Memoirs of a Lustful Duke – Henrietta Harding

The gilded envelope with the regal wax seal lay on the chestnut table before Eleanor Holmes, and each time her eyes fell across it, the dread building in her stomach increased. She had sat down at the table with the intention of opening it, as she’d been avoiding doing so all day. She’d somehow managed to find enough tasks to keep her mind off the letter’s contents all day. She’d started off writing the next chapter in her novel as she’d sat tucked in the alcove of the window, watching the rain pelting down on the glass. She was finally getting to a point in her book that excited her, and that made writing far easier than it had been the days previous. Eleanor often found that when she herself wasn’t excited by a plot point that she wasn’t encouraged to write. But she knew there were always going to be parts of her books that she wasn’t thrilled with, but they needed to be written so that she could get to the more exciting parts. After that, she’d assisted her companion, Amelia, in mending the holes that Eleanor’s dog, Verity, had torn in the quilt when she’d been terrified by the thunder the night before. Eleanor never asked her companion to assist her with household tasks, but Amelia enjoyed doing them, and so her employer often assisted her to assuage her guilt. Amelia had been Eleanor’s companion ever since she’d left her parent’s home. She was an older woman whose dear husband had died of a fever ten years before. After his passing, she never desired to make another romantic match, and so she decided to become a companion. Although Amelia and Eleanor were about ten years apart in age, they were quite good friends. When that was done, Eleanor and her maid, Annie Rikesby, discussed what was to be done regarding the leak that had appeared in the roof. Eleanor’s home was well-appointed but small, and so she only really needed Annie to assist her with the household duties.

The two women decided together that Eleanor should call on someone to come and fix it sooner rather than later, as it was looking as though it was going to be a rainy spring. No matter how many tasks Eleanor busied herself with, however, the letter still taunted her every time she walked by it. She finally gave in to her conscience that was telling her to just get it over with and open it. She leaned forwards, grabbed the high-quality envelope, and slit the top open. The letter was from the Crown Prince. Eleanor found him to be utterly insufferable; he was pompous, outspoken, and the tone of his voice always set her teeth on edge. She had been introduced to him when she was a little girl, as Eleanor’s father was an influential judge who the King was dear friends with. After their introduction, Eleanor had not seen him for many years. She’d begun writing when she was quite young, but she only managed to get a few pieces published before they were reintroduced. At her father’s insistence, Eleanor had passed one of her stories along to the Crown Prince, and he had absolutely loved it.

Since then, she had been enjoying all of the privileges that came along with being an author in the Prince’s favour. The court, nobles, and the pretenders who aspired to join their ranks, all devoured her books, and so Eleanor was able to make a handsome income. This did not, however, mean that Eleanor had to like the Crown Prince. When she started reading his letter, she expected there to be something disagreeable about it, and she was absolutely right. Dear Miss Holmes How goes your latest novel? I had thought you said it would be out by February, but here we are in April and I still haven’t read a word of it. Are you falling behind? Do you need some external motivation to get it done, as if my favour and patronage isn’t enough? Besides that, I am writing to you today to introduce you to Lord Alexander Corbyn, Duke of Staf ord. He wishes to… Eleanor, however, got no further in the letter. She had heard of the Duke of Stafford, of course, but by reputation only. That reputation was not good. She thought back to about a month ago when she and Amelia had been sitting in the small drawing room after dinner.

Amelia had been in her favourite high-backed teal chair, knitting an elegant pair of gloves for Eleanor. Eleanor had had her writing desk on her lap, but she hadn’t been doing very much writing. The two women had chatted back and forth about idle things, until Amelia shared with her a rumour that she had heard that day in town. “I ran into Lady Harksham at the butcher’s shop, and you know what a gossip she is,” Amelia had told her as she finished a row of delicate stitches. “I discouraged her from spreading her usual lies and falsities at first, but when she told me what she was about to share was something that she could personally attest to being true, I couldn’t help but listen.” “Do tell, do tell,” had Eleanor encouraged her, putting her writing desk onto the side table and leaning in towards her companion. “Apparently, the Duke of Staf ord, Lord Alexander Corbyn, has been up to his old tricks once again,” Amelia had begun, her knitting becoming tighter as she became more excited by the story. “When she was at the Williams’ ball the other night, she saw him and Lady Pennywhistle dashing of together to a bedroom in the house, and when they came out, their clothing was askew, and Lady Pennywhistle’s dress was on inside out!” Eleanor’s eyes had widened. “Certainly not!” Amelia had nodded emphatically. “I am telling you exactly as it was told to me.

