About the book
Each time she tries to seduce him, it becomes harder to refuse her.
Tragedy is something Miss Amanda O'Neil knows all too well.
Adopted by an Irish family after her biological parents' inexplicable demise, the death of her fiance leaves her desolate. In an effort to escape her grief, she applies for a governess position in an English household.
Known as a recluse, Joseph Garvey, the Marquess of Ethelred, has lived like a hermit since his wife's death seven years ago. But his life of isolation and stagnant grief comes to an end when he sees his new governess.
Feelings of erotic excitement rise inside of them and they are ready to suffer the consequences of their scandalous love.
And the consequences are dire. The shipwreck that left Amanda orphaned guards its secrets in its watery grave, and when a man from the past appears, he claims to have the answers. Joseph realizes that he has willingly offered Amanda on a silver platter to the devil himself and the only thing that can save her lies locked in a decades-old pendant...
Seagulls swooped down and challenged both workman and travelers vying for a clear path on the dock. The docks were alive with people, masses of workers and travelers all buffeting each other with their great many trunks. The dirtiest, most whiskey-soaked dock men rubbed elbows with the finest of ladies in their silks. The yelling and banging of people and trunks drown out the drone of waves crashing against the shore. Amanda O’Neil’s nerves were frayed beyond soothing.
The Dowager Marchioness of Brubrun clutched her deep-brimmed bonnet despite the decided lack of wind, as if the din of the restless crowd would carry it away. “Oh, how I hate traveling. This is all too much,” the elderly lady’s shrill was lost among the commotion.
“Did you not say that you adore traveling?” Amanda asked, a wry grin touching the corner of her lips.
“Yes, yes, of course. I adore traveling, my dear. Couldn’t possibly love it any more than I do. But the docks!”
Amanda laughed. The old Dowager Marchioness was a lady of extreme opinions, which, despite her earnestness, were likely to swing wildly from one end to another. She was eccentric, but Amanda loved her and never grew weary of her quirks and oddities.
One such oddity was quivering atop the Dowager Marchioness’s head as she ordered her footman about. A large violet plume, the color of which could not possibly occur in nature on any bird no matter how exotic, jutted up from her hat like a mast. Amanda had to bite back a laugh when she had first seen it, but now she realized the advantage of such a silly hat. She would not lose sight of her chaperone as she slipped away to say her goodbyes to the only parents she’d ever known.
Siobhan and Patrick O’Neil were not Amanda’s parents from birth. They had never pretended to be, and Amanda had never been under any illusion that they were. But all the same, she regarded the poor, aging baker and his wife as her true family. She found the two of them, arm in arm and looking out of place, a few paces off from the Dowager Marchioness.
“Mother, Father,” she said, tears already in her eyes as she hugged them both in turn.
Siobhan was already crying. Her face was round and ruddy with health, but when she cried, she grew redder still.
“Oh, Amanda,” she wept, wiping her hands on the front of her dress as if to brush flour off of them. It was an unconscious fidget that came from years of working alongside her husband in the bakery. “I hate to see you go, my darling girl.”
Patrick put his arm around his wife’s shoulders. He was tall and slender, an almost comical foil to his short and robust wife, but the love between them was evident by their daily interactions.
“I must go,” Amanda insisted once again. “I simply can’t bear to stay here. Not with all of these memories…”
“There, there, Siobhan,” he murmured. “It will be all right, and our girl will be back before we know it. It is right for a girl her age to strike out into the world to make her own way.” Patrick smiled at Amanda, though there was a deep sadness in his eyes as well.
“I know, you’re right,” her mother sniffed, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief she pulled from her sleeve. “And I know it’s not much; certainly nothing like the Dowager Marchioness can give you, but we want you to take this…”
The stout woman produced a small pouch from the folds of her dress. The meager fabric jingled lightly as she pressed it into Amanda’s hand. She could feel the weight of hard-earned coins as she closed her fingers around the small bundle.
“Oh, no, I can’t. I don’t need it. The Dowager Marchioness is taking care of everything, and I’ll soon be making my own money.” Amanda tried to give the coins back, but her mother refused to receive it.
“We insist, my girl,” her father said. “You have blessed us more than we can ever possibly say. You must allow us to express our gratitude in what small way we can.”
