Cloudless days with a gently glowing sun that provided ample warmth without the scorching heat were meant to be fully appreciated. Adeline planned to do just that, but she needed to sneak away from her parents first. Her brothers, Bertram and Bennet, were running freely around the other guests, while she was stuck sitting next to their parents. Worry that she would overexert herself was always at the forefront of their minds. Being known as a sickly child presented challenges to a spirit that longed to explore lands, climb mountains, and swim across lakes. Even rolling down hills without fear of being interrupted by a fainting spell or hacking cough would be wonderful.
“You’re too much in the sun, dear,” her mother said. “Where is Ashleigh? She is supposed to be holding a parasol over you. Does she wish you to fall ill?”
“You sent Ashleigh to get some refreshment not five minutes ago, Mama,” said Adeline. “You were unhappy with what the servants were serving, so you sent her to the main house. We are merely guests here, so it stands to reason that she’ll take some time.”
“If she were not so slow,” her mother complained. “Why did we agree to come to this picnic in the first place? This is no place for you.”
Adeline inwardly sighed. “Ashleigh is doing her best, Mama. If not for her injured foot, she would be much faster.”
“It is just like her to get injured when she is most needed,” Adeline’s father commented. “I suppose I must step in where she has failed.”
He stood up and adjusted the parasol above Adeline’s head, grunting with exertion. The extra girth around his waist certainly wasn’t helpful as he bent his body and pushed the parasol towards her, but he eventually managed to manoeuvre it into position. Looking pleased with himself, he took his place beside his wife and stretched out his legs.
“Perhaps we should consider finding another lady’s maid for our daughter,” her mother commented. “Ashleigh came highly recommended, but she has not risen to the challenge.”
“Have we forgotten why her foot is injured?” Adeline inquired. “The twins pushed her while playing one of their silly games. They were not reprimanded for their actions, which I still believe was unfair.”
“Injuries are a hazard all servants must endure,” her mother pointed out.
“Then you should allow for recovery when such an inevitability occurs,” said Adeline. “They are people, just like us.”
“You have such a soft and kind heart, dear,” her mother commented. “You need to be more careful because commoners will use it against you.”
“Your mother is right, dear,” her father added. “You are the daughter of a duke, so many will wish to clamour around you and take what they can, especially commoners.”
Adeline had heard all this before, so she merely nodded as she stared longingly at the woods. She was itching to explore them but needed an excuse to leave her parents. They were far too protective and would never allow her to go anywhere that could be dangerous.
“Mama,” she said, “sitting outside is a little taxing, but I would still like to be surrounded by nature. I think I’ll sit in the conservatory.”
“Oh, then, by all means, dear,” her mother said. “Vincent?”
“Yes, my love,” Adeline’s father replied. “I will help our daughter to the conservatory.”
“That is not necessary, Papa,” Adeline insisted. “It is just a short distance if I walk directly across the lawn. See,” she said, pointing at the conservatory. “The distance is short.”
“But I do not like you walking alone, dear,” her mother said. “What if you fall?”
“You said yourself that I am doing much better,” Adeline reminded her. “I have not been weak in many months, and the physician is happy with my progress.”
Adeline had been sickly from birth, and there had been moments when her parents believed she would not survive the year, but she always pulled through.
“A short walk should not cause any trouble, Regina,” her father said. “Adeline has improved greatly this last year. The physician did say a little exercise was good.”
Hesitance clouded her mother’s eyes, but she nodded. “Very well, but walk slowly and do not exert yourself in any way. We will send Ashleigh to you once she returns with your refreshment.”
Adeline clasped her hands and smiled slightly, struggling not to show her excitement. The conservatory was close to the woods, so she had a better chance of sneaking into the thicket of trees than if she were to continue sitting with her parents.
“Thank you,” she said, rising to her feet. “I’ll be careful.”
She slowly walked away, aware her parents were worriedly watching her. Adeline turned and waved at them, grinning as they eagerly waved back. She adored them and didn’t like that she had lied to them, but they never allowed her to do anything beyond reading, writing, and painting. Embroidery was too dangerous because the needle might poke her; she wasn’t allowed to play a musical instrument because it could drain her strength; and anything that involved the outdoors was strictly out of the question.
