The Viscount I Once Loved (Extended Epilogue)

Four years later…

The breakfast table was loud and full of chatter. Grace, an approaching-sensible young lady of ten, helped herself to jam as Rosalind cradled James, her younger brother on her lap. At the other end of the table, Andrew sat with his paper as he did every morning.

“Mama,” Grace said, having buttered her toast, “would you like me to hold James so you may also indulge in some breakfast?”

Rosalind deposited her two-year-old son on Grace’s lap. “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she said in half relief, half amusement, as Grace locked her arms firmly around the wiggling child and told him, in a firm voice, that he must sit still or else he would not get any breakfast.

Andrew looked up, his eyes sparkling with amusement as he moved his gaze from her to Grace and back again. Both  parents admired how she had embraced the presence of a younger brother, and Lily had mentioned Grace’s graciousness several times.

Rosalind didn’t want to think about their walk to Sydney Gardens, even though James became surprisingly malleable once they were outside, especially if it was sunny, which the day promised to be.

“Any news from London?” she asked her husband. Over the course of their marriage, coming to Bath over the summer had become a tradition that Grace loved, in particular. As did her parents, who had all but retired from London society and preferred the quieter Bath life.

“Nothing but business reports,” Andrew said; rising her and giving her a quick kiss. “I am to write a letter before we head out. Let me know when you’re ready to depart.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you should work less?” she teased; taking his arm and pulling him down for a longer kiss.

“Mama!” Grace complained; averting her eyes. “Not at the breakfast table.”

Rosalind laughed and let Andrew go, but the warm glow of love still lingered in her stomach. Much as Grace complained, Rosalind was glad her daughter finally experienced what it was like to live in a home where her parents loved and respected one another — where she, too, was valued and loved for who she was.

Grace would never again be made to feel like a disappointment, and James would never know what it was to grow up in fear and resentment.

As soon as breakfast was over, Rosalind gathered her children and prepared for the day. Rosalind would be forced to carry James after he finished waddling some of the way, though she hoped she could persuade Andrew to carry James on his shoulders. Her son and her arms would both be grateful.

Rosalind finally called for Andrew, and they left their house as a family unit, a far cry from the horrors she had endured with Charles Rothenwood. She reflected on him and the contrast between her life now and then. Forgetting him would be a power she would like to have over him, but until she could forget the scar that seven years of misery had left on her heart, she would use the memories as another reason to be thankful.

As predicted, James quickly lost interest in walking, but without so much as a word from her, Andrew swung the boy onto his shoulders.

“There you go,” Andrew said. “Now you can see even more than I can.”

“Papa!” Grace glared at him but the very fact she called him ‘Papa’ — a very recent development — had him smiling down at her.

“Perhaps when we get to the park, you may have a turn,” he said, “but young ladies do not usually ride on their father’s shoulders.”

“Young ladies,” Rosalind said; taking Grace’s hand, “are proud and graceful and do not engage in such childish behaviors.”

Grace tilted her chin in the air. “I am a young lady.”

“Indeed you are,” Rosalind said; glancing at Andrew with another smile. “And you are a beautiful one, too.”

Indeed, Grace’s hair was growing longer by the day; its color a beautiful gold that matched Rosalind’s, curling delightfully down her back.

The entrance to Sydney Gardens was marked by a large iron gate, through which they walked, Rosalind’s arm entangled in Andrew’s and her hand in Grace’s. On such a lovely summer day, the butterflies were flooding the flowers spread around them, as beautifully dressed as the ladies who walked by, fans waving the warm air at their faces in a futile attempt to keep cool.

“I am hot,” Grace said; tugging at Rosalind’s arm. “May we go to the river?”

“I think we can do that.”

James made inarticulate comments about the flowers and bees as they passed, and Rosalind reflected that she could not have been happier. Several acquaintances greeted her, the distressing events of four years ago long forgotten, and she bathed in the knowledge that her family was healthy and beautiful and complete.

In the distance, a familiar lady leaned heavily on a gentleman’s arm; her stomach protruding before her. Rosalind remembered the days of being very pregnant in this heat and her heart beamed with sympathy. A familiar lady, in fact — it was Viscount Odendale’s daughter, Deborah. Rosalind had heard that she had married a Marquess last year and was very happily settled. Given the size of her stomach, she did exceptionally well.

She nudged Andrew; drawing his attention to the girl. “Do you regret not pursuing her?” she asked, already knowing the answer, and amused by the expression of surprise that crossed Andrew’s face.

“I hate to disappoint you,” he murmured; bringing his face dangerously close to hers, and leaving James in imminent danger of toppling off, “but there is but one lady for me.”

“And who might that be?”

He cupped her chin with his free hand and kissed her; oblivious to the people that surrounded him or the lazy heat that pulsed from the sky. Rosalind dismissed those concerns, too; there could be nothing more important than the presence of her husband here, like this.

Grace sucked in an outraged breath. “Mama!”

Andrew broke away with a wink and soothed their daughter, while Rosalind looked across at Deborah. The two ladies smiled at one another, separated by circumstance and fortune, but both equally happy in their lot. As it should be, Rosalind thought.


If you haven't already, please leave your review on Amazon

Readers who enjoyed this book also bought

If you want to be always up to date with my new releases, click and…

Follow me on BookBub

The Viscount I Once Loved (Preview)

Chapter one

Rosalind watched while two footmen transported the last of her belongings from the house over at Rothenwood estate; grunting as they carried a large trunk – no doubt filled with linen and other such things. All the paintings that adorned the house had already been sold, along with most items of value; leaving the place with little else but faint remnants of her life and marriage since she had packed the remainder of her chattels for a summer in Bath.

If Rosalind were able to assume full control of her choices, she would choose to remain in the countryside forever. The list of joys that followed her marriage to the Earl of Rothenwood was slim, and seclusion had been one of them. She possessed the liberty to explore the estate, to ride with her daily, and occasionally by herself, to take long walks in the autumnal nature – to dream about winter frosts.


Rosalind turned, a smile already on her lips. She was not entirely loveless — there was love to be found here; one she had borne and cherished and nurtured within these walls.

“Grace,” she said, holding out her arms for her daughter’s embrace. “What have I told you about running?”

“Ladies should walk – always,” Grace said in all her childish impatience. “Is everything packed?”

Her daughter was the reason she had accepted her parents’ invitation to Bath. Rosalind glanced up once more at the sun-soaked stone of Rothenwood house and to the forests beyond comprising their part of the country. She would miss its wildness.

But for Grace, and for their future, she was willing to leave it.

“Almost, my love,” she said, taking her daughter’s hand. “Are you enthused for our journey?”

“Miss Lily said there would be lots of carriages and shops,” Grace said excitedly. “And I will get to see Grandmama and Grandpapa again.”

“You will,” Rosalind said, biting her lip at the thought of her parents — they were well-meaning people but had condemned her to a life of unhappiness by forcing her into a marriage with a man she could never love. “I hope you have a wonderful time.”

“Will you have a wonderful time too, Mama?” Grace asked, hanging on Rosalind’s arm, and looking up at her with brown eyes – same color as Rosalind’s late husband. She had conciliated with that remnant of her husband’s – in fact, she’d learned to love those eyes – but, oftentimes, deep within her she wished Grace had inherited her features only so that their lives would have nothing reminding them of the Earl.

“I will have a wonderful time,” Rosalind said firmly. “Our summer shall be beautiful and we will need to be very kind to Grandmama and Grandpapa for looking after us.”

“You mean after Papa died?”

Rosalind swallowed and glanced at the carriages before them; thinking about all the memories Bath held. “Yes,” she said. “Now that Papa has died.”

“But he died months ago.” A curious face peered at Rosalind, asking questions she felt entirely unprepared to answer.

“And you are not wearing black anymore.”

“That is because the mourning period lasts six months, dear.”

“Are you sad that Papa died?”

“Sometimes,” Rosalind said, glancing down at her daughter. “Are you?”

“Sometimes,” Grace echoed, but she looked away again, already distracted. The sun glowed against her golden hair — a feature she did inherit from Rosalind. “Miss Lily says the luggage will ride separately from us.”

“That is correct.”

At that moment, sparing Rosalind from any further discussion about the state of her feelings – Lily arrived, panting around the side of the building.

“Lady Grace,” she exclaimed breathlessly. “Here I was, thinking you were hiding in the gardens.”

“Grace,” Rosalind chided. “Did you hide from Miss Lily again?”

Grace toed the gravel by her feet.

“It is time for your nap,” Lily said, marching up and taking Grace’s arm. Rosalind relinquished her charge and watched as they disappeared inside the house. She sometimes missed her daughter when Lily took over but, admittedly, it would have been exhausting; having to take care of her on her own – so she was thankful for the help nonetheless.

She took one last glance at the carriages, and gathered her skirts as she turned and went back into the house.

Lena, her companion and best friend, was already in the drawing room pouring them both tea. “I thought you’d want some,” she said in response to Rosalind’s raised eyebrows. “And I gather I was right. Come, sit with me; tell me what is on your mind.”

Rosalind waved a dismissive hand but accepted the tea as she sank into her seat. “You know I don’t like Bath.”

“I believe you shall find Bath has changed since you last visit seven years ago.”

“I detest we must rely on charity to survive.” She sipped her drink. “Had it not been for Charles’ dissolution and mindless squandering, we would not be in this state. His will left us nothing.”

“Consider yourself fortunate his cousin has allowed you to live here so long.”

Rosalind knew she ought to be grateful. Charles’ cousin, having no interest in an estate that could not maintain itself, had acquiesced to them remaining in the house – even if he hadn’t offered her any financial assistance. Her parents, on the other hand, had extended their invitation right when Rosalind was considering selling her final pieces of jewelry. They must have known her desperate need of help, even if she never dared to admit it. “

My parents’ invitation has come at a fortuitous time,” she confessed, trailing her nail along the fine china cup. “And I am grateful. Without their help, we would have nowhere to live since there is no way we could ever stay here.”

Lena kept her expression blank. “It is a large house, to be sure.”

“Truthfully, I would be happy to remain at this house if our finances were not as dire.” She took another sip and placed her cup back on its saucer. “With Charles gone, I could lead a gracious life here.”

“Bath is merely a transient solution.” Lena said after a moment. “I want to believe the severity of all this shall not last; the tide could turn in your favor.”

“Let us hope it shall turn in Grace’s favor – that is all that matters to me.”


Andrew North, the Viscount Nortingdale, rubbed his head as he surveyed the multiple ledgers lying on the table before him. He had been given the title for just over a year but was still unaccustomed to managing the affairs of such an estate. There was an onrush of bills, constant demands on his time and no woman in charge of servants – not since his mother had succumbed to laudanum and left this life when he was still a child.

A knock sounded on the door and he glanced up; pushing the ledgers to one side. Damned accounts could wait anyway; it wasn’t as though he was getting anywhere with them.

“Enter,” he called.

Hoskins, his butler, entered with a tray on top of which lay a letter. “From your grandmother,” he informed Andrew grandly. “It arrived with an express rider.”

Andrew took the letter which did, indeed, sported his grandmother’s seal on the back. The urgent nature of the letter was quite befuddling— what could be so important?

As soon as the butler left the room, Andrew opened the letter; a frown growing on his face.