There was a lump in Amanda’s throat. She knew all too well what a sacrifice even this small amount of money was to them. She brushed away a tear, masking the motion by also tucking a wayward strand of blonde hair from her face.
“You speak as if we shall never see each other again,” she said, as she was bumped by a busy-looking man in a tawny suit. The ship was boarding now.
“God forbid such a thing,” her mother said, grasping Amanda in another hug. Her father spoke a blessing over Amanda then, his voice lowering with reverence as he intoned the prayer calling on the Blessed Virgin to watch over Amanda as she traveled.
“Amanda!” the Dowager Marchioness interrupted just as Patrick said amen. “We must be going now!”
“Oh!” Amanda gathered her wits about her, dashing tears from her cheeks before wrapping her adoptive mother and father in one last embrace.
“Fear not, I shall keep a wary eye on this one,” the Dowager Marchioness said, clasping a maternal hand on Amanda’s shoulder, “and bring her back to you all of a piece.”
Amanda smiled. With quick final farewells, she and the grand old lady were seen up the ramp to the large, swaying ship. Amanda was caught up in the excitement of it, her eyes wide and darting around in an attempt to see everything all at once.
She and the Dowager Marchioness were brought to a suite of rooms that managed to be grand while still retaining the somewhat cramped atmosphere of life aboard a ship. Amanda’s room was a smaller one off the main one, but she marveled at having her own window. She gazed out of its glass, frosted over with the effects of many years of salty air pummeling it. The sea was wide and blue and seemed to stretch out before her into infinity.
She turned around, tossing her bag of belongings on the bed and scurried back out to attend the old lady.
The Dowager Marchioness was seated in an upholstered chair. Her tiny feet were propped up on an embroidered footstool, and she had thrown her hat onto a nearby table.
“You don’t get seasick, do you?” the lady asked.
Amanda stammered. “I never have…”
“Well, if you do feel the need to be sick, do it well away from me, if you please. The motion of the sea has never been offensive to my stomach, but the sight or, God help me, the sounds of someone else being sick has always disturbed me.”
“I will keep that in mind,” Amanda replied.
“Good girl. Now, fetch your work and come sit by me. I have called for tea, but with everyone all aflutter about departure, it may be an hour or more before anyone sees fit to attend to the whims of an old lady.”
Amanda grinned. She loved the old Marchioness, with her grand ways always tempered by a sarcastic sense of humor. She was quick to obey, finding her sewing basket deep in her one and only trunk and bringing it into the sitting room. She stationed herself next to the old lady and began to prick carefully at an embroidery she had been at work on for weeks.
The old lady leaned back in her chair, resting her head against its back and looking as though she would fall asleep at any moment. Amanda had never known anyone so adept as the Dowager Marchioness at falling asleep in chairs. While the lady took care of Amanda’s financial needs in exchange for companionship, Amanda often felt guilty for being paid to sit uselessly by while her patron napped.
Still, her embroidery skills had improved remarkably ever since she had been taken on as the Dowager Marchioness’ pet project. She gazed down at the daffodil blooming in silk thread under her hands with satisfaction.
The Dowager Marchioness did indeed fall asleep, and she began to snore quietly only a few minutes later. Amanda got up silently to push open the window, just a crack. Not enough to make the room too chilled, but just enough to let in a bit of the delightful sea air as the ship lurched out at last. A thrill went through her as she sat back down and, though she worked diligently on the turning of a long daffodil leaf, her mind was elsewhere. As much as the thought of the sea voyage thrilled her, they would never be terribly far from shore. They were setting off from Dublin, and the ship was to cross to Cardiff and make a short stop there. Then it would carry on along the southern edge of England before working its way up the channel to London. Hardly a trans-Atlantic expedition, but it was thrilling all the same.
The Dowager Marchioness had secured for Amanda a position as a governess in the household of the Marquess of Ethelred, a gentleman that Amanda had never laid eyes on but who had some distant connection with the Dowager Marchioness. Enough of a connection, at least, that the lady had the influence to convince the Marquess to take on an orphan girl of one-and-twenty years with no governess experience.
Despite all of her fevered preparations in the past few months, Amanda felt perfectly unsuited to the task. She had no experience with children and had only in the past few years been tutored herself. And yet she was to be in charge of the education and well-being of a child?
