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Authors: Melissa Lynne Blue

Forget Me Not

BOOK: Forget Me Not
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Forget Me Not

Melissa Lynne Blue

 

 

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

 

Forget Me Not

Copyright © 2012 by Melissa Lynne Blue

Cover Design by Rae Monet

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without written permission.

 

For more information:
www.melissalynneblue.com

 

 

 

Dedication

For my wonderful and supportive friends and family. And also for Marie…without you this book wouldn’t be here today.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Wheaton Abbey, England

June 1816

The scene below Lydia Covington’s third story bedroom window resembled a cloud in heaven or, bathed as it was in the glittering silver of the full moon, Zeus’ Mount Olympus. White was the primary shade to declare the day—Lydia was not overly fond of white, she always managed to spill on it—and the finest cottons, satins and silks had been draped generously over the lavish courtyard. Roses of every hue splashed color along the aisle her father would walk her down in just a few hours time—ten to be exact. The notes of
Pachelbel’s
Canon floated round and round her head preparing for the wedding march. Lydia’s jittery fingers tapped against the window ledge. Soon she would be paraded through the courtyard before every prominent family and member of the peerage. Her marriage to the third Viscount of Northbridge was the social event of the season.

The thought, the entire scene, was enough to turn her stomach.

It was more than being put on display before all of Britain. She’d been betrothed to Rolland Kensington for a little over five years, the engagement was not new to her, but before tonight, this very moment, it had never seemed real. With the cool breath of reality whispering down her neck so came the realization she wasn’t ready. At the age of twenty her life seemed to be… over. To become a viscountess was the quintessence of girlish fantasy, but the viscount—her viscount—did not fit the bill of the man of her dreams. In a word, Rolland Kensington was most definitely a fop, and quite likely a coward.

The knight of her dreams was tall, dark, roguishly dangerous, and most scandalously Irish. Lydia could listen to an Irishman talk all day and never tire of his voice... she sighed with a smile. Four years before she had seen one man, a soldier, who molded perfectly to her mental image of such a man. Tall and dark with pale green eyes the color of the sea her soldier—a
young captain—had captured her attention, and most probably her heart, during a military procession. Their gazes had locked for but a moment, but the moment had been enough, and on impulse she’d given him a token as he’d passed. Even now the memory of his eyes could set her heart tripping. At the ball the following night the captain had sought her out, Brian Donnelly. Even his name was perfection. She’d spent the night dancing with him, and even waltzed in his arms. At the eve’s end he’d gifted her with a single blue bloom, a
Forget-me-not.

Even now she couldn’t help but wonder… Did he
ever
think of her?

Her gaze fell to the leather bound sketchbook clutched in her hands. How many times had she drawn his face, never quite able to capture his haunting eyes?  Dare she open the book?  She knew better than to gaze upon his likeness, especially tonight of all nights. Slowly she opened the volume, letting her gaze caress his handsome visage. Lydia had a better than average hand when it came to drawing, but she’d never managed to do Captain Donnelly justice. Now she feared even her sweet memories would fade. The pressed
Forget-me-not
slipped from its hiding place between pages and fluttered to the floor. Lydia bent to lift the flower, contemplating the simple blue bloom as she twirled it between thumb and forefinger.

Over the years she’d been groomed, trained, molded in every visible way to become the ideal wife of a peer and the dreams of her handsome Irish knight mingled with memories of her handsome Irish captain had evaporated as water in the fire. But tonight with panic enveloping her every emotion she realized just how fervently her subconscious had clung to the shred of hope that a dream knight would magically appear, scale the wall to her bedchamber, and sweep her off her feet. Rescue her from the mundane existence sure to come. Lydia shook her head, a silly fantasy to be sure.

Truthfully Lord Northbridge—the man she was doomed to share her life with—did not even seem to like her. The viscount was near twenty years her senior, thick in the middle with soft hands that had likely never seen a day’s work, and his ever ruddy cheeks lent tale of his like for strong drink. She could forgive his age and looks—not so much his dependency on spirits—if she could name even one occasion for an intelligent thought to have slipped from his mouth. That afternoon her stepmother, Olivia, had given her
the
talk.
Lydia’s cheeks burned just
remembering the lecture, and the mere thought of the slovenly lord touching her with his soft, foppish hands was enough to create a well of bile in her throat. It was too much.

