About the book
She was his wonderful secret that he never wished to share…
Lady Penelope Dawson has had enough of her brother’s antics.
Openly disgruntled by his persistence to marry her to his childhood friend, the Baron of Hillbrook, she finds herself at her wits’ end when one of her Earl brother’s parties goes awry and a bodyguard is assigned to protect her.
Newly-hired footman, Heath Moore, quickly discovers that serving as the bodyguard of the beautiful but elusive Lady Penelope just might be his hardest task yet. Especially when it becomes apparent that not only is he hopelessly in love with her, but she is also a target.
When a body is discovered on the Dawsons’ lands, and Penelope’s brother is accused of murder, Heath must reveal a secret of his own. His true identity holds the key to the riddle and quite possibly, to the salvation of the Crown itself.
The mood in the private room in the back of White’s was somber, and two parties sat surrounded by the smell of sweet cigar smoke and strong brandy. One was sporting a greying beard and sly wrinkles around his eyes. The other was younger.
Half-filled glasses and a bottle of brandy sat between the two on a grimy wooden table where a thrice-read and discarded broad-sheeted London Gazette lay tossed in the middle. The two drank the same liquor in the same room where they met once a month. After seven months, they became adept at reading each other’s responses to the same topic that brought them together.
It was customary for them to sit in silence, allowing the faint strains of classical music to seep from the clubhouse and through the air, until the older broke in. However, this time, the younger party was brave enough to disrupt the ritual.
He took a fortifying sip of the brandy. “So, I remember your proposition from last month.”
“You’ve come around then?”
“There was no issue of me coming around,” the younger man drew in his breath with a hiss, then measured his tone back to respect. “It is more of figuring how to do what needs to be done.”
“I told you—”
The young man lifted the bottle and refilled his glass. He spoke dismissively. “Yes, yes. I know. You’ve drummed it into my head over and over again. It’s the only way, you say, but how?”
“Do not mistake my intelligence or yours. You already know what to do and how to do it.”
He grunted acceptation of his older partner’s rebuke.
The man took a low draw on his pipe, then relaxed in a long slow exhale of smoke. “If you want your own credit line from the suppliers in the continent that come from my connections, then yes, it is the only way to get the payoff you seek.”
He leaned in and looked right into the young man’s eyes. “Unless, of course, I had misjudged you and you are not as hungry for success as I thought you were.” He slowly leaned back, pipe in hand. “If so, I fear that the last seven months of our meetings have been a waste.”
“I am as dedicated as ever,” the younger man was growing angry. “But I am sure there can be a less…damaging way of going about it.”
“For you to rise, someone has to fall,” the gruffer voice said. “That is how it has been from the dawn of time, for personal gain, there must be a sacrifice.” He raised his eyebrows quizzically. “I am sure you know our history. Marcus Brutus and Caesar…Ephialtes of Trachis and King Leonidas of Sparta…and now it is your time to do the same.”
“I was sure you were going to tack on Judas Iscariot,” the younger man said humorlessly.
“Your target does not have the power to amass a legion of angels to assist him,” the man said wryly. “And furthermore, do you have the suicidal deliberation of killing yourself?”
“No,” the younger man cringed.
“Then, let us skirt that example,” the older man said dryly. “He has concealed his contacts overseas for too long, suppressing your ventures and making you lose out. Don’t you think it is time for your patience to run out?”
“I agree, but…this?”
“It has to be done one way or another,” the older man replied sagely. “You are close to him, and our association needs what he knows and who he has. And, with him out of the way, you can finally have what, or whom, you want, hmm? He stroked his greying beard. “If you choose not to, you will lose the momentum you have built in the last three years.”
“So, blackmail is what you are resorting to?”
“Admit it,” the older man’s voice was sage. “You are tired of his honorable shenanigans too, and how comfortable he in his position when he—and you—could be so much more.”
“I do not think it is his contact really,” the younger man stressed. “As far as I know, he has not used those contacts since he rose to power. I think they are his fathers…or were anyway.”
