THAT WAS SOOOOO GOOD! You must write a sequel! Please!
“Dearest, you don’t have to marry him. You know that, don’t you?”
“Diana, you know I must. I love him,” Julia replied, clearly lying.
“You lying, Julia dearest. You are a terrible liar. You always have been. Now, tell me why you must marry him,” I answered sternly. I was fairly certain Julia would tell me. We were only three years apart and we told each other everything. She knew why my late husband killed himself, taking Melissa Young’s life with him as well, though it did not appear to be so to those who didn’t know, my parents included.
“I can’t Diana,” she pleaded, and then sighed, “You know I don’t love him, you pointed out yourself that I’m a terrible liar, but I can’t tell you, it’s too terrible!”
“He didn’t touch you did he?” Pure anger was evident in my voice.
“No,” she sobbed into my shoulder, “it’s not like that, but it is still horrible.”
“Please tell me, dearest. I’ll do anything I can to fix it,” I begged. I had to know what was troubling her.
“But even you can’t fix this. Father is making me marry him, he said an arrangement had been made. Christopher told me why.”
I rubbed her back soothingly, “What did Christopher say?” I tried another approach to learning what was wrong.
Julia didn’t answer, but instead shook her head back and forth. “Julia, if you don’t tell me, I’ll ask Father, and if he won’t tell me, I’ll go ask Christopher myself.”
Her head shot up. “Do not go to Christopher. He won’t give you answers. He’ll hurt you; I’ve seen him do it with his own sisters and staff. He wants power Diana don’t you see? If you go to him, he’ll have power over you. He’ll pick you apart, he’ll find a secret or a fear and he’ll hold it over you. Please, don’t go to him,” she begged.
I thought of Christopher’s character, or what I’ve heard of him at least. I had never actually met Julia’s fiancée, but from what I’ve heard, he’s a ruthless man, one who could not be trusted. I heard he acquired a majority of his wealth through gambling. Not a good trait in a husband, even if he did win. And I thought of what Julia said, it fit, and just because she recently got engaged to him, she would still know him better than the people that I’d heard the gossip from, even if they were quite reliable sources.
“Julia, what is he holding over Father?”
She sobbed, then sighed, “His reputation.”
“What do you mean?” Anything could be used to ruin his reputation.
“If this comes out, it’ll ruin us, Diana. We won’t be invited to balls, and people will shun us. We’ll be social outcasts,” she searched my face, “And it’s not my place to tell you.”
“No. Ask Father if you want to know,” I could tell she was determined not to tell me by the tone of her voice.
I hesitated. I would go ask Father, if she would be all right, and I could trust her not to kill herself or do anything stupid to prevent the wedding like she had been when I showed up. “Will you be alright here? I think I need to go pay a visit to our beloved Father.”
“I think.” She hesitated a little longer than I was comfortable with.
“I’ll send Alice.”
I exited Julia’s bedchamber and left in search of Alice, her maid. I had just turned into the main corridor when I nearly collided with Marie, my own maid.
“Lady Diana, what can I do for you?”
“Do you know where Alice is?”
“Yes, Lady Diana. She’s in the kitchen.”
“Good. Go fetch her and tell her that Julia is in need of her. And tell her to stay with her until I return, no matter what Julia says.”
“Is Miss Julia alright?” Marie asked. Marie thought of my family as her own family sometimes, having no family of her own left and a big heart. It was nice to have someone always looking out for us. My mother had been sick for the past year, and had been unable to care for Julia and I, as she would have done otherwise, not that either of us blamed her.
“She’s just nervous about the wedding, I think she may be getting cold feet,” I lied; I’m much better at it than Julia.
“She is 19. She would be happy, if she weren’t to be marrying that brute of a man, Christopher.”
I laughed. “Well, that’s always how Julia has always been, she gets nervous before a big step. Now, go fetch Alice.”
“Yes, Lady Diana,” Marie curtsied and turned toward the servants stairs that led to the kitchen.
“And Marie?” I called, as she was halfway down the corridor, “What happened to calling me Diana? You haven’t called me Lady Diana in years.”
Marie laughed. I didn’t find it disrespectful like some women would. Marie and I had become friends soon after she had become my personal maid. “Mrs. Lewis heard me call you Diana this morning and almost bit my head off. I promised her I would call you Lady Diana to show you more respect.”
“Mrs. Lewis is a stickler for the old ways.”
“I’ll call you Diana when she isn’t around. I wasn’t sure where she was just now.”
“I was just wondering. Thank you, Marie.”
She curtsied to me again and turned back toward the stairs. I made my way down the main staircase and to my Father’s study in the back of the house.
I lightly tapped on the door, and waited for a response. Nothing. “Father?” I called, tapping the door again.
