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Authors: Audrey Harrison

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BOOK: An Inconvenient Trilogy
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Chapter 10

Elizabeth had been delighted when Michael had informed her that Charles and himself would be accompanying her to Yorkshire. She had travelled with the pair and Miss Fairfield, and as each mile passed taking her further away from London, she became more lighthearted. She was excited to reach the estate. Charles was the only one to have visited and although she had questioned him in minute detail, it could never be like seeing it herself.

After three days’ travel they turned into the estate entrance. There were around sixty acres in total. Initially Michael had questioned if it was too much. He had come to regret asking the question when Elizabeth had spent the next half hour telling him exactly what each acre would be used for.

Elizabeth peered out of the carriage window noticing each tree and field as they trundled down the track. “Home Farm is a good name for the property, it will be the first home of my own. The house being set in the middle of the estate prevents any disturbance from the road, and means that I can go about my business without any worries,” Elizabeth said cheerfully to Miss Fairfield.

The statement caused a quiet sigh to come from Miss Fairfield; it was obvious to her that Elizabeth was going to revert to wearing breeches while on the estate.

The carriage eventually came to a halt outside the open doorway of the manor house. The vehicle had barely stopped before Elizabeth jumped down. She was introduced to the staff by Charles. She greeted them all with unaffected pleasure. She asked how long they had worked on the estate, where their families were based and how they liked working there. As a result of some of the responses they made, she also promised them that in the future she would be working to modernise the house.

Charles offered to show her around the inside of the house, to which she agreed. As they were led through the large wooden doorway by Smithson the butler, Elizabeth interrupted her questions to Charles and turned to the butler. “Oh, have my trunks arrived from Lancashire?” She asked.

“Yes ma’am, but I think there is some mistake, the housemaid reported to me that they were filled with male clothes,” Smithson responded apologetically.

Elizabeth threw her head back and laughed, “You poor things! This is the moment when you find out your new mistress is completely mad. When I am working on the land during the day, I shall be wearing those clothes. You had better warn the staff, to try and reduce the shock of seeing me dressed like that. You can tell them not to worry though; my guardian has ensured that I have learned to be a lady, so in the evenings and for any entertaining I do, it will not reflect badly on the house or the staff.”

Although the butler was shocked at her words, they were delivered in such a way that his reaction was that of an indulgent father. He had liked Elizabeth on sight, her questions to the staff were asked out of real interest and she had listened to their answers. They had not been questions for the sake of it. Her obvious pleasure in seeing the building had also secured his regard, he had worked in the household for most of his service and he was very attached to it. He got the impression that Elizabeth was here to stay, and to improve the sadly neglected estate. He resolved to warn the staff about the dress code of their new mistress, but he would come down hard on anyone who dared to ridicule her.

Elizabeth was delighted with the house. A drawing room, study, dining room and morning room made up the ground floor, with the kitchen area at the back of the property. On the first floor there were five bedrooms, the two main ones having a dressing room attached. The second floor consisted of a nursery room and the female staff bedrooms. The male staff were housed in rooms over the stables. Elizabeth was pleased that each room was a good size, each a useful space, but they all looked tired and needed quite a bit of work in order to bring them up to scratch.

After the tour they joined Michael and Miss Fairfield in the drawing room. Miss Fairfield was pouring tea. “It will take some changing to bring it up to the standard of your London house, but I think between Miss Fairfield and myself, we shall have a good try.” Elizabeth said to Michael happily, sitting on a chair.

Michael smiled at her bubbling enthusiasm. “You may have little time to fix the house, once you have seen the work needed on the land.”

“Oh the house we shall work on in the evenings, the days are for the land. I shan’t be doing much visiting and entertaining for a while. I have had my fill of Society,” Elizabeth responded with feeling.

“The local families will expect it,” Miss Fairfield said quietly reminding her companion that she would have some duties in the area.

“Can I not have a little time before I need to paste a smile to my face and pretend I enjoy morning visits?” Elizabeth groaned.

