A Nursemaid for the Heartbroken Duke (Preview)

Chapter One

Henry swirled the tea in his cup, watching the leaves stick to the sides before the liquid washed them away. The thought of accidentally swallowing the bit of tea at the bottom of a cup always made him a little queasy. Henry had always been sensitive to textures, hating anything that didn’t seem right on his tongue. Perhaps the luxury of eating whatever he pleased allowed him to have silly problems like food texture. He had once heard that the needy would resort to eating worm-infested, mould-crusted food just to survive, while he couldn’t stand just a few leaves swirling at the bottom of his teacup. Henry felt a little ashamed at the stark contrast, but that wouldn’t suddenly rid him of a lifelong issue.

He raised his eyes, watching his talkative aunt discuss yet another topic he had no interest in. To be fair, rarely anything roused his interest; therefore, Aunt Hannah’s chatter was no worse than anyone else’s.

“It was a delightful tea party,” she remarked, her bracelets clinking together as she reached for a biscuit. She bit into it, her mouth stretching into a wide grin. “This is a new recipe, isn’t it? It’s buttery and soft, doesn’t crumble too much, and I detect a hint of aniseed. Am I right?”

“You would have to ask the cook, Aunt Hannah,” said Juliana. She had hardly touched her tea or eaten a biscuit. “I vaguely recall Mrs Harris mentioning something about new biscuit recipes. Perhaps this is it.”

“If it is, she has done a marvellous job,” said Aunt Hannah, taking another from the plate. “These would have been well-received at the picnic. The ones Margaret had were like sand in my mouth.” She grimaced for good effect. “They need to speak to their cook or whoever did the baking.”

Henry grinned. His aunt loved food. It was one of the few things that really excited her. He always bought her confectionery for her birthday and had their cook make her favourite meal. Juliana tended to purchase more feminine gifts like ribbons and hats, although she hadn’t bothered to do so in the past year. Between losing her husband at war and having a baby, she hadn’t been in any state of mind to think about someone else. The situation was truly tragic, affecting everyone involved. Henry never thought he would unexpectedly lose his best friend of fourteen years, but worst of all, his sister never knew she would become a pregnant widow. They had only been married for three years. The baby was now four months old, but Juliana was having trouble bonding with her son. Henry didn’t know how to help his sister, not when he didn’t know how to deal with his own grief. He had never been good with emotions, preferring to withdraw from everyone to deal with them. Most of the time, Henry ignored their existence and immersed himself in mind-numbing activities like reading. However, lately, he had been trying to spend more time with his sister to show his support to her.

“Did I mention Margaret’s brother was there as well?” said Aunt Hannah. “Her older brother, I think. He could have been younger because he certainly does not look his age.”

“I do not believe you did, Aunt,” Juliana replied. “I do not think I know him.”

“Oh, you must know Mr William Cruikshanks, dear,” their aunt insisted. “He’s a widower with three grown-up children. I think they’re all married, although I could be mistaken.”

Henry raised his eyebrows slightly. His aunt sounded interested in the man—he could tell by the way she was trying to sound nonchalant about him. He wasn’t particularly pleased about that. At forty-six and unmarried, his aunt was a spinster. She still believed in true love and fated mates, making her more vulnerable to men looking to marry the aunt of a duke. Aunt Hannah was easily taken advantage of, making him doubly protective of her. If anything were brewing between his aunt and this Mr Cruikshanks, Henry would certainly do a little investigating into the man. He thought about asking his aunt about Mr Cruikshanks to gauge her reaction, but his sister chose that moment to make a startling statement.

“I hired a nursemaid to help me take care of Tommy,” she announced. “Miss Rebecca Barnes.”

She announced it as though she were talking about the weather! “This is the first time I’ve heard about it,” Henry said, frowning at his sister. “Why do you need a nursemaid?”

Henry wasn’t comfortable with a stranger coming into the house. His sister should have informed him of her intentions before she hired the maid. He would have researched the woman and ensured she was trustworthy enough to stay in their home. There were too many dangers to consider when bringing in an unknown person.

Juliana raised a dark eyebrow. “Why do I need a nursemaid?” she said. “Is that what you asked?”

“Yes,” he replied, nodding, ignoring the dangerous note in her voice. “You have Aunt Hannah, a nanny, a wet nurse, and Lady Ruth, who has been quite supportive. You have all the help you need.”

Juliana’s lips thinned. “And what would you know of it?” she snapped, her eyes flashing. “Can you not see how much I’m struggling? I need someone to help me take care of Tommy and bond with him. A nursemaid will do precisely that.”

Henry said nothing. His sister was already upset. The most minor thing could anger her within seconds or make her cry, so he tended to avoid conflict with her. However, he still disapproved of this Barnes woman coming to the house. He sat quietly for about a minute or so, but he felt so strongly about the matter that he needed to say something further.

“Jules, I understand what you’re saying, but we need to think about this matter carefully,” he said as gently as possible. “Our parents taught us that our private matters should remain just that—private. Bringing in a stranger I’ve never met before could prove problematic. What if she speaks to others about our matters?”

Juliana looked ready to give him another tongue-lashing. However, she sighed instead. She looked so drained and fatigued that his heart ached with compassion. Six months may have passed since Thomas’s death, but his sister’s grief had remained the same. She was hanging on by a thread.

“A nanny and wet nurse are there to take care of Tommy,” she said, her voice devoid of emotion. “There is only so much Aunt Hannah can do. And to address your concerns, Lady Ruth is not family, yet she knows all our problems. Who is to say she is not telling everyone our matters?”

“It’s different,” Henry argued. “Lady Ruth is your good friend and the woman I plan to marry one day. She might as well be family. I doubt she would gossip about us.”

Juliana gave a little mocking smile before drinking her tea. She seemed on the verge of rolling her eyes, which was probably why she had averted them. Henry’s eyes narrowed, not understanding his sister’s strange reaction.

“What was that look?” he asked. “That little mocking smile you just gave.”

Juliana took her time, slowly returning her cup to the saucer. Her hands shook a little as though the cup was too heavy for her.

