Authors: Susan Gee Heino
The Earl's Christmas Delivery
by Susan Gee Heino
Copyright © 2013 Susan Gee
Cover design by S.G.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from the author. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author's imagination and are fictional or used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended
by the author.
To Joy and Jake.
Two precious gifts, and the greatest deliveries I ever made.
Other Regency Romance
by Susan Gee
Miss Farrow's Feather
Miss Wheaton's Whiskers
Passion and Pretense
Temptress in Training
Damsel in Disguise
Mistress by Mistake
London, England, 2
4 December, 1818
"What do you mean you refuse to transport it until after the holiday? The ruddy thing is a Christmas gift. It needs to be there
it's Christmas tomorrow. No way I could take this all the way out to Wiltshire then make it home to have dinner with me wife and the babes. That'd take three days at best, maybe four if the weather turns bad."
Lord Bahumburgh resisted the urge to raise his fist toward the uncooperative
—but mathematical—shop man. He did raise his voice, however. What the devil could the man be thinking? He'd be paid good money for doing his job. What sort of lunacy would induce a man to turn down an honest wage this week when no doubt he'd have jumped at the opportunity last week? He could have dinner with his wife and his dozen or so brats any other time he liked. Why should the man cause such a fuss over things this particular week? It was merely Christmas, after all.
To make matters worse
, the fool had the nerve to act as if the earl was the one behaving unreasonably.
"If you'd have only sought to engage my services last week, sir..." the man said with a slow and supposedly rueful shake of his head.
"Last week I didn't know I was going to need your services. My sister's letter just arrived yesterday saying she requires assistance."
"Then I suppose it
ain't yer fault she dawdled on letting you know."
"No, it isn't
hers. Her husband was scheduled to come into Town to collect the gifts for their children, but now he is down with an infection and cannot travel for some time."
"What a rummy shame."
Ah, so the man was of the compassionate variety. Perhaps applying to his sympathetic nature was the way to succeed at this game.
"A terrible sham
e, yes. The poor children, with no packages on Christmas Day, their father so ill... you'd be doing a great act of charity to let me hire you for this delivery, you know."
And I'm always happy to do good by my fellow man, yes I am, sir," the man replied with a kindly smile. "I'll gladly make yer deliveries for ye, the very day
I dandle me babes, carve up the goose, and eat me wife's Christmas pudding."
Bah. He wasn't budging an inch. So much for his good will toward men.
"As I've said," the earl repeated through clenched teeth, "...my sister's gifts absolutely must be in West Timley by Christmas Day."
And as I've said, I wish I could help ye, sir. I've got me own little ones to think of, ye know."
The earl stopped himself just short of wishing a pox on those little ones. He would force himself to be civil and find some way to resolve this.
"Money is no object," he informed the man. "I will double your fee if you can deliver on time."
The man barely paused a moment before shaking his head. "I'm sorry. Even for double I can't take on the job, sir."
What sort of creature was this? Turning down double the pay just so he could spend a day in the company of family he could see any time? The earl could not possibly comprehend such a thing.
You don't understand how pressing it is!." he persisted. "My sister's children are counting on me."
Yer a good uncle then, sir. Sounds to me like ye've got but one option. Why don't ye just carry the gifts up there yerself? Ye ain't got no family of yer own here in Town, do ye?"
"Then that's what ye ought to do. Take the gifts to
them yerself and surprise yer sister and the wee ones for the holiday."
Leave his quiet bachelor quarters to drive all the way to
West Timley through December weather? To the home of a recent invalid and his sister's pack of boisterous offspring? He'd be nothing more than in the way, besieged by energetic tots and his sister's ceaseless ranting that it was high time he settle down and get a family of his own to disrupt his life. No. Most assuredly no! He would find some way around that particular scenario.
"Out of the question," he said. "As I've mentioned already, one of the gifts that must be transported is a
for my niece. You cannot think that is the sort of thing I might pop into my curricle and set off for a two day journey."
Instead of acknowledging the futility of his argument, the man actually brightened at the earl's words. "Ah, but I can help ye out there, sir. I can let ye use my wagon!"
"My wagon, sir. It's for the Christmas spirit. I'll not even
over-charge ye for it. I can't be making your delivery for you, but you can rent my wagon and go deliver that piano-forty yerself."
"Deliver it myself? In... your
The very thought of such a thing caused the earl to nearly laugh in the man's face.
The mere notion of the Earl of Bahumburgh making deliveries in a wagon was nothing short of pure lunacy. Did the man have no clue who it was he spoke with? Had he begun toasting the holiday a bit early this year? The earl sniffed at his suggestion.
"I assure you, my good man, I've never once delivered anything in a wagon and I never shall."
"Pity. Those young 'uns will be so very sad this year, I suppose."
But I can't be seen driving a... a
"Ah, worried what your fine friends might say of it, are you? Well, don't fret over that, my lord. I'll give you my kit along with the wagon."
"My clothes, sir. You put on a working man's clothes and you're next to invisible. Your
knacky friends won't so much as notice you."
"I highly doubt that."
"You'd be surprised what your lot doesn't see, if you don't mind me saying so, my lord."
"I do mind, and I don't believe you. I will not borrow your clothes and I will not be using your wagon."
"I wish ye good luck finding another what can carry that piano-forty for ye."
"I'm sure I'll have no trouble with that, thank you."
