About the book

He knows life is worth living...because he is ready to die for her.

Cecilia Baxter, daughter of a well-known carpenter, spends her days assisting her father in his workshop. Never particularly interested in marriage, her life takes an exciting turn the moment a new client sets foot in the shop.

Nicholas Lymington, Marquess of Clive, is every lady’s dream: young, handsome and...eligible. Complying with his mother’s request to help her choose furniture for their mansion, he finds himself hopeless at the sight of the carpenter's beautiful daughter.

Drawn to each other, the fiery attraction between them grows by the minute…

Ηowever, not everyone is on their side and even old debts must be paid. When Cecilia gets kidnapped, Nicholas has just a few hours to save not only the woman he loves but also himself, from an enemy that seems almost intangible...and ready to crush them both.

Chapter One


Cecilia picked up the sanded wooden beam that would become the final leg of the dining table and placed it in the lathe by the window, where the light was best. The warm afternoon sun glowed golden through the panes, and she felt that the wood was coming to life in her hands. She made sure that the object was tightly secured and adjusted the lathe precisely to ensure a perfect match between this table leg and its three companions, before beginning to work the treadle with her foot.

Slowly, the design she had envisioned began to emerge from the wood. This was the moment that Cecilia loved best of all, turning a simple piece of wood into something that was both beautiful and useful. She imagined the Brewer family, for whom she was building the table and chairs. They would not be just a table and chairs; they would tell the history of the family.

Perhaps in a few years, grandchildren will join them around the table. Someday their son and daughter-in-law will have this table in their kitchen.

Although she had done this a thousand times in her father’s small woodshop, Cecilia never allowed herself to work while her mind wandered. She knew from experience that even a tiny moment of distraction could result in an uncorrectable flaw in the wood, or a bloody fingertip, or perhaps even worse. She turned away from thoughts of the family around the table, and focused on the piece right in front of her.

It was an unspoken rule in Emmanuel Baxter’s shop, that no one should be interrupted when working, no matter what. So it was that Cecilia failed to notice her father and Archie Mowbray entering the workshop in silence. After a few minutes, her work on the table leg was completed to her satisfaction, and she removed it from the lathe and added it to the pile with the others.

Cecilia’s father was a stocky man of about fifty, with the calloused hands and sun-weathered skin of a man who had worked hard every day of his life. He had never been called handsome, but as Cecilia looked up at his kind face, topped with thinning gray hair, she felt a surge of affection for the man who had raised her. Most fathers would refuse to let their daughters learn woodworking or any occupation besides maintaining a home, but Emmanuel Baxter recognized Cecilia’s curiosity and helped her develop a talent for woodworking. I’m quite lucky that he let me join him in the shop.

Her mother had died ten years earlier while delivering a stillborn son. Cecilia and her father had clung to one another in their grief. Her father returned to work after his wife’s funeral, and twelve-year-old Cecilia had joined him every day, building on the skills she had previously learned. In a very short time, she was able to carve wood precisely and join the pieces she carved in perfect right angles.

Around the same time, Cecilia’s father had taken on fifteen-year-old Archie Mowbray as an apprentice, and he and Cecilia had learned the mysteries of geometry, and the skills of woodworking, both a science and an art, side by side. Cecilia had learned to read from her mother, and she had taught Archie, who was able to write only his own name. Now, Archie was a journeyman carpenter and was soon able to read and write simple sentences, but he continued to work for the Baxter family instead of opening his own shop.

“Your work looks perfect, Cecilia, shall I help you join the legs to the tabletop?” Archie slid next to her and smiled.

“I can do the joining, if you’ll help me move the tabletop over to the workbench,” she replied.

“I can help Archie with that, my dear,” her father insisted, “it’s quite heavy, you know.”

“I do.” Cecilia gave him a smile. “I did make it myself, after all.”

Her father laughed. “Yes, you did, and you made it perfectly as always. Still, it is quite heavy.” Then he added, more to himself than to either of his companions, “I just wish I had taught you how to lay a table for dinner in addition to building one.”

They had had this conversation many times before, and as always, Cecilia rolled her eyes. “Well, we haven’t starved yet, have we?”

“Of course, you’re right!”

Everyone present was well aware that the money they had made selling Cecilia’s beautiful furniture had more than paid for the services of Mrs. Williams. Emmanuel Baxter had hired the cook and housekeeper shortly after his wife died, when it became apparent that his daughter would not be taking over the responsibilities of running his household.

