A Terrible Choice

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A Flash Fiction Short Story by Jessie Bennett

Genre: Regency Romance
Word Count: 999

A Terrible Choice

“I need that income. I wish I didn’t but I do.”

Gertrude Preston whispered it under her breath, miserably. Her life was a mess. Debts had piled up behind her, demanding more money than she could ever hope to earn as a governess.

“An ex-governess,” she reminded herself.

Lady Anna Dunning and her adoptive brother, Lord Stephen, were grown and had not needed a governess for many years. They maintained her in the household at a fraction of her salary, out of a sense of responsibility for her. At least, she was trying to tell herself it was only responsibility. Her only hope depended on her convincing herself of that.

“Lady Anna trusts me!” she almost shouted in the darkness of her bedchamber. She shook her head, feeling tears run down her face. She could not do it.

“I need to tell Stephen. I cannot do this,” she said decidedly, and, biting her lip, made her way down to the library to meet with her employer, to tell him so.

She wished there was someone to whom she could turn. The most likely option was Duke Shawn Worthington, the ruler of the region, whose manor house was not that far away. He was known to be just and upstanding, and he would, she was certain, help in any way he could. She almost decided, then dismissed the plan, laughing sadly.

“Why would he believe you, a servant, over a nobleman?”

It was impossible. She had only one route left to her, and that was defiance. And soon. Before she was any more involved than she was already.

She walked briskly down the stairs and to the library, where she had met the young lord earlier to discuss the plan. The door creaked as she entered, and she held her breath, feeling suddenly afraid.

“Lord Stephen?”

It was dark in the library – dark enough that she did not see Stephen until he was almost before her.

He laughed softly in the darkness. “So,” he said silkenly. “You have agreed on our terms? You will do this for me?”

Gertrude bit her lip, hard. She had to stiffen her resolve. “I came here to tell you that I cannot do it. My lord, I am sorry, but I cannot.”
Stephen blinked. She saw the rage flare in his green eyes and she shuddered inwardly. He had always been unpredictable. Then a hooded look crept across their surface, and he smiled, placidly.

“So be it,” he said lightly.

Gertrude stared at him. He was really giving up easily? That was not like him!

“As you wish, Miss Preston,” he said lightly. “But remember, your debtors will be at the door. I will not stop them.” He smiled, thinly. “What do you think will happen to you, if I decide to withdraw our patronage?”

Gertrude swallowed hard. She studied him through wide eyes, as if seeing him for the first time. How had her beautiful boy, favourite of her charges for so long, grown up this wicked? She had loved him like a son, holding him over even her beautiful Anna for a time, before his wild temper and power-hungriness had come to the fore. She could not let him make her do this, something which sickened her. She had to be strong.

“My lord…” she felt her hands clench into fists. “It is not that I am not frightened of that. I am. But I love my lady Anne and she trusts me. I cannot face the thought of doing harm to her.”

“Fine,” Stephen said lightly. “If you love her so, I cannot press you. I can only say that, if you choose this road, I will not help you. Your salary will be reduced, and you will be turned out. I cannot face your creditors for you, can I? And you are not really necessary to the estate…”

“My lord!” Gertrude was horrified. “You don’t mean..?”

“Of course I do, Miss. Would I lie?”

Gertrude stared at him. He wouldn’t, would he?

She thought of the terror awaiting her – the threat of poverty, homelessness, living on the roads…

“My lord,” she said, clearing her throat.

“Yes?” Stephen turned. With the flame light licking along his carven cheek, he was beautiful. Beautiful and horrible at once.

“I will do it.”

“I thought you would see reason,” he said, beaming. “Now. We have to plan.”

“My lady cannot find out I am involved.”

“She will not,” he assured. “How would she?”

“If anyone were to find out…”

“I will tell no-one,” he shrugged lightly. “So how would she know. I am not asking you to do anything hard. Just…something inventive.”

“I am not sure I can..?”

