Graham Evans, Marquess of Bolingbroke, took a deep breath in and let it out again slowly. His mount, Gypsy, whinnied and tossed her mane, happy for the chance to stretch her legs and enjoy the outdoors. Graham reached down and patted her chestnut neck. She neighed again and started to trot, willing him to give her her head and let her run. It had been a long, hard winter, and Graham knew she was eager to get out of the stables.
A ride through Osterley Park had been just the ticket. He had been spending much of his time indoors in recent weeks. He had been called upon to tend to his father’s responsibilities after a prolonged illness had kept him abed for several weeks. But on this glorious spring day, his friends had set upon him in his study and talked him into taking a ride with them.
Graham smiled at his friends riding beside him. They were a boisterous group of young men, four in all including Graham. As the eldest of the group he had acted as the voice of reason on many occasions.
Graham relished the cool breeze blowing in his face, the last of the winter briskness holding on before succumbing to the warmth of spring. Soon the buds would open on the trees, and spring would be in full swing. He gazed at the sprawling lawns and neat graveled pathways as they trotted along. The expansive park with its towering oaks was a popular place for couples to go courting. Graham loved this place. He had grown up riding and walking here with his family and friends.
“Look at us, handsome as we are! We shall all be snatched up and married by the end of the summer if we are not careful! Mark my words, gentlemen, Osterley is full of scheming young ladies looking for a good match,” James Canon exclaimed. His outburst drew a laugh from the group. James was the most outgoing gentleman in their circle of friends. He ran a hand through his short blonde hair and turned his freckled face to the sky as if to catch all the sunshine he could. Known for being something of a ladies-man, James had also acquired a reputation for being a card-shark and for drinking a little more than was good for him.
“Any woman who chose you for a bridegroom would deserve what she got!” Andrew piped up. Although he would be embarrassed to admit it, he envied James his charisma and easy manners at social gatherings. He was a more bookish sort, and would rather spend his time cataloging plants than practicing the more manly arts such as pugilism or fencing.
“I wouldn’t mind being ‘caught’ by a beautiful young lady this season, no matter what you all say,” Daniel interjected. He was by far the most handsome of the four, but his charm lay in not knowing his beauty. He was not a vain man, which is why he and Graham had been friends for so long.
“You are young, my friend. There is plenty of time to seek a wife after you have finished at Oxford,” Graham chimed in. He treated Daniel like a younger brother, having no siblings of his own. The young man had been at quite a loss when he first arrived at Oxford, and Graham had taken him under his wing.
Daniel nodded and sighed. Graham tried and failed to keep a smile from playing at the corners of his mouth. “I do believe our friend has been struck by Love’s arrow, do not you agree gentlemen?” Graham let out a mischievous laugh. “Who is the lucky lady, Daniel?”
Daniel blushed, “I don’t know,” he said sheepishly, shrugging his shoulders. He was easily embarrassed, making him easy prey for his friends.
“You don’t know?” James steered his mount towards Daniel and rested his hand on his shoulder as he pulled up next to him. “My good man, how can you not know?”
Daniel shrugged again, “I saw her walking out of church a few weeks ago and haven’t been able to get an introduction. She is a goddess, a positive Venus.” Daniel sighed.
James burst out laughing. “You were right, Graham! Struck by Love’s arrow. My condolences, my good man.” He laughed again and raised a flask that was likely filled with brandy and took a long swig. He spurred his horse and caught up to Andrew, who was riding a few paces ahead.
“Take it easy, James! You’ve been drinking steadily all morning,” Graham chided. James saluted him and placed the capped flask in his jacket pocket, patting it on the outside as if to promise he would not touch another drop for the duration for their ride. Graham smiled and took back the place at Daniel’s side that James had so forcefully pushed him out of. “Don’t worry, Daniel. I’ll help you find out who this Venus is,” he promised.
Daniel nodded and thanked him. They trotted over a rise, their voices and laughter echoing across the bright green grass of the park. James was singing a popular tune at the top of his lungs, causing all sorts of ruckus.
A flash of blue caught Graham’s eye from across the lawns, not a hundred yards away. He heard a trill of laughter as a group of three strollers came out from behind the trees and into the sunshine. First, a couple in their mid-fifties appeared. The woman walked beside her husband with her hand cradled in the crook of his arm. Trailing behind them was a young woman dressed in soft blue, her face buried in a book. Something about the way she moved made him give her more than a passing glance. After a few moments, she lowered her book, placed a slender finger between the pages to save her spot, and quickened her pace to catch up with her companions. She took the gentleman’s free arm and entered into their conversation, smiling as she went.
She must have heard James’ obnoxious tune and looked up. Blonde curls framed her fair face, and for a moment, her eyes met Grahams’. Her gaze seemed to penetrate his soul. It was as if the world stopped spinning, frozen in time as they looked into each other’s eyes.
The moment ended. She lowered her eyes and kept walking. Graham reined in Gypsy forcefully, something he had never done. He spurred her sides to get her to turn around, so he could follow this young lady who had cast a spell over him. He must meet her before she disappeared among the trees once more. Gypsy reared her front hooves slightly at the rough treatment and pawed the ground in protest.
