The Fleeing Heiress: A funny flight into love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fleeing Heiress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gayle Buck

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright 2014 © Gayle Buck

 

All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Chapter One

 

The darkening day was cold, an omen of the swift ap
proach of winter. It had been overcast since morning and
now a freezing mist had begun to fall, as Lord Cardiff saw
when he stepped down from the chaise. He pulled his beaver
closer over his eyes to discourage the damp from striking his
face. Casting a knowledgeable glance upwards at the leaden
sky, he shook his head.

His lordship’s valet also descended, and while Lord
Cardiff spoke to his coachman and groom, the manservant
crossed the damp inn yard to disappear through the recessed
entrance of the inn. When Lord Cardiff had finished giving
instructions to his coachman and groom concerning his
matched team of thoroughbred horses, he strode rapidly
over the bare ground towards the door of the small inn. Before he had reached it, the stout innkeeper himself emerged
onto the worn stone stoop.

“If m’lord will step this way, I’ve a parlor abovestairs
with a fine fire already lit,” said the innkeeper, bowing re
spectfully. The expression on his broad-browed countenance
was ingratiating. “It is the best room in the house, m’lord.”

“Lead on, mine host,” said Lord Cardiff cheerfully.

The innkeeper bowed again, deeper still, and ushered
Lord Cardiff inside. At once warmth and the heavy odors of
ale, food and smoke struck Lord Cardiff in the face and he
breathed deeply. It was a familiar smell. The innkeeper continued to bow as they made their way through the common
taproom. A blazing fire burned on the wide hearth, and a
small number of customers were partaking of mugs of ale or
blowing a companionable cloud. A few incurious glances were cast in the newcomer’s direction.

“This way, m’lord.”

With the innkeeper bowing and scraping before him,
Lord Cardiff mounted the turn of the narrow, dimly lighted stairs. Emerging into the upper hall, the innkeeper led him
towards the back of the inn, stopping at last before the open
door of a parlor.

The innkeeper bowed and stepped aside, gesturing obsequiously towards the doorway.

Lord Cardiff stepped across the wide threshold and en
tered. A swift glance around told him that the innkeeper had
spoken truly. The room was obviously the best that the small
inn could possibly boast. The private parlor was evenly pro
portioned, with a door on the opposite side of the room that
obviously led to an adjoining bedroom. Simply furnished with a well-scrubbed plank table, a couple of wing chairs
and a few other miscellaneous pieces, the room had been re
cently dusted and the smooth plank floor swept.

The warmth of the cheerful, crackling flames on the
hearth was welcome after the long drive. The dreary day had
chafed him with its inactivity, and Lord Cardiff was glad to
see an end to it. He crossed to the hearth and held out one gleaming boot towards the fire.

Already his lordship’s valet had made an impact on the
impersonal room. A wing chair was drawn close to the
hearth and an occasional table with a deep scratch across its marble top had been positioned close to hand. A wine de
canter and glasses were set on the table.

The worn drapes were drawn across the mullioned win
dows, shutting out the gathering dusk, while several
bunches of lighted candles had been strategically placed
about the parlor to cast a soft golden glow.

The valet emerged from the adjoining room. “My lord, I
trust it is to your satisfaction?”

Lord Cardiff nodded. He set his foot down on the floor
and straightened. “This is much better than bivouac, Potter,”
he said appreciatively, beginning to draw off his tan kid
gloves.

“Indeed, my lord,” said the valet, advancing to help Lord
Cardiff off with his greatcoat and relieve him of the volumi
nous outer garment, as well as his lordship’s soft beaver and
gloves. He carefully laid the greatcoat over his forearm. “I
have taken the liberty of bespeaking a repast which I do not
think will be found to be contemptible, my lord. Also, I have
inspected the bedchambers and, pending your approval, my
lord, have reserved the one adjoining this parlor for your
lordship’s use.”

“Are we remaining the night, then, Potter?” asked Lord
Cardiff with a slight grin. He rotated his right shoulder, eas
ing the uncomfortable stiffness out of it. He did not give
much thought to what he was doing. The wound was healing nicely but still bothered him at times.

“As your lordship wishes,” said the valet respectfully.

“You have rightly anticipated me, Potter. I doubt we
could find a better place to stop for the night,” said Lord
Cardiff, throwing himself casually into a wing chair. He decanted the wine and poured himself a good measure. “We
wouldn’t be able to drive for much longer, in any event.
What with the clouds obscuring the sky tonight, we would not have any moonlight to see by. I have already discussed the matter with John Coachman.”

The valet nodded imperiously to the innkeeper, who had stood hovering in the open doorway awaiting his orders. At
once the innkeeper bowed himself out, promising dinner to
be served within the hour and fresh sheets put to the bed for his lordship.

The door closed behind the innkeeper Lord Cardiff
glanced around with amusement at his manservant. “You
have overawed the poor fellow, Potter. I thought he would never stop bowing.”

“Your lordship’s position is deserving of the utmost respect, my lord,” said the valet. “I merely informed the man
of his good fortune in serving such an exalted personage as
yourself.”

“Lord, I believe your pride is stiffer even than my own!”
said Cardiff, surveying his valet with open amusement.

“I do not undervalue you, my lord,” said the valet with a
small smile.

