Anything but a typical aristocrat, young Baroness Marie-Louise is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get to work, especially when it comes to saving her ancestral estate. Determined to shake loose the shackles of propriety and gain the warm family life her upbringing denied her, she has vowed to marry a man of lower rank. Blue-bloods need not apply.
But when she is forced to turn to a childhood friend for assistance, the handsome, debonair count may prove a temptation impossible to resist. Marie-Louise soon finds herself caught between the comfort of a middle-class doctor and the passion of a nobleman, with the future of her childhood home at stake.
Didi Lawson exchanged her town car for a pick-up truck and learned to operate a tractor when she and her husband moved from Arizona to a farm in Missouri where she now weaves her tales. Her love for writing started early in life when she entertained her friends with her stories, won prizes for her essays in high school, and wrote road shows and poems for the youth group in her church.
She enjoys the outdoors, her children and ten grandchildren, and keeps an active social calendar.
The following is the scene where Marie-Louise first meets the young count:
The next day didn’t bring the desired results. When Marie-Louise visited the Schmidt & Roth insurance company about her tuition payments, she was informed that Mr. Roth was out of town and not expected to be back until the following week, and no one else in the office was familiar with the case.
That seemed very odd to Marie-Louise. She was sure that there must be a file in the office somewhere with her information. If the tuition won’t be paid before the deadline, her classes will be dropped. She was especially eager to take the Art History class which always filled up quickly according to the professor.
After receiving the letter from the director’s office that her registration was on hold because of the unpaid tuition, she’d inquired at the Registration Department to find out that the Schmidt & Roth Insurance Company had been sent not one, but three reminders, but no reply had been received. And that was the reason why she had to return to Hohenstein to sort things out.
She tapped her foot while concentrating on her next move. She didn’t want to wait until Mr. Roth returned. She had nothing to do, no phonograph, and nobody to talk to except her aunt, and that wasn’t a viable option.
She’d go to the Wolfburg Bank and talk with Onkel Georg—Count Woflburg to be precise—about her situation. As the trustee and executor of her father’s will, he’d help her understand the legalities of the trust and tell her if there was anything she could do to reverse Hohenstein’s decline.
On her way to the Wolfburg Bank, Marie-Louise still fumed when she remembered her aunt’s admonition to conduct herself with the utmost decorum. She was not a little girl anymore who needed to be taught and guided, especially not with a wagging finger. Of course she knew that Count Wolfburg expected her to conduct herself appropriate to her station in life, and Tante Ambrosia didn’t have to remind her with her favorite phrase noblesse oblige. Marie-Louise rolled her eyes and mimicked her aunt. And don’t forget to thank the count for his time. As if I was an ungrateful chit!
A secretary ushered Marie-Louise into a small conference room at the Wolfburg Bank. “Please have a seat, Baroness. Count Wolfburg will meet with you presently.”
Marie-Louise looked around. The room’s furnishings exuded warmth and tranquility. A wall unit with carved detail along the top covered the north wall, and on one of the lower shelves were several trophies. She marveled that the count still participated in such strenuous sports as sailing, skiing, and water polo.
Count Georg had been a frequent guest at Hohenstein whenever her parents were in residence, and again later, when her father had returned to the castle with an ailing heart. It was only natural for Marie-Louise to call him and the countess uncle and aunt.
On the shelf below the trophies, she noticed a picture frame and bent to look at the photograph. Upon closer inspection, she found that it contained the Knight's Code done in calligraphy, with the first letter of each stanza artistically scrolled. Picking up the frame, she read:
THE KNIGHT'S CODE
Be always ready with your armor on,
Except when you are taking your rest at night.
Defend the poor,
Do nothing to hurt or offend.
Be prepared to fight in the defense of your country.
At whatever you are working,
Try to win honor and a name for honesty.
Never break your promise.
Maintain the honor of your country with your life.
Rather die honest than live shamelessly.
