A Lady’s Poisoned Desires (Preview)

Chapter One

Plants were easier to understand than people most days. At least, that was the official opinion of one Olivia Moreland. Unlike people, plants had a rhythm to follow—she could take one look at her beloved garden and know exactly what was wrong with any number of her plants. If they needed more sunshine—less water—more water, it mattered not. Unlike their human counterparts—who liked to tell her that she acted improperly or lied about their intentions—plants were simple. Straightforward.

“None of that now, Olivia,” she muttered to herself as she willed her hands to stop shaking. She had come to the greenhouse with the express intention of calming down. If her stepmother’s words kept rattling around inside her head, it was a goal that she was unlikely going to accomplish. She could not have that. This was supposed to be a place of relaxation and Zen for her.

Over the course of the years, Olivia had long since lost count of just how many hours she had dedicated to her hobby. She knew that she had sketched each one of these particular plants in her greenhouse over five times—one for every season if it was applicable and then others just because. While she loved all of her collection—the smaller, secluded section of poisonous plants had always captured her special attention. Fascinating things—the purposes and uses that tended to frighten most people had only ever intrigued her.

Above all else, they were what soothed her most in days of tumultuous feelings such as these. The sort of day where she missed her mother just a little too strongly. The same bright, happy woman who would spend hours of her day patiently teaching her daughter everything that she could possibly wish to know about flora and fauna. She liked to think that if mother were still around and it was at all possible to see how easily Olivia was able to draw them now, she would be thrilled.

Exactly the opposite sentiment of her stepmother, Clarissa.

If the woman had her way, she would have ripped out the whole garden a long while ago. Even the sight of the greenhouse seemed to offend her in some way or another. Unladylike, she called it. Clarissa was of the opinion that no woman in proper control of her faculties would enjoy a hobby such as this one. Too dirty and hands-on. She said it discouraged feminine muscle development. How? Olivia was never quite certain.

Then again, the sight of Olivia with charcoal up to the elbows of her dress and her hair all a mess with dirt clinging to the fabric of her skirts was usually shocking enough as a deterrent to keep Clarissa far enough away from her. If it meant that she got to sketch in peace, all the better for it.

Most days—Olivia was content to think that Clarissa’s vehement disdain for the greenhouse was born of nothing other than petty jealousy. It had been mother’s pride and joy, and Clarissa never could seem to stand the fact that her husband had ever loved another woman other than herself.

Olivia was usually included in that dislike as well.

Clapping her hands together, a plume of black dust wafted into the damp, sweet-smelling greenhouse air. She set her sketch down on the table carelessly and moved to the far side of the room where her other instruments awaited her. The water hemlock that was her focus today was pretty enough to draw with simple materials—but she wanted her paints for the greens.

In truth, the hemlock was one of the main reasons that she was able to keep the greenhouse. Without the hemlock’s useful healing properties for Clarissa’s frequent headaches, then she would only suffer. Even when she requested that Olivia use her botanical knowledge to brew her tinctures and salves to ensure that she was kept comfortable from said headaches, she still despised the greenhouse. How she refused to see the bountiful benefits was lost to Olivia. It was all about balance, and most of the time, Olivia was a master at that. Healing, hurting—everything had a purpose.

For Clarissa? It was only about pride.

If only it had been enough knowledge back when she was ten in order to save her mother. A fever had cooked her brain—despite Father paying for the finest physicians in the country, none of them seemed to be able to break the fever that robbed her of her mother far too young. Here, among all of the beautiful colors and plants, she could feel close to her late mother again in the only ways that she knew how. Time had stolen away so many precious and dear memories of the woman, but it would never be able to take away the way that she had always felt while gardening with her mother. Even if some days, Olivia was no longer able to recall her mother’s exact features, she could always remember the triumphant way that she would smile after making a new discovery of harvesting a new plant to share with her daughter. Something that Olivia had treasured above all else as a child.

It had only been two years after her passing that Father had married Clarissa.

Now, at only twenty-one years old, she was an orphan.

At least Clarissa had been wise enough to never attempt to step into Mother’s shoes. There was no bond to be had between the pair of them—which was perhaps why Olivia spent so much of her time hidden away. Their interactions were civil at best, but far more often strained.

