“I have been searching for you everywhere,” Penelope said to
Sylvia between pants. “Where have you been?”
Sylvia sighed and pulled her friend into her chamber. “Keep
your voice down! I am supposed to be in bed with a headache.”
“Oh! Then I will leave you—” Penelope turned.
“I am perfectly well,” Sylvia assured her friend as she led her
to the bed to sit.
“Lord Brandon has asked after you.”
Sylvia fought to keep her shoulders level. She desired to shrug
them, but it would not do to seem so disinterested in the man she hoped to wed.
After the wedding, she reasoned, she could sink into indifference. Many
“I hope Clara told him that I have a headache.” She frowned for
a moment. “You do not think that makes me seem too ill or fragile to be a wife,
“Not if you recover in time for dinner later.”
Sylvia could not help the cringe which wracked her body.
“On second thought,” Penelope said, “others can testify to your
general health, and no one can help from becoming ill now and then.”
Sylvia nodded. It might work.
“Is it the duke?” Penelope played with the folds of her gown.
“Is he why you are hiding in your room?”
“Of course not!” Penelope shook her head sending her ringlets
tossing to and fro. “No, I mean the Duke of Russell.”
Nate. Sylvia sighed against her will. “No, why should I hide
“I did not think you liked him. At the Museum he accosted you,
and you argued with him. It seemed you were avoiding his company since arriving
“I have not been avoiding his company. I walked with him just
“Indeed! I thought you hated him.”
“I do not think about him enough to hate him,” Sylvia lied. She
could scarcely get him out of her head. Of course, a woman such as she should
not be thinking about a duke.
“Why did you walk with him yesterday?”
“His sister is in love with my brother. She asked me to get to
know the duke better so he might see the Linwoods are a respectable family.”
“I thought you said she was conceited and disagreeable.”
“I thought she was.”
“I envisioned a girl mean like my sister, Augusta.”
Sylvia shuddered. Augusta had been two years ahead of them at
school. She had made their lives miserable whenever she saw them. Sylvia never
could understand how one could be as kind as Penelope and have a sister like
“If she is as kind and sensible as she sounds, then perhaps it
is not necessary for you to marry. You might have a very comfortable home with
“No,” Sylvia rushed to say. No, for then Nate would visit, and
she could not bear that. He seemed to see through her carefully erected façade.
She had never told anyone about her friend Anne. She had never explained to
anyone the impact of finding the tenant boy in the brook or Clara and Stephen’s
actions to help him.
“What about our promise?” Penelope asked.
Sylvia gazed at her friend and saw no judgment in Penelope’s
eyes. She had always been without guise.
“We have all grown up, Penny. Surely, you see it is time to put
such childish dreams behind us. Love in marriage is an impossible dream for
most of us.”
“Surely you do not doubt it exists. Clara and Stephen are as in
love as ever, and you think even Owen will marry for love—”
“Yes, but not me!” Sylvia pushed to her feet. “It is time to
dress for dinner, and I would hate to disappoint Lord Brandon.”
“Shall I assist you again?”
“If you desire,” Sylvia said. Penelope nodded and turned to
help arrange items at the dressing table, but Sylvia caught her hand and
squeezed it. “You are my dearest friend, and I love that you care for me. I
know what I am about.”
The two friends talked about other things while they dressed
for dinner. Hannah came by to check on the proceedings. Both ladies assured
Sylvia that she looked even more beautiful than the night before. They promised
Lord Brandon, and every other man, would not be able to keep their eyes off of
her. When she entered the drawing room, however, Sylvia could help but search
for the only man who mattered.
Lord Brandon bustled to her side, leaving Augusta mid-sentence
and Sylvia tore her eyes from Nate’s. The angry red Augusta turned clashed with
her attire, making Sylvia muffle a giggle at the other lady’s expense.
Throughout the evening, she reminded herself this was precisely
what she wanted. She wanted Lord Brandon to be infatuated with her. She should
put more effort into seeming as though she reciprocated his feelings. Sylvia
listened with an adoring gaze and spoke as though awe-struck by his every
thought and speech. All the while, she could barely breathe due to the
tightness of the fashionable gown. The starch which gave her sleeves the
perfect shape itched her skin. Beneath her gloves, her palms poured sweat.
Sylvia believed she could feel all twenty hairpins digging into her scalp.
Sylvia’s gaze slipped to Clara’s. She watched as Stephen
conversed with several of the other gentlemen, her love evident in her eyes.
Sylvia would never have that, and she only hoped her mentor knew how lucky she
“I have enjoyed our time together this week.”
Lord Brandon’s hot breath was in Sylvia’s ear, drawing her notice
away from Clara. She fought to keep the disgusted shudder from becoming visible
to her suitor.
“As have I, my lord.” Sylvia reached for her glass of wine.
“I have something very particular to ask you. May I have a
private interview with you tomorrow?”
Sylvia’s throat squeezed shut and she just barely avoided
another embarrassing coughing fit. Brandon wanted to propose already? That was
not the plan—he had said he would at the end of the week. She was not ready for
it! She needed the remaining days to entirely reconcile to the notion.
Clara stood and called for the ladies to separate to the
drawing room before Sylvia could do more than weakly smile and nod at Brandon.
She was too agitated to pay attention to the remainder of the evening. Around
her, the ladies played pianoforte and cards. They chatted as usual. The world
was not coming to an end for anyone but herself. The gentlemen returned at the
usual time, and Brandon once more came to her side. Swallowing back the rising
bile, Sylvia listened to all he said. She knew she appeared attentive, but she
could not remember a single thing he said. She supposed she should get used to
that sensation, for it would be her constant friend for the remainder of her
Sylvia left to retire early that night, no longer feigning an
aching head. However, sleep did not find her. Once the others were in bed, she
tightly pulled her dressing gown around her and crept down the stairs, through
the library, and into Stephen’s private study.
She scanned the shelves for a particular book which she knew
Clara valued too much to have available to anyone in the library. Many years
ago, when Clara was still their teacher at Mrs. Adderly’s School for Girls, she
hated her students reading romantic novels and fairy tales so much that
confiscated Cecilia’s copy of Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times translated
into English. Once Clara’s love for Stephen softened her, she returned the
book. The girls were so impressed, they purchased a copy for Clara and gave it
to her as a wedding present.
Sylvia had long ago grown out of fairy tales. However, at this
moment in her life, she desperately wished to have the comfort of those old
stories. Accepting Brandon’s proposal would be the end of all childish
fantasies. As she read, she wondered about the Sleeping Beauty’s life. Had she
any romantic dreams of her own? It seemed as though her entire existence was to
avoid touching a spindle and yet she fell victim to it all the same. How Sylvia
could relate to that. She had long ago given up the notion of marrying for
love. She had reasoned that when the time came, she could make a match with any
reasonable man. Now, the time had come, and she played with powers beyond her
knowledge. Why did the idea of marrying Brandon feel like the death of her?
What had the Sleeping Beauty dreamt of for one hundred years
while she waited for her prince to arrive? Did she long for a rescue to her
fate the way Sylvia wanted for one as well? At last, sleep claimed
Sylvia—before the princess awoke. She could only hope that when she next opened
her eyes, her world would be as changed and suddenly perfect as the long-ago
princess had found it.
Nate put down his now empty carafe of brandy and carried the
glass back to his chair in front of the fire. Cradling the glass in one hand,
he bent forward and rested his elbows on his knees. He was going to propose to
her. Brandon was going to offer for Sylvia Linwood. The cur had boasted about
it over brandy after the ladies retired to the drawing room.
It ate at Nate. Was it that Brandon had been his childhood
bully? Or was it that Brandon had managed to secure the hand of a lady as
marvelous as Sylvia? He did not even know the treasure he had found?
Nate knew, however. He knew the flecks of gold that appeared in
her blue eyes when she grew animated the subject. He knew the tilt of her head
when she was trying to argue with him but did not want to admit he was correct
about something. He knew a million small details about her, but not why she
would entertain Lord Brandon is a suitor.
Of course, who else had approached her as a suitor? From the
moment Nate met her, he had Sylvia Linwood marked down as a scandal waiting to
happen. Apparently, other men had judged the same. However, with her beauty and
a sufficient dowry, many other men would have overlooked such things. Perhaps
she had not wanted to marry until recently. Maybe she had never encouraged a
suitor before Brandon.
No matter how many times Nate turned the matter over in his
head, he kept coming back to the confusing situation of a woman as intelligent
as Sylvia Linwood desiring Lord Brandon to propose to her. Could she love him?
It was impossible in his mind. He drained his glass of brandy at the thought
then focused on the fire for several minutes.
There was an alternative that Nate could offer Sylvia.
Yesterday, he had thought impossible. Tomorrow in the sober light of dawn he
might also think so. In this instant, however, he was sorely tempted. It was an
excellent thing she was asleep, and he was supposed to be. If he had one of
their heartfelt encounters now, he probably could not resist his urges.
Nate trudged back to his brandy carafe to refill his glass,
letting out a disgusted sigh when he noticed it was empty. There was only one
thing to do. He crept down the stairs to Stephen’s study. He would drown his
sorrows and silence the ridiculous thoughts swirling in his head.
Upon entering that the room, he was surprised it was not empty.
Someone had lit a lamp. Nate drew closer to the source of light as his eyes
fell on the most beguiling site. Sylvia Linwood laid sprawled on the settee,
sleeping soundly with a book cast aside. He picked it up and turned it over in
his hand until he can recognize the title. Fairytales. A slight smile came to
Nate’s face. His mother had a copy of this book, and his sister enjoyed it as
well. As such, he was acquainted with its contents. Even now, Sylvia slumbered
like the beautiful sleeping princess of one of the stories. Had not thought
Sylvia Linwood the type to enjoy fairytales. Did she imagine Lord Brandon as a
knight in shining armor come to rescue her from some curse or foe?
Nate laid the book down on the floor next to him as he knelt in
front of Sylvia. Her beautiful blonde hair had come loose from its pins and a
few locks splayed across her forehead. He pushed them aside, reveling in the
softness of her smooth skin. She sighed at his touch.
“Awake my sleeping beauty,” he said to her. “You
cannot sleep here.”
Without opening her eyes, Sylvia reached forward and cupped his
cheek. “My Prince. You came at last.” Suddenly, Sylvia’s eyes
fluttered open look of astonishment filled them. “Nate,” she
Nate observed as a variety of emotions filtered through
Sylvia’s eyes. His hand which had moved her hair returned to her cheek. He
allowed his thumb to graze across her tempting lips. Encouraged by her deep
exhale, he repeated the motion.
Sylvia slightly moaned after repeating his name. Nate was
helpless against what he did next. Angling his head closer to hers. His lips
found hers at last.
She tasted it as sweet as he expected. There was more than
sweetness, though. She was like a forbidden fruit, he could not get enough of
her. He should remember that she was a maiden and they were unchaperoned in his
friend’s study. Although it seemed like everyone else was asleep, the truth was
they could be interrupted at any moment. If they were, she would be ruined, and
he would have no choice but to offer for her. Despite such rational thoughts,
he could not slow his response to her luscious lips. When Sylvia wrapped her
arms around his neck, Nate was all but lost.
Some part of him, some damnable reckless part of him inherited
from his father, shrugged off the consequences. Nay, worse; it welcomed them.
He wanted this. He wanted to be left with no choice. She had attracted him from
the start, and they were well-matched in all ways except her rank. If he were
any other man with any other past, he would have no reason to resist. As he
pulled Sylvia into his arms to have greater access to her lips and the smooth
expanse of her neck and collarbone, the raw truth was exposed to Nate. He did
not care about all those claims of duty or all the demands of his rank and
legacy. He could not see her marry anyone else.
Words were on the tip of his tongue, and he began to pull back.
There was a noise in the hall. Sylvia stiffened in his arms. The look of desire
left her eyes, and sadness and derision filled them. Confused by her reaction,
Nate pulled back further and released his hold of her.
“I should go,” she said. “I should not have been
here–I should not have come. It was a mistake. I hope you understand, it was a
mistake.” Sylvia pushed to her feet quickly then paused to hold her head
as though she moved so swiftly she grew dizzy.
“You are unwell,” Nate said. “I will escort you
to your room.”
“No,” Sylvia hissed. “If we would be seen, it
would ruin everything. Things would be presumed and–and no, you cannot.”
She pushed past him and swiftly moved to the door, exiting without a backward
The raw emotion and need she had exposed only a moment before
pulsed through Nate as he watched her walk away. In the morning she would
accept Brandon’s proposal, and then that worthless scoundrel would know the
taste of her lips and the warmth of her love. Could he let Brandon succeed?
I’m a BUSY lady. I write for my full time income that pays my bills and feeds my kids. I have two special needs kids that like to wake up before the rooster crows. I also homeschool them. But this isn’t about me being a super-woman. This is about me being average. All the cooking, cleaning, working, caring for everyone. Heavens, it’s winter and if I have to wipe one more nose because my 8 year old can’t figure out what a tissue is for then I might scream. You other women know what I’m talking about! And in the approximate hour I have left to myself in a week, I need to unwind and treat myself to some Romance.
