Melanie, Dowager Duchess of Yaxley, escapes from an abusive son-in-law to become a housekeeper in a remote Northumbrian village. The Master of the house, Jarrow, is a widower with a delightful daughter, but few funds. Jarrow has his scars, but he also has a secret life that unnerves Melanie when she discovers what it is that occupies his nights. This historical romance with its great sense of time and setting, leads the reader through the clash of the scarred personalities, troubles with excise men to a resolution which surprises them both.
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“Fascinating and beautifully created characters, plenty of secrets, and a compelling love story between a hero and a heroine that tugs at your heart strings, makes this a must read.”
‘Circumstances change, sir. A new master appeared, with staff of his own.’ In a way, that was true. Her step-son, the new duke, had summoned his lawyer friends and cheated her out of the dower house and everything else to which she had been entitled.
A grim smile touched the corners of Lord Jarrow’s mouth. ‘Well, at least your mistress was prepared to give you good references. These are excellent.’
‘Thank you, sir. I hoped they would serve.’
His eyes narrowed, and Melanie’s stomach clenched in response. Her tone had been a little too pert. Lord, it was so difficult to strike the right balance. Dipping her head, she surveyed her clasped hands and waited to see what direction he would take. Be subservient, she told herself. Think subservience, and you will practice it. If you do well, you will be his housekeeper, and have the security of a roof over your head.
‘Gavington is perhaps not what you expected,’ he said slowly, sitting forward with his forearms on his desk. ‘The house is virtually closed. I keep few staff, only those necessary for the comfort of myself and my daughter. I do not welcome visitors. Now you have seen how isolated we are, do you still wish to be considered for the post?’
‘Of course, sir.’
Jolted, she met his quizzical glance. ‘Why, sir?’
‘It is a simple question, Miss Grey. Why do you, a young and attractive woman, wish to disappear into the countryside when you have had command of a house such as Rockford?’ He looked down at her reference ‘Why, there must have been forty staff there when I visited Middlesex three years ago. Here, we have less than six.’
Dear God, he’d been to Rockford House! Three years ago? She blinked, frantically searching her memory. Had he been a guest at dinner? No, she would have remembered him. But if he’d paid a call on the duke in the estate office at the far end of the west wing, she might never have seen him. That must be what had happened. Thank goodness he showed no sign of remembering her.
Melanie woke with a jerk, gasping and sweating. Flinging the covers aside, she padded to the window and pressed her forehead against the cold glass. Oh, God, would she never be free of these dreams? Still they plagued her, months after the man had died. Gripping the metal handle, she flung open the window, braced both forearms on the sill and leaned out into the warm summer morning. Closing her eyes, she hauled in deep breaths of sweet scented air, and listened to the birdsong.
Gradually the terrors of the dream faded. Her heartbeat slowed, and the moisture cooled on her skin. She opened her eyes and looked about her, delighting in the chirrup of a hungry blackbird. From her window she looked down on the same rose garden she had observed the day she arrived. Fields and woods lay beyond its enclosing walls, and the green-brown curve of the moors. If she looked to the left, she could see the hens clucking happily in the kitchen yard, and there was Edith, sprinkling grain and scraps—
She swung round and glared at the clock on the mantel. Twenty minutes to eight o’clock. She rushed to the fireplace, seized the clock and held it to her ear, hoping to find it had stopped yesterday evening, but the seconds ticked on in relentless fashion. She was late, intolerably late—the Master would be up and about and there would be no clean shirt awaiting him.
Melanie rushed through an abbreviated toilet and fled downstairs. How would he respond if she failed to have a clean shirt ready for him?
The kitchen clock proclaimed five minutes to eight o’clock. Running into the laundry and drying rooms, she ran back upstairs with three neatly folded shirts balanced across her palms. Breathing hard, she slowed her pace as she approached his dressing room door. Turning the handle cautiously, she tiptoed inside. Both the curtain and the door to the bedroom were still closed but she was aware he would very likely be awake in the adjoining room.
The masculine smell of tobacco and cologne hit her nose, and triggered memories from her dreams. The desperate urge to sneeze sent her back out into the corridor, where she jammed her wrist beneath her nose until the urge disappeared. Inhaling cautiously, she returned to the small room. All was quiet. Opening the door of the armoire, she swiftly laid two of the shirts on the empty shelf.
‘Late, I see, Miss Grey.’ Amused, lazy tolerance coloured his voice.
Startled, she spun around and banged her elbow on the porcelain ewer that stood on the small dresser. ‘Oh!’
Springing forward, Lord Jarrow caught the ewer before it hit the floor. He straightened, replaced it on the stand and looked at her more carefully.