Certainly did not give Clarissa the right to speak to her any way that she chose…

Even less so to treat her the way that she had that morning at breakfast.

Olivia set her paints down on the clippings-covered greenhouse table with a huff. The lid popped off of one of the jars and smeared a bright pink shade all over her fingers. In her haste to lift the apron from her dress and wipe her hands clean—she brushed up against the small potted growth of stinging nettle and hissed loudly at the contact. She yanked her hand back to herself, fumbling over the hem of her gown, and nearly toppled backward into the whole array of deadly plants. For a moment, the adrenaline kicked into high gear, and the pain lessened—then panic instantly flushed her mind, knowing that the faster her heart was pounding, the more likely it was that it would surge the discomfort to other parts of her body.

The years of dedicated training that her mother had put her through kicked in—steady her breathing, slow and even breaths as she held her injured hand closer to her chest protectively and stepped away from the table in question. She should not have been working so closely to the subject of her painting when her mind was so distracted. She knew better.

Her olive skin burned and reddened as she kicked open the door to the greenhouse, barely even remembering to kick it closed once more behind her so that nothing could get inside. Lizzie, Olivia’s maid, came rushing from the side garden where she had been tending to the small collection of herbs and spices that they grew there. Everything that the woman had spent the morning meticulously gathering all tumbled free from her apron and started to blow away in the soft breeze as she rushed to Olivia’s side.

“My lady! What is it?! What has happened?!” Lizzie gushed, wanting to soothe the situation at present.

“It is nothing, just an accident. I just need to get to the kitchens, and I shall be right as rain,” Olivia said through clenched teeth.

“Please! My lady! Let me attend to you…I shall summon the physician at once!”

“There is no need for that. I am perfectly capable of handling this on my own, I assure you.” Olivia wanted to smile to put her friend at ease, but that was not presently an option as the pain started to grow sharper over her angry skin.

Gloves, Olivia, you ought to have been wearing gloves. What a rookie mistake.

Despite Olivia’s desire to handle the situation subtly, Lizzie was about as subtle as a bull in a china shop. The moment that the doors to the house were pushed open—the frantic words came flying out of her maid’s mouth before she could protest it.

“Please! We need assistance! Lady Olivia has been injured!”

“No! Do not…lest you summon my brother!” Olivia hissed in reprimand. It was not as if she were afraid of what her brother might say or do to her as a result of her careless injury—but he had so many more important things to handle that he did not need to take time out of his already busy day to handle something so trivial as a flesh wound.

Servants came rushing toward them, attempting to grab her hand and look at it more closely, but she was having none of it. She could not allow them to distract her. “Please, I am quite all right. I know what I am doing.”

“Sister?” Edward called from the top of the stairs. Olivia’s eyes flicked upward to him, his jacket all wrinkled as if he had just pulled it on too quickly. Which meant that he had been engrossed in work, and she was the one who had disturbed him. They both looked so much like their father. The same strawberry blonde wavy tresses, the same angular features, and high cheekbones of their sire. Yet, whereas Edward also had the bright blue eyes and paler complexion of their father, Olivia had the rich green eyes and olive hues of their mother.

“I am fine,” Olivia assured him instantly, so that he could resume his work.

He glanced down at her hand and shook his head. “Martin, summon the physician at once!” he snapped to the butler, who immediately went to accomplish his task.

“That is not…please, do not fuss.”

“Honestly, what is all of this commotion about?” Clarissa sighed as if the fact that attention was not on her was suddenly a huge impertinence. “Olivia is injured once more? Poor dear, yes, a physician is, of course, in order. Come girl, you must sit. Lizzie, fetch her some water.” Clarissa instantly attempted to step in and control the situation. She grabbed onto Olivia’s elbow and started to guide the woman toward the small decorative bench in the foyer. “If I have told you once, I know that I have told you a hundred, thousand times that the greenhouse ought to be turned to shards. I feel like you injure yourself in some new and inventive way with every day that passes.”

Clarissa spoke about her as if she were nothing but an invalid playing with flowers because of the pretty colors. It infuriated Olivia.

She pulled out of Clarissa’s grasp and spun to put distance between the grouping and herself. “This is nonsense. I have told you that I have this handled if you would just let me be instead of always attempting to meddle!”

