About the book
He told her he loved her. But now she must die…
Her mother's passing affected Lady Alice Softcreek in more ways than one. After witnessing her father wither in grief, she's vowed never to fall in love and suffer a similar fate.
Rumor has it that William Millington, the Marquess of Eearhum, is a heartbreaker unlike any other. He is also very much against taking responsibility for any of the broken hearts he's left in his wake. Until the day he meets a lady who seems completely unaffected by his charms.
Magnetic and irresistible, the attraction between them pulls them closer to each other. And to their own damnation. A note promising another stolen moment with William lures Alice outside at night. Only, the face she sees starring back is that of a nightmare.
“My Lady, I believe it is time for you to begin getting ready.”
Alice looked over her shoulder at her lady’s maid. The girl, Nancy, stood by the door of the library, her hands clasped before her. Being quite the timid one, she always lowered her gaze to the floor whenever she was speaking, so Alice could not see her soft-blue eyes nor her downturned lips. Her mousy hair was tucked under a cap that matched her simple grey dress.
Alice sighed. She’d just withdrawn a poetry book from the shelf, but returned it to its position with some reluctance. Dread tightening her limbs, she turned to her lady’s maid. “Is it that time already?”
Nancy raised her head for a brief moment before she nodded. She began to fiddle nervously with her fingers. “I am afraid so, My Lady.”
It was all Alice could do not to sigh again. She’d been dreading this moment ever since her father announced his plans this morning at breakfast. She’d even taken to trying to distract herself from what was to come, but it appeared she’d lost her chance to hide away in the library. This morning’s meeting would not disappear, no matter how much Alice wished it would.
She made her way to Nancy’s side, softening the displeased expression that had come over her face. Nancy had been her lady’s maid for a few years now and Alice had learned how to make the feeble girl as comfortable as possible.
“Very well,” she said to her. “I suppose there is no use staying here. Let us go then.”
Nancy glanced up briefly before nodding and turning out of the room. She waited until Alice had exited to fall in step behind her as they headed down the hallway, making their way back to Alice’s room. Usually, whenever they were together, Alice liked to make small talk. She would ask Nancy about her family, the aunt and many cousins she had in the countryside, and if her day was going well. Today, Alice couldn’t find the energy. Her mind was only focused on one thing—the dreaded guests who would be coming to Warington Manor in short order.
She could still remember the look on her father’s face when he’d announced that he would receive two new guests later in the morning. There had been excitement in his voice, trembling throughout his broad frame as he gushed about the Marquess of Erlington and his brother. They would be staying as guests at Warington Manor for a little while, in light of the ball they would be attending hosted by the Earl of Brownley.
Alice knew there was only one reason for her father’s excitement. She hadn’t missed the way he’d looked at her during breakfast, the insinuation in his voice when he’d asked that she and her sister get along with their guests. She was no stranger to his underlying wishes that she would be married soon. Without a doubt, her father was hoping Alice would accept one of the guests as her suitor.
Dear, dear Father, your hopes will all be for naught. I shan’t marry a soul until the day I die.
Conviction mounted within her at the thought. Her father’s true motives would not bear fruit if she had anything to do with it.
Arriving at her bedchamber, Nancy instantly made for Alice’s armoire while Alice went to stand by the balcony doors. A gentle breeze wafted inside, calming her tense nerves. She gazed out at the lush greenery that bordered this side of Warington Manor, considering they were located on the very outskirts of London. All of a sudden, she wished she could saddle her horse and rush off into the distance, if only to escape the responsibilities that awaited her.
But I cannot leave Emma on her own. Perhaps, if I did not have to worry about her, I would have found the courage to do just that.
“My Lady?” Alice turned at Nancy’s voice and saw her holding up two gowns—one a silvery blue and the other a sunflower yellow. Nancy didn’t say anything else, her question obvious.
Alice didn’t care what she wore. She pointed absently at the blue dress. “That looks lovely,” she murmured noncommittally.
Nancy hurried to return the yellow dress to the armoire and laid the blue dress on the bed. Alice, in the meantime, made her way to the vanity table and sat. She stared at herself for a few moments, resisting the overwhelming urge to release another sigh.
“Lady Alice,” came Nancy’s soft voice behind her. Her slender fingers began pulling the pins from Alice’s hair. “Is something the matter? You seem to be quite distressed.”
Alice blinked in surprise. “I’m surprised you asked, Nancy,” she said honestly.
In the mirror, Alice saw Nancy’s cheeks go bright red. She was a lovely girl, when she cared to lift her head. “Forgive me, My Lady,” Nancy said in a trembling voice. “I did not mean to overstep my place.”
With the pins removed, Alice’s black hair tumbled past her shoulders. Nancy, though a very timid girl, was quite skilled with her hands. “When did we first meet, Nancy?” Alice asked, watching the girl as she reached for the brush on the vanity table and began running it through her hair.
“I…I believe it was a month before your first Season, My Lady.”
“Yes, I think so, as well. That would make it four years or so that we’ve known each other, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, My Lady.”
“In those four years, have I ever been unkind to you?”
Nancy’s hand stilled, her eyes growing wide as saucers. “Of course not, My Lady! You’ve been the very epitome of grace and compassion. I have never felt wronged by a single thing you’ve said to me in the time I’ve known you.”
That made Alice smile. It was nice to know that Nancy could become quite passionate when it meant defending her honor. “Then I would like to think that we’re are close enough, after all this time, that you can ask me if I am not feeling well,” Alice explained in a kind voice. “So, there is no need for you to apologize. I appreciate your concern.”
Nancy hung her head again, but Alice caught a hint of her smile. She went on, “To answer your question, no. I am not feeling very well, though I am more bothered mentally than I am physically.”
“May I ask what the reason is, My Lady?”
Alice let loose the sigh that had been building within her. “I am not looking forward to these guests, but I suppose I can do nothing but go along with my father’s plans. There is not much I can say against it, anyway.”
“Perhaps His Grace may suspend the arrival of these guests if you voice your concerns, My Lady?” Nancy suggested in a somewhat bold tone of voice.
Though impressed by her suggestion, Alice knew it would be fruitless. “I cannot do that. It would not only be quite impolite, but will reflect badly on my Father. I have no choice but to go along with his plans.”
Nancy’s brow furrowed. Her hands didn’t stop moving, her fingers deftly picking up Alice’s long strands of hair and twisting them into a stylish updo. Alice watched her for a moment, noticing that it looked as if Nancy was thinking hard. It warmed her heart to see but it didn’t chase away the cold needles of dread that had been rooted within her ever since her father’s announcement.
