The four-horse team was still fresh from the changeover in Truro. They had a lot of miles ahead of them and so far needed hardly any encouragement. They knew what was required of them and that they would be rewarded when it was their turn to rest. Working together, with the wind in their ears and the packed earth beneath their hooves, they led the coach effortlessly along the narrow roads.
Each time the carriage stopped, the animals fidgeted, prancing on the spot, blowing down their nostrils, eager to be on their way once more. Delivering the post was quick and easy; delivering a passenger took slightly longer. Fortunately, the passenger alighting at Hatton House was travelling on the outside of the coach and had no luggage. As the heavy oak front door to the manor opened to welcome the guest, the coach was already back on its way.
Leaving the pale stone façade of Hatton House behind them, gleaming almost white in the early summer morning sunshine, the coachman sounded the post horn. Agreeing to deliver the post had been one of the best decisions the man had ever made, for carrying the post brought with it other privileges, such as gates and turnpikes being opened on his approach at the sound of the horn instead of him having to wait with everyone else. And, of course, there were the higher passenger fares he could charge for the much faster journeys.
The country was pretty much covered from Bristol as far as Edinburgh. However, this was the only run that serviced Devonshire and Cornwall. The Cornish Express still started in Bristol, but instead of journeying north or east, he chose to go south-west.
They had barely reached the manor gates at the end of the drive when the driver heard a woman’s cry from the house behind him. He pulled the horses up to a standstill, and half stood as he twisted his body to see what the commotion was.
A pair of double doors burst open onto a grand stone staircase leading to the front garden, and out flew a vision in pale blue. She ran down the wide flight of stone steps, taking some of them two at a time, long, pale brown hair flying behind her.
“Where are you going?” called a faint voice from behind her. She ignored it. “Come back!” She ignored that too. The passenger he had only just dropped off followed her out of the house and stood at the top of the steps, hands on his hips, watching after her.
The coachman glanced at the post office official seated at the back of the carriage. The man always accompanied the mailbox, but the two rarely exchanged a word. Now they locked eyes for a moment, then the driver shrugged, the official shook his head, and the horses were urged to continue in a cloud of dust.
Lady Elspeth Finch-Hatton lifted her skirts to keep from tripping over them. Her silk slippers made no sound as she ran across the gravel that surrounded the house. Then she was running on grass, newly scythed, feeling soft and cool beneath her shoes after the sharp stones.
At the edge of the manicured lawn, she jumped over the ha-ha. She almost did not make it without slipping back into the water at the bottom of the dyke. However, the inertia carried her forwards, onwards.
She was vaguely aware that for a few seconds, she ran almost parallel to the mail coach that was leaving the house in its wake. Then the horses picked up speed as the road turned in the opposite direction. Lady Elspeth could have taken the road as well, but it was much quicker to run across the fields between the two estates.
She knew when she had crossed the boundary, for the Rowe land had not been farmed recently, and there was no livestock to keep the pasture short. Instead, long meadow grasses and wildflowers whipped at her legs. As she ran across the overgrown and muddy field, Redruth Manor came into view.
Lady Elspeth had a stitch in her side, but she did not stop. Not yet. She had to see for herself what her uncle had told her upon his return from Truro. By the time she reached the big, heavy door, her silk dress was covered in grass seed and thistles, and the hem was wringing wet.
Wondering if she would ever breathe again, she knocked on the door with one hand and held her screaming ribcage with the other.
The door opened, and a tall and handsome soldier stood before her. He looked magnificent in his shiny new uniform.
“So, it is true,” she gasped before she passed out and crumpled into a heap on the floor.
Captain Lord Bryce Rowe stared down at the love of his life as she lay unconscious on the ground.
“Elspeth,” he whispered. Then he scooped her up in his arms, kicked the door closed behind him, and carried her through to the parlour, where he placed her gently on a chaise longue. She was no weight at all. Indeed, the dress that she was wearing was probably heavier than she was.
For a moment, he simply gazed at her and brushed her tangled hair away from her face. Oh, how he wished that things could be different. He dragged a stool next to the chaise longue and dropped down onto it.