Being so closeted and treated like everything could be a potential death trap, Adeline often longed for the freedom to do everything denied to her, even those things considered beneath her. Nothing was too great or common for her.
If only I did not have people watching my every move. Mama and Papa have only just allowed Ashleigh to be my only companion. Thank goodness for Mrs Whitcombe’s dismissal.
Mrs Whitcombe had been Adeline’s caretaker, but the woman had treated her job as though Adeline were not a person at all but a body without thoughts and feelings. Frustration had been Adeline’s constant companion under Mrs Whitcombe’s care, especially when she had been confined to her bed and unable to do anything. However, Adeline had recovered well after her last relapse, and she had every hope that she would only grow stronger.
Setting her thoughts aside to tackle the challenge ahead of her, she reached the conservatory door and looked back at her parents. Surprisingly, they were talking to a guest and not watching her. Adeline took that moment to dart across the open area between the conservatory and the woods. She was slower than she wished, but that was to be expected. Adeline didn’t know what it felt like to run and feel the wind whip across her cheeks. This little bit of exercise was already causing a bit of wheezing, but she didn’t stop until she reached the woods.
Leaning against a tree, she paused and caught her breath, laughing at her daring feat. She had done it! She was in the woods, and no one had seen her. Grinning, she straightened and walked further inside, her eyes hungrily taking in the deep and dark loveliness of the forest.
Since all Adeline could do was read, write, or paint, she had devoured every book in their library, reading everything at least three times. This made her a very knowledgeable fifteen-year-old who could converse about almost anything and was able to identify almost everything nature had to offer. Oak trees, wood anemones, bluebells, insects, birds, fungi, mosses, lichens—her mind absorbed the variety before her until she felt rather dizzy. She had never been surrounded by such diversity before, and at that moment, she felt a hot anger pass through her like a brief shower of rain on a summer afternoon. No one could stay angry for long when surrounded by the grandeur of nature.
Ducking under branches and following no particular trail, Adeline ventured deeper into the woods, vaguely aware that she should stay within a reasonable distance. However, the lure of the forest was too great for her to ignore, so onwards she went until an unexpected sight gave her reason to pause. A young man appeared to be sunbathing on a large, flat rock, like a lizard she had once seen from her bedroom window.
Is he asleep? How strange. Any number of insects could crawl into his ears or nose, and the clearing above him makes him a target for a bird relieving itself.
Evidently, the young man did not have a care for such things. Inching forward slowly, Adeline tilted her head as the man’s features became clearer. Dark hair that seemed almost blue fell in waves on his brow and around his head, complementing his equally dark, thick eyebrows and eyelashes. His nose looked a tad too small and feminine by her standards, and his lips too full and pink. If not for his clothing, broad shoulders, and height, Adeline would have thought he was a woman.
Her father often said that men who could easily pass for a woman were dangerous for impressionable young women. He had provided no explanation for his opinion, making her wonder if he was merely jealous. Men like the one on the rock undoubtedly attracted many admirers because beauty was greatly celebrated by many, but she found it boring. Adeline preferred an interesting face over a beautiful one, a wildflower over a cultivated rose, and a wild animal over a pampered pet.
Despite this, she still found herself drawing closer to the man and leaning over him. One minute she was looking at a sleeping man, and the next, she was staring into light brown eyes. Adeline yelped, immediately jumping back. Unfortunately, her ankles were not accustomed to the uneven ground, so she found herself on her bottom, looking up at the young man now sitting up and staring down at her.
“What on earth were you doing?” he asked. “Why were you staring at me? Has no one told you that it is rude to stare?”
As far as she was concerned, he should have expected someone to stare at him—he was the one sleeping on a large rock in the middle of the woods.
“I was merely curious,” she said, getting to her feet and dusting herself off. “But I’ll be going now.” She turned away, pausing when he called out to her.
“Wait a moment,” he said. “You came all the way here, so you might as well sit down.”
“Sit where?” she asked, looking around. “You have the only decent place to sit. Unless you expect me to sit on the ground.”
He smiled. “I expected you to start running when I told you to sit.”
Adeline frowned. “Why on earth would I run?”
“You’re alone with an unknown gentleman in the woods—that is worth a skirt-raising run.”
