For the Heart of a Roguish Duke Preview

About the book

An untested ward and a wealthy guardian at odds...

Taken in by the Duke of Bentley as his ward, Miss Scarlet Snow was raised like any other Lady of the Ton. But with him now gone, she has to marry before his son comes and tosses her on the streets.

Alexander Hargreave, the newly appointed Duke of Bentley, never forgave his father for favoring his ward over him. Even more so when his will bids him to either find her a suitor or give her his estates.

Little could he imagine though, that the lady he kissed senseless during the ball is his very own ward. And if getting her out of his head might be impossible, matching her with the worthless men of the Ton is even harder. Unless...He ruins her first.

Chapter One

“It has been a lovely Season so far,” said Lady Featherweight, a member of the ton who wore a bright-purple gown. She was very tall. She would have been pretty if it weren’t for her rather long nose and her haughty expression. Next to her, stood her two daughters.

“It has been rather fascinating,” said Lady Merry Hopkins. She was another guest at Lady Spencer’s ball and had come into new money. “I am pleased to declare my daughter’s coming out has been fruitful this Season. She has already found a respectable beau.”

Lady Featherweight glanced at her daughters in disdain. “Mine still haven’t found theirs, sadly. But they will, I am certain of it.” Her tone did not sound hopeful, and her expression was not quite agreeable.

“That is unfortunate, I agree. Well, there is still time I suppose. But one must be quick. These men are picked up faster than eating grapes, and you cannot waste a single minute to make your mark. When I was young, my first Season was remarkable. I had two gentlemen who wanted to court me, isn’t that something?” said Lady Merry.

“And did you marry either of them?” asked Lady Featherweight.

“No, unfortunately I did not. One of them was keen on another lady, I will not name. They are here with their daughters. The other man wasn’t who he said he was. I was upset, of course. And then I was approached by a good man whom I married,” Lady Merry responded.

“That does give me hope.”

“It does, dear, doesn’t it? Now, I must move along. I have to meet the good Lady McVie. If you will excuse me.” Lady Merry strode away.

Lady Featherweight smirked after her. “She is lying, of course. She wasn’t approached by her husband, I heard she married him as a business agreement. As for her daughter, she was caught with a footman in the bedchamber! Imagine that. That scandal was the highlight of the ton’s gossip. News was that she was with child as a result and so she had to find someone quickly to avoid being found out. But someone told.”

“Mama, is that true?” asked her first daughter. “Did she marry that man?”

“It was strange, but yes, she did.”

“I have heard that rumor. My friend, Lady Sarah, told me as much. She said she knew that family personally. And the lady in question is not very bright either. She would fall into any one’s lap when she was shown even a little bit of interest,” said the second daughter.

“My, what a tale,” the mother smiled in satisfaction, and then it quickly turned into a scowl. “Even if that is true, I do not want either of you to shame yourselves or me like that. And I require to see results this Season. I am not getting any younger and you are not as young as you were. Your father and I want grandchildren.”

The daughters looked at one another and giggled as little girls would do. It was most childish and rather silly, Scarlet thought.

“How are children made, Mama?” the first daughter asked, seeming quite innocent. The mother glared at her and raised her eyebrow.

“Enough talk now, begin to look for suitors,” she said in a stern voice. With her nose in the air, she walked toward some gentlemen who were otherwise unoccupied. The daughters followed behind.

The hall was a bubble of excitement as members of the ton assembled at the Spencer’s ball. It was a ball that had been breathlessly anticipated since the beginning of the Season, and now it had finally arrived.

June was always a favorite time for the ton to enjoy these grand balls as the weather was usually lovely. Trees blossomed displaying the wonderful colors of pinks and whites, wildlife erupted with busyness and a delight to all who loved small creatures. The streams and rivers were again in full flow. And most of all, everyone was just happier.

The only one who was not was Miss Scarlet Snow. She walked around the other guests, quite forlorn. She observed their dresses and head costumes. All the ladies and the gentleman too, dressed in their finest, nothing else would do.

 They were here to be seen and to see. All mothers were on the lookout for good and wealthy suitors for their daughters. But, of course, this was natural. Why else would one be so eager to join a throng of gossipers?

The gentlemen would flirt a little with the ladies they wanted to dance with and hope for a companion by the end of the Season and maybe then one or two marriages would even be announced. Oh, the excitement of it all!

Here, one could determine who were the families who had just come in to new money, who had just come into a substantial amount of wealth. They stood out like luminous red strawberries among the pale-pastel ones who had been in the game far longer. They would be the ones to put up their noses at those red strawberries.

In addition to their outlandish behavior, their dresses were a little more extravagant than needed in these circles. With more feathers and lace, they were hard to ignore. The men on the other hand were polite and well-mannered, apart from a handful. Well, it would rather be dull if everyone was the same! Tonight they all gathered smiling, laughing, and flirting unashamedly. There was always a scandal among the ton and outside of it to gossip about.

Scarlet stood with her back to a pillar as she listened to these conversations. She looked around her, but he still couldn’t find her friend, Daisy Spencer, who was the daughter of the Viscount and Viscountess of Wakerfield.

The ton stared at her as she moved around them in her pastel pearl-colored gown. Unbeknown to her, she was one of the prettiest ladies there, much like a royal princess. However, the ton were also interested in reason she was here at all.

