A Lord’s Sizzling Riddle (Preview)

Prologue

Berkshire, England

March 1819

The night wind whistled through the trees and crops just out of Rachel Haddington’s family farmhouse. Familiar creeks and groans of the old house settling in its bones met her ears, but she did not mind. In many ways, it was comforting.

It was heading to midnight, and while she knew she had to be up at dawn to tend to the chickens and cows, Rachel could not sleep as the financial situation her family was in rested heavily on her shoulders.

She did not need to look outside to see the garden beds, ones her ageing mother did her best to care for, were getting full of weeds, and the fence that lined a length of land behind the cow shed had fallen. Glancing up at the attic where her two sisters, twins Jean and Jane, lay, oblivious to the hardships they were facing, Rachel sighed.

I need to do something … but what? My family cannot stay this way much longer. Mother cannot keep up with the farm, and we cannot afford to hire farm hands. After Father died half a year ago, nothing has gone right.

Her sister Kitty, perched on the cot near Rachel’s, was sound asleep too, and Rachel reached under her pillow to pull out one of the first things her father had given her. It was a piece of a puzzle, a simple one, made from wood.

Turning the worn wood over in her hands, Rachel tried to imagine what her father would tell her to do.

Probably the same thing I have been doing since he died, to care for my family any way I can.

She had to find a way out, and she had an inkling about how to do it, but the question was, would her mother agree to it? Settling back into her bed, Rachel drew the sheets up, snuggling into the thick blanket while spring rain began to pitter-patter on the roof.

“Papa, how I wish you were here …” her words drifted off while she fell asleep.

***

When she woke, just after dawn, the rain was still falling, tempting to lull her back to sleep, but Rachel could not let the persuasion rest as she had so many things to do. After a quick wash, she headed to the nook where the wood-burning stove sat and lit it before preparing the morning porridge.

Kitty came in, yawning and disgruntled. “I had the best dream, and just as it was getting better, I woke up. Drat.”

Amused, Rachel asked, “What was it about?”

“I was in the most luxurious carriage, with a dark-haired gentleman plying me with roses and champagne,” Kitty pouted. “A fanciful dream for sure.”

“Ah,” Rachel said while the sound of shuffling feet had her turning. Her mother, Hannah came close to kiss her on her cheek.

“Good morning, dear,” she said.

“Morning Mama,” Rachel replied. “Breakfast is ready.”

The twins came down, two identical slender faces with dark, red-brown hair in tight plaits and blue-green eyes, one dreamier than the other. Jean was the fanciful one while Jane surrounded herself with figures.

After a quiet meal, the three girls went off to their chores while Rachel stayed behind. “Mama, I need to speak with you.”

Fixing her headscarf, her mother nodded. “What is it, dear?”

“I think—” She looked around the room, its humble walls, bare and scrubbed, the thin curtains that were no match to the freezing winter winds, and the outdated chintz couches, the sagging side propped with a cinder block, and roughhewn stools. “—I should get a job in the city, Mama.”

The cup her mother held clunked onto the table. “Rachel, why—why are you thinking about that? We’re fine where we are, and I know, I know things have been hard, but … the city?”

“Yes,” Rachel dropped her trembling hand to her lap. “I know you think you have the farm under your control, Mama, but in truth, things are slipping away from you. We cannot hire farm hands, and we barely have the strength to reap what we need, hardly enough to sell.”

“Rachel …” Her mother reached out for her and rested her hand over her daughter’s. “I know you think we’re struggling, but we’re fine.”

“Are we, Mama?” Rachel asked pointedly. “We can barely buy oil to make bread or cloth to sew dresses or rags. The house is crumbling around us, and the farm is in shambles.”

Her mother moved to reply but clamped her mouth shut, and the wrinkles at the side of her eyes deepened.

“Mama, you need help, financially, and I know you will never sell Papa’s farm, but in the interim, until we get something better, I think Kitty and I must find proper work in the city. Some of the big manor houses are always looking for maids; we can do that. It would ease the burden on you here to find food for all of us, and we’ll send back money for you and the girls.”

Pain, or possibly regret, crossed over Hannah’s face. “I do believe things will turn for the better, dear. This will not last forever.”

“Mama, until they do, I strongly believe getting work will help you in many ways,” Rachel said, “and Kitty is getting to that age when she wants to explore and see unfamiliar places.”

