A Marquess’s Tormented Heart (Preview)


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Chapter One

Lymington, England, 1816

“Miss Mandeville, are you certain of this? I pray you, consider this a little more before you take a step out of that door.” The maid clung to Olivia’s hand, holding her back from the door, but Olivia could not be moved. She stood firmly, staring at the door in the kitchen that would lead out to the courtyard beyond and the stable.

“You know I must go, Elsie,” Olivia said with a soft voice, squeezing her maid’s hand in comfort. “I shall head to London. From there, perhaps I can make a plan of where I shall go to spend the rest of my days.”

“But–” Elsie was cut off as thunder rumbled overhead.

They both froze, their heads turning up to look at the cavernous ceiling of the kitchen, arched with great pillars of yellow stone. The thunder shook the room as if it was an earthquake, reaching into the belly of the house and shuddering the foundations.

“You’ll catch your death in this!” Elsie hissed.

“Yet it must be done.” Olivia released her maid’s hand and reached for the portmanteau resting by her feet, gathering the tapestry bag and tucking it under her arm. “I shall travel light. With my reticule and my portmanteau, I should be easy enough for the horse to carry alone.”

“Alone? Oh, it is not to be born, surely?” Elsie said, following Olivia to the door.

Olivia had been careful to insist on no candles being lit, so they traversed in the darkness. The clock on the mantelpiece over the kitchen fire struck three o’clock in the morning, the chimes making the pair of them turn to face it, both halting in their movements.

The loose locks of Olivia’s chestnut brown hair that hung down from her updo whipped around her ears with the movement. She gulped, though she kept an impassive face, not wanting Elsie to see her nerves.

This must be done. I cannot hold back now.

“Why can it not be born?” Olivia asked, placing the portmanteau by the door as she threaded her reticule over her wrist and took her bonnet from Elsie, pulling it over her ears. “Many a woman rides alone.”

“Of the lower classes, yes,” Elsie said grudgingly, her petite face contorting in a wince. “Yet you are the daughter of a bar–”

“Please, do not say it.” Olivia cut her off with a sharper voice than she had intended. They both inhaled sharply as another rumble of thunder sounded overhead. “Who I am, what I was born to, none of that matters now.” She shook her head and reached for a thick spencer jacket with a thick woolen lining and pulled it over her shoulders. It would help a little to prevent the rain from soaking her gown. “From tonight, I am no longer Miss Mandeville. I shall be someone else entirely.”

Elsie sniffed, betraying what Olivia could not see in the darkness, that her maid was holding back tears. She reached for her friend’s hand and squeezed it softly.

“You have been kind to me whilst we have been together, but you know as well as I what I must do now. If you were in my position, what decision would you have made?” Olivia asked quietly.

Elsie relented, hanging her head forward and sniffing another time. In what little light there was that came in through the nearest window, she could see the shadows under her friend’s eyes.

“I would make the same decision,” Elsie whispered. “Better to run than remain here and wait for the inevitable.”

“The cursed inevitable,” Oliva said with enthusiasm and buttoned up her spencer jacket. “Sooner to die of a chill out there in the storm–”

“Miss Mandeville!” Elsie gasped in horror.

“I mean it,” Olivia said with feeling and lifted her portmanteau, tucking it under her arm. “I must go. You know your part, do you not?”

“I know it.” Elsie reached into the pocket of the pinafore apron she always wore over her paisley patterned gown and retrieved a small, folded scrap of paper. It was a letter that Olivia had written to her father earlier that evening. “I shall give it to him tomorrow evening once you have had time to get far away from here.”

“Thank you.” Olivia smiled, grateful indeed for her friend’s help. In that letter, she put her heart and soul into the words, explaining to the man that called himself her father, though rarely ever acted like it, that she had no wish to do his bidding anymore.

Let him stare at those words and know that he has driven me to this position.

“Now, I shall leave and prepare my horse.” Olivia reached for her friend. Elsie moved forward, and they embraced, kissing one another on the cheek. “Take care of yourself, my friend.”

