“It was you! It had to be you!” Uncle Theodore shouted, spit flinging from his lips as Samuel backed away.
“You know that cannot be true. I loved my father, I would never hurt him,” Samuel insisted.
“You wished for the title. Now you believe that you will have it because he is dead. It could only have been you.” His uncle continued stepping forward, his dark eyes pouring into Samuel’s soul, as though there was nothing that could convince him otherwise.
“I would never do such a thing, Uncle Theodore. How dare you accuse me? My father was everything to me. He was my dearest friend, my greatest support. You and he were the only family that I had left. I would never hurt him,” Samuel said, insisting upon his innocence.
But Theodore Belston, brother to the late Duke of Danwood, was indignant. His black hair, normally greased back from his eyes, fell forward from the force of his charge towards Samuel.
“I didn’t do it!” Samuel shouted, rushing from the room.
His uncle followed him out into the hall.
“They found the knife, Samuel. It was in your room. Soon, everyone will know about you,” Theodore said.
“I would never hurt my father. Someone must be trying to set me up. My father was a good man and I respected him. I couldn’t hurt him. I don’t know who did it, but these last two days I have been overcome with grief. You have seen as much. How could you think that I would turn against him, murder him, like that?” Samuel asked.
“You wanted to be the new Duke of Danwood. You wanted your father’s vast wealth. Everyone knows it. You have probably been planning this for an age. And now, one of the maids discovered the bloodied knife underneath your pillow. We are not fools, Samuel. You will never inherit the title or the money,” his uncle said.
“I don’t care about those things. I never wanted them. I want only my father,” he said.
“Mrs. Bradshaw, send for the constable!” Uncle Theodore called to the housekeeper.
There was nothing for it. Samuel realised that he was done for. He had no choice. He would have to run.
As Samuel turned to go, he sensed his uncle following him. At that moment, his need to protect himself won out. Beside the door the coat-rack stood and Samuel flung it to the ground, hoping that it would slow his uncle down.
Before he gave it any chance at all, Samuel was out of the door and crossing the short distance to the stable where the groom was preparing to remove the saddle of a horse he had just ridden.
“Don’t remove it!” Samuel called, grasping the reins from the groom.
The man looked furious at him for snatching them like that but said nothing against the young man who was to be the master of the house very soon.
Samuel mounted in a flash and gave a sharp snap to the reins. With that, he was off.
He leaned low, driving the horse faster and faster, running down the road as quickly as he was able.
It was a good start. If the housekeeper was calling for the constable, it would be a while before they arrived and examined the knife that had been found before trying to find Samuel. Surely, he would be all right.
He only had to figure out what to do next.
Three days before, everything was normal. All was well and Samuel was a happy young man, enjoying his life and attending balls in the hope that he might find a wife. His father was helping him to grow a business in trade and the two had played a round of billiards as they so often did.
But, that night, something happened. As Samuel slept, there had been a menace who had come into the home and had taken his father’s very life.
The next morning, Samuel had woken to the scream of one of the maids, along with a crashing. A shrill, horrifying series of screams that could only be made by someone who had seen something truly terrible.
Samuel had come rushing out of his room and heard that the screams were coming from his father’s room.
He entered and had seen him there, on the floor, in a pool of nearly dried, tacky blood. Beside the body, the silvery tray, pot of tea, and cup were all in an amber puddle from where the maid had dropped them. She was openly weeping, although the screams continued to escape her lips from the shock.
But Samuel had just stood there, not believing the sight before his eyes.
It was not possible that his father, who had been so alive just hours before, could be lost to the world. It was not possible that his father was gone.
The next few hours were a whirlwind and the shock did not fade. Samuel had not been able to process the emotions of what had taken place, so he simply stood still, not moving and not acting. He answered questions asked by the constable. He nodded and followed along as they told him what the next steps were in trying to apprehend the killer.
And then, once they had all left and the estate was quiet, save for the scream of a bloodstain on his father’s floor, Samuel broke.
He barely knew what the past two days had been like. Nothing made sense. Food had no taste and sometimes he did not even realise that the hour had come to eat until a maid, shaken and quiet, would enter a room and catch his eye and nod to him.
And then, that afternoon, his uncle had decided to accuse him of the murder of his own father. His uncle had made the decision that it was time to find the guilty culprit and he chose Samuel for the target.
The horse’s strong legs took Samuel to the estate of his dearest friend, Anthony Romano. The son of an Italian businessman, Anthony had often spent times with Samuel as they grew, while their fathers planned and plotted various strategies for making money for their families.
There was no one Samuel trusted so much as Anthony.
He dismounted in front of the door to Anthony’s estate and rushed to it, knocking in rapid succession until a confused maid opened.
“Anthony!” he called, a quiver in his voice. He had to find his friend.
“He is in the study, my lord,” the maid said, looking small and frightened.
