London, April 1814
Alice stepped out of her carriage, thanking the footman who helped her navigate the steep step on the dirty street. Upon taking a deep breath, she coughed slightly, clearly no longer accustomed to London’s increasingly cloying air. It was nothing compared to the fresh air in Scotland, but it was good to be home.
“London seems to become noisier and more crowded every time I come here,” Mrs Finch complained. “It took us longer than usual to reach the townhouse with all the horses and carriages on the road.”
“It certainly is busier than ten years ago,” Alice agreed. “I saw a building I didn’t recognise.”
“There must be many things you do not recognise,” Mr Finch said, the last to leave the carriage. “You were just a little girl when you left England.”
“I do not think ten is that little, Mr Finch,” Alice replied, smiling at the man.
“It is when you were just a tiny thing with a mass of curly red hair and big green eyes that took up most of your face,” Mr Finch countered. “You haven’t grown much since then, but at least the rest of your face has caught up to your eyes.”
Alice scrunched her nose at the teasing, earning her a chuckle from the older man. Mr Finch was like a second father to her, as much as Mrs Finch was a mother figure. Alice lost her mother when she was five and was raised by her father until he sent her to Scotland to live with her mother’s parents. She hated him for a little while because of that, but Alice gradually grew used to Edinburgh and no longer pined away for her home, although she often thought about the life she left behind.
A servant suddenly came running out of the house, her cap half falling off her head. Wisps of pale golden strands had gathered around her face and stuck to the fine film of perspiration covering her fair skin.
“Mr Finch! Mrs Finch!” the young woman cried, stopping in front of them and curtseying. “May I take your luggage?”
“Do you normally come running out of the house to greet your employers?” Mrs Finch questioned.
“N-no, Mrs Finch,” the maid stuttered, her plump cheeks turning bright pink. “Sorry.”
“I do not think there is anything wrong with a bit of eagerness,” Alice said with a smile, hoping to settle the young woman’s nerves.
Mr Finch snorted. “A bit? She might have run us over if not for her big feet digging into the ground at the last moment. Are your feet abnormally large, or are you wearing shoes that are too big for you? It looks like you’re wearing your father’s shoes.”
The maid dipped her head in what Alice assumed was embarrassment, especially when the woman’s shoulders started shaking.
“Mr Finch,” Alice implored him. “I’m sure she cannot help it.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” the man replied, shrugging his shoulders.
Thinking she was crying, Alice approached the girl to console her, only to find that she was laughing. Confusion and amusement ran through Alice as she stepped back and looked at Mr and Mrs Finch with raised eyebrows.
“And this?” Mrs Finch asked.
The young woman raised her head, tears streaming down her rosy cheeks. “These are my father’s shoes, Mrs Finch.”
“Why on earth are you wearing them?” said Mrs Finch.
“Jonny let Peppa take my shoes and chew them within an inch of their usefulness,” the maid explained. “Since Mama had already left for work, Papa told me to wear his because he is at home recovering from a shipwreck. He doesn’t mind being barefoot for a day.”
“I have so many questions,” Mr Finch muttered.
“We certainly can’t ask them while standing about like this,” Mrs Finch said, frowning at the maid. “Thomas is more than capable of bringing the luggage inside. Did Mrs Roland hire you?”
The maid gave a curt nod. “Yes, Mrs Finch. I was hired when Emma ran off with Big Jim. I thought I would have to stay at home forever to take care of Jonny, but Papa says we need money more than we need to watch over my little brother. Mama wasn’t too happy about it, but she couldn’t go against Papa’s wishes.”
The young woman was evidently a talker lacking in basic servant etiquette skills, but there was an honesty about her that couldn’t be denied. Alice knew Mrs Finch would appreciate that and would likely give the maid time to learn before making any harsh judgements.
“We’re all tired and need refreshments,” the older woman said. “Ask Mrs Roland to prepare some tea for us. By the way, what is your name?”
