A Seductive Lady Rescued From Flames (Preview)


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Chapter One

It had been just three months since the death of the late earl, Lord William Bannerman, who’d passed after a brief, horrific illness—one that had sent his son, Ernest Bannerman, into a strange state of solitude and sadness. He’d found himself on the brink of his own earldom, poised to rule over his father’s people, unable to do basic things, like stand or eat. His younger sister, the 15 year old Rose, had been devastated as well, yet had forced herself from the depths of inner turmoil to yank him up by his proverbial bootstraps and tell him, her eyes fierce, that it was up to him to uphold their family’s title. “I would do it if I could,” she’d stammered. “But Father counted on you to be the man he raised.”

It had been a whirlwind of chaos after his father’s death. Now, three months later, William found himself in his finest suit, seated like a statue at the edge of the seat of his carriage (the one his father had traditionally taken to balls), directly beside his now-fiancé, the entirely glamorous Lady Grace Bragg. The woman seemed a foreign being to Ernest, with her long, glossy blonde curls and her doe-like eyes. She swept her thin fingers through those locks and blinked over at him, her mouth curved into an almost evil smile.

“Why are you staring at me?” she demanded, in the style of a woman who wanted everyone to stare at her. “You’re looking quite stupid, you know.”

Ernest forced his eyes away. He cleared his throat and said, “I really dislike balls.”

“Darling,” Grace said, splaying her hand across his knee, “you know it’s entirely necessary for us to appear together, the first time engaged. We must put forth a brave face to your earldom, regardless of how idiotic some of them appear.”

Ernest arched his brow. “Idiotic?”

Grace let out a little giggle. “How can I phrase it any other way? They’re simply not as smart as you are, my earl. How did I become so lucky to find myself as your fiancé?”

The carriage yanked to a halt outside of the countryside mansion. Grace coughed to herself, muttering, “I really detest the countryside,” before batting her eyelashes toward Ernest, seemingly waiting for him to remove himself from the carriage. On cue, the driver brought the door open, bringing the whipping spring wind in from the moors.

Ernest felt he was walking to his death. He marched from the carriage and then brought his elbow out, allowing Grace to stitch her arm through it. He could almost feel the falseness of her smile, beaming off of her as they walked toward the staircase. Around them, mutterings informed Ernest that they were noticed. “There he is. The new earl. How wretched, this is his first appearance since his father died.” “And yet, still so handsome!” “Yes, like his father was. Before.”

Grace whispered under her breath. “Make sure you stand up straight, darling. I know how you’re apt to fall into your own head in these scenarios. Remember. Project a confidence. An idea that you know what you’re doing.”

Ernest forced himself not to roll his eyes. He did as he was told, yanking his shoulders back and bowing his head in greeting to several of the couples walking up the steps. They beamed back at him, clearly enamored with their new earl. Ernest felt entirely not up to the task. As his sister had said, he had to do his father’s bidding.

Ernest and Grace stepped into the foyer and then into the grandeur of the ballroom. Although it was a countryside estate, the finery was second to none. A glittering chandelier the size of a carriage hung from the ceiling; an orchestra flung their bows over their violins and cellos, sweat pooling from their foreheads. Women dressed in immaculate gowns of all colors whirled across the ballroom, their partners’ hands at their backs. Ernest had never appreciated social occasions like this, had always lurked in the background when his father had demanded he attend. Now, at 28 years old and the brand-new earl, this was his world. How ill it would have been for him to deny it. And Grace, of course, wouldn’t hear of it.

Lord Adam Garrison approached: a burly friend of Ernest’s father, with shaggy grey hair and an enormous scar down the side of his cheek, burst through the crowd to discover Ernest. He smacked his palms together, both of which were similarly scarred, and then shook Ernest’s hand as he blurted, “My boy—or should I say—my lord. Terribly sorry.”

“Only understandable,” Ernest offered, genuinely pleased to see him. “You’ve known me since I was just a wee lad. I’m sure it’s quite strange to see me take this title.”

“And this must be your new fiancé,” Lord Garrison said, not seeming to hear Ernest fully. Perhaps it was due to Ernest’s fear, skating through his words. He felt it impossible to pretend that he wasn’t as anxious as he was.

“May I introduce you to Lady Grace Bragg,” Ernest heard himself say, impressed that he sounded as firm as he did.

Grace did what she was meant to. She curtsied a bit and offered her hand, giving Lord Garrison a small grin. Everything she did, she did with unique style and—dare he think it—grace. Of course, she’d been fully educated to do just as such. It had essentially been her training to one day become a countess.

“What a unique pleasure it is to finally meet you!” Lord Garrison said. “Lord Bannerman—the former, of course—was entirely pleased at the prospect of you and his son marrying. I know he spoke of it a great deal.” His eyes returned to Ernest as he allowed Grace’s hand to drop. “He would be terribly proud to see you with such a lovely woman on your arm.”

Suddenly, Rose dropped through the crowd: all spunk and red curls and wild, green eyes. Ernest felt an immediate drop in anxiety. Rose tapped alongside Lord Garrison, beaming up at him. “How marvelous to see you again, Lord Garrison,” she said, ever the loud, precocious one.

“Rosie, darling. How beautiful you’re looking, as ever,” Lord Garrison said. He bowed his head. “I was just complimenting your brother and his new fiancé. What good tidings, after such wretched news about your father.”

