Authors: Phynix De Leon
The Former Duchess
where else to turn too, Samantha took me to her grandmother’s residence on Queen’s Square in London. The former duchess welcomed her youngest grandchild with wide spread open arms and a few tears. However when she spotted me she stiffened.
“Why have you brought her here?” she asked her granddaughter.
“Brother was too cruel to her and she had nowhere else to go at the moment. Let her stay for a while, please? Just until she can arrange a trip home?” Sam pleaded for me.
I simply stood under the former duchess’s glare and waited her reply.
Suddenly she lifted a brow. “How was your brother being cruel to this young woman?”
“He told her plain as day last night that she was nothing to him but a means to an end. All he wanted and needed was her money and not her,” Sam sniffed tearfully.
The duchess pressed a hand to her forehead and sighed. “He is just like his father. How two men could be so alike it befuddles me.” She rested her sapphire blue eyes upon me. “You may stay but only under the promise you don’t go back to America. Our family has already gone through one too many scandals in recent years. We couldn’t handle one where my grandson loses his future wife do to being stupid.”
“What do you mean, Grandmother?” Samantha gasped.
“He shall come to his senses. His father never did and look where that got him, in his grave before he was fifty! My dear, we shall make it where he has no choice but to bend to his will.” She smiled slightly, her eyes alit with mischief. “He shall be yours before the end of the month.”
“And just how do you plan to do that?” I asked, speaking up.
“The same way all women have for hundreds of years. We shall put forth our charms on display for all to see. There is never to many balls and parties and of course gentlemen to dance with.”
Samantha smiled slyly. “As brother is a duke he must attend some of them. It shall drive him mad to see you in another man’s arms.”
I was never one to use such tricks but I was still so angry with him, he would deserve anything that came his arrogant way.
I smiled back at them. “It would be my pleasure.”
The plan was nothing short of a success until the night of my fifth ball with the dowager duchess when after a fine waltz with a charming Lord Applegate I was promptly snatched around a corner into a darkened hallway. A well place hand over my mouth stopped my scream.
After a few turns down other halls where I could no longer hear the music I was spun around and held motionless by hands with force like steel. Looking up I looked into quick sliver eyes of a madman. I would have grinned at the possessive flare in his eyes but then he shook me.
“You madding woman,” he rasped, a piece of dark hair falling limply into his eyes.
“What,” I snapped, affronted.
A small smile crept over his lips. “You have no idea do you?” He shook his head. “You are truly something else. However,” he glared, “do not dance with other men who are not married.”
“So you are jealous and possessive?” I asked with a smirk, “good to know. A god warning to keep me away from you, your sister was the one who convinced me not to go home. She wants me to give you time to realize there is more to you then I already know. But there is nothing inside of you, you’re hollow inside, like a rock.” I shook myself free of his hold and stepped back.
He followed with a growl. “You know nothing.”
I took a step forward placing myself in his space. “Yes, I do. I will not marry a man who will use my assets and toss me aside. I want a true family, not the empty picture yours has been. I will refuse to be set aside for work and will demand kisses in public, and such things as holding hands.”
“But such things like that are not done by people of the
“You are a duke, a grand duke I would like to add, and do not others follow by your example?” I shook my head disappointed. “Never mind. I’ll give you two weeks until there are two weeks to the wedding left. If you cannot prove yourself, I shall marry elsewhere.”
And with that I swept away from him and headed back to the ball room. I didn’t notice when he clenched his hand and hit the wall, nor would I have cared.
A GREAT RACE
“Grandmother is going to kill you! And me for that matter when she finds out what you have been up too,” Sam chided me as I slipped into a pair of jockey silks.
“Posh, it shall be fine. No one could tell I’m a woman after I pin my hair under the hair and I wear my breast wrap.”
She shook her head. “My brother will be likely to do murder over this.”
“Well he need not know. I made my choice, I am going to face my fear of riding, I will prove there is none better than me and my horse Champ,” I said slipping into the pants.
