“Time to wake up, little sweethearts,” Harriet called as she entered the nursery room of the Crowley twins.
As she did every morning, she had peered through the door that she always left ajar, watching them slumber for several peaceful moments before pushing the door open.
Normally, she would allow them to sleep well past dawn but today was a special day, whether they liked it or not, and the twins had to be up and ready for just about anything.
“Ugh… Miss Harriet, it’s too early!” Vincent groaned, rolling over and pulling his pillow over his head to protect his eyes from the light as Harriet drew back the drapes. The grey light of dawn was fast turning golden, and she knew they didn’t have much time.
“Now, come on, Vincent,” Harriet half-scolded, half-coaxed, seeing that Violet was already up with a hop and a bounce.
Harriet had to hide her smile at how opposite they were. Violet always appeared bright and bubbly, while her brother was quite like the late Duke of Wistow, their grandfather—all doom and gloom and quiet respect.
“Come on, Vincent!” Violet urged her brother. She hurried to his bed on the opposite side of the room and yanked on his covers until he deemed to let them go. “Today is the day! The duke is coming!”
“Duke? What duke?” Vincent scoffed. He sat up, rubbing his eyes. “I am the only duke here.”
Harriet sighed heavily at the golden-haired boy. Her heart broke for him and his sister. Their lives were about to be flipped upside down for the second time in a week.
“Vincent, remember what we spoke about last night?” she asked gently, crouching beside the bed to gather Violet onto her lap and place her free hand on Vincent’s shoulder.
And the night before, and the one before that, she added to herself, remembering just how stubborn Master Vincent was. Another trait he had inherited—or perhaps learned—from his grandfather.
“Yes, yes, I know. I just don’t accept it.” Vincent straightened his back as he spoke, looking and sounding much older than his current six years. He sniffed scoffingly and added, “I still do not understand why some random stranger has been made duke when my grandfather was duke and I should be duke after him.”
Although Vincent had quite the smart head on his shoulders, Harriet knew he was much too young for her to begin throwing words like “illegitimate” at him. As she had so often before, she decided not to remind him that his mother had not been married to his father, and so he would never have any real claim to any of it.
Instead, she simply said, “Master Vincent, you are much too young to be worrying about being made a duke. They have so much responsibility. Wouldn’t you rather play with your sister?”
“I can be duke and play with my sister.” Vincent huffed and Harriet thought what a wonderful duke he would have made had he been older.
Though he was stubborn and self-important at times, he was also kind and gentle to those around him. In Harriet’s mind, he was the perfect little boy—just as Violet was the perfect little girl, with her bubbly nature and her flowing silken locks of blonde hair.
“Perhaps one day you will,” Harriet suggested before pushing herself to her feet and urging Violet to stand also. “But for now, we must greet your grandfather’s cousin with dignity and respect, just as the late duke would expect.”
Just as Harriet had hoped, her words spoke to the young boy’s sense of obligation, and he finally clambered out of bed with a great huff.
Harriet tried her hardest not to let his emotions add to her own. Though she would never allow the children to see it, she was also apprehensive to meet this stranger who had been named heir upon the late duke’s death, simply because he was of age and of the duke’s bloodline. How the grandson of the duke’s brother could become duke upon his death over his own grandson, Harriet did not know. Even if he is illegitimate, she thought to herself.
Though she did not make the rules and she could not begin to agree with them, she had to go along with them. Her place was to look after the children no matter who ran the household, yet she knew her job and her very livelihood stood on the edge of a precipice, waiting for the good word of the new duke. If she or the children displeased him, Harriet knew he was well within his rights to do something terrible. She could only hope he would not be that kind of man, the kind of nobleman she had met all too often coming in and out of Wistow House for visits to her late employer.
“Harriet? Are you alright?” Violet asked sweetly from where she now stood beside the empty water basin, ready to wash. She cocked her head to one side, looking like one of the spaniels that had once roamed the grounds of Wistow House in search of foxes. “You are looking ever so pale this morning.”
