Authors: Raven McAllan
Tags: #Timeless Romance
Miss Simpkins’ School: Miranda
Miss Simpkins’ School for Seduction, Book 3
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Miss Simpkins’ School: Miranda
Copyright © 2014 Raven McAllan
Cover Artist: Victoria Miller
Editor: Deadra Krieger
Photographer: Jenn LeBlanc/Illustrated Romance
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in reviews.
To Deadra. Thank you, hon.
“Why?” Molly Simpkins looked up at the tall and more than handsome man, who lounged in a most elegant manner against her mantle. “And seriously, Ash, one day you’ll burn your backside leaning over the fire in that way. What would Adriana say about that?”
Ashley, the Earl of Addersley, straightened up, moved all of six inches away from the glowing coals, and laughed. “That it served me right, and as well it wasn’t my bollocks, I would imagine. As for why? Because Adriana demands it. There will be no dissembling, Molly. I am commanded not to return without you. You will stay for at least a sennight and you will be godmother. Towse has arranged for your maid to pack your clothes, and she has already departed to Addersley. We’ll leave as soon as you change into the pretty garnet-colored traveling dress. And furthermore,”—he held his hand up to stop her speaking—”if my lady cares not that we are seen together, and I am honored by both her decision, and by having you as such a great friend to us both, why should you worry?”
Put like that she couldn’t. “I just don’t want to cause trouble,” she said lamely. “Heavens, Ash, don’t you think the three of us have given enough tittle-tattle to the ton already? I care for you both, and am truly honored to be Godmama to your children, but you don’t have to alienate your peers in such an obvious manner. I have my school. I’m semi—” She laughed suddenly. “Semi-respectable. Although, if my pupils talked, I am sure I’d be unacceptable once more.”
Ash grinned. “Not to your pupils or their partners, you wouldn’t. They, I suspect, will be eternally grateful.”
The surge of pleasure that spread through her was unexpected. Oh, she accepted that her School for Seduction was a success. Mainly due to Ash and Adriana, who were her sponsors and backers. Something that still amazed her.
Molly was once Ashley’s mistress before his marriage, and Adriana, his affianced, stumbled upon them in the act of making love. Rather than berate them, Adriana declared she would accept no less than the delights a mistress experienced and intended to eschew the mundane coupling of a wife.
Adriana had, Molly recollected, led Ashley a merry dance until he agreed to her stipulations. Although, as Adriana had confided to her later, he had more than given as good as he got. It seemed both enjoyed their exchanges and both emerged triumphant. Now with the birth of Harry, their heir, and Mary, his younger—by six minutes—sister, and Molly’s namesake, their happiness was palpable.
Molly couldn’t help but experience a pang of envy. Children weren’t likely on her horizon. You needed a man for that, and since Ashley, there had been no one. Oh, there had been offers. All of the sort she didn’t want. Once Ashley had let it known Molly was under the protection of him and Adriana, the unwanted advances had ceased, and she showed young ladies how to succeed in seduction instead.
She loved her work, and if the one man she really wanted—and it wasn’t Ashley—couldn’t be for her, then so be it. She was luckier than most. Through Ash and Adriana, she had met prospective pupils, and also people to help educate them. Even more unusual, Molly discovered herself to be welcomed in many a house as a member of the ton.
However, actually standing up at a christening and promising to look after the spiritual and moral welfare of an heir to an Earldom and his sister, might be one step too far for some people to accept.
“Stop worrying,” Ash said as he propelled her out the door and patted her arse. “I can see the wheels in your mind turning apace. Go upstairs, change, and be down here in twenty minutes. We need to leave to get home—my home—at a sensible time. Adriana needs to see both of us, and the twins need to meet their godmama. So, please move.”
It was the
that did it. In all truth, she couldn’t be anything but pleased about that. She left the room in a hurry.
Two hours later, Molly wondered just why Ash had driven his phaeton. The roads were abominable, and the lurching of the carriage made her ready to be sick. She was more than grateful to see how well their journey progressed. Two more hours, and if Ashley’s information to her was correct, they should then reach Addersley. Once there, she could curse phaetons, spirited horses, and unexpected excursions to hades. Until then, she needed to concentrate on breathing deeply and hope she wouldn’t have to ask Ashley to stop so she could be ill.
“Lud, Ash, this is the most uncomfortable ride of my life. Why your phaeton?” She held on tightly as he negotiated a sharp bend at a spanking pace, and glanced in her direction. Darn the man. Couldn’t he keep his eyes on the road?
“Adriana thought it would get us home faster, which is undoubtedly true, but also we decided ‘twas better to show the ton and the tabbies we were not doing anything underhand. She enjoys riding like this, and says if she is unable to do so at the moment, then you should stand it in her stead.”
That she could understand. The gossips would have a field day if they thought there was any scandal, and frequently when there wasn’t.
“Then I forgive you for making me feel as if I wish to lie down in a darkened room with a cold compress over my forehead.” She grinned. “And I will not suffer the ignominy of being ill.”
Ash smiled back at her. As ever, it was friendly, non lover-like, but full of affection. Molly and Ashley had been good friends as well as lovers, and Adriana accepted that, as easily as she accepted they were lovers no more. As Adriana said on more than one occasion, anyone with half a brain could see there was no spark between Ashley and Molly. Whereas, Molly had retorted, there was an inferno between husband and wife.
