Lingfield Manor, Surrey, October 1814
The leaves on the trees were turning from a deep, lush green to a gentle golden brown. Farmers were ploughing their fields, the September harvest behind them for another year. Horses in fields stamped at the cooling ground while cattle were urged indoors into barns. A dog barked at the sheep he was herding from one field to another more sheltered field for winter grazing. Gardeners and groundsmen on the grand manorial estates swept fallen leaves into piles, which would be ready to burn once the leaves had dried out enough. They also tidied the edges of lawns that were threatening to encroach upon the paths and driveways.
Two such manorial estates, one small and one large, languished side-by-side, separated by large grounds and mature hawthorn hedges, but joined by a secret bridleway. A lone female rider cantered easily on her black hunter between the neighbouring properties. Before her lay the large and rambling Lingfield estate, country seat of the Lords Titterington. She followed the bridleway to where it joined the main driveway about halfway along.
Coming towards the horsewoman and away from the house was the mail carriage, a big, black affair pulled by four horses, their hooves pounding against the packed earth as mist billowed from their nostrils. The coachman up front tipped his hat in polite greeting, and she in turn waved a hand.
The drive, which meandered along the natural contours of the earth, was lined with rhododendrons, witch hazels and other ornamental shrubs now long past their flowering season, until it ended in a large turning circle in front of the main entrance. In the centre of the circle stood a stone lady only partially clothed in Roman garb, a basket under her arm, surrounded by a small rose garden. She faced a stone stairway that led up to a portico with four grand, marble pillars, that in turn protected the large, double oak doors. Inside, an oak panelled hallway with a black and white chequered floor led off into several rooms. To the left of the main entrance was the butler’s pantry. To the right was the master’s study.
The Right Honourable Earl of Lingfield, Lord Ainsley Titterington, was reading a newspaper spread out upon his desk. He was so engrossed that he did not notice that his butler had entered the study until the servant cleared his throat. And rather loudly too.
“Yes, Painter?” Lord Ainsley eventually said, glancing up from the pages in front of him.
“Sorry to disturb you, my Lord. There is a letter.”
“I am really rather busy at the moment,” his Lordship replied. “It will have to wait.”
He returned his attention to the alarming news from Niagara regarding Fort Erie, effectively dismissing his man. His man, however, persisted, and noisily cleared his throat again.
Sighing, Ainsley folded the newspaper closed, swivelled on his seat, and gave the butler his full attention.
He said, “I suppose it is urgent?” The Morning Post had already taken several days to get to Surrey from London, so it was hardly pressing news that he was reading, but it concerned him all the same.
“Yes, my Lord. Apologies, my Lord,” said the butler. Painter held out the silver platter with the folded paper upon it and bowed his head.
“Does it require a reply, Painter?” Ainsley asked, taking the letter and turning it over in his hands. He held it towards the light pouring in through the window. “I do not recognise the seal.”
“No, my Lord. It came on the carriage from London. It has already gone again, my Lord.”
Ainsley had not even heard the mail carriage arrive.
“Very well, Painter. Thank you.” He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a silver knife with which to slit the seal apart.
“Will there be anything else, my Lord?” asked the butler.
“No, thank you.”
“Very well, my Lord.” The butler backed out of the room, bowing once again, and closed the door softly behind him.
Ainsley unfolded the letter. Written in a strong and straight hand and dated only the day before, it was from a merchant in London he had met only once or twice. The letter was brief and to the point:
My Dear Sir,
That had Ainsley’s hackles up straight away. What a rude way to open a letter to a virtual stranger. He checked the front of the letter again and saw that at least it was correctly addressed.
My Dear Sir,
Pardon me for approaching you in this manner, but it is imperative that we speak on an urgent and personal matter.
When you are next in town, I would be most grateful if you could call on me at the address below, where you will be speedily received.
I would appreciate your most urgent attendance and attention.
I remain your servant,
Charles Walker, Esq
Ainsley turned the paper over to see if there was any more, but the scant lines barely covered a single side. He read the letter quickly again and tossed it to one side. It skittered to a halt against the abandoned newspaper.
