Mine, All Mine (The Fated for Love Series Book 1)
Mine, All Mine (The Fated for Love Series Book 1)
A duke’s daughter in hiding. An ex-spy blinded by desire. Is it treason or true love?
Lady Lillian must abandon her decadent life to hide from her stepfather who wants to use her as the scapegoat for the ultimate sin against England.
Her years of playing in the kitchen as a child has paid off and she's found work as a cook’s assistant in the house of the Earl of Redwick, a man she’s never met in society. But her refuge is not as safe as it seems. When she finally meets the master of the house, she discovers the new Earl of Redwick could be a danger to her masquerade... and her heart.
As a second son, Dominic never expected to inherit, but now he must adapt to life as a gentleman of leisure, and he hates it. His days of spying for the crown are over, except for one last secret mission right here in London. Find the missing daughter of a duke and her traitor stepfather.
But Lady Lillian isn't missing; she’s hiding right under his nose as his lovely new cook’s assistant. To bring her stepfather to justice, Dominic needs Lilly’s help. Can he resist temptation and keep his focus on the mission or will his growing attraction to Lilly put both their lives at risk?
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Tuesday, April 2, 1816
I trust you know why I have sent for you, Redwick?”
Dominic spared him a glance then returned to scrutinizing his finely trimmed nails. “No, Lord Douglas. Would you care to explain?” He pinned Lord Douglas with a freezing stare. Dominic had only been out of the service for three months, and yet here he was again, asked to serve his country after a decade of bloodshed and near-death exploits.
“I am aware that you have many pressing matters to attend to as the new Earl of Redwick, but there has been a situation that needs to be investigated with the delicacy and secrecy only you can achieve. It is a matter of treason, and it cannot go unnoticed any longer.”
“What is it you expect me to do?”
“I need you to find a missing girl. She is the daughter of the late Duke of Cranston and disappeared when Mr. Hollow, her stepfather, committed treason. He was a simple, wealthy merchant until he began moving cargo of a different nature.” Lord Douglas leaned forward.
“What does the girl have to do with it?” Dominic exhaled in weary acceptance.
“We are not precisely sure, but her sudden disappearance from society, in which she is very well known, is alarming. She either knows the whereabouts of her stepfather…or of the missing jewels.”
“Jewels?” Dominic said derisively. “I am not taking part of any duck hunt for jewelry, Lord Douglas.”
“This is not just any piece of jewelry. This necklace is a priceless gift from the King of Spain himself, and a French spy had stolen it. We discovered his body in the Thames. In his coat pocket, we found a note containing precise instructions to steal the necklace and book passage back to France, which led us to Mr. Hollow, who we can only assume now has the necklace. We have lost enough to the French—we will not lose this. It is a symbol of our victory over France and future alliance with Spain. It is your duty, Redwick!” Lord Douglas slammed his fist on his desk for emphasis.
Dominic watched him idly, slightly amused by his patriotic fervor—or was it greed that led this passion for justice? Dominic could no longer tell where loyalty ended and political ambitions began.
“Find the girl and find the necklace. All that we ask is that as you go about your usual society affairs, you simply drop a question here or there, listen for any talk and such. Someone has to know where the young woman is. She cannot have dropped off the face of the earth. Her options would be limited to matrons and close friends. Someone must know, and you are the best man to find the truth.”
“Do I have any choice in the matter?” Dominic asked sarcastically.
“No.” Lord Douglas glared at him. “You are on orders from the Prince himself. You may go now. Here is a packet of information with the details of your mission. Keep me updated with any information.”
Dominic raised an irritated brow as Lord Douglas handed him the packet and then began to shuffle through papers, completely dismissing his presence. He left the office with no further comment and returned to the bustling street outside. Forgoing his carriage, he signaled his driver to return home, deciding to walk the few blocks to his London townhouse. Walking seemed to clear his head, giving him room to think about how to find a missing debutante as soon as possible. He had a life to get back to—not a terribly exciting life. It did not include murder and secrets, and that suited him just fine. He would start with checking Debrett’s Peerage. A duke’s daughter of marriageable age could not just disappear. She was most likely as incapable of caring for herself as a newborn foal. She would need the refuge of an appropriate family member with the means to house her, perhaps on the fringe or outside ton circles. Debrett’s would tell him how extensive the Cranston family was and where a girl could run to hide.
If she was hiding. The stench of treason would annihilate any and all contact with polite society. He could exclude her friends from his lists of possibilities; no one would be allowed to socialize with her from now on. And about the mother—how did her family accept her marrying a mere merchant? Dominic frowned in thought. The situation was puzzling.
He reached home and retired to his study. He opened the packet and pulled out several sheets of paper. A brief accounting of the Duke of Cranston and his death, the heir and his present location, the courtship and remarriage of the duchess to one Mr. Hollow.
It appeared Mr. Hollow had quite a lucrative shipping business. Dominic doubted it was an honest business, by the looks of the notes on the page he held before him.
And then there was the girl. Lady Lillian St. James. Dominic envisioned a pale, simpering English rose who would likely be frightened by a brisk wind. Where would such a creature go to escape scandal?
