A Duke’s Diamond in the Rough (Preview)


Yorkshire, England

September 1802

Autumn was the most beautiful time of year in the Yorkshire Moors. Each hill, each tree, and each rock; seemed to be on fire, with the colors of the leaves changing, dancing to the delicate autumnal wind. It was a wild landscape, fitting for the Wilde family, enjoying a remarkably warm day in their garden.

“Come here, you little demon!” Lord Wilde said, the moniker a good-natured term of endearment rather than a mean one.

“You have to catch me, Papa!” little Aileen cried gleefully, with all the strength a ten-year-old could muster. She ran and laughed until she couldn’t hear or see her father’s hearty laughter or see his shadow any longer. But after a while, she grew worried for she was still in the garden, hence not beyond the property. So where was he?

“Papa?” she repeated, her eyes becoming glassy with tears when, all of a sudden, strong arms lifted her up from behind and raised her into the air. She squealed with delight.

“I caught you, my lady!” Lord Wilde cried.

“That’s unfair, Papa! You hid!”

Despite her words, Aileen kept laughing and squirming in her father’s grip. Unfortunately, such playfulness was short-lived, as Giles, the head footman, cleared his throat in the doorway of the garden.

Lord Wilde finally set Aileen down on her two feet.

“My lord, you have visitors. They await you in the foyer.”

Aileen abruptly stopped giggling. She didn’t know why, but a chill ran down her spine, and it was not one of happy anticipation. There was a certain set of visitors the Wilde Manor expected, and Aileen wasn’t sure she was ready for them. Her Papa had been anxious about their arrival, having the staff clean the entire house from top to bottom. He’d even had a new gown made for Aileen, of a buttery yellow with a white sash. There were even bees embroidered on the sleeves and hem. She felt very fine in it, so that was at least one positive she could gain from this entire experience.

“Of course, Giles. Aileen, are you ready to meet your new Mama and sisters?”

She was not, but ever the dutiful daughter, even at her young age, she nodded.

“Yes, Papa.”

She wondered if he knew that she was not.


Aileen could hear her new family before she even saw them. Wilde Manor hadn’t had so much commotion in a long time. Quite honestly, it was a little jarring.

“Careful with that box, old man; I have my most prized possessions in them!” came the very authoritative, if a little icy, female voice. Then Giles and the other footman appeared, moving the large chests like set pieces at an opera.

Aileen had never seen such massive chests in her life. Her heart was pitter-pattering from the chaotic scene. Her father must have felt the same way because he gripped her hand even tighter.

“Oh, there he is, my darling Frederick!” And, thus, the frigid voice was matched to a face. A beautiful woman dressed in the finest green silk gown emerged from the madness that was the dance of the chests. This lady was stunning, a column of rose and alabaster wrapped in emerald. She moved with the grace of a swan. Aileen found herself struck dumb at the sight.

Her father dropped her hand suddenly and moved forward to kiss the stunning woman. It was just a short peck, more like a gesture of formality rather than a passionate gesture.

The noise started up again at the front of the hall. Aileen could see outside the wide open front door: a carriage and two girls stumbling out of it unhappily.

“Mother, the weather is positively scorching! I thought it was supposed to be cooler up north!” one of them whined.

“I can’t seem to find my fan anywhere,” the other said miserably.

“Girls! It is hardly the time!” snapped the beautiful woman, looking over her shoulder at them. The girls stomped into the foyer, red-faced and huffing.

“These must be my new daughters,” Lord Frederick said, smiling while looking past Aileen, who pressed her lips together nervously.

“You are correct as always, Frederick. These are my girls, Beatrice–” she gestured a graceful hand to the one who had complained of the northern weather, a ginger girl with a round face, “and Honora,” she pointed to the other, a blonde with an overly freckled nose.

Lord Wilde bowed as if he were at court.

“Very pleased to make your acquaintance, ladies,” he said. The two girls giggled and curtsied as was proper.

“And this is my lovely daughter, Aileen,” he continued, stepping aside to reveal a frozen in place Aileen.

She felt so very awkward upon meeting new people, especially ones who were so intimidating.

“It is erm… l-lovely to m-meet you.” She inwardly berated herself for stuttering. She had a bad habit of doing that when she was nervous. When writing a letter or around people with whom she was comfortable, there were no issues. She then remembered to curtsy quickly, which was a little wobbly under pressure.

