Lady Emilia or Mr. Wight (Preview)

Chapter 1

Marlborough, England


“Quietly now,” Emilia whispered to herself as she hovered outside her victim’s bedchamber. With one slow breath, she blew out the candle in her hand, watching as the flame disappeared into a thin trail of smoke. It curled around the tip of the wax stick for a moment before dancing in the air, past her face.

Emilia placed the candle in the brass holder down on the hall table and looked at the corridor. The manor house was old these days and often creaked, even when nobody was walking upon the floor. One of these creaks echoed now, making her dart her head to the side, fearful of being caught. Yet no one was there, only the portraits that hung in their gilt frames, staring down at her through the moonlight with disapproval.

Her gaze rested on one particular painting. It was of one of her ancestors, clad in a pristine gown from the eighteenth century. Her stare was harsh, as if she really was looking at Emilia, rather than being just a frozen image.

“Well, I do not want to be another painting on these walls,” she whispered to the painting. “What is the harm in wanting something different?” She smiled at herself, rather amused at the idea of the painting answering her. She could imagine the figure in that portrait tutting at her, the way her own mother was always tutting in her direction.

Emilia turned her attention away and reached for the handle on her brother’s bedchamber door, then she hesitated, breathing deeply and building up the courage to take the next step. She had to do it; how else was she going to elude her fate?

With renewed vigor, she slowly turned the handle and opened the door. The moment the door creaked in her grasp, she froze and peered her head through the gap, waiting for the rousing of her brother- something that was bound to be inevitable. Strangely, he didn’t stir at all. Could this be a sign this would really work?

He was barely visible. Had it not been for the gap between the curtains and the thin trail of moonlight that seeped through, he would have been in complete darkness. Fortunately, that strip of white light showed her brother was flat out on the bed, half under the covers, with his face pushed so much into the pillow that it was half-hidden. He was certainly asleep, a fact made evident by the snoring that echoed around the room, so deep and sonorous it practically shook the floorboards beneath her feet.

Emilia covered her mouth with one hand, stopping her temptation to laugh as she stepped in through the door, careful to leave it ajar behind her so she didn’t make it creak again. Once safely in the room, she looked around, hunting for the very reason she had made this secret journey in the middle of the night.

Across the room and thrown across a chair in front of a tall mirror were her brother’s clothes. It rather appeared as if he hadn’t bothered with his valet that night, just left them there carelessly to be tidied away in the morning.

Emilia crept toward these clothes, reaching for them with a shaking hand. She took hold of the jacket first, lifting it off the chair in such a way that the sound of silk brushing against cotton whispered in the air.

The snoring halted.

Emilia froze with the jacket in her grasp as she looked toward the bed, certain that her brother was waking up. He snuffled and rolled over, his body quite agitated, yet his eyes never opened.

Laurence is only dreaming. The thought cut through Emilia with relief, making her release a breath she had barely realized she was holding. When he fell still again, she turned around and held the jacket to her body, looking in the mirror to check the fit.

She was almost as tall as her brother, unusually so, and though it had earned her plenty of comments in the past, she knew it could serve her well for the guise she was about to employ. The jacket would mostly fit, even if it was a little loose in places. That could work well to hide the curves that would betray her as a woman.

Her smile took over, realizing her plan might just work, drawing her eyes to her face. The dark hair was swept back from her face, revealing light brown eyes that could have been amber-colored in the moonlight. The features were bold, unusually so, and perhaps a little too feminine in places. The thought made her smile vanish as she turned her attention back to the pile of clothes.

I have to take this chance. I will always regret it if I do not. Imbued by the thought, she took the rest of the clothes before spying the top hat left in the very center of the chair. She snatched this up last, hoping it could be a way to hide her features when she received too inquisitive looks.

Checking constantly over her shoulder that Laurence never woke up, she crept back across the room toward the door and slipped through the gap. When she closed it behind her, she winced at the creaking sound it made, but this time, she didn’t wait to find out if it woke her brother or not.

She took off across the corridor, running on her toes with the clothes bundled against the stomach of her dress. As soundlessly as she could, she hastened toward her chamber at the far end. There, she stole inside, being careful to lean against the door once it was closed and press her ear to the wood, listening out for any sounds or footsteps beyond. There were none.

“It is done,” she said quietly before a giggle of delight escaped her. She turned around and hurried across the room, drawing a portmanteau out from under her bed in so much haste that she dropped the clothes in her hands and nearly fell over a rug in her way. Once the portmanteau was open, she hurried to place the new stolen garments inside.

