Seducing the Widowed Lady Preview

About the book


“Just when you think it's impossible, love finds you...”

Andrea Graham is a hated lady. After she was accused of killing her husband, her reputation has been tarnished and she has left all hopes of marriage and love behind. That is until she meets the enchanting Duke who manages to break through the brick wall of her heart...

George Smythe, the Duke of Edibarn, feels like he has lost everything. After his parents' death, duties and marriage are neglected and life is a monotonous thing he has no interest in. But one day, he comes across Andrea, the enchanting minx who he desires to hold close.

As threatening letters comes George's way, instructing him to stay away from Andrea if he wants to stay alive, their love and passion turns into a confusing game. What happens when Andrea is kidnapped? Will their love prevail, or will the two of them remain separated?

Chapter One


“Your Grace, are you all right?” Andrea’s maid, Janet, came into her line of vision. “You look pale, perhaps I can get you some tea?”

“I do feel a little unsettled,” admitted Andrea. She swept her hands over her face, to wake herself up a little. She was feeling rather fatigued.

The spring sun shone down on Andrea as she sat beside her flower pots in the garden. The air was quite cool, so why was she feeling warm?

“I feel rather hot, I would prefer some sherbet please,” said Andrea.

“I’ll bring you some right away,” said Janet.

Lady Andrea Graham, daughter of Lord Mackenzie, Earl of Hackeridge, picked up the watering can and finished watering the flowers.

It was early spring, a time for new beginnings and new adventures, and now she was ready to embrace it. She could finally leave her black, drab clothes and move on—if she only had the courage. But deep down, she knew it was time. It had been a year and four months since she had been in mourning.

When Janet came back with the drink, Andrea was grateful. She drank most of it as she was very thirsty indeed. Andrea went back inside the house and to the drawing room. She sat at the pianoforte.  

“Janet, can you take out my day clothes, not the black ones, but the colorful ones? I want them washed,” Andrea said.

“You are coming out of mourning?” Janet asked, sounding thrilled.

Andrea couldn’t help but smile. “It is time, don’t you think?”

“It certainly is,” Janet agreed.

Janet was one of Andrea’s maids while she lived in Stonebridge Manor, when William, her husband, was still alive. She was the most attentive and caring maid Andrea had ever had, even more so than her lady’s maid who was strict and held onto rules in a rigid manner. Over time, when Andrea found out Janet liked to read and learn, she became determined to lend her books from the library discreetly to read. Janet was very grateful.

“Thank you, Lady Graham, I feel so happy and yet, guilty,” said Janet, one such afternoon when the household staff and the Duke were otherwise engaged in their work affairs.

“I shouldn’t be receiving presents from my employer. I should be working and not reading,” said Janet.

“That is not my opinion, and I don’t take heed of such nonsense. You read when you can, dear,” Andrea said. “Of course, work must always come first.”

So, from that day, Andrea and Janet formed a bond of mutual respect and friendship.

Andrea liked sitting at the pianoforte, where in the evenings when the sun shone right through at sunset; the golden-orange light brought a heavenly feel around her. There were no other servants in the house when Stuart, the Earl of Hackeridge, her brother, was not here.

She simply couldn’t afford them, and she didn’t expect her brother to pay for them either. She made do with Janet’s help, who cooked and cleaned, and also acted like a lady’s maid. Andrea didn’t know what she would do without her.

***

Andrea walked down her street, alone. Tall town houses lined the whole street, some more inviting than others. The ton were always competing with one another. Andrea was happy she was not one of them. They were superficial and liked to gossip and judge. That was one of the things William had liked her about her, she possessed neither of those traits.

Ladies walked arm in arm, wearing their best dresses and hats. Children followed behind or in front. Men, dressed in their best attires, walked alongside the ladies or behind. Andrea remembered when she and William used to promenade together in the park before they married; they had the loveliest conversations.

“What was it like growing up?” asked Andrea. “What were your family like?”

“I suppose we were a family who obeyed every rule of etiquette, social class, and when and where we must be seen. Mother would not have it any other way. Father agreed, of course. He was quite strict too,” replied William.

“And your siblings?” Andrea probed.

“I have two brothers and three sisters. I love them all, and each have individual personalities. You will like them when you meet them.”

“Am I to meet them, then?” asked Andrea.

“If you want to. I will not force you to. Will you feel comfortable, my dear?”

