Hannah Webster walked briskly down the long hallway of Frawley Park, gazing around in wonder, as always. Sometimes, she still had to pinch herself that this grand country estate was her new home. It was a very far cry from the nunnery where she had been raised.
Her eyes widened as she took in the oil portraits lining the hallway wall. The paintings were generations of members of the revered Caldwell family; the ancestors of the Earl of Ridlington, who was now her employer. Her pace slowed as she gazed at them one by one. To think that she now lived with this grand family, that she worked for an earl, no less. She had never dreamt, in all those long, lonely nights with the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin, that she would end up here.
The portraits were all elaborately framed in gilt. Merely one of these frames could pay her lady’s maid wage for a year, she thought ruefully. Her eyes skipped over the portraits of the grand gentlemen and ladies, many in white wigs and high, intricately coiffed hairstyles, of yesteryear, until they fell upon the current family portraits, right at the very end.
She smiled slightly, as she beheld them. There was Lord Ridlington, the current earl, gazing out with a grim smile and dark, almost suspicious eyes. The artist had captured his look perfectly, she thought. Lord Ridlington always looked slightly suspicious as if something was about to happen unexpectedly. But she had only seen her employer a handful of times in passing and never spoken directly to him. He was such a great man, after all, and she was merely one of many servants who served the house.
Her eyes drifted to the next portrait, of his wife, Lady Ridlington. The lady was dressed in her finest attire, staring directly at the artist with an enigmatic smile. Hannah studied the portrait critically. Lady Ridlington was dressed in a plain white gown, with a high empire line, and resplendent jewellery. Her greying dark hair was curled at the sides but otherwise concealed beneath a white mob cap, as was the fashion for older ladies.
Hannah sighed. She didn’t have much to do with Lady Ridlington, but when she did, she often felt the older lady’s eyes critically assessing her. For some reason, Hannah was sure that the lady did not like her, at all. But she could never quite work out why – she was always scrupulously polite to the Countess, after all. She frowned slightly; perhaps she just imagined it, after all. Perhaps she was merely too awkward; too eager to please, in her first position.
Pushing the uneasy feeling aside, she sauntered forward, until she was standing in front of the portrait of the Lady Grace Caldwell, her lady, the daughter of the earl and countess. Grace was the reason she was here, at Frawley Park. She tilted her head to the side, gazing at the portrait critically.
A small, frumpish woman stared back at her. The Lady Grace had obviously decided to make no effort for the portrait; she was wearing a dull, severe gown of dark navy blue, with a high collar. Her light brown hair was pulled back into a bun, with no adornment; not even one curl to frame her face and break the monotony. Grace wasn’t smiling, either. She looked pained as if forced to endure the sitting.
Hannah sighed again. She had already worked out, almost from the first time that she had met the Lady Grace, that she abhorred deception, and did not care a whit for fashion or style. The lady had untold wealth and could afford the best dresses and accoutrements that money could buy, and yet, her wardrobe was filled with dull, severe gowns, exactly the same as the one she wore in the portrait. They were almost like a uniform. And Grace had no beautiful jewellery, bonnets, or hats. Hannah knew that Lady Ridlington, her mother, despaired of her plain daughter.
Hannah kept gazing at the portrait, contemplatively. Grace’s lack of style, and her plainness, was the reason she was here. She had been employed to transform the lady, who was seven and twenty and fast on her way to becoming a confirmed old maid. Grace knew it and wanted to change, to make a match before it was too late. But it was a hard task; her lady, while desirous to change, was also stubbornly resistant to it.
Hannah gazed down at one of Grace’s gowns that she was carrying, lying across her left arm. She had been awake half the night, modifying the dress, adding little bows, and a line of fleur de lys embroidery, across the bodice. She knew that Grace would frown when she saw it, protesting that it was too elaborate. It would probably take all morning to convince her to wear it, to feel comfortable in anything that didn’t look like the habits of the nuns that Hannah had grown up alongside at Temple Priory.
She raised her chin, determinedly. The Lady Grace had employed her as her abigail – her lady’s maid – specifically to transform her from a caterpillar into a butterfly, and she wanted to fulfil her task. She knew that she could make Lady Grace look so much better than she did now if the lady would only give her a chance to do it. Lady Grace might never be a raving beauty, but she could look a lot better than she did now, and perhaps make the longed-for marriage, that she desired.
