A Viscount’s Disguised Maid (Preview)


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Chapter One

August 1815, Two Roads Inn, in the countryside of Northumberland…

“Thomas, wait! Where the devil do you expect me to—Ow!”

 Eileen cut herself off with a gasp. Her cousin had just slammed her wooden traveling trunk down on the edge of her foot, rolling his eyes at the sounds of her protestations. With an unladylike grunt, she balled her fists and kicked the trunk out of her path. She rushed toward Thomas, grabbing him by the arm before he could duck back into his gleaming black carriage. 

“Think on this a moment,” Eileen said, putting on her best performance. The weaker she appeared, the more likely her cousin was to take pity on her. With round eyes and a little pout, she gave a shudder. “What will the gentlemen of Newcastle say when they learn that you have so callously cast me out? Oh, the misery that will befall us all! Thomas Gratwell, the master of Cally Grange, leaving his own flesh and blood on the roadside like a rotting pheasant carcass!”

“You will unhand me,” he commanded, ripping his wiry arm out of her grasp. Thomas was implacable. His face, weathered with age, contorted into a snarl of disgust. “The gentlemen of Newcastle…? Why, I suspect they will say what I have thought to be true for weeks…I should have turned you away the moment you landed on my doorstep. Aye, I will satisfy myself with getting rid of you on this day.”

The Gratwell driver stood up, watching the commotion from his perch. Eileen cast him a black look, warning him to stay out of things. The carriage door was cold against her hand as she grabbed it, stopping it before Thomas was shut inside.

“You have a duty to me,” Eileen argued through the gap, pressing her face inside the carriage. If he slammed the door shut and beheaded her, so be it. “We may not share the same name…Gratwell, Walton…but what does that matter? You were my father’s only cousin. By law, it falls to you to become my guardian.”

“Ha! By neither law nor principle do I owe you anything.” He scoffed, shoving Eileen back and taking the door for himself. “Oh, but the apple never falls far from the tree, does it? You are as dim-witted as your father was and twice as irksome. If Roger had had any sense in that thick skull of his before he put a bullet through it, he would have written up some sort of contract for you. As things stand, he did not. Any duty that you feel binds us is the product of your own imagination, dear girl. There are Walton relatives far and wide. I say, you better busy yourself with looking for them.”

Eileen stepped back in exasperation, shaking her head. She had long known that Thomas Gratwell was a miser and a bore, but she hadn’t thought that he was a monster, too. Fast approaching seventy, he had received a new lease on life with the acquisition of his cousin’s title. The former Baron Langsend, Eileen’s father, would have turned in his grave to see what Thomas had done with it. 

If he even cares to look down on us, Eileen thought, watching as the groom spurred the horses into a trot. In those last months, Father didn’t care about anything. Not even me.

Her reflection flashed in front of her as the carriage took off down the road. The green eyes of her mother, the dark hair and aquiline nose from her father…Her image was dark and warped as the vehicle drove away. 

Drawing in a fortifying breath, Eileen stared out at the road ahead of her. She barely had time to take in her surroundings before Thomas had booted her out of the carriage onto the roadside. They were deep in the countryside of Northumberland, around twenty miles from Newcastle, by her estimation. On one side of the thoroughfare, there was thick, unending woodland. On the other, a little way down the road behind her was a small tumbledown inn. 

A few patrons stood outside, whispering to each other beside the adjoining mews now that the commotion was over. Eileen sucked in her cheeks and dusted off her traveling coat. Another woman might have thrown herself down on the ground and bawled her eyes out—would have had good reason to—but Eileen hadn’t shed a tear since her father’s funeral. She heaved her trunk off the ground, refusing to look back, and with nowhere else to go, she proceeded toward the little inn. 

It was a far cry from Cally Grange, and an even further cry from Langsend House, where she had once lived happily with her mother and father. The building was two stories high, white stucco peeling off the outside and revealing the beige stonework beneath. Fall was just around the corner, turning some of the green ivy to burgundy as it crawled up to the thatched roof. Two small, crooked windows looked down on Eileen like a pair of old peepers. Three sets of real eyes watched her approach too, belonging to the travelers crowded around a stagecoach, while the presumed driver changed his horses. Every one of them looked like a letch. 