My dearest Andrew,
As you may or may not be aware, it is soon to be my birthday. Aging is an indelicacy one cannot avoid and should, therefore, embrace as a natural part of life. I miss you dearly and I beseech you to attend the ball I am hosting in honor of this day. I shall be delighted to see you again after so long.
I must ask you to forgive the urgent pretext of this letter but we both know this was the only path I could take in order to get your attention. I shall be expecting you in Bath.
With love,

Andrew placed the letter down. Her last missive had arrived not three days ago, and it was customary for them to go several weeks between letters. His grandmother had assumed a motherly figure in his life, for which he loved her dearly, but he had not thought she required immediate response to her previous letters.

There were a few minor matters of business he needed to attend to in London but he could deal with them the next morning if he moved a few things around and could be on the road by noon.

His response would hardly arrive before he did. So he hastily set himself down to write one.

Dear Grandmama,
I need no express post to persuade me into coming to Bath; I would not miss your birthday ball for the world.

Andrew used his newly acquired signet ring to seal the letter and summoned Hoskins once again to send the letter.

“Send it with an express rider,” he said, his lips twitching. Now he had come into his father’s rather large and
carefully curated fortune, Andrew need not worry about expenses such as these.

Next, he summoned Simon to the study. Simon was Andrew’s valet and, of all the servants, he was the one he was closest to as he’d been in his service for the entirety of his adult life. “Simon,” he said with a welcoming smile.

“I have some news.”

“Am I to be pleased, my Lord?”

“I expect so. We shall leave for Bath tomorrow.”

Simon allowed himself a small smile. “Then I am very pleased indeed, my Lord. Escaping London’s animosity will be rather beneficial.”

“Oh, tosh. Business won’t falter merely because we shan’t be in London.”

“I expect you shall be visiting your grandmother, the Dowager Countess?”

“Yes. I am well aware of what you are probably thinking, Simon, but she won’t prevent me from managing my affairs.”

An empty statement that was, and they both knew it. Florence would never allow Andrew to spend his time working over the accounts his estate. “I am not entirely certain about the duration of my visit; I suggest you pack whatever you

think I may require for an extended stay.”

“Will you be attending the Pump Room, my Lord?”

“I expect so,” Andrew said carelessly.

“Very good. Do you need anything else?”

“I need you to stop implying I am too consumed and absorbed by my tasks,” Andrew said, but his lips twitched into a smile. “Oh and while you’re at it, the Dowager Countess is throwing a ball – which I cannot miss.”

“Of course, my Lord.”

“Thank you, that is all.”

Simon left the room, and Andrew turned once again to his ledgers. His eyes were tired and they hurt. The urgency of his grandmother’s letter boded badly; he was certain there was more to this invitation. And the sooner he arrived, the sooner he would ascertain the situation.


Chapter Two

After a particularly long day’s travel, Rosalind and Grace arrived at her father’s house in Bath. It was a four-storey building with convenient access to the Pump Room as well as all the shops Bath had to offer. Although the town’s popularity had waned as of late, her parents had never ceased visiting over the summers. That was one thing that had never changed since her childhood.

“Everything is so tall,” Grace said, staring out of the window.

“Yes, indeed. All the buildings are very grand.”

“And there are no trees,” she said wonderingly.

“That’s enough now, Lady Grace, or else you’ll tire your mother,” Lily said. She had offered to take Grace in a separate carriage but Rosalind hadn’t minded the company. Entertaining her daughter was an occupation she enjoyed and aided her in refraining from thinking too much – especially when the very act of thinking would force her to venture into places within her she hadn’t dared enter for seven years.

As they dismounted the carriage, her mother Miranda, Countess of Montshire, descended the steps onto the street, with arms open and inviting. “Rose,” she said warmly, giving Rosalind an embrace before turning her attention to Grace.

“And of course, little Gracie. How wonderful to see you both.”

“Not much has changed,” Rosalind managed.

“Well, you know we are fond of continuity.” Miranda did not seem to notice the tightness in Rosalind’s words, and so she beckoned them both inside. “Your father is thrilled to see you,” she said, her voice echoing through the townhouse’s high ceilings. Once, years ago, Rosalind had lain on her back on the tiled floor and stared right up to the very top of the house and wondered whether if she wished hard enough, she would be able to fly.

The butler had found her, brought her to her feet and admonished her for acting in an unladylike manner.

Grace bounded along, eyes wide at the new sights. “Is it true that you have balls to attend to all the time?”

“Well, not all the time,” the Countess laughed, taking Grace’s hand with the naturalness of a mother. “Oftentimes, we do though.”

“Mama says, when I am older, I too can attend balls.” Grace glanced back at Rosalind, who forced a smile. “Isn’t that right, Mama?”

“When you are older, yes.” she reiterated.

“You must change for dinner,” Miranda said. “Your father will be there, Rosalind, and we have so much to tell you. It shall be served at eight — we abide by town hours here.”

Rosalind forced a smile. “I should have expected nothing less.”

Their luggage was in their chambers already, and Rosalind took her time changing out of her traveling dress into a blue muslin evening gown. Lena was curling her hair as she stared at her reflection in the mirror. Seven years had passed since the last time she saw herself through that mirror and considered how she had changed; her face was thinner now, and her eyes heavier with the weight of the interceding years.

It was apparent to her that sorrow had carved its own path across her face. All those years ago, she’d harbored the hopefulness and naiveté of youth. And love had blinded her to folly; breaking her heart over it. And all this time she’d spent living in misery with a selfish, cruel man had only solidified that grief; a woe that haunted her very being and was exuded through her eyes even when she smiled.

“Is being here difficult for you?” Lena asked.

“I hardly know how I feel,” Rosalind said restlessly. “I was so fond of being here — and even though now I do love the countryside and the peace it offers me, I used to adore mingling at the social events and gatherings, and savoring the brightness of the town.”

“Society glitters like a star.”

“Like the brightest of jewels.” Rosalind sighed. “Until it is sold to the highest bidder.” She fingered the sapphires in her ears. “I am not the same woman I used to be, Lena.”

“You are stronger now,” her friend said. “Loss has rendered you thus.”

She glanced up to meet Lena’s steady brown eyes. “Are you referring to my husband?”

“I believe we both know whom I’m referring to.”

Rosalind rose; one hand pressed to her stomach. “I think it is almost dinnertime.”

Lena joined her as they went downstairs and into the large dining room where her mother was already waiting.

“You look beautiful,” Miranda said, and Rosalind was reminded that for all her mother’s faults, she loved her with all her heart. “I consider myself very fortunate you did not take after my own appearance, or you would have been plain indeed.”

Rosalind shook her head. “You are hardly plain, Mama.”

“I do not possess your ethereal beauty, my love, but I do not resent you for it. All mothers wish their daughters a better life than the one they have known.”

Rosalind sat in her place. “Is that what you wish for me?”

“I am very sad your dear Charles died.”

Her father entered the room, cutting off Rosalind’s remark about how Charles had never been dear to her, and that she did not mourn his death so much as the lack of stability his presence afforded her and her daughter.

“Rosalind,” he said, taking his place at the head of the table. “It is good to have you with us again.”

“It is good to see you again, Father,” she said – avoiding to comment on her being there with them — for of course she would not have come if she had any other option.

“You would not believe the innumerable invitations we have received this year,” Miranda prattled. “Lord and Lady Slade are to host a ball next week – rather unusual for them. And of course, the Viscountess Odendale is holding a soirée. You must come, Rose.”

Once, she would have leaped at the opportunity to attend as many events as possible, but all she could feel now was dread uncurling at the mere thought. She had never experienced life in Bath without…

No, she would not think of him.

“Perhaps I will,” she hedged.

“Oh, well, it is in two days so there is time for you to decide, my dear.”

Rosalind suspected she would not be given the option of making up her mind; she would be expected to attend this soiree and any arguments to the contrary would be dismissed. Her mother was an expert at dismissing thoughts or intentions she did not wish to entertain.

“Perhaps, now we might speak about Grace,” Rosalind said. “Her education, specifically. I had hoped you would be inclined to employ a governess for her while we are here. I would have done so at Rothenwood but the state of our affairs did not allow—”

“Indeed, we must speak about Grace and what we could do to facilitate her future,” her father said. He eyed her sternly. Rosalind had inherited his eyes but not the way he leveled them at people with the weight of his intent. “I have reflected upon the matter, as I am certain you have too, and the most suitable solution would be for you to marry again.”

Rosalind almost choked and put her knife down with a clatter. “I—”

“I understand you have not been a widow long but, you must know, there is little else for you now. Your daughter needs a father, and you need a husband to provide for you both. Your stay here will undoubtedly present some suitable opportunities.”

Rosalind caught her breath. “And if I do not wish to marry?”

“Your wishes are not of primary concern. Your daughter is, and we cannot assist you both beyond the course of this summer. You must have a husband, Rose.”

“Only another husband — a titled, wealthy one — can provide you with the security you need,” her mother said gently.

“I understand marriage does not concern you presently but you should consider Grace.”

“I am considering Grace,” Rosalind said, her voice choked. “Everything I have done thus far — including accepting your invitation, which I now see was under false pretenses — has been for her sake.”

“Then you must see that there is no other way forward.”

Rosalind gritted her teeth. Her father had behaved like this once before; with heavy-handed assurance he was doing the right thing only to condemn her to a loveless marriage. Now, however, everything was different. She had Grace to think of — that much was true — and there was no particular gentleman her parents had in mind. Bath was better than London. If necessary, she could put her daughter first and find another man to marry. A gentleman of her choice would be better than Charles, no doubt, and while she was certain she could never love again, perhaps respect would be enough.
“Unfortunately,” her father said, “I have to return to London tomorrow. I have business there I must attend to.”

“Of course, Father,” she said.

“I shall return in a few weeks; hopefully to good news.” He sent Miranda a long look, and Rosalind knew her mother was in charge of overseeing her matchmaking.

“At six-and-twenty with a daughter in tow, I hardly imagine I shall have many prospects,” she said, her voice steady.

“Never mind titled gentlemen. At what stage do you anticipate me having to settle for the first man inclined to offer for me?”

“You are the widow of an Earl and the daughter of an Earl,” her father said, raising an eyebrow. “Your family ties are impeccable, and you are still young. I foresee no difficulty in the matter.”

Rosalind bit her lip and kept quiet, uncharacteristically so, until they reached the end of the meal and she returned upstairs. Instead of retreating to her chamber though, she headed towards the nursery where Grace slept. Six-year-old Grace, who had nothing but Rosalind to rely on. And Rosalind had nothing but the knowledge she must marry. Again.

She sat back on the rocking chair; watching her daughter’s steady breathing. She had been a fool for even thinking her father would be tempted to offer her charity. He was the kind of man who always planned ahead, and an ulterior motive with mixed intentions. It felt as if a vise had clamped around her chest; stopping her breath. Once more, her father was steering her toward an unwanted marriage and, once more, she would have to pose no objections. Her own feelings were of no value and she would called, yet again, to sacrifice her happiness at the discretion of others.

Grace slumbered on; oblivious to Rosalind’s presence, her heartache, the dizzying realization that their lives would change forever.

“For you,” Rosalind murmured, stroking Grace’s hair back from her face. “I would not do this for anyone but you.”


The Dowager Countess of Stanshire lived in a manor house slightly far from Bath’s city center, in a green and grassy area notably distant from other houses. Andrew had always loved it there; he had spent many happy years exploring the vastness of its gardens after his mother’s death.

