Peter Gilbert, Duke of Sudworth is a good man, but at the moment he's angry and very very bitter. He has inherited the title and the debt that the selfish lives of his deceased brother and father created. He was forced to leave the home that he loved to try and save his dysfunctional family and their shared heritage. Facing bankruptcy, he has determined to keep his heritage at whatever cost. Only those closest to him know the real reason he is desperate to save his family home - the member of his family his father was ashamed off.
Rosalind Johnson, is the eldest daughter of a 'cit', a man who has earned his fortune through business. As an ambitious father he is determined that his four daughters will marry the highest titles in the country, whether they like it or not, and he is prepared to pay to achieve his goal. Rosalind has no choice to marry a stranger and take on a life and Society that looked down on someone who came from trade. She would need all her resourcefulness to cope.
Two people forced together because of circumstances that they did not create would be set for a shaky start at best, but with local gossip, illegitimate children and an alleged affair, things were never going to be quiet in the home of the Duke and Duchess of Sudworth.
This is the first book of the Four Sisters' Series. Each book exploring the lives of the Johnson sisters.
Release date: April 29, 2015
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 229
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It rained. Well it would, wouldn’t it? Rosalind thought, barely suppressing a grimace. The sun was probably too scared to come out on a day like this. Other brides had flowers, friends, family and a celebration; she had her father, the groom and his solicitor. Her groom had insisted on a small affair even though her father had pressed for a large ceremony with all the pomp that the event deserved. Eventually her father conceded that the groom could have his way on his point; the result was still the same: his eldest daughter was to become the Duchess of Sudworth.
Rosalind had hoped for a happy wedding day, but all she felt was betrayed and let down by her parents. She was the daughter of a ‘cit’, a person who had earned their fortune through business. The type of person the ton looked down their long aristocratic noses at. Rosalind was a realist; she and her type would never be accepted completely into the upper circle, the top level of polite society. She could not understand why her father, a man so astute in all matters of business, could not see this.
Mr Andrew Johnson, Rosalind’s father, had been determined to secure a suitably grand title for his eldest daughter. He held no special affection for his first born; his motivation had been based on a purely tactical move. It was a subject they had argued about before the wedding.
“You have a responsibility to your sisters,” he reminded Rosalind every time she tried to explain why she did not want the marriage to go ahead. “Having a title will open the door to all sorts of events that you can escort your sisters to; they will soon secure good marriages. Their fortunes are as attractive as yours; they just need the opportunity to meet eligible men.”
“I don’t want to marry a man who is a complete stranger, although the thought of getting to know him holds little interest to me, now or in the future,” Rosalind retorted, speaking her mind to her father as she always had.
“Your sisters need you to act for them. All of you are above marriageable age; it is time to set up your own establishments. God willing, I will see the four of you settled,” Mr Johnson said dramatically.
Rosalind fought to bite back the anger that his words stirred; he always used his age when it suited him. Admittedly, he was seven and sixty, but he was still in robust health. Her father’s dramatics might not have made Rosalind more amenable to the situation, but linking her future to her sisters chances at marriages did. Rosalind’s conscience rested heavily with her throughout the preparations of the proposed marriage. She was the eldest of four daughters and had been like a second mother to her younger siblings. Their own mother was more interested in their father and the latest fashions than anyone or anything else. The result of parental neglect was that Rosalind had a sense of responsibility towards her sisters that was stronger than it should have been, but it was there and was an intrinsic part of her.
She acknowledged to herself that, on one point at least, her father was correct: her marriage would put the girls in the forefront of wider society. Their good looks and large fortunes would secure some penniless aristocrat who had squandered his fortune. Just as hers had done. She suppressed a groan. She did not even have the consolation of knowing that her looks or personality had attracted her groom. The marriage had been arranged even before they had met.
“I cannot understand why you are willing to make me the sacrifice,” Rosalind had said bitterly. It was her one and only lapse into self-pity. She had hoped to marry a man she had chosen rather than one forced on her.