It was what Hannah had been raised to do by the nuns. Her education at the Priory had consisted of careful tutelage in the feminine arts: dress, make up, and hairstyling. The sisters had always told her that her destiny was as a lady’s maid; that she could rise far if she were determined and diligent. Hannah had been very diligent, and only days after her twentieth birthday, she had learnt that she had secured her first post as abigail to the Lady Grace Caldwell, and would be travelling across Oxfordshire to take up her position, within days.
Her eyes filled with tears, as she thought of that journey, and leaving the priory. She loved the nuns, who had raised her; they had taken her in, as a babe in arms. The Mother Superior, Mother Ernestine, was like her own mother, and then there was dear, sweet Sister Imelda, and she would even miss stern, uncompromising Sister Teresa, who had caned her, on one occasion, as a seven-year-old.
The priory was her home, the only life that she had ever known. She had been as cloistered as the nuns, knowing nothing of the outside world. The thought of leaving it forever, and joining society, had been a little overwhelming, to say the least, and she was still learning how to live within it, without the rules and regulations, the constant rituals, which had been her life at the priory.
She was almost at the end of the hallway. There was one last family portrait to view. Hannah shivered slightly. She wanted to gaze at it, to feast her eyes upon it, but at the same time, she didn’t want to, at all. She wanted to put her head down and scurry away to Lady Grace. She was already late attending her lady, and there really was no excuse for tardiness.
Should she indulge herself, with just one glance?
It was the hesitation, which was her undoing. Taking a deep breath, she raised her eyes, taking it in.
It was a large portrait, meticulously wrought in oil. A smiling man, with bright hazel eyes, that seemed to reach towards her like a hand. He had dark, curling hair, falling over one of those eyes. He was fashionably dressed, almost like a dandy – a grey cravat, green double-breasted jacket, and white breeches.
Her heart started to hammer in her chest. The Viscount Sculthorpe. The eldest son of the earl and countess, and the heir, to Frawley Park, and the earldom.
Hannah’s eyes lingered on the portrait, unable to resist, indulging her desire to gaze at him. He was simply the most handsome man she had ever seen, but then, she hadn’t seen many men in her life at the priory. Only the gardener, old Albert, who was bent double with rheumatism, and the delivery boy, Nicholas, who lived in the local village, and was a callow, pimply youth. She had never dreamt that a man could be as beautiful as a woman until she had set eyes on the viscount, and something had shifted inside her for the very first time.
She frowned, trying to work out how he made her feel the way that she did, and what it meant. It was most alarming, and deep down, she knew that it was inappropriate in the extreme. Lady’s maids had no business gazing so fondly on viscounts. She knew that, but it didn’t seem to help the way that she felt.
He was a young man, only five and twenty, not so very much older than her, but she knew, instinctively that he was many, many years ahead of her in worldly experience. Lady Grace had intimated, on more than one occasion, that her younger brother was a bit too fond of the opposite sex, chasing ladies across the county and having his wicked way with them. Hannah had blushed furiously to hear such shocking things.
She shivered again, still gazing at the portrait. And then, there was the way that Lord Sculthorpe stared at her from the moment they had met. Almost as if he wanted to devour her. Sometimes he followed her as she walked the long, empty hallways, of the house. She would stop, turning around in puzzlement, but he would just smile at her in that maddening way he had and keep walking past her. Sometimes, he was even so bold as to brush against her as he passed, which caused a deep tremor to course through her body.
Suddenly, the hairs on the back of her neck started to prickle slightly. Someone was here, in this hallway, with her. Behind her. Instinctively, she turned, trembling with trepidation. Maids, even lady’s maids, were not supposed to linger like this. Maids had to be seen to be busy, and working, at all times.
She gasped. The viscount was standing there, smiling at her lazily. His eyes slid from her face to the portrait, just behind her, quite pointedly.
Hannah blushed furiously, feeling the heat overcome her face, almost like a fever. He knew that she had been studying his portrait.
