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Authors: The Unexpected Wife

Emily Hendrickson

BOOK: Emily Hendrickson
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Emily Hendrickson


Chapter I


There was a wondrous tingle in the air; spring could not be so very far away. Juliet Winterton crunched through the thin layer of winter snow, sniffing appreciatively while she climbed the last few feet to the crest of the south-facing slope near her home. At the summit she paused, gazing upon a much loved view. Before her a drift of snowdrops swept down to meet budding crocus near the reflecting pool. It was a glorious morning at Winterton Hall.

Wrapping her arms about her, she heard the ominous crackle of the letter in the pocket of her rust-colored redingote. She shivered at the sound. The multiple capelets kept much of the morning chill from reaching her; rather, her shiver came from remembrance of the missive’s contents.

As Juliet bent to collect a few of the pretty snowdrops, she considered what she must do as a result of that letter. It was all because of her stepbrother, drat his hide. Marius had been brief, conveying only the bare bones of his intent. He’d decided that their father must have died over in Russia—no one had heard a word from him in years. Therefore Marius had taken it upon his slim shoulders to arrange a marriage for his sister with his good drinking and gambling crony, Robert, Lord Taunton.

Juliet had no intention of wedding a man she had heard described as a rowdy good fellow. In the few times she had seen him, Robert Taunton appeared no better than Marius. After years of putting up with her miserable stepbrother, Juliet had no desire to wed a man just like him. Indeed, were there any men equal to her dear, and possibly departed, father? He’d been a man of principle, loving and kind to his only daughter.
would never have sanctioned a marriage between a mere baron—a drunken gamester at that—and Juliet.

She sauntered down the hill, deep in thought, vaguely aiming for the reflecting pool. What could she do? Normally, she would have turned for advice to her governess, Miss Pritchard, but that worthy lady had been called home; her parents had been taken severely ill. Juliet’s maid was less than helpful, Pansy being the sort who shrouded herself with gloom and doom, forever seeing the unfavorable side of matters.

The one thing of which Juliet was certain was that she could not, indeed, must not marry Robert, Lord Taunton! Not that she’d mind being left in the country while her husband flitted about London with his friends. She adored living in the country, considering it far preferable to London, which she viewed with great misgivings.

Of course, she had to admit she’d not had the dubious pleasure of a come-out in London since her dearest papa had been detained in far-off Russia these past years. Miss Pritchard had described a come-out to Juliet in glowing terms, but Juliet had seen pitfalls in every sentence. It sounded more to her like a trial by peers, with judgments rendered upon rather superficial matters—like the gowns one wore or obtaining those plaguey vouchers to Almack’s assemblies.

No, it was not being left alone that bothered her; it was that she would likely have children without her husband’s comfort, that he would be more interested in spending money in the city or at the race courses than in improving his estate—if he followed Marius’s example. She would be little better than a brood mare, with straightened circumstances in which to live to boot. It was a situation not to be tolerated—at least not if she could manage otherwise.

Which brought her to the crux of the problem—how to avoid the marriage.

Off in the distance she observed a traveling coach bowling along the lane, headed south. It was trailed by a fourgon bearing luggage and other necessities. The neighbors appeared to be off to London. Everyone was headed for the city, and by everyone she of course meant those of the privileged group of which she ought to be one. If only dear papa would return. In her heart Juliet refused to accept that he was dead. Surely she would have felt something, a premonition, a sense of loss?

Drooping slightly, she re-entered her home to find Mrs. Mullins, the housekeeper at Winterton Hall ever since Juliet could remember, awaiting her. The woman stood in the hall, hands folded across her ample expanse, looking for all the world as if Juliet had done her a grave injustice.

“Mrs. Mullins, is there a problem?” Juliet dropped her flowers, pulled off her gloves, and tossed them and her bonnet on the table in the center of the entry while awaiting the explanation she knew would come. She unbuttoned her redingote with chilled fingers, taking note that the housekeeper did not as customary urge Juliet to warm herself or offer a hot drink. The predicament was indeed dire.

“Your stepbrother, miss. He sent a message to Mullins to have rooms prepared for him and his friend, Lord Taunton. He also wrote for Mullins to request the parson to present himself come next Tuesday for a wedding ceremony. Your wedding, miss, if I make no mistake.” The housekeeper gave Juliet an affronted look, as though Juliet would deliberately neglect to inform her of such a momentous event.

“So I gather from the letter I received. I had no inkling of my stepbrother’s intent, you may be sure, Mrs. Mullins. Indeed, I scarce know what to think.” Juliet went on to soothe the woman’s sensibilities while feeling as though a trap had been set and sprung for her. There appeared to be no escape. Yet there must be, if only she could be sufficiently clever. In spite of her brother’s opinion of her, she had brains and would now use them.

Alone once more, Juliet walked to the library, settling herself in her father’s great leather chair near the fireplace with the hope that while there she might be inspired with a solution.

* * * *

In London, the elegantly handsome and polished figure of Alexander Barr, Viscount Hawkswood, impatiently trod the steps leading from White’s, his anger well concealed beneath a veneer of sophistication. He had been on the town long enough to have acquired a patina of town bronze sufficiently thick enough to ignore the twitting of his friends and so appear supremely undisturbed. But lately things had grown out of hand. It was one thing to be the most sought after gentleman in London; it was quite another to be hounded by Camilla Shelford to the point where everyone expected an announcement at any moment. He had no intention of wedding the little baggage, even if she was beautiful and possessed a reasonable dowry. If anything like her mother, she would be a shrew of the most objectionable sort once safely married.
was to be avoided at all costs.