Over the years, Mrs. Williams had tried to take Cecilia on as a sort of apprentice in the kitchen, insisting that she must learn to cook and maintain a clean home if she ever hoped to find a suitable husband. Cecilia had no interest in the prospect of finding a husband, suitable or otherwise, and told Mrs. Williams so in no uncertain terms.

When Cecilia was thirteen, Mrs. Williams had smiled and said that surely Cecilia would change her mind in time, all the while exchanging a mysterious look with Papa. However, when she continued to say the same thing at seventeen, and then at twenty, and now at the ripe old age of two and twenty, Mrs. Williams scoffed to hear such an unnatural proclamation.

Still, she was a kind old woman missing the company of her own grown daughters who had married and moved away. Cecilia understood that she had her best interest in mind, so she tried always to think kindly of Mrs. Williams.

Once her father and Archie had moved the heavy tabletop onto the workbench, Cecilia set to work joining the table legs to the four corners, fitting posts into the precisely-sized holes she had carved the day before. She measured each leg carefully to confirm what she already knew—that they were all exactly the same height—before setting them in place with glue. She placed heavy stones on the foot of each upturned leg to hold it in place while the glue dried. Tomorrow, when the glue was dry, she would reinforce the joints with wooden braces and nails.

As Cecilia finished joining the legs to the table, Mrs. Williams entered the shop and announced that supper would be served shortly. Cecilia removed her leather gloves and placed them in a pocket of her apron, which she removed and hung from a peg next to the workshop door.

I shall have to finish my work tomorrow; it will be too dark to continue after supper, and candlelight will be insufficient for such precise work.

She proceeded into the main house with her father and Archie. They all sat at the simple wooden table that her father had made when he first built this house and workshop and brought his young bride home. Mrs. Williams served them a delicious stew of beef, onions, carrots, and potatoes, with freshly-baked bread to soak up the rich gravy.

As they ate, Archie asked Cecilia what book she was reading.  He knew reading was one of her favorite pastimes when not working in the shop.

“Right now, I’m reading Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Edmund Burke. It’s quite fascinating, actually.”

“It sounds it,” said Archie.

“What a thing for a young lady to read!” Mrs. Williams looked scandalized, “The study of politics and war is best left to your future husband, to be sure, Miss Baxter.”

“If Miss Baxter’s husband enjoys the study of politics and war, surely he should enjoy having a wife who is capable on discussing those topics with him.” Archie said with a mischievous grin that made even Mrs. Williams walk away with a slight laugh.

“Well, perhaps you shall have more time to read tomorrow, Cece,” her father said, reverting to her childhood nickname in a way that put Cecilia on her guard.

“Why is that?” she asked, skeptically.

Not meeting his daughter’s eye, he replied, “The Duchess of Huxley will be coming to the shop, and she is very proper, and wouldn’t like to see a young woman working at tasks more suited to a young man.”

Cecilia looked crestfallen, and her father continued quickly, “I hate to ask it of you, but the Duchess is refurnishing much of the Huxley estate, and could provide us with enough work to last for many months. We can’t risk offending her, even if we don’t like her ideas.”

Cecilia found this attitude extremely frustrating, though she would never say this to her father. Of course, it was hardly surprising. She knew that members of the aristocracy held particularly rigid views about the appropriate roles of young women, and those did not include carpentry.

But really, why should the Duchess care what I do to occupy my days? I am no relation of hers, not even an acquaintance. Cecilia was tempted to confirm the Duchess’ worst suspicions of her, but she knew this was a huge opportunity for her father. It would serve no purpose to antagonize the Duchess. Besides, one day away from my work can hardly hurt me, after all.

And so, Cecilia agreed to stay out of the shop the next day and allow Archie to finish her table in her absence.

***

The remainder of supper was a subdued affair, with Cecilia remaining quiet, while her father and Archie discussed which pieces they would show the Duchess during her visit the next day. After supper, Cecilia helped Mrs. Williams to clear the table. After saying goodnight to her father and bidding Archie farewell as he left to return to his parents’ house, she then took a candle upstairs to her bedroom.

