Authors: Margaret Bennett
Tags: #Nov. Rom
“Thank you, I will be there,”
Rosalind replied, though she wondered if it was a smart move on her part when she caught the Earl regarding her strangely. Heaven help her if he should recognize her as the youth on Tolly’s crew. She quickly climbed into her carriage and signaled Thomas to move out onto the roadway.
The carriage had gone only a short distance, however, when Rosalind rapped on the roof for Thomas to stop. Hop
ping down onto the road’s grassy verge, she instructed him to explain to Mrs. Boroughs that she’d decided to walk home and stretch her legs. Since this was not an uncommon occurrence after Sunday church, Thomas tipped his hat to her and gave the reins a flick. As the carriage rumbled down the road, Rosalind began strolling, her leather half boots kicking up dust from the road.
Soon she left the road to traipse across a field
, where yellow butterflies flittered from bush to bush as she ambled toward the woods that backed up to Ashford Hall.
After finally shaking the Chadlington ladies, promising to appear in their drawing room in time for afternoon tea, Melvyrn was reluctant to take his leave of Miss Wensley. He found the young lady extremely attractive, if a bit prickly. He was tempted to attribute her brusqueness to being shy, but the directness of her remarkable slate blue eyes belied that. Still, he was more used to women fawning over him and was curious about her aversion for him. Still, he’d have another opportunity to speak with the elusive young woman at the Chadlingtons’ ball.
Untying the reins
, he mounted Hector and held the stallion to a brisk walk out of the church yard. Once on the road, he gave the big black his head. Hector was just stretching into a good run when Melvyrn spotted the Wensley coach ahead with the lovely Miss Rosalind Wensley alighting.
Curiosity won the day, and he reigned in Hector
to a sedate walk and, when her coach moved on without her, followed the elusive miss who seemed intent on ambling along the back road. He admitted she’d pricked his ego. After all, as a respected member of the House of Lords, a noted Corinthian, and member of the Four-In-Hand Club, he was an acknowledged prize on the
Marriage Mart. The more he pondered, the more puzzled he became as to why the lovely Miss Wensley acted as if he had the bloody plague.
suddenly, he was struck by Miss Wensley’s resemblance to Tolly’s young friend.
She’d looked familiar, and now he recognized why. Her
large slate blue eyes, fringed with long dark lashes, were similar to the lad’s. Of course, that was hardly of any consequence, for in these backwaters, it was not unusual to see strong family likenesses between the gentry and the common folk.
Now that that nagging little mystery had been
resolved, Melvyrn felt better. Riding up to the diminutive young woman, he concentrated on how to set her at ease and make friends with her.
“Good day again, Miss Wensley,” he called out as she swung around at the stallion’s menacing approach. He d
ismounted and took Hector’s reins in his hand to quiet the stallion. Miss Wensley, however, pivoted on her heel and resumed her walk without acknowledging him.
“Mind if I join you?” he felt compelled to ask the back of her blue bonnet.
The sunlight glinted off several light brown curls that had escaped the bonnet at the base of her slender neck.
“You need not
bother, my lord, as I am headed home. Besides, the Chadlingtons reside in the opposite direction,” she tossed over her shoulder.
Not the friendly reception he’d hoped for, he reflected. Perhaps the chit was jealous of Miss Chadlington. He could certainly set her mind
at rest on that matter. “Yes, but I’ve wanted a chance to talk with you.”
That one word sounded suspiciously defensive. Now what could this little spitfire have to hide? “For the pleasure of your company, dear lady,” he replied giving her the full force of his charming smile, the one known to melt the frigid hearts of the most daunting dowagers. But Miss Wensley apparently was made of sterner stuff, for she continued to regard him with a scowling brow. “Come, Miss Wensley, can we not be friends?”
“It is rumored you are recuperating from a serious illness,” she said in an accusing tone
, ignoring his entreaty.
“You act and appear hale and hearty.”