The senior leaned in, “And they are not dead, so be it if they are his father’s or not. With him out of the way, and if you do wed the lady, those connections will be yours by default. I told you a year ago,” tapping his forefinger on the table to emphasize his point, he continued. “and I will tell you for the last time, as this is prime time for you to do so. Do what you have to do, and you will see how much it works out…for both of us. Untold riches are ours if you do this right, and you want that, do you not?”
The shuddering breath the younger man let out was answer enough, even before he replied, “Undoubtedly.”
“Then we have an agreement.” A hand was stuck out over the table and lingered there before another hand grasped it.
“We have...it’s agreed. In three months, someone will be in jail or dead, and we will be so much richer.”
Both men leaned back in resignation, signaling that the matter was decided on.
The Earldom of Allerton
The butler bowed to Edward Dawson. “Your guest, My Lord, as by your orders, is in your study,”
“Wonderful,” the youngest Earl of Allerton tugged off his riding gloves from his long fingers. “Tell him I will be in shortly. Where is Lady Penelope this evening, Gastrell?”
“I believe she is in the library, My Lord, regaling her maid with a tale in French, one which I believe, she had written herself.”
“Really…” Edward’s voice dipped to a suspicious tone. Knowing his sister’s wily ways, he looked at the butler directly. “Are you sure about that?”
“As sure as I can be, My Lord.”
Edward huffed under his breath. Gastrell was not the one who would know about the avant-garde behavior that defined Penelope. It was her maid Martha Bell, Penelope’s best friend, and her premier partenaire en crime. He suspected Penelope had snuck out to go riding while he had tended to matters in the town, but he did not have time to investigate her activities at the moment.
Since the death of his ailing father, Richard Dawson, and late Earl, the estate had come to the point it needed an overhaul. Though he could rely on Gastrell and Mrs. Copperfield to assess all the maids, footmen and other servants needed to run the estate, Edward allowed himself the eccentricity of doing this one on his own.
England was still at war with France, and although the majority of the battles were fought—many won and some lost—he was not going to allow the mistake of allowing just anyone into his home. His father had been no-nonsense when it came to rule over his Earldom, so he had to be especially careful.
A friend is only an enemy in disguise, his father had told him.
He took a moment to swallow a mouthful of water, quickly changed his shirt in his bedroom, and went to his meeting. This was the last footman he was going to hire, and the agency had sent this Heath Moore over on high recommendations.
Edward entered the study; the man stood and bowed. That was a positive note in Edward’s book. The second was his posture. This man had the body for a footman, tall, and strapping.
“Thank you for seeing me, My Lord,” Mr. Moore’s rolling, lax Midlands accent confirmed what had been in his recommendation—that he had lived and worked in Staffordshire.
“Not a problem, Mr. Moore,” Edward gestured for him to sit down. “Normally, any other lord would have used their subordinates to interview you, but I prefer to have a personal hand in these matters, so humor me.”
Edward sat back and crossed a leg over his left knee. “As your past occupation was much like this one, I assume you are proficient in all the activities of your post? Shadowing the butler, dining room duties, trimming lamps, attending to the fires?”
“I am,” Mr. Moore replied. “I have also been trained in horse care and driving if you need a carriage driver.”
The Earl’s eyes danced up. “That is…unusual.”
“I concur. My previous master, the Viscount Masseur, was very thorough and particular,” Mr. Moore replied. “I was also trained in assisting his hunts, skinning and tanning his kills, managing his vast collection of weapons and even disposing of the trash. But I was not allowed to touch his clothing. As I said, he was very particular.”
Edward leaned forward, “Gastrell is in charge of my suits, but I am a sort of aficionado of weapons, pistols and swords myself, and have not found anyone to help me in that avenue. The collection was handed down from my great-grandfather.”
“I would be happy to assist you,” Mr. Moore spoke with an air of surety.
As the conversation went, Edward was growing to like this young man. He was very respectful and proved himself to be smart in household duties. An hour later, Edward hired him without further questions.
“I think you will be a brilliant addition to my household.” Both men rose and shook hands. “I will have you situated immediately on the morrow and have Gastrell look to your livery. I find the powdering of hair unneeded and frankly repulsive, so you will not be required to do so.”
“Thank you, My Lord.”
