It was slightly overcast as Lady Maggie Huxley walked quickly to the stables. Her heart was thudding uncomfortably, and her mouth was dry. There would be trouble if her father discovered where she was going. She knew he would be back home soon, and there would be hell to pay if she wasn’t inside when he returned.
Maggie stopped abruptly as she entered the stables of Elwood Lodge, her family’s ancestral home in Berkshire. The stables were an integral part of the estate and always had been. Her family had always loved horse riding. The familiar scent of hay and horses hit her in the face. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply.
She felt tears prick behind her eyes. It was bittersweet just being in here. There was deep joy as well as sorrow. It had always been her favourite place in the world, ever since she could remember. Her mother had taken her here from when she could first walk. An old memory flooded her mind.
Mama leading her by the hand into the stables, picking her up to look at the horses. Putting her on the back of a pony. She could still recall the thrill of it.
She swung around, her heart beating hard. One of the junior grooms was standing there, staring at her. She took a deep breath, trying to orientate herself. The memory was still lingering in her mind, like curling mist.
“Are you alright?” The boy looked concerned. “Can I help you?”
Maggie tried to smile. She recalled his name was Paul. He had only been working here for less than a year.
“I am quite alright, Paul,” she said, trying to compose herself. “I just wanted to spend some time with Nellie. Is she in her usual stable?”
The boy nodded. “Aye, she is. I just put fresh hay in the stable for her. She is well content.”
Maggie’s heart twisted. “Thank you. Do not mind me. You can keep going about your chores. I will not get in your way.”
The boy ducked his head, nodding. He hesitated for a brief moment before wandering off. Maggie breathed a sigh of relief. She was all alone now, which was exactly what she wanted.
Nellie had her head bent, chewing hay in meditatively. Maggie’s heart lurched with love as she gazed upon the horse. Nellie was pure white and beautiful. Her mother had always called the horse Lady Nellie because she was so composed and gentle. Nellie had been her mother’s favourite.
Maggie let herself into the stable, approaching the horse, and Nellie raised her head, looking straight at her with her kind brown eyes. Maggie stroked her nose, talking softly to her. The horse nickered, nudging her. Tears filled her eyes again. How she longed to saddle her and take her out into the fields surrounding Elwood Lodge, feel the wind on her face as they galloped together over the countryside. But Maggie knew it was an impossible dream at the moment. She must be content with this snatched moment of just spending time with the horse.
Nellie nudged her gently again. It was amazing, but horses always seemed to know when someone needed comfort, and Nellie had always been more intuitive than most. Maggie kept stroking her softly, whispering endearments, as she thought of her mother. Mama’s presence was strongest here. It was as if she was hovering in the air, looking down approvingly on them both.
Silent tears trickled down her cheeks. She missed Mama so much; it was like a constant ache in her chest. Maggie still couldn’t quite believe that she was gone forever, even though it had been almost a year since the tragic accident that claimed her mother’s life. It still seemed like yesterday that she had set out for the day, riding through the countryside, never to return home.
Maggie leaned into Nellie as a fresh spurt of pain entered her heart. It had only been meant to be a short morning ride. The family was going to an engagement that afternoon, but her mother had never been able to resist a quick ride. It was how she started most mornings. Mama had been a skilled equestrian. Nobody had ever questioned her ability to ride by herself, not even Papa.
Nobody had been concerned at first when she didn’t return at the allotted time. They had all just thought the Viscountess Huxley had ridden further than she intended – had become distracted. It had turned noon when her father had started to grow anxious. And by one o’clock, a party was sent out to look for her.
Maggie stifled a sob. They had found her at the bottom of a ravine, lying like a broken rag doll, her limbs akimbo. The horse she had been riding was nowhere to be seen. The Viscountess was dead. Her neck had been broken. No one knew what had happened, not really, but it appeared the horse had thrown her, and she had landed badly. They said she probably would have died straight away.