He had a point there, but strangely, Adeline didn’t feel she was in danger. “If you were dangerous and I did run, you would have caught me within seconds. I’m not a very good runner, I’m afraid. Your long legs are also an advantage.”
“You make a lot of sense, Miss—?”
Adeline contemplated lying to him, but she had done enough of that for the day. “Adeline,” she replied. “And you are?”
“Alexander,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance in person, Adeline.”
“What do you mean, in person?” she asked. “We have only just met.”
“I saw you earlier today with whom I assume were your parents,” he told her. “You’re a rather prim and proper lady, which makes me wonder why a young woman like you would be exploring the forest. Are you not afraid of getting dirty?”
He made “prim and proper” sound like an insult.
“I am most certainly none of those things you have accused me of.”
Alexander grinned. “There is nothing wrong with admitting it. I will not hold it against you.”
“You do not know what you are talking about,” said Adeline. “Would a prim and proper lady climb a tree?”
“No,” he said. “I doubt you have ever climbed a tree before, so you are most certainly prim and proper.”
“Well, we’ll see about that!” she cried, spinning on her heel and marching to the closest tree with low-hanging branches.
Alexander chuckled behind her. “There is no need to prove yourself. Come away from there.”
Adeline ignored him. Everyone always had an opinion of who and what she was, and she was sick of it. She didn’t want to be defined by the limitations of others but by what she achieved, starting with climbing this tree. She had never climbed one before, but her brothers made it look fairly easy.
All I need to do is find a place to lodge my feet while pulling myself up. This tree has plenty of places to grab and pull.
She wrapped her fingers around the first two branches and placed her foot on the lowest one before pulling herself up. However, she didn’t take into consideration that her brothers wore trousers while she had on a dress. The annoying garment caught on a branch and yanked her backwards, making her lose her balance. Adeline had already fallen and landed on her derrière, and now it seemed she was destined to do it again. Only, this time, she was slightly higher off the ground.
Crying out in alarm, Adeline tried to grip the branches tighter, but the force of her pulling back was too strong for her. Her hands slipped, her tender palms scratching against the tree’s rough bark. Adeline was certain that this time she would hurt herself once she hit the ground and closed her eyes to brace herself for the inevitable impact, but it never came. Arms caught her falling form, the force slightly bouncing her against the chest connected to the arms.
“Oomph!” Alexander cried, his body dipping slightly.
Adeline felt him straighten and stand taller, surprised he had not fallen to the ground with her. Opening her eyes, she tilted her head and looked at him, feeling a light fluttering in her belly when his light brown eyes met hers.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No, I do not think so.”
He smiled. “Which one is it? No, or you do not think so?”
“They mean the same thing,” she told him.
“’No’ is definite,” he said, “while using the word ‘think’ means that you are not entirely confident of what you are saying.”
“Oh, yes, I see,” she said, lowering her eyes and running a mental examination of her body. Other than slightly aching palms, she seemed fine. “It’s a definite no,” she said, tilting her head again.
“I’m glad,” he replied, gently putting her down. “The next time you think of climbing a tree, consider everything that might make that challenging for you.”
“My dress snagged on a branch,” she told him. “I would have climbed the tree if not for that.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Was that the only challenge? Your dress snagging on a branch?”
“What else could there be?”
“The branch wasn’t particularly strong,” he said. “You could have easily pulled free, but you were unable to do so. I think your main challenge is having enough strength in your body. You could have seriously hurt yourself if you had climbed any higher and found yourself no longer able to go up or down because your strength failed you.”
Adeline’s narrowed her eyes. Although he was correct, he was yet another person telling her she wasn’t strong enough to do things.
“Are you implying that I cannot climb a tree?” she said.
“No. I’m pointing out your main challenge to climbing a tree. Get stronger first and then attempt it again. Do not harm yourself for the sake of trying to prove something.”
Adeline had been ready to fight and defend herself, but Alexander made a lot of sense. He wasn’t telling her that she couldn’t climb a tree; he was saying she couldn’t climb a tree yet.
“Why must you be so agreeable?” she complained. “I cannot even disagree with you.”
Alexander laughed. “Are you trying to find fault with me?”
“You started it by calling me prim and proper,” she said.
“But is a genteel lady not supposed to be prim and proper?” he asked. “You seemed quite reserved and unapproachable when I saw you earlier today.”