Standing from his desk, he walked over to the grand fireplace where a fire glowed in the hearth. He turned around, lifted his coat tails, and warmed his backside against the flames whilst he tried to recall the man who had written to him.
Charles Walker…yes. He dropped his tails, folded one arm across his chest and fiddled at his face whiskers with the other hand. He vaguely recollected a hook-nosed man with small, black eyes. Now what was his trade…?
Ainsley thought very hard, but it did not come to him. He was sure he’d had no formal dealings with the man or his business, whatever it was, and he could not think for the life of him what would be so urgent that this Mr. Walker would demand his presence in such a way, yet not take the time to travel out and see him personally. It was most improper. To instead write a letter to him only demonstrated how ill-mannered and vulgar the merchant must be.
A slight smell of fabric singeing reached Ainsley’s nostrils, and he moved cautiously away from the fire, lest his coat tails catch light. His breeches were now a little too warm against his legs, so he had to move carefully. Instead of sitting back down at his desk, he stood and looked at the offending letter for a moment.
Should he go and see the man? Make a special trip? How ‘urgent’ could it really be if the man had simply chosen to write a letter?
No, Ainsley would not be making a trip to London just to see this chap. Not only was the communication the completely wrong approach, but he would be in the city next month anyway. If he remembered, he would seek out the merchant there and speak with him then.
Ainsley picked up the letter, re-folded it, and tucked it away in a drawer in his desk.
With his breeches cool again, he was about to sit back down at the desk, but a movement outside the window and the sound of horse hooves on stone caught his attention. He heard the unmistakable tinkle of laughter. Oh, how the sound made his heart soar. He instantly knew who it was, yet he crept to the window anyway, hiding behind the heavy curtain from where he could quietly observe the vision he was certain would be there.
Sure enough, there was Miss Emily Lawson sitting side-saddle on her horse, Jupiter, talking and smiling with his younger brother, Oswald, who was standing on the ground looking up at her. He could hear their voices, but he couldn’t make out the words they were saying.
Emily was wearing a plain white dress with a high neck that fell in folds down the side of the horse. For warmth, she wore a thick, brown spencer, white gloves, and a black riding hat with a white ribbon around it. A cameo brooch was pinned to the frilly collar of the dress at her throat, and she held a black riding crop in her hand.
Her long brown hair was tied back beneath the hat, but some tendrils had worked loose during her ride. The exercise in the cool autumn air had brought a rosy tinge to her cheeks, and her breath as she spoke wafted out of her pretty mouth in a mist.
She was laughing down at Oswald, who had clearly said something amusing. Her brown eyes glittered with mirth and crinkled at the corners. When Jupiter suddenly danced around a little, Oswald caught a hold of the stallion’s bridle to stabilise him. There was no need, though, for Emily was an accomplished horsewoman who could hold her own. She often went out with the hunt, always on the big black hunter.
Emily was the elder of Ainsley’s best friend Matthew Lawson’s two younger sisters. They had been neighbours forever. Matthew had sadly died some years earlier from a condition that had ailed him since infancy. That ailment had kept him out of the army and safely at home, as had Ainsley’s own impending title. But his friend had not lived long after reaching manhood.
Ainsley had always had a soft spot for Emily, for both the girls, really. They were like the little sisters he had never had. When Matthew had died, Ainsley had somewhat assumed responsibility as their protector, but more specifically Emily’s. Rowena was still quite young.
At twenty, Emily and Oswald were the same age, ten years younger than Ainsley. Since he had inherited the responsibility of the earldom upon their father’s death, Ainsley had become less involved with them and more concerned with the estate. Oswald too had recently been spending more and more time away from the country home, ever since he had joined the military. He was already a captain and that brought its own responsibility and extra duties.
So, it was nice to see Emily and Oswald together again, having fun. Ainsley could barely tear his gaze away from her pretty face.
Oswald glanced away from Emily towards the stables. At that precise moment, Emily turned her own gaze away from Oswald and towards the study window where, too late, Ainsley started to dip out of view. Those pretty, rosy lips turned up at the corners as she smiled and lifted a hand to waggle her fingers at him.