“Me? What of you?” Elsie said with vigor and stepped back, the light from the window now falling on half her face and revealing the flattened line of her thin lips. “You are the one who should take care.” Her gray eyes flitted to the window and the rain that lashed against the glass. “I fear this storm is a bad omen indeed, Miss Mandeville. Very bad.”

“I am not so superstitious,” Olivia declared with confidence and smiled. “Though if you wish to find a symbol in this moment, let it be a sign that all the tears I have shed these last few months are about to be washed away. Believe me, Elsie. This is for the best.”

“I know.”

Olivia stared at her friend for a beat longer, then one of her hands loosened from the portmanteau and she reached for the door, stepping outside into the rain.

“Goodbye, my friend.”

“Goodbye, Miss Mandeville.”

They waved at one another in the doorway, then Olivia was gone, hurrying toward the stable at the far side of the courtyard.

With luck, I shall never hear myself called that again!

Olivia hurried to prepare her reliable mare. The horse snorted in surprise as Olivia woke her by strapping the saddle to her back and latching the portmanteau to it. When all was ready, Olivia pulled herself into the saddle and patted the mare’s neck.

“It is just you and me now, Sugar. No one else to worry us.” She sighed with relief, stroking the white hair of the gray’s mane. 

The horse snorted, as if in agreement.

“Let us part.” Olivia flicked the reins and trotted out of the stable.

They rode behind the stable and cut onto the driveway a distance into the garden, so that anyone who looked out of the window would find it difficult to see her in this darkness. Pausing at the far end of the drive, Olivia turned back to face the house. The rain ran off the lip of her bonnet, creating a waterfall around her face that soon made the gloves on her hands sodden and a pool of water build in her lap. 

Through the darkness and the falling rain that blurred the outline of the house, Olivia’s eyes flitted across the windows. She supposed once this house was a happy place, but that was a long time ago. At least, it was what the housekeeper had always hinted at–when her mother was alive, there had been smiles in this house, but Olivia had been too young to possibly remember her mother.

Her father, on the other hand, was the reason it felt so dark and full of shadows.

“Goodbye, Father.” Olivia turned her back on the house.


The sun had risen through the trees long ago and Olivia had been riding for so long she was no longer certain what time of day it was. With the heavy rain and thick clouds, never once relenting, she could not even judge the time of day based on the position of the sun in the sky.

Taking shelter under a large oak tree, she steered Sugar under one of the largest branches. Sugar huffed and put her nose to the ground, chewing on some loose grass by her hooves.

“I know, Sugar,” Olivia murmured to the horse as she reached into a pocket of her spencer jacket and pulled out a map she had stolen from her father’s study. “It is freezing.” She shivered, just as the horse did too. “Yet what is it they say? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” She laughed, rather feebly at her own attempt at a joke to cheer her spirits.

Unfurling the map, she looked down at the printed lines that resembled roads. The map was now so damp that the roads ran together like rivers, the ink blots bleeding together as more drops fell from the sky. It was hopeless. As far as Olivia could see, she was in Hampshire, somewhere between Winchester and Sutton Scotney, though she could not be certain where. Tucking the map away, she flicked the reins and continued on again, but the horse was now noisier than before.

“Are you going to continue to huff this whole journey?” Olivia asked with a small smile, gladdened to find some levity in this situation.

The horse snorted.

“That’s what I thought. You know you huffing doesn’t stop this rain.”

The horse whinnied, as if laughing at her.

“I know, I know. You must hate me for bringing you out so far in this.” Olivia looked up through the branches of the trees. “I can hardly blame you for thinking such a thing now.”

Lightning flashed, and the clouds grew stark white. The thunder echoed around them. 

The horse neighed loudly this time, and to keep control of the horse, Olivia tightened her hold on the reins, but it was no use. The horse scampered to the side.

“Sugar!” Olivia called, trying to keep control of the animal. 

