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this novel should not be recreated in any form without prior consent from Jane Lark
Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 ,19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33,34,35,36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55
“Emma! Emma, dear! His Grace wishes to speak to you in the library!” Emerald stood as her aunt’s voice echoed along the hall outside the nursery and the children fell silent, prepared to be seen but not heard.
She had thought the Duke was out. It was unusual for him to be home at this hour. It was unusual for any of them to be here, there was always someone she was supposed to call on. She had used the rare opportunity of no afternoon engagements to hide in the nursery.
Her heart skipped as she walked across the room to open the door. Perhaps it was a letter from Richard…
She glanced back at the children and smiled before she opened the door, they were still gathered about their wooden arc and lead soldiers. She opened the door as her aunt’s footsteps neared. “Aunt.”
“I wish you would not do that,” her aunt grumbled,
“I beg your pardon?”
“You have creased your dress sitting on the floor with the children. You are not an infant, Emma. It is indecent the way you carry on here.”
Indecent… To entertain and play with children, to love them. Her father had never thought so.
“Hurry girl, His Grace wishes to speak with you immediately.”
“Do we have callers?” She closed the door behind her, leaving the children to enjoy their game out of sight.
“No, no, it is just His Grace who wishes to see you.” Her aunt smiled.
Emerald followed her aunt through the halls and down stairs to the ground floor, her heart beating in the resigned steady pace of acceptance.
“He is in the library,” her aunt said in the large square hall as she stopped in the middle of the black and white checkered tiles. The library door was open and a footman stood sentry, the soles of Emerald’s house slippers whispered on the cold marble as she walked on alone.
“Miss Martin,” the footman announced her as she entered the room.
“Cousin,” Emerald began, dropping into a deep curtsey, “Aunt Millicent said you wish to speak to me.”
He had been sitting behind the ebony desk at the far end of the room with his elbows resting on the red leather inlay and his fingers steepled.
He rose immediately. “I do, Emma.” He walked around the desk as she lifted from her curtsey. “I have a proposal for you, my dear.” The Duke’s blue eyes looked directly into hers.
The library door clicked shut behind her as he half-turned towards the desk and picked up a small box. When he turned back his free hand clasped her fingers, which had hung loosely at her side. “Emma. I find that I like you very much.”
Her lips parted, although she had no answer.
“You are pretty, and biddable, and the children like you and now you are free from your full mourning period I see no need to wait longer.”
Wait for what?
“But I shall do this correctly. You deserve that.” He dropped to one knee.
Emerald’s heart pounded harder.
“Will you marry me. It is what your parents wish and I believe we shall make a good match.”
Her fingers pressed against her chest and she knew she was blushing hotly.
He let go of her hand and opened the small box, a diamond and sapphire ring shone within it. “Will you accept?”
Richard had promised to ask her to marry him in the dark day cabin, the night her mother had died, and he had vowed himself to her the night she had gone to his bed. On both occasions emotion had burned in his eyes. But behind that emotion there had been deceit and now he had gone.
What would her father tell her do. This was the safe path, the right one for a woman. Her best hope. Her birth was beneath the Duke’s, and yet she assumed her father had made some financial agreement to enable this.
“My knee is hurting, my dear.”
He was a kind, patient and understanding man.
“Yes.” It came out as a whisper. What did it matter? There was nothing else for her to do. She said it more forcefully. “Yes.” Richard had gone. No one else was here. This was her option.
He stood, smiling his benevolent smile, and then he took the ring from the box and left the box on his desk, and his fingers gripped hers, bare skin against bare skin, her fingers trembled as the ring slipped into place. Then he leant forward and kissed her, closed lips against closed lips.
Her heart pounded as her head filled with memories of Richard’s kisses, of the heat in his embraces, of the determination in his love making. Her legs weakened, with a sense of hollow reeds, but she would not faint, she was no delicate English rose, she was an Indian hot house flower.
“Thank you, Emma.” The Duke let go of her hand. “You do me a great honour. I shall announce our betrothal in the papers and we shall hold a celebration here.”
He smiled, slightly, a that-is-done smile and let her hand go. If Richard had dismissed her like that she would be furious with him, now she hardly cared.
What did it matter? She bobbed a curtsey. “Your Grace.”
“Emma. You may tell the children if you wish. They will be pleased, I think.” He nodded at her, then turned away and walked back about the desk.
The children would be happy and she would be happy for them–if not for herself.
“Have you something to say , Emma?”
“No.” She bobbed another curtsey and turned away, then left the room, walking with the sense of a statue; her legs felt as heavy as marble as well as hollow. She opened the door herself, but as soon as she had turned the handle it was pulled out of her hand by the footman on the far side.
Her aunt was still in the hall. She smiled broadly. “You are very honoured, Emma. You shall be a duchess, and I the aunt of a duchess.” It sounded as though she congratulated herself not Emerald. “You will need more dresses, and there are invitations to be written, and we must consider menus…”
Emerald did not answer.
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama
The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last episode in the Marlow Intrigues series
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2
The Passionate Love of a Rake #3
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5
The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel #5.5
The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75 now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks)
The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6
The Reckless Love of an Heir #7
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark