[Preview] Stealing his Lady


“And you say this is a piece painted by a female artist?” Lord Charlton, the Duke of Camberport asked. Although he was known as a bit of a dandy, he did have an eye when it came to quality art.

“Yes, My Lord,” Lord Romley nodded his head in agreement. “I allow her to exhibit her works in my home because she is very talented. I don't open my home to any old riff-raff.”

“I cannot imagine that she has received any formal training,” Lord Charlton retorted. He half-turned to take out his snuffbox and take in a sniff of sweetened tobacco up his nose. As he turned back again to study the piece, he let out a light sneeze as the tobacco tickled his senses.

“You are quite correct, My Lord,” Lord Romley replied, though Lord Charlton felt that the man seemed as if he had no idea in truth. “I doubt very much that the lady in question has not even had the privilege of private lessons. But that is why I find her works quite astonishing given that she is completely self-taught. Look closer at the feathers in the swan’s wings, such fine detail. As a gentleman of taste, such as yourself, I dare say that you will agree with me?”

Lord Charlton took out an eyeglass from a top pocket in his jacket and leaned in, to peer closer at the canvas. “Hmmm…quite so,” he mumbled as he stood upright to take a stiff stance. “I will take it,” he said at the flip of a hand.

“Oh, it is not for sale, Lord Charlton,” Lord Romley announced. “It would not do if I were to be seen selling artwork for a woman, now would it? It is merely a piece for our very own entertainment. However, I could accept a commission from you, to have her do another one perhaps?”

At first Lord Charlton looked a little annoyed, it was clear that he did not like to be refused anything. “I will have her do a face screen of this exactness. Is she capable of that? My mother would be delighted to receive such an amusing gift.”

“Would you like to know who the artist is, My Lord?”

“No. Do not bore me with such tedious details,” Lord Charlton wafted his hands again as if to push away the information. “Mother will find it almost comical when I inform her that the face screen was painted by a member of the fairer sex. That is more than enough information to entertain us for a few pleasant moments.”

“This is an artist who also undertakes oil paintings too, as well as watercolors,” Lord Romley pushed. He knew that the young lady would be delighted with the commission of an oil painting.

“I can’t imagine what a mess she must make of that,” Lord Charlton puffed as he walked away from the painting and moved on to another one. “Me thinks the woman fancies herself as the next Mary Moser…hahaha!”

“Yes, yes, that is quite amusing," Lord Romley played along as he followed Lord Charlton around the room. "I must admit though, she can paint botanical arts as well as Clara Wheatley. That is if you were to ask my opinion on the matter.”

“I am not asking your opinion, sir,” Lord Charlton huffed. “All I ask is that you commission her to paint me a face screen for my mother. Surely you, and she, can manage that small task?”

Lord Romley gave a small bow of his head in acquiescence and moved away to leave Lord Charlton to browse. Little did Lord Charlton know that the female artist in question was listening in from the other end of the room. She had nodded her head at the acceptance of the commission, and so Lord Romley would push the matter no further. He would acquire the details from Lord Charlton before he left, and pass them on to the mysterious lady, with the agreement of a small fee.

Lord Romley had only offered to show the Lady’s artwork, as a favor to her father. They were business acquaintances through a mutual investment portfolio up north. Although he had to admit to himself that was very impressed with the artwork she produced. The problem was that he knew full well how socially unacceptable it would be seen if he were to promote female artists for any financial gain.

* * *

“I do believe that I have my first commission from this exhibition” the lady whispered to her maid Florence. They were busy pretending to view the artwork hanging on the walls in the picture room of the home of Lord Romley. “Lord Charlton is such a stuffy creature, don’t you agree?”

Florence stifled a giggle under her gloved hand, for she knew her mistress well, and understood how flighty she could be at times. Making fun of people was one of her traits, though she never did it in a harmful way. They often traveled to the homes of high society, to show off her mistress's artwork. And everywhere that her mistress went, so too did Florence. This was proof enough to her that she was a brave and adventurous soul.

“Why do you not sell all the fine pictures that hang in the exhibitions, Miss Amelia? Florence asked for she did not know about the intricacies of high society or the suppression of female artists. All she knew was that her mistress was most talented, in her humble opinion.

“What you must understand Florence, is that my world is stifled with patriarchal oppression," Amelia explained to her maid. Though Florence was no wiser for she had no idea what the words meant. "I must tread with the greatest of care. Lord Romley was good enough to agree to show my work. But he said he would only do so if he could inform any interested parties that my works are by a female. You see, but he cannot be seen selling them as that would mean taking money away from the male artists.”

“But you have been painting since you were a child, Miss Amelia,” Florence pointed out. “Anyone can see that the paintings by men are quite dull next to yours.”

“Thank you, Florence. I must admit that I do like to add a bit of vibrancy to my works. That’s why I do most of my paintings outdoors,” she explained. “But I am not permitted to compete with male artists when it comes to sales. That is why Lord Romley offers me commissions only.”

“So, we have to carry all your pictures back home with us yet again?” Florence asked, shaking her head in bemusement.

“Yes, I’m afraid so, and so it will always be I’m afraid Florence. But, it's a minor inconvenience as they are easily stored in my special art case to carry them around,” Miss Amelia said, reminding her maid. “I don’t mind the humiliation of taking all my artwork back home with me if I have gained some small commissions. Let’s not forget the fact that the cream of society is, at least, enquiring about purchasing them. That in itself is praise enough for me. Who knows, one day I may be able to sell them and hold my head up high.”

“What is this formal training thing that the lord was saying, Miss?” Florence asked, as she too had listened to the conversation between the two men.

“They are talking about the art academies,” Miss Amelia answered, with a frown etched on her face. “As it happens, I have received some formal training, but I cannot brag about it. We ladies are expected to do well in anything that we are taught, and never to seek praise. I find that men are vain and like praise in everything they do.”

