His father grunted. She's the very worst sort of adventuress, trying to entrap a boy barely out of short coats. That was true—desperately, painfully true—but Charlie bristled in the face of such bald accusation. I wish to behave honorably toward her. His father raised an eyebrow. Then you're giving her far better coin than she gives you.
The Gronows are unparalleled leeches. Durham put down his knife and fork and leveled a stern finger at him. You're not going to marry her. Talk your way under her skirts if you will, but no son of mine is going to marry into a scheming family of charlatans. She may have some finer qualities, but mark my words: she wants to be a duchess, with ready access to Durham's funds to support her worthless father.
Don't fall for her pretense of affection, Charles. He took a deep breath, his hands in fists. Durham stared at him. He reached for his wine as if peace had been restored. The Gronows were delighted to accept the invitation. Charlie suffered a pang of hesitation when Mrs. Gronow almost crowed in triumph as she stepped into the house, and he didn't miss the way Mr. Gronow eyed the furnishings and paintings with a calculating, hungry look.
His father was wrong, damned wrong, about Maria, but perhaps Durham knew something about her parents Charlie did not. His fears evaporated when Maria caught his eye and gave him a rueful smile as her parents exclaimed a little too loudly about Lastings Park. He managed to take her hand as they followed the butler to the drawing room, and she squeezed his fingers back, setting his heart at peace again.
Durham made his appearance half an hour later. At first he was the very model of an aristocrat, polite but chilly. Charlie began to relax, despite the gleeful glances Mrs. Gronow kept giving Maria; he hoped his father couldn't see those. To himself, Charlie admitted the Gronows were rather grasping and avaricious, but he wasn't marrying them, he was marrying Maria, and she was enduring this endless visit with the same serene assurance she always had.
Gronow sat up a little straighter and beamed at her daughter. Despite his father's warning the other night, he had asked for Maria's hand in marriage. He couldn't resist a fond glance at his betrothed. Gronow has given his blessing. We are all honored by the connection. Durham shot an unreadable look at him. Charlie was sure even his father, demanding and particular, could find nothing false in her.
She was so beautiful, perfectly at home in the elegant drawing room. He flashed her another confident glance, and was rewarded with her little smile, the intimate look she reserved just for him. Gronow made a shocked gasp. Her husband's chin dropped. Charlie could barely see for the haze of humiliation that sprang up before him. He has not reached his majority, and if he were to contravene my wishes, he would be cut off without a farthing for the rest of my life.
There was a frozen silence in the room. Maria's blush faded to stark pallor as she stared at the duke with burning eyes. Gronow looked fearfully at her husband, who seemed to be struggling for speech. Charlie could hardly breathe. How humiliating, to be treated like—and called! It was bad enough to hear his father praise Edward's intelligence over his, or applaud Gerard's bravery, but this All he asked of his father was permission to marry the girl he loved, and Durham had cut him down in the cruelest way possible. Unruffled by the tension in the room, the duke got to his feet. He gave Charlie a distracted pat on the shoulder.
Gronow, let us go. Charlie followed them through the house. She looked at him with skeptical hope. He refused to give his consent—he appeared quite implacable! He touched one finger to the corner of her mouth, desperate to see her smile again. He couldn't, and he knew it, but Charlie didn't give a damn right now. Please, Maria," he begged as she glanced uncertainly toward her father. Four days from now. An eternity, but he was desperately grateful for the chance. Charlie watched until their carriage was gone, but she never looked back at him.
A sharp ache speared his chest. How dare his father do that to him? He knew Durham didn't approve, but to denigrate his heir that way, in front of others, was intolerable. He stormed off to vent his humiliation and hurt at his father, but it was unsatisfying. Durham absorbed his fury without responding to it. He listened and said nothing when Charlie wanted him to erupt in fury. He wanted his father to feel the same pain he felt now, the same panic. Maria was doubting him.
Gronow might withdraw his consent.
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And still his father refused to engage, merely repeating that Charlie was too young to know his own mind and the decision was irrevocable. For three days he brooded about it, avoiding his father. On the day he was to meet Maria, Charlie rose with his mind made up: he would make one last effort to persuade his father, and failing that, he would elope.
He would be cut off from his allowance, true; but what was money when weighed against losing the love of his life? Durham couldn't disinherit him. Sooner or later Charlie would ascend to the dukedom and its trappings, and probably sooner than later. His father was nearing seventy, albeit without any real sign of infirmity.