Rose didn’t skip a beat. “I know it’s a real pleasure for me to see Ernest so happy,” she said, her words dribbling with sarcasm.

Ernest reminded himself to reprimand her later. Thankfully, Lord Garrison didn’t pick up on the words, feeling them to be entirely truthful.

The music shifted. Ernest swam with sudden panic, knowing it was up to him, now, to ask Grace to dance. Even now, Grace swept her little shoe against his foot, then pressed down hard upon his big toe. He cleared his throat and turned to her, bowing his head and saying, in a firm, yet false voice, “My darling, will you do me the honor of dancing with me?”

He felt Rose’s eye roll. It seemed to beam off of her, making the air taut with tension. Grace flashed a smile, agreeing and slipping her porcelain hand into his. Everything about it felt entirely wrong. But within seconds, they had stitched themselves into the center of the brimming crowd, taking up the steps of the dance. Grace was an immaculate, fluid dancer, and she kept her face just-so—on the brink of a delicious smile. Prior to their engagement, Ernest had heard several men speak in hushed whispers about how beautiful, how entirely perfectly Grace was, in their eyes. “No man could ever say no to her,” they’d said. “She has the world in the palm of her hands.”

“Darling, your eyes look lost again,” Grace said now, in a voice low enough to ensure no one could hear.

“How could they be lost? I’m just looking around the room,” Ernest offered.

“You have to remain confident,” Grace returned. “These people, they can sense weakness from a mile away. Lord Garrison, he looked all-but flustered when you mentioned how strange it was, you taking your father’s position. You must demand respect. I would have thought your father would have burned this information into your skull.”

Ernest toyed with several responses. He burned with the desire to tell her that, no, his father hadn’t busied himself with training Ernest for the earldom; rather, their relationship had had depth and emotion, had centered around literature and art and morals. They’d spoken endlessly about how to become an honest, worthy man, the sort that left behind a legacy that mattered and that altered the course of mankind. Nothing of that conversation had had the slightest to do with “how to operate socially at countryside balls.”

“Rose is clearly up to her tricks,” Grace said now, scoffing.

“She’s fifteen, darling,” Ernest said. “Whatever tricks she has, she’s allowed to use them. You were something of a wild child at fifteen, if I remember correctly.”

“I wasn’t apt to poke fun at members of society with higher social standing than I,” Grace said, knocking her head to the side to make her blonde curls quake. “She looks at me like she’s about to say something deliciously evil. You absolutely must speak with her, Ernest. If we’re going to enter into a proper union…”

“I really think you’re overreacting,” Ernest said, his words heavy with a sigh.

When the song ended, another parade of the upper-echelon of the London elite approached, shaking Ernest’s hand and greeting Grace with glittering eyes. Grace played her part beautifully, dipping into constant little curtsies and tossing her head back, letting out melodic laughter. Ernest tried to find solace in her beauty, in the curve of her perfect, thin neck, in the natural curves of her frame. He sensed himself to be the envy of countless men at the ball—could feel the darkness of their eyes upon him, the whispered words of confusion that they, themselves, hadn’t been blessed with such a title and woman. All they could do was curse God himself.

Yet, Ernest felt wholly that he didn’t want it.

His eyes flashed toward the far end of the ballroom, landing upon Rose, who’d laced her hands over her cheeks. Her shoulders shook. He dropped his hand from Grace’s lower back and boomed to the collection of onlookers, along with Grace herself, that he had something to attend to. Grace’s eyes were solid as bricks. He felt sure he would pay for this.

But moments later, he appeared beside Rose, dropping his arm around her. The music felt like a scream. Rose’s little body quaked. She dropped her hands to the side to reveal eyes like pools, filled with tears.

“Rose, follow me,” Ernest murmured. He tugged at her elbow, directing her toward the shadowy doorway, the canal between dark hallways and the vibrant belly of the ball. Rose dragged her toes as she walked, allowing her tears to drip across her cheeks. She didn’t bother to fix herself.

“Ernest, I’m terribly sorry,” Rose whispered, sniffling. “You’re meant to be out, socializing, displaying yourself as this—this—“

“Don’t worry yourself about it,” Ernest said. “What is it?”

Rose furrowed her brows. “I can’t imagine that he’s really gone, Ernest. Every single day for the rest of our lives, he won’t be here. It’s one thing to hear everyone say how sorry they are. I hear how ridiculous I sound in response. ‘Oh, that’s all right. We miss him, but we’re going to make it through.’ How foolish! It’s absolutely a lie. I don’t know what to do without Father.”

Ernest felt the honesty like a stone in his stomach. Without thinking, he yanked a handkerchief from his back pocket and passed it to her, seeing in his sister’s expression the very same one his father had lent throughout his final days, as he’d cooked to death with fever in his deathbed.

“And it’s another thing to be entirely an orphan, now,” Rose whispered. “The pity they’re casting upon us. It’s staggering. How many times I’ve heard people whispering about me—saying, ‘Oh, how wretched. Her mother died in childbirth, and now, at just fifteen, her father has passed. What will become of her?’”

“You mustn’t listen to what others say.” Ernest shifted his weight, watching as Rose mussed her makeup with his handkerchief. His stomach felt yanked, as he knew Grace would make it a mission later to tell him just how wild Rose looked—untamed and entirely unlike a girl meant to be displayed as the new earl’s younger sister.