“Oh come!” he dismissed her. “How hard can it be?” He made a wide gesture. “My sister needs to marry within a few weeks, or she will not inherit, by royal decree. All her wealth, this house, the title…it will all pas to me!”

“And you want me,” Gertrude confirmed slowly, “to stop her marriage. How?”

“Oh, don’t ask me!” Stephen said expansively. “I thought your female wiles would contrive all that. Tell them she has boils, that she is an awful harridan…I care not! Only,” he added, “ensure that she does not marry before her birthday. If you can do this, then…I shall be indebted.”

Gertrude sighed. She swallowed hard. It was a plan most diabolical, but she could not refuse. How could she? It was life or death for her.

“Very well, my lord,” she sighed. “I agree to do this.”

“Thank you, Miss Preston. I will have cause to be grateful in a matter of weeks.”

He was grinning, and Gertrude swallowed hard, trying not to be sick.

He was silent a moment, then turned to her, waving airily. “You are free to go.”

“Very good sir.”

Gertrude bowed her head and walked from the room, feeling like she left her heart behind her.

“What,” she said under her breath, “have I done?”

*****

Author Notes

I came up with this little tale about Ms Gertrude Preston and her plot against Lady Anna, so that she will not marry on time for her inheritance. If you enjoy this story… please tell your friends. It would be great to get the book, “MORE FOR A DUKE” to know if Lady Anna will marry the man of her dreams.

Interview with Lady Elizabeth Dowling

Character Interview – Lady Elizabeth Dowling

by Jessie Bennett

 

I am in a light, airy parlour which smells fragrantly of rosewater and lavender. I lean back on the embroidered cushion behind me and contemplate the view of the well-kept garden beyond the windows. I feel peaceful and anticipatory at once: I think it is because I am awaiting the arrival of the beautiful Lady Elizabeth, heroine of my latest book.

I hear a light footfall in the corridor, and breathe in, noticing that the rosewater and lavender scents are stronger. Her ladyship must be nearby.

The door is held open by a footman, and a lady floats in. I stand, and stare at her. I cannot help it. Tall and exquisitely proportioned, with a long neck and bright blue eyes, she takes all of my attention at once. She is wearing a white muslin dress decorated with a design of tiny flowers. She has small, scented flowers in her blonde hair, which is styled in a loose but elegant updo. I breathe in the floral scent of her and try and find my voice.

“My lady…” I begin hesitantly.

“Good afternoon!” she says, smiling. “Please, sit down.” She gestures to the ample seating and I settle on an upholstered couch. She sits on the chaise-lounge opposite, tucking her skirt under her becomingly.

“I wanted to ask you some questions,” I begin, “and I think your marriage would be a good place to start?”

“Well,” she smiles, “first we must allow Mrs Alec to furnish us with tea and refreshments, and then we can get down to the business of discussing wedding plans?”

I smile. She is so beautiful, but so welcoming. It would be impossible not to like her.

The maid appears with a tray of tea and biscuits, and I wait for her Ladyship to pour before I hesitantly sample the tea. It smells exquisite, and I sip it slowly.

“Well,” she says, licking her tongue across her full pink lips, “that tea is certainly hot!”

I draw in a breath, amazed by the pull her unconscious sexiness has even on me. I begin to understand why a duke would decide on her as a match at once.

“My lady,” I say, deciding to ask her about that, “I understand your upcoming marriage was settled on at once?”

“Oh, no!” her ladyship laughs, a sound like pealing bells. “I was ever so undecided, actually. It took me ages to follow my heart in this.”

“You did?”

“I didn’t believe the duke could love me!” she observes, and laughs her tinkling laugh again. “It was so silly, I think now. But I just couldn’t see it. And there were enough people sour about our instant attraction to try and poison it if they could,” she adds, and her beautiful face clouds over.

I am interested in that, but I do not like to see her sad. I choose to ask another question.

“You hesitated to marry him. But you decided to. Why?”

“It was because he made his feelings clear. And he was so clearly honourable. When he fought that duel for me…”

“He fought a duel about you?” My eyes are wide. “Though I am not surprised men would fight for your hand, my lady.”