Behind them, her lady’s maid followed at a distance, although not too far so she couldn’t listen into their conversations. Andrea’s mother had hired her alongside the advice of the housekeeper. She was told she would make a good lady’s maid. She had all the right qualifications. But Andrea knew her mother wanted the lady’s maid to report everything back to her.

“Tell me more about your siblings. I am very interested.”

William laughed. “There is nothing to tell. All are rather the same, they want to be fashionable and must wear the latest dresses, and attend all the invites to balls and parties, all accept my youngest sister, Anna, who never fails  to surprise us every day.”

Andrea could see William was quite fond of this sister, and without meeting her, she had warmed to her.

“And how does she surprise you?” Andrea asked.

“Well, Anna doesn’t believe in etiquette. I remember a time when she scandalized the Countess of Worthingshire, who called in one afternoon with her daughters. Anna stormed in on a conversation between Mother and the Countess, stating she had enough of the unfairness of it all.”

“And what unfairness was she talking about?”

“The fact that she was expected to marry someday. She wanted to be a writer and travel the country. I don’t understand where she gets all these ideas from,” William chuckled.

“Isn’t wanting to be a writer a noble act?” Andrea questioned him. “After all, literature is part of a fascinating culture. I simply adore the arts and literature.”

“Please don’t misunderstand me,” William said, the laughter now gone. He paused for a moment, which stopped her too. “I am not belittling my little sister, I love her too much. But I do think she needs to act a little more reserved. I don’t want her to have a hard life.”

“I do see you love her,” said Andrea. “But you should also understand not all women like to be married and have children. You must let her be.”

“And what do you want? Do you want to be married and have children?”

Andrea glanced down then, feeling bashful. “Yes, someday I want to be married. I want to have three children, and no more.”

That made the Duke smile, Andrea was pleased to see.

“And do you want to marry, Your Grace?” she looked deep into his eyes.

“I do,” he said softly.

They walked on in silence, each in their own thoughts. Andrea didn’t believe there was a need to talk, for he had answered her questions and she had answered his. She knew before long, she would be his wife.

Andrea hadn’t noticed she had returned to her house. She looked around, the street was almost empty.

Well, I must get on with the day.

***

Being a widow changed Andrea in many ways. She began to use her skill of fine needlework to make patterned handkerchiefs, embroidered panels for dresses, and so much more. Many people of the ton disapproved. Setting up a shop from home to sell her needlework was looked upon as an unworthy trade, but they soon forgave her for she was a widow and must earn. She certainly had no children she could rely on, and she was only thirty. So very young to be a widow, she had heard them say over and over. Andrea was fatigued in hearing this, but she kept on doing what she needed to do. But perhaps most of all, Andrea did it for the poor who couldn’t afford food or clothes. She cared about them dearly.

The other mastery Andrea began was writing a novel. And why shouldn’t she? She respected the women who wrote novels, those such as Jane Austen, and Susan Ferrier, who were among her favorites. It released her inner grief of not having her husband around anymore, and with the needlework and the writing, she was able to carry on and fill her days.

Andrea seldom went out of the house unless Anna coaxed her. She called Andrea by her first name as they had become such good friends and not just sisters-in-law.

“I want to take you to the cultural fair,” Anna said when she had come over last week. “I hear they are selling books there too, among other such fine wears.”

“I don’t feel like it. Why don’t you go with one of your sisters?” Andrea had tried to avoid going; she wasn’t ready and perhaps she wouldn’t ever be.

“I do not believe you,” Anna said firmly. She was only one-and-twenty, and thus, far younger than Andrea, but Anna had taken it upon herself to bring her out of mourning. She was a relentless woman.

“All right, all right. I shall come,” said Andrea, admitting defeat. She laughed. Anna was quite forceful. But she didn’t mind, it was nice to know she had a friend in her sister-in-law when the other siblings shunned her after their brother’s death.

“It will be enjoyable,  you can trust me.” Anna smiled, and then quite unexpectantly, she danced around the room, taking Andrea with her, who didn’t resist. Eventually, they stopped.

Feeling quite exhausted, they sat down on the settee together.

“Now, tell me, Anna. Who else will be at the fair?” asked Andrea. “And when and where is it?”

“Everyone will be there. It is the place to be seen and you have been hiding from the ton for far too long. The fair is on Saturday at the green.”

“I’ve not been hiding, they simply don’t like me,” Andrea stated. “Haven’t you heard the rumors that are still being spread among the people?”

Anna rolled her eyes. “But it is just that, a rumor. You didn’t murder my brother, I know that. Why would you do that anyway, you loved him so much.”

