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  • The Duke Who Disciplined Me

Prologue

Templetown, Oxford, 1805

 

Lady Rose Prim

 

“It’s not as if they’re all bad,” Marianne Brooks said to her beautiful, young niece, Rose. “I’m sure at one of the largest balls in Oxford, you could find someone that you’d like to speak to.”

 

Rose sighed and clutched more tightly to her champagne glass. Her intelligent brown eyes scanned the room once more, darting from person to person, as if she could read whatever their minds held. “I don’t think so, Aunt Marianne, but you mustn’t tell on me to our fine hosts,” she said, and a faint smile crossed her lips. She turned to her aunt, a twinkle in her eye. “But I do find you a most interesting character with whom to discuss. It’s a pity we can’t be dance partners, for then we could forsake everyone else and simply talk to one another.”

 

“Oh posh!” The older woman waved a chubby, gloved hand in her niece’s direction. “You know that you would much rather dance with a fine-looking young man than spend a ball chatting with your graying aunt.”

 

Rose chuckled. “I have danced with many a fine-looking man this evening, but none of them had anything to talk about with me other than the contents of this ballroom and how it might compare to an earlier ball we’d both attended together.” Rose watched her father, Baron Douglas Prim, as she spoke. He stood in conversation with the Earl of Norfolk, a fine enough looking young man, but not one she’d want to find herself locked in a private chamber with. But that might be her fate if her father had anything to do with it. She knew he was hoping to make her a good match.

 

She took another sip of her champagne and noticed that her aunt’s glass was also getting low. “Aunt, I shall fetch you another of these and one for myself. If we are to endure what lay ahead for the evening, swimming in a sea of boredom, then why should we not indulge ourselves?”

 

Marianne laughed and shook her head at her niece’s antics.

 

Rose winked at her aunt, and then turned around, two flutes in hand, and nearly bumped into someone in front of her who was walking past. “Oh!” she cried and desperately tried to pull back in time. With terror, she felt herself beginning to topple over until a strong hand clasped her elbow.

 

Once she was righted, the hand left, and Rose was relieved. She looked down to assess the state of her gown. “Oh, forgive me, Sir. I am so embarrassed by my hurried attempt to get to the refreshment table.”

 

She looked up then to see a tall, young man smiling down at her, and her heart stopped. “It is no trouble, Miss. I am sorry that I was also not watching where I was going.” After a few seconds, Rose realized she was just starting. The smooth cadence of the deep voice practically paralyzed her. Finally, she remembered herself quickly enough to stammer out a few words.

 

“Well, I thank you for assisting me, or else these glasses would be strewn across the floor. I would be long-remembered for my poor skills as a guest.”

 

He laughed, and Rose was nearly dumbstruck once more by his handsome face. He must have just arrived, for she would definitely have noticed him with his tanned, almost olive skin, strong jaw and muscled shoulders, and a smile that made her warm all over. His smile made it look like he was constantly enjoying a private joke.

 

“Ah, well, it’s statistically bound to happen in a ballroom this size.” He looked around at the crowd, and Rose smiled. The most handsome man in the world just referenced mathematics. Even in that small sense, it was a much more interesting conversation than whether or not she had seen Lady What’s-Her-Name at the last ball.

 

 “You’re very correct. But now I must refill my aunt’s champagne. Champagne is one of the most important aspects of a social ball.”

 

The man put out his hands to take the flutes from Rose, who willingly obliged him. “May I assist you in getting that much-desired champagne?”

 

“Yes, that would be lovely.” The champagne table was not far, and as they moved towards it; the man placed the empty glasses on a passing servant’s gleaming silver tray. At the table, he took two full glasses and turned towards her.

 

He said, “I will take the other to your aunt. I have not given you my name yet and feel I have broken all the rules of social propriety this evening.”

 

So have I, Rose thought.

 

“But we need no introduction to be made by others due to our circumstances. I am Leopold Daniels.” He smiled and bowed his head.

 

The name sounded familiar. She had heard something about it in society gossip. “Ah, are you the Marquess of Belsworth?”

 

He nodded, and Rose could sense a slight hesitation in his movements. She introduced herself to cover for his embarrassment. “And I am Rose Prim. My father is just over there.” She pointed across the room.

 

He nodded in that direction. “Ah, we have met once or twice over the last few years.” They finally arrived at a surprised Aunt Marianne’s side.

 

Rose said, “Aunt Marianne, let me introduce you to the procurer of your champagne. This is Leopold Daniels, Marquess of Belsworth.”

 

Leopold bowed low and replied, “Your servant, Madam.” He handed her the cool glass of amber liquid. “I hope you do not find it too impertinent that a stranger brings you refreshment.”

 

Leopold flashed one of his beautiful smiles, and Rose was amused to see a slight blush on her widowed aunt’s face. Marianne reached out delicately to take the glass. “Certainly, not, Lord Daniels. I am most gratified by your manners. But I am sorry that you were unable to procure a glass for yourself.”

 

“Do not trouble yourself, Madam. That can be amended at any moment.” The two women sipped their champagne demurely and engaged in light conversation with Leopold until there was a pause between songs. Marianne laid a hand on Leopold’s arm.

 

“Lord Daniels, would you not like to ask my beautiful niece to dance? She has decided that she will like no one at the ball, but I think she can be convinced.” Rose blushed crimson at her aunt’s daring words, but Leopold turned to her with a smile and an outstretched hand.

 

“May I have this dance, Lady Prim?”

 

Rose slid her hand into his, her eyes unable to stray from his strong gaze. It seemed to bore into her knowingly. “I accept, Sir.” She felt her heart lighten as they moved to the dance floor. At the first chord, Leopold bowed and Rose curtsied. They joined hands and spun into the rhythm of the song.

 

Never before had Rose met a man who fascinated her so. Not only was he devilishly handsome, but he had wit and intellect. He was charming, yet not lascivious. Who was this man who had evaded her notice? There had been some tragedy connected to the old Marquess of Belsworth, but she couldn’t recall the problem just then.

 

“’Tis appropriate to make conversation during a dance, Lady Prim. We must follow the rules.”

 

“Of course, Lord Daniels. What shall we discuss?” Her heart was fluttering wildly as she tried to keep from smiling.

 

He thought for a moment and then said, “What do you enjoy, Lady Prim?”

 

“Mathematics.” The word was out of her mouth before she could recall it. Never before had a man asked her about her interests, especially on a dance floor, but she was in a tizzy and had lost her sense of decorum. She was about to excuse her strange answer when she saw the grin widen on Leopold’s face as he turned with the rhythm.

 

“Is that so, Madam? Well then, I have met a kindred spirit. Mathematics are my life, my true field of study. If only there weren’t so many other problems that took one’s time, I would be studying until the day I took my last breath.”

 

Rose’s heart beat even faster. A kindred spirit, he’d said. She swallowed, thinking about her next answer. “Oh, I would very much like to study further. But it isn’t appropriate for young ladies to do such a thing. I had tutors as a child, but now I am left to my own devices.”

 

The dance stopped and Leopold bowed once more. He took her arm as they left the dance floor and whispered, “Well, then I shall be your teacher, if you will allow me.”

 

Rose grinned and said in reply, “I would like nothing more.”

* * *

Two weeks later

 

Leopold’s face was animated as he spoke to Rose with a passion she had not seen anyone possess before. “So, you see? Mathematical proofs used to be kept secret in the time of the Greeks, and only members of a secret society, the Pythagoreans, were taught them. If anyone shared the proofs, the punishment was death!”

 

Rose watched in amazement from her small wooden table, a pencil poised above her calculations. She was sitting in her aunt’s side parlor, and Leopold Daniels was finishing another one of his lessons with her. “Fascinating. Lord Daniels, you have opened up my world so much in these past few weeks. I don’t know how to thank you.”

 

He sat down and smiled, looking even more handsome than the day before. Her heart yearned for him. “No need to thank me, Miss Prim. But I do wish you could join the Mathematical Society. Your intellect is of the highest caliber. More than any man’s I’ve encountered.” Rose beamed under the praise.

 

“Well, perhaps we could form our own society. And we could make whatever rules we pleased.” She blushed at her intimate statement.

