"Lord Levington! Lord Levington!"
Cassy groaned, shoving her head under the pillow. Then she realized with painful swiftness where she was and who she was supposed to be, and jerked out from under the coverlet and the fat pillow and blinked at the strange man approaching the canopied bed where she slept. Gray light filtered in through tall windows with drapes pulled.
"I'm awake," she croaked, keeping the coverlet up to her chin as the valet approached the bed with a look of a man intent upon assisting. "I don't like to be helped with my morning duties!" Cassy snapped gruffly, hoping he would be daunted by her fierce expression. He was.
The valet bowed his head and murmured, "His grace expects you in the morning room, my lord. Shall I lay out your clothes for the day?"
Cassy nodded, "Yes. Several layers of clothing, please," she said at the faintly surprised look on the valet's face. "I find England very cool." ‘And his grace far too perceptive’ she added silently. Her bosom may not have been very large, but she intended to take no chance.
She had no intention of finding her situation with the duke improved since the night before. If he should see through her facade... She shuddered at the thought. It was only a little over four months until her eighteenth birthday, and then it wouldn't matter if he knew. But until then, her secret had to be kept, even if she wore a cloak and muffler in the hottest of weather. Thankfully, they were in England, and not some hot tropical island where it would impossible for her to hide under five different layers of clothing.
"Very good, my lord," the valet murmured, his face wooden again.
These English and their penchant for showing little or no reaction. Cassy wondered rather savagely how they would react if she strode downstairs in a ball gown, or a chemise. Probably not at all, even, especially, the estimable duke of Eastland.
Didn't he have a proper name? She tried to recall if master Nicholas had mentioned it, but so much had happened in those days before she’d left.
Her throat tightened and she dragged her thoughts in another direction. Best not to think of him now. It would really create a stir if one of the servants found her weeping in her night shirt.
When Cassy finally managed to dress herself without being disturbed, she inhaled deeply to give herself strength for meeting the duke again. It didn't promise to be pleasant, especially after their first meeting.
Sadly, she discovered that her intuition was correct. The duke didn't seem of the best of moods when she finally entered the breakfast room, so she expected him to glance at her. He did not even glance up when Sheldon showed her in, however. It was raining and drops pelted the tall glass windows behind the long table as she slid into her seat at the opposite end.
Eastland lifted his gaze from his morning mail and pinned her to the back of her seat with an icy stare. Sheldon bent quickly beside her and whispered "You are not to take your seat until his grace has acknowledged you, my lord."
Cassy scowled, and after the briefest of hesitations, rose from her seat to stand by her chair. The duke seemed to deliberately ignore her then, and returned his attention to the load of papers he held in one hand.
Shifting from one foot to the other, Cassy waited impatiently for him to acknowledge her. Minutes ticked past, and he still read his mail as if she were not standing there waiting on her morning meal.
The delicious fragrances of covered dishes waiting from a heavy oak sideboard were tantalizing in the extreme, and her stomach rumbled loudly. The duke looked up, his eyes narrowing on her and Cassy flushed.
"Be seated, Levington," he said shortly, and she slid back into her chair.
The light repast Sheldon had served her the night before had long since vanished, and she found that she was starved. An array of dishes were presented by a footman, and she chose generously of the kidney, ham, eggs in some sort of cream sauce, muffins, marmalades and a variety of fruits. It was only when she had devoured a large potion of each that she looked up to find Eastland's critical gaze on her again.
"I am aware," he began cooly "that young men are usually hungry, but I hope that this disgusting display of food consumption is rare."
Feeling slightly guilty she has downed her food, Cassy wiped up her mouth with her linen napkin and said "I apologise, Sir, for my lack of manners."
An eyebrow shot up in surprise. “An apology! Well, well, this is an improvement." A faint smile curved the hard lines of his mouth as he looked at her. "Perhaps, there is some hope, afterall."
Cassy remained silent; he was deliberately baiting her. But now that she had some food and rest, she felt remarkably generous. Her first impression had been spontaneously bad, and maybe she could rectify matters by being a little more generous. After all, she had to mollify the Duke for the time and it wouldn't be very smart to be constantly enraging him.
