Married to a Stranger Online - Louise Allen

Prologue

Hertfordshire—1799

‘I love Daniel and I will wait for him and marry him!’ Sophia Langley glared at Cal. Her small bosom—Where had that come from all of a sudden? he wondered—rose and fell within the bodice of her unfashionable gown; her nose, as usual, was smudged with charcoal.

‘It is ridiculous. You are far too young, both of you.’ He resisted the urge to pick her up like the small, underfed kitten she resembled and give her a good shake to try and get some sense into her. Why on earth his twin would fix on the daughter of one of their gentry neighbours to fall for defeated him. The chit wasn’t even out yet.

‘You do not understand me, you have taken virtually no notice of me when we visit, and now you know what is best for me? I am seventeen and Daniel is the same age as you.’ Indignant blue eyes, her best feature, narrowed at him.

The retort that she was only seventeen and three days old and that he was ten minutes older than his twin was childish; he bit it back unsaid. At just eighteen he was a man and he did not bicker with girls. ‘What do you mean, I take no notice of you? We played together as children, didn’t we?’

She snorted. He supposed she was refraining from observing that she had trailed around after them and had been tolerated as a fielder at cricket and as a suitable maiden to rescue while they were defeating dragons or Saracens or half the French army, but that hardly made them soul mates.

‘We are both going to be away for a long time. You will meet someone else, fall in love properly when you grow up.’

It was, he realised as soon as he had said it, tactless in the extreme. Sophia drew her skinny frame up to its full height somewhere near his chin.

‘You pompous, unfeeling wretch! How you can be the twin of someone as wonderful as Daniel, I have no idea, Callum Chatterton, but I love Daniel and I swear I will marry him and I hope you fall in love with someone who breaks your heart.’ She stalked away, the dignity of her exit marred by catching her toe in the edge of the rug. He laughed. She slammed the door.

Cal shook his head and went back to packing for India.

Chapter One

Glebe End House, Hertfordshire—

5th September, 1809

‘It is from Callum Chatterton.’ Sophia Langley looked up from the single sheet of paper flattened under her hand between plate and cup. Her mother, a slice of toast suspended halfway to her mouth, looked as puzzled as she felt. ‘He says he will call this afternoon.’

‘Then he is back.’ Mrs Langley frowned. ‘I do not think he has been back to the Hall since March.’

‘It appears not.’ Why the man who would have been her brother-in-law was calling now, six months after the funeral of her betrothed, she could not imagine. ‘Lord Flamborough has said very little about him, now I come to think of it.’

Will Chatterton, the Earl of Flamborough, elder brother of the twins, was a near neighbour. He had always been a good friend—too good for Sophia’s conscience once he had brought the news of Daniel’s death. Her betrothed had perished in the wreck of the ship bringing the twins back to England after their ten years in India in the service of the East India Company. Will did not owe them anything now she would not be marrying Daniel.

Sophia looked down at her ringless hand and the tight cuff of her morning gown of deep mauve lawn. She had worn black for three months and had just moved into half-mourning. She still felt the most terrible hypocrite every time any of their friends or neighbours, reminded by her attire, sighed sympathetically over her loss.

With the reading of the will after the funeral it became clear that Daniel had neglected to amend it to recognise his betrothal. Neither Callum, who had been so outspoken about the engagement at the time, nor the earl, whom she suspected of not approving either, seemed to realise just how this left the Langleys.

Daniel had made no provision for her at all. Callum, who had seemed almost frozen with grief over the loss of his twin, had tried to explain that this was simply the result of Daniel’s carelessness about business, his unwillingness to confront unpleasant matters such as his own mortality, rather than any lack of love or care for