To Bewitch the Icy Lady (Extended Epilogue)


Three Years Later

“Be careful!” David listened to Arabella call out to their young son, Edward, as he tried to toddle closer to the duck pond. He smiled, watching as she bent over towards him, her arms outstretched. David wrapped an arm about her waist and lifted her to standing. Both of their eyes were on Edward as he laughed, clapping his hands when a duck quacked.

“Have I told you today how lovely you look, my dear?” he asked, breathing his words into her ear before kissing her temple. She did look lovely. The years had only brought out a confidence and a beauty that had just been lying in wait. Her gown was of bright blue, and it matched her eyes, only adding to their brilliance. He reached out and curled one of her strands of blonde hair around his finger.

“No, you haven’t, but I’m very glad to hear it,” she said, a smile on her lips. Edward toddled back towards them, and she lifted him up and laid him on the picnic blanket where he began to play with his wooden toys. Now that his son was safe, David drew Arabella into his arms and then kissed her soundly.

“I think that I have the loveliest wife in all of Christendom. In fact, I shall tell the world.” He stepped back, cupped his hands around his mouth, and called out, “I have the most beautiful wife in all the world!”

“David!” Arabella shrieked with laughter, pulling at his arms. “The park is small, but it is not empty. You will make fools of us. Just imagine the paper tomorrow. The Duke of Wiltshire making the scandal sheets again.”

David chuckled, putting his hands on her waist to pull her close again. While he had done his best to keep out of the scandal sheets ever since Arabella had come into his life, he had been in a few times in the last three years. But it was only because he was known for being ridiculously infatuated with his wife. The scandal sheets loved to recount how the Duke of Wiltshire kissed his Duchess soundly at Almack’s a few balls ago, or how the Duke and Duchess can often be seen holding hands on the street.

“I would do any scandal, my love if it meant that I was being naughty with you.” He kissed her, sliding his hands down her back to grasp her backside and push her against him.

“David!” she said, pushing lightly against his chest, but he could tell by the breathless note in her voice that she was not unaffected.

“Do you not love my love for you?” he asked, releasing her, and placing a kiss on her brow.

She shot him a disapproving look, but a smile was still on her face. “You know that I do. But we will have to think of our son soon enough.” She grinned down at Edward and leaned into David’s back. He wrapped her arms around her. “Surely, he will be too embarrassed about us once he’s a little older.”

“Hardly. I should think he’d be very happy to know his parents loved each other. He will just have to find a love of his own one day.”

“Oh, don’t rush it, David,” she said, sitting down on the blanket and touching her son’s head. “It will be a short time. His childhood. Then he will be up and gone, off to Eton or Oxford, and then perhaps, if he is anything like his father, he will be raising hell on the streets.”

David snorted. “I should think him a fool if he did not.” But deep down, he knew it would be strange to see his child grow up into a man. He was determined to be there for his son, for all his children, as he didn’t get the chance to have his father for very long. He patted Edward on the head and smiled down at him.

“I thought Aaron and Lydia were coming to meet us this afternoon. They were to bring their two little ones.”

“Yes, well, I wonder where they got to,” Arabella replied, looking left and right at the small park with winding forest paths which all met in the center in a wide space of green.

“You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if they told the nanny to go on ahead, and they stayed behind to enjoy just a little bit of alone time. Twins make for a loud and busy household.” David shrugged. “Aaron and Lydia are almost as bad as us.”

Arabella laughed at David’s supposition. “I suppose that’s possible,” she said, and he watched as she lazily moved Edward’s toys about. He saw a flush creep over her chest and neck. It was slight, but he had come to recognize it.

“Why, my dear wife, I do believe you’re jealous.” He pointed at the flush on her chest, and she put a hand there, making the red rise to her cheeks.


“Jealous? What do you mean?” she asked, putting her hand down. “Jealous of Aaron and Lydia?”

“No, of course not. I just meant that you, perhaps, are jealous that they are having alone time in the woods and that they were bold enough to do it.”

“We don’t know that that’s true, David,” she scolded, but she couldn’t deny that he was right. But not fully.

He leaned over and touched her hand. “I know that it’s been difficult for us. With Edward.” She sighed, remembering how before their child was born, they had all the time in the world for each other, and for each other’s bodies. Each time she had David inside of her, it had never been enough. But now that Edward was old enough, he had learned how to run down the stairs, escape the nanny, and open the door to his parent’s bedroom, interrupting them. And since they were currently between nannies, it had grown even worse.

“If it wasn’t so terrible, I’d lock Edward’s door until later in the morning,” David grumbled, making her laugh. She leaned close to him, pulled on the lapels of his coat, and kissed him.

In a low voice, she said, “I just think it would be rather exciting to make love in the woods. No one around for miles.”

“You against a tree,” he said, joining her story. “Me lifting your skirts.” He bit his lip. “We’d better stop this imagining, Arabella.” He sighed and looked at Edward, playing innocently. “And here I thought you wanted to be more circumspect in public. Now you’re telling me you wish me to make love to you in the middle of the woods?” He lifted a brow, and Arabella kissed her, loving her husband more and more with each day.

“Yes, am I not full of contradictions? I thought it was all part of my charm.”

“Charm,” he said back to her. “Yes, I’m sure you would like to call it that,” he replied dryly. In the last three years, their passion had been intense, but then it also meant that their arguments were intense as well.

But it was just what she wanted. Heat, energy, passion. With Tidesdale or Avon, she would have been bored to tears. David always kept her interest. He was always doing something fresh and exciting, and he was always making her laugh. She grinned, but then it faltered, and her hand moved to her belly.

“You were right that I was jealous, but that’s not all I was thinking about.”

“What is it?” he asked, his brows furrowed in concern. He took her hand and kissed it. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, yes, oh, I’m fine,” she said waving a hand in the air. “It’s not that. It’s just that I worry with more children, we will have less and less time. For each other.”

“I suppose that could be possible, but we will have to work hard to make it not so. We will have a new nanny by then, too. We can have a whole army of nannies if you’d like.” He kissed her hand again. “I wouldn’t want you to feel unloved by me.”

“Never!” she said, touching his cheek. “I feel love, so much love.” She smiled. “But I think lately it has been difficult as you said. A new nanny will make a difference.” Her hand lingered on her belly as she looked away, and she could tell that David noticed it.

“Arabella, is there something you need to tell me?”

“Well,” she said, feeling nervous. “I was waiting, but I’m sure now. It’s been several weeks beyond when my courses were due. There will be another baby.”

David paused, and then he gave her a wide smile and lifted her to her feet.

“Well, that’s wonderful news!” he said, laughing, spinning her around so that she, too, laughed and felt dizzy by the time her feet touched ground again.

“Are you certain?” she asked, and he answered by kissing her, his mouth tender and soft.

He leaned his forehead against hers. “Yes, I’m certain. Edward will have a sibling, and we will have another beautiful child who looks just like you.”

She felt tears come to her eyes. “Well, we must begin the search for a better nanny right away. I don’t think I can take anymore ‘morning interruptions’,” she said with a grin, pulling him closer.

“Nor I,” he said in a husky voice. “Don’t worry. It will be my first priority when we return home today. I want a new nanny way before the next baby comes.” He paused. “I love you, Arabella. And I will love this new baby too.”

“I love you, too,” she said, her heart light, and she kissed him back, waving her arms about his neck.

“Well, greetings!” a faraway voice called, and Arabella pulled away to see Aaron waving at them, Lydia on his arm. Their nanny was farther behind, holding the two hands of the children.

She grinned as they got closer, and she could see that Lydia’s gown was slightly mussed. “You see?” David said, leaning close to her. “I told you.”

She elbowed him in the side and waved at her friends. “Well, it is good to know they love each other.”

He slid a hand to her lower back and leaned down to whisper in her ear, “I was thinking that the first thing I want to do after we employ a new nanny is to take you to the woods to muss your gown just as properly. I must congratulate my friend on his choice of location.”

Arabella bit back a laugh as she pulled David back from walking up to Aaron to say anything to him. She grabbed David’s coat lapels and leaned up on her toes to kiss him. “You always know what to say to make me smile.”

“I make it my utmost goal to make you smile, my dear,” he replied, his hands on her face. “Every day, if I can. You deserve it. You saved me, my life.”

“Will I forever be rewarded for that day with your uncle?” She grinned.

“Yes, but that’s not what I meant. You save me every day from a lifetime of loneliness and despair, and I am grateful each morning that I wake up next to you, my love.” He kissed her softly and slowly, but at the sound of Aaron and Lydia’s approach, she pulled away, disappointed they could not continue.

“And I am grateful, too,” she whispered, her arm still about his waist. “I am forever happy with you, David.”

“I will remember you said that the next time you are cross with me,” he teased, and she laughed as they greeted their dear friends in the lovely afternoon sunlight.

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To Bewitch the Icy Lady (Preview)

Chapter 1

The day was just beginning, but David Walford, the Duke of Wiltshire, already wished it would end. Isolated in his silent study, he slumped in his chair behind the large mahogany desk, lost in thought. Dusty books lined the large shelves that encircled the room. It was a wall of knowledge that David rarely delved into. He already knew too many things that he would rather have never known at all.

Brushing his fingers over the thick stubble that coated his chin, David leaned his head back against the chair and sighed. Though it was not yet midday, he was certain that it was not too early for a drink. For David, it was rarely too early for a drink. Just as he was about to rise from his seat, he heard thundering footsteps pounding in the hallway outside.

The door flew open, banging loudly against the wall, and David snapped his gaze to the intruder, stunned and startled. It was his mother, Judith, and her expression was furious as she shook her head at him. His mother’s hair was pinned back, and she wore a light cap to cover the graying curls. Her dark brown dress rustled as she marched into the room.

“Mother,” he greeted her flatly, instinctively sensing that someone was wrong. Or, as it was more likely, that he had done something wrong. This was often the case when it came to his interactions with her. For a moment, he stared up at her gaunt face, wondering what his indiscretion had been on this occasion.

Huffing a heavy sigh, she tossed a newspaper down onto the desk in front of him and planted her hands onto her hips.

“Have you seen this, David?” she exclaimed, ire dripping from her words as she gestured at the paper.

