There was a light drizzle of rain in the air as Fitz stared down at the pine coffin lying deep in the ground. He was very unaware of the weather, along with the large group of people who had assembled to supposedly support him. Yet, even though the many elite members of society had wished him their condolences, he could instead hear them whispering their true opinions not five feet away from him.
“Do you think the Duke killed his wife?” one softly said to the other.
“The papers say he was absolved from any involvement.”
“Then if he didn’t, then who?”
It was the same question Fitz had been asking himself ever since he found his wife stabbed to death in the garden. It had been a shocking discovery as he’d come out of the sitting room doors to join her for an afternoon picnic. The day had been perfect with clear skies and a warm breeze drifting over the pond at the front of the estate. They’d walk the pond together, feeding the ducks day old bread. Then, they’d enjoy a picnic from the wonderful dates Cook had surprised them with. In the afternoon, he’d sup from her plump lips, enjoying the pleasures of marriage with the hopes of producing an heir. All in all, his life had been perfect up until that dreadful moment.
Now, Fitz stood staring at what remained of his wife as the funeral came to an end and the cemetery workers began shovelling the dirt onto the pine coffin. With each thud the dirt made against the coffin, Fitz felt his heart growing colder and colder. He knew the sound would haunt his every moment for the rest of his life.
His life? Fitz wondered what the point of the rest of his life would be without the love of his life with him. He hadn’t the slightest idea of why anyone would target Marian or who wanted her dead. At first, he wondered if the killer was after his fortune. But why not just hold Marian for ransome? He’d eagerly pay any kidnapper their demand if it meant having Marian back in his arms. But now that Marian was completely gone from his life, what else did he have to live for?
“Come, Fitz. You shouldn’t stay out in the rain,” came a female voice. Fitz had been so focused on his thoughts that he’d lost all awareness of time or the weather. He blinked and realized that it had indeed started raining. The grave in front of him had been already filled in, and he was standing very much alone.
He turned towards the voice and saw Natale standing close by. Marian’s sister was a beauty as well, but where his wife had long golden hair, Natale had curly red hair from her Scottish mother. She was petite and fair, no doubt making her husband a very happy man. But now she stood near him dressed in a black mourning gown, lace covering her face from the simple hat she wore over her red hair.
“Even though it is raining, I don’t very much like the idea of moving away from her,” Fitz said in a low voice. Even his voice sounded different now, darker almost.
“She’s gone, Fitz. You must let her go and move on with your life,” Natale said in a soft voice as she approached him and placed her black gloved hand on his forearm. Fitz looked down at where his wife lay, and then looked at Natale, her green eyes seeming to search his.
“That’s something I’m not prepared to do,” Fitz replied. “I don’t ever want to leave her.” Natale seemed to be on the brink of tears as he looked down at her. She simply nodded her head as though she understood the pain he was feeling. Since Natale was Marian’s only living relative, perhaps her sister really did feel his pain.
“Life will never be the same without dear Marian in our lives, but she wouldn’t want us to feel this sadness. She always disliked when people weren’t well and was quick to help anyone in need,” Natale said then. “Do not let your sorrow and woe consume you.”
Fitz was doing his best to keep his emotions under control. He’d spent plenty of time lost in his sorrow as the tears never seemed to come to an end. No amount of hollowing or weeping ever seemed to be enough to make the pain go away.
When Natale opened her arms for an embrace, Fitz took the opportunity to show his appreciation to Marian’s sister. He held her in his arms for a moment, imagining that he was holding Marian for one last time. And when Fitz dropped his arms from her, he was surprised when she didn’t drop hers.
Natale placed her hands on either side of his torso and looked up at Fitz. He was confused, wondering if she was simply looking for someone to comfort her. For a moment, Fitz quickly scanned the cemetery, looking for any signs of Lord Gunther, her husband.
“You know, Fitz. If you are ever in need of comfort, you know you can always call upon me,” Natale said as she parted her lips. Fitz wasn’t sure what Natale was implying, but he didn’t want to confuse the young woman. Grief could do maddening things to anyone, and he hoped that Marian’s sister wasn’t ill from it.
Calmly and slowly, Fitz took Natale’s hands from his side and replaced them down by her side before letting go of them. He looked directly into her eyes, knowing that he had to put off any idea of him seeking comfort from her since she was a married woman.
