Oksana and Rafe mix like oil and water. Can she melt his hardened heart and breathe life back into him once again or will he stay on the sidelines forever?
Grays Hill has a 4.5-star average rating on iTunes out of 363 ratings.
GRAYS HILL turns romance into a fun sporting event where you find yourself cheering the opponents onto victory. Score, love. Lucy Wang, IndieReader
After her father committed suicide rather than face his mounting gambling debts, Oksana Wallingford knows she will have to work in order to keep food on the table and her younger brother, the new baron, in school. When her best friend finders her a position as the nanny of his brother’s children, it is the opportunity Oksana needs. But what she didn’t contend with was Rafe, the recently widowed Duke of Essex and her new employer.
Oksana and Rafe’s personalities are like oil and water. However, what begins as mutual hate slowly begins to change into something more. But what future can they have when Rafe has sworn off marriage for good?
As the mismatched pair struggles to come to terms with one another, a disaster that throws everything into question strikes them both.
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They were both dripping with sweat, their clothes clinging to them. The Duke took off his shirt, flinging it on the floor next to the snacks and wiped himself off with his towel. Oksana had a hard time concentrating on her blade as she faced the well-muscled naked torso of the Duke. All she wanted to do was run her hands through the mat of hair on that very masculine chest. She suspected he was doing this on purpose to throw her off. Well, it was working! She remembered the feel of those muscles in her hands when she had last massaged him, and her hands ached to touch him again. She then wickedly wondered what he would do if she took off her shirt!
“Now let’s see you put into practice what I have been teaching you. Think you can remember it all or do I need to start from the beginning?” His voice dripped with sarcasm.
That did it. She was over his naked chest and focused back on piercing his despicable heart with her foil. “En garde!” she yelled, her knees well bent, her center of gravity kept midway between her heels. Using the stance they had been working on, she was well balanced and able to use her leg muscles to generate a rapid burst of speed to deliver a flêche.
Rafe immediately performed a ceding parry. He effortlessly stepped back while parrying Oksana’s blade, turning the flêche to his advantage. As she ran past him, the Duke pivoted one hundred and eighty degrees on his rear foot and hit the lady gently on the back in one swift movement.
“Nice move but not nice enough, Lady O.”
“You seem to let your emotions run away with you, my dear.”
“At least I have emotions.” She attacked again, this time gauging her lunges more evenly against his defense.
“I have emotions.”
“Quite true, Your Grace. Let me name them for you: disdain, dislike, hatred, abhorrence, loathing, disgust, odium…”
“I see you have an exceedingly high opinion of me. Make your grip right. You are letting it slip again. And here I thought I was doing so much better emotionally.”
She walked over to the bench to wipe the sweat from her face and to towel off the grip. “You are still faking it.”
When she returned to her stance, he started to slowly move her backwards, thrusting harder. “What do you mean, faking it?”
“You smile but not with your eyes. Only your mouth moves. That is not a real smile. You laugh with your voice but not your belly. That is not a real laugh. Ouch! That hurt!” The edge of his foil passed along her wrist. “Then put your arm up, woman! Protect yourself at all costs.”
“Admit it. You are emotionally stunted.”
“And you’re fat!”
“Well at least I admit it and I am doing something about it!”
She stopped and looked at him warily. “Really?”
“Sure, who could miss it? Another few months and you’ll be positively svelte.”
Oksana squinted at him sideways, not sure if he was being nice or sarcastic.
She didn’t have much time to think as he performed a ballestra to reengage her in the practice. Executed improperly, a ballestra can look very silly and leave the attacker wide open to counterattacks. The Duke, however, performed it flawlessly, covering a vast distance in little time, thus causing Oksana to lose control of her sword and send it skidding across the floor.
She huffed and stomped off to retrieve her rapier. “Have you ever been fat, Duke?” She took the initiative and lunged.
“Did you ever tease the fat boy in your class?”
He thought for a moment.
“You did; I can see guilt written all over your face. What was his name?”
“Howard Wilkins. The bloke was a year behind us, and yes, we teased him quite often.” He beat her back with a compound riposte.
“Because he was there?” It was a question, not a reason.
“Why?” She pushed him.
“I guess because we could. He didn’t defend himself against us, so it was easy.”
“Did you ever pause to think how you made him feel?”
Oksana snorted. “Of course not. People like you never do.”
The Duke took exception to her comment. “What do you mean, ‘people like me’?” His lunge was a little more vicious than he had intended, making her parry nearly uncontrollably.
She paused while she recovered and adjusted her stance. “People who don’t have an obvious flaw that others can exploit. Therefore, you are free to dole out the jests and insults and pranks without fear of recrimination. You said that boy just took your insults. He had no way to fight back as you were all older, higher up in the peerage, well respected at school, well connected through your fathers, better looking, thinner, and so forth. He was beat before he arrived.”
She was making him feel bloody uncomfortable facing his past ugliness. He, Larry, and Chet were all those things she just mentioned. Lawrence Mefford was the heir apparent to the title of the Marquis of Breadalbane, Chester Compton the heir to the Earl of Devon. All of their fathers were powerful, well-respected men. All of them received good grades and were the best at sports or competitions or catching girls. That is what drew them together as friends; they were simply on top, the cream of the crop, and they knew it.