A battle waged over her mother’s face, her expression raging from undecisive to fearful and then, eventually, to resignation. “Are you sure about this, dear? The city is a world away from what you know.”

Trepidation rested in her heart, but Rachel forged on, “Yes, I am.”

“Where will you start looking?” her mother asked.

“This week, in the town,” Rachel replied. “Sometimes, the work agencies put up notices at the church or the bakers. I’m sure I’ll find something there.”

A long, heavy sigh left her mother, “I do wish it were any other way, Rachel. You have been a mother to the twins when I was not … present at times, and you took care of all of us. It is time for you to go and live your life the way you should. Good heavens, when I was your age, I was married to your father already. You deserve to be happy, Rachel, not to sacrifice your future for all of us.”

“That will happen in time,” Rachel said while relief washed through her at the feeling that her mother was agreeing to her idea. “Now, I only need to make sure you and the twins will be fine.”

“Call Kitty in here,” Hannah said. “She needs to give her assent to this as well.”

Nodding, Rachel headed out the room to fetch her sister. This idea for them to work in the city had to work— there was no other way.

***

Thirteen days later, Rachel lifted her valise onto a wagon then turned to her mother, who had her arms around her younger sister’s shoulders. Tears were liberally dripping down Jean’s face while Jane had her face buried in her mother’s side.

She could see how hard it was for Hannah to keep her composure, but her mother was slowly losing the battle. Soon enough, crystalline drops marked her mother’s face, but Kitty went to hug her first.

Rachel barely heard the words Kitty was murmuring, but they had to be soothing and reassuring as their mother nodded and wiped her face. When Rachel got her turn, she said, “Don’t worry, Mama. We’ll be all right.”

“I know you will,” Hannah said while holding onto her children. “Safe journey, my dears.”

As Rachel made for the wagon, Jean broke away from their mother’s hold and rushed to her, hugging her tightly. “Come back soon, please.”

Brushing her sister’s frizzy hair, Rachel remembered the moment she had fallen in love with her sisters when the midwife had handed her mother two wailing babes with ruddy skin and toothless mouths. It was there she had decided to do all she could to care for and protect them, and now, with her going away, it was nothing different.

Kissing the top of Jean’s head, Rachel promised her, “We will, poppet, I promise.”

With a last goodbye, Rachel turned and headed towards the wagon, praying that what lay ahead of them was better than what she was leaving behind her.

Chapter One

Knightsbridge

London 

Rachel could feel nervous sweat beading on her palm as she tightly held her sister Kitty’s hand. Gazing up at the intimidating manor house that had halted the two from stepping forward, the grandeur of the Palladian styled front of Viscount Bancroft’s house struck amazement—and fear—into her heart.

The morning mist had not lifted from the ground fully, but that did not stop the honey-coloured stone from glowing in the faint summer light. If she remembered correctly about the whispers she had heard, the four-storey house, perfectly situated atop a hill in Knightsbridge, had been built a long time ago, in the late fifteen hundreds.

It looked as if many additions had been made to update the manor to the current time for it to be serviceable for the viscount and his staff. It had the most magnificent arched entrances and boasted many decorative battlements and several decorative towers that she was sure were made only for a show of wealth.

Then again, if it had been built so long ago, mayhap there were battles to fight, Rachel considered as she studied the building. Twisting to look over her shoulder, Rachel bit her lip at the large wrought iron gate behind them.

“I think we should go inside,” Kitty whispered, her fingers flexing with Rachel’s. “After all, maids should be punctual.”

Swallowing her hesitation, Rachel nodded, and the two mounted the flat marble steps to the wide double doors. She peeled her hand away from her sister’s to knock and heard the echo resound in her ears while hoping and praying that the hollow sound was not an omen of their future.

Being employed here was the only hope for Rachel and her sister, as after their father’s death, the little they had dwindled to nothing. With their little left, they had been forced to fend for themselves, and Rachel, as the oldest girl of the family, had sought and taken the opportunity for she and Kitty to be maids in Lord Bancroft’s house. They had a struggling mother and two other sisters to support after all.

As they waited, the reflection on the polished wood showed the neat bun her auburn hair had been pulled into, the modest, long-sleeved dark dress she wore that clung to her slender frame and the valise at her side.

