Adam Rutledge, Duke of Thornton, stood in front of Rainswood Estate and knit his brow. It was the same home that he remembered from his childhood. Nothing had changed. But he had changed much. The war had turned Adam into a man, though he had never truly been a boy. Adam was always courageous, responsible, hearty, and focused. He had to have considered that his father, the late Duke of Thornton, was always suffering from ill health. Being the the firstborn and only boy, Adam knew that he would be the one to take responsibility, some time or another.
He clutched one small leather bag in his hand. It was the culmination of his possessions when he went off to war. Adam was incredibly happy to leave Rainswood. He never cared for society and all its trappings. He’d been popular with young society ladies because they knew of Adam’s wealth and his robust good looks. Adam was always considered quite a catch. If a young debutante could snag him, she’d spend the rest of her days in luxury, married to a handsome husband that stood six feet tall with raven black hair and grey eyes. He could provide for her the rest of her days. But none of this was appealing to Adam. He hated the gossip and the showmanship and was more than happy to discover new lands, fighting for what’s right and enjoying the companionship of fellow soldiers that shared his love for the outdoors and the simple things in life.
Adam would have stayed abroad as long as possible. Perhaps, forever. But that was not the way that war worked. Those same friends and comrades in arms the he came to respect and cherish, many of them perished. Some under his command. It was a haunting reality that Adam couldn’t escape. War had changed him indefinitely, and not in a good way. Before he left, he was an outdoorsman, an athlete, a scholar. There was a freshness and robustness of spirit that he carried. Everyone noticed it and admired him for it. But now Adam felt like a shadow of a man and far wiser than his twenty eight years. He had an old soul, and that soul wanted nothing to do with the lavish society that he gratefully departed from.
“Your Grace.” It was the voice of McCarthy, the head butler at Rainswood. The man looked older than when Adam left, but that was to be expected. McCarthy was a rather short fellow with now fully grey hair. There was a kindness in his eyes that had not left while Adam was gone for five years.
“McCarthy.” Adam slowly walked towards the estate and up the stone steps. It was the first time he’d been called ‘Your Grace,’ as the former duke died while Adam was deployed and he had never been referred to as a duke before, nor did he wish to.
McCarthy smiled. “We’re overjoyed to see you return. The dowager duchess is beside herself.”
“I look forward to greeting her.” Adam knew that he should smile but he merely couldn’t. He’d written correspondences to his mother, Susan Rutledge, former Duchess of Thornton. It was through correspondence that she had told him of his father’s death.
“Come right this way. And let me take your bag.”
“No. I can take it.” Adam didn’t wish to have anyone do anything for him. He was accustomed to doing everything for himself and he wasn’t looking forward to having servants watching his every move. In fact, Adam’s plan was to purchase a small country home, ideally in the woods, with a number of dogs and no one to look after but himself. It was how he would live his life. Even though that would be going against custom and duty.
As Adam entered the estate, he heaved a sigh. It was still adorned with rich paintings, statues, rare rugs and frescoes. The aroma of fresh flowers from the garden wafted through the air. It was always his mother’s paradise and he hoped it would remain so until the end of her days.
The stately atrium greeted those who entered Rainswood. There was a freshness and airiness to it. It was perhaps his favorite room in the estate, which boasted of no less than thirty other rooms. The estate was vast; too vast in Adam’s estimation. No one needed that many rooms when they had one child, unwed, and without children of his own. Nor did Adam wish to be pulled into matrimony, if he could avoid it.
Adam knit his brow once more as he saw all the servants lined up, stretching up the marble staircase. They looked at him with anticipation, but their faces conveyed that they were looking at some kind of ghost. Adam couldn’t argue with them. He felt like a ghost after everything that he had seen and all the loss he felt. There was no reason why he should be alive and his comrades in arms should be dead. There was no sense to it and never would be.