Harriet cleared her throat and straightened her grey cotton dress, realising she had lost herself in thought.
“Don’t you worry about me, sweet one,” Harriet assured her as a knock came on the door and one of the under-maids arrived, carrying a jug of warmed water to fill the wash basin. She gave the children a curtsey before adding a short, respectful nod to Harriet and then crossed the room silently to go about her business.
“Thank you, Anne,” Harriet said once the maid was done.
“Can I get anything else for you, Master? Miss?” Though the maid addressed the twins, Harriet knew it was her duty to answer for them. At six years old, they had no idea what was good for them.
“Perhaps you would be so kind as to have some breakfast sent up?” she suggested before adding, “I am not sure we will have time to get down to the dining hall before the new duke arrives.”
“Of course, Miss Harriet.” Anne nodded. Harriet always struggled not to cringe whenever somebody called her Miss Harriet. She had learned to tolerate it over the years, but she was always glad whenever she returned to the servants’ quarters and became simply Harriet again. In front of the children, in the main residential part of the house, and whenever she went out with the children in public, she was Miss Harriet, though she hated it always.
“Thank you, Anne,” she said again and waited for the maid to leave before she began to order the children out of their nightgowns to wash.
“Don’t forget to scrub behind your ears, Master Vincent,” she instructed, seeing that the young boy was only half-bothering with his self-care. It was clear from the grumpy look on his face that he had already set his mind on his mood for the day, and that did not bode well.
“Listen to Miss Harriet!” Violet scolded her brother. “We must be perfect for when the new duke gets here. You wouldn’t want him to dislike us, would you?”
Harriet flinched at the young girl’s words. She was much too clever for her tender age and Harriet wondered whether she knew the rest of their lives depended on giving the new duke a good impression. For the twins’ innocence, she hoped not.
Mrs Fergus, the housekeeper, arrived almost ten minutes after Anne had returned with a tray of fresh orange juice and a hearty breakfast of eggs and toast. She swept into the room looking every bit the respectable, straight-laced housekeeper in her black gown and with her hair scraped back from her face.
“Children, Miss Harriet, it is time to go down to the forecourt,” she announced, opening the door wide and stepping aside to allow them to lead the way.
“Come, children.” Harriet gulped past the lump in her throat. She was determined not to let her nerves get the best of her, even if only for the children’s sake.
She gathered them both into her skirts and crouched before them to offer a few words. “Now remember, children, Mr Crowley is to be the new Duke of Wistow, and that means we must afford him the same respect as we did your grandfather.”
“That means you must both be on your best behaviour,” Mrs Fergus put in, and Harriet had to bite her lip. Though she knew the housekeeper cared as greatly for the children as she did, the elder woman was often strict, even when she did not mean to be. She had mentioned it herself a few times, stating it came from years of responsibility running grand households and it was hard to switch it off.
“Are you both ready?” Harriet asked, clutching the hands of both the children and looking them over once more, straightening Vincent’s collar for the fifth time that morning.
They both wore emerald green to bring out the colour of their eyes and the goldenness of their hair. Both looked like mini-adults: Violet in her laced-up gown missing only the corset, and Vincent in his brocade waistcoat and matching coat, his boots polished and his mini cravat keeping his head held high.
A tear came to Harriet’s eye as she looked at them. Never had she been prouder of them than she was in that moment, knowing they were still grieving the loss of their dear grandfather while facing yet another monumental change in their lives.
“We are ready, Miss Harriet,” Violet insisted sweetly, her back straight.
Harriet turned to Vincent and waited for him to nod, firmly and as far as his necktie would allow.
“Go on ahead, then,” Harriet instructed. “But do not run or you might fall and mess up your clothes.”
She was relieved when Vincent began to look just as excited as Violet at the prospect of being allowed a little freedom before the new duke arrived. They dashed out of the room and Harriet had to call after them to remind them of what she had just said.