“I did, Anna, I did.”

Andrea sat at her table now with her needlework, thinking of William kissing her, and soon her imagination took over.

“Oh, my Darling, take me!” she cried as he grabbed her bare, ivory breasts, taking her erect, hard nipples into his mouth, tasting her, playing with his roving tongue. He sucked on them so that Andrea grabbed his firm, bare buttocks, digging her fingers into his skin. She felt his hardness against her groin and let out a wail of passion.

The Duke’s thrusts became more urgent. With each force, waves of passion cascaded through Andrea. Her rapid breathing matched her want. She wanted more.

“Oh, William!” she exclaimed.

“You are so beautiful,” he murmured, his hot breath on her neck, as he put in one last thrust, and then collapsed on the bed.

Andrea and William lay side-by-side, holding hands until their breathing became normal. William turned to his side, and put his hand on his head, looking down at his wife.

“I am so fortunate to have married you, my love,” he said. With his other hand, he slid his index finger around her breasts and her nipples.

Andrea arched her back, her nipples beginning to harden again. She watched his face. He was perfect in every way, from his golden hair to his straight nose, and those hazel eyes. His freckles gave him a boyish look but that was what had attracted her to him. He was hers, her perfect husband.

“I believe I am the fortunate one, my love,” she said in a soft voice, tracing her finger from his neck all the way down to his groin, where she stopped.

“Oh, you do tease me,” he said.

William lowered his face to hers and kissed her softly on the mouth. Andrea responded back, softly at first, and then with a little more force. William’s hardness came into contact with her groin again, and he entered her slowly this time. He straddled her, rocking gently.

Andrea moaned softly as she enjoyed the sensation. With a smile, when the time was right, William released himself and fell on top of her with a satisfying sigh.

“Thank you, my love,” he said.

“No, my love. Thank you.”

Andrea came back to the present with a jolt when she felt a tug in her heart and her groin.

I miss you so much, my love. Why did you have to leave me?


Chapter Two

March 20, 1812


Lord George Smythe, Duke of Edinbran, rode his horse on the road adjacent to the Brighton coast. Alongside him, on his own horse, was his friend Julius Castlewood, Viscount of Heraldshire. It was early morning, and so not many people were out.

  George liked coming to Brighton. The fresh sea air made him feel good. He enjoyed watching the sea, particularly when there was a storm. The power of the waves exhilarated him. Truth be told, he led an ordinary life even as a Duke. He was wealthy, but there was no amusement in that.

There must be more to this mundane life. Why is it hard to find a woman who I am able to speak to, who is intelligent, kind, and honest?

George looked toward the sea. It was a clear day, although a bit chilly. It was the month of March after all. The sea was calm with small waves crashing against the pebble shore. George suddenly stopped.

“What are you doing?” asked Julius.

“I have an urge to throw stones into the sea,” said George.

“Are you feeling all right? What an odd thing to say,” said Julius. “And it is too cold to go near the water.”

George jumped down from his horse and tied him to a tree. He turned to his friend. “Why don’t you join me?” Without waiting for Julius to answer, he strode to the beach and stood just before the sea met him.

Julius soon followed. He was out of breath as he bent down to extinguish the stitch on his side.

“You are unfit, my friend,” George laughed. “Perhaps you should partake in some exercise. It will be beneficial, I am certain of it.” George picked up some pebbles and threw them one by one into the sea.

“That is not funny, I am not so fat,” scowled Julius. He joined his friend and threw some pebbles into the water too. “I can see how this is satisfying.”

“Indeed, my friend, it is. And I didn’t call you fat.”

They stopped talking and listened to the sound of crashing waves, and the cries of seagulls above. A little way ahead into the sea, George observed fishing boats.

I would like to be on a fishing boat one day. What fun that would be.

 He sat down, his arms balancing on his knees.

“Don’t you find it uncomfortable? These stones are not forgiving,” Julius squirmed as he sat next to George.

“It doesn’t bother me,” said George. He sighed silently. He and Julius were here for business purposes, but George wished it were for pleasure.

“Have you heard about that attack in Yorkshire?” Julius asked.

“What attack?” George wasn’t paying attention to his friend. He played with the pebbles.

“The one where the Luddites attacked the wool factory. It is so unfortunate,” said Julius.

George vaguely remembered reading about it in the paper.

“What about it?”

“Why do you think they did it?” asked Julius.

George picked up more pebbles and played with them in his palm.