He felt his face burn with embarrassment at being caught, but he stepped into her view, as if that were what he intended on doing all along, and he returned her smile and her wave.
She turned her head to see where Oswald had gone and then she was looking at Ainsley again. Her smile grew larger and she beckoned to him to come outside and join her. Jupiter pranced again beneath her, but she was quick to bring him back under her control.
Ainsley paused for only a moment. Well, it would be rude not to. He nodded his agreement and indicated with a finger that he would be with her presently. He turned his attention back to the study. The room seemed dark after the brightness of the early autumn sunshine. Or was it the dazzle of Emily’s beauty? He blinked to let his eyes become re-accustomed to the light. Then he was across the wooden floor of his study in three easy strides and into the hallway, perhaps only a little too eager.
Ainsley crossed the tiled hall to the front doors, pausing only briefly outside the butler’s pantry as a whiff of silver polish reached his nose. The door to Painter’s room stood open to reveal the man sitting at his table, indeed polishing some of the silver, a small fire in the grate behind him. At the sight of his master, he dropped the cloth on top of a candlestick he was cleaning and started to push his seat away from the table, dragging the chair feet across the polished floorboards. Ainsley winced as he realised one of the lower servants would now be made to polish the floor to hide the scuff marks.
“Please, do not worry, Painter,” said Ainsley, holding up a hand. “I am only popping outside to speak with Miss Lawson.”
“Very well, my Lord,” said the butler, standing up anyway and pushing his chair back under the table. He would not continue with his task until his Lordship had turned away, instead peering at Ainsley over a pair of wire-rimmed half-moon spectacles with his head slightly bowed.
The front door was not locked, and Ainsley yanked it open to be greeted by a draught of surprisingly cool air and a gust of fallen leaves blustered into the hall. The sunshine was deceptive. Briefly, as he shivered, he thought to go back and pick up an overcoat from the hall cupboard, but he would not be long and decided against it after all.
Behind him, Painter had come out of his room and Ainsley heard him shout,” Daisy? Daisy!”
“Yes, Mr Painter,” called a distant, timid voice.
There was a pause.
“Sweep these leaves up and be quick about it.”
“Yes, Mr Painter,” said the girl, closer now.
“And when you’ve done that,” he continued, “tell Fletcher to come and see to the floor in my room!”
“Yes, Mr Painter,” replied the maid.
Ainsley smiled to himself and quietly left them to it.
“Good morning, Lord Ainsley,” called Emily as he emerged from the house and strode down the steps towards her.
“Good morning, Miss Lawson. How are you?” he replied. Jupiter was once again prancing about on the spot, bored at being kept waiting and anxious to be off on his ride. Ainsley instinctively caught at the horse’s bridle to steady him again. He was a strong mount.
“I am very well, thank you,” said Emily. “How are you?”
“All the better for seeing you, my dear,” he replied in his usual brotherly fashion.
“Did I disturb your work?” she asked.
The question caught him off guard. “I’m sorry?”
Emily nodded towards his study window. “You were in your study. Were you working?”
“Oh, that,” he replied, running a hand through his hair and looking towards the window too, as if the answer to her question would be waiting there for him. “No, no. I was catching up on the news from London.”
“Anything interesting?” she asked.
He turned his attention back to Emily. “No, no. Just military matters. An account of a battle in Canada. A list of those injured. That sort of thing.”
“You will be more interested in such things now that Oswald is in the army,” she said.
“Yes, who knows where he may end up?”
“You must worry about him a great deal.”
“I do,” he agreed.
“There must be more,” she questioned, no doubt out of politeness, for it could not possibly be of any real interest to her. “In the newspaper?” she prompted when he did not answer straight away.
“Oh, it is all very dull, I am sure.” Still holding on to Jupiter’s bridle with one hand, he thrust the other into a pocket to warm it up, and he rattled off one or two topics the newspaper had thought to cover. “There was something about French politics. A couple of new plays in the West End. I have not had chance to read it all yet.”
She tucked a stray strand of brown hair into her riding hat. Her bright cheerfulness with Oswald had been replaced with a polite air as she talked with Ainsley, and he longed to make her laugh that laugh, smile that smile at him. All their friends and acquaintances seemed to be more relaxed around Oswald than they were around Ainsley these days. He wondered, When did that happen?
