About the book
He showed her his scars and, in return, he let her pretend that she had none...
Esther Nott, daughter of the Duke of Aishling, has dedicated herself to a life of charity rather than marriage. Having witnessed people’s capacity for deceit, she hides behind the walls she has built around herself to protect her virtue from dishonourable intentions.
Allan Blaksley’s past as a soldier has left its marks on both his body and soul. With a long scar across his back that he considers hideous, the broken Earl of Wiltshire is constantly reminded of his failures.
But despite their personal obstacles, both Esther and Allan manage to enter each other’s hearts…
Until a mysterious woman suddenly appears claiming that Allan is the father of her child. Unbeknownst to them, even though the woman’s motives seem purely greedy and materialistic, she will be proved to be only a puppet.
A puppet carrying out someone else’s well-planned scheme...
The Earl of Wiltshire was having a flashback. Allan realized he was having it, yet it was never easy for him to come back to reality. After fighting in the Battle of Waterloo and seeing the terrors of war, his entire life was shaken.
Allan struggled against the visions in his head. He could hear the rattling echoes of muskets and almost feel the vibration from the ground as he flashed back to cannons going off in the distance.
The voice brought Allan back quickly to the sitting room, where he had been lounging in the afternoon and staring out of the window. He turned towards the sound. It was his butler, Clark. He was a tall, thin man, who was beginning to grey, though his hair was full and thick. He had worked for Allan for many years.
“Ah, Clark, you caught me off guard,” said Allan.
“You seemed deep in thought, My Lord,” replied Clark, who was used to finding his employer staring off into space since he returned from the Napoleonic Wars. The butler walked across the room to stand by Allan.
“It’s simply a beautiful day, and I was taking it all in,” explained Allan, a bit embarrassed that he had obviously been caught in the middle of one of his flashbacks.
“Yes, it certainly is,” agreed Clark. “I have a letter for you, My Lord.” The butler presented a silver tray to Allan with the letter, which had the familiar crest of his cousin, the Edward, Duke of Daftwood, stamped into the wax seal.
“Thank you, Clark,” Allan said, as he pulled open the letter and began to read it. Edward was getting married, and he was inviting Allan to the wedding celebrations.
Allan looked at Clark and forced a smile. “It seems my cousin is to marry. Another joyous occasion for my family.” The truth was, though Allan loved his family, including his cousin Edward, since his time at war he seemed to have lost the spirit and charm that he had been known for most of his life. Some would even say he was a shadow of the man he used to be.
“That is wonderful, My Lord,” replied Clark. “We will begin preparing for your travels.”
“Thank you, Clark,” said Allan. “The wedding will be in a week’s time,” he added, glancing back at the letter. I am confident that I will never marry.
Allan sighed, and stood from the chair he was sitting in. “Weddings certainly are wonderful occasions, Clark, and I am hoping that attending will be a perfect opportunity to spend time with my family. I have missed them.”
“Yes, My Lord,” replied the butler as he nodded. “It has been a long time since you have seen most of them.”
Since Allan’s father had passed, and he had become the Earl of Wiltshire, he hadn’t involved himself in family affairs. “Very true. I am happy for my cousin, though, and I would be honored to attend the wedding celebration.”
“Very good, My Lord,” said Clark with a nod. “Do you require anything else?”
“No, no,” said Allan waving the man away. “I don’t require a single thing. I’m happy for my health today and now I have time with my family to look forward to.”
“Thank you, My Lord,” replied Clark. He then bowed and walked out of the sitting room, leaving Allan alone once again.
Allan sat back into the chair and looked out of the window. The day was beautiful, as he had mentioned to his butler, and the sun was shining through the glass panes. The rays warmed his pale skin, and he could imagine that his ginger hair was looking its brightest. He was a handsome man with broad shoulders. He was tall and certainly looked as if he would make a good addition to the British Army.
He was often lonely while at the estate. Though he had many members of staff, some he greatly trusted, it would be nice to have more time with friends and family. He had a lot of responsibilities as Earl, which also made the free time he had very precious, indeed.
The way the sun was shining into the room reminded Allan of the moment he really awoke after his battle injury. He had been caught up in an artillery fight and one of the blasts hurled him several feet through the air, causing several serious injuries, including a terrible laceration from the top of his left shoulder and down his entire back until it ended at the right side of his lower back near his hip. It was hideous, at best.
Every time he thought back to that point in his life, he could never quite separate reality from his dreams. He was given opium for his intense pain, and because of that, his weeks of recovery were cloudy in his memory. But the one thing he remembered clearly was the first time he felt the sun on his face in his sickbed, with Bridget Crampton leaning over him.