“A lot of it has to do with jealousy, envy too. With the new way of shearing, the other workers in the same trade do not have the luxury of new technology. The country is moving forward, and industrialization is taking over. The Luddites would be angry for they will be without jobs,” George said matter-of-factly.

“It is a sad outcome, but I agree with you, George. We, as a country, must improve. But what is your opinion on this?”

“Why should it matter?”

“Because you are a Duke, and you own many lands. You could stop people from advancing if you wanted, and the new technology wouldn’t take the jobs away from other workers.”

“I am no God, Julius. I am not a cruel man either, I cannot stop another man from making his life better than it is now. My opinion does not matter, it is what it is. Let them do what they need to survive. Industrialization will take over no matter what I do, or don’t do,” George pointed out. He stood up. “Enough of the talk of politics. It is a boring subject. Let’s get back to the tavern and have breakfast.”

They rode back to the tavern, each to their own thoughts. The tavern wasn’t too far from the Brighton coast, in fact, you could make out the sea from the top rooms which they had booked. Another luxury George could boast of.

George loved his friend, but sometimes Julius could be tedious when he began to talk about the events of the world. Of course, George paid attention to such details, but he did not like to dwell on them. It made life even more tiresome than it already was. To take his mind off his uncompromising sadness, he changed his train of thoughts.

“Julius, how are Jennifer and the children?”

Julius had been married for eight years and had five children, all between the ages of two and ten.

“They are fine, thank you for asking,” said Julius. “Little Amy is a lively girl. She is just three and is full of energy, the nursemaid cannot keep up. I’ll let you know we have had to employ two nursemaids. Jennifer is now expecting another little one, she needs all the help she can get.”

“Another child!” exclaimed George. “My, you have been busy, haven’t you?”

“Oh, it is not me. It is Jennifer. She is the one who wants to have a large family. The more children, the better, she says.” Julius shook his head. “Poor me, it’s wearing me down.”

George laughed as they reached the tavern. A stable boy came forward and took the horses away, holding them by the reigns. George’s stomach grumbled then as he smelled the scent of cooked meats coming from inside.

***

That evening, the tavern was full of laughter, lewd men, port and ale, lavish meats, cheeses, bread, and fruit. A pretty woman dressed in show clothes played on the pianoforte in the corner, and two women of pleasure entertained the men, inviting them to join them upstairs for play.

Glasses clinked and plates were scraped as men had their fill of food and drink. The tavern was indeed busy tonight. George ate quietly but was lost in his own world of misery. He watched the people around him, who were so merry. 

Oh, how I wish I could be like them and enjoy the women here. Even Julius is enjoying the company of the women, and he is married.

It had grown cold now outside, but the fireplace kept everyone warm. Lamps burned around the tavern, giving the atmosphere a cozy feel. This was certainly one of the best taverns in this part of the country. George had been in some which were cold and damp, and the owners were just as dismal. He vowed to never go there again if he could avoid it.

He signaled for his glass to be filled up again, which was done almost instantly by a boy. He seemed to be five and ten, and very loyal to his employer, for he worked hard.

“Boy, what is your name?” George asked.

“I am Timothy,” said the boy. “Do you want something else, Your Grace?”

“No, I don’t need anything else. Tell me, what is your age?”

“I am four and ten, Your Grace.”

“Well, Timothy, I have stopped you to say I am impressed by your work today.”

“Thank you, Your Grace.”

“Do you go to school?” George enquired.

“I go only for two hours, and then I work on the farm. Sometimes I am able to get work here.”

“And where do you live?”

“Am I in trouble?” the boy asked, worried now.

“No, quite the opposite. Pray, do tell me where you live, I want to speak with your parents.”

“As long as I am in no trouble,” Timothy said as he gave the Duke his address, and swiftly went back to work. George saw the owner give him a look of curiosity.

I shall ask the owner to give the boy a raise, which I will fund myself. What a fine boy he is. And tomorrow, I shall visit his home.

 A woman of pleasure made her way to his table. Her full breasts hung out of her open dress, leaving nothing to the imagination. She was pretty with flaming red curls, hanging down to her waist. Her blue eyes penetrated his, and he couldn’t help but feel his blood coursing to his groin.

“Damn, leave me be,” he growled at her. He downed some ale.

The woman didn’t flinch but traced a finger from his lips down to his chest.

“You are tense today,” she said. “Come with me, and I shall help you be free.” Her voice was seductive. He hated that.

“Gloria, I am in no mood today,” he said taking her hands away from him, placing them on the table instead. “I believe an early night is what I need.”