For want of something to say, and so there wasn’t an awkward silence between them, Ainsley asked, “Has my brother deserted you? Are you riding alone?”
“Oh, no. He has gone to collect his horse.” She leaned down in a covert manner, and added, “He is a bit annoyed at your stable-hand taking his time. He will no doubt give him short shrift.”
Ainsley did not like how his brother lorded over the servants. They had not been brought up to be like that, and he did not understand where Oswald got it from. Yet still, they were all very fond of the younger Titterington.
There was another uncomfortable pause, and so Ainsley said, “You have chosen the right day for your ride.”
She looked up at the sky. “Yes, let us hope it stays this way for an hour or two.”
“Where are you riding to?” he asked.
“Oh, nowhere really. We will stay on the Lingfield Estate, keep to Titterington land.”
He noticed that she did not ask him if he would like to join them and he felt a stab of disappointment.
“You must be very careful,” he said. “Watch out for the rabbit holes, and suchlike.”
Oswald trotted around the corner of the house on his own horse, a brown hunter called Pharaoh. Ainsley liked to see Oswald in his uniform, but today his brother was dressed in casual riding clothes. He wore a tall rimmed hat pulled down to shield his eyes from the low-slung autumn sunshine, a grey woollen tailed riding coat over a thick, and striped waistcoat that was pulled down over light brown riding breeches, which were tucked into black boots with deep, dark-brown cuffs at the top. A fussy cravat was tied tightly around his neck over his shirt, his only nod towards a little opulence, and he too held a riding crop, but his was longer and sturdier than Emily’s.
“Are you worrying again, old man?” Oswald chastised his brother, a sardonic, easy smile spreading across his shadowed suntanned face. Since he had joined the army, he had spent more time out of doors and the colour suited his blond looks. His blue eyes seemed to glow against his browner skin.
Ainsley flinched at being called ‘old’.
“I do not want either of you to have an accident,” he said in his defence.
“We have done it before, you know,” replied Oswald, glancing towards Emily, who laughed. “I am in the cavalry, and Miss Lawson is as good as any man I know when hunting.” His smile became more arrogant, bringing a twinkle to those bright blue eyes, and Emily tried not to laugh again. Her countenance was definitely brighter in his brother’s presence.
“I suggest you learn to laugh politely behind your hand, Miss Lawson,” said Ainsley, stern now to cover up his own discomfort. “That is hardly the proper behaviour of a young lady.”
“I apologise, my lord,” responded a contrite Emily, pulling herself together. “You are quite correct.” She bowed her head meekly.
Ainsley caught his brother smirking and snapped, “I hope you will be mindful of your responsibility towards Miss Lawson on your ride, brother.”
“Of course I will, old man,” Oswald replied, and Ainsley flinched again.
“And make sure you see her safely home,” he cried. “It is not appropriate for a young lady to be riding around the countryside on her own. Any nature of misfortune may befall her.”
“I will, brother,” said Oswald.
The two of them turned their horses and began to walk them around the statue of the Roman lady and away from the house. Ainsley observed them for a moment before turning on his heel and marching back up the steps to the front door. He stood and watched them for a moment longer. Emily leaned across and said something to Oswald, causing him to turn in his saddle and regard his brother in the doorway. Ainsley yearned to join them, to feel young and free again, but it would not be fitting. He had responsibilities that did not allow for him to gallivant around the estate with the younger ones. He was no longer one of them and had not been so for some years.
Emily and Oswald both waved to him and then cantered away, laughing and shouting to each other. Ainsley was forgotten.
Closing the door behind him, he was not so fast returning to his study and briefly acknowledged the maid who was sweeping up the leaves that had blown in through the main entrance. Daisy stopped to give him a quick curtsy and he smiled and indicated for her to carry on with her work.
Once back in his study, Ainsley pulled the cord to summon the butler. He then went straight to the window to watch the two riders until he saw the cloud of dust caused by their horses’ hooves disappear around a bend in the sweeping driveway. He felt a tugging in his chest, a mild longing, and he silently reprimanded himself. He could not be attracted to the young woman. He was too old for a start, and he was more like an older brother than a viable suitor.