Upon entering her chamber, Cecilia placed the candle on her writing desk and changed out of her simple work dress and into her night clothes. She let her dark hair fall in waves down her back and picked up an antique silver-backed brush. As she brushed the snarls out of her hair, she remembered sitting on her bed as a young girl while Mama brushed her hair. She picked up the matching looking glass and stared at her reflection.

She supposed she might be pretty, for she looked very much like she remembered her mother looking, and her mother had been the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. But Cecilia felt she lacked the grace her mother possessed. Her clothes were always dirty from the workshop, and her hands were rough and calloused. Freckles were scattered across her face that had never been present on her mother’s.

After a moment’s reflection, she returned to her writing desk and removed paper, quill, and ink bottle. For ten years now, she had been in the habit of writing letters to her mother.  She would share observations about her life, ask for advice, and imagine what her mother would have said, had she been alive to answer her daughter’s questions. Tonight, Cecilia started her letter right where she had left off the night before

Dear Mama,

I nearly finished the table today. All that remains is to brace the legs, and then to stain the wood, but Archie will have to take on that job tomorrow, since I won’t be able to work in the shop. The Duchess of Huxley is coming to the shop and Papa is worried that she won’t approve of my being there. I’m quite sure that he’s right about this, actually, but I can’t seem to stop myself feeling angry.

Oh, Mama, what should I do? Am I some sort of unnatural creature, to prefer the woodshop to the kitchen? Am I truly a woman if marriage holds no appeal in my heart nor my mind? I cannot accept that, and yet, it seems that I must, for I am the only woman I have ever met who feels this way, unless there are others who feel this way, and succeed in hiding it from the world. And if that is the case, how do they manage to hide their true nature so well? Mama, did you ever feel the way that I do?

I love Papa, and I know that he loves me and supports me in everything, but I can hardly ask him about this. Mrs. Williams wants the best for me, but I could never ask her either, she would never understand.

Sometimes, in the evenings, when I write you these letters, I imagine how you might respond. I want to believe that you would tell me ‘it’s fine, child, I’ve felt this way too,’ or perhaps you would say, ‘everything will change when you meet the right man,’ or, ‘marriage does not make you a woman, you make yourself a woman.’ I do believe those things, but I should like to hear them from you, if only I could.

I love you, Mama, and I miss you.

Your loving daughter,

Cece

Chapter Two


As was his habit, Nicholas Lymington, the Marquess of Clive, came downstairs to breakfast late the next morning.  As was her habit, his mother pursed her lips and said nothing.

Matilda Lymington was the Duchess of Huxley. She had been raised to observe the strictest of courtesies, and she expected nothing less of her own children. Nicholas might be nearing thirty, but he was still very much a boy in her eyes. In many ways, he seemed younger to her than her seventeen-year-old daughter, Lady Isobel. Nicholas pretended not to notice his mother’s pursed lips and greeted his family with a casual smile.

Dining over eggs and sausages, Matilda told her family that she would be visiting a new carpenter later that day to see about some furniture for the ballroom, drawing room, study, and dining room. Perhaps she would order some pieces for her own bedchamber as well.

Nicholas could not help rolling his eyes and hoped his mother would not notice. More than likely she would, he supposed, but she would never say anything about it. And really, how is one supposed to respond when she speaks of buying furniture as though this might be the most important information any of us will hear all day?

“I want to be sure that the house is in perfect order for Isobel’s debut,” she sounded exasperated by her family’s lack of interest in this obvious necessity, “and we only have a few months to prepare!”

Her husband, Richard, the Duke of Huxley, looked up briefly from his newspaper. “Yes, of course, dear, that sounds quite all right.” He promptly returned to his newspaper and did not speak for the remainder of the meal.

“Nicholas,” the Duchess said, dabbing her napkin at the corner of her lips, “would you come along with me today? We could visit the Earl of Leicester and his family on our way home! You haven’t seen Lady Annette since she was ten years old, and I’m quite certain you’d be impressed by what a lovely young lady she’s become.”

The Duchess was always trying to force these meetings on Nicholas, to ensure that he would make a respectable marriage to a well-born young lady. He wasn’t opposed to this outcome in principle, but so far, he had shown no interest in the young women his mother had thrust across his path. He remembered the Earl’s daughter as a shy child who had spoken so softly that he could never understand what she had said.

Some of the young ladies she has introduced me to are pretty enough, to be sure, but none had been at all interested in art or world affairs, and I could scarcely imagine making conversation with them for an afternoon, let alone for a lifetime.