When the shortest of them stepped forward, parting his mouth to say something to Eileen, she picked up her pace and burst through the inn’s front door, slamming it shut by accident. 

“They’ll be none of that under my roof,” came a warning voice from in front of her. “Make sure that door’s shut and come over here.”

Eileen froze, adjusting her eyes to the dim light inside the entryway. The room was barely five feet wide and was maybe three times as long, with a recessed receiving area at the other end. Two archways stood on opposite sides of the hall, with a winding staircase leading upstairs behind one. The other stepped down into a room Eileen couldn’t see. 

Blinking hard, Eileen approached the counter and braced herself for a dressing-down. Her arm ached with the effort of lugging her traveling trunk around. The woman stood on the opposite side of the counter barely looked up, scribbling in a leather-bound ledger with a quill that had seen better days. A pair of bronze reading spectacles were perched on the end of her long nose. Behind the lenses were large brown eyes, which Eileen only noticed when the innkeeper finally condescended to look up at her. 

“Forgive me for the disruption,” Eileen said when the innkeeper remained quiet, splaying her fingers on the counter. “It has been,” she said with a sigh, “a series of trying days. Perchance…could you tell me the name of this inn and whereabouts we are?”

The innkeeper raised an auburn brow, dancing the wrinkles on her forehead. She removed her spectacles and held them in midair, wafting the smoke rising from the candle on her desk. 

“You must have missed the sign outside,” she replied. Her northern drawl made Eileen suddenly conscious of her accent, marking her as one of the ton. At least her dirty garments cast some doubt on her identity. “This here is Two Roads Inn, a mile out of Prudhoe…” She narrowed her eyes, looking Eileen up and down. “Where did you say you were from?”

“I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t say much of anything at all.” Eileen laughed nervously, trying to force a new accent, and failing miserably. It was probably easier to lie. “My family is from London.” Well, a half-lie. “I traveled up to Newcastle for…”

For what? Eileen started, realizing for the first time just how alone she was. Announcing herself as the daughter of an aristocrat, even a dead and disgraced one like her father, was bound to attract the wrong sort of attention. She remembered the leering travelers outside. Who was to say they wouldn’t try to rob her blind once they learned who she was? Or worse, attempt an abduction and try their luck with a ransom?

Fat chance that will get them far, Eileen thought, biting on her lower lip. Father entailed nothing but debt to me when he died, and the only thing of any value in this trunk is the one remaining jade necklace from my mother’s stash.

She wiped her brow with her sleeve, thinking hard. If there were Walton relatives still alive, they would likely be down in Kent, where her father was born. Thomas was the only relative of her father’s Eileen had ever met, and she had burned the last pittance of her father’s money on the journey up to Cally Grange. Roger Walton was the only son of an only son—and both his father and grandfather had died young. A solicitor would need to be called upon to sniff out any distant relations. Alternatively, Eileen thought, she could try her luck soliciting her father’s former estate managers for leads. They had all fled as soon as Langsend House had been sold by Thomas to pay off the bulk of her father’s debts, since no one wanted to be connected to the Walton family after the baron’s death. Again, that option necessitated a long and costly trip to London. Her mother’s family, the Du Bellays, were all still in Normandy. Trust her father to have imported a wife from France…

There was no one left Eileen could turn to, at least no one within her reach. To start anywhere, she needed money. Marrying a rich gentleman could work, but with no dowry to her name and no chaperones for the London Season, it was impossible for her to land one. She felt for her near-empty coin purse, hanging limply in the pockets of her skirt. 

There was one recourse left to her, a temporary solution, but she didn’t like the idea of it one bit.

“So, what will it be?” the innkeeper took up again. By that point, she had returned to her ledger. “Two shillings a night for a room, and that includes a meal.” She glanced up, and her face flickered with concern. “Unless there’s something else I can do you for?”

