About the book
They swam through an ocean of deceit to find each other…
When her father is injured, Margaret Durham must leave her old life behind and take his place, working for the Duke of Evergreen. The responsibilities that come with it mean daily reports to the Marquess, which makes it impossible to keep him out of her mind and her heart.
Edward Wentworth, the Marquess of Redmont, must learn the workings of his family’s estate and help his aging father. But his reunion with an old friend from his childhood has unforeseen consequences. Namely, the uncontrollable feelings that flood him whenever he sees Margaret.
Inconsistencies in the estate's ledgers set Edward off on a hunt for the truth. When he uncovers secrets from the past, he realizes that no one is who he thought they were and Margaret has been living with the greatest liar of them all: her own father.
Edward Wentworth, Marquess of Redmont, threw himself out of the front door of Marlshire Hall and ran as hard as he could, his lungs burning deep in his chest and making his breath feel useless. The air seemed thin and shallow somehow, whether from the effort of racing towards the danger or the black smoke that already filled the evening sky in front of him, he did not know.
The acrid smoke, ordinarily a pleasant aroma that signaled the preparation of the fields for planting and the full birth of spring, stung his eyes as he ran, but the resulting tears could have easily been for the sight that unfolded before him.
What remained of the thatched roof of the small cottage still burned with an angry orange glow as flames poured out of the few square windows. The white walls, usually so pristine and inviting, were now streaked with angry black soot. In some places, the many layers of whitewash bubbled and fell away in patches, leaving the underlying stone to show through like angry wounds in its side.
“No!” Edward shouted as he continued his sprint toward the raging fire. Unseen hands pulled him back just as he came close enough to break in through the flames. “Help! We must help them!”
“No, My Lord! You mustn’t!” one of the farm hands called out as two men fought to contain Edward, pulling him back to the small cluster of horrified onlookers a safe distance away. “It’ll be the death of ya!”
“Where is she? Where are…” Edward stammered as he jerked himself free of their grasp and whirled around like one who’d gone mad. He looked to the faces of those who stood by and did not recognize any of them. “Get the water! Hurry, don’t just stand around! We have to put it out!”
A low cry from one of the women caused him to look closer at their somber, soot-streaked faces. One girl buried her face in her father’s shoulder, her thin body shaking with sobs as he held her tightly, shielding her from the scene as best he could.
“Tis no use, My Lord,” one of the workers said softly. “There’ll be nothin’ left to save by now.”
Edward looked around wildly, turning his back on the group and staring directly into the flames as though he could force his eyes to see inside. What was that he saw amidst the crackling tendrils of fire? Anything—or anyone—that could be saved?
Turning helplessly to the crowd once again, Edward chanced to see a man standing some distance away, his expression stoic as he watched the cottage succumb to the blaze. He seemed oddly familiar somehow, a telltale scar across his cheek pricking Edward’s memory.
When the older man turned and saw Edward looking at him, his scarred face wrinkled grotesquely as he sneered, clearly pleased at the sight of Edward’s anguish. The man’s smile made Edward’s blood run cold, but before the Marquess could will himself to move, the man nodded proudly and sauntered off.
“My Lord?” one of the workers asked in a solemn voice. “There’s no need of ya stayin’ round to see this. Don’t worry none, we’ll keep a watch that the fire don’t spread to the fields.”
Edward didn’t answer, but merely stared in disbelief at the raging fire. The sound of the flames devouring everything in its way wasn’t enough to drown out the sickening thud of his racing heart. He watched as an errant ember lifted into the air and came closer, hovering overhead for a moment before drifting downward and dying out slowly at his feet. The burning cottage blurred before his eyes as tears finally overcame him.
“Margaret,” Edward whispered as he stepped closer, the heat of the blaze seemingly melting its way through him. “Oh God, Margaret!”
The Marquess fell to his knees before the cottage and closed his eyes, the vision of Margaret’s beautiful face dissipating in a cloud of black smoke.