“Ah, I’m quite sorry, Mother, but I can’t join you today. I’ve told Isobel that I’ll go out riding with her.” He flashed a glance at his sister. “She’s been pining for me so, while I’ve been in London. Now that the prodigal son has returned home, I can hardly deprive her of my company for another day!”

The Duchess smiled in spite of herself—Nicholas could see that she knew he was frustrated by her attempts to find him a suitable wife, and that he was making excuses now, but she was taken in by his charm, as always. She had never been able to discipline him as a boy, and he supposed there was no reason it should be different now that he was a man. Still, he knew he could not put off the prospect of marriage forever, and he would have to find a wife soon or be forced to marry someone of his mother’s choosing.

Isobel smiled conspiratorially at her brother. “Oh Nick, I’m so glad you remembered our plans after all!”

Nicholas returned the smile,  silently thanking her for going along with his scheme. The family was finishing their breakfast with discussing the details of Isobel’s upcoming debut, and the new furnishings they would need to purchase for that event. When they had finished eating, and the servants had cleared away the dishes, each family member stood. The Duke returned to his study, while the Duchess called for her maid to bring her coat and hat, and the coachman to bring the carriage. Nicholas and Isobel went through to the parlor to discuss the day’s plans.

“I suppose we’ll have to go out riding now that you’ve told Mother I begged you,” Isobel slipped her big brother an impish grin.

“I am sorry, Izzy, but I really can’t stand to be paraded in front of some Earl’s daughter today. I know that Mother means well, but it really is exhausting. You don’t mind riding with me today, do you?”

“Of course not! Riding, and spending time with my dearest brother, what on earth could be better?”

***

An hour later, dressed in riding gear and woolen coats, both brother and sister entered the stable. Nicholas saddled a dappled gray gelding named Pepper for Isobel, and a chestnut stallion named Jack for himself. Each led their horses out of the stable and mounted in the yard, before setting out toward the small town at a trot. As they rode, they spoke of their mother.

“She talks of nothing but you when you aren’t at home,” Isobel revealed, “you, and the respectable, well-born young woman you must marry. She’s getting quite desperate. And quite dull, if you must know the truth.”

“Surely she worries about your matrimonial prospects, as well?”

“I’m certain that she does, but we both know that I’ll marry someone boring and suitable in the next few years. If mother worries about my future wedded bliss, it’s simply a matter of finding the right gentleman and making an introduction. How many ladies has she suggested you might like to meet now? And how many of them have you rejected? She despairs of finding anyone who could meet your exacting standards. And by the simple accident of our sexes, that means she must also despair of the future of the Dukedom. You are father’s heir. When you become the Duke, you will need an heir of your own, and so, you must take a wife.”

Isobel said all of this matter-of-factly, without any hint that she might resent her brother’s stubbornness or regret her own obedience.

“I know, Izzy, I know!” the Marquess failed to contain his laughter. “I’m very much aware of my duty to the family legacy, and I’m certain I shall take a wife soon, and alleviate all of Mother’s worries. Or, at least, I shall try to alleviate some of her worries. I just need a bit more time before I’m prepared to meet her next candidate.”

“Well, if you won’t consent to meet Lady Annette and the Earl of Leicester, you must be prepared to be introduced to scores of noble daughters over the coming weeks. Mother will find a way to ensure that their paths cross yours. Many of them will be at my debut, and Mother will expect you to dance with each and every one of them in turn.” Isobel paused here, and then seemed to steel herself. “And Nick, please do as she expects and dance with them. This is an important event for me, and it may determine much about my future prospects. I don’t want Mother to spend most of the night making a fuss over your refusal to dance with some Duke’s daughter or other.”

Nicholas had the decency to look slightly ashamed at this and promised his sister that he would be the perfect gentleman at her debut and be pleasant and sociable with all of the noble young ladies in attendance. They continued to ride in silence for some time, before Isobel spoke again.

“Nick?” she tilted her head toward his, attempting to make eye contact. “Is there anyone in particular that you would like to dance with? Lady Annette, really has grown into a lovely young lady, you know.”

Nicholas sighed ignoring this line of questioning and allowing his thoughts to wander. Was there anyone he might like to dance with? He searched his memory but could think of no one.