Today, however, he hadn’t come to indulge in a journey down memory lane, and so he dismounted, handed the reins to the groom, and was greeted by the butler at the front door.

“Evening, Stewart,” he said. “Is she inside?”

“Good evening, my Lord. She is waiting for you in the drawing room.”

Once, when he was still a child and had been led to his grandmother in a similar fashion, these halls seemed particularly intimidating. Now, though little had changed but Stewart’s graying head, he felt nothing but a sense of relief to be back.

Maybe Simon was right: maybe he was working too hard.

“The Right Honorable, the Viscount Nortingdale,” Stewart announced as Andrew reached the room.
“Really, Stewart,” the Dowager Countess scolded. “We both know who he is. Andrew,” she said now to him, holding out a hand. “How good it is to see you.”

Andrew’s step faltered. Instead of the hale and hearty lady he had expected to see, his grandmother sat in a chair with a blanket over her legs, her usual color dimmed from hollowing cheeks. “Grandmama,” he said blankly. “Are you quite well?”

“Stop staring, boy,” she said, beckoning him closer. “I am well aware my appearance is not how you expected it.”

He bent and kissed her on the cheek. “You ought to have told me.”

“I’m telling you now. Sit — I’m growing weary just looking at you.”
Andrew sat on a chair, and she took hold of his hand, gripping it tightly.

“I did not lie to you,” she said. “My birthday is indeed soon, and I should like you to attend my ball, of course.”

“You may not have lied about this,” Andrew said dryly, “but you cannot possibly tell me you have been entirely truthful.”

“Few people ever receive the entire truth.” She sighed and patted his hand. “But you are right — I did conceal the state of my health from you. As of recent, I have been feeling tired and weak; it appears there is a something amiss with my heart. My physician will gladly inform you on the specifics.”
Andrew privately resolved to do just that.

“The fact is, Andrew, I do not have much time left.” For a moment, she broke away and glanced at the carpet. Her gray hair had been pinned up behind her head just as elegantly as always, but her face was thinner, the lines deeper, her hazel eyes larger by comparison. Those eyes had resisted time’s call; they were the only part of her that had remained the same since he was a boy.

Time could not be defied and would not be denied; Andrew knew that as much as he knew the sky was blue. It was an instinctual knowledge, that everything once born would eventually succumb to death, a piece of knowledge he had never dared to think it would affect his grandmother as well. Not when she had been such a beacon of life in a world he so valiantly struggled to understand.

“Now now, I do not require your melancholy,” she said, turning her attention to him again. “Had I wanted to be mourned, I would have decided to disclose the condition of my health these past few weeks.”

“You have known for weeks?”

“You were occupied in London, and I was engaged with planning on how I intend to spend the last few months of my life. There is much I wish to do.”

“Months.” The word dropped from Andrew’s mouth unintentionally, and he struggled to control his expression. “You have months left?”

“As it would seem. I beseech you, my dear boy, brush the glumness off your face. Your presence gives me joy and there is no need for you to brood over this turn of events. No one is expected to live forever.”
Andrew glanced up and smiled at her in a ghostlike manner. “Notion and reality are very different, Grandmama.”

“Indeed they are, and that is precisely why I summoned you here.” She paused just long enough for him to formulate her next statement, and said, “I want you to settle down, Andrew.”

“I am perfectly settled, Grandmama,” Andrew said cautiously. This was veering into dangerous territory; prospects he did not wish to consider again. The past was long gone and he had no intention of revisiting it.

Or marrying.

“Do not tease me,” she said. “We both know you need to marry.”


“You marrying concerns mostly your happiness. And mine – knowing you are content.”

There was once a time, seven years ago, when Andrew had believed he’d found love – he was but a mere boy, though, and knew nothing of the world. Now that he did know more about the world – he was content with life the way it was; devoid of the burden coming with love and marriage.

“I am content now,” he said.

“When was the last meaningful attachment you formed?”

He met her gaze steadily. “This is none of your concern.”

“As your last living relative, Andrew, I beg to differ.” She caught his hand in hers. “It is my biggest wish to see you happy and married before I pass.”

There was nothing Andrew could say to that, even if the prospect of marrying again made his stomach sink. It was true he would have to marry eventually, if only to sire an heir to take over the estate when he eventually died, but he had not intended it to be so soon.

“There is a soirée at Odendale Manor in two days,” she said with a mischievous smile. “I would be honored if you were to escort me.”

Andrew couldn’t hold back his smile. “Shall I have to fend off suitors, protect your honor?”

“As though I have any left to protect,” she chuckled. “But there will be many beautiful young ladies there, and I trust you can bring yourself to leave my side long enough to dance with a few.”

“I suspected there may be an ulterior motive.”

“You should know me well enough by now to know there is purpose to all I do,” she said, perfectly truthfully. Andrew had long since learned never to cross swords with his grandmother if he wished to venture out alive. “So, Andrew? Will you come?”

“You know I could never refuse you anything,” he said, bending to kiss her hand again. “Much as I should like to.”

She laughed again; a throaty laugh that sounded like in imminent danger of making her cough. “I have missed you. These next weeks shall be wonderful.”

Andrew was less certain of that; he wished never to bind himself to another woman as he had so nearly bound himself to one seven years ago. But his grandmother was dying, and this was the one thing he could grant her. He would not fail.

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

If you want to be always up to date with my new releases, click and…

Follow me on BookBub

Another Earl to Love (Extended Epilogue)

Three years later…

“Jon, take heed not to fall,” Cecilia called as she sat on the bench outside Barnard Hall, her newborn baby boy – named David after her father – in her arms.

“I shall keep watch, do not fret!” Archie called back as he kicked the small metal can before him gently. Their son, two years old now, giggled and rushed after it as fast as his little legs would carry him.

“You worry too much, Cecilia,” her mother-in-law gently chided her. Cecilia turned her head. The Dowager Countess of Pembroke sat beside her on the bench, dressed in a simple blue round dress and a matching pelisse. Her hair, now entirely grey, was hidden beneath a bonnet. She held one hand in front of her eyes to shield against the sun.

“I cannot help it. I don’t want him to get hurt.”

Her mother-in-law placed a hand on hers and gave it a light squeeze. “I know. I was much the same when I was a young mother of two boys. But I will say, I still do not understand why you do not want to take on a nurse now that you have two children.”

“Perhaps in the future, for now, I am pleased to take care of my children myself. My mother took care of me without help, and I enjoy doing the same.”

The older lady scoffed and shook her head while Cecilia licked her lips. She didn’t want to argue with the lady. Theirs was a precarious peace, held together by holding one’s words in and biting one’s tongue more often than not. But it was worth it to her. The lady had moved into the Dower House after the birth of Jonathan, their first son. This move had relieved much of the tension in the household.

While the older lady would never admit it, Cecilia knew she, too, was happy with the arrangement. It allowed her some freedom without constantly debating with Archie, who stood up to his mother now more than ever.

When the Dowager, as she now liked to be known, came to the main house for meals or saw her grandchildren, the visits were peaceful. Much more peaceful than any of them ever imagined they might be. Yet, Cecilia could not help but wonder, what would Jonathan make of all of this? This new balance within the family? Would he have been happy? Yes, Cecilia thought he would. After all, Jonathan adored his brother, even though they were so very different.

Suddenly, her mother-in-law withdrew her hand. “I almost forgot. I received a letter from Sophie this morning.”

Cecilia turned carefully as not to wake the sleeping baby in her arms. “You have? How is she? Will she return for a visit soon?”

“I should think it will be some time. Perhaps not until Christmastide. When they return from their honeymoon, they will want to settle in a Charter House and make it their own. After all, she is now a Marchioness, and one day, she will be Duchess. She will have to learn her new role, and it will take her some time. You know Sophie. She likes to do things her way.”

Cecilia smiled; it was quite true. While she and her sister-in-law had never been truly close, their relationship had improved after the truth of Cecilia’s arrangement with Jonathan became known. It further enhanced once Sophie became the wife of Jackson Hewlett, the Marquess of Emberstone, heir to the Dukedom of Barstow. Cecilia had to admit, now that Sophie no longer lived with them, she missed her.

“You must be pleased,” she said gently.

Her mother-in-law let out a sigh. “I am. All my children are married. Well, all my living children.” The sorrow at the loss of Jonathan still marred her face after all these years. The same was true for Archie and Sophie.

Jonathan, my dear friend. You never knew how much you meant to those you left behind.

“Mama! Carriage!” Little Jon called out and pointed up ahead to where a carriage made its way up the driveway. Cecilia recognized the Coat of Arms as that of Archie’s uncle, Lord Wexford.

“Ah, my dear brother,” her mother-in-law exclaimed and got up. She smoothed down her satin gown and marched toward the carriage, which had just stopped outside the main house. As the footman opened the door, Lord Wexford exited and turned. With her baby in her arms, Cecilia followed her mother-in-law and arrived just in time to see Lord Wexford hand out his wife, a baby of her own in her arms.

“Uncle Edward,” Archie called out as he hasted up the path, Jon now in his arms. The little boy beamed at his aunt, Lady Horatia – or rather, he beamed at the boy she carried on her hip, his cousin Charles.

“Charlie,” the little boy exclaimed, and his cousin likewise giggled. Unfortunately, the boy’s delightful greeting of each other served to wake up not only David but also Henrietta, Edward, and Lady Horatia’s four-month-old daughter. The volume produced by the four children was such that the Dowager Countess’s visage showed displeasure as she took a few steps away. Her brother, meanwhile, laughed heartily.

“The joys of having children, eh dear sister?”

“Shall I take the children?” Maggie asked as she rushed out of the house.

Cecilia turned to her friend and was momentarily distracted by the glimmer on her finger. Her new wedding band, placed there by her husband, Thomas, not two months before, caught the reflection of the bright afternoon sun. To think that her best friend was now married to Archie’s valet – the man he valued both as an employee and friend – still amazed her. How their lives had changed in so short a time and how happy both she and Maggie now were, was a true blessing for them both.

“Yes, please, Maggie. I thank you,” Cecilia replied as she handed over her youngest to the only person she trusted enough to take proper care of him, outside of herself and Archie. She then took Jon from Archie and returned into the cool manor, followed by the nurse employed by Lady Horatia and Lord Wexford, who in turn carried their two children.

“Ah, what blissful quiet,” Cecilia’s mother-in-law exclaimed when the sounds of the children faded into the house, in the direction of the nursery.

“Now, is that any way to count your blessings?” Lord Wexford replied with a chuckle. He looked hale and hearty. Cecilia still remembered the first time she’d met him. She’d taken him for an older gentleman, certainly older than his sister by many years. She’d been wrong. It was with shock she’d discovered he was but a middle-aged gentleman, marked by ill-health and bouts of melancholy, which had aged his appearance.

However, the marriage to Lady Horatia – a match that appeared from the outside so very ill-fated – had done wonders to improve both Lord Wexford’s health and Lady Horatia’s character. In fact, Cecilia found herself quite fond of Lady Horatia now. Perhaps it was her physical separation from her brother, the Duke of Hereford, which freed her from her previous unfortunate traits.

“I count my blessings, but I prefer my blessings quiet,” Cecilia’s mother-in-law said with a small smile on her face.

“Ah, there is nothing like the delightful laughter of children. I must say, I was a fool to consider a life without children,” Lord Wexford said. His sister instantly opened her mouth for a swift retort when a chuckle drew Cecilia’s attention.

