About the book
I died a few hours ago. Noah, don't let go of me. My enemy, my friend, my lover...
Just a shawl and a chocolate box were left behind after the terrible accident that took Emmeline's life. Noah her sworn enemy…and devoted lover…is the only man that hasn’t lost hope on her.
Born to hate each other. Lady Emmeline Grant and Noah Fitzroy, the dashing Duke of Newberry ought to continue the traditional rivalry between their families, hatred running in their veins. Yet, love flourished in their hearts like a rose in the desert, taking everyone by storm and causing chaos.
Unable to come to terms with the tragedy, Noah struggles to unravel the mystery of his lover's sudden death.
Inky streaks of gray marred the cyan smoothness of a summer sky as pinpricks of stars began appearing. It was the time fireflies roused to enlighten a world that was increasingly growing darker. Ten-year-old Lady Emmeline Grant wondered how the pretty insects felt, slumbering in their own time, wakening when it suited them, and then glowing as magical creatures in a dwelling of trees and flowers.
Emmeline bent down to catch one in a glass jar which she had stolen from her father’s study; the latter was considered quite eccentric because of his interests in observing insects.
A firefly flew into the jar, and she had nearly covered the opening with muslin when a nearby voice startled her. “What are you doing?”
The jar slid out of her hands as she shrieked. With her heart beating fiercely, she spun around to find an older dark-haired boy, leaning against a tree trunk.
“Who are you?” she scowled. “I almost caught one!”
The boy raised an eyebrow arrogantly. “I am Noah Fitzroy Why are you disrupting their peace, little girl? Let them be!”
“You do not tell me what to do,” Emmeline declared, sticking out her tongue to prove the point.
Noah did not seem impressed.
Emmeline bristled at his censoring gaze. “You do know that I would release it after making a study?”
“How would you feel if something giant trapped you in a jar and then observed you?” he raised a dark brow.
She was abashed. Who was this boy to tell her what to do?
“My father does it,” Emmeline explained defensively. “He makes sure they do not get hurt.”
“How?” Noah demanded. “How can you be sure they do not lack the air they need? Insects are living creatures, not one of your inanimate rag dolls to play with.”
In spite of her ire, Noah’s words made sense to her. She decided to discuss the subject with her father, but for now, she was somewhat disturbed. What if her father unknowingly harmed the creatures in some way? Considering his words, she nodded, and a pleased Noah smiled.
“I feel that people do not think on their actions before curiosity overtakes them. If you want to observe them, then why not do so in nature?” Noah asked her.
Emmeline was hesitant, “What do you mean?”
“Come over, and I’ll show you,” the boy replied while beckoning.
Fright crammed its way into Emmeline’s mind, and before she knew it, she had spun on her heel and was about to run off when he called over, “I will not hurt you, you know. A gentleman does not hurt ladies.”
Turning back, she did her best to assess him in the waning light. His posture was non-threating, and he had not moved from his place. She hoped she could trust him, so, stepping tentatively forward, Emmeline reached out to take his hand, but nervously dropped it short.
“What are you doing here, though?” she asked, after several moments. “This property belongs to my father, and I have never seen you here.”
Noah grinned. “I am staying with my uncle over there,” he pointed to a blurred roof somewhere towards the west, behind a line of trees. Her brother had once pointed out the house to her and mentioned a name that she could not remember now.
“You did not even ask my name,” Emmeline remarked.
“You did not deign to tell it,” he responded indifferently.
“You are quite annoying, you know!” she turned to frown at him. “I am Lady Emmeline Grant.”
“It is nice to meet you, Lady Emmeline.” Noah held out a hand like a proper gentleman.
Emmeline hesitated, then placed her smaller one in his. His lips were soft and cool on her skin. She shivered and blushed furiously while plucking her hand out of his grasp.
He shrugged. “My mother says that is the way to greet a lady.”
“Emmeline?” a voice called.
The children saw an adolescent boy walking towards them. Emmeline recognized her brother, George.
“It is late, what are you doing…?” George’s voice trailed.
Her brother scrutinized the stranger before him. Remembering her manners, Emmeline hastily made introductions.
George’s eyes widened at Noah’s name. He greeted the boy curtly and then pulled his sister’s hand strongly. “Come, Emmeline, Mother will be angry.”
Dragged most of the way to the mansion, Emmeline finally managed to yank her arm from George’s painful grasp. “George, whatever is the matter with you?”
George halted before the gates of the Grant country home.
“Emmeline,” his face was flushed with anger. “Do not ever speak to that boy again. He is a Fitzroy!”
Emmeline was aghast at her brother’s tone. “What?”
“The Fitzroys have been our enemies for generations! Do you not listen to Grandfather’s stories?” George scowled.
Her grandfather was prone to tell old-winded stories and it was the truth that she found them quite boring, so most of what he said passed over her head. Yawning, Emmeline shrugged. “Sometimes.”
However, she was a tad disturbed. She really had liked Noah.
An Encounter in the Library
Scents of sweet jasmine, roses, and damp earth wafted in the surrounding air of Croxton House in London. The gardens were a masterpiece. Small fountains were situated centrally in circular clearings, while elaborately-trimmed hedges flanked various concealed benches and beds of exotic flowers. One could aimlessly wander in its confines for a breath of fresh air, or meet in a hidden corner for a tryst
Lady Emmeline Grant, sister of George, The Duke of Leverton, was certain that a couple was indulged in the latter activity, as soft murmurs and light giggles erupted in the bushes behind her. Shaking her head, she reasoned that it had to be a brave lady–or an incredibly foolish one–to carry out an affair under the keen scrutiny of the ton.
Emmeline merely had to wear an unpopular hue of a gown to cause them to shake their heads with ill-concealed disdain, making her subject to their barbs of how she constantly dismissed the rules of current fashion.
She, however, was personally satisfied, even though her current gown of gold was not at all fashionable for young debutantes. She had tired of the pale pastels that were deemed appropriate for her age. Despite the raised eyebrows and thinly-veiled comments, her dance card had been full.
Light giggles, deep male laughter, melodious music, and idle chatter echoed from the doors leading into the ballroom.
She walked to a bench near a fountain, closing her eyes as she leaned against the cool tree trunk behind her. Her feet ached from dancing with all the eligible bachelors her aunt had managed to introduce to her. She slipped the satin gold gloves off her arms and flexed her numb fingers.
It had been quite difficult escaping from her chaperone, her aunt, Lady Alford. It was not considered appropriate to be wandering alone in the gardens, but Emmeline had planned to meet her friend Ann there and was extremely tired of tolerating the nonsensical social chatter in the ballroom beyond.
