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Диксон Хелен

Seducing Miss Lockwood

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«Seducing Miss Lockwood» - Хелен Диксон

RAKE’S MISTRESS…OR WIFE?Against all advice, Juliet Lockwood is intent on working in the household of Lord Dominic Lansdowne – notorious society rake. Rumour has it a different woman warms his bed each night. But that is of no concern to prim, proper Miss Lockwood!Dominic Lansdowne may have a hardened heart, but contrary to popular belief he’s always been a man of principle – doe-eyed innocents are not for him. But this new addition to his staff is pure forbidden temptation… Honour binds him from seduction…unless, of course, he makes her his wife!
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About the Author

Why did he keep thinking of Miss Lockwood?

Why did her face flash disconcertingly across his vision as it had a habit of doing so often of late? Why did he find himself drawn to the library when he knew she would be working?

How could he let a woman affect him as this one did? He was quite bewildered by it. All he knew was that it was different from anything he had felt before. She was not for him, coming from the class she did, but he could not stop thinking about her.

There was something about Juliet Lockwood—a loveliness not just in her face but in her heart and soul. It shone from her like a beacon. In her naivety she was completely unaware of it, and that was what was so special about her.

About the Author

HELEN DICKSON was born and lives in South Yorkshire with her retired farm manager husband. Having moved out of the busy farmhouse where she raised their two sons, she has more time to indulge in her favourite pastimes. She enjoys being outdoors, travelling, reading and music. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure. It was a love of history that drove her to writing historical fiction.

Previous novels by Helen Dickson:






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Miss Lockwood

Helen Dickson

Chapter One


The Fleet prison loomed towering and intimidating as Juliet approached the huge doors. Unconsciously drawing her cloak tighter around her, she shuddered as she was admitted. How she hated the place. The guard knew her from her weekly visits and conducted her through the lobby and past the warden’s office and up to her brother’s cell. The guard pocketed the necessary coin she gave him and turned the key to admit her.

Robby was stretched out on a narrow bed, seemingly fast asleep. Thoroughly frustrated by her brother’s inactivity, she shook him roughly by the arm.

‘Robby! Wake up.’

At twenty-eight Robby, her half-brother, was five years Juliet’s senior, but prison had taken something away from him and she was for the moment the strong one, the support, her female instincts for her sibling flooding to comfort, to relieve his suffering, for despite his devil-may-care attitude on the outside, she knew as only a sister can the depth of his pain, his anger and frustration directed at himself for allowing himself to fall so low.

At last, to her relief, he showed signs of stirring. His eyelids flickered in his gaunt face and he stared lazily around him, as if surprised to find himself in prison at all. Then he caught sight of Juliet and his eyes lit up with pleasure.

‘Juliet! I must have dozed off.’ Throwing his legs over the side, he sat up, smoothing his long white fingers through his fair hair.

Robby was in the Fleet because, with an eye for the main chance, he had lived beyond his means. Every opportunity had been expended upon him by their father, and after finishing years of advanced learning he had declared an intense dislike for it and resigned his position as a teacher of history at a prestigious boys’ school in Surrey. At twenty-one, coming into a small inheritance from his mother, he had taken off on the Grand Tour with some of his contemporaries. The money spent, he had returned home.

Living on his wits and boyish charm and possessed of arrogance, pride and a good deal of pigheadedness, he indulged in the usual pastimes open to a gentleman of urbane habits and wealth, spending his nights drinking and carousing and being over-generous to his friends. He was good looking—at least the ladies seemed to think so, for they hung around him like flies and he knew how to charm and coax. But his debts had finally caught up with him and he had ended up in this place.

‘You really should be at some kind of employment, Robby,’ Juliet said, wrinkling her nose with distaste at the dreadful odour that pervaded every corner of the prison, ‘not kicking your heels in this place.’

‘I admit I want to be out of here,’ he murmured, straining at this restriction to his freedom, ‘but what can I do?’

Juliet placed a wrapped bundle on the table. ‘Here, I’ve brought you some food—bread and cheese—and some books to read to help pass the time.’

He grinned at her fondly. ‘You and your books, Juliet. Where would you be without them?’

‘I really don’t know, Robby. Where would either of us be? It’s because of my love of books and what I’ve learned from Father that I’m able to do the work I do. And you may mock, but it’s my knowledge that enables me to pay the guards to provide you with special favours. It’s better than taking in washing, and, if I am to get you out of this dreadful place, I must earn all I can.

Robby was immediately contrite. ‘Sorry, sis. I know how hard you work and the small luxuries I have are down to you. I am grateful. I’m proud of you. Father would be, too … were he still with us. You’ve proved yourself as resourceful as you are clever. How’s Sir John?’

‘That’s what I’ve come to tell you. I’m leaving his employ, Robby. My work is finished. I’ve found new employment—out of London.’