“Perhaps just a little time,” Miss Fairfield smiled in return.

As soon as everyone had finished their refreshments Elizabeth went out with Charles and Michael to explore her land. She had gone over plans with Charles prior to their arrival, but she wanted to see if actually seeing the land would change her perspective. It was also an opportunity to meet the people who would be tending the land for her. Michael was pleased and felt a sense of pride in the way everyone seemed to take to Elizabeth. He could not help reflecting that she really was far more at home in the country; she knew what questions to ask, and it was obvious she knew what she was looking for.

The evening was spent with the four of them dining and planning what was going to happen while they were all together. Miss Fairfield was to take over the role as housekeeper as well as companion. That way she could implement changes into the house, while still providing respectability to Elizabeth.  She was happy that her time would be spent constructively, because she was fully aware of how much time Elizabeth would spend outdoors.

The evening meal was eaten with Elizabeth leading the conversation with her plans. All was going well until Charles offered his services.

“If you should find that there isn’t enough staff in the house, just let me know and I can employ more,” he offered helpfully.

Elizabeth noticed Martha stiffening in her chair and was amused at the reaction of the usually restrained Miss Fairfield. Elizabeth was going to speak, but Miss Fairfield interrupted her.

“Thank you for your offer, Mr. Anderton, but if Miss Rufford needs extra staff I shall be the one to make any arrangements,” came the stiff response.

Charles betrayed no emotion, although there was a slight flushing of his face. “I was offering purely because I now know something about the staff and the local area, after my previous visits here,” he said defensively.

“I shall be running the house, alongside Mr. Smithson, I am sure between us we can muddle through,” came the tart reply.

“As you wish,” Charles responded, returning to his food.

Michael and Elizabeth exchanged a look across the table. Miss Fairfield and Charles appeared to be developing a dislike of each other, which was out of character for both. Elizabeth was extremely amused at her usually calm companion. No more was said on the subject, and the remainder of the evening passed pleasantly enough.

The gentlemen were to stay at a local inn, Michael had insisted that it was more seemly, and Elizabeth did not argue. If he had stayed in the house she would have been obliged to give him the second principal bedroom, and that was the room nearest hers. Her nerves could not have stood the tension of being so near his sleeping form.

*

The following morning Michael and Charles arrived early and waited in the study for Elizabeth to join them. They had been told she was on a horse ride across her land, and that she had been out early.

Michael smiled at Charles, “If she continues to be as enthusiastic as she is at the moment, the estate will be running at a profit before the year is out,” he said.

Charles smiled in return, “With the plans that are being discussed, I expect she will have bought up most of Yorkshire by the end of the year.”

“Are you mocking me, gentlemen?” Elizabeth asked from the door. She laughed when she saw their shocked faces. “What’s the matter, have you never seen a woman in breeches before?”

Michael took a moment to speak. “Well, since you have raised it, I, for one, am not used to seeing women in breeches, actually.”

“It can’t be that different to seeing a man surely?” Elizabeth asked walking across to the desk and unfolding some plans. “I worked on these after you left last night and would like to go through them with you both today.”

Both men looked at each other in horrified amusement. Elizabeth was completely oblivious to the picture she portrayed. She wore breeches, but that was where the resemblance to a man started and ended. The breeches hugged her figure and although loose at the top of her legs, they were fitted enough at the waistband to provide a good outline of her bottom. The shirt she wore would have been baggy except for the braces holding the breeches up. These emphasised the curve of her breasts and drew the eye immediately. She looked athletic and very feminine; neither man had seen anything like her before. Both felt that the temperature had increased in the room since her entrance.

Michael particularly felt the impact of Elizabeth’s attire. He had dreamed about seeing the curves her dresses had hinted at. To be faced with only the thinnest cotton layer, clinging to her curves, rather than skimming them as dresses did, he began to doubt his sanity at travelling to Yorkshire. He pondered her shape for a few moments before the realisation sank in of the stir she must have caused for any man that came into contact with her. It was a miracle she had not been compromised or even ravished, before she had arrived in London.

