Authors: Sandra Schwab
Tags: #historical romance
(Book 1 of A Love for every Season)
Published by Sandra Schwab
Copyright © 2013 by Sandra Schwab
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Caught between duty…
George Augustus Griffin, Viscount Chanderley has to marry—fast: His father has ordered him to find a suitable wife this very Season. Alas, the only woman Griff has eyes for is the very
Miss Carlotta Stanton, who is not only unbecomingly tall, but also wears the ugliest spectacles in all of England. Still, Griff is utterly bewitched by her intense green eyes. Yes however much he feels drawn to her
joie de vivre
, duty and honour demand that he stay far away from Miss Stanton.
Dubbed “the Giantess” because of her unfortunate height, Charlie Stanton finds the London Season far less glamorous than she had thought it would be—not the least because she is consigned a place among the wallflowers. But then she becomes acquainted with the very dashing Lord Chanderley, whose life is overshadowed by a terrible tragedy in his past. Ever ready to help others, Charlie is determined to rid him of his Sad Melancholia—even if it means taking on wild boars and highwaymen. However, the biggest challenged might be the elusive viscount himself and his belief that he is beyond all redemption.
A Fair Warning to the Gentle Reader
The following narrative features a shocking amount of anachronistic wild boars and highwaymen. In Britain, the former were hunted to extinction during the Middle Ages, and the latter were becoming increasingly rare in the early 1800s. However, as this author had so much fun writing them into the story, they were allowed to stay.
in which our story opens with wild boars,
highwaymen, & an early-morning stroll
up St. James’s Street
Spring 1817, somewhere north of the Tweed
When the century was still in its teens, and on one surprisingly sunshiny day in April, there drove up to the rusty gate of Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies, on Chiswick Lane, a large, battered coach, with two fat horses and a fat coachman, his face mottled with hectic red. A scrawny youth, who sat on the box beside the rotund coachman, bit his nails, tugged at his sweaty hair, and scrambled down the box as soon as the coach drew up opposite Miss Pinkerton’s spotted brass plate.
St. Cuthbert’s Academy for Young Ladies
, it read with old-fashioned, un-neoclassical flourish. One corner was dented and below the letters somebody had scratched a leering face. It might have been the face of a gargoyle, or perhaps the scratcher had simply not been used to working with brass. But the scrawny youth ignored these artistic endeavours altogether and instead pulled the bell, hard enough to make it bleat like the heavenly trumpets on Doomsday. At the din, at least a score of young heads were seen peering out of the narrow windows of the once stately brick house.
Indeed, the bell sounded loud enough to be heard even in Miss Pinkerton’s private upstairs parlour, where she was presently entertaining two of her hopeful pupils with seed cake and her usual parting speech, which typically covered topics such as The Evils Of The World Outside, Be True To Thyself, and Upholding The Spirit Of St. Cuthbert’s Even & Especially In Times Of Adversity (this part also involved a discourse on The Importance Of Carrying Your Needlework With You At All Times).
“Ah,” Miss Jemima Pinkerton interrupted herself when the bell tolled. “That will be Mr MacFarlane’s carriage, come to carry you away from us.” She bestowed a slightly misty smile on the two young ladies sitting in front of her, in appearance as different from each other as night and day. One small and plump, with curly blond hair and an English milk-and-roses face, the other tall and thin, her dark hair almost black against the Celtic paleness of her skin, the intense green of her eyes partly hidden by a pair of brass spectacles.
“Well, my dears.” Miss Pinkerton could feel her smile becoming even mistier than before. “Remember what I told you about the excellent uses of ox-gall soap, in particular in regard to Removing Bloodstains From Delicate Fabrics.”
“Yes, Miss Pinkerton.” The two girls nodded earnestly, their fresh young faces still innocent and untouched by the fate that awaited them. How would they fare in far-away London? She had led them this far, and now she had to trust that the spirit of St. Cuthbert would carry them safely onward.
Miss Pinkerton removed a lacy handkerchief from one of the sleeves of her dress, and delicately dabbed the corners of her eyes. “Well, then…” She cleared her throat and roused herself from sentimentality. “Girls, the world awaits you,” she said grandly, as she said to all of her pupils about to leave the bosom of her school. “I hope you will do St. Cuthbert’s proud.”
Again, the two heads bobbed up and down. “Yes, Miss Pinkerton.”
Satisfied that she had done her best, the schoolmistress handed the two girls the letter for their parents, or, in Miss Stanton’s case, for the girl’s aunt and uncle—it behoved a schoolmistress to write to the parents about their daughter’s accomplishments upon the girl’s parting from school. And to include the last bill, of course.
The letters having thus been dealt with, Miss Pinkerton reached for the two larger parcels on her desk. “Dear Dr Johnson,” she said. “Such a revered gentleman. His work—” She patted the parcels. “—will do you many a good turn, no doubt. He was much taken with St. Cuthbert’s, as you know.” A dreamy smile appeared on Miss Pinkerton’s face. “Who could forget those immortal lines ‘Addressed to a Young Lady on quitting St. Cuthbert’s, on Chiswick Lane’? Why, he even included some verses from our school song. Hmhmhmm. ‘Maidens of St. Cuthbert’s—’” Yet just as Miss Pinkerton was about to launch into song, the door burst open and a scrawny boy stumbled into the room, his eyes wild. “Ah,” the schoolmistress said, “you’ve come about—”
“The Boar!” the boy gasped.