“Henry,” she began, dabbing her mouth with a finger. “I have nothing against Lady Ruth, but do you not think it unfair to so expect much from her? How can we expect her to be supportive when she’s still so young and knows nothing about tragedy?”

Henry tilted his head, observing his younger sister. She had more to say—he could see it in her grey eyes—but she was beating around the bush.

“What is on your mind, Jules?” he asked. “Spit it out. What are you trying to say about Lady Ruth? It’s about her, isn’t it?”

Juliana sighed, getting to her feet. “I do not wish to argue about this matter, Henry,” she said. “I only ask that you do not ruin my chances of finally bonding with my son. Miss Barnes came highly recommended—I’m not so foolish as not to research her background. She is arriving this afternoon, so I expect you to be on your best behaviour. Can you do that for me?”

Henry inwardly sighed, sitting back in his seat. He watched his sister leave the room, her pace slow but sure. Her clothes hung off her frail body, her collarbones sticking out more than was healthy. A few wisps of dull, brown hair had escaped her severe bun, framing her gaunt, pale face. For someone who had once prided herself on her beauty, she no longer seemed to care what she looked like or what people thought of her. Juliana was a shadow of her former self, a mere hint of his sister. She had never been particularly cheerful and effervescent, but her eyes had been bright, her skin clear and plump, and her smiles sweet. Henry couldn’t recall the last time she had smiled with sincerity.

“Be patient with her, dear,” his aunt said, breaking into his thoughts. “She’s having a frightfully challenging time.”

“Do you not think I know that Aunt?” Henry said, turning to her. “But she can’t make these kinds of decisions on her own.”

Things never used to be like this. They never used to argue all the time or spend days not speaking to each other. Their sibling relationship had always been good, even during the tumultuous years of crossing from childhood to adulthood. Of course, all siblings had little arguments here and there, but it was never so severe that they couldn’t resolve it quickly. It all changed when the devastating news of Thomas’s death reached them. Juliana had been inconsolable for days, refusing to see anyone. Aunt Hannah convinced her to eat and bathe for the sake of her unborn child, which Henry believed saved her. Had she not been with child at the time, he felt she would have followed her husband to the grave. Instead of bringing them together to comfort each other, it put stress on their relationship, a situation that hadn’t changed in half a year. To be fair, she was still in mourning and would be for the next six months, but Henry just wanted to be able to sit with his sister and have a decent conversation. With their parents gone, they only had each other. Of course, Aunt Hannah did her best to be with them, but she also had her own life.

“… grieving widow unable to bond with her child,” he heard his aunt say. “Let her have this. If she believes she needs a nursemaid, so be it.”

“I understand, Aunt, I really do,” he said. “I just wished she would have said something before today. The woman is coming this afternoon! This is my house, and I should have a say in who comes to stay with us.”

Juliana wasn’t the only one hurting. While his pain could never compare to hers, he was also having a difficult time dealing with his friend’s death and trying to process the pain. Having a stranger in the house would make him uneasy. He didn’t want a stranger privy to something as personal as grief.

“I agree, dear,” his aunt replied. “I really do. I know how private you are. But think of all the good Miss Barnes will bring. Juliana says she’s a brilliant woman.”

Henry didn’t care if Miss Barnes was the Queen of England—she was still a stranger he knew nothing about.

“Can you at least keep an eye on the woman?” he asked. “Ensure she doesn’t overstep her boundaries. She is here to help Juliana with Tommy—that is it.”

“Of course, dear,” said Aunt Hannah.

He nodded, feeling a little better that his aunt would be his eyes and ears. He took a biscuit, putting the whole thing in his mouth. His aunt was right. The biscuit was delicious. He took another one, noticing his aunt was working her way to say something. She had folded her lips inward until nothing but a line of skin showed—a telltale sign.

“Do you need to tell me something, Aunt?” he asked.

“It’s just about the dinner party this week,” she said. “I mentioned it to you last week, and you said you might be able to accompany me. Have you decided?”

Henry vaguely recalled his aunt talking about a dinner party. He hadn’t thought about it since she mentioned it, but she didn’t have to know that.

“I’m afraid I cannot attend the party, Aunt,” he said apologetically. “Unfortunately, I do not have time for social engagements this week.”

“Oh,” his aunt replied, her face falling. “Perhaps another time. Biscuit?” she said, pasting on a smile and holding the plate out to him.

Henry felt a little guilty about turning her down, but the thought of being around others filled him with unease. He dusted his hands and clothing, getting to his feet. His study was calling to him.

“I have work to do, Aunt,” he said. “Would you please excuse me?”

“Of course, dear,” she replied.

He gave her a small smile and left the room, guilt niggling at his conscience. Henry was aware his aunt sometimes felt lonely, but she had to understand that being around people was not what he or his sister needed. The pitying eyes, the whispered words, the fake compassion—he could do without these things.

“And I could do without having that nursemaid here!” he mumbled.

Chapter Two

“Becky! Becky!”

Rebecca slowly opened one eye upon hearing her name and feeling her knee being gently shaken. She had just had a wonderful dream where she had learned the secret to cure every disease affecting mankind. The details were already fading, but the euphoria of knowing she could eradicate sicknesses was still there.

“Becky, are you awake?” Alice asked, frowning as her pretty onyx-coloured eyes observed Rebecca.

“Mhm,” said Rebecca sleepily, opening her other eye. She gave a great yawn and rubbed her eyes, sitting up. “The carriage has stopped,” she stated.

“That’s why I was waking you up,” said Alice. “We have arrived at Dorchester Place.”

“Indeed?” said Rebecca, leaning towards a window. She tilted her head, taking in the magnificent building before her. “Oh, it’s lovely, isn’t it?”

The house must have been built during the Tudor reign, and its original architecture maintained—something she appreciated. Pitched gable roofs, half-timbering, stucco, brick, multiple chimneys … it was like stepping into history. However, when she looked further down, she noticed the architecture had changed, as though someone had later added to the charming house. Their footman came to the door, opening it with a slight bow.

“Your hair is sticking up in different directions, Colin,” she teased, alighting from the carriage and chuckling as she smoothed his hair.