Three Weeks Earlier…
“Come on then, you lazy bag! These onions aren’t about to pluck themselves up!” Trevor called out as Margaret stopped her work to wave to her father. He ducked when Margaret pitched a clump of soil at him, then held up his hands in defense. “I surrender! No more projectiles, I beg of you!”
“I do not swear any sort of truce with you!” Margaret answered, laughing happily. “I don’t trust you. You’ll likely put grass in my hair again.”
“Can you never forgive me for that? We were but six years old at the time!” he answered, feigning exasperation as he clutched his wounded heart.
“Never! There are some pains a young lady cannot overlook, no matter how much a gentleman might plead his case.” With a smirk, Margaret returned to picking onions for the main house, ripping them from the ground with a twist and pitching them into the oversized basket that stood sentry between the rows.
In truth, Margaret despised the work of picking onions. The endless stooping over left her back sore for days afterward and the smell seemed to take weeks to come out from beneath her fingernails, no matter how hard she scrubbed or soaked them in the bucket. But if it spared her father any effort, she was glad of the work.
Pausing in her work to look out over the vast fields that belonged to the Duke of Evergreen, Margaret felt a small thrill of pleasure. The sight of such a bounteous, well-appointed property was certainly something to be proud of, but knowing that it was largely due to her father’s success as the Duke’s bailiff and overseer of the farm lands made her especially proud. He was a capable, caring leader over the dozens of workers who tended the land, and as such, had risen in esteem all throughout the village.
“Whoa there, Daughter!” her father called out from the chair he’d carried outside. He grimaced and shifted his bad leg on the stool in front of him. “You must be more tender with the poor plants. You’ll tear off the stems and leave the bulb behind!”
“Sorry, Father!” Margaret called back. She chucked a pebble at Trevor when he laughed under his breath. “And you, not another sound! We may be older now, but I can still chase you down and dunk you in the pond!”
“You haven’t caught me in nearly fifteen years, not since we were starting out at the church school!” Trevor replied, sticking out his tongue at her. Margaret couldn’t help but laugh.
“Then it’s high time I did!” she threatened, but he plainly saw through her mock anger. Still, he ducked his head and bolted away, far out of reach of any clods she might throw.
“All right, all right,” Leopold Durham chided, though he smiled at their antics. “There’ll be nothing to eat on His Grace’s table if you don’t hurry up with these rows!”
“Yes, Father,” Margaret called back before smirking at Trevor one last time. Her voice lowered so only her friend could hear, she added, “It’s lucky for you Father intervened!”
“I’m not afraid of you!” the young man teased in reply, brushing his curly light hair back with the back of his hand and smiling broadly in such a way that his brilliant blue eyes crinkled.
Margaret giggled at their jests, a fun discourse that made the time and work go by pleasantly. She and Trevor had been dear friends since they were very young, and she could have easily envisioned having a brother such as him had her mother not died when Margaret was young.
Standing up taller, Margaret arched her back to alleviate the strain of stooping over for so long. She flicked back a lock of long brown hair that had escaped the knot at the back of her head, then stretched her arms up overhead. The motion felt wonderful after such a long day.
“Come here, Daughter!” Leopold called out, shielding his eyes from the late afternoon sun.
Dutifully, Margaret trudged up the small hill toward the nearby cottage, stopping a good distance from where her father sat. “What is it, Father?”
“You’ve worked too hard today,” he admonished kindly. “You’re not so used to toiling in this way, you need to rest a while.”
“I’m fine, Father,” Margaret promised him happily. She lifted an arm to show him. “See? I’ve become so strong since starting work here!”
“Nonsense, you’re thinner than a broom twig and pale as muslin! I’ll finish this row, if you’ll hand me that cane.” Leopold moved to get up from his chair, but Margaret rushed forward and prevented him.
“Father, please don’t. Let me do it. It’s good for me, after all! I spent too many years at my lessons and tending children. I need to be out of doors, doing my part! Else, there’s no reason for me to take up room in the cottage and live off the Duke’s generosity.” Margaret shot her father a triumphant look, knowing that nothing appealed to her father’s sensibilities more than earning one’s keep.
