About the book
“Love can find you even at the darkest times...”
Clayton Willaim, the Duke of Layton, has been suffering after the death of his wife. Isolated from his friends and his own children, he finds it hard to trust anyone than himself in this tragic world. After being forced to hire a governess, his life turns upside down once he meets an enchanting woman who manages to steal his heart and regain the trust he thought was gone...
Dorothy is a woman in a man's world, struggling to survive. After the loss of her father, he has to work as many as three jobs to take care of her mother, until the day an opportunity knocks on her door; an enchanting Duke looking for a governess. Once their eyes meet, it's hard for her to keep the desire hidden...
As the two of them get closer, their choice lies behind duty and love. Clayton refuses to trust anyone and Dorothy refuses to allow a Duke — no matter how charming — to distract her from her family. But when impending danger reaches their door, they have to make a choice fast if they want to survive...
Dorothy Skeffington barely had time to scream as the carriage she rode in lurched to one side. She grabbed for the opposite door, now above her, as the other sprang open. Her eyes widened as she looked down a steep incline from the road to a winding stream some thirty feet below.
Her knuckles were white on the inner handle of the door as her feet dangled over empty space. Surely, if the carriage had been turned onto its side there was nothing to stop it tumbling off the treacherous road and down into the ravine.
But it did not. She swung, from the grip of two hands now, over the yawning gulf. Everything around her lurched suddenly. Stones spilled out from beneath the carriage, cascading downward. She screamed again as the precipitous drop seemed to reach for her.
Then the movement stopped again. Dorothy knew that she could not afford to wait for the carriage driver to help her out of this predicament, even supposing he was not injured himself. The window set into the door had been covered by a rollup canvas sheet to keep out the dust. It now hung downward, away from the opening.
Dorothy pulled with all of her might, hauling herself up and praying the handle did not snap off in her grip. When she was high enough she reached for the edge of the door. Her arms protested mightily but she dared not give in to the pain as she fought to pull herself higher.
She gasped with relief as a man's hand reached in to grasp her wrist. The skin was tanned and smooth, the grip engulfed her slim wrist, gripping painfully. In one powerful, ungentle movement she was hauled out of the carriage. A strong arm gripped her about the waist and she was tumbling to the ground, landing on a long, muscular male form that held her tight.
With a groan of protesting wood and a shriek of scraping stone, the carriage gave up its hold on the roadside and tumbled over the edge. For a moment, Dorothy couldn't speak. She lay, her face buried in the soft linen of a shirt front, her nostrils full of the scent of cut wood and leather.
Her limbs were like water, her stomach fluttered and her heart pounded in her chest. A soft, but deep voice whispered,
"You're safe now. I've got you."
She raised her head, tousled dark hair cascading around her pretty, round-cheeked face. Her rosebud lips were pressed together, holding back sobs carrying the last of her fear and the first of her sheer relief. The face that looked down at her was dark, in the manner of Spaniards. His hair was black and cascaded around a face that took her breath away.
It was the face of a god, handsome and strong, but softened by a warm smile. His eyes were dark and fathomless, drawing her in. There were lighter flecks of hazel in those depths
"Oh, my!" Dorothy exclaimed,
"Are you hurt?" he asked,
"No, I do not believe so," she gasped.
Gently she was laid against his arm on the ground. She was very aware of the firm contours of his muscular body pressed against her. Those large, strong hands were moving over her helpless form now.
"What are you doing?" she asked breathlessly.
"Checking you for broken bones," he answered, his dark eyes never leaving hers, even as his hands traced the line of her thigh.
"I do not appear to have any?" Dorothy whispered.
One hand came to rest on her cheek, fingers firm in their insistent touch but tender at the same time. A small part of Dorothy's mind wondered about the driver, where was he while she lay in the arms of this strange man.
"Please, Sir. There are eyes to see us," she protested.
But she was fighting her own desires now. She could feel his maleness pressing against her and was aroused. She knew she should be pushing him away but felt too weak to overcome his strength. In turn that helplessness set her heart racing. Part of her wanted him to use those strong hands to tear at her dress, exposing her pale, untouched body to his burning gaze.
"There are none. This is my land. None use this road but those who have my leave. I came to meet your carriage and saved you when the wheel broke. If not for me you would have ended up in the stream below."
His lips were inches from hers, his shoulder-length dark hair stroking her face. She knew she should consider a man who took such liberties the worst kind of cad but could not.
"Then I am in your debt," she smiled up at him and there was surrender in that smile, both knew it.
