Authors: Sue Swift
Tags: #Historical Romance" Copyright 2012 Sue Swift ISBN: 978-1-937976-11-8, #"Regency Romance
“Kate, this is Harper. She runs the house. Harper, this is Lady Katherine Scoville. Bathe her and put her in suitable clothes. I’m taking her to Lady Penrose’s today after luncheon. Tell no one.” Quinn waved a finger in the air for emphasis. “You know how servants talk. No one but the three of us—no, dash it, Malcolm and Bartram know, but they’re
trustworthy—no one but the five of us should know Lady Kate has been here, or where she is going.”
Scant hours later, Kate found herself with Lord Devere in his curricle, driving swiftly down a road eastward out of London. She was dressed in the best gown that could be found on such short notice beneath an old coat belonging to her guardian. The original owner of the dress was shorter than Kate, so her boots protruded from beneath the hem but were temporarily covered by the Earl’s greatcoat. Rather more of her chest than she liked to expose showed at the top of the gown. She pulled the coat together over her torso.
“Nan lives near Sevenoaks, in the north downs.” Quinn shouted over the noise of the curricle’s wheels grinding on the road. “Reminds me of your home in Somerset. You’ll like it there.”
“What if she doesn’t want me there?”
“What?” His grip on the reins shifted, and one of his showy, matched blacks shied. He regained control with a quick flick of his whip to the horse’s outside.
The gelding settled back into a smooth gait, pacing its partner.
“What if she doesn’t want me?”
“Pish tosh! What’s not to want, sweet Kate?”
“I wish you’d stop calling me that.”
He turned his head and beamed at her, surprising her with the warmth conveyed by his soulful regard.
He really had the most extraordinary eyes.
“Lady Katherine, don’t be concerned about your future. I have already spoken to my sister about your come-out. Your unexpected arrival merely advances the schedule.”
“Oh.” As the day drew to a close, she snuggled back into the greatcoat. Although she was a tall woman, Devere’s sleeves came down over her hands.
His scent lingered in the wool, a pungent blend of clove, citrus, and other spicy notes. “What about grandfather’s Will? I’m supposed to be with Herbert.”
“Richard thinks we can persuade the Lords to come ’round to our way of thinking.”
He glanced down at her. “The House of Lords passes laws, sweet Kate. They can help. After all, what good are they if they can’t do a fellow a favor once in a while?”
“Are you a member?”
“Yes, but I haven’t darkened their threshold in a few years, not since my investiture. I say, Herbert should be coming along to London to be presented, as it were.”
“He’s a ramshackle sort. He may just cut them altogether.”
“No, I believe that our Lord Herbert will be along to London soon. He’ll go to Parliament and contact the Bow Street Runners to find you.” Quinn grew silent for several minutes while Kate sat and worried.
“We’ll just have to be quicker and cleverer, shan’t we, Kate? I shall return to London tomorrow and begin to see to arrangements. In the meantime, no one knows where you are.”
“I’m afraid that I’ve left some clues,” she said. “I visited Forrester, the solicitor, and spoke to a clerk. I used my mother’s name, but I said I was your ward in order to find your direction.”
He whistled between his teeth. “The clerk would have to be a numb-wit not to calculate who you are and to whom you went. And from me it’s a short hop to my sister. But be of good cheer, dear Kate. We’ll yet contrive.”
* * *
Kate was comforted by her first view of Penrose House. Although it was situated in meadowlands rather than hills, it did indeed resemble her home, with wide fields dotted by occasional stands of trees.
As the curricle neared the pleasant, Palladian-style residence, she could see that the property roundabout became formally landscaped. She liked the look of the place, as everything appeared to be properly maintained, and she hoped she’d have the opportunity to explore the manor house and grounds.
As Quinn entered, shouting for Nan and Pen, he hauled Kate into a drawing room to await her host and hostess. He plopped her onto a comfortable sofa, upholstered in tufted green brocade. When her astonished hosts appeared, she tried to smile though she felt wretchedly shy and awkward. She wondered what they must have made of her, attired as she was in Devere’s cast-off overcoat and a too-small gown.
Attired for a winter afternoon in a blue kerseymere day dress, Lady Anna was as short and round as her brother was tall and thin. She had fair hair and merry eyes. At this moment, those eyes snapped dangerously. “Quinn! How dare you bring one of your fancy pieces to this house!” Kate sat bolt upright. “Now see here—”
“I must say, Devere, this is not quite the thing, is it?” Lady Anna’s husband, a stout baronet dressed as any ordinary country squire, eyed Kate with evident disapproval.
