The Hartford Estate
Miss Arabella Reid bit down hard on her lower lip as she stared out the carriage window at the sprawling estate emerging. She had no idea what lay before her, but this new place was to be her home, at least for the foreseeable future.
A bump in the road caused the carriage to lurch, and she jumped in pain as she realized she had taken a piece of skin out of her lip with her teeth. She touched the wound carefully with the tip of her tongue and tasted blood. She tutted, sucked on the offending lip, and hunted in her reticule for a handkerchief. She dabbed at her mouth and looked down at the linen square to see precisely how much it was bleeding. Her breath caught in her throat and a tear stung the back of her eye when she saw the pretty letter ‘B’ surrounded by little daisies. It had been embroidered for her by her late mother, Gwendoline. Daisies were her mama’s favourite flower, and ‘Bella’ was Gwendoline’s pet name for her daughter.
With a huge sigh of sadness, Arabella scrunched the handkerchief up in her hand and gazed out the window again, trying desperately to take her mind off the last memories she had of her mother. She wanted to remember the happy times, not the pain-ravaged skeletal shell her mother had been reduced to.
Do not cry! Do not cry! she thought. It has been six months! she scolded herself. Six months since Mama passed away. How much longer must I grieve? “As long as it takes,” said a small voice at the back of her mind, and Arabella wondered if one ever recovered from the death of a parent, sudden or otherwise. Parents die all the time, she continued to muse.
A row of chimney-pots came into view, slowly rising from behind a low hill, reminding her of the rows of factory chimney stacks she had left behind. Those chimneys were not surrounded by rolling countryside, however. No, the chimneys of Arabella’s home were surrounded by more chimneys – or they were when she could see them amidst the fog and sooty smoke. Arabella bit her lip again, only remembering at the last moment with a flinch that it was still sore. She was not looking forward to starting her new employment with the baron and his family.
The coach jolted again before coming to an abrupt standstill. Arabella’s stomach turned upside down, and a cold sweat prickled at her forehead. She licked her lips, dry now with nerves, and shifted forwards on the carriage seat.
“Oh!” she said, almost falling out of the door.
“Beg yer pardon, miss,” said the coachman. “Didn’t mean ter startle yer.”
“I was not expecting you to open the door for me,” said Arabella, hardly recognising her own voice. I sound like a squeaking mouse!
“I don’t expect it’ll ‘appen often, miss,” said the coachman with a friendly smile.
As she allowed him to help her down from the carriage, she smiled back at him. The man had been very kind to her from the moment the coach arrived to collect her – much to the interest and amusement of the neighbourhood children playing in the street and taking advantage of a rare dry spell.
“As I say,” she replied, “I was not expecting it this time either.”
She waited next to the carriage as one of the footmen rushed out of the house and retrieved her things for her. It was a single travelling satchel, she could have managed it for herself quite well. However, the footman had pre-empted her a little and now she was filled with guilt at causing extra work for a fellow servant – for that is what both men were to her here…fellow servants.
Arabella held her hand out to take the satchel from the footman, but he shifted it to his other hand out of her reach and led the way up the stone staircase to the front door.
“Surely I am not to enter the main entrance?” she said to the coachman over her shoulder, who was now fiddling with the horse’s bridle.
“Same again, miss,” he said in his chirpy cheerful Cockney voice. “Make the most of it while yer can. It won’t ‘appen often.”
Arabella took a deep breath, turned to look at the front façade of the grand manor house, and straightened her travelling cloak. Then she summoned what little courage she had, pulled her shoulders back, straightened her head up, and followed the footman up the steps. She suddenly was looking forward to seeing her cousin again. She had secured Arabella the position.
A butler appeared at a side door in the foyer at the main entrance and looked down at the single bag the footman was carrying.
“Take that upstairs for Miss Reid, John,” said the butler.
“Are her quarters to be in the nursery, Mr Keegan?” asked the footman.
“Yes, John,” replied the butler.
Despite all the excitement of coming in through the main entrance, John did not use the grand staircase. Instead, he made his way to a panelled corner and disappeared through a hidden door.
The butler turned to greet Arabella, but just as he opened his mouth to say something, the hidden door opened again and the housekeeper breezed through, her arms outstretched.
“Arabella, my dear,” said Jocelyn Reid. “I trust you had a comfortable journey, cousin?”
Arabella glanced at the butler, who smiled and disappeared through his own door again, then she turned to meet her cousin’s embrace.