“Borrowed. Not stolen.” She bit her lip, wishing she could believe it. She was very much a thief now with all the things she had taken from her brother over the last couple of weeks.

“It must be done,” she said with conviction as she looked at everything in the case. She had stolen quite a bit, including a man’s toilette set and scent bottles, to complete the guise.

She was ready. She had everything she needed; there was just one last thing to do.

“Now, I must put my plan into action. It must be done if I am going to avoid marriage for good.” With the words, she closed the lid of the portmanteau.



London, England

“I feel like I am being called into my tutor’s office at university,” Robert muttered to the man at his side. His steward coughed, clearly trying to hide his laugh as they passed the rather haughty butler in the corridors. “It is true!”

“He is your father, my Lord,” his steward said with a smile and raised eyebrows. “Can he really be so intimidating?”

“You do not know the man well enough yet. Wait until you see what I see, Kendrick. You will see why I like to stay away then,” Robert said with humor, prompting the steward to laugh another time.

The steward was quite a new addition to Robert’s household, but the two had become instant friends, leading Robert to take Kendrick with him almost wherever he went, even now when he was summoned to his father’s house.

“Best wait here,” Robert nodded his head at the corridor.

“Good luck,” Kendrick said wryly, earning another smile from Robert before he placed a hand on the dark wood of his father’s study door and knocked.

“Enter!” the harsh voice was so sudden that Kendrick winced.

“See? Maybe you do not even have to see him get the measure of the man,” Robert said with a dramatic voice, making Kendrick nod in agreement.

Turning away from the steward, Robert opened the study door and stepped in.

“Well, well, father, for what have I been summoned?” he asked, moving into the room and letting the study door close behind him. Any temptation he had to laugh was quickly fading away, for, before him, the study seemed quite a dark place.

Clad in mahogany-paneled walls and lined with shelves of books, it felt oppressive at times, especially as it lacked any windows. Behind a desk on the far side of the room, lit by so many candles that they formed a crescent moon in front of him, his father’s face appeared gaunt with age.

I could be looking at a ghost in this light rather than a man at all.

“I am in no mood to laugh, Robert,” Montgomery said, piercing Robert with dark eyes.

“Oh, it is serious then?” Robert asked, walking toward the desk. “Should I have left my smile at home?” His jest didn’t help matters, for his father stood from his seat and slapped some folded papers down on the desk. It was meant to be a dramatic thing, yet Robert had seen his father do this so often over the years that he didn’t even flinch.

“No jests,” Montgomery warned and pointed down at the papers. “Do you know who you are, Robert?”

“Have I changed so much that I am unrecognizable? Where is a mirror? I must check I haven’t grown horns since breakfast,” Robert said, taking delight in defying his father as he sat down in a nearby chair.

“Good lord!” Montgomery cried loudly, snatching up the papers again as he rounded the desk, coming near Robert. “You are my son, you fool. My heir. Not only are you a Marquess now, but you stand to be the next Duke of Sussex someday. Not that you behave like such a man would.”

“Not that you act as a Duke should either,” Robert muttered bitterly.

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Please go on, don’t mind me.” Robert feigned politeness.

Montgomery walked forward again, his expression dark indeed as he thrust the papers in his grasp into Robert’s chest, urging him to take them.

“Read it.”

“Father, I have read the paper already today –”

“Read it.” His tone became a deeper baritone. “It is not a normal paper.”

Robert took the papers and unfurled them quickly, seeing the title of one of the most popular scandal sheets before him. He smiled a little when he found his name. It had even been highlighted by his father, scored in black ink with a big circle.

“I wonder which section I am supposed to read,” he murmured.

“Do not attempt to be snide now, Robert. Not when you are so willfully destroying my reputation every day.”

You did not need my help for that. Yet Robert kept the thought to himself as he turned his eyes down to the paper, scanning to the section that had clearly offended his father so much and reading it aloud.

The ball last night at Lady Whittaker’s will undoubtedly be talked of for many months. Not only did we see courting couples take to the dancefloor, some being seen to even entertain three dances with one another, starting gossip that marriage is on the horizon, but we also saw gentlemen known to favor more than one lady making their way around the guests. Has this upset you so?”

“Read on.” His father warned, sitting back and perching on the edge of the desk behind him.

The handsome Marquess of Wellington was one such man, talked of so much that the name Wellington is whispered with gasps and flutters of fans. It was said last night he could not take his eyes off Miss Juliana Thorpe, a blonde beauty, known for her debut in the theatre just the night before. Perhaps the young actress is to be the latest lady we see on the Marquess’ arm.” Before Robert could say anymore, the scandal sheet was snatched from his grasp.

