• A Regency Romance Novel

    Amanda Sinclair is forced into a loveless marriage with a handsome but brooding earl. James Cavendish is in love with another woman, but no matter how hard he tries, he is unable to resist Amanda's charms. The morning after their wedding night, James returns to London, leaving Amanda at his Sussex estate. Taking the reigns in her hands, Amanda follows her husband, determined to win his heart and claim her status as his wife.
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  • Storm over Sussex Gainsborough Woodcutter's Cottage Sussex Woods in Spring Downsley Hall South Downs Rosewood Manor Rosewood Manor's Drawing Room Ancient Roman villa, mosaic tile floor, Sussex South Down Sheep Bottle feeding lambs

09 – Chapter Nine

That evening after dinner Amanda sat with her mother in the blue-and-white sitting room. The chambermaid had lit a cozy fire and drawn the curtains to ward of the nightly chill. Logs hissed and crackled, and the flames cast chiaroscuro shadows over the wood-paneled walls.

Both women sat quietly embroidering. As her mother chatted inconsequentially, Amanda concentrated on her irregular stitches, plying her needle with a vengeance. She pricked her thumb and sighed. An inferior needlewoman at best, Amanda preferred working on the ledgers instead. Since turning eighteen four years ago, she had helped to manage her father’s extensive sheep operations, taking over more of the responsibilities of the Southdown sheep each year. Why was it that she could add five and six column figures in her head and instantly calculate the number of bales of wool this season’s shearing would produce, but had not a domestic bone in her body? She gazed at her uneven stitches in dismay, acutely aware of her lack of talent in this direction. Still, this was a genial way to spend time with her mother, who was pleased to think her daughter was making progress in her housewifely endeavors.

After a companionable interval, her mother looked up from her exquisite needlework. “Amanda,” she began, “I’m somewhat confused. Did you not express a particular desire to see the Roman ruins today? Yet you were the only one of the party not to see them. Enlighten me please. What happened to change your mind? I trust you had good reason?”

Caught off guard, Amanda botched another stitch. She had hoped that in the confusion of a busy day her mother had forgotten the incident.

“I wore the wrong shoes, that is all, Mama.” Frowning at the stitch, Amanda began to pull it out.

Helen scanned her daughter’s expressive face. “It’s not like you to feign an excuse, child, Let me caution you that Lord Downsley will not be deterred simply because you have taken it upon yourself to behave like a schoolgirl and dress like a scullery maid. In the coming weeks I expect you to comport yourself with some dignity, and to wear all your pretty new dresses.”

Helen threaded her needle with silk floss, and continued her lecture. “Persistence is a virtue, Amanda, but not in this case. Don’t think you can win this game, and don’t think for a moment Lord Downsley didn’t see through your transparent scheme. If I were you I’d thank my lucky stars he chose to view the situation in a humorous light.”

Amanda turned her full concentration on her needlework. Her mother’s mild reproof had made her feel like a naughty child. She preferred mending all the torn linens in the house than to be the object of her disapproval.

Helen looked in suspicion at her submissive daughter. “Do I have your promise today’s silly nonsense will not be repeated? That you’ll dress and behave in a manner befitting a young lady? Or shall your father and I have to supervise you at every turn?”

“Yes, Mama, I promise,” Amanda began.

At that moment her father walked in. Well into his prime, he had begun to gain weight. Despite the increased poundage, Amanda’s resemblance to him was unmistakable. They shared the same bone structures, the same strong chins and high cheekbones, and similarly stubborn natures.

“So, Mandy, has your mother spoken to you?” He leaned over to kiss her mother’s hand.

“Yes, Papa.”

“Good.” Her father’s eyes scanned her face. “You’ve a rare quality, my girl – a genuinely caring and loving nature that would charm Downsley down to his immaculate toes if you bothered to reveal it to him.”

“But, Papa . . .”

Her father held up his hand and she instantly grew silent. “And though you can look astonishingly lovely at times, today was not one of them. I wish Downsley could see you as you are now, looking so elegant and subdued. Blue suits you, my dear, and you should wear it more often. Unfortunately you’ve inherited my accursed height, and nothing will disguise that. Thank God, Downsley’s taller than you.”

Papa, where are you headed with this – this conversation?”

“Let’s face it, Mandy, your mother and I have indulged you overmuch. The result is that you are far from easy to live with.”

Amanda did not know if her father had meant to insult her, but he had. “If my upbringing has been highly unconventional, it is no fault of mine,” she bit out, and pricked herself again.

Her parents had the good grace to look abashed. Amanda’s older brother, Marcus, had died of the fever at the age of six, and after her mother gave birth to a still-born son a year later, they had feared the possibility of losing her as well. They had scarcely let Amanda out of their sight after that and had indulged her every whim, raising her like the sons they had lost.