“Do you think we’ll meet his lordship?” Kitty whispered. “They say he’s a recluse—”

“Shh,” Rachel hushed her sister as the doors were pulled open and a liveried footman, clad in black and silver, stepped aside. “Misses Haddingtons, I assume?”

“Yes, sir.” Rachel curtsied. “I am Rachel Haddington, and this is my sister Kitty.”

“Welcome. We were expecting you,” he said. “Miss Stanley will be right with you.”

“Who is—”

“Are you the Haddington girls?” a strict voice said from their left, snapping their attention to the woman who strode in from the corridor there.

The lady, tall and slender, clad in a deep green gown, came closer while holding a timepiece in her hands. For a moment, Rachel wondered if this was the lady of the house, as her straight nose and sharp, arrogant cheekbones lent an air of aristocratic breeding.

Her eyes were the grey of tempered steel, and her blonde hair, tightly bound to the nape of her neck, looked thick and shiny, but the finery and jewels that Rachel expected a lady to have about her were absent.

Is she the housekeeper?

“Yes, ma’am,” Rachel said, curtsying.

“Good.” She nodded while tucking the watch into her pocket. “I am Deborah Stanley, his lordship’s housekeeper, and I oversee all matters about his house, including all maids. Thank you for being on time. I will show you to your lodging and get you acquainted with the schedule that must be followed to the letter. Come with me.”

They bypassed the sweeping staircase and took a smaller hidden one that led up to a higher level. Rachel held her valise tightly as they traversed a long hallway and a shorter one. Miss Stanley opened a door that led to a spacious oblong room with many neatly made single beds lining it. Beside the beds were wooden cupboards, and at the end of the room were screens where ironed uniforms hung.

This is where we shall be staying.

Miss Stanley led them to two beds at the end. “These are yours. You will have two sets of sheets every month that will be in your care to wash and iron. Make sure your beds are made neatly every day. The cupboards are there for your personal belongings, clothes, bathing rags and soap, hairbrushes, what have you.

“You will wake at four each morning; some of you will be in the kitchens, others to the washroom, and the rest to clean the house. We’ve hired you as house cleaners, so that will be your main task, but from time to time, we will have you rotate and be in the kitchen as well. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she and Kitty said in unison.

“Good,” Miss Stanley said. “You will have access to every room and cleaning closet except his lordship’s quarters. He allows only two maids inside his bedchamber and study, so you will stay out of those. You will have tea or porridge before work and a full meal at ten when most of the morning work is done and supper at seven.”

From the corner of her eye, Rachel saw Kitty about to ask a question and quickly glared at her sister, wordlessly telling her to be quiet. Her sister was very impulsive, and Rachel knew the question her sister had on the tip of her tongue was about his lordship, Viscount Bancroft— nicknamed the Vanished Viscount.

If Kitty dared mention such, they would be out on the street faster than they had come. Luckily, her sister understood the message and clicked her mouth shut.

“You are allowed to take trips to the town to buy personal items, and his lordship has a hackney carriage for you if you choose to do so, but you can only do so on the days you have off from work,” Miss Stanley said. “If you leave when you have duties, you will be promptly dismissed, do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rachel replied. “We understand.”

“Place your things in the cupboards and your uniforms are ready for you there—” She pointed to where the makeshift closet wardrobe curtains hung. “Another maid will come and fetch you in the next half hour and will show you your designated rooms.”

“Thank you, Miss Stanley.” Rachel curtsied. “Would you please convey our thanks to his lordship for the placement? We are truly grateful.”

The housekeeper did not reply for a moment and instead levelled a long, stoic, searching look at Rachel, who nearly flinched. The older woman seemed to be searching for something—Rachel could not imagine what it could be—before she nodded curtly.

“I will tell him whenever I have the opportunity. Now, please, ready yourselves for the day.

And lastly, do not talk to his lordship or venture near his rooms; he does not need to be disturbed.” With those clear directions, Deborah Stanley left the room.

Kitty shuddered, “Good heavens. That was a frosty reception.”

“What did you think would happen?” Rachel asked first, then quickly asked her sister which bed she preferred. After following Kitty to the one nearest her, Rachel rested her pack on a bed nearest the wardrobe and began to hastily unpack her things. “An invitation to dine with his lordship? You shall only express gratefulness, Kitty.”

