Morgan knew her family expected her to make a quick match, one of quality, like the other ladies in her family’s social circle. After all, it had been roughly five years ago that Claude-Marie had matched fairly quickly with the most powerful lord in Pennsylvania - even though Morgan knew she despised him for a good part of the beginning of their courtship. Morgan was young when it happened, but she had learned during her “lessons” with Claude-Marie that her courtship with Duke Crosby had been arranged by their parents.
Nolan had also managed a match, or was close to reaching an agreement - Morgan’s mother had been surprised because while there was no doubt that Nolan was beautiful, Nolan also did not suffer a fool. And the future Viscount Konecny was a perfect match for her, indeed. Morgan had known he would be. From the first ball of the Season when he approached her and crossed out the first name on her dance card - Lord Hischer, from an estate in New Jersey - and replaced it with his own. Nolan had looked appropriately scandalized and Claude-Marie - stomach round with her second child - had hidden her amused smile behind her fan.
Robbi Thomas - who Morgan had shared a tutor with her whole life - was the only debutant this Season that no one had been worried about. The future Marquis Matthew Tkachuk had been asking for her hand every party since she was five. Before Robbi was even of age, an agreement had been drawn up between their families. Morgan smiled softly as she watched Robbi slip out of the room and then Matthew slip out shortly after.
“Mi’lady,” a voice broke Morgan out of her thoughts and she rolled her eyes at the familiar chuckle.
“Earl Farabee,” Morgan replied primly, trying to keep her expression neutral.
Joel had inherited his father’s title when his parents passed away the year before. His grandfather had been helping him run the estate. And while he was an Earl, her parents had been hoping she would warm to the future Duke Makar or future Duke Pettersson - both boy’s fathers had already written hers in hopes of making an arrangement.
“May I have this dance?” Joel held a hand out to her.
Morgan held up the dance card on her wrist, “My dance card is full.”
“All men your parents would approve of, no doubt?”
Morgan hummed in response, watching as Konecny refused to hand Nolan’s hand over to the future Baron Heiskanen.
“Your parents may approve of them, Lady Morgan, but you will be bored out of your mind. Makar can barely utter two sentences to you without turning red - hasn’t been able to since we were children. And you yourself have admitted that you find Pettersson ‘rather odd looking’, I believe were your words.”
“What do you want, Joel?” Morgan fixed him with a look.
“One dance,” Joel replied.
Morgan gave him a once over and admitted to herself that he looked good when he chose to. She was so used to seeing him with his hair a mess from running his horse and muddy from trekking through the woods hunting. Even when he came around to the Frost estate he wasn’t dressed the way one would expect him to be. He preferred more casual dress and she was always caught off guard when he dressed in the formal fashion that was required at society events.
“I wouldn’t be opposed if you took a page out of Konecny’s book,” Morgan demurred, smiling mischievously as she watched realization dawn on Joel’s face.
He pulled a pencil from his pocket and crossed off both Makar’s and Pettersson’s names, replacing them with his own, before offering his hand to her.
She glanced across the room, spotting Cale on his way over and quickly placed her hand in his, smoothing out her skirts as he pulled her onto the dance floor, bowing and kissing her knuckles in a manner that was much more familiar than appropriate - and his eyes seemed to sparkle in that mischievous manner she was loathe to admit she loved.
Other than that, he was a picture perfect gentleman and Morgan felt a pang of guilt when she caught sight of her other two suitors, who looked confused that a man of lower birth than them had commandeered her. No doubt their fathers had told them that it was down to the two of them.
The second song came to an end and Joel brought her hand up and kissed her knuckles, backing away as Elias approached. Morgan watched him walk away for a moment before putting her debutante mask back on and curtseying to Elias before placing her hand in his and letting him lead her around the dancefloor with a grace Joel certainly didn’t possess - Society Lessons had never been his favorite and he had rarely paid attention.
She smiled and demurred and lightly flirted the way that was expected of her as she spent the rest of her evening seemingly being traded off between Cale and Elias. Her attention kept getting caught on Joel, who was lounging against the wall - chatting idly with Baron Ratcliff’s son, Issac. His gaze, though, was locked firmly on her and she felt herself blush.
“Are you warm, Lady Morgan?” Cale asked, “We could step outside? Duchess Crosby is your chaperone tonight, correct?”
