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An Earl’s Love: Secrets of London by Alec, Joyce (1)

1

England 1815

Miss Sarah Weston hummed to herself, as she sat on the wooden bench in the corner of the garden. Spring had already made its way into the garden, and the sight of the new buds, as well as the snowdrops and bluebells, made Sarah’s heart sing. It was a sight she was quite familiar with, having seen it every year for well over a decade, but still, it brought her a great deal of delight.

“Is that you, Sarah?”

Glancing up from where she sat, Sarah saw Mr. Stanton approach her. He was impeccably dressed, as always, with his greying hair a little wispy around his head. His small spectacles were balanced on his nose, surrounded by an overly large, bushy beard that was becoming more and more streaked with white. Sarah knew his dark brown eyes would be as sharp as ever, having not grown dim with age. Getting to her feet, she kept her hands in her lap and waited, wondering what her guardian wanted.

“Ah, Sarah,” Mr. Stanton puffed, having apparently rushed across the gardens towards her. “Mrs. Stanton requires your help. Something about tonight’s table setting.”

“Oh. Of course.”

Sarah would not let her disappointment show, as she followed Mr. Stanton back into the house, knowing that she ought not to have let her hopes flare as they had done. There would be no come out for her, not this year—even though she was past due her time. Both Mr. and Mrs. Stanton had mentioned it on occasion, but it seemed nothing was to come of it. Not this year anyway. Perhaps next year.

But by then you will be older, said a small voice inside her. Perhaps getting a little too old.

Biting her lip, Sarah chased away her worrying thoughts with a will, knowing that she had to focus on whatever Mrs. Stanton wanted her help with. She had been well trained by Mrs. Stanton to know exactly what was expected of her on any given occasion. This evening, there was to be a dinner with a few guests from around the village, and Sarah was looking forward to it. It was always enjoyable to have a few extra people to talk with, since Mr. and Mrs. Stanton were, on the whole, a rather silent couple. It would make a change from her usual evenings sitting in front of the fire with a book, attempting to read by candlelight until she became too tired to do so.

“Here she is,” her guardian commented, as Sarah walked into the house to see Mrs. Stanton all in a flap as she paced up and down the small dining room, her dark brown hair—with only the occasional grey—flying out from underneath her cap. “Have no fear, Mrs. Stanton. Our Sarah will aid you.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Stanton exclaimed at once, catching Sarah’s hand as her light green eyes darted from one table setting to the other. “Oh, Sarah, you simply must help me. We have too many gentlemen.”

Closing her eyes for a moment, Sarah set her shoulders, drew in a long breath, and tried her best to focus on the so-called problem at hand.

“Too many gentlemen, Mrs. Stanton?” she repeated, taking in the older woman’s worried expression. “What do you mean?”

Mrs. Stanton continued to explain in great detail how she could not have the usual seating plan—with one lady seated next to one gentleman, going all the way around the table—due to the fact that Mrs. Churston, who was Mrs. Stanton’s particular friend, had sent a note to say she could not attend since she had been overcome with a particularly nasty cold. That meant that Mrs. Stanton now had an extra gentleman, so who was she meant to sit together? Two gentlemen sitting next to one another was not what was expected, and so Mrs. Stanton had managed to get herself into something of a state over the matter.

Sarah sighed inwardly and began to discuss each of the guests, reassuring Mrs. Stanton that they would be able to find a gentleman who would be more than willing to sit wherever they were placed with whomever they were placed. She then made the suggestion that the extra gentleman be seated near the head of the table by Mr. Stanton, which would make it a little less obvious, and within half an hour, the matter had been settled—and Mrs. Stanton was more than a little relieved.

Sarah, who now had no opportunity to return to the garden, was then sent to her room to prepare for this evening’s festivities, finding that Mrs. Stanton had ordered her a bath. A slight frown flickered across her brow, as she recalled the gentlemen guests who had been invited, wondering to herself whether or not Mrs. Stanton had any particular gentleman in mind for her. She hoped not, quite certain that she would not care for any of the men that were recommended to her by Mrs. Stanton.

