Moonlight Kiss By Angelsss

8

CHAPTER ONE ALDRICH POV The Duke’s castle was covered in snow; flakes rained down on the massive structure mercilessly. Another winter had come, and this one would be the longest. It felt like the longest. Aldrich Clairborne had just lost his father and the responsibility of the Wandsworth Dukedom had been tossed upon his shoulder. Being a Duke wasn’t a duty to Aldrich; it was a burden, a great one. He had never thought such responsibility would be thrust on him at such an age when men were still finding their path in life. He was just a score and nine in age. He was tall and lean with a sturdy body; but his looks betrayed those that chose him for the position. He wasn’t ready. He had never been. He had always depended on his father for everything. Ander Clairborne was the best father that any son could ever ask for. Aldrich was the first and only son of the late Duke; so his father had showered all his love upon him. Ander had been a very patient man; patient with his household, patient with the inhabitants of Wandsworth. He was greatly loved by all, even in the neighbouring lands. He had been hardworking, purposeful and wise. All these attributes, he had passed them over to Aldrich. Just that, Aldrich wasn’t ready to make use of them. He’d rather sulk and spend his nights at the gaming house than take hold of the Dukedom. Since the demise of his father, he’d changed. He’d gone from very bright and cheerful, to dark and reserved. And his behaviour got everyone in the castle every worried; especially his mother, the Duchess of Wandsworth. His dark and bushy brows furrowed together as he caught a sight in the thick snow. A frown ate at his jaw. Aldrich drew closer to the window. A little lamb was lost, and it bleated for its mother. The sight of the helpless creature melted the hardness in him. He had to help it. He hated to see people and creatures alike, in such a dire situation. Suddenly, a strong perfume danced into his nostrils and reigned over the atmosphere. Aldrich sensed that he wasn’t alone. He swirled round and found his cousin, Beauregard, glaring at him. Aldrich chose to ignore him. He had given his guards strict orders not to be disturbed by anyone, including his mother. Aldrich’s fingers curled around the hilt of his sword as he made for the door. “You don’t look happy to see me, cousin.” Beauregard gritted his teeth. He sensed Aldrich’s discomfort, the moment he had walked into the hall. “I gave strict orders to be left alone.” Aldrich ignored him and continued towards the door. He and Beauregard had been friends since childhood. Beauregard’s father was Ander’s older brother; but he and his wife had died from the pox plague, leaving him a young orphan. Beauregard had grown up within this castle with Aldrich. They were more than friends, they were brothers. “How long would you grief over your father? He would have wanted you to move on and be happy!” Beau snapped at his cousin. Days had turned to weeks, and weeks to months. When would Aldrich rise up to the responsibility before him? “As long as I like, he was my father. I loved him and he loved me. This is what you and others don’t understand,” Ander mumbled. Beau shrugged, “if you don’t rise to your responsibility to Wandsworth, you could be taken out. We both know that your position is enviable. You have the largest barn and Wine-keep. You are the wealthiest and youngest Duke. Don’t you think some people would want to amass all you have worked for?” Aldrich pulled in a deep breath. His cousin was a very ambitious man, but he wasn’t that way. “They are free to take the position from me. I want nothing but my liberation.” “Your liberation?” Beau scoffed. He knew his cousin was into a vice that was not befitting of nobility. He had paid some guards to follow the Duke, while he was out at night. It was shameful, really, that Aldrich would do something like that. Aldrich’s heart skipped. He didn’t like the tone of his cousin’s voice. Did Beau know something? Well, at this point, he didn’t care. All he wanted was maximum time to grief his father and enjoy the delights that his secret brought. “Let us not argue about my position. If anything happens to me, our family can still stand. I must leave now. I have work to do.” Aldrich pulled open the tall door and rushed into the dark hallway. He would step into the snow; he would rescue the poor little lamb. Beauregard’s heart broke into a wild dance. If anything happened to Aldrich, he would be next in line for the throne. This was a prospect he had always considered since they were young. He had always wished to be Aldrich, but fate and life had robbed him of opportunity. Maybe, he was destined to rule Wandsworth after all. Maybe if he worked for his ascension, that he could take his cousin’s place. He was about leaving the hall when a serving girl scurried in. She curtsied and bowed her head. “The Duchess would like to see you in her chambers.” “Alright,” Beau nodded, wondering why Aldrich’s mother would want to see him. He cast one look at the throne which lay the centre of the room before strolling out. He hoped to sit upon it, one day. “One day,” he whispered. Outside the castle was frigging cold. Snowflakes pelted on his black robe, but he wasn’t deterred by the discomfort that he felt. Aldrich was determined to save the little lamb. He was able to get to the animal on time. “There you are, I came to save you.” The lamb stopped bleating and peered at the human. With his strong hands, he grabbed