The Rebellious
Young Lady


Chapter One

Tilleyard Manor, A Morning In Early Autumn

She took a deep breath and faced herself in the mirror.

Come now, Mildred. You can face your own grand-daughter and have a serious talk, can’t you?

Lady Mildred Tillewood was not getting any younger. Quite the reverse, in fact. Her heart was beating slower with every passing day, her joints creaked and complained with even the slightest movement, and any slight extreme of temperature was unbearable. She forgot things in a way she never had before, and when the fog descended on her mind, she felt entirely stupid.

It was infuriating, but there was nothing to be done about it. Mildred wasn’t a fool. She hadn’t expected to live forever. She would happily sit back and wait out her dotage if it weren’t for that one thing bothering her.

Or rather, that one person.


She’d dragged her old bones out of bed earlier than usual in order to talk to Mary before breakfast. Mary was an annoyingly keen morning person, and this was an important conversation for them to have.

Mildred dabbed a little of her favourite rosewater perfume around her neck as a finishing touch. She sighed at her reflection – which showed a tired old woman that she did not recognize – and turned to the library door. If her calculations were correct, the girl would be in here, reading the newspaper.

Really. A newspaper. Whιch twenty-three-year-old woman would pore over the daily papers like a novel?

The question answered itself. Mary, that’s who. If she wasn’t so very strange, Mildred wouldn’t need to have this conversation. Again.

She hated to nag, but really, there might not be much time left.

She pushed open the door and went inside.




Mary made it a rule never to let herself get so absorbed in one thing that she was oblivious to all else. Her older sisters, Evangeline and Theo, frequently got so absorbed in work or novels that they were unaware of anything around them, and that had been the groundwork for many excellent pranks.

Mary did not want to be pranked. She had work to do and did not want distractions.

When the library door opened, she suppressed a sigh.

“Good morning, Grandmother. You’re up early.”

Mildred winced.

“Morning, darling. Mind if I join you?”

Mary frowned, hiding her expression behind the rustling newspaper sheets. The servants had long since stopped being surprised at Mary’s avid newspaper-reading habits. In her humble opinion, it was stranger not to want to keep abreast of current events. Novels were fine, but in the morning, her hunger for information was at its strongest. For some reason, a nice article about banks calmed her in a way that novels did not.

Failing that, she had plenty of pamphlets about women’s liberation to read, hidden away in a drawer. She was the lady of the Tilleyard estate, which meant she didn’t have to consult anyone about her choice of reading material.

“Don’t you get lonely, Mary?”

Mary stiffened, peering over the top of the newspaper at Mildred.


“You heard me.” Mildred picked at her skirts, avoiding Mary’s eye.

“Is this another conversation about marriage? If it is, Grandmother, I am really not in the mood. I won’t apologise for winning a race.”

Mildred pressed her lips into a tight line. “Well, seeing as you’ve brought up that subject – do put that newspaper away – I do think you owe poor Mr. Tuckney an apology.”

Mary narrowed her eyes. She folded up the newspaper with a great rustling of paper and set it aside. Leaning forward, she rested her elbows on her knees in the way that always infuriated her poor grandmother.

“I owe Mr. Tuckney nothing. If anything, he owes me an apology for daring to suggest that I could not outride him. He even had the audacity to say that his horse – a stallion – could outpace my mare regardless of the rider. As if his overpriced piece of pedigree horseflesh could gallop faster than my Daisy. Well, I showed him, didn’t I?”

“You showed him up.” Mildred said sharply. “You humiliated him.”

“He humiliated himself! When he saw that I was winning, he was the one who decided to really dig his heels into that poor horse. I’m not surprised the creature threw him like that.”

“He could have broken his neck, Mary! In front of all those people! And you would have been blamed for it.”

“Oh, Grandmother, he landed in a pond. He would be as safe as houses. Besides, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

The conversation was rapidly devolving into a shouting match. Again. Every time that Mary thought she and her grandmother were finally coming back to their old, peaceful relationship, something like this happened.

Like Mr. Tuckney being thrown into a pond after challenging her to a race. Really, whose fault was that?

“You shouldn’t have taken him up on his challenge.” Mildred said, with the air of someone trying too hard to stay calm. “Nobody expected you to, least  of all Mr. Tuckney.”

Mary blinked, perplexed. “I don’t understand. He literally said to me that he betted I couldn’t keep up with him and his stallion, and that I probably wasn’t as good a rider as I thought I was. How else was I supposed to take that?”

Mildred fidgeted, glancing around the library as if looking for help.

“Darling, gentlemen say lots of things they don’t mean. If he’d won the race, he would have been mocked for challenging a lady to a race.”

Why? As I nicely proved, I was a more than formidable opponent. Besides, it’s not likely to happen again, is it?”

“No, because you haven’t been to any social events since then!”

Mary leaned back in her seat, eyeing her grandmother. So this was the crux of the matter, then.

Mary had never enjoyed social events. She disliked balls, parties, soirees, and those garden parties and picnics that were never as much fun as you thought they were going to be. They were a drag, a waste of time, and really unnecessary now. After all, why did young women and men attend these functions? To get married. Did Mary need to marry?

The answer to that was a resounding no.

“Grandmother…” she began, only to be cut off.

“No, Mary, you must listen to me now. I’m tired, and I’m too old to argue with you about this every day. If you’re going to secure a good husband, you  need to attend these events and avoid humiliating gentlemen, even the ones you don’t like.”