“There you are, my dear,” Daisy exclaimed in a sweet, sickly tone as she turned up by her side. It sounded quite belittling. “I was wondering if you would attend tonight. I even placed a wager. I know it is silly of me, but it was quite an entertaining thing to do. I will be pleased to tell my friends I won.”

“Oh, I wasn’t aware my attendance or non-attendance was something of importance,” said Scarlet, feeling quite disturbed of her ‘friend’s’ activity.

“It was only a little bit of amusement, Scarlet. Don’t be a child and get upset,” Daisy was quite patronizing which really bothered Scarlet.

“Anyway, I wasn’t certain whether to come or not,” she said. “Especially as it is so soon after my Guardian’s funeral. I believe some would not like it, as it can be too soon to be seen in social circles.”

“Quite right you are. I am under the impression you are saying this because you were a Ward of the Hargreave’s and nothing more. You were not the Duke’s daughter. But you must not take heed of what the ton would say or want, it is quite all right by me. I sent you the invitation as this is my ball after all,” Daisy’s smile was not genuine. “You must find a suitor who will take you as you are, that is, without a title.”

That statement stung Scarlet, and it showed on her face. She could feel the buildup of tears. “Please don’t make a mockery of yourself at my ball,” Daisy’s tone was full of warning. She didn’t want Scarlet to ruin her ball.

“You are quite right, I don’t know why I am being silly.” Scarlet bit her lower, trembling lip. She wasn’t being trivial, she was only careful to not allow herself to be the next subject of gossip.

Why is Daisy so unkind? Scarlet wondered if she had done something awful to make her friend unreasonable toward her. Although she would use the word ‘friend’ loosely now.

Scarlet and Daisy met at finishing school. Daisy was the first friend she had, and they had great times together. Scarlet loved finishing school whereas Daisy hated it. She boasted she knew how to act and behave in social places, parties, and balls. There was no reason for her mother to send her here.

Daisy’s character hadn’t changed much since then, but she had gotten worse. She displayed her aggressive nature to those who would listen to her rants. These displays became far worse when she was denied her wants.

While Daisy would throw tantrums as a child, Scarlet had a calm and happy upbringing. Lord Hargreave treated Scarlet as a daughter, even though she was just a Ward who was brought to him as a baby. He never mentioned or told her who her real parents were, as he felt there was no need.

“You needn’t worry about who your parents are, dear Scarlet. It will only hurt you to know. Let us leave it at that, I pray,” he said.

Daisy was fair with dark hair. Scarlet found her to be strikingly beautiful and suspected she would find a suitor before the end of the Season. There didn’t seem like there was a reason why she should not. She herself had no such expectations for herself. She was happy to just go along with what her life had to offer her.

Scarlet turned away from Daisy to hide her feelings when George, the late Duke’s nephew came forward. “I believe my name is on your card for a dance,” he said. He stared into Scarlet’s eyes, making her lower hers.

“That would be lovely,” Scarlet said shyly.

“You seem upset, Miss Snow,” George began to converse when the music began to play.

In the corner of her eye, Scarlet saw Daisy scowl at them. She tried to ignore her and concentrate on the dance instead.

“I am only upset about the Duke’s passing,” Scarlet lied. “And I believe I should not be here. I was invited by Lady Daisy Spencer and couldn’t refuse. We have been acquainted for a long time and it would seem rude to decline.”

“I am here also, and I am the late Duke’s nephew,” said George. “If it were true that we both should not be here at all as we are still officially mourning, then we should leave.

“I don’t care or take it to heart what others say or believe in these circumstances. I am certain Mother and Father would not approve of me being here. I am, so be it.”

George Hargreave was a sweet man, likeable and respectable. She would meet him when he, his father, who was her Guardian’s younger brother, and his wife came to dinner. They were all on good terms, but sometimes Scarlet wondered if there was a secret among them they were not telling her.

It was when she turned six-and-ten when George really began to converse with her during his timely visits at Bentley. His view of her changed as she began to develop. She was no longer a child but a woman. The Duke saw this. He was none too pleased.

“Please be aware of George,” the Duke said one evening in the library. “He may be my nephew, but I do not trust him. I fear he will hurt you. So, please listen to what I have to say, My Dear.”

“What do you mean, Your Grace?”

“This would be much easier if my wife was here to speak of this.” The Duke seemed to be quite uncomfortable. He loosened his collar. “George is now a man, and you are not a child anymore. I believe he has begun to have feelings for you.”

“But he is family and like a brother to you. You have literally grown up with him. I hope you understand what I mean to say?”

“Yes, Your Grace. Please have no worries. I will stay away from him if that is what you wish.”

Scarlet did listen to him. She began to keep her distance from George when he came around to the Manor. Sometimes, she would hide in the library. When he found her there, she would feign an illness and hide in her bedchamber where she knew he would not come.

Now, she wondered why she was asked to stay away from George. Her Guardian explained he was like a brother to her, but he wasn’t. She was not related to him at all. Was it perhaps because he was higher in rank than she was? Or did the Duke have a grievance against his own nephew? 

“What are you thinking, My Dear?” George cut into her thoughts.

“Oh, I wasn’t thinking anything. I must thank you for taking me away from Daisy. She has been rather dreadful toward me of late, and tonight too. Her absurd behavior infuriates me so.”

“Then why did you come?”

“She is the only real friend I have. Now with my Guardian gone, I feel I will have no one if I don’t keep the friendship.”