"Course not. You just go out there and find ye someone. It's one whole day before Christmas, after all. And should you not find anyone, I'm sure those kids with their father laid up and their mum a pile o' nerves won't miss their presies. They'll always have next Christmas to celebrate, right? I guess... provided their papa pulls through, and all."
"Oh, botheration. Very well. I'll borrow
your damned wagon."
, sir. A man's got to pay the bills, don't he?"
"Very well. I'll
"And the kit with it, sir?"
"Yes, yes. No sense ruining a perfectly good coat to ride in a wagon like some bloody laborer."
"No sense at all, sir." The man seemed inordinately proud of himself. He even slapped the earl on the back as if they were old friends. "I'll set you up right away, get you off on your journey."
By God, the earl had the strangest feeling he was going to live to regret this.
Carole Meriwether tried to ignore the muck and the scent, but it was pointless.
The mews in the back streets of Cheapside was not the best place to be wearing her one good traveling gown and her favorite bonnet. With all the horses and refuse and human traffic coming and going, she could feel the dust sticking to her skin and her carefully pinned curls were beginning to wilt.
Inside the nearby stall,
Holly banged her hoof against the wall. The little gray pony did not appreciate the fact that Carole had come for a visit, but was remaining outside the stall instead of coming in to give pats and bits of an apple. Carole rather wished she'd had an apple for herself. Her stomach was rumbling for a lack of breakfast, but there had been no time for that today.
No money, either. If not for the generous offer that arrived in the form of a letter from
her dear friend Estelle Bexley, she wasn't sure what she'd be doing right now. Estelle's help couldn't have come at a better time.
Not that Carole had wanted her friend to know the extent of her misery. Indeed not. S
he'd tried very hard not to let Estelle know how desperate things had gotten. Apparently, though, word had reached her friend all the way out in Wiltshire, where Estelle lived with her family in West Timley. The dear woman had decided to help. Carole wished she did not so desperately need to accept that help, but at least Estelle had tried to preserve a small bit of Carole's dignity. It was not charity she was offering, but an honest position.
Well, somewhat honest.
Estelle told her she needed a riding instructor to teacher her young children to ride their new pony. Then she sent Carole money and told her to buy them a pony. For the past weeks, Carole had searched out the perfect pony for Estelle's children and believed she'd found an angel in Holly. The money Estelle sent had been more than enough to purchase the little mare, pay for her board, and keep Carole in food, too. Now it was time to pack everything up and take Holly to Bexley Manor to meet her new owners—and hope Carole wasn't a complete failure at instructing.
Carole hadn't ridden in years, not since Papa's finances failed and the Meriwether stables were emptied. Then Mama grew ill and the Meriwether pockets were emptied, too. Now the only thing full, it seemed, was the graveyard; both Papa and Mama were gone.
Without the windfall of Estelle's generous offer, Carole would be in dire straits, indeed.
she was here today, wearing her last remaining good dress and waiting. Estelle's brother would be here any minute to collect her and Holly, then carry them off to West Timley. Who knew when Carole would see London again? Not that she would miss it. So many sad memories here... perhaps it would be good to be gone.
travel all the way to Wiltshire with a stranger! Indeed, Jacob Myserleigh was a stranger to her. Carole had never once met Estelle's brother. All she knew of him was that he was properly named Jacob Myserleigh, had been the Earl of Bahumburgh for ages and ages already, and that Estelle affectionately called him 'Miser' and described him as "old and stuffy". Definitely not the sort of traveling companion Carole would have selected for herself.
Then again, she needed to keep in mind that beggars weren't choosers. The way her life had gone, she was most certainly a beggar. She only wished she did not have to smell like one.
Heavens, did the boy with the shovel need to heave that muck from the opposite stall directly onto her feet? Ugh. Perhaps she'd be better off to go back into Holly's stall and wait with the pony. By the time the earl arrived she'd be quite a mess indeed, covered in dust with hay on her skirts, smelling of God only knew what. No telling what the earl would think of her.
The earl stared into the
horse stall and then back at the letter from his sister. Nothing made sense. He was certain he'd come to the proper address. He asked the grooms loitering near the doorway specifically for the name Estelle had given him, yet this is where he was directed. Ridiculous.
He cleared his throat loudly.
The young lady inside looked up, startled. She could not have seemed more out of place, sitting primly on an overturned bucket while a rotund little gray pony nibbled the straw flower on her trim bonnet. How did a Mayfair miss end up locked in a Cheapside mews with a pony? Why on earth wasn't she shouting for help? Surely someone had noticed her.
"Do you need some help, miss?" he asked.
"Er, no thank you, sir," she replied then glanced around nervously when he continued to stare. "But you appear to be confused. Do
need some help?"
"I was... well, I think I must be in the wrong place."
"Where are you supposed to be?"
He looked back at the letter. Yes, Estelle's
list definitely directed him to this place. The next gift he was to collect ought to be waiting for him here. But he'd expected a shop of some sort, not a dirty horse stall with a captive woman inside.
"I was given this address and instructed to meet with a man named Carl."
"Carl? I don't know any Carl, sir, and I've been tending the pony here every day for two weeks."
"You come to tend the pony often? Dressed like this?"
"No, of course not. But today I'm supposed to meet someone so I thought I should appear at my best."
"I see. Well, good luck with that. I should probably continue my search for Mr. Meriwether."
"For whom, sir?"
"Meriwether. Carl Meriwether."
Now she looked as confused as he felt. Her delicate features screwed into a frown and she chewed her lip.
"Is Carl your relative, then?"