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Welbery, could put an end to his treacherous ways.

H-how?” she asked. How could she possibly prevent anything?

By spying on Lord Ravenspur.

The suggestion had left her speechless. He’d gone on to tell her the

king would generously reward her for her services, and might even commend her. But it must be kept strictly secret, and under no

circumstances was she to tell anyone of her mission—including her family. He’d given her a guinea and told her she would receive far more after she completed her “duty.”

For a week she’d grappled with indecision. Aubri had never undertaken anything of the kind in her entire life. To spy on a peer of the realm who was a traitor to king and country was not only exciting, but exceedingly dangerous. Yet as she’d watched her younger sisters patch yet another hole in their skirts; their mother—ill from a weak heart—labor over a boiling pot filled with the neighbor’s laundry; and her father struggle to keep the rabbits and vole-mice from eating the new seedlings—Aubri had realized the choice was much easier to make than she’d originally thought.

“Out of the bloody way! Do you want to get run over?” An angry male voice shouted.

Aubri glanced back, shocked to find a carriage and two barreling down upon her. She’d been so wrapped up in her thoughts she hadn’t even heard it coming down the road. It rumbled past, barely missing her. She coughed as a cloud of dust kicked up in the coach’s wake enveloped her. And as it passed, she would have sworn she heard the coachman mumble, “Bloody beggar.”

Aubriana’s cheeks warmed with embarrassment at the coachman’s words. He’d called her a beggar.

She glanced down in shame at her threadbare skirts and scuffed slippers. It was not the first time she’d been labeled as such. Her entire family suffered such prejudices at the hands of the villagers because they were among the poorest in all the county.

Aubri curled her hand into a fist, her nails digging into the tender flesh of her palm. Fury rushed through her veins, burning away her shame.

Why should she be mortified by her attire?

It was Lord Ravenspur’s fault her family was in dire straits! For fourteen years he had neglected his tenants leaving them to flounder. And all of them had suffered—her family the most. No wonder Bram had turned to smuggling. His ill-gotten gains put food on the table. The marquis’s grandfather may have been a stiff-lipped nobleman, but he’d known to take care of the people who depended upon him. Nothing of the kind could be said of Lord Ravenspur. And now she knew he was the most vile of villains.

Aubri clutched her portman and used her anger to propel her forward, putting one sore foot in front of the other. Before long, she was walking down a long treed drive. Her anger evaporated and her pulse surged as she caught her first glimpse of the manor house.

A storm of butterflies alighted in her stomach as she stood in awe of the full magnificence of Bournemouth Hall.

My gods, I’ve never seen the like.

It was an H-shaped, three story Elizabethan Manor. It had to be three hundred feet wide, with a multitude of huge glittering windows. At least twenty chimneys rose from the roof, each decorated in a beautiful knotted design. Arched bay windows accented each floor, and the warm yellow sandstone walls made the majestic house seem as if it had been born of the sun.

It was awe-inspiring.

There must be a hundred rooms! Surely I will not be responsible for them all?

“Miss Welbery?” a stiff voice called.

Aubriana tore her gaze away from the magnificent edifice and found a tall man standing on the landing of the wide stairs leading to the entrance. He was impeccably dressed in his blue with silver braid livery, and pristine white cravat and gloves. His grey hair was perfectly groomed with thick sausage-like curls, his disciplined posture rigid, and his face devoid of emotion.

Aubri felt the heat of a blush creep into her cheeks. How he must think her the stupefied country bumpkin. Here she was, wearing her best country dress, which was little more than serviceable, gawking at his master’s mansion.

Straightening her spine, she tightened her hold on the worn portman stuffed with her meager belongings, and made her way up the stairs.

She paused beside him. “Thank you, Mr...?”

“Wiggins—the butler, Miss Welbery,” he informed her with an air of authority, his eyes mirroring nothing but the world around him.

He must be the epitome of a proper servant. I must become like him.

“Thank you, Mr. Wiggins,” she said softly as she sank into an awkward curtsy with the portman tucked under one arm. She struggled to contain the nervous flutter in her belly.

He gave a polite nod, before turning on his heel, and opening the

massive double oak doors to admit her inside.

“Welcome to the home of the Marquis of Ravenspur,” he stated with a

hint of pride.

Aubriana stumbled to a halt, taken aback by the splendor of her

surroundings.

