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The Duke's
Slave

Bella Wolfe

GTQ LLC

Orlando, Florida



Copyright © 2018 by Bella Wolfe


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.


GTQ LLC

PO Box 540375

Orlando, FL 32854

www.thesios.com


Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.


The Duke’s Slave/Bella Wolfe -- 2st ed.

ISBN





CHAPTER ONE



Emmeline tried to guide her kayak to the closest shore, but the powerful, wind-driven waves kept washing her further and further away. Tucking her long auburn hair inside her t-shirt to keep it away from her face, she continued paddling with all her strength.

She hadn’t foreseen the storm that was almost on top of her when she had decided to go kayaking.

It had been a hellish week, with her grandmother’s passing, her funeral and the events that had preceded her death, but the letter she received that morning had been the final blow.

She had always known just how much the old woman hated her presence in her house, but she had never imagined she would go so far to turn her life into a living hell.

Emmeline’s mother became pregnant with her when she was twenty years old. She was away from home studying to become an executive secretary and had fallen for her married boss. When he found out she was pregnant, he had fired her and paid her enough money for her to disappear. She had been forced to come back home, and her mother, Esther, only received her because she was a good Christian and her duty was to forgive the sinners. Or so she kept saying, but the truth, hidden behind closed doors, was that she was a bitter woman who hated her daughter for putting her in such a position. She was mortified and hated that the church ladies knew of her daughter’s sin - but she hated her granddaughter even more because she was the evidence of that sin.

Her mother had escaped the woman’s yoke as soon as Emmeline was born. She had packed her bags and disappeared, never to be heard from again. Emmeline had no idea if she was still alive or not and frankly at this time of her life, she couldn’t say she cared.

For eighteen years she had suffered from every humiliation, every insult, every punishment her grandmother had put her through, while she counted the days until she was old enough to walk away. She had worked like a slave for the people of the town, saving as much money as she could for the moment when she could leave, only to find out Mrs. Esther Somerset had destroyed all of her dreams.

The night before her eighteenth birthday, Esther had put a receipt in front of her, at dinner time. They were both sitting at the table when she did it.

Suspicious, she had picked the paper and read it. It was the receipt for a donation to her grandmother’s church. The amount donated was exactly the same as what she had saved up until that day.

With a terrible feeling in her stomach, she had faced her grandmother. “What’s the meaning of this?” she asked, keeping a calm tone, as much as she could.

“I thought you should have the receipt for the money you’ve donated to the church. It’s the fair thing to do, don’t you think?” the woman said, in her usual cold tone.

Trembling, Emmeline jumped up and ran to her bedroom, to the place where she had been hiding her money, a loose panel of wood on the floor of her closet. The small metal box was empty.

She let out a cry of disbelief and rage.

“There’s no need for the neighbors to know the kind of vulgar woman you are, don’t you think?” Esther said, from the doorway.

She got up and faced the older woman, waving the box. “Where’s my money?” she asked, through gritted teeth.

“You know exactly where it is, so why ask?” she said, in a scornful tone.

“You had no right to touch my money…” she yelled at her, but Esther interrupted her.

“Nothing inside the walls of my house is yours. Especially not the money you have been keeping from me, that I’m sure you’ve been stealing from my purse and God knows from whom else,” she said in a cold tone. “So I put it to good use and gave it to the church. I’m sure the Reverend will find a more suitable use for it.”

“I hate you,” Emmeline yelled. “If you think this will stop me from leaving this godforsaken place, you don’t know me at all!”

The older woman lunged across the room and struck her in the face with a powerful slap that threw her to the floor. Emmeline felt the pain radiating across her cheek and looked up to face her ice-cold grandmother.

“I’ve invested far too much money in you for you to simply walk out on me,” Esther threatened her. “Now that you can pay me back, you’re not going anywhere. Don’t even try, or you’ll find out exactly what I’m capable of.” With those ominous words, she left the room, locking the door behind her.

It wasn’t the first time she had been locked up in her room, but Emmeline promised herself it would be the last one. She was leaving Ponemah as soon as she could, even if she had to ask for a ride from the first car that passed her on her way.

She rubbed her cheek and wiped the tears of frustration away from her eyes. This time, nothing would stop her from getting what she had been dreaming about for so long: her freedom.

Esther kept her locked up in her room for two days. It wasn’t the first time she did that to her, so she had learned to keep water and some food hidden so she wouldn’t starve to death. Fortunately, her room had her own bathroom or things would be a bit more complicated.

Esther showed up in Emmeline’s room the day after her birthday, with a victorious smile on her face. “I’m sure you have learned your lesson by now, haven’t you?” she asked, flattening a nonexistent wrinkle on her black skirt.

She always dressed in black, with her gray hair stretched in a tight bun on her nape, because according to her, it was the proper way for a widow to dress.

“I have no interest in learning any of your lessons,” said Emmeline, walking towards the door. She knew this was her chance to escape and she had to take it.

