The Duke’s Disguised Maid (Preview)

Chapter One

London, 1815

“Father, Father! You are not listening to me. Pray, stay a minute more, and just truly hear what I am saying to you.”

Alaina froze as she walked down the dark corridor of the Earl of Woolworth’s house. There was just one candle keeping her company as it flickered from the hall table nearby. Alaina carried a silver tray topped with the hot chocolate her mistress liked to finish every night and her latest letters of correspondence.

Yet it seemed her mistress was not upstairs in her bedchamber at all. Lady Caroline shrieked from the Earl of Woolworth’s nearby study.

“I have told you already, Caroline. There is nothing more I can do.”

“Nothing? Nothing more! You can listen to what I am saying –”

“Enough!”

“So, you would sentence me married to a man I do not love? A man I do not even know.”

“Do you wish every member of staff in this household to hear our business and know our struggles? Hmm?”

The guilt coiled in Alaina’s stomach as she heard the Earl of Woolworth say such words, but she could not help it. Slowly, she lowered the tray of hot chocolate onto the hall table nearby, watching as the porcelain cup tremored in its saucer and the ornate silver hot chocolate pot nearly tipped over as she angled it too far. Alaina narrowly stopped it from falling over, then tiptoed towards the study door, pressing her ear close to the gap. 

“Why would you do this to me?” Lady Caroline’s voice suddenly took on a sharpness that made Alaina’s stomach knot tight.

Lady Caroline had to be Alaina’s favourite person in the world. She was kind, excessively characterful, and full of life, with such positive energy, and she always found reasons to smile. Alaina rather thought of her as a flitting butterfly. She often hopped from party to party, unable to settle at just one ball for a single evening. Such a woman hardly ever used a harsh tone at all, until now, it seemed.

It was so unlike her to use this voice that scared Alaina.

Alaina pushed the black hair back from her forehead, which often trailed in her eyes, to get a clearer view as she pressed her face to the gap. From the crack between the jamb and door, she could see the study flooded with candlelight, a stark contrast to the darkness of the corridor. 

Caroline was standing before her father’s desk, breathing heavily, her shoulders heaving up and down. Her curvy figure, often draped in the most beautiful silks, tonight was only clothed in a plush dressing gown, demure and dark blue. 

“You cannot do this.” Caroline shook her head, making her onyx curls dance around her ears. “You cannot marry me to a man neither of us know –”

She was cut off as her father stood from his seat. Though Alaina could not see the Earl of Woolworth, she saw his shadow as it eclipsed Caroline. He was a man who had a habit of making his intimidating presence known with ease. 

“You would not find a husband of your own,” he said, his voice quiet yet somehow holding even more harshness in the tones than Caroline had done. “You have been out for years. Years, Caroline, and yet no husband to be spoken of? No betrothed? Do you wish to be a spinster forever?”

“You see a spinster, but I see a happy woman in the mirror. I am independent, enjoying my life –”

“Independent?” he spluttered, scoffing, cutting her off once again. “Do not fool yourself with such illusions, daughter. You are dependent on a man’s income, no matter where you go or what you do in life. You are dependent on my income now, and you will soon be dependent on your husband’s.”

“Not if I don’t marry.”

“Enough!” This time, the earl’s bark was loud and warned her not to respond. Caroline took the smallest of steps back.

Alaina laid a hand on her quivering stomach. Caroline usually never backed down for anyone.

“You must marry,” the earl said again, calmer this time. “You would not take the action alone, so I have taken it for you. The Duke of Peddleton is a good man. He has extended a proposal, and I have accepted. He even suggested you travel to his estate in the country next week so that the two of you could get to know one another before the wedding. Now, that is not the act of a cruel man, is it?”