“Mary Sinclair, madam,” the maid replied, her bright blue eyes sparkling with eagerness. “We have two other Marys as well. Mary Winsley is a laundry maid, and Mary Barrett is a kitchen maid. Everyone refers to us as Mary S, Mary W, and Mary B whenever they call us.”
“Noted,” said Mrs Finch, patting the woman’s arm as she passed her by and headed to the front door. “I hope everything is as it should be, but I suppose I shouldn’t worry. Mrs Roland is more than capable of ensuring that all runs smoothly. Alice, dear, remind me to purchase some shoes for Mary Sinclair. We cannot have our servants walking about in oversized shoes.”
“I’ll surely do that,” said Alice, smiling at the maid before following Mrs Finch.
The woman was generous to a fault, and while she might seem stern and unrelenting to those who didn’t know her, she truly was the kindest soul with a big heart. Despite being a mere commoner, Alice didn’t feel like an outsider, but a member of the family. Having the Finches take a liking to her when she moved to Scotland was one of the best things to have happened to her, and she would forever be in their debt.
“I still wish to find out the background to her explanations,” said Mr Finch, entering the house after them. “The girl seems to live a more colourful life than I do.”
“I always wonder how your nose doesn’t stay permanently dirty from digging around for news,” said Mrs Finch, shaking her head. “Come, dear, we need to freshen up before we take our tea. Alice, I asked Mrs Roland to give you the room facing the garden patch outside. I know how you adore waking up to nature.”
“Thank you, Mrs Finch. When will Philip arrive? I thought he would come to London with us as his school has given their students more days than usual for Easter.”
“Philip should arrive in three days,” Mr Finch replied. “He wished to speak with a few tutors who accompany their students on the Grand Tour.”
“Indeed?” said Alice. “I thought he had changed his mind and wished to attend university in England.”
Mr Finch shrugged his shoulders. “One can never know with Philip. He has a fickle mind, unlike his older brother.”
Philip was the Finches’ youngest son and attended one of the most ancient and prestigious boarding schools in Scotland. He was a stellar student and a sweet boy who treated her like an older sister. The Finches also had an older son, Marcus, who had recently finished his studies and aspired to be part of Parliament someday. Alice was glad Marcus had declined to attend the London Season in favour of spending time with a family he believed would help him attain a seat. She was better off not having the added stress of dealing with a man who had become oddly possessive of her in the last few years. Alice had initially assumed Marcus was simply protective of her, but she had soon realised that perhaps not all his feelings were brotherly.
If any of them are.
“Dear?” called Mrs Finch.
“I asked if you wished to do a little shopping tomorrow,” the woman said, tilting her head slightly. “Did you not hear me?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs Finch. My mind was elsewhere. Will you not be too tired to go shopping tomorrow? We can wait a day and rest tomorrow.”
“I suppose we should,” Mrs Finch agreed. “Are the Cummings arriving today or tomorrow?”
“Today, but later in the evening,” Alice told her. “Jane said they would likely miss dinner.”
“Shall we have Cook send them something for supper?” Mrs Finch asked.
“Please excuse me while you have your domestic chatter,” Mr Finch interrupted. “I do not know about you, but I wish to get rid of my travelling clothes.”
“Go ahead, dear,” his wife said. “I’ll be there in just a moment.”
Mr Finch nodded his greying head and climbed the stairs, his gait slightly uneven from a horse ride accident during his childhood.
“He is always so impatient to get things done,” Mrs Finch complained fondly. “So, do you think it best we send food to the Cummings’ residence? I wouldn’t want them to worry about such a thing after such a long journey.”
“I’m certain Mrs Cummings would have sent word to have something made for them,” said Alice.
“I suppose you’re right,” Mrs Finch agreed. “She is a rather efficient woman despite having her daughter come out so late. Nineteen is far too late.”
“Never mind that,” Alice said. “We should get out of the hallway and change our clothes.”