Cecilia glanced at Archie, who beamed back at her with a sparkle in his eyes. The interaction between Lord Wexford and his sister was always amusing to watch. Whenever they came together, they always found themselves gently bickering with one another, but Cecilia knew it was all in jest.

“Shall we go inside?” Cecilia suggested, much to the relief of Lady Horatia, who swiftly took her arm.

“I adore you and Archie,” Lady Horatia whispered as they stepped inside. “But your mother-in-law frightens me sometimes. I can still hear her words in my ear when she schemed to bring Archie and me together.”

Cecilia swallowed; she didn’t like to think of that dark, uncomfortable time that had brought them so much misery.

“I am glad it is all behind us, are you not?” she said, hoping Lady Horatia would stop talking about the matter. To her great relief – she did.

“Yes, it is. And I am thankful for it. It all ended well, I must say, I never imagined I’d be happy with an older gentleman such as my husband, but I have to confess, he’s enchanted me, and each day, he amazes me more.”

Cecilia glanced back at Lord Wexford, who walked between Archie and his sister.

“I must say, marriage and fatherhood have done him ever so good. He looks years younger than he used to.”

“I know it,” Lady Horatia replied as they stepped into the drawing room, where a spread of sweetmeats and tea awaited them. As Lady Horatia sat, Cecilia took her place beside her. “Ah, I almost forgot. Have you heard the news?”

“News?” Cecilia tilted her head to one side. In her stomach, tension formed for whenever anyone had unexpected tidings; she couldn’t help but expect them to be bad.

“Do not look so worried, my friend. I bring good tidings. At least, I hope I am. My brother is to wed.”

This drew the attention of both Archie and his mother.

“The Duke of Hereford is to wed at last? But to whom?” Archie’s mother inquired. Cecilia scrutinized the older lady’s face and wondered. What would have become of them all had she gotten her way? What would Cecilia’s life be like now, married to the insufferable Duke? And Archie’s? Would he and Lady Horatia be acceptable companions? She did not think so. While Lady Horatia was a much more pleasant person than she’d first assumed, she and Archie had nothing in common.

Even during these visits, the two had little to do with one another. While Archie and his uncle’s connection was reestablished and they were closer than ever, Archie and Lady Horatia remained distant. Although Cecilia suspected this was in large parts due to the uncomfortable manner they’d been pushed together initially.

Not that it truly made any difference; they were family. The circumstances of their coming together might have been unusual, but at the end of the day, they were related.

Lady Horatia smiled at the older lady who’d posed the question. “He is to marry a viscount’s daughter.”

Cecilia’s mother-in-law raised an eyebrow. “A viscount’s daughter? I was sure he would seek to marry someone of higher standing, after everything.” She glanced at Cecilia, who couldn’t meet her eye. She had a good idea why the Duke had chosen someone so much lower in standing. When she peeked at Archie and saw his smirk, she knew that he, too, shared that suspicion.

Lady Horatia pressed her lips together to keep from grinning too broadly.

“I will say it was not his intention to marry her, but it seems he… Well, circumstances demand it.”

It took the older lady a few moments before she realized just what it was Lady Horatia meant, but then, her face became a bright red, and she rose. “I see. Well, I suppose I ought to look in on my grandchildren. They… Excuse me.”

With that, the lady rose and made her way into the next room, where the children were playing with Maggie and their governess.

The moment she left the room, Lady Horatia chuckled. “I did not mean to offend the Dowager Countess.”

“Ah, yes. But you do take delight in shocking others,” her husband said not without admiration. Lady Horatia shrugged and then reached for a piece of marzipan.

“I suppose I do.” She set out to place the sweet into her mouth, but before she could, a little boy’s voice called for her. “It seems I am wanted,” she said and placed the sweet aside. “I shall return. Do not eat my marzipan, dear,” she chided her husband, who raised both hands.

“I would never!” he exclaimed with a grin.

“He has made it a habit of eating all of my sweetmeats,” Lady Horatia explained but then shook her head as she turned to leave the room. Lord Wexford, to her surprise, jumped up and hastened after his wife.

“I had better join her, lest I am falsely accused of sweet theft,” he told them, and together, the two joined their children in the nursery. The moment they were gone, Archie rushed to Cecilia’s side and sat down as he took her hand.

“At last, we are alone.”

Cecilia rested her head against his shoulder. Even though they’d been married for more than three years, it still felt special whenever they were alone together.

“Indeed.” She took in a deep breath and inhaled his comforting scent. “Your uncle looks well. Marriage suits him well.”

“It has. As it suits me, my beloved.”

She sat up and turned to him. His eyes sparkled with love, and the corners of his lips turned up.

“I am glad to hear you say it because I must say, I’ve never been happier than I have these past few years with you. When I married Jonathan, I thought that would be my life. A comfortable, uneventful life at his side. I never dreamt that it would lead me here. To a husband I truly adore, children who fulfill me, and a true family. And happiness. So much happiness.”

He took her hand in his and kissed it without ever taking his eyes off her. “And this, my darling, is only the beginning. I promise you there are many more happy years ahead of us – together.”

Cecilia kissed her husband’s lips before settling in beside him. Yes, she thought, Archie is right. The future was wide open and full of potential. And, she knew this for certain: much, much contentment.


If you haven't already, please leave your review on Amazon

Readers who enjoyed this book also bought

If you want to be always up to date with my new releases, click and…

Follow me on BookBub

Another Earl to Love (Preview)



All would be well. It had to. Cecilia paced back and forth along the hall outside her marital chamber. The floorboards creaked beneath her feet. She placed one hand on her chest.

Yes, Cecilia thought to herself, her husband, Jonathan Barnard, the Earl of Pembroke, was a young man, and while he’d been sick, she knew he’d recover. Before the onset of his illness, he’d been a vigorous man, full of life. Surely, fate would not be so cruel as to take him away now, just when they’d settled into their life as husband and wife.

She clutched the little pendant that hung from a silver chain around her neck and closed her eyes. The pendant – a gift from her late father – always meant a lot to her. It was one of the few items he ever gave her. Given her status as a sideslip, the product of the Baron’s affair with Cecilia’s mother meant she was never fully acknowledged.

She smiled to herself, as she remembered the day he’d given her the pendant. It was her birthday. She’d just turned eighteen. Other ladies her age would have had a coming out ball by then, but she had no such celebration due to her status.

Instead, her father visited her at her mother’s home and presented her with the pendant that showed St. Christopher. It was meant to protect her – and it had.

How strange, she thought, that her father passed away just months after giving her the piece of jewelry. She couldn’t help but wonder if he’d chosen that birthday to give her the pendant because he knew his death was imminent, and he’d wanted her to have something to remember him by.

Cecilia sighed deeply and dropped her gloved hand to her side and paced once more. The soft silk material of her rose-colored gown swept across the beautiful, marbled floor while her half-boots created a clanging sound that echoed in the vast space.

“Cecilia,” her mother-in-law’s voice drifted down the hall, and she looked up. Lucille Barnard, Dowager Countess of Pembroke, rushed toward her, past the rich tapestries imported from Spain and the beautiful artwork her husband, the late Earl, collected from around the world.

She clutched Cecilia’s hand, her blue eyes glistening with tears. “How is he? What does the physician say?”

“He has been inside the chamber for more than an hour, but he hasn’t emerged. Jonathan was ever so pale when I was sent away. His breathing was so ragged it pained me. Oh, Lady Pembroke, what if….”

Her mother-in-law squeezed her hands and shook her head. The large turban on her head swayed back and forth under the weight of its heavy adornments.

“Do not even consider it. Jonathan will recover soon. He knows his duty to the Earldom and his father. We do not yet have an heir; this alone will inspire him to hold on and to fight. Believe me. He would never allow Barnard Hall to fall back into the hands of the crown.”

Cecilia swallowed and swiped a strand of her black hair out of her pale face. She considered her mother-in-law’s words. They were kind and yet admonishing. Her failure to produce an heir in the first year of their marriage was a contention point between the Dowager Countess and her son and daughter-in-law.

Cecilia looked past her and out of the window. Barnard Hall was a beautiful home. A former monastery, it became the property of the Earls of Barnard after the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. For almost three hundred years, the Earls of Barnard had resided here. She knew this history well, for her mother-in-law enjoyed little more than to talk about it to anyone who might listen.

If only the woman knew the real reason why she and Jonathan did not have a child yet, Cecilia thought. Then, perhaps she might understand better. But she and the older woman had never been close. Lady Pembroke hadn’t approved of Cecilia from the start, and Cecilia knew it well. She was, after all, only the illegitimate daughter of a dead baron without a proper dowry or even the appropriate status.

Before she had a chance to consider the past any longer, the heavy oak door opened behind them, and the physician, Mr. Charles, exited, a grave expression on his face.

“Mr. Charles,” the Dowager Countess exclaimed. “How is my son?”

The man sighed as he held on to his black leather bag with one hand while the other was curled into a fist. He looked from one woman to the other; his shoulders slumped forward.

Then, he addressed Cecilia.

“My Lady, I am afraid his lordship succumbed to consumption. There was nothing I could do but make him comfortable.”

Cecilia’s jaw grew slack, and her mouth dropped open. She wanted to scream, but the sound caught in her throat, and all she could produce was a small whimper. On the other hand, her mother-in-law wailed, and immediately, the physician produced a handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket.

“No, it cannot be true. I spoke to him just yesterday, and he appeared to recover.”

“It was an end-of-life rally,” Cecilia suddenly said, surprised at the sound of her voice. She had a keen interest in books and devoured several per week. While she preferred novels, she often found herself captivated by medical books, as well as historical ones.

“Indeed, Lady Pembroke. Often when a terminally ill patient nears the end, they recover their strength to converse with those they care for, to give them hope and a last set of happy recollections before they pass.”

He looked down at the ground and shook his head. “I’ve seen too many healthy young gentlemen and ladies pass away from consumption. The end is always rapid. But let me assure you, it is also a blessing. The disease is terrible, and the patients suffer.”

Her heart broke at the thought of Jonathan suffering. While theirs wasn’t the romantic love affair she’d always dreamt of as a child, he’d been a good husband and companion.

Oh, Jonathan. Before you, I was nothing. If you hadn’t found me… What will become of me now?

She recalled the day they met. How regal he’d looked upon his black steed as he’d ridden into the village and stopped outside of her mother’s milliner’s shop. She could still see him dismounting and walking in large strides into the shop, his top hat in one hand and his cane in another. She recalled his puzzled expression when he realized he’d interrupted an argument between Cecilia and her mother over the lack of a suitable dowry.

Oh, how mortified she’d been to have a peer of the realm overhear her lamenting the fact that she was an illegitimate daughter of a lowly, now deceased baron with nothing but a pretty face. And yet, it seemed this only intrigued him – just as so many peculiar things intrigued Jonathan.

“Cecilia? Mother?” Sophie’s voice sounded out. Jonathan’s sister dashed down the hall from her chamber, her powder-blue gown with its fine lace overdress shimmered as the sunlight hit it through the tall French windows. Her pale face showed her panic. The moment Sophie saw the expression on their faces, she stopped and bent forward at the waist; a howl filled the air.

Mr. Charles excused himself and departed, leaving the three women alone.

