Her honour for an heir
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Three years after her wedding day, Vanessa remains a virgin. Her sickly, cruel husband, the Duke of Tarrick demands she produces an heir with a man of his choosing. Vanessa’s choices are narrowing every day. To refuse leaves her penniless and alone for when the cruel Duke dies his estate passes elsewhere. To submit would see her honor surrendered to the new stablehand Fitz. His sparkling green eyes might match her husband, but his cocky, arrogant attitude riles her. He sees no value in her titles and riches, seeking only to enjoy life’s opportunities. Including sleeping with a famously beautiful Duchess. The added risk of snooping on servants and family scandal suggests Vanessa should stick to her husband's strict rules and simply endure what has been arranged. But what if giving away her honor to such a casual rogue is the spark that makes her bland world finally explode into life?
On my wedding day I was a nervous, terrified virgin. Three years on I remain untouched, the nerves replaced with resentment. Seething anger that my husband, a man almost thirty years my senior, has thieved the youthful life I could have enjoyed.
Quieter in nature he prefers to spend his months sequestered away in his study at Tarrick Hall. His months are my months. As the dutiful wife, Vanessa, Duchess of Tarrick, I go where he goes.
Each autumn I beg for us to head down to London for the Season, to have a fleeting taste of life and excitement amongst my peers. The Season lasts from November to July. Last year I managed just a few balls in March. It was excruciating to conceal my desperation. To meet people from my generation other than my sister, hear laughter peal around a crowded room.
Last season the gossip rags referred to as the “missing Duchess,” a line that always made the Duke chuckle cruelly at our shared breakfast table.
Today, like every other I am sitting in quiet contemplation, pretending to finish a needlework pattern. Since our grand showpiece of a wedding attended by the nation's finest the Duke has been plagued with illnesses.
Edmund's poor health was widely known to all but me when he proposed our union to my father. A fact that annoys me every day.
I had enjoyed my first season out in London too much for my father’s liking. Too much dancing and spirited debate for his liking. Marrying me to a Duke, based far away in the north suited him.
My mother, all blue eyes and pearls keenly reassured me how joyous married union could be. With rambunctious children sure to entertain, should our personalities as man and wife not mesh.
“Vanessa, you simply need to learn to adjust,” were her final words to me as a single woman. Before I knelt before God, dressed in snow-white lace, and swore to honour the stranger next to me. To honour him with my body. I remember gulping at that phrase.
The church's bare, grey stone columns and vaulted ceiling seemed to swallow me whole. My lively spirit dampened before I even had the ring on my finger.
We had shared enough dinner parties, even danced on occasion but I saw him only as my father’s friend. Edmund, Duke of Tarrick should never have been intended as my husband.
Our personalities are poles apart. Children an impossible dream. Several times he attempted, summoning me to his chamber throughout our honeymoon in Venice. The lapping of the canal water below our balcony collided with his frustrated grunts as the agonies in his body made his task impossible.
I lay there, naked, quivering in fear as the man sat on the side of the bed roughly jerked away in frustration, his shirt open and pants lowered.
I saw very little of his naked form apart from our honeymoon. Already over fifty he was a lean, wiry figure. When dressed in his navy suit, gold waistcoat and cream shirt he could look imposing.
He had green eyes, bright and alert yet his face was becoming wrinkled and flaccid. Youth had fled, leaving behind a slender, quietly studious bookworm of a man.
Seeing his ribs judder and shake in pain, hand fishing around in his underwear to try and produce the necessary rise took that impressive image away swiftly. I shall never forget how frail and unimpressive he appeared that night.
My body, despite not loving Edmund, or even attracted to him, was still curious. I'd only heard about the act of love at that point. I knew he needed his male part to harden and insert himself within me. The act seemed so bizarre, so terrifying close.
After the honeymoon, moving to Tarrick Hall saw me acquire the rest of the basic information. Chiefly the crudely printed pamphlets and drawings that the Duke was lazy enough to leave lying around in his library. Naked bodies entwined, breasts exposed, men's tongues on bare flesh. I knew that was what my body intended for. I had round plump breasts, a flowing curve to my hips and waist.
Yet he did nothing with me. Which made me wonder whether I was defective. For months I stared at the mucky pamphlets he had corrected trying to spot the thing they had that I didn’t before giving up on the matter and falling into depression.
His anger on our honeymoon was volcanic. The realisation he could not take my virginity.
His body would not obey his command. He moved me to various positions around the bed, lifting my nightgown, laying down, then sat on a chair but nothing. Thankfully his solution after this mortification was to pretend I did not exist. Similarly I pretended not to notice the endless flock of doctors and specialists summoned up the long driveway.
