Enamored With A Scarred Lady

Chapter 1

“Whoa there, Chestnut,” Amy said, gently tugging on her horse’s reigns.

Chestnut stomped his front hooves in playful protest, but he gradually slowed from his excited, giddy trot. It was clear that he enjoyed the crisp morning air and beautiful countryside scenery just as much as Amy.

She rode Chestnut almost every single morning, and neither of them ever tired of the trails, the streams, or the bright blue sky. As she slowly guided Chestnut back toward the stables, she mused at how her young horse was more of a dear friend to her than a mere riding animal. She had whispered many secret fears and worries to the horse on their rides. Though he could not speak to her, she felt that he listened and that he loved her every bit as much as she loved him.

As the stables came into view, Amy tugged on the steed’s reigns once more, slowly bringing him to a stop. She dismounted him, smoothing her scarlet riding habit once she was securely on the ground.

The habit had been a gift from her father right after her accident, and she had loved it immediately. Its male cuffs and gold buttons and trim shimmered brilliantly in the sun, and the deep, rich red color complemented her olive skin tone. It was one of few things that made her feel beautiful again—however briefly.

She walked the horse the remaining steps to the stables and hugged his strong, majestic neck.

“Good boy,” she cooed, running her fingers through his groomed mane. “I shall see you tomorrow morning.”

As if in response, Chestnut nuzzled her head, gently grazing her hair with his lips. Amy laughed and kissed him. Then, she handed the reigns to the stable hand and hurried to the grand barn just behind the stables. The sound that greeted her as she stepped inside warmed her heart, and she rushed toward it.

Inside a small cloth and feather lined cage lay a small white rabbit. Well, lay was no longer accurate. For the first time since she had rescued the poor injured thing a fortnight prior, the rabbit was trying to balance on her back legs, sniffing the air. When Amy reached the cage, the little rabbit’s ears perked up.

“Good morning, sweet chit,” she crooned, picking up the small animal.

The rabbit looked at Amy with wide, alert eyes, and Amy gently stroked the top of her head. The animal turned her head so that she could smell Amy’s hand, gently grazing it with her teeth.

“You are hungry today,” Amy observed, carefully turning the rabbit over in her hand so she could look at the injured leg she had kept wrapped with gauze and a tiny splint.

Fortunately, the leg had not been broken, but it had been sprained badly enough that the small animal would have made easy prey for larger, more able-bodied animals.

She gingerly massaged the leg, testing how the sensation felt to the rabbit. When it sat still in her hands and allowed her to complete her task with minimal resistance, Amy smiled.

“You will be ready to return to the forest soon,” she assured the fuzzy little critter.

She kissed the rabbit gently on the head and placed her back in the cage. Then, she fetched a small carrot from the basket on the ground and placed it in front of the animal, unsurprised when she began eagerly nibbling on it straight away; its cheeks were swelling as it chomped away at the vegetable.

“How is she doing, my dear?” said a voice from the barn doorway.

Amy turned around and smiled warmly at her father. “She is healing nicely. She should be ready to be released very soon.”

The Earl of Winterton walked slowly toward his eldest daughter and the little creature. He stood and admired the rabbit for a moment before gently reaching into stroke her head.

“You have cared well for her,” the Earl noted, smiling warmly at his daughter.

“It is very rewarding to care for poor, wounded things such as she,” she said.

Her father smiled and nodded knowingly. “I understand how much you love animals and this countryside.”

Amy nodded fervently, smiling at her father once more. His affection toward the small rabbit warmed her heart, and her heart swelled with gratitude at her father’s support for her hobby.

He had always ensured that she had everything she needed to care for any of the sick or injured animals she brought home from her rides or walks through the trails, and he always checked in on their progress. He also did his best to be with her when she released each one back into its natural habitat. He even held and comforted her as she cried when she failed to save a baby bird a couple of months before.

