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Authors: Cynthia Bailey Pratt

A Lady in Love

BOOK: A Lady in Love
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Belgrave House

Copyright ©1993 by Cynthia Bailey-Pratt

First published in 1993

NOTICE: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including without limit email, floppy disk, file transfer, paper print out, or any other method constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment.

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

* * * *
Cynthia Bailey Pratt
Chapter One

"Oh Lord,” Sarah prayed. “Please don't let these two great boobies sit here all the afternoon. If only we could play a game or argue as we used to."

She looked to her left. Harcourt Phelps nervously uncrossed his legs and sat up straighter, an uncertain smile coming and going across his long features.

She looked to her right. Harold Phelps's thin fingers touched his neckcloth and he too smiled, a pale copy of the boy she'd once romped with so merrily.

They were twins who, from the day of their birth, had done everything together. They were now twenty-one and, keeping strictly to the principle of their life to date, had unified in falling in love with the girl next door.

The girl in question was heartily sick of the entire business. Sarah got up and crossed to the French doors that looked out to the garden drowsing in the sunlight. “There are apples in the orchard. Let's go and pick some."

"Do you want apples?” That was Harcourt. She'd been the only one, outside their immediate family, who could tell them apart, though the similarity was less now that they no longer dressed alike. “I will be happy to go and find some for you."

"We could all go,” she answered, turning. “I always could climb higher than any of us."

"The sweetest apples are always hardest to reach.” Sarah sighed. Harold fancied himself as a poet and tried hard to turn everything into a compliment. “But it wouldn't be right for you to get your own apples. Let Harcourt go."

The older of the twins, by four minutes, thirty seconds, flashed an arrow glance of disgust at his brother. Not least distressing to Sarah was that their rivalry for her hand had disrupted a long camaraderie. “I am happy to be Sarah's champion in this as in all things,” Harcourt said.

His brother smirked. “I said, you should go. I'm not dressed for bucolic pleasures. Go get apples, Harcourt. Sarah and I will wait for you to come back."

"Never mind,” Sarah said. As she walked back and forth across the morning room carpet, she asked herself the question that so often occupied her of late. What had wrought the change in the brothers?

She couldn't ask them; she doubted they even knew. When she'd gone away to Aunt Whitsun, they had scarcely taken time from hunting and fishing to bid her good-bye. Three years her senior, their attitude had been one of relief for, though playmates in their childhood, when they had reached their teens they'd begun to think of her as being marginally more irritating than even their sister and her dearest friend, Harmonia. When she'd returned home early in August, however, their attitude had undergone yet another change.

had not altered in the slightest, she had made certain of that. Aunt Whitsun had tried very hard to make her change, talking a lot of nonsense about being a woman now and not a hoyden any longer. And Sarah had been forced to put her hair up and lower her skirts, walk instead of run, and look archly across a room rather than bellowing when she wanted someone's attention. Her mother, who sent her away in despair, for she could get Sarah to do none of these things, had made it plain that the alterations must continue once she came home again.

But these things could not possibly have interested the Phelps brothers. Yet, she no sooner visited Harmonia than they began coming every day to sit in the morning room. And sit. And sit. No hints were sufficient to pierce their ardor. She could not, however, bring herself to hurt them by more direct methods.

She stopped pacing and tried again to gently dislodge them. “It certainly is a lovely day. I haven't seen so much water in the river since I was a child. Father says the fishing will be wonderful. And my, weren't there a lot of worms after last night's rain?"

Harold contrived to look as though he'd never touched a worm in his life. He probably would have swooned if reminded of all the ones he'd put down her back. “Oh,
pursuits will do for those with no higher aspirations. I wrote a sonnet to the moon last night. Would you like to hear it?"

"She just said there was rain last night. How could you write poetry to the moon when you couldn't even see it?"

"Need one see a thing to be vividly and intrinsically aware of it? I suppose you slept all through that cacophony of thunder and lightning. I never closed my eyes, enraptured by the majesty of it all."

Harcourt made a rude noise and folded his arms across his broad chest. “Is that why you were yawning like a barn door all the way over here?"

"I suppose all this rain is good for the crops?” Sarah interrupted. She always made an effort to address her conversation to neither brother in particular.

But they paid no attention to their lady love.

"I did not yawn, except at your chatter."

"Chatter? As if I would speak to a frilly thing like yourself."

"Frilly? And what are you but a cow-fisted chaw bacon with the manners of a highwayman?"

While Harcourt answered in the same vein, Mrs. East came in, bearing a basket full of cut flowers. “Good morning, dear."

"Good morning. Mother. May I take those?"

"Thank you."

"And who was it that fell off his new bang-up bit of blood the first time he'd had one bumper over the limit?"

"I've never seen so many roses so late in the season, Sarah. Poor old Marsh keeps going over his treatment of them, trying to remember what he's done differently from all the other years. I told him it's because he's been going to church regularly."

Sarah laughed. “If he's been more than once in the last six months, I will become a Dissenter."

"I know, but I like to think of him as a reformed pagan. I think it's his beard."

"But let us not forget who it was that couldn't even read the lesson without tripping over his tongue? ‘Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with food.’ Food, ha! The word is ‘good,’ you...puppy!"

"That was an accident! It had nothing to do with..."

Mrs. East smiled on the young men and said, “Good morning, Harold. Good morning, Harcourt.” Shamefaced, they greeted her. “You should go home now. Sarah must help me with the flowers."