“But that’s so unfair Miss, your paintings are as good as any I have seen on our travels,” Florence said, for she could not grasp why someone with such talent was so frowned upon.

“Well…to be sure I am no Mary Moser, who has managed to break through as a female artist. I suggest we put such things aside, for now, shall we Florence?" Miss Amelia said to distract her maid from the intricacies of high society decorum. "We should at least celebrate the fact that we are here in the city of Bath. Is it not the most amazing place? In fact, I say that we take ourselves for a visit to the Sydney Gardens, what say you?”

“Oh, that would be wonderful. Can we go to the labyrinth? It is such fun,” Florence asked giddily.

“Before we leave, I will speak with Lord Romley. I need to make arrangements to collect my artwork later in the day. Then, we will go and enjoy the rest of our day, as we are to travel home tomorrow. Did I tell you that I have even managed to book us a private coach for our journey home?"

Florence grinned at the prospect of not having to travel on the uncomfortable and overcrowded Mail Coach. Traveling with her mistress on a private coach was a luxury indeed.

Chapter 1

“We can say that my art exhibition was a success, don’t you think Florence?” Amelia remarked to her personal maid as they rode in the coach.

“Yes, Miss. It was most eventful,” her maid stated with a smile.

They were the only passengers in the hired coach that was to take them from the town of Bath back to their home in the countryside. They had stayed in Bath for three days to attend the exhibit, as well as sightseeing and shopping, to take advantage of the early summer warmth.

As they trundled along the path, Amelia Wood’s blue eyes gazed down at a large leather pouch. It held one of her art pieces that she had displayed at the exhibit. Her delicate features were rendered all the more beautiful by her beaming smile, unable to contain her excitement. She felt very pleased with herself having finally convinced her father to let her show her art in such a public place. Her mother had asked why she wasn’t content with just showcasing her art at dinner parties and ladies lunches, as other ladies did. But her mother and father did not understand what drove her to want more from her hobby.

Amelia wanted her art to be taken seriously, just as those of the great painters known today and those being trained at the Royal Academy. It was only because of her father’s title as a baron that she was allowed to show her work at the annual exhibit. She knew that showing her artwork in competition with many male artists, ones who were trained at the distinguished Royal Academy no less, was a controversial matter given her sex and the subject matter in which she focused on in her work. Still, she brushed that small matter aside and gained the courage to present her art. Why should that stop me, she thought as she pushed a strand of her auburn hair. I know that my talents are worth sharing, to be regarded as professional.

Her father had tried many times to talk her out of it, though he knew she took her paintings very seriously. In many ways, her stubbornness came from him, as her mother would point out time and again. He would have preferred that she focus on things that he believed were more important, such as making herself ready for the Season to find herself a husband. That would ensure her readiness to inherit the family barony when the time came. Since she was the only daughter of the Baron and Baroness of Beconbrook, she would inherit the title of Baroness in her own right by law. For once, she was grateful to be the daughter of a baron and not a duke or earl. Whenever the subject came up about her interests versus duties, her mother had wisely taken no side in the many family debates, though she would try to talk to her husband and daughter separately to calm them down.

Nonetheless, Amelia did not let disagreements stop her for she loved to travel and to meet new people who loved art as much as she did. She loved it even more when her artwork sold, and clients commissioned her to do further work for them.

In her little corner of the art exhibit, she had managed to gain a small crowd of people who were interested in commissioning art from her while there were others who scoffed at her presents. The fact that there were those who wanted to see her work gave Amelia the confidence to stand tall under scrutiny, even though her identity was kept secret. An elderly gentleman who overheard her conversation with Lord Romley was kind enough to praise her work to her directly while also giving a few pointers for her to improve upon. It was the first time that anyone was willing to treat her artwork at the same level as many of the male artists present at the event, something she would cherish always.

“I’d say that the Gainsborough Picture Room in Lord Romely’s grand manor is all the better for displaying your artwork, Miss,” Florence replied. She was keeping herself busy with needle work which was proving to be difficult as the carriage rode along the bumpy path.

“For my efforts, I have gained at least three miniature commissions. Though I would have preferred still life, I can't complain with the results,” Amelia said cheerfully. She turned her head to peek through the window of the coach. “I do hope those drab rain clouds hold off until we get home. If they don't, this journey is going to be even more uncomfortable on these rough roads.”

“When we stop, Miss, I will arrange to get you a better overcoat from the baggage, if it will help,” Florence suggested as she gave up on her needle work and put the materials away.

“No, don’t go to such trouble, Florence. We don’t have far to go now,” Amelia replied, shivering at the thought of being damp. “If my judgment is correct, we should be passing Beconhill Estate shortly and-”

Without warning, the coach lurched forward with a loud crashing sound sending Amelia and Florence flying from their bench seats. The ladies screamed as they both landed with a thud on the hard wooden floor and wall of the carriage that was now tilting on its side.

“Oh, my goodness!” Amelia called out, trying to hold her hat in place as she lay sprawled out on the floor.

Florence had already attempted to stand, but the floor was at an acute angle, making it difficult to get her balance. Being the loyal maid that she was to Miss Amelia, she reached out to help her mistress stand up.

"Careful now. Let me help you balance to get up, Miss Amelia," Florence suggested. As she did so, the coach door flew open, and there stood the driver looking hassled.

“My apologies, Miss, are you hurt?” the burly, dark-haired man, Mr. Wadley, asked. “We appear to have broken a wheel in a hole in the road.”

“We are not hurt,” Amelia replied. “Though we could use your assistance to climb out. As you can see, it is going to be impossible to stand up, or even sit down in here.”

“Of course, Miss,” he said, reaching out a strong arm to support her as she clambered through the door. “I was going fast, you see. Trying to beat the rain, I was,” Mr. Wadley, the driver, explained, as Florence made her way out of the coach. "With the wind and the condition of the road, I didn’t see the ditch in the road. Must have been big enough to catch the wheel and damage it.”

