In the Baron’s Debt (Preview)

Chapter 1


“James!” Augusta called out as her brother came tumbling through the doorway of the sitting room. He stumbled onto the floor to his knees, his coat half fallen from his shoulders and his waistcoat buttons misaligned. “What has happened?” She ran to collect him from the rug, but as she moved to place an arm around him, she recoiled back at the smell. “You’ve been drinking again.”

“That I have, sweet sister,” his words were slurred as he pushed himself up, attempting to stand though swaying with the effort.

“You need to stop this.” She helped him to his feet and walked away again. “Do you have any idea what you are doing to your own reputation?” She crossed her arms, tired of having to give the same lecture to her brother repeatedly.

James tried to flatten his chestnut-colored brown hair. It was a trait they shared, his short and tufted, hers long and currently fastened at the top of her head with curls hanging down.

He staggered across the room to the nearest chaise lounge, one of the few ornate pieces of furniture now left in the room. As he slumped down to sit, she covered her mouth with her hand, trying to stop herself from gasping at the sight. Around him, it was clear how bleak their fortunes had turned.

The room that had been so grand in her father’s time now stood extremely sparse. The old Viscount Campten had kept the room decorated with the finest furniture, polished with gold brocade and plush chairs. Either side of where James sat, there were now empty spaces where the furniture used to be. They had to sell them to help pay for some of his gambling debts.

“Do not be angry at me, Augusta,” he slurred as he tilted his head back in the chair. “I have been drinking for a reason.”

“I see no reason that would be good enough for this state of being. Have you lost your senses?” She turned to him, narrowing her hazel eyes. He merely raised his own eyes to hers with a shrug.

“I have lost what was left.”

“I beg your pardon?” She took another step towards him, nervous in case she had heard him wrong. “Tell me you have not been playing cards again?”

“Oh, I have,” he covered his eyes with his hands. “I have lost what was left of our fortune, sweet sister.”

She looked between him and the floor for a minute, her eyes filling with unshed tears. She turned away from him at last, despair filling her as she covered her face.

“In the name of the Lord,” she whispered, struggling to control her breathing. “What have you done, James? How could you do it?”

“I was going to win this time. I was certain of it.” At the sound of his movement, she looked back to him, abating her tears before they could truly begin. He sat straight in the chair again and was attempting to straighten his clothes, but it had little effect.

“As you did not win, your certainty baffles me.”

“I had a good hand, believe me. It was worth the gamble.”

“Worth the gamble?” She marched towards him in outrage, hearing the click of her buckled shoes against the wooden floor. “I truly do now believe you have lost your sense. You thought our livelihood was worth the risk of a game of cards? Not only ours but our staff? What few staff we have left, we will be unable to pay. We will lose the house. We could have to go into service.”

“Augusta –” He attempted to wave her away, but she had lost her temper entirely.

“Do you have any idea to the extent that you have destroyed our lives?”

His face cracked into sorrow, the cheeks quivering slightly.

“Do not look at me like that. I cannot bear it,” he looked away from her down at his feet.

“I would like to see how you can bear it tomorrow morning when you wake up and realize you cannot afford food.” She paced around the room; certain she had never felt such anger in her life before.

“Wait a moment, before you condemn me to the depths of hell, I do not believe this is our end.”

“What do you mean?” She paused in her pacing. He slowly got to his feet, struggling to stand straight.

“I believe that we can get the money back.”

“Do not be so foolish, James.” She shook her head. “Do not tell me you plan to win it all back in another game of cards –”

“That is not what I am saying.”

“And no gentleman would just give the money back to you.”

“He may do if I was not the one to ask.” His words pulled her up short, she turned back to look at him. The curls of her hair that hung down from her updo swung around her neck with the movement.

“What do you mean?”

“I think that you should ask for it back.” He was sincere, imploring her with begging hands. She almost laughed at the idea, she scoffed and shook her head.

“You would put me through that humiliation? Begging for a gentleman to take pity on you?” She stepped away from him again. “Whoever you lost to would no more return the money to me than you.”

“Oh, I think he might.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I lost the money to Baron Bardolf.”

Augusta flicked her head back round to him again, her whole body suddenly freezing at the name. Lord Loftus Storey, Baron Bardolf. She had been once betrothed to the man. Her hands went to the stomach of her dress. She placed her fists against it, as though she could calm the sudden dancing of nerves behind it.

Eight years ago, she had been betrothed to the Baron. They were to marry in the summer of that year. She had never loved a man so much and had never loved a man since. Yet that had all ended badly.

