About the book
You can’t reach what’s in front of you, unless you let go of what’s behind you.
For talented seamstress Miss Rosaline Hall, her new task to fashion a wedding gown for the Duke of Horenwall’s future wife comes with a catch. The bride is none other than the lady who sent her late sister to jail.
Preferring the solitude of his study to polite company, Norman Kinsley, Duke of Horenwall, finds himself peculiarly disinterested in a seemingly perfect bride-to-be. However, he can’t say the same about the new fair seamstress with the fiery gaze.
With the world against them and an old crime brought back from the grave, Rosaline and Norman must work together to uncover the malevolent trap set against him.
Rosaline’s sister didn’t just die and her killer is right in front of them.
The Village of Hampton
The Dukedom of Horenwall
May 1812, England
Miss Rosaline Hall,
The Dowager Duchess of Horenwall formally requests that you avail yourself for a meeting at the manor by eleven o’clock on the morrow.
The note, signed with seal of the Kinsley family was straight to the point, but it did not leave Miss Rosaline Hall with any sense of comfort.
In the short time since the Dowager Duchess hired her, barely a month, not once had she ever received such a vague order. The churning in her stomach increased as she read the note.
Am I getting removed? I have not had many assignments, only fixing a hemline or two…Does her Grace not need me anymore?
Trying to ignore her fears, Rosaline sat embroidering a piece of muslin. Sewing the tiny stitches was tedious and slow, and she could easily spend hours on just a small patch. Rarely was she so distracted that she did not pay attention to her work. And this was one of those times. She jabbed the sharp point of the needle into her thumb and jumped. Maybe she shouldn’t be sewing by lamplight at night.
Rosaline grabbed a rag and dabbed at the tiny wound. Then, she reached over and trimmed her lamp so the light could glow brighter.
Standing up, she smoothed her skirts around her. She wandered across the room to the sideboard. She lifted a pitcher, chose a glass from the tray and mindlessly poured water. She crossed to the lone window, rubbed her tired hazel eyes and peered into the distance.
The mélange of reds and oranges had transferred into deep stains of indigo now taking possession of the sky. The setting sun was slowly marking the end of another day. Had it really gotten that late? No wonder her eyes felt heavy.
The Horenwall estate was a magnificent span of countryside with soft rolling hills of verdant green, and valleys of beautiful wildflowers. The thousands of acres of thick forest was the main supply source of fruit, game, and crystal-clear water for the family manor that was built here.
“Oh, how I wish you were here, Mary,” Rosaline raised her eyes in a silent prayer. “You were the one who had the eye for colors. You were the one who could tell the miniature differences between scarlet and plain red. I wish you were here with me.”
Mary was six years her senior and a lady’s maid to the daughter of Viscountess Ogbent. A lifetime ago, Rosaline had believed that her sister was making strides in the Ogbent house, but that notion shatter when her sister was suddenly sent to prison. She had died a short three days after. Just thinking of her sister induced a recurrent throb of pain in her heart.
To this day, Rosaline had not been given the reason for her sister’s sentence. What hurt the most was, at the tender age of two-and-ten, she wasn’t even offered a chance to say goodbye at the burying of the body.
No parson had prayed over her and no mortician had examined the body. Her sister had been unceremoniously boxed up in a plain casket and dumped in a shallow grave that had no marker to tell where she was buried. It was cold comfort that she hadn’t been thrown in the massive pit like the majority of all criminals and paupers.
Miss Rosaline Hall,
The Dowager Duchess of Horenwall formally requests that you avail yourself for a meeting at the manor by eleven o’clock on the morrow.
What was the message behind the Dowager’s note? Instead of returning to the chair, Rosaline went to the modest bedroom of the small cottage she had been given on the grounds of the Horenwall Manor and found a robe to wrap around herself. The evenings were chilly even though it was nearing summer.
Returning to the window, she looked toward the direction of the manor and was able to smile through her worry. She remembered the day she had been afforded the position of a seamstress to the Kinsley family.
Almost four months ago, she was coming to the end of her apprenticeship with Mrs. Caddell, a seamstress in the town of Hampton, and had her first experience with the Duchess. The memory was still fresh in her mind.
