A Lady of Rooksgrave Manor - Kathryn Moon

Prologue

“Esther! We can't stay," Delilah hissed, tugging roughly on my elbow.

I yanked it from her grasp, hushing her in answer and waving my hands in her direction. "You go," I mouthed, warmth flooding my cheeks as another drawn out moan echoed out of Mrs. Pickering's private sitting room.

Delilah didn't know what that moan signified, but I did. It was buried beneath the strange, mechanical buzzing, and the occasional murmured question of the young doctor, but it was there all the same. Pleasure. I'd made a few of those moans in my life, but not nearly as regularly as Mrs. Pickering did when she was alone in her sitting room with Dr. Underwood.

The younger maid huffed and then raced away through the hall to the staff stairs, leaving me alone with only the sounds from the room for company.

Dr. Underwood was a tall man with broad shoulders and trim hips. He was young for a doctor, I thought, and very handsome, and he saw exclusively women so I imagined he must've been quite popular. We housemaids giggled whenever we saw him arrive. It meant the lady of the house, Mrs. Pickering, was having ‘nervous complaints’ again and he had come to tend to her. This wasn't the first time I'd snuck to her door to listen to the great buzzing sound that came from inside and all her little squeaks and sighs. There were never any sounds like that from the doctor, only calm questions, so I knew whatever was going on inside was a one-sided affair. I knew what men sounded like while they were seeing to their own enjoyment.

I bit my lip and leaned against the wall in the hallway, my eyes flicking back and forth to either end as my body throbbed in time with Mrs. Pickering's little hiccuping sounds as if they were my own. Oh, what I would've given to know what the doctor was doing. To have it done to me!

My hands were twisting at the waistband of my apron but one traveled slowly south, lips parting in a faint mimic of what my mistress must've been doing, as I pressed over the place where I ached most.

"Oh, lord!" Mrs. Pickering cried out from inside, and the buzzing sound dulled a little as she began to steadily gasp.

I was rubbing myself urgently, the sensation dulled through my skirts when the buzzing became a roar and Dr. Underwood appeared suddenly from the parlor, pink-cheeked but tidy, the door slightly parted.

I let out an awkward cross between a moan and a squeak of a surprise as the young doctor's cheeks turned darker. I stumbled upright and dropped into a low curtsy, twisting my hands behind my back, my heart flying in my chest. I’d never imagined that he or Mrs. Pickering might be able to leave the room. I may have been wanton, but I wasn’t stupid. Well…apparently I was, a little.

“I—we, um, your lady…needs some water,” Dr. Underwood whispered, eyes moving quickly between my skirts and my face and the ceiling. “You’d better go before she recovers,” he added in a rush.

My breath hitched, and I nodded quickly, running past the man as I headed for the staff stairs. Dr. Underwood's eyes watched me, a little smile quirking on his lips as the parlor door snapped shut.

Delilah was down in the kitchens, putting together a tea tray when I arrived, and her lips parted, eyes flicking around the busy activity of the kitchens. I knew she wanted to quiz me on what I heard, but we were under the watchful eye of Cook and we'd get our knuckles rapped for talking about the family in such a way.

"Mistress needs water," I called to Delilah, hurrying for the back door to the yard. And to the stables.

"And where do you think you're going, Esther Reed?" Cook snapped.

"I've a message for Parks from Mr. Pickering," I lied, dashing for the door.

I made it there before Cook could move her ample form fast enough to catch me, but not before I heard, "That young woman will come to no good."

I'd heard as much for years now. Ever since I was a little girl who smiled too readily at handsome strangers. I'd lost jobs because of it.

But I couldn't help myself.

Davey Parks grinned at me as I marched for the opening of the small carriage house. "Hey there, Est—" His words died abruptly as I grabbed for his belt and dragged him into an empty stall at the back.

"How fast can

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