Read I Adored a Lord Online

Authors: Katharine Ashe

I Adored a Lord

BOOK: I Adored a Lord
7.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

Dedication

For Darlin

 

Epigraph

“The [ailments] of . . . animals are few and simple, and easily cured . . . for the remedy then consists in little more than putting the animal upon a direct contrary course to that which brought on the disorder.”

—­ John Hinds,
The Veterinary Surgeon
(1836)

“With thyself my spirit fill.”

—­ Thomas Ken,
Hymn from the monastic Divine Office (1692)

 

Dearest Reader

M
y first love in fiction is a beautifully written romance. If that romance includes a bit of high adventure, then I am in alt. I also happen to adore mysteries set in country mansions and remote castles, especially murder mysteries. So when Ravenna Caulfield, the free-­spirited youngest sister among my Prince Catchers, suggested to me that she was eager for that sort of harrowing fun, I welcomed the opportunity to write it. Packing up my fuzzy sweaters and woolen socks, I headed off to the mountains of France.

France
, you say?
Why France?
Well, I supposed that if Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, a Belgian, could solve mysteries in England, then my English heroine could solve a mystery in France.
N'est-­ce pas?
And I had a hunch that where I was heading I would find the ideal inspiration.

Quel
success! Traveling southeast from Paris, I stopped just short of Switzerland in one of the most poetically beautiful regions of a beautiful country: the Franche-­Comté. Here the ancient Jura Mountains descend into valleys bathed in sunshine and blanketed with vineyards. In this paradise I sampled morsels of Comte, a delectably mellow hard cheese, washed down with the famous yellow wine of the region. I dipped crusts of crunchy bread into bubbling, steaming fondue pots and savored mouthwatering plum tarts while looking out upon medieval churches and eighteenth-­century chateaux. I studied the stairwells, furnishings, bedchambers, parlors, stables, carriage houses, even the plumbing of glorious mansions where princes and princesses once dwelt, and I wandered the manicured parks of these estates in a state of euphoria. In short, I fell in love. It seemed the perfect place for my heroine and hero to fall in love too.

I give you now
I Adored a Lord
, a house party whodunit wrapped in a tender, passionate romance and set in a sublimely gracious place. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Warmest wishes,

Katharine

 

The Suspects

(In order of appearance)

Sir Beverley Clark—­Our heroine's former employer

Mr. Francis Pettigrew—­Sir Beverley's friend

Prince Sebastiao—­Portuguese prince, host of the party, and younger half brother of our hero

Lord & Lady Whitebarrow—­Wealthy English earl and his wife

Ladies Penelope & Grace—­Their nasty twin daughters

Sir Henry & Lady Margaret Feathers—­Thoroughbred breeders and social upstarts

Miss Ann Feathers—­Their unfortunately mousy daughter

General Dijon—­Former Napoleonic war hero (on the French side)

Mademoiselle Arielle Dijon—­His lovely daughter

Duchess McCall—­Highlander widow

Lady Iona—­Her stunning and vivacious daughter

Wesley Courtenay, Earl of Case—­Heir to Marquess Airedale and elder half brother of our hero

Lord Prunesly—­A renowned biologist and baron

Miss Cecilia Anders—­His daughter

Mr. Martin Anders—­His poetical son

Bishop Abraccia—­An ancient Italian archbishop

Miss Juliana Abraccia—­His orphaned niece

 

Chapter 1

The Fugitive

R
avenna Caulfield's ruination began with a bird, continued with a pitchfork, and culminated with a corpse wearing a suit of armor. The bird came first, indeed, years before the pitchfork incident and Ravenna's untimely discovery of the poor soul in steel—­though perhaps that discovery was remarkably timely, depending upon one's opinion of grand matters like Destiny and Love.

Orphaned as an infant and living in a foundling home with her two elder sisters, Ravenna learned steadfast fortitude from Eleanor and indomitable defiance from Arabella. Unfortunately, she never mastered either. So it was that on the day she stole a carrot for the old cart horse, Mr. Bones, and for it earned six hours locked in the attic, when she found the wounded bird tucked in a crevice between two chipped bricks near the window, she did not know to turn her face from it. Its forlorn
cheep cheep
was more than a softhearted girl could ignore. She went to it, discovered its torn wing, stared into dark eyes just like hers, and vowed in an earnest whisper that she would save it.

For four weeks she scrubbed the sticky refectory floor quicker than all the other girls, poking her fingers with splinters to earn ten precious minutes of liberty as reward. For four weeks her heart beat like a spoon upon a kettle as she snuck away to the attic where she chewed the stale remnants of bread from breakfast and fed them to the bird. For four weeks she collected rainwater from the windowsill in a leaf and watched the tiny creature drink until its
cheep
s were no longer despondent but gay. For four weeks she coaxed it into her palm and stroked its torn wing until finally it stretched both feathered limbs and made tentative leaps toward the window.

Then one day it was gone. Ravenna stood amidst broken furniture and old storage trunks, and wept.

