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THE DUKE’S FLOWERS





by Roxie Brandon









Copyright © 2018 Roxie Brandon All Rights Reserved



No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems - except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews - without permission in writing from the author, Roxie Brandon.



This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

THE DUKE’S ROSE



England, 1815

Chapter One

Edward Sterling, Duke of Cromwell, ran the ducal estates ever since his father died. His wife, Elizabeth, died three years ago. As much as he would have liked to escape the ugly truth there was no getting away from the cold, hard fact. She had fought the disease, a sickness that seemed to eat her from inside.

He knew, even in the midst of his own pain, that she was better off now. Yet for some reason, his heart remained rooted in despair. Even as he reminded himself that she finally rested peacefully, he wondered if there would be something peaceful in his life again.

Sterling retreated to the library of the old Estate. He was standing behind thick curtains of purple velvet, which protected him from view, and was reading a letter:

My precious Edward,

How can I show what is in my heart within a short letter? I want you to know that from the moment I met you, you became the most important thing in my life. I hope you will forgive me. I beg you not to grieve over my death. You must be strong for our children. I am happy because God has answered my prayer to give you a guardian angel. He has chosen me. I shall love you forever.

Elizabeth



Edward remembers... Wind whipping through his hair, he leaned forward, pushing his horse to more speed. Elizabeth's golden hair sparkled in the sun's light.

“Edward!” Her voice travelled over the distance. Her wonderful laughter reached his ears.

He pushed his horse on and soon pulled up next to hers. She leaned forward as the wind whipped through her hair. He smiled and once again pushed his horse on. The road soon levelled out, opening up to green fields.

Laughing, she looked at him. Her blue eyes sparkled as she turned to look at him. For a long moment, they flew forward, side by side, eyes fixed on the other. A perfect moment, so perfect that it hurt to think of it. A moment he would see in his dreams.

***

Death, a sad word. Death was the reason why Rose Hale was traveling to a governess posting. How Rose missed her parents! But she dismissed the disquieting emotions and chose instead to be hopeful; hopeful of a happy life in the years to come. She blew out an eager breath.

Marriage. That was a subject that occupied her thoughts! Rose longed to marry, to have a house and husband of her own, and to someday raise her children. Rose knew she woud be a wonderful wife. With her manners and kindness, any man would be proud if she was the mistress of his house.

Reflecting upon her life, Rose realized how grateful she was that her parents had gifted to her a means of supporting herself by teaching her the importance of hard work and a strong sense of independence.

Although Rose had been raised a vicar’s daughter, she had been taught to be an accomplished woman. But Rose would never have supposed she would one day end up a governess to someone else’s children.

After her mother had joined his father in death, Rose had come to live with her uncle’s family, but from the beginning she had felt unwelcome. She knew they had only taken her in because they considered it their duty. She was, after all, family. However, both her aunt and uncle never missed an opportunity to remind her of her status. Rose never declined a request, never argued and never questioned her uncle’s authority. And yet, to this day he had never looked at her with affection, nor had her aunt.

So, if she became a governess, would her uncle be relieved to be rid of a responsibility he did not ask for in the first place?



















Chapter Two

Rose traveled the long distance and stayed at a stuffy inn on her journey. She reminded herself that she was on a big adventure and that she would have to endure a little discomfort. She had never traveled so far or alone before and it was all new to her. There was a rough beauty about the land, and she wanted to explore more if its villages and pastoral wonders.

Rose was awake when the carriage arrived at a stop. They had travelled for hours to get to Caddington House. She gathered herself before the coachman came to open the door for her to descend. Mr Jarvis extended a hand to help her down.

She smiled at him, and said, “Thank you, Mr Jarvis.”

He pulled her valise from the coach and walked with her to the entryway of an immense house.

Rose beheld for the first time the splendor of what was to become her new home. She looked at the beauty of Caddington House, an aged stone house. Rose saw water flickering nearby; it appeared to be a lake.

A profound feeling tranquility overcame her as she stared at the expanse of blue that lay before her. Rays of light moved gently over the water, birthed from the afternoon sun that made the view all the more beautiful.

