Lady Tess Oakley smiled gently at those she passed by in the hall of the grand estate. A few of the gentlemen turned in her direction, taking in the sight of her petite frame, topped by a mass of blonde hair. Her lashes fluttered over large, amber eyes as her dearest friend, Rue, came alongside her. Dressed in their finest ballgowns, they were ready for an evening of dancing, gossip, and a great deal of attention.
“Good heavens, Tess. Do you think you might leave any gentlemen for the other ladies?” Rue asked. Tess noted that there were a few men eyeing her from the corner as they ignored the dancers in the middle of the hall.
“And why do you mind? You are already engaged. There is no one here who could possibly match your dearest Lord Haverdell,” Tess remarked. She nodded in the direction of Rue’s future husband, and Rue’s eyes followed, leading her to smile broadly.
“Indeed, that is so, but there are plenty of young ladies who cannot make such a claim,” Rue said.
But Tess didn’t mind. Everyone knew that the daughter of the Earl of Daleshire was beautiful, good-natured, and energetic. However, she was also known for her independence, and there were a great number of men who sought to tame her.
And Tess had no intention of being tamed.
“Not one of these ladies needs to be worried about me,” Tess remarked, glancing around at the young women busying themselves with filling their dance cards or trying to catch the eye of this or that gentleman. Many of them were pursuing only those men their fathers and mothers demanded they seek out. Tess considered it an awful shame that they did not have their own choices.
Then again, Tess had her own struggles with her mother and father wishing she would respond to the advances of a particular gentleman. Lord Stanton had been working hard to court her, despite her best efforts to avoid him.
“You say that none of these young ladies needs to worry about you, but I have faith that, in due time, you shall find the right man,” Rue said, leading the way to the refreshments table as new sets of couples made their way out to dance the waltz..
“The only man for me is a man who seeks to leave me alone,” Tess replied.
Rue grinned, her green eyes bright as she did so. But when she shook her head in playful disapproval over Tess’s antics, one of her red curls sprung from its pin, and Tess quickly rushed to trap it back into place.
“Thank you,” Rue said, glancing around nervously to ensure that she had not been seen. Tess ensured that Rue was covered, with herself on one side and the bright, white wall behind her.
Tess’s mother was off in the corner, already gossiping with her friends. She had reminded Tess earlier in the evening to be on her best behaviour, to make herself demure for the sake of the gentlemen who would be noticing her. Particularly for the sake of Lord Stanton, who did not appear to have arrived yet. Tess searched the crowd in order to be sure that she was not going to stumble upon him. However, he was nowhere to be seen, and that gave her a great deal of peace.
“You say that these ladies do not need to worry about you taking hold of all these gentlemen, but why not? You can see clearly that any of them would be happy to be on your arm. I am shocked that you have not had more offers of courtship,” Rue said.
“I am unbothered by what they may or may not want. You know that I have vowed to never marry. I have no intention of revisiting that decision,” Tess declared.
“So you say. But I have never heard of a woman refusing to marry. What shall you do with your life? How shall you get by?” Rue asked.
“There are a great many reluctant spinsters in society who simply remain in the homes of their mothers and fathers. If I happen to put off any number of men, my mother and father shall have no reason to suspect that it is through any effort of my own,” she said.
“They shall only arrange a marriage for you in that event,” Rue warned. “After all, they are already trying, are they not?”
“Not necessarily. Regardless, it hardly matters. I shall not marry, and that is all there is to it,” Tess said, determined to stick by her decision. She was far too wild and independent to give in to the whims of her mother and father as they sought to marry her off.
Rue simply rolled her eyes, and Tess knew that she didn’t believe Tess would actually stay with her decision.
“You are infuriatingly stubborn, and I wish that you would listen to yourself. Honestly, if you believed half the things that come from your own mouth, I would be shocked. Nevertheless, if you insist upon all of this nonsense, I shall support you, regardless. Not because I expect you to follow through on your nonsensical utterances, but because I know that, in time, someone shall change your mind,” Rue said.
“You may believe what you wish, my dear, but I should never like to be tied in marriage. You know me well enough to know how desperately I hate to be restricted,” Tess reasoned.