 

“I agree! What a fabulous idea! We could have our first meeting tonight.” He paused as if hesitating to speak. “I could meet you by the large oak tree which stands between your father’s and your aunt’s residences. Meet me at midnight.” His voice was lowered, and Rose could feel excitement well in her breast, but she didn’t want to appear overly eager.

 

“You may see me there; you may not. You will have to decide the probability of my arrival.”

 

Leopold grinned and reached out to grab Rose’s hand. Rose could hardly contain her excitement. But the sound of a servant in the hallway made them pull away. Leopold stood quickly, clearing his throat. He gathered his papers and books. “Tonight, Rose. I shall see you tonight.”

 

She nodded, and he left without another word. Tonight.

 

Later that night, she waited in her room, watching the clock, barely able to keep herself from trembling with excitement. Did Leopold feel what she felt for him? She knew that she loved him. She had fallen in love with him practically as soon as they’d met a few weeks ago, but maybe he was just toying with her?

 

Thoughts kept bouncing around in her mind as she sat and waited until it was close to midnight. When the time came, she donned her cloak and left her house by the back door, rushing silently towards the oak tree, her heart thumping so loudly she thought she would wake up the whole area.

 

But when she arrived at the tree, Leopold was nowhere to be seen. She waited for a few minutes, clasping and unclasping her hands.

 

Surely, he will come. It was his idea!

 

She saw a dark figure coming towards her in the darkness, and her faith was restored. As the figure approached, she opened her mouth to greet him, but it was a footman of her father’s.

 

“Mistress, your father asks after you. He has seen you run from the house and wished me to come and fetch you home,” he said. Rose’s face flushed with embarrassment as she realized her error. She fought back tears and the crush of disappointment and followed the footman dutifully back to her father’s house.

Chapter 1: Proposal

One Year Later

 

Rose

 

Rose smoothed the stray strands of her dark hair and the lines of her off-white satin gown as she stood at the doorway, holding a packet of papers in her hand. She had just knocked and was waiting for entry, her breathing quick.

 

It had been a long walk to Augustus Bataille’s large mansion, but she’d enjoyed it. It gave her time to think through the problems she was currently engaged in solving for him. Augustus Bataille, the Earl of Norfolk, had become high up in the Mathematical Society of London and was always bringing forth new theorems and proofs to present with great acclaim.

 

He had become the foremost leader in geometry proofs in the last few years, and so Rose had jumped at the chance when he’d asked if she wouldn’t mind assisting him in his studies. He had found out from her father that she had a passing interest in mathematics, as if her undying passion for it could be called that. Since her father had allowed her, she had walked the three miles to Augustus’s estate a few times a week in order to work with him and today was no exception, except that she was not expected to show up to work today.

 

She had been working on some new solutions the previous evening. She had worked tirelessly by candlelight in her bedchamber, and she was nervous about showing him something that she’d discovered.

 

As his assistant, she never dreamed of trying to overstep her boundaries. She knew that by doing so, she might lose her position, and that she simply could not bear. These times of studying were like her elixir of life, for they energized her and built her confidence in ways she’d never expected. Mathematics had been her healing medicine after the heartbreak she’d experienced a year before at the hand of a certain Marquess.

 

A servant answered the door and said, “Ah, Lady Prim. Please do come in.” The maid moved out of the way, and Rose entered the familiar hall with a smile. She followed the servant to Augustus’s study, where she heard the murmured introduction. She followed after, and Augustus looked pleased to see her as he stood up, perfectly dressed as always.

 

“Welcome, Rose. I was not expecting you today, but I am happy to receive you nonetheless. I shall call for some tea.” The servant had waited to be given instruction, and so left with a quick nod. Rose sat down across from Augustus.

 

Augustus was a handsome man, but not as handsome as some men of her acquaintance—or former acquaintance. Rose was 21 years of age, and he was over ten years her senior, but the crow’s feet that had begun near his eyes only gave his face character. He wore his blond hair slicked back, and still retained his muscular military figure. He was also always wearing the latest fashions. It amused her to think that a man had such vanity, but she paid no heed to it once he’d allowed her to work with him. She knew of many women who were waiting for him to become their suitor, but none yet had been so lucky. She had a sneaking suspicion of why that might be. “What can I help you with, Rose?”

 

She smiled and held out a few papers for him. “I’ve been working on the problems we were discussing a few days ago. I believe I’ve found a solution we haven’t spotted before. I think I’ve found a way to use complex numbers to find solutions to problems that consist only of real numbers.”

 

She bit her lip, nervous to be approaching him so, when he was the brilliant, mathematical mind, and she was merely the untutored novice.

 

They entered with a silver tea service and laid it atop a side table. She poured the cups and placed them in front of Augustus and Rose. Rose stated her thanks, but Augustus ignored the woman. That was Augustus, just a little bit too cold and hard for Rose’s liking.

 

“Now, that does sound interesting, Rose. I doubt it can be done but let me look at what you have.” She wanted to breathe a sigh of relief that he hadn’t reprimanded her for attempting to overtake his position in any way. He glanced over the papers; his brow furrowed. Rose sipped her tea in silence for a few minutes, trying to keep her hand from shaking as she brought the delicate cup to her lips.

 

He sighed and narrowed his eyes, studying the page. It felt like he was taking an age to give her an answer. She began tapping her foot lightly in impatience. Finally, he said, “You know, Rose, I think you might have something here. It needs some refinement and fine-tuning, but it looks promising.”

 

Rose was overcome with joy. She grinned and haphazardly placed the teacup and saucer down onto his desk, so that it made an indecorous clang. “Oh! Forgive me. But do you really mean it?”

 

Her cheeks were flushed with happiness and she clasped her hands in front of her chest. He smiled with amusement and said, “Yes, I mean it. You are a good assistant, Rose, and you have done well.”

 

She couldn’t stop smiling, and a wave of relief washed over her. She had spent the whole morning worrying about what he would say when she brought him her new ideas. He moved from behind his desk to sit in the armchair closer to the tea set. “Come, Rose,” he said, and his voice had changed to a softer, more affectionate tone.

 

It was like she was floating on a cloud as she sat down near him. Finally, her work was being recognized. There were practically no opportunities for women to study mathematics, but here in this room, she had been given the recognition she had so craved.

 

Augustus took another sip of his tea, and his face returned to its former furrowed state. He placed the cup and saucer down gingerly on the table next to him. “Rose, I wanted to tell you something. I have hired a new assistant. He will help me prepare for the new presentation in a few weeks.”

 

In an instant, her mounting cloud-like joy fell to the Earth and broke into pieces. “What? What do you mean?”

 

“A new assistant. I have found a promising young mathematician from London who wishes to study underneath me. He has made a name for himself already, and so I wish to give him an opportunity. It is my duty after all, as a board member of the Society.”

 

“Did I do something wrong?” Rose asked, deep disappointment seeping into her heart. She was flabbergasted and wanted to cry, but she knew this was neither the time nor the place. Augustus was not the type of man to cry in front of, and he also did not seem very pained at his change in employees.

 

Augustus waved a hand, dismissing her question. “No, of course not, Rose.” He glanced at her for a moment, his deep brown eyes staring into her light ones. With a little hesitation, he moved closer, reaching out his hands for hers. “But you have become so much more to me than that. I don’t wish to have that kind of relationship with you anymore.”

 

Rose felt her heart begin to race. This was the moment. She had suspected some sort of planning had been going on between Augustus and her father, and she had become aware of his growing regard for many months but didn’t quite believe it. He was always so professional, and a little haughty. She also didn’t know how she felt about his regard. He never made her heart quicken, and she had never lost hours dreaming about him. That was her judge of being in love.

 

He continued. “I have spoken to your father, and he has heartily agreed.” Augustus looked down at her hands, and Rose was surprised to see him tremble slightly. Perhaps he really did care, despite what she thought. He had always given off such an aristocratic, confident air. She couldn’t imagine him so vulnerable and afraid.

 

Her voice was soft. “Agreed to what?”

 

His gaze returned to hers. “Surely, you have noticed my regard for you. It has always been so. I had noticed you for many months, and once I heard you enjoyed mathematics, I jumped at the chance to ask you for assistance. You are a lovely woman, Rose, beautiful and respectable. I wish to make you my wife.”