The windows of the house were oversized, mullioned and almost cathedral-like. The chimneys worked busily puffing smoke from the cozy interior to the cool evening. Its large oak door was double wide and was sheltered under a wide porch supported by stone pillars.

The driveway was grandiose, sweeping into a wide circle in front of the dwelling with an ornate fountain in the center. Caddington House was more grand than Rose had imagined.

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered. She prayed she would be happy here.

***

A man stepped forward, bowing. “You must be the new governess,” the man said. “We have been expecting you. I am Mr Thomson, His Grace’s butler. Please follow me. "

The butler turned on his heels and walked away, and Rose followed. She was bewitched by the incredible beauty of Caddington House. The marble floor shimmered in the shine of the light spilling in through windows. Two stairways led opposite each other from her right and left to the upper floor. The house was ornamented with antique joinery, Venetian chandeliers and stone columns. The corridors were decorated with antique furniture, impressive paintings and tapestries.

Knocking on the door, the butler and Rose heard, “Come in.” The door was opened, and the butler nodded for her to enter.

The master of the house looked up from his large desk. The library was a room filled with shelf after shelf of leather-bound books. The shelves reached the ceiling of the magnificent room.

Rose looked at the man staying at the desk. The Duke was wearing a tight, scarlet waistcoat, fastened by tags, and very close-fitting breeches. He was a tall man and he cut a fine figure of a gentleman.

His face was strong and defined, his features molded from granite. He had dark eyebrows, which sloped downwards in a serious expression. His black hair was tousled, and he scowled when he saw them waiting in the doorway. He was so severe!

Edward Sterling looked at Rose. When Thomson had mentioned that the last applicant was young, he certainly did not expect her to be this young. Her eyes were bright blue and her auburn hair framed her lovely face as a smile ran across her full, rosy lips. Her face was young without one blemish to mar its perfectly pale complexion. She was not tall nor short, but somewhere in between. Her shoulders were broad and she held her noble head high with the air of confidence. She was a beauty.

" You will teach the children every day. Reading, writing and arithmetic,” Mr Sterling said.  “You intend to add something to this list?”

“I do, Your Grace. I would like to have music lessons.”

Sighing, she added, “Children need fresh air. I would really like to be permitted time outdoors with them.”

Sterling nodded his head in agreement. “Anything else?”

“Not at the moment, Your Grace".

"Mrs Johnson will introduce you to your pupils.”

“Very well, Sir.”

“You may go.”

She had never met anyone so abrupt. In the future, she would take care to avoid speaking with him or seeing him. In a house the size of Caddington House, that should be an easy task, she thought to herself.

***

“I am Mrs Johnson, His Grace’s housekeeper. Please follow me.” 

They walked along the hall in silence, Rose still anxious from receiving Mr Sterling's strict instructions. 

“Don’t let the Master upset you,” Mrs Johnson said. 

“He says you will introduce me to the children.”

“And that I will do,” Mrs Johnson told her. “They are good children.  You wll not be unhappy here, Miss Hale.”

In all his references to his children, Mr Sterling had demonstrated no paternal affection.  Maybe the loss of his wife had resulted in his coldness? 

Rose followed the woman up the wide and imposing staircase to the second floor.

“The children are to be kept away from His Grace unless he desires to see them, Mrs Johnson said.

The housekeeper took her to a room which she assumed was for the governesses’ use. Rose could not believe how beautiful her room was. It was spacious and well-furnished. From her windows, she had a view of the courtyard.

Rose waited until her door was closed before sinking onto the bed. She was tired, yet there were things to be done before going to sleep. She unpacked her valise, and after supper, she went to bed.







Chapter Three

The next day Rose followed Mrs Johnson to the schoolroom, bringing the books with her.

“Master Edmund and Miss Eliza, allow me to introduce Miss Hale,” Mrs Johnson announced.

“Is she our new governess?” asked Eliza. The girl turned cool eyes on Rose. The boy smiled shyly, and Rose returned his smile.

 " How old are you, Eliza?”

The girl looked just as she was thinking about not to answer, and Rose waited patiently until the girl sighed heavily and said, “I’m seven.”

And you, Edmund, how old are you?

“I am six, Miss Hale."

Both children looked suspiciously at her, but she ignored their curiosity.

“We have no mother,” informed Eliza.

“I know and I am very sorry,” Rose replied. “We will begin immediately after breakfast, and I will test you in reading and writing. We shall see where we are from there.”

Rose knew the children had to feel sadness from their mother’s death. Helping them find happiness became her goal and she prayed she would find her own happiness too.

***

“The time has come to read,” said Rose.

“I do not want to read,” Edmund said.

“But while your father is here, you can show him how well you are doing,” Rose said.

Mr Sterling sat at the other end of the room, with his head held in his hands. However, she was confident he would show some interest in his children once they started reading out aloud.

Probably, before the death of his wife, Mr Sterling had shown affection towards his children, but since then, he had scarcely had any time for anyone. Rose longed for his happiness again and her heart ached whenever sorrow was imprinted on his face. Still, she loved her job. Seeing the children grow and learn new things was rewarding.

"We can read a few words of this delightful story, all about a mouse.”

Edmund frowned. “I do not want to read.”

“Come now, Edmund. I am sure your father would be very pleased to hear you."

“Edmund,” Mr Sterling said in a firm voice. “Do as Miss Hale says. You will read. Now.”

“Will you be listening to us, Father?” Eliza asked.

Mr Sterling was already heading for the door. He didn’t look at her when he replied, “Not today, Eliza."

This was the hardest part of Rose's job: seeing the children’s hurt and confused reactions to being ignored by their father. Should she try and approach Mr Sterling and explain to him that what he was doing was harmful, that they needed to see their father’s love for them?

" Miss Hale, I wish to talk to you in private,” Mr Sterling said. Rose walked across the room, hearing only the sound of her heart. She didn’t dare look Mr Sterling in the eyes as she passed through the doorway where he stood, holding open the door.

Once she had left the room Mr Sterling said to the children, “Not one word out of either of you, you understand?”

“Yes, Father,” they answered.

Mr Sterling closed the door. "The library,” he said to his governess. “Miss Hale,” he began abruptly, "You will not allow my children to become impolite. I employed you not only to teach my children to read and write, but to teach them good manners as well.”

“But they are still children, Your Grace. I trust the acquisition of knowledge should be agreeable. Perhaps, if you could spare a moment to hear them read, then they...

“It is not your place to tell me what I do or when I do it.” 

  Her heart began hammering. “No, Your Grace, of course not.”

She wanted to say that if he just spent a little time with them, then they would be encouraged to read more. But she decided to keep quiet. She was astonished he had permitted her to say so much. He was watching her intently with his dark eyes.

“Forgive me, Mr Sterling. I am inclined to speak my mind.”

“That I can see,” Edward Sterling replied, with a surprising smile. “We shall, definitely, have other differences of opinion on the methods suitable to educate my children.”

“I hope not, Your Grace,” Rose replied. His face was now as close to hers as it had ever been.

He smiled awkwardly, all of his arrogance having subsided. Rose left the room.

***

Mr Sterling had spoken so strictly. Rose walked slowly back to her chair next to Eliza, who had begun to read in silence the book that she had left on the table.

She was a beautiful girl with rosy cheeks and curls of blonde hair. It lay on her shoulders like a waterfall flowing mildly; flaming as bright as a sunrise. From under side bangs shone eyes the colour of a dazzling blue-sky, which travelled uneasily from one person to another.

No one could not help but notice that they glistened every time she moved them. They were the ones that seemed to draw you into a daze; not letting you go. Below them is a nose so freckled that the brown splotches overlapped much like autumn leaves after harsh winds blew. Her smile was warm with a hint of shyness and her lips were like a frozen rose.