“I…” Eileen swallowed her pride, letting her fist fall back onto the counter. “I don’t suppose you’re looking to hire anyone? I can cook…and clean…” And lie through her teeth, apparently. “Please, all I need is a little work to get me by. I’ll be out of your hair before you know it, once I’ve made enough money to move along.”

The innkeeper didn’t look convinced by her pleading smile. She gestured lamely towards the room on Eileen’s right. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be a dining hall furnished with three similarly long tables and benches on either side. The flagstone floors were pristine, and Eileen doubted it was thanks to diligent housekeeping. The room was completely empty, not a single patron in sight, even though it was quickly approaching lunchtime. 

“We have all the hands we need and more,” the innkeeper replied, tilting her head in consolation. She seemed genuinely upset that she couldn’t help Eileen, proving to her once and for all that she definitely wasn’t in London anymore. Charity had fallen out of fashion with the ton years ago. “But I’ll put in a word for you down in Prudhoe tonight. Failing that, you can walk into one of the other nearby villages tomorrow. Corbridge and Hexham are not so far. More than manageable for a sprightly young lass like you.” She leaned in closer and dropped her voice. “And if you still need that room, I can make it one shilling a night until you’re settled. All I need from you is your name.”

“My name…?” Eileen thought back to Langsend House. She doubted her mother’s old lady’s maid would mind if she borrowed her name for a while. “Constance Knowles. Well, let’s just go with Connie.”

“A canny good name.” The innkeeper smiled. “You can call me Bridget. Now…” She closed her ledger. “Let’s get you sorted with that bed, Connie.”

Eileen was at a loss for words, both devastated by the lack of vacancies at Two Roads Inn and touched by Bridget’s kindness. A cheap room would just have to do for now. 

Nodding, she unbuttoned her traveling coat and reached into her pockets. The front door creaked open behind her, sunlight beating against her back. Defeated, Eileen didn’t bother turning around, placing one of her remaining seven shillings on the counter between her and the innkeeper.

When her father had revealed the extent of his debts to her, all those months ago, she had wanted to believe that was the end of their misery. He had hit rock bottom after the death of her mother two years prior, and then the rest was history. Surely, Eileen had thought, he could not have sunk any deeper, not when she still needed him. At twenty years old, she had only enjoyed one full Season in London to try and make something of herself before her father had taken an heirloom flintlock out of the gunroom and locked himself in his study, never to be seen alive again. 

Since then, Eileen had been proven wrong time and time again. There was no rock bottom. Not for anyone. There was bad, and then there was worse.

“All right. Let’s get me sorted,” Eileen repeated, mainly to herself. She uncovered the shilling slowly, taking a step back so that she couldn’t change her mind. “Thank you. But please, if you hear of any offers at all, let me know as soon as you can. I’ll take anything, like I said.”

She leaned down to pick up her trunk, pausing halfway when a low, rich voice rang out from behind her. 

“If it’s work you’re looking for,” the stranger said, “I might have something of interest to you…”

Chapter Two

Liam wasn’t usually one to eavesdrop—but he also wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. He had only stopped at Two Roads Inn that morning to water his horses and enjoy whatever luncheon was on offer, having pulled up beside a decrepit-looking stagecoach, and he had subsequently warned the gaggle of travelers by the doors to stay well away from the new phaeton he’d received from the Duke of Wellington. 

It was only another five-mile drive to Corbridge. As far as Liam was concerned, the longer he could delay his return home, the better. If that made him a coward, then so be it. Hartfield Manor, of which he was the new master, wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

The woman he had disturbed—a woman who was now looking at him like he had accosted her—tilted her head to the side to take the measure of him. Liam was still sporting his regimentals, looking every part the captain he’d once been. She probably thought that he’d come to apprehend her, which begged the question: what had she done that would warrant an arrest? He was likely thinking too much into it, given a moment of surprised silence as she gawked at him, and he gawked back. It had been a long time since he had been faced with an English Rose quite like her. 

