Anne fought a twinge of anxiety as she scrutinized her grandfather’s pinched face. His eyes, pale blue, were sunken and dulled by pain. His hands, once strong, were thin and lined with vivid blue veins. To make matters worse, the summer heat had drained him of energy, leaving him frail and confined to bed.
“Perhaps I should stay home, Grandfather. Indeed you look very ill.”
He smiled at her and patted her hand. “You run along, child, and get ready for the assembly. I will have my good Betsy and young Jeremy here to care for me”
He nodded at the upstairs maid and at his grandson, who sat in a chair, absorbed in the study of a colorful atlas.
Anne hesitated. This pale, gaunt, man looked nearly like a stranger. He was nothing of the robust gentleman who had taken her in five years ago, along with her young brother. They had lost their parents to tropical fever in India and been forced to leave the only home they had ever known.
When they had arrived in England, she had not remembered Grandfather; had not seen him since she was a babe in his arms. Yet, he had come in person to meet their ship when she and Jeremy put into port after the long trip. And in their time of grief, he had welcomed them into his home as his kin, the children of his son.
Anne turned to her brother. She smoothed back the dark hair that fell across his forehead and said, “Will you look after Grandfather and make sure he eats something?”
Jeremy nodded. “Certainly. We are going to spend tonight playing our geography game.”
Jeremy loved the game Grandfather had invented of taking turns giving the borders of a country and one pertinent fact. The other player had to guess the country. Jeremy liked the game so much, that Anne sometimes wondered if Grandfather would be sorry he had thought of it.
Still, he seemed to enjoy Jeremy’s company, brightening each time the boy entered his room. Nonetheless, Anne warned her brother, “No more than a half-hour of the game and then you let Grandfather rest.”
She turned to Betsy. “What is there for his supper?”
“There’s a nice nourishing soup on the stove. I could bring a bowl up to him, miss.” Anne nodded. “Bring it up at seven o’clock, please. And when he is finished, he must rest.”
Betsy curtsied. “Yes, miss.”
Anne doubted Grandfather would eat much of the soup. He had little appetite these days.
She leaned down and kissed his soft wrinkled cheek.
“I will look in on you before I go,” she promised.
He smiled, though his cloudy blue eyes were bereft of their former light. “I will be good as new in a day or two.”
“I am sure you will, Grandfather.
They exchanged these words every day, yet every day, he grew weaker.
Not wanting him to see the worry that filled her eyes, she was glad to have him turn his attention to Jeremy, who perched on the bed, eager to begin the game.
She let herself out and tried to recapture her enthusiasm for the assembly as she trod the soft hall rug, past the portraits of ancestors who possessed the same dark hair and blue eyes that marked her line. She paused, staring up at her great-aunt. It gave her an eerie chill to see someone who, at the same age, looked so nearly like herself. Her own portrait hung at the end of the hall, having been completed this year on her nineteenth birthday. Would a great-niece stare up at her one day, stuck by a likeness of appearance?
She moved along to her room and summoned Polly, her ladies’ maid to help her prepare for the assembly. Polly arrived and began the tedious task of arranging Anne’s raven curls to fall in ringlets at her temples. It took all of Anne’s self-restraint to keep from squirming in her chair as she’d done as a child.
In India, she’d often risen early, before her nanny could come and tend to her. She hated the tiresome ministrations of brushing the tangles from her hair and donning stockings before sitting still to have endless buttons fastened on her shoes. So she had dressed quickly and scampered barefoot out to play before Nanny arrived and before the heavy blanket of heat sapped the energy from all life except the insects that reigned over the land.
The escape had been only temporary because, as soon as she returned, Nanny was waiting; brush in hand to render her fit for the day. She would scold and call her a wild little heathen. Yet her eyes would twinkle when she finished Anne’s toilette and she proclaimed her young miss as pretty as a princess. After her appearance was made proper, she was required to sit in during the day and work on her samplers and lessons. Such confinement was difficult for Anne, who longed to walk in the gardens where the flowers scented the air with their exotic fragrance and she chased small quick lizards that she could never catch.