Edmund took after his father with dark eyes and straight hair. He always preferred to be alone, never friendly. But she was pretty sure, she was the one who opened that heart of his which is why he was different now than before. He would talk and smile at her. That smile eventually would light up his entire face, since he had an adoring face of an angel's. She wanted to know him more, to know what secret lied in him.

Rose loved the children and she paid attention to them, unlike their father. Ever since Rose started to work at the estate, she noticed Mr Sterling's detachment when it came to his children. They had already suffered so much in their short lives with the death of their mother.

Was Mr Sterling not aware of the further pain he was causing by not communicating with them? Had the children even seen their father smile? She could not recall a time herself, but despite this, he was devastatingly handsome. She quickly dismissed such a thought. She should not permit her feelings for him to be more than they ought to be.

Certainly he was good-looking, yet his temperament was more passionate and tenebrous than ever. Apparently the day the Duchess died was the worst day of his life. Mr Sterling had never been the same since, and still to this day, was suffering from grief.

Rose lifted little Edmund onto her lap. That was the moment she decided that it was enough; she had to break the silence and talk to Mr Sterling.





Chapter Four



Edward Sterling sat in the drawing room with his head held in his hands. Somebody knocked at the door. He tried to compose himself. “What is it?”

The door opened and Rose entered the room. “Your Grace, I am sorry to interrupt you, but I wondered if you might have a moment?”

Mr Sterling sighed. “If it is to hear the children are disrespectful again, then I have not.”

“No, Your Grace. The children are in the schoolroom.”

Mr Sterling breathed out heavily. Mrs Johnson had told him the children always spoke respectfully of her. She was without doubt a well educated woman and she loved his children.

“Then you better come in, Miss Hale.” She was very beautiful, delicate, her cheeks were of rose and pearl.

“Thank you, Your Grace.”

“Let me hear what you have to say.”

She cleared her throat. “Yes. It has come to my understanding that the children would be so happy if you could spend a little more time with them.” Her expression relaxed into a smile. “They love you so much. So they would care for more time with you.”

“That is what I employ you for, Miss Hale. So that their needs are cared for. Are you telling me you are not up to the post of governess?” Mr Sterling said.

“No, Your Grace! I love my job and believe I do it well.”

“Then there is nothing more to be said.”

“But Your Grace, if you will allow me to explain.”

  “Very well. Explain.”

“Thank you, Your Grace. Eliza and Edmund would like you hear them read to you, to play with them more frequently. They miss their mother so much...”

“We all miss my wife, Miss Hale,” he said.

“Of course you do. I did not mean you did not. It is just that losing a parent, especially at such a young age, is so terrible that they need their other parent even more than before.”

“I repeat, that is why you were given the job, Miss Hale. Now if that will be all.”

***

As Rose left the study with her pupils , she said with a smile “What shall we do today?”

Stopping in the middle of the hallway, she turned to them, waiting for an answer. Both Edmund and Eliza just looked at her, but Rose could tell Eliza was excited.

“How about go in the garden?Eliza nodded in agreement. Edmund just stared. She must break through his reserve, Rose thought.

The stone path was punctuated with weeds after every stone. The dishevelled, un-manicured lawn was more moss than grass and was over shadowed by huge weeping willow flowing down onto the dank and squishy ground. Clusters of defiant daffodils reared their golden heads amidst the gloom and there were smatters of fuchsia along side the scarlet and saffron hued primroses.

Rose sat in the garden seat with the children either side of her. Edmund suddenly asked, “Are we bad children?”

“No, of course not!” Rose answered.

Eliza thinks so.”

Eliza scowled at her brother.  “Do you really think that, Eliza?” Rose asked. “Because if you do, it is certainly not true.”

“Mother left us,” said Eliza.

“Ah but she...

“Why is Father always angry with me?” Edmund interrupted.

Rose felt a pinch on her heart. “That is not true either, Edmund.”

“Yes, it is,” Eliza said. “Father does not like us very much.”

“Your father loves you very much,” Rose said.

“Then why is he always so angry?” Edmund asked. “And why does he hardly want to see us?”

Sterling observed the children and their governess from the window of his study, feeling several emotions: happiness for his children, satisfaction with Miss Hale, and maybe an inner peace?