“I worry about you. After you told me what happened I should refuse to let you anywhere near a horse, but you should be able to live your life like you want. Just please be careful.”
I flashed her a confident grin. “Don’t worry, it’ll be a piece of cake. There is no better rider in all the country now. Besides even if I don’t marry your brother you still need the money and the only way to do that is to win this qualifying race for the grand race next month. If I win both you’ll have more than enough money to live your life anyway you want.”
Sam grabbed my hands and squeezed them. “He may not be a warm man, but do give him a chance. I believe he is changing, Alanna.”
I shook my head and turned to the door. “He had his chance. He has one more week to prove himself to me or I go home.” I smiled, “it would have been great to have you as a sister. And now for a great race!”
The familiar sway of the horse beneath me calmed my nerves after an inner battle with myself getting on Champ.
But he had stood there calmly as if waiting for me.
We were almost to the line of other horses in the race at the track starting point when I looked to the stands and saw Samantha, the duke, and the dowager duchess. Two of the three looked worried and the duke looked on with a stone face.
I grinned and rode on to the line. I would show him that a woman could ride, oh dare he ban me from riding?
I sank low in the saddle taking in a deep breath and closed my eyes waiting for the bell that would start the race. As soon as the bell rang my eyes snapped open and champ was already running. The ground pounded beneath us, the other racers and horse following close behind. We circled around the first bend and I laughed breathlessly as we were still ahead by mere feet from the next horse. But as we neared the final bend, two horse blocked us in one on my right another on my rear keeping us where we didn’t need to be.
Suddenly the jockey of the horse to my right took his whip a slashed it out across Champ’s neck. Champ bulked and slightly left off the ground before I pulled him in again. A few well place kick put his back on track but I was sweating now. The ground had been moving fast and I could have fallen, yet I trust Champ to keep me seated.
I closed my eyes and spurred him on whispering in his ear that if we won he could have as many mares he could want if he won.
With a final burst of energy he charged forward barely passing the jockey who had used his whip, but as we passed him going over the finish line first he reached out with the whip again and aimed. This time Champ couldn’t help rearing and as he reared he titled to face back. Down I fell from his back staring him in the eyes before I hit ground and heard the thunder of other hooves. I closed my eyes and curled into a ball readying myself for the hooves that never came. Champion stood over me neighing and screaming at the other so they would part around us.
When the final horse passed on by suddenly there were people storming the track around me a Champion. We had won, but I had fallen again, and this time it may have been my last.
I looked at the up at the stands to see Sam and the dowager missing, but the duke staring at me in shock. I realized that that my helmet had come off and my hair had flown free.
“Someone fetch the doctor! Fast, she is bleeding!”
“I forbidded it! And now look at what has happened to her, if word gets out it shall have a never ending scandal,” roared the duke from the other side of my bedroom door.
So much for sleep with the rumbling bear in the hall, destined was I to lie awake in pain, but with a grin on my face. I had ridden and I had won! But the moment I find out whose horse and rider that had been I was going to hurt someone. No one had the right to whip my Champion.
“Your more worried over your precious family name then her health! You are lucky she is even alive Grayson, if I were you I would have a care for the girl,” interjected a new voice. “In the time you left her for your
I have been courting her. Forgive me, my dear friend, but she deserves someone who can give a care for her.”
“Like you can,” Lord Grayson roared and there was a great crash.
The voice of the second man had been that of Lord Derek, a friend of the duke’s Sam had introduced me too. I silently cried a
for his performance.
“Yes, I could. Let her go, my friend.”
“I cannot do that I need her.”
“You need her horse and her money, not her,” Derek pointed out.
“It may seem like I do not care, however I do. I have come to have a certain set of feelings for the girl, but you know as well as I that most marriages are political and not made for love. If one is lucky they can form a bond after marriage. My goal is to save the family, but mostly to save my youngest sister from being left in the poor house. But I need an heir.”
