Maid for scandal a reg.., p.1
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Maid for Scandal - a Regency Novelette, p.1


1 2 3 4 5
Maid for Scandal - a Regency Novelette


  MAID FOR SCANDAL

  A Spicy Regency Short Story

  By Anthea Lawson

  Kindle Edition copyright 2011 Anthea Lawson.

  This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at anthea@anthealawson.com.

  All characters in this story are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anthea Lawson lives in the Pacific Northwest. Discover more by visiting anthealawson.com. Stop by and leave a comment!

  QUALITY CONTROL: Anthea cares about producing error-free books. If you find a typo or formatting problem, please contact her at anthea@anthealawson.com so it can be corrected.

  MAID FOR SCANDAL

  It was a splendid idea—or had seemed so at the time. Impersonate a maid in order to be close to Giles Wildering for two glorious weeks. How daring!

  Anna Harcourt frowned at the pail of soapy water in front of her and resisted the urge to fling her scrub-brush down the hall. The very long hall, patterned in black and white marble, and exceedingly uncomfortable on her knees. The hall which she was now responsible for scrubbing to a flawless shine.

  When she first conceived of the disguise, it had seemed perfect. The family of her best friend, Belinda Caswell, owned a nearby estate. She would pretend to be staying with the Caswells, while secretly masquerading as a maid at the Wildering’s mansion. Belinda was delighted to help Anna with her deception.

  “It’s like something from a novel!” Belinda had said as they laid their plans.

  Besides, it was the only way Anna could see Giles—he of the bright blue eyes and flattering words. Just think, to breathe the same air, to see him on a daily basis and let the fresh bud of their new love come to full flower. She had no doubt she would end the summer transformed, no longer inexperienced Anna Harcourt, but a true lady, known by the name of Mrs. Giles Wildering.

  She had thought that, as soon as she arrived, Giles would somehow feel it in the air. He would come and sweep her off her feet, and…. Well, in truth, her imagination had not carried her much beyond arriving at Wildering Hall.

  Unfortunately, there were a number of practicalities she had failed to take into account. First, she’d no idea how much the utter drudgery of servant’s work would keep her away from the house’s grander inhabitants. Secondly, as the most junior member of the staff, she was allotted the worst of tasks. And thirdly, perhaps most horribly, she had to rise at an excruciating hour, when the light of dawn was only a pale thought in the sky.

  No one to gently open her curtains after nine-o-clock, or bring her a pot of hot chocolate. No one to stir up her coals and make sure her dressing-gown was laid out. Instead, a bowl of porridge and a scrub-brush had ushered her into her first day as a maid.

  “Stop your daydreaming, and get to work!” Mrs. Foutch, the housekeeper, marched to where Anna knelt. “The family will wake in one hour, and this hallway had better be spotless. Spotless and dry.”

  “Yes, ma’am.” Anna mumbled the words, trying not to sound like a governess-educated London miss.

  “Lady Caswell recommended you—though I don’t know what her ladyship was thinking.” The housekeeper sniffed, as if the gentry were wholly inscrutable. “Well then. When you’ve finished, I’ll be in the blue parlor.”

  Without waiting for a reply, Mrs. Foutch turned away, the clack of her boot-heels reproachful. Anna sighed and dipped her brush into the water. The housekeeper was right to be doubtful of her letter of recommendation. Belinda was excellent at forging her mother’s hand, but neither of them had known quite what to say. Perhaps they had been too effusive about Anna’s supposed qualities as a maid.

  As she scrubbed, Anna could not help thinking of Giles. Unfortunately, she had not been able to catch sight of him yesterday when she’d arrived. Later, she’d learned that he had been out riding for most of the afternoon, then off to a gathering of friends. Today, however, he would see her, and all this trouble would be worth it. Anna felt her heart take wing at the thought.

  He would recognize her immediately, of course. After all, had they not met secretly on two occasions? Sadly, both times had been too short for more than whispered promises. But at a garden party only a fortnight ago he had held her hand beneath the rose arbor and told her he found her irresistibly beautiful. She had let him steal a kiss—just a small one—but the memory had engraved itself upon her heart.