With a huff, she turned her back and quickly strode toward the kitchens.

Of course, they would not allow for her to go on her own—they were going to follow her every step of the way. She could hear them muttering and talking about her behind her back as she went, and they could not seem to keep up with her pace.

“What if you are left with a scar, Olivia?!” Clarissa screeched from behind her.

Olivia did her best to ignore her as she turned down into the servant’s quarters. The warmth from the kitchens was already spilling into the hallway.

“What will that say about you?! You will mar your supple skin for what…a hobby that you will be unlikely to even keep once you have a husband?! You need to be thinking about the larger picture here, dear. You need to be considering your future and all of the things that you are constantly putting in jeopardy!” Clarissa continued.

It was nonsensical. Olivia crossed to where the milk from this morning’s chores was bottled and ready. The pain in her hands was worsened by the irritation that she felt from Clarissa’s constant nagging. With a huff, she moved over to the washbasin and unstoppered the milk before dumping it over the back of her hand—the relief was instantaneous. All of the small nettle fibers washed clean out of her skin and were neutralized by the milk.

She turned her defiant gaze back onto her stepmother as she fumed over being disregarded.

“See?” Olivia could not resist the small gloat. “All better.”

Chapter Two

It was a rare and lovely pleasure that William, third son to the Earl of Hargrove, was allowed to take such uninterrupted time for himself. Presently, he sat in the revered halls of the Royal Society in London, cupping a lukewarm cup of tea with his latest periodical splayed open across his crossed knee. It was one of the only places that he was allowed to properly be alone with his thoughts. The warm-colored wooden panels on the wall absorbed sound so that he could reach without the sounds of his mother or one of his many siblings in the background to distract him. William told himself that it was the reason that he frequented this establishment as much as he did. In fact, he was so wholly and utterly engrossed in the words written that he had not yet noticed that his tea was soon to be bordering on cold.

Oh, who was he kidding?

This sort of leisure time was afforded to him just about any time that he wanted. There were very marked privileges that came with being a third-born son. The weight of expectation was never going to sit on his shoulders—for his brothers were far more capable and willing. It was not just that as the youngest brother, he saw his older siblings as some sort of immortal beings (though that did hold a place in it) it just was so improbable that he was ever going to need to carry the weights that they did.

Which was exactly the way that William liked it.

The eldest, George, was best suited for politics. He had a keen mind and a razor-sharp wit. The sort of intelligence that one must simply be born with, as it can never be created artificially. His was a brilliant mind, and suited best to be the heir—and it was highly fortunate that he was. All of the courtly formalities that he breezed through always seemed so tedious and boring to William.

The second eldest, Henry, a distinguished officer in his highness’s Royal Navy—scheming and strategy were his game. Ever since he had fallen in love with chess at such a tender young age, nothing less than the thrill of battle and training would keep his interest. Henry was always on the move—traveling across the world as was needed. He was the sort of man to meet any and all challenges head-on and with enthusiasm. Sitting still and running the house and legacy would have been such a death sentence to him—and as such, there was never any reason for competition between the close-in-age brothers.

Then, there was himself. He never had the lust for battle or fighting and would prefer not to be the center of attention if he did not have to be. He was far, far more at home in a forest or field in quiet contemplation of nature’s many marvels. Instead, he was allowed to read and cultivate more frivolous interests—much like Botany: The Modern Study, that he was reading at the moment. It was a wonderfully illustrated tome that detailed all of the factoids and informational tidbits about plant secrets than he could ever hope for. This was his peace. Sitting in stillness, surrounded by the soft rustle of parchment as people worked and the fragrant pages of old, well-loved books. If he could get away with it, he would spend each and every day here. At least when he was not out researching for his own eventual reference book.

He could spend hours by himself, perfectly content to explore the grounds or sketch the flowers that he encountered on his adventures. Such things were often considered to be frivolous pursuits by their mother, but William did not care. It was his passion. With all of the scientific advances that the medicinal field had made as of late, due to botanists such as himself, William wanted to be on the cutting edge, and he knew that he could.

Ultimately, it would be a dream of his to be recognized by the society whose hall he sat in. Perhaps, someday, his novel would rest upon these famed shelves for others of similar heart and mind to marvel at. He could not imagine anything more worthwhile than that.

