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Rhonda Woodward

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Published by the Penguin Group

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have control over and does not have any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author


InterMix eBook edition / May 2013

Copyright © 2013 by Rhonda Woodward.

Excerpt from
A Spinster’s Luck
copyright © 2002 by Rhonda Woodward.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-60079-5


InterMix Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group

and New American Library, divisions of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


Also by InterMix

Title Page



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty


Special Excerpt from A Spinster's Luck

About the Author

Chapter One

Lord Buckleigh stared down at the single sheet of vellum his wife had placed before him.

“A ball? At Ridgeton Abbey? No. No, no, no.”

“Gracious, my dear,” said Lady Buckleigh from across the breakfast table, “you speak of a ball as if it were the plague coming to Parsley Hay.”

“Might as well be,” Lord Buckleigh grumbled.

The Honorable Miss Marina Buckleigh smiled fondly at her father before passing the jam pot to her sister, Deirdre.

Deirdre, who at seventeen did not have Marina’s poise, bounced in her seat. “I’m so terribly excited. Jane Willingham says that Mr. Penhurst has invited any number of gentlemen. For once, the ladies may not be outnumbered.”

Lord Buckleigh’s frown deepened. “I don’t think it is at all the thing to send our girls off to some bachelor’s house for a party. Doesn’t sound at all respectable.”

The three Buckleigh women stared at the good Baron with matching expressions of incredulity.

Marina suppressed a laugh. Papa’s inattention to the social graces was well known to his wife and daughters, but this was beyond anything they had seen before.

Mama picked up the invitation and waved it. “Oh, my dear, a ball at Ridgeton Abbey couldn’t be more respectable. Mr. Penhurst
only four and twenty, but he is the grandson of the
of Penhurst. That being said, we would never send our girls without us.”

It was the Baron’s turn to look incredulous. “You expect me to attend a ball? No, my love, that is the outside of enough. I am much too busy in the stable and kennels. I give my blessing for the three of you to go.”

“Papa, of course you must attend with us. After all, it is our first ball, and it would not be the same without you,” Marina cajoled.

There was real danger that he would not relent, Marina knew, for it was deep into January. After the off-and-on snow since October, the weather had turned fine—clear, bright and biting cold. This kind of weather put Papa in the mood for nothing else but hounds and fowling.

All in the neighborhood knew of Lord Buckleigh’s love of anything that took him outdoors. He was not fond of the gentler forms of entertainment, and chafed if his good wife invited their closest friends and neighbors to dine more than once a month. Even though his wife and daughters each played the pianoforte and the harp beautifully, there had only been one musical evening at Buck Hill and to Deirdre’s dismay, there hadn’t even been any dancing.

But since Michaelmas, the village had been humming with the news that a Mr. Howard Penhurst had taken up residence in the long unoccupied estate of Ridgeton Abbey. After months of speculation and reports on the house, a new rumor had started—that there was to be a ball.

Deirdre had waited for the post to arrive every day for weeks, and finally, a wax sealed invitation had arrived in the morning delivery.

“First ball?” Papa leveled his dark gray eyes, so like her own, at Marina. “Have you not attended any number of parties where there has been dancing and all that nonsense? I do not see why we should get in a lather over some young man moving into the neighborhood.”

Deirdre giggled at her father’s disgruntled expression. “Oh, Papa, a real ball is very different from spending an evening listening to someone plunk away on a pianoforte in the corner. We are no longer little girls, after all. This will be the perfect chance for Marina and me to practice all the dances before we go to London in the spring for the season.”

Papa still looked displeased but made no reply. Marina smiled reassuringly at her father, for she well knew his distaste of anything he considered frivolous.

Normally she agreed with him, for she had always eschewed the silliness that seemed to make other girls of her acquaintance giddy.

However, it was late winter and still too cold to tramp across the countryside with ease, and she could do little in her beloved garden until spring arrived. So a ball sounded just the thing to brighten the gloom that had settled upon this sleepy part of Herefordshire of late.

The mysterious Mr. Penhurst had been espied all of five times since his arriving in the village ensconced in a spanking new traveling coach with dark green painted spokes—three times at church, once at the coaching inn, and once at the shop on High Street that carried snuff and sundries. Each of these sightings had been reported in the most exacting details.