“The Reverend is here to thank you personally for your generous donation,” said Esther, grabbing her by the arm and tightening her grip.

“You have to be kidding me,” she ranted.

Her grandmother slapped her in the face again. “You’ll walk with me downstairs, and you’ll say some kind words to the Reverend, or I’ll make you regret the day you were born,” the woman threatened in an ice-cold tone of voice.

“You have been doing that all my life,” Emmeline replied. She couldn’t stop her now.

“You haven’t seen anything yet, girl,” she snarled, as she dragged her out of the room.

“Let me go, or I’ll tell the Reverend exactly how that money reached his church,” Emmeline said, trying to free herself from her grip.

“You wouldn’t dare,” said her grandmother with arrogance.

But this time Esther was going to see what she was able to do.

“Here she is Reverend,” Esther said, pushing Emmeline to where the man was waiting nervously in the parlor.

“Ah, Emmeline, how are you?” the minister said, in a cautious tone.

“She’s fine, as you can see,” Esther said, preventing her from answering.

But the man wanted to hear the answer from the girl’s lips, so other than a quick glance at the older woman, he kept his eyes on the girl.

“I’m fine, Reverend, as you can see,” she said sarcastically while rubbing her bruised arm. In fact, she had never been better. Freedom waited for her.

“Your grandmother brought me yesterday a bank deposit she says you gave in benefit of our church and I wanted to say thank you to you personally,” the man explained, still looking straight at Emmeline.

“We both know, Reverend, that I didn’t make that deposit,” she said, in a cold tone.

“Of course not, you asked me to do it for you,” Esther interrupted, gritting her teeth.

“I was saving that money to finally leave this place, and you know that Reverend since I had told you about it several times,” Emmeline pointed out to the man standing in front of her. After all, he had been one of the people hiring her to do chores and errands.

She wasn’t playing Esther’s games anymore.

The minister paled, and Esther pulled her again by the arm. “How can you lie that way? Haven’t I been able to teach you better?” she yelled at her.

“You stole that money from me,” Emmeline yelled back. “But this was the last opportunity you’ll ever have to ruin my life. I’m free now, and even if I have to beg on the streets to survive, I’m leaving you alone, and I’m leaving this town, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. It’s over, grandmother. You’ll never command me again,” she added, a bit calmer.

“You won’t leave me… not after all I’ve done for you…” the older woman ranted, her face red as a beet, as she jostled Emmeline’s arm.

“You can’t stop me. Not anymore,” She tugged her arm with all her strength, managing to free herself from the old woman and running out of the room.

She had reached the front door when she heard a loud thud right before the Reverend's shout. “Emmeline… call 911.”

CHAPTER TWO



Esther Somerset was dead. A catastrophic stroke killed her in just a couple of seconds. At the age of seventy-eight, she looked younger than she was and her death surprised many people in the small town, but other than a few messages of condolence, no one seemed to feel sorry for her passing. She had had no real friends in the small community of Ponemah.

Alone for the first time in her life, Emmeline had felt a bit lost at first, until she realized she didn’t have to leave right away. There was no rush now that she didn’t have to put up with Esther. But that was before she had received a letter that last morning.

It had been sent by a lawyer’s firm, letting her know she must leave the house before the end of the month since her grandmother had donated the house with all of its contents to the town’s church.

At first, she couldn’t believe what she was reading, but then it dawned on her that it was just the kind of thing Esther would do.

Even from the grave, she had the power to ruin Emmeline’s plans!

Furious, she had picked up her kayak and headed to the lake. Nothing calmed her more than paddling the gentle waters of Red Lake. It had always been her escape and that day, it would be exactly what she needed.

Of course, that had been before the storm’s arrival. Now, she was struggling to survive, trying to reach the nearest shore, but the waves and the powerful gusts of wind kept pulling her away. Thick raindrops started falling, and she growled out loud her frustration.

She was in deep trouble, and no one knew where she was. How the hell was she going to get out of this one?

A deafening roar of thunder startled her, and to her surprise, a huge maelstrom formed right in front of her pulling her kayak relentlessly towards it.

Terrified, she paddled away from it with all her strength, but in vain. In just seconds, she was being pulled by the swirl and swallowed by it.

She was pulled away from the kayak, and even the paddle was ripped off from her hands, hitting her face as it flew away from her, while she was pulled down the swirling vortex.

She took a deep breath just before a massive wave crashed over her pushing her deeper into the cold waters of the lake. She tried to swim back to the surface, but a strange force kept pulling her down. With her lungs burning, she made one last effort to come up to the surface, but it was impossible.

Surrendering, she closed her eyes for a moment, relaxing her body and accepting her destiny. Right then, when she thought all was lost, she was pushed out of the water.

Coughing, she came out to the surface, disoriented and with no idea where she was.

It was night time, but the silvery light of a full moon allowed her to see the shore that was now right in front of her. She swam the last few yards towards it and dragged herself out of the water still coughing. Feeling completely exhausted, she simply stayed there, lying in the mud, trying to catch her breath.

