Glastonbury, October 1817
Colorful leaves made their downward descent from trees, slowly growing sparse as autumn made changes to the landscape. Isabella bent down to pick up a yellow leaf, matching it to the buttons on her coat.
“Nearly a perfect match,” she said to her friend as they promenaded through a winding road. “I think I have almost managed to replicate autumn colors in my attire today.”
“Your red manteau certainly becomes you,” Julia told her. “It matches your copper curls. Your mother would have much to say if she were to see your hair partially bound with a ribbon, but I love it like this.”
Isabella fingered a curl before flicking it over her shoulder. “Well, she is not here to criticize me and tell me what an awful daughter I am. I was glad to get away from Bath and spend time with you, but a little thing still niggles at my mind.”
She bent down to pick a wildflower, bringing it to her nose to take a whiff. It smelled ‘green’ as most plants did, and not the fragrance of the bouquets she had been receiving lately. However, Isabella would take the wildflower over the cultivated blooms any day.
“Are you still worrying about why she let you come here despite being courted?” Julia asked.
“It’s a valid concern,” said Isabella, picking up a dried stick and throwing it far. “She is adamant that Mr. Benson and I will be married early next year and expects me to accept his attentions while he courts me. Why allow me to come here if she wants me to spend time with that old man?”
Mr. Benson was forty-five years old, an entire twenty-two years older than Isabella. She immediately objected to the match, but her mother had other ideas.
“I do not know why, but I’m grateful to have you here,” said Julia. “Do you think we should carve our names in a tree?” she asked. “We did in Bath. It can be a way to celebrate your time here. Considering you have been coming here for years, I don’t know why we haven’t done it before. Well, you do not come so much anymore.”
Isabella had come once with her mother after her father died, but they used to come much more often when he was still alive. His death two years ago hit the family hard, further straining the relationship between Isabella and her mother. Isabella’s father had been the one link between her and her mother, but that link was now gone. Isabella could do no right, and her mother had no patience for her unless it was to discuss her courtship with Mr. Benson. Staying away from each other was always the best option.
“We can find the perfect tree when we return home,” said Julia. “Preferably one that will not be found by others, especially my brothers. They’ll just try to scratch it out.”
“We can climb a tree and scratch our names higher up the bark,” Isabella suggested.
“I do not climb trees,” Julia protested. “That is your forte.”
“I’ll help you. We’ll pick an easy tree with sturdy branches, and I’ll have my hand around you at all times. You won’t fall,” Isabella promised.
“I suppose you’ve never let me down before, but that doesn’t mean I like the idea,” said Julia.
Isabella grinned. “You’ll feel liberated once you sit high up on a branch and look down at the world below you.”
Julia grimaced. “That image isn’t doing anything to comfort me. All I can think of is anything and everything that might go wrong.”
“That’s when you should think happy thoughts,” Isabella told her. “Like the pretty brown eyes of a certain farmer’s son.”
Julia rolled her eyes. “I no longer like him. He’s too talkative, speaks about nothing but farming, and smells like hay—on a good day. I do not know what I saw in him.”
Isabella chuckled. “His brawny arms, chiseled face, and puppy eyes were what drew you in if I recall your words correctly. You said he looked handsome taking sacks from the back of a cart and wiping his perspiration off his brow with a manly hand.”
“Stop!” Julia cried, blushing. “I couldn’t have said all that.”
“Oh, how fickle you are, my dear friend,” said Isabella, teasing her. “You’re leaving a trail of broken hearts at such a young age.”
“Speak for yourself!” Julia exclaimed. “You have your fair share of broken hearts.”
“Oh, no, no, no,” said Isabella, wagging her finger. “We’re not the same. I never pay attention to any admirers, so their heartbreak is all their own. You talk to these men and raise their hopes, only to quickly grow tired of them. None of them seem to fit what you’re looking for.”
“I’m looking for love,” Julia replied. “The sort of love that makes you wish to give up all else. The wonderful, earth-shattering, belly-quivering love that leaves you dazed yet clear of mind, weak yet strong.”
Isabella frowned slightly. “That kind of love doesn’t exist. The sooner you understand that, the better. Best you find a good man who will treat you well.”
