Home > One Night with the Duke (Belmore Square #1)

One Night with the Duke (Belmore Square #1)
Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas

 

 

Chapter 1


The view from the drawing room window is not one that I am accustomed to. I don’t see the rolling countryside and crops growing aplenty. My favourite mare, the blackberry bushes, the cowsheds.

The smell.

I sniff, getting a whiff of the new aroma. It isn’t horse manure or grass, but instead an odd earthy smell. Bricks, mortar and paint. It’s the smell of our new house. A grand new house that sits beside many more impressive dwellings, looping the lush green gardens of Belmore Square, where a fountain, a few benches and rose bushes are all closed in by cast-iron railings beyond the cobbled road. There’s not a farmer to be seen for miles. Instead, here in London, we have affluent members of the ton strolling with no urgency, the fancy, gold-trimmed clothes of the gentlemen and the intricate lace-trimmed garments of the ladies providing an eclectic colour palette I’m not used to. Top hats, canes, and carriages. Money leaks from every brick, cobble and pruned bush. It’s another world, one I am not entirely certain I can fit into. Or want to.

It’s the start of a new season, and my very first. The politicians will do their work in Parliament and the businessmen will conduct business, while their wives update their wardrobes and plan their social calendars for the next few months. There will be parties galore, dinners, and gossip to be had. Now, I am a part of the circles I had only ever heard of. Not dreamed about but heard of. Perhaps even dreaded. I can’t say I’m all too keen on what I have experienced of London so far, and, worse, I am without the freedom I was once blessed with in our old life.

I grimace.

And I can hardly breathe in these fancy frocks.

On top of that, my inspiration is lacking, and I have absolutely nothing to write about, unless, of course, I should like to indulge in the unsubstantiated nonsense that father’s new business partner and financial backer, Lymington, Duke of Cornwall, thrives on. Which I don’t, and it is a good job, because I am not allowed to write for father’s newspaper in London.

I pout to myself, remembering the times I would take a story to Papa and he would sit in his chair by the fire smoking a cigarette, humming his interest. And his wry smile when he would say, every time, ‘You know, my dear Eliza, this is really rather good.’ Then he would dip, plant a kiss on my cheek and send me on my way. The fact that each and every story I penned and that was printed in Papa’s newspaper was credited to my brother, Frank, was a small price to pay. Recognition wasn’t something I sought, even if, admittedly, I would have liked it. It was more the freedom to write what I desired and not what I thought people would want to read. I wrote factual, informative pieces meant to educate people with the truth.

Alas, now Father’s newspaper only has space for censored news and advertisements, and Lymington doesn’t mind reminding Father, at any opportunity and sometimes without opportunity, that it is his name and backing that allowed my parents to buy the final plot on Belmore Square and build this sprawling, beautiful cage.

I am surely not the only young lady around these parts that feels suffocated. Or perhaps I am. The residents here are a peculiar bunch of humans, who do not seem to care for the world, but rather their position in it. The men must be successful, wealthy and loud. The women must be compliant, well turned out and unopinionated. Image is everything. Money is power. My father is now a very wealthy man, and, as a consequence, also very powerful. I’m not at all certain that I like power on my father. Being powerful seems to take up all of his time and makes him appear persistently exhausted.

How I long to return to a time when his business limped along and mother baked all day. It was of little consequence that I liked to indulge myself in words, whether reading them or writing them, or that I perhaps spoke up too often in matters of no business of mine. There was no one to impress, therefore lectures were a pointless task my father rarely wasted his time on. In fact, I think he enjoyed me biting around his ankles, squeezing him for all the information I could get. He let me sit on his knee while he worked. Answered my questions when I asked. Gave me more books to read, perhaps to keep me quiet. And Frank would always creep up on me whenever I was lost in those books and flick my ear. I’d punch his bicep. He would scowl playfully. Father would grin down at his quill. I would stick my tongue out. Then Frank would chase me around our father’s desk while I screamed to high heaven and Papa laughed as he dealt with the poor state of his finances.

Now?

Now our address is Belmore Square, Mayfair, London. Father’s newspaper is on course to become the biggest in England with the help of steam printing, and I long for the days when Papa laughed, even though we struggled to make ends meet. These days, all I have to look forward to is Latin and piano. Playing piano bores me to tears, and learning Latin seems like a pointless chore, since I am not permitted to travel to a place where I may have an opportunity to speak the language.

I scowl at the pane of glass, looking across the square to the corner of Bentley Street, where a house, individual in its architecture, stands alone, starkly separate from the rest of the homes on Belmore Square. It’s fascinated me since I arrived here in London. It was once the Winters’ residence, until it burned to the ground a year ago and the family perished. I read the report that was written by Mr Porter, a journalist who works for Father, about the tragic accident that wiped out the Winters family. Rumour has it that it was not, in fact, an accident, and it was the eldest son, Johnny Winters, who started the fire. That he acted in a fit of rage after a disagreement with his father over… what? No one knows. It’s easy to fill mindless people with thoughts and conclusions when the accused is dead and unable to defend himself. Except, Mr Porter is a journalist, and, oddly, a respected one. I say oddly respected, because how anyone in their right mind could possibly trust a man who lives such a promiscuous life I do not know. He is loud, abrupt, egotistical, and dare I say it, a monster. And a power-hungry one at that. He mistreats his wife, ignores her in public and beats her in private. He’s also a raving Conservative.

In any case, the Winters’ house has been rebuilt and someone is moving in.

But who?

Someone audacious, I am sure of it. Bold and unapologetic. There are thirteen houses here on Belmore Square. The old Winters’ residence is the only one that hasn’t followed the uniform exterior so as to keep the rows of homes looking as pristine and neat as the gardens they circle. In fact, the new owner of number one Belmore Square seems to have gone out of their way to make the old Winters’ residence as different as possible to every other home. Better, actually. Bigger and grander in every way. It’s a statement. A declaration of supremacy. Over the past few weeks since we have moved in, I have watched huge, exotic plants being off-loaded and taken into the property, along with the biggest, most sparkly chandeliers you ever did see, and beautiful, heavily carved pieces of furniture, which, after I had asked the men trusted to transport the pieces, I discovered were from India! So, whoever is moving into number one Belmore Square, I assume they are well travelled. How thrilling, to have travelled further than England.

So the finishing touches are being added, the wooden branches held together by hemp coming down from the exterior of the building, and now I, along with the rest of Belmore Square, wait with bated breath to see who will be moving into the sprawling, opulent mansion.

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