“More to the point, Mr. Wadley, how long are we to be delayed?” Amelia asked as she straightened her bottle-green dress and matching long coat.

“Hard to say,” he replied with uncertainty in his voice as he assessed the damage. “There is an estate not far from here. The Beconhill Manor house is about a half-mile from here by foot. There, we can get help and send for assistance. We can’t fix this thing fast though, Miss,” he told her as he turned to look at the damage. “I can see already that it’s affected the chasse. It’ll depend on whether they have what I need to be fixing it. At least the horses are fine, just a little spooked.”

“Ouch!” Amelia called out. A shooting pain ran up her leg as she stepped forward, causing her to wince. Although she didn’t want to make a big fuss over it, the injury was quite painful. “It seems I may have hurt my ankle in the fall.”

“Tell you what," Mr. Wadley said. "I’ll help you to get up to my seat, and you can rest while help arrives. Just let me unharness the horses and level out the carriage.”

“No, no. We’ll just use the luggage as a seat. It would be better if you set off and find help. My maid will assist me. The sooner you get to the manor house, the sooner we can get out of this miserable situation,” Amelia proposed. Though, in truth, she did not wish to be manhandled any further and just wanted the driver to go get help quickly before the weather got worse.

“Very well, Miss. As soon as I’ve untied the two horses, I’ll be off on one of them, so I can get back as quickly as possible. Should anyone come along bothering you, I suggest you jump on the other one and ride away,” the driver suggested as he turned to go about his business.

“How on earth he expects us to ride a horse without a saddle, I don’t know!” Florence huffed at the very idea. “Come, Miss. I’ll lay out a blanket on that soft grass over there, and get a book for you,” Florence offered. “Shall I take a look at your foot, Miss?” she asked, as Amelia was unable to put much weight on it.

“It was only a slight twist. I’m sure it will be fine with rest,” Amelia replied, though she clenched her teeth as she made her way to the grassy area. “Though a blanket would be most welcomed.” Florence opened a bag to get a blanket to lay out on the ground. Amelia sat down and winced as she stretched out her injured ankle.

Within half an hour, Florence was seated next to her mistress as they both sat with a blanket underneath and one on top of their legs to keep them warm. Florence noted that Miss Amelia’s pale skin was even paler, and she worried it might rain on top of everything else. She did not want her mistress getting damp.

“The light's fading fast with those dark clouds coming in. I hope our rescue won’t be much longer, Miss,” Florence complained as she shivered at the growing chill in the summer air.

“You are quite right,” Amelia agreed, closing her book. “I can no longer read anyway as I’m starting to feel a bite from the chill.”

“I can hear something, Miss. Look, a carriage is arriving,” Florence said, pointing down the road into the deepening gloom.

“Can you help me get back up, Florence, for I must get my leather case to take with me?”

‘Of course, Miss.” Florence immediately turned to help Amelia stand up from the ground, before the carriage arrived. “Miss, is your ankle worse?”

“I’m not sure, but would you please collect my leather case?” Amelia instructed her maid. Whilst the throbbing pain radiated from her ankle to her foot, causing her a little discomfort. Her main concern was to make sure that she took the leather case that housed all her treasured artwork.

The smaller carriage came to a stop and Amelia could see it carried Mr. Wadley and two other men. One with red hair and the other with dark blond tussles. Mr. Wadley jumped down to assist his passengers into the new carriage.

“Come along Miss, this carriage will take you back to Beconhill Manor house. There you can rest while we fix the wheel,” Mr. Wadley informed her.

She hobbled to the carriage door but could no longer hide her pain and nearly fell to the ground. Mr. Wadley was able to catch her and help her into the carriage, with assistance from one of the other men.

Florence had collected her mistress’ artwork while the red-haired man, who had arrived with Mr. Wadley, put their luggage in the carriage. Once all their items were packed, Florence turned to help Miss Amelia get comfortable with a blanket

“Put this over your knees, Miss. The chill is worsening for sure,” Florence said, fussing over her mistress.

“Thank you, Florence, and be sure to thank Mr. Wadley for arranging our rescue, won’t you?” Amelia said, relieved to be out of the chill.

The carriage pulled away, leaving behind their coach driver and the red-haired man. Amelia hoped that between them they could fix the broken wheel so they could continue their journey home.

Chapter 2

“Oh, do stop all that fidgeting, Alexandra, for the hundredth time,” Jack warned his sister as she continued to pose for a portrait he was painting. “It is not becoming of a lady.”

“You try sitting still for a portrait without anything to occupy your time. You could at least have chosen a pose for me where I am holding a book. Also, you cannot possibly want to continue in this fading light, Jack,” Alexandra complained. “I can hardly see a thing, and I’m not the one doing the painting. We need to light a few candles. Though I’m sure I can hear a commotion outside the door. Do you think we have visitors?”

“Excuses, excuses. Firstly, an artist only needs to feel his brushstrokes, and secondly, concentrate on sitting still and never mind what’s going on elsewhere,” Jack said, wanting to get as much done as possible before the daylight faded with the dark clouds coming in. He had managed to sketch the outline of his sister’s thin frame and the position of her hands on her dress. With his paint brush, he had filled in the pink color of her dress and pale skin face. He had not started on her facial features. He could not bear too many sittings with a sister who shuffled around constantly. It altered the light and shadows and was most annoying when one was trying to capture all the contours of a person’s face. “We can go on a little longer so that you don't have to sit for me so much.”

At that remark, Alexandra jumped up from the couch that she was inclined upon. “Absolutely not!” she called out. “Besides, I’m curious as to who our visitors are, aren’t you?”

“I suppose I am slightly curious,” Jack stated, and then halted as a maid entered the room.

“Excuse me, My Lord and Lady. Two visitors have arrived from a carriage accident.”

“Goodness! Very well. Show them in. We shall greet them with open arms. Have the servants prepare a room in case they need to stay the night,” Alexandra suggested as she stood-up from her seat. The maid bowed and left the room. Alexandra looked over at her brother who had not moved from his spot.