“You’d better hope they listen to you today or it might be your job on the line, girl,” Mrs Fergus commented as she gestured for Harriet to lead the way.
The housekeeper’s words lingered in her mind like bees in her brain as she stood behind the twins on the shingled forecourt, awaiting the arrival of the new duke. The entire household, from the children right down to the maids, were all standing in neat, almost military fashion on either side of the front door, all come to welcome their new lord and master. Even the cook’s young kitchen assistant who often built the fires around the manor was there, and Harriet was pleased to see that someone had loaned her a dress for the occasion. Though it was slightly too big, she did not stick out like a sore thumb as she would have in her usual flour and soot-covered clothes. The previous Duke of Wistow had been a kind man and hadn’t been too strict with his staff, especially the youngest of the bunch as they were, as he used to say, ‘still learning.’ Harriet could only hope that the new duke would share a similar philosophy.
The children, who had been standing before Harriet for a good five minutes, were becoming fidgety and she had to give them both a tap on the shoulder when a carriage appeared at the far end of the lane that led into the manor’s forecourt. She gave them each one final look-over, picking a speck of lint from Master Vincent’s shoulder before she straightened her own plain dress and brushed back a strand of hair from her face.
Everybody had been speaking in hushed tones, but as the carriage drew closer, they all fell utterly silent. It was driven expertly around the fountain that was the main centrepiece of the forecourt and the staff and children were forced not to flinch at the dust and shingle that was dashed up by the wheels and churning hooves.
“Miss Harriet?” Violet whispered as the carriage drew to a halt. She tugged on Harriet’s skirt to get her attention. “May I say hello to the horses?”
“Not right now, sweet one. Eyes front and only speak when spoken to. I promise we will go down to the stables to see the horses later on,” Harriet assured her, stroking gently over the little girl’s pale golden head.
Violet turned back to face the carriage just in time. The driver had discreetly clambered down from his bench at the front of the carriage and moved to open the door that had been emblazoned with a large ‘C’ in gold and silver thread.
Harriet held her breath, waiting to lay eyes on the new Lord of Wistow House for the first time.
“Ladies first,” she heard a husky, deep voice sound from inside the blackness of the carriage. The driver held up a hand, head bowed.
In the next moment, the sashay of skirts could be heard and a woman, perhaps in her late forties, began to descend the carriage steps, her gloved hand resting in that offered by the driver.
She was a tall woman, though the top of her spine had begun to hunch slightly with age. The wrinkles around her eyes flattened out when she frowned, examining the workforce before her.
“Who is that?” Harriet heard one of the maids hiss under her breath.
“That must be Mrs Crowley, the duke’s mother,” another hissed back before they were both silenced by a stern look from Mrs Fergus.
Harriet gulped past the lump in her throat. If the mother was so stern and severe then what hope did they have for the duke?
All too soon, she found out. The carriage rocked slightly and, a moment later, a gentleman began to descend the steps behind Mrs Crowley.
At first, all Harriet could see was the top of his sandy blonde head, his face lowered to look at where he was placing his feet. But when he reached the floor, she found that he stood several inches taller than his mother, with broad shoulders decorated in a fine green suit jacket that complemented his hair perfectly.
He has the Crowley hair, Harriet commented to herself, but all thoughts were stopped dead and her breath caught in her throat when he lifted his head. Striking pale green eyes gleamed from a smooth yet sun-touched face. They sat atop high, noble cheekbones and a chiselled jaw. Though his features were striking, they were made ever more severe by the scowl that mirrored his mother’s.
They were allowed only a moment to examine the staff before Gates, the butler, stepped up to formally greet them.
“Welcome Duke of Wistow, Mrs Crowley.” He bowed deeply with one hand before his abdomen and the other on his lower back. “My name is Mr. Robert Gates, and I am your butler. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Hmm…” Mrs Crowley scoffed.
