About the book
The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it...
Raised on the streets, Priscilla Ainsley always needed to fight to make ends meet. When the opportunity to work as a governess in the Duke of Dowding’s household presents itself, she is quick to grasp it.
A widower for over a decade, Oliver Fulton, Duke of Dowding, has dedicated his life to his thriving whiskey business. In desperate need of a governess for his mischievous son, the appearance of one ravishing Priscilla Ainsley comes as a blessing. Little does he know that the arrival of his new employee will mark the beginning of a troublesome era.
As their attraction grows fiercer, so do the threats against the Duke’s household.
And then Priscilla receives a grim ultimatum: steal the Duke's secret whiskey recipe or send both him and his son to their doom.
Oliver Fulton, the Duke of Dowding, sighed, and then turned to his steward.
“Your Grace, I’m sorry for interrupting you while you are working.”
“It’s fine,” Oliver replied, lifting his head and turning towards the voice of Gerard Wright, the steward who had served him for the past decade. Oliver saw the short, stout, greying, and balding man before him. “What has Jamie done now?”
Oliver watched as Wright’s face fell. He heard him clear his throat, and then the steward began to speak. “I’m not wholly sure, Your Grace, but Miss Collins has resigned, effective immediately. I tried to talk to her, but she has been unyielding. I have asked her to wait in the drawing room, as I wasn’t sure if you wanted to speak with her.”
Oliver sighed again and ran his fingers through his short, curly dark hair, which actually enhanced the Caesar cut, and then rubbed his blue eyes, as he tried to remain calm.
“This is what? The fifth governess who has resigned?” Oliver asked Wright.
“I believe so, Your Grace. She was certainly not happy after Lord Seton left the newts in her desk, and I daresay he has done something similar this time around.”
“My son, the mischief maker. I just cannot understand why he does this all the time. I know he is only ten years old, but I worry that he is heading down a perilous path.”
Wright didn’t respond, but Oliver was only making a statement, and he didn’t expect a response. He then looked at his steward and said, “Wright, please extend my apologies to Miss Collins, and then find my son and bring him here.”
“Of course, Your Grace. I will come back shortly.”
Oliver’s office was located in the west wing of the manor, and it was the furthest part of the home from the main living area. There was a large mahogany desk in the corner, which contained several drawers. Oliver sat at this desk and stared at the center drawer, focusing on the lock.
Contained within that drawer, which was locked with a key that Oliver kept hidden, was the family recipe for the famed whisky that he made in his distillery. This recipe had been passed down for generations and had passed from his father to him. Someday, he would pass it down to Jamie, but that had him worried. If the boy was generally naughty right now at the age of ten, he could be well out of control by the time he was of age to take over the distillery.
Oliver stood and walked over to the round wooden table in the center of the room. There were four chairs around it, and currently, there were several piles of orders for whisky from his many customers.
The distillery was known across England for its high-quality whisky, and Oliver was proud of the legacy that he would leave to his son. However, if Jamie didn’t start acting like a young gentleman, the distillery, which had been around for decades, could be in dire straits.
Oliver flipped through the orders and saw many familiar names. He had worked in this industry for most of his five-and-thirty years, and some of his customers had been customers of his father, too.
Even as a youngster, he remembered coming to this very same office and watching his father and uncle do the same job he did today. For Jamie, however, it was rare for him to venture over to this side of the manor, and he seemed much more focused on playing pranks.
Oliver continued to sort orders as he waited for Wright to return. He wondered if he should have spoken with Miss Collins, at least to apologize for his son’s behavior, but he preferred to let Wright handle the staffing issues. He had enough to deal with, including the distillery, and now he had to find a new governess.
He was well-practiced on hiring a governess now, as this was not the first time it had happened, and Oliver would once again have to start the process. In the meantime, he would ask Wright to assign a member of staff to teach Jamie something educational, or perhaps he would invite his son to watch him work. That could give him a taste of what working in the distilling business was like.
Oliver heard a knock on the door.
“Enter,” he said as he looked up.
The door opened slowly and without even seeing who was turning the knob, he knew that it was his son. Wright would have opened it much more quickly.
Oliver saw the familiar curly blond hair of his son before he saw Jamie’s face, and then he was met with eyes the same color as his own. His son had gotten that curly blond hair from his mother, which was always one of Oliver’s favorite features of his late wife, Leah, who had passed away during childbirth. It always saddened him that Jamie had never met his mother.
“James,” Oliver said with authority. He wanted Jamie to know that he meant business, and using his given name was always a good way to establish that.
Oliver watched as Jamie opened the door all of the way and stepped into the office. “Your Grace?” he said with a crooked smile. “You asked to see me?”