 

The words were uttered, and Rose felt as if time slowed. Suddenly, the image of an empty oak tree at midnight came to her, and a flood of memory filled her. Leopold Daniels, the most beautiful man in the world, the one she had fallen deeply in love with, who had left her bereft and embarrassed and disappointed. These were the words that she’d wished he’d spoken to her in the darkness.

 

But it hadn’t happened. There was no use chasing after dreams that were never to be. Leopold was gone. He had never spoken to her nor had she seen him since. It was time to let go of him. And Augustus was a good enough man. He was well-known, intelligent, wealthy. And he cared for her. Was that not enough for a good marriage? Many women in her position had settled for much less.

 

Besides, as his wife, she could study alongside him for the rest of her life and learn so much about the logical world that she loved. He could give her access to things she currently could not reach.

 

“Rose?” Augustus asked, his eyes searching her face, waiting for an answer.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, Augustus. I am merely surprised by your question. Please forgive my rudeness.”

 

“Not at all, my dear. But I do hope you’ll say yes. You would make me and your father both deliriously happy.”

 

He tightened his grasp on her hands, and she could see the desire in his eyes. He wanted this. She could not disappoint him. Besides, the stable life of an Earl’s wife appealed to her. She would want for nothing for the rest of her days. She would be well-regarded in society and given respect.

 

This was her chance at a real and comfortable life. This was the step that all women of her status were meant to take. She took a breath and then replied, “Yes, Augustus, I would be happy to be your wife.” She smiled back at him. He stood up, keeping her hands in his. As she watched Augustus’s happy and satisfied expression, she tried desperately to put the thought of Leopold Daniel’s mesmerizing smile from her mind.

Chapter 2: Reckoning

Leopold Daniels, Marquess of Belsworth

 

Leopold Daniels sat in a large sitting room, his knee bouncing up and down as he waited. His satchel and rolled up documents were stacked at his feet. He had tied and untied his cravat that morning, so concerned that none of the styles were good enough. He had dismissed his valet years ago since he couldn’t afford to pay him. It had been one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do, but it was all his father’s fault, truly.

 

He’d been trying to get back his financial footing ever since he’d found out that the family fortune was gone, and then his father had died, leaving him with this mess. He would never have thought that he’d end up waiting in the sitting room of the Earl of Norfolk, one of the most prominent mathematical geniuses of the time, waiting to discuss his appointment as his assistant. He had been so grateful to be hired to work for such a brilliant mind, and now he could finally earn a bit more money than he’d been making lately at the gaming tables.

 

His luck seemed to have run out and had done ever since the year before when he’d found the woman of his dreams, and like a fool, had let her go. But he couldn’t think about that anymore. It was over now, and he knew that she would never want to speak to him or see him again. He had embarrassed her so fully and done such a horrendous thing. He could never expect to be forgiven.

 

However, his luck was renewed when he’d struck a bit of success and had been able to get some of his work published with the Mathematical Society. That had gotten the attention of Augustus Bastaille and little by little it had led him to this very prestigious appointment.

 

He clasped and unclasped his hands, and he could feel the sweat on them. He couldn’t afford any mistakes this time. He had made a mess of everything else in his life, but this had to go well. He hoped that Lord Bastaille was a good man and would be easy to work with despite his fame and brilliance.

 

A door opened to the sitting room, and Augustus sauntered in, his military bearing evident in the straightness of his shoulders and the firmness of his jaw. He looked at Leopold, who had hurriedly stood, and said, “Ah, Your Grace, welcome.” He put out a hand and Leopold shook it heartily.

 

‘Thank you, Lord Bastaille. It is a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve read everything you’ve written and tried my best to get to every one of your presentations.”

 

Augustus gripped onto the lapels of his coat and smiled. “Well, it’s good to know that my new assistant thinks well of my work. And you will be a perfect asset. I’ve read your contributions and think you have some excellent ideas. But ‘tis a bit unusual to have someone of your rank desiring to take the position. But come, let me show you the house, and then you can meet my last assistant.”

 

“Oh, he is still here?”

 

Augustus chuckled, “She, actually. I know ‘tis rather unconventional, but she’s quite capable, and I confess I had ulterior motives.”

 

Augustus ushered Leopold through the door, and they began to walk to the larger hall. A servant took Leopold’s things for him. Leopold said, “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

 

“I was half in love with her since the day I set eyes on her, and now that she’s agreed to be my wife, she will no longer need to be my assistant. It’s all working out wonderfully. I’m glad to have found you.”

 

Leopold was surprised by the easy manner and kindness of the Earl. He was a little stiff and his laugh held little mirth, but he was gracious. “Well, I congratulate you, Sir. And you have a wonderful home.”

 

Each room was more lovely than the next, filled with rich furniture, and artwork by the dozen covered the walls. “Yes, I am happy that my wife will be able to do what she pleases with it. Many of these rooms have long been unoccupied, but I plan to have a ball as soon as we can get the banns out to announce the engagement.”

 

Augustus spread out his arms and showed Leopold the expanse of the ballroom. Furniture was pushed to the side and covered in linen, but he could tell how lovely it would be when brought to life. The Earl said, “I have heard about the expansive library and beauty of Braithwaite, your ancestral home. It has long been spoken of.”

 

Not in a positive way anymore, Leopold thought sullenly. He coughed politely to cover his shame. “Ah, yes, you are correct. We have quite a library, but I’m afraid the home is not quite as glorious as it once was. I’m sure my ancestors would be ashamed of its neglect.”

 

Augustus slapped a hand onto Leopold’s back. “Certainly something a woman could do if you found the right one.” Leopold nodded, trying not to think about his old love and what a lovely Marchioness she would have made.

 

His heart clenched for a moment. He hadn’t even gotten to kiss her beautiful mouth, though he had often thought of it. After a couple of weeks of teaching her, he remembered how his whole body had craved her touch, but his heart had desired her as well. He shook it off. There was no time to think of it anymore. It was over.

 

They walked slowly back towards the center hallway. Augustus said, “Let me introduce you to my fiancée. She is still finishing up a few things in the study and did not wish to leave anything cluttered for you. She’s quite industrious that way.” Augustus winked at Leopold and Leopold cringed a little, unsure of the Earl’s meaning.

 

Augustus swung open the study and spoke into the room. “My dear, I do not wish to intrude, but the new assistant has arrived, and I wished for you both to meet. I’m certain you will be seeing a lot of each other over the next few months.”

 

“Oh, certainly, just one moment.” There was a shuffling inside, as if large stacks of papers were being moved, and Leopold could see a flash of light blue as the figure moved on the side of the room just out of view. He stepped inside, his hands behind his back, awaiting introduction, and tried to shake off the feeling that the voice sounded familiar.

 

Then, the figure appeared before him, delicate and lovely, draped in a fashionable blue dress, and awfully familiar. His breath left his body. Standing before him was the woman who had haunted his dreams every night for the past year, and everything he had felt for her came rushing back in an unstoppable flood.

* * *

Rose

 

Rose had been waiting impatiently in the study for the assistant. She just wanted to look upon the man who was to take her place, who Augustus had deemed more suitable than she to continue the job. After she’d accepted his marriage proposal, she’d suggested that she could still continue on, but Augustus was firm. He did not want his own fiancée doing work that she did not need to do. Besides, she would have a grand wedding to plan and would have no time for her scribblings.

 

Rose had balked at that but then left it. Society would never accept such an arrangement. Until they were firmly married and ensconced in the home together as man and wife, they still needed to follow the rules somewhat. She had been a little frustrated as she’d left yesterday, walking back to her own home with the heat of disappointment and anger still clinging to her. Augustus had offered her a carriage, but she was desperate for fresh air and time alone before revealing the news to her father.

 

She was engaged now, affianced. She was a new woman and had just risen in the ranks. She would be given courtesies and liberties now that single women were not given, and her father was so proud, happy that his plan had come to fruition. But she couldn’t shake the annoying disappointment that it wasn’t the proposal that she’d hoped for and longed for a whole year.

 

But Augustus would have to do. As she had always been told, marriage was an arrangement. It was not about shared interests or similar pursuits; it was about ranking, status, and protection. He could give that to her.