A tree creaked ominously as lightning flashed once more. Olivia’s head jerked up as lightning forked the sky and struck the top of the tree. Sugar’s next neigh sounded more like the shriek of a banshee, as the tree tipped sideways, angling across the earth.

“No,” Olivia muttered, flicking the reins and trying to escape, yet the horse had other ideas. Rather than scuttling to the side, it took off, galloping madly in a random direction. “Sugar, slow! Please, girl.” 

Yet the horse had a mind of her own, so spooked, she could not be calmed. Olivia was forced to bend down over the horse’s head, gripping tightly to the reins as Sugar darted through the thicket of trees, traveling deeper into thicker woodland, until soon, Olivia struggled to tell one tree from another.

“Stop, stop,” Olivia cried, as up ahead, she caught sight of a sheer drop between the trees. All the trunks dropped away and revealed heavy stones that tumbled down an old hill. 

“Ho!” another voice called loudly.

Olivia whipped her head around, but couldn’t see who had spoken. Jerking back on the reins, she tried to stop the animal, but still, Sugar galloped toward the stones, in danger of taking them both over the ledge and down the hill.

“Stop!” a voice boomed.

A figure darted in front of Olivia. The sudden dark shadows were enough to bring the horse to a sudden halt. So disorientated by the sharp movement, Olivia was nearly thrown from the saddle. Forced to stagger down from it, just to keep standing and not land on her rear, she released the horse and scampered to the side, falling into an oak tree nearby.

“Your horse is wild,” a man’s rich voice called to her.

“Yes, I had noticed,” Olivia muttered wryly, planting her hands against the trunk of the tree as she tried to find her balance.

“Dumb animal,” he said sharply again.

“She is not dumb. She’s frightened.”

“And being frightened of a little lightning is smart, is it?”

“What?” Olivia looked around, realizing what a strange conversation this was to have with a man she had not yet properly seen.

A black horse stood guarding the edge of the rocky incline. On top was a rider clothed completely in black, his heavy frock coat hanging off his shoulders and surrounding his torso loosely, rather like a cape or the wings of a bat. He nodded his head at where Sugar was now scuttling back and forth between the trees, swinging her head from side to side as she tried to calm herself and failed.

“Who are you?” the man called to Olivia.

Pushing herself off the tree, she stumbled forward, standing straight and lifting her chin higher to have a better look at the man. Lightning flashed once more, and in that gray dreariness, there was enough white light to reveal his features.

There was wild curly brown hair on his temple, tangled from the wind and rain. His jawline was strong, the cheek bones heavy and protruding, making his face rather angular. The eyes were the most striking thing to Olivia though, for they were piercing, and quite intense. There was an unusual handsomeness to him. One that left Olivia wrongfooted and clasping her hands to the skirt of her wet gown.

“I should ask who you are,” Olivia announced, finding her voice once more.


“Well, you are the one it seems I am indebted to.” She waved a hand at the rocky slope. “A few seconds more and I could have been injured indeed. I wish to know who I am indebted to.”

The gentleman’s dark eyebrows raised.

“Or am I to thank no one?” she asked, finding something humorous in his silence. Yet her jest did nothing to lighten the man’s face or piercing gaze.

“I wish to know who it is that is trespassing on my land.”

“Trespassing?” Olivia scrambled to reach for the map in her pocket once more. Grasping it, she unfurled it, but it was so wet now that the paper was completely blurred. “God’s wounds,” she muttered to herself. “Well, I suppose this was never going to help me much, was it?” She laughed and held up the map, so he could see what a state it was.

He cocked his head to the side, watching her seriously, but there was no glimmer of humor.

“Do you smile, sir? Ever?” Olivia asked, her tone bold.

“Not with trespassers on my land.”

“What of lost souls?” Olivia asked, raising an eyebrow at him. She turned her back on him and walked after Sugar, trying to retrieve her horse. “Have no fear of me, sir. It was a mistake to come onto your land, and as soon as I have calmed my horse, I shall be leaving.”

