Authors: Donna Fletcher
Tags: #Historical Romance, #19th century
She was ready to take her leave when he spoke. The full richness of his voice caught her by surprise.
“Your greeting is sincerely appreciated and though this land is new to me, I don’t think anyone’s counsel will be necessary. The journey was long and tedious, and I wish to retire to my estate to rest. We can speak further tomorrow at one, Mr. Smith.”
Lil was furious that Henry raised no protest. He smiled and nodded in agreement, not at all perturbed by the man’s imperious remarks. She was determined to relieve herself of the lord’s obnoxious presence when Henry spoke up.
“Lord Sherborn, before you go, I would like to introduce you to Little’s esteemed sheriff Sam Prescott and his lovely daughter—Lil.”
“Glad to meet you, Lord Sherborn,” Sam said and extended his hand.
Lil was surprised by the pleasant smile the lord offered her father and the firm handshake. “I’m pleased to meet you, Sheriff. I’ve heard many good things about you. There are some matters I would like to discuss with you. Say, tomorrow at two.”
“Sounds fine with me,” Sam agreed.
Lord Sherborn then turned to Lil and looked down at her, though not in a superior manner. It was just that he was well over six feet tall while she was only five feet four. Still, his haunting eyes assessed her so thoroughly that for the first time in her life she felt short.
“My daughter, Lil.” Sam repeated the introduction in case the lord had forgotten Lil’s name.
“A strange name,” Lord Sherborn commented without taking his eyes from hers.
Naturally Lil, not being one to back down, refused to cast her eyes away as a polite lady should.
“It’s Lillian, actually,” Sam explained in an attempt to ease the obvious tension between the pair.
“Yes. Lillian. That name I am familiar with,” Lord Sherborn said, sounding as if the matter was inconsequential. “It is nice to meet you, Lillian.”
Lil gave him the kind of smile that always made her father cringe, since it was usually followed by an inappropriate remark. “It is nice to meet you...” She paused a moment for effect, then continued, “I don’t think I caught your name.”
Lord Sherborn raised his brow considerably. “Sherborn.”
Lil shook her head and spoke in the tone of a teacher directing a simple-minded child. “No, that name I heard. I mean your given name. Mine is Lil, and yours is...”
Henry Smith gasped quite loudly, and her father moaned softly.
Lord Sherborn glared at her.
have a first name? The English do that sort of thing, don’t they? I mean, it isn’t just a barbaric custom that we Americans alone follow, is it?”
“Your thirty minutes are up, Lil,” Sam said, moving closer to his daughter’s side. “You’re free to leave now.”
Lil was persistent. “But he hasn’t told me his name yet, Father.”
She was definitely riled. She had called him Father.
“My name is Rudolph, but my friends call me Rolfe. You, Lillian, may call me Lord Sherborn.” His tone was once again dictatorial.
Lillian smiled that defiant little smile of hers. “It will be a pleasure. It was nice meeting you. Good day, Rolfe.”
Henry gasped again, and her father moaned somewhat louder this time.
As she wove her way through the crowd, Lord Sherborn watched her self-assured walk and mumbled his favorite expression when vexed. “Bloody hell.”
Rolfe stepped down from the coach and immediately unwrapped his cravat and loosened his shirt. On his first appearance in Little he really hadn’t wanted to seem dandified and haughty, but he had reached the conclusion before leaving England that for the moment it would be best to give that impression.
He wanted the people of Little to think him incompetent in his new surroundings. That way he could learn who he could trust, who could be called a friend, and whose offer of help would be sincere. Only then would the town of Little come to know the true Lord Sherborn.
Rolfe stood proudly in front of the house he had had built and admired the fine workmanship. He had seen to every step of its construction, writing the architect with specific instructions, and his attention to detail had paid off. The house was constructed in true Gothic style with a Mansard Second Empire roof that appeared framed by the rich blue of the sky.
Rolfe slipped out of his jacket, the material too confining for the warm July air. He relaxed his stance and basked in the pleasure of viewing his home for the first time. He had waited with impatience for its completion and for the journey that would bring him here to Little and his new life.
He rolled up his shirt-sleeves after tossing his coat onto the seat of the coach. It was perfect, just as he had imagined in his daydreams as well as the ones that haunted his nights.