“Yes, yes. You’re right, dear.”
Alice didn’t want to discuss the reasons behind her friend coming out in society so late. She understood the Cummings’ reasoning and supported her friend’s decision to wait longer than most young women. Jane was a late bloomer and had refused to allow people to see her blotchy skin. The Cummings had spared no expense to heal their daughter’s skin and restore it to its former beauty, but the three years spent with unsightly bumps on her skin had left her uncomfortable in social situations. Only in the last year had Jane grown more confident and agreed to attend the London Season. Fortunately, the Finches had also planned to come to London for a change of scenery and a chance to socialise with friends and family who usually attended the Season.
Alice and Mrs Finch were halfway up the stairs when she realised she still didn’t know where her room was situated. She had never been to the Finches’ townhouse in England as this was the first time she had accompanied them to London in the ten years she had spent with them in Scotland. Her father didn’t know she was here and would be surprised once Alice made her presence known.
“Which bedroom is mine?” she asked the woman.
“Oh, where is my head!” Mrs Finch exclaimed. “It’s the fourth door on the left, dear. Your luggage should be there already.”
“Thank you. Will we have our tea in the parlour? I assume that’s on the second floor.”
Mrs Finch nodded. “You’ll know it when you see it. Mr Finch must be waiting for me. Although he acts self-sufficient, he still needs me to choose his attire.”
They went in opposite directions on the third floor, with Alice peeking into the other rooms despite knowing the fourth one was hers. She was the curious sort who couldn’t resist looking behind closed doors, in boxes, under tables, and whatever else caught her fancy. Her grandfather often told Alice that her curiosity would be the death of her, but it was better to learn new things and be satisfied than never experiencing anything at all.
“Ooh, how pretty,” she remarked upon seeing a flower quilt in one of the rooms.
She didn’t spend too much time inspecting each bedchamber and eventually made it into her own room, which sent her into rapturous delight. Mrs Finch must have sent specific instructions about her room, or Mrs Roland had fantastic taste in décor. The housekeeper had added two leafy potted plants to the room and carried the deep green colour into the drapes and bedspread. The rich hue was broken up with a mural on the walls depicting a forest on a cloudy day, rich brown floorboards and furniture, and gold finishes on nearly every item in the room. Potted plants were not the norm in bedrooms and were better left in conservatories to be enjoyed by all, but Alice enjoyed the presence of greenery in her room and even spoke to them as though they were people. She hoped her grandparents would take great care of her plants back home and not leave them to wither with the coming warm weather.
Throwing herself onto the bed, she rolled a few times before sitting up and looking around. The following two months would be interesting, especially when she eventually went to see her father and met the Ravenhills for the first time in ten years. Her father had been their chef for the last twenty-one years, and they had watched her grow up until she left England. They were a lot like the Finches, but there had been a boundary Alice had not been allowed to cross. While the Finches were part of the upper class, the Ravenhills were titled and much wealthier people. Everyone knew who the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were, and most women swooned at the mere sight of their son, Henry Ravenhill, the Earl of Coventry. He was the very person who had often been on Alice’s mind and the one she missed the most. Well, after her father, of course. Alice laughed as she thought about all the times she had followed him around like a devoted puppy, and no matter how much she bothered him, Henry would never lash out at her or chase her away. Their six-year age difference had not allowed for the usual friendship between those similar in age, but Alice had simply wanted to be close to him, even if that meant hiding in small spaces to avoid anyone seeing her staring at him. She had decided she would marry him one day, not understanding that the daughter of a chef could never be with an earl. Now that she was older, she was aware of their class difference and no longer had such illusions. Still, it would be wonderful to see him again, even from afar.
Alice took the jar of biscuits from her friend and opened the lid to take a great whiff of the contents.
“I absolutely adore Mrs Jenkins’ biscuits,” she said, taking one out. “I find it rather selfish of her that she will not give me the recipe.”
