Alexandra looked out of the window, her dark hair spilling over one eye, obscuring her view a moment. She felt sick, her palms slippery with sweat. She had to move fast.
She tiptoed down the hallway to her bedroom, opened the door and reached for her suitcase. She didn’t need to think about packing now; it was ready, a week of careful planning going into this escape.
Her hands were slippery on the handle of the case. It was the one chance she had.
She gripped her suitcase, went along the long corridor and ran down to the front door.
“Go, go,” she urged herself as she shut the door. She had escaped detection, but now she had to move! There was every possibility that someone would see her in the street. She had to run.
She looked down the darkening street, running briskly, aware of the danger all around now. It was not that late, but the nights descended faster as the year moved to wintery cold and frost. She drew her cloak around her.
“Hey there!” a man shouted as she stepped into the street. Freezing with fear, Alexandra turned to stare at him, but he was only shouting because she’d got in his way. Heart thumping, she ran up the street, joints aching at the weight of the heavy suitcase. She’d barely taken anything with her, but the suitcase itself – big and cumbersome – was hefty.
I need a coach to take me away from here, and fast.
The first coach was battered and dark-varnished with no insignia; the coach of one of the drivers who gave lifts to people about the city for a fee. Alexander swallowed hard. Aware of how dangerous it was for a woman to travel on her own, she scratched in her purse to find the coins.
“Here,” she said, passing them up.
“In you get, then,” the driver said, checking the coins and counting them.
Alexandra gritted her teeth, aware that every second was immensely important, then hauled her case into the coach. She put it down and shut her eyes, content now the door was shut.
She was out of the house and safe. All she needed to do now was get away.
Every second was the difference between danger and freedom.
The drive was short, but it was already starting to get dark, the sky black against the flare of lamplight in the windows of public-houses as they went swiftly past. Alexandra felt her heart thump fearfully as they stopped.
“Here you are, lass,” the driver said. “Now, you’re sure you’ll be all right?”
“Yes,” she said.
There were people all over – some smartly-dressed gentlemen and ladies in big cloaks, and some men pushing barrows from the edge of the square, or carts with nightsoil. She felt frightened.
“Does the stage-coach stop here?” she asked a group of people, standing near a fencepost. Their faces shone in the lamplight from a nearby window.
“No…we’re waiting for the Last Judgement,” the man retorted.
Alexandra grinned, her ready humor unable to resist the joke, even in this danger. “The coach is good enough for me. Thank you.”
She still had a long drive to reach Blakeley and the job she had taken there.
She stood with the people and, when the coach arrived, she let the driver take her luggage. She sank gratefully into the back and shut her eyes, desperate for sleep.
The lifting and rolling of the coach soon set her into a drowse. She recalled the afternoon – the interview with the Duke’s chief of staff had been surprisingly simple, despite her terrors. Not that she would have expected the questions to be that difficult – her aim was to work as a chaperone for the Duke’s sister. She had felt lucky to hear about the opportunity.
Alexander opened one brown eye as the coach went over a bump, then shut it again, sleepily. She had some idea of what the job would entail, and oddly she wasn’t too nervous – she felt sure that a young girl could be a pleasing companion, and the age-difference was only eight years. At four-and-twenty years old herself, she would be a friendlier chaperone than the young girl of sixteen might expect.
“Here we are, Miss…Blakeley Heights.”
She looked up at Blakely Heights as she walked from the coach. She could see the edges of the building against the sky – it was three floors at least, crowned with imposing turrets. As she got closer, she saw windows glinting in the dark night, though it was all unlit, save a torch burning by the front door.
“Good evening?” she said, waiting for the butler to greet her as he opened up.
“Are you the governess?” he asked.
Alexandra swallowed. “I am the chaperone…Alexandra Ilfield, yes.”
“Oh. In you get, then,” he nodded, jerking his head at her. “Let’s have your bags…you get yourself upstairs. Mrs. Watford will deal with you.”
“Thank you,” Alexandra said, a touch stiffly. He was really terribly rude! She tried to ignore the tingle of fear down her spine as she went inside.
She looked around. The hallway was marble-floored, the ceiling soaring above them into darkness. The stairs were broad, and faced with pale stone that gleamed in the light of the lamps.
“Good evening,” the housekeeper greeted her when she reached the top floor. “You’re the chaperone, are you not?”