“I didn’t say he was cruel,” Caroline snapped. “I said I did not know him. Surely you knew my mother before you married her? Surely you knew her heart, her likes, her dislikes, what she thought of you …” Yet she trailed off. Whatever the earl’s expression had to be, it must have been negative. “That was for arrangement too?” Alaina had heard Caroline’s opinions on marriage many times before. Though she knew many people did not marry for love, she had always been insistent that some people married for love, and she wished to be just the same. 

“It’s time your idealistic mind grew up, Caroline,” the earl said, sitting down heavily again. “Few marry for something as foolish as love in this world. Now, go.” 

Alaina saw his shadow wave a dismissive hand in Caroline’s direction.

Alaina backed up just in time as Caroline burst out of the door.

“Ah!” Caroline struggled to hold onto her squeak of surprise. Together, they fumbled, closing the door to avoid the earl realizing that Alaina had been there at all; then Caroline fell into Alaina’s arms, gripping her tight. “You heard?” Caroline asked, pure panic in her aquamarine eyes as they searched Alaina’s face for an answer.

Alaina’s expression said it all.

“Come, come, my chamber.” Caroline took hold of her hand tightly and tried to drag her away. Alaina barely had a chance to grab the tray behind her and then follow her friend. They traipsed up the steps in the house quickly and along the landing. For a few minutes, no words passed between them, an unusual thing, for they so often spent every minute of every day talking together.

As Caroline entered her chamber, she flopped herself down on a chaise longue, sighing, groaning aloud, and thrusting her fists down into the cushioned seat in frustration. Alaina locked the door, laid down the tray, and started to light candles.

“Do you think he will hold true to his word?” Alaina whispered, moving around the room fast with her taper and lighting every candle she could find.

“How long have you been a maid in this household, my friend?” Caroline asked with a heavy sigh. “You know as well as I that once my father has made up his mind, he is as immovable as stone. He is stubborn.” She thrust her fists down into the seat once again. “What am I going to do, Ally?” She used the nickname for Alaina, only ever whispered between them in this room, where they were far away from the rest of the staff.

Alaina stopped with the candles and turned to face her friend.

They were very much a mirror image of one another. Both had long, ebony black hair and thin, narrow faces, but there were differences, too. Caroline had blue eyes and thin lips, bearing perfectly symmetrical beauty. Alaina’s looks were a little more unusual, with full lips and a smile that was often one-sided. 

I love her like a sister.

“I … I don’t know,” Alaina whispered, so distracted in trying to think of a solution that her taper burnt down and nearly singed her fingers. She blew it out fast and then sat heavily down in a chair beside her friend. She kneaded her fingers into the poor woollen skirt of her gown, her thoughts moving fast. “If your father cannot be persuaded out of the betrothal –”

“He will not.”

“Then you must find a way to persuade the Duke of Peddleton to withdraw his offer of a proposal.”

Caroline sat up fast on the chaise longue, so quickly, in fact, that she nearly fell straight off the seat. Alaina reached out to steady her, and they clasped hands together. Caroline said nothing for a minute; her lips parted as her eyes darted about the room in deep thought. 

“Do you think I could do it?” she asked eventually. “If he has asked me to come to see him first, that would give me the opportunity to dissuade him, would it not?”

Alaina nodded, though she stayed silent for a minute, her thoughts now troubling her. It was often their way. Caroline was the most talkative of the two, and Alaina was the quieter. Although she could talk readily enough in Caroline’s company, sometimes, it was all too easy to be silent. It was how she was in others’ company, preferring to be quiet as a mouse in a corner, where people forgot she existed. 

“I know that silence,” Caroline said tremulously. “What is it?”

Alaina was reluctant to speak her thoughts, but Caroline now blinked madly, holding back tears and struggling. Alaina couldn’t refuse her anything at that moment.

“I was thinking …” Alaina paused, chewing her full lip before forcing herself on. “If the Duke of Peddleton has proposed without ever meeting you, then his motive must be your dowry. No amount of you pleading for him to release you from the betrothal may change his mind if this is so.”

