<Map of a Lady's Heart>

Map of a Lady's Heart
Originally featured in At the Christmas Wedding

Let your heart be your compass…

Practical and independent, Viola Cavendish knows how to handle trouble—and the Earl of Winterton is nothing but trouble. Not only does he arrive to see her employer, the Duke of Wessex, while the duke is away… with a rakish young nephew in tow, while Viola is responsible for chaperoning a party of young ladies… right before a blizzard strikes, leaving them snowbound in Kingstag Castle… mere days before Christmas… No, most troublesome of all is the fascinated way Winterton looks at her, as if she’s a fascinating woman and not just a secretary.

Wesley Morane, Lord Winterton, comes to Kingston Castle wanting one thing only: the atlas his father carried on his last journey. He’s not put off by a little snow, his rebellious nephew, or even the absence of the duke. What stymies Wes entirely is the beautiful Viola Cavendish, who disappoints his hopes, one by one—yet every time she smiles at him, the only map Wes craves is the one that will show him the way to her heart…

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Reviews & Honors

"Perfect seasonal fare—warm, light-hearted and perfectly romantic, laced with humour, filled with likeable principals and served up with a soupçon of Yuletide cheer and festive frolic." —All About Romance on At the Christmas Wedding

"A truly warm and romantic tale." —Roses are Blue

Inside Story & Bonus Features

This story stars a globe-trotting earl in search of an old atlas created by Louis Charles Desnos. Desnos was a real cartographer in Paris, and was one of the premier publishers of maps in the late 1700s. You can see a sample of his work here.

When The Lady Authors discussed this anthology, we agreed it shouldn't be too long after At the Duke's Wedding. In that collection, I wrote three younger sisters for the Duke of Wessex (one of whom became the heroine of Maya Rodale's story in At the Christmas Wedding!). The other two … were still too young, in my opinion, to get married. So I pulled in a distant Cavendish cousin-by-marriage, Viola, and put her in charge of the sequel house party. And as for Alexandra and Bridget? Never say never…

Chapter One

<Map of a Lady's Heart>“How much farther is it?”

Wesley Morane, Earl of Winterton, inhaled slowly and then exhaled even more slowly. If he didn’t know better, he would think his nephew was still a child instead of a young man nearing his twenty-first birthday. “A few more miles, I expect.”

Justin scowled and slumped by the window. The weak light caught his fair hair and made him look as young and petulant as he was behaving. “Aren’t we nearly to Cornwall yet?”

It felt as though they had circled the globe in this carriage. Wes tried to keep his voice calm as he replied, “No.” He did not repeat an earlier mistake, of offering to show Justin their progress on the small but handsome leather-bound atlas of England he kept in the traveling chaise. That had not gone well, with Justin fixating on the distance left to travel instead of the beauty of the illustrated map of Dorset.

Several minutes of silence passed. Wes did not fool himself they would continue indefinitely. Time had already seemed to stretch and slow, much like the distance they had still to travel. At one point he wondered if the carriage and horses had become stuck in a vast mud slick, where the hooves and wheels were only churning in place, never making an inch of progress.

“I could have stayed in Hampshire,” Justin said abruptly. “Dorset is hideous in winter.”

So is Hampshire. Wes managed to keep himself from saying it aloud. He did not manage to keep from thinking about a few places that were not hideous in winter—the East Indies, for example. The winter of 1808 had been splendid there, sitting under thick palm fronds and learning about the spice trade from his father.

“I recall you agitating to leave Hampshire,” he said instead. “Your mother told me you were wild to be away.”

The boy’s mouth pulled sullenly. “Not this far away.”

That was what his mother had feared. Anne was Wes’s oldest sister, and she knew exactly what her son wanted, so newly grown to manhood and so abruptly possessed of his father’s title. Justin had barely finished university when his father died, leaving him the new Viscount Newton. Instead of the Grand Tour he had been promised upon completing his studies, Justin had gone home to New Cross House to console his mother and sisters and lay his father to rest.

But mourning soon grew tiresome for a young man of high spirits and energy. If he couldn’t sow his wild oats in Italy or Spain, Justin was determined to sow them somewhere. He fell in with a crowd of young dandies who spent their time racing carriages, dicing, and drinking at the local pub. When the local miller called on Anne to complain of young Lord Newton’s attentions to his daughter, Anne wrote to Wes and commanded him to take charge of his nephew before the boy was hopelessly debauched.