 

Therefore, she would be happy in her success. She had found an excellent match by anyone’s standards. But when Augustus had risen after she said yes, gripping her hands for her to rise as well and placed a soft kiss on her lips, Rose wasn’t warmed to the bone with desire. It was a chaste kiss, not meant to stir the blood, she told herself. It felt plain and colorless. However, that could change in time. She could grow to desire her husband. He was a very handsome man after all, and very much sought. But it made her angry that she had never known the taste of Leopold’s lips before he’d disappeared.

 

She’d never known all that passion could be, so perhaps this was what it really was. Even though she doubted that Leopold’s kisses would ever leave her feeling empty. Enough with Leopold, she chided herself and set her mind to the task at hand. She wanted to take back her own notebooks and calculations. She knew that it was childish, but she didn’t want the new assistant to have access to any of her work or her ideas. Besides, she wanted to clean up a bit before they arrived as a matter of courtesy. She was to be the lady of the manor soon, and it would not look good if she did not play the part of a proper hostess.

 

She heard Augustus swing open the door and call for her. She grumbled to herself, dreading meeting the new person. But hopefully they would be kind and gracious, and maybe they could even become a valuable friend. She asked them to wait one moment, and then she moved to the door. The guest was partially hidden by the open door, but when she moved around it, she stopped in her tracks.

 

There before her was the man who had given her so much heartache and desire. The man she thought was her kindred spirit with whom she would spend her life in pursuit of their love of mathematics, but who instead left her without a word.

 

Leopold Daniels was to be the new assistant. Her lips parted in surprise, and her chest began to rise and fall quickly as she attempted to catch her breath. After a year apart, Leopold was even more handsome than she had remembered, his slightly unruly dark hair giving him his old charming, roguish air. And those brown eyes, just as surprised as she was at being reintroduced, watched her once again with that same tantalizing look.

 

There was a slight pause, until Augustus’ voice broke through the fog of her surprise. “My dear, please meet Lord Leopold Daniels, Marquess of Belsworth. And this, Leopold, is my fiancée, Lady Rose Prim.”

Chapter 3: Open Wound

Rose

 

Leopold hesitated for a moment, but then quickly remembered his breeding, and Rose noticed the look of surprise wiped from his face. His old, roguish grin replaced his former, uncomfortable one. He spoke boldly and confidently. “Lady Prim, lovely to meet you. I have seen your father at many events, and we have engaged in many interesting discussions. You must give him my best.” His voice was calm and smooth, and he took her hand in his and laid a light kiss upon it. But his eyes never left her face, and Rose narrowed her own ever so slightly.

 

So, this was the game they would be playing, was it? Pretending as if nothing was in their past? It was clear to her now that he had simply toyed with her affections and lured her to meet him at the tree for a joke. That thought cut her to the core, but she would never let him see that. She refused to give him the satisfaction. Rose lifted an eyebrow and gave him a tight smile in reply. “Your Grace. Welcome. Your name sounds familiar. Where have I heard it before?” She appeared light and innocent, but she could see Leopold’s expression shift slightly, as though he felt uncomfortable under her comment. She felt satisfied that her barb worked.

 

Augustus did not notice what was going on between his new guest and his fiancée. “He is quite well known at the society, my dear. Come, Leopold. We shall discuss the next presentation. I have quite a few ideas that came to me yesterday that I wish to show you.” The two men moved farther into the room and Rose stood still, aghast at how her calm and ordered life had suddenly been turned on its head.

 

Did Augustus mean the ideas that she had given him? Did he just take credit for her work? She couldn’t be sure. It appeared that she was now being ignored, and so she grabbed the papers she wanted to take with her and left the room quickly, wanting to put it all behind her. She escaped to the small parlor next to the study and shut the door.

 

She leaned up against the wall, clutching her stomach, trying to calm her quickened breath and make sense of it all. Her mind was in a frenzy. Leopold Daniels was back after a year of hiding away God knows where. Where had he been all this time? Why did he leave her like he did? And now, why did he come back? Was he just here to taunt her?

 

“Lord help me,” she whispered to the room. She wanted to just run away and forget about the embarrassment she felt at seeing him again. Certainly, he remembered her as a foolish and enamored young girl, desperate to put herself into the clutches of any man who came her way. Now, he was replacing her as the assistant, taking the one thing out of her life that had given her happiness and had restored her back to herself. It all seemed connected somehow but also too malicious. He wouldn’t do something like that, would he? But she didn’t understand why he just popped back into her world without warning.

 

The Leopold she remembered had been kind and gentle. A little cocky and a little flirtatious but good. Rose scoffed at her thoughts. She’d only known him for a few weeks a year ago, so why was she defending this man? No, she could not falter now. If he was going to put all the past behind him and treat her in that annoyingly charming way of his as if they’d never known each other, then she would do the same. She was strong enough. It would just take a bit of doing.

 

Rose tried to calm herself. She could feel the tears waiting eagerly behind her eyes, but she refused to set them free. She would never let him know that she had loved him hopelessly and was heartbroken at his disappearance. She had grown up since then and put her girlish dreams behind her. She was betrothed to an Earl. She had status, and he was just her husband’s assistant. While he outranked the both of them, he was still in a subservient position. It wouldn’t be totally ridiculous if she were to treat him with just a slight air of haughty indifference. She would have to work hard at playing the character.

 

That was another strange thing that was sticking in her mind. Leopold Daniels was a Marquess. She knew he loved mathematics and was an active member of the Society, but why would he lower himself to come and work as an assistant to a lesser-ranked man and stay in his house? It didn’t make any sense. Something wasn’t right, but there were too many things to think about right now, she couldn’t give any time to this worry.

 

She sighed and left the parlor to call for a servant. She would have tea served and let the gentlemen know that they could take it whenever they were ready, but she would plan to leave. She would be doing her duty as hostess. Augustus would surely approve of the argument that she didn’t wish to disturb the men in their work.

 

She waited in the parlor for the tea and turned her mind to her own work. Even though Augustus had pushed her out of the assistant job, she would still work on the proofs they were planning on presenting to the Society, in case she found anything else that was out of place. Rose’s worst fear was letting her mind run to ruin with only endless nothings like balls, social gatherings, and teas with old, dull relatives to fill her days. She would have to work hard now to keep her mind fresh. She began to shuffle through the papers she had managed to escape with from the study and every so often, scribbled down a few notes and adjusted a few numbers.

 

Her mind was fully occupied in the world of math, that she didn’t realize how much time had passed. It felt like mere seconds since she’d called for tea when a servant entered and laid the tea service on the table in front of her. “Shall I call for the gentlemen to join you, Miss?”

 

“Yes, please, Mary. And you may call the carriage around for me, as I see it’s going to rain. I would like to return home.”

 

“Oh, you will not stay for tea, Miss?”

 

Rose shook her head. “No, I will go home.”

 

Mary turned to leave, and within a few moments, Rose could hear the men coming her way, deep in conversation. Rose grew tense as she heard their footsteps, and she looked up slowly, hoping to catch Leopold when he wasn’t looking at her.

 

He was impassioned as the men discussed one of the articles he’d written in the Society newsletter. His face was flushed with excitement, and his eyes flashed with joy just as she remembered from when he’d taught her. Rose let her eyes wander to the rest of him. He was still as handsome as that first night they’d met. He was even more so, if it was possible. He still wore a tight jacket and waistcoat cut perfectly to his muscular form, and Rose was annoyed that she noticed his tall stature, wide shoulders, and thin waist which descended into muscular legs. She would have to try her best to give the impression that his physical presence did nothing to unsettle her nerves. That would be difficult.

 

“My dear Rose,” Augustus said with a smile. She could tell he was incredibly happy with his new assistant. She knew that he would be pleased with Leopold’s status. “You have been a proper hostess to think of tea while us men were busy at work. We would have lost time in discussions about mathematics, I’m sure.”

 

Leopold turned to her and smiled once again. “Yes, Lady Prim. It is true.”

 

The men walked into the room and Rose stood, feeling a little flushed. She was ready to leave. She could practice not being unnerved by Leopold’s manly form another day. She told the men, “I hope you enjoy it. I will be off to my father’s house. There are a few things I must attend to there.”

 

Augustus looked disappointed as he moved to his seat. “You will not stay for tea?” He paused for a moment and when Rose did not respond right away, he cajoled, “Come, my dear, this is my new assistant. Please stay and give him the proper welcome. Surely you have time. And it will most assuredly rain soon, so you can spend a few rainy hours with us.”