Kitty pouted and started to unpack as well, “I know.”

“Remember, we need this position for Mother and the twins,” Rachel said as she reached for the uniforms that hung behind the curtain. There were five sets each, and she handed Kitty’s hers. “Get dressed quickly. We have to hurry.”

They donned the simple dark dress with silver piping, sterling white caps, and aprons just before a maid came into the room and introduced herself as Sarah Summers. Rachel and Kitty introduced themselves then received their separate duties.

“Miss Stanley would like you in the library, Miss Rachel, and Miss Kitty to the blue drawing-room,” Sarah said. “They are on the same floor, so you’ll have the same cleaning closet to work from. Miss Rachel, you will be dusting and replacing books on the shelves but do not touch the ones that are on the table near the west window; that is where his lordship does his reading.”

“Miss Kitty, the drawing-room is where Miss Stanley greets all the guests from time to time, so it must be spotless, and nothing must be broken. I will be there with you as well, so I’ll help you as best as I can.”

“And me?” Rachel asked nervously as it was her first time being near any aristocrat. “Will I have help?”

“Sadly no,” Sarah said. “The library is a task for one maid, and because it’s cleaned every day, you only need to do a part, but it must be cleaned thoroughly.”

A bit mollified, Rachel nodded, “Oh, I see, thank you.”

They arrived at the level, took their supplies out, and after Sarah showed Rachel to the library and told her which section she had to attend to and took Kitty to the drawing-room, they parted ways. As she entered the palatial library, Rachel understood why it had to be cleaned daily.

There were levels up above with rows and rows of books. As she moved upstairs, a painting caught her eye, that of a handsome lord and a young woman—Lord Bancroft and his wife mayhap? The lord was standing behind the young lady with a hand resting on her shoulder while she was on a chair.

Lord Bancroft looked to be in his late-twenties or at least early-thirties with ink-black hair that brushed his collar, sharp blue brooding eyes, broad cheekbones, and a stern jaw—but the expression on his face, looking at the slender lady, almost frail, with moonlit skin and hair— contrasted the seriousness she felt the lord could have at times.

Was she his wife? But—no one had even mentioned her. Had she passed away?

“He is handsome …” Rachel whispered as she hugged the basket to her chest and headed up the level.

As she passed a window desk with a pile of books on it, she remembered Sarah’s words and skirted that desk gingerly, not even wanting to glance at it. Getting to her section, she took out her dusting cloths, and with a determined set to her jaw, began to work.

This is for you, Mother, so you, Jane, and Jean won’t have to worry about where your next meal will come from. We’ll take care of you all. 

Chapter Two

Tiredly, Michael, Viscount Bancroft, took the spectacles off his nose and rubbed the bridge of it, trying futilely to rub the headache away. He had not slept last night, and now he was paying for it in a cruel cycle that would not break. Sleep did not come for him at night but mercilessly tugged at him during the day, and no matter the oceans of coffee he drank, nothing would stop it.

Rubbing his jaw, he felt the scruff coming in—had been for days now—but he didn’t care much to get rid of it. He plucked the spectacles back on his nose and went back to the piles of letters and the open ledger before him but found that the letters were swimming before his eyes.

A hollow feeling sat in the middle of his stomach, and he was not sure if the feeling came from him declining his morning meal or if it were the same hollowness that had settled there the moment Celeste had closed her eyes, three years and two months ago … or was it three months?

I’m so exhausted; I cannot even take note of it anymore.

Closing his eyes, he could see her gentle blue eyes smiling at him—even as she was slipping away from him— and her whispered words, “It’s my time, Michael. Promise me you will live life to the fullest, and you will love again. Promise me …”

His, I promise, had been the greatest lie Michael had ever told in his life because hermitizing himself into his home for just over three years and barely stepping out to get fresh air was decidedly not living life to the fullest.

“I’m sorry, Celeste,” he groaned while rubbing his smarting eyes. “I just cannot do it.”

“What are you mumbling about, old man?” a jovial voice said from his doorway.

Michael looked up to find a tall, dark blond-haired, light, brown-eyed gentleman in dashing morning clothes, coming towards him; it was Robert Banfield, his best friend and very distant, through marriage, cousin.

