Charlotte did not wake up the next day until the afternoon. She was not used to such a soft bed and it felt good. The satin sheets against her face felt like tiny caresses from her father. After all, it was her father that owned the house in the first place. She slowly walked up to the large closet that was now filled with clothing just for her. She picked out a pink gown that felt like silk and put it on. Charlotte then brushed her hair out to its length.
During the party last night she noticed that all the women had their hair up and she did not know if that was a custom, but she did not care. If she wanted to wear her hair down it was her prerogative. Fashion was never her strong suit. Nothing from this life was her strong suit.
She practically glided down the stairwell into the dining room, but there was no food on the table. She was hungry, but had no idea where anyone was. The house was silent. Suddenly, she heard laughter outside and when she turned she could see Mr. Collins and his wife talking with Mary in the back terrace.
"I suppose no one ever knocks around here," she said to herself as she walked out the double doors to the backyard.
"Ah, Lady Charlotte," Mr. Collins stood up. "I came over to see how you faired because I heard my son had a welcoming effect on you."
"Which one," she asked. "Both of them left upset."
"Derek of course," he said with discourse. "I hope he did not offend you in any manner. He tends to do that to everyone he meets."
"No," she proclaimed. "But I hope I offended him."
Silence engulfed everyone for a few seconds before Mrs. Collins began to laugh. Charlotte could not tell if it was an "I'm so pleased" laugh or if it was a "how dare she" laugh. Either way she had no feelings about it.
The awkward moment quickly passed when everyone heard a voice coming from the topiary, "Hello Charlotte."
She sunk her shoulders when she realized it was Derek. Charlotte could not believe that he showed up at her house after she acting so rudely to him. Perhaps he was a fool and wanted more punishment.
"How is Derek doing this afternoon," she asked calmly.
"I see we have just woken up," Derek said looking at her loose hair.
"I am not here to impress anyone. Least of all you," she crudely snapped back.
"Wine anyone," Mrs. Collins asked quickly knowing that the conversation was going too sour for her taste.
Charlotte had never tasted wine before, but she did not want anyone to think that she had not, so she graciously accepted her offer. She grabbed the glass full of red win and drank it down quickly. It engulfed her taste buds in a way that she thought no drink could, so she filled her glass up again. This time she took only a sip before sitting down next to Mrs. Collins.
"What is the pleasure of your visit," she managed to get out.
"Well," Mr. Collins began. "My wife would like to invite you to a ball at our home tonight."
"Another party," Charlotte thought to herself. Is that all these people do? The very first night she arrives there was a party at her house filled with people she did not even know. Now, she was invited to a party where it would all happen again. Unfortunately, it seemed like parties were their only form of entertainment around here, so she regretfully nodded her head yes.
"Oh good," Mrs. Collins said jumping up from her seat. "I have so much to do now." She grabbed Charlotte by the shoulders and then gave her a hug. Mr. Collins stood up as well in order to escort his wife back home. Charlotte folded her arms in anticipation that Derek would leave, but he appeared as if he had no intension on doing so. She exhaled deeply, turned around, and went back into her house.
"What is it about me that offends you so, my lady," Derek asked as he followed her into the house.
"Everything," Charlotte simply said as she rushed up the stairs. Derek obviously was not going to give up without a fight and continued to follow her. When she got to the balcony she felt a little woozy from the wine she had drank and steadied herself against the balcony. He caught her uneasiness and ran up in order to secure her stance. "Do not touch me."
"You really do not like me," Derek continued to help her into her room. He sat her down on a chair and began brushing her hair.
"I asked you not to touch me," she exclaimed. The feel of him brushing her hair sent tingles through her body.
"I really do not care," he insisted. "You have a party to go to tonight, so you need to get ready."
"Not with you around I'm not." There was absolutely no way she was going to dress, undress, or get ready for anything with him around. "I want Mary," she said giggling.
"Obviously you do not drink wine much my dear Charlotte," Derek bent down and whispered in her ear. With that, he called for Mary before promptly leaving the house.
At the party Charlotte could not care less that everyone was staring at her. She heard people mumble underneath their breath about how beautiful she looked, the sparkle of her powder blue gown, and the way her hair was twisted up in a perfect twist. When she lived in the slums nobody ever complimented her because these types of people never cared about her. The rich lived in their homes and the poor lived in theirs. Charlotte could tell she was going to get tired of all of it.