He had, in fact, been very supportive of her in every way in the years since her accident. He had especially been understanding of her decision to move permanently to the countryside home, and he had never pressured her to return to society or to try to find a husband again. He had been compassionate and loving, and she felt that she owed a great deal of her recovery to him.

“It is cathartic here,” she said. “And helping animals makes me feel useful.”

Her father nodded again. For a moment, Amy thought she saw his sorrowful eyes. Then, he blinked, and it was gone.

“Will you take a walk with me?” he asked.

Amy furrowed her brow in confusion, but she secured the rabbit’s cage and nodded.

“Of course, Father,” she said. “Is everything all right?”

The Earl offered his arm to his daughter and slowly began walking with her out of the barn. “I must speak with you about something important, my dear.”

Amy gave her father a puzzled smile. “I must say that this sounds rather grave.” Her voice was light, but the concern was rapidly filling her heart.

They walked in silence for a few moments, heading back the direction from which she had come with Chestnut earlier.

“As I’m sure you know, your mother and I will be taking Colin and Teresa back to London in three days,” he said at last.

“Yes,” she nodded, “Teresa is so excited about her debut ball. It is all she has talked about for the last week.”

The Earl smiled and nodded. “That she is,” he began, his voice trailing off on the pleasant thought before he pressed on. “Your mother will certainly keep very busy trying to plan it and keep up with her.”

Amy shook her head, smiling fondly. “Well, I shall be here to do everything I can to help both of them. Even though I will not be returning to London, I will not let Mother and Teresa down.”

The Earl stopped walking and clasped his hands behind his back. He looked up at Amy and sighed. “Your mother and I think that you should return with us.”

Amy’s eyes widened. “But Father, you promised me that I could stay here. That I would never need to return to London.”

“I know, my dear,” the Earl nodded, his voice full of regret. “But the debut ball is of great importance to your sister, and your mother does not want you to miss it. They asked me to speak with you and request that you come with us.”

Amy stared at her father, shaking her head slowly. “I will never be part of regular society again, Father… How can they expect me to try?”

The Earl took his daughter’s hands. “I know how anxious you must be about this, but perhaps it will turn out to be good for you.”

Amy bit her lip. She did not believe for a moment that returning to London would be good at all for her. She was angry with her family for trying to force her to do so, and she was terrified of returning to a life where people gawked at her and mocked her. But her father’s eyes were warm and pleading, and she knew how important a debut ball was.

She loved her famil

 

y and she knew that their request was not made out of malice; they did not wish for her to be made a fool of either. She also knew that doing as they asked was the right thing to do—no matter how afraid she was. Amy had to find comfort in being amongst her family; the people who truly loved and protected her.

She looked into her father’s nervous face and gave him a small smile. “Very well,” she said, squeezing his hands. “I shall return to London with you all.”

The Earl’s face brightened. He gently embraced his daughter. “Thank you, my dear,” he whispered joyously. “Shall we go tell everyone?”

After the moment it took for her stomach to twist and then settle, Amy nodded. The Earl offered his arm to his eldest daughter, and they walked back up to the country house together.

As she had anticipated, her family was overjoyed to learn that she had agreed to go with them. Even her mother, who was usually prim and proper, seemed thrilled and relieved. Amy smiled outwardly, not wishing to put a damper on the happy atmosphere. Inside, however, her heart raced, and her mind spun.

As they dined that evening, Amy smiled and nodded when the conversation was directed at her, but she said little. Her thoughts were utterly consumed by her dread of going back to London.

Once the meal was concluded, Amy went straight to her room. As she closed the door behind her, however, there was a knock on it. She opened it to see her younger sister standing there; her eyes wide and bright.

“May I come in?” Teresa beckoned from the doorway.

Amy smiled and nodded. “Of course,” she said, opening the door wider. Teresa entered the room and promptly put her arms around her sister.

Amy laughed. “What is all this?”

Teresa giggled. “Can’t a girl hug her sister just because she loves her?”