“Your salary will be twelve guineas per year and your livery of three guineas from the Old Bond Street will be taken care of,” Edward said. “I am glad that you are tall and agile, those attributes are very needed in a footman.”
“Those thanks are my father’s, My Lord,” Mr. Moore said. “But I will accept them on his behalf.”
“Now, our bond: Do you swear fidelity to my family and will you uphold all the needs of the Dawson’s, primarily our safety, security, and comfort?”
“I do swear, My Lord.”
“Wonderful. Let me take you to Gastrell who will take your measurements. Tomorrow, he will introduce you to the rest of the staff.”
Stepping out, Edward nearly collided with a thin figure and got a nose-full of dark hair in the process. His sister, Penelope tottered with the armful of books she was holding and barely regained her footing after Mr. Moore had caught her while Edward had stumbled too.
“Oh, dear me,” she gasped while jostling the books. “My apologies, Eddie.”
The lord muttered a curse under his breath, “Penelope! How many times do I have to tell you to not carry so many books at one time? You could have injured yourself if Mr. Moore had not caught you…and I told you not to call me that in company,” he muttered under his breath.
Meek honey-gold eyes peeked around the book covers and a small smile curved her bow-lips. “I’m sorry, Edward.”
He sighed, “Mr. Moore, may I introduce my sister, Lady Penelope Dawson. Penelope, Mr. Moore is going to be our new footman.”
She juggled the books again and an oval face and almond-shaped eyes peeked out. “Delighted to meet you, Mr. Moore.”
“Thank you, My Lady…do you need help?” Mr. Moore asked.
“Er…I don’t think—”
“She will take it,” Edward overrode her. “Before she trips and breaks her neck. Mr. Moore, please.”
Penelope huffed and then handed over the books. Now fully revealed, Lady Penelope Dawson was a slender woman with a rather shapely figure. Her thick, dark hair was combed into an unstylish bun at the nape of her neck and a few stubborn tendrils were fluttering around her face.
“Thank you, Mr. Moore,” she smiled softly. “I finished reading them all and was carrying them to the library. Please follow me.”
“Follow us,” Edward interrupted. He might be liberal but was not going to allow his baby sister to be alone with a relatively unknown man. He followed them to the library where Penelope directed him to set them down.
“Here you go, My Lady,” Mr. Moore said.
“Thank you,” Penelope smiled, and Edward rolled his eyes at her soft blush.
“Well, that’s done,” Edward said, “Good day, Penelope. Mr. Moore and I have issues to take care of.”
“Good day, Mr. Moore,” Penelope said to their backs.
“Good day, My Lady.”
Thankfully, Edward had turned away the moment Penelope’s eyes had met Mr. Moore’s who had looked over his shoulder. With one shared look and one smile an invisible tether was made between them.
The question was, where would it take them?
Mr. Moore’s eyes…his eyes are so deep…fathomless even…I wonder what secret they hold? Penelope mused while sorting the books before she shelved them. They are like glittering chips of emerald but deeper…like deep verdant, but lighter.
Her brother was angry at her for using her childhood nickname for him in polite company. Most of the time she did remember but…eh, what was one slip…or possibly, five?
“Edward, you need to stop being so childish about these things,” she murmured under her breath.
Thank God, the two men had left the room before she could have unknitted her tongue and spluttered something foolish.
She flipped the cover of Pride and Prejudice and smiled. Romance novels were her second favorite genre of books, barely outpacing books about Greek myths and historical texts. She had a penchant to dream but was wise enough to be grounded in reality.
Flipping the book closed, Penelope slid it in place. Her mind flitted back to Mr. Moore. He was very handsome, but she could not focus on anywhere else but his eyes. They were so…gentle.
“My Lady,” the shy voice of her lady’s maid, Martha, spoke from the door. “It’s luncheon time.”
“Do I have to change?” Penelope grumbled.
“Er, not if you don’t want to, but I would think washing your hands would be good. We don’t have company.”
Sliding the last book in place, Penelope hummed. “Have you seen the newest footman, Mr. Moore?”
“I have. I was there when Lord Dawson gave him his room and spoke to Mr. Gastrell to get his measurements and arrange his livery.”