He blushed, patting his hair. “My apologies, Miss Barnes,” he said. “The wind was a little strong about an hour ago.”

“I missed it,” she said. “I was asleep. I could sleep through a thunderstorm, or so my mother always says.”

“I’ll just get your luggage, miss,” said Colin, still blushing. Rebecca nodded, grinning as he hurried away. Colin was a handsome young man she had hired several months ago to accompany them whenever she visited the homes of the sickly. She had done it as a favour for one of her mother’s friends, but Colin had quickly proven his worth during a sticky situation with a jealous physician. The physician was one of the many who liked to accuse her of witchcraft merely because she managed to help cure those they had rejected as having no hope of recovery. Rebecca had done what they couldn’t, so the only plausible reason appeared to be witchcraft. The eighteen-year-old had stepped between her and the angry physician, forcing the man to step down and back away.

“So, this is our home for the next few weeks,” said Alice, appearing beside her. “Possibly months.”

Rebecca stretched her arms above her head and bent down briefly, touching her toes. She straightened, moving her body from side to side to work out the kinks in her body.

“You shouldn’t do that where everyone can see you,” Alice said disapprovingly. “And you shouldn’t be so affectionate with that young man. He already seems to have feelings for you.”

“Colin is like an adorable puppy,” said Rebecca. “Besides, I’m nine years older than him. I doubt he’s looking at me as anything but his current employer.”

Alice rolled her eyes. “You continue to believe that,” she said. She turned to the house, frowning at it. “I hope Lady Oakham will not be difficult. These aristocrats usually are. They expect you to bend over backwards to do their bidding merely because they’re paying you.”

“You’re already thinking so negatively,” Rebecca chided. “The woman lost her husband six months ago and has a four-month-old—she must be struggling. Let’s just focus on helping her and overlooking any flaws.”

Alice snorted. “Flaws? That is a gentle way of putting it. I do not like tending to aristocrats, but they do pay well, I suppose.”

“Precisely,” said Rebecca. “And with that money, we can help those who cannot afford physicians.”

“Pah!” Alice exclaimed. “Physicians. They’re not worth the prestige bestowed upon them of being healers. Women are true healers but are not allowed the same education.”

“Some are wonderful,” Rebecca countered. “If not for several outstanding physicians taking me under their wing against the advice of others, I wouldn’t be the nursemaid I am today.”

Alice merely pursed her lips and frowned at the building. Rebecca knew Alice meant well because she was merely protective, but her pessimistic attitude towards aristocrats could be tiring.

“I have a good feeling about this,” Rebecca told her, squeezing her hand. “We’ll meet some lovely people and help a mother and her baby. That in itself is reward enough.”

Alice sighed, nodding. “If you say so, I believe it,” she said. “However, how long does it take for someone to come outside and greet us? Do they expect us to go through the servants’ entrance?”

“They could be busy,” Rebecca offered.

“Hm,” Alice harrumphed. “I’ll bet they would have tripped over themselves if we had been aristocrats.”

“Alice!” Rebecca cried, laughing. “That will do. Frankly, I’m more concerned about whether all our luggage has arrived yet. I’d like to get started with treatment right away.”

The conditions for accepting the request to help Lady Oakham included a spacious room for her workroom and a bedroom joined to hers for Alice. She only carried a few necessities with her because she preferred to travel light.

A butler finally appeared at the front door, earning himself another harrumph from Alice.

“Be nice, Alice,” Rebecca whispered before approaching the butler. “Good day, sir. We’re here to see Lady Oakham. I am Miss Barnes, and this is Miss Ayres.”

“Yes, we’re expecting you, Miss Barnes,” the butler replied. “Would you please follow me? Lady Oakham asked me to take you straight to her.”

“We’re not allowed to freshen up a little before meeting Lady Oakham?” Alice asked incredulously. “We’ve just travelled several hours! We’re dusty and tired, and frankly, we would prefer a little time to settle.”

“Alice!” Rebecca chided, widening her eyes at her friend. She turned to the butler, who appeared taken aback, although he was trying to hide it. “Please, forgive my friend, sir,” she said. “We’re happy to meet with Lady Oakham. Please, lead the way.”

The butler nodded a tad stiffly, likely still affected by Alice’s outburst. “Please, follow me.”

He walked ahead, standing at the door to show them in before taking the lead again. Rebecca drank in her surroundings, pleased the interior matched the exterior. Dark wood, ceiling beams, intricate panelling—even the door had screamed Tudor with its round arch at the top and bordered with contrasting stones that stood out against the brickwork. They paused outside a slightly ajar door, two women’s voices filtering out of the room. The butler knocked lightly and pushed the door open, announcing their presence before gesturing for them to enter. Rebecca stepped inside, encountering the gray eyes of a young woman who just looked tired and her older companion’s curious dark blue eyes. It was obvious who Lady Oakham was. Rebecca’s heart went out to the woman. Her skin had lost colour and judging by how loosely her clothing hung on her petite frame, she had lost weight rapidly. The bags under her eyes indicated she wasn’t sleeping well—she needed a calming tea and a long nap.

“Please, sit down, Miss Barnes, Miss Ayres,” the countess said. “I’m so happy you could come. How was the journey here?”

Rebecca and Alice settled on a settee opposite the women. “We’re happy to be here, My Lady,” she said cheerfully, causing their eyebrows to rise slightly. Perhaps they were not used to happy people. “The journey was uneventful and restful, save for the uneven roads and dust. Unfortunately, we all have to eat a little dirt when travelling.”

Lady Oakham smiled. “Yes, we certainly do,” she said. “This is my aunt, Lady Hannah. She is staying with us for a little while.”

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, My Lady,” Rebecca said, bowing her head politely.

“And you, Miss Barnes,” said Lady Hannah. “I have heard so many good things about you. You seem so young to be so accomplished and well-known.”

“I appear young, but I’m twenty-seven,” she said.

Lady Hannah widened her eyes. “Indeed? Well, that’s still rather young, but I must say you do not look it. Is there a secret to your youthful appearance?”

Rebecca chuckled. “Thank you, My Lady, but there is no secret at all. However, I do believe being truly content and happy is helpful.”