“Clearly, an easy task, to calm such a horse,” he called after her as she traipsed through the trees.

“Well, you have a wry tone, sir, even if you are not capable of laughing.” She glanced back at him, smiling once more, but still, his lips never lifted.

How strange. It is as if he does not know what a laugh is!

“You are sodden,” he said, nodding his head at her as he followed her on his horse.

“A keen observer you are, sir.”

“Now who’s being wry?” he asked, his tone deepening further.

“Well, we have to find something to laugh at in this mad situation, do we not?” She turned back to face him and held out her arms wide. “No?” 

Still no smile.

“Apparently not then.” She shrugged and looked away from him. “Sugar? Come back here. You have caused enough trouble for one day.” She reached for the horse and finally caught up with her, pulling on the reins in her attempt to calm the animal.

Running a hand across the horse’s nose, Sugar softened. Her whinnies became small snorts and then snuffles, as she hung her head forward and buried her nose in Olivia’s petting. 

“You are not one of my tenants, are you?” the stranger asked, his voice coming close behind her.

Olivia glanced over her shoulder at the man, pausing in her petting. All this talk of land and tenants, and his clothes, made it plain she was talking to a man of the ton. Even a glance at the thick hessian boots that were covered in mud from his ride revealed that they were expensive, despite the dirt.

“No, I am not.” Olivia shook her head. “Merely a traveler, sir. Passing through your land.”

“And nearly falling to your death, too.” He nodded back in the direction of the rocky slope.

“Thank you for the reminder,” she said with a small smile. “I could have done without it.” She watched his face, but it didn’t flicker or twitch.

They stared at one another, neither of them saying anything for a few seconds. Distracted, Olivia shifted her weight, unsure what to think or feel under that keen stare. The stranger seemed to have a habit of staring at her. 

“You need somewhere to rest,” he said suddenly, breaking the silence between them as he looked away.

“I am fine as I am, sir.”

“And the sun is shining too.” His deadpan tone caught her attention, and she jerked her head up. “I thought we were telling fibs?” He gestured to the rain. 

“I could have mistaken that for a jest.”

“I do not tell jests.”

“Plainly,” she whispered. He clearly heard her though and flicked the reins of his horse, walking it forward until he drew level beside her. 

“Riding too long in this weather, you shall catch a chill. How long have you been out already?”

“Just for a few hours,” she lied. The horse snorted, as if arguing with her. She glared at Sugar, wishing the mare would be quiet.

“You are soaked to the bone; half your fine gown is covered in mud and your horse is weary. I’d hazard a guess it is far more than a few hours.” He urged the horse to take another step forward, those keen eyes appraising her and the animal. “I can offer you a place to rest for the night. Come morning, you can be on your way. I shall not hold you up. I hardly need my grounds filled with ladies whose horses keep trying to leap to their deaths.”

“She was frightened.”

“So you say.” He waved a hand and pointed through the trees. “The house is just this way. What do you say, Miss…?” He waited for her to finish the sentence.

“Miss Adams.” Olivia found her mother’s maiden name falling from her lips. “Miss Olivia Adams.”

“Miss Adams, what do you say? Would you like a rest for the night?” He reached for the nearest branch and lifted it high, revealing the glimpse of a fine house beyond.

Perhaps one night’s rest would not hurt.

Chapter Two

Benedict thrust open the door of his manor house, striding in, though he soon grew aware that his feet were the only ones echoing on the heavy marble floor. Depositing his wet frock coat over a coat stand, he flicked back his damp hair and turned his tall frame around, looking at the lost figure of Miss Adams in the doorway.

Her eyes danced around the hallway, as if she drank in the sight like water. The bright blue eyes never rested, not once, but continued to flit about like azure butterflies. 

“You can come in,” Benedict said, gesturing for her to walk forward.

Slowly, she stepped through the doorway, closing the door softly behind her. She untied the bow of her soaked bonnet, loosening it from her head. As she lowered it, Benedict found it more difficult than before to look away from her.