I want my stories and I need them to be quick, satisfying reads. The problem is, it’s often hard to find what I’m looking for. I love Historical Romance. From Medieval chainmail to the Scottish Highlander to the Regency duke to the Wild West, my perfect hero requires a visit to the past. Well, this blog is Stories from the Past, after all! I’ve decided to gather short reads (under 40,000 words or 200 pages) from the top 100 Hot New Releases for Historical Romance category on Amazon. In the future, I might break these into subgenre categories.
Sometimes the most loving heart lies beneath a prickly exterior.
On a much-needed holiday with her favorite relations, Elizabeth Bennet is in search of Christmas cheer. Instead, she meets The Great Curmudgeon, or as the locals call him, Mr. Darcy.
Darcy hates any display of Christmas happiness. He didn’t always feel that way but is certain he will never welcome it again. In defiance of Pemberley tradition for being the life-force behind the holiday in the area, he shuns it after a family tragedy.
Despite their first perceptions of each other, Darcy and Elizabeth cannot resist the pull of their hearts. Old and new friendships, however, collide to weave an insurmountable obstacle between the fledgling lovers. Will Darcy be able to see past his pain or will he forever miss out on the joy of true love?
This Christmas season, treat yourself to a story of forgiveness, the search for true joy and lasting peace, and a love that can eclipse bitterness and pain. Buy How Darcy Saved Christmas today!
Together they can conquer anything…and their enemies know it.
Just as all seems well in Will Darcy’s life, old troubles reemerge. Now, he may have to choose between following his heart and keeping his beloved safe.
Elizabeth Bennet has waited five years to marry Will and is determined to see them to the altar. Confident their love will prevail, she bears their trials with patience and cleverness.
The final book in the Loving Elizabeth Series, Treasured is a dramatic conclusion to Will and Elizabeth’s saga. If you like love stories with the couple fighting outside forces, a knight in shining armor, and spirited heroines buy today!
He wished to please her by tolerating her mother. He hadn’t expected to find his heart so entangled in her family.
In an attempt to right a wrong caused by his dog, Fitzwilliam Darcy extends an invitation for the Bennet family to stay at his home. He is confident he can tolerate Mrs. Bennet and her younger daughters for two weeks if it will please Elizabeth and help convince her to marry him. After all, he is determined to delight Mrs. Bennet by marrying her daughter.
As he expects, Mrs. Bennet and her daughters bring laughter and loudness to his home and cause some disturbance to his life. Unexpectedly, he discovers that inviting Mrs. Bennet and her daughters to Darcy House just might be the best decision he has ever made, for his life and his heart will be forever changed.
Delighting Mrs. Bennet is the second installment in Leenie Brown’s Pride and Prejudice variation series Marrying Elizabeth. If you like well-written, sweet romance where the hero and heroine not only grow in their love for each other but also in their understanding of other family members, then you’ll enjoy this story about discovering that even the most trying relations are not so very trying when seen through the eyes of love.
So, put the kettle on, grab your copy of Delighting Mrs. Bennet, and join Darcy and Elizabeth on the second leg of their journey to happily ever after as they learn to see things from a different point of view.
An instant attraction. An epic snowstorm. A wedding day in peril.
Before one snowy day on a London street, Fitzwilliam Darcy had never been in love. However, shortly after meeting the tantalizing Elizabeth Bennet, he knows his heart will no longer be his own.
Elizabeth Bennet finds she is powerless to resist her attraction to the handsome and wealthy gentleman she has met and, in very short order, falls madly and deeply in love with him.
When the time comes for Elizabeth to leave London, Darcy follows her, intent upon continuing to prove his love for her. Elizabeth is happy to have his attentions, but she worries he will not be able to look past her background or abide her mother.
As it turns out, Elizabeth’s mother is not the only mother to fear in Hertfordshire, for it is Mother Nature who poses the greatest threat.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Darcy! is JAFF you don’t want to miss. If you like besotted heroes, strong heroines, and sweet romance, you’ll love Zoe Burton’s second Christmas novella. Purchase Merry Christmas, Mr. Darcy! today.
Whether pushed forward by a rumble of thunder, revealed when the morning mist lifts, or etched like a frosty reminder of beauty in the cold heart of winter, love will find her home in the hearts of each of the couples in these three sweet Regency romance half-hour reads.
Thunder (A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novelette)
Fitzwilliam Darcy is out for a ride when a distant rumble of thunder forces him to seek shelter from the coming storm. What he finds when he steps inside his father’s cottage is so much more than merely a refuge.
Morning Mist (A Sense and Sensibility Variation Novelette)
To Marianne Dashwood, there is nothing more refreshing in the entire world than a walk in the morning mist. She relishes these rambles where she can allow her imagination to run free. However, when she comes upon a handsome stranger, she discovers that her daydreams cannot compare to the real enchantment of love.
Frosted Windowpanes (A Touches of Austen Novelette)
In an attempt to distance himself from the pain of rejection, Patrick Mullins left Ashmore Hall four years ago. Now, just before Christmas, he has returned, brought home by the deaths of both his mother and brother. However, the painful memories that he finds upon his arrival threaten to drive him away once more until the determination of the lady he loves proves to him that just like the frost brings beauty to the coldness of winter, beauty can rise out of sorrow.
The three stories in Nature’s Fury and Delights: Thunder, Mist, and Frost showcase Leenie Brown’s ability to craft Austen-inspired and original tales that transport a reader to a different time and a different place where the characters come alive and the romance is always sweet. If you have half an hour to spend wrapped up in the first blushes or the warm renewal of love, grab your copy of Nature’s Fury and Delights: Thunder, Mist, and Frost and settle in for a lovely trea
Sometimes, overcoming the past can be as challenging as surviving the present.
Mary Crawford, vivacious, beautiful, and adored by many gentlemen, has a secret. Her confidence is a façade, and while she may welcome one and all, she trusts few.
Gabriel Durward, an enterprising and wealthy tradesman, prizes integrity. Known for his shrewd business dealings, he is one gentleman that few would dare to cross.
Mary has never met a gentleman quite like Gabe. He seems impervious to her usual ploys, never prevaricates or flaunts himself as so many others have, and even though he knows her faults, he still chooses her without any need to be persuaded to do so. It is enough for Mary to begin to open her heart.
However, not everyone appreciates Gabe’s character as much as Mary does, and some of those individuals will go to great lengths to see him destroyed. When nefarious plans are put into action, Mary’s fledgling trust will be tested, and fear will raise its ugly head, tempting her to retreat. Will Gabe be able to survive the onslaught and finally prove to Mary that she can trust him to protect her heart with his very life?
Mary: To Protect Her Heart is the third episode in Leenie Brown’s Other Pens, Mansfield Park Series of books. If you like well-written stories of sweet transformation with swoon-worthy, gallant heroes and strong yet vulnerable heroines, then you will enjoy this story about overcoming the past and learning to trust.
So, put the kettle on, grab your copy of Mary: To Protect Her Heart, and let Gabe and Mary’s story guide you through rough seas into the welcoming safe haven of deep, enduring love.
When poor orphan Ava Smith comes face to face with a girl who looks exactly like her, she is certain she has seen a ghost! But, Lady Emily Fairfax, is no ghost and is sure that she and Ava must be long lost twins. Despite her better judgement, Ava allows Emily to convince her to swap lives for a month, in order for Ava to scupper Emily’s engagement to a cold-hearted, brute of a man. Imagine Ava’s surprise when Emily’s betrothed turns out to be none other than her unrequited crush, the Duke of Kilbride!
Raff Alexander Hamilton, the Sixth Duke of Kilbride, knows that he must do his duty to the line by marrying and procuring an heir. Love was never in the equation in his search for a bride. All that he required was a lady who was well-bred, quiet and biddable—and he thought that he had found just what he was looking for in Lady Emily Fairfax. Imagine his surprise, when overnight, his betrothed goes from meek and compliant to outspoken, alluring, and decidedly unimpressed with him.
As Raff battles to woo his bride to be, Ava must navigate the sumptuous world of Regency London, while trying desperately not to fall in love – no matter how much her heart wants it.
Christi Caldwell’s brand-new Regency book, “A Lady’s Guide to a Gentleman’s Heart” is sure to fill your heart with cheer and warmth this winter season! Don’t miss out on the long-awaited second book in The Heart of a Scandal series!!
Honor demands he give her up- Heath Whitworth, Marquess of Mulgrave and heir to a dukedom, is honorable to his handsome bones. When his mother insists he spend the holidays dancing attendance on Lady Emilia Aberdeen, he has no choice but to do the gentlemanly thing. For years, Heath has harbored feelings for the lady, but he knows exactly why his best friend jilted Emilia years ago, and that secret makes a happily ever after for Heath and Emilia an impossibility.
Love demands she follow her heart- Heartbroken after the man she loved ended their betrothal, Lady Emilia Aberdeen, is quite content to live a spinster’s life penning an anonymous column that offers guidance to young ladies. Except, the more she is thrown into Lord Mulgrave’s company, the more she sees that the proper, always-aloof gentleman is also charming, clever, and inconveniently attractive. Emilia discovers maybe it is possible to love again but with secrets between them, Heath will face his greatest challenge yet: loving Emilia Aberdeen or letting her go.
Other Books in The Heart of a Scandal series: Prequel Novella: In Need of a Knight Book 1: Schooling the Duke Book 2: A Lady’s Guide to a Gentleman’s Heart
Widowed clan chief Connor MacCallen prays fervently for a loving wife and children, as well as peace for his clan. As blessed as they are with abundant crops and cattle, they are threatened by the generations’ old feud with the Randalls. Connor must find a way to stop the feud from turning into war.
Ostracized at the age of nine as the daughter of a drunkard and thief, Onnleigh has lived a lonely existence. With no friends and no hope of having a family of her own, she has resigned herself to a bleak future. Until one day when one of her clansmen starts to visit. She learns too late that he is neither a man of honor nor integrity, nor one who should be trusted.
Connor doesn’t put any faith in wishing wells, fairies or ghosts. But to appease his grandminny, he makes a very special wish: for a loving wife, children, and peace for the MacCallens.
When Onnleigh overhears Connor’s wish, she makes the most difficult decision of her life. As poor as a church mouse and uneducated, she can’t give him peace. But there is one thing she can give him.
Will Connor be able to stop the violence before it destroys all that he values? Will he find someone to love again? And will Onnleigh ever find a place to call home?
Christopher Worth, the Duke of Carlyle, has a carefully cultivated reputation of ‘respectability’ but he possesses a dark, lustful heart which he reins in rather well. Except someone is out to reveal him as a wicked rogue in the tongue in cheek articles written about him by a notorious gossip columnist. Determined to unmask this meddler in his life, he finds his heart shockingly captivated by Miss Pippa Cavanaugh.
The hopes of marriage or the charming attractiveness of the Duke of Carlyle didn’t drive Pippa to pursue the most elusive catch of the season, she was out to avenge her dear friend whose heart had been callously injured. Pippa desires to reveal to society that their perfect duke is a wicked, unprincipled seducer. The last thing she expects is for the dratted man to turn the tables on her, engaging her in a dance of wits, soul stealing kisses, and unexpected, sensual adventures. Soon she must decide if he is her path to ruin or her promise of a happy ending.
Widow Abigail Hembree’s entire world has been the Wigg School and Foundling Home. She and her precious children have found a home there, safe from the evils of men, as she taught and nurtured the orphans who shared their lives. But Madam Wigg has made her an offer she can’t refuse, and it comes with a terrifying stipulation: become a mail-order bride—put her future in a man’s hands once more—and she’ll be able to have her own school.
A year ago, Matthias Blake lay bleeding to death in the dirt outside of Black Aces, Montana, and came to a realization: more than anything, he wanted a wife and children. Now that he’s recovered and built his business into a success, a mail-order bride could take care of both of those dreams. But he didn’t plan on a wife who has a good reason to be afraid of men, or a son who wants nothing to do with Matthias’s beloved business.
When matters conspire—in the form of the mysterious Mr. King, who owns most of the town—to keep Abigail from opening her school, she is dangerously close to having to give up her dream. And while Matthias knows he’s willing to change his own dream to save hers, it all relies on Abigail. Can she learn to trust her new husband, or will the ghosts of her past overcome whatever chance she and Matthias have at a happily ever after?
Can two wounded hearts find the courage to love again? Find out in this must-read winter romance from best-selling author Jillian Eaton!
As snow falls outside the manor… After being rebuffed by her betrothed, Cadence flees to her brother-in-law’s remote estate in the English countryside to escape the humiliation of getting left at the altar. She intends to spend the winter locked away in her room with chocolate. Fortunately for her, the Duke of Colebrook has other ideas… Things are heating up inside of it… Renowned throughout London for his long string of lovers, Justin Dearborn, Duke of Colebrook, isn’t looking for a wife. Having been spurned once, he has no intention of putting his heart on the line a second time. Until one passionate kiss with Cadence leaves them both yearning for more… Curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy The Winter Duke, the first novella in a brand new series readers are calling “FUNNY, STEAMY, and HEAD-OVER-HEELS ROMANTIC!”
Beulah Wigg thinks her life is already as good as it’s going to get. An orphan, she teaches at the foundling home where she grew up, and she loves the challenge. When she finds out she has to leave the only home she’s ever known and marry so she can start a school of her own, she worries that she is not someone who should be married. She randomly chooses a man to correspond with and agrees to marry him immediately.
