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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