He had danced with many young women through the years; some his mother would have approved of and some she most certainly would not. Some he had liked well enough to call on them once or twice, but most of them, not even that much. He knew that eventually he would need to marry one of these young ladies and start his own family. Still, he could not help but hope that he might meet someone who would hold his interest for more than a few conversations.

A young lady whose beauty will captivate my eye, but whose personality will hold my attention long past the initial meeting.

His thoughts were interrupted when Isobel asked if they could stop in town to post a letter she had written to a friend, and so it was that moments later, they stopped and dismounted in front of the post office. Without thinking, Nicholas handed the reins to a boy of about twelve standing in front of the building.

When the boy looked at him, confused, Nicholas scoffed and said, “I’ll only be a moment.”

The boy continued to look unsure of what to do, and Nicholas took back the reins and tied them to the fence post next to Isobel’s gelding. He was quite surprised to see that she had tied up her own horse without asking for help, but she did it quite naturally, as though she tied up horses every day.

Nicholas could hardly imagine that the Duchess would approve of such behavior from a refined young lady, the daughter of a Duke, no less! He visualized the look that would cross her face if she saw her daughter doing the work of a stable hand: a widening of the eyes in shock, then a pursing of the lips in disapproval, and finally a false, tinkling laugh, as if to say “Oh, isn’t it charming how she pretends to be common?”

While Isobel went inside to post her letter, Nicholas returned to his previous train of thought about the type of woman he might like to marry someday. I suppose that I might like to marry the kind of woman who would tie up her own horse and perhaps saddle it, too. The idea of a young lady who was willing to break tradition was strangely appealing.

He imagined a beautiful woman, tall and slender, with creamy white skin and rosy cheeks, saddling a horse, unafraid to soil her clothes or her hands, and he smiled at the mere thought of her.

 Might Lady Annette be this type of woman? Or perhaps one of her contemporaries? I suppose I shall have to keep an open mind when meeting the young ladies Mother is sure to present to me in the coming weeks.


Chapter Three


The following morning dawned, cold and bright, and Cecilia woke from a dream she could not quite remember. She thought that her mother had been there, brushing her hair, but try as she might, she was not able to recall the words her mother had spoken to her.

She felt sure that they were words of encouragement, but about what? Had her mother answered the questions that Cecilia asked in her letter the night before?

I shall simply have to accept the fact that I will never know the answers to those questions.

Cecilia removed the bedclothes and stood up. She poured some water into the basin to wash her face, plaited her long hair, and went to dress. At her wardrobe, Cecilia paused. How should she dress for the Duchess’ visit? She would not be in the workshop, so she was unlikely to see the Duchess for more than a moment or two, but she supposed it was important to appear a proper young lady—the well-mannered daughter of a successful merchant. It was quite obvious that she could not wear any of her usual dresses—faded and stained with varnish and furniture glue. Nor could she wear her one formal gown to work in her own kitchen during the daytime.

In the end, she chose an old dress of her mother’s. It was a bit old fashioned, but it was simple and clean, made of pale-yellow cotton, with a subtle floral print. It was just the sort of thing that a young woman would wear to work in her father’s kitchen while he carved and polished wood in his workshop.

At breakfast, her father and Mrs. Williams complimented her on her appearance, and Cecilia felt a blush rising to her cheeks. She felt uncomfortable with her current appearance, and more so because they praised her for it, though she was unsure of why this should bother her. Cecilia was quite relieved when Archie arrived only a short time later and greeted her without comment on her appearance.

“I promise, I shall finish your table to the highest standard, just as I know you would,” Archie said to Cecilia as he followed her father into the workshop at the back of the house.

Cecilia knew he said these words, not to tease her, but to reassure her. All of Archie’s work was completed to the highest standard, just as hers was. They had both been trained by her father to be precise in their work. Still, she could not help but feel a sting at his pronouncement. She had designed that table, measured each piece exactly, and joined them with care, but now she would not be present to see those pieces transformed into beautiful pieces of furniture.

I shall start work on the matching chairs tomorrow, and I have no doubt that I shall build many more tables in my lifetime, but I cannot help but feel cheated out of finishing this one.

“Come now, Miss,” said Mrs. Williams. “I should be very thankful for your help in the kitchen.”