“Perhaps I should have a talk with Lady Daisy?” George offered kindly.

“No, I do not want any trouble. But thank you, you are so kind.” The dance ended and Scarlet and George parted. Scarlet was returning to Daisy when she saw her with another lady. They were talking about her.

“I told Scarlet to not come. She can be so selfish and beyond her means to show herself here when her Guardian’s funeral only took place a few weeks ago. She should be in mourning. I do recall the Duke looked upon her like a daughter,” said Daisy. “If it were me, I would not be here. She is only a Ward, perhaps she doesn’t understand how society works. She is not part of the ton, and she simply should not be seen in social circles.”

Daisy laughed cruelly, and then the other lady joined in. She stopped abruptly at seeing Scarlet whose face was now a picture of sadness and humiliation. “Oh, Scarlet. I didn’t see you there,” Daisy said. “I hope everything is all right?”

“Oh,” cried Scarlet. “I always understood you were a little selfish and rude, but I did not expect you to have two sides of a personality that disgust me.

“I apologize profoundly for ruining your ball and for being an embarrassment to you. You are correct, I should not have come here tonight.”

Scarlet walked away with her head held high, careful to not show any emotion.

I must find a place to calm myself.

Scarlet stopped in the hall and looked around her. There were people everywhere. Then a thought struck her. Yes, the library. No one would be there, and it will certainly be quiet.

She walked up the staircase to the library, it was a little dark but light enough to see where it was. Besides, she had been here many times before. She would find the library with her eyes closed.

Scarlet opened the heavy, green door, and then entered the impressive library. A series of large bookshelves held volumes of books, and periodicals. It seemed very private, Scarlet felt she should not be here. She laughed to herself at how ironic it all was. But she dared not go back to the ball. She was too vexed.

She was certain no one would mind if she stayed here for a while. No one would miss her anyway as she was not important. Daisy stated as much. It was true and Scarlet could not deny it. She was a mere, unfortunate baby when the good Duke took her in as a Ward. He didn’t have to. He could have sent her to a Christian orphanage or given her to someone else. But the Duke was a kind man. She was truly grateful to him.

Scarlet settled down in a chair. Like many times before she wondered why he had taken her in and who her parents were. Were they members of the gentry or were they from a noble family? Did they have money? The question which most haunted her was why did they abandon her and leave her with the Duke and Duchess of Bentley? Her ladyship was a lovely person. Scarlet had only known her for a few years before she passed away. She never got to know her properly which she regretted.

But what if the Duke wasn’t a stranger to her parents. He would have known everything about her parentage and any circumstances relating to it. Now, she would not know because he was not here to tell her.

What do I do now?

Scarlet buried her face in her hands.

***

Meanwhile the new Duke of Bentley, Lord Alexander Hargreave, the son of Scarlet’s Guardian, returned from his many days of traveling.

He sat down on the settee feeling extremely fatigued. He had good adventures on his travels across the seas, visiting Europe, North Africa, and India. Alexander was grateful for one thing his father did for him which was to pay for his tours. Perhaps his father felt guilty for all the years of his neglect of his only son.

Alexander remembered the ladies he entertained in Switzerland. They were most exquisite. Language had been a problem, but the language of lust was enough to get through it. He smiled to himself when he was found in bed with a man’s daughter, frolicking in a barn. They were found by the father himself.

“Get out, leave you imbecile!” the man said in his thick French accent. Alexander didn’t quite understand it but he fled the barn, half naked.

The man was shouting something at his daughter who was shouting back. Alexander vowed to never frolic in a barn again.

 He sighed as he leaned back casually on the settee. It was awfully quiet in the Manor which he was not accustomed to. Alexander stretched and stood up.

Where are the drinks now? It seems a lot has changed in this Manor since I was here last.

Alexander spotted a new drinks cabinet located on the other side of the room, tucked away by a screen. He smiled as he walked over and poured himself a glass of port. He glanced around as he drank, taking in all the new furnishings and decoration.

He had to admit it did look better, less dense. Perhaps it was because his father was not here. His presence continually made him feel at unease and a little uncertain of what his next step should be. 

It was certainly peculiar not seeing his father sitting on the settee reprimanding him for his lack of educated knowledge of something, or that he was not serious about the Dukedom which would become his at some point in his life. The late Lord Hargreave was a strict and firm man who believed in good, educated values, and hard work. It was obvious to Alexander that his father thought he had none of these qualities.

Alexander was never the son his father had wanted. He wanted a son who understood the value of wealth, who was praised by his tutor for producing a good page of mathematical work. Alexander was not that child, neither could he be one even if he tried his best at the time.

Lord Hargreave saw his son as useless and disobedient. He did not show affection toward him, it seemed he only cared for his Ward, Miss Snow. That affection should have been for him, not for a child who was not his own. He was a man now and free to do what he wanted. His father could no longer control his thoughts and force him to do things he didn’t want to.

Alexander drank the last of the port from his glass, and then he threw it across the room in anger. The glass shattered against a wall. I must leave this Manor; I cannot bear to be in it!

The Manor was full of the horrible memories of his and his father’s disagreements. “Your Grace, the boxes have been unpacked and your room is ready. Would you like to retire to bed?” Alexander’s valet, Tom, asked.

“The night is still young, Tom. I shall not retire yet. But do tell me, where is my father’s Ward, Miss Snow?” Alexander asked. “She has not come to greet me.”