“I will keep that in mind,” said Lady Hannah. “Tea?” she asked, gesturing at the maid that entered the room.

“Actually, I wanted to ask if I could have a teapot of hot water,” she said.

“Just hot water?” Lady Oakham asked, frowning.

“Yes, if that is not too much trouble,” she said. “I have some tea I would like you to drink. I believe it’s just the thing you need. I just need hot water and four cups. Alice?”

Alice nodded and stood up, excusing herself as she left the room. She knew precisely what Rebecca wanted.

“Mrs Harris, would you please get us a pot of hot water?” Lady Oakham asked the servant with the tea tray.

“Of course, My Lady,” Mrs Harris replied. “Shall I take this tray back?”

“Please send it to my brother,” said Lady Oakham. “He’s always so busy. Some tea will force him to take a little break. Add a few of those aniseed biscuits as well. He seemed to enjoy them earlier.”

The servant bowed and backed away before turning and leaving the room. Rebecca had continued to observe the countess while she spoke. Her good upbringing spoke volumes about how she carried herself and talked to everyone. She had reached the end of her tether but didn’t allow it to change her behaviour. The woman hadn’t allowed herself to grieve properly. Sometimes, a woman just needed to release herself from the confines of being the perfect lady and release her raw emotions. Rebecca planned to help her do just that.

“You said in your letter that his lordship is three months old?” said Rebecca. “But that was a month ago. He’s four months old now, isn’t he?”

A tender look entered Lady Oakham’s clear, grey eyes. “Yes, he’s four months old. I can hardly believe that he was the tiny little being I held in my arms several months ago.”

“Babies grow quickly,” said Rebecca. “We have to cherish every moment with them. Is he asleep now?”

“I believe so,” the countess replied. “I can have one of the servants go to the nursery and—”

Rebecca shook her head, interrupting her gently. “That isn’t necessary,” she insisted. “Does he normally sleep around this time?”

Lady Oakham frowned. “I’m not entirely certain,” she said. “I can ask the nanny.” She sighed and looked down at her clasped hands. “I must sound like a terrible mother not knowing about my own baby.”

“Please, do not think like that, My Lady,” Rebecca said soothingly. “I’m here to help you and your baby. You can tell me anything you wish without fear of judgement. Perhaps you can tell me if he has any habits or if your nanny has a schedule for your baby.”

“Well,” Lady Oakham began, tucking her limp hair behind her ear. “He tends to spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen because it’s warmer, and the wet nurse believes a warmer environment is better for feeding.”

So, she had a wet nurse. Rebecca expected as much. She wondered if the countess would be open to breastfeeding her child, but that could come a little later. She didn’t want to scare the woman within the first hour.

“I see,” said Rebecca, smiling when Alice entered with the teapot, cups, and tea. “Is the nursery near your bedroom?”

She was interested to know if Lady Oakham was close enough to attend to her baby if he was fussing or if her sleep was affected by the baby.

“It’s down the hall from my bedroom,” the countess replied, frowning slightly. “Is that a terrible thing?”

“No, not at all,” Rebecca assured her. “I just like to know these things.”

So, the dark circles under her eyes had nothing to do with the baby. She likely wasn’t sleeping well at night because she had too many things on her mind. Tired during the day but unable to sleep at night—that was enough to slowly drive anyone insane. Alice made the tea and handed a cup to the countess and her aunt, who had been silent and thoughtful for a while. She looked miles away as though she had something on her mind. Rebecca was willing to bet it had nothing to do with the current conversation.

“Do you have set eating times?” Rebecca asked, sipping her tea. The herbal scent wafted to her nose, tickling her senses. She loved this calming blend. “Alice and I usually eat at specific times, but we can work with your schedule. I wouldn’t wish to be unavailable to you when you need us.”

“Well, we usually eat during a set time, but I rarely have an appetite, so I just have some tea and something light whenever I feel a little hungry,” said Lady Oakham.

No wonder her bones were sticking out rather painfully. If she were to breastfeed her baby, she would need to increase her nourishment intake. Lady Oakham took a sip of her tea, her eyebrows rising in surprise.

“I’ve never tasted anything like this before,” she commented. “It’s floral but also herbaceous. I like it.”

“Yes, it’s lovely,” Lady Hannah agreed. “Do you usually drink this, Miss Barnes?”

“Every night before I go to sleep,” Rebecca told them. “I have other tea blends that I have mixed. I’ll introduce you to my breakfast blend tomorrow morning.”

Lady Hannah smiled. “I look forward to it,” she said. “What other magical things do you do in your workroom? The servants cleared a rather large room to house all your bottles of herbs and plants. I was captivated by what I saw. Do you make love potions as well?”

Rebecca nearly laughed. The woman appeared to be joking, but the look of interest in her dark blue eyes could not be missed.

“One does not need a love potion if you are with the right man,” said Rebecca. “Also, a love potion doesn’t create love but feelings of possession, obsession, and euphoria. It’s not real and is not built to last. However, a good tea can release tension and nerves, which is a good start for getting to know someone. You can learn many things about a man when he’s at ease.”

Lady Hannah’s eyes sparkled with increased interest. “Oh? Have you experienced this yourself?”

“No, but many others have,” she replied. “Many, many other women.”

Lady Hannah cleared her throat slightly, scratching under her ear. “So, do you happen to have such a tea?” she asked.

“You’re drinking one of them,” Rebecca told her.

Lady Hannah’s eyes widened. “Well, you learn something new every day. You must give me a little for a, uh, dear friend of mine. She might have use for such a tea.”

Rebecca held back a chuckle, but Alice wasn’t quite so lucky. She snorted into her cup, quickly pretending to cough.

“I’ll put some aside for her,” Rebecca promised.

She turned her eyes to the countess, noticing her eyes were dropping. She must have been exhausted, or the tea would not have worked so quickly. Within seconds, she was fast asleep, her breathing deep and steady.

“My poor niece,” Lady Hannah tutted, moving a strand of hair from the countess’s brow. “She has suffered so much. I truly hope you can help her, Miss Barnes.”

“I will do everything I can, Lady Hannah,” Rebecca promised.