Bridget’s dark blonde hair and dark eyes were illuminated by the light of the sun, and her smile brought him a sense of relief, as it would any soldier who had been recovering from war injuries. He found Bridget to be quite attractive, and he suspected the same feelings from her.
Over the weeks, Bridget had nursed him back to health in the makeshift military clinic, though much of their time together was still cloudy to Allan, simply because of the medications he was taking for pain. She was the unmarried daughter of the physician who was caring for Allan, and because there were so many injured soldiers, she was helping to lessen the load.
He did remember pieces of their interactions and looked back on those memories fondly…though Allan often wondered if those things actually happened or if it was simply a trick of the mind due to the opium.
Once again, Allan brought himself back to the present and glanced at the clock, which hung against the wall of the sitting room. He had some obligations to attend to this afternoon, and he also wanted to see his friend, Oliver Blackmore, an officer in the British Army he had met during his military days, who had become Allan’s best friend. Oliver was a bit older than Allan, and his years in the military had aged him beyond his years. He was balding and imposing, and for those who didn’t know him, he was intimidating. However, he had very kind eyes, and Allan found friendship in them each time they interacted.
Allan stood up and the footman standing near the door that led out of the room opened it for him as he approached. Clark was standing outside of the door, and Allan turned to him and said “Clark, I need to see General Blackmore. Please summon him when you can. It’s nothing important, more of a social visit. Make sure he knows that.”
The butler nodded. “Of course, My Lord.” He turned from Allan and walked towards the side hallway, which connected that wing of the house with the other.
Allan knew it would be some time before Oliver would arrive, so he decided he would absorb himself in some work. After all, he had been so distracted earlier, that he could certainly spend some time catching up on tasks he had neglected.
Allan was sitting at his desk fully engrossed in his paperwork. He looked up and his butler was standing before him.
“General Blackmore has arrived. I have shown him into the sitting room.”
“Very good, Clark,” said Allan with a smile. “I was just wondering when it would be appropriate for a break.” Focusing on something other than his past had put Allan in a happy mood. Though, seeing Oliver always temporarily made him flashback a bit. “Please let the General know that I will join him in a moment.”
“Yes, My Lord,” Clark said, then he walked out of Allan’s office. Allan placed the papers which he had been reading in a neat pile and turned down the lamp. He was done working for the day. He neatened his shirt and cravat and wiped off his boots with his handkerchief. Oliver was a regimented military man, and even though he and Allan were close friends, Allan always liked to make sure to look his best when around his war contacts.
Satisfied that he was well put together, Allan opened the office door, which was located on the second floor of his home, and walked towards the stairway, which would lead him to the entrance of the sitting room once he descended them. As he approached the sitting room, a waiting footman opened the door and Allan walked in.
Oliver was standing facing the window, his back towards Allan. “General Blackmore,” said Allan in greeting. Oliver turned at the sound of Allan’s voice, and smiled. The men shook hands and exchanged greetings.
“I’m happy you could take some time to visit,” said Allan as he gently slapped his friend on the shoulder. “It’s great to see you, Oliver.”
“And you, Allan,” responded Oliver. “I was happy to see your invitation. It has been too long since we have seen each other.”
“Yes, it certainly has,” exclaimed Allan, as he was approached by a footman with a tray carrying two glasses of red wine. Allan took a glass, had a sip, and watched as Oliver did the same.
There was always a bit of unnecessary awkwardness between the men when they reunited. Allan simply never knew how to act around the man who had literally saved his life. He would not be standing in the sitting room at all if Oliver hadn’t put forth some very heroic efforts on the battlefield. As Oliver always said, though, Allan would have done the same thing for him if he had seen his comrade’s body flying through the air after the blast.
“Please, have a seat, friend.” Allan gestured towards the ornate sofa in the center of the room. “Join me for a conversation.”
Allan watched as his friend sat down, and once settled, he began to speak. “How have you been?”
“I have been well,” Oliver responded. “And you?”
Allan paused briefly. He wanted to tell Oliver about his flashbacks but was hesitating. He knew if anyone would understand, it would be Oliver, but he also didn’t want to seem weak. “I am wonderful,” said Allan with a bit too much gusto.
Oliver didn’t look convinced, but Allan kept talking. “There are many reasons to be content. For instance, my cousin Edward, the Duke of Daftwood, is to be married. It will be a delightful occasion, to be sure.”
“I have met him,” said Oliver. “He has a brother, also?”
“Yes, Harry is his brother,” explained Allan. “They are both my cousins, of course, but I have always been closer to Edward. He is an upstanding gentleman and a man of good morals. We have always gotten on very well. His brother, however, and I have never quite seen eye to eye.”
“Family relations can be difficult,” agreed Oliver. “But family does have meaning. Look at your situation. You no longer have your parents, and you have no siblings, so it makes sense that you would grow close with your cousins.”