“Oh! This is too awful!” Caroline suddenly lost her battle. The tears erupted from her eyes, running down her cheeks fast. “I do not even care for the title of duchess. How could I care when there is love to be had in the world?”

Alaina leaned away, snatching up a handkerchief and drying her mistress’ cheeks with it as best as she could.

“Please, don’t cry.”

“How can I not?” Caroline gasped between hitching breaths. “My father is sending me to a prison.”

“A duke’s household, I imagine, is a little different from a prison, Caro,” Alaina whispered. This was the only room where she ever dared address Caroline without her title.

“You know what I mean.” Caroline took the handkerchief from her and stood, marching up and down in her frustration. “I have always dreamed of marrying for love; what is so awful about that?” She paced in front of the fireplace, burning with soft orange flames. “I have wanted a man who would not only understand me but talk with me into the late hours of the night. A man who would … excite me!” she declared with sudden passion.

“Excite?”

“Oh, come off it, Alaina.” Caroline smiled a little through her tears, casting Alaina a brief glance. “Are you telling me you have never felt an attraction for a man? No stable boy or footman ever caught your eye? Made you think of what could happen between the bedsheets at night?”

“No, they have not!” Alaina exclaimed, backing up in her seat. “Have you seen the stable boys and footmen here?” She was now blushing a deep shade of red, feeling as if her cheeks were on fire.

It was hardly the first time Caroline had alluded to what men and women could do together in the bedchamber, but Alaina knew so little of what could happen that it made her nervous every time they spoke of it. Yet recently, her body had felt heated, too. It seemed that despite her own reserve, her curiosity was piqued.

“Fair point,” Caroline murmured and stopped her pacing. She leaned on the mantelpiece, dabbing her eyes with the handkerchief. “I just always thought I’d meet someone someday who would make everything fall into place. I’d enjoy their company, and I’d look forward to what we could do in the bedchamber.” She waved a frantic hand towards her bed at the far end of the room. “I would dread the thought of going to bed with a stranger.”

Alaina glanced towards the bed, thoughts now burning in her mind. She tamped down her curiosity, knowing she had more important things to consider at this moment.

“Then we must think of a way to get you out of this, Caroline, a way that means you and the Duke of Peddleton will not be pushed into marriage or a bedchamber together at all.”

“I pray we think of a way,” Caroline said as fresh tears spilled from her eyes. 

Chapter Two

St Albans, Hertfordshire

In the light of the fire, Marcus tore open the letter. He broke past the red wax seal of the Earl of Woolworth, eager to read what the earl had to say. He rested his elbow on the fireplace, using the light of the fire to read, though his eyes scanned to the most important bits, eagerly skipping past the excessive politeness and pleasantries that were clearly the Earl of Woolworth’s attempts to butter him up.

‘… we agree to your proposal wholeheartedly. My daughter, Lady Caroline, will be announced as your betrothed this coming week. She will also come to visit you at your country estate as you requested. She will arrive next Friday with her maid as a chaperone …’

The rest of the letter went on to detail more particulars about the arrangements and even more excessive flattery that Marcus did not care to hear.

As he finished reading, he screwed up the paper into a ball in the palm of his hand. The paper looked red in the firelight and gave him an idea. He tossed the crumpled ball into the blaze and watched as the fire took hold. The flames danced around the paper for a few seconds before consuming it. The pages curled and blackened, then turned to ash.

“I disgust myself,” Marcus muttered aloud, though saying the words brought him little comfort.

It was necessary to marry a lady with a good dowry, he knew that, and Lady Caroline had been practically offered to him on a plate by her father, but it did not soften the worries in his heart. 

He ran a hand through his cropped auburn hair, praying that Lady Caroline had agreed to this arrangement herself and that it was not at the forced hand of her father that she was accepting.

“Your Grace?” a familiar voice called to him.

Marcus looked up from the fire. Across the room came his butler, Lambton, carrying a tray with a glass of brandy.