When it was apparent that the young lord had no intention to retort to his subtle provocation, Eastland beckoned to the man standing on one side of the room. "Sam, see that lord Levington starts his lessons this morning. Sheldon, has made the necessary arrangements with his tutors. I prefer that the west study be used."
"Very good, your grace."
Cassy shifted uncertainly. "What exactly am I supposed to study?"
"Ought," he said dispassionately.
"Ought," he repeated. "You don’t say ‘supposed’, like some uncultured swine."
Cassy gripped the edge of the table to keep her from retorting.
"Forgive me, Mr Eastland," she said dryly. A heavy silence fell. Sam, the tall, slim man with a long face gave her a cold look; Sheldon quickly reminded her, "Your grace."
Flushing, Cassy said shortly, "How am I supposed to reminisce what to call him? Doesn't he have a name?"
Before Sheldon could give an answer, the Duke held up a hand. "No. Let me. Yes, Levington. I have a name, just as you do. However, only my intimate are permitted the privilege to address me so, and you are not of the aforementioned, are you?"
Her mouth fell open, and before she could say a word, Eastland interrupted. " Don't say it. I know you are unaccustomed to being referred to Levington, but that is now your tittle. You are no longer Jonathan Trenton, but Lord Levington to all but your intimates. I am not one of them and I choose to call you by your tittle name, as should be. You will never, I repeat never call me by any tittle but 'Your grace'. While my name is Anthony Henry Blake, I am the duke of Eastland to all sundry. I know and doubt seriously If I shall ever be friendly enough with you to be referred to even as Eastland. Is that clear?"
Cassy couldn't utter a word for the hot humiliation welling up, and contented herself with a jerky nod. The duke accepted the response and dismissed her with a signal to go with Sam.
"He shall enquire on all your schedules of studies," the duke said. "And I will accept nothing less than the best from you."
Smarting from his cold reproach, Cassy followed Sam from the dinning room without glancing at the duke one more time. She has already begun to hate him. Toping to that, he looked so devilishly handsome lounging at the head of the long table, yet, had treated her as rudely as he seemed to think she behaved.
It became crystalline clear to her that what was considered good manners depended largely on which part of world one was from; what had seem perfectly normal and entertaining at home was in question here. And how was she supposed; ought- to know about all titles? And who was addressed how? It sounded silly, and in that moment she couldn't lay any blame on her parents for fighting for their freedom from a country that placed titles over humans.
Nothing was as she thought it would be, she realized as they walked silently. Certainly not this huge house that looked as if it had more or so 300 rooms, nor the welcome she received and more nauseatingly, the cold-sheepish duke of Eastland. As she followed Sam's stiff steps down wide corridors and through a maze of hallways, Cassy began to wonder whether she had made the wrong choice coming to England on her brother’s behalf.
It was a very subdued Cassy; lord Levington who met the tutors that morning.
French, German, Italian and Spanish were to be taught and as well; Latin and Greek. There were to be classes of mathematics, sciences, politics and sociology with other fundamentals of social sciences. Classes of geography and world history were to be included and more importantly, English and literature respectively.
Her English tutor was a somberly garbed, portly old man with a deeply receded hairline. His name was master Philip, and he made a fuss about the way she pronounced her T’s and D’s.
"It’s not budder," he said aggravatingly. "It’s butter. Butter. You must pronounce the ‘t’ in the word appropriately."
"I really don’t see what the problem is here," she said with a mounting annoyance. "So long as you know what I’m referring to, why must I learn to pronounce it a different way?"
"You must shed your colonial enunciations for the appropriate English orthodoxy," he said. "If you are ever to be regarded highly by anyone on English soil, you must adopt the proper intonations. Do not roll the letter. Stress it."
"Butter," she tried again, stressing the letter just like he’d asked.
"No!" He threw his hands in the air, as though the lad were hopeless. "You must not roll any letter off the tongue. Speak them appropriately and give them the proper pronunciation. Butter."
"Butter." She tried again.