“He would listen to you. I am sure of it.” James kept talking, though she was barely listening anymore. She was remembering what the Baron had looked like, the feel of his hand in hers and the kisses they had shared in the shadows, while hiding from her chaperone. It seemed so long ago.

“He would not listen to me.” She turned away again, hurrying to a seat. She sat primly, her spine straight in an effort to maintain a calm countenance though inside she was suffering turmoil.

“He would, Augusta.” James moved to her side, but she would not look at him. “He has recently returned to town from his country estate. I met him tonight at cards and he spoke of the move.”

“I cannot believe you gambled with that man.” She shook her head, lowering her eyes to her hands as they fidgeted in her lap. “We will lose our home, James. For what? For the thrill of a round of cards?”

“We are not doomed yet.” James moved closer towards her, begging her now, urging her to look at him. “He would listen to you if you reasoned with him. Go to his house, speak to him. Your old betrothal must have mattered to him a little before you ended it.”

“You think I could manipulate any affection he had for me into saving our finances?”

“I do.”

She scoffed again, looking away from him.

“You are a greater fool than I ever thought you,” she bit her lip, detesting the thought of having to see the Baron. She could scarcely believe James would not only gamble their livelihood, but to also put it into the hands of such a man was unthinkable. “Why is he back in London?” Her curiosity got the better of her. She chastised herself as soon as she asked the question.

“Why don’t you ask him yourself?” James was smiling as he sat back in the chair, his inebriated state taking over again.

She stood and walked away from her brother, needing desperately to put distance between them. She could not help but think the Baron might have done such a thing on purpose. He had so willingly toyed with her heart all those years ago, happy to destroy not only her life but her hopes in love, it was perfectly possible that he would choose to destroy her again. Except this time, he was not just destroying her, but James too.

Her gaze drew unwillingly back to her brother. He was a fool. Still young, reckless, and an incessant gambler, but he was kind at heart. He was more protective of her than anyone she had ever known.

She could not allow him to be destroyed by the Baron.

She turned her eyes to the window, noting the clouds gathering outside as the night sky drew in. She straightened her spine and raised her chin high. If she were going to face this battle, she would not allow herself to crack. She would walk in and meet the man with strength, she would not show him how much he had hurt her.

“Very well,” she whispered eventually, her eyes still on the murky clouds above.

“You will do it?” James’ voice came softly from behind her.

“I will try,” she nodded, turning her head to the side slightly. “But you must not get your hopes up. Any…” She struggled for the right word, “any friendship between Baron Bardolf and I was destroyed many years ago. I doubt he would raise a finger to help me now. I will go to him tomorrow.”

She looked away from her brother, back to the night sky. She tried to push the images of the Baron from her mind, but it did little use. He kept coming back.


She thought of how he laughed, the breadth of his smile, and the green eyes that had always born the habit of being able to read her so easily. She blinked, trying to push the thought of him away.


Augusta shifted endlessly as she stood at the door of the Baron’s house, waiting for it to open. She looked down at her dress, rearranging it with frustration. She wore a green high-waisted empire gown, one of her favorites. With a wide neckline and long sleeves, the bust was bordered with dark lace that matched the hemline. She tried not to think of why she had chosen it, as she turned her attention to her pelisse. A darker green, it was cinched at the waist with a high neckline, emphasizing the length of her figure as the hem dropped to her feet.

She cursed herself for fidgeting, arguing with herself that she had not chosen the clothes for want of the Baron’s admiration. It was merely that she did not wish to appear weak before him. She imagined the dress was her armor. With the strength of it she could go in and meet him, hold her chin high and try to forget what he had done all those years ago.

She raised her eyes from the dress to the house, admiring the façade. She had visited the place many times all those years ago, but in the time that had passed, the frontage had been re-painted. The white pillars shone in the afternoon bright light and the red brick gleamed. It was a tall house, with many rooms and grand windows to match. She was so busy admiring it that the door opening took her by surprise.

A butler revealed himself on the other side, the same as she had known on her last visits. The old man’s eyes widened, clearly in surprise.

“Miss Creassey?” He asked, stuttering slightly. He had barely changed, though perhaps there were a few more wrinkles to his fine countenance.

“That is right. How are you, Holmes?” She asked with a smile, attempting to quieten the nerves in her stomach.

“I am well, my Lady. It has been some years. You are here to see the master?” He smiled, already stepping back and hurrying her into the hallway.

“Yes please,” she stepped in as her gaze was drawn to the grand hall. Just as fine as she remembered, the floor was dappled with white tiles and the great stairs in front of her spiraled up into the rafters. She smiled at seeing them. There was a time when had she thought the house would have been her home. She bit her lip to stop the smile, no good could come from happy memories of the Baron.