“Ah, thank you, Lambton.” Marcus forced a smile and tried to look completely at ease as Lambton carried the tray towards him and placed it down on a small table closest to him. “Please make some arrangements for two visitors, arriving this coming Friday. Lady Caroline and her maid.”

“Lady Caroline?” Lambton looked up. His old and creased face spread into a smile. “Is this your betrothed, Your Grace?”

For a few seconds, Marcus didn’t answer. Instead, he took the brandy from its place on the table and took a hefty gulp. He knew well enough that the staff often wished the house would be busy again. They thought of running after little ones, especially the older staff, such as Lambton and the housekeeper, Mrs Urwin.

Children …

Marcus ran a hand across his face. To have a child, he’d have to share his new wife’s bed. He didn’t know what she looked like, as she did not know him either. What if they were both repulsed by one another? What if the thought of sharing such intimacies made them both want to run for the hills?

There had been a time in his younger years when he had been wayward in his bedding habits. He was hardly an inexperienced man. He’d made love to women he was attracted to and women he shared a bond with. The thrills that had coursed through him on such occasions, the excitement of being between a woman’s legs, had made him long for more.

Yet he now faced the possibility of marrying a woman that might not thrill him at all. Equally, he might not thrill her. What then? Were they supposed to stare at one another across a bedchamber before deciding it was hopeless? 

“Yes,” Marcus forced himself to say eventually. “Yes, Lady Caroline is my … betrothed.” The uneasiness was plain even to him. “Thank you for the brandy, Lambton.”

“My pleasure, Your Grace.” Lambton bowed with a soft smile. “I have seen a carriage pull up outside. Shall I show your aunt in?”

Marcus smirked a little at his butler’s words. They both knew that the only person who called so late at this house, unannounced and without invitation, was his aunt.

“Yes, please.”

Lambton bowed a second time and hurried from the room.

Steeling himself, Marcus took another gulp of the brandy and turned to face the fire, watching the last remnants of the burning letter smoulder into cinders. His mind, now distracted, was thinking solely of the bed he may someday share with his wife.

If she were beautiful, if she held attractions of her own, perhaps it would be a pleasant thing. A shiver of excitement ran up his spine, and he shook himself, trying his best to dispel the feeling.

As much as he wanted to look forward to that particular part of his future as a married man, he knew very well that it could all go another way. He could have a furious lady turning up at his door, a woman who had no wish to marry him at all. If she detested him, he would never ask her to come to bed.

I am not that sort of man.

He picked up the poker from the brass instruments beside the fire and struck out at the flames. The wood and ash danced together, sparks flying that he tried his best to stoke. It was all a distraction, a desperate attempt to make him think of something else besides this impending marriage.

Had life been different, had my father not run up so many debts, maybe then I would have known what it was like to have freedom.

Had there been no debts, Marcus knew he wouldn’t have offered marriage to any lady. It was just not a path he had ever pictured his life following, not until he had discovered exactly what his father’s legacy of debt was after his death.

Sighing, Marcus returned the brass poker to its stand and turned away, swallowing the last gulp of brandy just in time as the door to his sitting room burst open.

Lady Sarah Silverton stood in the doorway, a picture of ruffles and excessive bows, her large and eager eyes drinking in the space before her. An elderly aunt, her face wrinkled like parchment, her grey eyes almost haunting in their power, she was always a sight to behold. Her face spread into an instant smile when her eyes found Marcus, and she bustled into the room, her small figure moving fast and struggling with the narrowness of the skirt of her gown. Marcus thought she rather trotted like a horse as she crossed the room.

“Marcus, Marcus, how are you, my dear nephew?” She hastened towards him and pulled on his arm. On reflex, he bent down, allowing her to kiss him on his cheek in greeting. “What’s all this quietness hanging about you this evening? So much silence. It will not do, Marcus; it simply won’t do.”