“Emmeline… Emmeline… I thought you had died…” a little girl’s shaky voice sounded next to her, and she opened her eyes, trying to find the voice’s owner.

“I’m alright,” she assured the girl, though her voice didn’t sound familiar.

“Why did you jump? You know you cannot swim,” the little girl asked, kneeling next to her and allowing Emmeline to finally see her.

“What are you talking about? Of course, I can swim,” she said, sitting down and taking her hair away from her face.

The girl threw herself into Emmeline’s arms sobbing. “I thought you had died… that you had left us… all alone…” she mumbled through her sobs, tightening her embrace around Emmeline.

“Sweetie, I think you have the wrong Emmeline,” she said, with a frown.

“Please, Emmeline, I swear I’ll behave, we’ll all behave,” The little one sobbed louder, with so much despair Emmeline’s frown deepened. Something was very wrong here, but she had no idea what, and it was obvious the girl was confused.

“You know what? Let’s take you home. It’s too late for you to be out here.” She decided. Perhaps her parents would be able to explain what the hell was going on and who the hell was the Emmeline the girl was talking about.

“Yes… let’s go home,” The girl finally pulled away from her, smiling as she wiped the tears from her lovely face.

Emmeline got up and helped the girl up as well, shuddering as the cold breeze kissed her body. They were both covered in mud from the lakeshore, something that puzzled Emmeline. She didn’t remember any of the lake’s shores to be this muddy, but perhaps she had been thrown into some bay she had never visited.

The little girl guided her across a bridge and into a small town. Emmeline was sure she had never seen this place, but she walked along the cobbled road with the girl until they reached a small house just outside the village. The girl opened the door and entered.

Emmeline stopped at the door, not sure what to do. The girl turned around and motioned her to come in.

“Katherine, what happened to your dress? What were you doing out all alone?” another girl, this one a bit older, was asking the younger one, but she stopped immediately when she saw Emmeline standing at the door. “What happened? Why are you wearing those strange clothes?” the older girl asked her, with a deep frown.

Emmeline looked at her soaked t-shirt and jeans and felt ill at ease. “I believe you’re mistaking me for someone else,” she said, puzzled with the girl's attitude and with everything around them, for that matter, including the way the girls were dressed.

“I saw her jump off the bridge over the river,” the little girl said, sobbing.

Startled, the other one looked at Emmeline with so much hurt in her eyes, she felt sad, though she had done nothing wrong.

“You can’t swim,” the girl muttered.

“Yes, I can. I’m here, am I not?” she replied, not sure what was going on, but feeling impelled to defend the other Emmeline, whoever she was.

“Then why did you jump off the bridge?” the older girl asked her, with a challenging tone in her voice and a lot of hurt.

“I slipped. And I must have hit my head on something because nothing makes sense to me right now,” she said, hoping to get more information from the girls on her whereabouts.

The expression on the other girl’s face changed completely. “Are you alright? You must be freezing with those wet clothes.” She guided her into the house and closed the door behind them.

“A bit, yes… but I need to know where I am,” she said.

“You’re home.” The girl replied, frowning.

“Where is home?” Emmeline insisted, starting to get a horrible feeling about the whole thing.

“We live in Redmile, at Belvoir Valley.” Katherine, the little one, replied. “Even I know that,” she said, teasing Emmeline.

“I’m guessing by your accent that we’re in England, right?” Emmeline asked, starting to feel an excruciating headache. What the hell was going on?

“Of course.” The older girl confirmed. “How is it possible you don’t remember these things?” she asked, suspicious, furrowing her brows.

“I guess it was the fall…” Emmeline mumbled, not sure what she could tell them. “What year is this?”

This question seemed to worry the girls even more.

“1840.”

The number swirled in her mind, and she almost passed out. What had happened? How was she here, on another continent, and almost two hundred years into the past? This was impossible, it had to be a nightmare.

The older girl took her arm to help her regain her balance, and helped her to a chair in the nearest room, a small living room with sofa and a couple of old armchairs.

“Emmeline, please, you are scaring me. I know I acted like a spoiled child, but please… We need you,” she begged, clearly scared.

Emmeline rubbed her eyes and tried to clear her mind. Somehow, she had changed places with this girl Emmeline. Were they identical? Or had they switched bodies as well?

“Can I have a mirror, please?” she asked, and Katherine ran to one of the rooms to get one.

Shaking, Emmeline looked at the reflection and almost cried out with relief, when her own face showed up. There was even the bruise on her cheek from the paddle.

Breathing hard, she tried to calm down. Though she wanted to believe this was just a nightmare, deep down she knew it wasn’t, her head was pounding too hard, and all around her was too real to be a nightmare. She had traveled in time and space, changing places with a girl identical to her. They even shared the same name.

She took a few breaths, struggling to calm down and decide what to do, and how much of this she could share with the girls.