The earth colors were a good choice. They blended well, the soft muted beige and brown with the deeper hues that resembled the rich soil itself. The flowering trees, bushes, and colorful flowers were set in the precise areas he had chosen. The elegantly appointed veranda graciously welcomed visitors with comfortable wooden rockers, and sturdy tables held potted ferns.
“Perfect coloring,” Rolfe mumbled.
Like the strawberry blond color of Lillian’s hair.
“Bloody hell, where did that thought come from?”
He wasn’t interested in a woman at the moment. Perhaps one who would satisfy his basic needs, but not one who expected more. Lillian Prescott would expect more. Rolfe shook his head. She wasn’t the type of woman who suited him—even if her hair was spun with the fires of gold.
“Is this it, sir?”
Rolfe turned, having forgotten all about Jonathan. He smiled at his manservant. Stiff and proper, Jonathan had opposed this holiday, as he referred to it, since he was certain that once they arrived in barbaric America, Lord Sherborn would come to his senses and they would return home to a civilized land.
What Jonathan couldn’t comprehend was that Rolfe had no intention of ever returning to England. And Jonathan, being the faithful manservant that he was, refused to leave Rolfe’s side. Rolfe suggested that if he wished to remain in England he would provide him with excellent recommendations to obtain a position elsewhere. Jonathan adamantly refused, insisting Lord Sherborn could not survive without him. And at times Rolfe had to agree. Though Jonathan was only ten years older than Rolfe’s thirty-two years, he appeared much older and wiser, and Rolfe would have sorely missed him.
“Do you like the house, Jonathan?” Rolfe asked.
Jonathan, though several inches shorter than Rolfe, appeared tall, since he carried himself with an English dignity that could not be matched.
“Our lodgings are much more adequate than I had anticipated.”
“I’m relieved to hear that, Jonathan.” Rolfe hid his smile, having assumed Jonathan expected a log cabin in the wilderness, and although the wilderness surrounded them, from his perch on the hill he could look down on the town of Little and not feel too isolated.
“You are tired, sir. I shall see to the unpacking immediately and have a bath drawn. And I shall prepare a decent meal for you. You have not eaten properly since this tedious undertaking began. Then you shall rest.”
“That sounds splendid, but there is much for me to see to first.”
Jonathan snapped his fingers at the cowhand who had driven the coach. “See that the bags are taken inside, my good man. I will direct you as to where to take them as soon as I acquaint myself with my surroundings.” Jonathan then returned his attention to Lord Sherborn. “All this has waited months for you. A few more hours won’t make a difference. By then you will feel refreshed and invigorated and ready to face your duties.”
Rolfe shook his head and laughed softly. “As usual you are right, Jonathan. I place myself once again in your care.”
“Of course,” Jonathan said matter-of-factly. “That is why I stayed in your employment. I am necessary to you.”
A sudden sadness washed over Rolfe’s expression.
“I am sorry, sir, forgive my foolish tongue,” Jonathan apologized. “Lady Beatrice was necessary to you. I am but an adequate servant.”
Rolfe raised his hand in protest. “You are much more than an adequate servant. You have been a true friend.”
Jonathan, being the proper manservant, hid his emotions and merely responded with a simple thank-you.
Rolfe stared up at the house. Jonathan took himself off to direct the heathen cowhand in unpacking, aware without a word being exchanged that his lordship wished for solitude.
Two years ago Rolfe would never have imagined himself leaving England to begin a new life in America. He had had what he wanted most; a wife, a baby on the way, an estate, and social acceptability—although social acceptability had not led the list of priorities. His lands had been important to Rolfe, but his wife, Bea and their expected child had meant the world to him.
Rolfe walked around to the side of the house hoping to focus on anything but the past. It didn’t work. Bea’s death came rushing back to him. He heard once again her terrifying screams, her pitiful cries for him to help her, her pleas for God’s forgiveness, although for what he couldn’t comprehend, and he could do nothing for her. The doctors had tried, but unfortunately there had been too much bleeding and the baby wouldn’t enter the birth canal. There had been nothing he could do but watch Bea and his child die.
A month after the funeral his decision was made. He would not stay in England, but he would retain his estate there for his heirs. He appointed a competent manager to oversee it before he left.
