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Reforming Lord Neil

Reforming Lord Neil

Narrated by Marian Hussey

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Lord Neil Duncan, disowned by his father, seeks redemption and sustenance after being abandoned by his friends. Teresa Clapham, a struggling widow, sees potential in Neil and offers him a chance to work for her. As they grow closer, Teresa uncovers Neil's hidden kindness and tender heart. 

But her brother-in-law John Clapham is less charmed by Teresa’s new servant. When Lord Neil discovers the secret Mr. Clapham has been keeping, he must decide whether to embrace the man Teresa believes him to be, or fall back on the privileged lifestyle he’s always known.

Main Tropes

  • Riches-to-Rags
  • Reformed Rake/Scoundrel
  • Widow/Single-Mother


Lord Neil Duncan, third son of the Marquess of Alderton, finally angers his father enough to be cut off from the family. Neil believes it is only a matter of time before he is reinstated, but time is passing slowly and he needs to eat. His so-called friends have abandoned him, no one else trusts him, and it is not until he comes upon a young widow that he finds someone who needs his help as badly as he needs hers. 

Teresa Clapham has been without a husband's provision and protection for over a year. Supporting her mother and daughter on the pittance her brother-in-law provides has required her to stretch every farthing. When Lord Neil arrives at her doorstep proposing he work for her to earn his keep, she sees possibility in the man everyone else has deemed an arrogant good-for-nothing. 

As Lord Neil works for the first time in his life, Teresa sees in him a tender heart long repressed by his family's expectations - a heart that causes her own to open once more. But her brother-in-law Frederick Clapham is less charmed by Teresa’s new servant. When Lord Neil discovers the secret Mr. Clapham has been keeping, he must decide whether to embrace the man Teresa believes him to be, or fall back on the privileged lifestyle he’s always known.

Intro to Chapter One

Many in Suffolk county doubtless enjoyed a summer’s rain. Teresa Clapham, however, heard the first drops upon her window and bit her lip to keep from crying. Even alone in her small bed, in the sparsely furnished upstairs room, she could not make a sound. It would not do for her mother, in the room next door, nor her daughter across the hall, to hear sounds of her distress. Not when they depended upon her to remain composed and cheerful.

Several hours remained until she needed to rise, around the same time the sun would come up from the sea, hidden by the clouds. If she roused too early, she would wake the other occupants of the house and throw everyone’s day into confusion. 

Teresa pulled in a deep, shaky breath. Practicality had to win out over emotion. If she gave in to tears, she would give herself a headache. That would only make the day ahead more miserable. She breathed slowly, counting backward from one hundred in French; the process usually calmed her. 

Then she heard the first drops of rain fall into the bucket she kept in the corner of her room. The water hitting the thin metal made a tapping sound, harsh and echoing through the quiet room. The leak had grown worse. A month ago, it could rain fully half an hour before a single drop came through. 

The roof needed repair. If that was the least of her troubles, the rain might be shrugged off, ignored for a time, but it was one of a hundred things that needed attention.

The tears would come if she did not move. She had to busy herself, and counting was not enough. The heavens wept enough for the time being. She need not add to it.

But the dripping had pulled her away from sleep for the remainder of the night. 

Finally, she gave up and rose from her bed. The ropes holding the mattress creaked, as did her bones. Were the bones of a thirty-year-old woman supposed to creak? The ropes must need tightening. She had performed the task before, but she could not recall where she had put the tool for twisting the ropes until they were taut enough. 

Her bare feet eased onto the wood floor. She felt about for her worn bedroom slippers, but gave up after a moment. Most likely, Caroline had borrowed them. Though only eleven years old, Caroline had grown alarmingly over the spring and could very nearly wear her mother’s shoes as comfortably as Teresa wore them. The child certainly outgrew her own faster than Teresa managed to keep up with purchasing new pairs. 

Yet another thing to add to her list. Caroline needed new boots soon. Unless Teresa gave in at last and let the girl spend what remained of summer barefoot. 

With a shawl around her shoulders, and her black hair still in its braid, Teresa left her room as quietly as possible. She went down the uncarpeted corridor, the narrow staircase, and to the back of the house where the kitchen might offer her distraction. 

A light beneath the kitchen doorway gave her pause before she pushed the door open on its whining hinge. Perhaps there was oil in the barn she might use to silence that sound. She added that to her list of tasks. 

Mother sat at the table, white cap upon her head, shawl around her shoulders, and her hands wrapped around a teacup. Louisa Godwin smiled through the lamplight at Teresa. “What woke you?” she asked quietly. “The rain or the bucket?”

“The rain.” Teresa shared her mother’s tired smile. “May I join you, Mama?”

“Of course. Pre-dawn tea parties are never enjoyable without company.” Mother nodded to the teapot on the table. The tea things were too fine for the old wooden table, and the humble kitchen. The set had belonged to Teresa when her life had consisted of beautiful, delicate things. The cups, saucers, plates, teapot, and the other trappings sprayed with pink rosebuds had been a wedding gift from her late husband. 

Teresa poured herself a cup of herbal tea. They could not afford tea leaves, but dandelions, rosehips, chamomile, and every herb they gathered and dried themselves had been tried and tested in various combinations. Sweetened with honey instead of sugar, accompanied with milk on occasion. It was simple fare. But enough.

