The Best-Laid Plans by Sarah M. Eden

Chapter One

            Bath, 1817

            Newton Hughes was a gentleman, which was a shame, really. Gentlemen’s options were limited.

            “You are not in need of a profession.” Father lowered the book he was reading. His mouth twisted, and his brow creased heavily. “To take one up unnecessarily undermines your standing. Our family’s standing.”

            Newton and his parents had been passing a peaceful evening in the drawing room of the family’s Bath home when Newton had made the mistake of mentioning his ambitions. His long-standing interest in the law was not motivated by low standing that would be improved by the profession.

            “I do not discount nor disregard our family’s social cachet.” He crossed to the nearby mantelpiece, hoping that by anchoring himself, he could resist the urge to pace. “Few hostesses are as rightly praised as Mother.” He dipped his head to her, sitting beside Father on the sofa.

            Mother smiled at him over her needlepoint. “Now that your time at Cambridge is over you simply must join Society. You’ve deprived them of your company long enough.”

            “I doubt they have been devastated by my absence.”

            “I have been,” Mother said.

            He suspected she hadn’t been truly miserable without him nearby, but he appreciated the sentiment. “When the Season begins again next year, I vow to dance with you at each and every London ball I possibly can.”

            Father spoke once more. “You will not have time for dancing if you follow this foolhardy notion of attaching yourself to an Inn of Court—assuming, of course, Society invites you to any.”

            “A gentleman can be a barrister.” Newton had reminded his parents of that again and again.

            “Gentlemen from struggling families can be barristers.” Father motioned broadly to the silk-hung walls, marble fireplace, and elegant furnishings that adorned this lesser home amongst the family’s many holdings. “I am an able and responsible steward of my estate. The income you receive from it is more than sufficient.”

            “The Earl of Lampton has a brother who is a barrister,” Newton reminded him. “One cannot describe his family as struggling.”

            Father had no response to that, it seemed. Newton didn’t for a moment think he’d actually convinced his father of anything. Sometimes he wondered if either of his parents understood him at all.

            Mother set aside her sewing, quickly smoothed the front of her silk gown, and crossed to where Newton stood. She always looked elegant, even when spending a quiet night at home. She slipped her arm through Newton’s and walked with him toward the other side of the drawing room. “You remain friends with the youngest of Lord Lampton’s brothers, do you not?”

            “I do, indeed.” Newton’s natural disposition would have seen him alone and isolated during his school years, but Charlie Jonquil had pulled him out into the world without trying to force him to be someone he wasn’t. He was the best sort of friend.

            “He is currently on term break, I believe.”

            Newton nodded, utterly unsure what Mother had in mind.

            “How likely is he, do you think, to accept an invitation to join us in London for the Season?”

            Charlie seldom went to London. Even if extending an invitation could convince him to jaunt up to Town, the timing was poor.

            “He has not completed his studies at Cambridge,” Newton said. “When the Season begins, he will be in the midst of Lent term.”