David raised his azure eyes to meet his mother’s and shook his head. “That would be most impossible, considering that you have only just brought it to me.”

Frustration oozed from Judith’s pores, and she clenched her jaw. “I’m in no mood for whatever passes as your sense of humor, David,” she snapped in annoyance. “Your name is on the scandal sheets once again! How many times must we go through this same trauma before you learn how to behave yourself? Not only is it bad enough that you act like a scoundrel, but do you have no respect for yourself or your family to use a little discretion?”

Balking slightly at her words, David felt his cheeks heated up in embarrassment. Abject disappointment was etched into her face, and he loathed knowing that he was the one who had put that expression there. It was not the first time he had witnessed it, and he sorely doubted it would be the last.

However, the harder she glared at him, the more defensive he felt. It was not fair of his mother to judge him, not after everything he had endured in his life.

“I assure you that no slight was meant toward you, Mother,” he told her firmly, his shoulders stiff and tense. “After all, you mentioned yourself how many times I have appeared on the scandal sheets. It should be no additional hardship for you to reuse one of the multitudes of excuses that you have cultivated over time to defend our honor.”

Judith scowled hard at him, and David felt instantly guilty. “I should not have expected you to take this seriously.” She sighed, deflating. “You refuse to take anything seriously. Most worryingly, your duties as a duke. Why can you not understand how important your responsibilities are?”

Softening, David ducked his head, averting his eyes from her penetrating stare. “I’m sorry, Mother,” he answered her honestly. Exhaling wearily, he shrugged. “You know how difficult I find my responsibilities. I have never become accustomed to them, no matter how hard I have tried.”

David swallowed hard as she shook her head in dismay at his confession and he wished more than anything that things were different. He had allowed his past to wholly define him, and now he was a shell filled with the pain of everything that had passed before. He couldn’t escape reality. The responsibilities that he was destined to fulfill were simply beyond his capabilities. He possessed neither the will nor the self-control to perform them as he should have. Regret overwhelmed him at that thought because he was well aware that it made him less of a man than society expected him to be. It hurt his mother as well, the last person in the world he wished to injure.

Moistening her lips, Judith perched on the edge of his desk, desperately trying to meet his eyes. “You are not a child any longer, my son,” she reminded him, her voice warmer than before. “I understand that you have been through a lot in your life, far more than you deserved, but you need to hold yourself to account. We cannot withstand another scandal on your part. I can barely take tea with a single lady from the ton without them calling you a rogue.”

A new wave of guilt crashed over him, and he rose to his feet, pacing the floor. “What would you have me do then?” he asked, agitated. “I cannot change who I am.”

“Nonsense!” she scoffed, rolling her eyes. “You have allowed yourself to fall into a dark rut, but you can climb out of it and prosper. You do not have to spend your life in the gutter like you have chosen to do. You’re the Duke of Wiltshire, not a common scoundrel!”

David shook his head once again. There was no way he could ever make his mother understand. She couldn’t see the darkness in his soul. “It is not as easy as you believe,” he countered, turning away from her, and reached for the crystal decanter on the shelf.

Pouring a small measure of scotch into a glass, he held it in his hands, drawing circles around the rim. His mother watched him with annoyance glinting in her eyes, but she evidently refused to comment on the alcohol in his hands. In some ways, he was hoping to send her onto a tangent and distract her from the subject at hand.

However, when his mother found a focus, she would not be deterred from it. Glowering at him, Judith set her mouth into a hard, sharp line. “You make mountains out of molehills,” she told him determinedly. “If you wanted to straighten yourself out, I have no doubt that you would succeed. Your lack of will is the problem and it must be corrected.”

“How?” he asked, a hint of genuine curiosity creeping into his voice. He really wanted to know. He wished that there was something that could help bring him out of the mire he had made of his life.

“A good woman will sort you out in no time,” she responded heatedly, scowling at his eye roll. “I am quite serious, David. You need to marry and produce an heir for your own sake and mine, not to mention your late father’s sake, too. He would have wanted that for you.”

The moment her final words hit the air, his mouth filled with a foul taste. Reminders of his father always elicited a physical ache in the cavity of his chest, making his heart pound. The image of his father’s face floated before his eyes, and he screwed them shut to ward it off, but it could not be erased from his mind. Overwhelmed by the thoughts, he couldn’t help but recall the last promise he had ever made to his father.

The bedchamber was cool and dimly lit, and too quiet for David’s liking. No sunlight entered because the drapes had been shut for weeks. A large bed stood in the center of the room with a pallid figure laying motionlessly beneath the covers. David hated to see his father like that. In the twelve years of his life, his father had always been animated and vibrant but now he was ashen and nothing but a shell of his former self.

David bit down on his lower lip almost hard enough to draw blood as he entered the bedchamber at his mother’s behest. In truth, he would have preferred never to see his father in such a state, but his mother constantly reminded him that he would regret it if he were to miss the opportunity to say goodbye.

What did goodbye even mean?

Breathlessly, his father heaved himself to a sitting position and fixed dull eyes on his son. A wry smile touched his lips before it quickly disappeared. “Come closer, my son,” he panted, clearing his throat. “I have not seen you in so long that I wish to take a proper look at you.”

Hesitating briefly, David reluctantly edged closer. Trepidation rushed through his veins as he got a clearer look at his father’s haggard face. His strong jaw seemed to sag, and his normally bright blue eyes had lost their sheen.

“I do not like seeing you like this, Papa,” he admitted, his voice rough with unshed tears. “When will you be well again?”

His father chuckled humorlessly. “Oh, David, I cannot recover from this. Your mother has brought the best physicians in all of England to my bedside and the one thing on which they are all in accordance is that my time on this earth is over. I am dying.”

A gasp escaped David’s lips. “Dying?”

“‘For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil?’” quoted his father.

“Hamlet,” David whispered, feeling a tear trickle down his cheek. “Our favorite play. We must have watched it at the playhouse four or five times.”

Nodding, his father reached out and clasped his hand. “I do not fear death, David. I have led a rich life and produced a wonderful son, and I have no regrets. My only fear is for those I leave behind. You are so young, not yet thirteen, and you have your whole life ahead of you, but you must live it without me to guide you.”

Scrubbing a hand over his eyes, David turned his tortured gaze to meet his father’s. “I do not know how, Papa,” he confessed, sniffling miserably.

“Ah, but you will,” the Duke countered, groaning from a spasm of pain as he shifted in the bed. “I want you to make me a promise right here and now. You must vow to me that you will grow up to be a great man someday.”

Instantly, David reeled back, unable to believe that his father would demand such a monumental promise from him at that moment. However, as he soaked in the determination and hope in the Duke’s face, he could not refuse.

“I promise,” he breathed, feeling like his words were a terrible lie.

Shaking himself out of the memory, David exhaled a trembling sigh. He raked a hand through his mop of brown curls and stared at his mother’s continually disappointed face. If his father could have seen what he had turned into, he would have been just as dismayed as his mother.

David inhaled a sharp breath and nodded. “I will try to take life more seriously if it makes you happy, Mother,” he promised her, lost in the knowledge of how important it was to honor his late father’s memory.

Softening, she smiled at him gratefully. “I know that life hasn’t come easy to you, David. Losing your father so young was a terrible tragedy that none of us anticipated. I remember when you were just a few years old, and you always longed to be just like him. You loved each other so dearly. But I love you, too, and all I have ever wished for you is the greatest happiness. You can find that if you try.”

Her words reminded him of more joyful times, but now, happiness seemed just out of reach. Even now, the nightmares of his uncle’s arrival in the days after his father’s passing haunted him, and he wasn’t sure they would ever wane. It was the most terrible time in his life, and he was a broken and pathetic husk of a man because of it. His mother knew nothing of what had happened.

David’s mother was sure that he would find a wife and produce an heir, but how could any woman ever love such a man as him? If any lady in society gained even the slightest insight into whom he truly was and the terrible things he had done, they would be surely disgusted.

Pain welled up in his throat, but David washed it away with a swig of scotch and forced a reassuring smile onto his face. He had already disillusioned his mother enough for one day and he did not wish to worsen things. It was easier to lie to himself and pretend that everything was all right, even when nothing was all right at all.

Chapter 2

The sun streamed through the large window panes of Arabella’s drawing room as she ran the needle through her embroidery. Shrouded in silence, she couldn’t fight the shreds of trepidation as they wound themselves around her, frustrating her to no end. Her heart was a wasteland of pain, and she didn’t think it could ever be anything but barren again.

Setting her embroidery down onto her lap, she smoothed out the folds of her black dress. Glancing up, she looked at her mother. The Dowager Viscountess Martha Snowley was lost in a book but still looked as upset as she had for so long now. Arabella wished that she could erase the perpetual frown from her mother’s brow. These past few months, life had been hard for them, and she feared that it was set to become even more difficult.

“Are you all right, Mama?” Arabella asked, startling her mother.

Her mother flashed her a watery smile and nodded. “Of course, my dear,” she reassured her, tucking a blonde curl behind her ear with a visible tremble rocking through her fingers. “Why do you ask?”

“You know why,” Arabella responded, moistening her lips. “I see you endure the same agony every day, and you try to conceal it from me.”

Tensing, she shook her head. “You should not have to feel this pain, Arabella,” her mother reminded her, creasing her brow more deeply. “I will not worsen it with my own. I shall not speak of the worst until it happens.”

Before Arabella could respond, a knock sounded at the door. “Enter!” called her mother, scowling when she saw her nephew lurking behind the young servant girl at the entrance. Arabella was no more joyful to lay eyes on her cousin for she knew that he wouldn’t come bearing good news.

“Lord William Snowley to see you, ma’am,” the young redheaded maid announced.

Pushing past the servant, William leered as he sauntered into the room. He was a short, portly man with sandy brown hair and small eyes that made him look even more untrustworthy than the twisted smirk that was a permanent feature on his face.

“My, my, ladies, what a pleasure it is to see you both,” he simpered, plunking himself into a chair next to Arabella without invitation. Relaxed, he slung one arm over the chair’s back. “I’m sure you know why I’m here.”

Narrowing her eyes, her mother glanced at Arabella before turning back to her nephew. “I’m afraid I cannot say that I do,” she retorted dryly, adjusting the hem of her ebony gown. “I must ask you to enlighten us.”

