A Butler’s Forbidden Affair (Preview)


London, December 1809

“I … I should still be in my mourning clothes,” Diana muttered the words. A harsh tap came to her chin, jerking her head higher. It was always the way these days, no matter how many times she tried to hide in public, away from people, her father would be thrusting her forward.

“Diana, dear, it is hardly like I have a choice, is it?” her father said in a seething whisper. Diana looked into his eyes, biting her lip to stop herself from replying as she truly wished to.

You did have choices, Father. You could have maintained a good reputation; then I wouldn’t be forced to walk down this aisle.

“If you complain about wearing white when you should be wearing black one more time, I swear …” He trailed off and shook his head.

“You will what?” Diana asked, aware that he was walking around her, checking everything was in place. She glanced down at her gown, seeing the wedding dress that was so expensive she had been afraid to touch it. Made of silk gauze and madras lace, it had to be the finest gown she had seen for some time. At the very least since the days her father had started gambling, tipping their fortunes and their reputation towards something very despondent indeed.

It is a wonder the duke is willing to marry me at all.

The church organ music started up before her father had time to answer her. Together, they turned to face the open doorway into the church, looking along the aisle. Diana fidgeted between her feet, brushing together her slim white slipper shoes fastened with ribbons around her ankles, and passed the bouquet of white and yellow roses between her hands a few times. This was not the wedding she had pictured for herself.

“Are you ready?” her father asked, proffering his arm to her. She shakily took it, sliding her hand across his elbow, though her body did not move forward just yet. “Diana, move your feet.”

It was as though she couldn’t hear him. She was too busy thinking of the last time she had been standing in this church, less than a month ago, draped in the darkest of black gowns, with an ebony veil over her face to mask the tears she was shedding for her mother.

How I wish you were here now. You would never have allowed this to happen.

“Diana, walk into this church, or I swear, I will carry you in.” Her father hissed the words, making her move forward at last into the church. As they walked along the stone floor, over the plaques and graves of other people who once attended this church, Diana’s eyes turned to the far side of the building, looking between vaulted archers, but she wasn’t looking for her husband to be that awaited her, she was seeking out her mother’s own plaque. “You know this is for the best, dear.” Her father was speaking again, making her eyes flutter closed briefly before turning to look back down at the far end of the aisle.

“You only ever call me dear when you are telling me bad news, Father,” she said softly.

“You know such tart replies will not do when you are married. The duke wants an obedient wife, not one with a sharp tongue.”

“I know,” she said and clamped her lips shut again. It was something that had been drilled home to her, again and again leading up to this event.

“It is for the best,” her father said another time, whispering now they were so close to the altar where the duke waited and their guests sat in the pews. “It was the only way to fix my reputation.”

“Why did the duke agree?” she asked with the last few seconds she had left of freedom. “I thought my dowry was gambled away.”

“Fortunately, I had a windfall,” her father said, betraying a smile for the first time. His ageing and haggard face looked unnatural with a smile, for it had been set in a frown since the day her mother had died. “It was quite a windfall, and the duke wanted it for your dowry. Our deal was made, Diana.”

She would have liked to ask more, to discover anything to assuage the coiling fear in her stomach. She thought it was rather like an adder, moving over itself repeatedly and stinging her from the inside out. Yet, she was out of time, and she did not have the confidence to challenge her father anymore.

A dutiful wife keeps her lips shut and obeys her husband. That’s what my father tells me.

As they reached the end of the aisle, the duke turned at last to greet her. She tried to smile, though it didn’t last long, about as long as his own smile did, as he took her hand from her father and steered her towards the vicar.

Being so close to the duke, she finally had time to appraise him in detail. He was a tall man, with shockingly bright fair hair and such piercing blue eyes that he was considered handsome indeed by the ton. His countenance was a noble one too, earning him a good reputation wherever he went, but when Diana looked at him, she felt cold. It was as though she were looking at the face of winter itself, with his hand ice cold beneath her fingers and those blue eyes moving impassively over her.

“Dearly beloved,” the vicar called to the congregation as the organ music came to a close. “We are gathered here in the sight of God to join together this man and this woman, the Duke of Somerset, Gilbert Dowding, and Lady Diana Morris, daughter of the Earl of Bath.”

As the vicar continued, Diana felt the coldness spread up her arm from where her new husband was touching her hand, spreading through her body.

