A Seductive Lady’s Guardian (Preview)

Chapter One

Hampshire, near Winchester, 1816

Miss Isabel Walford gazed desolately out of the carriage window, at the sprawling, magnificent house that had just come into her line of vision. She knew that it was set on five hundred acres and was one of the oldest estates in Hampshire.

Carlton Manor. And it was about to become her new home.

She sighed heavily, fighting back the tears. She still could not quite believe that this was happening. She had to pinch herself to know that it was indeed real. Only a month ago, she had been living her life the way that she had always done, with her mother in their small manor house merely five miles from here. She had believed that nothing could ever change. It had all happened so very quickly that her mind was spinning from it.

The imposing manor loomed ever closer. The carriage passed through the high wrought-iron gates of the property. On the top of the carriage were three large trunks, containing all her worldly possessions. Her safe, secure life at Darnley House was over forever and a new one was about to begin.

She put a fist into her mouth, choking on the tears. She must be brave. Mama had impressed that upon her. She had always said that a true lady rises to the occasion and always schooled herself in propriety. Isabel had never taken much notice and behaved exactly as she pleased. But now, all she wished in the world was to make her dear mama proud. If only she could have her back, even for one precious day, to tell her so.

***

Isabel walked slowly up the grand front steps of Carlton House, towards the double doors. So many steps—at least a hundred. But eventually, she made her way to the top, walking through the huge doors into the foyer.

She stopped, gasping in dismay.

It wasn’t the overwhelming opulence of the foyer that caused it. She had visited Carlton Manor many times over the years and was used to its splendour. It was the fact that almost the entire household staff were lined up on either side, standing impassively, with solemn faces and hands clasped in front of them. Maids in crisply starched aprons and frilly white caps. Footmen in the blue and red livery of the estate.

Waiting for her.

She took a deep, ragged breath. It was too much. What was she supposed to do? She hesitated, fighting the urge to run back in fright towards the carriage.

But then, someone stepped forward, walking briskly towards her. Someone that she had not yet noticed, overwhelmed as she was by this display.

Isabel breathed a sigh of relief. It was Anthony. Or to think of him properly, it was Anthony Snowley, the Duke of Hawthorn. But he had always been just Anthony to her, ever since she could remember.

“Isabel,” he said, extending his hands towards her. “Welcome. I hope you had a pleasant trip and that it was not too trying?”

She smiled hesitantly. “It is only five miles away, Anthony. I have hardly come from the other side of the country.” She paused. “But thank you.”

He nodded, looking a bit uncertain. She kept gazing at him. Anthony Snowley had always cut an impressive figure, with his imposing height, broad shoulders, and raven black hair. He was rather a dapper dresser, too. Today he was wearing a long dark green jacket over beige breeches and high shiny black boots. He was impeccably groomed, as always.

Despite her sorrow, she couldn’t help remembering how she had once been infatuated with him when she had been very young. It seemed ludicrous to her now, of course. Anthony was eight years older than her and had always been like an elder, bossy brother. And he had never much concerned himself with a young girl, whose mother just happened to be the very best friend of his own. They simply ran into each other from time to time, when their mothers were visiting each other. He had always teased her, and she had infuriated him.

And now, by a stroke of misfortune, he was her legal guardian.

“Of course,” he said, clearing his throat. “I rather meant that I hoped it was not too trying emotionally, Isabel. It is not every day that you pack up and leave the only home you have ever known to move somewhere else entirely. How are you feeling?”

She took a deep breath. “I am rather in need of refreshment, Anthony.” Her eyes drifted towards the line of servants. “Perhaps we might get this over and done with? I was not expecting such a formal welcome to your home.”

He nodded hastily. “Of course. It seemed the proper thing to do, now that you shall be in permanent residence at Carlton Manor. Let me introduce you to the staff and then we can retire to the parlour for some tea.” He paused. “I have someone else I want you to meet, waiting there for us.”

She nodded, mystified. Who was he referring to?

But before she could question him, he whisked her away, towards the line of servants, making the introductions. Isabel fixed a smile onto her face, nodding politely. She didn’t think she would remember the name of a single one.