At twenty-six years of age, Bryce had finally joined the army. He was yet to tell Lady Elspeth of this. She would be upset, he knew that. But what else could he do? His family fortune was dwindling thanks to his late father’s ineptitude, and he could not expect her to exchange her life of privilege for a life of poverty. As far as he could see, a military career was the fastest way to build one’s finances. Fortunately, Lord Aylmer Rowe had at least made his grandson’s transition less painful by purchasing a commission for Bryce. Unfortunately, this did not make it any easier for him to break it to Lady Elspeth, and in truth, he had been putting the moment off with each passing day.
“Mary!” he called out. “Mary!”
The maid appeared at the door in a cloud of flour, wiping her hands on her apron. At the scene before her, she rushed forward to check Her Ladyship’s pulse.
“Her heart is racing, Captain,” she said. “What happened?”
“I think she has run all the way here,” he replied. “There was a frantic knocking at the door—”
“Sorry, sir, I did not hear the door,” said Mary.
He held up a hand. “Unlike my grandfather, I do not expect you to do everything, Mary. I can see that you were already busy.” He smiled at her. “I opened the door, and she fainted.”
“If she only fainted, she will come around soon, Captain,” said Mary.
“And I should like you to be here when she does,” he said. “I do not wish for her to wake and find herself alone with a man.”
Mary nodded and perched on the edge of the chaise longue, picking up Her Ladyship’s hand.
Almost immediately, Lady Elspeth’s eyelids flickered, her lashes fluttered, and she opened her beautiful brown eyes. At first, she looked confused as her eyes darted around the room, then she met Mary’s eye.
“Mary?” she whispered, licking her cracked lips.
“You are safe, my lady,” said the maid, patting her on the hand. “Captain Rowe has brought you into the house.”
Lady Elspeth’s eyes sought and found the Captain’s as he shifted himself into her line of vision. She took in his uniform and said again, “So it is true.”
“What is true, my lady?” asked the Captain.
She licked her lips again. “You are in uniform,” she said.
The moment he had been dreading was upon him. He looked down at his military jacket. “Yes, that is indeed true,” he replied.
Lady Elspeth began to struggle, so the maid helped her into a sitting position.
“Are you all right, my lady?” asked Mary, scooting along the sofa a little. “We do not want you to faint again.”
“Yes, Mary, thank you,” replied Lady Elspeth. She returned her attention to the soldier. “Why?” was all she said this time.
Captain Bryce shook his head and sighed. He should have warned her before he had left. “I have joined the army,” he said at last.
“But why?” pressed Lady Elspeth.
“My grandfather purchased the commission for me so that I may obtain the fortune that has somehow eluded my father,” he said flatly.
“You will go away to war?” she asked. He nodded, and she took her hand out of Mary’s and grabbed one of his instead. “Please, do not go,” she said. “I beg you.”
He pulled his hand away slowly. “I am afraid that it is already arranged. I have to go.”
“I do not want you to go,” she continued. “And I would wager that Lord Aylmer does not truly wish for you to go either. You are the last of your line.”
Mary got to her feet and went to stand by the door as though to give them a little privacy at least.
“As I say,” he replied, spreading his hands out in submission. “It was my grandfather who arranged it. I have come to say goodbye to him before I leave for the continent.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “I was coming to see you next.”
“Then you have already completed your training?” she said. Without waiting for him to answer, she continued. “I thought you were conducting business in Truro, but you have been away learning how to fight. I thought that you loved me,” she said. “And now you are leaving me.”
He grabbed both of her hands in his. “I do love you, my lady,” he insisted, pulling the stool closer to her. “I am not leaving you. However, I must do my duty.” He bowed his head sadly and looked at the floor.
Lady Elspeth snatched her hands away from him. “What if you do not return? What am I to do if you are killed?” Already she could feel her heart breaking. Already she was filled with grief. Tears began to well in her eyes and his face swam before her.
“I will not be killed, my lady,” he replied. “I promise you, I will return.”
“But when will I see you again?” she asked. “Will you write to me?”
“Of course, I will write to you. I do not yet know when I will return, but I promise you,” he said again, “I will return. And I promise that I will write.”
She remembered his proposal of marriage only a few short weeks ago before he had gone away. How happy she had been then.
“And what of your other promise?” she asked him quietly.
“Your parents will not consent to our marriage under the current circumstances,” he reminded her gently. “You already know this. Your parents will never allow a Finch-Hatton to marry beneath her station—”
“We were going to run away together,” she gulped, allowing the tears to fall down her face now.
