Serving the Viscount (Preview)

Chapter One

Lincolnshire, England—1808

“What did you think of the Earl of Sussex, miss? I didn’t get a good look at him, but from what I could tell from the staircase, he had a nice voice.” Hanna Seton asked as she helped her mistress with her stays.

“Eh, he talks too much, and he’s a bit fat.” Miss Isabella frowned, smoothing cream under her eyes as she sat at her vanity in her bedchamber.

“Miss! Is there no man you will choose as a match for yourself?” Hanna asked, shaking her head. They’d had this conversation before about various suitors. Different names were featured, but the themes were always the same. Miss Isabella always found a reason to dislike each man.

“Certainly not him,” Miss Isabella sniffed. “He would never do as a husband.”

“But surely you must choose someone soon,” Hanna said, wringing her hands.

“I will not.” Miss Isabella swiped a glob of cream across her face and frowned at herself in the mirror. Then, she wiped it dry.

“But I don’t understand, miss, don’t you wish to marry?” Hanna asked, helping her mistress pull the sunny yellow dress over her head.

“I just don’t like any of the suitors papa wants me to meet, that’s all.” Isabella straightened the front of her dress, studying herself with a smile.

“I thought Lord Lawton was amiable, and he has a great fortune, too. All the ladies in Lincolnshire talk about him as a great match.”

“Posh. Him? He has a huge forehead! You could fit an entire family on it. His fortune isn’t big enough to make me overlook that.” Miss Isabella said with a chuckle.

“You are quite mean, miss,” Hanna said, but she giggled. The man did have a bit of extra on top.

“I am not. I’m simply not going to settle for just anyone.” Miss Isabella ran a brush through her golden blonde hair. She was quite vain about her hair and brushed it over 100 strokes a day. Between that and her creams and powders, she put in hours every week on her appearance.

It seemed a strange thing to do to Hanna if one didn’t plan on getting married or care about suitors. “That is your choice, of course, miss,” Hanna said.

“It is. Enough about me. What of you and your young man?” Miss Isabella glanced back at Hanna, her lady’s maid, and raised an eyebrow.

“What young man?” Hanna ducked her head so her mistress couldn’t see the furious blush she felt rising over her cheeks.

“The one you’ve mentioned in the marketplace. George something or other.” Miss Isabella grabbed her powder puff.

“Oh, yes. George. He’s quite a nice young man.” Hanna cleared her throat. She didn’t like to talk about her personal life much, even though Miss Isabella did. She loved to gossip about everything and treated Hanna more as a friend than a servant.

“I think you think of him as more than that, Hanna.” Miss Isabella clicked her tongue and batted her eyelashes.


“Don’t give me that. Is he kind?”

“Well, yes. He always gives me extra ribbons when I buy them at his stall.” Hanna smiled.

“That’s a good sign. And I’m sure he’s handsome.” Miss Isabella made a face.

“He’s very handsome.” Hanna laughed.

“Describe him for me.” Miss Isabella sighed, resting her chin on her hand.

“Well, he has huge brown eyes, and he’s tall–”

“Oh, he sounds lovely! I do like a tall man. So many of the suitors papa chooses for me are nearly shorter than I am.” Miss Isabella frowned and shook her head.

“Before I go on, let me just adjust your hair like this.” Hanna moved one blonde braid of her mistress Isabella Frampton’s hair an inch.

“I love it!” Miss Isabella clapped her hands together. “Thank you, Hanna.”

“Of course, Miss Isabella.” Hanna studied her mistress’s reflection in the mirror—sparkling and lovely and then appraised her own. She looked plain in comparison, and older than her 18 years.

“Now, go on. I want to hear all about him!” Miss Isabella smiled encouragingly.

“Well,  his hair is the color of chestnuts and curls at the bottom.” Hanna said, her face growing hot once again.

“Oh, he sounds so handsome!” Miss Isabella clapped her hands together.

“He is. The most handsome of men around these parts.”

“Oh, Hanna!” Miss Isabella giggled. “And is he kind and good?”

“Definitely. As I said, he gives me extras, but he is always solicitous. He asks after the household and my mama and papa.”

“When will you see him again?” Miss Isabella leaned closer.