His body pressed hard against her, forcing a moan of pleasure from her which was quickly stifled by his passionate kiss. A wave of heat flooded through her, emanating from the most secret parts of her body. She found herself clutching at the hard muscle of his tensed arms, her nails raking at the shirt that kept his body from her.
She lifted her head as he broke away, pursuing his lips and tangling her fingers in his hair. Their lips clashed now with passion. She gloried in the sensation of his tongue in her mouth and responded, wanting more of his taste. His body was moving rhythmically against her, painful in its insistent hardness. She parted her legs beneath her skirts and he sank further against her.
He lifted himself on his hands and stared down at her. There was cruelty in his lustful gaze, a conqueror regarding his prize. She lay, hands on the ground, waiting for him to take his pleasure, denying him nothing. With one savage movement he gripped the front of her dress and torn it asunder.
Dorothy smiled, licking her lips as her undergarments were similarly rent, exposing her pert breasts. He gripped one of them in a vise-like grip, bringing a gasp of pain from her. She arched her back as he squeezed her flesh, her nipple slipping between his fingers to be engulfed by the soft warmth of his mouth.
His name escaped her lips in an ecstatic moan, "Clayton. My Duke."
Then he lifted her by the waist, turning her so that her back was to him. She felt her skirts roughly lifted, felt the cool air on her skin. She braced herself against the ground with her hands, pushing her bottom back to press against him, bringing forth a moan of pleasure from him.
"Miss Skeffington!" he moaned, then again in a more urgent tone, "Miss Skeffington!"
Then the voice was no longer his.
"Miss Skeffington, wake up!"
Dorothy woke with a start. The carriage she had taken from the inn at Layton Mill to bring her to Layton Manor had stopped. For a moment she stared about herself in confusion. The dream still clung to her, bringing a deep-red flush to her cheeks. She was alone in the carriage but a uniformed man was standing by the open door, one hand extended to help her down.
His long face was dour, with a thin nose and mouth and a fringe of gray hair circling his bald head. His brows were furrowed as he called her name again in an irritated voice.
"Miss Skeffington, you have arrived. His Grace awaits you!"
The images of the dream flashed through Dorothy's mind. The Duke saving her from the carriage accident then ravishing her on the road. She wondered if she had been talking in her sleep and fervently hoped not.
"I apologize, Sir. It has been a long and tiring journey," she said, accepting the hand and stepping out of the carriage.
"Quite, but His Grace is not to be kept waiting. It is a lesson you should learn if you expect to be a part of this household, Young Lady," the old man replied, straightening his uniform as he stepped away from the carriage.
Recovering her equilibrium she extended a hand with a bright smile, "Dorothy Skeffington, as you know. And you are?"
He took the smallest grip of her fingertips, moving them slightly, "Hetherington, I am His Grace's butler."
"Very good, Hetherington," Dorothy replied.
She forced confidence into her voice, knowing that the position of governess, for which she was here to interview, would put her into a high position in the household. Best to assert herself now. It would help to cover up the rampaging nerves she felt.
She looked down at herself, brushing at her dark dress and then patting her hair, which she wore gathered in a bun. Dorothy took a breath as Hetherington began a stately pace away from the carriage toward the Manor.
It was huge and square, with crenellated towers at the corners. The path along which Hetherington led her was wide and paved with brick. Moss and grass grew between the bricks. To either side was a parkland of long grass and wildflowers. She caught sight of deer moving among trees in the far distance. Closer there were pigs, snuffling through the undergrowth and also apparently running wild.
As she looked up at the Manor she could see that ivy was crawling across its frontage and in some places even appeared to be intruding through glassless windows. Dorothy frowned, it was not what she had been expecting. Before applying for the job she had made use of the proximity to London, of the home she shared with her mother, to visit the British Library.
There she had researched Layton Manor. And from that reading had formed a romantic view of the man who now claimed the title Duke of Layton. She tried to dispel the images that she had created. If the Manor was any judge, he would not be a handsome, charming gentleman. More of a slovenly drunkard perhaps.
Apprehension crawled over her. She berated herself for allowing her fertile imagination such free rein that, when nervous fatigue had overcome her in the carriage, she had indulged such fevered and wholly inappropriate dreams. A pair of wooden doors twice the height of the tall butler, creaked sonorously as he pushed at them with little effort. He ushered her across the threshold with impatience. Inside was a room of dark wood paneling and glowering, neglected portraits. The floor was also of wood and dark.
A staircase ahead, bare of carpet, split into two and curved away out of sight. Tall stained-glass windows at the branching of those stairs should have cast colorful light into the hall. But both were almost obscured by the shadow of tall trees outside.
