Tea with Lady Gwendolyn

Lady Gwendolyn Marie Worthington made her way through the richly appointed manor home of Her Grace, the Duchess of Haverford. Why she had been summoned at such a time was beyond her understanding. She had more important concerns, like her unfortunate wedding days from now, but one did not easily dismiss an invitation, no matter how untimely, from Her Grace.

She continued following the footman, largely ignoring paintings of several generations of Haverfords upon the walls. The house and its furnishings were no different than the ones she herself grew up with. being the daughter of a duke. Even so, she could still appreciate several unique pieces of artwork that caught her eye as they continued through several hallways to meet Her Grace.

Gwendolyn began to wonder just how large the house was when they at last rounded a corner and stopped before an open doorway of a salon. The servant announced her as she entered the room, and she saw the duchess sitting behind a desk attending to her correspondence.

“Lady Gwendolyn, so nice of you to join me,” Her Grace said, placing her seal upon her letter and then giving Gwendolyn her full attention. “I do so admire promptness in my guests.”

Gwendolyn curtseyed. “Thank you for receiving me, Your Grace.”

The duchess stood and came to sit in a chair near the hearth just as a trolley cart was wheeled in by another ever-efficient maid. She motioned to the vacant chair. “Do be seated and join me for a cup of tea, Lady Gwendolyn.”

Gwendolyn sat as the duchess began to pour and offered her a cup of tea. She gave a nod of thanks and they sat in silence for several minutes, leaving Gwendolyn concern as to what this meeting was all about. She took a sip of her tea and waited.

“Gwendolyn, my dear, I will get straight to the matter of why I have invited you here today,” Her Grace began.

“I was concerned about why you wished to see me,” Gwendolyn replied setting down her cup. The duchess focused on her and Gwendolyn swallowed hard. Those eyes. She seems to know my deepest secrets, she thought.

“I would be remiss in my duties as a friend to your mother, if I did not voice my concerns about your impending nuptials to Lord Sandhurst.”

“My marriage was decided upon years ago before my father passed.”

“I understand you had given your consent.”

Gwendolyn gave a heavy sigh trying not to shiver at the thought of being wed to a man she would never come to love. “Being a dutiful daughter, I would not go against my father’s wishes. For reasons known to him, he favored Lord Sandhurst’s suit.”

“And your brother continues to honor the commitment.” Her Grace took another sip of her tea.

Her Grace looked none too pleased with her brother’s decision. “I attempted to plead my case to Hartford but was unsuccessful at changing his mind. I have no idea why he was so adamant we honor the contract.”

The duchess tapped a finger along the brim of her cup. “So your mother has informed me. I thought if anyone would be able to persuade your brother, it would be her. There must be some underlying reasoning behind his decision.”

“I am afraid that still does not get me out of a marriage to a man I loathe.”

“If Hartford will not agree—and I understand you have no money of your own. Very improvident of your father.”

Her Grace’s comment did not require an answer. Gwendolyn stared at the hands holding the cup, blushing a little.

“If you are willing, my dear, I will help you run away. My friend Lady Grace Winderfield provides a—what can I call it—a refuge for women suffering from the power that men use so carelessly.”

“A refuge?” Gwendolyn had never heard of such a thing.

“Indeed. I must warn you, it would not be what a duke’s daughter is used to. You would be encouraged to find another name. You would need to work.”

“And– and leave my family?”

The duchess’s gaze was compassionate.

“It would need to be a complete new beginning, my dear. Those my friend helps rely on no one discovering their whereabouts. Everyone who joins the group must cut all ties with the past.”

Gwendolyn’s heart sank. She could not do it. Never see her mother again? Or Brandon? Or even Hartford, annoyed though she was with him at the moment?

“I cannot,” she replied. “Thank you, Your Grace, but I cannot. Surely things are not that bad?”

“Yours will not be the first marriage to start off under such circumstances. But you are your mother’s daughter and shall make the best of a horrendous situation,” Her Grace informed her, setting down her cup.

“Yes, of course, Your Grace.” Gwendolyn finished her tea and could tell her meeting with the duchess was at an end. “Thank you for receiving me today.”

“Thank you for coming,” the duchess replied before leaning over to take Gwendolyn’s hand. “These things have a way of working out, my dear. Somehow, I have the feeling life will throw you an opportunity when you least expect it and did not even see coming.”

Gwendolyn rose, curtseyed, and excused herself. She began mumbling to herself as she left about the injustice of her life and being married to a man she could not love. How she could look forward to some unknown opportunity in her future was beyond her. Two days later, she was a married woman and her descent into hell had just begun.

Nothing But Time: A Family of Worth, Book One

They will risk everything for their forbidden love…

When Lady Gwendolyn Marie Worthington is forced to marry a man old enough to be her father, she concludes love will never enter her life. Her husband is a cruel man who blames her for his own failings. Then she meets her brother’s attractive business associate and all those longings she had thought gone forever suddenly reappear.

A long-term romance holds no appeal for Neville Quinn, Earl of Drayton until an unexpected encounter with the sister of the Duke of Hartford. Still, he resists giving his heart to another woman, especially one who belongs to another man.

