The inevitable has happened. I am in hell.
A wave of dread washes over me as my cousin, Lizzie, drags me over to her group of friends. I don't know why she bothers, they're not interested in meeting me.
My cousin and I are different in every manner. She has gorgeous brown hair and emerald green eyes. I have blonde hair with light blue eyes. She has a sunny optimistic personality while I have a rather pessimistic one.
Our biggest difference is in our social standing. Lizzie is the perfect debutante and is expected to be an even better wife. Her father is a count and she has a fairly high dowry. She's skilled in playing the piano and her needlework is excellent. She has an amazing sense of style and sets fashion trends across all her friends.
I on the other hand, am aforementioned the opposite.
My father, the second son of an earl was expected to flourish in the military. Instead, he left after serving only a year and married a woman of very low birth. To make matters worse, he traveled the world, taking my mother and me with him. She died when I was six, we were in France and he was trying to find the cure for an ailment. He's a scientist, a popular one at that. Always searching for cures and writing medical books.
After her death, we came back to England. He stayed for a few months before going back on his trips. He left me to my uncle's care for five years. He came back for me on my eleventh birthday. We continued our travels around the world; Europe, Asia, the Americas. It was amazing. I learned things none of my age mates know, things that would horrify them. I learned how to cook, clean, survive in wildlife. I also possess an involuntary knowledge of first aid and other branches of medicine.
A month after I turned Eighteen, father decided I should go back to the English court and figure out my life. A suggestion I vehemently opposed. He wouldn't hear of it, he sent me back with a small dowry and once again, entrusted me in my uncle's care. It's been two years and I do everything in my power to avoid court. My aunt has had enough of that, Lizzie is finally entering society and if she is I have no right to stay at home.
So here I am, without a title, one of the lowest dowries and not the nicest reputation. Father could have at least given me more money. I know he has it, he stashes it in major banks around the world and will die before telling anybody about it. The money is from his sponsors. He lives a very modest life and spends little out of his monthly allowances. A sizable portion of his fortune is also from book and medicine sales. I remember asking him for more money the day before I left.
"Father, please. I'm already going to be an outcast. At least give me a substantial dowry to increase my chances." I pleaded.
He scowled. "No. If you understood anything about English society, you'll know that the wife never has control of her money. Do you really think I will give my life savings to an entitled twit?" He scoffed. "You'd think the world will be a better place for women, it's 1825."
"What did I do to make you hate me?" I asked. "I'm going to die a spinster."
He sat down beside me. "Alicia, you are smart and you possess remarkable skills."
"I doubt being able to read ancient Greek will come in handy at a ball." And it doesn't. I'm currently at Lady Wester's ball and I want nothing more than to leave.
Lizzie introduces me to her friends. "This is my cousin, Miss Alicia Hartley." I curtsy. "The only one of you who hasn't met her is, Emma. Ally, Lady Emmeline Charlotte Manners." The lady has her hair in a tight bun and is wearing an even tighter yellow dress.
I smile in her direction. "Lady Manners." I greet. I've heard of her, she's the only daughter of the 5th Duke of Ruthland. It's also her first year in society. She has light brown hair and dark brown eyes. Her lips seem to be curled in a permanent condescending smirk.
She gives me a quizzical look. "Ally, I remember you. You don't remember me?"
I do. "I'm sorry, you have to forgive me, I don't." I say sweetly. Of course I remember her, she tormented me when I was younger. She was one of the worst parts of my five-year stay here.
She frowns. "It's for the best, I wouldn't want you recalling any memories of me. I wasn't the nicest."
No, you weren't. "I want you to know that whatever you did in the past is forgiven. We were children."
Lizzie laughs to disarm whatever tension might be brewing. "Enough of the past, let's look to the future."
One of her friends, Felicity smiles mischievously. "I know what future I'm looking at." I follow her gaze and rest my eyes on a tall, handsome man. He's standing next to an older woman, even with a cane, she still manages to radiate power. Her steps are slow and steady and people gaze at her with respect and the man with awe.
"Who is that?" I whisper to Lizzie. Her friends all scoff at me.
Lizzie's glare shuts them up. "That is Nicholas Oliver Harlow, Duke of Richardson."