Amy raised her eyebrow. “She certainly can. Except for when she is planning a large social event and has enlisted the aforementioned sister’s help.”

Teresa laughed. She looked at Amy with affection. “I simply wanted to say thank you.”

Amy blinked, confused. “Thank me? For what?”

Teresa took her hand. “For agreeing to return to London for me,” she said, suddenly sounding shy and timid.

Amy squeezed her sister’s hand. “Of course, I would come to be a part of your debut ball.” She tried to make her face as soft and reassuring as possible, but her stomach was beginning to turn once again at the thought. “You are my sister, and I love you.”

Teresa nodded and smiled sweetly at Amy. “I know,” she breathed. “But I wanted you to know that I understand how difficult what you are doing is for you, and I felt that you should know how grateful I am to you.”

Amy forced herself to keep her smile. Though she and her sister were not quite as close as she and Colin, she still adored her sister, and she knew that Teresa cared about her, too.

Teresa, much like their mother, often had trouble acknowledging Amy’s scars and usually tried to avoid looking at them. However, she had defended Amy against people they had encountered in public, before Amy had left for the country when they shunned Amy in her presence.

Teresa’s display of gratitude made Amy feel a bit guilty. Though she did wish to give her sister her support, she was only returning with the family because her parents weren’t giving her a choice.

“I know that you would have much rather stayed here,” Teresa continued hurriedly, as though reading Amy’s thoughts. “I just wanted you to know that I am glad that you’re coming.”

Amy smiled at her sister once more. No matter how much she hated the idea of being back in London, there was no way she was going to make it her sister’s issue.

She hugged Teresa once more and squeezed her gently. “It is my pleasure,” she forced out, as kindly as she could, “Besides, who knows? I might enjoy it.”

Dreaming big, aren’t we? She thought to herself.

Teresa released Amy and looked at her, her eyes sparkling. “I am so glad to hear you say that,” she absolutely oozed. “I want you to be happy in town, too.”

Amy nodded, keeping her expression bright and happy. “I will be fine. You just concentrate on your ball.”

Teresa smiled widely again as she turned back toward the open door. “You are my favorite sister.”

Amy laughed at the joke they had shared since they were little girls. “And I am your only sister.”

Teresa giggled as she bade her sister goodnight and disappeared down the hallway. Once the chit was out of sight, Amy closed her door and undressed for bed.

She was glad to see her sister so happy about her return to London. However, she could not make herself feel as thrilled about the idea as she pretended to be. When she was finally ready to climb into her bed, she pulled the blankets all the way up to her chin and hugged her pillow.

Only there, in the safe quiet of her country bedroom, did she, at last, let her brave face falter, and her pain and fear of returning to town pour from her soul in waves of tears.

Chapter 2

Matthew Seymour swallowed another wave of nausea, but it wasn’t the impact of the rough seas that made him feel out of sorts. For the first time since he had found his love for the sea, the cozy cabin of his ship, The Queen Coral, felt like little more than a parchment-thin shield between him and the world from which he often sought refuge.

The letter he received from his father had managed to invade the security and comfort he only felt while aboard his ship. He reread the letter, for what felt like the millionth time, praying that his eyes had deceived him and that his father was not asking him to return to London.

Unfortunately, the words on the page did not change, and Matthew swallowed again. His father was requesting that he return to his childhood home; to begin taking responsibility for his duties as the future Duke of Stonewater.

With a sigh, Matthew ran a hand through his hair and tucked the letter in the drawer of his escritoire. He saw little point in penning a reply to his father since he would not be able to send it until he returned to the London docks.

Instead, he reluctantly rose from his seat and began preparations with the ship’s crew to change course and make the return trip. He knew he could not break the promise he made to his father. The promise that he would return any time his father wished, but his heart was heavy nonetheless.

The next morning, Matthew awoke early to watch the sunrise, the last one he would get to watch on the open sea. For a time, he allowed the cool breeze wafting off the water and the beautiful orange and pink streaks in the morning sky to soothe his apprehension.

