-Chapter One-

The Lady in the Bed

The room was a spacious one; the centrepiece of it was a large four-poster bed, whose pink frilly hangings hid the young aristocrat sleeping within. Beside the bed stood a dresser, the main feature of which was a large ornamental mirror. On the dresser were the everyday objects of a young, upper class woman: a silver-backed hairbrush, a bottle of scent and an ornamental hair clip. Along with these ordinary objects was the latest object to be placed on the dresser, a ring box continuing a silver diamond engagement ring.

The walls were richly decorated with pink wallpaper. On one of the walls stood a portrait of a family, a portly man who looked much older then his thirty odd years, a beautiful woman in her twenties and two children, a young girl of three who stood in front of her parents, and a baby boy of one who was in his mother's arm. The portrait hung there to remind the occupant of the room of happier times, before the woman in it had lost all her beauty, and the children had grown up to fear and hate their father respectively.

The present version of the girl from the portrait, Lady Eliza Spencer, now nineteen years old, lay sleeping in the four-poster bed. She was awoken by a knock on the door. She sat up in her bed, smoothed down her nightdress and tidied her hair - she always had to look presentable. She pulled open the hangings and said "Enter", in her most regal voice. Through the door came a young maid, Rebecca Taylor. The sight of that maid reminded her of a dangerous rumour she had heard whispered between the servants last night, but that could wait till she had a chance to talk to William.

The maid was carrying a large box, beautifully decorated with a large pink ribbon.

"A present from Lord Bedford, miss," Rebecca, informed her, placing the large box on her bed. Eliza thanked her; this time using her normal voice, if the rumours were true then there was no need to use her exceedingly posh voice around Rebecca. If what she had heard were true, then Rebecca would know it was all an act, he would have told her. And knowing him, she knew it would be true. It was just like him to do something as reckless and ridiculous as that.

The maid turned to leave with a small smile for her young mistress, and as she did so Eliza began to realise exactly what was going through her brother's mind. Rebecca was a vision. She had an angel's face that contained vivid green eyes and was framed with long wavy blonde hair; it was currently wearing a radiant smile. The effect however was diminished by the maid's uniform she was wearing. Why can't William realise that it's that uniform that matters, not the pretty face, Eliza thought.

Once Rebecca had left, Eliza turned her attention to the box on her bed. She untied the ribbon and looked inside. She gasped when she saw what was inside. She lifted it out contents and looked at it. It was the most gorgeous wedding dress she had ever seen. White silk and pearls. And yet she felt irritated, how presumptuous of him to pick her wedding dress for her. Surely she should get to choose her own wedding dress? But I would have picked one like this one, she thought, maybe it just shows how well he knows me. She found herself laughing out loud at the thought, a sarcastic tinkle of a laugh, with sadness echoing in every sound. Suddenly she realised what she sounded like and stopped – that sound had scared her. She also had to face the fact that she knew what she had just thought wasn't true. You're only fooling yourself, she thought.

Lord Albert didn't love her. Eliza knew that. Theirs would be a miserable marriage, miserable for her anyway. Eliza knew that also. What she didn't know is why she had agreed to the marriage in the first place. It had all been her father's idea. And Eliza would never had dared stood up to her father. Her father, an Earl, wanted her to marry well, as all members of the aristocracy wanted for their children, and as the son of a Duke, Lord Albert Bedford, fit that ideal. Lord Albert was also, Eliza soon learnt, a sadistic and bitter man, twisted by resentment of his older brother, the heir to the dukedom. Eliza often wondered if her father knew what kind of man he was ordering his daughter to spend her life with, whether he was ignorant about his future son-in-law sadism or, the more likely option, he knew and he considered the man's position more important then his personality or the way he would treat his daughter.

They had met at his father's party. Eliza, who wasn't allowed to leave her own home very often, or as her brother called it 'the gilded cage', had been very surprised when she received an invite, especially since it came with a note from her father saying she should go. For the young home tied girl, it was an offer to tempting to refuse. Afterwards she told her self she should have known something was going on. Her father had a plan.

Albert had walked up to her and introduced himself, "Lord Albert Bedford, Miss…"

"Spencer. Lady Eliza Spencer."

"Well, Lady Eliza may I ask you to join me in this dance."

Eliza had dutifully got up and danced with him, simply out of politeness. After all, you do not say no to the son of a Duke, especially at the Duke's own party, even if he was twice your age, with a face completely taken up by a large nose and going prematurely bald. She was exceptionally relieved when the dance finished and she could find an excuse to get away from him. As she was walking towards her seat she saw her father's beady eyes watching her.

