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?


If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

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.


If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

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.”

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

Escaping her Noble Past (Preview)



Melissa jumped, suddenly terrified at the sharp noise, and then stilled herself, listening carefully.

It’s nothing, you fool.

She laughed at nervously and willed herself to relax. She’d been on edge ever since her guardian, Darwin, had left for his card game several hours earlier. Whenever he went out drinking, she knew there would be trouble—and he went out drinking often. There was no one there, though, no other sounds but the heavy beating of her heart. She slid her hand beneath her pillow and felt cool metal beneath her fingertips. She needed to reassure herself that it was still there.

Feeling better, she sat back and gazed out of the window of her bedchamber. The night was deathly still, but the moon was full and bright in the clear sky. There was a glowing halo around it, and it was surrounded by a smattering of stars. Melissa thought it incredibly beautiful, but it was a bittersweet sight. There was so much to the world she hadn’t seen, couldn’t see, especially not since her dear old father, the late Viscount Fairham died. Upon his death two years ago, Darwin Bassford, her father’s distant cousin, inherited the title. Darwin would not allow her out in society until she agreed to marry him. The thought caused an unpleasant shiver to move through her body. Darwin was a brute, plain and simple.

Being only twenty years old, Melissa Atherton was now Darwin’s ward, and she hated that fact almost as much as she hated him. She had no other family. She’d never met her poor mother, who died during childbirth. Her father often told her how difficult that decision had been—save his daughter or save his wife—but that he also knew he’d made the right choice. Even though Melissa was now out of mourning for him, the thought of moving on with her life stabbed her with pain.

She’d recently found the courage to sort through her father’s belongings, and that’s when she had found the pistol that was now hidden beneath her pillow. She hadn’t wanted to touch it at first. It brought back too many memories of going hunting with her father as a young girl. But then she’d remembered what Darwin threatened, and she’d slipped the pistol into her pocket.

And God forbid I ever have to use it.

She would use it if she had to, however. She knew that with unwavering certainty. If she had to, she would shoot the Viscount. She was strong in both body and spirit, though she was of average height and had a willowy figure that gave others the mistaken impression of weakness. Her hair hung down her back in gentle waves, the color of rich chocolate. It was complemented by her pale olive skin and soft ocean-colored eyes. She had a delicate figure that reminded others of a forest sprite. She was lean but possessed physical strength from years of running wild in the country.

Melissa had always been an independent sort, strong-willed and feisty, which made her guardianship even more difficult to bear. Her father had encouraged her independence and intelligence, but Darwin did his best to suppress those traits. She knew why he wanted to marry her, of course. He didn’t love her or even like her, but he wanted the trust fund her father had set up, the one that Melissa would have access to when she turned one-and-twenty. If she married, the money would automatically become the property of her husband.

But that will never happen.

Her head turned sharply to the door when she heard a creaking, and she held her breath to better hear. It was real this time; she knew that with certainty. The floorboards in the hall had always been loose, and now they served as a warning whenever someone approached. No one had any business in that part of the house, not unless they were coming to Melissa’s bedchamber.

She listened carefully. There it was again. Was it Darwin? It had to be; there was no one else. The servants were all instructed to leave her well alone unless serving her meals, and even then, they were not permitted to speak. She missed long conversations with the maids, almost as much as she missed talking to her neighbors.

Melissa swallowed back her fear, trying to slow her breathing. She sat on the bed with her legs curled under her lazily, but her body was taut, tense, as she listened to the creaking. Her fingers caressed the butt of the pistol once more. Its presence easing her a bit. She had protection, a weapon. She did not need to be frightened.

She heard a clink as a key slid into the lock, and she wrapped her fingers around the metal, clutching it tightly. The key turned. She held her breath, waiting. Praying that it wasn’t Darwin outside the door, ready to enter. He would be drunk, of that she was sure, and that was bad.

When the door finally swung open, it slammed against the wall, and Darwin staggered in, holding a candle aloft. Melissa’s hand tightened further around the pistol, but she trained her expression to one of calm innocence as he leered at her. She would only use the gun in an emergency; she promised herself that.

“You’re still awake,” he slurred, the stench of stale whisky coming off him in waves and hitting her even from across the room. “Good. We need to talk.”

“We do?” she asked in a soft voice intended to placate him.

Darwin sucked on his teeth and looked her up and down as if she were a prized broodmare. Melissa suppressed a shudder. He was an ugly man, both inside and out. At nine-and-thirty years old, Darwin looked more like fifty. His skin was sallow, prematurely wrinkled, and always stank of sweat and cigar smoke, and whenever he spoke, the air was filled with a fetid odor.

He was a short man with graying hair and a chin that was forever covered in unattractive stubble. His waistcoats were always stretched too tightly over his protruding belly. And although he feigned the air of a proper gentleman, he never achieved it in dress, word, or deed. He’d been a poor dissolute wastrel before inheriting the title, and he couldn’t believe his luck when the Viscount died, leaving him the estate.

But most of the unentailed money had been left to Melissa, leaving Darwin with less ready cash than he anticipated. She knew that he needed her trust fund, and he would do whatever it took to get it.

“You’re wasting my time, girl,” he sneered. “I gave you more than enough time to mourn; now, you must repay me for looking after you.”

“I never asked for your help. I’m quite capable of looking after myself, thank you very much,” she replied, the sound of her heart thumping in her ears. “And while I appreciate all you have done for me, you have been handsomely rewarded by my father’s wealth.”

“Always so haughty,” he said, laughing cruelly.

He stumbled in his mirth and knocked her silver-backed hairbrush and mirror off the dressing table, upsetting a lamp in the process. Melissa watched wide-eyed. It wasn’t just the disrespect for those treasured things that had once belonged to her mother, but fear for the oil lamp too. He flailed it around as if it was nothing, but it teetered unsteadily and threatened to topple. She jumped from her seat and set it straight. A fire would rip through Fairham Manor in a moment, endangering all within. Darwin laughed at her panic, exposing his crooked teeth. She avoided his gaze, suddenly remembering she had let go of the gun. As calmly as she could, she walked back to the bed.

“Is that all you wanted to say?” she asked. She kept her voice sweet, not wanting to incite him, but she would not bow to his will, ever.

Darwin brayed again, throwing his head back as if she’d said the funniest thing. It was the distraction she needed to slide her hand back beneath her pillow and clutch onto the only thing left in the world that offered her comfort and reassurance. She prayed she would not have to reveal it, but at least she had hold of it now.

“I lost my card game,” he said with a shrug. “I need some cheering up.”

“And there were no light skirts in the club to do that for you?”

Darwin sneered again. “None who would serve me for free. You really do think me disgusting, don’t you?”

Melissa remained silent. She wanted to scream yes, to tell him what a pig he was, but she couldn’t do that. She couldn’t lie either, so she said nothing and simply stared at him. He let out a humorless laugh and sat on the stool opposite her bed.

“On my way home, I got to thinking,” he said almost wistfully. “You and I are not so different.”

“Really?” she asked. It felt as if her skin was crawling with distaste at his proximity.

“I think we’d make a good match, you and me.”

“So you keep telling me.”

“And yet you refuse to listen. So, I’ve come up with a plan.”

Melissa froze. Plan? What sort of plan? She’d so far managed to repel his advances, avoiding his attempts at forcing her into marriage. But Darwin was not a stupid man, and he seemed to come up with more and more ingenious ways of getting her to succumb.

Be strong, Melissa. You do not have to marry him.

“Just imagine,” he said. “What would happen if you disgraced yourself and ended up with child?”

Melissa scoffed at the very idea. “I would never do anything to—”

“What if you ended up with my child in your belly?”

Melissa gasped and shifted further back on the bed, creating distance between them.

“Oh?” He feigned surprise. “You don’t seem as though you like that idea.”

“No,” she said firmly. “I do not.”

He shrugged and got off the stool, turning as if to go. But then he raised a finger in the air and turned back, looking at her questioningly. “There is just one thing, though,” he said as he loomed over her.

“What?” She asked, her breath hitching with trepidation.

Please go away. Please go away.

“You do not have a choice. When I get you with child, you will have no choice but to marry me.”

He took a step forward, his hands raised, ready to grasp hold of her. Melissa scrambled backward, gasping in fear, and then she remembered the pistol already in her hand. With a renewed confidence, she pulled it out and held it steady, her gaze unwavering and her breath even. Darwin was clearly shocked by the turn of events. He threw his hands up in submission and stumbled back a bit, but his surprise only lasted a matter of seconds. He laughed sardonically, shaking his head at the very notion of the little mouse pulling the trigger, though he still didn’t lower his arms.

“My, my, little Melissa, where did you get that? You’re a big bad girl now, eh? Trying to frighten me away.”

“Stay away from me,” she said.

“Or what?” he asked, mocking her with his tone. “Is little Melissa going to shoot me? Her loving and protective guardian? The only family she has left?”

“You’re no family of mine,” she snarled. “And you never will be. Don’t come any closer.”

He chuckled again, and the sound of it grated on Melissa. How she detested his laugh. “It was a nice try,” he said. “But we both know you wouldn’t dare shoot me. I’d wager you’ve never fired a gun in your life.”

Melissa closed her eyes and allowed herself to go back to the times she went hunting with her father, his words ringing in her ears.

Stay calm. Don’t think about it. Let your intuition guide you.

When Darwin moved to her again, she locked her arms into place, blocking out the sound of his laughter and aimed.

“That is where you are wrong,” she said before she pulled the trigger.

Darwin let out an agonizing yelp. Melissa studied him, a little shocked that she had actually done it. She pursed her lips; her aim had been a little off. Darwin fell to the floor desperately clutching the leg she’d shot, a pool of rich scarlet blood spreading around him.


Chapter One

James Langley, the Duke of Lornadale, stood in the entrance hall of his London residence and watched helplessly as yet another lady’s companion stormed out of the door, suitcase in hand and a look of fury across her face. That was the third one this year to charge out in indignation. He had to do something, make some sort of definitive decision. He glanced over at his sister, who shrugged at him innocently as if she hadn’t been the cause of this mess.

“What did you do to frighten this one away?” he asked his lips in a tight, disapproving frown.

“I did absolutely nothing,” Rebecca replied imperiously, the picture of blamelessness. “It’s not my fault you keep hiring incompetent woman who are incapable of keeping up with me.”

James was nine-and-twenty years of age, but the last six years of being a Duke and his sister’s guardian made him feel a good deal older. Weariness made his bones heavy, and Rebecca did not help with her frivolity and mischief. He just didn’t know what to do with her anymore. Still, it was not all bad. He had a lofty title and accompanying wealth. He was also handsome, according to the ladies who flirted with him nightly. Though of average height, he had an athletic build. His years of fencing made him lean and contoured with muscles in all the right places and handy with a sword.

His hair was a rich coffee brown and always perfectly groomed, and he wore stylish sideburns. Like his father before him, he had green eyes often remarked upon for their unusual hue. He thought they made him stand out, just the beginning of his uniqueness. He had a good head for numbers and he adored reading scholarly works, though fanciful literature had never really attracted him.

However, he found himself occasionally lonely and sometimes pondered taking a wife. But he consistently and quickly put that thought out of his mind. After witnessing the terrible lack of faithfulness in his parents’ marriage, he shied away from commitment and often feared that his baser urges made him just as bad as his father. His poor mother had been destroyed by it, and though he loved his father, the late Duke had not been particularly remorseful for his many indiscretions. Besides, there was Rebecca to look after, and she was his priority. Marriage would have to wait if it came at all.

“What am I going to do with you?” He sighed, rubbing his hand over his eyes as he shook his head. “As if I don’t have enough to do with running the Duchy, I now have to search for another companion for my wild sister!”

Rebecca shrugged. “Again, that’s not my problem, is it? As my guardian, these things are your responsibility, are they not? Besides, I have never asked for a companion; it was you who deemed it necessary.”

James sighed again. Sometimes it felt as though his sister enjoyed making his life as difficult as possible. She was undoubtedly unruly, and she steadfastly refused to abide by the strict rules of society as she saw fit. She even rejected the notion of marriage, claiming she had no need for a husband to take possession of her person and life.

Such a ridiculous notion!

He didn’t begrudge supporting her, but he hoped to find someone who could love and protect her in a way he couldn’t. Finding her a match would be nothing short of a miracle, though, not the least because she did not want it, but also because she invariably scared them away with her reckless nature and outlandish ideas. James really did have no idea what to do with her.

At ten-and-eight years of age, she was a beautiful young woman with a lively spirit. She was lithe and slim, and she had skin like alabaster. The green of her eyes was a shade lighter than that of her brother, and her sun-kissed brown hair fell around her face in bouncy curls. She knew she was attractive and played on her beauty, teasing the men James had picked as potential suitors until they fell for her, flirting coyly only to turn them away as soon as she knew they wanted her.

She was quick-witted and animated, and loved to laugh above all things. James adored her as his baby sister, but that adoration did not temper his exasperation at her conduct.

“These things may be my responsibility,” he replied, speaking slowly in an attempt to keep his irritation in check. “But that doesn’t mean you should deliberately frighten away every woman I hire to teach you how to go about in society. I have quite enough to do as it is.”

“Deliberately frighten?” she repeated, seemingly offended by his words. “I don’t deliberately do anything. I am just me, and I refuse to let anyone change me—especially not for the arbitrary rules of the ton. Besides, I have no need of a teacher.”

“Of course you have need,” he snapped. “Someone has to guide you.”

“I don’t need—”

“And to chaperone you at the very least! For goodness’ sake, Rebecca, you know this as well as I do. You are merely acting stubborn for the sake of it, and I cannot understand it. If Mother were here, she would sort you out in a trice.”

“But alas,” Rebecca sang, tilting her head and smiling. “Mother isn’t here, so I guess you’ll just have to find a way of dealing with me instead.”

She skipped happily away, making James want to scream in frustration. No, their mother was not there, and James knew Rebecca didn’t even remember her. If she did, she would be more considerate with her throw-away words. The late Duchess had died unexpectedly, a short time after Rebecca was born. James had always suspected it was due to a broken heart brought on by his father’s latest romantic escapade with a French opera singer being bandied about town.

“Don’t walk away from me,” he called. “I’m not finished with you.”

He marched after her through the long corridors of Lornadale Manor. The walls were intersected with thick oak doors that had been intricately carved, each leading to a different room in the house. James had recently had the whole house redecorated, and now the corridors were lined with pale yellow silk adorned with subtle gray flowers and tiny birds. It served to both modernize and brighten what were once rather dull and dark spaces, but James would never alter those beautiful doors.

“What do you want now?” Rebecca asked over her shoulder. “Don’t you have to go looking for a new companion for me?” She grinned mischievously at him, and he shook his head, somehow still incredulous even though this behavior was nothing new.

“I want you to stop walking and listen to me,” he demanded.

Rebecca stopped suddenly though she didn’t turn around, and James nearly knocked into her!

“For goodness’ sake!” he snapped yet again, barely biting back the growl of annoyance he felt. “Do you like to see me so riled? Is that it?”

“Only when I know what you are going to say,” she said, smirking at him.

“And what, pray tell, am I going to say?”

She spun around to face him, twirling her hair and looking young and sweet. “Oh, just that the season has been disastrous so far—”

“To say the least,” he interjected. She nodded her agreement though she didn’t look like she much cared.

“And that if I don’t start behaving like a proper young lady, I shall never find myself a husband.”

“That is equally true,” he said.

She shrugged, then turned and marched off. James hesitated, astonished that she walked away from him yet again.

“I still have high hopes, though,” he called. “It’s still possible to find you a suitor who can—”

“I don’t need a suitor,” she shouted for perhaps the hundredth time that season. “I am quite content as I am.”

“Well, I am not,” James said, all his frustrations and irritations coming out in a bark. She must have noticed the emotion in his response, for she stopped and turned, looking at him steadily.

“I am genuinely sorry you are not content, brother,” she said in a more demure, quieter voice. She seemed sincere in that, at least, and James felt himself soften ever-so-slightly.

“That’s something, at least,” he said with a sigh. “Listen, why don’t we visit Aunt Martha for a few weeks? I believe she would like that.”

He didn’t just believe she would like it. He knew she would love it. Aunt Martha had great affection for her niece and nephew.

He didn’t just believe she would agree. He knew she would. He’d already written to her and made the arrangements. He saw the surprise in Rebecca’s eyes. She hadn’t been expecting that.

“Aunt Martha! What on earth for?”

“I suggest a little guidance from a true lady would serve you well,” he said. “You obviously are not faring well with the companions I am selecting. I believe you would benefit from the influence of an older, refined lady.”

“But Aunt Martha, of all people!” Rebecca shook her head in disbelief. “She’s an eccentric old bat.”

James could barely stop himself from guffawing at that. His little sister certainly didn’t mince words, but she wasn’t entirely off the mark regarding their aunt. “I thought you liked Aunt Martha,” he said.

“I do like her,” Rebecca replied.

“But I wouldn’t have thought you’d deem her a suitable influence, seeing as she has never married. Are you certain you want a spinster to teach me etiquette?”

“She’s certainly eccentric,” James admitted. “And indeed, she never married, but she does understand what is required of a young lady, and she knows how society works. She will help you learn how to behave properly. How to navigate the ton. And perhaps, by the next season, you will be civilized enough to attract and keep the attention of a worthy suitor.”

Rebecca pushed her bottom lip out in a pout, making her look ten years old again. “But I don’t want to learn how to behave like a brainless debutante. I like who I am.”

“Regardless, we’re going,” he said firmly. “Whether you like it or not. We’ll spend the summer at Chidswell Manor. At the very least, you can enjoy the country air, ride your horse or… take up painting outdoors, or some such ladylike pursuits.”

And, with a bit of luck, Aunt Martha’s decorum will rub off on you.


“You’d best begin packing. I will send an express to Aunt Martha to alert her of our plans. We will leave at first light tomorrow,” he informed her, raising his eyebrows to warn her not to protest further.