“Do you think it wise to continue wearing breeches?” he asked, preparing for a set down.

“All the staff have seen me and no one responded negatively. Everyone was fine about it back in Lancashire, although I had dressed like this from when I was a young girl,” Elizabeth explained, hardly raising her head. “Now about these plans...”

The two men looked at each other over Elizabeth’s head and shrugged in defeat. It was obvious that Elizabeth was comfortable in her attire and the only ones who had a problem with it were themselves. They bent over the desk and spent the rest of the morning struggling to look anywhere but at her curves.

 

Chapter 11

Michael arrived at the house early, Charles was following on, but Michael had not wanted to delay in seeing Elizabeth. He had been attracted to her in London, but since they had been in the country he found her even more desirable. She had always had life and spark, but in the country she glowed. He had to keep reminding himself that it was not forever, but he was determined to enjoy every second with her before they had to return to London and she married Lord Halkyn.

A few times he had wanted to mention the proposal to her, but he had not wanted to spoil the atmosphere that existed between them. He was fairly sure that she would withdraw from him if he tried to talk about her impending marriage. All he could do was enjoy her company and try not to dwell on the thoughts that soon she would belong to another.

He was told by Miss Fairfield that Elizabeth was in the top field, so he strode off to join her. It took him a little while to reach the top field on foot, but he eventually saw her shape moving felled branches onto a fire.

Elizabeth waved when she saw Michael and stood catching her breath and appreciating the view of the handsome man striding across her land. She would never tire of watching him move. It was as if his movements flowed as one, they looked so fluid and smooth. His clothes fitted him to perfection, emphasising his figure. Since staying in Yorkshire he had chosen to wear greens and browns rather than the more formal blacks and golds that he wore in London. The colours suited his complexion and made him appear even more handsome to Elizabeth. Looking so perfect against the background of the countryside could only make her admire him even more. He was a man who was confident and sure of himself without being arrogant.

“Good morning! I hope you have come along to work.” Elizabeth greeted him.

“It looks like you have been here for some time.” Michael said, noticing the smudges of soot on her face.

“There’s plenty to keep me occupied every moment of every day. Thankfully, I can leave the running of the house to Martha which gives me more time. When I was running Papa’s estate, I had to do both and it was exhausting.” Elizabeth chatted as she continued to move branches.  The field was marked for sheep, so had to be cleared of the dead wood that currently crowded it.

Michael shrugged out of his frock coat and placed it carefully on the wall. “What?” He asked with a grin at Elizabeth’s raised eyebrow. “This is made by the finest tailor in London, I don’t want it to be ruined.”

“You poor dandy.” Elizabeth teased.

“Dandy! You impertinent miss. Prepare to work your fingers to the bone in your feeble attempts to keep up with me.” Michael said, moving into action.

They worked together until the field was clear of wood. The sun was high in the sky by the time they had finished, and both were hot and sweaty. Elizabeth’s cheeks were flushed with the exercise and her eyes sparkled with mischief as they leaned on the stone wall viewing their work.

“You work well for a dandy.” she said smiling.

“You work well for a bluestocking.” Michael retorted.

“Bluestocking?” Elizabeth spluttered.

“The way you study plans and account books, you can be nothing but a confirmed blue stocking,” Michael continued, happy for once to have the upper hand.

“I’d call that a good business woman, but I forget, the aristocracy don’t like the word work. It brings them out in a sweat,” Elizabeth retorted in mock indignation.

“We don’t sweat my dear, we perspire,” Michael said loftily. “Although I seem to be perspiring quite a lot after this morning.” he said, wiping the back of his hand across his forehead.

Elizabeth took her handkerchief out of her pocket and without thinking, stood in front of Michael and wiped his forehead. “My poor Lord, let me tend you. I am sure your friends will overlook one morning of work while you are such an upstanding member of the
ton
.”