‘And naturally you’ll be too busy to come and see me.’

It was the undercurrent of disappointment in his voice that touched Juliet. ‘Not too busy, Robby. Too far away. I’m to take up a position for the Duke of Hawksfield in Essex, so I won’t be able to visit you for a while, but I will write often.’

Robby’s look of surprise was quickly followed by one of displeasure. ‘Dominic Lansdowne?’

‘Yes—I believe that is his name.’

‘Well—Dominic Lansdowne of all people!’

‘You know him?’

‘I know of him—a military man, fought in Spain.’ He frowned, suddenly anxious for his sister. ‘He’s also a spectacularly handsome rake, Juliet, superior, arrogant, a despoiler of innocent girls and constantly gossiped about, but rarely seen. If all the stories are to be believed, the Duke of Hawksfield and his friends spend the majority of their time when in town perusing sexual conquests, and when he isn’t in London prowling the gaming halls, he’s roaming the countryside on his stallion searching for a complaisant wench to assuage his appetite.’

Juliet flushed at Robby’s unsavoury description of the man she was to work for. ‘Really, Robby, you paint an unflattering picture of my future employer.’

‘With good cause. Have you met him?’

‘No. He was willing to employ me on Sir John’s recommendation and my written application. He can’t possibly be as dissolute as you have painted him.’

‘I’m sorry, Juliet, but that’s the way he is. You mean the world to me and I care about you—what happens to you. I know how independent you are, but when it comes to men like Dominic Lansdowne, then you are way out of your league. The ladies love him. Be wary. He’ll not make you a duchess.’

‘I don’t want to be a duchess, Robby. I only want to earn enough money to make your life bearable while you are in this place. Another few months and you’ll be out.’

She left, leaving her brother lost in his own depressed thoughts.

As Juliet left the town of Brentwood in Essex the wind had risen, bringing with it a cold, dense rain that whipped against her face. Her bonnet was soon soaked, as was her cloak and her dress beneath, and saturated strands of hair clung to her face. Mr Carter, whose trap she was in, handed her a rug.

‘Sorry about the weather, miss, but don’t worry. We’ll soon be at Lansdowne House.’

‘I do hope so, Mr Carter. I really do, otherwise I dread to think what I shall look like when I get there. I only hope we arrive before dark.’

Gratefully she took the proffered rug and draped it about her shoulders, hunching her back against the downpour. Disregarding the water trapped in the folds of her sodden collar, she did her best to ignore the discomforts of the weather, concentrating wholly upon the route they were following.

When at last she caught sight of some tall, wrought-iron gates ahead, she breathed a sigh of relief. Passing through them, they followed a curved drive.

The house at the end of it looked enormous, very impressive and very grand, which was what one would expect a duke’s house to be. It was three-storeyed, with leaded windows and a white marble portico in front.

Mr Carter halted at the entrance and climbed down, going to assist his passenger. The hem of Juliet’s cloak became caught on a nail on the side of the trap. Pulling at it in exasperation, she uttered a cry of dismay when she heard it rip. Knowing there was nothing to be done, with a resigned sigh she followed Mr Carter to the door.

‘Thank you, Mr Carter,’ she said as he set her trunk down. ‘You’d best be getting back. It will soon be dark and you still have a way to go before you reach your home. I’ll be all right now.’

She watched him go before turning her attention to the door. She had been anticipating this moment for days, and now it was here she was strangely reluctant to enter. With butterflies in her stomach—a mixture of nerves and excitement—she lifted the highly polished brass knocker shaped in a lion’s paw. Letting it fall loudly, she waited.

There was no sound from within, which she thought strange for a house as grand as this. After letting the knocker fall again and still getting no response, she turned the knob and pushed. It opened soundlessly. Sternly quelling a tremor of apprehension and stepping inside the house, she looked around. There wasn’t a servant in sight.

It was a magnificent house, she thought as she moved into the centre of the spacious and elegant hall—a palace, that made her feel even smaller and more insignificant than she already felt, as she dripped water all over the floor. Straight ahead was a sweeping central staircase, the handrails highly polished and glinting in the diffused light of the chandelier. The walls were hung with paintings: men in military uniform, family portraits, scenes of days gone by. Seeing a door slightly ajar, with her heart pounding a nervous tattoo within her chest, she went towards it and opened it further, realising her mistake when it was too late.

All but one pair of eyes moved as one, as if in slow motion, to look at her. It was like a bizarre tableau. The man at the head of a table littered with nutshells and orange peel and glasses and bottles, the air thick with tobacco smoke, was the last to turn his head and look at her, his face a picture of irritated bewilderment. What he saw was the bedraggled figure of a woman in a sodden cloak with its torn hem trailing on the floor. Wet strands of hair clung to her face and a small feather in her bonnet drooped pathetically.

