A high-born and beautiful young lady who poses as a servant to protect her family’s secret.
A handsome young lord who is forced to choose a wife before his time.
In this charming, sensual romance of bygone days, the haughty Nicholas and the willful Aurora find that they can’t resist their forbidden attraction to each other — no matter how hard they try…
by Olivia DeCourtney
Aurora D’Cloure had everything a maiden could want; a loving family, beautiful clothing, and a strong fortress to live in. However, tragedy strikes and Aurora is forced to flee to protect her family’s name and secret. She is hidden away as a servant to an Earl and his lady. Little does she know that she will find more than just sanctuary in the halls of the Black Leopard Castle, but she must keep herself a secret or risk losing everything including true love.
Nicholas Wright had more important things to do than parade himself around in front of a bunch of women. He had no intention of picking a wife for himself, so his parents took it upon themselves do it for him. He was happy with the selection they had picked until he met a mysterious maid. Then everything changed. When the maid disappeared, his world came crashing down. He would do anything to save the woman who began haunting every moment of his life.
5-star praise for The Lost Maiden:
“…a great start for this new author. I’m looking forward to reading her next book.”
an excerpt from
The Lost Maiden
by Olivia DeCourtney
Nicholas Alexander Wright sat impatiently in his mother’s formal sitting room, listening to the women talk of the latest fashion. Nicholas stifled yet another yawn. For two weeks, young women had been swarming around the castle, always having excuses to take Nicholas away from his duties. They would follow him around the castle asking him ridiculous things, like could he please fix their dress that got caught on a branch or fix their hat because it somehow magically fell off. They would ask him to go horseback riding and take walks when he needed to help in the stables. He believed his mother had a hand in this and, after many of these meetings, he knew for sure that it was his mother’s doing. The Wright men have always married young and currently Nicholas’ mother was playing match-maker. He glanced over at his mother and smirked when he saw her giving him her famous warning look.
Nicholas started listening to what the young girl was saying. “Your Colors are marvelous… aren’t you related to the White Tiger?” she asked.
Nicholas rolled his eyes as his mother Lenora turned and smiled. “Yes, the White Tiger is Nicholas’ cousin.”
“Oh,” squealed the girl, batting her eyes at Nicholas and smiling seductively. “How lovely; the Black Leopard and the White Tiger are related.”
Nicholas sighed loudly. He was waiting for the young girl to ask about the White Tiger; they always did. He was never surprised about it anymore. He was getting tired of this meeting and he didn’t want to stay any longer to hear this girl gush over such nonsense. He cleared his throat as he stood up. “Mother, I have better things to do. Lady Lisa.” He bowed and left the room before his mother had a chance to reprimand him for being so rude.
Nicholas walked briskly through the hallway, cursing about the greed of women. He was known as the Black Leopard for his speed and flexibility in battles and tournaments. His cousin Darce was known as the White Tiger because he had blond hair while Nicholas had dark brown, almost black hair. He was still cursing about the greed of women as he walked down the stairs. He knew what they were after. They weren’t stupid, they knew if one put both the White Tiger and Black Leopard’s fortune together, it would almost be as much as the king’s wealthy coffers. But, the women always seemed to like Darce more, though. They had almost the same build; Darce was a little bit taller than Nicholas. So the women figured if you can’t capture the attention of one, then try for the other.
Nicholas broke out into the sunshine of the courtyard and took off running when he saw a herd of those ungrateful girls heading his way. He did not want to be cornered by them. He really should have a talk with his mother. He loved women and it was all good and fun when they came to pay a visit, but his mother offered their home as a place to stay for a couple of weeks. It was nice to see pretty girls once in a while, but seeing them every day and at all hours was becoming very tiresome. He figured she thought that if these girls were around him, he would finally pick one. They were from the most suitable households and would make good matches, but he just couldn’t get past their snobbish and unintelligent ways. He ran through the back garden and climbed up the tree next to a high stone wall with the speed of a monkey. When he reached the top, he jumped onto the wall and laughed out loud. He laughed at himself for acting like a little boy when he was twenty-five years of age. He walked along the wall for a while to get to the tree where he would be able to lower himself down to the other side into the apple orchard; his favorite place. When he reached the tree, he stopped in his tracks. There was a young woman sitting on a branch, leaning against the tree trunk. She was reading a book and eating a juicy red apple. Her dress was pulled up to her knees and one leg was dangling off the branch. Her dress was an ugly brown; a serf’s color.