Besides, it had always been an understanding that Emily and Oswald would make a match.
When her brother, his friend Matthew, had died, Ainsley had appointed himself the big brother replacement. As her self-appointed protector, he really ought to be considering her future. At twenty years old, it was time she was married. Long past time she was married, in fact. She had enjoyed two seasons in London already, but no suitors had come forward to challenge Oswald’s unspoken claim on her. Whereas Oswald seemed to have no end of young ladies to entertain and disappoint.
As the youngest son and brother of an earl, and a wealthy earl at that, he appeared to be a good prospect. He seemed to go through his allowance as though he was a married man with a large family, however. He was always coming to his brother for more money, when he had his army pay as well. Sometimes the sums of money he requested were, in Ainsley’s opinion, quite significant. Ainsley didn’t know what he spent it on. He was not a big drinker, nor a gambler as far as Ainsley was aware. He really ought to ask his brother about it one of these days.
Painter came into the study and cleared his throat. “You rang, my Lord?”
Ainsley turned away from the window to greet him. “Yes, thank you, Painter. Could you have Mrs Kelly send up a plate of something and a cup of tea? I am quite chilled to the bone for some reason.”
“Yes, my Lord,” agreed the butler, backing out of the room once more.
Lord Ainsley returned to his desk. Plopping down into his seat, he rifled through the newspaper and found the article he had been reading before Painter had interrupted him. But now the letters blurred before his eyes. He had lost his concentration, and he turned instead to stare into the fire.
Only a week later, the weather had taken a significant turn for the worst. Gone were those last few days of sunshine clinging on to the end of the summer. Instead, the autumn rain had arrived with a vengeance, and the landscape had changed considerably from vibrant greens, golds and reds, to a flat and dull grey. Wild mushrooms had suddenly appeared, popping up their heads on lawns and grassed areas that only the day before had been smooth and green and notably fungi-free.
The roads surrounding the Lingfield estate were in good condition, making for a smooth carriage ride. Two beautiful grey horses trotted along, pulling a covered phaeton. The gig contained two young ladies, cousins, who had been reunited for the first time since the beginning of the summer. They were dressed warmly against the elements and a thick blanket was spread across their knees as they bounced in their seats, side-by-side, and chattered and laughed.
One of the ladies skilfully held the reins in her gloved hands and guided the horses into the long driveway that led up to the Titterington manor, now bumping and splashing through the puddles that had formed on the rougher ground. Some of the trees that lined the drive drooped in the rain, and a branch brushed the hood of the carriage as it passed by, causing a spray of raindrops to fall down onto the ladies’ laps.
Instead of pulling up outside the main entrance, they continued around to the stables. By the time they had stopped, a groom was already dashing towards them from the house, holding aloft a sturdy, black umbrella. He whistled, and a stable boy rushed out from the stables to hold onto the horses while the ladies clambered down, assisted by the groom.
Lord Ainsley was speaking with his estate manager in the manager’s office, which was situated in the stable block. Mr. Godfrey was an old man and had been with the family for as long as Ainsley could remember. He trusted Mr. Godfrey’s judgement implicitly and often went to the man for advice, not all of it relating to the property. The estate manager did not go in for any of that cow-towing to the upper classes, refusing to call people by their proper title, but he still respected his employers and maintained an affection for the two brothers who he had watched growing up and had often taken out with him when he inspected the grounds.
“I do not think there is any cause to go out in this weather,” Ainsley was saying when he noticed the arrival of the carriage through the window.
“I had no intention of going out in this weather,” said Mr. Godfrey with a cheeky twinkle in his eyes. His eyesight was still perfectly good, even at his age. There was no need for wire-rimmed spectacles for him. His shrewd grey-black eyes missed nothing. “And I doubt that you will be going out in this weather either.”
