“Nichols, what do you mean, she is not available to me?” demanded Lucas Pemberton, the Marquess of Somers. He could not imagine this being her idea of a joke. Only a sennight ago, he and Harriett had spoken of their feelings for each other and planned to marry. While they had not been formally betrothed, he planned to take care of that detail. Her father was in London handing some business affairs, and Lucas had planned to ask for his permission upon her father’s return. Richmond sat just outside of London, and he expected her father back at any time. After courting for months, Lucas had finally gathered enough courage to ask her father for her hand. He loved her. They had planned a picnic for today. He had sent a missive two days ago, reminding her of his return and the picnic. And saying he could not wait to hold her in his arms, again. The tall, graying butler peered down at him. “My lord,” he said with a strained voice. “She is married.” The words knocked him backwards. Lucas felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. He swallowed and took a calming breath. “Is his lordship available to me?” he persisted, balling his fists at his side, refusing to believe that Harriett would intentionally make a fool of him. There had been no word from her. What had happened to the missive? Something seemed very wrong here. After a long pause, the butler answered. “My lord, Lord Scarsdale has given me strict instructions . . .” “Please request he see me,” Lucas said, cutting him off. “Very well.” Nichols moved to close the door, but Lucas stopped it from closing. “I will wait here,” Lucas said quietly but firmly. The man nodded and left the door partially open. A few minutes later, he returned. “My lord, Lord Scarsdale will see you. Please follow me.” Lucas had been in this house many times, but never had he felt so unwelcome. His footfalls on the dark, tiled granite echoed, and the dark paneling of the hall gave an ominous sense. Nichols opened the door and announced him. Lucas schooled himself to be calm. There had to be an explanation. “Lord Somers. Have a seat,” Scarsdale pointed to the leather seat in front of his desk. Lucas noticed the man staggered slightly and gripped his chair for support, sitting down and leaning over the desk. “I left a message for you, yet you insisted on seeing me, as if that could change things,” the earl puffed. “I do not understand. What has happened?” Lucas said, fighting queasiness. The man had done something to his daughter--his Harriett. “Where is she?” “Gone. She is married. She is Lady Dudley, now,” he said, not meeting his eyes. Lucas stood and leaned over the desk. “What do you mean, she is Lady Dudley? Your daughter and I have been courting for months. I asked your permission to court her. Remember?” he said, gripping the side of the desk to avoid gripping the man’s collar. Understanding dawned on him. “You married your daughter to Lord Dudley? What have you done?” The man paled and leaned back in his chair. “It is no business of yours. She is married. Harriett is a good daughter, and she will live a good life. Maybe not the life she wanted, but she is my child, and it was my right to decide these things . . .” “I was coming to ask you for her hand. You knew this—I had sent word that I needed to speak with you concerning Harriett. Where is she?” Lucas roared, straining not to pummel the man. Her father hung his head. Hurried footfalls sounded behind him. “Lord Somers, you are too late. My husband made his daughter marry to repay some sort of obligation,” the countess spat from behind him. “Good luck receiving any details. Not even I know how this came to pass.” Lucas looked from the countess to her husband and narrowed his gaze. “If you needed money, you could have come to me or to my father.” “My daughter pleaded, and I tried to stop it, your lordship.” Lady Scarsdale shot a disgusted look at her husband. “There is nothing that can be done, Lord Somers. Harriett did her duty by her father. She is a married woman, now,” Lady Scarsdale said, acidly. “You do not understand. I had to,” Lord Scarsdale said, listing slightly as he poured himself a drink. “When?” Lucas demanded. “P . . . pardon?” the earl stammered, unsteadily, swishing a small amount of amber liquid from the top of the glass. “When? When did she marry?” Lucas insisted, his voice louder. “Two days ago,” her father said, setting his emptied glass on his desk. “Do you think I wanted to do this? You are a marquess. What father would not have wanted his daughter to ultimately be a duchess? There was nothing I could do. You must try to understand.” Understand? He understood that his head throbbed and the woman he had planned to marry--the woman he loved—had been forced to marry another. This must be a bad dream. How could a father have done this to his daughter? “You sold your daughter into a life she could not have wanted, as if she was a dog you discarded,” he seethed, his voice low and steady. “Now see here!” the earl said, walking up to him. “You see here!” Blinded with rage, Lucas grabbed him with his left arm and pulled back his right fist, intent on smashing the callous man in the face. Instead, he let the earl go and backed up. The older man staggered from drink and fell to the floor. Lucas stepped back, turned, and strode from the room. Her father was right. There was nothing he could do if Harriett was married to another. If she had married Dudley, he doubted he would ever hear from her again.
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