“You were seen staring at her, Robert, unashamedly! Do you even have any shame?”

“Looking at her…is hardly a great crime, is it, father? I would have liked to have done a lot more than that.” He couldn’t keep the mischief out of his tone, nor could he stop the smile when his father turned back to look at him darkly, his expression so grave that the jowls around his cheeks shook.

Robert loved these moments. He knew it was hardly kind to treat his father so, but in his opinion, his father had earned something much worse. I am even kinder to him than he deserves. He surely must know that.

“The disrespect! The boldness! The outrage!” Montgomery was in his element now, waving so madly with his arm that he nearly knocked over the candles behind him on the desk. “You think you can gallivant with every woman in town? Even this actress, and yet you believe it cannot affect your life?”

“What is that saying, father?” Robert pretended to think on it for a moment, scratching his chin rather nonchalantly. “Oh yes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?” He lowered his voice as he pinned his father with his gaze, somewhat irked to hear that his voice sounded much like his father’s.

He was becoming more like him as time passed.

“How dare you talk to me in such a way?” Yet Montgomery’s voice had lost much of its vigor. “It is disrespectful.”

“You and I have never had much respect for each other. I’d say we are past beginning now, wouldn’t you?”

“Forget respect for me. How about respect for the dukedom?” Montgomery asked with outrage, standing to his feet another time and throwing the scandal sheet down on his desk. “I will not have you mar my life like this, with your scandalous ways, nor will I have you destroy the dukedom because of it. Continue like this, and we will both be ruined. For good.”

“We were both ruined a long time ago.” Robert challenged the older man, looking him in the eye.

“I do not know what you mean by that, but this ends here.” Montgomery turned away, practically talking to himself more than Robert at all. “Yes, it ends now. I must stop this. Stop this before it can become any worse.”

“What do you intend to do? Come to every ball and assembly, and stand between me and every lady I meet?” Robert asked sarcastically.

“No.” Montgomery smiled as he looked back to Robert. That smile made Robert waver, seeing the triumphant nature of it. “I will give you an ultimatum, Robert. You will find a respectable bride by the end of the Season and be married, or rest assured, I will find a way to disinherit you. The money, the lands, the title, all of it. You will no longer be the next Duke of Sussex unless you marry.”

Chapter 2

“Where are my portmanteau and my valise?” Emilia asked as she was bustled out of the door with Laurence at her side. With them walking side by side, she could see how like him she was. She even adapted her gait a little, trying out a more manly walk with her legs wider apart before returning to her usual walk when he looked her way.

“Have no fear. They have been put in the carriage already. Louise has seen to that.” Laurence nodded his head toward where Emilia’s maid was climbing into the carriage, offering a squeeze of her hand to the coach driver, her husband, before she sat down on the carriage bench, waiting for Emilia. “You seem awfully concerned about them.”

“It is natural,” Emilia said hurriedly, trying to cover up her concern. “I have never been away from home for so long before. I am merely nervous.”

“You? Nervous?” Laurence laughed. “It is hard to imagine you being nervous of anything. Dear sister, I will miss you.” He opened his arms, and Emilia went quickly into them, holding tightly to that warm embrace for a minute more than usual.

“I’m sure you won’t miss having me at your side at assemblies,” Emilia attempted to jest to cover up the truth of just how sad she was to be parting from her brother. “You have spent far too long chaperoning me.”

“You did a good job of that yourself,” he pointed out as they released each other, both laughing.

“She was not supposed to turn herself into a spinster, though, was she?” The cold voice that spoke up made both of their voices die.

Emilia’s hands buried themselves in the sleeves of her spencer jacket as she turned back to look at the front door of the house. In the doorway, her father stood, the bearer of that cold voice, as he stared at her with an equally resistant glare. Her mother at his side was looking up at him with a shake of her head, clearly despairing of him.

“Ignore him, dearest.” Marianne hurried forward and kissed Emilia on both cheeks, clearly trying to have a heartfelt goodbye. “Write to me often, won’t you? What will I do without your constant chatter every day? Who will tell me of the latest art in London now?”

“I –”

“I think it means we’ll have peace, Marianne.” Lord Grady Chapman moved forward, coming to stand at Marianne’s side. “Have a safe journey, Emilia.”

Emilia couldn’t even summon a smile. She was so confused by her father’s behavior these days that she began to question whether he really loved her at all. Especially when he made such callous comments.

