Maid by Chance, Duchess by Fate (Preview)

Chapter One

“Maggie!”

Maggie looked up, wiping her hair away from her face. The laundry room was really hot, and her hair was sticking to her forehead. She was sure that her face was bright red as well.

“Yes, Mrs Crawford?”

The buxom housekeeper was in the doorway, mopping her face with a handkerchief. The older woman knew better than to enter the laundry room.

“Lady Phoebe is calling for you,” she said, pushing the handkerchief into a pocket in her apron. “She’s getting more and more upset.”

Maggie sighed. Not again. It felt like every time she could do her other chores, Lady Phoebe suddenly needed her. How was she supposed to get everything done when the girl wouldn’t let her do everything her position required?

She was sure that her mistress did this on purpose.

“Alright, I’ll go to her now.” She put the folded laundry on top of the rest of the pile and picked it up. “I’ll take this as well. Any idea what she wants of me, Mrs Crawford? I thought she was taking a bath.”

“She was. Now I think she’s demanding that you dry her off again.”

“She’s nineteen! She should be able to do it by now.”

Mrs Crawford sighed.

“I understand that and sympathize, but you have to do as you’re told. We all do. And if Lady Phoebe wants you to help her dry off …”

Maggie bit back a groan. She knew she wasn’t in a position to complain – she was a mere maid, nothing more – but how Lady Phoebe Cavendish went about everything was ridiculous. She was finally entering Society after finishing school, and she seemed to think she could get anything she wanted by clicking her fingers. It made Maggie wonder what sort of finishing school she had gone to if she had returned this spoiled.

It was certainly spoiled if you had a bath and demanded a maid to dry you down because you couldn’t be bothered to do it yourself.

“I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t been so eager to take the position,” Maggie muttered as she moved around the housekeeper. “Now I understand why Brenda quit.”

Mrs Crawford gave her a smile and shrugged.

“It’s the life for us, I’m afraid. We have to do as we’re told.”

“Within reason. Baron and Baroness Atterbury aren’t like this. I don’t know what happened with their daughter …”

“And if we keep talking like this, both of us are going to get into trouble. Now, off you go. Hopefully, Lady Phoebe will be too excited about the ball tonight to be too rude to you.”

Maggie doubted it. Lady Phoebe was very good at finding time to demean her, almost as if it were her goal in life to be rude to the servants. Her parents had told her to stop, but they hadn’t really done anything except a verbal warning. After that, they just left it.

After working for Baron Atterbury’s family for six years, Maggie understood why Lady Phoebe was the way she was; her parents just didn’t have the backbone to stand up to her. They loved her so much that they couldn’t discipline her. She knew that she shouldn’t speak so ill of her employers – and, for the most part, they were lovely people – but they had not pulled their daughter up on her behaviour. And given how respectful Baron and Baroness Atterbury were, Maggie wondered who had told Lady Phoebe that it was appropriate to mistreat the servants.

She doubted that she would ever know.

Maggie made her way up the servants’ stairs, barely lifting her feet over the edge of the steps. They were steep, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Maggie had managed to figure out a way of getting up the staircase quickly without tripping over. Whoever made the staircase for the servants this steep didn’t care that they would be carrying everything and were more likely to have an accident.

Lady Phoebe’s suite of rooms was right by the servants’ stairs, so it was easy enough to slip into the first room while balancing the piles of clothes in her arms. Maggie laid the folded garments on the bed, planning to put them away once she dealt with Lady Phoebe. How did someone get to nineteen and order someone to rub them down? It didn’t make sense.

Heading through into the sitting room that was purposefully for Lady Phoebe alone, Maggie found the girl sitting by the fire, wrapped in towelling linens with a scowl on her face as she stared into the dancing flames. She looked up as Maggie entered.

“Where have you been?” she demanded loudly.

“I was getting the laundry sorted to be brought up.” Maggie crossed the room towards her. “You said you wanted me to do that while you bathed.”

“And what took you so long? I swear you’re so slow.”

Maggie didn’t say anything. She didn’t want to snap back something that would make things worse. It was on the tip of her tongue to retort, but she knew that Lady Phoebe would make her life more difficult than she already did.

It had been six weeks since she was given this position, and normally, Maggie would be grateful. But she just wished that Lady Phoebe was a nicer person.

Lady Phoebe tittered and shook her head, looking Maggie up and down with a sneer.