Rolling her eyes, she placed her hand on her hips. “I suppose I must greet them by myself seeing as you make no effort. They are far more important than sitting here while you take forever to paint me. I mean, it's not like I don't have any portraits already, I have so many of them.”

“That’s because you are a beautiful subject, albeit a difficult one,” Jack sighed, putting down his painting palette. “I will greet our guests in a while.”

Within seconds, his sister had flown from the room on her endeavour to discover who was visiting them in the middle of the afternoon. Jack continued to clear away his paints, for he trusted no other with his equipment.

He had hoped that whoever their visitors were, Alexandra would entertain them. She did it so well, and if she was kept busy, he could have a peaceful moment before the evening meal. Alas, his sister sashayed back into the parlor room, this time with their guests in tow. As always, she was determined to engage him in everything, including the welcoming of their unexpected visitors.

Two women followed her in, one that limped a little as she walked, and another who helped her. Jack stopped his task of clearing away, a concerned look on his face as he studied the women. The one limping caught Jack’s eye immediately, and he studied her features. He was quickly struck by her beauty. Strands of long auburn hair framed her beautiful facial features. Her pert, small nose was quite red, obviously from her experience, as were her rosy cheeks. Would it even be possible to capture such beauty on a canvas? It wasn’t a beauty as with his sister, it was a mesmerising charm that pulled him in.  As the auburn-haired woman looked back at him, he was captured by her piercing blue eyes. He hardly even noticed the second woman with her, who was helping her to stand.

“And this is my brother, Lord Jonathan Edwards, The Viscount of Montmorland, of which our father is the Earl,” Alexandra explained, as she held up her arm to introduce him. “Forgive his messy attire as he has been dabbling with his paints. Oh, dear me, where are my manners? Come and take a seat Miss Amelia. We’ll get your ankle looked at.”

Once the guests were seated, Jack noticed himself still staring at the young woman and quickly turned away so as not to appear rude. His eyes landed by her side and he noted that she had with her a large leather folder that was resting on the floor.

“Jack, this is Miss Amelia Wood and her maid Florence,” Alexandra introduced them. Her eyes twinkled with the excitement of receiving unexpected guests, and better still, ladies at that, for it had been a while since they had received guests. “They have had a most unfortunate experience, I’m afraid. As you can see Miss Amelia is in pain with an injury. I’ll sent for our housekeeper to attend to her.”

As she left the room, rain could be heard pattering outside, on the glass windows. It would seem that their guests might have to stay the night.

Not wanting to continue their awkward silence, Jack began the conversation. “I see you are a painter?” Jack asked, shifting his eyes back to Amelia’s leather portfolio. “Or an art collector?” he continued. It was the type of large folder that many artists used for carrying their artwork, so he knew what it was instantly.

“Oh, you mean this?” Amelia questioned as she held up the leather folder. “It holds my best paintings. Ones that I have been exhibiting. I was rather loathed to leave it behind as I sensed it was going to start raining.”

“And it would appear you were correct to do so. I don’t know how long the rain will continue. And the light is no longer useful for continuing my painting,” Jack said as he cleaned his hands and put away his brushes.

Alexandra returned with a maid in tow who held a tray of tea and biscuits, while she held a blanket for her injured guest. “Brother, make yourself useful and kindle the fire, won’t you?”

“Last I checked, I was the eldest. Yet here you are giving me orders,” Jack said playfully, but he still did as he was asked. Both siblings chuckled as they tended to their guests.

“That would be very welcome,” Miss Amelia stated as she took a blanket and then her cup of warm tea. “Thank you, Lady Alexandra and Lord Johnathan for your hospitality.”

Miss Amelia and her maid drank their tea with much relief. Florence continued to fuss over her, being concerned for her well-being. “I have arranged to send word to your parents, Miss Amelia. For I recognized one of the grooms when we got out of the carriage. We were supposed to arrive home this afternoon. If you don’t, they will worry.”

“How far away is your carriage?” Jack asked as he stood by the tall, stone fireplace.

“It’s on the main road, but not too far. It was our driver, Mr. Wadley, who organized our rescue. He offered to come to Beconhill Manor for help,” Amelia explained. “We are grateful for our rescue. Thank you again for your kindness.”

“We could not turn a blind eye to those in need. And if I did, my sister would nag me to no end,” Jack said, which earned him a cold glare from Alexandra. “Oh brother, do behave.”

“I am. You are most welcome to stay overnight and rest. If you need anything, let the servants know,” Jack stated as he picked up a biscuit for himself.

“That is most kind, but it is only a slight twist. I’m sure it will be fine in an hour or so,” Miss Amelia said shyly.  “In fact, it feels better already so perhaps I only needed a small rest after all.”

A knock on the door brought Nancy, the housekeeper, into the parlor room. Following her was a maid who held a jug of warm water and some other medical supplies.

“Ah, here’s Nancy, to see to your injury?” Alexandra said.

“I will see what I can do,” Nancy said to Amelia with a friendly smile. “Perhaps Lord Johnathan can go speak with the carriage driver and see how the repairs are going. The rain has let up now, so the broken carriage should have been dragged to the house by now,” she suggested.

Jack looked at the housekeeper and then to his sister before it dawned on him that Nancy was hinting that he leave the room so Miss Amelia’s ankle could be tended too. He knew all too well that societal norms dictate it unfitting to see a lady's ankle if he was not a relative or the physician.

“A good idea, Nancy. I will leave you ladies to care for our guest,” he said, smiling back at Amelia, for he so enjoyed her delightful beauty.

* * *

Half an hour later, Amelia was feeling much better. The nursing ministrations of the housekeeper seemed to have done the trick. Although the adventure had left her feeling a little drowsy, she closed her eyes to relax in the pleasant surroundings.