Oh, to be able to live his life comfortably with his own means—it was the best that he could hope for. The only way that his name would ever hold any sort of notoriety or fame. That was all that he would ever need. A small property with plenty of space to garden so that he could continue his life’s work to the fullest of his heart’s desires. Was that really asking so much?

“I say, boy, you have not changed one bit!”

William was so engrossed in his train of thought that he did not hear Reginald Jameson come up to greet him. The man’s happy, rounded face bobbled slightly when he laughed at startling William before inviting himself to sit across from him. A very welcome intrusion, as the professor had been one of his dear favorites from his days at Oxford.

“I apologize. I was not conscious of how engrossed I was. I would have greeted you more properly.” William’s face heated with the flush of his embarrassment, and he quickly snapped his publication shut. It was a reflex to hide his reading, regardless of what it was. His brothers had always liked to tease him about his interests. “How wonderful it is to see you, sir. Please, join me.”

“Quite all right. I saw you sitting here and simply had to check in with you!” The professor grinned as he helped himself to a biscuit from the small cart beside William. “You look quite the same as ever!”

Also, something that his brothers liked to tease him about—his lack of scars. While he was just as tall and athletically built as his brothers, he did not tend to have bruises or cuts marring his otherwise handsome features. Bright blue eyes, often hidden behind spectacles when he was reading too much, and a mop of brown hair that always felt wholly impossible to style to his liking. He supposed, in those latter ways, he would appear physically unchanged to the professor since his days at university.

“It is actually almost ironic that you interrupted when you did. I was just thinking about publication—something that you are no doubt very familiar with at this point in your scientific career.” William laced his fingers together and leaned forward so that his elbows rested upon his knees to properly engage in conversation with the man across from him.

“It can be quite the arduous task, to be certain,” Professor Jameson agreed. “Though, it has likely changed a lot since my day. It was no simple thing outside of the much smaller scientific community…but there are always possibilities to get your name out there that do not require the labor of publishing.”

William grinned and rolled his shoulder. “I am not afraid of a little difficulty. You know that I was always competitive in my own way.”

Professor Jameson laughed then and nodded along. “That is quite right! You did have a way of undercutting your opponents in the least expected ways. I remember that sometimes they did not even know that they had been outmaneuvered until it was too late!” He chuckled. “In fact, I always found it more impressive as you were a young man with no interest in direct confrontation.”

“What can I say? Why do the work when they can do it for me?” William laughed.

“If only this was a sort of situation where that sort of manipulation was even possible.”

“Perhaps, but I think that I am coming to truly enjoy my field work, if I am being honest,” William admitted fondly. “Perhaps I am enjoying my solitude that much more in my older years, but working with my hands is satisfying. I am certain that taking on a new endeavor will be much the same, once I learn the tricks.”

“You speak as if you are an old man like myself!” The professor chuckled good-naturedly. “You cannot be more than five and twenty!”

“Seven and twenty, but who is counting?”

“You have a great many years left before you can refer to your years as older then, by my estimation,” Professor Jameson protested.

“Perhaps it is just that I am restless, then. I feel as if I should have a great deal more to show for my continued efforts in comparison to how old I am.” William sighed and sat back in his chair, attempting not to allow himself to become irritated.

For a moment, the older man did not answer. Instead, he leaned back in his chair with a perplexed, soft smile. “I see you have not lost any of your tenacity since graduation either.”

William took that comment with no small amount of pride.

“It is not always a good thing,” Professor Jameson continued. “There are moments when one must sit back and realize that life is not always about accomplishments.”

William’s brow furrowed. While it might be true for some, his was a family that based everything on their accomplishments. While he might not be nearly as impressive as his brothers were in many aspects, he took great care in doing his work to the best of his abilities. He was proud of himself—thinking that there might be another way was not something that he truly wished to dwell on. “I beg your pardon, but I do not understand.”

“I am sure that you do not.”

William let the silence stretch. He respected the man enough to allow him to speak his piece, but he was not going to sit here and tolerate somebody belittling him, if that was where this conversation was headed.

“You have always had more than enough talent to accomplish any goal that you might wish. If you have your mind set on publication, then there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that that is precisely what you are going to do,” Professor Jameson started.

