House of Harwood-Tangled Beginnings by Olivia Batker Pritzker

Harwood front pageVote at the end of this episode!

Previouslywe learn that Victoria Harwood sent Emily away after learning that her husband, Augustus, had gotten her pregnant. Readers voted that Clarissa will soon have an encounter with Augustus Harwood.

Episode 13

The invitation was crisp, the ink etched deep into the paper. Handwritten by Victoria, Rose remarked proudly. An entreaty to the two Duvalls and their daughter to attend dinner at the Harwood mansion the following weekend.

Rose was beside herself with joy. Fanning her face somewhat ineffectually with a thin lace handkerchief, cheeks illuminated with bright pink spots, she sank onto the sofa and closed her eyes in thanks to the heavens.

“Clarissa, you must know what this means! We’ve been chosen! You – you’ve been chosen to marry the most eligible, the most wealthy, handsome -“

Overcome, she could not go on. Clarissa poured her mother a glass of water and sat down beside her.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, mother, we’ve only been invited to dinner,” Clarissa said patiently. “They could be inviting hundreds of girls and their families to dine with them.”

Despite her cautionary voice however, Clarissa couldn’t help the leap in her stomach or the movement of her fingers as they sprung up to nervously pull on her curls. This must mean she was at least in the final few! She wondered again how much say John had in this selection process. A little, at least, would be required?

The next week was spent in a preparation frenzy that Clarissa outwardly rolled her eyes at, and secretly enjoyed with giddy anticipation. By the night in question, they all had new outfits, and were scrubbed, polished, and decorated to the best of Rose’s ability. Even Mr. Duvall looked particularly handsome with his new haircut and freshly shaven jaw.

The trio arrived precisely on time, and was ushered into the parlor just as Clarissa and Rose had been nearly a half-dozen times before. This time, however, the feeling in the room had changed. It was as if the gracious warmth had receded slightly, and was replaced by an elevated air of expectancy. Clarissa felt an unexpected jolt of nervousness, and had to remind herself to keep her gloved hands at her sides.

In addition to Victoria and John, two younger boys were present in the room – John’s brothers – and an elderly woman, whom Victoria introduced as Augustus’s mother. They were properly introduced, and the Duvalls were just finishing up their pleasantries when the door to the parlor opened and another person stepped into the room. Immediately, the atmosphere shifted again, this time much more severely, as if a candle illuminating the room had been snuffed out. Everyone stood up a little straighter, and Clarissa thought she saw Victoria’s smile tighten ever-so-slightly.

Augustus Harwood introduced himself to the Duvalls, looking each of them over as if selecting a particularly fine engraved silver carving knife. He reached Clarissa last, locking eyes with her as she curtsied, and Clarissa felt the wind knocked out of her. His eyes were cold, intense, and conveyed no readable emotion, although this was fine – in that moment, she felt strongly that she didn’t want to know the emotions lurking behind them. He held her gaze for a few seconds longer than perhaps he should have, and in those seconds all the air seemed to have left the room.

Finally he broke her gaze, and, with the faintest hint of a smile curling onto his lip, addressed the room.

“Shall we eat?”Vote below on what will happen next or if viewing from email, click Take our Poll.

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