 

Rose tensed. She was caught in an awkward situation. Every fiber of her being wished to be out of the room and as far away as possible from Leopold, but Augustus was right. It would look rather strange for her as the Earl’s future wife to excuse herself just before tea, leaving their new guest.

 

She trained her face into a smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes. She would have to give in. She would rather that than be scolded by Augustus later or have to answer any uncomfortable questions. “Of course. If you desire it, then I shall stay. But we must cancel the carriage that I have asked for.”

 

“Of course.” He motioned for a servant and gave his instruction. He added with a smile, “Lord Daniels must surely desire your presence as well. It is always a pleasure for a well-bred gentleman to speak to a pretty woman who has such lovely manners.”

 

Rose paused, surprised at Augustus’ statement and embarrassed by the mention of her looks. Leopold shifted a little in his seat before answering.

 

Leopold said, keeping his smile on his face, “Yes, my Lady. Please do stay. I wish to hear how your father fares.”

 

Rose slowly sat down again. She tried to avoid his eyes as best she could for she knew what they did to her insides. In a slightly cold voice, she answered, “Of course. I shall update you fully on my father. How long has it been since you’ve last seen him?”

Chapter 4: Innuendo

Leopold

 

It felt so good to discuss mathematics once again. Leopold continued his studies on his own for the past year but hadn’t had the time to work with others, as he’d been desperately attempting to fill his family’s coffers once more. His father had lost everything to gambling years ago, and now his son was gambling to try to win that fortune back. It was rather ironic. Sadly, he was failing miserably. But he was still able to enter a few things into the Mathematical Society’s newsletter and keep up with new lectures and proofs that came through.

 

Fortunately, now that Augustus would be paying him a wage, he could do what he loved and study with someone else while also attending the gaming halls in his free evenings.

 

He was impressed with the Earl’s openness about his work and his new ideas. Many geniuses wished to hoard their ideas to themselves, afraid that someone would steal them. But the Earl wished to engage in discussion and listened to Leopold’s opinions heartily. Augustus was confident that he would be happy here working together. Leopold agreed, except for the fact that his truest love was to be married to the man.

 

Seeing her again was like getting punched in the gut —

 

which had happened to him numerous times when he had owed a bit of money. Rose Prim was even lovelier a year older. Her face had grown into the sleek confidence of womanhood, and her figure had become even more desirable. Her bosom was evident in the way her dress was cut, and his eyes had wandered of their own accord over her neckline Her beautiful dark curls laid against one of her shoulders, and her luscious pink lips had parted in surprise when she’d seen him in the doorway of the study. No woman that he’d been with before he’d met her had even come close to her beauty. Since he’d left her that fateful night, he couldn’t bring himself to be with another woman. His body only desired Rose Prim.

 

Once he’d gotten over the shock of seeing her, and the way his heart had clenched painfully at the fresh rush of feelings, he knew he had to pretend as though they hadn’t met. It wasn’t wise to give away how they’d known each other in the past. He had been giving mathematics lessons to a lady of the ton whose father had not known about the arrangement. He wouldn’t want to embroil Rose in any sort of scandal.

 

She was also engaged now, and he needed this position. He couldn’t lose it because he had formerly been in love with the man’s fiancée — or still was. He would have to muddle through as best he could. But it would be difficult. She seemed none too pleased to see him once again either. Understandable. She would most likely keep her distance, lessening their chance of meeting awkwardly or providing him any unnecessary distractions. That was for the best, even though that thought disappointed him.

 

After half an hour, the men were interrupted in their discussion by the maid calling for tea. It was to be served in the parlor next door. They kept their conversation going, and Leopold could feel his lifeblood surging again as he spoke of his desire for certain methods to be used to study problems. He was sharing the reason for one of his letters in the Society newsletter. He was proud of the acclaim it had received. But as he and Augustus entered the parlor, he saw Rose sitting there, and all thoughts of mathematics and Societies fled his mind.

 

He flashed back to their last meeting together when they’d joked about forming their own club, as he knew the Society would not accept Rose as a woman. Then they’d made the agreement to meet at midnight. It had been his idea. He’d wished to offer her his hand even though his finances were still in dire straits. He couldn’t bear to be without her any longer, meeting only in secret. He’d wanted the world to know that he loved her and wanted her as his wife. But then, hours before the midnight meeting, his family solicitor had called at his doorstep, begging to be seen right away.

 

There were too many debts. They seemed to be accruing exponentially, and even he hadn’t realized the degree until his solicitor had visited him and begged him to retrench.

 

Derek Dalton, the Gaming Hall Master, had contacted the solicitor as well to give Leopold the push he needed to pay his and his father’s debts, or head to debtor’s prison until everything was paid off.

 

But Leopold was stubborn. He could reduce his spending in other ways, but he could not leave the family home. He had cut the staff down as much as he could, but the home itself was all he had left. Even though he had no living relatives, he could not live with the shame it would heap upon his family name if he had to move to a smaller home and rent out Braithewaite. It would be too shameful, and even though it was not his fault, he would take the guilt for it upon himself. He pawned what bits and pieces from the house he could as well as continued gambling in other houses in order to gain back enough money to pay Dalton and others back in small increments. The solicitor had gone so far as to convince Dalton to agree to a sort of payment plan, and that had saved Leopold from being thrown into prison and losing his reputation in the process.

 

 After that fateful last lesson and the meeting with his solicitor, he sat for a few hours, and he resolved that he could never bring Rose into this mess. He loved her so much, but he loved and respected her too much to allow her to be weighed down by all of his debts and ignominy. She deserved better than that. She could marry anyone with her status, beauty, and intellect and would make any man incredibly happy. So, with a heavy heart, he decided not to come and meet her. He couldn’t give her any hope. She needed to find her own way. It would be better that she thought him a cad who had rejected her rudely rather than a man who was leaving her for her own good. If she had known about his situation she might have tried to convince him otherwise, and he knew that he wouldn’t have been able to withstand it.

 

Even though it broke his heart, he had left Rose waiting for him by the oak tree that he had selected as their meeting place. What made it worse was that he had gone and hid in the shadows, wishing to see her one last time before he left her for good. He watched as her footman came after her, and they both went into her father’s house.

 

After that, he had kept his distance for the next year, shying away from many social gatherings, especially those to which the Prims were invited. He had to figure out his finances and get his life on track. He tried not to think of what Rose felt or how she had reacted to not finding him there.

 

He had gambled, gaining only slight wealth, but it had been enough to start paying off the debts. He had sold much of the items in his home, and it now resembled a bare prison. He had thought about trying the company of women to quell the aching of his heart, but he knew it would only sate him for the moment.

 

Since he spent a lot of his time in gaming halls, he had received many offers from prostitutes, begging to be with the man with dark hair and sad brown eyes, but he could not go through with it. The desire for his true love would rise anew, and he would feel the pain of losing her all over again. The year apart from her was a grueling, dark time when he had suffered immeasurably. His only comfort was when he kept telling himself that he had made the right choice.

 

Leopold was pulled from the sad direction of his thoughts by Augustus’ voice encouraging Rose to stay and have tea with them. He even asked Leopold to give his opinion on the matter. Although embarrassed, Leopold had tried his best, and Rose sat down with icy hesitation. He could see she was extremely uncomfortable, and he knew that it was because of his presence. He hated to make her feel so, but there was no other option.

 

He had been caught in an awkward moment, and he knew he needed to agree with his host and new superior. The three of them had tea, and Augustus led the conversation. He talked mostly about the presentation as well as other little snatches of gossip from others of their acquaintance. Leopold tried to listen as best he could, but he could only give small responses. Rose was mainly silent, drinking her tea, listening to the men as they spoke of their plans for work. Soon enough, the tea ended, and Leopold sat back in his chair, trying his best to keep his eyes from Rose, but it was a difficult task.

 

“Lord Belsworth, you must be tired after your journey from Braithewaite. I have asked the servants take your trunk to your room, but I will have them show you to it now. Rest there as long as you like. I will have dinner sent up, and then we will begin first thing in the morning. I prefer to commence in the study around 8 o’clock. We shall eat breakfast beforehand, of course.”

