About the book
She shouldn't want him so badly, but yet she does...
Carmen Crawford doesn’t know who she really is.
Found as an orphan baby, she spends her days imagining what life would be like if she knew her real parents. Now, working as a Lady’s maid, her only dream is finding out her true identity. That is, until she meets a mysterious Duke, who seems to be connected with her past…
Arthur Kahler, Duke of Heartwick, is a notorious bachelor in London, not interested in idle talks of marriage. But when it is announced he has to marry a Lady he doesn’t know, everything changes for the worst. And when he comes across Carmen, the enchanting maid, he knows he is going to be in a war with love…
As their forbidden meetings continue, Carmen and Arthur soon come to the realization that perhaps they can’t be together. A maid and a Duke are not supposed to be married. And when Carmen goes missing, they know they’re in for a fight.
Will love and passion prevail over evil?
Dewdale Manor was silent at the hour of six in the morning. Pressing down her new hand-me-down, cobalt-blue dress from her lady and making sure her starched white apron was on straight; Carmen Crawford made her way to her lady’s bedchamber. The sun had not yet risen, so she was confident her lady would not have woken. But she just wanted to make sure, as she did always. Her lady had not been well of late, and this worried her. Perhaps she would be in better spirits today.
Carmen hesitated at the door. Strange, I feel a draft–
She opened the door a little, holding the flickering candle carefully away from the doorway slit so as not to arouse her sleeping lady who needed rest. A hush seemed to sweep through the long corridor making her shiver, even though it was warm.
Lady Helena Travers, daughter of the Earl of Dewdale, slept soundly in a fetal position. Her fair hair fanned out; her complexion seemed pale in the low light. Carmen noticed the bedcovers were askew, almost hanging off the bed.
I really shouldn’t disturb her; she seems so restful.
Tiptoeing in, she very gently put the bedcovers back over Lady Helena and was about to leave when the bedcurtains blew around her, a balmy breeze cascading in from the open window.
That was strange; Carmen didn’t remember opening them. She distinctly remembered closing the window before she retired for the night. The room was covered with strewn clothes, some on the floor, and some on the dressing table and the dressing chair. Something she would have to put right later. She sighed; she was hoping for an easy morning. She adored working as a lady’s maid for her childhood friend, however she did wish her mistress were not so careless with her attire.
Helena stirred. Carmen closed the door and retreated. It was stifling inside the manor; it was June, summer truly once again upon them. She had hoped for a cooler climate, but it didn’t seem like that would happen this year. She had a lot to do today, as Lady Helena had many engagements. She was required to accompany her today. Carmen didn’t mind, she found the carriage trips so entertaining! She giggled, thinking of the other maids who obviously were so envious. She sniffed the air; she could smell fresh bread baking. Tilly must have started. She walked quickly but steadily down to the kitchen in the basement.
The delicious smell of fresh bread tantalized her nostrils and she longed for a bit of the delectable bread with butter. She wondered if Tilly would let her eat some; she did usually when they were alone. Tilly was the cook, but also her guardian in many respects. Her full name was Matilda Crawford, but she was Tilly to those close to her.
“Good morning, Tilly,” Carmen said. “Isn’t a lovely morning?”
“The sun hasn’t risen yet, little Carmen, so I would not know. Lady Helena still asleep I presume?”
“You know as I do that she does not awake until the hour of eight. Besides, she had a late evening last night. She must have her rest.”
“Aye, she did. One too many, if you ask me,” said Tilly. “Her mother will not be pleased.”
“When is she pleased?” Carmen laughed.
“Shush now, Girl, or you will wake the whole household. Now, geet going, I have a lot of work to do. Can’t be wasting my time.”
“Before I leave, can I have a bit of your lovely bread and butter, please?”
“There you go then,” said Tilly, handing her a large piece.
“Thank you!” Carmen kissed her on the cheek, taking a piece of bread with her on her way out. She heard Tilly laugh behind her.
Tilly had found her on the doorstep one frosty morning, nine-and-ten years ago, left abandoned. The only thing she had on her was a gold pendant with the initials C.A and a blue sapphire in the middle.
“You must take care of it when you wear it,” Tilly had advised her when she was in her tenth year. “It will be in my care until the day you turn eight-and-ten.”
Carmen was told she was only a few days old and no more and the star-shaped birthmark was something she could relate back to her parents.
Lady Janet Travers, Countess of Dewdale had tried to find her parents but they couldn’t be found. Tilly was secretly glad, for she had bonded with the wee child, having no child of her own. She begged Lady Dewdale to let her keep her, and after much deliberation, it was agreed. She was named Carmen Crawford, and to Carmen, Tilly was her mother and no one else would do.
Dewdale Manor was a beautiful manor in the country. Lady Dewdale didn’t like London and always preferred countryside living. Lord David Travers, Earl of Dewdale, bought the country manor for that reason. It was situated in Hertfordshire, and it was grand compared to their neighbors’ homes. It sported immaculately kept lawns, blooming roses, and an extremely large fountain of dolphin statues and a pretty mermaid. Carmen speculated this was Lady Dewdale’s demand, for she enjoyed sea creatures. With five-and-twenty bedrooms, long corridors, and a courtyard, one could get lost in such a place. But not Carmen.