“The coachman looked after me very well, cousin,” replied Arabella, allowing the older woman to wrap her arms around her.
“Norman is a good man,” said Jocelyn into Arabella’s hair.
“It was kind of him to bring me to the front door,” said Arabella into her cousin’s shoulder. And, as she allowed the woman’s love to enfold her, the tears finally came.
“Oh, my poor darling,” said Jocelyn, holding her at arm’s length to look at her face. She roughly pulled her back into her arms and rubbed her shoulders. “Come into my sitting room,” she said, gently steering them both towards the hidden doorway.
Through blurry eyes, Arabella barely registered the tiny vestibule and narrow staircase leading both up and down as her cousin pulled her through a doorway on the other side, along a short corridor, and into a snug and cosy sitting room. She rummaged in her bag again for the handkerchief her mother had embroidered so lovingly with her initial. Jocelyn gently guided her to a stuffed armchair.
“I… I… I am… s-s-sorry…” said Arabella, gulping for air between tears. “I w-w-was d-doing s-s-so well…”
“Nonsense,” said her cousin, reaching for a teapot that sat on a table. “You have a good cry whilst I go and refresh the tea,” she said. She paused at the door. “Will you be all right here for a few minutes?”
Unable to say anything very coherent, Arabella simply nodded, blew her nose loudly into the handkerchief, and tried once again to control her emotions. By the time Jocelyn returned with a tray of fresh tea and sandwiches, Arabella had pulled herself together.
“Are you feeling any better?” asked Jocelyn cautiously, peering carefully at her cousin. She placed the tray on the table and started to lay out the teacups and plates. Arabella noticed that while the crockery was bone china, none of it matched. Then again, nor was any of it chipped or cracked.
“Yes, thank you,” said Arabella, forcing a smile onto her face and meeting her cousin’s eyes.
“Good,” said Jocelyn. “Now, let us get you out of that cloak so you feel more comfortable.”
“Thank you so much for putting in a good word for me with the baron,” said Arabella when they were on their second cup of tea.
“Not at all,” said Jocelyn, running her tongue over her teeth as though to ensure herself there was none of her sandwich left behind. “I expect it will take your mind off things, and the money will be useful.”
“It will indeed,” said Arabella, pulling a face. “It was such a struggle trying to make ends meet once I had paid all of Mama’s medical bills. I still have rent arrears to cover, even now.”
“Will you keep the house on, once you have paid the arrears?” asked Jocelyn.
“Goodness, no,” said Arabella, widening her eyes in surprise. “I think it practically killed old Mr Jeeves letting me stay there until today.”
Jocelyn finished her tea and smacked her lips with appreciation. “He has bills to pay, just like the rest of us, I suppose,” she said with a sigh.
“Even so,” said Arabella. “Mama died. She did not do a moonlight flit, and she worked her fingers to the bone for years to ensure the rent was always paid, there was always food on the table, and clothes on our backs. I think it was the least he could do.”
“You are likely correct,” agreed her cousin.
“Tell me,” said Arabella sitting forward in the armchair in order to place both of her feet flat on the floor. She leaned her elbows on her knees and clasped her hands together. “Have you heard how the baron’s former nursemaid’s poorly sister is faring?”
Jocelyn frowned and sat back in her hard-backed chair. “We have not received any correspondence from her, but Norman did say that the carriage was redirected to the sanatorium.” She pressed her lips together, and the two women shared a moment of silence. The baron’s former nanny’s sister had contracted consumption, and it was rare once committed to a hospital facility to come home again.
“That does not bode well,” said Arabella sadly. “Do you think she will expect to return to her position?” It was something Arabella had thought about but tried not to dwell on.
Jocelyn shrugged her shoulders. “Who knows?” After a moment, she added, “Will it matter much to you if she does come back?”
Now it was Arabella’s turn to shrug her shoulders. “Who knows?” she said with a smile. “I have not given it a great deal of thought, although it’s crossed my mind. However, I am living one day at a time at the moment and it sometimes takes all of my effort to place one foot in front of the other. I will be glad of the distraction.”
Jocelyn nodded and reached over to pat her cousin on the hand. “It will get easier,” she said. “I know it may not seem like it will at the moment, but it will. I promise you.”
“Thank you,” Arabella said with a smile. Even so, her voice had faltered again on the second word.