Oliver remained stern, even as Jamie smiled. His son’s smile was the other thing he had gotten from his mother, and it still startled Oliver to see it.
“Please sit at the table,” Oliver said, motioning for his son to sit. “We have to discuss what happened with Miss Collins today.”
Jamie nodded and took a seat at the large mahogany table which matched the desk. Oliver walked around the table and sat down across from his son, making sure that he kept the stern expression that was needed during this situation.
“Tell me what happened, James. Why did Miss Collins resign from her position today?”
Jamie paused for a moment, and kept his eyes pointed towards the tabletop. “I don’t know, Father,” he said quietly.
“You don’t know? Are you telling me that your governess simply quit for no reason?”
“I don’t know. She didn’t tell me her reason for quitting.”
Oliver felt himself getting angry. His son was smart and had a quick wit. Oliver always thought that it would serve him well one day, but today, when Oliver was on the receiving end of it, he wasn’t impressed.
“James,” Oliver said a bit louder. “Please do not lie to me. I want to know what you did, or what prank you set up, to make poor Miss Collins leave.”
Jamie was quiet now, and Oliver could almost see him trying to come up with an excuse. “Well? Do you have an answer? I want the truth from you.”
“Fine.” Oliver could tell that his son looked defeated. “I locked her out of the school room, and then when she finally got in, I had covered her chair with orange marmalade, so that when she sat down, it would be sticky.”
Oliver shook his head as he listened. “Where did you get the marmalade?”
“From the breakfast table, of course,” Jamie said, seemingly proud of himself.
“I am very disappointed in you,” Oliver said with a frown. “Why would you do something like this?” He was interested to hear his son’s motive.
Jamie shrugged. “I suppose I did it because I thought it would be funny.”
Again, Oliver shook his head. “Well, it’s not funny, Jamie. Not only did you damage someone else’s property, but you once again caused a governess to leave.”
“She wasn’t very fun, anyway.”
“Fun? A governess isn’t supposed to be fun, Jamie. She is supposed to teach you.”
“I don’t know why she can’t be fun and teach me at the same time,” Jamie replied, now sulking.
Oliver couldn’t help but think that his son had a point, but that was neither here nor there. “Jamie. What am I supposed to do? Keep hiring one governess after another? I went through my whole childhood and I had only one governess the entire time. You are only ten years of age, and you have now had five. To be frank, that is totally unacceptable.”
Jamie shrugged again, but Oliver could tell that he was now ashamed of his actions, as his pale cheeks began to redden.
Oliver continued. “So, until I find a new governess, you are to report to this office every morning following breakfast. You won’t be having fun. Instead of your lessons, you will learn about the family business.”
The following morning, Oliver spent a bit of time explaining to his son how whisky was made, and how the distillery worked.
“How do you know how to make it?” Jamie asked. Oliver could see that there was a bit of interest in his son’s eyes, which he took as a very good sign.
“You make it just like you would make a cake or some soup. There is a recipe.”
“May I see the recipe?” Jamie asked with an impish smile.
Oliver couldn’t help but give a slight smile back to him. “No. Though you may see it someday.”
“But why not now?”
“Because it is a secret recipe, and it’s not here.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s in the house, and that’s all you need to know for now,” Oliver said. “Now, as I was saying, some of these barrels must sit for many years. Come with me, and I’ll show you something special.”
Oliver saw Jamie’s face brighten up, and he motioned for his son to follow him. Oliver walked through the shelves of barrels, nodding and greeting the staff as they moved further into the distillery. At the end of the main walkway, Oliver turned to the left, and saw a smaller shelf holding barrels. He led Jamie right up to the shelf, and then stopped and turned to his son.
“Do you know what these are?” Oliver asked.
“Whisky,” Jamie replied.
Oliver laughed. “Yes. It’s whisky. But, it’s a special whisky. This whisky was placed in these barrels by your grandfather, my father, whom you never met. They have been sitting here in the distillery for more than twenty years.”
Oliver could see that Jamie was trying to process that. “Before I took over the distillery, your grandfather and his brother were running it. Before them, your great-grandfather. As you know, Son, this distillery has been in the family for many years, and someday, you will run it, of course.”
Jamie nodded. Perhaps this was a lot for him to process.
“These are the oldest barrels we have, and soon, we will place the whisky in bottles, and sell it. Though these barrels are all different ages, so we will do one at a time.”
“How do you know how old they are?”
“Do you see these marks on the barrel?” Oliver pointed at the top of one of the barrels where there was a series of scorch marks. “Those markings are a type of code that only we know. That tells us how old the whisky is.”
“How old is that barrel?” Jamie asked.
“This particular barrel is two-and-twenty years old. I think we will let it age for about three more years, until it is five-and-twenty years old.”