“Come in Diana,” came a muffled response through the door.
I opened the door and quickly stepped inside, closing it behind me. My Father was sitting behind his great mahogany desk with his face in his hands, his hair slightly disheveled as though he had been running his hands through it, staring at a pile of papers in front of him.
“What’s wrong, Father?” I asked, slightly alarmed.
He looked up and smiled at me, but it was forced. “Nothing you need to worry your pretty little head about, darling.”
“Father please tell me what’s wrong. Whatever is upsetting you is most likely thing that is upsetting Julia.”
His face became alarmed at my statement. “Why is she upset?”
“Because you’re making her marry Christopher. She doesn’t want to marry him and he will be a much worse husband than mine was.”
“How was Anthony a bad husband?” he asked a little more alarmed than before.
“He never gave up his mistress, well, he did, but only while we were in the country, and even that wasn’t for very long. He only married me because I was a friend in desperate need of a husband, and he needed a wife or he would loose his fortune and she wouldn’t marry him because it just wasn’t done.”
“Why didn’t you tell me, Diana? If you were unhappy in your marriage, I would’ve talked to him.”
“Because I was happy, I made my choice knowing full well the circumstances, and the consequences should the ton ever have found out, and I intended to stick to it. Besides, he had no objections to me taking on a lover as long as it remained a secret. But that’s not the point. Christopher is not husband material. He gambles Father, and I’ve heard that he has no problem hitting women. Please call it off, Father, please,” I begged.
“You have no idea how much I want to do that, Diana, but I can’t.”
“Can’t or won’t?” he didn’t answer. “Julia said that he knows something that will ruin your reputation. What is it?” I demanded.
“I don’t want you to be connected in any way to this Diana, should a scandal break out.”
“I’m your daughter. I’ll be connected anyway. Please tell me. You know I’ve stopped scandals before. I can help you fix this if you just tell me what it is!”
“I doubt you could fix this, not that I doubt your abilities, mind you.”
He sighed. “I’m in debt.”
“To Christopher,” I stated, not a question, but a fact.
“He tricked me into gambling with him.”
“Why not go to the lenders?”
“If I did, an even bigger scandal would be bound to break out.”
“Even you don’t have this much Diana.”
“15 thousand pounds.”
My eyes almost jumped out of my head. “Good God, Father. How did you become that much in debt?”
“After he realized I was quite bad at it. He told me the only way to win, was to get better, and the only way to get better was to keep playing. I only played him and he always told me that he was teaching me, though not in so many words, and I assumed I wouldn’t have to pay him what I hadn’t thought I’d gambled.”
“You just assumed?”
“Yes,” he answered, sounding ashamed of himself.
“And why didn’t you just not gamble anything?” I asked in disbelief.
“Because that way ‘I can get the feel of when to gamble and how much.’”
“I see. So how did Julia come into this?” I asked wanting to know how my sister was roped into this mess.
“He had been asking for the money for weeks, and I didn’t have it. Then he saw Julia at a masquerade and she caught his eye. He said that if she married him, he’d forget about the debt. If not, he’d make it public knowledge that I had gambled away all of our money.”
“So you told him that Julia would marry him?” I asked,
“Yes, and I set it as far back as I could, but what else could I do?”
“Does Mother know about the gambling?”
“But she knows about the wedding?”
“Yes, but she thinks Christopher is a charming young gentleman that is worthy of her daughter.”
“Why didn’t you tell her the truth?” I was surprised he didn’t tell mother that. They told each other everything.
“Because she wasn’t doing so well at the time, I was afraid she would only worsen if I told her.” That made more sense.
“Tell her the wedding is off and tell her the truth about Christopher, just give her another reason than the gambling. She’s well enough to handle that.”
“Why? I can’t pay him back.”
“But I can.”
“How? Even Anthony wasn’t rich enough for you to spare that much.”
“No, but his cousin had died just before Anthony’s…accident. Anthony had inherited a fortune. And when Anthony died, everything came to me.”
“But I can’t just call it off four days before the wedding. What will the ton think?” he asked frustratingly.
“That you’ve come to your senses?” I answered as if it was the most obvious thing, “And let me take care of Christopher.”
“I don’t want you anywhere near that man alone, Diana. I’ll go with you,” he decided.
“No Father, you stay here and take care of mother and Julia. And believe me on this, I have no urge to be alone with that man. I’ll take James with me.”
“Who is James?” he asked, his protective instincts kicking in.
“He’s a friend. No, not that sort of friend.” I answered, reading his expression, “He’s Charlotte’s husband.”
“And he’ll be able to stop Christopher from doing anything, should he try to?”
“Yes. He’s a big man, Father,” I explained, then added with a smile, “And I’ve heard that his fists are likened to bricks.”