The housekeeper smoothed down her skirts and got to her feet, straightening her black frock as she stood. “If you have had sufficient tea, I will escort you to your bedchamber.” Arabella nodded and got to her feet as well, placing her cup and saucer on the table. “Lord Hartford has asked to meet with you later this afternoon,” continued Jocelyn, tidying the tray with one hand. “I believe that John has already taken your luggage upstairs?”
“Yes, he too was most kind. He would not allow me to fetch it myself.”
Jocelyn smiled. “I think you will find that all of the servants here are very kind.” She looked her cousin over and opened the door. She chattered the whole time, telling her the general rules of the household and a quick who-was-who among the staff.
Arabella still did not see very much of the panelled secret hallway as it was dark due to the lamps not yet being lit. She did, however, notice that the stairs beneath her feet were not carpeted. After climbing up three flights – not to the top floor – Jocelyn opened another door into a bright corridor that caused Arabella to screw up her eyes after the dim light of the stairwell.
“Oh, this is pretty,” she said, noting the delicate pattern on the wallpaper.
“His Lordship always hoped for more than one child,” said Jocelyn. She pointed at an open door. “In there is the nursery.” They walked a few paces past the room. “And here is your chamber. There is an interconnecting door between your room and the nursery.”
“Thank you,” said Arabella, looking around at the equally delicately decorated bedchamber. It was small, but contained everything she would need. “For everything,” she added.
“I will give you time to settle in,” said Jocelyn, closing the door behind her, leaving Arabella to take in her new surroundings.
Charles Handrich brushed a hand over his face, feeling the stubble that was starting to grow on his chin and cheeks. The baron rubbed at each of his eyes in turn. His mother’s handwriting was so tiny and barely legible that her letters always gave him eye-strain whenever he tried to read one of them. The dowager baroness seemed to write small in order to cover as much of the parchment as she could, with as much information as she could, and most of it was repeated from the previous missive. Charles truly had to read her letters in stages if he had any hope of taking any of it in. It was tiring! Then again, everything was tiring these days. Everything was always such an effort.
He felt the familiar stab of pain at the back of his skull and let his head rest on the back of the chair, closing his eyes and breathing slowly and deeply. He had discovered that when he started to feel stressed or under any kind of pressure, a few minutes spent breathing deeply seemed to make him feel a little better. As he breathed in, he counted silently to five, held it for five, and breathed out for five. He did it again twice more. As he concentrated on his breathing, the stab of pain gradually moved towards the front of his head until it was right in the middle of his left eyelid. Keeping his eyes shut, he lifted a hand and pressed on the eyelid with his forefinger, massaging the eyeball slowly. When the pain had gone, he allowed himself to open his eyes again.
He glanced at the letter in his other hand, but did not read further. He had done enough damage to himself for one day.
Charles folded the letter carefully, smoothing the creases as sharply as he could. Then he dropped the letter onto his desk and turned his attention to the window. He didn’t even see any of the gardens, the fields or the trees that lay beyond the windowpane. He had managed to read only half a page of the letter before giving up.
Mother was once again reminding him of his impending birthday, as if he had forgotten that he was fast approaching the age of thirty. She was once again reminding him that it was high time he re-enter society, as if he had forgotten that it had been more than two years since his late wife had abandoned him – him and their only child, although she had abandoned their daughter long before then, refusing to even acknowledge the child’s very existence. Mother was once again reminding him that the season had already started, as if she had not already invited him to almost every single event she herself had attended thus far.
Charles sighed and rubbed at his face again. He had no desire to uproot his daughter and drag her into town, nor had he any intention of leaving her at the country estate all by herself. He remembered how traumatic it was when she was forced to say goodbye to her beloved nursemaid. Oh, she had tried her very best not to cry when it was time for Miss Mills to leave, tried very hard to conceal her emotions and take it in stride. However, she had disappeared on more than one occasion since then. Fortunately, Charles usually found her in her preferred hiding place beneath the small dining table in the morning room, behind the vast and heavily embroidered tablecloth. He would sit with her hunched over with his neck bent and his legs crossed until she was ready to come out again. He did not press her into saying anything. He simply sat there with her on the floor, ignoring the cramp forming in his thighs or a splinter poking him in the backside, until she crawled out from under the table and he stiffly followed her.
“I will not take Rachel to London!” he barked at his faint reflection in the window.
“Ahem,” said the butler, clearing his throat.
