“If I have to hear one more of Richard Tewkesbury’s horrid stories about the origins of various fruits and vegetables, I am going to burst!” Lady Evangeline Adkins cried to her maid and companion, Susan Payne.
The two young women were leaving the home of Lady Yvette Potsworth where they had attended an afternoon tea with the assembled guests. Evangeline tried to keep most of her conversations with the ladies in the room, as there were a great many. Her reason for wanting to talk with the women was because there was a paltry assortment of men who had been invited. Richard Tewkesbury was among them.
“Oh, I don’t think he’s nearly as boring as you say he is, my lady!” Susan retorted. “I think that he is a great deal better than that Ivan Podorovich fellow. All he seemed to want to talk with Lady Potsworth about was the weather we’d been having over the past few days.”
Evangeline chuckled. “I do have to agree with you on that one, dear Sue. I would far rather discuss the manner in which food is grown as opposed to the dips in temperature we’ve had.”
Both of the young women chuckled. Evangeline took a brief look back at the house that they’d just left. It was absolutely enormous and looked as fancy as it was large. Evangeline then looked down at her outfit and smiled. She was dressed extraordinarily well for the occasion. She wore a fashionable teal dress with a lovely matching diamond necklace and bracelet. Susan had curled her hair and then put it up in a most attractive style–one which Evangeline could have never hoped to have accomplished on her own.
But Evangeline would have been a great beauty even if she didn’t have the luxurious clothes. She had an attractive, heart-shaped face with emerald-green eyes that seemed to brighten whenever there was mischief and excitement about. Her cheeks appeared permanently rouged, but that was just her rosy complexion. She stood quite tall at about five feet ten inches, but she appeared even taller because of the confident way that she held herself.
Susan was also well-dressed for a woman of her station–she wore a simple grey gown that was made of the loveliest linen and sported a dainty lace collar. Evangeline like to make sure that Susan was always comfortable in whatever she was wearing. She insisted that no maid of hers should go out wearing anything that made them feel like they could melt into the wallpaper at any given moment.
That would be a feat for Susan regardless, considering the fiery colour and wild, curly nature of the young maid’s hair. She stood out in every room that she entered, much to her displeasure. If Susan could, she would have very much liked to remain in the shadows of life. Evangeline, however, was determined to pull her out of them.
As they walked away from the house now towards the Adkins family’s carriage, Evangeline felt a familiar feeling beginning to take her over. She had been sitting and being idle for too long all afternoon. Listening to Richard’s fifth story about tomatoes had been tiring enough on its own, but the fact that no one else at the tea had been able to capture her excitement any better was very disappointing. Evangeline looked around, trying to figure out something that she and Susan could do to get her heart pounding and bring back her joie de vivre.
And then, she had the most marvellous idea when she laid her eyes upon the carriage.
“Susan,” she said in a very excited tone, “what do you say to us taking a new route home?”
The young maid looked up at her employer with a mix of trepidation and dread. “My lady, I’m not sure that my heart could take another shortcut home. Do you remember what happened the last time we did that?”
Evangeline looked out into the middle distance and recalled that adventure. She and Susan had been returning from a ball on the other side of Hanham. Evangeline had gotten so bored at the ball that she had asked Susan if they could leave early. On the way home, Evangeline had insisted that they take a shortcut through the woods that she was sure would get them home faster. She did not, however, think about what a rough journey it would be through the trees and over the stones. By the time that they reached the other side of the woods, Susan was gripping onto the door handle and the side of her bench so tightly that her knuckles were as white as her face was.
“Never fear, my dear,” Evangeline said reassuringly, giving her a pat on the shoulder. “I know that this time will be much smoother. If at any point you feel unsafe, we can return to the main road. Does that sound agreeable to you?”
Although Evangeline sounded as though she was sure of the route being less bumpy, the truth was that she had no idea. She had never travelled to Lady Potsworth’s home before, and thus did not know if any shortcuts would be easier than the last. However, for Susan’s sake, she hoped that this one would be so.