“One would expect to find a male companion with you in the gardens, My Lady.”
The voice was a pleasant deep baritone, causing her tired senses to jar awake–as she knew that voice, but despised it.
Emmeline opened her eyes to pinpoint the carrier. The voice belonged to a tall man, who was leaning against a tree to her right. His form was barely visible in the faint moonlight, but the fiery point of a lit cigar waving in the air anchored him to the spot.
She wondered whether she should walk to another area of the garden, for she craved solitude and was not in for another bout of jousting with this particular man–Noah, the Duke of Newberry. “One would expect to find some relief from social chatter in the confines of a garden,” Emmeline said huffily.
The boy she had met twelve years ago on her estate had grown to a man, with hair that seemed to be ever windswept, and dark gray eyes that had taken on a mocking light whenever the two met.
When she was younger, Emmeline had not known or cared about the feud between her family and Newberry’s. In fact, she still didn’t care much for it–it was Noah that aggravated her nerves.
The man was much too…smug for her liking. Having been educated at Oxford, and a professed bibliophile, the Duke had become the bane to her existence whenever they met in London, even as she did her best to ignore him.
He, however, made sure to notice and aggravate her. The two had met at an assembly in London, three months after a prior meet. He had snidely quoted from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, pushing Emmeline into the position of playing Beatrice to his Benedick by his recitation, “What, my dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living?”
Bristling with anger, Emmeline had replied, quoting from the same play, “Is it possible Disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signor Fitzroy? Courtesy itself must convert to Didain if you come in her presence.”
Emmeline never quite understood her standing with this man as, truly, she didn’t know much of men. She did know, however, that when she was within ten feet of him her insides would start to flutter.
At the age of twenty, she had almost been labeled past marriageable age, and a bluestocking. Her previous season was at the age of eight-and-ten when her father had been alive. He had succumbed to influenza mere months after her coming out. His death had coincided with the Duke of Newberry going off to Paris for a year.
Now, however, with the stabilization of the dukedom, her brother George, the Duke of Leverton, was resolute in arranging a season to find her a suitable husband.
“And what might you be escaping from, Lady Emmeline? Some unsuitable suitors perhaps, or is the wine not to your liking?” the Duke asked. “My Lady, you will not find relief from any of that anywhere in London, unless you decide to run to Scotland.”
What is his aim with that suggestion? To aggravate me? Emmeline wondered crossly.
“That sounds much more appealing than being in your company,” Emmeline suggested, annoyed.
He chuckled and after crushing the cigar, departed. She saw a flicker of dark hair and an aristocratic face as he walked away from her without a word. She knew she had been a tad rude, but she had craved silence to think and plan her next move.
It was known that Croxton House, the homestead of Viscount Croxton, who had shared the same inquisitive passions as her father, housed rare medieval volumes, and modern books on science, theology, and exoteric cultures, and Emmeline was set on examining them.
Her friend Ann had not yet arrived in the gardens, and it would not do well for her reputation, to be waiting outside for long. She needed to return inside, but not to the ballroom, to the library. She attempted to walk unnoticed to the spiral stairs, however, her aunt, Lady Alford, spotted her and was making her way towards her, so Emmeline fled.
Bypassing the first set of stairs, she rushed to the second spiral staircase at the farther end of the hall and climbed to the next floor. Two carved oak doors indicated the entrance to the library, and, as Emmeline walked in, she let out a breath.
It was a relief that the hinges were well-oiled, for she did not wish to alert anyone of her presence with a noisome squeak. The lack of people was very much welcome, and soothing for Emmeline’s jarred nerves. She could not bear to be introduced to another eligible bachelor that evening.
Aunt Catherine’s London townhouse had become a prison for Emmeline. She was scrutinized all day, by the gentlemen whom called upon her every morning to demand her company, either for a carriage ride into Hyde Park, or for tea at her Aunt’s home.
Accustomed to a solitary life at her country manor, Emmeline detested being exposed to innumerable social demands. Her brother, on the contrary, enjoyed the entertainment offered by London–he was seen often in gaming halls and privileged gentleman’s clubs.
George also possibly enjoys the company of women of questionable character, Emmeline thought darkly. But he’d have me married off immediately to a wealthy titled man, while he does as he pleases.
Emmeline knew that it was hardly fitting to be wandering into a library unaccompanied by her friend or aunt, but if someone came upon her, she could always make an excuse–flimsy as it was–of looking for the retiring room.
However, examining the room was irresistible for her. She focused on the magnificent library before her. It was apparent, by the beautifully-carved staircase to the enclave above, that Lord Croxton indulged in books. Unceremoniously discarding her filmy gold shawl, Emmeline lifted her skirts with one hand and began climbing the delicate stairway.
Noah, the Duke of Newberry, after rejoining the ballroom, had observed the spectacle before him with great amusement and a bit of dislike. This tableau reminded him why he had avoided theses soirees and balls for years. Unable to accept the pretentiousness and frivolities, he had steered far from social events unless requested by a lady he was pursuing. Thus, he sought solitude in the library, waiting for his friend, Henry, to join him.
It was hardly surprising that he would have met Lady Emmeline Grant in the garden, but he was surprised to see her there in the library. He silently watched her as she dumped her shawl on a chair, not even sparing him a glance, and then he realized that she was possibly in pursuit of a specific book.
It struck him that she did not find him outstanding enough to be noticed, as he reclined in a chair near the fireplace
Emmeline was a…perplexity to him. He remembered that day on her lawns like it was yesterday–how he had slipped from his Uncle’s supervision to go discover his surroundings.
He remembered seeing the young girl, the ends of her dark blue dress marked with grass stains, with a concentrated frown on her face as she was about to capture the firefly. Now that young child was a grown lady with a mind he respected and a temper that taunted him.
Looking at her as she ascended the stairs, he saw an inappropriate amount of ankle clad in delicate stockings. Noah’s eyebrows rocketed to his hair as he pondered on the beauty of her trim limbs.
Suddenly, she tripped on the hem of her gown.
Muttering an oath, Noah launched himself up from his seat, mere meters from the staircase, and dashed to Emmeline’s rescue, hoping he could catch her before she broke her neck. He was almost too late. She had nearly fallen on her back when Noah’s arms enclosed her around her narrow waist.
“Heavens!” she cried softly.
A flowery aroma emanated from her hair, which smelled extremely pleasant to Noah. “Are you aiming to break your neck, My Lady?” he asked, his voice harsh as a whip.
She recoiled from his words, and seeing her flinch, let go of her. She turned around, her tawny eyes widening in surprise before dimming. “Of course not, Your Grace, I have no intention of giving you that pleasure.”