“I still can’t believe that you are actually employed here. You’re so dim-witted that it’s surprising that you can make proper conversation.”

Maggie pressed her lips together, not wanting to get into a verbal altercation. Lady Phoebe was very good at goading her. The girl rolled her eyes and stood up.

“Well, seeing as you’ve finally arrived, you can dry me off. Although the fire has almost done your job for you.”

“Yes, My Lady,” Maggie said through gritted teeth.

She approached the girl and proceeded to rub Lady Phoebe down like she was a child. This was probably the most embarrassing part when she had to do these tasks. But Lady Phoebe liked to do this to her. She had done the same to Brenda, according to the previous maid, before she quit and stormed out of the house. Maggie had heard stories about the baron’s only daughter when she first arrived, but she had been in positions where she hadn’t witnessed it first-hand. She worked in the kitchens before becoming an upstairs maid, and by that time, Lady Phoebe was at finishing school and barely at home. Then she had been promoted to personal maid, which should have been perfect with what Maggie wanted.

But her mistress was spoiled and mean and liked to taunt and be rude to the household staff. Nobody would tolerate her, but nobody could say anything to put her in her place because she went screaming to her parents, who would pander to her requests. Nobody had been fired because they had stood up to her yet, but Brenda was not the first person to quit because of Lady Phoebe.

It was a surprise that the baron was able to hire staff at all, given that everyone knew about his spoiled daughter, who was incredibly horrible to people around her.

“That’s better, I suppose,” Lady Phoebe said as Maggie helped her into her robe, the girl tying a knot in the belt around her waist. “Now I have to get ready for the ball. It’s very important that I’m looking my best, and I’ll ensure that everyone looks at me. Do you think you can do that, or are you too stupid to know how to make a girl look her best?”

Maggie mentally counted to ten in her head as they went from the sitting room to the bedchamber. Lady Phoebe shot a sharp look over her shoulder.

“I know you can speak, Maggie. Or do you want me to speak slower so you can understand?”

“I will do what you ask me to do so you can stand up on your debut ball, My Lady.”

Lady Phoebe sniffed and stalked over to the dresser. However, she slowed as she passed the bed and saw the folded clothes.

“Really, Maggie? You couldn’t even put these away? It’s making my room look untidy!”

“You wanted my presence immediately, My Lady.”

“That’s no excuse! You should have put these away immediately.” Sighing heavily, Lady Phoebe rolled her eyes and turned away. “Never mind. Get that done as soon as you’ve got me ready. Making me look stunning is more important. But you’d better move faster.”

Maggie wished she could tell the girl that she wouldn’t get what she wanted in life if she carried on like this, but she didn’t. Lady Phoebe was consistently rude and disrespectful, even to her parents. If she carried on like this with members of the ton, it would not be tolerated. Maggie had witnessed people being shunned for less. Lady Phoebe constantly talked about being the one at the centre of attention. She would be right, but not for the reasons she thought.

As much as she disliked the girl, Maggie hoped she wouldn’t do anything stupid that would make her parents embarrassed. She would not be ready to deal with that, and Lady Phoebe would blame everyone else except herself if that were the case.

“Well?” Lady Phoebe snapped, sitting down at the dresser. She glared at Maggie in the mirror. “Are you going to do my hair, or are you just going to stand staring at nothing like a fool?”

“Don’t you want to get yourself dressed first, My Lady? I don’t want to mess your hair up.”

Lady Phoebe’s eyes narrowed.

“Are you talking back to me, Maggie?”

“I would never do such a thing,” Maggie replied blandly. “I just want to be sure that your hair …”

“My hair will be perfectly fine. If anything happens, it’s your fault.” Lady Phoebe shook her head. “Just be quiet and do my hair. I’ll tell you what I want with it.”

Maggie inwardly sighed. She knew that this would end badly, and she would have to redo Lady Phoebe’s hair again once she was fully dressed, and naturally, she would get the blame. Nothing was ever Lady Phoebe’s fault.

She knew she shouldn’t think ill of someone she worked for, but it was hard to be pleasant about someone as unpleasant as Phoebe Cavendish. Maggie approached the dresser and picked up the hairbrush.

“What sort of style were you thinking of, My Lady?”

***

Adam looked at himself in the mirror and scowled. God, why did he have to wear this? He hadn’t approved of it when he went for the fitting but only agreed because his mother insisted that he had clothing more suited to a duke than a duke’s son. Now, he wished he had said that he didn’t like it. This was certainly not his style.