“Lady Oakham is in good hands, My Lady,” said Alice firmly. “Miss Barnes was hired because she is the best.”

“I didn’t mean to imply otherwise, Miss Ayres,” said Lady Hannah, looking slightly alarmed at the bit of aggression in Alice’s voice.

Rebecca gave her a side glance, widening her eyes slightly at her friend. Alice simply shrugged unapologetically.

“Alice knows that, My Lady,” said Rebecca. “Don’t you, Alice?”

“Mhm.”

Rebecca struggled not to look skyward. “Would you like some more tea, My Lady?” she offered.

“A second cup certainly is welcome,” the woman replied and then gave a great yawn. “However, I find myself rather drowsy. I think I’ll take myself off to my room and have a little afternoon nap. Please forgive me for leaving you.”

“There’s no need to apologize, My Lady,” said Rebecca. “Alice and I will use this time to look at our rooms and the room to house my herbs and such.”

Lady Hannah nodded as she stood up, placing her cup on the table and leaving the room a tad unsteadily on her feet.

“Your tea works every time,” Alice commented, chuckling.

“It certainly does,” Rebecca agreed. “Do you see what I see?” she asked, pointing at Lady Oakham.

She had two damp patches on the bosom of her muslin dress.

“She’s leaking,” Alice said. “Her body is telling her to breastfeed her baby.”

Rebecca nodded. “I hope to convince her soon, but she just needs a lot of rest and nourishing food to make her strong. A healthy mother is a healthy baby.”

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, Becky,” Alice remarked. “When will you see the baby? I think we should inspect his condition. If the mother is struggling this much, I can only imagine the state of the child.”

“I also wish to see his lordship, but we should wait until Lady Oakham awakens,” said Rebecca. “In the meantime, let’s see our rooms. We should settle in.”

They placed their cups on the table and quietly left the room, but not before helping the countess lie on the settee with a cushion under her head and a throw over her body. Rebecca trailed her fingers along Lady Oakham’s brow, her heart heavy with the woman’s pain. Alice was right—they truly had a lot of work ahead of them, but she was looking forward to it.

Chapter Three

“Mrs Harris?” Rebecca called upon seeing the housekeeper.

The housekeeper turned to them, tucking a shining cloth into her apron. Rebecca smiled. The woman reminded her of her benefactor’s housekeeper, Mrs Francis. The woman was never satisfied unless she had personally inspected every area of the house with a cloth.

“How may I help you, Miss Barnes?” said Mrs Harris.

“Do you mind showing us to our rooms?” she asked. “Alice and I would like to settle in. Lady Oakham is asleep in the parlour,” she added. “Please have no one disturb her.”

The housekeeper’s eyes widened slightly. She appeared surprised that the countess had fallen asleep.

“Yes, of course, miss,” Mrs Harris replied. “Please, follow me,” she said, gesturing at the stairs. “I personally saw to the moving of your belongings into your rooms per your instructions. Of course, no one is perfect, but I hope I fulfilled some of your requirements.”

“I’m sure that whatever you have done is perfect, Mrs Harris,” Rebecca assured her as they followed her.

“You must tell me if you require anything else,” Mrs Harris insisted. “The countess wishes your stay at Dorchester Place to be as comfortable as possible.”

“I’m sure it will be,” said Rebecca, admiring the intricate details on the balustrade. “I must say that this house is beautiful. I noticed that part of the house was likely built during the Tudor reign, but the rest is more the current style.”

“The estate was purchased from a gentleman in the late 1600s,” the housekeeper explained. “Then, it was just the faerie tale-like part that you saw. The third Duke of Dorset wanted to buy it for his wife because she fell in love with it. Over time, various dukes have added to it, but there is a rule that all subsequent dukes must abide by—no one changes the original house. The third duke was adamant about that.”

Rebecca smiled. “His love for his wife lives on,” she said. “How sweet. I love to hear stories of ever-lasting love.”

“The third duke and his wife’s story is recorded in one of the books in the library,” Mrs Harris revealed. “One of the dukes—an avid writer, by many accounts—saw fit to immortalize their story. He might have added a few embellishments, but the original story remains its centre.”

“I’d love to read it one day,” Rebecca said sincerely. “Of course, I will have to get permission from Lady Oakham. One’s library can be as personal as their bedchamber.”

“It would be best to ask the duke,” the housekeeper told her. “The library is his domain. Although I am certain he will not mind.”

Rebecca detected uncertainty in the woman’s voice. So far, she had learned that the duke had an insatiable need for work and might be unwilling to share his personal spaces with others, which was understandable.

“This is it,” said Mrs Harris, stopping before a door.

They were on the second floor and in the west wing of the house. That suited Rebecca well because she loved watching sunsets from her room. She was always outside with a cup of tea during the sunrise, so having an eastward-facing room wouldn’t have been as pleasurable as a westward one.

The housekeeper opened the door, stepping inside with a hint of anxiety in her expression. It seemed Rebecca’s comfort truly was of utmost importance. Looking around the room, she was glad for its spaciousness as she liked to stretch the moment she rolled out of bed. Doing so made her body limber and light, ensuring flexibility throughout the day. She had convinced Alice to do it with her every morning, although she often grumbled through it. Still, Alice had to admit that she felt better for it.

“I love these large windows, Mrs Harris,” she said, although she found the curtains a tad heavy and oppressive. “And two bay windows! I feel decidedly spoiled!”

Mrs Harris smiled. “I’m glad your room is to your liking, Miss Barnes. Shall we look at Miss Ayres’ room? It’s right through this door.”

Rebecca wasn’t done admiring her room, but the housekeeper seemed anxious to show her the rest of what she requested.

“Yes, please show us,” Rebecca replied.

Mrs Harris opened the adjoining door, revealing a slightly smaller but pretty room. This one also had a bay window and even a small bookshelf beside it, with a few books already occupying its space.

“What do you think, Alice?” Rebecca asked, turning to her friend. “It’s lovely, isn’t it?”

“It will do,” said Alice, pursing her lips.

Rebecca sighed. Alice was never impressed by anything and didn’t mind letting people see it written all over her face.