Up here, the scenery was quite different – the beauty of the hallway had altered drastically: the walls were bare wood, the floor uncarpeted, the lamp bracketed to the wall sputtery with poor-quality oil.
“Um, yes. Good evening,” Alexandra said hesitantly.
“Here’s your room. Now, we put you right on the top floor, so there’ll be no sneaking out late. You understand?”
“I beg your…” Alexandra began. The woman sniffed.
“You’re a servant, like one of us – don’t care how fancy you think you are ‘cos you get to sit down with the nobs. You’ll be answerable to me.”
Alexandra felt her cheeks pale, insult and anger rooting her to the spot.
“I don’t think anything of the sort,” she said instantly. “I’ll go and rest now, if you please…I had a long journey and I’m tired and whatever I think of someone, I think it’s best not to treat them appallingly. Goodnight.”
She walked past the woman and into the room, shutting the door behind her.
She heard the woman gasp, and then the sound of her approaching the door.
As soon as she’d gone, Alexandra opened the door. She had to find her bag!
She heard swift footsteps coming towards her and stopped.
A man in a black suit stopped too. He was tall, with sandy hair and a long, firm-jawed face. He had a high cravat about his neck, fashionably fastened, and his body was lithe and strong, the long jacket and velvety breeches showing his firm muscle. He looked at her with mild surprise. It was his eyes that held her attention, though – dark, wide and cool, they drew her in.
“Um…” Alexandra tried to think. “Good evening. I’m looking for my suitcase?”
“Ah. The butler, Mr. Denning, has it. If you can wait here, he’ll give it to you. Please don’t disturb me further…the house is full of guests now.”
“Oh.” Alexandra stared at him. He was already walking away, his tall back turned to her.
“Here you are, Miss,” the butler said, heaving her suitcase to the foot of the stairs. “I’ll take it up for you. Now, I trust you found your sleeping-place?”
“Yes, I did,” Alexandra said. “Thank you.”
“No trouble, Miss. Good night.”
Alexandra nodded to him and shut the door. She closed her eyes. Every moment was worth it, for a life of freedom.
As she rinsed her face and tucked her dark hair back into a bun for sleeping, she found that, despite all the fears of the day, the one thing that stayed on her mind was her meeting with the dark-haired man. She presumed he was the Duke, and he was, she thought, quite handsome, even if he was quite distant. His manner had been confusing – at once rude and not too unfair.
She fell asleep wondering what would happen tomorrow.
Alexandra woke, stretched, and took a moment to tuck a strand of hair behind one ear. She didn’t feel too tired, and she’d slept heavily following her escape. She studied her reflection in the distorted, silvery mirror on the wall. It was a small looking glass, but one part of it worked reasonably well and it showed her a long oval face with a graceful dark brow, a slim nose, and pale skin. Her eyes were wide and black-lashed, and she thought their dark depths looked frightened.
“Now, there’s no good in being frightened. You’re safe here,” she told herself.
She nodded. She was safe here and, when she was dressed in her high-necked cream gown with its long, starched sleeves, she felt sure nobody from home would recognize her.
“That’s silly,” she giggled. Nobody from her home would ever think to look here. Besides, she reasoned, they wouldn’t think about the possibility that she would have been given this job.
She knew, though, that she was well-prepared.
“Good morning,” she greeted the butler briskly, walking past him as she headed down the hallway. “Can you tell me where the schoolroom is, please? And where I might find breakfast?”
“Yes, Miss. Schoolroom’s over there. Breakfast’s downstairs. I thought you said you weren’t a governess?”
“I’m not,” Alexandra said, nodding. “But, if Lady Arabella and I will be friends, we should have a good understanding of each other. And part of my job is to prepare Lady Arabella for society, is it not? So, we shall be spending a good part of each day in here, studying important materials and skills.”
The butler gawped. “Yes, Miss.”
Alexandra grinned as he walked away. It felt like a victory, if a small one.
She went into the schoolroom and sat down at the desk.
“Books. What do they have, I wonder…they have Byron? Yes. Good, and Shelley. And…well, there are a lot of books about the Continent in here…I wonder who reads those?” She ran a hand down the wood, staring at the books that lined the shelves.
The Duke, she reckoned, must be a strange man if he had prepared all these for the education of his sister. Most men, she imagined, would wish their sisters to present themselves in society, and not to be thoroughly learned on the grounds for the Napoleonic conflicts! She found herself smiling.
