For the last three years, Grace Thompson has lived in hiding, under an assumed name. Now her hard-won security is threatened and her past is catching up to her. Can she rely on a newcomer to the village who has an unsettling way of trying to help?
Luke Fielding suddenly and unexpectedly finds himself heir to an earldom. Uncertain about his new role and the changes it has wrought, he does not broadcast his true status when he comes to stay in Crompton Hadlow. As the lowly clerk he once was, he would have had no hesitation in courting Grace. Sadly, as a mere governess, she cannot now be a suitable match. But when he realizes she has secrets of her own, and those secrets put her in jeopardy, he must take action.
As they stave off the threats to her life and liberty, Grace finds she faces a greater danger: losing her heart to a man she cannot have.
|Series||Hadlow Book 2|
|Release||February 23, 2016|
|Tags||Regency romance, historical romance, governess, heir to earldom, historical Regency romance|
“Going somewhere, Miss Thompson?” asked Mr Fielding in a voice sharper than she had heard him use before, even when she had angered him on the walk from Mrs Newman’s home. No doubt about it. He was definitely not pleased.
Grace swallowed and looked up at him. His sternly suspicious gaze made her misery complete.
“It seems not.” Her reply to his question was flat, resigned. “The stage is full,” she explained and that blasted desire to make things right for her pulled at him, full force. He reined it in. He must remain detached, learn the facts before he did something stupid.
“Where did you want to go?” he asked.
She glanced at him, then looked across the yard to where a recalcitrant horse was fighting all attempts to put it in the traces. But even as it bunched its muscles and stamped its hooves the creature wore an air of resignation, as if it knew those who would harness it would win in the end.
“I know how it feels,” she muttered.
“Why is that?” Luke sat beside her on the bench, not too close—he didn’t want to scare her—but still close enough that he could smell the lavender on her skin. A stray curl escaped her bonnet and the breeze stroked it over her cheek. He wanted to reach out to it, feel its softness between his fingers, and put it back into place. He clenched his fists to stop himself.
The horse whinnied a final protest and let itself be harnessed. The ostler mumbled soothingly and stroked the animal’s neck. Luke wished humans were as easy to handle.
There was, he realised, only one thing to do. Despite his own reluctance to identify himself of late, Luke had never really been one for subterfuge and sleight of hand. He usually preferred to hit all situations head-on and that tack had worked well for him in the past. Perhaps it would do so now.
“Miss Thompson,” he said, before he could second-guess his decision, “it is my belief that you are deeply troubled by something.”
She swallowed, hard.
“Whatever it is,” he continued, “I would deem it an honour if you allowed me to assist you.”
She looked back across the yard again. For a moment, he thought she would bolt. Perhaps a little humour would help.
“I realise I am but a man and therefore of little practical use,” he said, “but be assured, I have three sisters, all of whom have, at one time or another, taken me into their confidence. I flatter myself that they found my contribution helpful. Were they here, you could doubtless ask them for references.”
A slight twitch played on her lips. “And should I take their recommendations to be impartial and unbiased, sir?”
“No, indeed. For being my sisters, they would be harshly critical of my faults and less than fulsome in praising my better features.”
The twitch became a fully fledged smile. Luke’s heart soared but he quelled the hopefulness. He hadn’t won her trust yet.
“But two things my sisters would say, for certain,” he continued. “One. I am always fair in my judgement and implacable in attempting to give assistance to those in need of it. And two. I never betray a confidence.”
She studied him carefully for several seconds. He returned her gaze steadily. The need to say more, to press his case, was almost overwhelming, but he stayed silent. In the yard, the passengers laughed and chatted as they boarded the stagecoach. A maid scolded a stable boy for his cheek, the smile in her voice giving the lie to the condemnation in her words. Chickens squawked in a henhouse. Horseshoes clattered on the cobbles as the stage drove out. A dog barked and chased it. Luke continued to sit and gaze into Miss Thompson’s lovely eyes.
Finally, she turned her head away. Frustration bubbled inside him. What more could he do? What more could he say to win her trust?
“Miss Thompson?” he pleaded.
Luke frowned, confused. “I beg your pardon?”
“My name is not Thompson. It’s Topping.” She drew herself up as straight as she could. “I am,” she said, “the Honourable Grace Louisa Mary Topping, only surviving child of the late Orlando Topping, third Baron Ryemarket. And if you truly would help me, you will first find me a way out of this accursed village and then you will keep to yourself any and all knowledge of me or my destination.”