“Miss Hall,” Mrs. Caddell called as her portly form bustled into the room. In her arms were bolts of cloth that nearly eclipsed the woman’s face. Rosaline dropped her stitching and went to relieve the older woman, and achieved a soft sigh of reprieve from the other when she had.
“Mrs. Caddell,” Rosaline admonished, “you should have called me for help, you do know that the physician has insisted that you stay off your feet. Your knees are still weak.”
Despite her teacher’s gentle nature, Mrs. Caddell had a glare that could cut glass. “Miss Hall, if I had listened to the physician years ago, I wouldn’t have birthed my son or allowed my husband, God rest his soul, to suffer through his days without any herbal tinctures to ease his pain. This is nothing.”
“Please, sit and rest,” Rosaline beseeched her senior while doing away with the bolts of cloth. She then went back to her stitching while ignoring the lady’s piercing gaze in the middle of her back. Rosaline knew exactly what was running through Mrs. Caddell’s mind as the same thought was possessing hers—the upcoming visit from the Dowager Duchess of Horenwall.
At nine-and-ten, edging close to the age of twenty, a very decisive age for a young woman, Rosaline had chosen to perfect her craft of dressmaking, instead of acquiring a husband. Her decision had earned shaken heads and dismissive looks from many, but Rosaline felt that even if she did try to find a husband, her past would make her journey long and arduous. There were not many men who would marry an orphan.
“Miss Hall, are you prepared for this evening?”
Pausing in her work, Rosaline admitted the truth, “I am not, as I cannot speculate what had caused Her Grace to visit me…forgive me, I mean us.”
“I believe you do know, but I will leave you be,” Mrs. Caddell added.
Turning her face away to hide her flush, Rosaline concentrated on the needlepoint in the detachable sleeves Lady Greene had commissioned Mrs. Caddell to make. She was dressed in her best, the humble shop had been cleaned from top to bottom and Mrs. Caddell had refreshments fit for the lady waiting in the kitchen behind them. They consisted of tiny sandwiches, cookies, scones, a jar of expensive tea leaves, and a teapot filled with water that was kept warm over coals.
“I agree, Mrs. Caddell,” Rosaline said with her head still down.
She remembered that week of long days and even longer nights with her head down, pricked fingers and a spool of silk thread but in the end, her efforts had garnered acclaim she didn’t know could be given to her.
The morning had passed and as the afternoon drew near, Rosaline felt her anxiety rise. Why was the Duchess coming to them when, by a simple summons, they could have gone to her? Wasn’t that the way of the rich and privileged?
The questions kept running though Rosaline’s mind even as the crunch of a carriage’s wheels sounded in the air. Instantly, the young woman’s unease tripled in force.
Standing, Rosaline and Mrs. Caddell stepped outside to greet the lady. In the soft afternoon light, Rosaline waited with bated breath while a footman laid down the mounting block and opened the door.
A grasp of a thin but graceful hand led to the appearance of a lady, clad in a thin traveling cloak and a simple but elegant bonnet. With one look at the lady, her thin face, cutting blue eyes and frown lines in her cheeks, Rosaline felt that her life was going to change, but in which way she couldn’t possibly speculate.
“Ah, Mrs. Caddell, Miss Hall, good day,” the Duchess’ voice was calm and measured, but Rosaline’s worry did not dissipate.
“Welcome, Your Grace,” she and Mrs. Caddell greeted with deep curtsies.
“Thank you for honoring us with your presence, Your Grace,” Mrs. Caddell tacked on. “Please, come into our humble home.”
Inside the cottage, Rosaline felt the Dowager’s blue eyes on her but did not shy away.
“May I interest you in a cup of tea, Your Grace?” Mrs. Caddell offered as the three sat.
“I would be delighted,” the older woman returned with the measured tones that only aristocrats could master.
“And would you care for weak tea or strong tea?”
Without being asked, Rosaline went to fetch the kettle and arrived with the pot to allow Mrs. Caddell to add the leaves.
A polite conversation ensued amongst the three while the knots were slowly twisting themselves into an already-tight rope in Rosaline’s gut. She could barely sip her tea for the throbbing inside her chest and when she did, she did not even taste the milk or the sugar.