Rose sniffed again and splayed the handkerchief back across Ernest’s palm. She blinked tired eyes into the crowd, directly back toward the small circle Ernest had just abandoned. Somehow, Grace’s laughter pierced through the low hum of conversation.

“She really is wretched, Ernest,” Rose said, her voice scratchy.

Ernest hadn’t the words to respond. He knew Rose was correct—that Ernest’s very moral code felt challenged with his union to Grace. Yet, it had been his father’s dying wish—one of very few—that Ernest settle with Grace, a woman who was the first daughter of his father’s best friend, Lord Bragg. Ernest had promised his father that such a thing wouldn’t be difficult for him, that he would extend the family line and unite with the Braggs. At the time, Ernest had felt a unique pleasure, knowing he was giving his father one of the only things he truly wished for.

Now, it felt like a death sentence.

“Here she comes,” Rose muttered. She swiped her fist across her right cheek, seemingly trying to fix up the mess she’d crafted of herself. “She has death in her eyes.”

Rose was entirely correct. Ernest’s eyes switched up to his young fiancé’s, finding them heavy and somber, entirely in contrast with the rest of her appearance, which was like a fine dessert. She bounced toward Rose and Ernest, her smile fixed, and then perched herself in front of them, placing her hands at her waist.

“Ernest, it’s been far too long since we had a dance. Don’t you agree?”

Rose shifted, tilting her elbow into Ernest’s side. Although Rose was a good thirteen years Ernest’s junior, it seemed she still had a firm grip on his mental state. But Ernest felt his hands were tied. He felt the burning eyes of countless members of the party, watching him, casting judgement. It was essential that he produce a healthy image. He knew Grace was right about this, if only this.

Ernest and Grace embarked upon the dance floor once more. The air felt heavy between them, despite the lightness of their feet.

“I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” Grace finally uttered, as though she’d been bursting with it.

“Rose was ill. As her older brother—and her only remaining family member, I really felt that I…”

“Oh, goodness, Ernest,” Grace blurted. “How long are you going to go on with this endless tirade? It’s a tragedy your father died, yes. But he wouldn’t wish you to linger on with sadness. Don’t you remember when I found you, weeks after his death? You had whittled yourself down to nothing. You looked wretched, just days from the grave. But I reminded you of what had always been said about us. I gave you something to live for. Always remember that.”

Ernest’s lips parted. He felt hungry with the desire to tell her just how little he felt for her, that he’d regretted falling into this relationship nearly every day since it had begun. He felt faced with an impossibly grave future, one of glittering balls and uppity discussions and—worst of all—words of disdain toward his favorite human, Rose.

“Did you manage to meet Lord Hayward yet?” Grace asked then.

“I don’t believe so,” Ernest returned. He cursed himself for his inner weakness.

“Oh, you absolutely must!” Grace spat back. “He’s incredibly rich, you know. He informed me that he worked frequently with your father when they were in their 20s and 30s, before losing touch for a bit. He says he’d loved to meet with you to discuss how you could work together in the future. Isn’t that marvelous, darling? You can make these old connections back. For the good of us.”

“I really care only for the good of the earldom,” Ernest said. “We have enough money for ourselves, darling.”

The word darling felt almost mocking in his ears. He marveled at how easy it was to fling it off his tongue, directing it toward someone he felt in increasing increments was a stranger.

After this next dance, Grace slipped her slim arm through his and directed them back toward Lord Hayward, muttering that it was essential for the conversation to happen now, rather than later. “He’ll be terribly insulted if you don’t make an effort, darling.”

As Ernest and Grace swept through the crowd, Ernest was again drawn to his sister, who’d found her own collection of tittering teenagers to giggle with. Of course, her own eyes looked a bit hollow, and makeup remained caked oddly across her cheeks and forehead. She gave Ernest a strange look, her nostrils flared.

Ernest forced himself through yet another round of drivel-conversation, then found himself in another. His energy depleted, yet he forced his shoulders back, let out raucous laughter at all the proper times. Grace seemed to feed off this energy, piping up with compliments regarding Ernest’s ability to lead. “Always such a stunning man. We grew up together, you know,” she offered. “My father and his father were the very best of friends. How many blissful summer days I spent at the Bannerman estate! Ernest was five years older than me, and thus perfectly in-line to pick fun at me, if he so chose. But he never did. Once, I fell off a horse, smashing my arm across a rock. You should have seen it. I was perhaps 13 years old, an absolute mess. I thought surely I was going to die. But Ernest arrived seconds later, lifting me up and carrying me back to the house. In that moment, I felt sure of it—I would marry this man one day.”

Throughout this story, Ernest’s heart dipped lower in his chest. He hadn’t a single memory of such an event. He glanced across Grace’s arms, trying to note any sign of once-breakage, yet nothing revealed itself.

It came to him, now: had Grace possibly made up the entire tale?

Once they retreated from this group, Ernest led Grace to the side of the room and leaned to whisper, inhaling her perfume. “Did that actually happen, Grace? I don’t seem to remember.”

Grace let out a twinkling laugh. “Darling, of course not. It’s only that these people need some sort of story to cling onto. Don’t you want the kind of story that people will tell to one another after the ball? The kind that shows you to be the passionate, caring, strong man… And the one that shows me to be the one who pined after you for years…”

“I thought you said you did pine after me for years,” Ernest said, his throat tight. He needed a drink of water terribly. The music seemed louder and more harried, as though they were falling into a type of nightmare.

