Sophia spun on her tiptoes, her arms outstretched. She felt glorious, like a bird released from a tiny cage.
A week ago, she’d discarded the mourning garb and resurrected her usual wardrobe. Laying out the clothes, she’d spent a long time trying to decide what to wear. Her lady’s maid, Annabelle, had held up different gowns up and Sophia had dithered, delighted to have such a choice.
With the afternoon drawing to a close, she planned to change into an evening gown. She and Eloise had been invited to dine a few miles away at the Draycotts’—a wealthy farmer who had moved up the social ladder by successfully marrying his daughter to an admiral and his son to an earl’s daughter. Now, Mr. Draycott could also entertain the duchess of Brockenhurst, even if she was the dowager.
The room she frequented most was her own personal parlour and like most of the upstairs rooms it was part of a long chain of chambers stretching out to fill one wing of the massive house. The first time Sophia had visited Attingham, not long after she’d met Percy, the scale of the property had overwhelmed her. She’d been brought up in a smaller house befitting her father’s status as the grandson of an earl. Attingham House had a ridiculous number of bedrooms, reception rooms upstairs and down, and various function rooms. There were the private chapel, the smoking room for the purposes of the rising fashion of cigar smoking, the unused nurseries, and the corner room for which she’d failed to find a reason for its existence other than it had a good view of the extensive gardens.
The ballroom was twice the size of her grandmother’s. The kitchens and servant quarters took up half the house, but hidden out of the way in the basement and upper floor. She and Eloise had attempted to play hide and seek to pass the time, but while the hiding proved easy, the seeking was nearly impossible and they frequently had to end the game with a ring of the bell to summon back the hider.
What the house lacked were corridors, which would have afforded privacy while moving between rooms, rather than forcing one to stride through one chamber to the next to reach the intended destination.
Sophia had gone out earlier into the garden with Eloise to pick flowers and she was busy arranging them in a vase. Eloise had retired for a nap prior to their evening out. Sophia had chosen a yellow gown to wear that day and she had added a simple white apron about her waist to protect it from the splatter of water. She enjoyed the little hobby, along with painting and playing the pianoforte. Having completed her brief swirl, she returned to the table, picked up the scissors, and began humming a tune.
The door creaked and she glanced over her shoulders. The servants should knock before entering but she’d not heard the gentle rap. The man who entered her private sitting room stared at her for a second, then rather than making a quick exit, he strolled farther into the room, letting the door close behind him.
“I beg your pardon,” he said. “I’m looking for a bathtub.”
Sophia lost her tongue, so flabbergasted was she by his abruptness and she clutched the scissors, holding them poised, ready to snip at a stem of a tulip.
“I guess I’m not in the right room,” he added with a soft grin. He’d spoken with a familiar, if subtle, accent.
He wore the clothes of a gentleman, but they were tatty and grubby in places. She sniffed and she caught the waft of saltiness and… fish? Was he a fisherman?
To add to his rough finish, he had long hair tied back into a ponytail and his cravat had unravelled to the extent the cloth hung loose and dangled next to his jacket buttons, of which one was missing. His knee-high boots were scuffed and would need a thorough polish to bring them back to any worthy state. She couldn’t help noticing he possessed a striking length of leg. The longer she stared in disbelief, the more she dwelt on his dimensions. Not a big man or overly endowed about the waist, as Percy had been, instead he had a tapering torso, the kind that became broad about the shoulders and narrowed to the waistline. His upper arms had brawn—she easily discerned the attribute through his bulging coat sleeves.
His face possessed a suntanned, weathered finish, and his blue eyes—the kind that dazzled from one of end of the room to the other—shone brightly. A pity such handsomeness had to be shoddily clad. Nevertheless, she needed to bring her emerging, and much neglected, emotions under control and deal with the intruder appropriately.
She stirred from her frozen position, put down the scissors and, dredging up the necessary courtesy, she addressed the man. “I’ve no idea what you think you are doing, but callers are requested to keep to the lower floors.” Sophia would have words with Mrs. Debden, the housekeeper. It wasn’t unusual for the odd caller to request a tour of the house and when she had been absent at her grandmother’s, many would have taken advantage to visit the esteemed property. However, she wouldn’t tolerate anyone in the house without escort. “Only the ballroom, library, gallery, and orangery are open to the public at this time and we prefer appointments only.”
