Before She Became a Lady
Author: Wareeze Woodson
Genre: Historical Romance with Suspense
Now alone in her new role of Lady Laningham, she faces a series of terrifying events, shadowy intruders, missing jewelry, and mysterious footfalls in the night. Added to her alarms, she must fight her hostile sister-in-law for the reigns of her husband’s establishment.
When Lord Robert Laningham returns, can she convince him danger stalks the halls of the ancient mansion? In his wounded state, will he listen or must she protect her child, her recovering husband, and her household by herself?
She handed the necklace to her maid and viewed the pearls around her throat. Smiling at her image, she decided her hair appeared well enough, and the dress showed her figure to advantage. Satisfied, she stood.
“You look ever so grand, milady.”
Stepping into the sitting-room before approaching his chamber, she said, “Don’t wait up for me, Alice. I’ll manage.”
Alice nodded. “Very good milady.”
Laurel tapped on the door and entered. Robert sat in his chair, the firelight casting shadows over his gaunt features. He appeared more himself, clean-shaven and in a brocade robe adding a little color to his cheeks.
His eyes lit with admiration, and he held out his hand. “Welcome, Laurel. I would bow to your beauty if I could.”
“Robert, how ridiculous you have become. That’s the next best thing to writing an ode to my eyebrows or some such thing.”
He laughed. “I’m pleased you enjoyed my compliment. Now, let’s eat.”
She couldn’t suppress a grin. “Always directly to the main issue with you, is it—practical and to the point.”
“Exactly so. Admit you wouldn’t wish me any different.”
She nodded in agreement and picked up her napkin. “On with it, then.”
Although Robert had suggested the meal commence, he ate very little. However, he did refill his glass several times. Finally, Laurel had her fill. Seemingly relieved the meal was over he struggled to his feet and called for Joseph.
“Don’t go. I want you to stay a while.”
After his man-servant helped him to bed and departed, Robert patted the bedding beside him. “I want you to lie beside me. I need your warmth next to me, to know I can turn my head and there you are. I want to kiss you goodnight and hold you for a little while. Remove your dress down to your chemise, but leave the jewelry.” He motioned to the bed again.
She didn’t know if such an action was wise or not, but she wished to lay wrapped in his arms again. That would be enough. She stripped to her chemise and crawled in beside him. Rolling over on his good side, he nestled her to his chest and kissed her. The smooth feel of his body against her, the strength in his arms, and the tangy scent of him imparted a sense of safety, warmth, and love. Not many minutes later, a gentle snore rose and fell with each breath he took. After a measure of minutes, she climbed out of his bed, collected her garments, and left his room. Yes, it was enough for now.
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Before She Became a Lady
Sunlight beamed through the opened drapes casting Laurel’s shadow on the freshly painted walls. She gazed around her friend’s bed chamber with admiration. “Millicent, I adorn your new furnishings.”
Millicent twirled, her sprig muslin skirts twisting around her legs. With each turn, a faint scent of jasmine wafted through the room. “Mummy gave over. I reminded her I’ll be having my come out soon. The old bed and dresser were childish and out of date. I needed everything new.”
Laurel giggled. “Very clever.”
Millicent flopped down on the bed, her features glowing with excitement. “I hinted that she would be embarrassed when the guests at our house party viewed such shoddy, outdated pieces on display.”
“What house party? When?” Laurel tried to keep distress from sounding in her tone.
Millicent waved her hand dismissively. “The first guests should arrive today. Guess who is coming.”
Laurel clasped her hands and sank on the bed. She’d never been to a house party before. Females were guided by such strict rules in society. What if she made a mistake? It would be fatal to all her dreams. She would sink beyond reproach, a disgrace to her aunt. She swallowed to calm a moment of panic.
In reverent tones, Millicent sighed out, “Lord Robert Laningham. He’s so handsome.”
“But, I don’t have the proper attire for a house party much less a ball.” Laurel wrinkled her brow in distress and spread her arms wide. “Even a small one.”
Millicent patted Laurel’s arm. “No need to fret. We’re the same size. You may wear something of mine. Mummy intends to furnish a new wardrobe for my come-out any way.” She leaped off the bed. “I have something else to show you.” Over her shoulder, she said, “It’s a secret. Promise you won’t tell.” She halted and stared at Laurel.
“I won’t tell. What’s your secret?”
Millicent laughed. “You should see your face.” She wrinkled her nose. “I intend to capture Lord Laningham’s heart with my secret weapon.”
“I really shouldn’t show you. You are very lovely. You have long blonde hair and blue eyes, too.” Millicent shrugged. “Still, my dark brown hair and green eyes are quite beautiful as well. The downstairs footman told me so.” She drew a small box of powder from a drawer in her dressing table. “Here. With a little water stirred with it, I can darken my lashes adding length and mystery. My eyes appear larger, too. I’ll allow you to wear some too.”
Laurel gasped and peered at the box in Millicent’s hand. “Do I dare?”
“Yes, you do dare. Only a very small amount shall do wonders.”
“If we’re caught, your father may lock you in your room forever. I’ll be in serious disgrace as well.”
“Nonsense! I’ll use only a little.” Millicent laughed. “Besides, I have my father wrapped around my little finger. Perhaps Lord Laningham shall be as susceptible. Lord Laningham won’t be able to resist me when I’m dressed in all my finery. I’ll flutter my lashes at him. My long, dark lashes surrounding my mysterious eyes. He’s certain to fall under my spell.”
The rumble of wheels, the jingle of the harness, and the thud of hooves sounded. Both girls rushed to the window and peeked through the drapes to the graveled drive below. A tall, well-dressed gentleman stepped out of the carriage.
Millicent quivered with excitement. “It’s him, Lord Laningham. All that black hair. He’s charming as well.” She drew a deep breath. “He’s quite wealthy.” She glanced at Laurel. “Did I mention that?”
“Such shouldn’t matter. Is he truly a gentleman, worthy and kind? Would he care for you and you alone?”
“Of course it matters. And I shall see to it I’m the most important person in his life. Now, don’t be such a pea-goose.” Millicent drew the drapes closed. “We’d best start our ablutions now. It takes simply hours to do anything with my hair. I’ll ring for Franie. She always manages.”
After hours of trying on dresses, arranging hair and the like, including a light application of the dark powder, the girls were ready. They entered the hall arm in arm and descended the stairs. Millicent stepped into the room before Laurel and stopped to stare at Lord Laningham with a warm smile of welcome on her lips.
He looked beyond her, and his gaze locked with Laurel’s. Her breath caught in her throat and her pulse fluttered. Without breaking eye contact with her, he passed Millicent and halted in front of Laurel, his gaze searching, intent, determined, and somehow possessive.
“Miss Matthews, please introduce me to this lovely lady.”