Authors: Karla Darcy
Tags: #karla darcy, #regency romance, #romantic comedy, #romance, #five kisses, #pride and prejudice, #historical fiction, #sweets racing club, #downton abbey, #jane austen
“Have you gathered all your gewgaws?” Simon
asked. “Timothy is around the ship somewhere.”
Simon swiveled his head to scan the deck for
his missing servant. His eyes lit on a forlorn figure hovering near
his daughter. The boy looked as though he were trying to press his
back into the wall of the cabin. His face was blank of all
expression as he attempted to appear disinterested. Simon narrowed
his eyes at Judith, catching the appeal in her eyes as her white
teeth flashed in a puckish grin. In unison father and daughter
converged on the child.
“What’s this then?” Simon boomed.
A shudder ran through Patrick as the
bellowing voice clamored against his ears. His head snapped up and
he pulled himself away from the comfort of the wall, his back as
straight as a poker. He tried to appear unconcerned, but as his
glance swept up the enormous figure of the man, his eyes flickered
with apprehension. Judith’s hand on his shoulder eased the racing
of his heart.
“Father, I would like to present Master
Patrick O’Shea, my shipmate and friend. Patrick has come to America
to make his fortune. I told him all about you and quite naturally
he was impressed.” Under her father’s jaundiced eye, Judith took a
hasty breath and then bolted ahead. “Happily enough he has
consented to come live with us.”
“He has, has he!” Simon growled, staring
down at the child. He liked what he saw of the boy, who, though
terrified, held his ground. A fighting cock for sure. The boy’s
blue eyes lifted to Simon’s and the older man’s heart was pierced
by the well of sadness he found there. As their glances met, each
took the other’s measure and a friendship was born.
Judith could feel the tension in Patrick’s
body filter away as the man and the boy stared at each other. Like
sunshine breaking through the fog, a smile of pure happiness lit
the boy’s face and Simon burst into great rolling gulps of
laughter. Her father reached for Patrick’s hand, enclosing the
short, stubby fingers in his enormous paw and Judith took Simon’s
other arm, smiling through her tears.
“Humph! Two more mouths to feed,” Simon
muttered pulling his daughter and the boy toward the gangway. “But,
I ask you now, lad, what’s a poor widower to do with a stubborn
wench like Judith? Not here above ten minutes and already she’s
inviting guests and the good Lord knows what riffraff. Be this a
warning to you, young sir. That’s the way of women. First, they
take over your house. Next, it’s your purse. I’m sure I’ll rue the
day I invited the contrary lass to come for a visit.”
“I could find some work,” Patrick
“He’s bamming you, Patrick,” Judith said
peeking around the bulk of her father to wink at the boy. “Father’s
got plenty of the ready and we’ll be there to help him spend it.
Poor widower indeed!” Judith snorted, laughing as she squeezed her
“There’s Timothy!” Simon shouted, waving to
a bandy-legged little man who was elbowing his way towards
Timothy’s weathered face split into a
welcoming grin as he spotted Judith. Valet, coachman, bodyguard and
friend, Timothy Baker had been with Simon on all of his trips to
England. When Judith was a child, the old man had cossetted and
scolded her, and at the end of her father’s visit, she felt bereft
as much for Timothy as for Simon. The old man doffed his cap as he
approached the trio, his sharp eyes taking in the wide-eyed boy
clutching Simon’s hand.
“It’s good to see you, Miss Judith.”
“And you, Mr. Baker,” Judith answered
solemnly, leaning forward to place a kiss on his wrinkled cheek.
Although he reddened, he did not seem to mind the salutation. “I
trust Mrs. Baker is well.”
“In the pink, miss, in the pink.”
“And this young scamp is Patrick O’Shea,”
Simon said, poking the old man in the ribs to gain his attention.
“This is Mr. Baker, Patrick. He works for me and he is my
Judith watched in amusement as Patrick’s
eyes swung from Simon’s face to the newcomer. After a lightning
examination, he nodded his head in acceptance. It was quickly
decided that the boy would go with Timothy to locate Judith’s
trunks and his own meager belongings. Judith and Simon turned to
watch the eager boy skipping beside the shambling old man.
“And don’t take all day at it, Mr. Baker!”
