An Elegant Façade (Hawthorne House #2) - Kristi Ann Hunter

Prologue

HERTFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND, 1800

There was something fascinating about the rhythm of writing, at least when someone else was doing it. Dip the quill, write a line, dip the quill, write a line. The quiet scritch of quill against paper broke the silence of the night, accompanied only by Lady Georgina Hawthorne’s steady breathing ruffling the yellow curls on the head of the doll clutched against her chest.

She hugged her doll tighter and leaned her head against the doorframe. Mother probably knew she was there. Mother always knew everything that happened in the house, including the fact that Georgina often slipped away from the nursery after Nanny was asleep.

There was nothing nefarious about her midnight wanderings. It was simply that the only time her mother wasn’t surrounded by people was in the evening when she sat at her desk, encircled by books, papers, and flickering candlelight.

She was beautiful, peaceful, and everything Georgina wanted to be when she grew up. One day she would be a lady with her own desk and quill, writing important letters deep into the night. Of course, first she had to master holding chalk and writing the letter A. It wasn’t at all the same as holding a watercolor brush. Nanny assured her that it was only a matter of time before Georgina would be writing as smoothly as her mother and sister. Everyone had some difficulty in the beginning.

“You’ll be able to see better if you sit in the chair.” Mother turned her head and smiled at Georgina, beckoning her forward.

Georgina’s bare feet made little noise on the cold wooden floor as she crept closer to the desk, the paint-splattered doll held snuggly under her arm. She clambered into the blue upholstered chair beside the desk and peeked over the edge, eyes glued to the writing rhythm her mother had already returned to.

“What are you doing?”

Mother stopped and set the quill aside before blowing lightly across the page filled with even lines of black scrawl. “I am writing a letter to your aunt. She wrote me this morning about a particularly fine foal, and I am telling her of the new fan you painted yesterday.”

Georgina glanced at the paper but couldn’t see how all of that black ink could tell Aunt Elizabeth about the green fan covered in purple and gold flowers. “Why?”

Mother laughed and leaned over to kiss Georgina on the head. “Because, my dear, a lady always responds promptly to correspondence. Especially when it is from family. It is one way for a lady to show her esteem for the other person. As to why I’m telling her about your fan, it is because it is such a splendid effort for a girl only five years old.”

“Oh.” Georgina thought about the many times she’d seen her mother sit at this desk, dipping her quill and writing for what seemed like hours. “You know a lot of people.”

Mother smiled as she folded the letter, being careful to smooth the edges evenly. “When one is a duchess, my dear, it seems that everyone wants your opinion about something. Some I hold in higher esteem than others and enjoy trading letters with them, but a lady must always be polite, even in correspondence.”

Georgina looked across the desk at the neat pile of papers that had already been folded in a similar manner. To the left of the folded letters sat a large leather-bound book. “Who is getting that one, Mother? You must regard that person most highly.”

A laugh bounced around the room as Mother slid the book onto the empty desk in front of her, but the laugh was