When Jack McClain finds out his mother has requested a mail-order bride for him, he’s not sure if he should be relieved the problem has been taken out of his hands, or upset with her for forcing him to marry. As soon as he realizes the beautiful Beulah will be his bride, he decides to be happy and make the most of it. Will the two of them be able to compromise to the point where they’re both content? Or will they spend the rest of their lives in an unhappy marriage?
This book, the second in the alphabet bride series, is directly related to Orlan Orphans, Seven Sisters, Seven Sons, and the McClains.
After five long years trapped in the country, newly widowed Nina Granville, Duchess of Exeter, has returned to town to start over. But it was here she committed an indiscretion—one stolen night of pleasure—that would threaten all she holds dear if revealed.
Byron always loved Nina from afar—until the house party that turned his world upside down. Guilt saw him flee England’s shores, and Nina wed to a man old enough to be her grandfather, but now the handsome rogue is back…and ready to claim what is his.
Yet Nina has kept a secret from Byron, one that could threaten their sizzling attraction and sever their longstanding friendship forever. With Byron’s brother determined to reveal the truth, Nina must use her power in the ton to ensure her secret is kept safe. Even at the expense of love…
Your favorite blood-and-guts battle lord returns for a short holiday tale!
Jax de Velt is the knight they call The Dark Lord. After years of barbaric conquest across England, Scotland, Wales, and France, he finds himself six months into a marriage with a woman he has learned to love. The marriage is a happy one, but every day is a struggle as Jax learns to navigate a world where generosity and forgiveness are the norm. But one thing he hasn’t learned – the concept of human kindness and the warmth of the Christmas spirit.
In a brief happenstance with a peasant family, Jax comes to understand what, exactly, true bravery and kindness is.
The Dark Lord finds his Christmas heart.
Note: This is a short story and an extended epilogue to The Dark Lord. Enjoy!
He likes her. She hates him. The puppy loves them both.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet get off to a rocky start. Can three-month-old Scottish sheepdog, Henry, herd two stubborn individuals together long enough to realize they are the perfect partners for a lifetime?
Join in the frustration and fun when Mr. Darcy is forced to retrieve his errant puppy daily as Henry scampers from Netherfield Park to Elizabeth’s home of Longbourn. Told from her point of view, when she repeatedly spies haughty Mr. Darcy humbly showing affection to the puppy, Elizabeth is forced to acknowledge that first impressions might not always be accurate. Danger lurks, causing them to work together until Henry is safe.
Is Mr. Darcy’s bark worse than his bite? Will Elizabeth remain as stubborn as a dog with a bone? This 20,000-word novella is a blend of cranky personalities, blooming affection, and wagging puppy tails. Enjoy this Regency variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—where it truly is a dog’s life.
Lady Phoebe has spent two Seasons looking for the man who will steal her heart. Like the other members of her family, she wants love in her marriage, not the usual connections and wealth. While walking her energy off one morning as her twin sister pours over dress plates, Phoebe sees a man rescue a horse from its abusive owner. She is stunned when she realizes the rescuer is the Duke of St. Albans, better known as The Cold Duke.
Morgan, the Duke of St. Albans, is aware of his reputation as The Cold Duke and is not troubled by it. He was raised to keep his emotions in check and plans to select a suitable young lady this Season to fill the position of the Duchess of St. Albans. He has no desire for a love match that can only result in messy entanglements. His heartless reputation has served him well until Lady Phoebe, a young woman he has admired in the past, witnesses a rare moment of tender compassion.
Now that Lady Phoebe has seen beneath his icy veneer, will The Cold Duke acknowledge the passionate emotions she’s stirred or will he pursue a convenient marriage with a more suitable young woman?
The Duke of Raventon has sworn to never reveal his entire heart and soul to anyone. He has known loss and pain and failure.So much so, that the only way he can make up for the past is in saving everyone he can. When the wild, beautiful Highland lass shows up on his doorstep, he can’t turn her away. More so, he will do whatever it takes to ensure her safety and happiness. Even if it means choosing her for his bride. But when his soul longs to know hers and his heart dares to yield, he must choose between all he has ever known as the most mysterious duke in all of Europe or a final chance at love.
A Fiercely Determined Highland Lady:
Lady Diana is fleeing her murderous brother and seeking her freedom. Only one man can help her. The mysterious Duke of Raventon. But he is a dark and ominous figure, his name whispered to her on the death bed of her aunt. Still, Diana has no choice but to go to London, knock upon his door, and meet the devil himself. As her aunt promised, the enigmatic duke agrees to keep her safe. She knows she can trust him with her life but when sparks fly, can she trust him with her heart?
Join the MacKinnon clan for a magical reunion, bringing together old friends and new for a Yuletide never to be forgotten.
Malcom MacKinnon has been gone from Chreagach Mhor for more than ten years. He’s never met the youngest MacKinnon, but while he’s looking forward to their first meeting, Alexander Ailbeart MacKinnon isn’t quite as enthusiastic to meet the brother who, in his eyes, abandoned their clan. Having received word Malcom and his new wife are on the way, he’s on his heels now, making sure their home is safeguarded from forces that threaten his family’s joy. Will the brothers finally come together after so long?
This short story can be read as a stand-alone but will make more sense if read after reading THE KING’S FAVORITE in the Daughters of Avalon series.
She’s stealing from the past. He’s guarding his future. Will a modern woman’s mission kindle hot Viking passions?
Chicago, 2018. Rachel will do anything to secure her mother’s kidney transplant. She just never thought her cash-rich solution would come from traveling back in time to a world of Vikings. As she pockets valuable jewelry from the past to pay for her mother’s future, she’s stopped in her tracks by a stunning Nordic warrior…
Norway, 874. Kolbjorn longs for his father’s approval. Born a bastard, the Viking rejoices when his father promises to accept him… if he successfully safeguards a cache of valuable gemstones. But when a glowing goddess appears out of thin air to steal the jewels, his heart stands in the way of his sword.
As Rachel gets closer to raising the funds, Kolbjorn fears he’ll never capture the beautiful thief. But neither expect the massive snowstorm that forces them together for the night.
Will Rachel defy the fierce warrior or will her mission of mercy submit to primitive passions?
The Jewel of Time is the second book in the steamy Called by a Viking time-travel romance series. If you like alpha Vikings, resourceful heroines, and sizzling chemistry that crosses a millennium, then you’ll love Mariah Stone’s blisteringly hot adventure.
Buy The Jewel of Time to get up close and personal with a Nordic warrior today!
This collection of eight full novellas presents some very different heroes and heroines, but the common theme is that they all find love, despite trials and tribulations along the way, in some way related to attending a Christmas Ball, in the area surrounding the town of Upper Nettlefold. ***** FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED *****
The stories in this collection, because they all happen in Upper Nettlefold, have things which happen, that influence the other stories. So the order in which they are presented here aligns with the timeline in which events in the stories happen (although many are in parallel). Read through this collection in order, and you will find that each story builds on the ones before, weaving the magic of community and interconnection between characters. There is also a map of Upper Nettlefold to help you visualise everything as you read. Although each story can stand alone, we’re sure that you’ll love finding the linkages as you go.
This is our second visit to Upper Nettlefold, but it won’t be our last. (Our first was the collection ‘Love, One Regency Summer’ which will only be available for a limited time, so, if you like these stories, you’ll want to grab it before its gone!) You may see other collections based here, or you may see individual books from the various authors, but we will keep expanding the stories about the people you’ll meet in this collection.
We have also each given you a short preview of another of our books.
This collection includes:
To Dance with the Dangerous Duke by Arietta Richmond A Duke sworn never to love again, a Lady trapped by one past mistake, a Christmas Ball, a blackmailing cad, an impossible choice, a last minute reprieve, a miraculous love.
Merry Christmas My Love by Rose Pearson A Lady whose heart is broken, an Earl whose life needs to change, an accidental meeting, the interference of well-meaning friends, a confrontation, a new love that heals old hurts.
>Miss Modesty’s Mistletoe by Grace Austen An Earl with a scandalous reputation, a young woman whose parents hope to see marry a respectable man, a not so accidental meeting, a dramatic rescue on the way to the Ball, a love long held declared.<
The Compromised Lady’s Christmas Wish by Regina Darcy A Lady deceived, abandoned and robbed, a gentleman rescuer who has lost all that he loves, a murderer unveiled, a love that restores two reputations and heals broken hearts.
A Christmas Secret by Kelly Anne Bruce A widow whose days are lonely, even surrounded by family, a military man who brings news of her husband’s last days, and unexpected attraction, an identity revealed, a new love for Christmas.
The Earl’s Christmas Love by Sophia Wilson A widowed Earl, avoiding society, a Lady who hopes for love, a past acquaintance with designs on the Earl, a trap set and sprung, a misunderstanding resolved, a love saved from despair.
Miss Fitzwilliam’s Christmas Redemption by Lydia Pembroke A young woman, bitter about her own bad choices, and a love lost, a change in circumstances, a charitable action which leads to a meeting with a man of the merchant class, a love that redeems.
The Christmas Fortune by Isabella Thorne A Knight who hopes to marry, a Lady whose place in society is newly restored, and threatened by past scandal, the villain who could ruin her, a plan to trap a wrongdoer, a love saved by royalty.
Welcome to a very special de Russe Christmas, on a night when an angel walks the earth…
Join the House of de Russe for a special reunion at Christmastime – Gaston and Remington, and all of their children gather at Deverill Castle for what they believe to be Gaston’s last Christmas.
Or is it?
Suffering from what the physics term as a cancer in his throat, the man once known as The Dark One is devastated that the end of his life is approaching. He tries to be strong for his wife, for his children, but the truth is that he is tired, and it difficult for the once-powerful knight to admit that he is dying.
His family is equally devastated, especially his eldest sons, who remember when he was the most feared and powerful knight in the entire realm. When Dane de Russe stops at a local church to offer prayers for his father, to beg for a miracle, little does he realize that God, in fact, has heard his prayers.
On a night when angels walk the earth, witness a sweet and tender de Russe miracle, a timeless moment that transcends all seasons.
This short story is an extended epilogue to the de Russe novels Dark Moon and Dark Steel, but can be read as a standalone.
Welcome to the Surrey Sexual Freedom Society – where unconventional and uninhibited ladies and gentlemen discuss all matters erotic… After twenty-five years in the British army, Captain Randall Denham thought he’d seen it all. Yet nothing prepared him for Lady Portia Butler, the fiercest, most exasperating, and amusing beauty he’d ever met—or how hard he would fall for her. Randall yearns to be at her command in the bedchamber as well as out, but a match between a highborn lady and a penniless ex-soldier of dubious birth is impossible. Quite content to be unwed and childless, Portia cherishes her friends, her charitable causes, and outwitting the ton. She shouldn’t be having erotic fantasies about her bodyguard Denham…and definitely shouldn’t engage in a wicked secret affair with him. But when her family dictates she must cede her independence and marry a peer or face dire consequences, Portia faces her sternest battle yet: defeating the wealthy patriarchy to win the greatest prize of all—love.
Please note this book contains explicit language and sexual content.
A scarred man. A mysterious secret. A courageous woman who dares to follow her heart.
Earl Turner was once an arrogant cad, taking money from whomever he could, and never allowing anyone into his affections. However, one terrible night changes everything, leaving him with scars both inside and out. Lord Turner knows he needs a wife to continue the family line, but his return to society is both necessary and difficult.
Miss Dorothea Earnest has been held back from society by her father, only to find that he has promised her to a scarred and broken man. When her father continues to demand more of her, Dorothea is terrified to discover that he’s been hiding a dark secret.
Will Dorothea be able to give her trust to Lord Turner, or will her father keep his terrible hold on her? And can Lord Turner finally admit that the one thing he has never let himself hope for has finally taken hold of his heart?
If you love clean and wholesome, Regency romances with a strong woman heroine and an inspirational romantic story, you will love, Promise of the Earl.
Authors Note: This is a clean, stand-alone romance with no cliffhangers.
When Lord Edward Stonham kills his opponent in a duel he is forced to flee and take on a false identity. Miss Penelope Bradshaw applies for the job of his housekeeper in his new persona as Edward Trevelyan. She discovers the truth and becomes his confidante. They can never declare their love for each other because he is not in a position to make her an offer. Is there a way out of this dilemma are they prepared to ignore propriety in order to be together?
Duelling is a hanging offence – when Lord Edward’s opponent dies, apparently at his hand, he has no option but to flee. Meeting Miss Penelope Bradshaw just adds to his problems.
Amanda Hildreth jumped at the chance to start life anew in the booming town of Virginia City in Montana Territory. She heads West to work at her stepbrother’s mercantile and maybe find love one day. But, her mule train is attacked before she even gets there.
Mountain Man Cal Ayers agrees to lead Amanda safely across the mountains. It’s not long, though, before they realize the attack was aimed at Amanda – and that living with her stepbrother might not be the safest plan.
Amanda can’t establish a new life when someone is trying to kill her. And she can’t imagine a new life without Cal, who she’s falling for. But Cal is fighting his feelings as he is already engaged. Can Cal save Amanda’s life, and their burgeoning love, in time?
