Book Blurb: When housemaid Martha began an affair with her Master's son, Lucien, the future Earl of Marchwood, it was always destined to end badly.
Single, pregnant and unemployed, Martha struggles to forge a new life for herself and her daughter, only for Lucien to inadvertently destroy it.
She and her daughter are homeless and starving when they come to the aid of a man who proves to be their salvation.
Lucien is still obsessed with his lost love, the only woman who has ever rejected him.
A chance meeting seven years later could spell disaster but can they put their pain and pride behind them and seize this opportunity, or will old ghosts ruin their last chance at happiness?
Lucian reeled backwards as though Martha had struck him.
“I can assure you it is!” Martha said, her previous dreams of everything working out for the best crumbling before her eyes. The pain his denial caused burned deep into her soul and her fiery temper began to assert itself, as it usually did when she was hurt. “It took two of us to make this baby and you were there!”
“But... a baby! I can't have a baby with a housemaid!”
“A housemaid? After everything you said, all those dreams you shared with me, is that really all I am to you?”
“What?” Fear was now causing his own temper to rise. “You thought that I would marry you? Me, the son of the Earl of Marchwood marry you, a servant in my father's home?” He laughed but was it cold and brittle, far from the warm laugh that she loved.
“Well maybe you should have thought of that before you started to pursue me!” she snapped.
“How do I even know it's mine?” he asked in his most autocratic voice, as though she were his subject, not his lover. “If you'd sleep with me, you'd sleep with anyone!”
Martha's anger suddenly fled as she realised that the man she had fallen in love with wasn't real. The man who had held her, comforted her and listened to her dreams was just an actor. Those beautiful blue eyes that had once seemed so understanding were now ice cold and full of hatred. This was the real man, and she was ashamed to have been associated with him in any way, shape or form.
And here she was, in a smelly old stable with hay and horses for an audience. Until this very moment she had always considered the stables a romantic setting but now all her romantic notions were being stripped from her and she felt bereft.
“You know, I was prepared to face any amount of scorn,” she said. “I could live with the gossip and the stigma because no matter what people say, I couldn't see anything wrong with what we did. We loved each other and we expressed that love. Now though, I can see that I was fooled good and proper. I've never felt so ashamed of myself as I do right now because you, Sir, are scum! I can't believe I ever fell for your lies and pretty words. You disgust me.”
She turned and left the barn with her head held high, her back stiff and upright and her steps as slow and even as she could make them.
She didn't look back; she couldn't afford to.
As she approached the house she felt the sting of tears in her eyes and paused for a moment on the back step to take a few deep breaths. When she was certain that her tears would not start to fall, she pushed a stray strand of her chestnut hair behind her ear, took a deep breath and went inside.
“Martha! Where the 'ell have you been?” Cook asked her. “We've been lookin' for you for a 'alf hour or more!”
“I'm sorry, I was feeling unwell.”
“You do look pale. You all right, lass?”
“No. I need to speak with Mrs Lassiter; where is she?”
“In 'er sitting room, I believe.”
Martha nodded and left the kitchen. The housekeeper's room was next to the kitchen and she knocked softly, almost hoping that Mrs Lassiter wouldn't hear.
Martha took another deep breath and went in. Mrs Lassiter was sitting at her desk writing in her accounts ledger and when she had finished the entry she put her pen down and looked up.
“Martha, good, I've been looking for you. I-” she suddenly realised how ashen Martha looked. “Are you all right, dear?”
“No, Mrs Lassiter.” She felt the dreaded sting of tears again, for Mrs Lassiter had been like a mother to her since she had come to this house. She was a stern and proud woman but she was also fair and encouraging to those who showed initiative.
Mrs Lassiter had taken Martha under her wing, so to speak and when Martha showed an interest in improving her reading and writing, it was she who schooled her. It was she who helped Martha to improve her language and lose most of her northern accent so that she might improve her position in life. Martha had proven herself both a quick study and a hard worker and had come a long way since she had been taken on at just ten years old to work as a scullery maid. Now aged sixteen she wore a crisp black uniform and worked in the family rooms upstairs.
“I'm afraid that I have no choice but to leave, Mrs Lassiter. I realise that this puts you in a very awkward position and if you ask me to, I will work out the week, however I think it's best for everyone if I leave now.”
Martha could tell from her expression that Mrs Lassiter had guessed the truth.
“Oh, my dear, I blame myself for this. I saw the signs; I should have said something.”
“The blame lies firmly with me,” Martha insisted. “You have shown me nothing but kindness in the six years since I came here and this is how I repay you.”
Mrs Lassiter got up and came around the desk. She took Martha's hands and guided her to a seat by her fire, taking the other one for herself.
“I almost cannot believe this of you, Martha. You have always been such a sensible girl, older than your years.”