Beatrice and Honora snickered behind their mother, who seemed not to notice.

“I am Lady Clarissa Bolton, no, Lady Wilde now, since I’ve married your father.”

“Please do come in; there is no sense in standing around in the foyer,” Lord Wilde said, beaming.

As they walked through the hall to the private family sitting room, Lady Clarissa’s daughters looked up and down and around in amazement. Whereas the lady herself seemed to look upon it with distaste. Aileen made all these little observations in her head as if she were taking notes.

“I must say, Frederick, I thought it would be grander. I’ve heard so much about the Wilde Manor, but it’s so much… darker than I expected.”

Little Aileen was irritated by the insult, but she couldn’t blame her for noticing the darkness. It hadn’t been updated since her real mother died, and all of the furniture, as well as many of the paintings, were indeed dark and heavy.

“To your credit, the furnishings look expensive,” Lady Clarissa said, patting the upholstery of the arm of the sofa when she sat down.

One of the maids set down a tray of tea. Aileen watched as Lady Clarissa eyed the porcelain. It was impossible to tell what she thought until she drank the tea. She wrinkled her nose and set the cup down quickly.

“Goodness, that is strong tea.”

Her father laughed good-naturedly, and Aileen felt a pang of disappointment flash through her. That was the laugh he reserved for when they played together in the garden. It was not meant for other people.

“It is fortifying. Usually, it is much colder this time of year, and you shall be glad of such strong tea when it snows.”

“Ah, but a good wine is much better for–”

Aileen interrupted at that moment. Her father was attempting to make a good impression on the newcomers, so she tried to match that.

“I w-would like to show y-y-you my greenhouse,” she offered, looking up at the beautiful lady.

Lady Clarissa’s bright green eyes affixed upon her in such an abrupt way that Aileen was taken aback.

“Oh, your greenhouse! Whatever that place is, it sounds very interesting,” she said, scrunching her face and tapping Aileen on the nose. “But I am so fatigued from the journey. Perhaps you should like to help my daughters unpack,” Lady Clarissa suggested with a smile that befitted a snake rather than a woman.

“Mother, shall we have our own greenhouse too?” Honora asked.

“I want mine purple!” Beatrice said with a bright smile.

Aileen’s father laughed again, and she bristled, her irritation growing by the minute.

“You shall have anything you like now that you are my daughters.”

Beatrice and Honora squealed until Lady Clarissa shushed them.

“Run along now girls. Go explore. Get to know each other. We’ll all dine together later as a family.”

The cool way Lady Clarissa said it made Aileen very much doubt that, but as an obedient and unobtrusive child, she did as she was told.

Beatrice and Honora ran out into the foyer and up on the grand staircase, but Aileen bit her fingernails and hung back near the doorway of the library, anxious to be apart from her father. But this was her life now, and these girls would be her sisters. Her father and late mother would expect politeness. She shyly approached the two girls, intending to introduce herself properly. They were huddled on the stairs, whispering and giggling.

“Why are you wearing that? It’s so old-fashioned,” Beatrice commented.

“You look like a bumblebee,” Honora said. The two of them made buzzing noises in unison for a second, then broke into hysterical laughter.

Aileen could feel tears gathering in her eyes as her hands bunched the buttery yellow fabric. She had promised her mother to stay strong no matter what, and she wasn’t about to break that promise over a pretty yellow dress and some mean-spirited girls. She had to persevere.


Chapter One

Wilde Manor, Yorkshire, October 1812


 “Have you seen my shawl, Aileen?” came a shrill voice from the other side of the room.

“Which of them, Honora?” Aileen asked, masking a sigh.

“The one with the beadwork! Can’t you see it’s the only one that suits this gown?”

Honora did a twirl in her blue silk gown as if inviting effusive praise.

“Honora, surely you do not expect Aileen to know about fashion like you do. Why, she can barely dress herself!” Beatrice jabbed.

They burst into terrible rounds of laughter while Aileen rolled her eyes. After ten years, she was used to the taunts of her stepsisters, so she continued to search for the shawl amongst the heap of gowns on the bed.

“I, for one, do not think there’s anyone in all of England capable of making a dress your size; even the most famous modiste would run out of fabric if she tried,” Honora said.

