The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part Fourteen

Chapter Seven (continued)

Rowena ran blindly, tears streaming from her eyes. She ran until she found a bed, and collapsed on it. In her womb, the baby was kicking wildly, causing her stomach to burn.

He had kissed her! Another man – no, Alex – had kissed her, and it had felt so good, so right. Rowena gasped while violent sobs wrecked her chest. Peter … oh, why had he left her to deal with it all alone? Peter, she called his name between her sobs, hoping it would dispel her sadness. It did not, it made it only worse. A deep, yet soft voice gently pulled at her misery.

“You can talk about Peter to me, Rowie. I am a good listener.”

It was the sweetest voice she had ever heard, and it took her some seconds before she knew it was the earl who had come and found her. Rowena began scrambling up, but he stopped her. Not by touching her, though.

“Lay down, Miss Drake. I shall sit here in this chair and you shall tell me about your Peter.”

Yes, Rowena thought, that was what she truly craved. She so desperately longed for peace, for stability, also. Sudden warmth touched her when someone covered her with a blanket. It must have been … him. It was most welcome; she had not known that she had been shivering, until that moment. It must have been … Alex.

She wanted to see him, to see the expression on his face yet she dared not sit up, lest his eyes would tell a very different story. Taking a deep breath, she began narrating.

“We loved each other so much, Peter and I. He was a decent, caring man. He promised to marry me as soon as he would have done his military duty.”

The words got stuck in her throat, overwhelmed as she was with her memories.

“Who presented him to you? Was it during your season?”

Rowena nodded. “I had my only London season when I was nineteen, in April 1814. My father could not afford another one. My aunt Mrs Latterley sponsored me; Aunt Charlotte is my mother’s sister. We attended a ball at Carlisle House, the Earl of Carlisle’s mansion on Upper Brook Street. My uncle is a wealthy wine merchant in Carlisle with substantial connections in the City.”

“Ah, I see. Your uncle and Carlisle are business partners?”

“Yes, that was why we were invited to such a grand ball. There was a great attendance from the military, including many officers of the Yorkshire Regiment. Peter was one of them, a captain. We were attracted to each other from the moment we met.”

“How long did you stay in London?”

The question surprised Rowena. What was he doing, ferreting out her life like that? But she strove to answer his questions as honestly as she could, because it seemed the right thing to do.

“We stayed until June, of course, until the end of the Season. When I returned to Daveston Hall, I was so very depressed, because I did not think I would ever see Peter again. I was wrong. He came to Carlisle to escort the earl’s company home. We met on several official outings after Christmas. Peter proposed to me in April of this year, when we were attending a musicale together. From then on, we attempted to see each other as much as was possible, which was not easy because I had to invent reasons to visit my aunt. I still feel ashamed of my behaviour. My aunt, who is the sweetest of women, had no notion of what I was doing. I kept dragging her to soirées and musicales, so that Peter and I could meet. We pledged our love to each other and … and … I gave myself to him.”

“Where was this?”

Abruptly, Rowena sat up when she noticed the controlled but simmering anger in Alex’ voice. She blushed furiously but forced herself to continue. “At a soirée my aunt gave for the Carlisle Chamber of Commerce.”

There was an angry grunt from Alex, and Rowena saw a muscle clench in his angular jaw. She wondered why he looked so out of sorts, and so furious.

“I am upsetting you with my tale, my lord. Forgive me.”

“No, you are not. Continue, please. How many encounters were there?”

Rowena’s cheeks were once again on fire. She sighed.

“My lord, I must … I mean … Oh, God! How embarrassing this all is!”

“Rowena … “Alex’ voice was gently persuasive. “I have no intention of embarrassing you. I told you before that I am a soldier, and thus very protective of all who live under my roof. I want to know your story, so please indulge me. Did you meet weekly, or more often?”

“Our encounters were not very regular. We … we loved each other four times …”

“And then he went to war. When did you learn that he had died?”

“In early September.”

“That late? The casualty lists were released at the beginning of July. I was home in August because it took Porter that long to have me transported, but I should have been home much sooner, had I been whole. I was too ill to travel before long.”

Rowena had no reply to that. She felt oddly relieved, as if a great burden had been taken away from her. But Alex was not yet satisfied.

“When did the messenger come? Do you remember the exact day?”

“The messenger?”