Trying to suppress her blush while they left the library, Penelope asked, “What do you make of him?”
“Make of him…how?” Martha asked cautiously.
Groaning internally, Penelope asked, “Do you think he’s…handsome?”
“If I am not getting out of line…” Martha said as they entered the drawing-room. “I do.”
Eyeing her maid at her judicious answer, Penelope went to the set table and sat. Observing the assortment of fruit, tiny crustless sandwiches, and sliced cake, she sighed. Edward was prone to working in his study for hours and left her to eat alone. Mr. Gastrell had placed a tiny table at the window, so she would be able to look out to the grounds below.
After a moment of grace, she poured a glass of lemonade and sipped it. She cut into a thin sandwich, soft with butter and peppery beef, and swallowed it.
She was taking a sip of her drink when through the window she spotted Mr. Moore. His back was turned to her, and she openly admired his tall, fit form. By the fair bulge in his arms, she knew he was muscular too. To be fair, some of the men she had met in her past two seasons were tall and handsome, but they were sons of peers and did not have muscles.
Oh, why couldn’t any of the men I had met look like that?
Her glass lingered at her mouth and she watched a stable hand bring around a horse. The new footman spoke to the young man, then shook his hand before grasping the pommel and hoisting himself up smoothly on the horse. With his chin up and his back ramrod straight, his hand grasping the reins he looked…regal.
A rich velvet cape and dark hair fluttering in the breeze would befit his posture…he looks like a prince of old.
Her finger traced the rim of the glass while watched him settle and ride off. He must live a simple life, Penelope mused then sighed. “Not like mine.”
After she had come of age, Edward had pushed her to get married, but no matter how she tried, not one of the men she met had connected with her on an emotional level. She had come to realize that men of the peerage were linear. There was no speck of mystery or intrigue or even spontaneity. Every man followed the same pattern—meet a lady at a dance, send her flowers the next day, take her to a ride in Hyde Park and then, papers traded between the father and the prospective groom where X’s marked the signature line.
Frankly, she considered that kind of marriage a step above buying beef in the marketplace, in three cut and dry steps—an item was found, it was haggled over and then bought. After that, there was just…nothing.
Where was the romance she had read in the books of old? Where were the sacrifices, the almost-insurmountable hardships both the hero and heroine had to conquer before falling into the blissful happily-ever-after? When did the notion of romance die off?
Unless…desperate pestering was what many men found as an alternative to romance. Case in point, Edward’s closest friend, Stephen Russell, the Baron of Hillbrook. Just thinking of the man made her hand tighten on the glass. Many women would give half of their fortune to have the blond-haired, blue-eyed charmer to give them a moment of his attention. But not her, she got his unwanted attention for free.
From the very night of her first season, Lord Hillbrook’s advances had not been too overt, but then, he had not been too subtle either. Thank God, the man had taken a trip to America a month ago and given her some breathing room away from his incessant prodding. At first, it had been charming, but now, he was more of an irritant, like a fly that won’t buzz away. Every day she prayed that he would set his sights on marrying another woman, thus escaping his attention.
“Oh, there you are,” Edward said with a silly grin on his face. “I just got wonderful news, Penelope…Russell is back and is coming for dinner tonight.”
Her glass nearly dropped out her hand. Dash it all! Instantly, her spirit soured. This had to a joke of cosmic proportions. There she was, happy that the thorn in her side was gone, only to hear that he was coming back that day. Was God laughing at her?
Surely, surely, God would not be that cruel to destroy her cheer the moment it had sprung up? She pushed her food away as her stomach began to turn. She cast a look at the nearby clock and grimaced; the next four hours of waiting for Lord Hillbrook to arrive were going to be torturous.
While Edward was all agog for his friend to appear, Penelope was much—much—more reserved. In fact, she would rather be pulling her teeth out than standing in the foyer dressed in a dinner gown with a white shawl about her shoulders waiting for Lord Hillbrook to appear.