Chapter Two

Melissa froze for a long moment, staring down in horror as Darwin writhed on the floor, screaming and begging for help. Her aim had definitely been off; if she had shot true, Darwin would not be bleeding so badly. She still held the pistol, but her hand shook now, and her breathing was shallow. She made no move to help him, though, not after all he had done to her. Only seconds passed before the housekeeper, Mrs. Dalton, burst into the room to investigate the noise.

“Oh, my lady, are you all right?”

She looked down at the injured Darwin and gasped, a hand flying up to her mouth and her eyes open as wide as they would go.

“What’s happened? What…”

When she looked back up, she noticed the pistol in Melissa’s hand, and stopped short.

“He was… I… He…” Melissa began, unable to form a complete sentence in her shock.

“It will be all right, my lady,” Mrs. Dalton said soothingly, gathering herself and beckoning Melissa to her. “Come now.”

Melissa focused on the housekeeper’s kind face and shook herself. She nodded, and, grasping the older woman’s hand, they ran from the room. Melissa didn’t even look at Darwin’s writhing body as she left. His screams were quietening as if the very life was draining out of him, as if he could no longer expend the energy. Melissa hadn’t—couldn’t—let go of the pistol. Once in the hallway, Mrs. Dalton turned and pulled the door shut, holding a finger to her lips to warn Melissa to be quiet. Melissa nodded, mute and grateful for the housekeeper’s unexpected help. She took hold of Melissa’s wrist and pulled her into the room opposite, closing the door behind them. Melissa started talking immediately.

“I didn’t mean to injure him so badly; I just wanted to stop him before he could—”

“Shush now, my lady. It’s going to be all right,” Mrs. Dalton repeated.

She was a kindly, matronly woman of five-and-forty, and she’d been there for Melissa ever since she was a motherless babe held in her arms. She’d helped nurse her, then tutor her, then care for her, and Melissa felt incredibly close to the woman, feeling like she was more family than servant. Now, she spoke in those soft, dulcet tones that she always used when Melissa was upset, and it was almost too much.

“What am I going to do?” Melissa whispered urgently, blinking in her fight against the tears that threatened to come.

“You’re going to stay in this room and wait. I’ll pack you a bag with some of my frocks, then we’ll smuggle you out of this house. Once I know you’re safely on your way, I’ll send for help for the master. He’ll never know it was me who helped you escape.”

“But he had to have seen you in the room,” Melissa said, her eyes darting in near panic.

“No, my lady.” Mrs. Dalton shook her head firmly. “He was far too focused on his pain to notice his surroundings. I’m certain he did not see me there.”

“And if he did see you?”

“I’ll say he was delirious, confused, out of his mind.”

Melissa wasn’t convinced that would work, but it was all she had right now, and if anyone could do it, Mrs. Dalton could.

“But where will I go?” she asked, her voice barely a squeak.

Bile rose at the back of her throat. She was finally getting her freedom, but at what cost? Darwin would never allow this to go unpunished—if he survived at all. That thought sent another shiver through her.

Have I just killed a man?

“I have a cousin,” Mrs. Dalton said quickly. “Lives about twenty miles from here. She’ll take you in until everything dies down. She’s a good woman; she’ll look after you and help you decide where to go from there. It’s only three weeks until you turn one-and-twenty, don’t forget. Now, you stay here and—”

“Mrs. Dalton, wait,” Melissa said, tugging on the housekeeper’s arms to stop her from going out. “You do know that I didn’t… it wasn’t….” She needed her old retainer to know that she hadn’t intended to kill Darwin.

Mrs. Dalton nodded her understanding. “Yes, my lady, I know. The whole staff have seen the way Lord Fairham has treated you since the death of your father, my dear, and we have all been on the receiving end of his drunken anger. Please, worry not, but we really must hurry now if we’re to get the master to a physician.”

“Thank you,” Melissa said, taking Rose’s hand and squeezing it.

Mrs. Dalton bowed her head and then fled from the room, her black skirts billowing behind her. Melissa watched her go, then turned and looked around the room. It was a spare bedchamber, set up ready for visitors though none had come since Darwin had inherited the title and estate. Now, it simply looked sad and empty, a ghost of what it had once been and of what Melissa’s life was—one full of happiness and friendship, a long-ago past when she hadn’t been quite so alone.

She looked down at her gown and gasped. The hem was splattered with blood and worse—the pistol still hung heavily from her hand. With a squeal, she threw the thing onto the bed and turned away from it. Shooting a man, it turned out, was very different from shooting deer, but she didn’t regret her actions, not for a single second. Darwin deserved everything he had coming to him, and this was the catalyst that would see Melissa away from him for good.

She reminded herself of Mrs. Dalton’s words. It’s only three weeks until you’re one-and-twenty. Then, she would be able to access her trust fund, and Darwin’s guardianship of her would be at an end. He would no longer have any power over her. All she had to do was survive those three weeks. With that thought in her head, Melissa sat in an armchair and awaited Mrs. Dalton’s return.

“My lady, my lady,” the housekeeper said as she bustled into the room some time later.

“Is everything ready? Is Darwin… still alive?”

“Yes, my lady, to both questions,” Mrs. Dalton said. “I peeked in on him a moment ago; he is unconscious but breathing. Now we need to get you changed and gone. I have a small bag packed, and Jack is sorting you a horse. You need to get out of that soiled dress now.”

“Jack! You told the stable boy?” Melissa could hear the panic in her own voice, but she couldn’t stop it.

“I had to, my lady, if I was to see you away from here safely. We can trust Jack; he’s a good lad. I’ll see to it he has extra bread and dripping with his dinner tonight. Come now, let’s get you dressed.”

Mrs. Dalton worked quickly, pulling off Melissa’s soiled clothes and replacing them with a navy-blue colored frock of her own. The dress was a tad big on Melissa, but not enough to make it unwearable. Melissa pulled her hair into a tight bun, and Mrs. Dalton secured it with a ribbon, then pushed the small bag into her mistress’s hands. Melissa looked at it sadly and knew she’d have to repay her housekeeper once she reached her majority.

“I know,” Mrs. Dalton said as she balled up the dirty gown. “It’s not a lot, but it’s the best I could do in the time. I’ll do my best to protect the rest of your belongings until such time you’re able to come back and claim them.”

Melissa’s eyes swam with tears, though they did not spill over onto her cheeks. She’d wanted her freedom for so long, but not like this. Not with all this heartache and turmoil.

“Don’t you be crying now, my girl,” Mrs. Dalton said affectionately. “All will be well; you just wait and see. Now hurry, I told Jack to call for the physician as soon as he was finished with the horse.”

“What about that?” Melissa asked, pointing at the gown in Mrs. Dalton’s hands. “Won’t that give me away?”

“It’ll be on the fire before anyone has a chance to see it. But, my lady, we must go right away if we’re not to be discovered by the master’s man.”

Melissa understood. Darwin’s manservant was a nasty piece of work. She didn’t want to be discovered by him. The pair crept down the servant’s staircase and out the back of the house, where Jack waited with a horse.

“M’lady,” Jack said, bowing awkwardly.

“Jack,” she said in a hushed voice. “Thank you so much for doing this.”

“Anything for you, m’lady,” he said, taking the bag from her. He strapped it to the dappled gray mare. “You’ve been good to us, you ‘ave, m’lady, and we’ll be sad to see you gone.”

With a grunt of effort and a good deal of help from Jack, Melissa lifted herself onto the horse and settled into the saddle. She pulled the hood of her cloak up. She didn’t want any of her neighbors seeing her escape.

“She won’t be gone forever with any luck,” Mrs. Dalton said, wringing her wrinkly hands together as she watched. “Three weeks, remember, my lady.”

“Three weeks,” Melissa nodded.

“Oh! I almost forgot!” Mrs. Dalton pulled a scrap of folded parchment from her pocket. “For my cousin,” she said. “I thought it would smooth your way to have a letter from me. I don’t give any details; I just introduce you and beg her for her help. I’ll write her a proper letter as soon as I can, but this should be enough for now.”

“Thank you both,” Melissa said with genuine sincerity. “I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“God speed, m’lady.”

“Stay safe, my lady, and don’t ever forget there are people who love you dearly.”

Melissa couldn’t say another word, not without risking tears or leaping from the horse to embrace these two selfless people. Instead, she turned the horse and rode away as fast as she could go.

The air was cool, and though she was covered in a light sheen of perspiration, she was soon shivering in Mrs. Dalton’s thin gown. Melissa and her gray pounded through the cobbled streets until the lanes turned to mud tracks, then past the last of the houses and farms on the outskirts of town. She rode across the empty fields, not another person in sight. She could feel her cloak billowing around her, the wind pushing her hood back and sending tendrils of cold down the back of her neck as her curls tickled her cheeks.

“That’s it,” she said in a soothing voice. “We can do it, just keep going.”

Ostensibly, she spoke to the mare, encouraging the horse on despite the cold and the darkness, but deep down, she said it to herself, to keep herself going. She was used to horses. It was something she had enjoyed doing with her father, though it felt like a lifetime ago now. Darwin never allowed her to use any of his horses. But riding through the night with only a vague sense of where she was going, running away—that was different.

Melissa Atherton had confidence that she outshone many of the town gentlemen, let alone fine ladies. She was a force to be reckoned with, and she would stand up for what she believed in without showing even a drop of fear. She could face anything, anyone, and she would meet her current situation with courage too. That didn’t mean, however, that she wasn’t terrified both for her safety and for whatever came after this.

“Come on, girl,” she said, driving the mare faster. “Come on, the sooner we get there, the sooner we can rest.”

Eventually, they left the fields and met the road again. A small village taking shape. They rose past small homes, a quaint tavern, a farmhouse with a candle flickering in an upstairs window. The town was slumbering, and Melissa wished she could sleep herself, but she needed to put as much distance between herself and Darwin as possible. She thought she could hear a rhythmic sound, so she tilted her head curiously, slowing the horse, wondering what it could be. When the sound continued, she quickened their pace, fearful of what was coming. Suddenly there was a loud retort.

The mare whinnied loudly and rose up onto her hind legs. Melissa clutched desperately to the reins, pushing her body closer to the horse in a frantic attempt to stay on.

“Easy there, girl,” she cried. “Calm down.”

But it was no good. The horse was spooked, terrified by the noise and whatever it denoted. She landed back on her front hooves with a thud and just as quickly reared up again, her cry ringing out into the quiet night.

Melissa lost hold of the reins and was tossed out of the saddle, landing hard on the ground. Her head connected with a large rock, and her body went limp as she fought to draw air into her lungs. Darkness clouding her vision, she watched helplessly as the mare disappeared in the trees.

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

The Bastard’s Forbidden Kiss (Preview)


Chapter One

The London streets were dodgy, wet, and smelled of urine–just as he remembered. Martin Barnwall was back in England.

Lawks, he never thought he would be here again. When he’d left for the Continent at eighteen, he did so without looking back once. He may be the son of a duke, but that did little for him when he was a bastard, as well. According to the ton, any money or good looks he inherited from his father meant nothing when he didn’t have the title to accompany it.

High society, that is what drove him out of here in the first place. He despised it. The way they turned up their noses at him, or anyone else that didn’t fit perfectly within their rigid, outdated, and extremely British narrative. He only had to take one look at the shiny boots and frilly hair around him to know that nothing had changed in the past six years that he’d been gone.

But it would be good for business, being back in England. At least, that’s what he told himself. And—unfortunately for him—if he was going to make anything of himself, he supposed he’d have to do it here. He’d face down his demons and the ghosts of his past and he’d come out on top. That was the plan. He sighed as he felt the carriage slow, the horse hooves growing quieter and quieter until they stopped completely.

“You’re going to the Duke o’ Dudley’s house?” the coachman asked him, giving him a wary look. But Martin was used to that, as he’d been getting that look all his life. It was just what happened when your father was a duke and your mother was a housemaid.

His parentage may have been an open secret, but he still was not allowed the finer things in life. He was dressed in the clothes he had brought from France, and they were ratted ones at that—ill-fitting, uncomfortable and, he had to admit, not particularly fresh-smelling. Even for all that, however, Martin Barnwall cut a more impressive figure than the dandies mincing along the London streets in their tight trousers and styled curls. He broke his reverie to answer the coachman’s query.

“I am indeed bound for the Duke of Dudley’s,” he confirmed. But then he thought of his father—thought of being in that house again and the angry memories that awaited him there.

“Wait! No. Do not take me there. Drop me off in town, please, near an alehouse.” He’d need a good, stiff drink before he’d be able to countenance an audience with the duke. Not some fancy leggy port one might get at the bloody opera, something strong. Preferably a healthy pour of gin, unsullied.

“As you wish,” responded the coachman, a bit disappointed to lose the longer fare and the potential for a larger tip.

He pulled the coach to a stop and Martin leapt out. He let his gaze wander over the muddy streets that bustled with activity—legal and otherwise. Martin had not forgotten his way around this part of town. There was a pub just a short walk from here. The Boar’s Head. He had used to frequent it back when he still lived in his father’s servant quarters with his mother, who still to this day worked for the man, the duke, the casual seducer of housemaids, the hypocritical louse.

Ah, the memories. Martin chided himself. Back in those years, as a youth with the first hint of mustache and full of resentment of his situation, he’d sneak out and have an ale and chaser and bemoan his life with the low and the miserable, as if any of the poor men there cared about his troubles. He was perhaps somewhat disgraced when he left, a bastard leaving for France, of all places. But if they served him at thirteen, he doubted they’d have a moral complaint about serving him now. The coachman cleared his throat, recalling Martin to the obligations of the moment.

“Here you go. On your way, now.”

“And a good day to you, sir.”

Martin tipped the carriage driver and then the horses were off, leaving him alone with the London night. It was muggy and wet, a bit chilly—heavy, even. Perhaps he should’ve asked to be dropped off right at the pub. But the horses were already off, and there was no use crying over it. He had dealt with this weather for eighteen years; he couldn’t possibly have gone soft so quickly.

There were some people out and about. A couple of soused rounders on the same street that he expected they sat on every night, a giggling girl who was much too pretty to associating with the well-dressed older man she was with. An adventuress, most likely. He chuckled, thinking of the man spending all his money on this girl, feeding it into her pocket, and going back to his high society peers and acting as if nothing had happened. Hypocrites, all of them.

He took a closer look at her, just to make sure she was not in distress. She seemed quite in control of her aged companion, however, and he knew better than to get between a courtesan and her coin.

So, he kept walking, heading towards the Boar’s Head and taking in the city around him. It was better at night, he thought. More human. With real people out and about. He had almost reached the pub when he heard it.

It started with arguing. A man’s voice was most prominent, but he heard a woman, too. She sounded panicked. And he sounded angry. Then Martin heard a scream—a shrill, anguished shriek that hit his ears so hard he wouldn’t be surprised if they bled, leaving a ringing echo even after it had subsided. Instinctively, he ran towards the noise, his need for gin mostly forgotten at the thought of someone in trouble.

“Let me go!” he heard the woman say. “Leave me be!” She sounded breathless, and he thought he heard sounds of struggle, an angry oath as a well-aimed boot met a shin, perhaps. Good on her, Martin thought, quickening his pace.

“Be quiet, you bloody whore,” the man said. The voices were closer; he was almost to them now. Footsteps shuffled about on the road and the sounds of struggling and heavy breathing were louder.

“What are you going to do with me, you… you monster!” she cried. He could see her now. She was young, couldn’t be more than sixteen. Her dress was covered by a long, white apron. A maid.

“I haven’t decided yet,” the vile man told her when he finally got her into his arms. “Can’t decide if you’ll be mine, or if I’ll sell you off. Could make me a pretty penny, you. Either way, you’re comin’ with me.”

Lawks. This man was crazy. And this girl was in grave danger.

Unwilling to waste another minute while the man struggled to get the maid into his carriage, Martin yipped to get his attention and began to run towards him. The road was cobbled and uneven as he pounded his feet against it, rushing toward the man who was once again trying to get the girl into the carriage, yelling expletives and pushing her to it. But Martin was faster. His heart thumped in his chest as he got closer. He had no idea what he was going to do; he only knew that he had to protect her.

“Get off of her!” he yelled in a low, carrying voice that pounded off of the brick and stone. The man finally noticed him, a panicked look crossing his sullen features. His hands tightened and the woman let out a wail of pain.

Martin was almost at him now, only a couple more steps, when the man grunted loudly at the maid’s struggling and seemingly gave up. Throwing her down onto the ground with all his strength, the man buggered off in the other direction.

Martin looked at the girl below him. “Are you alright?” he asked, carefully offering his hand to assist her back up.

She nodded, eyes wide while she looked at him. “Yes,” she said, “I… I believe I will be fine.”

He nodded, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder and glancing behind himself to see how far the man had gotten.

“You can go after him,” she assured him, clearly reading his conflicted face. “I certainly would feel safer with that man gone, wouldn’t you?”

She gave him a smile. Though it was small and unconvincing, it was enough to get him chasing off behind him, hot on the trails of the thankfully slow man.

“Wait a moment! What’s your name?” she called after him. He paused, looking back at her while he tried to keep moving.

“Martin. Barnwall.” And then he was back off.

Perhaps the ruffian didn’t expect Martin to pursue him for the sake of a young maid—and many of the people in this town likely wouldn’t. Regardless, he seemed shocked to glance behind himself and see Martin barreling towards him. He must’ve looked a fright. Six feet and three inches of a dark-haired, long-limbed, well-muscled man, likely totally disheveled. Good, Martin thought. Let him be scared.

The man wasn’t fast, so the chase was over quick enough. An inelegant stumble of his foot on an unanticipated curb just made it easier for Martin to reach him and tackle him to the ground. The man struggled and flailed under him as Martin climbed atop him, avoiding the kicks or punches that were unsuccessfully thrown his way.

“What? Do you not like this treatment for yourself?” he asked, getting the thrashing man under his control.

“You’re wingin’ me arm,” was gritted between dirty teeth. Martin rolled his eyes, twisting the arm just a bit more for effect.

