London, 1816Irene covered a sigh as her sister-in-law continued her description--in detail--of the gown she had purchased yesterday. It was not that Irene disliked talk of fashion; indeed, she was fonder than she cared to admit of conversations regarding styles and colors and accessories. It was listening to Maura converse about clothes that bored Irene to the point of unconsciousness, for anything Maura discussed was ultimately more about Maura and her own taste or perspicacity or beauty than it was about the subject at hand.Maura was, quite simply, the sun around which all interests and all people circled, at least in her own mind. She was unremittingly self-centered, which Irene would not have minded so much if she had not been thoroughly dull and prosaic, as well.Irene glanced around the room at the faces of the other women. None of their three visitors, she saw, looked as indifferent or bored as she felt. She wondered if her own expression conveyed as little of her inner reaction. It was difficult to tell, no doubt because all the well-bred ladies had been brought up, as she had, to convey a polite interest in other people's conversations, no matter how tedious they were.Irene's mother, Lady Claire, was one of the women now listening to Maura with a pleasant and interested look on her face. She would, of course, have considered it bad form to have allowed any other expression to mar her features, but Irene knew that more was involved; her mother was frightened to express a dislike for, or even a disinterest in, anything her daughter-in-law had to say. For the past year, ever since Humphrey had married Maura and brought her back here to live with them, Lady Claire had walked on eggshells, knowing that Maura was now the true power in the household, and could make her and her daughter's life a misery.Of course, in Irene's opinion, having to bow to Maura's every whim already made life a misery, so it seemed foolish to work so hard to avoid the woman's ire. Nor did she think that her brother Humphrey was so weak-willed as to turn his mother and sister out of their home if Maura took it into her head to demand that. However, she knew that it was certainly within his power to do so, as well as in Maura's nature to selfishly demand such a thing. And it was, unfortunately, quite true that she and her mother had been left virtually penniless upon Lord Wyngate's death and were completely dependent upon her brother's generosity.Lord Wyngate had died three years ago in a fall from his horse after a particularly heavy bout of drinking. Irene had been, frankly, somewhat surprised at the grief she had felt. After all the years of battling with the man and despising him, there had, it seemed, been a core of love inside her that even his wicked behavior had been unable to entirely squelch. However, there was no denying that his demise had also evoked a great sense of relief in all those connected to him.There were no more bill collectors lurking outside their door; that had stopped once Humphrey had sat down with their creditors and worked out a plan to pay his father's debts in full. Nor were shady characters popping up looking for Lord Wyngate anymore. They had no further need to fear that he would bring some scandal to the family name. And, most of all, his presence no longer hung over the house like some dark cloud, forcing everyone do whatever they could to avoid running into him or doing anything that might set off one of his fits of rage.It was not until after Lord Wyngate was dead that, upon hearing one of the upstairs maids singing a cheerful song as she polished the furniture, Irene realized just how silent and cold the house had been. Suddenly, despite the black wreath on the front door and the black cloth draped above Lord Wyngate's portrait, the house was a lighter, brighter place.Her younger brother, Humphrey, a rather serious, shy young man, had, of course, inherited the titlCamp, Candace is the author of 'Lady of Secrets A Scandalous Lady-the Gentleman's Demand', published 2007 under ISBN 9780373772575 and ISBN 0373772572.