Dominic Lansdowne, the seventh Duke of Hawksfield, knew all the servants in his house, if not by name then by sight, and he didn’t know the woman in the doorway. If she was looking for the domestic quarters, then she had lost her way.

‘Oh—please excuse me. I’m sorry to intrude upon you like this. I really didn’t mean to. I—appear to be lost.’

Her appearance caused a stir of lewd and bawdy comments from five young men at the table, who, because of a good day shooting birds on the Duke’s estate, were already in their cups. Not so the man seated at the head of the table, who gave his guests a look of bored nonchalance and the supreme indifference of the true aristocrat.

His authority was obvious, a man used to giving orders and having them obeyed. Juliet felt a prickling of unease. It wasn’t just his fine clothes and bearing that marked him out. Even from a distance she could feel the force of his personality and charisma.

Rising from his chair, he sauntered indolently towards her.

He was tall and lean of waist and hip and of powerful build, with broad shoulders, the body of a soldier, an adventurer rather than an aesthete. His hair was thick and shining black, curling vigorously in the nape of his neck. He was clean shaven and amber skinned, and dark clipped eyebrows sat above silver-grey eyes with pupils as black as coal.

He was an attractive man, his face strong, his mouth stubborn and his chin arrogant. But there was a hint of humour in the curl of his lips, which told Juliet he took pleasure from life. He had removed his jacket and his silk waistcoat was unbuttoned, his shirt thrown open at the neck. Towering over her, he said, ‘And you are?’

‘Miss Lockwood.’ She was very pale and her expression seemed strained, but her candid dark eyes met the Duke’s with almost innocent steadfastness. His eyes held hers entrapped, and hidden in them was amusement, watchful, penetrating and mocking, as though he held the world an amusing place to be. ‘I—am sorry to arrive unannounced, but there was no one on the door to let me in.’

Dominic uttered a sound of annoyance and stepped briskly round her. Peering into the hall, he shouted for someone called Pearce.

‘I was not expecting you until tomorrow, Miss Lockwood.’

‘Yes, I know, but I arrived in Brentwood early and didn’t think you would mind if I came here straight away,’ she explained, the truth being that the accommodation in Brentwood was expensive and she had wanted to conserve her limited capital.

‘And you have come directly from London—from Sir John Moore?’

‘Yes, your Grace.’ Juliet felt uncharacteristically daunted. She had been her own mistress for so long she was used to being in command, but there was something rather disconcerting about this man’s self-assurance.

‘And Sir John is well?’

‘Yes, perfectly.’

When a loud guffaw rose from the table, irritated, Dominic looked at his friends. ‘I must apologise, Miss Lockwood,’ he said on a dry note. ‘It’s the shooting season, you see, and it’s been a long day for all concerned.’

‘And a damned enjoyable one, too,’ one of the gentlemen piped up, taking a long swallow of his brandy.

Juliet couldn’t see what being a long day had to do with anything, but didn’t dare say so. Her gaze was drawn to the people seated at the table. Endowed from birth with financial provision made them the superior beings they so obviously thought themselves to be. They possessed also the glorious belief that they were unique in the world. They were all lounging lazily in their chairs with a bored languor, having become quiet and eyeing her rudely, as if sensing something about her which promised to be entertaining. Their neck linen had either been removed or unfastened, and their clothes and hair were in disarray.

She was disconcerted at being subjected for the first time in her life to a situation like this, to being visually harassed by such poor specimens of men as these, and she felt a surge of resentment that they were having fun at her expense. Certainly she was not used to people like this. She had been at the Academy with girls who had rich and influential parents, but that’s where it ended.

One gentleman, Thomas Howard, drew deeply on his cigar, the smoke wreathing about his head, and another had an attractive-looking fair-haired young woman seated close beside him. Lifting his quizzing glass to his eye, he trained it upon Juliet and boldly inspected her.

‘Good Lord! Who is this unkempt creature, Dominic? Lost her way, has she? Doesn’t she know to use the back door?’

‘Shut up, Sedgwick,’ Dominic said. ‘You’re being outrageous, exceedingly rude and embarrassing Miss Lockwood.’

‘But servants never enter a gentleman’s house by the front door,’ the woman commented, her voice sounding like a purr, ‘unless, of course, she’s new to service and doesn’t know any better.’

Juliet’s eyes narrowed and anger stirred inside her. ‘I am Lord Lansdowne’s employee, not his servant,’ she was quick to retort.

The woman looked at Juliet with a malicious twist to her lips and an uninterested shrug of her shapely shoulders. ‘What’s the difference? If he pays your wages, you are the hired help.’

‘Enough, Geraldine,’ Dominic chided, his smile softening the reproach. ‘Please remember your manners.’