“Sometimes, Rosalind, I really do not understand you,” her father said, for once not shouting his viewpoint at her. “Most girls would give their hind teeth to be in your position: a fortune and a title. I’ve looked into the reputation of your husband; he is not a drunk, or a wastrel. So what exactly is the problem?”
“I don’t love him,” Rosalind replied honestly.
“Pah! If that is your reason, you are more foolish than I thought! Whoever married for love when there is business to transact? Be gone, girl! I am wasting no more of my time on your silly notions!” Mr Johnson said dismissing his daughter.
She had appealed to her mother but had received no support from that parent either. Mrs Johnson had little interest in her daughters unless they were asking about the latest dress style. Throughout their lives they had all been no more than items to be picked up when she had wanted some entertainment. All the girls had learned at an early age that their mother had a very short attention span, especially with regards to children. She had shown little motherly affection at any point during their childhood or so far in their adult lives. She could now see the chance of being rid of all four girls in the not too distant future, which pleased her. In her opinion her life would be simpler when she had fewer distractions. As this could be achieved with very little effort on her part, she was fully supportive of the situation. She dismissed Rosalind’s entreaties and returned to her fashion plates, refusing to discuss the issue further.
Rosalind did not consider running away or even refusing the match. Her parents were doing what they thought was right. If she decided to take drastic action against it, it would result in her being cast off. Her father was generous with his money, but he always undertook spending to open up new business opportunities or to secure further land he could use to build on or develop. Rosalind did not know the details of this particular deal, but she knew that her father was handing over a substantial amount of money along with his daughter. There was no doubt that he would benefit from the transaction, or he would not do it. At this moment, she was not sure if it was purely for guarantees to support his other daughters in society.
In truth, she could not consider any other course than the one her father had chosen for her. She saw the squalor that existed not too far from the streets she frequented. She knew without a doubt that a single woman with no family or financial support had few options open to her. She would get no respectable employment without support, and she could not face any of the less respectable professions. Her position was inescapable.
So, one month after that unwelcome conversation, Rosalind was faced with a journey to the church with her father that would change her life forever. She had met her groom just once before the wedding. They had not been left alone at all; Rosalind was convinced it was because her father did not trust her not to sabotage the match.
She had been as polite as her groom had been to her, but she had not been welcoming. He was lucky to be faced with civilities; he had arranged everything with her father without even making the slightest attempt at any sort of courtship. Rosalind had sat in the drawing room and gained at least some satisfaction that her groom looked as uncomfortable with the situation as she felt. She fumed to herself that his discomfort was more likely because he was lowering himself by marrying her rather than remorse at the situation itself. He was receiving a substantial amount of money that would ease his concern at marrying someone not previously known to him. She pondered that he must be desperate to taint his heritage with a ‘cit’s’ daughter.
She had dressed carefully for her wedding day. The preparation of her wedding trousseau had been the only pleasant experience during the month before the wedding. Rosalind felt shallow at the feelings of pleasure she had experienced when picking out materials, dresses and accessories to take away with her. Her justification was that the acquaintances she would come into contact with once in her new home would have no complaint with regards to her style even if they condemned her for her background.
She chose an ivory dupion dress with a lace overlay for the ceremony. The lace had tiny embroidered lilac flowers all over it, and her colouring contrasted perfectly with the ivory. She carried a posy of cream and lilac flowers, which her sister Grace had made. Her bonnet was coloured in matching ivory material and edged with lilac ribbon and flowers. She wore an opal and diamond necklace and bracelet, the diamonds flickering in the candlelight of the church.
The ceremony was short, and the party did not stand around exchanging idle chitchat after the register had been signed. Mr Johnson nodded a farewell to his daughter and left the group. Rosalind could have cried at the lack of familial affection; she had not even been allowed to bring her sisters to her wedding. Their presence would have made the farce bearable, because she would have had them in front of her as a reminder as to why she was going through with the situation.
The solicitor waited until the Duke of Sudworth handed his bride into his carriage and then stepped back, glad to have a conclusion to the business.