“Please don’t tell me I must call the good fellows at Bedlam for you,” Robert said as he unceremoniously plopped himself into the seat across from Michael.

“Don’t be hasty,” Michael said as he mustered a welcoming smile, “and I am barely four-and-thirty; you need not be digging my grave already.”

Robert shook his head. “All jests aside, how are you?”

“Middling,” he replied while reaching for a ledger. “What are you doing back in London? Weren’t you off for an extended holiday at the seaside?”

“That ended two weeks ago.” Robert’s left brow was nearly at his hairline. “Didn’t you realize? Or have you not seen the card I sent you?”

Michael’s eyes dropped to the pile of condolence letters and cards on his table. “Unfortunately, not. I’ve been a bit occupied and—” he waved his hand at the table, “—the most of these are only horrible reminders that Celeste is gone. I haven’t dared to open them.”

All hints of joviality left Robert’s face as he let his attuned eyes run over Michael’s face. There was no doubt in Michael’s mind that his friend saw the changes, the tight draw of his mouth, the thinness of his cheeks, and the paleness in his skin.

“You’re not well, are you?” Robert asked. “Are you sleeping? Have you eaten this morning? When was the last time you took Colt out for a run? And where are Marcus and Caesar?”

The quick-fire questions had Michael blinking. “I think I rang for coffee an hour ago.”

Robert’s gaze flickered pointedly over the table that was bare of a coffee cup and saucer. “I see.”

He stood and left the room while Michael sat, thinking about what his friend had just asked him. When was the last time he had taken his horse for a run while his deerhounds Marcus and Caesar ran beside him?

When was the last time he had let his dogs into his room or allowed them to snooze at the fireside while he worked in his study? Had he shut off everything that had once made him happy?

“That’s it,” Robert said as he reentered the room. “We’re having breakfast, the full flight of eggs, ham, and coffee. Then, we are going to take a ride, and you’re going to be reacquainted with your dogs.”

“Robert—”

“No objections,” his friend stated, rather harshly, but then his tone mellowed with sympathy. “I understand that you are still grieving, but you cannot stay this way, man. You’re becoming a shadow of yourself, Michael, and I hate to see you this way. Celeste wouldn’t want it either.”

Sagging into his seat, Michael rubbed his eyes. “Fine, fine. You’re  right.”

“Good.” Robert clapped Michael’s arm. “The fresh air will do you good.”

At the mention of fresh air, Michael tamped down on a flare of pain quickly chased by sorrow. Celeste had not been able to breathe freely for years; matter-of-fact, they had met one day when he had come across her softly wheezing on a bench in Hyde Park.

He had taken a stroll only to work off the anger at how his parents had arranged a marriage for him. He had almost raised an alarm, but she told him not to do so and that if he would sit by her and give her an arm to hold, she would be fine.

One look at her pale blonde ringlets, alabaster skin, and wide blue eyes, he had tripped head over heels into adoration. Only after his parents had informed him that she was the woman they had arranged for him to marry had adoration changed to love.

She had told him at the age of four she had contracted the croup, a devastating disease that had cut off her airways and left her with a horrible, hawking cough. But even after it had passed, she had never recovered and remained vulnerable to coughing spasms of her lungs and weakness.

For years, the ailment had almost rendered her an invalid. Every day she had a regimen to inhale steam made from medicinal herbs, and she took a walk in the early mornings for the humid air and drank raw honey.

It did not bother Michael because her smile and whispered assurance of love every morning had comforted him. Over the past years, with him hiring a private physician for her, her constitution had gradually improved, and hope blossomed within him that she would live a full life. But then—a cold hit her, years of hard work vanished, and she had never recovered.

“We’re ready,” Robert said from the doorway.

Standing from his chair, Michael walked aside Robert to the breakfast room and took a seat. He went for his coffee with relief and took mouthfuls before even contemplating the coddled eggs and ham.

“I think it’s time for you to start making appearances again,” Robert said as he speared a sausage. “I know you feel it’s not necessary, but you should do it, Michael. You are only harming yourself if you keep staying away from the rest of the lords. Drop into Whites for an hour.”

The very suggestion made Michael’s stomach turn. “And throw myself to the sharks? I hardly think so.”

“Fine,” Robert said. “Take a stroll through Hyde Park once in a while.”