A slim man with dark, tousled hair and a crooked nose in an otherwise handsome face stood at the foot of the stairs. He smiled eagerly and came forward to greet Dorothy.
"Miss Skeffington? You are here for the position of governess?"
"Indeed, do I address His Grace the Duke of Layton?" Dorothy inquired politely.
"You do not. I am his brother, Daniel Willaim," he replied, taking her gloved hand and kissing it.
Dorothy noticed that despite his dark hair, he had sky-blue eyes. Those eyes met hers for a moment before leaping away like frightened rabbits. He smiled, a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
"I should forewarn you, Miss Skeffington, that my brother has been reluctant to accept the need for a governess. He has taken the education of the children very much on himself. It was I who arranged for the post to be advertised."
"Oh, so am I to persuade His Grace as to the merits of a governess as well as persuade him of my own merits?" Dorothy replied, taken aback.
In none of the mental rehearsals for this meeting had she imagined an employer who simply didn't want to be an employer at all. How can I persuade him his children need a governess when I myself have never done the job before? This will be an impossible task!
"You can leave that side of it to my wife and me. She is speaking to Clayton now, preparing the ground as it were. All you need do is demonstrate the same professionalism and passion that I detected in your letters,"
He smiled encouragingly. Dorothy found herself returning the smile. It contained innocence and confidence in a curious mix that she found put her at ease. Perhaps he would be a useful ally.
"In that case, I put myself in your hands, Sir," she said. "Lead the way."
Daniel turned and led her across the hall, boards creaking beneath his feet. He opened a door and led her along a corridor lined with tall windows. Dusty curtains framed them, casting light over faded landscape paintings.
Voices drifted from the far end of the corridor. As Daniel reached the far end to open double doors, one voice in particular rose to a crescendo. It was deep and angry,
"No, I say! I will not have it! They are my children and I will not have some old maid interfering! I will throw her out on her ear!"
"Brother, this is the young lady who has responded to your advertisement for a governess," Daniel announced, stepping aside to allow Dorothy to enter the room. "Miss Skeffington, this is His Grace the Duke of Layton."
The man who faced Dorothy was taller and broader than his brother. He had the same dark hair and sky-blue eyes. But those eyes were lit with a towering anger. His face was a more mature version of Daniel's handsome features.
But the Duke's face was one of hard, unyielding planes and implacable lines. It was the face of a Caesar. She found that her words had fled her. A young, swan-necked woman with curling fair hair and a smooth, beautiful face, placed a hand delicately on the Duke's arm.
"Your Grace, Miss Skeffington has traveled a long way to be here with us," she said in a placating tone.
"That is unfortunate for her," the Duke intoned, striding out of the woman's reach.
He stopped in front of Dorothy, towering over her. "I am sorry for your wasted journey, Miss Skeffington. But the idea of employing a governess was my brothers, not mine."
Dorothy met his icy stare and refused to be cowed. Mama needs this wage. We cannot survive on what she can earn as a seamstress. And I will not be beholden to the charity of Arthur Thatcher. Or any man! It was time, she realized to stand her ground and fight for her future.
"I see," she began, "nevertheless, I am here. I have journeyed from the village of Grinton, just outside London. It was a day and a half to Layton Mill and another two hours of dusty roads from there. All I ask is that you hear me out, Your Grace. Allow me to make my case for employment."
She kept her voice level and firm, disguising the tremor of fear she felt under that ferocious scrutiny. Her heart skipped under that blue-eyed stare. It seemed that the room held its breath. Then the Duke turned away, waving a hand in the air as though in exasperation. He strode to the mantlepiece and leaned against it, gazing into the dark ashes of the fire that once burned there.
"Very well," he said grudgingly.
Daniel smiled encouragement and indicated a chair for Dorothy. The room was a library, three walls lined with shelving along which books were stuffed. Tables bore more piles of books, many with pages loose and spines broken. An easel bore a half-completed charcoal sketch of a rabbit while more sheets of drawing paper were strewn at its foot.
Windows in one wall looked out over a courtyard, made dark by several ancient-looking oak trees.
Dorothy opened her mouth to speak but the Duke forestalled her. He turned from the fireplace and took a seat opposite her, moving with swiftness. He leaned forward, hands clasped in front of him and she found herself once again pinned by his eagle glare.
"So tell me, Miss Skeffington, of your proposed curriculum. I presume you will teach Latin and Greek, Mathematics and Geometry, History and Literature?"
There was a challenge in his voice and she considered not just his words but his tone and body language too. This was a man who thrived on confrontation. A man who attacked his problems until they were eradicated. He knew of no subtlety. All that was clear to her in his manner and what she had overheard before entering the room.