This close, Noah drank in the sight of her. Emmeline did not possess all the classical features of the aristocracy. Her cheekbones weren’t arched, and her skin wasn’t as pale as alabaster, but her changeable eyes, straight nose, and plump lips were intriguing–especially the indentation in her right cheek that was visible as she spoke.
“A thank you would have sufficed,” Noah replied while pulling his hands away.
The two stood in stifled silence with Emmeline’s body stiff and her gaze wary, before Noah uttered, “I will not hurt you, you know. A gentleman does not hurt ladies.”
He took pleasure in seeing her widened eyes, as he had uttered the same words, he had said on their first meeting. This time, his words had a stronger meaning.
“Won’t you?” Emmeline replied in a soft tone–one Noah had never heard from her. “In the past, you have taken great pains to see me aggravated.”
Noah stepped back, “I was young, and a bit foolish. You might not believe me, but I taunted you because you were one of the very few who I knew could contest me in a battle of wits…Cherie.”
He took pleasure in the way Emmeline swallowed daintily, and in seeing the soft blush on her face. He knew it wasn’t proper to address her that way, but he couldn’t resist. “What, no playful slap with your fan, My Lady?” he asked sardonically.
Mirth filled her eyes, but her lips only twitched. “A fan! I cannot find the use for such frivolous things, Your Grace.”
He grinned. “I believe you are the only lady I have seen lately without one.”
She looked away from him. “There is a subtle language of fans, Your Grace, one which I was never fluent in. I have abused their power too many times.”
“I see,” he said mildly. “Did it just so happen to strike those who you disliked?”
“Why, that is most astute,” she affirmed with her lips now in a small smile. “It pleased itself to assault those who were a complete cad to me.”
Noah could not help himself from snorting, “Then it is a providence that you left it behind this time, My Lady, or I would be marked all over.”
“I suppose. Although, other items, such as a reticule loaded with pebbles, can be used for such purpose.” The dimple flashed in her cheek again. “The harder material would surely injure the target.”
They stood for a moment in a strange but light silence. Lady Emmeline then cleared her throat. “Well, I suppose I should resume surveying the books.”
“Of course. Is there one, in particular, you were looking for?” Noah asked while dragging his eyes from her face.
“I cannot say. I mainly read books to amuse myself,” she responded. “Although, I am quite interested in astronomy and philosophy.”
Noah’s eyebrows arched, “You certainly have unique interests, My Lady. Not many ladies engage in the sciences.”
“You should know that I am not like most ladies,” Emmeline replied swiftly, before her face reddened slightly. Noah assumed that she hadn’t meant to say those words, but he was inordinately charmed.
“No, you are not.” Noah replied, “Have you ever studied physics?”
“Besides my governess, my father taught me advanced mathematics, and some elements of physics, along with entomology and some biology. He believed in conveying his vast knowledge, you see,” she told him.
You really are unique, thought Noah. “How about learning the pianoforte, drawing, and singing?” he asked, knowing those were the subjects taught to ‘finish’ young ladies.
She delicately wrinkled her nose—a gesture Noah thought was even more charming. “Though I despise the pianoforte, I succeeded in mastering it. However, as for art, I suppose I could draw a straight line.”
Noah’s lips twitched.
“This is…surprisingly…not uncomfortable,” Emmeline stated. “Considering that you have been a rear end of a horse to me for years.”
“And I had prided myself in being so,” he added. “Because I discovered the reason for your brother’s behavior soon after our first meeting.”
She stared at him for a minute. “I did not catch a firefly again,” she blurted.
“Good,” he said, while turning away. Her golden eyes were setting off something strange in his chest and he had to look away just to breathe.
“Will you suggest a book to me, Your Grace?” she called at his back.
“For studying physics, My Lady?” Noah dared to ask, as his chest had barely regulated itself.
“Well, yes, but please be certain it is not too complicated,” she requested, slightly abashed. Noah wasn’t sure if she was extending an olive branch to him, but if it was, he wasn’t going to let it fall to the ground. “I am not a dunce when it comes to attaining knowledge, but physics is something I have trouble understanding at times.”
“Most men find it difficult, also,” Noah commented.
“Are you saying that ladies are less intelligent?” she demanded.
He chuckled. Emmeline, you never fail to defend the causes of your gender.
“Do you consider yourself an original, Cherie?” Ladies who did not always follow social norms were considered Originals. Some took it as a compliment while others despised it.
Emmeline bristled and Noah mentally grinned. “First of all, Your Grace,” she emphasized sternly, “it is not appropriate that you address me thus. You, of course, are aware of this more than I.”
“Indeed, I am, My Lady.” The Duke grinned like a scamp. “I apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I have no excuse except that my bad habits from the past are hard to drop.”
“Well, I should be affronted,” she said thoughtfully. “You know I would not want you or any other gentleman to think he can take such liberties.”
Noah inclined his head. “I have gotten too used to certain…type of company. I hope you accept my apology.”
Emmeline nodded, “It is quite all right, Your Grace.”
Noah couldn’t help but notice the bewitching golden color her eyes were, and how they elegantly matched the lovely dull-gold gown she wore. From the little he knew of the current social trends, the color of her gown was out of favor. It appeared Emmeline had a unique style of her own, that suited her personality.
Is she exhausted from the social confines of the ton…and would she thrive after receiving the liberty of marriage? Noah wondered.
As he stood silently observing her, Noah dimly noticed how she shivered under his scrutiny. He tore his eyes away from her and glanced at his pocket watch. “I am afraid I have to leave.”
Emmeline smiled. “Despite our family rivalry…and our meetings in the past, Your Grace…it was a pleasure meeting you–the real you.”
“The pleasure is mine, My Lady.” He truly meant his words. “Perhaps we can let this…peace between us grow upon further meetings? You do not have to answer now–I’m sure you’ll tell me on those occasions.”
After providing the name of the book, Noah stood at the base of the stairs, watching her as she perused the shelves, and felt soft pleasure when she gave a gasp of delight on finding it. Bowing to her with an exaggerated flourish and a cocky smirk, Noah left the library in much higher spirits than he had entered it.
He thought how he would have missed the encounter if it were not for Viscount Croxton’s insistence on attending the event.
Emmeline…how you have changed.
With surprising dismay, Emmeline watched the Duke leave. She had enjoyed herself immensely for the first time since she had set foot on the Croxton property.
A small part of her wanted to think that she had seen a similar emotion in his eyes but, perhaps she had merely become fanciful of late–a consequence of reading all those Gothic novels.