“In just a bit. I have to go to the market to get the things you requested.” Hanna smiled shyly.

“Yes, you certainly do. I must have them straight away!” Her mistress raised an eyebrow imperiously and burst into laughter.

* * * *

Hanna loved the sights and sounds of the bustling marketplace in the village, from the fragrant flowers and animals for sale to the fruits and clothing items, but George Bentley was the sight she most enjoyed. He wore a white shirt with a short brown jacket and matching breeches. The color suited his complexion. He was arranging some of his wares on a table.

He saw her coming before she could speak. “Miss Seton! What a lovely surprise!”

“Hello, Mr. Bentley. Good day to you.” Hanna smiled, feeling happy and free as she always did around George. She could truly envision a future with him. He was kind and good looking, and wasn’t that all there was, really, to it? Did love really matter? If it did, she believed she could grow to love him, given enough time.

“How are you doing, and how is your mistress and her family?” He asked, smiling.

“I am well, and they are, too.”

“Very good, and your mama and papa? Have you heard from them lately?” He asked, adjusting a hairpin on the table.

“I have. They are doing quite well.”

“Oh, good. Do you see anything you like? I have something I think will suit you well. It’s on the house,” he said, picking up a hairpin with pearls on it.

“Oh, Mr. Bentley, I couldn’t accept that,” Hanna said, shaking her head. “I have a list here of items my mistress wants, and those are the things I came for—nothing more.” She shook her head firmly. She didn’t want to take advantage of the man’s kindness.

“I understand that, but this gold hairpin would so suit you. Would you take it for me?” He asked, beginning to wrap it up in paper.

“Oh, sir, please let me pay you for it. I can.” Hanna reached into her purse.

“No, no. It’s a gift from me to you. I insist. You bring me much business every week.” George smiled.

“Thank you. You are certainly too kind.”

“I’m not. Any man would do the same upon seeing your lovely red locks. They just beg for an equally lovely hairpin to adorn them.” George winked.

Hanna felt heat rise in her face. “Oh, well, let’s get on with the list I have then,” she said, not knowing what to say.

“Of course, Miss Seton. I hope I haven’t embarrassed you.” George Bentley frowned, looking troubled.

“No, not at all. It’s just…my hair. I’ve never much liked it.” Hanna laughed softly.

“Oh, Miss Seton, it is a crowning glory. Don’t ever believe any different.”

Hanna collected the items Miss Isabella wanted, and George wrapped them up for her in a parcel. “That’s everything, I think.”

“Very good. Miss Seton?”

“Yes, Mr. Bentley?” Hanna asked, half turning to leave.

“Please call me George.” He paused. “Would you like to take a walk one afternoon on your day off? Could I call for you?”

Hanna took a deep breath, excitement filling her at the thought. “Of course. Next Saturday afternoon.”

“Very good. I’ll call for you around 2 p.m.”

“At the servants’ entrance, of course,” Hanna said, smiling.

“Yes, of course.” George half bowed. “Until then, Hanna.”

“Yes, I’ll see you then, George.” Hanna walked away, feeling as if she were floating on air. A future with George Bentley seemed more possible by the moment. She couldn’t wait to get back to the estate to write all about it to mama. She only had to wait a week until the walk with George. The time would pass so slowly until then, though!

* * * *

Later that evening, Hanna helped Miss Isabella dress for dinner. Her hands were shaking with excitement, and she could hardly keep her mind on the task at hand.

“What ails you, Hanna Seton? You are not yourself,” Miss Isabella asked, giving her a sharp look as Hanna dropped a hairpin on the floor.

“I’m sorry, miss,” Hanna said, picking it up.

“Don’t be sorry. Tell me what is the matter before you muss my hair,” Miss Isabella demanded.

“Nothing is the matter. Everything is right with the world, in fact,” Hanna said and sighed.

“Oh. Oh! I forgot. You saw your young man today. Didn’t you?” Miss Isabella said and winked into the mirror of the vanity.

“I did,” Hanna said shyly.

“So what happened to put you into this state? You are positively in a tizzy!” Miss Isabella giggled.

“He asked me to take a walk with him next Saturday.” Hanna adjusted a hairpin in Miss Isabella’s blonde hair.