What would he have said if he’d been the one hiring her, she wondered?
Her stomach growled, and she was just standing up to find breakfast when she heard footsteps in the hallway.
“Now, Arabella…don’t run…”
“Brother! I can’t help it!” a high voice replied. “I’m so excited! Oh, where is she? Where is Miss Ilfield?”
Alexandra swallowed hard, hastily turning to the door. A small, brown-haired bundle exploded into the room, wrapping her arms about her. Behind her walked the man from the previous evening. Alexandra stiffened.
“Alexandra!” the girl said, looking up. “Oh! Here you are. I may call you that, yes? Only, Brother thinks we must be formal. We don’t need to be formal…you’re to be my confidante. And you do look like an Alexandra, don’t you? So tall and pretty!”
Alexandra grinned. She had expected Arabella to be shy, difficult, and possibly spoiled. Here, she was holding the hand of a happy, grinning girl who looked up at her wide-eyed. She was delightful! Her fear of the dark-haired man was forgotten. She grinned.
To Alexandra’s surprise, he nodded respectfully to her. “Good morning, Miss Ilfield. You have just met my sister, Lady Arabella. Arabella, yes, this is Miss Ilfield. I am sure that, with her permission, you may call her by her first name?” He looked at Alexandra.
“Yes,” Alexandra said at once, her gaze dropping to the young girl.
“Oh! Hurray! Brother don’t go yet…you must promise to take us into the village someday. I can’t wait to show Alexandra all the shops there!” Her green eyes opened wide, large in her slim, pretty countenance.
“Yes, Arabella,” the Duke said. He was clearly discomforted. “I shall take you there when I have a spare day. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must eat my breakfast. I have to go out with Albert later – we are going to discuss the shipping-trade.”
“Oh, brother…well, I shall be here with Alexandra, and that’ll be so much better than having to wait for you for hours to get back! I’ll see you at breakfast in a moment…has Alexandra had breakfast?”
Alexandra, feeling her stomach rumble, gestured awkwardly. This beautiful youngster couldn’t possibly expect her to dine with them!
“Um…I’ll organize it,” she said.
“Fine!” Arabella smiled. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Alexandra…I must hurry. Matthew is going out soon and I want to have breakfast before he goes!”
“Of course,” Alexandra nodded. The Duke, in the hallway, seemed relieved. Matthew. His name was Matthew. Alexandra nodded to him.
What an odd pair.
She felt her heart warm at the thought of Lady Arabella – her young charge was wonderful! She had only met her for a few minutes, but she already felt surprisingly fond of her. And the Duke…
She bit her lip. What could she think? Handsome, yes, he certainly was, but she had no idea to his character. He was fond of his sister, though, and that showed he couldn’t be as bad as his manner suggested.
“Miss?” a maid said, appearing at the door. “Mr. Derring wanted to know if you’d be joining us for breakfast? Only it’s almost time to pack up.”
“Oh!” Alexandra nodded swiftly. “Yes. I’ll be down directly.”
The kitchen downstairs was oppressively hot and crowded, and nobody was friendly. She had felt the need to eat alone. She took some bread and tea back to the schoolroom.
She looked up as somebody knocked.
“Miss Ilfield?” the Duke said and bowed. “I must request a talk with you. I had no opportunity to interview you myself, but of course I wish to discuss the support of my sister.”
“Yes, of course,” Alexandra agreed, getting up from the desk. She stared at him in surprise. She had absolutely not expected him to come in here, much less to talk to her alone. Such an important person would surely have other things to do than interview the chaperone?
The Duke drew back a chair and they both sat down. Alexandra faced him, heart thudding.
“What do you view as your role, Miss Ilfield?” he asked. His voice was serious, his expression closed, as if she were standing accused before a court. Alexandra felt a shiver run down her spine. It wasn’t nerves, though – she didn’t really understand what she was feeling. Whatever it was, it was making her heart thump and palms sweat with anticipation.
“I view my role as a support and companion for your sister, but someone who is able to guide her and teach her the skills necessary to make a good impression in society. I will train her in the arts, languages, and comportment, as well as be a friend and a caring ear for when she chooses to give confidences.”
“I see.” The Duke nodded. He seemed impressed. “And what will you do for this…education?”