"My word," Philip sighed, dabbing at his forehead with a handkerchief. "This is going to be harder than I expected."
Afterwards, Cassy sat in dazed silence at an ornate carved Louis IV desk, chewing on her fingernails and wondering what to do. She despised all the subjects with the exception of History, Art and Music. Her blue eyes darkened as she buried her head in her palms; now, she was finally left to her own devices.
Of course, she had a tall stack of textbooks she was to study, but as it was her first day, her tutors had left.
The first was mathematics, and she eyed the textbook with a look of disdain before pulling it towards her and flipping to the first page. Numbers stared up at her instantly, arithmetic equations she was supposed-ought- to know how to solve.
"All this in one day?" she asked Sheldon when he came into the study with a tray.
A faint smile curved his mouth and Sheldon shook his head. "No, my lord. I believe that your studies are to be divided daily. Mathematics and sciences on Mondays, two languages and English history on Tuesdays, the list goes on that way."
"How organized," Cassy muttered, eying the tray he'd brought. "And Saturdays and Sundays are free?"
"Oh no, my lord. Saturdays are for pursuits as horsemanship and physical activities. Sundays, his grace informed me, you will devote to worship, either at the chapel here or on the estate or in the village when it seems necessary. His grace is called upon to appear to his tenants on occasion, you understand?"
Cassy sagged in the leather chair and buried her face in her hands. Her voice was muffled when she said, "I think I want to go home."
"That is not possible, my lord. Eastland is your home."
Her fingers spread and one eye glared at Sheldon. "I thought Eastland was the duke!"
"It is also the name of his grace's ancestral home. Tea, my lord?"
"I’d rather not." Cassy met his startled eyes with a steady gaze, the poor fellow scalded by her refusal of his delectable tea. Sheldon nodded stiffly. Perhaps it was blasphemous to refuse an offer of tea in England. She would have to ask one of her tutors when next the arrived.
"Very well, my lord. What do you prefer?"
She looked at the tray. "Water, I suppose."
Sheldon hesitated, then said, "Water is frequently mixed with wine, but rarely imbibed without being boiled, my lord. It is necessary to avoid certain afflictions."
Staring at him, Cassy shrugged. "Then I would like some lemonade. Is that baked chicken?"
"Yes, my lord. Cold, with bread, cheese, and fruit. His grace prefers light repast, but thought you might be hungry, since dinner won't be until later this evening."
Cassy shrugged. Apparently, his grace commanded every single facet of the household.
"Sheldon," she said when the steward brought her a glass of lemonade, "don't leave me yet, please."
He seemed surprised. "My lord?"
Hald shrugging, Cassy said to cover her sudden embarrassment, "I have some questions I'd like to ask, and I don't want to ask anyone else."
"Of course, my lord. Feel free to ask me anything."
While Sheldon waited politely, Cassy tried to decide which of the many questions she had would sound less alarming. She settled for "Just, where is Eastland? I assume that the estate is somewhere nearby?"
"Fairly close, my lord. It is in Hampshire."
"Southampton is located in the southern potion of Hampshire, my lord."
"Ah!" Cassy nodded. She'd been correct. Levington was not only the name of title, but also the estates Jonathan had inherited. "Would you explain the law of succession to me, Sheldon? My English in the finer points of English law is sadly lacking."
"My lord!" Sheldon reeled slightly. "I am afraid it would take a great deal of time. I shall be happy to request that one of your tutors inform you, however."
"No, just tell me this: if I were to leave England, who would get my title?"
"Leave England, my lord?"
"Just a hypothetical question, Sheldon. I merely meant that I wonder if my... sister would inherit it if I chose not to accept the title."
Sheldon seemed at a loss. "I hardly know how to answer that, my lord. No one has ever refused a title before." He paused, then ventured, "Females may inherit titles, of course, but only if the original grant from the crown does not prohibit it, limiting the succession to male heirs. If I am not mistaken, that does not happen often."
"But what about Queen Elizabeth? She was female and she became a queen."
"Royalty commands a different set of rules, my lord."
"Earls aren't royal?"