Susan opened her mouth to protest, but then froze for a second. Finally, she let out her breath in a big sigh.
“I suppose I can agree to that, my lady,” she relented reluctantly. She began playing with the end of her braided hair–a sign that her nerves were starting to kick up. “But I don’t want to disappoint you if I suddenly begin feeling frightened. I have never quite understood why you chose me to be your maid, Lady Evangeline. It isn’t that I’m ungrateful for the opportunity–it is just that I feel my general trepidation about the world has often held you back from the adventures that you wish to partake in.”
Evangeline scoffed good-naturedly. “Nonsense! I chose you because I knew you would be able to keep me from doing all of the outrageous things that I want. If I did that, Susan, I don’t know if I would even be alive today!”
Both women laughed as they walked up to the carriage. Evangeline’s driver, Harrison, was already in his seat up front, and when he saw the two women approaching, he hopped down and opened the door for them.
“Good afternoon, Lady Evangeline,” Harrison said, taking off his hat and bowing to her.
“Hello, Harrison. I hope that we haven’t kept you waiting too long,” Evangeline said to him, giving him a small curtsey.
“Nonsense,” he said, waving his hand as if he were waving off the question. “You could have been in there until long after dark and I would have been quite happy waiting for you out here. It is my job, my lady, and I am beyond happy to do it.”
Evangeline smiled at him. “Then I do hope that you won’t mind me asking you a favour.”
Harrison shook his head and shrugged. “Not at all, my lady. You know how I love your favours–they typically lead to some of the most exciting rides of my life!”
“Well, thank you,” Evangeline said gratefully. “This afternoon’s gathering provided me with far less entertainment than I had hoped for. In lieu of this, I was wondering–do there happen to be any fun shortcuts that we might take on the way home?”
Harrison’s eyes started twinkling. “Shortcuts you say, my lady?”
“Yes,” Evangeline replied excitedly, “shortcuts!”
But then Evangeline heard Susan clear her throat behind her, and so she added, “But of course, nothing too dangerous. We’ll perhaps try and stick to pre-made paths this time, shall we?”
Harrison nodded agreeably. “Certainly, my lady. I shall find us the most wonderful shortcut and ensure that we don’t stray too far from the path.” But then, Harrison winked at her, leaned in and whispered, “In order to make up for that safety, however, what do you say we go a little faster?”
Evangeline giggled and covered her mouth, whispering back to him, “I knew that I could count on you, Harrison!”
The two young women climbed into the carriage and got themselves comfortably seated. As Evangeline bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from smiling too widely, she noticed that Susan was looking even more nervous that she had before her employer had reassured her.
“Sue,” she said gently, “are you sure that you would like to take this route? If you are feeling too nervous, we could always–”
“No!” Susan responded a little too enthusiastically, scaring Evangeline. She then cleared her throat and looked a little more normal. “I…I mean no, this is just fine! You told me that we would be safe, and so we shall.”
Susan gave her a brave smile and Evangeline rubbed her knee encouragingly.
“Thank you for agreeing to this, dear one,” she said appreciatively. “I always have the most fun going on these adventures with you, and I know that this one will be no different!”
Evangeline then thumped twice on the top of the carriage to let Harrison know that they were ready to go, and they took off. As they headed down the main road, they did not go very fast, much to Evangeline’s disappointment. However, she knew that Harrison would make good on his promise to make it an eventful trip.
“My lady I…I don’t much wish to bring this up,” Susan said hesitantly, “but I wanted to be up to date on your feelings surrounding the whole affair. Have…have you made any decisions surrounding Lord James?”
Evangeline rolled her eyes and groaned. “Oh no, not that fellow again. Susan, I just endured an afternoon of boredom of astronomical proportions. Could we not talk about Lord James another time?”