“That is perfectly acceptable, but I am not a caller; what I’m after is a bath. Is it this way?” He pointed to the other door, which led to the next room.
The man must be mad and had wandered into the house. “I shall ring for assistance.” While fighting a rising sense of panic that she was in the presence of a thief or vagabond, she moved towards the bell pull next to the fireplace.
“You don’t know where the master chamber is?” He furrowed his eyebrows, forming lines in his forehead. “How odd. Are you new here?”
“New?” Sophia exclaimed. “I’ve been back these past six weeks.”
The stranger scratched his chin, then his scalp. “I’ll just go this way.”
His scratching unnerved her. “Heavens, you don’t have fleas, do you?” She stepped backwards, reaching out for the bell pull.
“Fleas!” he laughed. “I should bloody well hope not. But there were rats on the ship, as there always are. I did bathe regularly, but saltwater is not the same as a hot bath before a roasting fire, is it not? I was told it would be drawn and ready by now. Damn, it’s been a while since I visited Attingham. I’m quite lost.”
“You’ve been here before?”
“Years ago, as a boy. My parents brought me for a visit.”
“And now you’re back for a bath?” The man surely needed to be in bedlam, tied to a bed and fed laudanum for his madness.
“Just that for now, although I’m quite hungry and wouldn’t mind a juicy steak. Could you order one for me?” He had nearly reached the other door and she gave the cord a swift yank. “Good girl, thanks.”
“Wait!” She couldn’t have him disappearing further into the house, stealing and looting, or worse, he might climb into a bed and go to sleep. She was sure she’d heard that had happened somewhere. “Um, do stay and let me have you escorted. A footman will be here shortly.”
“A valet might be better since I need to… so…” He halted, then chuckled for a moment. “Sorry, you’re not the housekeeper, are you? Far too young. A maid? No—” he shook his head, “—that dress is too fine. I guess, you’re a lady who arranges the flowers—is there a title for such a post? I have to say, all the vases are well stocked and quite beautifully adorned with the freshest posies. I should congratulate you.”
Sophia planted her hands on her hips; she’d had enough of his derogatory comments. “I am—”
The door opened and a footman appeared. Sophia watched as he faced not her, but the ruffian and bowed to him. “Your grace.”
The man shook his head again; puffing out his lips, he muttered, “I really need to speak to Tom about this pompous—”
Sophia stamped her foot. “I’m over here!” she shrieked. “Have you gone blind, Turner?”
“Apologies, your grace, but—”
“Your grace?” The jolt was visible in his whole body. The strange man straightened, glancing back and forth between the footman and Sophia, his eyes darting, narrowing to slits. He leaned towards Turner. “She’s the duchess? I thought she would be older.”
Turner’s cheeks had gone crimson. “I… How can I be of assistance, your grace?” He directed his question to the man, not her.
Sophia swallowed hard. “You said a ship. You’ve been on a ship.” The isolated remark now made sense. He had come from overseas, which meant…
Peaches is an author I have recently discovered, & if scorching is what you’re looking for, she usually supplies it. Here, we have Sophia in Regency England, widowed by a duke at age 22. Even having been married, as was almost always the case in those days, (despite what most romance writers would have you believe) most wives had no idea of lovemaking, & many husbands didn’t either.
So when the new Duke arrives from the wilds of Canada, he falls for Sophia’s untrained ways, & takes her to wife, intending to train her in domination, submission & spanking.
He also decides to rid her of her snobby ways, & dependency on servants. She has never dressed herself or done her own hair, let alone, cooked or cleaned. As a honeymoon, he takes her to a secluded cottage where they have no servants, have to catch their own food, & then cook it.
Sophia doesn’t like her honeymoon very much, but she does love her husband, so she tries hard to learn the humility he’s trying to teach her. It’s a pretty good heroine’s journey, as are many of Peaches’ books. Another great read for snowy night, or swimming pool.
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