There are few things that Martin Barnwall could not tolerate. A bloody disgusting free-trader trying to steal a woman was quite easily one of them. A girl, no less. This man was going to gaol if he had to take him himself.

He scrambled to his feet, taking the bounder with him. It wasn’t a long walk to the closest gaol, and he wouldn’t be able to enjoy any gin until this scrub was shackled.


Chapter Two

Abigail could hear her father from where she sat in the library. He was moaning with distemper and coughing up something awful. She frowned, wishing she could do something, anything to help. The physician was coming in nearly every day now with different herbs and instruments to use on the earl, but nothing was working. He was failing.

She had spent a lot of time in her father’s bedchamber when he first became bedridden. Reading to him, or taking her tea at his bedside. But recently she had been avoiding the room. He was often asleep, or at best delirious, and it hurt to see him so weak. They may not have been the closest of families, but since the death of her mother he was all that she had. Her hope for his recovery was dwindling, and she feared what would come next. Fear of his death, and fear of what might become of her if he did perish.

How she wished daughters could be heirs. That she could take control of the house, get her father better care than that leech of a physician, and let the servants live about the house with her. She could read all day and assist Mrs. Allen in the kitchen or Mr. Bragg in the garden.

But that was just a dream. Fiction. The truth was that she was one-and-twenty, unmarried, and soon to be orphaned, and she had little faith in the man who would take the earl’s title. She shuddered at the mere thought.

She continued with her reading, nose buried in the novel she had bought from Hatchards that morning. Then she heard the knock at the door. Someone had come into the home. She heard the loud wooden door creak and Mrs. Allen, the housekeeper, speaking to someone down the stairs. Abigail couldn’t hear the name announced, but they were not expecting anyone. The physician had already left for the day.

She stood, marked her place in the novel and placed it back on the bookshelf. Making her way out of the library, she listened for another clue as to who had come in. The voice sounded familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it yet. Perhaps the physician had forgotten something.

Abigail made her way down the long, blue hallways, ignoring the portraits and paintings she’d seen a thousand times before. “Lady Abigail!” she heard Mrs. Allen call for her. She didn’t answer, just continued on her way to the drawing room. She had just reached the descending stairs when she saw him.


Robert Dowding, her cousin. Her father’s heir. And an absolutely despicable man. The mere thought of him made her shiver with distaste. The sight of him was worse; even one glance at him, and Abigail felt physically ill. His hair and skin sat slick on him, cruelty seeped from him. This was the boy who would put on his nice riding boots and nonchalantly tread on her slippered foot as a child, the boy had who laughed aloud, jeering at her when she received word of her mother’s death. This was, now, the man who was going to step into her father’s place when he inevitably and, it would appear, imminently, joined his wife in death.

“Why are you here?” she asked,

“Why, I am here to take over my house,” he said with a large smile. It didn’t reach his eyes, though. It never did. His eyes were always blank and wicked no matter what shape his face was twisted into.

“Your house?” she repeated, not wanting to believe what she was hearing. The disrespect of this man, coming to ‘claim’ his property before her father even perished.

“Yes, my house,” he growled, lip curling into a scowl. He took a step towards her, looking down, she knew, so that he might be more intimidating. But she didn’t stand down. “I’ll be the Earl of Wolster soon, won’t I? Might I start acting like it?”

“How did you know my father was sick?” she asked. She certainly had not written him.

“He wrote me, darling,” Robert said with a smirk. “Seems someone on this side of the family has their head on right.”

“I hardly think my father would be chomping at the bit to hand the reins to you, cousin,” she gritted out. He didn’t even falter.

“Well, I suppose what you think doesn’t matter, does it?” he said smugly, a wide smile painted onto his pale face. “Since you’re not the heir, that is. Cousin.”

There was no use talking to Robert. Ever. And especially not now. Not wanting to fall into one of his traps, Abigail simply turned to leave. Ready to return to the library and, hopefully, not come out for the remainder of her cousin’s visit.

“Oh, and Abigail?” he called after her, that ever present air of distaste in his voice.

“Yes, Robert?” she responded tiredly.

“You may call me milord.”

No. She may not. She rolled her eyes of him. “What do you want, Robert?”

“You should start looking for a husband presently,” he told her flippantly, as if it was nothing. As if he wasn’t demanding something of her that would be nearly impossible. “I have no use for a ward.”

“Excuse me?” Even Robert couldn’t be so cruel as to push her out of her own home. Would he?

He would. “Find a match,” he reiterated. “Soon. If you do not, I will be forced to find one for you.”

And with that, he sauntered off to the guest wing, whistling a bit to enjoy his new estate.

Abigail had an awful taste in her mouth. Find a match? Now? So soon? Her father had never pushed her, never. She didn’t even know many eligible men, for spending so much of her time in the past year caring for her father had left little room for last season’s events. Her dowry, she guessed, might be enough for some boring society bloke out there, but that’s not what she wanted. That had never been what she wanted.

Abigail had always wanted a love match. Since she first understood what marriage was, she dreamed of the way her heart might beat when she saw her love for the first time, the way her lips might tingle after a kiss. She wanted to be hopelessly in love with her husband, to not be able to imagine life without him. How was she supposed to find that?

“Robert!” she called after him just as he was about to round the corner to the hall. He stopped, turning towards her.

He looked at her quizzically, clearly not expecting her last bit of gumption.

“You may be the future Earl of Wolster,” she said slowly, steadily. “But you are not my father. And he is still alive, even if you do not like it. You are not yet the head of this house.”

A gaping Robert glared at her, hands clenched by his sides and eye twitching. Good, Abigail thought, be angry. She was angry, too. Suddenly, he spun around, turning back to find his chambers with a loud, dramatic huff. His feet stomped against the floor; she heard them up until his door slammed on the other end of the home. It made her giggle, despite herself.

Abigail caught a glance of herself in the mirror. She stared at the girl looking back at her. She was blonde, a bit stout but slim, growing the curves she dreamed of as a child so that she might attract her one true love. How pathetic, she thought, fighting back tears as she tore her eyes away and moved to return to the library.


The musty pub was the first place Martin felt at home since arriving in England. It smelled of must and sweat, which felt cool against his skin. The place was practically underground. He ordered his drink and sat in the first seat he could find, furthest from the other people sipping away at their ale and claptrapping to each other.

Tare an’ hounds, he deserved this bloody drink after his night. He took a large gulp of his gin, willing himself not to glare when another man sat in the place across from him. He was a gentleman, dressed and polished much too nicely for a place like this. He was young, looked like a blade. He immediately started talking to another man at the table, thankfully leaving Martin alone. Good, Martin thought as he finished his drink.

He became aware, vaguely, of someone beside him saying, “George, George. Aye, George.” But thought nothing of it. That is, until he felt a tug on his shoulder. He looked up, seeing an older man who recoiled as soon as he met his gaze.

“Sorry there,” he said, clearing his hoarse voice and backing away. “I thought you were my boy. You’re not George.”

Martin softened just a bit. “No, I am not,” he said. “Martin Barnwall. Pleased to meet you, though.”

“Martin Barnwall?” the gentleman across from him asked. He turned, frowning into his gin as he did so. The young man was looking at him with wide eyes, almost excitably. “You’re the man who saved Lord Hallington’s maid, aren’t you?”

He squinted his eyes at the man, unsure of how he would have heard that or why he would care enough to follow him in here. The thought didn’t escape his mind that this man could be involved, as well. Or perhaps was just a quiet bystander. More likely, he was just paranoid.

He vaguely remembered the Hallingtons. The lord was a viscount, he believed. But he had not the faintest idea if that frightened girl was their maid. And the man was looking at him like he already knew the answer.

“I suppose I am,” Martin replied carefully.

A smile broke onto his face. How strange. With great enthusiasm, a hand was stuck into his space, awaiting him to take it. “Good on you, sir. I am Vincent Earnton. My father’s property is near to Hallington’s, I know Miss Olivia quite well. She came running back to the home, told us a bloke named Martin in Parisian clothes saved her.”

“It’s true!” a high-pitched voice chimed in from the table near the back. The woman was a bit disheveled, and looked like a rough sort. Certainly not the kind of woman you’d find in the fancy balls of the ton. “I saw it all. Tackled the bastard to the bloody ground.”

A faint blush threatened to tint Martin’s cheeks, and he fought to keep it pushed down. Why such a spectacle had to be made of it, he didn’t know.

“What’d this lad do?” asked the gruff man who poured his drink.

“Saved Lord Hallington’s housemaid,” the woman shrieked back. Someone really should take that ale away from her. “From that rake Tallins—he was trying to kidnap that poor thing.”

“Aye?” said the tender. A few other patrons piped up, as well, but Martin stayed silent.

“Lord Hallington would like to have you for tea tomorrow,” Vincent said, a sincere look in his eye that Martin didn’t often see in the men of high society. “Four in the afternoon.”

Martin opened his mouth to tell him to bugger off, say no thank you. But, this was why he was here. To charm the ton, become allies with a few wealthy men and build a business. Become something. Why give up the opportunity now?

With a sly smile and a new plan, Martin shook the man’s hand. “I’d be honored.”

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

A Proper Lady’s Scandal (Preview)



 The wind whipped into Ella Boyle’s face and the booming thunder—so far in the distance just minutes ago—was now upon her. She glanced over her shoulder as a bolt of lightning flashed and hit an almighty oak tree. Ella shook; her small hands trembled around the reins of Victory. Her beautiful black thoroughbred, Victory, was a large horse, too tall for a slip of a girl only twelve years of age and so diminutive in stature. But she loved him and refused to ride any other.

Look ahead, not back. Ahead is home and safety. Just look ahead. We will make it, I know it.

She and Victory galloped as fast as they could, but the clouds opened above, and rain poured down on them. Victory neighed but pressed on, while behind Ella, the mighty oak tree crashed to the ground with such force, the earth shook.

This was the reason why she was not allowed to ride out unchaperoned. It was a rule she found burdensome. It was also a rule she broke with frequency.

Alas, now that the storm was above her and the thunder and lightning engaged in a dangerous dance right over her head, she understood precisely why twelve-year-old girls ought to have a chaperone.

As the gates of Halcomb Manor came into view, she breathed a sigh of relief. Once she and Victory were safely home, she’d have to apologize to her parents and vow never to break the rules again. Well, at least not this rule.

Ella was hardly at the stable when the stable master, Mr. Earing, rushed her way.

“Miss Boyle, there you are! We have been looking for you.”

She swallowed as she dismounted Victory. “You have? I have not been gone very long.”

The man shook his head as he took the reins. “You know you are not supposed to ride out unaccompanied without telling your parents. They were terrified.”

Ella wondered why her parents should be terrified. They knew she was in the habit of riding out alone, even when she wasn’t supposed to. And they knew she always came back and took her punishment. The truth was they were vexed by her riding out alone but never terrified. It made no sense to her. Did something happen?

“Miss Boyle, have you not heard? There are bandits in the woods, robbing riders. Your parents do not want you riding out alone because it is not proper and there are dangers in the woods. They’ve both ridden out to look for you.”

“They have?” Her voice came out high-pitched, as she could not believe his words. Bandits. The mere thought shook her to her core. Ella bit her lip as she looked behind her at the clouds and the eerie forest. Suddenly, she did not feel brave. She felt like the child of twelve she was. And now her parents were out there, in the storm, in danger—because of her.

Ella’s parents did not return that night. As the storm passed, leaving in its wake a world drenched and muggy, Ella sat on her windowsill and looked out toward the forest. At dusk, a group of volunteers set out to search for her parents.

Her heart beat hard as she watched them leave. Ella was sure her parents had simply found shelter from the rain. Her father knew the woods so well and undoubtedly kept her mother safe. She thought of them huddled in a hunting cabin, safe from the weather and any danger. Yes, that had to be the reason they hadn’t return yet.


When the sun rose the following day, Ella still sat at the window. Her eyes ached from lack of sleep, and her heart pounded with the ever-growing terror at what might have befallen her parents.

Suddenly, in the distance, a cart snaked up the driveway toward the manor. Droplets ran down the glass pane from last night’s storm, obscuring her view, so Ella threw open the window. As the cart came closer, she recognized the driver.

It was Mr. Walsh, her father’s estate steward. He sat in the box seat, a grim expression on his face. Beside him was Mr. Henderson, her father’s valet. The two had left the previous evening with the other volunteers to look for her parents. Why were they back before the others—and with a cart?

Ella’s heart beat faster and faster as the worry became too much for her to contain. She jumped off the windowsill and was about to rush outside when she stopped in her tracks. There, in the distance, were the volunteers. They rode out of the forest, lacking the enthusiasm of the previous night.

Ella craned her neck to see where her parents were—she did not see them.

Again, her heartbeat accelerated as she imagined the worst. There was nothing Ella wanted more than to see her parents, so she could beg their forgiveness.

She rushed down the hall. The heavy red carpet swallowed the sound of her footsteps. At the bottom of the grand staircase, she leaped over the final steps and landed on the marble floor, stumbling on her hands and feet. She got up and dashed to the front door.

“Miss Boyle, stop!” Mrs. Farnsworth, the housekeeper, called out. She picked up the hem of her blue gown and ran her way, the keys on her chatelaine clanging together with each step.

“Mr. Walsh? Have you found them?” Ella called out. Her voice quivered as tears ran down her round cheeks.

Mr. Walsh yanked on the reins to stop the horses just as the valet called for Mrs. Farnsworth.

“Don’t let her see.”

“Don’t let me see what? Are they injured?”

Mrs. Farnsworth grasped for her, her fingertips brushing against Ella’s arm, but Ella slipped past. At the back of the cart, Ella stood and stared; her entire body shook as she took in the sight. There was a white sheet on the cart covering the whole back. Her lip quivered as she realized just what the sheet was covering.

“Miss Boyle, please don’t.” Mr. Walsh’s voice came from somewhere far away.

Visible underneath the sheet were two shapes. As Ella stepped closer, she stood on her tiptoes. She lifted the sheet a little bit when the solid and meaty arms of Mr. Walsh wrapped around her, and she found herself lifted off the ground. He spun her away so fast the sheet came out of her hand and flew backward.

There, lying on the cart on her side, facing away from Ella, was her mother. Ella would have known her anywhere. She still wore the primrose-colored gown she’d worn when Ella last saw her standing in the library the previous day. Her bright red hair cascaded down her back.

Mrs. Farnsworth led her back inside, an arm around Ella. When they reached the grand hall, Ella looked up at the woman’s kind, wrinkled face.

“They are dead. Are they not?”

The woman caressed Ella’s face as she nodded, tears in her eyes.

“They are, dear. The bandits got them.”

“The bandits,” Ella repeated as she glanced outside. If she’d know about the bandits, she would not have ridden out. Her willfulness caused this tragedy. Her recklessness had driven her parents out into the woods and into the arms of their assailants.

The bandits may have done the deed, but Ella knew the true reason for her parent’s deaths were her doing. And now, life as she knew it would never be the same again.

Chapter One

London, 1813

Eight years later….

Peter Haddington sat at the oak table in his mother’s breakfast room and slathered copious amounts of butter onto a hot roll while his mother glared at him from over the rim of her teacup. He glanced up, whipped a stray blond curl from his face, and dunked his roll into the hot chocolate. The hot liquid dripped off the roll as he bit into it. The sweetness of the hot chocolate, paired with the dough and salty butter, filled his mouth with a glorious combination of flavors.

“By Jove,” he said mid-chew, “Mable makes the best rolls in all of London. I shall have to pay her a visit in the kitchen to nab a few.” He chuckled, but his mother was not amused.

“Peter,” she placed the newspaper she’d been reading on the table. Her long, slender finger jabbed at a page in the paper. “You are mentioned again.”

“Is it the Morning Gazette? Mama, why do you waste seven pence on this scandal sheet when I can give you all that information for free?” He grinned, and a mischievous sparkle flashed in his sapphire-blue eyes. “I always know the best on dits.”

“Most of the time, they seem to be about you,” Margaret Haddington replied with a deep sigh. She picked up the paper again and cleared her throat. “Baron W has once again reaffirmed his position as London’s Number One Rake when he was seen sneaking out of Almack’s in the company of….

He raised a hand to stop her. “I know who I was with. Please, Mama. Put aside the paper.”

“You are a baron, Peter.”

“I am aware, Mother.”

“You must fix your life. You must marry again and have an heir. You are already nine-and-twenty years old. The way you act is swiftly going to ruin your reputation. Soon enough, no respectable lady will consider you.”

He turned away from her and matched her posture, arms crossed in front of him.

“If my reputation is so terrible, then why ought I try and change anyone’s mind? Let them think badly of me.”


“Mother, marriage is not what I desire. It may be expected of me, but I have no taste for it. Nobody will ever replace Isabella, not in my heart and not at my side, so please do not continue to push the idea.”

Peter wondered why his mother couldn’t understand that he didn’t wish to marry again. He had been married once, and to a woman he loved more than he ever thought himself capable of loving anyone. Isabella had been his love, his light, his entire world. Loving her remained the best and the worst thing he’d ever done. The best because she’d shown him what it was to love and be loved in return. The worst because the sight of her and their child’s lifeless bodies was forever burned into his memory. Losing her had almost destroyed him.

Some days, he thought it still might.

His mother’s eyes softened as she placed her hand on his. “Nobody seeks to replace Bella. However, you must secure our line.”

He pulled his hand away. The pain within him was private, and he did not share it. Not even with his mother. The harsh, unfeeling exterior he presented to the world was nothing but a wall he’d built to function, and it was not something he could explain to anyone.

“I do not care about securing the line. If the estate reverts to the crown upon my death, then so be it. Why should I care?” He grabbed what remained of his roll, shoved it into his mouth, and then drank down the rest of his chocolate. He placed the cup on the table with a bang and stalked toward the door.

“Where are you going, Peter? We were to go to the royal menagerie.”

