The quiet life of Frances, Lady Rathmere, is disrupted forever the day Jack, 4th Marquess of Streatham, arrives from London and almost rides her down. At the same time a stranger arrives in the locality, makes a play for her young cousin and scandalous letters accusing Frances of an illicit liaison appear in the national press. Is Jack their author? Frances is convinced he is, and has no idea the trouble those letters are going to bring in their wake.
Frances loved Cloverdale with its odd shaped windows and the ill-matched gargoyles perched at each corner of the roof almost as much as her beloved Gybford. Most of the furniture in the drawing room had been removed to show off the wide polished oak floorboards, the small square Turkey carpet in the centre of the room and allow guests space to circulate. The sight of a tall gentleman whose bright red uniform dominated the soft grey stone fireplace and clashed with the pale gold curtains made Frances wince.
“Is he not handsome?” Mary whispered.
The stranger did not lack for admirers. Mama stood to one side, Uncle William, his navy jacket stretched tight across his broad chest, to the other. Aunt Jane, in an elegant high-waisted gown, was there with her son Charles and his wife, Catherine.
“I cannot see his face,” Frances said, amused by Mary’s obvious partiality for the stranger. “He is certainly tall and men always look well in uniform.”
Mary’s attention was fixed on the soldier in a most obvious way. Catherine’s glance flickered to Mary and, with a slight shake of the head, on to Frances. Everyone, it seemed, was aware of Mary’s feelings.
The stranger turned and smiled. His boots gleamed black against the pale hue of his breeches, and the scarlet jacket, white waistcoat and gold buttons seemed over bright in her eyes. Military uniforms brought back uncomfortable memories of Rathmere for Frances.
Charles touched her arm. “Allow me to introduce my friend Mr Andrew Holbrook, late of Cambridge and as you see, currently an officer with the 30th Regiment of Foot. Andrew, this is my cousin Frances, Lady Rathmere.”
Holbrook exhibited not a trace of shyness, but bowed with style and revealed excellent teeth. At close quarters, his height and breadth made Frances feel small and dainty. Lines bracketed his mouth, though Frances imagined he could not be more than thirty years of age. Black hair waved back from his broad brow, sharp blue eyes examined her, and then he favoured her with a delightful smile. He was certainly attractive. Well aware of the fact, too, Frances decided.
“I am happy indeed to make your acquaintance, Lady Rathmere.”
Frances dipped a slight curtsy. “I am delighted to meet a friend of my cousin, sir.”
Holbrook turned toward her. “I understand you live at Gybford Hall, no more than three miles from here.”
By turning he had cut Mary out of the conversation, and seemed unaware of any misdemeanour. Mary’s fine skin flushed and, crestfallen, she retreated from the circle, turned and hurried to the window at the far side of the room.
Though everyone in the district knew Gybford Hall was her home, Frances found she resented him knowing it. He would soon be asking if she had plans to marry and what her annual income might be. She chided herself for being silly, for no one would be so abominably rude.