His heart hardened with resolution, he went into the breakfast room and bowed. Maria was waiting by the time he reached the bridge in the woods, her blue cloak a bright spot amid the greenery. His heart jumped as always at the sight of her; he was off his horse and rushing toward her before she even turned to face him. But her expression stopped him in his tracks. Her eyes were grave. Her porcelain skin was frighteningly pale, and her mouth trembled at the sight of him. Renewed fury bloomed inside him, that his father had done this to her—to them.
He clasped her in his arms, and she clung to him as if her life depended on it, soft and fragile in his embrace. Do you really mean to be destitute for years and years? Papa was quite indignant on your behalf—how could a father cast out his eldest son?
He declared the previous Duke of Durham lived past age ninety, and he meant to do the same. Don't you see, we can't run off! My parents told me this morning I'm not to see you again, because His Grace threatened them if they did not separate us. Mama wants me to go to her cousin in Bath—a change of scene, she says. My heart is breaking. I love you. I always will. But I cannot marry you, not like this. She went up on her toes to kiss him. In agony, Charlie seized her and held her close, trying to persuade her with his kiss if not with his words.
She wound her arms around his neck and kissed him back, but in the end she pulled away from him. She hadn't exaggerated. He heard through neighborhood gossip Maria left the day after their farewell; in fact, all the Gronows went to Bath. But if Charlie thought that was the harshest blow to bear, he was mistaken: barely a fortnight later news reached his ears that she was being courted by an older, more sophisticated man.
By the time he heard whispers that Maria Gronow had snared herself an earl—a proper earl, in full possession of his estates and income—Charlie was past the point of feeling the pain. His father found him in the garden the night he heard the heartbreaking news, staring off in the direction of the bridge where they had parted that last time—forever. For several minutes Durham just sat silently beside him on the cold stone bench.
Did you never wonder why a mother would allow her sixteen-year-old daughter so much freedom with a young man? He had wondered, briefly, but Maria told him her mother suffered headaches and was often confined to bed, not noticing where her daughter went. Because it suited his wishes so perfectly, he accepted it. Had she lied to him? He shook his head slightly; it didn't matter now.
He hinted you had compromised the girl, thinking to force my hand. You're too honorable. He had been too honorable. If he'd taken advantage of her innocence, just once, to make love to her and get his child on her, Durham would have had no choice but to agree. He asked if I would allow my grandchildren to be raised in penury. As soon as I called his bluff about the girl's virtue, he asked for recompense for her broken heart, first ten thousand pounds, then five, then one.
He's awash in debts. His pretty daughter is the only asset he's got. And now she's engaged to marry another man, barely three weeks after professing her love for you. You're not the only one with pride, Father, although not everyone exercises it so cruelly. Durham stiffened and looked away. Slowly, Charlie turned to stare at his father, feeling hollow and numb. He could endure being the least favorite son; he could endure being criticized on every point, made to feel inferior and useless.
In some corner of his mind, he had known his father wouldn't approve of his match with Maria, but never had he guessed the old man would go to such lengths to prevent it, to drive her away so she would be forever beyond his reach. And to say he would some day thank him for ruining his every hope of happiness, without even a word of sympathy or regret….
I can barely look at you. Rage poured through him, so sharp he was suddenly trembling with it. The fate of being married to the woman I love? I've disappointed you for years, so I expect it will be a relief for you as well as for me. Good-bye, Father. Charlie paused, waiting, but his father didn't say another word, so he walked on.
He packed his things that night and left at dawn the next morning. He didn't see his father again. No one tried to stop him; in fact, the stable boy had his horse ready and waiting in the morning. He took the road north, toward London, not certain what he would do there but absolutely determined not to be controlled and manipulated like a puppet on a string. His father thought he was reckless and foolish; so be it. His father thought him a boy, thinking only of pleasures and nothing at all of responsibility; very well.
His father thought he wasn't quite good enough, no matter what he did, so Charlie had had enough of trying. Perhaps the duke deserved to see how very, very right he was. What was the point in striving for something if one was doomed to fall short forever? He might not be a great man, but he could certainly be the greatest libertine in England.
When Charlie reached London, it didn't take long to lose himself in myriad pleasures and vices. He spent wildly, drank copiously, gambled to excess, and carried on with women of every rank. Within a few years he was established as the most scandalous of rakes, the wildest of rogues, the very embodiment of a scoundrel. His father disapproved, vehemently—but his excoriating letters never contained a single hint of apology or regret. She was not normally given to hating people. It was a waste of time and a rather indulgent emotion, in her opinion, and Lord knew there was enough indulgence and emotion in her family already.
Had she encountered Lord Gresham under different circumstances, chances were she would have thought little of the gentleman, if she even noticed him at all. Earls, especially of his status and notoriety, were far out of her normal circles, and she was quite happy that way. Awareness of him, however, was forced upon her, and not in the best way. She supposed there might be a good reason one could be forcibly aware of someone, but generally it was a bad reason. And at this particular moment, in this particular way, Lord Gresham managed to leave her annoyed, impatient, and disgusted with him and herself.