“Little wonder Father scarcely ever comes back with a gown for her!” They both screeched with laughter.

“I am not fat!” Aileen maintained. “You have such a way with your exaggerations.”

“Yes, you are! Mother says you are, and everyone else knows it.” Beatrice seemed to enjoy watching Aileen’s face turn red as she stole glances at her stepsister through the mirror on the vanity.

“Papa says I’m petite and pear-shaped,” Aileen said.

“You mean bean-shaped?” Honora said with a snort, causing the stepsisters to crow in laughter.

Aileen rolled her eyes. These girls would never change. They hadn’t in ten years and probably wouldn’t in another ten. After she located the beaded shawl, she raised her gaze to the elegant backs of her stepsisters. Honora generously dabbed perfume on while Beatrice fussed over flowers and ribbons on her bonnet. A peculiar sense of longing arose in Aileen. She liked fine things, and part of her wished she, too, could dress up and attend events. But she was too clumsy and shy, which doubled in the presence of her stepmother and stepsisters. At the beginning of the season, she tripped over her feet and crashed into her dance partner. It wasn’t that bad–he’d laughed–but Lady Clarissa was so embarrassed and infuriated by Aileen’s fumble that she’d ordered her to be sequestered at Wilde Manor until she could comport herself properly in public. How being away from all polite society would help her practice, Aileen did not understand, but Lady Clarissa was fearsome indeed.

As the stepsisters rose to meet the carriage downstairs, Aileen suggested, “You might want a Spencer or a coat for the cold.”

“No, Aileen, that would ruin the look. See, you know so little about fashion!” Beatrice snapped.

“Yes, you ought to stay and tidy the room instead,” Honora added.

They laughed as they exited the room in a cloud of perfume. After closing the door behind them, Aileen coughed and sat on the edge of the bed, surveying the mess in the room. The other ladies of Wilde Manor were on their way to the Earl of Warwickshire’s northern country home for tea. It had been a month since the incident at the first ball of the season, and she was still being held away. There were plenty of months left, but Aileen would sit out the entire season if her stepmother had her way. And then she’d chastise me for being a spinster, she reflected bitterly. At the very least, her father would be at home today. He’d taken a long journey around the continent. Although they frequently wrote, quill and ink could never replace his warm smile and genuine eyes.

She picked up the dresses on the floor and put them on the bed, then began to fold everything delicately to put it back in the wardrobe. Out of the corner of her eye, a gown caught her attention. It was as delicate as a sugar confection, intricately laced with gold shimmering and teardrop pearls over a lush rosy under gown. The sleeves were so insubstantial as to be mere whispers of silk, and the neck came down low. She loved everything about the dress. As much as her stepsisters disdained her, she really did like fashion and pretty things. She picked it up and held it against herself in the long mirror. It was the perfect color to bring out her complexion.  Her light brown hair and amber eyes seemed darker, but it was rather perfect. Perhaps, next time her father went on a trip, she’d request fabric like this instead of flowers and wear such a gown to a ball. Whenever her father traveled, he brought back all sorts of gifts for his wife and daughters. And, of course, Beatrice and Honora always had the latest and greatest fabrics. And they looked quite stunning in them–after all, they’d grown into quite beautiful young women. When Aileen had first met them, they were still red-faced, freckled children. She, however, did not feel as though she’d changed much. Instead of fabric, she always asked for exotic plants and flowers that she could not procure in Yorkshire. Lord Wilde brought those back every time, and she tended them faithfully in her greenhouse.


Her stepmother called her name shrilly. Aileen said a quick, silent prayer for strength, then tossed the gown on the bed, her steps quickening as her stepmother called her again. When she reached the top of the stairs in the grand foyer, Lady Clarissa was waiting at the bottom, stroking a feathered fan impatiently.

“Did you not hear me calling for you?” Even from this distance and the high ground, Aileen could see those green eyes spark.

“I’m sorry, your grace, I was tending to the dressing room.”

Lady Clarissa sniffed in derision.

“I will be out to run errands, so make sure the house is spotless for your father’s return. I have sent Bonnie to chaperone my girls. You’ll have plenty of time alone to clean the house. I expect that shouldn’t be a troublesome task for you.”

Not long after arriving at Wilde Manor, Lady Clarissa had dismissed most of the staff, claiming they were incompetent or rude to her. The other servants she’d hired in their stead handed in their notice not too long after starting, unable to work under the lady’s demands. So, Aileen did much of the cleaning in the large, empty home.

