It’s finally here, one of my favorite books: A COUNTRY FLIRTATION! While writing this book, I made a conscious effort to let the story take me where it wanted and I just loved the results! Enjoy!!!
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When a curricle crashes into Lady Brook Cottage, will the unattainable Constance Pamberley finally lose her heart to the handsome gentleman now lying unconscious at her feet?
He couldn’t find the right woman in London…
Viscount Ramsdell had one intention at Lady Brook, to retrieve his spoiled ward and get him away from the impoverished, countrified beauties of the house as soon as possible. But when he discovers that Charles is suffering from amnesia, and two prominent doctors insist he remain at Lady Brook to recover, he soon finds his own heart leaning in an unexpected direction. The tonnish women of London’s beau monde failed repeatedly to bring him up to scratch, yet from the time that Constance lets him know she’s in charge of his recovery, he finds himself caught. Her strength, her spirit, and especially her sense of humor all work on him as the summer days fold one into the next. But what can be the end when the disparity in rank and wealth makes her an inappropriate match for his title? Yet how can he walk away when she’s everything he desires in a woman?
She’d given up on love…
Constance Pamberley can’t believe that two gentlemen, in the space of a week, have crashed onto her quiet country property. The first, a young man with angelic features, steals the hearts of all four of her sisters. But the second, once he awakens from his fever-ridden coma, threatens to overpower her own heart with his dry wit and penetrating ability to understand her without a single explanation. But her life is devoted to Lady Brook, so his warm kisses and tender embraces will have to be nothing more than a country flirtation. But will her life ever be the same again once he leaves? And in truth, how can she let him go?
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And here’s the entire first chapter A COUNTRY FLIRTATION!
The sound of splintering wood and screaming horses penetrated the serenity of Constance Pamberley’s sleep one early July morning. She opened her eyes, uncertain, precisely, of what had awakened her. She listened, but heard nothing untoward.
Perhaps she had imagined the sounds. She hoped so, for if she was not greatly mistaken, the same sounds had attended the numerous coaching accidents that had beset Lady Brook Cottage for the past several years.
She lay in the bed of her childhood, content, at ease with the world, and, as always, letting the excitement of the day build within her before settling her bare feet on the cold wood of her bedchamber floor. She extended her arms over her head and indulged in a catlike stretch.
Somehow, amid the difficulties of her existence—which were numerous—she had learned to take great pleasure in each day, knowing that the sun wouldn’t set without presenting at least one surprise to enliven even the dullest of homey chores. For Constance, life was an adventure to be lived out in the unexpected twists and turns of fate, of things spiritual, things temporal, of things known and things unlooked for. Of course, what made every manner of ill endurable was that she was the present owner of Lady Brook Cottage and would be until the day she died. Of additional succor was the fact that no genteel country house within a twenty-mile radius of Lady Brook could boast so fine a cook as the old brick mansion possessed.
She smiled thinking that perhaps without Cook, life wouldn’t be such a fine adventure, that perhaps a delectable apricot tartlet or a flaky pigeon pie was the true source of every present happiness.
She chuckled to herself. Such were the ridiculous notions that made her life bountiful.
If she had any wish at all, however, she found she occasionally longed for someone, for a man, with whom she could share her sense of the absurd. Such an alliance would leave her truly wanting for nothing.
She was the eldest of five beautiful sisters who were woven into the fabric of a dozen surrounding neighborhoods as intricately as a medieval tapestry. The Pamberley ladies of Lady Brook Cottage were essential to their small part of Berkshire. There was not a lack in the countryside that the ladies failed to put right—posies for the infirmed widows who lived above the candle shop, pots of honey for an old sailor dying of consumption, delicate watercress to tempt the appetite of a waiflike girl in nearby Wraythorne, the only surviving child of the blacksmith, whose family had been decimated by scarlet fever two winters past.
A distressed whinny caught her ear. Her bedchamber overlooked the front drive of the ancient house, and so it was when she heard the horse’s cry, she knew she had not imagined the crashing sounds that had awakened her.
She threw back her bedcovers and slipped from her bed in order to determine which carriage and driver had come to mischief on her property. The bend in the road that led to the front drive of Lady Brook was very sharp, and if a traveler did not pay heed to the handmade wood sign which her gardener, Finch, had made only last fall to give warning to potential danger, an accident could easily ensue.
