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Authors: Elizabeth Moss

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Historical Romance

The Uncatchable Miss Faversham

BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
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The Uncatchable Miss Faversham

 

Elizabeth Moss

First published by: Thimblerig Books 2011

 

Copyright © Elizabeth Moss, 2011

Fourth Edition

All rights reserved.

 

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

 

No part of this book can be reproduced or transferred by any means without the express written permission of the author.

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

‘And who, pray, might that be?’ demanded the dowager in a strident tone, indicating a vivacious brunette at the centre of a group of elegant but noisy young men. ‘What a flighty creature she is. Her Mamma should be taking her in hand. When I left for the Continent ten years ago, young ladies did not behave in such a flirtatious manner at public assemblies in London.’

    ‘She has no Mamma to guide her, I’m afraid. You remember Sir George Faversham? Dashing young gentleman, made his fortune out in Jamaica?’ From behind her fan, the dowager’s gossipy companion gestured to the brunette. ‘That’s his only daughter, Eleanor. She inherited everything. Eleanor is one of the wealthiest young women in London, and she’s still unmarried at twenty-three. Can you credit it? They call her the Uncatchable Miss Faversham, because she rejects every offer of marriage she receives.

    ‘Such nonsense.’ The dowager shook her head and moved on, unable to comprehend the whims of the new generation. ‘Sir George Faversham may have been wealthy but he was not a gentleman. I still remember that awful woman he kept hidden in the country. Everyone knew she was his mistress. What was her name?’

    ‘Dora Lovett.’

    ‘That was it. Dora Lovett. Such a shocking thing to do, even if she was a widow and left without a penny to her name. Some men have no shame. Interesting to see that his daughter seems to have inherited the same trait.’ The dowager tutted comfortably. ‘Shall we find a table free for whist, do you think?’

    Unable to avoid overhearing the censure of those two very worthy ladies, the Uncatchable Miss Faversham threw back her head and laughed.

    She was not laughing at her critics, of course, for that would have been impolite, and she always preferred to be polite whenever possible. Instead she was laughing wholeheartedly at something the Honourable Robert Burkley had said.

    That gentleman’s earnest countenance fell, and Eleanor knew an instant of remorse. He was very young, after all.

    ‘Pray continue, sir,’ she insisted, smiling at the young man. ‘Indeed, I would dearly love to hear more about your aunt’s cat and shall undertake not to laugh again at its unfortunate demise. For I see now that it is no laughing matter. When is the funeral to take place?’

    ‘Eleanor … ! That is to say … I mean, Miss Faversham,’ a second young man interrupted them, slightly flushed from the glass of burgundy he was drinking. ‘I beg pardon. A few of us have been debating whether you would consent to accompany us to Vauxhall Gardens on Friday next. There is to be a show, I believe. Didsbury has secured us a box and swears there will be room for as many as six, if we all squeeze in together.’

    ‘I’m much obliged to Didsbury for his generous invitation, my lord, but I’m not sure that squeezing into a box with two Viscounts and a Marquis sounds quite the thing,’ Miss Faversham said gently, and the other young men laughed, clapping Ketterson on the back. ‘Though it’s true that I do enjoy Vauxhall Gardens in general.’

    ‘Then you’ll come?’

    Eleanor bit her lip, not wishing to disappoint them but knowing that it was impossible. And not merely because of the potential scandal involved in such a riotous scheme. ‘Indeed, if it were possible, I would love to come. But I cannot accompany you.’

    A groan went up and several of the young men began to remonstrate, pointing out the various inducements of that evening’s entertainment.

    Miss Faversham held up her hand. ‘Gentlemen, pray don’t be out of sorts with me. I am truly sorry, but the reason I can’t come is that I’m going into the country for some weeks. I shall not be in London that day. But I wish you may enjoy yourselves without me.’

    ‘What’s that she said?’ someone exclaimed, crowding closer to hear.

    ‘Going into the country, Miss Faversham?’

    ‘You don’t mean to visit old Faversham Hall?’ Burkley demanded, evidently crestfallen. ‘But why must you go there? The place has been shut up for years, hasn’t it?’