***

When the introductions to the staff were blessedly over, she followed him to the parlour, on the second floor. They walked past many splendid rooms, each one more impressive than the last. She still could not believe that this was about to become her new home. It was so large and somehow impersonal, despite its grandeur.

Her heart seized with longing for her own sweet home. The warm, cosy parlour, where she and Mama would do their embroidery of an evening, side by side. Occasionally talking, but usually just sitting in comfortable silence.

Stop it, Isabel, she told herself fiercely. Those days are gone now. This is your new home and your new life.

They finally reached the parlour. Another truly impressive room, with pale green walls and an ornate ceiling. At least she was familiar with this particular room. She and Mama had often sat in here over the years, visiting the late dowager, Anthony’s mother. Her mother and the dowager had gossiped and giggled like girls over tea and cream cakes. But then, they had been friends since childhood, as dear to each other as sisters.

The silver tea service was already laid out, along with a selection of sweets, piled high atop a three-tiered rose-patterned cake stand. And sitting in front of it, reading a small orange covered prayer book, was a middle-aged lady with brown hair that was threaded through with a few grey strands. She quickly stood up, lowering the book and gazing at them expectantly.

Anthony cleared his throat. “Isabel, may I introduce my Aunt Hester?” He paused. “You may call her Lady Snowley.”

The lady inclined her head. “I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Walford.”

Isabel smiled uncertainly.

They sat down. Anthony himself poured the tea, passing out the cups. Isabel studied the prim unsmiling lady over the rim of her delicate cup.

Anthony’s Aunt Hester was as thin and brittle as a twig, in a severe navy-blue muslin gown, with long sleeves and a high neckline. Her face was long and angular, with a thin aquiline nose, and cold steel-blue eyes. For all the world she reminded Isabel of one of her late father’s greyhounds.

Anthony cleared his throat. “Isabel, Aunt Hester has just moved into the manor, as well. She has left her home in Basingstoke, to act as a chaperone for you, while you are in residence at Carlton Manor.”

“Chaperone?” Isabel gazed at the lady nervously. “Why do I need a chaperone?”

The lady snorted. “Oh, come now, Miss Walford. It would not be appropriate at all for you to live in the manor with only His Grace.” She pursed her lips. “A young lady must be supervised at all times, for her own protection.”

Isabel glanced at Anthony. He refused to look back at her.

“It is quite the done thing, Isabel,” he said quickly, placing down his teacup. “There is no one else in residence here and you do require a lady’s companion. I am only grateful that my Aunt Hester was available to come and take the position at such short notice.”

The lady inclined her head imperiously. “I am always content to do a good service, Your Grace.”

Isabel stared at her in utter dismay. Of course, they were both right—she wondered now why she had not thought this might be a possibility. She supposed it was because it was just Anthony. The fact that he was a gentleman of nine and twenty and she a young lady of one and twenty meant that she must have a companion at all times.

But she didn’t like this lady. Not one little bit. She didn’t know why she had taken such an instant dislike to her, but there it was. The thought of this prim, humourless lady constantly shadowing her was almost more than she could bear.

“Aunt Hester shall make sure your day is well structured as well, Isabel,” continued Anthony, frowning slightly. “I am often very busy with the affairs of the estate, you see. Your dear late mother would wish it this way. I promised her before her passing that I would give you the very best of opportunities, as your guardian.”

Isabel’s eyes filled with tears again. “I see. And what exactly do you mean by opportunities, Anthony?”

He smiled. “We shall discuss that tomorrow after you have rested, my dear. I can see that you are a little overwhelmed.” He glanced at her with anxious eyes.

Suddenly, she placed down her teacup, standing up. “I am a bit overwhelmed, even though it was a short journey. May I be shown to my chambers?”

“Of course,” said Anthony hastily, standing up. He rang the bell on the side table. The butler appeared within a minute. “Show Miss Walford to her chambers, Hardy. And make sure that her maid is there to attend to her.”

“Very good, Your Grace,” said the butler.

Anthony turned to her, his eyes softening. “Rest now, Isabel. It has all been a whirlwind. Believe me, I do understand how hard it all is for you.”

She nodded. Awkwardly, he leaned forward, giving her a quick embrace.

