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Authors: A Little Night Mischief

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BOOK: Emily Greenwood
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“Here you are, finally,” he said, and gave her a friendly embrace. And she thought,
good, yes, we can be friends now.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t come,” he continued. “I only had your note to say you’d be here, and it’s been so long.”

She smiled. They had gone down a difficult road together right after her mother died, but seeing him now, she felt no grief over the past. Healing time had covered over their mistakes.

His eyes slid sideways toward Mr. Collington with a flicker of irritation, but he quickly smoothed it over into a look of polite inquiry. She chuckled to herself, thinking such skills would serve him well as vicar.

“This is Mr. Collington,” she said, intending to introduce him, but finding that she was unable to frame his presence in a way she could accept. “He is… that is…”

“I arrived in the area only today,” he said, “and the Wilcoxes encouraged me to come and meet my new neighbors.”

“Ah,” Crispin said. “Then we must welcome you.” His voice held a loyal, faint hint of reluctance. As they were talking, Felicity could see Mrs. Rossiter bearing down on them, and she could guess that the woman was bursting with curiosity about this newcomer to their village. A new face in a place as small as Longwillow was something of great interest. Felicity barely had time to perform the introductions before Mrs. Rossiter was carrying Mr. Collington off with her, like a trophy to be displayed to the other villagers.

As soon as they were alone, Crispin said low, “So Collington is the gambler who won Tethering from your uncle.”

She sighed. “Yes. Father insisted I bring him in his place.”

Crispin, who was familiar with Mr. Wilcox’s reclusive ways, pressed his lips together. “That was thoughtless of your father. I can believe he doesn’t mind about the family losing Tethering, or care about your family’s standing in the community, but he might be more aware of how you are being affected. Instead he sends you off with the man who has taken your family’s home.”

“No, Crispin, don’t. It’s all right.”

He looked at her with a serious expression. “No, it isn’t. This is a very awkward situation. And I don’t in the least like the idea of that man,” he glanced in the direction of Mr. Collington, who was standing in the midst of what looked like the entire Ladies’ Garden Guild, “living on the estate with you. He looks like a fast sort. I don’t believe he can be trusted,” he said with an unvicar-like lack of charity.

She frowned thoughtfully as she watched the tall, tanned Mr. Collington conversing with a bevy of older ladies, who looked to be hanging on his every word. He was moving his arms neatly, describing some large, rounded object with his hands, and the sun shining against the smooth fabric of his coat was picking out the long contours of his muscles. “Yes, he is rather jarringly different.”

Crispin took her hands, startling her. “Why don’t you go and stay with my mother for a while at Stonecroft? I know she’d love to see you. And I’d feel better knowing you were being properly cared for.”

“Oh—thank you,” she said, surprised. “But Blossom Cottage is perfectly fine. For the moment. And I couldn’t leave Father in any case.”

“But I’m worried about you.” His eyes fastened on hers, and with a pricking of unease she saw an intensity in them that conveyed a deeper meaning to his words. “How could I not be? I’ve worried ever since that night, when we shouldn’t have…”

She tugged her hands away and clasped her fingers tightly in front of her skirts. “Yes, Crispin, we shouldn’t have,” she agreed firmly. “But that’s in the past. And there it must stay.” Her own memories of that night were locked away, and she had not the smallest wish to probe them.

He crossed his arms, his eyebrows lowering. “You can’t just dismiss what happened, Felicity.”

“But I have. There’s nothing to say about it.”

“Oh yes there is,” he said insistently with a look of growing resolve. “Something important.” He glanced around them, frowning. “But this isn’t a good place.”

She didn’t like the sound of that. “I don’t want to remember that time in my life. I want to focus on the present. Mr. Collington has offered me a stipend to oversee the care of the orchard, which will take care of our financial needs for now. And I’ve written to a lawyer to have the wager that lost Tethering examined. I firmly believe that before long we will have Tethering back.”

His eyes shot open. “What?” he cried, drawing a few stares their way.

She could sense Mr. Collington’s eyes on them, and she glared at Crispin.

He returned her look with his chin lifted, not backing down, though he spoke in moderated tones. “This is just the sort of thing you
be doing. What you need—” he began.

But at that moment, to her intense relief, Mrs. Rossiter called for everyone’s attention. The annual vicar’s tour of the garden would begin in five minutes. Would the vicar please come forward?

He pressed his lips together. “We’ll finish this conversation later. I have to see to the tour.”