“Here we are, my Lady, let me take that for you,” Holmes removed the pelisse from her. “Allow me to show you into the drawing room whilst I fetch the master.”

She nodded her thanks before he led her through the familiar corridor and fine rooms. As she was shown into the drawing room, her gaze alighted on a portrait above the fireplace. It was of the Baron’s late father, but there was enough in the similarity of the features to cause pain. Especially those green eyes that stared out from the canvas.

“I will arrange some tea for you too, my Lady.” Holmes bowed to her.

“Thank you, Holmes.” He quickly left, leaving the door open behind him.

Augusta pressed her hands to her stomach again, wishing she could stop her fears yet now realizing it was futile.

Since she had ended the betrothal to the Baron, she had never courted another man again. At the age of eight and twenty, she was quite the spinster in society. Yet, it did not matter to her. She could not bring herself to court another man. Partly from fear, fear of being hurt again. Yet the other part was knowing she did not have the capacity to love someone as she had him.


She reprimanded herself for thinking of his Christian name. It was not permitted.

After all, following the end of their betrothal he had quickly married and moved to the countryside with his new wife. Augusta heard of the woman’s death a year ago. She never welcomed news of the Baron, but she had been of course unable to escape such news as that.

A sound at the doorway of the drawing room had her turning around slowly, fearful of being faced with Baron Bardolf’s countenance, but when she turned, her face cracked into a smile at the surprise that greeted her.

It was not the Baron after all, but a boy, no older than seven years of age at most. He had come running into the room, dressed in his waistcoat, jacket and breeches so smartly, though his cheeks were flushed as though he had been running for a good while. As he spotted her, his small body froze and the smile he had been wearing vanished.

Augusta struggled for a minute, wondering who the boy could be before she found her voice.

“Good afternoon,” she bobbed a little curtsy to the lad. “I am Miss Augusta Creassey, what is your name?”

The boy turned to run away.


Chapter 2

Augusta struggled for words as the boy leapt around and tried to sprint from the room, but as he jumped forward, his foot got caught under the rug in front of the fire and he tripped. He fell forward with a clatter and landed at an awkward angle across the nearest armchair.

“Goodness!” Augusta cried, hurrying towards him through the room.

The boy was grappling to stand, his arm trapped against the chair. As he reared upwards, he clutched to the arm with his free hand, his face contorted in clear pain.

“Oh dear, let me see what happened,” Augusta dropped to her knees by his side, noting the astonishment in the boy’s face. She had always been good with children. Amongst her married friends, she was frequently asked to accompany their children and she loved the time spent with them. At Christmas and at birthdays she was the one put in charge of organizing celebrations and games for the children to enjoy. “Would you let me see?” She offered to the boy, holding out her hands.

The boy merely lowered his gaze to the floor, shaking his head and leaning away from her.

“Ah I see, I think I have a brave boy in my midst,” she smiled, eager to be kind to the lad. “You are already growing up to be quite the man. You will not let a little injury harm you, will you?”

He raised his head slightly, his eyes looking at her with surprise.

“Quite the brave man,” she offered her hand to the boy. “I am Miss Creassey, what is your name?” She tried to find out the boy’s name again, yet he still said nothing. This time, at least, he offered the hand attached to his uninjured arm, and she shook it playfully. The smallest of smiles tweaked his lips, but it vanished as soon it appeared, as though he did not want to give way to it.

Augusta saw it all, realizing quickly enough that she was with a boy who would not speak, at least not very easily.

Perhaps the child is a mute.

She considered this idea as she released the boy’s hand.

“You were running at quite a pace,” she decided the best thing to do was put the boy at ease. If she kept talking and never questioned why he would not speak, it would be best. Tackling the issue may only cause the boy to run away again. “Is it a game?”

The boy lowered his gaze to the floor again, still rubbing his injured arm, yet he nodded.

“How wonderful! I love games. Have you ever played the game snapdragon?” To her words the boy looked up again, not smiling, but there was a gleam in his eyes. “It is the one where you douse raisins in brandy and set fire to them at Christmas?” The boy nodded. “It is rather a funny game, is it not? The children I play with often throw the raisins at each other instead of trying to eat them, can you imagine that?”

The boy relaxed slightly, as though fighting a laugh. He rubbed his injured arm again.

“Oh dear, it does look a little sore,” she pointed to his arm. “Would you permit me to have a closer look?”