“Forgive me,” he said, removing his tricorne and holding it to his chest. “You were asking about employment, and I couldn’t help but overhear. If you were sincere in your request, I believe I have a post that needs filling.” He tried to smile reassuringly, looking at the innkeeper for help. “Unless I was mistaken.”

“No, that’s precisely what we were saying,” the innkeeper replied before the woman had the chance. She reeled back in surprise as Liam stepped into the light, setting down her spectacles, awe-struck. “Good sir, you would not happen to be the Viscount of Corbridge, would you? I have to assume, from your outfit…We do not get many war heroes in these parts.”

This is what he got for not stopping by a tailor’s the moment he docked in Sunderland. He supposed it was good practice. One way or another, Liam would need to start getting used to the disbelieving or awed stares of the commonfolk now that he was home again. The life of a lord had never suited him; it was part of the reason he had taken up with the Royal Navy at the earliest opportunity. The other reason…Well, there was no point dwelling on those bad memories now. 

The innkeeper’s near reverent tone set his teeth on edge, and the dark-haired woman had gone white in the face beside him, not exactly helping either. 

“I see news of my return proceeds me. More’s the pity,” Liam said under his breath. “Yes, I am…The Viscount of Corbridge, that is.” He almost choked on the title, still not comfortable wielding it as his own name. “If you know that, then you must also have heard about the restoration of Hartfield Manor—my home—not five miles from here,” he added to the benefit of the prospective maid, turning toward her. “I’ll be looking to complement the existing staff soon. Why delay if you are looking for work?”

“Why delay, indeed…” the woman repeated, averting her eyes to the floor in thought. A strand of dark hair fell in front of her eyes. She tucked it back, revealing a set of pretty, embroidered traveling gloves. To have been able to afford an accessory of that quality, she must have worked in a grand house before—or have been a master thief. “Are you recently returned to England?” She added, “My lord,” as an afterthought. 

“I’ve been four years out of the country, departed the moment I came of age. I was on commission in France for a time, before following the shadow of Bonaparte all over the Continent.” He clicked his tongue against his palate, stopping his mind from wandering. The story hardly needed to be told. His face bore the evidence of his time abroad. He had aged ten years in four. “So yes, I am recently returned. My family’s ancestral seat is in Corbridge. Circumstances being what they are…” More wandering thoughts. “I suspect my most recent commission will have been my last.” 

The woman nodded, looking down at her shilling, still in the innkeeper’s hand. “So, what is it that you would require of me? I can read and write but will accept any position within reason. Perhaps you require a lady’s maid…for your wife…?”

Her bright green eyes looked up at him in curiosity. She continued to surprise him with her bold questions. How did a spirited young woman like her end up begging for work at an inn in the middle of nowhere? Liam shook the thought away, trying not to stare. The mention of his ‘wife’ teased a laugh from him.

 “No, no.” He shook his head, covering his smile with the back of his hand. “That shan’t be possible, for I have no wife, and scarcely do I intend to take one. We will find some other place for you at Hartfield Manor when we arrive. No doubt, you will be positioned in the scullery or in the kitchens.” He furrowed his brow and cast a glance at the empty dining hall behind him. “Share luncheon with me, and we can discuss things further.”

He reached into his pocket and extracted his coin purse before she could refuse the offer, handing the innkeeper a generous half-sovereign for the groom’s work with his horses and their meals. The maid’s eyes widened as the coin glinted in the space between them. Perhaps she was not used to luxury after all, like her gloves had led him to believe. 

By the time they settled down to eat in the dining hall, it was almost noon. There was a commotion coming from downstairs, in the kitchens, where the innkeeper had gone to inform the cook of the viscount’s arrival. He heard shouting and the sound of pans being cast around. If Liam had known what an upset a simple cold luncheon was going to cause, he would have fasted until they reached Corbridge. At least it reminded him of home. Not Hartfield Manor, but his previous encampment. There had never been a quiet moment in their cantonment in France, not between the fighting, the planning, the sea, and the constant ribbing between his comrades.