At least his other garments were comfortable.

“You need to stop standing there scowling, Adam,” Lady Banbury said as she sat on the chaise by the fire, holding a glass of water. “You’ll get premature gray hairs if you always look grumpy.”

Adam arched an eyebrow at her.

“Do you really think that’s possible, Ma? Or are you just saying it to cheer me up?”

“It was meant to be a way to make you laugh, but from the way things are going, I think it might just be possible.” The Dowager Duchess of Banbury peered at him. “You can’t go to a ball like that and look as if you’re having a horrible time.”

“Why did you make me get a new suit, anyway, Ma?” Adam adjusted the jacket again. It fit him perfectly, but something about it made him itchy. “This is not something I would wear at all.”

“It’s not different from your current one now.”

“But fashion moves so fast nowadays that I can barely keep up.”

Lady Banbury sighed and shook her head.

“Honestly, Adam, you’re a grown man, but I swear you’re like a child at times. There’s nothing wrong with the suit, and you know it.”

Adam glared at her, but his mother didn’t blink, simply giving him a cool gaze in return. It wasn’t often that he saw the formidable woman that she could be nowadays, but when he did, it reminded him that she wasn’t always so genial. Lady Banbury could give her opinion when needed, although that wasn’t lately. Ever since his father, the last Duke of Banbury, passed away, the dowager duchess had been mourning, hiding away from the outside world as Society dictated. She had barely been outside the house, never mind off the estate, and her former glory had been severely dampened. Adam could understand that – he missed his father dearly as well – but it was easier said than done to sympathize now he had to fill the shoes that had been left behind.

Why was he the one who had to enter Society again six months after his father’s death while his mother could stay in mourning for longer? Adam would have been happy to stay in mourning, but he had been reminded that he had a dukedom to look after and had to show his face to the ton. He didn’t have the luxury despite going through his usual mourning period.

If only he could hide away for a little longer. It was too stressful, and it felt like all eyes were on him.

“It’s because of that girl, isn’t it?” Lady Banbury asked.

“What are you talking about, Ma?”

“Lady Melinda Cornish. You’re concerned about your acquaintance with her and taking it out on your suit.” His mother raised her eyebrows. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

Adam didn’t know how the dowager duchess had come to that conclusion, but he wasn’t about to argue with it. If he were being honest with himself, she was right. Sighing, he turned away from the mirror and went to join his mother.

“It’s not that I’m concerned about being acquainted with her,” he said as he sat down on the chaise, slumping back on the cushions. “It’s just with everyone pushing the two of us together all the time, and I feel like I’m not getting a say in it all.”

“I’m afraid that’s what happens with things like this,” Lady Banbury said. “We’re going to end up doing things that we’re uncomfortable with because it’s what is dictated to us by Society.”

“Society can go to …”

“Adam!” His mother swatted his arm. “You might be a duke now, but that doesn’t mean you can talk in such a brash manner.”

Adam rolled his eyes.

“I’m sure you’ve heard my father say worse. I’m very aware that he could swear like a sailor once he got going.”

“Never in my earshot. He knew that I would more than scold him for speaking in such a way.” Lady Banbury frowned. “Although I can understand your misgivings about Lady Melinda. She’s rather … young and … well, she’s young.”

Adam gave a mirthless smile.

“You were going to say she’s a pain and a spoiled brat, weren’t you?”

“Not in so many words …” Lady Banbury sighed and took a sip of her water. “Alright, she is. I didn’t want to be impolite. She is just a child, after all. Barely twenty years of age, and she behaves like she’s so much younger. If her father wasn’t who he was …”

Adam didn’t need her to finish the sentence. Lady Melinda Cornish was the daughter of the Earl of Ascot, and it was clear that the earl was eager to have her married. After meeting her, Adam could understand why. Lady Melinda was rude and spoiled, and her behaviour grated on his nerves. The few interactions they had had were both boring and uncomfortable. Adam had always tried to find a reason to leave. He knew that Ascot wanted his daughter to marry well, and now he was a newly titled duke, Adam was an ideal catch.

That was another thing about becoming a duke; he had a target on his back for those who thought their daughters were perfect for being his duchess. Adam didn’t want to marry because someone thought they were good together. If he had marriage on his mind, it would be better to have it with someone who cared about him and wanted to be with him rather than who was in love with his title and what came with it.