He hesitated, but put forward his arm, nevertheless. She took hold of his sleeve and rolled it up a little.

“Now then, does this bit hurt?” She placed a finger to his forearm, but he shook his head. “Well that is good news. How about here?” She tapped his wrist and the boy nodded, biting his lip. “Let’s have a closer look then.” She turned the boy’s wrist over, noting the smallest of bruises developing, yet the wrist moved as normal and nothing was swollen. “Ah, well it looks as though you may have a bruise for a time, but the good news is that there are no broken bones. Nothing to worry a brave man like yourself.”

The boy smiled at this idea. She rolled down his sleeve again.

“There we are, as good as new! With the bruise hidden, no one will know. And it will be our little secret.”

The boy laughed; it was the first sound from him. It tinkled lightly in the air, warm and inviting. Augusta smiled, somewhat distracted from her purpose in coming to the house, now that she had a new friend.



“You are certain it is her?” Loftus asked again as he hurried down the stairs with Holmes following on behind him.

“Yes, my Lord.”

“It cannot be,” he said more to himself than to the butler. He had not seen her for eight years. Not since she had unceremoniously broken off their engagement. The audacity to suddenly turn up at his house was astonishing. It must have something to do with the money her brother had lost to him the night before. “It cannot be her,” he said again.

“It is, my Lord. I have asked the housekeeper to bring up some tea for the two of you.”

“Tea?” Loftus paused on the stairs. He did not like the idea of the woman staying for any length of time. It would be too much to endure.

“Yes, my Lord. I was thinking the housekeeper could stay in the room as a chaperone.” The butler nodded out of respect.

“Yes, I suppose so,” Loftus carried on hurrying down the stairs. It was true he could not entertain the company of the woman in private, especially as they had once been betrothed. “She will not be staying for very long though.”

“As you wish. She is in the drawing room.”

Loftus nodded and waved Holmes away with a thanks as they reached the bottom of the stairs. His feet drew him towards the drawing room, tension rising in his body with every step. Yet as he neared the room, a surprising sound greeted him through the air.

It was Markus. He was laughing.

It had been so long since he had heard the boy’s laughter, it startled him enough to fall still for a moment. He could hear the murmur of a woman’s voice.

It is Augusta.

His feet moved forward again, urging him towards the doorway of the drawing room. He froze in the entrance as his eyes fell on the scene before him.

Markus was standing with a smile on his face. A smile rarely seen these days, that was astounding in itself, but the sight of Augusta was the real thing that rendered Loftus speechless for a moment. In the years that had passed, he had persuaded himself that Augusta was not as beautiful as he remembered her to be, but he was wrong. She was more captivating than he had wanted to recall.

He felt his anger spike – anger at her for what she had done all those years ago.

She was on her knees in front of Markus, her red hair fashioned at the back of her head and tumbling down in loose curls, there were a few loose wisps around her face too. Her expression bore the striking features he had first been struck by eight years ago. She had bold eyes, hazel in color, with full lips and a long neckline. Her figure was emphasized by the green empire gown.

She was laughing with Markus as she spoke to him, the smile lighting up her features in a way he had once thought he would never see again.

He clutched at the doorframe beside him, nervous of stepping into the room and disturbing that smile. He was thunder struck by her.

He marveled at Markus’ response to her, but then his mind was drawn elsewhere. To memories of her. So often had they walked together though the gardens in their courtship. He had purposely evaded their chaperone on multiple occasions in order to steal kisses from her, much to the chaperone’s disapproval, but he had never cared. He thought of one evening where the two of them had stood in the garden of the very house they were in now, hidden from the chaperone behind the topiary. They had kissed so passionately, his desire for her encapsulating. When they had pulled apart from their kiss, she had been flushed, with her hands buried in his waistcoat. At the time he had wished that moment would never end. They had talked of plans for the future, of living together in that house, of the family they would begin.

He shook his head, trying to free himself of the memory, how naïve he had been.

Yet seeing her laugh again as she spoke to Markus, it was as though he was reliving the moment when they had first met. It had been at an assembly. Having already been introduced to her father, he had walked over to converse with the gentleman when from behind him stepped Augusta. He had been just as thunderstruck that moment as he was now.

The sound of Markus’ laughter drew him back to the room.

Markus is laughing. How did she do that?

“Here we are, my Lord,” Miss Butterworth appeared behind him, carrying a tray and walking past him into the room. “Tea for you.”

He looked between the housekeeper and Augusta, seeing her staring at him. Any sign of laughter had dropped from her face. She stood to her feet, her eyes fixed to him, her countenance stiff and unyielding.