“You! Serf girl! What are you doing here?” demanded Nicholas with his hands on his hips and legs spread apart.
The girl looked up and her dark brown eyes met with his cloudy blue ones. She stood up and jumped onto the wall. Her brown dress fell to her ankles, exposing her bare feet. Her dark brown hair went to her waist, the sunlight dancing off the lighter streaks and the breeze caused her long bangs to sway.
On a closer look, Nicholas realized that the dress she was wearing wasn’t made from the normal rough cotton that the lower class wore, but from an expensive fabric. It was a lighter material than cotton, but yet for some strange reason the dress was made to look like a common serf’s dress.
“Forgive me, Milord, I thought I was alone,” said the young woman, curtsying with the grace of a lady.
“What is your name, woman?” asked Nicholas.
“Aurora, Milord,” said Aurora still in the same pose and looking down.
“You may stand. Let me see you,” said Nicholas, crossing his arms across his chest as he spoke.
Aurora stood straight and looked him square in the eye. The beauty of her took Nicholas back. Even the dirt etched across her forehead couldn’t ruin her beauty. Aurora saw emotions going across the earl’s son’s face as quickly as lightning; from shock to desire. His face went blank again and said, “You are new. I have never seen you before.”
Aurora knew she needed to end this conversation fast before he started asking her personal questions. She couldn’t afford to get close to this man. It would put everything she worked for in danger. “Aye,” said Aurora, looking down, “my companions and I came a week ago.”
“I see. Mother did mention that she needed new servants with all these ladies staying with us.”
“I’m sorry, Milord. I must get back to my duties. Please, forgive my rudeness,” said Aurora, as she curtsied again and started walking quickly past Nicholas, toward the tree to get down into the garden. Nicholas watched her for awhile until he realized that the woman didn’t hold herself like a serf, but instead like a lady of the high court. Nicholas ran after her; no serf walked with their head held high like that and for that matter he knew of no serf who could read. He wanted to question her on the matter as he jumped down into the garden, but the serf girl was already gone.
He walked slowly back to the inner bailey, examining every servant girl whom he walked past while they curtsied to him. None of them were the servant girl he saw on the wall. He went inside the castle and began searching for his personal valet, Hodder. He was sure Hodder would know for certain whom the girl was; he knew every servant that worked in and around the castle. Hodder was a trusted servant who had been with the Wrights for many years now.
Aurora sighed as she crawled out from underneath some bushes in the garden. She stood up, dusted herself off, and headed toward the servants’ quarters. She was careful to stay out of view from the castle and walked around the many outbuildings. When she made it to the servants’ quarters, she stashed her book in the secret compartment she built underneath one of the floor boards under the bed she shared with her two companions. She went over to the stone wall and placed her forehead against the smooth stones and felt the coolness of them. She was so stupid. She should not have been out there in the open like that. She wanted to hit her head against the wall to clear her mind of that man. The earl’s son was all that went through her mind, with his cloudy blue eyes and dark brown hair, almost black, that was cut short. He was tall and muscular. The muscles were clearly visible through his white silk shirt. He was a very handsome man and that oh so very handsome man caught her reading! No common servant reads! Only the personal servants of the family can read and there she was, sitting out in broad daylight reading away when she was supposed to be preparing the kitchen for the evening meal. Plus, not only did he catch her reading, but she looked him square in the eye. Servants were not supposed to look their superiors in the eye. When was she going to learn the rules? She needed to stop this before people started questioning her. She was just about to bang her head against the wall when someone yelled her name from behind her.
She spun around and caught sight of one of her companions with her arms crossed and tapping her foot on the stone floor. “Aurora, where have you been? I have been looking everywhere for you!”