“She says she will be of no use to you if she does that,” said Jane. “She thinks of you as her granddaughter. Tea?”
Alice nodded, observing her friend’s light brown ringlets fall forward as she bent to pour their tea.
“I will always eat Mrs Jenkins’ food,” Alice told her. “In fact, I intend to ask her to make me her famous venison stew when we return to Scotland.”
“Do you truly intend to return?” Jane asked, adding sugar to her tea and stirring it. “I thought you might wish to stay with your father, although I’ll miss you a great deal.”
“I have considered staying, but I haven’t decided. Papa is getting older, and I would like to be around him, but my grandparents have come to depend on me and expect to have me with them until I get married.”
“Do you also intend to find a suitor this Season?” Jane enquired.
“How can I? I am just a commoner,” Alice replied. “I will not be invited to any events, and that is how it should be. The most I can do is accompany Mrs Finch on her shopping trips.”
“No one knows you are a commoner,” Jane countered.
“I know, but the Ravenhills are more than aware of my status. They’ll think I’m overstepping my boundaries as a servant’s daughter by mingling with the upper class.”
Two lines appeared between Jane’s brows as confusion filled her amber-coloured eyes. “But I thought they liked you.”
“One can like a person, but that does not make them an equal,” Alice explained. “I respect the Ravenhills and understand the differences between us.”
“The Finches do not treat you differently,” Jane pointed out. “You’re like a daughter to them.”
Alice smiled. “They are the exception, but the Ravenhills live by the rules. I would never dare be in a position to upset them.”
“Upset them?” asked Jane. “Goodness! These people must be special for you to regard them so highly.”
“They are my father’s employers and have been good to us. I naturally have much respect for the family.”
Jane smiled, telling Alice she was thinking about something potentially wicked.
“Will you not at least flutter your eyelashes and give a sweet smile to the handsome Earl of Coventry when you see him?”
Alice rolled her eyes. “You seem set on a reunion between Henry and me. Have you forgotten he is an earl, and I am a chef’s daughter? I might not even get to speak with him. Besides, who is to say he is still handsome? Perhaps he has acquired a belly, and his teeth have grown an unsightly yellow.”
Alice didn’t believe that for a second, but it made her feel a little better about how different their relationship would be now they were adults. There was no longer the innocence of childhood to hold them together, and they had not seen or spoken to each other in all the years she had been away, so they were as good as strangers. She doubted he had thought about her once and would not care that she was in London for a little while.
“I suppose there is a chance he might not be the handsome boy you used to know, but my guess is that he has become better with age,” said Jane. “I doubt he can compare to Edmund.”
“You haven’t seen Henry yet,” Alice told her. “Edmund is a good-looking fellow, but if Henry has matured into his full potential, then …”
“Better than my Edmund?” said Jane, pointing at her chest. “Are you sure?”
“We’ll know once we see him. If we see him,” Alice corrected. “He might be too busy, but you might meet him at one of the many Season’s events.”
“Perhaps,” said Jane. “Remind me of his physical appearance.”
“How many times do I have to describe him?”
“Enough to satisfy my curiosity.”
Alice laughed. “You’re just as terrible as I am when it comes to curiosity. Well, he has wavy dark hair, narrow grey eyes, and the longest eyelashes I have ever seen on a boy.”
“Man,” Jane corrected.
“He was a boy when I last saw him.”
“But he was sixteen,” Jane pointed out. “Most consider that a grown man. He likely had a beard already.”
Alice tilted her head as she thought back to the past. “It wasn’t a full-grown beard. More a stubbly bit of hair here and there. He was rather proud of the little he had, but I used to think it was funny. Henry must be clean-shaven now to suit the fashion of bare-faced young men. Only the older generation seem to favour moustaches and chin hair.”
“Edmund has a moustache, and he is just twenty-two,” said Jane. “I think he looks handsome with facial hair.”
