Trapped in Bed with a Duke – Violet Hamers

Jacqueline crouched low behind the cart, peering over it at the hunter who was gesticulating wildly to his friends, trying to assure them that he’d seen a woman dressed as a man, who’d stolen his bow and quiver of arrows. Of course, no one truly believed him. Who would? Hitching up the quiver strap more securely on her shoulder, she crept away, crawling along the muddy path. She slipped behind a public house, stepping in a pile of horse manure with a grunt of disgust. She scraped her shoe against a convenient stone before slipping into the rookery where she’d sought accommodations. She quickly changed out of her men’s clothes and into a simple white muslin gown before slipping off to meet with her contact at the public house. The publican caught sight of her as soon as she entered through the kitchen and scowled. “Have ye emptied the chamber pots? They willent do it themselves.” “Yes, sir. Right away,” she called, a trifle mockingly before heading up the back stairs. She counted three doors from the staircase on the right then knocked twice, waited a beat and then knocked three times. “Entrez.” Jacqueline opened the door, slipped into the room and closed it behind her. “Well? What do you have for me?” She held out a small paper. “It was just where you said it would be.

In the hollowed-out arrow. The hunter was none the wiser. It took me some time to find the right arrow, though.” The man took the paper. “You have done well. Now go, Miss Strange. I will communicate your next assignment in the usual way. Vive La France.” Jacqueline nodded curtly, wisps of her hair escaping from her cap. “Vive La France.

” She turned smartly and left the room. Once she was outside, her shoulders dropped and she let a little bit of the blue megrims she was feeling take over. It was always like this once an assignment was done. A disorientation of the spirit, a feeling of emptiness and hopelessness. She pushed it away, pulling away from the doorway and heading for the nearest alehouse where she could distract herself with whisky and rowdy talk. Aside from its merits in diverting her thoughts, alehouses were very good sources of information—and that was her stock in trade. She sat down at a table, nodding at the serving girl to bring her a whisky. This might not have been the life she had envisaged growing up in Champagne, France, but it was the one that she had and she would make the most of it. “Bertram Trafford Ansel, Duke of Thybaut, may I present to you, Lord Westerly. He has been sent over by parliament to see how our troops are faring.

” The Duke of Wellington had seemingly appeared from nowhere, his companion in tow. Bertram was only glad he hadn’t been caught napping. He straightened his spine. “Your servant, Lord Westerly.” He nodded briefly to the man, who nodded back before looking around at Bertram’s quarters. “I see you have made yourself quite at home.” Bertram looked around as well. His tent consisted of a mahogany table, piled high with dispatches, a red velvet chair, and his camp bed. It didn’t seem like much to him but he didn’t like to disagree with the emissary and so made a non-committal sound. “Lord Westerly will bide with us for a few days to see how we are conducting the war effort.

” The Duke’s blue eyes twinkled at Bertram and he was hard put not to smile back. Oh, so we are humoring the gentleman, are we? He almost smirked but restrained himself, instead adopting a mien of somberness. “We shall be glad of your company, Lord Westerly.” The emissary bowed graciously. “I thank you for your hospitality.” Bertram turned away if only to conceal the smirk on his face. In the midst of war, there was precious little time for oneself, let alone indulging in the song and dance that politics required. Still, it was their duty to keep parliament apprised of the war effort and Bertram just thanked his lucky stars that he had very little to do with that. It was hard enough contending with being away from his young son for long periods of time, especially since the boy did not have a mother, without having to perform the monkey dance required to keep parliament happy. He did not envy the Duke of Wellington his job.

Still, he signaled to his batman to get Lord Westerly some refreshment and set out to be as hospitable as he could. Jacqueline walked slowly down the lane, trying to time her ‘inadvertent’ meeting down to the second. The boy and his nanny usually took a stroll down this path from three o’clock to three-thirty in the afternoon before heading back to the huge manor house where he lived. This routine had not varied for the last five days and she was hoping it would not today. Jacqueline had with her a basket of cakes, freshly baked, the aroma wafting tantalizingly into the air. By her reckoning, there was not much that was refused the boy and she was quite sure he would want her cakes. It was not only her looks that she employed to obtain information. Her baking was helpful in that regard as well. She sighed with relief as she caught sight of the boy, skipping merrily, his hand held securely in that of his nanny. With a smile, she set out to meet them.

“What a lovely child you have there. What is your name, little boy?” she asked as she drew up next to them, bending down to the boy’s height so that he could smell her wares. True to her prediction, his nose rose in the air and he sniffed, craning his neck to see in the basket. “What’s that?” he asked. She looked down at her basket as if surprised to see it there. “What? This?” “Yes. What do you have in there?” Jacqueline smiled. “Nothing, just some cakes.” “George! Leave the lady alone,” his nanny said sharply, trying to pull the boy away. But he was stubborn and refused to move.

“I want to see the basket!” he cried. The nanny looked at Jacqueline, apology in her eyes. “I’m sorry, he’s usually more wellmannered than this.” Jacqueline gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about it. Few can resist my cakes.” She reached into the basket and extracted one, handing it to George. “Here you go, then.” She reached in again and extracted another, extending it to the nanny. “Oh no, I couldn’t.

” Jacqueline watched the nanny eye the cake. “I absolutely insist.” She waved the cake beneath the nanny’s nose. The nanny took it reluctantly but ate it in two bites. “May I have another?” George asked. Jacqueline’s lips turned down. “Oh, I would like to give you another but I am on the way to the baker to see if he might buy from me. I am in search of employment, you see. My father is gravely ill and—” “But I want another!” George cried, interrupting her story. Jacqueline shook her head slowly.