He turned back to Connie, having asked her name when they entered the room. She had eyes like a cat, always watching and on edge. Liam couldn’t deny that she was beautiful, with her fair, rosy skin and long black hair. Her lips, while thin, were pursed in a way that made her always look like she was thinking hard about something. 

“Tell me, then. Are you from the area?” Liam said, leaning his elbows on the table as they waited for their meal. “Not by birth, certainly. Your parents must have been from further south for you to speak in the way you do.”

Connie’s neck bobbed. Her smile was flat as she reached for her tea and took a sip. “My family is from London, yes, but I moved to Tyne and Wear a few months ago for work. There was an…opportunity for me…in Newcastle. One which has since fallen through.” Her brow creased in anger, leaving him to wonder what had happened. She sighed deeply and set down her cup. “I really am grateful for your offer, Lord Corbridge. Before you came along, I was in rather dire straits. This all seems too good to be true.”

“I wouldn’t count your blessings too soon. The housekeeper at Hartfield Manor takes no prisoners. Mrs. Turner, her name is.” He smiled at the memory of Eliza. She had always coddled him, often treating him like she was his own son. How old must she have been now? Sixty-two? Sixty-three? “Her husband Sam works as the groundskeeper. You’ll meet them both soon enough.” His smile dropped. “Assuming they’re both still alive and working there. It’s been a few years now since I’ve received news of them.”

Liam glanced out of the window, which cast out onto the road. He blinked against the sunlight, relishing its gentle warmth against his skin. The stagecoach from before was taking off down the thoroughfare, piled with passengers. Just like Liam, the groom was watching them go, having stopped to take a rest on the inn’s front steps, drinking hungrily from a canteen and wiping his mouth dry.

Deep down, he supposed that a part of him had missed England. Oh, the ton could all burn in hell as far as he was concerned. But the hardy countryfolk like Eliza and Sam, the budding coastal towns, the heather and rowan trees, the frothing sea, the pallor of it all, even the inclement weather…England was his home, no matter how much he had tried to convince himself otherwise. Liam dreaded the thought of facing Hartfield Manor again, but it was the only place in the world he belonged now. He was tied to Corbridge through his blood. Like his father before him, he had to live and die there.

His breath hitched as the innkeeper approached from behind him, carrying two plates of cold cuts, bread and cheese, and a trencher of pickles and preserves. She refreshed Connie’s tea and Liam’s water, before disappearing back down the kitchen stairs.

“Does the household know of your return, my lord?” Connie asked from opposite him, spooning some plum jam onto a slice of bread. She arched a brow as she spread the jam around, having removed her gloves to reveal a delicate set of hands beneath. Long, slim fingers, and short, clean nails. “You said that it has been four years since you departed England…?”

“That’s right. I was fighting under Wellington until just recently. I was at Waterloo with the rest of them.” He shook his head, pushing away his doleful thoughts and tucking into his own lunch. “Until a year ago, my father took his seat at Hartfield Manor. He would send me the odd letter now and then, but with the amount of time I spent at sea, I was not always an easy man to locate. It was only a week ago that I finally crossed the Channel on my way home. A month before that, I sent word ahead to my cousin, asking him to warn the house of my return—he’s managed things in my absence. There was no point giving them an exact date of arrival.” He paused and smiled at her. “You’re something of a wanderer yourself. You will know as well as I do how unpredictable the traveling sport can be.”

She guffawed as though he didn’t know the half of it. He liked that expression on her. Confident, almost brattish. “I was forced to sit on the roof of a stagecoach between Leeds and Harrogate, which was a harrowing enough experience before it started to rain.” She rolled her eyes and took a bite of her lunch. “So yes, I’d consider myself a decently seasoned traveler now.”

He laughed. “To add to the long list of your other qualities, I’m sure.” 

Liam looked up with a start, having not intended to sound so flirtatious. A gentleman, even a weathered soldier like him, had no place trying to banter with a maid. The corner of Connie’s mouth curled with a smile. Her expression alleviated some of his guilt, but not all of it. He would not make that mistake again. He had invited her to Hartfield with the sole intention of giving her a job. It didn’t matter how pretty she was. He was far from the sort of gentleman who took advantage of others when they were at their worst. The mere idea sickened him. 