He made his way to the head of the group that was forming, and Felicity watched him talking with the garden ladies, his features softening into a congenial look. Feeling herself relax, she realized how tense she had grown during their conversation. It was not as if she didn’t trust him—he was a vicar, for goodness’ sake, and moreover a thorough gentleman. But that was the problem. The last thing she needed was for Crispin to be determined on doing his gentlemanly duty.

They’d grown up together, their families being close, and Crispin, being two years older, had been the leader on many a childhood adventure and buried treasure hunt with Felicity and her brother, Simon, and Crispin’s younger sister, Susannah. But Felicity didn’t need Crispin to guide her now. Nor did she want him worrying about her, telling her what young ladies ought not to do, or trying to help. She would take care of things herself.

She found a seat on a stone bench behind which a tall row of arborvitae created a natural wall. The lemonade table was on the other side of the shrubs, in the shade of an overhanging tree, and as she sat peacefully contemplating the garden, she could hear the pleasant sounds of people filling cups of lemonade, like a sporadic fountain. Presently she realized that someone on the other side was discussing James Collington.

“Yes, my dear,” a woman’s voice trilled, and Felicity recognized Augusta Tulkingham. “Our new neighbor will be quite an addition.”

“I do agree,” sighed Miss Pimble. The spinster’s soft, girly voice sounded dreamy. “I envy Miss Felicity, living so close to him.”

“Jemima!” Mrs. Tulkingham scolded. “Miss Felicity deserves our pity but certainly not our envy. The Wilcoxes have never done things properly, and now they’re in a right state. Their standing has utterly plummeted, and that can mean nothing good for a young, unmarried lady, pretty or not. Her father should have seen to her marriage long ago.”

“Quite right, dear,” Jemima Pimble agreed meekly.

Felicity’s eyebrows snapped together. She didn’t want anyone’s pity. Pity! When she had capably managed an entire estate for years.

But even as indignation burned in her, a lump was forming in the back of her throat. Why did everyone have to be going on about marriage today? She never thought about marriage.

On the other side of the arborvitae, Jemima Pimble gave a sigh, her little girl’s voice making it come out high and thin. “She’s such a pretty thing, and she used to be the toast of the village. I suppose she could have had any fellow she wanted. But she just sort of disappeared into that house, didn’t she?”

Unexpected tears burned at the back of Felicity’s eyes. She squeezed them shut furiously. She never cried. She hadn’t even cried when her mother died—she’d simply been numb. Nor had she wept even once since the day she’d taken that vow—her vow never to marry.

And what did she need from a man anyway, she told herself angrily, trying to force the lump in her throat to go away. She took several deep breaths, and that steadied her some. Three years ago she’d put away attraction and fun and flirting and replaced it with meaningful work, and she hadn’t looked back to see what she’d missed. Managing Tethering had been a deeply satisfying challenge. A worthy life’s goal.

But without it…

No! She couldn’t even entertain the idea that the estate might truly be lost. She couldn’t, because beyond that thought lay a wasteland of emptiness and meaninglessness. Without her work at Tethering, she wouldn’t know who she was.

She really had no choice: she couldn’t rest until she found a way to get Tethering back.

She patted the skin under her eyes, where a little moisture had escaped, then pinched her cheeks lest she’d gone pale or splotchy. Thank heaven no one had come by. She’d get up in a minute, as soon as she was sure she looked normal. If there was going to be any more gossiping about her, she clearly couldn’t afford to hear it.

On the other side of the hedge, Augusta Tulkingham said, “Ah, Lady Pincheon-Smythe, how nice to see you.”

“I have only just arrived. Mrs. Tulkingham, Miss Pimble, you remember my nephew, Mr. Godfrey, the schoolmaster.”

Both ladies muttered expressions of welcome. Mr. Godfrey’s voice could be heard greeting them and making bland comments about the garden, and Felicity was struck by its remarkably nasal, methodical quality. She could easily imagine him lecturing on hypotenuse angles. Leaning close to peer through the bushes, she saw a very pale man with an oval head that had sparse, long, dark hairs spurting from the scalp to lie lankly against his head. He must have been about fifty.

“Have you met Mr. Collington, our new neighbor, Lady Pincheon-Smythe?” Miss Pimble asked.

“Hmph,” Lady P-S replied. “Not yet. But the name rings a bell. I believe he had a brother who was an MP.” A pause. “There was something about the brother, but I can’t remember what.”

So, thought Felicity, Mr. Collington was rich

“Well,” said Mrs. Tulkingham, “our Mr. Collington is not an MP, but he is all one might wish in a gentleman. And he owns a sherry vineyard in Spain.”