Cecilia was soon set to stoking the fire, and fetching flour from the pantry for the bread she and Mrs. Williams would be making. As she kneaded the dough, she reflected that perhaps there was a sort of magic in this as well. Perhaps Mrs. Williams experienced the same joy at turning simple flour into delicious bread, that Cecilia felt when she created a chair out of ordinary pieces of wood. Mrs. Williams seemed to have perhaps a more practical understanding of the matter.

“It’s no use fussing with a tried-and-true recipe. Flour, salt, yeast, and water. A simple loaf of bread will fill your belly and keep you alive long enough to bake the next loaf, just as well as a fancy one.”

“At the bakery in town, I’ve sometimes seen loaves of bread with herbs or dried fruit baked in them,” Cecilia said, wondering what Mrs. Williams would make of such things.

“Oh yes,” she replied, “I’ve seen them too, and tasted a few of them in my day. I suppose they’re all right, if you like that sort of thing, but truthfully it seems a bit frivolous to waste fruit or herbs on bread that would be perfectly fine without them. Bread is not art, bread is bread.”

She proclaimed the last sentence with such force, that it was clear she felt that this settled the matter. Cecilia returned to kneading in silence, all the while looking out of the kitchen window to the small country lane that passed in front of the house.

When the dough was kneaded and placed on the counter to rise, she saw a carriage approaching through the window. It stopped in front of the modest home, and an elegant woman stepped down when the coachman opened the door for her. She wore a simple dress of deep-purple satin, with cream colored lace at the hem, covered by a light woolen cloak of dark gray.

Cecilia felt sure that this must be the Duchess of Huxley. No one who looked or dressed like this could be a resident of the town. She had learned from Archie that the Duchess’ name was Matilda Lymington, and she had a reputation for being stern and unforgiving.

As the Duchess approached the front door, Cecilia felt a flutter of nerves, but steeled herself and went to greet the family’s guest.

“Good morning, Your Grace,” Cecilia said, with a slight curtsey.

The Duchess looked her up and down appraisingly, and then announced, “I’m here to see Mr. Baxter, please show me to him.”

“Right this way, Your Grace, my father is in his workshop.”

Cecilia led the Duchess through the main living space, to the entrance of the workshop, and entered quietly. She did not speak immediately in case her father or Archie were working with any dangerous tools, but the Duchess cleared her throat loudly, and both men looked up immediately.

“Father, Her Grace, the Duchess of Huxley is here to see you,” Cecilia said nervously.

“Welcome, Your Grace, it is an honor to have you here in my shop” Her father said in a somewhat unnatural voice, “My name is Emmanuel Baxter, and this is my employee, Archie Mowbray. We would be pleased to help you with anything that you might need.”

“Hmm…” said the Duchess, as she walked into the shop, inspecting each piece of furniture closely as she passed it.

Cecilia would have liked to remain there, to see what the Duchess thought of the various pieces, and whether she placed the large order her father was so hoping to receive, but she knew that she must return to the kitchen. She would help Mrs. Williams with her work and be there to offer the Duchess refreshment, should she require any after her tour of the shop.

Cecilia felt that many hours must have passed between that introduction and the Duchess’ exit from the workshop, but the position of the sun in the sky suggested that it had been hardly any time at all. Mrs. Williams was only now pulling the bread from the hearth, which she supposed must mean that it had been no more than an hour.

“You shall come to the estate tomorrow by eleven o’clock in the morning, to take measurements for the pieces we discussed,” the Duchess announced, as she left the workshop.

“Yes, Your Grace,” said Mr. Baxter, bowing low, “thank you very much, I look forward to it!”

The Duchess left the house without another word and climbed into her waiting carriage with the help of the coachman.

“So, I gather we shall be fulfilling a large order for the Duchess and her family?” Cecilia was trying to keep her hopes high.

“Yes, my dear! We’ll be refurnishing several rooms at the estate. Tomorrow, I’ll take measurements and finalize the details of the designs, and then we’ll need to begin work right away, as they shall need everything ready in just a few months.”

“Papa?” Cecilia asked, “Could I join you on your visit to the Duchess’ estate tomorrow?”

“May I ask why you would want to be present for this visit? It doesn’t seem like your usual sort of pastime, Cece.”

