The Christmas Foundling
The Christmas Foundling
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- Marriage on the Rocks
Lydia Blakeburn, Baroness Lynham, wants nothing more than to present her husband with an heir, but after five years of marriage, she has all but given up on doing so. What started as a love match has since begun to sour, yet there is nothing Lydia can do to free Miles from a marriage she is certain he regrets. The future they had envisioned together is slipping farther and farther away.
Miles Blakeburn is at his wit's end. Not only has he failed to produce an heir to the family's ancient title, his wife has withdrawn from him entirely. The one thing in the world she wants, he has thus far been unable to give her: a child. He is a failure in every regard.
When they happen upon an abandoned baby at the Frost Fair, Miles simply can't resist the light he sees sparked in his wife's eyes as she holds the child. He agrees to take the foundling in until Christmastide is over, when they will find the babe a permanent home. But, for a couple who's been yearning for a baby for years, the infant can't help but expose all the feelings Lydia and Miles have long been trying to bury, feelings that have the power to bring them back together—or estrange them forever.
Intro to Chapter 1
Intro to Chapter 1
There had rarely been a colder December in England, yet it was not the frigid cold out of doors which made the hands of Lydia Blakeburn tremble in her dressing room as she stared at the letter she held. Lydia didn’t want to end her marriage, but this letter might well tell her if it was possible. And if it was possible, it seemed her duty to do so. For her husband’s sake.
She clenched her eyes shut and broke the seal. There was little point in prolonging her anxieties.
My Lady Lynham,
I was honored to receive your communication dated the thirteenth of December. I am afraid that I have little to add to the general knowledge you already possess, but perhaps my words will clarify any misunderstandings that may yet exist. As you implied in your letter, grounds for divorce are generally limited to adultery on the part of the wife. It is a lengthy, costly, and public process to see through, of course, and many couples choose to settle for divortium a mensa et thoro, which allows husband and wife to live apart—both physically and financially—without the option of remarrying.
Annulment is available for a wider range of issues, and the inability to perform one’s marital obligations is a consideration, certainly, but requires an investigatory process that most people find entirely too distasteful and humiliating to subject themselves to. If you—or your friend—wish for more information on that, I can provide it. However, lack of offspring in and of itself is not grounds for divorce. That is rather left in the hands of God, as is only proper.
Otherwise, an annulment can be granted in cases of a marriage improperly performed—banns not being read, errors on the marriage license itself, etc.—a minor marrying by license and without permission, bigamy, or one of the parties not being in their right mind at the time of the marriage.
I hope you—and your friend—find this information useful. I beg you will not hesitate to respond if you have any further questions.
Coates & Lamming, Solicitors
Lydia swallowed painfully, blinking to dispel threatening tears. Never would she have thought to be inquiring on such matters, and she hardly knew whether to be relieved or disappointed by the solicitor’s response. She had harbored little hope that her inability to provide her husband with an heir would be enough to legally justify an end to their marriage, but there was an element of defeat in the news all the same. She didn’t know how much longer she could continue as they were.
And yet, the prospect of an annulment made her sick to even consider. To make five years of marriage as though they had never happened at all? And it had all started with such promise, such hope, such joy. In those days, she and Miles had spoken of children like foregone conclusions, looking to the future in all its hazy but certain bliss.
A soft tap sounded on her door, and she hurried to fold up the letter, placing it in the drawer of the table before her.
“Come in,” she said, stretching her mouth into a more pleasant expression.
The bonneted heads of her two sisters, Diana and Mary, appeared in the doorway.
“Are you ready yet?” Diana slipped into the room, and Mary followed behind, the smiles on their faces evidence of how they regarded the prospect before them.
Neither of them seemed terribly disappointed at being stuck in London, which was a relief to Lydia. They had both been looking forward to going to Lynham Place for the duration of Christmastide, but a journey all the way to Staffordshire was out of the question, given the state of the roads. Reports claimed they were sheets of uneven ice—when they weren’t covered in snow. Fog, too, had hung over London for many days now, making travel even in Town treacherous. Thankfully, it had lifted yesterday. But the cold remained.
They were to go out in it all the same. Lydia was determined to make her sisters’ time in London as enjoyable as possible, even if it meant enduring a bit of censure from her mother-in-law and an evening of frozen fingers and toes.
“Yes, I am ready.” Lydia rose from her chair and pulled on her wool pelisse. “Or as ready as one can be to go out in that.”
They all looked toward the window, its pane covered in a latticework of frost.
“We shall simply have to eat and drink our fill of wassail and mutton to keep warm,” said Diana, handing Lydia her bonnet.
Mary rubbed her hands together in anticipatory delight and slung an arm through Lydia’s, pulling her from the room.
The three of them were met on their way down the corridor by Lydia’s husband, Miles, who had just come from his own bedchamber. He wore a great coat, and a black top hat covered his blond head of hair. He was as handsome now as he had been when Lydia had first set eyes on him, and yet, so much more unattainable in many ways, given the gulf that had widened between them.
As his gaze moved between the three sisters and settled on Lydia, she saw it in his eyes—the momentary hesitation as he debated how to treat his wife in front of her sisters. Lydia didn’t want Diana or Mary to know the troubles they had come upon. She didn’t want to burden their time here with any of that.
Miles sent Lydia a smile and offered her his arm. “I believe my mother awaits us.”
Lydia looked at him. “I thought she was set against the expedition.”
Miles gave something between a smile and a grimace. “You know her. She is simultaneously offended by and interested in such affairs. I imagine she has found consolation in persuading herself that she is acting as a sort of chaperon.”
Lydia didn’t doubt it. The dowager would never take her seriously as a capable adult until she was also a mother. Five years into marriage, that was looking highly improbable.
“The truth is,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper directed at Lydia’s sisters, “that she is too curious to pass by such an opportunity.”
“I cannot say I blame her,” Mary said. “I understand it has been nearly two decades since the last Frost Fair. Perhaps our having to stay in Town for the season will be a blessing in disguise.”
Lydia mustered a smile, but she had great doubts on the subject. She had been looking forward to their time in Staffordshire almost as much as her sisters had. London was so full of people with endless questions, conjecture, and advice to offer. Always unsolicited.