  Then Giles had departed London rather abruptly, leaving only a note imploring her to keep him in her thoughts. Once he had gone, there was no color, no vividness left in her life. She simply couldn’t bear it. Her heart was breaking for want of him.

  Coming here in disguise was altogether impetuous of her, she knew it—but love admitted no boundaries. Hadn’t Shakespeare himself said that very thing? So here she was, and soon she and Giles would be together.

  This happy thought carried her to the end of the hall, despite the ache in her arms and the bruises surely forming on her knees. Anna let out a sigh and stood to survey the floor stretching behind her. Why, she had done rather a fine job of it. Perhaps she would make an excellent maid, after all. Although, as soon as she could speak with Giles, everything would change.

  Sadly, the ‘young master,’ as the butler called him, was a late riser. A very late riser. Anna had completed more chores than she could count and had yet to catch sight of him. The servant’s midday meal came, and Cook pressed bread and cheese into Anna’s hands, urging her to go out into the sunshine.

  “Ye’ve a bit of a wan face now, dearie. The fresh air will do ye good. Go on then.”

  Anna gave her a grateful nod, then slipped out the kitchen door before anyone else could speak to her. Except for a red-haired girl who kept staring daggers at her, the other maids and footmen seemed pleasant enough—but Anna couldn’t risk becoming friendly. Her pretense was too flimsy, and truly, she had no idea what to say to them.

  The kitchen garden was full of rows of lettuces, and the air smelled of thyme and lavender. Anna took a deep breath. Heavens, she was tired. Even wearier than the time she and Belinda had watched the sun come up after dancing all night at the Caswell’s annual ball.

  A sunlit patch of uncut grass beyond the gate beckoned to her, and she slipped the latch and went to sit in the tall green stems. The bread and cheese were delicious—quite as good as any canapés she had tasted in Town. A pity her lunch was gone so quickly, as it had only taken the edge off her hunger. She let out a deep breath and lay back in the grass, arms pillowed under her head. Just a short rest…

  A tremendous crunching sound woke her. Anna opened her eyes, then let out a shriek and scrambled back, away from the long muzzle with enormous teeth chomping the grasses beside her head.

  The horse—for indeed, it was—gave a sharp whinny and bobbed its head.

  “Here now,” a deep male voice said. “What have you found, Windsor? A new kind of squawking bird, come to roost at Wildering Hall?”

  A tall, sandy-haired man rounded the horse. When he saw Anna sprawled in the grass, his eyebrows went up, and his green eyes lit with amusement.

  She hastily scrambled to her feet, then met his gaze directly. “I’d thank you to control your horse, sir.”

  They both glanced at Windsor. Although he was an imposing creature
very large and black—he was browsing placidly. She felt her cheeks warm. Clearly she had been in no danger. It was just the abruptness of her waking that had set her nerves on edge.

  “Indeed.” The man shook his head. His solemn expression was spoiled by the smile that teased the corners of his mouth. “He’s a terrible menace. My apologies, miss.”

  “No matter—I’d best get back to my duties.”

  Should she drop him a curtsy? The stranger was not particularly finely dressed. Certainly not in such a fashionable state as Giles Wildering—and his rugged features did not compare in the least to the master of the house. The man’s cravat was hardly tied, and his coat was worn at the cuffs. Not gentry.

  So, then, would a maid curtsy to a groom? Anna smoothed her hands down her cotton skirts. Drat, there was so much she did not know about her supposed station in life.

  The man tilted one eyebrow up, and she dropped her gaze, realizing she had been staring at him longer than was proper.

  “Don’t let me keep you,” he said.

  “Of course not. Good day, sir.” She settled for a quick bob up and down, then hastily made for the kitchen door. Heavens, could that have been any more awkward?