The two girls eyed his distraught frame with interest.
“The boar?” Miss Pinkerton echoed, clearly perplexed. “Not the coach?”
“The Bestial Boar. It’s… it’s back in the village!”
Miss Pinkerton’s face fell. “Oh dear,” she said, while the boy’s face in turn crumbled.
!” he whispered brokenly.
Miss Pinkerton blinked, obviously taken aback by so much despair. “Nonsense,” she said briskly, before she turned to her girls. “Miss Brockwin, please hand the young gentleman a slice of seed cake. Nothing like seed cake to revive the constitution, mark my words. And now, my dears—” She looked from one young lady to the other, and smiled. “—go and get the guns.”
Same morning, considerably south of the Tweed
George Augustus Griffin, Viscount Chanderley slowly opened his eyes. Sunlight pierced his skull with a thousand white-hot needles. Groaning, he squeezed his eyes shut.
Gradually he became aware of a dull pain in his neck and shoulders, of something poking into his ribs. Then the uncomfortable realisation that he was not lying in a bed. Not in his, nor in anybody else’s.
Where am I?
The insides of his mouth felt fuzzy, and a horde of gnomes seemed to have taken up residence inside his head and now delighted in drumming their little hammers against his skull.
Where the devil am I?
Griff forced his eyes to open once more, blinked, then stared at the unfamiliar ceiling. As his gaze wandered over the ceiling to the walls, the tall, dark bookcases, then down, the world slowly righted itself and regained familiarity.
He lay sprawled across an armchair in the small library of his club, reeking of stale smoke and strong spirits, but alive, unfortunately so.
“Damn.” Griff slowly rolled into an upright position. His joints creaked, while the gnomes hammered happily away. “Damn.” Then he remembered the interview with the pater he had scheduled for this morning. No wonder he had drunk himself into oblivion last night.
One of the club’s servants appeared noiselessly at his side. “Good morning, my lord. Do you wish for some refreshments?” Nothing in his tone suggested that it was in any way unusual for the members of the club to spend the night in the library.
Griff ordered coffee, and after three cups of the scalding hot brew, he felt revived enough to face the world. His clothes were rumpled, but this couldn’t be helped. Besides, the rest of the
would probably still languish in their beds, which made it highly unlikely that he would meet an acquaintance in the streets.
The air was cold and crisp when he stepped outside. Smoke hovered over the houses and rendered them dull and grey. The gnomes inside his skull prevented him from walking as briskly as he was wont to. Grudgingly, he shortened his strides as he walked up St. James’s Street, past Boodle’s on the right, and then, of course, White’s. White’s, where he had been blackballed ten years ago, by none less than his brother and the pater. How the old man had spitted venom when he had joined Brooks’s instead, home of the Whigs, of the jolly Charles Fox, whom the earl had hated with a passion. Yet any satisfaction Griff might have felt over the earl’s powerless anger had crumbled to dust long ago. Now he only felt weary—bone-weary.
He rubbed the heel of his hand over his forehead. Gad, he felt as if he had drowned in a barrel of cheap gin last night!
What a feat!
Considering that they don’t even serve cheap gin at the club.
He stumbled a little as he crossed the street and nearly fell flat on his face in front of a heavy, horse-drawn cart. The big horse eyed him with detached interest, flicking its ears, while the driver yelled something after Griff that sounded like “Damn nobs!”
Pretending deafness, Griff hunched up his shoulders and turned into the short alley that led to the entrance of the Albany. The houses that flanked the street extended from the Mansion like arms, outstretched and ready to embrace any weary sod who lived here after a night of indulgence. Better than the white, dewy flesh of a courtesan and her scented embrace, the Albany was steadfast and strong…
Lud, I’m turning into a maudlin fool,
Griff thought with slight disgust at himself.
As if by magic, the door of the Mansion opened for him. “Good morning, my lord,” Mr Dalton, the porter, said.
“Good morning.” Stepping over the threshold, Griff let the Albany draw him in. Immediately, he felt the calm of the place settle around him like an old, comfortable coat.
Ahhh, the Albany…
He went through the short passage that led to the back of the house, down the Rope Walk, that roofed path between the two rows of buildings in the backyard of what had once been a splendid London town house. Here the sounds of the big city were dimmed and the grime of the streets was banished. A neat, well-ordered heaven of bachelorhood.
Griff took a deep breath and felt his moroseness lift. He thoroughly enjoyed living here, a nice, safe haven in the middle of the teeming city.
He turned to his block and, his steps light, walked up the stairs to his flat.
During the next half hour he let a hearty breakfast and his gentleman’s gentleman restore him. The trusty Bing hovered about him, radiating silent disapproval as to the state of Griff’s clothes and hair. Bing was rather excellent both at radiating silent disapproval and at speaking sniffs. Yet despite all the sniffing, Griff found an impeccably attired gentleman staring back at him from the looking glass after the half hour had passed.
Griff looked himself over.
Item: one viscount, blond hair fashionably tousled; brown eyes slightly bloodshot, but not overly so; neckcloth expertly bound, the knot an understatement of simplicity; dark blue coat; cream-coloured waistcoat; legs clad in biscuit-coloured breeches, shiny Hessians with discreetly black tassels. Not a drill trouser leg nor a top boot in sight. That should please the old earl.