Chapter 6: The Taste of Poverty


“What?” Carina rasped. Horror curdled in her gut as Sophya’s unsettling smirk beamed down at her. “But—I’m not yet seventeen.”

“Sixteen is old enough to be engaged,” Lady Helena said as she brushed imaginary dust from the piano. “And we can hold the wedding after you turn seventeen. The coronation should be over by then.”

Carina’s nails dug into the leather-bound novel in her lap. Even Sophya had not become engaged until she turned eighteen. “And who—” she swallowed uncomfortably, “—who is the suitor?”

“Why, dear old Lord Lennox!” Sophya crooned as she hid her vindictive smile behind her fan.

“What?” Carina and Lincoln yelped in unison, though only one of them was delighted.

“That old fart?” Lincoln added with a perverse laugh. “Isn’t he seventy?”

“He is forty-seven,” Lady Helena replied in a reproachful tone. “And he’s a Baron with plenty of land and wealth. Your father met him during one of his business ventures.”

‘If by business venture you mean the capital gambling hall?’ Carina corrected as she returned the book to its place on the shelf, trying to squash the nausea that bubbled within her stomach.

‘Why would a divorcée, someone who had chosen to remain unmarried for nearly a decade, suddenly want a young and penniless bride?’

This unexpected arrangement had Lord Josiah’s handiwork written all over it.

“And he has two sons, both of whom are already married. The eldest is set to follow his father’s footsteps in the Merchant’s Guild, while the other has become a fine military officer,” Helena continued as she tidied her dress and rose to ring the bell pull by the door. “Why is dinner taking so long?”

“Mother,” Carina said quietly, with a hand pressed against her rebellious stomach. “I’m not interested in marrying someone more than three times my age.”

“Nonsense, age hardly matters in such things. And who else do you think will marry you?” Helena snapped as she yanked the bell pull again. “At least Lord Lennox is willing to pay for this marriage.”

“Pay?” Sophya echoed with surprise.

“What do you mean?” Carina asked quickly. “I thought the bride’s family covered wedding expenses and the dowry.”

“Dowry?” Sophya repeated sharply. “But Mama, what about the dowry for my wedding!”

Helena yanked the bell pull again with a grimace of irritation. “Lord Lennox does not require a dowry,” she replied stiffly.

“But, it is customary among nobility for a bride’s family to provide a dowry—as its meant to be an income for her to live off of after entering a new household,” Carina pointed out.

“Lord Lennox has enough money of his own,” Helena replied, “He’s certainly far better off than we are. I’m sure he’ll agree to buy new dresses and anything else you need if you ask him nicely. After all, he’s already offered to invest a handsome sum in your father’s business after the wedding.”

“I wonder how much your maidenhood is worth to the old man?” Lincoln sniggered from his chair.

“Lincoln!” Helena snapped. Her grip on the bell pull went slack as the rope broke and fell to the floor. “Oh!”

“So, you’re selling me?” Carina demanded.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Helena retorted as she kicked the bell-rope aside.

“Is Lord Josiah also asking Baron Winslet to invest in his business before or after Sophy is married to Lord Asher?”

“That is different, Sophya and Asher love each other.”

“So it makes more sense to demand payment when your daughter and groom are strangers?”

“Maura, I will not discuss this further. Now let’s all head to the dining room. Your father may already be waiting.”

Sophya fanned herself triumphantly as she linked arms with Lincoln, and the pair sauntered through the door. Lady Helena departed swiftly after them.

Carina pressed a trembling hand against her lips as she exhaled sharply.

‘No, I am not going to be one of those helpless girls who just let themselves be married off into an unwanted marriage.’ Carina tightened her trembling hand into a fist as she rose from her chair. ‘So Josiah thinks he can sell me off to keep his business afloat a little while longer?’

A bitter laugh slipped free as Carina raised her chin.

‘Over my dead body.’

Lord Josiah had once been a handsome man, but drinking, stress, and overindulgence in drugs had aged him beyond his years. The opiates, initially intended to relieve the pain in his upper right thigh after having been shot by the angry husband of an ex-lover, had become an addiction.

A wealthy investor had gifted him with a cane around that time, back when the Turnbell Trading Company still prospered. Josiah was quite fond of the decorative rod with its silver bulldog sculpture—though the silver had faded over the years and acquired more than a few dents when Josiah used it to beat his servants.

