Knightfall 2017 TV Series (History Channel)

KNIGHTFALL historical adventure series which will launch its ten episode run sometime this Autumn  following the legendary Knights Templar who were the most powerful, wealthy and mysterious military order of the Middle Ages, entrusted with protecting Christianity’s most prized relic—the Holy Grail, and harbouring secrets capable of great destruction. Tom Cullen leads the cast which also includes Simon Merrells as knight Tancrede, Padraic Delaney as knight Gawain, Julian Ovenden, Bobby Schofield as Parcival, with Ed Stoppard as King Philip IV, Olivia Ross as Queen Joan and Jim Carter as Pope Boniface VIII.

Show Info

Airs on: United States History
Runtime: 60 minutes
Status: In Development; premiering November 2017
Show Type: Scripted
Genres: Drama History
Official site: www.history.com

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Universal’s New SF Series

UNIVERSAL CABLE PRODUCTIONS TO MAKE SF SERIES OUT OF HUGH HOWEY’S ‘SAND’, KURT VONNEGUT’S ‘SIRENS OF TITAN’ AND ROGER ZELAZNY’S ‘LORD OF LIGHT’!

 BASED ON HUGH HOWEY’S ‘SAND’

Sand will be helmed by Marc Forster

 

Fantasy delights today: Universal Cable Productions has revealed a plan of turning a number of sf novels into TV shows! One of them is SAND based on dystopian novels by Hugh Howey! World War Z’s Marc Forster is to helm the pilot set in a world ravaged by ecological devastation, savage winds, and shifting dunes. It follows a family who makes their way in this world as sand divers: the elite few who can travel deep beneath the desert floor to retrieve mysterious and valuable relics lost to the dust. Adrift in the wake of their father’s disappearance years ago, they rely on skill and each other to endure this ruthless environment where otherwise good people lie, sabotage, and kill in order to survive.

KURT VONNEGUT’S ‘SIRENS OF TITAN’
The second sf classic they will develop into series is Kurt Vonnegut‘s SIRENS OF TITAN to be produced by Dan Harmon and Evan Katz.  It follows Malachi Constant, the richest man in 22nd-century America. He possesses extraordinary luck which he attributes to divine favour and has used to build upon his father’s fortune. He becomes the centre point of a journey that takes him from Earth to Mars in preparation for an interplanetary war, to Mercury with another Martian survivor of that war, back toEarth to be pilloried as a sign of Man’s displeasure with his arrogance, and finally to Titan where he again meets the man ostensibly responsible for the turn of events that have befallen him.

ZELAZNY’S ‘LORD OF LIGHT’
Hugo Sf Award winning science fiction classic by Roger Zelazny LORD OF LIGHT is also on this list of adaptation. Terminator‘s Gale Anne Hurd will produce it with X Men‘s Ashley Miller. After humans have moved to a new planet, technological disparities allow a privileged few to assume the names and likenesses of deities, and rule over the common people. Tired of the system, a former “god” wages war against the unjust regime.
No release date known

Curtesy of Hollywood Spy

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John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 18

Chapter 18

     The Gift

 

Hearing Dixon coming through the door downstairs, John and Margaret grabbed their clothes and scattered to their own rooms, laughing hilariously, like school children putting a frog in the teacher’s desk.  John quickly dressed and returned to the parlor, just as Dixon came up from the kitchen.

“Hello Dixon, I didn’t think you would be back this early.  Did you have a nice time?”

“Yes, I did.  Master, I don’t know if you noticed, but it’s snowing again, not nearly as hard as before, but I thought I’d better get back in case it got bad.  I just came up to tell you I was home and about the snow.  Goodnight Master.”

“Thank you, Dixon, and goodnight.”  John went to the window; the snow didn’t seem like it would amount to much.  He waited for Margaret to return, but she didn’t.  It was after 10:00, so he decided to turn in.  Still crowing to himself over the game, he turned the lights off and went to his bedroom, delighting in his new treasure.  He wondered if life could possibly get any better than this, but he knew it could.  Before retiring, John returned to the Christmas tree and hung his mother’s ruby pendant, her gift to Margaret, at the top of the tree.  It wouldn’t be easily seen, but he would wait for her to notice it.

 

The morning broke with a beautiful pristine vista, as far as one could see.  No one was coming to the mill; there were no sounds, nothing to disturb the light dusting of the snow that had fallen last night, painting the entire landscape in white, with tiny sparkling diamonds, whenever the sun caught it.  John woke at his usual early time, but the house was already alive with many voices coming from downstairs.  He went down the backstairs into the bustling kitchen and was taken aback by five people trying to get around each other, as they headed in different directions.  With a rather loud voice, he said, “Happy Christmas to all.”  Everyone echoed back the same and went about their work.  Dixon asked if Miss Margaret was awake; John answered, he didn’t think so.

“Would you care for a cup of tea while you wait on Miss Margaret?”  Dixon asked the Master.

“Yes, bring a pot upstairs, if you don’t mind.”

John had just finished adding a dab of rum into the teapot, when Margaret emerged in an exquisite emerald-green  frock, very dressy and festive.

He inhaled deeply and went to her.  Pulling her into his arms, he started to waltz her around the room.  “You are dazzling, this morning, Miss Margaret.  Happy Christmas, my love,” John whispered to her.

“And a Happy Christmas to you, Mr. John.  I see that you waltz, sir.  Is there no end to your talents?  I cannot find the whole of you.”

“Do you mean like last night?  You were very close to finding the whole of me,” John whispered boldly, with a big grin, still waltzing her around the room.

 

What has come over me?  Why did I say that?  Where is this coming from?  Where are my manners?

 

Margaret blushed over that comment, sensing it had an air of inevitability.

As he continued to waltz her in a circle, he pressed his lips to hers, giving her a firm but light kiss.  Opening her eyes as they parted, Margaret noticed that the mistletoe had been hung from the chandelier.  “I see you put up the mistletoe.”

“Me?  I saw it and thought you did it.  That’s where we were when I just kissed you.  Let me fix you my spiced hot tea and give you a warning  . . . do not go downstairs,” John said, as he walked over to the teapot on the dining table.

“I think I can hear why.”  As Margaret strolled over to the fireplace, she was remembering last night.  She found a small length of yarn that had not burned, and placed it in her book that still sat on the table.  What a precious keepsake, she thought.  On some distant anniversary, she would present it to John and remind him how he cheated.

The heightened excitement seemed to make the day go by quickly.  John had set the bar with everything except champagne, which would come later.  He talked Adrian into tending the liquors.  Margaret checked the table and the upper floor for tidiness, as if she was lady of the house.  This did not escape John’s elated, rapt attention.

The smell from the meal cooking drifted upstairs.  The bar was ready and the table properly prepared to Margaret’s liking.  There was only an hour left to go before Branson picked  up his lady friend, the Professor and Mr. Granger.  John was browsing through a book, but kept one eye on Margaret as she walked back into the room checking that everything was in its place.  She was standing looking at the tree from a distance.  She moved closer as John continued watching her.  As her eyes drifted away, she thought she glimpsed something glittering near the top of the tree.  She stopped and tried to see it again, but she couldn’t find it.  She walked back and forth, looking up, trying to catch the light on it at just the right angle.

John thought what a wonderful portrait that would make.  This was an extraordinary Christmas.

Margaret stopped and stared.  It looked like a chain of some kind.  John had intentionally tucked the pendant behind a bough, so it couldn’t be seen.  He watched as she tried to reach for it, but she was too small.  He didn’t think she realized he was in the room, because she hadn’t asked for his help.

“Darn him,” John heard her mutter, “we agreed to no gifts.  That looks like a very beautiful gold chain to me.  Where is he?  Wait until I get my hands on him!”  She turned and found him standing directly behind her as she walked straight into  his chest.  “Oh, there you are, sorry.”  John looked down at her, giving nothing away.  “I thought we agreed not to buy anything for each other this year.”

“I’m here so you can get your hands on me.  What are you talking about Margaret?”  John said smiling, still wondering about the piffle that was springing from his mouth.

“This!” she said, as she jumped, pointing to the gold chain.  “I guess that got there like the mistletoe.”

John started laughing.  “I did NOT hang the mistletoe on the chandelier, and I did NOT buy you that, whatever it is.”  He now wondered who DID hang the mistletoe.

“Well, what is it, then?  Where did it come from?  John Thornton, I do not believe you.”

John reached up on his own toes to lift the necklace very slowly off the top branch, finally exposing the large heart pendant, swinging from the heavy gold chain.

As he lowered the gem to Margaret, she gasped when he put it in her hands.  “John, this is absolutely stunning.  It’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen . . . a beautiful ruby heart.”  She smiled up at him and pulled his lapels down for a kiss, a deep kiss.

John wrapped his arms all the way around her, crushing her to him and kissed her fiercely, slowly thrusting his tongue around and in and out.  It was a very carnal kiss; he was making love to her with his mouth and tongue.  Margaret’s knees weakened, and once again, she fainted.  John carried her to her room and laid her on her bed.  He sat beside her, and hollered for Dixon.

Dixon arrived promptly and before she could become hysterical, John said, “She’s fainted.  Please get me a cool wet cloth.”  Dixon rushed out of the room returning in less than a minute.

Handing the cloth to the Master, she asked what happened.  “She was given a nice gift and it overwhelmed her.  I gave her the heart pendant that my mother wanted her to have.  She’s coming around; would you mind leaving us?”  Dixon backed out of the room as she saw Margaret’s eyes begin to flutter open.

Margaret slowly sat up trying to focus her vision.  John moved enough so she could swing her legs over the side of the bed.  She kept staring at the gem in her hand, realizing that it was an antique, or a family heirloom.  “John, tell me about it.”