As it was, Adam wasn’t interested in getting married for a while. Not when he had more important things to navigate. Mostly his own dukedom and getting himself used to his new responsibilities. Even in mourning, he had had six months to get himself situated, and it was still a struggle. Adam wasn’t about to add finding a wife at the same time.

Thankfully, his mother knew that, and Adam was grateful. He wouldn’t be able to manage if the dowager duchess was not on his side.

“Well, maybe you’ll be able to find someone else who you could make the acquaintance of,” Lady Banbury suggested.

Adam sighed. So much for thinking that his mother was on his side.

“I’m not looking to marry anyone, Ma. I don’t want to think about that right now.”

“I know, and I’m not saying that. But there’s always a possibility.” Lady Banbury smiled. “I mean, take Baron Atterbury’s ball tonight. He’s introducing his daughter to Society now that she’s come home from finishing school. Perhaps you might find that she’s more interesting to be around.”

Adam grunted.

“I don’t know about that.”

“You don’t know until you try. You never know. She might be someone you like.”

Adam doubted. He had heard rumours about Lady Phoebe Cavendish already. Despite having never met her, he had a friend whose sister had gone to the same finishing school and graduated a couple of years ahead. Lady Phoebe had a reputation of being a snobbish brat who couldn’t understand why she was treated the same as everyone else. She understood her lessons but had an attitude that nobody liked, yet Lady Phoebe was sure that everyone loved her.

It had been a couple of years since he had heard anything about her, though. Maybe she had grown up and turned into a proper lady. It was a possibility. Although she was apparently nineteen years of age, which was a little older for introducing a woman to Society. Adam didn’t want to speculate, but that didn’t bode well for Lady Phoebe if she was looking for a husband; there would be a lot of pressure on her.

As long as her father didn’t try to push her towards Adam like the Earl of Ascot did, it was nothing to do with him.

“I guess I won’t know until I actually meet her,” Adam conceded, “but I’m sure it’s not going to happen.”

Lady Banbury sighed.

“You’re far too pessimistic, do you know that, Adam?”

“Given what we’ve been through in recent months, is that really surprising?”

“But you’re supposed to be trying to move forward, to bring some joy into your life.” Lady Banbury gestured at herself. “You don’t want to be locked away in the house like I am, wondering if I’m ever going to feel joy again.”

Adam touched his mother’s hand.

“You will feel joy again, Ma. You’ve managed to smile again recently. I know it will happen.”

“I’ll feel joy if I could have my husband back again,” Lady Banbury said stoutly. “He’s what I want.”

Adam could understand that. Despite everything and starting out as an arranged marriage, his parents had loved each other dearly. And both had been incredibly healthy, so having his father become sick and pass away not long after had been a shock to everyone. The dowager duchess, certainly, had taken it the hardest. Adam couldn’t blame her for wanting her husband back.

He wanted his father back. Then he wouldn’t have to be the duke and have people push their daughters onto him.

“Anyway, you’d better get going before you start scowling at yourself in the mirror all evening. I’m sure it wouldn’t do for the Duke of Banbury to be late.”

“It’s because I’m the Duke of Banbury that I can get away with it.” Adam leaned over and kissed his mother on the cheek. “Are you going to be alright, Ma? You don’t need anything before I leave.”

“Oh, for goodness sake, be off with you.” Lady Banbury gave him a little push as he stood up. “We’ve got servants, so you don’t need to hover over me all evening.”

“But if you want me to stay …”

“You need to go. You’ve been invited, and it would be rude not to turn up, especially with no notice.”

“Ma …”

“Just go. I’m sure Lady Phoebe is not as bad as you’re imagining. You might even enjoy yourself tonight.”

Adam didn’t know about that. In fact, he felt he would be better off staying at home. Something told him that there was going to be a lot of drama tonight.

Adam preferred to keep away from drama as much as he could. Nothing good came out of it.

Much like the issues happening around the estate in recent months. Adam hadn’t told his mother about them, not wanting to worry her about the recent spate of burglaries and the vandalism on the outhouses. Adam had sworn the staff who had seen it to secrecy, not wanting Lady Banbury to know that things were not as they should be.

There was too much drama at home without an end in sight. Adam didn’t want to deal with it while he was out socializing with people who made him grit his teeth.

