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Chance For Freedom

Chance For Freedom -- Available Now
Chances Are Series -- Book Two

Haunted from his years of service to The West Africa Squadron, where he endeavored to stop the trafficking of slaves, Captain Malcolm Westbourne is assigned to the disappearances of orphans in England.

Miss Katherine Ashby is thrilled when Malcolm arrives to protect her orphans, but her happiness is short-lived when he insists on an explanation of why she rejected his courtship a year ago. Katherine is falling in love with Malcolm, but must confront what happened to her as a child if she desires a future with him.

Malcolm had never experienced the instant attraction he felt when first being introduced to Katherine, but he also sees the fear in her eyes. He pursues her with kindness, humor, and patience in an attempt to gain her trust.

When Malcolm’s investigation turns deadly, he, too, must face the demons of his past. Will Katherine and he break free from the shackles binding them and learn to trust each other, or will they be held prisoner to the past forever?

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CHANCE FOR FREEDOM
Chapter One

London, April 1826

Malcolm Westbourne startled awake, barely catching himself before the bouncing carriage tossed him to the floor. He’d had the dream again. Settling back in the seat, he tried to relax, but even in wakefulness he couldn’t escape the torturous memory.

By order of the Royal Navy, Malcolm marched across the plank between ships. His crew boarded behind him, swarming the deck and below. They searched every inch—from the captain’s cabin to the bilge. “They cannot all be gone.” He stormed to the deck and rushed toward the vessel’s owner. “What did you do with them?”

William Fitz’s onyx eyes flashed with triumph. “Do with whom?”

“Everyone aboard ship.”

Slight sneer on his lips, Fitz said, “My men are all accounted for.”

“Where are the others?” Malcolm yelled.

“I do not know what you are nattering about.”

He lunged for the bastard’s throat.

Malcolm ran a hand over his face, trying to erase the memory, the images, the utter helplessness. At the age of six and thirty, he had witnessed his share of cruelty in the world, but what happened to those innocent victims that day was unconscionable. The most infuriating part of it all was the lack of evidence to prove what Fitz had done.

Forcing his thoughts back to the present, he buttoned his naval uniform coat and took in the familiar sights and sounds while the hackney rumbled along the waking streets. In the middle of the night, he’d docked The Greyhound at the naval shipyard in Southampton and immediately hired this hackney to convey him to London. Per Malcolm’s instructions, the coach approached the dockyard. Each time he returned to Town, the polluted air seemed worse, thicker, producing an incessant cloud overhead. The port grew wider and busier, resembling an ever-growing bee hive.

A stench waylaid him as the driver traversed the roads near the Thames. Malcolm rapped on the roof and the vehicle stopped. Jumping from the hackney, he joined the driver on the seat up front. As they drove, he scoured the harbor, looking for Fitz’s vessel and found it docked in its usual spot. When was the blackguard scheduled to leave port and with what aboard his ship?

Thankfully, the farther they rode from the river, the smell abated.

When the carriage took a sharp turn onto Dover Street, Malcolm inhaled a deep, chest expanding breath. He used his family’s townhouse when in London, having never purchased his own residence. He’d lived more of his adult life on the sea than land, and considered nowhere home.

Once he arrived at his family’s light gray brick townhouse, Malcolm paid the driver and picked up his bag. He tried the door. Locked. Banging the polished brass knocker, he waited.

When the door opened, Barkly exclaimed, “Captain Westbourne. Good to see you, sir.”

“Captain? Sir? Why so formal?” Malcolm clapped his friend’s shoulder, receiving a pat in return. “I am relieved to be in London.”

“For a day or two perhaps, but you will long for the sea soon. She is your mistress.”

Malcolm laughed. “You know me well.”

Dressed in livery, Barkly motioned to Malcolm’s bag. “Allow me to help you.” Ebony skin, as dark as his eyes, Barkly’s tall stately frame filled the doorway. He had been fifteen when Malcolm rescued him ten years earlier. Father instantly agreed to employ Barkly when Malcolm explained the boy’s plight.

“Malcolm,” his brother’s deep voice called.

He entered the house to find Trevor in the hallway next to the dining room. Malcolm had not expected his brother to be in London. No wonder Barkly was standing on formality.

Trevor looked most earl-like in tan trousers and a green waistcoat of the finest quality, his white cravat tied perfectly. “So glad you are home.”

“What brings you to town?” Malcolm shook his hand.