“Well, I –”

“Now, Lambton tells me you are to have a visitor this Friday. Is it true?” she asked excitedly, giggling happily.

Marcus smiled at his aunt. She was often a source of laughter for him, even when he struggled to find lightness in the world. He supposed it was partly because there was something in her that reminded him of his mother, her sister, but it was also her manner. She always complained Marcus was too quiet, simultaneously ignorant of the fact that she liked to do most of the talking. Far from being irked by such a thing, Marcus loved her all the more for it. 

He’d stood in so many stuffy and stiff-upper-lipped rooms full of reserved people in his life that his aunt’s talkativeness was not just a breath of fresh air but like a great gusting wind.

“How wonderful!” she declared, clasping her hands together, not bothering to wait for Marcus’ answer. “Is it as we discussed? Is it the Earl of Woolworth’s daughter?”

“It is,” Marcus managed to edge into the conversation.

“Oh, even more wonderful. I have heard such lovely things about her, Marcus.” She took the empty glass from his grasp and gave it a strong sniff. “Oh, no, this will not do. No more of this, Marcus.” She turned and waved an eager hand at Lambton, who had appeared in the doorway. “Lambton, dessert wine, if you please?”

“Of course, Lady Silverton.” Lambton bowed and disappeared from the door.

“She is said to be a famous beauty indeed,” Sarah carried on as if she hadn’t made the diversion of the drinks order. She placed the brandy glass down on a table and sat down in the nearest armchair, crossing her heels neatly together. “Of course, I haven’t been up to London in some time, so I have not seen her myself, but I have heard plenty of gossip. Oh, and there’s this.”

“Aunt, please.” Marcus sat down in an armchair facing his aunt and rubbed his temple, suddenly feeling a headache coming on.

“Oh, you’ll like this,” she continued eagerly, having pulled out a scrap of paper from her reticule hanging at her wrist. She cleared her throat as if preparing for some great speech, then read from what Marcus quickly realized was a scandal sheet. “The beautiful Lady Caroline is, of course, much talked of by this publication. So many years on the marriage market, one must wonder if Lady Caroline will ever marry at all. With hair as black as night, she draws attention in any room, and –”

“Aunt, please.” Marcus, at last, managed to halt his aunt. She jerked her chin to face him with her lips still parted as if framing the next words on the page. It was clear it had taken her a second or so to realize he was talking at all. “I am not sure I wish to hear what the scandal sheets think about Lady Caroline. I wish to meet the lady myself on Friday and will make a judgement from there about what she is like.”

“Do you mean to say …” She dropped the scandal sheet, and it drifted to the floor, wandering back and forth like a tumbling autumnal leaf. “You may yet reject the betrothal?”

“No.” Marcus sighed and rubbed his temple again. “I am not sure I have the luxury of that choice.”

“Oh, my dear nephew.” She leaned forward and patted his other hand that rested on the arm of his chair, a sympathetic and loving smile on her face. “Your father left you in something of a pickle, did he not?”

“A pickle?” he asked, sitting straight. “Aunt, I could use some stronger language than that. He left me in a shi –”

“Dessert wine, My Lady,” Lambton declared from the doorway as he stepped into the room.

“Ah, wonderful, thank you, Lambton.” Sarah smiled broadly as Marcus slumped back in his seat again. He imagined she was very relieved for Lambton’s interruption. “Now, we must talk of the arrangements.”

Marcus reached for one of the glasses, ready to continue the discussion when he suddenly realized that his aunt wasn’t looking at him at all.

“Lambton, Lady Caroline must be given that fine chamber which overlooks the rose garden and the lake beyond. Oh, so beautiful it is, and roses of course, the flower of love. If we are to ignite her passion, this is the perfect chamber for her.”

“Aunt …” Marcus sighed tiredly, quite certain Lady Caroline would throw any rose back at his face, making sure she caught him with the thorns first, for she undoubtedly knew he had offered marriage without ever even meeting her.