Ignoring her and the fact that neither of them had returned his greeting, Gates gestured the duke to follow him and Harriet gulped hard as she realised he was leading him right for her. More accurately, he was leading the duke directly to the Crowley twins.
“Lord Wistow, this is Master Vincent Crowley and Miss Violet Crowley,” the butler announced, gesturing to each child in turn. Harriet had to force herself not to smile with pride when both children bowed and curtseyed in greeting.
“Lord Wistow, might you play with us later on?” Violet blurted, and Harriet felt her heart sink. The duke’s raised eyebrow was a clear indication that he hadn’t expected either of them to speak.
“Absolutely not! The duke is much too busy to play with children!” the duke’s mother answered, her voice venomous.
Harriet struggled to disguise her flinch and the urge to protect both children from such a vile reaction toward them.
“My mother is right,” the duke responded simply, and it was in that moment that Harriet finally formed an opinion of him. Though he appeared handsome on the surface, there was stone beneath.
As if he wished to get the children out of the awkward situation as soon as possible, Gates hurried on, “And this is their governess, Miss Harriet Fields.”
The second her name was uttered and the butler gestured towards her, the duke lifted his eyes from the children and Harriet was struck once more by just how green they were. They were not mossy like Vincent’s or hazel-green like Violet’s. They were much paler, but, connected as their gazes were, Harriet could see flecks of darker green dancing in his irises.
Gates cleared his throat and Harriet almost jumped out of her skin. Instead, she dropped low into a curtsey, realising she had quite forgotten how to act.
“Welcome, Lord Wistow,” she said, though her throat was suddenly so dry, she wasn’t sure the words were audible.
When she stood again, she found the duke still stood before her. His eyes fixed on hers and she felt anchored there, unable to move or speak or think of anything. There were just those perfect green eyes staring back at her.
Gates was a fine enough butler. He did not keep them out in the early morning sunshine for too long before he escorted the duke and his mother into the huge manor house that dwarfed their previous home, which had been little more than a cottage.
“Perhaps you might wish for me to give you both a tour, my lord?” Gates asked, helping Thomas out of his travel coat.
“That won’t be necessary,” Thomas replied. Already he was feeling claustrophobic with the way the butler was tending to him and it didn’t help to know the whole host of staff outside were now likely filing around the back of the manor to the servants’ entrance, ready to wait on him and his mother hand and foot.
“I am sure we are quite capable of looking about the place ourselves,” his mother added even as Mrs Fergus, the woman Gates had introduced as the housekeeper, came to take her coat. “After all, it is to be our home now.”
“Of course, madam.” Gates nodded, averting his gaze respectfully. “Might I show you to the drawing room for refreshments after your long journey?”
Thomas nodded and began to follow the butler. Although it had not been too long of a journey, he was certainly parched and feeling at odds with himself.
“All the staff who greeted us, do they work here regularly?” Thomas asked once they had been shown into a drawing room that would have fit both his old drawing room, dining room, and study in all at once.
“Yes, my lord, they come to work here daily and several of them remain in the servants’ quarters at the top of the house for your convenience,” Gates explained, pouring two cups of tea from the teapot that had already been placed on a table along with a plate of biscuits.
“Do we really need so many staff?” Thomas asked grimly. His head was already spinning from the introductions, and he had only been introduced formally to the Crowley twins, their governess, and the housekeeper.
“I fear that such a large household is necessary for such a grand manor,” his mother insisted, taking to sit beside the fireplace where, although it was springtime, a fire had been lit to keep the large room comfortable.
Thomas grumbled to himself that his mother might be right although he did not like it.
“You are Duke of Wistow now. You may hire and fire at your own pleasure,” his mother pointed out. “And as for those Crowley twins…”
She paused, and when he turned to look at her, she sneered, “You may have them removed if you do so wish.”
Thomas had to admit that the thought had crossed his mind during the ride to the manor. He had not only been left his cousin’s title and estates, but also two wards. As their guardian, he could do as he so wished with them, whether that meant sending them to the poor house or hiding them away a friend’s house in the country.