“But I don’t need to marry, do I?” Mary said, as patiently as she could manage.

It seemed impossible that she and her grandmother – two clever, well-spoken women – could argue about a subject as often as they had, and still not come to a conclusion. What on earth was so difficult to understand?

“You do if you want a family.” Mildred said sharply. “If you don’t want to be lonely.”

“I’m not lonely.”

“Aren’t you? Mary, I don’t think you understand what it is like for a single woman in this world.”

“For most single women, yes, it’s difficult.” Mary insisted. “But I have my own house, my own estate, and plenty of money. I have my sisters, and my nephews and nieces. What more could I want?”

“Who helps you run this estate, Mary?”

That question took her aback a little.

“You do, of course.” Mary replied.

“And what about when I am dead?”

Mary swallowed hard. “Don’t talk like that, Grandmother. You’re in excellent health.”

Mildred gave a sharp bark of laughter. “Oh, my dear, oblivious girl. But I need you to understand here. Running an estate like this is more difficult than you can imagine. When I am dead, you’ll need to rely much more heavily on your steward. Mr. Brown is very trustworthy, but he is no spring chicken. What about when you need a new steward, or if something needs to be done on the estate – something that requires a lot of money, something that could fail?”

“I’m sure I’ll manage.”

“Almost every man out in that world would be willing to take advantage of a rich, unmarried woman like you.” Mildred continued, her voice low and urgent. “You don’t seem to understand that, and I daresay you won’t until it’s too late. You think you are so clever, Mary, and in many ways you are. But cleverness is not the same as being sensible, and you, Mary, are not sensible. Your sisters are married. They have their own families. They will leave you behind, and you don’t see that. I don’t know how much time I have left, and I want so badly to see you safe and settled before I die.”

There was a silence after this speech. Mary opened her mouth to reply and was somewhat shocked to find that her ready wit wasn’t there.

“I’m not lonely.” She managed eventually.

Mildred looked grey and tired after her outburst, and Mary felt an unusual pang of fear. Surely her grandmother wasn’t really ill, was she? It wasn’t as if their comfortable life would change anytime soon.

Mildred got up, slowly and painfully, with an audible wince of discomfort.

“I shall let you think about it, Mary. You can’t push people away forever, my darling.”

Then she was gone, hobbling out of the library, leaning heavily on the walking stick that Mary had bought her as a present. The door closed, echoing around the room.

Mary reached for her newspaper, but it just seemed like a silly collection of stories now.


That Afternoon, The Hunterian Museum, London


“I don’t even know where it came from!” Mary complained, eyeing a stuffed tiger that snarled at them from a pedestal. “I was just reading my papers, and then…”

“It’s probably because Mr. Tuckney and his friends are all gossiping about you in town.” Theo remarked, shuddering at the tiger.

“I don’t care about that.”

“You should. That sort of gossip sticks. Young gentlemen tend not to like being embarrassed.”

Mary scoffed, rolling her eyes. “I expected better from you, Evie.”

Her two older sisters, Evangeline Woolfe and Theodosia Blake, had arranged to meet with Mary at the Museum in London. Usually, Mary loved taking in the exhibits, but today she simply didn’t have the energy.

“Do you think Grandmother is ill?” Mary continued.

Evangeline and Theo glanced briefly at each other.

“Grandmother isn’t getting any younger.” Evangeline said gently. “She’s not going to live forever.”

Mary bit her lip. “She must worry about me quite a lot.”

“Yes, she does.” Theo said, shrugging. “But you can set her mind at rest quite easily, can’t you?”

Mary sighed, rolling her eyes again. “I suppose you’re going to tell me that I should go to a party or something.”

“Well, it won’t hurt. There’s a nice soiree coming up, hosted by the Royal College of Surgeons. Lots of people are going, and we’ll be there, so what is there to worry about?”

“I’m not worried about going to a party. I just hate wasting my time.”

They moved on from the poor, dusty stuffed tiger, to a collection of badly put together bones which could have been anything from a dog to a very small bear.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to find someone to spend your life with.” Theo said mildly. “I always did, but I’d quite given up when I met Henry.”

“Henry is nice. And Nicholas.” Mary conceded. “You two have married nice men. But I’m not like you, am I? I’m…”

She trailed off, trying to think of words to sum up who Mary Tillewood really was. Mary knew that she wasn’t really an ordinary sort of girl. She liked to ride horses, go fishing, read newspapers, and debate about things that she wasn’t even supposed to have an opinion on.  Honestly, it was exhausting, and gentlemen seemed so very… well, shocked.

It was funny at first, but when every gentleman she met seemed shocked and disgusted at the sort of person she was, it did tend to take a toll.

Looks-wise, Mary knew she was neither ravishingly beautiful nor shockingly ugly. Evangeline was the tall, skinny one, like a beanpole with less charm. Even so, she’d managed to secure Nicholas, who was extremely handsome and intelligent, if somewhat strange.

Theo was probably the prettiest of them all, although she was considerably shorter and rounder than fashion dedicated, and rather stood out among all the willowy beauties of the Season.

Mary herself had mousy coloured hair, pretty but not outstanding, blue eyes like her sisters, and an oval-shaped, freckled face. She was tall, but not as tall as Evangeline, and she’d grown out of her lanky phase some years ago. She had a gap between her front teeth that she could whistle through, and also squirt water through if the time was right.

