All is not well in Honnleath. The shutters drawn, the ivy swallowing the grounds, only the solemn whispers circling the lofty house where once a child laughed in play. His weary heart wishes for a miracle from the fairies to lift the curse lingering in every tapestry and floorboard. But the master of the house knows it would be impossible. Fairies aren’t real, magic is a lie, and love always dies.
“Hmph, who wishes to…?” The bent man leaning over the fireplace rises, his height quickly towering above the stranger silhouetted by the rain’s crack of lightning. As he turns, his eyes widen, drinking in the tiny woman the steward left standing in the parlor entrance. “Know?” he gulps.
Her eyes drop to her feet. Absently, she rustles her summer green skirts, the color causing the brown depths of her skin to glow. The twin oil lamps behind cast a bright glow, warping the very air to form golden wings vibrating off her back. Without thought, the Duke takes a step forward and his knee buckles in an instant.
Ungentlemanly curses slip from his lips, his leg crumbling courtesy of the musket bullet lodged under his kneecap. He lashes his hand out for the cane forever at his side, but tender palms scoop around his body, a soft body supporting him. In surprise, Cullen turns his head directly into the sweetest brown eyes a breath from his.
She holds him as if she could support the world, her rose-pink lips parted as if in shock that she would hold a man she’s just met. “I’m…” A blush crawls across her cheeks, the tiny woman releasing him. As Cullen rises to his feet, the cane where it belongs to assist, she finishes, “I’m Governess Trevelyan. The woman you hired to teach your nephew?”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Cullen says. For the first time in ages, he truly means it.
Save the weekly inspection of young master Branson’s progress, Gwen sees little of the lord of the manor. She was warned in her placement that he was known to be gruff with no use for frivolity. Labeled a lion of the field during the war, he takes to his unexpected rise to Dukedom by seeming to lock himself away in his office until time for bed.
For that reason, Gwen thought little of settling onto a settee beside the window. The scent of wisterias dangling from below the flower box linger on the spring breeze as she dives deeper into her book. She ignores the first sound, assuming it to be one of the farm animals pacing the grounds outside. At the next, Gwen glances up from her yellowing pages into an amber glare.
“M-m-m...” She leaps to her feet, accidentally hurling the book out the window in the process from surprise. Grabbing the sides of her dress, she dips into a deep curtsy while spitting out, “My Lord.”
“I did not anticipate anyone to be in here,” his voice rumbles in his chest, causing Gwen to wince.
Even with her head turned low, she feels his gaze burning through the cap hiding her hair. “Please forgive the intrusion. Given the lovely turn of weather today I thought to enjoy the warm winds by the garden.”
A snort rolls off his tongue, the imposing man of swords and honor staring towards the outer gardens where his nephew plays. “It is a lovely day.” The cadence of his voice softens measurably from the firing squad drumbeat of his inspections. It surprises Gwen, causing her to glance up from below her lashes.
His stern face, harder than the steel his family’s known for, melts at the splendor of nature. A foolish smile flits about Gwen’s lips until the amber eyes snap to hers. Bowing deeper, she says, “Forgive me. I will leave you to your library.” Head to the floor, she scampers quickly towards the door, her heart thundering in her chest.
As she reaches the rug, praying to escape any wrath from her fumble, Duke Rutherford speaks, “Stay.”
Gwen blinks, certain she heard him wrong. “My Lord?”
He glances at her over his shoulder. “It is a lovely day.” For a beat, those taciturn lips slip upwards in a near-smile. But he shakes it off, the steel deathmask slapping into place. Walking to his desk, he falls to the chair with papers in hand. “You seem quiet enough. I doubt you shall disturb me.”
Curtsying once more, Gwen watches the inscrutable lion fall into his correspondence. He gives no hint to her presence save a half-smile curling up the scar on his lip. Returning to the window, Gwen whispers, “Thank you, my Lord.”