Our hero is issued a challenge for Love
Colonel Michael Sanson didn't understand women.
He certainly didn't understand himself when it came to them...or rather to one in particular -- Ivy.
She was his Ideal. His Helen of Troy. His Cleopatra. His damn, bloody Delilah.
Five years ago, when she had been fresh from the schoolroom and he just turned one and twenty, they'd fallen in love. Of course, as the fifth son of an earl, he'd had little to offer her -- a point her father, Sir William Lewin, had made clear to him. Michael hadn't been afraid to prove his mettle. He'd purchased his colors in the military and had distinguished himself on the front lines of Barrosa and Vittoria. There'd been hardships but he'd been determined. While other officers had held back, he'd charged forward and had been promoted and honored for his valor.
Now, he had returned, a war hero and a man of substance -- and he'd not once had a private moment alone with Ivy.
She hadn't had time. Instead of the shy ingenue he'd left behind, she was now considered the Incomparable, the Toast of the Season. Men lined up at her door, wealthy, titled men who could offer her everything in the world.
Worse, Michael wasn't certain how well she remembered the fervent promises of love they had once shared. She seemed completely different from the woman he had left behind. She knew how to keep him coyly at bay while offering enough of a hint of the girl he'd fallen in love with to keep him dancing to her tune.
However, his patience was growing short and he understood tactical strategy.
He'd forced himself to ignore her at Lady Radcliff's rout. He'd wondered if she'd noticed he wasn't among the crowd of her many admirers. She had. The next day, he received a request from her for a private audience and, congratulating himself, he was on her doorstep in a trice dressed in his most dashing uniform of deep blue cloth and gold braid.
The butler escorted him into the formal sitting room where Ivy waited, looking more beautiful than any woman on earth had a right to. Blond, elegant, poised. She rose at his entrance. The air in the room was filled with the lily fragrance of her perfume, and he felt a moment of triumph.
"You are angry with me," she said. Was it his imagination or did she appear as if she'd been crying?
Immediately, Michael was at her side. She was willowy tall with china blue eyes and a straight, aristocratic nose. "I'm not angry," he said. "But I fear your interest may have waned."
She shook her head in surprise. "Oh, no, not ever."
Her vow was music to his ears. He took her hand. "Truly, Ivy? Do you still love me?"
She smiled, a benevolent goddess able to bestow on him his most cherished wish. "I have never forgotten you." She lowered her eyes, her dark lashes sweeping down upon her cheeks, the expression both demure and seductive. "Do you not love me...just a little?"
He stepped closer. "I worship you."
She hedged away a step. "But how would I know? Last night at Lady Radcliff's party you barely spoke to me."
Michael wanted to pull her into his arms and demonstrate his passion with a kiss, and yet he held back. She'd always been reserved. "I would talk to your father this minute if you would say the word."
"Say what word?" Sir William's voice boomed from the doorway of the room. Ivy hurried to her father's side.
"Nothing -- " she started, but Michael decided to seize the moment.
"I wish to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage," he said.
Sir William frowned and closed the door to the room. Michael catered to him because he was Ivy's father and for no other reason. The man fancied himself a radical and a scientist and always had schemes for new inventions on his mind that he hoped would make him rich. Once, he was very successful in devising an oar lock for the navy and earned a knighthood for his brilliance -- but he'd not had a great idea since. He also had an irritating habit of stroking his chin as if he sported a beard. The gesture was usually a sign he was formulating some sort of scheme. He stroked his chin now as he repeated, "You wish to marry her, you say?"
Michael did not hesitate to answer. "It is my one desire."
Ivy colored prettily, but did not speak. Her father strolled into the room where Michael stood and walked around him, his beady eyes assessing. Michael straightened his shoulders and met the man's gaze. Sir William stopped. "How much do you want her?" he asked, his voice low.
Michael frowned at such an indelicate discussion in front of Ivy. "If you are asking about a dowry, I'm making no demands. I can support her in fine fashion. I've done very well for myself under Wellington."