"I'd be careful if I was you, sister. Looks like our delightful father is scheming up something – and your part of it," her brother, Lord William, said ominously as he began to walk beside her.

"Thank you for the warning, William," she said wearily. William always thought their father was up to something and never believed it was anything good. Much as Eliza feared their father, unlike her brother, she still believed that he had some decentness within him somewhere. As they noticed their father heading towards them, William quickly headed in the opposite direction, mumbling something about not wanting to talk to him. Afterwards Eliza wished she had followed him, because the conversation that followed made her begin to seriously doubt her ideal that there was some decentness left within the empty shell that was the Earl.

"I saw you dancing with Lord Albert," stated her father, as way of a greeting.

"Hello, Father," Eliza said falsely cheery, and purposefully ignoring the fact that no such greeting had come from the Earl. He gave her a hard look and repeated his statement.

"Yes, what of it?" she asked tiredly. "He asked and out of politeness I said yes. I'm assuming you would not have preferred me to say no?" she replied in the stilted clipped manner that she always ended up using when conversing with her father.

"Out of politeness?" he repeated back at her, so she confirmed it. "So, there is nothing happening there?" he asked of her. "No courting?" he added with emphasis.

"Of course not," she replied irritatingly, offended by the very idea. "His twice my age and to be honest, from what I've heard, he only acts the gentleman," she added recklessly, the temper she so struggled to keep in check had flared up. The Earl chose to ignore it anyway.

"Well, that is a shame. You see, with his position, well, his father's position; he would be an excellent candidate for marriage. You should … consider it," he suggested. However Eliza knew her father well enough to know that behind the honey-coated suggestion was an order, and her only reaction to such an order was to look at her father in disbelief. The very idea horrified her to the core. But it also sparked another flash of temper within her; how dare he make an order like that.

"I shall do not such thing, Father. It is an horrendous idea and not at all what one wants for ones self," she replied temperamentally. Almost as soon as she had said it she was flooded with fear, as she waited for her father's response.

"My darling daughter," he said with a slight smile, a sigh and a pause. Eliza felt herself relax, for a split second she thought that everything would be alright, her father was not the man so sourly hated by her brother, but the man with the decentness she had always believed was still in there. But then he added with malice, "what you wantis none of my concern and should not be yours either." And with that he stormed off, leaving her stood shell-shocked, holding back tears she knew it would not be appropriate to let show. She stood there watching the dancers in shock and wondering how one dance of politeness could possibly have such devastating consequences. At the moment and forever afterwards, Eliza wished she had just turned down the offer, no matter how rude or inappropriate it would have been.

Within in the next three months, the Earl and the Duke had done everything in their power, which unfortunately was a lot, to bring the couple together. Eliza wondered what was in the deal for the Duke and his son. One day, she rather stupidly asked her father this.

"I do not know and who cares," he snapped back, this being how he automatically responded to any question he found tedious. He then more kindly added, "Albert gets a beautiful girl on his arm does he not." William, who happened to be in the room, heard that and couldn't help but reply.

"You mean she gets to be treated like a trophy, something for him to show off. Lovely sentiment there father."

"You should be proud to have a sister worth showing off," the Earl retorted. William made some smart reply and Eliza tried to not listen as yet again her brother and father had another blazing row. Yet again it was over nothing, nothing worth them rowing about anyway. Surely if anyone was to row with their father about him referring to her as a trophy, it should be her. But as always she kept her mouth shut, because despite having much to say on the subject, it wasn't what was expected of her to say it. When she had told her brother of Albert's proposal he had said pretty much the same as he had then, calling her a 'trophy wife'. Eliza had never heard this phrase before and would have found it amusing, if it wasn't such a dire situation she had been discussing.

As she found herself forced to spend more and more time with Lord Albert, Eliza found that the rumours were true. While he acted the gentleman most of the time, she sometimes saw flashes of his true being when he lost his temper, which was quite often: a waiter at a posh restaurant who had had a drink thrown over his head simply for bringing the wrong type of champagne, a tramp whose near empty cup of money had been sent flying out of his hand simply because he'd asked for a penny, and a insult hurled at her simply because she had suggested they eat somewhere other then where he had suggested.

However, unfortunately for her, her father had succeeded in making the match, hence the engagement ring on the dresser, the wedding dress from within the box and the young woman in the bed, filled with a growing sense of impending doom.

So what did you think? I'd love to hear your opinions and reviews are greatly appreciated.