“Did you wish to approach me?” she asked.
“No, I was merely observing people. I do that a lot when bored at an event.”
“I do that as well!” Adeline exclaimed. “Not that I attend many events since I have not had my first Season yet, but the ones I do attend are always rather mundane.”
It probably had a lot to do with being unable to do anything but sit because her parents didn’t want her walking around too much.
“Be thankful you have not yet had a Season because you are not missing out on anything,” he told her. “Nature is far more interesting than the women and men who gather in London to socialise.”
“I believe you,” she said. “I prefer to be around nature anyway. There’s just so much to explore! I doubt I will ever learn everything in my lifetime.”
“You study nature?” he asked.
She nodded. “As much as I can, but I’m afraid most of what I know is from books and not direct observation.”
“What books have you read so far?” he asked.
Adeline listed at least twelve, unable to recall the others at that moment. “Do you know any of them?”
“Most of them,” he told her. “I also enjoy studying nature, but my passion lies in the world beyond. I wish to travel to foreign lands, so I tend to devour whatever literature I can find about these wonderful lands.”
“I also adore reading such literature,” Adeline revealed. “However, I find that most of the literature seems to elevate the English and make others appear more like savages. That cannot be an accurate representation.”
“I was gifted a journal from a gentleman who has been to China, India, the dark continent, America, the West Indies, Brazil, and more,” Alexander revealed. “His findings were rather fascinating. Unlike most, he does not consider himself better than these people, so his writings are less biased.”
Adeline widened her eyes. “Indeed? Who was the gentleman? Perhaps I can—”
She broke off abruptly when she heard Ashleigh calling for her. Adeline had informed her lady’s maid that she intended to do all she could to enter the woods. Ashleigh must have realised that Adeline had managed to fulfil her wish once she found she wasn’t in the conservatory.
“I have to go,” said Adeline. “My parents will start to wonder where I am.”
“How unfortunate,” he said. “I have rather enjoyed your brief company.”
“Oddly, I have as well,” she admitted. “Who knew a stranger could be so interesting?”
He smiled. “My sentiments precisely. Farewell, Adeline,” he said, bowing. “It has been my pleasure. Perhaps we might meet again.”
Adeline strangely hoped they would. Alexander was different from anyone she had met, and they shared common interests. Seeing him again would certainly be welcome.
“Perhaps we will,” she finally replied. “Farewell, Alexander.”
Smiling, she turned away and retraced her steps until she found the spot where she had entered the forest. Ashleigh stood just beyond the trees, wringing her hands in panic, her eyes growing large when she saw Adeline emerging from the woods.
“Oh, my lady!” Ashleigh cried. “Why did you go in there? What will your parents say? And what has happened to your dress? It’s dirty, and the hem has a tear in it.”
“I’ve just had my greatest adventure to date,” Adeline told her. “I need to do this again.”
“Oh, my lady,” said Ashleigh, shaking her head in despair.
Adeline merely grinned and looked back at the trees. She probably shouldn’t mention that she met a young man in the woods, or her lady’s maid might faint from the shock.
I suppose I’ll just keep that to myself—but I do hope I’ll see him again.
Northampton Estate, London
Another stifled yawn brought Adeline’s count up to twelve. It was a new record for her, but not one she wanted to celebrate. Her number of yawns only served to remind her that her company was putting her to sleep.
“This is so very exciting,” Lady Helen cried, clasping her hands to her chest. “Our very first Season. I cannot wait for the balls and parties to begin. Mama has kept the modiste busy for almost six months, just making dresses and gowns for me.”
“Six months?” Lady Beatrice exclaimed, flicking a brown ringlet off her brow. “How many dresses and gowns did you have made?”
“No less than twenty-five,” Lady Helen said proudly. “Papa said my limit is thirty, so Mama and I might find the best modiste in London and have her create the last five.”
Adeline should probably tell her that the best modiste, Mademoiselle Clothilde, was currently making her fortieth dress and counting. Each day, her mother would come up with a new idea for another dress or gown. Spending that much money on an item she might not wear again seemed almost sinful. Adeline’s mother was obsessed with the latest fashion and refused to have her daughter wear anything that could be labelled as ‘last Season.’
“How many dresses do you have, Lady Adeline?” Lady Elizabeth asked, her green eyes filled with interest.