In short, Mary was a decent-looking young woman, and never spent much time worrying about her face or form. At the moment, she was wearing a lavender-coloured gown which her grandmother had bought for her, and her hair was twisted back in a knot at the nape of her neck. She had a wild fringe of curls over her forehead, which never quite seemed to behave.

In a few years – now, even – she would be considered to be past her best, and Society would start to ignore her completely. Society did that to unmarried women. Mary hated that, but she was under no illusions as to what her fate would be. She couldn’t fight the whole of Society.

Not by herself, at least.

She sighed. “If I promise to go to this soiree and marry a nice man, will you all feel happier?”

Her sisters snorted, glancing at each other with a smile.

“I’ll believe that when I see it.” Evangeline muttered. “I bet the evening will just end with another gentleman splashing around in a pond.”

Theo unsuccessfully tried to muffle a hoot of laughter.

“I’ll be good!” Mary insisted, piqued. “I tell you what, I’ll just marry the first man that asks me, shall I?”

The girls laughed, shaking their heads.

“I hope you won’t!” Theo said firmly. “Marriage is a serious business, and not one to be taken lightly.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Marriage is ridiculous, and no sane, independent person should bother with it.”

That got more laughter, and Mary fought back a grin. Even now, all these years later, she still loved making her sisters laugh. Of course, she needed to come up with better ways to amuse them, rather than just chasing Theo around the garden with a spider in her cupped palms.

“I want you to promise that you’ll be on your best behaviour at the soiree, though.” Evangeline said, suddenly serious. “I mean it, Mary. Do you promise?”

Mary swung her arm behind her back, neatly crossing her fingers.

“Of course.” she lied smoothly. “Best behaviour, I promise. Oh, and marrying the first man that asks.”

Evangeline shook her head, fighting back a smile. “I do not know what to do with you, Mary Tillewood. You’ll be the death of us all.”

“That’s Lady Mary to you.”

Chapter Two

London, Vanders Limited Office Building


In Colin Vale’s not-so-humble opinion, the poets had very much gotten it wrong. It was not better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

As far as he could tell, love was a nonsensical, messy business that amounted to an absolute waste of time, and made a man look silly into the bargain.

He’d do just about anything to wipe clean the slate and start off with a fresh head and heart. After all, Colin Vale was – without sounding vain – exceptionally handsome and very charming.

Well, they were a handsome family. They were all golden-haired and blue eyed, with oval faces, large eyes, and pretty bow-shaped lips. Colin himself was the perfect mix of pretty and handsome, and an almost androgynous look about him.

More than a few jealous gentlemen had mocked him for that, calling him Miss Vale as if it were an insult. Colin could not have cared less. He’d worked to become a Captain, and he was pleasantly aware that the vast majority of women in Society were swooning over him.

Colin’s two sisters – his twin, Camilla, and his older sister, Marilla – had both been selected to be the Diamonds of their first respective Seasons. Of course, Marilla had gone on to marry Benedict Vanders, the Marquess of Vale, in an exceptionally lucrative match, while Camilla… had not.

The less said about that, the better, only that Camilla had not made the match she’d set her mind upon, and the somewhat straitened financial circumstances which followed had led to Colin being here, in his brother-in-law’s office buildings, with the Captain just a useless prefix to his name.

It was infuriating, but… well, things could be worse.

She could be engaged, for example.

Even the thought of her engagement being announced sent Colin into a miserable mood. It seemed remarkable to him that she had made it so far in Society without being snapped up by someone. Did other men simply not see what he did?

“Penny for your thoughts, Colin!”

Colin jumped a mile, banging his elbows on his heavy old desk. He glanced up sharply and was treated to the sight of Franklin Vanders and his wide grin.

Franklin was Benedict Vander’s younger brother. The Vanders family business was a large and extensive one, based on shipping goods for higher prices than they had bought them, managing properties, and other equally boring business ventures. They’d been happy enough to give Colin a position here, and kind enough to turn a blind eye when he kept making mistakes.

They’d fought in the same war together, Franklin and Colin, and Franklin had come out much worse. He’d nearly lost his leg and was lucky not to lose his life as well. The leg was all but ruined, twisted and scarred under the gracious covering of his trouser leg.

Colin didn’t blame him for that. Franklin was twenty-seven years old, only one year older than Colin, and clearly did not want to be seen as an invalid just yet. He had black hair, large brown eyes, and a plain but pleasant face. He’d received some sort of head injury too, which the surgeons had ignored in favour of saving at least part of his leg. Mostly, Franklin was fine, but sometimes his memory was a little unreliable.

He was Colin’s closest friend. At one time, Colin’s closest friend was Camilla, but that had all changed since the Tillewood incident, as they’d all taken to calling it. Camilla was different now, and sometimes – well, sometimes Colin just did not like her.

“I was just thinking about how nice it would be to go a full day without you giving me the fright of my life.” Colin mumbled, and Franklin laughed.

“Come now, you must have heard me clumping up the stairs. Now, did you get started on the Yarm contract yet?”

“Yes.” Colin lied smoothly.

He was fooling nobody. Franklin wriggled his eyebrows and snorted.

“Well, let’s have a drink, shall we?”

“It’s barely three o’ clock.”