“Yes,” stated Allan. “And I have close friends, like yourself.”
“Ah, yes,” responded Oliver, lifting his wine glass in a small toast and smiling.
“Speaking of friends,” said Allan, “Do you remember Miss Bridget Crampton? The physician’s daughter from the war who helped me recover?”
Oliver thought for a moment, and then said. “Of course. I could never forget a gorgeous woman, especially one who saved my friend’s life.”
Allan smiled. “I was thinking about her today.”
“Oh?” Asked Oliver. “What made you think of her?”
Again, Allan was silent on the fact that his flashbacks had been occurring with a vengeance. “I’m not sure,” he said, trying to look as sincere as possible.
“Perhaps it’s just the fact that it is time for you to settle down with a wife,” said Oliver. “After all, it may not be a coincidence that you would think of Miss Crampton on the same day you received your cousin’s wedding announcement.”
Allan must have had a strange look on his face because Oliver quickly added, “I didn’t mean that you had marrying her on your mind, of course.”
“No. I have no plans to marry the physician’s daughter,” said Allan with an uncomfortable laugh. “Though, perhaps you are right. It is something I must do…settle down, I mean.”
“There will be time for that, friend,” said Oliver. “Perhaps you will meet a lovely lady at your cousin’s wedding.”
Allan chuckled now. “Perhaps, but I wouldn’t place a bet on that.”
In all of her five-and-twenty years, Lady Esther Nott had never allowed society to tell her what to do. As her peers aged into adulthood, met their husbands, and started to have children, Esther was spending her days caring for orphans and living a life devoted to charity.
She was the eldest daughter of the Duke of Aishling, and being the daughter of a Duke afforded her the luxury of being able to spend her time as she pleased. Yet she knew that others believed that she should have taken a different path in her life, similar to the one her sisters were leading. In fact, her sister Mary was preparing for her upcoming wedding to Edward, the Duke of Daftwood.
With Mary’s wedding at the forefront of family conversations, Esther was constantly reminded that the choices she had made were unconventional. This might have bothered other ladies, but Esther was not like most ladies.
Both she and her sisters were pretty, and they had many opportunities to find a suitable partner. Esther had thick, flowing chocolate brown hair and amber eyes, which could easily calm anyone who chose to look into them. She was full-figured, yet well-proportioned, and tall.
Mary had found her partner, and Esther’s youngest sister, Ruth, had begun courting the oldest son of an Earl. Yet, Esther remained focused on her charity work, and her mind was still very far from marriage.
“Esther, will you help me with writing this letter?”
Esther and Mary were sitting at desks in the morning room in their father’s home. It was mid-morning and the ladies were reading their correspondence and writing letters as they waited to break their daily fast. Esther was sipping on a cup of tea and reading a letter from a former orphan she had worked with a couple of years ago.
“What do you need help with?” Ester asked her sister.
“It doesn’t sound right to me,” Mary responded. “I want to write a letter to Lady Booth, and I want to ask her and her daughters to attend a dinner party after I am married. However, I am new to all of this.” She giggled and slid the half-written letter over to her sister. Like Esther, Mary was tall with chocolate brown hair, though she was very thin. The sisters resembled each other, and when they were young, could almost pass as twins.
“What makes you think I can help?” Esther asked, as she reached out to pull the letter towards her. “I don’t have any experience being the lady of the house.”
“You are quite smart, though,” said Mary, as she reached for a small piece of toast brought to her by a footman. “And you write a great many letters.”
Esther smiled. “Yes, I do tend to write many letters.” With Esther’s work with charities, she was often reaching out to the fortunate to fund her efforts with the poor.
“See?” said Mary. “You can be quite persuasive. There is no telling how much you have raised to help your orphans.”
Esther cringed. She hated when people referred to the children and families she helped as “her orphans.” To her, they were simply children and families who needed help. Calling them orphans made them seem as less worthy than others, which bothered her.
“Quiet,” she said to her sister with a bit of annoyance in her voice. “Let me read.”
Esther began to read through the letter that Mary had written. It began with the common niceties that are always exchanged and mentioned that it would be an honor for Mary and her new husband to host her guests. It ended quite abruptly, however, and Esther knew that Mary needed a good closing.
“Why do you want to invite these people to your home?” Esther asked. The truth was, she greatly cared for her family and close friends, yet when it came to strangers, she was a bit cautious. She simply didn’t trust people very much, as she had seen in her chosen line of work that some people could be very bad.
“Lady Booth is one of the most prominent ladies in the area, and though I am marrying a Duke, I think it would be prudent to get into her good graces,” explained Mary.