Repairs and renovation had begun almost immediately on the ancient estate, which was situated a good hour’s ride beyond the village, bringing workmen and masons from as far afield as Ross-on-Wye.

Because of this unexpected bounty—and the news that the young man was the grandson of an earl—the whole village was willing to welcome the stranger as if he had lived amongst them all his life.

And now an invitation to a ball! Marina could just imagine the discussions taking place around other breakfast tables this very morning. No doubt the day would bring many callers eager to discuss the event.

Despite her outward sangfroid, Marina was also excited about attending a real ball. She dearly loved to dance and it would be nice to have a few new partners, especially as Henry Willingham was not the most accomplished dancer.

She dismissed the soft pang of guilt she felt for her mental criticism of the young man she would more than likely marry one day.

A new thought occurred that just might put her papa in better spirits. “Mr. Penhurst has the reputation of being a sporting man, Papa, I would suppose that he would provide a billiard room and a cardroom for guests not inclined to dance.”

Papa’s brow cleared a bit. “Do you think so? We’ve only spoken briefly after church services, but he does seem like a bright fellow. Wanted my advice on setting up his kennels for the hunt.”

“There, your father will escort us to the ball, my dears,” Mama said brightly. “I think this warrants a visit to Mrs. Birtwistle for new gowns.”

Deirdre jumped up from the breakfast table and began to dance a jig. “A ball! A lovely ball! I cannot wait.”


The next day, the Buckleigh ladies left Buck Hill, the sprawling family seat that had housed seven generations of Buckleighs, and headed into the village of Parsley Hay.

The day proved fine, if cold. Long-dead leaves scudded across the lane as their driver, Norman, tooled the carriage beyond the estate’s wrought iron gates, through empty country lanes toward High Street.

Marina wore her favorite wool fawn-colored pelisse over a blue dress, with a darker blue bonnet. Deirdre had chosen a dark green ensemble, which was lovely with her auburn hair. Mama rounded out the color feast in deep teal and gray.

At home the ladies were rarely so particular about their clothes, but as the wife and daughters of Baron Buckleigh, it was expected that they be the best-dressed ladies in the neighborhood, and Mama insisted that they take this duty seriously.

“I wonder what Mrs. Birtwistle will have for us today,” Deirdre asked, adjusting her bonnet to a more dashing angle.

“Indeed, I do as well,” Marina replied. “Mrs. Birtwistle is such a curiosity. So timid and flighty when she presents her sketches and fabrics. Then like magic, her gowns appear better than even anything the Willingham or Hollings ladies bring back from London.”

“She will surely be very busy with everyone wanting new gowns for the ball, so I intend to place a large order to ensure her attention,” Mama said.

“But I really need nothing else. Not until spring, anyway,” Marina replied, but she could see by her mother’s expression that she was devising a plan.

“No, you shall need new gowns—and very soon. I have decided that this year our annual feast to launch the hunt will be a ball. It would only be fitting to reciprocate Mr. Penhurst’s hospitality. Besides, Mrs. Willingham told me that Mr. Penhurst’s sister, Lady Darley, has come to act as his hostess. I do not intend to be outdone. We shall have our Hunt Ball next month.”

Deirdre squealed her delight and bounced against the squabs. “Oh, perhaps some of Mr. Penhurst’s houseguests will still be here and can attend.”

Marina smiled at the fervent hope in her sister’s voice.

“I suspect that you have not shared this new plan with Papa?” Marina said to her mother.

Mama’s smile was confident. “Let’s get through this ball first, my loves.”

Once on High Street, Norman pulled down the steps and handed each lady down to the pavement. Before they could enter Mrs. Birtwistle’s establishment, they saw Mrs. Tundale hailing them with a brisk wave.

“Oh Lady Buckleigh, what do you think of this ball?” She sounded more upset than Papa, Marina thought as the petite lady continued. “I do not know if I like all these new people coming to Parsley Hay. I have heard that this Mr. Penhurst is part of a very fast set in London.”

Mama smiled genially. “Mr. Penhurst’s sister, Lady Darley, who I understand is a widow, has come to live with him. I cannot help but to believe that she must be a steadying influence upon her brother, or why would he have settled in such a quiet place as Parsley Hay?”