The Dukedom of Warington needed someone who’d be able to inherit the duties once her father passed away. But above all, the first daughter of the Duke needed to be married. To cast aside the threat of spinsterhood and find a suitable husband that would bring along the next heir. Her father wanted Alice to be happy, but he didn’t seem to understand that she’d only be happy if she was alone.
After her first two Seasons, he’d stopped pushing her to be married. After countless marriage proposals declined, she’d thought that the Duke had grown used to the thought of Alice never being married, and would focus his attention on Emma instead. After all, Emma truly wished to settle down happily and Alice wanted nothing more than for her sister to be happy.
It appeared, however, that the Duke was not ready to give up on Alice. She’d play along with him, for now.
Alice engaged Nancy in simple conversation as she continued to get ready, hoping to distract herself from what was soon to come. They spoke about Nancy’s family, about the letter she’d received earlier in the week regarding her cousin’s intention to come to London. It made for good distracting conversation and, for the first time in four years, Alice saw Nancy truly relax around her.
But, within half an hour, Alice was dressed and ready to leave her bedchamber. She could no longer escape her reality by listening to Nancy’s stories and so she parted ways with the maid, leaving her behind to begin her duties of cleaning up the bedchamber. Alice made her way to Emma’s room instead.
Emma’s bedchamber was located only one hallway away from Alice’s. Alice approached her door, finding it ajar. When she pushed inside, she saw that Emma was standing by her armoire, in nothing but her undergarments.
A sharp pang of sisterly love and protectiveness rushed through Alice at once. Ten years ago, their mother had passed away due to a sudden illness, and had left a thirteen-year-old Alice to care for her sister. Though their father had still been present, Alice had spent the next ten years trying to replace the motherly influence Emma would lack in her life.
Alice slid inside and made her way to the ottoman, sitting down. She tilted her head at her sister and her lady’s maid, who hadn’t noticed Alice’s entrance.
“A thief could waltz in here and take whatever he wishes and neither one of you would be any wiser,” Alice drawled.
Her words startled the lady’s maid—Hellen, she believed her name was—and she jumped halfway off the ground with a gasp, her hand flying to her chest. Emma’s reaction was far tamer, simply looking over at Alice with a broad smile as if she’d known she had been sitting there all this time.
“Alice!” she exclaimed. “It is a good thing you’ve come. Help me choose what dress I should wear to greet our guests.”
“You’ll look wonderful in anything you put on,” Alice told her.
“Are you simply saying that because we look so much alike?” Emma asked, narrowing her eyes.
Alice chuckled at that. It was true they looked very similar. In fact, for a while their own father had a difficult time telling the two apart. Emma had suggested once that she cut her black hair short, but considering she usually had it tucked under a bonnet or pinned up into a updo, she’d decided against it.
“While I am very tempted to say that is the case,” Alice told her, “I must admit that that was not what I meant. But,” she studied the dresses in question, held by a quiet Hellen and pointed to the pink one, “that color will surely bring out the rosiness of your cheeks.”
“Of course!” Emma tapped herself on the forehead as if she couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of that first. “Yes, I will choose the pink one. Thank you, Alice.”
“Always here to help.” Alice watched, amused, as her spirited sister basically pranced away from the armoire alongside Hellen. She held her arms out beside her as if that would help Hellen guide her into the dress any better.
“You are aware that you are late, correct?” Alice asked after a moment.
“Oh, am I?” Emma looked over at her, surprised. “But the guests have not arrived as yet.”
“They all be arriving at any minute, though. I have no doubt Father is pacing the drawing room wondering if you will make it downstairs on time.”
“He knows that you’re a stickler for time and will not allow that to happen.” Emma waved her hand in a carefree manner. It was one of the things she liked the most about her sister, even though her tendency to give complete disregard to time could be viewed as a fatal flaw.
“Perhaps not this time,” Alice told her. “If anything, Father may have more cause for concern regarding me than he does you.”
Emma turned around as Hellen began to adjust the back of the dress. Just as she predicted, the pink dress brought out Emma’s rosy cheeks and large green eyes, passed down in a long line of Softcreek ladies. “Is this about the Earl of Vilmount’s marriage proposal you turned down just recently?”
“I believe so,” Alice admitted.
“Oh, heavens, that was months ago.” Again, Emma waved her hand in a dismissive manner. “Certainly, Father has gotten over that disappointment by now.”
“On the contrary, my dear Sister, I believe he’s only grown more concerned that I will not be married. You heard him during breakfast this morning. He could not have made it any more obvious that he wishes for me to grow close to one of the guests so as to secure another proposal.”
“And what shall he do if you dare to turn it down again? Securing a proposal is not an issue, I believe. With your beauty, I believe even married gentlemen will be willing to ask for your hand in marriage.”
Alice laughed at that. “Please, do not dare to say such a thing before Father nor our guests.”
“I am bold but not foolish,” Emma said with her own giggle. “But I say that to tell you that Father can try all that he’d like, but if you do not want to be married then there is nothing he can do. Unless you are afraid he might disown you, which is as likely as the sun and the moon crossing paths, then I would not worry overmuch.”
With the dress finally fitted into place, Emma sat her vanity table and proceeded to look through her jewelry box. Alice hadn’t cared to wear any jewelry save for the simple pearl drop necklace her mother had left behind.
Leave it to Emma to make a serious situation worth nothing more than a grain of salt. Alice felt all the weight on her shoulders lift instantly.
“That being said,” Emma twisted her head around to look at Alice, forcing Hellen to shift her position in order to snap the necklace into place, “what do you think our guests will look like?”
“Like men, I believe,” Alice responded uninterestedly.
“Oh, you can be such a bore sometimes,” Emma sighed. Now that her jewelry was on, Hellen stepped away and Emma turned around to face Alice fully. “What I meant, dear Sister, is do you think they will be handsome? They are brothers, after all. If one is handsome, then it is likely that they both are.”
“I’m afraid I could not care less if they are,” Alice told her honestly.
“You might say differently when you actually see them. I’ve heard of the Marquess of Erlington before. Rumor has it, he is quite handsome and quite the heartbreaker.”
Had she been around anyone else, Alice would have thought twice before scowling. “A heartbreaker? That does not sound like the sort of person I’d like to be around at all.”
