Samantha looked up from her doll to see her father walking into the drawing room, shrugging into his outdoor coat.
“I’m just going out for a walk, dear.”
Samantha’s mother looked up from her sewing and frowned, glancing towards the window.
“Are you sure? It’s going to start raining soon.”
“I’m sure it will hold off for now.”
“You remember what happened the last time you were caught out in the rain?”
Lord Denshaw smiled and adjusted the collar on his coat.
“And I’m not going to be caught out in it again. I learned my lesson last time.” He turned to the two children playing near the fireplace. “Benedict, Samantha, do you want to go for a walk in the park?”
Samantha’s brother barely looked up from the toy soldiers he was setting up very carefully in a semi-circle around him.
“No, I want to stay here.”
Their mother sighed.
“What did we say about our manners, Benedict?”
Benedict glanced up.
“No thank you, Father.”
But Samantha was already jumping to her feet and scampering over to her father. She grabbed onto his hand and squealed.
“I want to go with you, Papa! Are we going now?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” Denshaw laughed, and led her towards the door. “Come on, let’s get your bonnet and coat on.”
“I hate bonnets!”
“I know you do, but you need to be dressed appropriately when you go out.” Denshaw went to the hall closet and opened the door. “You don’t put your bonnet on, and you’re not going. Simple as that, Samantha.”
Samantha gave the offending item a glare as it appeared in her father’s hands. She hated bonnets. They made her head itch, and nobody would see her beautiful hair. But she really wanted to go out with her father. Pressing her lip tightly together, she folded her arms and nodded. Chuckling, Denshaw put the bonnet on and tied it under her chin. Then he helped his daughter get into her coat, crouching before her to button it up.
“There we go. All buttoned up.” Denshaw tweaked her nose. “Now you’re ready to go out.”
“I hate bonnets.”
“So you’ve told me.” Denshaw looked over Samantha’s shoulder. “Are you going to give your mother a hug before we go?”
“Yes, Father.” Samantha turned and trotted over to her mother. “Goodbye, Mother.”
“Sweetheart.” Nancy knelt and hugged her daughter, pressing a kiss to her cheek. “Now, you be a good girl with your father, all right?”
“And don’t talk to strangers.” Nancy adjusted the ribbon under Samantha’s chin. “Stay with your father at all times.”
“I know, Mother.”
“Don’t fret so much, Nancy. She’s perfectly capable of following directions.”
“She’s only four years old, Richard.” Nancy frowned up at her husband. “She needs to be told again.”
Samantha shied away from her mother’s fingers at her chin. The ribbon was itching more now.
“I know how to listen, Mother. Don’t fuss!”
“I think she told you.” Denshaw drew Nancy to her feet and kissed her cheek. Then he took Samantha’s hand. “Come on, Samantha. Some fresh air will do us both some good.”
One of the servants opened the door for them and Denshaw helped Samantha down the steps. Her legs were little, and she still needed to hold onto someone to get down. Her brother could get onto the pavement without holding onto anything. Samantha wanted to be like that, but the one time she tried, she had ended up flat on her face and cut .her lip on her teeth. Now she had to cling onto someone so she wouldn’t fall again.
She kept her hand clasped in her father’s as they crossed the street and headed in the direction of the park. Samantha loved it when they were in London; they lived around the corner from the park. Her favourite place. Samantha could spend all day exploring the park and not get bored. She hated it when they had to leave.
It felt like it took forever to get there, though. Back home, they were out in the countryside. Samantha could go right into the fields and the woods as soon as she stepped outside the house. It drove her nanny mad that all Samantha wanted to do was run around outside. Samantha couldn’t understand why anyone would hate going for walks.
She looked up at her father, who had slowed his usual stride to match hers. It wasn’t often that Samantha saw him. He kept disappearing into a room that her and Benedict weren’t allowed to go into, and he would spend almost the whole day there. Samantha missed him. She couldn’t go and see him. She had to wait until mealtimes, or bedtime when she insisted that he read her a story.
Grown-ups were strange. Who didn’t want to play all day?
They turned the corner and crossed the street again, heading into the park. Samantha could see the pond just beyond a patch of trees. She loved playing near that pond and watching the ducks swim across the water. She tugged on her father’s hand.
“Can I go to the pond, Father? Please?”
“All right.” Denshaw called after her as Samantha squealed and ran off, “Just stay away from the edge. I don’t want to have to fish you out.”
Samantha barely heard him as she ran off the path and down the slope, almost tripping over her own feet in her excitement. She felt her bonnet tugging the ribbon against her chin, threatening to come off completely as the wind got underneath it. Samantha really wanted to take her bonnet off and throw it away, but her father would make her put it back on and she would get a scolding. She had to be dressed properly at all times.
