“I do wish Mother was still here,” Diana remarked as she looked at Martha through the mirror longingly.
Her remark was more of a deep wish than a complaint because Diana missed her mother very much. Martha, the housekeeper-come-general maid, had been with the Carlisle household for Diana’s entire life. Going to the servant for her gentle care and guidance was like having a substitute for her mother.
“Do sit still, Miss Diana, or you will end up with a pin in the wrong place,” Martha instructed her. She was attempting to make Diana’s long, dark hair presentable for the soiree she was to attend that very evening. “And I agree with you, I miss her too.”
“I know you do, Martha. If she was here, she would be the one fixing my hair. Then I would not be bothering you as I do,” Diana admitted.
She felt bad at how much she depended on Martha, who saw to her every need as well as keeping Rose Cottage running efficiently. The housekeeper worked long hours and never complained, not once. “What would Father and I do without you, dear Martha?”
“You know I love you both, and I would have it no other way,” Martha replied, putting the finishing touches to Diana’s silky curls. “Now then, do you not just look the part? You are very beautiful, my dear, and your mother would be proud to see how you’ve grown.”
“I cannot believe it has been four years since she passed,” Diana said, looking back at her own sad, pouting face in the mirror before her.
“And little Joshua too, he was the prince of cuteness,” Martha added with a smile. Though Diana could see through the mirror that the housekeeper’s face reflected the same sadness that she herself felt.
“My little brother was a terror,” Diana said, smiling at the memory. “And I loved him to bits.”
“To be taken at such a young age was heart breaking for those left behind,” Martha said with glassy eyes as she now looked despondent.
“Father has never been the same since the fever took them both from us,” Diana remarked. She knew that he had always blamed himself because they could not afford a doctor at the time.
“Well, we shall stop this now,” Martha declared. “You are to go out this very night and have a happy time. I hear that Miss Henrietta has found herself a husband after presenting herself in London this year.”
“I wish I did not have to attend their homecoming party, but she is my best friend,” Diana admitted as she clipped on a ruby red earring. “As are you, Martha.”
“Oh, stop that silliness now will you, Miss Diana.” Martha chuckled, but Diane knew she was secretly pleased that she had referred to her as a friend. “I will be around for a long time to come yet. Now then, I do not want to be hearing any of this nonsense about you not going. That, Miss Diana, is part of your problem. You do not go out and have enough fun. When I was your age, I had plenty of friends to get up to mischief with.”
“I cannot imagine you as a child or a young lady, Martha,” Diana giggled.
“Oh, you cheeky little imp,” Martha said, showing a faux stern look in her eyes, which soon slipped as a smile broke out on her face.
Diana turned to take one last look in the mirror before she stood up before the carriage arrived to take her to Woodberry Hall.
“I wonder what it is like to come out in London?” Diana sighed, knowing it was never something that her father could afford for her.
“You will attract a handsome suitor when the time is right, mark my words,” Martha said as she hurried Diana out of the bedroom door. “Now come along I hear the carriage pulling up. Let’s not keep the driver waiting. No more dawdling.”
‘Should I say goodnight to Father before I leave?” Diana questioned as she rushed down the narrow stairway to get her coat that was hung up in the small hallway. She was never sure what mood he would be in, so always checked with Martha first.
“I would not, Miss Diana. He took to the brandy glass straight after dinner,” Martha warned. “But I will be waiting up for you.”
“No, Martha, you need your rest. I will manage on my own, I have my key,” Diana said, attempting to talk her out of waiting up.
“We will see,” Martha replied, opening the front door to wave Diana off.
* * *
Her friend, Henrietta, was waiting for her arrival as she stood on the doorstep of Woodberry Hall. She looked excited, and as Diana ran up the steps to meet her, they hugged one another enthusiastically.
“Oh my, how I have missed you,” Diana said, reluctant to let go of her friend.
“Well, I have not missed you one bit, because I have been far so busy,” Henrietta teased.
“You mock me?” Diana questioned as she pulled away from their warming embrace.
“Do not take me too seriously, Diana! Of course, I have missed you, silly,” Henrietta told her, looking back at her with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “But I am a woman now, and I have so much to tell you.”
“I am a woman too,” Diana remarked, wondering what her friend could mean. “We are the same age, remember?”
“But I am now married and—”
“Henrietta, dear, do come and speak with Lady Jasmine,” Diane heard her friend’s mother call out.
“Oh, I have never been so popular.” Henrietta giggled. “I must go for my audience awaits. We will catch up later. Off you go and mingle. Oh, and Diana, you look stunning.”
“Thank you,” Diana replied as Henrietta let go of her hand and disappeared into the crowd. Diana watched as her friend was swallowed up by the guests attending the soiree; it was a crowd of people that Diana hated.
