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

  • I always enjoy watching two psychologically wounded characters come together and ensuing tale that unfurls.

    Colour me intrigued as I wait for further chapters to see how the author weaves these two characters together.

  • What an emotional and engaging start to a book. David and Arabella’s characters are moving and their heart-rending situations pulls you in immediately. I look forward to reading their story.

  • It seems as though both characters have much to hide and much to learn. Seeing them come together will be a beautiful story of redemption I’m sure.
    I look forward to reading more.

  • Oh I love it. How will she attract the Duke? Both of them have problems galore. Looks like both are being forced to marry; one to better his reputation and the other to have a roof over her and her mother’s head. This story looks deliciously wicked. Can’t wait to read the rest.

  • Two broken souls, hopefully the meet and help one another to get both their lives past all the hurt that damaged each of them and maybe they can work for healing together!

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