Pembroke Palace Series Short Story
Lady Adelaide Robins, the charming and beautiful daughter of an impoverished earl, was raised on the foggy moors of Yorkshire. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine she would travel to London, capture the heart of a duke, and receive a proposal of marriage. Is she ready for a life of luxury and privilege as a duchess? Or will her heart forever belong to another?
Note: A Kiss Before the Wedding is a romantic SHORT STORY of approximately 50 pages.
Read an excerpt...
June 12, 1842
Though she was young—only one month shy of her nineteenth year—Lady Adelaide Robins possessed the wisdom to understand that certain moments in one’s life were turning points that could never be undone.
This, she knew, was one of those moments.
Years from now, she would look back on the choice she had made this evening as she sat at her desk, quill in hand, and wonder, what if I had acted differently? What if I had never written this letter?
Lady Adelaide did not know if she was making the right decision tonight. How could she? She did not possess a crystal ball, nor the life experience to judge most men of the world.
Except, perhaps, for one man, who was very dear to her heart.
William Thomas, her friend since childhood, was the second son of a viscount, while she was the daughter of an earl, raised on a vast estate in Yorkshire with her two older sisters, who were now married.
Their father was thankful for the husbands her sisters had procured, for it was common knowledge that their family was impoverished, and there was no money for dowries. Not a single farthing.
Nevertheless, Mary and Margarite had married well, which was no great surprise, for they were widely regarded as incomparable beauties.
Margarite had married the handsome eldest son of a baron from the south who would inherit his father’s prosperous estate one day, while Mary had wed a less handsome but exceedingly amiable youngest son of a marquess, who was a well-loved vicar in Devonshire.
Now it was Adelaide’s turn to walk down the aisle, and her father was beside himself with joy, for she had done better than both her sisters. Somehow, against all likelihood, and without intent, she had captured the heart of a duke.
Not just any duke, mind you. Adelaide was now famously engaged to Theodore Sinclair—His Grace, the Duke of Pembroke—one of the highest ranking peers in the realm, wealthy beyond any imaginings, impossibly handsome of course, and with a palace considered to be one of England’s greatest architectural achievements. It was an extravagant baroque masterpiece with splendid Italian Gardens (recently designed by the duke himself), a complex cedar maze which provided hours of entertainment for prestigious guests, and it was allegedly built upon the ruins of an ancient monastery.
Some said the complex network of subterranean passages beneath the palace was haunted by the monks, but Adelaide did not believe in ghosts. She did believe, however, in the properly documented particulars of history, and in that regard, it was a well-known fact that the first Duke of Pembroke had been a close, intimate friend of King Henry VIII, who had awarded the dukedom in the first place.
Yes, indeed. Theodore Sinclair, the current Duke of Pembroke, was the most sought-after bachelor in England, and for some unknown reason, he had taken one look at Adelaide from across a crowded ballroom and fallen head over heels in love with her.
She wasn’t sure what she had done to arouse his passions to such a heightened degree. She had danced with him twice at the ball where they met, then accepted his invitations to go walking in the park the following three days in a row, and had sat with him in his box at the theater the following week.
She could not deny her own infatuation, for the duke was very handsome and very grand. Even now she was distracted by the image of his fine muscular form, his charming smile, and the flattery of it all.
And then... he had come to her father practically begging for her hand in marriage. Her father had agreed and was now his old self again, pleased that his family circumstances would improve, as were her sisters who would also benefit from her marriage.
Which was why this letter was probably a mistake.
Adelaide set down her quill.
No... I must not write to William. It would be the equivalent of sticking a hot poker into a hornet’s nest and stirring it around.
She was engaged to Theodore now. William had been gone from Yorkshire for more than a year, and he had left without expressing any feelings for her, other than friendship. She had shed enough tears and waited too long for letters that never came. Her good sense told her she must forget him once and for all and move on with her life. Without him.
Rising hastily from the chair, she padded across her candlelit bedchamber to the fireplace. The flames danced wildly in the grate and the charred log snapped and crackled in the silence of the room.