“This isn't only your doing,” Mrs Lassiter said kindly. “I can't believe that he would want you to leave though. Master Lucien always seemed so...” she sighed. “I suppose it just goes to show what I know.”
“Please, don't reproach yourself. I fell for the charms of a very skilful liar and am paying the price.”
“Have you told him?”
Martha nodded, her tears finally falling as she remembered their confrontation.
“He said that he doubted that the baby was his.”
“Oh no, I can't believe that.”
“I assure you, they were his words.”
Mrs Lassiter handed Martha her handkerchief and waited until her tears had dried before continuing.
“What will you do with yourself?” she asked.
“I will try going home, though I am not at all certain that I will be welcome.”
As the eldest of thirteen children only eight of whom were still alive, Martha had always felt like a burden to her parents. Her mother tried to love and care for her children but her father preferred to drink most of his wages, leaving her mother in a perpetual state of worry over feeding and clothing her family.
If only they would stop having children, then her mother might be able to find her own employment but it seemed that her father would not be denied his pleasures after a drink and there were many nights when she and her siblings had been thrown out of the bedroom so that he might have a little 'wifely lovin'. Of course they could still all hear what was happening but it wasn't until she was older that Martha really understood.
Mrs Lassiter nodded sadly, for everyone knew of the Dawley family and what a waste of space the father was.
“Do you have anything put by?” Mrs Lassiter asked. Martha's wages were not high since room and board were included and she sent her mother what money she could.
“I have some savings,” she said. “If my family won't help me then I thought that I might try Manchester. They say that wages are higher there.”
“I'll give you a good reference,” Mrs Lassiter assured her. Her biggest fear was that she or the baby would end up in a workhouse.
“Thank you. I should go and pack my things,” Martha said getting to her feet.
Mrs Lassiter looked hesitant but finally she nodded. The girl couldn't stay here, she was already showing a little and if the Earl got wind of his son's activities, there would be hell to pay for everyone involved.
“Barry's heading into town soon to get the Master's saddle repaired; I'll ask him to take you and I'll get working on your reference. Don't go without saying goodbye, will you?”
Martha shook her head, afraid that if she spoke, her emotions would overcome her once more. She made her way up the servant's stairs to her room in the attic. She quickly changed out of her uniform, into one of the dresses that she had made for herself and then she packed her few belongings into her large bag.
She heard hoof beats on the yard and went to the window in time to see Lucien galloping out across the fields on his beloved black stallion, Midnight. She thought that neatly summed up the situation; people like him got to run away from their problems while people like her had to live with the consequences.
She didn't know what would become of her, for her father was unlikely to welcome her return, let alone another new mouth to feed. Still, she had little choice but to try. She headed back down to Mrs Lassiter's sitting room and took the envelope that the housekeeper handed her.
“Thank you, Mrs Lassiter, not just for the reference but also for being so kind to me.
Mrs Lassiter took her shoulders and tried not to let her emotions get the better of her. The Mrs of her title was a courtesy, for she had never married and had her own family. This young slip of a girl was probably the closest she would get to having a daughter and she would miss her sorely.
“Will you write when you're settled to let me know that you're all right?”
Martha nodded and tried her hardest to smile. Quite on impulse she pulled the older woman into her arms and hugged her tightly, then kissed her cheek.
“Goodbye,” she said, quickly turning from her and running out into the yard where Barry was waiting with the horse and cart. She climbed up beside him and seeming to realise that she was distressed, he urged the horses on without talking to her. As the horse made its way down the lane towards the town, Martha couldn't help but look back at the house.
Once that house had seemed like her salvation, now it felt like the cause of her doom.
“What's you doin' back 'ere?” Jim Dawley said when he came in from work to find his eldest daughter sitting at the kitchen table.
“She's come 'ome!” his wife Lizzy said with a smile. “Ain't that grand?”
“No it ain't grand!” he yelled. “We need her wages!”
“The house is cutting back on staff,” Martha said with as much dignity as she could muster. “There is no longer a job there for me to do.”
Jim sneered and sat at the head of the table. He hated it when she visited on a Sunday afternoon, with her good manners and hoity toity accent, he felt that she looked down on him even more than she used to.
She was growing into a fine young woman, as pretty as her ma used to be, which wasn't something that he wanted to remember. After thirteen children, and a fourteenth on the way, his wife was aged far beyond her years and her beauty was long gone, buried under years of drudgery.
“You steal sommat?” he sneered at Martha.
“You musta done sommat to make 'em fire you!”
“Leave 'er, Jim.” Lizzy tried to placate him. “Can't we just have a nice meal? I'm sure Martha will get more work soon.”
“You better, you can't stay 'ere, lass.”
Martha hadn't even told either of them about her pregnancy and now that she knew she wasn't welcome, she was determined not to. Tomorrow morning she would catch the stagecoach to Manchester and see about getting work and accommodation there. As soon as dinner was over, her father headed out to the Sun Tavern. Martha knew the drill, he would roll in at closing time, too drunk to walk in a straight line.