She had always felt uncomfortable among the Ton because she knew that she did not belong. But Henrietta had been her lifeline, always including her and making sure she was accepted. Without her friend by her side, Diana felt vulnerable.
Making her way into the drawing room, she peeked inside before entering. There were one or two faces she recognised but most of them were strangers to her. They were not hostile towards her, but she often overheard insulting remarks about her father. He was a baron in his own right, but after her mother passed, he sold off what little land they owned. After that, he had slowly withdrawn from the public eye. Her father had no interest in life anymore, and he had no interest in her either. If not for Martha, she too would have likely become a recluse.
But her friendship with Henrietta had pulled her through. Now that she was married, Diana wondered what would become of her with no one to hold her hand around the nobility.
“Miss Diana,” a male voice cried out behind her, distracting her from entering the drawing room. “Would you care to dance?”
It was Victor Fletcher, one of the younger sons of a very wealthy merchant. He was a spotty young man, and always had a sour odour about him, but nonetheless, she agreed. It would help her to enter the large drawing room without being noticed.
She allowed him to lead the way as they headed towards the pianoforte. There, one of the daughters of a noble was playing a melody that had encouraged many of the younger guests to dance. Diana and her temporary partner took their place in the space allowed, and she soon found herself being swept along to a jolly country dance.
Dancing was never serious at a soiree, not as it was at a ball, that much she knew. And so, she did not concentrate too much on her steps, nor on what Victor was saying to her.
“Would that be acceptable then?” she heard him ask, catching the back end of his conversation. “I mean, you are the prettiest thing here, so I would be most honoured if I could call on you.”
“Oh, no, that is not possible, sir,” she replied, realising that he wanted to take their brief relationship a little further. “My father does not allow visitors.”
She was relieved when the dance ended, and everyone began to leave the dancing area. What happened next though, she did not expect.
Her dancing partner placed his hand upon her bare shoulder, allowing his fingers to stroke her exposed skin. Instantly she shook her shoulders, turning around to glare at him.
“Oh, come now, Diana, you look like you could do with a little fun,” he said, leaning into her ear to speak in a hushed tone.
Diana was left speechless. Without Henrietta by her side, she felt so unprotected.
“Good day to you sir!” she snapped without even looking at his face as she marched away.
The incident had shocked her to the bones, making her hands shake as she sought to leave the noisy room behind.
“Miss…erm… may I have the next dance with you?” another young man asked her in the doorway, and it was the last thing she wanted.
“I thank you, sir, but my ankle is a little sore. I do believe that I must rest it,” she told him, not even knowing who he was.
He did not look too disappointed, no doubt he had soon hunt down some other young lady to take to the dancefloor. Someone who would be better pleased that such a young gentlemen sought her out, but that lady was not her.
Leaving the busy drawing room behind, she made her way to one of the smaller parlours. But then, for no reason she could fathom, she changed her mind and began to head in the direction of the library. As she crossed the hallway though, she felt as if eyes were upon her.
Turning back to glance over at the room she had come from, there was a small group of men chatting and laughing. One of them stood out to her because he was staring after her. Their eyes met and she felt a shudder run through her entire body. His stare was so intense that it felt as if he was looking directly into her soul and exposing all her desires.
She was drawn by his handsome features and struggled to pull her eyes away from his. As their eyes locked, he bowed his head very discretely at her. At last, she managed to pull away, but her cheeks were so flushed she felt quite lightheaded.
Quickly, she entered the library and closed the door behind her. Leaning against it, she barred the way so that no one else could enter.
What just happened to me? I have never felt so…so…what was it that I felt?
Taking a seat, she decided that she would stay within the quiet confines of the library for a few more moments. She wished she could stay there for the rest of the night and read a book. But Henrietta would never forgive her if she found out.
I will step back out there when I am ready, but I must wait until I at least stop shaking, she told herself, unsure why she had reacted in such an odd way. Then again, it was not something that had happened to her before, that a gentleman of such refinement had noticed her.
Not only did her hands shake, but her legs too. But even more perturbing was the strange sensation passing through her body. At the same time, a warm glow tingled between her legs, and it was not entirely unpleasant.
The handsome gentleman certainly had a strange effect on her, and she was not sure whether she liked it or not. Her mind was thinking unsavoury thoughts that she did not care for. What would it have been like if he had touched my bare shoulder? “I do believe I may have let him!” she declared to herself. Oh my! I must stop thinking such things, but he was most handsome and…
Diana gasped as she jumped up from her seat. “I must get out of here,” she cried out to herself. “I cannot be in here and alone should a gentleman enter. Whatever is wrong with me? I must find Henrietta. She will help to calm my nerves.”