Ainsley turned his attention from the window to the man, a puzzled look on his face. He had indeed had every intention of going out. Mr. Godfrey had reported that one of the boundary walls was in urgent need of repair following what looked like some kind of collision, and Ainsley wanted to assess the damage and attend to it before it started to deteriorate in the winter weather that was on its way. In fact, he was already dressed for the occasion in an almost floor-length coat that had a layered cape sewn onto the shoulders, a thick brown waistcoat, and sturdy boots on his feet. The coat was undone, and he had his hands on his hips with his thumbs tucked into the top of warm trousers. A hat lay abandoned on a chair in the corner of the office, waiting to be collected by Ainsley on his way out.
Mr. Godfrey continued. “It looks as though something else has come up that requires your attention.” He chuckled again, the insinuation that Ainsley was now distracted by the arrival of two pretty ladies quite clear in both his tone and the amused expression on his wrinkled, suntanned face.
Ainsley coughed politely into his hand to cover up his own smile. The old man knew him far too well.
“Well, perhaps we can go out together once the rain has stopped?” he suggested, edging closer to the door.
“Certainly, Ainsley,” said Mr. Godfrey. “Don’t forget to pick up your hat.”
His visitors had already been escorted safely into the house and Ainsley ran across the yard to join them.
“Miss Lawson,” he acknowledged. “Lady Tomlinson,” he said to the other woman. “How very nice to see you both.”
Emily turned around to greet him while her cousin thanked the groom for his assistance.
“Good day, my Lord,” said Emily.
Ainsley dropped his hat on the hall table beside the back entrance to the house and tossed his discarded coat on top of it. A maid appeared almost instantly to remove them and put them away.
“I trust you had a good ride over?” he said to Emily. “Though I am surprised that you did not fetch a groom with you.”
“I can manage the carriage quite well myself, my Lord,” she replied. “And I knew that your Henry would look after us.”
Lady Tomlinson joined the conversation. “Besides, had we brought a groom with us he would have got quite wet perched up there in this weather. And then to sit around in the stable until we were finished?”
“No,” replied Ainsley. “You were quite correct, and it is not that far after all.”
He indicated that they follow him through the house. “Please, will you come into the drawing-room?”
When they reached the door, Ainsley stood to one side so that the ladies could precede him into the cosy sitting room, where a fire blazed in the grate. The warmth was most welcome to them all.
Ainsley pulled at the service cord beside the fireplace and regarded the newcomer. “Please, do sit down.” He indicated a selection of chairs and a settee for them to make their own choice, and they chose to sit beside one another on the two-seater.
Lady Theadora ‘Misty’ Tomlinson was both beautiful and wealthy. Because her name was such a mouthful, when she was a child, everyone had addressed her as Miss T instead of Miss Theadora, unless in polite company. Over the years, Miss T had been shortened, and now she was simply known as Misty to her friends and to others who had known her for a long time. The name suited her, with her thick light brown hair, tousled now after their carriage ride. Curls sprang out from under her hat and all around her heart-shaped face, giving her a pretty halo effect.
Following a knock at the door, Daisy the maid came into the room and bobbed into a quick curtsy. “Did you ring, my Lord?”
Ainsley agreed that he had, and he asked her to bring refreshment for their visitors. Then he too seated himself on an upright chair facing Emily and Misty.
Emily wore a simple white dress with a red velvet spencer and a matching bonnet. Misty’s attire, on the other hand, was far more elegant. A powder-blue spencer in the military style with big black buttons was fastened over a thick black dress. A squat, black riding hat atop her slightly dishevelled hair boasted a fine black buckle and a blue feather that matched the jacket.
“When did you arrive in Surrey?” He addressed the question towards Misty.
Misty looked at Emily, then said, “It was quite late yesterday evening, was it not?”
“Quite late, yes,” Emily agreed. “I had already retired to my room for the evening, so we did not get a chance to catch up with each other until this morning at breakfast.”
“Did you have a good journey up from London?” Ainsley asked.
“Yes, thank you. It was most uneventful, fortunately,” Misty replied.
“Misty has some news,” said Emily. “Some very good news.” She pulled a face at her cousin to encourage her to make her announcement.
“Oh,” said Misty. “I am sure that Lord Titterington must already be aware.” She looked to Ainsley, who made a show of trying to remember what it was he was supposed to already know.