As children, she and Lady Helena played games such as touch and hopscotch, especially around the courtyard. When they grew up, Lady Helena suggested making Carmen her lady’s maid. No one could be better than her childhood friend.
“Mother, it would be wonderful. She knows and understands me and my desires. Carmen is observant and a faithful creature. She will be loyal to my needs. She is knowledgeable about fashion and colors and knows how to darn and sew. Would you like to be my lady’s maid, Carmen?”
“It will be my pleasure, Lady Dewdale,” said Carmen, delighted to be given such an important position. She couldn’t wait to tell Tilly.
“However, Dear, you must be diligent,” Lady Helena said when they were alone. “In our private time together, I will allow you to call me by my first name. When we are in company, I will continue to be My Lady to you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, My Lady,” said Carmen.
“Very good.” Lady Helena clapped her hands in delight.
Three years on, both girls developed into beautiful women in their own right. Carmen was of medium height, with dark eyes and hair, whereas Lady Helena was tall and slender, and prim and proper. Everything about her had to be perfect, and there must not be a hair out of place. It was Carmen’s duty to see to that, and she loved it.
“You must choose the best dresses, bonnet, gloves, and shoes for my day ahead. Below average just will not do. You must dress my hair in a way that compliments my face,” she instructed Carmen, who nodded her head vigorously.
Brilliant sunlight filtered through Lady Helena’s window, casting a beautiful yet dewy feel to the morning. When Carmen walked into her lady’s bedchamber, she saw Lady Helena watching the ceiling of her bed.
“Is everything all right, Helena?” Carmen rushed over and felt her forehead. Lady Helena groaned.
“I’m quite all right, thank you, Carmen. I’m only bored.”
“Bored, My Lady?” Sometimes Carmen slipped into ‘My Lady’ without realizing and Lady Helena would chastise her. Today, she didn’t even notice.
“I am truly and utterly bored with boredom! I long for a distraction and a talk of marriage, perhaps. Wouldn’t that be exciting?”
“It would,” said Carmen, stifling a laugh as Helena put a hand on her forehead and sighed dramatically. “Let’s have you up and dressed. You have a full day today. Breakfast first, luncheon with the Rosebaiths to be accompanied by Lady Dewdale and myself, and dinner with–”
“Yes, yes, I know.”
Carmen smiled and pulled the bedclothes away from Lady Helena, thus proceeding with her duties.
It was Helena’s wish to be married, but out of love and not for wealth. She said so herself, confiding in Carmen one such rainy day.
“Love is so strong, it can conquer war if used correctly,” she’d said in a matter-of-fact manner.
Carmen had just finished putting the last clip in Helena’s hair. There, perfect!
“I believe the Earl and Countess will want to marry you into wealth rather than for love, Helena,” said Carmen. “You cannot marry into poverty, what a scandal that would be.”
“It would be scandalous, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t be proper. I should know better than to dream such dreams. If I have to marry into money, so be it. What about you, do you have dreams to meet someone special and marry? I would be sorry for you to leave me, of course. I cannot imagine a life without you in it, my dear.”
“Someday, yes, but not yet. I would like to see you married before me, Helena. And I would miss you too, when you marry and leave Dewdale Manor,” said Carmen, admiring Lady Helena from the dressing table looking glass. She did look so beautiful.
“Well, I am sure there is someone special for you,” Helena smiled. “Carmen, you are a beauty to behold. Just look at those eyes. I am envious to be sure and that is something.”
It was another stifling day. Carmen stood beside the open drawing room window, waiting for some coolness to come her way. But she only felt warm air surround her. Even the trees stopped swaying.
“Oh, David. I detest this heat. I am so thirsty all the time. This just won’t do!” Lady Dewdale complained, sitting on the lounge, fanning herself.
The Earl smoked away on his pipe, ignoring his wife.
“How you can wear such heavy attire is beyond me,” Lady Dewdale carried on. “How do you do it, David?”
“The right fashion must be observed at all times by a gentleman, my dearest, in all weathers. However, you are permitted to wear a lighter dress, I have no qualms. Comfort is best in these circumstances,” said the Earl.
“I need a refreshing drink. Lemonade would do nicely,” said Lady Dewdale.
“I will fetch you a jug and glasses,” said a maid and she hurried out.
“Helena dear, you have been awfully quiet. Is everything all right?” asked Lady Dewdale.
“Yes, Mother,” said Helena. “I am just so tired.”
“You do look pale, my dear. Perhaps we should have the doctor look at you. I will send for him right away.”
“Mother, don’t fret. I am not ill. I just need to get out of this manor. I am very much bored and need a change of scenery. That’s all. When was the last time we went on a holiday?”
“That is an excellent question. What do you say, Travers?” Lady Dewdale asked her husband.
The Duke looked from his daughter to his wife. “A trip out of Hertfordshire would do finely for our dearest daughter.” He smiled at Lady Helena. “I may have the perfect remedy.”
“Oh, do tell, Travers. Do not keep us in suspense!” Lady Travers fanned herself vigorously out of excitement.