Chapter Two

“Now, you know what you’re meant to do, don’t you?” Lady Phoebe said as she stood at the top of the huge staircase. Maggie checked that her skirts were pristine and no crease was in sight.

“Yes, My Lady,” Maggie said, not looking at the young woman as she carried on making sure she looked perfect.

“Then tell me what you’re meant to do.”

It was not a request. Maggie bit back a sigh and straightened up, dusting herself down.

“I’m to stay out of sight and not say a word if any of the guests come across me. I’m to keep myself busy and not cross your eyesight.”

“Not even in an emergency,” Lady Phoebe reminded her. “If you do feel the desperate need to speak to me, then you find Mrs Crawford, who will tell my mother, and then she’ll tell me. Because I don’t want to see your face tonight until I return to retire for the night. And you will be awake for me.”

Maggie wanted to ask what happened if the emergency was immediate and there was no time to go through two other people, but she decided against it. She didn’t want to carry on this conversation longer than she had to. She simply curtsied.

“Yes, My Lady. I’ll endeavour to carry out your requests.”

“Good girl. There are times when I think you’re not that slow, after all.” Lady Phoebe waved her away with a flick of her hand. “Now, off you go. I don’t want to see you again tonight.”

Maggie stepped aside and moved out of sight as Lady Phoebe swept her way down the stairs to join her parents at the bottom. The ball was in full swing, and so many guests were milling around. Lady Phoebe had waited to make her grand entrance until plenty of people were present so her father could introduce her.

One thing that Maggie could credit the girl for was that she had a lot of confidence.

“I wonder how she’s going to cope with tonight,” Mrs Crawford said as she appeared at Maggie’s side, leaning her arms on the railing to mimic the maid’s stance. “She’s been getting excited about it; sure that she’s going to be the talk of the ball, and everyone is going to love her.”

“I’ve been hearing about that as well,” Maggie replied. “I must admire that she’s not scared about doing this. I can only imagine how hard it is to be introduced when you’re young and have never been in Society like this before.”

“Lady Phoebe takes it in her stride; that much is certain.”

“What are the chances that it will work out well for her?”

Maggie knew that they shouldn’t be so rude about their mistress, especially when there were always servants around who would report back to their employers if someone was speaking ill of them, but she knew that Mrs Crawford was a safe person to talk to. Both had dealt with Lady Phoebe, and the housekeeper understood Maggie’s issues all too well. She sympathized with Maggie’s situation.

There were times when Maggie felt a little bad being unkind about a nineteen-year-old girl, but then she was reminded about how Lady Phoebe treated her and found that it was only fair. How else was she supposed to get her frustrations out? As long as she didn’t say it to the young lady or forgot herself when working, it should be fine.

Shouldn’t it?

“I think she’s going to be in for a rude awakening. We may not see her get upset in public, but I get the feeling that if it doesn’t go well tonight, she will be even ruder to you when she retires for the night.”

“Thank you for making me look forward to my evening, Mrs Crawford.”

“It’s just a fair warning, which I’m sure you don’t need from me.” Mrs Crawford straightened up and patted Maggie on the shoulder. “We’d better get downstairs. You’re to work in the kitchens for the evening. Lady Phoebe made everyone aware that she doesn’t want to see you tonight, so that’s probably the safest place for you to be.”

“Do you know why she’s so rude to me?” Maggie asked as she pushed herself off the banister and followed the housekeeper towards the servants’ stairs. “I feel like it’s fixated on me because I’m working directly with her, but also …”

“She’s just a not very nice girl, and her parents pander to her demands. It’s as simple as that.” Mrs Crawford shrugged. “I know it’s not respectful to talk about her like that, but …”

“I won’t say a word,” Maggie promised, falling into step beside the older woman and smiling at her. “I’ll make sure to mind my tongue around Lady Phoebe as well.”

“Thank you, Maggie. I know it’s not easy, but I do admire your discretion.” Mrs Crawford kept the door open for Maggie to go through. “You go on downstairs, and I’ll join you shortly. I need to fetch something for the baroness.”

“Yes, Mrs Crawford.”

Maggie went down the stairs and into the hallway just beyond the library. She would take a few quick turns and go down the stairs to the kitchens. But instead of going that way, she ventured towards the ballroom. She could hear the music and the multiple voices talking and laughing. It sounded like a gay event.