“Edmund could have a large hairy mole in the middle of his forehead, and you would still think he was handsome.”
Jane dipped her head as she smiled coyly. “I suppose so. He is the first man I have ever liked and is always so kind to me.”
Alice wanted to point out that Edmund was kind to every pretty woman that crossed his sight, which meant Jane was nothing special to him. She had tried to point this out to her friend on numerous occasions, but the young woman had set her heart on the man and wouldn’t be swayed.
“Will he come to the London Season?” Alice asked.
“I do not think so. His father isn’t well, so he wishes to be around him if anything happens. That is the kind of man he is.”
Alice nodded, but her mind said differently. Edmund was worried his father might change the details of his will regarding his inheritance after his little scandal with a well-known courtesan. Jane knew none of this as she didn’t socialise with people as much as other women her age and hadn’t come across the gossip. News in Scotland, especially gossip, spread just as quickly as news in England.
“Another cup of tea?” Alice asked, holding up the teapot.
Jane held her cup to her. “Yes, please. I’m never satisfied until I’ve had at least two cups. May I have another biscuit?”
Alice narrowed her eyes at her friend and looked at the jar. “Another one? But you’ve had two so far.”
“Precisely!” Jane exclaimed. “Two is hardly sufficient. They’re so tiny that I could eat five quite easily.”
“Do not be so greedy! I need these to last until I return to Scotland.”
Jane pursed her lips. “Those biscuits will be gone within a week.”
“Even so, I will be three biscuits short if I give you any more.”
“How miserly of you,” Jane complained. “I suppose I shall not give you any of mine. I have six jars waiting for me.”
“Six?” Alice spluttered. “I have one, and you have six?”
“Mrs Jenkins is our cook, which means I’m her first priority,” said Jane, smirking. “You’re the daughter of a French-trained chef and can bake with your eyes closed. Why not make your famous honey and lavender biscuits? You can give some to Henry when you see him.”
Alice tossed a cushion at her. “Stop talking about Henry, or rather, Lord Coventry. I cannot call him as I used to as a girl.”
Henry did not mind a little girl calling him by his first name, but a grown woman of lower birth had no excuse.
“I’m interested in meeting the Ravenhills,” said Jane. “You’ve spoken so much about them that I want to put faces to all your stories.”
“As long as you do not talk or ask about me,” Alice warned.
“Why ever not? You would be our common person, so our conversations might have some meaning.”
“No,” Alice firmly said. “It’s highly irregular to discuss a servant’s daughter at a social event. Do you not think it strange? Would you talk about a servant you haven’t seen in ten years? Perhaps briefly, but not in detail. It’s simply not done.”
Jane shook her head. “I find it odd how you have put many barriers between you and the Ravenhills.”
“Our social class is the barrier,” Alice reminded her. “I tire of this topic. What will you wear to your first ball? You had several gowns made before you left Scotland.”
“Mama said the white gown with the lace and pearls should be the first one I wear. I’m glad my family isn’t part of the upper crust of our society, or I might have had to wear a court dress to be presented to Queen Charlotte.”
“I thought that was something all young women aspire to do,” said Alice.
“Not this young woman. I hear those at court meddle in the affairs of the women presented and could even force a marriage if they believe a couple is suited. I would simply die if someone forced me to marry anyone besides Edmund.”
Alice inwardly sighed. Her friend needed to calm her growing feelings before any harm came to her. Edmund was too young to marry, and he wasn’t serious about any woman, least of all Jane. The young woman was too naïve and inexperienced to understand this, but this matter might be resolved if a better gentleman drew her attention this Season.
“Will you stay for dinner?” Alice asked. “Mrs Finch always enjoys your company.”
“Mama has invited some friends and expects me to be there,” the woman replied apologetically. “I should probably leave soon, or she’ll surely scold me for being late.”
“Here,” said Alice, holding out the biscuit jar. “Take three to have with the rest of your tea before you go.”