“Come on, Gypsy!” he whispered harshly and pulled the reins hard to the left. Gypsy reared up in earnest, squealed, and pawed the air with her front hooves. Graham fell backward. He put his right arm our to try and catch himself, but as he hit the ground, he heard a loud ‘crack’ as the bone broke. A searing pain shot through his forearm, but he had no time to wallow in pain. As he hit the ground, Gypsy took off at full gallop. His world sped by as Gypsy raced across the lawn. His foot was caught in the stirrup and try as he might, he could not get it loose. He held his broken arm as best he could and called out to Gypsy as she dragged him across the park.
I’m going to die. The realization knocked the wind out of him. All because he had let his head be turned by a woman. For an eternity he was dragged across the grass, trying to stay conscious so that he might have a chance to free his foot from the stirrup.
Finally, Gypsy was caught and brought back under control. By the time Graham was freed, he lay unconscious.
Lady Arabella Weaver turned her head sharply at the sound of a horse’s scream. She watched as it reared and pawed the air, throwing its rider off its back. Her hands flew to cover her mouth as the horse dragged its’ rider across the lawns.
Arabella sprung into action. Without thinking, she clutched her skirts and ran towards the unfortunate gentleman and his mount. The gentleman’s friends gave chase and caught up to the mare to stop her. Before they could reach her, however, the man’s foot had become untangled, and he lay still on the ground. For a moment Arabella feared the worst, but when she reached him, she saw his chest rising and falling. She sighed in relief and knelt beside him.
She touched his arm gently, “Are you alright, sir? Can you hear me?” she asked.
He stirred, opening one eye at a time. He tried to lift his head, grunted in pain, and let it fall back to the ground.
“Lie still. I can help you. Here.” Arabella used her handkerchief to gently dab a nasty gash that began on the right side of his forehead and ended above his left eye. He watched her, bleary-eyed.
“You’ll be alright,” she tried to comfort him. “That’s likely to scar, though.” She motioned to his head, and another grunt escaped his lips. It was then Arabella noticed he was cradling his arm. She bent and tore her petticoat’s lower hem, creating a long strip about six feet long.
“By God, is he alright?” her uncle exclaimed as he and her aunt walked up. Her aunt stayed back a few feet, as she was known to faint at the sight of blood.
“Help me sit him up, Uncle,” Arabella instructed. He quickly came around to the young man’s head and placed his hands under each shoulder.
“Do you feel able to sit up?” she asked the gentleman. He nodded. Her uncle lifted, and she helped steady him. He shook his head slightly to clear it.
“Thank you,” he said. He sucked in a breath when he moved his arm.
“Here, I’ll make a sling for your arm. Can you move it?” she asked.
“No, I think it’s broken,” he replied.
She nodded and gingerly wrapped the cloth under his forearm, trying to stay clear of the break, and up around his neck. She tied the ends of the fabric around his neck, making sure to not make it too tight. For a split-second, their eyes met, and she realized their foreheads were almost touching. Arabella blushed and backed away.
“There,” she said, her voice shaking ever so slightly. “That should keep it steady until you get home.”
He seemed to be more aware now, which was a good sign. She looked into his eyes once more, noting how the blacks of his eyes had almost swallowed the blue. She had expected as much. Arabella moved around to his back and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m going to check your head, is that acceptable?” she asked.
She placed her fingers on the back of his skull, feeling for fractures. She could feel nothing except a knot forming at the back of his head.
“You’ve likely suffered a concussion. Is there anyone who can help you home?” she asked. Just then his friends arrived, all on foot. One of them had captured his runaway steed, and she was still quite agitated, pawing the ground sidestepping on nervous feet.
“My companions will assist me,” he replied. He tried to stand, and with her uncle’s help, was able to come to his feet. One of his friends came to his side and placed an arm around his middle to steady him. He led him to one of the mounts and helped him into the saddle. His horse would not be fit to ride for some time, she guessed.
One of the gentlemen turned to Arabella and her aunt and uncle and thanked them for their help.
Arabella nodded, “You’re welcome.” she replied. “Please, move slowly on your way. He shows signs of having suffered a head injury.”
“Thank you, we most certainly will,” he replied. He bowed and turned, placing his hat back on his head.
And with that, the gentlemen set off at a leisurely pace, waving goodbye.
Arabella and her aunt and uncle turned and headed in the opposite direction.
“I must say, my dear, it was lucky we were passing when we did. I don’t know how you do it. I’d be a heap on the ground if I had to tend to wounds such as those.” Her aunt shuddered and closed her eyes as if to keep out the memory of the broken man lying on the ground.
“You would have done what was needed if I had not been present.” Arabella laughed. “I do hope he’s well. He’s broken his arm, I do not doubt that. He’ll not be riding for quite some time.”
“Worse luck, that,” her uncle chimed in. “He’s a fine figure of a man. Do not you agree, Arabella?”
She blushed slightly. “Yes, I suppose he is.”
“Mother, it is my arm that is broken, not my legs,” Graham snapped. He had now recovered his faculties to the degree that his mother’s hysterics were beginning to annoy him. When they had arrived at the front door and his parents had been alerted to his condition, his mother had sent out two footmen to carry him to his room. He had refused, and instead Andrew and Daniel had helped to steady him. He intended to keep his last shred of dignity intact. Graham could have kicked himself as he lay there on the ground being cared for by the woman who had distracted him in the first place. He already felt a fool for spooking his horse and allowing himself to be thrown. He had felt the best course of action was to say as little as possible while she performed her ministrations to avoid making an even bigger fool of himself. Thankfully Gypsy had not injured herself, but he would have a lot of work to do to earn her trust back.