“How lovely. And what did you say? I think I know the answer.” Miss Isabella laughed.

“I said yes, of course.”

“Good for you, my dear. He’s a lucky man.” Miss Isabella reached for her powder puff.

“Thank you,” Hanna said, finishing the hairdo.

“I’m only saying what is true, my friend. He would be very lucky to have you. Let’s hope he turns out to be half the man you think he is.” Miss Isabella dotted perfume on her wrist.

“I think I shall be counting the days until we meet!” Hanna said, clasping her hands together and spinning around in a circle.

Miss Isabella laughed. “I’m sure you shall. That’s what love is like!”

“Love? I’m not sure that I do love him,” Hanna said, stopping her spin and frowning.

“Well, you are at least in deep like. Very deep, and that’s good enough to build a life, a marriage on,” Miss Isabella said.

Just then, the door of the bedchamber burst open.

“I will speak with you now, young lady!” Miss Isabella’s father roared.

“Father, what is it?” Miss Isabella stood from the vanity with a start.

“What is it?” Her father sputtered, his face red with rage. “What it is is that you’ve rejected numerous suitors. You are 23 years old, and it is well past time for you to get married. That’s why I’ve taken matters into my own hands, young lady.”

“What do you mean?” Miss Isabella sank into a chair near her bed.

Hanna tried to look invisible as she moved to the corner, embarrassed by the scene.

“I mean that I have chosen a husband for you, Lawrence Morton, Viscount Stafford. You are to leave for the London Season the day after tomorrow, taking your lady’s maid, of course, with you. I will brook no arguments about it.” He gestured toward Hanna.

“Father, no!” Miss Isabella wrung her hands.

“I will hear nothing more of the matter as I just said! You shall leave for London the day after tomorrow, so it is best to get your things together now,” Lord Frampton said, his face set in a frown.

“Father, please!” Miss Isabella responded tears in her eyes.

Hanna silently willed her headstrong mistress not to argue further with her father. He was right. It was well past time for her mistress to marry.

“Now, now, dear. You will have a grand time, and Lord Morton is so looking forward to meeting you. Aren’t you eager to meet him as well? After all, he is to be your husband. He is a most eligible man.” Her father beamed.

“Yes, father. Of course, you are right, and I do want to meet him.” Miss Isabella’s voice was low.

“You are 23, Isabella. You must remember that you are quite lucky to have made such a good match.” Her father smiled tightly.

“I know, father.” Miss Isabella said, her voice trembling.

“Very well, then. I’ll leave you to prepare for your journey.” Lord Frampton exited the room.

Miss Isabella burst into tears. “What am I going to do?”

Hanna moved to her side and hugged her tightly. The young women had known each other for two years now, and they were more like best friends than anything.

“I don’t know. I suppose we must go, and you must marry the viscount, much as you wish not to.” Hanna swallowed her own tears. The last thing she wanted to do was go to London. There was nothing there for her. Her life and family were here. She had grown up in Lincolnshire, and the thought of spending extended time in the sprawling city of London made her anxious. She had heard it was smoggy, dirty, smelly, and dangerous. Besides, there was George Bentley, the merchandiser, to think about. All she had been looking forward to was the walk they were going to be taking together next week. Now that wouldn’t happen. This was all wrong!

“But I can’t. I just can’t!” Miss Isabella stamped her foot.

“Miss Isabella, I don’t understand why you are so opposed to marriage to Lord Morton. He sounds like a wonderful match.” Hanna studied her mistress, trying to figure out the puzzle.

“I don’t love him!” Miss Isabella frowned.

“Well, many women don’t love the men they marry, but they still make happy lives and marriages,” Hanna said. “I am sure you shall grow to love him if he is a good man like your father has said he is. I hear wonderful things about Lord Morton.”

Miss Isabella was silent for a moment. Then, she smiled tightly. “You are right, Hanna. I’m being silly. Please leave me now. I have some letters to write since our departure is imminent.”

“Of course, miss.” Hanna’s voice trembled. She wanted to cry over the whole situation. She left, wondering to whom her mistress was writing so intently.