“What I meant to say,” he continued, clearing his throat, “is that I have not often encountered women of your station who can claim to read and write. I must ask—how did you become lettered?”

She swallowed her bite hard and leaned back, wiping her mouth on the provided linen napkin. “Well…” She waved a hand in the air. “I used to work for a baron’s family down in London. I became the baroness’ lady’s maid once my own mother passed two years ago, taking over her post.” She frowned, biting her lower lip. “My father recently died as well. The opportunity in Newcastle was supposed to be a chance for me to start over. Suffice to say that it was not.”

From the tone of her voice, he could tell that Connie’s pain was still fresh, even though her face betrayed none of her grief. Whatever had happened in her past had hardened her. Liam paused out of respect, waiting for her to say more if she wanted to. When she didn’t, he offered her a consolatory nod. 

“You have my condolences, Miss Knowles,” he said. “My own father passed not long ago as well. We can try to prepare ourselves for grief, but it is an incomprehensible, pitiless experience.”

Connie looked at him with wide eyes, like she was surprised by his attempts and sympathizing with her. Maybe he had overstepped another line. Or maybe she wasn’t used to others being kind to her. His heart twisted with the thought. 

“It is,” she agreed. “Completely pitiless.” Her voice was gentle and full of thought. Suddenly, she sucked in a breath and returned to her lunch, evidently trying to change the topic. “But yes, the reading and the writing…I…Well, I suppose I learned from a governess at the house. She was a wonderful woman, using her spare time downstairs to teach the maids how to read. My favorites were always the thrilling tales of highwaymen, even though she desperately tried to force the classics on me. Erm…On us. I simply couldn’t take to Hamlet the way I could to Dick Turpin.” She laughed softly, covering her smile with her teacup. “I looked out for highwaymen the whole way to Newcastle.”

“And were you looking for these vagabonds out of fear or excitement?” Liam asked, tilting his head to the side in amusement.

“I shall let you decide that for yourself, my lord.” Connie shrugged, teasing him. “After all, a woman must keep some secrets to herself, even from her new master…”

“A Viscount’s Disguised Maid” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Miss Eileen Walton has been the talk of London for all the wrong reasons. Determined to put the past behind her, she adopts a new identity as a lowly maid. Under the name Connie Knowles, she seeks work with the surrounding aristocrats. Soon enough, she lands in the employment of a charming viscount, but what initially seems like a blessing might reveal itself to be a curse. The viscount is everything Eileen has ever dreamed of, but Connie can’t possibly act on her feelings without compromising her new beginning…

As Eileen comes to terms with her newfound identity, can she keep her past hidden and her heart guarded from the allure of forbidden love?

Lord Liam Hartfield, the Viscount of Corbridge, has spent the last four years fighting for his country. Instead of a reward though, he returns to Northumberland to find his ancestral seat in ruin. Yet, he soon finds himself distracted by the newest addition to the staff… a maid whose charm and resilience captivate him. As he struggles to resist the pull of forbidden attraction, Liam faces another challenge: the father of his childhood sweetheart, whose machinations threaten to destroy his romance with Eileen.

Can Liam prioritize duty over desire, or will he risk everything for a chance at true love?

Drawn to each other despite their differences in station, Liam and Eileen combine forces to restore Hartfield Manor. As the stakes are raised, enemies beyond number present themselves. Not least of all Eileen’s former betrothed, who has come to take back what is rightfully his when Eileen’s luck starts to change. Can Eileen and Liam weather a new storm of scandal? Or will their love not survive the endless deception?

“A Viscount’s Disguised Maid” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Noble Gentlemen of the Ton", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

One thought on “A Viscount’s Disguised Maid (Preview)”

  1. Hello, my dear readers! I hope you have enjoyed this little prologue and you are eagerly waiting to read the rest of this delightful romance! I am waiting for your comments here! Thank you so much! ♥️

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