“I do not wish for us to hide away from our families,” he said, reaching out once again for her hands. “I do not wish for you to be estranged from your parents on my account. When I return, I will be a wealthy man, and they will have no excuse to keep us apart. I want us to be open and honest and to live our lives in the public eye. I do not wish to hide away in shame.”
He pulled her roughly into his arms, and she sobbed into his shoulder. When her tears were spent, she pulled away again and rubbed at the damp spot on his uniform.
“It will dry out,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. He placed a finger beneath her chin and lifted her face so that she was looking into his eyes. “Wait for me, my love?” he asked her. When she hesitated, he added, “When I return, we shall marry.”
For a long moment, her eyes raked in every inch of him, from his light blond hair to his sun-kissed skin to his bright blue eyes, before straying down once again to register the military uniform he was wearing.
She nodded now and blinked back any further tears. “I promise that I will wait for you,” she said softly.
And once again, he promised that he would return.
Hatton House, Cornwall 1818
Lady Elspeth sat on an overstuffed pouffe mindlessly picking at a loose thread in the fabric. Conversation buzzed around her in the drawing room. She was paying it no heed, even though it was mostly about her, half-wondering how it had come to this. Her eyes stared, fixed on the window. She was mesmerised by the torrential rain that ran down the glass in thick rivulets. In her mind’s eye, she was distracted by the memory of two children playing for hours in the fields and woods that both surrounded and joined the two properties of Hatton and Redruth. She could see herself and Lord Bryce Rowe when they were much younger when life was far less complicated, and when the sun seemed to shine every day. The memories brought a small smile to her face.
The Finch-Hattons were a distinguished family who could trace their roots back to the Norman conquest of 1066. Because of this, one of her favourite games with Bryce was to act out the Battle of Hastings. Sometimes when the children played, they were soldiers in King William’s army. Sometimes they were soldiers in King Harold’s army. Sometimes they won the battle and would celebrate the spoils of war. But sometimes when they lost the battle, they would run away and hide where they could lick their wounds until they became strong again.
The Battle of Hastings was not their only war game. When they grew tired of that one, they would fight in the English Civil War, again choosing sides depending on whether or not they wanted to win or lose, whether they wanted to be victors or martyrs, or whether they wanted to dress up in long curly wigs or plain round helmets. Or they would choose either York or Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses or fight in the French Revolution before running to keep both their lives and their heads.
When they were not playing at battles and wars, they were mere peasants not wishing to choose a side but simply wanting to get on with their lives. At other times, such as in today’s daydream, they were privateers sailing the high seas. Long grass waving in the breeze became the sea, whilst hillocks and clumps of trees were ships and islands to the two children.
In all of her memories and her dreams, they were always together. Occasionally her sister would be with them, as would his sister too, and in real life, Lady Elspeth and Lord Bryce were only ever apart when they were at their own homes to sleep or eat. But as far as Elspeth was concerned, there were usually only the two of them, her and Bryce. Together they took on an imagined foe, and together, they triumphed. That was a long time before he became a real captain in a real army. A long time before he left her.
Try as she might, though, she did not remember this other person being there.
Elspeth blinked and brought her attention back to the room, looking from one face to another as they planned her future. Who was this…usurper who had suddenly appeared in her life but a month ago? She could see everyone’s mouths moving, but she could make no sense of what they were saying. Her eyes settled on those of her younger sister, Lady Tricia Finch-Hatton, who was staring back at her with a perplexed expression on her face.
She got up from her pouffe and quietly made her way to Tricia’s side, dropping down into the armchair beside her. Fixing a smile on her face, she hissed out of the side of her mouth, “Who is this man?”
Lady Tricia rolled her eyes and grabbed hold of her sister’s hand. Standing up, she said loudly, “Come, Elspeth, let us go and see if Cook would like some help.”
Their mother, Lady Louisa Finch-Hatton, and her guests, the Earl of Launceston and his mother the Dowager Countess, hardly seemed to notice them, and the two young ladies were able to slip away. They dashed along the corridor, whispering and giggling. However, instead of going all the way to the kitchen, Tricia dragged her sister into the library and closed the door tightly behind them. The library was Tricia’s favourite place in the whole of the house.
“Did you really just ask who that man was?” asked Tricia, hitching her backside up onto one of the window seats. Elspeth joined her. Being slightly shorter than her younger sister, the exercise was more of a challenge.
“Yes, I did,” replied Elspeth. “Oh, I know who he is. I just don’t know who he is!”