“Lucy, I really don’t need this right now,” said Aurora, looking at the plump woman.
“Oh, you don’t need this, huh? Well, what you do need is a good shake! Your mother put you in my care as her last request, God rest her soul, and now when we are in hiding you are disappearing from my sight!”
“Now, see here Lucy! You may be in charge right now, but I am still your employer. Don’t forget your place! Stop yelling like I am a child. I can take care of myself!” screamed Aurora, her anger rising to boiling point.
“Y-y-yes Milady, forgive me,” stammered Lucy, taken aback by her employer’s burst of anger. She curtsied deeply, afraid to look at Aurora in the face.
Aurora sighed and her anger disappeared almost instantly as she watched Lucy curtsy. “Lucy, stop it.” She shouldn’t be so harsh to the woman; she knew Lucy was just looking out for her. She had protected Aurora since they went into hiding. If Aurora couldn’t do something due to her lack of strength, Lucy was there to help her. Lucy taught Aurora everything she knew to make sure that Aurora could pass as a suitable servant and here was Aurora, yelling at her. She placed her hands on Lucy’s shoulders and made her stand up straight. “I’m sorry for losing my control. I know it’s dangerous to go off on my own; it’s just that I can’t handle much more of this. I look upon you and your daughter Alice with much respect, for now I know what kind of work a servant has to endure.”
They hugged as Alice burst into the room. She was a tall, big woman and many people thought she was stupid since she was unable to speak. Aurora knew better for Alice had a brilliant mind, but a bizarre carriage accident had caused great damage to her vocal cords. There was still a scar on her neck from the wheel that caused it. So, when the cords began healing themselves she very slowly started losing the ability to talk. Soon after that, she was only able to make grunting noises and now she couldn’t make any sound; she had completely lost the use of her vocal cords. She waved her arms in a manner that looked to the other two women like she was eating air.
“Must be time for the evening meal; come Lucy, let’s go serve these people,” sneered Aurora, smoothing her dress out and following Alice out of the room.
The evening meal was a boring ordeal for Nicholas; all those giggling girls swarming him were making him nauseous. He sat between his younger brother, Geoffrey, and his older sister, Ariel. Across from him was a beauty with blond hair in ringlets at her shoulders and deep blue eyes. Her name was Lady Celeste and she was the only one who did not giggle in his presence. Lady Celeste caught sight of Nicholas looking at her, so she smiled and lifted her wine glass to him. Nicholas smiled back and then leaned over to his sister and whispered something into her ear.
Ariel leaned back toward Nicholas and said quietly, “To answer your question, mother hired three new servants; Aurora, Lucy, and Alice. Aurora is the youngest, only eighteen years of age. Lucy is the oldest. Alice is Lucy’s child and she doesn’t speak. Why do you ask dear brother? You were never interested in the domestic part of running a household before.”
“No reason,” said Nicholas as he raised his wine glass to his lips and pretended to be interested in the political discussion his father was leading at the head of the table. Earlier in the day, Nicholas had hunted down his personal valet and questioned him. Hodder was really no help at all. He knew there were three new servants in the household, but he wasn’t exactly sure what their duties were. He knew there was a young one and two older ones and they had beautiful recommendations, but that was all. That was when Nicholas decided to ask Ariel about the servants. She was learning the trade of running a household and she would know about any new servants, but apparently she knew very little as well.
Little did Nicholas know, Aurora was just on the other side of a doorway, busy with the kitchen hands. She was getting the desserts ready for the guests in the next room. The true kitchen wasn’t attached to the main house, but the preparing room was, so it made it easier to get the food to the guests quickly and warm.
She stopped what she was doing and peeked around the doorway and sighed as she watched the merriment in the next room. Aurora felt a hand on her shoulder and she looked up in Alice’s sad face. She shook her head slightly and Aurora said, “I know. I know. It just pains me to know that once we were on that side and were so happy.”