“I thought you were not going to give me anymore.”
Alice shrugged. “I changed my mind on the condition that we no longer discuss the Ravenhills.”
“Agreed,” said Jane, sticking her hand into the container. “Although I do not know why you are so against talking about them when you had no trouble prior to coming here.”
Alice made a locking gesture with her hands and pointed at her friend’s lips. It was true she had spoken about them freely before, but she felt differently now that she was in London. The more Alice thought about seeing the Ravenhills, the more nervous she became. However, it wasn’t just any Ravenhill but Henry who had tied knots in her belly and made her anxious about meeting him face-to-face. Time had passed, but he remained her white knight in her girlish heart.
Henry jumped off his horse and fell into a soft patch of grass, stretching his limbs before linking his fingers behind his head. It was great to no longer deal with snow and lie in the sun on a cool spring day.
“Are you coming, or will you stand about like lost souls?” he asked his friends.
Daniel and Walter flanked him and followed his lead as they lay in the grass and stared up at the sky.
“I cannot help feeling we’re wasting time,” Walter remarked.
“Sometimes it’s best to slow down our lives and appreciate what’s around us,” said Henry. “When did you last look up at the sky?”
Walter shrugged. “I do not keep track of such things.”
“My point precisely,” said Henry. “You would have remembered every detail had it been important to you, which means you cannot enjoy the simple things in life.”
“I think I might enjoy this more if I had a beautiful woman by my side,” Daniel revealed. “Although I can appreciate it enough right now. I hope there are no ants in this spot. They’re a nuisance to get out of one’s clothes once they crawl inside.”
“I know the feeling,” said Henry, wincing as he had a flashback of angry ants biting his flesh.
“How long will we remain here?” asked Walter. “I would like to return home before my sister accuses me of purposely staying away. She’s currently doing my portrait and made me promise to spend at least two hours every afternoon with her until it’s completed. It’s rather a nuisance, but I have given my word to her.”
Henry pulled out his pocket watch, briefly glancing at the time before tucking it back into its pocket.
“It’s twenty past one at the moment,” he said. “Why don’t we have a little race home? Daniel’s house is the closest, so we’ll make that our destination. The person who loses must pay the fees at our club for the next three months.”
“Three months?” Daniel repeated. “I find that rather steep considering all the extra expenses associated with our membership.”
“Then best you win, old chap,” said Henry, rising to his feet. “It is no use competing to win without high stakes thrown into the mix.”
“Still,” Daniel continued. “Three months?”
“Were you not the same man who won a thoroughbred after competing with the Duke of Rochester?” Walter asked. “You pretended not to be a good shot and then proceeded to beat the man.”
Daniel grinned. “How was I to know his archery skills were so weak?”
“How was he to know you’re one of the best unknown archers in the country when you’ve never bothered to join an archery society to show off your skills?” Walter returned. “A thoroughbred costs much more than three months’ fees.”
Judging by the scowl on his face, Daniel knew he didn’t have any more worthy excuses to provide.
“Very well, three months it is,” the man said, shaking his head. “I suppose we’re all good riders, although I feel Henry has an advantage over us. You usually win riding competitions.”
“I’ll give you a ten-second head start,” Henry offered. “That should even out our abilities.”
The men agreed and mounted their horses immediately, turning in the direction they would take for their race.
“Are you ready?” he asked, bracing himself as they nodded. “On three, you two go ahead, and I’ll catch up.”
“If you can,” said Walter. “Ten seconds seems like a big sacrifice, but I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth!”
“We’ll know shortly if it was such a sacrifice,” Henry replied. “One, two, three!”
