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By Camille Oster

Copyright ©2021 Camille Oster

All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are the work of the author's imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.

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Chapter 1

London, 1855

THE CARRIAGE STOPPED AGAIN and Julius sighed. The streets of London were simply inadequate for the amount of traffic fighting through them. This was why he hated coming, because he spent most of his time waiting to live his life. Checking his attire again, he flicked a piece of lint off his cuff.

No, enough of this, he thought and tapped the ceiling with his cane to let the driver know he was exiting. “I might walk,” he said when he stepped out of the carriage, “or I’ll be sitting here all day. Return home—if you can.”

With cane in hand, he walked, prepared to use it as a weapon in case he was accosted. People seemed to be hungrier in the city lately. The economy was bad, but the government should see to it that people ate.

Another reason he avoided London as much as he could. The teeming mass of humanity. It distressed him to see the state of it. It had no simple solution, but he did applaud the efforts made with public health and sanitation. He sat on a few of the committees, but he found the task weighty at times. When one looked closely, there were no easy answers, unfortunately.

In no way did he not realize how fortunate he was. He was a privileged man, but his station came with responsibilities that many did not understand.

The street was filthy and teeming with people. The smells were noxious. For all the work they had done to improve sanitation, it hadn’t transformed the city into a garden as some of the dreamers had hoped.

Reaching his club without incident, he made his way into the quiet and solemn sanctuary. The chaos of London fell away and was replaced with refinement, hushed voices and intelligent conversation. Compared to the outside, the atmosphere of the club was pleasant. He liked the company and the interesting information he tended to pick up. The people at the club ran this country, and if you wanted to know what was happening, or was about to happen, these were the people who could tell you.

Accepting his typical whiskey, which the bar staff knew he preferred, he took a seat by the fire. His intention was to come for lunch, but he’d arrived early to read the paper and relax.

A parliamentary committee had brought him to London, so he was here for a few days. In that time, he might visit some wine merchants, dine with friends and start the process of procuring a new set of boots for winter. Buying footwear, along with most things, was a thing best done without rush. It took time to make a good quality pair of boots.

Another reason he disliked coming to London was the scandal of his wife living with her Italian lover. The worst of it had died down now, especially from those who had realized he couldn’t be riled about it. And honestly, he didn’t truly care. His marriage had been a transaction that had suited them both, until the time that Cressida had decided she wanted a different life. At the time, he hadn’t expected it, had been more annoyed with her lack of discretion. Whether it was the lover who pushed for a more public life between them, or Cressida, Julius didn’t know. Nor did he particularly care.

Her lover was royalty and that did impress Cressida. It might be the greater portion of the man’s appeal. In the society the prince kept, they lived like man and wife, and she was even carrying his child. Legally, it was Julius’ child, as they were still married.

While Julius didn’t care about her disloyalty, he also wouldn’t release her from the marriage, because once one made a commitment, one stuck with it, and marriage was the biggest commitment of all.

So yes, she could leave the marital house, have her lover and that royal lifestyle she coveted, but she wasn’t being released from her commitment. Some things could not be put aside.

As it was, he didn’t see his marriage as a failure, like many suggested. Suffering from her absence was perfectly bearable. The marriage had produced a male child, so an heir was secured. The purpose of the marriage had been fulfilled. The transaction had been completed.

Obviously, he knew it was a clinical way of thinking about it, but it had been the purpose of the marriage all along. There had never been much affection between him and Cressida. They had both enjoyed the benefits of their merger. In the end, she’d found a superior merger, but she would simply have to put up with the fact that she was a married woman.

“Hennington, how are you?” a voice said, drawing his attention away from his paper. Joseph Straithmarsh, a man he’d known for years. They’d been to Oxford together, but had never been very close friends. Cordial was a better word for how they fared. The Straithmarshes were a powerful family, a duchy, and Joseph had always suffered with pride for it. It wasn’t something Julius begrudged him, but it did make him a little tedious on closer association. It was all fine and good to be proud of one’s background, but there came a point where the elevation of status and privilege didn’t hold up the conversation anymore. Joseph was enjoyable in small measures.

“Straithmarsh, good to see you. I hope you’re faring well.”

“As well as can be,” the man said and brought out his pipe to knock the spent tobacco into

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