Julia sighed and linked arms with her. “Not this again. You are the most pessimistic person I’ve ever met when it comes to love. I know you haven’t had the best example of love, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
Isabella had no reason to believe that true love existed between a man and a woman. However, the love of a parent, child, or animal was different. She had adored her father, and they both shared a love of horses—that was enough for her. Isabella didn’t care about romantic love and finding someone special to spend the rest of her days with. It was enough that she was fighting the marriage her mother wanted to force on her. Isabella had only agreed to the courtship with Mr. Benson because it bought her time to decipher how to escape their impending betrothal. She could never marry him, and she didn’t need to. Isabella’s father had left her the family home and enough money to live on for the rest of her life. Being a baron, his title along with any property or money linked to the title went to the first eligible male cousin when her father died. However, he had been smart enough to obtain land, and keep enough wealth separate from the title, to take care of his family.
Her father had been an intelligent man, constantly thinking ahead and never leaving anything to chance. Because of him, Isabella was secure and didn’t need a man in her life. To put it plainly, marriage was the last thing on her mind. If only her mother would understand, but she was set on having Mr. Benson as her son-in-law.
“Isabella!” Julia exclaimed, pulling her mind from her thoughts.
“You’re not listening,” Julia complained. “What is the use of taking this walk together if your mind is elsewhere? You’re supposed to free your mind of worries, not mull over them.”
“I’m trying, but I have so many things to think about,” Isabella explained. She picked up another stick and threw it into the forest on their right. “For example, Mr. Benson was my father’s good friend. How can he expect to marry me? Why does he wish to marry his friend’s daughter? Does no one think it odd?”
It was downright unsettling, in Isabella’s opinion. She had to wonder if Mr. Benson had wanted to marry her before but knew her father would have rejected his proposal. Now, two years after her father’s death, he had thought it acceptable to approach her mother. What was equally disturbing was that her mother had agreed to his proposal. Only Isabella’s quick thinking had convinced her mother that it was her idea to first allow for a courtship. However, Isabella never intended to honor the courtship, which was why she was in Glastonbury, and Mr. Benson was in Bath.
“It certainly is odd,” Julia agreed. “Or rather, he was merely biding his time. You’re a beautiful woman, Isabella. Any man would be blind not to see that. What if Mr. Benson had his eye on you for years?”
Isabella gave an involuntary shiver. “I do not wish to think about it. It makes my stomach turn, and my skin crawl.”
“Frankly, I would feel the same,” said Julia. “It’s not that Mr. Benson is not handsome, but he is twice your age, and if he has been covertly watching you for years…”
Isabella shook her head. “No more, Julia. I do not want to think about it.”
“I wouldn’t either, but I think it makes sense,” said Julia. “What if he asked your father for your hand, and he refused?”
“Papa would refuse such a ridiculous request,” Isabella replied, surprised her friend had voiced what had just been on her mind. “However, he never said anything of the sort to me. At least, none that I can recall. I’m sure I would have heard something if Mr. Benson was indeed interested back then.”
“Not if your father wished to keep it from you,” Julia suggested. “He knew you well, so finding out that such an older man wanted your hand would have distressed you and made you more uncomfortable around Mr. Benson.”
“I suppose you could be right about that,” said Isabella. “Papa would not have wanted me to worry about a matter he had already concluded.”
Julia nodded as she avoided a little hole in the road. “Unfortunately, your mother doesn’t think like your father does. She agreed to the match, but is she truly at ease having a son-in-law that is old enough to be her husband? I certainly wouldn’t!”
“Mother doesn’t see things like the rest of us,” Isabella began. “She…” A frown formed as a thought entered her mind. “How could I have forgotten about it?”
“Forgotten about what?”
“Mother once had high hopes of one day marrying Mr. Benson,” said Isabella. “I’m sure of it. Which begs the question: why on earth would she accept his marriage proposal on my behalf?”
Julia stopped walking. “What? Your mother wanted to marry Mr. Benson?”
Isabella nodded. “Yes. I do not know why I didn’t recall this until now. I remember she said she wanted to remarry, and that Mr. Benson would make a fine husband. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now it makes my situation all the more confusing.”
“Well, this is rather disturbing,” said Julia, “and it makes no sense. Why would your mother agree to the proposal if she wished to marry him? What a strange turn of events.”