It was nearly midnight. She should go to sleep and forget about the past. In three weeks she would marry one of the greatest men in England and become Duchess of Pembroke. Her family would rise very high in the world, and she suspected there was some promise of a generous settlement that would end her father’s financial hardships.
Knowing that she must act responsibly and dutifully, she padded back to her desk, crumpled the letter that began with ‘Dear Mr. Thomas,’ and threw it into the fire. Then she snuffed out the candle and climbed into bed.
* * *
The following day, Adelaide struggled with her decision not to write to William.
How can I marry without a word to him? Surely he deserves to know. What will happen when—if—he comes home from Italy and discovers I am a duchess and had not told him a single thing about it? He will be shocked and very hurt.
Despite the fact that William had inflicted great pain and frustration upon her lately—for he had not written a word since February—she could not bear the idea of hurting him. All her life he had been her closest friend. She could not take this step without telling him. He must hear it from her, and no one else.
That was it, then.
After dinner, she sat down at her desk and brushed the feather quill across her chin. She would write this letter and send it to him in Italy. William probably wouldn’t even receive it until after the wedding—so there would be no danger of him talking her out of it—but at least he would know she had cared enough to explain herself to him personally. And though she was angry with him for leaving her behind, she did care, more than words could say. More than she should.
Carefully dipping her quill into the rich black ink, she touched it to the page and began, at last, to write.
My dear Mr. Thomas,
There is something I must tell you...
William was half in his cups when he returned home from the doctor’s dinner party at the villa. He had not yet learned how to keep pace with the Italians and their constant flow of fine wine, but he was no quitter, dammit. And by God, he enjoyed their hospitality and was learning a great deal about things that were of enormous interest to him.
Human anatomy. Medicines. The workings of the brain.
They were fascinating subjects, and he was thankful to have been given the opportunity to travel here. Though he had not expected to remain so long...
Two years ago his sister had married an Italian count. Nine months later, William had come, at his father’s request, to acquaint himself with his new nephew.
Little did William know that he would discover a new passion, a life’s calling, while in the presence of his hosts. It happened on the day he arrived, when they’d introduced him to their neighbor, Giulio Donatello, a prominent Italian physician and medical researcher.
Since that day, William had immersed himself in every medical book he could lay his hands on, and was considering a life devoted to science and discovery and medicine, despite the fact that his father would most certainly frown on such pursuits. His father considered any profession outside of the church or the army to be well beneath his sons, for they were aristocrats—though not very highborn aristocrats in the greater scheme of things. William’s father was viscount, and as a second son, William was a mere ‘mister.’
Not that it mattered. William never coveted his father’s title. Instead, he craved freedom—freedom to choose his own path in life.
And tonight he felt positively euphoric. Donatello had invited him to attend a dinner at the Vatican the following week with a group of physicians that had come all the way from Amsterdam.
As William made his way up the stairs to his bedchamber, he realized it had been months since he’d written a letter home. He felt a sudden compulsion to pick up his quill and write to Adelaide about all that had happened recently. He wished she were here so that he could show her all the wonders of Rome. It had been too long since they’d sat in the same room together, or went riding across the moors, or swam under the waterfall on her father’s estate. God, how he missed her.
She would celebrate her nineteenth birthday soon. A woman, at last. Perhaps, finally, it was time to go home, for he had been waiting a very long time to declare his feelings. His whole life, it seemed.
When he reached the door to his bedchamber, he entered quietly, as it was late and he did not wish to wake anyone in the household.
He closed the door behind him and set the candle down on the cabinet to his left.
Shrugging out of his dinner jacket, he glanced at the fireplace. The kindling was laid out for him, but he did not wish to light a fire on such a warm summer night. A few candles at his desk would serve him well enough.
William tossed his jacket over the upholstered bench at the foot of his bed, but as he tugged at his neck cloth, he noticed a letter on the corner of the desk. It must have been delivered while he was out.
Quickly, he crossed to it, picked it up, and turned it over. As he beheld the familiar red seal, his heart leapt, for the letter had come from Adelaide. What perfect timing.
