Please enjoy my festive romance novel, Sleigh Ride . Set in Regency England, and including some authentic language of the times, the reader is taken on a truly magical Christmas journey. Miss Sophia Vale faces poverty. Enter the Earl of Breconbridge, renowned as a rake hell with a conscience. New chapters will be posted every Monday and Thursday.
In Memory of my Mother, Dylis Walker, who sadly passed away on the 20th December 2020. With traditional Welsh tenacity and vigour she lived a rich and full 99 years.
Bye Mum… I shall miss you.
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:
Sleigh Ride: Chapters 1 & 2
A Sly Baron
Shafts of light shone through the last leaves of the silver birch tree, tracing lacy patterns across the path. Sophia Vale lifted her head to the sweet trebles of birds high among the branches above her. It was an idyllic morning for mid-winter, and more so as Lord Jude Hawsley would be still abed. That dratted monster would not rouse until early afternoon, giving her the freedom to enjoy the vestiges of winter sun. Now she was free from the fear of his unwelcome advances. However, wary of the sly ways of the Baron, she’d taken Freddie, her loyal sheepdog, with her.
Picking her way through a mound of gold-brown leaves, Sophia espied a patch of medicinal herbs. Lungwort was the most beneficial for her little sister’s congestion. Relieved, she plucked them from ferns, fast disappearing as winter advanced. With icy winds now sweeping the countryside, she was lucky to find them. The herbs would make tisanes to alleviate the crackling congestion on Emily’s chest and ease the rasping cough. She wished she could afford the services of a Physicker, but his fees were well above their modest means. The stipend they did have, covered only their food and shelter of a dilapidated manse.
The scent of the wild herbs wafted through the forest bereft of foliage to a silent watcher. Hiding behind the thick trunk of a horse chestnut tree, Lord Jude Hawsley grinned, caught the chit; she was well away from the manse, well away from her noisome siblings. She was indeed a picture, in her velvet pelisse, those ebony waves flowing down her back to her waist. His heart rippled with her nearness, his fists clenching. How he yearned to take that slender body in his arms, tear off that coat, fondle her curves, kiss those full lips. Oh, what he wouldn’t do if he had the chance. As she neared, he pounced. ‘Miss Vale—’
‘Oh – oh my Lord, you frightened me.’ She jumped back, turning in desperation to search for Freddie; where was he? However, the dog picked up her fright and emerged from the ferns, rushing to her side to her relief.
Seeing the blasted animal, the Baron waved his hands in placation. ‘My dear girl, you should not walk unescorted through these lonely paths. Some scoundrel could be waiting behind the bushes ready to ravish you.’
Sophia’s heart sank, now he’d changed his tactics, but at least she had Freddie with her. ‘Such talk, sir, how indiscreet. Have you no sense of propriety?’ she asked with asperity.
‘Hmm, I think only for your safety, my sweet girl.’
‘Truly, my lord.’ She smiled, lifting those beautiful eyes to his. ‘I am quite safe here with only the birds and the deer as my companions. She looked pointedly down at her dog, now sniffing the man’s feet. ‘And of course, Freddie, I do not venture far without him.’
‘Quite – quite so.’ he spluttered, wishing he could kick the cur away. ‘Such a loyal animal. However, now I am here to—’
‘But my lord, you should repair to the Manor; you will begrime those exquisite clothes.’
Not picking up her veiled sarcasm, he preened, struggling to lift his treble chin above the immaculately folded cravat. Hurriedly, he smoothed down the blue superfine frock coat, as he endeavoured to tug down the high cut over his barrel of a belly. Simpering, he squawked, ‘I am fit to swoon with your sweet praise. Praise from an angel alighted on my unworthy path.’ Foppishly, he flourished a silk handkerchief near her face as he posed, pointing his foot away from the damn cur’s nose. ‘So my apparel pleases you?’
Sophia took a deep breath. He reminded her of a fat old wood pigeon bowing and bending his tail feathers to his female victim. Well, he would not be jumping on her back. ‘Tis clear your valet spent hours fixing your cravat.’
‘Hmm, I follow Gronow and Beau Brummel to the tee, y’know. However, be that as it may, my angel, I risk all for one sweet word from that delectable mouth. Now I am here, pray to let me escort you to your door.’ He felt Freddie’s teeth on the back of his leg, nibbling gently. Dammit it to hell, the bugger was herding him. He jerked his head back, ‘Hah; I see yer dog is up to his tricks.’
‘Hmm, yes, it looks like it. However, those fine kid leather boots are not fitted for such rough terrain, my lord. You should turn back before these twisted roots mark them.’
Trying not to laugh, Sophia beckoned to the sheepdog. ‘Oh, my apologies, kind sir, it is his way of showing his affection. Freddie – Freddie sweetheart, come here.’
The Baron’s nose crinkled up, his smile, not quite a grimace, then opened his arms. ‘My dear girl; I cannot help it; I must just give you a hug; you are so precious, so—’
Freddie bit him on the buttock as the odious Baron bore down on her.
Aghast, Sophia ran forward and grabbed the dog whilst the Baron hopped around, clasping his buttocks in pain. His red cheeks now crimson, he spluttered, ‘My breeches – my fine buckskin breeches. Really Miss Sophia, I … I … I really do think you….’ He twisted his head to see if Freddie had drawn blood, whilst Sophia, alarmed, stood aside wide-eyed.
‘Miss Sophia, pardon me, but would – would you see if he has drawn … blood?’