Beyond the high garden walls, the village bustled with life. On a few occasions she was allowed to accompany one of the servants to market. The sights of the bazaar fascinated Anne. The colorful cloth and jewelry, the choice of fruits and meats, filled her mind with such excitement that she dreamed of them for days. She thought it would be delightful to dash barefoot through the market, laughing and chasing as the native children did. She longed to wander past the tall garden gate and follow her tall handsome father as he went about his military duties, though she never dared do so.
Polly smoothed her hair into submission and asked a question that brought her back to the present. “What do you plan on wearing tonight, miss?”
“You can fetch the blue silk with the cream lace trim.”
Polly grinned. “It looks lovely on you, miss, what with your fair complexion.” Anne slid into the dress and Polly fastened the buttons.
Anne was just donning her slippers when Betsy knocked at the door. “Mr. Fletcher is here to call for you, miss.”
“Tell him I will be right down.”
She pulled her shawl over her arms and hurried to her grandfather’s room. She knocked gently and stepped inside.
He lay on his back, breathing so softly that she had to step close to see the rise and fall of his chest. He didn’t open his eyes and Anne, loathe to disturb him, tip-toed quietly from his chamber. She shut the door softly and glided down the stairs to where Troy Fletcher awaited her.
Troy gazed up with open admiration. “You look beautiful tonight, Miss Tyler.” “Thank you.”
Anne studied Troy. In the two months he had resided in the inn in town, she had never known him not to be impeccably dressed. Tonight was no exception. He had arrived dressed in a top hat, a black evening coat and matching trousers. His fair hair glistened under the light of the hall chandelier. Though he was not a particularly tall man, he carried himself with such grace that one hardly noticed his height.
Anne took his arm and allowed him to escort her to the waiting carriage. “Have you found a house that would suit you as a residence?” Anne asked. He helped her into the carriage and then settled himself beside her.
“Indeed I have not. I have particular tastes and nothing so far has satisfied them…in the way of housing, I mean.”
The glance he cast Anne caused her to blush. Changing the subject seemed a wise thing to do as she had not yet decided what she thought of Troy. He was a handsome man, square built and solid. Yet there was something in his green eyes that sometimes gave her pause, something that reminded her of a cat waiting for a mouse.
“Perhaps, coming from London, your tastes are too exacting to fit our country life.” “No indeed. A life in the country is just what I yearn for. I have a good manager to run
my business in London. And now, I intend to settle down, buy a fine pair of hunting dogs, and become a country squire.”
“That sounds pleasant indeed, though I should think you might miss the gaiety of London after a while.”
“Ah, but that is easily solved. I am determined to marry a local beauty and take her to London every year for the season, if she should like to go. What do you think of London, Miss Tyler?”
“I have only been there twice. Grandfather took me and young Jeremy for a month just after Christmas the last two years. The society was very fine and I attended several assemblies where I had my heart’s fill of dancing.”
“And did you not long to remain? A month is not very long into the season.”
Anne shook her head. “I disliked the feeling of competition, of young ladies vying for the most advantageous matches. Anyway, Grandfather brought us only because he felt obligated to introduce me into society. I knew he was eager to return home. So, a month was quite long enough, you see.”
Troy reached to encompass her gloved fingers with his own impeccably white gloved hand. He turned to her with enthusiasm and said, “I do admire your honesty, Miss Tyler. You are not afraid to call things as you see them, though I cannot see how any of the young ladies could compete with a beauty such as yourself.”
He raised her hand to his lips and placed a kiss.
Anne pulled her hand gently from his grasp and folded it into her lap. “Indeed, sir, you pay me too great a compliment.”
Before he could protest, she went on quickly, saying, “Pray tell me more about your childhood upbringing. I have told you much about India, but I know little about you.”
“You know that I was brought up in the city and that my father was a successful merchant. He dealt in fine cloth and spices. He was a man who valued hard work and discipline. Though I am afraid he doted on me a bit, being his only son, he did manage to pass those values on to me. We dined together every night and he schooled me in the trade.”
A wistful look passed over Troy’s face. He had told her that his father had died scarcely a year ago and Anne supposed he must miss him a great deal.