The crunch of carriage wheels made her teeth grit, but she breathed through her reluctance to see the Baron. She stepped back when Mr. Gastrell opened the door, and her nemesis stepped in with his signature overdone style: a black tailcoat pinned with a silver watch fob, and a light blue waistcoat that perfectly matched his eyes.
He was holding a bag in his hand, and Penelope immediately felt scared. Lord, I pray those are not gifts.
“Russell!” Edward went forward with a beaming smile on his face. “I am happy to see you back home.”
“Thank you, Dawson,” Stephen said while his eyes lit and stayed upon Penelope. “I am happy to be home. Lady Penelope, you even more beautiful than I remember.”
“Thank you, Lord Hillbrook.” If her reply sounded rather awkward, it was. She hated getting compliments from him.
“How many times have I requested that you call me by my given name?” the Baron’s words were a light tease.
“Considering this time, a hundred-and-thirty-one,” Penelope replied glibly. “But my bother does not call you by your given name, so I will not break precedent, thank you.”
“I pray one day you will,” Lord Hillbrook smiled. “Anyway, I come bearing gifts.”
“They can wait until after dinner,” Edward grasped the bag and handed it off to Mr. Gastrell. “Tell us about your trip.”
Following behind them, Penelope entered the dining room where instead of a chandelier being lit above, the room was bright with enough candlelight to keep the room adequately lit, but was just a touch too intimate, in Penelope’s opinion.
The long table was set with the cloths for each course, and before Penelope could sit, Lord Hillbrook was pulling the chair out for her. “Here you go, My Lady.”
His lips were too close to her ear, but she did not say a word. Edward had not noticed because Stephen’s words were timed perfectly to Edward’s head twisting over his shoulder while directing the waiting footman.
As they sat, the servants poured the wine and set fragrant bowls of white soup before them. Penelope would have wanted something more unconventional like rabbit stew but Lord Hillbrook was more traditional, and her brother would never relent for her in favor of his friend.
“America is amazing, a little backwater to be honest, but I did like the city of New York,” Lord Hillbrook said. “You should come, Dawson. The American social seasons are much more lax than ours.”
Edward’s brows lifted, “Are you that ready to sell me off, Russell?”
The Baron shrugged, “You have not had any luck with these debutantes; why not choose something out of the norm? You look like you could do well with some spice.”
“Russell!” Edward gaped. “For shame, man! My sister is here!”
Penelope gently sat her spoon down and wiped her mouth, “Brother, do you really think I am that naïve?”
“You are not experienced either,” Edward glared.
“And you, Lady Penelope,” Lord Hillbrook turned his benign but somehow predatory eyes on her. “How are you on that front?”
“Unattached,” Penelope replied simply.
“And not seeking either,” Edward said in retaliation.
Now it was her turn to glare, “Thank you, Eddie, I had not noticed.”
Stephen’s delightful laugh broke up the siblings near-squabble, “I am glad to see that nothing between you have changed. I think both of you could benefit from going to New York, Dawson you can get a lady, and Penelope can marry me.”
It was said in a tease, but her stomach still twisted.
“I have to decline,” Edward sighed while sitting back. Servants removed the bowls and set down the food for the next course. While her brother chose roasted beef and Stephen chose fish, she opted for a beef pie.
The conversation meandered between safe topics until dessert came along. Stephen called for his bag to be brought over, and while the table was being set, he pulled out a box and handed it to Penelope.
“My gift to you, Lady Penelope,” Stephen smiled.
Swallowing over the lump in her throat, Penelope took it and opened it. Inside were lines of tiny finger-shaped wafers that had the intoxicating scent of chocolate and spice.
“Er…” Penelope asked, “Pardon me, what are these?”
“Biscotti,” Stephen replied, “An old Italian treat that is normally baked twice to get it hard, but I asked my friend’s contact to make them softer than that, more cake like.”
“Thank you…?” Penelope said as she shifted the box in her hands.
“Try one,” the Baron encouraged, and she looked up to see Edward giving her a permissive nod.
She took the nearest wafer and bit into it. The cake melted into the mouth and the sweetness erupted over her tongue. She swallowed, “It is divine.”
“Wonderful,” Stephen grinned and leaned forward. “Now that you’re bitten it, I do hope the love potion will begin to work.”