“Apparently, he’s flirted and courted many ladies before, but has never entertained the thought of marriage with any of them. In fact, he always moves on to the next without extending a proposal. Now, mind you, I am not sure how much of the rumors are true, but if he is truly as handsome as they say, then I wouldn’t be surprised if it is.” Emma sighed dreamily, resting her hand against her cheek. “What do you think it would be like to be charmed by a gentleman like him?”
Alice narrowed her eyes at Emma. There was only a three-year age difference between them, which had turned Alice into a cynical lady who despised the thought of marriage, and had turned Emma into quite the opposite. Her dear sister was a hopeless romantic at heart, longing for the day she would one day fall in love with a dashing gentleman and begin a family of her own.
Alice wanted her sister to be happy. In fact, she would give up everything she owned to ensure that Emma was safe and had everything she needed. Her protectiveness surged when she saw the spark of excitement in her sister’s green eyes. “Surely, you aren’t thinking of entertaining such behavior, Emma?”
“Me?” Emma asked with wide, innocent eyes. It had fooled Alice when they were younger, but it wouldn’t fool her this time. “Why, what would give you that impression?”
“There are stars in your eyes.” Alice leaned closer, narrowing her own eyes in scrutiny.
Emma huffed a laugh, shaking her head. “You do not need to worry so much, Alice. I am only curious about them. In fact, I am more curious about the Marquess’ brother. Do you think he is anything like the Marquess?”
Alice didn’t get the chance to respond when there came a knock on the door. Nancy peeked her head in, looking first at Alice then Emma before she said, “Please forgive the intrusion, My Ladies. The guests have arrived.”
“Oh, yes, finally!” Emma shot to her feet, clapping her hands excitedly. Alice stood as if rocks were weighing her down. She trailed behind her sister, who rushed out of the room and looked back impatiently at Alice. Once in the hallway, Emma tucked her arm into Alice’s and began to lead her in the direction of the grand staircase.
Alice’s mind was still on what Emma had said about the Marquess of Erlington. The fact that her father was planning on inviting a rake into his home, not so subtly hoping that Alice would catch the eye of either him or his brother, did not sit well with her. It bothered her even more knowing that there was as likely a chance that this gentleman might set his sights on her sister. She wouldn’t allow anyone to hurt Emma.
I already know that I will not like them. Oh, goodness, please let the next few weeks of their stay go by quickly so that I can put this entire thing behind me.
Emma chattered excitedly in her ear during their trek to the foyer and upon reaching the grand staircase, she fell silent when they looked down and spotted their father. The Duke of Warington stood in the center of the wide space, rising from a bow. Alice caught the end of a wide smile and sighed inwardly at what was to come.
But when they drew closer, she could no longer remember why.
Two men stood opposite the Duke, closer to the front entrance of the manor. They were both tall, almost equal in height, but the similarities ended there. One of them had light-colored hair, either blond or sandy brown—though Alice couldn’t see well from the distance. He had a kind smile and happy disposition that instantly marked him as trustworthy.
And the other…he was quite literally the most beautiful man Alice had ever laid eyes on. His hair was dark, nearly as dark as her own, which was cut Titus-style. He had a sharp jaw that smoothed out into a rounded chin, bearing a wide smile. A deep dimple sunk into his left cheek, giving him a boyish charm that made her heart thud.
Alice didn’t realize she was coming closer, that an excited Emma was pulling her down the steps. She tore her eyes away from the beautiful gentleman standing in her foyer, but realized soon enough that she couldn’t manage that for long. Upon reaching her father’s side, she looked back up at him, seeing that he had hooded eyes the color of the blue sky.
“Ah, here they are!” the Duke of Warington exclaimed at the sight of his daughters. “Please, Girls, allow me to introduce you to the guests that will be staying with us.”
The beautiful man looked at them both, and his charming smile widened when his eyes landed on Alice. He bent into a bow, murmuring the words that made Alice’s heart sink, “Greetings, My Ladies. My name is William Millington, the Marquess of Erlington.”
Warington Manor was quite an extravagant-looking manor, with a stiff-lipped butler and yards of land space stretched out behind it. Considering it was far roomier than the London townhouses, William already knew he would be as comfortable staying here as he would be at Erlington Manor.
Seeing the lovely ladies who would be keeping his company made that even more so.
He watched as they descended the stairs, feeling a tremor of excitement that he hadn’t felt in a long time. He’d known of them before, the daughters of the Duke of Warington. At first glance, they appeared to be twins, but as they drew closer, he could see that one of them looked a bit older than the other. Though, he couldn’t help but wonder if it had anything to do with that odd look in her eyes.
She was studying him. He was quite used to the eyes of other ladies and so he wasn’t surprised to find that he’d already fallen subject to their infatuation. He concentrated instead on the Duke, who didn’t notice his daughters’ approach until they were standing right next to him.
“Ah, here they are!” the Duke exclaimed. “Please, Girls, allow me to introduce you to the guests that will be staying with us.”
William finally let himself look at the Warington ladies. The younger one slid her arm from her sister’s, clasping her hands before her as she tried to hide her smile. And the older one…she stared at William as if she couldn’t believe what was before her.
Another victim to my devastating looks, it seems. I would find it quite a burden, but perhaps she will prove to be quite the entertainment while I am here.
William bowed deeply, smiling at the sisters. “Greetings, Lady Alice, Lady Emma. My name is William Millington, the Marquess of Erlington.” He straightened, looking over at the man who stood by his side. “And this is my brother, Christopher.”
“It is a pleasure, My Ladies,” Christopher greeted. Unlike William, he was far more willing to be on his best behavior and only offered the Duke and his daughters a reserved, yet polite smile.
“The pleasure is mine.” William looked back at the younger sister. She dipped into a graceful curtsy, looking at both William and Christopher. Her eyes lingered on the latter for a second longer than it should have. “My name is Lady Emma Softcreek and I am pleased to have you here with us.”
At the same time, both Emma and the Duke looked at the remaining sister. William turned his attention to her, expecting to see her as dumbstruck by his handsomeness as she’d been before. But there was none of that. Her eyes remained on him, but they were as cold as blocks of ice. She lowered into a curtsy, saying, “Pleased to meet you, My Lords. I am Lady Alice Softcreek, my Father’s eldest daughter. I pray your stay here is a good one.”
Her words were polite, but distant. When she straightened, her eyes slid away from William, to Christopher, then off to the side as if she didn’t care for them any longer. William didn’t know whether to be surprised or amused.