Aurora turned from the doorway and went back to help the hands start serving the desserts. Aurora looked at the small mirror to adjust her white hat. She had twisted her long hair on top of her head like a crown and pinned it tightly. She had replaced her brown plain dress with the uniform of the household servants. It was a long black dress with gold trim along the hem of the gown, sleeves, and collar and a white apron tied around the waist. The tiny black buttons went down the front of her dress and her collar went to her neck. She picked up a tray along with the other maid and they walked out quietly. They began passing out the dishes while the conversation continued. No one noticed the servants doing their job. Aurora kept her face averted from Nicholas, just in case he did notice, but she didn’t have to worry, because he was completely mesmerized by the lovely Lady Celeste.
As Leo, the Earl of Irisburg, watched the servants serve the last course of the meal, he decided that it was time to make his announcement. He knew his oldest son wasn’t going to like what he was going to say, but it was time to push. He and his wife had decided that it was time for their son to make a decision to marry and start producing heirs. The invitations were already sent out, without Nicholas’ knowledge, and the date was set for tomorrow. He cleared his throat as he stood up. The room grew silent. “My friends, my wife and I are very pleased with the turn out of our little get together here. We are also pleased to announce that tomorrow there shall be a grand ball and that is when my oldest son, Nicholas, shall make a lovely lady his future wife.”
Nicholas coughed into his glass of wine that he was sipping as everyone started clapping politely at the announcement. The women around the table started giggling and looking at each other while they clapped. Lady Celeste picked up her glass of wine and smiled into it. Aurora began silently laughing and almost dropped the tray she was holding. She couldn’t believe that Nicholas’ parents put him into such a classic dilemma. They were probably getting tired of him running wild with the women and they wanted him to settle down. She was glad her parents never did that with any of her brothers, because they probably would have looked like Nicholas as he stared up at his parents.
How dare they do this to him! thought Nicholas. It was bad enough that his mother paraded him around like some piece of property for sale, but now he must choose a woman he barely knows to make a respectable match with in a day? He was completely outraged. He stood up abruptly, glared at his parents one last time, and then stormed out of the hall.
Nicholas awoke with a start and sighed when he realized he was in his own bed. He stared up at the canopy, thinking over last night. After his parents made the announcement, he stormed out of the Great Hall and went to get a drink from the library’s stash of brandy. A little bit later, his parents showed up and started yelling about how it was disrespectful to leave their guests like that. Nicholas’ temper boiled over and he clenched his hands into fists as he explained that he was a grown man and could find a wife on his own time. His father argued that Nicholas was wasting time and he wanted to make sure grandchildren were on the way before he died to ensure an heir. After a speech on how Nicholas was the oldest and everything would come into his hands in due time, the subject was closed and Nicholas had to fall in with his parents’ wishes or risk losing everything. Tomorrow he was to be engaged and that was the end of it. He was lucky he was the one who got to choose the woman and he should be grateful that his parents were allowing such free rein. Nicholas listened stiffly and as soon as they were done lecturing him, he stormed out of the library and up to his bedchamber without another word.
Now, he sat up and let his silky sheets fall from his nude body. His ears picked up the sounds of the servants moving about outside, doing their morning chores. One of the servants must have come in while he slept and opened the window and shades for him, like they do every morning, unless it was raining. He stood up, stretched, and was about ready to pull the rope to alert his valet that he was ready to begin the morning routine of dressing, when he heard someone scream, “Aurora! Please stop!” He walked to the window and peered over the edge down into the courtyard. It was a beautiful spring day with a slight breeze, but what caught his eye was a brown-headed girl walking briskly across the yard with her hands in fists. There was another servant behind her, trying to keep up with her fast pace.
“Aurora! Please! Where are you going?” yelled the plump woman. “Aurora!”
Aurora stopped and spun around. She was breathing heavy and her mouth was in a sneer. Her hair was tightly braided down her back and she was in the same old brown dress. She yelled, “I am going home! I’d rather fight him a million times than Myrtle! The woman is trying to kill me!”
The plump woman hurried over to Aurora and grabbed her by the shoulders and said something quietly to her. Aurora clung to the woman, crying in frustration, while the woman pulled her toward one of the many out buildings.
Nicholas turned away from the window and pulled the rope to indicate he was ready to dress. He was going to find this Aurora and find out everything he could about her.
