A Maid’s Mischievous Courtship (Preview)

Chapter One

London, 1824

London was the seat of all madness, where everything turned upside down, and all sorts of things went missing—like a woman’s purity and subsequent letters of blackmail. It was only a matter of time before Prue lost her head too. And really, that was the only explanation for it. No sensible woman would be racing through London at an hour like this, heading toward the house of the town’s most formidable rake. Oh, but her mother would be so proud.

The lanterns were the only things to light her path. They swung mockingly above her in the breeze, along with the heavy spring moon. Hyde Park stretched out to her right, and all was quiet beyond its fencing. Prue recognised the townhouses dotted along the other side of the road, recognised them too well with their manicured brick faces and front gardens. She could name each one of their tenants and every tenant’s son, but they would not be able to name her. For that, she was more than thankful.

Prue had walked this road more times than she could count for all of her mistress’s promenades through the area—but she had never walked a path quite like this. There was only a ten-minute walk between the Earl of Knightfield’s London home and the St Aubyn love nest, her most unfortunate destination. 

Something made a noise to her right, a faint scuttling sound that might have come from a rat, or a fox, perhaps even a bloodthirsty badger, and Prue skipped into a jog. Her threadbare linen cloak billowed behind her, and her boots clacked against the cobbles. With every click of her buckles, she heard the jangle of leg cuffs. Her heart thrummed just as loudly in her ears.

Prue skidded to a halt as she reached the street corner. The house of Mr Nathaniel St Aubyn stood before her, tall and yawning and perfect in every way. It curled around the end of Davies Street, leading to Grosvenor Square. Her gaze darted from one window to the next. Sleepy light flickered behind the ground-floor windows, which meant someone must have been home. Taking a tentative step down to the servants’ entrance, Prue crumpled the letter in her hand. 

None of this was right. Smoothing out the envelope, she recalled the desperate look in her mistress’s eyes when first she had read it aloud. The housemaid who had been minding the door had been perceptive enough to deliver the note straight to Prue rather than filtering it through the rest of the post. The passionate scrawling of Gwendolyn’s name had given it away. It spelt blackmail. 

“Oh, Gwen,” Prue whispered, bringing the letter to her mouth. “I warned you against trifling with men who weren’t deserving of you.” 

Bereft, her mistress had said there was only one person who could help her. “Who better,” Gwen had whimpered, “to outsmart a scorned lover than a man who’s better at breaking hearts than putting his shoes on in the morning?” Prue had wanted to argue that there were lots of people more suitable to help, people who had no trouble putting on their shoes at all, but she knew better. Now she was here, caught in a staring match with a door. 

The most logical thing to do was knock, but her fist refused to move from her side, hanging like a plumb. It was late. Absurdly late. She would rouse the woken staff and stir the rest, and there would be no telling what stories they would swap between them after she asked to speak with their master alone; imaginations would run wild. Her intentions were good and godly. She would say as much. They would not believe her, well-meaning though they were. 

Such was the way of things in her world. Caution must come first. 

She brushed a few sticky strands of hair from her temples. The evening was ridiculously warm for March. Looking around, she noticed the window by the door had been left ajar and was delightfully unattended. 

“You’re better than this, Prue,” she whispered to herself as she curled her fingers around the base of the frame. “They’ll take you for a thief, and then what will you do?” she added as she slowly pushed up the paned sash, knowing it was better to be thought of as a thief than a gentleman’s plaything anyway. 

One stocking-covered leg swung through the opening, then the other. She slithered the rest of the way through, but the hem of her dress caught on the latch. She let out a gasp, then slapped her hand over her mouth. When she heard nothing—no footmen come to apprehend her, no Bow Street Runners either—she gingerly unhooked herself and made sure her petticoat was not stuck in her drawers. 

If not for her indecorous entrance, she might have felt quite clever.