It was simply the foyer, and yet it was stunning with its thick honey-

oak paneling, ornate plaster ceiling, Grecian marble columns, and hardwood floor. Sunlight streamed into the room from the bank of windows, giving the chamber a warm, golden glow. The foyer alone was larger than her family’s entire house.

“This way, miss,” Wiggins commanded as he led the way through a long, opulent gallery and into a massive, vaulted chamber. “The great hall.”

Aubriana stood in the centre of the vast room, surrounded by oak paneling nearly reaching the ornate, polished plaster ceiling. A massive deep red and cream Persian carpet hid half of the hardwood floor. A cream and red veined marble hearth as tall as a man and looking wide enough to roast an entire ox was built into the opposite wall—a warm crackling fire sat snugly in its gleaming grate. Above the wide marble mantle, was the coat-of-arms of Queen Elizabeth I, emblazoned in full color. And forming a line on either side, looked to be the coat-of-arms of all the former Earls of Winton, with shields and swords proudly displayed in-between.

At either end of the great hall, were wide winding stairs which led up to open galleries and the second story. There was even a set of galleries above that, which had to belong to the third story. And tucked below the stairs were doors and hallways which Aubri presumed led to the lower levels and the servants’ quarters, no doubt where she would be sleeping and spending much of her time.

There was no question, the great hall was the hub of the Elizabethan Mansion.

Aubri was startled from her reverie by the sharp rap of high-heeled slippers. She glanced over and found a woman stalking toward her from one of the lower galleries. She was tall and thin, her movements stiff, her back rigid. Her mouth was drawn taught in her pinched face, as she raked Aubri from head to toe with her cold, disapproving gaze. Her nose was long and narrow, her cheeks gaunt, and her iron-grey hair was pulled back in a severe bun and covered by a plain linen cap. Her apron was glaringly

white against her wide brown dress.

Aubri had the awful feeling she would be working under this woman. The woman cast the butler a baleful glare as she came to a stiff halt

before them. A sudden tension mounted the air between the two servants. Wiggins cleared his throat. “Miss Aubriana Welbery, this is the housekeeper, Mrs. Fulthrop,” he said making the briefest introduction. “Mrs. Fulthrop, will you please show Miss Welbery to her room and see

her settled.”

The housekeeper’s eyes narrowed, her nostrils flared and her face

seemed to become even more pinched. She glared at the butler, her mouth drawn into a scowl as if she had just bitten into something particularly distasteful.

Aubri swallowed hard when the woman turned the full measure of her icy gaze on her.

“Follow me,” Mrs. Fulthrop ordered, before turning sharply on her heels, and stalking away without a backward glance.

Aubriana jumped at the command, feeling uncertain for the first time since accepting the position. Would she be working under the woman for the next three or four months? She’d been informed Bournemouth Hall would only be open for as long as it took Lord Ravenspur to “see” to his tenants before going on to his other estates.

She suddenly wondered if it was worth the pay, though she could hardly forego sixty-four shillings. Not when her family desperately needed the money, not when she’d given the sheriff her word.

She turned to the butler and spoke softly. “Thank you for everything, Mr. Wiggins.”

The butler remained indifferent as he inclined his head, and yet she sensed a warmth emanate from him.

Aubri had to run to catch up with the housekeeper who’d almost reached the lower hallway beneath the stairs.

“This way leads to the servant quarters and the kitchens. There are many ways to reach this area which I’m sure you will be quick to discover,” Mrs. Fulthrop remarked crisply.

“Yes ma’am.”

The plain hallway gently sloped downward making it easier to traverse than the stairs, and was lighted at regular intervals with oil lamps. As they neared the end, Aubri heard the sounds of talking and laughter.

They emerged into the kitchen and instantly the laughter stopped. The housekeeper turned to regard Aubriana, her lips pursed with disapproval.

“The kitchens are the domain of Mr. and Mrs. Pickles. You will find their cuisine to be exceptional. The laundry room, the larder, and the pantry are off the kitchen,” Mrs. Fulthrop commented as she moved briskly through the large kitchen. She paused briefly to show Aubri what looked to be a large dining room.

“This is the dining hall, which you will share with the other servants. Myself, Mr. Wiggins, the coachman, the gamekeeper, and the head gardener dine in my own chambers each day.”

Aubriana had barely gotten a glimpse when the housekeeper moved on. The hallway now split into three.

“Now we enter the servants’ quarters. The right side is for the men, the left for the ladies. If you keep going straight, it will take you outside to the stables.

“The stairs on the left leads to my chambers and to the third story of the west wing. The right stairs lead to the Mr. Wiggins’s chambers and the third story of the East wing. The fourth story of both wings is the attic.”