Penelope nearly hacked up a lung. “Excuse me? What love potion?”
The one-bedroom home Heath arrived to was as empty as he had left it. It was the home he rarely used whenever he was not employed with various Lords. Thankfully, he was moving into Dawson’s home on the morrow.
The windows were dark and the sole tree to the side was swaying in the invisible wind. His meeting with Lord Allerton had gone well, and he was interested in working with the man, but it was his sister who intrigued him the most.
Lady Penelope Dawson had a look in her eye he remembered his mother had—that of a marvelous intellect and a jovial character. Her face had meandered between that of a teenage girl and a young woman, so he was not sure how old she was.
Alighting from his trusted horse, Duke, Heath guided the dark standard breed to his single-box stable—if he could reasonably call it such. Heath unsaddled him, gave him a soothing rubdown, pitched some straw back into his trough and some water into another before he rubbed his horse’s ears and went to his home.
The interior was a spartan cave, with only the bare necessities—a bed, wardrobe, cast-iron tub, and a kitchen nook. He instantly gravitated to the washbasin and cleansed his hands. From there, he filled an old copper kettle and hung it on the hooks before rousing the fire. Then he took a wrapped loaf of bread, sliced two hefty slices, dropped them in a pan and placed on the grate.
While absently minding them, his attention swerved to Lady Dawson, specifically, when their eyes had met. She had been shocked, but then, a soft sheen of red had run over her speckled cheeks while she darted her eyes away.
I haven’t seen a lady wear her freckles out in the open lately…most use those vinegar absolutions to wipe them away. Is she that much of an original to disregard the fashion craze?
The whistling of the kettle and the smell of toasting bread dragged Heath out of his musing, and he grabbed a kitchen cloth to ease the kettle off the hook. He then plucked the bread out—earning himself some smarting fingertips in the process—and dropped them onto a nearby plate. Reaching for his heavily-treasured carafe of butter, he coated the warm hunks and then made his coffee.
Sitting in the old wingback, purposely placed with its back to the wall and facing a window, Heath ate his meal. Again, his mind went back to Lady Penelope. She was intriguing. From what he had been told, not much was known about the lady other than that her brother had taken her under his wing after their parents had died.
Speaking of parents, Heath remembered Lord Allerton’s words—what his father had told him when he was a boy—an enemy is only a friend in disguise.
“Smart man,” he murmured.
Finishing his meal, Heath closed all the windows and doors before going back to his bedroom, where the bed was pushed against the farthest wall. He took little time in packing his belongings into a cloth sack and readied it at the door. At dawn, he was no longer an independent man, but one of Dawson’s household. Before he left the next morning, though, he was going to wield a hammer, some nails and planks of wood to close up this home.
He had told Lord Allerton his skills, but what he had told him was only a fraction of them. Viscount Messuer had a host of men at his beck and call, and Heath had shadowed them when he had the time.
One was a falconer, one was a fisherman and diver, and another one was a hunter. Another worked in carpentry, the fifth was capable of fixing carriages and the last one he had shadowed was an in-house chemist. He did not outline all his skills for a reason. He thought it better to reveal them as the need arose.
Settling in for the night, Heath folded his hands under his neck and stared up at the dark ceiling. His things were packed, and he was ready to leave to his new position.
“Tomorrow, another chapter in my life will begin…”
The Dawson House
Love potion…the nerve!
Penelope was gulping down water like it was the cordial version and not just plain water. The wafer was long gone, but she swore she could feel a different sensation running through her veins.
“Easy there, Penelope!” Edward reached over to take the glass from her, but she brushed it off. He then turned his attention to Baron Hillbrook who was doing a poor job of hiding his laughter and leveled an admonishing look at him, “Russell, that was not needed.”
“It was a harmless jest, Dawson,” Stephen shrugged while sitting back and taking up his wine. “Let up a little.”
The glass was now empty and Penelope almost slammed it down, “Lord Hillbrook—”
“Stephen,” the Baron inserted.
“Lord Hillbrook,” Penelope stressed. “I am not—” Edward’s warning look made her swallow her heated words and then switch to, “Pardon me, I was not anticipating your jest which is why my reaction was so…severe.”