There was a silence and I struggled to listen, my heart pounding in my ribs. Then the damning words were said.
“The doctor that looked her over after she fainted had a lot to tell me that I wasn’t informed about Miss Alanna. It appears she sustained an injury to her midriff and hips that cause scaring. He said he was unsure if she could have children. The damage, he said was poorly healed.”
There was a saddening sigh that came from his friend. “If you let this stop you, my friend, I believe even you are beyond hope. A woman should not be measured by her money, looks, or ability to have children. Only by the love she could give.
“I don’t think I am capable of loving someone,” was the last I heard the duke speak as I drifted into a dizzy sleep with tears swimming in my eyes.
“I want to go home,” I whispered, rolling over and burying my face into a pillow hugged to my chest.
It had been four days since anyone had come to my room and four days since I remembered his words. Foolishly somewhere along the line of this journey I had fallen in love with a man who could never love me back.
It would be so simple for the world to just end, it had already started to fall down around me.
A soft knock sounded on my door and I tucked myself farther into the bed, pressing my face into the pillow.
The door opened and someone tread lightly over the floor of my room over to the bed. The bed dipped slightly and a hand smoother over the back of my head softly.
A throat cleared roughly and the voice that came from the person on the bed sounded pained, and I tried not to tense up letting him know I was wake.
“I don’t know why I cannot face you when you are awake, it seems that your way of talking just sparks something within that makes myself somewhat of a
idiot. I am not good with emotions and it has taken me some time to sort through a fair amount of them. Longer then my sister, grandmother and friend would have liked.
“Now that my anger over the race is gone I see now how foolish it all was and how you were just trying to help. I now know that it matters not to me what you can do are long as you are you and stay by my side. I have yet to call this love, but perhaps the stirrings of love.
I…regret many things and I wish we could start over. Someday I will have the courage to ask forgiveness from you when you are awake rather than sneaking into your room. I shall also ask once more for your hand and let you know the truth behind our marriage at first before I got to know you.”
I resisted the urge to jump up and hug him, letting him know it was fine. Of all I knew he could just be playing another game. No, he would have to say it to me face when I was wake next time so I could know. I had to know.
I was entangled with all these feelings and they were tying themselves into knots in my gut and heart.
The pressure of him on the bed left and I heard him as he walked across the room. Quietly he closed the door behind him.
I bit my lip and turned farther into the mattress.
“Hello Ms. Black,” came a cheerful greeting on a rather damp and dismal day from the garden gate.
I turned to see Lord Derek, pop into the garden and sit next to me upon the stone bench. I offered him a smile, but I’m afraid it turn out rather sadly.
“What can I do for you today?” I asked softly.
He grinned. “I have a plan! Your grandmother was the daughter of a duke right?”
“Yes, Norfolk as it happened.”
“Well as it happens he is still alive and kicking. I thought what better way to cheer you up then to see family, as it seems very important to you.” He patted my hand. “Have no worries my phaeton, is just outside the gate. We can be gone and back before Grayson gets home.”
“But-” I started to protest but he grabbed my arm and began to lead to through the gate.
“Not to worry, he is going to love you. He is a rather odd old man.”
Seeing that I was going to gain no ground I shook my head and just let it go.
The carriage ride wasn’t so bad, but I itched to be upon the back of a horse. Soon we were passing into the heart of London when the carriage came to a stop in front of a great stone castle surrounded by walls twenty feet height with a thick metal gate that led into a giant stone court yard.
“Are you quite sure this is the place?” I asked faintly.
“Positive. I remember coming here a few times in the Duke’s younger days. He had grand parties, but he hasn’t been outside his house for quite some years. Seeing you however just might cheer him up.”
I turned on him then. “You mean he doesn’t know!”
“No worries,” he repeated in a singsong voice as the gates rose and we drove into a tunnel to reach the courtyard.