  All thoughts of her meeting with the stranger were soon buried beneath a mountain of household chores. After she had dusted the shelves in the library and helped one of the other maids fold the linens, Mrs. Foutch set her to polishing the silver in the butler’s pantry.

  At least it was easy on the knees, though her fingers were soon smudged with tarnish. Still, she was put out. How would Giles ever find her here, tucked away in the pantry?

  Then, blessing of blessings, she heard his voice. Anna hastily set down the spoon she was polishing and pulled the door a bit wider. There he was—walking down the hall with the head groom. Giles looked splendid, dressed for riding in a dark blue coat that showed his broad shoulders to advantage, with a sky-blue waistcoat beneath. His cravat was tied in a perfect knot, and his boots shone as if they had never been marred by contact with a stirrup.

  A little sigh escaped her lips.

  He was deep in conversation—she caught something about a new horse as the men approached. Her heart pounded wildly. Any moment now he would lift his head and see her. Anticipation and joy sizzled through her whole body. She opened the door another few inches. Soon, soon.

  Now.

  Now, their eyes would meet, and his lips would form her name. Anna held her breath. He was a mere yard away…a foot away… close enough for her to reach out and touch his arm…

  He walked past. Without even noticing her. Despair washed over Anna, and her breath left her in a low, quiet sob. She nearly called his name aloud in desperation—but it was too late.

  Blinking back hot tears, she watched as the two men turned the corner and were gone. Giles had not seen her. He had not for an instant looked up, despite the intensity of her gaze upon him.

  She retreated back into the pantry and dabbed at her eyes with the hem of her apron. Giles was mad for horses, she knew it from their second conversation. Clearly his mind had been elsewhere just now. Why, he likely wouldn’t have noticed anyone, he’d been so engrossed in speaking with the groom.

  It was good for a person to have a variety of interests. Indeed, Anna herself was quite fond of riding. Once she and Giles were married, they would have a lovely time discussing horses, she was certain of it. Perhaps they would select a matched pair to ride. Grays. Or no, chestnuts, with lovely dark manes and tails. How handsome they would look together…

  “I believe that spoon is quite polished enough.” Mrs. Foutch’s voice broke into her thoughts. “Finish up here, and then you’re needed to help serve tea. Speak with Cook, directly.”

  “Yes, ma’am,” she said, but the housekeeper was already bustling away.

  Anna took a few moments to tidy up in the servant’s area of the kitchen. She washed her hands, tucked a stray brown curl back under her cap, then presented herself to Cook.

  “Have ye a steady hand?” The woman held out a tray piled high with delicacies.

  “I do,” Anna said, trying not to eye the sandwiches and cakes. Her stomach gave an unfortunate growl.

  “Follow Martha here up to the mistress’s rooms,” Cook said, nodding to the red-haired maid, who was standing beside her. “And take care on the stairs.”

  Anna lifted the tray and gave Martha a bright smile. “Shall we?”

  The other girl scowled, then took up a second tray holding the teapot and cups and turned her back on Anna. Unfriendly indeed—but it was just as well. They had no hope of ever becoming friends, after all. What a shock Martha would have when Anna’s engagement to Giles was announced. The servant would become the mistress, much to everyone’s surprise. She felt a secret smile cross her face at the thought.

  The servant’s stairs were narrow and steep, and Anna heeded Cook’s advice. She was glad not to be carrying up the teapot. It wouldn’t do to arrive in Mrs. Wildering’s parlor with a puddle of tea sloshing about on the tray. Although, truth be told, she’d rather not arrive in Mrs. Wildering’s parlor at all.

  Anna had been introduced to Giles’s mother once, although it had been last Season. Still, if Mrs. Wildering recognized her, this charade would be up entirely. Fear beat through her, and her forehead felt clammy.

  “Hurry it up!” Martha called. “If the tea’s cold, it’s your fault.” She stood at the narrow door to the second floor, holding it open with one hip.

  While Anna was still several feet away, the other maid stepped out into the hall and let the door swing closed. Clutching her tray, Anna ran up the last few steps in order to keep it from shutting in her face.