Worst of all, he could not go to one of his country estates, for he was certain that wily young woman would follow, somehow trapping Alexander into being forced to wed her. The same reasoning prevented him from visiting any friends who had remained in the country.
Blasted women.
They were all the same, out to trap a husband in any way they could.

Alexander determined that when he decided to marry—and that was a time off if he had his way—he would choose his own bride and there would be no entrapments!

In the meantime, Alexander vowed to walk with cautious steps. Miss Shelford would not catch him unawares. Just at that moment, he caught sight of a familiar carriage tooling up Piccadilly and hastened into the calm environs of Hatchards with the comforting knowledge that if necessary he could slip out the back door. He was not about to be trapped.

* * * *

“Pansy,” Juliet said with hesitant determination, “we must leave here. I refuse to be trapped into marrying that dreadful man.”

The maid paused in replacing the garments she had just ironed and bestowed a frown on her mistress. “And just where do you be thinking you might go?” she demanded.

“I do not know,” Juliet admitted wearily. She had remained in the library until the dinner hour and was nowhere near a solution to her dilemma. “Only we
leave here, and I suspect the sooner we go, the better. I fear if we wait too long, I may be easily caught. Time is of the essence. That is why we must go as soon as may be. I want you to pack my clothes, and I shall fabricate a reason for departing. I doubt I shall fool Mrs. Mullins, though,” Juliet added pensively. “She has ever seen through me. But she’d not give me away to Marius, would she?”

“That she would not,” agreed Pansy reluctantly. “I still don’t see where you’d go.”

Juliet took a deep breath and announced calmly, “Just leave that to me. We shall leave at first light.” She went to the door, then turned to face her maid. “I intend to inform Mrs. Mullins that Miss Pritchard has requested I come to visit her.”

Pansy gave her a doubtful look, but kept her thoughts to herself, for once. Resigned to her fate, the maid went to fetch a trunk along with a hatbox and her own valise.

With a view to traveling and the costs that might be entailed, Juliet went to the library safe and removed every pound therein—which fortunately proved to be a considerable sum. What her stepbrother would think of the missing money she preferred not to consider. He was unaware that she knew the combination to the safe. She had inadvertently overheard the series of numbers and carefully stowed that knowledge away in the back of her mind. How useful a good memory was at times!

Miss Pritchard’s family lived to the north in Yorkshire somewhere. Her home was in some little village far north and west from the town of York. It would certainly confuse Marius should he seek Juliet there, for she intended to head south. That she had no
plan was not to be revealed to the doubting Pansy. Something would turn up, of that she was certain.

Rather, Juliet hunted out her father’s copy of
Patterson’s Roads
and hoped it was not too horridly out of date for her use. South and west, she decided, wishing to avoid proximity to London. She would plan as she went, traveling when and where the spirit moved her.

Mrs. Mullins was another matter entirely.

“I’d not wish to see you haring off to visit your governess, no matter she is as kind and gentle as any lady might be,” the housekeeper asserted. “Why, anything might happen to you along the way!”

Daughter of a vicar with a large family, Miss Pritchard had been an excellent influence on the exuberant Juliet. If the housekeeper was aware that Juliet fled marriage to Lord Taunton, her suppositions were not voiced
Her objections voiced, she had put no additional hindrance to Juliet’s departure.

Thus it was that early the next morning after a substantial breakfast and a tearful farewell to Mullins and Mrs. Mullins, Juliet—along with Pansy, the trunk, hatbox, and Pansy’s modest valise—was deposited at the main posting inn in the nearest market town by a most reluctant coachman. This good man thought it scandalous that Miss Juliet take a public conveyance of any sort when he could offer his services. It was only by means of cheerful guile that Juliet convinced him she would do well enough on her own with Pansy at her side.

“Doubtless there is no place to stable a coach such as this at poor Miss Pritchard’s house. I’d not wish to embarrass her nor cause her any trouble,” Juliet virtuously explained.

The coachman frowningly agreed and reluctantly turned the ponderous Winterton traveling coach around for his return trip to the hall.

Juliet breathed a sigh of relief when the coach was out of sight. Then she made her way to the proprietor of the inn and requested a post chaise. Once that was arranged, she directed the driver to head south in such a quiet voice that no one else heard her. That the inn proprietor had taken the notion she was headed into Yorkshire was deliberate on her part. He would tell Marius when and if he bothered to inquire, arid her stepbrother would be lured in the opposite direction.

“I think you be daft, if you don’t mind my saying so,” Pansy grumbled when the chaise gave a lurch as it hit a pothole with some violence.

“Would you rather I marry a drunken gamester who would soon have my dowry spent and his estate quickly encumbered with debts, leaving me with a clutch of babies and no money?” Juliet demanded.

Pansy subsided into appalled silence at the horrible future projected.

At the next town of some size, Juliet requested with her pretty manners to be let down at a comfortable-looking coaching inn. She paid off the driver of the post chaise, handing over precisely what was due plus a modest tip—large enough so he was not disgruntled, but not so vast that he thought her a fool.

She thought this was what was called covering her trail—not that she believed Marius would do much serious looking for her. He seemed too indolent for such effort just to find his chum a wife he doubtless did not desire in the least. She suffered no illusions regarding her status in the marriage market. As a viscount’s daughter with a goodly dowry as well as admittedly possessing a pleasing appearance, she was more than acceptable.

On the other hand, she had little to recommend her. She hadn’t made her bow to Society, nor had she been presented at court. She knew of no well-born relative or older friend to sponsor her entry to the
It came from living such an isolated life and not keeping in contact with her late mother’s friends. Well, that could not be helped at this point. What mattered now was to escape the clutches of Lord Taunton.

BOOK: Emily Hendrickson
9.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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