It was a wonderful shock seeing Noah–and though she knew it was proper to call him by his title, in her mind he would always be Noah–and felt a strange resurgence of intrigue for him. The boy she had met once and the youth she had debated with thrice, were all miles apart from the man she had just had a civil conversation with.
The moment he had touched her had sparked something under her skin, but it wasn’t only his appearance. Noah’s tall and broad-shouldered figure was impressive and intimidating.
His face was a sculpture of hard aristocratic lines, and his hair the definition of rakish. In all, he was an attractive package, but the one thing that Emmeline liked about him was his sharp wit–he kept up with her. Yes, he aggravated her by doing so, but he kept up with her.
The Duke was significantly distinguishable from the brightly-colored dandies in the ballroom below. For some strange reason, many of the gentlemen preferred shockingly bright colors–vivid reds and garish greens, looking more like peacocks and parrots than men.
George would be most displeased if he heard of this encounter, she decided as she held the book. But why do I feel like this is not the last I’ll be seeing of the Duke of Newberry?
Sneaking to Vauxhall
The parlor at Lady Alford’s townhouse in London was furnished in dour shades of blue and green. Bronze antiquities sat on various surfaces, reflecting the dimmed light from a waterlogged sky outside the windows.
Emmeline had opted to stay with the Earl and Countess of Alford, her Aunt Catherine and Uncle Charles, instead of the townhouse once owned by her father, the previous Duke of Leverton. George had converted the town residence into a bachelor’s abode, with dreary colors and unremarkable furniture. Her aunt had argued with George that her own townhouse was more suited for entertaining a young lady’s admirers.
Lord Alford, Emmeline’s uncle, was another man who was eccentrically interested in archaic items retrieved from various tombs in Egypt and Asia. His library at his country residence in Suffolk, was overflowing with Mesolithic antiquities, with the more precious gold items of Roman origin locked away.
Emmeline studied the wooden figurine of a man-beast creature gaping at her with its mouth open in pain, and grimaced at her uncle’s taste in collecting.
“My Lady,” Hudgins, the butler entered. “Miss Benwick is here on a visitation.”
Emmeline smiled at the stoic man, “Please tell her to join me here, and ask Beth to bring in tea and cakes–especially those fruit tarts of Cook. Ann is partial to them.”
Inclining his head, Hudgins left, and she sat, smoothed the folds of her light green dress, and waited.
Ann entered the parlor, red cheeked and fiery haired. Emmeline rose and embraced her and then they sat together on a Grecian chaise lounge. As she had expected, her close friend was attired in one of her lovely lavender day gowns, looking beautiful as always.
“You look lovely,” Emmeline commented.
“Why, thank you! I ran into Lord Coombs on my way through Hyde Park today,” Ann said, her blue eyes twinkling. “He talked to me for a spell, but then I had to hurry here.”
Emmeline laughed, “So it is Lord Coombs this time?”
The daughter of a wealthy renowned merchant, Ann had enough contacts to avoid the dreaded fate of a wallflower. Her father was quite possessive of his only daughter; hence this was her first season in London, and she was enjoying it thoroughly. Perhaps too much, for she was smitten with a new gentleman every week. Many gentlemen, born with a title but led into bankruptcy by their sires, or by visiting gaming establishments all too often, were pursuing her incessantly.
“Yes, it is Lord Coombs this time–he is so adorable, Emmeline,” Ann gushed, “And he is most elegantly attired at all times!”
Emmeline shook her head as her thoughts strayed to a tall, dark man standing in a library, his once-aloof features slowly altering to that of mirth. “My dear friend, in truth, I am weary of the bright colors men prefer these days.”
“What is amiss today, Em? You seem quite preoccupied,” Ann asked, with both annoyance and curiosity in her tone. “You have that look in your eyes.”
Emmeline flushed under her friend’s scrutiny. “Oh, it is nothing, I was merely thinking about this gentleman…”
“A gentleman…what gentleman?” Ann’s eyes widened. “You have never spoken about any gentleman before–so who is he?”
Blushing slightly, Emmeline told Ann about her encounter with the Duke of Newberry but left out the feelings that had emerged after.
“He is a Fitzroy?” Ann sighed, “But that is so romantic!”
“Nonsense, Ann,” Emmeline’s tone was flat. “This is not one of the Gothic novels we read. The enmity between our families is unalterable, and George would be angry if he heard of this.”
“George is as bad as one of those old biddies of the ton. Possibly worse.” Ann rolled her eyes heavenward.
Emmeline shrugged. “I am certain that the Duke of Newberry is aware of the circumstances and would not even think of courting me.”
“You have never spoken this way of any gentleman before,” Ann remarked. “He sounds a bit rakish. I will ask Mother about him. If he is indeed notorious for ruining reputations, you will have to stay away from him.”
“I have not considered staying near him anyway,” Emmeline bristled.
“Oh, but if he is not a rake, you can, of course, pursue him!” Ann said devilishly.
“Ann, I have never pursued a man in my life,” Emmeline scowled.
“Maybe it is time you did.” Ann raised her delicate brows. “Of course, you would do it discreetly and in a way that even he will not realize.”
“I do not possess such talents as you,” Emmeline reminded her.
“Well, you are a fast learner, and besides, you are a beauty. Why would any man not court you?”
Emmeline shook her head, sure that Ann was confusing her own appeal with hers. She did not possess her friend’s vivid coloring, high spirits, or confident personality that appealed to gentlemen.
“I still cannot believe you did not meet me in the gardens at the Croxton Ball,” Emmeline said suddenly, “and just because you were too occupied with your dance partners.”
“Emmeline, I do not have one, but two chaperones. And neither of them is as gullible as poor Lady Alford,” Ann said sourly.
Emmeline shook her head. She knew how difficult it was for Ann to avoid not only her mother but her mother’s paid companion, as well. “I believed we were going to discuss the particulars of our little adventure to Vauxhall Gardens,” Emmeline said, her brow furrowing. Vauxhall Gardens offered all sorts of entertainment, although young debutantes such as herself were technically not allowed to go there escorted or otherwise as the labyrinthine passages in the gardens were famous for trysts and illicit dealings.
“I have convinced Owen to take us to Vauxhall with him,” Ann told her.
“How did you accomplish that?” Emmeline asked.
Ann shrugged daintily. “I threatened to tell Mother about a certain widow named Lady Juliana.”
“He is having an affair with a widow?” Emmeline frowned.
Mr. Owen was Ann’s brother and only two years younger than the ladies, but despite his age, he was wild and did what he pleased. He had the same basic coloring of Ann, only with a darker hue of hair, a rakish smile, and reckless disposition.