After dressing and sitting through a boring breakfast with his family, Nicholas searched the grounds for the mysterious Aurora. His search kept getting interrupted by those annoying girls who wanted to have a word with him about some trivial matter that he didn’t deem important. After a while, he couldn’t handle all the women following him, so he headed out toward the training grounds. He knew none of the women would be out there. He reached a big stone wall that circled a field. It was a place where an old castle once stood, but when they built the newer castle they had no use for the older one, so they dismantled it and kept the outer wall standing. It was the perfect place for the men to train because it was away from the newer castle and it always gave the guards some privacy when they practiced. They kept the grass cut short, so it would be easier for the men to train and at the far end of the field stood a canopy and a small building. The men used that area to change and to cool off after their training sessions were over. That was also where they kept the training swords locked up. The entrance to the field was a giant stone archway that used to be the gate to the old castle grounds.
Nicholas walked through the arch into the training grounds and caught sight of one of the trainers throwing a sword to a woman. Nicholas jumped back into the archway and flattened himself against the wall. He peered around the corner as the woman turned. It was Aurora and she was examining the blade of the sword. Nicholas looked toward the trainer and realized it was Douglas. He was a big man with long brown hair that was tied back with a leather strap. His green eyes danced as he watched Aurora examine the sword. Aurora looked like a dwarf standing next to the burly Scot. He had on leather boots and a green Scottish kilt. His white shirt was open, exposing his muscular hairy chest. In his right hand he held on to one of the trainers’ typical long swords. He scratched his beard with his left hand as he said to Aurora, “Is the sword to your liking? It’s just a training sword I’m afraid.”
Aurora lifted her small training sword up and looked at it and said, “It will do. It’s for my training, right?”
“Aye, lass, you said you wanted to practice last night,” said Douglas as he moved his neck from side to side, stretching the muscles. “This will be a good time to practice; we don’t want anyone to see us. Everyone will be busy getting ready for the ball.”
“You are right and I need practice,” said Aurora, swishing the sword through the air.
“Now, what does a lass like you need to practice for anyway?”
Aurora smiled. “I think everyone needs to be able to defend themselves. What if Milady asked me to go for an errand into town and highway men were to attack me? I need to be able to think quickly and defend myself.”
Douglas thought for a moment, nodded, for it seemed reasonable enough, and positioned himself for battle. Aurora stood at the ready, and then they ran at each other; swords slicing through the air. Nicholas watched as the swords came together. Aurora moved quickly around her opponent, stabbing and blocking, as Douglas countered her moves. She was very good, thought Nicholas. A few times Douglas barely escaped her attacks. They continued on for what seemed like forever, neither one of them wanting to give up. Finally, Aurora outwitted Douglas by dodging his attack, rolling around him on the ground, and putting her sword at the back of his neck. There was no way for Douglas to escape that and he had to throw his sword away in surrender.
Aurora dropped her sword as Douglas stood up with a scowl on his face and said, “You are a master already, you kept that from me.”
Aurora smiled. “My father was a sword master and has taught me well. I felt there was no reason to tell you.”
Douglas looked stunned for a moment and then laughed out loud as he slapped his hand on her shoulder. “There are many things you hide, but no matter. We shall do this again, for next time I won’t hold back. You had the advantage this time, making me think you knew nothing of the sword, but for now, you best get back to your duties. I am sure they will be missing you.”
Nicholas moved from his hiding spot and advanced toward the two. Douglas dropped his hand quickly and bowed deeply. “Milord, I did not see you there.”
Aurora’s heart started pounding as she started to slowly back away from the men. She got caught again by this man; she was going to be in so much trouble now. It was forbidden for workers to train, especially the women. Lucy was going to have her head on a silver platter, but she couldn’t just sit here in hiding while her family was off fighting. She needed to train so she could go and help them. Nicholas spoke to Douglas for a moment and then turned his attention on the girl. Aurora raised her shoulders and before he could say one word to her, she bolted around him and ran toward the archway. She continued running until she got to the stables and darted inside. She knew all the outbuildings well and knew which buildings had back doors and which ones did not; this one did and she ran with all her might. She would jump from one building to the next until she lost him.