“It would never have happened if she had been riding you, Nellie,” she whispered into the horse’s neck. “She would still be alive today.”
The horse nudged her again as if she understood what she was saying. Maggie squeezed her eyes closed. It was true. Nellie had been unwell that day, and her mother had chosen a different horse to ride. One that was far more temperamental and skittish. Difficult to control. But because her mother was so good with horses, no one had been particularly concerned.
They should have been, thought Maggie, in anguish. They should never have let her ride Beltane. They should have known.
Her heart twisted. Poor Beltane. He had been found eventually, galloping like a crazed thing over the countryside. Why he had panicked and thrown her mother, no one knew. Perhaps he had been spooked by a snake or something else. But her father had been demented with grief and taken it out on the horse. Beltane had been sold immediately. Maggie supposed it was lucky that the horse hadn’t been destroyed.
Maggie wiped her eyes hastily, sitting down in a corner of the stable. She reached into her pocket, taking out a letter, smoothing out the pages. It was from Emma, her best friend in the whole world. Lady Emma Fletcher, the only daughter of a marquess, who lived on a neighbouring property. Maggie’s eyes rivetted on one paragraph. It was the umpteenth time she had read it.
I know that you will have a hard time trying to convince your father, dearest Maggie, but I want you to come for an extended stay at Vanguard Hall. My parents have agreed to a grand ball to celebrate my birthday this year. I want you to come and plan it with me and then stay on afterwards. It promises to be so much fun, and you need some fun and frivolity in your life, dearest. There has been too much sadness. Promise me that you will at least ask him. I am so very eager for your reply.
She slowly folded the letter. Emma knew everything about how difficult it had been for her since her mother’s death. She knew that it wasn’t just the terrible grief and shock over her mother’s passing that she battled with. Her best friend knew that it was Maggie’s father’s reaction to his wife’s death and his attempts to cosset and control Maggie ever since, which she was also battling with.
Maggie gave a deep sigh. It was impossible. Her father was so overprotective now that she wasn’t allowed to do anything. She wasn’t allowed to go riding anymore, nor even spend time in the stables. Her social outings had been strictly curtailed. Maggie knew why. Her father was scared of losing her, just like he had lost Mama. But that didn’t make it any easier to bear.
She sighed again, thinking of her life before Mama’s passing. She and her mother had gone riding all the time – they had lived for it. Maggie had been just a regular girl. She had her debut and socialised quite a bit. Mama had taken her shopping, to balls, to garden parties. It had been a carefree, indulgent life that had come to a crashing halt when her mother had died.
The viscount barely let her see Emma at all. He would never consent to her staying with her for an extended period and going to her best friend’s birthday ball. But Maggie wanted to go and stay with her friend desperately. She felt like she was being slowly suffocated at Elwood Lodge. As if her youth was passing her by. Did her father intend to keep her locked up here, like some kind of fairy tale princess in a tower, for the rest of her life?
I am only twenty. I have my whole life ahead of me. And I am not even allowed to go riding anymore. The one thing that I enjoyed more than anything in this world. The one thing where I feel closest to my late mother.
She let out a sob. Nellie came over to her, nudging her with her head. Maggie gazed up at the beloved horse through a haze of fresh tears. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair at all. But her father wouldn’t listen to her when she tried to tell him that he was stifling her. He stubbornly told her that was the way things were now, so she had better get used to it.
It wasn’t that Papa was a tyrant. Very far from it. Prior to his wife’s death, the viscount had been a gentle, kind father, giving her much freedom. But he had changed, now. His grief was like a cloak that he wore constantly. A cloak that he could never take off. And Maggie had been enveloped within it. Maggie was the focus of it. And for the life of her, she just couldn’t figure out how to throw it off.
I want to go and stay with Emma. I want to be just a regular girl. I want to be free to be myself again.