“She is at a ball, Your Grace.”

“Ah, I see. And whose ball might this be?”

“Lady Mary Spencer, the Viscountess of Wakerfield. I believe the ball is taking place at their London residence in Kent, Your Grace.”

“Very well.” Alexander twirled his glass around, and then put it down. “I will go there now. Have me dressed for the ball and have the carriage ready for me.”

 Alexander had not been to a ball in a long time. He would certainly enjoy it, and perhaps his fatigue would wash away. It was time for some excitement.


Chapter Two


The night was still young when Alexander arrived at Daisy’s ball. The full moon shone its light down on the carriage as they drove onto the drive, stopping outside the white stone steps of the Spencer’s grand Estate.

The driver opened the door and Alexander stepped out, seeming at ease straight away. This was where the entertainment was, and it was much better than the horrid quiet back at his Manor.

While he arrived alone, he was soon surrounded by women and their daughters. At first, he responded with enthusiasm and greeted them with pleasure. But then Lady McVie arrived with her two daughters.

Lady McVie was a woman who dressed to please, but which did not suit the shape of her body or please anyone at all. Alexander thought her daughters were quite unremarkable for they showed no charisma or wisdom in their expressions. To put it as it is, they were dull creatures.

“Oh, isn’t it lovely to see the new Duke of Bentley, My Dears?” she said as she cornered Alexander and stopped him from moving away. “Your Grace, I do hope you do not mind me intruding for a while. I thought it would be nice to have a talk with you.”

“Lady McVie, how nice it is to see you too,” Alexander said with gritted teeth. He vaguely remembered her from the last ball he attended before his tour.

“I hear you have been on your tour, anywhere nice?”

“Yes, I went to many places,” said Alexander.

“I wanted to introduce you to my daughters, Caroline and Amy. Caroline is the eldest one. She came out last year and is hoping to find a suitor this Season, as she had no luck so far. And this is Amy’s first Season,” Lady McVie said proudly.

“Splendid,” Alexander tried to sound interested. “I believe I have more people to see. Please do excuse me.”

Alexander was glad to escape that woman and was entering the ballroom, when two more women found him, along with their daughters. It rather felt like a room full of birds chattering away, and he could not understand any of them.

“Now, please Ladies, let the His Grace breathe!” said a young woman, coming to his rescue. “Let him enjoy the ball. You will have the rest of the Season to talk to him.”

As the small crowd moved away, Alexander was truly appreciative of the space he had once more. He longed to be home. If he had known the attention he was going to receive, he would not have bothered to come at all.

“I am very grateful to you for saving me from those women,” Alexander said. “And I apologize, for I do not recognize you.”

“You won’t remember me, as you have never seen me. I am Daisy Spencer. I am the daughter of your host, Lady Mary Spencer, the Viscountess of Wakerfield, and my father is Lord Peter Spencer, the Viscount of Wakerfield.”

“Well, it is truly an honor to meet you. I must say, your mother has done a splendid job with this ball,” Alexander complimented her.

“Please, do tell me about yourself, Your Grace,” Daisy said. She moved a little closer to him, which made Alexander feel a little uncomfortable. “The ton have not had the privilege to know the young Duke at all.”

He moved a little backward. “Well, I have hardly been here for anyone to really know me. My father was the Duke here, I was the son that got away.”

“It is so,” said Daisy. She batted her eyelashes at the Duke and sighed softly. She drew her handkerchief across her lips, keeping her eyes on him. 

“Please excuse me, Miss Spencer, it has been lovely meeting you,” he said hastily to be away from her. He had to get away from this crowd of people.

I need to find somewhere quiet. The library, yes, that’s where I will go.

Daisy scrunched the handkerchief in her palm, quite disappointed in not securing an acquaintance with the Duke, it seemed. Alexander didn’t know where the library was, but he was desperate to leave. There were so many members of the ton here, he feared of being trapped again if he didn’t move quickly. Then, he caught the eye of a footman.

“Would you be so kind to show me the way to the library?” he asked the footman.

“Please follow me, Your Grace. Should I inform the Viscount that you are in need of anything?”

“No, that is quite all right. I just need some quiet,” Alexander said. The footman took Alexander away from the noise of the ball, and down a corridor, and finally stopped at the library.

***

“Oh!” Scarlet exclaimed as she saw a man standing before her. She tried to cover herself up with her hands, but she saw his eyes were drawn to her stays which she had loosened to breathe. She tried to fix it hastily, feeling the heat on her cheeks. She fumbled with the strings and felt clumsy.

“I do apologize for interrupting your time in here. I was not aware you were here or of the state of your clothes,” said Alexander. He averted his eyes.

“I wanted some quiet, which is why I am here. Why are you here?” he asked.

He leaned against the doorframe and stood there casually.

“It is of a personal woe, I would not like to disclose. I did not expect anyone to come here. I shall leave, My Lord.”

“It is quite all right, we can share this library,” he smiled in the semi-darkness.

Scarlet felt his eyes on her and was most uncomfortable.

“Do you live nearby?” he asked.

“Yes, My Lord.”

“But you won’t tell me where?” he teased her.

“You are a stranger, My Lord. I do not know who you are or want to particularly know. I mean no disrespect,” said Scarlet.

Alexander walked into the library now. Scarlet turned away. But she gasped as he was near enough to touch her.

