Miss Lottie's Christmas Protector

By: Sophia James

A Christmas mission...


...with the scarred and brooding gentleman!

Part of Secrets of a Victorian Household. Working in her family’s charity foundation for destitute women, caring but impulsive Miss Lottie Fairclough is desperately trying to find a missing woman. She’s roped in family acquaintance Mr. Jasper King to help her, having been equally impressed and annoyed when he rescued her from perilous danger. As she gets to know the injured entrepreneur, it seems he needs her just as much...




Prologue


In the shadow of Westminster Abbey lay an area known as the Irish Rookery—a place of narrow streets, rundown buildings and hopelessness.

This area, once a sanctuary offered to debtors and criminals by the monks from the abbey, was by 1842 the haunt of the displaced Irish, who lived in a festering labyrinth of dark and impenetrable streets full of desperation and vice.

However, social philanthropy and charity-based movements were on the rise in Victorian England, as Christian duty encouraged acts to save the souls of those mired in poverty.

The Fairclough Foundation was one such organisation and it lay in Howick Place, just on the edge of Old Pye Street, the Perkins Rents, Great Peter’s Road and St Anne’s Street—home to some of the worst slums in all of London.





Chapter One


Late November 1842—Westminster, London

Gilbert Griffiths, a man who was scared of his own shadow, had offered for her sister.

These words echoed through Lottie in sheer horror and growing apprehension. If Amelia accepted the overzealous and pedantic curate as a husband she would shrivel, piece by little piece, until nothing of joy and hope were left.

Charlotte Lilian Alexandra Fairclough could see the same guarded truth in Millie’s eyes and she shook her head hard, unleashing wild brown curls in the process.

‘You cannot love him, Millie? He is fussy and boring and impossible.’

Amelia smiled in the way that was purely her own, dutiful yet strained, a happy expression plastered steadfastly over conflict. ‘He has a modest income as well as a small property and would be able to keep the wolf from our door. Did you think of that?’

‘So you would sacrifice yourself for the greater good? Your life? Your for ever? There has to be a time when your selflessness has a limit, Millie. This is that time. I cannot let you do it. Not for me or for Mama.’

Her sister dug her heels in further. ‘You cannot stop me, Lottie, and if I wait much longer we will all be thrown out of our house into penury. If that happens, you would be begging for me to marry him.’

‘I never would. We can sell the furniture and go north. There must be enough to start elsewhere if we are frugal and besides we have...skills.’

‘What skills?’

‘I can sew. You can do bookkeeping and Mama can manage the rest. If we are lucky, someone far better might come along and offer for one of us and then...’ She petered out. No eligible suitor had presented themselves in years. It was a groundless hope.

‘And what of the vulnerable and desperate women in the Rookery who depend upon us here at the Fairclough Foundation? What would happen to them should I simply be selfish and refuse an offer of marriage that is not completely repulsive to me?’

‘If it isn’t, then it should be.’ Lottie backtracked when she saw her sister’s hurt and understood her worry about those they helped. ‘Well, at least promise me that you will wait until we have a letter from Silas, telling us of all the riches he has made in America.’

The mention of their brother’s absence brought a bruising sadness to Amelia’s green eyes.

‘He is lost, Lottie. I cannot feel him.’

As twins Amelia and Silas had always been close, so close that Lottie had felt the odd one out in the family, the twins’ sense of knowing where and how the other was was the bane of her early childhood. They had won every game of marbles, and hoop and stick, and hide-and-go-seek, the language they’d invented between them shutting her out. Often she had come across them whispering secrets and the feeling of being alone and unwanted had soon led her into trouble.

Charlotte Fairclough, the rebellious, opinionated and impulsive younger sister. The one who did not quite fit into the family structure of good deeds, fine thoughts and parsimonious self-sacrificing. Mama and Papa, Millie and Silas. In the pairings around her Lottie had had difficulty finding her place.

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