Author`s Note: This is the companion novel to my other story, The Debutante. You do not need to read Te Debutante in order to understand this story. In fact, I encourage you to read this story first, because it better reflects my current writing ability. For those who have read The Debutante, you might notice many differences in plot. For example, Olive is renamed Olivia, and old events are changed and new ones added. The Debutante will later be edited to reflect these changes, and I apologize for the trouble.
Other than that, I hope you enjoy this story. It would make me very happy if you would leave commits about what you liked and what needs to be improved.
London, England 1802
Olivia Pennant`s eyes grew as round as saucers as her father, Viscount Herford, told her about the amusements one could find in London during the season.
"Dance at a ball, papa? But why? That doesn`t sound so fun," Olivia said as she wrinkled her nose.
Recently, her mother hired a dance master—a Frenchman who fled Paris when nobles were beginning to be sent to the guillotine—hoping that her two children would be accomplished well before they neared any ballrooms. To her chagrin, both Olivia and her older brother, Henry, disappeared whenever the instructor came and reappeared as soon as he left.
Viscount Herford chuckled. "Dancing can be quite invigorating, my dear."
Olivia scrunched up her blond eyebrows. "Invigrrrrr…"
"Dancing is fun," he quickly rephrased. He glanced into the bedchamber where his wife was dressing and leaned in close. "Personally, I find it a bit dull, but sometimes the conversation is interesting. Especially tonight since the Duke and Duchess of Sutherfield are hosting the ball. Everyone who`s anyone in London will be attending."
"The duke and duchess…," Olivia murmured as she scrunched up her eyebrows. Her mother made her read at least one page of Debrett`s Peerage every morning, but it was difficult for her to make use of it since she could barely understand any of the words in there.
"The highest rank. Other than the royal family, you can`t get any higher that, my dear."
"Oh." Her features softened and she grinned. "So does that mean the duke and duchess are higher than you, papa?"
He returned her grin. "Of course, Olivia. I`m only a viscount, after all."
Her smile faltered for a second and she looked away, biting her lower lip. The thought of her father being subordinate to another was hard to—no, downright impossible to believe.
As if sensing his daughter`s thoughts, Viscount Herford said, "Well, Olivia, I can`t change who I am, and I wouldn`t even dream to do so. Besides, there will always be people who rank higher than you. It`s something you`d have to get used to when you make your come out."
Olivia didn`t understand a word her father said about come outs and whatnot, and she still didn`t feel any better about the idea of her father having to show respect to someone. Everyone showed her father respect—her, Henry, mother, the servants. Her father was always polite, but his presence always conquered the room.
Viscount Herford looked at his daughter uneasily. He regretted disappointing her, even though it was a fact that she`d have to realize in the future. He tried to blame his wife, who was always mucking things up, but he still felt pretty wretched.
Suddenly, Olivia`s face brightened, and she looked back at him with those large blue eyes of hers. She was a fine girl with golden girls that framed a round face offset by a stubborn jut of the chin, and she was destined to be a beauty just like her mother. He was already dreading the day when he would have to hand her over to some man for marriage.
"When mama married you, she became a viscountess. If I marry a duke, then I will become a duchess. Then I won`t have to worry about showing respect to anyone. I could do whatever I want, and you and mama can`t force me to do anything wretched like dance."
His first thought was that Olivia had said the most amusing thing that had ever come out of her tiny, pink mouth. The second was his uneasiness over what she had just said. It wouldn`t do well for her to grow up with that idea planted in her head.
And the third was that he was going to have to put an end to those damned, expensive dance lessons. There might have not been a connection with his daughter`s sudden desire to marry and the dance master, but he was French. And he couldn`t just very well blame his dear wife, who was always talking about marrying Olivia off to some grand lord.
In the end, he decided that she`d probably forget everything by morning. Children, after all, have the memories of senile, old men.
"Surely you don`t want to marry a duke, Olivia? Why, there are only"—he racked his brains—"I mean, there is only one eligible duke in England right now."
