Here is what I have been working on…(scheduled to be released in August of this year!)
Lila St. John had a very opinionated older brother. And as the head of the household, he was in the position to enforce his will upon her. Lila would never say that he purposefully abused this power, it was more a natural instinct dyed in the wool. Yet they had clashed upon occasion when he exercised his rights. Lila had always lost the challenge, revealing to her the futility of arguing against his will.
So when Lord Averdell returned to Moorland Place with an unlikely bride, an heiress several years younger than Lila and considerably insipid, and announced that Lila was to be sent to Harrogate to serve as companion to an elderly, infirmed Aunt Lila knew she could broker no argument.
Lila was one and twenty and a series of unfortunate circumstances had dashed any hope of the typical Season. The last years had been spent in a combination of mourning and resuscitation in the country at her childhood home Moorland Place. She was a friendly girl, with chestnut curls and a heart shaped face, pert features, and an easy smile. But with little more than an odd collection of elderly neighbors and farmers, her opportunities for marriage within the community of Ferriby were limited at best.
Not that marriage was ever a major topic of consideration. Between illness and grief, Lila had found her comfort in friendships and the routine of helping to manage Moorland Place. The household was exclusively her domain and her doting servants eased any inconveniences with constant vigilance to their duties.
In the five years she had been mistress of Moorland it had been to Lila to seamlessly marry the management of the home with the management of the village and Moorland’s dependents. Her brother was frequently in Town and his disposition did not lend him to strict communication. At least not with her.
So it was with doubt and fear she packed her modest items.
Leaving Moorland Place was unimaginable, but on the morning of her departure she stepped down towards the carriage and turned to stare back. The Tudor manor was neither large nor magnificent, but every familiar crack and nook beckoned to her with memories. Somehow, it was as if the house itself was whispering its goodbyes. Lila felt warmed by it and with dry eyes mounted the carriage steps and settled herself inside.
For the journey her maid had packed a veritable feast complete with lemonade in glass jar and a bottle of wine for the evening. Coachman had promised Lord Averdell that he would make a tidy pace to Harrogate and most likely arrive in the early evening. The horses would rest and he would return the following day ready to escort the new Lady Averdell wherever she might desire. Lila hoped that her sister in law would quickly attend to their neighbors as not to offend. She worried her lip in contemplation of this before giving up to focus on her own path.
Lila was thankful that her journey was not to be overlong. Having rarely needed to travel much beyond Melton, she could scarcely imagine an undertaking like London. She had once or twice travelled as far as Hull, but the occasions had been in her youth when a carriage ride was more of a treat than a burden. Harrogate would be the farthest from home she had ever been and with it came all the anxiety and excitement of an adventure.
Not that Lila was an adventuress. Her neighbors would have said she was more at home around hearth than afield. For a group of aged friends, it was a mark of excellent breeding and a welcome characteristic, for she never seemed displeased to take her tea in the cozier family rooms and never seemed to want for the amusements so often cherished by the young.
In her own mind, Lila would have neither thought herself too oriented by home or by amusement. She simply saw the utility in a plain, country life that was scheduled more by the seasons and the daily chores than by any thought of pleasure. That this was alien to most among her age and class would have served to surprise Lila, whose experience of the Ton was limited to accounts from her brother when he felt like offering tidbits of news.
It was somewhere in the midst of woolgathering about her uncertain future and the impending meeting of a distant Aunt whom she had never met that the carriage hiccupped to a halt. Accompanied as it was by a great wheeze of noise and the unintelligible calls of Coachman, Lila snapped to attention with a look towards her maid, Jenny.
Jenny had been with her for some years, and originally hailing from Lancashire, was considered within the household to be something of a worldly sort. When Jenny could offer no more than a series of frightened blinks, Lila sprung into action.
Scooting from her seat to crane her neck from the window, Lila peered into the open road and immediately was aware of the sounds of shuffling and masculine discussion.
Recognizing no inherent danger in the sounds, she grasped the handle of the door and let herself down.
They had travelled very near York and the sun was almost completely up in the sky signaling the midday meal. But instead of stopping to have a picnic, Lila thought as she rounded the side of the carriage towards the horses and the evident fray, it appeared Coachman had met with some trouble.
He was down from his box, stroking the muzzle of one of the horses while a gentleman dressed in riding clothes stood imperiously in the middle of the road offering instruction. Lila came towards them, her hands wringing together mindlessly.
“Coachman, is everything alright?”
Coachman turned and tipped his hat. “My lady, I apologize.”
Clearing his throat at Lila came nearer to the pair, the gentleman bowed. “I regret I have delayed your journey, miss.”
Lila glanced around, looking for any tell tale signs of an accident or scuffle. Noticing no such evidence, she breathed a sigh of relief before looking questioningly towards Coachman.
But it was the gentleman that spoke, interrupting any explanations her brother’s servant may have offered. He was slightly rumpled, but altogether the very picture of what Lila thought a fashionable man would look. He was of a height not much greater than Lila, with dark ginger hair that rose in a crest above his forehead and framed piercing blue eyes. A touch of a beard gave him the appearance of a rogue, but the delicate thin nose and drawn, dimpled cheeks gave the hint of a schoolboy.
Altogether, he was handsome in a sweet and dangerous way. But it was more than that. It was a beauty unfairly wasted on a gentleman.
“I waved your man down, seeing that it was carriage of Quality, to beg a favor of great import.” For such a conciliatory speech, the gentleman’s face was a mask of haughty indifference. It presented a peculiar paradox to Lila, who was used to more plain, country speech.
“My ward is in need of escort to Hammerton,” he motioned behind himself, and for the first time Lila noticed a young girl standing shyly by his horse. Her bonnet completely covered her face, which was turned downward toward the ground. “I have received urgent news from Town that must be attended to and the child needs must return to her mother for the duration of my business.”
Lila raised her eyebrow, her eyes returning to the gentleman to scan his face. There were no symptoms of cruelty or of insincerity. Yet the taciturn curve to his lip and cold eyes could not be denied. Lila’s heart went out at once to the child who must be burdened with such a guardian.
What man would turn to a stranger to take charge of his duty? It was almost beyond comprehension.
Lila St. John is a country miss off to play companion to her infirmed Aunt…and definitely not an adventuress. But when a strange and rude gentleman leaves her in charge of his ward after a chance encounter, it starts a chain of events that leads Lila into the unlikely position of heroine.
Nathaniel Dalton is a gentleman who is burdened by duty. Ruled by a life of structure and strict observation to Society’s rules, he shies away from scandal or gossip. But a run in with a pert and provincial young lady seems destined to throw his orderly life off track.
Working Title: Harrogate
Anticipated Release: August 2011
Rating: PG (intended for teens and up…no explicit scenes but some adult subject matter).