She laughs mischievously, and I am reminded that she is the eldest of four sisters. There is something sisterly about her, and I find myself liking her even more.

“I am pleased to hear it!” she adds, still giggling. “But I must say, it distressed me terribly. Two men fighting. What if one had been killed? It was silly of him,” she says fondly. “Though it was his dealings with his opponent afterwards, the way he handled it, that won my heart.”

“It was because he fought honourably?”

“It was because he is honourable,” Lady Elizabeth said strongly. “He is a fine man – upstanding, supportive, serious in his role as duke. It was that which finally swayed my heart, I think.”

I smile. “So you look for goodness of heart in a man, my lady?”

“That,” she agrees readily, “and a sensible head. What the head looks like does, I must admit, have the power to sway me. Especially the eyes.”

“You notice a man’s eyes first?”

“Mm,” Lady Elizabeth agreed, delicately selecting a biscuit and biting into it. She swallowed and continued. “His eyes, and his posture.”

“His posture?” I blink at her, surprised.

“Mm,” she agrees again. “You should always notice the way a man stands. If he walks bent over or cautiously, you can see he is not confident, or maybe even hiding something. A man who has the confidence to walk tall is a man who has the strength to be his own person. And I like that.”

“You like confident men?”

“I like men who have personality. Even if they are hesitant men, I like that they own themselves unashamedly. If they feel uncertain, or ashamed of themselves, they will always seek that assurance from you. Which can be burdensome.” She smiles.

I nod. “That is wise, lady Elizabeth.”

She blushes prettily, and I notice again how lovely she is. Delicate and beautiful, like a flower.

“Thank you,” she says modestly. “I am pleased to share my views on marriage.”

I regard her quizzically. “You and your affianced are both looked to as examples, I think?”

She laughs lightly, raising a shoulder in an elegant shrug. “I do not know. I hope so! There are so many younger people in our circle, for whom we feel great affection. I hope that we could help them find equal happiness to ourselves.”

I smile at her, impressed. “I am sure you can, my lady. Your desire to share your happiness is a credit to you.”

“Oh, thank you,” she says and blushes again. “It is natural, I think.”

“To share happiness?”

“Yes,” she adds. “Lord Byron tells us that happiness is a twin. And, since I have two younger sisters who are twins, I could agree on both counts.”

I smile. “They must be an example of a loving relationship?”

She grins. “When they aren’t fighting, yes! They sometimes squabble, but I have never seen two souls who love each other more.”

“That must be inspiring. I find you and your betrothed inspiring.”

She smiles. “We would both be pleased to hear that, I think.”

I sigh. The sun has sunk a little lower since I have been here, and I do not wish to tire this beautiful lady.

“I should go, my lady,” I say hesitantly. “Though I would like to ask you if you have a message to share? Something you have learned?”

“Yes,” she says after a moment’s thinking, “I would say that, if you feel something, you should trust it. Trust your heart. No matter what other people suggest to you, or what you assume, trust your heart. It is never wrong.”

I feel moved by her beautiful words. “Thank you, my lady, for that wonderful message of love, and for this interview.”

She smiles. “Not at all,” she says gently. “I have enjoyed each moment.”

She stands, and I stand. We curtsey, and then she is drifting lightly through the door leaving the scent of roses behind her.

Here you go… is my character interview with Lady Elizabeth Dowling. This is a rare opportunity to speak with her, and be sure to read my book, “More For A Duke” to know more of her. Until then… take care.

Happy reading!

Jessie

Did you enjoy this article? I hope you do.

CLICK HERE to get your copy now – FREE for KU subscribers or buy for only $0.99!

Interview with Duke Shawn Worthington of Fairbanks

Character Interview – Duke Shawn Worthington, Duke of Fairbanks

by Jessie Bennett

 

He smiles ironically. “Actually, no! It was rather harder than I would have expected, and involved a rather scandalous move on my part – fighting a duel.”

“You did?” I am smiling and shocked.