I am to be Duchess Dowding, she thought to herself, glancing at the plaque that bore her mother’s name. I wonder what you would think, Mother?

Chapter One

Farleigh Hungerford, February 1810

“Shall I serve, Your Grace?”

The question hung dead in the air for a minute as Diana looked around the dining room. She knew such a space should give her pleasure. Hungerford Manor was a grand one indeed, and the dining room was certainly a fine example of its grandeur, with a ceiling painted in an Italian style, bearing cherubs and angels, with white pillars along either side of the room, golden and gilt frames for paintings and mirrors on the wall, and a mahogany dining table so long that Diana felt rather foolish sitting at it all alone. It was as though she were a mouse on the kitchen table, stealing cheese off the edge.

“Erm …” She struggled to speak as she looked up from her plate towards her husband’s chair that should have been filled yet remained empty. The duke should have been back some time ago, but he was not, and his chair was a stark reminder of how bare he sometimes left this house.

“Your Grace?” She was urged on again.

Diana found it difficult enough these days speaking to people, let alone when she knew things were improper, such as a missing husband who had a dinner waiting for him. She looked to the man who had spoken to her and felt that jolt in her chest that she felt every time she looked at him.

“I suppose that is best,” she said softly and tried to summon a smile, but it was gone in the next moment, and she looked down at her porcelain plate again, afraid to look at him for very long.

The butler bowed and moved to the door, opening it carefully to allow the servers into the room to bring in the plates of food. As they busied around her, Diana stole another glance at her husband’s butler.

Mr Owen Arnold.

Even taller than her husband, he cut quite the striking figure in any room, something that the staff seemed very aware of as they all looked to him whenever they entered a room. His hair curled around his temple, dark chocolate brown in colour, leading down to angular features that would have belonged on some Michelangelo statue of the human form rather than a staff member. The brown eyes, though, were what struck Diana most whenever she looked at him. They were the colour of cinnamon sticks and held a softness to them that always made her want to lean towards him.

“There, Jenkins, that’s right,” he said gently, adjusting the servers and footmen’s orders until everything was placed correctly on the table. He must have felt Diana’s keen gaze, for he looked to her and offered her a smile. She offered a small one back before snapping her gaze back down to her plate.

I am ogling my butler. Good Lord, what would my husband say if he knew?

She thought it unlikely he would ever find out. He was gone most days at the moment. Her eyes flitted to the vacant chair again, but it remained firmly empty.

“Shall I tell you what our cook has prepared this evening, Your Grace?” the butler said and moved to stand at her side. She adjusted the napkin on her lap and sat tall in the high-backed chair as she looked up to him.

“Perhaps I should wait a few minutes longer,” she said nervously. “My husband might yet turn up.”

“Ah …” Mr Arnold’s simple sound made her go rigid.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I am afraid, Your Grace, your husband left a message for me when he departed a few minutes ago.”

“For you?” she asked, then glanced around at the other staff members, worried that she might have been heard when her voice pitched high. She hadn’t even known her husband had come back to the house, let alone departed again. “I mean … did he leave a message for me?”

“No, Your Grace,” Mr Arnold said, wincing with the words in a way that screwed up his handsome features.

“Oh, very well,” she said, trying to be formal and ignore the irritation that bloomed in her chest. “What did his message to you say?”

“That he would not return home until tomorrow.” Mr Arnold picked up another napkin and laid it over his forearm, in the practiced way, before reaching for a carafe of claret and pouring her a glass. “He is staying in Bath for tonight and will not return until tomorrow.”

“Is he staying at his townhouse?” she asked, eager to still have some conversation before she faced an empty room, with nothing but the capon dressed in red wine and nutmeg to keep her company.

“I do not know, Your Grace,” Mr Arnold said as he placed the carafe back down again. Something about these words was odd, making her turn her head more towards the butler.

Where else would my husband stay in town?

Since they were married, Gilbert had insisted they retired to his country seat in Farleigh Hungerford, saying that he was tired of London, only Diana was quickly discovering what that truly meant. Gilbert travelled often to Bath and London, seeing friends and parties of the ton; meanwhile, Diana stayed at home.

He meant he did not want a wife to frequent such parties in London.