Sir William laughed softly. "I am aware that you have done well for yourself, Colonel, and that you have made several wise investments. There is much about you to be admired. However, what I want to know is what would you be willing to do for the honor of my daughter's hand?"
The odd phrasing of his question brought up Michael's guard. "I'm not certain I understand your meaning, sir. If you are questioning my devotion, let me assure you I remain as steadfast in my commitment to Ivy as I was before I left for the war."
"Ah, yes, commitment," Sir William echoed with a funny little hum in his voice. He paused and looked to his daughter. "My dear, would you please ask Norell to send in some refreshments for our guest and give us a moment alone."
"Yes, Papa," Ivy replied, her relief apparent at being given a reprieve from the conversation. She dutifully hurried from the room, shutting the door behind her.
Michael sensed there was something odd going on. Nor did he trust Sir William's smile. "What do you want?"
Sir William laughed. "I admire directness, Colonel. Please sit down."
"Perhaps you should tell me what you wish first."
"A favor -- nothing more, nothing less. And in the end, if all goes well, I may grant your request for my daughter's hand."
Taking the chair next to his, Sir William said good-naturedly, "Don't appear so uneasy, sir. I want you to marry my daughter."
"But...?" he prodded.
Sir William gave a worried sigh and dropped his gaze to his hands in his lap. "But I have a small problem I was hoping you could resolve for me. You see, I have been robbed and I need to have my goods returned to me."
"If you've been robbed, call the magistrate."
Sir William shook his head. "The case is too delicate for a public hearing."
par"Then hire a Bow Street Runner."
Sir William rested his elbow on the chair arm and stroked his chin for a moment before saying, "I may have made a mistake. I'd thought you wished to marry my daughter and could help me, you know, as a family member would. Ah, well, I can see I may have made an error in judgment."
He started to rise. Michael leaned forward. "What do you want me to do?"
"Not very much," Sir William said, sitting back down. "I have been on the verge of an important discovery utilizing the properties of a substance called rubber."
"The stuff of a child's ball?"
"The same. However, it could have vast and important uses. My idea was to use it to make fabric waterproof. Imagine the implications. But I am in danger of having all my careful work stolen from me. I need someone resourceful like yourself to fetch a copy of the formula from the pirates who would claim my work as theirs. It will call for a bit of subterfuge."
Michael lifted an eyebrow. "Subterfuge?"
"A disguise. The Royal Society is a very touchy group. I would not want my name connected with the formula's disappearance. I believe you can understand my actions could be misconstrued by those eager to discredit me."
Something was not right. Michael was not surprised Sir William was puffed up over his own consequence. Every ounce of common sense Michael possessed warned him to get up and leave.
As if seeing the direction of Michael's thoughts, Sir William said, "A young viscount has been calling on Ivy. Good man. Excellent background, five thousand a year. You may know him, Thorpeton? My daughter could do no better."
"But she promised herself to me," Michael said.
"Years ago, Colonel. And what is the promise of a young girl without her father's consent?" he asked rhetorically. "Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder. My daughter is as practical as she is vain. She would like to be a viscountess. However, a word from me could make the difference."
Michael drew back. "Am I being blackmailed?"
"Blackmail? No. Consider this more a quest, like Jason in search of the Golden Fleece."
Sir William leaned forward. "Make no mistake about this, Colonel, the formula could be worth a fortune...for both of us."
At that moment, there was a light knock at the door and Ivy entered without waiting for a summons. Michael came to his feet. She closed the door and looked to her father. "Will Michael help us, Papa?"
"He has not said."
Her gaze flew to Michael and he sensed for the first time that she really saw him since he'd returned from the Continent. "You must help us. There is no one else we can ask."
She was so beautiful. He could not bear the thought of her going to another man. Not after he had sacrificed for her over all these years. He'd grown up in a large, gregarious but ambitious family where, as the youngest, he was often an afterthought. Ivy's attention had made him feel special and given his life purpose.