Quinn ignored their discomfiture as well as Kate’s. “Nan, Pen, we have a bit of a dilemma. This is my ward, Lady Katherine Scoville.”
Their lips parted in identical round O’s of surprise, and she restrained a nervous giggle. The Penroses appeared to be a well-matched couple.
“I ask that Kate stay here for the nonce…” Pacing back and forth, Quinn outlined Kate’s circumstances.
“So, she cannot live with me, for her reputation’s sake. And she must be protected from Herbert, Lord Badham.”
Lady Anna sniffed. “From what I have heard, all women should be protected from Lord Herbert and his issue. No respectable member of the ton gives them entrée.” She sat down next to Kate, reached out and took Kate’s cold hands in her own. “I’m sorry, child, for the way I greeted you. You are most welcome here, for as long as you like.” Kate blinked back sudden hot tears, a sharp contrast to her icy fingers and lonely spirit of the last few weeks. She hadn’t told her guardian of the cold hell she’d endured at Badham Abbey, but Lady Anna’s unaccustomed kind touch brought her to the realization of the danger of her plight and the narrowness of her escape. “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll endeavor to be a thoughtful guest.”
“Nonsense! You’re Devere’s ward, practically one of the family.” Sir Michael Penrose spoke from his cozy wing chair near the fire.
“Pen, we’re afraid she’ll be traced here by her uncle before we can persuade Parliament to act.” Quinn’s tone was solemn. “Accordingly, her true identity must be concealed.”
His long face was so comically somber that Kate was both jollied out of her tears and irresistibly reminded of Miss Austen’s satire, Northanger Abbey.
She let loose a gurgle of laughter. “Oh, my lord! You are too Gothic!”
“And you are too impertinent and careless. Kate, you must tell no one who you are, and we must pass you off as a distant cousin of Pen’s.” He nodded toward Sir Michael Penrose. “With your permission, sir.” “You have it, of course, if you deem it necessary.”
“I do. Consider what has transpired. Badham imprisoned Kate and wrote to me, asking for her hand in marriage to his son and fraudulently claiming her agreement.” He wheeled to face Kate. “If, based on his lies, I had written back with my consent, you would not be sitting here now, Kate. You would be Odbert’s wife, alone, powerless, and penniless.” She sat quite still, shocked into immobility by his directness and understanding. She managed to say,
“You are right, certainly, and that is why I left. But I am a Scoville.” She lifted her chin. “Despite Uncle Herbert, I am proud of who I am. And a false name seems so…so unnecessary. I’m just a girl. Why would anyone go to so much trouble over me?”
“You may not have a clear idea of the extent of your fortune,” said the Earl. “I do. You have a house in London and an estate in Somerset. You own tin mines in Cornwall and dairy cattle in Devon. In short, sweet Kate, aside from your own, um, personal attributes, you are a very tempting prize. Men have killed for far less than what you have, and it is my task to take care of you and your estate until you’re married, or until you attain the age of majority, whichever happens first.”
She stared at him, stunned.
He softened his tone. “So we must have a care, little Kate, and put our heads together and decide who you’re to be for the next few months.” A silence fell, broken only by the crackling of the logs in the fireplace.
“If we are to choose a new name,” Kate finally said, “it should be similar to my own, so that I’ll become accustomed to it quickly.”
Quinn smiled at her. “Clever Kate! I knew you’d understand.”
Anna spoke up. “But what will happen when we go to London for the Season? You know Louisa is to be presented.”
“Lady Kate will go with you and participate in such minor social gatherings as young girls do in the year before their come-out,” Quinn said, sounding confident. “She’ll hide in plain sight, as I’ve said, and as you’ve said, Nan, she won’t meet up with Herbert and, um, Osric because no one invites them anywhere.”
“But what of those I already know?” asked Kate.
“I’ve met many of my grandfather’s friends, and I have schoolmates who will be making their debuts, as well.”
Anna said, “We’ll have to trust your friends, Lady Katherine. And as for the old Earl’s companions, I’m afraid many of them are too elderly and frail to move about in society any more. We’re losing the past generation, day by day.”
Kate nodded, calmed by Lady Penrose’s logic as well as by the confidence of both brother and sister.
She was also buoyed by her successes over the past few days. She’d been dreadfully miserable and frightened, but she had now attained a place of safety with people who appeared as anxious about her welfare as any parent could be.