“Charming, I’m sure,” Lady P-S said. “Now, have you seen Miss Wilcox? I wish to introduce her to my nephew. Such a nice young lady. I am quite determined to take her up as a cause.”

Felicity jumped up and made her escape.

An hour later, she and Mr. Collington were on their way back to Tethering. She was a quiet passenger as she stared unseeingly at the countryside and tried to think of ways to get him to give up on Tethering and go away.

“Well,” he said abruptly, breaking into her thoughts. “You and Markham certainly seemed to have quite a bit to say to each other.”

“I’m surprised our conversation was of any interest to you.”

He crossed his arms. “I could hardly fail to notice the intensity of your discussion, and I can’t have been the only one. You should have a care, Miss Wilcox, how you bestow your attentions. In a place as small as Longwillow, such marked attention to a young vicar could be easily misconstrued.”

The nerve! “How dare you give me advice on how to conduct myself in my own neighborhood? You, an unwanted interloper.”

He leaned back against his seat, one black eyebrow arching upward mockingly. “Unwanted? Why, I must say, my very first encounter in the neighborhood, with a hazel-eyed damsel on the banks of a stream, led me to believe I would be very welcome here indeed.”

She was momentarily speechless. “You are insufferable! I would never have been friendly to you if I had known who you were.”

His eyelids lowered lazily over his dark brown eyes. “But you
very friendly,” he said.

“And never shall be again.”

“Never is a long time, Miss Wilcox.”

But she refused to say another word to him. Instead, she looked away and thought harder on how to get him to give up Tethering.


Fulton stood in the drawing room early the next morning and sighed as he pondered what to address next in this godforsaken manor. He was fairly dismayed about his master’s plans to have a house party so soon after moving into what Fulton privately called “the old heap.” And this with practically no staff in place yet, save for the footman and stable boys Lady Josephine had lent them. The idea that anyone from London was going to shortly be in residence in rooms whose windows were currently festooned with bird droppings made him want to swoon.

Jarvis, the footman, was coming along the hallway carrying a small end table, and he paused in the doorway on his way past.

“You wanted this fer the chamber where t’ master’s aunt is to stay, sir?”

“Yes, that’s right, Jarvis. At the moment there’s not even a shelf to set a candle on in there, and I think we can all agree it would be best to have a candle handy in Miss Claremont’s room.”

Jarvis cast a furtive glance down the hallway. “’Tis true, then, sir, what I heard?”

Fulton gave him a sober look. “Jarvis, as I have made clear to you, I do not condone gossiping about our master or his circle.” He paused. “However, I would prefer that, should any of the new staff hear rumors, they understand that Miss Claremont was unwell at the time, grieving the death of her sister.”

Jarvis was enthralled. “It’s just, sir, that she seems a practical lady, like, and not one who might carry on.”

Fulton sniffed. “Miss Claremont
a practical, eminently respectable lady, as I can assure you. And Mr. Collington takes the best care of her. She’s like a mother to him. It was a heartrending scene that night—I can still see her quivering on the bed and Master sitting beside her, comforting her.”


Felicity was just passing by the side of the manor, having sneaked into the orchard to watch the sun rise as she had every day since the Wilcoxes had received the letter about losing the estate. It was the place in the world where she felt most at peace, and she needed that peace now more than ever. Today, though, she hadn’t found as much solace as she craved.

As she came within hearing distance of the window, she caught some words of a conversation being carried on inside.

“Master was up all night,” she heard a man say, obviously from his speech one of Mr. Collington’s servants. “I never would have believed that someone so practical and confident could be brought to such a state.”

She was instantly intrigued. What had the confident, practical Mr. Collington done?

“A state, sir?” said another, even less cultured male voice. “What sort a state?”

A pause. “It was dreadful. The rocking, the tears, and all the time wailing about ghosts.”


She blinked. Mr. Collington was afraid of ghosts? This was very interesting news indeed!

“Yes. You cannot believe the trouble we had that night trying to restore peace. Calls for extra candles to light the room up as bright as a summer’s day. And demands to open all the windows to show that the moaning sounds had only been the wind. It took some time to put those fears to rest, I can tell you.”

Shuffling sounds told her someone was moving around in the room. She quickly stepped away from the window and, crouching over so she would not be seen passing, made her way into the trees that ran along the property and toward Blossom Cottage.