“Now, cook has prepared your favourite for this evening,” Mr Arnold continued, earning her attention again. “Our first courses consists of capon with red wine and nutmeg, served on a bed of cabbage. We have a potato pudding, and of course, a light soup of carrots and greens too.” He gestured to another bowl with his white-gloved hand, where a footman promptly lifted a cloche, revealing a tendril of steam that wove its way up to the painted ceiling.

Diana didn’t have the heart to say it wasn’t her favourite; it was her husband’s. As it all looked so fine, she was happy to eat it.

I just wish someone could sit here and eat it with me.

“Is there anything else you need, Your Grace?” Mr Arnold asked. Diana glanced around, realizing that most of the staff were scurrying off as quickly as they could, just as they were wont to do, all except Mr Arnold, who stood beside her waiting for an answer.

“I …” She tried desperately to think of something in order to have company for a little longer and a chance to be warmed by his handsome face for another minute or two. “What is dessert this evening?” she asked, alighting on something at last.

“Peach pudding and syllabub,” Mr Arnold said with a formal smile and walked away from her, heading to the side of the room. She watched him go with longing, feeling her lips part in the effort to think of another subject.

She had spent so long now practicing being quiet; it was as though she had forgotten how to make conversation at all. Gilbert did not encourage conversation, no more than her father had done.

“Here, your Grace,” Mr Arnold said and returned to her side, placing something down on the table. The soft thud startled her to look up from her porcelain plate to see he had brought her the book she was reading.

The Castle of Otranto was proving a dark tale indeed, with its Gothic twists and turns keeping Diana’s eyes fastened to the pages, but it was hardly so proper for her to read over dinner. She was about to object when she realized there was hardly anyone else at the dining table she could offend.

“You found my book?” she said in surprise, reaching for the book as she turned in her seat to face the butler properly. She hadn’t realized he had been paying that much attention to her. He had far too much on his plate as the butler of such a grand manor to surely take note of what she was reading.

“I did,” he said, betraying a smile she hadn’t seen before. This one was different from the usual formal smiles he offered; it seemed to reach his eyes a little more. She was somewhat entranced by it, startled by the way it lit up his angular features. “Hardly comforting bedtime reading, if you will permit me to say, Your Grace.”

“Ha!” She giggled, startled by the sudden amusing words that had passed his lips. “No, that is certainly true. Yet I like it nevertheless.”

“May I ask why?” he said as he picked up the book and turned it over in his hands.

“Have you ever read it?” she asked. He suddenly looked ashamed, lowering his head a little as he glanced at the book. “Mr Arnold, you can say you have been reading this very book, and I will hardly be irked by it.”

“It is hardly proper for a butler to read his master’s books,” he whispered to her, clearly glancing at the doorway to make sure all the staff were gone.

“I will certainly not be telling the duke, if you do not,” she said, eager for him to look back to her again. When he did, he bore another one of those secret smiles; she nearly stood from her chair and walked towards him seeing it.

“I may have read a couple of chapters when you left the book in the library the other day,” he said, almost playful in his confession as he whispered to her. This was so unlike his usual restrained and formal self that she was afraid of speaking again, in case it would dispel the spell that had been cast and make him return to being nothing more than a butler. She rather thought him like a painting at times, stiff, formal, mysterious – she could look at him for hours and wonder what thoughts were going on in his head.

“What did you think of it?” she asked.

“A dark tale indeed, but at the same time, it was quite …” He turned the book over, evidently searching for the right word.

“Intriguing?” she proffered, watching as he placed the book back down on the table beside her.

“Just so,” he agreed with a nod. “Now, I shall leave you to your dinner, Your Grace. I apologize for intruding on your time.”

“No, you did not intrude – not at all, I mean …” She turned back in her seat, feeling she was getting all flustered as she picked up the book. “Thank you, Mr Arnold, for my book. You did not intrude at all; it was pleasant to have someone to talk to.”

Even if it was for but one minute.

“Your Grace,” he said, nodding and bowing politely to her before walking out of the room. As the door closed behind him, Diana lost her formal posture and sat back in the chair, slumping with it, despite the way the stays cut into her ribs; she didn’t care. If no one was here to see her or talk to her, what was the point in putting on a show.

She eagerly reached forward and served up her plate, turning the book’s pages to the next section to read, yet she was struggling to concentrate this evening. With each mouthful she took, her eyes flitted to her husband’s empty chair. It was hardly unusual for Gilbert to be missing from the house, but it seemed in just two short months, he was already caring less and less. Whereas before, he sent messages to say when he would be away, now, he wasn’t even going that far.