Each carried a huge leather satchel, brimming with the latest spices and special rubs from the far continents. Every newspaper we received carried advertisements for tonics, rubs and oils that could apparently stop time itself.
However in our three years together, Edmund's health only declined. Three years and his pain is so bad I fear he will refuse to visit London entirely this year. Apparently his nerves are balls of fire, racing up and down his spine. Laudanum and other strong sedatives are his support.
I cannot survive this way. I am not drugged and glassy-eyed like him yet I might as well be. My younger sister Kitty visits infrequently, finding Tarrick Hall as dull as myself. My mother I do not wish to see. I resent her approving this match in the first place. The servants whisper and scuttle away from me like mice.
Company is rare, my keenest pleasure is still horse riding. At least my tears vanish into the wind with a good gallop across the open green valleys.
My voice, so rarely spoken, means I often surprise myself when I hear it. Which is why I remained silent when I heard his footsteps heading towards my room.
My cream and gold parlour, overlooking the stables and long, elaborate hedge gardens that lined our drive was my sanctuary. He had his library, study and smoking rooms. Generally I had the grounds and had this airy, soft yellow room.
“Good morning, I trust you are well?” he said with a stiff little nod of his head. Before I could reply, he continued. “I intend for you to produce an heir. The next London season is in three months. I want you pregnant before then. I intend to announce it at the Guildhall Meet.”
My voice, even my mind failed me at such a notion. Blinking rapidly as I tried to comprehend the bizarre nature of this conversation he sniffed in derision. He thought me a simpleton, a fact I was happy to allow. With all the reading I had managed in this dour, lonely marriage I had swiftly understood a woman’s power is to be easily underestimated.
“You are cured then Sir, your ailments?”
“Of course I’m not,” he snapped, limping across the soft oriental rugs to gaze out of my white sash windows. “I need an heir for the Tarrick Estate to avoid it going down my hateful brother’s line.” With a shuddering cough he added. “We know these cures aren’t working, and you aren’t getting any younger.”
Riled inside at the idea of four-and-twenty being considered old by the withered grey man before me I nodded vacantly.
I wore a dark blue gown of exquisite navy blue, tied round the waist with a ribbon of sky blue. A half-corset brutally fastened underneath, around my ribs to ensure my chest was amply displayed whilst my waist dipped inwards. It meant I sat upright rigidly, supporting me through this moment of shock.
My long brown was gathered up, some ringlets tumbling teasingly, ready for any guest who could arrive. I still had youth on my side, although perhaps little else. All the riches imaginable surrounded me yet it was Edmunds, not mine to spend.
Like a stored museum exhibit, I was merely a beautiful possession, an extravagance on show to nobody.
“What is your suggestion Sir?”
“You wish to have children don't you?” he asked coldly, as if checking whether I liked my tea with or without milk.
“Dearly, Sir, it is the duty of every woman,” I replied flatly, a vision of my mother repeating this mantra to me briefly flickering through my mind. Children would surely relinquish some of the loneliness of my existence. A selfish reason to want them, but three years of near isolation will produce such a mood.
“Then you are to have them. A man of my choosing, with similar characteristics to myself shall breed you. Oh and Jeremiah was kicked in the head by one of the mares so a new stablehand has started too. Good day Vanessa.”
With a click of his boots he was gone. Another man was to breed me. The phrase, so coldly cruel, as if he was discussing racehorses. My virginity to a stranger was discussed in the same breath as staff issues!
My womanhood was now his disposable trinket in order that he might pass his pile of bricks to someone imitating his blood.
My hands shook as I realised, I had stabbed my needlework pin deep into my thumb with the shock.
I need air. Summoning Marie, my maid, I donned a burgundy riding habit, my brown hair tightly wrapped in a bun. Marie was a stout woman, ruddy faced and tolerated no nonsense. She saw no reason for me to ever complain as I was the lady and she the servant. No confidence was shared between us. She merely dressed me, emptied my chamber pots and moved to the next task.
My riding coat was heavy and formed a wide skirt over my legs so I could ride properly. Even so it was a warm autumn day, knowing there were no visitors intended I undid the top two buttons, allowing the air to my chest.
Side saddle when guests were here, keeping my legs demurely together. I ride like a man whenever I get the chance. Easier to take on the jumps over the streams and backs.
I walk briskly, my boots crunching into the gravel drive. Heading into the stables, the warm scent of hay is comforting, a world away from the musty rooms of Tarrick Hall. Amber, my pretty honey-coloured mare whinnied
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