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Authors: Margaret Bennett

The Hopeless Hoyden

BOOK: The Hopeless Hoyden
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Margaret Bennett

Author’s Disclaimer:
  The contents of this novel are a work of fiction.  Any personal name or description is solely coincidental as is any event or incident.  Likewise, the views and opinions expressed in the text do not necessarily represent those of the author.


Published E-Book: October, 2012 by Margaret Anne Bennett Feuerbacher

*** Chapter 1 ***


It was a glorious summer day.  The bees hummed, birds sang and the brook babbled.  Popping another juicy blackberry into her mouth, the Honorable Miss Emily Pendleton wondered what more she could possibly want.

Some excitement!

Oh, it was not that she minded picking berries for Cook, for if nothing else, this gave her an opportunity to get off by herself.  Still, stuck in the wilds of Gloucestershire, there was little a young miss of eighteen could do. 

Life could be so...dull. 

She longed for something momentous to happen in her life. Or at the very least, why couldn't Tom or Nicholas, one of her brothers, come home and keep her company? 

Of course, if she hadn't disgraced herself this past spring before the entire
, she wouldn't be in her present fix.  But who ever expected Beau Brummell, London’s arbitrator of sartorial fashion, to be lurking behind Mrs. Smythe-Russell’s Grecian column when Emily had pronounced the very man a pompous ass in a carrying voice to one of her girlfriends. 

Really, life could be so unfair.

Sequestered behind a cluster of bushes just off the path, Emily methodically went about denuding a particularly rich patch of blackberries of its ripe load.  Lost in self pity, it was several minutes before she became aware of two male voices, both pitched low to almost whispers, growing closer as their owners approached her.  She could barely understand what they were saying.

She was debating whether it would be wise to make herself known when the men stopped beside the large bush that blocked her from their view.  Through the dense bushes, she could see bits of the scarlet coat one of them wore

"Lindemann's expected sometime later today."

“I wondered when the bloke was gonna show his phiz," replied a coarser voice.

“His damnable sense of duty would never allow him to do otherwise, though he has little heart for this house party."  A malicious laugh punctuated these words.  “That was why he was more than willing to let me greet his guests." 

Emily recognized the cultured tones of a gentleman, as her hand hovered over the prickly bush pulling gently on another berry.

“Yeah, and he's gonna like what's in store for him even less," hissed the much coarser voice. 

At the speaker’s loathsome tone, Emily involuntarily squeezed a berry she held, causing red-black liquid to ooze over her hand.

“Hmm, yes.  But remember, above all else, it must appear to be an accident.”

Bent on eavesdropping as her fertile mind conjured up nefarious doings afoot, Emily started when a rabbit suddenly darted from underneath the bush concealing her and emitted a soft gasp.

“What was that?" the gentleman's voice growled. 

Emily, always one to know when the game was up, prudently recognized it would behoove her to take like the rabbit and hightail it for home.  She caught a glimpse of a red coat coming around the bushes as she turned on her heel.  Heedless of prickly underbrush pulling at her thin muslin gown, nipping her bare arms, and snagging her hair, Emily darted between the oaks and poplars.  She gained a considerable start on her pursuers. 

Though both men were persistent in chasing her, Emily's years of dodging her two older brothers after she'd played some trick on them helped her maintain her lead.  But the very real danger facing her if she were caught by one of these men lent wings to her heels.  She thanked heaven she'd traversed these woods for most of her life, even during the dark of the moon.

Her lungs were burning when she spotted the gravel drive for the Lindemann estate just ahead.  She knew if she could cross the open expanse without her pursuers getting a good glimpse of her she'd be safe.  The trees and bushes grew thicker on the other side, and with the lead she'd managed to get on them, she could easily elude them.

As Emily broke through the trees, a curricle came down the drive at a smart clip.  A collision seemed imminent.  But she had no intention of stopping, calculating that with an extra spurt of energy and a little luck, she'd just make it to the safety of the other side.  Tapping unknown resources, she never slowed, never looked back as she sped across the road. 

Blue oaths rent the air above the cacophony of horses squealing and wheels skidding on gravel.  The horses reared, and the curricle slid off the drive.  Emily leaped for the cover of the woods as, with a loud thump, a high-riding, shiny black carriage with large yellow wheels came to rest against an old oak, inches from her. When even bluer language filled the air, Emily sent a prayer heavenward.  It sounded as if the driver and, hopefully, the team were unscathed as she continued her flight.  Her chest ached and her breath came in sobs. Her energy was sapped.  Unbelievably, she could hear one of her pursuers as he crashed through the undergrowth directly behind her, gaining with each long stride. 

Different tactics were needed, for it was obvious he would soon overtake her. 

Fortunately, leafy bushes at a curve in the path ahead provided just the answer.  She dove to her knees under the heavy foliage and gathered her skirts closely about her.  When her hand closed over a small, broken tree branch, she brought it up and, with a mighty heave, swung the short limb just as her pursuer rounded the path. 

The force of the impact sent a numbing jolt up her arms, but her pursuer stopped dead in his tracks, doubled over.  His head was down on her level, his contorted face turned toward where she hid in the bushes.  Large, brown, pain-filled eyes, fringed with thick dark lashes closed as he groaned and keeled over on his side with both hands clutched to his lower abdomen.