“Miss Hall,” The Dowager Duchess said while gently laying down her cup, “Let me answer your unspoken questions. I imagine that you were thinking it would be much easier if you would have come to me, but I came to you instead. My son keeps beseeching me to venture out of the manor, and this quaint carriage ride through the countryside to your home will silence him for at least a month. Secondly, Miss Hall, I have seen your work on Lady Balfour’s ballgown and it is marvelous. I have never seen such delicate work in many years. It was as if a garden of white roses had stitched themselves into the neckline and hem of her dress. You have a prodigious talent, and I must also extend my praises to Mrs. Caddell who has trained you in such a wonderful manner. Miss Hall, I would like for you to be a part of my household, as we are now dearly in need of someone with your talent.”
The offer was one that she did not dare refuse. Thus, after three days of preparation, and a teary goodbye to Mrs. Caddell, Rosaline had boarded the carriage sent by the Duchess and had embraced her new life.
Now at twenty, Rosaline felt her affections go out to Mrs. Caddell who she owed her current position to and whom she never failed to visit every Sunday.
It was getting darker, but she did not move from the window. The song of cicadas and the soft hoots of the owls serenaded her as she stood there. The moon above shone with a ring of silver tinsel shining in the dark sky. The stars were starting to glitter, and Rosaline knew there was not much she could do to belay her fears but pray and hope for the best.
Miss Rosaline Hall,
The Dowager Duchess of Horenwall formally requests that you avail yourself for a meeting at the manor by eleven o’clock on the morrow.
Resolute, Rosaline closed the window and prepared for bed as she valiantly tried to banish her worry—but she still slept with unease.
What does Her Grace want with me this time?
The graceful arches of the Horenwall manor, built in true Baroque style, instantly intimidated Rosaline as she arrived for her appointment with the Duchess. For a house that had been built one-and-a-half centuries prior, the young woman could only conjecture what the walls of the domicile had seen.
Marriages, deaths, arguments, separations? Love, hate, anger, spite?
Its left and right wings were shaped in a semi-circle to enclose the entrance courtyard and the circular driveway. Glancing up, Rosaline noted that the ochre stonework of the buildings that towered over her held a series of crown moldings that were carved with remarkable mastery.
Nervously, Rosaline clutched her cloak a bit tighter as she walked towards the entrance. It was the third part of her best suit, underneath was her most precious blue muslin dress and her head was covered with a bonnet that sported a matching blue ribbon.
The footman standing there dressed somberly in his dark livery, bowed to her, “Miss Hall, welcome. I have been notified of your arrival, please come with me.”
Swallowing around the lump in her throat, Rosaline nodded, “Thank you, sir, and good morning to you.”
Entering the foyer through the hooded door, Rosaline wondered if she was entering a cathedral. The space was large and encompassing, the walls were intricately wood paneled, and the windows were made in a chunky sash style. The heavily-detailed cornices on the columns and the detailed scrollwork on the walls only proved the wealth this family had at the creation of the house.
This room is larger than my entire cottage.
“Miss Hall,” the footman gestured to a black-clad maid who was now at his side, “This is Miss Keats, Her Grace’s lady’s maid. She will show you to Her Grace’s drawing room.”
Rosaline noticed the maid’s soft oval face and cap covering her hair. But what she especially noticed was the gentle green of her eyes.
“Welcome, Miss Hall, please follow me. Her Grace is expecting you,” said she.
“Thank you, Miss Keats.”
They took the imperial staircase to a parting that led to the first floor. Rosaline stopped herself from running her fingers over the glowing wooden handrail; her touch might sully the wood. They approached a carpeted hallway that led them past three closed doors and came upon the one at the end that was halfway open.
Miss Keats knocked, “Miss Hall is here, Your Grace.”
“Please, come in.” It was the same mild but commanding tone that Rosaline remembered of the Duchess.
Here was a lady dressed in matronly dark maroon and sitting on a chaise lounge in a queenly posture and they both curtsied.
Rosaline could once again feel the lady’s cutting eyes on her but did not dare look up.
Cowardice, thy name is Rosaline.