The empty chair reminded her of how little she spoke to anyone these days and its contrast to her old life. Though her father was not fond of conversation, her mother was. She used to spend dinners talking with her mother, her closest friend in the world. They would talk for hours into the night, laughing together.

How I used to laugh.

“It has been some time since I laughed,” she said aloud, startled by the words, even though she had said them quietly. Since her mother’s death, everything had changed. Her father’s failed reputation had meant she had to marry to recover it. She was forced into marrying the duke, though she had fought to get out of it and failed. Since then, she had moved so far away from her home in London that none of her old friends came to visit, and Gilbert was not interested in taking her back to see friends.

She spent her days staring at these four walls, and that was all.

Diana pushed away from the table, startled by her own action, but she had little interest in her food and couldn’t concentrate on her book. Instead, she wandered around the room, looking between the paintings. In the two short months she had been there, she had given them all names in this room, as though they were friends who could talk back to her.

There was Isabella, the young maiden who sat on a garden swing with the sun high above her, having lost a shoe amongst the undergrowth, though she hardly cared and was smiling in the painting. There was Robert beside her, a rather stiff-upper-lipped gentleman, who she always imagined would disapprove of Isabella’s carefree nature, and lastly, there was a young couple together, who she had named Jordan and Eleanor. They sat together, rather formally, yet the way their hands were clasped suggested something very intimate indeed. It was a stolen moment in a formal situation, one that Diana envied. She had never known that kind of warm and intimate touch.

“Well, what do you think of my life here, Isabella?” she asked aloud as she walked back to the painting on the swing. “Yes, I know …” She paused and sighed. “It is very dull, isn’t it?” She kept staring at the painting for some time, not really caring that her food was going cold as she admired Isabella’s painting, feeling envy for the woman. “I will try to be happy here. I have to be,” she murmured. “It is the only life dealt to me after all, isn’t it?”

She could remember something her mother had said to her once.

“Life is like playing whist. You cannot always win, but you do have to play with the hand that is dealt to you.”

Maybe it was time Diana tried to make more of the hand she had been dealt.

There was a gentle tap to the door, and she turned to see Mr Arnold enter the room another time. Her face spread into a smile at his entrance.

“Your Grace, is there anything you need?” he asked gently.

A lot! She was tempted to cry, but she restrained herself.

“Is there something wrong with the food?” He gestured towards the table that she had vacated.

“Nothing wrong, Mr Arnold,” she said, walking back to her seat. “I simply wished to look at the paintings for a while.” As he busied himself around the table, helping her to more food, she was struck by the action. It was as though he was taking care of her, serving her up more food to eat.

She glanced at the painting of Isabella on the wall, longing to ask her opinion on the action.

What does it mean?

“A Butler’s Forbidden Affair” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

The ruined reputation of her reckless father has trapped the fiery Diana Dowding in a loveless marriage with a soulless Duke. Neglected and isolated inside the big ducat of the countryside, Diana finds a friend to comfort her, the mysterious butler. However, a fateful night will be enough for Diana to realise her burning love for the seductive man.

Will her passion for the butler lead her in a scandalous path filled with secrets and lust?

Owen Arnold is the vigorous, proud butler of the cunning Duke of Somerset. His boss’ business schemes and lewd affairs with his maids never bothered him. Yet, things are about to change when Owen encounters his new Mistress, Dianna. His admiration for the Duchess will soon turn into tantalising feelings, after accepting her invitation to join her in a card game that would lead to so much more…

If only Owen could tame his forbidden desire before it is too late…

After a sinful night Diana and Owen will find themselves unable to control their concupiscent romance and their intentions to act in secrecy will not last… A wicked woman in the household knows the truth and she is determined to use it for her own sake. When dark revelations come to light, will Diana and Owen find a way to confront the dangerous Duke? Or will their unleashed desire vanish among the lies, plunging them into eternal darkness?

“A Butler’s Forbidden Affair” is a historical romance novel of approximately 90,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

4 thoughts on “A Butler’s Forbidden Affair (Preview)”

  1. This is an intriguing story. I cannot wait to read how this will end. I feel for Dianna being pushed into a marriage that she was forced to endure due to her father’s reputation. It will be interesting to read how all the characters come together.

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