Isabella agreed. Her mother had been too willing to give her in marriage as though she stood to gain something. However, Isabella couldn’t think what could have convinced her mother to give up her dream of marrying Mr. Benson. It was evident to anyone with eyes and ears that her mother didn’t like her and held her in great disdain. Isabelle was just a source of embarrassment for her mother, a daughter who did not fit the petite, demure, and sweet image her mother had so desperately wanted. Instead, Isabella was tall and curvaceous, a little too loud, headstrong, and stubborn—all the things her mother didn’t want in a daughter.
“My mother must have a reason,” Isabella insisted, talking more to herself. “She wouldn’t give up a man to me so easily. What could it be?”
“Although it’s a pressing concern, I suggest we think of something else,” Julia suggested. “Like possibly finding the perfect man while you’re in Glastonbury. A man worthy of you.”
“As I already said, I do not wish to get married,” Isabella reminded her. “I only wish to take care of my horses, live on my beautiful estate, and be happy.”
Julia sighed, resuming their walk. “It would be a terrible shame for you not to marry. I believe you would be happy with the right man by your side.”
“Julia!” Isabella cried, exasperated with her friend. “No more of this marriage talk, please. Why don’t we cut across the forest path to reach the path home? I’d like to smell that woodsy smell that only a forest has.”
“I have no objections,” said Julia. “I’m tired of holding this parasol above my head, so some shade would do wonderfully.”
They both dropped their parasols to their sides as they entered the woods, breathing in the scent of damp earth and the pungent odor of wildlife. Isabella loved it. She would bottle it if she could. As they ventured further into the woods, the unmistakable sound of snoring met their ears.
“Do you hear that?” Julia asked.
“I do. That doesn’t sound like an animal growling but a human man snoring. Or woman. My father’s sister used to raise the roof of any house she was in.”
Julia giggled. “I think I recall your aunt. She was quite the character. She never married, did she?”
“Aunt Annie didn’t believe in marriage,” said Isabella. “Perhaps I get my beliefs from her. She lived a full life without a husband and children. I can do the same.”
“Oh, you,” said Julia, rolling her eyes. “You’ll say anything to avoid marriage. You—”
Julia broke off abruptly when Isabella held her finger to her lips. The snores were getting louder, which meant they had to be nearing the source. It was definitely a human, but the sound was coming from above instead of the ground. Frowning, she tilted her head back and looked at the trees, her eyes widening when she noticed a man lying on a thick branch not far from where they stood. Isabella patted her friend’s arm and pointed at the tree, amazed that someone had been foolish enough to fall asleep in one. Julia slowly looked up, her eyes growing round when she spotted the man.
“What on earth is a man doing sleeping in a tree?” Julia whispered.
“I do not know, but one bad move, and he could end up on the ground,” said Isabella. “However, we can’t call out to him because that might startle him.”
“So, what do we do?”
Isabella pulled her lips to the side. The man was rather silly to get so comfortable in a tree that he fell asleep. She should leave him to his fate, but she didn’t like the idea of anyone getting hurt, especially when she could help them. Sighing, she hiked her dress around her knees and approached the tree, but Julia quickly stopped her.
“What on earth are you doing?” she demanded, pulling down Isabella’s dress. “Do you mean for someone to see you?”
“I just want to climb the tree and wake him up,” said Isabella. “It’s the only way to avoid injury or worse.”
“But we do not even know him,” Julia pointed out. “What if he’s dangerous?”
“I suppose I’ll simply have to take that risk, but I have a feeling he’s harmless,” said Isabella. “I merely want to help him, and then we’ll be on our way.”
“Oh, very well, but I do not like this at all,” said Julia. “At least refrain from exposing your legs.”
“How do you expect me to climb the tree with my dress in the way?” Isabella asked. “Besides, he will not see a thing.”
With that said, Isabella pulled her dress high enough to put her foot on the first branch before pulling herself up with another. She expertly advanced higher, barely aware of the bark biting into her palms. Her gloves were not thick enough to protect them, but she didn’t mind. Isabella was accustomed to dealing with rough textures and had been doing so since childhood. Her father had taught her how to care for horses from a young age, and with that came the love of exploration. Getting her knees cut or her palms scratched was merely part of her growing up.