As if the whole event were perfectly timed, the dowager duchess made a grand entrance at the top of the staircase and looked down at her son. Adam could see tears in her eyes, even from a distance. Susan Rutledge was dripping in finery. The sun from the glass panels up above cascaded down and made the former duchess appear as some kind of crystal chandelier, reflecting light across the walls. She slowly stepped down, and one servant put out his hand in order to guide her. His mother was older than when he left, but that was to be expected. Her once black hair now was salt and pepper, and her face was more weathered. What was one to expect from a woman who had lost her husband while her only son was at war?
“My boy.” Once at the bottom of the steps, the dowager released the servant’s hand and extended her arms, begging for an embrace.
“Mother.” Adam obliged, stepping in and taking the diminutive woman in his arms. She still smelt of freesia.
“Oh, Adam. You are a man.”
“I always have been.” As his mother clung to him, Adam considered that he had grown larger since going to war. Many men became more frail while fighting, but not Adam. He was more robust than ever.
Susan placed her hands on her son’s expansive shoulders. “What have they fed you?” She laughed and Adam couldn’t help but do the same.
“It was important to keep strong. I tried to ensure that I ate enough.”
“You’re more handsome than ever, son.” The dowager winked. “Making it all the more easy to find you a bride.”
Adam went speechless. He had just returned from war and that was what was on his mother’s mind? Adam wasn’t surprised in the least. Still, his mother exuded a warmth and happiness that he found endearing, even though he wished that all the servants weren’t staring him down. If they thought he’d be the same gentleman that left for war, they would be wrong. Adam was more somber. More introspective. They’d just have to adjust themselves to this new character.
McCarthy stepped in. “You must be famished as we speak.”
“I could dine.”
“The cook has prepared a marvelous repast for tea.”
Adam’s mother intwined her arm within his and led him to the parlor, where it was customary for the Rutledge family to take tea. The light-filled room overlooked the garden. Seeing as it was such a beautiful day outside, Adam was looking forward to the meal.
Once inside the parlor, Adam pulled out a chair for his mother then seated himself. He was still in his military garb and so there were no tails to push back when he sat. That was another thing that Adam wasn’t looking forward to: returning to society attire.
The table was already lavishly set and Adam could smell Earl Grey. There was a three-tiered display which had a number of different cakes and sandwiches, but a platter accompanied it, brimming with thinly-sliced meats and cheeses.
“I ordered Niles to bring out the savories. I knew that you would need something more substantial.”
Niles was the cook. Adam remembered him well. He’d always make the best cottage pie on Sundays. “I do admit to taking in more of my fair share of meat while away.”
“It gives you strength.” Susan reached across and placed a hand over her son’s. As tea was served and the two of them dined, the dowager duchess went on and on about things that had changed at Rainswood. There were new paintings that she wished to show him. The garden had been redone and several rooms had been reupholstered. “I had to keep myself busy after your father’s passing.”
“I understand.” Although he could tell that all of that was important to his mother, Adam was having trouble listening. Everything reminded him of war. The lavish sandwiches and cakes were the source of much discussion while abroad. Soldiers spoke of how they missed them. Now that the lavish tea was sitting in front of him, Adam realized that he hadn’t missed it at all. The white napkins, the candelabras, the tiny cucumber sandwiches that one could eat an entire plate of without feeling satisfied. He missed none of it.
Susan brought her napkin to her lips and demurely dabbed the sides. She set it down and cleared her throat. “There’s something rather important I wish to speak to you about, son.”
“Of course.” Adam lifted his tea and took a hearty sip.
“It has been difficult living in this home by myself, as you can imagine.”
“I have made plans while you were away. Rainswood is the home of a duke, and you are now the Duke of Thornton. The estate is yours. The last thing that you need is a doting mother breathing down your neck. It’s time that you took sole ownership of the grounds. I have found myself a pleasant house in the country, not too far away.”
Adam couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He wanted to be the one that escaped from Rainswood. He’d deal with it once his mother had left this earth. Until then, he wished for peace and freedom. “That’s unnecessary.”
“It’s not about necessity. Adam, you need to find a wife and settle down. This home should be alive with gatherings, events, and children.”
Adam felt a lump in his throat. Children? He hadn’t even entertained the idea. And considering the current workings of his mind, he didn’t think that he was suitable to look after children, nor did he wish to hear their laughing and wailing throughout the day. Adam longed for peace and silence. “Your dream is not my own, mother. I have a different life envisioned for myself.”