Tricia wiggled her eyebrows as she pretended to be confused. “Explain!” she demanded for clarification. “You met him a month ago when you were formally introduced, at Lady Selina’s ball in North Devonshire. He is the Earl of Launceston.”
“Well yes, I know all of that.” Elspeth twisted in the window seat so that she was half-facing the window and half-facing her sister. Tricia did the same so that they were mirror images almost of each other. “But I do not think I knew him before then, although I think I knew of him.”
“His mother is Lady Beatrice Rowe-Sinclair….“ said Tricia. “You know, Bryce Rowe‘s aunt on his father‘s side?“
“That is the part that I do know!“ replied Elspeth with exasperation.
“Then what is it that you do not know about him?“ asked Tricia.
“Well…he claims to have known me when I was a child, claims to have spent his summers here. But I cannot place him. Tell me, Tricia, do you remember him when we were growing up?“
Tricia made a show of screwing up her face in concentration as she tried to conjure up the memories. “Do not forget that I am two years younger than you are, and if one of us is more likely to remember him, it will be you.“
“So, you do not remember him!“ said Elspeth in triumph. “What, then, do we know about him?“
“Well….” said Tricia, thinking about it some more and drawing shapes in the condensation on the glass with her finger. “He is the Earl of Launceston—”
“You already said that!” said Elspeth. “But who is the Earl of Launceston? I was not aware that such a title even existed.”
“Ah,” said Tricia, leaning towards her sister as if about to reveal a great secret. “Nearly thirty years ago, Lady Beatrice Rowe married the wealthy merchant Mr Benjamin Sinclair. However, it is rumoured that she was apparently jealous of her brother’s title, and unable to secure a member of the landed gentry to marry, she urged her husband to press the king for a title of his own.”
“She should not have been jealous of her own brother,” said Elspeth, a little shocked. “She would have grown up knowing that he would inherit both the title and the estate.”
“Yes, but she was apparently most scathing of the way her brother ran things and truly believed that she could do much better. Of course, we have seen since that she was quite right, for her brother truly did seem to squander most of his fortune before he died. Anyway, as if to prove her point, she urged her husband to petition the king for a title, in exchange for a very large amount of money, His Majesty gave him an earldom and some land.”
Elspeth shook her head. All of this was news to her. “How do you know all of this when, as you say, I am the elder of us by two years?” she asked.
“Because while you were running around Cornwall playing soldiers with our next-door neighbour like a little boy, I was hanging around on staircases listening to gossip, like a little lady should.”
“That is the difference between you and I, Sister,” said Elspeth with a laugh. “Whereas I do not care about society or titles or birthrights, you are far more interested in it all.”
“This is correct,” agreed Tricia smugly.
“And whereas I do not judge a person’s character by his station in life,” continued Elspeth, “You do.”
“And you have always been more interested in the countryside and the outdoors,” Tricia replied.
The sisters linked arms and squeezed each other fondly. They might have different outlooks on life, but they still loved one another, mused Elspeth to herself. “So, Lord Aylmer is the Earl’s grandfather as well as Bryce’s?“ she asked.
“That’s correct!” said Tricia, nodding.
Elspeth shook her head. “And yet I do not recollect him ever being there.”
“That is probably because you have only ever had eyes for his cousin.”
Her sister was quite right, of course. But even so, Elspeth had not realised before how selective her own memory was.
“Clearly,” said Elspeth, “I need to pay more attention to things.”
She watched as Tricia turned once more to face the library, and her eyes roamed the shelves and shelves of books without registering what she was seeing.
“Tell me, Tricia,” said Elspeth. “What do you remember of when we were children?”
“Oh, I do not know,” said Tricia. “I remember spending hours and hours in here for a start.”
“Yes, you always have been more bookish than I have,” agreed Elspeth.
“Well, you were gone so often playing your games in the outdoors.”
“You did not join us as frequently as you could have done,” said Elspeth.
“I was not interested in those kinds of games.” She waved an arm around the library. “I could usually find everything I needed here, within the pages of a book.”
“Do you remember Lady Millicent?”
Tricia burst out laughing. “Of course, I remember Lady Millicent. She is still my very good friend.”
“I mean when we were children. Do you remember her being around when we were children?”
Tricia nodded. “Yes, we are the same age and so were often thrown together.”
“But Lady Millicent could more often be found in the library with you than she could be found with her brother and me.”