“Helena has been invited to the Dukedom of Heartwick, in view of a marriage. It could be a fine union for both families, and our daughter will do well on such a fine estate. I hear the Duke is an amiable man. With our daughter’s excellent and proper upbringing, I believe they will be a good match.”
The Earl stood up from his chair, wandering over to Helena.
“What do you say, dearest child? Would you like to go to Heartwick? Do you agree to such a good offer?”
Please say you would, it would be so exciting. Carmen met Helena’s eyes, urging her to say yes.
“I don’t know, Father,” said Helena. “But I am curious to know who this man is and if I would be a good fit for him.”
And what about love? Carmen turned to hide her face for fear of laughing since Helena wanted to marry for love, not wealth.
“Good. I will send word that you have accepted the invitation.”
“But, Father, I want Carmen to come with me. I shan’t leave without her.”
The Earl hesitated for a moment but not for too long. “Very well. It is agreed then.”
“Oh, I think my heart will explode with such happiness, David. I thank you for this! Oh, I have so much to do. When is Helena to travel?”
“In a month’s time, I believe,” the Earl replied. He took another draw of his pipe.
Carmen watched the smoke spiral out of the pipe and into the air. She didn’t care for smoking, and secretly wished she would find a man to marry one day with no such dreadful habits.
“Carmen, I need you for this. Come and meet me in an hour. We need to make a list. Helena dear, you go and get some rest, won’t you? David, please arrange for the doctor to see Helena before she leaves. She can’t go there with an illness!”
“I am hardly ill, Mother,” Lady Helena protested.
“Your complexion says otherwise, and you are so thin. Thinking back, I don’t remember you eating much in the past month.”
“I think I will go and have a nap,” said Lady Helena. “Carmen, take me to my bedchambers.”
“Yes, My Lady,” said Carmen.
“Are you not happy, Helena?” asked Carmen as she helped Lady Helena into bed. She did look pale, as her mother had said. “Perhaps you do need a change of place, different air.”
Lady Helena grabbed Carmen’s hand and pulled her toward her. Her eyes seemed excited.
“Of course, I am happy, Dearest.” Lady Helena was smiling, and Carmen spotted some color on her cheeks. She sighed with relief.
“I can’t wait to go. What timing!”
“That is good news, then. I am truly glad for you. I can leave you now, knowing you are in high spirits. Shall I tell Lady Dewdale?” Carmen asked.
“You may, but don’t leave until I am asleep. First, I need some water.”
Carmen poured Helena a glass from the jug who gulped it down. “Yes, that is better. I shall take a nap now.”
Carmen sat at the dressing table and stayed until Helena was asleep. She looked around her and for once, the mess did not displease her. She felt wonderful inside, perhaps like eating a grand buffet. The other staff were not untruthful; they had heard rumors of a possible engagement and marriage between the families, a perfect match of a Duke and a prim Lady, over the week. How they knew was beyond Carmen’s understanding.
They even spoke of Lady Helena’s health, and that she was indeed not in a fine state. She was too thin for a well-to-do young lady of the manor. She needed fattening up. Carmen prayed this trip would heal her of her anguishes and boredom. Perhaps having a doctor was not such an absurd idea after all.
With a gasp, Carmen remembered she was supposed to attend Lady Dewdale. She leaped from her stool and, with a final glance down at the sleeping Helena, dashed out of the room. They were going to visit the Duke of Heartwick!
Lord Arthur Kahler, Duke of Heartwick, stood next to his albino steed, brushing his long mane in great sweeps. The mare neighed happily, echoing in the stables. The other horses in their stalls neighed in response; it was a lovely sound. He bred horses for racing, but he kept a few for his recreational use.
Among all the horses, this one was his favorite. He called him Henry, and they had built up quite a bond. Arthur had bought him from a dealer when he was just a foal. That was fifteen years ago, and the old boy still had a lot of life in him. He was a brilliant racer too. Arthur was pleased with all the medals they had collected over the years.
“Mother has invited the Travers girl here to talk about a union via marriage. I must say I am not happy with the situation. But I am not worried, I will simply not let it happen,” he said to Henry, who didn’t seem to be interested. “She very well knows why I have no interest in settling down. She will just have to accept my decision when I decline.”
Henry neighed in response, making Arthur laugh and rub his nose. It sounded like he was agreeing with him.
“You are a good boy; if only people understood me like you do.”
Arthur began to brush Henry’s fine coat next.
“Your Grace, I can do that,” said a stable hand coming in.
“No thanks, Tim, I’d rather do it myself today.” Arthur was still troubled. He didn’t understand his stepmother. She was a strange creature, that was evident. One day she was full of sunshine with him, and at other times, she seemed to dislike him. Of course, she didn’t show it, but he felt it. He had come to learn of her moods after she married his father. She was attentive then but after his father died, she changed.
“Oh, Father,” he sighed. “I wish you were here.”
The mare neighed. His father had been very fond of Henry too.
“Come on, old boy. Let’s go for a ride. I think we both need some fresh air.”