“I know you want to, Your Grace. But no matter, I will wait until you are ready for me,” she said.

I am lonely, but I shouldn’t take up on such desires. Oh, Gloria, why do you do this to me?

Gloria took his hand and kissed it and made him stand up. No one paid any attention, it was what men did here. It was a common occurrence.

Gloria led George up the wooden, rickety stairs that no one could hear above the raucous laughter and the music. George caught Julius’ expression of delight. He gave George a nod of approval, and George rolled his eyes. He admitted defeat, and let Gloria lead him to her bedchamber.

***

George and Julius sat in the coach.

“Before we go home, I have something I want to do,” said George.

“Oh?” asked Julius. He opened a page of the paper.

“Yes. I want us to stop by Timothy’s home. He will be at school at this time, but I know his mother will be there.”

“But what will you be speaking to her about? Can someone else not do it?”

“No, Julius. This is rather a delicate matter. And I want to do what is right by the boy.”

George had made some enquiries yesterday evening about the boy and had found he was without a father. His mother worked hard on the farm for their livelihood. He didn’t know why, but he had a strong feeling toward the boy. Perhaps Timothy reminded him of himself at that age. He didn’t have poverty to worry about, but he had an urge to prove himself. That’s what he saw in the boy too.

The coach slowed down as it reached the farm. Julius pinched his nose. “Smells like fresh manure.”

George laughed. “It’s not so bad here. London is worse.”

“I’ll stay in here if you don’t mind,” said Julius. “The smell is quite appalling.”

George shook his head in disbelief of his friend’s attitude to farm waste and went alone to the house. It was large with many rooms. Around the outside of the house was a stable, a pig pen, and some chickens. A woman soon appeared. Her hair was tied inside a scarf, and she wore a dirty apron over a dull-looking dress. George guessed this was Timothy’s mother, for her son resembled her.

“Oh gracious me,” the woman gasped. “A Lord, at my house!”

“Actually, he is a Duke,” said Julius, coming up behind George.

“Oh, so you decided to join me after all,” smiled George.

Julius shrugged. “I wish to support you, my friend.”

“What’s all this about then?” the woman asked, clearly irritated now.

“Please forgive me, I am George –”

“The Duke of Edinbran,” Julius interrupted. “He is a little shy, he doesn’t like to say his title.”

The woman just stared.

“Back to why I am here,” George said. “I had the privilege of meeting your son, Timothy, yesterday.”

“He isn’t in any trouble, is he?” the woman asked.

“No, should he be? Has he been in any trouble before?” asked Julius.

“No, my Timothy is as good as can be, he is helpful too, and no trouble at all. But I see the two of you, and now I wonder,” the woman said.

“Don’t fret, he is in no trouble. In fact, I want to give him a gift, if you would allow,” said George.

“What kind of gift? We want no charity, Your Grace. We can survive on what we have.”

The woman seems to be proud of what she has, she is not greedy. I admire such a trait.

“I am Mrs. Harris. Mr. Harris passed away a few years ago,” Mrs. Harris offered the information when no one spoke.

“I am deeply sorry to hear that,” said George.

“Oh, where are my manners. Would you like to come in for some tea and cake? It won’t be as good as what you ordinarily eat, so please accept my apologies about that. The house is clean and proper though,” Mrs. Harris said.

“That is very kind of you,” said George.

Mrs. Harris smiled broadly. She turned and headed back to the farm. George and Julius followed.

“I won’t be too long, please take a seat in the kitchen,” said Mrs. Harris.

She left them alone while she went upstairs. George looked around the kitchen. It was very clean and tidy. Pots and pans hung on hooks around the walls, and there was a moderately sized aga too. A chimney sat right in the middle of the kitchen.

Mrs. Harris eventually returned. She now wore a clean dress, the scarf was taken off her head, and her face was scrubbed.

“What must I have looked like,” she laughed nervously. She put on a pan of water on the Aga to heat up and then proceeded to take some cake out on two small plates.

George watched in fascination at the speed and the efficiency Mrs. Harris worked.

That was where Timothy must have gotten his skills from.

Julius was also absorbed in Mrs. Harris. George laughed silently. Very soon, there were two mugs of tea, cake, and some cheese on the table.

“We make the cheese from the cow’s milk,” said Mrs. Harris.

“I didn’t see any cows,” said George.

“Oh, you won’t. They are in the fields at the moment,” Mrs. Harris said.