"Good," Olivia said, looking determined. "You`ll have to introduce me, of course, papa. Mama said that it is inappropriate for a young lady to talk to a gentleman without a proper introduction."
"Well…" His voice trailed off. He failed to mention that the duke was ancient and that he would rather bury himself than have a son-in-law two decades older than he.
His wife chose that moment to walk right in. She was wearing one of those blasted empire-waisted gowns. Her bodice barely covered the tops of her breasts and revealed a wide expanse of creamy, white skin.
She is breathtakingly beautiful, he thought grimly, which wouldn`t bode well for him. He`s have to spend the entire ball chasing the rakes away with his dueling pistols.
"You must do something about that cravat, Robert." She frowned. "You hardly look dressed for a ball, and we`re already running late. You know how the duchess feels about punctuality…And what is Olivia doing awake? I thought I told her nurse to put her to sleep."
Viscount Herford groaned. "We won`t be late. Besides, Olivia is a big girl. She can handle staying up an hour later than usual, Gladys."
Gladys pursed her lips into a thin line. "Olive has lessons tomorrow, and I won`t allow her to skip any of them." She reached for her daughter. "Come, Olivia, let`s go find Maggie and go to bed."
Olivia pouted and buried her face in her father`s jacket. "No! You can`t tell me what to do. I`m a duchess, and I therefore rank higher than you."
Her mother jerked her hand back in surprise. "A duchess?"
Hugging her daughter close, Viscount Herford looked apologetic as he said, "Don't mind her, Gladys. We were talking about dukes, and she got the idea that she wants to become a duchess. I`m sure she`ll forget everything by morning." The viscount chuckled nervously as his wife glared at him.
Gladys spun around, her dark blue gown flapping around her legs. "Beth!"
"Yes, my lady?" A maid exited the lady`s chambers.
"Take Olivia to her nurse."
"Of course." The maid strode over to Viscount Herford and reached for Olivia. "Let`s go to bed, Miss Pennant. I`m sure you have long day ahead of you tomorrow."
"No!" Olivia wrapped her arms around her father`s neck as Beth tried to pull her off him.
"Please, Olivia. Mother and I have to go now." He coughed. His face was turning purple. If his daughter squeezed any harder, his son was going to be the viscount by morning.
"Oh bother." Gladys tickled Olivia`s sides.
Olivia let out a piercing shriek that made Viscount Herford`s ears rattle. His daughter`s grip loosened, allowing his wife`s maid to pull her away and take her out of the room. Olivia watched him, her blue eyes watering and her lower lip jutting out. He felt a wave of sympathy for the girl. It pained him every time to see her cry.
His daughter`s cries faded as the maid moved down the hall until he could hear them no more.
Gladys turned on him. "What were you telling her?" she demanded. "Olivia is never that rude."
He swallowed. "It`s nothing, dear—really. I was just…just"—he paused for a moment to seek the right word—"familiarizing her with the peer system, and she got it in her head that she wanted to be a duchess."
"Familiarizing her with the peer system," his wife repeated coldly. Viscount Herford nodded. Her gaze softened and he sighed. "I suppose she`ll forget everything in the morning, or at the very least, grow out of that idea."
"Certainly, she will, Gladys," he said, grinning. "Besides, there are only a handful of dukes in England."
"Yes, of course." Gladys laughed. "I do hope that is a sign that she`ll be more willing to marry than myself. Certainly, she takes after you in that regard."
Viscount Herford happily thought back to the days when he was courting Gladys. She was a stubborn girl who rejected every suitor who dared to approach. It was certainly a challenge for him to make her his wife, but he loved every moment of those days.
"Perhaps we should get going?" He held out his arm. "We wouldn`t want to run late."
Gladys pinched him. He yelped and jerked his arm back. "We can`t possibly go with your state of appearance. Find your valet and fix that cravat before or I`ll leave without you," she said as she prodded his chest with her finger.
"Yes, dear." He lowered his head and walked out. He could feel his wife`s eyes boring a hole in his back.
The corner of his lips turned up. Even years later, he didn`t regret marrying Gladys. In fact, he considered himself the happiest man in England.