The Duke stepped into the silence that followed his daughter’s greeting. “Please,” he said, “let us move to the drawing room so you two may get settled. I shall have a maid bring us tea, though it is a bit early for it.”
The Duke led the way and they all fell in step behind him. William didn’t miss the reluctance with which Lady Alice moved, and a smile itched at his lips. How interesting.
The main drawing room was not very far from the foyer and they arrived in no time. As he promised, tea had been prepared and the Duke gestured for them to sit.
William and Christopher chose arm chairs near each other. The ladies opted to sit opposite of them, on a plush sofa. As soon as he was settled, William watched as Lady Alice reached for her cup of tea, turning her body slightly away as if she didn’t plan on joining in on the conversation that would ensue.
“Tell me, My Lords,” the Duke began conversationally. “How did you fare on the trip to London?”
“It was as long and as uneventful as we’d expected, Your Grace,” Christopher responded. “Even so, considering it had taken half a day’s ride for us to arrive, I am afraid I find myself quite drained.”
“As do I,” William interjected. “Well, as drained as you can be sitting in a carriage with nothing but your brother as company.”
“You say that as if you do not long for such company,” Christopher responded with ease.
William gave him a grin. “I cannot seem to get enough of it.”
As he’d expected, Christopher grimaced at William’s sappy response for a brief moment before he seemed to remember where he was and wiped the expression from his face. Teasing Christopher was one of William’s happiest pastimes, even despite the seven-year age difference between them. That, and courting ladies who caught his fancy.
Right now, Lady Alice seemed quite interesting.
She was quite the beauty, one that seem bolstered by the coldness radiating from her. She sipped her tea silently, gazing out the window to the left of the room. Tendrils of black hair framed her heart-shaped face, the same black hair that both her sister and her father shared. In fact, the similarities within the family were so striking, it was almost uncanny. But Lady Alice did not possess the affable air the rest of her family did.
William reclined in the armchair, resisting the urge to stare. Her complete disregard of him was…interesting, to say the least.
“I take it, My Lords, that you are looking forward to Lord Brownley’s upcoming ball?” Lady Emma asked. Unlike her sister, she seemed quite eager to get to know them a bit better.
“Lord Brownley has been in good relations with our Father,” Christopher responded. “I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him myself, so in that regard I am looking forward to it.”
“I, on the other hand, am simply hoping the Earl’s ball will help relieve my worries,” William responded, looking away from Lady Alice.
“Worries?” Lady Emma probed, curiosity lighting her eyes. “What, may I ask, worries you so?”
“Pressures from ladies to be married, for one,” he responded honestly, glancing at Lady Alice to see her reaction. To his pleasure, she paused in the act of lifting her teacup to her lips and barely contained her scowl.
“Oh, I see,” Lady Emma responded. “Well, considering it will be a few days before the ball takes place, perhaps your stay here will aid in relieving your stress.”
“Yes.” William settled his gaze on Lady Alice. As if she sensed the weight of his eyes, she looked at him, eyes narrowing ever so slightly. He nearly smiled. “I believe it will.”
He held her gaze for a few moments before he looked at the Duke, already coming to a stand. “Thank you for the moment’s rest, Your Grace, but I believe I shall retire to my bedchamber for a short nap.”
“As shall I, Your Grace,” Christopher said, standing alongside him. “Thank you for your kind welcome thus far.”
“Think nothing of it, My Lords,” the Duke responded. To be polite, William suspected, he too stood and offered to lead them out the drawing room. Christopher accepted and bowed kindly at the ladies before taking his leave. William didn’t miss the way his brother’s eyes lingered on Lady Emma, nor did he miss how she blushed.
Lady Alice, on the other hand, was ignoring their retreat. She barely managed a nod at Christopher before he made his way to the door. William hesitated for a moment but she didn’t look at him, as if he was nothing more than fly that didn’t deserve her attention.
With a grin, he nodded his farewell to Lady Emma and followed behind his brother. Just as he was about to slip through the door, he heard Lady Emma whisper behind him, “They are certainly handsome, aren’t they?”
William’s grin widened but he left the room before he could hear Lady Alice’s response.
“I do not like the Marquess,” Alice stated. Emma gasped at Alice’s words and she looked at her sister, taking in her shocked expression. “Surely that should not come as a surprise to you.”
“It does!” Emma exclaimed. “Did you not see how handsome he is? Why, he might very well be the most beautiful man in all of England.”
“Beauty he may have, but he has a degree of arrogance that makes him quite unlikable.” Alice needed only think on the look he gave her, the way he raked his gaze down the length of her, and the cocky smirk that always seemed to be present. Annoyance sprouted in her at the thought of the Marquess and she could already tell having him here would not be an enjoyable time.
“It seems as if Lord Erlington thinks differently,” Emma murmured. She raised her brows at Alice, her tone suggestive.
“What do you mean by that?” Alice asked, even though she could already guess.
“I didn’t miss the way the Marquess looked at you, you know,” Emma explained. “It seems as if he’s taken quite a liking to you. He could not stop staring at you the entire time we sat for tea, as short as it might have been.”
Alice resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Unfortunately, Emma, I could not care less.”
“Heavens, with that attitude, it is not wonder Father is so concerned.”
“He need not be. Even if I was open to the idea of marriage, I certainly will not entertain it with someone with such a reputation for breaking ladies’ hearts.”
“You know,” Emma teased, her voice lifting good naturedly, “the same could be said about the cold maiden who has turned down every gentleman who has asked for her hand.”
“The difference is, I did not lead them to think that I was interested in the first place,” Alice explained, even though she knew her sister was only poking fun at her. She didn’t know why she was clarifying her situation, why she was trying so hard to distract herself from what Emma had said about the Marquess staring at her. “It is their own hubris that led to them asking for my hand when I have given them no indication that I wanted to be married to them.”
Emma shook her head with a soft smile, taking Alice’s hand in hers. She stroked Alice’s hand, the same way the late Duchess would do whenever Alice felt down. Alice didn’t think Emma even realized that she’d adopted the habit from their deceased mother, but she took comfort in the act all the same. “My poor Alice,” Emma cooed gently. “It must be quite difficult being in your position.”
“You cannot even begin to imagine,” Alice sighed, playing along. The girls laughed together at that, but it was cut short when someone entered the room.
The Duke of Warington stalked into the drawing room and reclaimed the seat he’d vacated. He looked a tad bit distressed, rubbing the crease between his dark brows. “Alice…” he began.