Andrew and Daniel helped him up the marble staircase as James and his parents, Hugh and Juliana Evans, trailed behind. James recounted the story of what had happened, embellishing the tale as he went. Graham rolled his eyes but said nothing to correct him, being in too much pain to care. His father’s cane clicked on the marble with every step, reminding Graham of the sickness that had prevented his father from attending to the estate these last months. He again berated himself for his foolishness. How would he manage the estate for his father now? Even though his father had improved in recent weeks, he was still in no condition to take over from Graham.
They finally reached his rooms where Andrew and Daniel deposited him on a lounge chair. He lay back on the cushions, closing his eyes against the throbbing in his head and arm. A footman had been dispatched to retrieve the doctor the moment the group appeared at the front door. Even so, it would be some time before the doctor would arrive.
His mother fluttered around him, uttering all sorts of nonsense about his impending death. He ignored her hysterical chatter.
When the doctor finally arrived, Graham had James escort his parents out of the room. He wanted to spare his mother the distressing sight of his arm, taking great pains to keep it covered. The doctor took the makeshift sling from around his neck and peeled back the cloth that had stuck to the dried blood covering his forearm. Graham sucked in a breath but made no outcry.
After cleaning the superficial wounds, the doctor examined the bone. Graham gritted his teeth at the slightest touch or movement.
“It is indeed broken, but in only one place as far as I can tell,” the doctor announced. “I’ll need to reset it.”
“Do whatever is required, doctor,” Graham said. He was given a strop to put between his teeth to bite down on. Andrew and Daniel helped hold him steady as the doctor got into position. Graham’s muffled screams could be heard through the door as the doctor pulled and prodded the bone back into place. When the ordeal was over, Graham had passed out from the pain. Andrew helped the doctor move him to the bed and remove his tattered shirt. He came around a few minutes later, exhausted and miserable. The doctor made a draught of laudanum for him to drink that would numb the pain and allow him to rest. Graham drank it down in one gulp, scrunched up his face at the bitter taste, and fell back on the pillows. He was asleep within minutes.
Andrew and Daniel silently left the room after gathering their coats.
“How is he, doctor?” Juliana asked, wringing her hands.
“He’s resting now. I’ve reset the bone, and it should heal in about eight weeks. I suggest he stay abed for a few days. He took a hard fall and may feel a bit dizzy if he tries to walk on his own too soon. I suggest procuring a cane for him to get around in. lest he gets dizzy.”
“Of course,” Juliana replied.
“It may not be a bad idea to hire a caretaker to assist him,” the doctor suggested as he put his coat on and prepared to take his leave.
“We’ll do whatever needs to be done to make sure he makes a full recovery. Thank you again for coming so quickly, doctor.” Juliana said as she showed him out.
“Of course, my lady. My lord.” he nodded towards Hugh and Juliana and departed.
Juliana closed the door and returned upstairs to her sons’ room. She took a deep breath before she turned the knob and entered. A lone candle burned on the bedside table. The flame cast dancing shadows across her sons’ face, and as she made her way to his side she could see he was in a fitful sleep. She sat down in a chair that someone, most likely Graham’s valet, had thoughtfully placed there. She watched his chest rise and fall, just as she had done so many times when he was a baby. A tear streamed down her face. Although she rarely let him see her concern and affection for him, today had broken her. She could have lost him today, a mother’s worst fear.
“You’re going to be well,” she whispered, more to reassure herself than to comfort him.
Arabella rushed into the front room of her aunt and uncle’s home, slamming the door behind her.
“What in heavens’ name!” her uncle exclaimed at the loud noise. “What has gotten into you, my dear?”
“I found an ad for a nurse in today’s newspaper! I need to answer it right away.” Arabella went to the writing desk and took out a piece of paper. She untied the strings of her bonnet and reached for the inkwell and quill.
“Who is it for?” her aunt asked.
“It is to care for a member of the Duke’s family. It doesn’t say who, but I assume it’s for the Duke. I hear he has not been well for many months now.” Arabella did not care who the patient was. This was work, and she needed to do her share to help provide for them all. Ever since her parents, Lord and Lady Weaver had passed away, life had been difficult. Her aunt and uncle had graciously taken her in after the accident that had killed her parents shortly after her eighth birthday. They had cared for her as best they could, but her life had not been the pampered one she was accustomed to. Although she was a lady by birth, her father’s debts were so great, no inheritance had been left for her.
As a penniless lady, she had to either stoop to find work or starve. As she was fond of eating, she opted to work. She even enjoyed it. Nursing the sick brought in wages as well as a sense of purpose. Her easy-going nature and compassion made her ideally suited to the job of a nurse, and her patients loved her for it.
“Should you not think about this for a moment, my dear? Hounslee is a grand house and you would need to move there while you nurse the Duke. It is much too far to go back and forth every day,” her aunt objected.
“Aunt Helena, we need the money, do we not? You both have taken such good care of me these last ten years. I want to contribute. I have not had work for six months. I cannot sit by and let this opportunity pass me by.” Arabella turned back to the writing desk and began writing feverishly. She must act quickly before the position was snatched up by someone else.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, my dear. We will miss you,” her aunt went on.
“Oh, Auntie. I’m not leaving forever,” she said, standing to wrap her arms around her. “But you do agree we need the income? And I will come to visit. Just listen to me,” she said, laughing at her confidence. “I haven’t even been hired for the position yet. We will discuss it further when, and if, I receive the position.” Arabella waved off any further objections and sat back down to finish answering the advertisement.
