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I wrote this as an entry in a short-short romance
contest before I was published, but as you'll see, I used
it years later as seed for An Unwilling Bride. You can
read an excerpt from An Unwilling Bride that begins
almost identically to this.
Chloe Winter took a moment in the hall of Miss
Carstairs' Seminary for Young Ladies to compose herself
and to check her appearance. It was unheard of for a
student-teacher, even one who had spent all her life at the
school and was more like a daughter to Miss Carstairs
than an employee, to be summoned to the Best Parlour.
That room, with it's yellow-striped wallpaper and velvet
curtains, its silk-covered lounge and mahogany chairs, was
reserved for the interviewing of the parents and guardians
of pupils. If she was to come face-to face with a parent, it
was essential that she present herself at her best.
Fortunately the hall, being a necessary passageway to
the Best Parlour, was also elegantly equipped and besides
the highly-polished oak floor, the Chippendale half-moon
table and the well-chosen watercolours, it boasted a large
gilt mirror. This useful object reassured Chloe that her
duties with the junior girls had not left her with ink-stains
on her plain blue muslin or with her ribboned cap
disarranged. She was surprised to see as well that all her
chestnut curls were respecting the restraints she had put
upon themand were safely out of sight.
Rafe laughed at the number of pins she needed to use to
subdue her hair and delighted in pulling themout..... But
no, she had resolved to put Rafe out of her mind.
When she was ready, she scratched upon the oak door
and was summoned to enter. As she made her curtsy, the
gentleman with Miss Carstairs stared at her with such
unusual intensity that Chloe knewshe was blushing. Was it
possible that some pupil had made a complaint against
her? His thin lips seemed to pull in his whole face and his
eyes burned with what could only be anger. After the first
shock of his glare faded she became aware that his
creased, dry skin and boniness declared himto be old.
More likely a grandparent than a parent. It took some
effort to withdrawher gaze fromhis and it was then that
she became aware that Miss Carstairs was struggling with
a strong emotion. Her normally soft lips were tight and her
plump cheeks were almost pale. Aunt May was furious!
That was so unusual that Chloe felt a shock of alarm.
"Chloe, my dear." Miss Carstairs' said in clipped speech
that was another indication of her anger, "this is the Duke
of Sunderland. His Grace wishes to speak to you."
Chloe caught her breath and knewshe must have paled
for Miss Carstairs trotted over to her.
"Do not upset yourself, my dear," said the older lady.
To the Duke she added, "She is unused to dealing with
men of power such as yourself, Your Grace."
Chloe managed to speak for herself after only a slight
pause and hoped that her colourless tone would not be
obvious to a stranger. "In what way can I serve you, Your
The Duke opened his mouth to speak and then glared at
Miss Carstairs. "Well, woman! On your way! I'mnot
going to discuss personal business in front of you!"
Chloe's shock at this rudeness was submerged in relief
that Miss Carstairs' rage was directed at the Duke and not
at herself. The older lady became a even paler, her lips
even tighter as she said in that untypically clipped voice,
"You can hardly expect me to leave Miss Winter here
unchaperoned with you, Your Grace, especially as you
refuse to give me any idea as to this 'personal business'."
"What? What?" Spots of angry colour flared in the
Duke's cheeks as he turned on older lady. "Do you think I
have designs on the gel's virtue? That's rich! Ha! Good
Lord! Even if I had the mind, Ma'am, at my age I'd
accomplish little in a parlour in the middle of an afternoon!
Go away, if you please. The walls here are thin enough. If I
attack her she'll doubtless shriek and you'll hear her. Go
away, I say!"