Esther rolled her eyes. Her sister was always wanting to fit into the mold that society had created for her, so it didn’t surprise her one bit that Mary would be greatly interested in becoming more friendly with the likes of people such as Lady Booth.
“Well,” said Esther, very uninterested in the musings of class, “I suppose you could add something a bit less blunt about getting into her good graces. If she is like most ladies of standing, she probably enjoys others flattering her.”
“Esther!” said Mary in a shocked tone. “Don’t say things like that. Besides, what do you think you are?”
“You know as well as I do that the statement is true,” replied Esther quickly, ignoring the part where she too, was a lady of standing.
“Maybe some of them,” said Mary, conceding to her elder sister. “But that isn’t very nice to say, either.”
Esther smirked. Her sister Mary was always the “nice one” of the three daughters of the family. Esther was known as the passionate and opinionated one, while Ruth was always the fun sister.
“Since you are marrying a Duke, I wouldn’t imagine that you need people in your life like Lady Booth,” said Esther with a smile. “But if you insist, you should follow my advice.”
Esther pushed the letter back across the desk to her sister, and Mary pulled it towards her. Esther watched as the soon-to-be-bride turned her attention to the letter.
“As soon as I finish this letter, I must focus on final plans for the wedding celebration,” said Mary to Esther. “Do you have any interest in helping?”
“No,” said Esther, “though you only have two days before the wedding. I would hope that most of your planning is done.”
“Well, you know how it is. There is a bit more planning involved than I thought,” replied Mary. “Only family and a few friends will attend, but we have invited several people to the wedding breakfast following the ceremony.”
“It sounds lovely, Mary,” said Esther. “You have a lot to be happy about.”
“Yes,” agreed Mary, as she finished up her letter, “and we are joining a family with ours, which is beneficial to all of us.”
“I suppose that is true,” Esther responded. Though her father was the Duke of Aishling, that didn’t necessarily mean that all was well in their world. Even Dukes have their struggles, and her father was no exception. The marriage would be very advantageous to their family.
Esther finished her tea in silence and watched as Mary finished writing her letters. She
Several days a week, Esther would take a carriage to the district orphanage and make sure that all was well with the children. Though she grew up far from the dingy walls of those places, there was a big part of her that really cared about what happened to the children who had nowhere else to go. In fact, she cared for them so much that she had dedicated her time to helping them instead of dedicating it to things that normal ladies in her position would do, such as painting, singing, gossiping with like-minded ladies, or, of course, finding a husband.
Esther turned to Mary with a smile and said, “I am leaving for the day. Good luck with your planning. I am very happy for you, and I am looking forward to your wedding celebration.”
Esther then stood from the desk and placed the linen napkin that she had draped over her lap next to the empty tea cup. She turned to walk out of the door of the morning room and a footman opened the door as she passed. She knew that her carriage would be ready for her outside of the front door, so she made her way through the hallway that connected with the entryway. There, she met her lady’s maid, who would chaperone her.
Esther approached the door and she and her maid walked out into the sunny day. As expected, the carriage she would take was waiting, and the coachman was standing next to it, holding open the small door.
“Good morning, My Lady,” he said with a smile.
“Good morning,” Esther responded. The coachman held out his hand to assist her into the carriage, and she took it to keep her balance. She crouched down and entered the carriage, settling down next to the small window, which allowed her to watch the countryside as she traveled to the orphanage. The coachman closed and secured the door, and she could hear him walking around the back of the carriage. The vehicle lurched gently as Ester’s maid climbed into the front and sat on the bench. One more lurch, and the coachman had taken his seat. There was one final lurch, and the coach was in motion with a footman on a horse on either side.
It was about fifteen minutes in the carriage to get to the orphanage, so Esther had time to think. She always liked to reflect before seeing the children. They lived in tough conditions, and Esther, living on her father’s estate, was surrounded by a luxurious environment.
Esther and her sisters had grown up very differently from the orphans she would soon see. Her childhood had been filled with learning how to paint and sing, while the children she watched over at the orphanage had childhoods filled with work and tears.
There were many sad stories about the children she met. Some of them were true orphans, whose parents had tragically died in terrible accidents, often sent by their families. Some were foundlings, who were simply brought in…or found. Yet…the saddest cases were children brought in as babes, who never knew any sense of family. That’s what happened to Julia.
Julia was a young girl, only five years old now, who was brought into the same orphanage that Esther was on her way to visit. In fact, Esther was there the day the infant appeared, simply left on the doorstep. Over the past five years, Esther had watched Julia grow from a small babe into a young child. Though she cared about all of the children she worked with, Julia was certainly her favorite.
Esther was a bit worried about Julia, though, as she knew that now she was five years of age, she would soon be learning a trade. Many of the children ended up in the workhouses doing dangerous jobs, and she certainly didn’t want that for Julia. Instead, she hoped that the sweet child would start learning a trade such as domestic work.