In the darkness, the room appeared to be some sort of storeroom. Shelves lined the plastered wall in front of her, stocked top to bottom with all manner of heavy sacks and jars, and a few barrels had been stacked by the baseboards. Thankfully, Prue had visited the townhouse enough times while chaperoning Gwen to have a vague idea of the basement’s layout. If she was in the pantry, she would exit into the kitchen. Next would come the corridor to the stairs, then the entrance hall once those were climbed. 

“Then what,” she hissed as she looked around, “stupid?”

Tiptoeing to the door, trying not to burst into panicked tears, she listened for signs of activity on the other side. No light was seeping through the crack at the bottom of the door, and there didn’t seem to be anyone about from what she could hear. Steeling herself, she wrapped a hand around the cold doorknob and counted down, then changed her mind and counted up instead. 

“On the count of three, then. One, two….“ and she eked open the door. 

If Mr St Aubyn had returned late from a party, more likely a rendezvous, he had been kind enough not to ask the kitchen staff for a late-night snack. Prue breathed a sigh of relief as she entered the empty kitchens. 

She could smell the yeast on the air from proving bread, could smell the fat from a recently roasted chicken too. Her stomach growled. She had skipped dinner to attend to Gwen, and there had been no time to eat once the letter had arrived. There was a tempting mound on the counter in the shape of a perfectly moist bird covered over with a cloth. 

When she pulled it back, she revealed not a chicken but soggy balls of stuffing. She flicked the tea towel back with a grimace. If there was one thing in the world Prue would not tolerate, it was a cold roast (rakes came second), but she was famished. Averting her gaze, she slid her hand under the towel, swiped up a stuffing ball and took a bite.

Crossing her hands over her chest, she walked toward the stairway. If this mad plan went off without a hitch, she would consider herself the luckiest woman in London, along with the silliest. Of course, she should have known better. Her luck had always been rotten, surprise stuffing aside. 

“Will you shut that mouth o’ yours, Ted? You’ll wake ol’ Hamil, and then I’ll never hear the end of it. Is that what you want, eh? To see me chased out so you can have Lovely Lizzy all to yourself?”

The voice came from the top of the stairs, and Prue’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. She turned the nearest corner as quickly as she could, nestling into the shadowed corridor that led to the back garden. 

“Oh, bugger off, Will,” another man groaned. “You know Hamil’s as deaf as he is fat, as well as you know that you don’t ‘ave a chance with our fair Liz. She’s sworn herself to me, she ‘as.”

Prue recognised the names as members of Mr St Aubyn’s staff, which meant the two men were his footman and valet, respectively. 

“And I’m the bloody King of England. Get anythin’ worth your while from our little lordling’s coat tonight? Last week, Liz said….”

The bickering trailed off as they walked toward the boys’ bedrooms. 

Licking her fingers, Prue slid back into the stairway, cloaked by midnight. 

At the apex of the servants’ staircase, the landing was dark and quiet. She curled herself in the archway at the top of the stairs, listening for more vagrant members of staff. It seemed the two men were the last of the household to retire for the night, which meant their master, if he was still awake, would be alone. 

Please let him be awake, she thought. Nothing could be worse than having to surprise him in bed with covers up to his ears, or worse, with nothing on at all. She blushed at the thought and crept into the entrance hall.

Her stomach knotted. There were no more corners to hide around, no closets in which she could stow herself away. She felt bare before the majesty of the house, with its shining tapestried walls and hardwood crown moulding. Everything was draped in shadow, but even as she blinked, Prue could feel the richness of the home wrapping itself around her. 

She was no stranger to fine houses. She had spent her entire life following Gwen around the country, staying in homes more beautiful than anything she could imagine in her wildest dreams, but there was something different about Mr Nathaniel St Aubyn’s home. Something heady and mysterious. 

As heady and mysterious as the man himself.

The front door was just before her. The light of the moon shone through its glazing like a silvery beacon. If she wanted, she could leave now and not look back and tell Gwen that her cousin had not been home. She could, but she would not, because she loved Gwen far too much to turn back now. 

A creaking noise sounded to her right, coming from the drawing room. It sounded like someone shifting in a chair. Sucking in her cheeks, Prue stalked into the parlour. As soon as her boot crossed the threshold, she heard not the sound of crackling leather but a voice. A woman’s voice. 