“The cavalry always sends a messenger to deliver the news of the demise of one of their own,” he said quietly, sensing her confusion.

“I do not know,” Rowena answered, and Alex could hear the confusion in her voice now. “I had been in the rose garden all morning, when a footman summoned me to the library. Roderick told me right away that Peter had died.”

Which had probably been a mercy, Alex thought. It was always better to hear of a beloved’s death by someone of your own family, and without too much preliminary speech. “What happened then? Did you know you were increasing at that time?”

“Yes, of course. I knew that for certain in July, but I was not concerned, since Peter and I were betrothed. When the news of his death came, I informed Roderick. That was when things became less pleasant.”

“When exactly did you leave Daveston?”

“On the twenty-eight of November. Roderick told me the day before that I would have to move to a remote little cottage on our estate, because it became too apparent that I was with child. I could not do it, my lord. I was appalled, numb with shock because of what Roderick had decided for my child. The rest you already know. If you had not found me …”

“But I have, Rowena, and that means that it is my duty to protect you and the child as best as I can. As there has been gossip going about already, I shall have to take more thorough measures.”

Touched by Alex’ concern, Rowena rose from the bed. Looking about her for the first time, she gasped in surprise when she saw where she was.

“Come,” the earl said and extended his hand, “let us go back to the morning room. Mr and Mrs Wallis will not know what the uproar was all about.”

Rowena swung her legs over the bed’s edge and took the hand Alex offered. Instantly his other arm sneaked around her waist, and he drew her up against his large, tall frame. A good thing he did because she was swaying on her feet. “Steady,” he said, his voice deep and warm.

“Thank you, my lord,” she choked, and let him lead her to the door of the room she now recognized as the one she had been brought to, on that first, eventful night at Ketteridge, the ‘Blue Bedroom’. She had fled to the room where their first physical contact had been. To her sanctuary.

 

Alex retired to his library as soon as Rowena joined Mrs Wallis in the morning room. Her husband John would already be waiting for him, he knew. They had work to do, and Alex intended to visit tenants with John by his side to make records of their needs. The both of them set off in the carriage soon thereafter.

His vision was again blurred, Alex noted. Of course, his fields were hidden under a thick blanket of snow, and the sky was a leaden grey, so there was no colour to point out landmarks to him. As a result, he was left with his disturbing thoughts about his housekeeper.

Last night, he had allowed the notion of Rowena becoming his wife into his mind. While it had been a sane, rational notion to unite himself to her, being as unmarriageable as she was, he could not deny that it could also be viewed as a mindless folly. Richard Orme’s reaction was certainly testimony to that.

The Earl of Ketteridge did not take as his wife a woman pregnant with another man’s child, regardless of the fact that she was to be presented to Society as a widow. It would be a scandal, Alex acknowledged, when he should make her his countess.

And yet, he would exactly do that, and he would ignore – no, stare down – every disapproving look or comment with all the arrogance he knew he could muster when necessary. His years as a soldier and an officer had taught him how to overrule and bully others, until they followed his instructions without failing. He could coerce Society into accepting his choice of bride, he was certain of it.

But could he also persuade Rowena to become his bride? That was another matter altogether. One that could never be accomplished without him courting her properly.

Courting … he had never done any courting in his life.

 

 

 

 

Cloepatra

Amazon will be the latest to try and put legendary Egyptian queen CLEOPATRA on the small screens as they have put into development a series with Black Sails team.  Written by Robert Levine, it is described as a revisionist take on one of history’s most misunderstood women, The Godfather in Ancient Egypt. After nearly losing her life in a bloody coup, Cleopatra must use her natural wit and political genius to take back her throne and restore honour to her family and kingdom.
Let’s  hope this one makes it.

The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part Thirteen

Chapter Seven

Ketteridge House, Leicestershire, England, December12th, 1815

 

The next morning, the earl seemed much more rested. Last night’s large bandage on his brow had been replaced by a smaller one that sneaked through his lush black locks. He wore buff breeches, a moss-green waistcoat over a crisp white shirt, and a dark green coat, instead of his usual drab brown attire. He looked positively dashing, Rowena marvelled.

Her slippers created but a soft sound on the parquet floor, but the earl’s head came up as soon as Rowena entered the morning room. His blue-grey gaze was instantly upon her. She shivered, once again astonished that he seemed to actually see her despite his blindness. It was but an illusion, but a powerful one, and every time it happened, Rowena was warmed by the beautiful smile he invariably bestowed on her. And most of the time, he would indeed smile.