John told Margaret the story and ended with telling her how his mother had wanted her to have the necklace.  On her death bed, she had accepted Margaret as John’s love, and wanted to apologize for how she had treated her.  John put his arm around her waist while she cried heavily into his shoulder.  She couldn’t stop the flood of tears.  She had always known that she was not well received by John’s mother, and for that, she also carried guilt.  John took the pendant from her and placed it around her neck, noticing how beautifully the red heart hung against her ivory skin and emerald neckline.  Once fastened, she grabbed the large gem immediately and held the heart tightly in her fist.  It was as if she was “willing” the stone to mend the distance between herself and his mother, for John’s sake.

The first guests were arriving, and John handed her his handkerchief as he rose to greet them in the hall, just outside Margaret’s bedroom door.  It was Higgins and his family.

Upon seeing Margaret come out from her bedroom with red eyes and a runny nose, a sense of sadness wilted the moment.  Margaret quickly said they were –tears of joy- and showed them the necklace.  Higgins looked over at John.  “That was an heirloom gift, specifically to Margaret from my Mother, before she died.  That’s why all the tears.  I’m lucky you came in when you did, or I might not have escaped the same fate, myself.”  Higgins clapped John on the shoulder, saying nothing but giving him a smile.

Margaret gave Nicholas a hug and turned to Peggy.  Nicholas introduced Peggy to Margaret, and the ladies held hands, as they bid each other hello and made the appropriate greetings.  Margaret turned to greet Mary next.  She looked so pretty without her work clothes and severe hair style.  Margaret could see a beautiful young woman emerging.

Adrian arrived to take the drink orders.  Everyone found a place to sit, and they all became caught up in the spirit of the holiday.

With Margaret’s guidance, the conversation flowing cheerfully for a half an hour; soon the Professor arrived and was escorted upstairs by Branson.  Margaret introduced him to everyone.  Both Nicholas and Peggy were interested to hear of his work.  John was content to sit back and let the others talk while he studied his ‘once shy’ Margaret, blossoming into the happy woman she was becoming.  She had a beautiful profile, which he rarely seemed to see.  How could such a small demur woman, with ivory skin, blue eyes, light brown hair, and an independent temperament sweep him off his feet so completely?  He was always off balance around her, never feeling his feet touch the ground.

God . . . how deeply, I love her.

 

Dinner was then served, with Nicholas and John seated at the ends of the table.  There was lively conversation throughout the meal; the food was excellent and plentiful, and everyone was partaking of the holiday spirit.  The goose was cooked to perfection, along with all the trimmings that accompanied a traditional holiday dinner.  The Professor regaled them with Christmas celebrations in other lands, while Margaret spoke of their cotton waste snow trimmings and the magnificent pianoforte that awaited her.

Later, Margaret thought she heard something from far off.  Not quite knowing what it could be, she said, “Quiet everyone,” as she stood and tried to listen.  With the silence in the room, it quickly became clear that they were being serenaded with Christmas carols, from below stairs.  All seven folks from the kitchen came up the stairs singing and stood behind everyone at the table.  They sang, “The First Noel,” and the tabled clapped with pleasure.  As they sang a second carol, each of the seven filled their hands and trays with dishes from the upstairs table, and had it cleaned off in one quick swoop.

John stood and thanked all of them.  “Before you leave, and I know your arms are full, but I wanted to thank all of you for the lovely dinner today.  I know everyone worked very hard, even our two guests downstairs, who seemed to have been enlisted.  Branson and Dixon, please introduce your guests.”

Branson and Dixon did as they were told, to the embarrassment of their guests.  Margaret introduced Adrian and the two cooks.  The merry singers returned to the kitchen, laden with dishes and trays.

With the dishes cleared, John asked everyone to remain at the table a little longer.  Margaret and Peggy were enjoying talking to each other.  They were going to be close friends; Margaret could feel it.  She was a gentleman’s daughter, but did not regard herself that way, just as Margaret herself felt.  She was warm, intelligent and no airs.  She was perfect for Nicholas.

John excused himself for a minute, while Adrian brought out champagne glasses and poured a glass for everyone.  He returned to the table, as five faces looked at him in bewilderment.  It appeared, they were waiting for something else to happen.

The Professor, looking at John, anticipated a toast of some sort.  “If I could be so bold as to say something right here?” he asked.

John motioned for him to continue, and took his seat.

“Nicholas, I wanted to tell you that you were given a very nice compliment.  I haven’t told John this;  I wanted to tell you both.  Mr. Bryan McNeil stopped by the office yesterday.  I had to decline a dinner invitation with him for this evening because I wanted to be here.  I told him that I would be at Mr. Thornton’s home, with his overseer and betrothed, but I didn’t mention you by name.  He asked me if your name was Higgins, and I said yes.  He said he did not know you, but in his past 10 weeks here in Milton, he had made inquiries and had heard a lot about Marlborough Mills.  It seems that whenever Marlborough Mills was mentioned, your name would come up as a highly regarded overseer.  Mr. McNeil heard  about your ingenuity in helping the people of Marlborough Mills, and the owners, come together.  He’s also quite interested in hearing why John hired you after you almost forced the loss of his business.”  Ending there, the Professor smiled and sat back down.  There was a smattering of applause.

As everyone politely laughed, Higgins felt quite embarrassed.  Mary and Peggy looked at him proudly, while John and Margaret looked at each other as if to say, “I’ve never seen him embarrassed before.”

Higgins finally spoke, “Professor Pritchard. I don’t know what to say.”

Standing with a champagne glass raised in his hand, John said, “Well . . . I do.”

John paused to let the words settle in and to raise the anticipation of what he was about to say.  Clearing his throat, John began.

“Nicholas,  as you know, you have not only become my best friend over these last few years, but a very good part of Marlborough Mill’s more recent success is driven directly by you.  I don’t think I have ever thanked you enough for all you have done for the mills and for me.  The Mills owe you a great debt, and so do I.  I want to settle that debt, right now.  I hope you are comfortable in gentleman’s clothes, because for your wedding present, I am giving you and Peggy a 15 percent partnership in all of Marlborough Mills.  Nicholas, you are now an owner in the business and no longer an overseer.  I have paperwork for you to sign,” John said, as he pulled a folded deed out of his coat pocket.

“Of course, this means that you have to come up with your share when we purchase Slickson Mills.”  John smiled.

Silence hung in the air with disbelief.  There was a pause, as everyone came to grips with what he had just announced.

“Nicholas, you are going to have to find a Higgins for us.  Welcome to the land of property and the rank of a gentleman.  Thank you for everything.  A toast: To Nicholas Higgins, now a partner in Marlborough Mills.  Oh, here are your two tickets to the Chamber’s Ball coming in early spring.”

Everyone stood, except Higgins, and raised their glasses.  He was so overcome with emotion. His eyes misted.  Slowly, he got to his feet and lifted his head toward John.  His eyes were glassy, now.  He lifted his champagne glass, and everyone clinked their crystal together over the center of the table.  Margaret, Mary, and Peggy had huge smiles on their faces. John had a broad smile on his face, and Nicholas was speechless.

John added, “No one deserves it more than you, my friend.”

John caught Margaret looking at him with the most endearing look on her face.

Nicholas cleared his throat, barely able to stutter out the words, “Master; I don’t know how to thank you for this.  I am speechless; I mean, I really am speechless.  Thank you, thank you very much from myself, Peggy and the rest of the family.  How does one thank someone for giving them such a magnanimous gift as a partnership?”

“Nicholas, it is I who needed to say to thank you.  Not you.  Things are going to change very rapidly for you.  I have already set the paperwork in motion as you see here, so you better buy yourself a whole new gentlemen’s working wardrobe.  And henceforth, you call me John, no matter who is around.  No more Boss or Master.  That title now belongs to you, too.”

Peggy leaned over and embraced Nicholas and turning to John, said, “Thank you from me, as well.”  Mary kissed him on the cheek.

Margaret came to John’s end of the table.  She looked up into his happy face as he looked down into hers.  She was in awe of this man once again, the one who said he loved her.  She looked into his face for a long time before finally saying, “John, that was the nicest, sincerest  gesture I have ever seen.  I am so proud of you for what you just did.  As I’ve said in the past, there is no end of you.  You gave Nicholas the respect he deserved at a great personal cost to yourself.  That was a beautiful show of passion for your conviction and belief in him.  You are passionate in more ways than one,” she said with a smile.

 

Margaret, you hardly know the beginning of my passion.

 

Little did anyone know that John was getting the better reward hearing her words of praise for him.  He had wanted her love, but gaining her respect and having heard her say those words were another miracle in his life.  He smiled down into her face, wanting to thank her lips for what they had just spoken.

Margaret, sensing the same feelings, quickly went to the other end of the table to hug Nicholas and Peggy.  John followed her.  John put his hand out to Nicholas who grabbed it with both hands, firmly.  The men hugged each other like old friends, while the women did the same.  The Professor walked to the end of the table, too, and offered his congratulations, saying, “You will have a large part in my book as well, but that was planned for you even before this great night.”

The evening eventually ended with Nicholas, once again, thanking John for everything.  Margaret said goodbye to both.   The Professor accepted a ride home with Nicholas, thus freeing Branson for the evening with his lady.

A sense of merriment mixed with pine scent, and holiday cheer filled the spirited evening.  Now, being totally alone until dawn, John and Margaret settled into the comfort of enjoying each other’s company.

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The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part Four

Chapter Three

Ketteridge House, Leicestershire, England, December 4th, 1815

It had become urgently clear to Alex that he needed to find out all there was about Rowena Drake. She would, however, not be forthcoming; on the contrary, she was extremely reticent, as if there were a deep and dark secret in her past. She was also avoiding him, and taking extreme care not to be alone with him.

“Porter, be so good as to search a tome for me from those shelves over there.”