She crossed her bedchamber and pushed back the somewhat threadbare draperies of a faded chintz that had hung in symmetrical diligence over her windows throughout her nine and twenty years. Drawing back the shutters, she saw at once that her darkest suspicions were correct. She shook her head in dismay but not surprise at the sight of the cut and limping horses struggling in harness, the low wooden fence torn from its nailed posts, and the still form of a man lying facedown at the exact point where her beautiful purple petunias met a neatly scythed lawn.
She shook her head. “Not again,” she murmured.
Over the past several months, five such accidents had disturbed the peace of Lady Brook, bringing an equal number of young gentlemen to the portals of the mansion. More than once she had wondered if the spirit of Lady Brook, resonating in every mellowed, rosy brick of the rambling house, had been for years beckoning, from all parts of the kingdom, beaus for her comely yet somewhat isolated sisters. Another absurdity? Perhaps. Probably. Undoubtedly.
She heard the sounds of her sisters scurrying about in the hallway, calling to one another about the man lying prone among the petunias. She knew that the poor fellow would be quickly attended to by a number of capable feminine hands. Her own duty, therefore, was turned away from the gardens and toward the less noble occupations of sending for the head groom. Stively would know precisely how to tend to the injured horses, while his stable boy—a lad of fifteen by the name of Jack Smith—would be sent to fetch Dr. Deane from the next town of Four-Mile-Cross.
However, she would not, under any circumstances, perform these tasks in her nightgown.
She restored the shutters and quickly stripped off her nightclothes to don a patched linen shift, a serviceable gown of faded peach jonquil—which, during her London Season ten years earlier had been a very fetching walking dress—silk stockings tied up with embroidered garters, and half-boots of polished kid that bore a number of ugly scars but which had also been quite a la mode the year of her come-out ball. She quickly brushed out her long, light brown hair, tied it into a loose knot atop her head, surveyed and approved of her appearance, and went immediately to the kitchens, where she informed the butler of the accident.
“What, again?” he queried, a pinch between his brows. He finished sipping his tea, clattered the cup on its saucer, and scratched at his balding pate. “I told Finch not to put up that fence. Better for the horses to crash through the shrubbery, I said, than a fence. I told him so again and again.”
Constance smiled. “Yes, Morris, you gave him sage advice. But he was more interested in protecting my petunias, I’m ‘fraid, than in considering the fate of an overeager whipster who ignored his elaborate sign.”
Morris, who had been with the family from the time her father, now deceased, was a boy, set aside his copy of The Times and prepared to take up his duties. He instructed one of his two underlings to come with him to attend to the stranger and informed the other to prepare a surgery for the doctor in the buttery. “And, Thomas, bring along the slats and canvas. We’ll be needing to cart him in here, I ‘spect.”
Constance, satisfied that suitable arrangements were under way, left the house by way of the kitchen door. She skirted a wide, neat vegetable garden in which Cook was busily admonishing a hardworking kitchen maid to get every weed that might choke the roots of her prize broccoli plants, and hurried to the gate that led to the stables. She caught Stively and stable boy Jack just as they were leaving the carriage house to determine for themselves which horses of their neighbors had found themselves in mischief.
“No, no. Nothing so simple,” she said. “I’m ‘fraid there’s been another accident.”
“What, again?” Stively queried.
Constance nodded. “I think once we get this unfortunate fellow tended to, if he’s not broken his neck, we ought to consider hiring Mr. Bellows to widen the curve and straighten out the lane a bit. If the truth be known, we should have done so years ago.”
Stively’s countenance stiffened. His face grew alarmingly red. “You can do so if you wish, Miss Pamberley, but you’d as lief hire the schoolmaster or . . . or the beekeeper to do the job as well or as timely.” Stively had no patience with Mr. Bellows, who, in his opinion, had more hair than wit and was an obnoxious bagpipe. That Mr. Stively and Mr. Bellows were leading scorers on opposing cricket teams may have added to the head groom’s poor opinion of his adversary, but Constance was not inclined to make this observation. Mr. Stively would never be moved from his opinion of Mr. Bellows, and that was that.
She let the subject drop and addressed the stable boy.