“A life of loneliness? You have so much potential, Adam.”
His tone turned dark. “I have already reached my potential. I’ve already achieved what I wish to achieve. I have bought my freedom and now I intend to enjoy it.”
Susan heaved an exasperated sigh. “You’ve always been so stubborn. Ever since you were a child. I’ll grant that your tenacity is what kept you alive oversees, but now please consider your duty.”
The word ‘duty’ rang in his ears. Duty? No one knew about duty more than Adam. He’d given away five years of his youth in the name of duty and what did he have to show for it? Friends lost. Carnage. Futility. Because Adam felt nothing if not futile for not being able to save all those men who were lost.
“More tea, Your Grace?” Adam looked up in annoyance. Which bloody servant was it that thought it the right time to offer tea? Adam was seething. As soon as his eyes focused on the young woman standing beside him, Adam paused. Who was that girl with the ghastly smile on her beautiful face?
Phoebe Thrup was struck dumb. She had heard of the new Duke of Thornton, but seeing him in the flesh took her breath away. He was like some kind of statue of a Greek god. She’d never seen a man so big and robust in stature, and yet with transfixing, sad eyes. She’d only been working at Rainswood for some two years, and the whole time, all that she knew was the lady of the house, fluttering around and arranging flowers. Adam Rutledge brought a new energy to the estate, and Phoebe felt slightly off-guard.
“What did you say?”
“Ahem. I asked, would you like more tea, Your Grace?”
He stared into her eyes intently. What was the duke thinking? Finally, he spoke. “No.”
Phoebe hurried away. It was only after she approached the table that she sensed the timing was bad. The conversation seemed heated, but she was merely doing her job. She retreated to the corner of the parlor and stood sentinel in case anyone should need anything. That was always the protocol. Were things about to change? Although her gaze maintained a soft focus on the light-filled windows across the way, she couldn’t help but listen to their conversation. She was a curious young lady, after all.
“Son, there’s no way around it. You must be in charge now.”
“I have no reservations about being in charge. But I’d merely like to be in charge of my own person.”
“But things are different now. I realize that the war has upset you—”
“Upset me? Mother, you have no idea. In fact, you have no idea what it means to be upset.”
The dowager bristled. “I have lost my husband! I’m merely grateful that I still have a son. You may have certain notions about your life but your place is here, Adam. It always will be.”
Phoebe couldn’t help but turn her gaze to the duke. He was silent and taciturn. He threw his napkin upon the table. Phoebe knew that he was back from the wars, but no one had told her that Adam Rutledge was such an angry fellow. Still, she was smart enough to know that he must be in pain. A woman would never see a war, but her imagination taught her how ghastly it must be. For a moment, she felt pity for the man. He’d seen things that no one else had seen. He knew things that no one else could know. It made Phoebe’s heart sink.
Just then, Adam got up from the table and heaved a sigh. “If you’ll excuse me. I think I’ll retire to my room.”
“Will you be down for supper?” The dowager remained seated.
“I’ll consider it.”
The duke abruptly left the room, leaving Susan alone. Phoebe knit her brow. You could feel the tension and emotion in the air. Things at Rainswood were about to become rather different, in every conceivable way.
The dowager spoke. “Phoebe?”
She stepped in and curtsied. “Yes, m’am?”
Phoebe quickly obliged, picking up the kettle and pouring for the mistress of the house. She didn’t mind serving the dowager in the least. Although she didn’t care for society and all its nonsense, Phoebe genuinely liked Susan Rutledge and enjoyed serving her. In fact, for the most part, she found working at Rainswood rather pleasant. There was very little pomp and circumstance, although sometimes the guests to the estate were rather rude. Phoebe always turned a blind eye and carried on with her tasks. Once her duties were done, she was given the freedom to stroll in the garden and surrounding fields, something she enjoyed more than anything else. It helped her to quell fits of emotion which were common and natural for her fiery inner spirit.
The dowager sighed to herself. “He has changed.”