Chapter Two

The traveling coach trundled up the road in the growing cold. Hanna shivered through her thin, green dress. It was worn and well past need of replacing. Threads stuck out in places, and there was a hole under one arm—tiny, but hard to mend. It kept reopening. She was miserable all around, thinking of her parents and friends she had said goodbye to for the next few months. When she had gone to the market in a rush to tell George she would be leaving for an extended period and would miss their walk—oh! She would never forget the disappointed look on his face. She tried to focus on other things.

“Are you looking forward to meeting Lord Morton, miss?” It seemed like a stupid question, considering her mistress’s previous declarations about going to London and marriage, but she asked it anyway. Perhaps Miss Isabella had softened or changed her mind over the past day or so. She studied her mistress, who was looking out the window, a small smile on her lips. Miss Isabella had said little about the trip since her first protestations to her father.

“Not really, but what must be done will be done,” Miss Isabella said, shrugging. “Women have no power as daughters of powerful men other than their hands in marriage, I suppose.” She sighed.

“Miss…I just don’t understand.” Hanna said, shaking her head. Was it really so bad to be married off to a kind, wealthy, supposedly handsome viscount?

“I know you don’t, but you will soon enough.” Miss Isabella laughed softly.

Hanna felt a frisson of alarm rush through her. “What does that mean? What are you saying?”

“You will understand why I’m not interested in marrying Lord Morton or this earl or that other viscount or blah, blah, blah. I tire of all of them!” She waved her hand in the air as if willing them all away.

“It will be good to understand you, miss. I only hope for the best for you. I care about you…not only as your servant, you know, I trust, but as something like a—a friend.” Hanna tripped over the words, feeling her face grow hot.

“You are my friend indeed, as I’ve told you before. You are at my side now in my hour of trouble.” Miss Isabella reached across and patted Hanna’s knee. She watched Hanna for a moment. “Are you cold?” Miss Isabella asked. “The wind is brutal, and you are practically racked with shivers.”

“Yes, I am. Freezing.” Hanna hugged herself.

“No matter that. I’ll get one of my old pelisses for you. That will keep you warm.” Lady Isabelle knocked on the wall of the carriage.

The coachman came around to see what she wanted.

“Please retrieve my trunk from the rack. If you open it, you will find a navy blue pelisse on top. I need it, Humphrey. Thank you,” Miss Isabella said.

The coachman bowed slightly. “Yes, miss.”

“Oh, that’s too much,” Hanna said, her teeth chattering. “I can’t accept it.”

“Nonsense, I have a dozen of them! This one shall be yours. It is one of my older ones anyway—not one of the newer ones made just for this trip. It will make me ever so happy for you to have it, Hanna.” Miss Isabella smiled.

A few moments later, the coachman handed Miss Isabella the pelisse.

“Here you are,” Miss Isabella said, handing the silky garment with a flourish to Hanna.

Hanna took it and put it on, reveling in the smooth feel of the fabric against her fingers, her skin. She had never worn such a nice garment. It was a longer pelisse that buttoned in the front. “Thank you, Miss Isabella. Thank you.” Tears sprang to her eyes at the gesture of kindness.

“You are quite welcome. That color suits you. It sets off your beautiful green eyes and red hair.”

“Oh.” Hanna frowned. “That is kind of you to say.”

“I mean it. You have the most gorgeous hair, you know—like a fire!” Miss Isabella’s eyes grew big. “I have been quite jealous of it since I met you.”

“I hate my hair, but thank you again, miss.” Hanna had always been unsure of her flaming locks and sprinkling of freckles. She was fair-skinned, too. Her looks were unique, and she found that men either were obsessed with her hair due to some strange fancy, or they disliked it. It left her feeling unsure of herself.

“You should hate nothing about yourself. You are wonderful,” Miss Isabella said. “A much better person than I.”

Her words were strange and kind, and Hanna felt comforted, even though she still missed her family and friends greatly. Her chest ached every time she thought of them.

Miss Isabella glanced out of the coach window as the vehicle started up again. She looked anxious.

“Are you feeling alright, miss?” Hanna asked. “You seem unsettled.” Perhaps she was just nervous about meeting her betrothed soon and finally having to marry.

“Quite alright.” Miss Isabella smiled, her eyes sparkling.