Alex and his batman were in the library, working on the ledgers. Or better, trying to find their way through the heavy volumes. Alex, unable to see, had to guide a Porter who lacked the educational skills to understand what he was supposed to find or read.

“Where, major?” the servant grumbled. “There must be thousands of the blasted books in here.”

Alex walked to the case nearest to the gigantic fireplace. It amazed him how easily he found his way in this room, even though he had not been here often when he still had his ability to see; it had been his father’s realm and later his brother’s. Yet now, it seemed to have become his.

“If I remember correctly, the book I want must be in this book case here. There should be an inventory on the first open shelf, placed on the extreme left. Do you see it?”

“Yes, I have it. What now?” Porter puffed.

It was a tedious task to make Porter act as his secretary, Alex thought. It was, however, the only way he had to learn the content of documents. He was just extremely thankful that his former batman had learnt to read and write as a child.

“The volume I need is Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage. It is a rather thick book with a red leather cover. The inventory will have the location of it in this particular book case.”

Still grumbling, Porter climbed the steps in his slow, hobbling way. He still suffered from that bullet wound in his thigh, Alex knew. Soon the batman came back down with the requested book and laid it on the desk to open it.

“Christ, major! I’m too old for this, I can’t read those tiny le’ers!”

“Use the magnifying glass, if you please.”

“Very well, what’m I lookin’ fer?”

Alex took a deep breath. The die was cast, he mused.

“Families named Drake in Cumberland. Find every fact you can.”

Porter’s next comment made him grin. “Yes, major, but couldn’t ye just ask her? There’s a whole bloody page of ‘em!”

“I could but I have not. Now continue, if you please?”

Mumbling to himself, Porter began reading, while Alex bit back a smile. He knew he should scold his old batman for being disrespectful, yet he was unable to reprimand the man who saved his life on the battlefield. Cumberland … yes, Rowena Drake had nearly given it away herself, had she not? Her accent was very faint but distinct.

“You do know that she’s been employing girls from the village and the neighbouring farms, I hope?” Porter continued in a casual way.

That surprised Alex. “No, I was unaware of it, although it makes sense. If Mrs Drake is supposed to clean up this old pile of a house, she will need proper help. I wonder how she is paying them.”

“Out of her own pocket, I suppose. She hasn’t asked Mrs Hall for coin, as far as I know.”

To his own surprise, Alex again felt a grin tugging at his mouth. So Rowena Drake was taking her task seriously, then. Good. He made a mental note to provide Rowena with the necessary funds for her girls.

 

Casting a last appraising glance at the four girls working in the first room she had selected to be thoroughly cleaned, Rowena turned and hurried down the stairs to have breakfast with her employer.

She wondered if there would be something in store for her on this day, December 4th. Silly thought, she scolded herself. Why would anybody at Ketteridge House even know that this was her birthday altogether? She had better banish these silly, childish thoughts once and for good. Today she turned twenty-one, and if her father had not chosen to leave everything to Roderick, her half-brother, she would not have been in such dire financial predicaments at the moment.

It had been a tremendous shock when Rowena, still crushed by grief of her father’s demise, had been coldly informed by Roderick’s unfeeling solicitor that she had no right to any of Daveston Hall’s funds. How well she remembered that scene in her father’s vast library with Roderick standing at the window with his back to her, and deliberately not looking at her. She would never forget the hurt she felt then, the apprehension at the realisation that she was on her own from then on, and that she was at Roderick’s mercy.

“Ah, there you are, Mrs Drake.”

Rowena abruptly stopped when the earl’s voice sounded at the foot of the stairs. He must have heard her, she reflected. She tucked a loose lock of hair back into place and proceeded her way down in a slower pace. Ridiculous, once again; the earl would not even notice her appearance.

“Good morning, my lord.”

Her employer’s eyes turned her way, but they did not focus on her. It was strange, but only now Rowena realised the extent of the earl’s handicap. Those beautiful blue-grey eyes of him would never actually see her. He must feel miserable at some moments, she mused. She could not even begin to imagine what it must be like for him.

“How did you know it was I approaching?” she asked.

He smiled, chuckling low. Rowena felt it deep in her belly, and shivered.

“My sight light be failing, but my hearing is not. I am already familiar with your step, Mrs Drake.”

She watched him return to the morning room from whence he had come. It was fascinating as well as pitiful to witness him trying to assess the distance he had to bridge. At some point, he was forced to stretch out a hand in order to prevent himself from bumping into the wall, and then use his fingers to guide him to the door. Slowly, Rowena followed Raventhorpe through the door, admiring the certainty with which he found his way to the small table at the window. How did he manage that? Once inside a room, he always seemed to go straight to where he wanted to go to.

“Mrs Drake,” the earl said, his voice rather stern, “I want to establish some very fundamental rules for you in managing this household. I absolutely forbid you to pay staff from your own resources. If you have need of money, you shall come to me and ask for it. Is that clear?”

“Yes, my lord,” Rowena replied, stunned by his stern tone. “Forgive me, I meant no offence.”

“None taken, ma’am. Next, I wish to make something clear. I insist on you disclosing who you are. It is absolutely necessary that I know, Mrs Drake.”

Flames shot up to Rowena’s face, while her heart started thumping alarmingly fast. She was grateful that Raventhorpe could not see the fear rising in her chest like bile.

“My lord …”

“Is your name actually Drake? I have considerable doubts about that, my dear.”

Rowena swallowed at the large lump that seemed to block her breathing.

“My lord, I … I implore you; please trust me. I am no criminal, if that is what you are concerned about. I am just a … a disgraced woman, seeking to set her life back on the right track. If I could just stay here and …”

“You can stay as long as you like, Mrs Drake, have no fear. Yet I must know who you are, for the simple reason that I must protect you as long as you stay under my roof. I am a soldier, Mrs Drake. We reconnoitre, assess, and protect. In order to be able to protect those who depend on us, we must know all the facts. So, for the last time, Mrs Drake, who are you?”

At that moment, the sun broke through the clouds and streamed into the room in full force. Its rays touched the earl’s eyes, just as he directed his blind gaze at Rowena. In the beat of an eyelash, they changed from the rather dull blue-grey to the sudden, vivid, almost hot sapphire blue of a summer storm lightening. It had the most astonishing effect on Rowena. Her heartbeat fluttered, and then pounded in her ears like shots from a canon. She grew warm, and her stomach clenched, leaving her quite shaken.

The panic she had been feeling suddenly grew tenfold. Rowena stood so quickly that her chair overturned and crashed with a noise like thunder. She stumbled to the door, eyes blinded with panic. She knew not how but she reached the stairs and began ascending them, clutching the banister with both hands. There was no longer reason dictating her, only a deep-rooted fear that she might succumb to the sudden, primal attraction he overwhelmed her with. Knowing that, acknowledging that, was too much.

The baby suddenly kicked hard, and her stomach lurched. Nausea swept over Rowena, forcing her to her knees. She retched but nothing came. Her lungs seemed clogged, all of a sudden, and she choked, gasping for air. Her vision blurred, grew darker …

Then she was picked up by a pair of strong, muscular arms; her head came to rest against a hard, but comfortingly warm shoulder. With infinite relief, Rowena inhaled the earl’s clean, overwhelmingly male scent, for it was he who had come to her rescue. All fear suddenly evaporated, to be replaced by a blessed peace. This man was innately honour-bound to protect, not to ravish or destroy, at least not without a reason. As he swiftly carried her back to the morning room and laid her down onto a chaise-longue, all in one smooth motion, Rowena felt once again safe, reassured, and calm.

The earl crossed his arms and straightened to his full 6,3’.

“Mrs Drake, I strongly advise you to behave sensibly. You are carrying a child, and you might have fallen down the stairs and injured yourself and the babe. Now …”

“How do you manage that?”

It was out of Rowena’s mouth before she realised that it is rudely inappropriate to cut one’s employer. He looked puzzled yet not in ire. His eyes were a soft grey-blue, now.

“How do I manage what, Mrs Drake?”

“Finding your way so rapidly into a room, never getting lost once you pass the doorsill?”

“Well, I know this house like the back of my hand. It is after all my ancestral estate; I grew up here. As for a room, once I have memorized where all the furniture is located, I will stay clear of it. Of course, everything must be left in the same spot. Porter looks to that and helps me make the necessary reconnoitring rounds, the first time I come into an unfamiliar room.”

He paused, directing his gaze to where Rowena sat. “What happened, Mrs Drake? Why did you dash out of this room as if the devil himself was at your heels?”

“I … I cannot truly say … It was as if I was suddenly in a room without air …”

The earl dropped to one knee, bringing his face level with hers, and although Rowena knew that he was unable to distinguish her expression, it nevertheless gave her the illusion that he was looking straight into her eyes. She felt strangely mesmerized, but also safe, and protected. When he laid the back of his hand against her cheek, she pressed against it, revelling in the immense comfort the simple gesture gave her. It felt entirely natural.

“You panicked, that is what happened,” the earl said gently. “I have seen it many times on the battlefield. Men freezing with horror, shutting out their surroundings, lowering their guns, dropping to their knees while clutching their heads or covering their ears. Overwhelming fear can bring it about, or even intolerably great despair. You were so afraid to tell me about yourself, that your body reacted in the only way possible; it bolted to escape danger. There is no need for that, my dear. You are in no danger when staying at Ketteridge House because you are under my personal protection.”

Alex could feel the struggle in Rowena Drake by the way she breathed; rapidly and shallowly. The woman must be in real danger, he mused. Some irate husband who abused her, and from whom she fled out of self-preservation? If what Porter had read was true, then she could not be the Rowena Drake of Daveston Hall near Carlisle in Cumberland, because no mention had been made of a marriage.

“Are you – by any chance – related to the Drakes of Cumberland?”

