Letter From a Rake: Destiny Romance

BOOK: Letter From a Rake: Destiny Romance
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For Dean and Laura

Chapter 1
London, 1817

At three o’clock in the afternoon, on the eighth day after her arrival in England, Miss Millicent Ashton made up her mind.

She wanted to go home.

The snide remarks had begun the moment she and her mother entered Lady Elmore’s spacious drawing room.

‘So that’s what an Indian elephant looks like,’ whispered a blonde miss by the window. She leaned in close to another girl, who giggled.

‘I wonder if she gives free rides.’

Millie knew the cruel taunts were aimed at her.

In the other homes they had so far visited, she had managed to perfect the art of removing her coat and sitting down in one motion. With luck, she was usually able to seat herself in the corner of a couch and hide partially behind the skirts of her mother.

Unfortunately, this time, Lady Elmore had greeted them at the drawing room door and Millie had suffered the humiliation of being presented by her mother in the middle of the room, where of course everyone could take in Millie’s ample frame.

While the two older women remarked on how cold the weather was in England compared with India, the first of the whispers began.

The giggling misses’ barely concealed mirth earned them both a steely stare from Millie’s mother, Violet Ashton, who ushered her daughter to a couch to be seated next to their hostess.

Millie’s heart sank. Now everyone in the room could see her. As Violet took the seat beside her, Millie gave her a half-smile, silently regretting her mother’s need to make a statement.

For the rest of the two-hour visit, she sat quietly between the two women, taking the occasional sip of her black tea and politely refusing to partake of the delicious array of cakes Lady Elmore’s servants had laid out on the low table before them.

With her hands folded in her lap, she focused on the pain of her thumbnail boring deep into her palm. She would poke her own eyes out before she would show any kind of response to the cruel taunts.

She retreated into the comfort of her own thoughts, slowly and methodically naming the fjords of the Norwegian coastline, and when she was done, she started on the Finnish coast. Nothing soothed her mind more quickly than attempting to tackle mental tongue twisters.

When her mother finally began making her farewells, Millie was lost somewhere in the far frozen north of Scandinavia.

A whispered ‘Millie, we are leaving,’ roused her.

With a well-practised curtsy, she politely thanked Lady Elmore and followed her mother to the front door. Hands clasped tightly in front, she kept her gaze firmly fixed on her gloves.

After attending several of these events since their arrival in London, she had learnt the painful lesson of what would happen if she risked one last glance around the room of vipers. At Mrs Wallace’s house earlier in the week she had caught several of the girls puffing their cheeks out at her as she left. One had even managed to poke out her tongue before smothering the action with a well-timed cough.

As soon as the carriage door closed behind them, Millie turned on her mother.

‘That is the last of those horrid things you drag me to; next time you can go on your own,’ she snapped, stamping her foot for good measure.

Violet let out a sigh. ‘And what am I to tell the ladies of London society when my highly eligible daughter does not accompany me on these outings?’ she replied.

‘Tell them you have locked me in my room for swearing, or better still tell them that I went mad and you had me put me away in Bedlam.’

Millie crossed her arms, glared out of the window and continued.

‘If they want to see me they can pay the keeper a coin. I barely know these people and yet they choose to judge me purely by sight. Not one of those simpering misses has attempted to speak to me. No, they would rather just make fun of a newcomer; well, that was the last straw.’

‘Don’t say it,’ her mother replied.

‘Say what?’

‘“I want to go home to India, I hate this place, all the people are horrid and it’s cold.” If I hear those words from your lips one more time today, I swear I shall get on a boat myself and go back to India just to get away from you.’ Violet pulled her coat tightly around herself and let out a tired sigh. ‘Honestly, Millie, my ears cannot take many more of your complaints. Don’t think I don’t know how unkind those girls are, but you have to remember you pose a threat to them and they don’t like it. They are trying to bring you down to their level. You just have to rise above them.’

Millie sat staring at her mother, too stunned to speak. For the first time since their arrival, she was lost for words. How could she possibly be a threat to anyone?

Finally, she shook her head. ‘How am I a threat to those girls, Mama?’

Violet gave a knowing smile and nodded her head. ‘You are from a good family, your father and uncle are powerful men and you come with a sizeable dowry. A lot of those girls have only their passing beauty to catch a potential husband and most men want more than that,’ she explained.

Millie scowled. ‘Yes, but most men want a slender, elegant wife who stays out of their way,’ she replied, knowing she would never be that sort of woman.

Her mother laughed. ‘Where on earth did you get such a silly notion? Have you ever seen me shy away from your father? And believe me, I have never been thin in my life.’ She leaned forward on the leather bench and brushed her hand gently across Millie’s cheek.

‘Darling, you will find that different men are attracted to different things. Some will find you a little unusual because of your foreign upbringing and not to their taste, but I assure you there will be someone who finds you the most enchanting creature he has ever laid eyes upon. And when he discovers the witty, intelligent girl that you are, he will give thanks that you have come into his life.’

Violet tucked a wayward lock of Millie’s chestnut-brown hair behind her daughter’s ear before adding, ‘Of course, you will have to stop complaining about England for him to have a chance to appreciate your finer qualities, but I am sure you will soon overcome your aversion to the place; everyone does eventually.’