He had been so certain when he stumbled across Miss Adams that she was one of his tenants, but now, he presumed she was a lady of the ton. The gown was too fine for her not to be part of the ton. Even the updo of her hair betrayed the fashion of high society, yet her rich brown hair now tumbled out of this updo, thanks to the rain and wind from the storm outside.

The reason Benedict found it so difficult to look away wasn’t just because of the fine clothes, but her appearance. Miss Adams was striking, with a heart-shaped face, petite lips, and the largest blue eyes he’d ever seen. 

Clearing his throat, Benedict at last looked away.

“First, we should get you dry, Miss Adams.”


“I beg your pardon?” Benedict turned back to face her, having crossed part way through the hall. She had a smile of amusement on her lips, something he was discovering she already did a fair amount. 

Slowly, she unbuttoned her spencer jacket, peeling the wet cloth off her arms.

“First, I need to know the name of my host.” She smiled fully this time. “I may not be the finest of ladies, certainly not in comparison to this grand house,” she gestured to the room they stood in, “but I know enough of propriety to know I should learn the identity of the gentleman I am to stay with tonight. Or is there to be more secrecy, sir?”

“Strange.” Benedict’s eyes sharpened as he looked at Miss Adams. “You talk of not being fine, yet I could have sworn from your appearance you were a lady of the ton.”

“Me? Ha! Far from it.” She laughed loudly at the idea, shaking her head. “I am a governess, sir. I’m traveling in search of work.”

“I see.” Benedict couldn’t make sense of the claim. Surely that gown was far too fine for her to be a governess? What was more, the portmanteau she had deposited by the doorway was finely made too. He’d seen tapestry bags like it once in Covent Garden in London. 

“So, sir?” Miss Adams prompted him on, raising an eyebrow in a way that made her face lighten further. “Who are you?” She really was remarkably pretty.

Why am I noticing that?

“My Lord. My Lord!” a sudden voice wailed from the top of the stairs.

“Well, there is your first clue as to who I am.” He turned and looked up the stairs to see his old friend and housekeeper, Cornelia, hastening down the stairs. “Cornelia, something has happened–”

“So I see, my Lord.” She rushed down the steps, clutching to the skirt of her white gown and moving her plump form quickly from side to side. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she didn’t even reach his shoulder in head height. She brushed back the wisps of gray hair that had escaped her updo, revealing the rather sharp brown eyes beneath. “Have you been getting fine young ladies in trouble?”

A peal of laughter ran out from Miss Adams as Benedict balked, his jaw growing slack at his housekeeper.

“Cornelia, I have met the lady for the first time tonight.” Benedict waved a hand at Miss Adams. “She trespassed onto the estate.”

“I was lost in the storm, though he seems eager to forget that fact,” Miss Adams spoke up.

“Well, the marquess has never been excellent at revealing all the facts of stories.” Cornelia waved a hand at him dismissively. Once, Benedict would have laughed at such a joke, but not anymore. It had been a while since he had laughed freely. Still, he allowed Cornelia her boldness and informality. He had known her for too long and they were too great friends for him to ever mind her boldness. 

“Marquess?” Miss Adams stumbled over the word, stepping forward abruptly.

“Ah, I see he has forgotten his manners, too.” Cornelia turned back to face him and tapped him on the arm. He raised his eyebrows at her, well aware that they had done this many times in their life. When he had been just a young boy, Cornelia was often the one who had to punish him for misbehaving. It seemed old habits die hard. “My Lord, where are your manners?”

“They didn’t join me on my ride in the rain,” Benedict said simply. “Now, perhaps some tea to warm our unexpected guest through?”

“Yes, yes, of course! And towels. Look at you, my dear.” Cornelia crossed toward Miss Adams, taking up her hands and using it to turn the young woman around. “What a pretty face you have.”

“Oh… erm, thank you.” Miss Adams was clearly startled and looked down at herself. “I apologize. It seems I am trailing quite a few puddles through your hallway.”

