"George Gideon Spencer-Churchill, you will present yourself immediately!" The roar echoed through the east wing of the stately country manor.
The gangly boy hiding behind a conveniently heavy tapestry closed his eyes and covered his mouth - his mother had distressingly acute hearing and he was quite certain she would hear him breathing if he was too loud about it. He could hear the anger in her voice and although she was a proper lady any other time, he knew that if she had resorted to yelling she had also lost her considerable temper. Even his father, the Duke of Marlborough, walked softly when that happened.
Still, he couldn't see why he should have to attend a party he wasn't interested in - even if it was to celebrate his betrothal. Actually, now that he thought about it, especially if it was to celebrate his betrothal. He was fully aware of his future responsibilities as the heir to his father's title, position, and lands, but he was still young enough at twelve to daydream about traveling across the ocean to strange and distant lands. It seemed to him that a wife would almost certainly have opinions about that plan.
Without warning he was jerked firmly from behind the tapestry. A pair of angry brown eyes scowled into his as the hand around his arm tightened to keep him from escaping again.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" Without waiting for him to respond she turned and began walking quickly toward his rooms, dragging him along behind. "We have a house full of friends and neighbors and you decide to disappear? I swear I could just put you over my knee for making me come and look for you!"
"You don't believe in striking children, Mother."
"That can change, young man, that can change!" With that dire-sounding promise she swung into his room and gave him a push toward the bed where his evening attire had already been laid out. "If you are not present and presentable in fifteen minutes time, I will have you across my lap in the front hall so all of our guests can see your first thrashing." She swung her full skirt around and started for the door.
He knew she meant it…his mother would never say something she didn't mean. It was something he greatly admired about her. "I am sorry, Mother. I just don't understand why I have to do this. Why can't I just find my own wife when I'm old enough?"
Lady Marlborough stopped at the doorway and turned to her son. As angry as she was about the merry chase he'd led her on, she couldn't help but feel a flash of pride in the child she and her husband had created. Their only child, as it had turned out, despite the desire for many more.
"Gideon, this is very important. I can't explain why - you must simply trust that as your parents, we have your best interests at heart."
Her son, so much like her and yet the very image of his father, frowned but nodded obediently. She knew he still had questions, just as she knew he had a right to ask them, but answering them would mean asking him to understand a situation that she herself was still struggling with. He was still a child…at least for a little while longer…and she held out hope that her husband's current difficulties would be resolved without the drastic measures they were resorting to. Betrothals after all, could and often were broken as those betrothed reached the age of majority.
Gideon watched his mother as she pulled his door shut. So Liam was right, he thought calmly. He was being sold into matrimony to pay off his father's gambling debts.
This piece is set in the Regency era in England, or thereabouts. It's a (very) short story I noodled out on my lunch break, and while I'd like to say it's just the prologue in a book I'll write someday, I know it's not. Mostly because nailing down the details...like what year exactly it's supposed to be happening in, and whether or not there really was a Duke So-and-so would work my very last nerve and I would get so tied up in those details I'd never actually write the book. So...this becomes an idea knocking on the door of my brain and looking for a way out. Which I've given it. So hush in there.