“Natale, it’s time that we both return to our homes. Perhaps you are right, that it’s time to move on from all this sorrow. I don’t know what my life will hold for me next, but I would never do anything to tatter Marian’s memory in my mind.” And with that, Fitz stepped away from Natale as rain slid down the front of his face. His hair was wet from standing outside in the elements for so long, and now he desired some sort of warmth for his body.
As Fitz stepped into his waiting carriage and knocked on the side of the door to signal that they should be off, he wondered if he’d ever feel whole again. His body might recover from the sudden loss of his wife, but his heart would always remain cold and closed off from any female warmth. He doubted he’d ever marry again and was sure he was now incapable of loving anyone else save for his late wife.
Three years later …
Fitz was sitting in his study once again as he reviewed all the letters from his tenants and business partners. This had become a daily routine ever since he needed to find something to occupy his time. Instead of employing a solicitor, he took it upon himself to handle the daily needs of the dukedom. Each day, he now read all the letters, made mathematical adjustments in the ledgers, reviewed his many notes, and replied to letters that needed his reply. The letters that would include personal invitations to social gatherings were discarded immediately. Instead, he focused solely on matters of business and gain. And though his financial situation in life was extremely healthy, this task was the only thing he could think of to occupy his time, and most importantly, his mind.
The years had passed away in this manner as Fitz refused to fall into the pits of sorrow any longer. He was convinced that Marian would have not liked him to continue in that manner. Yet, he didn’t feel prepared to return to the limelight of London life, either. The period of mourning was well past, and society would demand that he remarry in order to carry on the Duke linage. With his elite position in society, there were certain responsibilities he was expected to carry out. Yet, the thought of being with another woman was an idea that Fitz often pushed away.
Instead, Fitz had happily remained at home in the country, tending to his estate and all business matters that dealt with the Dukedom. When he didn’t have important papers to review, letters to read, or responses to construct, he would leisurely walk through the estate’s gardens as he kept the memory of his wife alive. On days when the weather was too wild or cold to venture outside, he’d retire to the library to become lost in a good book.
And so, this was how the days were spent for Fitz. He was content to do so and found neither pleasure nor pain in his daily activities. Instead, he was simply at peace with himself and his choices, filling the void in his heart with work and exercise.
The sound of laughing children broke through Fitz’s concentration. At first, he wondered if he was simply hearing things like an echo from his past. But when the sound happened again, he could no longer ignore it and remain in his study. Fitz set down his letters of business and rose from the burgundy wing-backed chair. He rounded the large mahogany desk and crossed the study, passing an empty fireplace and shelves lined with the history of his family. As he poked his head out of the open doorway, he peered down the main hallway of his estate till he could catch a peek at the foyer. And there, he spotted a most unexpected sight.
Running his fingers through his long, brown hair, Fitz made haste as he walked down the hallway towards the family he hadn’t expected to see till the holiday season, when the upper class families of Town would leave their townhouses in search of the warmth of their country estates. Therefore, Fitz wasn’t sure why the Douglas family was at his home, and he only hoped that all was well. But as he neared the foyer, he spotted everyone in company. His best friend, Lord Michael Douglas was accompanied by his darling wife, Lady Douglas, and their three children. All seemed to be as it should be, but that didn’t answer the question of why they were all here.
“My goodness, what a pleasant surprise,” Fitz spoke up as the footman helped them out of their cloaks and coats. The small children seemed to enjoy teasing the footman when the young men were only doing as instructed.
“Fitz, my dear friend. How are you these days?” Lord Douglas asked as he embraced Fitz, slapping him on the back in a boisterous way. Fitz couldn’t help smiling and returning the gesture.
“My days are bright and full of joy now that you’ve come to pay me a visit,” Fitz said as he tried to maintain his smile. He hadn’t done much smiling since last he was with his best friend and accompanying family. He felt a little out of practice when it came to being joyful and a considerate host.
“You’ll have to forgive me for not writing about our arrival. We were headed to Bath and wanted to surprise you for a short visit,” Lord Douglas explained as he turned towards his wife. “Lady Douglas has been quite fatigued lately, and I thought a nice vacation from Town would help her condition.”
“Are you sure you are not with child again?” Fitz asked with a laugh. Lady Douglas chuckled in reply as she raised her gloved hand and covered her mouth.