He had made his question as casual as he could but was rewarded by her sharp intake of breath. Oh, she had done her best to be as quiet as possible, but Alex’ hearing was sharp and he had caught the faint hissing sound.

“How …”

“I checked it. Are you from Cumberland, Mrs Drake?”

“Yes …” A note of the panic again, and she suddenly rose, nearly tumbling him over. He caught his balance and rose as well, and took hold of her arm.

“Then you are the Honourable Miss Rowena Drake of Daveston Hall, daughter of the Baronet George Henry Drake and Clarissa Maud née Stowe.”

She was trembling, and he wanted to comfort her. He wanted her to trust him. He had no inkling why this as so important, all of a sudden, but it was important, even vital. She was born in 1794, on the fourth of December, which meant that – dear Lord! – today she was twenty-one. So young still …

“I have it right, have I not? You are Rowena Drake from Daveston Hall?”

“Yes,” she breathed, then sighed. “How did you discover that? We live very remotely and have no acquaintances to speak of. I never had a London season, and the only towns we visited were Carlisle and York, where my father’s only sister lives.”

“Come,” Alex said in a sudden, light tone. “We can converse at the breakfast table. I am in need of sustenance after all this.” It made Rowena smile, her heart suddenly much lighter.

Alex guided her to her seat, then sat down and rang a small table bell for Porter. The servant came in with their plates soon after, served them and left. They ate in silence for a while, but Alex, not wanting to let the moment go to waste, resumed their conversation.

“I must congratulate you on your birthday, Miss Drake. I had Porter look you up in Debrett’s, so I am abreast of all there is to know about your family. You almost gave yourself away when you stopped yourself from naming Carlisle, and you also speak with a slight Cumberland accent. I am afraid I have to repeat my earlier question; what has happened that you are here at Ketteridge House, far away from the place that you call home?”

Rowena sighed, and then resolutely made her decision to trust the earl with her history. She believed him when he spoke of protecting her and everybody twho lived on his estate.

“My father died rather suddenly last year, from an apoplexy,” she began. “I met my fiancé the month after he died. We had an affair and he promised me marriage. Then came the war and my betrothed left to do his duty. He died at Waterloo. Soon after he left, I found out I was with child. I had little choice than to leave my childhood home after I became pregnant.”

“I do not understand,” Alex interrupted her. “You have a brother. Did he not take measures so that you would be protected?”

Again that word, Rowena realised. Protection. It seemed a paramount notion to the earl.

“My brother said he would give me a small, remote cottage on the estate, where I would stay until after the baby’s birth. He would then take away the child and give it to some people he knew would raise it when he paid them for the upkeep. I was appalled! How could he ask something like that of me? I told him in no uncertain terms that being separated from my baby was out of the question. He threatened to take me to some relatives in Scotland, by force if necessary, so I took all the money I was able to save over the years and fled. I quickly learnt that my meagre savings were too inadequate to bring me to London, where I hoped to find a position.”

“Why were you so short of funds? Surely, as the daughter of a baronet, you would have been provided for in your father’s will?”

“I was not included in my father’s will,” Rowena replied bitterly. “Roderick’s solicitor stated that my father was a firm believer in male primogeniture, in order to keep his estate free of debts. Roderick was my father’s first and only son, and it was left to him to support me. I was only the daughter my father had by his second wife, so I was supposed to marry and leave the estate. There was not even a dowry for me to give to my future husband.”

Good Lord, Alex thought. How could a father do this to his daughter? And the brother? Why would he not take care of his sister? Roderick Drake must be a truly despicable person, and what about that cad of a fiancée who seduced her when she was barely twenty?

“I thank you for trusting me, Mrs Drake, although … you are not a Mrs Drake, are you? I must call you Miss Drake from now on. However, I can no longer employ you as my housekeeper now, can I? You have been raised as a lady, and to do menial labour would be highly inappropriate for a baronet’s daughter.”

“Oh no, my lord, please! I beg you, do not send me away!”

Alex, suddenly startled by her plea, felt also unexpectedly moved by the urge Rowena laid in her words. It seemed that she would very much like to stay at Ketteridge House. Almost as much as he himself would like her to stay.

“You misunderstand, my dear. I merely meant that I will hire enough staff for you to oversee. That way you will be up to the additional task of assisting me with my ledgers. Poor Porter is doing what he can but in essence, he is a soldier, not a secretary.”

Rowena could not believe her ears. Relief, massive and grateful, swept over her, when the earl continued in a businesslike manner.

“You will be required to read my correspondence, and write down my replies. When I need to see my solicitor, you will make records of our conversations and decisions. I hope he holds on to his promise of searching for an adequate steward. The estate is in shams, and I need a competent man.”

Rowena swallowed down the excitement that clogged her throat. “I promise to do my utmost best to be of service, my lord. I cannot find the words to tell you how grateful I am for the honour you bestow on me, and please, be assured of my discretion and devotion.”

A chuckle interrupted her and she was astonished to see a mocking smile on the earl’s face.

“My dear Miss Drake, you certainly have a way with high-handed words, have you not? You make my offer sound like charity, and it is not meant so at all. It is good and solid management to take an educated, clever young woman into my staff, one who can help me with tasks I cannot perform myself because of my affliction. So please, no gratitude. It is in my soldier’s nature to make the best of an opportunity when it presents itself.”

There was a sudden, laden silence in which Rowena struggled to find her composure. She was scolding herself once more for her rash impulsivity, something she should have learnt to master by now. Why did she always have to rush headlong into things?

“My lord,” she began, after a long, deep intake of breath, just to calm herself. “I know someone who could help you out until you find an appropriate steward. John Wallis was my father’s steward until he retired, a few years ago. His wife Meg was my nanny, and became my confidante after my mother died when I was five. They moved to Leicester when they left Daveston Hall. Meg has a sister living there. I could write them and ask if they would consent coming to live at Ketteridge House for the time being.”

Alex was completely unprepared for the warm wave of joy that swept through him, at the realisation that Rowena was wholeheartedly joining him in the task of running Ketteridge. He felt positively light-headed with relief.

“Thank you, Miss Drake, and yes, do write to your acquaintances. They will be most welcome.”

They fell silent, each savouring their breakfast. The quietness brought a comfort of its own, and Rowena could not recall the last time she had felt this … well, this simple, undemanding, and soothing happiness. She knew it was too early to feel this way, given the mere seven days she had been here, but there it was, she did feel truly safe at Ketteridge House. At home.

“I would be honoured if you would have dinner with me tonight, Miss Drake.”

Stunned, bewildered even, Rowena stared at her employer, then belatedly recalled that he was unable to see her.

“My lord, such an act would be entirely …”

“Inappropriate? Yes, it would, but only if I cared for such trivial matters such as the rigid rules of Society. We are not in the London drawing rooms, my dear. I can never venture into the Ton again, and believe me, I have no wish to do so. I knew it all before and did not particularly liked it. Now that I am no longer whole, I find I even care less for it. Ketteridge House is my domain, and mine alone. You are my guest, the first I have in a long time, so please, let me enjoy your company to the full.”

Rowena swallowed at the unexpected knot of sadness threatening to choke her. She liked this man more and more each moment she was in his company. Discretely, she cleared her throat.

“Then it shall be my honour to dine with you, my lord.”

The Veil (US title) Barbarians: Rise of Warrior (UK title)

BARBARIAN: RISE OF WARRIOR
ADVENTURE STARRING WILLIAM LEVY AND WILLIAM MOSELEY
The movie is out on DVD market this summer

Something epic for you today, to kick off the boring beginning of the hot summer week! You can check out the trailer and posters for fantasy adventure movie BARBARIAN: RISE OF THE WARRIOR formerly also known as THE VEIL which is out on the DVD market this summer. Directed by Brent Ryan Green the movie has a cast lead by two of our favourite blond hunks William Moseley and Latin heartthrob, actor and super model, William Levy! Nick E. Tarabay from Spartacus also stars. The female cast includes Serinda Swan, whom we shall watch this Autumn as queen Medusa in ABC and

William Moseley is prince Liam in ‘The Royals’ tv series

 

Marvel’s Inhumans series, and also legendary Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci who plays the queen in the movie.

 

FROM WAR RISES A HERO
Set in a war-torn land where tribal factions live in fear of annihilation, the film tells the story of a deadly warrior (William Levy) leading a destructive war campaign. When he is betrayed by his own and left for dead by those he thought were his family, he is healed by a mysterious princess and taken in by a hidden tribe that believes he was chosen to wage a final battle. Alive and fuelled by vengeance, the warrior does what he can to help an endangered tribe defend themselves from evil and prepares to face his own fate.

William Levy is a major superstar of Latino TV soaps and a model

‘THE KING’S DAUGHTER’

‘THE KING’S DAUGHTER’ 
THE FIRST POSTER IS HERE!
 THE KING’S DAUGHTER (previously known as The Moon and The Sun), fantasy adventure movie which still does not have a release date nor a trailer, but it has a stellar cast including Pierce Brosnan as King Louis XIV, Benjamin Walker, William Hurt, Ben Lloyd Hughes, Kaya Scodelario, Rachel Griffiths and Fan Bingbing.

THE KING’S DAUGHTER, in which a massive ball scene was shot in Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors (it was done at night when tourists aren’t there), depicts King Louis XIV’s quest for immortality that leads him to capture and steal a mermaid’s life force,

Some of the scenes were shot in actual Versailles at night

a move that is further complicated by his illegitimate daughter’s discovery of the creature. Scodelario and Benjamin Walker met at the shooting of this movie and later on got married. Chinese star Fan Bingbing plays the mermaid.

No Trailer as yet.

