we ever known her to be wrong in the past?’
‘And I shall not be proved wrong on this occasion, either,’ the dowager duchess announced haughtily, belied by the gleeful twinkle in faded blue eyes. ‘Royston shall shortly find himself not only well and truly leg-shackled, but totally besotted with his future bride!’
An announcement, regarding this about the arrogantly cynical Duke of Royston which so stunned the other two ladies that neither of them felt able to speak further on the subject...