“Oh, more than I need,” Adeline replied, not wanting to give any specifics.
All the ladies laughed. “There is no such thing as too many,” said Miss Langley. “You would have to have over a hundred dresses, and I doubt you have that many.”
“Never say never,” Adeline mumbled, bringing her teacup to her lips.
She sipped the lukewarm beverage, grimacing at the way it coated her tongue. Tea needed to be piping hot to the point of potentially burning one’s palate. Adeline should call for a fresh teapot, but that would encourage her guests to stay longer. Frankly, they were her mother’s guests because she had invited them, but Adeline was forced to host. Her mother wanted her to find friends of similar standing during her first London Season, but these women were not the sort of friends one could keep for years to come. Adeline had nothing in common with them, and she was older by at least two years. A gap seemed to exist between her and the other young women, and she didn’t know if it was due to age or experience.
The last four years had been spent in Derbyshire with her grandparents while she regained her health after a relapse. It had come upon Adeline rather suddenly, leaving her bedridden and weak. Her parents had panicked, fearing she was living her final hours on earth. In a last attempt to help her, they had sent her to Buxton to drink the healing waters there. Adeline didn’t know if the water or her grandparents’ unorthodox approach to life had healed her, but she improved within a year. However, she had not wanted to return home just yet, so she’d stayed another three years doing all the things that had previously been denied to her. Fortunately, her grandparents encouraged her to do everything and anything that made her happy, even if that meant spending time in the kitchen with the cook or collecting eggs from their chickens. Nothing had been too great or common for her to do.
“Lady Adeline,” said Lady Helen, drawing her attention, “it was so lovely of you to host this tea party. I believe we shall be the cream of the crop this Season, so you certainly invited the right people.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Adeline replied.
It didn’t seem convenient to inform them that her mother had selected them based on their lineage, wealth and family’s social standing, although they likely knew that already. No one was friends by chance unless they were unconcerned with the way society perceived them. Which was why Adeline’s mother disapproved of Victoria Sutton, her best friend. Victoria was a gentleman’s daughter with little to offer by way of influence or wealth. However, she had what mattered to Adeline, which was a kind heart, authenticity, a passion for life, and a need for true friendship.
“Your hair is such a lovely shade of gold, Lady Adeline,” Lady Beatrice commented.
“I rather think it’s wheat-coloured,” Adeline countered. “Lady Elizabeth’s hair is closer to gold than mine.”
“Oh, no,” the young women protested.
“Not at all,” Miss Langley added. “It must be rather long when let down. It seems so full atop your head.”
Adeline’s hair fell below her derrière and was a nightmare to style, so she usually kept it loose or lightly plaited at home. It took too much time and work to secure it on top with hundreds of pins to hold it in place.
“You all look stunning in your dresses and hairstyles,” Adeline commented, taking the attention off her. “Everything complements you so well.”
Her guests had been trying to gain her favour from the moment they entered the parlour, and it was rather annoying. Adeline hardly knew anything about them beyond their material possessions. Being the daughter of a powerful duke was challenging because everyone wanted to get closer to her to feed off that power. Adeline couldn’t trust any of them.
“Thank you, my lady,” said Lady Elizabeth. “We couldn’t look anything but our best to be seen worthy of being on Northampton Estate. This must be the grandest estate in London. I hear the royal family wished to purchase it from your father.”
“They did,” Adeline confirmed. “However, this piece of land has been in our family since the Romans walked through England, so it can never be sold to another. It will always remain in the family.”
“As it should,” said Miss Langley, her red ringlets shaking as she nodded. “This is your family heritage.”
“It certainly is,” Adeline agreed. “Your family has a beautiful estate in Somerset. I recall attending a picnic many years ago there.”
“Oh, but your family didn’t own it then, did they?” said Lady Helen. “It belonged to the Greene family, but his father lost it in a gambling bet. That is how your family obtained it.”
Miss Langley’s cheeks turned bright pink. “My great uncle won it through a gambling bet.”
“How sad that he passed away a year later,” said Lady Beatrice. “But not sad for your family because your father inherited his land and title.”
“Well, that is how one inherits land and a title,” said Adeline, seeing Miss Langley’s discomfort. “Miss Langley’s father was the next in line.”