the lamb from the mass of snow that covered it. Aldrich gently cleaned the remnants of ice from its fur. Now that he had rescued it, he had to find the owner. “What do I do with you now?” A smile brightened his dark blue eyes as he glared at the lamb. It wasn’t long before he heard the sound of running. When he turned around, he found a little girl, about the age of ten. The curls of her hair were wild and stubborn. And she had freckles over her face. She was a common girl. The smile on her face was priceless. “Is he yours?” Aldrich smiled. “Yes! Yes! You helped me.” The little girl was hesitant to go near the stranger. “What is your name pretty one?” Aldrich advanced towards her. “Yvettes,” she replied. “Well here is your lamb Yvettes. Do not let is stray again.” Aldrich handed over the animal. She collected it happily and thanked him for his help. Yvettes was about leaving, when he called her back. He dipped a thickly gloved hand into his pocket and pulled out a pouch. It was full of gold coins. “Here, buy yourself a nice coat for the winter.” The girl’s eyes radiated surprise, but it faded quickly. Her mouth flew wide open as she noticed the castle behind them. “You are the Duke! I have seen the Duke!” “Yes I am.” *** THE DUCHESS OF WANDSWORTH Elena Clairborne stared in shock as her son trudged into the snow. Her heart leapt in fear as she imagined that his deep sorrow had made him lose his mind. How could a Duke do something like that? She hadn’t recovered from her shock, when she noticed his exchange with the little red haired girl. Elena pulled the curtains and sank into a cushion chair next to her window. Since the death of her husband, she had noticed a lot of changes in Aldrich; negative changes. He had withdrawn into a shell. He was no longer her sweet son, who shared all his problems with her. He’d built a wall and locked himself in. Aldrich still grieved for his father, this she knew. The death of Ander had come hard on everyone; but she hadn’t expected Aldrich to be this soft, this weak. “I have to do something,” she pressed a shaky hand against her chest. She had noticed Aldrich’s absence from the palace for five nights, consecutively. Whenever she asked his guards where their Duke was, they had no answer for her. Aldrich was leading a secret life, and she had to be part of it. Did he have a paid mistress? Or did he have a love interest that he secretly met? “Come right in, the door is open!” Elena bellowed. She had sent for Beauregard who was like a second son to her. He was closest to the Duke, and would know all of Aldrich’s secret. “My lady, you sent for me.” Beauregard bowed before her. “Sit,” she pointed at a chair next to hers. Beauregard was still in the dark about this sudden meeting. The Duchess had a worried look in her eyes, even the heavy adornment of her eyes couldn’t hide the pain. She was troubled. She was in sorrow. “Your cousin has not been himself for a while now. I am starting to think that what my friends say is true.” She started. “What do your friends say?” Beau raised a brow. The Duchess had a circle of friends; rich women and of noble blood. The one she liked especially was the Marquees of Islington. Lydia Beldon was one of her best friends, and she had been particularly happy when Aldrich took the Dukedom after his father’s death. “A young man needs a woman by his side. When he is troubled, she could look after his heart and guard his broken spirit.” Those were the exact words that the Marquees had spoken to her, and she would take it. Beauregard scoffed, he couldn’t believe his ears. “You want Aldrich to get a wife?” “Yes, is there anything wrong with that?” Elena asked. Now that she thought about it, she realized that her friend was right. All Aldrich needed to bounce back to his normal self was a fine woman of class and pedigree. Elena couldn’t wait to speak to Aldrich about it. “Do you have a woman in mind? Or would you rather, Aldrich search for his bride?” Beau asked. Elena ran her slender fingers through her mass of black hair. The only young woman that came into her mind was her friend’s daughter. They would make a perfect pair. Noble blood and noble blood, nothing could separate them. “I think Ariana Beldon may be the woman for the Duke.” A devious smile danced on her lips. Beauregard’s face paled. If his cousin got married, that would secure his position as the Duke forever. He couldn’t let this happen. He had to buy himself time. “Aldrich is not ready for marriage.” “You know this how?” Elena caressed her brows. “The Duke has been absent from this castle for some reasons. I believe you had called me for this.” Beauregard had an opportunity to dissuade the woman from finding her son, a worthy bride. He would expose Aldrich’s entire secret before his mother. This would distract them for some time. “Is there something I should know?” Elena lifted a brow. “My Lady, I do not mean to snitch or cause you heartbreak…” “Is my son seeing women from the brothel? Does he have a paid mistress?” Elena thundered. Her voice rose with her breathing. She was shaken and afraid. She knew what that would mean. The last noble man to exhibit such irresponsibility was later stripped off his title. She didn’t want that for her son. She didn’t want a scandal on the Clairbone name. Beauregard sucked in some air and clasped his hands together. “You must never tell him that I told you about his secret deeds.” The Duchess nodded in agreement, “Tell me now.”

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