Alexandra stiffened. “I have decided on a broad curriculum, encompassing modern literature, French and German, as well as tapestry, art, and of course flowers.” That was, she reckoned, the appropriate sort of lesson.
Alexandra stiffened. He seemed amused, and she wondered what was making him smile so condescendingly.
“Your Grace?” she prompted.
“Art is born of observation and investigation of Nature,” he murmured, seemingly to himself.
“You needn’t quote Cicero like that,” she said, one brow lifting. “I think it does him little credit to mumble his words softly.”
“You know Cicero?” the Duke’s head jerked up. He looked interested.
Alexandra raised a brow still further. “I said to your household head in London that I am well educated. I trust it need not be pointed out that I meant I have a basic knowledge of literature, old and modern.”
“Yes, but…” the Duke countered. “I am sure the position does not require a thorough literacy in the old masters?”
Alexandra tried not to snort. “On what hooks must we hang modern literature, except on the workings of the old masters? How, pray, must I teach a subject like poetry, without reference to the works of the ancient scholars?”
“Upon my word,” he murmured. “I had not expected someone so…well…ready with her thoughts.”
Alexandra frowned. She wasn’t sure what to say about that. On the one hand, she felt a flare of pride. On the other hand, she wasn’t sure what he had been expecting. Surely, he wanted someone who could provide the best possible education for his sister? She also felt confused. Had she somehow made him reconsider because of her educated ways? She needed him to take her on!
“I trust that you were thinking of her education when you sought a companion?”
The Duke shrugged. “I suppose so. Her education, her comportment, and, above all, her protection. I am trusting you, Miss Ilfield. I hope you are aware of the trust I place in you as her chaperone?”
Alexandra nodded. “I am.” She looked up at him, wondering at the serious expression on his face. He surely trusted her to be of good character? The rudeness of the butler and the coldness of the servants towards her made his suspicion feel even worse. “I believe that, the longer I work here, the clearer it will become that I do not disrespect my position.”
The Duke raised a brow.
“I trust you don’t,” he said firmly. “Should I even suspect you took these matters lightly, you would not hold it for long. Good day, Miss.”
Alexandra stared as he stood and walked out of the room. She couldn’t believe it!
“What was that?” she murmured, watching him leave. He walked down the hallway and she listened until his footsteps were fading. “Why did he do that?”
She stood and went to the window, seeking peace. The schoolroom looked out on a lawned area, the green rectangle surrounded by hedges, still in sunshine. It all seemed small from up here, though she could guess the grounds of the estate were vast. The house itself was extremely stylish and well-appointed; even here, the bookshelves were made of fine wood and the wide windows allowed light to enter. She had never seen such a graceful, refined home.
“It’s not all bad,” she told herself firmly, turning to go back to her room. “In fact, this is a fine place and you’re so lucky to be here.” She nodded.
She had escaped her home – which was the main object – and, not only that, she’d landed in a home where she could use her gifts, she was well-cared-for, and she even had books to read. The difficulties with the other staff and the fact that her room was drab and almost windowless were minor concerns.
And the fact, she thought mildly as she went up the stairs, that her employer was an oddity was something that would impact her little. It was his sister she was going to see every day, and he seemed to approve of her for that. She would see very little of him from now on, of that she was sure.
She was determined to enjoy herself here, and the Duke being difficult was not going to deter her from that goal.
The fire was burning merrily in the grate in the study – a little over-merry since the butler looked flushed when he came in and rolled up his sleeves instantly. Matthew hardly noticed.
“What have I done now?” he murmured to himself.
He had expected someone educated, perhaps, when he received a chaperone into the house; he thought maybe she would be able to speak French, read music, and possibly would have read the modern authors – but the new chaperone was entirely different to what he had expected!
She would, he thought with a grin, be teaching his sister the classics, poetry and art, and probably enough for her to study Classics at Cambridge. It was, well…probably too much. He had wanted her to be able to have some basic knowledge so she could talk with people, that was it.
“I don’t know what I think of this.”
He rested his head in his hands. The impact of Miss Ilfield was strong. Her mind was sharp and funny, and he had, he confessed, enjoyed talking with her. But he didn’t want her making his sister turn her back on society and lock herself away with her books! He worried about his sister and he took his job as guardian seriously.
And, he had to admit, Miss Ilfield was not displeasing as far as looks went, either. He blushed and pushed the thought of her fine red lips, moist and welcoming, aside. She was most certainly not someone he could think of like that.