After a short while, the door opened, and Lord Johnathan entered. She watched him through partially closed eyelids and wondered why she felt an unexpected flutter in her stomach. When she had first arrived at the manor she was in so much pain and feeling nervous about her situation, that she had not had time to appreciate the handsome viscount. Now that she had time to rest, she was able to fully take in his handsome appearance. She could not stop herself from staring and tried her best to remain still so as to not alert him. It was a reaction she wasn't familiar with. Even when she attended social gatherings with her parents, most men she had met did not catch her eye the way Lord Johnathan did. He was handsome with dark well- kept hair, a tall frame, and an athletic build. She wondered what color his eyes were. Though she couldn’t help but notice his confidence and an air of mischief that she found intriguing. It surprised her somewhat that he made her feel so dizzy. I hope my face is not flushed and giving away my thoughts.

“I see you look much better after your rest, Miss Amelia,” he stated rather than asked. Amelia mentally kicked herself, not realising that she had opened her eyes wide enough to be noticed by his lordship.

“Very much so, thanks to Nancy and Lady Alexandra,” Amelia replied nervously as she straightened up. Even though she was welcomed to rest on the couch while her room and a bath were being prepared. She did not wish to stay in a slouching position, which was not at all becoming of her. “Your hospitality is very generous.”

“May I suggest that you join us for dinner? Or would you prefer to take your bath now” Lord Johnathan suggested. “I have bad news with regards to the repair of the hired coach, I’m afraid. It is not a simple case of a broken wheel, there is more damage to the coach axle. I've sent a messenger to the nearest blacksmith to come and attend the repairs as soon as they can. I could send word to the physician to come as soon as he can in the morning, if you wish? I don’t think either one will make today. Whilst it’s still only the afternoon, the rain will hinder them. It would be best if everyone travels in the morning.” It was then that Amelia had noticed that the rain had stopped, though there were still sounds of thunder in the distance.

“Oh, dear me. Thank goodness I brought my artwork with me,” Amelia said. “Your invitation to dine is very kind, thank you again. I will bathe later.”

“Not at all. Please, let me help you walk to the dining room as dinner is served,” he invited. He extended his hand to help her stand from the couch. Amelia blushed as his warm, strong hand gently touched hers. As they made their way to the dining room, Lord Johnathan made a joke that it would be easier to carry Amelia to the dining hall, which caused her face to flush at his teasing.

A steward had already invited Florence to go and eat with the servants, and she had followed him to the area. Amelia hadn’t realized how hungry she was as the smells of the delicious food caused a rumble in her stomach. In the center of the table were laid out roasted chicken, beef, potatoes, and an assortment of vegetables, quail eggs, puddings, and drinks.

Lord Johnathan helped her to her seat before taking his own. “I hope you rested well Miss Amelia. Please enjoy dinner,” Lady Alexandra stated, taking her own seat by Lord Johnathan who was at the head of the table. Everyone began placing portions of food on to their plates. “Did you say that you have been to visit an exhibition?” Lady Alexandra asked.

Amelia nodded, between forkfuls of tender beef. “I was not visiting; I was exhibiting my work.”

“Oh, my word! And how well were you received?” Alexandra asked between bites.

“I gained a few commissions and constructive critiques, so I would say it was a successful first exhibition,” Amelia smiled with pride.

“And were the gentlemen at the exhibition not a little hostile towards your works?” Lady Alexandra asked. “I am aware that those trained at the Royal Academia would not take too kindly to an outsider displaying art alongside theirs, let alone a woman. Snobbish people.”

“I hardly think we should be asking such personal questions, Alexandra,” Lord Johnathan intervened.

“No, no, it’s fine,” Amelia said. “Lady Alexandra does well to ask such questions. It is indeed a battle for any woman to gain recognition in a world that believes that only a handful of men deserve prestige. Though I must admit, it only serves to make me all the more determined to get my work out there. Thanks to a famous male artist, whom my father knows well, I not only display my art at dinner parties, but I also have them at museums. One day I hope to be displayed at the royal family’s various homes.”

“Oh, you are delightful, Miss Amelia,” Alexandra giggled. “And so independent. I only wish I had the talent to paint so I could join you. I would love to see some of your work later, if you don’t mind. Alas, I can sing and dance, but not paint. My brother is the one with that talent.”

“Do you showcase your artwork, Lord Johnathan?” Amelia asked as she continued to pick at the food on her plate.

“It hangs all around our home,” Lady Alexandra sang out. “He is not as brave as you, Miss Amelia. Maybe you can encourage him to showcase his work too. In my opinion, he is very talented.”

“My sister exaggerates,” Lord Johnathan said, smiling over at Amelia. “My artistic talents are fair, but I am no serious artist.”

“Perhaps you could let me be the judge of that, My Lord. I would love to see your work,” Amelia said.

“Yes, yes, you must show Miss Amelia around the house so she can judge for herself. Unless you wish to wait until the morning, so you won’t be on your bad ankle for long,” Lady Alexandra encouraged. “Although, I see them every day, so you must forgive me if I don’t join you. But I am certain that you will be impressed.”

“I would love to see them after dinner. My ankle truly is not a bad injury and I am keen to see your work, Lord Johnathan,” Amelia expressed her interest.

The conversation moved on as they finished dinner. Amelia was starting to feel quite pleased that their coach had befallen an accident. It had meant that they got to meet the charming Lady Alexandra and her very handsome brother, Lord Johnathan.

Chapter 3

“M’lady, you are requested to join m'Lord in the drawing room,” one of the housemaids informed her mistress in the garden room. Sophia Wood, Baroness of Beconbrook, had been busying herself with watering some plants that were now wilting. She gained much pleasure from her plants, finding the harsh world around her often difficult to deal with. It had pleased her that her daughter loved to paint nature, and she found her paintings soothing to the soul.

“Very well, Mildred, thank you,” Sophia replied. Although she had finished her current task, she would not delay the appointment too much as her husband was a stickler for timekeeping.