Release projected USA 2017

Formerly thought to be named :The Moon and the Sun

Courtesy: HollywoodSpy

John Thornton, Look Back at Me – pt 17

     Christmas Eve Day and  Night

 

The first rays of the sun were glistening off of the re-frozen snow crust.  Christmas Eve day dawned brightly with no apologies or explanations or new edicts expected.  Coming out of her room, Margaret inhaled a wonderful pine scent, and found John standing in front of the tree.  He was looking at the cranberry strands, which now stood out as red swags, in the sunlit room.  She watched him as he leaned against the back of a chair, long legs crossed at the ankles, arms folded, looking at the tree without knowledge of her presence.  Margaret knew she was seeing him in an unguarded moment.

 

“Good morning John,” she said, startling him slightly, “do you see something wrong with our tree?”

“Good morning.  I was looking at the cranberries, which make the tree look nice with the light of day, and wondering what to put at the top.”  John was   partially lying; he already knew what he was going to put there.  “Are you excited about today, visiting the mills and talking among the workers?”

“I doubt I’ll be talking all that much.  I’ll be a strange face to them, but I shall enjoy it, all the same.  Good morning Dixon.”

“Good morning Miss.  I see you, and the Master did a right nice job on that tree.  I love coming upstairs to the smell of pine.  It makes it cheery.”

“How is it below stairs?

“It’s already busy.  The Master’s Cook is discussing food preparation and timing with our Cook.  Cooking for six above and seven below stairs is a challenge they are both eager to do.  There’s a lot of laughing; they must have the cooking sherry hidden somewhere down there because they sure have the holiday spirit, as I think we all do,” Dixon laughed.  “And they’re dragging poor Branson in on the serving tomorrow.  He’s just hauled in the huge goose, and they are uncertain how to fit two large birds in the oven.”

Margaret replied, “That sounds wonderful.  Be sure that Adrian is worked into your plans, as well.”

John escorted Margaret to the breakfast table and seated her, saying, “Yes.  Branson needs to pick him up early.”

As they sat down to eat, Margaret suddenly remembered Nicholas’s children.  “What about Nicholas’ children tomorrow?”

“I’ve discussed that with him.  They will have their Christmas dinner tonight and arrive a little later tomorrow, allowing time for gifts to be opened.  I am pleased that Higgins’ ability to give to them has grown through his hard work for me.  I truly am appreciative of that day you sent him back to me.  As for today’s plans, normally there are three shifts working round the clock, except for Sunday.  Tomorrow they will all be off, and today’s work is a bit different, with each shift working for four hours instead of eight, with the last one ending at 2:00 p.m.  Hopefully, today you, and I can catch two shifts as they change, because the night shift left two hours ago.  Do you need anything from your home today that can’t wait a couple more days?”

“Yes, John.  I need some fresh clothes.  Can I take a bath here?”

“Can you?!”  John said, raising his eyebrows in mock excitement.  “I’m sorry,” he said, laughing, “I’m afraid a little mischievous spirit imp has invaded my senses today.”

Margaret burst out laughing, unable to hide her own joy of this holiday.  Yesterday and last night, she turned  a definite corner in her life.  She was positive that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with John.  She was getting to know a John that probably no one had ever seen, and more likely, not John, himself.  Had he ever been a happy person?  Thinking about what she knew about his past, she didn’t believe he ever was.  He’d had a young life full of terrible hardships, then there was the toil and strife of managing the mills and her absence from his life, some of which she read about in those dark letters in his desk.  No, he had never known happiness, and now he was happy . . . more than happy… and she was, too.  She knew he was caring, intelligent, honest, and loving, but Margaret was reveling in the humor she found he possessed.  What new delights still awaited her, she wondered?  He was amazing her at every turn.  She realized she’d never really known this John Thornton, and she loved every moment of him.  How could she possibly go on with his proclamation?  But she promised she’d try.

“Margaret?”  John said, laying his hand on her arm.  “You’re off in that strange land where you go so often.  I’ve noticed this several times.  Where is this place within your mind?”

Embarrassed about drifting off, she said, “Oh, I have several lands.  Mostly, I put to shore on my Hopes and Dreams Island, my favorite place.  There are other islands, too.  There is Rocky Island, which is my least favorite; I was stranded there for a long time.”

“And just now, which island was that?”

“I was on my Reality Island.  That is a newly charted island for me.  I am spending a lot of time there, lately.  However, last night,” Margaret began with a smile, “I glimpsed an entirely new land beyond the horizon; I think I am going to name it Passion Island.”

John looked at Margaret, loving her little islands.  “Margaret, I am your safe harbor; when you are in a storm, sail to me.  You can always find me on Passion Island, waiting for you.”

“John, don’t start with those loving words,” Margaret said.  “You’ll have me crying before the day begins.”  And she smiled.

“Aye, me matey, Captain Thornton, at your service.”  John saluted her.

Laughing again, they both discovered another moment, birthed from humor, as each recognized it as a new experience in their lives.  Every laugh seemed to tie the bindings tighter.

“Captain, is it?  We’ll see about that!”  The laughter continued, as John dwelled in the sparkle of her eyes.

“John, did we forget to invite Fanny and her husband?  It would be so awful to overlook them.”

“As much as I love our intended guest list, I did talk with Watson, and they are headed away for the Holiday; so, relieve your mind there.”

 

Branson brought around the smaller two-horse carriage, and the day began at Margaret’s.  Adrian was outside chopping wood, but he had a banked fire inside, keeping away the coldness.  Branson came down from his box, and after opening his master’s door, he went around the other side of the carriage house to talk with Adrian.  John handed Margaret out and up the slick back steps and followed behind.  He stopped in the dining room, watching her pass through the parlor.

“Oh look, a piece of furniture must have arrived after all.  I wonder which one it is,” Margaret said, walking over and pulling the cover off it.  “Dear me, I wish I’d been here when this beautiful piece came; it’s been delivered to the wrong house.”

John walked up to Margaret and wrapped his arms around her from behind.  Leaning down, he rested his cheek next to hers and said, “Happy Christmas, my love.”

Margaret stood there paralyzed.  She couldn’t speak.  John could feel her beginning to slide through his arms, once again, but then she found her legs.  “I’m sorry, John.  My knees became weak.”  Finally, after many long moments of silence, in a soft low voice, she asked, “This is for me?”  John could feel her start to shake with quiet sobs.  Sobs, he knew, of delight.

“Yes, Margaret.  That is for you, my love.”

Margaret slowly lifted the cover to reveal the black-and-white  ivory keys of her new piano.

“Someday you shall have a grand piano, if you wish it, but I knew your cottage would be too small for that now,” John said, holding her quiet shivering body in his arms.  He turned her to face him.

Margaret’s face was a mask of pure disbelief.  She looked into John’s face with tears beaded on her lashes, unable to speak, and mouthed the words, “Thank you, John.”  She reached up, put her arms around his neck, and laid her head against his chest, still dazed.

He held her momentarily, and then pulled her back to kiss her, but found she had sailed to one of her islands.  She was totally unfocused.  She wasn’t pulling out of her state of disbelief.  John closed the lid on the piano and pulled the cover back over it.  “We can talk about this later,” he said.  “Get your clothes.  I’ll wait outside, or I’m afraid we’ll be here all day.”  He walked her over to the steps that led upstairs then left the house and went out to his horses to pat down.  He was happy with Margaret’s response to his gift.  He wanted to give her everything.  He wanted to spoil her.  Someday . . . perhaps…

Margaret was back within ten minutes, still dazed, and John went over to fetch her.

Before he could get to her, she started down the steps.  As she turned around to point up to her “Margaret’s Enchanted Cottage” sign, she slipped from the step, pitching forward.  John caught her and lifted her off the step, setting her down on the ground.  He released her slightly, so she could free her arms, but he wouldn’t let go of his hold, since she appeared to be allowing him that closeness.

John thought how small she was next to him; he could crush her so easily, if he hugged her too tightly.  He desperately wanted to always protect her fragileness.

Silence reigned between them.  Margaret slipped her hands from his chest, up to each side of his face, and held his head in her hands, beckoning.

John whispered, “If you don’t say no right now, I am going to kiss you again, my love.

“I would like that.”  Margaret said softly.

John let her go long enough to throw his top hat to the ground and took her fiercely into his arms, properly, almost bending her backward.  He looked at her throat, her lips and then into her eyes, slowly moving to cover her mouth with his.  He was tender and slow, licking her lips and gently parting them.  The stroking seduction of his tongue took away her senses and blocked any slight resistance she might be thinking was improper.  She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, trying to reach his mouth more fully.  Margaret made a low, utterly female sound and relaxed into him.  She was  innocently tentative on their first kiss, but not so now.  She met him hotly with hunger that fed his own.  John’s uninhibited feral groan undid her.  Her head fell backwards as his mouth claimed her throat.  Reacting passionately, he moved one of his arms lower, just near her buttocks, and drew her more tautly to him.  He wanted her so badly.  He was burning up.  The caged animal wanted to assert its prowess over its mate.  Margaret could feel John’s longing, liking it more than she should, as it was ardently presenting itself.  He wanted her to know his desire for her as a woman and he pressed her closer to him feeling her heaving bosom upon his chest.  Margaret, starting to understand passion, pressed herself to John’s erection.

“Margaret, please let me love you,” John whispered, as he started to kiss down her neck; behind them, one of the horses suddenly whinnied, startling Margaret.  She backed away out of propriety, mortified that she had been swept away, forgetting that John’s driver was back there.  As she timidly peered around John, she could see that Branson and Adrian had politely turned away.

“Oh dear, I am so embarrassed, ” Margaret said, suddenly turning crimson.

“Not I,” said John.  I am not ashamed of the love I feel for my woman.  I’ve waited too long to show the world my love for you.”  He stooped to retrieve his hat and cleared his throat, which seemed to signal Branson to open the door.  Highly embarrassed and red faced, Margaret was handed into the coach, John following with her bag.