He reached for the Gazette as even the collection of gossip, speculation, and bad news it usually offered would be good to keep his mind off the problem of Miss Ilfield.
“Your Grace?” Mr. Denning said, coming in. Matthew looked up, frowning. Was it teatime already?
“Your Grace, Lord Almerton is here. Should I send him to the anteroom?”
“No,” Matthew shook his head, shocked at the idea. “Show him in now, please. I will speak to him here at once.” He’d been so absorbed in interviewing the governess that he’d almost lost track of the fact that Albert was supposed to be arriving. He hadn’t remembered he was visiting.
“There you are!” Albert greeted, grinning at him as he came in. “Perdition take me! I thought you must be ill. You’re usually somewhere about.”
Matthew grinned. “I must admit I forgot about your visit. I was addressing some difficulties in the staff. If you’d like to go up? It’s good to see you.” He nodded to Albert, who smiled and followed him to the door.
Matthew looked the drawing room, wondering at the spindly wooden furniture. It was, apparently, made by a famous maker of furniture, even though he himself would have preferred something more solid. Arabella had insisted that it was all the rage, and he’d let her have her way, deferring to her greater knowledge of fashion
“Of course,” Albert nodded. His brown eyes shone merrily. He was a thin fellow with a lively nature that matched his fiery red hair. He had been Matthew’s best friend since university. They lived fairly close, too, Albert having his manor an hour away. “So,” Albert said as they went into the drawing-room. “How are you and the household? I trust the difficulty’s not serious?”
“Oh?” Matthew shrugged. He’d forgotten saying that. “No…just some new staff-member I wanted to interview. For Arabella. You know, one can’t be too cautious.”
“No,” Albert nodded. “I must say, you do a fine job. Looking after your young sister by yourself cannot be easy, old fellow.”
“No,” Matthew agreed. “It isn’t.”
He had been Arabella’s guardian since their parents’ deaths when he was just fifteen or so. His sister had been five then, just a child. Now, he had been the Duke for nine years, and Arabella was almost ready to debut into society. He was desperate to look after her.
“London society is quite rough now,” Albert observed, looking up thoughtfully.
“Rough? Well, I know what you mean, mind.”
It was rough for a sixteen-year-old girl.
Matthew tried not to worry for Arabella – he had a lot to think about today, and plenty to discuss with Albert. However, he found his mind returning to the chaperone and the problem – if he could call it a problem – of her being over-qualified for everything.
“Um, Albert,” he said after about an hour of holding his tongue. They had been talking about investing in rope, and he had missed most of Albert’s excited speech – he had been too busy thinking of his particular concern. “Would you say it would be a dangerous thing for Arabella to study the classics? And, well…other learned things?”
Albert gaped at him, and Matthew felt instantly foolish for having asked it. “Why, I think it would be a grand thing! Far from doing harm, it would broaden her mind and give her interests outside the Ton. It’s a lot easier to ignore all the criticism if you have something else to absorb you. Like, say, interest in economy! When I’m thinking about rope, or tea, or whatever else I want to invest my money in, I don’t care what Lady Amery thinks of my cravat, or if I’ll be allowed back into Almack’s this season.”
Matthew had to laugh. “You’re right, Albert. Thank you. I had not thought of it in that way before.”
“No trouble, ask me anything, at any time.” Albert beamed. “What I was asking you, though, is if you could put in just five percent into this ship we’re making? Just five. And the returns will be threefold! I feel certain.”
“I’ll think about it,” Matthew promised.
Their talk turned to other things. Albert ran a hand down his face wearily.
“The crime in London is increasing, Matthew,” he said. “I…well, I hesitate to walk abroad of an evening. And we don’t live so far away, either.”
Matthew nodded. “What about this new Watch? Aren’t they supposed to keep the peace?”
“Yes,” Albert agreed wearily. “But they’re only men, too…there are so many thieves and footpads about! One can’t be too careful.”
“No,” Matthew agreed, swallowing hard. He started to feel uncomfortable. He really didn’t need Albert worrying him like this – he spent a good part of every day worried about his sister’s safety anyway!
“And I heard the other day that…” Albert began.
“Now stop it, please, Albert,” Matthew said swiftly. “Can’t we talk about something more positive?”