Phoebe looked from side to side, unsure if the lady of the house was speaking to her directly. “M’am?”
“My son. He has changed.” She looked up at Phoebe. “He is to be the master of the house now. You’ll take orders from him.”
“Don’t be afraid. He is a good man.”
Phoebe stood silent, unsure if she should stay or go. Finally, the dowager got up from the table and Phoebe stepped back and waited for her to depart.
As soon as she did so, Phoebe began to clear the table. Her very best friend, Caroline Wood, approached. “That was rather tense,” she said under her breath.
“He must have been through so much.” Phoebe couldn’t help but exude sympathy. Despite her fieriness, she was a compassionate girl.
“You should have seen him before he left.”
“What was he like?”
“Always hunting in the fields. Galavanting about. He also had a smile on his face.”
“The wars will take that away.”
McCarthy entered, his posture as stiff as a pole. “No more talking, girls. Continue your duties.”
They both replied, “Yes, sir.”
In the silence, Phoebe and Caroline continued to clear the table. She couldn’t help but wonder how life was going to change now that there was a new duke under the roof of Rainswood. Phoebe had never met the former duke, although she heard that he was a very kind and generous man. With Susan Rutledge running the house, everything ran like clockwork. There was no guessing what the day’s duties might entail. Now that she was proposing to leave, and Adam Rutledge would be in charge, what was her life going to be like? Would she not enjoy the same freedoms that she had before?
McCarthy reentered and began to inspect the sideboard, and Susan Rutledge reentered as well, this time with a shawl around her shoulders.
“Yes, m’am.” He bowed his head.
“Don’t bother with the supper I planned for tonight. I think my son has retired to his room for the remainder of the day.”
Phoebe was mildly disappointed. She heard that an extraordinary feast of duck a l’orange was to be served.
McCarthy replied, “Very well, m’am.”
“I shall take Nile’s courgette soup. Serve it in my room, with the rosemary bread.”
Susan Rutledge departed and Phoebe frowned. The duke wouldn’t be eating at all? Surely, he’d need something. He was a rather large fellow, and a soldier. Phoebe would inquire whether or not something should be brought to his room, as well.
She looked to Caroline who shrugged her shoulders. McCarthy spoke. “You heard what the dowager said, girls. One of you see to the serving of the soup and the other inquire whether the duke cares to dine.”
They both replied, “Yes, sir.”
Phoebe secretly hoped that she would be the one to ask the duke, although she’d be impossibly nervous. Even though their eyes met briefly, she was intrigued by the stern soldier. There was something that he was hiding behind those sad, angry eyes. Phoebe was always intrigued by people. At night, she read books to better understand different places and circumstances. It was her only escape. She knew that she’d be a servant for the rest of her life, and books offered her a rare glimpse into what other lives must be like.
Seeing as it was that rare time of the day when Phoebe’s duties were on pause until supper, she indulged in her customary walk. The sunny morning had given way to clouds and grey skies. Phoebe didn’t mind it so much, so as long as she could be in the fresh air. Walking through the garden, Phoebe smelt the fragrant roses and fresh grass. It was her favorite time of day. Walking was effortless for her, with her lithe figure and energetic spirit. Her red hair was pulled neatly into a bun at the nape of her neck. Her brown eyes sparkled as she passed every display of flowers and shrubs.
For a moment, she turned back towards Rainswood. She knew which room the duke was in. It was the master suite on the top floor. Since the former duke’s passing, the dowager had retreated to a smaller room which she stated was more efficient. There, in the grand window, Phoebe saw the duke looking out solemnly, resting his elbow on the window frame. For a moment, she merely watched him, intrigued by what he might be thinking. Then, his eyes turned towards her and Phoebe quickly turned with a start, feeling a flush come to her cheek. She was mortified. The duke had caught her spying on him. She quickly walked away, hoping that he wouldn’t think much of it.
Just then, she ran into the head stableboy, William Andrews. He was a young fellow, and Phoebe already knew that he fancied her. But he just happened to be younger than Phoebe’s one and twenty years and she could never see herself marrying a younger man. “Phoebe, I fear it might rain soon.” William was a skinny boy, with blonde hair and brown eyes, like her own.