“I don’t know if you should be around him. He sounds like a nice man, but…”
I laughed, “Father, he has two little girls that mean the world to him. I’ll be in no danger.” Father still didn’t look convinced. “And you can meet him if you like, when he picks me up tomorrow.”
“Alright, will you tell Julia? I have some other things to take care of.”
“Of course. And thank you, Daddy.” He smiled, a real smile this time. I only called him Daddy when I was extremely pleased with him, and he knew it. I hurried out of his study and back up to Julia’s room.
I walked into see Julia crying and Alice rubbing her back, trying to comfort her. “It’s going to be alright, Julia. I’m sure Diana will help you somehow. She’s a strong woman who protects those close to her. So don’t cry. Have some faith in your sister,” Alice was saying. She hadn’t heard me come in.
Julia nodded, but started sobbing again.
“Julia,” I admonished, “Quit your crying. The wedding is off.”
She spun around in her chair. “Really Diana? You’re not kidding?” Her face was incredulous as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
I smiled. “I would never kid about this, dearest.”
“But how? The debt, the scandal, how?”
“I have my ways, and like Alice said,” I smiled, “I protect those close to me. Including Father.” Julia ran to me and hugged me.
“How will I ever repay you Diana? Thank you so much!” she squealed, acting like the nineteen year old sister I knew.
“You can repay me by finding yourself a good husband, one that is worthy of you. Now, as much as I would love to continue this, I do have a few things to get into order before tomorrow morning when I have a little chat with Christopher, and I’m not going alone,” I added before she could interject.
“Do you need me to do anything?”
“Only that if a scandal should break out, to hold your head up high, like they are all wrong, and that they don’t know what they’re talking about. But I highly doubt that there will be any issues, only congratulations.”
“I can do that.”
“Good. I’ll see you at luncheon.”
James and I were in his carriage on the way to Christopher’s house. He had responded to my request as soon as he had received it, happy to help a friend. Father had approved of James and I was glad. James was like an older brother to me, seeing that I was a friend with his youngest sister and wife.
“So what do I need to do when we show up at this man’s house?”
“Stand there and look menacing. I want him to truly believe that if he messes with my family again, he’s not going to walk away.”
“It sounds like you really hate this man.”
“I found out last night that he beats his staff. He only smacks his sisters and his mother, though.”
“Only? And his mother?”
“Yes, only. And his mother now lives with her oldest daughter who is married.”
“Yes, so just back me up.”
“I can do that.”
We pulled up in front of Christopher’s townhouse a few minutes later and were ushered into the front parlor to wait. Christopher kept us waiting for about a quarter of an hour, and when he finally walked in, he looked as if he just rolled out of bed.
“Ah, Diana. To what do I owe the pleasure of meeting my future sister-in-law?”
“It’s Lady Sterner to you, Lord Ashford. And the pleasure is that I am here on behalf of my Father, seeing as he wasn’t feeling well this morning, to tell you that the wedding is off. Here’s your payment,” I replied as I dropped an envelope on the table in front of me. “There is no reason that you should even associate with me or my family. Is that understood, Lord Ashford?”
“And if I don’t abide by your dictates, Lady Sterner?”
“Then the pleasure would be all mine, to make sure that you know that what Lady Diana says, goes,” James commented, with a bit of force in his voice.
“Thank you, James. I’m sure Lord Ashford gets the point. That should you mess with my family you won’t walk out of it…unharmed. Good day, Lord Ashford.” I finished. Christopher’s face was turning a bit purple with rage, and I decided to leave before anything happened that I might regret later.
As I passed Christopher, he whispered, “You’re going to pay for that, bitch,” in my ear.
“Excuse me?” I exclaimed, stopping dead in my tracks. “What did you just call me?”
“You heard me loud and clear, m’Lady,” Christopher goaded, expecting a response out of me, and not James, who took one look at my face and promptly slammed his fist squarely into Christopher’s face. Christopher stumbled back a bit, but instead of retaliating, he held his nose, which was now gushing out blood, and glared at James.
“That was just a warning. Don’t mess with her,” James threatened, and to me he added, “Would you like to go know?”
“Yes, thank you, James,” I smiled as he ushered me out the door and back into his carriage. “Thank you for agreeing to coming along with me, James. I don’t know whom else I could have asked, and my Father didn’t want me alone with him,” I thanked once we were settled in the carriage.
“Why are you thanking me? The pleasure was all mine. Charlotte doesn’t like me fighting in the ring anymore; she says it doesn’t look good with my face. So it was nice to throw at punch, though I kind of hope he does mess with you again. I’d be glad to knock him around.”
“Regardless, thank you.”
James rolled his eyes, “You’re welcome.”
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