Fifteen years later…
The scent of rum filled Olivia`s nostrils. She grimaced and lifted her head from the basin.
"You can`t possibly let her wash my hair out with rum, mama," she whined. "I`ll end up smelling like a tavern drunkard for my first ball."
Olivia`s mother glanced at the servant standing next to the door and nodded. The servant joined her lady`s maid, and the two of them held Olivia in place as her mother poured a pitcher of rum over her head.
The drink seeped into Olivia`s closed eyelids, making her eyes feel as if they were on fire. She cried out and some of the rum slipped into her mouth, burning a trail down her throat.
"If you had went outside with your bonnet and parasol we wouldn`t be doing this," her mother said through her teeth. "How can you possibly catch a husband with that complexion?" She tipped Olivia`s chin up with a finger and clicked her tongue. "Your freckles aren`t even faded—and Miss Anna swore by this mixture."
Olivia clenched her jaw and pulled away.
"One of my mother`s acquaintances—Lady Shaffer, I believe—uses this whitening cream that removes all matter of imperfections, Lady Herford," Olivia`s friend, Miss Emma Stanton piped up. "I could have mother ask her for the brand name the next time she calls."
Her other friend, Lady Marianne Wesley, looked up from her fashion plates and raised an eyebrow. "I`ve heard of that cream. Lady Shaffer is as white as a ghost, but her skin does have the appearance of dripping candle wax. I should also add that her face is frozen in place, and she can no longer speak."
"Thank you, Miss Stanton, but I`m afraid that I`d rather look into other methods of improving Olivia`s complexion," Lady Herford said. She pointed at one of the wooden bowls on the dresser and Olivia`s lady`s maid fetched it. "Just one more rinse, Olivia."
Olivia shook her head, drops of rum flying in the air and landing on the thick, cream carpet. "No more rum, mother, please."
Lady Herford rolled her eyes. "It`s only rose water, and I assure you that it won`t sting a bit."
Sighing, Olivia held her head over the basin and closed her eyes as the maid turned the bowl over. She gasped as icy droplets ran down her neck. "It`s cold. If you continue to do this, then I`ll catch the ague by morning.."
Her mother threw a linen towel over her head and pointed at the fireplace. "Then warm up by the fire if you`re complaining about the cold so much."
Olivia wrapped the towel around her shoulders and stood up. The nightgown she wore, an old thing of her mother`s they found that morning, brushed the floor as she made her way across the room. The lingering scent of the rosewater ticked her nostrils, and she sneezed once. She had never been fond of flowers, especially roses, as they always made her sneeze something horrible.
Emma smiled and joined her. "I have wonderful news if it will cheer you up."
Olivia quickly glanced at her mother before turning back to her friend. "I doubt anything will cheer me up today. This morning I discovered that mother ordered several dozen bouquets of pink roses—and you know how much I dislike flowers," Olivia whispered. The thought of having to breathe in pollen and the sticky, sweet scent of roses tickled her nose.
Emma grasped her hand and glanced at her sympathetically. "That sounds dreadful," she whispered back. Her voice rose with her next words. "But I`m sure that my news will put you in good spirits for the rest of the year."
Marianne put down her fashion plates and glanced at the two. "What could possibly be exciting enough to put Olivia in high spirits? She`s always in a sour mood."
"I am not always in a sour mood," Olivia retorted, but she couldn`t help but agree with her friend. Ever since the season started, she felt as if a heavy cloud was hovering over her head.
"Oh, don`t fight, and do let me speak!" Emma frowned, but her unhappy look soon faded. She began to bounce in her seat and grin.
"Well, do go on." Marianne sighed and leaned back.
"Oh, you won`t believe it." Emma put her hand over her chest. "According to my mother, who was just about to call upon her friend during that time, the dowager Duchess of Sutherfield has come out of mourning and moved back into her townhouse."
"Mourning?" Olivia furrowed her eyebrows. "But it`s hardly been eight months—nine at the most."
Last year, her husband, the Duke of Sutherfield passed away, leaving behind a wife and two children. As a widow, her grace was expected to undergo a period of mourning. Although the minimum was a year, ladies of her age and station were expected to wait a little longer before venturing out in society.