The day Quinten Marvell became the Duke of Somerset should have been the most exhilarating day of his life. Instead, it was the day he inherited nothing but a pile of outstanding debts. Yet, there was one thing he was certain his father couldn’t squander, a place gifted to his mother, and then to him. Determined to recover the entire Somerset legacy, Quinn flees to the only home left to him, Lindenwood Manor, and discovers it to be the crowning loss in his father’s long list of failures. Now the most direct path to recovery lies in the heart of his beautiful and wealthy neighbor, Miss Alice Moore. Knowing that marriage would sentence this lovely, scarred woman to a lifetime of being snubbed as a commoner, will he sacrifice her to save himself from a life of poverty?
Diana Gleason is determined to prove herself as a capable, confident, and essential Pinkerton agent, now that the agency had decided to bring women into their ranks. She’ll do anything to accomplish her assignment, even if it means marrying her partner and training agent. Wyatt McGrath is a handsome, charming, experienced agent, filled with Texas politeness and the patience to teach Diana what she needs to know.
But the more they get involved in the undercover investigation assigned to them, the more she discovers that her partner has secrets, and those secrets haunt him. More than that, those secrets could get in the way of their mission, and put them in danger. With growing feelings for Wyatt, and something to prove, Diana must decide if the mission comes before her partner, or if there is any way to save both.
Readers who have enjoyed the inspirational, clean, and heartfelt stories of authors like Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Charles Dickens will enjoy this great read about young ladies coming out into society in the 1800’s
Did she do it?
Lord Caversham is desperate for help. His younger sister has been accused of theft and, unless she can be proven innocent, will be shunned from society forever. With her future in grave danger, he turns to the one person he thinks might be able to help him – Lady Angelica Landerbelt and her niece, Miss Catherine Newton.
Miss Catherine Newton has come to London for the Season, expecting to be fully chaperoned by her aunt. However, she never once thought that her Season would be filled with such exhilaration! Desiring to help both Lord Cavendish and his sister, Olivia, Catherine throws herself into the mystery headlong, only to find that she is in danger of losing her heart.
Will they be able to clear Olivia’s name? Or will the ever increasing danger break them all apart for good?
This is Book One in the series “A Lady Angelica Landerbelt Mystery.”
If you love Regency, inspirational-romance stories that are clean and wholesome and often include dukes, earls, barons, marquesses, lords and ladies, you will enjoy this book.
*This is a historical Regency romance novel of 31,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a sweet happily ever after.
The Wellchester Triplets Series is a set of 30,000 word stories that you will not want to put down. Each story is heartwarming and entertaining, and you will fall madly in love with each Triplet and their love story.
This box set Includes:
Rescuing the Soldier-Book 1 A new legacy began in the Wellchester family as red-headed, golden-eyed triplets were born to Sylvia and Ira. Each of the triplets, although born together, could not be more different in personality and character. Johanna, the wanderer, blazed a path for her life that was unique, if barely within the rules of propriety. With help from the matchmaker they called Aunt Margaret, could she possibly hope to find the man of her dreams. Was it possible he had literally fallen into her lap, in her own back yard. Join this tightly-knit, warm and welcoming family in their village of Tymington—all set in a time that was tumultuous with unrest.
Untamed Farrier- Book 2 Richard Wellchester, tall and coppery-haired with topaz eyes was one of triplets. Having trained in his father’s profession as farrier, he was ready to take on the world. With little besides his name, a forge, two horses and a wagon, he set off on his adventures. He was befriended by the King’s army and by the villain they sought to capture. Nothing would improve his good fortune until he happened upon the lovely Eliza, daughter of the bombastic squire who was determined to marry her off for riches and title. Richard’s heart held fast, though… could he outlast the squire’s willful convictions?
Love Lost at Sea- Book 3 That last remaining Wellchester triplet, Melody shared the copper coloring and flashing topaz eyes with her brother and sister. Her temperament matched, particularly when she crossed paths with the arrogant, controlling Mrs. Rutherford. The only redeeming quality Mrs. Rutherford, social dame of the village offered, was Conner, her son. Melody set her wistful sights on him as he left to go to sea and his mother ruined Melody’s fledgling seamstress business. Would Melody triumph in the end? Would Conner find his heart lay in the village of Tymington despite his dream of travelling the world?
*Author’s Note: The Wellchester Triplets series is a clean and sweet series*
He’s entirely the wrong sort of man. That’s what makes him so utterly right.
After a horrific marriage, widow Everleigh Chatterton is cynical and leery of men. She rarely ventures into society, and when she must, she barely speaks to them. Her one regret for refusing to marry again is that she’ll never bear children. As a favor to a friend, she reluctantly agrees to attend a Christmas house-party. Unfortunately, Griffin, Duke of Sheffield is also in attendance. Even though Everleigh has previously snubbed him, she can’t deny her attraction to the confident, darkly handsome duke.
For almost a year, Griffin has searched for the perfect duchess to help care for the orphan he’s taken on. He sets his sights on the exquisite, but unapproachable widow after her sweet interactions with the child impress him. Everleigh vows she’s not interested in him or any other man. But Griffin is convinced he can thaw her icy exterior and free the warm, passionate woman lurking behind the arctic facade. Only, as he pursues her, it’s his heart that’s transformed.
Can Everleigh learn to trust and love again? Will Griffin get his Christmas wish and make her his bride? Or, has he underestimated her wounds and fears and be forced to let her go?
This book is part of a series but it can be read as a stand-alone. Get this romantic heart-warming Regency Yuletide story you’ll want to read in one sitting.
Welcome once more to the Blackhaven Brides series bundle, now with books 5 through 8. This series is set in a newly fashionable spa town on the beautiful Cumbrian coast, where the great and the bad of visiting Regency society turn local life upside down. Passion, mystery, and scandal continue to follow the citizens of this wealthy enclave, now with an entire new group of social misfits. Regency Historical Romance has never been so adventurous – or so exciting!
This set includes:
The Wicked Marquis – The lady meets her match… and he’s completely ineligible.
The Wicked Governess – Can a governess teach a damaged hero?
The Wicked Spy – Can her enemy melt her cold heart?
The Wicked Gypsy – An old Blackhaven tragedy merges with a new quarrel.
Treva MacDougall is running for her life. Not just hers, but those of her clansmen. Fleeing the hangman’s noose, she must reach her rebel cousin in Scotland in time to warn him of an ambush by the Crown. Finagling her way aboard a pirate ship running contraband wasn’t difficult, but ignoring the intense temptation she feels toward the ship’s captain is verra difficult. She can’t allow herself to have feelings for any man, but maybe just one night of sinful pleasure…
A pirate caught in the middle
Coire Fletcher doesn’t trust women. None of them, but especially the dark haired, moss-eyed lass whose pretty lies got her onto his ship and her sharp wit and undying spirit is getting under his skin. He knows she’s lying—after all, she is a female—but by damned his growing attraction to her is as troubling as a Caribbean hurricane. He won’t be fooled again by a woman, not even one he can’t stop thinking about. He’ll deliver his smuggled goods and Treva at the next port, then sail away. Or so he thinks…
Chased by the British Navy and vengeful enemy pirates alike, Coire and Treva must leave past injustices behind and learn to trust each other…or neither may see another sunrise.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman of 27 is doomed to remain an old maid.
Charlotte Lucas knows this better than anyone.
Mr. Collins is Charlotte’s last chance at becoming a wife, but when he leaves Meryton without proposing, Charlotte is determined not to let this last opportunity pass her by.
The greatest challenge to Charlotte’s changes isn’t securing an invitation to Rosings Park, battling Lizzy’s temper, overcoming Lady Catherine’s unfathomable disapproval, or even Mr. Darcy’s odd behavior: it’s the distracting presence of Colonel Fitzwilliam. The man is neither handsome nor charming, but he’s honest and clever, which are enough to tease Charlotte with romantic notions that have never troubled her before.
Join Charlotte Lucas in this novel-length variation on Jane Austen’s classic, where practical Charlotte finally earns her own happy ending. Though a lover of clean regency romance, Miss Lucas is AV Knight’s first Pride and Prejudice variation.
A friendly holiday competition turns steamy in this Regency romance novella from the New York Times bestselling author of My One and Only Duke.
Previously published in Virtues of Christmas.Advice columnist Patience Friendly’s relationship with her stubborn, overbearing publisher, Dougal MacHugh, is anything but cordial. Dougal challenges Patience to take on a rival columnist in a holiday advice-a-thon, and sparks fly clear up to the mistletoe hanging from every rafter. Will Patience follow the practical guidance of her head or the passionate advice of her heart? “Grace Burrowes is a romance treasure.” -Tessa Dare
Nate glanced at his sister as she arranged herself so he was in the middle of both ladies. She took his arm without thought, leading him to feel obliged to offer his other to Sylvia. He ignored the jolt he felt when she placed her hand on his coat. Just as he had been ignoring the desire to carry her in his arms once more.
“I would love to walk the grounds in the Spring,” Alice said.
“They are most delightful. Clara always had a green thumb.”
“I am sure the duchess,” Nate stressed her proper name, “is skilled at many things. However, I doubt she tends to the gardens herself.”
“You are wrong,” Sylvia said. “As long as I have known Clara, which has been since I was ten years old, she has always gardened. I do not just mean watering a few pots of flowers in the greenhouse.”
Nate could see from the tilt of Sylvia’s head and the approving smile she gave as she spoke that it was one of the things she most admired about her friend. However, a duchess digging in the earth? His own mother had been a duchess and had done such things—she delighted in their country estate after having lived most of her life in the stone-filled austereness of the cities in the North. He recalled one of the times he had proudly talked of her abilities when so-called friends from school had visited. He had quickly learned that there were social norms and his family did not fit.
“How marvelous,” Alice said on Nate’s other side. “Our mother would garden like that.”
“Oh, you mean Clara is not the only duchess in the world to have soiled her hands?”
Nate knew Sylvia did not mean the words in a negative way. Indeed, he doubted she knew about his descent. However, Nate could not help the old hurts from long-ago re-emerging.
“Our mother did not grow up on an estate,” Alice’s voice dropped. “When she married Father, she loved being out of doors. She would walk and ride all over the estate. She worked in the garden every Spring. She would even visit Father in the work fields.”
Nate glanced at Sylvia to see her reaction to his words. That she was surprised was evident enough. However, she quickly calmed her features and spoke with easiness.
“It sounds like I would have enjoyed knowing them. They seem like very honorable and kind-hearted people who served their tenants and land well. You must miss them terribly.”
“I can hardly remember my mother,” Alice said in a hushed tone, allowing Sylvia a rare glimpse into the sorrow which could easily hang on her.
“I have also lost my mother,” Sylvia said in a gentle voice. “It is impossible to really recover from the blow. I hope yours lived long enough to see you become the lady which you are. I believe my own only felt disappointment in me.”
“I am sure that cannot be,” Alice hastened to say.
“Oh, it is true enough, and I do not mind saying so.”
“Surely,” Alice said a bit forcefully, “she loved you and Mr. Linwood.”
“Owen was always her pride and joy. I know she loved me.”
Sylvia sighed, and Nate could feel some of the anxiety leave her frame.
“I know Mama loved me. However, she envisioned a different sort of life for me. It is of little consequence, though,” Sylvia said cheerily. “I am not the sort that would live her life according to the demands and expectations of others.”
Then just why was she attempting to ensnare Brandon?
“It is sometimes difficult to know how to balance the wishes of others with our own desires. One hopes to have proper respect for their elders but must also remain true to themselves,” Alice said pensively.
Nate looked at his sister. Did she mean that for herself? When had he said she must sacrifice her own desires for his?
“I sometimes think it is a blessing that our parents passed before Owen, and I gained our majority. We do not feel beholden to the demands of duty.”
“A man who does not take care of his duty will rob his legacy,” Nate sneered. His father had not cared about his duty, and now the Russell name was besmirched.
“Owen sees to his duty,” Sylvia said. “He just does not allow someone else to think for him.”
“You mean he is so arrogant he does not care for the counsel of others?” Perhaps that is why Sylvia was so eager to marry the greatest dollop-head Nate had ever known.
“Mr. Linwood is one of the humblest, gentlest men I have ever met,” Alice said at Nate’s side. She pulled roughly on his arm, causing him to cease his movements.
Nate peered down at her. Alice touched her temples. “Are you well?”
“A sudden headache,” she said. “Perhaps I should return to the house.”
“Allow me to escort you,” Nate offered.
“No, I would rather you remain here.”
“I will keep you company,” Sylvia said at his other side.
“Thank you, but I would hate to take you from the exercise. Please, you two go on, and I will meet you later after I have rested.”
Nate watched as his sister left. “I hope she is well,” he muttered to himself.
Sylvia snorted. “As you are self-proclaimed to not be as arrogant as my brother, allow me to give you some counsel. That is what an angry sister looks like.”
“Thank you for your wisdom,” he rolled his eyes but replaced her hand on his arm—for it surely did not belong elsewhere—and resumed walking. “It is not my first day with her. I suppose she enlisted you to help present your brother as a viable suitor.”
“No, that is for him alone to do. I was only asked to cease avoiding your company.”
“Were you doing that?” He hated the way his voice changed at the thought. It signaled too much to Sylvia for her expression softened.