The ocean became both his most loyal friend and his greatest love after a terrible fever had taken his beloved wife just months into their marriage two years prior. Though he still missed her dearly, being out at sea brought him the healing and comfort he never succeeded in finding on land.

As the London docks came into view, however, his stomach began to tighten once more. Gone were the days where he could turn to the waves for solace and solitude. With a deep sigh and a heavy heart, he prepared for the ship to dock.

He took his time disembarking. He did not know when he would set foot aboard next, and he intended to hang onto his already fading peace of mind for as long as possible before rejoining society. When, at last, he could dawdle no longer, he dragged himself off his ship and onto the docks.

It took him a moment to spot the carriage his father had sent to fetch him. The docks were crowded, which made Matthew feel claustrophobic. He tried to avoid eye contact with any of the people passing by and just focus on finding the carriage. He fixed his gaze straight ahead and, at last, saw the waiting coach.

As he approached it, a young man exited his own carriage. It only took him a moment to recognize the man, and he smiled his first genuine smile since receiving his father’s letter.

As though feeling eyes on him, the man turned in Matthew’s direction. A second later, a smile spread across the man’s face as well. He reached Matthew in no time and clapped him heartily on the shoulder.

“Matthew Seymour is that really you?” he asked, pulling him into a firm hug.

Matthew enthusiastically returned his old friend’s embrace. He and Colin Reid had been friends for many years, but he had not seen him since before his wife died. Colin had been out of town when Elizabeth had passed away, and shortly after, Matthew had begun sailing the seas.

“That is quite a ship,” Colin complimented, marveling at The Queen Coral.

Matthew smiled fondly. “It was a gift from my father. He gave it to me after…” he trailed off, a lump forming in his throat.

Colin grew serious for a moment. He looked at Matthew with a sorrowful gaze.

“Please, accept my condolences for Elizabeth.” His head bowed in respect.

Matthew clenched his jaw and nodded. “Thank you, my friend,” he managed to utter. He gave Colin a small smile and a clap on the shoulder. “Now, I am married to the sea.”

The dark cloud of remorse left Colin’s face, and he smiled. “She certainly is a beautiful mistress, is she not?”

Matthew nodded. “To my eyes, there is none more beautiful,” he said softly.

Colin smiled widely with his chest expanding with pride, and Matthew thought he saw him blush.

“Well, I have found one who, to me, is more beautiful by far.”

Matthew raised his eyebrows, bemused. “Oh?” he asked, intrigued.

Colin nodded, still grinning. “Her name is Louisa Dowding,” he said, his voice overflowing with uncontrollable excitement. “She is the daughter of a baron, and she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

Matthew smiled at his friend’s enthusiasm. Most certainly, he was happy for Colin. But hearing talk of beautiful women made him think only of his dear Elizabeth. Nevertheless, he put his hand on his friend’s arm. He would not let his own dejection become Colin’s.

“That is splendid news,” he said, giving Colin’s shoulder a hearty shake. “Congratulations.”

Colin nodded fervently, a heat overcoming his face. “Thank you, my friend. I would like to introduce you to her whenever it is convenient. How long will you be in London?”

Matthew stifled a groan and his resentment at having to be back at all. “I expect to be here for quite some time.”

Colin nodded again, not noticing Matthew’s unhappiness. “Very good,” he began. “We are having dinner at my family’s home in a couple of days—to celebrate our engagement. Please, say that you will come.”

Matthew plastered on another false smile. The last thing he wanted was a social engagement, especially when he had only just returned to town. However, it was refreshing to see a friendly, comforting face, and he did not wish to be rude to his old friend.

“If my father does not have other plans, I will attend,” he finally forced from his lips.

Colin grinned again. “I am glad,” he said. “I am certain that my parents would love to see you again, as well.”

Matthew nodded. He had gotten to know Colin’s parents well throughout their friendship, and he greatly respected them. Despite his lack of desire to engage in social activities, he felt that seeing some familiar faces might help ease his distaste for having been pulled away from the sea.

“That is mutual, my friend,” he conferred.

Shortly after, the two men exchanged their farewells, and Matthew boarded the carriage that would take him to his father’s home.

The trip was a solemn one. He would be glad to see his parents again, but he could not simply pretend that his arrival was one of a brief family reunion. He knew that this was the beginning of the way the rest of his life would go. Although he had always known this was how things would be, he was not quite ready.

Nevertheless, as the carriage continued onward to his childhood home, he resolved that he would face hid duties and responsibilities as the man his parents had raised him to be.

As the coach pulled up to Stonewater Manor, Matthew took a deep breath. It was just as he remembered it, though now it seemed to loom oppressively rather than beckoning him welcomingly, as it once had.

He could not help remembering the first time he had brought Elizabeth to the manor and how happy they had been. His heart ached as he recalled her meeting his parents, and he clenched his jaw against the tears that began forming in his eyes. He reluctantly alighted the carriage when it came to a stop and made his way to the front door.

The butler opened the heavy wooden door after his first knock. The man smiled warmly at him and bowed.

“Good day, m’Lord,” he greeted. “It is good to see you again.”

Matthew smiled and dipped his head in respect. “Hello, Watson. It is good to see you as well.”

“Your parents asked me to escort you into the dining room when you arrived.”

Matthew smiled and nodded his head in affirmation. “Very well,” he said. “I do hope that I am not intruding on their meal.”

The butler led him down the hall toward the dining hall. Truthfully, Matthew was far from hungry, despite his long journey. But if it pleased his parents, he would join them.

As they entered the room, Matthew stifled a groan. His parents sat at the table, along with a handful of guests. He was wholly unprepared for social interaction, especially when he hadn’t even had the chance to regain his bearings.

 

Nevertheless, as the butler announced his arrival to everyone, he put on a small smile and bowed politely.

Everyone ceased conversing and rose to greet him. He walked over to his mother and gave her a small kiss on her cheek. “Hello, Mother,” he said, his voice even and quiet.

“Matthew, darling,” she cooed, returning his kiss. “I trust your trip was a pleasant one.”

Matthew nodded. “Quite pleasant, thank you.” He turned to his father, who extended his hand for a shake.

Matthew shook it firmly and nodded. “Good evening, Father.”

“It is good to have you back, son,” he said brusquely, gesturing to an empty seat to his left. “Please, sit and join us.”

“Thank you.”

Introductions were passed all around the table. Matthew learned that he did, in fact, know four of the guests. They were Lord and Lady Lamton, close friends of his parents whom he had met once years ago as a child, and Lord and Lady Parkton.

His father had begun business dealings with Lord Parkton just after Matthew and Elizabeth had married. Lord Stonewater had introduced his son to the man with the intention of including him in their business ventures in the future.

Matthew smiled and nodded politely to everyone, exchanging pleasantries and greetings. Then, his father gestured to the two people who were entirely unfamiliar to him.

“This is Patrick Miles, the Duke of Baldur,” he explained. “And this is his daughter, Lady Ingrid.”

Matthew did his best to broaden his charming faux smile. He bowed once more to the Duke and his daughter. “It is a pleasure to meet both of you.”

The Duke bowed, and his daughter curtseyed politely.

“Lord and Lady Stonewater have told us so much about you,” Lady Ingrid announced sweetly; her voice was a touch mousy but remained pleasant enough.

Matthew stiffened, but he maintained his expression. “I assure you that none of what you have heard is true,” he said in jest.

The remark elicited hearty chuckles throughout the dining hall, and Matthew took the laughter as his cue to sit.

The conversation that his arrival had interrupted resumed. He sat quietly, content to allow everyone to talk amongst themselves. From what he gathered, Lady Ingrid was going to be debuting into society in the upcoming London Season.