While she didn’t care for her mistress, Maggie hoped that Lady Phoebe was enjoying herself. She loved social gatherings with loads of people and music to dance to. She liked to dance and was a good dancer; Maggie had seen her having dance lessons, and she was very light on her feet. If she were lucky, Lady Phoebe would retire for the night and be in such a good mood that she wouldn’t be rude towards Maggie.

It was really hard not to lose your temper when someone kept calling you dimwitted and slow when you weren’t.

There was a door towards the back of the ballroom that wasn’t often used. The baron thought it was unsightly as the door had become slightly warped, and he hadn’t cared to replace it, so it was essentially blocked off with a curtain across the doorway. Maggie could open the door towards her and twitch aside the curtain to look into the room without being seen. It was a risk of being caught by another servant, but at least she would be able to see the ball itself without Lady Phoebe catching sight of her.

And she spied the girl immediately, talking to a gentleman wearing a dove gray jacket. His back was to her, so all Maggie could see was his short, dark hair. He was tall as well, but that was it. She couldn’t see his expression, and she couldn’t see if Lady Phoebe was keeping his attention. The mean part of Maggie hoped that she didn’t, and then she would witness the girl being turned down.

Maggie knew that her thoughts about Lady Phoebe were not good and that she should be more gracious, but she also couldn’t stop the resentment from building. She couldn’t dictate how some people treated others, and yet it should be common decency not to mistreat their household staff. It wasn’t just Maggie that Lady Phoebe treated horribly, but she was the one in regular contact, so she took the brunt. She couldn’t get her head around why she would do it.

Maybe she would grow up and become more mature, and this abuse would stop. Although Maggie wasn’t entirely sure if it would happen anytime soon.

She was aware that she should be grateful for her position. Her family had grown up poor and worked really hard for their money. From a very young age, Maggie was instilled with a work ethic to do whatever she could to get the money they needed to survive. Her brother Ben had expressed so many times that he would love to have a grand life like those in the ton, and there was always a hint of jealousy that he barely contained. Even when he was in the army and taking orders from those more fortunate than him, Maggie’s brother expressed how much he hated his position.

Maggie felt a hint of sadness for Ben. He had been hurt badly during battle and had been medically discharged. Now, he walked with a permanent limp and was scarred all over his body. And his hatred of the world, and their life in general, was worse.

At least she could work and do what she could to help her family survive. Maggie would be a fool to turn it down.

It didn’t stop her feeling upset that Lady Phoebe treated her badly. Her parents were nice, but they had no control over their daughter and barely kept her in line. If that had happened in Maggie’s home, it wouldn’t have been tolerated. They didn’t tolerate Ben’s attitude, either, but Ben was far bigger and stronger than them, so there was only so much her parents could do to stop him from being a pain.

Maggie couldn’t imagine causing such distress for her family.

The gentleman Lady Phoebe had been talking to had partly turned around and was now talking to someone who had joined the pair. His profile was clear for Maggie to see, and she took in the strong jawline, the high cheekbones, and the firm-looking nose. He was handsome. Maggie could see why Lady Phoebe had gone to him; she would have done the same if she were a lady of the ton.

As she watched, the gentleman’s head turned very slightly towards her, and Maggie dropped the curtain back into place. If he did look, she was going to get caught. Nobody noticed if she was watching from an obscure place unless they were looking right at her, and she didn’t want to have her presence pointed out; Lady Phoebe would be furious.

Maggie didn’t want to deal with that tonight.

Counting to ten in her head, Maggie reached for the curtain and moved it aside. If she was lucky, Lady Phoebe and the handsome gentleman had moved on, and she would be safe again.

Instead, she saw the gentleman looking directly at her. And from the flash in his eyes, he did not look happy at all.

***

Adam had been sure that someone was watching him, but he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. From what he could see, the rest of the guests were not paying attention to him until his friend came over to join him and Lady Phoebe Cavendish. Nobody seemed to be looking directly at him.

But he could feel it. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up. Someone was observing him, albeit discreetly.

Maybe it was because he was talking to Lady Phoebe, and she was making him uncomfortable. She was beautiful and graceful, but her voice was a little too high, and her personality was a bit too much for him. She was overly pushy and trying too hard. Adam gave her grace because it was her first ball in society, but he didn’t think it was his place to point out that she needed to ease off on her intentions as they weren’t attractive.

If she got herself perfectly composed and let just a little bit of her personality come out, she would be an ideal catch for whoever was looking for a wife. That wasn’t him, but she could be for someone else.