“Naw, girl. Think not on that. If not for me and my silly injury, you’d still be in the employment of a fine family, putting that learning to good use and all,” he said sheepishly. “I cannot stand it that I’m the cause of you forfeiting your position.”
“There will be ample enough time for me to seek another position some other day,” she assured him, coming over and kneeling at his feet to look up at him adoringly. “There will be other governess positions, yet I have but one father to care for when he is not well.”
“Or,” Leopold said, pausing and cocking an eyebrow knowingly as he gave a little nod of his head in the direction of the fields, “you might find your heart fancies someone closer to home. You could do worse than to become the wife of a laborer.”
Margaret gulped loudly. The subject of marriage had been skirted once or twice since she’d returned to Evergreen, and every time, she’d found an excuse to steer the discussion toward other topics.
“It’s noble work feeding the countryside, to be sure,” she began hesitantly, “but I did enjoy being a governess. I’d hoped to secure a place with another family, perhaps next year or the one after.”
“That’s all well and good, girl, but what will you do when those children no longer have need of a governess? You’ll be cast out to find another willing family? Sent packing without a pension to see you through the lean, late years?” Leopold questioned, earnestly pleading for an answer. He shook his head sadly. “I’m not saying I’ve picked out a fellow for you or anything of the kind, but I want to see you cared for. What happened to me last month… it could have gone far worse. Then where would you be?”
Margaret shuddered slightly. She had not been at Evergreen when the injury with the horse cart occurred, but by the time she’d learned of her father’s accident and arrived home to the cottage they’d shared since she was born, the other laborers had all but given up hope that Leopold might recover. There had been a physician to tend to him at the onset, but Margaret took over the responsibility as soon as she’d arrived. She’d noted that the Duke had not once inquired after her father’s health, despite the many years he’d served dutifully as His Grace’s bailiff.
The discussion ended abruptly as the rumbling sound of hoofbeats rang out near the fields. Leopold looked up, somewhat perplexed, though Margaret felt a sense of alarm. There should be no reason for anyone to approach with such intensity unless something was amiss.
When the riders came into view, Leopold gestured for Margaret to help him to his feet. The two men rode quickly, nearly side by side, but one of them was undoubtedly more confident in the saddle, more at ease as he rode. The other seemed to be constantly in a state of catching up, trying to follow as closely as he dared.
“Oh, I’d heard talk that we might have a special guest,” a girl whispered. Margaret turned in surprise, unaware that anyone had come near.
“Anne! You gave me a fright! What are you doing out here?” Margaret asked her dearest friend, a girl her own age who worked in the scullery of the main house.
“Just bringing Mum our portion of meat for the week,” Anne replied, turning slightly and showing Margaret the covered basket she carried against her hip. “I’d meant to tell ya about him, but we’ve been so busy in the kitchens preparing for him. Oh, Margaret, it’s so exciting! There’s to be a ball and everything!”
“I should think that wouldn’t matter to us, excepting that we get to clean up afterwards,” Margaret answered rather more sharply than she’d intended.
“True enough,” Anne said, nodding. “But there’s so much work to be done and so much fancy cooking to do that I get to help. ‘Tis the only way I’ll ever learn enough to be become cook someday, by watching and helping some.”
“You’re a wonderful cook, you’re already skilled enough as it is!” Margaret protested kindly. “And at one-and-twenty years, you should already be at least the assistant to a noble family’s cook. Not still elbow deep in the pots and the washing.”
“Aye, Mum says so too. But I can’t leave her, not with all the boys to tend and feed. When the last of ‘ems gone up and hired on by the Duke, then I could think on finding a position,” Anne explained, her tone becoming wistful. “Course, by that time, perhaps the cook will have hung up her own apron and let the assistant take her place. I fear ‘tis the only way to improve my station.”
Anne nodded her head in the direction of the riders. “I’d best get this in to Mum. Tell me all about him later on, I’ve heard talk that he’s actually quite dashing!”
Margaret waved goodbye and walked over to her father, watching the two riders as they slowed their horses to a walk behind the long row of cottages. Clouds of dust from the animals’ hooves drifted in low tufts before settling back down upon the ground once more. A few of the window shutters opened around them so their occupants might look out at the newcomers, but then closed again just as quickly.