“Oh! Of course, old chap. Have you seen the stocks in the tea-trade? So strong!”
Albert left after an hour – he had to settle some staffing problems of his own, he said, namely the hiring of a new cook for his hunting-estate. He rode off, leaving Matthew to find Arabella.
They met upstairs over tea.
“What do you think of her, brother?” Arabella asked.
“I think she will be a good companion for you,” Matthew said firmly. He felt his cheeks redden. He liked Miss Ilfield, he had to admit, but he wasn’t going to tell his sister. He couldn’t risk Miss Ilfield knowing he hadn’t disapproved of her easy conversation. He felt it was important to maintain distance with the staff.
“Isn’t she lovely?” Arabella grinned. “And she reminds me of you, a bit – so funny and clever.”
“Thank you, Arabella,” he said. He found himself blushing. “Did you talk to her about the tea-party?” He had hoped to have a chaperone ready for Arabella’s first public event.
He found himself wondering what the chaperone thought of him.
“Oh! You mean the one you want me to go to? Oh, yes! She said I could wear the white muslin, if I liked, and she would be sure to check that I knew my etiquette. She joked about it, though. She’s so funny! I like her.”
“I trust she didn’t take it lightly,” Matthew asked, feeling worried once more. The chaperone was there to keep his sister safe, above all things, and he had to be sure of her character.
“Oh, brother! You don’t have to be so serious, do you?” Arabella asked. “But no. As it happens, she didn’t seem to scorn etiquette. Not a bit. So, you needn’t worry.” She reached for her teacup and poured more tea.
Matthew smiled. “I trust you, sister. Truly, I do.” He put aside his tea. “I know that you would never wittingly be rude or offensive. It’s not you I worry about – it’s everyone else.”
“Oh, brother. The whole of London isn’t full of scoundrels and rogues. Is it?”
Matthew shrugged. “I can’t say.” He swallowed his tea. He had to admit that, since becoming the only thing Arabella had approaching a parent, he’d become overly aware of the dangers of the world. He truly had started thinking of London as a pit of corruption, but she forced him to think rationally about it, and he found that it couldn’t be true. After all, he was also a Ton member, and he wouldn’t hurt anybody.
“I am so excited!” Arabella giggled. “Oh, brother! I can’t wait to wear my new dress. And Alexandra shall be there! Won’t it be fun?”
“Yes,” Matthew said, glad to have the subject changed. “Yes, it will be fun.”
He would, he decided, just have to keep a close eye on Miss Ilfield and make sure that she was not a bad influence for his sister. Arabella already trusted her, and that meant she must be even more responsible and reliable than he had thought
Alexandra sat down at the desk in the schoolroom. Though she knew her job was explicitly not as governess, she found that she gravitated to the room with its shelves of books and its airy brightness. It was the only place in the house, too, where she felt comfortable. In her own bedroom, she felt out-of-breath, and in the drawing-room she felt unwelcome.
She was surprised, as she sat there with her books, to find her mind drifting to the subject of Lord Blakely. How strange it was that he kept on returning to her thoughts again and again.
“Miss?” the maid said, coming to the door. Alexandra recognized her from dinner the previous evening – she’d been sitting across from her, eating soup – but she couldn’t yet recall her name. “The room should be empty at lunchtime…we’re going to be cleaning in here, and it’s best if you and your young charge aren’t in here then.”
“Thank you,” she nodded.
Chaperone was, she thought a little sadly as the maid curtseyed and turned to go out again, a difficult position to hold. She wasn’t a servant – or not in the same sense as those who cleaned the house or made the dinner – but at the same time, she was also not part of the family, however close and sisterly Arabella might seem to her.
“It’s just good to be safe,” she reminded herself.
She found herself thinking about him again, recalling the interchange of the initial interview. He had been so strict! And the way he’d talked, as though he half-expecting she would steal the crockery! She felt herself blush as she recalled the fact that, however tedious he was, he did have rather lovely soft brown hair.
“Alexandra! There you are!” Arabella said, walking lightly over to the desk. Alexandra hadn’t even heard her footsteps in the corridor. She looked up as her young friend sat down.
“What is it, my Lady?” Alexandra asked. She studied Arabella’s face – pale, but lit from within, her eyes sparkling.
“Nothing! I just wanted to find you. I was thinking about what you said yesterday, about knowing the right way to do something. I was confused, because sometimes there isn’t a right way to do something. I mean, there’s lots of ways to tie a bow, or lace a bodice, or…”
Alexandra grinned. “Yes, there are. I think that the only times there is ‘a right way’ is when it matters to do it in a way that people agree on doing it. With tasks you do by yourself, or for yourself, you should do them the way that’s best for you.”
She had to admit that she already liked Arabella as a pupil – her mind was lively and engaging, and she had a tendency to think thoroughly about topics. Her thoughts did wander a great deal, though, which made it hard to focus on any one thing.
“Oh!” Arabella clapped her hands. “Isn’t that splendid! Now, I’m going to go out riding. You like riding? I love riding! I have a wonderful horse. Her name’s Princess. You’d love her too. Would you like to meet her? But you can’t wear that outside…it’s too cold! Have you a cloak?” Arabella was already on her feet, going to the windows.
“My Lady…” Alexandra said patiently. “Weren’t we meant to be discussing modern writing?” She had made the agreement with Arabella the day before that they would spend an hour in the schoolroom every morning, after breakfast. Just an hour, she’d assured her young charge, and she seemed to have agreed to it – at least yesterday.
“Oh, that’s so boring,” Arabella flapped one hand. “I don’t want to talk about modern writing. That’s all silly stuff. I like riding!”
Alexandra felt her lip lift in a smile.
“Is it silly?” she asked. “Are you sure? What about Shelley? Is his writing boring and tedious?”
“Oh! No…” Arabella’s mouth dropped into a small ‘o’ of shock. Alexandra grinned. Shelley – the famous poet – had clearly captured Arabella’s imagination, just as he had most of the population of London and England – certainly, most of the female population.
“Well, then,” Alexandra grinned. “Maybe poetry isn’t always fun…but what about Zastrozzi?”
“Oh! His novel? I read it,” Arabella said, flushing. “Matthew would be shocked.”
“He would?” Alexandra was amused. Why would Shelley’s poetry be acceptable, but his novel – which, even Alexandra had to admit, was exciting and arresting rather than serious – was not? The Duke must be a strict person.
“Oh, yes! You won’t tell him, I’m sure. It was a fun book, though…I’m sure you liked it too.”
“I did,” Alexandra grinned. “Though I probably wouldn’t have told anybody that, either.”
They both chuckled. It would, they agreed, be their secret. They talked readily about literature. Arabella agreed that of all modern literature, Shelley was her favorite. She liked Byron, but she felt he could be a bit political, and politics was tiresome.
“It always makes people angry,” Arabella said, frowning.
“People feel strongly about how their country should be governed, which is understandable, I think,” Alexandra said gently.
“I suppose,” Arabella said. “But can’t we all agree on it? Surely all people want the same things?”
Alexandra smiled. “Now that, my dear friend, is a topic that philosophers have debated for centuries. We could reference Aristotle, or Socrates, or even the French school – Voltaire, for example – for our answers. Shall we have a look at what they said?”
“Yes,” Arabella agreed.
Alexandra reached for a piece of paper and something to write with, suddenly feeling familiar and comfortable.
“And so,” she was explaining after an hour, “I think that there is no general rule about ‘what everybody wants.’ Some suggest it’s knowledge, some material comforts, some a sense of purpose. I…do we have the windows open?” she asked, looking up as something moved.
“I opened the door,” Lord Blakeley said.
Alexandra stared as he walked in, striding across to the desk after shutting the door behind him.
“Oh!” Arabella jumped up. “Oh, brother! I didn’t know you were coming in! Alexandra and I were just having a diverting talk. And I want to go and try on my new dress, for the party. Will you stay?”
“I will,” he nodded. “Excuse me, Miss Ilfield. I couldn’t help interrupting. I was wondering if you had intended to discuss the reason for life?”
“No,” Alexandra countered, feeling nettled by his having been standing outside the schoolroom for some time. “I hadn’t. We were discussing what people want.”
“Isn’t that the same thing?”
Alexandra shook her head. “No…I wouldn’t have thought so. The purpose of life, and human endeavor…could they be the same thing? That itself asks many important questions.”
“It does,” Lord Blakeley countered. “Is my purpose here to do what I want? Probably not.”
Alexandra was surprised to see how bitter he looked. She frowned. The look was only there for a moment, and it was gone the instant Arabella laughed happily.
“I thought you were out! It’s grand to have you here.”
I also thought he was out, Alexandra thought gloomily. She had thought she’d heard his horse running. She had felt freer to talk when she had assumed he wouldn’t be there to listen; as somehow, she felt he didn’t hold with educated women.
Though he did agree that he wanted his sister educated. And he seems so serious sometimes…
“Sister, I’d be delighted to see your new dress, if you want to show me,” he said, turning to Arabella, who gazed up contentedly. “What I actually wanted to do was tell you some good news; I came to tell you we’d be receiving no guests. Do you want to dine upstairs?”
“Oh! Yes! That would be merry!” Arabella said. She looked up hopefully at her brother. “Brother…what about Alexandra? Is she welcome, too?”
Alexandra swallowed. The Duke looked as if someone had smacked him. She thought that he wouldn’t want her joining them, and that thought upset her.
“Is that what you’d like?” he asked. His voice was serious, his expression grave.
She raised a brow. “Is it what I’d like? Or is it part of my purpose here? I’m not sure. I myself see no reason why it should be contrary to my purpose here – these things are not always in dissonance.”
The Duke looked at her, amazed. She grinned. Making him think was rather fun.
“Hurray!” Arabella said, heedless of the interchange between her brother and her chaperone. “Shall you come up now, then, Alexandra?”
“It depends on what Miss Ilfield wants,” the Duke said again. He was looking so tense that, after a moment, Alexandra smiled.
“No, Lady Arabella. I will stay here. There’s work I must finish. I will dine downstairs with the others, later on.”
“Oh,” Arabella looked disappointed, and Alexandra felt a sharp pang of guilt. But, when she looked at the Duke, he was looking at her with a slightly-less severe eye than before. She’d made the right choice.
“Well, then,” she said, reaching for her quill, inspecting the end though it didn’t need trimming yet, she knew that. “I will see you after lunch, then, later. Then we can discuss the dress you talked about.”
“Hurray!” her young friend said, squeezing her hand impulsively before running to her brother.
Alexandra looked up at the Duke, who was standing in the doorway. He gazed back at her and she found it impossible to fathom the look he gave her as she left.
She could almost, she thought, think it was affection.
“Nonsense, Miss Ilfied,” she told herself firmly. “Why would he?”
She was his sister’s chaperone. He would certainly never look at her like that.
All the same, as she reached for a book and sat down in the chair by the window, she realized she was smiling. She couldn’t stop thinking about the Duke, and their exchange, and, despite how foolish it was, she had to admit that she rather liked him.
“No matter how peculiar and difficult he might be, or how silly it might be,” she told herself firmly.
“The Runaway Chaperone” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Forced into a loveless betrothal with a man who terrifies her, Alexandra Drake decides to run away from home. As luck would have it, she is then hired as a chaperone for a dashing Duke’s younger sister. While it seems to be an easy position for an accomplished woman like her, keeping an eye on the young girl will prove harder than she expected. To make matters more complicated, Alexandra will inevitably find herself falling in love with her charming employee and unable to think of anything else than his captivating eyes… Could Alexandra ignore her growing feelings for the sake of conventional rules? Will true love manage to shine through the emotional whirlwind that has turned her world upside down?
Matthew Lammore has been the Duke of Blakeley since the tragic loss of his parents when he was only fifteen. This entire time, the responsibility of taking care of the estate and his beloved sister has fallen upon his shoulders. However, as his sister has reached the age of sixteen, he will need a well educated person to help her prepare for her debut into Society. Luckily for him, he finds the most appropriate woman for this role, who among other talents, seems to also have a heart of gold. Little did he know though that the beautiful chaperone would exceed her role and end up being the breath of fresh air he has longed for, casting light upon his dull life. This doesn’t however alter his awareness of how inappropriate it would be for a Duke to fall in love with his own employee. Will Matthew defy social norms and give true love a chance? Or will he turn down the woman of his dreams out of fear of ruining his reputation?
The more Matthew and Alexandra fall for each other, the more they realize they are moving towards a tangled labyrinth. As if this wasn’t enough, Alexandra’s secret past is haunting her and threatening to tear this blossoming romance apart. Will the two soulmates dare to take the leap of real love and have faith in each other? In the end, will they declare their undeniable feelings, or will they be overpowered by the threatening internal and external obstacles?
“The Runaway Chaperone” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.