The Bedford Beauty (A Regency Novella)

                                         

 
 
 
 
 

Th
e Bedford Beauty

A
Regency Novella

By

Erika Hunter

 

This novella
is dedicated to my sister and my mom who have always believed in me.

 
 
 

Co
ntents

CHAPTER ONE
..
4

CHAPTER TWO
..
10

CHAPTER THREE
..
14

CHAPTER FOUR
..
22

CHAPTER FIVE
..
29

CHAPTER SIX
..
32

CHAPTER SEVEN
..
36

CHAPTER EIGHT
..
43

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

July 1813

 

How does one
greet a war hero? With lavish parties and parades, brightly colored gowns and excessive
food and drink? For Arthur Wellesley perhaps; But Alice Fulton thought
something more subtle and personal was needed for her heroes. She drummed her
fingers against the warm windowpane following an episode of pacing across the
drawing room floor. Her brother, Dayton, and Blake Hadley were coming home
after serving three years in the Peninsula War Light Cavalry. At last they
would be back in Bedford.
 
Alice had
dreamed of the day when she could throw herself into her brother’s arms, and
today was that day.

“Stop
fidgeting Alice and put your hands to good use,” Lady Fulton gently scolded,
holding out the needlepoint work Alice had started and never finished.

“Yes,
Mother,” She replied with a sigh and accepted the needlework as she sat on the
edge of their butter yellow sofa. “Do you think they will arrive today? Do you
suppose they will be here soon?”

“My dear, you
must be calm. A lady is always calm and never shows too much excitement. They
will be here when they get here,” Lady Fulton responded without looking up from
her correspondence.

Lady
Elizabeth Fulton dressed with a formality which made Alice want to roll her
eyes. Her mother’s perfect coiffure with chestnut curls framing her face and
her fitted cream-colored muslin gown wrapped in a dark blue shawl gave her a
meticulous, lovely appearance. Alice envied how easy it was for her mother to
maintain a picture perfect appearance at all times, but despaired the need to
emulate such perfection.

When Alice
turned sixteen her mother curbed her adventures to focus on perfecting her
appearance so she would be ready for a London Season. Now Alice’s hairstyle
mimicked her mother’s, but instead of a rich, chestnut coiffure, she had
unruly, auburn curls. At least her white muslin gown was well fitted and the
blue trimmings brought out the blue of her eyes. She wanted to impress her
brother with her mature appearance and manners.

Alice tossed
the needlepoint work on the table. “I cannot attend this now Mother. I am all
nerves at present.” She rose to her feet and paced the drawing room again.

Lady Fulton
looked up from her correspondence and watched Alice move around the room with a
furrowed brow. “Then I pray your brother will arrive soon so you’ll regain
control of your nerves,” she calmly stated.

“Do you think
they will look very different?” Alice asked. Her mind whirled from one thought
to the next like a whirling dervish. Dayton and Blake had been tall and lanky
twenty year olds when they left. They must be battle-hardened men now, serious after
experiencing fighting and bloodshed. She shivered thinking of the horrors they
endured and witnessed in Portugal and Spain while she was safely ensconced in
the English countryside.

“I expect
they will look older,” Mother replied without looking up from her
correspondence. “I spoke with Mrs. Fielding this morning and Lord Bedford will
be in attendance at the assembly Saturday next. You must look your best for
him,” Mother stated with a sparkle in her eye.

Mother
reveled in the hunt to find her a titled husband. Since Alice had no particular
gentleman in mind, she let her mother dictate the direction of the hunt. In
fact, she hadn’t met a single eligible bachelor who made her think twice about
him.

“Yes Mother.
Do you think Dayton will be more serious?” Alice asked, changing the subject
back to the more important topic of her war heroes.

“We
shall see. Do sit down Alice,” Mother replied in a damnably calm tone.

Dayton's
letters always contained humorous antics on camping or marching, never more
than a cursory mention of battles or skirmishes. Alice knew he spared her
sensibilities so she would never know of the terrors he witnessed. She
appreciated his protectiveness but she was strong enough to support Dayton
should he need it.

The sound of clopping
hooves reached her ears and she raced over to the window. A plain black and
yellow carriage appeared in the lane. Alice's heart pounded as the unadorned
coach moved closer. She launched herself off the window seat and stumbled down
the stairs in her haste to greet them, her white muslin gown and petticoat
catching between her legs as she ran down the stairs two at a time.
 

Alice shifted
from foot to foot waiting for Mother to open the door and step outside first,
then she followed on her heals. She knew she betrayed unladylike impatience,
but three years of absence and daily fear for Dayton and Blake made conforming
to society's rules unbearable in this situation.

The carriage
stopped in front of their home and Dayton swung the door open with a bang and
hopped down in his regimentals. His short ginger hair glinted in the summer
sunlight and his teasing smile stretched across his face displaying a set of
fine white teeth. He looked so grown up, but thin. His blue eyes held maturity
and a seriousness he had not possessed before the war. Her heart clenched with
regret at the years they spent apart and how they had changed him. They’d been
close as children and rarely fought which made the separation even more fraught
with pain and anxiety.

