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A Persevering Lady A Regency Novel At only seventeen and twelve summers respectively, Edward and Annalise fall in love before they even know what that word means. The time spent running through the Witherspoon Manor together, learning new things and playing happily, bring the two people who could not be more farther apart, closer than they could ever imagine. Unfortunately, their friendship is put to an end when Annalise's father, Duke of Suffolk, learns of their relationship. Annoyed that his daughter would stoop so low, as to roll with a common Blacksmith's son, he forbids their relationship and banishes Edward and his Father away from Suffolk. They are both devastated by this, but Edward manages to sneak a letter to Annalise just before he and his father embark on a journey that would change their lives forever. Annalise receives this letter, proclaiming Edward's love for her and vows to wait for his promised return. Six years later, fate brings them together through the London season and the wheels of events begin to turn. Stars have aligned for Edward, and he has now become one of the most successful business men of the ton. Annalise, has grown into a more beautiful lady, with a mind of her own. When they meet, spark flies and love soars. However, Edward is still without title, and the duke of Suffolk would see his daughter married to a man of status and wealth- only status would not do. He comes in between the lovers once again, but this time, they are ready to fight for their love. Will a botched, forced engagement, and a near successful elopement, be all it takes, to finally bring the lovers together, for good? About the Author Liz Levoy is a bestselling author who has been writing romantic stories since her senior year in high school. Levoy is a truly passionate romance writer that loves to entice her avid readers, using her experience from her travels around the world. Feelings of love, desire and chemistry dominate her books and the characters that she creates come alive, striving for love.
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A Persevering Lady
A Regency Novel
Table of Contents:
Other Books by Liz Levoy
About the Author
"There you are again." Edward Lancaster resisted startling at the voice that had just sounded in his ears. He knew from experience that Lady Annalise liked creeping up on him whenever he came to do his biddings in the Witherspoon manor. In fact, he dare say he had grown accustomed to it and even looked forward with enthusiasm, to these little moments they often stole to play together. The little moments they spent away from the eyes of her watchful parents. Only a few servants knew of their friendship. Apart from her peculiar habits, he had come to know the little Lady's voice so well, that it was one he would recognise anywhere, even in his dreams. So yes, as much as he might have been caught unawares, he was anything but surprised by Annalise's sudden appearance.
Immediately, he rose to his feet, and dusted his arms and clothes, feeling as conscious as he always did in her presence. How could he not? For Annalise, no matter her all of just twelve summers, was the fairest maiden he had ever set his eyes upon. She always looked neat, perfectly gorgeous and poise to the finish. The grace with which she carried herself at such a tender age, assured him of the unmatchable beauty she would be when she eventually transforms into a woman, in the years to come.
"Good day mi'lady. I wasn't quite sure if you were home." His bow was grateful, deep, and even as he stood, Edward could not quite look her in the eye. Though Edward was not of noble birth, he was quite the scholar and his father had made his education, the little of what he could afford, his priority. For this reason, Edward spoke quite well and was eagerly becoming acquainted with words and letters so much, that he could read and write, almost like the young boys of noble birth. He would never be a Eaton or Oxford product but he didn't mind one bit. He would take the meagre private coaches, over nothing else, any day.
Annalise snorted but was quick to catch herself, stopping the unladylike sound with a hand to her mouth. As she felt better in control, she dropped the hand, clasping the other in front of her, just like she had been taught, and settled into a smile. As always, she was charmed by this friend of hers who ever chose to remain formal around her.
"Of course I'd be home Edward. Where else would I be? Father is yet to return from his visit to London and mother has visitors from the peerage over. As always, I've been left to my own devices. Though I must admit I have not become any better with telling the time so I only got to know you were around when I heard the maid talking about the new utensils you have just delivered. It took me nothing to find you here."
Edward smiled at that, happy that she had thought him significant enough to seek out. He held her her eyes. The unusual colour of brown and golden flecks surrounding it's globe, pulling him in for a brief moment. He blinked as he recovered, then lowered his gaze again.
"I am quite sorry to hear of your boredom mi'lady. I have some time to spare before I am needed at the shop. Perhaps, if you wouldn't mind, I could find something to entertain you with in that time?"
Her laughter was more graceful this time and it's gale pleased Edward. Without thinking, Annalise linked her arms with the boy's and broke into a walk, causing Edward to follow.
"Oh Edward. You amuse me so, any time you choose to be so formal with me. We have been friends for almost a two summers now and you know very well that you are free to address me as one. There is no need to call me 'mi'lady' and I do not appreciate the bowing either."
Edward felt his cheeks grow red at her reprimand, although the smile on her face calmed any alarm he might have felt. Her lady was not crossed with him, despite the fact that he could never bring himself to act informally around her as she would like.