The Dowager Marchioness assured her ad nauseam that all would be fine. She would be living an hour away in her London estate while Amanda set off to a small town called Vicewood to meet this Marquess and his daughter.
Amanda wished that she would be staying in London as well. She was used to Dublin, used to busy streets and activity.
Ethelred Manor. Even the name of it sounds foreboding.
She imagined a stony castle in a vast countryside, with trees twisted from wind and rocky outcroppings as the only landmarks.
The slumbering lady awoke with a start, sniffing as though to pretend that she had never been asleep.
“Has that tea not arrived yet?” she asked impatiently.
“Not yet. Shall I go and see about it?” Amanda asked. Truthfully, her stomach was feeling a bit uneasy, whether from the motion of the ship or from her worrying, she wasn’t sure. She thought that a turn on the deck and fresh air might settle it.
“Thank you, dear,” the Dowager Marchioness said, settling back against her chair.
She will be asleep again in a minute.
Amanda carefully packed away her needlework and, throwing a light cape over her shoulders against the slight chill, she went above in search of a servant to whom she could make her lady’s complaints.
The brightness of the sun on deck dazzled her eyes and, forgetting for a moment her task, she wandered to the side of the ship and gazed out at the skyline. Above deck, her stomach settled as she breathed deeply the crisp air. She felt that this passage marked the end of one chapter of her life and the beginning of a new one. The idea was refreshing. Optimism welled up in her chest from time to time with such hope and excitement that it was difficult to contain. And yet, the shimmering thread of fear tied her down to thoughts of all the things that could go wrong.
Whatever happened now, whether Vicewood would be her salvation or a prison, it had to be better than the alternative of staying behind in Dublin where ghostly memories haunted every familiar street.
It stormed the night before they were to arrive at the London docks. Amanda laid atop her covers, her stomach heaving with every toss of the ship. She stared up at the darkened ceiling, her taper guttering in the draft from the window. Fear gripped her, as her optimism had withered away in the face of dark clouds and a frightfully swelling sea. The storm seemed to be an omen.
Conor would have laughed at that.
“You’re superstitious,” he would have said, kissing her forehead and hugging her against him. She could almost feel the beating of his heart against her cheek as she laid there in the midst of that storm. Lightning crackled through the sky, lighting up the room for a moment before a bellowing peal of thunder rattled her nerves.
The thought of Conor’s smile brought tears to her eyes. Every time she thought that she couldn’t possibly have any more tears left in her for him, she was proven wrong. The storm was so loud she didn’t bother to stifle her weeping, turning her face into the feather pillow and sobbing. The wind and the crashing of the waves against the hull of the ship seemed to swallow her cries, her sobs joining in seamlessly to the general cacophony.
She had attended him on his deathbed even before they knew it would be his deathbed. She remembered him sitting up, covered with white blankets, the morning sun catching the glimmering strands of his hair. He’d been smiling.
“Come and sit with me,” he had said. She could hear it now. Perfectly. His voice, the tenor of it, the exact way his accent caressed each syllable. How she had loved him. She could never have guessed that the cold that sent him to bed, spoiling their plans for a picnic that afternoon, would progress and transform into a fever that would burn him from the inside until his body could bear it no longer.
She had longed to kiss him as the fever worsened, but he kept her carefully at arm’s length. When she knew that he would die, she wanted to burrow herself against him, into the damp nest of the sickbed, in the hopes that she would catch whatever illness it was that was laying waste to his vitality.
“You want to die with me?” he had asked, even in his weakened state, he had smiled at her, his dry, pale lips cracking with the effort.
“You read too much Shakespeare, my love,” he had murmured, his eyelids growing heavy. “To die for a man is a great and terrible waste of a beautiful woman. I want nothing less than for you to throw yourself away for my sake. You must promise me that you will live. Kiss handsome men and have fat babies. Travel. Write. Do everything you told me you wanted to do.” He had smiled again at this, though his eyes had closed.
How could she have stood on the bow of the ship only days prior and felt that surge of hope? It felt like a betrayal of the man she loved to feel anything but soul-deadening grief in his absence. No matter what he had said, no matter how he had entreated her not to cry for him, it felt wrong.