Rosalind sat at the opposite side of the carriage to the Duke and stared out of the window. They were to have a four-day journey to the north, something that, at the moment, Rosalind was not sure how she was going to get through. She had no idea of what to say to the man sitting with her; he was a complete stranger, and yet her fate was now in his hands. He lived in Sudworth Hall, a large property in Lancashire, where she was now mistress. The enormity of the situation made her even angrier than she had been before the wedding. She stared determinedly away from her husband and gritted her teeth. She hoped she had the strength to get through the coming months and years.
* * *
Peter Gilbert, Duke of Sudworth looked at his bride with all the foreboding that had been with him since he had started on the ridiculous scheme. He actually felt a little sorry for the young woman; she was five and twenty and married to a man she had met only once before. He had to presume that she was happy with her part of the settlement. After today she had a title and a grand house along with two smaller houses to preside over, but her behaviour did not support his presumption.
She seemed determined to stare out of the window, and he had to suppress a smile, the first sign of amusement he had felt for many days. If she travelled the whole of the journey in such a position, she would probably be permanently twisted by the time they arrived in Lancashire.
His amusement didn’t last long. Peter sighed and turned to look out of his own window. How had he been reduced to this? He was the second son, or had been until a year ago. His father had died over four years ago, leaving the estate in dire financial straits. Neither Peter nor his older brother Robert had realised to what extent their father had gambled away the family money. They should have been more involved he supposed, but hindsight was a wonderful thing. He was as guilty as the others in his family in going about as if money was no object and life was there for living. He had never once suspected the extent of debt the family was in.
Prior to his father’s death, Peter had become a gentleman farmer on a small estate in South Lancashire. The family home was farther north towards the town of Preston. When the reality of the family finances was realised Peter had sold his farm and pledged his help and support to his brother Robert, to try and reverse the situation they were in. There was one flaw in the plan and that had been Robert himself. Peter had always known his elder brother was like his father: outgoing, a drinker and a gambler. Peter was the quiet, steady one, more in keeping with his mother’s quiet ways. She had died in childbirth along with a third son, so Peter’s was a lone voice of reason in the boisterous, hedonistic household.
Robert had lived the life of a Duke to the full after he had inherited the title, always promising to retrench but never achieving any savings. He had then decided on a trip around Europe, leaving Peter in charge of the estates. He had gone on his travels, promising to return with a rich heiress. He had reached Italy, of that Peter was sure, having received two letters, but then the correspondence had stopped.
For almost twelve months Peter had struggled in vain to create more money where there was none, and then the news had arrived: Robert had died in Italy. He had developed severe pains in the stomach and had died within a few days. There was no further explanation about the death; there was none needed. Robert had probably died through excess of some form; it was definitely a case of like father, like son. Peter was deeply upset at losing his two closest relatives in such a short period of time. The shock increased when the realisation sank in that he was the only surviving male relative of the Sudworth line. The shock turned to anger when soon after notification of Robert’s death, a whole new set of outstanding bills was received. Robert’s legacy was to have been the complete bankruptcy of the estate.
Peter had worked with the family solicitor for over six months before the solicitor had offered a solution to Peter’s predicament. He had hesitantly explained that another client, linked to his London office, was an extremely rich man and was looking to marry his daughter to a titled gentleman.
He had dismissed the scheme at first, but as the days passed, he was forced to reconsider. He realised that although it galled him, it was the only realistic solution to his problems; he needed to marry an heiress. He had convinced himself that the daughter was a willing participant, that she wanted the marriage and title, just as much as her father did. He had arranged to meet his solicitor in London to go through with the agreement and then the marriage. The thoughts of the young lady’s willingness for the scheme helped him justify such a transaction, but their one meeting had made him wonder if that were the case.
Her demeanour had been that of forced co-operation. She had barely spoken and had been watched closely by her father. He had been mortified with the realisation that the young woman might not wish for the marriage to go ahead. As a result of the new information, he had insisted that his solicitor visit him the following morning.