“It is truly possible, but I won’t know for sure for some time. The idea of spending the Season away from Town sounded like the best way to relax,” Lady Douglas explained.
“There I cannot fault you,” Fitz spoke then. “I have never had an aptitude for dealing with the Ton during a Season.”
“I don’t believe anyone truly can,” Lord Douglas added.
“Well then, come into the sitting room. I’ll have Mrs Stanley bring in a tea tray with some delicious tarts to help you recover from your travels. The footmen will bring in your things and I’ll have Mrs Stanley see that all your things are unpacked for your stay,” Fitz said as he gestured to the sitting room.
“Your Grace, will there be strawberry tarts?” came the voice of little Michael, Lord Douglas’ first son. Fitz couldn’t help chuckling at the adorable question the small child proposed.
“I do believe I can put in a special request for the young master,” Fitz replied to the child. “Do you suppose there might be other requests?” The children all talked excitedly as they walked into the sitting room. Fitz didn’t often occupy the space because it had been decorated by Marian herself. As they all became settled, Fitz tried to listen to what the children were looking forward to doing during their stay, but his eyes drifted around the room.
The sage coloured carpet was still plush underneath his boots. The walls had been papered from designs ordered from a French merchant. The colours of crème and emerald matched well with the carpet and the curtains that hung over the windowpanes. Thankfully they’d been opened, letting in the sun as it rose in the east. Elegant furniture was positioned throughout the room, chairs and settees made of light oak with fabric in hues of green and blue. Marian had commented that she wanted it to feel like the gardens that were just outside the door of the sitting room. Now, all Fitz felt was the memory of finding Marian deceased right outside this room.
“Come now, children. Don’t pester the Duke with such demands,” came Lord Douglas’ voice, breaking Fitz from the memory.
“Yes, my dears,” Fitz said as he forced a smile upon his face and turned his attention to them once more. “You must instead write down all of these wonderful demands so that I might review them with my evening port and make sure they happen come morning.” The children squealed excitedly, and as Mrs Stanley came in with a tea tray with plenty of different tarts, he requested some writing paper and graphite pencils for the children to use.
“Oh dear, I think they shall become quite messy using the graphite,” Lady Douglas spoke up as she looked down at her children.
“Whether ink or graphite, they are bound to make a mess,” Lord Douglas said in a way to comfort his wife. “They are children, after all.” Fitz chuckled at the comment, thinking the children couldn’t really hurt anything. They could be washed before dinner and their clothes before morning. He always enjoyed indulging the children whenever Lord Douglas came to visit. It was the least he could do with the amount of wealth he had stored in his coffers.
The moment Mrs Stanley returned with the items, the children went to go sit around a small writing table as they began their lists with the help of Lady Douglas. Fitz always considered the woman to be a fantastic mother, and as he and Lord Douglas sat together by the large granite fireplace, he thought that she hadn’t lost her touch in lovingly guiding her children.
“How have you been these past few months we’ve been away?” Lord Douglas spoke up, bringing Fitz’s attention back to him.
“I am fine, Michael,” Fitz said, hoping to be as honest as possible. “I occupy my time with healthy behaviour, and I stay away from vices that would cause my downfall.”
“You’ve always been a reasonable man,” Lord Douglas admitted. “But you’ve seen how happy I’ve become since having children. I would wish that same happiness be felt by my best friend.” Fitz did his best to keep his composure as he looked at his friend. This line of topic always came up when Michael visited. He simply hadn’t expected it to come up so soon after just arriving.
“I like to think that marriage and children have made you a different man since Cambridge,” Fitz said, trying to avoid the conversation. “Who would have thought that the Loveless Earl would one day be a happy father.” Lord Douglas laughed openly. He no doubt remembered his schoolhouse nickname when they both attended Cambridge together and first became close friends.
“You are correct, Fitz. I had never imagined marrying when I had such ambitions for business. I turned down any female company or attempts from eligible young ladies. It was my darling that really brought the best out of me.”
Lord Douglas turned and looked at his wife then. They shared a tender look; one Fitz could remember sharing with his own wife. It was the look of mutual love and adoration that Fitz desperately missed. Though he always enjoyed when Michael came to visit him, it was like a double-edged sword. He enjoyed spending time with this family, but the love they had for one another often reminded Fitz of what he’d lost.