It was not that Mrs. Stanton was not kind, for in the fifteen years Sarah had lived in this house, she had found both Mr. and Mrs. Stanton to be caring and considerate of her, especially since she was neither their daughter nor their niece. In fact, she was no relation at all, as far as she understood. Nothing had ever really been said about why she had been sent to this house at the tender age of four years old, and she had never been able to ask. There was a blanket of silence that fell on her guardians whenever she brought up the matter, which was more than a little frustrating. Over the years, she had asked numerous times about her heritage, her parents, and her family, but her guardians had not answered a single one of her questions. On one occasion, Mr. Stanton had lost his temper and told her not to ask another thing, that it was for her own good that she did not know who she truly was.

That had seemed such a strange sentiment at the time, and even now, Sarah did not know what to make of it. To be told that she was not to know a thing about who she really was or where she had come from was both frustrating and confusing, making her question almost daily why she was being treated in such a way. It was not as though she had done anything wrong, surely?

As she sank down into the bath, Sarah let out a long sigh as the hot water seeped into her skin. She was tired today, tired of having her hopes dashed so often. She was not going to have a come out, not even a small one. There would be no trips to London, no dancing, no gentlemen, nothing at all. What was to become of her? Was she to remain here, alone, for the rest of her days? What would happen once Mr. and Mrs. Stanton passed on? Whilst she knew that Mr. Stanton was a gentleman, she had no idea to whom the house would pass to, once he left this earth. It had not been discussed, like so many other things in her life. Closing her eyes, Sarah forced back the tears that came to her eyes, trying her best not to allow her thoughts to overwhelm her.

There was, of course, one easy answer as to why she did not know where she’d come from. Being only just four years of age when she’d first arrived, Sarah only had one or two very hazy memories as to where she had come from, with only the sound of laughter coming to her mind when she thought back. She hoped she had been happy, but the truth was that she believed herself to be nothing more than the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy and powerful man, a daughter who was not to be acknowledged nor thought of. She supposed that, if that were true, it would explain why she had never been allowed to question her parentage, and why there had never been any answers to the questions she had continued to ask regardless. It would also explain why she was not to have a come out and why, on top of that, she was never allowed to go to London even though it was only two days of travel by carriage.

She was unwanted. She was a secret to be kept hidden from the world. It was the only conclusion she’d come to, the only reason that she could think of as to why she had to live in such a quiet way. The village of Little Mybster was fairly remote and often very quiet, especially during the summertime when the Season began in London. Of course, there was enough company for a gentleman and his wife, even if they had to scour the nearby villages for guests for tonight’s dinner, but it was beginning not to be enough for Sarah. She wanted more. She wanted to understand. She wanted to know why.

Sitting up, the water splashing dangerously close to the edge of the copper tub, Sarah frowned heavily. If she wanted to change things in her life, then she would have to be the one to do it. She was of age, was she not? She could easily set out by herself and….

And do what?

Lowering herself back down into the cooling water, Sarah squeezed her eyes shut as she grimaced. There was nothing for her to do. She had nowhere to start, nowhere to even consider. There was not someone else she could turn to for answers, no trail for her to follow. She had no funds of her own—not that she knew of, at least—and Mr. Stanton had never said anything about any money left for her by whomever had sent her to their home.

The familiar feeling of being trapped settled over Sarah again. It was as if she were in a prison, built by those she did not know, who were determined, for whatever reason, to keep her here. Mr. and Mrs. Stanton were kind, yes, but they were not her family. Did one not need family?

“I need to know where I come from,” Sarah said aloud, her eyes burning with hot tears. “I must find out.”

There came no easy answer, nothing to tell her what to do next in order to find answers. Instead, there just came the expected heavy silence that wrapped itself around her heart and shrouded it in darkness.

The water was cold now. Sarah saw, rather than felt, her skin prickling and rang the bell for the maid to come and wash her hair. She would do what was expected of her, just as she had done every other day of her life, in the hope that—one day soon—something might change.

It was the only hope she had.

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