She bid farewell to the still unsmiling Lady Snowley, who was gazing at her as if she was a strange specimen that she could not quite work out. And then she left the room, following the butler up the staircase, to the third floor of the house.

Her new chambers. A large rose-coloured room with a canopied mahogany four-poster bed in the centre. High windows, allowing the late afternoon sunshine to stream in.

The maid entered, bobbing a curtsey.

“Lucy, is it not?” asked Isabel, frowning.

“Yes, miss.” The girl was fair and chubby. “Do you need anything?”

Isabel shook her head wearily. “No. Just wake me before dinner to dress. That is all.”

The girl curtseyed again, before exiting. Isabel was finally alone.

She collapsed onto the unfamiliar bed, stretching out, not even bothering to take off her slippers. The tears that she had been trying so desperately to keep at bay spilt out of her, at long last.

She was utterly alone in the world. An orphan, long without a father, and now without a mother, as well.  She had no other family. Adrift in someone else’s home with a sour-faced lady as her companion. Her life as she had known it was gone forever.

She sobbed into the pillow. At least she knew Anthony. Her new guardian was not a stranger to her. She supposed she must be grateful for that small mercy.

But as the tears kept flowing, unchecked, she could not feel that gratitude at all. She wanted her home. She wanted her mother. She wanted everything to go back to just how it had always been.

Chapter Two

Anthony Snowley, the current Duke of Hawthorn, walked to the cabinet in the corner of his study, surveying the contents with a weary eye. Usually, he would have a port or two if he retired here after dinner, but tonight he felt he needed something with a bit more kick. He reached for the bottle of fine Scottish whiskey at the back, pouring himself a double shot.

He sat down in the armchair near the fire, putting his feet up, watching the flames flickering in the hearth. He had always known that today was going to be trying, but even he couldn’t have suspected just how difficult it had been.

Contemplatively, he sipped his whiskey. He now had not one, but two, people living with him in his home—apart from the multitude of servants, of course. It had only been himself, rattling around this enormous estate for the past two years, since his mother had passed away. His late father had died a year before that, passing the duchy and all its attendant duties onto him. He had become used to being by himself.

He smiled ruefully into his whiskey. He was alone no more. He was now the legal guardian of a young lady, even though he was only just short of thirty. He always pictured guardians to be middle aged or older gentlemen, usually with large families of their own, benevolent and wise, and probably rotund. Not nine and twenty and still unmarried, like himself.

He sipped the whiskey. Ah well, that was life, he guessed. It sometimes threw up the most unexpected hurly-burly. This time it was in the shape of a beautiful and spirited young lady named Miss Isabel Walford, the daughter of his late mother’s dearest friend.

He sighed, thinking about Isabel. He had known her forever. He almost couldn’t remember a time she hadn’t been in his life, because of their mothers’ close friendship. An impish, mischievous girl, given to teasing him unmercifully. He had always thought of her as the little sister he had never had.

Until, quite suddenly, he had stopped thinking of her in that way entirely.

He downed the whiskey, getting up to pour himself another. It had gradually started happening a year ago, he supposed. He would find himself lost in admiration, gazing at her, like a lovesick puppy. He had always known she was beautiful, of course, with her straight as silk strawberry blonde hair, her luminous brown eyes and wide, dazzling smile. But he had never really felt it before. But then, she was a woman, now. A simply gorgeous young lady of one and twenty, with the world seemingly at her feet.

He sat back down, sipping his second drink. He simply must stop thinking about her in that way, of course. It had probably never been wise, but now, it was unthinkable. Despite the fact there was only eight years difference in age between them, he was now her legal guardian. A role he had promised her dying mother he would take on and which he took very seriously, indeed.

He thought back to that poignant last meeting with Mrs Walford, in her home. She had insisted upon being seated, with a rug up over her knees, even though he knew from the minute he walked into the parlour at Darnley House that she should be abed and would probably be ensconced there if not for his visit. She had been wan and ashen and so very thin that his heart had lurched with pity.

“Anthony,” she said, in a thin wispy voice. “I am so very glad you found the time to visit me, my dear.”

He took her hand. It was like holding a bag of bones. “Of course, dear aunt.” He had always called her aunt despite the fact they were not related. “I am at your service.”