A brief look at their faces though gave her the answer. Nothing. They wouldn’t understand.

“The only thing I remember is being at the bridge and slipping into the river. I know my name is Emmeline but all of the rest seems to have been erased from my mind,” she explained to them.

“We should call a doctor,” Katherine said, her voice shaking with concern.

“We cannot afford a doctor, Katherine, you know that.” The older girl replied, curtly.

“I’m all right, there is no need for a doctor. In fact, I’m sure I’ll be perfectly well in a few days.” Emmeline said, trying to calm the little girl. “With your help, I’ll be just fine.”

“How can we assist you?” the older girl asked, eager to help.

“By telling me everything I seemed to have forgotten,” she said, with a scowl. “Starting with who am I?”

“I’ll answer all of your questions, but you need to take off those wet clothes.” The girl said, getting up and heading out of the room. “Go to our room, and I’ll bring you some hot water for you to wash away all that mud.”

“Thank you, that would be great.” Emmeline nodded, looking around.

“I’ll take you there, Emmeline.” Katherine offered, stretching her hand.

“Thank you, Katherine.” She followed her out of the living room and into the first door on the left. The room was too dark to allow her to see much, but she could tell there was a full bed right in the middle of the room.

Katherine guided her behind a folding screen in the corner of the room. “You can take your clothes off here,” she explained.

Nodding, Emmeline pulled her t-shirt over her head, proceeding with her jeans and her shoes.

“What are you wearing?” Katherine asked, intrigued, as she stared at Emmeline’s underwear.

Knowing that kind of clothing didn’t exist in 1840, Emmeline quickly took them off and hid them under the other clothes she had just taken off. “Just some clothes I invented,” she replied.

The older girl came in, and Emmeline sighed with relief. She was carrying a bucket of warm water and a bathing cloth. Missing her bathroom back home, she cleaned herself as best as she could and put on the clothes Katherine handed her: a long nightgown and some panties that looked like linen short pants. But at least they were clean and dried.

“Get in bed, and we’ll answer all of your questions.” The older girl suggested.

CHAPTER THREE



“You could start by telling me your name,” she said, doing as she had been told and jumping in bed.

“I’m Lavinia.”

Emmeline leaned back on the fluffy pillows. “Go ahead.”

“You are Emmeline Therese Somerset, the eldest daughter of Rufus and Mary Anne Somerset,” Lavinia stated.

No wonder she had ended up here. These people even had her same last name.

“You have four siblings: me, Katherine, Georgiana, and Ewan. You’re eighteen years old, I’m fourteen, Katherine is ten, Georgiana is six and Ewan is two.” The girl continued.

“I see… and where are… our parents?” she asked, puzzled by their absence.

There was a thick silence in the room for a few moments before Lavinia answered that question. “They passed away in a carriage accident a few months ago.” There was a lot of pain in her tone, but there was also a great deal of rage and frustration.

“So… do we have any relatives? Or are we all alone?” Emmeline asked, trying to untangle the whole story.

“No, there are no relatives, at least, not as far as we know,” Lavinia confirmed her suspicions.

“Is this place ours? Or is it rented?”

“It is rented. You received a letter from His Grace’s administrator this morning, and you seemed disturbed by it,” she explained.

“Did you read the letter?”

“No, of course not, I would never do such a thing.” Lavinia sounded offended.

“Please… I didn’t mean to offend you. Can you get it for me? I would like to read it.”

“I will get it.” Katherine offered, jumping out of bed and leaving the room.

“Were you… Trying to escape… All this? When you jumped into the river?” Lavinia asked, in a somber tone.

Emmeline was starting to think that was exactly what had happened, but there was no need to burden the young girl with that knowledge. “No… I’ve told you… I slipped, that’s all.”

Katherine returned with the folded piece of paper and Emmeline opened it up, taking it to the dim light of the candle that lit the room.

“Dear Miss Somerset,

It has come to my knowledge that your family has not paid the rent, for the past four months, of the cottage you and your family occupy.

Due to this unpleasant situation, I am forced to ask you to vacate the mentioned cottage by the end of the month. Otherwise, I shall have to call upon the sheriff to evict you and your family from the property.

Of course, if you are able to pay the rent in delay, along with the penalty fee, the problem would be solved, and you could continue using the cottage as your family has been doing for the past fifteen years.

Yours,

Sincerely,



James Robinson

His Grace the Duke of Rutland’s administrator.”



Emmeline let out a deep sigh before she folded the letter.

“What does it say?” Lavinia asked, worried.

“Nothing important,” she assured her, signaling Katherine with her head. “I believe we can continue this conversation tomorrow. My head is hurting, and I’m sure a good night’s sleep will be the perfect cure,” she said, with a faint smile.

“Yes, you’re right. Katherine, you must go to bed now. Emmeline needs some rest,” she urged the little girl.

But instead of leaving the room, she jumped in bed and hugged Emmeline. “Promise me you will not leave us alone,” she whispered in her ear.