Juliet was beginning to doubt that this Geraldine had any. The woman was sumptuously attired in a deep pink silk gown with an overskirt of pink net lace sewn liberally with tiny pink beads that twinkled in the light. The bodice was so low as to prove an almost inadequate restraint to the swelling ripeness of her breasts. Her hair was auburn and adorned with diamond pins. Around her throat she wore a gold necklace inset with blood-red rubies. The stone cast a rosy light upon her white flesh and Juliet felt a total inadequacy stir within her.

Sedgwick smiled, his smooth face easily accommodating the ingratiating expression. ‘Then let your—employee come and join us? It could be fun.’ His voice was low and laced with mockery. His fingers rhythmically stroked the stem of his glass and his knowing eyes bore into her.

The beautiful woman laughed softly, provocatively. ‘Don’t be lewd, my darling. Can’t you see the poor girl is positively terrified? Better she should be directed to the kitchen.’

Dominic saw the horror and shock that flashed across Miss Lockwood’s face. ‘Pay no attention to Sedgwick. He’s not normally rude, but his manners are somewhat lacking at present.’

He was amazed at his own concern, for what did he care about a woman he had never met? Perhaps it was because of her wretched appearance, or because she was to undertake a project that was important to him and he didn’t want her bolting for the door before she had taken up her post. Whatever it was, it annoyed him slightly, since he didn’t really have the patience to be fretting himself over a woman he did not know.

Sedgwick reached out and trailed his skilled fingers down the soft nape of Geraldine’s neck. She sighed and arched with pleasure, like a cat, Juliet thought.

‘Ah, Charles, you know what I like.’

He chuckled low and leaned over to trail his lips where his fingers had been before.

Juliet watched, unable to tear her eyes away. Never had she seen anything so blatant, so decadent, so—so disgraceful. She felt she was about to collapse, not because her sensibilities had been shocked, but from a swift rush of anger such as she had never before experienced in her life.

Now she was being possessed of another strange emotion. She had never hated anything or anyone, but at this moment she became so afraid of the intensity of the feeling that was causing her heart to beat violently, that she dropped her gaze from the rude woman and down at her tightly clasped gloved hands that were gripping each other so that her knuckles stood out through the material.

She had ceased to see what was in front of her, for her gaze had turned inwards and she was seeing herself as she must look to this roomful of fashionable people—dull, soaked, her soiled boots and ripped cloak with its muddy hem giving her the appearance of a vagrant.

Witnessing the birth of a new creature, someone born out of frightening emotions, all she wanted to do was strike the mocking smile from the woman’s lips, to rush towards her and topple her from her chair on to the floor. All eyes were watching her.

Thankfully at that moment the butler appeared. For once Pearce, usually the picture of dignified calm, looked somewhat flustered as he fumbled to do up the buttons on his waistcoat, which he had unfastened when he had gone to sit in a comfortable position with Mrs Reed, the cook of many years, in front of the kitchen stove, hoping for an hour or two’s respite while the young gentlemen seemed intent on getting more inebriated than they already were, which was certainly nothing new when they had spent the day shooting at birds or galloping after the fox during the hunting season.

‘There was no one on duty at the door, Pearce,’ Dominic said sharply but without reproach. ‘Miss Lockwood had to let herself in.’

Somewhat disconcerted, Pearce allowed his features to relapse momentarily into an expression of disbelief. Then, his lips pursed in a suitable disdain, he said, ‘I apologise, your Grace.’

‘I think your apology should be directed at Miss Lockwood, Pearce. Show her to her room and make sure she has everything she requires.’

‘Yes, your Grace. Miss Lockwood’s room is prepared.’

Dominic looked down at his new employee. ‘Goodnight, Miss Lockwood. I hope you have a comfortable night. I’ll see you in the library in the morning. Nine o’clock sharp.’

‘Yes, of course.’

Pearce half-turned to Juliet. ‘If you would come this way.’

‘Thank you. If you gentlemen will excuse me.’ Juliet’s voice was low, cool and slightly contemptuous as her eyes passed over them, before she turned about and went out.

Pearce was already walking away. When the door closed behind her, for a moment there was silence, and then, as if on cue, that roomful of ugly people erupted in loud guffaws of laughter.

‘Good Lord, Dominic,’ Sedgwick cried, loud enough for her to hear, ‘I doubt you will be tempted in that direction. Why, the girl’s pathetic, as plain as a pike staff and—’

‘I know, Sedgwick, and with no feminine appeal what-so-ever and more unfashionable than Farmer Shepherd’s scarecrow,’ the Duke interrupted, laughter not far away.

Juliet seethed.

A scarecrow!

Upon her soul, she couldn’t remember ever being so humiliated. Having no wish to hear more, she turned away and strode after Pearce, unable to force any coherent thought to the forefront of her mind. She was dazed, numb. All she could hear over and over again was the carelessly brutal opinion of her spoken in jest by the man she was to work for.