There was a frameless door beside the empty fireplace in the drawing room. It was wide open, and the glow of a gentle fire emanated from the room beyond.

“And you’re certain there is nothing more I can do for you, sir? It would be no bother at all. I could wake Battering and have her prepare some tea,” the woman said. “I should be glad to help you recover from your evening in any way I can, sir. Really…truly…any way at all.”

It was the maid, Liz. Prue recognised the girl’s voice from past visits to the house and other less-winning encounters shopping in town. Mr St Aubyn must have brushed her off because the next thing she heard was a wanton womanly sigh. Then the girl’s heavy footsteps began moving toward Prue. 

Swallowing down her stupor, Prue slid behind the open door to the secret room. She watched as the maid sashayed out with a pitcher of water, her dark hair glittering in the firelight. Liz didn’t look back as she closed the door to the drawing room behind her, leaving nothing between Prue and her destiny.

Except, of course, the door behind which she was hidden. 

Prue bit the inside of her cheek and tried to relax, but it was of no use. She hated theatrics, and she hated sneaking about, and she especially hated that Mr St Aubyn would be impressed with her when she revealed herself to him skulking around his house. 

Holding the letter close to her chest, she could not resist looking through the crack in the door. Mr St Aubyn was sitting in an armchair before the fire, his head propped up by one of his hands. His dark brown hair looked almost auburn in the light from the fire, dancing just above his shoulders as he rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. He breathed out deeply and leaned back as though he hoped to fall asleep. 

The room must have been a study of some sort. Rows upon rows of books lined the walls in front of him, with sheepskin rugs on the floor and portraits of other St Aubyn heirs on the walls. Still, he eclipsed all finery with his presence.

It was not right to be watching him, Prue knew. It was definitely not right to be thinking how handsome he looked at that moment, either. It had been years since she had taken a real look at the man, flittering everywhere as he so often did. The last time they had spoken—truly spoken—was before he had left for university, in the gardens at Hucknall Park. 

They had been friends once, Gwen and her cousin, Prue, and the rest of the children who worked at the estate or had parents who worked there. They had been curious friends in those halcyon days, the lot of them, curious but true. Then Gwen had debuted and became Lady Gwendolyn, and Prue had become her lady’s maid, and Nathaniel had left for Oxford and returned three years later as a stranger. 

Hucknall Park had been lonely since then. Now they were in London, where there were arguably too many people, and her mistress was in trouble. She pressed her forehead against the back of the door. There was no point dwelling on the past when the present was too dreadful to ignore.

Stepping out of hiding, Prue stood between the rooms. She hadn’t tried to conceal her footsteps, but Mr St Aubyn had not moved an inch. He probably thought it was Liz returning for another round of flirting—or more. 

Prying her nails from where they dug into her palm, Prue knocked on the door. 

The man started and turned around.

“Prue?” he gaped when he saw her, his hazel eyes wide and searching. “Good God, what are you doing here at an hour like this?

 

Chapter Two

Of course, the better question would have been, “How on earth did you get in?”

One moment, Nathaniel had been drifting off to sleep, hoping to find more entertainment in his dreams than he had at the Luton dinner party (they were always dreadful affairs). The next, he had hopped out of his seat in front of the fire and was staring at the most beautiful footpad in the world. 

Wiping his eyes to make sure this was not, in fact, a Claret-fuelled dream, he climbed out and over his armchair. The woman took a step back, and he held his arm out to her like she was a frightened roe deer. Her hair was the same colour as one’s hide but lighter, frizzing around her head and catching the firelight in the most delightful way. 

For a moment, he hadn’t recognised her at all. He had spoken her name on instinct, his memory working quicker than his mind. There was no mistaking her, no matter how strange it was that she was here in his home. He blinked. She was taller than he remembered, much too tall to be graceful, but she managed it anyway. She always had, his little Prudence Coade. 