Arthur put a saddle on Henry’s back and jumped on. He smiled; this was where he felt the most delighted and contented. He was a busy man. The Dukedom of Heartwick was wealthy and powerful, and he had his investments to look after. It was rare he got a chance to ride for the sake of it, so when he did, he loved it.
Arthur gave a slight nudge with his boots and Henry trotted outside. The sun was high, and the heat seared his face, but it pleased him. He paused outside the stables when he saw the stable hand walking up to him.
“Your Grace, do you need me to look over Henry before you go for a ride?”
“Do not worry, I’ve already tended to him.” Arthur kicked the horse. Henry neighed and galloped out of the yard, through the gate.
The rush of the gallop exhilarated him; a slight wind took hold which rushed through his golden locks. He galloped into Brick Lane, and then turned into one of his own fields. He forgot about the problems at the Hall, about this absurd marriage his stepmother was trying so hard to arrange. He felt free. There was no one around. It was only him and Henry. Arthur laughed out loud; this felt so good.
He galloped up the peak of the hill and stared at the town he could see from there. It was the nearest one after Heartwick Fields. Arthur had many investments in the town of Barton and often went to overlook things. It was gloomy there, and it was spreading toward him. The sun had disappeared, and grey skies loomed. Thunder rumbled in the distance and a flash of lightning climbed into the heavy air.
“Let’s get back home, my boy.” He leaned down and patted Henry on the neck. “As much as I do love the rain, it makes no sense in getting drenched.”
Arthur slowed as he came back down the lane. He came across a farmer with his bullock-pulled cart full of hay.
“Your Grace,” the man pulled on his cap.
“Good afternoon, Jack. Where are you off to?” Arthur stopped to talk to his tenant.
“‘Ave to take this lot to the shed. Then I ‘ave to start mucking out, don’ I? Work never stops in my barn, nay, it never does. My Mrs. wants me back home soon, though. She managed to pick up a lovely bit of lamb at the market, she did. Me stomach is rumbling just thinking about it.”
Above them, the sky responded with another rumble of thunder, and the rain began to pour down.
“Oh no, I better be off. The hay will get wet now.”
“Goodbye, Jack,” said Arthur, laughing. “Come on, Boy!” he urged his steed to go faster as the rain lashed down harder. His clothes were wet through already.
“You are soaking wet, Arthur,” exclaimed the Duke’s stepmother, Lady Teresa Kahler, Dowager Duchess of Heartwick. “What made you go riding in such weather?”
“The rains came on suddenly. It was sunny when we left,” said Arthur. “Nothing to fret of.” Then he sneezed, and he glanced sheepishly at his stepmother.
“Well, this will not do. We have company coming tomorrow. You cannot become ill. You should have known better, Oh, I do feel a little faint.”
“I will be all right. I just need a change of clothes. Excuse me,” Arthur said rather abruptly and left her company.
“Very well,” the Duchess said in a high-pitched tone after him. “I’ll have the maid bring you up some hot tea.”
Arthur was already fed up and now with her new drama, he was irritated too. He sneezed again. He reached his bedchamber and grabbed a handle, but no matter how much he rattled it, it would not open. He growled in frustration.
“Your Grace?” The valet had arrived. “Here, let me help you.”
Arthur let Daniel get him out of the wet clothes and dry him, but when he began to dress him, Arthur stopped him.
“Please, I would like my bedclothes. I require some rest. Please close the curtains and leave.”
“Very well, Your Grace.”
After the valet left, Arthur breathed a sigh of relief. He was feeling rather ill, but he would rather die than admit it to his stepmother, or anyone else for that matter. He turned over and in that instant, fell asleep.
Teresa wrung her hands repeatedly as she sat in the drawing room alone. Paintings of England adorned the walls on one side, and the other side had statues and French vases placed on expensive stands. The rooms were decorated with bespoke French furniture, wallpaper, and intricately patterned carpet rugs. Her late husband, Richard, had never failed to indulge her fancies, although sometimes she wondered if he loved her less than his first wife. She’d died during the birth of their second child. Their son died of pneumonia two months later.
She glanced at the clock; it was rather late. Scott, her own son from her marriage to the Duke, still hadn’t returned to the Hall. He was getting out of hand; she was all too aware. Too many nights of rakish behavior, gambling, and attending brothels, she suspected. She worried what the Duke would say if he knew. Not that she cared what he thought, of course, but he had the power to take everything away from them: their social standing, their wealth, and Scott’s future.
“I need some tea, I’m beginning to get a headache,” she told her lady’s maid.
“Very well, Your Grace,” her lady’s maid said and ordered the maid to tell the kitchen maid.
Oh, why does Arthur have to be so flippant? He knows I cannot stand disorganization. He cannot under any circumstances be ill. He just cannot!
The maid arrived with the tea and an assortment of cakes. Teresa waved her away; she wanted to be alone. As she took a sip of the tea, she wandered over to the window, ignoring the cakes. The rain was relentless, the dark clouds almost swimming in the sky.
Will it ever stop?
She hoped the weather would turn and be much nicer tomorrow, when Lady Helena Travers arrived with her lady’s maid.