His friends urged their horses into a breakneck speed as he counted an extra ten seconds before gently kicking into his horse’s sides. Lowering his body until it lay almost flat against the horse, Henry gave curt commands that allowed him to draw up to his friends and give them a brief grin before passing them and taking the lead. The men looked surprised as they were unaware of the world-class trainer Henry had hired to help Atlas achieve his full potential. Perhaps it was a form of cheating, but they were all excellent horse riders with thoroughbreds, so they were evenly matched, in his opinion. Atlas had merely undergone a little more training than the others, making him sure to win. Henry and his friends always pulled off such tricks against each other; it was just a matter of who would be better at it next time.
Their course took them into a slightly more crowded area, forcing Henry to be careful as he navigated around strollers, horses, and carriages. The finish line was just ahead of him and could be reached within five minutes or less at the speed he was going, but a curvaceous young woman with flaming red hair caught his attention, prompting him to pull on Atlas’ reins to slow down. A pretty brunette accompanied the red-haired woman, but Henry found his eyes couldn’t stray away from the first woman for too long. He watched the redhead throw her head back and laugh gaily, surprising him. No well-born woman would chuckle with such abandon, especially in public. Women had to maintain appearances and not draw attention to themselves through vulgar actions, but the woman didn’t seem to care. Henry was sure she was a middle- or upper-class lady based on her dress and the accessories she carried, such as her parasol and reticule. It was a pity he didn’t know who she was and assumed she was here for the London Season that would begin soon. If that were the case, he would definitely see her soon. Oddly, the redhead seemed familiar to him, but Henry rarely saw women with such distinct hair colour. The last person he recalled with similar hair had been their chef’s daughter, but she had moved to Scotland many years ago and had never returned to England.
Henry considered drawing up to the women but stopped as his friends whizzed past him, their laughter carrying on the cool air caused by their speed. Cursing himself, Henry urged Atlas forward, but he could already tell he wouldn’t reach them in time. His trick had evidently backfired on him, and he would have to pay the victor’s membership fees. He had no trouble fulfilling his financial obligation and could give the three-month fee in one go, but he hated losing.
How am I going to explain that I lost because of a woman? I’ve never had my focus broken like that before. Perhaps it was the shock of red hair that caught my attention.
It had also reminded him of Alice, the little girl who had followed him around and looked at him with big green eyes as though he were her hero. Henry had found her adorable and amusing and hadn’t minded having the little girl mirror his every move, although his friends had often teased him about her actions. They would probably laugh if he told them he saw a woman who reminded him of Alice.
“You lost!” Daniel cried as soon as Henry reached them. “What made you stop so suddenly?”
“I thought I recognised someone I know,” he said.
“Who?” Walter asked. “Who would make you lose a race? A woman? Was she pretty?”
“Why does it have to be a woman?” said Henry.
“I do not think a man could bring about such a reaction,” Walter explained. “She must have been beautiful. What did she look like?”
Henry sighed. He knew his friends well enough that they wouldn’t drop this subject until he had told them what they wanted to know.
“Beautiful,” he said. “Her red hair caught my eyes. It’s not orange like most, but a deep red that I’ve only seen once.”
“Red hair?” Daniel repeated. “That’s quite rare. The only person I recall having red hair was that little girl who used to follow you around everywhere. She rarely had her hair styled neatly but left it unruly and wild like she was a faerie straight out of the woods.”
“I didn’t know you remembered her so well,” said Henry.
Daniel snorted. “Who could forget the little pixie? Do you not recall how she pointed a stick at me and threatened to thrash me with it after I accidentally threw the ball at you during our cricket game? I was actually worried because she was the unpredictable sort.”
Walter laughed. “She placed frog eggs in my teacup once. I’ll never forget the sensation of cold, slimy eggs against my lips.”
“She dropped a spider on my head after I chased her away from a game of cards,” Daniel said with a grimace. “I do not think I have ever encountered a more vengeful girl. She could be rather frightening at times and as tricksy as a sprite.”
Henry looked between his friends and promptly burst out laughing. Alice had evidently taken a page out of their books and given the men a taste of their own medicine.
“Of course, you would find it funny,” Daniel told him. “She wasn’t playing tricks on you.”