“Jack,” she called to the young man, who had quickly stripped his cap from his head at her presence.
“Pray saddle Old Nobs and ride to Four-Mile-Cross—no, stay a moment. You had best take Lord-a-Mercy. He is quicker off the mark than Nobs, and the fact is, you’ll have to press him the entire way to Four-Mile-Cross. We’ll be needing the doctor as quick as the cat can lick her ear.”
Jack’s face began to glow, and his eyes lit with the wonder of angels. “Lord-a-Mercy? Yes, Miss Pamberley. Oh, indeed, yes!”
She adjured him, “Be careful—no cramming him at fences or the like. Stay to the lanes, and when you’ve come back, Morris will reimburse you for the tolls. Have you enough for the tolls?”
Jack colored a trifle, then lifted his chin. “That I ‘ave, miss.”
She had regretted her words the moment they left the tip of her tongue. She knew Jack had ambitions and that he was careful with every tuppence. The truth was, from the time he had arrived to serve on her estate some five years past, he had put her strongly in mind of another stable boy, Jaspar Vernham, who had gone on to make his fortune in India since leaving Lady Brook. Jack showed every likelihood of following in Jaspar’s footsteps. However, she could hardly retrieve her thoughtless query, and merely nodded for him to go. She then wheeled around and left Jack to the supreme enjoyment of riding the best of her horses all the way to Four-Mile-Cross. No doubt he would be the envy of his friends for weeks to come.
She followed in Stively’s wake, heading down the avenue that led to the front of the mansion. She walked briskly, her long stride eating up the distance rapidly. She was the tallest of her siblings, a fact that had perhaps been the prime reason she had not as yet found a suitable mate. She was a Long Meg, something that had troubled her no small degree when she was still in the schoolroom and about to enjoy her first London Season.
As the years had worn on, however, her height had lost its dread and had become a source of great pleasure for her. For one thing, she was immensely gratified at being able to look Marianne’s lovesick and usually frantic beaus directly in the eye when she needed to warn them away from her sister’s wretched flirtations. For another, she delighted in plucking apples from the upper branches of the orchard trees which Celeste—a year younger than Marianne—could not reach.
She loved that she sat taller in the saddle than even Katherine, who was the finest horsewoman in three counties, and nothing pleased her so much as being able to reach books on shelves that her youngest and most studious sister, Augusta, found impossible to procure without a footstool or ladder. She had come to be proud of her height. She carried herself with dignity, and secretly adored the fact that some of the villagers had taken to calling her The Gentleman.
She was also proud of having received no fewer than eight offers of marriage since having left the schoolroom so many years before, and only one from a man shorter than herself.
Eight, and all eligible partis.
Eight, and not a one that had remotely touched her heart.
She sighed at the reminiscence, unable to comprehend fully why her heart was so stubborn. As she marched toward the front of the house, she recalled vividly to mind how her fifth suitor, an elegant man who had also crashed his light racing whisky in the front yard of Lady Brook, had suggested to her that her loyalties to her mother, to her sisters, and to her home would never allow her to properly love a man. She wondered now if this much was true.
What was the truth, after all?
Only one of her eight suitors had been unworthy of her hand in marriage. Lord Upton had been at the time, and was even yet by all accounts, a libertine of remarkable proportions. His marriage proposals had only followed her refusal of his offer of a carte blanche. What a dreadful creature he had been!
But the others had been, one and all, good men, worthy men, devoted men. Still, she had rejected them because her heart would be fastidious. Or was her heart merely too full of her duties to family and property that she couldn’t love?
Regardless, at nine and twenty, though hardly an antidote, Miss Constance Pamberley was, most regrettably, a confirmed ape-leader.
She did not repine at her single state. Not by half. She lived fully and experienced great joy in managing her estate, in caring for her widowed mother, who was also infirmed, and in providing a home for her four younger sisters as well. Indeed, should she never leave Lady Brook Cottage, she would die content. She wanted for nothing except an income to make a hundred much-needed improvements in the house, in the surrounding gardens, in the outbuildings, in the home wood, and in the several fields attached to the estate. Money was all that the Pamberley ladies needed. That, and a serious realignment of the treacherous corner that had caused yet another accident near the petunia border.