Simon shouted after the figures.
It amused Judith that her father spoke of
his friend as Timothy but always addressed him as Mr. Baker. Simon
referred to it as the democratic way. He had explained to her that
Americans liked to give evidence of their classless society by
addressing each other equally as a sign of respect. Of course being
Simon, he went on to say that many gave it only lip service,
because there was still such a strong English influence in the
“He’s a good looking lad, Judith. Good
yeoman stock,” Simon grinned down at his daughter. “Family?”
“Mother died aboard ship. There’s no one
else,” Judith said, her voice noncommittal.
“Hard on the boy,” Simon growled. “America’s
a big country. A child could get lost without someone to watch out
for him. There’s a room next to yours that’s just collecting dust.
Looks down towards the harbor. Just right for a boy. I’ll probably
regret having him tearing through the house, but I’ll manage.”
“Gammon, you old fake!” Judith reached up
and put her arms around her father’s neck, pulling his shaggy head
toward her for an enthusiastic kiss. “That’s just because you’re
wonderful and I’m very fond of you.”
“Devil take it, girl!” Simon blustered.
“What will all the tabbies think of your hoydenish behavior? Not
five minutes on the shore and already taking up republican ways.
Mingling with the common folk, and you a proper lady.”
“Piffle!” Judith said, taking his arm again
and smiling up at the red-faced man.
Nathanael Bellingham sat his horse on the
edge of the quay as he stared at the vision on the arm of Simon
Hallowell. He had heard that his friend’s daughter was coming for a
visit but he had never imagined that a child of Simon’s would
resemble a beautiful princess with a head crowned with shimmering
gold. Even in her black mourning gown and black veiled bonnet, her
face and figure caught the eye. He was sorry she was smiling up at
Simon because at this angle he couldn’t see the color of her eyes.
And somehow it was necessary to have this information. His knee
pressed against Viking’s side and the horse moved slowly through
“Well met, my friend,” Simon roared in
welcome when he caught sight of Nate.
As the black stallion approached, Judith
caught her breath at the sleek beauty of the animal. Muscles
rippled beneath the velvet skin and the depth of chest bespoke
power and stamina. A lover of horses, it was a several minutes
before Judith could tear herself away from her appraisal of the
stallion to examine the figure in the saddle. They were a perfect
match, she thought as she studied the rider.
The gentleman had the same sleek build,
lightly muscled beneath the tanned skin. There was a hint of coiled
power in the erect body and gloved hands which controlled the
spirited horse. And what a glorious head! The man had a finely
chiseled nose and mouth and a granite hard jaw that spoke of either
stubbornness or authority. Above his noble forehead, the hair,
surprisingly powdered, was pulled back and tied at the nape of his
neck with a black velvet ribbon. On looks alone, both horse and
rider were aristocrats.
“Your servant, Simon,” Nate drawled.
At the first languid tones of the man’s
voice, Judith felt an almost physical pain of disillusionment. In
London she had met this man’s image, fops and dandies who flitted
through society, content to be conversation pieces rather than
actual members of any group. Now as she looked at the man, she
noticed that his fashionable apparel was worn with an air of
pompous arrogance that declared the wearer to be, at least in his
own opinion, an arbiter of taste.
To the casual observer, the man’s buckskins
were the first stare of subdued elegance. It was the fawn color,
too light to be serviceable, and the touches of dark leather
detailing that gave a hint of the care taken to impress. The
brilliantly-white silk shirt had a touch too much lace at collar
and cuff. The brim of the beaver hat was slightly wider than
customary and the color had been bleached to match the coxcomb’s
polished top boots.
Somehow Judith had thought America would
have been free of men such as this stranger. As her father nudged
her to regain her wandering attention, she drew herself up and a
mantle of cold civility settled over her.
“My dear, I would like you to meet an old
friend,” Simon said, waving toward the mounted rider.
The dandy swept his hat off, then reaching
into his breast pocket he extracted a quizzing glass and turned it
on Judith. “And this must be the lovely Lady Hallowell.”
“My father tells me that while I am in
America, I am merely Miss Hallowell,” Judith answered icily.
“To some, you will always be a lady.”