“Darling, if we’re going to be married, I’m going to need you to understand how and when best to lie,” Grace whispered. She tapped a long, slender finger against her nose and arched her brow.

Everything within Ernest’s body felt turned to ice.

Just then, Grace’s eyes flashed toward the far end of the crowd. She sniffed, her perfect lips turning down. “I can’t very well believe Margaret would wear something like that,” she offered, speaking about a girl she’d been friends with since she’d been a girl, Ernest knew. “Look at her. She’s coming this way. Surely, she wants to ride the coattails of my success. And I’ll be sure to tell her that would have been possible, if only she’d looked into a mirror.” Grace shifted, batting her lashes toward Ernest. “Darling, you know that will never be a problem with you and I, don’t you? I will always strive for the latest and best fashion. I will work tirelessly to ensure that I look the part of your wife, the countess. It’s quite good we found one another, don’t you think? What marvelous partners we will be.”

When Margaret appeared before them, Grace’s demeanor changed entirely. She tapped two kisses upon Margaret’s cheeks, falling into glossy conversation. Ernest fell back. He felt his collar tight across his neck, making it difficult for him to breathe. How could he possibly face life with this woman? He spun round and stretched his legs toward the enormous foyer, which echoed with the glitzy voices of the London elite. Once in the foyer, he discovered his sister once more, her arms crossed over her chest. She glowered at him.

“I really think it’s time for us to go,” she muttered.

“Grace thinks it’s essential that we remain,” Ernest offered, sensing the lackluster nature of his own voice. “She thinks we have to put our best foot forward.”

“Whatever Grace thinks is quite evil, don’t you agree?” Rose said, her nostrils flared.

Ernest’s lips parted. As he stood, waiting for something, anything to fall from his mouth, a group of friends from his younger days approached—Lord Marvin Cottrill, Lord Adam Collingsworth, and Lord Peter Ellington. Looking at them was like looking at a memory. Their swagger, their charm reflected old days lost in gardens and moors, riding too quickly on horseback.

“Well, if it isn’t the new earl!” Marvin said, smacking his hand across Ernest’s shoulder. “Quite handsome, this one, don’t you agree, everyone?”

“Quite,” Adam said, his tone mocking. “I only trust a handsome earl. Why follow anyone who isn’t exceedingly good-looking?”

“You’re all ridiculous,” Ernest said.

“And look at little Rosie here, all grown up!” Peter said. He reached forward, pretending to grip Rose’s cheek. She let out a playful shriek, just as she’d done when they’d been younger men and she’d been eight or nine years old.

“Don’t you dare! I’m a proper lady,” she said.

“I didn’t realize fourteen meant proper lady these days,” Adam said.

“Excuse me, Adam, but I’m fifteen years old,” Rose scoffed. “I demand more respect than this.”

“All right, all right. Fifteen. I suppose that puts you over the mark.”

“And when are we going to properly meet the future countess, Ernest?” Peter asked.

“You’ve met her before,” Rose insisted. “She’s been marching around our estate since she was a girl, like she owned the place.”

“Of course, I remember the snide Grace Bragg,” Marvin said. “Always so beautiful, though. She could truly get me to do anything.”

“Perhaps SHE’S the new earl, hey?” Adam offered, digging his elbow into Ernest’s side.

“Oh! There she is,” Marvin said, his voice hushed.

Again, Ernest felt his heart dip. He spun round to see Grace diving through the crowd in the foyer, her eyes burning with ill humor. When she arrived, she lent each of them a false, too-sweet smile. “Good evening, gentlemen,” she said. “Wonderful to see you again.”

“Lady Bragg,” the men echoed back, bowing their heads.

The air felt suddenly sterile, void of emotion. Ernest swept his hand across his black curls, willing himself forward, to another year, another life. He felt the heaviness of his fresh title, stretched across his shoulders. How could he possibly continue, forced down a path that felt entirely meaningless?

“Darling, if you don’t ask me for a final dance before the evening is through, I will be beside myself with sorrow,” Grace said then, spinning her head toward him, her tongue flicking about like a lizard’s.

Ernest felt himself churned down a path, a cycle that hadn’t a recognizable cause and effect. “Very well, darling,” he said. “One more dance.”

Chapter Two

An hour, or perhaps a small infinity later, Ernest, Rose, and Grace piled into Ernest’s carriage, with a plan to drop Grace off at the Bragg estate before Ernest and Rose skirted the rest of the way home. For a moment, all was silent except the horse’s hooves clopping across the wild night. Ernest felt Grace’s emotions stirring, like the wind before a storm. Rose held his eyes for a moment on the other side of the carriage, seemingly agreeing. Something wretched was about to happen.

“I really don’t know why you waste your time with those creatures,” Grace blurted. She dropped her head against the back of the carriage, altering her posture from ladylike to callous and sloppy.

“What are you talking about?” Ernest asked.

“You know. Marvin. Adam. What’s the third one again? Whatever, it doesn’t matter. Those men, they’re a part of your past, now, Ernest. It’s not as though they’re going to help you strive to become what you’re meant to be.”