"I think it`s despicable for a lady—and a duchess at that—to cut short her mourning period," Marianne said. "What sort of good news is that, Emma? It sounds more like a tragedy."
Emma exhaled loudly, puffing out her cheeks. "That is not my point. I`m trying to say that the late duke`s son has inherited the title and all of the estates—and the housekeeper met one of their servants at the market, who said that his grace is currently in town to search for a wife." She squealed and squeezed Olivia`s hand. "Isn`t that wonderful, Olivia? Now you`ll be able to marry your duke.
Olivia felt as if her heart and lungs were being squeezed. She stared at Emma, her mouth hanging open. It couldn`t be true. The duke`s unwillingness to marry had been a topic in ballrooms for years to the disappointment of the matchmaking mamas and the debutantes. For the first time since she was little, she dared to hope that she would become a duchess.
"I still think that her grace should be ashamed for coming out of mourning so early. She could have had the decency to wait four more months," Marianne said. "And the current duke is no better."
"I can hardly believe it," Olivia finally said, looking at her clenched hands. "And I was just about to give up." She looked up and smiled at Emma.
It had always been a childhood fantasy of hers to become a duchess. No other title would work for her. The viscounts, earls, and other men did not have the grace, the confidence that a well-bred duke gave out. As she grew older, she began to doubt and wonder if she was aiming too high.
But maybe this time it would be okay for her to hope—just a little.
Marianne threw her hands in the air. "I give up on the both of you. You are females, you`re supposed to want to marry for love."
"Oh, I doubt Olivia will have trouble falling in love with him." Emma giggled, and her green eyes sparkled. "They say that he`s quite handsome, and that"—She leaned in close to Marianne—"he is worth at least 80, 000 a year."
"You mustn`t gossip girls. Besides, it`s bad taste to be speaking of money matters." Lady Herford walked over and rapped Olivia on the shoulder with her fan.
"Mama! Emma was doing most of the gossiping. I was merely listening."
"I still disapprove… But I can`t help but also admit that the duke is a very rich man." Her mother flipped open her fan and covered her smile.
"He is indeed." Olivia sighed. "I suppose we can`t send him an invitation since he`ll likely be occupied tonight. I would like it if father introduced me to him before he meets other eligible young ladies." She frowned and grabbed her mother`s sleeve. "Oh, mama, what if he falls in love before I can be introduced to him?"
"I doubt that a man could fall in love in such a short time. Perhaps he could feel attracted to the prettiest girl he first sees, but—" Marianne`s voice was cut off by a sharp kick to the shin administered by Emma.
"Lady Marianne is right, Olivia." Her mother clicked her tongue. "You`ll have a chance to meet the duke when you go to Almack`s this Wednesday."
"But father hates Almack`s! He wouldn`t come to make an introduction even if I begged him on my hands and knees."
"You underestimate our family`s connections, Olivia. I`m sure one of our friends can introduce us." Her mother fingered a lock of her hair and let it fall from her fingers. "Now come along. The ball is in a few hours, and I want to do something about this hair."
Olivia groaned. "You washed my hair in whiskey, mama. What more could you do to it?" But she stood up.
"It was rum, and we have to make sure that you look decent for your first ball. First appearances are always the most important, and you won`t have any young gentlemen calling if you don`t make sure that you always look your best. Now come along." Her mother gripped her shoulders and led her away. Before leaving the sitting room, she turned to Marianne and Emma. "Will you two girls be alright? Shall I have tea sent up?"
Marianne shook her head. Emma smiled and answered, "No, my lady, but thank you for the offer. I think that I should be heading back to my home so that I can prepare for the ball."
"Very well, but don't hesitate to send for tea if you decide to stay a little longer." Her mother turned around and pushed her out of the room. "We don`t have much time. If we want to have callers tomorrow, then we will have to work fast."
Olivia sighed. What was the point of trying to impress other men when she only had eyes for the Duke of Sutherfield, whom she had never set her gaze upon?