“I think I will take my leave,” Emma said quickly, rising. She patted Alice once more on her hand before she hurried out the door.
Alice braced herself for what was to come. She knew very well that her behavior had been far too aloof for her father’s liking and she waited, tensed, for the lecture that was to come.
The Duke ran his hand through his hair in an agitated manner. Alice watched as he tried to find his first words, his green eyes leveling on her. “I think you made quite the impression on the Marquess and his brother.”
“I think so as well,” she agreed without hesitation.
“Certainly not the impression I would have liked you to make,” he went on with a weary sigh, “but an impression all the same. I had hoped you would be able to at least hide your displeasure, even if you did not speak much.”
“Whatever do you mean, Father?” Alice tilted her head to the side, blinking innocently. “I believe I did exactly what was expected of me. Unless there was something else you would have liked to happen? Perhaps you would have liked if I had offered to show them around the manor, so that we could all get to know each other a little better?”
“That was exactly what I was thinking!” the Duke exclaimed, sitting up in his chair in an exaggerated manner. He was quite expressive, something Alice loved dearly about him, even if it bothered her right now.
“Forgive me, Father, but I see no reason to do such a thing. I’m certain Emma would be more than willing to do so, however.”
“Emma is not the one who needs to.”
“But I do?” Alice tried to tamper the frustration growing in her as she looked at her father. “Why don’t you simply come out and say what your true plan is, Father? You know I dislike having to beat around the bush.”
“I have no other plans but to strengthen the good relations between the Marquess’ family and ours.”
“Strengthen through good hospitality, Father? Or through marriage?”
The Duke tightened his lips and looked away. “You know it is what’s best for you, Alice. I simply cannot understand why you are so against it.”
Her cheeks flushed with heat as her frustration that began to mount to anger. Of course, her father would not understand. He had not been in the position of a thirteen-year-old girl watching as sadness overtook her father following the passing of his wife. He did not watch as dark clouds crowded the hallways of Warington Manor nor saw how she’d been forced to step in as mother to a young Emma who could barely process her mother’s death. He had not watched helpless as he tried to piece himself back together, but still suffered constantly even years following the late Duchess’ death.
Alice had seen it all. Sometimes, it felt as if she’d suffered the most. In those years, she’d lost both parents. One had been buried and the other roamed the hallways like a forlorn ghost who could not find its place to rest. She’d tried to pretend she was fine, to make sure that Emma did not have to suffer as much as she had, and it had left her with a cynical view of love and marriage. But underneath it all, Alice knew she was simply too afraid to give her heart to someone and open herself up to that kind of pain.
All those words rushed to the tip of her tongue and in the heat of the moment, she nearly said it all. She swallowed them instead, tampering the unreasonable anger until she felt more like herself again. After taking a few deep breaths, she looked at her father.
He only wanted the best for her. She knew that. After he’d come back to himself, he’d worked tirelessly to ensure that he was the father they needed him to be and Alice had learned to forgive him for his time of neglect. Right now, she tried to remind herself that it was simply because he loved her that he was pushing her like this.
“I have told you before, Father, and I shall say it again. I do not wish to be married and every proposal that comes my way shall be turned down. So you do not need to hope for me to accept the Marquess or Lord Christopher as a suitor. It won’t happen.”
Now it was the Duke’s frustration that grew to anger. “Alice—”
“However,” she continued. “I shall try my utmost best to be as cordial a host to our guest as I can be. I hope you can be content with that.”
With that said, Alice rose and respectfully bowed her head to her father before turning to leave. She knew she might regret those words later, that letting her disgruntlement get the best of her was likely not her best moment. But she’d already spoken her piece and now it was up to her father to decide whether to listen to it.
Before she reached the door, the Duke said, “Your mother would have wanted differently, Alice.”
Pain lanced through her at the memory of her dear mother. With a beauty that knew no bounds, and a heart that was large enough to accept anyone she met. Her father was right. Her mother, as kind as she was, would have wanted Alice to find the love she herself had found in the Duke.
“Perhaps,” Alice agreed, keeping her blurring eyes on the door ahead of her, “but I have never been as strong as Mother was.”
With that said, Alice left the room, leaving her father staring after her.
Alas, Alice didn’t get to wallow in her room for as long as she’d hoped. Only an hour since she’d gone to her chambers, hoping to distract herself from the sad memories of her deceased mother with a copy of one of Lord Byron’s publications, Nancy came to inform her of her father’s request that she join them for lunch.
And by them, Alice knew that would inevitably include their new guests.
The fact that she would have to be in the presence of Lord Erlington soon made her reluctant to go. So reluctant in fact that when she arrived at the dining room, she found that they were all present and waiting for her.
Even though she’d told her father that she’d try to be as cordial as she possibly could, irritation mounted in her the moment she laid eyes on the Marquess. He claimed his seat with such a laidback posture, looking right at home, that her irritation threatened to rise and choke her. He didn’t look away when he caught her eyes, only lifted the side of his lips into a small smirk.
He must think me to be quite smitten by his looks. Heavens, rakes are most certainly the most infuriating of all English gentlemen.
Alice tried to maintain her composure as she made her way to her seat next to Emma. “Pardon me for being late,” she murmured, mostly to her father and sister.
The Duke slid into the silence instantly. “Lord Erlington, Lord Christopher, I pray you settled in well?”
“Yes, everything went quite well by way of unpacking,” Christopher said with a nod. Alice watched him as he spoke. He was far tamer than his brother, certainly not as arrogant. Perhaps, had there not been any pressure from her father, she might not be so turned against him.
“And you, My Lord?” the Duke probed, looking at William.
Alice didn’t dare to look at him, not wanting to chance meeting his eyes. She focused instead on the cucumber sandwich before her, cutting into it with her knife.
“Though I’d thought to retire to my chambers for a short rest,” Lord Erlington said, his low baritone trembling throughout the room. Or perhaps it was trembling throughout Alice alone. She couldn’t be certain, “I was far too excited to actually fall asleep. You have quite an impressive estate, Your Grace, I must say.”
“Are you interested in landscapes, My Lord?” Emma asked by Alice’s side.
Alice glanced up in time to see Lord Erlington slide his sky-blue eyes over to her with a nod. “Among other things, Lady Emma.”
I certainly did not like the way he said that. Does he mean courting ladies? Is that another one of his interests? Certainly he doesn’t have his eyes set on Emma?
Alice gripped the utensils in her hand a bit tighter but held her tongue.
Lord Christopher spoke next. “My brother has always been interested in properties, so I’m not surprised that he has taken an interest in your Manor, Your Grace. It is quite majestic. I myself was interested on going for a bit of a tour.”
“Is that so?” The Duke’s voice sounded intrigued. Alice could already feel her father’s eyes on her. She stubbornly ignored it. “I’m sure one of my daughters would be eager to conduct that tour for you, Lord Christopher.”
Father is nothing if not persistent, I suppose. Alice was contemplating whether she should give in to his subtle suggestion but Emma spoke before she could. “I would love to be your guide, Lord Christopher.” Her voice was high, filled with eagerness. “You need only say when you are available.”
“That would be greatly appreciated, Lady Emma,” Lord Christopher said with a soft smile. “Thank you.”
“What say you all go on a walk through the gardens beforehand?” the Duke suggested. Alice’s brief moment of relief disappeared. Once again, her father was trying to find ways to push her into the brothers’ company. “Would that suit you, Lord Erlington? Considering you are an avid surveyor of land, I believe our gardens will suit you just as much as the Manor has.”
“I believe so as well, My Lord,” Lord Erlington responded. Alice couldn’t resist looking at him, even though every thought in her mind told her not to. The moment her eyes came to rest on his devastatingly beautiful features, catching sight of that dimple and his infernal smirk, she regretted her actions. He wasn’t looking at her, but at Emma.
“Will you be conducting this tour of the gardens as well, Lady Emma?” he asked her. Alice narrowed her eyes.
“If you’d like, My Lord, I could certainly do so,” Emma answered. “In fact, I think my love for flowers would make me the best option for showing you and Lord Christopher around. My sister, I am afraid, doesn’t really care for them.”
“They are colorful things growing from the earth,” Alice could not help but say. “I cannot fathom what is so interesting about them.”
Emma only shook her head and looked at the Millington brothers as if to prove her point. Both brothers smiled, but Alice’s attention was focused on the skirt-chaser who was looking at her sister with a glimmer in his eyes.
“That is too bad,” Lord Erlington drawled, shifting his gaze to Alice. Her heart skipped a beat but she ignored the reaction, not looking away from him. “Then I suppose Lady Alice will not be willing to join us on our walk.”
“I never said I would not want to join you,” Alice stated, cutting into her father’s protest. She met the Marquess’ eyes, seeing the challenge there. Though she wasn’t certain what exactly he was trying to challenge her for, she rose to the occasion. “Though I take no interest in flora, I think a walk through the gardens would serve me as well. It would certainly allow me to get to know you and Lord Christopher, My Lord.”
Lord Erlington raised a single brow. Not for a moment did his smile falter, as if everything she said and did amused him. “I’m happy to hear that, Lady Alice. It would not feel right without you there.”
Now what in God’s name does that mean?
Alice could sense her sister and father’s surprise at her acceptance. Without a doubt, her father was most certainly thinking that she might be coming around after their talk earlier. But Alice couldn’t care less about getting to know them. The thought of Lord Erlington setting his sights on Emma was what had spurred her on. The last thing Alice wanted was for her trusting sister to fall for such a heartbreaker.
The very same heartbreaker who made her heart race with every look. Annoyed with herself, Alice fell back into her silence, trying to pull herself back together. She didn’t dare to look back at him and, as if pleased by her acceptance to join them on their walk, the Duke didn’t care to pull her into the conversation that ensued. It went on without her, Emma spurring it on with simple questions that were polite enough to be asked of strangers.
The mealtime seemed to go on forever and for the rest of the time, Alice wished that it could be over. Sitting across from the Marquess of Erlington made her feel quite unlike herself. Though she was quiet, though she contributed very little to what was being said, somehow, it felt as if Lord Erlington had not forgotten her at all.
Soon enough, the time came for them to go on the walk and Emma asked the brothers to give them some time while they fetched their bonnets. Her excitement from earlier had not diminished in the slightest. If anything, she appeared to be even more eager to be in the presence of the brothers, which only made Alice nervous.
Once they were alone, on their way back to their bedchambers, Alice said, “I don’t think I have ever seen you this happy to have guests.”
“Can you blame me?” Emma sighed. “I cannot fathom how you’ve managed to hold your composure so well whenever you speak to Lord Erlington.”
Not as well as I would like. “The Marquess is nothing but a human being like you and me,” Alice told her wisely. “There is no reason to treat him as if he is.”
“I know, I know. There is no need to lecture me. After all, I do not think Lord Erlington has set his eyes on me.”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Oh, Heavens, this again?”
“Yes, I will not stop mentioning it until you see it yourself. He could not take his eyes off you the entire time we ate!”
“You are simply reading into things, Emma.”
“And you are being far too dense,” Emma countered easily. She grasped Alice’s arm as they made it to the hallway where they would have to part ways. “But it doesn’t matter, as you say. I’m only happy you didn’t let your dislike of the Marquess keep you from joining this walk with us. I will feel so much better if you are with us.”
“I know.” Alice squeezed her hand. “No one knows you better than I do, if you recall.”
“I cannot possibly forget.”
Emma gave her an enthusiastic grin as she slid her arm from Alice’s hold and turned to make her way down the hallway. Alice watched her go for a moment before she continued along her own path.
Lord Erlington’s easy smirk filtered into her mind, making Alice grimace. This walk was sure to be a bother, she knew, if the Marquess would be there. If his arrogance didn’t threaten to drive her mad, then his sly little comments she didn’t miss certainly would.
Whichever it was, Alice planned on blocking Emma from the brunt of it.
The Duke of Warington had returned to his office to finish writing important correspondence he planned on sending out before the end of the day. Which had left William and Christopher alone to wait for the ladies. After being led to the parlor by the butler, Christopher sank into an arm chair with a sigh while William made his way over to the sideboard to help himself to a drink.
He poured a glass of whiskey and was about to raise it to his lips when he caught the look his brother gave him. William lowered the glass, raising a brow in question. “Would you like a glass yourself?” he asked.
“No, I would not like a glass,” Christopher said wearily.
“Then why are you looking at me like that?” A twinge of amusement lit within William as he made his way over to his brother’s side. Christopher had always been quite a stickler, which would always result in them clashing when they were younger. Now that they were both adults living their own lives, they got along much better.
“I hope you are not planning on doing or saying anything inappropriate during our walk with the ladies?”
“Inappropriate?” William cocked his head to the side. “I do not know what you mean.”