“No more than he does in weather such as this.” Cornelia laughed and gestured back at Benedict.

“I am here, you know,” Benedict said as he shrugged off his tailcoat and pushed up his sleeves that were not as damp as his trousers. Rolling them up to his elbows, he crossed toward the nearest door that led to his sitting room, rather hopeful of seeing Laura, but she was nowhere to be seen. He glanced back and forth, even looked under the settee, but his daughter was not to be found. She was small, even for her age of seven, and had a habit of pressing her body into small spaces. The rococo settee was just tall enough to allow a space for her hide, and he had found her more than once there in the past. 

“Come, come, in here.” Cornelia bustled Miss Adams into the room. “I shall fetch you some towels, and the marquess shall introduce himself properly.”

“Does he follow your orders?” Miss Adams said playfully as she stepped into the sitting room, but carefully avoided stepping on his rug and kept to the floorboards, clearly mindful of spreading more water around the room. When she lifted the hem of her skirt, avoiding trailing more drops behind her, Benedict’s eyes shot down to the boots she wore.

They were sturdy, strong, and well made with thick leather and fine embroidery.

They are rather fine boots for a governess.

“I shall get some towels.” Cornelia glared at Benedict before darting through the door. He recognized that look at once; Cornelia only ever looked at him in such a way when he had done something wrong.

As she left, he cleared his throat and leaned on the back of the nearest chair, looking straight at Miss Adams across the room.

“My name is Benedict Barrington, the Marquess of Winchester.” At his declaration, he saw her expression change. Her petite lips parted, then closed, rather abruptly, and she hurried to bob a curtsy.

She knows how deeply to curtsy to a marquess.

“Strange,” he whispered, sensing his voice growing deeper.

“What is?” she asked, standing straight again.

“There is much about you that convinced me you were a lady of the ton. Take your clothes, your manner, even the way you curtsy.” He gestured to her. “Yet you are a governess?”

“I am.” She smiled, and he half wondered if this time, her smile was forced. “I have simply been trained highly by good families, Lord Winchester. That is all.” 

Cornelia returned a few seconds later. Behind her, a maid arrived with a tea tray, so the tea pot must have already been prepared before Benedict returned home. As the tea was placed on a low-lying dumbwaiter table, Cornelia thrust a towel at Benedict that he took to dry himself. Then she went to assist Miss Adams, helping her to dry too.

“Thank you. You are very kind,” Miss Adams said softly as Benedict reached toward the tea tray. Out of the corner of his eye, he kept watching Miss Adams. Right down to the way she patted herself dry, she was rather proper and formal, suggesting an excellent education and upbringing. When she moved the towel across her body, Benedict’s eyes lingered on the slim curves.

A feeling stirred that he had not felt for a significant amount of time. Startled by its power, he looked away and concentrated on pouring out tea for the two of them.

“Here, Miss Adams. This should help ward off the chill,” Benedict said, gesturing to the cup.

She hurried forward to take it from the tray, lifting it as any fine lady of the ton would have done. Cornelia stepped away to make up the fire, adding logs onto the hearth.

“My Lord, Miss Adams? You should both come by the fire, too. That will help to keep out the chill.”

When Benedict hesitated, Cornelia offered another one of those glares, and he moved toward the fireplace.

“I get the impression your housekeeper takes good care of you, my Lord,” Miss Adams said in a playful tone.

“You would not be wrong.” He leaned on the mantelpiece, looking down at Cornelia as she added more logs to the fire.

“You need taking care of,” she said with a giggle and shrugged.

When a quietness fell on them, Benedict returned his eyes to Miss Adams, only to find she was staring at him. A beat later, she looked away, into the buttery light of the fire, as if startled to have been caught looking.

Why did she stare?

“What weather to be out riding in!” Cornelia said as she finished with the fire and stood, wiping her hands on her apron. “I know I cannot stop you, my Lord, but Miss Adams, what induced you to ride in this?”

