Authors: Kate Noble
The line between love and hate
Belinda Leonard prefers things done a certain way, and has her life – and the entire village of Hemshawe – arranged to her liking. The only thorn in her side is the maddening presence of Adam Sturridge, who has delighted in disrupting Belinda’s perfectly ordered existence ever since they were children. But even though they are long past the age of pulling pigtails, Belinda and Adam cannot help but spark against each other every chance they get.
…is about to get blurry.
But when those sparks get noticed by a would-be matchmaker, things get turned on their head for Belinda and Adam. A few well-placed words have the pair questioning how they truly feel… and how long they have felt that way. But can these two stop squabbling long enough to overcome a lifetime of animosity and misunderstandings, and find their way to love?
A MADNESS IN SPRING
Copyright © 2015 by Kate Noble
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the author.
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.
pring is a time of awakening.
Sometimes it happens willfully, with green shoots peeking out regardless of the snow. Sometimes, it happens with bluster, endless days of rain and wind clearing the path for the sun. And sometimes it happens with warmth, dissolving the layers that protected through the cold, allowing things to become new again.
In the village of Hemshawe, spring arrived with Bertram and Georgette Gage.
And today, Belinda Leonard would welcome them to the neighborhood.
“No need to escort me, Carlisle, I know the way,” Belinda said as she glided past the ancient butler at Sturridge Manor. She’d spent so much time here since Francesca married Lord Sturridge; it was practically her second home. Not to mention Belinda and Francesca (oh all right, mostly Belinda) had spent all day yesterday planning precisely how to greet the Gages.
It wasn’t often that families from London came to their little village. The only thing that could possibly attract such individuals was the nearby spa town of Tunbridge Wells, and it was not nearly as popular as Bath or the seaside. Of course, Belinda hoped that the Hemshawe Fair and the Harvest Festival would become even greater attractions, and she worked tirelessly to that end. But until that time, people like the Gages would remain quite rare in their little corner of the world.
Therefore Belinda and Francesca (oh all right, mostly Belinda) decided on the blue drawing room, which got the best light and had the largest fireplace, should lighting a fire be necessary. (Spring was taking its time in coming, and more than once Belinda had put away her thickest cloak only to take it out again.) And they decided on a savory tea, with sandwiches instead of cakes. And they also decided to not have Nanny bring in the baby, even though Francesca insisted the child’s adorability would endear anyone to them.
Belinda was a little unsure about the adorability factor of little Johnny. The number of fluids that leaked out of the child was a decided drawback.
So it was that Belinda swung open the doors to the blue drawing room, certain that she would find Francesca and the Gages in their places. She was also arriving at the absolute perfect time, seven minutes after the Gages were due – long enough for Francesca to establish herself as their gracious hostess, but not so long that the Gages will have to repeat themselves upon introductions, and three minutes before the tea tray and sandwiches would be brought out.
Unfortunately, she was not greeted by the sight of Francesca, the Gages, or the tea tray. Instead she was assaulted by the sight of the blue drawing room in complete disarray. Papers everywhere. Books pulled from the shelves. And in the middle of it all, Adam Sturridge.
“Bang bang! You’re dead! You have fallen victim to my superior battle strategy!”
The carnage of the blue room aside, the fact that he was lying on his stomach playing with tin soldiers might have been forgiven if the younger brother of Lord Sturridge were seven… instead of seven-and-twenty.
“What on earth…?” she said, her jaw dropping before she clamped it shut.
“Hmm?” Adam looked up from what Belinda supposed to be an intricate battle scene in his immature mind. “Oh god,” he grumbled. “It’s you.”
“Yes,” Belinda replied through gritted teeth. It was the only way to avoid unseemly screeching. “It’s me. And just what have you done to the drawing room? Where is Francesca? And the Gages?”
“I was obviously using the drawing room,” Adam said as he climbed to his feet, languid as a cat. It was enough to make one hate cats, Belinda thought darkly. “So Francesca put the Gages in the morning room.”
” This time there was little way to avoid screeching.
“Yes,” Adam replied. “There’s nothing wrong with the morning room.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the morning room in the morning,” she mocked. “But the light is absolutely horrid after three. They’ll practically be sitting in the dark!”
“They’ll light a fire.”
“The fireplace in that room is little more than a grate,” Belinda said, hands going to her hips. “Because it’s a close, small space that usually enjoys plenty of light and warmth when it’s used.
In the morning.
“Yes, do tell me more about the house I grew up in,” Adam drawled.
“I need no reminder that you grew up here. You are littered across my memory like horse manure on a path. However, you don’t live here now,” she continued. “You live in Scotland. And yet you kick the lady of the house and her guests out of her own drawing room! To play with your… toys. Thank you, Mr. Sturridge. Thank you oh so much.”
And with that, she turned on her heel and stalked out of the room.
“Now hold on!” She heard the scrambling as Adam scooted up behind her. She kept her head high as she marched through the halls toward the morning room – all the way on the other side of the house. “You know, for someone who delights in being right all the time, you are wrong on a number of counts.” He assumed the air of a lecturer and began ticking off the items on his fingers. “First, my home is not in Scotland. It’s perhaps in viewing distance of Scotland, but not technically in the country. And second – I was not playing with tin soldiers.”