“We can discuss that later. I am sure you would enjoy a meal and a bath.”

“Do I smell that bad? I could not tell with the stench of the city.”

Trevor chuckled. “You do not reek. Would you join me in breaking my fast?”

Malcolm’s stomach growled.

His brother grinned and gestured toward the dining room. “Breakfast awaits.”

Turning to Barkly, Malcolm said, “If you would, please take my bag to my room and ask for a bath to be readied. Also…” He dug into his coat pocket and handed Barkly his compass. “I was thrown against the gunwale in a storm and the glass broke.”

“I will take care of it.”

“Thank you.” Malcolm joined Trevor in the dining room. The scent of freshly cooked eggs and ham caused his stomach to grumble again. He savored every bite of his meal, glad to eat anything besides hardtack for breakfast. He continued to sip his tea while his brother Colin, his wife Antoinette, and Trevor’s wife Margaret joined them.
Trevor looked at Malcolm over the rim of his cup. “Was your trip successful?”

“Yes.” He didn’t elaborate. His family knew he was a Royal Navy officer, and that he served in the West Africa Squadron upholding the abolition of slave trading before being assigned to stopping the abductions of English workhouse children. But he never shared the details of his job with them. He saw no reason to describe the degradation he’d witnessed or give them reason to worry over his safety.

“Will you be on land for a while?” Trevor asked.

He nodded. “I hope to be.”

“What do you plan to do while in London?” Without waiting for an answer, Trevor spoke again. “I am quite sure I can gain another ticket to the theater tonight, would you like to accompany us?”

Margaret grabbed Trevor’s hand. “Malcolm has just arrived. Must you question him to death?” Everyone knew Trevor woke in a jovial, talkative mood each morning, while his wife, decidedly, did not.

“It is all right, Margaret.” Malcolm answered more of Trevor’s questions, then asked one of his own. “Are Beatrice and Mary due to arrive soon?” With his brothers in London, he expected his sisters and their families might be on their way.

Colin and Trevor glanced at each other. “Not that we are aware of.” Colin went on to invite Malcolm to other outings they had planned for that week. His brothers, like himself and his sisters, had dark-brown eyes and brown-reddish hair. Trevor and Colin wore their hair short and it had begun to gray around the temples, while Malcolm’s reached his collar and showed no signs of aging.

Throughout the conversation, Malcolm felt an urge to confide in them about his relationship with their father, but was unsure how they would react. Malcolm’s siblings shunned Father for years before his death because of a misunderstanding, and Malcolm had pretended to do the same. But he’d actually visited Father anytime he was in port.

Eventually, he excused himself to bathe and dress in a fresh uniform. The huge bed in his chamber, made up with a royal blue counterpane that matched the drapes, looked decidedly appealing, but he was never one to lie about in bed all day.

Unless he had a female companion.

The vision of Miss Katherine Ashby, her brown eyes smiling, flashed like a miniature painting in his mind. A year had passed since he’d seen her, but he still remembered her every feature in vivid detail.

He left his room, trod down the stairs, and knocked on the study door before entering. Trevor sat behind the teakwood desk, and Colin faced him in a wingback chair. Their father had traveled extensively, to India and beyond, and this study housed everything from brass incense burners to gold-handled, razor-sharp bayonets.

“Have you seen my messages?” Malcolm asked.

Trevor pointed to the side table where a pile of missives waited. Malcolm riffled through the stack, searching for a particular letter.

Nothing from Katherine.

Damn her.

He did find a message from Miss Celeste Young though. She apologized for her absence of their scheduled night over a year ago and requested his presence again—detailing the many pleasurable activities she planned for them to share.

Why wasn’t his body standing at attention? Why wasn’t he excited at the prospect of bedding Celeste? He brushed off his lack of enthusiasm as weariness from his journey. Retrieving a quill and paper, he wrote a response, agreeing to meet Celeste three nights hence.

If Katherine continued to avoid him, he would do whatever it took to expunge her from his thoughts. Celeste’s invitation was just the thing.

He brought the letter to the foyer table to put with the rest of the outgoing posts. Before he threw it in with the others, he paused.

If only Katherine…

No. She’d made it perfectly clear she wanted nothing to do with him. He tossed his reply on the stack and marched back to the study. A quarter hour later, done reading his mail, he arranged them in order of importance.
“Malcolm,” Colin said. “There is a matter I…” He shared a look with Trevor, the same as the glance at the dining table. “We need to discuss with you.”