“Prue,” he repeated, fighting a grin. “I apologise, I—” He glanced back at the fire. “I hadn’t meant to frighten you. How did you… Why have you….” Nathaniel breathed the laugh he had been trying to hold in. He knew he should have been cross, all things considered, but he had never managed anger around her. “What are you doing here?”

For a moment too long, Prue simply stared at him. Her mouth clicked open, and it was the most inviting sound. “I’m so sorry,” she said, and her voice rang with disquieting unfamiliarity. She spoke like Gwen now. The northern accent he had once loved had been erased by manner. “I know it’s madness to have barged in here, but I needed to speak with you as quickly as possible.”

Nathaniel should not have liked that. He should not have liked that at all, but he did. “About something that could not have waited until morning?” He shook his head. “Who let you in? The staff said nothing of your arrival to me.”

“Because the staff does not know, and I would like to keep it that way, sir.” Seemingly, she had resolved not to move from her spot between the doors. “I let myself in.”

“Through the front door?”

“Through an open window in the basement.”

Well, he had not expected that. There was no better name for Prudence than the one she bore. She had always been careful, dubious, and guarded, especially around him. If she had resorted to sneaking around like a common thief, then something was more than wrong. 

“While I should not encourage that sort of behaviour,” he drawled, knowing he wanted to encourage it most ardently, “I’d be telling tales if I said I wasn’t impressed, only a smidgen.” He looked her over, head to toe. She was shivering, and he imagined it had nothing to do with the night’s weather. “Come here,” he ordered, waving her forward, “toward the fire. I promise not to bite.”

She did as she was told and followed him around to the fireplace. He watched her glow in the light, unable to take his eyes off  her. He chalked it up to his surprise. As quickly as he could, Nathaniel walked over to the bench by the window and shook out a spare blanket. He returned to Prue and motioned for her to sit in the wide armchair he had been occupying. Her eyes were round and dizzyingly bright as she watched him drape the blanket over her shoulders. 

Up until that point, Nathaniel had done a tremendous job of ignoring his hammering heartbeat. She was close to him now, much more close than was proper, but that was not it; he had grown impervious to impropriety over the years. He was surprised, but that was not it either. The truth was that, as much as he loathed the fact, the fear written all over Prue’s face made him weak. 

His cousin’s lady’s maid had grown into her features. Prue’s face was both unchanged and entirely different than the last time he had seen her properly all those years ago, before he had left for Oxford and discovered the world was not as gentle a place as he had once thought…and that he was not a gentle man.

“Egad, it has been years, hasn’t it?” he mumbled against his palm. Pulling himself away, he rubbed a hand over his face. “What has happened, then? Does it concern Gwen? It must, or you would not be here. What is it?”

She relaxed as he stepped toward the window. The view of an unmoving Hyde Park was not nearly as distracting as he hoped it would be. “It is about Gwen,” Prue said, “but she is hail and healthy, sir.” Nathaniel turned around when he heard the distinct rustling of paper. “It concerns this most of all.”

Prue had pulled out an envelope from her reticule. With a steady hand, she extended it towards him and tightened the blanket around her like a comically oversized shawl—like she didn’t really want to be seen by him or like he was undeserving. Of course, he was. He just hadn’t known that Prue knew it.

“What is it?” Nathaniel stalked over and wrested the letter from between her fingers. He flipped it over and murmured, “Addressed to Gwen?” before slipping his index beneath the envelope’s broken seal.

He had just about managed to read the first two lines aloud when Prue spoke again. “You may have forgotten, but I can read, sir. Don’t waste your breath at my expense.”

Nathaniel grimaced. Put in his place, he scanned the rest of the letter in silence. However, the quiet soon filled with indignation. The letter had been written anonymously, but its contents were anything but impersonal. Someone had caught wind of Gwen’s tendresse for a man named Horton Bell, and that same someone was threatening to reveal her secret to the ton unless Gwen ended things with Bell posthaste. 

Nathaniel’s heart dropped as he looked back up to Prue. “Well…I can see why you came,” he murmured. “My cousin sent you here.”