Mrs. Fulthrop led her down the women’s hall to the fifth door and stepped inside. “This is to be your room. It’s clean and adequate.”

Aubri stood just inside and surveyed her new lodgings. It was much smaller than the chamber she’d shared with her two younger sisters, Lydia and Amber. The whitewash walls made it very plain, but it was certainly clean. It contained a small single bed, a chest of drawers, a mirror, a table, a single chair, and wardrobe. The housekeeper strode to the wardrobe and flung the doors wide. Inside hung three drab-grey gowns.

“These are to be your uniforms. Try them on and make any adjustments you see fit before the morrow.” Mrs. Fulthrop shut the wardrobe and turned her cold regard on Aubriana. “The water closet is at the end of the hall. When you require a bath, there is a chamber off the kitchen with a serviceable tub. You will be expected to heat and haul the water yourself.

“You will rise at six o’clock sharp each and every morning. Breakfast is served in the servant’s hall at six-thirty, no exceptions. We do not tolerate slugabeds, do you understand?”

Aubri swallowed and nodded. “Yes ma’am.”

“Tea is served at eleven, dinner at two and supper at eight. If you are

late, you go without.” “Yes ma’am.”

“As an upper housemaid, you are responsible for the third floor of the west wing and the study and library which are on the second. Your duties will include: dusting and polishing the guest rooms and attending the master’s chambers. You are to stoke the fire in the bedroom and antechamber, and open the curtains at precisely eight o’clock. Though his lordship does not awaken as some ought, he is not a slugabed. On Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, he requires a bath at eight- thirty. Molly, another upper maid, will help you haul the water for his baths. After Mr. Wiggins has attended him and he goes for his morning ride, you are to air out his chamber, change his bed clothes, put away any clothing the laundry-maid has washed, empty the chamber pot and clean it, scorch the basin and water ewer before refilling it, and keep his quarters polished and dust free. The rugs are beaten once a month and bedclothes of the guest chambers changed once a week. You must clean and polish the study daily, but this can only be accomplished when the master is not occupying the room.

“Your job here is to work. You are not to address or converse with the master unless he has spoken to you first. You are never to look at him unless he commands it and you are never to disturb him while he is in his study. If you overstep the bounds of your duties you will be dismissed— immediately. Do you understand?” The housekeeper demanded sharply.

“Y-yes ma’am,” Aubri hastened to reply.

Mrs. Fulthrop eyed her for a long, suspicious moment, before nodding. “Very well. You will receive a half day off on Saturday and Sunday. You had best unpack your things and see to your uniforms for any adjustments. Dinner will be served at two o’clock in the Servant’s Hall. Afterward, Molly will show you about the house and in particular the west wing. And you will begin your duties then.”

Without another word, the housekeeper turned on her heel and briskly marched from the room. Aubri flinched when the door slammed shut behind her.

She glanced at her surroundings before slowly sinking onto the little bed, and tried to dispel the sudden wave of loneliness which threatened to drown her.

****

“Who?” Aubri asked as she spread the clean linen over the bed of the guest chamber.

Molly rolled her eyes, and the look on her face was so comical, Aubri could barely bite back her smile. “The master, of course. I couldn’t very well be talkin’ about Mr. Wiggins.”

Aubri giggled at the thought of the distinguished butler being a Lothario. “I didn’t know.”

“Where have you been hiding?” Molly mocked as she grabbed the bundle of dirty bedclothes and tossed them out into the hall.

Aubri ducked her head, her cheeks burning with embarrassment as she concentrated on tucking the corner of the sheet. “The farm, I guess,” she murmured.

“Well, it’s about time you heard all the gossip. Believe me, I’ve worked for all the local noblemen and Lord Ravenspur is by far the most interesting,” Molly stated with an air of authority.

Aubriana glanced up surprised. “How so?”

“Well,” the maid said lowering her voice. “He was banished from London for dueling with a cuckolded husband.”

“I don’t believe it!”

“Don’t you know he’s the most famous rogue in England? They call him the Rogue Marquis. He’s known for seducing every beautiful woman to catch his fancy and then dueling with their husbands at dawn. And he never loses.”

“Never?” Aubri asked.

“Never,” Molly replied firmly as she helped Aubri spread the soft counterpane over the bed. “And he hated his grandfather, Lord Winton. In fact, it’s a wonder he came to Bournemouth at all. Not that I’m entirely surprised, the earl was a grumpy, old dragon who never had a kind word to say about anyone.”

