“I want you to have one last season before you do something foolish,” he bit out.

“And I don’t want to have to stay for the entire season.”

A long suffering sigh reached her ears and she knew that she’d just won……sort of.

“I expect your full cooperation. You will attend every single ball, dinner and musical that your mother can garner an invitation for. You will allow men to court you, but you will favor the men that we approve of with your time. You will not sabotage this in any way and in return, I will accompany you to your north estate two months early,” he said and she knew that it was probably the best offer that she was going to get, but still……

“Three months early,” she said, hoping that he’d accept her counteroffer.

“I’m not that much of a pushover, my dear,” he said with a snort of amusement.

He really was, but she decided that right now was not the time to point that out to him. It probably also wasn’t the time to point out that he’d just agreed to let her leave when the season officially started, she decided as she unlocked the door and prepared herself for two months of pre-season hell.

* * *

2 Weeks Later…..

London, England

“Really, Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth ignored her mother as she smiled down at the young man shifting nervously in front of her. Young man might not be a fitting description for a ten-year-old boy, but he was certainly acting like one.

“I c-can carry your bags, m’lady.” the little boy said as he pushed his too-long hair back with dirty fingers.

Elizabeth leaned down to look the little boy in the eye. “That’s a very important job. Do you think you’re up to it?”

The boy nodded enthusiastically as he tried his best to bite back a smile.

“Hmm, I have a very busy day today. I’m going to need someone to wait outside the shops for me and bring my bags to my coach. That’s a hard job and it may take a few hours. Do you think that you can handle such a big job?” she asked in a serious tone, biting back her own smile.

“I can do it! Honest, I can!”

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Really, Elizabeth! This is beyond the pale!” her mother said in a huff. “Do hurry up with this nonsense. We have too much to do today to waste time on the likes of him.”

She waited until her mother left, noting the little boy’s crestfallen expression. “Your name?” Elizabeth asked softly.

“Toby, m’lady,” he said, looking down at the ground and sounding miserable.

“Well, if you still want the job I need a good man to help me today. Now, as you can see my first stop is here at this shop to make sure my gown fits just right. If you could be available in an hour I would truly appreciate that, Toby.”

Looking confused, he nodded slowly. “What do I do 'til then, m’lady?”

She pulled out five shillings and handed them to the boy. His face lit up. “M'lady, that's too much for carrying bags!”

“Hush, I want you to take that and go get yourself something to eat and stay warm.” She gestured to the two small boys trying to hide behind a carriage. “I suspect your brothers could use something to eat as well.”

Toby looked back at the boys. His face flushed with embarrassment. “They’re not my brothers, m’lady. They belong to the family I am staying with.”

“Just be back in an hour and make sure you eat something healthy. Save the sweets for later,” she said, shoeing him away with a smile.

Toby nodded and took off running. Elizabeth watched as Toby gathered the boys who couldn’t be older than four and five years old. It broke her heart to see children on the street.

She thanked the footman holding the door open for her and walked inside the shop, not surprised to find her mother and sister frowning at her.

“Really, Elizabeth, Papa does not give you an allowance to waste on the likes of them. He gives his alms every month. This is insulting him to say the least,” Heather sniffed as she tried to look down her pudgy nose at Elizabeth, but she didn’t care.

“Don’t bother asking your father for more money. If you chose to waste it, then that’s your problem,” her mother added.

“I never do,” she said softly as she prepared herself for the torture that she’d have to endure over the next hour.

Her family didn’t understand why she used her allowance to help the less fortunate instead of on new trinkets, ribbons and such. Well, that wasn’t true. Mary understood perfectly. She was the one who’d taught Elizabeth compassion. Just thinking about Mary made her smile. She was going to see her tonight.

Her parents were dragging her to every ball, dinner and social occasion they could find as per their agreement. They were acting a bit desperate even though she was currently being courted by several men.  It wasn’t hard to guess why. She’d turned down fifty-five proposals in the last five years and her parents were becoming worried that they would have another spinster on their hands.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to marry. She just didn’t want to marry for anything less than love. Mary found love and she was determined to as well. There was one thing that she was sure of; she wasn’t going to find love at one of the ton’s parties with the same old dreary lot that she’d grown up with. She knew that she wasn’t going to find love in some dusty old ballroom or among the group she'd known all her life. When she found love, it would be somewhere unexpected, she knew that much at least.

“Now come along. We have a lot to do today. We need to be back before five so that we can be ready on time. I want to arrive in time for you to dance the first waltz.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at that comment. Why was her mother suddenly worried about her missing the first waltz? She usually liked to arrive late, everywhere. According to her mother, it made for a better entrance and left Elizabeth’s suitors nervous, which was the way a suitor should be left. Her mother expected her suitors to pine over her and be in despair if she didn’t arrive on time. Something was going on and she was afraid that she was going to find out too late to do anything about it.

An hour later, Elizabeth and her maid carried several large parcels out of the shop. She stopped in front of the store and looked around. Toby was nowhere to be found.

“I told you, Elizabeth. You’re far too trusting,” Heather said with a sniff as she walked past her carrying nothing. She walked arm in arm with their mother towards their next destination. A footman carried their large pile of parcels to the carriage.

Tags: R.L. Mathewson Neighbor from Hell Young Adult
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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