“Of course,” said Lady Helen. “I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. I was merely stating facts.”
Adeline was tempted to roll her eyes at the lie but held herself back. Her mother expected her to be the perfect hostess to prove to everyone that she was capable of social niceties. Many had speculated that Adeline was incapable of holding her own in a social environment because of her frequent illnesses, so her mother had hired the best etiquette teachers to help her prepare for her first Season.
“Who do you think will host the first ball this year?” Lady Beatrice asked. “Perhaps it will be Lady Spencer, but I hear she wishes to sit back this Season. She’s not as social as she used to be.”
“I think it would be wonderful if Her Grace had the first ball,” said Lady Elizabeth.
“My mother?” said Adeline.
“Yes! I think that is a wonderful idea,” Lady Helen agreed. “You have the best location out of all. A spring ball at Northampton Estate—it sounds perfect.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Adeline. “We should first let someone else have that honour. If not Lady Spencer, then surely someone else would like to host.”
“I suppose my mother has coveted the first spring ball for some time,” said Miss Langley.
“Your mother?” Lady Beatrice said. “Has she ever thrown a ball of that magnitude? The first ball sets the tone for others, and this is the social season.”
“My mother will throw the last ball of winter in two weeks,” said Lady Elizabeth. “However, it will be a small affair with only the cream of the crop of London attending. Mama should send the invitations by tomorrow. It was rather challenging to narrow the guest list.”
“Why would she narrow the guest list?” Lady Helen asked. “Why not make it a dinner party instead? That seems a better fit for your small guest list.”
“Not everyone of importance is here yet,” Lady Elizabeth explained. “My mother didn’t want to fill her guest list with unimportant people, so she would rather host a small winter ball than be around people who do not belong.”
“And, of course, money and social status is the dividing line,” Adeline muttered.
“Did you say something, my lady?” Lady Elizabeth asked.
“I said I think we should get another pot of tea,” Adeline lied. “This one has grown cold. Tea should always be consumed hot. Unless you wish to have cold tea, which is not terrible, but the quantity of sugar and milk would have to change to remove that horrible coating on one’s tongue. I would suggest using a different black tea or perhaps even a herbal tea sans the milk. Of course, then the entire menu would have to change.”
The room fell quiet as the women looked at her with perplexed frowns. She was just as confused because she had not said anything out of the ordinary.
“You seem to know a lot about tea,” Lady Helen commented.
“No more than the next person,” said Adeline. “Do you not prefer your tea a specific way? It is only common sense to understand that some teas and combinations do not work well when cold.”
“Well, you spoke as one who is knowledgeable beyond the usual,” said Lady Beatrice. “That is what took us aback.”
The truth was, Adeline knew a lot about beverages and food because her grandparents’ cook had taught her. However, she could never admit such a thing to her current audience.
“Call it experience,” she said instead. “I have consumed a great deal of tea in my life, and I have come to learn what works best. I have a sensitive palate, you see.”
“Oh, of course,” said Miss Langley. “I admire you, my lady. I wish I had such discerning taste.”
“You only need to savour what you eat and drink to train your own palate,” said Adeline.
No one said anything else about the matter because her mother entered the parlour on the arm of a handsome, fair-haired man. Adeline had a vague idea of who he was, but nothing about him had stood out enough for her to recall much about him.
“Ladies,” her mother said, “I would just like to take a moment of your time and introduce the Earl of Leicester. He came to see the duke, but I insisted that he must come and greet you all.”
Everyone stood up and curtseyed, greeting the earl. The other ladies cast him interested gazes, but Adeline wasn’t particularly intrigued.
“Please, have a seat, Lord Leicester,” her mother insisted. “You should have some tea before you leave—I insist.”
“I cannot refuse such an offer, Your Grace,” the earl replied, his full lips splitting into a charming smile.
Adeline reached for a biscuit sandwiched with jam. The chefs had baked the buttery biscuit with the sweet filling after she had mentioned eating something similar in Buxton. She didn’t dare reveal she had created the recipe by chance while learning under her grandparents’ cook’s guidance. No one outside her grandparents’ estate was allowed to know of Adeline’s activities, or her parents would never allow her to return to Buxton. She was looking forward to spending a few months with her grandparents towards the end of the year, so she refused to sabotage herself by speaking about her kitchen skills. A duke’s daughter should never have to step foot in a kitchen, so for Adeline to know how to cook was disastrous.