It was a great plan to unite the two families via marriage, even if Arthur did not approve of such a union. She could only imagine his humiliation when he finds out about Lady Helena’s scandalous past! She would make certain he would find out after the nuptials. What a shame as Lady Helena was a real beauty, prim and proper. Teresa was confident that Arthur would fall for her once he saw her beauty. He would not be able to refuse marriage to her. She smiled indulgently at her vision.
Everything was in hand. The arrangements were ready and met. With nothing else to do but to await the arrival of her son or Arthur waking up, Teresa settled with a book.
“Good morning, Arthur,” said Lady Kahler. “I am pleased to see you well after that dreadful rain.”
The footman pulled the Duke’s chair back for Arthur to sit down.
“Thank you.” Arthur reached for his tea. “I do feel better. All I needed was some rest.”
“I hope your calendar is empty today. Lady Helena Travers will be arriving around noon today and I would like your presence.”
Arthur pondered this for a moment before answering. “I’m afraid I will be away today. I have urgent work in London. Can Scott be here to welcome the ladies?” he asked with an air of abandonment.
I have no care who is arriving today, Mother.
“Do I have to remind you that we are in discussions of your marriage to Lady Helena Travers? It is vital that we have your presence. Now, I shan’t take no for an answer. Cancel your engagements today or delegate them, I don’t care. I expect you to be here.”
“Is that an order or a wish?” Arthur groaned inwardly. There was no use in arguing with his stepmother, not this morning.
“You know I cannot order you to do anything, but a mother can wish, even if she is only a stepmother.”
“Of course,” he said. “I shall be here.”
The Dowager Duchess smiled broadly. “Thank you,” she said. “You will be amiable, won’t you?”
“I am a good-natured person. Don’t worry, I won’t let you down.”
Scott arrived at the table just then. He was ten years younger than Arthur and also very different. While Arthur was fair, Scott had dark hair and dark eyes. He sat opposite his mother, relaxing in the seat.
“Aha, the prodigal son shows his face. You are late again, dear brother,” said Arthur. “But I have no time for you. I have to leave now; I have to delegate a few duties for our…visitors.”
“Sorry, Mother, sorry, Arthur. I was–” Scott began.
“Drunk, I daresay,” Arthur said in an amused tone. He stared hard at his half-brother. “You must rein in your other activities, or I may have to stop your allowance. You’re giving Heartwick a bad name.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Scott exclaimed loudly.
“Of course, he wouldn’t, would you?” the Duchess asked Arthur. She shot him a wary look.
“I shouldn’t,” Arthur said, watching his brother squirm. He couldn’t help but enjoy his half-brother squirm. He didn’t like to be so firm with family, but he couldn’t let this continue for much longer. “Look at your son, Mother. He is filthy and unwashed. Did you sleep in your evening wear, Scott?”
“Well, you gave my valet the day off,” came Scott’s snooty remark. “It is not as if I need to do anything. Father left us with a fortune. I don’t see why you are working so hard, dear brother.”
Scott was a pathetic creature with no prospect of learning the role of a true gentleman. Arthur had no patience for him.
“If Father was here, he would not put up with such dismissive attitude to work. However, I am not a mean brother and I will not cut you off. I shall do you a deal. I want you to work closely with me–I have plenty of investments that need taking care of, and I’m certain even you could not fail at simple correspondence. I will not tolerate disobedience or lateness. Then, you can keep your allowance, which, may I remind you, is quite generous.”
“Very well,” said Scott. He didn’t look happy. “I’ll come tomorrow. May I have some breakfast now?”
“It may be best to do that. You are still drunk and distasteful.” Arthur left the table then, but not without seeing his stepmother’s shocked expression.
Arthur wasn’t cruel by nature, he only wanted to see Scott be stronger and to settle on a good vocation. Scott had made it clear he was not interested in further studies, and he continued to be quite reckless with the allowance their father had put into his will.
Since the late Duke passed away last year, Scott had become a recluse, something the Duchess chose to overlook. But Arthur wished she wouldn’t. She was not being kind to him, but cruel. But it was no use, Lady Heartwick would not listen to anything uninviting about her own son.
Arthur rode with his good friend, Austin Montgomery, Viscount of Mallen, in the fields. A cheerful stream ran under a small bridge adjoining two of Heartwick’s fields, and the skies were once again beautiful. However, a dark cloud hung over Arthur’s head.
“Why are you so glum, my dear friend?” asked the Viscount.
“Come on, now. Your expression is sour and dull today, yesterday and the day before you were contented. Am I wrong?”
“Is that a new mare?” Arthur asked, admiring the horse’s shiny flank and the white triangle on his brown nose.
“Arthur, you are changing the subject.”
“I am not, I am just appreciating beauty.”
“Yes, appreciating beauty of the wrong kind of creature, I’m afraid,” Austin laughed. “Are you going to tell me what is bothering you, or not?”
“All right, I shall tell you. It is my stepmother. She is trying to get me married to Lady Helena Travers, daughter of the Earl of Dewdale.”
The Viscount roared with laughter. “Dear old friend, is that all? Are you frightened of this lady? The lady, I daresay, is a beauty to behold, as I have heard. Many are clamoring to marry her.”