“Miss Keats, please assist Miss Hall with her coat and bonnet. You are then dismissed.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” she replied as Rosaline silently took off her outerwear and handed them to the maid who offered a parting word and another curtesy before leaving.
Alone with the older lady, Rosaline felt the words she needed to say were stuck in her throat. The drawing room was large—and here Rosaline was coming to realize that nothing in the manor was small—with multiple windows facing the east and light-filtering curtains.
The tic up in the lady’s arched eyebrow snapped Rosaline back into the present. “I apologize, Your Grace, please forgive me. I am overwhelmed by your wonderful home.”
Her words were simple but truthful as Rosaline could not have found another way to express her emotion.
“Please, sit,” the Duchess gestured to the other end of a loaded tea table. “I have designed to return the gesture you and Mrs. Caddell so generously offered me. How do you like your tea, Miss Hall?”
“Weak, Your Grace.”
Rosaline politely accepted the extended hospitality. The tea service and pastries presented were so far superior to anything she and Mrs. Caddell could ever offer; there was no comparison. The tea had an exotic taste to it; the milk was creamier and the sugar tasted sweeter.
When pressed to take a scone, Rosaline bit into the warm flaky crust and tasted ripe berries bursting with flavor. No one used to such decadence would have enjoyed their meager fare.
During it all, she could not stop the pull in her stomach that tightened every time the Duchess’ enigmatic eyes lightened upon her. Had a stubborn lock of her hair escaped her bun? Was there crust or filling on her face? Was she eating too loudly?
Forcing herself to finish the treat, Rosaline dusted her fingers on the soft linen napkin and folded her hands on her lap.
“Thank you for your hospitality, Your Grace,” she said demurely, “But it leaves me to ask, why have I been summoned?”
“I have called you in because my son is about to get married and I have found that you are the only person worthy of creating my future daughter-in-law’s dress,” the Duchess said frankly. “Your mastery of the craft is prodigious, Miss Hall and as the bride-to-be is a young lady, around the same age as yourself, I am hoping you would get along. I would rather have you deal with this case than the older matrons who have no inkling of the newest fashions or the mindset of the younger generation.”
The revelation of her summons fell into place like bricks plummeting and shattering unto a pavement, no less surprising or jarring. It took Rosaline a few rapid blinks to understand what the Duchess was saying.
How can we get along? This Lady’s world is so far removed from mine, that the very thought is laughable. She is from the upper ten-thousand, I am just a commoner.
“I understand,” Rosaline replied slowly. She knew there should be some happiness in her voice—this was an opportunity of a lifetime—but she was feeling uncertain and her tone mirrored it.
The Duchess gently lay down her cup and rested her hands in her lap. Absently, Rosaline noted the slender fingers and carefully-tended nails and knew that this Lady did not know what manual labor felt like.
Rosaline’s hands—marked with calluses from years of work–softly closed in upon themselves.
“What reservations do you have, Miss Hall?” The Duchess politely inquired.
Rosaline floundered. How could she tell this powerful woman that there was nothing she and the Duchess’ future in-law could have in common? It’s common knowledge orphans did not get to attend finishing school. She did not speak French, play the pianoforte or know how to dance. She had never seen London, she did not know what the inside of an opera house looked like or even tasted flavored ice. She came from a world of practicality.
What good could she be to a highly-educated bride? But then, could she let this chance go?
Once again, she felt the Duchess’ eyes on her, and Rosaline decided on telling the lady the truth, “Your Grace, I am only a simple seamstress, I am not educated in languages nor any of the social graces that make a young lady. I have not the training nor the education that your prospective in-law decidedly has. I doubt Miss—”
“Fawcett,” the Duchess added.
Rosaline nodded her thanks. “Miss Fawcett will not have any interest in knowing the difference between a running stitch or a cross stitch.” She swallowed, “I would be grateful if you still want me to help Miss Fawcett, but I believe I would be a poor asset in all other ways. Forgive me for my boldness but…are you sure you want me?”
The Duchess reached for her cup and took her leisure in sipping her tea while Rosaline’s stomach was roiling. Not being able to breathe much less consider sipping another mouthful, the young seamstress folded her hands on her lap and tried not to fidget.