Her head whipped around. It was Paul, the young groom again. Hastily, she got to her feet. She must look a mess. She knew her face was probably streaked with tears.
“Your father is looking for you,” continued the groom. “He says if you are here, to return to the house immediately. We just got word.”
Maggie’s heart hit the floor. Papa was home, and he was looking for her. He would not be pleased when he found out where she had been. How had she lost track of the time so much?
“Thank you, Paul,” she said quickly, stuffing the letter back into her pocket. “I am going back now.”
The groom nodded, walking away. Maggie turned to Nellie, giving the horse a final stroke.
“Take care, my beauty,” she whispered. “I do not know when I will be able to see you again.”
She left the stables, walking back up towards the house. It loomed ahead of her. Her beloved home. The only one she had ever known. She had always loved it. And now, she just felt dread when she looked at it. She didn’t know how she was going to spend even another day within its walls, never mind the rest of her life.
I will not live here forever, she thought wistfully. I shall marry one day and have a home of my own.
But as soon as the thought entered her mind, she knew it was hopeless. How could she ever hope to marry and have a home of her own when her father wouldn’t even allow her to leave the house to meet any eligible young gentlemen?
It was like she was entombed here, she thought despondently. As if she was ensnared. And she couldn’t work out how she would break through his miasma of grief and finally attain her freedom at all.
Papa was waiting for her when she slowly walked into the parlour. He rounded on her, his face full of thunder.
“Where were you, Maggie?” he asked, in a deceptively quiet voice. “You know very well that you are not allowed to leave the house when I am absent, not even to walk within the gardens.”
She stared at him helplessly, feeling her hands clench by her side. She could lie to him and tell him that she had just been walking. But the young groom might tell the stable master that she had been there, and he might tell Papa. It was probably best just to be honest and take the consequences now rather than later.
“I went to visit Nellie,” she said slowly, raising her chin. “I just wanted to be with her. To say hello to her.”
His face contorted. “You were at the stables? Even though I have expressly forbidden you from ever going there?”
Maggie felt her face flush painfully. “Why, Papa? Why can’t I go and spend time with the horses? It does no harm. In fact, it is good for me. You know how much I love them.”
The viscount’s lips thinned. “You know the reason. You know it perfectly. A horse killed your mother. I am still seriously considering selling all the horses and permanently closing the stables. The only reason I haven’t done so is I do not wish to put all the servants who work there out of a job.”
Maggie stared at him. “Papa, when are you going to let this go? It was an accident. A terrible accident, but the horse cannot be held responsible. It is an animal. Beltane never meant to hurt Mama.” She took a deep, ragged breath. “And you cannot then hate all horses because of it. Nor say that I can never have any connection with a horse again. It would be madness to sell all the horses.”
Her father started pacing the room, and Maggie’s heart clenched, seeing his agitation. It was like an aura, one that constantly surrounded him. He had never been like this before Mama’s passing. He had always been a calm, gentle man, not given to fits of ill-temper or bad moods. But that was all gone, now.
Viscount Huxley spent most of his days brooding in his study now. Maggie knew that he had become something of a night owl. She often saw the light from a candle through the crack of the study door, burning brightly, as she passed by the room on her way to bed. In the mornings, he was foul-tempered and snappy. His easy, witty banter was gone. He barked orders at the servants, often reducing them to tears.
It broke her heart to see how he had changed. She mourned the loss of the father she had known as much as she mourned the physical loss of her mother. But it didn’t matter how much she tried to coax him into good humour or attempted to engage him in distracting conversation. He was intent upon his brooding.
It was like he had given up on life entirely.
Abruptly, he stopped pacing, rounding on her. “I repeat, the stables are out of bounds, Maggie. I cannot bear the thought of you being there. And I expect my wishes to be obeyed. That is all there is to say upon the matter.”