"If I do as you ask," he said carefully, his eyes on Ivy but his words directed to her father, "will you consent to our marriage?"
"Absolutely," Sir William replied. "With a healthy dowry and my blessings. Why, you could be married within the fortnight if you are quick about the matter. I'd even purchase the special license."
Ivy looked away, becoming color staining her cheeks. She was as soft and submissive as a houri. He had the urge to protect her, even as he suspected he was being manipulated.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked.
Sir William smiled. "I need you to go to Wye, a small village on the river Avon. Geoffrey Kenyon lives there, an inferior scientist who makes his living off the backs of other people's work. He has a formula that I suspect is mine."
Michael tore his gaze away from Ivy. "How did he get the formula in the first place?"
His expression bitter, Sir William said, "Through a mutual friend, one whom I trusted. He sent it to Kenyon claiming my work as his own and refuses to discuss the matter with me. His credit is better with the Royal Society and he knows it would be his word against mine."
"Why don't you just write the formula down again?"
Sir William threw his hands up. "Does every housewife remember her recipe for cake? I wrote it down, but misplaced the scrap of paper. I'd have to start over again."
Ivy took a step forward and placed her hand on Michael's arm. "Please, help my father."
Michael felt a bit dizzy when she stood so close, especially when her breasts brushed his shoulder. And there was his family, none of whom was as wild about Ivy as he. He did not want to lose her so they could say I told you so. "What will I have to do?"
"How do you feel about pretending to be a tea merchant?" Sir William responded.
"A tea merchant? A peddler?" Michael almost spit out the words. "I'd rather be a rat catcher."
"A peddler is the perfect disguise," Sir William said. "I've been thinking on this. As a tea merchant you
can go all over the countryside without anyone being the wiser. I've even thought of a name for you. Donaldson. Michael Donaldson. Very nondescript."
"I'd rather walk up to Kenyon's door and demand the formula back."
Sir William came to his feet with a frustrated sound. "He won't give it to you -- and he might even destroy it rather than face its loss or the public humiliation. If he does, we all lose. No, you must steal the formula and a tea merchant is a very good disguise."
Michael did not trust him, not at all. Then, he thought of the sacrifices he'd already made for Ivy -- of the hardships, the battles, the witnessing of the deaths of good men. He was ready for home and hearth.
Compared to what he'd already done to win her, peddling tea would be easy.
He swung his gaze to Sir William. "I'll retrieve your formula. But, while I'm gone, you must keep her safe -- for me."
Sir William did not mistake his meaning. He understood Michael expected him to keep the other suitors at bay. "Consider it done," he said. "When you return with my formula we shall have a wedding that will leave all London talking. Is that not right, daughter?"
Ivy's face had gone pale but she nodded her head. Michael wanted a moment alone with her. He wanted to hear the promise from her lips. But it was not to be. Sir William took over, refining his scheme and embellishing it.
The next morning, Michael exchanged his uniform for an ill-fitting coat and valise containing an assortment of East Indian teas for sale to the discriminating country housewife. He set off for Wye and the strangest adventure of his life.
Jocelyn Kenyon charged into her dearest friend Lucy Lettman's kitchen the moment Lucy answered the knock on her kitchen door. Without waiting for a greeting, Jocelyn declared, "This is the worst day of my life and Uncle Geoffrey is completely oblivious."
She yanked at the ribbons of her bonnet, her fingers shaking so hard she couldn't untie the knot. Exasperated, she quit the struggle and pulled a heavy vellum envelope addressed to herself and her uncle out of the pocket of her dress . "Did you receive one of these?" It was an invitation from Lord Vaughn to attend a ball in honor of his daughter Elfreda's betrothal to Thomas Burkhardt.
Lucy closed the door before admitting, "Yes, I did. I'm afraid, dear, one was sent to everyone in Wye. Lord Vaughn is determined to make this the social event of the parish."