William clapped his hands together firmly and grinned. “The period of mourning for the last Viscount Snowley is over, dear aunt. Your husband’s death was a tragic event, of course, but we must move on now.”

Arabella felt a stab of pain pierce her heart. Apparently, her cousin was not in possession of a heart at all, considering the way that he spoke of her father’s passing. Turning her haunted green eyes to him, she swallowed hard.

“Is that why you paid us this visit?” she hissed, ignoring the contradictorily disapproving, yet proud, glance from her mother.

A sardonic smile crossed William’s face. “Ah, that is only one of the reasons why I have come, dearest cousin,” he replied fawningly. “I wanted to inform you that I have some final business to take care of and then I will be taking over my duties as the newly appointed Viscount Snowley.”

Shuddering at the thought, Arabella ducked her head. This was the ominous news that she had known was coming but had never wanted to accept. Her fear was reflected on her mother’s pale, devastated face.

“How long do you expect the business to take?” her mother asked hoarsely.

With a shrug, William crossed one leg over the other. “We shall see. I hope to have it concluded shortly, but one can never tell in these instances.”

Arabella suppressed a scoff. She was more than convinced that whatever this business was, it wouldn’t be legal. Her cousin’s reputation preceded him in every societal circle when it came to his dealings, and it was widely acknowledged that the man engaged in some unsavory business. Many of her friends had mentioned her cousin’s name and involvement in some of the darker dealings that were common in town. A part of her wished that she could grumble at him, but she knew that it would be more prudent to hold her tongue as the man had the keys to her and her mother’s futures.

“It is all a sad business with my uncle dying unexpectedly. I thought the old fellow would live forever. I suppose death comes to everyone in the end,” he continued, entirely unaware of Arabella’s dark thoughts. “This is why I will extend my generosity to you.”

“Your generosity, my Lord?” inquired her mother. “Whatever do you mean?”

Grinning proudly, he glanced between the two women with a shimmer of self-satisfaction. “I have ruminated on the matter at length, and I have decided to set the time limit for your departure from this house at the end of the Season. This will give you ample time to find alternative accommodation. Now, you must understand that I am only doing so because I have a good heart, but I cannot allow you to stay forever. You must be out of here once the Season has passed.”

Gulping hard, Arabella leveled desperate eyes at her mother. “That is only a few months away,” she breathed out in shock.

“Yes,” William agreed with a nod. “You will find few men on this earth who would be so kind to you.”

Evidently swallowing her pride, her mother forced a smile onto her face and bobbed her head. “Thank you, William. You are too kind to us.”

“Oh, I am. I am.” William cocked his head to the side in a manner of faux pity. “I know this must be a difficult time for you both. I always believed it was a shame that you never birthed your husband an heir, dear aunt. It must be a terrible humiliation for a man to have only a daughter.”

Bristling, Arabella would have loved to contradict him, but unfortunately, his words grated against her rawest nerves. A memory drifted back to her from only a few years earlier. It was one of the most devastating moments of her life when she discovered the truth of her parent’s marriage and realized how cold her father’s heart truly was.

If only I hadn’t passed the study, I would never have known how he’d really felt about me. Why did I have to hear that he didn’t care for me all because I was a girl? It is just as William says. Father thought I was useless because he could not entail the estate upon me, and Mother’s health did not allow her to have more children.  

But she wouldn’t give William the satisfaction that his words struck true, sending her pangs of pain. Her father’s every word and glance over the years had been filled with the deepest loathing, and she understood that men could not be trusted.

It is just as well I have pledged not to trust any man, for they are all like this. William has the blood of my father in him.

She had been forced by society to show grief, to wear black, and to hide herself away, but it was sickening. She grieved only for her mother’s pain. Her father might have loathed her, but she despised him more than words could ever tell.

Arabella sighed as she liberated herself from the excruciating memory. Throughout her first two Seasons in society, she had stuck to the resolution that she had made almost a decade earlier not to marry herself off. The smirking man at her side was doing nothing to redeem the reputation of the male sex.

Hackles raised, she glared scathingly at William. “I do not think there is anything wrong with having a daughter,” she said, biting back her vitriol. “Do you think a woman is so incapable in this world? Would you be ashamed of only having a daughter?”

Taken aback by her fierce tone, William frowned. “Unlike your father, I expect my wife to birth me a son.”

Her mother balked at her nephew’s words, but she visibly steeled herself. Sympathy pooled in Arabella’s eyes as she watched her mother quickly hide the flash of hurt on her face. “Well, William,” she said cordially, though her expression belied her tone. “I’m sure that you must be eager to return to your business. A man who is as busy as you are cannot afford to take too much time away from your work.”

“Indeed,” he replied with a nod, climbing to his feet. “I’m afraid I must bid you good day.”

Good day and good riddance, Arabella thought.

Rising to her feet, Arabella felt nothing but the purest relief to be rid of him. “You do not need to hurry your business, be assured,” she whispered coldly. “I’m sure things will be just fine here until your return.”

Chuckling wryly, William smirked. “I doubt it. Two women cannot be entrusted with the running of an estate like this alone. Regardless, it won’t be long until you enjoy the pleasure of my company once again.”

Exchanging a dread-filled glance with her mother, Arabella swallowed down the bile in her throat. “I see.”

William clasped her hand with cool, clammy fingers and lifted it to his mouth, brushing a moist kiss against the back. Nausea rose in her, and she was sure that her disgust was reflected in her eyes, though he didn’t seem to notice.

“You know, Arabella,” he whispered, too quietly for her mother to hear, “if you wish to remain in your home, you could always marry me.” He flashed her a lascivious smile. “I would make sure that we always have fun.”

A sarcastic giggle escaped Arabella’s lips, her face twisting into a scowl. “That will never happen, my Lord,” she assured him, making no more attempts to hide her abhorrence of him.

With a shrug, he remained unmoved. “Well, then I bid you goodbye,” he said harshly. “The next time we meet, I shall call this townhouse my own home.”

Gaping at his audacity, Arabella couldn’t muster a word of reply as he swaggered from the room, leaving her alone with her mother. The moment the door had shut behind him, she burst into tears, sobs wracking her slender frame.

Instantly, Arabella rushed to her mother’s side, cradling her in her arms. “Mama, do not trouble yourself in such a way,” she begged her, feeling tears gathering behind her own eyes. “I promise that it will all work out.”

Pulling back from Arabella, her mother struggled to compose herself. “I cannot see how,” she said desperately, her cheeks flushed from crying. “I always knew this day would come, but I never knew what a cruel oaf my nephew was until now.”

Arabella could not help but agree. When her father had been alive, the house would have been a cold, loveless place to live if not for her mother’s kindness. However, she had always believed that things would change for the better once he was gone. Sadly, fate seemed to have different ideas. Now, she knew that she only possessed one option to save them.

Gulping harshly, Arabella raised determined eyes to her mother. “I will find a suitor, Mama. If I can be married, we won’t have to worry about William or anybody else. A husband will support us.”

The Viscountess smiled softly. “Oh Arabella, I would love nothing more than to see you married to a man that adores you, but how will you even meet a suitable husband? We do not have enough money to prepare you for the Season. Without the right dresses and the latest fashions, none of the men in society will be accessible. We are in a quandary, and I fear that all is already lost.”

Arabella sighed, turning away from her mother’s desolate face. This was supposed to be her third Season, and finding a suitor was the only hope they had. Despite the poverty that would soon be her curse, Arabella knew that she was an attractive young woman. Her golden hair, emerald eyes, and slender frame were often admired by the men of the ton.

Unfortunately, regardless of her beauty, the men of the ton would not want a destitute wife. Even though she’d no interest in marriage, she suddenly regretted all the ones she had rejected in the past when she could have boasted an ample dowry. Perhaps she could have been happy with one of them, but she had never been able to swallow her pride in her attempts to spite her father.

With everything that had happened since, the errors she had made loomed in front of her, taunting her. This all felt like her fault, and she had no idea how to set things right. What if there was no solution for her at all?


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The Marchioness’ Alluring Touch (Extended Epilogue)



Trent heard the crying from the next door, and, carefully as not to wake Scarlett who was sleeping securely in his arms, he got out of his bed and made his way to the joining room. There stood both his sons in their crib with sly smiles on their faces, proud of having woken their father up.

Their names were Thomas and William, and the two of them were quite a handful. They looked after him, but he was sure by their stature that their height would be from their mother.

He smiled at the thought for his dear wife, who once was ashamed of being so tall would in only a few years look at her sons proudly; as would he. For he sure was proud of his two boys and their mother.

The pregnancy had been difficult for Scarlett, and it was a miracle that she had made it through. There were certain complications with William, for which reason Scarlett had to ensure that her baby boy remain in her body for one extra day and only come out when he was ready.

That day was the most stressful for Trent, and as much as he loved his children, he wished never for Scarlett to have to go through that pain again. He had stayed with her during childbirth, holding on to her hand as she pushed the twins out of her body.

Scarlett’s mother was not very fond of the idea of Trent being present in the birthing room, but he would not be removed. His mother understood and after one of her talks with Scarlett’s mother made sure that everyone in the room knew it, too. He wouldn’t leave his wife alone at such a time as important as the delivery of the child was. It irked him how some people frowned upon the idea of the husband being in the child birthing room. The husband had the same role as the wife in the making of the child, and it only seemed right that the former needed to be present when the said child was to come to the world.

The days after were even more sorrowful, for while his children and his wife were all healthy, Scarlett was always feeling down. She looked after her children and did all of her duties as she liked to call it —but never smiled or talked much.

It had gotten to the point, that Trent had to start to force food down her mouth. He could not understand what was happening and was worried sick. Everything seemed fine to him and yet still Scarlett was losing her light or rather who she was.

He was beginning to think that it was somehow his fault, and only once he had discussed his fears with his mother did he understand that some mothers, after childbirth, felt the loss. It was odd for him to understand but he did his best for Scarlett’s sake.

His mother told him that because Scarlett had been hosting their twins in her body for the better part of nine months, her body had gotten used to it; and now with the lack of it, it was feeling a certain emptiness.

If anything, it only made him respect and appreciate his wife all the more, for it amazed him during their pregnancy how Scarlett and her body had expanded and made sure that their children were taken care of and provided with food and comfort.