"You speak so wisely, like you have been around for more seasons than your years." He dared to tease in return, knowing fully well she would not take offence. Indeed, she did not, giggling instead.
"And you are only seventeen, Edward, but God help me, you remind me of father some times. I can easily conclude that my wisdom is due to my acquaintance with you." He smiled at that, intelligent enough to see the compliment embedded in that simple statement.
"My father says a man must be sharp and wise, if he is to have any success in leading his household and managing his affairs." Annalise appeared to ruminate over that before speaking.
"It sounds like something my father would say too." Then she paused, sighing tiredly. The pout that settled for a flash second betrayed her for the child she really was.
"Enough of the adult talk Edward. You promised to make my afternoon worthwhile. I must admit, I look forward to whatever delight you have for me today. There is always something new up your sleeves."
If pride was a person, it would bear the name Edward, for the lad's shoulder immediately squared, his ears grinning at her praise."Your praises flatter me mi'la... Annalise." He quickly corrected himself as her gaze turned to slits and a smile tugged at his lips. "Nonetheless, they inspire me to do better, to attain your expectations of me."
Annalise abruptly stopped, causing him to too. She looked worried when he turned to look at her and he feared he might have spoken out of turn.
"Is anything amiss mi'lady?" She rolled her eyes at that and he breathed, relief filling his lungs.
"You said nothing wrong Edward. I just do not want you thinking I am setting impossible heights for you. You are my friend and if we only spend hours looking at the sky, it would not in any way, be less enjoyable."
Reassured by her response and adding to the list of reasons why he admired the young lady Witherspoon, Edward nodded his understanding, a smile on his face.
"If that is so, I know a good spot where we could sit and watch the sun set, without gifting you more freckles. Although, you look all the more pretty for them." The smile she bestowed upon him then made him feel like the richest man on earth. Still, it was the pink that stained her cheeks that told his young heart that this was far beyond friendship. No indeed, for no matter the disparity in their ages and class, it was no secret, only to Edward, that he cared for Annalise in a special way, beyond friendly fondness and admiration. What that meant, he did not know. All he knew was that he loved spending time in her company.
Her giggling brought him out of his thoughts and as she said "In that case, take me there right away", they continued their walk.
True to his words, Edward found a nice shade not too far away from the house and close enough to the stables where stable hands could easily see them. However, instead of watching the sun set, he taught her how to make a kite and fly it, out of paper, sticks and a rope. He had come prepared, in anticipation of this time out.
Her happiness reflected his own as she ran around the tree, playing with the kite she had quickly picked up on how to make. As he watched her, her soft peach day dress flowing around her, her gale laughter filling the silence, his heart warmed. Annalise was special, but he knew better than to wish for more than they had. For he was but of lowly birth with no wealth or title to his name and while he hoped the attain the former, the latter was likely never to be in his grasp. How could he hope to offer for her hand years from now? As much as he would love to, Annalise deserved so much better. Someone who could give her all the good life she deserved. It was not him.
He was apparently so lost in his thoughts, watching her play that he did not realize the commotion that was happening just outside the stables, did not see Lord Witherspoon return from his trip. Did not see him come down from his carriage and immediately get drawn to the sight of his daughter playing in the field, unchaperoned. If he had, maybe he would have taken off and maybe... Just maybe he and Annalise would have had more time before fate so cruelly ripped them apart.
For when he did, it was already too late and Lord Witherspoon was staring at him, eyes hard, wondering what the black smith's son, was doing with his dear blue-blooded daughter, all alone in a field of grass, in his home.
"Rise and Shine Annalise!"
Annalise Witherspoon's hands flew to her face as light spilled into her chamber, lightening the large room up, with rays of the morning sun. She held back the expletives that would have escaped from her lips, realizing now that her mother was the one in her room, not her maid, Aretha. Sitting up, she sighed and rubbed her eyes, shielding them from the windows which no longer had the protection of the golden silk drapes and tapestries.
"Good morning mother." Her voice held not the least bit of enthusiasm as she sat up. Not only was morning her least favourite time of the day, she hated being so rudely awakened, especially from a beautiful dream that had her ears grinning in the land of dream.
"Good morning Annalise. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why the maids let you sleep so deep into the day, knowing what day it is." Lady Victoria Witherspoon found her way around the room, righting this furniture and that one before she came to settle herself on her daughter's four poster bed.
One look at the bedside clock informed Annalise that it was only a little past nine a.m. Her mother called that deep into the day? She rarely ever rose before ten a.m , especially since she got back from finishing school. Something her mother said rang a bell and she turned to look at the woman who made her feel like she was looking into a mirror every time she beheld her. Apart from her unusual full lips which she got from her dearest father, she was the the exact replica of her mom. It often made her wonder how any two people could look alike without sharing the same womb.