“Thank you,” Samuel replied, rushing towards the study.
But Anthony reached the hall first.
“What in heavens’ name?” he asked.
Samuel ushered him back inside the study and closed the door behind them.
“Samuel? What has got into you?” Anthony asked, his blended accent sounding thick with concern.
“My uncle. He has accused me of murdering my father. He claims that the knife was found by a maid in my room. Anthony, he has called for the constable. I don’t know what to do,” Samuel said, his body shaking violently from the anxiety that raged through him.
Anthony’s lips parted in shock.
“You? Did he accuse you? You would never do something like that!” Anthony said.
“I know. That is what I told him. But he doesn’t believe me. He thinks that I did it, that I killed my father and he is trying to have me arrested,” Samuel said.
“It’s all right. You will be fine. We just need to find proof that you are innocent. I know that you did not do this,” Anthony said.
“What should I do? I am frightened,” Samuel confessed, gripping his sand-coloured hair in his fingers.
“It is going to be all right. I’m not sure how, but we will find a way. We will find a way to get you through this. We will prove that you are not guilty,” Anthony said.
Samuel looked down and shook his head. There was no way to prove any of it. He knew that. He would have to suffer the consequences.
“Why don’t you go and get a bit of sleep? You can rest in one of the spare rooms,” Anthony said.
Samuel looked at him like he must be mad. How was he supposed to sleep in the middle of this anxiety?
“Please. You are exhausted by the stress of it. I can see it on your face,” Anthony said.
“But if I rest…I cannot rest. Anthony, I have lost my father. He was very nearly all I had in this world. And now I am the one being accused of his murder. Do you understand? Do you understand that I am being utterly destroyed?” Samuel asked, emotion breaking through his voice.
Anthony rested a hand upon his arm. It was a small comfort, but Samuel was willing to accept any comfort that might be offered.
“Listen to me. You will be all right. I will make sure of it. I will help you in any way that I am able,” Anthony said.
Samuel trusted him, but it was still difficult to accept that anything was going to be all right. He felt as though it was all falling apart. How could anything come together now?
It was all too much for Samuel and that helped him to realise that Anthony was right. He needed to rest. No matter how difficult it was to contemplate, he needed to try and get some sleep.
Anthony led him to a guest room to allow Samuel his rest, encouraging him to at least try.
“Do you need anything? A change of clothing for when you awake?” Anthony offered.
“I hardly think that I will sleep, but I can think of nothing more. I need only to prove that I am innocent and to have my father back. I am not sure which of those things is more possible,” Samuel said, discouragement raging through him.
He slipped into the room and removed his shoes before lying on the bed, his face up to the ceiling.
Time ceased to have meaning and Samuel was not certain as to whether or not he had slept. One moment he was staring at the ceiling and then, suddenly, he was staring at it with no knowledge of how long had passed or if he had remained conscious the entire time.
What he did know was that, suddenly, there was an urgent knock at the door of the room and Anthony charged in, his face flushed.
“What is it?” Samuel asked.
“I sent one of my footmen to gather information. They are coming, Samuel. The constable is on the way here. Your uncle must have told them that we are friends and they know that you have come here to hide,” Anthony said.
Panic spread through Samuel’s entire body once more and he tensed up, seized by a whole new fear.
“You must go at once,” Anthony urged him.
Samuel quickly put his shoes on, but he wondered where on earth he was really supposed to go. Anthony’s home had been the only other option and now he was having to flee from there as well.
“I don’t know where to go,” Samuel confessed in a quiet voice.
“I don’t either, for now. But if you can find somewhere to stay for the moment, wait until it is safe and you must come back to me, to tell me where you are staying. I will do all that I can to help you. But for now, I fear that you simply have to run. They will keep an eye out for you here,” Anthony said.
“Yes, of course,” Samuel said, still somewhat dumbfounded by the day’s events.
“Take the road out toward Elmswood. They are coming from the city and they are more likely to choose the path to Hogel than Elmswood to search for you. Take these clothes and change as soon as you are safely away. That way, if you need to come back this way or near the city, you will be disguised,” Anthony said.
They were quiet for the briefest of moments but looked at one another with sadness.
“I know,” Anthony said, apparently reading Samuel’s mind. It was terrible to say goodbye under these circumstances.
“Thank you for everything,” Samuel said.
“I am always at your service. Now go,” Anthony replied, practically shoving him out of the door.
Samuel ran out of the house with the intention of going to the stable to get his horse. But just beyond, drawing near, he saw the coaches belonging to his uncle. He would be seen and chased if he went for the horse.
For a moment, he froze, there on the steps of the house. In an instant, he would be seen if he did not do something quickly. He would be caught and there would be no way to escape them with his current option either.
Samuel jumped down from the steps and tried to look around, to find any option that he had not seen already.