 

Leopold nodded in understanding. He did not want to appear rude, but the journey had been long and seeing Rose again had sucked the energy from him. He was trying hard to keep his eyes open. “Thank you, Sir. I would be much obliged.”

 

They all stood, and Augustus called a servant to assist him. “See you in the morning, Lord Belsworth. Do not forget the meeting. We want you to be well-rested, your whizzing mathematical brain ready to get to work.”

 

Rose gave him a tight smile, finally meeting his eyes. “Yes, Your Grace, you wouldn’t want to miss this meeting. There is so much to be done.” Her eyes flashed meaningfully in his direction.

 

Leopold groaned inwardly. And so, Rose’s vengeance began.

Chapter 5: Hearts Torn

Rose

 

Rose had given Augustus a sweet goodbye, to allay any suspicion that he might feel. She wasn’t ready to tell him just yet about Leopold, and she didn’t see why she ever had to. No one knew about their secret lessons or her own feelings except Aunt Marianne. So, perhaps that was who she could speak to about this. Her wise aunt would know just what to do and could offer her the sympathy she so desired.

 

Rose was never more grateful and relieved to see the carriage door close behind her so that she was alone inside of it. The rain was still sprinkling, and she was happy to not have to walk the three miles home in it. Once the beat of the horses began, Rose closed her eyes and laid her head back against the carriage wall. Tears began to slip silently down her cheek. Meeting him once again and having to stay nearby, acting as if they didn’t know each other, was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do.

 

The tears kept coming, as if they had been waiting so long to be free and were taking their chance. She couldn’t stop them, and she felt the tension that had built up at Augustus’ home slowly ebb out of her. She knew that she did not love Augustus, at least not in the way she had loved or still loved Leopold. They were complete opposites in many ways. While Augustus was the smarter choice, he didn’t fill her with the longing that Leopold did. And it had filled her painfully once more when she saw him standing in the doorway of the study.

 

“Why, God? Why did he have to come back into my life, and in such a way? It feels purposefully cruel.” Rose could feel her anger building as she spoke to the empty carriage. What was she to do now? How long would she be able to bear being around him in such close quarters? She wasn’t sure that she would be able to bear a daily rush of old feelings and anger that came upon her when he was nearby. She certainly would not be coming to the estate as often as before, but after seeing Augustus with Leopold today, she knew that Augustus would want to invite him to join in all of their social gatherings, and so she would need to see him. There was the engagement ball that Augustus was so desperate to hold.

 

The prospect of that ball made her feel a sickening dread, for seeing him in that setting would only remind her of how they had met so clumsily, but so fatefully a year ago. Then, a thought struck her. Perhaps it would help her feel better if she got an explanation. Maybe she wouldn’t have to wonder anymore, and she could finally put it behind her. She wasn’t sure how she would acquire it, being too nervous to be alone with Leopold so soon after their shocking first meeting. But she nodded to herself, enjoying the sound of the idea more and more. She was owed an explanation.

 

Once she arrived home, she would meet with Aunt Marianne to ask her opinion on the plan, and she knew this would help ease her anxiety. She could finally seal up the past once she knew why he had neglected to meet her and simply disappeared. Rose sighed and clasped her hands. At least it was something new to think about and not something that made her heart tighten with pain.

* * *

Leopold

 

Leopold laid awake in the beautiful room he’d been supplied with as assistant to the Earl. He knew that his own status had given him that privilege, for he wasn’t sure that a mathematics assistant would always be treated such. A servant had come by with a tray of dinner, and he had taken it gratefully, but he could barely eat. His stomach felt like an aching hole and now that he was alone with his own thoughts, his guilt consumed him.

 

God, how she must feel about him. He had done such a wretched thing. He could have at least written to her and let her know that it was not she who was the problem, but himself.

 

He had seen the anger in her eyes as he made his goodbyes in the parlor. She had looked daggers at him when mentioning the meeting. It was fair enough for her to do so, but it only increased his grief. He hated that he was all alone in this world, his parents having died three years ago. There was no one to advise him or guide him to make good choices. He had only himself to blame for the way he was making a mess of everything.

 

He’d made one bad decision after another. But even though it hurt and reminded him of something that he most deeply regretted, he had a feeling that he was meant to be here, doing what he was doing. Maybe, finally, this was the right choice.

 

It felt right to see her once again. He was happy that she was well and healthy and had been able to study mathematics as she had so desired. He laid in bed, his hands behind his head and smiled to himself about that. He had never met anyone else who had such a fire for mathematics. It even surpassed his own passion for the subject.

 

He turned to the side, and tried once more to fall asleep, but it was to no avail. He felt the fabric of the sheets between his fingers and enjoyed their softness. He was grateful to Augustus to allow him to stay here. He knew it was a bit odd, but he hated his own home of late. He loved it deeply, of course, but being there only reminded him of all that he had to do to restore it to its old self. But hopefully, luck would continue to find him and grant him a second chance.

 

He thought about the last conversation he’d had with his father just before he died of complications from his ever-increasing and painful gout. The man had indulged himself his entire life, never sparing any expense on what gave him pleasure. Pleasure had been his weakness and both Leopold and his mother had suffered for it. In the heat of it all, when they had discovered his father had lost everything, she had died, leaving Leopold with no one to comfort him. He had thought for years about how to get out of the debt.

 

His father had weaseled his way out of debtor’s prison somehow and had continued to engage in many of his old habits, but as he laid on his deathbed, he said to Leopold that he would be giving him a hollow title, for there was nothing contained within. Then, his father had laughed, actually laughed! It was as if he saw it all as a big game, and he had given no thought to how his own son and the heir to a Marquess’ estate would fare with all the creditors coming after him to make up for his father’s errors.

 

His father hadn’t seemed the least bit remorseful and of course had never apologized. But of course, he’d never apologized for anything. So, once the man died and Leopold came into the title, he had resolved with whatever strength he had in him to bring the Belsworth estate back to its former glory, or at least build it back up to a respectable level with no debts to his name.

 

He had done what he could to repair his family’s reputation by attending all the appropriate balls and joining the Mathematical Society and becoming a contributing member. Not many people knew about Leopold’s disgrace.

 

Therefore, he started visiting the gaming hall to try to make a bit of money to pay back the smallest debts. It had gone well at first, and Derek Dalton had been most happy to be accommodating, offering him loans here and there, and taking a percentage of his winnings. Leopold had latched onto his generosity greatly, and he became a regular at Dalton’s establishment.

 

But soon, he lost whatever luck he’d started out with. He had won a few times at first, but then, the more he played, he just kept losing no matter what he tried to do. Even when he’d attempted to use math to make predictions about what cards were where, he still didn’t win more than a few odd times. And it was never enough to fully regain the money he’d lost in previous games. It was confounding and infuriating.

 

Fortunately, this appointment had fallen into his lap like a small gift from above. This could be like his second chance, and he was incredibly grateful.

 

If only he could get a second chance with Rose.

 

He knew that working so close to her would be agonizing when all he wanted to do was apologize, take her in his arms, and kiss her until both of them were left breathless. His body responded to his train of thought, and he could feel a tightness in his loins that would serve no good purpose if he kept thinking about her.

 

He realized, sadly, that even if he was to gain back the money and respectability his family had lost, it wouldn’t really be worth it without Rose in his life. He had to talk to her to see if there was still a chance for her to feel for him as she once did. His love and desire for her had clearly not faded. With that resolve in his mind, he fell into a fitful sleep full of dreams of darkened oak trees, mathematical proofs, and a pair of pink lips.

Chapter 6: A Most Agreeable Match

Rose

 

Once Rose had arrived home, she had found out her aunt was not in that evening but would be tomorrow. So she penned a quick note and handed it to the footman to send off to her aunt’s house. It was the same footman who had brought her back from the oak tree that fateful night, and since then, she found she could never meet his eyes. She was too embarrassed that he’d seen her do something so utterly foolish. When she’d returned to the house that night, and her father had questioned her, she put him off by saying that she had wanted to get a beautiful clear view of the stars.

 

Her father had left it at that, and had never mentioned it again, thankfully. He had then focused all his attention on finding Rose a proper partner in Augustus Bastaille.

 

After she sent out her note, she found her father in his study. He was drinking tea and called out to her at her entry. She, bracing herself for the conversation and, hoping her face didn’t look too tear-stained, had entered his study quietly. “Yes, Father?”