“I have changed my mind, Mama. I am not in the mood. I am rather tired. Need I remind you that you have dragged me to every social affair known to man this entire season? I am utterly exhausted.”

“Very well. You do know I only take you to these social events because you must ensure your connections to the higher-ranking lords. That is the only way for our family to advance.”

“I must go, Mama.” He leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

“If you must. But do not forget your cousin Beatrice’s ball tomorrow. It is the first ball she is hosting since becoming the Duchess of Closter, and she needs you.”

Peter quickly nodded, not wanting to admit he had forgotten all about the ball. Yet, his mother was right. His cousin, who was also one of his dearest friends, would need his support. She was already at sixes and sevens over the idea of hosting a ball.

As he stepped outside, he rolled his shoulders to release the tension before he climbed into his curricle. He meant to return to his townhome in Mayfair but suddenly had a change of heart.

The kind of tension he felt after the ever-repetitive conversation with his mother needed to be released—and he knew exactly where to do so.


“Come on, Walpole. Drink! Drink! Drink!” The shouts of the men surrounding him came from far away—at least Peter thought so. He lifted the jug of ale once more and chugged it down. As he placed it down on the table before him, he did so with such vigor the coins in the middle of the table bounced up while his brethren whooped and hollered.

“Told you, gentleman, contrary to what you might have heard, I am a man of my word. Now, another game?”

He raised and rapidly lowered his eyebrows. Alas, none of his fellow card players were interested in losing at another round of whist. He didn’t blame them; even after several glasses of port and two jugs of ale, he was a formidable card player and nearly impossible to beat.

Those were the few moments Peter was free of the grief that had a hold of him every other moment of his day. Only when racing, drinking, or visiting a courtesan was he able to escape the sorrow and the darkness. They had been his companions since Isabella’s death.

“Very well, I will take my winnings and see if anyone is willing to take up a game in the billiards room.” He scooped the assorted gold coins up and placed them into his pockets. The very moment he was on his feet, the entire world swayed around him, and he grabbed onto the table.

“Jove, are you alright there, Lord Walpole? A trifle foxed, are we?”

A man Peter was not familiar with stood behind him.

“Isn’t that why we come here to Brooks? To find ourselves a trifle indisposed and maybe a little wealthier?” He patted his pocket as the tall, dark-haired man chuckled.

“That is why I’ve come to see you. I overheard your desire for another challenge. What do you say to a race? I hear you are a keen racer, and my curricle is outside.”

“I say…” Peter was interrupted when his friend, Thomas Stanhope, Earl of Lambeth, cleared his throat.

“I dare say it is rather late, especially for a race, Lord Wilmore.”

He knew his friend meant well. Thomas was his dearest friend and had been his rock in those first devastating days after the funeral when Peter could not even leave his bed, let alone his chamber. Yet sometimes Thomas was a little overprotective of him.

“Lord Lambeth, I will be the judge on that matter.” Peter faced his friend, his voice even. “I do not think it too late.”

“You have had too much to drink, Peter.” His tone was low enough so that Lord Wilmore could not hear.

Matching his tone, Peter replied, “I know you speak out of concern, my friend, but I am not a lady in need of a chaperone. I thank you for your worry, but please, leave me be. Or perhaps place a wager, for I am certain I will win.”

He spun around to the man before him. William Lauderdale, Marquess of Wilmore, was a man who enjoyed wagers and was not opposed to high stakes.

“Very well, Lord Wilmore. Let us race.” He stuck out his hand, and the gentlemen shook on it. However, as Peter turned, he stumbled once more, his legs trembling beneath him.

“Are you in need of assistance, Walpole?” Lord Wilmore said as he grabbed onto his elbow.

“Certainly not,” Peter replied and pulled his Pomona-green waistcoat straight, so it lay against his broad frame. “On we go.” At the door, he turned. “My fellow lords, Lord Wilmore and I shall race our curricles along the street toward Green Park. If anyone cares to place a wager, do so now.” He bowed dramatically and again stumbled, causing laughter among the occupants of the card room.

He spotted several of the most notorious gamblers lined up, among them Lord Morrey, Lord Nordendale, Mr. Francis, and, to his surprise, even Thomas. Many of the gentlemen rushed to place bets—most of them against him. Thomas was not a gambler, so to see him putting a wager surprised Peter. However, he had no time to think about the matter as he stumbled outside and climbed atop his curricle.

He had a marquess to beat.


“Tell me you bet on me and not against me, Thomas! Surely you had faith in me!” Peter declared loudly as he strolled back into his gentleman’s club after his crushing victory.

Exhilaration rushed through Peter’s body. He knew he’d win, but as always, his excitement was marred by thoughts of Isabella. How much sweeter would the victory have been had she waited for him at the finishing line…

Thomas shrugged. “I bet against you because I saw how much port and cognac you consumed before the ale.”

“Well, let this be a lesson.” He turned to the assorted men, most of whom wore a glum expression on their faces. “And let it be a lesson to you all. Never bet against Peter Haddington. Even drunk as a wheelbarrow, I shall crush you all in a race.”

He raised his hand to order another glass of port while Thomas sat across from him, his countenance full of silent judgment and worry.

“Peter, one of these days, you will find your death racing as you do.”

Peter shrugged. The adrenaline still pumped through his veins. It always did when he raced his curricle. It didn’t matter if he had an opponent or not. He enjoyed the break-neck speed, the wind that whipped through his hair. He was alive when he raced. He was more reckless than he’d ever been; that was true. Having Isabella by his side had always made him more cautious. He’d never risked injuring himself out of fear of leaving her a widow. How ironic, he thought, that he should end up a widower instead. Without her, nothing mattered. Without her, there was no reason to be careful. Why should he fear death when there was nothing worth living for?

“Then death will find me doing what I enjoy.”

“Peter… If you die, what will become of your mother?”

“My mother is a formidable force. Do you know she was just appointed one of the Lady Patronesses at Almack’s?”

“I heard, but that will hardly take away the devastation of losing her only child.”

Peter groaned. There was no use explaining it. Parts of his grief were beyond sharing. Those who loved him would only worry more if they knew the true darkness that ran just beneath the surface. He preferred that they considered him foolhardy and reckless and deeply melancholy.

“Racing brings me joy. It fills the void inside of me.” This was the most he dared say to Thomas, and yet it was enough.

“Racing curricles and drinking will not replace your wife and child.”

“No, but they take away the guilt I feel for not being there for them when they passed.”

“You did not know she would have the child so early,” Thomas said quietly.

Peter looked out of the window where the soft light of the streetlamp entered the club. He remembered the day he’d returned from his business meeting, summoned by an urgent message. He remembered entering into his home and seeing his mother and Isabella’s mother, their faces masks of grief. It was the worst day of his life. His darling wife snatched from this world so soon and so suddenly.

“Thomas, I do not like to speak about that day. I live in the moment now because the past is full of pain, and the future is an enigma. It is best left in the past. Let me live.”

“That is what I want, Peter. For you to live. But you risk your life time and again. You think that I do not see the depth of your grief, but I do.”

“It does not matter.” The conversation was becoming far too heavy. His mask would slip if he remained here, and Thomas would see the torn, broken man inside. That, he did not want. Peter downed the glass in three gulps.

“I must go. Thanks to you, my excitement at my victory has evaporated. I shall have to find a way to fill the void in another way.”

“You are not going to….”

“St. Giles. It is a shame that my favorite courtesan resides in the rookery of St. Giles, but so be it,” said Peter as he hastened to retrieve his greatcoat. He had just reached the front door when someone called out after him.

“Lord Walpole! Are you not going to allow me to win back what I lost on your race?”

He spun around and spotted Lord Morrey, a viscount, and notorious gambler, standing at the other end of the room.

Peter shook his head. “Not this night, Morrey. Another night, perhaps.”

He bowed and waited for the butler to open the door, while behind him, the assorted lords grumbled over the fortune they’d lost.

Peter stepped out into the night; the cool evening breeze forced him to turn up the collar of his coat.

Suddenly, heavy footsteps sounded behind him. He stopped under a streetlight and frowned as the footsteps stopped. A feeling of doom spread in him as he prepared to fight whatever rogue had followed him.

Peter almost wished for a fight to the death. His days were nothing but empty hours filled with meaningless tasks. His nights didn’t bring relief but only provided him with time to dwell on his regrets. And his mornings did nothing but renew the pain of seeing Isabella’s side of their bed empty.

Death, Peter concluded, would be a relief.


Chapter Two

“Isn’t this tea delicious? My aunt bought the leaves from a gentleman who was recently in India.” Ella took another sip of the bitter drink as she shimmied her shoulders. How people could spoil such a marvelous drink with lumps of sugar, she never could understand.

Her good friend Lady Anna Mortimer looked into the teacup with a faraway smile. It was as if she was reading her future in the tea. She was a beautiful young woman with porcelain skin so smooth it made Ella envious just to look at her.

While Ella made sure to stay out of the sun to preserve the pale skin tone so popular with the ton, she never did manage to have as flawless an appearance as her friend. Bothersome freckles always somehow found their way to her nose and cheekbones. While Ella disliked them intensely, her aunt, Lady Fitzgerald, always told her they were charming and reminiscent of her mother when she was her age.

“Anna? Is something the matter?” Ella asked. Ella had noticed Anna’s strange mood the moment she walked into Ella’s aunt’s Mayfair townhome. At first, she thought her friend was miffed at her. Upon reaching the garden, where the servants arranged a pretty space to have tea underneath an oak tree, her friend appeared more her usual self. Now, as Ella chattered on, Anna once again did not seem quite present.

At last, her friend looked up, a sparkle in her green eyes. “Not at all, Ella. Quite the opposite.” Anna glanced around as she leaned forward, a grin on her thin lips.

“I saw Lord Rory yesterday. The viscount I met at the opera last month, remember?”

Ella smiled at her friend. “Have you? Are you courting? What wonderful news.” She clapped her hands together in delight. Anna had already had a couple seasons, and with one or two more, would be firmly on the shelf. Since she was the daughter of a viscount herself, this would be a suitable match. Alas, her friend shook her head.

“We are not courting. Not really. We are…keeping each other company.” She smiled so brightly her white teeth were exposed. “We met in St. James’ Park after dark; I snuck away. We met at the lake and talked for an hour. And then we kissed.”

Ella gasped. “Kissed?” she hissed the word through clenched teeth and twisted her body around to make sure none of her aunt’s servants were near enough to hear. “Anna, you mustn’t. If anyone saw you…You would be ruined, and for what? A kiss?”

Anna leaned back and shrugged. “A kiss, yes. A glorious kiss. I always dreamed of being kissed in such a manner. It was passionate and exciting. He pulled me toward him so tightly I could almost feel….”

“Stop!” Ella pleaded. She was utterly mortified. A young lady did not sneak away into the park with a man she was not courting. Even if they were courting, a chaperone should be present, and something as reckless as a kiss would certainly not be allowed.

“Faith, Ella. Must you be so prim and proper? Can’t you have at least a little sense of excitement?”

“I do not need that sort of excitement, Anna. And neither do you. You know if you are seen with him in a park….”

“Nobody saw us, Ella.”

“You could be ruined and cast out by your parents. You could end up in the poorhouse. Or be forced to take a position as a governess. Please, do not be so reckless again, for both our sakes.”

Ella could not believe her friend. She’d end up an ape leader with a ruined reputation, and she’d destroy Ella’s right along with her, as they were so close.

“Do not fret so, my friend. I will not be ruined. He loves me. Well, he said he was falling for me—that is almost as good. You will see how handsome and charming he is. He will be at the ball tonight.” She grinned as though she were already officially betrothed.

How, Ella wondered, could she not see right through this rake? Of course, he would tell her whatever she wanted to hear.

“You must be careful. Besides, I do not think being in love is a good reason to sneak away with a man, even if he is a lord.”

“What better reason could there be?” Anna chuckled as if she’d heard an excellent joke, but Ella’s countenance darkened.

“There is no good reason for such behavior. But since you asked, if one were to be with a gentleman, then it ought to be because he is a suitable match both in terms of social standing and in his ability to provide for you.”

Anna scoffed as she picked up a piece of licorice and waved it around in the air like a sword.

“You sound like my old governess. I think living with Lady Fitzgerald has made you into a bit of an old lady yourself. None of the young people think of such things anymore. One must love the person one marries.”

Ella shook her head with vigor. “Marriage ought to be a business transaction. He provides for you, and in turn, you ensure he has an heir for his estate. That is all.”

Her friend shook her head. “I shall never marry if I do not love the person.”

“And I shall never love. It is a foolish thing to love.”

She knew love brought nothing but sorrow. Years of guilt and grief over the loss of her parents taught Ella as much. She would never risk such pain again, but she knew Anna couldn’t understand this. Ella could only imagine what losing a husband would feel like; surely it was worse than losing one’s parents.

Ella was sure if she loved and lost again, she would never recover.


That evening, Ella entered the ballroom at Closter House, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Closter, and marveled at the assembled crowd. All the important lords and ladies were present.

“Aunt Margaret, are you sure I am dressed properly for this ball? It seems everyone is ever so elegant.”

Her aunt placed a hand on the small of Ella’s back. Her kind eyes narrowed into a sea of wrinkles as she smiled at her niece.

“You look like a lady, Ella. Now, promise me you will enjoy yourself tonight. Dance, drink fine wine, and indulge in their delicious foods.”

“I will dance; I always do. I am in good hopes of meeting an eligible gentleman. Perhaps, given that the hostess is a duchess, I will be more fortunate and find someone serious and well-mannered. Not like the so-called gentlemen I encountered at Almack’s on Wednesday.”

Her aunt shook her head. “My dear Ella, it is not as terrible as you would make it out to be. A gentleman asked you to dance repeatedly. There is nothing wrong with that. Allow a little bit of space so that love might find you.”

“Aunt Margaret, you know it is improper to dance with the same man twice, let alone three times. Besides, you know I do not care to find love.”

Aunt Margaret said nothing further. A moment later, Anna arrived. She was dressed in a beautiful primrose-colored dress with a delicate satin lace that almost mirrored Ella’s light-pink gown.

“Ella, come.” Anna was enthused the moment she reached them. “Ah, I am sorry, Lady Fitzgerald. I did not mean to be rude.” She curtsied to Ella’s aunt, who waved a hand. “Don’t you worry, you two go and enjoy yourselves. Make sure Ella has a proper partner.” She winked at Anna, much to Ella’s annoyance.

Not even her aunt understood her desire to uphold proper etiquette. What was wrong with them? Rules were there for a reason. She knew all too well what could happen if they were willfully broken.

Anna took her by the hand and pulled her forward. They made their way through the throng of people toward the ballroom. The sound of the minuet drifted out of the ballroom, and within a moment, they were inside of the great room itself.

Ella saw the beautifully drawn chalk designs, meant to prevent slipping on the dance floor, almost intact. Couples swirled over the drawings and swayed to the sounds of the orchestra.

Each lady looked more beautiful than the next. Ella thought about her life and what it might have been like had her parents lived. Would she be more like these young ladies? Would she be as carefree and foolish as she’d been at age twelve?

“I am dancing the quadrille with Lord Rory, as well as the boulanger. We need to find you a partner.” Anna canvassed the room and snapped a finger. “Him. Lord Nordendale.”

Ella shook her head at once. “Never. He is near forty years old and has a reputation.” She lowered her voice. “He gambles.”

“Very well. How about him?” She nodded discreetly toward a younger gentleman standing at the end of the dance floor beside an older woman. He was tall, his blond hair grazing the top of his shoulders, and he was dressed in an elegant dark blue waistcoat paired with a black tailcoat with matching blue embroidery around the wrists. The golden cufflinks sparkled even from across the room. He was handsome—and strangely mysterious.

For a moment, he smiled at her and nodded his head. The polite thing would have been to nod back or curtsy, even, but Ella found she could only blush and look away.

“You like the look of him, I see.”

“I do not,” Ella protested. “Who is he, anyhow?”

“That is Peter Haddington, Baron Walpole.”

Ella’s blood ran cold. “Lord Walpole? Anna, I could never dance with him. He is in the scandal sheets every week. He’s a terrible rake.”

She’d read about him in the papers. As handsome as he was, she’d never be able to dance with him, not with his terrible reputation.

Her friend shrugged. “If you look too closely, you shall find something unpleasant about any man in attendance. Besides, the scandal sheets are just tittle-tattle.”

“I am paying mind to it because I care about my reputation, and I….”

“There he is,” Anna interrupted. “Lord Rory.” She stared at the handsome young man who stood not far from them and winked at her.

“Ella, why do you not canvass the room yourself and then let me know if any of the lords strike your fancy so we might arrange for a dance?”

Ella moaned at the proposition but realized it was preferable to the alternative—letting Anna choose.

She looked at the young man again and shook her head. To think her friend was considering an introduction to someone with a reputation as terrible as Lord Walpole’s. How someone as handsome and alluring as he could allow himself to attract such terrible company, she would never understand.

He was wealthy; she knew this from the scandal sheets. And his eyes…They were as bright as the stars on the darkest night. Dreamy, even. The way his hair fell casually into his face drew her attention to his strong jaw and full lips.

No, I must not think of him in such a way. I cannot even allow myself to speak to him.

“Anna, I cannot believe you would….”

Ella stopped mid-sentence. Anna was gone. And so was Lord Rory. In her place was a young man who attempted to get Ella’s attention, but Ella barely noticed him.

Ella’s heart sank at the realization because she knew her friend was reckless enough to attempt a private meeting with her paramour. With all of high society in attendance at this ball, she could be found out, and her entire life would fall apart.

No, Ella would not allow this to happen. Not to her best friend. She turned to the young man with a polite smile, even though every part of her wanted to rush away.

“I apologize, my lord, but I must hasten away to attend to an urgent matter.” She curtsied to the young man who smiled at her.

“Of course. Perhaps when you return, I might request a dance?”

“It would be my pleasure,” she said as she rose. After apologizing once more, she turned away and rushed across the ballroom and into the hall.