Her aunt nodded and retreated back into the kitchen.
Her uncle Jacob sat and watched her write for a moment, puffing at a pipe contentedly. She was like a daughter to him and his wife as they had been unable to have children of their own. He and Helena had married against her parents’ wishes. He was a member of the lower class, a tailor by trade. Helena was a lady who had fallen in love and married below her station. She had been cut-off by her parents, but her sister Grace had kept in contact, even after her marriage to Lord Charles Weaver. They had visited often at Sutton Manor, the Weaver’s estate. When their niece was orphaned, they hadn’t thought twice about taking her in.
“There,” Arabella said proudly. She blotted the letter before folding it and addressing it to Hounslee. “I’ll just step out and post this.”
Her uncle smiled and nodded. “I hope you get the position, my dear. I can see that it would make you happy, and it may afford you a look into the world you were born into.”
She turned then, looking at him with a look of profound distaste on her lovely features. She came and sat next to him on the couch.
“Why would you say that, Uncle?” she asked.
“I just mean you must miss your old life. Your aunt and I have always tried to provide whatever you needed, but I know my work as a tailor doesn’t come close to affording you the luxuries you were used to. His eyes were downcast, polishing the wooden pipe with his jacket as he did any time he was thinking.
Arabella stayed his hands and made him look at her. “I don’t regret coming here, Uncle. You know I love you and Auntie dearly as if you were my parents. Of course I miss Mama and Papa, but I don’t miss the life I came from. I’m blessed to have had such family as you to care for me all these years. I like being able to care for people. It makes me happy. And it makes me happy to be able to make my own way in the world. I know I’ll never be wealthy doing what I do, but it makes me feel productive. “Don’t ever think that I would trade the life I have with you and Aunt Helena. Now, I must be off before the post office closes.” She gave him his usual peck on the cheek, snatched up her shawl, and was off in a flurry, just as she had come in.
Uncle Jacob shook his head and smiled to himself. He was proud of the woman she had grown into. She had become a kind, compassionate, and independent young woman. A sadness washed over him. Soon she would marry and be taken from him for good. A woman of her beauty and character would not be single for long.
The next day brought good news. The Duchess of Bolingbroke had personally answered her letter, offering her the position. Arabella hurried to dress and prepared to leave for the initial interview at Hounslee Manor. Her aunt and uncle waved from the doorway as she set off with a carpetbag holding two outfits and a few belongings, all she owned in the world. Her aunt’s eyes welled with tears as they hugged one last time.
“Don’t forget your dear aunt and uncle, now,” Uncle Jacob teased.
“You’ll be in our thoughts and prayers, my dear girl,” her aunt said, tears streaming down her face.
Arabella smiled and laughed at their antics, “I’ll only be a few miles away. I will come to visit you whenever I can. You’ll see.” She gave them each a peck on the cheek and set off for the six-mile walk to Hounslee.
Her spirits were high as she walked in the sunshine, surrounded by a cool breeze, to the Hounslee estate. She had never been to the grand house before, but she was optimistic as she listened to the birds chirping merrily in the trees and enjoyed the first buds opening their petals on this fine morning.
She arrived at Hounslee by noon and was shown into the parlor.
“The Duke and Duchess will be in to receive you momentarily,” a footman bowed and left her, closing the door behind him. She looked around the spacious, sun-filled room and sighed. She would like working here.
The door opened a few minutes later. The Duke and Duchess of Bolingbroke walked in, and introductions were made. They sat down near the fire and the Duchess rang for tea.
“Thank you for coming so quickly, Miss Weaver,” she began. Arabella did not correct her in the use of ‘lady’ before her name rather than ‘miss’. It was a title that she rarely used. And she certainly did not want to start the interview off by correcting her employer.
“It was my pleasure, Your Grace.” Arabella bowed her head slightly.
“Where did you receive your training?” was the next question from the Duchess. The Duke seemed content to sit back and listen to the ladies talk. Arabella guessed that it was the Duchess she must impress, rather than the Duke.
“I began working with our local physician two years ago and found that I enjoyed helping people. I nursed Mrs. Smith after she had complications with a difficult birth. I have been taking care of people ever since,” Arabella replied.
Tea arrived, and the Duchess poured, handing Arabella the first cup. It had been ages since she had taken tea from such a fine piece of china. The memory of afternoon tea brought a tear to her eyes. Being in this grand house reminded her so much of the home she’d lost. She quickly pushed the memories aside in favor of the task at hand.
“You seem qualified enough for the position. What we need is someone to help him move around the house. You will also need to help him with writing letters and the various duties he needs to perform to keep the estate running in an orderly fashion. Are you able to do this?”
“Of course, Your Grace. May I ask, what is the Duke’s ailment?” Arabella looked to the Duke and seemed somewhat puzzled, noting that he was not in a wheelchair and had only had the assistance of a cane when he walked into the parlor.
“Oh, no. You are not here to care for the Duke. It is our son, Marquess Graham Evans. Come, we will introduce you to him.” the Duchess explained. They rose, and Arabella followed them from the parlor and into the sitting room across the hall.
Arabella sucked in a breath when they entered the room. It was the man from Osterley Park!
“Are you well, Miss Weaver?” the Duchess asked as they walked over to Graham, who sat in a chair near the window, a book open on his lap. Graham looked up as they neared, and recognition sparked in his eyes.
