As Charlotte sat in the seat across from the lawyer her hands trembled. All she could remember were the cold hands of her father after his eyes closed for the final time. She never thought she would lose her entire family before she turned twenty, but fate decided otherwise. She was the only one left and there was nothing to show for it.
Charlotte quietly watched the old man in front of her rummage through paperwork until he ultimately put his glasses on. He seemed too old to be a man of profession anymore, but she did not have the right to say anything. As far as she knew the only way to make her way through life now was to become an indentured servant. Just the thought of that made her shoulders droop.
The man grumbled for a split second before he made a low confirmation that he found what he wanted. Charlotte really had no idea why she was here. Her parents were penniless and they had always lived in the slums. Her appearance proved it all. Her dark curls were half undone and were so frizzy it looked like she had not put a comb to them in days. Her light skin had patches of dirt from head to toe and her clothes were torn. However, Charlotte did not care. She hadn't cared for months.
Finally the man cleared his throat before he spoke, "Your father -." The lawyer drifted off as if he had forgotten what he was doing there in the first place. It was a few minutes before she too cleared her throat, which brought him out of his trance.
"Ah," he said. "Where were we?"
"My father," she delicately said.
"Yes, yes," he continued. "Well, it appears that your father left your brother a house in Hertfordshire County, but unfortunately he has passed. Therefore, as it states within the contents of your father's will the house shall be given to the sole heir, which is you, Charlotte Elizabeth Walker, of course."
"You must be mistaken," Charlotte insisted. "My father died in the only house we ever had."
"According to this that is not true," the old man affirmed. "Here is the deed to your house. It states that the house and all of its contents are completely and assuredly yours from this day forth. The amount of five hundred pounds was also attached to the deed, so here you go."
Charlotte took the deed slowly not really believing it was real, but when she read it over there was nothing else she could do. It was as if she were in a dream. Of course, she had no idea what the house looked like. It could have been just an old shack withering away with time. There was only one way to find out and that was to go to Hertfordshire.
"Do you have any questions for me, Ms. Walker," the old man asked.
"Not really. I do not really know what to say."
"Then be on your way," he said grumpily. "I have my own affairs to tend to."
With those words, Charlotte left the small law firm. Her body was so numb she did not even feel the warm breeze, hear the bustling of the city, or see the people that sneered at her because of the way she looked. It took her a few minutes to gather herself before she was able to finally crawl into a cab.
The driver calmed his horses before leaping off his seat. He opened the cab door and looked at Charlotte in sheer disgust. He could not believe that a straggler just walked into his carriage.
"I do not give pity to the poor," the man rudely said, but when she gave him twenty pounds and the address of where she was going he did not hesitate to climb back on.
It seemed to take forever to get there. Truthfully, she did not know where "there" was or what "it" was. All she knew was it was hard for her to stay awake, so she drifted off to sleep.
At dawn she woke to find herself still in the carriage, but she could see trees everywhere. To the right of her there was a beautiful three story home with roman pillars. There were so many windows and she was sure that no poor lived in that house. Not even a mile later the carriage finally stopped in a driveway that encircled a beautiful fountain. It appeared to be made of marble and a statue of a goddess stood in the middle as water poured out of the jug she held over her right shoulder.
"Where are we," Charlotte asked the driver.
"Exactly where you asked me to go, my lady," he answered. As Charlotte climbed out of the carriage the man said one last thing before he left. "I surely will never judge a book by its cover ever again."
"No doubt," she said to herself. Her eyes were fixated on the fountain and she could not believe what she was seeing, but then she turned around. Chills vibrated through her body when she saw the house in front of her. There stood a two story home that looked like it belonged to an heiress. "Had she been an heiress this entire time," she thought. How could this be?
The entranceway to the house had four Greek pillars placed perfectly apart with a large door behind them. Above the main door there was a balcony that had iron railings and a door to exit and enter. Two large windows sat on either side of the house. The same ensemble appeared to be on the left side of the house as well. The entire sight was unimaginable to her.
Hesitantly, she walked in the door in front of her and was awed again by the sights. There was a large open space with a black and white checkered floor. There were two staircases that followed up opposite walls that led to the upstairs. Underneath the staircase was another door. She could see the large green pasture through the glass and what appeared to be a massive topiary.