“That too,” Michael sighed while resting his cup. “You know I stumbled up on Celeste during a walk. Ironically, to blow off the anger that came from my parents not only ordering me to marry but picking out my bride for me.”

Robert rubbed his forehead, “A trip to Tattersall’s then. Surely you need more horses?”

“I don’t, but that is something to think about,” Michael murmured. “Why do I have the feeling that you’re not only here to drag me outside?”

Robert lowered his knife and fork, dropped his hands to his lap, and met Michael’s eyes, “Because, I know what it feels like, and secondly, I feel guilty for leaving you to go through it alone. At first, I thought you were only grieving as you should, but then it kept on, and instead of climbing out of it, you’ve sunk further. I want to help you out of it fully, and I am not leaving until you are.”

He made to protest—but Robert was right. In his heart of hearts, he wanted to get through this, get better, find another spark to keep him motivated and happy to wake up every morning, to feel love again, but it felt so hard and out of his reach.

“On the first, I understand why you were away; you were heartbroken yourself, but on the second, you’re not going to leave even if I asked, are you?” Michael asked good-humouredly while he filled his plate.

“No,” Robert said. “And I have business to do in London as well. There’s a property in Soho I’m considering buying.”

“Your home is in Grosvenor Square,” Michael snorted. “That’s not so far.”

Temporary home, to be clear, and it is when I want to be here with you,” Robert replied. “Look, Michael, I don’t expect you to do everything on your own. I know you are struggling, and I want to help. You are a good man, but no one will know it if you keep hiding away. You deserve happiness, and the only one who will get that for you is you.”

Giving his friend a wry smile, Michael said, “We’ll start with Tattersall’s and work up to White’s.”

“There is a ball at—” Robert barked out a laugh at the glare Michael gave him, “—sure, sure, let’s leave that alone for now.”

Half an hour later, as the two headed back to his study, Michael’s eyes landed on a woman, a maid he had never seen before, and felt a sudden spark shoot through his veins. She was staggeringly beautiful, and that realization ran through him like a jolt of lightning.

It felt good to know that he was not so damaged he couldn’t recognize beauty anymore. Unknowing to her, he studied her for a long moment as she was crouching and packing up cleaning materials in her basket, and his gaze travelled slowly across the delicate planes of her face.

Starting with her eyelashes, he trailed a delightful journey from the sharp delineation of her cheekbones to a slender nose and down to the corner of her peach lips, all framed by rich auburn locks. When she glanced up, he saw riveting green orbs as rich as fields at summertime.

“Tilbury?” Robert asked. “Are you coming?”

With a mental note to ask Miss Stanley who that woman was, he disappeared down the hallway after Robert. “Yes, I am. So, riding?”

***

The smell of his stables—of horseflesh, leather, and hay—was as foreign to him as it was somehow familiar. Michael could not remember the last time he had been inside this place, a room that had been almost as familiar to him as his bedchamber.

Even while he saddled his horse, something he used to love doing, his mind was on the new maid he’d just seen. Miss Stanley had mentioned there would be new people joining the household, but never would he have expected a lady that beautiful would be in his home.

“Preoccupied over there?” Robert asked.

“No,” Michael lied. “I’m just thinking how long it has been since I’ve done this myself.”

“How long is it?”

Rubbing his horse, Colt’s, ears, Michael replied, “Almost two and a half years. Months after she passed, I tried to drag myself out here, but I failed in keeping up and sunk back into bleakness.”

Just as he answered, a footman came with his two giant deerhounds from the kennel, and both dogs bounded to him as if he had not been missing from their lives for years. Caesar had some grey in his muzzle, but he was as enthusiastic to nose and bark at Michael as the first day when Michael had adopted him from a local farm.

“Sit boys,” he said firmly, and both dogs’ rumps hit the floor instantly.

A sudden regretful yearning bloomed in his chest; how had he missed this simple joy? Had he let his grief and sadness blind him so much that old pleasures like this had been blanketed out of his life?

Crouching, he rubbed both dogs’ ears, pleased at how their tongues lolled out with happiness. “I am sorry I took so long to come back to you, boys. I promise I’ll not neglect you anymore. Now, how about a ride with me, eh? Stretch your legs?”

He led Colt out into the open and swiftly mounted him while Robert came to his side. “Are the trails still open?”

“They should be.” Michael nodded.