When she reached the man’s branch, she paused to look at him. Dark, wavy brown hair framed a face caught between a man’s chiseled features and youth’s softness. A well-formed square jaw was offset by full, pink lips that many women would envy. His nose would have been perfect if not for the slight bump in the center, but it suited him. Thick dark eyebrows were only second to the long lashes fanning his cheeks, but somehow, they didn’t make him look feminine. Isabella wondered at his eye color, belatedly realizing she had been staring for too long. Shaking her head, she straddled the branch and shuffled her body a little closer.
For a moment, she wondered the best way to wake him up. His head was closest to her, but she needed a way that would not startle him too much, but she quickly realized that would be impossible. Noting it couldn’t be helped, she put her hands on either side of his face. He jerked awake, but fortunately, not too much to make them lose their balance. Dark blue eyes met hers, rooting her in place. Isabella couldn’t move as she found herself falling into his inky depths, her heartbeat slowing as the world grew silent around her. Oddly, he didn’t move or say a word to her—he merely stared. Isabella’s hands still held his face, making the situation even more intimate than she had ever imagined. It suddenly occurred to her that this was the very circumstance that many would call romantic. That thought was enough for her to let go of him, breaking the connection between them. A small part of her surprisingly begrudged that action, but she wouldn’t listen to its ridiculous wants or needs. She was a woman of common sense, and as far as she was concerned, love and all things romantic made no sense. It all seemed fake and only surface deep because it never seemed to last. Isabella wanted no part of that, yet there was no denying she had a side to her that wanted to explore more than she had ever allowed herself to feel.
“You did a silly thing by falling asleep this high up in a tree,” she told him. “You could fall. I suggest you get down.”
Having done the Samaritan thing, she backed away and quickly climbed down. While her voice had been calm and her movements sure and quick, her insides were waging war against her. It felt as though someone had jammed a bunch of flying insects in her belly while forcing her to run at a pace that made her heart beat like it wanted to jump out of her chest. Isabella was having difficulty getting her common sense to explain her reaction, but she was trying her very best. There had to be a perfectly good explanation for why she was both fearful and excited, so much so that she ran to her friend like her life depended on it.
“We need to go,” she said, her voice a tad more high-pitched than expected.
“What is the matter?” Julia asked, frowning.
Isabella couldn’t tell her that she was battling an overwhelming wave of emotions that threatened to make her question everything she had come to believe about herself. This was the first time she had felt so out of control of her own thoughts, emotions, and reactions, and it scared her. Yet, she couldn’t deny the thrill running through her that reminded her of galloping freely on the back of one of her beloved horses. It was exhilarating.
“Nothing is wrong,” Isabella insisted. “I did what I said I would. Now, we should leave.”
While she still had some control left.
The woods, Glastonbury
He had to be dreaming, yet he was confident he had felt the searing heat of the forest deity’s palms touching his face. Edward sat up quickly, watching with fascination as the woman climbed down the tree as though she had been doing it her entire life and ran to her friend. He hadn’t expected to fall asleep in the tree, but it had been so comfortable that he had unknowingly dozed off. That had never happened before, and if not for the magnificent creature currently walking away, he might indeed have taken a tumble to the ground.
Edward had never seen anything or anyone more beautiful than the copper-haired, cat-eyed woman, and for a moment, he had thought he was dreaming. Only when she moved away did he realize she was human and not an otherworldly creature. Now, looking at her statuesque figure, he likened her to an Amazonian princess. All she needed was a shield and spear to complete her attire.
“Wait!” he cried, climbing down as quickly as he could.
She only walked faster, amusing him. His Amazonian princess had climbed a tree to warn him of falling, and now she was running away from him.
“Wait!” he said, running faster.
The shorter, dark-haired woman turned around to look at him, but his princess urged her on. All he wanted to do was thank her and feast his eyes on her beauty one more time before she disappeared from his life. Edward had never seen her before, but then again, he wasn’t an expert on the area despite coming yearly. He usually visited his uncle to escape his parents and their expectations and primarily kept to the estate because it had enough to keep him occupied. He had only ventured out a few times over the years but would have noticed someone like her.