It was quite strange, Cecilia supposed, how her mother-in-law and Jonathan’s sister could so easily express their grief even though they were usually so very proper. They never laughed out loud in public, never left the house without gloves and a proper head-covering, and never committed any social mishaps – unlike Cecilia. And yet, here they were, allowing their grief to consume them while she was frozen.

As if on their own volition, her feet moved toward the heavy door, and she pushed it open.

“Cecilia, no,” Sophie called out, but she ignored her.

She wanted to see him. Jonathan Barnard, the gentleman who’d taken her out of her mother’s shop and moved her into this grand, centuries-old home. The lord who’d taken a woman without prospects and made her a Countess in her own right. The man who’d saved her from spinsterhood and poverty. She needed to see him, if for no other reason than to thank him for all he’d done for her in the short time they were blessed to be in each other’s lives.

However, when she stepped up to the four-poster bed, she could say nothing. She stood; a hand wrapped around a bedpost as her lips quivered.

It struck her that he looked as if he were sleeping. His blond hair hung into his sweaty face, and someone had folded his hands on his chest, but otherwise, he appeared peaceful.

“Oh, Jonathan,” she muttered. “How can you leave me like this? You promised you’d protect me; you’d be here for me. And now you are gone. How am I to carry on without you and without this life we planned together?”

As she addressed her husband of only one year for the last time, a wave of emotion overcame her with such violence she found herself flung forward onto her knees. The sudden onset of grief and devastation and the realization that her life as she’d known it was once again overweight down upon her as she sobbed.

“Oh, Jonathan,” she moaned when suddenly hands wrapped around her slender arms and pulled her upright.

“Come now, Cecilia, come. We must call for the undertaker,” her mother-in-law said in a soothing voice she very rarely ever used.

Slowly, Cecilia allowed herself to be led out of her marital chamber, where her husband remained. As they walked through the arched doorway, she glanced over her shoulder. This was it. Their last goodbye.


Archibald Barnard sat in the drawing room of his London mansion and stared into the dancing flames of the fireplace. The snapping and crackling of the fire soothed him after his tediously long day. He was about to close his eyes when his valet, Thomas, entered.

“Excuse me, sir. I do not mean to disturb you,” he apologized as Archibald turned his head.

“Never. I was in a contemplative mood.”

It was true, he thought to himself. He had a habit of getting lost in his thoughts. It was a flaw in his character, according to his mother, who’d bemoaned his habit of spending hours inside of either a book or in his head since his boyhood days. She never quite understood her younger son the way she did her older one, Jonathan. No, Archibald mused; he certainly was not the apple of his mother’s eyes.

“You have much on your mind. Exams will start very soon, am I correct?”

“That you are, Thomas. I may engage you in assisting me. I require someone to test my Latin vocabulary.”

His valet drew his eyebrows together. “But I do not know Latin.”

He winked at his valet. Thomas had assisted him since before he moved to London; in fact, Thomas was his valet since he was a young boy. Therefore, he often regarded him more as a friend than an employee.

“I know it, Thomas. You simply have to ask. Read me the English word, and I shall spell out the Latin. I must improve. Otherwise, I shall be flung out of the Royal College of Physicians directly. A circumstance that would delight my mother, of course.”

“I should think not. Surely Lady Pembroke wishes to see you succeed.”

Archibald sighed deeply. “She’d rather see me succeed in the Navy. She never wanted me to become a physician. But I’ve never had an appetite for the sea. No, medicine is my passion, and one day, if I put my mind to it, I shall become Professor of Clinical Medicine at the college myself.”

“Of course, sir. You can and you will.”

Archibald sighed as he thought of the future. He’d worked hard these past few years at becoming a physician.

It was fortunate that his father supported him, as his mother never would. A Navy Captain was preferable to a physician; he knew this well, for she never tired of repeating this opinion to him whenever he dared venture home.

“You said a messenger came by? Was there a letter?” Archibald asked.

Thomas nodded and handed him an envelope. At home, at Barnard Hall, letters were delivered by Mr. Ponds, the family’s butler. He’d carried the letter into the room on a silver tray and presented it with a bow – a circumstance Archibald always felt excessive.

He preferred a more tranquil household and thus did not keep a butler when in residence.

He picked up the letter and groaned the moment he recognized his brother’s seal.

“Drats, here we are. Shall I make you a wager, Thomas? I wager you one full week pay that this letter is from Jonathan, telling me he intends to come to London and needs the use of the house for one of his sordid celebrations.”

He rolled his blue eyes into the back of his head and blew a blond curl out of his eyes.

“I would much rather not wager my wages away, sir. Although I am quite sure you are correct.”

“We shall soon find out.”

Archibald whistled and broke the seal. Right away, he noted that the letter was from his mother, not his brother, and as he took in the words, his blood ran cold.

“My dearest Archie,

I am writing to you with the most dreadful of news. Your brother Jonathan has left this earth this morning. He has suffered terribly for two weeks with consumption. The physician did all he could to return him to health and I was quite certain he would. He was young, and strong, as you know. I had every confidence he’d return to us just as vigorous as ever even when he was on the verge of death.

Alas, I was wrong. He passed this morning. The undertaker has been summoned and we shall hold a funeral. I trust you will be here for it. Of course, I expect you to return to Barnard Hall as quickly as you can, for you know you must.

I cannot summon the strength to write more. I shall leave you with this terrible news and pray for your swift return home.


Dead. His brother, Jonathan, was dead. Archibald could not believe the words he’d just read. No, this had to be a mistake, he was sure of it. Like his mother said, Jonathan was a healthy young man. He rode, he hunted, he was active – he could not be dead.

“Thomas, a brandy. Quickly,” he called as he placed the letter aside. His heart thumped and his breathing quickened.

Jonathan – for all the fights we had, I loved you. How can you be gone?

His valet rushed away and returned with the glass and Archibald drank it down almost in one swallow. The liquid burned his throat, but he didn’t care.

“I shall need another,” he said quietly. His hand shook as he glanced at the letter again. The news appeared quite impossible to fathom.

“Sir? Have you received bad tidings?”

He nodded slowly; his eyes fixed at the fireplace. “The worst. My brother is dead.”

Thomas gasped and took a step back.

“Heaven forfend. What has happened?”

Archibald’s nostrils flared at this question, and he scoffed. “Consumption. He suffered from consumption for months, and I was not informed. I am a physician myself, or as good as. One might think my mother would call on me. But no. I cannot believe Jonathan did not send for me.”

“I am ever so sorry, Sir. I mean, my Lord.”

Archibald frowned at this sudden, new form of address.

“My Lord?” He asked and looked up at his valet.

“Yes, my Lord. You are next in line. Your brother has passed away without an heir, thus, you are now….”

“By Jove, I am the Earl of Pembroke.” He got up and stalked to the fire, where he crumpled the letter and tossed it into the flames. “Me? An Earl. How can this be? Jonathan was born to be Earl. He was made for it. While he and I were as different as two young can be…”

Words failed him as he thought of his brother. He thought back to the day their father died, how broken he’d felt and how strong Jonathan had been. He’d guided him through the loss of their father with a strong, caring hand and together, they made it through the dark time. And now, the darkness was upon him again, but this time he had to face it alone. All alone. And with the added burden of following in his brother’s footsteps as Earl.

How was he supposed to take up his brother’s mantle? He wasn’t made to be Earl; he didn’t have the strength it required. One had to be fair, and one had to be strict when the times called for it – Jonathan had those traits, Archibald did not.

In this, they’d been of one mind. Jonathan was a born aristocrat who excelled at being the center of attention at balls, and the opera. He was well spoken and drew attention at the House of Lords. Archibald on the other hand, was gifted at medicine. He’d soaked up knowledge on how to set bones, treat illness, and he especially enjoyed discovering new ways to treat illnesses.

He wanted to help others through healing what ailed them, while Jonathan wanted to change the world -and better it – through his station.

“Shall I pack your belongings so you can return to Barnard Hall?” Thomas asked quietly, interrupting his thoughts.

Archibald looked over his shoulder. He considered the matter. There was nothing he could do at Barnard Hall. The steward, Higgins, would take control for now, and the entire household would be in mourning. Even if he left now, he’d not have anything much to do and the truth was, the thought of burying his brother mortified him so much, he could not even imagine it. The idea of seeing him dead, and watching his coffin lowered into the grave – no. He could not do it.

Besides, his studies for the year were to conclude at the end of May, three months from now. Surely, his return could wait until then. Yes, Archibald concluded.

He spun around and stared at the valet.

“Thomas, prepare my ink and quilt. I shall respond to my mother, as for packing anything – no. We shall not. Barnard Hall functioned well enough without me all these years. It certainly can sustain itself for three months.”

And with that, he marched out of his drawing room and into his study. He would do as he pleased. After all – wasn’t that what second’s sons were meant to do? Make their luck in life?

Archibald Barnard certainly intended to continue as he always had – Earl or not.


Chapter One

Three months later… 

Cecilia sat at the breakfast table, and her eyes took in the delicacies before her. Hot cross buns, marmalades, honey, butter, assorted pies, and even pastries filled the table, as they did every morning. Such riches still baffled her, even though she ought to be accustomed to them by now.

And yet, she couldn’t help but remember her younger days. She thought of the often sparse breakfast table at her own home, where her mother would cook eggs and bake bread purchased from the meager funds her father provided. How she longed to have her father join them at these meals, how she wished they were a true family, together and united. Yet, she recalled not a single time her parents ate a meal together.

She sighed deeply when her mother-in-law’s voice drifted to her ear.

“Cecilia, dear?”

She looked up and, for the first time, noticed that her mother-in-law was no longer clad in full-mourning attire. Instead, she’d switched to half-mourning. She wore a navy-colored gown with capped sleeves, showing her pale, slender arms. Her hands, wrinkled with age, were hidden in a pair of dark blue silk gloves, and on her head, she wore a blue and purple bandeau. It was too early for her to switch to half-mourning, as Jonathan’s mother, she was to remain in mourning for six full months.

Cecilia still wore her mourning attire. She knew she was expected to continue to wear black for another three months before changing to half-mourning for a further six. She didn’t mind. She found comfort in the process of donning her simple black taffeta gowns. Each had long sleeves and a bugle trim and matching gloves, shoes, and a black silk shawl. In her reticule, she carried a black fan and handkerchief to complete her attire.

“I am sorry, Lady Pembroke, I did not hear what you said. I was lost in thought.”

“I could tell,” the lady said as she pursed her lips and scrutinized her daughter-in-law. “I said Archie will arrive any day this week. I’ve had a letter and…”

“Did you say Archie will come at last? I cannot believe it has been three months since Jonathan passed, and he’s yet to show his face. Such impertinence,” Sophie complained as she entered the breakfast room in a deep purple dress. As a sibling, her mourning period lasted only three months, and she’d resumed wearing her regular gowns and adornments the moment she was able.

“Indeed, he is,” her mother confirmed, “And I agree, it was impertinent of him. I shall speak to him about his behavior when he arrives, but I did not wish to upset him by way of a letter before he gets here. Lest he refuses to come at all.”

“Surely, that would not be possible, Lady Pembroke. As heir, he must assume the title, must he not?” Cecilia asked.

She would never admit it out loud, but she still had trouble making sense of the many rules that governed the upper class. She found her role as Countess difficult to grasp, even when Jonathan was alive to guide her, but she had no help whatsoever and felt forever uneasy with him gone.