<Map of a Lady's Heart>He’d gone at once; he had to. Anne might be a decade older than he, but he was still the head of the family. Privately he didn’t think Justin was in as bad a way as Anne claimed, but his sister was grieving her husband, and rationality had never been her strong suit anyway. It seemed obvious to Wes that the best course was to separate the restless son and anxious mother.

On impulse he decided Justin should come with him to Kingstag Castle in Dorset. Wes had his eye on a particular old atlas, and he strongly suspected the duke had recently acquired it. The only way to be certain was to see it himself, and his sister’s demand that he deal with his nephew provided all the excuse Wes needed to set off for Dorset at once. Not only would it give Anne a respite from worrying about Justin, he reasoned, it would remove the boy from the miller’s daughter as well as his wastrel friends for a fortnight, and allow Wes a chance to influence his nephew for the better.

Rarely had he regretted anything more.

“Where did you want to go?” he asked, wondering what had made him think he could act as a mentor to this sulking young man. Had he been this odious when his own father died?

“Italy,” said Justin at once. “Rome. My father promised me I would see all the sights.”

“That’s an even longer journey,” Wes pointed out. “Some of it aboard ships, which can be even more beastly than the roads.”

“At least the destination is worthwhile,” flung back his nephew. “I’ve nothing to do with the duke—”

“And you can only be civil and cordial to someone you’ve known for ages?” Wes raised one brow. “You’ve got a lot in common with Wessex, you know. He also inherited young. You might find him an interesting acquaintance.”

The expression on Justin’s face was just shy of incredulous. “I doubt it. He’s old enough to be my father.”

Not quite; Wessex was only a few years older than Wes, if memory served. “Your father would be pleased for you to know him,” he said instead.

Justin did not reply. He turned to gaze moodily out the window again. After a few minutes, Wes drew out his travel atlas. He smoothed open the pages and his irritation subsided. The illustrations were remarkable, and he was able to locate their location to within a few miles. The travel guide provided plenty of description of the surrounding countryside, and he lost himself in vignettes of Roman ruins and splendid castles and manors.

“It’s snowing,” Justin muttered.

Wes turned a page, still reading about the stone circle found not far from here. “We’re almost there.”

“What if we have to stop and become snowed in at some dreary little inn on the side of the road?”

“I doubt that will happen.”

<Map of a Lady's Heart>Justin was quiet for a moment, then burst out, “We’ll be trapped at Kingstag, won’t we?”

Wes glanced out the window. It was indeed snowing, but not hard. “It’s not likely, this far south. We’re not in Russia.”

“Might as well be,” was the grumbled retort.

“You have no idea what Russia is like.”

“Nor am I ever likely to!”

Wes closed the book with a snap. “Your behavior is the reason,” he warned. “This is why your mother wanted you to come with me—I daresay she was sick to death of listening to you complain.” He glared at his nephew. “If you wish to be treated as a man of sense, worthy of respect, you might begin acting the part.”

Justin gaped at him. “I didn’t ask for my father to die!”

“Neither did I,” Wes retorted. “I was only five years older than you when my father died. Don’t imagine I’ve forgotten what it was like.” He softened his voice as Justin’s eyes grew round and his lower lip jutted out. “Life serves us all some hard turns. Carousing at the pub and chasing the miller’s daughter isn’t something you are owed, and either one can cause long-lasting regret. Do you want to cause your mother even more anguish, on top of her sorrow at your father’s death?” Justin jerked his head no. “I should hope not.” With that stern pronouncement, Wes sat back and opened his book again.

For the next hour Justin said nothing. Once or twice Wes stole a glance at him under pretext of checking the weather, but Justin was simply staring out the window, shoulders hunched. He hoped his nephew managed to comport himself graciously at Kingstag. Wes didn’t know Wessex personally, and his mission would be greatly complicated by a surly nephew. If Justin behaved like a moody child and cost Wes a chance to get that atlas . . . He breathed deeply and assured himself that would not happen; he would not allow it to happen. One way or another he would rein in Justin.