Michael had stilled at Elizabeth’s action, he did not want to make any movement or sound that would make it stop. If he was a decent man he would move away, but he was selfish enough to want to feel her touch and closed his eyes to savour the moment. Her body leaned into him; he could feel the cotton of her shirt against his chest as she stretched to reach his forehead.

Elizabeth had acted without thinking, but as soon as she had touched Michael and he had stilled, she had realised how forward she was being. Any other lady would pull away and apologise for her lapse, but she carried on, encouraged when he closed his eyes and she felt his body relax a little. This was what she wanted, to be able to touch him, to be able to fuss over him. The problem was that touching him a little was never going to be enough.

She took her time and wiped his face until she could prolong the action no more. That was the moment she should step back and end this, but instead she reached up and started to straighten his collar. Michael opened his eyes in surprise when he felt her arms moving around his neck. He could see she was breathing as heavily as he was.

“You are a dishevelled dandy.” Elizabeth said quietly, as she straightened the material.

Michael smiled a little, “I would rather be classed as a rake than a dandy.”

Elizabeth laughed, “That is something that you would never be considered. You are far too responsible and gentlemanly for that.”

Her words were not a challenge, he knew that. She was actually speaking the truth, but they stirred something in him. She was right, he enjoyed himself with women, but he never stepped out of line. Never putting himself in a position that would class him as dangerous. He had always lived his life by following good principles. Those same principles had kept him from touching the one woman who had stirred him above everyone else and he was sick of it.

Michael’s hands moved around Elizabeth’s waist and pulled her towards him. Her eyes widened and her pupils dilated, encouraging him without words. “A dandy wouldn’t do this.” he said.

Elizabeth’s hands stilled around his neck. She was not sure what he was going to do, but she was not going to stop him, whatever it was. She could feel the length of his body as he held her, heat still radiating off him from his active morning. After a moment it did not seem as if he would go any further, so full of mischief, she decided to push him a little.

“No, but it isn’t really rake-like behaviour is it?” She asked, arching a brow.

Michael smiled at the challenge, she was full of spirit and he loved her for it. “No, but let’s see if you think this is rake-like.” He bent his head and brushed his lips against hers. Her sharp intake of breath pleased him and he brushed her lips again gently.

Elizabeth’s head was swirling, but she desperately tried to keep a small part of her sane. She was convinced that he would pull back from her at any moment and if he did, she knew she would cry with frustration. She wanted to feel more kisses; she wanted more of him, so she teased him further. “No, still a dandy.” she whispered.

Michael chuckled and then paused. He should pull back, but her lips, her flushed face and the way she was looking at him stopped him. She was so close, he could feel her breath against his lips and he could not resist. It had been too many months of restraint. He moved and turned her so she was leaning against the wall. She had gasped at his swift movement, but her arms were still around his neck. He bent forward and instead of being gentle, he showed her with his kiss what he had been feeling since the first moment that she had walked into his life.

Elizabeth leaned into the wall, but pulled Michael closer. She had never felt anything like what she was experiencing, and she did not want it to ever stop. His gentle kisses had stirred her, but his passionate ones made her head spin, and her legs weaken. The feeling of his lips pressing down on hers, as if he could not taste enough of her was overwhelming. He forced her lips apart and she welcomed the feel of his tongue as he teased and probed.

His arms held her firmly against him, but they did not remain still. They roamed across her back, pulled at her hair and held her bottom, pushing her against him. She felt the effect the kisses were having on him as he pushed his arousal against her body and dug her hands deeper into his hair, finally she was feeling what she effect she had on him and it exhilarated her.

Eventually Michael stopped kissing her, but did not pull away. He rested his forehead on hers, both breathing deeply, but never losing eye contact. “We should stop.” he said simply, but not convincingly.

“We should, but I hope we don’t.” Elizabeth whispered.

