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       Historical Romance: Regency Romance: A Prize to Be Won (Sweet Regency Historical Romance Short Stories), p.5

           Rose Haven
 
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  Chapter Five

  Henry got up with the first rays of the sun and decided to explore the estate a little before breakfast. He was pleasantly surprised to see the people of Leicester up and about at this early hour. Everyone seemed to be busy with their daily chores. He saw a group of elderly women walking to the Church for morning prayers. One of them suddenly lost her footing and fell. Henry immediately got off his horse to help.

  “Are you alright?”

  “Yes…yes, I am alright. Thank you, son,” she says. “Who are you? I’ve never seen you here before.”

  “I am Henry Northwall, the Duke of Southampton.”

  “Oh…pardon me, My Lord…. I didn’t realize….”

  “Please, call me Henry,” he says with a smile. “I am visiting Leicester on some personal business.”

  “Oh, so you must be staying at the mansion with Lord Peter and Lady Rebecca, God bless them.”

  “Yes, I am.”

  “Please give my regards to Lady Rebecca. Tell her Mistress Jones was saying that Sunshine has just birthed the most beautiful foal.”

  “Sunshine?”

  “That’s my mare’s name. You know, Lady Rebecca rescued the poor soul when she was just a baby. She had somehow fallen into a deep pit and I still remember how she toiled with some of the local men to help her climb out. She is a kind hearted lady, I tell you. It’s a pity that she’s not found a husband worthy of her. Each one of us in Leicester wishes the best for her. I am sure she’ll find the man of her dreams very soon,” the old lady said with a smile.

  Henry was amazed at the amount of love and respect the woman seemed to have for Rebecca. After bidding her adieu, he continued on. Wherever he went, people were full of praises for Lady Rebecca. His heart filled with genuine respect for Rebecca. She would make a perfect Duchess. It made him even more determined to execute his plan. If only he could predict Rebecca’s reaction to his offer!

  **********************************************************

  Rebecca and Peter were waiting for Henry at the breakfast table. They’d been informed that he’d just come back from a short tour of the estate. That is not a good sign. While Peter seemed to have resigned himself to his fate, she was still hoping for some miracle to save them.

  “Good morning, Lord Thompson, My Lady,” Henry gave a small bow after entering the room, a big smile on his face.

  “Good morning to you, too, Lord Northwall,” Peter said half-heartedly. Rebecca couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Her anger rose once again at Lord Northwall’s merry tone. Why did he have to sound so cheerful? He should at least have the decency to not be happy about snatching their estate in front of them!

  When Henry looked at Rebecca, he was rewarded with an angry glare. He chuckled inwardly at her defiant attitude. She knew that she was about to lose her everything but she had apparently not given up yet. That made her like her even more. The way her cheeks flushed when she got angry made her look even more beautiful. He was dying to see her response to his offer.

  “I see that you’re already making yourself at home in Leicester. I just heard that you’ve had a tour of the estate and even interacted with the locals,” Lady Rebecca’s voice dripped with honey even as her eyes shot daggers at him.

  “Well, yes. I thought it would be nice to get to know this place a little better. After all, I’ll be the owner of the estate in a few days.” He knew that his statement would make her angrier but he couldn’t help himself! He got a twisted sort of pleasure in making her lose her composure. His mind wandered to the future and when he would make her lose her calm in bed. He was sure that she’d be extremely responsive to his touch! Good Heavens, the mere thought of touching her aroused him so much that he could feel his trousers stretch!

  “Of course! I am sure the people here will love you when they learn how you’ve worked so hard to win the estate.” Again a sarcastic remark! This woman is driving him crazy!

  “And I suppose they’ll love Lord Peter even more when they learn how he lost his estate,” Henry replied, face twisting into a smirk. Peter’s face fell a little at his remark and he heard Rebecca gasp. For a minute, no one moved, no one said anything. There was complete silence in the room.

  “Lord Northwall, we hoped to keep things quiet for a day or two. We are thinking of an appropriate way to disclose this information to our people and I hope you will co-operate with us in the meantime,” Peter said.

  “Of course, Lord Thompson, why not! But I have a plan that I feel would suit all of us,” Henry replied.

  Peter and Rebecca looked at him a little skeptically. “And what exactly would that be?” asks Rebecca, unable to control her curiosity.

  “We are each currently in a do-or-die situation. If we decide to work together for our mutual benefit, I think all our problems could be solved.”

  Rebecca and Peter looked at one another in confusion. “Can you please clarify? I don’t understand how you are in a do-or-die situation! From what I can tell, you are rather in a win-win situation!” Rebecca exclaimed.

  “Well, as they say, grass is always greener on the other side. I may seem to be in a win-win situation, but in reality, I am facing a huge problem of my own.”

  “Please don’t talk in riddles, Lord Northwall. Just tell us your plan!” Peter seemed interested in what Henry had to say now. Anything to save him from humiliation and disgrace!

  “My mother, Her Grace the Duchess of Southampton, wants to see me married in the next six months. She wants me to produce an heir as a proof of my responsibility toward the estate,” Henry cringed a little as he said these words.

  “I don’t think any of this has anything to do with our problem.”

  “Patience, my lady, is a great virtue,” Henry said with a devilish smile. Rebecca’s face reddened slightly and she was extremely grateful when he finally looked at Peter and continued, “As I was saying, my mother has given an ultimatum of sorts by to get married in six months’ time or be prepared to forfeit my inheritance to my first cousin Lord Philip Northwall.”

  “How can we help you with this, Lord Northwall?” Peter asked, still confused.

  “Well, as you know now, I am now looking for a suitable bride and although there is no dearth of ladies who’d be more than happy to become the Duchess of Southampton, I have my eyes set on one lady in particular,” says Henry and looks at Rebecca.

  Rebecca was stunned. Suddenly, everything around her seemed to move in slow motion. She was trying to wrap her head around Henry’s words. He wanted to marry her? Why on earth would he want anything to do with her after the way she’d behaved? Since he’d arrived, she’d been nothing but rude to him! Did he want to take revenge for her spiteful behavior? Did he want to teach her a lesson for being so hateful? Good Lord!

  “I want to marry Lady Rebecca if I have your permission. It would be a marriage of convenience. I will make my mother happy by marrying her and you will get your estate back,” Rebecca heard Henry say to Peter. How simple he made it sound!

  “Lord Northwall!” thunders Peter. “Do you have no shame at all? You are asking me to subject my sister to a lifetime of pain and grief in return for my estate? I may come across as a reckless person, but I am not so heartless. I love my sister more than anything in the world!”

  “Please consider the options before coming to a conclusion, Lord Thompson,” Henry said calmly. “If you refuse my offer, you will subject your sister to a life of poverty and misery. On the other hand, if she marries me, she’ll be the Duchess of Southampton. I agree that it may be a loveless marriage, but she’ll enjoy the life of a Duchess! What more can a woman ask for?”

  “Love, respect and companionship,” Rebecca said quietly, blinking rapidly to disperse the tears that threatened to flow from her eyes. “But you will not understand that, my lord. Peter, I think what Lord Northwall is saying makes sense. We don’t have many options.”

  “But Rebecca…”

  “No ifs and
s or buts Peter. I am ready to marry Lord Northwall. Please decide on a suitable date and make arrangements for the wedding.”

  THE END

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