Charles twisted at the waist to see Keegan standing uncertainly just inside the study door. “I did not see you there,” he apologized. It was often the case that one of the servants would creep up on Charles and surprise him, to the extent that he sometimes wondered if they had all entered into a conspiracy and were doing it on purpose.
“You were deep in thought, my lord,” said the butler with a quick bow. “I did not wish to startle you.”
Charles blinked and shook his head. “I was indeed,” he said, flapping a hand at the letter lying on his desk.
Mr Keegan nodded sagely, for he had brought the letter to his lordship himself and could guess the contents.
Charles forced a neutral expression. “Was there something else?” he asked.
“I merely wondered if you wished to have any refreshments brought here when you interview the new nursemaid, my lord.”
“Is she here?” Charles glanced out the window as though the carriage bearing the most recent member of his staff might materialize before his eyes; another way to perfect the fine art of surprising the baron.
“Miss Reid arrived an hour ago, my lord,” said the butler. “Her cousin, the, erm, other Miss Reid, has taken her to her quarters.”
“Surely we cannot call them both Miss Reid, Keegan?” said Charles, turning his attention back to the man. “I can not believe I missed the carriage. I have been here all afternoon.”
Mr Keegan flicked his eyes at the discarded letter. “I daresay you have been preoccupied, my lord,” he said with a wry smile.
“Ah, yes,” said Charles, picking the letter up. “I daresay you have experienced my mother’s handwriting yourself many times.” He flicked the letter against the edge of his desk, but he did not open it to carry on reading it. “Has the new Miss Reid had something to eat and drink?” he asked.
“I believe so,” said the butler. “The, ah, other Miss Reid received her in her sitting room, and I understand she, ah, the other Miss Reid, collected a tray from the chef.”
Charles nodded. “This does risk becoming quite confusing, Keegan,” he said. “I do hope the girl stays around long enough for us to come up with a workable solution that does not insult either of them.”
“I am certain that she will and that we will, my lord,” said the butler. When he was sure that they had exhausted that topic of conversation, he said, “Will you and Miss Rachel be leaving for London?”
Charles felt his hackles rise as he shot a look at the man. “What on earth makes you ask that?” His own reaction gave him the answer he required to that exact quandary.
“It is merely something you said as I entered the room, my lord,” replied the butler. “I was only wondering, for it may not be worth the new nursemaid settling in too comfortably right now if you are all to be off to London soon.”
“Yes,” mused Charles. “I see what you mean.” Then he made his decision. “No, Keegan. I think that remaining in the country will be the best thing for Rachel and for me.”
“Your mother will not be content with that, my lord,” said Mr Keegan, nodding again at the letter in Charles’ hand.
Charles tossed the folded paper across his desk once more. “It has nothing to do with my mother,” he replied.
The butler waited another beat and then asked, “Will you be requiring a tray of refreshment, my lord?”
“No, thank you,” he answered. “I do not think so. I merely wish to have a brief conversation with the girl. If she has already eaten then I daresay she will not wish for any more.”
“Very well, my lord,” said the butler.
He bowed and backed out of the room. As soon as he had gone and Charles turned back to the window again, there came a tap on the door. Charles had not heard Mr Keegan knock the first time, so he did not understand why he was knocking after he had only recently been there.
“What is it?” he called.
“It is only me, old chap,” said a friendly voice as Simon Andrews’ head popped around the door.
“Forgive me, cousin,” said Charles. “I thought you were Keegan.”
Simon checked the corridor behind him before coming into the study and closing the door. “I wondered if I might have a quick word—” he stopped short and peered at the baron’s face. “I say, is there something amiss, Charles?” he asked.
“Why do you ask?” asked Charles.
“You look wrung out,” replied Simon. “As though you are deeply bothered about something.”
Charles rubbed his face again and indicated that Simon take a seat. “I have received a letter from my mother,” he said, picking up the offending item once more and dropping it on the desk again. He gave Simon a precis of what he had gleaned so far.
“But, you do not wish to go to London?” asked Simon.
“I have no desire to do any such thing,” he replied.
“If Miss Rachel were perhaps ten years older, there might be more reason for you to go,” said Simon with understanding.
“Precisely!” agreed the baron.
“And she needs to get to know her new nanny,” continued the other man.
“Exactly!” said Charles.
Simon shrugged his shoulders. “Then do not go,” he said simply.
“That is what I have decided,” said Charles.
“Why the long face?” asked Simon.