“Ah, Miss Drake, come and join me. The Wallisses promised to join us, since I wanted to discuss some estate matters with Mr Wallis during breakfast. However, before they join us, tell me how you are feeling today.”

“Fully restored, my lord. I apologize for my inability to …”

“No need to apologize, Miss Drake. I am glad that you and the child are in good health.”

It was her voice, Alex suddenly realized. Every time, he heard that lovely, young, musical voice, his heart skipped several beats. Ridiculous, damn it.

Rowena barely had time to seat herself before Porter and the Wallisses entered. The valet placed a large tray on the table and left. As soon as Meg sank down on the chair next to Rowena, she whispered in her ear, “His Lordship said he had things to discuss with us. What is it about, do you know?”

Rowena shook her head in puzzlement, determined to stop Meg’s questions.

Alex cleared his throat, and bowed before he let himself down on his chair at the head of the table. “I can answer that question, Mrs Wallis, but Miss Drake cannot because she has not been told what it is about.”

Meg was startled, embarrassed because the earl had heard her speaking to Rowena.

“I am sorry, my lord, I did not wish to raise your resentment.”

“You have not, Mrs Wallis, rest assured. Now, let us partake of our breakfast.”

They all started reaching for a piece of toast or a helping of eggs, when they noticed the earl did not. He sat quietly waiting for Porter to come back and serve him. Soon after, the valet entered with a steaming hot pot of tea. While the earl was being served, John sent his wife a disapproving look. Meg blushed, and Rowena squeezed her hand beneath the table’s edge. Sweet Meg … she would always take Rowena’s side, no matter what.

They all ate in silence, and the only one who seemed relaxed, was the earl.

Alex forced himself to eat, but in reality he was inwardly shaking with what he was envisaging. During the night, restlessness and concern had prevented him from sleeping. The one, important question on his mind had been how to ensure that Rowena would not leave Ketteridge after the birth of her child. Alex could not possibly bear the thought of her disappearing from his life, and it puzzled him to the extreme as to why this as so.

He did not love Rowena. Love did not grow in a mere week. Alex was not even certain that he could ever love another being. He had very much loved his brother Reggie, and Reggie had died anyway. He had never known his mother who had died giving birth to him. His father had been a cold, selfish man who never had time for the ‘spare’. Reggie was the one his father had cherished beyond all reason.  Alex’ brother had been groomed to the earldom. Yet Reggie had been the one who gave little Alex a bit of love and attention, whenever he came home between terms at Eton and Cambridge. Reggie had betrayed him by dying so soon, and by leaving a mess for Alex to clean up.

So, no, he could not easily come to love Rowena, because love implied trust, and Alex took a long time in trusting someone. He was however fiercely attracted to Rowena Drake. She stirred his senses and brought to life his long-suppressed carnal desires. He admired her, because she had definite strength of character. She had taken her fate into her own hands when it turned against her. That, he knew, was a very important matter, one of many it took to make a good countess, so he had decided that Rowena Drake would be the next Countess of Ketteridge. That, he realised, meant that he would have to court her. What better way to court her than by appealing to her heart in the best way there was; to provide a home for her and her bastard child. He was prepared to give his name to the child. He or she could never be his heir, of course, but he could provide an education for the child.  Every child needed an education.

Alex was determined to court Rowena in the most appropriate way possible, even though she was already living under his roof. Therefore, he had to protect her from the gossip that had started to go about.

Alex again cleared his throat – he seemed to be doing that a lot, lately –  and turned his face to where he knew Rowena was sitting. He could swear he could actually see her clearly, but he might be deluding himself.

“A conversation I had with my good friend Dr Orme last night, made me acutely aware of the dire situation I put Miss Drake in. Although she has been here, at Ketteridge House, for only the briefest of times, it seems that the gossip mongers have already been busy. I cannot tolerate that, so I have decided to squelch the rumours instantly and for good.”

When he paused to have his words sinking in, Alex heard Rowena’s slight but unmistakeable intake of breath.

“Miss Drake,” Alex went on in a matter-of-fact voice, “before I continue, I need you to answer a question, as honestly as you can. Do you wish to stay here, at Ketteridge House?”