“Does that make it taste better?” Oliver was pleased that his son was taking such an interest in whisky making.
“It does. Someday I will let you taste the difference between these older barrels and the newer ones. But, for now, these barrels have to sit a bit longer.”
Oliver sat in the sitting room, sipping on a glass of sherry. He was pleased with how the day had gone with Jamie, and he hoped that his son had a better understanding of the family legacy. He had to admit to himself that he had enjoyed the day with Jamie, and perhaps he should attempt to spend more time with him.
Jamie continued to ask questions about the distillery at dinner, and Oliver was more than happy to answer him. Tomorrow, he would talk to Wright about finding a new governess. His time had gotten away from him today, but he knew that he would have to start the process, as it could take several days or even longer.
Oliver turned towards the voice. It was a footman with a letter on a tray.
“This arrived for you while you were dining,” the footman said. He walked towards Oliver and presented the silver tray to him.
Oliver took the letter and said, “Thank you.”
He turned the letter over, and Oliver noticed a seal that looked familiar, though he couldn’t quite place it. He slid his finger under the flap and opened it. He quickly glanced at the bottom of the letter, and he saw that it was from the Baron of Kenley. Ah, that’s why the seal looked familiar.
He and Lord Kenley had done business in the past, and Oliver knew that he was a shrewd businessman. But Oliver also knew that Lord Kenley sometimes had great inventory at wonderful prices, and he had a good business sense. Of course, on the other side of that, Lord Kenley was also known for slippery business tactics where he came out on top, and if you were not careful, you could lose a lot of money.
Oliver began to read the letter, and it was asking for an appointment. Obviously, Lord Kenley had some type of business venture for him. He folded up the paper and turned to face the footman.
“Please ask Wright to inform Lord Kenley that I am available tomorrow or the day after,” Oliver instructed. “I know it’s late, so this can wait until the morning.”
“Of course, Your Grace,” the footman turned and left the room.
Oliver settled back into his chair, and once again took a sip of his sherry. He started thinking, but he couldn’t quite guess what Lord Kenley might want with him. He supposed he would find out soon.
He took one final sip, drained his glass, and placed it on the marble-topped table next to him. Oliver knew tomorrow would be another long day, so he stood up and began to make his way to his quarters.
The next day, Oliver was once again in his office. He was finishing up reviewing some orders, which he wanted to complete before his meeting. Oliver wasn’t quite sure what the Baron’s true intentions were, but he was still very curious.
He only had a few more orders, and then he could focus on the meeting. Though he didn’t know Lord Kenley extremely well, they had mutual friends and had attended the same events, such as balls and dinner parties. He knew that Lord Kenley had a wife, and a daughter around the same age as Jamie.
Oliver was rushing to get through these orders because he also had another task to take care of: to find a new governess for Jamie. The father and son had spent a couple of hours together earlier in the day, again, and though Oliver had enjoyed the first day with Jamie, today he found his son to be distracting to his work. So, he dismissed Jamie for the rest of the day so he could catch up. Jamie seemed a bit disappointed, but Oliver had to put his business first, especially when there was a potential deal in the works.
Oliver turned towards the sound of the voice.
Wright walked in and said, “The Baron of Kenley has arrived. Shall I show him into your office?”
Oliver knew that it would be a moment before Wright could get back to Lord Kenley, and then guide him to the office. It would give him plenty of time to clean up the table for the meeting.
Wright left the room, and Oliver began gathering his orders. Most of the work was done and he could finish the rest when Lord Kenley left.
He placed the orders in a pile and walked over to his desk. He pulled open one of the drawers and slid the papers in. He pushed the drawer closed and walked back over to the table. The door opened again, and Wright entered.
“Your Grace, the Baron of Kenley to see you.”
“Lovely,” Oliver said with a smile. “Please show him in.”
Oliver stood at the table and waited for Lord Kenley to enter. Lord Kenley walked through the doorway and Oliver extended his hand. “Welcome, Lord Kenley,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see you.”
LordKenley took his hand and shook it. “It is great to see you, too, Your Grace.”
“Please, have a seat. Would you care for some wine or ale?”
“Yes, wine please,” Lord Kenley said, as he sat at the round table. Oliver turned towards the waiting footman, who was already filling two glasses. Oliver sat in the chair opposite Lord Kenley, and the footman served the wine.
“How is business, Lord Kenley?” Oliver asked in an attempt to get the conversation moving. He took a sip of wine and looked at his guest.
He thought that Lord Kenley was about a decade older than himself. Oliver could see wrinkles forming around his ice blue eyes, which were a sharp contrast to his dark hair.
“Very well, Your Grace. I hope the same for you, too.”
