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The Odd Riddle of the Lost Duchess: A Historical Regency Romance Novel by Emma Linfield (1)

Prologue

Fireflies

Inky streaks of gray marred the cyan smoothness of a summer sky as pinpricks of stars began appearing. It was the time fireflies roused to enlighten a world that was increasingly growing darker. Ten-year-old Lady Emmeline Grant wondered how the pretty insects felt, slumbering in their own time, wakening when it suited them, and then glowing as magical creatures in a dwelling of trees and flowers.

Emmeline bent down to catch one in a glass jar which she had stolen from her father’s study; the latter was considered quite eccentric because of his interests in observing insects.

A firefly flew into the jar, and she had nearly covered the opening with muslin when a nearby voice startled her. “What are you doing?”

The jar slid out of her hands as she shrieked. With her heart beating fiercely, she spun around to find an older dark-haired boy, leaning against a tree trunk.

“Who are you?” she scowled. “I almost caught one!”

The boy raised an eyebrow arrogantly. “I am Noah Fitzroy Why are you disrupting their peace, little girl? Let them be!”

“You do not tell me what to do,” Emmeline declared, sticking out her tongue to prove the point.

Noah did not seem impressed.

Emmeline bristled at his censoring gaze. “You do know that I would release it after making a study?”

“How would you feel if something giant trapped you in a jar and then observed you?” he raised a dark brow.

She was abashed. Who was this boy to tell her what to do?

“My father does it,” Emmeline explained defensively. “He makes sure they do not get hurt.”

“How?” Noah demanded. “How can you be sure they do not lack the air they need? Insects are living creatures, not one of your inanimate rag dolls to play with.”

In spite of her ire, Noah’s words made sense to her. She decided to discuss the subject with her father, but for now, she was somewhat disturbed. What if her father unknowingly harmed the creatures in some way? Considering his words, she nodded, and a pleased Noah smiled.

“I feel that people do not think on their actions before curiosity overtakes them. If you want to observe them, then why not do so in nature?” Noah asked her.

Emmeline was hesitant, “What do you mean?”

“Come over, and I’ll show you,” the boy replied while beckoning.

Fright crammed its way into Emmeline’s mind, and before she knew it, she had spun on her heel and was about to run off when he called over, “I will not hurt you, you know. A gentleman does not hurt ladies.”

Turning back, she did her best to assess him in the waning light. His posture was non-threating, and he had not moved from his place. She hoped she could trust him, so, stepping tentatively forward, Emmeline reached out to take his hand, but nervously dropped it short.

“What are you doing here, though?” she asked, after several moments. “This property belongs to my father, and I have never seen you here.”

Noah grinned. “I am staying with my uncle over there,” he pointed to a blurred roof somewhere towards the west, behind a line of trees. Her brother had once pointed out the house to her and mentioned a name that she could not remember now.

“You did not even ask my name,” Emmeline remarked.

“You did not deign to tell it,” he responded indifferently.

“You are quite annoying, you know!” she turned to frown at him. “I am Lady Emmeline Grant.”

“It is nice to meet you, Lady Emmeline.” Noah held out a hand like a proper gentleman.

Emmeline hesitated, then placed her smaller one in his. His lips were soft and cool on her skin. She shivered and blushed furiously while plucking her hand out of his grasp.

He shrugged. “My mother says that is the way to greet a lady.”

“Emmeline?” a voice called.

The children saw an adolescent boy walking towards them. Emmeline recognized her brother, George.

“It is late, what are you doing…?” George’s voice trailed.

Her brother scrutinized the stranger before him. Remembering her manners, Emmeline hastily made introductions.

George’s eyes widened at Noah’s name. He greeted the boy curtly and then pulled his sister’s hand strongly. “Come, Emmeline, Mother will be angry.”

Dragged most of the way to the mansion, Emmeline finally managed to yank her arm from George’s painful grasp. “George, whatever is the matter with you?”

George halted before the gates of the Grant country home.

“Emmeline,” his face was flushed with anger. “Do not ever speak to that boy again. He is a Fitzroy!”

Emmeline was aghast at her brother’s tone. “What?”

“The Fitzroys have been our enemies for generations! Do you not listen to Grandfather’s stories?” George scowled.

Her grandfather was prone to tell old-winded stories and it was the truth that she found them quite boring, so most of what he said passed over her head. Yawning, Emmeline shrugged. “Sometimes.”

However, she was a tad disturbed. She really had liked Noah.