"What day is it mother?" Her voice was still dry, flat. She half hoped her mother would excuse herself and leave her be but as soon as a reply came, she knew today was not the day she would have such luck.
"Oh but Annalise. You cannot possibly be asking me that. We've been counting down for years. Why?! It is the day we leave for London for your first season as a maiden!" The color drained from Annalise's face, almost causing her to match the horror on her mother's face. Her head scrambled for a bit as she tried to digest what her mother just told her.
But of course, the season... Going to London. Her debut. It's all this household has been talking about for over three months now. So many preparations have been going underfoot but regardless of how everyone seemed elated about it, Annalise could not get herself to look forward to it with excitement. She had not really looked forward to anything in excitement in exactly 6 summers. Since he left...
Shaking her head, she resisted placing them in her hands as she so often did when she was beyond frustrated. Her mother was here and she was certain to be reprimanded for the unladylike attitude. So instead, she kept it held high and considered what this meant. Her dread for the season had made her push it further down her mind, day by day, not wanting to give it too much thought lest it made her sad. Now she saw that forgetting about an issue did not make it go away. Could she? She wondered as a thought crossed her mind, remembering the the letter safely kept in the chest under her bed. The letter only three living people knew of... At least she hoped one of them still lives. That uncertainty was part of what ate at her as the years went by. She asked, even though she knew she would have no luck with her request.
"Mother. I still think I could stay one more year without entering society. I am only but ten and eight summers. Nineteen would not be a bad time to be introduced into society Mother. Please, I beg of you. Let me have this year to myself."
If she had sprouted wings at that moment, her mother could not have looked more incredulous. It took about five beats for her to recover and when she did, Annalise was ready for what came. However, her readiness did nothing to soften the blow as the words crushed her heart.
"Nonsense! What in God's name is the problem with you Annalise? You used to be a happy child but you have been growing into a different woman. I have watched you all these years, believing that you were only rebelling as every young child would. Still, I had hoped that the thought of this new experience would put some color to your mood and we might finally get to see you skip around the halls in glee like you used to do as a little girl. Yet, all we've heard from you are pleas to skip this season. What girl doesn't look forward to being introduced into society? What girl doesn't look forward to the splendor that comes with balls, soirées and gentlemen falling over her? What is this Annalise?"
Hurt more by the anger in her mom's voice than her words, Annalise remained quiet, struggling against the tears that were threatening to fall. Her mother had never spoken to her so harshly. She had not even realized that her mother had noticed the drastic change in her mood ever since that summer. It made her think if she had been selfish. It made her wonder what her unhappiness had been doing to her parents all these years. How could she not have seen that she was causing them to worry over her? Her mother was right. Everyone she knew was always excited about the new season. She would be too. If only... Inhaling deep breaths to fill her lungs, she made her resolve and released them slowly.
Her voice was low, almost inaudible as she spoke. "I'm sorry Mother."
Lady Witherspoon instantly softened and her hands flew to her daughter's face. She tucked a stray black lock behind Annalise's face and cradled her chin.
"I'm sorry too, for raising my voice at you that way. You must forgive me dear child. It's just, I worry about you."
"I know mother. My sincere apologies." Her voice was still a whisper. It was her mother who sighed this time around, crushing her into her arms.
"I hope one day, you would trust me enough to tell me what ladens your heart so. For now, I can only promise you that I and your Father are trying our best to make sure that this season is wonderful for you. We only wish you would try. Now that you are done with finishing school, your father sees no reason why he should still hold you back from society. You do understand?"
Her bobbing head answered before her lips moved. "Yes Mother. I'll do better."
A beautiful smile graced the Lady's face and she placed a soft kiss on her daughter's cheeks before letting her go.
"Well, in that case, I shall send Aretha and the servants in. There is so much to do and so little time! I cannot wait to show you all of London! It's going to be all so exciting!"
Annalise did not bother fighting against the chuckle that left her lips as she watched her mother transform, spirits brightening up once again, filling her with colors that made the sun look pale.
"We leave by two p.m love. I will be back to check on you."
"Yes Mother." Was all she said as she watched the woman who loved her so, step out of her chambers, skirts swishing behind her.
As the door closed, she heaved in relief, grateful to finally be alone, regardless of how fleeting this moment would be. Sleep or any wish for it completely vanished, she got up and dragged the chest which laid under her bed. Lifting it up to the linen sheets that served as her bed covers, she sat and popped the lock. When the silver crested top of the polished mahogany box came open, her breath caught at the sight of her most cherished possession. Her greatest treasure.