She bit back the retort that rose to her lips. There was no point arguing with him. And there was little point asking him if she could go and stay with Emma. She knew what the answer would be already. Her best friend’s birthday ball would come and go, and she wouldn’t be there. She was destined to spend the rest of her days cooped up in this house like a caged bird.
Suddenly, she heard a voice in the foyer. A feminine voice that she recognised. It was her Aunt Helena, dropping by, as she often did. Aunt Helena was her mother’s younger sister and lived in a neighbouring village. A childless widow, she had tried to fill the gap in Maggie’s life since her mother’s passing, but the viscount was as obstinate with her as with everyone. He held Aunt Helena at arm’s length, resisting all her efforts to bring a little normalcy back to their lives.
A look of irritation passed over the viscount’s face. “What the deuce is she doing here? She did not inform me she intended to call.”
Before Maggie could reply, her aunt swept into the room with a bright smile upon her face. Maggie couldn’t help it. She ran to her, embracing her. Her aunt laughed, surrendering to the embrace, before pulling away, gazing into her niece’s face.
“Why do you look so woebegone, my Maggie?” she asked.
“Because she has been told off for going to the stables,” growled her father. “She disobeyed me, and does not like the consequences.”
Aunt Helena was still facing Maggie, with her back to the viscount. She rolled her eyes dramatically, and Maggie stifled a giggle. Her aunt was always trying to make light of the situation and gently tried to prod and tease her brother-in-law into allowing his daughter more freedom.
She turned, facing him squarely. “And why shouldn’t she go to the stables, Edward? We know how much she loves horses. It is a little like taking a child into a sweet shop and telling her that she must not touch.”
The viscount’s mouth tightened. He didn’t reply.
Her aunt took Maggie’s hand. “Let us sit down, dearest. I have already ordered tea.”
They sat opposite each other on the green velvet sofas. The viscount didn’t sit. He resumed his pacing. Aunt Helena gazed at him pensively for a moment before turning back to Maggie.
“I hear that your dear friend Lady Emma is having a birthday ball at Vanguard Hall,” she said slowly. “I assume that you shall be attending, my dear.”
There was an awkward pause, and Maggie bit her lip. This was the moment to mention Emma’s invitation for her to stay at her home, before and after the ball. Aunt Helena would be an ally, pushing for it. She still didn’t expect her father to agree, but it was her only chance.
She took a deep breath. “Actually, dear aunt, Emma has invited me for an extended house visit at Vanguard Hall,” she said, her heart thudding uncomfortably. “She wants me to stay before the ball and help her plan it and then stay on for a little while afterwards.”
The silence was so deafening Maggie was sure she would hear a pin drop. Her father stopped pacing, rounding on her, his face furious. But her aunt just nodded placidly.
“What a fine plan,” she said, smiling serenely. “I shall accompany you as chaperone if you like. It would be lovely for you to spend some time with your friend, Maggie.” She turned to the viscount. “What do you say, Edward? I have no plans in the approaching weeks. I am as free as a bird.”
The viscount shook his head. “No. I do not think that would be a good idea at all.”
Her aunt frowned. “Edward, this is getting ridiculous. This girl needs to socialise. She needs to see friends. You cannot keep locking her up in this gloomy house.” She took a deep breath, her frown deepening. “I am putting my foot down. Alicia would have let her go. So, I really must insist, for the sake of my niece. And for my late sister, as well. She wouldn’t approve of how you have been managing her at all. As well you know.”
Maggie’s eyes widened, and her heart almost stopped beating. This was the first time her father had been so challenged about his behaviour towards her. And the strange thing was, her aunt didn’t even seem apprehensive about saying it. She was staring at the viscount with a face full of steely resolve.
They glared at each other for a long moment, and Maggie held her breath.
“It would only be for a few weeks,” continued her aunt calmly. “You can spare her. I am offering to chaperone. There is no problem in my eyes. Young ladies often have extended house visits like this.”
“Please, Papa,” said Maggie, in a strangled voice. “Please. Emma is my best friend in the whole world. I want to stay with her at Vanguard Hall. Her parents have given their blessing.”
