1 - Percy

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London, England, 1887 -

I pressed my face against the window of my private rooms, watching the rain pelting down outside, creating puddles of mud on the sidewalk as horse drawn carriages ambled down the streets.

It was not uncommon weather for London, but no less depressing. Just as depressing as my life was sure to become after this evening.

There was a gentle knock on the door and the voice of James, my valet, carried through into the room. "Excuse me, sir?"

I blew out a sigh and leaned away from the window. "You might as well come in, James."

The door opened a moment later and James entered, looking as uptight and stuffy as he normally did with his carefully slicked back gray hair and bow tie.

"Yes?"

"Your mother wishes to know if you're ready to depart?" James asked, bowing his head respectfully.

"Unfortunately," I replied, straightening out my shirt sleeves. "If I'm being forced to endure this insipid dinner party, I suppose I can at least look presentable."

Something like an amused smile might have crossed James' face as he approached me, reaching out to reposition my bowtie.

"I am not sure, sir, if I would be quite as miffed about the evening as you appear to be. I hear that it is quite the honor to be the guests of the Lord and Lady Bradley."

A harsh bark of laughter escaped from me before I could stop it. "That may be so, James, but I'm not interested in the slightest, to be perfectly honest with you. What is the point of all of this?"

"I believe the situation has been adequately explained, sir, " James said. "You are nineteen years of age. It is time that you begin the necessary steps to take over Townsend Co., and some would say high past time you took a wife."

It was all I could do to keep back a disgruntled groan. As much as I wanted it to be the exact opposite, James was correct.

Being the only child and sole heir to my father's business and considerable fortune, it was expected of me to take over as head of the company. Being one of the largest textile manufacturers in England was no laughing matter.

And like every other eligible young man in the city, it was also required of me to marry and produce as many male progeny as possible.

This was what my life was soon to become, and it felt as if it had barely begun.

"Right," I said, unable to keep back a heavy sigh. "I suppose that's true on some level."

"I hear Madeline Bradley is quite a desirable young lady," James continued as he moved on to my cuff links. "And her father is a member of the House of Lords and is apparently very wealthy."

I suppose James was right in saying so again, but I had yet to meet Miss Madeline Bradley. It wouldn't matter if she was Aphrodite incarnate - I had no desire to marry or have children.

"Come now, sir," James said, taking a step back. "I believe your mother and father are ready to depart shortly."

"Of course," I said, slipping into my dinner jacket. "Better late than never, I suppose."

James clapped me on the shoulder, and it might have been a trick of the fire crackling in the grate across the room, but there was a sympathetic look on his face.

"If I may be so bold, sir..."

"By all means, James, please do."

"Do try and maintain a positive attitude this evening. Your very future may rest upon the outcome of this dinner party, however insipid you may believe it to be."

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