There was no path that would get him to the stables. It was far too open from the lane that was between the main road and the estate.
He tried to think of something. Anything. But his horse was out of reach and he realised that he would have to give up any hope of fixing that.
There was no choice. He would have to sneak behind the estate and go on foot.
It was a sleepy morning in Elmswood. Then again, it was always a sleepy morning in Elmswood. Even midday felt tired.
But Delilah DeWitt only thought that because she preferred when she was able to sell apples in the markets of London, so near and so vibrant.
“Apples? Finest in the whole of England and you won’t be disappointed,” she called after a woman who was shopping with her six prancing children in tow.
Delilah sighed as the woman ignored her. Why had her father asked her to sell in Elmswood again that day? They hardly made any money when they sold so near to the orchard.
She twisted a curl with her finger, the pale blonde ringlet hiding somewhere underneath the mass of frizz that prevented it from staying up in the knot that she had tried to put her hair in that morning. With a look of sour disappointment, she let it spring back into place and put the hand on her voluptuous hip instead.
The other merchants were a blend of her neighbours. Most of them were the sort that would freely walk into their orchard at any point and just pluck an apple off the tree. Why would they bother buying from her?
Just as Delilah was ready to give up and sullenly beg her father to let her sell in London, just a short distance away, a man came up to her stand and picked up an apple.
“Looking for apples?” she asked.
Delilah was surprised by the man when he looked at her. Not only was he exceedingly handsome, with his sandy hair and brown eyes that had simply the loveliest lashes which cast an innocent look upon him, but she was also shocked that she didn’t know this man. He could not have been a neighbour who lived right by her home. That meant he might actually be willing to pay.
“Yes, actually. Apples are precisely what I was hoping to find,” he said, those deep, earth-coloured eyes darting about as though looking for a menace that he was expecting to jump out at him.
“Wonderful! I assure you that these are the best apples in all of England,” she said.
“Oh? You don’t say?” he asked, teasingly.
“It is true. My father knows exactly what it takes to produce the loveliest, sweetest apples. We grow four different kinds of apple, in fact. Most people don’t even realise that there’s more than one,” Delilah said, feeling quite proud to share this lecture with the handsome man.
His clothing did not quite match his face and hands. He had the face of a nobleman and the soft hands of the idle rich. But his clothing was that of a stable groom or some such position. Nothing at all that matched.
Still, he was very charming, she found. Not that she could really pinpoint why. Maybe it was just because she found him handsome. But whatever it was, Delilah was intrigued by the new man.
“Looking for someone?” she asked, noting how his eyes took in each person at the market.
“Oh, um…no,” he said.
“It’s all right,” she laughed, amused by his strange behaviour.
“So, you must tell me more about these four different kinds of apples,” he said, then. “I see red and a few green. I imagine they are different?”
Delilah sensed that he was teasing her again. It made her blush.
“They truly are,” she said.
“Well, now I have a conundrum,” the man said, looking rather discouraged and setting down the apple that he had previously picked up.
Delilah was instantly disappointed and worried that she had done something wrong. The last thing she wanted was to lose a sale because of her pride in explaining the different types of apples.
“What sort of conundrum?” she asked.
“I want to buy apples, but now I am not sure which kind I wish to buy,” he said.
She laughed. The man gave each one a comedic, intent look.
“Honestly, they all look delicious. May I purchase an assortment from you?” he asked.
Delilah instantly grew excited. She was going to make a sale. Her father and the orchard needed that and she was proud that the sale was coming from a handsome man who appeared entertained enough by her.
“Of course you may. All four? You like even the sour ones?” she asked, holding up a shiny, solid and bright green specimen.
“They happen to be my favourite,” the man replied.
“Then it would appear that you and I have something very much in common,” she said.
If growing up on an orchard had taught Delilah anything, it was that you could always tell someone’s personality by their choice in apples. And those who chose the sourest of them all were, most often, those with the brightest, boldest personalities.
As she put the selection in the bag, adding an extra green for good measure, she could not help but notice that the man was still looking around with suspicion.
It would have made her uneasy were he not so humorous and good-natured. But he had been kind and funny and Delilah did not wish to destroy the brief moment that they had shared by growing as suspicious of him as he appeared to be of everyone else in the market.
“May I?” the man asked, reaching for one apple from the bag as if to eat it at that very moment.
“No, you may not,” Delilah said, boldly taking it from his hand and placing it back in the bag.
Instead, she handed him another green apple from her pile, one that she had no intention of charging the man for.
“Good heavens, you are a generous woman,” he said with a smile brighter than she had ever seen on any man before.
“Well, I believe you ought to have all the sour apples you wish for. I think my father wouldn’t mind sparing just one for your sake,” she said.
There was a glimmer of something in his eye at that. Something sad. Immediately, Delilah felt bad for whatever it was that she had said to cause him any grief.