“Oh yes. Orders are coming in faster than we can fill them.”
“I’m happy to hear that. And your son?”
Oliver took another sip of wine. “He’s growing older, quickly. He will be working beside me before I know it. Assuming, of course, I can find a good governess for him. Unfortunately, our previous governess resigned yesterday. It will be a chore trying to find another.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Your Grace. My daughter, Lydia, has a wonderful governess, but she wasn’t easy to find. My wife met with several candidates before we found Miss Kranby.”
Oliver nodded. “I’m sure we will find someone quickly.” He took another sip of wine and Lord Kenley did the same. “Now, you have a business proposal for me?”
LordKenley nodded. “Yes, Your Grace. My business ventures are going very well, and I have come today to propose a deal.”
“Oh? I’m intrigued. Please continue.”
“I know that you have been running your distillery for many years, but I am prepared to offer a sum to purchase it…over the value of it.”
Oliver was shocked. “What? Buy the distillery? It’s not for sale. I’m sorry.”
“I know it’s not for sale, but I am still going to make an offer for it. I’ll be honest with you, Your Grace. I want to expand into distilling, and your distillery is the closest in the area. Not only will I purchase the distillery from you, but I will pay to have the facilities moved from your property to another location. I assure you that you will never get an offer like this elsewhere.”
Oliver couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The distillery was not for sale, nor would he sell it for any amount of money.
“I’m sorry. I am not selling the distillery.”
“Would you at least hear my offer?”
Oliver shook his head. “You could offer a million pounds, and I would still not sell it. This distillery has been in my family for years, and we have used the same recipe for decades, which is kept locked away. Jamie will take over the distillery after me, and it is my intention for it to remain in the family.”
Lord Kenley was silent for a moment, and then said, “I understand, Your Grace. I didn’t mean any disrespect by making this offer. I am simply interested in expanding my business dealings.”
“I wasn’t offended by your offer, but I am steadfast in my decision. The distillery is not for sale.”
“Of course.” Lord Kenley nodded and took the final sip of his wine from the glass. “I won’t waste any more of your valuable time, then.” Lord Kenley stood and Oliver followed suit.
He extended his hand and Lord Kenley took it. Oliver shook his guest’s hand, smiled, and then said, “I appreciate your determination. It’s an important trait to have in business.”
Lord Kenley smiled back, his ice blue eyes meeting Oliver’s own. “That is a great complement coming from a gentleman such as yourself. Thank you.”
“Of course. I’m sure I will see you soon, and I bid you a good afternoon.”
Now that Lord Kenley was gone, Oliver had another task: finding a new governess for Jamie. He turned to the footman who was standing in the corner of the office and said, “Please send Wright to me.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” the footman replied. Oliver turned back to the table and wondered if he had time to continue going through his orders before Wright came back. If he knew Wright, however, he wouldn’t have gone too far knowing that there was a guest in the house and that Oliver might need his assistance.
Oliver stood and started to walk over to his desk, and before he took more than two steps, there was a brief knock on the door and Wright walked in followed by the footman.
“You asked for me, Your Grace?” Wright asked.
“Yes. Please join me at the table.”
Oliver gestured to the table and once again, sat down. Wright did the same.
“That was a waste of my time,” Oliver said with a chuckle. “Lord Kenley asked if he could buy the distillery.”
Oliver could see the shock and surprise on Wright’s face.
“Really, Your Grace?” Wright exclaimed. “But the distillery is not for sale, is it?”
Oliver began shaking his head. “No, no. It is certainly not for sale.”
Wright immediately looked more relaxed. Oliver could only imagine what went through his mind in that brief moment.
“Good, Your Grace. You had me worried there for a moment.” Wright gave a nervous laugh.
“Nothing to worry about, Wright. Now, I have a task for you. As soon as we are done here, and assuming you have nothing else pressing to do today, I want you to go to the local registry office and find a governess.”
Wright nodded in response.
“Make sure that you keep the advert simple, yet direct, and hopefully we can find someone in the next day or two,” Oliver continued.
“Very well, Your Grace.”
“Also,” Oliver added. “It might be good to spread the word around town that we are looking. That way, even if an available governess hasn’t registered with the office, we can still reach more people.”
“What about a listing in the newspaper?”
Oliver nodded. “If we don’t get a response in a couple of days, I think that is an excellent idea.”
“Let me know when you return. I will probably still be here processing these orders.”
“I will,” Wright responded, standing up. “The day is still young enough that I should be back here before darkness comes. Before I go, I will make sure that everything is ready and prepared for dinner, just in case.”
“Thank you, Wright,” Oliver replied with a smile. “I know that I can always count on you.”
“Always, Your Grace,” Wright replied with a smile, and then turned and walked out of the office.