“I promise I’ll be here in the morning when you wake up.” With no idea what was going on, that was as far as she could promise her, kissing the top of her head.

“Thank you.”

The little girl left the room, and Lavinia got in bed next to her. It was obvious they shared the room. “What’s in the letter?” she asked, blowing out the candle.

Emmeline let out a deep breath. She wished she could spare the girl from the reality, but she needed her help to understand what was going on. “We haven’t paid the rent,” she said.

“I know… soon after mamma and papa died, we received a letter notifying us we wouldn’t be receiving the pension that supported us all our lives,” she explained.

“Who sent that pension?” Emmeline asked.

“We don’t know. It came for mamma, but she never told us who sent it.”

“The letter didn’t have a return address?” she asked, trying to find possible solutions.

“Yes, it came from a firm of lawyers. You wrote back to them, explaining our terrible situation and asking for the name of our benefactor, but they refused to give us that information.” Lavinia explained, with a sad tone.

“So, we don’t have any money left?” she asked, to confirm it.

“No, and we owe some at the bakery.”

“Papa didn’t work?” she asked, trying to understand the whole situation.

“No… he used to spend his time translating ancient books in Latin,” she replied, and Emmeline was sure she noticed some disdain in the girl’s tone, which she could perfectly understand.

Their father hadn’t provided for them, and because of that, they were in a terrible situation.

“Did anyone pay him for his translations?” she asked, either way.

“Not as far as I know.”

“How are we surviving? Where do we get the food from?”

“We grow some vegetables and mamma used to make jams and chutneys of everything, so we still have some of that. Katherine is an expert at hunting rabbits, so she goes to Belvoir Park once or twice a week and gets us some.”

“That sounds like private property,” Emmeline pointed out, furrowing her brow.

“All you can see around you is private property. It all belongs to the Duke of Rutland.”

“What if she gets caught?” Emmeline asked, suddenly worried.

“She would be sent to jail and probably even hanged,” Lavinia answered in a somber tone.

“We can’t let her do this anymore.” Emmeline protested, with chills of dread running down her spine.

“We would have starved if she didn’t,” Lavinia stated.

“Yes… I understand… But it’s too dangerous.”

“We don’t have much choice.”

“Tomorrow I’ll try to find a job.”

“Who would hire you? You can’t do much.”

“I have to try, or we’ll be evicted by the end of the month.”

“That’s two weeks from today.” There was so much fear in the other girl’s voice, Emmeline was starting to understand what had driven the other Emmeline to the river.

“We’ll find a way,” she had to find a way. It really wasn’t her problem… These kids weren’t her siblings, but she just couldn’t abandon them to their fate. “Let’s get some sleep. We’ll work on a solution in the morning.”

Lavinia hugged her tight. “I have no idea who you are… but thank you for being here,” she murmured, right before she turned around and covered herself with the blankets.

Emmeline considered insisting she had lost her memory, but she guessed she was too different from the other Emmeline for someone like Lavinia believe that story. Hell, she didn’t even have the accent.

The next morning they woke up to the loud shout of a baby. “Emmeline.”

“I’ll go.” Lavinia offered.

“No… it’s alright, I’ll go, just tell me where he is,” she said with a smile.

“They sleep in the next room,” she replied, jumping out of bed. “I’ll see what I can get for breakfast.”

“Thank you.” Emmeline walked into the other room. Katherine and Georgiana were still lying in the same bed, and Ewan was up, in his crib, eager to come out.

“Hey, little one… how are you?” she said, greeting him and taking him out of the crib.

“I need to use the potty,” he said, wrapping his arms around her neck and kissing her cheeks.

“Yes… we’ll take you to your potty,” she said, kissing him back, loving the little blond angel at first sight.

Katherine jumped out of bed and showed her to the folding screen. The potty was there. Ewan squirmed in her arms to get to the floor and use the potty.

“Can he do it alone?” she asked Katherine in a quiet tone.

The little girl nodded, making her blonde curls bounce. Apparently, Emmeline was the only redhead in the family.

Ewan used the potty efficiently and waited for Emmeline to clean him up.

“I guess toilet paper hasn’t been invented yet, right?” she murmured to herself, looking for something to use.

Katherine handed her a small wet cloth, and she thanked her. She clearly had a lot to learn about this time. After she had cleaned him up, he raised his arms asking her to carry him again.

“I am hungry, Emmeline.”

“Let’s see what we can get you, my sweet angel,” she said, kissing his soft cheek once more. She turned to look at the other girls. “Change clothes and please make your bed and the crib.”

“Yes, Emmeline. But I should go check the traps I left yesterday afternoon.” Katherine said, with a slight frown.

“We shall talk about that later. For now, do as I told you. I’ll go help, Lavinia.” She went looking for the kitchen with Ewan in her arms.

Lavinia was there, preparing what looked like oats for the baby.

“Is there enough food for the kids?” she asked the girl.

