Meet Winston…the temporary valet
Winston had never known any male traveler to carry so many trunks before, and could not wait to unpack the contents to find out what they contained. Fine clothing was Winston’s weakness, and Lord Stratford dressed very well indeed.
Unpacking would have to wait until the butler had gone, though. The older man had first watched from the far doorway until beckoned inside. Winston knew better than to put off the inevitable questions about replacing Cuthbert so abruptly. Butlers were the most important men in any household, and this one had been asking questions for five minutes already.
“I came here as a boy and never left,” the older man murmured, leaning against the bedpost momentarily.
Winston was not surprised by the butler’s admission. Some servants were as immovable as the vast homes they served. They often had limited patience for outsiders, too. Cuthbert had said he’d come from London, and so far, he didn’t seem unduly missed by any servant here.
“Never, sir?” Winston approached the only trunk opened during the journey and took out a nightshirt and laid it across the high pillows already on the bed, along with Stratford’s silk robe. Not that there was much hope the man might choose to wear either garment. He hadn’t so far after Winston’s three days in his service. But Lord Stratford carried them, and the option was there for him to don either garment should he ever choose to be modest.
“No. I never wanted more for my life than this,” he said. “My family is here, in the village two miles away. I see them once or twice a year,” he admitted.
“The first butler I ever worked with was much the same,” Winston promised, closing one trunk and opening the next, nearly crowing at the excitement of seeing a fine dark navy-blue cloth—perhaps a frock coat—on top. “He was devoted to his post and the family he had worked for all his life, much like you.”
The butler approached. “Why did you leave that post?”
“I wasn’t wanted,” Winston said with a shrug and picked up the coat, frowning. It would need pressing before it could be worn. Lord Stratford could not wear wrinkled garments. Cuthbert should have packed this trunk far better than he had. “And I wanted to see something of the world, sir.”
The old butler scoffed at the idea. “And was it all you expected?”
“Yes, and no.”
“That is the case with everything. When you are older, you’ll understand the world can be wherever you find yourself, and you should be grateful to belong anywhere,” the butler said condescendingly.
Winston didn’t want to belong. Never had. Never would. Although, Winston would give anything to belong to a coat like this one. When the butler was gone, Winston would properly unpack and admire everything normally beyond the reach of a mere servant.
Winston glanced at the easel propped up against the bed, then cast an eye about the room, looking for the best place to move it to. Lord Stratford claimed to be something of an artist, but he had given no directions for the easel’s positioning.
Mr. Seymour approached. “Move that chair, set the easel at an angle facing the bed. Lord Stratford paints in the mornings. The light is best then, he says.”
“Thank you, sir,” Winston murmured before grasping a large, heavy armchair single-handedly and maneuvering it out of the way. “My predecessor gave no instructions for that stack of paintings, either.”
The butler started to flick through them. There were more than a dozen to go through. Some complete, others painted over in one color as if he had been unhappy with the work and wanted to hide it. “Lord Stratford keeps them anywhere about the room he likes until he’s no wish to see them anymore. Then they are stored in the attics, with all the others he’s painted over the years.”
“Are there many?”
“Dozens, I should imagine. Only a few were deemed good enough to have been hung about the palace. The late duke…” The older man did not finish his statement, but he didn’t really have to. Winston could well imagine a powerful duke would have no time for what might be considered a younger son’s frivolous pastime. He wondered briefly how Lord Stratford stood in the current duke’s eyes. He was a younger brother and might be considered a burden on the estate, as many were.
Winston grappled with one large unfinished work, carefully set it on the easel, and then stood back. “This is, I believe, his latest work.”
The butler came around the easel to view it. “Unfinished.”
Lord Stratford had spent most of the evenings of the journey staring at it, but had not painted even a single brushstroke on the canvas. It was of a voluptuous woman reclining on pillows in a flowing red gown, surrounded by candles. She was very beautiful. Why else paint her, of course? Perhaps she was his sweetheart or lover or even his own wife. Lord Stratford had never said he was married, and Winston had not thought to ask. But it was easy to see what the painting might become if the young lord spent more time finishing the canvas, and less trying to provoke a rise out of his temporary valet. He had talked constantly about his home, and pestered Winston with questions, too.
And once they’d arrived, he had immediately run off to meet his brothers without so much as a backward glance. Winston couldn’t ever imagine feeling that same way about going home.
Desperately Seeking Seduction will be available Tuesday 18 April. Click here for more information