Chloe hoped Miss Carstairs would send himto the devil
but she knewthat it wasn't possible. Though she chafed
sometimes at the power of rank and fortune in the world a
Duke was not to be offended lightly, not when the good
lady's business depended upon a her reputation among the
upper circles of society. Jawclenched, Miss Carstairs
informed the Duke he could have just fifteen minutes and
The Duke only acknowledged her surrender with a
"Humph" as he sat down with a flip of his nut-brown
coat-tails. Chloe felt certain this was not due to tact but to
the fact that objection to his slightest wish could never be
taken seriously. Once seated he subjected her to a coldly
analytical stare. The anger had faded but the intensity had
not. She forced herself to keep her chin high and return his
"Well, you appear a lady, I'll give you that. And pleasant
featured enough. Take off that cap and let me see your
"I cannot imagine why I should, Your Grace," she
retorted flatly, making no move.
He snorted. "Spirit too, hey? That's good. You'll do as I
say because I'myour father, that's why!"
Chloe gaped. There had been too many alarms, too
quickly. If his presence had been a shock, this totally
unexpected announcement was devastation! Blackness
seemed to crowd in on her vision and she knewshe was in
danger of fainting. She sat down abruptly, never caring that
he had not given her permission, and sank her head in her
hands. Gradually the sickness receded and she looked up.
"I cannot have heard you correctly, Sir."
He sneered. It was definitely a sneer. "Is your hearing
faulty? I was perfectly clear, Miss. I amyour father.
You're aware you're a bastard, ain't you?"
She answered automatically. "Yes, sir. My birth has
never been hidden fromme."
"Call me 'Your Grace' until I give you leave to do
otherwise, Miss! Do you knowwho your mother is?"
"Yes, Your Grace."
"Well, who is she?"
Some of her natural spirit was returning to Chloe and
she answered with a grimsmile. "With respect, Your
Grace, if you don't knowyou can hardly claimto be my
"What!" The colour flared in his sallowskin again.
"You're impudent! Your mother, Miss, is nowLady
Fourtnoy. She was Mrs. Godstone when she bore you.
She is also cousin to Miss Carstairs."
This evidence convinced her that he had the truth of it
and Chloe dropped her head once more into her hands,
this time to hide the tears gathering around her eyes.
"Good heavens, gel, what's this?" the Duke snapped in
exasperation. "Anyone would think this was bad news! If
your bastardy comes as no shock, I cannot see why you
despair at this elevation in rank and prospects!"
"No, I don't suppose you can," Chloe said flatly as she
straightened and resolutely gathered her resources to face
the total ruin of her already fragile dreams. The face of her
sweetheart, mouth wide in an irreverent grin, came before
her as if there was a portrait there. Sadly, firmly, she
banished it - forever, it would seem- and blewher nose
forcefully. If the Duke would at least stop barking at her
she might manage better, she thought. "Do I gather you
intend to acknowledge me, Your Grace?"
"Good God, no! That wouldn't serve at all." For the first
time the Duke looked away. "Fact is I have a problemand
you, my dear, are the solution."
And a mighty problemit must be, thought Chloe, to
have raised me to 'my dear'. She said nothing, however
and waited for himto continue.
"What I have to say to you is confidential. In fact I shall
deny it if it suits me. D'you understand?" At her nod he
continued. "I have reason to believe, more reason than
before I should say, that my heir is no flesh of mine."
Chloe's attention was caught. "The Marquis of
"Knowyour peerage, do you?"
"Two of your granddaughters are educated here, Your
Grace," she explained, pleased that her emotions seemed
to have found a dead-spot of stability and her voice was
under her control again. "The Marquis has visited his
nieces on occasion."
"Met him, have you? What do you think of him?"
Chloe bowed her head, hoping she was not colouring
up. The implications of this complexity of relationships was
tantalising. She wished he would give her a moment's
peace to think. One thing was clear. She must not become
known as his daughter. "He is so far above me....," she
"Of course he is. Except that he might be your brother!"
Chloe's head jerked up. "But I thought you said....."
The Duke's mouth twisted in a sour touch of humor.
"That's right, he ain't. Damned coil! Three hundred years of
pure bloodlines, broken by that damned hussy I made my
Duchess. I always knewthe younger two weren't mine but
to play me false with my first! Of course he wasn't me first.