“Thank you, thrice, John.  Once for saving me from a very uncomfortable accident on the steps, and thank you for my adorable little sign,” as she pointed to it, “which I know is your doing.  I love it.  And how can I thank you for my exquisite pianoforte.  I have so longed for one.  I think you are getting far ahead of our gentlemen’s agreement.  And I think you did tell me that you were not buying anything for Christmas?”

“Margaret, first of all, if you remember our conversation about gift giving for the holiday, I never agreed to any such thing; we only talked about your boots.  Secondly, that was ordered several days after your return to London because I knew you had left one in Helstone and wanted you to have one, no matter where our relationship went.  And finally, there was nothing in our agreement about a gift for my love only that you needed choices, and that hasn’t changed.  But most of all, I cannot help myself.”  John kissed her lightly and then shouted to Branson, “Mill 2.”

Arriving after 10:00 o’clock, they had missed the second shift change for both Mills.  John knew that Higgins was spreading his own form of cheer through all the shifts today.

Margaret remarked on the vast difference in layout between the two mills and their sizes.  John explained that Mill 2 had 450 workers, whereas Mill 1 had 350.  The changed layout had come from 10 years of learning what would expedite movement around the yard.  It was built like a fortress, with 20 loading docks, 10 to each side facing each other, uniting all the buildings into a U shape with the canteen at the far end, between the two sides.  The office was located at the entrance.

“The canteen,” John shouted to Branson who was threading his way between the loading wagons on each side of him.  “One side is for importing and the other side is for exporting,” John told her.  “This design is more efficient than Mill 1.”

They enjoyed two hours there, with Margaret following John around, saying little, – mostly nodding hello when introduced.  The workers came to get their free dinner that John had provided for everyone, as a token of holiday cheer.  Oranges would be passed out when the shift ended; John had ordered almost a boat full of imported oranges to be given to his people.  They were a real treat anytime of the year.  Margaret was delighted to see Mary, but they would talk tomorrow as she was busy serving.  Higgins was there, traveling a different route around the canteen, shaking hands, thanking and talking.  Margaret was so happy to see that Nicholas was appreciated and finally finding his merited status as a hard worker and overseer.  Nevertheless, once again, she felt overtaken upon viewing John’s responsibilities: the mass of faces, the wagons with all the horses, and the size of these huge buildings and the sound of machinery running somewhere in the distance.  As she observed the way they all respected him and looked up to him, she didn’t feel herself fairing very equal as his partner in life.

How is it? He’s picked me, of so little significance, to love?

The same scene repeated itself in Mill 1.  Most of these workers had been with John the longest; some, Margaret thought, might even remember her.  She felt more comfortable there as she walked among the tables, even without John, wishing the workers a Happy Holiday, and thanking them for all they do for Marlborough Mills.  John stood off in the kitchen area, fascinated, watching Margaret conduct herself down the rows of workers, alone, shaking hands, and talking with them.  With him not at her side, he wondered how she was explaining who she was.  This was a beautiful sight to behold, and caught him off guard with the emotions it brought forth in him.  This was another exquisite remembrance for their treasure chest of love.  Every moment he watched her, he felt her beauty, her scent, and the touch of her.  Second, only to Margaret, were his mills and his people.  John knew within his heart that she would fit in perfectly, better than his own mother.  He knew his people would absolutely love her.

When they arrived back home in the late afternoon, Margaret asked that a bath be prepared for her before Jane left.  Dixon found her and had her own request, “Miss Margaret, we are as ready as we can be downstairs.  As you can see, the upstairs has been prepared, and most of the table is set, except for your dinner places.  Could I be allowed the evening off?”

“Yes, of course, Dixon.  I won’t ask, but I hope it has something to do with Mr. Granger.”

“Yes, Miss Margaret.  He bought a small tree, and we will decorate it tonight.  And if I could have tomorrow evening off after the dinner has been cleaned away; we will be exchanging gifts then.”

“Yes, yes, of course, please take both nights off.”  Margaret said, happy for Dixon.

“Thank you Miss Margaret, and one last thing; since you will be going home the day after Christmas, is it alright if I just return home instead of coming back here?”

“Yes, I guess.  Yes, but only because Adrian’s there.  You still have a key for now.  He will be there, probably sleeping on the carpeted floor in the parlor.”

Margaret went for her bath.  John left the house and went to his office to look over the Slickson mill offer again.  He felt that it was better to be away from where Margaret was right now.  The yard was empty, but he saw that Higgins was still here somewhere.  Higgins had long ago moved out of the Princeton District and found a small cottage just a little way out of town.  He had a horse and small buggy for getting to work, and it was still on the property.

“Higgins,” John said, as Nicholas stepped into the office, “I think I am going to go talk directly to Slickson next week and stop relying on rumors.  Our only questions seem to lie in the condition of the mill itself and its machinery, does it not?”

“That’s about it, Master.  Their productivity level is only slightly below our own, but the people that he has, look good.”

“Good . . . then why don’t you get yourself on home?  Our security men are all working and rotating this holiday, are they not?”  John inquired.

“Yes, that’s where I’ve just been, checking at both mills, that all the machinery has been shut down properly, and security is in place.  They know to contact you first and me second, should an emergency arise.”

“Well then, it sounds that all is fine.  Take yourself away from here and come back for dinner tomorrow about 1:00 or so in the afternoon”

“See you tomorrow, have a good eve tonight,” Higgins said, waving his cap as he left.

 

After dinner, John realized that they were left alone, as Dixon would be gone for several hours.  He was not sure he had the strength to get through the next few hours alone with Margaret without stepping past his own line, especially with the way she looked tonight.  She was wearing a yellow frock, and her scent was eminently alluring.  He thought she must have brought her own bath soap.

John went to the bar and got a brandy for both, he and Margaret, while she had gone to her room for something.  He stoked the fire, added a log, lowered the gas lights, and folded himself down onto the carpet in front of the fireplace.

As Margaret came from her room, carrying a book for the evening, she said, “Ah . . . What’s this?  No lights, only firelight?  Mr. Thornton Proclamation, you are not arranging a romantic evening, are you?  Excuse me while I send someone for the Proclamation Police.  Someone needs to come and enforce procedure here.”

John was quietly shaking with laughter and could only manage to beckon her over to him with his hand.  Margaret looked around the room and remembered the sewing basket was in the buffet.  Finding what she wanted, she returned to John and sat down on the carpet, placing a piece of yarn between them, effectively giving them sides on which to stay.

“There!  You have your side and I have mine.  Unless you want pistols at dawn, the gentlemen’s agreement stated that I could only make moderate advances to you until I have seen other men.  Are they not, in fact, your very words, sir?

John loved this game, but he had sure outsmarted himself this time.  This could have been a perfect evening, almost too perfect, and here he was with a dividing line between them.

“I am a gentleman; that was a gentleman’s agreement, and I will keep my word.”  John picked up his brandy glass.  “You see this brandy glass, Margaret?”  She nodded.  “One of my favorite pastimes is to sit in my chair, holding a glass such as this, and swirl the contents.  The best part about it all is watching it coat the inside of the glass while watching it through to the fire.”  John demonstrated for her.  As he was taking his first swallow of it, he saw Margaret start to lean for her glass that sat on the floor in front of him.  He slowly, and deliberately, pushed it out of her reach with his booted foot.  “I’m sorry, did you want something?”

“Yes, I would like my brandy, please” Margaret said.

“And how to you propose to get it, my love?”  John smirked, looking at the dividing line.

Undaunted, Margaret did not answer John or pursue her brandy.  She started this little game tonight and had to see it through.

John couldn’t help but love the look on her face as she contemplated some reciprocal act.  She had such a fierce look on her face, like a mad little kitten.

Margaret decided to raise the stakes.  She thought she had figured something out.  So, hiking the hem of her dress to the knee, she reached down to remove her shoes.

John was roused seeing her legs.  He knew a real game was afoot, now.  John pulled off his boots, hoping this game was headed where he thought it might.

Margaret didn’t know how long she could keep doing this with a straight face.  She sat for a minute as if in thought.  She swiveled so her back was to John and hiked up her dress much farther to catch the top of one stocking.

John quickly lay down on the carpet, so his body extended back, and he caught Margaret with her dress to the top of her thighs.

Margaret, said, “No fair!”

John took off one sock, laughing.

Margaret took off the other stocking, ensuring he didn’t sneak a peek.

John removed his other sock.  He was beaming the whole time.

Margaret, still with her back facing John, removed a garter that held a stocking.

John started to sweat.  Was it the fire in the fireplace, or the fire in his body?  He removed his cravat and his shirt fell open.

Margaret tried to twist around to see his open shirt.  What she wouldn’t give to be lying next to that bare chest.  She would work the game until his shirt was off and then stop.  She removed her last garter and returned to sitting next to him.

Just before he removed his waistcoat, John took stock for a minute and counted items left for each of them.  He was anxious to go straight to his trousers and undergarment to see what she would do, but this was too much fun, so he removed his pocket watch.

Margaret inhaled deeply, she hadn’t expected that.  She thought she had things counted correctly.  Think . . . think . . . she removed her earrings.

John went for his waistcoat.

After each piece of clothing was removed, they would stare into each other’s eyes, smiling, having survived another round, daring each other to go on.  Still no words were  spoken.  John knew he would have no embarrassment, so he wasn’t nervous, but he’d like to win the game, rather than lose it.

Margaret was getting nervous about how this was going to end.  John had three more items to go, if it should ever go that far, which she was sure it would not.  She had her dress, full slip, half slip, corset, and undergarment.  She didn’t like this, but she could not blink now.  Her dress was the next likely item, but she stood and slid down her half slip, pooling it at her feet, and then kicking it away.