Matthew shuddered at the thought of those dances, and he hoped that he would not have to attend them any time soon. As heir to a dukedom, he knew he would be expected to attend many social events, but he hoped to put off this inevitable inconvenience for as long as possible.

The night passed in a blur, with everyone engrossed in discussing Lady’s Ingrid’s debut. Matthew felt that the end of the evening could not come soon enough. When, at last, the guests dispersed, and Matthew was free to go to his old childhood bedroom, he collapsed onto the bed and fell into a deep sleep.

Chapter 3

 

Amy spent little time outside her room in the first several days after returning to her family’s home in London. Though the grounds were beautiful and well-tended, it could not compare in beauty and peace to the home in the countryside. There, she could lose her sorrow in the beautiful foliage and crisp, sweet air, and put her energy into caring for sick and injured animals, like the little rabbit she had released just before departing for London.

Those sweet creatures never judged her for her appearance, as people always did, and they offered kind, pure companionship. With each passing day, her heart grew heavier, and she longed more and more to return to her beloved retreat.

One morning, about a week after leaving the country home, there was a knock on her bedroom door. For a moment, Amy considered tiptoeing back to her bed and pretending to be asleep. Before she could, however, she could hear a muffled voice through the door.

“Amy?” her mother called. “Darling, may I come in?”

Amy felt her stomach churn. If her mother were coming to summon her so early, in her bedroom, it could only mean one thing. She took a deep breath and slowly rose from her window-side chair.

“Yes, Mother,” she said, trying to find her most pleasant voice.

A moment later, her mother was walking into her room, smiling warmly at her eldest daughter. “Good morning, dear,” she said, hugging Amy only briefly. “Did you sleep well?”

Amy nodded slowly. “Well enough,” she said.

Though, not as well as I ever did at the country home, she added silently.

The Countess smiled approvingly, not noticing her daughter’s dejection. “I am glad,” she nodded before clearing her throat. “I came to invite you to come to town with your sister and me.”

Amy’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, Mother, I am not ready to go out in public like…this,” she said, gesturing to the left side of her face.

The Countess averted her eyes, and Amy’s heart ached. She knew that her mother loved her, but she never failed to notice that she, too, often cringed at the sight of her disfiguration.

Though she never mocked or shamed her and did her best to lift her spirits about it, it was clear that it made her uncomfortable. In many ways, that was worse to Amy than the stares and ridicule she got from other people. How could the Countess expect her daughter to venture into society when even her own mother could not bear the sight of her?

Her mother smiled again, though even Amy could sense its falsity.  “Teresa is very excited and nervous about her debut,” she said. “And she really needs her sister to be there for her—for support.”

I will always be here for Teresa,” she sighed. “But she will have you with her while she shops for dresses. I will be present at her ball. Is that not enough?”

The Countess touched her daughter’s face, and Amy noticed how careful she was to caress only the unscarred right cheek. Her mother only ever touched the unblemished, supple skin. The side of her which the Countess could admire and recount fondly of the days before the accident. The days in which she and Teresa always appeared to live.

“You know that without you, dress shopping for one of the most important days of her life will simply not be the same. You are her sister, Amy.”

Amy sighed again, the air escaping her lungs without her permission. She knew that she could not persuade her mother to change her mind any more than she had been able to convince her father to let her remain at the countryside. Fighting back the tears, she nodded.

There was no choice in the matter, even if the plain words from her mother’s mouth framed it as such. It was an illusion of choice, and to start an argument over it would be delusional.

“All right, Mother,” she whispered. “I shall be ready shortly.”

The Countess smiled at her daughter again. Amy could see sympathy in her eyes, and she knew that her mother meant no harm by trying to involve her in her sister’s ball plans. She just wished that her mother was as understanding about her feelings regarding her disfigurement as her father and brother were.

“Thank you, darling,” she said sweetly. “This will mean so much to Teresa.”