‘Apart from the French,’ Millie muttered, knowing she was testing her mother’s patience.

Violet sat back in her seat and rubbed her temple. She had complained of a throbbing behind her left eye before they’d arrived at Lady Elmore’s and Millie knew from the paleness of her mother’s cheeks that one of her serious headaches was imminent. As soon as they reached home her mother would retire to her room and have a long afternoon sleep, leaving Millie once more alone to amuse herself.

Her mother’s words of advice still hung in the air. She was right, of course: Millie would have to make peace with her new home, but, as for the other matter, her mind was wracked with doubt.

No one in London would think her wonderful or stunning. It would take a special man to look beyond the obvious and see the real Millie Ashton. From what she had seen of London society so far, she doubted that such a man existed anywhere in England.

As the carriage made the short journey to their new home in Mill Street, Millie continued to look out the window. The cobbled streets of London were a stark contrast to the dusty streets of Calcutta, the city where she had been born.

Instead of the hot windy streets full of people, animals and handcarts all attempting to progress through the oncoming traffic, London was the picture of order and civility. The few people walking on the streets of St James made their way on stone pavements, not in the middle of the road. And there were no cows wandering lazily in and out of street stalls and markets.

Millie sat back in her seat and, closing her eyes, tried to recall the cries of the
khonchavala
, as they walked the streets of her home city peddling their wares.

Once they’d reached home and were inside, Millie quickly handed her bonnet and coat to her maid. The house call had been long and trying, her temper was frayed, and she knew if she stayed near her mother for a minute longer harsh words would be exchanged and the whole day would be a complete shambles.

She brushed a kiss on her mother’s cheek, wished her a speedy recovery and with purpose headed downstairs to the kitchens.

Millie was sitting in the big wooden cook’s chair with a mug of hot sweet tea, slowly chewing on one of Mrs Knowles’ mawa cakes when she saw her brother Charles’ head appear around the kitchen door.

Stepping into the kitchen, he was greeted by the Indian-born Mrs Knowles with a respectful ‘
Namaste
’. He bowed in response, before turning to his sister.

‘Thought I might find you here. How was the visit to Lady Elmore’s?’ Charles asked, as he stopped near the kitchen table.

His gaze drifted to the plate next to Millie at the end of the table. A single cake sat among the scattered crumbs.

‘Oh dear, that bad?’ he replied, running a hand through his sandy blond hair.

Millie wiped her mouth with a cloth napkin and slurped down the last of her tea. Small tears formed in her eyes and she bravely blinked them away. Rising from the chair, she managed to maintain her composure for the few seconds it took for her to fall into her older brother’s embrace.

He wrapped his comforting arms around her and held her close.

‘They called me an elephant,’ she said as the tears rolled down her cheeks. ‘None of them wanted to talk to me; they just sat and giggled behind their hands. They were simply horrid.’

Charles stroked her hair and planted a kiss on the top of her long brown locks.

‘Millie, you just have to give them time, let them get to know you, and I promise things will get better. Not everyone here is horrible. You will have lots of friends in no time. We’ve only been here a week, you cannot dismiss all of London just yet,’ he said with a sigh.

Millie sniffed back the tears and took the handkerchief he offered.

‘I know, I know; Mama says exactly the same thing, but—’

‘But what?’

‘London isn’t what I was promised. Where is the sophistication, the elegance? So far all I have seen are drawing rooms full of small-minded harpies,’ Millie replied, pulling out of his embrace.

Charles shook his head. ‘I hope you are not setting your mind against our new home?’

She shrugged her shoulders. ‘It’s just that I had hoped London might be a bit more cosmopolitan. I know many of the English in Calcutta tended to be indifferent to the rest of the country, but I suppose I expected a little more after all that I had heard of England. It is harder to find my feet here than I had expected.’

‘But, you have to admit, it’s not all been bad. You cannot tell me you have not enjoyed shopping for new clothes, Millie. I have twice tripped over piles of boxes in the front hallway,’ Charles replied.

‘No, the shops are simply wonderful. I have never seen anything like them. I am sure one could shop for days and not venture into the same store twice,’ she replied, grateful for the change in topic.

‘Good and what about the museums? I know you have a long list of galleries, gardens and castles you wish to visit.’

Her spirits rallied at the idea as she looked at her brother and nodded. They were both going to have to find their way through the maze of London society in the coming months.

‘Thank you, Charles. You are possessed of the happy knack of finding the good in every situation. I can always rely upon you to pull me out of a miserable mood. And you are right; I shall ask Papa if he will take me to see Lord Elgin’s marbles when he next has some spare time. I hear they have moved them to a new display room.’

‘Good. You could ask him on the way to the party tonight,’ he replied.

A wave of nausea overcame her. Whether it was as a result of the large number of spiced cakes she had eaten, or from the realisation that tonight her family were to be guests of honour at a ‘Welcome home’ ball, Millie couldn’t tell.

Millie thanked Mrs Knowles for the cakes and headed for the door. As he passed the table, Charles snatched up the last remaining mawa cake, stuffed it into his mouth and followed his sister from the room.

BOOK: Letter From a Rake: Destiny Romance
12.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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