“Ah, we’re just in time. Brandy?”

“I suppose I might as well.”

Colin sat back in his uncomfortable desk chair, yawning and stretching his arms above his head. His joints cracked and his muscles stretched painfully.

I hate working at a desk, Colin thought miserably.

Franklin poured out two generous measures, and set a glass down in front of Colin. He dropped heavily into the seat opposite Colin, and stretched out his bad leg, wincing.

“Have you decided what you’re going to wear to that wretched party later?” Franklin asked, taking a generous sip of his drink.

Colin paused; glass half-lifted to his lips. “What party?”

“Oh, don’t say you’ve forgotten. The Royal College of Surgeons is hosting that thing, remember? All dancing and fancy little drinks that don’t get you tipsy halfway near quickly enough, and far too much food for anyone to eat. You’re going, aren’t you?”

Colin groaned. “I had forgotten. I’m sure I’ll think of some excuse.”

Franklin shrugged, obviously not particularly interested whether he went or not.

Colin hesitated for just a moment, staring down at the swirling amber depths of his brandy.

“Surgeons, is it? So, it’s likely that the Woolfes will be there.”

“I should think so. Doctor Woolfe is receiving an award, after all.”

“And their families? You know, the Blake family…” he cleared his throat. “The Tillewoods?”

Franklin glanced up with narrowed eyes. “Oh, I see what you’re thinking. Lady Mary Tillewood will probably be there, yes.”

Colin could feel colour rising steadily to his cheeks.

“I wasn’t thinking that.”

“I was not born yesterday. Are you still not over that girl? It’s been a long time, Colin. At this point, I should think you’re either dying for love or you just like the idea of being in love.”

“You don’t understand.” Colin insisted. “You know about all that business with Lady Mary’s older sister and Camilla.”

Franklin winced. “That’s true.”

That story, which had simply been christened The Incident, was a complex thing. Camilla had set her mind and heart on one Lord Blake. Much to her shock, Lord Blake had not been interested in her. She tried her best to attract him, but nothing worked.

Shockingly enough, her attempts at destroying his reputation had not endeared her to him.

And then, of course, he’d fallen in love with Lady Theodosia Tillewood, Lady Mary’s older sister. Camilla had been baffled and furious, and set about trying to destroy Lady Theodosia’s reputation, too.

Needless to say, it hadn’t worked. Camilla’s lies had come out, as these things tended to do, and it was all hastily swept under the rug.

Not hastily enough, though. Camilla was still not married, four years on, and she blamed the Tillewood girls for that.

And still Mary Tillewood lived free of charge in Colin’s mind. He simply couldn’t get rid of her. Some days, she was all he could think about. They’d talked, of course, at various parties and soirees, but she’d never given a hint that she saw him as anything other than an annoying fop. She wasn’t even impressed when he joined the Navy and achieved the rank of Captain.

“You should tell her.” Franklin said suddenly, cutting into Colin’s thoughts.

“I beg your pardon?”

Franklin met his eye squarely. “I said, you should tell Lady Mary how you feel about her.”

“Certainly not. Don’t you remember when Lord Everett tried to propose to her, and she all but tore his head off his shoulders? I value my life, thank you.”

He shrugged. “People change. Perhaps Lady Mary is thinking about marriage now. She’s not getting any younger, and she’ll have a formidable estate to manage all on her own when her grandmother dies. If she’s got any sense, she’ll be looking around for a good husband now.”

Colin bit his lip, thrumming his fingers on the desk. Franklin finished his brandy with a happy sigh and eyed the bottle for a second helping.

“How long have you known her, anyway?”

Franklin was the only one who knew about Mary. Colin couldn’t even remember when he’d first confided to him about it. At the time, Franklin had probably assumed that it was just a harmless little fancy. At the time, so did Colin.

He could rely upon Franklin’s discretion not to speak of it to Camilla, or Marilla. Colin’s life wouldn’t be worth living if they found out.

“I was quite young.” Colin said eventually. “None of us were out, of course. I think that she was fourteen or fifteen. I was walking in the Park with Camilla. I’m sure you can imagine what Camilla was like back then – she was already a perfect little lady, raring to get into Society and make a life for herself. I was happy to trundle along in her wake.”

“I can imagine.” Franklin mumbled. He was not fond of Camilla.

“Well, Camilla suddenly pinched me, and pointed. Mary was climbing a tree, in the middle of the Park, in front of everyone.”

“Oh, dear me!! Was she climbing it well?”

“Very well, I think. Anyway, we were all trying to work out what on earth the dear girl was doing, and then I saw it.”

“Saw what?”

Colin smiled, despite himself. “A kite, a child’s kite, tangled up in the highest branches of the foliage. Camilla was talking about how shocking it was, and how no woman ought ever to be caught doing such a thing, but all I could think about was how kind she was. I hadn’t noticed the little boys flying their kite, least of all seen it get stuck in the trees. There were two older boys who seemed to have been bullying him. Children do that, you know – steal each other’s things and toss them into trees. One of the boys – the youngest one – was crying, too. The poor thing wanted his kite back. And Mary was going to get it for him.”

Franklin smiled, tilting his head to one side. “So, we know that she’s kind, regardless of how tough and heartless she might appear. Did she get the kite?”