“Yes,” he says, smoothing a hand down the folds of his trousers-leg. “I did. Against a former suitor of hers, I will admit.”

“Why?”

“The fellow was…too persistent for my liking.”

I grin. “You duelled him for her hand?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes. Though I must admit she almost left me for it. I would not have guessed what an upstanding woman she is. Upstanding, and beautiful…” his voice trails off and the look in his eyes softens, making it clear how much he loves her.

“You noticed her at once?” I ask, intrigued. I would love to know what a compelling, powerful man like him had noticed about a woman.

“Yes,” he agrees, sipping his drink lightly. “She was by far the most beautiful lady there, and she had something – that is, a wisdom – that made her stand out. She is very wise, is my Lizzie. Just one look in those blue eyes makes it obvious.”

“So,” I smile, “wisdom and eyes do it, do they?”

He smiles and drinks some more brandy. “Well,” he affirms, “there are other aspects of a woman that are enticing, I won’t lie!” He laughs warmly, and I feel that laughter brush across my skin like fingers, making my breath catch.

“Other aspects?”

He shoots me a boyish grin that makes my whole body heat. “You know whereof we speak, I am certain. The…outward aspects. A female body, curvaceous and soft, is so much more enticing than a male, would you not agree?”

Not right now I wouldn’t! I smile inwardly, and try to frame an arch reply. His wife Elizabeth is known for her intelligence, so he clearly likes that too.

“I would not wish to disagree with a duke on anything,” I observe, “though I must admit to being somewhat biased at present towards the men.”

The duke set his glass down and looked out of the window for a moment. I hope I have not pushed him too far – he is a faithful husband and would not approve of too much flirtation – so I change the subject. He turns to me with an easy smile when I clear my throat, so I know I have not upset him.

“You and your wife are known for your matchmaking, is that not so?”

He laughs. “Well,” he observes, “it seems we have a succession of wayward young relatives, each seeking each other without knowing it.”

“You believe strongly in a good partnership?”

“Yes,” the duke’s reply is immediate. “I have a strong belief that everyone is at their most happy, their most productive, when they have a partner whom they love and who loves them.”

I smile. “I have to agree with that. Your wife does too, I am sure?”

He chuckles. “I think so!” he smiles. “We have certainly both had our fair share of matchmaking for the more wayward of our neighbours!”

I smile. “So your life is full of scandalous characters?”

He shrugs. “Not scandalous, exactly – at least, not often. I have some scandalous neighbours, but luckily no-one has done any lasting damage.”

I nod. “You have favourite neighbours also?”

“I do,” he smiles. “Lady Anna and my cousin, Jonathan, are great favourites. They took some time to find each other, I can say that!” He chuckles, making the slight crow’s feet appear at the corners of his eyes. Somehow they add to the air of command that makes him so sexy.

“Any other favourite things?” I ask lightly, interested to find out as much as I can about this man.

“Yes, actually,” he says lightly, looking up at the ceiling. “Brandy, for one!” We both laugh. “Sunshine, riding…and I will admit a fondness for cranberry tarts, though I hope you shan’t make it too well-known.”

I laugh. “That all sounds wonderful,” I say, noticing I am gushing but not being able to help it. He is magnetic and charming.

“Thank you,” he says, smiling easily. “I am pleased to hear my taste approved of.”

I grin.

“I think I have bothered you with enough questions for one day, my lord,” I say gravely.

He puts his head on one side, regarding me. “Not at all,” he disagrees, “it was a pleasure.”

He stands, and we shake hands. He wishes me a good day and then he leaves the room, leaving behind him a scent of musk and pine-wood and leaving me feeling strangely bereft.

Here you go… is my character interview with Duke Shawn Worthington. This is a rare opportunity to speak with him, and be sure to read my book, “More For A Duke” to know more of him. Until then… take care.

Happy reading!

Jessie

Did you enjoy this article? I hope you do.

CLICK HERE to get your copy now – FREE for KU subscribers or buy for only $0.99!