Edward caught up to them and stepped in front, halting their progress. His princess’ eyes flashed at him, ready to fight. He inwardly grinned. She certainly was an Amazonian.
“Please,” he said, showing his palms to indicate he meant no harm. “I only wish to thank you. You might have saved my life. I think that warrants a thank you.”
His princess planted her feet a little apart, reminding him of a war stance. She evidently didn’t trust him, or she was annoyed. Edward wanted to put her at ease but wasn’t sure how to do it. She had to possess a good heart, or she wouldn’t have climbed a tree to help him. However, he didn’t know how to appeal to her kind heart enough for her to trust him.
“I only wish to thank you,” he said. “Truly. I didn’t mean to fall asleep in the tree. I was birdwatching, and I suppose I grew too comfortable. It was brave of you to climb the tree in a dress. I can only imagine how challenging it is to move around in one.”
Edward noticed his Amazonian’s shoulders drop slightly. She wasn’t as defensive as before, but he still had not put her fully at ease.
“I’m Edward Spencer,” he said, leaving out his title. “May I have yours?”
His Amazonian didn’t answer him. Well, she was undoubtedly stubborn, or perhaps she just didn’t trust strangers. Edward understood that, but the only way strangers became acquainted with each other was by being willing to give the other a chance.
“Isabella Balfour,” her friend suddenly replied. “My friend here is Isabella Balfour, and I’m Julia Cartier.”
His Amazonian, now Isabella, glared at her friend. “Julia,” she complained.
“It’s just politeness,” Julia replied. “He asked for your name. You did climb a tree to possibly save him, after all.”
Isabella rolled her eyes. “I’m starting to regret it.”
“You do not mean that,” Julia argued. “You would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Edward couldn’t help his grin. Isabella was stubborn and feisty, but her heart was good. He liked that combination.
“I live just beyond the forest with my uncle,” he informed them, breaking up their staring contest. “I would like to invite you both to dinner as a show of my appreciation.”
Edward could already tell by the purse of Isabella’s lips that she would decline his invitation. He was prepared for that, but that didn’t mean he would give up.
“Thank you for the offer, Mr. Spencer,” said Isabella. “However, a dinner invitation is unnecessary. Now, if you would please excuse us, we need to return home.”
“Then perhaps I can call on you,” Edward suggested. “I truly wish to get to know my savior a little better.”
“It’s not necessary,” Isabella insisted. “Please, excuse us, Mr. Spencer.”
She had taken no more than a step before the heavens let loose, and a heavy downpour fell on their heads. They were all startled, looking above them as though they needed to see the source.
“We need to find cover,” said Isabella, looking around. “This canopy of trees isn’t enough to keep us dry.”
The rain had caused an immediate drop in temperature, and fat droplets of water were passing through the trees to wet the earth beneath. They would be drenched in a matter of minutes.
“There’s a rock we can sit under,” Edward told them. “It’s big enough for all of us.”
The friends glanced at each other, with Julia nodding her head. Isabella sighed, evidently reaching an agreement with her friend.
“Where is the rock, Mr. Spencer?” she asked. “We would appreciate the shelter.”
Edward smiled, grateful for the rain. It would give him more time to get to know the Amazonian who had saved him. Well, save was a strong word, as he hadn’t been in immediate danger, but he could have been.
“Please, follow me,” he said, stepping around them. “It’s not too far away.”
“Thank you, Mr. Spencer,” said Julia. “You’re kind to help two women in distress.”
“In distress?” Isabella repeated.
“I believe you would have come to a conclusion on your own,” said Edward, turning back slightly. “I simply came up with a solution the quickest because I’ve sat beneath the rock before. Experience wins in this situation.”
“We have no qualms with that, Mr. Spencer,” said Julia. “Common sense dictates that experience wins over trying to solve a problem. Wouldn’t you agree, Isabella?”
Isabella grunted her answer, which he took as an agreement. Perhaps she was difficult to please, or she just didn’t trust strangers. Edward believed it was likely both. Usually, he would stay away from difficult women, but Isabella seemed different. Her challenging behavior was intriguing and not annoying in the slightest.
Edward spotted the rock ahead with relief. He could feel Isabella’s distrust, so seeing the rock would be confirmation that she could trust him.