Picking it, she crossed her legs beneath her and carefully opened the envelope whose seal had been long broken. She knew she did not have to. She knew those words by heart. Could see the beautifully crafted shape of ink as she read in her mind's eye. Still, she liked reading them from this piece he had touched. The last tangible piece she had of him. It made her feel a connection of some sort. Holding her breath, she unfolded the letter. A sudden calm washed over her as an ache settled deep in her heart, twisting her insides. She started reading the words immediately.
Apologies... Dear Annalise
I am sorry that we have come to this. I had doubts you would understand all the words I would like to say to you but then I remembered how smart you are, and I knew I have no cause for alarm.
Aretha told me there was no way I could see you but I needed to. I desperately wanted to say these words to your face. Say a proper goodbye but alas, there was no way around it. You must thank Aretha for me, for when she saw how much I needed to get this message across, she suggested I wrote a letter. I do not know why I never thought of that but here I am. Here we are.
Perhaps by the time you are able to read this, I would be at sea already, forging my path, finding my way. Father says we must leave for reasons I cannot disclose. I wish I had more time with you. I wish your father had not caught us under that tree that day. However, wishes are not horses and boys of lowly birth like me cannot afford to ride.
I'm sorry Annalise. I'm sorry I will not be around to take your boredom away whenever you need me to. Aretha says you are bound for finishing school soon, perhaps you would make friends there and you wouldn't feel so lonely anymore. I am happy about that possibility, I only hope you do not forget me.
Annalise, I will return. That is a promise I would keep against all odds. I will return at a time when it would no longer be forbidden for us to be together. I will return when I can offer to give you the life that you deserve. I hope this does not take too long. But if it does, promise me you will wait Annalise. Promise me.
It's all I ask... That you wait for me and never forget me as I will never forget you. When I close my eyes, I'shall see your beautiful golden brown eyes. I shall see you laughing as you run in the field. I shall hear the happy sounds you make, your snorts. I shall watch you watch the sun set. And when I open them, I shall feel your presence in my heart for that is where you are Annalise. In my heart.
If you do not understand all of these now, I know that someday, you will.
A tear dropped as she finished reading and she clutched the piece of paper to her chest. He had been right. At first, when she had read his letter, she had known what he was trying to tell her. Had known that he was leaving and she might never see him again. But she had not understood. No. Not until the years began to pass, and she started to figure out so many things and what they meant. The way he had looked at her, like she saw father look at mother so often, the way he had dedicated his time and efforts to making her happy, the way she had admired him and looked forward to their moments together, all the time. It wasn't until she grew older, that she realized what all of that meant. Then her heart had broken all over again. For the love they shared, the love that had never been allowed to blossom. All because of society norms. She hated it. Hated it as much as she hated all the etiquettes she had been forced to make a culture since her birth. They stifled her but she couldn't dare complain. Couldn't dare go against the unspoken and spoken rules of the society.
Ever since that day her Father had discovered the friendship between a black smith's son and his dearest daughter, she never saw him again. Not even a glimpse of him or his father. It was like they had only been a figment of her imagination until she had received his letter. That day, she had laughed at his compliment and had cried at his goodbye and deep down, she had known she would keep his promise. He had said he would return at a time when they would be able to be together, she had believed him.
Making friends at finishing school had been difficult. Every day there, she had wanted to be home, not in some place learning several languages, how to properly hold a cup of tea, sit right, serve tea, flirt with the fan and eyelashes, speak, embroider... She had grown extremely weary of the hundred rules about how to live her life. All preparing her for a man who would never know her the way Edward knew her. Who would never love her and who she would never love. However she had held on to hope that perhaps if Edward returned just in time, he would be able to save her. And all of these, all of the endless hours she had been fought to endure wouldn't be so bad anymore. It was part of the reason why she'd been dreading the season. Wanting to push the inevitable as far as she could for she knew the moment she made her debut, her Father would see her married to an eligible bachelor. One of equal or even higher class and wealth. Someone Edward would never be.
All hope was lost anyway. Today, she'd arrive London and her life will completely leave her hands. She'd be doomed to a marriage that would not bring her the joy Edward had given her. How could such thoughts make anyone happy? If only her parents would reason with her. They never would. She knew that. So after six summers of holding on to that candle of light, she let the glowing flame flicker off and swallowed a sob, keeping the tears at bay.
This was her life as a woman. It would always be in the hands of others. Especially as a duke's daughter. She would never have her freedom. There was no such thing for a woman in this time. Mayhap some day, things would change. Mayhap, she might find the strength to initiate that change, mayhap she would do it for her daughter, ensure she married for love or remained unmarried, whichever she chose- long as she was happy.
A knock on the door drew her out of her thoughts and she quickly secured her treasure, returning the chest to its position before giving her permission for entrance.
She released a breath she did not know she had been holding when she saw Aretha and stood up to go sit at the vanity.
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