Charles took a deep breath. “I only just this moment made the decision, whilst the butler was in here, in fact. I am still getting accustomed to having made the decision, but I do not know how I will break it to my mother.”
Simon shrugged again and pointed at the letter. “Write to her. It will be easier than facing her and telling her.”
“Mm,” mused the baron. “However, I daresay the very second she sees my reply she will be in her carriage and on her way here to change my mind.”
“By which time Miss Rachel will be happily doing things with her new nursemaid, and you will have another reason not to drag her to town.” Simon nodded his head once, and Charles smiled at him. “There you are, you are looking better already. You were lucky to find a replacement for Miss Mills so quickly,” he added.
“Yes. I am very grateful to Miss Reid… to the other Miss Reid for recommending her cousin for the vacant position.”
“The ‘other’ Miss Reid?” asked Simon, furrowing his brow.
“Ah, yes,” laughed Charles. “You were not privy to that part of my conversation with Keegan.”
“I was not privy to any of it,” reminded Simon.
Charles filled him in.
“I see,” said Simon when he had finished. “Surely the other Miss Reid is referred to as Mrs Reid by the servants? And surely you usually call the servants by their surname in any case?”
“Keegan does not call her ‘Mrs Reid,’ and I cannot call either of them “Reid”… it seems… disrespectful.”
“I think you can,” said Simon. “Perhaps you will call the nursemaid “Nanny.” In which case you can continue to call the housekeeper “Miss Reid.””
“We always called Miss Mills, “Miss Mills,” Charles pointed out.
“Well, whatever,” said Simon. “I am certain that she will turn out to be a very fine nursemaid, and you will have nothing to worry about.”
“I am too,” confided the baron. “I have known Miss Reid, the housekeeper, for many years. She has been here for a long time. I believe her cousin to be the perfect candidate to care for my daughter.”
“Then you must trust your own instincts, cousin—”
There was another tap at the door, and the butler came in.
“Yes, Keegan?” asked Charles.
“The, ah, new Miss Reid is ready to see you, my lord,” replied the butler.
“Splendid,” said Charles. “Show her in.”
Arabella licked her lips again. Her mouth was so dry. Even where she had bitten her lip, it still felt deprived of moisture. Her stomach fluttered as though a nest of butterflies had hatched inside her, and her heart thudded against her chest so hard she was sure the kind butler would hear it. The butler turned to face her.
“His lordship is ready to see you,” he said, holding the door open for her to walk through.
Arabella smiled and nodded at him. She opened her mouth to say ‘thank you,’ but it came out as a croak.
“Do not worry,” whispered the butler in her ear. “He does not bite.”
A tall, thin man with short brown hair stood up quickly as she entered. Arabella turned to him and started to curtsy.
“Oh, do not mind me,” said the man. “I was just leaving.” He nodded at the other man who was seated at a large desk beneath the window. “I will see you later, Charles,” he said.
“Right ho,” said ‘Charles’.”
Arabella instantly realized her error and felt her face flush with embarrassment.
“My lord,” she said, dropping into a deep curtsy and staring at an Oriental rug in the middle of the floor. “Forgive me.”
The man barked a laugh and stood up to greet her. “I should like to say that my cousin is often mistaken for myself, but alas, it is not actually the case. Stand up, please, Miss Reid.”
Arabella straightened up, but still she could not meet him in the eye, so deep was her shame at making such a mistake.
“That,” said the baron softly, “was Mr Simon Andrews. He is not only my cousin, he is also the steward of Hartford Hall.” He pointed at the door and then pointed at the seat his steward had just vacated. “Please, sit down.”
Still keeping her eyes down, Arabella did as she was bid. The seat of the chair was still warm. It comforted her a little, as did the smell of leather and pipe smoke in the room. However, it did not take her long to remember her place. The baron had not yet resumed his own seat, so Arabella began to stand up again, and she finally locked eyes with him.
Her thumping heart felt as though it had completely stopped. Her mouth dropped open in surprise. Hovering half between sitting and standing, she gazed into the honey-colored eyes of the most handsome gentleman she had ever seen in her life.
“Please,” he said again, “do sit down.” He, however, was doing no such thing. The baron made his way to the fireplace, where a small fire burned, and he tugged at the service cord. “I did tell Keegan earlier that we would not require any refreshments,” he said. “However, I have changed my mind.” He smiled at her and finally sat down in the leather chair at the desk.