It was almost too easy; by the third building she had lost him. He apparently did not venture into the servants’ realm much. She ran into the back of the castle and went into the washing room where she was supposed to be gathering the sheets that were already washed and dried. Her duty was to prepare the beds for the guests that would be staying the night after the ball.
Nicholas kicked the door as he walked out of the garden shed. He could have sworn she entered that building, but she was nowhere to be seen. He turned over barrels and boards, thinking perhaps she was hiding behind something, but she just vanished. The woman was infuriating; this was the second time she ran from him and had lost him. He vowed to himself that when he caught up with the chit, he was going to give her a good shaking. No respectful servant runs from the owner of the home and thinks they can get away with it. He walked around the building to make sure she wasn’t hiding behind any of the equipment outside when a servant came running up to him.
“Milord,” said the servant, bowing, “Hodder told me to find you. It is time for you to dress for tonight.”
Nicholas sighed, but nodded. He followed the servant up to his room where Hodder, his valet, was setting out his evening attire.
“Ah, Milord,” said Hodder, bowing. “I was getting a little worried when I couldn’t find you within the castle.”
Nicholas held out his arms so Hodder could begin undressing him, saying, “Yes, I had some things to take care of out in the training yard before I could greet my guests properly.”
Hodder smiled; he could understand why his master was so tense. It’s not an easy task to pick a wife out of so many women whom he hasn’t had time to get acquainted with. He finished dressing his master in silence. As soon as Hodder was finished, Nicholas moved to the mirror that was hung over his wash table and looked at his reflection. He had decided that he was not going to make the decision. He refused to be pushed around; if his parents wanted him to take on a wife then they could pick the woman themselves. A knock came at the door and Hodder went over and opened it. A maid curtsied in the doorway and informed him that guests were starting to arrive for the ball.
“Very good,” said Hodder.
Nicholas quickly scribbled a note and handed it to the maid. “Please, take this to my parents.”
“Yes, Milord,” said the maid, curtsying again and leaving.
A little after that, Nicholas slowly descended the stairs in his formal wear. He did a quick search among the servants that were on hand to assist the guests, but couldn’t find Aurora among them. When he reached the bottom, a herd of girls instantly surrounded him. The only ones who did not join the crowd of girls were Lady Celeste and her companion, Lady Lucia, who stood standing in a corner.
“What do you think of him?” asked Lady Lucia, sipping some wine from her glass.
“A little too skinny for my taste, but his money is well worth it,” said Lady Celeste, smiling to Nicholas’ parents who were standing near the doorway to the ballroom with the other older aged guests and watching their son.
“Indeed, what do you think of this rumor that rippled through the house just a few minutes ago, about how he will not choose and his parents will have to do it for him?”
“That is what I wanted to hear,” smiled Celeste at her friend. “If they will choose for him, they will most certainly pick me.”
“How do you know his parents will pick you?” asked Lady Lucia, raising an eyebrow.
“I spent many hours with his parents; they will pick me and when they do, I intend to make the White Tiger my lover,” said Lady Celeste, laughing at the expression on her friend’s face. “Oh, don’t look like that, dear Lucia. My plan is perfect: I will have the Black Leopard’s money and the White Tiger’s favors.”
Lucia was about ready to speak when a bell rang throughout the hall to indicate dinner was being served. All the guests went into the dining room to start the evening meal. Celeste made sure she was next to Nicholas when they were being seated. As soon as everyone was seated, the servants started serving the courses.
Nicholas was simply memorized by the lusty Lady Celeste. She was beautiful and she made witty remarks to everything he said. Her laugh was angelic and Nicholas regretted giving his parents the power to pick his wife, because he would have picked this beautiful, intelligent woman as his own.
Apparently his parents were thinking the same thing. At the end of the meal, Leo stood up and spoke, “My friends, it is a great honor to have you all here. We all know why we are here to begin with though.” Many people started laughing down the table as Leo smiled broadly before continuing. “My son informed us that he did not want to choose for himself and gave my wife and me the power to do it for him. My wife and I decided that a match between our Nicholas and the lovely Lady Celeste would be the perfect match, if she accepts him, of course.”