“Well, I am quite the opposite. I cannot imagine missing the opportunity to marry my darling Lord Haverdell. I trust that he would never force me to be the sort of half-servant that many women have to becomeare subjected to,” Rue said.
“And I am happy for you. Just because I hate the idea of marriage for myself does not mean that I would seek for you to miss such an opportunity,” Tess said.
“For that, I am thankful, but I would not care if you did. What matters to me is not your opinion but rather the life that I shall live with Lord Haverdell. You know, he is the most remarkable man I have ever met in my life. To think that he wishes to be my husband is a gift, unlike any other,” Rue said dreamily.
“And I believe that the two of you shall be very happy together. I have seen how he adores you, and it makes me happy to know that he treats you with such adoration. However, your own wishes are different from mine,” Tess said.
“You know, Lord Haverdell has a dear friend who is absolutely lovely. Many women have remarked upon his features and his charm. But he is like you. He detests any mention of marriage, and whenever it comes up, he is always quick to make a comment against it,” Rue said.
“He sounds like a very clever gentleman,” Tess said.
“That is him, just over there standing near Lord Haverdell with the dark hair and heavy brow,” Rue said, noting the group of gentlemen with glasses of brandy, laughing about something that had taken place with a friend of theirs.
Tess took in the sight of a man she knew of through his reputation. Lord Milton Eddington, Duke of Corrington, was a devilishly handsome rake with the most deep-set, striking blue eyes and a wolfish grin. Nearly any woman he laid eyes upon felt as though she was being set upon by the most alluring predator.
But Tess had also heard that much of it was rumour and nothing more. They had crossed paths only once or twice, being in the same circles at this ball or that. Never had she interacted with him directly or responded to any look he may have given her.
She did not know him well, by any means. But something about him did make her curious. If he was every bit as opposed to marriage as she, why was he constantly having young women paraded in front of him? Young ladies were brought near by their mothers and fathers. Did they not know of his reputation? Or was he so wealthy that they simply did not care?
Whatever it was, Tess could not be sure that he wasn’t simply a legend to be spoken of by this or that woman who merely wanted to be the object of his attention. If he really was the sort of rake they all claimed, Tess was quite sure that he must enjoy his reputation and madke efforts to contribute towards it.
Then again, it was quite normal for a rake to wish to avoid marriage. After all, why would he wish to be tied to one woman when he could flirt with so many others?
She observed him across the room, and it was no shock when his eyes found hers. Tess maintained a straight back, a confident posture. She gave him the faintest hint of an amused smile as a young woman tried to get his attention in front of him. But Tess was truly in his sights, and it was no different from what had been described.
“Well, there it is then. He has spotted you. You had best make something interesting of yourself or he might look away,” Rue teased.
“And you think I mind where his eyes fall? I told you, I have no interest,” Tess replied.
“There is not a woman in this room who has no interest in the Duke of Corrington, and of all the lies you have told me this evening, this is the chiefest among them,” Rue said.
“It is such a shame that my dearest friend does not know me better than this,” Tess chided.
“And it is a shame that my dearest friend has worked so hard to believe that she is, in any way, immune to the charms of a man like him,” Rue retorted.
No matter how Tess wished to spar with Rue, her time was limited. Lord Corrington kindly made an exit from the young woman he was with and took long strides across the hall until he was beside Tess and Rue.
“Good evening, ladies,” he said, and , greeted them with a bow.
“Good evening,” they replied, curtseying in kind.
“Lady Tennant, I believe that your betrothed is rather bored over by the refreshments. I fear that he must not have seen you arrive,” Lord Corrington said to Rue.
“Is that so? Goodness, I cannot imagine why my intended was not alerted to my arrival at once. After all, he has told me so many times that I brighten up the room,” Rue lilted, teasing her betrothed from afar.
“Perhaps the problem is that your dear friend here darkened it in kind,” he said, turning to Tess.
“Oh? I have the power to darken a room? What a shame that is. I must be dreadfully unfortunate,” she said.
“I believe I do have a cure for your gloom,” he said, a single brow raised in suggestion.