“Are you alright, Adam?” George Fletcher frowned at him as Lady Phoebe turned to talk to someone who had just walked past them. “You look like you’ve done your cravat up too tight, and it’s uncomfortable.”

“Not quite.” Adam resisted the urge to check his cravat, which now felt like it had got a little tighter. “Do you get the feeling that someone is watching us?”

“No. I think that’s just your paranoia coming through.” George gave him a nudge. “With everything going on, you’re constantly looking over your shoulder. I don’t blame you for thinking someone’s going to jump out at you from the shadows.”

“It’s more than paranoia, George.” Adam scowled, casting another look around the ballroom, but he couldn’t spy anyone watching him. “How would you feel if someone was stealing from you and then vandalizing your property? And it’s focused on me.”

“Your mother still doesn’t know about this? I know you said you didn’t want to tell her about any of what’s going on.”

“No, I haven’t. I don’t want her to worry.”

Also, if Lady Banbury found out that the cufflinks and the signet ring with the family crest on it passed down to Adam by his father had gone missing suddenly, she would be devastated. The cufflinks and ring were family heirlooms, and Adam was supposed to care for them. He had been, and they had been put in a locked box in his bedchamber. But then they still disappeared. His valet had been dismissed as it had been his responsibility, and he couldn’t say where he had been at the time, so that made Adam suspicious. He couldn’t have someone he couldn’t trust in his household.

It had been four months, and they still hadn’t turned up.

“You are going to need to tell her sooner or later,” George pointed out. “Otherwise, you’re going to end up trying to cover it up until it explodes.”

“How do you tell your mother that something that belonged to the family has disappeared, and you don’t know where it’s gone?”

“Surely she knows that you’ve dismissed your valet?”

“She knows he’s left, but the only people who know the truth are Morrison and me, and Morrison stuck with him the whole time he was collecting his belongings, so he wouldn’t have said anything to anyone.” Nobody crossed Morrison, the butler when he was angry. Having him around was useful. “If he didn’t steal the heirlooms outright, then he knows who did, and more than likely helped them.”

George shook his head and took a healthy gulp of his drink.

“She’s going to find out about it even if you keep it under wraps. What about the vandalism? You can’t keep that hidden forever. You know how some of the maids who are always around your mother and sisters gossip? They’re going to know and be upset with you that you didn’t say anything.”

“You think I’m not aware of that, George?” Adam rubbed the back of his neck, but it didn’t stop the discomfort. “It’s not easy being a duke and having all these responsibilities, and I’m trying not to hurt Mother any further. Eleanor and Sabrina are too young to know about any of this as well.”

“Lady Banbury is not a woman to be trifled with, you know that.”

“You might be a close friend, George, but there is a line when it comes to family business.”

Immediately, Adam felt bad for saying that. George Fletcher had always been there for him since they were children, and he had not left his side after Adam’s father suddenly passed away. Having someone like that around him was a godsend, but for some reason, this was making Adam uncomfortable.

And George would know the reason why. He knew that someone had painted ‘traitor’ onto the stable door to Adam’s horse. Thankfully, the horse hadn’t been disturbed or injured, but the fact that someone had got that close and could have hurt his animal didn’t sit well with Adam at all. At least his stable manager had managed to get it off before Eleanor came out for her daily ride; otherwise, there would have been a lot of questions.

Adam knew he couldn’t hide it forever but needed to keep it away from them for now. Once he had his answers.

Although he doubted he was going to have any of the answers here at Baron Atterbury’s house, there was something about how he was feeling right now that made him wonder if there was. Did someone present know about his past? Were they aware that he had been involved in something that could’ve brought disrepute to his family?

Adam needed to know.

A movement out of the corner of his eye made him turn his head, and Adam looked around to see a tapestry-like curtain fall back into place. What was going on there? Was there a door behind there, or had someone snuck back there somehow? He stared at it, wondering if he had been seeing things. Had there been a breeze? There was no breeze in this part of the ballroom.

Then the curtain twitched aside again, and Adam saw it. A pair of hazel eyes were looking into the room and staring directly at him.

The eyes widened, and the curtain fell back again. So that was who was spying on him. But who was it?

“Will you excuse me a moment, George?” Adam passed his glass to his friend. “Keep Lady Phoebe entertained if you could? I’m sure you two would get along well.”

“I thought she was more interested in you,” George replied with a bemused look at him. “Isn’t she going to be upset when you disappear?”