When she rounded the row of rangy rhododendrons, lush from their recent spring growth, the scene before her appeared so familiar as to seem unreal. Pieces of the low white fence, constructed to give way in case of just such an accident, lay scattered about the lawn and the flower bed. All of her sisters were in their robes and mobcaps. Augusta, the youngest, peered into a book. She was probably consulting an apothecary’s volume for the treatment of unconscious victims. Katherine was examining one of the horses’ fetlocks along with Stively. Marianne was kneeling on the grass, supporting the poor young man’s head on her lap, and bearing a most beatific expression on her pretty face, while Celeste was adjuring Finch and Morris not to cut the boots off the young gentleman if they could possibly help it.
“Though they are dusty,” Celeste was saying as she peered closely at them, “they are clearly of the finest quality.”
Augusta joined in the present controversy. “You should check each leg and ankle for swelling.” She turned a page. “But do not tug on the boots until you are certain the leg is uninjured.”
Morris looked up at her and rolled his eyes. He had had more years’ experience than could ever be put into a book. He began a careful exploration of the man’s legs as Constance joined the circle surrounding him. She watched his careful hands, then turned slightly at the sound of pounding hoof beats. Jack, astride Lord-a-Mercy, sailed past the row of statuesque elms, waving his hat to her just before he turned into the lane. The injured horses lifted noble heads and shivered as Jack guided the fine bay north toward Four-Mile Cross. The hoof beats died quickly away.
Constance returned her attention to the stranger, only this time her gaze landed squarely on his face and she gasped. “Good heavens,” she said. “I have never seen a more beautiful countenance. If he were not dressed in a coat and breeches, I would have supposed him not of this earth!” The young man had a delicate appearance, an alabaster skin, fine features, and loose, blond curls brushed a la cherubim, a style wholly befitting a man whose face brought images of Michelangelo’s works strongly to mind.
Marianne lifted glowing green eyes to meet her gaze. “Is he not magnificent? I do hope he is injured sufficiently to require his staying in our home for at least a fortnight.” Her thoughtless words brought every eye upon her. She had the grace to blush. “I—I mean. Oh, dash-it-all, what a stupid thing to say. I do beg pardon, Constance. I wasn’t thinking.”
“No, dearest, you weren’t,” she responded with a chuckle and a smile. She turned to Morris. “What do you think? Has he broken—anything?” She dreaded the thought that he might have tumbled from his curricle and shattered his spine.
Augusta drew close and snapped her book shut. “Yes, Morris, what do you say?” Augusta, though frequently lost in the library for hours on end, and who relied more than she ought on the knowledge from books, enjoyed a tender heart.
Morris leaned back on his heels and frowned. “He has movement in all his limbs—”
“Thank God,” Constance breathed in unison with Augusta.
Morris continued. “However, he has quite a lump at the back of his head.”
“I see,” Constance said, her heart lightening. “Well then, let’s move him to the buttery—”
“Not the buttery, Constance,” Marianne said, petting the young man’s head as she might a cat. “Take him to one of the spare chambers that he might enjoy a comfortable bed.” She looked down at him with a sigh. “He is clearly a gentleman and would be used to a good bed and properly aired sheets.”
Constance frowned at her next-oldest sister, who was gazing on the young man’s face with a familiar expression that bespoke a sudden infatuation. For that reason alone she would rather the young man be taken by cart to Four-Mile-Cross and placed in the care of the good doctor and his wife than that he should remain at Lady Brook. Marianne was given to bouts of violent affection. She could not therefore like the sudden appearance of so beautiful and yet clearly so reckless a young gentleman on her lawn, especially when he bore no signs of wealth. By evidence of the cut of his ill-fitting and rather worn clothes, albeit at odds with the quality of his boots, as Celeste had noted, he could not be a man of means. The curricle, too, showed signs of neglect. The horses, which Stively and Katherine were leading away to the stables, were hardly of the finest blood.
Of what use, therefore, would it be to encourage even the smallest tendre, when her un-dowered sisters must wed gentlemen of fortune? No use at all.
Regardless of her practical misgivings of the present situation, especially Marianne’s tendency to fall in love at the drop of a hat, she could hardly send the young man away merely because he was so handsome and so poor. The lump at the back of his head might be of imminent danger to his health.