Within fifteen minutes, Sophia was soon bustling through the house to see her husband. For a fleeting moment, she wondered how her daughter was enjoying the art exhibition that she was showcasing in. She was a bit concerned that they had not received a letter with updates from Amelia. She had planned to be in Bath for three days and should have been home that very night. She wondered if her husband had received word on their daughter’s whereabouts, and that might be the reason for him wishing to speak with her. As she opened the door, she could see her husband sitting at his writing desk as he looked through some papers.

“You asked to see me, Oscar?” she questioned, taking her seat on the couch by a low table. She could see that he had gone to the trouble of making sure a tea tray was delivered and set up for her.

“Your tea is most likely cold by now, dear,” he said, hinting at his slight annoyance of her delay.

“I was in my garden room, tending to my plants,” she replied in a nonchalant tone.

“Next time, I will ask the messenger to stress my urgency, shall I?” Oscar huffed. He left his desk and went to sit in his usual leather chair that was positioned by the hearth of the fire.

“You fret too much, Oscar. I did not take that long to arrive,” Sophia replied tight-lipped, though she showed no malice, for she was used to his exacting ways. “Would you like to get on with the matter at hand, my dear?”

“Yes, I will,” he replied sternly. “The time has come for our daughter to get serious about her life. Now, I have been patient with allowing her to spend all her time indulging in her hobby. I’ve even pulled strings to get her to have prime spots to exhibit her drawings at. I thought this would appease her enough. But it’s time she gave up on this hobby. She needs to start thinking of her family responsibilities as the heir to the barony since she is my only child. We’ve struggled with the finances long enough and it’s time for us to look for a wealthy suitor," he complained to his wife. "Given this responsibility, I need to make sure she will be able to take care of the barony, not waste time on useless things like art.”

“This is rather sudden, Oscar. You know how much she enjoys showing off her artwork," Sophia replied, taking a china cup and saucer in her hand to drink the cooled tea. "The fact of the matter is that our daughter is very talented in this area.”

“And so she should be, she spends enough time on it. But the fact remains that many other women of good stock are also talented at painting.  Yet they don't show such errant behaviour. Why does she feel the need for all the attention? What is she trying to prove?” he grunted.

“Come, come, dear, what harm does it do?” Sophia questioned. “Maybe that is something you should ask her when she returns home. You both never seem to listen to each other. Always trying to get the last word in. My daughter is likened to her father, a force of nature that listens to no reasoning. Would you rather her be known for being a loose woman like so many young women her age in the ton? Their deeds printed in the scandal sheets, never to be forgotten.”

“Then I task you with reigning her in. She is no longer a child,” Oscar pushed. “I think her art is a distraction. I have long since objected to her traveling the country to show off her artwork. Even if she had been born a son, I would not have approved of art being a viable pursuit in life. She wishes to challenge the institution of art which changes as the wind blows. Many send their sons to study art at the Royal Academy because they are useless in everything else. My daughter will not be a useless person.”

Sophia looked at her husband in confusion. She did not understand why her husband was so against their daughter indulging in her hobby. She was sure if given the chance, that Amelia would be able to balance out her duties and hobbies. She needed to know what this sudden burst of anger was coming from.

“You are being unreasonable. It would seem that your goals for our daughter stem from something else. What is it that you are not telling me Oscar?” Sophia questioned her husband.

He looked at the fire in the hearth for a few moments before sighing. “Our finances are low. We may hold a title and a seat in parliament, but that does not increase our funding. The business ventures we had are drying up thanks to the war and taxes. If we wish to survive, for our family name and title to survive, then she needs to match with a financially successful man. She cannot attract the attention of a viable suitor if she is actively competing with this frivolous hobby.”

“What if she does not wish to marry at this time? What if she decides that she wants to make a living from her artwork or a different occupation? It is not unheard of for a baron’s daughter to work respectable jobs,” Sophia pondered as she sipped her tea.

“Amelia does not make a living," Oscar professed. "She earns a pittance from this absurd recreational pursuit of hers. It is not good enough. She needs something that is more tangible.”

“It is not a passing hobby to her, Oscar," Sophia argued, though she knew it was pointless protesting, but she would try anyway. After all, Amelia wasn't there to do it. "You are well aware that she looks upon her artwork with a profound seriousness.”

“Well, in my opinion, instead of trying to get an occupation, she needs to focus on marrying a man who will help her maintain the barony. For this reason, I do not want her taking up any kind of position whatsoever," he barked. Oscar was determined to tame his daughter into behaving as a woman of her station should. "I insist that you tell her that she must forget about all this nonsense. The time has come for her to begin readying herself for marriage. She is twenty years of age and still has not pursued a match during the Season.”

“Marriage?” Sophia deliberated, almost choking on her tea at the very thought. “I don’t suppose that you have approached Amelia over this. I imagine that she will have plenty to say on the matter.”

“It is not for my daughter, or my wife, to determine such things. She cannot remain under this roof for the rest of her life, wasting her life with a paintbrush in hand. Amelia must go out into the world with some decorum and learn that a husband is the only way forward for her.”

“I know that finances have been difficult, dear, but is it not a little vulgar to use our daughter as a source of our income?” Sophia suggested. She was now considering her husband's words with a little more seriousness. Sophia knew her daughter well, and Amelia would be very unhappy at such sudden changes in her life. She liked her independence and marriage had not been in her plans when last she spoke with her. Not that Amelia would not marry one day, but it had seemed that she was not ready for that commitment yet.

“You must realize something very important here, Sophia," Oscar raised his voice, his face turning crimson at what he was about to say. "When the Edward family robbed us of crucial land that was ours, it sent us to be constantly spiraling on the edge of bankruptcy. And well you know of this. Our daughter is an adult, and as such, she is bound to this family and its survival. I will match her with a respected family of reasonable wealth.”

Oscar strode across the floor with even more rigor in his step. The reminder of the perceived injustices that had been meted out by the rival family only ever served to vex him even more.