A short, joyful
cheep
sounded outside the window. She shoved it open and stared into the eyes of the bird perched on a branch hanging close. It flew into her outstretched palm.

That spring she watched it industriously build a nest in that branch. When it laid eggs she knelt on her small, calloused knees at chapel every morning and prayed for the health of its young that would soon come. To celebrate their hatching she brought the little mother a worm she'd dug up in the cook's garden, and watched her feed the four chicks. Lost in happiness that day, Ravenna was late to evening prayers. With livid cheeks, the headmistress reprimanded her before the other girls, then she made them all peel turnips until their hands were raw and sent them to bed without supper.

The next morning when Ravenna snuck out of the attic, three of the foundling home's meanest girls stood at the base of the stairs waiting for her. With arms crossed and lower lips curled, they said only what they always said to her: “Gypsy.” But the following day when Ravenna went into the yard for their half hour of brisk walking, the three girls stood directly beneath the attic window. Before them on the ground were a great big stone and the remnants of a nest of twigs and leaves.

The little bird never returned.

Arabella fought the girls with nails and fists—­and won, of course. That night in the cold dormitory, while Eleanor tended to Arabella's bruises and cuts, she spoke soft words of comfort to Ravenna. But despite her sisters' help, Ravenna came to the conclusion that some girls were heartless.

After the bird, the battle lines were clearly drawn. The mean girls did all in their power to trip up the sisters before the headmistress, and most of the time they met with success. Eleanor endured their cruelties. Arabella confronted them.

Ravenna escaped. Losing herself on the modest grounds of the foundling home, whether in the cocooning warmth of summertime, the crisp chill of autumn, the peace of winter, or the soft, damp gray of spring, she fashioned a world in which she could not feel the tugs on her braids or the whispers of “Egyptian” which she did not understand. Outside the whitewashed walls of her prison she sang with blackbirds, scouted out fox, nibbled on berries in the briar patch and raw nuts fallen from friendly trees. Mr. Bones was excellent company; he never spit or pinched, and since her skin was quite like the color of his shaggy coat he never commented on it.

When the Reverend Martin Caulfield took her and her sisters away from the foundling home Eleanor said, “He is a good man, Venna. A scholar.”
Whatever that was
. “It will be different now.”

A man of dust-­colored hair and dust-­colored garments but a kind face and a quiet voice, Reverend Caulfield brought them to his cottage tucked behind the church in a corner of the small village. Never beating them or making them scrub floors (Taliesin the Gypsy boy did the latter in exchange for lessons), the Reverend taught them to pray, to read, to write, and to listen carefully to his sermons. These lessons proved challenging for Ravenna, especially the last. The cat that the church ladies kept to eat up all the mice would curl into Ravenna's lap during the ser­vice and purr so loudly that they always told her to take it outside. Once freed, she never returned. The cathedral of Nature seemed a more fitting place to worship the Great Creator than inside stone walls anyway.

On her eighth birthday the Reverend took her to the blacksmith's shop and opened the door of a horse stall, revealing a sleeping dog and, at her belly, a wiggling cluster of furry bodies. All of them save one were liver spotted. The one, black and shaggy as though he had been deposited in the straw by the hand of Methuselah, tilted his head away from his mother's teat toward her, cracked open his golden eyes, and Ravenna was so filled up that she could not utter even a sigh.

She called him Beast and they were never apart. He attended her to lessons and on Sundays sat beneath the elm in the churchyard and waited for her. But most days they spent in the woods and the fields, running and swimming and laughing. They were deliriously happy, and always Ravenna knew he was too strong, too large, and too fierce to ever be hurt by anybody, and too loyal to ever leave her.

On rainy days, the stable, smelling of straw and animals and damp warmth, became their home. Ravenna watched the old groom treat a sore hoof with a poultice of milk, wax, and wool. The next time he allowed her to do it. Then he told her how to recognize colic and how in the winter good foraging and warm water were better at preventing it than bran mash. In the winter when the Gypsies camped by the squire's wood, Taliesin—­whom she always wished the Reverend would adopt too so that he could be her brother—­would take her to the horse corrals and teach her even more about hooves and colic and whatnot.

Then Eleanor fell ill. While Papa fretted and Arabella cooked and sewed and did all the tasks about the house that must be done, Ravenna learned from the doctor how to pour a dose of laudanum, how to prepare a steaming linen to set across Ellie's chest, and how to boil licorice root and distill it into tea. In time Eleanor improved, and Ravenna began to follow the doctor on his other calls. At dinner each night she would tell Papa all that she had learned, and he would pat her on the head and call her a good-­hearted puss.

When Arabella was seventeen she left to teach the children at the squire's house, but returned only eight months later. After that, Papa told Ravenna she must not wander about the countryside alone.

“Young ladies must behave modestly,” he said with a worried glance at Beast sprawled out before the hearth.

“But Papa—­”

“Obey me, Ravenna. I have allowed you too much freedom and you have had no mother to teach you the modesty your sister Eleanor has through her own nature and Arabella has learned at school. If you do not alter your habits, I will send you to school too.”