Fortunately, the maid arrived with the tea tray just then, and she bustled around looking for a suitable place to leave it. That at least gave Ainsley a little more time to wrack his brains for anything significant.
“Thank you, Daisy,” he said after she had poured out their cups and placed a plate of pastries on the table before them. The aroma of hot water-infused tea filled the room. She briefly fussed with the bone china crockery, trying not to make it clatter too much. When she was finally happy that there was nothing more that she could do, she scurried out of the room.
Emily looked to Ainsley to see if he had remembered anything.
“No,” he shook his head. “I cannot think what it may be.”
“Oh, Oswald is so funny,” laughed Misty quietly. “Fancy him not telling you. Is he here?” She looked about the room as though Oswald might magically appear.
“I’m afraid my brother is currently out,” he said. “On army business, I believe. But he has not conveyed anything of note to me since he has been home from London.”
“But he has been back for more than a week!” Misty exclaimed.
“Perhaps it slipped his mind?” suggested Emily. Ainsley noticed that her attention had become fixated on the floral pattern on the side of her teacup – a cluster arrangement of red and white sweet william – and a soft flush rose to her cheeks.
Misty tried to hide her disappointment by delicately sipping from her own teacup, demonstrating impeccable breeding.
Ainsley looked from Misty to Emily to Misty again.
“Will you tell us?” he prompted. “I am on the edge of my seat in anticipation!”
But it was Emily who blurted out, “Misty is engaged to be married!”
A smile lit up Ainsley’s face.
“That is indeed wonderful news,” he said, genuinely thrilled for her. He drained his teacup, giving her time to add more. But when no further information was forthcoming, he added, “And who is the lucky gentleman?”
Emily’s eyelids fluttered as her gaze slipped down to the genuine Persian rug beneath the table before her. The golds and reds of the intricate weave complimented the room perfectly, and Ainsley was proud that his family had not resorted to the cheap English reproductions now so readily available. She touched at the edge of the rug with the toe of her shoe before looking back to her cousin. Then she pinned a bright smile onto her face and looked at Ainsley.
“Why,” she said, “it is Captain Oswald, of course.”
Ainsley dropped the empty teacup he still held in his hand to the floor in surprise, where it smashed into a hundred tiny pieces or more.
“Under the Earl’s Spell” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Miss Emily Lawson has devoted her life to family, putting all her dreams and aspirations aside. Caring and naive as she is, she cannot realise that by serving a family duty, she faces the danger of missing out on the opportunity to start a life of her own. When her noble friend asks to court her, she is in shock, as he was first engaged to her beloved cousin. However, she reluctantly agrees, seeing this betrothal as the only escape from her demanding relatives once and for all. In an unexpected twist of fate, Emily finds herself hopelessly falling in love with her intendee’s brother and feels she has found her guardian angel and true soulmate. With her heart beating faster every time she sees him, could Emily defy all odds and be with the only man she has ever truly loved?
When Lord Ainsley Titterington, Earl of Lingfield, discovers that his little brother is to marry a wealthy heiress, he is scandalised. Being a man of honour and propriety, he is determined to stop this wedding at all costs, as his brother has long been promised to Emily, the heiress’ cousin. What he never expected though, was his heart to be captured by the very same Emily and feel utterly conflicted. Despite his internal struggle, he knows he ought to suppress these strong feelings, if he wants to preserve his family’s standing. Besides, he knows that when the beautiful woman discovers his schemeful involvement in his brother’s decisions, she would despise him for good. Will Lord Ainsley find the courage to fight for the woman that has been the only ray of sunshine in his miserable life?
Just when Emily and Ainsley have started developing an undeniable connection, everything will be on the verge of collapsing. After the revelation of a horrible truth, could Ainsley convince Emily that everything he has done was to protect her from being hurt? With the threats of a loveless marriage and dishonouring a family name, their growing romance is in immediate danger. Will Ainsley manage to make up for his mistakes and regain Emily’s trust? Will their bond be strong enough to endure all the obstacles coming their way?
“Under the Earl’s Spell” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.