“And what might that be?” Tess sparred, placing a hand on her hip in firm disapproval of his charm. She had no intention of allowing him to sway her.
“A dance with the most eligible bachelor in the hall,” he replied mischievously.
Tess took in his words for a moment, aware that he was trying to be witty and that she would have to make an effort to be his match with her words.
“What I find remarkable is that I was in rather a cheerful mood before we were so disturbed. However, if I am to dance with the most eligible bachelor in the room, I suppose I must go on the hunt for Lord Bonneville, which is rather ironic as I have never been overly fond of him,” she said, managing to playfully insult Lord Corrington on two counts.
He flashed that notorious grin at her once more, as if recognising that she was something rather different from the others. Proud of her triumph, Tess waited patiently for him to speak further.
“Lady Oakley, I fear that you are every bit the cynic. Somehow, that only makes you more of an intrigue,” Lord Corrington said.
“I suppose that I would rather have a reputation as a cynic than a simpering fool,” Tess said, unconsciously glancing around at the many young ladies begging for the attention of a variety of gentlemen.
“Yes, indeed. It is rather strange to meet a young woman without an inherent need to please whomever she finds her eyes set upon. Or is it that your eyes have not yet set upon any man?” he asked.
Tess smirked and leaned forward as if to share a secret.
“Perhaps it is that I have no intention of allowing them to do so. I am not subject to the whims and needs that plague so many. Nevertheless, I do enjoy a nice ball and the opportunity to dress in finery. It is such a shame that gatherings such as this one are used for merely the sake of matchmaking and the grounds for scandal,” she said.
For a long moment, Lord Corrington stared at Tess with some sort of admiration, she suspected, for her ability to match his own lack of desire for romance and society’s expectations. He said nothing, but Tess interpreted the look with ease. It was clear that Lord Corrington had every hope of making her swoon. After all, it was rare that he was given a challenge by any woman.
Still, even this hope that she might be conquered was tempered with the fact that Lord Corrington was the last man in London to actually want a future with Tess. To him, this was all just a game, and she knew it.
“Lady Oakley,” he began, “Forgive me for my former request, made out of arrogance, which I see does not charm you. Allow me to refine the wording of what I iwould like. I would be honoured if you would subject yourself to a dance with a gentleman as loathsome as I.”
Tess laughed heartily, appreciating his self-deprecation and how devoted he was to charming her. There was something interesting about his attempts that she couldn’t ignore.
“Very well, Lord Corrington. If I must,” she replied out of amusement.
“Well, I am entirely grateful. You see, I find that your gloom has actually brightened my day,” he said.
Tess gave him a playful glare, letting him know that she was not going to be charmed by his efforts. If he had any real intention to gain her favour, she expected that he would have introduced himself to her mother first. No, indeed, this was a man with tenacity and a lack of commitment, which suited Tess rather well.
Lord Corrington held out his hand to her just in time for the previous dance to finish and a new one to begin. She graciously accepted and followed him out onto the dance floor, perfectly aware that this was the sort of thing that might make people talk.
But Tess didn’t mind. Her greatest hope was that Lord Boyd Stanton would see this dance and know that Tess was not loyal to him, nor any other. She was a woman unburdened by notions of romance.
And that was precisely how she intended to remain.
Milton could not take his eyes off Lady Oakley, but it was less about her beauty than her capacity for banter that now held his interests. There was something truly interesting about her that made her so different from all the other women in the room, and he considered that a rather fascinating challenge to understand.
He knew that Lady Oakley was the daughter of the Earl of Daleshire ,but wondered why she did not parade herself as such. She was clearly a confident woman, and she had a great depth of personality. Milton had also heard of her spirit and adventurous nature, which he was quickly coming to note as being true in every way.
The most beautiful woman in the room, Lady Oakley was often spoken of, and Milton had heard about her from others. As the music began and he bowed to begin the dance, he noted that they were being watched by envious men all around the room. But this was simply a chance for Milton to prove that even she could not resist his charms.
“You are a most graceful dancer,” he said, once the movements began, and they spun about with ease.
“Are you not supposed to say that to sayevery woman with whom you dance?” Lady Oakley asked in reply.