“Miss Littell!” came an irate shout.

Aubri nearly jumped out of her skin when Mrs. Fulthrop came striding into the room, her mouth pursed with disapproval as she leveled Molly with her frosty gaze.

“How many times must I warn you about gossiping about his

“He’s a rogue, ye know.”

lordship? Lord Winton was a good and honorable man and he will not be maligned in this house!”

Molly dutifully cast her eyes downward and primly folded her hands before her like a chastised child. “Forgive me, Mrs. Fulthrop, I shouldn’t have spoken ill of the old master.”

“Humph,” the housekeeper responded as she turned her icy glare on Aubri.

Aubriana could not meet the other’s cold gaze and busied herself by straightening the bedclothes.

“I had best not hear it spoken again, Miss Littell, or you will be dismissed from your post.” With that, the irate woman stormed from the room, her back rigid with indignation.

The moment the housekeeper left, Molly relaxed and made a face at the portal. “The nasty old bat,” she muttered. She turned to Aubriana and smiled. “Did you know she was the old dragon’s mistress?”

Aubri blinked, completely taken aback. “Mrs. Fulthrop?”

“Oh aye. After the earl’s wife died, he hired Mrs. Fulthrop on as the housekeeper, but she was really his mistress. That’s why she acts like she has a cob stuck up her arse, to keep the real reason she was hired a secret. But the old bat forgets there were those who were here long before her, like the Pickles. And that’s why she hates Lord Ravenspur.”

“But why would she hate his lordship?” Aubri wondered.

“Because he’s nothing like his stodgy, mean-tempered grandfather. He’s a rogue and he does as he pleases and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks about it.”

It didn’t exactly surprise Aubri to learn Lord Ravenspur didn’t give a damn about anything—look what he’d done to his own tenants. “How do you know all of this?” she demanded.

Molly flashed a pert smile. “Why George told me, of course.”

Aubri shook her head as she grabbed a polishing rag and began to clean the mantle. She’d met George and all the other servants at dinner. He was one of five footmen, and of the three which had arrived with Lord Ravenspur. And there was certainly no doubt in her mind that George was sweet on Molly.

“Besides, the master won’t be gotten rid of so easily. At least not until he completes his mission,” Molly continued as she began dusting the empty crystal vase.

Aubriana stilled.

His lordship’s mission? The sheriff had told her to keep her eyes and ears open for any information, but he’d never mentioned the marquis had a mission.

She glanced over her shoulder. “What sort of mission?”

“I haven’t clue, but I intend to find out,” Molly replied with a mischievous smile as she wiggled her brows. Poor George was about to find himself in a heap of trouble.

Aubri laughed to hide her disappointment, and hoped Molly could wheedle more information out of George.

© 2006-2012 Ingela F. Hyatt

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Chapter Two

Aubri could scarcely believe her good fortune—that she, Aubriana Isabella Welbery, had been hired to work as an upper housemaid for five shillings a week.

Five shillings a week!

It was a fantastic sum of money, especially to a girl from a poor family—a family who farmed a miserable plot of land which yielded only a few pounds in the best of years.

But then Sheriff Hodgeson had told her a position was waiting for her at Bournemouth Hall. Aubriana supposed she shouldn’t have doubted him. She had been more than a little surprised when the sheriff had approached her while she waited for her brother outside The King’s Arm Inn.

My dear, there is something of great import I must discuss with you. I realize this may seem a trifle unseemly, but you are just the girl I need.

Aubri had eyed him wearily. “Oh?

The sheriff puffed out his chest. “I have received word from the King himself that there is a villain in our midst. It seems the Marquis of Ravenspur has been financing the local smugglers and may be responsible for that Revenue Officer’s death.

Aubri gasped in surprise. “Truly?

Yes. And what is worse,” Sheriff Hodgeson had lowered his voice to a stage whisper, “the Prime Minster has informed me it is possible Lord Ravenspur is a traitor.

Dear lord!” Aubri exclaimed.

He is lining his pockets with blunt earned from the blood of good Englishmen. But a bright, pretty girl like you, Miss

More eBooksellers:

International Booksellers:

The Rogue Who Loved Me
by Ingela F. Hyatt

Book One of The Rogues Gallery

Awestruck / Mundania Press

Historical Romance (Explicit)

eBook: December 2011
ISBN: 9781587492273

Print: Coming Soon

cover by Kim Killion

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