Duke Goes RogueBy: Eva Devon
Miss Olivia Stanhope stared at the frayed account book again and again in the sputtering fire’s light (she could no longer afford candles). For surely, if she stared long enough, somehow the disappointing numbers would change to more favorable ones. She ran her fingers over the columns sketched in black ink, praying.
She calculated the figures, once again, which was quite silly really because she was excellent with accounts. Her parents had educated her as well as any privileged boy. Now, she wished she wasn’t quite so capable of grasping how tenuous her situation was and that there was very little as a young woman that she could do to mend it.
She eyed that final number at the bottom of the page, willing it to change.
Of course it was silly, but frantic hope drove her to it.
In truth, she didn’t even need to look at her books.
The money was gone. All of it.
There would be no more forthcoming.
Worse still, she owed money. Living on credit, in hindsight, had been, while absolutely normal, a very ill-conceived plan. She’d been so certain that, somehow, her finances would turn in her favor and her brother would return.
Pain twisted her heart. He was never coming back. Wrapping her thick shawl tighter about her, she willed the pain away and lifted her gaze from the numbers that refused to eke out a few more months of living. She turned to the window overlooking the sea.
Just a few months ago, she had directed her gaze to that beautiful, blue horizon with its stunning and powerful ocean, which kept England safe from invaders, and looked for her father and brother to return.
A letter had arrived, instead.
Care of His Majesty’s government, she had found that she would never look to the horizon for her brother and father again. The two most important people in her life had been wounded in a raging sea battle off the coast of Spain.
They’d been taken to a hospital where they had died. Alone. She had no idea what had happened to them. The bodies had, she believed, been buried without her being informed, so she had been unable to say goodbye.
It was a thought that haunted her every day, leaving her heart ragged with mourning. It infuriated her that they had been so careless with the men she loved so much. Men who had died for their country.
So, she’d been left alone. All alone. Alone with her anger and the unladylike skills that her parents had instilled in her over the years.
She tore her gaze from the window and looked around the small cottage, lit only by the fire and silvery moonlight spilling through the glass windowpanes. Her family had rented the small, yet very respectable home when her mother had become ill and they’d ceased their travels around the globe upon her father’s vessel.
It was where her mother had taken her last breath. It was where she and her brother, father, and mother had last all been together.
Now, that they had all departed this life, Olivia had, at least, hoped to stay in the home they’d been together in. To keep it.
But the rent was already long overdue and she didn’t have the funds.
All the savings had gone two years ago to medicines and trips to spas for her mother’s declining health. A health which had never recovered and quietly taken Evangeline Stanhope to a grave atop Creevely Hill, overlooking the sea she’d loved so well.
A tear slipped down Olivia’s cheek and she dashed it away. She’d known the risks. When her father and brother left her alone to fight in the war, she was well aware of the danger. They’d gone, both unable to face the decline of such an incredible woman. Men claimed to be strong, but in her opinion, they were fragile in the face of illness. When they had been unable to save Evangeline Stanhope, the Stanhope men had turned their hands to what they could save.
The true fear of Napoleon’s rampage across Europe had also driven their patriotism.
But now, her mother would lie alone in the cold earth under the willow tree in the cemetery upon the hill. Her father and brother’s bodies would almost certainly never be found.
And love it as she did, as her whole family did, there was no escaping the fact that the sea was a cold mistress. If her father and brother had not decided that they needed to take up arms to fight the tyranny of Napoleon, Olivia would likely be at sea with them, traveling the world seeking out new merchant ventures.