Authors: Elaine Young
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The Duke’s Engagement
By: Elaine Young
Abby knew she didn’t have many other choices, but this is not what she’d been expecting. She had thought it would be harder, that someone else would buy her. That it would be a mill owner, or maybe if she were lucky a knight.
Not this. Not a Duke.
Why would a Duke need to buy a bride?
“Hold still.” Her mother scolded her.
Abby took a deep breath, trying to remain calm. She didn’t want to go. She didn’t want to leave her family. Her ma, her da.
But what choice did she have? She’d already been bought, by a man she did not know. All she knew was that ‘the duke would be by to pick her up personally’ and that she must be ready for him- and looking her best.
Even using every cent they could afford they had not been able to buy anything that wasn’t at least four seasons old. And second hand.
Abby looked at herself in the shabby, old, mirror. Will this work? She wondered. She reached up to her chest, touching the strand of beads around her neck. A necklace her mother had given her as a farewell token, despite the fact she would soon be able to wear diamands and rubies. And I will send some back. She promised herself.
She was to be a Duke’s wife, but she would not allow her family to suffer in poverty while she lived in silks and ate meat every night.
“It is almost time.” Abby’s sister came into the room, looking at the two women. “He will be here soon.”
Abby’s heart did a back flip. She knew it would only be a matter of time until he showed up. She rehearsed what she would say again and again. But the fact that it was going to happen now made her think she may be sick.
“Take this.” Abby’s mother held out three small, green leaves. “They will make you feel better.”
“Thank you, mama.” Abby took the peppermint from her mother, guilt tugging at her stomach. She did not want to take more money from her family than she had to. After all, she would be gone soon.
“He’s here!” John, Abby’s youngest brother, called.
Mama gave Abby a once over, pinked her cheeks tightly and gave her a soft smile. “You will do our family proud.” She said softly before turning, and leaving the room.
Alone for the first time today Abby stared at herself. If she had not known who she was, or that she was staring into a mirror she might have thought another woman was standing there. I will be alright. Abby told herself.
Of course, telling herself that for the 100th time did not make her believe it.
Abby turned away from the mirror and looked around the room her and her three sisters shared. She would never spend another night here. She would never see her sisters again. Abby padded to the bed they shared and reached under it. None of them had realized, she’d written each family member a letter once everyone had gone to bed. Each one was tear stained, but still readable. Leaving the letters on the bed Abby stepped out of the house and took a deep breath, facing the family members that weren’t working.
Abby’s heart raced. She crossed over to the door. When she got the letter announcing she’d be leaving today she thought someone was gulling her. But here they were, her family had already received half the payment.
Abby’s hands curled around the door handle and she pulled it open.
There he stood. Well dressed and his hair slicked back.
His eyes roamed over Abby, a smile spreading over his lips. He lowered himself into a bow. “Ma’am.”
Abby’s eyes widened. The Duke was bowing to her? That’s not how it was supposed to be.
“Sir.” Abby lowered herself lower than him.
She had not believed that he would personally come to the door, and had it not been for his fine clothes she would have thought it was a servient who had come, but Abby knew that no servant would be able to afford such silks. And a servant most likely had a family to take care of, they would not be able to spend such money on trivial things. My family will be able to, soon.
“I regret to say this, however we are in quite a rush. I fear we will not be able to stay long.”
“I understand.” Abby gave her best smile, and turned to her family.
Her father stood there, her single bag in his hands. Compared to most bags, it was small and Abby knew that, but she had very few of her own things- and even less that she’d said she would take. She intended to leave everything she could to her family. Mama insisted that Abby buy some makeup, and there were a few personal items that Abby had not been able to part with. She stepped forward and took the bag from her father before he pulled her into a hug.
“I love you.”
It was all he said before pulling away.
Abby opened her mouth to say something, to everyone. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t think of a single word to say to any of them.
Tears pricked the corner of her eye. She took a deep breath and nodded, turning to the man who stood in the doorway. He held his hand out of the bag. Slowly, she gave them to him, she wasn’t used to having someone to take care of her things. She didn’t even own women’s shoes until a few weeks ago. She’s always worn her brothers when they grew out of them. She’d even packed them, of course without her mother knowing. She never would have allowed it.
As she followed the Duke out of the house she’d grown up in she didn’t dare look back. A man hoped down from the front and pulled the carriage door open for her.
“Thank you.” Abby spoke softly as she hoisted herself up inside it.
“Sir, would you like me to keep the bags with me?”
“No. We can keep them, it is just one.”
He stepped into the carriage behind Abby, his hand brushing her thigh as he moved past her and sat down.
Abby’s heart skipped a beat. She hadn’t expected him to touch her so soon. Would he expect me to…? She couldn’t even finish the thought. She knew that being this mans wife meant she must lay with him, but that did not mean she was totally willing. Abby felt like one of the rabbits she used to hunt, before they moved. The skirts of town had become something only the rich could afford. Of course that didn’t mean they offered a fair price for the land.
As the carriage began to move Abby was trapped inside with the man she was due to marry. He stared at her, his eyes soft.
“Your family will receive payment this week.” He said.
“Thank you.” That’s what this was all about after all, her family being able to live without starving- without someone having to turn down a meal at supper every night, just to give everyone else a little more.
“I know it will be hard for you. To be away from them, but I assure you it will get easier, and perhaps we can see them sometime. You do, of course, understand that you will… have to go through some training, correct?”
Abby must learn to become a woman that a Duke could marry. She knew it would not be easy. She was not well-schooled, although she loved to read, she had not had time. She been days away from taking to the streets before they’d gotten the letter. This had saved her and her family, and she knew it.
“It will be hard, I know that. I’m sure you know that… but you must understand,” He stared out the window. “I had no other choice.”
How could a Duke have no other choice?
“And you… you seemed so perfect. You’re beautiful, you’re passionate, you’re smart.”
“I had to drop out of school three years ago.” I told him flatly. I hadn’t pretended to be smart in my application. I had been honest.
“That doesn’t mean you’re stupid.” He told Abby with a smile. His eyes sparkled. “You mentioned you hunt.”
“That’s what sold you on me?”
“Part of it yes, and that you were real.” He paused. “I wasn’t actually going to believe all the lies people put in their applications. If it sounds too good to be true then it is likely a lie.”
“Were some of them truly that bad?”
“Yes.” He laughed softly. He stared out the window, lost in thought.
Abby couldn’t help wondering if the applications were still somewhere she could see them. Just to know what others had put in theirs. Her mother had not seen Abby’s application, otherwise she never would have been able to admit that she enjoyed hunting.
“I’ve got several guns, you are welcome to them if you would like to hunt for the afternoon. Of course… if you do catch anything it will have to be taken to the servants’ quarters.”
“I will not be expected to prepare it for you?”
Abby lifted her hand to her mouth. Her quick tongue often slipped out before she had a chance to catch it.
The Duke barked out a laugh. “No. you will not have to worry about cooking for me.”
“That is most likely best for both of us,” Abby admitted.
“I’m Thomas, by the way.” He held his hand out to Abby. She extended her hand, and his raised it to his lips.
“It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“No. The pleasure is all mine.” His eyes sparkled. “I’d like to discuss something with you before we arrive at the house.”