 

Douglas Prim stood up, a smile on his face. Her father was fifty-five, but he still looked youthful with a full head of hair despite its grayness, and his strong shoulders. There was always a twinkle behind his eyes, and Rose had never known him to ever be too unhappy, except when her dear mother had passed away many years before. But since then, he had done everything to make sure his daughter was happy and well-looked after.

 

“My dear, how was the new assistant? And who is he? Come and sit. Take tea with me. Dinner will be served soon.”

 

Rose smiled. Her father always knew how to make her do so. She sat and poured her own cup. “It is Leopold Daniels, Father. The Marquess of Belsworth. He says that you have met each other a few times?”

 

Douglas pursed his lips. “Ah, yes. Belsworth. I have met him. Pleasant man, highly intelligent, but I have not seen him for a long while. I’d heard he’d gone away.”

 

Apparently not, Rose said to herself. “No, he has been making headway in The Mathematical Society of London. That’s why Augustus chose him as assistant. He’s a very capable mathematician and has published many well-received articles and solutions in their newsletter.”

 

He rubbed his chin. “I see. Well, me having no head for mathematics or interest in the topic, I would not know that. But I will ask some men at the Club if they have read his work.”

 

Douglas then furrowed his brow in confusion and watched Rose take another sip from her cup. “But why is a Marquess assisting an Earl? It seems a bit strange.”

 

“It does.” Her lips were set in a grim line. What is the real reason for Leopold taking the position? “But it does not seem to bother Augustus very much at all, for he was very enthusiastic today about his new assistant. Leopold, I mean Lord Daniels, has done a lot of good work, according to Augustus.” She hid behind her teacup, hoping her father would not remark on her use of his Christian name.

 

Douglas leaned back. “Ah, yes, I remember you and him speaking to each other last year at a ball. You discussed mathematics then, am I correct?” Rose blushed.

 

“Ah, did Aunt Marianne tell you?”

 

Douglas smiled. “As though she would reveal any of your secrets, my darling. Someone overheard you and thought I ought to know about it.”

 

Rose placed her cup down hastily. “Oh Father, I am so embarrassed. I had no idea that someone would speak to you. And you never said a thing!”

 

He chuckled. “Let people think that all was sorted out. Nothing happened, anyway. It wasn’t as if he was a suitor. The man disappeared, and you made a particularly good match for yourself.”

 

So I have, she thought, wishing Leopold was there to listen to that fact again. She had made a very good match, despite him rejecting her like a scorned lover.

 

“Yes, I have. Augustus is a good man.” She sighed, her shoulders sagging with her as she looked off into the distance.

 

“What is it, Rose?” Douglas put his own cup down and was looking at his daughter with concern.

 

Rose waved him away. “Oh, nothing, I was simply thinking of something I can show Augustus.”

 

Douglas nodded. “You know, my dear, that once you are married, you must try to put this mathematics nonsense behind you.”

 

Rose stiffened, a familiar conversation returning around the loop again, as it always did. She didn’t reply, but her father continued anyway. “You will have so much to think of—your wedding, firstly, and your husband’s well-being, and your future children. Not to mention you will have a home to run. You have already done so here, but just think of what it will be like with even more people to consider.”

 

Rose looked down at her hands. Her father was so accustomed to crushing her dreams, reminding her of all her limitations. He did it unwittingly, never understanding her love of mathematics. She wanted stability, security, and for goodness’ sake normalcy, but she didn’t like the reminder that she could not go as far with her learning as she hoped. That she had to remember her place. Not when studying mathematics had given her so much and made her feel truly alive, like her brain was its own separate entity, free to roam and explore.

 

“Father, I plan on returning to Augustus’s tomorrow. I promise I will not spend too much time there, not as I am accustomed to. But there are a few things to complete.” She spoke her words in a monotone, so used to telling him her promises to do as he would like after he reprimanded her for her dreams to learn more.

 

“I also hope to visit Aunt Marianne before I go.” Before her father could open his mouth to reply, a servant knocked on the door and entered.

 

“Excuse me, Miss, but you have a note. And dinner is ready, Sir. ” He ushered it over to her, holding it on the platter.

 

She opened it up and smiled with relief. “Aunt Marianne has written back. She says she has arrived early and I can speak to her as soon as possible. Father, may I go to her after dinner?”

 

He sighed. “Of course, my dear. Come, let us go into dinner. But we are not yet finished our discussion, Rose. You cannot wiggle out of it as easily as that.”

* * *

Rose had a maid escort her across the estate towards her aunt’s house, holding a torch for her. It was not far, but her father always wished her to be accompanied. It felt silly, since one could see her aunt’s mansion from her own large home, but she chose not to fight against the . It gave him so much pleasure to be her protector and to make her happy that she could not deny him this joy. Once she was married, she would no longer be under his roof or his care. She wanted to indulge him.

 

The night sky looked like a velvet blanket full of pearl-colored holes, and Rose kept her eyes on it as she stepped gingerly across the flat ground to her aunt’s home. “ It is beautiful, is it not, Maria?”

 

“Yes, Miss.”

 

She sighed. If only she could dive into this sea of stars and forget all about Leopold, Augustus, and just live life on her own terms, with all of her stability and security intact. Would it even be possible? Lost in thought, she arrived on her aunt’s doorstep, and was greeted heartily in the parlor.

 

Her dear Aunt Marianne was a long-time widow, without children, and she was as happy as Rose could imagine being. She was in total control of her own finances, home, and lifestyle. She was above rumors and suspicion, just as other widows in society. She could even take lovers if she so wished without the peerage really lifting an eyebrow. Oh, what freedom! That’s why Aunt Marianne had been so welcoming to Rose’s love of mathematics and had encouraged her to meet with Leopold at her home. But she also understood her brother’s reticence on the matter, so she had kept it a secret from him, even after the meetings were over.

 

Her aunt sat in the parlor, her beringed fingers in her lap, smiling brightly. “Rose, do come in! I have called for sherry and a bit of cake.”

 

“Well, how was your visit to Lady Shelby, Aunt?”

 

“Oh, just as dull as it usually is. I was hoping the widows of my acquaintance and age would be a little bit more fascinating.”

 

Rose chuckled. “Oh, Aunt Marianne, you do know how to cheer up your niece.” Servants arrived with glasses of sherry and a chocolate cake and placed them on the table next to them. Rose took a long, grateful sip from her glass, enjoying the tingle of warmth it sent to her muscles.

 

“Ah, I see. What is it that troubles you, my dear? Is it something to do with Augustus or your engagement preparations?”

 

Rose made a scoffing sound in her throat. “Oh, Augustus. No. It isn’t him nor is it the preparations, but he is connected to it. You will never believe, Aunt Marianne, who has taken the position, my long-desired position, as assistant to Augustus. Once our engagement was secure, he removed me as soon as possible and replaced me with the last person I’d ever expected.”

 

“But certainly you are happy for your engagement, Rose. It is such a match!”

 

Rose glanced at her aunt pointedly, and Aunt Marianne quieted, and her happy expression disappeared. Her voice changed as she suspected who the person could be. “Who has come, Rose? Who is the new assistant?”

 

Rose drained the last of her sherry in one gulp. “If you can believe it, aunt, it is Lord Leopold Daniels, the Marquess of Belsworth himself.”

 

Suddenly, Aunt Marianne burst into a loud fit of coughing.

Chapter 7: Feelings Old and New

Rose

 

Rose rushed over to her aunt’s side to touch her on the back. “Aunt Marianne! Are you all right?” Rose turned to call for a servant, but her aunt clutched onto her arm and waved at her furiously. Her face was red and tiny beads of sweat had broken out upon her brow, but she soon quieted after taking another sip of sherry.

 

“Oh, forgive me, my dear. I nearly choked in surprise at your words. Can you be serious? Leopold has come to work as the assistant? But where has he been all this time? The devil!” She scowled, and Rose rushed over and kissed her on the cheek for her sweet loyalty.

 

“You echo my feelings exactly Aunt! I don’t rightly know. Nor do I care. But you can imagine my surprise.”

 

Aunt Marianne looked at Rose suspiciously.