“I am traveling,” Miss Adams said with ease, and lifted her teacup to her lips, smiling as she blew on the warm tea. Benedict watched her rather intently, then looked away.

I should not stare for so long at a governess.

“An informative answer,” Benedict muttered dryly. Miss Adams lowered her teacup a little and stared over the rim at him from the other side of the fireplace.

“But this weather, this storm–” As if on cue, Cornelia was cut off by thunder rumbling beyond the windows.

Benedict looked toward that sound, nearly dropping his teacup as he realized the implications of the noise.

“Where’s Laura?” he asked Cornelia, rather more sharply than he had intended.

“She was hiding under your desk last time I found her,” Cornelia said with a heavy sigh and helped herself to a spare cup of tea. “She refused to come out.”

Then thunder rumbled once again.

“Who is Laura?” Miss Adams asked.

Benedict put down his teacup and moved to the doorway of the sitting room.

“Laura?” he called in the direction of his study. A crash followed a few seconds later, then the study door across the hallway flew open. His daughter flung herself free from the doorway. Behind her, a maid staggered, with pieces of a broken vase in her hands that she was trying desperately to put back together.

Laura ran across the hallway with tears in her eyes, her light brown hair wild about her ears. 

“Pa!” she practically screamed his name. 

“Laura, love, come here.” He dropped to his knees and opened his arms. She barreled into him, and he caught her, holding her tightly as she cried on his shoulder. “It’s just thunder. Remember what I told you about it?”

“It–it–it…” She struggled, stammering through her gasping cries as her small hands clung to the shoulders of his shirt. “It sounds like the world is about to break. Like that glass globe you bought!” 

“There now. The world is not going to break.” He laughed softly.

She is the only one who can make me do this. Who can still make me laugh?

He released his daughter softly and brushed the hair back from her face, then took his handkerchief from his pocket and dried his daughter’s tears. Her face was more like his own than her mother’s, with strong cheekbones and similar green eyes. Though that face was marred and blotchy with redness, now thanks to her tears.

“It broke!” Laura wailed. “I saw that globe when you brought it home. It cracked.”

“Because I dropped it. Not because of thunder.”

“Will the world break?”

“No, Laura, love.” He chuckled deeply and reached for his daughter’s waist, lifting her high onto his hip. He crossed the room toward the tea tray, deciding that he would pour one for her too. She had it milkier than he did, cool enough so that she could drink it without risk of burning herself. “Thunder happens so far above us in the clouds, it cannot possibly hurt us. Remember me telling you that?”

Laura sniffed and wiped her cheeks with the backs of her hands, but she said nothing.

“Here, have some tea. That will help you.” Benedict poured out another tea for her, but he struggled as Laura was getting heavier these days, and she wriggled in her panic. When he was in danger of dropping the teapot, he found it was taken from his hands. 

Miss Adams was before him.

“Let me guess,” Miss Adams said, pouring the tea out for him. “Lots of milk?” she asked Laura.

At once, Laura looked up from her hands, clearly startled at the presence of a stranger.

“And a single sugar?” she whispered.

“I like sugar,” Laura whispered. “Pa doesn’t like me having sugar in tea.”

“Well, maybe he will let you on this occasion.” Miss Adams lowered her voice. “Or we’ll make it our secret,” she said playfully, and placed a finger to her lips. Laura giggled through her tears. 

Shocked, Benedict looked between Laura and Miss Adams. This was not something he had been expecting. Most women who came into this house Laura did not laugh or smile at. She grew fierce with them. It was one of the reasons governesses never seemed to last long.

“Here we are.” Miss Adams finished preparing the tea and walked around the table, proffering the cup to Laura. “Now be careful and blow on it, for it will be warm.”

“Thank you,” Laura said, taking the cup softly.

Benedict still could not summon words as he stared at Miss Adams.

“I never used to like thunder either.” She shuddered. “Goodness, I always thought it was the gods having an argument.”

“Really?” Laura smiled, lowering the teacup slightly.