“That’s the rock,” he said, pointing. “It won’t be too long, now.”
“We see it, Mr. Spencer,” Julia assured him.
He was glad for her voice of reason and had a feeling she knew how to calm her friend whenever necessary. Julia would be a valuable person to get to know well if he planned to learn more about Isabella.
They arrived at the flattish rock that jutted from the earth at an angle, providing shelter underneath. It was large enough for water to run off it on the sides, keeping the area underneath it dry. The dry leaves that had collected below the rock offered some softness as they got into comfortable positions because it seemed they would have to wait a while for the rain to end.
“It’s a bit of a hazard, isn’t it?” Isabella commented, staring at the rock above them.
“It’s partially embedded in the earth,” Edward pointed out. “It’s secure enough.”
“The earth could soften from the heavy rain, releasing the rock,” Isabella argued.
“We’ll have an indication of the ground softening well before the rock decides to crush us beneath its weight,” he said. “You have a valid concern, but I assure you we’ll be safe.”
“We believe you, Mr. Spencer,” Julia assured him. “My friend is just accustomed to weighing the risks. She does it for everything, including food.”
“Food?” said Edward. “How so?”
“She’ll never try anything new until she knows all the ingredients inside the dish,” said Julia.
“I know what agrees with my stomach better than any cook or chef,” Isabella commented. “I’d rather not feel sick for days to come simply because someone wanted to be adventurous in the kitchen.”
Edward burst out laughing. He didn’t know what was so amusing about what she just said, but it had tickled him enough to chuckle.
“Excuse me,” he quickly said when they looked at him questioningly. “I just appreciate your honesty and agree with you.”
Isabella lifted an eyebrow. It was darker than her hair, making her eyes stand out more. Edward had never seen such a combination of yellow and green except in cats. Their slight upward tilt made them seem more feline, making her look a tad exotic.
“Honesty is amusing?” she asked.
“It was the way you said it,” Edward tried to explain. “You were frank and to the point.”
Her brow creased slightly. “I still do not see what was so amusing, but far be it from me to dictate what makes people laugh.”
“I’m a simple man who can find amusement in most situations,” said Edward. “It helps to keep life light. Life is full of worries, responsibilities, expectations, and sadness—why not take laughter where you can find it?”
Silence. Edward didn’t expect a standing ovation, but he hoped to receive some kind of response.
“Erm, that is very insightful, Mr. Spencer,” Julia finally said.
“However…” Isabella began but then didn’t finish her sentence.
“However?” pressed Edward. “I would like to hear your opinion, Miss Balfour. I do not mind when people disagree with me.”
Isabella raised her eyebrows as though she didn’t believe him. It didn’t feel personal, just general disbelief for perhaps all men. Edward didn’t blame her. Their society pushed the opinions of men over women, expecting the latter to cave into the thoughts and wants of the former. Edward was a man who had experienced the invasive, domineering need for men to be right and everyone else wrong.
“I mean it,” said Edward. “I will not be offended or angered. If I do not honor my word, you can… erm,” he said, looking around for inspiration. “Tie to me a tree and leave me here.”
Isabella looked at him for a moment before she burst out laughing, her eyes turning into happy slits. She sounded like sweet honey and pretty-sounding bells on a summer’s eve, making him lose his breath.
“You’re perfect,” he breathed.
She frowned, her laughter dying away. “Excuse me?”
“Erm, I mean,” he stuttered, looking away as he rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re perfectly able to have important opinions.”
“Well, then,” she said. “You said finding amusement in most situations keeps life light, but why not create those opportunities for yourself? Why wait for situations to find amusement? Life will always be challenging, but if you look on the brighter side and create happy situations, then you won’t need to find amusement in situations that are not, well, amusing.”
Isabella struck Edward as someone who understood the crushing weight of the world but had decided to still be happy. If that were the situation, she should be a happier person who smiled, but she had only come across as distrusting and wary. He was a stranger, after all, so he couldn’t expect to know everything about her, but he wanted to.
“I agree with you,” said Edward. “Creating happiness and amusement sounds better than finding it. I must admit that finding it sometimes feels like making seawater drinkable.”
“Is that even possible?” Julia asked.
“Precisely my point,” Edward replied.