He greeted the solicitor with a statement that made the gentleman speechless for a few moments. “I want to withdraw from the marriage agreement,” Peter said firmly.
“But your grace....” the solicitor stammered, finally finding his voice.
“His daughter does not wish any part of it; a blind man could see that! She barely said a word yesterday. Hardly the behaviour of a woman eager to become a Duchess!” the usually calm Peter snapped. He felt the tension of the last months bubbling to the surface and could barely keep himself under control.
“She would have been nervous, that is all. It was a first meeting; ladies are delicate creatures,” the solicitor soothed, not relishing informing Mr Johnson of the Duke of Sudworth’s change of heart.
“This was an idiotic idea; it will never work. I want nothing more to do with it!” Peter growled.
As it had been the solicitor’s idea, Peter’s remarks caused offence to the man standing before him. The usually obliging man decided that the time for pandering was at an end. No matter that the gentleman he had been humouring, held one of the highest titles in the land. The solicitor’s response was direct and delivered without compassion. “Mr Johnson is entitled to sue you for breach of promise, and I can assure you that he has chased people for far less. His claim on you will ensure you lose the Sudworth estate. Even without the claim, if the marriage does not go ahead, you won’t receive the money that will come as part of your settlement; the estate will be lost anyway. There is no better alternative. What will happen to Annie then? Have you thought of other methods to support her?”
Peter dragged his hand through his hair in frustration. “Damn my father and brother!” he snapped. He stood, turning to look out of the window of Sudworth House. The London square that the house overlooked was nothing compared to the rolling hills of Lancashire, visible as far as the eye could see from the windows of Sudworth Hall. Could he let it all go? It would seem such a waste for his father and brother’s foolishness to cause the loss of the estate and name forever, but there was more to it than that.
He had been happy to live on his farm in South Lancashire; he had been content with his lot and a natural to the business of farming. It was because of Annie that he wanted to preserve Sudworth Hall. Without it he had no idea what would become of her. It was not the title or wanting to keep the property himself; he had never coveted that. The thought of losing the place and forcing Annie from all she had known was too much for him to consider.
“I will go ahead with the marriage and just hope that the girl can forgive me,” he finally said, accepting that, as selfish as it might seem, he needed to keep his ancestral home.
Rosalind awoke with a start. A blanket was draped over her, and she pulled it closer, enjoying the warmth before she realised who must have covered her with it. She peeped around the edge of the blanket; the Duke of Sudworth was asleep on the opposite seat. She relaxed a little and sat up, carefully taking the opportunity to look at her new husband; she had only glanced at him before that moment.
He lay with his head on the cushioned interior of the carriage. His hair was a deep, rich brown but only slightly wavy. It was not adorned with the usual fashionable curls that most gentlemen tried to create, and it was longer than the usual style. His skin was tanned, something that surprised Rosalind: usually the aristocracy preferred a pale complexion. His colouring suited him though; it contrasted against the white of his neckcloth. Rosalind knew he was tall; he had stood at least six inches above her in the church. She was no petite miss; her own height reaching five feet ten inches, a problem at the assemblies that she had attended. Men did not like to be towered over by their dancing partner. The thought passed quickly through her mind that it would be an advantage to have a husband who stood at around six feet four inches tall.
His nose was long and strong, Rosalind smiled to herself. A strong nose: she was sure he would not see it as a compliment, but it fitted the proportions of his face. She was also struck by his mouth; it was full, almost pouting in its state of rest. She had never seen such an appealing set of lips before. She almost laughed at her thoughts; at least her father had bought her something attractive to look at. He moved as if aware of her scrutiny but then settled again. Rosalind had panicked a little at his movement. She truly did not know how to be at ease with the man before her.