Surely there was some form of destiny at play here, for now that he knew his true purpose in the world, he had been thinking such wonderful thoughts about the sort of future they could enjoy together.
He tore eagerly at the seal, sat down in the chair, and began to read...
My dear Mr. Thomas,
There is something I must tell you. It hardly seems possible that I am writing this. I cannot believe it has been almost two years since you left Yorkshire. I am sorry for not writing to you more often these past few months, but recently I have been rather swept away by circumstances that I must now convey to you.
In May, I visited London for part of the Season. At one particular ball, I was introduced to a most illustrious person, His Grace, the Duke of Pembroke. If you were here, I would tell you every detail, but I cannot possibly write the words. To put it plainly, the duke has asked for my hand in marriage, and I have accepted. His Grace does not desire a lavish or extravagant wedding, so we will be married at his private family chapel, at Pembroke, in July.
The whole world turned white before William’s eyes. He rose abruptly from his chair and knocked it over onto the floor.
Adelaide had accepted a marriage proposal from a duke? No, it could not be!
I wonder what you must be thinking as you read these words. I hope you are not too terribly astonished.
This feels strange. I wish you had been here to advise me before I made my choice of a husband. You have always been my closest, dearest friend, and you have always told me the truth, even if it was not what I wanted to hear. But in this case, I am sure you would approve.
The duke is a handsome, pleasant, and very wealthy man. I am sure I do not need to explain what this means for my family. Father has been doting over me like never before, treating me like a fragile piece of porcelain, indulging my every whim. I am happy, of course, that he is so pleased, but there is a part of me that is unsure.
I wish you were not so far away, for you would know just how to ease my mind. You would help me remember my duty.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing to you like this, but I could not take this step without some word to you. I felt you must hear it from me.
Please know that you will remain my dearest friend, William, and I will never forget what we were to each other, growing up as we did as neighbors here on the moors of Yorkshire.
Wish me well, as I will wish you well in return.
The next time you see me, I will be a duchess, but I promise to always remain the girl you knew.
His stomach in knots, William slowly bent forward and picked up the chair so that he could sink down onto it. He sat for a long moment, stunned, trembling in the heart, then tossed the letter onto the desk as if it were infected with the plague.
A sickening ball of confusion rolled over in his gut while he fought to comprehend the truth of what he had just read. Perhaps this was not real. Perhaps she was playing a trick on him.
But no... Adelaide would never toy with his emotions in such a manner. They were friends. More than friends. They had always understood each other intimately, as few people do.
He had imagined she would wait for him, that when he came home to Yorkshire, he would propose marriage and she would accept. Had he not been clear about that? Had she not recognized his feelings and understood that she was far more than a friend to him? Apparently not.
It killed him to know that her father had taken Adelaide to London for the Season. In a way, William had considered her to be his own discovery, perhaps even his own private possession. They lived in the remote northern country. There had never been any competition from other men for her affections. Her father had no money to spare, so even the thought of a London Season for Adelaide had seemed out of reach.
William should have known better. He should not have taken her for granted. He should have predicted that her father would find a way to present her to important people.
William buried his face in his hands. It had been a mistake to remain in Italy so long and presume she would not venture out into the world without him. What a fool he had been to assume she would remain his.
But what was he to do now? Was it too late? Had he lost her forever?
No, that was not possible. She was his, and no other man would ever understand her, worship her, love her as he did.
Suddenly he was dragging his trunk out of the dressing room and tossing clothes into it with a mad urgency he could barely fathom.
He penned a brief note to Donatello to apologize for his unexpected departure, and to send his regrets regarding the upcoming dinner at the Vatican.
‘A personal emergency,’ William called it.
Indeed it was an emergency. Would he reach England in time? Or would he arrive too late to pour out his heart in plain words, as he should have done before, and stop one of the most prestigious weddings of the decade?
Print edition coming soon in March 2013 as bonus content in SEDUCED AT SUNSET - the Pembroke Palace Series Conclusion
A Kiss Before the Wedding