As the carriage got closer to the orphanage, the buildings became closer together and Esther could see people walking around and working. Her father’s estate was on many acres of land outside of the town, in contrast to the hustle and bustle of these roads. She was used to this scene, as she had come here for so many years, but still enjoyed the views from the window.
The orphanage was located near the heart of the mid-sized town of Westery, and it only housed girls. As the carriage got even nearer to the center of town, people began to notice the ornate transport, and Esther could only deduce that they were wondering about the occupant. Most people in the town knew of Esther’s charity work, but were also curious about the upcoming wedding of her sister, which she was sure most people were aware of.
Esther knew that this marriage was an important one, and for a brief moment, she wondered if she should have, perhaps, focused more on finding a husband for herself. As the eldest daughter, she was groomed to marry a well-bred man, but so far, life hadn’t brought anyone special to her, and she was so focused on her work that she wasn’t much interested in looking.
The carriage pulled up in front of the orphanage and stopped. Esther waited whilst a footman pulled down the steps attached to the carriage, and then opened the door. He held his hand out to her.
She took his outstretched hand and stepped out of the carriage onto the street. It was dirty and dusty, and there were people milling about as they went through their day-to-day lives. None of them paid much attention to Esther, short of a couple of stares. The orphanage stood in front of her, a large, imposing building with multiple windows and a large door.
She nodded to the footman and began walking through the courtyard and towards the door of the orphanage, accompanied by her maid. As she got closer, she could hear the dim sound of children crying and yelling. She always paused a bit when she heard it, as it made her heart feel sad knowing that these children didn’t have a proper home nor family.
Esther was almost to the door of the orphanage when it burst open and two young girls ran out. They darted across the courtyard chasing each other, and Esther was a bit surprised by their behavior. However, she knew that they didn’t have much discipline, and they certainly were not raised with the rules of society in place.
Almost at the same time Esther approached the door, a rattled and wrinkled looking woman, one whom she was not familiar with, ran out following the two girls who had seemingly escaped. The old woman passed Esther, and then turned quickly towards her. She looked at her briefly and a sense of recognition crossed her face.
“You must be Lady Esther Nott?” the old woman asked.
Esther nodded. “Yes, I am here to see Miss Sophia.” Sophia was the administrator with whom Esther had always worked with at this orphanage.
“She’s not here,” replied the frazzled woman in a raspy voice, her mob-cap crooked on the top of her head. “She has been reassigned to a different district.”
“What?” asked Ester with surprise. “But why?”
“Don’t know,” said the woman, and it didn’t seem as if she cared, either. “I was just told to tell you when you arrived.” She seems a bit rough.
“Who will be my contact here?” asked Esther, still shocked that Sophia was gone without a trace.
“Don’t know that, either,” replied the woman.
“What did you say your name was, Miss?” asked Esther.
“I didn’t,” responded the woman. “But since you asked, it’s Anne. Miss Anne, of course. I’m sorry, I don’t know how to speak with a Lady such as yourself. I was raised on a farm and didn’t have interaction with your type of people.”
“My type of…people?” asked Esther, a bit confused.
“Yes, you know, rich people. Titled people,” said Anne with annoyance in her voice.
“Oh,” said Esther. “I assure you that I am the same type of person as you are.”
Anne laughed heartedly. “Sure. Yes, I’m sure you are. No disrespect, but I know your type.”
Esther looked at Anne with furrowed brows. “My type?”
“Yes,” replied Anne. “The type of person who spends a couple of hours with the children, and then goes back to their estates in the countryside. No disrespect, My Lady, but I have seen it all before.”
Suddenly, another woman came through the open door to the courtyard, and Esther recognized her immediately. It was Grace, a staff member she was very familiar with.
“Miss Anne!” Grace said in shock. “As your superior, I demand that you treat Lady Esther with the respect she deserves.”
Anne chuckled, shook her head, and sauntered in the direction the girls had run, not paying a bit of attention to Grace’s words. She adjusted her dress as she walked.
“I am so very sorry for her behavior, My Lady,” said Grace. “She is not the best representation of our staff. She’s old, and it seems she just doesn’t care.”
“It’s perfectly fine,” replied Esther with a smile.
“No, it’s not.” Grace responded. “She had no right to say those things to you. You have always been a wonderful asset to our asylum.”
“I appreciate that,” said Esther. “I thoroughly enjoy working with the children.”
“And we appreciate you, Lady Esther,” Grace replied. “Please, follow me, and I can show you to the reading room.”
Esther often would read to the children when she spent time at the orphanage. She suspected that listening to her read might be the only pleasure that some of the children had, living in this place.