She had to find Anna and save her from herself. If she did not, her friend would be lost to her. And that Ella could not allow.

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

The Duke’s Scandalous Bluestocking (Preview)


 Chapter 1

Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us so perfect for one another…

Alice’s slender fingers grazed over the paper, her eyes taking in each word. Her heart swelled with longing during the most romantic bits; she’d read this particular book so many times she had it nearly memorized. She reclined on the soft sofa in the drawing room, getting comfier for her favorite part of the story; the big romantic finish.

In the end, even meddlesome Emma found her match, her “perfect happiness.”

She let her mind conjure up the heroine and her love, picturing them in their bliss. Alice wondered what being loved like that would feel like. She had just gotten to her favorite part of Emma when reality tugged back at her skirts again. She let out a wistful sigh, trying without success to put away the thoughts that pulled at her so.

Surely it wouldn’t be the end of the world if she didn’t secure a husband this year.

Would it?

Two seasons had come and gone, and Alice still sat unwed in the Egerton home. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying on her part. She had bumbled through her first season, awkward and ungraceful both in conversation and on the dance floor. Her father insisted that discussing her passion for reading should be kept to a bare minimum, but it was all she knew.

“Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen are not proper topics for courting conversation,” her father scolded her. “Why don’t you talk about your love for piano or perhaps your singing?”

But Alice knew the truth. She was capable at the piano at best, and her singing voice fell flat. There was no point in bringing up meager skills that would impress no one. She considered her well-read mind to be her best quality and initially had been excited to perhaps find a husband to discuss literature with, but no suitors had come to call.

Why couldn’t anyone else see that a book-smart young lady was just as marriageable as a lady with considerable drawing skill or a beautiful singing voice?

The first season Alice felt as though she were getting on quite well with several gentlemen, but none of them had offered a proposal. In fact, none of them had even taken the time to court her at all. The memories of her sitting in the drawing room for hours, pretending that she wasn’t waiting for callers, still stung.

The second season had gone by much the same, with Alice sitting out dance after dance until the season had passed by entirely. She had attempted to catch the eye of a few suitors at first, hoping beyond hope that one might prize her well-versed mind.

But again, she was unsuccessful.

Her third season would be her final chance before she was deemed a failure. Though, she was certainly beginning to feel that way already.

“You mustn’t give up, Alice,” her sister, Nancy, had said, ever confident in her. “Surely out there is a suitor that will want to hear you speak your opinions on your books for hours and hours.”

Alice, for her part, was beginning to feel that her failures on the marriage market had less to do with her reading habits and more to do with her looks. She took a glance in the looking glass across from the settee she reclined on.

Still the same boring Alice.

Her brown hair hung about her shoulders, limp and long. Maria, her maid, had done all she could do to fluff it up, trying her best to get the brown locks to frame her face. It had done little good, but the sparse curls she had managed to achieve at least brought out the blue in her eyes a tiny bit more.

Alice thought it did, at least.

She sighed, determined to get back to her book and stop her self-deprecating thoughts when suddenly the drawing room doors flung open. Nancy tumbled in, toppling over her own two feet, startling the life from Alice.

“Nancy!” Cried Alice as she jumped from her seat. ” Whatever is the matter? Is everything alright?”

Alice bent to help her sister to her feet. It wasn’t like Nancy to lose her grace and balance, and the shock of seeing her sister tumbling into the drawing room had her heart beating fast.

“Better than alright, sister!” the younger girl crowed, brushing off the skirts of her pastel pink dress. “I feel as though I could fly, though present circumstances may prove otherwise. Here, look at what I’ve received!” Nancy clutched a sheet of parchment paper that looked to be a letter to her chest.

“All of that bluster over a simple letter?” Alice asked. “You’re acting quite unlike yourself.”

“But that’s the exciting bit, sister!” Nancy exclaimed. “It’s not a simple letter. It’s a letter from the Duke of Bedford!”

Nancy dissolved into delighted, girlish giggles. She held the letter high, handing it to Alice, who took it delicately.

She scanned it once and then once again, unsure if she read the words correctly. She couldn’t be; this Duke had to be mad.

Dear Lady Nancy Egerton,” the letter read. “I, the Duke of Bedford, am pleased to announce the arrival of my aunt, the esteemed Lady Harrelson, to town. Celebrations are in order for such a momentous visitation to welcome Lady Harrelson properly. I would like to welcome you, as well, to my estate to participate in an intimate, secret dinner…”

That couldn’t be right.

“Nancy, are you quite sure this is from the Duke of Bedford?” she asked. “This states that you’re invited to his –”

“To his estate!” Nancy finished for her. “Isn’t it simply divine?”

“It would be, were this a real letter,” Alice said. “But it simply can’t be. This is a terrible hoax to play on a young debutante, but don’t worry, sister. I shall get to the bottom of this.”

“Oh, but it isn’t a hoax,” Nancy said. The hopeful, overjoyed smile still hadn’t fled her pretty, young face. “Look, here! The Duke’s official seal! Oh, Alice, isn’t this the most wonderful news?”

“I’m afraid I still don’t understand,” Alice said, scrunching her brows together as she read the letter over once more. “A secret dinner?”

“Yes,” Nancy said. “That’s correct. It’s to be held tonight at the Duke’s manor. Oh, whatever shall I wear? The trouble will be staying out of Mrs. Wellington’s sight, let alone Father. Do you think that I should wear my hair up in a chignon or down around my shoulders? There are so many things to decide! I do wish he’d have sent that letter a little sooner, but I suppose that’s a part of the game itself.”

“What game?” Alice cried, fully confused.

Nancy looked guilty for a moment, as though she’d said the wrong thing, but then sighed.

“The Duke of Bedford is searching for his Duchess,” Nancy said. “Finally, he’s ready to wed. And he’s chosen me as one of his potential brides!”

“What do you mean ‘one of’?” asked Alice. She was growing ever more suspicious of this Duke.

What could his intentions be for her sister? And how had he taken notice of her?

“He’s sent a copy of this same letter out to some other young ladies of the ton,” Nancy said. “Debutantes, all of them. Or at least, that is what I’ve come to believe. Mary received one, and she’s only just starting her first season as well. Oh, how exciting to have been selected from so many young ladies! The letter is so mysterious, though. The Duke of Bedford will only wed when he finds his perfect bride, and he wishes her to have certain…qualities.”

“I’m quite sure he does,” muttered Alice.

“Anyway,” Nancy continued. “He doesn’t state what those qualities are, but he thinks that it may possess them! Clearly, he must, or he wouldn’t have sent the letter. Oh, Alice, don’t you see what this means?  Perhaps this is where I find my perfect match! The Duke of Bedford is said to be of incomparable handsomeness. Like a painting of a Greek God with his black hair and dark eyes. Not to mention his title and wealth! Alice, can you imagine? The whole family could benefit and you especially. Perhaps you would no longer be pressured into marriage.”

But Nancy didn’t quite understand.

The trouble wasn’t that Alice didn’t want to marry. She craved that same love she read about in her stories, that she’d seen shared by so many young and old couples alike. Even an arranged marriage held the potential to gift her that special connection.

Alice, though, was too plain to attract suitors, even just one.

Nancy was still babbling to herself about the details of tonight when Alice snapped out of her thoughts.

“I don’t think that this is a good idea,” Alice said gently. Nancy was so excited, and she didn’t want to hurt her sister’s feelings. “It isn’t wise to compete with other young ladies of the ton for the affections of one man. Don’t you feel as though he is a bit pompous for declaring himself such a… a… prize?”

“Pompous, perhaps, but rightly so,” Nancy countered. “He’s a Duke! I’ve heard that he’s like something carved from marble! And have you seen him?”

Alice hadn’t, and she knew that Nancy had not either.

“I simply do not agree with his methods of finding a Duchess,” Alice said. “And I do not think you should go. It’s only your first season! You don’t have to throw yourself at the first possible suitor that you have. Take your time and enjoy the attention you’ll surely receive. You’re a beautiful young woman of good lineage. You’re skilled in painting and singing, and your French is…improving. The Duke hasn’t even shown you the respect of properly courting you, anyway. Do you not see that as even a little bit disrespectful?”

But Nancy clearly did not.

“Sister, this is an opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up!” she said. “I agree that his methods are a little…eccentric. But perhaps it is just that he truly does want to find his perfect love match? Surely you can’t fault a man for wanting to find true love?”

She couldn’t, and Nancy knew it.

“There’s only one issue,” Nancy said in a cautious tone. “One small detail about this whole escapade which could pose a problem. I’m to go alone.”

“Unchaperoned?” Alice asked, scandalized. “Surely that’s not what the letter said…”

Nancy turned the parchment around, pointing at the word with one shining nail. “But it does. ‘Please arrive at a quarter to midnight, and please do take care to come unchaperoned.‘ It’s the last thing the letter states.”

How had she missed that part?

Alice snatched the letter, re-reading it. But right above the Duke’s perfect, swirling signature was the word.


What kind of man could this Duke possibly be that he would endanger a young debutantes honor in such a way? And not only that, it could endanger Nancy herself.

No, there was simply no way that Alice could let her sister go on her own. She was too impulsive, too dreamy, and innocent. She still didn’t see the world for what it was, and if anything happened to her sister in there…

Alice couldn’t think about it.

“Nancy, please,” Alice said. “Think this through. Think about your reputation! If anyone were to catch you –”

“I swear to it that they will not,” Nancy said. “Alice, I’m doing this as much for the family as I am for myself. It will be good for us if I secure this match. Think on what this could mean.”

“I cannot let you endanger yourself,” Alice said. “I simply cannot think of something happening to you, and even if anything ill did not occur, imagine if someone were to catch you! It would be all you could do to secure a match after that…”

The thought of her sister, beautiful and lithe and in her first season, shackled to the fate of a spinster, nearly broke Alice’s heart. There was nothing plain about Nancy and no reason she should have difficulty finding a well-suited husband.

Unless she ruined herself by being caught unchaperoned at a man’s manor, if someone were to talk, it would be the end of Nancy’s debut.

“I’m going with you,” Alice stated before she realized the words had escaped.

“What?” Nancy asked. “D-do you think that’s allowed?”

“I don’t care what this Duke says,” Alice said, though she felt a twinge of fear at being exposed at this ‘secret dinner.’ “If anyone spies you here, I’ll say that I’m acting as your chaperone. Everyone knows that I’m doomed to become a spinster; they’ll accept me as your chaperone immediately. Your reputation will be protected, and once this is all over, you can return to your search for a suitable husband.”

“Oh, Alice, I do wish you wouldn’t talk about yourself like that,” Nancy said. “But I am glad you’re coming. And who knows? Perhaps you’ll find a gentleman of your own there! Oh, I’m ever so excited!”

Alice felt something as well, but she wasn’t sure that it was excitement. It was more equitable to a looming dread that something horrible was going to happen.

Alice pondered who this strange man could be and what he could be like. It stood to reason that a man who would be so eccentric as to choose a wife in such an odd manner might be odd in other ways as well.

And she wasn’t so sure that she wanted Nancy to find out what those ways were.


Chapter 2

Henry Wraxall, the Duke of Bedford, was annoyed and nervous, though he would do just about anything not to show it. Unfortunately, his nerves had begun to get the better of him. He ran his fingers through his dark hair, a sigh starting to build up in the deep well of his chest. Smoothing out his navy-blue tailcoat, he silently cursed himself for his anxious fidgeting.

He wasn’t sure what the matter was; the event hadn’t even yet begun. The servants were all buzzing around him, decorations and trays in hand. His manor gardens were immaculate; he’d had the gardener dig up the blue hydrangeas and plant white roses instead, mysterious and alluring. The candles were all in place, and a maid was going about lighting each one.

The mood was set, but still, something was bothering him. He watched all this with satisfaction but couldn’t shoo away the niggling thought that he was going through all this trouble for something he didn’t want…a wife.

He would know the face of his future bride after the night was through.

If he had to marry, then he was going to search out the most suitable young lady for him. She would surely be a debutante; no one older would suit him much. He’d sent the letters out to whomever he thought had the loveliest face, but he knew he couldn’t tell a book only by its cover.

And that was why the private dinner was necessary.

“I still don’t like it,” his aunt huffed from the drawing room. “The ton don’t have secret dinners, Henry.”

Henry poked his head inside to see Lady Harrelson frowning at him from the sofa. She placed her needlework down, agitated.

“If you were really against it, aunt, I think you wouldn’t have allowed me to use your name in the letters,” he said, a smile in his eyes.

The older woman sighed, aggrieved. “You know I like to have a bit of fun every once in a while, but don’t you think this is going a bit overboard?” she asked. “You do realize what it would mean for a young woman of a certain caliber to be caught sneaking about in the dead of night? And to an unwed man’s home nonetheless? Duke or not, it wouldn’t look good for you, either. You’d be the muse of the scandal sheets for ages!”

“And then I shall never marry. What a terrible fate that I hope I shall never have to suffer.” Henry mocked.

“Be serious for once in your life,” Lady Harrelson demanded. “The Dukedom is a large, looming responsibility. One that you’ve been ignoring for quite some time now.”

“I don’t think ignoring is quite the right word,” Henry said. “I’ve done my duties. Most of them.”

“Yes, and there’s the trouble,” Lady Harrelson said disapprovingly. “Most of them. You’re expected to wed and sire an heir, and you know this well. And you so far have said that you haven’t the time nor the energy to go about searching for a Duchess. I’ve certainly heard enough about your reputation lately to know where all your energy has fled to.”

She raised her eyebrows high and frowned heavily at him. “Don’t you think that it’s high time that you settle your rakish ways into the past and start a family?”

“If it were up to me, dear aunt, I wouldn’t be shackled to one woman for the rest of my life,” he said. “But I was fated to become the Duke of Bedford, and as such, I will do my duty and marry.”

“Thank the heavens for that,” his aunt muttered. “I’ll help you find a wife, Henry, but do not make things any more difficult for me than they already are. Your roguish antics are not unknown to the members of the ton. These young debutantes will already know all about you.”

“And still they come,” said a high-spirited voice.

“Robert, I won’t have you encouraging him,” Lady Harrelson said with a roll of eyes.

A young man with a crop of fair hair appeared at her side. His green eyes twinkled mischievously.

“I’m not encouraging him, Mother,” Robert answered. “I’m simply saying that still, the ladies will very likely arrive. And soon. I, for one, am excited at the idea of a secret dinner. And who can tell? I’m sure that if the word does get out, every family in the ton might start planning them.”

“I certainly hope you don’t plan on any word of this night getting out,” Lady Harrelson said pointedly. “I only agreed to this scandalous reception to find you a wife, Henry. It would also serve as a bonus if Robert found himself a wife from your list of young ladies.”

“I wouldn’t complain,” Robert said, laughing. “You’ve said that the debutantes you’ve invited are all exceptional of face. I can only imagine that if they manage to secure a way to your estate in the dead of night that they’ll be exceptional in other ways as well.”

“Don’t be crass, Robert,” Lady Harrelson admonished.

“I’m not!” he said, a guilty smile on his face. “I simply agree that I may, in fact, find a suitable wife for myself amongst this group.”

“I’m not pleased that you’ve displayed your roguish ways to twenty families of the ton Henry,” his aunt said, crossing her arms.

“I simply want a woman who will capture my heart and my attention,” Henry replied, with mock offense. “That’s all.”

That was true. At least, partially.

He dreaded the thought of being shackled to a boring woman. He couldn’t imagine sharing a household with someone who wasn’t the least bit interesting. It was regrettable that he would have to put his roguish habits behind him, but that was the duty of his station. Gone were the days of being with a different woman each night. If he would have to be fettered to one woman for the rest of his days, she could at least be the best version of a wife he could possibly find. He desired her to be bold and beautiful as well as clever enough to hold his interest in conversation.

Having chaperones present for each young lady would only force them to be demure, quiet, boring, and not their true selves. Not only that, but if she could manage to make it back home unchaperoned without being caught, it would also prove her intelligence and courage.

What better way could there be to discover the true hidden qualities of each hopeful young lady?

It was regretful that were the young lady in question to be found out that her reputation would be sullied. But if there were no risks, how could he ensure that he would find the best woman for him? If she were willing to risk her reputation to win him she had some courage in her heart, and he respected that more than nearly anything. At least the woman who would become his bride wouldn’t be afraid to surprise him every now and again.

“I hope you’re prepared for twenty unchaperoned young women in your manor, Henry,” said Lady Harrelson. “I, for one, won’t be taking responsibility when one of them is discovered by her father. Or worse. Her mother.”

She gave him a disproving look then sighed. “But I suppose while they’re here, I may as well lend you my assistance in sniffing out the brightest diamond in the room. If you insist on having this…tawdry event.”

“And I thank you ever so much, aunt,” Henry said. “As does all of the duchy, I assure you.”

“Mm,” was Lady Harrelson’s only reply, her lips pursed.

Henry and his cousin retreated to the quiet solitude of the library for a bit of privacy.

“Are you excited to finally see the face of your bride?” Robert asked. “Even though you were never one to settle down, I’m sure you’re at least glad to finally reach this milestone in your life?”

“To tell you the truth, Robert, I’m not sure how I feel about it,” Henry said. “It’s difficult to say. On the one hand, I’m quite glad to get this over with in a way that I have complete control over. No spectating mothers, no uninteresting daughters. Only they who I’ve invited and they alone. On the other hand, however…”

He trailed off, shrugging.

He knew that he wanted a bold woman, a clever one, and one that would awe him with her beauty. But what else precisely did he expect of her? He had been with so many women that he couldn’t even envision what his perfect bride might look like.

Try as he might, he couldn’t bring up any woman, real or imagined, that could quite satisfy him in his quest for the perfect bride. A wave of anxiety hit him suddenly before he had even realized it was building up.

He considered the possibility that he might suffer through this entire dinner, unsatisfied with any of the options that he’d invited to his manor. Perhaps the young ladies all expected an answer tonight.

No, certainly not.