He had crossed his arms over his chest in an effort to become more comfortable, and Rosalind’s attention was drawn to his hands. He had taken his gloves and hat off when he entered the carriage and had laid them down beside him. Now in full view, his hands were in contrast to the rest of him, except perhaps his tanned face. His dress was of the finest materials and cut. His shirt collar almost shone white and, although stiff, was not to the extent that the dandies preferred. His pale blue waistcoat contrasted perfectly with the rich blue wool of his frock coat. His breeches were a rich buff colour, fitting him snugly. He might be a poor Duke, but it was obvious that he still paid his tailor. His hands stood out against his fine clothes though; they were coarse: his nails chipped and his skin deeply tanned, matching the colour of his face.
For the first time since meeting the man, a nugget of curiosity stirred in Rosalind. There was obviously more to him than she had first thought. She sighed softly to herself as reality set in. He was not that extraordinary; he had lost a lot of money and accepted a marriage purely for its monetary benefits. He was not that different many others in the ton. Most married to join lands and money, irrespective of the feelings of the parties involved.
Her musings were brought to a stop when the Duke of Sudworth stirred and sat up, rubbing his hands through his hair. He looked at Rosalind and smiled, the first direct look they had shared. Rosalind was struck by how attractive his eyes were: a rich hazel in colour, the shade seeming to be heightened because of the colour of his skin.
“I hope you feel a little rested after your sleep?” he asked, sitting back and stretching his legs out before him. He looked anything but comfortable in such a confined space.
“Thank you for the blanket, your grace,” Rosalind said quietly.
“You are very welcome; I didn’t wish you to feel chilly while sleeping. This is a well cushioned carriage, but even so draughts can force their way in,” Peter responded, friendly but polite.
Rosalind flushed a little, feeling vulnerable that a stranger had seen her sleeping. The fact that the stranger was her husband only made the situation worse. “I was perfectly comfortable, your grace.”
Peter groaned inwardly. His wife might be five and twenty, but she appeared to be a meek woman if her responses were anything to go by; this was going to be even more taxing than he had imagined. He needed to make a few things clear to her. The next conversation was not going to be easy for either of them, but it had to be said. With no staff in earshot, now was the perfect opportunity, especially before the first evening stop.
“Rosalind,” Peter started, using her given name, even though she had not given him permission to do so.
“Yes, your grace?” came the quiet response.
“Please stop using my formal title!” Peter said. He had not snapped, but his tone was short enough to make her blink at him in surprise. “It was never my title to have. I dislike it and only use it when it is absolutely necessary to do so. Please use my given name, which is Peter,” he explained, his voice returning to its usual calm.
“If you are sure,” Rosalind responded. Again, the nugget of curiosity stirred within her.
“I am,” Peter responded firmly. “I need to clarify a few things with you.” He was amused at the look of interest on her face at his words. “While we are travelling I have given instructions to secure separate bedchambers. You have your maid, and I have my valet, so we shall both be taken care of. I did not think it appropriate at this time to be sharing a chamber.” He could not help notice the deep red flush that had quickly infused across her cheeks at his words.
“And when we arrive at your home?” Rosalind was mortified that the first conversation with her husband was about their sleeping arrangements. Although, to be fair, it had been one of the things that had kept her tossing and turning at night.
“It is our home now,” Peter said. “You have paid enough to earn the right to regard it as yours.” Rosalind flushed again; his words, even though they were not said harshly, made her feel the interloper that she was; she had ultimately bought her title, the reality being that she would have got it no other way. Peter groaned, Rosalind’s expression was such that he knew his words had not been as consoling as he had hoped that they would be. It was a horrendous situation for them both.
He moved on impulse, reaching over and taking her hands in his. He looked at her with his intense hazel eyes. “Rosalind, you have saved my family home for which I am grateful. I may not appear to be, but I am. You have every right to take your place there. I do hope that you come to love it as much as those who have lived in it before. In all this….” Peter waved his hand, taking in the pair of them. “There is one promise that I can make you. I shall not force you into relations with a man you do not know or care about.”
“Oh!” Rosalind exclaimed, surprised and embarrassed at his words. She could feel callouses on his hands as he held hers firmly but gently. She instinctively wanted to pull her hands away, but it was as if he sensed her reluctance at being touched and had gently squeezed her hands as if to reassure her.