Finally the carriage slowed to turn into a winding oak-lined avenue. Wes put the book aside for good; it had grown too dark to read anyway, even with the lamps lit. Outside the window, one of the outriders galloped past on his way to announce them at the house. “I believe we’ve arrived.”

Justin nodded.

“I recognize this is not how you planned to spend your holiday,” he went on, trying to be understanding. “A viscount will be subject to duty and obligation, and not all of it is exceedingly pleasant. However, you can make anything as bearable, or as horrible, as you choose by how you approach the matter. Conduct yourself with grace and good will, and you will find yourself master of the situation instead of a victim gnashing his teeth over the gross indignity of everything.”

“What am I do to here, Uncle Winterton?” asked Justin plaintively. “I know nothing about atlases or old books. I’ve never met the duke. It’s the middle of winter and I shall miss Christmas with my mother and sisters. It feels like punishment.”

“We’ll be back in Hampshire by Twelfth Night. If all goes very well, perhaps sooner. And I don’t view it as punishment—a change of scene, nothing more.” He waited, but Justin merely heaved a silent sigh. He accepted his fate, but without understanding. “Buck up, lad,” said Wes bracingly. “When you were a child, you used to beg to come along on my travels.”

“The East Indies sounded a great deal more exciting and exotic than Dorset in winter.”

<Map of a Lady's Heart>Wes laughed. The carriage had reached the front of the house, which was indeed a castle, though one shorn of moat and outer wall. “True enough! But you never know where adventure may be lurking.” The footman opened the door, and Wes stepped out.

Justin followed, pulling his greatcoat tightly around him as he peered up at the massive stone walls of Kingstag Castle, doubt written on his face. “In Dorset? I can’t imagine.”

“Try.” He strode forward through the swirling snow. An inch or two had accumulated, suggesting it had been snowing for some time here. With a sharp jangle of harness, the carriage started off again; the coachman would want to get the horses out of the cold as soon as possible. The butler was waiting in the wide open doorway of the house, holding a lantern aloft like a beacon.

The cavernous hall inside was dim, the candlelight no match for the soaring vaulted ceiling above. A footman pulled the tall doors shut with a clang behind them, while another servant took their hats and coats, and a third instantly stepped forward with a broom to whisk away the snow that had blown in with them. The butler bowed. “Good evening, my lords. Won’t you come this way?” He led them into a cozy parlor nearby. A fire burned in the hearth, and Wes went to warm his hands, grateful for the heat.

“Are you certain they’re expecting us today?” Justin lingered by the door.

Wes turned to let the fire warm his backside. “Why?”

His nephew shrugged. “It didn’t seem as though they were.” He drifted into the room, fiddling with his watch chain.

Time passed. More time passed. Justin began openly checking his watch, in silent demonstration that he’d been right and this visit was indeed a punishment. Wes grew restive. He had an invitation, damn it, from the duke himself. He had more or less begged for it—perhaps even almost invited himself—but he was still an invited guest. Today had been explicitly fixed as the date he would arrive, and however reluctantly the duke had agreed, he had agreed to that. Wes had roamed across half the world, and he knew how to plan and execute a trip on time, with minimal delays. Had it really thrown the duke’s household in uproar, or was something more serious going on?

His fingers were reaching for the cord to summon a servant when the door opened at last. A woman stepped into the room—a very attractive woman, with toffee-brown hair and soft green eyes. His hand dropped back to his side in surprise.

“Lord Winterton,” she said, dipping a curtsey until her dark blue skirts pooled around her. She raised her head and looked him in the eye with a warm smile on her lovely face, and Wes would have sworn the floor rose and fell under his feet like a ship on the sea in a squall. “I apologize that you’ve been left waiting.”

His eyes fixed on her, Wes bowed. “Were we? I hardly noticed.” Justin made a quiet noise behind him, and he started. He’d forgotten his nephew was in the room. “My nephew, Viscount Newton,” he said, motioning toward the young man.

She made another graceful curtsey. It made her bosom plump up beautifully. “Welcome to Kingstag, Lord Newton.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Justin’s voice sounded deeper and more interested, which perversely annoyed Wes. This woman was too old for his nephew. Not that she was old by any stretch. In fact she looked to be just about perfect. But when he shot a glance of veiled rebuke at Justin, the boy was gazing attentively at the newcomer.