“Well, I was hoping I could spend some time at the greenhouse with Bianca today,” Aileen said, fidgeting with her fingers behind her back. Her stutter had gone, but it was replaced by fiddling with various things instead.

“Ugh, not that greenhouse again. It is little wonder you have no prospects or friends when you hide away in there all the time,” she said mockingly.

“Bianca is my friend,” she protested. Bianca Dowling was the daughter of a neighboring lord, and the two had often played as children. Now that they were older, there was less and less time for play, especially since her duties at the manor kept her so preoccupied.

Lady Clarissa scoffed.

“I’m sure your one friend can wait.”

Aileen fought the tears that welled up in her eyes with anger. It is your fault that I am not allowed out, she wanted to say. You do this to me. But she didn’t. She needed to keep calm and not give her stepmother any more cause for teasing.

“I am at a loss for what to do with you, Aileen. I told your father he ought to be sterner with you. But, the man doesn’t seem to have a single harsh bone in his body. If I had my way–”

Don’t you always? Aileen thought but did not say it aloud.

“–I would toss you out of the house this instant so you could learn the cold realities of life. You cannot always be living in a fairytale. As a lady, you must–”

Giles interrupted at that moment, looking a little too pleased with himself.

“Your Grace, your carriage is ready.” He was not shy with his dislike of Lady Clarissa.

She rounded on him immediately, forgetting Aileen.

“Such impudent servants. I wonder where Frederick procured you. Lucky he insists on having you around.”

Giles only nodded and smiled, utterly immune to Lady Clarissa’s venomous words.

“Thank you, Giles,” Aileen said, finally feeling safe enough to descend the stairs.

“It seemed like you needed saving, my lady. That old bat seems to prefer the sound of her own voice to any other tune.”

“Oh, don’t let her catch you saying that!” Aileen said with a laugh. “Though I should hop to it, I suppose.” Her tone was decidedly somber at that.

It was evident Giles could not help but feel such pity for her. The way Lady Clarissa treated her when Lord Wilde was not around was unacceptable. Still, because of the power balance, he could not say anything. And she looked a little worse for wear too. Her amber eyes were dull, and there were dark circles under them. And to top it all, she wasn’t allowed to bathe as often as her stepsisters as her hair was a little dirtier and her skin not quite as fresh looking.

“It isn’t your place to clean after them,” Giles reminded her gently.

“Oh, I don’t mind. Papa wants us all to be family, and I just want to make him happy. He seems to love Lady Clarissa, and I love seeing him happy.”

“What about you, my lady? Are you happy?”

Aileen paused, a brief flash of truth in her eyes.

“I am content and grateful for all we have, Giles. I should hasten. Surely Papa will be home soon.”

Giles knew better than to press on, so he bowed and began to make his way down the corridor by the front door as Aileen made her way upstairs. Through the open window that looked out onto the front garden, the clip-clop of hooves and the creak of a carriage wheel sounded. Could it be His Grace, arriving early? Or perhaps Her Grace had forgotten something… Aileen made her way down the staircase again when a knock sounded. She could not see very far through the cracked door.

“Good day, sir. How can I help you?” Giles asked.

Well, it certainly wasn’t her father, from the sound of that voice.

“My name is Edmund Barnes. I request to speak to the lady of the house,” the man responded, his tone imperious.

“The lady of the house is out at the moment, but you can speak with her,” Giles said while motioning to Aileen, whose footsteps alerted him of her presence. He opened the door a little further so she and the visitor could properly see each other. “This is Lady Aileen Wilde, daughter of Lord Frederick Wilde. She can receive your call.”

Aileen curtsied politely, quietly commending herself for not falling. The young man raised his hat to his chest as he greeted her. He wasn’t a bad-looking guy. His curly hair, light freckles on his face, and easy way of speaking were endearing. Perhaps she was too easily impressed… after all, she had grown up with very little masculine company. The young man’s face fell as he looked at Aileen, who clearly resembled a servant. She realized then that her gloves were stained, she was wearing a ratty apron, and she did not look like a lord’s daughter. However, he did not seem to notice as he appeared to be quite disheartened.

“My lady, my deepest apologies. I’m afraid I bear horrid news.”

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

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