* * *
“There’s to be no fraternization with the footmen, stable hands, and especially his lordship’s acquaintances, or you will be dismissed. Insubordination or cheeky attitude, unkempt hair and uniform, sloppy work, or clumsiness will not be accepted. Fail to meet these qualifications and you will—”
“Be dismissed, yes, Mrs. Fields, I understand you perfectly.”
“Good, now what did you say your name was?”
“Millie James, ma’am.”
“Now come along, Millie. You must pass muster under Mr. Fields, my husband,” Mrs. Fields said proudly, “before I can show you the kitchen duties.”
“Yes, Mrs. Fields.” Lilly hurried after the portly woman through a maze of doors and short corridors in the underbelly of the house lit only by wall sconces. They stepped through a door into what looked like a butler’s pantry, where an older, slightly fatherly-looking man was making entries in a ledger behind a small desk.
Mrs. Fields stepped politely in front of the desk and cleared her throat.
“Mr. Fields, I would like to introduce you to the young lady applying for the position of cook’s assistant.”
Mr. Fields spared her a single glance before looking back to his papers. “She’s too pretty,” was all he said.
Mrs. Fields waved Lilly forward, and she curtsied and introduced herself.
“My name is Millie James, and I am honored to be interviewed by such a prestigious household.” Lilly paused when she noticed the oh-so-important Mr. Fields gaping at her.
“Where did you learn to speak like that, girl?”
“Well?” he barked.
“Sir.” Mrs. Fields stepped in. “Miss James comes from the Duke of Cranston’s house… before the incident, of course.”
Lilly braced herself for the worst.
“Did you stay with the duchess, Miss James, or follow the new duke’s household?”
Lilly took a deep breath and steadied her nerves before she answered. “Neither, sir. After His Grace passed away, I was called to my ailing aunt’s residence. I don’t believe the new duke has returned from his travels, and I did not witness the duchess’ remarriage.”
“I see.” Mr. Fields put on his glasses and resumed looking over the papers. “Last I heard, he was still gallivanting about Europe. How long were you working in the kitchens before you left, Miss James?”
“Eleven years, sir. I grew up in those kitchens,” Lilly said confidently. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see a smile begin to form about Mrs. Field’s pert mouth.
“Why don’t you show her the kitchen, Mrs. Fields?”
“Excellent, Mr. Fields, right away. Come along, Millie.”
Lilly nearly collapsed with relief. This was the first step in her masquerade as a servant, and she could only imagine the hours of labor her future would entail. Nevertheless, it was better than ending up in New Gate for treason. Entering the dim corridor again, Lilly followed Mrs. Fields down a short hallway.
“Was it confusing to have a surname so similar to your employers, Miss James? Did you ever meet Lady Lillian? I heard she was a beautiful child,” the housekeeper chattered pleasantly.
“No, ma’am, I would imagine the daughter of the duke would not be allowed to grace the kitchens.”
“So true, Miss James—some houses are very strict in their formality.”
“And you are not?” Lilly asked.
“Oh, not to worry, my dear—the master is rarely at home, and why would he ever enter the kitchens? The sight of him alone sends Bertha into fits. He is a devil, that one.”
“One can hope to never meet him,” Lilly said to herself aloud.
Mrs. Fields paused in her stride and turned to face Lilly. “Now, you don’t have to worry about that, Miss James. This is a very respectable household for a young woman such as yourself, despite what you may have heard about the earl and his reputation.” She patted Lilly on the shoulder in a motherly fashion and resumed her pace. “Besides, the odds of you two crossing paths are as likely as a fish in the Prince Regent’s tea.” She snickered.
Lilly smiled to herself behind the housekeeper’s back. She liked those odds. Mrs. Fields introduced her to the rest of the staff. They were polite but reserved. Lilly knew it would take time for them to get used to her and trust her as one of their own. She was shown to her room, a small, square compartment no bigger than her old dressing room. She tried not to look disappointed. In fact, she was downright grateful to have a safe roof over her head, but it was still a bitter reminder of the drastic turn her life had taken. She was surprised she was not sharing a room with another maid, but it seemed everyone had their own space to call their own—and privacy. She was left to don her uniform, a serviceable wool black skirt, white blouse, and black apron. Mrs. Fields advised her that she could wear her own acceptable clothing as well, but Lilly had only packed three gowns: her night gown, a cloak, and other absolute necessities. All of which would be obviously well made and in the first stare of fashion. She would have to find time to sell one of her gowns for more serviceable garments befitting her new station.
A desperate weariness settled about her as Mrs. Fields left her to change, and Lilly was alone in her room. If one could even call it a room. It was a box. She had once been Lillian St. James, daughter to the sixth Duke of Cranston, and now she was merely Millie James, cook’s assistant. She had chosen the name simply for its likeness to her own. It was easier to respond to that way. All those hours in the kitchen growing up had saved her life. If not for Ellie, her old cook and friend, she would not have this new position and a warm bed to sleep in. She mentally pushed away the dark cloud that threatened to come over her. There wasn’t time for tears or sorrows. She had to keep her chin up and keep going forward. Each step she made had a purpose.
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