“You’re the lady from the park,” he said, in a very undignified fashion. He caught himself and closed his mouth lest it hit the floor. “I mean, how do you do?” He smiled warmly and tried to stand.
“Please, don’t get up on my account. I see you have broken your arm after all. I’m sorry about that.” Arabella came forward and curtsied.
“Won’t you sit down?” he offered. She nodded and took the seat next to him.
Juliana and Hugh stood back, somewhat dumbfounded at the easy manner in which the two young people had addressed each other.
“I take it you two have met?” Juliana asked, becoming uneasy at their informal manner.
“Mother, Father, this is the woman I told you about. The one who came to my aid after the accident. She was very kind,” Graham beamed at her.
“I did what a thousand others would have done,” Arabella replied, her hands folded decorously in her lap.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Graham argued. “It is not many people who know what to do when faced with injuries such as I sustained that day. I am in your debt.”
Arabella waved off his praise and turned to the Duke and Duchess once again, “All I can say is, I would be honored to be of any assistance Lord Evans might need.”
Juliana spoke up, thinking to dismiss the girl before any further damage could be done. Their immediate closeness had set her on edge, “I don’t think…”
“Well, I for one would be happy to receive the help,” Graham cut his mother off. “I have a great deal of work piled up from the last week and will need help writing missives and getting around this house.”
It was Juliana’s turn to cut him off. “But my dear, will she be able to wheel you around? You’re not a small man,” She argued, grasping at any straw that would render Arabella unsuitable for the position. She should have asked for an older woman, someone who was married or a spinster.
“I’m stronger than I look,” Arabella smiled to reassure her.
“Well, it seems all is settled,” Graham replied, smiling at her. “You’re hired.”
Juliana mumbled something incoherent at Graham’s pronunciation. She had been having second thoughts as the two chatted. She could tell Graham was attracted to the girl, and she wanted to remove her from the house as quickly as possible before any feelings could develop.
“My dear, should we not continue with the interview? We had barely begun when we came in to introduce you…” Juliana began.
“No mother, she will do splendidly. Do not you agree, Father?” Graham asked, never once taking her eyes off of Arabella.
“I do indeed,” Hugh affirmed. “Come, Juliana, let us leave the young people to get acquainted.” Hugh laced his arm through Juliana’s and nearly dragged her from the room. They turned and watched as Graham and Arabella sat, quietly talking near the window.
“I don’t like it,” Juliana said.
“Don’t like what?” Hugh asked. “He is a smart young man. He won’t allow himself to get entangled with a nurse.” He turned to leave.
“Did you not see how they took to each other?” She hissed, following him away from the doorway so as not to be overheard. “She is a beautiful young woman, and ambitious, by all I can see. What if she gets it in her head that she wants to be more than just a nurse? What if she sees an opportunity to trap a rich young man for a husband?” Juliana asked, jumping to the worst of conclusions.
“Do stop worrying, Juliana. She’s here to do a job, not snatch a husband. Why can’t women be more like men?” he asked teasingly. “Now, come along and leave them be. Why don’t you order some tea for them?” he suggested and walked back to his study where he had been reading the newspaper before Arabella had arrived. Juliana huffed in a very unladylike manner and stormed off. She would not be ordering them tea.
Graham stretched his left arm over his head and sighed. He took care to keep his right arm as still as possible as he got out of bed and padded over to the window. He had been despondent the last week. The day after he had broken his arm, the doctor had come back to make sure that the bones were still in the correct position. The swelling had gone down enough for him to put a cast on his arm.
The process had by no means been as excruciating as when the doctor had reset it the evening before, but it was still painful as the doctor wrapped strips of cloth dipped in starch and egg white around his forearm. He had been forced to keep still for several hours as the cast dried and hardened.
In the days that followed, his mother and the doctor had demanded he remain in bed to speed his recovery. He had been slightly dizzy every time he stood up, thanks to the crack he had taken on the back of his head. As the days rolled by, he became more steady and was able to be pushed around the house in a wheelchair his father had procured for him. More distressing than the pain that throbbed through his arm was the boredom he faced. There were only so many hours of reading that a restless young man, accustomed to being out of doors, could take.
Then Arabella had swept in and changed everything. She had been with them for one day, and already he was in better spirits.
He took a deep breath of fresh air from the open window and smiled. He rang for his valet and quickly dressed. His man helped him down the stairs to his wheelchair and wheeled him into breakfast. Arabella was waiting by the window, having already breakfasted with the servants, hours before. She was lovely in a plain white cotton dress, her hair pulled back in a chignon, with a few curls framing her face. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of her.
“Good morning, Miss Weaver,” he greeted her.
“Good Morning, my lord,” she turned toward him and curtsied.
“I wish we didn’t have to be so formal. ‘Graham’ would do just fine for me.” Graham teased, having had this conversation with her the day before. He was surprised by how easily they had formed a friendship. He was usually distrusting of women, especially in his circle. He always has a niggling suspicion that his mother was trying to set him up with eligible young women. Ninety percent of the time he was correct. With Arabella he felt he could be himself.
“You know it would be improper for me to do so, my lord. We shall not discuss it any further. We have more important things to do today.”
“I don’t know why you refuse to take your meals with me. It seems inconvenient for you to go downstairs for your meals. I’ll speak to mother about it,” Graham decided.