“Best behavior,” Leopold said in a low voice, surprising Margaret. As though she needed reminding at her age? What would she, a young lady of one-and-twenty, need such a reminder for if not—
“Good day to you, Durham!” the tall rider called out, a blinding smile on his face. The man dismounted his horse and bounded over to them. His companion was slower to dismount, and clearly unaccustomed to such means of travel as horseback.
“Good day, My Lord,” Leopold replied. “To what do we owe the great honor of your visit?”
“I’ve come to inspect the fields, to see how things are getting on with the early harvest,” the man replied, looking around.
There was more to his words, and Margaret was somewhat aware of her father replying. But throughout their conversation, she was unable to think on what they were saying, such was her delight in looking at this stranger.
His tall build had been apparent as he rode, but having come closer, she could see that he was a full head taller than her father. His light-brown hair shone in the sunlight, and she noted how it wasn’t styled according to any sort of fussy fashion of the time. He looked every bit like someone who’d been out riding for the sheer purpose of enjoying himself, down to the smudges of mud around the cuffs of his trousers.
Margaret found him breathtaking. Effortless in his movements and speech, at ease in even the basest of settings, she could have stood and merely watched him speak to her father all through the day.
“Margaret?” her father hissed. She turned toward him in horror, wondering what she might have inadvertently said while her mind was elsewhere.
“Yes, Father?” she asked, wide eyed and feeling a hint of heat in her cheeks.
“The Marquess has asked you a question,” Leopold said, his own shame evident in his expression.
“I apologize,” she answered, turning to the Marquess, who seemed amused by her stammering. “What was the question?”
Ignoring her query, Leopold answered for her. “My Lord, this is my daughter. I apologize, she’s been hard at work today and might not feel well. This is—”
“Meg?!” the Marquess demanded, his expression becoming impossibly more animated than before. “It cannot be! Little Meg who used to throw me down every time we raced so that she might best me? Impossible!”
“I’m sorry, My Lord,” Margaret said, apologizing again. “But have we met before?”
Leopold closed his eyes in consternation while the Marquess only laughed. “Of course we have! We played together nearly every day, at least when I could escape my keepers, that is. I cannot believe it is really you, Meg.”
“Margaret,” she corrected him sharply without thinking, though she still could not recall how she knew him.
“Margaret, this is the Marquess of Redmont,” her father explained quietly. “He is the son of the Duke of Evergreen.”
“Edward?” Margaret asked, incredulous. A sharp nudge from her father’s elbow brought her to her senses. She curtsied quickly and said, “It is wonderful to see you again, My Lord.”
“I fear you must not remember me after all this time,” Lord Redmont said, something of regret in his voice.
“No, of course I remember you!” Margaret answered quickly, shaking her head. “I simply did not recognize you. The years have been very kind to you, though you look nothing like the lanky boy I knew then.”
“And what of yourself? I must say that you have changed more than any of us,” he answered, watching Margaret in a way that was unnerving. She blushed and looked away, but smiled a little to herself.
Thankfully, the Marquess and her father began speaking about the business of farming while Margaret only partly listened. She averted her attention as she looked about, paying particular attention to where Trevor was now looking on and frowning.
Could it really be little Meg? Edward continued to steal glances in the young woman’s direction as Mr. Durham spoke at length about the crops, the harvest, the weather conditions…all of which were topics that should have commanded his full attention.
After all, since arriving only the day before, Edward had thrown himself into uncovering the workings of his father’s holdings. The Duke was getting on in years and Edward’s education was complete. There was no reason why he should not begin shouldering some of the responsibility for Marlshire Hall’s prosperity.
“So as you can see, My Lord,” the bailiff continued, “the fields are quite fruitful, for what it is that we produce. We have more than thirty laborers who tend the various crops on these acres you see before you, as well as two additional parcels—nearly as large as this one—toward the southern end of the estate. Then there are all the tenant farmers who also contribute.”
