THE HEIRESS, ANNE O’DONEL, had two men on her mind as she sat at the breakfast table: Timothy Brecknock, the erudite lawyer and the dashing Jasper Martin. Both men had sought to pay court to her. Aware of her father’s temper, she approached the subject in a roundabout manner.
“Papa, whom do you think I should marry?” Judge O’Donel drew aside a wisp of his remaining hair. “Timothy Brecknock has been highly recommended by Mr Fitzgerald, the master of Turlough House.”
“Mr Brecknock is so whimsical, and that beard of his ...” “Brecknock is an Oxford educated lawyer, and the author of Droit le Roy and many other great books.”
Anne recalled the time she had seen Brecknock in the courtroom at Castlebar. His distinguished deportment and articulate pleading had impressed her.
“He is a mature man, my dear heart, and maturity has benefits.” O’Donel touched the lips of his round face with a napkin. “A man like Brecknock has sown his wild oats. He would love and cherish you. Young men are impetuous and inclined to wander. They can break your heart …”
“Mr Martin would not do that!” Anne replied causing O’Donel’s complexion to darken.
Anne remembered the first time she had met Jasper. His was the first name on her card at the Maidenhill Ball. Wearing a low-cut red gown, her heart began to race when he took her hand and led her on to the dance floor. What an elegant dancer he was. She loved his soft blue eyes, dark curly hair and high cheekbones.
O’Donel drew himself up to his full height of five feet and three inches. “Mr Martin has a good pedigree and a fine estate. He is popular with the ladies. Even if he declared his undying love for you, he could still break your heart.”
Anne blinked her warm dark-blue eyes. “I love him, Papa.” She felt the heat of the porridge warming her body, as surely the thought of Jasper warmed her mind, on this frosty morning.
“That is not sufficient.” O’Donel raised his voice. “You are a rich and beautiful young woman. You must not marry a flirtatious young man who could gamble away your inheritance.”
Anne suspected that her father wanted her to stop daydreaming and marry the man he had chosen for her. After all, she was twenty-three; most of her friends of that age were already married or at least betrothed.
“I am worried, and so is your mother,” O’Donel continued. “As sole heir to my estate, you are a prime target for abduction. Even some of the most respectable men have indulged in this heinous crime.”
“Like whom, Papa?”
“Patrick Sarsfield, my dear.
“My goodness, our national hero!” Anne raised her eyebrows.
“Patrick Sarsfield abducted Elizabeth Herbert, a wealthy English widow.”
“Did he …?”
“No, thank God — he released her when she agreed not to prosecute.”
“But who would want to abduct me, Papa?” Anne was horrified at the thought … unless it was Jasper, who was tempted to carry her away.
“Any man short of money or property.” That remark left Anne with much to think about as O’Donel departed. Her father favoured Brecknock as a husband, whereas she was in love with Jasper. O’Donel had the power to block her preference. Why was her father so obsessed with Brecknock? Was it possible that the lawyer had some power over him? Jasper had told her that Fitzgerald had used his powerful contacts to deliver a judgeship to O’Donel over a more qualified candidate. She resolved to discuss the dilemma with her mother and found her reading in the library.
When Anne saw the bruise under her mother’s left eye, she was horrified. Mary avoided her gaze. “Mama! Has he struck you again?” “Of course not, m-my dear; I merely sustained a minor accident,” Mary stammered.
“Accident, how are you!” Anne grasped the chair in front of her. “He promised he would never strike you again.” She remembered the time her mother had left home after persistent abuse. During those summer months, Anne, just eighteen, had missed her so much until she returned in the autumn.
“It was my fault. I was singing the praises of Mr Martin when he lashed out. I should have had more sense.”
Anne saw the rush of blood to her mother’s cheeks and tears in her eyes. “He had no right to strike you. I am disgusted with him.” She clenched her fists.
“Did he ever strike you while I was away?” Mary asked.
“He has never struck me, Mama.”
“But how will he react if you persist in favouring Mr Martin over Mr Brecknock?”
Anne embraced her mother amidst the tears. “I have plenty of time to worry about that.” She knew her mother wished to conceal the latest incident. Her family had threatened violence if O’Donel ever abused her again.