“I am sorry, have I upset you?” she asked.
“No, no, not at all,” he said, clearing his throat and hiding his emotion all over again.
Delilah froze, unsure what to say or do next. She looked at the man and he tried to put on a happier face, but it was clear that he was still struggling to hold himself together. Delilah was embarrassed for both of them and wished that she could have avoided whatever had been the wrong thing to say.
“Anyway, thank you for the apples. I am sure that they will be a treat,” he said, making ready to leave.
Delilah did not want him to go. He had been refreshing, someone entirely different than she was used to.
But he was clearly finished with what he had come for, ready to take his apples and depart from her. And there was nothing that Delilah could have done to stop him as he handed over the money and turned.
“Please, come back any time,” she called as he turned.
He looked back at her once, giving the most charming and mischievous grin, before leaving the market.
Delilah sighed. It had been the most exciting thing to happen to her in a long time, this brief interaction. Although she knew nothing about this man or who he was or what he wanted, she could not help but be intrigued by him. His humour alone was more than she was accustomed to.
Elmswood was so close to London, so close to excitement and adventure and people. But it was a sleepy town. Something about that man had made Delilah feel as though it was waking up.
She leaned gently against the rickety table with the apples piled high upon it and took one in her hand, biting into it with a loud crunch and garnering a glare of disgust from the woman selling carrots next to her.
Rather than be embarrassed, Delilah gave her a sarcastic smile, one that conveyed that she could not have cared less what the woman thought of her for the simple act of taking a bite of her fruit.
But the woman, who was about the age that Delilah’s mother would have been if she were still alive, finally spoke up.
“Fine gentleman who came by, wasn’t he?” she asked.
“Hmm?” Delilah asked, a carefree uncertainty in her tone. It was highly practised, but she didn’t care if this woman saw through that.
“That fancy gentleman who was here. Do you think he would be so improper as to flirt with you again?” she asked.
Delilah appeared as confused as she could.
“Flirt? I wasn’t aware of any flirtation. And he didn’t appear so fancy to me,” she said, arrogantly.
“Oh, come now, you didn’t see the ring on his hand?” she asked.
Delilah had noticed that his hands were smooth, but she had not observed a ring. How had she missed it? Had she been so distracted by everything else that she had paid it no mind?
“Perhaps he traded for it,” Delilah said.
“Maybe, but what’s a man in those clothes doing trading for something as fancy as that ring? It might have even been a signet ring for all I know. Anyway, there was something fancy about him, to be sure. Didn’t have the rough look of a man who should have been buying in a market like this,” she replied.
Delilah shrugged, deciding that it wasn’t worth it to discuss further. The woman was probably just annoyed that he had not come to her to buy carrots and she was looking for ways to complain.
Delilah chose to just ignore her, thinking that her efforts were better spent on trying to sell more apples. Still, she could not get that man out of her mind. He had been…well, he had been a lot of things that she was unaccustomed to.
Handsome, kind, funny. What else? He was not like any other man that she knew or would expect to know.
There were only a few more customers throughout the day and Delilah could not bring herself to care about any of them. Her thoughts were focused solely on the gentleman from that morning.
She headed back home that afternoon, wondering if she would ever see him again. Her father would have been thrilled to know that she had finally noticed someone. He was always criticising her for her independence and laughing about how it was bound to chase away all of the eligible men in the community.
Not that she would ever confess to him that she had been interested in a man that she had met. That was not the sort of thing that they would ever speak about. She would laugh and pretend that there was nothing at all worthy of note and then go and hide in her room.
And then, the next morning, she would do as she always did and beg him to let her sell in the London markets instead.
Well…maybe not this time. Maybe if she sold in Elmswood again, she would see the man once more.
“A Duke’s Liberating Embrace” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lord Samuel Belston’s life is ruined when he is accused of murdering his father, the Duke of Danwood with the aim to get his title and wealth. His only hope is to stay hidden until he manages to clear his name and get to the bottom of the heinous crime. Undercover and looking for answers in an orchard, the last thing he expected was to find the most beautiful woman he has ever seen; a stunning woman, willing to help him with his marvelous plan. But is the restoration of his honour really all that awaits Samuel or will this just be the beginning of a love he could never have dreamt of?
Delilah DeWitt is a charming young Lady who never expected too much from life. All she ever wanted was a big family and a caring husband. In an unexpected twist of fate, she meets a handsome drifter searching for work and an opportunity to settle outside of London. But what if this charming commoner is hiding his true intentions? When she finds out who he really is, will she feel betrayed and drowned by his lies? Or will she trust her heart and defy everything?
As Samuel and Delilah try to unravel the truth, they end up discovering parts of themselves they had never explored before. Torn between lies, can they really overcome an enemy they can’t even identify? Can their love survive the lies threatening to destroy it?
“A Duke’s Liberating Embrace” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.