The man’s fingers ‘walked’ along her bare ivory skin, and she shivered. He stopped at her hairline and gave her a single kiss. Scarlet shuddered in a state of pleasure, but also felt scandalized at the same time.

“This is wrong, My Lord,” she said. She didn’t mean her tone to sound hoarse. 

“It is easy when a beauty enjoys the wonders of lust as much as I do. But when I arrived, you seemed to be upset. Would you care to tell me why that is, I am curious to know.” Alexander ignored her rejection.

Alexander began to kiss her neck and shoulders, each one creating a new sensation that was hard to stop. She sighed silently as his lips left pleasurable butterflies in her stomach.

“I cannot tell you why I was upset, it is not important. Besides, I do not tell a stranger my woes,” she said.

Alexander continued to kiss her.

“And neither should I let a man I have not met before, seduce me.”

“Yet, you won’t tell me stop,” Alexander stopped and smiled.

“You are correct, we… I must stop this. You must stop this,” she breathed.

“And if I don’t?” he teased. “Let me make this easy for you. I will help you with your stays, you only need to kiss me.”

Alexander circled his arms around her slender waist and pulled her into him, making her face him.

Scarlet, quite scandalized, pushed him away in fury.

“Leave me be, I must not do this, I cannot.” She tied her stays as much as she could and covered up. Scarlet fled down the corridor looking for an exit for she couldn’t go back to the ball, when a hand grabbed her arm and pulled her into a room.

“Don’t talk,” said a woman Scarlet had not seen before. It was warm inside the room, a bright fire was burning. The woman tied Scarlet’s stays properly and tidied her hair.

“I am grateful, thank you,” said Scarlet.

“I saw a man enter the library, but I thought nothing of it at first. And then I saw you come out, half-dressed it seems.”

“Please don’t repeat this to anyone, My Lady. I shall be ruined. It was foolish of me, I realize.”

The lady took Scarlet’s hand and made her sit on a chair. “I am Daisy’s sister, Elizabeth Brown. You were fortunate it was I who saw you and no one else. This would be a scandal the ton would love to gossip about.

“I heard my sister ridicule you earlier, that was why you went to the library, isn’t it?” Elizabeth smiled at her. “You seem quite disturbed. Are you quite well?”

“I am all right, truly. Why are you doing this for me, why are you being so nice?”

“Let’s just say I don’t believe people should be mean to one another, and they shouldn’t take advantage of a vulnerable lady.”

Scarlet understood Elizabeth was talking about Daisy and the man. “I didn’t know she had a sister. Daisy never mentioned another sibling. And neither have I seen you around here. How curious.”

Elizabeth laughed. “It is a curious thing, is it not? My husband and I moved to India when he got a secondment to administer a new college in Delhi.

“He is one of the principals at the East India College there. But the history of my life can be told another time. Let me tell you something, my sister can be merciless at times. But she can have a good heart and be kind if she wants to. You must not take heed of her actions.

“God knows she has been a handful for my parents also. Unlike myself who married a man in education with no title and to my parent’s disapproval, Daisy is quite the opposite. She is adamant she will marry a Duke and no other man will do. She is also quite pretentious in my understanding when social circles, style, and fashion are concerned.”

“It is difficult to not take her words to heart,” Scarlet looked into the fire. “But she is my only friend.”

Scarlet was quiet for a moment, and then said, “Do you believe in titles? Do you believe it is important to stay in society?”

“I am no lady and I have no title. I am just Mrs. Brown and that is the way I prefer it. Does that answer your question, Dear?”

“Yes, it does, thank you so much for your kind words.” It certainly gave Scarlet something to think about.

“Oh, look at you, Dear. You have the most exquisite and innocent face, one that could do no harm. I regret my sister’s tongue, I really do. She has no right to disturb people with her insolent opinions,” Elizabeth voiced her emotions.

“There are many women and men like her, and I suppose we must learn to live in their society or be thrown out,” Scarlet mused.

“I don’t believe that at all. We must fight for who we are, Dear.”

“I suppose you are correct.”

“Good, then I must go back to the ball before anyone comes to look for me. I believe you would prefer to leave the ball?”

“I must, I cannot be seen looking like this,” Scarlet gave a small laugh. “I must look quite comical.”

“Not quite so much, just a little,” Elizabeth smiled. “Come, I will take you to your carriage. Most of the guests are inside the Manor now as it has begun to rain. I don’t normally like the rain but it is a blessing now.”

As Scarlet followed Elizabeth out, she couldn’t help but be pleasantly surprised at how different the two siblings were. If she had a brother or sister, what would they have been like? Would they have gotten along, or would they be disagreeable with one another?

“Where have you been?” Daisy made Scarlet jump. “I believed you left me and went home. It is quite irresponsible of you to disappear like that for hours leaving me quite disturbed and worried.” Daisy huffed.

Daisy saw Elizabeth. “Sister, what are you doing here? When did you arrive from India? Do Mama and Papa know?”

Daisy looked from one to the other. “Didn’t you tell me you didn’t like attending these events?” she said rather rudely, thought Scarlet.

When did you become like this, Daisy? You had a sweet and nurturing nature, what happened to turn you so bitter?

“It is lovely to see you too, dear Sister,” said Elizabeth. She didn’t smile, but her eyes were gentle. “James and I arrived back from India last week. I wrote to Mama and Papa about it, so yes, they do know we are here today. I didn’t lie, I do not like social events, but I do not like to upset our parents either. It was imperative that I be seen.”