“I’m fine,” Morgan assured him, “but thank you for your concern.”
She made an excuse about checking on ‘Duchess Crosby’ and made her way over to the chair Claude-Marie had reluctantly sat in, fanning herself with a hand on her protruding belly. Nolan was already seated in the chair next to her, avoiding looking around the room in an attempt to not meet any of her suitors’ eyes for too long should they assume that means she would like to talk to them. After all, until an agreement was formally reached, she was still available for Courting.
“Young Earl Farabee is still quite taken with you, I see,” Claude-Marie greeted, her green eyes shining with mirth and not bothering to hide the smile that spread across her face as Morgan blushed brightly and sat in the chair on the other side of her.
“He is,” Morgan nodded, “My father, however, would prefer I let a man of higher birth win my affections.”
“Perhaps your father needs reminding that the Farabee Estate is far larger than the Makar Estate or Pettersson Estate,” Claude-Marie responded, “Shall I have Sid remind of that? He’ll do whatever I ask. He feels awfully guilty that this pregnancy is not going as easily as the last and it’s quite easy to bend him to my will at the moment.”
“I’m sure Joel will remind my father himself if need be,” Morgan replied, “he never was one to follow propriety.”
Morgan and Robbi spend the following day getting lectured by their tutor on proper behavior. Robbi gets an earful about not going anywhere with ‘young Marquis Tkachuk’ without a chaperone, that she can’t behave in a way that may lead someone to believe that her virtue has been compromised. Morgan felt bad for the other girl, watching as she seemed to shrink into herself as she blushed darkly.
Morgan, on the other hand, got absolutely reemed over letting Joel commander her dance card and she’s lucky that the Makars and Petterssons weren’t offended. She finished by saying that Cale would be escorting her to the party on Saturday and Elias would be escorting her to the party the following week, and she would be expected to focus her attention solely on them.
Which is why she’s allowing Cale to lead her around the room, her arm looped through his, chatting idly about...something. Morgan wasn’t exactly paying attention, just making the appropriate responses when needed - she was very good at feigning attention, it was a skill Claude-Marie had passed down to her and Nolan.
She was also doing very well at pretending she wasn’t looking for Joel. And she immediately looked away when she spotted him talking to Robbi’s father. It was easy to forget that he had been running his estate for a year, that he had actual business to discuss with the men at these parties. And… he was still the boy she grew up knowing. Still loud and energetic. Still loved music and loved experimenting with it. Still preferred to spend his time outside - riding or hunting - than inside learning etiquette and how to dance with a woman without stepping on her toes.
But the carefree air that he had always carried had faded somewhat since the accident. And while at the beginning Joel had had his grandfather helping him, as the months went on, his grandfather had been taking steps back and Joel was essentially running the estate and his father’s business on his own. And it made Morgan’s heart squeeze whenever she thought about it. Especially when Claude-Marie’s father joined them and she watched him start to struggle with French. Languages had never been his strong suit.
“Farabee better marry a woman well versed in languages,” Cale muttered, “so he doesn’t butcher the French language every time he talks to Duke Giroux.”
“He’s doing okay,” Morgan replied with a small smile, “He’s gotten better.”
Cale hummed doubtfully before changing the topic to poetry and Morgan struggled to contain her sigh and attempted to keep her eyes from straying back over to Joel.
And she knew that Cale would be a good match for her. He would be a Duke when he inherited his title. And he was cultured, they shared a couple interests. And he was clearly attracted to her and had had a crush on her since they were children. He wasn’t terrible to look at and they would produce attractive children. She would never have to worry about anything. She would just need to be the perfect society wife - and she’s been trained on that her whole life. She knew that if she got to choose between him and Elias, she would choose Cale.
But yet… her gaze caught on Joel again and it was like he was purposefully remaining in her line of sight at all times. But that must just be her imagination. She shook it off and tried to focus her attention on Cale, who - predictably - had gone pink-cheeked under her gaze. At least he had grown passed not being able to speak in her presence. That had been an annoying ten years.
She let him lead her onto the dancefloor and she felt Joel’s gaze almost burning her the entire time Cale was leading her around the dancefloor. He really was a gifted dancer. And respectful. Elias always placed his hand a little too low on her waist to be entirely proper.