The woman continued without relenting in her onslaught, either in her lunges or her verbal assault. “Being fat will either make you strong or beat you into retreat. Sounds like Howard Wilkins retreated. I refused to. I fought back. It made me strong.”
“How is that? Take that other hand off the hilt! You are not allowed to use two hands!”
Oksana was panting heavily again but pulled her left hand from the hilt. “Do you know what it feels like to have people talk about you as if you don’t exist or have feelings?”
“Can’t say that I do.”
“Of course not, you who were the heir apparent to a duchy, handsome and slim, and fawned over.”
She stopped again, lowering her blade. “Can you imagine people always saying things such as, ‘too bad you are so fat, you have such a beautiful face,’ or ‘it’s a shame you aren’t as pretty as your sister,’ ‘you will never find a husband if you don’t do something about that body,’ or ‘why can’t you be more like Elise; she is thin, what happened to you?’ I put up with comments like that my entire life. I had to live under two shadows—one of my own making, my weight; and one of my younger sister’s beauty, grace, and slenderness.”
The Duke contemplated her, watching the emotions of loathing, self-hate, pity, resignation, and determination flow across her face. Her eyes were definitely not lifeless; they flared with her every sentiment, passionate in their emotions and expression.
Oksana continued, “Can you imagine how you would feel if you were walking past a bench in the park and the three boys on it began to bounce up and down as if you were heavy enough to shake the earth? Or if you were barked at or mooed at or if Lady Catalina called you a cow to your face?”
She put up her sword and began to move forward to lunge. The Duke took up position again.
As she lunged, Oksana took out all her frustrations at feeling inadequate as a woman, pouring out years of hatred at being fat and laughed at. She relentlessly attacked, gripping the hilt with two hands, and kept up the engagement, refusing to let the Duke correct her, no matter how bad her form.
“She… did… and… told…Geoff… I would… make the… children… fat as well!” Her words were staccato between the lunges.
He was astounded by her statement and the fury that welled up in her to be taken out on him and their blades. He let her release all the emotions she had been holding in all these years about her weight and people’s cruel reactions to her. He parried every attack, letting her keep up the engagement on her terms. He had just seen what few had ever seen. She had let him in on her deepest emotions.
She finally tired of the assault and lowered her blade. Her chest was rising and falling rapidly in exertion, her soaked shirt and camisole barely hiding the curves they held.
“A fat person has two choices, Your Grace. To roll with it and be a bigger person in here,” she pointed at her laboring breast, “or to succumb to it and let it rule your very being. I came out strong. I had people like Geoff in my life who saw through the fat to the person I was inside. I can still love and laugh and see beauty in people even when there is no beauty on the outside. The point is, Rafe, can you still love and laugh and see beauty?”
The Duke paused, his own breath coming in short, labored draws. He wasn’t willing to even contemplate that question, let alone answer it. He had come to this fencing lesson wanting to test her, but she had turned it into a test for him.
He instead raised his foil and attacked, forcing Oksana to once again focus on her blade work instead of their discourse. After a few minutes, she lost her grip again. Her arm and hand were aching with fatigue. She put her hands on her knees, her head down, panting.
The Duke put down his sword and came up behind her to once again fix her grip. He raised her up to a standing position then wrapped both arms around her, holding the hilt of her sword with his left and covering her right hand with his. He moved her hand into position but didn’t let go immediately.
He could feel her hair against his bare chest. It had completely left its bindings, tumbling to her elbows and clinging to her face, neck, and damp shirt. It now clung to his wet skin too. He could feel her warmth and smelled a mixture of perfume, soap, and sweat. He put his left arm around her waist and pulled her closer, not realizing what he was doing. He closed his eyes to allow all his senses to take her in, feeling himself become hard. God, how he wanted her! She was completely undoing him.
Oksana let the Duke fix her grip for the umpteenth time that morning, very aware of his closeness. She could feel his breath on her ear, on her neck and felt his chest through her blouse. She could smell his musky sweat and feel it mingling with her own. When he put his arm around her waist, she reacted out of instinct by laying her own left arm and hand on his. His fingers splayed out covering her stomach with his searing touch. She leaned against him and tilted her head back to him ever so slightly, her eyes closed and her mouth slightly open. A beast awoke within her, moving in her very core, causing a gripping between her legs she didn’t quite understand. She could feel his manhood harden against her and the gripping between her legs grew stronger.
Rafe slowly pulled his left arm out from under hers and released his grip on her right hand, turning her around to face him. He reached out with his left hand and caught her hilt pulling her toward him, entwining her sword arm with his own. He stared into the big brown eyes, so guileless, so true. He was slowly losing himself in their dark depths. Her full and inviting lips were slightly parted and were less than two inches away from his; it would take him but a second to cover the distance and…
Romance is a fun sporting event where blood boils, curdles, and pumps at the rapier speed of desire. Come cheer the opponents onto victory. Score: love.