Everyone laughed again and applauded as Celeste stood up and smiled. “Of course I will have him, Milord. I will try to be a good wife and make him happy.”
Everyone applauded again as Lady Celeste sat down and the new couple smiled at each other. When the clapping stopped there was a laugh that rang through the dining room. Everyone turned toward the source and Nicholas saw her. Aurora, the strange serf, was leaning against the door and clutching her side. She was laughing, but when she realized everyone was staring at her, she went from laughing to coughing. Lucy came out of the room and started slapping her back slightly and said, “Forgive her, Milord and Milady. She was just so pleased with your choice that she couldn’t control herself. She must have swallowed too much air.”
“Well, take her into the kitchen to give her something to drink,” said Lady Lenora, standing up. Lucy pulled Aurora into the next room as Lady Lenora addressed her guests. “Let’s celebrate this happy announcement with a dance in the ballroom.”
The guests stood, and as they moved past the newly engaged couple to the ballroom, they congratulated them. The musicians started up and couples began choosing partners to begin the dance while other couples took flutes of champagne and conversed. Nicholas and Celeste circulated around the room while speaking to the guests and at times took turns on the dance floor. The lord and lady of the castle stood with their older generation friends as they watched their future daughter-in-law entertain.
“She certainly has a way,” said Lady Marcia, sipping her champagne. Lady Marcia was a dear friend of the Wrights. She was an elderly lady with gray hair pulled back into a beautiful French chignon. Her blue eyes had a sparkle in them. Her blue gown was in the height of French fashion, with a tight bodice and long sleeves. The lacy collar was attached to her bodice and went up to her neck to cover her breasts as the older women did. Her skirt was full and open to show the inner layers of her gown.
“Indeed,” agreed Lady Lenora. “She has had a very good upbringing and her family has good lineage.”
“Where is the girl’s family?”
“I do believe they are out of the country at the moment. Lady Celeste stayed behind to take care of their manor and to visit us,” said Lady Lenora.
Lord Leo yawned slightly at his wife’s side and decided that it was time to take a spin on the dance floor with her. He gave his flute to a passing servant and took his wife’s hand, leading her onto the dance floor.
Two hours later, Lucy hurried into the kitchen where Aurora was still giggling about the match. Aurora had her head buried in her arms, trying hard to stifle her giggles and make it sound like sobs.
“You may stop pretending now,” said Lucy with her hands on her hips. “You have been doing this for an hour and a half now.”
Aurora looked up and smiled. “I don’t know what you are talking about, Lucy.”
Lucy raised an eyebrow and said, “I have orders from the mistress.”
Aurora stood up. “What does she want?”
“Nicholas wants a bath and the mistress and Lady Celeste are in the ladies’ private chamber deciding on how to remodel the rooms to Lady Celeste’s liking. They are also discussing wedding plans.”
“They aren’t even married yet!” exclaimed Aurora, trying hard not to laugh again.
“In three weeks time they shall be wed, but the mistress wants you to do the bath.”
“All the other maids are doing other duties.”
“Wonderful, at least I don’t have to deal with Dragon Lady,” said Aurora, heading toward the door.
“Dragon Lady?” asked Lucy.
“Lady Celeste, Lucy. Lady Celeste,” said Aurora, laughing as she walked down the hallway.
She couldn’t believe that these people couldn’t see how Celeste really was; a money-hungry, controlling woman. Now, in three weeks time, she would get what she wanted, power and money just by saying ‘I do’. Her oldest brother had to deal with women like this all the time. He was knowledgeable of their ways though and he never committed himself to them. She was sure he took them as his mistresses. She was no novice in the ways of men, but he never took one as his wife. Her brother wanted to protect the family and not let some outsider woman take everything away from them. Aurora continued walking up the stairs thinking that Nicholas was a poor man and Celeste was going to crush him into a small pulp.