"That means I must be there," Jocelyn whispered and felt her knees go wobbly. She walked down the hall of Lucy's house and into the comfortable sitting room where a cheery fire blazed in the hearth, but she could not feel its warmth. Everything inside of her was cold with the certainty of complete humiliation.
Lucy put her arm around Jocelyn's shoulders. "Jocelyn, we all understand -- "
"Yes, I know." She stepped out of her friend's comforting embrace and slipped her finger between the ribbons. This time, the knot gave way gracefully. She pulled her bonnet off her head, for once not caring about the springiness of her curls. "Everyone understands, and everyone pities me. For the past six months it's been ?poor Jocelyn, what shall she do?' Don't pretend it hasn't been, Lucy. I know people have been discussing me over their teacups. Of course, the gossip was worse in the beginning when Thomas started paying marked attention to Lady Elfreda, but once he'd jilted me -- " She broke off, afraid she might give way to tears and she'd already shed too many.
Thomas had been the love of her life. He'd been by her side since the day she'd first met him sixteen years ago. She'd been eight; he was ten. Her parents had died and she'd been shipped off to Wye to live with an uncle she'd never met. Thomas's friendship had eased the transition. He'd made her feel accepted and she'd idolized him. Around the parish, it had been a foregone conclusion they would marry...someday. Neither one of them had been in a hurry.
But then Elfreda had returned after years spent in London and had started taking part in the parish social circles. She was everything Jocelyn wasn't -- tall, blond, sophisticated, wealthy. She'd stolen Thomas's heart as easily as a child throws a ball.
The whole parish had been a little surprised Lord Vaughn had approved of the match, but then Elfreda wasn't his oldest daughter. She was the middle of seven and he liked Thomas, a farmer with his own land. He'd even sent Thomas to London to get what he'd called "Town bronze" and now Thomas was back and the betrothal would be announced.
"What am I going to do, Lucy? Everyone will notice if I'm not there. And if I do go to the ball, it'll break my heart to see him and Elfreda together."
Lucy hugged her tightly. "You must make the best of it, Joss. You must hang on to your pride and not let him see how much he has hurt you."
"I don't know if I can." She stuffed the invitation back into her pocket and tossed her bonnet into a straight backed chair before walking over to the window. Folding her arms, she leaned against the sill, looking outside but not truly registering the flowering lilac in Lucy's small garden or the farmer out on the road who drove his oxen toward the village.
Wye was as picturesque a spot as any in England. Its streets and paths were nestled among rolling green hills dotted with fat sheep and along the curving banks of the Avon. Some poet had once described the village as "a piece of heaven on earth." Jocelyn agreed with the assessment. This was her home.
"It was easier when Thomas was away," she said quietly. "I could pretend nothing had changed. Now, I hear they will be living at her father's estate. I'll see him every day for the rest of my life."
She faced her friend. "It's not right that Lady Elfreda shows up after years away and steals him from me. He was mine."
"He was," Lucy reiterated sadly. "Joss, you are going to have to live with this. I know you can't see beyond this moment, but someday there will be someone else in your life."
"Not like Thomas."
Now, Lucy was wishing on stars. Jocelyn rolled her eyes. "Who? Billy Fletcher?" Billy was the miller's son and the only eligible bachelor of her age available. A more pompous, lazy man could not be found. He had bad breath and overlarge ears. She pushed away from the window. "I'm four and twenty and I have no dowry. If someone doesn't marry me for love then I shall not be married at all. And Thomas loved me," she said with conviction. "I don't know what spell Lady Elfreda cast over him, but he loved me."
Lucy sat on the edge of the rocker by the hearth. She placed her hands together as if in prayer and said, "We all thought he did. However, Joss, he left you. How much could he love you to have been so fickle?"
Here was a touchy question and not one Jocelyn wanted to explore too deeply...because it didn't cast Thomas in a very good light. "It's Lady Elfreda's fault," she insisted. "One day, he will wake up and realize how unhappy he is. I only hope it's not too late. And I just wish there was something I could do to let him know how deeply he has hurt me."
"Like make him jealous?"
There was a good suggestion. "Yes, and why not?" Jocelyn stirred with interest. This idea had merit and would earn her a bit of her own back. She walked the perimeter of the room, working out the details in her mind. "If I could find a more handsome and taller man than Thomas, then I would have no difficulty attending the ball. Can you not picture the scene now, Lucy? I enter the ballroom on the arm of a man, one who is not Billy Fletcher, and conversation stops. Why, the whole parish would be struck mute with curiosity." She straightened, poised, acting out the part. "All eyes are on me and this handsome gentleman, who has appeared out of nowhere and apparently has swept me off my feet."
"Oh, this is good," Lucy said, leaning back in the rocker to enjoy the story.
"Ummmhmmm," Jocelyn agreed, involved in her scene. "Thomas won't notice us at first. He'll be too busy talking to Elfreda, but he shall hear the quiet -- "
"You can't hear quiet -- "
"Shhh," Jocelyn returned. "He senses something is different in the air."
"I think so, too." Jocelyn directed her hand to point out where Thomas is standing. "He looks up, puzzled. Lady Elfreda is still talking -- like she always is. She likes hearing words come out of her mouth. But he isn't attending. Instead, he slowly turns toward the door where I am standing. I'm wearing my yellow muslin with the embroidery around the trim."
"That's my favorite dress on you."
"I like it, too. And so does Thomas." She smiled, liking this dream. "At first, Thomas will be riveted by my beauty." She smiled to herself over that one.
"You are beautiful," Lucy insisted.
Jocelyn lifted one of her dark unruly curls and snorted. "Yes, I have beaux lining up to write poems to my shoe size."
"Joss -- !" Lucy started to protest, but Jocelyn didn't want to argue. She wanted to dream.
"Anyway, Thomas is riveted and then his gaze shifts." She snapped her head comically to demonstrate. Lucy laughed as Jocelyn knew she would. "He notices I am not alone. I have my handsome, broad-shouldered escort beside me. A dark stranger with smoldering looks and sensual lips."
"Sensual lips? Good for you," Lucy said.
"Yes, good for me...because Thomas is overcome with jealousy. He's green with jealousy." Jocelyn paused dramatically and then said softly, "And crippled by remorse because he thinks he has lost me." She could see his expression in her mind and sighed...and then, to her horror, tears threatened because it was never to be.
Lucy came to her feet. "Joss, please don't cry. And come down from the clouds. Thomas doesn't deserve you. The banns will be posted starting the Sunday after the ball and I say good riddance."
"I wish I could." Jocelyn walked over to the hearth. "Just like I wish I was taller and had blue eyes and straight blond hair. I wish I could make Thomas jealous and then he'd see that marrying Lady Elfreda will be the worst mistake of his life."
"I think you'd best be careful what you wish for." Lucy crossed over and placed her hands on Jocelyn's shoulders. Looking her squarely in the eye, she spoke slowly and distinctly. "I love you like a sister. You are my dearest friend and I would not say this to hurt you, but, Joss, sometimes you refuse to see the world the way it really is. Thomas is with another woman. You must go on with your life. I want you to make him jealous because I want you to start living again. There is someone out there for you. Someone who will love you better."
"No, Lucy, I love him."
Lucy groaned her frustration, throwing her hands up in the air. "Why am I arguing?" She shook her head. "First things first. We need to find a suitable escort for you to Lord Vaughn's ball."
"Not Billy Fletcher," Jocelyn was quick to say.
"No, not Billy Fletcher, but perhaps Kent knows someone." Lucy referred to her husband, Lord Vaughn's land manager and a very good man. "He might know someone outside the parish...or there is his cousin Simon -- "
"Simon is seventeen."
"Oh, he is, isn't he? He looks older." Lucy made a face. "This isn't very promising."
Jocelyn took pity on her friend. "It's not your fault or your worry. I mean, I won't mind being a spinster. I have Uncle Geoffrey to take care of and maybe I can cultivate a hobby or two and start taking in cats."
"A hobby like what?" Lucy asked, suspicious of Jocelyn's motives.
"Pi-geons," Jocelyn said, breaking the word into two syllables.
A gleam appeared in Lucy's eye. She knew Jocelyn was teasing. "Pigeons?"
"Oh, yes, I shall raise pigeons. Perhaps I'll write
an article or two and submit them to my uncle's
scientific journals. I shall be the Pigeon Woman of
Wye and people will come from far and wide to hear me speak and I'll wear a big rose and gray hat and pontificate like the Clark sisters do for hours and hours."
"I'm almost willing to let you do it to see how it all turns out," Lucy said. "Cats and pigeons! But be serious, Jocelyn. You are still too young to place yourself on the shelf." A knock sounded at the front door. She started out of the room, throwing over her shoulder, "And losing you to another man, one worthy of your affections, will make Thomas good and sorry." She opened the front door.
Jocelyn had to agree. She wouldn't mind seeing Thomas grovel in apologies --
Lucy's swallowed gasp of surprise interrupted her thoughts of a groveling Thomas. Her friend stepped away from the door, her eyes as round as saucers.
Alarmed, Jocelyn moved forward, then stopped midstep when she heard a deep, well-modulated male voice say, "Good afternoon, I'm looking for Mrs. Lettman."
Lucy raised a distracted hand up to her hair. "I'm she," she said. Jocelyn had never seen such a silly female smile on her friend's face. "Please come in."
The man entered, removing his hat as he stepped through the door -- and for a second, all Jocelyn, too, could do was gawk.
His tall, broad-shouldered frame filled the narrow vestibule. His hair was thick and wavy and so black it almost appeared blue. His jaw was strong, determined, reinforcing his air of authority.
And he had sensual lips.
"I'm Michael Donaldson, a tea merchant. They told me in the village you had a room to let." He introduced himself as if reciting by rote and Jocelyn had the strange feeling he was decidedly uncomfortable.
"My husband and I do rent out a room on occasion," Lucy said. "Please, come in." She motioned him toward the sitting room where Jocelyn stood.
Mr. Donaldson had to duck to come in through the low doorway. But what caught Jocelyn's interest was the grace with which he moved. Here was a man who was all hard muscle, a natural athlete. He would be as at home on a horse as he would on a dance floor. Never in a million years would she have guessed what he did to earn his living.
Then he looked directly at her -- and time stopped. He was a handsome man with his square jaw and long nose, but what held her mesmerized were his eyes. They were silver and as bright and full of intelligence as any she'd ever seen. Even the dust of the road, which showed he'd traveled a good distance, could not diminish the presence of those eyes.
Jocelyn was aware she was staring and quickly shut her mouth. Lucy, standing behind him, caught her eye. With a wave of her hands, she mouthed the words "this is the one."
The One. The dark stranger. The man who could make Thomas jealous.
Escape was Jocelyn's first thought. It was one thing to laugh and pretend. It was entirely another to believe such a scheme could be put into effect.
Unfortunately, Mr. Donaldson and Lucy blocked her path.
"Mr. Donaldson, this is my friend, Miss Kenyon," Lucy said to Jocelyn's undying mortification.
"Kenyon?" Mr. Donaldson's sharp gaze homed in on her like a beam of light and she sensed he didn't miss any detail.
f0 The time had definitely come to leave. There was something about this man that unsettled her. He was too handsome, too big, too everything. She snatched her bonnet up from the chair. "Well, I must be going -- "
"It is a pleasure to meet you," he said, blocking her exit. He offered his hand.