“Certainly. She climbed down, handed it to the little boys,scolded the pair of older boys, and marched off. You should have seen her. Head held high, not bothering to give anyone a sideways glance. She was entirely assured in herself, completely happy, even though everyone was tutting and shaking their heads.”

“Not you, though.” Franklin pointed out. “You were probably grinning like a lunatic.”

Colin shook his head. “I wouldn’t have dared. Camilla seemed to hate her ever more after that. Mary was around our age, so I suppose even then Camilla was scoping out the competition. Mary isn’t as pretty as Camilla, but there’s something else about her. Something that’s hard to resist.” He bit his lip, dropping his gaze back to his brandy. “I certainly can’t.”

There was silence for a moment or two, and Colin wondered whether he’d said too much. Perhaps Franklin was sick of hearing him go on about Lady Mary Tillewood, without ever speaking to her.

“Aren’t you lonely, Colin?” Franklin said, and Colin had certainly not expected that.

“I beg your pardon?”

Franklin lifted his dark, smudgy brows. “You heard me. Aren’t you lonely? Don’t you want to get married?”

Colin fidgeted. “Well, I’m not opposed to the idea.”

If Mary Tillewood would marry me, of course.

“Do you intend to spend your whole life worrying about what Camilla and Marilla tell you to do? Life is short, Colin. I’ll tell you something, I’ve lived twenty-seven years in this world and never felt anything like what you seem to feel for this Mary Tillewood girl. Don’t you think that you should take advantage of that? Do something about it?”

Colin bit his lip. “I don’t want to make a fool of myself. She’s rather good at making men look silly, you know.”

“Well, then prepare what you’re going to say. These feelings are not going to do away. Now, while I’m sure that she’s an admirable young woman, I can’t personally understand what you see in her, but it’s clear that you do see something. You need closure. If you tell her how you feel and she accepts you, wonderful. If you tell her and she rejects you, then you can move on. Either way, it’s better than this limbo.”

“She would never marry me, Franklin.”

“How on earth do you know?”

“She doesn’t like my family.”


Colin gave an exasperated sigh. He hadn’t spent years of his life around Camilla and her friends without getting a grasp on how Society and its gossip-cogs worked. Everything was connected. Young women entering Society for the first time had everything to lose and a great deal to gain. Managing a Season was not easy, and this Season was going to be an interesting one – lots of suitable young ladies, lots of eligible men, and Lady Mary Tillewood in the middle of it all with a fabulous estate and a determined set towards spinsterhood.

Some gentlemen very much liked a challenge, and that was exactly what Lady Mary seemed to be. Challenging.

Colin swallowed hard at that thought. For the most part, he thought that she was far too sensible to be taken in by one of those fools, there was always the chance that she would make a mistake. He shivered.

Mary would lead a terrible life with one of those awful, opportunistic fortune-hunters. It would be a real pity, after her two older sisters had married such good men.

“You’re right.” Colin heard himself saying aloud. “I’ll tell her at the party. I’ll just come right out and say what I want to say and see what she has to say in response.”

“Excellent!” Franklin cheered, pouring out two more glasses of brandy. “And I shall be there to provide moral support and courage, both liquid and moral. To courage!”

The two men raised their glass, and Colin felt better than he had in a long time.

What could possibly go wrong?


Chapter Three

The Royal College of Surgeons, London, Evening


A round of applause broke out, jerking Mary out of what was probably a doze. She blinked around at the crowd, shifting on her seat and hoping that nobody had noticed. She stole a glance around the table, relieved to see that everyone was still there. It would be awful if she slept through Nicholas’ award ceremony. She really did want to see him get his award.

Mary began to clap dutifully, casting a disinterested glance at the gentlemen on the platform receiving some plaque for something or other. Really, this thing was too dull for words. She wished she hadn’t let her sisters convince her to come.

Lots of stares were thrown her way, but Mary knew exactly what was drawing them. She was wearing a rather startling red dress, a deliciously silky thing with a modest collar and long sleeves, like she preferred. She’d chosen her diamonds to wear and had fancied that she looked quite grand in her bedroom mirror before she left. She’d even rifled through the rest of her jewellery box, filled with items her mother had left her, and gifts from the family. Mary rarely wore jewellery but felt so impressive and grand in her diamonds that she thought she might try and wear them more often.

Now, the red silk and diamonds felt gaudy. Most of the single young ladies wore white or cream, sometimes appearing in a shade of palest blue, pink, or yellow. Mary’s vivid red skirts stood out a mile in the sea of pastels and attracted more than one disapproving stare.

Evangeline had chosen a deep velvet blue gown to wear, and Theo was wearing a pale, refreshing green. Both colours suited them, and they didn’t catch the eye like Mary did.

Only five more hours until we can think of going home, Mary thought wearily. After the awards, there’d be more mingling – she wasn’t sure that she could handle any more mingling of any shape or form – and then supper. After supper, there would be dancing. This events dragged on for a while, but they weren’t the ‘dance till dawn’ variety of party. Mary could reasonably take her leave at around eleven or twelve o’ clock at night. Earlier, if her sisters would let her escape.

“Next, we have the esteemed Doctor Nicholas Woolfe…”

The speaker’s voice was drowned out by Evangeline’s ferocious clapping. She was beaming with pride, smiling at her husband as he made his way up to the platform to receive his award. Mary couldn’t remember what he’d done to achieve it. Something to do with diseases, perhaps? Or surgery. Something medical, at least.