John knew he was going to lose, which he didn’t really want to do, because it was so heart rendering having Margaret figure this all out, probably feeling frightened about now; he decided to call her bluff.

He stood up beside her and instead of pulling off his shirt, for which Margaret had patiently been waiting; John proceeded to reach for the buttons on his trousers.

Margaret’s eyes got as big as saucers as she shouted, “You Win!  Stop!  You CHEATED!!”

“How do you arrive at that conclusion?” he asked, choking back the laughter and the joy at her surprise.  Oh well, he thought, these were days they could never recapture and were worth every second to have as memories, just like the first night she had arrived, their first kiss, and the tree decorating.  These were all firsts to cherish their whole life.

Still laughing, John leaned down and picked up the yarn, tossed it into the fireplace and reached for Margaret.

Just then, they heard the downstairs door open.  Dixon was home early.

 

 

 

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The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part Three

Chapter Two

Ketteridge House, Leicestershire, England, December 2, 1815

The next day, the weather was still extremely harsh. The snow had stopped, but the temperature had dropped considerably. The fields now lay buried under a blanket of solid ice.

Alex readied himself for a meeting with his Leicester solicitor. Septimus Middlebridge was in his mid-sixties, and had been his father’s man for as long as Alex remembered. A tall, wiry man with a large beacon of a nose in a long, thin face, and piercing blue eyes, Middlebridge still wore a wig in the style of thirty years before, powdered and with a tail, and corkscrew curls framing his face, which made him look like a French courtier. Mr Middlebridge was extremely frugal and would not waste money on a new wig when the old one was still up to snuff, Alex knew. It was an excellent characteristic for a business man.

“Good morning, my lord,” Mr Middlebridge greeted Alex in his quiet, somewhat breathless voice, as if he considered an excess of breath necessary to lend his voice the necessary strength an equal waste. Alex could not clearly see Middlebridge. He saw the man’s outlines in the black frock he always wore, and the white contours of his head, where the wig covered it. Alex had, however, no clear vision of the man’s face, besides what he remembered from the time previous to his injuries.

“Good morning, Middlebridge. Please, sit down. I will have Porter bring us some tea.”

After the tea had been brought, Porter seated himself next to his master. Alex heard Middlebridge lay out his documents in a meticulous way. The solicitor then made his skeleton-like hands crack like dry sticks, before clearing his throat.

“My lord,” he croaked, “although your personal finances are quite ample and very strongly invested in sound businesses, I am sure I do not have to tell you that your estate is in a dire situation. You are in need of a good steward and a sturdy plan to right all the wrongs that exist here.”

“I agree, Middlebridge. No need to elaborate on what I already know. I intend to take matters in hand, from now on. My injuries are sufficiently healed that I can get to work.”

“Are you saying, my lord, that your eyesight has improved? That would be very good news.”

“No, Middlebridge, it has not. My batman Porter here acts as my assistant in reading and writing. What is the most urging matter that has to be dealt with, in your opinion?”

“Well, my lord, I am no steward, but I am aware that an estate needs tenants, who tend to its fields and woodland. Your tenants have begun leaving for better places, such as city factories, where they can at least make a little money, to feed their families. The few that have stayed have elderly relatives and small children. I need not tell you, sir, that they are in dire circumstances, and little else than starving.”

“Yes, I know that. At my request, the village vicar has been delivering food baskets to alleviate the most urgent needs. I know people have been leaving for Leicester and its factories, yet what good will that do them? Working in cotton mills or gun factories for a pittance, and living in dilapidated hovels for which they pay exorbitant prices?”

“Nevertheless, my lord, you need to keep the ones that are still here. You must provide them with food and fuel for the winter, because this year’s crops were disastrously lacking, as you are aware of. Next spring, with the help of a good steward, you should be able to have them work the land and plant new crops. There is no lack of funds, my lord. The interests on your investments provide a most satisfying income, but with the continuingly escalating situation on the Continent, we English have to establish a stable situation at home.”

Alex nodded, well aware of the Vienna Congress aftermath, which had created new hearths of turmoil on a continent that had barely recovered from the Napoleonic Wars.

“Well,” he sighed, “let us go over the state of my investments then, Middlebridge. Explain to me exactly where I stand on spending my money.”

 

Rowena opened her eyes and found herself refreshed and strong. She washed and dressed, then went downstairs to the kitchen. Mrs Hall was already busy at her stove.

“Oh, dearie! Are ye up already? How are ye feeling?”

“Better, Mrs Hall, thank you. Can I give you some assistance with your chores?”

“Oh, no, ma’am! I can tell that ye’re not a commoner. It wouldn’t do fer ye te be doing manual labour.”

Rowena smiled. “No, you are quite right, Mrs Hall. I was raised as a lady, but I am no longer one now. And my name is Rowena. Rowena Drake.”

“What has happened te ye, me dearie? Ye can tell ol’ Thea about it. I’ll never tell a soul, upon me word!”

Rowena sighed. She really wanted to confide in someone, but she was afraid they would look upon her with disdain. She shook her head. “Please, Mrs Hall, I cannot divulge. His Lordship also asked me, but I refused to tell even him.”

Mrs Hall’s eyes  grew round as she gasped, “The master asked ye? Well, bless me soul! He’s been ever so reluctant te talk te people since he’s back from the war and now he’s interested in you! Mr Porter will be happy te hear of it. That man so worries about ‘im, he does.”

Trixie, who had finished washing the dishes, came to sit at the table. Her ears had pricked the whole time. “Oh yes, ma’am! ‘Is Lordship has had such a terrible time, wounded as ‘e were when he came back from fighting that dreadful Bonie!”

“Yes,” Mrs Hall acquiesced, “he came back blind and covered with fearful wounds. He was unconscious when Mr Porter drove that cart into the stables. Mr Porter has lost an eye in the battle of Waterloo, and he had been wounded, too. Yet he didn’t give up. When the master lay wounded and bleedin’ on the battlefield, Mr Porter carried ‘im on ‘is back to a nunnery nearby. The nuns tended them and then Mr Porter brought the master ‘ome. He carted ‘Is Lordship from the Ketteridge village coach inn. Poor master’s wounds are healed now, since Dr Orme took ‘im under ‘is care. The good doctor couldn’t cure the blindness, though.”

“Yes,” Trixie chimed in, “and ‘Is Lordship being the spare had to become the next earl after Sir Reginald died. There’s been no money ever since the old earl passed away, and now, Master Alexander ‘as to put in ‘is own money just to keep us fed.”

Rowena listened to all this in mounting surprise. So the earl was struggling to keep his estate running. And he had had a brother, whom he had lost, and whose place he had been forced to take. And he was as good as blind. And she, Rowena was imposing on his already dire financial circumstances.

“Well,” she declared, “I had better earn my keep, then. I cannot travel in this weather, for sure. Tell me what task you want to give me, Mrs Hall.”

At that moment, Mr Porter entered from the scullery, carrying a pair of polished riding boots. He bowed his head to Rowena.

“I see you’re well recovered, ma’am. The major ‘ll be pleased to hear of it.”

The man did his best to overcome his accent, but cockney vowels were not that easily suppressed. Nevertheless, Rowena recognized the salt of the earth when she encountered it.

“Mr Porter, I am obliged to you for rescuing me from that dreadful storm, last night. You saved my life, sir.”

“No trouble at all, ma’am. If ye’ll excuse me, I must go an’ tend to the major.”

Rowena glanced at the big kitchen clock on the wall, which indicated a quarter past ten. Early for an aristocrat.

“Is your master always up that early, then?”

“Yes, ma’am, ‘e suffers from insomnia, so ‘e wants te make good use of the day an’ start working early. I just showed Mr Middlebridge out. That’s ‘is solicitor.” He touched his brow and left.

Rowena stood pondering a while over what he told her. She liked the batman whom she guessed must be in his early forties. He was as tall as his master, but much broader in the chest and shoulders. His sparse grey hair must have been dark when he was younger. He wore a patch over his right eye, but the left one was a rich, warm brown. He had a slight limp, probably caused by a battle injury.

“Come, dearie, have a nice cuppa tea. Ye’er way too thin and ye’re expectin’, so ye must seek te keep yer strength. How far gone are ye? I’m guessin’ five months, am I right?”

Rowena blushed, then shook her head. “Actually, I am due at the beginning of February.”

“Ye never! That’s barely in two months’ time!” Mrs Hall exclaimed. Trixie, too, clucked incredulously. “Ye look far less, ma’am!”

“I was always thin, so I guess it is normal for me not to show it.”

The door opened again to Mr Porter. “The major will ‘ave ‘is breakfast now, Mrs Hall. And ‘e wants ye te join ‘im in the morning room, Mrs Drake, ma’am.”

 

The earl rose when Rowena entered. He was dressed in a plain, brown woollen coat, a moss-green, unadorned waistcoat over a white shirt, and dark brown breeches under black top boots. His black cravat was tied in a simple knot.

Even in these plain, dark clothes, Raventhorpe was an impressive sight, Rowena acknowledged with a shock. His tall, muscular frame oozed power and authority. His stance radiated confidence, and the fact that he was blind did not seem to mar the elegance of his movements.

All Rowena had noticed the previous night, was confirmed under the weak sunlight of the winter day. Raventhorpe wore his black hair a trifle too long, but the cut emphasized his strong, lean face and angular clean-shaven jaw. Loose curls framed his face and fell becomingly over his wide brow. They were tamed a bit by the ribbon that tied them in a short tail. Raventhorpe’s nose, long and thin, had a tip that bent downward for just a tad. It softened his whole face which would have been too forbidding, should his nose have been straight.

Rowena’s gaze went to the earl’s eyes; clear blue-grey but unseeing, they were directed at her, and slightly squinting as if he wanted to sharpen his vision, just by sheer willpower. His large, thin-lipped mouth was set in a rigid line, as if he were bracing himself against some kind of danger.