"Not many of them. Nor many dukes either," Sheldon added with a smile. "Many of those titles are earned."
"Eastland's?" She couldn't resist asking, and Sheldon's smile grew wider.
"Perhaps you should ask his grace that question."
Cassy shuddered. "I don't think that would be very wise." She paused, then asked, "How would the succession go in my case?"
"The title would be given to the next male heir."
"I see. Thank you, Sheldon."
Sheldon hesitated, then asked, "My lord, you are not thinking of doing anything rash, are you?"
"If by rash, you mean finding the next ship back to America, I suppose not," Cassy replied gloomily. "I have this terrible feeling that his grace would be most upset with me."
"Most upset, my lord."
Cassy managed a smile at the anxious steward. "You are very kind to worry. This is all just new to me. I'm certain that when I get used to things, I'll feel much better."
"Very good, my lord."
"Oh, and one last thing, Sheldon," she called.
"Is it considered blasphemous to refuse an offer of tea in England?"
Sheldon actually laughed. Cassy tried to keep a straight face, genuinely curious for his reply.
"No, my lord," he said finally between fits of laughter. "It is not considered blasphemous. Although I must admit that an offer of tea is rarely declined."
"Thank you for the clarification, Sheldon," she said. "I think I should return to my books now."
"A wise decision," he said, turning towards the door.
After Sheldon had left her alone in the study however, with the lunch tray and the rain still pelting the mullioned windows, Cassy surrendered to gloom. Her fate would be the same, no matter what her brother did. Jonathan was assured of a place when and if he wound up in England, but she would be superfluous. An unwanted sister destined to remain on the fringes of life. There would be no place for her here, that much was certain.Her only hope was to carry off her deception until her eighteenth birthday. As stipulated by her father's will, she would at least inherit a small legacy and be able to avoid being trapped in an unnecessary and quite frankly undignified marriage. It didn’t matter that the duke was younger than she’d expected. Much younger, in fact. The fact remained that he was a prickly fellow with an inflated sense of self. Perhaps Sheldon had it wrong when he said the Duke likes to keep to himself. Most likely, he avoided people because no one wanted to suffer his presence
Waking uncomfortably early, Cassy gazed up at the canopy over her bed and dreaded the coming day. What precious little sleep she’d managed the night before had failed in making her feel even marginally relaxed. Gray light pressed through the painted windows, and she realized that Gabriel must have already drawn the drapes, which meant he would be returning any moment to help her dress. That moved her to action and she flung herself from the bed and toward the dressing room.With the dressing room door softly shut, she shed her nightshirt and dressed quickly. Turning in front of the long mirror to look at her appearance with an anxious eye, she noted the faint bluish shadows beneath her eyes and sighed. Thus, all in all, her masquerade was virtually unrecognizable. Even Jonathan could not recognize her for a few moments. Her hair was darker now, then it was white, long and pulled up into a demure chignon. Despite her efforts to keep her curls tamed, they waved in unruly stands in a sho
Sunday, obviously, was not one of those days. It began early, with Sheldon bringing her the information that his Grace expected her to be downstairs within half an hour, dressed and ready for services in the village church."The church?" Cassy was hesitant. "Yes, my lord," he added with a second bow. "The church. I’m sure you must have passed it on your way up here. Everyone goes there for service, even the Duke’s neighbors.""Neighbors?" As far as she could tell, Eastland manor stretched for hundreds of yards, and she hadn’t seen any fence to indicate a separation from another property. "The old Viscount has lived right next to the manor for several years now," Sheldon said, in that slow manner that told Cassy he secretly thought her slow-witted. For all his faults though, he hid it well. Church didn't sound bad at all, though Cassy did wonder sleepily why it began so early. She'd always enjoyed the sermons at the old church near Hampton road, even with its broken panes and cobwebs