“Please don’t, my lord. I sense she is already annoyed with me.” Arabella replied.
“Nonsense. She’s thrilled to have you, just as I am. Father is quite taken with you, too. ‘Fine woman,’ he said to me yesterday.” Graham mimicked his father’s voice, coaxing a smile out of Arabella. “That’s high praise for him.”
“Well, I’m certainly glad of the compliment,” she laughed. “Even so, I have a feeling your mother is not as happy with my presence as you think she is.”
“What nonsense!” He waved her off as tea was poured and served to them both. “Mother is the one who hired you,” he said in disbelief.
“With all due respect, you are the one who hired me, my lord.” Arabella corrected.
“Well, even so, it was Mother’s idea. Now, we shall have no more of this. You’re here to help me feel better, and this conversation is making me feel worse.”
“Very well,” she laughed. She sipped her tea as he ate his breakfast. He was so handsome, with his short dark hair and strong masculine chin. Her insides seemed to melt every time he looked at with those deep blue eyes of his. She willed herself to stop that train of thought. He would never think of her in that way. She was too far beneath his station. Even though she was a lady by birth, she did not have a fortune to go with it. It was what roused her suspicions about the Duchess’ dislike for her.
“Shall we go?” He could tell she was deep in thought, having said little while he ate.
“Of course,” she replied, and the footman pulled out her chair so she could stand. She took over the wheelchair, steering him towards the study.
“Let us not go into the study quite yet. I could use some fresh air, and I think you could, too,” he suggested.
“As you wish,” she replied. She stopped to gather her shawl and to request a footman help maneuver the wheelchair down the front steps. Lord Evans walked down the steps with the support of the footman. It was something he was loath to do in front of Arabella, but he acknowledged that another fall would not help his recovery. Soon he would insist on getting rid of the wheelchair altogether, but for now, it reinforced his need for Arabella, so he would go along with it.
He sat back down in the chair, and she began to push him down the long straight gravel path leading away from the house. He motioned for her to take a smaller winding path off to the right that led to a large pond full of trout. It was one of his favorite places to go, somewhere he had long used as an escape from his mother’s prying eyes, cut off as it was from the view of the house by a copse of trees.
“Tell me more about yourself, Miss Weaver,” he said. He motioned for her to stop and come around to the front of the chair so he could see her.
“What would you like to know?” she asked. She walked to the water’s edge a few paces away, her hands clasped behind her back. She gazed out at the calm water, rippling as fish jumped out to feast on the insects hovering above the surface.
“Where do you live? What are your parents like? Do you have siblings? That sort of thing,” he prodded.
“I live just a few miles from here with my aunt and uncle. My parents were killed when I was eight, a carriage accident,” she replied matter-of-factly, although a tinge of sadness came to her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said, sorry to have raised the subject.
“Thank you. It was a long time ago, almost eleven years now.” She looked out over the water again. “My aunt and uncle have been so kind to me, loved me as if I were their child. Not everyone is so lucky as to have relations such as mine.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Graham paused as he remembered something about a crash back when he was an early teen. Something about a Lord and Lady being killed in a crash when their carriage overturned on a stormy night.
“Your surname is Weaver?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied, turning to face him.
“What was your father’s name?” he asked, starting to put the puzzle pieces together.
“Lord Charles Weaver. Why?” Arabella asked, confused by his train of questioning.
“Then you are a lady. Why didn’t you tell us that before?” he asked. It made no difference to him, but it might to his mother.
“I didn’t think it mattered. Yes, I have a title, but my father’s fortune was much reduced. I have no inheritance. We were never able to find a will after he passed,” she explained. “Now I’m just a penniless lady who has to work for a living. I am not ashamed of that. I enjoy hard work, and my patients are my life.”
Graham nodded. “Nor should you be ashamed. You’re a hardworking, kind young lady. There is more to be said for an upright character than fortune. That’s what I believe, anyway.”
Arabella smiled her bewitching smile. In the circles he ran in, he could never tell if a woman was sincere or not. But Arabella’s eyes told him everything he needed to know. She was without malice or dishonesty. In all his years, he had never met another woman like her.
“Well, I think we’ve had enough fresh air for now. Should we not get you back inside and start your work for the day?” she asked.
“I suppose so,” he muttered. He felt like a schoolboy going back to class. But no matter. He would be with Arabella, and that alone made his tasks a joy.
The next few weeks seemed to fly by. Graham made a steady recovery with Arabella by his side. She was very adept at helping with his tasks, and he craved her company. He found himself inventing extra tasks just so he could spend more time with her. Her easy charm made it easy to confide in her. She was a lovely woman, on the inside as well as on the outside. She had proven her kind nature by being willing to help anyone in need, not just himself. He had seen her on many occasions helping one of the servants, holding doors for them, or chatting companionably away with the lowliest of them, as though there were no classes or stations. He smiled to himself as he thought of all her excellent qualities, gazing at her as she wrote a letter he was dictating.
She looked up and caught him watching her when he did not continue with his sentence.
“My lord, we will never finish this letter if you keep pausing like this,” she teased. Their manner had become even more relaxed in recent weeks. She had become more comfortable around him as the days passed. He still could not get her to call him Graham, however. On this one social rule, she would not budge.
“Let’s take a break and order some tea,” he suggested. He was able to get around without a wheelchair now. He stood and stretched his back, sore from the many hours they had spent answering letters. Graham knew she had to be tired as well after barely moving from her spot at the desk for the last three hours. They made a good team.