Morgan would be lying if she said she wasn’t pleasantly surprised when she received a letter from Joel. And she was grateful she waited until she was shut in her room to read it because she felt herself blushing as she read his words.
‘Dearest Lady Frost,
I cannot see you on the arm of another man without jealousy overtaking me. The only comfort I find in these moments is that your eyes - your beautiful mahogany eyes - always seem to find me.
Watching you allow your other suitors to pretend they have a chance to win you over, however, brings me much amusement. Seeing you put on your mask of a prim and proper lady, I hardly contain myself. Because I know you better than those men do.
Do you remember when we used to sneak out to the stables when you would come to the estate in New York? You would slip away at night and meet me in the hayloft. I think about our escapes last year most frequently. When you allowed me to kiss you and touch you. You let me lay you down on the hay, let my hand disappear under your nightgown. Let me kiss not just your lips, but your breasts as well. You let yourself fall apart under me. Trembling from my fingers touching you, from my tongue tasting you.
I dream about those nights frequently. I think about how beautiful you looked under me, how my name sounded on your lips, how much I long to hear it again. Over and over, for the rest of our lives.
I think about it even more seeing you on the arm of another man. Knowing he’s just wishing to see that side of you. To see a side of you that only I’ve gotten the pleasure to see.
I never thought myself to be a jealous man - a possessive man - but I cannot stand to see you with another man, to think about you with another man. To think of another man possibly pulling the same sounds from you, of another man’s hands on you, of another man’s name on your lips.
The party this weekend - the one Pettersson has been gloating about being your escort for - is being held at my estate. If you feel the same for me as I do for you, meet me in the stables at half past eight. I am prepared to offer your father a healthy agreement in exchange for your hand. Should you feel the same way.
All my love,
Always and forever,
Earl Joel Farabee’
Morgan bit her lip, feeling herself greatly affected by his words, as she had been the year before when he whispered them against her skin as his talented fingers worked her over, making her tremble and gasp and beg for something - she hadn’t known what she was begging for until it crashed over her and his name had left her lips like a prayer.
She folded up the letter and hid it in the hidden compartment of her jewelry box. She knew she should rip it up and throw it in the cracking fire burning in her fireplace - knew that if it was found, she could be ruined - but she couldn’t think of that at the moment. She didn’t have long before she needed to be downstairs for dinner.
She made sure her bedroom door was locked and slipped her dress off, leaving her in her slip - grateful she had not had to dress in a full getup as it was only her and her parents at the manor that day, no one to impress.
Morgan looked at herself in the mirror, at the flush that had extended across her cheeks and down her neck, disappearing under the neckline of the slip. It had only been a year since that night with Joel but she had definitely developed more since then.
She closed her eyes and let her memory take over, remembered the filthy words Joel had whispered to her, mixed with reverent words about her beauty and his love for her. Remembered the way he touched her like she was his most cherished possession.
Morgan made herself comfortable on her bed as she followed the phantom pathway of his fingers with her own. She gasped when she touched herself and almost retreated. She had never dared touch herself the way Joel had. But the contact seemed to fuel the ache that had formed from the words contained in Joel’s letter and Morgan closed her eyes and imagined it was Joel touching her. Joel’s finger’s making her squirm. It was Joel’s hand she was pushing herself against. It was Joel’s other hand that was lightly tracing her nipples through the thin material of the slip, making her arch her back into the touch and wanting more.
It was Joel who brought her over that edge once more minutes later. It was Joel who had her gasping out his name. It was Joel who left her breathless and wanting more.
Before Morgan knew it, the clock was chiming and she had to frantically dress for dinner, grabbing her nicest casual overdress and making sure she looked like she hadn’t been doing… that.
Morgan clutched the bedpost as she stood there in her stockings and drawers and tried to breathe as her now ex-favorite maid tightened the corset and then helped her into the Crinoline skirt. Next on was the camisole and the petticoat skirt to cover the cage of the Crinoline hoop.
“This color will look wonderful on you, Morgan,” her mother beamed, pulling the crimson gown out of the garment box and holding up the heeled shoes of the same color.
And Morgan watched her reflection as she helped into the gown and she almost didn’t recognize herself, which was fairly common when completing the transition from Morgan Frost to Lady Morgan Frost. Her hair was piled on top of her head and a light rouge had been applied to her lips.
She slipped on her white elbow gloves and her hand hovered over her jewelry box, carefully selecting a piece she knew wouldn’t stand out to anyone but the one who gave it to her. A simple diamond pendant. Morgan double checked the hidden compartment was in fact still hidden before closing the box and picking up her fan and following her mother down the stairs, nodding her thanks as the footman helped her into the carriage.
Morgan tried not to let her mind wander during the fairly short ride over to the Farabee estate. Tried not to think about Joel - his words, his mouth, his fingers. It would be unbecoming to think about another man when she was supposed to be there on the arm of Pettersson - who she emphatically did not want to think about that way.
Joel was greeting guests at the door when they arrived and when she placed her hand in his, he brought it up to his lips and left a lingering kiss that caused her to blush and he smirked in response, eyes flicking down to the necklace and widening just slightly, before saying, “Young Duke Pettersson is waiting for you in ballroom, Lady Morgan.”
Morgan inclined her head and murmured her thanks before following her parents to the ballroom, ignoring the way her mother was looking at her. Her father hadn’t seemed to catch the exchange, immediately making his way over to Elias’ father.
“Earl Farabee is quite taken with you,” Morgan’s mother’s voice was soft, so as not to draw attention to them as they walked around the perimeter of the room, “And you seem quite taken by him as well.”
“He is a good man of good standing,” Morgan replied carefully.
“He interests you in a way young Makar and young Pettersson do not,” her mother responded, “After all, you don’t disappear when you receive a letter from them. Now, I don’t know what was in that letter, but it felt rather heavy so I assume he had a lot to say.”
“He wants to offer for my hand,” Morgan replied, eyes scanning the room and smiling slightly as she watched Matthew dancing with Robbi - the boy had never had much skill on the dancefloor but Robbi had always been fond of waltzing so Matthew has always tried his best - and Konecny popping up conveniently whenever one of Nolan’s other suitors were approaching her just in time to whisk her onto the dancefloor - regardless of the names on her dance card.
“He has an offer ready to present dad.”
“And...you would prefer him? To Cale or Elias?”
“Very much so. I… I’ve liked him since I was a little girl.”
“I’ll talk to your father.”
“At the end of the day, Morgan, we just want you to be happy.”
Morgan didn’t know how to respond. Her mother kissed her cheek and pushed her in the direction of Elias, “However, until I get the chance to talk to your father, you need to keep up appearances.”
So she did. She let Elais lead her around. She did make him stop so she could talk to Claude-Marie - who had Sid hovering anxiously next to her as it was getting closer and closer to when she was expected to give birth and in her last letter to Morgan she had been complaining that the Duke wasn’t letting her do anything or go anywhere in fear that she would go into labor.
‘If he’s this bad with the second pregnancy, I don’t want to know how bad he’ll be with the next one,’ Claude had written.
She let him lead her on the dancefloor and excused herself when the time came, telling Elias she just needed to step outside for some fresh air and that no, he didn’t need to accompany her.
Morgan took care to make sure that she wasn’t being followed before making her way through the familiar manor and out to the stable. She carefully slipped out of her shoes and gathered her skirts in one hand before making her way up the narrow stairs to the hayloft.
“Lady Morgan,” Joel smirked, pushing off from the wall he had been leaning against.
“Earl Farabee,” Morgan curtseyed slightly, her own little smirk in place, “That letter was risky. Had anyone seen it, I could have been ruined.”
“Maybe I wanted that? If everyone one knew you were ruined, you would have to wed the man who ruined you, would you not?” Joel smirked.
“A reputation is the only thing a girl has,” Morgan replied, giving him a look.
“I wasn’t thinking clearly when I wrote it,” Joel responded, “I wrote it in a fit of jealousy. And after a VERY lovely dream about you.”
“Still, I ought to be very angry with you.”
“But you’re not. And you’re wearing the necklace I gave you for your birthday last year.”
Joel smirked as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her as close as her skirts would let him. And Morgan had never hated hoop skirts as much as she did in this moment. Still, when he kissed her, she looped her arms around his neck and tangled one of her hands in his hair as she eagerly returned the kiss.
