A Shameful Secret/Anne Ireland/Amira Press
"You must admit, my dear Araminta, that your delightful, though sadly irresponsible, son Robert is in trouble. And I fear that if you want my help in this matter, then you must be prepared to give me something in return."
Charlotte, Countess of Danbury, fixed her cousin with a charming but determined look that would have wilted a much stronger character than Araminta Weston possessed. She was a woman of something over forty, dressed in the height of fashion, wealthy in her own right due to two fortuitous marriages, and still attractive. Her companion however, was a diminutive woman with an air of resignation, as though life had not treated her as well as it might.
They were sitting in the small but pretty parlor of Mrs Weston’s East Anglian home. For the middle of June, it was wetter and colder than usual, though that day the sun was filtering in through the long French windows, showing up the fading in the once rich carpet and the curtains that were beginning to show signs of wear.
"Naturally, I should be extremely grateful and happy to oblige in almost any way," Araminta fluttered helplessly. . "But my late husband forbade me to allow Hester such pleasures. He said I must never forget her shame."
"If I may say so, Araminta, Harold Weston was a fool and a bully. I thought so when you married him, and I have not revised my opinion since. Besides, he has been dead more than nine months, and I do not think his opinions should weigh with you now."
"Oh, Charlotte," her cousin said tearfully. "I do not know what to do. Henry never forgave her you know—and it was quite shocking."
Privately, Charlotte thought that the most shocking thing about the whole business was the way the Westons had treated their only daughter, but to say so at this moment would not get her what she wanted. Araminta was perhaps a foolish woman, but she could be coaxed if one had enough patience.
"It was also eight years ago, my dear cousin. Long enough to be put aside, I believe? I think Hester has been punished enough—do you not agree in your heart?"
"Well . . ." Araminta sighed. "Yes, perhaps."
"Well, those are my terms," Charlotte said. "Come, think about it, Minta! You will have your sister Jane here to keep up your spirits, and I shall have Hester to bear me company in Bath. It is not as if I intend to parade her on the marriage market, for she is five-and-twenty after all."
Araminta looked at her speculatively. "And if I agree that you may have Hester as your companion, you will pay all Robert’s gambling debts?"
"I shall settle the ten thousand pounds he so recklessly threw away last week, and he will promise to buckle down and put his estate in order. After that, we shall see. I might do something more for him if he shows that he has a mind to reform."
"Then, it seems I have no choice but to agree," Araminta said, "Robert will have to find himself an heiress—and if Hester is settled with you, I can live comfortably on my dower."
"Your sister has a small competence of her own I believe," Charlotte said. "You might retire to one of the less fashionable spars and live quietly instead of rattling about this barn of a place if you chose."
"Yes, we might do that," Araminta agreed, looking happier now that it was settled. "But, of course, even if I have given you my consent, you will still have to persuade Hester. I am not sure that she would wish to accompany you. She has become very much a recluse these past years."
"Then it is time she was taken out of herself," Charlotte said firmly. She would have no backsliding now! "Where is she? Will you send for her to come down?"
"She has gone on an errand to the Vicarage," Araminta said. "But she should be back very shortly."
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Out soon with Amira Press! In ebook and in print in March 2008 - in USA