The silence between them stretched on so long that Rosaline was beginning to despair. The lack of sound was louder than a ringing gong to her ears, and the tension in the room was eating at her skin.
Just as she was about to believe that all was lost, the Duchess laid down her cup and smiled, “I think you are perfect.”
If Rosaline had not been sitting, she would have found herself on the floor, so great was her shock. The older lady, however, was unbothered and looked at her with her normal calm and composure.
Rosaline took in a deep breath but her voice, when it was heard, was trembling. “Then Your Grace, I will be happy to assist you.”
“Wonderful,” the Duchess of Horenwall smiled, “You will be moved to my guest wing tomorrow, and my footmen are at your disposal if you need anything moved from your cottage.”
There was not one single thing in the spartan cottage that Rosaline counted as precious enough that she could not carry in her carpet bag. “I do not think so, Your Grace. I do not have many personal possessions.”
“Very well then,” the Duchess smiled, “We have a happy accord. Please come tomorrow at the eight and we will get you settled. Miss Fawcett will be coming in seven days’ time and during that span, I implore you to make preparations. Whatever instruments that you need will be provided for you when you ask for it, and a stiped allowance will be yours also.
“The finest cloth will be provided for the bride to choose from, and she might also declare a style. I do know that these young women can be flighty and try to recreate a grand wedding from the days of Queen Elizabeth with the many ruffles and headdresses. I trust that you will use your discretion, see what is best and then negotiate with her.”
The order pushed Rosaline into a hard place. But what if the lady wants that very thing? Who am I to refuse her?
Silently, Rosaline swallowed her concerns. Instantly, the pressure to outperform everything she had done in the past settled on her chest and she nodded, “I will do my best, Your Grace.”
“Do you have any more questions for me, Miss Hall?” The Duchess queried.
Rosaline thought quickly, “Not at this time, Your Grace.”
Based on the Duchess’ genial smile, Rosaline’s prudent answer had apparently gained the older woman’s respect. “Then I will answer them whenever you are ready. Thank you, Miss Hall. You are doing my family a wonderful service.”
The smile Rosaline had on her face was soft and serene even as multiple worries ran through her mind. “It is my pleasure, Your Grace.”
The Duchess inclined her head, “Well, I believe that is it for now. You are free to leave if you wish. I can assume that this is a major upset for you. –”
“No,” Rosaline rushed and then flushed at her brusque interruption. “No, not all Your Grace. Yes, I am surprised, but this is not upsetting to me.”
A slow smile curved the Duchess’ lips and though gentle but, was also knowing. “You are an eager woman, Miss Hall, but you are a terrible liar. Nevertheless, I am glad to have you onboard. You will find your coat and bonnet with Miss Keats. Good day to you.”
Her flush intensified but Rosaline stood and curtsied, “Good day to you, Your Grace.”
Rosaline then left the room and closed the door behind her. Her breath had not been on a normal tempo ever since the Duchess had told her that she was going to be in charge of making the wedding dress for the future Duchess of Horenwall. Bleakly, Rosaline became aware that it’d be a while before her breathing returned to normal.
She had barely crossed the corridor when the lady-maid, Miss Keats, appeared and Rosaline jumped. The maid, on the other hand, did not look affected at all.
“Your coat and bonnet, Miss Hall,” Miss Keats said while offering up the items.
With shaky hands, Rosaline thanked her, took the items and donned them. She was fastening her bonnet when her eye caught the swift motion of a man as he passed through the foyer. All she could see was that the man was tall and had brown hair and clad in dark coat, tan breeches, and boots. Her fingers paused.
“Miss Keats,” Rosaline said, “May I ask, who was that? He breezed through the room like a storm wind.”
“It was His Grace, the Duke of Horenwall,” the maid replied, “He is usually in a hurry.”
Approaching the stairs, Rosaline added, “What is so urgent? Is something happening?”
The maid laughed softly and shook her head, “No, Miss Hall, that is his usual pace. He is very…active.”
Strange…Rosaline thought as she hit the last rung of the stairs and crossed the foyer. “Good day, Miss Keats.”