“I had a stern tutor who held me to task,” Troy said.
Anne laughed as he drew his brows into a forbidding scowl.
“Except for trips to Father’s office, I hardly left the house until I was sixteen. It was all study, study, study.”
Anne frowned. “I thought you mentioned once of a boarding school?”
Troy flushed a bit. “Oh yes, silly of me to forget. I went to boarding school when I turned twelve. Father wanted me to have every advantage that I might become a good man of business like himself.”
“And are you a good man of business?”
Troy gestured to his fine clothes. “I shall let you judge that for yourself.”
They arrived in the village, shut tight for the night, dark and sleepy until they pulled to a stop below the assembly room that occupied the space above the millinery. Light poured forth like fairy dust, casting a golden glow upon the new arrivals. Music drifted from the open windows where the assembly had just begun.
The hired driver jumped from the carriage to help Anne from her seat. Her pulse beat with eagerness to join the pleasant crowd of locals who were enjoying themselves to the strain of the orchestra. It had been nearly six months since the assembly at Christmas and Anne had missed the chance to see so many old friends gathered together in one place.
The door beside the shop stood open. Anne smoothed her silk skirt and preceded Troy as they climbed the stairs to the second floor. The long rectangular room seemed awhirl with bright-colored summer dresses. Jewelry sparkled under the light of the chandelier and laughter bubbled forth with such merriment that Anne was immediately caught up in the mood.
She greeted several older matrons who lined the edges of the crowd, clapping to the tune of the music. As Troy followed her through the throng, she saw her friend Mariah awaiting a partner for the next dance. Mariah was a pretty girl, short and plump with golden curls and light blue eyes who would have had a partner but for the fact that there were more women than men attending the assembly.
Anne hugged her. “Have you been well?” “Yes. Thank you. And you?”
“We are all fine, save Grandfather. He’s been ailing these last few weeks.” “I am sorry to hear it. And Father will be sorry, too. He thinks highly of your
Anne smiled. “I shall pass on your regards.”
She turned to Troy. “I have been remiss in my introductions, I fear. Mariah, this is Mr.
Fletcher. Mr. Fletcher, allow me to introduce my friend and neighbor, Miss Sawyer.”
Troy matched Mariah’s curtsy with a gallant bow. “I am delighted to meet you, Miss Sawyer.”
“And I am delighted to meet you, Mr. Fletcher. Do you live hereabouts?”
“Though I am currently staying at the inn, my wish is to find a suitable residence to rent.
My business is in London, but I have grown tired of city life and wish for an escape to the country now and again.”
“I should think there would be several possibilities. The Stuart’s are quitting their residence to reside in Bath. Have you seen it? It has lovely gardens.”
Troy gave her a patient smile. “I have seen it and you are quite correct about the gardens.
Unfortunately, the residence is not as large as had hoped to find.”
Mariah raised her brows. “Indeed. Then I fear you may have a difficult time suiting your needs in our little hamlet.”
Anne linked her arm with Mariah’s and said, “I have warned Mr. Fletcher that we are simple folk. Our houses are not as grand and spectacular as in the most fashionable part of London.”
Troy fixed Anne with an assessing gaze. “Ah…but I do not want to be in London. If I must simplify my tastes, then I will do so.”
“Perhaps the Miller house,” Mariah suggested. “It has small attics, but is quite a lovely house.”
Troy looked a bit discomfited. “Indeed. I shall have to look. I must confess, however, that I find it difficult to concentrate on housing while in the company of two such lovely ladies. I find my attention is drawn to the music and I see a waltz has just begun.”
Mariah smiled. “Indeed it has. You and Anne must go and dance.”
Troy bowed. “If you will excuse us. Again, it has been a pleasure to meet you.”
Anne gave Mariah a parting smile before allowing Troy to draw her onto the dance floor. For a squarely built man, he led so smoothly that she felt as though she were floating on air. As they glided past other couples who were happily entranced in one another’s arms, Anne decided that the waltz was the most romantic of all dances.
“You dance superbly,” Troy complimented as they whirled past a couch filled with watching matrons who fanned themselves with bright oriental fans.