She again considered Marianne’s suggestion that he be taken to a bedchamber instead of to the buttery. In this she concurred. Dr. Deane might not be able to attend to him right away because of his present duties, and until the young man regained his senses, she would not know how ill he actually was.
She nodded to Morris, who had risen from his knees and who was now awaiting her orders. “The bedroom in the south wing,” she said at last, “next to the nursery.”
“The nursery,” Marianne said, shocked. “But that is all the way on the other side of the-” She broke off, realizing her sister’s intent. Anger vied on her pretty face with embarrassment, both of which brought a rosy glow to her cheeks.
“Precisely,” Constance stated, meeting Marianne’s gaze.
Marianne pursed her lips, but Celeste quickly interjected, “I believe that will make it easier as well for the maids to tend to him. The servants’ stairs are quite close to the nursery.”
Marianne glared at her eldest sister. “He will need far more attention than what our overworked servants can possibly provide for him.”
“Since I have every intention of placing him in the excellent care of Dr. Deane as soon as he may be fetched from Four-Mile-Cross,” Constance said repressively, “we needn’t concern ourselves with the difficulty of his care.” She could see the militant light in Marianne’s eye and immediately nodded for Morris and the footman to cart the gentleman to the appropriate chamber.
Marianne’s lips were clamped tightly together in strong disapproval as she rose to her feet. She walked beside the litter, holding the young man’s hand and bearing her part with all the appearance of martyrdom. Augusta and Celeste followed, leaving Constance alone to stare at the wreckage behind her.
She heard Celeste say to Morris, “If you will have the undermaid launder his shirt immediately, I’m certain I can stitch up this tear with no one the wiser.” Celeste was an accomplished needlewoman.
What Morris said to her was lost in the increasing distance as the processional moved toward the house.
Constance surveyed the damage. The curricle, sitting lopsided in the bed of petunias, had lost a now-splintered wheel, and Stively had had to cut the traces in order to free the horses. The pole was also shattered. The body of the light vehicle looked alarmingly tweaked. She believed its days as a useful conveyance were at an end.
She began picking up pieces of the fence and wondering what ought to be done next. She stepped through the breach and into the lane beyond, walking along the macadamized road to the dangerous turn that had set her household at sixes and sevens so many times over the years. She shook her head. A dense silver fir forest and a deep ditch had prevented the repairs for the past decade since her father’s demise. The cost of effecting the much-needed repair had always been beyond her means.
Now, however, she felt compelled to see the job done regardless of the expense. She would have to borrow a portion of the required amount, of that she was sure. As for the rest, she had been setting aside a quarterly sum in hopes of one day purchasing the abandoned field that marched along the boundaries of Lady Brook. Only the previous day she had been able to add another fifty pounds to her fund. She understood now the field would have to remain fallow for several more years. The money must be spent correcting the lane, or one day an unlucky traveler would not survive an accident.
She glanced up at Finch’s beautiful sign, warning all drivers to take the bend slowly. She realized his efforts may have achieved the exact opposite effect than what he had hoped. After all, what aspiring nonesuch, with a pair of lively steppers in his possession, a well-sprung conveyance, and the exuberance of masculine youth, would ever see such a sign as anything but a direct challenge of ability?
She picked up a rock and with several careful, sharp blows separated the sign from its post. Tucking it under her arm, she headed back to the breach in the fence. Finch, who had returned to begin repairing the damage to the front landscape, saw the sign and gasped in horror. Constance lifted a hand and gently silenced him. She explained her reasoning, and though he shook his head in dismay, he couldn’t help but agree with her since the last three accidents had occurred within a two-month period from almost the day following the erecting of his well-meant sign.
Constance handed Finch’s creation back to him and watched him amble in the general direction of the stables behind which his gardening sheds and succession houses were located. Once again she was left alone at the location of the accident.
A brisk wind suddenly picked up, whipping at her faded peach skirts and blowing wisps of hair about her face. A strange excitement coursed through her, a sure indication that fate was stirring up her life again. After all, who was the extraordinarily beautiful young gentleman who had just been delivered to her front door? Even during her London Season so many years earlier she had not seen so handsome a countenance. What were the odds, then, that circumstance alone had delivered him to Lady Brook? Surely some larger scheme was at work.