Yet when he had seen the governess who accompanied them, all thoughts of having them leave had been quashed. If he were to send them away, she would surely be sent away, too, and he was not yet ready for that. An odd sensation gripped his stomach at the mere thought.
“Perhaps I shall have them sent away,” he said thoughtfully, turning toward the window at the sound of laughter coming from beyond. His voice had taken a melancholy tone and he clasped his hands behind his back, gazing out onto the lawn where the governess could be seen playing with the twins.
“Children should be seen and not heard!” his mother hissed, obviously disliking the shrieking and laughter coming from the twins as Miss Harriet chased them to and fro.
Thomas did not comment. Instead, he remained silent, watching how Miss Harriet’s mousy hair escaped its pins and fell in loose curls all about her face. Standing in front of the manor, she had been quiet, respectful, and demure, yet now she appeared to have come alive. It caused Thomas to feel all the more intrigued by her. Remembering his own governess, he wondered how he might have turned out had she not been a strict, grim-faced old woman who only ever seemed to scold and curse him.
“Thomas? Did you hear me?” His mother’s shrill voice made him jump and he forced himself reluctantly away from the window.
“What, Mother?” he asked, shaking his head in an attempt to clear it before taking the teacup Gates offered him.
“We have many engagements to prepare for. The first being only two days hence,” she explained, and for the first time in a long time, Thomas saw something other than a sour look on his mother’s face. Was that excitement shining in her eyes?
“What is there to prepare for?” Thomas rolled his eyes and, unable to help himself, turned back in the direction of the window.
“Everything, Thomas. This first appearance in public as Duke of Wistow must go off without a hitch. Everybody will be watching you, taking notes on how you handle yourself, wondering whether you might be a good match for their daughter.”
His mother’s words made him cringe.
“I am determined to continue to be myself, Mother; I shall not let this title change me,” he insisted, lifting his cup to his lips, eyes gazing over the rim at the scene outside.
“Thomas, you are no longer the nameless son of a gentleman. You are Duke of Wistow, and as such, certain things will be expected of you,” his mother insisted, her voice growing higher and higher in pitch as if she were worried.
“I am sure nobody will be watching me half as closely as you think.” Thomas shrugged and took a biscuit from the plate that Gates had picked up from the table.
“Then you are a fool!” his mother snapped, but her words were drowned by the crunching of the biscuit as he bit into it. “Half of your staff may have already been paid off to keep an eye on you.”
The only one being watched right now is the beautiful woman on the lawn, Thomas told himself, unable to take his eyes off her or the radiant smile that had spread across her face from the moment they had begun to play.
“A Governess’ Sinful Kiss” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
The ravishing Miss Harriet Fields counts her blessings for being the governess of the kind Duke of Wistow’s lovely grandchildren. Her devotion and close relationship with the kids have made her feel like a part of the family, however, soon her life is about to be shaken forever. After the Duke’s death, Harriet will unexpectedly find herself at the mercy of her new wicked employer.
If only Harriet knew what fate would bring along with the arrival of the new Duke of Wistow…
The untamed nature of Thomas Crowley is about to be confined, when he receives a letter to inherit the title of his distant cousin, the Duke of Wistow. As a son of a small business’ owner he grew up to be a passionate man who enjoyed living his life with his own rules. Now, confronted with an unprecedented challenge he will struggle to fill in his new noble position.
Will his encounter with the fiery governess help him find his way through, or will his unbridled desire for her risk his reputation once and for all?
Thrown at opposite ends of the household, Thomas and Harriet must learn their new places in the world or be forced to make a new path of their own. Soon enough, their flaming passion will have to face a devilish Lady’s plans, who craves to burn their love into ashes. Will they let her ruin their sizzling affair? Will they manage to defy society’s rules and unleash their burning emotions for a chance of a common future together?
“A Governess’ Sinful Kiss” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.