It wasn’t until she found herself traversing the many corridors and staircases of Lansdowne House that the anger in her began to subside, and, like a mist clearing from her eyes, she looked at her situation. But as she did so a sickness assailed her, for she knew that no matter how she came to view her employer, there would remain in her an intense dislike of him while ever she remained beneath his roof. If she had any alternative, she would leave right now, but, she thought as she suddenly shivered and sneezed, she needed the work and a roof over her head and the money to help Robby, so for the present she would have to bite the bit and put up with it.

Pearce turned and gave her a baleful look. ‘Oh dear, Miss Lockwood. I do hope you haven’t caught a chill.’

‘So do I,’ Juliet murmured, fumbling for her handkerchief as she sneezed again and felt the beginnings of a stabbing headache.

Alone, she looked at the room that was to be her home for the next few months. It was a well-appointed chamber, both handsome and comfortable with a large bed, overlooking the lawns to the south of the house. It was close to the servants’ quarters, yet far enough away to make her different in their eyes. She sighed. As if she didn’t have enough to contend with without resentment from the domestic staff.

Feeling her headache getting worse, she poured herself some water from the pitcher and drank thirstily. When a footman brought her valise she quickly unpacked and got ready for bed, relieved when she finally slipped between the cool sheets. She closed her eyes to stop the hazy waves in front of her eyes, feeling herself slipping into a swirling mass.

The next thing Juliet heard was a knocking on her bedroom door. Her bemused mind refused to function, preferring the anaesthesia of sleep. When the knocking continued, she struggled to open her eyes. Sunlight slanting through the windows almost blinded her and she quickly closed them again.

Realising she had slept through the night, she tried to remember where she was, and then she remembered and groaned. How could she be so unfortunate as to fall ill on her first day in her new position? Her eyes hurt so much, and her throat was so sore—in fact, everything was hurting, from the top of her head to the soles of her feet.

The knocking became persistent, accompanied by a voice. ‘Please, Miss Lockwood, say something.’

Juliet groaned again. What did the woman want?

Why on earth was she being bothered when all she wanted to do was to go back to sleep?

‘Please—come in,’ she managed to croak—too late, for whoever it was had gone.

Dominic strode into the library at nine o’clock exactly, fully expecting to find Miss Lockwood to be waiting for him. Sunlight sifted through the windows, casting a golden glow across the highly polished round table in the centre of the room. He stopped and looked around. The room was empty. Miss Lockwood was not there.

And so he waited, pacing the carpet as he struggled with his mounting annoyance at being made to wait. He was not known for his patience. Where the hell was she? He had the most ridiculous notion that she had been so hurt and humiliated by his friends’ loose banter last night that today she was demonstrating her rebellion against him by being late to begin her work.

Striding swiftly across the room, he jerked the bell rope. Almost immediately, Dolly, one of the chambermaids, answered his summons. When he enquired after Miss Lockwood, she paled and swallowed nervously.

‘I—I’ve just been to her room, your Grace, but there was no answer. I—I think she must have overslept.’

Astounded, he stared at her, his anger and frustration mounting. ‘Overslept? Oh, for God’s sake!’ he exploded, heading for the door. ‘Which room has she been allocated? Show me.’

‘Y-yes, your Grace.’

Dolly skittered off, the Duke stalking hard on her heels. Servants going about their duties stopped to stare, wondering what could possibly be amiss to raise his Grace to such a fury so early in the morning.

After rapping on Miss Lockwood’s door, Dominic turned the knob and flung it open, seeing the young woman was indeed still abed and feeling himself about to explode. His brows snapped together as he stared down at her. She was lying on her stomach, her face, hidden by her mass of dark hair, turned away from him on the pillow.

‘I’m sorry to wake you, Miss Lockwood. You’ve made your point,’ he told her curtly. ‘Now I’ll make mine. I did not employ you so that you could idle your days away in bed. I said nine o’clock and I meant nine o’clock—not one minute later. Now, if you are not out of that bed and in the library in fifteen minutes, you can pack your bags and get out.’

Juliet became aware of a presence in the room as she floated in a swirling grey mist, drifting in and out of sleep, her mind registering mild confusion.

Reining in his temper with a supreme effort, Dominic said icily, ‘If you have anything to say by way of explanation that will soften my attitude to you, then you’d be wise to speak out now.’

Juliet’s tousled head raised itself off the pillow. She tried to bring the world back into focus. On seeing the figure at the bottom of the bed, hands on hips, glaring like some forbidding black thundercloud, slowly she sat up, pushed back her hair and then the covers and put her legs over the side of the bed. With a racking cough and her eyes streaming, she eased herself to her feet and took a few steps.