Before that moment, Trent had never once thought on the importance of motherhood for he had always thought it was rather the upbringing of the child that was the responsibility of a mother. With that experience, he learned the other aspects of motherhood and began to look at the two women in his life differently.

Both his mother and his wife.

It was then it occurred to him that he would take Scarlett away for a while; perhaps to France for he remembered her mentioning that she wanted to visit the place. He had asked his mother, and she too seemed to agree that it would be good for Scarlett.

Scarlett had refused to employ a wet nurse preferring to be the one taking care of her children.

The years were blissful and happy. He only wished to have a daughter, but he knew that there was still time and one day he might get lucky. But for now, he had his hands full.

He picked up William, who was sucking on his thumb while Thomas began to cry.

“Getting a little jealous, are we?” He asked his other son, as he picked him up as well taking them to their mother. There was no way that Trent could handle both of his sons at the same time, and neither could Scarlett.

And if it was of any indication, he knew that their times ahead were to be full of such happenings all the more. There were still things he had to learn about being a father but he knew that he would.

Scarlett was always there helping him along the way, telling him that he was doing a good job. The reassurances were great, and sometimes all that he needed.

He entered the room and saw Scarlett suddenly closing her eyes. He knew that she was awake and was only pretending to be asleep, so he devised a plan. He got on the other side of the bed, as he put his sons down on the bed, caging them.

On one of their sides was Scarlett, and on the other was he. Scarlett still pretended to be asleep but could not do it for much longer, when William began to make his way towards his mother.

She let out a giggle as William placed his wet cheek against hers and opened her eyes.

“Good morning, my dear.” He said smiling at him.

She smiled at him and began to kiss her children. After gracing both of them, she turned towards him, with a happy smile and kissed him.

At that moment Trent knew that he would not trade such mornings for anything.

It was later in the day when Trent had come back from his work when he began to look for his family. He had looked in both the dining room and the breakfast parlor and had not seen his wife or sons. Trent was about to ask the maids when he heard giggling coming from the music room followed by someone playing.

He entered the room and saw both his sons sitting on the stool of the pianoforte with Scarlett in between them.

William was giggling while Thomas was playing the instrument with his chubby fingers. Scarlett was trying his best to explain to her sons the correct way to do it but Thomas would not have it.

“Thomas, that is not how you do it.” Scarlett said when Trent decided to announce himself.

“Are you teasing your mother, boys?” Trent asked and was pleased when both his sons and his wife turned to look at him with happy smiles on their faces.

He walked towards them and sat down, holding William in his lap, while Scarlett did the same with Thomas.

He kissed Scarlett on the lips and laughed when William put his chubby fingers between their faces and said, “Dadaaaa, me.”

“You want some kisses, too?” Trent asked, and William nodded his head.

With a smile on his face, Trent kissed William and ruffled his hair, while Thomas pushed out his arms out of Scarlett’s lap. Trent took his other son as well and did the same action with him when he heard his wife say, “I feel left out.”

“You want some kisses, too?” Trent asked, and Scarlett nodded her head looking at her sons.

“Boys, how about we kiss your mother now?” He asked, and the three of them attacked Scarlett with kisses, who only laughed.

“Okay, okay, stop.” He heard Scarlett saying while laughing, and he stopped.

He put his sons on the ground as they began to play with each other, and said to Scarlett, “Are you happy?”

He still could not believe that he had this life, that his life had turned out this way. He was blessed with everything.

“Yes, Trent. I am so very happy with you and our children.” Scarlett replied with serenity in her voice, smiling at him.

“But I do think something is missing.” Trent suddenly said, taking her hand in his.

“What?” She asked, looking worried.

“I think it is unfair that the only woman in the house is you. I think we might need to practice a little more to create another one of you. Hopefully, with all your perfection.” Trent said and saw her blush.

“Oh, Trent, must you talk like that in front of the children?” She said, reeling into him.

“I think our children should know that their father loves their mother.” He replied, kissing her cheek.

“Oh, I think they and all of our household know that you love me.” She mused, looking at her sons.

“And I want to remind you every day. I love you, Scarlett Mountbatten.” Trent said rather loudly, when Thomas said, “Me, too, dada.”

Both Trent and Scarlett laughed at their sons and at that moment, Trent knew he had it all. All the happiness in the world, and it was only because of the woman by his side.


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The Marchioness’ Alluring Touch (Preview)

Chapter One

Scarlett sat down on the sofa after greeting her friends. As soon as she sat, she hunched her shoulders a little. It was something she had learned to do as a child, for she was taller than most girls. At least this way, her height appeared to be less than it really was.

She knew that she had to act on her best self so she smiled at her guests and greeted them with as much civility as she could conquer. There was no doubt in her mind that the topic of today’s gathering would shift to the upcoming London Season.

For Scarlett, it was a subject that she heartily wished to avoid, much to the dismay of her mother, who smiled at her knowingly.

“How are you, Lady Weston? I heard you caught a cold last week. I called on you once, but the butler told me you were resting, and I did not want to disturb you.” Scarlett addressed her guest.

“Oh dear, yes, I was informed later that day. It was very kind of you, I must say.” Lady Weston replied with a smile. “Dear Scarlett, are you excited about the Season?”, she added with meaning in her voice.

The maid served them with tea while Scarlett considered how to reply. She was a girl of one and twenty, with two failed Seasons behind her, and there was not a worse comment that could be made to her.

Her guest was the widower of the late Lord Weston. The family in question was a friend of the Peytons’ for many years now and calling at each other houses was to be expected once every week. However, it was always more Lady Weston who visited them.

And Scarlett was now prepared for her remark. After her failures — which she could only blame her tall figure for them— she knew that this was bound to happen eventually. Lady Weston was one of the many women who were more than eager to pass on such comments.

Lady Weston lived a few miles away from the Peridgedale Manor, and she was a close friend to Lady Peyton. The friendship between the two families dated back to when Lord Weston and Lord Peyton had both been bachelors. With each one having a respective marriage, they decided to buy the nearest estates, in hopes that their children would form an engagement in the future.

This, however, could not be achieved, much to the dismay of Lord Weston for his wife could not bear him any son —and only a few years after his marriage, when Scarlett had been only ten, he fell sick to an uncurable disease.

Lady Weston only had one daughter, who was already engaged to a fine man, as the gossips were saying these days. So, it was usual of hers to visit them quite often, sometimes even more than once a week. She was often lonely in her own home and quite enjoyed the company of Scarlett and her mother.

There was no relation between them except for them being neighbors, and it was a fact that Lady Weston exploited most.

Scarlett was not troubled by the statement. It was understandable, but her mother Letitia Peyton was, and it showed in how her demeanor stiffened. The Countess of Peridgeralde, who until this very moment was more than happy to attend to her guests for the evening, was beginning to lose her countenance, and Scarlett could sense the uneasiness in her mother. It was for this reason, perhaps, that the mother chose to answer for her daughter.

“Yes, my dear Scarlett is more than excited, and we have every reason to believe her to be successful this Season. We have our Lord Peyton’s old acquaintances coming to London. You might have heard of the Mountbatten’s, I presume?” And the whole conversation took to the direction of the family, the connections and scandals, if any of them have actually occurred.

The women went on and on, and soon the whole attention, which was previously on Scarlett, was now diverted. She was, in that moment, very thankful to her mother because decorum dictated that she should always remain polite and kind to her guests, and Scarlett wished only to tell them what she really had in mind.

The truth, which would not be taken very likely and in the best of light, because Scarlett Peyton was not in the least interested in the upcoming Season and was waiting for the right moment to tell her parents of her plan.

Being the only child and, too, a daughter to the Earl and Countess of Peridgeralde should have been in her favor. All her life, Scarlett had been blessed with the best that money could buy and was in the light of many of the most accomplished ladies in all of London — of her age.

Scarlett had been unfortunate as her two prior Seasons were fruitless. She had not been able to procure any match or form any courtship by any of the fine gentlemen who were more than eager to find their future wives. Scarlett knew that she was pretty — yes, she was not one of the most beautiful ladies of her acquaintance but was still considered a beauty. She had sharp features and a kind face. Her disposition was also gentle. But was in her favour the most was that she had a large fortune in her name. However, her height hindered her and her potential matrimonial matches.

In each ball that she had made an appearance, Scarlett was taller than her partners, and it served as the most awkward moment of the evening. To save themselves the embarrassment, the gentleman began to stop asking her for the dances, and Scarlett was usually left alone for most of the evening.

Her parents knew this and understood the situation, but they were always trying to appear supportive and hopeful. It was their strongest desire to have their only daughter marry a suitable gentleman belonging to a powerful family. After all, it was what society demanded of them, and that’s why Scarlett was trying to abide by her parents’ wishes.

The conversation in the room was beginning to take the turn of the much-awaited ball of Lady Mabelle when Letitia turned to her daughter and asked for her to play them all a piece on the pianoforte.

Scarlett obliged and went in the direction of the instrument. A part of her wished that her mother would stop boasting her skills so much, for she didn’t really like playing in front of large audiences. She knew that people who listened tended to always find something fault in her.

Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, she began to play her favorite piece, the Moonlight Sonata, and soon she was lost in the melody. For Scarlett, this piece held a lot of importance because it gave her a sense of liberty, which she would not feel otherwise.

Or perhaps it had to do with the fact that she knew the composition by heart and was confident in her performance. It gave her a sense of power, one that indicated that she could win the hearts of others.

Once she finished playing, she looked up and saw her mother clapping for her with tears in her eyes. The others, too, clapped, and Scarlett, feeling always shy around people, blushed, and thanked them all. It was then Lady Weston’s niece’s turn to play, and Scarlett stayed on the bench, assisting her.

Lady Weston’s niece was certainly a lucky woman, for she had found what it seemed the love of her life in her very first Season and was now awaiting the days for her married life to begin. From the other side, Scarlett was condemned. She knew that their acquaintances and most of the ton would be waiting to scrutinize her and her parents about the failure of their daughter.

It was soon afterward that the women left, and Scarlett excused herself, wanting to be alone. She took to the gardens and strolled down the path, knowing that her mother was watching her from a distance.

It was not that Scarlett pitied herself, for she had learned that her height would be of a certain disadvantage to her at an early age. She also did not care much about what people thought of her.