She dropped into a deep curtsey, so confused, that she didn’t know what to do. “My Lord,” she said, her voice small and shaky.
“You may rise,” he said dryly.
Hannah knew she must look at him; there was nothing else she could do. It would be rude, not to, after all. But it was such a painful thing to do that she felt her blush deepen.
I must look like a beetroot, she thought furiously. Why, oh why, did I linger in this cursed hallway, staring at his portrait like a lovesick sop?
“Do you think it a good likeness?” he asked suddenly, pointing at the portrait. He was still smiling.
Hannah took a deep breath. “I am sure that I am not skilled enough in portraiture to answer, My Lord,” she stammered. “It does look like you, to be sure …”
“You were studying it,” he drawled, his voice amused. “I saw you.” He paused, stepping closer towards her. “Do you like this portrait of me?”
Hannah’s blush deepened again. She felt as if she was so hot with embarrassment and mortification that she might combust. She opened her mouth, not knowing what to say, or do, when she heard footsteps coming towards them from the opposite direction.
It was Lady Grace, gazing at them both with an inscrutable expression on her face. “There you are, Hannah,” she said, in her soft voice. “Come along, now.” She turned to her brother. “Thomas, you will excuse us. I am late getting ready for this afternoon’s luncheon in town …”
“Of course,” said Lord Sculthorpe wryly.
Hannah followed her lady, her head bent. She felt like an utter fool. Not only had she been caught out gazing at the viscount’s portrait, but Lady Grace would be mad at her now, for delaying her.
But she couldn’t resist glancing back. The viscount was still standing there in the same position, all playfulness having vanished from his face. He was looking at her with narrowed eyes, in an almost speculative way. Her heart lurched, and she turned back quickly.
She was playing with fire, and she knew it.
Hannah’s heart was still pounding furiously by the time they entered Lady Grace’s chambers. She took a deep breath, trying desperately to calm down and push the image of the viscount out of her mind, entirely.
Lady Grace was already sitting at her dressing table. She turned to Hannah, smiling slightly.
Hannah took a deep breath. “I am sorry for being tardy, My Lady …”
Grace waved a hand in the air, dismissively. “Do not worry about that, Hannah,” she said, a thread of amusement in her voice. “I do not care about it at all. It was only an excuse so that we could get away from Thomas, after all.” She gazed at Hannah curiously. “Does he often stop you like that when there is no one else about?”
Hannah felt her face flaring with colour, once again. “Oh, no, My Lady. That was the first time that he has spoken to me, alone.” She hesitated, biting her lip. “Although on occasion, he does sometimes follow me and even brushes against me, as he passes by …”
Grace sighed deeply. “I thought so. I can always tell when a woman catches my brother’s eye, in that certain way.” She hesitated. “You do know what I am talking about, do you not, Hannah? It is just that you are so very young, and innocent, and know nothing of the world outside the convent where you were raised. Am I correct?”
Hannah took a deep breath. “I suppose I do not know so very much, My Lady. The sisters never educated me in such matters, and I have barely set eyes upon a man the whole time that I lived there.”
Grace nodded. “I thought as much. Indeed, you have the air of the ingenue about you, entirely.” She took a deep breath. “Thomas likes you, Hannah. That is why he follows you and brushes against you, and why he looks at you the way that he does.”
Hannah shook her head quickly, feeling alarmed. “Oh, no, My Lady, I am sure you are mistaken,” she said. “He is a great lord, and I am just a lady’s maid, after all. I do not want you to think that I am encouraging him in any way …”
Grace’s smile widened. “It is quite alright, Hannah. I know that you are not flirting with my brother, nor trying to lead him on in any manner.” She paused. “You are so very beautiful, my dear. Surely, you are aware of your beauty?”
Hannah stared at her mistress, feeling completely flummoxed. No one had ever called her beautiful before, but then, she had been raised by nuns, who did not give compliments, especially regarding physical attributes. That would be promoting vanity, which was to be avoided, at all costs.
“I am sure you are exaggerating, My Lady,” she said quietly. “I am not beautiful …”
Grace raised her eyebrows. “Truly, Hannah, how can you not know? Did they have not looking glasses at the convent?” She smiled wryly. “You have skin like porcelain, the loveliest blue eyes that I have ever beheld, and hair that looks like it should belong on Venus. A titian glory.”