"En garde!"Gripping her epee tightly, Cassy flexed her knees and lifted her left arm in the air as her instructor, M. Fournier, had taught her. Her throat closed with nervous apprehension as the small, wiry Frenchman assumed the first position. Sunlight streamed through the tall windows of the ballroom, glittering on the blade of the slender epee she clutched in her right hand. It seemed to sparkle with deadly intent."No, no," he said in a despondent manner. "You are holding the blade wrong." Because of his high, nasal accent, it sounded like he had said, "None, none. Hue are olding ze blade wrong."A large mat had been spread on the floor in the ballroom where she received her fencing lessons, and the instructor had inked a mark on its surface to indicate where she was to stand. Cassy tried to keep her stockinged feet near the mark and concentrate on M. Fournier at the same time.This was her first lesson, and she wore cork told on the blunt end of her blade, as well as a mask and p
Eastland found himself in a towering rage as he strode toward the manor with heavy footsteps, each one heavier and more pronounced than the last. His brows were knitted in annoyance, and he screamed at the doorman when he took half a second too long to open the door. He growled at the steward when he entered his study as well, when the fool had the audacity to ask if anything was wrong with him. "Get out!" He pointed to the door with a fire in his eyes that caused the young lad to take off in a split second. Fuming, Henry sat at his table, surrounded in a cloud of his own contempt. Since when did he allow himself to be irritated past the point of self control by anyone? Not to talk of the foolish boy who couldn’t seem to do anything right. He cursed lightly as he strode to the window, unable to sit still while he anger continued to boil within him. Levington just had such a vulnerable, female look about him. His shy, wide blue eyes, and the way his lashes lowered whenever he though
"You're a fidgety boy, aren't you?" The Dowager Duchess of Eastland remarked, impaling Cassy with a steely glare."I'm sorry, your grace," she muttered and stared glumly down at her untouched dinner plate. Footmen were still serving a variety of meats from salmon to mutton, along with an astonishing array of vegetables, sausages, pickles, and creamed dishes to tempt the appetite. Across the table, numerous conversations flew in all directions, most too confusing for her to understand."Don't apologise," Eastland's Aunt said in a stern voice. "It's a sign of weakness."Cassy glanced up at the jewelled, rather portly woman with a surprised look, and nodded. "Yes, your grace.""And don't be so mealy-mouthed." The duchess snapped. "Where's your spirit?"A rush of resentment washed through her, and Cassy's eyes glittered as she said evenly, "I've been made to understand that spirit is not as important as obedience, your grace. If it offends you, it does not offend the duke.""I see," the do
Cassy watched with mounting horror as Sir Geoffrey walked into the dining hall with an innocent smile on his face. Behind him walked Colin, handsome as ever, his smile a lazy one. Cassy felt her chest tighten at the sight of him, and the entire hall suddenly felt much too small. "No need for the warm welcome," sir Geoffrey said as he stopped right next to the duke. "We just thought we'd swing by since it appears that we didn't receive an invitation."Eastland flexed his fingers slowly, his rage mounting slowly. Cassy could see the irritation in his eyes, and she could tell that he'd deliberately refused to invite the viscount. "Sir Geoffrey," the duchess said with an exaggerated friendliness, "forgive my oversight. I had assumed that, being my nephew’s nearest neighbor, he would have invited you personally. Invitations were sent out to guests who were far away, and I was careless in my assumptions. Forgive my mistake.""I think nothing of it, your grace," sir Geoffrey said with a flo
Henry Blake, odd as it may seem, did not love Rebecca Spencer, nor was he particularly enamoured of her ripe charms. He'd been tired of her for some time and had welcomed the news of her engagement to Viscount Ravanel. It would effectively remove her from his life, he'd hoped.He should have known better, Henry reflected cynically as he removed Rebecca's arms from around his neck and kept his steely grip on her wrists. She gazed up at him with a pout, and let her curves lean forward to brush against his chest. His body immediately responded in spite of his irritation, and Rebecca knew it."See?" She whispered in a triumphant voice, rubbing her hips suggestively against his arousal. "You still want me!""Maybe I'm just too accustomed to having you, Becky," he said with a shrug. "It's not as if we haven't spent a great many hours in bed together.""Didn't you enjoy those times, Henry?""Immensely.""There's no reason why you can't continue," she murmured throatily and leaned into him eve