“I’m, I’m glad,” Mrs Harris faltered, uncertainty clouding her eyes. “Shall I show you your work room? It’s down the hall from here.”

“I’d love to see it,” Rebecca told her, putting more cheer in her voice to put the housekeeper at ease. “I’m anxious to get my hands on my work.”

“We added more shelves to your room and attached hooks to the beams so you can hang whatever is necessary,” said the housekeeper, leaving the room. “It’s at the end of the hallway and has a balcony with a table and chairs, should you need them.”

“That all sounds lovely, Mrs Harris,” said Rebecca sincerely. “It really does. I’m excited to see the room.”

The housekeeper nodded as they walked further into the west wing until they reached the last door on their right.

“This is it,” she said, pushing the door open.

Rebecca stepped inside after her, grimacing slightly at the disorganized space. Everything had been grouped incorrectly. However, it was easily remedied, so she didn’t mind too much. Instead, she focused on what was good about the room.

“It’s spacious and has plenty of windows to allow for fresh air, but I’m concerned about one thing,” she said, looking around. “I do not see a space to store items that need a dry and dark space.”

Mrs Harris walked to a door and opened it. “The windows in this room have been temporarily boarded to provide the dry and dark space you need. Will this be suitable?”

Rebecca poked her head around the room, smiling. “This is perfect. You have done well, Mrs Harris,” she said, complimenting the housekeeper. “Thank you.”

“I’m so pleased,” said Mrs Harris, smiling. “I—” She abruptly stopped speaking when they heard a baby’s wail. Her shoulders dipped as she sighed. “Poor little one. He sounds frustrated.”

The housekeeper said it as though it was an everyday occurrence for a four-month-old to cry that loudly and sound so distressed. Something was undoubtedly wrong. Rebecca found herself leaving her workroom and heading towards the noise.

“Is there something I can help you with, Miss Barnes?” Mrs Harris asked, following her downstairs.

“I need to see what’s wrong with the baby,” Rebecca explained, swiftly making her way to the baby. “His cry is unsettling.”

“He’s likely hungry,” Mrs Harris explained. “I’m certain the wet nurse will eventually calm him down. I’m afraid he’s often like this.”

Rebecca’s eyes widened as she came to an abrupt stop. “Often?”

Mrs Harris almost toppled over if not for Rebecca quickly steadying her. Alice had wisely kept to the side, knowing how Rebecca’s mind worked. She became single-minded when something was wrong, especially when it concerned the vulnerable. Those in her way didn’t tend to fare well.

Mrs Harris cleared her throat, straightening her apron. “His lordship is often like this before he eventually calms down,” she explained.

“How long does he take to calm down?” Rebecca asked.

“I cannot be sure, miss,” the housekeeper said, sounding worried. She seemed to understand that Rebecca did not like what she was hearing. “The nanny or wet nurse will be able to answer your questions. They spend the most time with him.”

Rebecca nodded, continuing downstairs. “Is he in the kitchen?” she asked. “You’ll have to direct me. I am not familiar with the house yet.”

“Yes, he likely is in the kitchen,” the housekeeper confirmed. “It’s best for him since the weather has cooled significantly. Please, allow me to take the lead.”

Rebecca stepped aside, letting the housekeeper pass and show the way. The house was large and beautiful, but she could hardly admire the interior because she was concerned about the crying baby. Experience had taught her that babies’ cries sounded different according to their needs. Whether hunger, fatigue, or discomfort, each problem carried a specific cry. What she was hearing was a terrifying mixture of cries. The baby sounded like he was in pain.

Moments later, they entered the kitchen, where a wet nurse was attempting to feed the little marquess. The baby kept crying, refusing the breast the young woman was trying to feed him. The little cough-cry with the slight warble was heart-wrenching, only making the wet nurse more frazzled and near tears. Neither of them was in any condition to be together.

The wet nurse looked at the frustrated woman standing beside her, shaking her head. “I do not know what is wrong with him, Nanny Bates.”

“Did you clean your feeding area beforehand, Betty?” Nanny Bates asked, frowning. “Are you feeding him from the correct breast?”

“Yes, I have done everything,” Betty replied. “Perhaps he is wet.”

Nanny Bates shook her head. “He is warm and clean,” she said. “He’s crying because he’s hungry but won’t take from you. What else are we supposed to do? The duke is bound to hear him crying! Then it will be both our heads.”

“B-but we’re in the kitchen,” said Betty. “It’s the furthest from his study.”

“And what if he leaves his study?” Nanny Bates asked.

The women didn’t seem to realize that others had entered the kitchen. They were too immersed in their current predicament. Rebecca was somewhat annoyed with them. They appeared more concerned about the duke scolding them than the child itself.

“Excuse me,” she said, stepping forward and gaining their attention. They appeared surprised, looking at her from head to toe. “I’m Rebecca Barnes, the nursemaid. May I take a look at his lordship?”

They looked from her to Mrs Harris, who nodded. “Give her his lordship,” she said. “Lady Oakham hired Miss Barnes to help her with the baby.”

The women’s eyes widened. They were probably worried Rebecca would take over their positions.

“I look forward to working with you,” Rebecca said, approaching the wet nurse. “May I?”

“Oh, oh, yes, of course,” she said, tucking her breast in and handing the fussing baby to her.

Rebecca took him, alarmed by how light he felt. “What a little sweet one you are,” she said soothingly, her voice high and soft.

The baby’s cries had turned into whimpers, likely tired of the loud cries he had emitted earlier. The whimpers were no less potent, tugging at her heartstrings. Rebecca was concerned about his health, noticing the unhealthy pallor under the angry redness of his cheeks. He was only four months old, for heaven’s sake! If he worsened anymore, death would follow swiftly. She fought to keep her anger down and show more understanding, but it was challenging. Mother and baby were struggling, and there was only so much the wet nurse and nanny could do.

“Would you squeeze a little milk into a cup, please, Betty?” she asked, rocking the baby in her arms. “Make sure to clean the cup with hot water first.”