But her parents, as parents are often like, wanted nothing more than for their daughter to be happy.

It was her parents’ anxiousness that troubled Scarlett and it was because of their desire that she wished to marry. But she knew that the upcoming Season would be a disaster once again. She had no doubt about it.

In order to save herself and her parents from the embarrassment of another failed Season, Scarlett had decided to avoid it altogether. She was planning to go to the prestigious ladies’ seminary school in Bath for the term of the Season. She would only return when all the fine gentlemen went to the countryside to enjoy the hunting period.

This had been her plan for some time now, but she was looking for the right moment to announce her upcoming travel to her parents. If only her mother had been able to bear more children so that she wouldn’t carry alone the burden of making her family proud.

Scarlett knew that they would not deny her this wish of going to Bath and study, but in their hearts, they just wanted to see their daughter settled.

As much as she tried to be approachable at balls, no suitors had shown their interest to her. Many of the gentlemen had not even asked her for a dance because they did not favor her appearance. These kinds of events hurt Scarlett, but not as much as she knew they hurt her parents.

Scarlett only wished to find a gentleman who would love her for who she was, but with each passing day, her hope was diminishing, and she feared she just might end up alone forever.

Chapter Two

Trent Mountbatten sat down with his mother in the parlor, wondering how to approach the topic. His father knew he liked to spend this time of the year in the countryside with his mother, but the Duke of Molenwood had sent his son a letter requesting his return.

It was no secret to anyone that the great Duke and Duchess of Molenwood no longer lived together. The cover-up was simple — the Duchess preferred the countryside while the Duke desired to employ his time in his London estate. The matters were resolved, and Trent began to spend his time with both his parents equally.

His initial plan had been to stay with his mother for the Season, while he wished to avoid to be a subject of the lingering eyes of mothers who wanted nothing more than to tie their daughters to him. He hated it when daughters smiled fake at him and gushed when he looked in their direction.

It was tiresome for Trent, and it was increasing to get more worrisome with each passing year. He had told both his parents of his wish: Trent Mountbatten did not wish to marry anyone. He had no desire to be subject to conjugal relations at any point in his life, and his decision was firm. Yet still, it seemed to always fall onto deaf ears.

Trent was six and twenty, and he knew the essence of his age. Many women had often told him that he had handsome features and that any lady of merit would be happy to marry him. But more than that, being the Marquess of Maleswood required that he marry soon. As it was often said, a single man with a large fortune must be in want of a wife — but he was not, even if it was his duty to wed and continue his line.

“What are you thinking about so intently, Trent dear?” Johanne Mountbatten, the once Duchess of Molenwood, asked her son as she settled herself on the sofa, looking at him worriedly.

“Mother, I must go to London and see Father. His letter requested immediate arrival, and I fear something must be amiss for him to ask for me at this time of the year.” Trent said with a tone of urgency in his voice.

“Did he not disclose the affairs he wished to discuss?” His mother flapped her linen napkin as she somehow managed to dance a jig while sitting in her chair.

“No, I’m afraid not, Mother, and this is what worries me the most. You know I would not wish to go and leave you alone, but I feel the matter might be grave indeed. I must go. I will make haste and come back once I know better on the subject for which Father has called me to London.”

Trent set his teacup on the saucer with an air of somber resignation. Guilt shrouded him like a ghostly fog reminding him of his mother’s existing unhappiness at his refusal to marry. Now, he would have to leave her alone and this didn’t sit well with him either.

The Duchess rose from the table. “I know. You must leave soon if you intend to make it before day’s end.”

He stared at his mother and thought of her resolve at the life she was living. “Yes, mother.” He rose and kissed his mother’ hand.

He summoned his valet, Crawley, the most trusted servant he had, and instructed him of the change in his plan. How Trent wished he could escape the London Season, which was soon to begin. In recent years and so, Trent had been coming up with ways to avoid London at this time of the year.

It was not that Trent thought anything bad at the idea of marriage. No, he respected the wishes of those who wanted to follow the etiquette and make themselves happy. He even wished them the best and all the happiness their circumstances could bring — but his case was different.

Like most young men of large fortunes, he knew it was his duty to marry, but after seeing his parents’ failed marriage, he could not bring himself to follow the same path. The idea of a matrimonial union scared him. Trent’s personal views on the wedding matter were cautious, and he believed that something as sacred as marriage should be upheld for a lifetime. But he did not know if he could trust someone enough to devote himself forever to them.

There was not a woman in all of England he wished to marry and, therefore, would stay away from the course. Yes, there were the questions of his inheritance and the responsibility of procuring an heir to strengthen the family legacy. Still, Trent was confident in his self to be able to find a legitimate solution.

“Everything is ready, my lord. Her Grace has ordered for and requested that you take the carriage,” Crawley announced Crawley and broke Trent out of his reverie.

Trent nodded his head, knowing it was futile to argue with his mother at such a time and walked out of the manor.

He took long steps, which were still of great confidence for a man of his average height and sat into the carriage. He would have protested his mother’s wishes on a typical day and chose his horse instead of a carriage ride, but he had not the energy to fight her now.

As plush as a coach was, the road was very bumpy. Trent, with all gentlemanly solicitousness, settled himself for the rough patch ahead.

It was one of his greatest surmises to have to divide his time between both of his parents. When Trent was of age, and his father told him of the unfortunate event that had befallen them, he — as any son should — had excused himself and explained that he would refrain from choosing either one of his parents and would try to spend time with both. This situation had brought him in the greatest discomfort.

He chose to divert his course of thought, for his parents’ failed marriage always brought him unhappy memories. Instead, he employed his time thinking of the reason his father had asked for his attendance to London.

His father knew of the importance of spending time with his mother and had never before made such a request. This had to be a significant matter, Trent knew.

He was lost in his thoughts when the sudden halt of the coach threw him out of his stance. Before Trent had a chance to inquire on the matter, he heard a gunshot. Pulling out his own gun, Trent stepped out of the coach and was struck with horror.

Crawley, his most loyal servant, was lying on the ground with blood surrounding him. The impact of the shot had killed him instantly. Trent stood there looking at the man, feeling a surge of emotions.

He felt an aching pain in his chest for the loss of his most trusted man. His heart felt like it would explode, and he knew he needed to bring justice to the men responsible for such a heinous crime. Trent bent at his knees and, with his right hand, closed Crawley’s eyes. It was all that he could do given that the threat was still there, and he would not do Crawley any good by wasting his life as well.

It was then he heard something.

Trent stood up and looked at the source of what had caused a commotion.  “What in God’s name!?” He shouted and pulled out his pistol, only to see a highwayman pointing his gun at Trent’s head.

The road was deserted with no one but the two of them, and Trent was beyond angry at the circumstances. Crawley had worked for Trent for many years and was the only person, except his parents, that he could trust.

“Put your gun down if you know what is good for you.” Trent said to the man pointing the gun at him.

“I ain’t scared of the lot of you. You filthy noblemen.” The man spoke but could not say another word, for Trent tackled him to the ground. The two men fought on the dirt, and Trent felt the hard fist of the man hitting him just below his left eye.

He knew this would cause undoubtedly a bruise.

The other man pinned Trent to the ground and held his gun at him. At that moment, Trent’s entire life flashed before his eyes, and he was at a loss. There was no hope for him, and the only thing that worried him was the knowledge that his very father was awaiting his arrival any minute.

He closed his eyes, praying his last wish. He heard the gun firing and waited to feel that pain. He expected the impact of the gun on him, but he never felt anything. Trent opened his eyes and saw the man holding the gun at him to the ground.

In his stead now stood another man. “Are you okay, sir?”

Trent took in a breath, unable to utter a word. This afternoon had been worse than he had imagined. First, his valet was shot dead, and now he had seen his own death so close. He nodded his head but stayed on the ground. The crippling fear of death was consuming him, and Trent needed a shot of brandy.

Slowly, he stood with shaking legs. In all his life, he had seen men killed before his eyes, but never something as close to feeling it himself. He brushed the dirt off his coat and thanked the man who had saved his life. His eyes went to the lying corpse of Crawley. He was still angry, more so than he had ever.

He looked around and saw the man who had saved him. He tried to compose himself and stand from the ground.

“Thank you. How can I repay the favor, Sir?” Trent asked still shocked.

“Tis was a pleasure that I could be of your service. I require nothing else, Sir.” The stranger said.

“There must be something, lad. What is your name?”, Trent could not believe his luck. He knew he had to return the favor to the man somehow.

“Gerard Fitzroy at your service, Sir.” The young man replied with confidence.

“What is your employment, Gerard?” Trent was curious to learn how he ended up there at the right time.

“Nay, Sir. I was on my way to London to find me some work.” Gerard said with sincerity in his eyes.

Sudden gratitude hit Trent, as well as an idea. “Well, Gerard, I must urge you to come with me. I am sure I can find you some work.”

“Thank you, Sir.” He said with gratitude.

“Nonsense, it is the least I can do for you for saving my life, pal.” Trent knew it was true and that he owed a lot more to him.

He sent Gerard to summon the constable to take account of the events that had happened. He wanted to make sure that Crawley’s death would be looked into. He had been a loyal servant and a good friend, and he had always provided Trent with good advice when asked.

The constable took Gerard and Trent’s statement, and once done, the two men continued on their journey to London. All throughout the way, all that Trent could think was why those men would kill Crawley? It seemed too much to be an accident. Could it be that it was planned —but why?

With uncertainty clouding his thoughts, Trent promised to get to the bottom of the matter.


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The Duke’s Twin Lust (Extended Epilogue)

Five Years Later

“Michael,” Amelia said in a tone she hoped was stern enough to convey her exasperation. “You absolutely cannot take Christian riding with you.”

Michael put on the confused look he liked use nowadays whenever he was seconds away from disobeying her. “Mother,” he said. “Christian needs to learn now. I would hate for him to turn out like you.”

Amelia narrowed her eyes. But, before she could say anything, Christian’s childish voice interrupted her.

“Mama, I want to go,” he said. He had a stubborn look in his eyes, the kind of look Amelia knew from experience meant he was about to throw a tantrum.

“You’re only five years old,” she said, her exasperation growing. Christian had been a lot to handle since the day he’d been born. He also seemed to be getting more trying by the day.