“You know exactly what I mean,” Christopher sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Please be on your best behavior, William. I’ve taken a liking to Lady Emma and I do not want your actions to affect whether she accepts me as a suitor.”
“Lady Emma, you say?” William nodded approvingly. “She is quite lovely, and very good at making conversation. I’d always feared you would find yourself with a rather boring lady.”
“Yes, yes, I shan’t do or say anything that might embarrass you, Brother. I do not know why you would think I would.”
“Oh?” Christopher leaned back in his chair, propping one leg on the other. “Certainly you recall the string of broken hearts you left behind in London during your business trip a year ago? Or the many ladies who vie for your attention in the countryside?”
“How could I forget?” William responded easily. “Though to say I left them with broken hearts is quite unforgiving of you. I’d much rather you say that we parted ways in rather…unusual circumstances.”
“You led the ladies on and made them believe you would marry them.”
“Ah, yes.” William winced a little, hiding a smile. “I suppose that does sound quite bad.”
Christopher sighed again. “Surely you have not forgotten what Father said? If you do not put aside your ways, he will not leave you the Dukedom.”
William wasn’t likely to forget that any time soon. Their elderly father had spoken those profound words in a fit of anger, bothered by his son’s carefree attitude. At first, William hadn’t taken him seriously. But considering how much better suited Christopher was to become the Duke, he soon realized that he didn’t have much of a choice but to listen to him.
Losing the Dukedom was the last thing William wanted. He had plans he wanted to set in motion, ideas that he had to bring into fruition.
“Are you listening, William?” Christopher pushed. “You know I do not want to inherit the Dukedom. The only thing I wish to do is live a nice and quiet life.”
“With Lady Emma by your side,” William added as he with a wink. Christopher drew in a breath and William continued before his brother could let it out in another one of his burdened sighs. “Yes, yes, I have not forgotten what Father said. I shall cease the constant flirting with ladies and put down the habit of cards. But I cannot promise that I shan’t have a bit of fun of my own during our walk.”
Especially considering Lady Alice will be joining us. I can hardly wait.
As if brought by his thoughts, there came a knock on the door and the butler slid into the room upon receiving word that he could enter. He bowed before he said, “Pardon the intrusion, My Lords. Lady Alice and Lady Emma are ready to meet with you in the gardens.”
“Thank you,” Christopher told him, ever the polite one. He stood and looked at William. “Best behavior,” he reminded him.
William only gave Christopher a simple mocking salute. Wariness still in his eyes, Christopher turned to leave the parlor and William was right on his heels. The butler led the way until they were brought outside and spotted the two ladies waiting for them, a middle-aged maid standing by to act as chaperone.
Lady Emma struck quite the vision herself, but William only had eyes for Lady Alice. She wore a dark-blue bonnet, one that shielded nearly all of her face and greatly complemented the blue dress she wore. Upon their approach, William could only see a slice of her cheek and one eye, which slid discreetly toward them as they drew closer. He could already feel excitement mounting in him, eager to speak to the reserved lady again.
“Did we make you wait very long?” Lady Emma asked as soon as the gentlemen were before them. William watched, amused, as Lady Alice turned toward them with obvious reluctance. As soon as she did, her eyes met William’s. He raised his brows in question and she only looked away.
“Not at all, My Lady,” Christopher responded. It appeared both he and Lady Emma were unaware of the tension mounting between William and Lady Alice. “You look quite lovely, I must say.”
Lady Emma’s cheeks went red. “Thank you, My Lord. Now, shall we?”
She gestured to a stone path off to their left, leading them between a row of hedges. Christopher nodded and the two of them set of without getting a response from anyone else. William watched them go for a moment before he looked at Lady Alice, who was also staring after them.
Her face was not as guarded as it had been a moment ago as she stared after her sister. She seemed almost surprised. “Lady Alice?” William called.
In an instant, her expression fell and it felt as if a dozen walls had shot up between them. “Yes?” she asked, not looking at him.
William said nothing. He only stretched an arm toward the path and without saying another word, she followed behind her sister. William hid his smile, walking alongside her.
“Tell me, My Lady,” William began. “Have I said or done anything in the short time of knowing each other to offend you?”
Lady Alice’s head snapped toward him, her eyes narrowing to slits. “Pardon me?”
“It appears to me as if you do not like me,” he told her. She looked back ahead and he continued, “I must wonder what I might have said to bother you so. Normally, upon meeting someone new, they are usually quite eager to speak to me.”
“Thankfully, that does not apply to me.”
William winced, then smirked. It appeared Lady Alice did not plan on holding her thoughts at bay. “Does that mean I truly have offended you, My Lady?”
“It does not mean anything.” Like her expression, her words were cold enough to freeze him on the spot. “If you believe that I do not like you, My Lord, then perhaps you should take that as your sign.”
“To what? Leave you be?”
Her silence was her response.
William chuckled. “Even if that had been my plan before, it certainly cannot be now. You intrigue me, My Lady.”
“That is quite the pity since I am nothing of interest.”
“Oh, I beg to differ. You are quite the beauty, though I do not doubt you have heard that many times over. But in addition, you have quite the cold glare that could cut a gentleman in two.”
“I do not know what you mean, My Lord,” Lady Alice said in a tight voice. At least she was trying to be polite—somewhat. Had she truly cared to be rude, she would not have responded to him at all.
Either that, or she could not help walking right into an argument. He’d seen the way she’d met his eyes in the dining room earlier. It was quite clear that Lady Alice could not back down from a challenge.
“What can I do, My Lady, to make up for my wrongdoings?”
She was quiet for a moment. Lady Emma’s and Christopher’s voices filtered into the silence. Lady Emma was gushing about the dots of purple flowers they were now coming upon and Christopher…well, Christopher was staring at her as if she was the most fascinating thing on earth. Lady Alice seemed to be taking note of that as well and, for a moment, William thought she might truly ignore what he’d said.
“Do you truly want to know why I have not taken to you since your arrival, My Lord?” she asked, her voice oddly soft.
“I think it would certainly be a first step in building a long and wonderful friendship, yes.”
Her eyes flickered to him for a moment, annoyance sparking the lovely green color. “I am not a stranger to your reputation, Lord Erlington. You enjoy playing with the hearts of ladies and then leaving them on their own as if nothing happened. You must forgive me if I am reluctant to be associated with someone who is known for such behavior.”
For some reason, hearing of his reputation from her—with such barely contained disgust in her tone—bothered him. William tucked the feeling aside. “You should not listen to rumors, Lady Alice. I may very well be more than what meets the eye.”