The stiff, military bearing emphasized Alexander Raventhorpe’s breeding to the extreme.           Rowena instantly sensed his reined-in strength, his rigid control over what must be a strong temper. A dangerous man, she reckoned, if one made an enemy of him. Even the plainness of his attire could not lessen his handsomeness, nor did his non-committal smile disguise his watchfulness. He looked like a predator, a lion waiting to pounce on its prey.

Rowena curtsied, even though she knew the earl was unable to notice. “Good morning, my lord.”

Raventhorpe bowed. “Be so good as to share my breakfast, Mrs Drake. I hope I find you well-rested after your ordeal?”

“Yes, sir, I slept extremely well. I hope to be on my way as soon as the weather permits. I will not impose on you any longer than necessary.”

He said nothing in return, but Rowena saw his jaw clench and wondered. She sat down when Porter drew back her chair. Raventhorpe waited until she was duly seated before letting himself sink onto his chair. Porter served them breakfast, then left them alone.

Raventhorpe began buttering his toast, then said in a calm voice, “Correct me if I am mistaken, Mrs Drake, but I do not think that you can be on your way. You have nowhere to go. You are pregnant, penniless, and you have no skills that would permit you to earn your living. I am absolutely certain that you were gently bred, so how were you planning to fend for yourself?”

Rowena’s temper flared at his bluntness. “You are indeed mistaken! I speak four languages, I play the piano and I sing. My household skills are well enough since I took care of my brother’s …”

She abruptly stopped, realising that she was too outspoken in the presence of gentry. She was also giving too much away.

Raventhorpe’s expression of calm interest had not changed. He was looking in her direction so attentively that Rowena had the impression that he was actually seeing her. His blue-grey eyes were alight with a sparkle that made them a periwinkle blue. It was a most disconcerting sensation, and Rowena shivered. Her host smiled, and it made his stern face look charming and boyish, all of a sudden. Rowena’s heart skipped several beats as she caught a glimpse of the young man he must have been before he went to war. Utterly beguiling.

“My dear Mrs Drake,” he said evenly, “I am offering you a position as my housekeeper. Mrs Hall is always complaining that she is getting on in years and that she has to do everything on her own; a statement which is true, sadly. I can give you but a small salary of two-hundred guineas a year, but you can make use of all the comfort my estate has to offer. You can have your child here, and raise him or her to your heart’s content. Is that agreeable to you?”

Rowena was utterly speechless. Her eyes filled with sudden tears of relief, or gratitude, she did not know which. Raventhorpe’s offer was a gift from heaven; it was all she needed on this very moment. Acting as Ketteridge’s housekeeper would allow her to have her baby and raise it. Peter’s baby. Oh Lord! She could find other employment, should the need arise, and leave her child here under Mrs Hall’s care. The elderly woman would be all too eager to help her out, Rowena knew. She would be totally independent of Roderick, her ill-natured half-brother. She would be safe at Ketteridge House.

Outwardly imperturbable, Alex was nevertheless waiting with baited breath for Mrs Drake’s – Rowena’s – answer. It irked him that he was so anxious that she could very well refuse and leave Ketteridge after all. He did not want her gone, yet he could not understand that very disturbing emotion. She had entered his life only the day before, for goodness’ sake! He did not yet know a single thing about her. She could be married and be running away from her husband. Or she could be with child unwed, and a sinner. And for that matter, who was she? A lady, or a defiled governess, carrying a lord’s child? Or a clergyman’s daughter fallen into sin? So many questions, yet he could not bear to have her go. Not without learning the answers to his many questions.

“My lord,” she said, her voice wavering just a little, “I accept your offer with the uttermost gratitude. I will work hard, and I need no salary. If I could just stay at Ketteridge to have my child, that would be enough. Thank you, my lord.”

Suppressing a sigh of relief, Alex bowed his head. “That is settled, then, Mrs Drake. I will not hear of you working without remuneration. Two-hundred guineas a year, and that is final. Now let us enjoy our breakfast. I bet you have a tendre for Mrs Hall’s rolls.”

“I confess I had a taste of them already in the kitchen, just a few minutes ago, my lord, and you are right; they are delicious.”

“Mrs Hall is a true gem, Mrs Drake. I hope you and she will get along, because she is the expert on all things at Ketteridge House. She came here as a tweeny in my mother’s days and has stayed throughout the years. However, she informs me that there is a Herculean task to perform in putting the house to rights. The cobwebs have taken over, it seems.”

Rowena laughed and took a piece of toast from the rack. “Yes, that was what I saw of it, too.”

“You have a lovely home, my lord,” she continued, growing serious again. “Even in winter, it seems a beautiful place. I will enjoy taking care of it. Mrs Hall told me that you have only recently inherited the estate and the title. It must be greatly different from your military days, I wager.”

Her tinkling laughter still in his ears, Alex replied readily, finding himself greatly uplifted by Mrs Drake’s company. It was the first time since he came back from the war that he felt so light and joyous. With a jolt of surprise, he acknowledged Rowena Drake was responsible for that.

“Oh, it is very different, Mrs Drake. Being a soldier, and in particular a cavalry man, gives structure to one’s life. The military routine is what lends peace to one’s mind. It is a way of thinking, a way of living. What I found here, was merely boredom, and an acute neglect from lack of funds. Nothing that cannot be put to rights with money. No challenge.”

“Surely, soldiers do not find peace on the battlefield, my lord! From what we heard, even through the shield of censorship, Waterloo must have been a nightmare!”

There was an almost inaudible touch of distress in her voice, which Alex would not have been able to discern without the heightened awareness his blindness lent him. She had a connection with the battle, he was sure of it.

“Forgive me for reminding you of a most disturbing experience, ma’am,” he said, putting as much comfort in his tone of voice as he dared. “I forgot that wars do not solely kill on the battlefields. Have you lost someone dear to you on June 18th of this year?”

“Yes …”

It was like a whisper, a whiff of pure sorrow. Alex cursed himself for prying.

“I am sorry,” he said, trying to offer comfort with his voice. He felt the sadness welling up inside him like a source full of evil and despair. He again recalled his own misery when his regiment was being destroyed by the relentless French artillery. All because of the stupid pride of British commanders like Uxbridge, for whom a battlefield was first and foremost a way to display the cavalry’s splendour and horsemanship.

Alex let the silence be for a while, searching for the next topic of conversation. There was not much he could do to comfort her but there was something he must learn, now, at this moment.

“Mrs Drake, have you consulted a physician about your pregnancy? I gather that you are almost at the end of your term, according to Mrs Hall.”

Rowena was astonished at the earl’s unexpected words. He – a man! – was asking her these things?

“No, I have not, my lord. I consulted a midwife in Car … erm … in my home town. She only confirmed the due date, beginning of February.

“There is a perfectly good doctor in Ketteridge. His name is Dr Orme, and he and I are long-time friends. On the other hand, if you would feel safer with a more accomplished physician, I could take you to my own doctor, Dr Richardson in Harley Street, London.”

“Oh, no, no, my lord, Dr Orme will suit admirably, I am sure!”

“Good, I shall summon him here tomorrow. Mrs Drake, there is something I need you to tell me. Since you are staying under my roof, I think I have a right to know if I need to be on guard for a husband to turn up at Ketteridge house.”

Rowena’s hands flew to her suddenly hot face. Oh, Lord! The earl had asked her a question that was going to be on everyone’s mind when they saw a young, pregnant woman travelling on her own. And the earl was perfectly reasonable, he had a right to know.

“I am unwed, my lord. I lay with my betrothed, and we would have married if he had not been called to join his regiment. He was killed at Waterloo. I had only just found out that I was with child, when the messenger came with the tidings of his death.”

She had spoken so quietly that Alex had to strain his ears, yet he did not miss the deep sadness that laced her voice. To his own stunned surprise, he felt a sudden burning anger against the man who had done this to her. It was absurd. It had nothing to do with him and it certainly was not his business. Yet he could not help thinking what an irresponsible, selfish man her betrothed must have been, to lay with her and then leave her to go to war, before they had exchanged wedding vows. The next and very logical question formed in his mind.

“What about your family? Surely, they could have helped you?”

Rowena abruptly stood, appalled by what she had so impulsively revealed. No, she could not talk about Roderick and how he had chased her from her childhood home! It was suddenly extremely important to her that the earl should not think of her as a disgraced woman without any support from family or friends. She had said enough already; he must not learn who she was. She could not disgrace her father’s name any further.

“I … I have no family. Now forgive me, my lord; I must return to my duties.”

Alex had risen at the same moment Rowena had, to prevent her from running away. He was too late, of course, and his affliction was to blame for that. His blindness effectively kept him from swift reaction. His new housekeeper was gone, fleeing from further prying into her private life.

 

From that day on, Rowena firmly settled into a quiet daily routine. She put together a schedule to cover all the tasks that were required to keep the large mansion in good order.

In the mornings, she would work alongside Mrs Hall and Trixie, to see to the laundry, the ironing and the cooking. In the afternoons, the three of them would tackle the cleaning. Many rooms were not tied up for a long time since they had not been used. Rowena wanted to bring everything back to normal.

To that end, she walked to the village, bundled up warmly against the bitter cold. Enquiring at the inn, she introduced herself as Ketteridge’s housekeeper and asked Joseph Carter, the innkeeper, for female help. He brought her a few local girls, the daughters of local Ketteridge tenants, who were eager to come and work for her. The earl had provided her with an advance on her salary, which she now used to pay the girls. She did not tell the earl that she paid them out of her own salary. He had enough to worry about already.

As for her future dealings with her employer, she was determined to shield herself from his all too inquisitive nature. One day, she would leave Ketteridge House and make a new start for her and her child. For the moment, she could stay here until the end of winter, and make a little money.