How could she leave him?
The white-marble headstone that stood at the base of the oak tree on the hill would have withered roses on it now. The last ones she had laid there the day before her departure. The thought of him, lying beneath the damp, cool earth, all alone with no one to water his grave with tears, shook her.
I’ve abandoned him!
Bitterly, she prayed that her life at Vicewood would be a torment. She prayed that her days there would be a perpetual penance for her lack of devotion to Conor’s grave. Earnestly, she vowed to make the manor her cloister cell, there to dwell forever on the memories of her love.
Conor’s words echoed back to her, “You read too much Shakespeare, my love.”
She wiped her eyes against the pillowcase.
I know you are right.
The dizzying heights of hope and joy matched the theatrical depths of despair that painted the background of her life. She had never been able to temper the two into a manageable standard of living. Even in the early days of their courtship, Conor would pull her onto his knee presumptuously and tease her about her flights of passion.
Conor Walsh had been a lieutenant, a man of rank whom she would never have met had it not been for the fortuitous patronage of the Dowager Marchioness. This made him too good for her, too refined and too rich. And yet he had whispered praises in her ear for her wildness, her frankness, and her capricious moods. He loved her for all of the things about her natural manner that she had always been ashamed of as being childish or unrefined.
“I wanted a military career because I was stifled by the expectations of my family. Poor little rich boy,” he had laughed, “I know. And yet I was so unhappy. I thought I would find life and rigor in the military, and so I have. But in the end, it was you I needed all along. My will-o’-the-wisp.” He had kissed her with more passion than was altogether proper for a couple who were merely engaged and not yet married.
In the morning, the sky had cleared, but Amanda’s heart remained clouded. She felt as though she had not shut her eyes all night for even a moment, but that couldn’t have been true because she awoke to the sound of gulls outside her window. She laid in bed amazed at how a square of blue sky could brighten up the day after a nightmarish night.
After a few moments, she became aware of the sounds of movement outside. She got up and quickly got dressed, splashing her face with cool water. Her stomach was still lurching but knowing that she would soon have both feet firmly on land comforted her.
The glass that hung above the basin was small, so small that she could only see her face in quadrants and not all at once unless she took several steps back. Even such with an obstructed view, she knew that it was obvious she had been up crying. Her skin had an ashen quality to it, and her eyes were ringed with darkness that looked almost like a faint bruise blooming underneath her skin. The Dowager Marchioness would not be happy with that.
Amanda’s beauty was the Dowager’s prize. She had picked Amanda out for it and set her above her adoptive family on its account.
“You will be a fine lady,” the Dowager had said years ago. “I will make it so.”
The old lady had no daughters of her own, having lost two of them to fever in their infancy, and her only son had been in Italy for years. With no children to spoil, she had taken up the hobby of lifting the reputations of whichever young people caught her eye. Amanda had been her first foray into becoming the patron of a peasant. For the rich lady, it was all a grand game, plucking young Amanda out of obscurity, dressing her up, teaching her how to behave, and putting her in the way of wealthy suitors. Often, Amanda felt buffeted most savagely by the sudden elevation of her assumed status, but she could not but be grateful, even if it was all so overwhelming at times.
Amanda couldn’t bear to stay where she had lost her first love. The Dowager was unhappy to hear Amanda was escaping to England. She couldn’t fathom the thought that her charge was considering a job as a governess.
“My charge? A governess? But I had such wonderful plans for you,” the old lady had protested.
But Amanda had been insistent until the matriarch relented and arranged for her surrogate daughter to be stationed in an elegant manor in the countryside. She herself would stay nearby in London should Amanda wish to give up this adventure into self-sufficiency.
Amanda knew the Dowager had plans to marry her off to a wealthy nobleman, until Conor scooped her up as his own. He tangled her heart so tight that no other man could hope to catch her eye. Now that Conor was dead, Amanda knew that the lady’s machinations would start back up again. The matron wouldn’t accept the fact that no amount of riches could erase Conor from her heart.
So, she would make her own living, because the alternative, becoming the wife of any man who was not Lieutenant Conor Walsh, was abhorrent to her. With her purpose firm, she descended the ramp with the Dowager in London.