He stood on the platform for a moment, beaming out at the crowd. Or rather, beaming out at Evangeline. He didn’t seem to be looking at anyone else.

For a moment, Mary felt a pang of jealousy deep inside. Not over Nicholas, of course – by no means, no – but over the look in her sister’s eyes, and the open adoration on Nicholas’ face.

She’d only been a child when Evangeline and Nicholas married. He’d seemed like a good-natured giant back then, and now that she’d grown up, she knew that he was a good-natured giant, if one that wasn’t entirely comfortable around people.

She’d never doubted that Nicholas and Evangeline were in love. Or Theo and Henry, for that matter.

How on earth did a person manage to feel that way about somebody?

Would she ever feel that way?

That’s enough, Mary rebuked herself. You’re happy being single, aren’t you? Spinsterhood is our aim. You’ll be happier alone, regardless of what Grandmother and the girls say.

Thus fortified, she sat up a little straighter in her chair, fixing her eyes on the platform. She would pay very close attention to the rest of the proceedings. She would be polite, charming, even, and act like a real lady.  Maybe the mind-crushing dullness would remind her of why she liked so much to be alone.




“Oh, at last it is over.” Mary breathed, when the ceremonies finally ended. She remembered only too late that she’d vowed to be a real lady tonight.

It didn’t look like anyone had heard.

All around them, ladies and gentlemen were standing up and surreptitiously yawning and stretching, waking themselves up for the more enjoyable part of the evening.

Evangeline went bounding through the crowd to find Nicholas, of course, and Mary had expected Theo to do the same. She was a little surprised when Theo drew Mary’s arm through her own, and set off into the crowd, arm in arm.

“Are we taking a turn around the room?” Mary asked, bewildered. “Ladies do that sometimes, don’t they?”

Privately, she thought that taking a turn about a room was pointless, except possibly on rainy days. There was a whole world out there to walk in, why bother walking about your own parlour?

Theo only chuckled. “You just looked a little lost. I want to introduce you to some friends of mine. Well, acquaintances, rather.”

“I can introduce myself.”

Theo rolled her eyes. “You know that you can’t talk to someone unless you’ve been formally introduced, Mary.”

“Yes, but that’s ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous or not, that’s how things are done. Are you alright? During the ceremony, you seemed… preoccupied.”

Mary kept her face angled away towards the crowd. She and Theo didn’t fight like cat and dog anymore, but she still felt as though she didn’t fully understand her sister. Evie was easy – all gawky good-nature and a sharp tongue, while Mary herself was much of the same, only less smoothed-out. Theo was something else. She was soft, clever and kind, and frankly Mary didn’t know what to make of that combination.

“I’m fine.” Mary said, knowing full well that her sister wouldn’t believe her. “I was just bored, that’s all.”

Theo sighed, her arm tightening around Mary’s.

“I worry about you, you know.”

“You shouldn’t. You’ve got your own family to worry about.”

Mary couldn’t help but load a little bitterness into that expression. Her grandmother’s words came back, echoing around her head.

Cleverness is not the same as being sensible, and you, Mary, are not sensible. Your sisters are married. They have their own families. They will leave you behind, and you don’t see that.

Those words still rankled.

I am sensible, Mary told herself angrily. I’m quite sensible enough to manage myself. Sensible enough not to be jealous of my sisters’ loving husbands and families.

“I know that Evie and Grandmother are pushing you to marry, but you don’t have to rush.” Theo said, her soft voice almost drowned out by the chatter around them. Mary wished that she’d just speak louder.

“And you.” she said before she could help herself. “You’re pushing me to marry, too.”

Theo sighed. “I know, but the fact is, you have the most freedom out of us all. Evie had to marry in order to save the family and our estate, do you remember that?”

Mary pressed her lips together, remembering endless parties, endless Seasons, endless pretty, spiteful young women, all conspiring to suck the life and energy out of poor Evie, who knew fine well that she had to be married soon. She could remember how the pressure had crushed down on her eldest sister, how she’d worried.

“It worked out alright in the end.” Mary said aloud.

“Yes, it did. She was lucky to find Nicholas. For my part, I stumbled upon my Henry quite by accident. You can afford to marry for love, Mary.”

Ugh. Love. Mary hated talk of love and romance. The thought made her feel strange and uncomfortable inside. It wasn’t that she was repelled by the idea of it, but the whole thing seemed so far off that there was no point considering it at all. She wriggled her shoulders, wishing that Theo would go away. Then she could find a nice quiet corner somewhere, and read a newspaper. There were two gentlemen poring over a paper in the corner, and Mary vaguely recognised them – Lord Sixsmith and the infamous Mr. Tuckney.

“Would you feel better if I just agreed to marry the first man that asked me?” Mary shot back.

It was meant to be a joke, but Theo didn’t smile.

“I wish you’d take this more seriously.” She said, and her voice had more of an exasperated tone. It was at times like this that Mary wanted to grab her sister by her shoulders and shake her, screaming.

I’m an adult, Theo. I’m a grown woman. I’m not a child anymore, so don’t treat me like one. What do I have to do to convince you I’m mature? Get married?

Well, people got married for worse reasons, didn’t they? Mary couldn’t think of any right now, but she was sure there were some.