Milton laughed, appreciating that she was still unable to be moved. He glanced over to James, who was now dancing with his betrothed, Lady Tennant, just in time for James to raise an eyebrow and smirk at him for dancing with Lady Oakley.
Being that Lady Tennant was Lady Oakley’s dearest friend, Milton sensed that James was going to give him grief later in the evening. He could handle that, however. He was rather used to such treatment from friends on account of being labelled a rake and a man without a sentiment for marriage.
Little did they know that he had a reason for such feelings. His behaviour was less about a dramatic notion or childish lack of responsibility and more about doing what was right. He didn’t mind being viewed as a rake, but it sometimes bothered him when people saw nothing more.
“Lady Oakley, forgive me once more. I seem to be offending you at every turn,” Milton said.
“Offending? No, not at all. Rather, I am interested to know why you feel the need to treat me as you would any other woman. It may shock you to learn this, but not all women are exactly the same as one another. Indeed, many of us are actually quite different from others,” she said teasingly.
“Is that so? Well, I must confess that I am embarrassed for having treated you as though that were not so. Perhaps you shall learn to understand that while not all women are the same, the vast majority of men have one thing in common,” Milton said.
“And what is that?”
“I fear that we are all agonisingly foolish and know nothing at all of what women truly wish for us to say or how they desire to be treated. You have stumbled upon one of my many great weaknesses in that I am no better than any other man in this regard,” he said.
“Be that as it may, I find you rather different from the other men to whom you compare yourself,” Lady Oakley said.
Milton was, once more, intrigued. He had not anticipated such an analysis from her as this.
“And what is that?”
“Your confidence, for one. I am accustomed to seeing nothing but arrogance from men such as you. However, your confidence is…well…it is somewhat adjacent to the arrogance of others,” she explained.
Milton raised a brow and eyed her for a moment before bursting into laughter.
“My goodness, Lady Oakley, that is a far cry from what I am usually told. Strange that so many deem me as being excessively arrogant, and you do not see it at all?” he asked.
“I never claimed to not see it. I merely stated that it is separate from what I typically see,” she replied.
Before Milton could respond, he glanced up and noted that they were being watched keenly by Lord Stanton, a man who exhibited every bit of the arrogance Lady Oakley mentioned. He clearly disliked the idea of Milton and Lady Oakley dancing with one another, and Milton couldn’t deny that it gave him a brand new amusement. After all, Lord Boyd Stanton, the future Earl of Henbridge, had never been overly friendly and had taken a particular disliking to Milton quite some time ago.
Milton responded to him by grinning in such a way that he knew would bother Lord Stanton a great deal, causing the man to sneer at him and look towards the rest of the crowd.
When Milton returned his eyes to Lady Oakley, she was looking at him with her own suspicious gaze.
“You seem to have bothered one of my suitors,” she noted.
“One of your suitors? Interesting. I was not aware of the fact that you had any, nor that Lord Stanton was among them,” he said.
“Indeed, he is. Although I cannot say with any great sense of confidence that he is the sort of man I would choose, were I actually to be given the choice,” Lady Oakley said.
“Is that so?” Milton asked, surprised that she would say this so openly.
“It hardly matters, in truth. There are not many whom I would consent to choosing. Regardless, I understand that you are more interested in the whims of debutantes than the desires which they have to be wed,” Lady Oakley noted.
Milton grinned again and subconsciously chewed on his lip as he spun her in the dance.
“You are a rather bold woman, you know,” he said.
“Am I?” she asked.
“Shockingly so,” Milton replied.
“I fear that there is little I am able to do in order to stop myself,” she said in the most charming way possible.
There was something about her that really did interest and surprise him, particularly in the way that she appeared rather confident in her own right and did not seem particularly bothered by the things the other young women cared for to such a great extent. She was clearly not here to find a husband but to truly enjoy herself.
He had not known such a woman as far as he could recall, one who was less interested in seeking a match as seeking a life. If she was anything at all like he was interpreting, she just might be the most adventurous woman he had ever known. Regardless of whether or not he was truly understanding her, Milton was enjoying her company, enjoying the wistful nature of her smile and the fact that he was able to take in her beauty without having her interpret it as a proposal of marriage.