Diana left the library in a hurry, hoping that the unnatural thoughts would be left behind. She glanced over to the doorway of the drawing room, where she had seen her mysterious stranger. The group of men was now gone, and she was unsure if she was relieved or disappointed. Turning, she headed back in the direction of the drawing room to see if she could find her friend. Though she knew that she would never share the wicked thoughts with Henrietta. Whatever would she think of me now that she is married?
“Promise me, brother, that you will not ignore all the ladies who wish to dance with you,” Francis’ sister begged under her breath. “I hate it when you do that because they all talk about you.”
“Then we should give them something to gossip about, should we not?” he teased her as their carriage pulled up outside Woodberry Hall.
His sister, Sarah, had met many new friends when she had been presented in London in the summer of that year. Some of them were already wed, but he was thankful that she had not been interested in finding a husband yet. He felt her far too young for such responsibilities. However, the daughter of the family they were visiting was one such lady, and the party was for her homecoming with her new husband. As they too lived in Sheffield, Francis had agreed to accompany his sister to the party, but that did not mean that he wanted to be there. Frankly, he would rather not be, but he loved his younger sister, and she could wrap him around her little finger.
“Francis, no!” Sarah cried out, nipping at his arm in admonishment.
“Ouch, that hurt.” He sniggered, pretending to rub the wound.
“Then behave yourself,” she growled at him, though in a hushed tone. “I want them to like me, not dread my presence because my older brother is mean. I wish I had another brother to escort me everywhere, a kinder one.”
“Now that hurt, even more, little sister. But for you I would do anything,” Francis replied, smiling at her with his lopsided grin as he opened the carriage door. He leaned back into the carriage to help his sister step out in her extravagant party gown. “I promise you that I may dance,” he told her.
“Tell me that you will dance, not may,” she said, staring at him.
“Well… only if I can find a pretty enough partner.”
“Oh, I do declare that you are intolerable, brother,” she said as she was forced to accept his hand, so he did not miss the little step. “Can you not think them all as pretty, Francis? Treat all my friends nicely and stop being so fussy. I swear you will never marry because no woman will put up with your ways.”
“But, dear sister, that would be a blessing, if you ask me,” Francis joked. “Besides, you and Mother put up with me, and that is enough.”
“I do wish you would take the matter of marriage more seriously,” Sarah said. Francis could see her pursing her lips in annoyance as they walked towards the main front doors. “If you keep up like this, I may even marry before you, and I am the younger one.”
“You, my dear sister, will marry only for love, I will make sure of it,” he assured her, escorting her up the steps towards the open double doors of Woodberry Hall.
There they were met by the stewards at the door, who bowed to greet them and escorted them inside.
In truth, Francis found such soirees tedious. But his sister had nagged at him telling him she had made a very good friend of Lady Waverley. The Lady was now married to a Scottish laird and might leave in a few months for Scotland. She had assured him that, at the very least, there should be some interesting gentlemen for him to mix with to pass the time away.
Francis was not blind to the fact he was an eligible bachelor. For this reason, he had to put up with the young women and their mothers fawning all over him. But the last thing he wanted was the faux attentions of such young, virginal ladies. All seeking to find a husband with a title. He had the title and the wealth that went with it, making him as attractive to unmarried women as blossoms are to bees.
Of course, it was his duty to escort his younger sister to these tiresome events. After presenting herself at court in London this year, socialising was the next step in her development. Francis was fiercely protective of her and intended to fight off any suitors who he felt were not equal to her requirements. He had also made a solemn promise to her that he would not allow their parents to force her into any marriage she did not want.
Making sure that his sister was delivered to her group of friends, he left her side to wander around. For a homecoming, it was a big event, but then the guest of honour had returned with a new husband, so they would see it as a reason to invite many guests.
Avoiding the eyes of the very excitable young ladies in attendance, he acknowledged one or two of the gentlemen. Most of the guests were from the local nobility. There was a great deal of wealth gathered there, with many familiar faces.
As he left his sister in the drawing room, he met a couple of men o of whom he was acquainted with. They pulled him aside enthusiastically, asking if he wished to join in a game of cards. But it was not a pastime he was fond of, so he declined. Though he stayed on to chat with them as they discussed other matters first.
His mind soon wandered as he watched the scene around them while he answered an odd question or two among his acquaintances. As he did so, his attention was drawn to an uncouth spotty young man. The cheeky cad was attempting to maul his filthy hands all over a pair of pale-creamy delicate shoulders.
As he moved his eyes to the face of the lady in question, he could see that she was not at all pleased, and she shook him off. Not many ladies would be so brave, but she glared at the young man with disgust as he leaned in to say something to her. It appeared that whatever he was whispering, the lady was not too pleased to hear it. Even from the distance, he could hear the icy tone in her voice as she bid him goodbye.