That was not fair. Some of the smart dresses she had to wear when they went out were uncomfortable. Very pretty, but Samantha didn’t like wearing them in case she got them dirty. The slightest smudge would ruin the whole dress, and they didn’t have very many nice things. They had to treasure what they had.
Samantha had asked for a new dress, one that she liked, but had been told no several times. Her parents said they didn’t have the money. Didn’t they have a title? Samantha thought people with titles had money, and her parents said there was barely any. She couldn’t understand.
Her mother said she would understand when she was older. Why couldn’t they tell her now? Samantha was four. She wasn’t a baby. They could tell her. Wasn’t she older already?
She didn’t want to think about that. She wanted to play.
Samantha got to the pond and picked up a stick, whacking it against the reeds as she walked around the edge of the pond. It was a cloudy day. Warm, but cloudy, and the clouds were starting to get darker. Was it going to rain soon? Samantha liked looking at the rain, but when she was indoors. She didn’t like being wet. Her nanny struggled to get her bathed properly.
Samantha just hated water.
There was an older boy crouched by the edge of the water, watching a wooden toy boat on the surface. It kept falling over and the boy would pick it up and balance it again, watching it with intense concentration. Samantha liked boats. She wandered over.
“Good day,” she said sweetly.
The boy barely glanced up, but Samantha saw him scowl.
“What do you want?”
“I wanted to say good day.”
“Well, you have. Now will you go away?”
Samantha faltered a little. The children she met were always nice and they were able to talk all the time. This boy was just rude. Samantha had been raised not to be rude, and it hurt when someone treated her impolitely. She folded her arms.
“Why are you being so mean?”
The boy snorted.
“You need to stop being so nosy.” He picked up the boat and tilted it upright. “Now go away.”
“I’m not nosy!” Samantha whined. “I’m just being polite.”
The boy looked up, and Samantha found herself staring. He had the most beautiful blue eyes Samantha had ever seen. She loved blue eyes, but these were like jewels. They glittered at her before his eyes narrowed and he turned away.
“When you grow up, you’ll understand.”
“I am grown up!” Samantha whined. “Father said I am!”
“I’m sure he would.”
Why was he like this? Samantha couldn’t understand it. She had never met him before, and he was being a brat. Then she looked up and saw the tall, raven-haired man sitting on a bench by the path. From the black hair and his face it was clear that this was the boy’s father, but he wasn’t admonishing his son for his behaviour. He was staring right at her with a stony expression. Samantha didn’t like the way he looked at her.
She found herself shuffling backwards. He made her want to run away. Her foot slipped on something and Samantha wobbled. The boy was up on his feet immediately and grabbing her, pulling her away from the edge of the pond.
“Whoa, steady there!” He tugged her back and then let her go quickly. “You nearly ended up in the water.”
“I wasn’t near the edge!” Samantha protested. “And I can swim!”
“Really?” He looked her over with a sceptical expression. “In that dress and coat, you would have sunk like a stone. You couldn’t swim with that on.”
Samantha faltered. Truth was, she couldn’t swim. She hated water enough that she didn’t want to go anywhere near it. Their country home was on the Norfolk coast, but Samantha preferred to stick nearer to the woods than the beach. She hated it. The boy was right; she would have sunk. She hung her head.
“Thank you for saving me.”
The boy grunted. He rubbed the back of his neck.
“Just don’t be a silly little child around water. Father said that water is unforgiving.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I’m sure you will.”
Voices came from behind them. Loud, angry voices. Samantha turned and saw her father squaring up to the man on the bench. The boy’s father had risen to his feet and was almost bumping into Lord Denshaw, they were that close. Both were practically snarling in each other’s faces. Samantha whimpered. She didn’t like it when people argued.
“What’s going on?”
“Is that your father?”
“Yes. The Earl of Denshaw.”
Samantha turned and stared at the boy, who was now looking at her strangely. He looked her up and down, arching an eyebrow. Then his lip curled.
“I see. You’re from that family.”
“A family of sore losers.”
“What are you talking about? I’m not a loser! Neither is my father!”
“When you come from the Earl of Denshaw’s family, you most certainly are a loser.”
Samantha was hurt. He had started to be a little nicer to her, and now he was starting to be nasty. Samantha didn’t like that. She could feel her throat tightening up.
“Why are you calling me that?” she protested. “I haven’t done anything.”
“Really?” The boy folded his arms. “When one member of a family does something, all of the family gets affected. I should have guessed when you came along. You behave like a loser.”