The rest of the afternoon was spent eating tarts, as well as a variety of things to help the travellers recover from their journeys. As Michael had explained, the fatigue of the day eventually became too much for Lady Douglas, and she retired to her bedchamber for a short rest. Fitz was happy to oblige the couple and took the three boys outside to play a game of hide and seek in the gardens. The young company brought new life out of Fitz, and he indulged in it, forgetting his responsibilities and the letters in his study. Instead, he focused on these short moments of joy.
When the evening meal was through, and everyone was completely filled from the seven-course meal that Fitz had asked Cook to prepare for the special occasion, Lady Douglas took the children to bed. Cook, even though an older woman in her forties, was always happy to appease her master and didn’t speak ill of the large, sudden task at hand. All the servants seemed to be in higher spirits with the young family filling the halls with the sound of youthful laughter. Lord Douglas and his family were the only ones that ever paid Fitz a visit. Sometimes Marian’s sister, Natale, would pay him a small visit, but those were few and far between. He wasn’t even sure about Marian’s only living relative anymore yet gave little concern for the thought.
With the night in full swing, Fitz sat with Michael in his study as they enjoyed their evening port. Fitz had a true smile on his face as he looked over the lists the three boys had made about fun things they’d enjoy doing during their stay.
“How long are you planning to stay before continuing west to Bath?” Fitz asked before taking a small sip of his port. He drank very little and usually only with Michael when he visited.
“A few days, at least. I want my wife to rest fully before we travel by carriage once more,” Lord Douglas explained.
“Then it seems we shall go fishing tomorrow, followed by a walk through the woods that little Madison thinks is haunted,” Fitz said with a chuckle. Lord Douglas raised his eyebrows as Fitz handed over the youngest boy’s paper. As the father read his son’s note, he couldn’t help laughing boisterously, causing Fitz to join him.
“I have no idea why he’d think of the woods of Chatham are haunted,” Lord Douglas said once his mirth had subsided. “The imagination of young children.” Fitz took the note back. He was excited to treat the three young boys, for it had been some time since he’d been fishing. Always Lord Douglas brought his family in the fall or winter months, but during the spring months, they had many more options to plan fun outings.
“You have always been good with children,” Lord Douglas spoke up. “The excitement I see on your face as you talk to my boys and the way you are now, planning these outings. You could truly out beat me as a doting father.” Fitz gave his friend a pleasant smile as he set the notes aside. He couldn’t disagree with his friend, but he also didn’t want to agree. That would require him to remarry, and that was something he hadn’t thought about since the funeral.
“They are good boys,” Fitz offered, thinking that it was simply his duty as a humble host to show his guests a pleasant time. “There will come a day, sooner than expected, when the boys will be old enough to begin their studies. They should have a memorable childhood.”
“It is more than that, Fitz,” Lord Douglas said in a pleading voice. “I know you are not keen on this subject, but in order to have children of your own, you must consider remarrying.”
Fitz fixed his eyes on his friend, trying not to say or do anything to put him off. He didn’t want to anger Michael or upset him in any way. He was his only friend, and he didn’t want to lose him, too. But he also couldn’t agree with Michael. Though he’d longed for a large family with plenty of children to raise, that dream had vanished along with Marian.
“Though I can at least agree to the idea of having children and becoming a father, the thought of returning to Town to attend a Season is what keeps me rooted at home,” Fitz confessed. He disliked Town because it was often overbearing and unrealistic. At least in the country, he didn’t have to worry about what other people thought about him or deal with any rumours circulating about him. Far away from Town, he didn’t have to worry about high society and all of their social functions.
“Then do things the traditional way. Agree to an arranged marriage if only to produce an heir and keep the Mavis family line alive. Then, you’ll have someone to be the Duke of Chatham when you pass away. It will be someone you’ve raised and taught, and not just some random Earl who’s persuaded the King to choose to your successor,” Lord Douglas suggested.
“Come now, Michael. Surely you’d like the dukedom for yourself to pass on to one of your sons. After all, you can only have one heir,” Fitz said with a smirk.
“That is my only fear as the father of three boys and an earl. That one day they’ll fight over my title,” Lord Douglas said with a sigh. “I wish they could stay small forever and I shall become immortal.” It was Fitz’s turn to laugh boisterously, thinking that only a truly loving father would say such a thing.