Anne smiled up at him. “It is truly you, Mr. Fletcher, who deserves the compliment, yet I thank you all the same.”
Troy cocked a brow at her. “You say you have only been to London twice. Outside of India, have you never been to other cities, other countries?”
“No, I have not. We are quite the homebodies here, I am afraid. And you? Have you traveled widely?”
Troy gave her a bright smile. “Why yes, I have toured the continent, though I never meant to imply anything lacking by your staying at home.”
Anne smiled just as brightly. “Have no fear, for I have taken no offense. Only tell me what it was like to cross the sea and visit our neighbors.”
“It was magnificent. I saw cities filled with shops and fine galleries. And there was beautiful countryside with snow topped mountains and blue lakes. And I shall never forget how beautiful it was where I crossed the Seine into Heidelberg. It wound like a long harmless snake through the city.”
Anne bit her lip. “Really. I know very little about these things, and yet, I always thought the Seine flowed through Paris.”
Troy’s fair cheeks turned the shade of twin roses. “Of course. How careless of me. I meant to say Paris. It is easy to get confused when one has seen so much.”
“Of course. It was understandable.”
Anne thought Mr. Fletcher looked relieved when the dance ended. “Would you like some refreshment, perhaps some supper?” he asked. “Only some punch. It is warm in here, do you not think so?”
Troy nodded. “It is warm. I will go directly to fetch punch. Perhaps you would like to have a rest.”
Yes. I think I shall sit and visit with Mariah.”
Troy took leave on his mission while Anne sought out Mariah. She spotted her leaving a tall handsome partner before seating herself for a rest upon a settee. Anne stared at the retreating gentleman before crossing to join her friend. She settled beside Mariah and said, “Who is that man? I do not believe I have ever seen him.”
Mariah giggled. “But of course you have, only it has been a very long time. He is from Westerfield Manor. He has been long away from the estate, but now has come back. Old Lord Westerfield’s health is failing and he is in need of his son.”
Anne gasped. “That is young Lord Westerfield? I met him once several years ago when he was home for Christmas. He was a gangly boy with black hair and eyes who reminded me of a crow.”
Mariah chuckled. “He has changed a great deal, has he not? And he is such a gentleman.
When he saw me sitting alone, he asked me to be his partner.”
Anne could not take her eyes off the transformation of the young lord. Time had made him tall and square of shoulder, replaced his slim build with muscle and his unmanageable locks with silky raven hair that rested atop his impeccably white cravat.
“So he is home for good?” she asked, without taking her eyes from Lord Westerfield. “He told me he planned to take up residence and manage his father’s estate.”
Anne cast a last covert look at the Young Lord Westerfield as Troy returned with the punch. He handed a dainty cut glass cup to each lady “You must be thirsty, too, Miss Sawyer. Please have some punch.”
“Thank you, Mr. Fletcher. It was kind of you to think of me.”
Anne raised the cup to her lips and tasted the fruity nectar. It was thick and quite sweet, so she sipped it slowly and savored the scent of fresh oranges and pineapples. When they finished at last, Troy went off to return their cups.
A waltz ended and the orchestra struck up for a reel. Anne saw Mariah’s eyes widen. She grabbed Anne by the hand and said, “He is coming this way, Lord Westerfield, I mean.”
Anne started to turn about when Mariah whispered tartly, “Do not turn around. He will think we are watching him.”
Anne stifled a giggle. “And are we not?”
Mariah squeezed Anne’s hand. “Yes, only we do not want him to know.”
Lord Westerfield paused beside Anne. He bowed and said, “Miss Sawyer, might I have the additional pleasure of knowing your friend?”
“Indeed. Lord Westerfield, may I present Miss Anne Tyler.”
Anne nodded as she looked into Lord Westerfield’s intensely dark eyes. Her heart skipped a beat at how handsome he had become. His brows were thick and as ebony as his eyes. His jaw was firm and his nose as straight as a Grecian statue.
“I wondered if Miss Tyler were unengaged, perhaps I might have this dance.”
“That would be lovely,” she answered. And without a thought to Troy, she tripped off with Lord Westerfield, leaving Mariah to stare after their retreating forms.