She had to meet this challenge in a manner that would earn his respect. She too, leaned forward, making the reply one for him alone. She raised a finger.
"Your Grace. My curriculum will be, one, to ensure the children can read, write and count. For without that knowledge they will not be able to function in our modern society. Do you not agree?"
He nodded curtly, sitting back. She held up a second finger,
"Two. Once I am satisfied of these basic skills I will wish to observe the children in as many different environments as possible. In order to gauge what they like, how they play, what interests them and to identify any fledgling skills they may have. Does this not seem a pragmatic approach? Rather than forcing on them knowledge of the classics which may prove utterly superfluous?"
Again he nodded. Dorothy thought she detected a change in his expression. He put a hand to his mouth, partially covering it. His frown deepened. She held up a third finger,
"Three. I will tailor the children's education to their skills and their wants. If a child shows an aptitude for art, they will learn draw and paint and sculpt. If they are always to be found in the woods and gardens, they will learn botany and natural history."
She sat back, inviting a response from the Duke. He watched her for a long moment. Her breath quickened. He spoke.
"Can I not provide exactly the same to my own children?" he said softly.
There was a curious burr to his accent that was not English and was not present in the voice of his brother. Dorothy had not encountered it before and could not place it.
"Indeed you could. I am sure that you are an educated man. I am an educated woman and furthermore have been trained in the provision of education to children. It is both a vocation and a skill."
"Nevertheless. I am confident their education will not suffer at my hands. I apologize for your wasted journey. You may, however, remain to rest from your journey. I am sure accommodation can be made for you in the servant's wing."
The Duke stood, terminating the interview. Dorothy also stood, her heart sinking. Daniel looked at his brother with a clenched jaw, anger written across his features. The fair-haired woman now rested her hand on his arm and was whispering to him. At that moment another door was flung open with a crash. Three children came roiling into the room.
The eldest was a girl of eight or nine, with long dark hair and her father's sky-blue eyes. A younger boy and girl followed, so alike they could easily have been twins. Both had dark hair but light-brown eyes and delicate button noses. The elder girl shared her father's imposing features. Dorothy wondered if she was seeing the mother's looks in the two younger children.
"Papa! We saw an eagle!" the girl pronounced in triumph.
"Yes, a great big eagle!" the younger boy chimed, his sister close behind.
"Enormous!" she enthused.
Dorothy saw a change flow over the Duke's face. The stone vanished as though it had never been, a smile warmed his face. He scooped the youngest girl effortlessly into his arms.
"An eagle, eh? Well, now that's a rare enough sight in these parts. I saw an albatross once and that would have filled this room from one end of its wings to the other. But, an eagle!"
The girl giggled, stretching out her arms to either side as though trying to visualize the size of bird he had described.
"It was an eagle!" the boy insisted.
"Or maybe a falcon," the eldest said, hauling a thick tome from a shelf and bringing it to her father, leafing through the pages with the practiced ease of one familiar with this particular work.
"Children," said the fair-haired woman sternly, "you have been told about barging into your father's study."
The children ignored her, remaining clustered around their father. The eldest girl caught sight of Dorothy and stopped her page turning.
"Who's this, Papa?" she asked, boldly.
Before the Duke could answer, Dorothy addressed herself directly to the child. "My name is Dorothy Skeffington. And I am here to discuss the possibility of becoming your governess."
"Governess! We don't need one!" the girl protested.
"What's a govness?" the boy asked.
The Duke, ruffled the boy's hair and put his youngest daughter down.
"It is a position this household does not require," he said, one hand on each of his youngest children's shoulders. The boy took a firm grip of his father's leg, looking at Dorothy with big eyes.
She knelt in front of them, smiling and looking at each in turn. "Yes, which is a shame because I am quite good at recognizing eagles. And sparrowhawks. And kestrels. In fact birds are my particular forte."
She made a hollow shape with her hands and proceeded to blow through her fingers, moving them swiftly to alter the sound. The children's eyes widened and their mouths fell open as Dorothy went through the repertoire of bird song she had learned from her father when she was younger than they were.
"I also know how to talk to bees. How to listen to trees. And, how to build dens in the woods." She made a regretful face and stood, straightening her skirts and then clasping her hands in front of her. "But as you said, Julianna?" the eldest girl nodded. "Julianna, as you said. You don't need a governess."
The other two, Alexander and Amy were now looking up at their father imploringly. Even Julianna seemed intrigued. The Duke was watching her with an appraising look. She returned his stare openly and with dignity, hiding her racing heart.
"Very well. I will consider further. You may stay for a trial period of a week."
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