Dinner was a rather quiet affair. Jamie didn’t seem to want to talk very much, and Oliver was tired. After his meeting with Lord Kenley, then continuing to work on his orders, and waiting for Wright to return with news of a governess, his mind was at its limit.
Now, Oliver was doing what he did most nights, sitting alone and sipping whisky in the sitting room.
“Your Grace.” Oliver heard, and he turned to see Wright coming into the room.
"Ah! You have returned. Please, have a seat and inform me about your evening.”
Oliver watched as Wright came towards him and sat in the chair opposite him.
“Thank you, Your Grace. The search for a governess is underway, and I also saw Mr. Thompson, the steward for Lord Fairson. I informed him of our situation, and he said he would spread the word around.”
“Splendid! Hopefully, that will create some success for us. I know Lord Fairson well, and if his steward is anything like his employer, he will certainly make sure that people know of our open position.”
Wright chuckled. “Yes, Your Grace. I know Mr. Thompson quite well, too, and he is much like Lord Fairson.”
Now it was Oliver’s turn to laugh. “Interesting how that works, isn’t it?”
Wright nodded, and then he said, “I placed my name on the advert, so when an applicant arrives, she can ask for me. That way, you will not be bothered.”
“That is perfect, Wright. Thank you for thinking ahead.”
“Always, Your Grace. Is there anything else you require?”
“No, Wright. You have been a great help today. I hope you have time to relax a bit before you retire for the night.”
“I will, Your Grace,” Wright said with a nod as he stood. “I am tired, but I think I can stay up long enough for a glass of sherry.”
“You deserve it,” Oliver said, tipping his glass towards his most trusted member of his staff. “I will see you in the morning.”
Priscilla Ainsley was standing at the front of a great manor house. She held an advert for an open governess position in her hands and now she was ready to apply.
Wearing her finest gown, Priscilla felt confident. She knew that the green color looked good against her pale skin, and it made her honey brown eyes look warm and inviting. She approached the footman who was standing to the left of the large, wooden door. She could feel a breeze flowing through her curly, brown hair.
“Excuse me,” she said to him. “Hello. I am Miss Priscilla Ainsley, and I am hoping to speak to Wright about the open governess position.”
The footman smiled at her and nodded. “Please follow me, Miss.”
Priscilla nodded and followed the footman as he opened the expansive door for her and led her inside the house. As she walked through the door, she had to hold back a gasp when she saw the grand entryway.
The floor was made of marble, and it was covered by a lush carpet runner, all of which seemed to look like a maze. As she followed the footman down the hallway, there were a number of doors and other smaller hallways veering off from the main entry hallway. They passed several marble statues, and gorgeous tapestries hung on the walls.
The footman turned down a hallway to the left, and then stopped at the first door to the right, which stood open.
“Please wait here in the sitting room for Wright,” he said.
Priscilla walked into the sitting room and immediately noticed how plush and inviting the furniture was. Typically, she found sitting room furniture to be extremely formal and uncomfortable, but these chairs and sofas looked much different.
She didn’t have much time to look around, as almost as soon as she sat down on the sofa, the door opened again, and a stout, short, balding man came through.
“You are Miss Ainsley, I presume?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Are you Mr. Wright?”
“I am, indeed,” Wright walked over to the sofa opposite Priscilla and sat down.
“I know this isn’t the typical way that one might fill a position,” he continued, “But His Grace, the Duke of Dowding, has asked me to find a governess for his son, the Marquess of Seton. Lord Seton is ten years old, and not quite ready for boarding school, so we are looking for someone to help him prepare.”
“I see, Mr. Wright.”
“What are your qualifications?”
“I must admit, Mr. Wright, that I don’t have a formal education. I am an orphan, and everything I have learned came from the staff of the orphanage. I was told I was very bright, however, and before long, I began teaching the other children. I assure you, that I am just as qualified to be a governess as any other candidate you might meet.”
Wright was silent for a moment, and Priscilla wondered what he was thinking. Finally, he spoke:
“Have you worked as a governess before?”
“No,” Priscilla admitted. “However, living in the orphanage with the younger children and educating them was no different than the job that a governess in a home would do.”
Wright nodded slowly, and then said, “Are you fluent in French? Are you familiar with history, mathematics, and globes?”
“Very much so,” Priscilla replied with a smile. “I am willing to share my knowledge with you if you like, or even take an exam, if that would ease your mind.”
“Oh no, no,” Wright said, waving his hand. “That won’t be necessary. However, since you come from a bit of a different background, I think it would be prudent for you to meet His Grace before I officially bring you onto the staff. Tragically, his wife passed away during childbirth, so instead of meeting with the Duchess, you are to meet with him. Are you available tomorrow afternoon at this same time?”
