Tuesday Nightss – Excerpt
I’m delighted today to share an excerpt from Linda Rae Sande’s story, Tuesday Nights, from the “Sons of the Aristocracy” series.
Michael Cunningham, the second son of a viscount, was minding his own business as he strode toward the Ship. He intended to take a room at Shipley’s only inn, the establishment promising a clean room and hot meals for the few days he would be in the Horsham District of Sussex. Although his family’s small estate, Cunningham Park, was just south of Horsham, he thought the daily trip to Shipley would take too much time away from his opportunity to meet with Harold Waterford. Sir Richard Waggoner had taken a risk in arranging for him to meet with the business man, and Michael didn’t want to disappoint either of the gentlemen by not being available on an hour’s notice.
So it was a surprise and a bit of an annoyance when his attention was suddenly diverted. A young lady’s scream, followed by a drawn out cry of “No!” had him stopped in his tracks. Michael glanced around, realizing almost at once that the sound had come from behind the inn. Hurrying around the whitewashed stucco building, he spied the source of the scream. A young woman, her back pressed against the inn’s carriage house, was pinned in place by a taller young man, his bent arm across her throat. Dressed in trousers and a wool shirt, he looked like he belonged at the edge of the flock of sheep that were grazing just east of town. But this wolf had his lamb at a distinct disadvantage, and Michael was quick to act on the lamb’s behalf.
“Now, see here,” he shouted, reaching out to grab the attacker’s shoulder. He instead ended up with a handful of shirt, lifting it so the man was suddenly off his feet and turned facing him.
Before the predator had completely turned to see who it was that had him pulled away from his prey, Michael’s skills as a pugilist took over. His right fist struck the man’s jaw, and then Michael let go of the shirt. Dazed from the blow, the young man stumbled backwards and landed on his bum, his nose dripping blood while one hand reached up to his cheek.
“The young lady said, ‘no’!” Michael yelled, uncurling his fist and stretching his fingers to determine that, thank the gods, none were broken. He needed that hand to take notes whilst in his meetings these next few days. “You go near her again, and I’ll see to it every bone in your body is broken,” he vowed.
His eyes wide as saucers, the young man nodded. “Yes sir,” he mumbled, his hand still rubbing his cheek.
Michael’s attention turned to the young lady whose back was still against the wall, her arms straight while her palms were pressed against the stucco. Although her bodice was a bit askew, and her face had a look of astonishment, she seemed in one piece.
At least she hadn’t had a fit of the vapours and fainted on him.
“Are you … hurt?” he asked, careful to keep the tone of his voice as neutral as possible. He didn’t want the girl as frightened of him as she was of the man who was scampering backwards like a crab toward his escape.
For the first time in several seconds, Olivia Waterford let out the breath she’d been holding. She was sure Eli Blaylock was about to kiss her. Perhaps about to have his way with her, although she still wasn’t quite sure what that would have entailed. Ruination, certainly!
“May I offer you a ride, Miss Olivia? I believe our destination is the same,” Michael said lightly as he held out a hand for her. She’s even prettier than the last time I saw her!
Olivia colored up a bit, surprised by the sudden appearance of the very man she’d been thinking of, as if her memories had somehow conjured him into existence. “I suppose it would be acceptable,” she agreed as a footman set down the steps. There should really be a chaperone, she thought, but she’d known Mr. Cunningham for a long time. He was a friend of the family. Certainly there would be no harm in riding in his coach the rest of the way to the house.
“You have quite a burden there, Miss Olivia. Allow me,” Michael offered as he took the bundle of letters from her grasp, leaving her to manage a small parcel under her other arm.
“Thank you, Mr. Cunningham. You are too kind,” Olivia replied with a grin. She stepped up into the coach, a frisson passing through her as Michael grasped her gloved hand and helped her up the steep step.
Before he followed her into the coach, Michael’s eye was drawn to the top letter on the stack he had taken from her. The crest of the Duke of Somerset was quite evident in the dark red wax seal, and he surreptitiously turned over the letter as he climbed up into the coach. He noted the addressee was not Harold Waterford but Olivia. And the beautiful handwriting was familiar to him. Michael’s brows furrowed.
Elizabeth Cunningham, he realized immediately. Michael’s younger sister and the only daughter of Viscount Cunningham understood why Michael did not wish to marry right away, but she also knew of his immediate need to do so. And she was grateful enough for Michael’s introduction to the man who had become her husband, Jeremy Edward Statton, to bend to his wishes when the need arose. Like now, he thought to himself, hoping the letter was to tell Olivia the offer to hire her as governess had been rescinded. “You have quite a lot of letters here,” Michael commented as he took a seat across from her and settled back into the leather squabs.
“Indeed. The mail coach arrived from London just as I was about to leave Shipley,” Olivia replied happily. “I am merely saving the driver from making the extra trip down our lane.”
Michael pretended to notice the top letter for the first time. “And it seems you are the recipient of a rather pretty missive right here,” he countered as he lifted the envelope from the pile and handed it to her. Depending on when it was sent, he was certain he knew its contents.
Olivia reached for the letter and bit her lip as she considered whether or not to open it. “Yes, and I have been most anxious to learn its message,” she said with a sigh. “But we’ll be to the house shortly. I can wait until then.”
“Open it,” Michael insisted. “Please. I will not see it as an offense if you open it and read it this very moment.” He didn’t want to admit that he was as anxious to learn its contents as she was. Perhaps, if it were the news he was expecting it to be, he would ask for her hand right then. Although he didn’t know if a marriage proposal would be welcome upon her reading she was no longer in contention for the position.
* * * *
Olivia inhaled sharply, her gaze directed down onto a huge room full of people who suddenly seemed to turn in unison and look directly at her. She was slightly aware of a collective gasp and glanced over at a still grinning Michael. His gaze was on her, but he nodded his head and indicated they needed to descend the steps leading to the ballroom floor. Returning his nod and a self-conscious grin, Olivia allowed him to lead her down the stairs, one quivering hand firmly tucked in the crook of his elbow while her other held her skirts. When they reached the bottom, Olivia took a deep breath of relief. Within seconds, several people were surrounding them, at once eyeing her as they congratulated Michael on his having married.
“You dog, you,” a rather tall, older gentleman was saying as he elbowed Michael. Olivia was glad to be on his bruised side, thinking the man would have caused her husband a great deal of pain if he made contact against one of his ribs.
And then she recognized the man.
“Ah, Grandby, so good to see you!” Michael said as he slugged the man on the shoulder. “Olivia, this is Milton Grandby, one of my sparring partners,” Michael said in introduction.
Olivia curtsied as she gave the man a smile and then leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. “It’s an honor to see you again, my lord,” she said, a bit surprised that her husband would introduce the Earl of Torrington so casually, even if the man was her godfather.
The earl’s face seemed to redden a bit after Olivia’s kiss, but no more so than Michael’s. Grandby reached out and captured Olivia’s gloved hand and kissed the back of it, his eyebrow rising as he took in the sight of the sapphire ring. “You may call me Grandby, m’lady,” he said in a rich baritone, “But if you were not married, I would simply request that you call on me.”
Stunned by the overt suggestion, Olivia suppressed the urge to gasp and look horrified. “As one of your many goddaughters, I expect I shall do so as a courtesy,” she countered lightly.