A pinch of resentment tweaked in his chest at his brothers’ relationship. They were close, as brothers should be. Malcolm was much younger and never enjoyed the same comradeship with them.

He sat in the chair next to Colin.

“This is a somewhat delicate matter.” Colin rose and shut the door.

“One which will need a certain…” Trevor closed the account book in front of him. “Discretion.”

Malcolm nodded. “I understand.”

Colin paced the Persian rug. “Ten years ago, when Antoinette and the girls traveled to Bath to visit her aunt, I became involved with a woman. Her husband was fighting in the Peninsula war at the time. We were both quite lonely.”

Though he detested the fact Colin betrayed his wife, Malcolm masked his emotions. Affairs were a common occurrence among the ton, but he expected more from his brother.

“Six months after the affair began, the woman vanished. A year after her disappearance, I received a summons and met with her. That’s when I learned she had borne a son.”

Your son?” A throb pounded in Malcolm’s temple as he processed his brother’s revelation.

“She claimed so.”

“You had doubts?”

“Perhaps at first, but after I saw the boy there was no question to his fatherhood, he resembled me too much.”

“Then she didn’t bear a son, she bore your son,” Malcolm clarified.

“As you say.” Colin stopped and turned to face Malcolm. “She explained the babe resided at St. Lucien’s Orphanage in Reading.”

“The mother did not keep the child?” Malcolm’s temper spiked as if a mast was thrust into his brain. He struggled to keep his voice even. “Did you offer to raise the boy?”

“How could I? Antoinette had just moved back home and she knew nothing of the affair. Still doesn’t. When she left for Bath in such a temper, I had misgivings she would ever return. But that happened years ago. We worked out our differences. I love Antoinette.”

Malcolm stood, crossed his arms, and waited.

“As soon as I learned about the child, I visited to check on him and give a stipend. That is when I met the manager, Tomas, who assured me the boy—”

“Use his name,” Malcolm interrupted. If his brother used the child’s name, perhaps he would become more compassionate toward the boy.

“Charles. His name is Charles. I continued to meet with Tomas once a year. He promised me of the boy’s happiness living there.”

Who could believe the words of an orphanage manager? It was common knowledge many of them mistreated the children and pocketed the financial contributions. Not all of them, of course. He felt certain Katherine involved herself in every facet of her orphanage and the children at Harrington’s were treated well. And loved. She never stopped talking about them the first time he met her.

“I received a missive three days ago from Tomas explaining Charles had vanished.” Colin scratched his forehead. “And Charles is not the only one. There are others.”

“From orphanages?” A prickle of awareness swept Malcolm’s spine. He knew all too well what happened to many of the missing children in England.

“Yes.” Colin spoke quickly. “Close to a dozen children.”

And those were the ones reported. How many others had been taken that no one cared about or noticed missing? Another thought hit him. What about Katherine’s children? If any of her orphans turned up missing, she would be devastated.

“Tomas alerted a magistrate and the Bow Street Runners. Malcolm, we are here to ask for your help.”

“I will see what information I can find.” Malcolm grabbed his messages and hastened across the room, then stopped at the doorway to glare at Colin. “You must inform Antoinette. And do it soon. I do not plan to keep secrets from your wife.”

Once out of the room, he strode to the table where he’d tossed the note for Celeste, but the stack was gone. He doubted he would make his night with the beautiful courtesan. That was probably for the best; she was not the woman he desired.

His concentration must center on uncovering information about the children, but that would be a challenge since his thoughts constantly reverted to Katherine. He hoped her beloved orphans were safe.

~

Malcolm met with Admiral Tisdale and explained about the missing children. Once the admiral officially assigned him to investigate, Malcolm made his way to Bow Street—a place he called on often with the line of work he performed for the Navy—and acquired a list of the reported missing children.

From Bow Street, he headed for the Derby home in hopes Zachary was in town. The afternoon had become refreshingly dry and mildly cool. Once in Grosvenor Square, he tugged on the horse’s reins. “Endicott,” he patted the Arabian’s neck. “It does not seem like a year since we last rode together.” He dismounted and pulled a carrot from his pocket. Endicott snatched it swiftly, making Malcolm smile.

As he made his way up the drive to the red brick home, the front door opened. Selridge smiled, the butler’s mouth wide and toothy. “Captain Westbourne. Lieutenant Derby did not mention you would be visiting today.”
“I did not send word. Is he in?”