Aurora entered one of the upper stairs bedrooms and was shocked to see Lady Lenora leaning over a steaming tub of water. Aurora thought the lady was supposed to be in Lady Celeste’s private chambers working on wedding plans and remodeling.
“You called, Milady?” asked Aurora, curtsying.
“Yes,” said Lenora, straightening up and turning to Aurora. “I have things to take care of with Lady Celeste and most of the other maids are doing other duties. I need you to finish Nicholas’ bath, then you may retire for the evening.”
“Yes, Milady,” said Aurora, curtsying again.
Lady Lenora nodded and then without another word swept past Aurora and closed the door as she left the room. Aurora turned and stared at Nicholas. He was sitting in the tub with his eyes closed and head back. The water went just under his chest; the hair on it was wet, thick, and curly. A drop of water was slowly running down his face. Aurora swallowed hard. She had never seen a fully naked man before. She, of course, had seen her brothers without shirts on while they practiced their sword skills on the training field, but never without their pants. She was nervous to touch him. What would his body feel like? What would his hair feel like? Questions swarmed inside her head until Nicholas brought her out of her trance with a cough. “Serf, you may start. The water is cooling.”
Nicholas opened his eyes at the sound of the voice and exclaimed, “It’s you!”
Aurora gave him a questioning look as she got soap and a cloth from a table near the tub. Nicholas cleared his throat and said, “You may start with my back.”
He leaned forward as Aurora went behind him and knelt down next to the tub. Her hand was shaking as she stretched her fingers out to touch his bare skin. When her finger contacted with his skin, tingles shot up through her arm, making her heart beat faster. She pulled her hand away quickly. Nicholas shifted and said, “What are you waiting for?”
“Nothing, Milord,” said Aurora as she dipped the cloth into the bath water and rubbed some soap into it. She put it against his back and began scrubbing.
“Who are you?” murmured Nicholas as he closed his eyes again.
“I am a mere servant, Milord,” said Aurora as she continued scrubbing and then rinsing him off with a jug of warm water that was sitting next to the tub.
Nicholas snorted. “I do not think so. You walk and talk like high society. Your clothes might look like a serf’s clothing, but to the trained eye it’s made of very fine fabric. I repeat, who are you?”
Aurora ignored the question as she whispered under her breath. “Well, aren’t you observant, Milord.”
Nicholas nostrils flared as he heard the sarcasm coming from that statement. He had excellent hearing and he certainly heard what she had said. The girl moved to the front of the tub and buried her hands into the hair on his chest. He sucked some air in through his teeth and almost forgot what she had said. She was playing with his chest and it was making him aroused; all he could think of was her delicate hands playing with his skin. He shook his head as his father’s voice came into his mind. No lord of the manor should ever let his servants overstep their boundaries; they must be constantly reminded of their position in life.
Nicholas forced himself to speak with authority. “No servant would dare speak their mind as you just did. Let this be a warning; speak like that again to me or in my presence and you will be severely punished.”
Aurora was taken aback as she pulled her hands away from him. She didn’t think he had heard her speak and certainly didn’t think he had heard what she had said. She should just walk right out after that threat, but she knew if she did, she would be punished. She was playing a role and she kept forgetting what that role entailed. She couldn’t afford to slip up, but yet she kept doing it, especially when this man was around. She swallowed her pride and her retort as she picked up one of his legs and began washing it.
“Yes, Milord, forgive me. I will not speak like that again.”
Nicholas nodded as he leaned against the tub and allowed her to continue washing his legs. They did not speak again after that. Nicholas kept his eyes closed as he let his senses go. His skin tingled from her touch, his nostrils were filled with her womanly smell of flowers, and his ears picked up every movement she made as she washed his body. Once the water was cold, Aurora finally stood up and Nicholas opened his eyes and looked up at her. He couldn’t read her expression as they stared at each other. It looked curious and shocked at the same time. He looked down and realized he was definitely aroused by this woman’s touch. He crouched up in the tub, grabbed a towel, and while standing up wrapped it around his waist. Aurora took a step back, turned, and left the room without taking a backward glance at him.
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