Charlotte slowly walked through a door to her right and saw a beautiful dining room with a perfectly polished wood dinette set. The china cabinet was filled with fine china and silver and there was a large crystal chandelier dangling from the ceiling above the table. As she walked out of the dining room she saw an opened door on the opposite side of the great room. It appeared to be a sitting room, but she was not sure. Instead of peaking in, she glided up the stairwell on the right and the first room she saw had double doors. It was a large extravagant room filled with red. The queen canopy had satin sheets with sheer white curtains. The rug was white with a large red rose in the middle.
Suddenly, Charlotte heard the sound of feet coming up the stairs. She was half afraid to see who it was, but was surprised to see an old woman dressed in black. When the woman looked up and saw her she gasped at the sight of her.
"I suppose you were expecting a lady," Charlotte muttered arrogantly.
"Well, ma'am," she scrambled for words. "Pardon me, but I was."
"For your information I am a lady," Charlotte yelped. "I am Charlotte Elizabeth Walker."
"Oh," the old woman exclaimed. "Mr. Wilkes said you were going to be arriving today. He also said you would need a good bath and a change of clothing. I see that he was not lying. My name is Mrs. Cox. You can call me Mary if you'd like. You sure are a mess, my lady."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I think you know exactly what I mean," the woman pronounced. "And if you think you are going to frighten me with that disposition of yours think again. The Collins' are just the same, especially that one brother. He's got an attitude to choke a horse."
Charlotte chuckled a bit because that is what her father used to say whenever he met someone with a poor attitude, "I am sorry. I just do not know how to handle all of this."
"Be the lady that you are. You were not born from an ordinary man. He was a lord you know, which makes you a lady; Lady Charlotte is your name."
"My father was a lord?"
"Oh yes. One day he went on a trip and never came back. Found out it was your mother he found. Apparently her father was money hungry, so he kept his life a secret from them all. Now let's clean you up. There is company coming tonight."
"Tonight," Charlotte asked. "But I do not even know anyone. I just arrived."
"I know, but the Collins family found out that you were coming. However, we thought it was going to be your brother Peter. I am so sorry about what happened to your family," she consoled.
It took almost all day to bath Charlotte. Just her hair alone took an hour to wash and comb through, but when she was done a true lady appeared. Mary could not believe her eyes when she saw her long black hair that curled at the ends. She had a slender body and long dainty fingers. It was her eyes, however, that could capture a person's soul. They were a light brown with shades of gold within them. Her eyes almost looked painted, but they were obviously not.
"We are going to have a problem," Mary exhaled. "Those Collins' men are going to swoon over you."
Charlotte huffed, "Men. They can all go to hell for all I care."
"Really," Mary commented. "An untouchable and beautiful woman, I believe some hearts are going to be broken then."
Mary walked onto the balcony and down the left to a dark room. She definitely took her time before emerging out of the room with the most gorgeous gown Charlotte had ever seen. The red and white dress had an empire waist embroidered in pearls and crystals. The sleeves were short and barely covered her shoulders, but the gown did not disclose anything else. It flowed to the ground and had a slit from the empire waist to the hem where the white satin underskirt could be seen. It was unlike anything she had ever had owned before.
"You look about the right size to fit this gown," Mary pronounced and with that she helped Charlotte into it. "Just as I thought."
"What," Charlotte asked.
"You are a spitting image of your mother. Come sit down."
Charlotte could not help but smile from the comment as she sat down in front of a mirror. She watched Mary fiddle around with her long locks and somehow put them up in braids and curls. She truly looked like a princess after she was done with her. It actually took her by surprise.
The clock chimed seven and Mary suddenly began rushing around. She began putting towels in baskets and cleaning up the water on the bathroom floor. Then Charlotte watched Mary pick up her old clothes and throw them in the fire. She felt depressed at the sight, but at the same time it was a new beginning for her. At the fate of her family she had become a lady and she felt like there was no turning back.
"The cooks are probably already assorting food," Mary whimpered. "My goodness, the guests are already arriving."
"Cooks," she questioned. "I have cooks too?"
"My dear, you have an entirely new family when it comes to us. Now wait about an hour before coming down those steps. I want to make sure everyone is here before you present yourself." With that, Mary left the room.