He made the rules here. That was nearly the entire point of having the dinner itself. He would simply tell the young ladies that he would write to them his answer, whomever he chose. That would surely abate them, for the time, at least.

But he was working himself up for nothing.

His bride was among these young debutantes; he was sure of it. She would win him over immediately with her beauty, talents, brain, and bold personality. He wasn’t sure what he wanted her to look like, but he would certainly know her when he saw her.

She would be cunning and adventurous, and she would stun him immediately with her beauty and grace. She would be, simply put, the best among them. He would know that from the start.

“Your Grace, the first few carriages are starting to arrive,” announced Thompson, the butler.

Henry jumped slightly, wondering if Robert took notice. The other man said nothing, however, and Henry was grateful.

“Excellent,” Henry said, though, for some reason, another jolt of nervousness struck him. He stood straighter and adjusted his cravat, hoping he didn’t seem as though he had a case of the nerves. “Please see the ladies escorted safely indoors, Thompson.”

The tall man bowed as low as he was able.

“Of course, Your Grace,” the man said, turning on his heel.

Henry let out a breath, not realizing how shaky it would be. He moved the lace curtain away from the window and peered out. It was true. The carriages were rounding the large fountain in the center of his courtyard. He tried to squint to see the young ladies on their way up the walk, but they were too far away to see clearly, and it was much too dark on top of it.

It was time to meet his guests.

Henry and Robert descended the great stairwell in the grand hall of the manor, waiting with bated breath to view the beauties on their way.

The door swung open, and three young ladies stepped inside. They ogled the beautiful decor and the regality of his manor, their heels clicking on the cold marble as they cooed and complimented his immaculate eye for decoration. He had done none of it himself, and he knew that they knew that as well.

Well. Flattery would get them nowhere. He would decide for himself what impressed him and what did not.

There would be no insistent mothers, no boring daughters, and no watchful fathers. It would be, all in all, perhaps the easiest way to choose a bride and the brightest idea that a man had ever conceived.

Tonight, was the night, then. All his planning to achieve the perfect match for him would come to fruition tonight.

It had to be perfect. It simply had to be.

After tonight, everything would be different.

Before the night was through, he would have discovered the identity of the future Duchess of Bedford, whether he truly wanted to or not.

Or else, he certainly hoped he will have discovered her, because if she wasn’t among the ton’s most beautiful debutantes, then who could she possibly be?


Alice’s feeling of dread was mounting ever higher with each step toward the manor. Nancy was giddy but managed to hide her excitement behind a poised face. No one but Alice would know how gleeful Nancy was to be here.

“I can’t believe we managed to sneak away!” Nancy whispered as they approached the steps, arm in arm.

“I can’t believe we’re actually going through with this,” Alice replied. “We can head back to the carriage now if we hurry.”

“We’re already here, sister,” Nancy said. “We might as well go through with the night.”

A stone-faced footman stood in front steps to the manor. He held out his hand to Nancy. She handed him her invitation and curtsied gracefully in her fine silk as he stepped aside, allowing her to pass.

“And yours, miss?” the man asked, hiking up one brow.

“Mine?” Alice asked, kicking herself for not expecting a guard. “Can we not both simply use that one?”

The look on the servant’s face was enough to tell her what she already knew he would say.

“This invitation is for one young lady, a Miss Nancy Egerton,” the man said, regarding her suspiciously now. “You are obviously not she, and I am not permitted to allow anyone in without an invitation. My apologies, miss.”

Alice felt her face burn with shame. Was it that obvious that she was not supposed to be here?

Nancy looked on sadly when a fair-haired man brushed by her through the front door.

“What’s all this?” he asked. “Trouble?”

“No trouble, my lord,” said the man. “Just a young miss without an invite. I told her to be on her way, and she was just leaving.”

The fair-haired man smiled at Alice kindly. “Whyever should she leave? The young lady has come all this way; surely it would be rude to turn her away at the door. Come, come. The more company, the merrier.”

Relief flooded through Alice. She wasn’t sure what she would do if she had to leave Nancy alone in that vast manor.

The man gestured at the footman to step aside, and he did as he was bid, not without giving Alice one last look of suspicion. The two girls followed the fair-haired man up the walk and ascended the last few steps to the manor.

“I thought I spied Rodrick turning away someone through the window,” he said good-naturedly. “Thought I would come to see what the matter was.”

Who was this man? Was he the Duke?

Surely not. Nancy had said that the Duke had dark hair and eyes; this man looked nothing like that.

He held the door open for them, and the two girls stepped inside.

Alice gasped at the decor. There were candles enough for a grand ball, though she could see only a handful of girls, nearly twenty at the most. Deep, red rose petals were strewn about the floor and there were enough stunning floral creations to impress even the Queen.

It was a ridiculous display that Alice didn’t like one bit.

The young women dotting the grand hall were all as gorgeous as the flowers themselves. Each one was in her finest silk dress; pastel pinks and blues and greens clung to the lithe form of each hopeful young debutante.

Alice touched her face. She fervently wished that she had at least bothered to put on some rouge. She stuck out here more than she ever had at any ball; now that there were so few young ladies in the room, it was crystal clear exactly how plain she was.

Not only that, but she was the oldest one here as well. This man might have allowed her inside, but this man was not the Duke himself. She felt a horrible fear creep into her nerves, and suddenly, she just wanted to take her sister’s hand and run.

What if the Duke didn’t want her here?

How shameful would it be to be escorted out of the manor for being so obviously plain?

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

The Lord’s Sweet Revenge (Preview)


Chapter One

Even after three years of marriage, Lady Caroline Monmouth was still unable to keep a dreamy smile from her lips when she gazed at William. He was indeed the most handsome man she had even met, and no-one in the world made her as happy as he made her.

His playful gaze met hers, but before either one was able to utter a word, the carriage jolted violently and Caroline shrieked in surprise. Perhaps it was only the uneven country road that had caused the abrupt motion, but as Caroline glanced out of the window of the coach, three horses appeared, ridden by three men she did not recognise. Their faces were obscured by the motions of the coach, as well as the horses, but Caroline knew nothing good would come of this. The coach jolted again, only this time it managed to overturn abruptly. Caroline reached for William’s hand, calling his name in terror.

Caroline was flung from the coach and landed on the ground, the world spinning viciously around her. Her vision grew hazy and the last thing she heard was William’s voice calling out to her. Darkness engulfed her, and her consciousness eluded her.

A searing pain in her skull woke her but her body was unable to move. The muffled voices of three men nearby struck even more terror into her soul. Where was William? Had those men done something to him?

Overcome with fear of what the men may do to her if they were to realise she was alive, she lay perfectly still, her face half buried in the dirt.

The sweet smell of blood filled her nostrils, yet she remained still as footsteps approached. The men came to a stop beside her, and she felt one of them lightly kicking her leg.

“She is dead.”

“Pity. We could have had a bit of fun. She was a pretty one.”

Caroline inwardly cringed but remained motionless. She was uncertain how much time had passed, but when the sound of their horses had faded, she opened her eyes. The men were nowhere to be seen. For a moment she was relieved, but her heart began to pound in her chest.


Caroline rose to her feet, dizzily reached her hand to her temple, and felt the warm sticky blood on her skin. She drew in a deep breath, needing to be composed to find William.

“William?” she called out faintly.

She stepped towards the tall grass and froze in horror as she saw him. William lay on his back, his lifeless body covered in blood. Her heart stopped for a moment, tears immediately forming in her eyes as she stumbled towards him.


Caroline’s body jolted upright in her bed as a terror-filled scream broke the silence of the midnight air. Her hand automatically reached to the side for comfort, as it had done each time she had been plagued by a bad dream. Her entire life these last years had consisted of dark dreams, but not in such extremes as it had been of late. Regardless of what she had tried to relieve herself from the trauma, her mind simply did not wish to cooperate. Nor did her heart.

It had been two years—which felt an eternity at times to Caroline—since the fateful evening when her life had been turned upside down and she’d lost the love of her life. Yet it felt as if it had happened mere moments ago.

Each night.

It was of course not something she wished to think of, yet the thoughts always remained with her. As did the feelings of guilt.

She had considered every possibility and every possible outcome to the situation. If she’d had the opportunity to do something, anything, to save William’s life, she would have done so. The constant nagging at the back of her mind that reminded her that she could have done something to change the terrible outcome was certainly the most heart-breaking burden to bear.

Regardless of her fighting spirit and determination to save her husband, what chance would she have had against three men with pistols and knives?

Instead, she’d remained motionless on the ground while her beloved was cruelly ripped from the world, and from her life. Despite her mother’s constant assurance that she need not feel guilty, Caroline still battled the dark thoughts of guilt that consumed her mind. They clouded her self-worth and were the leading cause of her inability to sleep peacefully.

The nightmares forced her to relive that evening over and over, much to her horror and dismay, and she often woke with sobs and an aching heart.

Her ragged breathing caused her chest to burn, and hot tears streamed down her face. They were uncontrollable, as if they possessed their own will, and were not affected by Caroline’s inward scolds.

With trembling hands, she peeled the blankets away and slid her legs off the edge of the bed. Her feet touched her cool floor and she slowly made her way out of her bedchambers and into the dark hallway.

Caroline heard the sounds of the city outside her mother’s townhouse, where she had spent her younger years. She had forgotten how lively the nights were in Town, as she’d spent quite a few years living in the countryside with William. He was not fond of the city, and when Caroline happily agreed to live at his country estate, she’d welcomed the fresh air and peaceful surroundings with open arms. The gardens were picturesque, and she was at peace. But that hadn’t lasted.

The skirt of her nightdress swept across the floor as she quietly walked to the parlour, where she and her mother had been playing chess earlier. The wooden chess pieces were still as they’d left them, and Caroline reached out her hand. She began to arrange them accordingly, each piece placed in the square where it belonged.

Staring at the board, she could not help but wonder where she fit in society, or if she would ever regain her own sense of belonging. William had ensured that she did not feel out of place, and his comforting arms were her solace, the place where she felt safe and secure. That was all a thing of the past, and she knew there was only one direction to go, even if she was unwilling to do so.

The floorboards in the hallway creaked, startling Caroline, and her eyes widened. It was far too late, or perhaps too early, for any servant to be wandering around in the dark. After she decided to move back into her mother’s home, quite a few of the servants were politely asked to leave as they could no longer afford them. There was barely enough money to keep the two of them alive, and certainly not enough to still keep servants at the townhouse.

Their time of living lavishly had certainly come to an end far sooner than they would have expected. Caroline’s father, to both her and her mother’s surprise, had had quite a few debts that needed to be settled after his death, which left them with much less than they had expected. Money certainly did not last forever, especially if there were expenses to be paid with no source of income.

A bitter taste still lingered in Caroline’s mouth as she thought of the struggle she had experienced the past two years. After suffering the devastating loss of her husband, she had been removed from his home. Upon William’s passing, his title and estate had transferred to his heir, his cousin. Caroline had been cast out of her house rather cruelly, now that it was not her home anymore. Her husband left her a small amount for her needs, but of course, this was not enough. The only option for her was to return to her mother’s home, although she was not fully aware of the financial difficulty her mother was in herself. Now both of them had to overcome this difficult situation if they wanted to survive.

The floorboards creaked once more, and Caroline reached for a wooden statue of a horse. Clutching it tightly, she slowly and carefully approached the doorway, ready to defend herself from imminent attack.

A shadowy figure appeared around the corner and Caroline raised the horse above her head.

Much to her surprise, the silhouette belonged to her dear mother, who appeared in the doorway. The older woman shrieked when she saw Caroline.


“Caroline,” her mother gasped, clutching her chest. “You nearly made my heart stop beating.”

“My apologies,” Caroline sighed apologetically, lowering the horse. “I thought there was an intruder.”

“As did I,” her mother said, catching her breath.

“What are you doing awake?”

“As I mentioned, I thought there was an intruder in the house,” her mother said. “What on earth are you doing here, creeping around in the dark?”

“I could not sleep,” Caroline answered and placed the wooden statue back on the mantle.

“Were you plagued by another dream?”

“Indeed,” she answered, nodding and running her fingers through her hair. “But there is much weighing on my mind as well.”

“Tell me of it.”

Caroline sighed with misery and shook her head. “I am aware that we are not in a financial position to keep the house, Mother. After Father’s passing, you found it difficult to keep up with payments, and I do not blame you at all. Father did not leave you with much, and now here I am, forcing you to spend even more of the little money you have left.”

“It is not about the money. You are my daughter—”

“You were forced to cut the staff. Do not think me so naive that I have not noticed. I cannot in good conscience simply live here and allow for both of our downfalls,” Caroline said.

“What do you suggest we do?”

We do nothing. You have done more for me than I would ever be able to repay. You have cared for me most of my life, and now it is my turn to care for you.”

“It seems as though you have something in mind.”

“I have, and I am fairly certain it is not something you will approve of.”

Her mother narrowed her eyes and glared at Caroline. “As long as it does not require you to do things for money.”

Caroline crossed her arms and pouted slightly. “Perhaps in a manner of speaking—”

“I will not allow my daughter to become some man’s mistress!”

“Mother, please,” Caroline said and brought her hands up in an effort to calm her mother. “That was not at all what I meant. I apologise profusely.”

“What did you mean?”

“I am a young woman who is still within child-bearing years. I must re-join society and find a man to marry. A man who is wealthy and will be able to care for us both.”


“I will not allow you to live in poverty, Mother. You and Father have done much for me, and I am forever grateful for the sacrifices you both made to ensure I was well taken care of,” Caroline said and approached her mother. She took her mother’s hands in hers and smiled lovingly at the woman who raised her.

“And who would marry a widow?”

Caroline released her mother’s hands and stepped away. “Mother, you need not be so rude or cruel.”

“Think of it, my dear. Most eligible men seek a young and innocent lady, a debutante especially. They are much more sought after than older widows.”

“I’m only older by a few years,” Caroline defended. “Besides, there are many men—sometimes widowers themselves—who seek a widow to marry.”

“A few years can make all the difference.”

“I despise being a woman at times.“ Caroline sighed and pursed her lips. “Expectations are unattainably high. It is rather ridiculous. But I do not have a choice in the matter, Mother. And neither do you. I could not bear the thought of you living in poverty, or losing the house that you and Father built. There are too many memories within these walls, and I will not allow it. This time, however, I have no intention of falling in love or marrying for anything more than simple convenience. My heart belongs to only one man, and I daresay it shall remain that way until my last breath.”

“Your determination is inspiring. And I want nothing more than to see you happy.”

“You mean the world to me, and I will do anything to ensure that you do not lose the house.”

“Your father would be very proud of you for doing what is right,” her mother said sadly and placed her hand lovingly against Caroline’s cheek.

Caroline cast her gaze downwards as the emotions bubbled up inside her. “Mother, it has been two years. Two years and I am not anywhere closer to forgetting, or even processing what happened. Is that not abnormal?”

“You lost the man who captured your heart from the very first time you gazed upon him. You loved and adored him with an intensity I know all too well. It does not merely vanish, regardless of the time that has passed.”

“And I will feel this way until my last day?” she asked, and her mother nodded. “How do you live with yourself? How do you do it, Mother? How do you wake in the mornings knowing that he is not here and will never be here ever again?”

“With great difficulty,” she answered. “I miss your father every day. Our time together was much longer than yours with William, and I am truly grateful for that. But true love is not determined by the length of time spent together. It is measured in the laughter and happiness for those moments, whether it is two years or twenty.”

“My heart will forever be his. And I hope that he will be able to forgive me for what I must do. He will forgive me, won’t he?” Caroline asked, feeling truly helpless.

Her mother wrapped her arms around Caroline and embraced her tightly. Caroline wept in her mother’s arms, her heart once again torn to pieces. It was a difficult thing for Caroline to do, to seek a husband purely for the sake of her family’s survival, but she knew it was what was required of her.

Her mother’s embrace loosened and she glanced at her.

“Dry your tears, my dearest,” her mother said with a slight smile. “In the morn we will start our quest for a husband.”

Although her mother’s words made it sound very much as an adventure, Caroline was well aware that it would be a painful journey ahead.

It was certainly not unheard of for young women to marry for convenience—in fact, not many matches were based on love or even friendships.

It was no secret to Caroline that society demanded that members of the gentry should be paired together in marital alliances, regardless of their feelings for one another. Caroline knew that although the young women were given a choice—to some extent, of course—most matches were made solely for the purpose of bringing noble and influential families together, to create an even more powerful front.

Love matches did occur, of course, but not as often. Caroline knew she was one of the lucky ones, for which she was more than grateful for. She would not trade those moments with William for anything in the world.

Fortunately, Caroline was considered very handsome among the women of Town, and she was certain it would not be too difficult to secure an offer from a wealthy gentleman. Her determination and desperation certainly did not place any restrictions on what she looked for in a man—he simply needed to be wealthy.

Many young women married men they did not have any amicable feelings towards, and Caroline considered herself strong-minded enough to be able to endure it as well. There was certainly no place for love in her heart. Not this time.

As she and her mother made their way upstairs to their respective chambers, Caroline could not help but wonder who would catch her eye, and worse, whose eye she would catch.

Nevertheless, she would secure a marriage as speedily as she could. She did not have any other choice.


Chapter Two

Beads of sweat dripped down Jacob’s clenched fists as he circled the boxing ring. His determined gaze was focused on his opponent as he anticipated the next punch. The sport had helped him sharpen his determination not only in the boxing ring, but in real life as well.

His opponent’s eyes narrowed and his body swayed back ever so slightly. Most people would not have noticed it, but Jacob did. It was his opponent’s tell, and it made Jacob aware that he would need to dodge the impending punch.

Jacob cocked his head to the side, evading his opponent’s powerful punch, and immediately threw multiple quick punches against his opponent’s torso. His opponent stumbled backwards and glared at him.

“Good,” he grunted. “That was well done.”

A slight smile formed on Jacob’s lips, and he nodded at his opponent. Despite the fact that the man was his boxing master and his friend, Jacob had been told that he should for no reason think to go easy on him.