Alice ran past
her mother and into his arms, tears streaming down her face as she gazed up at
her adoring big brother through bleary eyes.

“Ali. I’ve
missed you little one. Have you been waiting all day for us to arrive?” He
kissed her cheek affectionately and hugged her close.

“I have been
pacing the house driving Mother to distraction.” She gave him a teary smile.

Dayton moved
aside so Blake could exit the carriage and went to greet Mother and Papa who
joined them.
 
Alice sucked in her breath
at the sight of her brother's best friend. Blake's dark eyes trained upon her
and warmth, aside from the summer heat, seeped over her.
 
Lord, he had changed. His face and his body
were filled out and more masculine than she remembered. He exited the carriage
with an air of confidence and grace. Something potent and wild came to mind as
she surveyed his athletic physique, dark hair pulled back from his face, and
the brooding look in his eyes.

He had always
been a quiet, observant fellow, Shadow she'd called him secretly. Looking at
him now, she could imagine the ladies swarming him and begging for offers of
marriage. Blake was beautiful with his rich brown eyes, midnight hair and a powerful
presence resonating off him like a strong blowing wind. The slow smile he gave
her made her struggle to stay calm and breathe normally.

Shyness and
uncertainty gripped her as she struggled to recall her thoughts on the best way
to greet him. The last time she had seen him she had hugged him good-bye and
wished him a safe return. She was nineteen now and he was so sinfully handsome,
she wasn't sure if she should curtsy or hug him. She should do more than stare
at the fine specimen of a man before her. So she smiled and bobbed a curtsy as
he watched her with intense brown eyes.

“I'm glad
you're home Blake. I've missed you and Dayton.”

His smile
turned into a grin making her grin back foolishly. “I've missed you too Alice.
You’re all grown up.” His gaze swept her form and she wanted to squirm under
his observations.

“Come inside
and have tea with us. You will stay for dinner won't you Blake?” Alice asked as
she stepped between the uniformed men and hooked a hand through each of their
arms.

Blake
instantly covered her hand with his gloved one as she escorted them into the
house.
 
The gesture was warm and friendly
and excitement thrummed through her body at his touch.

Mother
frowned at her manners, but formalities be hanged. She wanted to sit and talk
with them about anything and everything. She had so many questions and they
were back. They were back! She wanted to shout for joy and thank God for
returning them safely.
 

Once they
were settled inside for dinner, Dayton regaled Mother, Papa, and she with
humorous stories of their exploits during the war. Blake sat across from Alice
and watched her when he didn't think she noticed.

She tried to
include him in the conversation by asking him questions or for confirmation on
the truth of her outlandish brother's stories, but he only smiled, nodded or
made small comments all the while observing her. She had no idea what he found
so interesting, but a hot and breathless sensation stayed with her in his
presence.

“I can’t tell
you how long it has been since I had such a delicious meal. The roast pheasant
is excellent,” Dayton exclaimed happily.

“Yes, yes but
you were telling us about Spain and how the rain made it difficult to see who
was on your side and who the enemy was,” Alice replied impatiently, nearly
leaning into her plate of food.

    
“Yes, of course,” Dayton gave her an
indulgent smile and winked. “It was late afternoon but felt like midnight
because the skies were full of black clouds and the rain pelted us
relentlessly. Blake came up with the idea and saved the regiment. Do you want
to tell them?” Dayton turned to Blake.

Blake glanced
at Alice and met her eager expression with a quick smile. He nodded and set his
napkin aside. “The rain came down in buckets from the sky and it was impossible
to tell if the person in front of you was a friend or a foe. Since we were exposed
with no cliffs or hills at our back, I suggested we gather together and form a
circle so we’d know anyone approaching us directly on would be an enemy.”

Blake spoke
with a deep, rich voice Alice had never noticed previously. She loved hearing
him talk. It was a shame he didn’t do it more often.

“That was
clever of you,” Alice beamed at him. “And it worked beautifully as you are here
today.”

Blake gave
her a soft smile that barely curved his lips and his eyes held so much warmth
when he looked at her. She noticed her hands were a bit shaky with his
attention focused on her.

“Yes, he is a
clever chap indeed,” Dayton chimed in. “We were able to pick off the small
group of French soldiers and live to fight another day.”

“I’m glad you
are safe and your brave contributions to the war are finally over. You know,
Alice did more than rusticate while you were protecting us, Dayton. She had a
London Season,” Mother boasted, making Alice blush. She disliked being the center
of attention.

“I am sure
she did well too as she is quite decent looking indeed. Would not you agree
Blake?” Dayton replied inspecting her like a horse for purchase.

Alice ducked
her head wishing she could hide.

“Yes, she is
lovely,” Blake complimented.

Alice
couldn’t help but glance through her eyelashes at Blake. The intensity in his
eyes made her want to place cool hands on her warm cheeks, but that would draw
more attention to her.

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