“Tell me,” Joel breathed as they broke apart, trailing a finger teasingly over her corset-amplified cleavage, “Could you truly see yourself as Duchess Makar or Duchess Pettersson? Could you imagine letting either of them touch you the ways I have? I don’t image Makar would even know what to do with you. All his blood would probably go to his face rather than his prick. Wouldn’t be able to make you feel good. And Pettersson? Would you even be able to become aroused by him? You would have to spend your whole life pretending he pleases you. Pretending you like when he makes love to you.”
“And you could please me?” Morgan raised an eyebrow at him.
Joel smirk grew, “As many times a day as you want.”
She looked at him for a moment before pulling him down into a deep kiss. She hated the layers of her formal gown prevented him from being able to truly touch her, but the skin he was able to touch burned and she wanted his hands everywhere.
“God,” Joel breathed, pulling back and resting his forehead against hers, “I want to ruin you. I want to ruin you for any other man.”
“Joel,” Morgan pulled back, “you’re the only man I’ve ever wanted.”
“I’ll talk to your father tonight,” Joel replied, “I want to Court you, marry you. I love you, Lady Morgan. Have since I was a little boy. You’ve always been the most beautiful girl in the world to me.”
Morgan pressed a kiss to his cheek and murmured, “I’ve loved you for a time, Joel.”
When she returned to the ballroom, after making sure she looked immaculate, she rejoined Elias.
“Where were you?” Elias asked, “I stepped outside to look for you and couldn’t find you anywhere.”
“The grounds are extensive. I’ve been exploring them my whole life. I know where to go if I don’t want to be found.” Morgan replied carefully, catching Joel’s eye as he entered and subtly tracking him as he made his way over to where her parents stood talking to Nolan’s parents.
“You should be more careful,” Elias responded, “I don’t like how Farabee looks at you. And he’s always looking at you.”
“Joel and I are childhood friends and he’s always been a perfect gentleman.” Morgan stiffened, narrowing her eyes.
“Well behaved or not, he looks at you and it’s clear his thoughts are not pure. You don’t want to throw away your future for a man born beneath you.”
“He’s an Earl. His birth is nothing to be scoffed at.”
“Your father is a Duke. Marrying an Earl is beneath you.”
“My parents would let me marry a common man if it would make me happy. I’m sure they wouldn’t have a problem with an Earl.”
“Of course they would,” Elias chuckled, “that’s why your father is pushing for you to marry either myself or Makar. Because birth doesn’t matter.”
“If you’ll excuse me,” Morgan detached her arm from his, “I have to power my nose.”
“I apologize if I offended you -”
Morgan ignored him and made her way over to Robbi was chatting with Matthew’s sister.
“Are you okay?” Robbi asked, looking at her with concern and she really was the best person Morgan knew.
“Yes,” Morgan nodded, “Or… I will be.”
“How’d you guess?”
“He’s never been able to charm you quite like he has other girls. And it doesn’t take long for him to stick his foot in his mouth with you.”
“He thinks that Joel is… beneath me. That I would be marrying down and that my father would never allow it.”
“He’s in denial,” Robbi laughed softly, “Since we were kids, you and Joel have been an obvious match.”
“I love him.”
Robbi beamed brightly and hugged Morgan, “I know you do.”
Morgan stiffened when she heard a throat clear and turned to face her father, who held out his hand and led her onto the dancefloor.
“Young Earl Farabee asked to speak with me,” her father finally spoke up after a minute.
“About what?” Morgan asked.
Her father chuckled fondly and replied, “Don’t pretend you don’t know. I know he wrote you and I saw you whispering with your mother. I know you’re not fond of Makar or Pettersson and if you can’t see yourself being happy with them, young Farabee wouldn’t be a terrible match.”
“Really?” Morgan looked at her father in disbelief. She had been sure that her mother would need to be one to convince him.
“He looks at you the same way I look at your mother. I want you to be happy.”
“Thank you, father,” Morgan replied, grinning widely.
“He starts the official courting process on Monday. He’ll be accompanying you to the Garden Party at Duke Crosby’s as your first event together. Your mother will be sending the announcement to the society pages tomorrow.”
Morgan smiled to herself as she climbed into bed that night.
She may not know what life had instore for her, but she did know that she would be facing it with Joel at her side.