“Very good, Durham,” Edward said approvingly. He looked around again, but his eyes returned to Margaret and he was struck by the way the sunlight shone off her dark-brown hair. It was surely a trick of the light, but she happened to look back at him and her green eyes shone like a cat’s in the night, startling him with their beauty.
“My Lord? We’d best move on if you intend to see the smith and the grain mill today,” the second man said. He’d remained unobtrusively in the background all during Edward’s talk, and his presence had practically been forgotten.
“True, Stephen. We’ll be going now,” Edward said to Leopold, “but I hope to return very shortly. I would enjoy hearing more about your plans for improving the yield.” Leaning around to speak to Margaret, he added, “It was wonderful to see you again, Miss Durham.”
“Likewise, My Lord,” she answered, curtseying once again.
Edward felt a strange pang of regret at seeing the distant expression on her face. He had not thought of his former friend in so many years, and in truth had not even considered their current stations as anything close to friendship. But seeing how formal she was now that he had revealed himself to her made him realize a startling truth: he was the Marquess of Redmont, and though he had returned to his childhood home at last, nothing would ever be the same.
“Well then. We’ll be off!” Edward smiled and clapped his hands once, then turned to go, Stephen following closely behind. His ears pricked as he strode up the small hill to where his horse waited, though he did not hear any conversation behind him.
As they rode on to the next destination, Edward couldn’t help but think back to all the times he’d ventured out to play as a child. Summers looking for small animals in the brook, autumns climbing up in the tallest branches of the fruit trees to pluck the fruit that others dared not reach. Through it all, there had been two constants; first, that his governess would scold him soundly for frightening her, and second, that the handful of children who were at leave to play with him would be near.
“Margaret,” Edward muttered to himself as he rode on, testing out the name that seemed so foreign to him. He couldn’t venture a guess as to how little he’d thought about his childhood while he was off at Eton and then later Cambridge, but now his memories of playing with Meg and some of the other children came rushing back at him.
Not so little anymore though. All grown up, and lovely to see.
“But kind as well? Of course she would be. She was always the peacemaker among us, the one to watch over us and make sure we played fairly,” he said softly.
Throughout the day, Edward’s thoughts returned to Margaret as he checked up on the other fields, visited the blacksmith and the mill, and rode through the village. He wondered how he did not recognize any of the laborers or villagers, nor the servants in the house, as former childhood playmates.
Where had they gone, and what had become of them?
And how had Margaret—still such a strange name in his mind when he envisioned the little girl with long brown braids and a small, turned-up nose—passed these many years since they were small? He knew there was a church school for the young children to teach them their letters and their sums, but something about the way Margaret had carried herself spoke of a better education than that. She spoke eloquently, though briefly, with clear, lilting diction, while her posture and carriage were not what he’d come to expect from those who tended the fields.
“My Lord, our excursion should probably end now,” Stephen called out from somewhere behind. Edward slowed and looked over his shoulder to see his solicitor looking off at an ominously dark cloud to the west. “A storm may be blowing in and we should not be too far from the main house when it does.”
“Indeed,” Edward called back, veering his horse around and coming up alongside his friend. “Besides, I think we’ve seen enough to begin formulating a proper profit scheme.”
“Will you father feel put out with you for your efforts?” Stephen asked, spurring his horse onward with his heel to try to once again keep up with Edward.
“How so?” Edward asked. “Do you mean his pride?”
“Precisely. It cannot be a welcome feeling to have your offspring grow up and return to edge you out of the livelihood you’ve carefully tended for so many years. You may want to tread lightly where the Duke’s ego is concerned.”
“Oh, it isn’t like that.” Edward thought for a moment, remembering his father’s precise words. “He welcomes the chance to step back from some of his business, it was part of our arrangement when I returned to Evergreen. And I welcome the chance to be of help to him. If I can take on the responsibility over keeping of the grounds and the production for the village, then he will be free to…well, to do as he pleases.”
“That is a tremendous relief, My Lord,” Stephen began, but Edward looked at him askance.