Chivalry requireth that youth should be trained
To perform the most laborious and humble offices
With cheerfulness and grace;
And to do good unto others.
Somehow these words exemplified his life. He had always been strict but fair, she recalled. Maybe not always easy to live with since he expected much from everybody, though nothing he wouldn't expect of himself.
Would he be as aloof as Tante Ambrosia? Her aunt hadn't changed. In fact she had proved to be as stern as ever—no deviation from the standard rules and traditions that kept nobility atop their antiquated pedestals.
Marie-Louise looked at her watch and drew a deep breath. Where was Onkel Georg, and what was taking him so long? She paced the floor. Eight paces toward the window. Turn. Eight paces toward the wall. Turn. Each step seemed to chip away a fraction of her confidence. She didn’t know what she’d do if the count couldn’t help her with her problems.
Although she hadn't seen Onkel Georg since her father's funeral, she could still remember him as being particularly fond of her, calling her Snow White for her dark hair and delicate complexion. He would understand and explain the situation with her father’s trust.
She became impatient. Eight minutes already. Of course, he hadn’t known that she would come calling today and probably had every minute of the day planned.
The opening of the heavy leather-padded door interrupted her thoughts. Onkel Georg. At last. Marie-Louise turned to greet him with her most charming smile.
With her hands outstretched, she took a few steps forward, only to stop short. Smile disappearing, her hands dropped to her sides. She stared at the stranger.
Tall and lean, he appeared powerful with broad shoulders and a natural grace of movement. His thick, wavy hair looked like weathered copper, parted and feathered back at the temples. Hair of that color normally demanded a pale complexion studded with freckles, but neither was the case here. His smooth skin looked nicely tanned, telling of many hours spent outdoors, and his business suit enhanced his athletic physique, which stood in stark contrast to his professional appearance.
He certainly was the best-looking man she had seen in a long time, but who was he?
He inclined his head and gave a little smile. Pointing to the couch, he invited her to have a seat before he sat on the couch perpendicular to hers.
When he gave her an encouraging smile, she asked in a cool a voice, "Sir, would you please inform Count Wolfburg that Baroness von Hohenstein is waiting?"
At that moment, the secretary stuck her head around the door. “Please excuse me, but Herr Maier is in the office and wants to speak with you.”
Two creases appeared above the bridge of his nose. “I believe I said that I didn’t want to be disturbed.”
“I’m sorry, but Herr Maier said that he had important news for you.”
The young man turned to Marie-Louise and said, “Please excuse the interruption,” before he stood up and followed his secretary.
His voice had sounded clipped and business-like, and Marie-Louise shuddered at the thought of having him for an opponent. Although his generous mouth and the fine lines around his eyes spoke of warmth and humor, his voice attested to a toughness she'd rather not experience. She resolved to speak only with Onkel Georg and not with this stranger, although he obviously held a position of considerable influence and seemed determined to find out why she had come to see the count.
Her business with the count was of a personal nature and not fit for anyone else's ears. Should Onkel Georg be unavailable, she would have to come back another time, although she had so hoped to see him today.
The young man returned presently. “Sorry for the interruption.” He smiled while his eyes rested on her face.
Marie-Louise stiffened, sat bolt upright, and put as much hauteur and disdain into her expression as she possibly could. He, on the other hand, seemingly unperturbed, watched her reaction with one arm resting on the back of the settee.
Enough delaying. Clearing her throat, she looked straight at the man. "Are you in the count's confidence?"
A low chuckle emerged from deep down his throat. "Yes, I definitely am."
"You are his right hand, I presume?"
He tilted his head to one side and wrinkled his brow as if to consider her question. "Yes, I think so."
She eyed him with cold defiance. “Why did Count Wolfburg send you to talk to me? Is he unavailable?”
The young man leaned forward as his smile intensified and little devils danced in his eyes. "I guess you don't remember me, Snow White."
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