He watched the graceful manner in which his governess walked. Today she wore a delightful blue muslin gown. She wore her hair down. He could not keep his eyes from following her every move.

He knew of her circumstances. The deaths of her father and mother had forced her to come under his care, yet here she sat smiling in a strange place and in unfamiliar circumstances. She surprised him. Stepping away from the window, he determined he must go for a ride and get his mind cleared.

Rose saw movement from the corner of her eye. Had someone been watching her? Who could it have been, and why? Shivers vibrated up and down her spine.

***

It was late, but Rose could not sleep. Suddenly, she heard somebody knocking and she opened the door. Looking at the fear on Eliza’s face, Rose hurried to her side. The little girl's skin felt frosty. Goosebumps covered her arms and legs. She shook all over, the teeth chattering in spite of her jaw being clenched closed.

At first Eliza didn’t look at Rose, her eyes fixed on the window. Uttering calming words, Rose brushed a hand over Eliza’s hair. Slowly Eliza blinked, and her head slowly looked to to the young woman kneeling before her.

“Mommy?” she whispered. The words felt like a stab to the heart, and Rose clearly saw the loss that still haunted the little girl.

Smiling with all the reassurance that she could find within herself, Rose cupped Eliza’s face, looking into her blue eyes. “Do not be afraid,” she whispered. “You are not alone.”

Once again Eliza blinked, and Rose saw recognition in her eyes. The little girl took a deep breath, never switching her eyes from Rose. “Don’t leave,” she begged, tears covering her face.

Sitting on the floor, holding Eliza's delicate body in her arms, Rose felt tears of her own stream down her face. Rising from the floor, she carried the precious load in her arms to her room. Pulling back the covers, she slid inside while Eliza still clung to her. Rose stroked her hair, whispered words of comfort in her ear and observed with relief that the cold little by little left, and a comforting warmth spread through her body.

Rose saw the little girl sleeping in her arms, abandoned by those who had loved her. Brushing a hand over Eliza’s cheek, she asked herself why Mr. Sterling held his children at such a distance. How could he bear to be separated from them? Was his heart truly made of stone? That night Rose did not sleep. She sat there, holding Eliza in her arms.















Chapter Five



The moment Edward Sterling entered into the schoolroom after breakfast the next morning, one thing became clear to him: he had brought a temptress into his house to instruct his children. Her back was turned when he stepped inside, but she turned as she heard his approach. The young woman before him was a ravishing beauty, with auburn hair and blue eyes that sparkled like gems.

“Good morning,” Rose said. She smiled and Edward shook himself inwardly. Such a physical reaction was improper, because she was employed to work in his household. A woman of no rank would be the last person he ought to show any interest in, in spite of her stunning beauty.

He was aware she was the daughter of a vicar, and that she was an accomplished young woman. But he owed it to himself to remain detached. He swept his eyes across the room. His children were learning their lessons, undoubtedly working hard on whatever it was that she had given them to do. The sight was enchanting to him.

"Children, go with Mary and get ready for dinner," Mr Sterling said. Eliza and Edmund left the schoolroom with their nursemaid.

“I would like to know how often intend to take part in the children’s day so I can schedule properly,said Rose.

The change in Edward Sterling was immediate. The dark cloud covered his face. Rose asked herself what she had said to distress him so quickly. Impatient, he spoked sharply at Rose, “When I wish to see the children, I see them.”

Shivering sensations cautioned Rose spine that she was walking on dangerous ground. Anger covered Mr Sterling's face, and was heard in his voice, too. What had happened to the almost-friendly Master of moments ago? Rose was aware that she needed to be careful, yet could not help herself in speaking to him.

" The children trust you do not want to be with them. I cannot imagine anything more hurtful to a child...

He left his chair so fast that it flew behind him and tumbled to the ground. Shrieking, Rose grasped the table. Mr Sterling continued to stand staring down upon her. Angry, Rose stood and confronted him.