The viscount frowned. There was another tense silence. Maggie looked down at the rug on the floor, offering up a fervent prayer.
Please Lord, let me go. I shall ask no more of you than this. But just let me have a few weeks to be myself again.
She glanced up at him. He was still frowning, staring into the distance. She saw that his eyes were shining with tears. The agitation seemed to have left him, flowing through him, like a wind. Now, he just looked terribly sad.
She resisted the impulse to get up and rush to his side. She hated seeing her father like this, but she knew that he would resist her sudden burst of pity towards him.
“Alicia wanted Maggie to lead a full, rich life,” continued Aunt Helena quietly. “And deep down, so do you. Do not rob her of her youth through fear, Edward.”
Her father swore softly underneath his breath. “Alright. She may go if you accompany her. I am only doing it for Alicia. You are right, Helena. My wife would have let her go.” He spoke haltingly as if every word hurt him as it left his mouth.
Maggie’s heart soared. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. In her joy, she jumped up, rushing to him.
“Oh, Papa,” she said in a tremulous voice. “Thank you. From the bottom of my heart.”
He smiled sadly. “You are a good girl, Maggie. I only do what I do out of love for you. You realise that, do you not?”
Her eyes shone with tears. “I do, Papa. I know how hard it has been.” She took a long, deep breath. “Thank you again.”
They stood gazing at each other awkwardly. Maggie wanted to throw her arms around him and embrace him. In the old days, she would have done it without a second thought, but the distance between them was so wide now that she didn’t know how.
She took another deep breath. It was sad that she still couldn’t hug her father, but what he had given her was enough for the moment. A few weeks precious freedom. Time away from home to spend with her dear friend and socialise with other people. It was a start. A very good start. She wouldn’t push it any further.
Her heart leapt in pure excitement at the thought of the weeks stretching ahead of her. Vanguard Hall and spending time with her best friend. A grand ball. And Emma’s home had extensive stables. Her parents loved horses, riding, and hunting. They could spend every day riding and probably would.
Her heart leapt again. Liberation, for a few short, precious weeks. She intended to make the most of the time. She wanted to cram everything she could into those weeks because she had no idea when they would come again. She might return to Elwood Lodge, and Papa might never let her out again. She had no idea if this was just a brief respite or the start of full liberation.
Her father turned away, striding to the window. Maggie could see he was shaking. It had cost him a lot to do this.
She turned back to her aunt.
Thank you, she mouthed, her heart almost overflowing with gratitude.
Aunt Helena nodded, smiling serenely.
I am going to Vanguard Hall. I am seeing Emma. I am going to the ball. And most importantly, I can ride again.
“Daring for a Lady’s Kiss” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After her beloved mother’s death, Lady Maggie Huxley’s father has become so overprotective that did not allow her to do anything, even the one thing she loves the most, riding. Desperately trying to escape from this prison, she accepts her best friend’s invitation to organise her birthday ball. There, free to ride again, she meets a seductive stable boy who makes her heart flutter in the most unexpected way.
Could this tempting man be the key to her freedom?
Since he was a child, Noah Radcliffe, remembers his father’s words, that a stable boy should never lay eyes on a noble lady. Yet, the moment he sees the tantalising Maggie, he is struck by her beauty and feels that he can not resist the temptation. Even though he is trying his best to stay away from her, he can not help but shiver with lust whenever she is around.
Yet, for how long will he be able to resist his burning desire for her?
A forbidden love against all rules, that is destined to fail… The stakes will be raised even higher when Maggie is approached by a cad, seeking to win her affection. Obstacles sweep Noah and Maggie along on a path neither had ever anticipated, forcing them to make a choice… Will they be able to fight their fierce attraction? Or is their flaming passion so strong that cannot be denied, even if society says it must?
“Daring for a Lady’s Kiss” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.