Ann brushed back a stray strand of her hair with her fingers and sighed. “Ladies prey on him because he is wealthy and handsome. I attempted to make him understand that this lady intends to take advantage of him.”
“What did he say to that?” Emmeline inquired.
“He told me to mind my own business. Then he said that if I go to our parents about this matter, it will make no difference as he will continue to do as he pleases. He also asked, quite angrily, whether I believed him to be a fool.” Ann sighed again, shaking her head woefully.
Emmeline grinned as her friend was apparently given to theatrics. “At least he knows what the lady is about, so it is possibly a relationship based on Mutualism, Ann. That is a biological theory in the animal kingdom. One is doing the latter a service, while receiving benefit in return.”
“I see,” Ann said finally. “So, which is my brother?”
Emmeline deliberately ignored the sarcasm in her friend’s voice. “I believe he is receiving a service, while Lady Juliana is the receiver of payment of some proportion.”
“Good heavens, Emmeline! Where do you even get these notions from?” Ann cried in horror at the visualization.
“I read it in a science journal once,” Emmeline said nonchalantly. “I realized it could be attributed to men, as well as dumb beasts.”
The ladies stared at each other for a moment, before being consumed by laughter. It was difficult to stop–tears ran down their cheeks by the time they gained a semblance of control.
“On a serious note.” Emmeline sobered, thinking about the impending adventure. “We will need have a feasible excuse that will not require a chaperone, so no balls or soirees, and then make use of a hackney carriage since your coachman will tell your father of our whereabouts.”
Ann nodded. “I shall discuss this with Owen and tell you the particulars soon.”
Henry, Viscount of Croxton, studied the Duke of Newberry while comfortably seated in the depths of White’s. The latter’s behavior had been peculiar strange for several days now, and it was a fact that extracting any kind of information from Noah was akin to pulling a tooth rooted in bone. Hence, he waited for his friend to discuss the reason for his mood.
Henry sipped whiskey from a crystal glass, while Noah smoked one of his favorite imported cigars. Tendrils of smoke swirled around White’s, full of gentlemen trying a hand at whist, quinze, or making merry in male company.
A group of gentlemen were crowded around a table, placing wagers on whether a certain debutante would marry a certain man of the peerage or not. Henry shook his head, as he knew that as soon the man in question discovered the wagers, which as a member of White’s was certain to happen, he would have their hides whipped.
A year ago, Henry would not have believed that he would be married to Lady Alexandria. During his rakish years in society, he had never been struck speechless in front of a lady, let alone a pretty little widow, until Lady Alexandria had walked into his life.
“Whatever is the matter with you today, Henry?” grumbled Noah, “You look worse than a lady on her monthly.”
Henry spluttered in shock. “I? You are the one who has been grumbling like an old woman since this past week!”
Noah scowled blackly. “You have not said a word since we came here, my man.”
“That is because I am waiting for you, sir, to cease your brooding and tell me what has you all agog,” Henry demanded.
Noah relapsed into stubborn silence while Henry shook his head and continued to drink. The Earl of Browning joined them several moments later.
Henry was relieved, as Lord Browning’s constant gossip about various events of the season was a distraction. Noah was not fit company at the moment.
“...and Leverton’s girl. Is she not a beauty?” Lord Browning was saying. “My father tells me her mother was much more beautiful–striking rather–with very fair hair.”
“Your father gossips like an old lady,” said Noah irritably.
Lord Browning frowned. “Oh yes, I remember your rivalry with Newberrys.”
“I do not have a rivalry with anyone,” Noah snapped.
“Am I mistaken? Don’t your families have a–” the Earl blanched at Noah’s vicious glare scorching his skin and coughed nervously, “Um, excuse me, sirs, I think I have to go see Lord Geer.”
“Now, why would you scare off Browning, Newberry?” complained Henry. “His senseless prattling was amusing me.”
“The conversation was annoying me,” Noah said simply.
“So, have you met Lady Emmeline?” Henry asked slyly.
“I have,” Noah admitted.
“At our ball at Croxton House?” Henry was more perceptive than Noah gave him credit.
The latter scowled. “Stop trying to trap me with my words–you were there, so stop beating around the bush.”
“I gather the encounter was not pleasant,” Henry pressed.
“It was actually the opposite,” Noah said flatly. “I saw a different side of her, one I wanted to explore but…”
Henry drained the last dregs of his whiskey. “Then what is the problem?”
“I believe it is obvious–her family name and mine,” Noah told him.
“Come now, Noah, you cannot be serious about this.” Henry shook his head. “You cannot continue a feud that occurred years ago. After all, my good man, we do not live in medieval times.”
“It is almost impossible to consider courting her,” Noah said finally. “My family has given hers the social cut many times in the past.”
“What was this enmity about?” demanded Henry. “Some nonsense about your grandfather being killed by her granduncle? We all know that he died of a heart attack!”
“It is along those lines, and the term my grandmother would use is ‘murdered,’ instead of ‘died.’” Noah scraped the end of his dying cigar on the ashtray. “Lady Emmeline’s granduncle wanted to marry my grandmother, but she was married off to my grandfather, Jacob, the Duke of Newberry, anyway. From what I was told, the two men did not like one another, but the duchies still kept cordial hunting parties. At one such arrangement, the granduncle and my grandfather squabbled, leading to an accident in a hunting party. My grandfather died there. It was believed he was pushed during the hunt and the diagnosis–that he died of a heart attack–was untrue.”
“Fanciful,” muttered Henry, shaking his head. “What is it about this lady that intrigues you, anyway? I have not heard you talk about proper courtship before.”
“I did not because I had no reason or opportunity to,” Noah said darkly. “However...”
Henry’s eyes widened, then he chuckled. “However...”
Before Noah could fall into a brooding silence, Henry said, “Noah, if you want to court the lady, then court her. Perhaps it is time for the ridiculous feud to come to an end.”
Henry could see Noah mulling over the words as his eyes had darkened to a deep shade of gray. Smiling to himself, Henry left the Duke to his musings but hoped he would decide to end the senseless feud.
Emmeline was tickled at the sour look on Mr. Owen Benwick’s face. The gentleman was clearly not pleased to escort the two ladies to Vauxhall Gardens. Ann, however, had threatened that Emmeline and she would find another way to go alone, and that alternative was completely unacceptable to him.
They had just arrived at the gates of the gardens and Owen paid for them all to enter.
“Look at my dear brother, being so generous in your presence, Emmeline,” Ann mocked jauntily.
Owen glared at her and then walked inside the gates.