“Excellent! Please return tomorrow to meet with the Duke, and we can go on from there.”
Oliver was angry. Jamie had once again pranked the staff, and now the head cook, Mrs. Johnson, was huffing and puffing about not being appreciated…at least according to Wright.
“I have tried to talk to her, Your Grace,” Wright explained. “But she is threatening to resign unless Lord Seton is banned from the kitchen.”
“Please, Wright,” Oliver said with a sigh. “Tell me again exactly what she said.” He rubbed his eyes and shook his head. He really didn’t have enough time in the day to deal with Jamie’s nonsense again.
“As she told me, she made a cake for dessert. Thankfully, she chose to cut it before serving it. One of the pieces was uneven, so she set it aside. Maryellen, her assistant, took the piece and tasted it. Immediately, she could detect that the sugar and salt had been switched.”
“And how do you know that it was Jamie? After all, anyone could have switched the ingredients, yes?”
“Technically, yes, Your Grace. However, Mrs. Johnson said that Lord Seton was peeking around the corner. When he saw Maryellen eat the cake, he began laughing. When Mrs. Johnson turned to face the young Lord, he asked her if it tasted good, and then he ran up the stairs.”
Oliver shook his head. It certainly sounded like Jamie was the guilty party in this case.
“Please bring my son to me, Wright.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Oliver leaned back in his chair and looked around the room while he watched Wright leave. What am I going to do with Jamie?
He glanced up at the clock to see what time it was. He hoped that he would have time to talk to Jamie before the new governess applicant came to meet with him. Though, he had no idea where his son was nor how long it would take for him to come to the office.
Since Oliver’s wife, Leah, had died during childbirth, and he had raised Jamie on his own, it had been difficult juggling his business and home responsibilities. He had an excellent staff, but he did worry that Jamie didn’t have enough of a female influence in his life, especially with every governess eventually giving up and leaving. Oliver believed that what Jamie really needed was a mother-like figure whom he could relate to. Perhaps the new governess will fit that role perfectly.
There was a brief knock on the door to the office, which caused Oliver to look up, and then Wright walked back in.
“Your Grace, I have Lord Seton here for you,” Wright said.
Jamie peered around the door to Oliver’s office slowly, as if he might be worried about what was on the other side.
“Thank you, Wright,” Oliver said to his steward. “Jamie, please come in here and sit down.”
Oliver watched as Jamie again walked into the office and sat down at the table. This was becoming a familiar practice, it seemed, for both of them. Wright nodded at Oliver and walked out.
As the door to the office closed, Oliver turned to his son. He shook his head, and then said, “Jamie, I hear that you have been causing issues in the kitchen?”
Jamie smiled slightly, and again, his son’s smile reminded Oliver of the way Leah used to smile at him from across a room.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Oliver asked him.
“No,” Jamie said. Oliver was a bit taken aback, as he expected that Jamie would make some type of excuse, but he also had to admire his son’s boldness.
“Why did you do it?”
“I did it for the same reason I do anything. I thought it would be funny.”
“Well, it’s not funny, Jamie,” Oliver replied with a stern voice. “In fact, it is very serious. Mrs. Johnson is threatening to resign. What would we do without her as our cook?”
Jamie just shrugged, and started running his finger over the surface of the table, as if he were bored.
“James!” Oliver said loudly. Jamie jumped. “I asked you a question, and I expect an answer.”
Jamie looked at him and said, “I don’t know, Father. Hire a new one?”
Oliver was getting angrier by the moment. He couldn’t believe that Jamie was being disrespectful like this.
“Do you think good cooks are that easy to come by?” Oliver asked in a huff. “I can tell you that they are not, and it took me a long time to find Mrs. Johnson. She has been part of our household since before you were even born, and I have no intention of losing her. So, you are going to walk down to the kitchen this very moment, apologize to her, and then go to the library to wait for me. Is that understood?”
Jamie nodded, still tracing his fingers around the table. Oliver couldn’t help but think that he wasn’t paying attention, at all.
“I am meeting with a potential new governess this afternoon, and if I hire her, that is going to be the end of your pranks. I am your father, and you must obey. The next time, I will get the whip.”
Jamie nodded again before saying, “Am I excused?”
“Yes. And I suggest you immediately go down to the kitchen to apologize. And, I don’t want to hear that you have been in the kitchen again. Do you understand?”
“You are dismissed.”
With that, Jamie stood up, and walked to the door. Oliver watched him as he walked out, and then again, he shook his head. Obviously, something had gone wrong with Jamie’s upbringing, and he could only hope that a new governess would straighten him out.