“And what is that exactly?” Ernest asked. His blood squirted past his ears, making his pulse a somber, loud drumbeat. “Those men, I’ve known them since I was a child. I can’t very well not speak with them when I…”

“It’s only that you’re meant to speak with the others at the ball. The ones who actually wish to propel you toward a better future. The ones who recognize that you, as an earl, are beneficial for their careers, as well. I tried endlessly to put you in line with the proper people at the ball, and each time, you resisted.” Grace flashed her palm toward Rose, stuttering. “Once, I find you consoling your little sister, here, as though you don’t have to do that endlessly at home. Rose, I recognize you’re young. But what your brother must do allows him very little time for what you need. You must grow up.”

“Incredible,” Rose said, sniffing. “Our father was entirely knowledgeable. A beautiful soul. And yet when he looked at you, it’s as though…”

“What is that, darling?” Grace asked, her shrill voice bursting through Rose’s softer one.

“Oh, nothing. Only that it’s funny what people miss, if they don’t look closely enough,” Rose said.

“That’s precisely what I mean about Ernest at the ball,” Grace continued. “He simply isn’t looking hard enough at the strategy he should be incorporating to ensure his career is sound. I’m glad you agree, Rose.”

“I have a feeling we’ll be agreeing about a great deal over the years, Grace,” Rose said. “I look forward to many years just like it.”

“I’ll improve at socializing, Grace,” Ernest said, trying to make himself stronger, more sure. “You know I’ve been introverted for much of my life. It’s going to take time…”

But as he spoke, the carriage came to a staggering, sudden halt. Grace nearly flung forward. Her curls flashed through the air as she gripped Ernest’s knee, holding herself upright. Rose spun round to peer out the window just beside the driver’s seat. She blinked into the darkness, then asked, “What is it, Max?”

“Seems to be a bit of a jam, Lady Bannerman,” Max hollered back.

“Any reason you can see?” Ernest asked.

“Long line of carriages up ahead,” Max said. “Far as the eye. But up yonder, something flickering—reckon it could be a fire, although I can’t be certain.”

“A fire?” Ernest bolted upright, then forced himself out of the carriage, splashing his boots into the lingering puddles that lined the long country road.

“What on earth are you doing?” Grace asked. “Get back in here this instant. I’m sure it won’t be long before we can pass.”

But Ernest no longer heard her. He peered into the distance, past the long line of carriages. The air further down was thicker, flickering, as though it was filled with dense smoke. There, no stars no twinkled. Only darkness echoed back.

Ernest tapped forward and peered up at Max, asking, “Do you think we could whip around this line and get up there to whatever’s burning? I want to help out if I can.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Grace hollered from the back.

“I don’t think so, sir,” Max said. He tilted his head to the side, assessing the road. “There’s a bit of a dip off to the side of the carriages, and I reckon I could flip ours if I’m not careful. The mud round here is pretty deep.”

“This is absolutely stupid. Just get back inside, Ernest. I’m sure it will be cleared in no time. And it’s far later than you think,” Grace continued. “You’re probably exhausted. You’re going to destroy yourself.”

For the first time all night, her voice didn’t affect him.

Ernest’s muscles twitched. Before he fully understood what he was doing, he stretched his long legs forward and sprung toward the burn. He flashed past carriage after carriage, charging toward this impossibility, this otherness. He’d never known himself to be particularly heroic. Yet he didn’t question anything.

About fifty yards away, Ernest could make out the outline of what was burning: an enormous countryside mansion, orange and yellow and red, a near-artistic achievement, if it weren’t for the devastation. Smoke billowed out the cracked windows, forming the monstrous smoke blob above the home. Out on the lawn, a collection of the staff and family members peered up, standing together like an army. Ernest surged the rest of the way toward the crowd, feeling the air grow thicker and more difficult to breathe. He willed himself not to cough.

A stooped middle-aged woman lurked on the outskirts of the crowd. Her body quaked with tears. She peered up at the mansion, wrapped tight in her cloak, looking as though she was witnessing the very last day of the world. Ernest glanced back at the house and then returned his attention to this woman. Now that he looked at her—her fine features, her beautifully sewn cloak, he recognized that she wasn’t like the staff members beside her. Rather, she was perhaps the lady of the house, yanked from her bed in the middle of the night.

Ernest took a firm step toward her and said, “Excuse me, my lady. Can you tell me what’s happened?”

The woman blinked enormous eyes toward him. It was as though she’d lost all ability to see with her panic. She staggered a bit, seemingly drunk, although Ernest knew she was just awash with panic.

“Sir, I haven’t a clue what’s happened. Our beautiful home! Our world!” She sniffed, her lips parted, showing crooked teeth.

“Is everyone out? Is everyone all right?” Ernest felt fidgety, leaping from foot to foot, preparing fully to dive into the burning building.

“My niece. The daughter of the house… I couldn’t believe it, sir,” the woman sputtered. “She learned that the maid—one she’s had since she was a girl—was trapped inside. My niece was safe out here with the rest of us, and she just… just rushed back in! We haven’t seen her in many minutes, sir, and the fire has only grown. Look at it. It’s fully destroyed…”

“You’re saying a girl went back in?” Ernest demanded, incredulous. “How old?”

“She’s just turned 23, sir,” the woman continued. “She’s never been afraid of anything, sir, and now I’m terrified it’s destroyed her. I just.. I can’t live with myself if…” She poured her face into her palms and shook wildly, then fell to her knees.

Suddenly, the crowd outside gasped. Ernest flashed his eyes back toward the door to find a woman appear, bursting out of the front. The woman was dressed in a long, grey nightdress, and her white curls spilled down her back. It was clear that this was the maid. The woman the daughter of the house had returned to save.