“Well then. Let’s hope that if I do ever remarry that I shall produce three daughters so that our two families might become joined and no one shall need to fight for anything,” Fitz said once his laughter had died down once more.
“I agree that it would surely do the trick,” Lord Douglas said. “But seriously, Fitz. You could have an arranged marriage with a young lady of decent birth and connections. Someone pleasant enough not to cause you any more trouble than she’s worth. And when you have a carriage full of your own children, it shall all become worth it to you in the end if only to have the joy you have with my boys in your daily life.”
“And to whom do you suppose I should write to make such an arrangement?” Fitz asked, thinking that this plan would be of no use to him. It almost seemed as terrible as the idea of going to Town for a Season.
“Write to the lords in your own area,” Lord Douglas said with a shrug of his shoulders. “You have a decent neighbourhood with at least a dozen worthy families. Write to those you are already familiar with, who are close by, and enquire of which lords have eligible daughters. Be plain and frank, that you seek a wife to carry on your lineage. No one would dare say anything against that borne responsibility.”
Fitz thought about Michael’s words for a moment. It was a feasible and logical plan. It was an idea that had been used time and time again to secure strong family lines. And though it would probably appear strange that he was writing to these lords after very little communication over the last few years, perhaps they would overlook that little fact for the prospect of marrying their daughter to a very wealthy duke.
“My position in society makes me a very eligible gentleman. I doubt this task would be very difficult from my position. It depends on the number of eligible young ladies in the area,” Fitz spoke, trying to see this as a matter of business instead of a personal matter. Perhaps if he kept to this line of thinking then he might be able to produce an heir without becoming emotional attached to the woman. He couldn’t risk another heartbreak if something were to happen to his second wife.
“That is the correct way to look at it,” Lord Douglas said with a nod. “Any father would be eager to have you as a son-in-law. You shall either have every lord in the area knocking on your door, or, you’ll discover for yourself if there is a lack of eligible young ladies in this area.”
Fitz could only nod as he looked back down at the notes the young boys had written. He was still eager to spend the following day with them, doing things that used to bring him so much joy. He liked the idea of having children of his own to one day spend days like that with. He’d teach them all sorts of things, from fishing to how to ride a horse. Fitz very much liked the idea of this, even though he almost loathed the idea of marrying and having to bed a woman he could not love. Perhaps it was all for the better that I never fall in love again, Fitz thought as he settled on his decision.
“When you leave for Bath, I will construct these letters to the lord I know of in the neighbourhood. I shall then write to you if I have any success in the matter,” Fitz announced. Lord Douglas smiled brightly as he picked up his glass of port and held it in the air.
“To the future Duchess of Chatham and all the children you shall one day have,” Lord Douglas toasted as he leaned his head back and downed his drink. Not wanting to be rude, Fitz took a sip from his own glass. Even with the decision made, he did not feel excited about it like he did about spending the day fishing with the young boys. He didn’t want to dread the idea either, not wanting to become a disrespectful husband. He understood that couples were married all the time through arranged marriages and lived decent lives. He understood that love wasn’t always present in some marriages. But having experienced a deep connection with Marian, he knew of the possibilities. Now he needed to come to terms with his sense of duty over his heart’s wants to finally be healed.
“Since I want you to succeed, Fitz, I advise you to write to all lords in the area regardless of rank. Though it would be most acceptable to marry a young lady in close rank as yourself, I think that rank is not as important as finding a suitable young lady to be your bride,” Lord Douglas spoke up. Fitz thought about the idea for a moment and eventually stood from his desk and made his way over to a bookshelf. There, he pulled a small notebook from the shelf and returned to his chair. He opened it before Michael and showed him the list inside.
“My father always kept a list of families that occupied the area. I’ve tried to keep up with it, but have been lacking these last few years since I’ve not been very social,” Fitz admitted. “I shall use this list to construct my letters.”
“Perhaps you should make an enquiry before you construct your list. What if you don’t have everyone?”
“Then I shall include in my letters enquiries as well. If a lord doesn’t have an eligible daughter, then he may reply with at least a reference of whom I should contact next.”
“That is surely an idea.” Michael looked back down at the book, running his finger down the line of family names. “Well, you certainly have a good place to start with.”