Ravenna had no intention of returning to the world of locked doors and switches. “Do not send me away, Papa. I will obey.” Confining her escapes to the stable, she strayed no farther. She showed her father that she could be as tame as her eldest sister while inside she suffocated.

Upon her sixteenth birthday she walked to the village and posted a letter to an employment agency in London. A month later she received a reply, and six months later an offer.

“I am going, Papa,” she said, hand clutched around the handle of a small traveling case. With relief, it seemed, he gave her his blessing. She went to the stable and fed an extra biscuit to the horse, scrubbed her knuckles over the barn cat's brow, and then with Beast at her side set off on foot.

Eleanor ran after her and wrapped her in a tight embrace. “You cannot escape me, sister. No matter where you hide, I will find you.” Eleanor had never regained the bloom in her cheek or softness of form that had made her pretty before she'd fallen ill. But her arms were strong and her hazel eyes resolute.

Ravenna pulled away. “That suits me, for I would never wish to escape you. And at Shelton Grange I will be closer to Bella in London.”

“But what do you know of these men?”

“What the employment agency and their own letter told me.” That their house was large, their park vast, and their collection of twelve dogs, two exotic birds, and one house pig too much for them to manage without the assistance of a person of youth and vigor.

“Write to me often.”

Ravenna did not promise; her penmanship was poor. Instead she bussed her sister on the cheek and left her standing in the middle of the road, silhouetted by the gray stone of their father's church.

Her employers were not pleased to discover that the “R. Caulfield” of her letters was not a young man.

“Impossible,” Sir Beverley Clark said with an implacably sanguine regard. Within moments of standing in his drawing room furnished with masculine comfort, Ravenna saw that although his friend, Mr. Pettigrew, was considerably more gregarious, in this house Sir Beverley was master. Resting a well-­manicured hand on the top of the head of the wolfhound standing beside him, he told her, “I will not allow a young lady to reside at Shelton Grange.”

“I haven't any designs upon you,” she said, looking up from the cluster of pugs licking her fingers and chewing her hem to his handsome face, then to Mr. Pettigrew's round, rosy cheeks. “While you are clearly quite wealthy, you are both much older than my father, and anyway I don't ever intend to marry so that puts period to that concern. I merely want to care for your animals, as agreed upon in our letters.”

A twinkle lit Mr. Pettigrew's cloverleaf eyes. “Well, that is a relief, to be sure.” His voice was as merry as his smile, his hair probably yellow once but now creamy white. “But, m'dear, what Sir Beverley is saying is that it is unsuitable for you to live with two gentlemen who are unrelated to you.”

“Then you must adopt me.” She set down her traveling bag beside Beast who sat quite properly by her side, as though he understood the gravity of the moment. “I give you leave. My father is not my real father anyway, and I don't think he would mind it as long as you do not beat me or otherwise mistreat me.”

Sir Beverley's eyes like clear rain studied her. “From what are you running, Miss Caulfield?”

“Prison.”

Mr. Pettigrew's brows shot up. “We've a fugitive in the house, Bev. Whatever shall we do with her?”

For the first time, the hint of tolerant compassion that Ravenna would grow to love ticked up the corner of Sir Beverley's mouth. “Hide her from the law, I daresay.”

She spent her days brushing out the shaggy coats of three wolfhounds, clipping the nails of nine pugs, and laboring over letters to experts asking for advice on macaws and parrots. She made friends with Sir Beverley's coachman, a one-­legged veteran of the war who marveled at her ease with four-­legged creatures and took up her instruction where Taliesin had left off.

Though he enjoyed the comforts of Shelton Grange above all, Sir Beverley liked to travel to entertainments, and to live in grand style upon those journeys. Mr. Pettigrew, whose house was only five miles distant but who liked Shelton Grange better, always accompanied him. While they were gone, Ravenna remained at home with Beast and their menagerie, enjoying the solitude of the lake and woods and fields and the house.

When they were in residence at Shelton Grange, Sir Beverley and Mr. Pettigrew liked to coddle her, like the first time she assisted Sir Beverley's tenant farmers during the lambing and afterward walked about in a daze with purple circles beneath her eyes. Mr. Pettigrew mixed up a batch of his special recipe for recovering from excessive debauchery, and Sir Beverley read to her aloud from
A Treatise on Veterinary Medicine
. Privately Ravenna took this solicitude to heart, while to their faces she teased them, telling them they were treating her as though she were an infant and they her nurses. They seemed to like that. She called them “the nannies” and they called her their “young miss.”

For six years Ravenna was deeply happy.

Then Arabella married a duke and Sir Beverley told Ravenna that she must begin to make plans to depart Shelton Grange, for he could not employ a duchess's sister, no matter how fond they all were of her. One morning not long after that, Beast did not wake up, and Ravenna understood that Paradise was only a dream invented by pious men to fool everyone.

BOOK: I Adored a Lord
7.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell
A Patent Lie by Paul Goldstein
Dove Arising by Karen Bao