“Who else is to stand up for the babes?” Molly asked as they passed through a pretty hamlet. A long oval duck pond was on one side of the road, with several ducks either on the water or warming their feathers on the bank. To the other side, a corn mill stood next to a whitewashed inn. The area had a feel of gentle prosperity, and care.
“Tilly, of course. Ivo Daranton and his ladies. Ranulph, Auberon, and Hermione, and my step-brother. And Miranda. The poor children will be inundated, but you are all the people who matter to us.” He swallowed and for one second Molly thought he might expand on his statement. Then she realized something that blew all other thoughts out of her mind.
His step-brother. Oh lord, not Charles? That’s all I need.
“Is this on your estate?” Molly changed the subject as fast as she could. A man stood outside the mill and doffed his cap, and Ash saluted him back.
“Yes, on the boundary between Addersley and the old Countisberry Estate. The one Charles now has.”
It got worse. So he’d be nearby? Molly bit her lip and nodded. She’d worry about Charles later. For now, she’d concentrate on staying upright. Although, once they left the village behind, the road narrowed to little more than a lane. It was in good shape. It was obvious Ashley took care over maintenance, and was able to spring his horses somewhat. Molly closed her eyes, and then opened them in a hurry. It was preferable to see what was going on rather than to wonder.
“What the—” Ash pulled the horses down to a fast trot, and then even slower as he swerved around the gig in the middle of the road.
The nag fastened to it snorted and shuffled uneasily, but other than that stood its ground. Molly gulped and surreptitiously wiped her clammy hands over her skirts. Only the most experienced of horsemen could have avoided the collision. Ash brought the sweating horses to a halt and threw the reins at Molly. “If I’m not back here within five minutes walk them. If I’m not mistaken, that’s Charles’ gig. He’s busy today, so Miranda is either up to mischief or met her just reward.”
Molly knew Ash had mentioned her as a godparent, but surely if Charles had married her, he would have said Miranda, Charles’ wife? Molly blinked away the film of water that covered her eyes, and ignored the chilly goose bumps that covered her body. She couldn’t think of Charles like that. Like what, she didn’t put into words, even to herself. He was unattainable, and she had to keep that thought uppermost in her mind.
The horses tossed their heads, and made their bits jangle. Molly remembered Ash’s diktat and flicked the reins to urge them to walk slowly up the lane. Obviously, they didn’t prescribe to Ash’s five minutes and then walk. Two minutes was quite enough in their minds. She could only hope there was somewhere to turn them later on.
She hadn’t got more than a few yards before Ash hailed her to wait. “I have her. It seems for once it wasn’t mischief but sheer bad fortune.” He approached the phaeton, a young lady of around eighteen years in his arms.
To Molly’s disgust, her first emotion was one of relief. She might not know Charles as well as she thought, but there was no way he’d marry someone nigh on twenty years younger than him. Then the girl opened her eyes. Molly was sure her gasp could be heard back in the village. Charles’ eyes stared at her.
“Who are you?” The girl struggled in Ash’s arms. “Uncle Ash, I can walk. It was stupid of me, but Merry has never been spooked by a pheasant before. So, are you going to introduce me to your...” She paused before continuing in an insolent manner, “Companion?” Her skin was sun-kissed and darker than most young ladies thought acceptable, and her voice was sweet and held a hint of accent. Italian maybe? It would account for her skin tone. Even though she had a good ear for things like that, Molly decided she’d need to hear more.
Ash’s expression was rigid. His eyes flashed, and if Molly hadn’t looked closely, she wouldn’t have seen the anger there. The smile that flashed over his face was not pleasant, and Molly shivered again, as he almost flung his burden into the phaeton. Molly moved over toward the middle of the seat. It would be a tight squeeze, but they would manage.
“Well?” Now Molly thought she heard a note of pleading there. “Uncle Ash?”
“No,” he said.
Well, that went all askew. Drat it, I need to speak to her. If she is who I think she is...
Miranda pondered why Ash looked so annoyed, and replayed her words back in her mind. She groaned.
“Ah, sorry that didn’t quite come out as expected. It sounded disrespectful, and it wasn’t intended to be. I’m...”
“I’m a little shaken up
.” I need to keep my mind on the task in hand. It is my future at stake.
Ash narrowed his eyes, and finally, just as Miranda thought she’d scream and own up to anything to break the silence, he nodded. “You should have been spanked more when you were a child.”
Not when I was a child, but now? Oh yes, please. But not by my father or uncle.
“Minx.” Ashley turned toward the other lady in the phaeton, who, Miranda saw, had gained the color she’d lost when Miranda had called Ashley ‘uncle.’ It was something to think about later.
“My dear, can you drive the phaeton to the house? I have every faith in your ability. No.” He held his hand up at Miranda, who shut her mouth in a hurry. “Not you, you are shaken up.”
His tone brooked no refusal. Miranda would have protested except she was sadly aware his words were true.
“You can give directions.”
The elegant lady in the velvet traveling dress grinned. An urchin grin that lit up her face. “I am touched you have faith in my ability, Ash.”
He gave a short laugh, and the softening of his features surprised Miranda. Not love like he showed every time he looked at his wife, but affection, surely? Miranda began to speculate. Was this the person she hoped? The lady who she had heard was a friend of both Ashley and his wife. If so, fate had thrown her a kindly hand.