Two little ones died...." He trailed off, obviously trying to
decide howmuch blame attached to his dead duchess and
howmuch to fate.
Abruptly the Duke came back to the business in hand.
"Y'see my problem, though?"
"You mean to disown the Marquis?" Chloe asked
faintly. Was this good news or bad for herself and Rafe?
Or was it irrelevant. Before she had time to untangle the
skeins of thought the Duke's harsh voice broke in again.
"Are you pigeon-witted? Who would inherit then? My
damned nephew! Disown, indeed! Hawkeston may be a
damned care-for-nothing and an impudent pup to boot but
he's better than that damned idiot!" After a simmering
moment he sat back and said conversationally, "No, no.
You're to marry Hawkeston and then your children will
carry the bloodline. Hey? What do you think of that?
Chloe had heard about eyes bulging with surprise but
until this moment she had never experienced the sensation.
But her eyes did feel as if they were pressing forward,
trying to escape the lids. To hide her emotion, she again
hid her face in her hands. The Duke's voice resonated
self-satisfaction and something approaching good humor.
"Clever, ain't it? Damned clever. Well, Miss Winter, what
do you say to your good fortune, eh?"
Chloe's control had evaporated. She could not say
anything and a fewmewling sounds escaped her.
"Hey there," the Duke said in the nearest approach to
humanity he'd shown thus far. "No need for all this. Abit
overwhelming, I know, but you'll learn. And you don't
need to fear Hawkeston. He'll toe the line. He knows most
of the money's not entailed, y'see. He'll treat you right. You
just make sure there's a couple of healthy heirs in the
nursery before you spread your wings!"
In her outrage at this suggestion, Chloe jerked up her
head and showed the Duke her red face and tearing eyes.
"Oh!" she wailed and buried it again.
He shook his head. "Middle-class mind," he muttered
disapprovingly "Got it fromyour mother, I suppose." He
heaved himself out of his chair. "I'll call Hawkeston and
have himsay his piece, then you'll feel more the thing."
With a great effort, which included biting down hard on
her thumb, Chloe regained control of herself. After another
brisk blowin her handkerchief, which she kept protectively
before her face, she forced out some words. "Your Grace,
why on earth do you think I will go along with this plan?"
He looked at her as if she belonged in Bedlam.
"Because if you don't the reputation of this school won't be
worth a farthing before the year is out. Aword fromme
and the best pupils will be gone so fast you'll feel the
She stared. Shock brought her to her feet and helped
her to achieve her equilibrium. "You are a terrible man,"
she said clearly.
With a humourless smile and a jab of a boney finger he
said, "I ama powerful man. Remember that," and stalked
Chloe stayed still for a moment, stunned, but then the
whole interviewcame back to her and she bit her lip.
Helpless, she turned and rested her head on her armon the
marble fireplace mantle.
It was this sight that the Marquis regarded thoughtfully
when he entered the roomand closed the door softly
behind him. It was obvious that the Duke could never have
found reassurance of his paternity in the young man's
looks. He was tall, with broad shoulders and his buff
pantaloons showed strongly muscled legs. His skin was
fair, just lightly tanned, and his eyes a clear blue framed by
dark lashes of which a girl would be envious. In contrast
his hair was burnished gold.
He nervously ran his fingers through it, destroying its
careful arrangement, and cleared his throat. Chloe could
not help herself. She wailed and gave herself over to her
emotions. He looked at her heaving shoulders in horror for
a moment and then he grinned.
He walked over and grasped her firmly, obliging her to
turn and expose her face, the tears of mirth still streaming.
"Well, Miss Winter? Are you going to become my
Chloe collapsed against him. "Oh, Rafe, you wretch. Of
course I will!"
It took resolution but she soon drewback froma most
satisfying kiss. "If you don't tell me howthis all came
about, I will die, Rafe. And, I might say, why you didn't
warn me? When the Duke said I was his daughter I nearly
fainted with horror. If our marriage was difficult before,
that put it out of reach forever!"