"And I you," Jocelyn murmured, reluctant to take his hand. Something was not right. Jocelyn sensed it. For one, the name Donaldson didn't seem to fit him. It was too common and this man was anything but. And secondly, he stirred something deep within her. It was becoming hard to breathe naturally. She was sensitive to the bay rum in his shaving soap and her heart beat as if she'd run a fast race. She took a step toward the door. "I hope you enjoy your stay in Wye. Now, if you will excuse me -- "
Once again he placed himself in her escape route. "Do you drink tea, Miss Kenyon? I could show you some of my wares."
Something about his offering to display his wares set her body on fire...a condition not lost on Lucy, who fairly danced with laughter. She came around to saucily hook her arm in Jocelyn's, forcing her to stay. "Tell me, Mr. Donaldson," Lucy said with the easy frankness of a married woman, "how long will you need the room?"
He tore his attention from Jocelyn. "A few days. No more than a week."
He would be here for Lord Vaughn's ball. Jocelyn could almost hear the words ringing in Lucy's matchmaking head. "No," she warned, the sound low.
Lucy ignored her. "Do you dance, sir?"
Jocelyn could have died of embarrassment -- and she couldn't slip her arm free without prying off Lucy's hold.
He was startled by the question. Now, he was the one to back up. "Is it a requirement to rent the room?"
"Oh no," Lucy answered. "But there is a dance going on this Friday in the parish. Since you will be available...well, we can always do with another bachelor."
"My uncle is expecting me to be home," Jocelyn said pointedly. "If you will excuse me?" She attempted to twist her arm free.
Lucy refused to let go. "You will come to dinner tonight, won't you, Jocelyn?" she asked. "And you, Mr. Donaldson, dinner is included in your room rate. We'll make it a happy party!"
"Unfortunately, I won't be there," Jocelyn said, finally managing to pull her arm free. She edged toward the door. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Donaldson."
And she would have made her escape but for Lucy following her into the vestibule and fiercely whispering in her ear, "You must come tonight. Can you not see? The man is gorgeous and he is interested in you."
"He barely noticed me."
"He's staring at you right now," Lucy said -- and she was right. He was watching her closely, his head tilted as if trying to hear what they were saying. "Dinner. Tonight," Lucy ordered and did not wait for a yes or no. Instead, she swept Jocelyn out the door and returned to her new boarder.
Jocelyn stood on the front step, lost in indecision. She could hear Lucy trill her welcome to the tea peddler. The very handsome tea peddler. "Oh, dear," she muttered and, putting on her bonnet, went on her way, knowing she had no choice but to return for dinner.
From the sitting room's front window, Michael watched Miss Kenyon turn at the end of the walk and head in the direction of her home.
How fortunate for him to have stumbled upon a link to Geoffrey Kenyon so quickly. Especially such a fetching link.
Funny, but he'd been so devoted to Ivy he'd not really noticed many other women -- but he'd been instantly attracted to Miss Kenyon and he wasn't certain why.
She was pretty enough, with her lively brown curls and clear dark eyes, but what had caught his interest was the air about her, a vivacity, an earnestness for living. Funny, he'd never noticed such a thing in anyone before, but he definitely felt its presence with Miss Kenyon.
She hadn't believed his story. She wasn't one to hide her thoughts, and she had doubts about him, he'd seen it in her eyes. Her friend Mrs. Lettman had upset her and he wondered why.
His question was answered when Mrs. Lettman said, "I have an offer to make, sir, one I hope you won't think me too bold for suggesting."
Michael turned from the window. Her smile was open and friendly and he found himself liking her. In fact, everything about the village of Wye impressed him. It was like coming home. A man tired of war could make a good life in such a place.
"What kind of offer?" he asked.
"I'm willing to waive the charge for your room for the week if you will escort my friend Miss Kenyon to the ball this coming Friday night."
She then proceeded to tell him the whole story of an unfaithful lover and a scheme to make the lad jealous.
Copyright © 2002 by Catherine Maxwell