“Well, all right. How come you are with Scarlet?”

 “I will explain later. It is rather a long story, which I have no patience to speak of.” Elizabeth played with her gloves. “Now, because of your recklessness, Miss Snow is quite upset. She needs to go home before anyone sees her like this. Oh dear, here is Mama.”

 “What in the name of the Lord is happening here?” Lady Spencer noticed Scarlet’s face and dress. “Miss Snow, are you quite all right? You look rather ill.”

Lady Mary Spencer was a lovely creature. She was full of adventure and never failed to light up a room. She also adored Scarlet and showed much affection. Daisy was very jealous.

“I am feeling a little unwell, Lady Spencer,” said Scarlet. “If you wouldn’t mind letting me leave so early. I don’t want to ruin your ball. I know how much work you have done to make it so remarkable.”

“You are a dear. I won’t stop you from going home and I wish you to get better. Now, off you go. Daisy will come by your Manor tomorrow to find out if you are well.”

“Will I, Mama?” asked Daisy, surprised. “I do have lots to do tomorrow. I wish you wouldn’t interfere in my schedule before asking me.”

“It’s quite all right, Daisy. You don’t have to come and see me. It’s only a little fatigue,” Scarlet said quickly. She didn’t want Daisy to become more annoyed than she already was.

“Well, if you are certain, Miss Snow.”

“I am,” Scarlet replied.

“Mama, I believe you are wanted elsewhere. Isn’t Papa looking for you?” Daisy said.

“I suppose he is. Elizabeth, please escort Miss Snow to her carriage.”

“Yes, Mama.” Before Scarlet and Elizabeth went to the carriage, Lady Spencer stopped them.

“What can it be now?” cried Daisy, stamping her feet.

What childish behavior.

“Did you come here alone, Dear?” Lady Spencer asked Scarlet. Scarlet confirmed it with a nod.

“Well, I cannot let you go home alone. What will society think, and what if you became worse? That will not do at all. You will sleep here tonight and leave in the morning. I will send word to the Duke. I do recall seeing him here—”

“Did you say the Duke is here? I believe he hasn’t arrived back from his travels!” said Scarlet.

“I am certain I saw him.” Lady Spencer shook her head in confusion.

“Lady Spencer, I am grateful for your kindness, but I couldn’t stay here tonight. I must decline your hospitality. It is too much to expect and besides, I have none of my dresses here.”

“I will have a maid bring one up to you. Daisy, take Miss Snow to the guest room in the South wing. She will not be disturbed there.”

“No, please. I am unable to take your kindness, please accept my apologies. I arrived here alone, and I shall leave alone. I bid you goodnight.”

Scarlet realized she may have sounded rude. “I am grateful, I really am. Please do not feel hurt by my decision,” she added.

“Of course, Dear,” said Lady Spencer.

“Come, I will take you to your carriage,” while Elizabeth helped Scarlet into the carriage, Daisy turned around and went back to the hall.

That night, as the ball continued, Scarlet lay curled up in her bed thinking of the man in the library, his kisses, and his touch. She was quite happy, but she knew this was wrong.


Chapter Three


Alexander watched her leave the library trying to dress. His fingers touched his lips where she had kissed him, the burn of lust not gone. He still tasted her sweet seductive nectar and felt the softness of her breasts against his chest. Oh, how he wished he could do it all over again.

He sat in the dim library for a while to make his want calm down. He was in no hurry to go home, for he wanted to cherish this moment and smell the fragrance she left behind.

And then he would leave. Alexander knew this woman would haunt him until he found her again. He touched his crotch and sighed in the pain of his desire. He could not dismiss his longing for her and wished she would have allowed to let him to take her there and then.

But who was this beauty that made me feel this way like no other woman ever had? Why have I not met her before? Well, whoever she is, I will find her before anyone takes her to be his wife.

Alexander finally was able to leave the library. He left silently so as not to arouse anyone’s attention and was lucky to find the path to his carriage clear. “Take me to Lord Thomkins’ residence,” he told the driver, and settled down in his seat. He did not feel like going back to an empty Manor.

As the driver drove down the dark road, with only a lamp to light the way, Alexander closed his eyes for a few minutes, only to be woke by the driver as they reached Horace’s residence.

***

 “It is a little late for visiting, isn’t it?” Horace grumbled as he walked into the drawing room with Alexander following behind at the hour of two in the morning.

 Horace was dressed in his nightclothes. “For you it is, apparently,” Alexander grinned. “Are you surprised to see me, my friend?”

“I normally welcome any friend before nine and not after. You know I like to retire to my bed early now,” Horace yawned. “Well, when did you arrive? And why didn’t you write to me of your return, I would have come to meet you in when you disembarked. I presume it was Southampton?” Horace and Alexander sat at the table.

“You are correct, it was Southampton. But I didn’t write because I was preoccupied about my father’s passing,” said Alexander. “I missed his funeral. It was hard to read about it in a letter sent to me by my dear old uncle.”

“That is unfortunate. Let’s have a drink to your father,” Horace went over to the drinks cabinet and poured them both a glass of port.

“Not that unfortunate, we didn’t really get along. I don’t wish him any bad even where he is resting now. I just don’t feel the grief that comes with death.”