“She’s talking to someone else. I don’t think she’s going to notice.” Adam nodded at Lady Phoebe, who was still in deep discussion with a young woman close to her age. Whatever they were talking about was far more interesting. “But if she does, it’s your turn to talk to her. Use your charm on her, and I’m sure you two will be head over heels in no time.”

George rolled his eyes, but Adam didn’t wait for a response. He headed towards the curtain and moved it aside. There was a partially open door, as if someone had tried to shut it in a hurry, but it didn’t fully close. Pushing at it, Adam went behind the curtain and into a hallway. And the hallway itself was empty.

Adam looked around, trying to figure out which way to go. Whoever had been spying on him had to be close by, but which direction should he go in first? He chose right, heading away from the ballroom and the chattering guests. If someone were watching, they would want to get away and slip back in elsewhere, pretending they had been there the whole time.

It was what he would do himself.

His hunch was correct, as Adam found an outside door that led into the garden slightly ajar. It couldn’t have been blown open as there was no wind this evening, and the door was very heavy. Someone had to have left it open. Following his gut instinct, Adam pushed it open and stepped out into the garden. It was dusk, so while there were a lot of shadows, it was light enough that he could see everything ahead of him. The vast gardens spread out before him, including a maze right in front of him, the entrance edged with a trellis and decorated with various flowers. If someone was out here, they had either got back into the house or were hiding.

A movement just out of sight in the maze’s entrance caught Adam’s attention, a flash of white. It was either a guest exploring the maze or a couple having a romantic rendezvous …

Or it was whoever was spying on him.

Adam jumped off the terrace and ran, charging towards the maze and under the trellis. Almost immediately, he heard running footsteps, and Adam pricked up his ears. They were close by, and he could hear the rustling of leaves.

He followed them, almost running down a dead end a few times when the running stopped. Adam could also hear panting as if someone was out of breath. He was not going to let them get away. He was going to get his answers.

Turning around a corner, Adam was preparing to run, but then he collided with someone who bumped hard into him. Instinctively, as he lost his footing and began to fall, he wrapped his arms around whoever had run into him. There was a scream, and the pair ended up on the ground. Pain shot through Adam’s elbow as it connected with the ground, knocking the air out of him as whoever he had grabbed landed on top of him.

That scream was not a scream that a man would give. And whoever was in his arms was a lot smaller than Adam anticipated.

Once he got his bearings back, Adam focused on the person sprawled across his chest, their face inches from his. Dark hair fell about her shoulders and brushed his cheek, and hazel eyes stared down at him in shock.

He had just grabbed a woman. And now they were in an embrace.

Adam knew he should let her go, apologize, and get up. But the moment he looked into her eyes, he couldn’t move. They just kept him frozen.

They were the most mesmerizing thing he had ever seen.


“Maid by Chance, Duchess by Fate” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

As a maid to Baron Atterbury’s daughter, Maggie Hay never expected anything more. She knew her place, even when her Lady’s behavior made her want to forget. Yet, when a strange chance encounter at a ball brings her face to face with a charming man who makes her heart flutter in a way that it shouldn’t, everything changes… Maggie ends up being drawn into a mystery that could threaten everything she holds dear, but also bring hope to her life.

Will she manage to uncover the truth in time or will she sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of honor?

Amidst the grandeur of his country estate, Adam Radcliffe, Duke of Banbury, grapples with his own inner turmoil as he faces a dilemma that could shatter his carefully constructed world. Multiple incidents make it clear that someone knows about his past, making him dread the consequences… Yet somehow, his instinct tells him that it has something to do with the beautiful maid with the stunning eyes he chased the night of the ball, making him think she is spying on him.

Can he protect his family’s legacy while pursuing a forbidden love that defies the rigid constraints of society?

As Maggie and Adam face mounting pressure from society’s expectations and their own inner demons, he discovers something that could ruin any future they might have. Maggie would never be able to forgive him if he pursued what he found, but if left alone, it could prove disastrous. When dark secrets emerge and loyalties are tested, will their love be enough to withstand the storms that threaten to engulf them both?

“Maid by Chance, Duchess by Fate” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

One thought on “Maid by Chance, Duchess by Fate (Preview)”

  1. Hello, my dears! I hope you enjoyed this small preview and that it left you wishing for the rest! I look forward to reading your comments here. Thank you so much! ♥️

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