“Must you tease him constantly, Ann?” Emmeline asked. “He is consenting to escort us, so let him be. Let’s agree to enjoy this stolen time.”
The vista of the beautiful gardens silenced both ladies as they observed the area. Paths entwined to meet at a large circular clearing, dotted by fairy-like gaslights. Pleasant music intermingled with excited voices and laughter. Stall vendors shouted their wares. The delicious scents of meat pies, fruity tarts, and freshly baked scones lingered in the breeze. Emmeline was reminded that she had not eaten well at dinner because of excitement.
“Can we purchase a pie?” Ann’s voice echoed her thoughts.
Owen gave a non-committal grunt, walking to a nearby apple pie seller.
“I am so happy we are here,” Ann said to Emmeline, “This is marvellous.”
“As am I!” Emmeline exclaimed. “Look! They are removing the canvas from The Cascade.”
Ann craned her neck. “Oh dear, I hope Owen returns soon, for it is getting crowded swiftly.” Mr. Benwick was merely several paces away from them, but the crowd made it impossible to see him.
A large canvas, bearing a pleasant painting, was being drawn back by men to reveal the most popular attraction, The Cascade. It was a man-made waterfall, controlled by modern mechanics, with even the sound of the falling water artificially produced.
At that moment, Owen appeared, bearing large pieces of fragrant apple pies. They each took their share and made haste to get a position in the rush of ebullient onlookers.
Suddenly, water, bright and stunning as if lit by sunlight, cascaded down unseen turns and barely-visible rocks. The peaceful sound of rushing water was broken by the sudden burst of applause and chatter of the people surrounding the magnificent display.
“Heavens! That does not look man made at all,” Emmeline gasped.
“They have cleverly arranged the lighting and sounds on principles of physics,” Owen remarked.
“Now do not start telling us about those principles, Owen,” Ann warned.
Owen scowled. “I did not intend to, dear sister. I barely know them myself.”
Emmeline ignored the squabbling siblings. Although the Cascade was something to be admired, Emmeline preferred natural beauty. She thought that the missing peace and quiet of Mother Nature was something no one could reproduce, no matter how many laws of physics they attempted to apply.
Then she remembered the book that Noah had suggested to her. It had been so monotonous, and filled with terms she could hardly decode, that she had fallen asleep on the comfortable, overlarge chair in the Croxton library.
Her thoughts were cut to the quick when her dry throat demanded something to soothe it. As she believed she had seen a stand with some cold lemonade being sold nearby, Emmeline left the two bickering siblings.
She walked to the old woman sitting beside the lemonade stall, paying her a penny for the drink. The tangy taste of lemons on her tongue was just what she needed.
“Lady Emmeline?” a surprised voice said.
Emmeline stopped drinking to immediately turn. She shivered as that deep voice washed over her–it was the Duke of Newberry. How could she not believe that he would find her, even halfway across London, in this heavy crowd? A part of her was beginning to believe that there was a magnetic power operating between them–a mischievous one, of course–but one that never failed to draw them together.
“Your Grace,” Emmeline said evenly as she turned and lifted her head to stare into his eyes. “What a surprise seeing you here.”
The Duke was silent before his lips stretched into a knowing smirk. “Not as surprising as seeing you, My Lady. You do know this is a place that ruins reputations?”
“It is a place of man-made wonder and intrigue,” Emmeline replied, as she found her ground. “One can only indulge in the immoral if one chooses to.”
The Duke glanced over his shoulder and then quickly back to her, “Come with me, you are in the open. Some members of the ton are here, and it will do you no good to be seen.”
With her hand grasped in his, Emmeline felt a warmth come over her at his touch, and followed him past the Cascade and vendor stalls, into the winding trails of the gardens. The serpentine paths were marked by unlit standing gas lights and tall hedges. Their hurried pace slowed when they stepped into a smaller pathway and were out of sight.
“I should say that I am surprised seeing you here, but I really am not,” the Duke of Newberry said, as they strolled down the stone path “I know you’ve been laden with Pandora’s curse.”
“I have not let out all the evils of this world, Your Grace.” Emmeline replied stiffly, “If that is what you’re implying.”
He stopped before a rose bush and turned to her, his glimmering gray eyes lit with humor, “I am only saying that you’re a curious soul, Lady Emmeline.”
Merely a foot away, Emmeline examined the Duke’s clothes–buckskin breeches, a fitted black waistcoat over a matching shirt, dark ascot, and heavy boots. With his ever present fly-away hair, the man looked like he had just ridden the tundra instead of walking a cobblestone path.
His gaze was discomfiting so she turned away, “It is so. I am burdened with a quest for knowledge.”
The Duke’s lips pressed together tightly, “For the sake of my sanity, I cannot and will not assume that you’ve arrived here on your own. That is a dangerous endeavor, even for an adventurous mind like yourself.”
The tone he used was laden with masculine protection and it provoked a soft heat inside her, “I came here with the Benwicks. Owen, Ann’s brother, was blackmailed into carrying us here.”
“Then I will have to return you to the–”
Emmeline suddenly found herself dragged into the Duke’s arms and twisted away from the hedge that she was standing beside. She was about to strike him when voices she recognized as Lord and Lady Garrick, fashionable members of the ton, drifted pass. She was twisted away into a position that looked like a heated kiss, contorted into an angle that hid her face. Her eyes were inches away from Noah’s and his gray orbs–glittering like polished granite–became her world.
“Stay still,” he mouthed.
Emmeline nodded and resolutely stopped her lips from trembling. She clutched at his shoulders as the couple passed by, but her focus wasn’t on them. The Duke’s gray eyes were hypnotic and mesmerizing.
What would they look like angered, lit with jealously or aflame with desire? And did his eyes just flit to my mouth?
“Oh, dear,” Lady Garrick noted as her voice floated over the hedge. “Is that the Duke of Newberry over there?”
Emmeline went so tense she froze. If they saw her, her spotless reputation would be a thing of the past. Thoughts of disparaging reports, cruel barbs, and jeers towards her flew through her mind like swift wind.
“Leave him be, dear,” Lord Garrick said, as he hurried his wife away.
Though it was only a few moments, it felt like an eternity before the couple moved off and Noah released her from the contorted position.
“I will have to return you in the honorable condition I found you in.” While repeating his words from before, the Duke’s voice had deepened to a husk. “Come, it is time for you to go.”
Taking his hand once more, Emmeline followed him from the inner recesses of the gardens, back into the Cascade area. They had barely set foot on the main walk when Ann barreled into Noah.
Dutifully, he grabbed a stumbling Ann. The loss of his warm hand shocked Emmeline, but she refused to acknowledge it and the feelings it carried.