‘I—I’m sorry,’ she managed to whisper. ‘I—I don’t feel well …’

‘Miss Lockwood?’

The voice was insistent, cold and commanding and vaguely familiar. He was speaking to her. She forced her eyes open and blinked, trying to focus, but her vision was blurry. The floor lurched and pitched beneath her and she swayed like Robby when he’d drunk a drop too much. A terrible dizziness assailed her and, putting her hand to her head, she crumpled to the carpet.

‘Good God! You’re ill.’

Juliet was disconcerted, but eternally grateful when strong arms lifted her, when a man’s voice she had come to recognise called for someone to call Dr Nevis. When she was carried as though she weighed no more than a feather, which, to the man, she didn’t, to the bed and returned her to her warm cocoon, knowing she was safe, she couldn’t have said why, she let herself drift away, allowing the now gentle voice of the man to say what he pleased.

Juliet awoke to the sounds of someone moving about the room. Though her eyes were still closed, she was conscious of a shaft of light glowing red through her eyelids. She stretched and yawned, warm and rested and with a growing sense of well being, and with no sign of the dreadful headache that had plagued her when she had become ill.

For a while she lay listening to the rare sounds that broke the deep silence of the countryside. The dawn chorus of the birds and the sloughing of the wind as it sifted through the trees were more pleasant by far than the sounds of the vendors and the traffic of London streets.

Opening her eyes she turned her head, the movement attracting the attention of the maid bending over a tray. Suddenly everything became clear and she groaned. The maid, in a starched black dress, white apron and white cap, came and looked down at her, her round young face lit by a cheerful smile.

‘Well, miss, feeling better, are you?’ Dolly asked, her voice soft spoken. ‘You gave us a rare fright, you did, especially the Duke.’

‘Yes,’ Juliet managed to say. ‘I’m feeling much better …’

‘Dolly, miss. My name is Dolly Fletcher.’

‘Dolly, and I’m sorry to have been so much trouble.’

‘Nay, don’t say that. You’ve been no trouble, and it wasn’t your fault you were poorly. ‘Twas the soaking you got that did it. Wet through you were.’

‘The—the doctor came. I seem to remember …’

‘He did, miss, on the Duke’s insistence—right worried he was too—the Duke, I mean. Doctor Nevis left some potions that brought your fever down and here you are, better in a flash.’

‘How long have I been in bed?’

‘Two days—so I expect you’re ready for something to eat. I thought I saw you stir when I looked in on you earlier so I’ve brought you some tea.’ Dolly poured her a cup and carried it to the bed as Juliet struggled to sit up. ‘You can drink it while I fetch you some milk and eggs—and I’ll just inform the Duke on the way to the kitchen.’

Taking the proffered cup, Juliet looked at her sharply. ‘The Duke? Inform him about what?’

‘He made me promise to tell him the minute you woke up. Right concerned he’s been, asking after you all the time.’

‘No doubt that’s because he’s impatient for me to start work,’ Juliet murmured, taking a sip of the warm beverage, the memory of her unpleasant arrival at Lansdowne House returning in all its humiliating clarity.

Resilience came to the fore, for a young woman who tried never to allow things to get her down showed a champion’s resolve to fight back. Though the anger still lingered and she felt a deep resentment towards those utterly spoilt young men and the woman called Geraldine, she was determined not to let it affect her work.

The following day Juliet could get out of bed and walk about, and later the same day, feeling the need for some fresh air, on Pearce’s direction she found her way to a bench on a quiet terrace overlooking the extensive gardens. The sky, blue like a bolt of silk, was shot through with pale slashes of light and fluffy white clouds. The slopes of the grounds were shadowed by trees and the velvety lawns shimmered with early morning dew.

It was here that Dominic found her.

She stood up as he approached, uneasy about meeting her employer, hoping her illness had not roused his displeasure. She studied him intently as he came closer, her eyes alight with curiosity and caution. He was certainly as handsome as she remembered; in fact, many women would find him attractive, for he had incredible presence, exuding vitality and an aura of brute strength. She remembered the flush of attraction that had come over her on first seeing him and hated him for it. No other man had possessed the power to stir her emotions so intensely, and in such a way, on so short an acquaintance.

He appeared to be in his early thirties and there was a vigorous purposefulness in his long, quick strides that bespoke an athletic, active life, rather than the overindulgence that she could ascribe to the other gentlemen who had been present on the night she arrived.

‘Ah, Miss Lockwood. I trust you are feeling better?’

‘Yes, thank you, much better.’

‘I’m glad to hear it. Please—sit down. I did not wish to disturb you.’

Juliet sat stiffly, her hands in her lap. ‘I want to thank you for having the doctor sent for. It was thoughtful of you.’