“But I want to go,” Christian said, his lips pursed.

Amelia sighed, turning around for help. But Mary, who was on the other side of the drawing-room, was busy knitting with Christopher, Christian’s twin brother. She appeared to have paid no attention to Christian and Michael’s words.

“Mother,” Michael said. “I promise you we will come to no harm.”

Michael was speaking formally now, the tone he used when he wanted to sound much more like the little lord Ernest was raising him to be.

Amelia pushed her amusement away. “Do you remember when you promised me he would come to no harm some months ago?” She jabbed at the healing scar on Christian’s head.

“I’m going to ride,” Christian said, his chin raised stubbornly. And before Amelia could stop him, he waddled away, his steps full of determination. Michael shot her an apologetic glance before he hurried after the boy.

Amelia buried her face in her arms, her amusement threatening to overpower her. She turned to look at Christopher. Unlike his brother, Christopher much preferred being indoors, learning new words, or watching Mary as she knitted. He also liked to watch Rebecca embroider whenever she visited, asking her whether he could help. He was far easier to handle than Christian was.

“I take it you couldn’t stop them,” someone said from behind Amelia.

Amelia turned around. Smiling at her from the doorway was her husband.

“You,” she said furiously. “I suppose you put the idea in their heads in the first place, didn’t you?”

Ernest grinned. “I merely told the young lads I was an expert rider at five.” He crossed the room in a few steps, standing right in front of her. “You don’t need to worry,” he said. “The stable boys will make sure nothing will happen to them.”

It was far harder to stay angry at him when he was this close to her, staring at her with his intense blue eyes. And so Amelia let out a sigh and turned away, her gaze falling on Christopher and Mary.

“Chris,” Ernest called.

Christopher appeared to not have noticed his father’s appearance. With a squeal, he ran to him, and Ernest lifted him into his arms.

“How are you doing, mister?” Ernest asked as he kissed his son’s brow.

Christopher whispered something to him. Ernest laughed and whispered something back. Amelia watched them, her heart growing warmer by the minute. Over the past five years, Ernest had not only proven to be one of the best dukes she had ever known. He had also proven to be the best father she knew. He was open and loving with his children, making sure to spend as much time with them as he could.

At first, Amelia had had the feeling Ernest would take more of an interest in Christian, as the boy was more interested in physical activities. Christian loved to volunteer to watch Ernest at his boxing lessons or as Ernest rode around the manor grounds. Amelia knew that noblemen usually attached more importance to sons who seemed they would be good at ruling.

But, somehow, Ernest had surprised her. He seemed to cherish his time with Christian, but Amelia knew he had a special bond with Christopher. They often spent hours talking with each other, and Amelia always wondered what they spoke about, especially since they usually liked to keep their talk a secret from everyone else.

Their talk did not take long this time, as Ernest set Christopher on his feet and the boy ran back to Mary.

Amelia turned to him. “If you asked Christian to get on a horse, the least you can do is watch him as he rides.”

Ernest shrugged. “Michael’s help is more than enough,” he said, waving a hand.

Amelia opened her mouth to disagree, but she knew that Ernest was right. Over the past few years, Michael had transformed to one of the best riders at the estate. He had started learning how to box as well, and Ernest often boasted Michael was almost as good as he was. Amelia was not quite concerned about Michael’s prowess at physical activities, though. All she cared about was that Michael had completely accepted her and Ernest as his parents and the twins as his brothers. He had a family once again, and Amelia couldn’t be happier.

“Besides,” Ernest said, his eyes twinkling. “I had a different kind of riding in mind.”

Amelia felt her cheeks grow red as Ernest’s gaze trailed down her body. She glanced at Christopher and Mary, hoping they were not watching. Thankfully, their heads were still bent over Mary’s knitting.

Ernest took her hand and started to pull her away. Amelia grinned, letting him lead the way, already feeling a warmth between her legs. They left the room, and Ernest looked around the empty corridor before he pushed her against the wall and kissed her, leaving her breathless.

Even after so many years of being married to her husband, the effect he had on her couldn’t be hidden. He always made sure to kiss and touch her secretly at every chance he got, leaving her breathless and wanting more. “What was that for?” she asked, panting slightly.

“I just wanted you to know what you’re in for,” Ernest said, before he continued to lead her to their chambers. “I hope you’re all set and ready,” he told her with a wicked smile on his face.

Amelia laughed, feeling the spark of anticipation as she followed the lead. She was ready.

When they reached their bedchamber and Ernest closed the door behind them, she felt his hands on her waist. He suddenly picked her up, leading her to their bed, and Amelia made a high-pitched noise at the unexpected movement, laughing hard.Ernest dropped her gently to the soft mattress of the bed, hovering above her with a loving but lustful stare, which made her heartbeat even faster than before.

“I’m not the one to blame. I have the most beautiful woman in the world as my wife and can’t control myself whenever I’m around her,” he said in a low voice.

“And I’m not the one to blame that I can’t resist the most handsome duke and father of my children,” she replied with a mischievous grin.

He laughed and gave her a playful peck on the nose, before trailing kisses down her body. The only thing she hoped was for this moment and every she shared with him to last forever.

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The Duke’s Twin Lust (Preview)


A brawl had broken out in the inn—again.

As Amelia stared at the stoic faces of the contenders, she sighed in dismay. She could guarantee that she would be saddled with another hour of cleaning tonight because of them.

The fancy lords who lived in manors that touched the sky were often dignified. Often. They ruled over their estates and lands with an iron fist, exerting their power without a care on the less fortunate masses—people like Amelia. They treated their wives with dignity, and if they did not, their wives hid their bruises well. They were supreme, untouchable.

Except for when they came to the inn.

At the inn, the fancy lords let loose of their inhibitions and became basic, basal men, obsessed with exerting their physical prowess over each other. Amelia had seen lords smashing tankards of ale over other men’s heads, had seen gentlemen rid other lords of their teeth, and once, seen a man walk out of the inn with a fractured skull. All of this culminated in extra hours of work for Amelia.

And now, it seemed another brawl was about to start.

Amelia knew one of the contenders: Baronet Payne. He often came to the inn, boasting loudly about his many victories at the racetracks. Amelia had to admit he was handsome, with jet-black hair and green eyes that reflected all shades of colours. But Sir Payne was also the most self-absorbed man Amelia had ever come across in her life. She was certain of it.

Now it seemed he wanted a fight with another gentleman, someone with a scar across one cheek that Amelia had never seen before.

“Are you questioning me, sir? Did you just imply that I am a liar?” Sir Payne said, his loud voice rattling off the walls of the inn.

“He means no disrespect, sir,” the innkeeper said, bustling forward.

Amelia bit back a smile. When the fancy gentlemen fought, the common people had to suffer for it. The last time a fight had broken out at the inn, the lords had walked out with nothing but bruised egos, while the innkeeper had had to pay for the damages out of his own pocket.

Sir Payne raised up a hand to stop the innkeeper. The innkeeper halted respectfully, looking around for help. However, all the men in the inn seemed to be static, their gazes fixed on the two men in the middle of the room.

“I have no wish to quarrel, Sir Payne,” the man with the scar across his cheek said. A smile was twitching at the corner of his lips. “Word has reached me of your prowess in the boxing ring. Why, a famed pugilist like you could cut me in two while trimming his nails.”

There was a bark of laughter from the rest of the men at the inn. Amelia, looking around, understood why. Everyone knew Sir Payne’s stories were more fiction than fact.

Amelia saw Sir Payne’s fingers inching towards the walking stick that everyone knew would have a blade in it as his face reddened. Amelia felt her chest fill with foreboding. This was not going to end well.

“What are you implying, sir?” Sir Payne asked, a vein pulsing in his head.

“Why, that your stories are bilge,” the man with the scar said bluntly.

Amelia’s heart missed a beat. Now it begins.

Sir Payne’s hand closed around a tankard of ale. He grabbed the tankard and smashed it down on the table with such force the container shattered. Rivulets of ale trickled down the table, spilling on the floor. “Sir, I will not have you question my honour.”

“I’m not questioning your honour as a man,” his antagoniser said. “I’m saying you have no honour.”

Sir Payne’s face reddened even more. There was total silence in the inn, broken only by the fragile whimpering of the innkeeper.

Suddenly, Sir Payne let out a hollow laugh. Amelia turned to him, certain she had misheard.

“You make cruel jokes, sir,” he said.

The man raised his brows. Apparently, he was confused by Sir Payne’s sudden about-face. Amelia hoped he would see Sir Payne’s subtle acquiescence and take the hint. The fight was sure to break more than a few bones, if it went on.

Thankfully, the man took the hint.

“Those are the jokes that hit,” the man said.

Sir Payne let out a bark of laughter. He reached across the table and enclosed the other man in a brief, one-armed hug. “You, my friend, are a rascal.”

The man gave a tight-lipped smile.

Amelia sighed in relief. She wasn’t going to spend the night on all fours cleaning up after two crazy lords who wanted a brawl.

“Girl, clean this up,” Sir Payne said, gesturing to the mess made by the tankard he’d smashed.

“Yes, sir,” Amelia said with a curtsy. Going up to the table, she started to pick up the pieces of the tankard. The silence in the inn gradually faded as conversation broke out once more, Sir Payne’s voice prominent amongst the rest.

Amelia resumed sweeping the inn floors, half-listening to the conversations around her. She was listening to Sir Payne’s story of his altercation with another gentleman when the innkeeper’s wife materialised in front of her.

“Amelia,” the woman said. She was holding on to a covered tray.

Amelia smiled at her. She had been working at this inn for several years, and Sarah, the innkeeper’s wife, was the woman who made the job almost bearable. Having taken Amelia under her wing, the woman treated her like a daughter. Amelia loved her for it.

“The lady in room two says there was a long black hair in her pudding,” the innkeeper said, rolling her eyes.

Amelia laughed. “Ladies and their complaints,” she muttered under her breath. Even if gentlemen were wont to break anything they saw, the highborn ladies that frequented the inn were always the worst customers. Fussy and easily irritable, they would complain about the colour of the walls if they had the chance. The inn was located a safe distance from London, and many nobles took their rest there before heading north. So, Amelia dealt with the ladies often.