His first offense was not a personal failing. By simple bad luck, she arrived at the York Hotel, Bath's finest, only a few minutes before the Gresham entourage. And to be fair, her mood was already on edge. Eugenie Bates, her elderly companion, had been in such a state of nerves over the journey she hadn't been ready to leave on time, and so had made them later than Tessa wished.
It was a very warm day, making travel even more uncomfortable than usual as the heat and brilliant sun seemed to wilt everything but Eugenie's ability to worry aloud. By the time they reached Bath in the late afternoon, Tessa was already tired, hungry, and heartily wishing she had defied her sister and left Eugenie at home. She'd told herself all would be better once they reached the hotel and she could change out of her wool traveling dress, have a refreshing cool drink, and stretch her legs. She'd all but leaped down from the hired travel chaise, anxious to settle Eugenie into the hotel.
But no sooner had she walked through the doors and given her name than there came the rattle of harness and a clatter of wheels in the street, and almost immediately a hue and a cry rose. The hotelier, who had come forward to welcome her, excused himself in a rush and hurried out to see what was the matter.
The arrival's title reached her ears in a whisper both delighted and alarmed: the Earl of Gresham! When Eugenie, straggling in Tessa's wake, heard the name, she gasped. I did not know this hotel catered to such an elegant crowd! She watched in open fascination as servants bustled back and forth, bringing in luggage and carrying it away up the stairs. Louise was looking forward to her life in London with almost feverish eagerness, and being acquainted with an earl would have made her faint with joy.
At least Eugenie was too shy to thrust herself forward that way. She was such a pink and white creature, Eugenie Bates. Tessa had been making her blush since she was a schoolgirl of ten, when Eugenie, a poor but beloved distant cousin of her mother's, had come to live with them. All it took now was a certain look, because Eugenie had a vast experience of what Tessa's looks might mean.
Lucas will surely return at any moment. Are you tired, Tessa dear? Should we sit down in the lounge over there? Tessa, who was tired, patted her hand. And here comes the earl now. Eugenie could have her glimpse of the noble personage, the hotel staff could grovel at his feet, and the sooner that was done, the sooner she would have her own peaceful room. She obligingly stepped back to allow her companion an unimpeded view of His Lordship's entrance. For my own part, I was so amazed he spoke to me, I'm sure I gave no very good account of myself, either.
And of course I was acquainted with your dear papa, and now your brother, but otherwise I've never seen anyone of such rank!
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This is very near, only a few feet apart. I shall be able to see every detail of his dress, and whether he has a kind face, and what sort of gloves he wears. Lady Woodall will be so anxious to know what is fashionable for gentlemen in London, so she might order accordingly for young Lord Woodall … ".
Tessa stopped listening whenever issues of fashion arose, especially anything to do with Louise's idea of fashion. It wasn't that she didn't care about her own appearance, or didn't wish to look smart.
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She just had no patience for endless dithering over the merits of ivory gloves versus fawn gloves, or whether a blue gown should have white ribbons or blond lace or perhaps seed pearls for embellishment. She had been born with an unfortunately firm and decisive personality, much to the dismay of her frivolous sister.
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In the time it took Tessa to change her dress and arrange her hair, Louise could scarcely choose a handkerchief. Eugenie fell much too easily under Louise's spell, although she did improve when away from her. And since Tessa had been persuaded that she had little choice but to bring Eugenie with her on this trip, she could only pray the lingering influence of her sister faded quickly. Her mind drifted as Eugenie breathlessly narrated the earl's infuriatingly slow progress into the hotel. She had a great deal to accomplish this week, and she did hope for a few days of seeing the sights before leaving.
Tessa might be immune to the lure of a milliner's shop, but she loved to spend a pleasant hour in a bookshop, and the coffeehouses of Bath occupied a special place in her heart. Eugenie was looking forward to visiting the famous Pump Room, with strict instructions from Louise to take note of what all the ladies wore.
If Tessa could have left her companion behind in Bath, she would have done so, to the greater happiness of both of them. Eugenie would enjoy herself here a great deal more than out in a small town in the country, but Louise had insisted Tessa couldn't possibly go alone. And once Louise set her mind on something, it was best just to admit defeat. Pyrrhus himself would have conceded the battle was not worth fighting. So much the better, thought Tessa, since no one would serve them until he came through; but she obligingly stepped forward to see what sort of man could upend the entire York Hotel.