She kept her eyes from her brother and focused on the man on the other side of the table. “But I should have expected something of the sort, you always did have a rather…a peculiar sense of humor.”
Lord Hillbrook’s eyes drifted up, “Thank you, I suppose?”
Edward cleared his throat, breaking the awkward silence in the room, “So, Russell, what else did you do in America?”
Sliding the box of confections—which Penelope firmly decided was going to meet its fate in the middle of a furnace—away from her, she refilled her glass and sat back to listen with half an ear as the Baron spoke about his business endeavors. Her mind drifted off to think of the best time to go riding when Edward was not there.
“You should come, Dawson,” Stephen said. “I would really appreciate your ability in haggling to get me the best price on that thoroughbred.”
“I don’t know Russell,” Edward sighed while swirling his wine. “Tattersall’s horse fair is sort of a fish market sometimes.”
And here he goes again with this arrogance, Penelope sighed. “Is it that much of bother, brother? If I recall, you do need another horse yourself.”
“I do,” Edward mused while reaching for the wine jug. “But I can easily send someone to get it for me.”
“Why?” Penelope asked. “Are you needed here?”
“The town then?”
“I do not think so,” Edward replied.
“Then go,” Penelope said. “Besides, you have not seen Lord Hillbrook in months, take this time to get familiar and get yourself a horse that does not have a buttress foot and a lazy eye.”
Edward’s eyes narrowed. “You just want me to leave.”
Penelope’s eyes widened in mock shock, “Oh, was I too subtle?”
“I love seeing you two interact,” the Baron laughed. “Indulge our lady, Dawson. Come with me to London tomorrow.”
“Fine,” Edward huffed. “But Penelope, I will leave Mr. Gastrell in charge. Please do not disobey him.”
“I will do my best,” Penelope replied with the edges of her lips curving.
“You are just saying that to placate me,” Edward sniffed.
Taking her refilled glass of wine, Penelope smiled over the rim, “Not too subtle at all then.”
The Dawson manor was an old Tudor-style house with a steeply-pitched gable roof, ornate masonry chimneys, and embellished doorways. As Heath cantered his mount down the large driveway that parted impeccably-trimmed lawns on both sides, he could see the wide groupings of ground floor windows and inserts of old sun-burnished timber between the brick walls.
His packed bag was nestled behind him and the back of the saddle. The pleasant temperature of the month was much more pleasing than the torrential rains of August. The few light clouds drifting over the cerulean skies, the cool air of the day and even little drizzling dew did not sour his composure.
By arrangement, he took the side road to go to the back of the manor and there met with Mr. Gastrell who showed him to the servants’ entrance, the ground floor of the left wing where the servants lived and then, to his room. A wide double-hung window gave him a clear panorama of the backyard. Bare wood was under his feet, a simple armoire was to the side and a single bed framed with functional iron rails was in the center. Laying on the drab grey sheets was a simple uniform of black shirt and trousers.
“The uniform is temporary,” Mr. Gastrell said. “The tailor is making the right one with the family arms on it. Until then, you will be wearing this. Two other sets are in the drawers. I understand that you know that you are responsible for the upkeep of your apparel.”
“I do. Is Lord Allerton awake yet?”
“No,” Mr. Gastrell shook his head. “But when he is, he will not be here for long. I believe he is going to Tattersalls this day.”
“Understood. What is my first task, Mr. Gastrell?”
“I will introduce you to the staff this morning, and then your task is to open the shutters in the main rooms and take the coal from the cellar outback into the three sitting rooms,” the butler explained. “And then I believe our stablemaster, Mr. Cowell, needs a hand in the stables also.”
“I will be out in a moment,” Heath replied. “Thank you.”
“Very good,” Mr. Gastrell nodded and promptly left the room.
Heath closed the doors behind the butler and then took out his meager belongings, hair combs and brush, and bathing rags. In the drawers, he settled his few pants, shirts, nightshirts, and underclothes. Swiftly changing out into the dark clothes given to him, he took a moment to comb his hair and brushed a hand over his chin. Luckily, he had shaved a day ago so there was no unseemly stubble on his chin.