“I thought I merely satisfied the preference of both of us.”
“You should not assume the opinions of others.”
“You cannot mean that you enjoy my company.”
Did he enjoy being with Sylvia? He was unsure if he knew what it was to enjoy anything. He relished their encounters. Each had been unique and unlike anything he had ever experienced before. He had begun to even crave them. Afterward, when the exhilaration wore off, he saw how he always betrayed his intentions and ideals. However, on each occasion, she had exposed a part of him he had thought was long dead. No, it was not entirely enjoyable, but it felt nearly as necessary as breathing. He settled for a vague answer. “My opinions are my own, and surely I have a right to that.”
“Because you are a duke.”
“I would say every person has a right to their own feelings. I, for example, would not go around asking why you are avoiding my company—”
“That would be easy to explain—”
“For the presence of another gentleman.” Nate raised a brow and waited for Sylvia’s answer.
She opened her mouth, said nothing, then closed it. Finally, she sighed. “I see your point.”
Wonders would never cease, he mused to himself. Sylvia looked none too pleased with the admission either. A smile tugged at his lips. It was not very gentlemanly of him to enjoy riling her so much, but then he had never had such an adorable foe.
They were a considerable distance from the house now, and the garden path meandered to a well-manicured lawn before continuing on through a wooded area. Expecting Sylvia to desire to return, she surprised him. “There is a glen I always enjoy visiting, although I have not yet seen it in winter. Would you mind if we continued?”
Nate agreed. As they approached, he perceived the space held some reverence for her. Sylvia released his arm and nearly ran when a brook came into view. She reached the edge and just when Nate thought she might heedlessly dash into the water despite the cold temperature and unseemliness of it, she stilled. He watched her as this woman who he had always seen in motion or doing something, stood before a narrow and shallow brook with as much awe on her face as one might when they first view the sea.
He could not tease her, however. Was there anything in his life which pulled him from his usual movements and made him take notice of them? Nothing besides her, he realized.
Sylvia turned her head toward him and motioned for him to approach. He had not thought she would like the intrusion. He stepped forward wondering if the same awe would fill him, but it did not. In a whisper and what he hoped conveyed his sincere desire to know more about her, he asked, “What is it about this place which delights you so much?”
“I love all forms of water,” she shrugged.
Nate looked her for a moment. “There is more to it than that.” He wanted to know the intricacies of her mind.
She returned his assessment, seemingly wondering if she could trust him.
“I will not tease you for your thoughts,” he said encouragingly.
Rather than immediately believing his words, the words of a duke, as nearly everyone else he ever met would, Sylvia tilted her head to one side. She had a small, crooked smile on her face as she did so and an impertinent gleam in his eye. Considering how much he hated Brandon for his continued disrespect although Nate was superior in consequence, he enjoyed Sylvia’s cheeky displays and coveted her good opinion. She did not bestow it upon everyone, making it more worth the earning.
“Nate, how long have you known Stephen?”
“I have never understood why men do not use their given names to refer to one another even when they are close friends.”
“I suppose some do—perhaps if they were friends as boys and still are. Or perhaps if they are the younger son with many brothers.” Nate shrugged. “I have no brothers, and I did not meet Clifford until just before he wed his wife. We were both full grown by then. Besides, few people are so informal with a duke.”
“So, no one calls you Nate?”
“Just my sister…and you…”
Sylvia blushed, adding to her beauty. “I should not.”
“You should as I have asked it of you and it would be rude to disregard a duke’s request.”
She sighed. “Must you bring up your rank at every opportunity?”
“To me, it seems you do. I cannot believe you do that with Stephen. He does not care for such things.”
No, his friend did not. In truth, Nate only did so with Sylvia for he had to remind himself why she was unsuitable for anything more than puzzling out her mystery. He would not even think her appropriate as a friend for his sister. However, he did not respond to her statement. She did not seem to notice.
“I met Clara many, many years ago. I was a small child, taken from her family, and sent to school. I was a little young for it, but it was my own fault. I completely exhausted my poor mother. Of course, as Owen and I are twins, it was only right that he was sent away too. We had been partners in all things, although in my mother’s mind our mischief had always been my fault.” She shrugged, as though it might be true or that it did not matter to her now what her mother believed. “I sorely missed him and had no friends at school until a few years later when more girls my age began to attend.”
“It is difficult to be lonely at school.” He knew it all too well. “Was the duchess a friend to you, then?”
“Lord, no,” Sylvia snorted. “No, we hated her! She was so mean and cold. It was only meeting Stephen which changed her. After that, my friends and I, we…” She shook her head. “It is unimportant. The school grounds were on Stephen’s estate, although he was not the master or even in the country at the time. There was a tenant house near the school. There was a girl, Anne, near my age. I could play with her sometimes.”
Nate watched as Sylvia chose to sit on the cold grass. She tugged on his hand to copy her, and against all reason he did.
“We were never rich at Ashford, but I had never been in a tenant’s house. I did not understand the difference in their lifestyles. Anne invited me to her home. It was cold and drafty. The roof needed patching, and the window needed fixing. I remember being amazed at their only having one window and one large front room. Although the stove took up much of the space, it seemed so cold. Their thin and worn clothes were no comfort against winter air. The same need of repairs which made life difficult in winter, hurt them in the summer.”
Sylvia shook her head. “Stephen’s brother was not a mean man, but he was not a very interested landlord. I hope you take better care of your tenants.”
“I certainly try,” Nate stiffened. He felt an inferior landlord to many, like Stephen. Accounts of rents and harvests did not come naturally to him. The concerns of their lives seemed strange to him. He heavily relied on his steward.
“Anne grew sick. They had no money for an apothecary and refused to ask for the master to send for one.”
She paused for a moment and wiped a tear from her eye. “For a long time after Anne’s death, I had thought all masters except for my father were cruel. He had died while I was at school and my mother hired a steward to run the estate while my brother was not yet of age. The man was mean and miserly.” She shuddered.
“After Clara married, she had invited a few other girls and me to visit. We were walking along this path when we found a small tenant boy. He had slipped in the brook. His leg was broken, but he had also hit his head. He could barely whimper for help. He was incapable of crawling out. Of course, a few of us retrieved him and then sent the others to get help from the house. Clara and Stephen came out themselves. They mended him, carried him to his home, sent for the surgeon and apothecary, comforted his mother and reassured his father. It was plain to me the boy’s family already loved and respected their master, but after such treatment, the Cliffords had their undying loyalty. For the remainder of my stay, I accompanied Clara on visits around the estate. I would sit with her when she sewed for someone’s new baby. The tenants did not live as high as a duke, and they would have refused any unnecessary charity for they had great pride, but there was cooperation between master and tenant.”
Sylvia drew her knees up to her chin and rested her chin on them as she wrapped her arms around her legs. “Stephen has never had a tenant leave although the prospects in the Northern mills seem so great. He has lowered the rents when times are lean, knowing that he would rather keep the good, honest, hard-working people he has than risk having to take new tenants. He knows amongst his current set that if he ever needed to take on more or fill a vacancy, they would recommend him as master far and wide.”
Nate had listened in wonder as she told her story. It was highly unusual for women to care about such things, and yet it did not seem out of place for Sylvia to care so much about others. He had valued Clifford’s friendship and respected his friend as a master, but to hear his qualities repeated from a third party made Nate proud for his friend. Could he measure the same in Sylvia’s eyes? Nate doubted it. He knew nothing about his tenants. The mills in the North took all his focus.
“I have displeased you,” Sylvia said.
“Not at all.”
“You are frowning, and there are great lines of agitation upon your face.”
Nate chuckled. “Great lines of agitation? Sylvia, I do not wonder at your ability to decipher such a look. I suppose you have often seen it directed at you—although, I think I can promise you never will from me— it is not quite proper to tell a duke he looks ugly.”
Sylvia unfolded her knees. “I am not a complete idiot, and my eyes see perfectly well. I would be a fool or a liar to say a man as handsome as you is ugly despite the displeasure you bear.”
A slow smile crept across his face. She thought he was handsome? “It is not for you to worry about the cause of my annoyance. Forgive me, for being so unguarded and making you think it was about you.”
He stood and held his hand out to her. She rested her petite hand in his, and a thrill coursed up his arm. He needed that to stop and yet wanted it to continue. He placed her hand on his arm, enjoying the light pressure and the tingle of awareness he felt from her touch and her presence at his side.
“I will not forgive you, Nate.” Sylvia raised her chin. “I think you should be unguarded more often. It makes you almost human.”
“What am I when I am not? A ghoul or goblin?”
“I fear I do not know the mythological creature that could describe it. You are morose and unsmiling. You move through life, but you do not live it. You may be perfect and flawless while living that way, but I do not think you find any enjoyment.” Sylvia covered her mouth with her free hand, and her eyes widened with surprise. Dropping her hand, she said, “Pardon me. My mouth runs away from me so often when I am with you.”
His eyes dropped to her lips, and a jolt of desire coursed through him at her words. How he would enjoy their soft, sensual exploration of his flesh. Clearing his throat to dispel his lustful thoughts, he said, instead, “If you will withhold forgiveness, so shall I. I do not wish for you to be anything but yourself when we speak.”
Sylvia smiled, but it soon faltered and dropped entirely. They remained silent until they reached the house. He had been attempting to think of something to say. What could he say? That he could not court her but wanted to spend as much time as possible in her company? That he hoped they would meet again? Was it even possible for bachelors and maidens to be friends? And why was that word so disappointing?
When the house came into view, Sylvia dropped Nate’s arm. It was just as well because Brandon awaited her in the entry. A glare from his old enemy made Nate stand his ground at her side, but Brandon soon scurried the gem he had discovered away. Nate clenched his fists. Brandon could not even enjoy the diamond he had found. She could never shine as she deserved if she were thrust in a cabinet and taken out only for special occasions.
Note: I have changed Laura’s name to Alice. I was getting confused having so many characters with names ending in A.
Since being trapped in a tree and rescued by the duke, that is Nate, Sylvia had taken care to curb her hoyden impulses. She had walked to escape Lord Brandon’s attention. Did other ladies feel the need for seclusion and privacy—for even five minutes of their own thoughts and with utter silence—as she did during courtship? Probably not, she mused to herself. Very few people seemed to feel as she ever did.
It was easy to amend her ways once she made a task list. It was a simple order of dos and do nots. Do: compliment Lord Brandon. Do: listen to him ramble on about whatever pleased him. Do: smile encouragingly. Do: ask simple questions. Do: avoid his eyes. Do not: let her imagination wander. Do not: trample about the grounds unescorted. Do not: run into the duke. Do not: think about the duke.
Left unwritten was that if it had been any other gentleman, the incident yesterday might have been entirely charming. Had he almost kissed her? It certainly seemed like it. Being held in his arms was not unpleasant. He had smelled of soap and earth. His strong arms and broad shoulders were the stuff of which ladies dreamed. For once, she felt the flutters others spoke of when with gentlemen.
Around Nate, Sylvia’s mind felt slow and incapable of its usual quick-thinking. Her belly filled with butterflies and cotton choked her mouth. She probably appeared a bumbling idiot to him. However, despite some teasing, he did not reprimand her very much yesterday.
Sylvia lowered her book at the sound of the library door opening. She assumed it was an acceptable hobby for a refined lady to read. Of course, behind the book of poetry, was one of Clifford’s latest acquisitions on farming methods he allowed her to borrow. Over the edges of the tome, Sylvia saw Lady Alice Gordon enter.
“Miss Linwood?” the young lady called. “Are you in here?”
Sighing, Sylvia lowered her book all the way and emerged from her hiding location. “Here I am. May I help you, Lady Alice?” she dropped into a curtsy.
“Oh, please.” Lady Alice motioned for her to stop. “There is no need to be so formal.” She approached Sylvia. “In fact, I was hoping we could become excellent friends.”
Sylvia tried to smile, but she could not think of how she could ever be friends with a duke’s sister. Even if Lady Alice were not as arrogant as Sylvia had first assumed, she could never marry Owen. Even if the girl truly loved him, her brother would never allow it.
Lady Alice’s smile faltered at the lack of Sylvia’s response. “Would you mind if I kept you company?”
“Of course not,” Sylvia motioned to the chairs where they might sit. On the tables nearby there were several books casually arranged. She picked one up.
“Were you not reading something else when I entered?” Lady Alice made a selection and sat.
“It was only a book of sonnets. It is of no consequence to begin something else.”
Sylvia quickly opened her selection. With any luck, Lady Alice would become engrossed in whatever she chose, and any conversation would be minimal. Looking at the spine of her own, she hid her reaction. Pamela? Why did Clara have such trash? She flipped open the pages and settled into her chair, leaving Nate’s sister to follow suit.
“Oh, I love Pamela,” Lady Alice chirped happily.
Sylvia gave her a slight smile.
“Of course, I prefer the newer novels more. I think perhaps it is because they are written by women. It astounds me there are several who have published works.”
Gritting her teeth, Sylvia turned her eyes upon the woman Owen thought he loved. “And you object to that?”
“Not at all!” Lady Alice gushed. “I am impressed by their courage. Too often ladies are not allowed to follow their heart’s desire in this world of men. I had thought all women saw that.”