Mrs. Tundale did not look mollified. “That may be so, Lady Buckleigh. However, Mr. Tundale, upon returning from calling upon Ridgeton Abbey, told me that Mr. Penhurst and his friends were in the midst of something called a potato race—evidently the object is to throw your potato down the staircase and whosoever reaches the bottom first wins. Mr. Hollings hinted that Mr. Penhurst and his friends were
on the outcome. I say it would behoove us all to keep an eye on our daughters.”

Deirdre nudged her at the good lady’s last comment, and Marina acknowledged it with the merest arch of a dark brow. More like the newcomers should have a care; the whole village knew that Phoebe Tundale had grown into the silliest flirt for miles.

More than once, Mr. Ralston, the Vicar, had sent her disapproving looks when she was ogling Frederick Hollings instead of attending the service.

Marina continued to listen to Mrs. Tundale’s concern with great interest, wondering what potato races and keeping an eye on daughters had to do with each other. A potato race, indeed. It certainly sounded more harmless than Mrs. Tundale’s scandalized tones made it seem.

“My dear Mrs. Tundale, I am sure that in spite of a potato race or two, all will be well,” Mama said kindly before wishing the lady good day.


An hour later, the ladies were still in Mrs. Birtwistle’s elegant little shop. Marina, having exhausted the stack of magazines, sighed and stared out to High Street, the feeling of ennui nearly causing her to yawn.

“I do not particularly care for fittings. I always feel as if there are so many more important things to do.”

“More important things to do?” Lady Buckleigh’s usual serene tone was noticeably lacking. “But my dear Marina, think of who you are. There is nothing more important than looking your best.”

Marina glanced to her mother, torn between laughter and a sharp retort. Really, what did one say to such a thing?

Instead of replying, Marina returned her attention to the activity in the street beyond the bow window in which she sat.

There was nothing else for it, she thought, stifling another yawn, for she did like the ending result of having such elegant clothes—even if they weren’t the most important things in the world to her. So while her sister stood behind the screen at the back of the shop, getting draped and pinned, Marina distracted herself by watching the activity on the busy street.

This end of High Street was teeming with what little rank and fashion Parsley Hay boasted, but there were a few people here and there whom Marina did not recognize and she watched them with great interest. They must be Mr. Penhurst’s houseguests.

“Marina, what do you think of the pink trim? Is it too missish?”

Marina looked over to see a deep pink grosgrain ribbon waving like a banner above the screen.

“I think it’s lovely.” Marina hoped she did not sound as uninterested as she felt.

Deirdre continued to wave different ribbons, until Mama, seated across from Marina and holding a copy of
La Belle Assemblée
said, “Oh definitely the pink, my dear, so nice with your coloring.”

Marina turned back to gazing out of the window and a moment later, a tall man striding across the road caught her attention. He wore a charcoal greatcoat over his dark blue coat, buff breeches and shining Hessians. He strolled next to a shorter man, toward the snuff shop, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.

When the taller man smiled, Marina sat up straighter, becoming aware of an odd sensation in her chest. He was, quite simply, the most handsome man she had ever seen.

All the gentle chatter in the modesty’s shop faded while Marina’s gaze stayed riveted on him. She could have sung a chorus of hallelujahs when they stopped on the sidewalk to speak to two other gentlemen who seemed headed for the snuff shop as well.

Leaning forward slightly, she marveled at the beauty of his form, the golden hair beneath his beaver hat, the cleft in his chin, the perfection of his straight nose, and wished with all her heart that she knew his name. Every gesture proclaimed him a gentleman, and she suspected by the manner of his dress and regal bearing that he was a nobleman as well.

She was about to set modesty aside and ask Mrs. Birtwistle—who knew everyone, it seemed—to identify the gentleman, when he walked into the snuff shop and out of her sight.

Releasing a long held breath, Marina now hoped this visit to the dressmaker would last until the gentleman came back out of the snuff shop.

Mama held up a large swatch of lavender-blue kerseymere. “We should see what Mrs. Birtwistle can do with this, Marina. It would do wonderful things for your eyes.”

Marina only nodded and kept her attention fixed upon the snuff shop. Surely the blond man must be a friend of Mr. Penhurst? And if that were the case, she would see him at the ball. Her heart gave an unexpected thump at the thought.

Before she could see the blond man exit the snuff shop, Mrs. Birtwistle’s assistants were whisking Deirdre off the pedestal used for fittings and bringing Marina to that secluded part of the shop.

BOOK: Rhonda Woodward
7.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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