OK folks, imagine that cottage is called Fenemore Cottage and, that it's the year 1820.
I know, I know, I'm cheating this week with a snippet from opening chapter of latest historical novella, which is a Regency Murder Mystery. But honestly if I hadn't posted this I wouldn't have posted at all. I've been so busy preparing manuscripts for paperback production even thoughts about Christmas have been on hold.
Anyhoo, this snippet is before romance gets under way. Nevertheless, the hero is definitely centre stage and the heroine has taken note of his appearance, demeanour and . . . ;) This is in first draft mode so no sly sniggers!
Word Count = way over, but hey, it's nearly Christmas : code NCCO
Georgette drew her velvet cloak tight about her and glanced out at the forbidding moonlit landscape. She was rather glad the horses were keeping to a steady trot, because previous sense of excitement now suddenly overshadowed by angst and dread. The private drag was passing close to Abbeyfields and it was all rather silly to be feeling anxious. Adam Brockenbury could not be in residence, for she knew him to have been sighted coming out of White’s Chocolate House only yesterday, and enough engagements in London to keep him at a safe distance.
Nevertheless, Abbeyfields itself remained a disquieting reminder of her last trip to this part of the Avon Valley. Yes, thank God Adam was at a dinner party that very evening, and would for sure attend the grand ball of Friday next at Blenheim Palace. Should he return to Bath on the Saturday she would be long gone from Fenemore Cottage by then.
Aware the horses had begun too slow their pace she surmised they were on approach to the bridge, the river Avon before them. She braced herself, for it always felt as though her stomach collided with heart when crossing humpback bridges. As the horses once again settled to a steady trot the coach suddenly lurched as though its wheels had passed over something in its path.
Thrust sideways her companion’s head banged against the window, she likewise thrown to her left and now stretched out across the seat opposite to his. “Damnation,” he said, clutching at his head as she made to sit up straight again. “What happened?”
“I think we shall know soon enough, for the coach is slowing down.”
Indeed it finally came to a standstill and within seconds her companion had the door open and shouted up to the coachman. “Why have we stopped?”
The coachman’s reply, “We rode o’er somethin’ on the highway back a ways.”
“Did you not see what it was?”
“Nah, not a thing for ‘tis dark, sir, but Jim is a going to see what it were.”
“Good God, man. A moonlit night, frost on the ground and almost as bright as day. How could you not see whatever in your path?”
“I tells yer I didn’t see nothin’ so it must have come at us from them there trees back away, by the bridge, ‘cause twer rear wheel as run o’er it. What’er it be.”
Her companion alighted from the coach and walked back along the highway, and although curious she decided it was best to stay in the coach and await news of what had caused the coach to lurch so badly. It seemed an age before he returned along with the coach groom who immediately clambered up beside the coachman. In silence her companion stepped aboard, and upon closing the door and retaking his seat he shook his head in the manner of no hope afforded the victim of the collision.
“I can only guess it was not a person, for surely we would not drive on with someone left lying dead or wounded on the highway.”
“We lay it on the verge, and I shall arrange for it to be picked up first thing in the morning.” The coach lurched and then proceeded onward. “Little harm will befall the poor creature on a night such this.”
“May I ask what it is?”
“A hound, and why it was out and about strange indeed. I cannot recall its ever deserting my father’s side.”
Her stomach tightened. Breath caught in her throat, as dread and fear gripped her. Oh no, not a son of Abbeyfields. “You live near here?”
“Indeed I do,” his reply, his eyes levelled on hers. “I fear I have been somewhat lax with introduction, despite our having conversed in genial spirit. May I say the tinkling ring of your voice has been delightful and sweet music to the ears, unlike the caustic tones of erstwhile colleagues and clients.”
If not in fear of who he might be she could well have laughed in coquettish manner at his bold inference, for he’d fallen asleep whilst she talking to him, instead her tongue rallied quite sharp, “And you are?”
Her heart began to race, bile rose in her throat and silence became deafening. She could not muster a word, her thoughts collided with memories, yet try as she might she could not recall Edwin Brockenbury’s face as one of those present on the night of James Brockenbury’s tragic death.
“Does the name Brockenbury distress you?” He leaned forward elbow to knee, hesitant in stance, his face rigid calm though genuine concern etched thereon. “Reaction such as yours is not so uncommon. My brother it seems is wont to leave a trail of broken hearts countrywide, which has rather tarnished the name Brockenbury. Hence Ranulph and I suffer the consequences of bitter tongued beauties when introduced at social functions.”
“Broken heart, I with broken heart, and left in Adam’s wake? I think not.”
“Forgive me, please. I had no right to suggest or imply you might harbour bad feeling toward a Brockebury.”
He sat back, his eyes not leaving hers for a second and it was most disconcerting. Throughout the journey air of authority and reserved calm had emanated from his very person, though his manner caring at the coaching inn or they would not now be sharing the drag. His deep timbre of voice, too, had sounded sincere and not once had it raised sense of alarm to falseness nor implied him a man of ill repute.
She had to say something. Break the silence. For he was obviously worried he had wrong-footed her and made bold on wild supposition. “No, please, forgive me. Suppositions are unwise at the best of times, and our journey, until the accident, most pleasant. After all, to have company on a long journey always lessens what is otherwise a tedious and lonely experience.”
A tentative smile creased his face. “In that case, would you mind terribly if I leap from the coach at the gates to Abbeyfields?”
“At the gates. Not be driven to the house in style?” He chuckled, a deep-throated chuckle that in other circumstances might have caused her heart to flutter. “Please, you cannot walk in these freezing conditions.”
“I fear you are chilled enough young lady, so home with you straight away. I’ll not freeze to death trudging the drive to the house. As it is, the hound’s death has raised a needling question as to why he was where he was.” He reached for his gold-topped cane previously abandoned on the seat beside him. She had already surmised it to be a swordstick, its dragon’s head handle ornate and curved to fit neat to palm of hand, which he promptly used to thump the roof of the drag. “Shall you be at Fenemore for a long or short stay?”
Her heart lurched. “How did you know I am to stay at Fenemore?”
“You booked for a drive from London to Batheaston and I from London to Batheaston, and when I arrived at the inn it was assumed I to be the passenger for Fenemore, Batheaston. Hence your arrival coincided with and interrupted a heated argument that although I, too bound for Batheaston, it was Abbeyfields I wished to be taken to.” A smile creased his face. “I am not sure how, but you seemed to think my intended journey was to Bath. And gentleman that I am I chose not to reveal otherwise. ”
“So you had intended seeing me to Fenemore and then returning to Abbeyfields?” She laughed. “Oh how gallant, and now you wish to leap from the coach and abandon me.” She immediately corrected her outburst. “That sounded terribly flippant, when you must be quite worried about your father.”
Aware the drag was slowing down with verbal encouragement to the horses from the coachman, Edwin Brockenbury once again leaned forward only this time he extended his hand. She accepted his gesture of friendship their kid gloves coming together, and not for one minute had she expected him to dip his head and kiss her gloved fingers.
The contact was fleeting, but when his eyes levelled on hers something indefinable sparkled within and, “Good night, Lady Beaumont,” came as quite a shock. Though his smile enough to melt the coldest of lady’s heart and somehow as reassuring as were his final words. “Be assured your presence at Fenemore will not slip from my tongue.”
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