“I’ve made a fresh plate of pudding for her. I’m sending you up there with it,” the innkeeper said.

Amelia sighed. She would rather clean up the inn after a fight than apologise to some fancy rich lady who was fussy about dinner.

“Do this for me,” the innkeeper’s wife said with a slight wink.

Amelia nodded. She would do anything for Sarah, and Sarah knew it.

Amelia abandoned her broom and held out her hands for the tray. She carried the tray gingerly up the stairs. When she got to the room, she knocked once, as silently as she could.

“Enter,” said a flowery voice that sounded vaguely familiar.

Amelia entered the room, her head bowed. “I apologise for the inconvenience, my lady,” she said, her eyes on her feet. Once, a highborn lady had flung a plate of food at her when she dared to look the woman in the face, and her eyes had smarted for weeks. Amelia had learned the hard way to not look up at highborn ladies while they spoke to her.

Someone approached Amelia and took the tray from her. Amelia chanced a glance at the person. The woman was older, matronly, and looked to be wearing the clothes of a servant.

“Do you still want supper, Your Grace?” the maid said. Amelia felt her eyebrows raise at the realisation that this woman was a duchess.

“Not at all, Mary,” the flowery-voiced woman said. “I’ve rather lost my appetite. Eat it, if you wish. I shudder to think what I would do if I found another strand of hair in my pudding.”

“I apologise, Your Grace lady,” Amelia said, correcting herself and curtsying. The woman sounded frightful. Amelia had grown up on food scavenged from bins. If she had gotten a daily supply of food with hairs in them, she would have been eternally grateful.

“Do you work here?” the flowery voice asked with a light cough. The cough went on for a while, and Amelia, through the corner of her eyes, saw the maid reach for a glass of water.

“Yes, Your Grace,” Amelia said, her eyes never leaving the floor.

“There is absolutely no need to look that petrified. Look at me, girl,” the flowery voice said.

Amelia looked up at the woman, one quick glance.

And then she did a double-take.

Because the woman on the armchair, whose face was extremely pale and who was coughing into her napkin, looked exactly like Amelia.

Amelia stared at the woman in confusion. “Your Grace, you are…”

There was no need to complete the statement. The woman looked every bit as stupefied as Amelia felt.

How was it that they looked exactly alike?

Well, not exactly, Amelia corrected herself. The woman was dressed in a carefully embroidered blue gown that Amelia was certain had taken someone years to make. Her blond curls were done up in the most fantastic of hairstyles, with loose curls framing her oval face. Her blue eyes were rather paler than Amelia’s, and Amelia was certain the woman had more freckles than she did.

In addition, the woman’s every movement spoke of sophistication and elegance, with hands that had never seen the harsh realities of scrubbing a floor or emptying a chamber pot. But Amelia was certain that they were almost exact mirror images of each other. If the woman were to stand up, they would even be of the same height. And if Amelia were to be in a fancy dress, with her hair in a fancy hairstyle, Amelia was sure they would look exactly the same.

“Is this a trick, girl?” the woman said, her voice sounding like a lash. She waved her hand for Amelia to come closer, and Amelia saw a large ring sparkling on one of her fingers. It was the largest ring Amelia had ever seen.

Amelia started. “I’m sorry, Your Grace. Please forgive me.” She was not sure what she was apologising for. Was it abominable for a commoner to look like a duchess?

Amelia looked to the maid for help. The maid seemed to be frozen with shock, as her eyes roamed between the two of them.

“Leave us, now,” the woman said.

Amelia hurried to the door and slammed it shut. Outside, she took deep breaths to calm herself. Behind that door was a woman, a highborn woman, who looked exactly like her, and she had no idea why.

Amelia stumbled down to the dining room in a daze.

“Did the lady give you a fright?”

Amelia stared at Sarah, unable to form words. Waves of shock were still radiating through her body. Somewhere up there was a woman who was the spitting image of her.

“Did she give you grief about the meal?” Sarah asked.

Amelia nodded. She did not know how to tell Sarah what had happened.

“I’m sorry,” Sarah said.

Amelia nodded again, backing away from the innkeeper’s wife and heading for her quarters. Her head was filled with fuzzy images, images she did not want to examine too closely.

Her chamber was a small room that hosted a narrow bed and a chamber pot. Amelia sat on the bed, wondering about the woman. Who was she? She had to be a new visitor at the inn, or Amelia would have met her before. Was there any possibility that they could be related?

Amelia shook her head to clear the thoughts away. There was absolutely no way she was highborn. She had grown up with poor parents, had slaved away for mere pennies when they’d died from consumption. Highborn women did not give their children up to be taken care of in a workhouse.

Amelia cast the thoughts out of her mind as she lay down on the bed. It did not matter why the woman looked like her. All that mattered was making sure they never crossed paths again. She’d enough to deal with and did not need to add rude noblewomen who bore a startling resemblance to her to the list.


It was morning, and Amelia was hard at work sweeping the floors of the inn, when she saw Mary, the maid from the night before, making her way over to her.

“Good morning, girl. Her Grace would like to see you now,” Mary said.

Amelia swallowed. “I am rather busy. If…”

Mary cut in with a sardonic smile. “Her Grace is not someone who appreciates being kept waiting. She has a short temper, you see.”

Amelia felt her heart contract with something close to fear. She cast her broom away and walked with Mary up the stairs. Mary knocked on the door to room two before she entered.

The woman who looked like Amelia was propped up on the pillows. She was coughing into an embroidered napkin as she ushered Amelia and Mary in.

“Your Grace,” Amelia said, curtsying.

“Here, take a seat,” the woman said, gesturing to the stool beside the bed.

Amelia’s eyes widened with shock. She had never—never—been asked to sit down by a highborn lady.

She took the stool, her gaze on the floor.

“I am Lady Christiana Gillingham, the Duchess of Roxburghe,” the woman said. “And who are you?”

“I’m Amelia.”

“Where did you grow up, Amelia?”

“In a cottage about three miles from here. My parents were farmers. They died before I turned sixteen. Afterward, I lived on my own before I started working at this inn.”

“It is amusing how much we look alike, would you not say?” Lady Gillingham said musingly. “I reckon you could look exactly like me if we dressed you up in one of my gowns and did your hair in a more appealing hairstyle.”

Amelia looked up at the woman. Did Lady Gillingham want to pass her off as a long-lost twin?

“I have a proposition for you,” Lady Gillingham said.

“A-a proposition?” Amelia croaked.

“No need to look so scared, girl. I’m not asking you to go on a murdering rampage for me.”

Amelia swallowed. “Of course not, Your Grace,” she said. Lady Gillingham might be rude and condescending, but she did not come across as a murderer.

“I assure you that you will be quite pleased with my plan,” Lady Gillingham said.

“Plan?” Amelia asked. Lady Gillingham had a plan? Amelia felt a thrill of foreboding.

Whatever Lady Gillingham was planning would not be good news for Amelia, she was sure. She would bet anything on that. Ladies never did anything except for their own gain.

“What’s your plan, Your Grace?” Amelia asked, holding her breath.

“It’s quite simple, really. I would like you to become me.”



Amelia blinked. That was not what she’d expected to hear.

“Become you? I’m afraid I do not understand, Your Grace.”

Lady Gillingham coughed into her napkin before she threw her covers aside and stood up. She was as petite as Amelia was, but her movements exuded a powerful force Amelia was certain she lacked. The woman circled Amelia as she explained herself.

“I propose you take my place as the Duchess of Roxburghe. You would be well fed and well taken care of. You would attend balls you only dared to imagine in your dreams, and you would sleep in a chamber the likes of which you have never seen before.”

“Your Grace, but… why?”

Lady Gillingham let out a tinkling laugh that made the hairs on Amelia’s arm stand. “My life is rather dull, I’m afraid. I have grown weary of my lord husband and climbing all those stairs in the estate grows weary after a while. I want to spend a few weeks alone at my father’s estate, bereft of those things that I am supposed to hold dear. Surely you understand the need to want to escape from your life from time to time? You are a maid, are you not?”

Amelia stared at the woman in confusion. Could she mean her words? Did she want Amelia to take her place as a duchess, live in a huge manor and rule over the land with her husband—a duke? It was a life Amelia had never dared to imagine for herself.

The life was idyllic, yes, but the stakes were too high.

“I’m sorry, Your Grace,” Amelia said. “I don’t think I can.”

“And why not?” Lady Gillingham said, and Amelia could detect in her eyes a spark of anger.

“I have been a commoner all my life. I cannot fool people who have known you for years.”

Amelia saw the flash of anger vanish in Lady Gillingham’s eyes. “You need not worry. I assure you I will school you in all things concerning me.”

“Still, Your Grace, I don’t think I can.”

“Why is that?”

“It seems… too complicated.” Amelia’s life was difficult, yes, but her life was hers to live. She would not throw her sane, stable life away for a whirlwind jaunt into Lady Gillingham’s life that would only last a few months.

“I don’t think you understand what you want to give up,” Lady Gillingham said. “I urge you to reconsider.”

Amelia shook her head. “I’m sorry, Your Grace.”

The flash of anger was back in Lady Gillingham’s eyes. “I refuse to let you ignore this proposal.”

Amelia stood up. Her fear was a knot buried deep inside her chest, but she faced the woman squarely. Highborn or not, no woman was going to order her to do something she had no business doing.

“I’m sorry, Your Grace, but I have to reject your offer.”

Lady Gillingham moved closer to Amelia and took her hands. Her touch was surprisingly soft. “Amelia, you have a chance at a life that only exists in your dreams. Any minute concerns you might have are just that: minute.”

Amelia closed her eyes, conjuring up images in her head. Images of her wearing a beautiful ball gown, or ordering servants around as she lay on a featherbed, surrounded by warmth and comfort. And of her in the arms of a handsome man, swirling across the dance floor, never having to work or worry about where her next meal was coming from.

But that wasn’t her life. It was Lady Gillingham’s, and even though the woman seemed desperate to escape the confines of her life, Amelia had no business getting involved.

“I don’t think it is right to fool the people in your life, Your Grace,” Amelia said. She heard the maid draw a sharp intake of breath. Perhaps it was unwise, speaking to a duchess in that manner, but Amelia was past caring. She had work to do. Lady Gillingham had only to lie down on a bed and order her maid around.