“Grief is different for many people, I have heard. It affects some badly and some people not at all. I believe that you do love your father somewhere in your heart and you only need to find it.”

“Can we talk about something else tonight?”

“All right, I see how uncomfortable you are. Tell me then, how was your tour and where did you go? I am so jealous, I wish I was able to accompany you,” he said. “But work called me to stay here.”

“Quite. I wish you to come the next time I leave. But let me tell you it was quite an adventure and most pleasurable too. I visited Norway and Sweden. I fell in love with the mountains, the fresh alpine air, much cleaner there than here in England. The mountains were great giants, much taller than the ones we have here.”

“I don’t believe we have mountains, are they not merely hills over here?” Horace laughed.

“Yes, in comparison to the Scandinavian mountains I suppose you are correct. Do you know, I befriended a man who was traveling alone and as he had been on a tour like this already, I decided to go with him.”

“That could have been dangerous, my friend. You were lucky he was not an undesirable. And then perhaps I should come along with you next time. You have had more excitement than I have, that is true,” said Horace.

Alexander put his glass down, and Horace filled it again. “How is your mother, I forgot to ask,” Alexander crossed his leg, and drank some more.

“Very well, she likes to keep busy with her activities and visiting the other ladies of the ton. As long as she doesn’t bother me, I am content.” Horace put a pipe in his mouth and lit it. “Mother now helps as a volunteer at the charity orphanage. It keeps her occupied.”

“How very gallant of her,” Alexander said. “You must be proud of her.”

“Yes, of course I am. But, I want to hear more of your adventures since I am now wide awake. Were you entertained by any women over there?” Horace took a puff.

Alexander smirked, relaxing into his seat. “I did, quite a bit. We stopped at taverns and brothels along the way, but it was few and far in between. Harmless fun, I say.”

As Alexander finished his drink, he took out a pipe from his pocket and lit it. “Although I had those women, they were nothing as exciting as who I nearly had tonight,” Alexander said mysteriously.

Horace stopped his pipe midway. “Now this sounds intriguing.” He leaned toward Alexander. “Don’t delay to speak, dear friend!”

“All right. I met a woman in the library tonight, you see.”

Alexander imagined her now, she was naked and asking for him, being quite flirtatious. Her dark hair was fanned out on the soft rug, the fire was burning high, its flames reflecting in her seductive eyes. Her breasts were large and pillow like but her pink, hard nipples were what made his arousal stronger.

Oh, if only I was in your bedchamber with you, I want to kiss you, to taste you.

“So, you met a woman in the library,” Horace prompted. “What happened next?”

 “We kissed of course and flirted a little. I believe I frightened her, poor thing, because she ran away,” Alexander sighed, rather regretfully.

“You old devil! Why, this is more exciting than going to the brothel. Don’t leave me in suspense, you must tell me more,” Alexander’s friend prompted. “That cannot be all.” Horace did look disappointed.

“I’m afraid it is all, old friend. I don’t know who she is, although she did look familiar. I can’t think where I could have seen her. But Horace, her beauty is like that of an angel, and she was so soft and delicate.”

“My old friend, did you have her in the end? I quite like the idea of having it in an improper setting such as the library,” Horace chuckled. He poured himself and Alexander more port.

“No, like I said, she fled like a rabbit does in the middle of the night. I must find out who she is, Horace, and I must have her as my own or I believe I will go mad. I imagine I have fallen in love?.” Alexander leaned into his seat, feeling the soft leather against his back.

“Or I believe you have fallen in lust,” Horace chuckled. “So, you don’t know who she may be?”

“No,” groaned Alexander.

“What does she look like? That must be clear in your mind, certainly. Am I right?”

“From the light of the low-burning fire, I saw her eyes were the color of sapphire blue and her hair, auburn. Her smile was stunning, and she had a delicacy about her.”

“You make her sound like a dessert.”

“She is more than a dessert,” said Alexander dreamily. He looked sad.

“I have an idea to stop your woes. Let’s visit the brothel, you will forget about this woman as quickly as you saw her. You know I believe women are nothing but trouble. You must forget about her.”

But Alexander was not ready to forget about her. There was something about her he truly liked.

“I don’t feel like going to brothel, not tonight, my friend,” he said.

“But Alexander, this cannot be you talking. You and I always go to brothels. It is what we do! I must say I am disappointed and yet, also surprised, my friend,” Horace stated in a tone that was neither approving nor disapproving.

“I feel like staying here, just talking and drinking. If that is all right with you. Or I can just go home to a sad, quiet Manor.”

“If that is what you want,” said Horace. “I am happy where I am. And if this suits you, then it suits me. We will visit a brothel another night.” And so it was, Alexander and Horace drank the night away, with Horace falling asleep just as the sun came up.

“I think I will sleep for a while in the guest room, Horace,” Alexander was drunk, but not enough to forget the woman he had been talking and thinking about all night.

“I will retire too,” said Horace, waking up.

Two footman came forward and took the men to their rooms. As Alexander began to sing, the footmen sniggered.

“You may laugh,” said Alexander, “But I am in love, my friends. And no amount of mocking can change that.”

“We apologize, Your Grace, and please forgive us,” said one of the footman.

“He is quite drunk, don’t mind him, he is not really in love,” laughed Horace. He hiccupped. “I believe I am a little too drunk too.”