Before courage failed her, she said, “Your Grace, you may take pleasure in intimidating your servants, but you will not conduct yourself this way with me.”

Mr Sterling quickly moved around the edge of the table, grabbed arm and pulled her forward. She breathed heavily as she whispered, “Please, Your Grace, let go of me.” He released her and Rose ran out the room.

Sterling cursed himself under his breath. He had not meant to treat Miss Hale so badly. He genuinely admired for her fresh personality and for the fact that his children seemed to love her. He felt a bleakness in his heart.

***

In the coming weeks, Rose and the children spent many enjoyable hours together. Rose cherished these weeks. Step by step, she discovered her way around Caddington House and its people.

One day, Rose climbed the steps with ease, her new energy almost giving her wings. She turned left and walked down the corridor toward her room when something captured her attention. Another smaller passage broke off to the right, usually hidden behind a door. Only today this door was slightly open.

Curious, Rose took another step forward, pushing the door. Apart from walls, a floor and a ceiling, there seemed to be nothing much to see, only another door at the opposite side of the small corridor. Asking herself what lay beyond, Rose approached the door. It was not locked, and beyond the door, a stairway led up into a storage room. Even though Rose was certain to discover not a single thing up there apart from old furniture, she went on.

As soon as her eyes had adjusted to the dim light, Rose stepped forward. Against the back of the wall, there was an old frame, not completely covered. The linen had slid aside a little disclosing the corner of a woman’s portrait. Rose did not doubt that she would finally lay eyes on the woman so missed, the woman who had left a hole that could not be filled. Elizabeth. The children’s mother and her Master's much dearest wife.

Rose felt a profound sadness for Mr Sterling. He was so unhappy. But as much as Rose’s skin filled with goosebumps cautioning her, she could not turn back. Tears dropped from her cheeks and onto her hands, and Rose realized that she was crying.

Contemplating Elizabeth’s portrait, Rose’s eyes travelled over her blue eyes, full of kindness and devotion, down to her mouth curled up in a smile. Elizabeth had a life she loved, and she had been loved by those around her, only to be torn out of this life for no good reason.

Eliza and Edmund entered into the room accompanied by Mary, their nursemaid.

“This was our mother’s favourite painting,” Eliza whispered.

Rose’s eyes turned to the quiet little girl, holding on to the dearest treasure she had, the memories of her mother. “You miss her a lot.”

Meeting her eyes, Eliza nodded, “I do.” A tear ran down her cheek, but she brushed it away. “I wish she would come back.”











Chapter Six

“I overheard a discussion regarding Mr Sterling a short while ago,” Mrs Johnson said, “and it appears that there is at least one lady who would enjoy to receive his attentions.”

Both the housekeeper and the butler looked at Rose, before Mr Thomson said, “I have no doubt you mean Lady Isabella Ingram.”

"Indeed, but he has not shown his intentions toward her until now,” Mrs Johnon said.

The following day Rose took herself off for a walk in the garden. It had been a rainy morning and the air was fresh, a delight to her senses.

She noticed Mr Sterling accompanied by a woman she did not know. Her hair was as blonde as the Master’s was black. The way her long lashes framed her eyes when she captured a target turning them into stone and the way her full lips would curl into a mischievous grin every time she did so.

It was inevitable and certain that once you looked at her, you couldn't look away. She kept you still and held your beating heart with one gaze, feeding off of you. She was a succubus, beautiful and dangerous. Rose wondered if that was Lady Isabella.

Rose had looked at them, Mr Sterling gallantly giving the lady his arm, as they walked around the garden talking and laughing. Rose felt a string of jealousy for a life she was aware she could never have. A feeling of desolation overtook her. She stopped by a bench and swept away the drops of rain still sticking to its surface so she could sit and gather herself.

***

The next week passed as quickly as the previous had done, and by its end, Rose had went back to her usual calm. She had managed to avoid any contact with Mr Sterling, and so she could keep thoughts about him to a minimum. But her thoughts ran to Mr Sterling too many times for her comfort; she dismissed them, concentrating instead on helping Eliza and Edmund with the lessons.


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