    ‘Not quite shut up,’ she corrected him gently, ‘though certainly I have not been there myself for some five years. A tenant of my late father’s has been in residence at Faversham Hall, but very sadly she died a few days ago. There does not appear to be anyone on hand to organise her funeral and remove her belongings from the house. So I have little choice but to return myself. I swear, there is no need for all these long faces. I shall not be in Warwickshire forever!’

    Eleanor caught the eye of her long-suffering friend and companion across the room. Louisa Carter had been attempting to signal her for some time, presumably in hope of being rescued, caught as she was in a conversation with the tiresome Duke of Clarence.

    ‘But this is a blow, a terrible blow indeed,’ said Frampton, shaking his head dolefully. ‘All London must be in mourning until you return to us, Miss Faversham.’

    ‘You know, Warwickshire’s an awfully long way for a lady to travel alone,’ Ketterson observed, with only a slight slur. He handed his empty glass to a passing servant. ‘Shall you be in need of outriders? I would be happy to volunteer my services at a moment’s notice, Miss Faversham, if you desire masculine protection on your journey.’

    ‘I too would be more than pleased to accompany you,’ said another young man, whose name she had somewhat impolitely forgotten, but whose expression was one of utmost sincerity. ‘With my sword and pistols on hand, Miss Faversham, you need fear neither highwaymen, nor murderers, vagabonds, wolves – ’

    ‘No wolves up in Warwickshire, Soulter,’ somebody helpfully pointed out. ‘You must be thinking of the Russian Steppe.’

    ‘Very well. But there might be m – m – murderers,’ the young man stammered, somewhat red in the face.

    ‘You’re really all too kind,’ Eleanor said, laughing, but shook her head at their renewed, insistent offers of assistance. ‘Thank you, but no. My travel arrangements are already set. I leave at first light. Do you stare to hear it? Indeed, I will be up and out of London tomorrow before most of you have even breakfasted. Which is why I must take my leave of you now, and return home to prepare for the journey.’

    Ketterson looked astonished. ‘Leaving already? But the night is barely underway.’

    ‘I know, I’m sorry.’ She bestowed a smile on him that left the young Viscount uncharacteristically tongue-tied, then curtseyed low, slipping away from their little group before they had time to remonstrate. ‘Gentlemen, au revoir. Until we meet again.’

    She could still hear their chorus of protests as she came level with Louisa and the Duke, her smile broadening as she linked arms with that most faithful of companions, now looking a trifle weary. ‘A thousand pardons for interrupting, your grace, but I must steal Miss Carter away from you on an errand of mercy. Can you spare her, sir?’

    ‘Oh, well,’ he blustered, putting up his eyeglass to admire her figure without any attempt to disguise his interest. ‘If you must …’

    Alone together in the vestibule, Eleanor clung a moment to Louisa’s arm, drawing a deep breath. ‘I’ve never felt an evening here drag on for so long. And yet, I never wanted it to end. After all these years, Louisa, to be going home again … to Warwickshire!’

    ‘It will not be as you left it, remember.’ Louisa summoned the link-boy and instructed him to call for Miss Faversham’s carriage to be brought round. Louisa was such a capable, knowledgeable young woman, there seemed to be no task she was not equal to. Eleanor knew she was lucky to have found such a marvellous companion. ‘You were a girl when you left Faversham Hall. But you are mistress there now, and must make sure the servants understand it.’

    Eleanor sighed. ‘A daunting thought.’

    ‘Not in the slightest. You can arrange things however you prefer them, to suit your own comfort.’

    ‘Make a complete mull of it, you mean,’ Eleanor muttered.

    ‘And refresh yourself in the simple country air.’

    ‘Bored half to death!’

    ‘Nonsense,’ Louisa stroked her arm reassuringly, then laughed at her expression. ‘You said yourself, Eleanor, you have Mrs Lovett’s funeral to organise, and your father’s old library to explore and renovate. Then there are the extensive grounds for walking. And, of course, you must spend a few days at least with your friend Charlotte.’