She was definitely acting strangely, Hanna thought, a sensation of foreboding stealing over her.

Suddenly, a rumble of thunder sounded nearby, shaking the coach.

“My goodness. Is it going to storm?” Miss Isabella asked, looking excited, rather than frightened.

“It certainly sounds like it, miss,” Hanna said.

* * * *

Lord Lawrence Morton sat alone in the drawing-room at Wanderley, his manor home in London. A terrible storm had rolled in. It was a terrible night for him to be alone, but fate had conspired to make it so. His friend Jack had begged off of their plans that evening, so he was left only with this blasted storm and the ghosts of his past, his haunted memories. Thunder rolled, shaking the manor house as lightning lit up the room, making it a ghastly mockery of day time. He nursed his brandy, a headache coming on. He hated storms, even years later—after the tragic event that had changed his life. He was 28 now, and he had been 21 then. Seven long years still hadn’t enabled him to put it behind him and move on with his life, or with a new love. He had only recently determined that he would marry, but he was sure that he wouldn’t love his betrothed, Miss Isabella Frampton, when they did marry.

A storm had been part of what had taken his darling girl—that and blasted highwaymen.

He stood up, half-drunk already, knocking glasses and a decanter from a shelf as he swept his hand carelessly along it. The sound of the glass tinkling and crashing was satisfying. The destruction fit his frame of mind. The thought enraged him that there had been nothing he could do to save her—his life, his Elise—the woman he had known he was going to love forever. He hadn’t even been there—hadn’t known until the event was over and she was cold and dead on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in the English countryside.

Would he never get over this torment over the woman he had loved? Would he never be able to weather a storm without thinking of her blue eyes, her gentle nature?

He slouched back down into his chair and slugged back the glass of brandy, determined to get blackout drunk. At least the drink would enable him to forget that he now had nothing to live for apart from the banal comforts that surrounded him. Ah, but what were comforts without love?

A single tear slid down his cheek.

“Blast it!” He said. He hated that he would always cry a bit when he got very drunk, but his true emotions usually found their way to the surface anyhow. The pointlessness of it all hit him in these moments.

Who could save him? There was no one. He couldn’t even save himself.


* * * *


Lightning flashed in the sky, and soon the rain began. It pelted the carriage, and the driver had to slow down a great deal. Then, the travel coach stopped completely. The wind howled around them.

“What is happening?” Hanna looked out the window, but she couldn’t see anything.

“I’m not sure,” Miss Isabella said, but there was a note of excitement in her voice.

Suddenly, there was a commotion outside the coach, and the coachman was shouting. The door of the coach swung open. A man grabbed first Miss Isabella and then demanded that Hanna get out as well.

Both women climbed out of the coach, protesting. The man pushed them down into the mud. Another man held the coachman, Humphrey, at knifepoint. The man who had pushed the two women down spoke to a third man, “Which one is yours?”

“The tall blonde in the pink gown,” the man said. “She’s mine.”

Hanna gasped, recognizing the voice. It was Brook, the footman. What was going on?

The man let Miss Isabella go, and she rushed toward Brook, taking him into her arms. “My love! Oh, how I’ve waited for this moment!”

“Isabella, my own!”

They kissed, long and passionately, clinging to each other as if they were drowning.

Hanna stood up, gaping at the two of them. A tumult of emotions ran through her—disbelief, anger, sadness, and fear. Now she understood why her mistress had rejected every suitor sent by her father and why she didn’t care to meet Lord Morton, Viscount Stafford. She was in love with Brook the footman, and it was obvious to Hanna now why she had been acting so strangely during this journey: she knew he was going to waylay their coach.

“Miss Isabella!” Hanna said, nearly speechless. “How could you do this? How could you betray your father’s wishes like this?” Tears sprang to her eyes at the thought of what Miss Isabella would be giving up—her fortune, her life as she knew it –  and of the pain, her father and family would endure due to the shame. The tears were also for herself—for what she was going to lose since Miss Isabella had made this choice. The whole life she had known was now going to be gone.

“I’m in love. When there is love, nothing else matters, Hanna. You will find that out one day, my friend. We will run away and be married tonight.” Miss Isabella gave her a fierce smile.