She came forward, her skirts swaying attractively. “I am Mrs. Cavendish, private secretary to the Duchess of Wessex. I’m afraid I bring unfortunate news. His Grace is not in residence now.”

It took a moment for the words to penetrate Wes’s brain. His attention had snagged on the way her lips shaped the words. “We had an appointment,” he said.

<Map of a Lady's Heart>She bowed her head. “I apologize, my lord. His Grace was called away rather abruptly. I believed Mr. Martin to have written to anyone expected, requesting a postponement.”

“There’s a snowstorm,” protested Justin. “The roads are a nightmare.”

Her face blanked for a split second, then turned pink. It was entrancing, and completely distracted Wes from the urge to correct Justin’s rude statement. “Oh no,” she said, her lips curving into a rueful smile. “I didn’t mean you must leave, certainly not in this weather. You are very welcome to stay. I regret that I cannot tell you when the duke may return, though.”

If someone had told him an hour ago that the duke would be away and his trip would be for naught, Wes would have snarled in frustration. Now, he stared at Mrs. Cavendish’s smile and forgot all about atlases and the long carriage ride and the snow. “That is very kind. I hope Wessex wasn’t called away on a tragic matter.”

Her expression flickered for a moment. “Nothing of the sort. Her Grace the dowager duchess bade me welcome you, and convey her regret that she’s unwell and unable to receive you herself.”

Wes bowed his head and murmured a wish for the duchess’s health. Both the duke and the duchess were away on urgent business—there could be no other kind that required them to leave in such weather—and the dowager duchess was confined to her bed. There must have been quite a search to find someone to tell him the bad news.

As it happened, he was not sorry Mrs. Cavendish had been the one chosen.

“Withers is having rooms prepared for you,” Mrs. Cavendish went on. “May I send for some refreshment? You must be chilled and tired after your journey. The family dines in an hour, if you would care to join them.”

“Thank you.” Wes shook himself out of his daze. He was dumbstruck by a secretary; what a fine example to set for his nephew. Hypocritical, too, after warning Justin away from the miller’s pretty daughter.

The door opened behind her before she could reply. A young woman, about Justin’s age, slipped in. “Viola, may we—?” She stopped short at the sight of the two men, her mouth hanging open. “Are you a friend of Frye?” she asked Justin suspiciously.

Justin blinked. “Who?”

“The Duke of Frye,” said the young woman with a trace of disgust, earning her a dismayed glance from Mrs. Cavendish. “The scoundrel.”

A deep blush suffused his face. “N-No.” He sucked in a quick breath and added, somewhat boastfully, “I am Lord Newton.”

She brightened. “Oh! Are you joining the house party? You didn’t tell me anyone else was coming, Viola.”

Mrs. Cavendish put up one hand. “Lady Bridget, please.” She turned back toward Wes. “Lord Winterton, Lord Newton, may I present Lady Bridget Cavendish, His Grace’s youngest sister. Lady Bridget, the Earl of Winterton and Viscount Newton.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” said Lady Bridget cheerfully as she curtseyed. Her attention immediately swung back to Mrs. Cavendish. “We need a ladder, loads of white feathers, and something that could portray a ghost—a tablecloth, perhaps.”

<Map of a Lady's Heart>“What? Why?” asked the other woman in some alarm, before she held up her hand again. “Never mind. We shall discuss it later.”

Lady Bridget rolled her eyes. “But—”

“Later,” repeated Mrs. Cavendish with a small shooing motion of her hand. Reluctantly, Lady Bridget went.

“I beg your pardon,” said Wes. “I’d no idea there was a house party.”

Mrs. Cavendish shook her head, but with a betraying flush on her cheeks. “It’s only a few guests—friends of Lady Serena, the duke’s sister. I shall urge them to stay out of your way. The castle is quite large enough for all.”

There was really no choice. Night was falling, as was the snow. “Thank you,” he said again, revising his plan. Perhaps it wasn’t the worst thing to have an extra day or two without the duke at home. He could examine the atlas at leisure, to be sure it was the one he wanted. If not, he could take his leave and go without a fuss; he would say he needed to return Justin to his family in time for Christmas celebrations, as his nephew wished.