“Ah, the Melvyrns are know
n for their superior recuperative powers.”
“Then you plan to leave soon?”
He observed the tilt of her small chin and decided she shared more than looks with the boy. Both possessed a dislike for strangers. “It’s difficult to say. I find the fresh sea air invigorating. Also, it has been many years since I was last here.”
“So long, in fact, few have any recollection of that visit.”
“Very true.” Trying to ignore her high dudgeon, he gave her another smile for good measure before his expression became more serious. “Melvyrn Park is my main holding in Lincolnshire, but one summer my father thought the sea air might benefit my mother’s frail health. My sisters and I had a grand holiday, frolicking in the surf and running up and down the beach. Unfortunately, my mother’s health did not improve. She died the following year.”
“I am sorry
,” she said, stopping to look up at him. Her slate blue eyes revealed her sincerity.
Then he remembered that she’d recently experienced the dea
th of her father. “It was a long time ago.”
“Yes, but the loss of a beloved parent always stays with you.”
“And you, Miss Wensley?” he asked, hardly believing his luck that the little vixen was actually talking to him. By Jove, her eyes were glorious slate blue pools in that heart shaped face. Her lips were full, ripe for kissing. “Were you particularly close to your parents?”
“My mother also died wh
en I was quite young,” she said as she resumed walking. “I remember very little of her. Papa raised my brother and me, and we were all very close.”
ve a brother?” Now why would that question cause the little lady to nearly trip over her own two feet, he wondered, putting a hand under her elbow to steady her. Could the lad be her brother?
She didn’t pull away, but allowed him to retain the hold of her arm. “Yes, but he . . . he too is dead.”
“I am sorry, Miss Wensley.” It was his turn to stop and express his sincere sympathy as she turned toward him. He found himself drowning in her eyes--eyes that he knew--yet didn’t. His brow creased as he tried to puzzle out the remarkable likeness between the pretty young woman and the youth--if not her brother, then possibly a cousin?
A bright blush colored her cheeks as she ducked her head, breaking their eye contact. She began walking again. They had followed a path that now led along the top of the cliffs.
A soft cool breeze fluttered the loose curls about her neck, and Melvyrn’s fingers itched to feel their silky texture, to caress her slender neck.
“Have you heard about our famous cliffs, my lord?” Miss Wensley asked,
cutting her eyes toward him, her lips breaking in a tentative smile.
He gave himself a mental shake.
“I vaguely remember that Julius Caesar invaded England somewhere near here,” Melvyrn answered, looking out at the water, over a hundred feet below. The day was clear, the sun high and the Channel blue.
Nearer to Dover, actually. It is rumored that in 55 BC, when Julius Caesar’s men sailed our coastline, some of our illustrious ancestors jeered the Roman fleet from these very cliffs.”
They had come
to the edge of a large field, and she stopped. Melvyrn took her hand. “May I call upon you tomorrow afternoon, Miss Wensley?” He watched as her easy smile faded.
Facing the water, she said, “I am concerned for your health, my lord,” she hedged. “A man of your delicate constitution might find a need to rest after such a busy day as today has surely turned out to be.”
Melvyrn smiled as he brought her hand to his lips. “Your concern for me is most flattering, Miss Wensley. However, I have truly recovered from my malaise.”
“In that case, I would be delighted to see you, my lord,” she said, but with no invitation in her voice. “You had better hurry, my lord.
The Chadlingtons will be expecting you, and I really must return to the Hall.” Then she said good day and turned off the road onto a narrow footpath that ran along the field and led into woods that backed up to Ashford Hall. She was gone before he could object.
Gathering Hector’s reigns, Melvyrn mounted
and started back toward the village and the Chadlingtons. Reviewing the conversation with Miss Wensley, he was still perplexed that the young woman, while not actually rude, continued to hold him at arms’ length. With no obvious answer coming to mind, he decided it might behoove him to have another talk with Luther Tolliver.