The wet nurse nodded, quickly getting to her feet to do her bidding. Rebecca looked at Alice, gesturing at the closest table. Alice understood, clearing a space. Putting the baby down, Rebecca uncovered him, tears springing to her eyes. He wasn’t emaciated, but he was still too thin. She wasn’t an advocate of overly chubby babies because it hindered their movement, but some fat was essential.

“He’ll be fine now that you’re here, Becky,” Alice whispered reassuringly.

Rebecca nodded wordlessly, examining the baby further. His eating times would have to be increased until she was happy with his weight and adjusted to maintain his monthly growth. He started fussing again, thrashing his tiny arms and legs.

“I know what you need,” she said, gripping the edges of his blanket. She swaddled him firmly, stopping any further movement. Tommy put up a fight at first, but eventually, he realized it was comforting. Rebecca saw the change come over his face, chuckling at the frown he made.

“He feels safe and is trying to understand why,” she said, handing him to Alice. “Hold him while I wash my hands.”

Alice took him, rocking him gently as she waited for Rebecca. “Does he ever smile?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at his angry expression.

“Rarely,” Nanny Bates replied. “Although honestly, I do not know if I have witnessed a smile. He usually grimaces at everyone. Sometimes, you think he’s smiling, but he’s only passing air.”

“Let’s see if we can get a smile out of him today,” said Rebecca, returning with the cup of milk from the nursemaid. She took a seat, holding out her arms. “Give him here, Alice.”

Alice gently placed Tommy in her arms, giving him a little affectionate tap on his button nose. He frowned at the movement, making Rebecca chuckle.

“You get angry at everyone, don’t you?” she said, adjusting him in his arms. “You’re just sad and do not know how to talk yet. Isn’t that right, little one?”

She dipped a knuckle in the milk and brought it to his lips, brushing the liquid back and forth. Tommy clenched his lips, but that didn’t deter Rebecca. She dipped her knuckle again, repeating the motion. She did it three more times, waiting for him to open his lips. She smiled when he finally did, immediately applying the milk to his gums until he latched on to her knuckle.

“Finally admitting that you’re hungry, hmm?” she said, gently bouncing him on her legs. “Be a dear, and do not give Betty so much trouble. It doesn’t do you any good, and she’s just trying to do her job. You also need to get big and strong for your mama.”

Perhaps he didn’t understand her words, but he certainly picked up on the soft but firm tone in her voice. He mewled at her, the sound coming across as an objection.

She laughed. “Arguing back already? How cheeky of you. Here, have a little more milk.”

When he latched on hungrily, she knew it was time to hand him to the wet nurse. She called the young woman to her, making her sit on the bench against the wall with a stool under her feet for added comfort. Tommy immediately started drinking from Betty’s breast.

Betty’s eyes widened, looking at the little marquess. “He has never drunk from me so voraciously before,” she said in wonder. “What did you do?” she asked, looking up at Rebecca.

“Miss Barnes is a natural with children,” Alice answered. “You cannot question it, only accept it. Some people have even called her a baby soother.”

“Baby soother?” said Nanny Bates. “Well, if you can get his lordship to smile, I’ll call you a goddess!”

Rebecca smiled. “That will not be necessary, although I wouldn’t mind being worshipped,” she said, tongue in cheek. “Now, who do I have to charm to get a cup of tea? We all need one after this ordeal.”

Some chuckled and returned to their duties while Mrs Harris and Nanny Bates took a seat, looking exhausted.

“Tea, please, Cookie,” said Mrs Harris. “You can use from my ration.”

Cook nodded, ordering one of the kitchen maids to put water on the stove. Rebecca sat beside Mrs Harris, indicating that Alice should also sit. Alice would have preferred to go to their rooms and settle in, but Rebecca wanted her to get acquainted with the servants. Her friend wasn’t the sort to familiarize herself with others. It stemmed from her terrible childhood when her family ill-treated her, and later in life, they abandoned her when she fell ill. Rebecca found her on her deathbed, immediately taking her in to nurse her back to health. Alice became her shadow from the moment she was well enough to work, dedicating her life to Rebecca as thanks. Rebecca tried to convince her to live her life for herself, but her friend was stubborn.

“So, what should I know about Dorchester Place?” Rebecca asked, clasping her hands on the table. “I wouldn’t want to offend or upset anyone.”

She wanted to know more about how the house was run and what she could glean about the family without being too obvious. Servants loved to gossip, but they didn’t like to seem like gossiping to outsiders. Rebecca and Alice would remain outsiders until everyone felt comfortable around them. Mrs Harris answered most of Rebecca’s questions while the other servants put in a word or two. By the time Tommy had finished drinking and was full, Rebecca had figured out the daily running of the house. Any extra information would have to come later because she wanted to burp the baby.

“I’ll take him from you,” said Rebecca to the wet nurse. “Do you have a cloth I can place over my shoulder? He’s likely to spit out curdled milk from the amount he drank.”

“Yes, of course,” said Betty, handing her a small bath sheet.

“Thank you,” Rebecca replied. She patted the baby, holding him upward against her chest. “How calm you are now that you’re full. You feel a little heavier, too.” She turned to Mrs Harris. “Do you mind showing me to the nursery? I’d also like warm water sent to the room for his bath.”

“Yes, of course,” the housekeeper said, standing up. “Nanny Bates, I trust you to organize his lordship’s bathwater.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the nanny agreed.

“Please, this way,” said Mrs Harris, looking at Rebecca as she gestured to the door. “The nursery is in the north part of the house.”

Rebecca frowned. “That is rather far from my room,” she commented.

Mrs Harris smiled apologetically. “It’s the furthest from the duke’s rooms in the south wing,” she explained. “We like to avoid unnecessary noises as he is a busy man and needs peace and quiet.”

It seemed that everyone walked on eggshells around the duke. It was an interesting bit of knowledge that she stored away to rethink later.

“Is there enough room in his lordship’s nursery?” Rebecca asked, still patting the baby’s back. “I might need to spend nights with him. I’ll need space for my bedding.”

“The nursery is spacious,” Mrs Harris assured. “There is plenty of space to include another bed should you need it.”

“Wonderful.” Tommy let out a big wind, spewing the curdled milk she had mentioned earlier. “Goodness!” she exclaimed, laughing. “What a big one that was! You’re such a big boy, aren’t you?”