Samantha wanted to cry. He was seven or eight years old and he was horrible. How did he think this was all right?
“I’m not mean to you.” She tried not to sob, but she felt the tears building. “Why are you mean to me? That’s naughty.”
The boy looked past Samantha towards his father, who had stepped away from Denshaw and was beckoning him over.
“Get away from that little brat! We’re going home!”
“Coming, Father.” Neil went to the pond and picked out his boat. Carrying it under his arm, he walked past Samantha, knocking into her shoulder hard enough to make her stumble. “Have fun being at the bottom of the barrel.”
That hurt. His words hurt. Samantha found herself sitting down on the grass as Neil walked away and joined his father, barely looking back as his father put a hand on his shoulder. Samantha burst into tears. Why were people so horrible? She had been raised to be a good girl. That couldn’t be allowed, surely?
“Samantha!” Footsteps hurried across the grass and then her father knelt beside her. “Are you hurt?”
“My shoulder hurts. He pushed me.” Samantha swallowed, but the lump in her throat wouldn’t budge. “He was mean to me, Papa. I didn’t do anything to him, and he was so mean!”
She started to cry louder again, and she threw herself against her father. Lord Denshaw sat on the grass and pulled his daughter onto his lap, rocking her in his arms. Grumbling, he pulled the bonnet aside without undoing the bow, tossing it aside before stroking Samantha’s hair.
“Forgive me, Samantha. I should have not let you go on ahead alone. I should have stopped it sooner.”
“My bonnet, Papa?”
“Forget your bonnet right now.”
Samantha was happy to do that. She lifted her head, swiping her sleeves across her wet cheeks.
“He called me a loser, Papa. Said our family were sore losers. What did he mean?”
Lord Denshaw hesitated, his hand pausing on her head. Then he started stroking her hair again and let out a heavy sigh, pressing a kiss to Samantha’s forehead.
“There is history between their family and ours. It’s a little too much to explain.”
“What did they do?”
Samantha wanted to know. No one had ever been so mean to her before, and she didn’t like it. How could anyone be so rude to a child? And how could another child behave in such a way? Samantha had been raised that she should never be unkind with anyone, and she needed to maintain composure. But to behave like that so quickly? Samantha knew she would have been badly scolded.
“I’ll tell you all about it when you’re a little older.” Lord Denshaw brushed his thumb across her cheek, wiping away a tear. “But make me a promise, Samantha. That family, the Earl of Richmond, are not people to be trusted. You are to keep away from them. Do not associate with them at all. They’re bad people. Promise me that you’ll do that?”
Samantha would have promised her father anything. He always knew what he was talking about. She nodded.
“I will, Father. I promise.”
“Good girl.” Lord Denshaw gathered her into his arms and managed to get to his feet. “Let’s get you home. It’s going to start raining shortly.”
“What about my bonnet?”
Samantha could see it on the grass. Lord Denshaw snorted.
“Forget your bonnet. You’re more important than that thing.”
That made Samantha feel a little better.
“Mother, do we have to?” Samantha looked at the front of the dress shop, admiring the dresses displayed but with a knot settling in her stomach. “We can’t afford any of these dresses. We’ll be lucky if we can afford the material for the skirt.”
Her mother had to have gone mad. She couldn’t possibly think this was a good idea. Samantha had agreed to go dress shopping, but she’d thought it would be at a shop that was more affordable, closer to their house or back home in Norfolk. They could buy them without breaking their strict budget. But these were clearly far too expensive, and Samantha didn’t need the store assistant inside to tell her that.
Nancy Hightower, Lady Denshaw, gave her daughter a smile.
“Don’t worry about the price. I’ve been saving for months. We can afford one dress from here.” She took her daughter’s hand and tugged her towards the door. “And you need one for your first ball tomorrow night.”
“I’ve got dresses, Mother. I can tidy them up myself to be perfect. Why can’t I wear the one I got last year?”
Lady Denshaw sighed.
“That is last season’s fashion, and it wouldn’t be acceptable now. You need a new dress. One that will make a lasting impression.”
Samantha huffed. She didn’t like dress shopping. She could admire the fabrics and silks, and Samantha liked to think she was good at making a dress, but she didn’t like actively buying one that had already been made. They had to adjust it to fit the wearer’s body, and the pins always stuck in her. Samantha would rather make it herself instead of making herself a pin cushion.
But it was her mother, and Samantha couldn’t deny Lady Denshaw anything. Even if she had misgivings about it. And this was their agreement – Lady Denshaw had been adamant that Samantha started her first season, a year after she was supposed to, and her daughter needed to look beautiful. Her father was of the same mindset; he wanted Samantha to actually enter society, no matter what.