Belinda stopped in her tracks, and simply turned a raised eyebrow to him. Her most skeptical eyebrow.
“I wasn’t,” he persisted. “I was using the tin soldiers as representations for my herds of sheep in Scot – er, I mean, at my estate which is not in Scotland, and deciphering the best grazing pattern for them this year.”
“Really,” she said flatly.
“Do your sheep often go ‘bang bang’?”
“Not at first,” he admitted. “But beasts of burden evolve with alarming speed into warmongers.”
She rolled her eyes and continued her stalking towards the morning room. Meanwhile, Adam apparently decided that his point had not yet been made, and began to stroll alongside her.
“Lastly, I did not ‘kick’ Francesca out of the drawing room. When she came in an hour ago to make ready for the Gages’ arrival, she saw I was using it. I offered to move, but she said she would take the Gages elsewhere.”
“Of course she did, and if you had been a gentlemen, you would have insisted on moving.”
“Oh hell, what does it matter?”
“It matters because it was planned.”
“And you do love a plan, don’t you?” he mumbled.
“The drawing room was the only room to receive the Gages.”
“You’ve never even met the Gages, so how would you know?”
“I know perfectly! I know that Mr. Bertram Gage is a friend of your brother from Cambridge, so he’s an educated man who knows that a
is no place to receive guests. I know he was a solider after that, so likely he would welcome the comforts that come with having the drawing room at his disposal. I know they’ve rented the Friar’s House, so they are thankfully not superstitious –”
“What does superstition have to do with the morning room?” he interrupted.
“Nothing at all, but it speaks to a good mind. But the pièce de résistance is his sister.”
“His sister,” Adam repeated, in that tone that he thought sounded amused but made Belinda’s teeth grate.
“Yes, his sister, Miss Georgette Gage, who is recovering from an illness, hence their coming here, so she can take the waters at Tunbridge Wells. As such, she would be far more comfortable in the warmth of the drawing room, with the good light and the high fire, than in the pitiful cold of the dark morning room.”
“Oh,” Adam said.
“Well, I do have to apologize to Francesca and Miss Gage then for my imposition. But it does make me wonder.”
“Wonder?” Belinda pulled up short. “About what?”
“About why –if you already know everything about the Gages, you’re invading our house to meet them at all.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Because I have manners, Mr. Sturridge. Something you seemed to lack. Now, if you will excuse me, I will – with my excellent manners – bid you good day.”
And with what she considered to be the final word, Belinda threw open the doors to the morning room, pasted a grand smile on her face, and entered to greet the assembled party.
With Adam right behind her.
“Good afternoon, Francesca!” Belinda said, coming forward with arms outstretched. “I’m so sorry I’m late, I was –”
“Oh no, dearest,” Francesca, Lady Sturridge said, rising with everyone else in the room to meet her. “You are just in time for tea.”
“Oh famous! Are those cook’s vegetable tarts?” Adam interrupted, pushing past Belinda toward the tea tray. He stopped just long enough in his pursuit of food to bow to the strangers in the room. “How’d you do? I’m Adam Sturridge. That’s Belinda Leonard, she doesn’t live here. You must be the Gages!”
That afternoon with the Gages turned out to be full of enlightenments (even with the limitations of the dark and close morning room). They learned that the Gages, along with the sister’s companion Mrs. Clotworthy – a relative of some degrees removed who also seemed delightfully some degrees removed from reality – had taken the Friar’s House not just for the spring and summer, but for the entire year.
“My brother is absolutely adamant that I recover completely before we go back to London,” Miss Gage said, shooting a wry smile towards her brother, who seemed far too masculine to be squeezed onto the settee next to his sister. “But he tends to forget that the doctors told me I was nearly good as new.”
“Nearly is not perfectly,” Bertram replied, gruffly.
“But I allow it, because I vexed myself silly while he was at war, and now he vexes himself for my sake. We are the only family we have left. Except for Mrs. Clotworthy, of course.”
The lady in question, at the mention of her name, picked her spectacles out of her tea where they had fallen, and wiped them clean with the edge of her shawl before putting them on the end of her nose. “What’s that dear?”
“Nothing, Mrs. Clotworthy,” Bertram sighed.
“Yes, these tarts are very good. Lots of roughage,” she replied.
They also learned that Bertram Gage had not only been a soldier, but one of great distinction.
“You were in the war, I understand.” Adam asked between gulps of tea. “I was in the Foot Guards. You?”
Light Dragoons.” Bertram shifted in his seat, uncomfortable. Belinda wasn’t the only one to notice. Francesca and Georgie shared glances, but Adam was, as ever, clueless.
?” he asked, blinking. “Now that was an impressive outfit. Likely got commendations and honors heaped on your breast. I knew a chap who said he could barely walk under the weight of all that metal.”
“No.” Bertram’s short answer had the desired effect of cutting short that line of conversation.