“Yes, sir, in the study.”

“Thank you, Selridge. I will see myself there.” The extravagantly decorated hallways were familiar and comfortable. Malcolm spent many holidays with Zach and his family during his years at Eton and considered them family. Once in the royal blue opalescence of the study, he spotted Zach behind a magnificent mahogany desk, one of the few pieces of furniture the man didn’t dwarf.

“Account books? Really, Zach?”

His best friend lifted his head and an easy scowl came to his face. He ran a hand through his shoulder length black hair. “My brother is worse with figures than I. If I leave it to him, he will beggar the earldom.”

Malcolm grinned.

“I did not receive word you were back. Was your voyage successful?” Zach rested his quill in an ornate silver inkwell.

“Very. You should receive a report by the end of the day. If I had known I would be stopping by, I would have brought it myself instead of securing a messenger from Southampton. Which brings me to the reason I am here. I have a sensitive issue to discuss with you.” There was no need to ask for Zach’s discretion. He never repeated anything Malcolm told him in confidence.

Malcolm explained about Colin, Charles, and the missing orphans.

Zach’s dark brows furrowed. “These new disappearances must be a result of our having successfully stopped the abduction of workhouse children.”

“I agree. And since we never caught all the persons responsible, they must be preying on orphans now.”
“Bloody hell.”

Malcolm picked up a sextant on the corner of the desk, the brass instrument heavy and shiny. “My reaction as well. I was ready to resign my commission, but I can’t relinquish my post until we find out what is happening.” Malcolm went on to explain what he learned at Bow Street.

“Where do we start?” Zach asked.

He pulled a parchment from his coat pocket with the names and places where the children had last been seen. “I intend to visit Oxford first. The manager of an orphanage there will want information about these disappearances and may have news for us. While there, I plan to attend Samuel Sharp’s charity ball. Then I will continue on to meet with a gentleman who runs the orphanage where Charles was abducted. Silas Green will investigate the orphanages south of London, and I need you to visit the ones on this list and check into any disappearances.”

“Of course.”

“We must get this matter under control quickly, Zach.”

“With everything we learned the last few years, we will succeed.”

He was thankful for his part in rescuing the children and all the Africans they’d kept from the auction block.

ut somehow, his thoughts always returned to the ones they’d lost. The ones they could not save.

A pain stabbed his chest.

“Don’t, Malcolm.” Zach had always been able to read Malcolm’s thoughts. “We cannot continue to grieve what is lost.”

He swallowed hard knowing Zach was still struggling to get over the loss after an attack on his ship over a year ago. “You are right.” Malcolm pinched the bridge of his nose. “I have another dilemma.”

Zach squinted. “Dilemma?”

Malcolm placed the sextant down. “Do you remember when I offered you my night with Celeste Young?”
“And she never showed. Yes, my blue balls and I remember.”

Malcolm fought a grin. “I received a note of apology and a rather detailed invitation of the decadent night she has planned.”

“I don’t need your boasting.”

“I am offering the liaison to you again. We both know Celeste will be just as happy to see you at her door.”

Zach sat back in his chair. “Why?”

“I depart this afternoon and am not sure how long I will be gone. The night is planned in three days’ time.”
“You can leave and return at any time,” Zach stated the obvious.

Was Malcolm using Charles as an excuse not to bed Celeste?

No. He didn’t want Celeste, he wanted Katherine. The oddest feelings about Katherine had plagued him since meeting her a year ago. He had never been so distracted by a woman.

She perplexes and exhilarates me at the same time.

“I need to set out immediately.” He pulled the letter from Celeste out of his pocket and placed it on the corner of the desk. “The note explains everything and you will find her key inside.”

“I hope she is there this time.” Excitement glinted in Zach’s eyes. Malcolm’s comrade always paid close attention to Celeste, even while she was under Sir Roderick’s protection.

“She promised to atone for her absence a year ago.”

Zach smirked. “I do appreciate when a woman overcompensates.”

“As does every man.” Malcolm laughed. “I should return to London next week.”

“Have a safe journey.”

“Have an enjoyable night with Celeste.” Malcolm started for the door. “Give her my best.”

“I believe you mean for me to give her my best.”