"Oh, yes,” said Harcourt. “May I call again tomorrow, Sarah?"

She'd have loved to say no, to both of them. But how could she, when they'd been part of her world for so long? She merely smiled and shook her head noncommittally, as she did every day.

"One more bud among the roses,” Harold said, bowing. “Farewell, Sarah. Until tomorrow."

As they left, she could hear them picking up their quarrel.

"What fine young men they've become,” Mrs. East said, as she always said. Her daughter had been home six weeks and every morning found the Phelps boys in one room or another of her house. To Sarah's surprise, her mother never mentioned this manifestation, nor speculated upon its possible cause. If they were inconvenient, she asked them to go. If they were not in the way, they might stay as long as the fancy took them. Sarah wished they might be inconvenient more often.

"Do you need my help with the flowers. Mother?” She never had asked for help before.

"I beg your pardon? No, dear, I think I can manage."

"Then I shall go for a walk."

Mrs. East hummed assent. As Sarah left through the French windows, her mother's voice floated after her. “Take your parasol, dear. The sun is so strong today, I can't quite believe it is October."

For a moment, Sarah paused outside her father's study window. She could hear his voice, reading aloud his latest letter to the literary magazine of which he was a sometime correspondent. It was a peculiarly comforting sound, one she had known from childhood, a beloved voice roaring out condemnation of some distant blockhead. “In conclusion, let me say that the esteemed gentleman from the north has my sincere sympathies for his recent bereavement. To lose one's senses in the midst of penning a letter...perhaps I leave myself open to the same criticism? Fiddle! I shall let it stand."

Sarah went on. Though the sun's rays were almost hot on her skin, the cool breeze made her think that a sun-shade would hardly be necessary. Certainly, it would be more of a hindrance than a help as she walked in the woods. She could smell the roses in the garden beyond the hedge, mixing with the recently cut grass and the fresh tang of rain. Her troubles faded. Sarah walked along the confines of her principality, completely happy, bestowing a smile on the elderly gardener as she passed.

There were apples in the orchard. But she knew where sweeter fruit yet grew on a wild tree that lived all alone in the woods. She carefully looked about. The Phelps twins were not above following her, singly or in unison. And lately, she'd had more than enough of their company. The woods, however, seemed empty of all human life.

Sarah had not thought to change her shoes before setting out. As she had no reason to walk on a hard road, she did not notice the oversight until she raised the hem of her skirt to step up into the low crook of the wild apple tree. The white kid slippers were marked by the plentiful leaf-mold of the old forest, and the ruffles around her hem were no less dirty. She sighed over it, but did not let it trouble her. Dresses were a botheration, as were hats, veils, gloves, and muffs, of both the summer and winter variety. Besides, her clothes were bound to look much worse by the time she was home again.

Reaching for the fruit above her head, she saw it was just ripened, deep green with a dusky red flush where the sun had touched most often. She reached high, her pale yellow dress gleaming among the rustling leaves.

The first shot flew by with a whine like that of a late bee rushing home to the hive. As such, Sarah did not regard it. Then she heard the crack of the discharge.

Twisting on her perch, Sarah tried to see who was shooting on Sir Arthur Phelps's property. If it were a poacher— Not in the daylight, she reflected. She knew all the local questionables, and they were almost never seen when the sun was high. The other possibility was that the “Smart London Visitors,” guests of Harvey Phelps, the oldest son of Sir Arthur, had decided to practice their aim. It had most likely been a stray bullet, Sarah thought, and opened her mouth to shout so that they would know she was near.

The next bullet scattered leaves close to her hand. Sarah let go as she flung herself backward in surprise. Falling, she did not scream but protested in a wordless shout. Crashing down, she lay stunned, awake but unable for the moment to rise or even to think. She had not fallen from a tree in years, though she'd climbed many, and it seemed she'd forgotten the knack of bouncing up at once from such a calamity.

Not even a nearby voice roused Sarah from a bemused contemplation of the spreading branches above her head. “I made sure it fell somewhere near ... oh, my God! Lord Reyne, Lord Reyne, come here! No, don't come here.” His voice high with panic, the young man dropped to his knees beside Sarah's still form, throwing his gun down beside her.

"What are you playing at, Atwood? Come here, don't come here—do you fancy I am at your beck and call? What have you there?"

Atwood tried to hide the girl's body by flinging his arms out. “I thought it was a grouse. I saw it in a tree."

"Don't keep referring to her as it. You'll insult the chit. As if getting shot wasn't insult enough. Stand aside.” The second of the men came within view of Sarah's dazed eyes. He was taller than the first by some inches, and thinner. They were dressed alike, in leather coats and breeches, but whereas twigs broke beneath Atwood's stomping boots, the other man's feet were silent over the littered forest floor. The stock of his long gun was cupped in one hand, the barrel gleaming over his right shoulder.

He looked down on her with sleepy eyes. She saw a glint of blue beneath his lids, the same color as the sky visible between branches and clouds. Sarah felt this similarity to be somehow important and wanted to study it.

"Are you hurt?” he asked. His eyes roamed her body, yet she knew it was only in the interest of her health. Nevertheless, she felt a blush start in her cheek. She tried to push herself up using her elbows.

"Pray don't move. Are you hurt?” he repeated. His voice sounded so kind that she smiled dreamily up at him.

BOOK: A Lady in Love
8.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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