Sylvia assessed the young lady before her. Had Owen told Alice of Sylvia’s desires to be a steward? Nothing could be a more profound betrayal! “Some ladies have the freedom to anything they choose. With money and position, many things are possible.”
“Perhaps,” Alice murmured. “Or perhaps all the expectations of station and wealth,” her voice grew bolder and confident, “are merely false trappings. Is that not what your Lord Bountiful learns?” She pointed at the book in Sylvia’s hands.
“He is not my Lord Bountiful. I do not know that he learned any such lesson.”
“With all his money and prestige, he could not earn what he most wanted from Pamela.”
“Her submission!” Sylvia cried while flushing.
“Well…well, I can see why you would call it that. I already acknowledged I preferred other novels. However, I believe the author attempted to display that he wanted her love.”
Sylvia snorted. “Indeed not. All he wanted for the longest time was her to submit to his carnal pursuits. He wanted her as mistress and in the end, gained her as wife. A mistress might freely leave for other employment. A wife would be bound to him forever. I say he lost nothing by marrying Pamela.”
“That is quite shocking,” Alice leaned back in her chair. “However, I would say not all wives must be so submissive to their husbands. Surely it is not a chore for all of them—not if they marry for love.” She lowered her head and blushed. “Alas, such is not possible for everyone.”
“My lady, do you have something specific you wish to say to me? Is there a message you mean for my brother, perhaps?”
“Yes—no—let me begin again.”
Lady Alice sighed, and Sylvia smirked to see the duke’s sister befuddled.
“I would have a favor to ask of you; two of them, really.” Alice met Sylvia’s eyes with earnestness. “I have a very tender regard for Mr. Linwood. However, my brother does not know the gentleman as I would wish. He does not know your brother’s accomplishments or steady character. I know he does not appear it, but Nate is a very loving brother. He would wish me to make me happy. He thinks refusing to consider men of certain positions will protect me from unhappiness.”
Sylvia dipped her head so the other woman could not see her roll her eyes. Nate might be useful if a lady was stuck up a tree—although, he did not really catch her. However, he had ridiculous and antiquated ideas regarding marriage and, she would wager, the classes in general. Why, there were merchants wealthier than peers. Sylvia had read of manufacturers in the North amassing great wealth from selling finished products. Men like Nate cared only for their rents from tenants. When they felt their profit margins shrink, rather than pursuing their own enterprises, they raised the rents on their poor tenants. It became more important than ever for the tenant to use his resources to their best advantage and that is how Sylvia viewed assisting in farming knowledge and land management as a way to help those in need. What better way than to give them the experience and tools to help themselves?
“I did not hear your requests,” Sylvia said, at last.
“Oh, pardon me.” Alice laughed nervously. “The first is that I would like us to be friends. I prefer to think that is not as fearsome as the next possibility. However, I have observed you speak with Nate openly, and he did not seem to intimidate you.”
Furrowing her brow, Sylvia tried to catch the lady’s meaning. When had she watched her interact with Nate? Surely not yesterday.
“At the British Museum,” Alice supplied the answer before Sylvia could voice the question.
“Yes, I remember now. However, what is it that you are asking me to do regarding your brother?”
“Merely be yourself—let him see that the Linwood family is respectable and loving.”
Sylvia’s eyes narrowed. “Allow me to be frank, my lady—”
Sighing, Sylvia relented. Did neither in the family know how a duke and his sister should behave? “Very well. Allow me to be frank, Alice. I am hardly the type that would appear to best advantage to a duke or convince anyone that a family is respectable.”
Alice frowned. “I have not seen you behave improperly. There surely are no rumors regarding such.”
“Only because I am so seldom in company. Believe me when I tell you that I could never convince your brother to accept Owen’s suit.”
“Could you not at least try?”
Sylvia gulped. Could she do that for Owen? Surely, she could try, but it seemed an impossible task.
“You only need to be yourself,” Alice assured her. “He does not appear so to others, but he is very reserved. He prefers to observe others for some time before feeling comfortable with them. I am only asking that you speak with him some. Let him see how Ow—how Mr. Linwood treats his sister for it might be how he will treat a wife. In short, please do not avoid his company.”
The woman could hardly mean that she wanted Sylvia to be her true self. She had only seen her for a moment or two at the British Museum, and since coming to the house party, Sylvia had attempted to be the perfect debutante and gain Lord Brandon’s suit. She was already play-acting to gain Brandon’s hand. She would merely add appealing to the duke’s brotherly sentiments to her list. Of course, that would require being near him and thinking about him and then…well, then her heart skipped odd beats, and her stomach churned. However, how could she attempt to secure her own happiness and not Owen’s?
“I will try,” Sylvia agreed. “That is all I can promise.”
“Thank you!” the younger lady enthused. “Owen will be so pleased!”
“Do you have an understanding with my brother?”
Alice shook her head. “The only agreement we have is that my brother needs to know both of you better. Owen will not approach Nate until he thinks he might be accepted. He will not ask me to marry him until he believes it probable Nate will agree to the union. He does not wish to make me choose. As I am not of age, it would put us in very miserable circumstances.”
“That is just like him,” Sylvia agreed. “I will attempt this under the condition you both realize its ultimate success has nothing to do with me. I do not want it on my conscience that Owen’s courtship failed.” Of course, no matter what she said, it would be on her conscience either way. Had her behavior thus far hindered Owen’s happiness?
“That is all I ask.”
They were prevented from further conversation by the opening of the library door.
“Alice, here you are,” Nate strolled over to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Good morrow, Nate. I believe you know Miss Linwood,” Alice extended a hand in Sylvia’s direction.
Nate, who had seemed to have noticed only his sister, turned and bowed. “Indeed. Good morrow, Miss Linwood. How are you finding Clifford’s estate?”
“I like it very well,” Sylvia smiled. “Indeed, we have often been guests here.”
“Ah,” Nate said. “I find the trees particularly enjoyable.”
Amusement lit his eyes and Sylvia instantly knew he referenced their encounter yesterday. However, Alice looked at him as though he had three heads. “You enjoy…trees? Did you sleep well?”
“Not as well as I would have liked,” he answered. “What of you ladies?”
“No,” Alice and Sylvia answered in unison.
Sylvia had too much on her mind and she suspected so did Alice. Why did Nate not sleep well? What could possibly bother a duke?
“Miss Linwood and I were about to go on a walk, if you would like to join us,” Alice smiled.
Nate hesitated before replying. “Certainly. It would be my pleasure to escort you ladies about the grounds.”
The siblings stood, and Sylvia put aside her book. This was going to be a long and unbearable week.
Nate smiled as the wind rushed against him. He had brought his favorite riding horse with him to Clifford’s estate. He did not get to ride enough during the Season. Sedate walks on his mount in Hyde Park could satisfy neither horse nor master.
When the ladies had separated after dinner last night, the conversation turned toward the trouble facing the mills again. Brandon jibed at him more than usual. Apparently, the earl felt triumphant in his glory after having Sylvia Linwood hang on his arm all night. What could she possibly see in him?
He pushed the horse to gallop faster as he scolded himself. Nate should be attempting to court Lady Hannah—or perhaps find another lady who would suit his list. The fact that he called it a list and no longer referred to it as his needs or requirements was a testament to the reality of how much Miss Linwood got under his skin. He was halfway through dinner before he realized Lady Hannah sat next to him. However, he was aware of every false smile Sylvia offered Brandon.
The moment she had entered the drawing room last night, he felt her presence. Still having some control over himself, he avoided looking at her for a half an hour. During that time, he was all too aware of the direction of the other men’s eyes, the approving smiles they sent her, the hushed whispers around him all had her name on their lips. When, at last, he turned his eyes upon her, he noticed hardly anything out of the ordinary. She was beautiful, and she was confident. If he followed fashion better, he might know if it was the way her hair was styled or the cut of her gown that gained their notice. It certainly drew his attention, but there was some other quality about her which appealed to him.
Nate shook his head at the other men. How could you call a lady truly beautiful if it required a specific gown? She would not always appear that way, and then a man might discover who he really married. Woe to the man who only married for a comely shape or dazzling smile. He shook his head again, to dispel thoughts of Sylvia. The wind gusted and sent his hat flying under a tree. Reluctantly, he pulled his steed to a stop and dismounted. He bent, retrieved his hat* and dusted it off. Just before turning to walk back to his horse, something plopped on his head followed by a feminine voice uttered a curse.
Nate looked up to see Sylvia Linwood in a tree, her stocking foot dangling above his head.
“Miss Linwood,” he drawled. “Without an escort again.”
“So are you,” she said before huffing and folding her arms over her chest.
“And might I ask why you are up a tree?” He bent to pick up her boot. “And without your shoes?”
“There was a cat.”
Nate scanned the tree and then the surrounding area. “I see no feline. I suppose your mother never told you that if all your friends dropped off a bridge you did not need to copy them? The same holds true that if cats are up a tree, you do not need to do likewise.”
“Yes, I know that,” she snapped. “I surely knew that already. Do not look so well-pleased as though you handed down some valuable information and educated the little simpleton.”
Nate laughed. What else could he do? When they first met, she had reminded him of an angry kitten, and now she was in quite the predicament due to one and hissing just as much as she had done that first day.
“Well,” he tossed his hat down and spread open his arms. “I will catch you.”
“You cannot be too choosy about my method, madam. You are up a tree, and I have no intention of going up after you. Therefore, this is how I shall retrieve you.”
“Who says I need any assistance?”
“I assume if you did not you would have come down by now. And not have lost your boots…” He perused her body before returning his eyes to hers. “Or scraped your stockings.”
Sylvia looked down at her exposed legs, for her gown rested above her knees. Gasping, she attempted to arrange the fabric in a more ladylike position. She appeared indecisive until there was a crack of thunder, causing her to jolt. “Oh, Lud. Very well. I was out walking alone and saw a kitten. He appeared trapped and was loudly bemoaning his fate. I climbed up, and as I stretched forward to reach him, the branch bent lower, and he found his courage, leaping to safer ground.”
Nate grinned at her story. “Ah, but now it is too high for you?”
“If I were not so far from the house and it did not look like rain, I would have risked the sprained ankle. As it was, if I had injured myself, there would have been no assistance for some time.”
“Well, I am present now. So, jump if you wish. If you are hurt, I can carry you back to the house.” Sylvia’s brows rose at his words and Nate rushed to add, “On the horse, of course.” He waved his arm at the animal. “Of course, I could catch you instead, and then you could avoid any harm for certain.”
“I suppose I must,” she said with all the pleasure one expected from a criminal facing the gallows.
“On three,” he said and waited for her nod. “One, two, thr—”
Sylvia toppled over him and knocked him to the ground. Nate’s head rattled, but he had managed to soften her fall. “You jumped too early,” he muttered.
He could not make any more sense than that. He might have hit his head, but the greater impairment to his ability to think was the fact that Sylvia lay sprawled over him. Her hair had come out of its pins and fanned around her. She pushed herself to her elbows, and the pieces fell over her shoulder, creating a veil-like effect of strands as golden as the sun, despite the impending rain. She shifted, and a lock brushed against the skin of his face. His body responded in turn. This was far too intimate, far too erotic. If anyone saw them just now, they would assume a lover’s tryst, and she would be utterly compromised. That thought sobered him, bringing back his faculties as well as calming his desire.
“Could you get off of me?” His voice sounded harsher than he had intended but it was just as well.
“I would love to, your grace, but your arm is on my hair, and I am pinned.”
She thought she was pinned, did she? Indulging in a rare feeling of roguish desire, he grasped her hips, delighting in her astonished mew, and rolled them so he hovered over her, balancing on his elbows.
His head dropped near hers, and she gasped. Their bodies did not touch, yet he could feel the fast racing of her heart—or perhaps it was his matching time to her quickened breath. What on earth had come over him?
Nate pushed up, catching himself by balancing on his toes before lowering his feet to the ground. As fast as he had stood, he bent and offered his hand to her. Sylvia blinked rapidly but took it. In one single movement, he pulled her to her feet, then swept her up into his arms.
“Your grace!” she cried as she struggled to get down.
“Nate,” he said gruffly into her ear, pleased to feel her shiver. Nothing more could ever be, but he would enjoy holding her form against him for the moment it took to reach his horse.
“Nate?” she echoed in astonishment. “No, I cannot call a duke by his given name!”
“But he can carry you to his horse?”
“He does not need to carry me! I am perfectly capable of walking. If anyone saw—”
“Which is exactly why you should moderate your voice,” he whispered in her ear, another shudder coursed through her.
“Stop doing that!”
“What?” He inched his mouth closer to Sylvia’s ear even as her hair tickled his nose. “This?”
“Precisely,” she said in more of a pleased exhale than the irritated commands she usually gave him.
“As you wish,” he said, as his lips just barely grazed her skin.
“Oh,” she moaned.
Nate deposited her on the horse. Her breathy exhalation returned to irritation.
“A pity,” Nate smirked. “I think I preferred you the other way.” He grabbed the reins to his horse. Indeed, he had quite enjoyed her in his arms. He had also discovered a way to quiet her mouth, he added to himself. Quite the enjoyable way to do so, really.
“Well, I did not,” Sylvia glared.
“You are quite rude. Has anyone told you that, your grace?”
“It might astonish you,” he said as he led them down the trail, “that you are the first person rude enough to tell me.”