She smiled wanly. “You have always been a dear boy, Anthony. A credit to your dear mother, God rest her soul.” A shadow fell over her face. “I do miss her so. But I know she is smiling down at you, so very proud of the man you have become.”

“Thank you, aunt.” He took a deep breath. “What did you wish to say to me?” He could see she was already tiring rapidly.

She blinked. “Yes. Of course. The reason I summoned you here.” She was overcome by a fit of coughing for a moment. “Anthony, please promise me, you will look after my girl…once I am gone.” A deep, ragged breath. “She will have no one else in the world. We have no other family who can take her in. She will be destitute…”

“Hush, aunt.” He frowned. “You do not need to even ask it, although I am glad that you did. Of course, I shall care for Isabel. She is like a younger sister to me.” Not quite anymore, he thought guiltily. Quickly, he brushed that thought aside. “You do not need to worry about such a thing. Just worry about your own health and making a full recovery.”

She had laughed mirthlessly. “My boy, there shall be no recovery for me,” she whispered. “Even now, the angels sometimes visit me. I can see them standing in the corner, watching.” She shuddered. “They are waiting. As is my dearly beloved husband. Waiting to take me to my final home.”

He gazed at her with sad eyes but did not contradict her. It was obvious to him now that she was indeed going to die. It was no longer a question of if, but when.

She had started to become more frail only two months prior, complaining of constant stomach pains. It had slowly overtaken the robust woman he had known. She had wasted away to almost nothing. He had sent his own physician to tend her, but the man had told him there was nothing more to be done. Mrs Walford was suffering from a tumour in her stomach. Now, she existed in a half-stupor of laudanum. He was surprised to find her as bright as she was this morning; on his previous visits she had been less lucid.

“Where is Isabel now?” he asked gently.

Mrs Walford smiled slowly. “I told her to go into town to look at bonnets with her dear friend Sarah Bowles. She has barely left my side in weeks, Anthony, and she needed a break.” She paused. “She is still so young, and you know what a headstrong girl she is. Just turned one and twenty. I fear for her future once I am gone.”

“Do not fear for it, aunt,” he said fiercely. “I vow to you I shall look after her. I shall have the papers drawn up this afternoon, to become her legal guardian, if that is what you wish.”

“Yes, that is what I wish,” she whispered, her eyes moist with tears. “You are a good man, Anthony. You have become a responsible duke. A credit to your parents. I know my Isabel shall be in good hands with you.” She paused, taking another deep, ragged breath. “Can you continue her education? She has started to learn French, as her dear father wanted, and philosophy, but alas, since he passed, we have not had the funds to continue it.”

Anthony had smiled. The late Mr Walford had been an exceptional, free-thinking gentleman in many ways. He had believed in a thorough education for young ladies as well as gentlemen. Anthony remembered how passionate he had been about educating Isabel above and beyond the normal accomplishments of a young lady. Perhaps part of it had been the fact that Isabel was his only child and he had never had the son he desired. But it wasn’t all about that, either.

“I shall commit to her education, aunt,” he said slowly. “I shall honour you and your late husband’s wishes. I shall hire the best tutors for her. You do not need to fear for her future, I do assure you.”

“Thank you, Anthony.” A single tear had squeezed from her eye. “I can go to the angels with not quite so much fear, knowing that my girl is going to be well cared for.”

She had passed away barely two weeks later.

Anthony downed the second whiskey, feeling quite emotional, as he remembered Mrs Walford and her fervent desire to protect her only child beyond the grave. He had given her a vow and he intended to keep it. It had only been a month since her passing, but the wheels had been set in motion immediately. He had only allowed Isabel to linger at her parental home out of kindness for her loss. Darnley House was already sold, and the money put in trust for Isabel’s dowry. Her future was assured.

And in that month, he had set about securing other things, for her arrival at Carlton Manor. He had hired tutors in a variety of wide-ranging subjects, to give her the liberal education her parents had desired. French, philosophy, even mathematics, alongside the more traditional drawing, music, and dancing. It would be a full schedule, but he was confident she would master it. Isabel was a very bright girl, if somewhat precocious.