Her ability to entertain him was different as well. She bantered mildly about Lord Stanton, which was always a way to win Milton’s favour, but she also had a keen sense of awareness of herself. She appeared to move in the dance as though utterly conscious of how she was being watched and by whom. She breezed in and out of the motions as though performing for the lords and ladies who would have loved to spurn her with gossip and rumour.
Still, she held her head high, inviting interest from many around the room and once more, Milton saw how Lord Stanton fumed at the sight of the two of them dancing with one another.
At last, however, the music began to come to an end, the fine chord of the violin vibrato’d until there was silence, instantly followed by a resounding clap as was expected.
It was always the end of a dance when a young woman invited Milton to meet her mother and father, or she hinted at hoping for another. The more forward—or rather, desperate—young ladies would even mention that their home would be available if Milton should like to visit for tea. He was accustomed to this behaviour and the fact that nearly every young woman with whom he danced would make such remarks.
“It was a pleasure dancing with you, Lady Oakley,” Milton said, smiling with his mischievous grin once more and giving her an opportunity to make whatever suggestion she thought appropriate to ensure that he knew of her availability.
“And with you, Lord Corrington,” she said, giving him a quick curtsy. Rather than linger and hint at her interest, Lady Oakley did the most marvellous thing.
She turned and walked away from him.
The flippant departure left only the scent of blossoms and the last glance of her charming smile before she blurred into the crowd and found her dear friend once more.
Milton was astonished and deeply impressed. He was utterly unaccustomed to such behaviour from a young woman, and it caused him far more fascination than insult. Who was this woman who was not ready to swoon before him?
“Ah, you danced with Lady Oakley, did you?” James asked, coming over to him as their dance partners met up to gossip and laugh on the other side of the room.
“I did, indeed,” Milton replied, still watching her for a moment longer. He then turned to James and tried to focus, a placid smile on his face to cover for his sudden interest in learning more about Lady Oakley.
“Hmm,” James said. “Strange.”
“What is?” Milton asked.
“I never thought you would be the sort of man to incite a rivalry. After all, everyone knows you have no interest in settling down with a young woman ,but would far rather invite the fancies of many. And yet, here you are, issuing a challenge, perhaps?” James asked.
“Whatever are you going on about? I have no awareness of what you are saying,” Milton said.
“Very well, I shall make it plain for you, Milton. You, my friend, have entered into the rather risky territory of having danced with a woman who is being courted by Lord Stanton,” James said.
Milton shrugged, unbothered by the fact.
“And what of it? It was merely a dance, and you know that,” Milton said.
“Does he? Lord Stanton is not a man to offend. You ought to have spoken with him first,” James said.
“I was hardly even aware that he was courting her. I know of Lady Oakley, but this was our first true interaction. Surely Lord Stanton knows this. Besides, I have a feeling that Lady Oakley is hardly going to be supportive of his effort to woo her,” Milton said.
“And why do you say that?”
Milton looked slyly at James with an eyebrow raised and shrugged.
“Oh, good heavens, did she tell you that?” James asked.
“She certainly made it clear. Anyway, it matters not. I am not afraid of Lord Stanton. Even if I were the sort of gentleman to try and woo a woman, I would not care about him. As it is, everyone knows I do not look for such things,” he said.
“But everyone knows you enjoy the attentions of women. You charm them, which is equally dangerous as wooing. Not only that, but Lord Stanton is not simply interested in her; I have heard that he intends to make a proposal rather soon,” James said.
“How do you know that?” Milton asked, not certain why it even mattered to him.
“Because I am engaged to her dearest friend, and I learn far more gossip than any self-respecting man should ever wish to hear,” James answered, cynically.
Milton laughed at that. He knew that James adored Lady Tennant and that they would be very happy together, but such a life was not for Milton. He could not bear the petulance of marriage or the whims of a shallow woman who cared for balls and gossip. Certainly, James had expressed that Lady Tennant was far more than that, that she had great depth to her, but Milton had never interacted with her long enough to see that.