Physically ill Lydia turned dejectedly away from the window glimpsing her reflection in the full-length gilded mirror across the room. Even in the dim moonlight her complexion was a ghastly shade of green or at the very least a bit pale. Staring into the glass, Lydia could not quite divine the composed visage of the
ton
bride she would be expected to display the following day. Garbed in a white cotton night dress with her boring brown hair braided over one shoulder and her equally boring, too wide, brown eyes she did not look like a soon to be viscountess, she looked like… Lydia. Her eyes slid to the white muslin wedding gown hung across the front of the bureau. Olivia had felt simple elegance key for the wedding day, and she’d been right. The gown was perfect in its unassuming grace; the white courtyard polished to a dreamlike refinement; it would seem everything about her upcoming nuptials was
perfect
.

Ha! Perfect her left foot. Perfect for Lord Northbridge whose gambling debts had reached catastrophic proportion. Perfect for her father, knighted for military service and a successful businessman, nothing was enough for Sir William Covington. Born the son of a common farmer, his daughter had become little more than another stepping-stone for higher standing in the eyes of the peerage. It was not even enough that he was sure to be elected the next Prime Minister of Britain. The betrothal, the marriage contract, the whole of the situation was perfect for everyone but her.

Panic boiled over.

Without another thought Lydia hiked up the skirt of her night robes and bolted for the door. Fleeing silently through the upper level of the manse she headed for the servants stairs. The hour was well past midnight and the majority of the household should be sleeping; none stirred when she slipped into the orangery. Lydia reached the outside door and glanced right then left to ensure no one would see as she bolted across the dewy blades of grass toward the stables. As dampness seeped through the thin cloth of her nighttime slippers her mind whirled around the thought of disappearing into oblivion, becoming her own woman. Truly beginning anew.

With the one hundred pounds she’d stashed, traveling to Scotland would not be a problem. If the money ran out she could always hock her jewelry for a pretty price. The diamond
pendent lining her throat bobbed against her chest, it would fetch enough to see her through a few weeks at least. The engagement ring as well would be worth a fair amount.

Lydia’s thoughts flipped to the correspondence she’d sent to her Aunt Madeline in Edinburgh. The older woman had little patience for Lydia’s controlling father and had agreed to assist Lydia without hesitation. Maddie had even secured interviews for a governess position.

Still… Lydia had never defied her father on so grand a scale, and abandoning a peer at the altar would be tantamount to social suicide. Not that she cared for the opinions of the
ton,
but there would be no escaping a confrontation with Papa. He was an intelligent man, and would track her down without difficulty. Lydia steeled her courage. With Maddie’s help she could withstand her father’s tirade and support herself long enough to settle into a governess position.

As luck would have it the stable too appeared deserted. A few lanterns cast dim light across the aisle, guiding her way. Her sorrel mare, Lady Jane, stood in the
fourth
stall on the left. Cautiously she swept down the barn aisle watching for signs of any stable hands stirring as she passed. A soft nicker met her approach.

“Hello, beautiful girl,” she breathed, afraid to raise her voice and risk being discovered. She stroked the animal’s velvety soft nose. “What would you say to getting out of here?”

Dear
Lord, what am I thinking? To run away on my wedding day?

Despite her preparations and logic, doubts whipped through her mind. She’d led a sheltered life, was this act of desperation nothing more than girlish immaturity?  Perhaps even fantasy. The embarrassment to her father would be irreparable if she stood up the viscount. Of course Sir William had never asked what she wanted from life, had merely announced one afternoon that she was betrothed and immediately redeployed to France. She stood in limbo staring into the round, trusting eyes of her beloved Lady Jane, warring with the knowledge of her duty and the desire to flee.