But what foolishness was this? What air dreams? What vague musings and stupid ruminations?
Nothing to signify, she thought with an amused sigh, only the secret wishes and longings of a responsible young woman who always set aside romantical notions for the duties of the day.
But just once, how very nice it would be if Lady Brook would take her interests to heart, her desire for a friend who could share in her thoughts, her daily employments, and in her sense of humor.
* * * * * * * * *
“Thank you, Simbers, but I have already been informed of Mr. Kidmarsh’s absence.” Lord Ramsdell used his most repressive tone. He touched a linen serviette to his lips. He took his morning cup of coffee leisurely in hand and sipped with what he knew was maddening nonchalance. He steadfastly ignored his servant’s concerned eye.
Simbers, the butler of many years and his father’s butler before him, cleared his throat and danced on his feet. He moved the dishes around, clattering and clinking spoons, forks, and china together, hoping to gain the attention he sought. Clearly, he felt his master was not showing a proper concern for the boy. Ramsdell continued to ignore him.
When the aged retainer, spry and energetic for a man of two and seventy summers, had twitched the tablecloth three times and cleared his throat twice as many, Ramsdell could no longer pretend he did not exist. He settled his cup with an irritated clink on its companion saucer, sat back in his chair, and glared at the old man. He refused to speak. Any of his London servants would have known better than to address him when he evinced such unwelcoming signals, but his country retainers, who had known him as a boy, were rarely intimidated.
Simbers opened his mouth and stirred up his vocal cords. “But, m’lord—and I do beg your pardon for pressing you in this manner—the poor lad has not been seen or heard from since one o’clock yesterday. Langley waited up for him all night, continually climbing and descending the stairs to his master’s bedchamber with pails and pails of hot water hoping, believing, that at any moment good Mr. Kidmarsh would return home.”
Lord Ramsdell lifted a brow. “And apparently Langley thought he would be in need of a bath?”
Simbers appeared offended, his thin lips gripped together in a straight, disapproving line. “Whenever the boy is chilled, Langley puts him straight into a hot bath.”
“Ah,” Ramsdell responded, his lips twitching.
“Just so,” Simbers retorted. “I—we—your staff cannot help but feel that some mischief is afoot.” Here he shuddered dramatically. “Cook has had certain visions this morning that indicate that Mr. Kidmarsh has suffered an accident.”
Ramsdell considered this. Cook was prone to visions whenever they served her. He chuckled inwardly. His staff was hopeless in their attentions to his cousin and ward who had lived with him from the time he was birthed. His uncle, within a week of Charles Kidmarsh’s entrance into the world, had died of a fit of the ague. He had left his son heir to one of the largest properties in England, but unfortunately his death had also left Charles bereft of a balancing force in his life. Mrs. Kidmarsh was overprotective in the extreme.
Charles’s mother had come to live with her sister—his own mother—an arrangement that had always been a trifle queer except that the sisters were deeply attached to one another. Mrs. Kidmarsh had despised the notion of roaming the expansive halls of Kingsholt Manor with no one to keep her company.
Both ladies were presently touring Europe, a venture that had been forced on Mrs. Kidmarsh by Lady Ramsdell in hopes that Charles might be given a chance to grow up a little. At seven and twenty he was hopelessly unprepared to take on the ordinary duties of life, having been wrapped in wool linen most of his life. The absence of his parent, therefore, was perhaps the uppermost reason Charles had availed himself of the opportunity to escape Aston Hall yet again. With the protective forces seriously diminished, undoubtedly he believed he would enjoy a longer holiday than usual. Ramsdell’s servants might be vigilant in their watch over him, but Mrs. Kidmarsh was nothing short of a lioness.
Poor Charles. He was little more than a schoolboy in mind and heart. Ramsdell knew the boy had growing up to do, especially since much of his own life, from the time Charles had enjoyed his first London Season six years earlier, had been spent extricating the halfling from a dozen scrapes. Four of the unfortunate occurrences had involved elopements with completely unsuitable females—two undermaids, one opera dancer, and the fourth with an impoverished young woman who, as it turned out, was the Duke of Moulford’s current mistress. When the elopement was discovered, His Grace had demanded satisfaction from Charles, who was no more suited to confront the offended peer across twenty paces than he was to marry the stupid female in the first place.