“Very well, but we must finish before the day is out. Your tenants are depending on you,” she replied. She stood as well and went to the window. She opened it slightly and let the breeze blow in.
He rang for tea and joined her at the window. He stood behind her, a little closer than was deemed proper. He watched the leaves blow in the wind and wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms. His heart skipped a beat at the thought. If only she were of a higher station, then nothing would stand in his way. He recalled the conversation with his mother shortly after Arabella had started as his nurse.
“She is not suitable, Graham. A woman of her station has no right to play on the affections of a man such as you.”
“Mother, she has no such designs on me, I can assure you,” he had reasoned with her.
“It is not her I’m worried about, not at the moment, anyway. It’s you. I’ve seen the way you look at her, son. She is nothing! She comes from nothing! I cannot believe I am obliged to have this conversation with you. Can’t you see? She can never be the kind of wife you need.”
Until then, Graham had not let the thought of matrimony enter his head. But from that point, he began to think. Is that what he wanted from Arabella? To marry her, build a life together? He had only known her for a few short weeks. It was at that moment he realized, yes, he could see himself married to her.
He looked back up at his mother, who was pacing in front of his wheelchair. Arabella had gone to visit her aunt and uncle for the day to make sure all was well with them. Juliana had taken the opportunity to confront her son.
She saw the smile spreading across his lips and knew what it meant. “No,” she said in disbelief. “You cannot be serious, Graham. She is from a lower class. Her uncle is a tailor, for heaven’s sake!”
“But she is a lady, Mother. The daughter of Lord Charles Weaver,” he pleaded. He couldn’t care less about her title.
“She’s the daughter of an Earl who was up to his eyeballs in debt. She may have a title, but she hasn’t a penny to her name. You know that, Graham. She is not a suitable match for you.” Juliana put her foot down. She would not stand by and watch her son marry a lady with no money.
He dismissed his mother’s concerns as frivolous and continued spending as much time with Arabella as possible. His mother took a long time to warm to people. He knew that in time she would come to value Arabella as he did.
He returned to the present, looking down at Arabella, her silken hair pulled back just as it was every day. He could see her profile as she looked out at the grounds, breathing the fresh air in deeply. He stepped a little closer, the tendrils of her hair brushing his chin. He placed his hands on her elbows in an intimate embrace. She sucked in a quiet breath, surprised by his closeness.
She side-stepped him and went to the fireplace, “Please, my lord. It is not proper.”
“Arabella, please.” Graham came around the couch and closed the distance between them. Just then, the footman came in with the tea, and he stepped away.
“Pardon me. I have a headache and should lie down.” Arabella excused herself and left the room, too overcome to act rationally. Graham let his arms fall to his sides. He felt desperate. Soon his cast would be removed, and she would leave. He left the tea untouched and went for a stroll around the grounds. He had to find a way to keep Arabella here, and fast.
Juliana hurried away from the door of the study as the footman brought the tea from the kitchens. She had seen the whole exchange and was seething with anger. She headed towards the library were her husband was reading the newspaper.
“You won’t believe what I just saw!” Juliana began, without so much as a greeting. She paced in front of him like a deranged lion in a cage.
“Whatever are you talking about, my dear?” he asked, folding up his newspaper and uncrossing his legs.
“Graham and that woman were standing this close to each other,” she held up her hand with her thumb and forefinger inches apart. “He cares for the girl, I know. But I didn’t realize it was this serious. What are we going to do, Hugh?”
“Do? I don’t see the need to do anything. Graham is obviously quite smitten with her. She’s a good woman.” He made to continue reading his newspaper as if the matter was settled and the discussion over.
Juliana’s mouth dropped open. She sputtered, unable to find the words to combat her husband’s apparent descent into madness. How could he be encouraging this?
“I cannot believe I am hearing this!” Juliana exclaimed, finally coming to a standstill in front of her husband. “Have you gone mad? Our son cannot marry the daughter of a tailor.”
“The niece of a tailor,” Graham corrected. He couldn’t help the smile that played at his lips. It brought him some satisfaction to see his wife so fluttered.
“I do not care what. She. Is. Not. Suitable.” She accented the last four words, hoping that the sentiment would finally sink into his brain.
Hugh stood up then, “My dear, what is the problem?” he asked, becoming annoyed with her persistent dislike of Arabella. “When I die, Graham will inherit one of the wealthiest estates in the country. He has more than enough money for the two of them.”
Juliana placed a hand on her forehead, a headache forming behind her eyes. “It’s not just a question of her having no money,” she hissed in exasperation. “Although that is a valid consideration. She has not been brought up in polite society as Graham has. She has been raised among the lower classes. She doesn’t have the breeding or experience needed to be the wife of the future Duke of Bolingbroke.”
“And I see no reason to discourage him. She is a lovely young lady who would do him good. He’s never taken to the fine ladies you throw his way.” Hugh went to the tea tray and poured himself a cup of tea. He took a bite of a scone and placed it on the saucer.
Juliana turned on her husband, “How can you accept this?” she seethed.
“’How could I’?” Hugh turned to her once again, able to walk without his cane, another sign of his improving health. “She’s a good woman, Juliana. Would you rather he spend his life with a selfish, shallow young society lady or a lady of character like Arabella? I know which one I would choose for him. Don’t you want our son to be happy?” Hugh waited for her reply, hopeful she would see the error of her ways.
