My Lovely Moonlight Bride: Episode 3
Lucy felt bad for raising the topic. She didn’t want to ruin their time together.
“I am sorry Ariana, I didn’t mean to…”
Ariana waved her off with a hand and started, “my mother has made some mistakes in running her empire. She intends to use me to fix her mistakes.”
Lucy noticed the sadness in her voice, and the bleakness in her eyes. She had never seen Ariana this way. Something wasn’t right.
“She intends for me to marry the Duke of Wandsworth. He is a fine man no doubt. I have heard stories of his generosity and kindness. But I do not want him for a husband. I like it here in Islington. Wandsworth is too far from here.” Ariana couldn’t risk telling her friend of her love interest. Nobody would approve. It was her secret.
Lucy had heard about this Duke. But she had never met him in person. Unlike her brother, people spoke well of the man. He was one of the youngest rulers in the society.
“Maybe your mother wants the best for you.”
“Or maybe she is trying to secure her own desires through me.”
The yellow sun had receded into a dull orange, soon night will fall. Soon, he will step out of the castle for the gaming house. He usually went there when it was dark; he couldn’t risk anyone seeing his face or knowing his true identity. There were other noble men who sneaked out of their homes for the gaming house, they knew each other. But they never spoke of their secret. Some men met their mistresses there, while some just came for the fun of gambling. He visited the gaming house to distract himself from the burden he carried.
Aldrich was relieved after having a meeting with some noble men in his Dukedom. The meeting had lasted for some hours. Now he was free to be alone. He revelled in silence. Again, he had instructed his guards that he wanted to be alone. He didn’t want to be disturbed.
Suddenly, the door to the throne room burst open and his mother barged into the hall. She had a stern look on her face; her jaw was clenched and her eyes weren’t smiling. Aldrich couldn’t turn the woman away. It had been long since he saw her angry. Something bothered her.
Behind her was his cousin Beau. And it made him wonder what their unannounced visit was about.
“Mother,” he drawled her name.
The Duchess ignored his greeting. She had promised Beau that she wouldn’t confront Aldrich, but she couldn’t hold it in anymore. She had to call the Duke to order. From what she learned, some noble men were eyeing his position and they secretly envied him.
“To what do I owe this family visit?” Aldrich pretended to be calm, but he died inwardly. He felt nervous and shaken. What could make his mother this upset?
“Good evening cousin,” Beau chipped in, but Aldrich ignored him. Aldrich saw the impish glint in Beauregard’s eyes. The little devil had done something. Aldrich sensed that his cousin had betrayed him, but he wasn’t quite sure. Nobody knew about his secret habit of gaming.
“I need a word with you, Aldrich.” The Duchess refused to return his charming smile. His handsome face and his brooding eyes reminded her of Ander, her late husband. She wouldn’t let her son’s handsomeness distract her. She had come for a purpose, and she hoped to achieve it.
Aldrich swallowed, “I am all yours mother.”
The woman inhaled deeply and clasped her palms together.
“For some time now I have ignored your misgivings. I understand how close you were to your father. But your grieving has taken too long. You have gone out of the noble path, you have strayed like sheep! I intend to bring your back to the fold.” She paused and advanced towards him.
Aldrich’s heart skipped. Her manner of speaking was proverbial. It seemed she suspected his ways, but he wouldn’t offer a retort, lest he exposed himself.
“I do not understand you, mother.” He held his breath as she reached where he stood.
“You do not need to understand, my sweet son. Beau and I have discussed…” she tilted her head to a side, so her eyes could meet with Beau’s.
“Interesting, can I ask what you discussed?” Aldrich fired his cousin a deadly glare, but he quickly averted the murderous stare.
Elena touched her son’s chin lightly with her left palm.
“You have grown Aldrich. You are very handsome. You have power, fame and wealth. Something is missing in your life. Perhaps, this is the only thing you need to distract you from your father’s absence. From what I have seen, my love is not enough. You will need another.”
Aldrich pushed her hand away from his face.
“Be plain with me.”
“Tell him Beauregard, share the news with him.” The Duchess moved away from her son. She had come to deliver a message. It was time to leave.
Elena cast a glance at her son one more time, “You don’t need to argue with me. I know what is best for you. You left me with no choice.”
She smiled and marched gracefully out of the hall, leaving the Duke with his cousin. For a moment, Aldrich remained lost. He said no word to his cousin, and Beau said no word to him. He had thought the Duchess would expose all what he said about Aldrich, but she was a wise woman. Aldrich would’ve had his head on a pike.
“What does she know?” Aldrich was no fool. He sensed the Duchess had an inkling of his double life.
Beau shrugged, “I cannot answer that question. But I know that she intends a wife for you. I quite agree with her though. You need a woman by your side, your own Duchess.”
Aldrich sighed with relieve. His mother didn’t know anything then. He was wrong to have suspected his cousin. It was every mother’s dream to present her son a worthy wife, but he wasn’t like other men of his age. He didn’t want a bride to be chosen for him. He would find her when he was ready.
“Of course I need a woman by my side, but I will not have my mother or you choose my bride.”Beau threw his hands into the air, “I never said I will choose one for you. But the Duchess has a name, would you like to hear it?” Aldrich nodded and waited.
“Lady Ariana Beldon.”
“Isn’t that the daughter of the Marquees?” Aldrich’s brows knotted together. He had seen Ariana from afar, but they had never spoken a word to each other. She was an absolute beauty; a woman of class and nobility.
Only that he wasn’t stirred by a woman’s looks. All his encounters with women of low virtue had been based on conversations. He wasn’t just any man. He was the Duke of Wandsworth.
“Yes, she is Lydia Beldon’s daughter. I agree with your mother. She will bring your honour.” Beau retorted.
“I agree with honour, but what of happiness? Why do you think men have kept mistresses and paid companions?
They never married the women they loved. They chose the ones that society imposed upon them. I will not be entangled in a marriage of convenience.” The Duke had spoken, and he’d meant every word.
In that moment, Beau was now sure that his cousin was undeserving of the title of Duke. First, he insulted that noble position by mingling with irresponsible men at the gaming house. Now, he looked down on the age long matchmaking rites of the society.
“People like you don’t marry for love. Love is just a word. It is an ideal type. It doesn’t exist. You need a woman like Ariana by your side. Or would you rather take a commoner or a lesser woman?”
Aldrich scowled, obviously his cousin didn’t agree with him, but he wasn’t seeking anyone’s approval.
“I shall marry who suits my heart.”
“Enough about marriage! I have somewhere important to go.”
Aldrich waved his cousin aside and rushed out of the hall. It was growing dark, and there was no better time to step out of the castle, but now. He had an important game to play tonight. He would play with an old friend, Elan Wesley; the Baron of Ox-Dale. Whoever lost the game tonight, would relinquish half of his inheritance to the winner.
Not that Aldrich was in need of money; he enjoyed gaming. It distracted him from the internal turmoil of his emotions.
He employed one of his guards who rode him to the gaming house. William had been waiting outside in the carriage. The Duke quickly hopped in and bellowed.