Once he was gone the atmosphere in the small house lightened considerably and Martha tried to enjoy her last evening with her family. She insisted that her mother sit down while she and the children cleaned up after dinner. It was a cold evening and as usual the family couldn't afford a fire so they bundled together under blankets while Martha told them a story from one of the many books she had read.
The children were tired after that and although they protested, she helped her mother tuck them in. There was only one bedroom with a bed for her parents and straw filled mattresses on the floor which the children shared. She and her mother then returned to the kitchen and Martha made them a pot of tea, though the tea leaves were probably on their third use and it was horribly weak.
Lizzy filled Martha in on James, Sally and Dan, the next three eldest children. Sally had been taken into service at the mayor's house while James and Dan were working as labourers for a local farmer. They slept out there over the spring months while they ploughed and sowed the fields, to save the daily walk.
Martha could see how life was wearing her mother down and anyone looking at her would never have guessed that she was only 34.
“Will you be all right without my wages for a while?” Martha didn't want to ask but she felt compelled to.
“We'll be fine, lass. It's your Pa's job to keep us, not yours.”
“Mum, we both know what he's like.”
Lizzy's brave façade crumpled for a moment as the struggle of her life momentarily overwhelmed her but found a brave smile after a few moments.
“I made my bed, now I must lie in it but learn from my mistake, Martha, don't marry young, don't believe their sweet words and empty promises.” She held her hand out towards her daughter.
Somehow Martha found a smile, though she was sure it looked more like a grimace, and took her mothers hand.
'You're about four months too late,' she thought but said. “I will.”
Her mother went to bed soon afterwards and Martha got her bag out to look at her reference. She opened the envelope to find not only a letter but two pounds!
“Oh, Mrs Lassiter,” she sighed. “I'll pay you back, I swear.” She put the notes back in the envelope and took the letter out. It was a glowing reference and would surely secure her work, though her stomach was already starting to swell so it wouldn't be long before she was kicked out for being a loose woman.
She put the letter and money back in the envelope and placed it on the top of her bag, then she changed into her nightshirt for bed. She shared Matty's mattress since he was only three and didn't need much room but she was awoken in the early hours as her father kicked her foot as he passed. He always pretended he was drunk but his aim was far too good for it to be an accident.
She kicked out, her heel connected with his shin and he let out a shriek as he toppled over.
It was pandemonium then; the children cried out as he fell on them and their cries spread to the others, her mother awoke and began asking what was going on. There wasn't much light but clearly her father could see what he was doing as he got to his feet and made straight for her, straddling her so that she was pinned to the mattress and hitting her in the face,
“Hit your own father, would ya!” he punched her again and Martha somehow managed to free one arm.
The children were huddled together, crying, Lizzy was shouting for them to stop and Martha was threatening him.
As he tried to strike her a third time, she caught his index finger and bent it back as far she she could. Manual labour had made her strong and he quickly moved off her to ease the pressure on his finger. Martha got to her feet and quickly kicked him between the legs, causing him to double over in pain and fall to the floor.
“I'll sleep in the kitchen,” Martha told her mother, who was tending to her father. As usual, he had started it but he got all her sympathy. She understood really, for Lizzy was just trying to calm his temper but it still galled her.
She settled in one of the wooden chairs by the fire and did her best to get some sleep.
The next morning she got up early, dressed and started on breakfast, not to placate her father but to help her mother.
When he came out of the bedroom he grinned as he saw her face and she guessed that she probably had a nice bruise on her left eye. She looked at his groin and grinned back, reminding him that there might not be a mark, but it had bloody well hurt. He didn't stay for breakfast but for the first time in his life, left for work early, though Martha was in little doubt that he would somehow still be late.
Breakfast was grits made with hot water and it was so awful that it was almost inedible. She had been spoiled, she admitted, at the big house. The servants didn't have fine fare but the food was tasty and plentiful.
After breakfast she helped her mother clean up, then changed but as she put her nightshirt away in her bag, she failed to notice that her reference letter had been moved slightly. She closed the bag and said her goodbyes, promising to visit when she could. She headed to the place in the town square from where the stagecoach left every morning. She took out her purse that contained her meagre savings and asked the driver for the charges. She handed the driver enough money for her journey then stowed her bag and climbed into the carriage.
Lucien arrived home after his ride feeling exhausted and restless at the same time. He headed up to his room and paced there for a while.
It was no good, he had to see Martha, to apologise and... well there wasn't any solution that he could see but he had to do something. The way she had looked at him earlier... and she was right, he was the lowest of the low.
He went downstairs to look for her but she wasn't to be found.
“Lucien?” It was his father's voice and he turned, wondering if his father had somehow found out.