A woman of graying hair and tidy dress approached them, curtsying hesitantly. “Lady Brubrun?”
“My Lady. I am Luise Green, the housekeeper at Ethelred Manor. I’ve come to escort Miss O’Neil to Vicewood.”
The Dowager Marchioness nodded, quickly retrieving a card from her reticule and handing it to Amanda.
“This is my address in London. Should you need anything, do not hesitate. In fact, I expect as many letters as you can find the time to write and as many visits as the Marquess will allow.”
Amanda took the card. Saying goodbye to the Dowager Marchioness was not such a blow to her heart as leaving behind the O’Neil’s, but it was still a severing from the support that she had come to depend on. She nodded, her heart thudding in her chest as she and her luggage were brought to a carriage that waited to carry her to her new life.
“How far is Vicewood?” Amanda asked timidly as the housekeeper settled in across from her in the spacious carriage.
“An hour’s ride.” Miss Green did not elaborate, and her eyes squinted out the window without glancing at Amanda.
The rather terse reply seemed to forbid any more questions, though Amanda longed to ask many more. Her mind was a cacophony of questions, of fears and hopes. Was the manor terribly large? What was the master like? What of his daughter? Amanda had hoped that she would find camaraderie with the other staff who lived at the manor, but if the housekeeper was anything to go by, such hopes were unfounded.
“The master of the house is away with his daughter,” Miss Green said without preamble, making Amanda jolt slightly at the sudden breach of the silence in the carriage.
“They left a week ago to visit his relations in Windsor. They are due to be back tomorrow afternoon.”
“That will give me some time to become acquainted with the manor,” Amanda said, mostly to herself.
“You will have a bath and put on new clothing which has been bought for you,” the woman said. She had such a strange way of speaking, a tightness in her voice. Though she had a motherly look about her, her speech did not match that maternal air in the slightest.
“New clothing?” Amanda asked, surprised.
“Lord Ethelred has certain expectations of all who live under his roof. Neatness of appearance is not negotiable. You must never appear shabby or sloppily dressed in his presence.”
Amanda swallowed thickly. “I see.”
The ride to Vicewood felt long, and the roads they traveled were soft with mud. That must have slowed them down because, by the time they arrived, it felt as though three hours had passed, not one.
Ethelred Manor looked even more like a castle than Amanda had imagined. It was a stout but sprawling building, made of stone that looked so heavy and severe that the entire place seemed to sink into the earth. The stone had to be ancient, though certain parts of the house seemed to have been added on in different eras. It was a fortress, dressed up with wings of modern architecture and dainty English roses in the garden.
Amanda couldn’t stop staring at it as she descended from the carriage and was led inside. The juxtaposition of such stalwart, military foundations with the modern elegance of its décor was almost dizzying. The house seemed to be having its own crisis of identity, and she couldn’t help but wonder about the man and his daughter who lived there.
Joseph Garvey, the Marquess of Ethelred, looked in on his daughter. Seven years had passed since her mother had died giving birth, and Heather looked more like his late wife with every passing day.
She was nestled in a bed far too large for her. Heather was small for her age, birdlike and skinny. She slept curled into a little ball, her knobby little knees pulled up to her chest and her face buried in the blankets. She looked so small, so vulnerable.
He was right to send for a governess for her. As much as he loved her, as much as he doted upon her, she needed a woman to raise her. There was no woman alive who could replace his wife, but accommodations had to be made.
Silently, he closed the door, crossing the hall to his own solitary room of the inn where they were staying for the night. It was midnight and, although he had tried, he could not fall asleep. He had gotten up to check on Heather once more. He hated traveling with her. As much as she loved visiting her relations and getting away from Vicewood, something about exposing her to the world terrified him. She was all he had left, and he felt she was safer at Ethelred Manor.
The sudden loss of Teresa had been such a momentous shock that Joseph still felt jarred by her absence even years later. Losing her so suddenly had proved that anything could be taken from him at any moment.
He had grown suspicious and anxious, grasping so tightly to the things he held dear for fear of losing anything else. In the case of his daughter, he knew that his tight grasp on her would do her harm. Children needed freedom. They needed holidays in the country; they needed time away from their father to grow and play with others.
But, oh, how I hate the thought of being separated from her.