“Yes, do ignore him,” Laurence took up the conversation and reached for Emilia’s hand, pulling her away and escorting her down the last of the front porch steps toward the carriage that awaited her. “You know he will miss you, as we will.”

“I think that is wishful thinking, brother,” she whispered so only he could hear her. Just as she feared, Laurence didn’t naysay her again. They both knew the truth. Her father was tired of the situation. He was tired of her. “I wish I did not have to go.”

“You must,” Grady spoke up as he followed her down the steps. “It is all arranged. I will not tell you again why a spinster must be married.”

Hearing the words urged Emilia to turn away, fixing her gaze on her brother and disregarding her father completely. She had heard the lecture often enough these days, how it was a shocking embarrassment on the family to have a daughter a spinster, who had already rejected every available gentleman in her three seasons. Shocking indeed!

What was even more awful to her father’s ears was the claim Emilia had made just a month ago. “I do not wish to marry.” She knew this was why her father was sending her away. With the pure intention of seeing her married and no longer a burden or a shame to him.

“There will be many gentlemen in London,” Grady said, moving to the carriage and gesturing inside. “Your aunt will take care of you; she is very excited to have you with her. She can introduce you to the most eligible of gentlemen, and with a little luck, you will be married before the Season is out.”

“What if I…” Emilia trailed off, stopping herself before the words could be completed. She felt Laurence squeeze her hand in silent reassurance. He knew what she wanted – to live an independent life, one where she was not reliant on marriage but perhaps her own income. They think it merely a dream. Well, we’ll see.

“It is time to go, dearest,” Marianne said and stepped forward again. She kissed Emilia another time, holding onto her for a long while before Laurence pleaded for his sister to be allowed to breathe.

Eventually, Emilia moved toward the carriage, where her father offered his hand to help her up into the seat. To her surprise, he didn’t release her hand right away; he held it tightly, forcing her to lean toward him, to hear his whispered words.

“Remember our deal, Emilia,” he said, his voice quiet yet in a kind of fearful earnestness. She was used to this desperation now, but it never failed to cut deeply. I will always be a disappointment to him.

“I have agreed to go, father.”

“Not only that, but I do not want to hear another word about your… ideas,” he said the word as if it was something scandalous. “I have asked your aunt to report to me regularly. Should you utter another word of this nonsensical idea of going to work, to earn an income, from something as frivolous as painting, I cannot bear the stain on our family. You understand that, don’t you?”

“You would disown me,” she said the words quietly, numb. As quickly as she could, she retracted her hand from her father. “You have made it plain, father.”

“I am merely protecting our family, Emilia.”

“And yourself,” she pointed out wryly as she sat back in the carriage beside Louise. Grady closed the door before leaning his head through the window.

“Marry, Emilia. Then this argument will be a thing of the past.” He paused, breathing deeply. It was an odd moment, one where all his harshness faded, and he almost sounded vulnerable. It urged Emilia to look toward him. “Please.”

“We have our deal, father,” she said softly, “as you say. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.” He offered her a smile, but it was one she could not return.

As he stepped back and the carriage was given the signal to move on, Emilia leaned out of the window, waving to her mother and her brother, fully aware of the way her father was already retreating into the house, not looking back to wave.

“Good lord! Have you ever known such a man?” Emilia said with a sigh as she sat back in the carriage and slumped against the bench, glad to not have to keep up the fine poise whilst she was travelling. Louise copied the slumped position, clearly relieved to be sat so comfortably at last.

“He is a rather odd man, his Lordship, is he not?” Louise asked, chewing her lip. She had been Emilia’s maid for years now. In some ways, the two of them had grown up together and were great friends. For most of those years, Emilia hadn’t kept a secret from her. Until now.

“Odd? I can think of many other words for him! Insistent, concerned with reputation and marriage. Good lord, to think how horrified he is to have an unmarried daughter my age? You’d think he’d stood in horse manure the way he talks about it.” Her words made the maid laugh. “At least, in London, things might be different.”

“Different?” Louise queried, with her fair eyebrows quirking together in curiosity. “I thought your aunt was set to arrange suitors for you to meet? Balls and parties every night!”

“Let us hope not every night. I have scared off all my previous suitors; it should hardly be difficult to do so again.” Emilia felt the smile grow on her cheeks as she now realized how near she was to set her plan to action. All she had to do was hold out on marriage a little longer, perhaps the Season or two. If all went well with her disguise, some day soon, the idea of marriage could be academic entirely.

“Why do you smile so?” Louise said quietly to her. “I would have thought you dreaded this moment. You cried for a full night when his Lordship first told you of it.”