 

Rose’s voice grew in volume. “No, do not assume that I care about him. He abandoned me after weeks of pretending he cared for me! He left, and I was more the fool for falling for the man. When I saw him today, my blood nearly boiled over with rage.” Rose was walking around the room now, and Marianne watched her, her anger slowly giving way to amusement.

 

“I see. So, there was no renewal of feelings, no memories of attachment that came with this…boiling anger?”

 

Rose saw her aunt’s slight smile. “Aunt Marianne! Do not scoff at my rage! I could burst!”

 

Marianne sighed. “I am sorry, my dear. Even if the man is a devil, I just do not wish you to think that you cannot confide in me. You do not have to hide the truth from me, dear niece. I was there when it all happened. I know the man cared for you. I could see it with my own eyes. And you cared for him. So I have no idea why he would leave you as he did.”

 

Rose calmed and sat down. “Well, at any rate, I have come by to ask you something. I would like your opinion. Even though I do not care for his well-being after all that he has done, lately that being him taking my much-desired position from me, I thought perhaps another remedy would help soothe my anger.”

 

Marianne turned to her; her eyes expectant. “What is it, Rose?”

 

“I feel that I am owed an explanation. The man showed himself so to be evidently my friend and teacher, and then he just left without a word. I feel that it would be helpful if I knew why he left as he did. For the past year, that is what has kept me awake at night, kept me from being truly happy. I have no idea why he left. Was it me? Did I do or say something? Was there something that happened to him? What could it have been?” She stood again, the heat of her anger and frustration over the past year building up once again to a peak.

 

She asked, “Aunt Marianne, do you think I could demand an explanation from him? Would it be appropriate? Would he even give one?”

 

She sat down again, and Marianne sat back, looking thoughtful. “Hmm…let me think for a moment, Rose. I understand your feelings. Who doesn’t want to understand the situation when seemingly unrequited love is at play?” A darkened look came over Marianne’s eye for a moment, and she sighed to herself.

 

For a moment, Rose wondered if her own Aunt Marianne had suffered from a similar fate. “I don’t know that I would do it right away,” her aunt said at last. “Let things settle with him as the new assistant. Then, if there is a time, you could question him. He cannot do anything to jeopardize his position. You would be completely in the right as the Earl’s fiancée. I assume he became an assistant because he needed to. If he was unkind, you could report him to Augustus, and he would therefore be dismissed.”

 

Rose nodded along. “True. That is certainly correct.”

 

Marianne continued. “But perhaps you would not like to confront him in person, seeing as it wouldn’t make sense for the two of you to be alone for long enough to discuss such a delicate matter. Perhaps a letter? You could deliver it to his room and be done with it. If he replies, you have your answer, and then you can burn what remains. If he does not, well then, you have done your best. Will that satisfy you?”

 

Rose nodded once again. “Yes, I suppose. A letter. That might do. But I don’t think I could bear it if he didn’t reply. It would make my brain go mad with thinking of reasons why he did not.”

 

“I understand, but this could be your only alternative.”

 

Rose sighed and sank back into the chair.

 

“I know. I shall do it, then. I shall wait a little bit, but I don’t think I’ll be able to wait too long. I want to get it done while I still know what I want to say.”

 

“Very sensible, my dear. Now, why don’t we indulge ourselves a little bit with this chocolate cake?”

 

Rose grinned. “I quite agree. Like I said, Auntie, you really do know how to cheer up your guests.”

* * *

Leopold

 

The next morning, Leopold woke up feeling not the least bit refreshed or rested. He had eventually fallen asleep, but his mind was filled with dreams, taunting him with the regret of his past as well as the predicament of his present. But he comforted himself with the thought that with many more nights like this, he would soon be too exhausted to stay awake, and his body would be forced to sleep.

 

He dressed by himself, as was his habit of late. A valet had stopped by his room at the behest of Augustus, but he was sent away kindly. Leopold stared at himself in the mirror. He was still young, respectable, and his clothes continued to be what they should be in terms of fashion. As a Marquess, he looked nearly every bit the part. Except for what was remained hidden from everyone, or at least from most people. He had done his best to hide his father’s financial demise from the tongues of the ton, and so far, it had not been revealed.

 

He knew that if he couldn’t make enough money to pay back Derek Dalton, then word would soon spread as his punishment. He pushed that thought of his mind and decided to focus on his day ahead. He would get to spend it studying mathematics, his dream, and he might even get to see the love of his life again, even for a fleeting moment. That put a little smile on his face.

 

He wandered down the stairs to the breakfast hall and was greeted heartily by Augustus. “Lord Belsworth! Welcome! Come, take whatever it is you like and join me.” Leopold’s eyes widened at the amount of food that lay on the sideboard. It was more than enough for two grown men. It could have served ten! He had not been used to such an overabundance of food for the last few years, and this was a surprise, albeit not unwelcome. He filled his plate high and sat next to the Earl.

 

“And how did you fare in the night?” Augustus asked.

 

“It was a pleasant evening, Sir. The room you have put aside for me is wonderful. I know it is a bit unconventional, as you’ve said, but I’d prefer to stay where my work is until it is complete. My home is much too far away for constant travels back and forth every day.”

 

Augustus nodded. “Well, I must say that I prefer it this way. Then we are able to discuss even more and won’t have to consider time so much as we prepare for the presentation.”

 

Leopold nodded, and picked at his food. “Will your fiancée be returning? I’m sure she must be disappointed at her lack of position now that I am here.”

 

He spoke gingerly, as if he feared he was bordering on dangerous territory, but Augustus did not seem offended. He lit his pipe and began to smoke as he replied, “No, she knows what her new duties must be now. She will be an Earl’s wife, with such things to plan and prepare for. She will not have the time for any of this anymore.”

 

That wasn’t really an answer about how she feels, Leopold thought to himself grimly. He knew that many men felt this way about women, wanting them to keep to their places and not venture outside, but in his experience, Leopold had found this to mostly be a fear of what women could do. He had seen Rose’s unmatched skill with mathematics with his own eyes. He could imagine that Augustus had tried to stifle it as soon as possible, or at least try to use it for his own gain. That was the way of the world. But he couldn’t help but feel sorry for his dear and intelligent Rose.

 

Augustus continued. “But yes, she will come by today. There may be a few things left that she wants to sort out in the study, but I would also very much like her to commence planning the engagement ball with my head cook. And the servants will need to clean the whole mansion in preparation. I now pass all my house duties to my fiancée.” He nodded and grinned, as if to say that he was bestowing a high honor on the young woman.

 

As if somehow she had heard her name spoken, Rose appeared at the doorway to the dining room and both men stood in greeting. Augustus took her hand in his and kissed it. “Welcome back, future Lady Bastaille. Come and join us.” Rose blushed a little, and Leopold noticed her steal a glance at him, to which he replied with a solemn nod.

 

Rose poured herself tea from the silver pot on the table and said, “Good morning. I hope I will not be disturbing you gentlemen, but I wanted to ask you about the proof I showed you, Augustus. I thought you could perhaps add it to the presentation?”

 

Leopold grinned inside at her boldness. That was so like the Rose he remembered, always full of ideas and new plans. He watched her movements. Sadly, here was no smile, no joy, none of the old energy she used to have. But it could be because he was present, making her uncomfortable. The thought made a greasy feeling of guilt fill his stomach. He squirmed, suddenly wishing he was out of the way and Rose could be allowed to be her old self again. He would give anything to see that big smile come across her face, like it used to when they had their lessons together.

 

Augustus interrupted his reverie, and Leopold moved his eyes abruptly away, realizing that he’d been staring at another man’s fiancée for far too long. “It was perfect, Rose. Leopold and I discussed it, and aside from a few very slight adjustments, it’s exactly correct. We will most certainly add it to the presentation. The men there will be most pleased to hear about it. I will make sure it gets into the right hands.”

 

Leopold’s heart stopped, noticing that her lips were curling up at the sides. He thought she was about to smile when she said, “And I suppose I would not be able to present it myself, then?”

 

Augustus chuckled through his pipe smoke. “Certainly not, my dear! We’ve discussed this in the past.” He looked at Leopold for bolstering and, although disgusted, Leopold tried his best to nod and smile. Augustus was still in charge of his future, for the time being. Once Leopold did so, he looked back at Rose, who was staring at him, her eyes filled with fury.

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