“Stephen, there will be times in business and in society when formality is required. But you know that you are one of my closest school mates.” Edward grinned at him. “Did you refer to me as ‘My Lord’ when you were grinding my face into the mud while wrestling at Eton?”
“I should say not!” Stephen said, laughing. “I don’t recall being much able to speak during exercises. I only bested you due to my pudgy, ‘cherubic’ physique back then.”
“Nevertheless, titles and whatnot will be required at certain times, but I’m not yet accustomed to you using a moniker that was given to me by birthright. Your lack of noble birth doesn’t change the fact that I’m used to hearing you call me Ned.”
“That is a kindness I should have expected from you, knowing you as I do,” Stephen said sincerely, “but there are not many who would be generous with their friendship.”
Edward didn’t need reminding to understand Stephen’s meaning. Eton was an unforgiving place for any student coming up, nobility notwithstanding, but for one such as Stephen it had been nothing short of torture. With no knowledge of his father and a dubious relation affording the tuition on his behalf, the other students never let Stephen forget, even for a moment, that he was not one of them.
The only way Stephen had survived was by being both smarter and stronger than all the rest. As the top student in their class each year, he had eventually earned the privilege of being left alone more or less, if not earning any actual respect or admiration.
“Well, I certainly expect our wrestling days are behind us, along with most of the more odious aspects of school,” Stephen added as they reached the stables down from the house.
“I’m afraid not,” Edward said, climbing down from the saddle and handing his reins off to a stable hand who ran up to meet them. “Some of the same prigs who delighted in tormenting us at school simply grew up to be fully-grown prigs. Worse, they then inherit their birthrights and play at a never-ending game of one-upping each other. There’s only one way to avoid their derision, and that’s to have more money than they do.”
Stephen frowned with distaste. “Then let us set about working on your plans to improve Evergreen, so that you can be prepared!”
Margaret sat in a chair darning her father’s sock, relying on the last of the sun’s rays rather than lighting the lamp just yet. She looked up to see Anne trudging down to her mother’s cottage, holding a small pail of milk steady as she walked.
“Happy to see you sitting down for once,” Anne said cheerfully, though her smile belied her weary expression. “What was the news of the gentleman who came ‘round earlier?”
“Oh, it was only as you said, there was a visitor…” she said, hedging her answer.
Anne looked at her knowingly. “A visitor? Verily?”
“Yes, a visitor. He was inspecting the fields,” Margaret answered, looking back down at the hole she was mending and avoiding Anne’s gaze.
“Did this visitor have a name?” Anne pressed, trying to suppress a giggle of amusement.
“I’m certain he does, though I’m having trouble remembering it at the moment. How was your work today?” she returned, hoping to avoid a subject that had left her reeling all through the remainder of the day.
“My work? Let me think a moment. My work, since you asked, was nothing short of chaos, as I told you earlier.” Anne sat down on a stump that Leopold had placed outside for smoking his pipe. “I cannot help but wonder if the visitor that has the main house in an uproar could be one and the same as the person who came down here.”
“Odd. I wouldn’t know, as I never have cause to go up to the house,” Margaret replied, attempting to sound aloof.
“That’s true, but how many interesting visitors can one manor have? One? Perhaps two at the most?” Anne waited for Margaret to say something, but her friend was silent. “Since I do know the name of the newcomer and I do happen to know that he went riding throughout the estate today, I cannot help but wonder if they are the same person.”
“There’s certainly a good likelihood of that,” Margaret replied, biting the end of the thread to break it off from her stitching. But then she said nothing else.
“Oh Margaret, would you stop your game?” Anne cried out. “I know it is the Duke’s son!”
“That does sound familiar, now that you tell me. Is that important for some reason?”
“You and I both know why it matters,” Anne said, leaning closer and lowering her voice. “Were you not sweet on young Master Edward at one time?”
“Would you keep your voice down?” Margaret demanded, looking around to see who might have heard. “And no, I was not!”
“Strange, that isn’t how I remember it at all.” Anne looked around too, then added, “And the way I remember it, he seemed to rather return your affection.”