He had also realised that she would require a lady’s companion. A young lady of one and twenty could not reside with him unchaperoned. After much thought, he had asked his Aunt Hester, who was his uncle’s widow. He did not know her very well—his father had been estranged from his brother for years—but he could not think of anyone else even remotely suitable. He did not know the lady well, but she was middle aged, very proper, and a pillar of her local community in Winchester. To his mind, a perfect lady’s companion.

To his surprise and gratitude, Aunt Hester had agreed immediately. For a very generous stipend, of course. She had rented out her own house but could always return to it when needed. Isabel would marry eventually and then she would no longer be required. He tried to put aside the misgivings he felt at that thought.

Of course, Isabel would marry. She was beautiful and accomplished. Under his wing, she would become even more accomplished. He had made sure she had a dowry. Now, all she had to do was secure a husband and her future was assured.

For a moment, he remembered how he had awkwardly hugged her that afternoon, before she had retired to her new chambers. The scent of her rose perfume. The feel of his arms around her…

Stop it, he told himself fiercely.  She is your ward. It is not appropriate at all.

This silly infatuation he had developed for her had to stop. Now.

Suddenly irritable, he got up, placing the empty glass on the cabinet. Time for bed. It was already past midnight and there was a lot planned for tomorrow. Most of Isabel’s new tutors would be arriving at various times to meet her.

He frowned, recalling her low spirits today. It was so unlike her—she was usually so playful and gregarious. He wished he knew how he could help her, but grief was a slow process. And she had not only lost her mother but the only home she had ever known. He must be patient with her.

Keeping her busy would be just the thing, he thought. It would distract her, occupy her mind so that she could not brood too much. Yes, that was exactly what Isabel needed. Reassured in his own plan, he finally retired for the evening.

Passing her bedchamber, he stopped for an instant. Was that a muffled sob he could hear inside? For a moment, he hesitated, his hand at the doorknob, before collecting himself and hastily continuing on.

His face burned. It wouldn’t be appropriate to enter a young lady’s chambers in the middle of the night. Even if it was only to give her some much-needed comfort. He was her guardian now. Not her friend. Certainly not anything else. He must always remember that.


“A Seductive Lady’s Guardian” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

After losing her beloved mother and only living relative, the fiery Lady Isabel Walford must gather her ruins and leave her old life behind. Nevertheless, fate will bring her back together with an old family friend, the enticing Duke of Hawthorn, who becomes her new guardian. Even though Isabel always thought of him as the older brother she never had, a spark of guilty desire had enchanted her heart in the past. However, when Isabel’s untamed nature collides with the Duke’s overbearing spirit, the irresistible feelings will return. Will Isabel manage to break down the walls of the overprotective Duke and find tantalising love in the arms of her fiery guardian?

Anthony Snowley, the seductive Duke of Hawthorn, is determined to fulfil his promise to his late mother’s best friend and take care of her only child, Isabel. However, Anthony’s efforts to be a proper guardian will soon prove to be in vain, as his inappropriate thoughts for her will haunt him all over again. He could never allow himself to admit his eternal love and secret desire for Isabel, but her presence now makes it impossible to disregard the forbidden attraction he feels for her. How can he suppress his feelings and choose duty over the bewitching Isabel, who has taken over not only his home but his entire life too?

As the wild-natured Isabel, is trying to fit into the alluring Duke’s disciplined life, and Anthony is prioritising responsibility over his emotions, an endless game of seduction begins. Their constant contact along with their flaming arguments are getting charged by their hidden lust, leading them to a burning and sinful affair. Yet, while they are both secretly craving for each other, a wicked woman will try to eradicate their growing romance and gain the eligible Duke’s heart. Will Anthony and Isabel manage to unleash their untamed passion or will it all go hopelessly astray, leading to a shocking scandal?

“A Seductive Lady’s Guardian” is a historical romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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3 thoughts on “A Seductive Lady’s Guardian (Preview)”

  1. I wasn’t able to access the extended epilogue would have loved to see how everyone’s lives evolved. Enjoyed very much what I was able to read

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I’m sorry to hear about the difficulty accessing the extended epilogue. I appreciate your support and am glad you enjoyed the part you were able to read.

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