Unlike her female contemporaries, Amanda was trained to take over her father’s estates. After she had outgrown her governess’s limited knowledge, her parents had provided her with a series of tutors who had rounded out her education. Her father had then taught her the intricacies of his vast business holdings. He still spent countless hours with her pouring over estate ledgers, guiding her through the complicated maze of his investments, and bringing her with him as he inspected his estates. As time passed, she had been given more and more responsibilities in his various enterprises, until she was as knowledgeable about her father’s business affairs as his estate manager.

At the same time, her mother had taught her all the skills she would need to oversee several large households at once, although, much to Helen’s regret, she had never quite mastered the more lady-like pursuits of music, sewing, and painting.

“Given how I’ve been raised, is it any wonder that I’m not exactly a milquetoast? Or that I know how to make my way in this world without benefit of a husband?” Amanda said archly. “I have no need of one, I assure you, and I’m convinced that until I meet a man I can’t live without, I’m better off without one. The few suitors who have shown me any serious interest could barely abide my less than . . . feminine talents and interests. You must recall, Papa, that the last man who showed me any interest had the effrontery to tell me that when we married he would never allow me to continue managing the sheep farm. The nerve! ”

“How does this former suitor’s opinion explain your actions today, daughter?” Michael looked perplexed.

“Lord Downsley is as rigid in outlook and must share a similar opinion. For this reason alone I have no wish to marry him.”

“You have no choice in the matter, child,” her mother’s cool voice interjected. “No gentleman worth his salt cries off an engagement, and James Cavendish is no fool. He would never ruin his reputation, or yours, in such a manner. Besides, we have your promise.”

“How can you hold me to it, Mama?” Amanda cried out. “Aside from having children, marriage to the earl will offers me no benefits. If I’m to give up everything I hold dear, then I want more than a husband who merely tolerates me. I want what you have with Papa. Love, respect, and friendship. In light of the happiness you and Papa have had all these years, how can you force me into a loveless marriage?”

Amanda’s body shook with emotion. How could she explain to her parents that she had always desired a relationship like theirs? They had named her Amanda, which, as they had told her over and over, meant “worthy of love,” and she deserve nothing less. The shallow, superficial lust she and the earl felt for each other was no substitute.

“I think we are all agreed that our society does not much value intelligence in a woman, Mandy,” her father said. “It will take a strong-willed, self-assured man to handle you child, but I believe Lord Downsley is up to that task.”

Feeling tears start in her eyes, Amanda averted her head.

“The earl possessed most of the qualities that I want in a son-in-law,” he continued. “He is more than capable of managing your fortune. It is well known that he has paid off his father’s enormous gaming debts. That he did so in a swift, efficient manner has earned him my respect. I understand he has had to live frugally these past seven years, exchanging his sire’s ruinously expensive mansion on Grosvenor Square for a smaller, less ostentatious dwelling. Not only has he paid off all his father’s markers, but he’s satisfied all the tradesmen, to whom, it was rumored, his father owed upwards of fifty thousand pounds.

“I only comprehend that Lord Downsley must have been ecstatic at seeing the size of my marriage portion,” Amanda said softly. “But aside from that, what does his reputation for parsimonious living have to do with me, since I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself?”

Michael raked his hands through his thinning red hair. “Not much, I suppose. Your fear of being under Lord Downsley’s ruling thumb is entirely unfounded, except where it pertains to my unentailed lands, which he will manage upon my death. You will inherit a sizable estate in your own right, Mandy, including the sheep farms and your mother’s marriage portion. When we are dead you will have complete control of those properties, including an independent income. What more could you possibly want? Your mother and I are only asking that you rein in your headstrong impulses and show the earl your gentler side.”

“I am not some vulture who sits patiently in a tree waiting for you to die, Papa. Am I to be under the earl’s beck and call until then? I doubt I would survive such an ordeal, and might well precede you to the casket.”

Michael shook his head at his daughter’s histrionics. “Marry the earl, Mandy, and I will hand over the sheep farms to you. The income derived from the sale of the wool alone will guarantee your independence.”

“Your father has made several excellent points,” her mother interjected. “We’re not expecting you to change as much as asking you to give Lord Downsley a chance. Do that, my child, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised to see how quickly and easily your relationship develops.”

Amanda stared at her parent nonplused. Had they gone mad? Knowing her views on marriage, did they still expect her to marry someone she so actively disliked? “Then you wholly support this marriage?”

“We have no choice, Mandy. The die is cast,” her father said implacably.

“Very well,” she said with all the dignity she could muster. “I shall do as you wish.” But as she ascended the stairs to her bedroom, Amanda’s resolve was hardened, and she was more determined to get rid of the earl. She would simply have to think up a way to honor her parents’ wishes, and force him to break off the engagement instead. How hard could that be?

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Copyright, 1999

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