“It’s quite all right,” Alexander’s pitch was slightly higher than normal. “Oh, I don’t believe I feel so well.”

The footmen hurried to get Alexander in the guest room and Horace into his, which thankfully was just next door.

***

At one in the afternoon, Alexander woke up, remembering the night before. He smiled for a second, and then he remembered who was coming to his Manor at three.

“Oh dear, I will be late for the solicitor.” Alexander dressed with the help of the valet. He then hastily wrote a note to Horace.

“Please give this to Lord Thomkins. I will have to leave now.”

“Very good, Your Grace,” the butler said. “I can assure you this letter will reach him.”

Alexander was never one to rush home. When he came home after University, he made a decision to stay away from his father as much as possible. And with his companion, Horace, they visited brothels as a drunkard would visit a tavern.

But today was important. The Will of his father was to be read by the Solicitor. It would tell him what his future would hold, and what he should be doing. His father would not be one to leave such details out.

***

Scarlet did not have a peaceful sleep, and the only person she could blame for that was herself. She had those dreams, of the man who made her swoon last evening in the library. She wanted him last night, although she didn’t know who he was.

And why shouldn’t I want him? I have not liked anyone, and he seems to be quite the rake. I am a woman now and I should be finding myself a suitor. But who could this man be?

So, when her lady’s maid woke her up, she was quite vexed. “I do apologize, My Lady,” her lady’s maid, Anne-Marie, seemed alarmed. “Are you not well?”

“No, it’s not all your fault. I am weary, that’s all. How early is it?”

“It has just gone seven, My Lady.”

“All right, I should be up then.” As her lady’s maid set to get her ready, Scarlet’s thoughts drifted to that man again. The mysterious one who lured her to his charm, and who dared to touch her, seduce her.

“My Lady, you are smiling. Do you have any good news from yesterday?” asked Anne-Maria, as she slid a petticoat over Scarlet.

“I didn’t realize I was smiling,” said Scarlet. “I suppose I had a pleasant time at the ball. It was good for me to leave this Manor and be among other people.” Even as she said this, she remembered how horrible Daisy had been.

I suppose I do have to thank her for her dire actions, for if she hadn’t upset me I wouldn’t have gone to the library, and I wouldn’t have met that man.

 “My Lady, Mrs. Williams would like to see you. She says it is important.” Mrs. Williams was the housekeeper.

“Thank you, Anne-Maria. I will see her as soon as I am ready.”

Scarlet wondered what the urgency was. It did sound rather important.

***

“Mrs. Williams, Anne-Marie tells me you wanted to speak to me?” Scarlet found the housekeeper in her sitting room. “Oh, there is no need to stand,” Scarlet said when the housekeeper went to stand up. She noticed Mrs. Williams winced a little.

“My Lady, you should have called me upstairs. You needn’t have come down.”

“It wasn’t a bother, truly. I like to visit down here, it gets so lonely upstairs. Mrs. Williams, are you quite all right? You seem to be in some sort of pain.”

“It is nothing, just some pain in my back. Don’t be worried about me. Now, we had a letter yesterday from the Solicitors and I am not aware if you have seen it?” said Mrs. Williams.

“No, I don’t recall it.” Scarlet thought about it, and then something triggered in her mind. She did see an important-looking envelope. “Yes, I did see an envelope. I didn’t see fit to open it as it was addressed to the new Duke.”

“Quite,” Mrs. Williams said. “However, in the absence of the new Duke, I opened it. I was certain he wouldn’t mind, as it was from the Solicitor. You and His Grace are required to attend a reading of the late Duke’s Will at three today. His name is Mr. Johns, and he will read and direct the pair of you as the Will says.”

“Is His Grace aware of this?” asked Scarlet.

“He was made aware when he came in yesterday from his tour. I believe you were at the Spencer’s ball at the time.”

“So I was. Well, thank you Mrs. Williams. I won’t take up more of your private morning time. Can I see the letter?”

“I’m afraid it is in the possession of His Grace, My Lady. I assume it would be in the study.”

“Very well.” Before she left the sitting room, Scarlet noticed Mrs. Williams wince again. She didn’t look well at all, she would inquire about it later.

She thought about the Will, and the Duke. She had not seen him since they were children. Would he have changed much? Of course, he was a man now, and he may not be as nice as his father. Doubts and fears crept into Scarlet, and she felt uneasy of what her future would be now.

The Duke would have his own thoughts on how to run his Dukedom, and it may not necessarily be the way his father did. But would he be happy to have her as his Ward, or would he cast her off the Estate now that his father was not here?

Scarlet looked at the clock. It was still very early. How would she pass the time until three? It seemed like a very long time to wait.

I will do some needlework, and read a little in the library, and I have some letters to answer. That should take some of my time.

As she walked back to her old room, she thought of a time when she and Alexander would sit by his father, who would read a children’s tale from his chair. Alexander’s mother would be sitting on another chair, not far from them. She would be smiling while working on a picture.

Scarlet loved the stories of Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. The books were still in the library, and she would go there just to sit with them. She would turn the pages slowly and carefully. Sometimes she read them again. She was not quite Cinderella, and neither could she compare herself to Beauty, but she felt a kinship with both characters.

How I wish you could be here today, Your Grace. I do miss you so.

Scarlet sighed woefully. Uncertain of her future, she picked up her needlework and continued with the picture that she sewed. She waited for the hour of three to arrive quickly.

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