“Then why is she coming to see me?”
“What a funny creature you are. You are the most sought-after eligible bachelor for miles–and a Duke, at that. Quite a catch for a mere Earl’s daughter. You are handsome too, or so my sister tells me. I believe even she admires you.”
“Well, I am not interested in your sister or any other lady, as a matter of fact. Now can we leave this subject, please?”
“But why? I am enjoying myself. Besides, it is much more interesting than talking about ledgers, bills, and such. Listen, you are already five-and-twenty. Stop this delay or all the eligible ladies will be taken. And you shall regret it.”
“I am content with that,” Arthur smiled. He galloped on further and stopped to feel the warm air on his tilted face. Austin came behind him.
“I could stay here forever,” said Austin.
“Likewise,” Arthur agreed.
Suddenly, he heard a scream that sent fear into his heart. He sat up straighter, searching the area for whoever was in danger.
“Someone, please help!” It was the same voice.
“Did you hear that?” he asked in a panic. “Where is it coming from?”
“I believe someone is in trouble,” said Austin. “Who is there?” he shouted.
“Over here, we need help, please! There is a stream here–”
Arthur saw a pair of hands waving just on the other side of the fields.
“Over there, come on, Austin!” Arthur galloped away in the direction of the waving lady.
As the men got closer, they saw a coach turned to its side, and a broken wheel laying on the road. The coachman was holding the reins of two spooked horses who kept on stamping their hooves. Beside the coach was a lady, quite scuffed, and with a torn bonnet. She was holding her ankle. And beside her, was the most beautiful lady Arthur had ever seen.
“Please My Lord, will you help us?” Carmen stood up from Helena’s side. “My Lady is hurt; she needs assistance urgently.”
“What happened?” The first man jumped off his brown horse, but the other man stayed where he was on top of the white horse, seemingly unable to function. He was like a statue. But when she looked at him, his cool, beautiful blue eyes seemed to bore into hers. She felt as if she was floating for a moment and swayed on her feet.
Is it him or the accident that makes me feel this way?
“Miss?” asked the first man.
Carmen shook her head to clear her mind of this unusual distraction and diverted her attention back to this kind man.
“We came across a large boulder. The coachman was driving quite fast and was unable to stop in time. He tried to swerve, but the carriage hit it and we toppled over.” A tear slid down her face.
He knelt beside Helena and looked into her eyes. “I’m Lord Mallen, and this is my good friend, the Duke. May I ask your names?”
“I’m a Lady’s Maid,” Carmen answered for Helena. “And this is My Lady, Lady Helena.”
“All right, Lady Helena, may I take a look?”
“Please be careful,” said Carmen holding her arm out as Lord Mallen began to move Helena’s ankle, turning it slowly.
Oh, why did this happen? What a horrible event.
“I am fine, Carmen. I’m not hurt that much–Ow!”
“My Lady!” Carmen exclaimed. “How can I help you?” She dashed to Helena’s side.
“I’m sorry, My Lady. I think you have a broken ankle. It looks like we will need to get the doctor out. Where are you traveling to?” asked Lord Mallen.
“Oh, dear, is it that bad? What are we going to say to our host now? We are going to Heartwick,” Helena said. “They are expecting us at noon. How will we get there now?”
Lord Mallen grinned widely and glanced at the Duke, who looked completely shocked.
“So, what are we to do?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. The Duke seemed to come to life and jumped down from his horse. He walked over to the coachman.
“Take a horse and go to Heartwick. It is not too far from here, about a mile. Speak to the Dowager Duchess and ask her to arrange my coach to be brought here.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” said the coachman. At once, he took one of his horses out of the tackle and mounted him, galloping off.
“Your Grace?” Carmen looked nervously at him. “May I ask who you are?” She felt overwhelmed by his handsomeness, but it wasn’t right.
I am only a lowly maid; I shouldn’t entertain such thoughts.
Arthur looked down at her. “I am Lord Arthur Kahler, Duke Heartwick of Heartwick Hall.” He didn’t smile.
“Your Grace.” Carmen curtsied, embarrassed to have spoken to a Duke. And not any duke, the one to possibly marry Helena.
“Your Grace, I apologize to have spoken to you in such a way.”
“It doesn’t matter. We must get you back to my residence at once; you will see the Hall doctor,” said Arthur.
“What should we do now?” Helena cried. “I can’t sit on the ground. And my dress is torn. Carmen, get me a shawl.”
Carmen found a shawl from one of the trunks that survived the fall and hadn’t opened. After putting it around Helena, she proceeded in collecting all the clothing articles that had met the same fate as her lady.
“I am Austin Montgomery, Viscount of Mallen,” Lord Mallen said, introducing himself formally. “In regard to your comfort, you can sit on a small patch in the field, just there.” He pointed to a patch of grass shaded by a large tree.
“If you would allow me?” he asked Helena, and picked her up, gently walking to the field, and putting her down with great care.
“Thank you, My Lord.”
Carmen was beside Helena in an instant. “You must tell me if you are in any discomfort, My Lady.”
“It is not that bad, don’t fret, Carmen,” she smiled. “Look at the both of us. We have not introduced ourselves.”
