Chapter 1: Home
Matthew looked down dejectedly at the letter he held in his hand. The crest on the letter was distinct and commanding, he walked slowly up the stairs and stopped in front of the last door in the hall. Sighing, Matthew knocked very gently. There was no answer. Taking a deep breath, Matthew lifted his fist and knocked again, louder this time.
Brett heard the footsteps that stopped outside his door. The first knock was so gentle if he had not been up he would not have heard. He ignored it and continued looking at the ceiling while lying on the bed. There was another knock. Brett closed his eyes willing Matthew to go away and leave him in peace. Another knock followed by a, "Sir?" Sighing, Brett sat up, "come in Matthew."
Brett's most trusted footman entered with the letter clenched in his hand. "Sir, we need to go home. Your father is very ill and he doesn't have much longer." Brett flopped back onto the bed, feeling defeated. He knew it was time to go home, his father had been ill for some time and his mother had been sending letters for the past year, begging him to come home. Closing his eyes, Brett quietly admitted defeat. "Ready the horses Matthew, we will begin the journey to Wimborne."
Matthew acknowledged his master's instructions with a quick bow and left, closing the door behind him. But not before he heard the Marquess utter a single loud curse word. Despite the door being closed, Matthew ducked his head to hide his smile. There was nobody who hated going home more than the Marquess himself.
Evelyn rose with the sun, her manor was on the very outskirts of Wimborne and had been gifted to her late husband's family after their years of service under the Duke of Strathburn's family. While Evelyn was from a modest family, she had caught the eye of the Baron of Gladford and at the tender age of 18 she became his bride.
She had bade her family farewell and made the long trip to Gladford manor to start her life as a Baroness. While the Baron had told Evelyn he wanted her as his bride, there was little love between the two. The Baron was Evelyn's senior by almost 30 years and after their first few months together, Evelyn was his wife in name only. The Baron was notorious for having mistresses and for the sake of her family Evelyn had endured it all.
Two years into their marriage, the Baron's heart gave out and left Evelyn a widow. As he had no family, all that was his was left to Evelyn. And while he was a Baron, he had very little wealth to leave. His reputation as a philanderer and spendthrift was not unfounded. By the time he passed there was little left in the coffers. He had little to offer Evelyn besides a title.
Evelyn had spent the last 3 years as the Lady of Gladmore and had done her best to make use of the land. The tenants worked hard and helped her with growing crops to sell to the villagers of Wimborne. Due to the gossip and rumours surrounding her marriage and tumultuous relationship, Evelyn stayed away from the village as often as possible. However, today was Market and she needed to bring in the goods from her land.
Evelyn, dressed herself and splashed some cold water on her face to wake up properly. Just as she was about to head out, she saw that Maggie had laid out a necklace and matching earrings for her to wear today. While Evelyn did much more than the everyday duties of a Baroness, it did not mean that she should not dress as one. Especially since she was going in to town today. Smiling to herself she put on the jewelry and headed out to start her day.
Gary had already loaded their goods on to the cart and attached the horses. Seeing that Gladmore was tight in funds, the household members all had multiple roles. Gary was a driver, farmer and groomsman. Maggie, originally hired as her personal maid was also the resident seamstress and most importantly Evelyn's best friend. Gary helped Evelyn up onto the cart where Maggie was already seated. Just as they were about to leave, Annie the cook came running out with a basket of food, "treats for the road and lunch for later my Lady!" Evelyn gratefully took the basket and waved good bye.
Although Evelyn had left Gladmore as soon as possible, because she was on the outskirts, they did not reach the market until just before opening time. As she and her people quickly tried to set up their shop, Evelyn heard the clattering of heels approach her stall. Without looking up she knew it was Tessa. The beautiful brunette had been one of her late husband's favourite ladies to visit.
"Still working I see," Tessa commented as she came to a halt. Evelyn stiffened slightly before pasting a fake smile to her face and turning around. "Hello Tessa, nice to see you. Thank you for coming by for a visit." She could not help feeling slightly pleased to see the noble woman was wearing a gown that had been hemmed and embroidered by Maggie herself. Maggie was an extremely skilled seamstress and her embroidery was second to none except Evelyn. "Are you still all alone in that manor Dear? My husband would be more than happy to take it off your hands if you'd like." Evelyn stared coldly at Tessa and placed the basket of embroidered silk handkerchiefs more firmly on the table than she had intended, "my home is not for sale, we are doing just fine." Tessa sniffed as she picked up a handkerchief and studied the floral pattern. She dropped the handkerchief disdainfully back into the basket and walked away without another word. Evelyn let out a sigh of relief. "She'll be back later Miss," Gary said, "she is horrible but she only ever buys your embroidered wares." "And I always charge her a pretty penny," added Maggie. And then smiling she handed Evelyn a light pink handkerchief with a beautiful intricate rose stitched in. "I made this for Lady Tessa myself, take a look." Evelyn took the handkerchief and after a few seconds she laughed out loud. It was very subtle and beautifully hidden but with her skilled eyes, Evelyn saw the word "cow" stitched discretely under one of the rose petals. Maggie laughed with her and they finished setting up the stall.
Business was constant, Gary manned the table with their crops and Maggie helped Evelyn with the sewed goods when she was not helping young ladies who came to get their dresses hemmed and altered. At 2:00, the richer families of Wimborne began to stroll the market. Usually around this time is when the Ladies would come and submit custom orders for their dresses they would be wearing to the Season's Balls and parties.
Evelyn was in the middle of taking down Lady Pennington's order for her twin daughters debutante ball gowns when a hush fell over the crowded market. Looking around she saw that most eyes had turned to watch two riders as they passed through the market. Whispers started to run through the crowd.
"His Lordship is back!"
"No bride, he's still a bachelor."
Bachelor, that word spread through the crowd. A Marquess of Brett's status unmarried at the age of 30 was unheard of. As the eldest son, Brett was in line to receive his father's title. He was going to take over his father's lands and with news of the Duke being ill, Brett would be expected to step up sooner than anyone had expected. As part of this role, Brett was expected to have a family to continue his family's line. Additionally, being the only son and only having a sister, there was more expectation on Brett.
The crowd was full of hushed murmurs. This Season was about to be the most exciting, with such an eligible bachelor up for marriage, young ladies from all over would be gathering at Wimborne manor. As Brett finished riding through the Market, the crowd dispersed, excitement was in the air.
While all this was happening, Evelyn and her people had packed up their remaining wares. With this kind of news, nobody would be interested in making anymore purchases. It was time to head home. As they were driving out of the Market, they passed Tessa standing toward the front of the crowd. She was looking at the Marquess and his footman with longing in her eyes. Clutched tightly in her hands was the special silk handkerchief Maggie had made. Evelyn smiled to herself as they drove by and heard Maggie mutter ever so quietly..."cow."