“But where is she?” the woman now on her knees demanded, her voice a screech. “WHERE IS DIANA?”

Diana. The name seared itself across Ernest’s brain. What kind of reckless, wild individual had rushed back in to save the maid—and then successfully saved the maid—only to remain inside? The maid rushed forward, gripping her skirts. Her face was blotchy with ash.

Behind the maid, the ceiling of the foyer collapsed, just shot down to the ground, joining together the second and ground floors. Ernest staggered forward at the sound, hearing the staff and family members behind him cry out. The maid fell to the ground, her hands across her face. When Ernest reached her, the maid peered up at him, whispering, “She knew the ceiling was going to collapse. She told me to go first—to run as fast as I could. That she would find another way out. I saw her head back upstairs…”

Ernest shot toward the house. He could feel the eyes of the crowd behind him, could even feel their judgement. What on earth did he think he could do, in the raucous arms of this fire?

Once he reached the front door, he saw the devastation of the crumbling ceiling. All walls of the foyer were completely scorched or on fire. A tapestry hung as if by a string, ready to crash to the ground.

It was clear that if Ernest wanted to enter the burning mansion, he simply couldn’t do it in this manner. He hesitated, assessing the scene. His eyes traced toward a tree located just beside him, stretching up toward the black sky and blanketed in smoke. With as much strength as he could muster, he sprung toward it, drawing his hand across the first branch. He felt like his much younger self, the boy who’d climbed trees and cried out with his friends—Marvin, Adam, and Peter, the very ones Grace insisted he no longer know—and used all his strength to barrel to the second floor. He peered into the window just beyond, noting that this part of the house still had its walls, floor, and ceiling intact.

Slowly, yet still very conscious of the passage of time, Ernest shuffled down to the edge of the branch, then drew his leg out toward the windowsill. With a rush of adrenaline, he leapt from the branch and into the window, where he crawled onto the floor. He erupted back to his feet, his eyes flashing back and forth, to find himself in a bedroom, as-yet untouched by the fire. Seeing it this way, mere minutes before it would crumble to nothingness, felt a bit like seeing a ghost. He was the last human to ever set foot in this room.

Without wasting another moment, he hustled to the hallway, which held within it a river of smoke. Poised there in the doorway for a moment, he yelled out, “DIANA!” but heard no answer. Inhaling the last of the half-clean air from within the bedroom, he drew his shirt over his mouth and began to stride down the hallway, unsure exactly of what he was looking for. The fire was a crisp and assertive presence near the staircase, with a very thin path between the flickering flames and the wall. If he trusted what the maid had told him, then Diana had hustled back up these very stairs, and had surely not proceeded in this direction, as it was mostly blocked.

Ernest drummed up as much passion and energy as he could. His head throbbing, he thrust himself through the thin path, diving toward the far end of the hallway. He felt the flames flicker at his sleeves, singing the fabric. Although he didn’t breathe the air, he felt sure it was filled with the smell of his own clothing, burning.

Once he passed through the wretched patch, he hollered the girl’s name again. “DIANA!” But nothing echoed back. He felt the minutes passing far too swiftly, knowing that every moment that passed crept him closer to his own death. If he made a mistake, he would crumble with the mansion. The ceiling would fall over his head. He would be nothing but ash, just as dead as his father.

He shoved the thought from his mind and continued to wander through the hallways. The ceilings were tall, regal, showing the incredible history of the building, one that was growing more and more lost by the moment. He swept past an enormous painting, one that would soon melt away. On it, a beautiful girl of around 15 or 16 posed alongside an older man, perhaps her father. No mother stood in sight. With a lurch, Ernest had to imagine that she, too, had lost her mother, as he had when he was 13 years old. His memories of her were glossy and unsure, like images that arise of memories of your dreams.

Ernest barreled forward. The smoke had greatly increased, and his eyes burned with it, making it difficult to keep them wide open. He called Diana’s name multiple times, almost as a song, now, but never heard an answer back.

Finally, when he reached the end of the next hall, something caught Ernest’s eye. He yanked to the right to find a woman, stretched out in the corner in a white nightdress, as though she’d collapsed. Her black hair swept down her back in wild curls, and her feet were stained with ash. He shot toward her and fell to his knees, placing two fingers at her wrist.

“Don’t do this to me, Diana,” he pleaded, as though she had anything she owed him at all. “You have to stay alive.”

A faint pulse raised itself up to her skin, dripping against his fingers. He heaved a sigh of relief. She was still alive, at least for the time being.

“Come on,” he muttered to himself. As gently as he could, he moved Diana to her side. As he did, her face came up fully before him: a long, delicate nose, supple lips, long lashes. His heart burst against his rib cage. Downstairs, he heard the sound of another ceiling crashing in toward the floor. The entire building would be on the ground within minutes.

With the last of his strength, Ernest heaved Diana into his arms. For a moment, he thought she stirred, but then her head was cast to the side. He drew his hand beneath her head, catching it right before it fell too far. He felt he was transporting an important vessel.

But he hadn’t a clue how to get out of the house. Back where he’d come, fire had filtered through the hallways, growing hungrier as it expanded. He burst in the opposite direction, careful to keep Diana against him. He turned his head right and left as he passed various rooms, trying to stay abreast on his exact location, based on the exterior of the house. But it seemed that this far down, the trees no longer extended their branches to the windows.