Since the cottage was on the grounds of the manor, there was not a long walk for her to cover. By cutting through a few yards, and crossing over a small field, she would be at her home in good time. However, Rosaline took her time to stroll down the longer paths. She needed some time to get her thoughts in order. It was not hard to do, as the balmy day and cool breeze surrounding her calmed her mind somewhat.
It was slightly inconceivable how she was chosen over the other more established dressmakers. In fact, the family had enough wealth that they could easily have gotten a dressmaker from the best in London or even the masters from France, but no, the Duchess had chosen her.
I have been chosen! Me!
She stopped momentarily to allow the breeze to flutter against her face as glee raced through her chest. By reflex, her hand went up to keep the bonnet in place as the gust of wind was getting harder. She was on a hillock above her cottage now and could make the doorway in the short distance, but the rhythmic thud of horses’ hooves made her spin around.
On a field to her left was the same man she had seen in the foyer, the Duke of Horenwall. He was on a massive grey horse with muscular thighs and a mane of dark hair. The Duke handled the mount with ease though and the sun above burnished his dark brown hair into glimmering russet.
This time she properly saw his clothes, especially the dark blue waistcoat and admired how it clung to his tapered torso. His legs looked fairly long, his face was square, and his hair was wind ruffled.
His children will be very handsome.
When she realized what had just run through her mind, she castigated herself. “What was I thinking, imagining his children! That is no concern of mine!”
Hurrying off, Rosaline made it back to her cottage. At the door, she did turn and looked over her shoulder, but the Duke was gone.
“Probably for the best,” she murmured on her way in. “Him aside…is there anything I can do to make this Miss Fawcett trust me when she comes?”
The Horenwall Manor, with all its fancy trimmings and overdone gilt, was beautiful to look at by a novice. However, to Norman Kinsley, Duke of Horenwall, it was nothing more than gaudy, pretentious and out-of-date construction.
Inside the massive library and while staring at the portrait of his forefather, Duke Egerton Kinsley, who had built the manor almost two centuries ago, Norman could barely stop from rolling his eyes.
The man, immortalized in oils, was dressed in a powdered wig tinted with blue, a starched ruff, embroidered doublet, scarlet stockings, heeled shoes, and had a sleeved cloak was draped over one arm.
“Great-grandfather, I respect you and your plethora of talents, but this house, much like your antiquated outfit, is a monstrosity,” Norman remarked.
“I concur,” the genteel voice of his mother, Eleanor Kinsley, Duchess of Horenwall, said as she approached. Standing beside him the matron titled her head, “He certainly was a pompous popinjay.”
“Your words, Mother,” Norman gently replied, “Not mine.”
“You must agree, though, that his valiant efforts have given us a roof over our heads that has stood the test of time,” the Duchess added.
Norman slanted an assessing eye to her as he felt, intuitively, that she was interrupting his Sunday morning for another reason.
“What do you need of me, Mother?” Norman queried as he went to fetch a certain law book he had originally gone to the cavernous room for.
“Just to remind you that the seamstress, whom I spoke to yesterday, will be arriving today. And that your bride will be arriving in six days.”
The mention of his bride to be, Miss Isabella Fawcett, sent a thrum of irritation through him, but he controlled his reaction. Ever since he had been told about his soon-to-be bride, a curl of suspicion had formed in his mind.
I had been on the marriage market a mere day before Lord Ogbent had sent in his daughter’s details. How could they get it so quickly? Something is not right.
Calmly paging through the book, Norman said, “I have not forgotten, Mother, and even if I had, the airing out of the guest chambers is a glaring reminder.”
At seven-and-twenty, Norman knew he was at the age to be married, start a family, and make sure the legacy handed down to him by his forefathers would be continued. However, even with his popularity with the ladies of the ton, newly-declared debutantes and those ladies actively on the quest for marriage, Norman still had not yet found the proverbial “one”.
His mother was getting anxious, Norman knew, which was why after years of fruitless searching, he had given in and allowed her to arrange a match for him. It was more for her comfort than anything else.
Norman did not openly show it, but it was only in the darkest of nights that he allowed his yearning for true love to rise to the surface. In all other moments, his façade of indifference was never removed from his face.