The drawled reply held a hint of laughter
even as the words contained a double entendre. Judith’s eyes
narrowed and she stared up at the man on the horse. Black eyebrows
arched in smug amusement and white teeth flashed in the tanned
face. Then her gaze met his and her heart skipped a beat. Dark blue
eyes, flashing like twin beacons, touched her, burning her with the
heat of his stare. Then the lids lowered, shuttering away the
intensity and Judith wondered if she had imagined the whole
“Judith, this outrageous gentleman is
Nathanael Bellingham,” Simon announced.
Heavens above! Judith thought in disbelief.
How could this man milliner be Letty’s grandson? Judith had
expected some larger version of the warm, loving woman, perhaps a
cross between a bear and a puppy. But this man was more like the
pampered and adorned dogs owned by jaded society matrons. She could
see him now, sitting on a satin pillow being fed sweetmeats by fat,
beringed fingers. On this thought her mouth trembled to hold back
her smile of amusement. To cover such a breech of etiquette, Judith
sank into a well-bred curtsy.
“I am amazed to make your acquaintance this
early in my visit, Master Bellingham. Your grandmother, Lady
Bellingham, is quite dear to me,” Judith finished graciously.
Nate cocked his head, listening to the
well-modulated voice of the young woman. There was a musical
resonance to her tone that made him wonder if she sang. She would
look quite lovely poised beside a pianoforte, her blond hair
falling down her back. Jolted by this enticing yet totally
inconsequential thought, Nate removed a lace-edged handkerchief
from his pocket and touched it to his lips. “La, my dear, I fair
dote on my grandmother. Her clothes quite set the fashion for the
older set. Hope the old girl is in ripping fine health?”
As Nate bent toward her, waving the frothy
handkerchief, Judith felt an uncontrollable desire to snatch at the
offending article thus pulling him out of the saddle. Guiltily she
realized that he had asked her a question and hastened to reply. “I
saw Lady Bellingham right before I left and she was in fine fettle.
She asked to be remembered to you.”
“One could only hope that she had sent me a
grandmotherly kiss,” Nate said, his blue eyes ingenuous in his
smiling face. “I would consider it an honor to receive such a
salutation from your lovely person.”
Judith was struck dumb by the impropriety of
the man’s comment and was saved from a social indiscretion by
Simon’s burst of enthusiasm.
“I knew you’d like her, Nate,” Simon
boasted, laughing as his daughter blushed. “Isn’t she everything I
told you she was, my boy?”
“I assure you, Lady Judith, your father’s
descriptions could never do justice to the reality,” Nate raised
his quizzing glass once more, sweeping her from reddened face to
impatiently taping toe.
“And needless to say, Master Bellingham,
your grandmother did not describe you enough,” Judith purred. There
was a hint of sarcasm in her voice that turned the statement into a
proper set down.
“What brings you down here, Nate?” Simon
As the men’s talk centered around the
shipments arriving, Judith pretended a total unconcern, letting her
eyes wander around the bustling waterfront. But every part of her
was aware of the outrageous dandy on horseback. She couldn’t
imagine what possessed her to so completely dislike the man on
first sight. She had met other gentlemen who lived for fashion and
they had never affected her to such an extreme. Perhaps part of it
was that after talking to Aunt Letty about Nathanael, she had
pictured someone so completely different. But Letty had given no
indication that her grandson was in any way singular. From her
description, Judith had been prepared to like the man and had even
begun to entertain thoughts that a warmer relationship might be
possible. Now she shuddered at the very idea.
“Your pardon, Lady Judith, for boring you
with our bourgeois details of business.” Nate’s drawling tones
interrupted Judith’s thoughts and she flushed in her confusion.
“Your father and I are not overused to the company of ladies. But
such rag manners! After such a devastating crossing, we leave you
standing amidst the rabble. Mostly commoners, don’t you know.”
Judith winced as the powdered head nodded
confidentially toward her. She wanted nothing more than to turn her
back on the man. How could her father be civil to such an arrogant
“Yes, Master Bellingham, it was most
fatiguing.” Judith’s voice was a faint wisp and she placed the back
of her hand to her forehead like the veriest heroine in a
melodrama. Catching her father’s glittering eyes, she nudged him in
the midsection as she clung to his arm. “Is it far to your house,