So, Mr. Collington was deathly afraid of ghosts! Who would have guessed that so virile a man… But this was a very useful piece of information. In fact, as she drew closer to the cottage, an idea was forming in her mind. A brilliant idea of how to get Mr. Collington to renounce his claim to Tethering. She would
him away!

She even had an idea already for who her ghost could be—it was perfect, really. And she would begin that very night, at the dratted dinner to which her father had agreed. Dinner would give her a chance to sow the seeds of trepidation in one so fearful as Mr. Collington. She almost felt sorry for the grief she would have to cause him, but she steeled herself. Needs must.


Felicity stood looking at herself in her bedroom’s small, murky mirror, wearing the one fancy gown she had dyed, a rich ivory satin that had taken the black color well. The house was quiet in the dusky early evening; her father had not returned from Tethering’s library, and she doubted it had occurred to him to dress for dinner. But then, he was already wearing a mustard silk waistcoat with faded poppy embroidery, along with his black mourning armband.

She smoothed her gown’s unfashionably fitted waist against her curves, the rich cloth a lustrous black in the fading light. Its half-sleeves and low, scooped bodice looked dressy. Couldn’t a person just look good in something, even if it wasn’t the style that everyone else was wearing? She
finely enough turned out—rather pretty actually. The fashionable Mr. Collington would probably think her a very odd bird in the gown, and that made her like it even more. She grinned, thinking that no one would ever guess that under the fine satin she wore a tatty old chemise.

Opening the top drawer of her dresser, she took out a little box. Inside was a simple pearl necklace her mother had given her, a family heirloom that Felicity used to wear all the time when she went to parties. Once she’d taken her vow not to marry and taken on the running of Tethering, she’d simply stopped going to parties and balls. She might have met someone, might have been tempted, and that would have been wrong.

But she wasn’t afraid of being tempted tonight. Even though she was just the tiniest bit fascinated by James Collington, the way she supposed women always were by handsome rogues, her heart and her vow could not be in the smallest danger from such a blackhearted scoundrel. There was, however, much to be said for being well turned out when dealing with a man.
was something she’d not forgotten. She put the necklace on, and it settled against the hollow of her throat, a lucky charm that pulsed with her mother’s love.

She gathered her thick, dark gold hair in a low, loose knot at the back of her neck. On her way up to the manor, she picked a creamy sprig of summer jasmine and tucked it in her hair near the nape. Perhaps it wasn’t totally appropriate with her mourning gown, but did Uncle Jonathan really deserve “appropriate”?

Standing quietly outside the familiar front door of Tethering Hall, she gently rubbed her forefinger against its weathered wood, the grain as familiar to her as her own skin. The door was warm from the day’s sun, and she pressed her cheek against it, feeling the answering embrace of a stationary member of her family.

Stifling a fierce urge to simply let herself in, she knocked and was received by a smartly dressed manservant, who told her that Mr. Wilcox was still in the library, but that Mr. Collington awaited them in the drawing room. She went to the library and fetched her father from behind an enormous stack of books piled on a table.

“Father,” she chastised him gently as they walked, arms linked, toward the drawing room, “you are as one starved who is gorging. I must urge moderation. Mr. Collington has, after all, given you free access. You do not have to commit all the books to memory.”

Her father laughed, sounding giddy, and his eyes were alight with excitement. “Oh, my dear, it is good to be back among the books! And Mr. Collington is the most thoughtful of hosts. He had a luncheon brought in to me in the library and has been most obliging.”

She groaned. Her father was completely in Mr. Collington’s camp.

Her father’s white hair was standing up in tufts around his head where he had probably been clutching it in the midst of deep concentration, as he was wont to do. She reached out and tenderly smoothed it down as they stood outside the drawing room, a place where she hadn’t ever before waited in her life.

Butterflies stirred in her stomach in anticipation of what she was going to set in motion. The servant opened the door, and they walked in. Mr. Collington stood at their arrival.

She had forgotten how tall he was, or maybe now that she stood with him indoors, his height was more evident. His coat of sea blue hung wide from his shoulders before tapering in toward his waist. Fine as he was, he looked as out of place as a peacock among chickens.

When he greeted them, his brown eyes registered a momentary look of surprise at her polite response. He cocked his head consideringly, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. She smiled serenely and reminded herself that she must set the right tone with him, appear to be reconciling herself to his presence.

The drawing room no longer looked as it had when they left a month earlier. It had been immaculately cleaned, their shabby old furniture replaced with a few new things, and every polished surface now reflected the gentle dusk light coming through the tall windows. Even the rickety old staircase that led up to the walkway near the ceiling looked refreshed, as if it would creak less under its new coat of polish. Dismay stabbed her. She would have loved to make Tethering shine, but there had never been enough time or money to do it.