“Of course, he does; he has no choice. He is simply stubborn, as he’s always been. He must assume his title and become the new Earl of Pembroke. He will need to marry soon and produce an heir since we lack one now. I was blessed with a spare, at least.” She sighed and took a sip of her tea while Cecilia’s eyes grew wide.

The heir and the spare, she thought, were terrible ways to think of one’s children. She wondered, would Archie, the former spare, be a terrible brute when he arrived? Would he cast her out? After all, he’d refused to attend the funeral, and he hadn’t come to her and Jonathan’s wedding, either. What if he didn’t want her in his home?

She bit her bottom lip and looked from her mother-in-law to Sophie and back again. She couldn’t ask them. At least not directly.

She stirred her spoon around her hot drinking chocolate while Sophie sighed across from her.

“He will be ever so miffed that he had to stop his tedious studies. He wrote to me, saying this is upsetting his entire life because he never wanted the title. He blames Jonathan for dying without an heir.”

She stared at Cecilia, who only blinked.

“He shall have to find his way into the role. He’ll see how blessed he is to be able to leave that dreadful scholarly life he’s led behind him.”

Cecilia looked up then, seeing an opportunity to inquire about the gentleman who had the power to change everything. “I thought he enjoyed his life.”

“He made a mistake in choosing to study medicine, but he is too proud to admit it. That’s Archie. His father spoiled him, I’m afraid. My beloved husband was a good, kind gentleman, but when it came to our second son, he was much too tender-hearted.”

A flash of nostalgia and sadness appeared on the lady’s face, as it happened each time she spoke of her late husband. Cecilia never met the late Earl, but by all accounts, he was a wonderful person with a good, kind heart.

She could only hope his younger son inherited some of it and would allow her to stay.

“I plan to host a ball very soon to make sure he finds a suitable match,” Lady Pembroke announced.

Cecilia looked up in surprise. “A ball? But the household remains in mourning.”

She knew well that it was customary for the mother of a recently deceased gentleman to remain in mourning for six months at least. To see her mother-in-law already in half-mourning had thus taken her by surprise.

Just what was her mother-in-law thinking, she wondered. She had to know that Cecilia could not attend a ball, a wife was to mourn for a year, not three months. It would cause gossip, and she would find herself in the scandal sheets, that was certain.

“My dear Cecilia. I know you were not brought up to know such things, but the mourning period for widows is mostly to make sure that there is no child on the way. You see, if you were to marry again soon, and you found yourself with child, there might be confusion as to who the father is. But since Jonathan was sick for several months and the two of you unable to… Well.” She shrugged and picked up her teacup. Her piercing blue eyes burned into Cecilia’s skin from over the rim of her cup.

“Surely, nobody would think badly of us to hold a ball in honor of my late brother and in celebration of the new Earl of Pembroke,” Sophie said.

“Indeed,” the Dowager Countess said. “As for you, Cecilia, nobody will think it odd if you come and join us for a little while. You live here, after all. At least for now.”

Cecilia dropped the bun she’d just lifted to her mouth at this. For now? Surely, she didn’t want her to leave right away. Didn’t she have the right to a share of Jonathan’s estate? Or home or at least lands? Or did her mother-in-law suspect her son, Archibald the brute, would send her away, so soon after becoming a widow? She posed this question carefully to her, not wishing to offend.

“Was there no income set aside for my keep?” she asked. “Am I not allowed to stay here, as Jonathan’s widow? Is this not my home, as well?”

The older woman tilted her head to one side.

“Cecilia, my dear, you are entitled to a dower income, of course. However, you must understand that finding a new husband is the best thing for you. You’re still so young, surely you do not wish to spend the rest of your life a widow. I know you may find it strange to hear it from me, but you must trust me, moving on is going to help you heal. Besides, imagine how uncomfortable you would be once Archie takes a wife. It will be preferable to find a husband and start anew.”

“As for your title,” Sophie added. “You are not the owner of the title Dowager Countess of Pembroke. When Mother dies – if you are still unmarried then – that is when you can use the title Dowager. Until then, the honor of being called Dowager goes to her as she is your senior. You are a Dowager because your husband is dead, but while Mother lives, you do not go by that title. There can be two Dowagers. But only one can be addressed as such, these are the ways our society is, complicated for someone of low birth, I know…”

Cecilia swallowed as her lips parted. She felt rather foolish as she listened to her husband’s family explain the rules of the high society. She thought back to the days in her father’s company and realized he’d never taught her about the upper class because he didn’t expect her to marry into it. What would he say if he saw her now? Cecilia, the secret daughter that was born out of wedlock, the widow of an Earl?

“What will my title be, exactly?”

Her mother-in-law sighed deeply and shook her head. “My dear, after a year of marriage, you ought to know this. Once you re-enter society, you will be known as Cecilia, the Countess of Pembroke. I know it is confusing, however, it will not be a problem at all for you shall have a new husband very soon and a new title. Perhaps an even grander one.”

She licked her lips. The way her tongue darted out of her mouth reminded Cecilia of a serpent. “Who knows, you might even improve your station once more.”

“Cecilia, you look ever so sullen. I know you miss Jonathan, as do we all but Mother is right. You are still young, especially for a widow. You need not worry about what Archie thinks or does. He will be rather busy with his own concerns anyhow when he arrives. He’ll hardly even notice you,” Sophie said as if it was meant to console her.

“Indeed. And I am afraid I will not have much time to tend to you either, dear. I will have to focus all my energy on Archie to make sure he follows his father and brother’s path. Not an easy feat for someone who is so very contrary by nature.”

She shook her head and picked up the Morning Gazette, indicating the conversation was over. However, just as Cecilia dabbed the corners of her lips and pushed the chair back to excuse herself, her mother-in-law spoke up again.

“Why, see? Right here is an eligible gentleman in need of a wife. The Duke of Hereford. His betrothal to Lady Helena was just broken. It says right here in the scandal sheet.” She blinked at Cecilia. “Dear. There is nothing better to mend a broken heart than to fill it with love for another. And quickly.”

Cecilia gave a slight nod and rose.

“I thank you for your wise counsel, Lady Pembroke. If you will excuse me, I’d like to take some air and read my novel in the garden.”

Thus, she departed, leaving the two ladies who were meant to be her family behind.


“I do not understand why she is so eager to see me married again,” she said a few hours later as she sat in the garden. The branches of her favorite ash tree provided much-needed shade against the blistering hot sun. It was August now, and the summer sun warmed her skin so much she feared she might soon take a tan, despite the shade.

“I think her Ladyship only wishes to be helpful. You have been sullen since Lord Pembroke passed away. Of course, that is only natural as he was your husband.”

Her lady’s maid, Maggie, sat beside her and waved a fan in her direction to cool her.

“It is not necessary; I can fan myself, Maggie,” she said in her gentlest tone. She did not like to offend the servants who only wanted to help, but at the same time, she found it difficult to be treated with such reverence.

“If I may say so, you have never truly taken to the role of Countess,” Maggie replied, a small smile played around her thin lips. She’d known Maggie for more than ten years. Before she became Jonathan’s wife, she and Maggie had been friends and worked alongside each other in her mother’s shop. After the wedding, she’d taken Maggie on as a lady’s maid – she needed an ally in this household full of aristocrats.

Not a day went by that she didn’t say a grateful prayer for her friend’s company.

“I do not know, but I know her ideas are rather strange. Holding a ball where I might meet a match while I am in mourning is unheard of. She really does want me gone as soon as possible.”

“It might not be the worst thing to start over elsewhere. Perhaps you can find a kind man, one you might learn to love? I know it is unusual, the way the Countess goes about the business, but perhaps it will be for the best.”

“Perhaps. Have you found out anything about Archibald? I believe in all the time I’ve known Jonathan, he’s uttered but three sentences about his brother, and none of them good.”

Her friend grimaced. “I have asked the other servants, but it seems nobody knows him well. He departed years ago, first to travel the world, and then he joined the Royal College of Physicians in London. It seems he only sees the family when they go to London.”

This did not soothe Cecilia. She’d hoped for positive news, something to take away her perception that this mysterious brother was not the brute she expected.

Alas, Maggie’s words did not provide the desired comfort; the opposite was true. She gave a deep sigh and picked up her book again. Reading, she found, was the only way she could soothe her troubled mind. And today, it was more troubled than ever.

As Maggie picked up her own book and silence fell between them, Cecilia glanced up at the sky. In the distance, the fluffy white clouds made way for dark ones. She sighed but shook her head. She had time; yes, she would continue with her reading, for often, these rainclouds passed them by.

It was ironic, she surmised, that she should find herself lifted out of a commoner’s life and into the life of a well-respected lady of the ton, only to find herself standing with nothing a year later. Life, she concluded, was not fair. But there was no use in complaining, for there was nothing she could do but throw herself at the mercy of this unknown gentleman who’d soon come to take her husband’s place.


Chapter Two

Archibald stepped out of the carriage just as thunder boomed above him and he looked up at the sky. Droplets of rain fell on his skin, and he sighed.

What a welcome home, he thought to himself. These past few months had been difficult for him, the death of his brother had left its mark on his heart. It was strange, the two never conversed much throughout the year and only saw one another when Jonathan needed the London townhouse.

As such, his death should not have changed much. Yet, it somehow changed everything. Waking up in the morning with the knowledge that he could not call on his older brother or write to him whenever the fancy struck him shook him.

Not being able to speak to him was entirely different than choosing not to do so. Even now, three months later, he could not quite comprehend that he now lived in a world where his brother no longer existed.

Now, as he stood before his childhood home, he craned his neck to take it in. It was a beautiful home that once upon a time housed a monastery. The large, arched windows gave a view of the entire estate. He remembered standing at them with Jonathan and Sophie as they watched their father ride out into the distance as soon as the sun came up. Now, this was to be his home again.

“My Lord,” Thomas said beside him, drawing him from his thoughts. “Shall I announce our arrival? We have made good time and I am sure we are not yet expected.”

Archie took a deep breath. “I suppose we ought. I can’t deny it, Thomas. The thought of entering into this home and knowing my brother will not rush forth to greet me makes me feel quite ill.”

The valet smiled at him, a sadness in his kind eyes. “I understand. Perhaps this feeling will ease with time.”

He shrugged, “Perhaps. One can only hope. But wait, I have forgotten my book.”

He turned and stepped back into the carriage as the rain intensified outside. He frowned and canvassed the interior for his novel when he spotted it on the floor. With a sigh, he bent forward and lifted it, the rain drummed against the roof of the carriage.

“Goodness, Thomas,” he called out. “I’d forgotten how quickly a drizzle turns into a downpour here. Fetch me an umbrella, would you? The butler is sure to have one. You can announce us at the same time.”

“Of course, my Lord.” Thomas rushed to the front door as Archibald sought refuge in the carriage. Ordinarily, he would have dashed across the driveway, and risked getting soaked, but since this was to be the first time he laid eyes on his mother in quite some time, he didn’t think presenting himself in such a state was proper. She was sure to still hold a grudge because he’d missed the funeral – quite on purpose of course.

He took a breath and waited for the arrival of the umbrella when suddenly, from the small garden to the right of the front door, a loud scream sounded out. He frowned and craned his neck to see better.

“By Jove,” he muttered. There, in the distance, was a lady laying on the ground, her dark dress stood out against the vivid green grass. He leaned forward to see better and found with horror that she was hunched over, clutching her leg.