“What the devil are you doing, running around from room to room?”
“I was looking for something, father.”
“Well ask the servants to look for it then but stop running around like a lunatic.”
“Yes, Sir.” He returned to his room, hoping that he might see her that evening when he went down for dinner.
He was disappointed though as he saw no trace of her all evening.
As they ate, he wondered what his parents would say if he told them that he had gotten their maid pregnant and wanted to marry her. He toyed with the idea for a while until the image of their faces made him laugh out loud.
“Is something wrong, dear?” his mother asked as they ate. “You've been acting very odd since you returned from your ride.”
“No, Mother. I'm just...” his courage deserted him. “I think I might have a touch of sunstroke.”
“You should be more careful,” she gently chastised him. “Why don't you go to bed and sleep it off. I'm sure you'll feel much better in the morning.”
Lucien looked to his father for his approval.
“Go. You're no good to man nor beast in this state.” He said as he rolled his eyes theatrically.
“Thank you, Sir.” He headed up to his room and lay on the bed as he pondered his options.
He was his father's only son so it was highly unlikely that he would be disinherited but still, his father would not stand for such a union. Appearance was everything to the man and Lucien was likely to find himself shipped off to Europe for a few years.
He couldn't believe that he had been so foolish! Yes, Martha was pretty and kind and lovely but he was 21, he should be able to resist the charms of a pretty girl! And in all honestly it had been he who pursued her, not the other way around.
He remembered her from before he left for university but she had been just a slip of a girl then; he had hardly paid her any mind but when he came back, she was a woman. The first time he had seen her in the study with the sunlight through the window making her chestnut hair shine like flame, his breath had caught in his throat, for even in the servant's uniform that she wore, he thought that she put even the prettiest London beauties to shame. Her training had taught her that she should be invisible while above stairs but Lucien had then contrived a number of meetings and each time he sought to draw her out a little more, asking her opinion on events or books or even the colour of his cravat.
Slowly she had come out of her shell a little and he had seen an intelligent and caring woman beneath her pretty façade. He was captivated. It took two months of cajoling and preying on her sympathies before she would agree to meet him in the stables and she had insisted that all they do was talk, so talk they did. He told her of his life, the expectations that his parents had for him and how he hated that his life had already been mapped out before he was born. He told her of his dream to be an academic and a professor and she had sympathised with him, trying to reassure him that once he was Earl, he could sell all the land if he wanted to and move to Oxford to become a college Don.
He appreciated her words and they were true to an extent but he didn't believe that such a larger-than-life figure as his father would ever die and he felt as if he would be trapped in this life forever.
Slowly he also drew her out of her shell and she told him about her life in Marchwood, her family and her father. She left out many details but he was no fool and could fill in the blanks. She dreamed of becoming a dressmaker and one day having her own shop and indeed he could see she did have a talent for seamstressing from the samples that she would bring out to show him.
They met like that for three months before she would let him kiss her. He didn't force her into anything but he pestered constantly and now he wished that he had listened to her pleadings and kept their friendship pure.
He finally got into bed at midnight but he got no sleep that night. At one o'clock he went out to the stables, hoping that she would be out there, waiting for him but he was once more disappointed.
The next morning he arose early and went to find Martha. One of her first jobs was to light the fires in the downstairs rooms but today he found another girl doing it.
“Where is Martha?” he asked.
“She's gone, Sir. Family emergency, Mrs Lassiter said.”
He turned around and headed straight to the housekeeper's room, not even bothering to knock.
“What's this business about Martha going home?” he demanded.
Mrs Lassiter got up and closed the door behind him.
“She hasn't gone home, she's resigned and you know exactly why!”
Mrs Lassiter had known this man since he was a boy and she wasn't afraid of him like some of the other servants.
“Shame on you, Lucien!”
Lucien's anger died away then and he crumpled into one of Mrs Lassiter's seats and buried his head in his hands.
“I've made a horrible mistake!” he said. “The things I said to her; I was so cruel.”
Mrs Lassiter watched him, surprised to see the extent of his grief. She hadn't thought him a cruel or callous man but neither had she thought him to be in love with Martha. Despite the harm he had caused, she found that she felt sympathy for him and sat in the chair beside him. Finally Lucien looked up and Mrs Lassiter saw tears in his eyes.
“I don't know what to do,” he said. “This is all my fault.”
“Now now, there's no need for theatrics,” she said getting to her feet and going over to the desk. “The first thing you must do is speak to her. I'll write down her parents' address and you can tell her how sorry you are.”
She handed him the slip of paper and as he took it, she saw hope blossom in his eyes and smiled.
“Go and get her,” she said.
He didn't need telling twice; he ran through the kitchen and out into the barn quickly saddling his horse and jumping on it's back.
I hope you enjoyed that. If you'd like to read more of Lucien and Martha's story, Hope for Tomorrow