Duke Edouard Gourrande

Though it was the first time they had met, the Duke regarded her warmly and compared her beauty favorably to her mother's when she was the same age. Marguerite smiled and inclined her head, as she had been taught, and said nothing; she was not to give her future husband the impression that she would speak back to him, once they were married.

"Tell me, my dear. What do you think of the new Baronet de Corsace?"

"I have not met him, my Lord. But from what I hear he is most charming."

He patted her upon the cheek; fondly, as though he were a kind great-uncle. "How lovely. Though I meant his politics - can you imagine that the rascal will have his father's fortune and title before too long? What will become of the Valley then!" He chuckled, then sat back, staring at the fire for a time.

She placed her hands beneath her shawl, which lay on her lap, where he could not see her wringing them. Could she survive such talk, every morning and every evening? Would she, like her cousin Samanthe, be forced to take solace in some inconsequential activity like knitting or horseback-riding? And yet, could she bring herself to shatter what remained of the future of her family, to devastate those she loved?

To be wed or to betray: each was a sacrifice she could not make, but though the decision weighed heavily upon her, she had a curious sensation that the choice had been made from the outset; that it was not she who guided her life (this she was accustomed to), but rather some greater, unfamiliar predestination.

He was looking at her. "My dear, are you quite alright?"


A Lace Dress