“I am not the rude one!” she screeched.
“Why the cat?” Nate asked, hoping his abruptness would disarm her reproofs.
“Do you always save small animals? Or was it only the cat that appealed to you?”
Nate looked over his shoulder as he awaited her answer.
“I do not know” she shrugged. “No one would ever call me maternal. There is hardly a feminine bone in my body.”
“Was it wounded?”
“It was crying for help,” she acknowledged. “It was helpless, and I was present. I am not a great nurse and do not think I shall excel in motherhood. However, I greatly like to be of assistance to others.”
“And does serving others often find you stuck up a tree with no rescue?”
Sylvia sighed as the stables came into view. She muttered something that Nate thought was, “I have found my rescue.”
Did she mean Brandon? How could such a stupid oaf of a man rescue her from anything? He was not terribly rich. He was not talented or intelligent. If she were seeking a man with deep pockets or position in Society, she would do much better to ensnare him.
Just before reaching the stables, it began to rain. Nate nearly pushed the groom aside to help Sylvia dismount. She avoided meeting his eyes as the water from her golden locks ran onto his arm. Once settled on the ground, he was hesitant to release her. She was so small against him, not quite reaching his shoulder. She shivered in the cold rain, and it was easy to think that she needed his protection or even that she desired it.
“Thank you, your grace,” she said and raised her eyes, at last, to him.
Sorrow glittered in them. He raised a brow.
“Thank you, Nate,” she said, before pushing past and running into the house.
At a slower rate, Nate trudged back to the house. His valet restored him to order, and when he entered the drawing room before dinner, he was confident he looked as much the Duke of Russell as ever. However, internally, he was less convinced. Sylvia laughed and smiled at everything Brandon said, giving the image to all that she was well on her way to being in love with him. For some reason, that unsettled him more than it did the night before.
She deserved better than Brandon, he acknowledged. Sylvia deserved someone who could match her wit and reason. Only a man who considered her needs over his own should be the man rewarded with her hand. Brandon had never thought of anyone but himself. Even now, Nate could tell he saw Sylvia only as a prize to be won.
As he watched her through the evening, Nate wondered about the change in her demeanor. With him, she had always been frank and open. He had seen her in humiliating circumstances, and she always held her own, wearing confidence the way others might wear a new cravat. At the Cliffords, the outspoken miss he had the pleasure of verbally sparring with transformed into a demure, but seemingly vacant-headed debutante who must be told how to think and feel. He could not puzzle her out and chose to fixate on that rather than the tug on his heart that happened whenever she glanced his way.
Sylvia sighed as she watched the Duke of Russell and other gentlemen leave. Clara did not usually sequester the ladies away from the men when they wanted to talk about business or politics, but there was a greater diversity than usual at this house party. Sylvia’s close friend, Penelope, was occupied speaking to someone else, so she approached Lady Hannah.
“I am surprised to see you, Sylvia,” the lady said after the usual greetings.
“Surely I am not such a stranger to these gatherings.”
“Indeed, you are!” Lady Hannah cried. “Cecilia just said it has been years since she has seen you.”
“I have been busy with the estate,” Sylvia shrugged.
“With your brother’s estate.”
“Are you going to scold me for not being ladylike enough? I do not recall any of our lessons about proper decorum mentioning ladies who wrote novels.”
“Shh,” Hannah said after she stole a look around. “I do not go around announcing that you keep your brother’s books and make all the decisions.”
“Forgive me. I did not mean to expose your secret. Although,” she also looked around the room, “I believe most of the occupants know of your pursuit.”
“You never know who may be listening,” Hannah shrugged. “Or so all the other novels proclaim. If it is so prevalent in fiction, it must be true at some point in reality.”
Sylvia was uncertain she agreed. “As it happens,” she leaned closer as she changed the subject, “I need your assistance. I desire to wed but scare every suitor off. Teach me your ways of pretending to be the docile, empty-headed female.”
Hannah looked at her askance. “I would not act that way with a suitor. It would be awful form for a man to think he was getting a certain type of lady only to realize after the wedding that he did not.”
“That is the beauty of my plan,” Sylvia said. “I shall pick one too stupid to notice the difference.”
“Then why pretend at all?”
“Well, I would not expose it overnight,” Sylvia said. “I need a husband who is not looking for a love match or desires a certain standard of fashion from his wife. He could not be the sort that was always hosting the greatest fetes.”
“How am I to know if they are searching for love or convenience?”
Sylvia laughed. “I did not ask you, my dear. For that, I shall rely upon Clara. Although, if you did not know, the Duke of Gordon most assuredly is not looking for a love match.”
“I could not care less if he were!” Hannah sighed. “He is so stiff and formal. There is no animation about him. I think if he ever found himself in love, he would be so angry with himself he would probably leap from the nearest cliff.”
“Hannah,” Sylvia said seriously, “not everyone is as nonsensical as the heroes in your books. Somehow, I think he would learn to live with the disappointment.”
“I am sure you are correct,” Hannah pouted. “However, it is far more fun to indulge my imagination. Now, the trick to making everyone believe you are the perfect female is to never give your own opinion.”
“Oh, that might be impossible.”
“Bite your tongue if you have to. The added perk to this is that it will be too sore to eat much and then you will have a very fashionable appetite while looking slimmer.”
“Surely it is not worth that!” Sylvia loved eating! She believed in hearty meals to support her work with the tenants.
“How badly do you want this? You did not tell me what has turned your mind toward matrimony.”
“Owen,” Sylvia dropped her voice. “He means to marry, and I will be in the way.”
“He would not think that! He is the kindest of brothers.”
“I would feel in the way. I hate to be of no use. This is the better route.”
“You do not think he would marry a lady who would accept his sister?”
“Not if she is the one who he has selected.”
“He already fancies a lady! Who is she?”
“I shall divulge nothing. Those are his private affairs. Please believe me, living with her would be intolerable and my present reputation will likely hinder his suit.”
Hannah began to nod. “You need a transformation.”
“Meet me before dinner, and I shall have a list drawn up.” She glanced at her friend. “On second thought, I will come to you. The first priority will be your attire and hair. Followed by walking and way of talking.”
Hannah soon scurried off to attend to her list-making, leaving Sylvia alone with her thoughts once more. Eventually, she mingled with some of the other guests before retiring to her chamber to dress for dinner. Hannah met her outside.
“Where have you been?” She tapped her foot. “I have been waiting for you for nearly half an hour! How shall we get you ready in such a short time?”
“One hour is far more than I have ever spent on my toilette before—”
“Before you were hoping to ensnare a gentleman.” Hannah pushed Sylvia into her room and settled her into the chair at the dressing table. She unpinned Sylvia’s blonde hair. “Your hair is like your crowning beauty. You should display it to more advantage.”
“It is just hair,” Sylvia shrugged.
“Stay right here,” Hannah insisted. “I am calling in reinforcements.”
“You make it sound like a battle.”
“Oh, it is. It is!”
Hannah scurried off and pulled the cord. A servant promptly arrived, and they whispered for a moment before Hannah returned. She brushed through Sylvia’s tangles with gusto while humming a happy tune. Sylvia attempted to hold her head still as bidden. A knock sounded at the door just as Sylvia’s maid came through the servant’s entrance.
“Who could that be?” Sylvia asked nervously.
“I asked Penelope to assist as soon as she could.”
Letting out a sigh, Sylvia relaxed in the care of her friends. Under so many helpful hands her hair was soon managed and styled in a way which complimented her square looking face. The sharp angles of her cheekbones no longer seemed so severe. Her hair was gathered in loose curls at the crown of her head, giving height, then several long tendrils fell on either side of her cheeks ending at various lengths. Sylvia felt she had never looked so beautiful.
“Now, what are you wearing?” Penelope asked, then gasped when Sylvia pointed at a dress hanging up. “Oh, absolutely not. It is all wrong for you.”
Sylvia’s friends nodded at one another and then her maid who stepped forward with a blue petticoat with a thin white gown of delicate muslin and lace created an overlay. Next, a long white satin bodice in the tunic style with sleeves nearly off her shoulder completed the ensemble. Hannah produced a string of pearls to wear with her usual coral as well as new pearl eardrops.
“Should she add a bracelet?” Penelope asked.
“No, allow her arms to be free of ornament besides her gloves,” Hannah said. “They are one of her best features.”
Sylvia took in the completed look. The high waist dipped in and gave the illusion of more shape than she generally had. She felt nearly naked with so much of her chest and arms bared. The satin tunic laying over the thinner petticoats made them cling to her legs, drawing the outline of them when she moved. It was not indecent, of course. However, for the first time in her life, she looked alluring. At the same time, it was all her. She hated feeling constricted or overly decorated. There was no embroidery, belts, or long sleeves. She could move nearly as freely as she would in one of her brother’s old breeches and shirtsleeves which she favored when doing dirty work around the estate.
Blinking, she realised the real difference she saw in the mirror. She wore it all with confidence. She was not attempting to be someone else. She was not copying a model from a fashion magazine or the advice of a modiste wishing for a massive bill.
“You will dazzle them tonight!” Penelope exclaimed.
“I have amazed myself!” Sylvia laughed.
“Do you truly like it?” Hannah asked? “I had three maids working on that tunic for the last two hours!”
“How did you know my measurements? It fits perfectly!”
“Your maid, of course,” Hannah remarked with a nod to the servant.
Sylvia expressed her thanks to each of the ladies. “I have never felt so comfortable and entirely me since my come out!” She tilted her head in thought before a rueful grin emerged. “To think that all I had to do was decide to be someone I am not!”
“Oh, my dear,” Penelope soothed. “All the gentlemen will fall immediately in love with you. They will not care if you are not the shallow debutantes they have always courted.”
“I would say that I would wish to be loved for my mind, but I suppose that is the opposite of my intent as well.”
“Are you certain you wish to do this?” Penelope asked. “Hannah told me your plan. Surely Owen would make a place for you.”
Sylvia sighed. “I am sure.”
“But to marry someone you do not love—”
“I do not require anyone but myself to form my happiness. I will be able to care for our tenants, and that will be enough for me.”
“What about your promise?”
“Our promise,” Sylvia corrected her friend. “What did we know about the world? We were silly girls then. Clara probably hated our stupidity. I have seen the world since leaving school. My head is no longer full of dreams. Now, enough. My nerves cannot stand waiting any longer. Let us go downstairs.”
Penelope gave Sylvia a long look but said nothing else. The friends walked arm in arm to the drawing room. They were among the first to arrive, and Clara came directly to them. She greeted each with a gentle embrace and a kiss to the cheek.
“My dears, I apologize for not spending more time with you today. How was your journey, Sylvia? You look stunning!”
“Thank you,” Sylvia blushed. “Hannah and Penelope assisted me this afternoon. Our journey was as enjoyable as ever; which is to say not very.”
Clara laughed. “You always preferred walking or riding.
Sylvia dipped her head in acknowledgment. If she had been a man, then it would be acceptable for her to ride the distance from Ashwood to the Clifford estate.
“Penelope, do you mind if I steal Sylvia away for a few minutes?”
“Not at all,” the young lady answered. “I see Lord Blithfield is looking at me as to say he has found something to criticize about me so I should allow him to vent his spleen.” Penelope laughed. “My sister would wish me to keep him company. I am certain I will see you both later.”
Penelope left them, and Clara looped her arm through Sylvia’s as she led her to a more secluded area of the drawing room. “This is a new look for you. You look sensational, but how do you feel about it?”
Sylvia squared her shoulders. “I never knew I could look so lovely. I had brought the most fashionable gowns I owned and intended to dress well. Hannah and Penelope’s assistance suits me very well. I had hoped to impress this evening.”
“Indeed you have!” Clara’s eyes covertly scanned the room. “I will tell you that I saw several gentlemen take note of you when you entered.”
“Oh, I am sure they were only admiring Penelope.”
“Their eyes are on you now, and she has left your side.”
“Then it is your beauty which attracts them.”
“Sylvia, you flatter me, but you know it is not true. I am a dozen years older than you. My dear Stephen finds me beautiful, which is all I need, but I know no other young men look at me. Why would they? An old married lady and a mother?” She shook her head, tossing shiny curls to and fro.
Sylvia laughed to herself. Her friend had eyes only for her husband, and he for her, but many gentlemen did appreciate Clara’s gentle beauty. She just could not conceive of men hoping in vain she would be untrue to her husband.
“Now,” Clara whispered furtively as she tilted her head closer. “Tell me who you fancy, and we shall make a match. I have waited years for this!”
“Who says I am interested in finding a husband?”
“Your hair and gown say it as well as your presence at my house party. Come, you know what you are about. What do you require?”
Sylvia demurely covered her chuckle with a gloved hand. She usually preferred to laugh freely and openly, but it would not suit the persona she wanted to erect.
“See!” Clara hissed. “The usual Sylvia would not hide her laughter. Beware, my dear. Do not alter yourself to find a suitor.”
“I thought you had advice on who I could match with?” Sylvia said, impatient to avoid more advice on her tactics.
“If you are interested in continuing certain pursuits,” Clara said with a meaningful look and raised brows, “then I would suggest Lord Brandon. He is more interested in politics in Parliament and situating himself in a high cabinet position than in anything related to his estate. It is rumored he would like to be Prime Minister one day.”