“Norman,” his Mother groaned, “I know it is not ideal, but will you give her a chance? She is a wonderful young lady with notable achievements and a wonderful lineage.”
Finger marking the page with the law he was seeking, Norman faced his mother, “Green eyes and flaxen-haired Mother, I remember. She can speak French like a native, the true speech of the Spaniard’s and some Dutch. She has mastered playing the harp-lute, the pianoforte and can dance like a Queen.”
His tone was droll, like the dull cant of an orator reciting a passage from the Bible. “Have I left anything out, Mother? Hm? Perhaps, she can knit a cloth over my eyes thick enough for me to blind myself that this arrangement is all for convenience.”
The Duchess’ eyes narrowed, but her words were uttered with graceful dignity, “Stop being facetious, Norman. We both know this was bound to happen. You have to have a bride, son, or your image will be lowered in the eyes of many.”
Norman knew exactly what she as hinting about, or rather whom, she was hinting about–the ton. The Peerage of England, the famed upper-ten thousand. In his opinion, they were a band of descendants from old families that had nothing else to do than create scandals and make a mockery of themselves.
“I am aware of the standard held by our class, Mother, of marrying blue-bloods like ourselves and preserving such lineage through family.” Norman drew in a long breath. “I can still lead my dukedom, married or not, but for the sake of this precious image, I will follow it through. Good day, Mother.” Having said his piece, Norman kissed his mother on the cheek and stomped out the room.
His powerful strides took him upstairs to the third floor of the family wing to his suite of rooms, and he went directly to his balcony. There, he leaned heavily on the posterior balustrade of the back terrace. He surveyed the hundred-acre span of his manor grounds with a heavy gaze. This high up, the men and women below looked miniscule to his eyes and the rare children were dots.
His pressed his left hand to his tightly-drawn forehead while he still clasped the book in his right. The reality was that Norman had tried to find his prospective bride by attending countless balls, soirées, and dinner parties where debutantes drew to him like bees to honey.
Sadly, the Duke had found that the majority of the eligible ones were simple and spoiled ladies whose main focus centered on the latest fashion craze from France.
“I can bet half of my fortune that Miss Fawcett is going to be another one of those girls. Beautiful and blue-blooded seeking a husband to call her own. Born of noble birth…” Norman laughed to himself, “…is pretty on paper but doesn’t guarantee anything than the fact that she is of gentle birth.”
Is it too much for me to meet a lady whose nose is not lofty or has magnanimous visions of grandeur?
Rolling his eyes at his own fallacy—expecting a lady from the Peerage who didn’t expect an opulent life to actually exist—Normal sighed and sagged just a bit more. Pushing off from the balcony, the Duke meandered back into his quarters and after laying his book down, rang for his valet. He needed to prepare for the day and get some work done.
“Good morning, Your Grace,” Mr. Baxter Dunn, a slender man with carefully combed black hair and grey eyes, greeted with his bow. “How may I assist you today?”
Norman resisted from rolling his eyes. He and Dunn had a set routine every morning, but the man insisted on asking him the question, even though he knew the answer.
“The usual, Dunn,” the Duke ordered, “Scentless soap this morning too. The cloying lavender aroma is not to my taste. And the usual garb— breeches, shirt and a blue waistcoat.”
“Understood, Your Grace,” Dunn nodded, “I will get the tub filled.”
With the manservant gone, Norman, on a whim, took to the front balcony that looked over the long lines of carefully-tended hedges and the cobblestone driveway. His long fingers closed over the railing when a lady, clad in a nondescript coat, plain bonnet, and holding a small carpet bag neared the doorway.
Cocking his head to the side, Norman watched her come closer but stopped at the step. This must be the seamstress.
She was clearly hesitant about approaching, and Norman found it intriguing. An emotion Norman had never expected to feel, after that irking exchange with his mother, possessed him—he felt mischievous.
“It is not going to leap out and bite, you know,” Norman called, his lips curled at one end.