“I can agree with that,” Fitz said as he closed the book and set it to the side of his desk. “It’s a beginning, for sure.”
“Then let us retire for the night. You’ll need all the energy you can muster to deal with the boys tomorrow.” Fitz smirked then as he rose from his chair with his friend and left the study. He couldn’t deny that fact at all.
As Fitz readied for bed, he couldn’t help thinking about the proposition he was about to enter into. He would agree to marry a young lady in return for having children. She would be well taken care of, and though Fitz wouldn’t be able to love her, he would make sure she remained happy during her days. He knew how to be a dutiful husband and provide for one’s needs. He only hoped that whomever he agreed to marry wouldn’t expect anything more than he could monetarily give.
It was only when Fitz laid down in bed that he started to feel anything more than the numbness he normally kept around his heart. There was a sense of fear that stole through him at the idea of bringing someone other than Marian to his bed. Though he’d come to terms with her being gone, he hadn’t put any thought into marrying again. And now that he’d agreed to do so to Michael, if only to have children of his own, Fitz was filled with the uncertainty of whether or not he could go through with it. After all, he’d never discovered who had killed Marian and why.
Miss Diana Casey was sitting in the drawing room of her father’s small country estate. Before her was the ledger that she kept detailed and accurate notes in. Every morning, she reviewed the notes from the day before, much like she was doing now, trying to find anywhere upon the lines where she could make an adjustment and stretch their money a little further.
Being the youngest of five children, Diana had come to learn much about life from a very young age. Both her parents were much older now, relying on Diana for most things in life when it came to the daily running of the household, as well as managing the small estate of a marquess. That was why Diana was currently in charge of the family’s budget because her parents could no longer see the fine print upon the pages with much clarity. She was also the only child that hadn’t tried to completely ruin her parents or take advantage of them. And though all four of her older siblings were now married into wealthy families, none of them would answer her frequent pleas for financial assistance.
Therefore, it was up to Diana to stretch ever shilling they had left. Her father’s coffers were almost empty, forcing Diana to let go of most of the servants. All that remained was their loyal housekeeper and a modest Cook. The rest was left to Diana to manage. Though she was a proper lady, she’d been forced to learn how to keep the house clean, wash laundry, and even mend clothes under the guidance of Mrs Merriweather, their housekeeper. The older woman was a godsend and one of the few people helping Diana keep the household together.
Diana read over each line, counting the days till the next payment would be sent from Town based on her father’s monthly earnings from his title. Her father had very little tenants left, and their land had only shrunken more and more when her older brother demanded their father’s title. The man had yet to claim it but had taken their father’s greatest resources instead. Diana was doing her best not to let her mind wander down an angry road. But every time she looked at the ledger, she couldn’t help remembering how each of her siblings had done something to hurt their parents financially.
Diana didn’t know how much longer she and her parents would be able to reside in their country estate. The townhouse had already been claimed by another sibling, therefore going to Town was not an option anymore. There were no other relatives that would take them in once they had financial ruin. And even if Diana began to do all the chores and errands, even letting go of Mrs Merriweather and Cook, they would eventually run out of money to even purchase food.
“What terrible luck,” Diana said softly as she closed the ledger. She slid it back in its position on her writing desk before she folded up the compartment, using the key that she kept tucked away in her sleeve to lock it up tight. She was just about to join her parents for the afternoon meal when Michelle came bounding into the sitting room with a happy smile on her face.
“Miss Bradly, what a wonderful surprise,” Diana said as she stood and embraced her dear friend. Though the young woman was the daughter of the village’s baker, Diana wasn’t one to judge a person based on their rank but instead on how they treated other people. Michelle was the kindest person she’d ever met and often brought day-old bread to her home for them to use.
“I’ve already given Cook the bread I managed to take from the bakery, but it is not the reason I came,” Michelle said as she gestured towards the settee in the room. Diana then sat down with her as Michelle rubbed her hands together eagerly.
“Alright then, what is the true reason for your visit?” Diana asked, willing to entertain Michelle. Since the young woman worked in the village, and at a very popular bakery, Michelle was prone to all sorts of gossip. Diana could only assume that her unexpected visit was based on such sort of news.