“Do you do all this alone, Mrs. Harris?” asked George.

“I have to. Good old Timothy helps of course when he can. But he has to learn at school, and he works for Mr. Hall in the tavern some nights. He gets so tired,” said Mrs. Harris.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Mrs. Harris. I have a proposal.”

“What kind of proposal?” Mrs. Harris asked.

“I want to buy your farm,” said George.

“You want to buy my farm? Why?”

“I want Timothy to come and work for me, in London as a stable boy to begin with, and I want him to go to school. I will pay for his schooling.”

“But, but… this is very generous. I cannot accept it,” Mrs. Harris stammered. “Why do you want this for Timothy, why not anyone else?”

“I believe in him, I cannot place exactly why. But please, do not refuse. I will give you a good sum for it,” said George.

“But what will I do then?”

“I am certain we will find something for you too,” George smiled. “I will contact you again very soon. And I must admire you for your cake and tea. It was most delicious.”

George and Julius left a rather shocked Mrs. Harris and climbed back into the carriage.

“That was very kind of you,” Julius commented. “You are an angel for it.”

“I don’t know why I did that. I don’t need another piece of land, and I am rich enough. But there is something about the boy I am willing to invest in.”


Chapter Three

1 April 1812


Andrea worked on the last stitch of her handkerchief design, looping the red thread through the blue, completing an image of a butterfly. She felt rather proud of her work.

The butterfly was commissioned as a gift, to be given at the time of a birthday celebration. The lucky woman was Lady Barrington who was turning fifty. Andrea folded the handkerchief and put it into a wooden box, ready to be collected by Lady Barrington’s daughter. Andrea charged a little bit higher for this, as it was extremely intricate work.

Outside, the wind blew in from the south of the country. It was quite blustery, and the slightly open window now swung out.

“Oh dear,” said Andrea. She went over to the window and just managed to close it.

Janet appeared in the room.

“Is everything all right, Your Grace?” she asked. “I heard a loud noise.”

“Everything is perfectly fine,” said Andrea. She smiled. “Come and sit with me, won’t you? Let’s have a little talk, we haven’t had one in a long time.”

“Are you certain, Your Grace? There is an awful lot to do here.”

Andrea patted the seat next to her.

“I don’t get to talk to anyone these days, I feel I need adult company. Besides, I enjoy our talks. Tell me, how is your family?” Andrea asked.

Janet walked over and sat next to Andrea. She seemed comfortable doing this.

“My grand auntie, bless her heart, is not well. She is quite old in age now and her health is failing her,” said Janet.

“I am sorry to hear that,” said Andrea sincerely. “Is there anything I could do to help?”

“No. The doctors have said it is natural for her to go anytime. No amount of medicine will help her. Grand auntie is not sad, she is happy to move on. She told me this herself.”

“And how are your sister and brother?” As far as Andrea was aware, Janet had one of each, but they seldom kept in contact with one another.

“I received a letter last week from my sister. Her daughter is getting married to a footman, so her daughter will end her employment as a maid.”

“That is good news, isn’t it?” asked Andrea.

“Good news yes, but I am not invited,” said Janet. “My sister and I have not been on good terms. The family has divided.”

“I do hope you will reconcile with your sister,” said Andrea. “What about your brother?”

“The last I heard of him was from Grand auntie. She told me he lives up in Scotland.”

Like me, Janet is also alone.

“If you need to take time away to visit your Grand auntie, do tell me.”

“Thank you, Your Grace, For your concern, but I must get on with my duties. The butler and some of the staff are arriving today,” said Janet.

“Yes, I recall a letter from my brother. He will be arriving to stay a few days,” said Andrea. “You may leave.”

***

Stuart sat in front of Andrea with his hands clasped. He looked disappointed.

“What have you decided to do with your life, Sister?”

“What do you mean?” Andrea asked.

George stared at her for a few moments without speaking, and then stood up. “Let us promenade, it is a nice day. You know how I dislike staying in the house for too many hours,” he said.

I know why you want to talk to me away from the servants, Brother. But let me tell you, you won’t sway my mind.

“Very well, Brother.”

Andrea left the house with her brother and they began to walk down the road. A few heads turned their way, and then looked away when they saw who she was with.

The day was sunny with a slightly cool wind; Andrea was glad she wore a thick shawl around her shoulders.

“The people around here still seem to be curious about you,” Stuart remarked.

“Yes, I suppose it is because I am a widow,” Andrea said bluntly. “They are not only curious but rather intrusive about my affairs. I hear them sometimes whispering as I pass by. It is all so tiresome.”