Her hand dropped just as her head snapped up, but the Duke did not move. From her viewpoint, just a foot away from under his perch, there was not much she could see unless she had the eyes of a falcon. Even if she did get a glimpse of him, his dark old-fashioned, double-breasted banyan was all she could possibly perceive. The balustrades up this high were walls, featuring a bath façade, that hid his lower half from view.
Her head was craning up and swishing from side to side to find the speaker. While she was searching, Noman glimpsed warm golden skin, an oval face, and a slender neck.
“Your water is ready, Your Grace,” Dunn said from behind him and with a measure of reluctance, Norman retreated into his quarters.
Norman found his inquisitiveness being piqued by the woman nonetheless. She looked…interesting.
Rosaline was mystified. It was the first day of her new position at the Horenwall manor; one she had hoped it’d pass without incident.
Who just spoke to me?
She stood rooted in her place, mere feet from the front door to the manor trying to discover who had spoken to her. She searched, her head was snapping around so many times, she feared that she looked like a common fowl searching for a grain of corn.
Once, very briefly, she had caught sight of a dark blue coat but then it was gone. She did know, however, the voice, so deep and sonorous would be marked in her memory for a long time.
“It is not going to leap out and bite you, you know.”
Eventually, after not hearing the teasing tone again—and what a cad he was to mock her!—Rosaline gathered herself together and bravely stepped up to the door. The handle of her old carpetbag was precariously clutched in a damp palm as she knocked with the other hand.
The door opened; she saw the footman from her first trip and the Miss Keats beside him.
“Welcome, Miss Hall,” he said. “Her Grace has assigned Miss Keats to show you to your quarters.”
Smiling timidly, Rosaline returned the greeting.
“Your rooms are on the second floor, Miss Hall. Miss Fawcett and her parents will be your neighbors,” Miss Keats said, “May I take your bag?”
“Oh no, no,” Rosaline rushed while amazed at the offer, “I can carry it myself. It is not heavy at all. Is Her Grace present that I can offer my greetings?”
“I am sorry, but not at this time,” Miss Keats said, “Her Grace wakes as nine and entertains at ten o’clock. You can offer your greetings then.”
Nodding, Rosaline, returned, “I will do that then. Please, show me to my room.”
As they mounted the stairs, Rosaline could not help but feel an inordinate level of responsibility and pressure descend on her shoulders. In six days, she was going to be tasked with making the dress of her life. Everything about her future hung on this one dress— absolutely everything. They were halfway up the second flight when a man came down.
Rosaline instantly recognized him—it was the Duke. His hair was darker in the shade, but nothing else about him had changed. He still had the same erect posture and lean, muscular frame.
Even though he was steps above, Rosaline knew that he would tower over her average height. Clad in dark breeches, boots and a coat, Rosaline barely saw his smile when Miss Keats stopped them both.
“Good morning, Your Grace,” Miss Keats greeted with a curtsy.
Snapping out of her reverie, Rosaline did the same even as her shame of imagining his children last evening colored her face, “Your Grace.”
“Good morning, Miss Keats,” the Duke’s voice was sonorous, radiated power and was it!
It’s him! It’s his voice! Rosaline’s head lifted and her eyes narrowed at the infuriating smile on his face. What a cad! Duke he might be, but he is a cad!
“And you,” he said, “You must be the seamstress whose praises my Mother was singing.”
Her jaw clenched—how could he suddenly be so courteous, knowing what he had done? She dared look at him and met blue eyes with her hazel. “I am, Your Grace, Miss Rosaline Hall.”
Their eyes locked and Rosaline’s irritation grew even as his smirk spread. How dare he act like it was nothing! I was terrified!
“Well, I am praying that you will not make my mother recant her faith.” the Duke arched his eyebrows and smirked. He was silently daring her to say something, but her jaw clenched.
He smiled. “I must be on my way, ladies. Please excuse me.”
With that, he was off, and Rosaline was left trembling in indignation. She literally spun to watch him walk off with a notable jaunt in his step.
The nerve of him!
Miss Keats’ voice cut through the building storm inside her and with a stiff jaw, she turned. “My apologies.”
“No need,” Miss Keats smiled with indulgence, “His Grace has that effect on everyone who meets him the first time.”
If I have a say in it, it will be the last! Rosaline swore.
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