So it was not with a complete lack of understanding that Simbers was expressing his concern. Charles Kidmarsh was not yet fit to take up a manly place in the world. Overprotected, he lacked true judgment and fell from one scrape to another. Just how Ramsdell should counter the inept attentions of mother, aunt, and staff, he had never quite known. He was himself concerned that Charles had “disappeared” again, but what his cousin did not need was one more doting relative or servant bent on rescuing him again.
What to do?
He addressed his butler. “The young master,” he said with unruffled calm, “has had three such disappearances in the past year. Each time, he has merely escaped my house to be away from what I have always considered to be an inordinate amount of coddling and physicking.”
“M’lord,” Simbers said, aghast. “You forget yourself. Master Charles was always of a sickly disposition and only by the careful ministrations of your aunt, your mother, and— if you don’t mind my saying so—your devoted staff, is he alive today.”
Ramsdell drew in a deep breath. “To my recollection, the only time I have ever seen Charles Kidmarsh near to sticking his spoon in the wall was the time the surgeon leeched him to the point of death.”
Simbers grew very stiff and disapproving. “He was suffering a humor of the blood.”
“Fustian! But I won’t argue the matter further. I have long since understood that I am the only person in my house who holds to this opinion. I beg you will believe me, however, that Charles will not come to harm with a few days ruralizing.”
“Even if this much is true, that his health is sufficiently vigorous to withstand an inflammation of the lungs or even the ague,” the old man said with a shake of his head and deep furrowing of his brow, “I daresay you are forgetting that other matter.”
“That other matter?” he queried.
“That other matter,” Simbers reiterated solemnly.
“Oh,” Ramsdell murmured. His butler was right, of course. Charles would likely come back betrothed from another venture into the world, left unchecked. “The devil take it,” he said, rising swiftly from his chair and throwing his napkin on the table. “Don’t look so deuced triumphant. If I find him, when I find him, I might just decide to take him on a three-year voyage—around the world—and maybe, just maybe, he would come home a man.”
Simbers bore these harsh words bravely. “He wouldn’t survive a fortnight at sea, m’lord.”
Ramsdell rolled his eyes and headed to his rooms. He shouted for his valet who was, oddly enough, close at hand, as were half the servants of his household, including the long-suffering Langley, who had been Charles’s personal servant from the time he was a young lad. His own man, Marchand, informed him that his carriage had already been ordered around, his portmanteaus had been packed these three hours and more, and proper traveling clothes were laid out on his bed, waiting only for the appearance of his lordship.
He went to his bedchamber, vexed almost beyond bearing. He grumbled his way through his valet’s ministrations. Trotting down the stairs, he ignored the expressed hopes of his staff that poor Master Charles would be found alive, and finally took up his place in his traveling chariot as one who had been persecuted for years.
He ignored the wafting kerchiefs that waved from the windows and from the front steps of Aston Hall. He ignored them all.
If—when—he found Charles, he thought maliciously as the coach bowled down the avenue, he would wring his neck and put an end to the dastardly business once and for all…
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I hope you enjoyed reading the first chapter of A COUNTRY FLIRTATION!!! Let my sweet Regency world become a new journey for you!
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WICKED AND WONDERFUL, 309 pp, $.99/Kindle Her heart may long for more, but his wicked intentions drive her into his arms…
WONDERFUL HARRIET, 97pp, $2.99 He never thought to look beyond her shabby gowns and she never believed she could engage his heart…
A COUNTRY FLIRTATION, 226pp, $3.99 When a curricle crashes into Lady Brook Cottage, will the unattainable Constance Pamberley finally lose her heart to the handsome gentleman now lying unconscious at her feet?
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Valerie King has published over fifty Regency novels and novellas, primarily with Kensington Publishing Corp. and in 2005 Romantic Times honored her with a Career Achievement award in Regency Romance. Currently, she’s working on a Regency Historical, Sweet Regency novellas, and self-publishing her extensive backlist. She also writes paranormal and contemporary romance as Caris Roane.
Valerie is a full-time author, lives in Phoenix, Arizona, enjoys playing solitaire, and has two cats, Sebastien and Gizzy.
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