Two years have passed since Livia and her sisters suffered at the hands of their brutal father and she is set to marry handsome and caring Jack Flint, while her sisters are contentedly living at Todd Farm. Yet Livia dreams of restoring the neglected drapery business left by her father. Is she prepared to jeopardise the love she shares with Jack to achieve her wish? Racked with guilt over the tragic death of her sister Maggie, Livia promises never to let anyone down again and to do something worthwhile with her life.
Standing in her way is the wealthy and determined Matthew Grayson, appointed to oversee the business. His infuriating stubbornness clashes with Livia’s tenacity, but as her problems with Jack worsen Livia finds it increasingly difficult to resist his charms. Despite all the emotional turmoil, she is also resolute in her support for the Suffragette Movement which puts further strain on her relationship with Jack. With the extra pressures of her sisters’ problems, is it possible for Livia to ever regain control of her life?
Livia gave up wrestling with an endless sleepless night, climbed from her bed and went to the window to watch the sun rise over Castle Hill. The sky was a lovely apricot streaked with powder blue, with not a cloud in sight, a perfect day for a wedding. Yet she felt quite unable to appreciate its beauty. The gentle gurgling of the River Kent failed to soothe her, and the sound of the church bell tolling six o’clock, only filled her with trepidation.
Wasn’t a girl supposed to feel happy and joyful on her wedding day? Then why did she have this dreadful sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, as if she stood on the brink of a precipice, about to fall? She was marrying Jack Flint, for goodness sake, whom she loved, didn’t she? They had lived together, despite the gossip their relationship created, for more than a year now, so why was she suddenly experiencing these doubts?
Not that they had spent this night under the same roof. Jack was staying with a friend, and Livia with her sister and brother-
The door of her bedroom creaked open and Ella slipped in, as if on cue. Putting her arm about her sister, she hugged her close. ‘I heard you moving about. Couldn’t you sleep?’
Livia cast her a bleak look. ‘Am I supposed to feel like this, all sick and in the glums? I feel dreadful, as if I want to take to my heels and run as fast and as far away from that church as I can.’
Ella laughed. ‘It’s only pre-
Livia kissed her sister’s cheek. ‘I’m so glad. I could never bear for you to be unhappy. You are happy in the farm at Kentmere, aren’t you, Ella?’
‘As content as a bug in a rug,’ she laughed. ‘Not that we allow any of those in our house. We have almost brought Todd Farm into the twentieth century, would you believe? We have running water now, a decent cooking range, a boiler that works. It’s a veritable paradise of modernity. Almost!’
Livia was laughing with her, remembering how very different it had been when her sister had first gone to live in that remote dale.
‘And the children are well?’
‘My step children are in excellent health, thank you. Mary is happy in her new job in service, and Emmett and Tilda are doing well at school. And I absolutely adore them.’ A shadow flitted across Ella’s face. ‘Oh, but Livvy, I would so like a child of my own. I cannot think why I haven’t quickened with one already.’
‘I’m sure it will happen if you don’t allow yourself to worry too much, and become too tense. Where’s the rush? You are young yet.’
Ella said nothing more, knowing her sister didn’t understand this yearning she had to hold a child of her own. She ushered Livia into a chair and started to brush the long glossy titian hair, her gaze drifting to the wedding gown of crisp lace that hung upon the wardrobe door. ‘You will make a beautiful bride, dearest. I shall lend you a pretty garter for the something borrowed, and the blue must be your gentian eyes. Then we just need something old and something new.’
‘What nonsense you do talk, Ella. There’s really no need for all this fuss, the veil will cover most of my hair in any case.’
Ella was outraged. ‘Of course there’s a need for fuss. It’s your wedding day!’
Whereupon Livia bolted for the bathroom, returning some time later looking wan and peaky.
Ella was instantly concerned. ‘Were you sick?’
Livia shook her head. ‘Almost. I told you this was all a mistake. I’m really not the marrying sort.’
‘Nonsense. Are you sure you aren’t pregnant?’
‘Absolutely certain! I have no wish to start breeding yet, thank you very much, and take every care not to.’
Ella’s eyes widened as she gave an impish smile. ‘You don’t use methods?’
Livia laughed. ‘Of course I do. If a person is determined to be unconventional in their choice of lifestyle, one has to take precautions. And I will continue to do so, even with a ring on my finger.’
‘What does Jack have to say about that?’
Livia blew out a puff of air, looking more confident than she actually felt. ‘I haven’t asked him, nor shall I.’
Ella looked shocked. ‘I think you should. Husband and wife ought to decide these things together.’
Livia only grinned. ‘I’ll let him know when I’m good and ready to start a family, and not before.’
‘Don’t be too set against it, dearest. Nothing is foolproof.’
‘I’m trusting that these methods, as you call them, will be. I have other plans which need attention before I tie myself down with nappies and pushing perambulators. Which reminds me, I must pop in to see the solicitor this morning.’
Ella looked outraged. ‘You won’t have time, the ceremony is booked for eleven.’
‘Don’t be silly, there’s plenty of time.’
‘Well, at least let me finish your hair first.’ Ella began to twist rose buds amongst the pinned curls. ‘You aren’t still intending to work at the store, are you?’
‘I most certainly am. As you are all too aware, we were left with massive debts when our late, unlamented father died and was declared bankrupt. It has long been my dream to become involved in the family business, and I’ve no intention of being bullied by anyone who tries to make me give it up, particularly if that someone is a man. Never again.’
Both girls fell silent, recalling the harsh brutality of their upbringing and the strap Joshua Angel would inflict upon his daughters whenever he wished to bend them to his will, sometimes punishing one in order to control the other. And when they were most obstinate, he would lock them in a cage high in his turret room. An icy shiver ran down Livia’s spine as she recalled the fear and the pain she’d experienced, even though she was safe now from his malice. Ella kissed her pale cheek, knowing only too well how her sister’s thoughts ran.
‘You were saying, about the store.’
Livia gave herself a mental shake. ‘Oh! Yes! Mr Blamire, the solicitor, has spent months in negotiations and legal complexities, the family business hanging on by a thread, but now it’s ready to reopen. It will be hard work, and I admit I know nothing about running a department store, but I fully intend to bring it into profit, pay off the debts, and make us all some money in the end.’
‘Does Jack approve of this plan?’
Livia screwed up her nose. ‘Let’s say I’m working on him.’