“Oh, pooh!  You are not that dreadful beast!" 

This handsome gentleman, whose otherwise bronzed countenance showed an underlying grayish pallor, wore not a blood-red coat but one of bottle green. 

She listened for sounds of the other men but heard nothing.  The woods were silent.  Crawling from under the bush and inching forward, she put a shaky hand to his shoulder.

Slowly his lids opened, and he stared up at her with glazed eyes.  She wondered if he actually saw her.  Then the worry hit her that she might have severely injured him.  When he did not respond, she leaned over him.

“You stay here," she said, patting him comfortingly, "and I will go get help."

A vice-like clamp coiled around her wrist, yanking her back on her knees.

“You are hurting me."  She stated this plainly, expecting him to loosen his grip. 

But he didn't.              His expression first registered astonishment, then anger, and finally, after he tried to rise, anguish.  He moaned once more

“Please, let me go for help?" she pleaded earnestly. 

Though his color had improved, he was obviously in agony.  She was at a loss as to what to do.  She certainly couldn't check the damage she'd caused.  So thinking, she was glad at that moment that his beautiful brown eyes were again shut as she felt the heat of a fevered blush blossom above her neck. 

His grip was strong, she reasoned, so he probably wasn't near death.  Yet, he was so still, his lips compressed to a white line, his body rigid with pain.  Now, if it were one of her scapegrace brothers, what would she do?  Comfort him?  Sit and chatter away until he regained his composure?  Yes, that was it.  He might be a stranger, but after all, she was the one who had struck him down.

With her free hand, she took the hem of her gown and turned it inside out, seeking a clean patch.  Then she gently blotted the perspiration on his furrowed brow.  Her hand shook, but she doubted he noticed.               

“I will stay with you until you are feeling better, for I do not live far from here, just over the ridge, in fact."  She made note of his fine muslin cravat, the expert cut of the green jacket that molded his shoulders.  “You must be a member of the Viscount's house party.”

Gabriel Alexander Caldwell, the Viscount Lindemann, tried to concentrate on anything but the pain wracking his body.  He heard her voice, soft and feminine.  Slowly he opened his eyes.  His first impression had been correct.  He'd been unmanned by an angel with wild, honey colored tresses surrounding a heart-shaped face with a pert little nose.  

“Who are you?"  He was amazed his voiced sounded almost normal.  Maybe he'd live after all.

“Emily Pendleton.  My home is Pendleton Grange.  My brother is--"

“Yes, I know your brother.  He, er, cuts quit a dash in town.  Always up for any rig.  Should have guessed the relationship.  Something about the eyes..." 

His words petered out as she laughed, an infectious, merry, tinkling sound.  Gabriel, despite the agony, found himself answering with a smile instead of a grimace.

“More likely Tom has been busy making a cake of himself.  Oh, do give the details.  I would thoroughly enjoy twigging him.”

“I doubt he'd appreciate my relating his affairs to his younger sister."  His breath was coming easier now.

“Well, of course, he would not.  But I am close as an oyster.  He will never know who told me."  She beamed a mischievous smile, revealing small, white, even teeth.  "Zounds, I will go you a monkey he is aping the swell."

“Wherever did you come by such cant?" he asked fascinated by her pink bow-shaped lips.  Leaves and twigs were stuck in her hair reminding him more of a wood sprite than an angel.  Still, she looked so fragile, so innocent.  What deceit!

“Why, from Tom and Nicholas, my brothers.  I am not sure they remember the king's language." 

His lips quivered on a smile before he compressed them, this time from anger, not pain.  "Did they teach you how to swing a club?”

“Oh, no! They are not the violent sort.  And I am sorry for ... that."

“What were you trying to do, anyway?  Kill me?”

“Of course not!   Not you, anyway, but the men chasing me."

“What men?  I saw no one other than you."

She hesitated, and he prepared himself for a lie. 

“There were two men, but seeing you must have scared them away.  I wonder why...."  Her voice trailed off.

Gabriel could almost see the cogs turning behind her eyes.  They were the bluest orbs he'd ever seen.  Almost violet, he thought, framed by long lashes.  “Who were the men, and why were they chasing you?"

For several seconds, she contemplated his words, then shrugged her shoulders.  “Who knows?"  She blotted his forehead with the hem of her petty coat again, saying, "If you are feeling better, you might try to stand.  You can lean on me." 

“By Jove, my cattle!"  He'd completely forgotten about his team.  Incensed by this chit's reckless behavior, he'd jumped down from his curricle, thinking to catch the errant child who’d bounded across the drive and give her a piece of his mind along with a good thrashing.  He certainly hadn't taken her for a young woman.  Not only had she risked her own life, but his, his groom's, and that of his cattle.

Gingerly, Gabriel began to rise and found the young woman's arm threaded though his while her right was thrown around his waist to support him.  What a strange, unaffected miss.  She seemed unaware of their closeness or the impropriety of the situation.   In truth, he was grateful for her easy manner.  After managing to get to his feet, he allowed her to lead the way back through the woods toward the graveled drive.

BOOK: The Hopeless Hoyden
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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