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Диксон Хелен

A Vow For An Heiress

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Chapter Three

Rosa watched her grandmother’s sharp eyes narrow with disapproval, for perching on a chair in front of her she presented a wild, untidy vision. Her laced leather boots were smeared with mud and her skirts were creased, and Rosa knew her grandmother was not fooled, that she was painfully aware that underneath she was wearing the outrageous breeches she insisted on putting on when she went riding. But above it all there was a passion in Rosa that was so potent it changed the atmosphere of the room.

‘Did you enjoy your ride, Rosa?’ Amelia enquired, pressing a perfumed handkerchief to her nose as the smell of horses wafted in her direction.

‘Yes, very much,’ Rosa answered, shoving her untidy mop of chestnut hair back from her face, putting off the moment to tell her of her visit to Ashurst Park. ‘I always enjoy riding and the horse the groom selected for me excelled itself.’

Her grandmother’s gaze became pointed. ‘Are you feeling well, Rosa? You are very flushed.’

‘Yes—I am quite well. If my face is red, then it must have something to do with the exhilaration of the ride. But I—I didn’t sleep very well,’ she said, looking down at her hands folded in her lap. ‘I—I am concerned about Clarissa and your insistence that she marry Lord Ashurst.’

‘You have no reason to be. It is my duty to stop her becoming involved with any man who cannot support her in a respectable lifestyle. Clarissa is no longer under age, I realise that, but it changes nothing. She must abide by your father’s wishes.’

‘Father would not want her to be unhappy. He would not force her into a marriage she did not want.’

‘Who is to say she will be unhappy? The Earl is an honourable man and Ashurst Park is a beautiful, noble house.’ She sat back in her chair with a determined expression on her aged face. ‘I am resolved that the decision I have made is the right one and will benefit Clarissa.’

With a worried, haunted look, as though carrying a burden too heavy to bear on her young shoulders, raising her head she looked at her grandmother, meeting her questioning eyes. She would have to tell her everything. It could not be avoided.

Rosa thought her grandmother was going to have a fit as she hesitantly told her what she had done. Her eyes never moved from her granddaughter’s face. She seemed unable to speak, to form any words, from between her rigidly clamped lips. When Rosa had finished speaking Amelia remained for a while in contemplation of her clasped hands. Her ashen face was set in lines of concern. Rosa respected her silence, stifling her painful anxiety.

Unable to contain herself any longer Amelia raised her eyelids and looked at her. Rosa shivered at the anger and disappointment in her eyes.

‘I am shocked, Rosa—deeply so. You had a plan, you say, one that would suit everyone concerned. It was a very stupid, thoughtless action to take. You had no right to take it upon yourself to do that. Lord Ashurst will never agree to such an outrageous idea.’

‘I know that now. He made it quite plain what he thought of it. Grandmother, I am so sorry.’

‘Being sorry is not enough. What you have done is outrageous. Among other things, to call on a gentleman uninvited and unaccompanied was disgraceful. Why on earth didn’t you take your maid?’

‘Dilys is still unwell. Besides, she does not ride. I told her to stay in bed until she’s feeling better.’

‘Then you should have taken a groom. The expensive education your father provided for you should have taught you about behaviour and comportment. You may not have been born into Lord Ashurst’s league, but you are still quality born with good breeding. And to offer yourself in marriage to a man who to all intents and purposes is about to become affianced to Clarissa is not to be borne.’

‘But he isn’t—at least he won’t be when he has told you that he has had a change of heart and will withdraw his suit.

‘But why would he do that? Did Clarissa displease him in some way?’

‘No, not at all. He—he will not marry Clarissa knowing she is in love with someone else—and he has no wish to marry me, either.’

Amelia became quiet. She looked deflated. ‘I cannot blame him. He must think you’re too forward by far. At least he is honest. But until I have seen him and spoken to him myself, nothing is changed. You should not have gone to see him, Rosa, you should not.’

Having expected to be severely chastised, Rosa squared her shoulders. ‘I am truly sorry, Grandmother. I should not have gone to Ashurst Park without talking to you first.’

‘You should not have gone there at all. What were you thinking? To go there in the first place without prior invitation was an act of rudeness. Now what is to be done? What must Lord Ashurst think?’

‘He—he is going to call on you shortly. But—when I explained about Clarissa—he understands.’

Amelia looked at her hard, knowing just how single-minded she could be, how stubborn. God help her if ever she experienced the sheer driving force of passionate love—and the man it was focused on. Amelia knew how determined she could be, that when she had something on her mind she would have her own way at any cost, and if that kind of love touched her, she would not deny herself having it. Amelia also knew about the young man she had formed a deep friendship with on Antigua, that he had drowned and Rosa had been grief-stricken by his death. But that had been an adolescent love, the kind most young people experienced at one time or another, but not enduring.

‘I did not get the impression that Lord Ashurst was the kind of man to comply to the whim of a young woman he has never met.’

‘I know that now—and understand his reasons—but I had to try. All this is a quandary for you, I know, but it needn’t be.’

Amelia looked at her granddaughter with a keen eye. ‘Oh? You have the answer, do you, Rosa? I know you are sympathetic to your sister’s plight, but how can I let her wed that young man in London? It’s quite out of the question.’

‘But they love each other. Forgive me, Grandmother, but I must speak out,’ Rosa said softly, unable to remain silent any longer on the subject. ‘I know you have Clarissa’s best interests at heart—but she should not be forced into a marriage she does not want. She is feeling quite wretched about it all, knowing how much Father wanted her to make a splendid marriage—and you, too. If you insist on this she will not disobey you, but I know the last thing you want is to see her unhappy. Let her have her way and marry Andrew.’

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