“I find it amusing that she used all the tricks we played on people against you,” said Henry. “Do you not recall how we did the same thing to others? She learned from us, so we cannot blame her for taking the initiative and doing the same.”
Walter shook his head and clapped him on the shoulder. “You were always so protective of her, and even now, you defend her actions. Admittedly, life did become a tad boring after she left England. I no longer had to look over my shoulder or watch what I said to you for fear of retaliation. I wonder if she has changed.”
Henry wouldn’t mind seeing the little girl again, but she was a woman now, and had likely put her mischievous past behind her.
“No one remains the same forever,” he said. “We all change in one way or another. I need a nap,” he announced, getting onto his horse. “Will you meet me at the club tomorrow? We can ask for one of the guest rooms instead of being around the other members. I find them a little too excessive for my tastes.”
By excessive, he meant some members had lifestyles that leaned towards debauchery, which made him cringe. Henry had considered leaving Brooke’s and joining Almack’s, but his father was friends with the club’s owner and would frown upon his exit.
“I don’t mind having our own room,” said Walter. “I found the wagers placed during the last card game a tad too extreme. We should find premises for a club, start our own, or leave the gambling world and focus on sports. I don’t mind playing card games within the confines of our homes.”
“Now, there’s an idea,” said Daniel. “We should discuss it after Henry has had his habitual afternoon nap.”
“I don’t know of any other grown man who needs a nap every afternoon,” Walter remarked. “It’s usually something reserved for children or sick people, of which you are neither.”
Henry shrugged. “Old habits are not easily given up when enjoyed. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Henry turned his horse and returned to the spot he had seen the woman, but she was gone.
“Of course, she’s gone,” he muttered. “Did you expect her to wait around for you?”
Shaking his head, he pulled Atlas’ reins and made their way home.
“The Earl and the Chef’s Daughter” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Alice Baker, daughter of a humble chef, returns to England after a decade to find out that Henry Ravenhill, her childhood friend, has now become a kind and handsome Earl. However, she knows that despite the close relationship they once shared, she could never dream of a life with an aristocrat. All her good intentions to avoid him will be thrown out of the window when Alice suddenly becomes the darling of the ton and constantly runs into Henry…
Could Alice ever have a chance at love with the man haunting her dreams? Or is she doomed to pine after the impossible?
Henry cannot believe his eyes when he encounters the beautiful Alice after so many years. Even though at first, friendship is the only thing he asks for, he will soon realise that his heart demands an eternity with Alice… Yet, not only does he know this love is forbidden, but his parents also insist on marrying a woman he has no interest in. Will Henry give up on the only person that could make him happy to please his parents and keep his birthright?
The painful dilemma of choosing between duty or true love…
It doesn’t take long for Alice and Henry to discover that their childhood feelings have blossomed into tender love. However, society’s expectations along with an obsessed gentleman and a possessive woman, are only some of the challenges Alice and Henry will have to face. Will Henry find the courage to walk away from his privileged life to be with the woman he truly loves? Will the two of them find their way to each other when the odds are stacked against them?
“The Earl and the Chef’s Daughter” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
9 thoughts on “The Earl and the Chef’s Daughter (Preview)”
Hello my dear readers! I hope you enjoyed this little treat. I will be waiting for your comments here. Thank you so much!
Looks like another thrilling story looking forward to reading it
Thank you for keeping me well entertained with all your novels.
Thank you, my dear Christine! Glad you liked it!
I am looking forward to reading this book, as I do all of your writings. Love the premise of crossing the barriers of society to find true love.
Thank you, my dear Linda. I hope you enjoy the rest of the book!
I’m already in love with these characters. Alice and Henry apparently had a very special bond while growing up. I can’t wait to see if it gets rekindled.
Thank you, my dear Christy! I hope you enjoy the rest of the book too!
Very ingesting plot.
So glad to hear that, my dear!