Chapter 1

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[The Disapproving Duke is a Regency Romance that will initially be published on Radish Fiction, but you can read a free preview of the first chapters exclusively on Wattpad!]

When a family has suffered genteel poverty for many years, they may be forgiven for being overwhelmed with excitement at the news of an unexpected legacy.

Such was the mood at the breakfast table when Mrs St Clair, a widower, revealed to her daughters the details of her interview with the family solicitors.

"But who is Lord Henry Harrogate?" her eldest daughter, Maria, demanded. "And what has he left us?" Maria, who had the dark hair and brows of her mother if not the same fineness of feature, was a handsome girl who tended to haughtiness despite the St Clairs' reduced state.

"He is a very distant cousin, my dear. In truth I barely knew of the connection, but it appears he died unmarried. The solicitor had little information as to his character or circumstances. Except that he owned a flock of rare sheep, and was most concerned for their welfare in the event of his death."

"Sheep! Do not tell us we are to become shepherdesses," exclaimed Henrietta, the second sister and the acknowledged beauty of the family. With light brown hair that curled prettily around her face, and a delicate pink-and-white complexion that the sun had graciously refrained from freckling, she had bitterly regretted the absence of fine gowns and pretty falfals that might have won suitors.

Patiently, Mrs St Clair continued her tale. "No, my dear. He has entrusted this flock to us, indeed, but there is more." She had grown pink, a fact which alarmed her youngest daughter Diana, for Mrs St Clair had a delicate constitution. The doctor had warned that she should avoid strain. "He has also bequeathed us the entirety of his estate."

Maria was scornful. "And what might that be? A leaking farmhouse in the wilds of the Yorkshire moors, no doubt, and more debt than a few bales of wool and mutton will ever settle."

"It is a sum of some eighty thousand pounds."

The mouths of all three daughters fell open in a most unladylike fashion.

"Eighty thousand pounds?!" Henrietta was overcome with a glittering vision of grand houses, balls, fine clothes and fine people. The walls of their small cottage seemed to dissolve about her. Poverty no more! They were rich, rich beyond imagining.

Maria's first thought was the reaction of former friends who had shunned them since their father's death. How the tables might be turned now! The forgotten Misses St Clair, poor mice who eked out a living in a rented hovel, would be the rich Misses St Clair, at the height of society.

Only Diana, though she were overwhelmed by such a sum, felt anxious. A fortune of that magnitude would not come without great change and responsibility, and she feared for her mother's health. Reining in the exuberance and likely excesses of her sisters would be a task in itself. Diana had a little knowledge of financial matters. She was aware that eighty thousand might well be squandered as rapidly as five thousand.

Over the years Diana had helped her mother look after the small investments that remained after the St Clair estate was sold to settle the family's large debts. The late Rainault St Clair came from a noble family, greatly decayed in wealth. Generations of St Clairs, insouciant as to their dwindling fortunes, had sought pleasure with little concern as to how the family's situation might be repaired.

Rainault was the last of these, save for some very distant St Clairs who had moved abroad in the previous century. Handsome, popular, carefree, he had fallen instantly in love with the orphaned Catherine Harborough at a ball. She was a girl of great beauty and excellent nature but without dowry or expectations. Rainault had married her without a second thought as to how he might support her. When he died unexpectedly early, leaving her a widow with three young daughters, the true picture of their debts had become clear. Only a very careful management of what remained had saved them from total penury.

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