“I hear you have a wonderful singing voice, Lady Adeline,” Lord Leicester commented.
Adeline turned to him in surprise, her mouth clamped around half of the biscuit. She didn’t know whether she should take it out or bite into it, but she couldn’t just sit there staring.
“She sings like a bird, my lord,” her mother answered, allowing Adeline to bite into her biscuit. “Perhaps she can do so for you someday.”
Adeline lifted an eyebrow at her mother, but she was too busy smiling at the earl. Being put on display for others was one of the things Adeline hated. She was in her first Season and needed to impress everyone, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
“I would like that,” the earl said, looking at Adeline.
She merely smiled and looked away to drink her tea, belatedly realising it was the same cold brew she had rejected earlier. They certainly couldn’t serve the earl cold tea, not that he appeared interested in a cup.
“Mama,” said Adeline, “perhaps we should have another fresh pot of tea. I’m afraid this one has grown cold.”
“Yes, you’re right, dear,” her mother replied. “We cannot have Lord Leicester drink cold tea.”
Her mother pulled on the rope hanging near her seat, and moments later, Mrs Hawkins, their housekeeper, appeared.
“Mrs Hawkins, please bring a fresh pot of tea and a few other cakes and biscuits,” Adeline’s mother instructed. “You may take everything else away.”
There was no need to take everything away. The jam biscuits were the last of the batch, so Adeline reached for the plate and put it on the side table beside her.
“I’ll just keep these here,” she said when everyone looked at her. “I’ve had a hankering for these biscuits lately,” she explained.
“Are they that good, my lady?” Lord Leicester asked.
“Indeed they are, my lord,” Adeline assured him. “Would you like one?”
“I would certainly like to taste one.”
Adeline stood up with the plate and held it to him, stepping back once he had taken one. She sat down as he took a bite, briefly looking around the room at the women. They were all looking at her strangely, as though she had done something wrong. Adeline had to admit that she had not perfectly mastered every aspect of social etiquette, but she did not see anything wrong in offering a biscuit.
“They are delicious, Lady Adeline,” the earl commented. “I have never had them quite like this before. I must tell my chefs about it.”
“I’m glad you like it, my lord,” said Adeline. “You are more than welcome to have more if you wish.”
“I’ll certainly have some with my tea,” he promised.
Believing her conversation with him complete, she looked over at the painting on the wall closest to the doorway. It was a landscape of their property in Somerset. Adeline had not been to Somerset since the picnic where she’d met the interesting young man. She often wondered what had become of him and if he still enjoyed lying on rocks and soaking up the sun’s rays. She would never forget him since he was the first person who had not attempted to tell her what she could or couldn’t do. Instead, he had provided advice with his criticism, which she had appreciated. Most people gave one or the other but seldom together. Alexander was still the only person she’d met who shared her love of nature and travel with the same passion, and she was still disappointed to this day that she’d never had the opportunity to talk with him again. It was pointless trying to find out who he was because her parents would want to know where she had met him and why she would talk to an unknown man. It had been better to keep that wonderful but brief meeting to herself.
“Adeline,” she heard her mother call in a slightly desperate but annoyed tone.
Adeline blinked slowly and turned to her mother, unhappy about being disturbed. Six other people were in the room—it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that they could carry on a conversation without her.
“Adeline, dear, Lord Leicester asked you a question,” her mother said. “Were you not listening?”
“I’m afraid I was lost in thought, Mama,” said Adeline, not feeling at all apologetic. “What did you wish to know, my lord?” she asked, turning to him.
The earl looked at her, his dark brown eyes filled with mild irritation. That only served to amuse her. A man who had a problem with someone not giving him their undivided attention was a man with too much pride. She avoided people like that—they caused unnecessary problems just to maintain their pride.
“Your father mentioned you have painted most of the artwork in the house,” the earl said. “You have quite the talent. I wondered if you would be able to do one for me?”
“What kind of painting, my lord?” Adeline asked.
“Whatever you wish, my lady,” he replied. “I would merely like to have a painting by someone as talented as you.”
“I’m sure my daughter will come up with something wonderful to paint, Lord Leicester,” her mother said. “You need only give her a few days to think about it. She is currently doing a portrait of her father to hang in his study.”