Isabella chuckled. “You sound like someone who does all he can to squeeze amusement from an impossible situation. I’d like to see that. You probably could make seawater drinkable.”
Edward grinned. “That is a compliment coming from you, Miss Balfour. So,” he said, turning his body to face them. “Where do you come from? Do you live in these parts?”
“That is hardly something we would tell a stranger,” said Isabella. “Yes, I climbed a tree for you, and now we’re sitting under a rock with you, but you’ll have to forgive us for not wanting to provide such personal information. What if you’re a man intent on evil?”
“Me?” Edward replied, touching his chest. “I’m harmless.”
“You’re over six feet, and while you’re not very muscular, you look strong,” Isabella explained. “You could easily overpower us, but it wouldn’t be without a fight.”
Edward couldn’t help the unbidden image of him flinging Isabella over his shoulder like a caveman and hauling her off to his lair. He wasn’t a violent man and would never harm a woman, but he couldn’t deny that at the core of him was a man who wouldn’t mind dispensing with the courtship dance and simply claiming what was his. He inwardly shrugged. Not every man was perfect, but he always strove to do right by others despite his other urges. Self-control was a good quality in any man.
“I think you would win if you put your mind to it,” he told her. “Two intelligent women against a man? Not everything is about brawn, ladies.”
“Ha!” Isabella exclaimed. “Those very words serve to get you ahead. Disarm your determined victims with charm and everything they want to hear before going in for the kill.”
“That would be a good plan if that is what I was going for,” he said. “However, I wouldn’t be so obvious about my intentions. I wouldn’t have pursued you beyond a thank you before going about my way. From that moment on, I would have utilized stealth to watch you from the shadows until I had enough information to approach you.”
Both women fell silent, briefly glancing at each other. “I do not know whether to remain wary or applaud your honesty,” said Isabella. “I do not think any man would have been so willing to admit any of that. Unless that is yet another tactic to lull us into a sense of security?”
“That is possible,” said Edward. “However, I’d like to point out that I was fast asleep in the tree when you found me. You stood to do more harm by pushing me off than having me harm two strangers. Who is to say women are not as dangerous? You may not have the muscle, but you have the intelligence. Women have the ability to bring powerful men to their knees, so perhaps I should be more afraid of you.”
“Mr. Spencer is right, Isabella,” said Julia. “He was fast asleep, and I doubt he was faking it. I know a fake snore when I hear one, and his were not fake.”
“I was snoring?” Edward asked, aghast at the thought.
“You certainly were,” said Isabella with a faint smile hovering around her lips. “It was what alerted us to your presence in the trees.”
“Well, consider me thoroughly embarrassed,” he said, scratching his head.
“You should thank your snoring habit because it might have saved your life,” said Isabella. “We might have never found you if not for the rumbling, grumbling, and snorting sounds.”
Edward threw his head back and laughed. “I suddenly feel much better about my snoring. Thank you, ladies.”
“It is our good pleasure, Mr. Spencer,” Julia replied.
“I’m glad you stumbled upon me,” he said, his eyes more on Isabella. “I’m enjoying this interaction very much. Who knew my snores would put me in the presence of two beautiful women with charm and intelligence?”
“Is that empty flattery, Mr. Spencer?” Isabella asked. “Yet another way to set us at ease?”
“Neither to both, although I would like to set you both at ease,” Edward told them. “Perhaps giving you more information about me would help with that. I’ve already given you my name and where I’m currently staying, but you should know I’m from London.”
Julia raised her eyebrows. “London? How was the Season this year?”
“As boring as the last,” Edward replied. “I have been to many, and they never seem to get interesting. Of course, there was the year that a duke married his son’s governess—that sent tongues wagging. I also recall a young woman dressing up as a man to gamble, finally losing to a marquess who married her to avoid a scandal.”
“That doesn’t sound boring at all,” Julia commented. “In fact, it sounds romantic.”
Isabella snorted. “There you go again with talks of the romantic. Can you imagine the challenges these people had to have faced? Give me a horse and a field any day over romance.”
Edward pulled his eyebrows together in a faint frown. Isabella didn’t believe in romance, or perhaps she just didn’t like it. He found that somewhat disappointing.
“Why not combine horse-riding and romance?” he asked. “The two go perfectly together.”