“That can’t stop me.”
“You do have a mind of your own.”
“If you didn’t know that already, then I’d say you don’t know me at all!”
“Stubborn girl. If you simply married me, I’d put a stop to that.”
Phoebe cocked her head to the side. “And that’s exactly why I won’t marry you.” She placed her hands on her hips. “Besides, you’re no older than a school boy.”
William huffed before charging after her. Phoebe screamed and began to retreat. It was custom for the two of them to be playful in this way. William would chase Phoebe into the field while she screamed. But she was no wilting flower. Phoebe was fast, and William almost never caught up with her. She enjoyed the exertion and the flush that it brought to her cheek. Finally, William gave up. “Someone will make a woman out of you, even if it’s not me.” He retreated back to the estate.
“I’d like to see someone try!”
Phoebe stood there, trying to catch her breath. She looked back to the estate once more and yet again, the duke was in the window, watching her. Phoebe cleared her throat and looked away, beginning her relaxed return back to the house. She dare not look back up at the duke’s window. He perhaps already thought of her as reckless and wayward. Phoebe knew that she could prove him otherwise. She was a conscientious worker and always completed her tasks with care. Phoebe hoped that she might please him in this regard.
As she walked, she couldn’t help but think of the exchange between the former duchess and the duke. She’d never seen Susan Rutledge so frustrated. She was always a good-natured lady of the house. But she seemed perfectly content to leave Rainswood and begin a new life. Was the mother blind to her son’s pain? She spoke of duty, but Adam Rutledge seemed to want to have nothing to do with it. So strange, how society people had to approach the world. Phoebe’s duties were simple. She preferred it that way.
Entering the estate through the back door, Phoebe stepped into the kitchen and found Niles peeling courgette with a sharp knife. She hoped that he was making enough to serve the servants, as well, because Phoebe always loved that warm and soothing soup.
Niles seemed tense. “From now on, this estate will be fueled by meat and potatoes.”
“What do you mean?”
“The duke. His tastes aren’t as refined as the lady of the house.”
Phoebe said humorously, “I grieve for the duck a l’orange.”
“No one grieves more than I.” Niles shook his head from side to side.
It was true that Susan Rutledge had exceptional taste. She always preferred simple yet lavish meals. Vegetables and fruits were taken from the garden. Niles would go to the finest local butchers for their meat. Perhaps things were about to become simpler. And darker.
“A Duke’s Seductive Muse” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Phoebe Thrup is the alluring maid at Rainswood Estate. Accomplished in her skills, she’s unaware of the real reason that the Dowager Duchess of Thornton has brought her to work at the estate. Although her days are filled with duty and friendship, Phoebe cannot possibly see herself ever exceeding her station and fulfilling her passionate dreams. However, she can’t even begin to imagine what fate has in store for her… That is until she lays eyes on the most tempting Duke she has ever met. Will Phoebe allow a socially forbidden love bloom or will she be wise enough to bury it deep in the ground?
Lord Adam Rutledge returns from the war in the Americas as the Duke of Thornton, due to his father passing while he served. Although he is not wounded in body, it is needless to say he is wounded in the mind and heart. Returning to Rainswood and fulfilling his new title is not a task that he relishes, nor does he tolerate the continued pressure from the Dowager to marry. All of her pleading to find a girl of status, falls on deaf ears just as soon as Adam beholds the scandalous maid with the indelible spirit. Could Adam sacrifice his duty and ignore his titled status in the name of undeniable passion and love?
Full of twists and turns, heated chemistry and some humorous wit, the electrifying connection between Phoebe and Adam is unquestionable. The conundrum? He cannot take a lowly -yet very enticing- wife and on top of that, the headstrong Phoebe refuses to be his mistress. Putting aside all the trials and tribulations, one thing is clear; money and status have nothing to do with flaming desire. However, both Phoebe and Adam must ask themselves an urging question; Is it true love or merely a lustful caprice? Are their feelings powerful enough to overshadow every threatening barrier in their way?
“A Duke’s Seductive Muse” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.