“A portrait sounds like the perfect first piece of artwork from you, Lady Adeline,” the earl said. “Do you think a month from now would be ample time before you can start my portrait?”
“Two months,” said Adeline. “Papa wants a very specific background for his portrait.”
The earl frowned, but he quickly changed his expression to a smile. “Two months is fine, my lady. I look forward to it.”
Years of being unable to do anything but watch people while confined to a bed or a chair had taught her observational skills that told her many things about a person before they had even opened their mouths. Adeline had seen enough to make the conclusion that Lord Leicester was a man who liked control and didn’t want anyone to interfere with that. However, he hid his controlling nature behind his charming smile and compliments.
Fresh tea and cakes were eventually delivered to the parlour, but Adeline didn’t have any this time around. She wanted something soothing and recalled she had dried lavender in the pantry. Her grandmother had taught her the art of drying flowers and herbs for tea rather than drinking the usual black blend with milk and sugar that the English preferred.
The earl stayed long enough for one cup of tea and a piece of cake, and during that time, it became evident to Adeline that he had set his sights on her. He barely spoke to the other women and always had a question for her. She was glad when he finally stood up and announced he had to leave, but that was not the end of Lord Leicester.
Later that evening, as they sat in the drawing room after dinner, Adeline’s parents dropped shocking news onto her lap.
“The earl wishes to court me?” she asked in disbelief. “Whatever for? He doesn’t know me at all.”
“He wishes to get to know you through a courtship,” her mother said.
“What if I do not wish to get to know him?”
“I do not know why you have an objection,” her father said. “He is a perfectly good suitor, if not the best.”
“You should get to know him, dear,” her mother insisted.
“Why did he choose me? How did he choose me? I hardly know the man.”
“He has seen you at some social events and grew interested in knowing more about you,” her father said. “That is why he approached us. He is a good man, Adeline,” he added. “This is your first Season and already you have attracted the interest of a good suitor. You should be happy.”
Adeline had already made up her mind about the earl, but perhaps she could be wrong about him. He might be worth getting to know, but deep down, she doubted it. However, her parents would likely badger her and force meetings upon her until they wore her down. She might as well agree to the courtship on her terms. That way, once she ended the courtship, her parents could not say she hadn’t given him a chance.
“Will it make you happy if I agree to court him?” Adeline asked.
“We would be delighted if you did,” her mother said. “He really is a lovely man.”
“I will agree, but only on one condition,” she told her parents.
“What condition would that be?” her father inquired.
“I will entertain a courtship with the earl as long as you do not expect me to marry him,” said Adeline. “If I do not like him, then I expect you to honour my decision to end the courtship.”
“And if you do like him?” her mother countered.
Adeline doubted she would like him, but she told her parents what they wanted to hear. It was just easier that way sometimes.
“Then I am willing to consider marriage,” she said.
Her parents looked at each other and smiled. They likely believed they had successfully found a good match for her and had done their duty as her parents, and she was content to have them believe that for a little while. Once her first Season ended, she would go to Buxton and once again enjoy her cherished freedom. That thought alone was enough to see her through the next few stifling months in London.
“Falling for the Duke’s Daughter” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Adeline Dudley, daughter of a Duke, strives for independence from her smothering parents and the restrictions of London society. When she meets the charismatic Alexander, However, her courtship with the self-centred Earl of Leicester stands in the way of a potential romance with the man who has charmed her.
Will she dare to rebel against her duty and fight for what her heart wants?
Alexander Greene, Viscount of Salisbury, is no stranger to hardships. He might have vowed to restore his family’s honour and succeeded, but it all comes at a cost. The moment he meets Adeline, he is instantly captivated by her mesmerising beauty, but he is convinced that his family’s reputation threatens his chances of being with her. At the same time, he is just too honourable to pursue her knowing she is courting another man…
Can he take a leap of faith and claim the only woman who makes his heart skip a beat?
Adeline and Alexander have to face a painful dilemma… They must choose between society’s rules and everlasting love. Will their blossoming connection be strong enough to overcome the lies and manipulations of those who wish to keep them apart? Or will they be forced to abandon the prospect of a happily ever after?
“Falling for the Duke’s Daughter” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.