The truth was, Mary was the youngest. The last child, the youngest and most insignificant. Evangeline had married to save her family. She loved Nicholas, of course, but her reasons for marriage had ben purely selfless. Theo was the kind one, soft and clever and pretty, and she deserved all the happiness in the world.

Mary was… well, nobody seemed to know what Mary was. Even her name wasn’t as impressive as her sister’s. There was Evangeline, and Theodosia, names that sounded like poetry, the sort of name that rolled sweetly off the tongue.

Who on earth could get excited about Mary? There were half a dozen Marys this Season alone, and that was just out of the official Society Beauties.

That feeling came again, that sort of itch of unfairness and hopelessness that blossomed inside. The itch had driven Mary up trees and down to splash around in rivers, desperate to prove that she was different, she was special, she was more than just Mary, the third Tillewood girl.

“Ah, here we are.” Theo said, smiling. “Ladies, let me introduce my sister, Lady Mary Tillewood. Mary, this is Miss Amelia Dunkirk, Lady Emmeline Spitz, and Miss Mary Steele.

Oh, good, Mary thought bleakly. Another Mary.

The ladies glanced nervously at each other, and Mary knew that her reputation had preceded her. They were all pretty enough, with good skin, white teeth, and handsome eyes. Mary even thought that they looked the same, wearing the same shade of pale pink in different styles of gown.

“It’s a pleasure, Lady Mary.” Miss Steele said smoothly, almost mechanically. “Your dear sister is a great friend of ours.”

Mary smiled tightly. “Yes, everyone likes Theo.”

Well, that smacked of bitterness. The women glanced at each other again, shifting from foot to foot.

Theo’s attention wandered, and she frowned at something over the heads of the crowd.

“I think Henry wants to speak to me. Do excuse me, ladies.”

And before Mary had time to make her excuses too, Theo melted away into the crowd, leaving her sister alone with the strangers.

“Are you enjoying the party, Lady Mary?” Lady Emmeline asked, with infallible politeness. She was a tall, thin woman with a beaky sort of nose, and had the kindly expression of a person who was taking pains to make an unwelcome stranger feel welcome.

It rankled, but Mary swallowed down the feeling. She was here to make friends, after all. She didn’t want to be one of those awful ladies who somehow thought they were better than other women. After all, Theo was very feminine, and enjoyed the company of other women very much, and Mary admired her more than anything.

Not that she would let her sister know that, of course. No need for Theo to get a swelled head.

“Yes, very much.” Mary lied. She knew, from bitter experience, when someone asked you how you were enjoying something, or how you were feeling today, they didn’t want an honest answer. Just a polite one.

“It’s a dreadful crush this evening, don’t you think?” Miss Spitz spoke up, clutching her half-empty glass of champagne like a comfort blanket. “Did anyone see what Miss Vale was wearing?”

Mary flinched at the mention of the dreaded Camilla Vale.

“I didn’t even know that she was here.” She retorted, before she could stop herself. The ladies glanced at each other again, clearly uncomfortable. Mary ought to make her excuses and leave, but… well, Theo made it all look so easy. Simply walk up to some acquaintances, make a few throwaway comments, and the conversation flowed from there. Why did it have to be so difficult for Mary?

Lady Emmeline continued without addressing what Mary had said.

“Yes, white satin! Very daring. It’s not like she’s a debutante anymore.”

“Yes, but she could be.” Miss Steele said, envy and admiration tinging her voice. “She looks so young and fresh. She’s older than me by a few years, yet she’s still so pretty. I wonder what her secret is?”

“Plenty of gossiping, probably.” Mary said, and immediately regretted it. This time, Miss Steele shot her a look of dislike.

“I heard that she was courting Mr. Tuckney.” Miss Steele said, with a pointed glance at Mary. “The poor man, his pride is so dreadfully hurt after his horse threw him, in front of everyone. I should love to build up his confidence again.”

“She isn’t courting Mr. Tuckney!” Miss Spitz said, bewildered. She was clearly the slower one of the group and didn’t realize that the aim of the conversation was to make Mary uncomfortable.

Lady Emmeline hid a smile behind her hand.

“Mary, really…” she murmured, darting little glances at Mary Tillewood. “I’m sure that sort of thing is quite inappropriate for an evening like tonight.”

Mary had enough.

“Well, ladies,” she said brightly. “This really has been a lovely conversation.”

The three ladies, who apparently could not or would not understand sarcasm, mumbled a vague agreement.

“But, if you will excuse me, I shall take my leave.”

There were of course no objections to this. As Mary turned her back and began to push her way through the crowd, she heard a malicious titter from Miss Steele.

“I think she ought to be called Lord Mary.”

“That is terrible!”

“What?” Miss Steele muttered. “She’s more like a lord than a lady anyway. And that dress! I shouldn’t dare wear a red dress to anything. Why not wear breeches, too?”

There was a flutter of shocked laughter at this, and Mary’s face burned. She didn’t allow herself to look back, in case she lost her temper and went storming back to slap the wretches in the face.

She had worn breeches before, and they were extremely comfortable.




Lord Sixsmith was a languid, dark-haired gentleman. He was fabulously wealthy, and passably handsome, although he believed himself to be exceptionally handsome. Mr. Tuckney was a cheerful, red-faced young man who would run to fat, helped along by his healthy appetite for all food and drink.

They were murmuring to each other in the corner, poring over some article in the newspaper. Mary recognized the article as one she’d read that morning.