“We have three hens, and they provide us with eggs. There are two this morning, and we still have some bread and jam,” she told Emmeline. She had changed into a dress, and after looking at herself, Emmeline assumed she should change clothes as well.

“Put Ewan in his chair. His food will be ready in a few moments.” Lavinia said, indicating a tall chair near the wooden table.

CHAPTER FOUR



The kitchen was very dark, and it was obvious it needed a deep cleaning, but she kept her opinion to herself. Those kids had been through enough.

She put the baby down and handed him a small wooden horse she found on the table to entertain him.

“How can I help?” she offered.

“I have things under control here. Why don’t you go change, meanwhile?”

She nodded and walked back to her room. She had no idea where to find her clothes or how to put them on, so she decided to make the bed and clean up the room a bit. She was finishing picking up the dirty clothes when Katherine entered the room.

“Lavinia is calling you. Breakfast is ready,” she announced. “You haven’t changed.”

“I don’t know where my clothes are,” she admitted.

“I shall help you.” She opened a wooden wardrobe and picked several pieces of clothing out of it. “This is your petticoat, this is your corset, and this is your dress,” she explained as she displayed the clothes on the bed.

“You’ll have to help me put all that on,” she said, astonished. She had seen the Victorian dresses in the history books, but she had never paid much attention to them.

“Surely. Take off your nightgown.”

Piece after piece, the girl helped her to get the black dress on. After all, they were still mourning their parents. A pair of boots finished off the outfit and Emmeline couldn’t help but feel sorry she had lost her tennis shoes when she had been dragged here.

“You also need to pick up your hair,” Katherine instructed her.

Quickly, Emmeline braided her long auburn curls and tied them with a black ribbon Katherine handed her.

“How do I look?” she asked, with an amused smile on her face.

“You look beautiful. I want to be just like you when I’m older.” The little girl said, hugging Emmeline at the waist.

“Sweetie, you’re far more beautiful than me,” she assured her, kissing the top of her head. “Now, let’s get something to eat. I have a lot to do today.”

After the frugal meal, Emmeline decided to accompany Katherine to check on her traps. “I don’t want you to go alone again. It’s too dangerous, someone could catch you,” she announced.

“I’m faster if I’m alone and I can easily hide climbing a tree if someone comes. Two people have more possibilities of being caught.” Katherine explained.

She was right, of course, but Emmeline dreaded the idea of exposing the little girl to such danger.

“Well, just promise me you’ll be careful,” she asked her, accepting her arguments.

“I always am, believe me.”

“I want to go to the village and see if I can get any work there,” she said, looking at Lavinia.

“It’s a waste of time. There are only four stores in the whole village: the bakery, the butchery, the grocery and the bar. None of them will hire you. They barely make enough money for themselves.” The girl explained.

“What about the duke’s castle? Do you think I could get a job there? I don’t mind cleaning,” she asked, desperate to find a way out of their problem.

“That’s a possibility, I guess, but the castle is two miles away from here.”

“That’s not that far. And if I don’t get a job, perhaps I could talk to the Duke and ask him for a bit more time,” she said, taking a deep breath.

“It would be easier to get a meeting with the queen. The butler would never allow you through the main door.” Lavinia warned her.

“Then, I’ll talk to the administrator. Where can I find him?”

“At the castle.”

“How can I get there?”

“Just follow the road, it will take you there,” she explained, pointing to the cobbled road that came from the village.

“Will you be alright here alone with the children?” she asked Lavinia. “I could take Ewan with me. I’m sure he would appreciate the walk.”

Lavinia shook her head. “No, I think it’s better if you go alone. They might believe he’s yours and they would never give you a job.”

“Very well, I’ll go as fast as I can,” she promised. “I’ll take the Duke’s letter with me, in case he doesn’t remember it,” she added, in a scornful tone.

“You should put on a hat. You are too old to be without one.” Lavinia reminded her.

Emmeline sighed. So many things she didn’t know. “Do I have one?”

“Yes… I’ll fetch it for you.” Georgiana said, jumping out of her chair and running towards the hall.

“Georgiana… there’s no need to run.” Lavinia yelled at her.

Emmeline chuckled and took the small straw hat decorated with a black bow and put it on her head. Lavinia helped her to secure it with a long pin.

“Good luck,” she whispered in her ear before she stepped back.

“Pray for me.”

She left the house and headed to the castle. Unlike what she would expect from a place like England, the skies were clear, and the sun was shining. She assumed it was summertime, but she hadn’t asked, so she wasn’t sure.

The multiple layers of clothes she was wearing made the walk a bit uncomfortable, but the scenery was so beautiful she didn’t mind.

At some point, probably halfway to the castle, she heard what sounded like a horse at a gallop. She looked around, trying to find the rider and she almost fell to the ground when he appeared out of nowhere, jumping with the horse over some tall bushes.

The horse landed right in front of her, startling her so much she fell to the ground. The rider was able to stop the horse and turn around to see if she was hurt.

Cursing through gritted teeth, she got up.

