The Fourth Mistress

contract marriage
love after marriage
arranged marriage

When Louise Evardon agrees to marry one of the most elite men in her town of Habsburg, she believes life couldn't get any more different than what it was until she comes to know with dismay that the man had wives before her and all of them dead.

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Strong arms
Music Recommendation: The Red Room by The Newton Brothers . Her brown eyes looked outside the window, seeing the trees pass one after another as the four horses pulled the carriage through the forest. Her tongue peeked out to wet her lips that had turned dry. The air blew against her face, ruffling some of her brown hair that she had combed and loosely braided. "Louise dear, look at your hair," said her Aunt Merlin, who was sitting next to her in the carriage. "It looks like you just got out of bed-" and when the gust of wind blew strongly through the window, her aunt placed her hand in front of her face. Louise laughed, her pink lips stretching into a grin before she closed her eyes, "There." Her aunt passed a look at her niece, "Good lord, what shall I do with this child? The people in the manor are going to think we rolled in the hay." Louise saw her aunt press her hands to fix her blonde hair. "That will give people something to talk about. How strange that people still have time to gossip when the same time can be used for something useful," muttered Louise under her breath that her aunt heard. "It is nothing but passing information. I heard that Mr. George Boville have invited people who belong to high society. It is only right that we should be at our best appearance and behaviour," Louise could sense a tinge of nervousness mixed with excitement that filled her aunt's voice. It wasn't often middle-class families like theirs were invited to lunch or other tea parties arranged by the people of higher society. "I also heard that Mrs. Joan Roland's son has returned from the voyage." "Mm," Louise raised her brows with an understanding smile. So this was her aunt's plan. "What? You don't plan to live as a spinster, do you? I don't know what your mother and father would think about me," Aunt Merlin shook her head, upset over the fact that her niece was not married even though she had reached the age of twenty-one. Louise's eyes shone, and she put her hands around her aunt's chubby arm. Leaning closer, she said, "They would be happy that you took me in and took care of me. Giving me food to fill my stomach and gave me the education that I needed." "And now it troubles me," a frown appeared on her aunt's forehead. "Look at all the girls who got married and have children, and look at you. Working as a clerk at the firm that deals with legal matters, not to forget for a man who is old and doesn't take anymore cases." "You would find it very fascinating, Aunt Merlin. The kind of gossip people never speak about. It was only yesterday did I find the dispute about two children over the share of their inheritance," stated Louise, "Mama and papa would be very proud," and Aunt Merlin nodded her head in agreement. "Of course, they would. Not many young women are as capable as you," Aunt Merlin patted Louise's head. "They would be proud of you." Louise had lost her parents at the young age of six, losing them because of consumption. She was taken in by her father's younger sister Merlin DeRose, married to Hugo DeRose, who worked as an incharger in the textile factory. When the carriage reached near the estate, passing through the gates, Louise couldn't help but get her head closer to the window to see the statues that were made of marbles she had never seen before. "Beautiful, aren't they?" whispered her aunt, "Mr. Boville made a lot of money by joining with Mr. Reed in trading business. And this is just in two-three years." The carriage pulled over in front of the enormous manor, and the coachman pulled open the door for the two ladies. Aunt Merlin was the first one to step down, quickly making her dress proper and making sure there wasn't a crease on her skirt. "Thank you, David," Louise thanked their coachman, who bowed his head. He had been working for the DeRose' family even before she had been taken in by the DeRose' family. "Always my pleasure, Lady Louise," David bowed his head. When Louise stepped forward, the carriage's door was shut close by David. Louise looked at Boville's manor that stood tall. The paints on the walls looked fresh as if it was only yesterday the walls had been painted. Both she and her aunt Merlin made their way to the entrance to be greeted by the maids before they were led to a luxurious room where the other guests had gathered. "Mrs. DeRose! It's so good to see you here!" Mrs. Boville walked through the little crowd of people who were in the room, and she hugged Louise's aunt. "It was hard to resist your invitation. This is my niece Louise," Aunt Merlin introduced Louise, placing her hand on Louise' arm, and the girl bowed her head. "It is a pleasure to be making your acquaintance, Lady Gianna," Louise offered the lady a bow. Lady Gianna smiled at Louise, "I must say, when your aunt mentioned about you, I thought she was only making up about how beautiful you are as we never got to see you," the woman lightly joked. "Your aunt speaks very highly of you. I am glad she has you." Louise smiled, "And I am glad I have her and uncle." And it was true. With her parents who had left the world, Louise had no one except her uncle and aunt. She didn't know what she would have done without their help and care. Her aunt had tried to fill her mother's gap, but some emptiness in the heart was hard to fill. "It is finally good to have you here. Let me introduce you to Lady Natalia," said Lady Gianna to Aunt Merlin, and they were dragged to be introduced to the others. The next few minutes, Louise spoke to some of the guests who were acquainting with each other, and the young girl obliged. With some of the familiar questions being thrown at Louise, she