This time, when she looked at him, it was with another glare. “Do you mean to tell me that those rumors are all baseless and untrue?”
“I mean to tell you that you should not let such predispositions stand in the way of what could be a wonderful friendship.” He grinned, unable to help himself. “My brother and I will be here for quite some time, My Lady. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be amicable with each other?”
The flash of anger that went across her face both surprised and amused him. “As it were, My Lord,” she said, her soft voice belying the fury he sensed smoldering within. “I cannot think of anything worse.”
Before he had the chance to respond, Lady Alice quickened her steps and left him behind, coming to her sister’s side. Lady Emma looked at her sister in surprise and, noting the barely-concealed anger on her face, she glanced back at William in curiosity.
William couldn’t take his eyes from Lady Alice. It was the first time any lady had not only rejected his advances, but went so far as to insult him as well. He couldn’t believe what he’d just heard and though he knew he should be upset by her words, it only made him want to talk to her even more. He was tempted to pull her back to his side, even if to continue their argument from before.
Lady Alice will most certainly make this stay entertaining.
He sauntered closer, preferring to stay behind where he could watch her to his heart’s content. From behind, she seemed to be fine, but whenever he made a sound, she would look to the side, glaring at him through her peripherals then look back in front. His mirth mounted.
“What do you think, My Lord?” Lady Emma asked, turning her frame to include William into the conversation. “Have our gardens met with your approval?”
They came to a stop at a gazebo and Lady Alice instantly went to sit on one of the benches. Her sister sat by her side. “Even more than I’d expected,” William responded with ease, not looking at Lady Alice. “Your family’s estate only serves to impress, My Lady, though I must apologize if it appears I am being overly analytical.”
“Oh, it is no bother at all, My Lord,” Lady Emma said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I am quite pleased to see how impressed you are by all this. I, for one, am quite fond of the gardens, so the pride I feel right now knows no bounds.”
“I am as impressed by your knowledge of the various plants and flowers, Lady Emma,” Christopher cut in. He was standing opposite of Lady Emma, closer to William. It looked as if he wanted so badly to bridge the distance.
Lady Emma giggled behind her hand. “Please, My Lord, you flatter me. I’ve simply spent a lot of time outdoors, is all. It is nothing compared to the wealth of knowledge my sister possesses.”
William let his gaze drift over to Lady Alice once more, his lips quirking up into a smile. It came as no surprise that she ignored his eyes, but it did shock him to see her wave dismissively at her sister, saying, “There’s no need to talk about me.”
Lady Emma didn’t seem bothered by it. She only said, “She can be shy, sometimes.”
“Lady Alice does not strike me as the sort of lady who gets shy very often,” William interjected.
Lady Alice’s large eyes flickered to his, the barest twinge of derision clouding their emerald color. “I’m sure you’re aware that it is improper to make assumptions.”
“Yes, I am, My Lady. But the question is, are you?”
Her eyes narrowed just a tad, before she slid them away, dismissing him entirely. He’d said those words hoping to get a rise out of her, but something told him she wouldn’t be acknowledging his presence for the remainder of their time out here. Like a cold wall had been erected between them, William felt the chill of her aloofness, and the overwhelming urge to scale that wall—if only to see if there was any warmth to be found on the other side.
But he held his tongue, not taking his eye off her for a second. Lady Emma and Christopher resumed their conversation after a while, wisely not bothering to ask what they were talking about. After all, no amount of intellect was needed to notice the tension that existed between William and Lady Alice, even when both had fallen silent.
After a while, Lady Alice broke her silence, suggesting to her sister that they return to the Manor. Lady Emma appeared a bit dejected at that, but Christopher—being the gentleman that he was—agreed with Lady Alice. William didn’t care about much that was said between his brother and Lady Emma. He only watched as Lady Alice stood and began making her way back along the path they’d come from, bypassing the maid who stood as chaperone. He fell in step behind her, intrigued by every move she made.
“Lady Alice,” William called as they neared the Manor. She didn’t pause, didn’t even turn her head to the side in acknowledgement. She simply continued walking at a brisk, yet composed pace, as if he hadn’t spoken at all. Grinning, William walked a little quicker until he was by her side.
“I’d like to thank you for gracing my brother and I with your presence during this walk,” he went on, slowing his stride to match hers.
“Lord Christopher clearly did not need my presence at all,” Lady Alice said simply, her tone utterly unassuming.
“Ah, yes, he is rather preoccupied by your sister’s beauty,” William agreed, not missing when Lady Alice cut him a narrowed glare for a brief moment. “But,” he continued with a growing grin, “I found myself quite taken by you instead, even with the way you seem rather unimpressed by me.”
“Do you consider yourself a smart man, Lord Erlington?”
His brows lifted in surprise. “I do,” William answered warily.
“If you do, then perhaps you should ruminate on all that I’ve said since we’ve met,” Lady Alice told him. She slowed to a stop right before the doors. Within a few moments, Christopher and Lady Emma would catch up and would undoubtedly overhear their conversation, but it appeared Lady Alice did not care. She turned to face him, her expression so inhospitable that his mind went blank. “But in case you’ve only overestimated your mental capacity, which I’m certain is the case, allow me to say it in much clearer terms. I dislike you, Lord Erlington, simply put. Certainly, you understand this means that we should maintain our distance?”
To his left, William heard his brother’s and Lady Emma’s footsteps slow to a stop. He could feel their eyes, and noticed that their conversation had stalled in light of the tension before them. But the warring indignation and intrigue hampered his thoughts, Lady Alice’s blatant words hanging in the air between them.
He opened his mouth in response, though he hadn’t conjured a decent one just yet, but Lady Alice didn’t allow him to.
She nodded and turned to face the door once more. “Wonderful,” she said. “I’m happy you understand. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
For the second time today, William was forced to watch her walk away, leaving him shocked and just a little bemused. A part of him almost went after her, and perhaps had they not had an audience, he might have. But, her blunt statements had left him a state he’d never known before, one that filled him with an unusual feeling.
Lady Emma said something but William didn’t hear what it was. Soon, she hurried after her sister and the maid went with her. Footsteps sounded behind him and William felt a hand on his shoulder.
“It appears whatever plans you had in mind will not come to fruition, my dear Brother,” Christopher said empathetically.
William took a moment to respond, the edge of his lips tilting upward. “Didn’t you hear, Christopher?” William answered, determination slowly creeping in to replace that odd feeling. “It is improper to make assumptions.”
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