Arabella followed suit, placing her hands in her lap and looking down at the rug again. It was red and gold with a pale fringe at either end that matched the whipping around the edge. In front of the fire was a scorch mark on the rug, barely discernible, for it matched the colors of the rug almost perfectly. But, it was a burn all the same.
“A coal fell out of the fire,” he said with a shrug, following her eyes.
“I am sorry,” said Arabella quietly, licking her lips again. “It was rude of me to stare.”
“Please,” he said, “do have a good look around. It is a room I am proud of; a room that contains some of my most precious memories.”
Arabella lifted her eyes and looked around the room as a tap came upon the door. It was the butler.
“I have changed my mind, Keegan,” said the baron. “I think I would like some cordial. Will you ask chef to send us some?”
“Of course, my lord,” said Mr Keegan.
“That is Keegan,” said the baron, somewhat unnecessarily. “Whom you have already met.” Arabella nodded. “And I,” he said, getting to his feet again and clicking his heels together, “am Lord Charles Handrich, Baron Hartford.” He nodded, she waited a beat, then she too was on her feet and smiling at him.
“Miss Arabella Reid,” she said with a bow of the head. “At your service, my lord.”
They sat down again as a maid scurried in carrying a tray with a large pitcher and two glasses upon it. “Would yer like me ter pour, mi’lord?” she said.
“No, thank you, Mabel,” said the baron, dismissing her with a nod.
The maid hurried out again, and Arabella shifted forward in her seat to do the honors.
Lord Harteford held up a hand, silently instructing her to remain where she was. As he poured them both a glass of the pale yellowy-green cordial, Arabella watched him from beneath her eyelashes.
She could see the family resemblance between him and his cousin-the steward, but the baron carried a little more weight about him than Mr Andrews did. They shared the same color hair, but whereas Mr Andrews’ was short and dark, Lord Hartford’s was longer, slightly lighter, and it curled almost mischievously around his ears and neck. He was clean-shaven, with only a very fine shadow of stubble. He truly was very handsome. But, oh! Those eyes!
“It’s elder flower,” he said suddenly, bringing her back to the present.
“Elder flower?” she repeated with puzzlement, still thinking of those honey-colored irises of his.
“The cordial,” he said, and she noticed then that he was holding a glass out to her.
“Oh, the cordial!” she said, silently chastising herself. Must I repeat everything he says like a performing parrot? she wondered. She shook her head. “Yes, elder flower cordial. It is very good for the digestion.”
“That is correct,” he said, jerking the glass towards her, reminding her to take it from him.
“Thank you,” she said.
She looked down into the fresh liquid, wanting to gulp it all down in one go. She forced herself to wait though. If she had taken a sip before the baron had partaken of his own glass, it would be most ill-mannered of her, and he might change his mind about employing her.
With frustration she watched him place his own glass down on the desk, and she pressed her lips together.
“Drink!” he said, holding out a hand. “You look as though you are parched.”
“I am that,” she agreed, and she finally gratefully sipped at the cool cordial, closing her eyes as she savoured the refreshing taste.
“It is good, is it not?” he said.
“Mm,” she said, wiping a droplet of cordial from her mouth with a finger. “Do you have your own elder trees?” she asked at last, still nursing the liquid in her glass.
“We do,” he said. “And chef has got the beverage down to a fine art, I believe.”
“She certainly has,” said Arabella, taking another sip. She still wanted to drink it all down in one go, but she also did not wish to appear greedy. “Is it not a little late for the flowers?” she asked, looking out the window behind the baron’s head, as though she would see the trees themselves growing there right outside his study. “I would have thought they would be setting their berries by now.”
“They are,” he agreed, leaning forward, leaning his elbows on his knees and making his hands into a steeple. He dropped his chin onto the tips of his fingers and stared at her for a few moments, making her feel a little self-conscious. “I trust your journey here was comfortable?” He asked her.
Arabella nodded. “Yes, my lord. Thank you for sending the carriage.” She smiled nervously and looked around the room again, her eyes lingering on a miniature portrait sitting on a table next to a vase of flowers.
“My late wife,” he said, seeing again what she was observing.
“Oh,” she replied, wiping the smile from her face. “I am sorry for your loss.” She was well aware that the baroness was no longer around, and she made the assumption that the woman had sadly passed away. Thinking such a thing and actually saying it out loud were two very different matters.