Chance encounters lead to intimate dinners, until Neville and Gwendolyn flee to Berwyck Castle at Scotland’s border hoping beyond reason their fragile love will survive the vindictive reach of Gwendolyn’s possessive husband. Before their journey is over, Gwendolyn will risk losing the only love she has ever known.

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Excerpt:

Lady Gwendolyn Marie Worthington strode across the floor of her brother’s study, carelessly threw her bonnet onto a high backed leather chair, and crossed her arms. The missive she held in her hand had driven all thoughts of a trip to the milliner with her friend Lady Calliope out of her head. Her shoe tapped a rapid staccato on the wooden floorboards. Her brother remained indifferent to her demand for his attention whilst he continued writing. The insufferable lout did not even have the decency to acknowledge her presence in his pursuit to finish his correspondence. She cleared her throat, hoping to gain his notice.

He continued whatever business he was attending to without a pause, except to say, in a barely civil and flat monotone, “You did not knock.” His disinterest in her presence served as a reminder of his place within his household, as if she could ever forget she was subject to his directives.

Her brother had had the arrogance to send a servant to deliver his note to her bedroom. He should have come there himself to speak with her, given the news he wished to impart. She tossed the crumbled parchment onto his desk. He, in turn, swatted it aside like it was nothing but a pesky insect.

“You have been given your instructions, Gwendolyn. We have nothing further to discuss.”

“Do not take that tone with me, Edmond. You may hold our father’s title, but that in no way gives you leave to treat me as if I must comply with demands such as these,” she fumed. Where had her carefree older brother of years past gone? Surely some measure of the young man she had adored in their youth lurked behind the expressionless mask of this unfeeling cad before her?

Edmond Gerard Worthington, 9th Duke of Hartford, set his quill down. The blue eyes he at last bothered to turn upon her were just as cold as his voice. Since he had inherited his rightful title of duke after their father’s passing, along with all the responsibilities such a position held, Gwendolyn hardly recognized her brother. She swallowed hard, knowing she could not easily sway this uncaring man. Still, she had to try.

“Mother will hear of this,” she warned. “She will not allow her only daughter to be wed to a man in order to fulfill some business deal made years ago.”

“Mother is fully aware of the obligations that must be met. I should not have to explain how things of this nature are done, sister. Arranged marriages happen every day within the ton. Yours will be no exception.”

“Brandon, then. Surely my younger brother cares what happens to his sister since you have made it painfully obvious you do not,” Gwendolyn retorted sharply.

“He is my brother, too, if you would care to remember.” Edmond sighed heavily. “Both mother and Brandon have been summoned to return to London immediately. The marriage contract was agreed years ago and bears the signatures of all parties, including your own. You would have already been wed, had it not been for father’s death.”

Edmond leaned his elbows upon his desk, fingers forming a steeple as if contemplating his next counter to whatever argument she could muster.

She quickly thought of the first excuse that crossed her mind. “I am still in mourning,” Gwendolyn declared through clenched lips.

His eyes roamed down the length of her pink floral gown and his brows rose in unsuppressed amusement. “Your mourning period is long since over, as your garments surely attest. Resign yourself to wedding Lord Sandhurst.”

She stomped her foot in frustration. “Bernard Sandhurst is a lecherous old man and ancient enough to be my father.” She barely held back a cry of despair. “How can you condemn me to a life with that horrible person, however long the vermin will still remain on this earth?”

“I am doing the best I can to save this family from financial ruin. You should be grateful Sandhurst will still have you, given the limited amount I could spare for your dowry. I will not be swayed in my decision, Gwendolyn, and Sandhurst can no longer be put off. He has all but stated his time waiting for you is over. He has been as patient as one could ask of a man getting on in years. You are now twenty years of age and should have been wed with children of your own by now.”

Thoughts of being intimate with a man who repulsed Gwendolyn made her shudder. The few times she had had the displeasure of being alone in the same room with Lord Bernard Sandhurst, he had mauled her with his cool clammy hands. He reminded her of a fish, and an unappealing one at that.

“Edmond─”

Her brother cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Father made this decision and you must abide by it, along with the rest of us.” Edmond picked up his quill and examined the tip before dipping it into the inkwell.

“You are a duke, Edmond. Surely you can pay the man off so I can find a worthy man to love.” She silently pleaded with him, and, for the briefest instant, she held the smallest measure of hope he would accede to her wishes.

His piercing blue eyes leveled on her but briefly. “Love is for fools. Better to marry for wealth and a decent position in society than to lose your heart to such a frivolous emotion as love.” Edmond returned to his work, the quill scratching across the parchment. The sound echoed in her head as though the missive sealed her fate. “Resign yourself to your marriage Gwendolyn. Sandhurst has made arrangements for the wedding to take place two weeks hence.”

Meet Sherry Ewing

Sherry Ewing picked up her first historical romance when she was a teenager and has been hooked ever since. A bestselling author, she writes historical & time travel romances to awaken the soul one heart at a time. Always wanting to write a novel but busy raising her children, she finally took the plunge in 2008 and wrote her first Regency. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Beau Monde & the Bluestocking Belles. Sherry is currently working on her next novel and when not writing, she can be found in the San Francisco area at her day job as an Information Technology Specialist. You can learn more about Sherry and her published work at www.SherryEwing.com.

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