Malcolm chuckled while he strode down the corridor and out to his waiting horse. He stepped into the saddle and settled onto Endicott’s back. On the ride, he concentrated on what he needed to do before he left this evening. He should probably wait until morning to depart. However, there was a restlessness in his body that would not quite resolve. An anxiousness. He would find an inn and rest on the journey when too fatigued to go farther.

Once at his family’s townhouse, he brought the horse to the stable himself. Striding on the path leading to the house, he noticed Antoinette on the bench in front of the rose garden. She waved him over, a parasol overhead to keep the sun from her skin. Had Colin confided in her yet?

The flowers flourished in full bloom. His mother had loved roses, so Father planted every variety he could acquire. The buds set off an earthy-sweet scent. This garden was a miniature of the one at Westbourne—the family estate in Northampton.

He approached his sister-in-law, unsure what to say. He needn’t have worried. Before he made it over to her, she stood, black curls framing her heart-shaped face. “You must find Charles.”

“I will do everything possible.”

Tear tracks stained her cheeks. “He must be scared.” Suddenly, she closed the umbrella, dropped onto the bench, and covered her face with her hands.

He broke off a few dead buds from the rose bushes, giving her time to compose herself, then sat beside her.
After a moment of silence, she tilted her head and leaned it against Malcolm’s shoulder. “The poor boy. I cannot believe Colin did not tell me of his existence earlier.” She sniffed. “Charles is the son I never gave him.”

Her words surprised him. He never heard his brother mention wanting a son. “Colin loves the girls, Antoinette.”

“Oh, I know he does. That has never been in question. But I always felt somewhat lacking having not borne him a son.”

“That is absurd.”

“Mayhap.” She lifted her head, her face red. “Colin is not solely to blame for his affair. When I left with the girls for Bath, he had every reason to believe I would not return.”

What a tangled web. “But you did.”

“Yes, and we worked past our differences. When he found out about the child, our reunion was tenuous. I understand why he did not explain about Charles. And to be perfectly honest, I am not sure I would have taken the news well then.”

“And now?”

“I will welcome another child to raise, and the girls will be overjoyed.” Two of their daughters were married and had children of their own, and Abigail, the youngest, would have her coming out next year. “I fear Charles is in danger and what might happen to him.”

“I leave this afternoon. I hope to find him quickly.”

“Oh, Malcolm, how lucky we are to have you in our family.”

He patted her hand. “I feel the same about you, dear.”

~

Oxford

Exhausted, her muscles protesting each move she made, Katherine Ashby rose from the dining table and followed her father into his study. Decorated in cherry wood-paneled walls, the room had one window, so even during sunny days it remained dark. And at night, like now, shadows played on the walls from flickering flames in the fireplace like sunlight dancing through a shady tree. She felt particularly comfortable in this room, always had.

“I already miss the pitter patter of Samantha’s feet,” she said. And the child was not yet gone twelve hours. The house seemed empty without her three-year-old niece. Since Katherine’s sister died while giving birth to Samantha, this house retained little happiness except when Samantha visited. And the last few weeks, having the little girl to dote on, had been wonderful for her and her parents.

“She does brighten a room, does she not?” Father ambled to the window and fingered the heavy gold curtains. The firelight brandished his brown hair golden. “It is good to see Drake happy. Although he will be much more settled once the baby is born.”

Her sister’s widower, Viscount Drake, spent the first two years following her sister’s death grieving, until he fell in love with Lady Emma Easton a year ago. They quickly married and at this very moment were on their way to London to await the birth of their first child.

Katherine sighed. She and her father had not spoken of her mother’s absence from the evening meal. Mother’s melancholy mood often kept her confined to her room, and Katherine wasn’t sure how her father tolerated it. Her patience had long run out on the woman’s fickle moods. She hoped her mother’s heart had somewhat mended while Samantha was about, but her nonattendance at dinner proved otherwise.

She understood her mother’s anguish. Katherine missed Elizabeth more than words could express. Nevertheless, her sister would not want any of them to mourn her forever, and so Katherine insisted on going to Harrington Orphanage each day to aid the less fortunate.

Father turned from the window and waved a hand toward the chairs in front of the fireplace. She gripped the arms and lowered herself into one of the chairs, trying not to jostle her body.

“Why are you stiff?” he asked.

“I took a fall down the stairs today.”

His expression filled with concern. “Do I need to send for a doctor?”

“Oh, no. I am fine.”

“How did it happen?” He advanced to the side table.

“One of the children accidently tripped me.”