Aaron, whom he’d been friends with since they were boys, had assisted Jacob in becoming the man he now was.

Both physically and mentally.

Aaron was the son of Jacob’s late father’s footman, and the two boys had been instant friends upon meeting. Jacob had been a loner most of his life, and having a friend such as Aaron clearly helped him in ways he would have never imagined.

Jacob began to circle the ring once more, fooling Aaron’s lead, dodging more punches, as he had been taught. He had learned to follow his instincts and to observe people more closely—a skill that would have been particularly helpful when he was a young boy.

Aaron stepped closer, within reaching distance of Jacob, and Jacob threw a powerful punch at his friend, striking him against the jaw. Aaron stumbled backwards again and wiped the corner of his mouth.

“Are you alright?” Jacob asked. “Shall we stop?

“Perhaps that is enough for the day. You can declare yourself the victor today, but only today.”

Jacob scoffed and lowered his fists, breathing raggedly. He had missed these spirited fights with Aaron, despite it only being for practice. Jacob was a gentleman, so there was no chance he’d be participating in any boxing exhibitions, but he did have another mission in mind. A mission that had kept him motivated to change himself for the better.

“You seem rather determined today, Jacob,” Aaron pointed out, spitting blood into a metal bucket beside him.

“Indeed. Perhaps it is being back in Town,” Jacob said as he and Aaron climbed from the ring.

Aaron threw a folded cloth at Jacob, who caught it easily and wiped his face. His black hair was damp with sweat, and he was certainly not at all presentable, wearing only a pair of dark grey breeches. He glanced at his muscled torso and reminisced on how far he had come the past ten years. He had not always possessed such a physique. In fact, he had been rather portly as a child.

Because he was subjected to teasing, he isolated himself from the world, knowing there was no place in society for someone such as him.

“You do not have to go through with it, Jacob,” Aaron said, interrupting his thoughts.

Jacob glanced at Aaron and his jaw clenched. “I did not leave Scotland’s countryside and come all this way for no reason.”

“London has more to offer than what you seek.”

“Do not make me regret telling you of my plan,” Jacob said jokingly.

Aaron chuckled in amusement and shook his head. “I may not be aware of what it is like to be a nobleman, but I do know that resorting to revenge is not the way. It only cuts up your peace.”

“And what would you have me do? Simply forget it ever happened?” Jacob asked.

“That is definitely a better option than what you have in mind.”

“Luckily it is not your decision,” Jacob muttered. “But I do appreciate your cautionary words.

“Jacob, you are my friend, and I cannot in good conscience allow you to do this. Do you really think revenge is the best way to go about this?” Aaron asked as he stepped back, retrieved two glasses and a bottle of whiskey from a wooden box, and placed it on the table.

“She embarrassed me, Aaron. Why do you think I left for Scotland? She ruined my chances of ever being seen as anything other than a fat boy with a speech impediment.”

“Is that what you believe? Is that what you think people dwell on? You should not allow the opinion of a young girl to affect you so deeply, my friend. Look at yourself. You are not the same as you were, nor is she.”

“You have seen her?” Jacob asked.

“I have.”

Jacob paused, wondering whether she was still as beautiful as she had been as a young girl, but he dared not ask Aaron such things. Aaron knew the inner workings of his mind almost as well as he himself did, and he knew better than to venture down that path.

“She is still a very beautiful woman, if that interests you,” Aaron smiled smugly.

“It does not,” Jacob scoffed.

Despite not wishing to, Jacob could still perfectly recall her beautiful face in his mind. Outwardly she had been a lovely young girl, with thick black locks, warm brown eyes, and a delectable laugh. Jacob had been instantly smitten with her, but he had not considered himself worthy of being in her company.

“She and her mother were seen promenading in Hyde Park,” Aaron grinned quietly and poured whiskey into the two glasses.

“Again, that hardly concerns me,” Jacob asked.

Aaron straightened his back and raised an apprehensive brow at him. “Of course it does not.”

“I do not appreciate your tone,” Jacob said, accepting the glass and sipping the whiskey.

Jacob did not appreciate the manner in which Aaron gazed at him and he scoffed in disapproval. “There is no need to pass judgement upon me, Aaron. I have already made up my mind and I will not be swayed. I will make her feel the same embarrassment and pain she caused me all those years ago. I have spent ten years of my life improving myself, training hard, recreating my body—”

“While still carrying this hatred inside your heart. That cannot be healthy.”

“You do not understand.”

“I do. I have heard you speak and complain and scowl while speaking of her in my presence. I have seen the anger with which you spewed her name, the blinding hatred you have for her. It has caused you to lose all those years, not gain them, my friend. It was such a long time ago. Can you not move on and forget of it?”

“Would you be able to forget?”

Aaron drank the remainder of the whiskey in his glass and set it down on the table. “I say this as your friend and nothing less. I understand she caused you embarrassment, but please do not proceed with this plan. You are not required to prove yourself to anyone, especially not to her. You are an accomplished man, and you can have any woman you want. The young women will fall at your feet when they see you now. Why not choose to move on with your life with one of them? Or take them all—it does not even matter. Just stop dwelling on this and move on with your life.”

“It is not what I want,” he answered with utmost confidence.

“You wish to ruin a young woman’s life,” Aaron sighed. “Is that truly what you want, Jacob? Can you tell me, with pure honesty, this is what you want?”


“That is a pity,” Aaron said with a sigh. “That is not what I wish for you. You are my friend and it pains me to see you like this. You are caught in a prison of hatred, and by proceeding with your plan and taking revenge on her for something that happened so many years ago, you will only bring harm to yourself.”

Jacob set the empty glass on the table and extended his hand to Aaron. “You are a good friend to me. I simply hope that this will not taint your perception of me.”

Aaron scoffed and shook his hand. “What I think of you will never change, and I will always remain your friend. It is merely your actions I disapprove of.”

“Thank you.” Jacob nodded.

“It might interest you to know there is a ball the day after next. Perhaps you can make an appearance,” Aaron suggested.

“And how do you know of this?” Jacob asked.

“I am not deaf,” Aaron replied wryly, shrugging. “Two noblemen I train were discussing it. Apparently it will be a grand affair.”

“Perhaps I shall attend…though only if she will be there,” Jacob answered.

“You have been hurt badly if you cannot even bear to let her name cross your lips.” Aaron sighed. “Would you care for another drink?”

“Certainly not. If I do, her name will not be the only word I would be unable to speak.”

“Very well,” Aaron said with a chuckle. “Although, your stammer is much better. Your speech is impeccable.”

“Only when I am surrounded by people I trust implicitly.”

“I will graciously accept that compliment.” Aaron grinned.

Jacob grinned at Aaron in return. Although he had only returned to London a mere week ago, being in Aaron’s presence made being in Town much easier. Remaining in the confines of his late father’s home in Mayfair, he spent his nights in darkness, listening to the sounds of the city, building his courage, and plotting his revenge against the woman who broke his heart.

“I will inquire as to whether she will be in attendance tomorrow evening. But even if she is not, I think it would be a great opportunity for you to announce your own return to Town,” Aaron said.

“Perhaps,” Jacob answered with a hint of indifference.

A night at a social gathering, placing him on display for all the young women to see, would certainly gain attention. And that was precisely what he wished. He wished that the young women recognised him and stared at him in wonder and awe—that they would see how he had blossomed from a portly, stammering boy, to an eloquent, handsome and fit young man.

His revenge would be cold, but his victory would be sweet and satisfying. Finally, the time to get revenge on Caroline Monmouth had arrived.

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

Heir in Despair (Preview)


Chapter 1

London, England


William pushed through the door of the barristers’ chambers with a spring in his step. Nothing could stop his rise as a barrister now.

“Shaw! Good work man.” One of the other barristers clapped him on the shoulder as he walked past.

“Thank you, Carter. All in a day’s work,” he said with false modesty as he walked on down the corridor, his hessian boots clicking the dark mahogany floorboards as he moved. He had papers tucked under his arms and his coat tails swung behind him.

“Mr Shaw, I’d like to shake your hand.” One of the senior barristers cut in front of William.

“Ah, Mr Grover.” William smiled, realizing how great a mark of respect such praise from this man was.

“Well done on the Klipton case. Nobody saw that coming, no one except you.”

“Thank you, sir.” William shrugged, as though it were no great matter. “A little bit of hard work, that’s all it took.”

“No need for modesty.” Grover laughed as he stepped away again. “Good work! To your post, man.”

William laughed too and continued down the corridor. Every step he took, he was receiving nods from other barristers and clerks. The latest case he had won was about to see his name go up significantly in the world of law. William smiled at the idea, for years he had slogged on small cases. Not that he desired fame at all, no, he had always done his work from a selfless place. He had a desire to see those men guilty of crimes put behind bars and punished for what they did. But with this latest turn of events, he would be placed on cases of much greater crimes from now on. It would give him the opportunity to put away criminals who had truly done the worst of what was imaginable in this world.

That is a good cause to live for!

Though he had started as just an errand boy in the chambers, he had worked hard and moved up the ranks, going from clerk to barrister.

He opened the door into the office he shared in the chambers with two other up-and-coming barristers. One had not yet arrived, but at his entrance, the second, a Mr Haynes, stood to his feet in front of the large floor-to-ceiling shelves of books that covered their walls.

“Shaw!” Haynes stepped out from his desk as William reached his own. “The chambers cannot stop talking of your success.”

“I had noticed.” William smiled as he dropped his papers onto his desk and gestured through the door. “Just walking through the corridor, it was like being at the gentleman’s club, fawning off attention!”

“I am not sure the barristers would appreciate you comparing them to the types of ladies that frequent those clubs.” Haynes laughed heartily at his jest.

“What they can’t hear, won’t hurt them.”

“You best get used to this new way of life. Our superior has already brought a new case down for your attention.” Haynes gestured at his desk.

“Wonderful.” William reached for the file with excitement.

Yes, this is my purpose in life.

Ever since the tragedy that had overshadowed his younger days, he had found a new reason for living. As a barrister, he was happy putting away the guilty.

“What is this?” William hesitated before placing his hand on the new file.

“Oh, more death threats,” Haynes shrugged. “Customary for our way of life, I’m afraid.” Haynes walked back to his desk.

“Hmm, I had noticed.” William laughed. “I have received three this week already.” He added the latest paper to those he had discarded on a nearby table, barely bothering to read it. “It’s as though these people blame me for the fact their loved ones are hardened murderers or thieves. I am hardly responsible they chose a life of crime!”

“But you’re happy to punish them for it.”

“Happy, indeed.” William smiled as he picked up the stack of death threats, filtering through them quickly. The ones sent earlier in the week had been from young families, all complaining that their fathers had been sent away to prison for an unjust period of time for theft. On the final threat, the one he had received that morning, his eyes lingered a little longer.

This was a particularly vehement threat indeed, promising just payment and gore for William’s ‘sin’ against their family. This threat did not pertain to any theft, but to the murder case that was now earning William so much praise: the Klipton case.

“So, tell all!” Haynes’ high-pitched voice tore William’s gaze away and he placed the death threats into a folder that he dropped into the bottom drawer of his desk.

Best not spoil a day like this with such horrid thoughts.

“Tell all?” William repeated as he sat down at his desk, pulling forward his latest case file.

“How did you know that the farmer was guilty? Everyone was convinced it was the butler,” Haynes said, leaning across his desk, his face visible in the light filtering in from the small window in their dark-wood-paneled room.

“The farmer had an agreement with the landowner. The farmer, Joseph, had made a deal – if Klipton bought the farm off him for a short time, Joseph promised he would buy back the land at an inflated price.”

“How was he going to accomplish such a thing?”

“An investment, which by the sounds of things, went badly wrong. He was going to use the money from the initial purchase of the land and turn it into more money. That extra money would then allow him to buy back the land from Klipton and pay for some new equipment. Money-making scheme.” William smiled as he looked up from the paperwork. “Klipton, as the greedy landowner he always was, saw an opportunity of his own. When Joseph came back to him and said the investment had gone poorly and he did not have more money to buy the land back at the inflated price, Klipton outright refused the sale.”

“Hard, but a deal’s a deal, I suppose.” Haynes nodded.

“Just so,” William agreed. “Joseph, a father of four kids, realized he had now lost everything. His money-making scheme had failed, and he had lost the farm, his only chance at giving those children any livelihood. He killed Klipton in a moment of mad revenge.” William shook his head. “How some people are driven to such lengths, I will never understand.”

“Hmm, quite so, but how did you get Joseph to confess on the stand?” Haynes rested an elbow on the desk.

William sat back, too pleased with himself not to talk about it.

“He wanted to confess really. Joseph was a family man. He may have killed Klipton in anger, but he felt guilty,” William acknowledged, remembering how the farmer had crumpled on the stand before him when questioned so diligently. “It was just a case of pushing that guilt until it all came out.”

“Impressive.” Haynes nodded before reaching for his own paperwork. “Well, what’s next then? What will you do now your name is established as quite the intelligent barrister?”

“Now,” William pointed down to the folder on the desk. “I go onto the next case.” He bent his head over the papers.

This was how his life would always be, moving from one case to the next, and the next, unrelenting.

It’s the only life I want.


“That’s it, Lizzy, practice one more time,” Clara said kindly, gesturing for the ten-year-old girl beside her to copy out some maps again on a second piece of parchment in order to learn her geography. The girl smiled and pulled the parchment toward her, following the instruction happily.

Clara smiled down at the girl to see her working so hard. Before this position, she had been in search of work. She had now spent six months as governess to Lizzy Shaw, the younger sister of the barrister, Mr William Shaw, and Lizzy was already showing how clever she could be. It warmed Clara’s heart to know that perhaps this new venture in her life could bring her some satisfaction when watching Lizzy’s progress.

Clara’s world had been turned upside down after the death of her father a couple years ago. The Baron had died with significant debts to his name, meaning their family had to go into service. Clara winced at the thought of where her mother and sister now were. Her mother worked as a cleaner at a barristers’ chambers, and her sister was a seamstress’ assistant. It was her mother’s doing that Clara now had her own position as a governess. She had mentioned Clara’s name to Mr Shaw at the chambers. Next thing Clara knew, she had moved into Shaw’s townhouse.

“You’re doing well,” Clara said as Lizzy sat back in the seat of the writing desk, swinging her legs beneath on from the chair.

“Am I?” Lizzy looked up, with a smile beaming across her features. She was not dissimilar in looks to her older brother, possessing the same black hair, that was now swept up into a chignon. “I have never done this before. I don’t like this letter,” Lizzy complained as she pointed down at the ‘k’ in the list.

“Nobody does,” Clara smiled. “Far too difficult to write. You should see my ‘k’s, utterly atrocious!” As Clara mocked herself, Lizzy giggled.

There was the sound of a carriage arriving outside the house and Lizzy scrambled off the chair.

“Careful, Lizzy,” Clara said with warmth as she followed her, straightening out the now ruffled skirt of the young girl. Clara had been given a traditional and rather elegant upbringing, despite her now great fall from wealth. Lizzy, on the other hand, was yet to learn such things, but Clara was keen to teach her. “Who is it?”

“It’s William!” Lizzy bobbed on her toes with excitement as she peered over the window frame.

Clara’s breath hitched as she too looked through the window to see Mr Shaw step out of his carriage. She had only known her new employer for six months, and she was startled by the effect the sight of the gentleman had on her.

He is a handsome man indeed…

With black hair, smoky grey eyes, and a tall frame, Clara thought it would be impossible for a woman not to be affected by the barrister’s appearance, but that was part of the problem… the man was a known rake, jumping from one woman’s bed to the next with great alacrity. Clara tried to shake off her admiration for him as she and Lizzy watched him walk up the front steps toward the door of the townhouse, but it was impossible.

Always clean shaven, he had strong features, the curves of his face were so chiseled that Clara liked to compare him to the old Roman marble statues she had seen draping the hallways of museums.

Do not be a fool, Clara.

She reprimanded herself as Lizzy turned away from the window and ran back to her chair. She took Clara’s hand as she went and dragged her with her.

“I want to show, William. Do you think he’ll like it?” Lizzy innocently held up the page of lettering. Despite this being one of her first days, the maps were surprisingly neat.

“I’m certain he will.” Clara smiled.

The door opened to the library then before she could speak further. She flicked her head round to see Mr Shaw step inside. She held her breath as she bobbed a traditional curtsy, as any governess should do.

“Ah, you’re in here.” His cold words prompted her to look up again.

“We are, sir.” She watched him, but he barely glanced at her. Those grey eyes passed quickly over her and moved to Lizzy. Clara felt the sting that glance caused.

He is rake! He can have the pick of any woman. He is hardly going to spend long looking at his governess.

“How is Lizzy progressing?” Mr Shaw asked.

Clara felt Lizzy shift at her side and look down at the paper in her hands. The excitement the child had been holding onto a few minutes ago vanished. Clara felt Lizzy’s pain as if it were her own.

She lifted her chin high, hoping to meet Mr Shaw’s gaze, but he was already looking across the room, almost indifferent to the two of them. Had Clara been this man’s equal when it came to wealth, she would have told him openly what she thought…

Ask her yourself! She is right here!

As it was, she did not currently have the luxury of being so outspoken. Not as a governess.

“She is progressing brilliantly well, sir.” Clara took the paper from Lizzy’s hand and tapped the girl’s chin, urging her to look up. When Lizzy’s grey eyes found Clara’s, she urged her to smile. “Today we were working on our lettering and she would love to show you.”

“Later, perhaps. I have work to do.” The cold indifference made Clara’s hand tighten around the paper. “I am pleased to hear there is improvement. If you excuse me, I must attend to my work.” With that word, he turned and left the room.

For a few seconds, Clara and Lizzy both just stared at the door. Clara winced at the sound of Mr Shaw retreating back through the townhouse, toward his study.

She knew he had to be a well-intentioned man, after all, he was a barrister! Yet, he had clearly not thought through how his words had sounded. He had not asked after his sister’s wellbeing, and he had barely looked at either of them.