“I must admit that it has been pleasant to be accorded
such attentions since coming back to England. I fear it must
eventually all go to my head and I shall be full of pompos
ity before ever I rejoin the regiment,” said Lord Cardiff, the
glimmer of a grin touching his tanned face.

The valet permitted himself another prim smile. “I doubt
it, my lord.”

Lord Cardiff laughed. While he slowly savored his wine, he was aware that his man had quietly retreated to the ad
joining bedchamber and was moving around. He could hear
sounds of drawers being opened and closed and knew that
Potter was already seeing to it that he would have a com
fortable night.

Lord Cardiff grinned to himself. It was very different
being in England again. This time last year he had slept on
the ground wrapped in his greatcoat inside a canvas tent and
thought himself handsomely housed.

He moved his right shoulder again, testing its strength.
He felt a twinge of dull pain. He frowned, a hint of impa
tience and irritation in his expression. If it had not been for
that bit of shrapnel finding him, he would not have been
forced to take wounded leave. He would still be in Spain,
acting as one of Wellington’s trusted aides-de-camp.

Lord Cardiff swirled the dark red wine in his glass, the
shade of his smile returning a little. Though it had been a
nuisance, his wound had led to his being chosen to help lay
a successful trap for a vicious French spy. It had been the perfect explanation for his being included at the last minute
in the house party at Chester, where the spy had been care
fully lured with the cooperation and knowledge of Lord
Henry Cummings.

Lord Cardiff had left Chester with mixed feelings. He
had forged an enduring friendship with Lord Henry and, to
a lesser extent, with others of the house party. The grim
game that was played out against the backdrop of a traditional English house party had appealed to his adventure
some spirit. There had been a certain magic about those
several weeks. Lord Cardiff admitted to himself that not the
least part of that magic had been due to his hostess, Miss Chastity Cummings.

Lord Cardiff smiled again, a curious mixture of tender
ness and regret reflected in his eyes. He thought he would
recall Miss Cummings’s face, the lively intelligence in every
flicker of her expressive eyes, for some time. Something had
stirred within him; yet he had been wise enough to recognize that it was but a fleeting thing. Miss Cummings, also,
had realized that what lay between them was more friend
ship than passion. Their parting had been amicable, with
much left unspoken because it was better to leave it thus.
And yet, he thought again, it would be long before he forgot
any part of that memorable house party.

The parlor door opened and the innkeeper reentered, fol
lowed by two retainers. All three carried laden serving trays.
Interesting aromas wafted through the air, and Lord Cardiff
sniffed appreciatively. The valet emerged from the bed
chamber as if on cue to direct the laying of the covers and the proper serving of his lordship’s dinner.

Setting aside the wineglass, Lord Cardiff stood up. He stretched, experimentally flexing his stiff shoulder, before
seating himself at the head of the table. The valet positioned
himself just behind Lord Cardiff’s shoulder to give a nod of
approval for each dish proffered by the innkeeper before his
lordship was served.

An hour later Lord Cardiff had finished an excellent repast of dried-pea soup, braised mutton, flounder and
chicken with scallops, with several side dishes. The valet or
dered the covers removed and himself poured Lord
Cardiff’s after-dinner port.

“Thank you, Potter. You are too good to me,” murmured
Lord Cardiff with a contented sigh.

“Is there anything else I may do for you, my lord?” asked the valet.

Cardiff shook his head. “No, nothing, Potter. See to your
self and go seek your own dinner. And Potter, you need not
see me to bed.”

The valet’s gaze came to rest pointedly on Lord Cardiff’s
right shoulder. “No, my lord?”

Lord Cardiff correctly interpreted the valet’s glance as
one of concern. “What a fellow you are. It is just a bit stiff
now. I can shrug out of my coat well enough,” he said with a smile.

“I have no doubt of it, my lord. However, I would rest
easier if you would permit me-”

“No, Potter. I must exercise it to regain full use of the
muscles. I cannot do that if I allow you to coddle me to your
full bent,” said Lord Cardiff with a shake of his head. He
was still smiling but there was a hint of steel in his voice.

The valet recognized it and said mendaciously, “In that
case, my lord, I shall leave you with a clear conscience.”

“I am happy to hear it,” retorted Lord Cardiff, well aware
of his valet’s true feelings. He and his manservant had been
through too many tight places together not to have a fair un
derstanding of one another.

The valet permitted himself the slightest of smiles and exited the room, closing the door softly behind him.

Alone, Lord Cardiff settled himself more comfortably in
the wide chair and poured another glass of wine. He con
templated the heavy port for a moment before tossing it
back. It was no intention of his to get drunk, of course. He
never allowed himself to become so castaway that he did not
retain his wits. As a soldier he had learned by experience
that anticipation of the unexpected could make the difference between survival and sudden death, and a man stone-
drunk could anticipate nothing. Nevertheless, it was
pleasant to relax in the warm room after a decent dinner with
a good glass of port.

His thoughts idled here and there. On the morrow he
would continue his journey to London to make his personal report at Whitehall concerning the business of the preceding
weeks. He had naturally sent a succinct summary of the de
nouement by messenger before he left Chester, but he in
tended to deliver a fuller report in person and had informed
his superiors of it, as well as the date of his anticipated ar
rival in the metropolis.

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