Lucas, the hotel proprietor, ushered the earl to the door himself. Lord Gresham was moderately tall and wore clothing of unmistakable elegance and quality. He turned on the doorstep to speak to someone still outside, and she studied his profile. A high forehead, square jaw, perfect nose. His dark hair curled against his collar, just a bit longer than fashionable. From the tips of his polished boots to the crown of his fashionable beaver hat, he exuded wealth and privilege.
Everything a gentleman's should be, I'm sure," went on Eugenie, either ignoring or not hearing Tessa's comment. I do believe Lady Woodall mentioned his name recently—oh, she shall be in transports that we have seen him! What was it she was saying about him? Tessa suppressed a sigh. She didn't listen to Louise's gossip, and Eugenie didn't remember it.
What a pair they made. She shifted her weight; her shoes were beginning to pinch her feet. He moved like a man who knew others would pause to make room for him to walk by. It was the bold, unhurried stride of someone with the world in his pocket, with a whiff of predatory grace, as if he knew just how arresting his appearance was and meant to use it to his best advantage.
Because Eugenie was right: he was a blindingly attractive man. Tessa had learned the hard way to be wary of attractive men. They often thought it counted for too much, and in her experience, a handsome man was not a man to be trusted. And this man, who not only had the face of a minor deity but an earldom and, from the looks of his clothing, a substantial income, was nearly everything she had come to mistrust and dislike. That was all without considering how he had inconvenienced her, however unknowingly. Together, it pushed her strained temper to the breaking point. She arched her brows critically and murmured to Eugenie, "He looks indolent to me.
Here the earl committed his second grievous offense. He was several feet away from her, with Mr. Lucas hovering beside him and a servant—probably his valet—trailing close behind, and yet when she spoke the peevish words in a hushed whisper, Lord Gresham paused. His head came up and he turned to look directly at her with startling dark eyes, and she knew, with a wincing certainty, that he had heard her.
Eugenie sucked in her breath on a long, whistling wheeze. She sank into a deep curtsy, dragging Tessa down with her. Chagrined at being so careless, Tessa ducked her head and obediently curtsied. She fervently wished she had arrived half an hour earlier, so she and Eugenie could have been comfortably ensconced in their rooms before he arrived, or even half an hour later.
Now she would have to be very certain she never ran into the earl again; if he remembered her face, or heaven forbid, learned her name and connected her to Louise, her sister would quite possibly murder her. For a moment the earl just looked at her, his gaze somehow piercing even though she still thought he looked like a languid, lazy sort. Then, incredibly, one corner of his mouth twitched, and slowly a sinful smile spread over his face. As if he knew every disdainful thought she'd had about him, and was amused—or even challenged—by them.
Tessa could hear Eugenie gasping for air beside her, and she could feel the heat of the blood rushing to her cheeks, but she couldn't look away. Still smiling in that enigmatic, wicked way, Lord Gresham bowed his head to her, and then finally— finally —walked away. Her fingers still dug into Tessa's arm, and it took some effort to pry her off and lead her to a chair in the corner.
But Eugenie, he won't remember.
Or if he does, it will be some amusing story he tells his friends about the shrewish lady at the York Hotel. And your sister, so hopeful about her new life in London! He's quite an established member of the haut ton; he could ruin her! Telling her about this will only send her into a spell and cause her to worry needlessly.
She prayed Eugenie wouldn't set her sister off. It was badly done of me, and I won't make the same mistake again. Seen in that light, the coming week seemed endless, and she applied herself to reassuring her companion. Once the earl's retinue had proceeded up the stairs, someone finally remembered them and came to conduct them to their rooms. Tessa helped Eugenie up the stairs, still patting her hand as the porter led them to a lovely suite and carried in their luggage. When she finally coaxed Eugenie to lie down with a cool cloth on her forehead, her first instinct was to leave.
She could slip out of the room and soothe her cross mood with a short walk before dinner. If she happened across a new novel or delicious confection in Milsom Street, so much the better. When I visit family in the area again - I will try to… Read more. Great place to stay in Durham. Convenient location; close to Duke campus, restaurants try Local 22, its right across the street , and there is a Harris Teeter right around the block if you want to buy groceries or forgot to bring a toothbrush.
Hosts were attentive to messages… Read more. Highly recommend! The location is very convenient to many restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores.
It is also within walking distance to Duke university. Modern and chic with a touch of home added in there. Wonderful amenities and very close to Duke Hospital! Had a great experience! Hosted by Carlette. Response time: within an hour. Learn more. About this place. Mark helps host. The neighborhood. House Rules. Check-in is anytime after 4PM and check out by 11AM. Read all rules. Report this listing. Check Availability. Things to do nearby. Explore other options in and around Durham.