At the very end of the hallway, Ernest found a small staff-only staircase, one that circled down the side of the mansion. Carefully, he cut open the door, ensuring the staircase wasn’t awash with smoke. He coughed and burst onto the concrete steps, carrying Diana slowly down the staircase. With every step, he prayed he wouldn’t lose his balance. In the event that he did, he knew he’d have to fall backwards, rather than forward, saving Diana and perhaps injuring himself. It was the only way.

Finally, he reached the bottom and tore his shoulder into the side door. He burst into the dark night of the side garden, still thick with smoke. He cut through it, darting toward the front of the house. When he appeared to the staff and family members near the outer cropping of trees, he felt every single eye perched upon him. No one made a single move.

When he neared the crowd, he chose a nearby tree and splayed Diana delicately across the grass. As he did, he smoothed her hair to either side of her decollate face, gazing at her. He hunched over her, on his knees, not realizing he was holding his breath. Every inch of his heart felt frozen with the pure beauty of her. He felt he’d never seen someone quite like her.

But lately, Ernest had been surrounded with the concept of death. He’d watched his father disappear from the world. One moment, he’d been upright and laughing with him in his study, his belly quaking. And the next, he’d whittled away, turning green and then a grisly, pale yellow.

Ernest drew back, his heart squeezed with fear. There was nothing that said this impossibly beautiful woman would stay around for long; nothing that assured him she would live. He had to guard himself.

There was simply no telling where this life would take him.

The woman Ernest had initially encountered approached from the side and fell to her knees beside him. She shook violently and reached for her niece’s hand with her sandy, aging one. Ernest shuffled to the side a bit, blinking up as an older man, the very same one from the painting, limped up from the crowd. He looked rickety and fatigued, perhaps sickly. He held a cane in his right hand and stabbed it into the mossy ground beside Ernest, blinking down at his daughter.

“My Christ,” he murmured.

In the silence, Ernest hurriedly ripped his jacket from his shoulders and bundled it up. He lifted Diana’s head from the grass and splayed the jacket beneath it, making it into a kind of pillow.

“Why did she go back in, Renata?” the father asked, his voice low and harsh. “Why didn’t you stop her?”

“You know how difficult it is to stop her to do anything!” Renata, the aunt—and, assuredly, the sister of the man—returned. “She has a mind of her own.”

“But it could have killed her. Perhaps it did,” the man hissed.

Ernest couldn’t tear his eyes from her unconscious form. With each blink, he imagined a near-impossible reality, one in which she awoke and found him equally handsome, equally heroic, equally interesting. For reasons he couldn’t fully divulge, even to himself, he felt he already knew what her voice sounded like. Yes: she was a complete and total mystery to him. And yet, he also knew something staggeringly beautiful about her: she’d risked her own life to save the maid’s.

Suddenly, Ernest ripped his head toward the father, feeling an overzealous wave of energy. “It’s imperative that a doctor is sent for. There. That servant. He looks sprightly enough. And the horses, they’ve been saved?”

The old man nodded and cranked round to look at the servant, who had been staring at them anyway. “You heard him, boy,” he croaked. “Go retrieve the doctor. My daughter’s life is at stake.”

Ernest returned his eyes to Diana, swiping his handkerchief across her cheeks and forehead. The aunt drew her own handkerchief from her pocket and swiped it over Diana’s hands and feet and ankles. A light rain pattered over them, sizzling against the fire.

“We really can’t thank you enough for going back in, sir,” Renata said, her voice sounding as though it was caught in her throat. “I couldn’t have imagined going in myself. I was overcome with fear. And Diana’s father—here, Lord Chester Haddington, of the landed gentry—he’s far too ill for any such heroism.”

At this, Lord Harrington dropped his chin to his chest, seemingly aghast at his own shortcomings.

“It’s quite all right. It was the least I could do,” Ernest said. He’d never felt anything more genuinely in his life. For this strange moment, he’d forgotten that Rose and Grace awaited him in the carriage. They could have been a million miles away.

“How did the fire begin?” Ernest asked, stitching his brows together.

Lord Harrington turned more toward his mansion, gripping the cane with both hands. “It’s difficult to say. And I daren’t pass judgement,” he said, his voice heavy with a sigh. “I’ve lived here my entire life. I was born upstairs. And my father, he, too, was born in the same room that I was. The estate has been passed down, first son to first son, for four generations. And now, it’s gone. Although I suppose I didn’t have a proper heir to lend to it…”

“Brother, this isn’t your fault,” Renata chirped. She drew a sharp line with her eyes toward the servants, seemingly preparing to cast blame.

But Lord Harrington spoke over her, his voice far louder than his frail body should have allowed. “I didn’t imagine anything like this. Ever, in my life. After the death of my wife, I thought surely, the devastation was over. But only more was coming. And perhaps more will still come.”

Ernest felt these words across his shoulders, a weight. He pressed his lips together for a moment, pondering, before saying, “I know precisely what you mean, my lord. I’ve just lost my father, after losing my mother thirteen years before, during the birth of my sister. I think of it endlessly now, praying only for more goodwill to come to your family.”

Diana’s father’s face was stoic, difficult to read, almost stony. He gazed at Ernest, almost incredulous, before saying, “Those are kind words, son. But I don’t believe they’ll allow for us to have a home in the near future, will they? My god, I’ll have to send the servants away. Some of them have been with me all of their lives. This has been their home as much as mine…”

Ernest burned with a level of confidence that he could hardly recognize in himself. He thought about his massive, echoing estate, all the more empty in the wake of his father’s death. As his father—and now he—was an earl, the rooms were mighty and many, the dining hall was grand and suited many.