“Yes, that is correct. Or we would be in the library over at Redruth Manor. But that is the case as far as both of us are concerned.”
Now it was Elspeth’s turn to nod her agreement. “You see, I do remember Lady Millicent, and I remember you being there as well. So why do I not remember the Earl?”
“I do not know, and I do not suppose that it matters a great deal. You know him now, and he has asked Mother for your hand in marriage! How exciting is that?” asked Tricia.
Elspeth pushed her bottom lip out in a sulk. “I would have very much liked to have been consulted,” she said. “Mother only sprung it on me when she realised that the Earl and his mother had come calling.”
Tricia’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “You mean to tell me that the Earl did not even ask you yourself for your hand?”
“He did not even ask if he could court me,” said Elspeth firmly. “We had two dances at Lady Selina’s ball—”
“Two!” said Tricia, smirking. “Then he probably assumed that it was a done deal.”
“But this is the first time I have seen him since then.”
“They do live in North Devonshire,” Tricia reminded her. “Are they staying at the manor?”
Elspeth shrugged her shoulders. “I know not.”
“Do you think that Mother knew of his intentions before he arrived?” asked Tricia.
“Apparently, she and Lady Beatrice have been corresponding. They arranged it between themselves. Of course, our mother would not have mentioned it to me first. She knows that I would have refused. And now she has made it impossible for me to refuse without appearing rude to our guests.”
Tricia jumped down from the window seat and started to pace around the library. She paused and faced the wall, beyond which sat their mother entertaining their guests in the drawing room. “I think Tobias Rowe-Sinclair is most handsome,” she said at last.
“Then you marry him!” said her sister.
Redruth Manor, Cornwall
Tobias Rowe-Sinclair mooched around the dark and draughty parlour. He had not visited in such a long time that he had to remind himself of the manor’s layout. The house was not as decrepit as first impressions suggested, but it was tired and a little shabby. He paused in front of the big bay window that overlooked the front of the house and picked at some peeling paintwork. “When I am the lord of this manor,” he mused out loud to himself, “I shall redecorate it throughout.”
“What makes you think you will ever be lord of this manor?” asked a gruff voice from behind, making him jump.
He spun around to see the elderly, but still portly, Lord Aylmer Rowe standing at the open doorway, peering over his spectacles and leaning heavily on a walking stick.
“Grandfather!” exclaimed Tobias. “I did not see you there.”
“That much is obvious,” chuckled the old man, pushing the door to. He shuffled into the room and sank down heavily into an armchair that was shiny and threadbare where the man’s head and hands had often fallen.
Only slightly embarrassed, Tobias rushed to Lord Aylmer’s side and sat down on the settee next to him. “Forgive me, Grandfather,” said the young man. “I was merely dreaming out loud.”
“You are my daughter’s son, Tobias,” said Lord Aylmer. “Not my son’s son. Therefore, you will only be my heir if your cousin does not return. And also, only then, if he has not already sired a son of his own.”
“I realise that,” said Tobias, feeling his face flush a little. “But it has been more than two years. How long will it take?”
“It will take as long as it takes, and if that is seven years before he is declared dead or seventeen years, then that is when it will happen and not a day before.”
The old gentleman started to cough, but he pushed away his grandson’s attempt to pat him on the back.
Tobias knew not to press the matter. He personally believed that his cousin had perished, but it was not his place to voice those thoughts and needlessly upset the old man. His grandfather may be old, but he was a long way from dead himself yet. Still, it frustrated the younger man to see the manor house fall into such disrepair. He worried that if it started to rot too much, it might be beyond rescue. Or it would cost a lot more money than a simple act of maintenance would.
“Anyway,” said Lord Aylmer now. “What do you want with this old pile when you have your own modern establishment in North Devonshire?”
Tobias shrugged and looked about him. “This is a good and solid old house, and it has been in the family for a long time. I have fond memories from when I visited as a child, and I should very much like to continue coming here. Even if Bryce does come back from the war, and I sincerely hope that he does, I would still like to know I can come and visit him here at any time.”
Lord Aylmer nodded, which was good. Tobias knew he had said the right thing. Fortunately, he also meant it. But as the untitled cousin, he always seemed to think he needed to prove himself.