Sophia was taken aback by her husband’s declaration. She knew him to be a man, who, once he had made up his mind there would be no changing it. Behind her, she could sense her husband parading around, but she remained still and quiet. It would not do her daughter any good if she antagonized the situation further.

“There is talk of Lord Douglas Latstone, the Baron of Churchmere. He is looking for a wife. It is my opinion that he would be a good suitor for our daughter,” Oscar proclaimed. At that announcement he stopped his pacing and went to stand in front of his wife.

"You can tell her, when she decides to return home, that it is my intention to find her a suitor. And that is with or without your acceptance," he announced, unflinching.

Again, there was silence in the room as Oscar allowed his wife to take in this information. He loved his wife very much, but there came a time when the man of the house had to establish order, and that time was now.

“May I ask a question?” Sophia finally dared to speak, her voice sounding empty in the charged atmosphere.

“If you must, but be warned, my decision is final. That is assuming the Baron is agreeable.”

“Don’t you think him a little old for Amelia?” She put it to him in the hope that he might change his mind. “She is only twenty and he is at least ten years her senior, and not only that, our daughter is also very young at heart.”

“That is why he is so perfect for her,” Oscar reproached. “A man in his position will be grateful for a younger wife. He will make sure that she matures and stops running around so recklessly.”

“What if she is miserable?” Sophia dared to ask.

“That accounts for nothing,” Oscar barked. “We must all surrender to what is better for the family that we are born into. The sooner Amelia accepts that she is duty-bound, then the sooner our family finances will be on a more stable footing. I have kept this household going with my shares in business dealings, but my mind is not as young as it was. The sale of her artwork can achieve nothing. Besides, do you not desire for your daughter to settle down and produce grandchildren?”

Sophia smiled to herself. Her husband knew her weaknesses and having children running around the big empty house was one of them. It was true that she longed for a grandchild, but did she want that at the cost of her daughter’s happiness?

Chapter 4

“You put on a fine meal, I thank you,” Amelia said to Lady Alexandra. Although she knew her ladyship would have nothing to do with the cooking, she was aware that the serving staff would hear her remark and pass it on. “It has been a long, cold day, and a warm meal is very welcome.

“Would you like me to send word to your parents about your delay?” Lord Johnathan asked, wanting to help this fine lady as much as he could.

“Florence is sending word by the grooms. Her father is our groom, and she knows most stable hands in the area.”

“It sounds a little unconventional, but if you are confident that will work, I shall not interfere,” he answered, though he was well aware that servants of different estates were often related or friends.

“We have a French cook, would you believe?” Lady Alexandra declared, returning to the previous table conversation. “He is new to our kitchen. Mama found him on one of her trips abroad and talked him into joining us.”

“Well, he has an eye for detail and a good palette for taste,” Amelia said as if she was praising a painting.

“Do you have a good cook on hand, Miss Amelia?” Lady Alexandra asked.

“We have a cook during the week. At weekends, my mother and I often get together to conspire in the kitchen. We usually manage to create something worth eating. Otherwise, the cook makes something in advance to see us through,” Amelia explained with a smile, for she enjoyed the challenge of cooking.

“Goodness, you cook too?” Alexandra remarked, quite shocked at the very idea.

“It is one of many tasks around the household. I like to think of myself as independent, much to my mother’s alarm,” Amelia replied with no shame. “I suppose you could say that’s how I gained the confidence to show my artwork in public. I have no problem about changing the sheets on my bed or hanging the washing out in the fresh air if needed.”

“You are so very clever, Miss Amelia, but don’t you have servants for such things?" Lady Alexandra asked with confusion, for she was not as understanding about the world as her guest. “I must ask Mama if I can learn to cook too.”

“We have two servants but when I see how busy they are, and how tired they get, I like to help,” Amelia said, knowing that not everyone agreed with her unique ways, but she had never been one for convention.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, dear sister,” Lord Johnathan said, smiling at the thought of letting Alexandra loose in any kitchen. “Let me show you around the manor, Miss Amelia, and my sister can entertain herself by reading a book on cooking skills perhaps.”

“What a good idea,” Alexandra called out with a wide-eyed stare. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t join you. You will find me in the library for a short while.”

Lady Alexandra was the first to leave the table, leaving behind an amused brother, and a bemused guest.

“I sincerely hope my sister does not start cooking our meals. It would be dreadful,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. Getting up from his chair, he walked around to the back of Amelia’s chair and helped her up. “Shall we begin the tour?”

Amelia put down her table napkin and stood up to follow Lord Johnathan from the dining room.

“Are you sure you can manage with your injury?” Jack asked. “Please, take my arm if you wish,” he suggested, pleased with himself to have found an excuse to be so close to his charming visitor.  “Or we can put the tour off until tomorrow as the light is beginning to fade?”

“I am keen to see your artwork, Lord Johnathan, but I do believe your housekeeper might have cured me,” she said, putting a little weight on her foot. “It wasn’t much of a strain so I will not require any further assistance with it, thank you.”

A little disappointed that she had not accepted his arm, Jack led the way. They arrived in a corridor that continued onwards and led into a grand hall, a steward chaperoned the couple from behind, carrying an oil lamp to help illuminate any shadows.

“Most of the ancestral portraits hang in this room. I have painted a family portrait that includes our parents and my sister, but I've hidden it away in a corner,” Jack explained.

"I would still like to view it, if I may?" Amelia asked, enjoying every moment of the tour with Lord Johnathan.

He looked somewhat surprised but, nonetheless, took her into the corner where his artwork hung.

“It is most splendid," she said to him as he moved to stand by her side to view it with her. "You most certainly have an eye for detail, your Lordship.”

A strange heat passed from her stomach and rushed up to her throat, causing her cheeks to flush at his closeness. She could smell the aroma of soap and mint as their bodies almost touched. A gasp of delight was about to escape her mouth, but she managed to take in a deep breath and restrain herself. Making no effort to move away from their closeness, Amelia was very much enjoying the company of this handsome, dark haired Lord.