Grace entered into the doorway and Esther followed. The hallways were dark and dank, and there was a strange odor that seemed to get more pronounced the deeper the women got into the building. Esther still heard the sound of crying and yelling, though it was muffled through the walls. I hate that these children have to live like this.
As they walked through the winding hallways of the orphanage, occasionally, they would pass a child or another woman caring for the children. It was a sad sight to see. Most of the children were dirty, though Esther did feel some comfort knowing that they were in an orphanage and not living on the cold, wet streets.
Grace led Esther into a room and lit the lamp. There was a chair in the center and Grace motioned to it.
“Is that chair acceptable, Lady Esther? Grace asked.
“Yes, thank you,” Esther replied.
“I will go collect the children,” said Grace.
“Before you go,” said Esther. “What happened to Miss Sophia?”
“Miss Anne was correct. She was transferred to a different district,” said Grace. “To be honest, My Lady, all of us will be transferred.”
“What?” said Esther, surprised.
“The district is closing the orphanage, so all of us will be reassigned to different areas,” explained Grace.
“What about the children?” asked Esther. Especially Julia.
“They will be sent away,” said Grace with marked sadness in her voice.
Allan was sitting alone in the carriage as it moved swiftly down the road. He was on his way to his cousin’s wedding. He had left approximately an hour ago, and he had been watching the world pass in silence. He had brought a book along to read, but he hadn’t yet opened it. His valet, Samuel Harley, was sitting with the coachman.
The time passed slowly, and Allan still had approximately an hour in the trip. His cousins were close enough to where they could see each other regularly, but it was still a bit of a distance to travel.
After seeing Oliver, Allan had almost constantly been thinking about the war, the fighting, and of course, his injuries. Sometimes he really dwelled on it, and though he knew he shouldn’t, the thoughts tended to come into his mind.
As always, his flashbacks brought him back to his recovery, and he once again began to think about Bridget. When he was deep in thought, he could see her dark eyes staring into his, and her long dark blonde hair pulled back to frame her face. She was beautiful.
When it came to Bridget, things were always a little cloudy, but sometimes, when he concentrated really hard, he could remember new details. He was hoping that would happen again.
Allan also knew that it wouldn’t be proper for him to begin a relationship with Bridget, but there was something about her that greatly intrigued him. He was fixated on the thought of her body, too, and it was almost as if he had fully explored it at some point, but he really couldn’t remember much. Most of his memories of her were lost in an opium haze.
Allan shook his head to bring himself back to reality. He took a deep breath and looked out of the window again. The green fields stretched out before him, and he could see groups of sheep dotting the landscape.
The only sounds Allan could hear were the cadence of the horses’ hoofs and the crunching of the dirt road under the wheels of the carriage. It was calming to him. When he sat in silence, it opened his mind to thoughts that he didn’t want to have.
The sun was low in the sky, though there would still be light when they arrived at his cousin’s estate. He was looking forward to seeing Edward and meeting his bride. He also was looking forward to seeing Harry, even though they were not as close as he was with Edward.
With all of their parents gone, it was important to Allan that he remained close with his cousins. They were, after all, his only family, though he would certainly count Oliver as part of that group, too. He was like a brother.
The carriage came around a corner of the road and Allan could finally see the massive estate ahead of him. It was grand and beautiful, much larger than his own. Memories of his childhood flashed back to him as he remembered the times he had spent as a lad with Edward and Harry, and he felt a bit choked up. Marriage was certainly the last step into adulthood for these men, and he was certainly honored to be part of Edward’s wedding.
A few minutes passed, and Allan watched as the estate grew larger. As they got closer, he could see people waiting outside and assumed that it would be members of the staff to greet them, though he was hoping that Edward and Harry were among that group, too.
Although the sun was fading, there was still enough light in the sky to make out the ornate details that decorated the main house, and now he could see the grand stables in the distance. His cousins were well-known breeders of the finest horses in England, and Allan was hoping to have a chance to ride while he was visiting.
The carriage turned right, towards the house, and now he was unable to see the people standing at the entrance. Allan could, however, see the beginnings of what would be a beautiful sunset. He knew that his cousin, who was a bit superstitious, would find this a good omen for the night before his wedding.
Allan could feel the carriage turn again, and this time, the west wing of the house was in his sights, and in only a moment, he would be seeing his cousins. The carriage slowed, and then came to a stop, and he could clearly see several members of staff waiting to greet him.
Standing at the top of the stairs leading into the home was his cousin Edward, looking as regal as ever. Next to him stood a lovely lady, whom Allan assumed was Lady Mary Nott, his future bride. She had flowing brown hair and was curvy in all of the right places. My cousin has done well for himself.
On the step below Edward, Allan could see his cousin Harry, the permanent brooding look that he recognized from their childhood, still on his face.