It did not make William feel any better; it still felt as if the other shoe was about to drop at any moment.

“But—”

There it was. William’s hands curled into soft balls where they rested on his knees—knowing that whatever words were about to come out of the older man’s mouth were likely words that he was not going to want to hear. He momentarily contemplated if it were even something possible for him to redirect the conversation elsewhere so that he did not have to hear what was coming.

“At some point, young man, you will have to sit back and look more closely at your life. Somewhere down the line, you are going to have to reflect on your choices, and when that day does come…I hope that you are pleased with the way that your life turned out. It may not happen until you are a very old man like myself, but I will say that there are a great many times that I would love nothing more than to be able to reflect with the love of a good wife by my side.” Professor Jameson’s expression shifted to something sad and distant. “A break to ensure that your cup is full would never be a bad thing…there is plenty of time for ambition and academic pursuits…but you are a young, healthy man—you need to experience life more.”

“I am very content with my life choices, but I thank you for your concern,” William said in an attempt to keep from appearing to be too offended. It was not the first time that somebody had told him that he needed to take a wife, and it would not be the last.

However, in spite of his best efforts to remain focused on the conversation at hand, his mind drifted back to the same woman that it always did when the subject was brought up. A vision of himself in a clearing and a girl with strawberry blonde hair billowing around her face in the breeze. She smiled at him as if she were the sun itself, and something tightened painfully in his chest every time.

No woman that he had ever encountered in his life had held a candle to her.

“You were like that in school, too…too focused on your grades and the future and never taking time to look at your present with clear, open eyes.” The man slapped his knees as a form of goodbye before rising from his seat with a small amount of difficulty. “Well, those are just the thoughts of an old man. I sure do look forward to reading your word someday, Mr. Hargreaves.”

William rose just long enough to properly say goodbye to his professor-turned-colleague—an uneasy sense of foreboding swirling around his gut as he watched the man leave.

Chapter Three

“Today was not an isolated incident, Edward.”

Clarissa’s voice was resonant enough that no matter how hard she attempted to be subtle, which certainly was not an often occurrence, her words always carried. Even now, when she was supposed to be whispering through her private conversation—every word that she spoke easily carried into the hallway. Clarissa’s hair was pulled too tightly on her head, further enhancing the stern look of disapproval that the older woman wore. More often than not, disapproval tended to be her default expression. Somehow, the olive color of her gown also enhanced just how displeased she was on this particular afternoon.

“I am not interested in having this conversation with you again, Clarissa.” Edward sighed. The sounds of papers shuffling over his desk told Olivia enough. She knew that she ought not to be eavesdropping—it was wrong. At least, it was wrong to listen in on Edward—her brother deserved privacy for all things—but given that the conversation seemed to be turning in the direction of her, she could not help herself.

“She is constantly hurting herself in that wretched place! Is it not right for a woman to be in there all of the time! She is supposed to be conducting herself like a lady! You must think about her reputation sooner or later, Edward!” Clarissa’s voice started to raise in that nasal, needy tone that she seemed to always adopt when a conversation did not seem to be going her way.

“It is perfectly natural to have hobbies, Clarissa. If hers offends you so greatly, then perhaps you ought to look into cultivating stronger hobbies of your very own.” Edward sighed. Olivia was certain that he did not so much as look up from the work on his desk when he spoke, either. Clarissa could not stand having the focus divided away from her.

“What will her future husband think?! Her hem is always dirty, she has ink and all sorts of things over her skin—it is not natural for a woman to behave like this!”

Olivia could not venture a guess as to how many times her brother and stepmother had had versions of this conversation over the years. It was a relentless pursuit to force Olivia to conform to Clarissa’s personal ideals of how a woman ought to behave and carry herself. Since Clarissa had been moved into this residence, there had not been a single moment that Olivia felt as if her stepmother had cared for or approved of her as a person.

Edward’s quill stopped moving. “My mother behaved exactly as she does, Clarissa. I urge you to tread carefully before you speak in a way that might offend me.”

Edward’s voice did not raise nor sharpen, but it was firm enough to force Clarissa to reconsider her words.