‘Nonsense. While I am paying your wages, it is in my own interests to hasten your recovery whenever you become ill.’ An amused, enigmatic gleam lit his eyes as he met her gaze. ‘Are you susceptible to illnesses, Miss Lockwood?’

‘Apart from contracting a few minor ailments when I was a child, on the whole my health gives me no reason for complaint. Have—you any objections to my being out here, your Grace?’

‘None whatsoever. Feel free to go anywhere you please within the house and grounds while you are here.’

‘Thank you. That is most generous.’

He walked to the edge of the terrace and, with his back to her, gazed at the scene before him, a scene that was as familiar to him as his own hand. ‘I often come out here to sit. This is a pleasant garden.’

‘Very pleasant,’ she agreed.

He looked back at her. ‘I’m glad you find it so. You are being looked after, I trust?’

‘I no longer need looking after. Dolly has been kindness itself. I apologise for the inconvenience I must have caused, but I should be ready to begin work in the morning. I’m looking forward to starting.’

An easy smile curved his pliant lips. ‘Not before you’re ready. We don’t want a relapse. You gave us all quite a fright.’

‘And I must have looked a sight.’ She laughed. ‘Although probably no worse than I normally look.’

‘Now you are being ridiculous and do yourself a grave injustice,’ Dominic remarked, marvelling at the courage she displayed under such duress. The bedraggled creature that had arrived three nights ago was gone and in her place was a pert, self-assured young miss. What he saw was a girl of medium height and slender and with curves in all the right places; and with an eye for beauty, especially when beauty was displayed in feminine form, Dominic looked at her now with surprise and more than a little appreciation.

She had a long white neck—like a swan, he found himself thinking. Her waist was miniscule, above which her breasts were high and rounded beneath her dress. Her voice was soft and yet her expression was open and direct, and she had indicated a genuine concern about her appearance, then calmly admitted that she did not look her best. This gave him the distinct impression that pretensions were completely foreign to her and that she was refreshingly unique in many ways—delightful ways, too.

That realisation stirred his conscience—and his pleasure at the thought was banished and made him step back. There was nothing right in what he was thinking about her. He was her employer and common decency dictated that he must not forget that—difficult as it might be. He must keep his distance, mentally and physically, and he must not think about her in any personal way.

With a slight inclination of his head that told her the conversation was over, he said, ‘If you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do.’

‘Of course. Please—do not let me keep you.’

She stood up quickly. It was a mistake. He was too close and with the seat behind her she could not retreat. He looked straight into her eyes, overwhelming her with the sheer force of his personality. She felt as if she had been stripped naked by the unexpected intimacy of that brief contact. She struggled to appear calm, but her cheeks burned with embarrassment.

He smiled, reading her perfectly. ‘I was about to say don’t get up,’ he murmured, his voice as smooth as silk. ‘Stay and enjoy the garden. The fresh air will be beneficial to your health.’

She relaxed slightly and began to breathe normally again, reproaching herself for acting foolishly. Surely she was far too sensible to be overawed by an employer. It occurred to her to wonder how much truth there was in the gossip that surrounded him. Was his reputation really as bad as it had been painted?

‘Yes, I will. Thank you.’

He glanced at her, and she felt her cooling cheeks begin to burn again. A glint of amusement flickered in his intelligent silvery eyes, almost as if he had guessed what she was thinking.

‘No need to thank me. Fresh air is free, Miss Lockwood.’

Juliet waited until he had disappeared into the house before resuming her seat. What sort of person was he, she wondered, this employer of hers? Her stomach churned when she remembered the harsh coldness of his words when he had come to her room, not realising she was ill, and when he had his kindness and concern had been exemplary.

Her position was becoming far more complicated than she had ever anticipated. Not only did she have her work to contend with, she also had to find a way of dealing with her own irrational attraction to her employer. She couldn’t believe he had aroused such a strong response within her—no one else had achieved that.

The following morning, throwing back the covers, Juliet swung her feet down to the carpet, feeling much stronger and eager to begin work,

Sitting at the dressing table, she brushed out her hair before twisting it into a tidy bun at her nape. She lingered a moment, examining her features with a critical eye, remembering the attractive woman she had seen on her arrival. For the first time in her life she wished she were beautiful. Beauty meant delicate features, clear blue eyes and soft blond hair. Her hair was an indeterminate shade of brown, her eyes too dark and her cheekbones too high, her mouth too full. The girls at the Academy had teased her about her looks and about her figure, too, for it wasn’t proper for a young woman to have a tiny waist and a voluptuous bosom.

She had never been concerned about her looks. She had thought only about learning, reading, her father and her brother, so that it left little room for anything else. A change had taken place, and it had come on her arrival to Lansdowne House. With it had come something that must be instinctive with every woman and she didn’t welcome it. The meeting with her employer had awakened something new, something she had sensed fleetingly in the past but never fully realising it until she had looked into a pair of silver-grey eyes.