After she left Charlotte almost felt constricted. This was it. Tonight she was not going to be the poor girl any longer. She looked into the mirror again and saw a person she had never set eyes on before. It made her feel like the wind was being knocked out of her. She looked around the room and found two glass doors to yet another balcony, so she opened them in order to get some air. She set her hands on the iron railing and tried to catch her breath. In the process of trying to gather herself she saw a man standing within the topiary staring up at her. His hair was black and shoulder length, his eyes a piercing blue, and she could tell he was a gentleman. His mouth was wide open as if he had seen a ghost. The last thing she wanted was to see a man gawking after her. She hated men. The only man she ever loved was her father and Charlotte was going to keep it that way. Yet, there was something about him that struck her hard.
Charlotte quickly went back in her room and shut the doors. She paced back and forth until finally an hour had passed. That is when she took one last deep breath, opened the doors to her bedroom, and began her descent down the stairs. Not even a single breath could be heard as she slowly walked down each step. It was as if time had stopped just for her, but reality struck her when Mary came out of the side door and introduced her, "Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Walker."
She wanted to cry, or was that scream, from fear yet nothing seemed to escape her mouth. When she finally took the last step into the great room dozens of people gathered around her wanting to know her. It took her almost all night to lighten up, and then it was over. People started going home. The time seemed to have vanished.
Charlotte went back into the dining room so she could sit down to a quiet snack before bed, but Mary pounced through the door. "I tried to stop them, but I just could not."
"Stop who," Charlotte asked with her delicate voice.
"Us," a man's voice came followed by two men. One of them looked familiar, but the other did not.
"Allow me to introduce myself," one of the men said. He had dark brown hair and green eyes that had a desperate look about them. He was tall and seemed almost too gentle. "My name is Samuel Collins and this is my brother Derreck Collins."
His brother walked beside Charlotte and took her hand. He went to kiss it, but she pulled away before he could get his lips anywhere near her. "There's no need for that."
"We are truly sorry, but we never had the chance to meet you," Samuel continued. "We are your neighbors."
"So I heard," she sighed before taking a sip of her soup. "Did you eat?"
"Yes," Samuel said.
"No," Derreck lied.
"Well then, help yourself and then go home," Charlotte made it a point to look Derreck straight into his eyes.
"Aren't you a sphinx? You are nothing like your father," Derreck commented.
"I am truly sorry, but I must head off to France tomorrow for business," Samuel kindly excused himself before leaving. Charlotte sipped some more of her soup and realized that Derreck was still there.
"How nice it must be to have a beautiful body and have a frozen heart at the same time."
Charlotte looked up in anger after taking another sip. She could not believe he just said that to her. Obviously, this man was going to be trouble for her.
"You think you have me fooled," Charlotte stood up and walked as close as she could to Derrek without bumping into him. "I suppose you think I am someone who is just going to faint just from the sight of you." She walked her fingers up his chest as to mock him and quit when she reached his firm chin. Then she brought her face as close as she could to his. "I hate men, which means I hate you."
"If you hate me then why do you stand so close to me as if you are going to seduce me," Derrek said almost panting. He could not believe that a woman of her stature would ignore all boundaries, but then again he had ignored many boundaries in the past.
"Good night, Derrek," Charlotte said as she walked out of the room and up the stairs. "I am sure you know where the door is."
No matter how hard Charlotte tried she could not get to sleep. She had obviously gotten too close to Derrek because she could not keep him out of her mind. His crystal blue eyes stung into her soul. She growled and hit her bed.
The reason why she hated men in the first place was because of the wonderful fiancée she had in the past. He was the heir to a fortune and she loved him so much until one day he broke her heart. She was in town and saw her betrothed with another woman. They walked together arm in arm giggling and looking at each other as if they were undressing in public.
When she confronted Laurence about it the next day he tried denying everything. He accused her of cheating instead and left without even saying goodbye. It only took a week before she saw Laurence's engagement in the paper to a beautiful young and energetic Anna.
Even though she did not know Derrek, she knew that sooner or later he would screw up and she was not going to let herself get hurt ever again. Even if it meant never being with someone, never loving someone, and never marrying, she did not care. She was going to do everything in her power to make Derrek hate her.