Samantha didn’t want to, but she had agreed on the condition that they went to a ball that wasn’t exclusively for members of the nobility. Not the elite members, anyway. So, Lady Denshaw had suggested a ball that was in South London that was for the lower nobility classes and the wealthy gentry. A bigger affair, but it was a more relaxed affair.
Samantha would take that. She didn’t want to, but that was the compromise. Now she just had to get through her part of the bargain.
They headed into the store, and immediately Samantha was swept up by a store assistant who took her towards the back of the shop. Lady Denshaw stood off to one side and looked through the dresses on display while the assistant took Samantha’s measurements. Samantha tried to ignore a woman measuring how big her waist was, focusing on herself in the mirror. Her proportions weren’t too bad, although she was looking a little thin recently. Illness tended to take weight off without any effort. She was tall like her father, her blonde hair like her mother’s. But she had sadly inherited her father’s curls and so Samantha kept her hair short and pinned up in an attempt to control the curls. It left her with a slightly boyish look, but Samantha had grown her hair long before and the hassle to keep it free of tangles was not worth it. Those tangles hurt.
Finding a dress to complement her figure and her complexion wasn’t normally a problem, but Samantha wasn’t looking forward to the final payment. It was going to be big.
“I think this would look gorgeous on you.” Lady Denshaw brought out a bronze dress. “It would really set off the colour of your skin.”
“I don’t know, Mother. Brown tones don’t work with me.”
“You don’t know until you try it.” Lady Denshaw passed the dress to the assistant. “I’d like to see my daughter in this.”
“Yes, My Lady.”
Samantha huffed as the assistant headed towards the back room. She turned to her mother.
“I don’t know why I have to go through the season anyway. I didn’t have to go last year when I turned eighteen.”
“That’s because you were very sick, and we didn’t think you’d last the week. We allowed you to recuperate before entering you into society.”
There was that. Samantha didn’t want to think about that month where she had ended up in bed incredibly sick. It had got to the point the doctor thought she was going to succumb to the illness, but Samantha had come through it. It had taken almost six months for her to get back normal, though, with the sickness having taken a lot of her strength. Samantha hadn’t enjoyed that time of her life and she didn’t want to go through it again.
That was the only saving grace. She was healthier than she had been in a while, and Samantha liked the outdoors so she was always going out walking. But now being in London, it was far too smelly. The fumes coming from the factories on the outskirts of the city drifted across London, and they made Samantha’s mouth feel like it was coated with tar. It was musty, foul-smelling and it could have her eyes watering if she was looking in the right direction. They didn’t live anywhere near a factory, and yet it still affected them.
There were good days, and there were bad days. Samantha’s bad days had her not wanting to leave the house. She didn’t want to spend the day coughing.
The store assistant came back and urged Samantha into the back room, where she was helped to change into the dress Lady Denshaw had picked out. It felt really nice, and Samantha couldn’t stop herself from running her hand over the silk. This was the dearest item she had ever put on her body, and it looked stunning when she looked in the mirror. Lady Denshaw was right that it complemented her well. Samantha found it hard to believe that it was the same person staring back at her in the mirror.
When she came out onto the store to show her mother, Lady Denshaw gasped.
“Oh, my! You are gorgeous! I knew that dress would look good on you.”
“Are you sure you can afford this, Mother?” Samantha tried not to adjust the sleeves. “Father said we needed to be sensible with what we bought.”
“He knows I’ve been saving for this dress since you turned eighteen. He said himself I could get one dress.” Lady Denshaw looked her daughter up and down with approval. “And I think we’ve found the perfect dress.”
Hearing her frugal father say that anyone in the family could spend on something extravagant was unheard of. Their family had an earldom, but that meant nothing. All of them had worked hard to earn money off the land and extra ventures. They had barely had anything when Lord Denshaw took over the earldom from his father, so they had turned to doing things for themselves. There were a few servants, a cook, a footman and a maid, but that was it. They couldn’t afford anything more.
While they were able to afford things a bit more now after working hard for it, Lord Denshaw kept a close eye on everything. He didn’t want to lose the money to a cheat, not like his father had. Samantha couldn’t blame him; having pretty much all his money taken off him by someone who cheated at cards had been a low blow for everybody. Lord Denshaw didn’t want to follow his father’s footsteps.
Samantha smoothed her hands down the skirt. It was a gorgeous dress, and she felt like she shouldn’t be wearing this.
“Why do I have to enter society? People know about us and I’m going to be the one who’s left behind.”
“Darling, even if people know about what happened with your grandfather, your father and I still have respectable friends. And your father wants you to enter society, just like everyone else.” Lady Denshaw winked. “Some of his friends have sons who are interested in meeting you.”