The man that Susan referred to was Lord James Thornton, the son of the Earl of Danbury. He and his family lived quite close to the Adkins’ home, and both families had been planning their engagement since they were children. There was nothing inherently wrong with Lord James–he was a nice-looking man with curly brown hair, blue eyes and was slightly shorter than Evangeline. He came from a good family, he was a wonderful guest at every party that he attended, and yet Evangeline was utterly unimpressed by him.
“Of course, we could, my lady,” Susan responded apologetically. “I only wanted to see if his interests had gotten any more…interesting.”
Evangeline chuckled. “Susan, this is a man who begins every conversation that we have together with ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening, Lady Evangeline. I must say, you are looking lovelier than ever this evening. Might I interest you in a stroll about the room where we can discuss the managing of our respective homes? I have many suggestions for improvements to your household’s management that I have implemented within my own.’”
She finished her imitation of Lord James with an eye roll and then crossed her arms and flopped back against her seat like a petulant child. Susan couldn’t help but giggle.
“My goodness,” she marvelled, “is that really what he begins with? Who does he think he is, your butler? Why doesn’t he leave that type of conversation for your staff?”
Evangeline threw up her hands and shrugged. “My thoughts exactly! If he were truly interested in me, wouldn’t he ask about the pages and pages of writing that he’s seen laid out on my desk in the study? Or perhaps he might ask why he’s come upon me so many times in the stables! How has he not picked up on any of my interests? I’ve tried to lay them out in the open so plainly!”
Susan sighed and shook her head sympathetically. “You have done your very best, my lady. If Lord James is truly worthy of you, then he should take great interest in what you are excited by. You are such a unique, engaging young woman that I cannot understand how any man wouldn’t want to hear about your life’s interests!”
Evangeline chuckled and looked out the window idly. “Thank you, Susan. I had hoped that Lord James might have come to that conclusion as well, but it seems that he has not. What a disappointment.”
“So…what will you do?” Susan asked. “I assume that Lord and Lady Adkins are still expecting you to marry Lord James when he asks, is that correct?”
The young lady rolled her eyes and looked back at her companion. “‘Expecting’ is too light a word and you know it, Susan. They will demand that I marry Lord James and we both know that they won’t take no for an answer from me. As to what I shall do…I am unsure.”
Dread was beginning to fill Evangeline’s heart. She had avoided the possibility of Lord James for as long as she could; every time that he was brought over to have a conversation with her, she feigned illness. It had happened so frequently that her parents had called upon the doctor to come and examine her. When the doctor came out of the room saying that she was perfectly healthy, Lord and Lady Adkins began to get suspicious. About a week ago they had called her into the study to give her a good talking-to.
“I simply do not understand you,” Lady Francine Adkins had said. She wore such a deep frown on her face for so long that Evangeline wouldn’t have been surprised if her mouth stayed in that position for the rest of the night. “Lord James is a fine young man of equal standing, and when you are together, you seem to enjoy his company.”
“Mama,” Evangeline protested, “I am polite when I am in his company, I do not like him. Those are two very different things.”
Lady Adkins practically rolled her eyes, which was a very unusual occurrence for her.
Evangeline’s mother was all about presentation, propriety, and keeping face. She dressed each day as if she were attending the season’s finest ball and addressed everyone in her life as if they were the queen. That did not mean, however, that she treated everyone as a royal. On the contrary, Lady Adkins was known for being extremely harsh towards anyone who she considered to be ‘lesser.’ When she entered a room, all of the household staff made themselves scarce in fear that they would be chastised for whatever it was Lady Adkins was angry about in the home that day.
Her prim demeanour was assisted by her elegant figure. Lady Adkins was tall, but not too tall for a lady, unlike her daughter. She was very trim and every time she walked, she appeared to be gliding across the floor. She had long dark hair just like her daughter, but instead of a heart-shaped face like Evangeline’s, Lady Adkins was very thin and severe. Evangeline had overheard a few of the kitchen staff referring to her as ‘The Lady Witch of Hanham’, and she’d had a good chuckle.
