The handsome but incognito Richard Hawlester, Duke of Roderick, weary of toad-eating house guests, engages in a serious flirtation with young Elisabeth Barrows, who is primed for an exciting adventure. Mistaking the fat squire for the duke, she holds her secret relationship with a man known only as Richard, Nobel Rescuer, close to a tender heart while discovering love for the first time.
Elisabeth’s trust seems irrevocably lost when the duke’s actual identity is revealed. Realizing his mistake, Roderick begins an earnest, dangerous, and often hilarious campaign to convince her of his love. Elisabeth ponders whether true love can overcome the loss of trust between two people, even as danger presents in the guise of a vile, undesirable suitor, while a wicked assassin makes an attempt on the life of the duke. Trust broken can never be regained, or can it?
“What does one wear to a secret assignation?” she wondered, smoothing her gown. When her maid entered the room, Elisabeth dismissed her with the same excuse of a headache. She actually made ready to put her head on her pillow until the maid left. She laughed quietly to herself and felt somewhat guilty. It was almost impossible to stay still with her heart thumping hard in her chest. After waiting for what seemed to be hours but was in reality mere minutes, she sat up and smoothed her hair, despairing of the wisps of curls that always escaped her efforts to tame them.
The guests were gathered in the front parlor, but she peeked carefully out the door just in case. She would make her way by the back stairs, which she hoped would lead her to the garden. Quickly she descended and stepped, as she suspected, directly into the beginnings of the garden. Statues of various gods loomed whitely in the twilight. The tinkle of running water alerted her of the nearness of a small frog pond. She knew her way from there and walked confidently forward. She almost screamed when an arm reached out and encircled her waist.
“Shhh…little one. It is only I, Richard, your Noble Rescuer.” He laughed softly and rubbed his face gently in her hair as he held her close. She twisted around to look up into his eyes but could not read his thoughts in the dim light. He released her and caught her hand, pulling her gently with him around the hedge and back to that private floral bower, borrowed once more from their host.
At his urging, she settled on a white garden bench which nestled against a flowering vine. Heady night fragrances enveloped her as she looked up into the handsome face of her friend. He gazed back at her but then paced a step or two back.
“I have things to say, sweetness. Please do not be upset when I use words I know are improper. Let us be two different people for tonight. What say you?” He stepped closer, but still did not join her on the bench.
Elisabeth waited for what she knew not. She was content to be this close to one for whom she had such feelings. She nodded. Why did she trust him so implicitly? She only knew she did. Perhaps it was because she enjoyed an enchanted night in a magic room with a handsome man who called her pet names. This was not real life, but she could not give up the thought that magic existed, especially for those who were in love. Surrounding her was a fairy garden which glowed with moonlight under the watchful eyes of stone guardians. Perhaps they came to life when the sunlight faded?
She inhaled sharply and clasped her hands together in her lap when he settled himself on the bench, their shoulders touching. His unique scent wrapped around her, causing her head to spin with excitement. As he turned toward her, he reached out with his arm, first touching her shoulder with his hand, and then folding around it. She did not stop herself from leaning toward him, although briefly she did try. The prickling of her conscience was like a buzzing, annoying gnat she could easily dismiss. Elisabeth was mesmerized by an intoxicating spell she never wanted to end. Richard leaned closer pulling her gently forward.
“Richard?” she whispered tentatively, not certain whether she wanted him to move away or come closer.
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