With dew still on the ground and the birds tweeting their morning song, the sun rose to the side of them, warming the land and bringing forth a new day. Despite the short night he’d had, his dour mood began to lighten as a mist-laden breeze flowed over his face and gently stirred the leaves in the towering oaks surrounding the estate.

Without warning, Robert stirred his mount and pushed the horse into a hard gallop. It took Michael a moment, but he took chase, urging his horse in the direction Robert took, leaping over a small hedgerow, weaving and winding his way through trees and across fields that led to a stream running up ahead.

They came upon a pool surrounded by lush green grass and sprigs of wildflowers, and Michael urged his horse near to Robert’s, and a memory sprung up in his mind. It was of the one time he had dared to take Celeste there for a romantic picnic—only to have it end in near disaster.

He had not realized that spores from the trees and flowers were enemies to her weak lungs, but when she had turned white and started hacking, he’d run with her back to the house. That day had been the second-worst time of his life as Celeste had been confined to her bed for days.

Michael had not felt fear as acute and decimating as that time in his life ever before. He had paced, worried, and fretted for a week, hardly eating but praying for her to come around. Miraculously, Celeste had made a turn, and he had vowed never to return to that place with her.

Now, he looked over the glen with regretful eyes, knowing that he had cut out this part of his life just as he had his horse and his dogs.

What more have I missed out on?

A nose brushed his heel, and he glanced down to see Caesar darting off to the spring’s bank to drink, and Marcus followed him soon after.

“When was the last time you were here?” Robert asked.

“A long while,” Michael replied shortly.

“It’s beautiful,” his friend murmured. “This could easily be a romantic spot.”

Giving Robert a side-eye, Michael asked, “When did you become the fanciful sort?”

“I want to get married,” Robert huffed. “Just like anyone else. How is that surprising?”

“Because after the last time, I swore you would never try again,” Michael said dryly.

“That’s because I have not yet met the right lady,” Robert muttered while turning his horse from the stream. “And I don’t see it happening anytime soon.”

“Don’t be a defeatist,” Michael said with more faith than he had. “You might run into her one day.”

“And you?” Robert asked slyly.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” the viscount muttered. “I’m probably a lost cause.”

“And that’s why I’m here,” Robert vowed as they picked their way back to the riding path. “Look, Michael, I don’t want you to forget her; I would never ask that of you, but I want you to love again, that’s all I ask. It’s been a long time, and while I cannot put a limit on how you’ll grieve, I want you to try. If it does not work, so be it, but at least try.”

Robert’s words made sense, but Michael still felt too raw, hurting, and hollow to just go wife hunting.

“We’ll take it day by day,” Robert promised when the lull between them began to grow. “At least give me that.”

Looking over to see the earnest expression on his friend’s face, Michael felt the ball of his reservations lay leaden on his chest. Find another love—ha. That would take a miracle. “That, I can do.”


“A Lord’s Sizzling Riddle” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

The alluring Rachel Haddington knows that by finding a maid’s job, she raises her chance for a better life. Yet, there is one condition to her new job; to never address the Master. One fateful day, though, she accidentally encounters the brooding Viscount who sends a fire-and-ice jolt of attraction through her. When her seductive master grips her to a sizzling riddle game, Rachel will find herself losing her heart to him…

Knowing their affair is a scandal in the making, will she surrender to the temptation?

Viscount Michael Tilbury, has slipped away from society after his cherished wife’s death. Yet, his grief and solitude will soon turn into hidden passion for his new fiery maid. As a riddle-lover, Michael finds a skilful partner in the face of Rachel, and so much more… Consumed by irresistible desire, he will soon find himself wondering…

Can he ever allow his heart to love again?

There is no world where a maid and a Viscount can ever be together, but Rachel and Michael are determined to fight for their sizzling affair. When all they have is each other, can their romance survive the merciless schemes played behind their back? In the end, will their passionate hearts be forever trapped in a vast net of secrets or will they pursue their illicit liaison?

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

Get your copy from Amazon!

3 thoughts on “A Lord’s Sizzling Riddle (Preview)”

      1. Thank you so much dear Barbara! I am so glad you enjoyed the preview and hope you enjoyed the rest of the book as well! I am looking forward to reading your review! Make sure to stay tuned because I have more coming soon!

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