“You are Lady Helena Travers, daughter of the Earl of Dewdale, and you are with your lady’s maid, Carmen, I believe?” said the Duke.
“Carmen Crawford,” said Carmen, surprised he even knew her name. The Duke gave her a nod. Whenever he looked at her, Carmen’s heart began to flutter wildly, but he seemed dismissive of her, like he was avoiding looking at her.
“Oh, I am quite thirsty,” Helena moaned.
“I’m afraid we have no water; it spilled in the accident,” said Carmen, her heart sinking. She hated seeing Helena in such a state.
“It is easily rectified,” said Lord Mallen. He went up to his horse and took out a drinking flask.
“I’ll give her the water, My Lord,” said Carmen taking the flask.
She couldn’t help but glance in the direction of the Duke, who leaned against a tree and stared at her. He still didn’t show any expression or a smile. Her heartbeat quickened, and she looked away. She gave the flask to Helena, trying not to feel the Duke’s gaze on her.
To her relief, she heard the roll of wheels and galloping horses. It was a shiny black coach, larger than the one they were traveling in and big enough for their group waiting in the lane.
Their coachman jumped down from the driver’s box with another man. Carmen assumed it was the Duke’s own coachman.
“Glad you could come, Gerry,” said the Duke. “Were you in town?”
“Luckily, I was. The Duchess was adamant I come straight away. Now, where is the young lady?”
The Duke pointed to where Helena and Carmen sat.
“I am Dr. Hatterman. Don’t worry, you are in safe hands. What is the matter then?”
“My ankle, it hurts,” said Helena. “Is it damaged badly?”
The doctor inspected the ankle, just as the Viscount had. The Viscount seemed like a good man, amiable and kind. Unlike the Duke. Carmen focused her attention back to Helena, she saw her shivering.
“My Lady, what is the matter? Dr. Hatterman?”
The doctor checked Helena over; he seemed worried.
“We must get her to the Hall urgently. She is quite ill; she shouldn’t have traveled. I will have to go back and retrieve some medication.”
The Duke sprang into action, and with the help of Lord Mallen and the doctor, they lifted Helena into the coach along with the travel boxes. Carmen made certain her lady was as comfortable as possible during the short journey to the Duke’s Estate, and let tears unburden her heart as she looked out of the coach, taking in some of the Dukedom of Heartwick. She had never imagined such an arrival.
Poor Helena, I hope her pain goes away soon.
The Duchess came running to the coach, clearly distraught.
“Oh my, what a terrible journey you had, Lady Helena,” she cried. The footman opened the door of the carriage. “My dear, it is so nice to have you here. Oh dear, look at the state of you, you poor thing. You are shivering!”
“Please let her have space. She has been through a terrible ordeal,” Arthur said in a curt tone. “She must be taken to the guest chamber in the east wing immediately.”
Miss Crawford shot him a look of repulse, which took Arthur by surprise.
“Of course,” said Teresa. “I will come and see you in a while, my dear.”
Arthur watched Lady Helena being carried into the Hall and helped upstairs with her lady’s maid behind her, and then went into his study.
He sat down on a chair, thinking. He knew his thoughts should be on Lady Helena, but he could only think of Miss Crawford.
It may be custom for the lady’s maid to accompany her lady in her travels, but he found having someone else’s maid in his Hall quite unsettling. What he had discovered was very interesting indeed. He didn’t know anyone who was left on the doorstep of a wealthy establishment as a baby, and to be brought up there. This was indeed intriguing. It made Arthur want to know the lady even more.
Lady Helena was a beauty, like his stepmother had said, but she was nothing compared to Miss Crawford. Arthur was particularly fascinated by her. Seeing her in the lane, in her pretty yet simple gown, which was no doubt a cast off, made her more striking than she already was. Her oval-shaped face was small, but it made her eyes seductive. Her body was thin, but it was curvy. She was in essence, loveliness.
Arthur put his head in his hands.
This is wrong. I am a Duke, and she is a maid. I cannot think like this. I must distract myself. Yes. That is what I shall do. I shall leave Heartwick, take some time away.
“What are you thinking about, Arthur?”
Arthur looked up to see Scott taking a seat opposite him.
“What are you doing here, Scott? Shouldn’t you be somewhere else, anywhere apart from here?”
“I don’t really have to be anywhere. I heard you and Austin found Lady Helena and her maid in the lane. I’m sorry I missed it. So, tell me, is she pretty?”
“I will not discuss such things with you, Scott. I must go, I have work to do,” said Arthur, feeling angry at Scott… or myself?
“Didn’t Mother make you cancel all your engagements today? You have the whole day free now. But alas, your lady is hurt…women are fascinating creatures, aren’t they?” Scott said, grinning.
“Are they? I wouldn’t know.”
“You need to stop being drab, Brother. There is more to see than just your Dukedom. You are wealthy and powerful; why don’t you make good use of it?”
“Unlike you, I am responsible and care about my inheritance. I shall not throw it away.” Arthur stood up. He thought it would be best to not talk about his plans for now.