smiled and looked at her aunt, who seemed to be occupied speaking to the other ladies, giving Louise the opportunity to explore the manor. Louise walked around the ground floor before making her way towards the first floor that had plenty of rooms along with the deserted passage as everyone were busy below, enjoying themselves in the company of people. She didn't mind people's company, but it turned slightly uncomfortable when people started to question her why she wasn't married yet. Every step that she took on the wooden floor created a sharp yet peaceful sound on it. Her finger traced against the railings of the passage, where if she leaned over, she would be able to see the inside part of the ground floor. While Louise continued to explore the first floor and was about to take a turn, she crashed against someone, creating an 'oomph' sound. She had walked at a speed that, because of the collision, her body had started to fall back only to be held by a pair of strong arms that steadied her. It took her a second before she trailed the arms that held her own, moving up to see a person who wore a crisp white shirt. Her brown eyes looked at the person's face, who had a square jaw and his lips set in a thin line as if he wasn't happy with the collision. The same couldn't be told about her because her eyes trailed up to look into his olive-green eyes, staring into his eyes, seeing how clear they were without any specks of brown in them. His black hair had been partitioned at the side and neatly combed. "My apologies for not looking ahead," the man apologized in a deep voice, and Louise stared at him. Not wanting to make a fool of herself, she quickly composed herself and said, "I should have been careful. I didn't know there would be someone up here," she apologized. But then it wasn't just her who was staring. When her eyes fell back on his hands that had not let go of her, the man seemed to realize, and he quickly let go of her hands as if he had touched a burning hot iron. When he started walking, Louise couldn't help herself but step away as if she was giving him space, when in truth, the passage was wide enough to let more than five people pass at a time. The man disappeared without uttering another word. Louise continued looking at the things that Lady Gianna and her husband had collected. Whilst she was on the same floor, she entered the room that had three tall racks built in the middle of the room. Louise could smell the scent of the old books that surrounded the entire room. Walking forward, she started to read the book's title, her lips moving without a sound coming out of her mouth. Noticing a familiar book, she decided to pull it from its place, and a gasp escaped her pink lips. Through the gap that she had created in the rack, she saw it was the same person whom she had collided with a while ago in the passageway. His eyes looked up from the book he was holding in his hand, meeting her eyes. Louise didn't want him thinking she was following him, and she asked the first question that appeared on her mind, "Do you like books?" Because of the expression that his handsome face held, she was sure if he was going to dismiss her words, but he surprised her with a faint smile on his lips, "What is there not to like about books. They take you away from the living world to another place, some that are informational, some just for joy." "Right," Louise returned his faint smile with a polite smile on her lips, and for a moment, he seemed slightly perplexed. She quickly cleared her throat. "I am Louise Evardon," she introduced herself. "Graham Reed," he gave a slight nod, and Louise internally raised her eyebrows. The Reeds who were trading with the Boville's? She had heard about them from her aunt but never had she got the opportunity to meet anyone except for Senior Mr. Reed's daughter, Alison, whom she had only seen. Louise wondered what a man like him was doing up here all alone by himself amid books, instead of spending his time where people had gathered. Louise couldn't help but stare at the man who could make a woman or a girl turn in his direction, captivating the attention and not letting it go. It was a strange magnetism that she felt towards him, which she had never experienced before. She now understood what the rumours were all about when it came to Graham Reed. "What are you doing here instead of being down with the guests?" Graham surprised her with the question that she had planned to ask him. She wouldn't have guessed that he would indulge himself in a conversation with her, and she realized how there was always more to a person's exterior. Because by the looks, it looked like he wanted to be left alone. "I wanted to have a look at the manor. I have never been to one before," confessed Louise, and Graham tilted his head to the side as if in thought. "What book were you reading?" asked Louise, her voice holding curiosity. Graham looked down at the book in his hand, not because he didn't know what he was reading, but for a moment, he was lost looking at the brown eyes. "Memoirs of mortals," and he looked up at her, "How about yourself?" Louise noticed how deep his voice was. It felt like she was a sponge that soaked every single word that escaped through his lips, "Um, Emma," she raised her hand before dropping it to her side. "A romantic," hummed Graham. Louise smiled, a light blush on her cheeks when she answered, "A hopeless romantic. I have read as much as I could get my hands on the books. And by the look on your face, something tells me you aren't." "Pardon me, Ms. Evardon, romance doesn't sit well with me. I find it to be a waste of time. Things that are of no use," Graham responded. "I would like to refuse, Mr. Reed," said Louise, and Graham's eyes subtly narrowed, "Love is beautiful, and it comes in different forms." "But the love that you speak of is where two people stare at the stars and waste their time. It's a fool's path, and by the time you realize it, one has lost their valuable time. Even history shows