She was grateful that the tour continued onwards, so she could spend even more time in his company. Lord Johnathan took long strides with his tall stature as he showed his guest around the relevant downstairs rooms. Amelia often fell behind and so he slowed his pace as he entered his study. Once in there, Amelia imagined him at work at the large mahogany desk. She fancied him to be a clever man with such a strong jawline and deep intellectual eyes. They moved through a drawing-room, and then a family parlour, finally arriving at a large gallery room.

“I would like to see your paintings too, Miss Amelia," Lord Johnathan said as they walked around the gallery. "Perhaps you could take on a commission so that we may hang a frame by a female artist. It would be a talking piece among our visitors.”

“I would be delighted,” Amelia said, showing much enthusiasm. To showcase a painting in an Earl's home would be most honourable.

“It would be good to add a female artist to our collection,” Lord Johnathan explained to her. “What subject do you enjoy painting?”

“I love to do nature and landscapes,” Amelia replied.

Lord Johnathan started to make his way out of the gallery, and they arrived back in the main reception hallway. Again, there were more paintings on display. Amelia realized that she had failed to notice them when she had arrived earlier in the day. Was it only a few hours ago that I first met you? she pondered. I hope I get to know more about you, Lord Johnathan of Beconhill Manor.

“A landscape would hang well in the dining room, for all to admire as they enjoy a feast,” he suggested. “Many of the family portraits I have shown you in the grand hall, were, in fact, painted by other family members.”

“Goodness, it seems that painting runs in the family bloodline,” Amelia answered, looking up to see all the framed paintings. “Your home is filled with beauty from all the various artists showing their skills.”

“I have a weakness for art. Whenever I go away on a trip, I tend to bring home a new frame to hang. It’s a wonder you can still see the walls in some of the rooms,” Lord Johnathan admitted as he watched Amelia looking purposefully at the many hanging frames.

Amelia turned to look at him and they caught one another’s eyes. They both found themselves locked in a short but pleasing stare. Amelia turned away to glance at another painting, though it pained her to do so. Staring into Lord Johnathan’s eyes had sent tremors along her skin, and it tingled with delight. But as a respectable woman, it was only right that she should turn away.

* * *

Jack was having a wonderful time in the company of their charming visitor. Miss Amelia had walked into his life and brightened it like a shining star. Never before had he felt this way in the company of a woman.

“For myself, it is a hobby, and I do not consider myself talented in the way of a true artist. I do believe that the skill of painting fell short with my sister. Though she is a most talented singer and prefers to play music rather than picking up a paintbrush. Alexandra thinks it all rather messy and she can be quite clumsy in her attempts.”

“Each to their own,” Amelia said as a lump stuck in her throat at her nervousness of Jack’s company. “On my part, I do not get on with musical instruments very well. It is a good thing that we are not all artists, and on the contrary, from what I have seen you are a very talented artist.”

“It is good of you to flatter me with your approval, Miss Amelia, but I know my limitations,” he said respectfully. “Hmm...I can see that it is getting quite dark outside. I wonder if you and your maid might prefer to stay the night. You can then rest before continuing with your journey?”

Amelia was a little taken aback by the sudden change of topic, but the suggestion did make sense.

“That is most generous of you," Amelia said inclining her head in agreement. "That is, assuming the Earl of Montmorland would approve of allowing strangers into his home. If that is the case, then I will accept your kindness with much appreciation.”

“My parents are abroad, but they would have it no other way. You are a weary traveller in need, and we have rooms aplenty,” Jack said, turning to the steward who had followed them around on their tour. “Peter, could you go and make sure Miss Amelia’s maid is aware that they are to stay the night,” he instructed.

“Come, let's go find Alexandra, and give her the news,” Jack said, walking off with Amelia following close behind. They dallied along the way as Amelia found hidden artwork hanging along the corridors. Finally, they arrived at a small parlor where they found Alexandra.

“Oh, there you are, at last,” Alexandra announced as they entered the room.

Amelia was hit by the sudden warmth in the room from a big fire burning in the hearth. She felt that the hectic day was finally catching up with her as exhaustion almost overcame her.

“Your maid has gone to unpack your nightclothes,” Alexandra explained. “I am so glad that you are to stay. It would have been preposterous to have continued your journey in the dark. You could have lost another wheel in the process.”

“You look rather tired, Miss Amelia,” Lord Johnathan remarked as he noted the changes in her. “Let me get someone to show you to your room, and we can talk some more tomorrow before you leave.”

A very tired Amelia finally arrived in her room and was quite pleased to see Florence in there. She immediately collapsed upon a chair by the bed, and Florence stopped her task of unpacking.

“Are you unwell, Miss Amelia?” Florence asked. “You will have put a mighty strain on your ankle as you toured the big house.”

“Yes, it does ache a little, but I am quite well Florence,” Amelia replied, throwing off her shoes. “I would not have missed that tour for anything. Lord Johnathan is a most handsome and charming gentleman; do you not agree?”

Florence said nothing but gave her mistress a knowing smile as she helped her to undress for the bath that had been waiting.

“Your water will be cold now,” Florence remarked as Amelia got into the metal tub.

“No, it’s fine. Anyway, I must tell you about the tour,” Amelia replied with giddiness in her tone.

It was not uncommon for Amelia to share secrets with her maid. They continued to chat for at least another hour before Florence went up the stairs to the attic chambers where the servants were quartered. She had listened to the details of her mistress’s tour and had enjoyed the delight in Miss Amelia’s voice every time she mentioned Lord Jack’s name.

Amelia hoped that she would dream of Lord Johnathan all night long. Before she drifted off, she wondered why she had never met him before, as they were neighbours. She would resolve that puzzle tomorrow and ask her father about the Edwards family. But from what she had seen so far, she thought them very agreeable.

***That’s all for now… My new Novel will be published on Amazon soon!

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