The door to the carriage opened, and the coachmen pulled down the steps under the door so that Allan could step out. The air was warm and pleasant, and he smiled as he looked up at his only remaining family members.
He began walking towards the men and lady, his valet following behind him. He nodded to the staff who were waiting to greet him and moved directly towards Edward.
As he approached the Duke, he smiled at his cousin. Edward smiled back at him, extended his hand, which Allan took, and then pulled him into an embrace.
“It is good to see you, Cousin,” Edward said as he hugged Allan.
“It is wonderful to see you, too,” Allan responded.
The men pulled apart, and Edward pulled the lady over to him.
“Allan, I would like to introduce you to your new cousin, Lady Mary Nott,” said Edward.
Lady Mary was even more lovely up close, and he could see that she had rosy cheeks and stunning green eyes.
“It is lovely to meet you,” Allan said, as he took Lady Mary’s hand and kissed the top in greeting. “Edward didn’t tell me that you were so exquisite.”
The redness of her cheeks got brighter, and she said “It is a pleasure to meet you, My Lord. Edward has told me many wonderful things about you.”
Suddenly Allan heard someone clear their throat behind him. He turned and came face to face with his cousin, Harry.
Allan smiled at him and reached his hand out to shake Harry’s. Harry took it and said, “I thought you would be too enamored with the great beauty of my future sister-in-law to notice me.”
Allan laughed heartedly. “She is certainly a lovely lady.”
Harry let go of Allan’s hand and said, “Her older sister is a fine lady, too.”
This time it was Edward who laughed. “Yes, Allan,” he said to his cousin. “Harry has his eyes on Mary’s sister, but she only has eyes for her charity work, it seems.”
Harry’s brooding demeanor came back quickly, but then he smiled. “She will come around.” He winked at Allan.
“Cousin,” said Edward to Allan, “I hope to allow you some time to settle in, and then we would love for you to join us for dinner tonight. My butler, Bolt, will show you to your quarters.”
“That sounds wonderful,” replied Allan, “and I will surely be looking forward to dinner. We have a lot to catch up on.”
“Yes, indeed,” said Edward, as he motioned for Allan to walk through the door behind Bolt. “Please let me know if you need anything, and if not, I will see you at dinner.”
“Thank you,” said Allan, as he followed Bolt into the entry hallway.
The hallway was spacious. It had elaborate pillars which ran from the floor to the high ceilings. The sound of their feet as they walked echoed off of the stone floor, and the ceilings were covered with paintings and tapestries.
“I will show you and your valet to your sleeping quarters,” Bolt said. “And then you may join His Grace and the other guests in the drawing room before dinner. We will serve dinner at six.”
“Thank you,” said Allan, as he followed Bolt up the stairs, which were covered in red carpeting. At the top of the staircase, the men turned towards the left. They walked past three doors, and then Bolt stopped.
“Your room, My Lord,” Bolt said, as he gestured towards the door. “I trust that it will be warm and comfortable for you. Please do not hesitate to let me know if something is amiss.”
“I’m sure it will be suitable,” replied Allan. “Thank you for showing me the way.”
Bolt opened the door for Allan, and Allan walked in. There was a large, lavish bed in the center of the room. There was a wardrobe in the corner furthest from the door, and a full-length mirror next to the wardrobe. The waning light from the sun reflected off of the surface of the mirror, and it created a light, which perfectly lit up the Daftwood Coat of Arms, which hung on the wall over the fireplace. There was also a dresser and sitting area in the room.
Allan turned to Bolt and said, “This will serve well, thank you.”
“You are very welcome, My Lord,” Bolt replied as he turned and walked out of the door, closing it behind him.
Allan then turned to Harley and said, “We don’t have much time before dinner. I would like to mingle with the other guests before the meal.”
“Yes, My Lord,” replied Harley. “I have your evening clothes ready.”
Allan turned back around, took off his coat, and Harley began to dress him.
Esther and Ruth were sitting side by side in the carriage as it approached Edward’s huge estate. Ester was looking out of the window as the considerable shape of the home caught her eye.
“I didn’t know it was this large,” she said to Ruth. “I can’t believe Mary will live here.”
The estate of the Duke of Daftwood was almost double the size of Esther’s father’s estate. Ruth leaned towards Esther to get a look at the home for herself. Unlike her sisters, Ruth’s hair was a honey blonde color. She was short, where they were tall, and she had bright blue eyes that always seemed to have a bit of mischief running through them.
“Where are the stables?” Ruth asked.
“I don’t know, Ruth,” said Esther with some annoyance in her tone. “I have never been here, you know.”