Rolfe shook the painful memories away. He was finally here. He would begin a new life, and perhaps one day he might find a suitable wife—one who spoke softly, followed her husband’s direction, and was dutiful in her duties.
Someone similar to Bea... not a fiery strawberry blonde.
“I’ve told you a hundred times, Bibi, you can’t keep having intercourse because you’re having a problem with this pregnancy,” Lil attempted to explain.
Bibi wrapped her red ruffled night coat more tightly ground her rail-thin frame. “I can’t believe you’re a lady and speak so openly about such personal things.”
Lil was exasperated. The girl didn’t understand a thing she was saying. All that made it through that idle brain of hers was that an unmarried woman talked so openly about sex. “Listen to me, Bibi,” she tried again, but Bibi interrupted.
“I listened and I’ll stay off my feet. I mean, off my back.” Bibi blushed and added, “For a few days.”
Lil shook her head. “A few days won’t do. You’re spotting, you’re having trouble eating, and you’re pale. These aren’t good signs. You could lose the child.”
Bibi sat on the edge of the large bed where nightly she plied her trade. “Perhaps that would be for the best.”
Lil sat down next to her and reached for her hand, squeezing it. “Don’t say that.”
“But it’s true Lil. What kind of life can I give this baby?” She covered her flat stomach. Since she was only three months along, it would be a couple of more months before she began to show and be unable to work.
“I talked to the Hogans,” Lil told her. “They’re willing to take the baby and raise it as their own. Adele Hogan hasn’t been lucky enough to get pregnant yet, and she and her husband are desperate for a child. They’re good people.”
Bibi wiped a tear from her eye. “Why are you helping me?”
“Why shouldn’t I? When you see people in need, you reach out and help each other. That’s the way of things. Someday you can return the favor.”
Bibi laughed and wiped away another tear. “That’s not likely.”
“You never can tell. You could do something that would be the turning point in my life.”
Both women laughed then, and Lil hugged Bibi. “Will you rest for at least two weeks? It
be two months, but let’s try two weeks and see how things go.”
“Susie ain’t gonna like this. It’s her place and she don’t like moochers. She expects all her girls to work.”
“And what will happen when you begin to show?”
“Off to the kitchen in a flash to cut, peel, and bake until I deliver,” Bibi explained with a deflated sigh.
“Leave Susie to me. I’ll take care of her.”
“No one takes care of Susie but Susie.”
Lil patted the young girl’s hand. “Don’t you worry. Just rest and take care. I’ll stop by in a few days to check on you.”
“Lil?” Bibi’s voice stopped Lil as she reached for the knob. “Thanks.”
Lil smiled. “You’re welcome. Now rest and take care.”
Lil closed the door and hurried to Susie’s office on the lower floor of the saloon, next to the taproom. To get there she had to walk partway through the barroom—not that it bothered her. She often entered that way instead of through the back entrance, it being quicker, though only at the least busy hours; she wasn’t a complete fool. Many of the townsfolk were accustomed to seeing her there. They all knew she was seeing to Doc Talbert’s patients for him.
It was early afternoon, and the saloon was nearly empty, so Lil felt comfortable walking through the taproom to Susie’s office. Jim, the barkeep, was busy readying the place for this evening when every table, ten in all, would be filled to capacity and the long, ornate mahogany bar would be lined shoulder to shoulder with men. That was one time when Lil stayed away or used the back door if necessary.
Lil knocked and opened the door to Susie’s office at the same time. “Busy? I’d like to have a word with you.” Not waiting for an answer or refusal, Lil took the seat next to the desk.
Susie placed the quill pen she was holding back in the inkwell and casually leaned back in her Queen Anne-style chair. “Business or pleasure?” she asked with a feline smile.
Lil couldn’t help but admire the lady, though that word was rarely used in reference to Susie. But it wasn’t a lady’s respectability that Lil admired; it was her intelligence. “I don’t recall ever coming here for pleasure.”
Susie’s smile changed to one of respect. “That’s what I like about you, Lil. You challenge people right back and don’t blink an eye when you do it, which leads me to suspect that I’m not going to like what you have to tell me.”
Lil didn’t falter in her response. “Bibi has to stay off her feet
off her back.”