Amy smiled softly and nodded, avoiding her mother’s gaze. After a moment, the Countess kissed her eldest daughter on her right cheek and then exited the room. With a dread-filled sigh, Amy walked over to her dressing table and looked at herself in the mirror once more. The scars on her face seemed to leap out at her, mocking her as she picked up her hairbrush.

She closed her eyes and turned away from the mirror as she tugged her hair free from the braid in which she put it every night. She looked at the silky black locks, saddened anew as she remembered how lovely she had once been, with dark tresses framing her oval face. With slow, deliberate motions, she began to brush her hair.

Just then, the door to her bed-chamber swung open again. Amy looked up, expecting to see her sister rushing in to see if she was ready. Instead, however, she saw her lady’s maid entering, looking timid and nervous.

“Forgive me, m’Lady,” she said, giving a quick, polite curtsey. “The Countess sent me to assist you.”

Amy smiled warmly at her maid. “It is all right.”

Julia gave Amy a small smile and motioned for her to go about her task. As the maid rummaged through Amy’s wardrobe, Amy thought back to the carriage accident. Julia had, fortunately, not suffered serious injuries. She had managed to brace herself, so that much of the impact did not hurt her beyond a couple of fractures and some bruises and shallow cuts.

The poor woman had become terrified of carriages, however, and she trembled with fear any time she had to ride in one. Amy’s parents had decided to send one of the other servants with the girls any time they needed an escort, much to the young maid’s relief. She was a good employee, and the entire family liked her very much.

Amy could not help feeling a bit guilty for the girl’s trauma, however. She felt that, had she not attended the ball and needed her as a chaperone, Julia would never have been subjected to such horror. Yet, Julia had tried to reassure her many times in the two years following the accident that it was not her fault, which made Amy love her even more.

After a few moments, Julia pulled a violet walking dress from the wardrobe. Amy nodded approvingly. She had always loved various shades of purple, and they helped make her feel a bit pretty, even with the scars on her face. She smiled at Julia, touched that she had taken that into consideration when choosing her dress for the day.

Julia gestured timidly for Amy to approach her, and she began helping Amy out of the nightgown she was wearing and into the lush, violet fabric of the dress.

When the dress was on and fitted properly, Julia walked back to the wardrobe to fetch Amy’s matching violet shoes. She also selected a purple hat with a veil that was a couple of shades lighter than the material of the hat. Julia helped her arrange the veil so that it covered most of the left side of her face. When at last she was finished with her work, Julia stepped back, smiling shyly, and gestured for Amy to look in the mirror. Amy obliged with a warm smile.

Julia had indeed chosen well. The violet color went well with Amy’s porcelain skin tone, and the veil did hide much of her disfigurement. Amy gave herself a smile in the mirror, hoping to convince her reflection that she was looking forward to the day ahead, as she once would have sincerely.

The best she could muster, however, was a calm, resigned feeling of fulfilling her duty to her mother and sister. With a sigh, she thanked Julia for her help, and then went downstairs, where her sister and mother were waiting.

The carriage ride there was almost insufferable. The Countess and Teresa were engaged in excited chatter about the latter’s debut ball. Amy’s only reprieve came in the form of them being happy to talk amongst themselves rather than trying to draw Amy into the conversation with them.

Once more, she felt a pang of guilt. She wanted to be happy for her sister and just as excited about such a big occasion as the rest of her family was. Yet, all she could gather was self-pity, as well as some resentment for her parents dragging her from the country and back into a circumstance in which she would feel such self-pity.

As the carriage stopped in front of the shop, Amy instinctively adjusted her veil. She knew that it only hid so much of her disfigurement, but it gave her a small measure of comfort. It made her feel as though she had a shield, albeit a thin one, between her and the rest of the world. At the very least, she could withdraw behind it and pretend not to notice the stares and jeers from others.