Her demeanour reminded him a little of his sister when she was trying to act maturely. Sadly, his sister had not quite managed it yet, but this young lady wore an air of confidence about her, yet there was a certain vulnerability there too.
It was not only her forthrightness that he found refreshing, but she was a most attractive young lady. Francis could not help but feel she looked out of place, but he could not quite put his finger on why. One thing for certain, he was unable to take his eyes away from her.
He watched her attempt to walk away from the spotty young man, only to be approached by another who was no doubt asking for a dance. As she moved closer to his group, he overheard her reply that she had hurt her ankle, which he found odd as she was not limping a moment ago.
How peculiar, he mused to himself. Most young ladies want to dance as often as they can.
Her feigned ankle was clearly a ruse because she made her way through the crowd without the slightest hobble. He could not help but smile as she turned down yet another young gentleman. This little beauty was not the typical young woman that he normally came across. She had no interest in flaunting herself, that much was obvious.
And then she turned his way and as their eyes met, he felt a thudding in his chest. As their eyes locked, it seemed that neither could pull away, each mesmerised by the other. Then she blinked with long, dark lashes, and her cheeks turned from pink to red. He had embarrassed her by staring, yet he could still not pull away. Instead, he bowed his head in a way that only she would notice it. His reward was a small smile and as he watched her cherry lips curve, something in his stomach felt odd.
This was not a woman whose cheeks were pink because of a false powder; he could see that her beauty was all her own doing. No fancy gown, or elaborate jewels. No face powders or lip balms. That simple act sent his pulse racing, and he felt the familiar stirrings in his loins. Now that he could see her properly, he was captivated by her freshness, her locks of hair that did not want to stay in the pins, and her delicious ruby lips.
Whoever this woman was, he needed to get to know her better, and maybe even intimately. It was clear he felt an attraction to her, she was a slender little thing, with dark curls and mysterious dark eyes to match.
The more he thought about the enigmatic young woman, the more he was enamoured by her beauty. Where most young ladies wore fine jewels to enhance their looks, but she was so very different. Her brown gown was even rather dull. She needed nothing to enhance her features, her alabaster skin was radiant. He noticed the silky skin of her cleavage and realised that it was no wonder the spotty young man had pestered her as he did.
It could be your dark curls that appear wild and out of control. Are you the free spirit that your demeanour indicates? he pondered. She was not from wealth, of that, he was sure. A sudden thought popped into his head, causing his already growing member to stiffen further. Such flawless breasts would fit perfectly into my hands. And then she was gone.
Turning his attention to the group of men he was conversing with he was about to make an excuse to leave. But one of them asked him to rethink his refusal of a game of cards.
“Come on, old boy, where’s the harm in a small wager,” Taylor pushed on. “I promise that we will not raise the stakes if it makes you so nervous, Steele.”
“Alas no, you do not tempt me, Taylor.” He smiled. “I must go and find my sister, or she will hang me out to dry if I do not pay her some attention.”
They were all there escorting sisters and mothers, so they knew what he meant. Not that they took their responsibilities as escorts as seriously as he did. Besides, looking for Sarah would give him an excuse to search out the young woman who had escaped his grasp.
What shall I call you, my mysterious one? he mulled over as he set out to enter the drawing room. No doubt his sister would be at the far end that had been set aside for dancing. He doubted he would find his elusive beauty there; she had no appetite for dancing.
Yes, you are an elusive beauty, and I will find you. I will dance with you too. Then I can place my hands around your waist and feel the warmth of your body close to mine. You can only escape me momentarily. Soon, you will be within my grasp. What illicit pleasures await us, only fate can tell.
“A Duke’s Longing Gaze” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After losing her mother and brother, Diana Carlisle was left with her impoverished Baron father and no hope for the future. As if her life was not already a tragedy in the making, her best friend’s marriage is about to shake her world forever. While trying to turn down several gentlemen’s requests to dance and sneak away, she suddenly notices a vigorous stranger’s eyes on her. As she leaves, their eyes meet again and Diana feels tantalising passion conquering her for the first time.
No such thing as true love existed in her mind until she met this tempting stranger…
While chaperoning his sister at a soirée, Lord Francis Steele’s glance stops to witness a man attempting to approach the most seductively elusive young lady. Unable to pull his eyes away, he observes her faking a limp, and politely rejecting several men. In a glimpse of an eye, she is gone from his site, haunting his night with sinful thoughts. Therefore, he decides to move heaven and earth to find her again…
Luck may be by his side, but does he have the recipe to win her fiery heart?
Lustful glances across a crowded room will only be the beginning of Francis and Diana’s passionate connection. However, interfering parents and noble rules of etiquette are threatening their blooming romance. Will they overcome the influence and schemes of those who seek to stand between them and turn this sizzling desire into an everlasting love? Or will their affair go down in flames?
“A Duke’s Longing Gaze” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
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