He had never known why she broke off the engagement. Looking at that unbreakable stare, he was filled with the same anger again for when she broke it off. Distraught, he had married the first woman his parents had thrown in his path. What a terrible mistake it had been. Maria was hysterical, even mad. The one good thing from their marriage was Markus, but even after his birth, Maria’s sickness had grown worse. She was insanely jealous. She had grown madder each day before she ended up in an early grave.

He turned his eyes from Augusta down to Markus as Miss Butterworth prepared the tea.

“Markus?” He called to his son, seeing the boy look at him with wide eyes. He attempted to keep his voice level, try to hide the anger that had grown within him at the sight of Augusta. “Perhaps you could leave me for a few minutes with our guest.” He finally felt confident enough to walk into the room, now he had looked away from Augusta.

He had thought so often over the years that she was like a siren from Greek myth. Impossibly beautiful, she had drawn him into loving her, then destroyed his life, as the sirens did the heroes of the Greeks, urging them to crash their ships upon the rocks. After Augusta had left him, his life had fallen apart.

“Markus?” He repeated, seeing his son had not moved. The boy reached out and held onto Augusta’s skirt.


Augusta looked between the boy and the Baron in surprise as he clutched her skirt. Markus seemed very reluctant to leave.

“Come on, son,” he beckoned him forward with an outstretched hand. Augusta felt her stare settle on the Baron in realization.

His son…

Of course, he was his son. They bore the same green eyes; how could she not have seen it? Looking at the Baron before her, she felt as though the years that had passed all happened in one day. Yesterday they could have been kissing in his garden, hiding from the chaperone. Even looking at him as he stood in his navy high-waisted tailcoat, she felt the same desire stir within her.

Seeing Markus was making no move from her side, she knew she had to do something. She reached down and whispered in his ear so neither the Baron nor the housekeeper could hear her.

“Remember our secret, Markus. I’ll see you soon.” As she pulled back, the boy nodded with a smile. He released her dress and ran forward to his father.

The Baron took the boy’s hand and bent down to talk to his son. He spoke so quietly that she could not hear what was said, but in response the boy flung his arms around his father in an embrace. Bardon Bardolf embraced him back.

The sight tugged at a new pain in Augusta’s chest. Seeing the father Loftus had become was incredibly heartwarming.

As they parted from their embrace, the Baron encouraged his son out of the room, once he had gone, he stood straight again, his green eyes burrowing into her just as they had always done, only this time they were laced with suspicion.

“Good day, Miss Creassey.”

He offered her a bow; the movement deep as it had been before. She curtsied in reply, feeling how harsh and unnatural the formality was. There had been a time when they hurried to be in each other’s arms despite society convention. Now, she felt a lingering burning resentment. It was the same fury she had felt when she had broken off the engagement. She tamped down on it, trying to ignore it and be civil.

“And to you.”

“I see you have charmed my son,” he did not say it with a smile. His words caused that resentment to bubble slightly. He walked past her towards the table where the housekeeper had laid out the tea. She moved to a chair in the corner of the room afterwards, keeping her head bowed as she read a book.

Augusta realized she had forgotten how tall the Baron was, the breadth of his steps moved easily past her. Her gaze moved to his hair where the soft brown locks curled around his ears. His features were almost regal, he had always been classically handsome, it made her long to be in his arms again. She shook off this thought, focusing instead on what he had just said.

“He is a very sweet boy,” she murmured as she lowered her gaze to her feet. She suddenly wished she were still talking to Markus, then she would be free of the nerves dancing in her stomach, and her anger.

There was a part of her that wanted to ask the Baron how he was. The temptation was great, to talk to him as she used to, but there was business to attend to and she could not allow herself to give way to him again. Her last experiment with love had scarred her beyond repair.

“Forgive me, Baron Bardolf, but I think you know why I have come.”

“I presume to talk of your brother’s losses last night. I can think of no other reason after eight years.” His voice was filled with his own resentment. He sat in a chair beside the table of tea. “Well, if we are to talk of business, please, take a seat and help yourself to tea.”

She moved forward as he offered and took the chair opposite him, carefully sitting on the very edge as she prepared the tea and poured the milk. She used it as a distraction as she considered how to prepare her words. She had rehearsed it so many times on her journey to the house, but in his presence, all her plans had vanished.

She looked up briefly, to see what he was doing. He was merely sipping his tea, his gaze on the cup and not on her.

“I wish you to return the money you won from my brother.” Her words forced him to return his jade eyes to her.

“That, Miss Creassey, I cannot do.”

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