Nodding, he went out, and Mr. Gastrell took him to the kitchen where they met the cook, a few scullery girls, and some blushing maids. He then began his duties, opening the indoor window shutters and fastening them. Making the rounds throughout the ground-floor sitting rooms he opened all and then went left by the servants’ door to the coal cellar, only to stop.
The problem? “Where in God’s name is the place?”
Mr. Gastrell had given him little information on where exactly the coal cellar was as the row of uniform brick buildings about a hundred feet from him, looked exactly alike.
“It is the one to the far right,” a soft voice said.
Twisting the origin of the voice, Heath spotted a young dark-haired girl with a shy smile. “Pardon me?”
“I assume you need to find the coal cellar,” she said. “It is the last one on the right.”
“Martha Bell,” she replied reservedly. “I am Lady Penelope’s lady maid.”
Relieved, Heath nodded. “And I am Heath Moore. Lord Allerton just hired me as a footman. I would like to stay and talk but I have many tasks to do. Thank you, Miss Bell.”
Nodding his head, Heath strode to the end row and entered. There the thick earthy smell of coal filled his nose. Thank God his clothes were black as the dust from the coal would have blighted lighter clothes. He filled the buckets, went back to the house and made his trips throughout the sitting room. He had to make one more trip and then stopped just outside the coal cellar to brush his clothes off.
A short man with grass stains on his clothes passed by and nodded, “G’ day mister. Brady here, and you?”
“Heath Moore,” he replied. “Lord Allerton’s footman.”
“Welcome then,” Brady said while tugging a glove off to shake his hand. “You look like the good sort.”
“Thanks,” Heath nodded while releasing Brady’s hand. Over the man’s head, he spotted a flash of Lady Penelope’s body walking into fairly-removed stables. “Er, does Lady Penelope visit the stables this early?”
“Yes,” Brady grinned. “The Lady is a big rider. The Lord does not agree, but she is who she is. I think she can ride better than Lady Lade, I’d wager my whole life’s saving on it.”
Heath’s eyes lifted from the gardener to the door of the stables, “Better than Lady Lade you say…”
“Stick around, chap,” Brady grinned. “Sooner or later you will see for yourself.”
With those parting words, the grounds man was off, and Heath hurried back to the house. He got there in time to see Lord Allerton tugging his coat on while a man, dressed in dark trousers and a dove grey pinstripe waistcoat tug his on as well.
“Ah, Mr. Moore,” Lord Allerton greeted. “Good to see you. How are you fitting in?”
“Very well, My Lord,” Heath replied. “Mr. Gastrell has given me all I need.”
They were interrupted by feet thumping down the hallway and Lady Penelope came in, flushed from running. Her hair was escaping from her braid and the tails of her dress were a bit mud stained. “Edward, could you get a—oh! My apologies!”
“Lady Penelope, what a delightful surprise,” the stranger said smoothly. Too smoothly in Heath’s opinion, rather like a serpent. “Forgive me for saying, but disarray suits you as well as neatness does.”
“Lord Hillbrook,” Lady Penelope did not step away, but she did shift her weight to lean away from him and Heath noticed it. Why though? “You’re here.”
“Stating the obvious,” Edward rolled his eyes. “What do you need from me, sister?”
“Um…could you get those honey-flavored gingerbreads I like and a new horse brush for Bessie?” Lady Penelope said directly to her brother. Once again, Heath noted that she deliberately focused on Lord Allerton and not Lord Hillbrook. Why?
“Excuse me,” Heath said and was about to leave when Lady Penelope reached out for him. She touched his arm, but instantly dropped it.
“Mr. Moore, before you go, could you put some coal in my grate…please,” she finished with a blush.
“Of course, My Lady,” Heath bowed and as he came up, Lord Hillbrook’s blue eyes were ice chips and nearly as cutting like knives. Again, what was going on there? Holding his composure, Heath said his partings words to the lords and left to get the coal for the lady.
He went back to the coal cellar and got what the lady needed, decidedly perturbed. Why does Lord Hillbrook look at me that way, like I stole something from him? I do not even know this man…
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