“You do not have to like your husband, Evangeline,” Lady Adkins said sharply, “you simply have to tolerate him. Isn’t that right, Theodore?”
Lady Adkins looked to her husband, who was currently seated in the corner of the room with a book covering his face. He took no notice of the fact that his wife was talking to him. Lady Adkins cleared her throat. Nothing happened.
“Theodore!” Lady Adkins practically shouted, causing Lord Theodore ‘Teddy’ Adkins to jolt, drop his book, and look generally befuddled. He blinked a few times, looking from his wife to his daughter and back again.
“What did I miss, my darling?” he asked patiently, readjusting the glasses that sat perched upon his nose. Whereas Lady Adkins was all about propriety and doing what needed to be done to keep face in society, Lord Adkins was exactly the opposite. It wasn’t that he was against doing things that were socially correct. Instead, Lord Adkins was so enthralled by his books and his studies that he didn’t care one bit about what anyone else in society thought of him. If Lord Adkins could have, he would have retreated to his library filled with every sort of book imaginable for the rest of his life. And he would have been perfectly happy.
Lord Adkins was a stout man who also very much enjoyed sweets. One might have been able to tell that from the half-empty plate of ‘Nipples of Venus’ that lay on the table beside him, in addition to the great many crumbs that currently rested on the top of his sizeable stomach.
As Evangeline looked at him, she couldn’t help but begin to giggle very softly. She and her father had a quietly loving relationship. They never quite understood the other fully, but they saw the many similarities between themselves, and that grew into a mutual admiration. As Lord Adkins looked to her now, a small, delighted smile appeared upon his lips.
“Evangeline, stop that this moment!” her mother chastised her sharply, and she immediately stopped laughing. Lady Adkins returned her focus to her husband.
“I said,” she repeated, highly annoyed, “that when one marries, they do not have to be in love with their husband or wife. It is a feeling that develops over time, and you support me in saying that, do you not?”
Lord Adkins blinked at his wife a few more times, and Evangeline could tell that he was panicking on the inside. The poor man had such a hard time trying to keep up with what his wife wished from him, and now it was especially difficult. Evangeline cleared her throat to get her father to look at her, and then when he was, she nodded her head almost unnoticeably. Lord Adkins began nodding as well.
“Y-Yes, of course,” he said shakily. “I couldn’t agree more.”
Silence followed Lord Adkins’ remark. It seemed that Lady Adkins was waiting for him to say more. When he met her gaze with a look of sheer terror, she dropped her focus from him.
“Oh, you’re useless,” she dismissed him, waving him away. This comment would have upset most people, but Lord Adkins looked quite relieved by it. He slowly raised his book back up, waiting to see if his wife would call upon him again, and when she did not, he returned to his hiding spot. Evangeline did see his hand reach out and take another Nipple of Venus and pop it in his mouth, however.
“Mama,” Evangeline tried again, “I know that you do not understand my reasons for why I am hesitant to marry Lord James, and so I shall say it to you plainly: the man is boring. And if it has not become evident in the twenty years that we have been living in this household together, the last thing that I desire is a life of boredom. If Lord James can show me that he has interests and passions, then I shall consider him a viable option. If he does not, however…”
“You shall marry him anyway because there is no other option,” Lady Adkins said decidedly. “Evangeline, I do not think you understand the nature of the situation that we are in. If you do not marry Lord James, there is no more suitable a match for you in town. And if there is one thing I wish to be certain of before I die, it is that this house–I mean you, are taken care of. Do you understand me?”
Seated in the carriage now, Evangeline understood her perfectly. There was no way she was going to be able to get out of an arrangement with Lord James. If she refused to marry him, her mother would disown her, and she would be left with nothing to her name. But if she did marry him, she would be resigning herself to a life of such complete, utter, and unimaginable boredom. She didn’t dare even consider what that would be like right now.
“Susan,” she said very suddenly, and her maid sat up a little straighter.
“Yes, my lady?”