Lady Gillingham’s eyes grew cold. “Are you sure that’s your final answer, Amelia?”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

“Then leave us,” Lady Gillingham said.

Amelia hastened towards the door.

“And Amelia,” Lady Gillingham added as Amelia turned the knob.

“Yes, Your Grace?” Amelia asked.

“I assure you, I always get what I want in the end.”

Amelia swallowed as she shut the door behind her. What did that mean?




The Duchess of Roxburghe was the worst lady Amelia had ever come across.

Over the past few hours, she had voiced several complaints, all delivered downstairs by her patient maid. She had asked for a change of sheets, less lumpy pillows, a breakfast prepared specially for her. And now she was asking for total cleaning of her chamber.

“Her Grace says the chamber is too dusty. It worsens her cough,” Mary said, a smile playing at the corner of her lips.

Amelia stopped herself from sighing out loud. What was it with highborn ladies and their excessive demands? Perhaps Amelia would have been less irritated if she hadn’t had the distinct feeling that Lady Gillingham was only going to these lengths because Amelia had refused to accept her offer.

Amelia returned to the room, for the fifth time that morning, with her handy broom. Lady Gillingham was on the bed, bright-eyed and smiling as Amelia walked in.

“Your Grace,” Amelia said, curtsying.

“Amelia, have you been considering my proposition?” Lady Gillingham asked without preamble.

“Yes, Your Grace,” Amelia said. “I have to inform you that my former answer still stands.”

“I think you will change your mind very soon,” Lady Gillingham said, smiling.

Amelia felt unsettled by that statement. What did the woman mean?

She shook her head. It would not do to bother about the esoteric nature of highborn women. Amelia bustled about cleaning the room, dusting the stools and tables, and emptying the chamber pot. Finally, when the room was as clean as it could be, she made to leave.

“Stay,” Lady Gillingham said.

“Your Grace, I have a lot to be getting on with…”

“It is bad manners to refuse a lady’s invitation,” Lady Gillingham said, her eyes flashing.

This time, Amelia could not stop the sigh. She sat down, her head bowed.

“You fascinate me, Amelia,” Lady Gillingham said, standing up. She brushed past Amelia on her way to pick up a hand mirror from the table. “Not many common girls would turn down the opportunity to be a duchess, albeit for only a few months.”

“I suppose I don’t think it is right,” Amelia said.

“And why is that?”

“I lack the social graces you’ve been taught all your life, Your Grace. Even the best teacher in the world couldn’t teach me all of that in a few days. And what would happen to me if I were found out?”

“You underestimate me, Amelia,” Lady Gillingham said, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “I am a very good teacher. Besides, neither my lord husband nor my servants would be expecting you. They would very much assume that you are me.”

“I suppose so, Your Grace, but I think your lord husband would be hard to fool.”

“I doubt that,” Lady Gillingham said, with the slightest edge to her voice. “My lord husband is easy to fool.”

“Your Grace?”

“Our marriage is nothing, a mere sham. We have not even consummated it. He hardly knows the first thing about me.”

Amelia was intrigued by this. She had never glimpsed any insight into a highborn marriage.

“Is that why you want me to take your place, Your Grace?” Amelia asked. That was a forward question, she knew, but she was interested in the answer.

“Hardly,” Lady Gillingham said as she returned to the bed. “My lord husband is nice enough. There just isn’t any spark between us. He tries his hardest, but I cannot simply conjure up feelings that aren’t meant to exist. And his family is simply dreadful.”

Amelia could not believe her ears. Lady Gillingham had everything anyone could ever want; a doting husband, an estate to her name, and a relatively easy life. Yet she complained as though she was a boy in the workhouse. Fancy people would never cease to amaze Amelia.

“So, Your Grace, why do you want this?” Amelia asked.

“I want out of all of it,” Lady Gillingham said. “The balls, the estate, my lord husband. A bit stifling after a while, as I said before. That’s not the life I want. I want more. I want an adventure.”

“Would you like to swap places, Your Grace?” Amelia asked before she could stop herself. She held a hand to her mouth. Her words were going to be the death of her.

Surprisingly, Lady Gillingham let out a burst of laughter, impeded only by a cough. “Why, Amelia, that is exactly what I propose. For you to take my place while I disappear into oblivion for a few months.”

Amelia sighed again. Those few months sounded like a slice of heaven. But something was stopping her. Perhaps it was the knowledge that Lady Gillingham’s life was not as perfect as it appeared to be. Also, what if it was perfect? Would Amelia find it easy, returning to her real life after spending months in an estate being a duchess?

And what would happen if they were found out? Lady Gillingham, of course, would be spared. She was a highborn lady, after all. But Amelia knew the punishment would fall solely on her shoulders. She could be be hanged for impersonating a member of the peerage. And Lady Gillingham, who seemed to like playing with people, would not offer any help whatsoever, she imagined.

Amelia put her thoughts into words. “What if we’re discovered, Your Grace?”

Lady Gillingham smiled. “I assure you that will not happen. No one in my estate can claim to know me well, except Mary, who, of course, would be let in on the plan,” Lady Gillingham gestured to where Mary stood, and Mary nodded. “My lord husband barely visits me. He has no idea what I’m like. I assure you he won’t find out. In a few months, when the weariness has left my bones, we will swap places again, and it will be like nothing happened.”

Amelia shook her head. Lady Gillingham sounded like the most selfish, arrogant highborn lady she had ever met. “Your Grace, it sounds wonderful. It sounds like everything I ever dreamed of, but…”

“Sadly, you have morals and cannot accept my proposal,” Lady Gillingham said, a strange smile playing at the corner of her lips. “I understand, Amelia.”

“I don’t think this is the right thing for me to do, Your Grace,” Amelia said.

“I assure you that this would benefit both of us.”

“How, Your Grace?”

“I get to put my life aside for a while. You get to enjoy the comforts of being a noblewoman before you return back to your regular life. It benefits the both of us tremendously.”

“I see what you mean, Your Grace, but I have several doubts. I don’t think this is honorable. Besides, this is a crime. I would hate to get caught because I am not as elegant as you are.”

“As I said before, I am a very good teacher. Besides, Mary would be there every step of the way.”

“She would?” Amelia asked, turning to stare at Mary.

Amelia stared at Mary. The woman was smiling at her, the same enigmatic smile she’d had on each time she’d gone downstairs to table another of Lady Gillingham’s complaints. Amelia had the vague feeling the woman knew a little more than she was letting on.

“What if something goes wrong?” Amelia said. “I am particularly wary of your lord husband, the duke.”

Lady Gillingham waved away Amelia’s concerns. “I am certain we can fool the duke.”

Amelia stood up. “I’m sorry, Your Grace, but you are asking for too much. I don’t think I’m cut out for this.”

Lady Gillingham sighed. “Very well. I won’t persuade you to do what you have no interest in.”

Amelia sighed in relief. “Thank you, Your Grace,” she said as she headed to the door.

“Wait,” Lady Gillingham said suddenly. “I seem to be missing my ring.”

Amelia turned to her, confused. “Your ring?”

“It’s a prized possession of mine. It was one of the first gifts my lord husband bequeathed onto me. I never go anywhere without it.”

Amelia recalled the ring she had seen the day before. “I’ve seen it, Your Grace. It was on your finger yesterday.”

“It’s missing now,” Lady Gillingham said.

The maid sprang into action, overhauling the covers on the bed and shaking loose the embroidered gowns that hung on the rack beside the door. She searched underneath the bed, underneath the stools, on top of the table. Amelia helped her, her eyes roving over the chamber, searching for a glint of the ring. It was to no avail, however. The ring was missing.

“I’m going to have to search you, girl,” Lady Gillingham said.

Amelia’s heart missed a beat. She had been half-expecting this to happen. Highborn ladies were naturally suspicious of commoners. She felt a flash of irritation.

“Why, Your Grace?” Amelia asked, careful to keep the annoyance out of her voice.

“Are you questioning me, girl?” the duchess asked. Her voice made Amelia jump.

“No, of course not, Your Grace,” Amelia said, backtracking quickly. “I just… we’ve been talking for the past several minutes. I wouldn’t have had time to steal a ring.”

“You cleaned this chamber beforehand. Surely you might have seen the ring and decided it would fetch you a good sum.”

“I assure you, I did not,” Amelia said, taking an involuntary step backward.

“Do you have any qualms about us searching you?” Lady Gillingham said.

Amelia shook her head. The maid stepped forward. Though the woman said nary a word, Amelia thought she could detect an apology in her eyes. Mary patted her down, and Amelia found herself holding her breath.

“Did you find anything?” Lady Gillingham asked.

“No, Your Grace,” the maid said.

“Check her pockets,” Lady Gillingham said.

Mary exchanged a glance with Amelia before she thrust her hands into Amelia’s pockets.

And brought out the ring.

Amelia was frozen where she stood. “What?” she croaked.

“You stole my ring,” Lady Gillingham said, her eyes flashing.

Amelia was as shocked as she had ever been. She had no idea how the ring had fallen into her pocket. It had not occurred to her to even take the ring. She had admired it, yes, but as a vague, distant thing, not as something that could become hers. She had been taught to not steal something of someone else’s, and it had been a rule she had abided by for as long as she’d been alive.

“You saw the ring, girl, and thought it would look good on your finger?” Lady Gillingham said.

Amelia fell to her knees. The world was spinning around her, making her lose her balance. “I swear to you, Your Grace, I did not take your ring.”

“Why should I believe a word you say?” Lady Gillingham said.

Amelia’s head was still spinning. How had the ring gotten into her pocket? Except…

She remembered trying to leave the room and Lady Gillingham asking her to sit down. She remembered Lady Gillingham standing up and brushing past her.

That had to be it. Lady Gillingham had put the ring in Amelia’s pocket.

Amelia stared at the woman’s face, feeling a fresh wave of fear. This woman was deadly.

“I could announce to the innkeeper that you were caught trying to steal my ring. Of course, you would be taken to the block and you would be hanged. Your life would be over within the hour.”

Amelia was speechless with shock.

“Unless…” the woman said.

“Unless?” Amelia said, her heart twisting in fear.

“Unless you agree to accept my offer.”

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