After Lady Chadlington and her daughter’s unexpected visit, Melvyrn knew the charade was up. No one believed he was ill, as evidenced by the attention he received after church on Sunday morning. Then at the Chadlingtons, Melvyrn found himself begging off dinner, fabricating a concern over the effects of the night air on his fever. But Sylvia persisted, proposing an alfresco lunch mid week, and Melvyrn, feeling neatly trapped, accepted though with grave reluctance as he expressed pressing estate matters that he needed to address.
the next day, he decided to snoop about the village. His best bet was the tavern. Here the locals gathered and exchanged news and gossip. He knew better than to expect a welcome with open arms but hoped if he’d put in several appearances that by week’s end he’d gain a few confidences. At any rate, it was worth the effort.
Besides, he was bored. Gilmore was an excellent manager, leaving Melvyrn with nothing to do but poke his nose in
affairs of an efficiently run estate where it was neither needed nor wanted.
Bailey took pains to turn Melvyrn out
, as was befitting his station, and lectured his lordship on caution. He wore a dark brown jacket that hugged his broad shoulder, a cream brocade waistcoat with a white tied cravat, and his long legs were encased in buckskin breeches.
You’re understated, not like some dandy,” said Bailey with his finger tapping his chin and eyeing Melvyrn from head to toe. “But these simple folk ain’t gonna know the difference between a top of the trees Corinthian as yourself from a pink of the
. They’ll see Quality for what it is.”
Melvyrn wasn’t sure if his valet had complimented him or not. “I want to earn their trust. Do you think they’re likely to trust a man by his clothes?”
“Don’t know, but seeing as how first impressions count, milord . . . these yokels need to know I know how to turn you out proper. ‘Course now, if you’re looking for their trust, stands to reason you wouldn’t want to give them a disgust of yourself, thinking you’re a swell coming from London to impress them.”
Rather than argue the point, Melvyrn conceded his valet might have the right of it. Then, he quickly made for the stables before the gregarious Bailey came up with another topic
on which to enlighten him.
while later, riding into the sleepy village, he wondered if he’d see the lad. If he could get to the boy without Tolly around, Melvyrn could question the lad and get some badly needed answers. Tolly himself was another matter. His former sergeant’s behavior bordered on insubordination the other night, and Melvyrn planned to have a few words with the fisherman before the week was out. Add to that, he had a few questions about Miss Wensley and Tolly’s relationship with that young lady.
With most of the men out working their nets on such a
warm sunny day, few people were on Folkestone’s main street. At the stable, he handed Hector’s reins over to a stable lad with a promise of a coin if the boy walked the stallion to cool him down. Heading down High Street, Melvyrn saw no one hanging about the old stone and timber building of the Eight Bells.
Like the village,
the inn parlors were empty. He turned to the open doorway of the taproom and saw the stout proprietor tending a small fire in a stone hearth. “Afternoon,” Melvyrn called out. “A mug of ale, please.”
Bart Brothers glanced over hi
s shoulder before rising slowly with his small eyes keenly focused on Melvyrn. Without uttering a word, he went over to the bar and drew a tankard of ale. Bringing it back to the table where Melvyrn took a seat, he turned as if to go to the kitchen but stopped dead in his tracks when Melvyrn said, “I recognized you the other night on the beach.”
Brothers turned back to the Earl and glowered at him. Melvyrn, in turn, tossed another coin on the table. “Get yourself a mug of ale and join me.”
Moving at a snail’s pace, Brothers did as he was bid and uncomfortably settled on the bench across the table from Melvyrn.
Melvyrn didn’t believe Brothers was afraid of him and doubted he’d get much information. He opted to put the man at ease, hoping to slowly gain his respect. “Can’t say that any
laudable establishment doesn’t carry some of the Gentlemen’s goods. After all, decent brandy’s a necessity for a proprietor to maintain good custom.”