If she had thought Troy a good dancer, she was twice as impressed with Lord Westerfield who led her onto the floor and bowed with a vibrancy that was lacking in her previous partner.
As they took hands to dance to the end of the row, he said, “I feel I have met you before, yet I cannot place the occasion.”
“Yes, it was at least four years ago at a Christmas party at the Stuart residence. I believe you were home for a break from school.”
“I remember the party. I fear I was somewhat reclusive. I doubt we even spoke.” “While you did give off the impression of a reserved nature, I would hardly have known
what to do if you had spoken to me.”
They parted at the end of the lines and clapped while the other partners made their way down the row. When they were reunited once more, Anne asked, “May I make bold as to ask how you like being back in our village?”
Lord Westerfield shook his head. “I did not expect to like it well at all.”
He gave her a smile that lit his dark mischievous eyes. “Yet, I find my opinion improving as I make new acquaintances.”
“Is that so?” “Indeed it is.”
They exchanged partners, and when they were re-united again, he said, “When I left school, I took a tour of the continent. Upon completing the tour, I lived with my uncle in London. He has a prosperous business that I will inherit one day. I had great fun learning about it until I was summoned home.”
“I hope you shan’t be bored.” “I am sure I shall not.”
His dark eyes held a sparkle that sent goose bumps along her arms.
The dance ended as did the enchantment of her spell when she saw Mariah speaking with Troy at the edge of the crowd. He sent her a look of disapproval before returning to his conversation.
When they reached them Mariah said, “Mr. Fletcher was kind enough to keep me company while you were engaged.”
“Mr. Fletcher is an obliging gentleman, to be sure,” Anne replied. “I should like to introduce him to Lord Westerfield.”
As the men shook hands, Anne was struck by the contrast between them, one tall and dark, the other a head shorter and quite blond. After they had sized each other up a moment, Troy said, “I do not believe I have seen you before. Are you newly arrived?”
“Yes, only last week. I have come to help my father manage our estate.”
“Lord Westerfield has had a tour of the continent. It would be fun to hear each of your opinions,” Anne said.
Responding quickly to her remark, Troy said, “That would be of interest to us, but I doubt you ladies would find it amusing. And I am sure that there is a lovely supper laid out. Shall we go in to it?”
He held out his arm to Anne and she had no choice except to take it and leave Lord Westerfield to escort Mariah. Troy leaned to her and said, “May I tell you again how charming you look? I feel it an honor to escort you.”
Anne flushed, wishing she could understand why his compliments made her uncomfortable. She forced a bright smile and said, “Why, thank you, Mr. Fletcher. You are kind indeed.”
They joined the throng in line at the supper where the ladies filled their plates with ham, beef, small cakes and biscuits. They stood and chatted as they ate their refreshments. More than once, Anne noticed Lord Westerfield’s gaze lingering upon her face.
After they finished their repast, she did not see Lord Westerfield again, except for glimpses across the dance floor. She danced the remaining dances with Troy and other assorted young men who asked for her favor.
They ended the evening by dancing the “Roger de Coverley”. By then the hour was late.
They retrieved their wraps and settled into the carriage. Anne felt pleasantly drowsy and suspected that the soup had been spiked with negus. In her relaxed state, she was caught quite unaware when Troy reached across to take her hand and impart upon an impassioned confession.
By Karen Cogan
In this sweet Regency romance, life in India is idyllic for Anne Tyler and her younger brother, Jeremy until the deaths of their parents shatter their world. They are sent to England to live with a grandfather that neither remembers. However, as the years pass, the kindly man proves a balm for their wounded hearts. His death, when it comes, is a cruel blow.
Though his will leaves the estate to Jeremy, the boy is not yet of age. His grandfather’s nephew, a man with a mysterious past, is named guardian of the property and soon arrives to take up his duty. Unfortunately, the man has a son who is both evil and cunning. Since he stands to inherit the estate should Jeremy die, he will stop at nothing to get his hands on the property.
Murder and threats of murder soon haunt their every move. Standing between them and disaster is the handsome Lord Westerfield, a man who promises to defend Anne and Jeremy, even at risk to his own life.