Throughout the evening people gave her wine, food, and asked her to dance dances she had no clue how to do. It was beginning to become difficult for her to adjust to the new way of life. She knew she needed a friend. Someone that would help her, but she really did not know anyone.
At that moment, she saw Derek in the distance. He stood in the background with two ladies that just about fell over him every time he looked at them. She could not deny that his raven black hair, his broad shoulders, and his crystal blue eyes were appealing. He was also taller than the average man, which probably made the women swoon even more. Charlotte rolled her eyes at the thought of even considering he was good looking. She surely could not think of him as a friend, but who else was she going to ask. She looked around the room at all the unfamiliar faces.
"No," she thought to herself. She vowed to make this man hate her. Unfortunately, he was the only one that seemed fit for the responsibility, but could she trust him. Could he trust her?
She huffed at the thought because of how rude she had been to him from the first moment they met. He probably would be completely appalled by the idea altogether. She knew she was. As she looked around the room one last time she realized there was no other choice. Mrs. Collins was too enthralled in planning parties and her husband did not really seem to care about things at all. He only followed his wife around to make her happy.
She stood up straight, lifted her chin and found the courage to walk up to him. The two girls that stood beside him looked disappointed as she made her way up to Derek. They obviously wanted him all to their own.
"Another insult," Derek commented. "Or perhaps you have come to tell me that I am absolutely disgusting."
Charlotte cracked a smile without even realizing it, "No."
"What is that I see," he said with sarcasm. "Is that a smile? Lady Charlotte has emotions?"
"I do," she said as she looked down at her feet. "I have been rude and I apologize. Truce?" She held out her hand so he would shake it, but he did nothing except look at her in amazement. Was she serious or was this another one of her ways to get under his skin?
"What has happened? Have you been turned down by every man in the room?"
"Just the opposite," Charlotte freely admitted. "I am attempting to make a friend."
Derek stood there for a second before putting his hand in hers. She surely was not a typical lady in her position because of how she acting and because she openly put her hands on people. It was something he would have to get used to if they were to be friends.
"Truce," Derek finally said. He raised his eyebrow waiting for her to do something uncouth, but was amazed to see that she was serious. "So tell me Charlotte, what has happened that you suddenly want to befriend me?"
"Simply that I do not really know anyone and if I am going to get used to this life I need help. Even though my father was a lord I do not come from the higher society."
"Let us drink then, to a new found friendship," Derek raised his glass.
"Ugh," Charlotte could not hold back the disgust. "I am so tired of drinking wine. Isn't there something else we can do?"
Derek looked at her intensely for a moment before speaking, "All right. Let us take a walk."
She unquestionably liked that idea better and it would make it possible for her to be able to get away from the suffocating scene in the house. Charlotte followed Derek as he went out the front door and onto the road. He turned to walk toward her house and held his arm out for her to hold. She ignored his gesture, but he seemed intent on her doing so. Therefore, she took it.
They walked for a few moments in silence, which was quite enjoyable for her. There was no noise or people hoarding her with a million questions. It was as if she was back home.
"So tell me," Derek finally said. "If your father did not raise you within society then where did you come from?"
"Honestly," Charlotte asked.
"I was raised in the slums."
With that answer Derek stopped walking and turned to face her. He looked at her dainty figure, the soft lines of her face, and could not believe what he just heard. How could such a creature come from such a place? However, that would explain why she ignored the ways of a lady. She simply did not know how to act. It was then he realized the reason for her truce. It was not to actually make friends. It was because she needed his help desperately if she was going to survive her new life.
"So you need my help more than my friendship," Derek questioned.
"Think of it as a business relationship, Mr. Collins."
"I suppose I can handle that, Ms. Walker," he made it a point to be a bit sarcastic.
Charlotte could see her house in the distance. She still could not believe that her life changed so quickly in the matter of a couple weeks after her father's death. She chuckled under her breath when she remembered her idea of becoming an indentured servant.
"What is so funny," Derek raised his eyebrow.
"Just thinking of what my life could have been like if I did not have this house. I was actually thinking of going to the Americas to offer my servitude. I tend to like this road better."
"You would have surely been bait for the greedy," Derek said.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"It is just that you are quite beautiful and the men there would have drooled over you."
Charlotte laughed aloud when he said that. In the back of her mind she did not think of herself as beautiful. She was just an ordinary girl that happened into a fairy tale situation.
"I must say," Derek began. "I do like this side of you much better than the rebellious one."