He picked up the decanter. “Truly, Katherine, you might think about spending less time at Harrington’s.”

“Not this again.” Her parents approved of her association with Harrington’s, but often voiced their opinion that she volunteered too often. This was one fight she did not wish to have. She scooted to the edge of the seat and braced her hands on the arms, ready to escape the room. “I will not be browbeaten.”

“No one is browbeating you. Don’t run off in a temper.” The crystal decanter clinked against the glasses as he poured the brandy. “I am merely suggesting you spend too many hours there.”

Usually twelve a day. The list of duties was endless. “And why shouldn’t I? Am I missing activities here? Should I hurry home each day for whatever social plans mother has made?”

He flinched.

Blast her tired body and mind. He did not deserve her anger. “Please forgive me. I spoke unfairly.”

“You do not understand your mother’s pain.”

“I know of pain, Father. I lost a twin.”

He passed her a brandy. “I realize a part of you died with Elizabeth.” Her father rarely talked about losing his daughter, but one only had to look into his pale blue eyes to witness his grief. “However, burying one’s child is the ultimate penance on Earth.” He sat in the chair next to her. “But even in our grief, your mother and I should have consoled you more.”

“You did, Papa.”

“I wish I had done more, encouraged you to find a husband. Maybe then you would believe you deserved a life of your own. Happiness.”

“I have my orphans. They make me quite happy.”

“You have settled into this way of living because it is safe. You should be enjoying a marriage, a house, and children of your own.” They sat in silence before he finally added, “Do you believe this life can make you happy forever?”

“Very.” A pain shrieked deep within her. An ache she never experienced before.

“It will not. It is not enough, Katherine. You need a husband.” He softly added, “What your uncle—”

“Don’t.” She spoke louder than necessary, not wanting to discuss that nightmare.

He grabbed her hand. “You cannot judge every man by what happened years ago.”

“I don’t.”

“Yes, you do, dear.” His compassionate gaze met hers. Then he let go of her hand, stood, and downed the contents of his glass. His body grew rigid and his countenance hard. “Katherine, I have a tidy sum set aside for your dowry. When can I expect you to announce you have selected a match?”

By all that is holy, my father has gone mad. “You are aware I do not plan to marry.”

He continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “If you do not select a husband, I will.”

“You can’t mean this.”

“I do.” He had never been a domineering brute, but the determined firmness to his jaw promised he was deadly serious. “When your mother and I are gone, what will you do?”

“If you grant me the dowry, I will be able to live quite contentedly.”

“Alone? With no one to protect you?”

She raised her hands. “What do I need protection from here in Oxford?”

He lifted his face to the ceiling. “You are not that naive. I did not raise a daughter who thinks she can live a safe life alone.”

“I will hire a driver and butler to protect me.”

“No one will respect you and see to your well-being better than a husband.”

Captain Malcolm Westbourne’s face appeared in her mind—his dark eyes, his brown hair with a hint of red mixed in, and his playful smile. He was the only man, save her father and Drake, whose company she had ever been able to tolerate longer than an hour. He’d been charming, kind, and made her forget her reservations about becoming involved with a man.

“I will do what I must to ensure your happiness and safety.” Father’s voice held a determined tone. “That is, and always has been, my concern. My duty.”

“And what of my wishes?” She hated the way her voice sounded small and unsure.

His entire countenance softened and he sat next to her. “If I was confident you understood your own heart, I would respect your wishes. But with what happened in the past, you have no bloody idea what you want.”

Wishing to argue, she didn’t. He was correct. She never gave any man a chance to win her heart. Even though she’d been totally enchanted with Malcolm, she had not pried open her heart to let him inside. “Why do you suddenly expect me to marry?”

“This isn’t sudden, dear. I have always wished for you to wed. I never pressed the issue, hoping you might find someone and come to me.”

How could she give her heart into a man’s keeping? She finished the rest of her brandy in one huge gulp, hoping the fiery trail down her throat would ease the pain in her body and make the sting of her father’s dictates easier to bear. Unable to stop a cough, her eyes watered from the spirits. She would find some way to thwart his plans.

Strained wrinkles wreathed her father’s mouth. “I pray one day you will understand my reasons.” Sounding almost whimsical, he added, “There is much happiness to enjoy inside a marriage.”

And much hell.

Her mother’s refusal to continue with her life since Elizabeth’s death, and the action of Katherine’s uncle years ago, were proof of that.