His fears got the better of him every time he tried to arrange for Heather to stay with her grandmother in the lake district each spring. His mother was insistent on it, but he made excuses every year. He couldn’t part with Heather. Not even for a fortnight.
A governess would be a step in the right direction, at least. She could be exposed to outsiders and given a companion to ease the monotony of her days, all while remaining safely within the walls of his house.
He toed off his boots once more, letting them drop onto the floor next to his bed and tossed himself backwards against the pillow.
Why can I not fall asleep?
He knew the answer perfectly well. He disliked admitting he was anxious to meet this governess. How long had it been since he met or spoken to any woman who was not Miss Green?
Once the idea of a governess had entered his head, months ago, he had been sure that he wanted an Irish woman for the job. Teresa had been as Irish as they came, with flaming locks of copper hair and freckles that would never lighten no matter how much buttermilk she daubed onto them each night. Even after a courtship of two years and a marriage of one year in England, her accent had never faded even by a single degree.
Hearing his daughter speaking with such a proper English accent seemed like a terrible loss to him. Though she had inherited her mother’s hair and skin, Heather was growing up to be English through and through. Being English himself, he felt a tremendous need to honor her Irish blood somehow and to have an Irishwoman as her governess, teaching her such folktales and songs as Joseph himself could not know, seemed like the only way.
Though he knew this to be in Heather’s best interest, the thought of having another Irishwoman in the house frightened him.
Seven years. Seven years without the touch or even the tender glance of a woman. It had not been difficult to remain solitary; his grief had made his self-exile from society easy. Though his heart was still frozen, his body was by now in open revolt against this premature death of his soul. The thought of a young woman about the place ignited something in him that he knew was best to ignore.
Lord, let her be ugly.
He tossed in the bed, rolling onto his side and trying to remember all that the Dowager Marchioness had said about her charge the last time he had met her. O’Neil, her name was. A baker’s daughter. “But naturally refined,” the Dowager Marchioness had said, “and clever. And as Irish as St. Brigid.”
It wasn’t much to go on, but he had jumped at the opportunity. Almost as soon as he had made up his mind about finding a governess, a likely candidate had seemed to fall from the sky. He’d taken it as a sign then, that he was making the right decision.
Now he wondered if he had acted too quickly. Was he motivated by a desire to honor his daughter’s Irish blood, or was it the adulterous craving of his body for a stand-in for his dead wife?
He tossed and turned the whole night, fitfully running through the same thoughts and fears again and again until, at last, the darkness of his room gave way to the milky glow of dawn. Then he was free to get up from bed and wash and dress himself.
He couldn’t change his mind now. The governess would have arrived in London that morning, and when he arrived at Ethelred Manor, she would be there, for better or for worse.
Heather awoke full of energy and excitement. She had none of his misgivings. He had worried, at first, that she would resent having a woman in the house to essentially fill the space of her mother. He’d been wrong. Heather spoke non-stop about her governess ever since he had broken the news to her, and she was radiant with enthusiasm about the prospect.
“Remember that she is to be your teacher. Your guide. Essentially…she is to wield authority over you, and she answers to me. I’m not paying her a salary to be your friend and co-conspirator,” Joseph reminded her gently as they sat at breakfast in the dining hall of the inn. It was still early enough that they were some of the only ones up eating, save for a couple of solitary travelers.
Heather wrinkled her nose at him. She looked so like her mother.
“You are my father,” she said, raising her copper eyebrows imperiously, as she did when she felt confident that she was raising very grown-up and reasonable arguments, “the most disciplinary person in my life. And yet, we are friends, aren’t we, papa?”
“And aren’t we friends?” she asked again, ignoring his correction of her grammar. That was exactly the sort of thing that had convinced him so thoroughly that she needed a governess. She was far too comfortable ignoring his corrections and rebukes for her childish behavior. She was correct in saying that they were friends, and that was just the problem.
“Yes, darling. We are. All the same, remember that Miss O’Neil is to be respected and obeyed. You must represent me and our family well to her.”
Heather, to her credit, did not quite roll her eyes. But there was a slight lift to her brow that, to the trained eye, such as his was, expressed the same sentiment as an eye roll. He chose to ignore it. Another reason why she needed a governess. He was far too quick to ignore her little faults and improprieties.