“Don’t you wish there were a way to just…escape your life, if only for a short while?” she mused, smiling sadly at Susan. “A magic bell you could ring that would take you out of the circumstances of your life and take you somewhere entirely new where no one knew who you were. Wouldn’t that be remarkable?”
Susan gave her a confused smile. “Certainly, my lady. I believe that I would find it rather odd, though, considering that I have never lived a life other than my own. I think that I might be slightly anxious or scared if I were not in the life I am right now.”
Evangeline leaned forwards and took both of Susan’s hands. “Oh Sue, but that is where the excitement comes into it! If you’re a stranger in a new land, you can make yourself into…whoever you wish to be! Haven’t you ever dreamed of being something other than a lady’s maid and a companion?”
Susan looked off to the right thoughtfully. “I…I suppose that I haven’t. I’ve always known that I am never going to move above my station in my lifetime, and so the possibility of being anyone else simply doesn’t seem possible to me.”
That realization hit Evangeline like a ton of bricks. “You’ve…you’ve never dreamed of being someone else?”
Susan shrugged and gave her employer a reassuring look. “I don’t have time to dream, my lady. That is what it comes down to.”
Evangeline suddenly felt like crying while looking at her dearest companion. She could feel the tears stinging at her eyes. “Well. We have time right now and we must amend this. Tell me, dear Sue, if you could be in my shoes for one day or more…what would you do? Where would you go? Who would you become?”
Susan looked into Evangeline’s eyes thoughtfully and after about a minute, opened her mouth to answer. However, right at that moment, the carriage jolted to the right and began bumping and jostling the two women around as though they were popping corn. Susan let out a small shriek, but Evangeline took her hand and held it tightly as the carriage regained its balance. When it finally calmed down, they discovered that they were now going much faster than they had been before. Evangeline let out a trill of excitement as she looked out the window.
“We’ve reached the woods!” she exclaimed, pressing her face against the pane of glass. She then looked back at her companion, who still looked as terrified as she had when they’d made the turn.
But then, Susan burst out laughing. Evangeline was surprised at first, but then the two women started laughing together as they sped along on the bumpy road.
“You’re right, my lady!” Susan cried excitedly. “When you allow yourself to dream that this might be a great adventure as opposed to a trial…this is a great deal more fun!”
Evangeline laughed harder. “I am so glad, my dearest! Now, let us truly let go and enjoy ourselves!”
She let go of her maid’s hand and the two young women started bumping around the carriage even more, laughing with the thrill of it. But then, Evangeline heard Harrison cry out and her blood ran cold. She’d never heard him make a sound like that before, but she didn’t have much time to process it. The next second, the carriage wheel hit something that sent the carriage careening sideways. Evangeline and Susan were thrown to the right, both screaming and trying to cling to the interior of the carriage. It was no use. The carriage overturned entirely, and the last thing that Evangeline saw before her world went black was the look of absolute terror frozen on Susan’s face.
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The tantalising Camelia should be over the moon with the matrimonial match she has made. Luke Evans is titled, wealthy and enthralling and he is trying so hard to awaken the flame between them. However, Camelia’s broken heart from a former love and her previous betrayal still haunt her… When a terrible incident occurs and Camelia wakes up with no memory and her hesitations gone, they dive in the most lustful romance. Suddenly, after all this time she becomes the arousing woman Luke fell hopelessly in love with, many years ago. Will she manage to overcome her pain and incite her passion for her true love or will her dark past defeat her deepest desires forever?
Luke, the Earl of Felixstowe, has never been able to forget the beautiful and charismatic Camelia, from the very first moment he met her many years ago. Camelia is all he has ever wanted in a woman, so when a marriage match is brokered between them, he is secretly yearning for their union. After her accident, he watches with satisfaction as the new and enchanting Camelia is slowly revealed. As their intimacy grows, Luke finds himself completely allured by her ravishing beauty. However, will he manage to make their sinful affection last once her memory returns?
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“Lost and Desired in His Arms” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.