“Steady there, Miss Benwick.” The Duke calmed the nearly frantic Ann. “Your precious friend is safe…I found her wandering the gardens and brought her back to you.”
Rolling her eyes at his impertinence, Emmeline stepped in front. “I think it’s time to go, Ann. Some of the ton are here.”
Ann’s blue eyes darted between Emmeline and the Duke but instead of saying anything about the pairing, she nodded, “I agree. Thank you, Your Grace.”
By that time, Owen had joined them and acknowledged the Duke with a respectful nod. “Ladies, the hackney carriage is waiting. Have a good evening, Your Grace.”
As she hurried off, Emmeline looked over her shoulder to where Noah was still standing, and felt something warm curl inside at his heated gaze.
They arrived at the hackney carriage and with Owen’s help alighted. Seated, Ann turned to her companion, “So, how did the Duke really find you? Or did you–?”
Emmeline groaned internally. “Must you torture me, Ann?”
Dancing with Hades
The Duchess of Newberry listened to the constant grumbling of her mother-in-law, the Dowager Duchess of Newberry, as they sat on the sidelines of a ballroom. Their hosts, Sir John and Lady Ludlow, had put on a magnificent masquerade ball.
The Duchess did not understand how the old lady–gray-headed and diminutive as she was–had the stamina to attend even one ball of the season; the Dowager Duchess, however, had insisted on this particular masquerade ball because her heir, Noah, was attending.
The Duchess would continue to be known as such until her son, Noah, the present holder of the dukedom, married. She knew that Noah had become quite bored of the frivolities of a London season. However, two years before, he had become enraptured with a beautiful opera singer and had enjoyed himself greatly. She had almost lost hope for her only son, when the singer left London abruptly after a scandal. He had sat out last year’s season.
Intent on finding her son a good, amiable wife, whom he would not grow bored with, and one who would assist him in his many duties concerning the dukedom, the Duchess knew that, ultimately, Noah had the last word.
“Dear me, have a look now, Miriam,” the Dowager Duchess muttered, pressing her gold-rimmed monocle to her left eye. “Who is our Noah talking to? I cannot decipher the features from this far.”
“Mother, the monocle is for your near vision, remember?” the Duchess said patiently. “He is talking to Lady Judith Bailey.”
“The Bailey chit!” the Dowager Duchess said, scowling in her displeasure. “Her family does not have enough wealth, you know. Her father, the Earl of Sibsey, lost most of his fortune gambling.”
“But then, do we need more wealth, Mother?” Miriam countered, “We have enough to last us for generations.”
“Keep that view, and we shall be in the same boat as Lord Sibsey!” her mother-in-law snapped in agitation.
“If Noah sets out to find the perfect lady, I am afraid he will have a lot of trouble,” remarked the Duchess. “There is always something lacking.”
“Our Noah is perfect.” The Dowager Duchess did not seem pleased by the conversation. “And if he is, so will his wife be. We will have to find someone worthy of him.”
“My dear Mother, I doubt Noah will let us do anything for him,” the Duchess commented. “He barely lets me manage the household, as he constantly orders me to rest. I am certain he will choose someone on his own.”
“Not if she is unacceptable to us!” the Dowager Duchess said stubbornly.
The Duchess plucked a champagne glass from a nearby waiter and sighed deeply. It was going to be another long night.
They were late, and the fact that Lady Alford was frightened of speeding carriages did not assist their dour situation. Although the streets towards the Ludlow townhouse were mostly full, whenever the coachman found an empty connecting lane, Lady Alford did not let him increase the pace. Emmeline was not as bothered as Ann, who kept anxiously glancing out of the window to check where they had reached.
Lady Alford fanned herself. “Oh, dear! The congestion on the streets is terrible. There are carriages everywhere.”
“The season is in full thrall, after all, Aunt” muttered Emmeline.
Casting a look to her companion, Emmeline admired how lovely Ann looked in her glimmering ivory gown, complemented by a large sapphire pendant and earrings, that matched her eyes. Ann was also wearing a gold belt and cuffs on both arms as she was masquerading as Aphrodite.
Emmeline was dressed as Persephone in shades of russet, her diadem a small sheaf of grain woven into her hair, with a pomegranate cleverly attached to her gown. She noticed that her brother George’s expression was as dour as his dark costume. The Duke of Leverton was completely silent throughout the journey, which was unusual, for he enjoyed engaging and arguing with Emmeline over various topics.
“We will never arrive at the speed at which we are going, Aunt,” George scowled.
“Now, George, you do know that I am absolutely terrified after that accident!” Lady Alford said frantically. “It is better to be safe than sorry, even if that means being late!”
Her unspoken reference to the speeding carriage that had overturned, killing her cousin, Anabelle, was understood by all in the carriage.
“I do abhor being late,” muttered Ann.
George, who was seated across from Ann, glanced at her. If Emmeline was not mistaken, she noticed approval and admiration on his features and immediately wondered what to make of it. Of course, her brother had known Ann for years, as she was Emmeline’s closest friend since they were children.
As a child, Ann’s skin had been covered with freckles, and her frame had been very lanky and thin. By the time her appearance had begun altering, George had left for university, rarely returning to visit his family. He had met Ann again last season.
Emmeline remembered how her brother and Ann had been involved in multiple arguments and heated fights. This season, however, both were reluctant to speak with one another. Emmeline wondered whether she had missed something.
Do the two perhaps have an unresolved quarrel? Has something emerged that I do not know of? she thought, deciding on investigating the matter later.
The carriage came to a halt in front of the Ludlow residence. The ladies were helped out of the carriage by George, and after presenting their invitation, arrived at the entrance of a wide ballroom.
Music emanated from within. As they passed through the doorway, Emmaline studied the purple and gold, silver and blue decorations elegantly arranged in the chamber. She felt a rush of excitement. Most of the ton was unrecognizable in colorful costumes that were vibrant with life and mystery. Many wore elaborate masks over ordinary dresses, but Emmeline had noticed some who were spectacularly costumed.
A lady was outfitted in an Egyptian dress, with a headdress of bronze and gold. Another portrayed the Queen of Olympus. Several of the gentlemen wore particular attachments to resemble tigers and other animals while maintaining their ability to dance.
In the center of the ballroom, a fascinating collection of costumed dancers whirled to a quadrille. Entering, the ladies greeted their acquaintances with bright, amiable smiles, complimenting each other, and discussing various socially-acceptable subjects. Emmeline was acutely aware of eyes following her, as they always did, and felt fear that someone had seen her at Vauxhall.
