Chapter One Only

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Elizabeth Elinor Morrison, more familiarly known to her family and friends as Lisbet, was an extraordinarily pretty girl even when her great blue eyes were not delicately swimming in tears. Giving a final wave with the tiny scrap of cambric and lace scarcely justified with the title handkerchief, she dropped dispiritedly onto a chair.

"Well, they are truly gone. I cannot see the carriage any longer."

Just as she had ignored her niece's hoydenish actions, Verity Morrison discounted the tremulous emotion portent in the young voice and calmly applied her attention to her needlepoint.

Lisbet sighed heartily with the accumulated wisdom of a young lady of almost eighteen summers. "Brothers are such strange creatures, are they not? I mean, they make one's life miserable with their teasing when they are here, but now that the holidays are over, and they are gone... I miss them."

"Odd, is it not? I used to feel exactly the same way toward Percy and John."

"Pappa?" Lisbet stared at her aunt with undisguised disbelief, obviously – to Verity, at least - unable to reconcile the images of her stuffy father and priestly uncle with her wild harum-scarum brothers.

"Of course your papa. Sometimes I remember the scrapes we got into as children." For a moment Verity slipped away to an earlier time, and the lovely, habitually sedate face beneath the incongruous spinster's cap nearly resembled the niece's in years as well as in classical configuration and delicate coloring.

Oh, those had been wild and wonderful times when they and the Pembertons had all run freely together like healthy young animals. Who could have foreseen Percy would become an odiously pompous copy of his autocratic father or that mischief-loving John would choose the Church? And Catherine? It had never even occurred to Verity she might become a lonely, loveless spinster, living out her days on gracious sufferance at the family home of Foxworth, nor the four siblings' great and inseparable companion, Bradford, should ever be anything but the master of Bittermere.

Verity's heart contracted painfully, as if it had been but days since his abrupt departure instead of the twelve long years that had passed from the time Bradford Pemberton had been cast, disgraced and disowned, into an exile as incommunicable as the grave. Now his brother, Roger, once so set upon a life in politics, walked the fields of Bittermere instead of the halls of Parliament.

Only Catherine had fulfilled her potential, Verity thought with an internal bitter sneer which was most uncharitable to bestow on one's only sister. That most favored child, their father's pet, had married a much older and very wealthy lord, then gone on to become a successful London hostess. Catherine would!

"Aunt Verity?"

Her niece's voice snapped Verity back to the present, her face falling once again into lines of carefully learned placidity, her blue eyes focusing on the here and now with a slightly startled expression. "Yes, Lisbet?"

The younger Miss Morrison watched in amazement as the unconsciously animated stranger vanished, leaving only her sedate and vaguely dull aunt behind. "I am sure I cannot imagine you and Pappa and Uncle John being rowdy. And Aunt Catherine is such a grand lady."

Verity's fingers tightened convulsively, as if straightening a carelessly set stitch suddenly demanding all of her attention. Her bowed head hid how her lips, no less pink nor well-shaped than her niece's, trembled. "It is not long until you leave for London, is it?"

"Ten days. I have been counting them off on a calendar I made just for the purpose. Ten days and then it is off to London I go to become the Belle of the Ball, a Toast of the Ton, an Incomparable—"

Miss Morrison's Second Chance by Janis Susan MayWhere stories live. Discover now