Decision made Lydia darted into the tack room, passing by her sidesaddle for one that would allow her to ride astride. Feeling her way through the inky darkness she located the wooden chest where her bundle of boy’s breeches, shirt and riding boots were secretly stashed.
Quickly she changed, stuffing the length of her hair beneath an oversize tweed cap, and tiptoed back to Lady Jane’s stall.

The horse shifted, whickering as Lydia slipped in, searching for treats.

“Quiet, girl, I don’t have any apples now, but I’ll get one later. I promise.”  Hands shaking, Lydia saddled her mount, and surreptitiously led Lady Jane into the aisle.

The low hum of voices drifted down from the loft. Heart in her throat, Lydia jumped straight up in the air, yanked on the horse’s bridle and half-dragged the mare from the barn. She could
not
be caught now.

In the yard Lydia kept her back to the wedding pavilion, her father would be devastated on the morrow, but for once she was making a decision on her own… for herself. How often had Sir William lectured on the importance of “creating opportunities for oneself”?

She palmed the reins, turned the stirrup out and lifted her leg to mount.

A dark shadow grazed her peripheral vision a split second before the solid weight of a man plunged headlong into her, bearing her brutally to the unforgiving ground. “Ouff!”  The wind rushed from her lungs. Her head swam and for a moment separating the stars spattered across the heavens from the stars floating before her eyes was impossible.

“Just what is this all about, boy?”  The man pinned her hands above her head. “Lookin’ to steal Sir William’s horse are ye?”

Lydia blinked, once, twice, trying to halt the world spinning around her. For a moment she lay stunned, staring up at her attacker. The breath froze in her throat. Lying on top of her was the vision of her dark knight. The very soldier she’d danced with and dreamt of for four years thereafter. Brian Donnelly. He may well have stepped from a page in her sketchbook. His wildly curling hair shone black in the dim light of the night, his dark brow furrowed over glistening pale eyes, and—

“What the hell?”  Brian’s gaze raked critically over her face. He reached up to snatch the tweed cap from her head. Disbelief washed over his features. “Miss Covington?”

Not even a flicker of the man she’d known four years ago touched his eyes. Her heart, the whole of her soul, ached. “Yes,” she spat, at last regaining her voice. “Now kindly get off of me. It’s rather difficult to breath.”  Lydia couldn’t be sure if the difficulty stemmed from his bulk or the overpowering thrill of his presence. Tremors of awareness fairly danced across her skin. She willed the sensations to stop, for some time now she’d known that Brian had in fact
forgotten
her.

For the last year he had been employed in her father’s stables as a horse trainer, Brian Donnelly was famed across Britain for his ability to work with horses. On the rare occasions their paths crossed he never so much as glanced in her direction, but that hadn’t prevented her infatuation from flaring back to life. Lydia supposed it was silly to remain so affected by a single night, however, it was not so much the man she desired, but the way he’d made her feel. For that small space of time, in Captain Donnelly’s eyes, she’d known what it was to be special. In his sea green gaze she’d seen a glow of adoration that had never sparked Lord Northbridge’s eyes. And now… staring into the very eyes she held so dear, she
knew
she could never settle for anything less. If given the chance to break away she would find a man to cherish and respect her that she could treasure in return.

If
she ever managed to leave
.

“I said,
get off
.”

He didn’t budge. “Not until ye tell me what’s goin’ on here.”  His eyes flicked toward Lady Jane grazing a few feet away. “It’s after midnight, I can think of no logical reason for ye to be out here with a saddled horse, disguised as a lad.”  His gaze shifted back to her, a small, mocking smile quirking his lips. “Why, Miss Covington, it looks as if ye’re runnin’ away.”

Lydia narrowed her eyes, ire piqued. “I don’t see how any of that is the business of the hired help.”

Brian’s face hardened and she knew the barb struck home. “Seein’ as I’m
hired
to look after these horses. It is very much my business if ye’re sneakin’ about in the dark of night like a regular criminal.”  He lifted on his arms above her, knelt, and rocked back on his heels. “Ye are
runnin’ away.”  He chuckled, the moonlight enhancing the amusement dancing across his handsome face. “I must say, lass, ye’re goin’ about it all the wrong way.”

BOOK: Forget Me Not
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