Teresa and the Countess alighted from the coach, eager to get inside the shop. Amy exited with less enthusiasm, bracing herself for her first public appearance in two years. She clasped her trembling hands in front of her and slowly followed her mother and sister inside of the shop.

Teresa went straight toward the green dresses, as green was her favorite color. The Countess followed closely behind her youngest daughter, while Amy milled further behind her mother and sister, inspecting the other dresses and fabrics mindlessly and without enthusiasm. It caused her to feel selfish to be unable to burst with joy, but she hoped that her presence alone was enough for Teresa.

Within moments, the seamstress who ran the shop approached them. She surveyed the three women, her gaze settling on Amy. Amy held her breath, preparing for a cruel stare or disgusted expression. Instead, however, the elderly woman smiled warmly at her before turning her attention calmly to the matriarch of the family.

“What can I help you with today?” the seamstress asked.

The Countess briefly explained the reason they were seeking dresses, and the seamstress nodded knowingly. She spared Amy another glance, and Amy felt her cheeks grow warm. But once more, instead of a nasty glare, the woman looked at her with kindness, before showing her mother and sister the rest of the selection of dresses, patterns, and fabrics she had that coincided with what they were seeking. Amy felt herself relax a bit and say a prayer of silent gratitude for meeting the kindest soul, outside of her family, for the first time since her accident.

Her relief was short-lived, however. Just then, a group of three women entered the shop, their eyes just as bright as Teresa’s were. Amy tried to turn away from them before they caught sight of her, but she was a moment too late.

The tallest of the group, a fair-skinned blond woman, was the first to spot her. The look of horror on her face was transparent and unmasked, and she quickly nudged the shorter, auburn-haired woman walking immediately beside her. With no attempt to hide her behavior, she pointed a long, slender finger at Amy and began to giggle. Her finger was like a dagger to Amy’s tender ego, and the giggles were salt in the wound it left behind.

The redhaired woman, of course, joined in. Before long, all three women were staring and whispering amongst themselves. The seamstress quickly rushed over to tend to them, a look of sheer pity on her face, but the damage had already been done.

The women kept peeking at her over the elderly woman’s shoulder, even as she spoke to them, and the blond woman never stopped giggling. Amy turned her back to the cruel woman quickly, biting her lip. She resisted her urge to flee from the shop and wait in the carriage. Her mother and sister had not yet seen what was transpiring, and she was determined not to draw any more attention to the situation than was necessary.

With a deep, shaky breath, she walked to the furthest corner of the store, pretending to look at some fabrics along the back wall as she wallowed in the torment of her own trauma. No matter how badly the women had hurt her feelings, she would not give them the satisfaction of seeing the tears that had begun to slip from her eyes and down the network of scars on her left cheek.

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"Enamored with a Scarred Lady" is available now on Amazon!

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True beauty is found in the heart and not outward appearances...

Amy Reid is the eldest daughter of the Earl and Countess of Winterton. Two years ago she was madly in love and betrothed to a handsome Marquess. But after a horrific carriage accident left her face scarred, her heart was broken when the Marquess called off their engagement. Amy now enjoys the solitude of the countryside and tending to injured animals. But her peaceful life is interrupted when she is expected to return to London for her younger sister's debut in the upcoming London Season. When Amy is introduced to an old friend of her brother, his intense gaze leaves her feeling that he's just like the rest . . . someone who only sees her for her scars.

Matthew Seymour, the Marquess of Chesterford, has the sea as his only mistress. Five years ago he has left a broken man after the untimely death of his beloved Elizabeth. Matthew is devastated when he receives word from his father requesting that he return to London. When he encounters Amy at an old friend's engagement dinner, she ignites something inside him that he thought he would never feel again.

Amy and Matthew soon develop an undeniable connection. But as their love blossoms, outside forces have plans to keep them apart. Can Matthew beat the odds stacked against them or will he lose Amy forever?

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Copyright © 2020 Sally Forbes. All Rights Reserved.