A rueful smile curved her mouth. The Duke’s friend Sedgwick had called her pathetic, and if she were honest she must have looked a sorry sight. But there could be no excuse for what the Duke had said—about her looking like Farmer Shepherd’s scarecrow. It was an aspect to his character that told her a great deal about the man. If she could leave Lansdowne House, she would, but she would never find another position as well suited to her qualifications and the generous amount of money she was being paid.

But to be near the Duke of Hawksfield, knowing the disdain with which he regarded her, was an intolerable prospect.

Leaving her room, she stepped out into the passage. The rest of the household appeared to be sleeping. Everything was still. Downstairs, the hall was deserted, although she could hear the sound of voices and the distant clattering of pots in the kitchen, which she entered.

It was a splendid room where delicious smells assailed her, whose every surface was so highly scrubbed and polished it hurt the eye. A massive range with glowing coals occupied one wall, and there were two enormous tables, copper pans and bowls and chopping boards, and a huge dresser with what seemed to be hundreds of pieces of crockery and silver-covered dishes.

Maids scurried about their work under the watchful eye of Mrs Reed. They all turned to stare at the newcomer. She returned each and every look with a cordial smile. Seemingly unimpressed, they looked away. Like them she was employed by the Duke, but her elevated position set her apart.

Mrs Reed, stout and full bosomed and holding a long-handled spoon, looked up and studied the new arrival from head to foot. ‘You must be Miss Lockwood.’

‘Yes, that’s right,’ Juliet replied quickly, awkward at her intrusion.

‘You’re not from these parts?’ she said, as though Juliet had professed herself to be an alien from a place beyond the reach of civilisation.

‘No, I am not.’

‘And you’re feeling better now, are you?’

‘Yes, much better, thank you.’


‘You are Mrs Reed?’

‘I am. I’m the cook for his Grace—have been for thirty years.’

‘Then I’m pleased to meet you, Mrs Reed,’ Juliet said, already realising that it would need a delicate touch to deal with the ticklish task of keeping on the right side of the cook. ‘It is you I have to thank for the excellent food Dolly was so kind to bring to my room. I wonder if I could have some coffee—and perhaps some toast sent in to the library? I’m anxious to see where I’m to work.’

Mrs Reed looked none too pleased at having one of the maids taken off their work to wait on the new girl, which Dolly had been doing too much of late, but she nodded all the same. ‘I’ll prepare a tray and have Dolly bring it to you, but in future I’d appreciate it if you fetched it yourself. They’ve enough to do without running back and forth to the library.’

The tone was courteous, but the dismissal clear.

Juliet smiled sweetly. ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Reed.’ Mrs Reed sniffed as though to say and so she should be. ‘In future I will do that.’ She had no choice but to withdraw.

Sir John’s library was impressive, but it could not compare with what she saw when she entered the library at Lansdowne House. Instantly she felt the room’s peace and tranquillity. It was a square high room and smelled of beeswax and old leather, a wonderful smell she savoured. A globe of the world stood in one corner, alongside a glass display case containing a selection of artefacts and curiosities, and four beautiful miniature water colours by an artist she did not recognise. There was a richly carved huge round table in the centre and comfortable leather chairs.

The room was awash with books on shelves from floor to ceiling, huge tomes, some behind glass for preservation, and journals and pamphlets. She ran her eyes along each shelf in turn, reading the names on the polished spines, letting her fingers trail over the leather bindings, pausing now and then when a particular volume caught her interest. Some were dog eared and in need of attention.

There was a collection of religious texts, a section devoted to English literature, and in the furthest corner of the library was an alcove dedicated to books on history. She stared in awe at the priceless artefacts and the glorious collection of paintings in ornate frames, and she was sure that was a Rubens over the fireplace.

Dolly brought the tray with her coffee, a small jug of frothy milk and a bowl of white sugar cubes. She placed it on the table. ‘Shall I pour it, miss?’

‘No, thank you, Dolly. I can manage.’

‘Very good, miss—and don’t mind Cook. Her bark’s worse than her bite, as they say. She meant no harm—in fact, she’s sent you some of her special biscuits to have with your coffee, as well as the toast.’

‘I can see that,’ Juliet said, somewhat heartened by the cook’s unexpected kindness. ‘They look delicious. Please thank her for me, will you, Dolly?’

‘I will, miss. And don’t be put off by Pearce either. He might look as though he’s come out of the laundry over-starched, but he’s an old softy at heart.’

Juliet laughed. ‘Thank you, Dolly. I’ll remember that. And—and his Grace?’ she ventured tentatively.

Walking to the door, Dolly turned and looked at her with a grimace. ‘His Grace is better for knowing, miss. You’ll get the measure of him soon enough.’


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