Ruth just sighed. They had been in the carriage for more than two hours together, and both of them were running thin on patience. However, Esther was also interested to know where the stables were. The Duke and his family were known for their well-bred horses. She would enjoy seeing the beasts, as she always had a love for them.
The sun was almost down, and as they approached the home, Esther could see light coming from the windows. Since it was early spring, the sun still went down early, even though it wasn’t extremely cold out. In fact, there was a bit of rain earlier, but otherwise, the weather was perfect for a wedding.
Esther felt the carriage lurch a bit, and then slow. She tried to see where the carriage in front of her was, which contained her parents, but she couldn’t tell. She assumed that they were close to the entrance of the home, but she was now facing the other way and Ruth’s head was blocking her view.
“Can you see anything?” Esther asked her youngest sister.
“Yes,” replied Ruth. “Mother and Father’s carriage stopped, and they are being greeted by Mary and Edward.”
“Is—?” asked Esther with hesitation.
“Lord Harry there?” said Ruth quickly. “Yes!” She laughed. “He must be waiting for you.”
All three sisters knew that Lord Harry, the younger brother of Mary’s soon-to-be-husband, Edward, was smitten with Esther. The feeling, however, was not mutual. In fact, Esther found him to be more of an annoyance than anything. He didn’t seem harmful, but she didn’t much enjoy his advances.
“I assumed he would be,” said Esther with a groan. “I suppose I must be nice to him. It is Mary’s wedding, after all.”
“I’m sure he’s harmless,” said Ruth. “Perhaps you can meet someone here at the wedding who will sweep you off your feet. Then you would have an excuse to not speak with him.” She laughed again.
Esther just shook her head. The carriage had started moving again, so she assumed that her parents had already gone into the home. It only moved for a few feet, and then once again came to a stop. She and Ruth both straightened their hats and pulled on their gloves.
A footman opened the door and held out his hand for Ruth to take, and once she was safely out of the carriage, Esther followed close behind. As she finally found herself face to face with the massive home, she gasped quietly. It was much larger in person than she had imagined.
She looked up at the stairs and saw Mary, who had come to the home the day before, and standing next to her was Edward, who was looking as dashing as she remembered. Standing just one step below was his younger brother, Lord Harry Bishop.
Esther smiled as she and Ruth approached Mary and Edward, and she took great care as to not make eye contact with Lord Harry. It wasn’t that she wanted to be rude, but she didn’t want to give him the wrong idea.
“Welcome, my future sisters,” Edward said happily, as he took Esther’s hand. “I am so happy that you are here.”
“We are happy, too,” replied Esther. “Of course, we could never miss the wedding of our sister.”
“Of course not,” said Edward with a chuckle. “I’m sure she would never do me the honor without the presence of her sisters.”
Esther smiled at him. Edward was an excellent match for Mary. They were both very nice and caring people, and they made a very handsome couple. She then turned to Mary.
“I’m so happy for you,” Esther said, as the two embraced. “Your new home is lovely, too, and so is your future husband.”
“Thank you, Esther,” Mary replied. “That means a lot to me.”
Esther stood back while Ruth embraced Mary.
“My Lady,” she heard a man say from behind her. Lord Harry.
Esther turned quickly and came face to face with Edward’s younger brother.
“Oh, you startled me, My Lord,” said Esther, feigning surprise.
“I apologize,” responded Lord Harry. “I wanted to say hello and welcome you to the estate.”
“I appreciate that,” replied Esther, and then there was an uncomfortable silence until Ruth turned towards them.
“It is wonderful to see you again, My Lord,” Ruth said to Lord Harry.
He nodded and said, “The same to you.” It was quite clear to Esther, based on Lord Harry’s response, that he was not very interested in talking to Ruth.
Edward then stepped over to them and said “Bolt, our butler, will show you to your rooms. He has just taken your parents to their quarters, and he should be right back.”
“That is wonderful,” said Esther. “I am looking forward to a lovely evening, and I cannot wait to meet your family.”
“Well,” replied Edward, “My cousin is here, the Earl of Wiltshire, but that’s about it. We have some friends coming tomorrow for the wedding breakfast, though.”
“Then I look forward to meeting your cousin,” Esther responded with a smile.
“He is a fine chap,” said Edward. “I’m sure he will love to meet the beautiful Lady Esther, too.”
Lord Harry chortled behind her, Esther blushed, and another man came out the door. The butler.
“May I take you to your sleeping quarters?” the man whom Esther assumed was Bolt asked.
“Yes, please,” said Esther, happy to get away from Lord Harry for a bit. She turned to Mary and said, “We will see you before dinner.”
“I am looking forward to it, Esther,” Mary replied, “And I do think you will enjoy spending time with Edward’s cousin, Lord Wiltshire.”
Esther smiled and followed Bolt into the grand foyer of the house to get ready for dinner.
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