“Miss Margret, the assistant to the cook over at Lord Dillon’s manor, came in this morning to pick up her normal order of sourdough bread and told me how her master received a letter from the Duke of Chatham. It seems Lord Mavis is in search of a wife and is sending letters to all the lords in the area for an eligible young lady to be his bride,” Michelle said in an excited voice as she clapped her hands together.
Diana frowned as she took time to remember who the Duke of Chatham was. Since she was only nineteen and hadn’t spent a Season in Town since her parents couldn’t dream of beginning to afford it, Diana hadn’t had much experience with high society or the Ton. At first, she could not remember knowing a Lord Mavis.
“Forgive me, Miss Bradly, but I don’t have a memory of ever meeting Lord Mavis,” Diana admitted.
“He’s the Duke that lives on the northern side of the neighbourhood. I suppose you’ve never met him before because he lost his wife about three years ago and hasn’t really been seen since,” Michelle explained. At the mentioning of this, Diana thought she remembered something about a gentleman who had become a widow.
“Is this the man whose wife was murdered?” Diana asked, trying to piece the memory back together.
“Precisely,” Michelle said as her eyes grew wide. “That’s what makes this news so bazaar. The Duke is looking for a wife and is willing to enter into an arranged marriage.”
“My goodness, what for?” Diana wondered.
“No doubt to continue the family line. You know how those upper-class lords are only worried about heirs and such,” Michelle said in a dissatisfied tone. “And with such a title, I’m sure he’ll get plenty of requests from eager fathers wanting their daughters to marry well.”
“There is too much mystery surrounding the man to really make a certain guess as to why he is in want of a wife,” Diana decided upon. “There is no telling from a man no one has heard about for years.”
“I’m excited to hear whom he’ll end up marrying. There are not that many young ladies who could fit the bill,” Michelle said. “I believe this will be the most exciting news of the year.”
“Come now, Miss Bradly. I don’t really think this line of topic should occupy our time. It’s a strange circumstance that I should certainly not have time to care about. A Duke would never consider a poor young lady such as myself, no matter the desire or need to have a wife.” Diana looked away from Michelle then and instead at her hands as they clenched together in her lap. It was wrong of her to complain because she knew that Michelle’s wealth depended on the success of the bakery. Furthermore, Diana was a proper young lady while Michelle was born into a much lower class than even she.
“You never know what might happen,” Michelle said as she reached across the settee and placed her hand gently on Diana’s. “Things won’t always be as they are now. As my mama has always told me, all things in life are temporary.” Diana forced a smile to her lips as she looked back up at Michelle. Michelle was truly a splendid friend, and she was lucky to have such a friend in her life.
“I have just finished going over the ledger once more, and it has only caused my fears and worries to increase. I feel as though I could count the days until we are without a single income.”
“It’s hard for me to believe that not a single married child of your parents has done anything to help out. Do you not think that you should write to them again, explaining in detail your troubles?”
Diana shook her head, thinking that it had done no good before then. But as Michelle squeezed her hand once more, she knew that she shouldn’t ever give up hope.
“I will write to all four of them once more. Perhaps this time someone will come to our aid,” Diana finally said. “But now I must really get to the housework and see that my parents are comfortable. I’m as equally afraid for their health as I am about our financial situation.”
Michelle rose from the settee as she helped Diana to her feet. “Do let me know if there is anything else I can assist with. I know I don’t have as much as you, but I will still help if I can.”
“Your friendship means more to me than you could ever fathom. It is all I need in life,” Diana said with a genuine smile on her face. Michelle beamed at her in return before she dipped her head and curtsied.
“I will be returning to the village as well. Enjoy the day,” Michelle said as she straightened her posture once more. “And if I hear any more about this mysterious duke, I’ll be sure to let you know.” Diana couldn’t help chuckling as she escorted Michelle to the front of the house. She saw her off before turning and making her way towards the drawing room. It was there she found her parents being tended to by Mrs Merriweather.
“We missed you for the afternoon meal,” Lady Casey said as she looked up once Diana came into the room.
“Forgive me, Mother. I was busy with the ledger, and Miss Bradly from the village came to pay me a visit,” Diana explained as she sat next to her mother.
“I’m sure she was full of all sorts of gossip,” Lady Casey said with a chuckle. Diana couldn’t disagree with her and instead placed her hand over her mouth as though to say her lips were sealed.