Hannah shook her head fiercely. “Oh, My Lady, you flatter me, but I am sure that you are exaggerating …”
Grace sighed. “I can see that I am making you uncomfortable, my dear, so I shall not press the matter, but please be assured, there are good reasons why my brother likes you, so very much.” She hesitated. “But you should be very, very cautious of him, Hannah.”
Hannah was silent. She simply didn’t know what to say.
Grace turned around so that she was fully facing her. “My brother likes women,” she said dryly. “Quite a lot, actually. It has always been so, I am afraid.” She paused. “He is always respectful and never forces his attentions on anyone, but he has quite a reputation as a lothario, Hannah. He may try to lift your skirts if you let him get close enough to do so.”
Hannah’s eyes widened in alarm. She didn’t know what Lady Grace was talking about, at all. “Lift my skirts?” she repeated hesitantly. “For what purpose?”
Grace sighed deeply. “Oh, my dear, you truly are an innocent.” She smiled a little indulgently. “I never thought that I would be tutoring my maid in the ways of the world, but such is life!” She stood up, walking closer to Hannah. “When a man likes a woman, in that certain way, he wishes to make love to her, my dear. He wishes to do to her what a man does to his wife. Surely, the good sisters told you about what passes between a legally wedded man and his wife?”
Hannah shook her head slowly. “No. I do not know of it at all.”
Grace sighed again, scratching her head. “A man, when he likes you, in that way, might try to kiss you and touch your body in intimate places,” she said slowly. “It is perfectly acceptable, between a legally married couple, but it is frowned upon, otherwise. Your reputation can suffer if you let a man do these things to you before you are wed, my dear.” She paused. “And then, there is the chance of … becoming with child, outside of wedlock, which would be even worse. A terrible fate.”
Hannah gasped. She had heard whispers about this from the nuns, that it was a fate worse than death for a girl to be with child and unmarried. But they had never explained how it could happen.
“That is why you must protect your virtue, Hannah,” continued Grace, nodding. “A man will always try, but a woman must say no, until she has a ring upon her finger. Do you understand?”
Hannah nodded. “I think that I do,” she said hesitantly. “You are telling me that … the viscount … might try to do things with me that could bring a child on if I am not careful to avoid him at all costs?”
Grace sighed heavily. “Thomas means no harm, and as I said, he would not force his attentions on you if you were unwilling,” she said thoughtfully. “But he is a man, and it is different for them. They can take what they want, and do not have to suffer the consequences, as we must.” She paused. “I just wanted you to be aware of it, and to be on your guard, my dear. You are such an innocent, and I would not forgive myself if you succumbed to him through ignorance of what your fate might be …”
Hannah took a deep breath. It was true; she had never known what went on between a man and a woman in this way. The only thing that she knew was the way the viscount made her feel when she was close to him. When he gazed upon her with those shining, burning eyes. It was as if there was a tight cord between them that he was twisting and turning, making her insides turn to pure liquid.
She had instinctively known that he was dangerous to her, but not why. And it was truly humiliating that her lady must be the one to tell her what those dangers actually were. The nuns had educated her well, but she was appallingly lacking in worldly wisdom. She felt like she was a babe in the woods, suddenly forced into the big, bad world, with no skills or knowledge to navigate it.
She took a deep breath. “Thank you, My Lady. I shall be aware, from now on, and shall not encourage him in any manner.”
“Good,” said Grace firmly. “I love my brother dearly, Hannah, but I am not blind to what he is truly like. He means no harm – it is all just a game to him, the thrill of the chase, and all that … just make sure that he does not catch you, my dear.”
It took over an hour, attending Lady Grace’s toilette when they finally set to the business of the day. The lady was a bit resistant to all of Hannah’s administrations and had to be coaxed, step by step.
The first step had been persuading her to wear the gown she had embellished. Grace had frowned, staring at it, a mutinous expression on her face.