Priscilla could feel the butterflies in her stomach as she pulled up in front of the huge manor house that belonged to the Duke of Dowding. The coachman had slowed down the coach, and she could hear the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves as they hit the dirt road.
She looked out of the window and was in awe of the size of the house. I can’t believe that I could be living and working here.
The house was truly massive, and as the coach got close to the large front door, Priscilla could see two footmen, presumably waiting on her arrival.
The coach came to a stop, and Priscilla could see one of the footmen approaching them. She also felt the coach lurch to the side as the coachman jumped out of the driver’s seat and onto the ground. She swallowed, trying to control her nerves, as the door opened and the coachman extended his hand to help her out.
“Thank you,” she said, as she stepped out into the light of the afternoon. She smiled at the footman who was now standing before her.
“Welcome, again, to the home of the Duke of Dowding, Miss Ainsley,” he said. “It would be my pleasure if you followed me inside.”
“Of course.” The footman turned and she followed him. The second footman opened the door as they approached, and he said, “Welcome, Miss Ainsley,” with a smile.
Priscilla nodded at him and walked through the door, impressed by the polite staff. She followed the footman along the same path that they had taken the day before, and he led her directly into the sitting room.
“Please have a seat. Would you care for a glass of wine, Miss Ainsley?” A third footman had approached her from the corner of the sitting room. “His Grace will be with you shortly.”
“Yes, please,” Priscilla said, sitting in the nearest chair. As expected, her body felt hugged by the plush fabric, and she wished that she could sit here forever. The level of luxury in this manor was unlike any she had experienced at home. Though she was still nervous, there was a part of her that hoped she got this position just to have the opportunity to live in this type of opulence.
“Your wine, Miss,” the footman said, as he brought the glass on a silver tray.
“Thank you,” she said, as she grasped it, and then took a sip.
“I’m sure His Grace will only be a moment,” the footman said. “He has been notified of your arrival.”
Almost as soon as the footman had finished his sentence, Priscilla heard the door to the room open. She quickly turned, and walking towards her was a tall, handsome gentleman with dark hair, which was wild and curly atop his head. As he approached, she could see that he had bright blue eyes, which looked kind.
“You must be Miss Ainsley,” he said nonchalantly, as he walked across the room. He didn’t let her answer.
“I apologize for my tardiness,” he said. “I’m a busy gentleman, and I have many tasks to fit in during the day.” He immediately seized a glass of wine from the footman’s tray, took a sip, and then sat the glass onto the side table.
“Now, let’s quickly discuss my needs,” he continued. Priscilla felt as if she couldn’t get a word in, and she could already tell that the Duke was a determined, serious gentleman.
“My son, Jamie, is a bright chap, but his efforts are not always focused on where I believe they should be. For example, I want him to learn history, globes, and mathematics, but he is more interested in learning how to best trick the assistant cook to give him an extra piece of cake before dinner.”
“I see, Your Grace,” Priscilla said, finally sensing a break in his speech.
The Duke took another sip of wine, and then said, “Is that something you can help with, Miss Ainsley?”
Priscilla was a bit caught off guard, but replied, “Oh, yes, Your Grace. I can certainly help with that.”
“Excellent! You will have your own private quarters, there is a school room where you and my son may have your lessons, and I will offer a small salary in addition to caring for your needs such as food, shelter, and the like. Is that agreeable?”
Again, Priscilla was a bit overwhelmed by his question, but she answered anyway. “Of course, Your Grace.”
“Wonderful,” the Duke said as he stood. “Please see my steward, Wright, in the morning, and he can get you started.” Without another word, the Duke walked out of the room.
Priscilla didn’t even know what to think. She obviously had gotten the position of governess, but felt as if she had just gone through a hurricane. It had happened so quickly.
Priscilla waited, and the footman approached her once again.
“Are you ready to leave, Miss?” he asked.
“I will show you out, then. Please follow me.”
Priscilla began to follow directly behind the footman. After all, I have to prepare to come back in the morning.
Oliver approached the library quickly. He had hired a governess, and now wanted to make sure that Jamie had apologized to Mrs. Johnson before he got back to work.
The library was only a short walk from the sitting room, but it was just enough time for him to replay the conversation with Miss Ainsley in his head.
He had been a bit surprised that she had been so beautiful, and he wasn’t used to being around nor interacting with ladies he found to be attractive. In fact, since Leah had died, he had not been with any other lady, and though he had his urges, he couldn’t remember a time since her passing that he had felt such an attraction to someone else.
In fact, he was so surprised to feel a stirring in his trousers, that he knew he had to get out of the room swiftly. So, he spoke fast, hired her, and left, almost as quickly as he had arrived. Her porcelain skin and honey-brown eyes were quite beautiful, and he had always been partial to ladies with curly hair.