I am not surprised myself. The Duke of Staf ord has long been a scandal waiting to happen. He’s gone of with more women than I can count on my hands and has not married a single one of them.” “Then why is he still an acceptable member of society?” Eleanor had asked. “He surely cannot be well-liked if he goes around taking young women when he wants them and then abandoning them when he becomes bored of them?” Amelia had shaken her head. “That is what I thought. But according to Lady Harksham, Lord Corbyn can charm the pants or the skirt of of just about anyone. That is how he remains in good favour.” Amelia’s words floated back into Eleanor’s memory as she looked again at the name in the letter. Now she was dreading what was to come out of the rest of this message even more, but she knew that she had to read on.

He wishes to record the memoirs of himself and his family. He was originally going to seek out a historian like a proper noble, but when I mentioned your name and your penchant for writing fantastical stories, he became very intrigued. Wasn’t that kind of me? Even though you have not finished a book that was meant to be published two months previous, I still went ahead and recommended you. I am constantly astounded by my own kindness, and I believe you should be, too. Eleanor rolled her eyes. Not only had the Crown Prince been wrong about when she was supposed to submit her new novel (it was due in May, not February), but he had also recommended her to a position that was being offered by a man she had no desire to see. Her conscience was telling her that she should be grateful to have such an auspicious job offer, but her heart told her that she wanted nothing to do with this Duke and his bad reputation. After the Duke was initially intrigued, I was able to easily persuade him to take you on. I said that I believed a novelist could do his family’s memoirs better justice, and he very much liked the sound of that. I have included a note from him explaining his wishes for these memoirs.

I am expecting that you will take on this task, if you know what is good for your literary reputation. I know that memoir-writing is not typically a task you partake in, but I told the Duke that you would make an exception for him. Which you shall. The Crown Prince had then signed the letter, and Eleanor saw another letter that had been included. She quickly tossed away the Crown Prince’s letter in anger, as she felt that he was blackmailing her into taking this position. She knew that she should still be grateful to the Prince, as he was finding her employment, but he was doing so in a very rotten manner that made her feel sick to her stomach. She also did not need to take this position, as she had the book that she was currently working on, as well as another book coming up that she still had to write. The problem was, however, if she did not take on Lord Corbyn’s memoirs, she was certain that her next book would not be published. The Crown Prince had a great deal of influence over which books were published and which ones were popular, and Eleanor knew she had to obey him if she wanted to maintain her good reputation. She clenched her teeth together as she opened the second letter, expecting the Duke to write in the same terrible manner that the Prince did.

Instead, she found his penmanship to be quite pleasing, and at least he began his letter with some pleasantries. Dear Miss Eleanor Holmes, I have heard a great deal about you and your literary talent from the Crown Prince, and so I am hoping to employ you for a task that might suit you well. I am looking to hire someone to scribe my family’s memoirs. This would be a rather lengthy process, however, and so if you were to take up this task, I would ask you to come and stay at my estate for the duration of the spring and summer. I was not made aware of what your living situation was, but I can assure you that my estate is far better appointed than your humble abode. It had all been going well up until that point. Eleanor sighed. I would, of course, pay you handsomely for the task, so long as you completed the work in the timeframe that I set, and in the manner that I request. If you do not, then I am afraid I will not be able to work with you. If this should please you, I will await your arrival on Sunday the fifth of April by eleven o’clock.

Yours, Lord Alexander Corbyn, Duke of Staf ord. Eleanor re-read the letter a few times to make sure that she hadn’t missed anything, and then set it down, disappointed. She knew that she now had to go to the Duke’s estate, no matter what reservations she had about it. The Prince would not take no for an answer if she wished to stay in his good favour, and so she knew she just had to accept it. She was going to be spending her spring and summer writing nothing but boring family history and being in the company of a Duke that she did not wish to be associated with. She quickly wrote a response to the Crown Prince and mailed it as quickly as she could. April fifth was a mere five days away, and the journey took at least two, so Eleanor needed to act speedily


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