Josiah coughed vociferously into a soiled handkerchief as he took his seat and laid his silver cane on the table cloth. Helena grimaced as she adjusted her empty wine glass nervously.

“Why is he here?” Josiah barked as his gaze fixated on Lincoln.

Lincoln flinched beneath his father’s tone but turned to offer his greeting. “I’ve completed all of my class assignments and finished my exams early, Father, so I could return home sooner and congratulate sweet Sophya on her engagement.”

“Engagement? What nonsense are you spewing, boy? Has a formal letter been drawn up and signed by both parents? Funny, I don’t recall signing such a document.”

“Dear,” Helena said with weary tolerance. “We can discuss the legal details later. Lord Asher did propose and in front of several witnesses. You should be happy for our daughter!”

“Hmm, engagements can be easily broken. Marriage is the only binding contract,” Josiah remarked bitterly. “But a marriage can not happen until our young King and Queen have been coronated. So what’s the point in celebrating?”

“Father!” Sophya’s voice quivered with tears.

Josiah’s cold exterior softened. “I’m sorry, my child, forgive me. I should have left you all to eat and celebrate in peace. I’m just—” he sighed and rubbed his gaunt cheeks.

Sophya left her seat and rushed to his side. She captured his hand, kissed the back of it, and then both of his cheeks—her sweetness restoring life to his complexion and gaze.

“You are too good for me,” Josiah murmured as he patted her cheeks fondly. “Never fear, I will do all in my power to ensure you marry the young man that you love.”

“I know you will, Father,” Sophya replied and kissed his hand once more.

“That’s enough,” Helena interrupted. “The food will get cold.” She turned and signaled the butler, who, in turn, alerted the staff. The first course was promptly served.

A bowl of simple green pea soup with buttered bread set aside was placed before the Master first and Maura last. No one commented on how the meals of late had grown less extravagant and the meat all but vacant from most of them.

Carina picked up her spoon and cleaned it with her napkin as Sophya returned to her seat and resumed her excited chatter.

“I heard some fabulous news about my favorite boutique today,” Sophya chattered. “The Crown Princess herself has become a patron of the ‘Holy Maiden’s Boutique’!”

“Isn’t the boutique new?” Helena asked in surprise.

“Yes, but the designer, Sir Everly, is simply genius. All the noble ladies from the highest social circles are lining up to wear his designs, and now the Crown Princess has most of her dresses made exclusively by him as well.”

“Oh my!” Helena looked impressed as she pondered her daughter’s current outing dress thoughtfully. “Perhaps we should have some new gowns made for you then.”

Josiah choked on his soup and sputtered. “New gowns? Didn’t both of you go shopping last week?”

“That was four weeks ago, Father,” Sophya corrected. “And I would love to, but apparently Sir Everly is always booked two months in advance!”

“Then, we make an appointment first thing tomorrow morning!” Helena declared. “I’m sure your father won’t have any objections to us buying new dresses in two months.”

Her sharp gaze fixed upon Josiah as if daring him to refute her claims.

Josiah picked up the table napkin and hastily wiped his brow. “No, of course not darling—But only a few dresses.”

Carina suppressed a snigger with some difficulty. She wondered how Sophya would feel if she knew the designer and boutique she so delightedly praised were both sponsored and partially owned by Maura, under the name Mr. Frost.

Of equal delight was Josiah’s reaction to the thought of his wife and daughter buying new dresses. The brute couldn’t have looked more uncomfortable if he had swallowed a bee. Which seemed to suggest the informant Carina had placed inside the Turnbell Trading Co. had been correct when he reported that the company was suffering under substantial financial difficulties.

If old Maura’s memories were correct and the timeline remained intact, then Josiah’s business would go under in less than a month. At which point, he would be forced to sell the manor to avoid being sent to debtors’ jail—or worse, have his children sold into slavery to cover his debts.

Unfortunately for the rest of the Turnbells, who had invested their inheritance left by Aunt Edith into Josiah’s company—at his insistence—those funds had long since been depleted.

‘Soon, you will all be as poor as paupers!’

Carina sipped her soup and relished the promising flavor the future held.

But only if she could escape this unfortunate marriage arrangement to Lord Lennox.


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