“She did.” Prue nodded sadly. “She wanted to know as soon as possible what you thought she should do, and this was the best way to go about things without rousing suspicion.” She smiled impishly and dipped her chin. “Perhaps not the best way. Do you know Mr Horton Bell, sir?” 

The fire crackled in the hearth, and Nathaniel scowled. “First of all, stop with this sir nonsense. I’m Nathaniel to you. I have always been Nathaniel, Prue.” There was no anger in his words. He didn’t really understand why he had said them, only that the woman’s courtesy was making him feel like a one-hundred-year-old stranger. 

Prue arched a brow. He was glad to see that she had not ironed out the quiet fiery umbrage she wore so well with the rest of her imperfections. “All right,” she lilted. “Do you know Mr Horton Bell, Nathaniel?”

“Once upon a time, you called me Nate,” he teased dreamily, knowing he was pushing his luck now. He leaned against the armrest of the seat in which she was sitting. “I know of Bell, but I don’t know him. You tell me this: how long has this affair been going on?”

“Affair? The letter says nothing about an affair.”

“Tendresse, then, as says the letter. We can employ whichever other girlish word you want to use for it, but it does not change the fact that my cousin is a minx.”

Suddenly, she looked up at him, and he almost slipped off his perch. “Are you implying that you think a woman wrote the letter?”

Nathaniel shrugged. “I was not, but it’s a fine guess. I can’t imagine there are many gentlemen who would waste their time on such trifling matters as extortion for something as quotidian as a tryst.”

“You’re right. Gentlemen much prefer to waste their time igniting those trifling matters and leaving the rest of us to put out the fire.”

“The rest of us being women, you mean.”

“If the shoe fits.” At last, Nathaniel had earned himself a smile. Prue’s icy facade cracked right down the middle. “Regardless,” she intoned, looking away, “what do you intend to do about it?”

There was a chance, however slight, that he had misheard. Cocking his head, Nathaniel straightened himself. “I beg your pardon? What do I intend to do about it?”

“Well, you must intend to do something.”

“Naturally. I love my cousin like she is my own sister. However, I did not expect you to start ordering me about.” He bit his lower lip as he loomed over her. “Absconding in the dead of night, breaking into a man’s home, commanding the heir to an earldom…You are full of surprises this evening, Miss Coade.”

Prue gazed up at him with spirited defiance. Try as she might, she could not hide her amusement. There was the girl he had spent summers with at Hucknall Park, whittling away those balmy days on horseback or in the statue garden while her mother tended to Gwen. He was glad to know she still lived, hidden behind a mask of decorum. 

Almost as quickly as the mask slipped, she affixed it again. “I am merely doing my duty to your cousin, to my friend.” She averted her eyes to the letter in his hands. “Did you know? About the…affair?”

Immediately, he mourned their banter. “I did.” He forced a pitiful smile. “Gwen alluded to everything when I saw her last for Christmastide in Nottingham, but I didn’t like hearing about it then, and I certainly don’t like hearing about it now.” He tittered. “She was always too good. It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. The ton will not spare her. One mistake is as good as a thousand in the eyes of the aristocrats.”

Nathaniel made no secret of his distaste for England’s peers and their families. As with every group of people, there were good eggs and bad eggs, but he could not shake the feeling that this clutch was mostly rotten. He had made a point of challenging his kind since Oxford, since what he had seen, bedding, brawling, and quipping his way to infamy. He deserved whatever title they saw fit to bestow upon him: debauchee, scoundrel, rake. 

Gwendolyn was different, he knew, driven not by disgust for the ton but by naivety. There was no world in which his cousin—sweet, wistful, people-pleasing Gwen—would be painted by the same brush, not while he could help it, not while he had the sinking feeling that Horton Bell was as much a rake as he was. All of them were, after all.

Prue’s neck bobbed, but she still refused to look at him. “I think it is love between them, not that it matters,” she said as though she had read his thoughts.

A chill ran down Nathaniel’s spine. There was no other word in the English language that could incite such fear in him as love. “Of course, it matters.” He considered his next words carefully. “It will be that much harder to convince her to give the cad up.”