“While I appreciate your work, Hannah, it is a bit … fussy,” she said, studying the gown. “I usually do not like embellishments, at all …”
“It makes the gown less severe, My Lady,” said Hannah firmly. “Just a few bows here and there, and a small line of embroidery. You shall not be swamped by it, at all.”
Eventually, the lady had agreed to try it on. And even Grace had been pleasantly surprised that the gown became her, so well. Hannah wisely had not told her that she had altered the line of the bodice slightly, so there was more décolletage, exposing just the top of Grace’s creamy breasts.
“Why, it is lovely,” said Grace, turning around in front of the full-length mirror to see the gown from all angles. “You are skilled, my dear, I shall give you that.”
Hannah had smiled slightly, taking the compliment. She might be ignorant in the ways of the world, but she knew how to dress and enhance a lady’s innate qualities.
Enhancing the décolletage on the gown was bringing out one of the lady’s best features. Lady Grace was short, in stature, and a little stocky, but she had an ample bosom. In this gown, as it now was, all eyes would be drawn to it, and not notice her plumpness in other areas.
And when she had finally finished the lady’s makeup and hair – only a little rouge, and not quite as severe a bun, as the lady usually wore, with a few twisting curls framing her face – even Hannah was impressed with her own handiwork. The Lady Grace simply didn’t look like the same lady she had been when she had first arrived at Frawley Park.
Grace’s eyes filled with tears as she gazed at herself in the dressing table mirror. “You are a true artist, Hannah,” she breathed. “I simply cannot fathom how you have made me look so very different to the plain lady I usually am.”
Hannah smiled at her lady in the looking glass, her heart swelling with pride. “It is only the beginning, My Lady,” she said confidently. “When I am finished with you, you shall be the belle of every ball.”
Grace laughed, her eyes sparkling. “I doubt that, but with your help, I might just procure a husband, at long last. And that would make everyone in my family happy, I am sure.” She paused, sobering a little. “It is so very hard being unmarried still at my advanced age. So much pressure, Hannah. If you only knew.”
Hannah squeezed her lady’s shoulder gently. She was starting to like Lady Grace, so much. And she loved being at Frawley Park; she loved everything about her new home, even if it was such a stark contrast to her usual life at the convent.
Her life was finally beginning, at long last. A chance, to spread her wings, just a little bit. She had longed for this chance, and here it finally was.
She frowned slightly. The only slight fly in the ointment was the viscount. She must take Lady Grace’s advice and tread very carefully around him. Very carefully indeed if she was going to keep this charmed life she had only just secured.
“Enthralled by a Lustful Viscount” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Hannah Webster has never known the temptations of the outside world. When she secures her very first position as a maid of Lady Grace Caldwell and sets off for Frawley Park, she thinks there is nothing more she wants or needs in life… Or is there? She definitely never expected to desperately need her mistress’s younger brother, the alluring and charismatic Viscount Sculthorpe. Grace has warned her about him… about how he might try to lift her skirts, if she isn’t careful. Unfortunately, the innocent Hannah barely knows what that even means. The only thing she knows is the untamable desire she feels whenever the Viscount stares at her, with his intense green eyes… Soon, sparks will fly, but what if some of them catch on fire? Will she decide to dance on the wild side?
Thomas Caldwell, the Viscount Sculthorpe, is heir to the Earldom and knows that responsibility awaits him. Until then, he is content with chasing ladies and conquering their kisses. His sister’s fetching new maid has caught his eye and for him, it means nothing more than the thrill of the chase and a quick tumble at the bottom of the stairwell. At least that’s what he thought until he begins experiencing profound feelings he can’t recognise. He knows he is playing a dangerous game with her, but he just can’t stop himself… How far is he willing to go to avoid losing the seductive beauty who has reawakened his desires and captured his heart?
As Hannah and The Viscount skirt around each other and their feelings deepen, a dangerous game of passion and longing develops between them. Even though she knows this passionate affair can lead nowhere, it is beyond Hannah’s powers to resist the temptation. After all, it is common knowledge that high ranking gentlemen such as Thomas do not make a habit of marrying maids… Could Hannah and Thomas possibly manage to forge a happy and passionate future for themselves against all odds? Or will society’s restrictions put out the flame of their burning connection?
“Enthralled by a Lustful Viscount” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.