“I’m sorry, but no.” George’s pale face reddened with anger and he looked on the brink of throwing a tantrum. “Why don’t you come home with us instead? I’m sure Cook can find a place for you in the kitchens,” the nanny said quickly. Jacqueline frowned at her. “Are you sure? I wouldn’t like to—” “Give me another!” George cried, his hand reaching for the basket and pulling it towards himself. “Yes, yes! I’m sure.” The nanny looked frantic and Jacqueline affected to look uncertain. “Please, Miss, the Duke pays us well. You will have a bed to sleep in, food to eat. It’s a much better job than the bakery.

” Jacqueline let her eyes gleam with interest. “Is that so?” “Yes. Come with us.” The nanny tugged gently at her sleeve and Jacqueline allowed herself to be reluctantly led. This is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Jacqueline had known that the household indulged the child to an extreme degree but even she was surprised how fast the nanny jumped in to cater to the boy’s wishes. “My name is Mrs. Haversham,” she said to Jacqueline, her watery gray eyes grateful. “And this is my charge, George Wilson Ansel, Marquess of Folkestone.” Jacqueline feigned surprise.

“A Marquess? Should I curtsy?” The little boy giggled. “No. But you can give me another cake.” Jacqueline smiled. “All right, once we arrive at your house, I shall give you another piece of cake, but only if you do one thing for me.” George’s eyes narrowed, and he pouted. “What?” “Say please.” George’s face reddened and for a moment, Jacqueline thought he might throw a tantrum. But he just breathed like a grampus a few times before subsiding. “Nobody has asked me to say please before,” he argued.

The nanny’s brow was beginning to furrow with worry again. “No? Well, nobody bakes like I do. So, if you want to continue to eat my food, you must do as I say.” “But I’m a Marquess and you’re a servant. You do what I say.” Jacqueline tapped a finger against her cheek as if thinking hard. “I’m not sure I like that. I just might go and see if the baker has a place for me. I know he’d say please once he tasted my cakes.” She knew she was taking a risk teasing the child like this but she had a feeling that it was long past time someone took this child in hand.

She made as if to turn away and the boy’s tiny fist closed on the hem of her apron. “Please!” he shouted. Jacqueline smiled. “Very good. You may have another cake.” She handed him one with a satisfied smile. “Thank you,” the Marquess said with a small voice. Jacqueline beamed. If she must use this little boy to get to his father, at least she would give something back to him. She looked up to find the nanny staring at her in wonder.

“How did you do that?” she whispered, her watery gray eyes wide with wonder. Jacqueline laughed. “I don’t know. I have a very firm voice.” Mrs. Haversham nodded slowly, her voice still breathless. “Aye, and you’re very beautiful. I suppose many men just do what you say without demur.” Jacqueline laughed a little because it was too close to the truth for comfort. She was well aware that men were quite taken with her creamy skin and silky brown hair.

They wanted to drown in her wintry gray eyes or nuzzle into her ample bosom. She tended to tantalize them enough that the mere promise of perhaps being allowed to touch was enough to have them eating out of her hand, but she had not meant to do the same with the boy. “I thank you for the compliment,” she said briskly as she cleared her throat. Mrs. Haversham paled, her hand reaching tentatively out to brush Jacqueline’s arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.” “You didn’t,” Jacqueline hastened to reassure her, although if she were being honest, she was the tiniest bit mortified. They arrived at the huge iron gates and the guards looked her up and down, half with suspicion, half with interest. A large man with beetle brows and a thick head of auburn hair stepped forward, blocking their way.

“Who’s this?” “Our new baker,” Mrs. Haversham said primly. “Now, are you going to let us in or not?” The guard grudgingly opened the gate and let them through, though he kept a dark, suspicious eye on Jacqueline. “Where’d you find her anyway? His Grace didn’t say he was getting a baker.” “Oh, and he tells you all of his decisions, does he, Mycroft?” The nanny sneered. Mycroft seemed to take offence at that and looked away, clearly sulking. Jacqueline was hard-pressed not to laugh. She followed meekly behind as Mrs. Haversham and the boy led her to the manor house. They used the front door in deference to the boy, she supposed, but they soon turned down a darkened corridor which eventually led to a door at the back of the manor.

“The kitchen is this way,” the nanny said, and they walked down a gravel path towards a separate building whose chimney was billowing smoke. It was about the size of a small cottage and was bustling with life. Jacqueline wondered how many people the kitchen served in order to need all this staff. As if she’d heard the unspoken question, Mrs. Haversham turned to her. “His Grace is the head of a garrison and while his men are billeted there, their families are hosted here.” Jacqueline quirked an eyebrow, storing the information for later. Well, well, I’ve hardly passed the threshold of the house and I have already acquired some intelligence. “Is that normal, then? For your English nobles to accommodate the families of their men like that?” The nanny turned to her, shaking her head vigorously. “Oh no, the Duke is a very generous man, caring for his men and their welfare.

His servants, too, you’ll see. He treats us very well.” “Well, what if he does not require a baker?” Mrs. Haversham gestured to the kitchens and their hurrying, bustling population. “Can you bake bread or is it just cakes? Because every morning we have to take a delivery from the bakery. If you can save Cook from that, she’d be more than happy to have you.” “I can bake all sorts of things,” Jacqueline said quietly, studying the layout of the kitchen and the organized chaos of preparing meals. She was quite sure she could sidle away and disappear into the house without being noticed. Especially if she used the boy. “May I have another cake now?” He piped up right on cue.

She laughed out loud before digging into her basket to get one. She stretched her hand towards George then snatched it back as he reached for the cake. “What do you say?” she asked. His eyes widened adorably, large, blue, and full of innocent appeal. “Please?”

.

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