The sensation the contact created made Rosalind flush even more. Even through her own gloves, she could feel the heat from his hands. She glanced down at her own hands, now swallowed in the strong grasp. She was not accustomed to feeling small, but his size made her feel delicate, a feeling that made her heart speed up. Her situation had just become even more confusing; she should not be feeling anything towards him, but he was causing her usual calm to disappear.
“What about an heir?” Rosalind had uttered the words before she could stop herself. It was the aim of every man she had ever known, to sire an heir. Her own father had been very disappointed that no son had been born to take over his empire when he was eventually too old to continue. He spent an inordinate amount of time desperately trying to plan a way of keeping the business within the family, none of which seemed to satisfy him.
Peter smiled, but it was a bitter smile. “I have come to the conclusion that bad blood runs through the Sudworth veins. Society would be better if the line and the name ended with me.”
“Why did you need my father’s money if it wasn’t to secure your future? Surely you could have reduced your household so that you could have lived comfortably enough?” Rosalind asked, her tone incredulous. She was unable to continue being demure when faced with such contradictory behaviour.
Peter let go of her hands and sat back on the carriage seat. He let out a long slow breath; he needed to be honest with her. “I had not lived at Sudworth Hall for six years before my father died. I had my own farm in the south of the county and was happy there, very happy in fact. The financial situation after my father’s passing forced me to sell my property and move back to the family home. When my brother died, the enormity of the situation became apparent, my brother had added to the debt, rather than reducing it. I cannot rest while so much money is owed to all and sundry. My family’s folly should not impact the livelihood of others. It would not be just.”
Peter inwardly cursed himself. When he had the perfect opportunity, he had let it pass and had not told her everything. He did not know why; he was not usually such a coward, but he did not feel the time was right for letting her know what the reality of his household was.
Rosalind looked at Peter. Although she did not like being a commodity, she had to accept that in this circumstance she was just that. She was not one to ignore the reality of her situation, and pining over her lot would not change it. Her father would not be happy to find out that there would be no children from the match. He wanted to fill society with Johnson descendants; he had made that clear on more than one occasion. Rosalind was sure that he must not have been told of Peter’s views on children before the agreement had been made.
She was not sure how Peter’s announcement made her feel. The thought of sharing a bed with a stranger had terrified her; there was no doubt of that. On the other hand though, she had always presumed that she would have a family of her own. Looking after her sisters had brought out the natural mother in her. There was also something else making her long for children. She wanted to show her children what it was like to be loved for who they were, not as an occasional item of interest. She had been certain that she would give her own children a loving, secure upbringing—something that neither she nor her sisters had experienced. Peter’s words meant that she would not have that option, and a lump developed in her chest at the thought.
“I see,” she responded. “At least I am under no illusion as to what you expect. I am to be a wife in name only. I get the title, you get the money.”
Peter winced a little at her words. He had never really thought about marriage. A man of nine and twenty had lots of time before he needed to settle down and find a wife. Until the reality of what his father and brother had done had sunk in, he had actually intended marrying and having a family. Their actions had made him bitter enough to want to end the Sudworth line, so thoughts of marriage had also disappeared until he was given this option.
Married in this way, though, went against everything he believed in. His relations’ actions had removed his choice, and his wife was a complete stranger to him. The whole situation was difficult, but he would try and make things as comfortable as he could for both their sakes. He tried to lighten the mood. “Your title is one of the highest in the land. You will have three houses to manage, every social event you could wish for, and all the clothes you could want. Won’t that be enough to make this arrangement more attractive?”
Rosalind squared her shoulders. He was clearly under the impression that she had wanted his title. It was time to put him right; after all, he had been frank with her. “Let me be clear,” she started, meeting his gaze, no longer feeling daunted by the man before her. “I’ve already had as many clothes and fripperies throughout my life as I could possibly want. I have never wished to leave my social sphere. I wished only for one home not numerous. The only title I ever coveted, was that of ‘Mrs’. I am doing what I was obliged to do by my father. Do not be under any doubt that any of this was my idea.”
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