“It seems the Queen of the Underworld has many admirers,” Ann noted. “And for good reason. You look splendid tonight, Em.”
“Perhaps,” Emmeline said nonchalantly, as she scanned the crowds. “I will be well if there is no Hades to ‘abduct’ me.”
“On the contrary, I’ll be eternally grateful if Lord Coombs does abduct me,” Ann said blithely as she searched for the man in question.
Emmeline felt the hairs on the back of her neck lift and darted her head around to see George glaring at her, and knew he had overheard them. Ann had come to the same conclusion and grabbed Emmeline’s hand.
Ann cleared her throat. “Dear me, my throat is parched. Care to get a refreshment, Em?”
Emmeline accepted the offer, amused at the way George’s eyes narrowed as they moved over to the refreshment room.
“You really need to be careful, Ann,” hissed Emmeline. “I believe George heard you.”
Ann poured some punch for Emmeline. “Oh, do not worry. His Grace can be very thick when the need arises.”
Emmeline frowned. “About him…I have meant to ask you, Ann–”
“Do not,” Ann muttered, and turned around to smile at an acquaintance.
Emmeline’s curiosity was piqued, as she wondered what in the world had happened between Ann and George.
A tall gentleman, hooded, and dressed in black, walked towards them. He held a long black scepter, jeweled with a large red stone at the handle. Emmeline almost dropped the punch goblet.
“Is there something stronger?” Emmeline’s voice was hoarse.
“Whatever is the matter, Em?” Ann demanded, then she caught sight of the gentleman walking towards them.
“I told you I would be in trouble if someone thought to dress as Hades!” Emmeline snapped.
“Calm yourself,” Ann said soothingly. “It will all be good fun.”
“Good evening, ladies,” the gentleman said.
Emmeline’s heart skipped a beat, but she controlled herself, “Good evening, Your Grace.”
Her mouth went a bit dry as Noah drew back his black hood, and placed his jeweled scepter in front of him. His clothes, black breeches, midnight shirt, and coal waistcoat with interlaced threads of blood red, seemed to suck in the light like a spirit from the true abyss. Emmeline barely heard Ann make her pleasantries.
The Duke’s eyes hadn’t left Emmeline’s face although he talked to her friend, which surprised her. She had gotten quite used to gentlemen giving Ann more attention.
“I must say you gave us quite a start, Your Grace,” Emmeline breathed, “Your costume is quite… sinister.”
“Did you wish to be Hades, Your Grace, or is it a matter of coincidence?” put in Ann.
“I admit to the second guess, Miss Benwick,” the Duke admitted. “My valet did not find a devil’s costume, for I believe that would have suited me more, wouldn’t you say, Lady Emmeline?”
Emmeline could not hold back her smile, “I believe so, Your Grace. You do have the wicked attitude of Old Nick down to a science.”
“I find it very fitting,” Ann said innocently. “Just as it is fitting for the two of you to be wearing costumes that are a historic match. Perhaps you should dance with her, Your Grace.”
Emmeline glared at her friend, whom, in turn, gave her an angelic smile.
The Duke noticed the exchange but only smiled. “I was going to ask her in spite of your suggestion, Miss Benwick. May I have the honor, Lady Emmeline?”
Emmeline swallowed. “Of course, but perhaps we should inform my aunt?”
“I have already asked her, My Lady,” the Duke informed her stately while holding out his hand.
Emmeline placed her hand into his, feeling breathless and invigorated at the same time. The Duke was ludicrously wonderful at dancing. He led her through the music, and she followed his silent instructions without a qualm, losing all her nervousness.
“You are quite silent this time, Lady Emmeline,” he remarked.
Emmeline had been avoiding looking at him, for the warmth in his eyes was a contrast to the mischief they usually held, and his unnerving look was evoking strange fluttery sensations inside of her.
“I am not generally a talkative person, Your Grace,” she informed him, “despite the heated riposte.”
His eyes gleamed, and Emmeline’s breath stuck in her chest. Dear Lord, he is handsome!
“Where is your fan, or pebble-loaded reticule now, My Lady?” he teased.
Emmeline smiled, remembering their conversation in the library and grateful that he had left out their meeting at Vauxhall. “I have left both behind, Your Grace.”
“Then how would you react if I make an inappropriate comment or gesture?” he asked, deep gray eyes lit with humor.
“I would stomp off and leave you gaping on the dance floor,” she replied while impishly elevating her nose.
The Duke laughed, his voice a deep rich timbre. “I am afraid I will not allow you to do that, Persephone. It will also do you well to remember that it was I who abducted you, not the reverse.”
Emmeline sighed dramatically. “I warned Ann that if someone who decided to be dressed as Hades was here at the ball, I would be in trouble.”
“Trouble is necessary sometimes,” he said.
Emmeline shivered under his soulful gaze. This Duke was drastically different from the young man of the past couple of seasons. It was if he had switched places with the Noah of long ago, the one she had admired and yearned to know better. His eyes met hers–he touched her very soul–and she felt the barriers she had put up against him slowly fall away.
The sounds of chatter, laughter, and music faded in her ears as all of Emmeline’s senses were taking in only him. Unknowingly, she spoke. “Let us be friends.”
The Duke smirked, “Friendship is constant in all other things
save in the office and affairs of love.”
Why oh, why, did he choose that particular line from the play? Emmeline groaned as a warm rush claimed her chest, further fueled by the smoldering look in Noah’s eyes.
“I’d rather be your friend, than fight you as an enemy, Your Grace,” Emmeline replied softly, as she pulled away and curtseyed. She barely managed to hold onto him as he escorted her to her Aunt.
Emmeline’s legs felt weak as they walked across the floor, and as she sat, her insides were turning so fiercely she felt ill. Lady Alford, in concern, touched her niece’s clammy forehead.
“Emmeline, darling,” she declared, “are you ill?”
Swallowing bravely, Emmeline shook her head, “It’s just the heat, Aunt. Let me have a drink, and this spell will pass.”
Ann miraculously materialized at her side, “I’ll accompany her, Lady Alford.”
The two made it to the refreshment table where Emmeline poured herself a glass of water. Looking up, she briefly spotted the Duke speaking to a lady in a gorgeous peacock mask, with ripples of golden hair flowing down her back.
A spark of jealousy cut through her, but she didn’t want to believe that she was envious of the lady, and decided that heat was addling her mind.
I don’t fancy him, she resolutely told herself as she swallowed. I certainly do not!
She turned away, in the very moment, when Noah’s eyes flitted over to her.
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to read how the story ends?
The Odd Riddle of the Lost Duchess is live on Amazon now!