“Are you certain this is what you want, Miss Isabella?” Hanna asked, a lump in her throat. She took a step closer to her friend, but the distance felt like a gulf. There was no way she was going to talk her mistress, her lady, her friend out of this decision. She knew that. No one who didn’t mean business would have gone to such desperate measures, nor would she risk losing everything as she was sure to do.

“I am sure. I love Brook. He is good to me. There is no one else I’ve ever wanted. We’ve been together for nearly six years now—secretly.” Miss Isabella’s eyes glittered in a sort of a triumph. She looked exhilarated, free, and happy.

Hanna stared, wide-eyed. “You certainly can keep a secret, miss. I had no idea.” And she hadn’t. She had simply thought her mistress was fiercely independent—uninterested in marriage.

“Yes, I can.” Miss Isabella raised her chin proudly. “Now, go on with you to London. Do what you must.” Miss Isabella crossed to Hanna and gave her a long hug. “I will never forget you. You’ve been a good friend to me. I pray you have a good life.”

“Oh, Miss Isabella, you are leaving me in such a predicament, though!” Hanna wrung her hands. Her heart was thrumming so fast, she wondered if she might faint right down in the mud. And, so what if she did? Did it really matter at this point? What future was left for her now without a job or a home?

“You will get through it. You are strong and resourceful, Hanna. I know you.” Miss Isabella kissed Hanna’s cheek and gave her a long look goodbye.

“Let me go, blast it!” The coachman shouted. He wiggled against his captor.

“In good time, man,” said the man who held him, keeping the knife to his throat.

“Let him go. We’re leaving. He’s not going to stop us,” Brook said in a loud voice.

“Damn you, Brook, you traitorous wretch!” The coachman said, wrenching free.

“I am sorry, Humphrey. I will make it up to you.” Miss Isabella crossed to him and handed him a bag. “Here is plenty of gold for your troubles. Ride on to London. Don’t go back to Lincolnshire. That way, my father won’t find me in time…not before we’re married.” She kissed the man on the cheek.

Humphrey grunted and took the gold. The man let him go. “Very well, miss. I do this only because I am fond of you. I’ve known you since you were a mere girl, but take care of yourself.”

“I will, Humphrey. Brook will take care of me,” Miss Isabella said. She hugged Brook, and he touched her face lovingly.

Brook helped Miss Isabella on to a waiting horse, and they galloped away into the darkness.

“Blast that damnable villain!” The coachman, Humphrey, said as they stood in the rain, gathering their wits.

“I don’t know what to do,” Hanna said, cold and bewildered. She wanted desperately to go back to Lincolnshire, but now she had no mistress to attend to. She shivered, her dress and fine pelisse soaked through.

“Let’s go to London. Your mistress has left you. You cannot go back to Lincolnshire, and I’m certainly not going to. Not ever. Not with this gold.” Humphrey grinned.

“Very well,” Hanna said. What other choice did she have but to get into the coach and continue on with the journey? She couldn’t very well stand here in the storm with no means of transportation and nowhere to go.

She climbed into the coach, weary and waterlogged. In spite of her discomfort and consternation, she fell into a deep sleep.

At some point during the night, she had a troubled dream. Her mother was reaching out to her and calling her name. Hanna couldn’t hear it, but she could see her mother’s lips moving, and her father was running alongside the coach. They were trying to stop it, as if they knew something was wrong—that she was headed in the wrong direction.

“No, no!” She murmured. She twisted in her seat.

In the dream as in life, the coach kept rattling along the road, and she could do nothing about it. At some point, she passed George Bentley, his hat in hand, standing alongside the road. He looked forlorn, his brown eyes gazing solemnly into hers.

“George,” she whispered, her eyes filling with tears. She wanted the coach to stop, but she knew there was no going back to her old life now. She was moving forward no matter what. She would go to London, and there was little or nothing she could do about it. Hanna stared out the coach window, and her mother, father, and George all stood watching after her.

Tears wet her cheeks.

Suddenly, she jolted awake, unsure of what had interrupted the nightmare. The coach had stopped, that much was clear. Hanna stretched, every bone in her body aching from the cold and being pushed down into the mud the night before. She sat up and looked out the window of the coach.

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