“Anne, that is quite enough! We mustn’t speak of such things, it is not polite or seemly.” Margaret threw her darning egg and spool of thread back into her sewing basket and moved to go inside.
“Oh, don’t leave cross! I beg of you!” Anne said, reaching for Margaret’s hand and clinging to it. “I won’t say another word about it.”
Margaret stared down at her for a moment, a deep frown worrying her features. With a slight huff, she finally sat back down but continued to avoid Anne’s gaze.
“So, what do you think the weather will be like toward the end of the week?” Anne asked innocently, but Margaret still seemed unnerved.
“Anne, what am I to do? It’s true, I felt such fondness for him, but we were only children playing at silly games and not caring about the realities of the world!” Margaret cried, burying her face in her apron so that she might hide her embarrassment.
Anne came over and put her arms around her dearest friend. “There now, what’s all this? There’s no reason for tears! ‘Tis as you said, you were but children. There was no true affection there, just the fondness of a friendship. Nothing more!”
“But how am I to go about curtsying and saying to him ‘My Lord this’ or ‘My Lord that’?” she cried. “We were Eddie and Meg, two constant companions for as long as I can remember. I’m the reason his little finger doesn’t straighten all the way after I caught it in the barn door, and he pulled my first tooth when I was too frightened to let Father do it!”
“Those are but memories, Margaret,” Anne reminded her as gently as she could. “It should not upset you so.”
“I know it should not, which is even more reason to be put out.” Margaret paused to sniffle, looking around for anything that would serve as a handkerchief. Finding nothing, she resorted to plucking a scrap of cloth from the bottom of her sewing basket and holding it to her bloodshot eyes. “I just don’t see how I shall be able to behave normally around…around…Lord Redmont. See? Even saying the name vexes me!”
“It is merely a shock, that’s all,” Anne assured her. “Once you’ve grown accustomed to his return and this new expected formality between you, all will be well. You’ll see.”
“But what will I do if it is not? How will I endure the awkwardness?”
“I don’t know.” Anne shrugged and gave Margaret a sympathetic smile. “What would you have done if he had not been sent off to school, and you had never become a governess? There would have still come a day when it was no longer proper for the two of you to run through the orchards and throw rotten apples at each other, you know.”
“I suppose that is true,” Margaret admitted, picturing what their separation might have looked like. “And I suppose that would have hurt even more than how it has all turned out.”
“I agree. To wake up one day and be told to stay away from a dear friend? Or suppose the Duke announced that kitchen staff were no longer to speak to the laborers and their families,” Anne said thoughtfully, giving Margaret’s shoulders a reassuring squeeze. “What would I do? Lose the only friend who’s been like a sister to me? Never speak to my own brothers again? It would be horrible.”
Margaret looked thoughtful, considering her place at Evergreen once again. “I think you’re right. Thank you, Anne. You’re a good friend to offer such comfort.”
“Nonsense, you would do precisely the same for me. Besides, it’s not as though you’ll have to even see him that much. I work up in the house and I did not even know he was returning,” Anne reminded her. “Unless His Lordship plans to scrub the plates or plant the crops, neither one of us will ever see him again, I should think.”
“If only that were true, I fear. With Father injured as he is, I’ve been taking his reports up to the house and bringing back the orders from His Grace.” Margaret shook her head sadly, fresh tears welling up in her eyes.
“If it’s something I can simply pass along, I’m happy to squirrel them away in my basket,” Anne suggested, but Margaret knew it would be no use.
“No, I have to take the directions down by hand,” she said. “It’s not only a matter of delivering them, there are often questions to be answered, instructions to be scribbled down, all that. No, I will just have to comport myself in the proper way. It will be no different than when I was a governess and the parents requested news about the children.”
Margaret squared her shoulders and attempted to feel brave. Anne patted her hand kindly before standing to go. “You’ll be fine, Margaret. You always are, you know.”
“Thank you, Anne. I don’t feel like it at the moment, so we can only hope that the morning gives me the sort of confidence I need.”
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to read how the story ends?
Three Secrets and a Lie to Tie the Marquess is live on Amazon now!