But if it were the atlas he wanted . . . This could be an invaluable chance to plan his strategy. The duke had not wanted to sell it, and had only agreed to let him look at it when Wes pushed all boundaries of politeness. It would take some persuading to get Wessex to part with the atlas, and any insight he could glean before the duke arrived home might prove vital. And he suspected the lovely secretary would know her employer’s mind . . .

Yes, it suited him quite well to have missed the duke.

“We would be delighted to dine with the family,” he said. “In an hour, you say?”

“Yes. Withers will send a man to attend you, if you’ve not brought your own…?”

Wes shook his head. He’d got used to doing for himself on short journeys, and Justin didn’t have a valet to bring.

<Map of a Lady's Heart>Mrs. Cavendish excused herself and left. Wes turned to his nephew. “Well, that’s quite a turn.”

“What?” Justin was staring at the closed door, and flinched at his remark.

“That Wessex isn’t here.” Justin looked blank. “You shall get your wish to be home with your sisters for Christmas.”

“Oh. Yes.” The young man cleared his throat. “The house party may prove diverting.”

Wes glanced at him with sudden suspicion. “Oh?” He could almost hear his sister’s voice in his ear, urging him to deliver a lecture about proper behavior toward young ladies. Wes quieted it for the moment. Lady Bridget seemed full of high spirits, but the dowager duchess, who must be Lady Bridget’s mother, was in residence. He wanted to be a mentor to Justin, not a nagging conscience.

And of course, he’d had a few improper thoughts about Mrs. Cavendish himself. If he scolded Justin for being mesmerized by a pretty female, he’d be the biggest hypocrite in Britain. He said nothing.

But when the butler appeared soon afterward to conduct them to their rooms, things took another turn for the worse. They hadn’t even made it across the hall before a patter of footsteps and a rustle of skirts heralded the arrival of not one, not two, but four young ladies, including the mischievous Lady Bridget at the rear.

“Lord Winterton,” said one of them, who seemed to be the leader from the way she stepped forward. Tall and slim, she was striking rather than beautiful, with very dark eyes and hair, but fair skin. “Lord Newton. Welcome to Kingstag Castle.” As one, all four of them curtseyed, and Wes and Justin bowed. “I am Lady Alexandra Cavendish. My cousin Viola tells me you are here to see my brother Wessex, who has been called away.”

“Yes,” Wes replied. “We shan’t intrude.”

“Oh no.” Her gaze moved to Justin, who seemed to be holding himself unusually erect, his chest puffed out a little. “We would be delighted to have you join our party. We’re putting on a play, you see, and haven’t enough gentlemen to fill all the parts.”

“A capital idea,” said Justin before Wes could speak. “Thank you, Lady Alexandra, we would be honored.”

She smiled. “Excellent. Bridget will assign you lines.” She curtseyed again. “Until dinner, my lords.”

Justin stared as they left in a troop. Lady Alexandra glanced over her shoulder once to smile at him. Wes took one look at his nephew’s face, and began shaking his head. “We’re leaving tomorrow.” He’d have to come back later in pursuit of the atlas. Making the trip twice was far preferable to spending his time watching Justin like a hawk. The last thing he needed was a scandal between his nephew and one of Wessex’s sisters. The duke would never sell him the atlas then.

“No!” Justin grabbed his arm. “Please not, Uncle.” He cleared his throat. “And, er, I just gave my word to be in the play.”

“You’ve no idea what the play is.”

“Does it matter?”

<Map of a Lady's Heart>Wes ran one hand over his face. Four very pretty young ladies, without enough gentlemen to fill all the parts. His sister, Justin’s mother, would be calling for the carriage—for the sleigh, if necessary—immediately.

But. On the other hand, the young ladies were obviously well-born. Wes would have to keep a close eye on his nephew, but perhaps this would motivate Justin to improve his manners. The Newton viscountcy made him an eligible match, after all, even if his sullen behavior did not. It might be a good lesson for the boy to see what sort of behavior appealed to decent young ladies.

And then Mrs. Cavendish’s face flashed through his mind. Cousin Viola, Lady Alexandra called her. Not merely a secretary after all. She seemed to be in charge of the place. Staying for a few days would probably thrust him together with her, as the only adults supervising this play …

“Very well,” he said. “We can stay.”

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