Cecilia was surprised to find how much she wanted to go with her father on this outing. She didn’t much care for grandeur as a rule, but she couldn’t deny that she was curious to see how an aristocrat lived. In addition, if she was going to be building the furniture for the family’s estate, it might be helpful to see the grand rooms in which that furniture would ultimately reside. Not wanting her father to think her frivolous, she decided to focus her argument on the latter half of this line of thought.

“Well, I suppose I should like to see the estate, so that I can understand how best to build pieces that will be in harmony with the Duchess’ taste” she said, reasonably, “and perhaps it would be helpful for you to have an assistant there to record measurements.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. Of course, you always are, my dear,” her father said, looking at her affectionately.

Just then, Archie entered the room, and hearing this last statement he feigned offense, “Mr. Baxter, you wound me! I thought you said that I was always right, and now I find that you tell your daughter the same thing. It has yet to happen, but what will you do if the day should come when Cecilia and I disagree about something of import? In such a case, how will we possibly know which of us is correct?”

Her father laughed at that, “Archie, my boy, if the day comes when you and Cecilia disagree, then I shall know that you are wrong for the very first time.”

Even Archie had to laugh at this, and he agreed that he would work in the shop the next day finishing their remaining orders, while Mr. Baxter and Cecilia travel to Huxley Manor and finalize the details of their work for the Duchess’ family.

In her bedroom that evening, Cecilia once again wondered what she should wear the next day. She opened the wardrobe her father had made for her when she was a girl and considered her options.

I suppose, in the end, I should do better to be overdressed than underdressed. Perhaps another of mother’s old gowns would suit the occasion, though perhaps it will need some adjustments.

In the end she chose a gown that had been her mother’s, of moss-green velvet, with grey scrollwork embroidery on the bodice. The cream-colored lace at the cuffs and hem was beginning to show its age, so Cecilia resolved to remove it. She did this by candlelight, taking extra care to ensure that her work would not be visible when completed.

Once her work was completed, she chose a petticoat of pure white, with eyelet detailing at the hem that would peek out prettily from the bottom of her gown. This was not Cecilia’s usual style of dress, and she hoped that it would be suitable.

The candle had nearly burned itself out by the time Cecilia was satisfied with her work, and she changed into her night clothes quickly.  She climbed into bed, too exhausted to write anything more to her mother.


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56 COMMENTS

  1. What a lovely story! Excellent use of descriptors of not only characters but the scene to really bring the story to life in the mind’s eye. I look forward to reading the conclusion and find out what is going to happen when Cecelia meets Nicholas and how the Duchess deals with them. Well done!

  2. I absolutely love the detailed description of your characters and the surrounding scenery. Am looking forward to the release.

  3. What I have read has left me wanting more. In fact, i want to finish the story. My curiosity is piqued!!!! Lol
    Etta Breault

  4. So far so good Olivia. The story kept my interest and am looking forward to see how it develops. Cecilia seems to be a nice girl and Nicholas a thoughtful
    And caring young man.
    Keep writing. Can’t wait to read the finished story.
    ❤️ Dawn

  5. I love stories where the heroine is a bit outside the cultural norms of her time. This story is even better because she recognizes that she is not what society expects of her and has obviously accepted that there are limits beyond which she must conform for the sake of her father’s business.
    At least this is a heroine who could hold a conversation about more than the weather, society gossip and fashions. Any man who chooses to marry her will not be bored into seeking diversion with a mistress.

  6. Loved the preview and look forward to the complete book next week. Cece is the perfect girl for Nick but we’ll see how convoluted the story will be.

  7. A very promising start! I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the story. I think this will make a change because the leading characters are from different backgrounds and will have many obstacles to overcome! Thank you for the preview.

  8. Can’t wait to read the rest of book have loved your book that I have read
    So no doubt this will be up there with the rest

  9. I am looking forward to the rest of the story. This drew me in from the first sentence. I love the fact that they have vastly different life experiences and can’t wait to see how they come together. Thanks for the preview.

  10. Story seems unique in occupation of the heroine. Looking forward to see how story unfolds. Am very fond of this author’s books.

  11. Love the preview; can’t wait to read the rest of Cecilia’s story. I imagine love at first sight, dismay by the Duchess as she learns of her son’s interest in a ‘mere’ shopgirl, Cecilia’s blossoming interest in the heir-apparent, and her father’s concern that this love match might possibly harm his business. We will see if my predictions are actually part of the actual story. No matter; I am anxious to read the entire novel. Thanks for the preview.

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