The baby squealed and cooed, prompting her to hold him away from her to see his expression. He was smiling!

“Well, I’ll be,” cried Mrs Harris. “His lordship is smiling!”

“And what a lovely one it is,” said Rebecca, kissing his cheeks. “What a handsome fellow you are. Oh, yes, you are!”

She held him to her chest as he cooed, relieved he was now in happier spirits. The change was astounding but also indicative of his desperation for someone to be patient and understand him. Babies were sensitive to emotions, so he had likely picked up on the fear, despair, and frustration in the house. It didn’t make it easier that his mother was struggling so much.

They stopped at the top of the stairs when Mrs Harris grew suddenly still. Rebecca looked at her, following the woman’s eyes to see what had caused the abrupt change. A tall, dark-haired man was striding towards them, his piercing blue eyes staring at her. Her belly fluttered and clenched at his gaze, startling her. She couldn’t recall having such sensations before. They were foreign and unsettling but also warming. Heat had pooled in her lower belly, bringing unwanted warmth to her cheeks.

“Your Grace!” Mrs Harris cried, curtsying before him. “I hope we didn’t disturb you.”

So, he was the duke. She should have known from the power that emanated from him. No one except a man in power could walk around with that amount of danger and control and have it suit him. The man was certainly handsome—she’d give him that. However, she didn’t like his cold manner. Despite this, she felt herself being affected by the powerful aura he exuded. This man didn’t hear the word ‘no’ much, if ever.

“Who are they?” he asked the housekeeper.

He could have just asked Rebecca directly! She briefly frowned at him, looking down at Tommy when he cooed. She smiled, nuzzling his cheek as she loosened the blanket around him.

“This is Miss Barnes and Miss Ayres,” Mrs Harris replied.

“I see,” the duke said, almost barking. “When did they arrive? Why wasn’t I notified of their arrival?”

Rebecca secretly rolled her eyes. He was as rude as could be. It was obvious no one liked to bother him, yet he couldn’t understand that. That was what she disliked about those in power. They enjoyed wielding it but didn’t know how to serve with it. It was all about instilling fear into the hearts of others to ensure their obedience. Well, she wasn’t going to be scared into submission.

She peered at him from under her lashes, feeling her belly flutter once again. She frowned at the sensation, freeing Tommy’s hand from the blanket and giving him her finger to grasp. He was rather strong—a good sign. As she adjusted him until his belly lay on her arm, allowing him to comfortably look at the world around him, a startling realization occurred. She was attracted to the duke! That was what the feelings were. She had heard enough about the feeling and had read about it in books to know what attraction was. It left her appalled. This was her employer’s brother! She had no business feeling that way. In all Rebecca’s years, she couldn’t recall having such an immediate response to any man. It was unheard of.

She inwardly shook her head, disappointed with herself. She was no better than the other women who fawned over handsome men. His being a duke made it even worse. He likely had countless admirers and was undoubtedly accustomed to it.

Rebecca felt a nudging on her arm, prompting her to turn to her friend. She raised her eyes in question, frowning when Alice used her eyes to gesture at the duke. Rebecca glanced at him, finding him looking at her once again. He appeared irritated, his brow heavy with a frown. She felt like telling him that his forehead would stay like that if he kept that up, but she wisely remained silent. He probably would look handsome with forehead wrinkles anyway.

“Do you usually not pay attention when spoken to, Miss Barnes?” the duke asked, raising an eyebrow.

Oh, so he had been talking to her. Rebecca had missed that entirely. “I beg your pardon, Your Grace,” she apologized. “My focus was on the baby.”

The duke’s lips pursed. “I’d like to speak to you in my study,” he said, his tone brooking no argument.

Assuming he likely wanted to know a little more about the women staying under his roof, she agreed, understanding his concerns. Dorchester Place was his home, after all. Still, that didn’t mean she liked his manner.

“Of course, Your Grace,” she said, handing the baby to Alice. “Please oversee his bathwater. I’ll massage him with the oil I brought today.”

Alice nodded, mimicking the way Rebecca had held him. Tickling the baby’s cheek affectionately and earning herself a gummy smile, Rebecca turned to the duke, her expression now serious.

“Please, lead the way, Your Grace,” she said, gesturing with her hand.

The duke’s eyebrows rose slightly, but he nodded, turning on his heel. He didn’t bother saying anything. Rebecca rolled her eyes, feeling their interaction likely wouldn’t go well. They had already got off on the wrong foot. It would have been easier to deal with his abrasiveness if her silly body hadn’t decided to grow attracted to him. 


“A Nursemaid for the Heartbroken Duke” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Rebecca Barnes has always defied the conventional path of marriage, devoting herself instead to the honorable cause of healing. In the aftermath of a tragedy, she enters the somber world of Lady Oakham’s estate as a nursemaid for the grieving widow and her newborn child. Despite the initial friction with the stern Duke of Dorset, Lady Oakham’s brother, Rebecca finds herself drawn to him, igniting an unexpected attraction that challenges her independence.

Yet, as she unravels an evil plot that threatens to tear her world apart, will she uncover the truth before it’s too late?

After the loss of his brother-in-law, Henry Andrews, Duke of Dorset, finds solace in the solitude of his ancestral home, where he retreats alongside his mourning sister and nephew. However, the arrival of a nursemaid, the captivating Rebecca, shutters his carefully constructed barriers, stirring emotions he thought long dormant. Caught between a promise to his previous courtship and his growing feelings for Rebecca, Henry is torn between duty and desire.

Will he honor his prior commitments or succumb to the irresistible pull of love?

United by love but divided by circumstance, Rebecca and Henry face a great challenge. As whispers of witchcraft swirl around Rebecca and societal pressures mount, their love is put to the ultimate test. As they confront the ghosts of their pasts, will they overcome the obstacles blocking their path to love, or will they remain imprisoned by the shadows of bygone pain?

“A Nursemaid for the Heartbroken Duke” is a historical romance novel of approximately 100,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

One thought on “A Nursemaid for the Heartbroken Duke (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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