Kent, England, 1743
“The book, Mama, may I have it, please?” Six-year-old Lady Felicity Malcolm Childe gazed longingly at the hand-painted folio of children’s Bible verses lying open for patrons of the stationery shop to admire. It rested on a counter just out of reach of Lady Felicity’s sticky fingers, but she reached for it anyway.
“Remember what I told you, dear.” Hermione, Marchioness of Hampton, hurried to her daughter’s side. Her hat ribbons blew in the breeze from the open door, and she caught the end of her scarf before it fluttered loose. “Do not touch until you’ve tested it.”
“Yes, Mama.” With her chubby bare fingers, Lady Felicity brushed the air above an open page depicting an angel with long golden hair hanging in silken ringlets that looked remarkably like hers. “Oh, it’s filled with love, Mama. May I hold it, please?”
“Wouldn’t the little girl prefer a candy instead?” The proprietor leaned over his counter with a tempting stick of horehound.
Before Hermione could intervene, Felicity accepted the offering with delight. “Thank you—” As her fingers wrapped around the treat she gasped, and with a flutter of dark gold eyelashes, collapsed in a puddle of silken skirts and petticoats upon the rough wooden floor.
Casting the startled proprietor an appalled glance, Hermione swept her daughter up in her arms and marched out of the shop, panniers swaying with indignation. Waving off footmen and nursemaids who rushed to her aid, she climbed into the waiting carriage, still cradling her frail daughter in her arms.
Within the private confines of the familiar coach, Felicity stirred and woke. With a sob, she clutched her mother and buried her face in the marchioness’s ample bosom.
“Now, now, child, it’s all right. You simply must learn to test before touching, as I’ve taught you.”
“He’s a nasty man,” Felicity hiccupped. “He does nasty things to little girls and they cry. I don’t want to go there anymore.”
Her usually tender mouth firming into a tight line, the marchioness nodded her beribboned head vigorously. “I shall certainly see to that, dear. I will talk to your father, and Mr. Jones shall leave the village at once. You see, your gift is very useful. It will keep him from hurting any other little girls.”
“I don’t want to see bad things anymore,” Felicity whispered. “I hate my gift. It hurts. Why can’t I have another gift?”
Hermione sighed and rocked her daughter in her arms. “You are only given what you are capable of handling, my dear. I know you don’t understand that yet, but your gift is precious and valuable. When you grow into it, you will learn to use it wisely.”
“Christina’s gift doesn’t hurt,” Felicity muttered with a rebellious pout. “She sees pretty things. Why can’t I feel pretty things?”
“You felt love in the book,” Hermione reminded her. “It’s just that sometimes bad things feel stronger than gentle ones. It doesn’t hurt when your family touches you, does it? Or Nanny?”
“Nanny has sad touches,” Felicity murmured sleepily as her mother continued rocking her. “I don’t want to touch any more bad things.”
“Your family will always take care of you, dear. You’ll be safe and happy around familiar vibrations until you’re all grown up and know how to use your gift. Learning comes from experience, but we’ll give you good ones.”
“Can I stay in Papa’s library? It’s nice there.”
Hermione laughed. “No, you cannot live in a library, dear, although your papa would let you try if you wanted.”
“I want to. I don’t want to see any more bad things.” Setting her quivering lip in a firm manner reminiscent of her mother’s, Felicity closed her eyes and slept.