Isabella raised an eyebrow. “How so? How can you compare the excitement of a strong steed beneath you and the wind rushing through your hair to sickly sweet romance?”
“I believe a good romance is robust, full of passion with the right amount of sweetness,” Edward replied. “It just depends on who is doing the romancing.”
“We’ll agree to disagree, Mr. Spencer,” said Isabella. “You will not change my mind about this subject. My friend has been trying to do so for years and has not made any headway.”
Edward smiled. “As I said, it depends on who is doing the romancing,” he said. “Now, tell me,” he began, changing the subject. “Why have I not seen you before? I come here every year to see my uncle. Granted, I do not go out and mingle with the townspeople as often as I should, but I’m certain I would have noticed two beauties among the crowd.”
“While I do not know why you and Julia have not met since she lives here,” Isabella began. “I’m from Bath and only come here when I can. It was fairly regularly before, but not so much in the last two years. We also likely didn’t come here at the same time.”
“Perhaps,” said Edward. “I’m certainly glad to have met you now. I think my time in Glastonbury is about to become far more entertaining.”
Isabella tilted her head. “That is rather presumptuous of you, Mr. Spencer. Who is to say we shall see each other again?”
“Oh, I certainly hope we will,” Edward said, putting feeling into his words. “I hope you will trust me enough to give me more of your time.”
Isabella pulled her head back, visibly taken aback. Perhaps he should not have come on so strongly, but he wanted her to know he was interested.
“Well,” she said, her cheeks slightly pink as she played with a copper curl.
“Perhaps we will, Mr. Spencer,” said Julia, her eyes twinkling as she looked between them. “You have been fine company thus far, and it seems as though the rain has finally decided to give us a chance to make our way home.”
“Thank goodness,” said Isabella, standing with all the smoothness and grace of a cat. “We should go, Julia.”
Edward wasn’t ready to let her walk out of his life just yet, if ever. “You’re both soaking wet, and it will probably rain again in a few minutes. I doubt you’ll reach home. My uncle’s home is less than a ten-minute walk from here. You can get dry, and we’ll have a carriage send you home.”
“That’s not necessary,” said Isabella.
“I believe it is,” Julia argued. “What if it rains while walking home? I choose a dry house, and carriage ride home over a walk in the rain. Please, Isabella.”
Isabella sighed. “Oh, very well,” she replied and looked at Edward. “Thank you for your offer, Mr. Spencer. We would like to accept it.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” said Edward. “Shall we go?”
He led the way, pleased that he had managed to extend his time with Isabella. Had anyone told Edward that he would find a woman who makes him want to get to know her as much as he needed to take his next breath, he would have laughed in their faces. The only thing that lessened the glow of such a lovely situation was the woman he was currently courting. It wasn’t by choice, but the fact remained that he was already attached, and his parents expected him to marry the woman of their choice. Still, there was no rule to enjoying the company of another woman, especially one as intriguing and beautiful as Isabella Balfour.
“A Viscount to Save Her Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Isabella Balfour’s heart yearns for freedom, and yet her mother’s relentless scheming thrusts her into a nightmarish betrothal with a man she despises. Trying to escape her unfortunate situation, Isabella seeks respite to a neighboring town, where she stumbles upon Edward and sparks immediately fly between them. Although she shares an unbreakable connection with him, their secret meetings and stolen glances are threatened by the impending scandal…
Will Isabella submit to her mother’s plans or will she fight for the love she never sought?
Edward Spencer, Viscount of Birmingham, has been long burdened by his family’s demands and all he yearns for now is a life beyond duty and expectations. While seeking refuge at his uncle’s estate, he crosses paths with Isabella, a captivating and headstrong woman who challenges everything he thought he knew about love. Yet, danger lurks in the shadows and his newfound happiness is thwarted by schemes of arranged marriages and parental pressure.
Will he fight for his growing feelings or will he condemn himself to a life of unhappiness?
As Isabella and Edward navigate the treacherous waters of society’s expectations and face unforeseen perils, they must decide whether their love is worth the price of defying their families. Will they bow to the pressure and separate forever, or will they take a stand and fight for the love they’ve so unexpectedly found?
“A Viscount to Save Her Heart” is a historical romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.