how foolish people turn when they are in love," stated Graham, walking ahead on the other side of the rack and placed the book back in its place. Louise followed the sound of his footsteps, and a frown appeared on her face, "It seems like you haven't experienced how it feels to fall in love, Mr. Reed," and she heard the sound of a book drop on the ground. "Forgive me for my...words," Louise quickly apologized for being forward when they had only met for the first time. A lot of people were not used to her liberal speech, especially men. Women and girls in her society often dumbed themselves to make themselves appealing as it boosted the male ego. But Louise was not like that. She was who she was, and she didn't believe there was a need to hide it. Walking around the rack, Louise saw Graham Reed had disappeared, and it made her wonder if she had annoyed him. From where she stood, she could hear the distant chatter that drifted from the floor below her. Silence filled the room, and Louise sighed. This was why Mr. Winkle had added the condition of 'No talking to people' in her job description the very next month she had started to work for him! But then it didn't stop Louise from speaking with signs with people who visited Mr. Winkle, and she enjoyed it. "You seem to have strong opinions," she heard Graham's voice behind her, and Louise snapped her head, startled to find him standing behind her. When did he come around? Asked Louise to herself as she hadn't heard the sharp clicking sounds of his shoes. Earlier, when Louise had collided against him, she hadn't gauged, but it was only now that did she notice how he towered in front of her when it came to their heights. With the closeness, she felt her pulse quicken before she steadied it, "Is it wrong? To have opinions?" she questioned him back. "I never said it was," came the words from Graham, and he went back to face the books, his eyes moving from one book to another. It seemed like no book caught held his attention more than a second in the room, thought Louise to herself. But even though his eyes were focused elsewhere, his ears were attentive to the young lady. She heard Mr. Reed then say, "Sometimes, love doesn't often bring love, Ms. Evardon. If I am not wrong, it brings out various emotions in a human. Jealousy, misery, hate, anguish, heartbreak, and so much more." He turned his head to meet her eyes, "It was lovely talking to you, Ms. Evardon. I must go now." Louise bowed back, and she saw him walk past her before exiting from the room. After spending some more time reading the book that she had picked, Louise put it back in its rightful place before leaving the room and heading down where everyone was present. While making her way to where her Aunt Merlin stood talking to one of the women, Louise caught sight of Mr. Reed, who spoke to Mr. Boville with the same serious expression that he held back in the library. Their eyes met for the briefest time, and Louise quickly looked away. Her cheeks heated up, and she gulped. i***t, she scolded herself for looking in his direction. In her defence, it wasn't just her but many other ladies in the room who were looking at him. "Louise, dear, did you go to have a look around the manor?" asked Aunt Merlin. Lady Gianna looked in her direction, "Did you like it?" Louise nodded with a smile. Another woman who stood there replied to Mrs. Boville, "I'm sure she's just unfamiliar with places this big, so she went exploring. It's a beautiful house, Lady Gianna. I saw that horse made of glass that we-" "Home," Louise corrected mindlessly, and the woman who had been interrupted turned to look at Louise. "Excuse me?" the woman frowned. "It's a beautiful home," said Louise, and the woman laughed. "That is what I said," and the woman was ready to continue to speak, but Louise smiled. Aunt Merlin widened her eyes, and she tried to signal to Louise to stop speaking. "No, you said house," corrected Louise. "Isn't that the same, miss…." the woman drawled. Louise's eyes swept at the woman who was obviously from a wealthy family. Compared to the other woman in the room, this person wasn't chubby but on the leaner side who appeared to be in her mid fifties. The woman wore a pearl necklace that hung around her neck, and her black hair had been neatly combed and pinned. "I heard that you are working... What you and I said gives the same meaning. Why the unnecessary correction?" Aunt Merlin exchanged apologetic looks with Lady Gianna, who offered her a smile. "Louise," said Aunt Merlin, "Could you get me a glass of water, my dear." "In a minute, Aunt Merlin," Louise's words were polite, and her aunt internally closed her eyes. The reason she asked her niece to get water was so that there wouldn't be an argument. "House and home are two different things, milady. I believe the Boville's family built this manor, hoping that their family could grow and live with love. A house can be just a building, but a home is something where your family is, where your loved ones are. Home brings warmth, milady, something that is closer to your heart." "You have quite some tongue, don't you, young girl?" asked the woman, raising her perfectly shaped eyebrows. "My apologies, Mrs. Reed," said Aunt Merlin and Louise frowned. Mrs. Reed? "We are so used to calling a house as a home that my niece is familiar with it. Louise?" Aunt Merlin called to gain Louise' attention, placing her hand on her niece's back. Mrs. Reed, who was staring at Louise, shifted her eyes from Louise to look at her aunt and said, "That's fine. Just make sure your niece doesn't interrupt when the elders are speaking." Oh no, thought Louise to herself, and the woman turned to speak to Lady Gianna. Louise's eyes slowly drifted to the other side of the room to see Graham looking in her direction. His lips were set in a thin line as if he had heard and witnessed it all. She offered him an awkward smile before turning away, "Let me go get that water, Aunt Merlin."

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