Clarissa would change tactics now that she was not getting what she felt that she deserved. She always did. It was so routine that it was nearly offensive. Most of all, whenever Edward and Olivia’s mother was brought into the topic of conversation. It was the one thing that Clarissa knew very well that she needed to avoid.

“And when she touches something more dangerous? It is her well-being that I am concerned for, Edward. Surely you must be able to see that? Her interests border on morbid…grotesque. Perhaps if you will at least allow me to remove the dangerous plants…”

Edward sighed loudly. “And you expect me to believe that your concern is purely maternal and not at all to do with the fact that you simply do not like the same things that she does? That your coming here into my office is purely out of love for Olivia?”

“Of course it is!” Clarissa agreed immediately—only to be met with thick silence.

As Edward was the head of the family now and the Earl of Morendale, there was little that Clarissa had the power to do without her stepson’s permission.

In the hall, Olivia flattened herself against the wall as she clung to every overheard word. It warmed her heart to no end that her brother defended her like this. If he did not—she did not know what she would have done. Just as she knew that Clarissa’s concerns were so wholly misplaced, there was no also no way that Edward would ever consent to place her into a marriage that would not allow for her to continue her special interests and hobbies. Her brother knew her heart and mind better than anyone—they had always been close. After the loss of their parents, their bond to one another had only grown stronger.

No matter how hard Clarissa attempted to drive a wedge between them.

Edward would always act in Olivia’s best interests, and she knew it in her very bones. Clarissa could keep trying her best to divide them, but it was not going to work.

“Clarissa, I have no intention of robbing my sister of her greenhouse. Today was a mistake. I will grant you that, but she is not seriously harmed and will know to take more caution with her actions in the future. I would like to close this topic and put it away if that is all right with you?” Edward reasoned with more kindness than Olivia would have been able to muster on her own.

Clarissa was likely fuming.

“Be that as it may, I think that there are still ways for her to have her little hobbies without putting herself in any sort of danger. That is all that I am suggesting. Perhaps we can turn the greenhouse into another sort of garden? Roses perhaps, then she will still have her rebellious attitude quenched by the thorns present and yet have something pretty for all to enjoy,” Clarissa continued. “It would be more conventional. Not to mention, roses and flower arrangements are far more suitable for a lady to indulge in—not drawing and making messes every day!”

Roses?

She tried to imagine for a moment what her day might look like if she were to do nothing but arrange cut flowers into vases all day. While she had no issues painting a well-collected bouquet, she did not like having to pluck or kill flowers without reason in the first place. She certainly was not going to start doing so for aesthetic reasons.

Olivia bit down on the inside of her cheek until she winced. Her hands flexed and loosened. That was what Clarissa thought, was it? That she needed to indulge her silly little days with insipid roses? No, she thought not. She could not listen to this any longer.

Olivia pushed off of the wall and went into Edward’s office with a deep scowl on her face as she folded her arms across her chest pointedly. “I beg your pardon? If you think that I am going to waste my days away on something so frivolous…so…so pointless as arranging flowers, you do not know me at all!”

Clarissa’s lip flapped, clearly not having been expecting to be interrupted nor confronted so quickly as that. Words would not seem to find her, even as Edward’s lip quirked upward at the corner as if he had somehow known that Olivia had been eavesdropping the whole time.

“You will not touch my greenhouses,” Olivia warned in a low voice. “And I suggest that you stop bringing it up. Certainly, you can find other things to occupy your time than constantly worrying about what I do and do not do with my own time!”

Clarissa’s teeth snapped shut loudly, and her jaw ticked in irritation. “You ought to mind your tone when speaking to me.”

“Why? You do not ever seem to mind yours!” Olivia spat with more venom than she strictly meant to.

“It is my right to concern myself! You clearly lack female guidance in your life if you think that there is truly no issue with galivanting around however you see fit!”

It was Olivia’s turn to be shocked. Her eyes widened at the implications of her words—and even Edward stood up from his desk. His fingertips pressed down into the polished wood as his face shifted from amused to perfectly serious.

“Enough,” he warned them both in a tone that brokered no argument whatsoever. “This conversation is over. It is finished. I will not hear another word on this greenhouse situation, or else I shall become quite vexed with the both of you. Am I understood?”