He closed his eyes, shook his head and waved one of his hands at her before resuming his steeple-fingers. “I lost her a long time ago,” he said sadly, opening his eyes again and looking right at her. He paused, blinked, and sat back in his chair again. “I must say that you have come very highly recommended,” he said. Arabella felt her face flush. “Miss Reid… that is, the other, ah, Miss Reid – speaks very well of you.”
“She is my cousin,” said Arabella softly.
“Even so,” said the baron, “I do trust what she says.”
“I must thank her again,” said Arabella.
There was another awkward silence for a few moments. Arabella took another sip of her cordial, whilst the baron’s remained untouched, and she realized that he had noticed her plight and ordered the refreshment even though he had not wished for any. What a kind and perceptive fellow, she thought. Arabella glanced at his glass and then back at those eyes. He was looking at her intently, and she felt her cheeks flush again.
“Tell me about your daughter,” she said at last, turning and placing her empty glass on the bookshelf behind her. When she turned back to the baron, his expression had softened.
“My little Rachel,” he said with a smile, seemingly gazing at the corner of his desk as he brought her to mind. “She is such a strong character. It grieves me so when she is hurt or upset.”
“She must have felt the loss of her mother most keenly,” said Arabella.
“Ha!” said the baron, surprising her. “She barely even knew her mother.”
“Oh…” said Arabella. Perhaps the baron’s late wife had died in childbirth? She was not sure whether to continue her questions for fear of opening old wounds.
“It was nothing like that,” he said, putting her at ease once more. “Sadly, my late wife had no interest in our daughter from the moment she was born and refused to see her or even have her in the same room. In fact, although she is a strong little girl, I do fear Rachel may withdraw, for she had been in the care of Miss Mills from the very first day of her life.”
“She has not yet withdrawn?” asked Arabella for clarification. The baron nodded his agreement. “Then it may come,” she said, starting to feel comfortable at last.
Again the baron nodded. “Grief catches us so unaware,” he said.
“Is Miss Rachel’s former nanny still with us?” asked Arabella, furrowing her brow.
“She is indeed. Yet at times it is worse when one feels abandoned by someone by choice, their choice. Miss Mills chose to go away as far as Rachel is concerned. She was not taken against her will. Her mother, on the other hand, was a complete stranger to her.”
Arabella nodded. It was clear to her that this man was a very devoted father.
“I understood that the former nanny was forced to leave, due to a sick relative?” she ventured.
“That is correct,” he said. “However, how does one explain that to a six-year-old child?”
“Rest assured,” she told him with a little confidence now. “I will find a way to explain everything to her. And when the grief comes, I will be ready.”
Lord Hartford nodded sagely again before looking at his glass of cordial as though noticing it for the very first time. He picked the glass up, held it up towards Arabella in a toast, and he gulped down half of it in one go. Smacking his lips and screwing up his eyes at the sour, but sweet taste, he slammed the glass back down on the desk and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
Then he started to regale Arabella with all kinds of tales and stories about Rachel. She thirstily eyed the pitcher, still half-filled with cordial, and helped herself to another glass, topping the baron’s glass off for him. He hardly seemed to notice as he was so wrapped up in his narrative.
“A Nursemaid’s Fairytale Begins” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When her mother passes away, Arabella Reid is left penniless and sorrowful. Luckily for her, she is hired as a nursemaid for a widowed baron’s daughter. A mysterious twist of fate comes to shake her life to its core, when Arabella finds herself in love with her brooding and distant employer, Lord Harteford. However, she is perfectly aware that her love must remain unspoken…
Will Arabella listen to her late mother’s warnings of never trusting a nobleman? Or will she follow her heart despite knowing that a nursemaid and a baron could never have a future together?
Lord Charles Harteford is nursing his own broken heart following his beloved wife’s death, even though she had left him for another man shortly before her passing. Following this pain and betrayal, he has remained true to his vow to never love again, until he meets Arabella… How long will it be before he realises his mind is no longer occupied by the memory of his late wife, but is instead filled with tender thoughts of Arabella?
Will Charles manage to resist the kind nursemaid’s mesmerising gaze?
It does not take long for Arabella and Charles to admit their growing and overpowering feelings for each other. There is one problem though; Charles’ mother will not tolerate their union and tries to avoid a scandal at all costs… Will Arabella and Charles overcome not only their inner fears, but also the threatening obstacles around them? Or will they cave in to society’s restrictions, even though a life without each other will be unbearable?
“A Nursemaid’s Fairytale Begins” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.