He is a preoccupied man, indeed.

Lizzy snatched back the parchment from Clara’s grasp and returned to the table. She knelt on the chair, tucking her feet under her, and leaned over with her ink and quill to practice another line.

At any other time, Clara would have happily smiled and remarked on the girl’s hard work, but this was not the right moment. Lizzy was pouting and there was sadness in her eyes.

“Lizzy, sweetheart, is something wrong?” Clara took the chair beside her again.

“It’s William,” Lizzy admitted, though she kept her eyes down on her drawings. “He doesn’t love me like I love him.”

“That is nonsense, dear.” Clara tapped Lizzy’s chin again, urging her to look up and connect their gazes. “Your brother loves you very dearly, indeed.”

“He has a funny way of showing love then.” Lizzy scrunched up her nose.

That I unfortunately cannot deny.

“He is just preoccupied.” Clara smiled, trying to dispel the air of sadness in the room. “There is much work for him to do.”

“That’s not it.” Lizzy sat back in her chair and shook her head, playing with the folds of her dress. “I know what it is.”

“What is it?”

“He blames me for our mother’s death.”

“What!?” Clara sat bolt straight in her chair, surprised by the volume she had allowed herself to use. When Lizzy looked to her in alarm, she cleared her throat. “I am sure that’s not true.”

“It is!” Lizzy moaned and fiddled much more with her dress. “I was told that my entering the world was the reason she left. How could he not blame me for it?”

Clara stared open-mouthed at the child for a minute, struggling with what words to say. Whoever had decided to tell her of the manner of her mother’s passing had clearly worded the sentence very ill indeed. They had allowed Lizzy to blame herself.

“That is not how these things work.” Clara’s voice was soft as she took Lizzy’s hands off her dress. “Come now, no more fiddling. Look at me, Lizzy.” she waited until the girl’s eyes returned to her. “Your mother’s passing is not your fault. Your brother knows that too and he loves you more than anything in this world.”

“How can you know that?” Lizzy tilted her head to the side and stuck her tongue between her lips.

“Because I am a very clever woman,” Clara said with mock pride, breaking Lizzy’s sadness for a moment to reveal a smile. “Trust in my cleverness.”

“I will.” Lizzy nodded.

“I know your brother loves you more than anything because that is why he is working so hard.”

“It is?” Lizzy looked confused.

“Oh yes,” Clara said, squeezing the girl’s hand with comfort. “He works all the hours God has sent him so that he can make ends meet and provide for you. He has brought me here, to you, for that same purpose, to take care of you and help teach you. He loves you more than anything.”

Lizzy nodded, with a full smile taking over her lips again.

“I think that’s enough geography for one day.” Clara pushed the parchment away, determined to continue on her plan of cheering Lizzy’s spirits. “What do you say to a game of cards instead? It will be our secret.”

Lizzy bobbed happily in her seat at the idea.

After some minutes playing cards, the two of them retired to the drawing room where Clara persisted with playing games to distract Lizzy. As dinner came round, Clara left Lizzy in the drawing room and went to organize some food for her. Her quiet walk through the townhouse’s corridors came to a sharp stop when she found the door was open to Mr Shaw’s study.

As it was the summer months, even at this late hour there was plenty of daylight, and it streamed through the study’s windows onto Mr Shaw’s face, allowing Clara a perfect view of his features in profile.

Sometimes…I think he is a man made of ice.

He was staring down at a parchment in his hand, reading it intently. That intense gaze of his sent a shiver up her spine, one of excitement. She couldn’t help but wonder what it could be like if Mr Shaw ever turned that cool stare on her. She rather expected she should be affronted by such an ice-like stare, but she wasn’t. It suggested to her he kept his emotions guarded, that this image of the ‘ice-man’ was just something he wore.

She liked the intensity of it.

Yet known rakes were not good men to pin hopes on. Neither was it a good idea for a governess to think so much of her employer, Clara knew that.

She turned her head away and continued her path down the corridor, determined she would have to stop thinking of Mr Shaw and his handsome looks.


William caught a glimpse of the drawing room through the open door on his way to the dining room. His sister was inside, with her governess, Miss Clara Griffith beside her. It had been a few hours since he had arrived home and found the two of them in the library. Since then he had spent all of his time in the study doing his work and was only now taking his break for dinner. He saw that Lizzy was smiling and laughing at some witty statement Miss Griffith had said. Then he glanced at the governess, too.

Though of average height, she was quite a striking figure. She had light-hazel eyes, skin peppered with soft freckles and chocolate-red hair. William felt the same stirring within he had felt since Miss Griffith had arrived at his door. In his mind’s eye, he could picture that chocolate-red hair splayed out on his pillow upstairs, and he could see her pretty freckled face gasping with pleasure – oh, how he yearned to cause her such gasps. Had he known Miss Griffith was to be so tempting, he might have had second thoughts about hiring her as his sister’s governess. But there was already a bond between the governess and Lizzy, one he would not harm. His yearnings he usually sated at the gentlemen’s club or in Covent Garden, that was his rule. Such temptation was never brought home.

Seeing Miss Griffith every day was tugging at the boundaries of that rule. Whereas on the day of her arrival, he had entertained the usual fantasies he had of many women he met. By now, a few days later, those imaginings were difficult to escape. Whenever he caught a glimpse of her, he was thinking of some new position the two of them could take together, or the sounds she could make with him braced between her legs…

She is Lizzy’s governess!

He shook off the yearnings and turned away, determined to try and stop the constant visions he had of her. A pretty face could lead to dangerous things, after all.

He walked onto the dining room and hurried to take his seat where he preferred to dine alone. As he waited for the butler to serve his food, he was startled to find an envelope beside him on the tabletop.

“A letter, Milton?” William asked as he took up the envelope. “It is not the usual time for mail.”

“No, sir,” Milton agreed as he stepped away again, the food now served. “It arrived late this afternoon whilst you were at the chambers.”

“Ah, thank you.” William nodded his head to the butler and turned his attention back to the envelope. He opened it quickly, his gaze jumping down to the bottom of the page, as it always did, to see who had sent the letter first before reading the correspondence. “Solicitor Franklin Clark…” He muttered allowed to himself.

I do not know a man of that name.

He allowed his eyes to return to the top of the letter and read.

‘Mr William Shaw,

‘It is with my deepest regrets that I write to inform you, your second cousin, the Earl of Cornwall, Maurice Shaw, and his son, Elis Shaw, passed away on the fifteenth of May in a tragic coach accident. With the death of the Earl’s heir, Elis, he had no more heirs who stood to inherit and as he passed without leaving a Will & Testament, the estate reverts to the next male heir in the Shaw line. Though the circumstances are a sad one, I am writing to congratulate you, Mr Shaw, on being the heir to both the Earl’s title and the estate. This will of course result in you taking possession of the estate at your earliest convenience…’

William sat back in his chair and dropped the letter down to the table-top without finishing reading it.

No, no, this was not what I wanted.

“Is all well, sir?” Milton asked, but William could not bring himself to look up to the butler.

What about my work?

Chapter 2

William had been working hard to control his temper over the last few days. Ever since he had received that letter, his life was to be turned upside down. That fact infuriated him.

As he took the carriage toward the barristers’ chambers, he breathed heavily, trying to hold onto some kind of calm resolve, but struggling with it. Today he had to complete closing the last of his cases and hand over those he did not have enough time to. The thought of it was excruciating to him. He was not certain that he had fully come to terms with what was happening as of yet.

It was as though he was under some sort of spell, just going through the motions of preparing himself to become the Earl of Cornwall.

As the carriage arrived, he climbed down and stepped quickly through the door into the chambers. He hesitated momentarily as he moved down the corridor. He felt a strange sense of a mirror image to the same walk he had done a few days ago. Both days barristers and clerks were whispering about him, their gazes lingering in his direction.

“Shaw, I heard the news.” Carter jumped to his side. “Congratulations! Apologies, I should I address you as ‘My Lord’ now, shouldn’t I?”

“No need,” William said tightly. “I have to go.”

“Of course, congratulations again!” Carter’s praising voice followed him down the mahogany corridor, leaving William only more agitated.

His steps became a little quicker, so determined he was to reach his chamber and no longer have to look at the whispering clerks who were all pointing at him.

“Lord Shaw.” Grover suddenly appeared in front of William, bringing him to a sharp stop. He quickly cast a gaze up to the heavens, wondering how badly God wished to make him suffer their congratulations. “Well, it is the second time in a week I’d like to shake your hand.”

William automatically shook Grover’s hand, though he struggled to connect their gazes.

I keep wishing to wake from this nightmare, but still, it will not happen. I just want to stay here and do my work.

“Thank you, sir,” William said quickly.

“You’re going up in the world, my good man.” Grover laughed and let him walk away.

William knew the old barrister was right. This event should be looked on as a blessing, he was to be an earl! If only there was a way that he could keep his work and the title, but there wasn’t. His correspondence with the solicitor had pressed on William the urgency of taking control as quickly as possible. He felt as though the careful life he had built for himself was slipping between his fingers, like running water, and he could not grasp hold of it.

He hurried into office, relieved to find at least this time Haynes was not there. The wood-paneled room was empty, leaving William a moment of peace as he sat down behind his desk and hung his head in his hands.

These days, there were only two things in his life that he loved: his sister and his work. That strong purpose he had felt, having the power to right society’s wrongs had been so important to him. It kept the monster of guilt at bay, the monster that reared its ugly head whenever William thought about his past.

No, do not think of it now.

If he could no longer work, William quickly realized he would have to find another way to keep that monster pushed down inside of him.



On his ride home in the carriage, William thought of a way. He hovered outside of his gentleman’s club, the one that was frequented by ladies of the night and courtesans. He had visited many courtesans over the last few years, but he always ensured he did not visit the same one twice. He went from one to the next, never allowing himself to become attached to anyone.

He hovered in the carriage with a hand on the door, tempted to sate his urges that night and distract himself from the matter at hand by going to the soft touch of some beautiful woman. Now he was Earl, he could spend many more nights in such a way. Lose himself in the pleasure and sweet release, thinking only of the woman he was with each night.

Yet, he could not tonight. He removed his hand from the door of the carriage, stayed firmly sitting and tapped the ceiling, shouting to the driver.

“Home, please!” he called, and the carriage leapt forward once more. There was too much to do to prepare for their departure to the new manor house. He could not afford to indulge in a woman’s touch just yet.


“Do you think they’ll have a garden?” Lizzie asked, hopping up and down on her toes as Clara stood beside her on the bottom step of the staircase in the townhouse, holding hands.

“Oh, I should think so,” Clara smiled. “A big one we can go exploring together.” She saw Lizzy’s bonnet had become tussled in her excitement and rearranged it on the girl’s head. “That’s better.”

“I hope so.” Lizzie smiled. “The garden here is not very big at all.”

At these words, there was a commotion in front of them in the entrance hall. More luggage, carpet bags and leather suitcases were being deposited, the staff were all in a flurry to try and organize everything. Behind them, Mr Shaw stepped out of his study into the room, looking even more flustered than the staff.

Clara felt her own smile slip away as her eyes followed her employer around the space, giving harried orders and trying to prepare the carriages to leave. It had not escaped her notice that Mr Shaw did not exactly seem pleased so far with his new title and estate. That icy exterior he wore had slipped a little bit, but only enough to show frustration.

His grey eyes moved to where Clara and Lizzy stood on the stairs, and he made his way toward them. Clara tried to ignore how fast her heartbeat grew when he came near, but it was pointless. It was now beating extremely fast, indeed.

“Are you both ready?” he asked.

Clara was tempted to reply with wit and jest that no, they were not yet ready, they had merely decided to stand on their stairs in pelisses with their trunks at their feet for fun. But his manner made her bite lip instead.

I am not sure what Mr Shaw would make of wit.

“Yes, My Lord,” she replied simply instead.

There was a disturbance by the door as some of the staff struggled to carry out the trunks and Clara watched as Mr Shaw despaired of them, closing his eyes briefly and pinching the bridge of her nose.

She wished desperately to ask what had upset him so much to cause such frustration and dread of his new position. Had she been so lucky in life, she would have jumped for joy! As it was, she had lost the luck of her previously wealthy position and her family now had to work for their good fortune. She thought at the very least Mr Shaw would be pleased by the windfall. Whatever was bothering him about the turn of events, it had to be superior to the thought of sudden wealth.

“Mr Shaw,” she began, determined to ask what was wrong and think of a way to remove his stress. He turned back to her, the trace of pain that had been there before had gone and he stared at her with that usual ice stare, his defense mechanism. She loved the intensity of that grey stare, it made her shiver with a kind of excitement.

“Yes?” he prompted when she said nothing. That single word made her revoke her decision.

He does not want me to ask what is wrong.

“Perhaps it would be of use to you if Lizzie and I board the carriage?” She gestured to the door. “We will be out of your way then.”

“Yes, that is a good idea.” He gestured for the two of them to go.

“William?” Lizzy called as Clara began to lead her through the scattered trunks toward the door. “What do you think our new home will be like?”

“I do not know, Lizzy,” he said simply. Clara was aware of Lizzy turning her head down again, looking at the floor. Once more, the girl’s attempt to draw her brother into conversation had been thwarted.

“Come on, Lizzie.” Clara squeezed her hand and smiled at her. She would not let the girl wallow in her sadness. “How about we play a game? We could imagine what our new home will have and when we get there, we’ll see who guessed more things right. What do you say?” Lizzy looked up and nodded. “Great, I bet you…there will be roses in the garden. The big kind, so large that they’re bigger than your bonnet!”

“That’s impossible!” Lizzy laughed as they descended down the steps.

“Is it? Well, we’ll see if I’m right or not when we arrive. Your turn.”

“I bet…” she stuck her tongue out between her lips in thought as they reached the carriage. “There will be a nursery, and it will have a rocking chair! I’ve always wanted a rocking chair.”

“Oh, I like that idea.” Clara helped her into the carriage. Before stepping in herself she looked over her shoulder, back to see Mr Shaw standing in the doorway of the townhouse. He was watching the two of them carefully and Clara felt burned by that stare.

She turned away and climbed into the carriage, scolding herself for having looked at him again.

No good can come from staring at him so much.


The house was a grand one, indeed. William couldn’t help the way his eyes danced across the ivy-clad exterior of the white and marble building. The last Earl of Cornwall had done a fine job indeed of creating such a beautiful home. The frontage faced the east and was bathed in the rising sunlight of the morning. The orange hues of the sun turned the white building almost amber, with the light glinting off the glass windows dotted across the front.

Any excitement William felt though at the sight of his new home sank as he found his butler in the entrance hall. Milton had been sent ahead by a couple of days to help with the preparations for William’s arrival. As Milton presented William with a stack of letters, his heart sank, and he was no longer thinking of the marble entrance hall, framed with peace lilies and fine Renaissance paintings.

“Good morning, Milton. What are all these?” William asked, sifting between the envelopes quickly.

“Invitations, My Lord,” Milton explained as the cases were taken through the hall. “There are many of them. It seems most of the neighborhood have been anxiously looking forward to your arrival.”

“They have?” William’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“There have been visits too, My Lord.”

“What kind of visits?”

“Gentlemen who are eager to introduce you to their wives and daughters, My Lord.” Milton’s whispered words made William wince with realization. Of course, he was the new Earl of Cornwall, young, wealthy, no doubt as much the talk of the town as he had been at the barrister’s chambers.

They will be wanting to throw their daughters at me!

The thought left him cold as he counted just how many letters there were in his hands. If each envelope belonged to another event, he would have to suffer every night for the next few months being pushed under the latest debutante’s nose. He imagined the stiff-upper-lipped ladies he might encounter, those that would hide behind their fans, all just trying to get his attention because he now had a few pounds behind his name.

That is not the life I want.

There was a sound behind him, and he turned to look to the doorway to see Lizzy running in the door. She looked around at the hall, with her mouth agape and her grey eyes wide in complete wonder. At the sight of her childish delight, William was tempted to smile. He was pleased to see her so happy, but as Miss Griffith stepped into the hallway behind Lizzy, his smile vanished.

Miss Griffith…how you torment me.

Her pelisse was now discarded over her arm, showing off her slender curves beneath the pale cream satin gown she wore. Those fantasies, that had been growing even greater over the last few days, suddenly flashed before him yet again.

He could see the two of them together. He could practically feel her breath on his neck, as she would breathlessly pant his name. He could imagine perfectly caressing the insides of her legs, sliding his fingers up and into her wetness. First, he would take her so that he could see her in all her glory, before taking her from behind, watching that slender back arch as he moved inside her…

“Lizzy?” Her voice shook him out of the fantasy. “What do you think?”

“It’s like a house from a fairy tale!”

“I believe you could be right.” Miss Griffith laughed softly before her gaze rested on him. William saw her laughter vanish. “Is all well, Mr Shaw?”

“Perfectly,” he replied with stiffness, though he was painfully aware of the letters in his hand. Lizzy bounded up to him, practically skipping with her joy.

“William, we could explore together! Clara says the gardens are very large, indeed. She said she could even see a maze from the carriage window.” Lizzy’s joy was wto see, but William was too concerned with the letters to be distracted by it.

“Another time,” he replied quickly. “I have business that needs attending to.” He gestured to the letters in his hand. “Milton, could you introduce me to the rest of the staff please?”

“Of course, My Lord. They have gathered for your arrival, this way.” As Milton led him away, William glanced back once over his shoulder into the entrance hall.

Lizzy was looking down at her feet, the excitement that had been there a moment ago had vanished and it had been replaced with something else entirely, though William could not understand what had happened to cause the change. His eyes slipped from Lizzy to Miss Griffith and he felt that sudden stir again. That yearning bubbled to the surface and it was only growing stronger. As he turned away, focusing on the path he was following through the house and down the servant’s staircase, he almost growled in response at having to look away from Miss Griffith.

This torment will be the death of me, I am sure.

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