He guided her to the lounge where they could sit
together. "I didn't expect my father to swallowthe hook
and set off with it at such speed. My plan was to come
down here alone but he wouldn't have it. I've been out
there in a nervous fret wondering just what was happening.
If you'd let it escape that we were in love, he'd have smelt
a rat. The whole faradiddle is thin enough as it is!"
"Do you mean that it isn't true?" she gasped.
He grinned and her heart turned over. She loved himso
much that it hurt. "That's it. At least, I don't knowif I'm
legitimate or not. With my mother's track record the odds
are against it though even she must have obliged my father
occasionally. But you're not my father's child."
"Then howin heaven did you convince himthat I am?"
The Marquis did not answer for a moment, being busy
removing her cap and easing the pins out of her hair.
Twirling a curl lovingly around a finger, he said, "I met
Lady Fourtnoy in Town and struck up a conversation
simply because I knewshe was your mother. Do you
know, she's quite a character but selfish to the bone. I
knewthat anyway since she'd left you here as a child and
never bothered her head again except to have her man of
business send Miss Carstairs an allowance. But it's not just
you. She's the same about everything. But as she boasted
of her lively youth she let fall that my father had been one
of her lovers. The whole plan came to me in a moment. I
forged a touching letter frommy mother revealing my
'bastardy' and left it where my father would find it. Then
when I knewhe'd read it and was feeling aggrieved, I
delivered a letter to himfromLady Fourtnoy informing him
of the existence of his daughter, you. The two clicked
together as I had hoped and here we are. But rather faster
than I had expected. I'd thought he would have checked
around more but the old curmudgeon is desperate both for
his bloodlines and for a grandson. Which reminds me....."
He produced a handsome old ruby ring. "The family
He pushed it onto her finger and sealed it there with his
lips. "I have dreamed of that ring on your finger, Chloe."
After a pleasant interval Chloe drewback sharply. "But,
good heavens, Rafe! We might be brother and sister!"
"Oh no," he assured her with a laugh. "My father's affair
with your mother was after you were born. But in his
attempts to pay back my mother for her behaviour, his
own became so outrageous that I doubt he has a notion of
date and year for any of his flings."
"Then why did Lady Fourtnoy write that letter?"
The Marquis pulled her back into his arms. "She's a
gamester. If it's in your blood, I'll beat you, my sweet for
I've no mind to be another Devonshire! I played Piquet
with her and beat her to flinders. Then I traded her notes
for the letter. She was happy enough with the exchange
and she'll hold her tongue. She's an honest enough
"So the bloodline might be broken after all. Poor Duke."
The genuine sadness in her voice made himlaugh.
"Only you could be so warmhearted! My dear father
would have cut me off if I had married you without his
permission and I'll bet he'd have ruined this school if you'd
not played along. And if he thinks the line's unbroken he
should remember that we got the dukedomin the first
place because an ancestor was a royal mistress!"
"I had tried to resign myself to giving you up," said
Chloe, happily snuggling within his arm. "When you told
me howproud your father is and that the fortune is not
entailed I knewwe could not marry."
"What nonsense. If it had come to that I would have
married you and told himto keep the money. But it
seemed worth making a push for it all. Though I don't care
tuppence for being the Duke, I do love the Abbey and I
wouldn't much like having to watch it fall about our ears."
"Our ears. Oh, I do like the sound of that!"
"Talking of ears, I think I hear interruptions coming.
Back in character?"
She nodded and they moved apart so that when the
Duke entered, followed by an astonished Miss Carstairs,
they found an uneasy-looking pair before them.
"Well?" barked the Duke. "Is it done?"
"Yes Father," said the Marquis with a perfectly straight
face. "I have prevailed upon Miss Winter to agree to
becoming my wife."
Whereupon another wail escaped the future duchess
and she sank her face once more into her hands.
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