He glanced back at Lady Oakley, who was already being approached by another gentleman before Lord Stanton quickly interjected. That man was of the sort that he believed himself as having ownership over others. It was rather atrocious in Milton’s eyes. He could not bear the idea of a man like that trying so hard to win the affections and loyalties of a woman only to turn around and express his lordship over her. That was precisely the sort of man he was.
Then again, Milton also detested Lord Stanton’s father. That man was certainly a villain. His own personal beliefs were offensive to the very value of mankind. As a staunch opponent to the abolitionist movement, Milton could have no respect for him at all.
“Milton?” James asked, snapping him from his thoughts.
“Oh, forgive me. I was distracted,” he said.
“Clearly. What has gotten into you? I scarcely ever see you so caught up in your thoughts as this. Is something bothering you?” James asked.
“Not at all,” Milton said.
“I feared that I had caused you worry in my own concern regarding Lord Stanton. While I do urge you to be cautious around the man, I hope that you will not allow him to intimidate you,” James said.
“I would never allow for such a thing. You ought to know me better than that,” Milton replied.
Before James could say another word, a young woman paraded herself nearby, glancing at Milton with eyes surrounded by long lashes and giving him a smile that was simultaneously innocent and flirtatious. It was precisely the sort of look that so many young ladies had perfected over time, a look that gave him great interest to receive as it was enough to let him know that, while the young woman may not ever receive a proposal of marriage for him, at least he might have a chance to win her affections for the moment, thereby proving himself irresistible to another young woman.
“Looks as though you have an admirer,” James said in a hushed tone.
“Indeed, it appears as though I do,” Milton grinned, stepping forward in his plan to speak with the young woman. Although Lady Oakley’s disinterest had made her intriguing, Milton had no intention of abandoning his nature. If he saw a lovely young woman, he would pursue her. But only for the evening.
Yes, people called him a rake and a lout; they decried his loose morals and his womanising behaviours. There were many who believed that he was simply out to corrupt, to convince young women to let go of their decent, moral natures in favour of his dashing appearance and ability to make them feel beautiful regardless of their mother’s demands that their waists be smaller or their backs straighter. All he had to do was show them that they were striking no matter what.
And it was easily done.
The vast majority of women Milton had known could certainly be considered lovely in one way or another. If a young lady had a large nose, it did not take away from hthier striking eyes. If she had a masculine chin, it did not distract him from her soft and shining curls. In all, Milton understood beauty, and he went after it.
To lock himself into the devotion of only one woman was the farthest thing from his mind.
“A Lady’s Fateful Ball” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Tess Oakley is a fiercely independent spirit with no desire to ever get married. Unfortunately, her parents have other plans for her and do all they can to betroth her to a man she absolutely detests. Desperate as she is, Tess is determined to do everything in her power to escape a loveless engagement- even entering a fake courtship with a gentleman who shares the same detestation for marriage. Not long after this decision, her heart will betray her by starting to beat for the handsome stranger, making this arrangement more complicated than she ever expected. Could a false engagement that started as a rescue plan lead to a deeply liberating love and the salvation she has always looked for? Will Tess manage to get away from a doomed future and dare to dig into what her heart truly wants?
Lord Milton Eddington, Duke of Corrington, holds a deep secret that threatens to destroy any chance he might ever have at finding his other half. Rather than pining for what he cannot have, he prefers to have the reputation of a rake and vows to never fall in love with a woman. His life will take an unexpected turn though, when a beautiful lady appears, suggesting an intriguing proposition that will help him maintain his independence. With the passing of time, Milton realises that he is starting to fall for her ethereal existence, but the fears of the past are obstructing his feelings from fully flourishing. Will Milton ever manage to overcome the obstacles that prevent him from allowing love to enter his lonely heart? Or will he be condemned to a miserable future just because he is afraid of confronting the demons of his past?
While Tess and Milton’s love blossoms, their special connection is threatened by inner struggles and external powers that wish to keep them apart. Things will only get worse, when Milton receives a letter that blackmails him to abandon Tess and their common future is about to irreversibly fade away. Will Tess and Milton break down the wall of thorns they have built around their hearts? Will they find the courage to fight everyone who stands against them in the name of true love?
“A Lady’s Fateful Ball” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.