Tobias and his mother had come straight to the manor from the Hatton residence, but Lady Beatrice had immediately gone upstairs to rest in her room, leaving Tobias to putter around by himself and the few staff they had brought with them to familiarise themselves with things. Tobias had thought that his grandfather was also upstairs resting. For as long as he could remember, his grandfather had been ‘old’, yet he never seemed to age.
“I was wondering where my aunt and my cousin were,” he said now.
“Lady Henrietta and Lady Millicent are in London,” said Lord Aylmer. “Where they have been ever since the news came through that Lord Bryce had been taken prisoner.”
“They have not been home since?” said Tobias, surprised.
“They have been home to visit. But the city is more suited to a lady of your cousin’s age. They have more balls and dances for a start, the house is tidier and better suited for callers, and she can mix with le bon ton of society, I think they call it, or go for carriage rides in Hyde Park. I am told that this is the fashionable thing to do these days.”
Tobias chuckled. “You are quite right. I expect that they are likely to receive any news much quicker if they are in London as well.”
“Apparently so,” said Lord Aylmer, nodding.
“Do you not miss having the company, Grandfather?”
“I am still busy managing the estate,” he replied. “I have Mary. And Lady Elspeth comes to see me often.” He leant forward to look around the room and suddenly whistled. There was a distant commotion somewhere in the house, then the door was pushed open, and two beagles rushed in. “And I have these two,” laughed the old man as the dogs took turns licking his hand.
Tobias snapped his fingers, and the dogs loped over to him. “What are they called?” he said, rubbing a dog behind the ear with each hand.
“Darned if I can remember,” said Lord Aylmer with a smile. “I only have to whistle to them, and there they are.” He addressed the dogs, “Lie down, now.” And they both instantly went to the rug in front of the empty hearth and flopped down, resting their heads on their front paws and watching the two men with their half-closed eyes. Lord Aylmer frowned at the fireplace. He picked up a small handbell and shook it twice. “I will ask Mary to come and build up the fire,” he said. “Take the chill off.”
Tobias glanced towards the window. “It is certainly a little cool with this rain,” he agreed.
When Mary, the maid, appeared at the doorway, Lord Aylmer said, “Mary, remind me. What are the dogs called?”
She bobbed into a curtsy and pointed at the one with a patch over his eye. “That one is Lord Nelson, and the other one is Lord Boots,” she said for Tobias’s benefit, and he noted the white stockings that ‘Lord Boots’ appeared to be wearing on his feet. “Or Nelson and Boots,” she added.
Upon hearing their names, the dogs lifted their heads and thumped their white-tipped tails on the floor before resuming their positions once again.
“Thank you,” said Tobias politely, committing the names to memory.
“Was there anything else, my lord?” asked the maid, reminding Lord Aylmer that he had indeed rung for her. He looked to Tobias for a prompt.
“My grandfather was going to ask for the fire to be built up,” said Tobias.
“Ah yes, that is correct,” said the old man with another one of his cheery smiles. He nodded at Tobias. “I would have got there eventually.”
“Would you also like some tea, my lord?” asked Mary.
Lord Aylmer looked at Tobias again. “Would you like a cup?”
“Yes, please,” said Tobias to the maid.
She scurried off to get what she needed, and when she had finished with the fire, she poured them both a cup of tea.
“Does she do everything?” asked Tobias after Mary had left them to it.
“I do not need very much doing,” said his grandfather.
Thinking of the valet he had brought with him, Tobias cast an eye over his grandfather’s clothes. “Who helps you to dress?”
“I have been dressing myself for years,” snapped the old man, then he winked. “Mary ties my ties and straightens my tails—when I bother with them, which is not very often.”
He had a mouthful of tea before saying, “You mention Lady Elspeth, Grandfather. Do you mean Lady Elspeth Finch-Hatton?”
Lord Aylmer smiled. “I do indeed. Such a lovely woman. She visits me often.”
“We have been at Hatton House this morning,” said Tobias, holding the cup in front of his mouth, ready to take another sip. He was about to tell his grandfather his news when Lord Aylmer suddenly interrupted him.
“She will marry my grandson,” he said, beaming a great smile, which was, of course, news to Tobias. And no doubt to everyone else in the family too. “When he returns, of course.”
For a moment, Tobias thought that the old man meant him and had wondered how he already knew. Feeling a little deflated, he remembered back to the last time that he had even seen Bryce himself. They had still been boys, and they had competed for everything, including their grandfather’s favour. Even then, Tobias had been aware that Bryce was the heir and that he was the spare, even though they were not even brothers. But where Bryce had been an outdoors and an adventure kind of person, Tobias was more bookish and intellectual. Now, with a stab of jealousy, he found that his cousin even had a former claim of sorts on Tobias’s fiancée.