“Yes, Papa,” she murmured, digging into her porridge.
Miss Green herself gave Amanda the tour of the manor. As they passed from the cold, stony edifice of the main building and into the more refined west wing, the housekeeper explained that Amanda’s assumptions had been correct.
“The manor began its life as a fortress dating back to medieval times,” the woman explained, briskly walking Amanda through the halls. “But down the generations, additions have been made to update and expand upon the foundations. The nursery and your room are in the newest portion of the house.”
Amanda struggled to keep up with the housekeeper. Her trunk was being carried by a strapping young footman, thankfully, but Amanda still carried her own bag, and it weighed heavily on her, knocking against her shins as she followed Miss Green’s footsteps up a staircase.
She was shown to the nursery, but it was really more of a simple bedroom. There was only one child, and the small bed was dwarfed by the size of the room, which had clearly been built with an intention to fit several more children. A large dollhouse dominated the center of the room, and the space was decorated luxuriously, with fresh floral wallpaper and a tall ceiling.
“How lovely,” Amanda said.
“And your room,” Miss Green said, pushing open a door off the side of the nursery to a much smaller, darker room. Still, it had its own window, and the wallpaper only peeled in the very upper corners. The room had two doors, which stuck Amanda as odd until she realized that one led to the nursery, and one led to the hallway.
“Tea will be ready at two. Until then, I suggest you try on the dresses in the wardrobe and begin alterations.”
And then Amanda was alone. She dropped her things on the simple bed and pulled out two identical gray dresses from the wardrobe. They were without ornamentation, very plain, but meticulously well-made. She studied the seams in awe of the fine workmanship before slipping gratefully out of her traveling clothes and trying them on.
Apparently, whoever had the dresses made had assumed that Amanda would be somewhat stockier than she was. She would need to take in both the waist and the sleeves. She frowned; it seemed such a waste to have to add her own shoddy stitching to such fine dresses.
She got to work immediately, slipping the new dresses off again and putting on one of her own before sitting down in the stiff-backed chair in the corner to make the needed alterations.
It was an odd feeling, coming into a new place and being required to dress only in clothing provided for her. It felt as though her identity was being washed away. She worried that this Lord Ethelred must be a very exacting sort. What would happen if he disliked her or was displeased with her performance? Would she be sent away? The thought of going back to the Dowager Marchioness in disgrace after being sacked filled her with dread.
She had to carry on and do her best, no matter how strict her employer was.
With determination strengthening her resolve, she stitched until the clock struck two.
When she went to tea, she had to rack her brain to remember the circuitous route that Miss Green had taken her. The nature of a building that had been built and re-built formed a maze that was very easy to get lost in. She imagined that such a place must be great fun for a child to grow up in, but for a new governess who was doing her best to impress, it was quite nerve-racking.
Finally, she managed to find the kitchens. There was a long table across one end of the room where servants were already sitting down to eat. For a manor of this size, the staff seemed minimal. There were no more than seven people eating, chief among them seeming to be Miss Green herself, who was seated at the head of the table.
“I was beginning to think that you weren’t hungry,” she said when Amanda came into the room. The heads of the other strangers all turned to look at her, and Amanda felt her face growing red.
“I got lost,” she murmured nervously.
A couple of young women who had to be maids tittered, and Amanda sat down in an empty seat.
Miss Green cleared her throat after a minute or two.
“When Lord Ethelred returns tomorrow morning, we will be warned by the footman when he is at the drive, and we will gather in the foyer to welcome him. Miss O’Neil, I will introduce you. At which time, you will take Lady Heather to the nursery where food will be waiting for her. At some point in the evening, likely after the girl has gone to bed, I expect that Lord Ethelred will ask to see you.”
Amanda swallowed thickly and nodded.
“Be sure that you are scrubbed and neat. I assume your dress is on its way to being ready for tomorrow?”
“Yes, Madam,” Amanda said.
The young maids giggled again.
After the meal, Amanda returned to her room, only losing her way twice as she went. It seemed that she would not find a warm welcome from any of the staff of the house, and the knot of anxiety in her stomach tightened as she continued to fix the dresses.
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to read how the story ends?
Seducing the Perfectly Enchanting Marquess is now live on Amazon!