    ‘Dearest Charlotte.’ If it had not been for the deeply disquieting letter she had received from her solicitor yesterday, Eleanor would never have dreamt of setting foot in Warwickshire again; the place held such desperate memories for her. But a recent letter from Charlotte – who had always been prone to exaggeration – had claimed she was dreadfully unwell and desperate for some London gossip to cheer her up. ‘It’s true that I long to see her again.’

    ‘So you will call upon your friend,’ Louisa murmured soothingly, ‘and both of you will have a marvellous time giggling over what you did when you were too young to know better. Perhaps it is not so very terrible, after all, to be returning to your family home after all these years?’

    ‘But if
he
should visit me, what then?’

    ‘Then you will hide behind a large piece of furniture and stay there until
he
has gone safely away.’

    Eleanor smiled. ‘I wish you were coming with me, Louisa.’

    ‘You know I have been promising to visit my parents for several years now. This is the perfect opportunity, when you are not in Town and will therefore not need a chaperone. What need of a chaperone when visiting fields of sheep and picturesque village churches, as I am sure you will insist on doing once you are back there? Besides, from what you have told me of your difficult neighbour, he will most certainly not visit Faversham Hall while you are there. And if he does have the bad taste to appear on your doorstep, you will instruct the servants to tell him you are not at home to callers, just as you would here when someone disagreeable rings the bell.’

    ‘The country is not like Town, my sweetest Louisa, more’s the pity.’ Eleanor lifted her skirts free of the mud as they crossed the narrow yard to where the carriage was waiting. ‘Polite rules do not apply there, for there are fewer amusements to be had. In the country, one walks. One rides. One
sees
one’s neighbours. It is a fact of life.’

    ‘Then
see
the ogre if you must, but say nothing whatsoever to him.’

    ‘Cut him in public?’

    Louisa shrugged. ‘Does he not deserve such a snub?’

    Miss Faversham settled herself beside her friend in the comfortable carriage, arranging a white embroidered shawl about her shoulders to keep out the chill.

    ‘Perhaps,’ Eleanor began dubiously, then left it at that, remembering her own part in that sudden departure from Warwickshire and glad that the darkness inside the carriage hid her blush from Louisa’s sharp eyes. The driver pulled away with a jerk and she shivered, though there did not seem to be a draught.

    As though aware of her inner turmoil, Louisa smiled and patted her gloved hand. ‘Now promise me you won’t fret, Eleanor. Everything will be fine, you’ll see. And you will have your maid with you, after all. I almost wish I
were
accompanying you, so I could meet this spectre from your past. But alas, a daughter’s duty to her parents must come before her pleasure. Though indeed I do find country air rather too
countrified
for my tastes. It’s all those sheep with their strange, slanted eyes that follow one wherever one goes.’ She sighed. ‘I am not a great admirer of sheep, I fear.’

    Eleanor laughed. ‘You are incorrigible,’ she told her friend, and leant back against the seat as the carriage wove its way through the dark streets of London. ‘Utterly incorrigible.’

    ‘Well, at least that’s better than uncatchable,’ Louisa murmured sweetly, and closed her eyes.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Warwickshire, 1814

 

‘It’s rare that I’m able to drag you out to these assemblies, Nathaniel. You should be dancing with the young ladies, not keeping me company.’ Charlotte peered about the crowded room, apparently unable to rest until she had found her brother a partner. ‘I cannot dance, of course. Not in my interesting condition. But that is no reason for you to forgo the pleasure. Why not ask Lady Bradbury’s eldest? Esther looks so much better now that her blemishes have cleared up.’

    Nathaniel tried not to grind his teeth at his sister’s interference. She meant well, but Charlotte of all people ought to remember how much he loathed dancing in public – and why.

    ‘Miss Esther Bradbury is already taken for this dance. By one of the militia.’ A note of interest crept into his voice. ‘Back from the Peninsular, perhaps? It cannot be long now before we rid the world of Bonaparte for good.’

BOOK: The Uncatchable Miss Faversham
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