Sea of Ruin - Pam Godwin Page 0,1

had clothing made for them, and the countess managed to live amongst that charmed circle, despite having no financial worth of her own.

Lady Abigail Leighton, the only child of the ninth Earl Leighton, inherited her title upon the earl’s death. But nothing more. When her inglorious affair with a commoner was made evident by my illegitimate existence, she lost her dowry, her family, and her coveted status in the beau monde.

With no support in England, she was forced abroad—pregnant, destitute, alone—and found refuge here with distant cousins. They took her in, and fourteen years later, we remained in their opulent home, made use of their servants, and ate their lavish meals.

But none of this belonged to us. The master of the house, while ever gracious, could toss us out on our backsides without warning or reason.

We were insolvent tenants. My mother’s ruined reputation ensured that was all she would ever be unless she found a way to reenter society.

I ran my hands over the gown, gilded in her meticulous efforts. She spun, wove, and fashioned our garments out of necessity. Every spool of thread was a cost she couldn’t afford, every cut of cotton a labor of determination, every stitch a stab at a better future.

A better future for her. All I wanted was adventure and a pair of trousers.

She turned at the sound of a knock on the bedchamber door. “Enter.”

“My lady.” The parlor maid hurried in, ducking her bonnet-clad head as she offered the countess a gentleman’s calling card.

Moisture trickled down my spine, and the stays grew uncomfortably tighter. I didn’t need to glance at the card to know it announced the arrival of the Marquess of Grisdale.

“I’ll receive him in the blue parlor,” my mother said. “Prepare the tea.”

“Yes, my lady.” The maid bobbed a curtsy and beat a hasty exit.

I’d never met Lord Grisdale, but his letter to the countess mentioned I’d caught his eye during one of my visits to the pier.

At age forty-four, the childless widower had the wealth and influence to help Lady Abigail regain her former status. He lived in England and would return there once his business concluded in Charleston.

He was her ticket home. In exchange, she had only one thing to offer.


My worth lay in my virtue and lineage. It didn’t matter that I was merely fourteen or that he was thirty years my elder. If he were the highest bidder for my hand, the countess would eagerly accept.

My breaths quickened, pulling dread down my throat and into my tumbling stomach. I’d overheard the whispered conversations amongst the scullery maids. Conversations about what men and women did together in the marriage bed.

Lord Grisdale would require me to do that with him, to breed his heirs and service his masculine needs.

The thought sickened me, but I had as much say in it as the nag horse in the barn.

“Heavens, Benedicta. Look at your hair.” My mother’s voice trembled, a reedy sound of disapproval and sudden nerves. “This won’t do, and I don’t have time to repair it.”

The lady’s maid had spent the past hour wrestling my wild blond coils into a presentable pile on my head. The waist-length tresses, thicker and more unruly than my mother’s, were already working themselves free from the pins. Wayward spirals sprung in every direction and dangled rebelliously around my ears.

I didn’t care about my appearance, but it had a crippling effect on my mother. Her hands balled at her sides. Cords stretched in her stiff neck, and the hope that had brightened her eyes only moments before vanished behind shadows of dismay.

My throat thickened.

Oh, how I wished for her happiness. I didn’t know what a smile would look like on her aristocratic face or how the sound of laughter would alter her voice. But maybe it was obtainable.

Maybe if I cooperated. Just this once.

“You mustn’t keep him waiting.” I leaned toward the mirror and tackled my hair. “I’ll fix this.”

As I added more pins, she didn’t move. Her presence loomed behind me, silent and uncertain.

“Mother?” I glanced over my shoulder.

“This is important to me.” Her eyes narrowed.

“I know, my lady.”

Her expression softened. Until something caught her attention on my neck.

She reached for it, snatching the thin chain I’d tried to conceal beneath the lace choker. The pendant lay against my spine, hidden by the stays.

“Why are you wearing this?” She yanked on the necklace, attempting to break it.

“Don’t.” I caught her wrist in a bruising grip, stopping her from harming my most treasured possession.

Her eyes