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Tender Wings of Desire

By:Colonel Sanders

Tender Wings of Desire - Colonel Sanders

CHAPTER ONE




Of all the things that Lady Madeline Parker disliked about her life, the one that constantly stuck out in her brain was her hatred of embroidery. There was something inherently pointless about the entire idea, for why would anyone really care about the process of making pretty little designs with a needle and thread? If anything, a needle and thread’s use lie in mending, but according to Mama, that was a job for the maids.

She thought about this as she sat in the library, puzzling over an embroidery hoop that was supposed to eventually become a colorful bouquet of flowers but instead just looked like a colorful mess of nothing. Madeline never seemed to be good at the things that apparently mattered.

“This is ridiculous,” she complained, fighting the urge to throw her embroidery hoop across the room in dismay.

“Do not be silly,” her younger sister Victoria primly replied, sitting straight-backed in her chair and delicately threading her needle. “It is not useless to create beautiful things.”

Of course, Victoria would say something like this. Victoria always had a precise response. At the age of 16, her sister had already overshadowed what few accomplishments Madeline had. While Madeline possessed zero musical ability, Victoria could play the harp as well as the piano. Madeline could not wrap her head around embroidery, and she could barely dance, but Victoria created beautiful pieces and could dance as though her feet did not even touch the ground.

This wasn’t to say that Madeline believed she was overshadowed; she knew her own strengths. Madeline was very clever, possessed a fine wit, and could ride better than most people in theton. However, there was one very big, almost tragic issue that constantly hung between the two women.

It was Victoria’s lifelong dream to marry, and marry well, while Madeline would be perfectly happy to be a spinster all of her life. Unfortunately, since Madeline was the older sister, it was her job to get married first, and her parents had lofty plans for her to one day marry a duke. In fact, they were actively courting Reginald Lewis, the Duke of Sainsbury, in the hopes of making a match.

“How romantic,” Victoria had said against all reason, in Madeline’s opinion. The two women had only glimpsed him sitting in the parlor with their father one afternoon, sipping a cup of tea and talking about something that probably would have bored Madeline to tears. He seemed handsome enough, tall with blond hair. “He looks like a fairy-tale prince.”

“He looks like a vanilla biscuit,” Madeline had replied. Victoria looked scandalized.

“You have to be nice!” She insisted. “He could be your only chance!”

It was not as though the two Parker women were not beautiful; in fact their good looks were often the talk of the town, although they tried their best to be modest and gracious about it. They both had the same pale, dewy skin, the same bright green eyes and heart-shaped faces, but Madeline possessed a head of unruly chocolate-colored curls that her maid often struggled to fit into the latest fashions. Victoria, on the other hand, had inherited their mother’s thick, golden hair, which she often liked to wear in a heavy braid down her back when she wasn’t in public or visiting. With their beauty and incredible taste in fashion, of course they would both have ample opportunity to marry, and maybe even marry someone of status, but they would not always have the opportunity to marry a duke, and Victoria seemed to think about that fact every day.

So, of course, for the hundredth time, they were discussing that very fact over their embroidery in the library.

“I do not understand why you care so terribly much,” Madeline said, just like she had said so many times before. “We are so very young! What is the point of finding a husband and settling down and, God forbid, having ababywhen there are so many things in this world that we have yet to see? So many things in this worldworth seeing?”

Victoria looked as though she might faint from the scandal, and she bent over her embroidery in a desperate attempt to focus on that instead, gripping her needle so hard that Madeline wondered if it was going to snap in her sister’s hand. As usual, Madeline’s own needlework lie forgotten beside her.

“Traveling is for the honeymoon, of course,” Victoria said, her face blushing madly at the thought. “I bet if the duke accepts your hand, you’ll go to such lovely places!”

“First of all, I believe it is up to me to accepthis hand,” Madeline replied daringly. “And why should he ask? We have barely even exchanged words. I do not know a thing about him.”