“Who the hell do you think you are, crossing the road that way? You could have killed me,” she scolded the stranger, too startled to think straight.

The man jumped off the black stallion he was riding and walked towards her.

“You don’t look hurt… your tongue, in particular, seems to work perfectly well, Miss…?” he said, in a sardonic tone.

Still dusting the skirts of her dress, she hadn’t looked at the man, but when she did, her heart almost stopped.

Good lord… Who was that man? Tall… Easily over six feet tall, with the bluest eyes she had ever seen in a person with dark hair, and a muscled body, he was the most attractive man she had ever seen in her life. Not that she had seen that many, at least, not in the flesh, but this man would make any woman’s heart skip a beat.

“Or perhaps I was mistaken, and your tongue was affected by the fall?” he added when she seemed unable to answer his question.

Shaking her head, Emmeline took a grip on herself. “No, sir, my tongue wasn’t affected, just my pride, but you could have hurt me seriously coming out of the bushes that way,” she replied, in a cold tone. “Perhaps, you should have that in mind for next time,” she added, walking around him, to get back on her way.

“I apologize if I hurt you. This road is generally empty,” he said, taking her by the arm and pulling her back gently.

Emmeline looked at his hand before she looked at him, inquiringly. Damn, she could feel the warmness of his skin even through the fabric of her dress, spread through her body. This man was way too hot.

He dropped his hand.

“Apologies accepted, sir. Have a good day,” she said coldly as she walked away.

He chuckled, and she walked away faster. That man meant trouble with a capital T, and she already had too many problems in her life as it was. Not that he would want anything to do with her.

Hugh chuckled as he watched her walk away. She had fire in her veins, and that was something he didn’t see every day, especially in a country girl. She intrigued him, and that was a novelty in his predictable life. He would have to find out more about her.

Emmeline heard him getting on the horse and then he flew past her.

It took her about an hour to get to the castle. Remembering this was the nineteenth century, she looked for the back door. No one asking for a job would show up at the main door. She didn’t want to ruin her opportunities by making a mistake like that.

Before she could find the door, she encountered a girl dressed in a maid’s uniform. She looked at Emmeline, surprised.

“Good morning. Are you looking for someone, miss?” the girl asked her.

Emmeline approached her with a friendly smile, hoping that the old Emmeline didn’t know this girl. “Good morning. I was looking for the housekeeper. Can you tell me where I can find her?” she asked her.

“She must be in the kitchen, supervising lunch. I can tell her you are looking for her,” she suggested.

“I would appreciate that very much. I won’t take much of her time.” Emmeline thanked her.

“Wait here, I’ll go talk to her.”

The girl disappeared behind some doors Emmeline hadn’t noticed and returned a few moments later with a woman all dressed in black, with a bunch of keys tied to her waist. The stern expression on her face didn’t predict anything good.

“Good morning, Miss Somerset, what can I do for you?” the woman asked coldly.

Emmeline hadn’t expected the woman to know her. That would only make things harder than they were.

“Good morning, ma’am. As you must know, my parents died a few months ago,” she started, wringing her hands. She had to make this work. It was her last hope.

“Yes, I’m aware of that.” The woman nodded, starting to look impatient.

“We don’t have any other relatives, so I’m the only one able to provide for my family,” she continued explaining.

“And what does that have to do with me?” the woman asked, furrowing her brows.

“I was wondering if you could hire me. I can clean, cook, or do whatever is needed,” she finally said it.

But before she finished talking, the woman was already shaking her head. “I don’t have a place for you here. With your looks, you would only cause trouble, and I can’t have that in my domain.”

“Believe me… all I want is to be able to provide for my siblings, nothing more,” she insisted.

“Send them to an orphanage. You will have to, sooner or later.” The woman stated in a scornful tone.

Emmeline took a deep breath, holding back the insults she would love to yell at the woman. She knew she wouldn’t gain anything with that.

“They will get to an orphanage the day I die, not a day sooner,” she assured her. “Would it be possible for me to talk with his Grace's administrator?” she asked, changing the topic.

“Yes, Sophie can take you to his office. Sophie!” she yelled at the maid. “I bid you good day,” she concluded, in a very stern tone.

“Thank you for your time.” She nodded to the woman’s broad receding back and accompanied the girl to an office located near the castle’s kitchens.

“I’ll let him know you’re here to see him,” Sophie announced, knocking on the door and entering the office, closing the door behind her.

Emmeline took a deep breath. She needed to convince the man to wait a bit longer for the rent of their home. She would have to find a job out of the village, and that would take more time, time they could not spare.

Sophie came out a few seconds later. “Mr. Robinson will see you as soon as he finishes talking with his grace.”

“Thank you for your help.”

The girl nodded and disappeared. Emmeline considered asking to see the Duke, but she decided that could be dangerous. She had no idea how he would react.

CHAPTER FIVE



She was pacing the small garden in front of the administrator’s office when the door opened up, and the horse rider came out.