“I’m not a pawn, Mother.”
Lady Denshaw sighed.
“I’m afraid that’s all we end up being in this life, Samantha, and you need to go out there and socialise. Better than preferring your own company.”
“I have friends in Norfolk.”
“You still need to do this.”
Samantha knew that, and she wished that she didn’t have to. She just wanted to be herself. Going out into society meant she was old enough to go looking for a husband. She didn’t want to do that; Samantha wanted to find love in her own time instead of being pushed into it. Unfortunately, that was what her father and her disagreed on. Lord Denshaw wanted his daughter married well and with someone who could take care of her. He believed she didn’t deserve to live the life they had. Samantha disagreed. It might not have been a situation that people with their title should have to live in, but it was theirs. Samantha didn’t want anything else.
“But why does it have to be a nobleman I have to marry, Mother?” Samantha stood in front of the mirror as the store assistant began to check the measurements, adjusting it so it fit her a little better. “A wealthy landowner would suffice.”
“A landowner,” Lady Denshaw sighed as she sat on a nearby chair. “You’re talking about Mr Marks, aren’t you?”
“Well, he would suffice.”
Samantha didn’t love their neighbour, but she cared a lot for him. He was a sweet, kind man a little over thirty and he treated her well. And he had money and land. If Samantha had a chance to marry him, she knew she could be happy. They got on really well, and she could see herself falling for him. But Lord Denshaw didn’t want that. He wanted someone with a title to marry her, which had Samantha getting annoyed. Again, she felt like a pawn.
“Mr. Marks is a nice gentleman and we do like him, but you’re an earl’s daughter, Samantha. You know very well that your father wouldn’t allow it.”
Samantha grunted. More than one disagreement had been about Mr. Marks after he visited. Lord Denshaw liked him, but only as a neighbour and a friend. He wouldn’t approve of him as a son-in-law, and he was vocal about it.
She tried not to flinch as a pin jabbed against her side.
“What if the man I happen to fall in love with happens to be a commoner?”
“Do you think that would happen?”
“I don’t know,” Samantha shrugged, flinching out loud as the pin scraped against her side. “I’m not about to marry above myself and be miserable. I’d rather marry lower and be happy.”
Lady Denshaw was silent for a moment. She waited until the assistant had finished cinching in the waist of the dress and stepped away before she stood and came to stand beside her daughter. She rested her hands on Samantha’s shoulders, looking at her in the mirror.
“I know it’s tough, honey. And I know you want something for yourself. But this is life. And you have a duty. You’re going to have to put duty over love at this point.”
“I know, and I hate it,” Samantha pouted. “I wish we were just normal people. There would be less trouble.”
“Sometimes, I wish the same thing as well. But I married a man I loved and I’m going to stick with him whether he’s a prince or a pauper.” Lady Denshaw squeezed her daughter’s shoulders. “You’ll find someone eventually. It’ll come. You just have to choose wisely.”
“You trust me to choose wisely?”
Her mother smiled.
“An Earl’s Inviting Bet” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When her honourable family lost a great amount of fortune to the Earl of Richmond, Samantha Hightower is forced to reinstate their reputation by marrying a noble man. That way she could finally leave the scandal of an old fraud behind, as this was that turned the two families into sworn enemies and started the painful vendetta. However, during one of the balls of her first Season, fate will bring Samantha close to her past and even closer to her sinful enemy without her knowing. A seductive stranger, named Neil Ramsbury, will stimulate Samantha’s secret desire, tempting her to join a dangerous game of lust. How will Samantha react when she finally realises who this mysterious man is?
Neil Montagu, the son of the Earl of Richmond, is a vigorous and proud young man who was taught his entire life to condemn Samantha’s dishonest family. In need of a fresh start, he decides to leave everything behind, but when he arrives in London for a ball, he immediately recognises the stunning Samantha, who now is a fiery young lady. Captivated by her beauty and desperate to have some fun, Neil bets to get a share of his friend’s business, if he could conquer Samantha’s heart, without being recognised. When his burning feelings for her start to grow, will he risk everything for this wild, passionate affair?
Without even realising it, Neil and Samantha’s lives become intertwined in a wicked game of seduction that they can neither explain nor resist. However, when Samantha’s brother reveals the truth about Neil’s secret, ruining their flaming affair, they will be forced to face their past and choose between love and hate… Will the couple manage to break down the walls of the past that keep them apart and surrender to a lustful future, or will their passion irreversibly sink into the abyss of oblivion?
“An Earl’s Inviting Bet” is a historical romance novel of approximately 50,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.