  The carpet was thick under her feet as she followed Martha down the hall to Mrs. Wildering’s suite. Anna lagged behind until Martha scowled and tipped her head impatiently at the door. With a deep breath, she followed the other maid inside, trying to keep Martha as a shield between herself and the women seated in the small parlor.

  Luckily, Mrs. Wildering paid them no notice as the tea was brought in. She was entertaining visitors—another older woman, and a mousey-looking young lady whom Anna guessed to be about her own age. Thank goodness the guests were strangers to her. The ladies conversed, ignoring the maids as they set their trays down and readied the tea.

  “Of course,” the visiting matron said in a confiding tone, “you cannot discount my own Eugenia here. She is possessed of many excellent virtues.”

  The young lady bit her lip and stared down at the floor, as though she wished she could disappear through it. She did not have the advantage of a maid’s cap, which Anna had tugged down so it nearly covered her eyes.

  “Hm.” Mrs. Wildering tapped her cheek with one finger. “The Earl of Blakely’s niece is also invited. By all accounts, she is a lovely girl.”

  “But hardly the same as a viscount’s daughter.” The guest sniffed, while her unfortunate daughter remained silent.

  “Would you care for a cup of tea?” Mrs. Wildering turned, and there was Martha, presenting the teapot as though she had known the very moment the mistress would be asking for it.

  Anna made sure the plates of delicacies were in no danger of tipping, then slid the tray onto the low table in front of the ladies. None of them even glanced her way.

  Heavens, was she so oblivious to her own staff? Although she was grateful to be invisible, it was rather unsettling. She hovered behind the chairs for a moment. Should she stay? Was her presence needed beyond the simple act of carrying up a tray of food, or by leaving would she draw undue attention to herself? She wanted more than anything to be gone from the room.

  Martha finished setting out three cups and saucers for Mrs. Wildering, then caught Anna’s eye. She nodded to the doorway, and silently the two of them left the mistress’s suite. Anna quietly shut the parlor door and turned—only to collide with a gentleman striding down the hall.

  “Oh!” she exclaimed.

  She looked up, past the finely-embroide
red waistcoat and perfectly knotted cravat, to meet a pair of bright blue eyes. Giddy joy galloped through her.

  At last. Face-to-face with Giles Wildering. Surely that spark in his eyes was pleased recognition. Anna gazed into his face, and felt as though she could stand there all afternoon, simply looking at him.

  “Beg pardon, sir,” Martha said, taking her by the elbow and yanking her back.

  Ah, yes—the servants always stayed to the edges of the halls. She had forgotten.

  “Well, well,” Giles said, a smile spreading across his handsome features. “And who have we here?”

  “The new maid,” Martha said. Her expression was sour. “Do excuse us, sir.”

  “Wait.” He took Anna by the arm. “And what is your name, new maid?”

  Didn’t he know? Confusion fluttered in her chest for a moment, until the answer came clear. Of course he recognized her—but thought she might be here under an assumed name. How clever of him not to blurt it out.

  “Anna, sir.” She gave him a complicit smile, and the expression in his eyes deepened.

  “Excellent.” He moved his thumb up and down her arm—a small caress. A signal that he understood her deception, and her reasons for it.

  Martha made a small humming noise. “Really, sir, we must be going.”

  “Certainly. Carry on.” He let go of Anna’s arm, but the warmth of his smile was like a hundred candles burning inside her.

  As Martha hauled her down the hall, Anna couldn’t help glancing back over her shoulder. Giles was watching her. The look on his face made her shiver with delight.

  Oh, she had been so right to come here. The reward was worth every difficulty.

  The next morning, Martha shook Anna awake before dawn. “Up with you—time to work,” she said, her tallow candle casting eerie shadows on the attic walls.

  Anna tried not to groan aloud. Her arms and shoulders ached, and all she wanted to do was roll back over and bury her head in her pillow. Only the thought of Giles gave her the will to rise.

 
1 2 3 4 5
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll