Lady Emma Landrum curtseyed deeply when the Duchess of Haverford’s secretary announced her. Puzzling over the invitation during the carriage ride over had brought her no conclusions, and she had no more idea why the duchess wished to see her than she did when the summons arrived. Summons it had been. An invitation can be declined politely.
She ought to have sent regrets, but didn’t dare, even if it did force her to delay her return to Chadbourn Park by a day. Mother would worry and Papa would rant when she failed to appear as expected.
How on earth did Her Grace know I raced to town for a fitting? We didn’t even put the knocker out. How did the woman know everything? Emma feared the duchess somehow found out about her little unauthorized excursion the day before. She prayed not. A woman of eighteen years with one season behind her ought to be allowed a bit of freedom for pity’s sake.
“Lady Emma, my dear, stop gazing at me owlishly and take a seat.” If the duchess’s knowing eyes rattled her a bit, the amused expression reassured her. Emma sat, and let the age-old ritual of the tea service calm her nerves.
“I don’t bite, you know,” Her Grace said after a particularly long silence when polite comments on the weather petered out. “But I expect you wonder why I wanted to speak with you.”
“I have been wondering,” Emma replied. “I know you have more important concerns than my opinion of Mme. Delacroix’s latest designs.”
The duchess laughed out loud at that. She did enjoy young people, and this one was a particular favorite. Emma Landrum had backbone and plenty of opinions. Her Grace was certain the girl would be a force to be reckoned with in a few years.
“I understand your uncle has returned from India.”
Emma felt her shoulders relax. Fred? This is about Fred? She grinned at the duchess. “He has indeed. With no notice, two heretofore unknown daughters, and a charming companion.”
The duchess’s eyebrows shot up. “I hardly know which question to ask first,” she said.
“Mama quite likes Clare—that’s the woman’s name. Apparently Uncle Fred engaged her to accompany his daughters to us. Mama says he expected—these are her exact words—to foist them off on us. But Clare forced him to come as well, at least until he introduced them to us. Mama is determined he will stay and—her words again—do his duty by those darling girls.”
“If the Countess is determined, your uncle has no chance. She finds the daughters ‘darling?'”
“Oh, Your Grace, they are charming! Meghal has more wit than those twice her age, and backbone too. Mama says Meghal alone will make sure Fred stays where he belongs. She adores the girl.”
“Meghal? Is that Bengali?”
“I believe so. They lived in West Bengal.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Their mother was Fred’s mistress in Dehrapur.”
Her Grace’s lips twitched with suppressed laughter. She whispered back, “So I had guessed.”
“But how did you—Oh. Cousin Charles was here.”
“He was indeed. I’m afraid he ended our tête-à-tête rather abruptly before I could ask him why he hired an enquiry agent. Is there trouble at Eversham Hall?”
Emma shrugged helplessly. “No one tells me anything. A man died in a haying incident. There were whispers it was no accident, but when I asked they hushed me up as if I was a moony ten-year-old.”
“Being protected can be a dreadful bore,” the duchess murmured. “I tell Aldridge that often.” She did so on the rare occasion her son thought he might keep something unpleasant from her.
“You’re right, Your Grace. I hate it,” Emma exclaimed. “As if that wasn’t bad enough, Fred and Charles forbade us to leave the house without an army of footmen and grooms. Would they tell me why? No! Peck said it was about the nabob who bought the Archer place across the river, but that’s all I know.”
The duchess caught her lower lip between her teeth, nodding. “Nabob,” she said at last. “Someone Fred knew in India?”
“I have no idea.”
The duchess deftly turned the conversation to fashion after that. Emma did indeed have opinions about this year’s fashion, all of them astute and some wickedly funny. When the girl departed she called for her secretary.
“I need to pen a message to Walter Stewart. I believe the Duke of Murnane and his cousin Fred may be his current employers. Let’s ask him to call for tea.”