Breathless, Emmeline put her hand to her neck. He couldn’t be the Duke, right? All dukes were old and ugly, not like this guy.

He saw her the minute he stepped out of the office and stopped before he turned to look at the man inside. “Robinson, I’ll receive Miss Somerset myself,” he said, in a tone that didn’t admit any possible arguing.

“Yes, your grace. Do you want me to stay?” The other man offered, walking out of the office.

“No, thank you, Robinson, I’m sure I can do this alone.” The duke replied, and Emmeline was almost sure she had detected some scorn in his tone.

The older man disappeared towards the castle, and the duke turned his attention to her.

“Please, come in,” he said, with a smile that was definitely devious.

With her heart thundering in her chest, Emmeline entered the office and waited for him to take his place behind the desk.

He invited her to take a seat.

“So… the maid said you are Miss Somerset, correct?” he asked, leaning back in his armchair, his eyes locked on her face.

“Yes, sir. Emmeline Somerset, at your service,” she replied, making a tremendous effort to keep her hands still over her lap. She didn’t want him to know just how nervous she was.

“Yes… you will be,” he said, puzzling her, but he continued before she could ask what he had meant by those words. “Why are you here, Miss Somerset?” he asked her.

“Mr. Robinson sent me this letter yesterday morning,” she said, pulling the letter from the small purse she had tied to her dress.

He stretched his hand to get the letter before she could say anything else. “Allow me.”

She handed him the letter and waited for him to read it. “Why isn’t your father or your mother here?” he asked her, throwing the letter onto the desk.

“My parents died a few months ago in a tragic carriage accident, and we don’t have any relatives,” she explained.

“Who are we?”

“My four siblings and me, sir,” she replied. “We can’t afford to pay what your administrator is asking, right now. That’s why I’m here, to ask him to allow us a bit more time,” she said, trying to keep her nerves under control.

“What will change, if I give you more time?” he asked, with a doubtful tone.

“I’m trying to find a job to cover our expenses,” she told him, sounding more enthusiastic than she really felt.

“With a regular job, you won’t be able to pay the rent of the cottage.” His words were like a bucket of ice-cold water to her face. “A maid’s wage is about one pound per month, and the cottage rent is four pounds a month,” he enlightened her.

She took a deep breath, trying to calm her heart. She was pursuing an impossible dream. “I’m sorry I made you waste your time, sir. We’ll figure out a way,” she said, getting up.

“Sit down, I’m not finished,” he demanded, in a firm tone and she automatically sat down.

Hugh watched her immediate obedience, and his whole body tensed up with need. He wanted this woman, more than he had ever wanted one. He was sure she had the perfect mix of submission and defiance he loved in a woman and her family circumstances fit his needs perfectly.

He had gone to his administrator’s office precisely to ask him who she could be.

“What else is there to say, milord?” she asked, very upset but trying to keep her head high and not show it.

His eyes seemed to shine dangerously, but she pretended she hadn’t noticed.

“There’s a way for you to make more than enough money to pay the rent and support your siblings,” he said, ignoring her question.

“There is? And may I know what way is that?” she asked, suspicious.

He got up and walked around the desk, standing in front of her. “Becoming my lover.”

She was so shocked by his words, she thought she had misheard him. There was no way he had just suggested that. Why would a man like him need to buy a lover? Women probably threw themselves into his arms with a simple wink of his eyes.

“I would pay your rent for five years, and I would give you two thousand guineas for other expenses,” he continued, ignoring the outrage on her face.

“You have to be joking. Do I look like a whore to you, mister?” she finally ranted, getting up and starting away from the desk.

But she wasn’t able to take more than two steps. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her against his broad chest. “Not a whore…but the woman I want in my bed,” he said, locking his eyes with hers.

“Didn’t your mother teach you it’s impossible to get all you want?” she retorted, tugging her arm, desperate to get away from this man.

His closeness and his touch affected her like no other man had ever, but she had no intention of falling into that trap.

But he tightened his grip on her arm and pulled her even closer to him. “Nothing is impossible to me, my dear, and I’ll prove it to you. I guess I just need to find your price,” he said, leaning his head towards hers, his lips stopping inches away from hers.

“Unless you’re considering kidnapping me and keeping me prisoner in your dungeon, that will never happen,” she warned him, through gritted teeth.

He chuckled, and with a stronger tug, she managed to free herself and run away from him, slamming the door open.

She ran all the way home. She wanted to put distance between her and temptation. She wasn’t tempted by the money he had offered her, though it would solve all her problems, she was tempted by him. She had never felt so attracted to a man before, but she knew he could mean nothing but trouble for her.

She reached the house breathless and sweating. Those clothes weren’t made for running, that was for sure.

“What happened?” Lavinia asked her, startled.

“The housekeeper refused to give me a job,” she said, sitting at the kitchen table. “She said I would only cause trouble and that she wouldn’t have that in her household,” she explained, still upset by the other woman’s attitude.


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