As a lady, Mary ought to wait for them to approach her. Those were the rules. Ladies sat still or stood quietly, waiting for the gentlemen to talk to whatever lady took their fancy.

Mary really didn’t have time for such nonsense.

“I see you’re reading about the Bathgate Bank scandal.” She said, smiling in what she hoped was a friendly but not flirtatious manner. “I was quite shocked when I read it for the first time.”

The two men glanced up at her, faces blank and impassive, and just stared. Mary found herself mourning the forced politeness of Lady Emmeline and her friends.

“I read the newspaper.” Mary added awkwardly, which only seemed to make the situation worse.

Lord Sixsmith leaned back, glancing at Mr. Tuckney. “I see. How unusual, Miss Tillewood. It is Miss Tillewood, isn’t it?”

“Lady Mary.” Mary corrected, before she could help herself. “We have been introduced.”

Lord Sixsmith covered his mouth with his hand, as if hiding a smile.

“Have we? I daresay you are correct, of course. Ladies should not be contradicted, eh, Rupert?”

Mr. Tuckney forced a laugh. He was staring at Mary with a decidedly unfriendly expression.

Clearly she was not forgiven for the pond incident, then. Mary cleared her throat, meeting his eye.

“I do hope you’ve recovered from your fall, Mr. Tuckney. I was… afraid that you would catch a chill.”

Of all the stupid things to say, Mary thought miserably, but she was too deep in the conversation to back out now. Mr. Tuckney flashed a tight-lipped smile.

“I did catch a chill.” He replied frostily. “Thank you for inquiring.”

Was that it? They were staring expectantly at her. Did they want Mary to apologise?

I shan’t apologise, she thought, with a burst of anger. I didn’t do anything wrong. I rode past the pond, too, but I didn’t let my horse throw me in.

“Have you finished reading the article?” she pressed on, determinedly.

They exchanged another glance, and the corners of Lord Sixsmith’s mouth twitched.

“Indeed we have, Lady Mary.” He pointedly closed up the newspaper, folding it neatly.

“And… what did you think?” she asked, when it was apparent that he wasn’t going to elaborate any further on the incident.

Well-groomed eyebrows shot up towards a hairline that was receding no matter how hard Lord Sixsmith tried to hide it.

“It is a complicated matter, Lady Mary. I should not worry too much about it, if I were you.”

She frowned. “It’s not complicated at all. All those poor people who trusted that bank lost their money. The men in charge ought to be made to repay it.”

Lord Sixsmith cast another significant glance at Mr. Tuckney, who had angled himself away from Mary and seemed to be intent on ignoring her for as long as she stood there.

“It is really not so simple. Those ‘poor people’, as you naively call them, much bear some share of the blame. They are not as innocent as you seem to believe.”

“Why not? All they did was place their money somewhere that it ought to have been safe.”

There it was again – that infuriatingly blank expression on Lord Sixsmith’s face. He was glancing around as if looking for rescue, hardly looking at Mary. There was no spare seat, so she was forced to stand in front of them like a child, shifting from foot to foot and feeling more uncomfortable with every passing moment.

“If you were to read the article, Lady Mary…”

“I have read the article.”

Interrupting him was probably a mistake. It was clear that nobody ever interrupted Lord Sixsmith. His expression darkened.

“Lady Mary, I think perhaps that you do not understand the situation.”


“It is a complex situation, and one that you could not possibly understand. Perhaps you would be advised to choose reading material more suited to your needs. Good day, Lady Mary.”

It was a dismissal, plain and simple, and Mary’s cheeks burned red with humiliation. As if to hammer the point home that she was no longer included in the conversation, Lord Sixsmith turned pointedly to Mr. Tuckney, and began a murmured conversation.

Mary turned away, feeling as if her head might actually explode with embarrassment, and saw that she was being watched.

A few of the matrons and chaperones, lined up against the wall on padded chairs, were watching with open disapproval. The three ladies, Theo’s friends, were watching her with a combination of pity and shock.

“Did you see that?” Miss Steele whispered, loudly enough for everyone to hear. “She just walked right up to them! Fancy trying to talk about what’s in the newspaper, for crying out loud. She probably only read the title and wanted to seem clever.”

“Be quiet, Mary.” Miss Spitz said sharply to her friend. She shot Mary Tillewood a pitying smile, but that seemed to hurt worse of all.

Keeping her head high, Mary pushed through the crowd, not looking back. She kept walking until she found an empty seat, and sank down in it. Her legs were aching and throbbing as if she’d ridden several miles, and her heart pounded unpleasantly in her chest.

Tonight had been nothing but awful.

I tried, Mary thought, petulance and misery welling up inside her. I tried to do things properly. I tried to be a lady, and I did everything wrong.

The sad fact was that not all ladies were as kind and understanding as her sisters, and not all gentlemen were as decent as her brothers-in-law.

So much for meeting a suitable man tonight, then, Mary thought bleakly.

I hope you enjoyed the preview of my new novel and last of my trilogy series ‘Tillewood Sisters’ – “The Rebellious Young Lady, Mary” is now live on Amazon!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Joan Moran

    Great story. Please hurry to release it! Thank you for the preview.

  2. Democrita MANIMTIM

    I like reading your novel. I was intrigued how Lady Mary would meet Colin? I thought your novel is offered free for all.

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