When Teresa settled across the table from her mother, cup in hand, she released a weary sigh. “It will be a long day for both of us now.”

Mother shrugged. “We will come through it fine, I dare say.” Despite her fifty years, Teresa’s mother still held herself with grace, and had retained beauty in her maturity. Her frame was neither spare nor plump, the only wrinkles near her eyes and at the very corners of her mouth were from years of smiling, and though the silver strands had increased their appearance in her black hair, nothing quite gave away her age. 

“We always do.” Teresa sipped at her tea, listening to the wind and rain. She shivered and pulled her shawl tight with her free hand. “I need to find a way to get the roof repaired. I thought I would wait until the end of summer, but the leak seems to be growing the longer I leave it undone.”

After a thoughtful nod, Mother added, “We ought to check for leaks in the barn, too. Any there could cause problems when we bring hay in for the winter.”

How their lives had changed; Teresa used to be a creature of the moment, never worrying about winter rain and snow when summer was still underway. But over the course of two years, the first living under the grudging charity of her brother-in-law and the second in her inherited cottage, Teresa had adapted. 

The kitchen door made its awful squeal again, and Teresa turned to see Caroline standing there, wearing Teresa’s slippers. 

“It’s raining,” Caroline said, lingering just outside the room as though uncertain of her welcome. 

Teresa exchanged a knowing smile with her mother. “Come in, dear. Have some tea.”

Caroline’s eyes brightened in the darkness, and she hurried forward. “Thank you.” She retrieved a mug from one of the shelves. Teresa felt the familiar softening of her heart when she saw how easily her daughter reached what had, a year ago, been too tall a shelf for her. 

“Caroline,” she said, and her daughter turned with mug in hand. “Take a tea cup. It is a special occasion.”

“It is?” Caroline sounded surprised, but quickly did as she was bid. She settled in a chair next to her grandmother. “What occasion?”

With a laugh, Teresa pushed aside her worries for the moment. Her daughter needed moments of sunshine amid the hardships they faced. “The occasion of us all waking up far earlier than we should.”

“Let us hope such occasions are rare in the future,” her mother said. “But if you will fetch some bread and jam, granddaughter, we can have a little celebration.”

Small joys kept them all hopeful of better days, though Teresa saw none on the horizon. 

Hours later, the teacups were drained, and the rain had finally stopped. Wearing a dress that had once been as blue as the summer sky but had faded to a more gray-like color, Teresa went out to milk their old dairy cow. 

Milking a cow. What would her late husband have thought, if he saw her perform the undignified chore? Yet every time she sat on the three-legged milking stool, Teresa offered up a prayer of gratitude for the animal and the farmer’s daughter who had taught her how to go about milking. 

After that chore, she went to weed their summer garden, leaving her shoes off rather than coat them in mud. It was easier to clean her feet than scrub at mud-caked shoes. Gulls had already been and gone, picking at the bugs that had come out to nibble on cabbages and vines, before making their journey to the sea. It had surprised her to see such large birds taking notice of her little garden, yet she expressed her thanks for them, too. The smaller birds were still hopping about, finding tinier creatures that threatened carrot leaves and chamomile petals. 

By the time Teresa finished in the garden, Caroline had already fed their six chickens and gathered the eggs. She waved to her mother from the barnyard and went on her way with her basket of eggs. 

Teresa wiped a line of sweat from her brow and walked to the fence separating her property from the road. Though tired, she ducked beneath the long rail and started up the path. It curved over a hill, then turned eastward and upward, taking her above the sea. 

Dunwich lay to the south of where she stood. All Saints’ church tower, crumbly as it was, poked up from the cliff side. She shuddered and turned from that somber sight. Instead she turned her face to the east, where the sun rose steadily. 

“We will make it through today,” she said quietly. “And this week, and this month, and this summer. We can make it through winter.” They had already done it once.

Yet even as she spoke, lifting her hopes and eyes heavenward, a weight dragged at her heart. Her meager income would barely keep them alive. How would she find a way to pay for repairs? For any help at all? If she were a man, it would be enough. A man could climb atop thatched roofs to repair them, till more ground than she could, swing a hammer, chop wood, and do all manner of things she had to hire out. 

But if she were a man, she would not be in her predicament. She would have inherited from her father, for one thing. Never married and thus kept the eight-thousand pounds of her portion away from her husband.

The familiar anger surged, quickly replaced by guilt. “I am not angry at you, Henry,” she said softly to the sea. “I only wish you had told me, that I’d had some warning.” She had never even suspected her husband had a weakness for cards. He had treated her with such tenderness and love. He had been a present and compassionate father. There had never been anything to make her worry over his conduct or their marriage.

The revelation bestowed upon her when her brother-in-law had told her of her husband’s debts had nearly shattered her good memories of Henry. She could not imagine her husband stealing the funds that ought to have supported her and Caroline upon his untimely death. The reality stung deeply.

She wiped away the tears she had thought conquered that morning. Squaring her shoulders, she forced a smile. Likely had anyone seen, they would have found it a grim expression. 

Man or no man, she would find a way to make every farthing count. They would be warm and well fed come winter. 


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