He walked towards the library and went through the doorway. There, he saw Jamie sitting on a chair, his head bowed down reading a book.
“I hope that is something educational,” Oliver said to his son. “Put the book down, Jamie, and come here.”
Oliver watched as Jamie gently closed the book and placed it on a table next to his chair. He then rose and walked towards him with no expression.
“Did you apologize to Mrs. Johnson?” Oliver asked.
“Did she accept your apology?”
“Yes, Father.” Jamie said with a nod.
“Good. Now we can continue to eat in peace without the fear of being poisoned like a character in one of your books.”
Jamie looked up at him, and Oliver smiled. Jamie smiled back. Oliver was amazed at the good mood he was in. This was certainly a rarity.
“Jamie, I hired a new governess today. Her name is Miss Ainsley, and she will start working here tomorrow,” Oliver explained. Jamie’s face fell a bit as he spoke.
“I believe you will like her,” Oliver continued. “She is young, pretty, and nice, but she will not put up with your pranks. Do you understand?”
Jamie nodded. “I do, Father.”
“Very good. I have to get back to work now, but I will see you at dinner. I trust that it will be delicious now that you have apologized to Mrs. Johnson.”
Oliver gave his son a rare smile, and then turned to walk out the door and back to his office.
Priscilla had returned home and was in the process of packing up all of her belongings. The events of the last two days had been a whirlwind. Since being hired as a governess for the son of the Duke of Dowding, her thoughts were all a blur.
Priscilla was an orphan raised, for the most part, in an orphanage. Though the story she had told Wright earlier in the day wasn’t totally true, she was educated, and she was qualified to be a governess.
Priscilla had educated herself. She had always loved to read, so she took every opportunity she could to read books. Every night, and sometimes even during the day, she could be found with her nose between the pages of a story, a text, or even the Bible…whatever she could find to read. This was how she learned mathematics, history, and even French.
There was a kind vicar in the town where she grew up, and he helped to refine her knowledge and improve her scholastic pursuits. Now, as an adult of two-and-twenty years, she was just as educated and knowledgeable as any other lady her age.
So, in her mind, she hadn’t really lied to Wright, she had just left some details out. Priscilla was looking forward to this new chapter in her life, and the fact that she could do this while living in such a grand house was a wonderful opportunity.
She finished placing her books in her trunk and had to push hard to ensure that it closed all the way. Priscilla heard the click of the lock, placed the key on the now empty desk in the corner of the room, and began to ready herself for bed. After all, she had a big day tomorrow, and she wanted to be rested up.
Oliver was looking at himself in the mirror as his valet, Christopher Barnes, was finishing up by brushing the lint off of his dinner jacket.
“Almost done, Your Grace,” Barnes said. He had been Oliver’s valet for more than a decade, and he was one of the very few people who Oliver felt totally comfortable with.
“Thank you, Barnes.”
“Is everything all right, Your Grace?” Barnes asked with the sound of concern in his voice. “You are quiet tonight.”
Oliver nodded, still staring at himself in the mirror. He just had so much on his mind between the influx of orders for the distillery, to hoping that Jamie would improve his behavior with the new governess…to the new governess, who he couldn’t seem to get off of his mind.
“Oh yes,” Oliver said, smiling widely. “I’m tired, and I had a lot to handle today.”
Oliver could see Barnes smirk in the mirror. “Yes, Your Grace. I heard that Lord Seton made a visit to the kitchen today.”
Oliver shook his head, and he said, “Indeed, and poor Mrs. Johnson was about ready to resign, according to Wright.”
“I can imagine that she was not happy,” Barnes said, as he straightened Oliver’s jacket. “Though, I also imagine that it was an empty threat. Mrs. Johnson has been here longer than I have been, and I do not think she would leave on account of the sugar and salt being switched.”
“I hope you are right,” Oliver said, as he took a final look at himself in the mirror. Though it was only he and Jamie at dinner, he always liked looking his best as an example to his son. “Though, I couldn’t blame her if she did leave on that account.”
Barnes began to put the brush away, but then turned back towards Oliver. “I might be out of line to say this, Your Grace, but I think Miss Collins resigning was a bit rash. The child was only trying to have a bit of fun.”
Oliver couldn’t help but smile. “Barnes, you are not out of line, and I must admit that I agree with you. At the same time, as his father, I must make sure that he is disciplined for his indiscretions. And, as amusing as his pranks are sometimes, I think I am giving him the wrong message if I encourage it.”
“Of course, Your Grace.”
“But,” Oliver said, as he readied to leave the room to go down to dinner. He turned to Barnes with a large, wide smile. “If I was a young gentleman of ten, I can guarantee that I would be by his side helping him.”
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