“I believe in making the best of a bad situation, my friend,” Emilia said with triumph as she sat forward again. “Trust me, perhaps London will not be as bad as I first feared.”


Robert barely looked up from the coffee in his hands as he heard his father enter the breakfast room and sit down at the far side of the table. They hadn’t spoken since their ill-fated meeting the night before.

Hearing that his father was threatening to strip him of his title, Robert had left at once and spent most of the night in the nearest gentleman’s club. Obviously, something his father disagreed with, for he could hear him muttering words under his breath now.

“You stink of liquor,” Montgomery said snidely. “It comes off you as if you carry an open carafe of brandy in your pocket.”

“Well, I had some bad news last night, father. Liquor is supposed to be good for shock, is it not?” His mischievous answer was clearly unwelcome, for Montgomery shot him a sharp look and hurriedly looked up to the butler who had poured his morning tea.

“Thank you. That will be all,” he nodded his head at the butler, urging him to depart.

Robert stared at his father over the rim of the coffee cup, waiting for the butler to leave. Once the door closed, Montgomery looked back at him.

“I was not in jest last night, Robert. I will do it. I will make another my heir if you do not follow my wishes.”

Robert busied himself with downing what was left in the coffee cup before he could speak.

“I’m fairly certain such things are impossible. Isn’t there a legal act somewhere that says eldest sons must always inherit? I’m sure I read something of it at university,” Robert said. He tried to sound uncertain of the matter, but he was sure. He did read such things in the law at university.

“Usually, but the Prince Regent has powers over parliament that Dukes do not,” Montgomery spoke slowly and steepled his hands together as he rested his elbows on the table. “He can give my title to my actual eldest son.”

Robert half dropped the cup as he had attempted to put it back in the saucer, making it clatter loudly in the air. The word was such a shock to him; he had never even suspected it was a possibility.

“My half-brother. Christian?” Robert spoke the words with disgust. He had nothing against Christian, nothing at all. It was the gentleman’s mother Robert objected to so, and the relationship she had with Montgomery still to this day. “You cannot do that. He was born outside of wedlock.”

“Perhaps the Prince Regent will make an exception in this case,” Montgomery spoke easily, as if the matter had already been discussed and decided upon.

Robert opened his mouth to argue, yet he found himself speechless, his lips opening and closing with not a sound uttered at all.

“Good. Maybe the shock will serve you well.” Montgomery sipped from his tea and set about serving his meal, as if the conversation were at an end.

“You wish me to marry,” Robert spoke at last, trying to form some sort of plan for his future. “Yes?”

“Yes, but if you are going to marry any sort of decent woman with a good reputation and connections, you must seek to repair your own reputation first.” Montgomery lifted the fork from his plate and pointed it in Robert’s direction. “Change your activities, show interest in something other than the gentleman’s club, drinking, and ladies.”

“You say that like they are bad things.”

“Robert.” Montgomery’s harsh voice made Robert look up to him again. “If you are to be a Duke, then you need to be respected. You need to share the interests of the most respected gentlemen in the ton if you are to marry one of their daughters. You must appear clever, cultured, and have a fine mind. Your want for jesting could be seen as good wit if you restrain yourself a little in public.”

“I actually thought for a second you were going for a compliment,” Robert said with a bitter laugh. “Have no fear, father. I do not expect compliments from you. Ever.”

“Every earl, marquess, and lord I know loves art these days. There is scarcely a weekend they are not viewing art or are attending an exhibition at the Somerset Gallery.” Montgomery went on as if Robert hadn’t spoken. “Visit the Royal Academy of Art. Maybe invest in it. It would certainly be nice to see the scandal sheets saying something nice of you for once. It is already arranged with the director of the Academy.”

Robert released his cutlery and sat back in his chair, staring at his father.

“Don’t look at me like that.”

“You have trapped me, father.”

“It’s how one hunts. You give them nowhere else to go.”

“Yet you have given a poor reason for your hunt,” Robert said as he slowly stood to his feet, making the chair scrape across the floor. “You are punishing me for turning into you. Have you not noticed that?”

Montgomery paused with the food in his mouth, mid-chew, unable to meet Robert’s gaze.

“As you wish, I will go,” Robert said, adopting a more formal tone as he turned from the table and walked out of the room. He could tell there was nothing he could do. He was indeed trapped and would have to do as his father asked.

By the end of the week, he would visit the Academy and leave quickly enough. After all, what could possibly be interesting at the Academy of Arts?

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  • I enjoyed the preview of this book almost didn’t realise there were only two chapters cannot wait to read the whole book.

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