She shook her head. She turned on her heel and made to storm out of the room. But before she made it to the doorway, she stopped and turned to face him again. “There is some consolation. Graham will have his cast removed in a few days, and then Arabella will go.” She turned and left the room.
Hugh sighed, sad that his wife only seemed to care about things that did not matter. “Well, Graham. I hope you have more fortitude than I had.” He shook his head, remembering how his parents had pressured him into marrying Juliana. She had been the obvious choice for the next Duke. But he remembered his first love, a woman not unlike Arabella who had matched him in heart and spirit, if not in fortune and station.
He went to the window and watched as the rain began to fall outside. What would his life be like now if he had followed his heart rather than his head? Perhaps his son would know what it meant to love someone in a marriage, rather than simply exist in a marriage of convenience. If he had the chance, he would encourage Graham to make a different choice.
Arabella waited outside Graham’s door nervously. The doctor had come today to remove the cast from Graham’s arm. The Duke and Duchess waited with her, Hugh pacing back and forth, and Juliana staring off into the distance at nothing in particular. It had not escaped Arabella that the Duchess never looked in her direction. For the last three days, Juliana had neither spoken nor looked at her.
Arabella wondered at the Duchess’ sudden coldness. She had never been overly warm towards her, but she had at least been courteous. Had one of the servants had reported their moment of impropriety? She had not heard anyone come into the study during their moment at the window, but now she wondered. She felt ashamed for allowing Graham to stand so close, but she had relished the moment. Her heart still raced at the memory.
The door opened and the doctor came out, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows.
“You can come in and see him now,” he announced. Juliana and Hugh went in, but Arabella thought it best for her to wait outside until invited by the Duke or Graham. She knew no such invitation would be issued by the Duchess. The doctor followed them into the room, but a moment later he reappeared.
“He is asking for you, Miss Weaver,” he said.
She stood and followed him into the room. Graham was beaming. He was trying to move his wrist, albeit clumsily, as if his arm was asleep. He scratched at the flaking skin. Arabella was surprised to see how different it looked from his other arm. He had lost a lot of muscle over the last eight weeks, and his skin was an odd yellowish color. The skin was flaking and dry from the weeks that it had been confined to the cast. The smell was horrid, but she said nothing as she came to stand a few paces behind the Duke and Duchess. She watched him, moving his arm without pain and beaming up at her. She was sad he no longer needed her. Her heart clenched. She would have to leave now. There was nothing to keep her here. She tried to stop the brimming tears from falling down her cheeks.
“Well, it seems you’ve made a full recovery, son!” Hugh slapped him on the back good-naturedly.
The doctor nodded. “Well, almost.”
Juliana looked up sharply. “Whatever do you mean?”
The doctor was taken aback by her harshness but recovered quickly and continued to explain. “The muscles of Lord Evan’s arm have weakened. He will have to work to regain the use of his limb. He’ll have to re-learn how to write, bring a fork to his mouth, squeeze his hand open and closed. Everything.”
Juliana’s face fell. “You can’t write, my dear?”
Graham stood and went to his writing desk at the other end of the room. “I can’t even hold a quill!” he beamed. His attitude was far from what would be expected after such a diagnosis. Arabella smiled slightly. Perhaps she would be needed a little while longer after all. She quickly wiped the smile from her face as Juliana looked at her for the first time that day.
The doctor nodded, “It will take some weeks, even months, for you to regain the muscle control in your right arm. I’ll show you some daily exercises you can do to help speed that along, but I am afraid you won’t be able to write for some time.”
Hugh nodded and addressed Arabella, “Well, it seems we will need to retain your services for a while longer, Miss Weaver. That is, if you are willing?”
“Of course, Your Grace,” she replied.
Juliana turned again to her son, “We must celebrate. I’ll have cook prepare your favorite meal and then perhaps we can call on some friends this evening. Lord and Lady Bolton have been asking after you. They’re holding a small party tonight and have asked us to be there. Now that your cast is off, there is no longer any need to refuse invitations.” Juliana simpered. “Arabella, you may leave us now.”
Arabella looked up, hurt by the way Juliana had dismissed her. She nodded dutifully, curtsied, and turned to leave.
“No, wait. Thank you, mother, but I think I would rather have a quiet evening here at home. Arabella, please join us for dinner,” he said. She smiled, curtsied again, and left the room. She didn’t want to know what his mother was thinking. All she knew was the way Graham made her feel. She didn’t want to leave and was glad at the turn events had taken.
She walked slowly back to her room, climbing up to the third floor where the servants slept. Her room was small but cozy. Not quite as small as the kitchen servants’, but not a luxurious haven either. It had been the old governess’ room. It had a bed and a writing desk and chair, and it had a window that overlooked the grounds with its rolling hills and lush forests. She would miss this view when she finally did return home, but for now she would soak up every moment she could in this grand house.
The thought occurred to her that the longer she stayed, the harder it would be when she did have to leave. She knew she could not remain indefinitely. She slumped down onto her chair after closing the door. Graham had fought for her to stay today, but what would happen when he had regained the full use of his arm and no longer needed her? She was sure that Juliana would dismiss her the moment she saw that Graham could complete his duties without her. The thought saddened her all the more.
She stood and decided to ready herself for dinner that night. She would enjoy the time that remained to her here, not wallow in her sadness. When she did leave, she would look back on this time as one of the best of her life.
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