Finally, Prue returned to him. “She won’t. That’s the problem. She adores him and wants to marry him. There must be a way we can quiet these threats until Mr Bell asks for her hand.”

“If such a day ever comes.” Nathaniel licked his teeth, thinking. “The first thing we must do is discover who sent this.” He shook the letter in the air. “There are acquaintances I can question, but I’m not convinced it will do much.”

“It must be worth trying,” she whispered, looking up at him, and her voice broke. The look in her eye was as convincing a look as there had even been, and he suspected she did not know just how powerful it was. Some women did. Some women would abuse a look like that to fell kingdoms. Prue was better.

“It must be,” he whispered back. 

Something quirked within him as he looked at Prue, like a string being plucked on a fiddle. He had missed her friendship, and her loyalty, and that look, despite the fact that they were from two different worlds with only Gwen to bridge the space between them. 

In the firelight, he could see just how tired she was. His gaze fell to her mouth, and he could not remember whether her mouth had always been so perfect. 

“I should return to Gwen,” she murmured, twisting that perfect mouth into a frown, “but she has asked that you call on her as soon as you can.”

A knife twisted in his heart, too, as she got up to leave. “I’ll prepare a carriage for you,” he called as she moved toward the door.

“Thank you,” she breathed, still clutching the blanket around her, “but I will not ride in it.”

“I have an unmarked landau you could borrow.”

“Really, Nathaniel. I’m fine walking, and I’d rather not alert his lordship to my return.”

This was a fight he would not win, no matter how much he wanted to escort her back himself and make sure she was safe. Then again, if she had managed to sneak into his house without being caught—and sneak out of the Knightsfield manse—perhaps she was much more resourceful than he gave her credit for.

With a smile, he conceded and circled around to her. He stopped himself when she was just before him, delighted that she had not hopped away as before. He reached out to her.

She sucked in her cheeks, mumbling, “What are you…?” 

Gently, he swept off the blanket around her shoulders. “Breaking and entering is one thing, but thievery is quite another.” He draped the blanket over his shoulder and leaned in a little closer. “Shall I unlock the door for you, or will you be braving the basement again? I promise no one will see,” he added sarcastically.

Even with only the fire to light her face, he could see her cheeks flush with embarrassment. She did not say a word of it, stepping away with a courteous nod. “The door, please.”

Nathaniel revelled in his victory all the way to the front door. He unlocked it slowly, teasingly, savouring every last bit of her discomfort. It was the least she deserved for barging into his home uninvited. 

“Goodnight, Miss Coade,” he said as he held the door open for her. 

“Goodnight, Mr St Aubyn,” she replied as she flicked up the hood of her cloak and stepped out into the night.


“A Maid’s Mischievous Courtship” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Prudence Coade has spent her entire life trying to outweigh her mother’s sins with
goodness. Working as a lady’s maid, she has managed to skirt trouble in all its forms, but that is until she is tasked with uncovering her mistress’ blackmailer. Forced to work with Nathaniel, the man she had a romantic interest in, she will soon find herself torn between old desires and new. That is when she realises that surrendering to temptation may be her damnation.

A scandal, a maid, and too much at stake…

Despite being the heir to an Earldom, the captivating Nathaniel St. Aubynthere despises nothing more than the Ton and has made it his duty ​​to undermine his peers at every turn. However, when his cousin finds herself on the receiving end of their ire, he will inevitably get involved with high society once more. Things will take a turn for the unexpected, though, when he realises he has to team up with the tantalising Prudence in order to help his cousin.

When fate brings them together again, will he choose to risk it all for this alluring Lady?

Working in close quarters, Prudence and Nathaniel soon find themselves navigating more than a scandal. One drunken kiss leads to another as they struggle to leash their growing feelings. Separated by their stations, divided by their prejudice, only the truth can keep the fire between them burning. Yet, what will happen when things take a turn for the worst? Will they finally concede that they are each other’s destiny or will outside forces overpower them?

“A Maid’s Mischievous Courtship” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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