“Ah, there you two are.” Teresa entered the study, to Arthur’s dismay. “What a turn of events. Life does become distracting and exciting too, doesn’t it? I came to talk to the two of you. I am glad I found you both together.”
“What is it, Mother?” asked Scott.
“The doctor has said Lady Helena’s ankle is in bad shape. She will get better in a few weeks’ time, and her health will be restored. And then there is the problem of her other illness. The doctor said she has the beginning of a flu.”
“That’s not all, is it?” Scott pressed her.
“You are right.” Teresa’s eyes glittered with excitement. “I want to throw a ball, in celebration of Arthur and Lady Helena’s engagement!”
“Oh Lord, please spare me,” Arthur groaned.
He got up and went to his drink’s cabinet. He poured himself a hard whisky and took a swig. He looked out of the church-style window, with square sides and a curved top. His father commissioned this feature for the study especially. He said it helped him feel at peace when things were not as it should be. At the time Arthur was only two-and-ten and didn’t quite understand. But today, he realized the significance.
“Don’t you agree, Arthur?” asked Teresa.
“Lady Helena has not been here five minutes, and you want to plan a ball in her honor? We are not engaged.”
“But you will be soon. Planning a ball takes time, there is a lot to do. I thought I should plan ahead. I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have her lady’s maid involved too. She should be kept busy. You understand I don’t tolerate idle servants.”
“She is not your servant,” Arthur said rather abruptly, which raised an eyebrow or two from Scott and Teresa.
“Well, she is still a servant, even though in the elite ranks,” Teresa carried on. “Besides, she seems like an amiable girl. She would be grateful to work and not be idle.”
“Looks like Mother has made up her mind,” Scott chuckled.
“Indeed, she has,” commented Arthur, dryly. He looked at his stepmother. “You have been planning this ball for a long time, haven’t you? You didn’t just think of this today, that is obvious.”
“It is important to think ahead, otherwise nothing will get done,” Teresa said in a defensive tone. “Just think of the excitement that day will hold.”
“What if we don’t get engaged? Are you still adamant on having a ball?” Arthur laughed. He found it absurd.
“But of course, you will be engaged. Now, I will start making plans, and lists of guests. I know, I will invite Lady Fanny, she is always good with this.”
“Lady Fanny? The town gossip?” It was Arthur’s turn to raise an eyebrow.
“Don’t call her that. She is just knowledgeable of what is happening in Heartwick. She is a valuable asset.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” said Scott. “Arthur, do you think you can pour me a whisky? I’m rather parched.”
“Get it yourself,” said Arthur. “I’m going for a ride and perhaps take a route into town. I shall be back for dinner.”
“What about luncheon?”
“I’m not hungry.” Arthur left the study.
Truth to be told, it was getting to be rather stifling in there. Teresa could be too much sometimes. He did not like the idea of a ball, and the unnecessary expense to go with it, especially when there would be no engagement. What is she thinking?
Without realizing it, Arthur had walked to the east wing, just outside Lady Helena’s bedchamber. He stood before her door, and to his surprise the lady’s maid opened it. She stood there staring at him with her innocent but seductive eyes.
“Your Grace.” Miss Crawford curtsied. “Have you come to see My Lady?”
“Yes, I suppose I have. Is Lady Helena all right?” he asked. He stared at her, feeling a heat of desire wash over him. Did she blush?
“My Lady is all right, Your Grace. She needs some water and complains of a headache. I was coming to find a maid.”
“I understand… I will see to it that Lady Helena receives attention.”
“Oh, no need to bother yourself, Your Grace. I’ll find a maid.”
“Nonsense, I’ll see to it. You’re my guests.”
Anything to get a chance to see the maid again.
Miss Crawford was not looking at him now but staring at her shoes. He found it quite amusing that he had such an affect on her, but he was also alarmed she had the same affect on him. He wanted to take hold of her, crush her body to his. He wanted to taste the sweet nectar of her lips and touch his cheek with hers. He longed to–
“I’m sorry, Your Grace, but I have to go back to My Lady.” The lady’s maid cut into his disgraceful thoughts.
“Yes, yes, off you go. I will speak to the housekeeper to arrange for the water, and it may be an idea to get the doctor here to see to her headache.”
“Your Grace.” Miss Crawford smiled.
What a sweet smile she has.
She curtsied and went back inside. Arthur made a note to include some food for her too. She must be starving.
Oh, if only things were different. If only, she was not a maid, but a Lady. Then he could offer to court her. Arthur checked himself, feeling foolish. This is silly. I can’t let this absurdity take control of me. I am a businessman, not a lover. I am a Duke, and she is just a lady’s maid.
He went to the front of the Hall where he knew the housekeeper would be.
“Ah, Mrs. Merriweather. I need you to see to Lady Helena. She needs some water and food, please arrange it for two people. She has a headache too. She needs to see Dr. Hatterman.”
“Yes, Your Grace. I will see to it right away.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Merriweather.”
Arthur turned to head back toward the stables and to his beloved steed, still thinking about Miss Crawford. At least there he could show his love and not be judged. Good old Henry.
But before he could leave the wing, he heard a crash. Oh, what now!
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