Both women, still heated, dipped their heads respectfully at his decision. Olivia knew that the conversation was far from over and that silencing herself now only meant that Clarissa would find her in private later—but now was hardly the time to bring that up.

“In fact, you both have other things to ready yourselves for,” Edward continued. “We will soon all depart for the London social season. Clarissa, you will need to gather your things and get the house ready for our absence. Olivia, you will ready yourself for the Season.”

Olivia bit down on the inside of her cheek once more.

“I have made the decision that we will be attending the marriage mart during our stay as well,” Edward added as if it were almost an afterthought.

Olivia’s heart skipped a beat at the implications of his words. Her eyes quickly lifted to his—a million questions instantly on the tip of her tongue that she did not dare to utter in Clarissa’s presence. “Brother, are you certain of this?”

Edward’s brow furrowed. He did not like having his choices questioned in front of Clarissa either, but Olivia could not stay her tongue. Not on this.

“I…I only mean that it seems to be a rather abrupt choice that you have made…that is all,” Olivia quickly attempted to backpedal.

“All of the necessary arrangements have already been made,” Edward answered flatly. 

Try as she might, Olivia could read nothing more in her older brother’s expression.

“Are we leaving for London?” came a voice from the door. “Apologies, I was just heading down to dinner…” Benjamin, Clarissa’s son, and their younger half-brother, spoke from the doorway. He was still many years too young to be properly eligible for the marriage mart himself. However, it would do him heaps of good to be able to head out and socialize with others his age in the ton. It could only be beneficial for him.

Benjamin looked the least like their mutual father of the three of them. Something that Olivia personally felt that he was secretly hurt over. He had the same cheekbones as them, and the same pale complexion as Edward, but his hair was a near-perfect mahogany shade that matched the deep brown of his eyes. He was Clarissa’s near replica in every other fashion. Given that he was yet but fifteen, there was still plenty of time for him to outgrow the youthful pudginess that no amount of sports and outdoor activities seemed to quell in him.

Olivia had no issues with her younger brother. At least none that were in any way, shape, or form his fault. Benjamin was a bright boy and very sweet. In most lights, he was wholly opposite of his mother, and that was something she was eternally grateful for. But Clarissa always made sure that there was a divide between her child and those that she had married into. When Olivia had been younger, she had thought that she was just reading into things—but she knew better now.

“Yes, I have decided that it is time for me to take a wife,” Edward stated plainly.

Benjamin’s smile was thin, and slightly nervous, as Clarissa crossed the room and wrapped her arms around her son in a protective greeting. “That is wonderful news! Edward, I have been saying that same thing for such a long time now. It is about time that you come around! Such happy news this is indeed!”

Edward flashed a smile that did not meet his eyes. “Yes, well. It is the reasonable thing to do.”

He would not meet Olivia’s eye. Even as Clarissa pedaled Benjamin out of the office and toward the dining room.

Yet, even as she lingered awkwardly near Edward—she wanted to thank him for backing her up with Clarissa…but she could not help but wonder as to what the future was going to look like for both Benjamin and herself when Edward did take a wife.

She had a feeling that it would not be anything good.


“A Lady’s Poisoned Desires” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

When Olivia Moreland, a spirited botanist, delves into the secretive research of Professor Jameson at Kew Gardens, unexpected alliances and forbidden passions blossom amidst deadly plants. As she explores the depths of Kew Gardens’ mysteries, she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the enigmatic William, a man with wicked secrets of his own. That is when Olivia faces a daunting dilemma…

Will she risk everything for a scandalous affair that defies societal norms?

William, son of the Earl of Hargrove, is a botanist who dreams of publishing his groundbreaking work. His world collides with Olivia’s when Professor Jameson, agitated and in need of an illustrator, enlists William’s help. As William collaborates with the tempting Olivia, he finds himself pulled into the passionate secrets that lie within their shared botanical project.

Will he manage to stay on the safe path of scholarly pursuits and avoid scandal?

As their collaboration flourishes, the boundaries between friendship and lust blur, prompting a daring dance between defiance and tradition. Will they surrender to the sinful pull of the forbidden, allowing love to blaze boldly against the stifling conventions of their time, or will the oppressive weight of societal norms extinguish the fiery passion kindling within?

“A Lady’s Poisoned Desires” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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