"I do have to ask you a question," Charlotte began after a few seconds of being in deep thought. "How long have you lived here?"
"Well, my grandfather passed away when I was ten and it was a month after that we moved into the house we are in now."
"Hmm," she said disappointingly. "So you definitely would not have known my father."
"No," he answered. "However, I do recall my father mentioning him once or twice. He did not like him because he claimed he had secrets."
"How would he have known that he had secrets," Charlotte asked.
"It is because he came from old money."
"Old money," she questioned. "What do you mean?"
Derek sighed before giving an answer, "It is just a saying for those people who have had money for a long time."
"And that is why your grandfather thought he had secrets?"
"I suppose," Derek said before changing the subject. "I think we should talk about you more."
"Nice try Derek," she looked at him as if he just said something terrible. "This is a business relationship, not a courtship."
"Fair enough," he said with obvious disappointment.
The two of them eventually arrived at Charlotte's house and proceeded into the sitting room. She really did not know how to act as they sat there in silence. Derek sat there smoothing out his jacket and Charlotte watched. She could not figure out what these people did during the day. It was so boring compared to the constant housekeeping she did before her sudden life change. Cooking was always her favorite, but in this house there was someone always there to cook for her.
When Derek looked up he realized that Charlotte was staring at him. He raised his eyebrow and smiled, which brought her out of her memories of the past. Instead, she looked around the room at the bookshelves that covered each wall except for one. There was not an empty space on the shelves. Perhaps she would take up the hobby of reading, she thought to herself.
She stood up and ran her fingers against the leather books. That is until she came to a book that did not look like the others. It was not leather and seemed to be made out of some sort of metal. Curious, she went to lift it up and ended up creating a significant event. The bookshelf suddenly moved away from the wall.
"Derek," Charlotte quickly said.
"What is it," he said curiously. He could hear the surprise in her voice, and when he looked up he too saw the bookshelf. He swiftly ran to her side. "Let's try and move it the rest of the way."
As they both moved it they saw a stairwell that went down. They both glanced at each other before grabbing a candlestick and made their way down. Neither of them knew what was down there and Charlotte had to admit to herself that she was a bit afraid.
"What do you think is down there," she finally said. Her voice was broken from not knowing what she was going to find.
"Unless your father was a mad scientist I do not think you have anything to worry about," Derek assured her. He took ahold of her hand as they made their way down. Eventually, they came to three wooden doors. Each door was different and had a name on it. The first door had the name Alexandria, the second door had the name Byron, and the third name was Charlotte.
"I do not understand," she said confused. "Who is Alexandria and Byron?"
"There is only one way to truly find out," Derek answered. "The question is which door we go through first."
Charlotte studied each door for a few seconds before she finally made a decision, "Mine."
"As you wish my lady," Derek said before opening the door. He had to use all his strength to jar it open, but when he did there was complete darkness. Charlotte stepped back a little, but Derek grabbed her hand once again and guided her inside.
Once they found the torches hanging on the side of the walls and lit them they could see the room was of massive proportions and completely round. There was baby furniture everywhere along with paperwork stock piled up against the walls.
"It appears as if you have been in this house before Charlotte," Derek commented after a bit.
"It does appear that way, but I do not understand," she was so confused. "The only house I remember was the house in Bethnal Green."
"Bethnal Green," Derek exclaimed. "Dear Lord you have come a long way."
"You do not have to tell me twice," she giggled under her breath. "Perhaps some of these papers will explain things."
"Good idea," Derek openly admitted. They both commenced on the tedious task of reading through the papers, and it would obviously take them a long time.
It seemed like hours before Derek spoke out, "Um, Charlotte. I think you need to take a look at this."
She put the papers in her hand down and walked over to him. He held a piece of paper that looked like a birth certificate. Charlotte read the paper aloud, "Father, Duke of Oxbury, Byron Louis Kent. Mother, Duchess Alexandria Marie Scott. Daughter, Charlotte Elizabeth Kent."
"I do not understand," Charlotte said dropping the paper on the floor. Derek quickly picked it back up again.
"I completely understand, Charlotte. Your father was not who he said he was, and on the event of his death made you a duchess."
"No," she said in shock. "That is impossible. Why would my father keep this from us?"
"I do not have the answer to that, Charlotte, but I believe I know a way I can find out for you."
Charlotte quickly looked at Derek in desperation, "you could?"
"Well, of course. My father is well acquainted with Lord Sheffield who is very good friends with the Kents."