Diana’s father sat across from them, rummaging through the daily post. Diana knew that her father couldn’t read the letters very well anymore, but she wouldn’t put him to shame by saying so out loud. She’d let him try to read whatever letters had come for him that day, and in the evening she would review them and explain them to her father after her mother had retired for the evening. Most of them would be notices of past due payments, but Diana wouldn’t worry about them until that evening.
“I left a plate of boiled eggs and cheese on the table for you, Miss Casey. Would you like me to bring it into the drawing room for you?” Mrs Merriweather asked.
“That would be lovely, thank you,” Diana replied.
“Aren’t we blessed to have such a wonderful housekeeper?” Lady Casey commented. “She has been such a loyal servant all these years. I feel like it was just yesterday she came to work for us when Gabriel was born.”
The mentioning of her eldest brother made her cringe, but Diana did her best not to show any signs of distaste towards her older siblings. Her parents often always saw the good in people and couldn’t even fault their children for their abandonment of them. Diana, on the other hand, knew in her heart that she’d never feel any love towards her siblings like she once did as a child.
“I agree that Mrs Merriweather is an invaluable housekeeper,” Lord Casey spoke up just as the woman was returning to the drawing room. She smiled happily as she handed Diana the plate of food. She thanked her in return and waited for the woman to depart before speaking up again.
“It is her loyalty that has really been our saving grace,” Diana commented. “I could not do the work I do without her.”
Silence filled the room then as Diana ate the meagre meal. Lady Casey seemed to be drawn away by her deep thoughts. Diana would sneak glances at her mother, observing her hair that used to flow in golden curls down her back. Now, it was braided grey hair that framed her ageing face. Her father, on the other hand, still had his luscious brown hair that seemed to be untouched by age. Since Diana shared his hair colour, she also hoped that she’d have his longevity. Sometimes it made Diana wonder if her mother had aged a bit faster than her father since he still had youthful tones about him.
By the time Diana had finished eating, she knew that it was time she finally started working around the house. She didn’t like to delay too long when it came to the housework because she knew how quickly it could pile up. Diana would have never known the effort it took to keep a small household clean and tidy. But ever since her father had imparted on her the news that their fortunes were rather low, Diana had stepped up to make sure that everything was taken care of for as long as she remained a single woman.
Diana rose from the settee and dipped her head towards her parents as she said, “Enjoy the afternoon. I have some things to take care of.”
“Very well, my dear,” Lord Casey said as he tried hard to read a letter from where he sat next to the fireplace. Diana loathed any thoughts of the colder months when a fire would need to be tended to. She wasn’t sure if they could afford the wood to keep warm, and that would only be a larger strain on her parents.
Diana forced her thoughts away from their troubles as she left the drawing room and went towards the kitchen. There, she placed her dirty plate in the dry sink before bidding Cook a warm greeting and then making her way upstairs to tend to the laundry. As she went, she thought about what Michelle had spoken of earlier, of the Duke in search of a wife. She still found the idea rather mysterious because she did not know anything about the Duke besides the death of his late wife. She couldn’t fathom why he’d want a wife and thought that if she ever met the man that perhaps she would discover all his mysteries.
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When his wife was mysteriously murdered, Lord Fitzwilliam Mavis, Duke of Chatham, became a young widower at the age of thirty-one. Even though he was absolved of any involvement in her death, he was socially stigmatized, living like an almost recluse for some years now. When his solitude gets too much to handle, he knows he needs to move on and find himself a wife. Destiny will bring him in front of a mysteriously seductive young lady. Could this passionate but unusual bride set his heart on fire?
Miss Diana Casey may be forced to marry the Duke to soothe her father’s financial troubles, but she has no plans to fall for him. She is a rather unconventional young lady who doesn’t like to be told what to do. With her ravishing body and wild passion, Diana is as innocently alluring as she is forbidden. Will there ever be anyone that will change her mind?
Their arranged marriage will prove to be more than they expected. Diana is ready to go where fate takes her, to leave everything behind, even propriety, in her desire for this handsome, honorable widower. What can an empty soul offer a tempting woman? Fitz’s burning passion for Diana is undeniable, but there’s still something that holds him back. Dare he offer his bruised heart as well as his body? The answers to their questions may be found in an unlikely place: in each other’s arms. Are these two fierce souls finally ready to be schooled in the art of passion?
“The Duke’s Tempting Bride” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.