“Perhaps you should leave London, come and live with me in Hackeridge. I can look after you better there, Sister. I worry about you. You shouldn’t be alone in a big house, especially in London.”

“Thank you, Brother, for your concern.” Andrea was surprised. “But I have Janet.”

“She is a maid, hardly company,” said Stuart.

“Yes, but you know how I like to earn my own way, as I am still married. I don’t believe it is good manners to take so much from you, even though you are family,” said Andrea. “Besides Hackeridge has too many memories, I will feel the absence of Mama and Papa greatly. It’s another loss in my list of woes.”

“I understand, I do. But even so, please do consider coming back. It would make me so happy.”

Andrea tilted her head at her brother and raised her eyebrows.

“What is that look about, Sister?” asked Stuart.

“I don’t believe that is the only reason you want me back,” said Andrea.

“I must confess my visit is not just about coming to London for business. It is to talk to you.”

“All right, what do you have to say?”

“You must stop selling goods, it is not becoming for a Duchess,” said Stuart.

“A widowed Duchess. If I were to stop, how would I pass my time? I am lonely, I have no real friends here. And you know I do this for charity, of course, I do keep some money for myself but that is not a crime,” said Andrea. “You must understand.”

“I do, Sister, I do.”

“You are ashamed of me,” Andrea accused him.

They reached a park where carriages drove in, and people walked in arm in arm. Andrea and Stuart joined them.

“I don’t see how my work is embarrassing,” Andrea spoke in a lower tone so no one could hear them. “It is mostly for charity.”

“I apologize if I have hurt you. I am not embarrassed, I am only informing you again that this is low-class work, and certainly not suitable for a young lady. You are still young and will remarry, but no man will take you in if you work like the lower classes.”

“If a man is to love me and wants to marry me, he would have to accept my charity work. I would not give that up for anyone. And if I were never to marry again, that is fine too.”

“You are impossible, Andrea. Mama and Papa would be so upset to see you like this.”

“You fail to understand our parents are dead, so that statement is moot. Now, let’s leave this sordid topic. Have you anything else to say to me that won’t offend me?” asked Andrea.

“Well… Actually, there is.” A smile played on Stuart’s face.

“There is? What news is it, is it exciting?”

“You are aware of my courtship with Lady Suzanne,” he said. “We are now engaged and to be married. I proposed to her last night, and she agreed. Her mother and father are extremely pleased.”

Delighted, Andrea took both his hands and squeezed them.

“And so am I, congratulations, Brother.”

“I am glad you are pleased,” said Stuart. “I want you to meet Suzanne personally. You have always loved arranging parties, I hope that is still one of your passions, to arrange one for me? It will only be the four of us, I and you, Suzanne and her brother.”

“Of course, I am absolutely thrilled. I shall start preparing right away. When do you want it?”

“How about for two weeks time?”

“That is not too far away, I can do it.” Andrea smiled broadly.

“I want it to be in Hackeridge, do you mind?” asked Stuart.

“Why would I mind? It is your party… And I suppose you want me to come to Hackeridge right away?”

“Will you?”

“As it is my passion, of course, brother. And I cannot wait to see Lady Suzanne.”

***

Andrea moved into Hackeridge to arrange the dinner and the evening party, and she gave Janet time off to be with her Grand auntie. She stood out on the front verandah and looked at the vast land around the house. She missed this place, although she had told Stuart it was painful to be here as she would remember the loss of Mama and Papa.

The Hackeridge estate was built on top of a hill, so one could see for miles and miles all the way to the high peaks of the West Midlands. As a child, she would sit there in the warm summer evenings, and watch the sun set over them. Mama would sit with her and then take her inside when the chill set in.

It was around the time of June when her mother’s health began to fail. Andrea knew how much her mother liked the sunset too, and so the roles reversed soon. At the age of nine and ten, Andrea would take her mother outside and wrap her in a blanket, even though the temperature was twenty degrees Celsius.

They would sit in white chairs, huddled together. But Andrea would be watching her mother, and not the evening entertainment. This went on for a month, and then on the last evening, her mother closed her eyes forever.

Tears sprung to Andrea’s eyes. Why did people she loved have to leave her?

“Andrea, ah, there you are,” said Stuart. “Have you been crying?”

Andrea wiped her face. “Only a little; I was remembering Mama. Remember how we used to sit together and watch the sunset?”