“And you must have a variety for breakfast, none of this small stuff my nephew likes to eat in the morning. You must feast and impress her,” Sarah continued.

“Of course, My Lady.” Lambton inclined his head in acknowledgement.

“Now, let us discuss the flowers that will be placed in her room …” As Sarah launched into a new set of detailed arrangements, Marcus began to feel his presence was no longer needed.

He hid his smile behind his wine glass, taking the smallest of sips, before he stood and turned away from the pair, now talking together animatedly as they made preparations for his soon-to-be betrothed’s arrival. Marcus moved towards his writing bureau in the corner of the room. A small table, barely noticed by some, it was a place that meant much to him, for in this desk were the letters of those who truly mattered to him in this world – his dear friends. 

He sat down in his chair, shutting out the sounds of his aunt and butler, as he reached for a letter he had tucked away in a drawer in the top part of the desk. He peeled it open with care, laying it flat on the desk as he peered at the handwriting.

It was the quick handwriting of his good friend, Gregory St Vincent. Yet tonight, Marcus could not feel the usual happiness that overtook him when hearing from his friend. Tonight, there was lingering sadness.

His eyes drifted down the page, tarrying on some particular lines from Gregory.

‘My situation is not so wholly bad as you believe, my friend. I know I no longer have the position I once held, and certainly not the respect, but there are worse things to happen in this world than losing one’s money …’

Despite this insistence, Gregory had gone on to bemoan the rather small and poky condition of his new home. He had also lamented its darkness, the lack of staff, and his realization of just how much had changed.

‘… It’s strange, is it not? How much one’s condition in life depends on the money in our coffers. Even stranger when you think that such money must have been invented many years ago as a form of trade when really, it is nothing but paper and metal that we have scrawled on. We have given it a value. I must grow accustomed to my new lot in life, my friend. I will someday accept the fact that I am not the wealthy man I once was …’

Marcus found fresh paper and a quill to write a reply to his friend. For all of Gregory’s fine words, he was sad indeed. It was a future that Marcus both feared and railed against. He refused to become penniless due to his father’s poor acumen and investments.

“Oh, oh, and what are you doing now, dear nephew?” Sarah suddenly declared, trotting towards him like a horse again, her face flushed with excitement. “Are you writing to your betrothed?” she asked with a smile.

“No, Aunt. I must meet her first. I am writing to Gregory.”

“Oh.” Her smile fell away. “Poor Mr St Vincent.”

Yes. Poor indeed.


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

Alaina, a humble maid in the household of an Earl, finds solace in her friendship with Lady Caroline, their bond akin to that of sisters despite their difference in status. When Lady Caroline is forced into an unwanted betrothal with the Duke of Peddleton, Alaina’s world is shaken. With Lady Caroline’s audacious suggestion to switch places, Alaina finds herself thrust into a perilous charade at the Duke’s estate. However, soon she is struck by the enigmatic Duke, stirring feelings she’s never known before…

Will Alaina be able to guard her heart as she delves deeper into this deceitful masquerade, or will her feelings lead to her undoing?

Marcus, haunted by his father’s debts, sees marriage to Lady Caroline as a solution. When the woman he believes to be Lady Caroline arrives, Marcus begins to think that the debts his father has left him could be a true blessing in disguise. Consumed by the thought of her, he finds the boundaries of propriety blurring as his desire for Lady Caroline intensifies.

Is he finally prepared to surrender his heart to one woman?

As Alaina and Marcus grow closer to one another, stolen kisses in unchaperoned moments and steamy thoughts offer up a world of new possibilities, full of excitement. Marcus finds himself drawn to Alaina’s strength and resilience, but he has no idea that Alaina’s head is full of fear… Can their love survive the weight of Alaina’s lie? Or will she prefer to run and hide from the truth forever?

“The Duke’s Disguised Maid” is a historical romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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