First meetings on WIP Wednesday

The theme for this week is first meetings. Or at least first meetings of your hero and heroine in this particular book, since parted lovers or old enemies or childhood friends can be fun, too. Please put your excerpt into the comments, as always.

Mine puts together two people who have not met until the first chapter of my story. I’ve picked up a deleted scene from several years ago and begun turning it into a new novella for Christmas, with a brand new beginning and a heap of edits throughout. It’s going to be called Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, and I’m enjoying my reluctant earl who can barely wait until he offloads the last of his impoverished estate and gets back to building aqueducts, and my feisty Nabob’s heiress cast unwillingly upon the ton, who is counting the days until she turns twenty-five and has full control of her fortune.

The next room was dark, but the one after was lit, the door partly open, though not enough to see into the room. Women’s voices indicated the room was in use, and he paused to listen. He would not intrude on a private conversation.

“Really, Miss Finchurch, I cannot imagine what Lady Carngrove is thinking, bringing you here to mingle with your betters.”

Another voice; a vicious purr somehow familiar to Philip. “Perhaps she imagines that the perfume of Miss Finchurch’s wealth will overcome the stench of her origins?”

This was definitely not the card room. Harpies of this stamp would not attack so openly in front of an audience, and Uncle Henry would not stand by while they did. Philip should do something. While he hesitated, those inside continued to talk.

“I do not believe so, girls. Lady Carngrove intends all that lovely money for her darling Ceddie. As if he would even consider such a thing! Why, Miss Finchurch is quite old!”

The next voice was crisp, but with a bubble of a laugh running through it. “My goodness, I must really worry you, for you to descend to such a puerile level of nursery bullying.”

Philip grinned. The victim was not entirely helpless then.

Before the babble of rejoinders sorted themselves out, he pushed the door open. “Miss Finchurch? Ah, there you are.” It was a small reading room, lined with bookshelves and with comfortable chairs grouped around low tables, just the right height for a drink and a book.

The target of the others’ spite was clearly the one at bay, seated by the fire with an open book on her lap. She turned her face to him an instant before the others. Old? True, she was not a girl fresh from the schoolroom, but rather a lady in her mid-twenties, unlined face a perfect oval, with large brown eyes under arched brows, a tilt-tipped nose, and a quantity of light brown hair pulled up into a confection of hair atop her head, a few strands pulled loose to frame the delightful whole.

She met his smile with a quizzical tip of the head, and he ignored the five ladies standing over her. “Our dance is in a few minutes, Miss Finchurch, so I came to find you. Would you care to take a short stroll while we wait?”

Would she take the rescue, he wondered, glancing from her to the others. Three were strangers. One, he vaguely recognised. But the remaining woman… He nodded a polite but cold acknowledgement Lady Markhurst, who had pretended to accept his courtship when he was last in Society four years ago, after recovering from the injuries that ended his army career and brought him home to England.

Lady Markhurst had soon made it clear his only attraction was his unwed cousins, one an earl and one the heir to an earl. Philip wasn’t close to either, and had not seen her since she discovered that fact. He assumed her pursuit was unsuccessful; certainly, she had wed before the end of that season, to a lowly and rather elderly baron who proved to be not as wealthy as rumour had painted.

Clearly, Philip’s attractiveness had increased, since Lady Markhurst fluttered her fan and her eyelashes, and fingered the diamond drop that dangled from her ornate necklace into the valley between her breasts. “Why, Lord Calne. Surely you cannot intend to dance with a merchant’s daughter. Your inheritance cannot be in such a dire state as that. Let me save you from such a fate by offering myself as a partner instead.” The throaty note in her last sentence made it a naughty innuendo.

He ignored Lady Markhurst and her outstretched hand, offering Miss Finchurch his bad arm, which functioned well enough as a prop for a lady. Lady Markhurst’s face flushed and then whitened. She had not learned to control her temper, then.

Miss Finchurch made up her mind, set her book to one side, and stood to slip her hand into his elbow, and he turned to the door, but Lady Markhurst launched another attack before they reached it.

“Do be warned, Miss Finchurch. The Calne title comes with a bankrupt estate and a crippled earl.”

Miss Finchurch gripped his arm, making him wince, and she sensed it, too, the fires she was about to turn on Lady Markhurst doused by her concern for him. He took another step towards the door.

“Ignore Lady Markhurst, Miss Finchurch. I would say her disappointment in her ambitions has made her bitter, but she was always a scold.”

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