He was watching her as she looked around the room, and she turned a steady regard on him where he stood a few feet from her. His eyes, fixed on hers, held a brightness, an alertness that gave him an air of someone ready for anything.

A servant arrived bearing a tray with a bottle of sherry and three glasses, and their host offered them each a glass. The first sip was startling. The liquid tasted unlike any sherry she’d ever had, not necessarily in a pleasing way. Mr. Collington watched them drink.

“What do you think of my sherry?” he asked.

Her father looked unsure. “It is… that is,” he began hesitantly, finally leaning over to examine the bottle’s label, which Felicity could see was unhelpfully written in Spanish. “I say,” he said, his eyebrows knitting, “but are you certain this is sherry, sir?”

Mr. Collington chuckled, a deep, masculine sound. “Oh, but I assure you it is. The sherriest of sherries, that which is drunk by the people of Jerez themselves. Jerez being the town that gave us the English name ‘sherry.’”

“Ah,” her father said, and she guessed he was hoping Mr. Collington would not ask how he liked it. The wine was not in the least sweet, as sherry was supposed to be. Instead it was like pale, dry fire on the tongue.

“I think you mentioned that you are especially fond of sherry?” her father said.

Mr. Collington looked from Felicity to her father, neither of them having drunk beyond the first sip, and laughed, his white teeth a striking contrast with his tanned face. “Yes, I do like sherry very much. In fact, that’s one of my favorites in your glasses, though I realize it is not the usual style of sweetened sherry to which the English palate is accustomed. It is
, one of the wines produced at my vineyard near Jerez.”

“Ah yes, you own a vineyard, don’t you?” Felicity said, remembering what she had overheard at the garden party. She was curious; she would have thought he spent most of his time gambling and going to parties, not contending with the business of a vineyard. Of course, owning a vineyard didn’t mean he spent any time there.

“Yes,” he replied. “A few years ago I bought an established sherry bodega, as the Spanish call a vineyard, in the south of Spain. The Bodega Alborada is poised to supply a good portion of the English market. With English-style, sweetened sherry, of course. What you have in your glasses is what the Spanish prefer. I’ve come to like it very much myself, but it is an acquired taste, as I suspect you’ll agree.”

When he said “Jerez” and “Bodega Alborada” the Spanish words
foreign, not like foreign words being pronounced as part of the King’s English. He almost looked foreign, too, with his black-as-night hair and eyebrows and his tanned skin and chocolate eyes. He was looking at her father, and she allowed herself a moment to study him.

Mr. Collington looked every inch the gentleman in his fine clothes, but his muscular grace was that of a man who used his body. She could imagine him striding up vine-covered hillsides or even, astonishing that this should occur to her, swimming in the blue waters of some exotic coast, the sunlight glinting off athletic, tanned shoulders.

What on earth was she doing, thinking about the bare shoulders of a man she hardly knew? Thinking about a man’s body? It was as if a strong wind from Spain—hadn’t she read of such a thing, a
or some such?—had come with him into their drawing room. And blown through her mind as well, sending it down startling paths.

She forced her gaze into her sherry glass and reminded herself firmly that, however much his manly presence gave it the lie, this man would quiver at the thought of ghosts. That was, thank heaven, a fairly quelling thought. What was the point of fabulous shoulders if the man they belonged to was, well, not manly?

“Er…” began her father, twisting his lips about as he struggled, she guessed, to say something polite about the unappealing drink.

Their host held up his hand with a rueful chuckle. “No, no, it’s all right,” he said, going over to pull on the bellrope, “I’ll have some sweet sherry brought.”

“Actually, Collington,” her father said, putting his glass down on the table, a slightly guilty look creeping over his features, “if you don’t mind, might I just nip back to the library for a moment? I’ve remembered something I wanted to look up.”

Mr. Collington waved his hand. “But of course, Mr. Wilcox, I encourage you. We shall await your return.”

Felicity nearly groaned. Her father never “just nipped in” when books were concerned. Once in the library he could unwittingly forget everyone and everything else for hours.

“And perhaps while you are gone,” Mr. Collington continued, turning an innocently vacant host’s expression on Felicity, “Miss Wilcox would be so good as to provide a tour of the walkway. I confess a curiosity as to what is up there.”

“An excellent idea,” her father said.

She smiled weakly in agreement, and her father left the room, abandoning her to the company of the enemy.

BOOK: Emily Greenwood
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