“Oh yes. Then one night, I crept to my window and peered out, staring at the clouds. Do you know what I saw?”

“What?” Laura leaned out of Benedict’s arms, toward Miss Adams, so that he was in danger of dropping her.

“Nothing.” Miss Adams held open her hands, as if to show their emptiness. “I realized that the horror was in my imagination. That is the hardest thing sometimes, facing our fears, but once we do, we sometimes see that what we fear isn’t so bad after all.”

“What causes the sound, then? The big crash?” Laura asked.

“Well, it’s to do with temperature changes in the clouds.”

As Miss Adams launched into an explanation, Benedict glanced at Cornelia, who sat nearby, staring with equally wide eyes as Laura and Miss Adams chatted together. Benedict put Laura down on the floor and she moved to kneel on the footstool beside Cornelia. Miss Adams followed and sat on another footstool, continuing her explanation. By the time she was done, there was no more sign of Laura’s tears, and her teacup was empty.

“Here, let me take that for you.” Miss Adams took the teacup from her hand.

“Well, I have learned something new,” Cornelia declared with a laugh. “Have you, Laura?” 

“I have.” Laura nodded firmly.

“Then I think it is time for bed.” Benedict moved to his daughter and touched her shoulder. She scrambled to stand on the stool and turned toward him, flinging her arms around him to embrace him. He held her back and patted her hair lovingly, then his eyes flitted to Miss Adams.

She watched them with those startlingly blue eyes. He couldn’t figure out if it was curiosity or admiration in that look.

“Goodnight, Pa.”

“Goodnight, Laura, love,” he whispered.

Cornelia took Laura’s hand and pulled her toward the door, but Laura hesitated and turned back, waving at Miss Adams.

“Goodnight,” Miss Adams called after her, waving too, then Laura and Cornelia were gone.

Silence followed as Miss Adams stood and returned the teacups to the tray. Everything was done properly and with decorum.

I have never seen that before.

Benedict pulled on the collar of his shirt, wrongfooted. Laura needed a new governess, and this would certainly be a strange way to find one, but where was Benedict going to find another woman who could be so natural with Laura?

“She is a sweet girl, my Lord,” Miss Adams said suddenly, still attending to the teacups. “You can see she loves you dearly.”

As I do her.

In Benedict’s silence, Miss Adams looked up from the tray. Her wet hair was stuck to her neck, accenting the fine curve.

It would be very inconvenient to admire my daughter’s governess so much.

“Did you say you were traveling to a new position as a governess? Or that you were searching for one?” The question fell from his lips.

“A Marquess’s Tormented Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Olivia Mandeville, trapped by the oppressive grip of her heartless father, faces an impending marriage to the cruel Viscount of Lyndhurst. Determined to escape this fate, she flees to forge a new life as a governess. However, fate intertwines her journey with the enigmatic Marquess of Winchester, Benedict Barrington, sparking a connection that defies societal norms and expectations. As Olivia navigates her role in his household, she discovers a budding affection for his daughter and an undeniable bond with the Marquess.

Will the relentless pursuit of the Viscount irreversibly shatter her blooming dreams?

Benedict Barrington, Marquess of Winchester, while still nursing the wounds of a bereaved heart, discovers solace in the fearless and intelligent Olivia. With each stolen moment, their connection deepens, unraveling emotions he thought were buried with his late wife.The clash of classes and the threat of scandal intensify this emotional battlefield, leaving Benedict torn between societal expectations and the undeniable truth of his heart.

Will he resist the unconventional connection, or will propriety extinguish the possibility of a deeper bond?

In a delicate dance of concealed feelings and shared secrets, Olivia and Benedict navigate the challenging path between love and societal expectations. As Olivia hides not only her identity but also a coerced betrothal, the appearance of her horrible betrothed looms dangerously around their tender romance. Will their bond collapse under the storm of threatening secrets, or will the revelation of Olivia’s truth become the unexpected key to unlocking a love that defies the era’s conventions?

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

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