“I do remember,” said Stuart fondly. “But now, you must not upset yourself anymore. Come inside, it is time for dinner.”

***

“Lady Josephine, Countess of Middleton,” the butler announced.

“My Lady,” said Andrea.

“It’s lovely to see you, Your Grace,” Lady Josephine said, as she sat down. “I was in the area and I heard you were back from London. I thought a visit was in order.”

“I am here only for a short time,” said Andrea politely.

The Countess isn’t here to exchange pleasantries with me, it is to pry into my affairs.

“How are the Earl and your two daughters? I have not seen them in a long time; I imagine they have grown up,” said Andrea.

“They have grown to be so beautiful, and they already have eligible bachelors asking permission to court. Of course, my daughters ask for my permission first. It is the proper thing to do.”

“Will they marry for love, or for status?” asked Andrea. She couldn’t help herself to ask the question. For her, it was right to marry for love.

I believe her daughters will marry for status, I cannot see them marrying for love, as I did.

“Love can come after marriage, my dear. Oh, but you did marry for love, didn’t you? How silly of me to say so. Please do forgive my oversight of your situation,” said the Countess. She gave Andrea a smile, which seemed very patronizing.

“That’s quite all right,” said Andrea. “People seem to forget I married a very charming, kind, and loyal husband. He has passed, and that is that. I, nor anyone else can bring him back.”

It wasn’t all right. How could the Countess say that? Do I not have feelings? Am I not a part of society?

Andrea returned a smile to the woman opposite her, but it was not sincere. Andrea looked at what the Countess wore; a silly hat with many pink and white feathers attached to it. She resembled a tropical bird. The Countess’ dress matched her hat; she was a spectacle to behold.

Stuart entered the room. The Countess stood up and curtseyed. Andrea also stood up.

“My Lord,” said the Countess.

“Lady Middleton,” said Stuart. “Please, sit.” He took a seat himself, crossing his legs. “What brings you to this part of England, and alone? I do not see anyone else who may have accompanied you.”

“I am visiting a cousin, who told me the Duchess has come to Hackeridge. I came alone. I thought I would pay a visit and see the Duchess. In fact, we were discussing the topic of marriage just before your arrival,” said the Countess when she settled back down. “And quite an interesting one.”

“What about it, I am curious to know,” said Stuart.

“Well, I believe one should marry according to status, and not love. If one marries below their social class, it will not be favorable amid the ton. Let’s talk about my daughters. They will be married to men who are like us, aristocrats. Oh, I cannot stress enough how important it is for Her Grace to marry again, and to a Duke, of course,” said the Countess.

“It is not as if a Duke can be picked off a tree, My Lady,” Andrea said in a sarcastic voice. “They are not apples.”

At that, the Countess let out a very loud laugh. 

Andrea did not smile this time. If the Countess noticed coldness from her, she did not care. The Countess smiled nervously now and looked from sister to brother and back again.

“I believe it is time to leave,” she said. She stood up, curtseyed. “I hope to see you again soon, Your Grace.” The Countess looked into Andrea’s eyes.

What did she mean?

“I cannot believe that woman!” Andrea cried. “How dare she vex me so!” She paced the room.

“Be calm, Sister. People are forgetful and inconsiderate. You must take no notice,” her brother said casually, as he sat back down.

“Bring me a paper, will you,” he told a footman.

“I don’t like it, and to be truthful, I feel so fatigued with it all. In London, people stared at me, but not any of them mentioned my unfortunate situation. No one came to the house and spoke to me about my widowhood and said that I should marry again,” Andrea cried. “Only if and when I find the right man, may I consider remarrying. But not like this!”

“Like what?”

“Like I have no option, and that no man will like me when I am too old. I am too old, oh, what am I going to do?”

“You are going to do nothing apart from organizing my party. Forget about the Countess, all right?” said Stuart.

Andrea sighed. “I suppose you are speaking sense… I think I will retire to the library now if that is all right, brother. I need to be distracted. Please do not accept any calls this afternoon on my behalf, I do not feel well to entertain anyone else, especially if they are anything like the Countess!”

***

Stuart watched his sister leave the drawing room. He worried for her, and he didn’t like to see her upset. Life had played a cruel hand. She deserved to be happy, married to a man she loved so dearly.

The Duke was a good man, and he had loved Andrea deeply. The Duke’s death was not accidental, he was certain of it. Someone had poisoned him. And whoever it was, he would find them and let them hang for it!

One day, Sister, you will find happiness again. And I will let no one stand in your way when the time comes. 

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