Sylvia frowned. “I do not know that I would enjoy such a public life.”
“No one says a wife must be as interested in politics as her husband. It is perfectly acceptable for her to prefer a private and country life. It will be said you have a frail constitution and conversation will immediately turn to something more salacious.”
Sylvia considered her friend’s words. As a duchess, she would certainly know the London circle far better than Sylvia. “What is he like?”
“Stephen says he can have a hard edge to him. He is ambitious and wants to meet his goals. He has little patience for things which interfere. It reminded me of you and all your lists. As he is so driven, he often does not others around him. I have inquired in his household, though. He is a fair and just master who pays well. His servants respect him. I invited him entirely for you.”
Sylvia looked over Clara’s shoulder again at the gentleman in question and nearly jumped when she saw that he approached.
“Pardon me, Duchess, could you introduce me to your friend?”
Sylvia’s mouth dried and her heart hammered during the subsequent introduction. “I am pleased to meet with you,” she said with a graceful curtsy.
“The pleasure is all mine,” Lord Brandon said as he brought Sylvia’s knuckles to his lips.
Butterflies filled her stomach at his actions. His brown eyes met hers over her gloved hand, and blood rushed in her veins. For the next few minutes, the three fell into easy conversation about Essex and London. Clara slowly extracted herself from the discussion.
“I believe you recently accompanied the Duchess on a visit to the British Museum.”
“Indeed,” Sylvia smiled. “It is a favorite of mine, although I do not visit as often as I would like. It seems there are so many things to do in town and our visits are never for very long.”
“Do you prefer the country to town then? I believe I heard your estate is in ___?”
“It is, and I do prefer the country. I enjoy my visits to town but would not wish to spend the entire season there.”
“That would explain why I have not seen you before.”
Swallowing her pride, Sylvia smiled demurely. Were all men so fickle and shallow? She did not need to love or respect her husband, she reminded herself. “How about yourself? Do you prefer London or the country?”
“I do not know a man of action who does not prefer town. There is no shortage of activity to entertain. I am very active in Parliament—of course, you may not have heard since you are a lady. However, your brother has surely heard of me.”
“Would you tell me about it?” Lord Brandon frowned, and Sylvia hastened to add, “I would much prefer to hear it from you than my brother.”
Dinner was called just then. Brandon extended an arm. “I would be most pleased to educate you if you would be my dinner partner.”
“I would enjoy nothing more,” she said with fluttering lashes. If it were not so effortless to impress the man, Sylvia would take some enjoyment from her ability to enthrall him.
In the dining room, she listened as Brandon droned on and on about his seat in Parliament. He would soon be appointed to an important Cabinet position, he was sure. He took the responsibilities very seriously, he said. However, from all Sylvia heard him say, he only wished to be praised and have his name revered before men. He had no sincere opinions on any of the weighty subjects discussed in session—although she did not venture to ask more than twice given his apparent displeasure. He could just as easily be a Whig as he was a Tory. It only mattered to him as to who held the most power.
Fortunately for Sylvia, he asked next to nothing about her. All she had to do was smile and nod to please him. Something concerned her as the evening wore on. Surely any number of ladies would be willing to do the same as her for a title and money. What was it about her that captured his attention? Was it all a new gown? Perhaps he had not had a mind to marry until recently. She determined to inquire.
“I have often heard it said,” with a glance at her brother to disguise the intentions of her words, “that a gentleman might spend more time at his estate after he weds.”
“I suppose that depends on the man,” he answered, then followed her eyes. “Your brother is quite young. I would doubt he has any serious intention to marry. I have only just turned my mind to it, and I have several years on him.”
“You have mentioned preferring many activities while in town, but you have also said you are very devoted to your work in Parliament. Is this your first house party of the Season?”
“Indeed,” he nodded. “I have had many offers, of course, but could not justify the time. However, the Cliffords are close to town, and I can be reached in hours should an important vote be called.” He paused and looked intently at Sylvia. “Clifford assured me there was a very particular reason why I should attend. His wife seems to be something of a notorious matchmaker. I confess, I doubted the reports of her skill until I met you.”
Sylvia did not need to affect the blush which overspread her features. She reached for her wine to offer her something to do rather than reply.
Brandon leaned his head toward hers and said in a whisper. “Some might call me forward, but I have never sat back and waited when I saw something I wanted. I intend to court you during this party with the hope of speaking with your brother before we leave.”
Sylvia had been mid-sip during his words, and they shocked her they threw her into a coughing fit. She drew the attention of the entire table and in the end could only be thankful that she had not spewed her wine all over the place. When she finally recovered from the unladylike incident, Brandon smiled at her.
“Never fear, I will not hold that display against you, my dear. It is only natural, after all, to be in such surprise and awe that a man like me would approach you. Your modesty only makes you more attractive.”
Sylvia attempted to smile and remained silent as the meal finished. As the ladies separated from the gentlemen, she felt as though a pair of eyes followed her. Glancing around, she was unsurprised to see Lord Brandon’s leer. However, for a fleeting moment, her eyes connected with the Duke of Russell’s. Why should he be watching her?
I’m going to try a new theme on my blog. Wacky Wednesday is hard to keep up with so I’m swapping it for Writing Prompt Wednesday. It’s not really a thing. It just is in my head.
I took a creative writing class in college. We were sometimes given newspaper headings and told to write a story. No pressure or anything. Geez! It was hard! However, I hadn’t really written before then. I just thought I might some day kind of sort of like to try it.
Now, a lot of my stories start off with prompts. I have a list of prompts I came up with and will look at it when I need to start a new story. It will (hopefully) trigger a flood of ideas.
I also like to write flash fiction when I’m practicing new things. It seems less intimidating in a way because it’s shorter. It still hones the craft because you have to be very precise with your word choice and what you are putting into the story. If you have a bloated manuscript, I suggest trying some flash fiction. Take one element, focus on that for 500 words. Repeat doing that until you feel confident with it. Then go back to your manuscript and be merciless.
I found this prompt from Pinterest. I’ll probably keep going there for other inspiration rather than using my long story list. My goal with these is to write flash fiction of Regency Romance so maybe not every character will start in my head as Darcy and Elizabeth. I’m trying to retrain my brain!
Here goes nothing!
Octavia attempted to blend into the mass of passersby on the busy London street. If she were bolting down it, then it would appear unusual and her father would more easily find her. She would not be another woman that he sacrificed on his quest for wealth and status.
As the eighth daughter, there had been seven others before her, and then her mother paid the biggest price of all. However, with any luck, Octavia would not be another casualty of his schemes. She had slipped out the door during a shopping trip to the milliner. The busy Cheapside area provided the perfect area for her to disappear.
With heart pounding, she ducked out while someone else had opened the door so there would not be an extra ring of the bell. Octavia had no further plan than to escape her father.
A gentleman was just emerging from a hack and she ran over to it. “Stop him! I will take your carriage.”
The young man obliged but his shock was obvious on his face. He glanced around her, undoubtedly looking for an escort. “Are you riding alone?”
“Yes, and I have not a moment to lose.” She climbed inside.
“What is your destination, madam?” He climbed in as well.
“As far as six pence can take me. Pardon me, I thought you had completed your journey.”
He frowned at her words. “That will not carry you very far.”
“It is all I have. Might I ride with you as far as you deem that a fair exchange?”
The gentleman looked at her for a moment before leaving the carriage and speaking with the driver. Octavia feared he was telling the driver to remove her, but just as quickly as he left, he returned. He sat across from her and then beat his walking stick on the ceiling of the coach to signal the driver.
At first, they remained silent as the carriage jostled them over the cobbled streets of London. Eventually, they seemed to be leaving the city behind.
“Where are we going?” Octavia asked the stranger. He had said nothing but had not ceased to stare at her.
He flushed. “You said you needed to leave London but had no destination. We can change carriages and continue North all night if need be. In fact, I can convey you all the way to Scotland.”
Octavia felt her eyes widen and she gulped. “Scotland!”
“Only if you wish it,” he rushed to say. “I could find you employment or assist you in other ways much easier once we reach there.”
“Why were you in London? Why would you turn and leave just as quickly as you came?” She ought to view the man with skepticism, but the fluttering in her heart had not ceased since meeting him.
“I am returning to Scotland because I cannot bear to finish the task laid before me and the reason I came to London.”
“May I know your name, at least?”
“Cripsin Harrington,” he reached for Octavia’s hand and bent forward as though in a bow. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss…?”
“Octavia Lamb.” She smiled as he bowed once more. “Why are you helping, Mr. Harrington?”
“Call me Crispin.”
Octavia nodded her acquiescence. “Very well, Crispin. You may call me Octavia. Why are you helping me?”
He looked at her for a long moment before replying. “Do you want the truth?”
“I think that is generally preferable,” she smiled to encourage him. Something about him was utterly endearing.
“A gentleman always wishes to help a damsel in distress. It is most curious because I have lived a very orderly life and have never done something so spontaneous before. There was something about you, the moment I saw you…”
Taking a shaky breath, Octavia nodded. She had felt it too. There were any number of hacks she could have hired or people she could have approached and yet, she went directly to him. “Thank you for helping me,” she murmured.
“Thank you for trusting me,” Crispin said and squeezed the hand he still held. “I have a book with me. Would you care for me to read aloud?”
Octavia agreed and enjoyed hearing his baritone voice. As he read, she could not keep from stealing glances at him. She had never been so attracted to a gentleman before. After a period of time, she took a turn. Soon, it grew too dark to read. They changed carriages and horses several times and although he suggested she sleep, they talked until late in the night. Finally, she could not help yawning.
“Rest,” he urged.
She murmured a good night and attempted to find a comfortable way to lean her head against the carriage wall. Nothing seemed to suit. Additionally, the darkness had brought a chill. She pulled her pelisse closer but could not warm. Attempting to hide her shivering was no use.
“You are too cold,” Crispin said.
“I will manage.” Octavia gave him a weak smile. If it were not for him, who knew where she would be spending the night. She probably would be far colder.
“Nonsense,” he said before slipping to her bench.
He immediately radiated warmth and Octavia practically sighed at his presence.
“Here…” he wrapped an arm around her and brought her head to his shoulder. “I will keep you warm. Rest now.”
It made no sense to Octavia at all, but she was sure Crispin Harrington would hold her heart forever after that moment. She had nearly lost all faith in humans to be so selfless and caring. How did she have the fortune to stumble upon such a good man?
When she awoke with the early dawn, he was smiling down at her. “I am glad you managed to sleep.”
“You are a very comfortable pillow.”
“Are you warm enough?”
“Yes,” Octavia said as she attempted to raise her head from his shoudldr.
Crispin nudged it back down. “You do not need to sit up for my sake. I quite like this position.”
Octavia blushed but could not deny her mutual feeling. “Did you sleep at all?”
“A little,” he half-shrugged. “I confess I was mesmerized watching you. You looked so beautiful and peaceful. It was as though I had an angel in my arms.” He lowered his face to hers.
“Crispin…” she whispered. After sleeping on his shoulder all night, it did not seem strange at all that she should wish for his kiss more than she wished for her next breath.
When his lips met hers, Octavia knew there was no turning back. She would follow him to his estate in Scotland or to the ends of the Earth. By the time they arrived at Crispin’s estate beyond Gretna Green, they were blissfully in love and married.
“Welcome home, Lady Grantley,” he whispered as he scooped her into his arms and carried her over the threshold.
Octavia had marveled at the new title when her husband had told her that he was actually an heir to an earldom. The estate he went to was inherited from his mother’s side and could not be revoked by his father–who would be angry as he had not married a stranger to settle a gambling debt of his.
“Did you even know her name?” she had asked, as he held her tightly the morning after their wedding night.
“No, I never desired to know. I was determined to do my duty and have a cold, loveless union as my parents had. Knowing her name was unnecessary. However, the instant I saw you, I knew I could not do it. You looked alone in the world and I wanted to make you mine.”
“How curious. I was in the same position. My father wished for me to marry a Lord Grantley without ever seeing him or knowing anything about him. He had done similar things with all my sisters.”
Crispin gaped at her. “Darling, are you sure that was the name he said?”
“Yes,” she shuddered. “I heard it in my nightmares for weeks. I would not be bought and sold like a horse. I fled without a plan, but the moment I approached you I knew I could trust you.”
“Love, I do not know how to tell you this but…but, I am Lord Grantley.”
“We were on our way to each other even then?” she asked.
“I suppose so, but I do not think that would have suited us well. Would you have been predisposed to like me if you had forced to marry me?”
“And I was not expecting to ever love the bride my father had selected.” He kissed her. “Do you know that I was so dumbstruck by your beauty and the feelings in my heart that I could not speak to you the first hour?”
“Is that why you were so grave and silent.”
“Yes, although that is not unusual for me. I told you before that you caused my spontaneity. You also give me great joy. My heart feels lighter with you than it ever has before.”
Octavia clung to Crispin’s words in their first days of marriage and when they both received letters from their fathers condemning their actions. Crispin might have bankrupted the earldom by not marrying as he should. It was only Octavia’s pleading that since she had married him after all, her father considered the debt settled. In the years that passed during their long, happy marriage, she could only rejoice that she had met Crispin on a crowded London street.