“Haven’t you gone for walks in the garden?” Victoria challenged.

This was, unfortunately, quite true, and was one of the reasons why Madeline was beginning to grow a little concerned that what she was dreading would soon come to pass. She had felt it ever since the day she had looked at her life and realized that by societal standards, she was an adult woman of marriageable age. Duke Reginald had begun to call more often, and Madeline found herself whisked away on long walks (always with a chaperone, of course) in which the two of them walked side by side, not saying very much. However, she seemed to be passing some test she could not understand, because the last time he called on her he kissed her hand, looking up into her eyes. It seemed as though she were stuck on a track, unable to stop, and this near stranger would end up being her husband.

“What’s a walk?” Madeline said stubbornly. “How could he love me from a walk?”

“Love comes later,” Victoria said matter-of-factly. “If the two of you are well suited, then of course you should get married. Would you notwant to be a duchess?”

Madeline did not know many things, but she knew that she was not fully convinced that she was old enough to make this sort of decision, no matter what her parents told her. She knew that she could not tell her sister that, of course. From the moment she was born, Victoria knew that she wanted an advantageous marriage, preferably to some sort of baron, earl, count, or duke. Were it not for Madeline, Victoria would probably already be married. This frustrated Madeline to no end, for if only her sister had been born first, their lives would be so much happier. Perhaps then Mama and Papa would allow her to travel and seek out some destiny that right now seemed terribly out of reach. Even now, as their parents plotted and planned to give Madeline away to the highest bidder, she could feel the envy radiate from her sister, and to make matters worse, the feeling was completely mutual. Madeline would have loved a few more years to decide what exactly it was she wanted. Unfortunately, it seemed as though that decision had been made for her the moment she was born.

It was not as though Reginald was a bad sort of man. In fact, he seemed sweet enough and kind enough that there were times when Madeline felt terrible for feeling this way about the entire thing. She had heard stories of so many girls marrying men far too old or far too cruel, men who spent time with women of ill repute or even hit their wives. Reginald did not seem to be that sort of man, and for that she should count herself lucky. He was on the younger side, and was rather handsome in that blond sort of way. There was something missing between the two of them, though, and Madeline was beginning to believe that it was passion, maybe even affection. He seemed well enough, but Madeline had begun to worry that he simply might not be right for her, and worse…that he never would be.

Oh, but she did not dare admit that to any member of her family. Perhaps she could admit such a thing to her brother, Winston, but unfortunately, he was so busy at Oxford learning about business so he could run the estate once he inherited it that she did not dare bother him. In fact, Madeline was pea green with envy at her brother’s ability to live such a life. Sure, when he graduated he would have to come right back, take up a wife, and start helping Papa with the estate, but he still had an entire year to go before that had to happen. Now he was off learning, and not only that, during breaks he could simply nip off to the Continent and learn an actual thing or two. Madeline often read his letters over and over again.

“You would love it, Mads,” he wrote to her once. “Across the channel things just feel different, they feel special.”

Madeline wondered if she would ever see that for herself.

“I do not know about being a duchess,” Madeline said at last. “I wish I could go to university like Winston did in order to figure it all out.”

“I do not understand the point of it,” Victoria said, wrinkling her pretty little nose. “It is all just books and sums.”

“You like books,” Madeline countered.

“I likeinteresting books,” Victoria replied.

Madeline was about to retort when Mama swept into the room in a swish of silk skirts.

“Hello, my darling ladies!” she said graciously, sweeping over to Victoria and laying a kiss on the crown of her head before turning and doing the very same to Madeline. Lady Dahlia Parker had once been a famous beauty in her own right, and there had been a rather dramatic battle for her hand back when she was in season. Now there was a touch of gray in her golden hair, and she had to tie her corset a little tighter than she once did, but that had not dulled her extraordinary looks.

“I have wonderful news for the both of you,” she said with a winning smile.

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