“There simply isn’t a reason that the lot of you couldn’t come reside with me until you figure out what to do next,” Ernest said. He felt he should have stood during these words, yet nothing could have ripped him up from his stance beside Diana, the beautiful.

Lord Harrington and his sister exchanged nonplussed glances. Ernest cleared his throat, sensing he needed to clear the air with a bit more information.

“I’m terribly sorry, but my name is Lord Ernest Bannerman. I’ve been named the new earl of the region,” he continued. “My estate is quite grand, as you can imagine. Perhaps it hasn’t the nostalgia of this, your burning home. But it’s a warm place to rest your head for the time being, and I would be grateful to host.”

This time, the look exchanged between Renata and Lord Harrington was a bit clearer.

“The earl!” Renata marveled, blinking back toward Ernest. “I can hardly imagine such a thing. How did you come to find us? How did you come to—to our burning home, of all places…”

Ernest’s lips parted as he prepared to explain everything—the carriage passing by, the fire in the distance. But as he did, his eyes focused just beyond Lord Harrington, where the wretched, scrunched face of his fiancé appeared just beyond the tree. She gripped her skirts, lifting them high as she marched through the grass. She’d never been particularly keen on the outdoors, and just now was no different.

But a second later, Rose burst ahead of Grace, her face determined. She swept toward Ernest, dropping immediately to her knees, regardless of the muddy grass, and gazing down at the unconscious woman before them. Her lips formed a round O before she spoke, “My goodness, Ernest. What did you do?”

“He went in after her,” Renata called, before falling into a sort of guttural, horrific cough.   

Rose returned to standing, glancing to and fro. She stared down at Ernest, her eyebrows low, and demanded, “Have you ensured these people have water? They surely need it. All that smoke.”

This was very much in-line with what Ernest knew about his little sister. Even now, she shed her gloves and hat, tossing them to the ground as though they were worth nothing at all. Rose strode toward Lord Harrington and Renata, placing a firm hand across Renata’s back. “Are you feeling quite all right, my lady?” she asked. “It seems to me you should sit.” She turned around once more, staring at the staff members nearby. “Has anyone a clue where the well is? Why hasn’t water been fetched? A lady of the house is on the ground, requiring assistance—and no one is working! Please! Let us all pitch in.”

One of the staff members rushed toward the far edge of the estate, seemingly heading toward the well. Ernest gave Rose a soft smile, hoping to translate just how much he appreciated her. She was a girl—very near woman—cut from the same cloth as he. She was willing and eager to shed all propriety in favor of real human connection, regardless of the situation.

Beside her, Grace drew her arms across her chest and scowled at Ernest. His eyes immediately moved away from her, knowing that lingering too long on her would fill him with a unique bit of rage. After tearing through a burning building and rescuing this woman, he wasn’t entirely sure what kind of damage he was willing to do to his and Grace’s relationship. An entirely separate fire had started in his belly.

“Please, sit down,” Rose said again, both to Renata and Lord Harrington. “See, they’re coming with the water now.”

Before them, the very center of the mansion crumbled to the ground, making one of the halves of the house quake and tilt toward the ground. The noise felt monumental, like a chord played too loud on the pianoforte. All the staff members and family members gaped at it, lost in the chaos. Everything they’d ever known was now destroyed, gone. It was up to Ernest to decide how they all move forward. He knew it.

“A Seductive Lady Rescued From Flames” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Lord Ernest Bannerman is soon to become the new Earl. On his father’s deathbed, he will find out that his dying wish is to marry the gossiping Lady Grace Bragg, extend the family line, and honour his name. Ernest wants nothing more than to uphold his father’s legacy, therefore he accepts this fate, until one night he finds his significant other into the flames. He will fight his every instinct to love her, trying to stay true to his promise. Will he eventually break his vow and escape from this love triangle, or he will be forced to spend a miserable life, for the sake of honour— for the sake of the dead?

Lady Diana Harrington is a woman of immense bravery, strong character, and stunning beauty. When she beholds the man who rescued her from the burning fire, she is fascinated, but soon the excitement fades when she finds out that he is to be married. Their attraction is strong like a magnet and the heroine cannot hide her desire for Ernest anymore. Will she find the strength to repress her feelings or will she surrender to their passionate love?

A story filled with passion, intrigue, dilemmas and tension that the readers will be unable to put down. Will the heroes follow the social rules and expectations? Will they choose to listen to their heart, or their head and moral commitments?

“A Seductive Lady Rescued From Flames” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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11 thoughts on “A Seductive Lady Rescued From Flames (Preview)”

  1. I have just read the preview of this wonderful new novel you have sent me. I know the story of Diana and Ernest as well as Rose will be very exciting and interesting read. Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to read a snippet of it till the full novel is released. Fabulous story; can’t wait to read the rest.

  2. Well, there is sure to be more smoke with Grace around. She could make a lady say non ladylike things. This should be an really good read.

  3. This should be a very good read I don’t think Grace is the person for Earnest and the family and I hope he chose love over duty

  4. WELL, you’ve done it again. I can’t wait to read the rest of this book. I’m in Love with the hero and his sister already.

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