“Not quite yet.” came the husky response and he reached down for her lips once more. This time he took his time exploring her mouth, her lips. He placed kisses along her cheeks and jawbone, enjoying the feel of her sharp intakes of breath. He especially revelled in the times when she seemed to stop breathing when he touched a particularly sensitive spot.

Elizabeth could not move initially, Michael had all the power and he was using it to send the most amazing sensations through her body. After a while she started to move her hands away from his hair. She was tentative at first, but when he pulled her closer to him with an appreciative growl in the back of his throat she became a little bolder. She gloried in the feel of his shoulders and the way he flexed under her touch. She moved down his arms and then across his chest, never pulling away from his lips.

Her hands travelled across his sides and rested on the waistband of his breeches. A small amount of material was untucked and she moved her fingers inside to touch his skin. The sharp intake of breath from Michael made her pause, but then she moved more of her hand underneath the fabric and touched his back. He groaned and pulled his mouth away from hers, resting against her forehead once more.

“Elizabeth...” he said hoarsely.

“Do you want me to stop?” Elizabeth asked, while at the same time, untucking his shirt from the other side and sliding her hand underneath.

“God no, but you don’t know what you are doing, this is beyond a simple kiss.” Michael fought to remain in control while her hands continued to move across his back. Every inch of skin that they touched seemed to tingle as all the nerve endings responded to her fingers. He had never felt so aware of anything in his entire life before.

“I think we passed the point of a simple kiss some time ago didn’t we?” Elizabeth whispered, feeling bolder than she ever had before, purely because of Michael’s reaction. She had never seen chocolate on fire, but looking into his eyes she could imagine what it looked like. Sparks seemed to be shooting from the core of him.

“Good God Elizabeth!” Michael groaned before pulling her back towards him and kissing her deeply. Elizabeth’s exploration encouraged him to do some exploring of his own. He untucked her shirt and let his hands wander across her back. She had short stays on underneath, but he still could reach enough skin to encourage further exploration.

His hands moved around to her stomach and travelled along the bottom of the stays. Elizabeth had moaned and grasped his back with her hands and he continued his journey. He moved across the stays and up until he could feel the top of her breasts. Elizabeth gasped, but he continued to tease her by touching and feeling every inch of her.

Elizabeth was on fire, literally. She had never felt anything like it, and never wanted it to stop. She had never wanted to be ruined in the middle of a field before, but she would have done anything for it to happen at that moment with Michael.

Eventually Michael stopped and moved his arms to her back. He left her mouth bereft and pulled her to him, wrapping her into his body. “Elizabeth we have to stop, otherwise there is no turning back.”

Elizabeth tried to catch her breath and her thoughts before answering. “I think I passed the point of no return some time ago.” she finally said, not sure what response her words would have on him.

He laughed quietly, “I suppose that goes for us both. You are a wicked girl, leading me astray.”

Elizabeth moved her head from his shoulder in indignation. “Me?” She paused when she saw Michael’s face, he was teasing her. She reached up and touched his cheek with the palm of her hand. “I like the rake better than the dandy.”

“And I prefer the harlot rather than the pretend man,” Michael said tugging her shirt.

“I could only ever be a harlot with you.” came the soft response.

Michael stilled, he had just had the most wonderful experience of his life, but her words had reminded him that she was considering a marriage proposal. He was her guardian and had enough family history to send her running from him. If anyone found out about this episode, no one would believe that she was not ruined. He pulled away from her and leaned on the wall rubbing his hands through his hair.

“What is it?” Elizabeth asked with dread, she had seen the struggle pass over his face and she feared the words he would utter. It suddenly felt cold in the field.

“I’ve acted appallingly,” Michael responded quietly. “I swore that I would not do anything to make any scandal for you and here I am virtually ruining you in the open.”

“We are miles from anyone,” Elizabeth reassured him, but she knew she had lost him.

“We could have been seen by any member of staff. I can’t believe how foolish I’ve been. I’m sorry Elizabeth, it won’t happen again.” Michael did not look at her, he would weaken if he did, and continue to act selfishly. He cursed his weakness.

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