I had thought that Lord Grayson home was big, but this house was the largest in Town. It had to be.
I wrung my hands as we climbed the steps to the front door and took a deep breath. He was family and I wanted to meet him rather badly.
A stern looking woman in her late forties opened the door and looked us over. She eyed my baby blue silk day gown and turned to Lord Derek. When she looked at him she gave him a smile.
“Well if it isn’t Lord Derek. You haven’t been here in ages and look at you all grown up now. Come in, I will let His Grace know you are here.”
As we followed I whispered, “What was that all about?”
He just shrugged, but grinned.
“He is here you say? Well about blasted time!” cackled an elder man’s voice into the room the woman had just gone into. “Bring him in!”
I was pulled along behind Derek and waited to see what was to happen.
“Derek my boy, so good to see you it’s been years. Look at how tall you are,” the duke said in a pleased tone.
“I have a surprise for you, my friend. One I think you’ll enjoy.” He turned and gave me a wink. “The Lady Alanna Black!”
At first sight the duke isn’t what I thought he would be like. He was about the same height as Lord Derek and looked nowhere near his age of seventy-four. His hair was still mostly a dark brown sprinkled with white and his kind blue eyes sparkled with wit.
The duke upon noticing me gave a grin. “So this is what you have come here for. How may I ask is this lovely young lady related to you.”
“It is not me she is related to but you. This is your great granddaughter, she has come over from America to be married soon.”
“Married, you say? My granddaughter?” his eyebrows shot up. Then he
laughed and pulled me into a tight hug. “Nicely met daughter, nicely met indeed. I had no idea! Well now, you’re the kind of family a man like myself needs, unlike my useless grandson over there.”
I turned a shocked look to Derek and he just shrugged.
“You my dear with have to come visit more often now that I know. You simply must. I never met you mother, but your grandmother, my daughter, looks nothing like you. You are much prettier, and I bet you don’t sass back.”
“No Grandfather, she has a habit of getting into troubles of other kinds.”
And so set off the best day I had yet in England. It wasn’t until a couple of hours later that a brash banging on the front door disturbed us all. Miss Morgan, the woman who had answered the door for us went to go see what was happening.
It didn’t take long for her to turn. Lord Grayson barged into the room, with a Miss Morgan dangling from his arm trying to stop him. Grayson simply shock her off, nabbed my by the arm and grated, “We are leaving.”
But he was stopped from dragging me out by the hand of my grandfather on his arm.
“I do say, unhand her,” grandfather said sternly.
“I shall not, she is coming with me. And you,” he snapped at Derek, “are in more trouble than you can count!”
Tired of the fight I yanked away from both of them a crossed my arms. I chose to glare at Lord Grayson first.
“What in heaven do you think you are doing, barging in like that and into the home of a Grand Duke, no less?”
He glared back. “Saving you.”
“Saving me? Me?” the very thought made me laugh. “Save me from what, tea and cakes?”
He looked a little unsure. “I was saving you from Derek, he is rather know to be a playboy.”
Deciding to use this to my advantage I walked over to Derek and sat next to him, placing my hand over his.
“I would much rather stay here among family and friends. You may begone now.”
He gritted his teeth. “I will not leave! You are going to marry me, is that clear?”
“I still have a choice. Remember I gave you a chance? Prove that I should.”
He looked between us all in the room and I saw the arrogance leave his face as he dropped to one knee in front of me.
“You have entrapped me with you wit, kindness and
have shown me such even as I showed you none. You have entangled me in feelings that I didn’t know still existed inside of me, I will do anything. Please, Alanna,” he whispered, “Come back to me.”
I grinned and patted him on the head, “All you ever had to do was ask. Remember what you just said.”
I kissed Derek on the cheek and the same with my grandfather. “I shall see you soon. Good-bye to you Grandfather and good day to you Cousin.”
When I saw the stunned look upon his face I patted his cheek. “Let us go a fetch your sister, I miss her already.”