After her father uproots the family to the northern duchy of Brackenhurst, Grace Eldon and her four younger sisters struggle with a new life of hardship. Desperate to keep a roof over their heads amid mounting debts, she and her youngest sister seek employment in the Duke of Brackenhurst’s household despite fearsome rumors.
Scarred and maimed from a terrible fire Silas Isling, Duke of Brackenhurst, buries himself in his work to avoid the stares of pity and fear. When one of the new maids shows no fear at his appearance, he is intrigued. That is until his meddling steward gives her the task of cleaning Silas’ bookroom. It is a most unwelcome disruption since he prefers to be alone.
While a thief plagues his castle, an old nemesis reappears, and enemies invade in the guise of guests. Amidst the distractions and chaos, Grace brings some unexpected order. Once convinced his scars had stolen all hope for love, Silas finds his life forever changed by the quiet maid. Could she love a scarred Duke?
Inspired by Beauty and the Beast
A scarred duke. A merchant’s daughter. And a contract.
Grace by Contract is a sweet tale of two completely different people coming together through a contract between master and servant. The reader is pulled into the story with the author’s great attention to detail. You can’t help but admire Grace’s strength when it comes to protecting those she loves and going to great lengths to help provide for her family.
There were times when the story dragged because there were scenes that didn’t necessarily need to be included to progress the story and the romance. However, I do love all the world building the author did to make such a realistic and believable world. I really appreciate when writers take time to lay everything out like Rachel Rossano did to further engage their reader.
Fans of fairy tales and romance novels will love Rossano’s Grace by Contract. If you love sweet fairy tales and romance, this is a great read for you.
My rating: 4 stars
“Pardon, is this where tenants meet the bailiff?”
I lowered my cup to find two women had joined us beneath the pavilion roof. Rambler coughed on his wine. Our guard blinked back tears as he swallowed awkwardly. Only Terida answered them.
“Yes, it is. And who might you be?”
“I am Grace Eldon, and this is my sister Beauty.”
Grace assessed us all with dark eyes far too keen and bright for my comfort. She was sturdily built despite her diminutive stature and slender frame. Her second-most remarkable feature was her full head of dark hair. Bound as it was and tucked beneath her thin woolen cloak, its texture remained a mystery, but the thickness of it made me wonder what it felt like. Her sister was as fair as Grace was dark, with a hungry look about her that made me fear she would fade before my eyes.
“We come on behalf of our grandmother, Patience Faye.”
“Ah, Madam Faye.” Rambler opened his ledger and leafed through the pages.
“Would you like sustenance while you wait?” I indicated the mush that Terida had brought me.
The fair sister eagerly reached for the bowl, but her sister stopped her. “We are not here to accept charity; we are here to barter.” The dark-haired sister frowned as she eyed Rambler’s ledger. “Our grandmother owes five measures of barley meal and half the harvest of honey from her bees.”
“As well as a half measure of ground oats for each adult living on her land.” Rambler leveled an assessing gaze across the table at the sisters. “How many live in your grandmother’s house now?”
“We are seven.”
Rambler nodded to indicate she passed the test. “And how much of this payment do you bring with you?”
Grace straightened her shoulders and tightened her grip on her sister’s hand. “None, my lord.”
“I am not your master,” Rambler replied, as though he corrected people several times a day. “I am no nobleman, merely a servant.” He marked something in his ledger. “So, how do you wish to pay what is owed?”
Again the young woman stiffened her back. “We have no money. Is there a way to work off the debt? My sister and I are strong and hard workers.”
Rambler frowned. “The usual arrangement is financial compensation, not labor.”
Beauty reached again for the offered food.
“We have nothing to offer except labor.” Grace tugged on Beauty’s other hand, and the fairer sister hid her fingers in her skirts. “My father requires my remaining sisters’ help to care for our grandmother and keep the house while he works the land. We have hopes of being able to pay what we owe next year, but there is no chance of that this year.”
“Not even a small payment?” Rambler asked. His eyes assessed her with the narrowed intensity that brought rough and belligerent farmers all over the area to account. However, they had no effect on the diminutive pair before him.
Grace’s jaw clenched as though bracing for a blow, but her gaze never wavered. “As it is, we will starve with seven mouths to feed. Beauty and I need to find work even if Lord Brackenhurst forgives our debt.”
“Indenture.” The word passed my lips before I intended to speak. Rambler turned to regard me with a puzzled glare. The pair of girls looked up with matching expressions of surprise. However, their responses to my scarred features were completely different. Beauty turned away, hiding her face in horror. Grace, on the other hand, recovered quickly, meeting my gaze directly.
“I hope our difficulties will not become the latest topic for the gossip mill.” She glanced at Terida, who was clearing away the now-empty mugs. The tavern keeper’s wife ignored her, leaving the shelter of the pavilion to dash for the tavern across the road.
“Are you sure you want to go that route, my lord?” Rambler asked with an emphasis on my title.
I inclined my head slightly, avoiding what was certain to be an awkward realization of who I was on the young women’s part. “Seems the best fit, considering the needs on both sides.”
“One or five year contract?” Rambler asked as the two of us turned our attention back to the young women.
The younger sister had maneuvered herself behind Grace, completely ignoring the awkward angle of her sister’s arm in her efforts. Grace regarded the pair of us with a mixture of horror and pain. I hoped the source of her discomfort was more her sister’s arm-wrestling than Rambler’s suggestion. Then, she blinked and all emotion drained from her face.
“What benefit would a five-year contract be?”
“A greater length of reprieve from the yearly tributes,” Rambler suggested. “A wage, perhaps, could be negotiated, especially considering there are two of you.”
Grace’s already pale features turned almost white. For a moment, I feared she would faint. Was the prospect of being indentured to me that horrible? Or perhaps it was the thought of signing away five years of her life?
Rachel Rossano is a happily married mother of three children. She spends her days teaching, mothering, and keeping the chaos at bay. After the little ones are in bed, she immerses herself in the fantasy worlds of her books. Tales of romance, adventure, and virtue set in a medieval fantasy world are her preference, but she also writes speculative fantasy and a bit of science fiction.
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