Genre: Pre Victorian, Historical Romance µ Heat rating: 3 of 5 (two brief -mild- sexual encounters)
ISBN: 978-1-61935-349-9 µ ASIN: B06Y4BGMX1 µ Page count: 275 pages
Pub date: April 26, 2017
When all else fails, love succeeds…
When Captain Fred Wheatly, a soldier with more honor than sense, is forced to resign from the Bengal army, and his mistress dies leaving him with two half-caste daughters to raise, he reluctantly turns to Clare Armbruster for help. But the interfering widow has her own problems, and a past she would rather forget. With no more military career and two half-caste daughters to support, Fred must return to England and turn once more—as a failure—to the family he let down so often in the past. Can two hearts rise above the past to forge a future together.
About Caroline Warfield
Traveler, poet, librarian, technology manager—Caroline Warfield has been many things (even a nun), but above all she is a romantic. Having retired to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act, happily working in an office surrounded by windows while she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.
Amazon Author http://www.amazon.com/Caroline-Warfield/e/B00N9PZZZS/
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Caroline is sponsoring a grand prize in celebration of her release. You can enter it here: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/2017blogtourpackage/
The prequel to this book, A Dangerous Nativity, is always **FREE**. You can get a copy here: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/bookshelf/a-dangerous-nativity-1815/
Before they reached the top, the door swung open. There stood a stiff-backed English butler in a high white collar and black coat. His chin pointed upward, he wore a perfectly professional glower, but his eyes held the slightest gleam of curiosity. Meghal startled him before he could speak.
“Are you my uncle?”
The old man frowned ferociously and said, “I beg your pardon?”
Clare let go of the girl’s hand and pulled her close. “We are . . . that is, these young ladies are Mr. Frederick Wheatly’s daughters. He has been delayed by an accident with a hay wagon, and we’ve come on ahead. He sent word to his family.” Did he? Now she wasn’t sure. Even if he did, would it have reached them here?
“We know of the accident. Men have been sent to help.” The butler’s brows drew together, and he frowned at the girls, unable to speak.
“Lady Emma, I am not sure,” the butler said cautiously.
“Of course they are! How perfectly marvelous! Bring them in, Banks. Don’t leave them standing there.”
The butler escorted them into an immense foyer from which a wide marble stairway curved upward; its heavy wooden railing gleamed with polish. Clare wondered that they permitted anyone to walk across the stunning parquetry, much less three travel-stained strangers.
The young woman who had welcomed them rocked up on the balls of her feet in excitement, hands clasped in front of her. She had carefully coifed blond hair and wore a pink gown with a cinched waist and expansive skirt which Clare assumed was the height of fashion. She wasn’t exactly sure since she had been away more than a year.
“Oh dear,” Lady Emma exclaimed. “Who shall make introductions? Rules of proper behavior leave this situation out,” she laughed. “I am Emma Landrum, your cousin.”
Lady Emma, Clare remembered. “This is Miss Meghal Wheatly and Miss Ananya Wheatly,” she said, studying the young woman, who demonstrated no sign of distress, rejection, or even surprise that her uncle had brought two half-caste children home unannounced. On the contrary, Clare saw nothing but joy in her face. Both girls stared back at her.
“Are you a princess?” Ananya lisped.
“You survived your come out with body parts intact,” Meghal said, quoting Catherine’s letter and causing Lady Emma to burst out laughing.
“I did indeed! Who told you that?” Lady Emma asked, eyes dancing with delight.
“It was in a letter from Catherine. She is my aunt.”
“That sounds like something she would say.” She drew up, suddenly remembering something. “Oh! Yes. Mother. Banks, please let the countess know we have visitors.” That settled, Emma looked expectantly at Clare. “And you are?”
“I’m Clare Armbruster,” she said. She had to think for a moment. What am I? Nanny? Governess? I am nothing. “The girls’ escort. I will leave once they are settled.”
“But you did say Uncle Fred is coming,” the young woman reminded her, worrying her lower lip between her teeth. Clare assured her he was.
Emma reached out both hands toward the girls to lead them to the drawing room. “Come, cousins, let’s get acquainted.”
Clare took a step backward. Perhaps I should go back out and wait for Fred, she thought and then chided herself for acting like a ninny.
“Were you expecting us?” she asked.
Emma paused to smile back at her over her shoulder. “Not in the slightest, although I should say yes. My mother has expected Uncle Fred any time for nine years. Do come and rest, Miss Armbruster. You must be exhausted. I’ll ring for refreshments.”