She raised her eyes to her guardian. Quinn stood by the fireplace, leaning on the mantel. He raked her yet again with his hooded dark gaze. Despite his decorous conduct and proper expressions of concern, she’d never seen a father look at any daughter with quite the expression the Earl wore, which more closely resembled that of a hawk eyeing a titmouse.
She tugged self-consciously at the neck of her gown.
She had a feeling that no dress was cut high enough to prevent the Earl from divining what lay beneath.
Anna had apparently moved on with her
thoughts while Quinn and Kate silently communed.
“What about Kendra…Caroline…Caitlin… Come on, Pen, help me out with this!”
Pen frowned. “I’d keep it simple. It’s an unusual name, but what about Kay? If we choose a second name which begins with a “T,” no one will give it another thought, even if we slip and call her Kate or K.T.”
“Excellent notion!” Quinn waved a forefinger in the air for attention. “We’ll call her Tyndale, and she’ll be one of our cousins, Nan. There are lots of those. How about if she’s one of the old Nabob’s younger daughters? No one’s heard of any of them since he went off to India thirty years ago.”
“That’s perfect, Quinn!” Anna exclaimed.
“What?” asked Kate, completely bewildered.
“Righty-o, here it is.” Quinn sat down next to her.
She ignored his beguiling scent, the same spicy fragrance she had enjoyed on his coat. “You are Kay Tyndale, the, er, fifth daughter of Colin Tyndale.
Colin was my father’s youngest brother. Having no prospects in England, he settled in Calicut thirty years ago as an employee of the British East India Company.”
“My lord, you’re amazing,” said Kate. “I do believe you should write novels. This is quite the equal of anything from Mrs. Radclyffe’s quill.”
“Not ‘my lord,’“ he gently corrected. “Cousin Quinn, Cousin Nan, and Cousin Pen.”
“Oh, but I can’t,” she gasped, embarrassed.
“You can and you must,” said Anna. She rose from her chair. “Come!” She held out her hand to Kate. “Let me show you my brood.”
Anna led Kate upstairs to the nursery, talking all the while. “I have five, you know, I am very fortunate. You are the only child?”
Kate answered while looking around the comfortable, elegant manse. “Yes. There were two stillborn after me.”
Anna’s voice was soft. “Yes. That happens. I am the eldest, but my mother lost two babes before Quinn was born. Then she died with the next, poor thing. God grant my own daughters better fortune!” She opened the door to the nursery, where three children in nightwear were eating supper at a small table. A white-haired governess, dressed in sober gray, presided over the trio as they spooned up their warm bread and milk.
“This is Harry, our heir, and Charlie. He’s eight.
And Margaret, the baby, who is five.” Kate’s heart immediately melted. The little girl, who shared the name of Kate’s own mother, had enchanting gold ringlets and a sweet smile for Lady Anna as she turned from her supper to stare at the stranger.
“Children, this is our cousin, Kay Tyndale. She’s come all the way from India to stay with us. Kay, this is Mrs. Stowe, a very important lady to our family.” As Kate smiled at the governess, Harry, a sturdy ten-year-old, demanded, “India! Can you tell us stories about lions and tigers and wolves?” Eyes widening, Kate turned to Lady Anna.
“Darlings, cousin Kay has just arrived, and is very tired. And it’s almost bedtime. Perhaps she’ll have stories for you on the morrow.” Anna had intervened with great aplomb, Kate thought.
“Hurrah!” shouted the two boys, while little Margaret dropped her spoon and turned her solemn green gaze on her mother.
Anna closed the door, smiling. “They always raise my spirits. I know it isn’t fashionable to enjoy one’s children, but I vow they are the center of my life, and of Pen’s as well.” She proceeded down the hall. “We shall put you in this guest room, near Louisa and Pauline. It’s a nice cheerful room.” She opened the door. A maid was already dusting the dainty bedroom, which was decorated in pale yellow and green, with lace hangings over the bed.
“Bettina, make sure there’s a fire, and hot water for Miss Kay when she retires. Is there water now?” Anna checked the pitcher on the dressing table.
Devere poked his head through the open door.
“Nan, am I to have my usual place?”
“Yes, Quinn.” She turned to Kate. “We keep him away from the nursery wing, else the children would give him no peace. We’ll leave you now to refresh yourself. Bettina will bring you anything you need, and can act as lady’s maid for you while you are with us.” “There’s just one thing, ma’am.” Kate spoke quietly, so the servant would not overhear. “I left my maid, Mary Ann, in Wiltshire.” She could see Quinn at her side, shaking his head.