Without thinking, Archibald jumped out of the safety of his carriage and ran through the rain toward the garden.

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

If you want to be always up to date with my new releases, click and…

Follow me on BookBub

The Duke’s Last Governess (Extended Epilogue)

Two years later…

After the wedding that had shook the ton, Ethan had decided it best to move Sophia, the children and himself to a home farther into the countryside. He wanted to start fresh on a new estate, leaving the bad memories of old behind to make brand new ones. The staff was pleased with his decision in the wake of Adele’s horrendous attack against the duke and Sophia, and it seemed to calm the children’s fears, as they worried she would come back someday. In the new house, Ethan could perform his duties in a more comfortable setting for all.

There was much going back and forth between the new Tressingham estate and Sophia’s aunt and uncle’s farm. Ethan, out of the kindness of his heart, helped her uncle to regain new clientele, pulling him out of the slump he’d found himself in and bringing the two men closer together. Sophia’s uncle, aunt, and the children made the few hours’ trek as often as they could to visit.

One dreary evening, Ethan was in his study going through ledger after ledger until the numbers started to blur together. He decided to take a break, heading down to the nursery to check on Sophia and the children, only to find the children by their lonesome.

“Where is your mother?” Ethan asked them, their faces rather worried.

“Sophia ran out of here complaining of stomach pains,” Jacob whined with a frown.

“I think she went to her chambers,” Julia said. “She looked very pale.”

Ethan rushed out of the children’s room and down the corridor to find her laying on her bed pale and obviously sick.

“My goodness, are you well?”

“I think I ate a bad spot of food or something,” Sophia replied between wretches. “I feel dreadful.”

“Oh, dear. It is good you came to lie down,” Ethan said, and picked up her hand and pressed it firmly.

“I feel so…woozy…”

“I’ll fetch the physician; he’ll know what to do.”

Ethan ran across the house and found Mr. Pembrooke, and who had coachmen fetch the physician. As he waited for Mr. O’Malley to arrive, his own gut twisted with worry.

It’s probably nothing, Ethan reassured himself, just some illness going around and nothing more. But as he walked back to her bed chamber it was hard for him to feel at ease, taking a seat by her side and holding her hand, which was wet and clammy. His mind drifted back to the moment when he’d found his late wife dead. He couldn’t even imagine finding Sophia in her place. His feelings for Sophia were so much stronger; he wouldn’t be able to keep his mind. But then again, Adele was away. This couldn’t be her doing.

“Good evening, your Graces,” Mr. O’Malley said as he came in the room, Sophia having succumbed to the lull of sleep despite her condition. “Mr. Pembrooke tells me the duchess has fallen ill?”

“Yes,” Ethan said as Sophia’s eyes fluttered open, and she sat up. “Oh, do be careful, dear.”

“I am feeling a bit queasy, my love, but nothing like earlier,” she insisted.

“What exactly happened, your Grace?” Mister O’Malley asked Sophia.

“Well, we had a bit of dinner, and I went to play with the children while the duke caught up on some work. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by tremendous nausea, and I started to sweat profusely.”

“Mhmm,” Mr. O’Malley said as he listened. “Well, let me take a look. The fact you feel a bit better could mean it’s just some passing ailment.” Ethan moved from his seat and let Mr. O’Malley take his place next to Sophia. He checked Sophia’s wrist, seeming to count the beats of her pulse with his finger, before standing up and lightly checking her over.

“Have you gained any weight, your Grace?” Mr. O’Malley asked.

“I am not sure. I have been feeling a bit bloated the last days though,” Sophia said, blushing as she answered. “But we recently attended a ball for Lady Albring’s birthday, and there were many treats.”

Mr. O’Malley sat there for a moment and put his hand lightly on her stomach, his eyes opening a little wide as he looked back to her.

“I hate to sound crude, your Grace, but when was the last time you had your menses?”

Sophia seemed to ponder the question a moment and appeared to struggle to find an answer.

“I…I don’t remember. It’s been quite a while, honestly,” Sophia replied.

“Well, you have nothing to worry about, your Grace,” Mister O’Malley said. “I can, with quite a bit of certainty, tell you that I know what your problem is, though it really isn’t a problem at all.”

“What do you mean?” Ethan asked, looking at Mr. O’Malley and feeling quite puzzled.

“The duchess is with child,” he replied with a smile. “The vomiting, the little bit of weight gain, and the movement I felt in her belly seem to all point to it.”

“Really?” Sophia squealed with delight, tears clinging in her eyes. “We’ve been trying for so long we weren’t sure it was possible.”

“Well, then I owe you an extra bit of congratulations,” Mr. O’Malley said as he picked up his bag from the floor, turning to Ethan. “You are going to be a father, your Grace…again.” Mr. O’Malley smiled to him, and Ethan was left speechless, turning to Sophia, who burst into tears.

“At last! Another,” she said. Ethan walked back over to her and wrapped his arms around her tightly, kissing her all over her cheeks.

“You are a great mother already, and I have no doubt this new babe will thrive within our family.”

“You think so?” Sophia said, looking a bit nervous. “Having a babe and raising children are two separate things.”

“You are the most kind and beautiful person I know, inside and out,” Ethan said. “You will be perfect.” Ethan climbed onto the bed and cuddled Sophia in his arms, stroking her hair as the two sat there in complete bliss.


“Yes, my love?” Ethan replied, looking down upon his beautiful bride, her eyes aglow.

“Let’s name the baby Charles if it’s a boy,” Sophia replied. “I think my father would have loved that, being that was his name too, after all.”

“Charles, hmm?” Ethan thought upon it for a minute and nodded his head. “I like it. A handsome name for a handsome baby. But if it’s a girl, Rose.”

“I’d like that very much,” Sophia replied. Ethan leaned down and kissed Sophia, his heart full, happy that they had not only all become a family as they were, but that they could now look forward to it growing and blooming. Just like the beautiful rose garden where they’d shared their first kiss, and where their love had truly blossomed.


If you haven't already, please leave your review on Amazon

Readers who enjoyed this book also bought

If you want to be always up to date with my new releases, click and…

Follow me on BookBub

The Duke’s Last Governess (Preview)


Chapter One

 “So, now that we know how poetry works, I’d like you to write me a poem,” Sophia Fielding said to her young pupil, Adam, who sat listlessly at his desk eyeing her like she had two heads.

The lad wasn’t exactly thrilled with her, their subject of the day being poetry. He didn’t enjoy writing, which was an absolute pity, seeing as how he was fairly gifted when he gave it a chance. But his father, Baron Colshire—who was insistent on him pursuing a good education—wasn’t interested in him truly learning the arts, of course. Why would he be? The lord of the manor expected his son to follow in his footsteps. Baron Colshire emphasized a focus on arithmetic, wanting Adam to be able to successfully manage the taxes, fines and dues of the estate.

“Writing poetry?” Adam scoffed. “What will that teach me, miss?”

“It will teach you how to rhyme, of course!” Sophia insisted. “Plus, writing can be quite enjoyable.”

“For you, maybe,” Adam huffed, and Sophia stifled a laugh. “Men don’t write poetry, and certainly not heirs to barons. I don’t have time for any of that girly stuff.”

“You’re being silly,” Sophia insisted, handing him some paper and a quill. “As if barons have no life outside of their duties. Some of the best poets have been men, Adam. Quite a few of them were even part of the ton as well.”

“Name three,” Adam challenged, and Sophia buckled down and took the challenge.

“Lord Byron, John Keats, William Blake, William Woodsworth—”

“Alright, alright. Show off,” Adam joked, leaning back in his chair. “But I don’t even know what I should write about,” Adam said, shaking his head. “All these flowery words make my head dizzy.”

“It doesn’t have to be some grand, honeyed poem about love or what have you,” Sophia replied. “It can just be a poem about something you like.”

“Well, I like playing hockey with my friends outside when Father allows it,” Adam murmured, twirling the quill in his hand.

“That’s it then! Something you like and are passionate about, my dear. It doesn’t have to be some big, romantic thing. You can just write about things that inspire you. I like to write poems about gardening, myself. I’m not much for romance.”

“Fine,” Adam replied, resigned to his fate as the quill began to dance and bounce on the paper in front of him. A poem about hockey was a queer one indeed, but if that’s what it took to get the wheels turning, Sophia decided she would surely take it. It was almost comical to watch him. His concentration was so deep that his tongue waggled out the side of his mouth like an excited young pup.

“There!” Adam said as he handed Sophia his poem, looking quite proud of himself as she read it over out loud.

“Oh, how I would rather be, outside playing hockey. Scoring goals is so much fun. We keep playing until we’ve won. Sometimes we lose and but that’s okay, the game is quite exciting to play…Wonderful, Adam! The rhyming is very good!” Sophia said as she read over the parchment, pleased with the way that Adam was blossoming under her tutelage.

She had been with the Colshire’s for quite some time, teaching Adam the ins and out of the three R’s—reading, writing, and arithmetic. Adam himself was an incredibly bright child, and she enjoyed spending time with him, even if that was really her only social interaction.

“Now, wash up, I’m sure we are nearing suppertime,” Sophia said to Adam, hanging up his poem in front of his desk.

“Yes, Miss Sophia,” Adam said with a grin, seemingly proud that she’d thought it good enough to hang up. Sophia was a soft soul, and felt that no matter what, positive encouragement was the key to good education.

Adam scurried through the door, and as he did, another familiar face came in behind him. Mister Barringer, the baron’s faithful butler, wore his usual well-fitted black waistcoat, peppered trousers, and black dress coat.

“Ah, Mister Barringer, I wasn’t expecting you to be there. You nearly gave me a fright!” Sophia giggled, cleaning up Adam’s desk.

“My apologies, miss,” Mister Barringer replied. “But there is an urgent matter requiring your attention, I’m afraid.”

“An urgent matter?” Sophia queried, confused by the very phrase. Her chest tightened as she stood there, her brain scattering every which way.

“The baron would like to see you, miss,” Mister Barringer replied. Sophia noted he seemed to look almost forlorn as the words slipped from his tongue, unsettling her even further. She was merely Adam’s teacher, after all, and a baron had no time or use for conversing with a governess—as long as she was doing her job. Had she done something wrong?

“O-oh,” Sophia said, throwing some scraps of paper in the bin and wiping her hands nervously on her dress. “Where is he?”

“The drawing-room,” Mister Barringer replied. “And do hurry, Miss Fielding. He doesn’t like it when anyone dawdles.”

Sophia gave Mister Barringer a quick nod as she felt her stomach twist and turn into knots. The walk to the drawing-room felt like it took a hundred years. As she got there, she saw the baron sitting by the fire, the light from the flames dancing off his pointed nose and indented chin as he casually sipped his wine.

“M-My lord,” Sophia stammered. “I was told you wanted to see me.”

“Ah, yes, Miss Fielding, do come in and have a seat over there.” Baron Colshire waved with his hand to an empty chair in front of him, and Sophia felt heavy as she sat. “You and I have a matter that needs addressing. A bittersweet one, at that.”

“Have I done something wrong, sir?” Sophia replied, a lump forming in her throat.

“Not at all,” the baron replied with a smile. “In fact, you’ve done quite the opposite. Adam is doing so well scholastically. He shows me all the amazing work you two have done, and his marks are extraordinary.”

