23 year old Lily Norville finds herself widowed and forced to live with her brother and his family, including his eight year old son William, who is nothing short of a terror. Sure she cannot go another day with his behavior, she begins to search for a new nanny and tutor for her nephew with little success. But when she happens across an advertisement in the Times that seems to be the answer to her problem, she is set on a path that will take her where she's never been before. Victorian England is a place of strict social codes, and the world she enters is strictly forbidden for a women of her social stature.
Her guide in this world is a man named Kadar, and the feelings he stirs in Lily threaten to change her forever. However, Victorian society is never far away, and her brother intends on seeing his sister remarried and settled into a home near him in Regent's Park. Lily will have to choose between Kadar,who makes her feel more alive than she ever believed she could and Captain Mason Danvers, the gentleman who can offer her security and comfort for the rest of her life.
Lily sat with a book in the parlor and struggled to tune out the din caused by her eight year old nephew. Repeatedly, he raced back and forth from the kitchen to where she sat, yelling and chasing the cat his parents had given him for his birthday one month earlier. In his wake were toys strewn all about that he’d repeatedly discarded in favor of something else that attracted his attention. At the moment, it was the cat, which luckily could run faster on four legs than William could on two.
While she loved her brother’s child, she lamented the events of her life that had caused her to move in with him and his parents.
But Lily knew recriminations wouldn’t bring her husband back. Taken from her just three years into their marriage and before they could be blessed with a child of their own, he’d been a victim of the cholera epidemic that had ravaged the city. Now a widow, she had few choices but to look to her family for support and a place to call home.
Her brother Richard and his wife Elizabeth had welcomed her with open arms, a fact she now suspected had masked their happiness at the prospect of having an additional adult to tend to their son. The reality was that no one had ever truly tended to William, and as a result, the child was incorrigible. Nannies came and went with alarming speed, as did tutors, who simply refused to deal with the child whose temper tantrums were legendary on Frederick Street. Few of their neighbors in the London suburb of Regent’s Park had escaped the scene of the young boy’s misbehavior.
“William!” she snapped as she caught him by the arm.
Stunned into stopping for a moment, he stood in front of her and stared up into her eyes in surprise. Lily looked at the deceptively angelic face looking back at her, knowing the facade was just that. Beneath his rosy cheeked expression was the terror of her temporary home.
Holding him, she said, “William, I want you to sit down this minute. I will not tolerate this behavior any more.”
Smiling, the child replied sweetly, “Alright Aunty Lily,” and when she released her hold on him, he promptly ran away screaming after the cat once more.
Two hours later, Lily was sure she couldn’t stand another day of her nephew’s behavior but was just as sure she’d have to be the one to tackle the issue if it was ever to be solved. Scouring the newspaper advertisements for willing participants to replace the nanny and tutor, both of whom had recently left in utter frustration as their predecessors had, she recognized the names of many of the men and women who sought employment and knew no amount of money could entice them to return.
Sadly, she was forced to admit the solution to her problem wouldn’t be found in the employment section of the Times. She continued to peruse the paper, at least hoping to find some diversion from the noise around her.
“Aunty Lily, play with me!”
“If I do, you must promise to behave. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I promise.”
With a great deal of direction, she found some measure of success in making him behave. When his parents finally returned from their time away nearly an hour later, she was set on broaching the discussion of what would have to be done with her nephew. If she didn’t, she was convinced she’d soon go mad.
After a dinner that included more of William’s bad behavior and a temper tantrum over the suggestion he eat his vegetables, his mother took him to prepare for bed and Lily took the opportunity to discuss the situation with her brother.
“Richard, I think something must be done with William.”
Her brother looked past her, his face a practiced expression of feigned interest. “Everything will be better when we hire a new nanny and tutor.”
“Please excuse my interference, but nothing is going to be better if William doesn’t learn to behave.”
The silence that met her statement along with his continued stare past her told Lily he knew she was correct. It also told her that her suspicion was correct—if anything was to change, she would have to change it.
Touching his hand, she continued in a far softer tone. “Richard, I appreciate how much you’ve done for me since Jeremy’s death. Let me help you with this.”
She watched him sigh and drop his shoulders, as if in defeat. “Fine. You may be in charge of William’s behavior.”
Lily rose to leave the table, but Richard stopped her. “I want to discuss something with you. I have someone I want you to meet. A gentleman.”
“Lily, your mourning period has been over for months. You need to rejoin the world.”
“I’m not out of the world, Richard.”
“I invited Captain Mason Danvers to join us for dinner soon. He’s a wonderful man, a veteran of the battles in Afghanistan. I’m sure you’ll like him.”
Quietly, she said, “I’m not sure I’m ready.”
“I understand how difficult this is for you, but you’re a young woman who shouldn’t be stuck living with her relatives.”
Lily knew that what her brother really meant was that as much as he loved her, he didn’t want to be forced to baby-sit a grown woman for any longer than society dictated. And that meant he was actively searching for a potential husband for her.
All she hoped was that his choice was someone she could grow to like.
Alone, she thought about the surprise life had thrown her. Married at eighteen to a man who had swept her off her feet, she had taken to the role of wife easily, believing the rest of her life had been plotted out for her as it was for other women lucky enough to be successfully married.
Jeremy had been the perfect husband, kind but with the ability to handle her stubborn streak. And as a lover, he’d been patient and devoted—just what any young woman would want to initiate her into the world of marriage.
As the day faded into dusk, she remembered the feeling of having someone close as the night settled in. Sadness came over her as it always did when she thought of her husband’s passing before they’d had the opportunity to have a child. Reconciled to a life without Jeremy, she’d turned to Richard for help.
But could she deal with the type of help he now offered? She sympathized with his desire to have her settled with another husband. Who wanted a 23 year old sister hanging about, especially a willful one? She couldn’t change who she was, but would this Mason Danvers want her as much as Richard wanted him to?
Lily thought back to the one time she’d met Captain Danvers when Richard and Elizabeth had insisted she begin to socialize again and attend the Jarret’s Christmas party. Still in mourning, she’d relented and joined them, but looking back, she was sure she hadn’t made a positive impression dressed in her mourning clothes and wearing a look of sadness she’d accepted as fitting for a widow, even a young one.
He’d struck her as confident, if not a little too brash, and a man who probably wouldn’t look twice at a woman like her, dressed in mourning garb or not. Tall and suntanned, with hair the color of wheat, he looked like a man who’d seen the world outside of England—the quintessential military man of the Empire. Lily, on the other hand, was the picture of English womanhood, with porcelain skin and brown hair. The only feature that set her apart from every other pale skinned brunette in London were her eyes. Deep green, they hinted at an eastern ancestry long buried in the Scott family.
She’d never thought of herself as a beauty, no matter what Jeremy had told her, and as the memory of Mason Danvers grew in her mind, she wondered if Richard’s efforts to entice the man to marry her were all for naught, for what men like the Captain preferred were women to compliment them. And she was not that woman, in any sense of the word.
© 2011 Gabrielle Bisset
© 2011 Gabrielle Bisset