If Tobias acted quickly, Lady Elspeth would be his wife before Bryce could reclaim her. If he ever returned, that was, and Tobias did not truly think that he would. He hoped that he would, but if that meant that Tobias would lose out on marriage to one of the most eligible young ladies in the county, then he was starting to hope that his cousin would not. And if he did not, then Redruth Manor would be Tobias’s too.
He was not really that person. However, that old competitive spirit had reared its head, and this time, Tobias did not wish to lose. He intended to hold onto his own interests above all else. If he had not been the rightful heir from birth, he would be now. As far as he was concerned, his status outranked his money, and Lady Elspeth would be the perfect trophy wife.
The handle on the teacup snapped, making Tobias and the dogs jump as the cup clattered onto the saucer. He managed to prevent disaster and carefully placed the handle-less cup and saucer on the table in front of him. Then he took out a large handkerchief and mopped up the tea spillage from his clothes. Boots leapt to his feet and was licking at the rug in front of Tobias when his master told him to go and lie down again.
“Have you cut yourself?” asked Lord Aylmer, trying to get a good look at his grandson’s hand.
Tobias held his hand out to show him that he was not hurt.
“What happened?” asked his grandfather, looking suspiciously at the cup and saucer with the handle lying next to them. “Was it cracked?”
Tobias gave the man a tight smile. “I do not believe so. I think I was merely holding onto it too tightly.”
“How were the Finch-Hattons?” asked the old man. “You did say you had been there this morning?”
“Yes, oh, yes,” said Tobias, remembering his thread again. He was getting as forgetful as his grandfather. “They were all well. We left my mother and Lady Louisa in the drawing room and went to have a chat in the conservatory—that is, Lady Elspeth, Lady Tricia, and I. We would have gone for a walk in the grounds, but….” He waved at the window, beyond which the rain was still pouring down.
“You must remember the young ladies from your previous visits here?” said Lord Aylmer.
“I remember Lady Elspeth,” he replied. “However, of Lady Tricia, I seem to have fewer memories.” He furrowed his brow as he tried to recall those long-ago days.
“Lady Tricia is the same age as Lady Millicent,” said Lord Aylmer. “You are the same age as Bryce. I believe that Lady Elspeth is a year younger.”
“That is correct, Grandfather,” said Tobias, and Lord Aylmer laughed.
“I remember things from long ago much more readily than I do from only a minute or so ago,” he said. He continued to chuckle until he was coughing again. This time his face turned red, and his eyes looked as though they might pop out, and this time Tobias insisted on his grandfather allowing him to hit him upon the back. When he had finished his coughing, the old man picked up his cup of tea, which must have gone cold by now, and grimaced as he drank some down to clear his throat. He coughed again and said, “There, that is better.” And he smiled at his grandson again.
“My Dearest Lieutenant Colonel” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Elspeth Finch-Hatton is a free spirit that could not care less about titles, birthrights and wealth. Even though she is soon to marry the Earl of Launceston, she knows that her heart will never beat for him, as it’s a marriage her mother has arranged by force. The only man who could possibly make her happy, was Lord Bryce Rowe, who left for the war six years ago, taking with him Elspeth’s every hope for love and happiness…
When her lost love returns at the most unexpected time, will Elspeth find the courage to fight for what her heart desires?
Bryce has returned from war to find that the love of his life is to marry his wealthy cousin, despite her promise that she will be waiting for him. With his whole world collapsing, he tries to pull himself together. However, when he encounters Elspeth again, memories resurface and his heart starts to beat in the most uncontrollable rhythm for one more time. However, claiming her love will be an uphill struggle, as he will have to go against the Ton and her family.
Will Bryce be brave enough to open his heart again and pursue the only woman he has ever loved?
Elspeth and Bryce might have spent the last six years apart, but the affection between them never faded; if anything, their love for each other is growing stronger with each passing day. However, Elspeth’s conniving betrothed will not tolerate this union, leading to an ugly confrontation. Could Elspeth and Bryce build bridges between them and compensate for the years they lost? Will they dare to go against society and write their own fairytale?
“My Dearest Lieutenant Colonel” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.