“Why, thank you, my lord. I do try my best. Your son is a very gifted child.”

“Indeed,” the baron said with a nod, taking a sip of his drink. “That is why this moment is a bit poignant, my dear. You see, I will be enrolling Adam in boarding school early, as he is way ahead of most boys his age. I think it would do him some good to get in there, learn more structure and manners, especially as he is my heir.”

The baron’s words droned on, but Sophia felt like she was miles away, her heart dropping into the pit of her belly. He was sending Adam off a whole year early, something that Sophia had not expected nor accounted for. She’d squirreled away as much money as she possibly could, but there was no way that she could possibly afford to move out on her own on such short notice.

“He will be leaving once the school year starts, so, not much longer to be quite honest. Though not to worry—you have been exceptional, and I will give you only the best of references!”

Though she knew the baron meant well, she couldn’t help but feel frustrated. How could the baron, after all her years of service, just drop her so quickly? Without so much as care or thought to where she would go or what she would do? It just seemed so…cruel.

“Thank you,” Sophia replied, bowing her head in respect, though in her head she screamed and cried and carried on in a very unladylike way. “It has been a pleasure teaching your son.”

Before the baron could say anything else, she turned on her heels and headed to her bedchamber, resisting the urge to slam the door as she flopped onto her bed. Sophia grabbed her pillow and held it tight, sobbing into it so no one else could hear her tortured wails. She lamented over what exactly she would do. It wasn’t like governess jobs just fell in one’s lap, and with no time to line up her next position, there would be a gap in employment…and that meant no money.

After her father’s untimely death eight years ago, Sophia had been left with not a penny to her name—despite her father’s prestigious position in life. He had been a well-known solicitor, working with many of the ton and common folk alike. Her mother, too, had passed years ago, not surviving her birth. Even so, she didn’t want to be a burden on what family she did have left.

So much for being independent, Sophia thought to herself as she begrudgingly got up, went to her desk, and began to pen a letter to her aunt and uncle. Though she felt in her heart she didn’t want to go back—not that her aunt and uncle were bad people, nor would they mind having her around to help, but she enjoyed her own sense of liberation and self-sufficiency—she knew she had no choice. Plus, the embarrassment of it all was far too much to bear. To be sent home, jobless, without any sort of prospects?

How absolutely pitiful.


Chapter Two

Ethan yawned as he sat up and stretched. Pulling back the covers, he was met with the cold chill of the morning air. Another dreary day out there, Ethan thought to himself, sighing as he stared out the window. Another night, another vicious dream that woke him over and over, haunting him the moment he closed his eyes. But there was no time for crawling back in bed. There were ledgers to be gone through and things to be taken care of, and a duke had no time to sleep in. Regardless of the lack thereof the night before.

He rifled through his closet and got dressed, trying to shake off the nightmares that were still fresh in his mind as he glanced himself over in the mirror. His eyes looked hazy, purple-rimmed and puffy as he fixed his high collar, and he frowned as he combed through his messy, ash blonde hair.

“At least no one of note will have to see me like this,” Ethan mumbled to himself before walking down the hallway towards his office, almost running over the maid as he lumbered warily along.

“Oh, my apologies, your Grace,” Adele, his late wife’s former lady’s maid apologized.

“No, no, it’s my fault,” Ethan replied with a weak smile. “My head is a bit in the clouds today, I’m afraid. How are the children doing this morning?”

“Quite well, your Grace. They are working with the governess as we speak.”

“Excellent,” Ethan said with a smile. The triplets were his only real source of happiness anymore. Jacob, Jane and Julia were the lights of his life. They reminded him of the late duchess every time he looked at them, all of them born with her ebony locks and jade green eyes. They were a loveable though a mischievous lot, but he hoped that, with a woman’s touch, their unruly behavior could be stifled.

“Is there anything I can get you?”

“Hmm…some tea might be nice,” Ethan replied. “Hopefully the warmth will perk me up.”

“Yes, your Grace.” The maid bowed as she ran off to fetch his tea. He set up in his office and sat down, rifling through the pages of mess on his desk.

“Had I really left it like this last night?” Ethan asked himself, shaking his head. “It’s no wonder I’ve been having nightmares when I leave one here right in front of me.” Ethan began sifting through the pages, reorganizing the mess, and then going through the newest ledgers to check profits and calculate expenditures.

“Here’s your tea, your Grace,” the housemaid said as she returned, setting the small, steamy cup upon the duke’s desk.

“Why, thank you, Adele,” he replied as he took a sip, relishing the taste. “You make a perfect cup every time.”

“Only the best for you, your Grace.” Adele smiled. “Can I get you anything else?”

“Not unless you know how to go through these ledgers,” Ethan said with a laugh, taking another sip of his tea. Adele was a good maid—a great one, even—but she seemed to always be hovering. Always a worried look on her face as if he might break at any moment. Sometimes looking at her made his heart hurt, making him want to rid his world of yet another reminder of what had been lost. However, he knew that wasn’t the right thing to do, and a rather illogical, emotional thing to do at that. She was still good at her job, and good maids were hard to find.

“Mmm…that’s not my area of expertise,” Adele said with a soft beam, shaking her head.

“I thought not,” Ethan replied. “Has the laundry been done?”

“No, sir,” Adele said with a frown. “I’ll get right on it.” As Adele’s shoes clicked into the distance, Ethan went back to looking over the profit margins for the lands that were part of his estate. He sighed as he went through the numbers, making sure everything appeared to be on track. Ethan was so tired that the words and numbers seemed to blur together, and for a moment, he debated heading back to the comfort of his chambers.

A while later, footsteps echoed in the hallway and he sighed as he heard them coming towards his study. While he appreciated Adele taking him into consideration more since his wife’s death, sometimes her fussing became a bit too much for him.

“Adele, I told you I don’t need anything else,” Ethan called out from his seat in response to the knock at the door, his eyes never moving from the papers in his hand.

“Well, sir, it is I who needs something from you, actually.” Ethan spun around in his chair, surprised that his butler stood before him instead of the late duchess’s wayward maid.

“What seems to be the trouble, Mister Pembrooke?” Ethan asked, curious as to why the butler had come to his study. Mister Pembrooke wasn’t one to just come in willy-nilly. He was a very professional man, even on the rare occasions that he and Ethan had drinks together in the drawing-room when everyone else was asleep. He’d been the family’s butler for as long as Ethan could remember. With Ethan’s father gone, he’d become closer than one should to the help. Had it not been for Mister Pembrooke, Ethan may have crumbled completely long ago. The pressures of the dukedom and the loss of both his father and his wife were harsh burdens to bear.

“Well, your Grace, I am sorry to disturb you, but the governess is currently lugging her trunk towards the door.”

“Whatever do you mean?” Ethan asked, stunned at the information. “Why would she possibly be leaving?”

“It’s the triplets, your Grace,” Mister Pembrooke stammered. “They’ve gone unruly again. Miss Guinevere is beside herself this time, and she’s claimed she wants nothing more to do with the position.”

“Damn it,” Ethan groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. He could only imagine what they could have done now to chase yet another governess off. This was the fourth one in a years’ time, in fact. “Do you think I can save this one?”

“I’d say that’s very unlikely, your Grace. She wishes to give her resignation face to face.”

Ethan groaned as he stood up from his chair, pushing it back and then brushing past Mister Pembrooke and through the door. What had the children done this time? Put a frog in her teaching bag? Glued her to her seat? A million different pranks whirred through his mind as he reached the door. He spotted Miss Guinevere standing there in her usual black dress, uncharacteristically wearing a hat.

“Good morning, your Grace,” the older woman said, her bottom lip trembling as she appeared to hold back tears.

“My apologies, Miss Guinevere. I don’t know what they’ve done now, but I can assure you we can fix it.”

“There is nothing left to fix, your Grace. Those children are unteachable. They’re unruly and, dare I say it, possessed!” Miss Guinevere yowled, catching Ethan off guard.

Surely, they were quite the handful, Ethan thought to himself, but possessed?

“Miss Guinevere, I understand you are quite upset. I know my children aren’t perfect, but that sounds a bit…mad.”

“I’m the one who’s mad?” the governess wailed as she took off her hat, revealing the atrocity the triplets had committed. “They waited until I slept and then took the craft scissors. They butchered my hair! I look absolutely hideous!”

Ethan stood there bewildered at Guinevere’s once long, flowing, peppered locks, which were now shorn. The cuts were all uneven, going every which way, all in varying lengths

“Oh…good lord…” Ethan gasped, putting a hand to his mouth. The triplets had really done it this time, and if word were to get out about their impish deeds, they may never see another governess again.

“And that’s not all,” Miss Guinevere spat, opening up her case and taking out two dresses, which had notably been her favourites. “They shredded these to ribbons!” she whimpered, throwing one of them at him. As he held it up, the light from the doorway exposed every little slit and hole as she shook the other at him furiously. “These children don’t need a governess; they need a beast handler!”

“I can replace those,” Ethan replied, clearing his throat and trying to think of a way to get her to stay. “I can also double your pay if you stay on with us.”

Ethan’s mind zoomed, trying to think of ways to get her to stay. He needed a governess to teach the children, to help keep them in line so he could continue to do his work. Although he loved his children dearly and cherished the time he did get to spend with them, balancing the running of the dukedom with being a single father was far too much for his plate. They desperately needed the guidance only a woman could give.

“You cannot replace those dresses. My mother made those for me before her death. And stay? With these monsters? I think not. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I shall take my leave. I have to see if I can fix this absolute tragedy upon my head. Good day, your Grace.”

With that, Miss Guinevere slammed the door before Ethan could get another word in edgewise, causing him to flinch as he hung his head in defeat.

“I tried to warn you, your Grace,” Mister Prembrooke chimed in from behind, and Ethan rolled his eyes.

“You didn’t tell me it was that bad,” Ethan groaned, throwing the tattered dress to the floor in frustration as he caught a glimpse of the three troublemakers peering from around the corner. Ethan shot them an annoyed look and the children fled, their little feet scurrying as they ran to their rooms and slammed their doors shut. He considered following after them but was so flabbergasted and exasperated that he thought better of it.

“I didn’t realize it was that bad, your Grace, I swear it. I just assumed it was another one of their foolish games that set her off. Not…that,” Mister Pembrooke replied.

“Ahhhh!” Ethan breathed, stamping his foot angrily as he ruffled his hair. “Now what am I to do? This is the fourth one just this year!”

“Well, I can try my hand at helping with the children, if it settles your nerves, your Grace.”

“No, no,” Ethan sighed. “I need you here keeping an eye on the other staff. You don’t have time for other things. Though I guess I’ll need you or Adele to watch them in my stead, seeing as how I’ll have to go to the employment registry to find another governess.”

“Of course, your Grace.”

“I imagine I can only hope that they have someone available immediately. With any luck, I won’t be long. Until then, keep this place together for me, will you?”

“Yes, your Grace,” Mister Pembrooke said with a bow as Ethan went back to his desk, once again attempting to go through the ledgers before his trip to London.

Quite the hitch this puts in everything, Ethan thought to himself, quite the hitch indeed. He wasn’t exactly sure how he would keep a governess, when and if he got someone else to come in. Not with the way the children were acting. He could only hope that by some act of God there was some woman out there whose will would outweigh the children’s determination.

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

If you want to be always up to date with my new releases, click and…

Follow me on BookBub