Her Secondhand Groom(10)

By: Rose Gordon

She glanced outside her window as she made her way to the wardrobe she shared with Henrietta. The sun was nearly up. She sighed. Once again she’d slept too long to be able to go for a walk before everyone would expect breakfast. She pulled out a tan day dress that reminded her more of a maid’s outfit than anything else. Pushing aside the thought, she dressed and left her room as quietly as she could so not to wake her sister who was still slumbering and would probably continue to do so until noon.

Passing her father who was reading a book by a five candle candelabra that held only two tallow candles, Juliet smiled thinly and walked on. She knew her parents, especially her father, had had high aspirations about her education and Season in London. Though he never said anything, she couldn’t help but feel she’d disappointed him by not making a match in London.

In the kitchen, she gathered together what she’d need to make breakfast, humming as she went. A half an hour later, she set out a bowl of coddled eggs and ten muffins, then set off to find everyone and announce breakfast.

Just as she stepped into their little parlor, Father leapt up out of his chair and nearly knocked her over as he pushed past her on his way out of the room. Furrowing her brows, she looked at her mother. “I didn’t realize he was so hungry, perhaps I should go make more.”

“It’s not that,” Mother said, twisting her fingers in her skirt. Her face looked a hint paler than normal. Not that that was anything unusual for a woman in this stage of her pregnancy. Mother blinked her eyes rapidly, almost as if she were fighting an onslaught of tears. “Lord Drakely’s carriage just arrived.”

Juliet’s frown deepened. Lord Drakely may not be the nicest man she’d ever encountered, but there was no need for her father to run from him like the man was an executioner.

“He’s come to collect his money,” Mother said inanely as her dainty fingers absentmindedly played with the worn lace hem of her right cuff. She sighed. “Money we don’t have.”

Juliet tried to swallow as her body tensed and the blood drained from her face. Quietly, she left the room. Perhaps she should have tried harder to catch a husband. Not that any of the gentlemen she’d met had shown her much attention. But perhaps she should have encouraged the two who had, even if they already had one foot in the grave with the other racing to join the first.

Several sharp raps sounded on the front door, making Juliet freeze in place and debate whether to open the door for Lord Drakely or go hide in the kitchen. She glanced at her mother. She appeared to be in no condition to make a composed appearance, and Father was in the room he shared with Mother opening and shutting every drawer and cabinet they owned, presumably looking for some amount of money to appease Lord Drakely until they could make regular payments.

“Open the door, Juliet,” Father called from his room where he was noisily rummaging through the contents of his bureau.

Nervously, Juliet nodded, knowing full-well he couldn’t see her. She inhaled deeply and starched her spine. She walked to the door and slowly pulled it open, cautiously meeting Lord Drakely’s sharp brown eyes. “My lord.”

“Miss Hughes,” he greeted with a low bow that made her flush. She’d forgotten to curtsy. Why was he bowing anyway? They weren’t equals. Far from it.

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she met his eyes again. “Did one of the girls forget something?”

“No, no,” he said with a shake of his head. “I was just hoping to talk to your father. Is he close by?”

Juliet bit her lip. Father was close by all right. “Come in.”

Lord Drakely stepped across the threshold and into the small space by the door. “Where shall I wait while you locate him?”

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