“Yes, …” Her answer was a shuddering whisper, which gave Alex a jolt of joy.

“Good, that is settled then,” he said, smiling. “Mr Wallis will be employed as my steward. You, Mrs Wallis, shall be Miss Drake’s companion. We shall spread the rumour that she is your widowed niece, come to live with you, when Mr Wallis accepted his position as my steward. I do hope that you will give a hand in setting this household straight, Mrs Wallis. I want you two to assemble a full staff. You are allowed to hire as many hands as you need. Now, if you will excuse me, I have other business to see to.” He rose, leaving the three of them speechless with wonder.

 

Ignoring the concerned glances Meg and John gave each other, Rowena gathered her skirts and ran after the earl. He had already disappeared into his library, and not for the first time did Rowena marvel in the swift way in which he reached his chosen destinations within the house.

“My lord, I would wish a word, if you please?”

He had not expected her because he turned so quickly that he half lost his balance and had to steady himself by grabbing the edge of his desk.

“Damn …” Alex smothered the curse he was uttering and forced himself to stay in control of the anger that boiled in him. Anger because another human being saw his weakness. It took him a while to realise that Rowena had not noticed that.

She continued, breathlessly and urgently, “My lord, I cannot accept the arrangements you made. They would cast aspersions on Meg and John who are as dear to me as if they were my own parents. Moreover, Meg’s sister Mary lives in Leicester and she is married and has several children. Their families are both well known, and it could easily happen that someone from town would talk to their Ketteridge relatives. People would know Meg has no niece who is widowed and pregnant. John’s people are also living in Leicester, so I could not possibly be a relative of his, either. It is best if I would continue to be Mrs Drake, the widow of a cavalry man.”

One question was burning on his lips, so Alex asked it. “Who was that cavalry man, Miss Drake? Tell me his name.”

Rowena’s throat constricted. She had had difficulties talking about Peter, since the minute Roderick told her that he had died. Memories of that horrible morning in the library at her father’s house assaulted her.

It had been a morning with a brilliantly exuberant sun beaming from a sky of the purest azure. She had been back from the rose garden, her basket full of blooms hanging on her arm. Roderick had called her into the room and bluntly told her that Peter had been killed at Waterloo. There had been no body, because it had been destroyed by canon fire, and the few remains had been buried in a mass grave near Brussels. Now was the time, Roderick had said, that she should go to their aunt’s house in York and start going to parties again. Her marriage prospects had now vanished, and she had to start over from scratch.

“Miss Drake?”

The earl stood very close to her, his hand on her arm. “Are you unwell? You seemed to struggle for breath.”

Rowena swallowed, realizing that she must have made a noise. “I am well, thank you. It was just …”

“You are panicking again. I can feel it. Is it still so painful to talk about him?”

“Yes …” she breathed. Alex felt a shudder run through her. He acted on instinct, protection foremost on his mind. He sought her hand and lifted it to his lips, and deeply inhaled her lovely scent.

“Oh …”

That little word, barely audible, set his blood on fire with a force he had never thought possible. Anger bloomed, because she was still mourning the man who had left her in such dire circumstances. He wanted the memory of that selfish bastard wiped into oblivion. She could not, would not be allowed to think of the blackguard ever again.

“His name …” he ordered, steel in his voice. He had not released her hand and allowed his breath to caress it, while his thumb stroked her palm in a languid, soothing way.

“Peter Johnston of the Yorkshire Regiment.”

Victory, he thought, and let his other hand travel to her face. Smoothly, he cupped her chin and brushed her lips with his in a caress so tender, that it suddenly made her quiver beneath his touch. He released her, also suddenly, but gently.

She ran, a soft footfall on the carpet. “Bloody hell…,” Alex whispered. Bewilderment clawed at him over the raw, violent arousal invading his body. How could this be? His only purpose had been to comfort her with a modest and gentle kiss, but the contact between their lips had been like a spark of lightning. And what had he been thinking, actually kissing his housekeeper? Hell, but he was in a sore state! He stayed for a moment, gathering his thoughts and suppressing his need. Then he strode after Rowena, confident that he would find her.

 

‘THE GREATEST SHOWMAN’

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN  which hits theatres around the world this Christmas!
Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.The true story movie also stars Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson and Michelle Williams. It is directed by Michael Gracey who previously worked on special effects in movies. The movie wasn’t originally envisioned as musical.