‘Oh my goodness, of course – of course.’ Sophia, not wishing to go too near his unmentionables, stuttered, ‘I … I can see from here; his teeth have torn through the buckskin. However, there is no blood. I fear, my lord, you moved too fast toward me. I sincerely hope you can ignore this – this unfortunate occurrence.’
The Baron bared his teeth, now was his chance; the damn dog played right into his hands. ‘Only, my dear, if you do me the honour of dining with me this evening.’
Seeing her draw back, he said slyly, ‘of course, I am willing to overlook this incident if you afford me the pleasure of your company. If not, if not, then I’m afraid I ….’ He paused, his tone ominous. ‘My man regularly hunts in these woods. He is an excellent shot, but you should be on your guard.’ He grimaced, looking down at Freddie. Sophia felt her heart leap to her throat. He would kill him if she didn’t accept. ‘I … my lord you know tis not appropriate. I do not have recourse to a chaperone.’
‘Well – well bring your … your delightful sister, Patience, is it not?’
‘Why, of course.’ Knowing she was trapped and alarmed that he could harm her dog, she nodded. Just this once, she would have to oblige him, if only to save her beloved Freddie. ‘Tis I who am honoured, my lord. Patience and I will be happy to accept your most kind invitation.’
Huffing with pleasure, he took her hand, ‘I will send my carriage at seven of the hour this evening.’ He beamed; sister or not, it would be easy to separate them. Once in the Manor House, she was his for the taking.
The Plans of Mice and Women
Rushing through the door, Sophia ran across the stone-walled hall and, flinging the door open, burst into the withdrawing room.
‘Why, Sophia, my dear, what is wrong?’ Her mother, Lady Beatrice Vale, rose from her chair. ‘You look troubled.’
Patience, at ten and nine years, her younger sister, came to her side, taking her hand. ‘Why you are trembling dearest, what’s happened?’
‘Freddie bit the Baron.’
‘Oh-oh, dear. Where?’ Her mother clasped her hands together.
‘Err … on his … err … unmentionables.’
Patience’s face crinkled up with laughter as her mother giggled. ‘Where?’
‘His unmentionables?’ Her sister chortled. ‘He didn’t really bite him?’
‘Yes, he did, but he didn’t draw blood.’
Her mother shrieked with laughter, ‘Don’t Sophia, don’t. Oh, dear God.’ She wiped the tears from her face. ‘Tis very unseemly to talk so; don’t say anymore.’ She gripped her waist, laughing.
Patience looked down at Freddie wagging his tail, his bright brown eyes wide and innocent. ‘Oh Freddie, you dear – dear boy.’
Sophia plumped down in the chair. ‘This is no laughing matter, mama; he threatened to have him shot.’
Lady Vale bit her lip. ‘I’m sorry, Sophia. It’s just – you caught us unawares.’
‘But why did he bite the man.’ Patience asked.
‘He came too near, and Freddie leapt to my rescue. He’s never bitten anyone’s unmentionables before.’
Lady Vale stroked the dog. ‘Oh, my brave – brave boy. Now you deserve a special treat.’
At the word ‘treat,’ Freddie pricked up his ears, jumping up in joy, then dashed to the door leading to the kitchen.’
Patience rose and followed him; after all, he wouldn’t rest until he had his reward on hearing the word.
‘But mama, he could have him shot, maybe I should—’
‘No, my dear, then he would have to reveal he made lewd advances to a gently bred young lady. The ton would spurn him. Oh no, he would have to hold off on that.’
‘But, he could shoot him when we are not around.’
‘No, my dearest, we know about the incident now, and I shall make it my purpose to ensure I make him fully aware of that.’
Patience returned. ‘Freddie’s enjoying his treat. But, Sophia, what is it?’
Sophia turned to her. ‘He blackmailed me. He insisted I go to dinner at the Manor House, this very evening.’
Lady Vale frowned. ‘Oh no, it is impossible; you do not have a chaperone, tis quite inappropriate. No, you cannot go.’
‘But mama he did threaten me, if I didn’t attend, he inferred Freddie would meet with an accident.’
Patience frowned. ‘Mama, I don’t think we should chance it; I don’t want anything to happen to Freddie.’
‘Then there is nothing else for it; I will accompany you both. We will have to leave Emily, Jennet, and Lark with Augusta.
‘But he may not allow you entry.’
‘I don’t think he can refuse; he would be the talk of the village. Besides, I am the wife of the third son of an Earl and the daughter of a Viscount. No dear, never fear, I will be with you. Why he may scheme to get you alone and then ruin you.’
‘Yes, I am afraid of that.’
‘That’s decided, come let us prepare ourselves. At least, we may look forward to some good food this evening; t’will be a pleasant change from our frugal fare.’ Lady Vale’s eyes gleamed; she knew and hated the devil. For that was what he was, a devil which sought to debauch women – any woman, titled lady, servant. Even before her dear husband’s demise, he’d evil designs upon her, and now it seems he’d cast his eye on her daughters. She sighed; this would never have happened if her beloved Stuart was alive; he would have called the brute out. As it was, she knew she should refuse the dinner invitation outright, but she could not bear to think poor Freddie could die for trying to protect Sophia. Now it was up to her; she was a force to contend with when it came to her daughters’ welfare.
She looked at the small fire in the huge hearth of the cold, draughty room. They’d lived through hard times since her husband’s death. Being the third son of an Earl, he was destined for the Church to earn a living and had done well with the Baron’s father. On the worthy gentleman’s demise, his son, a rakehell of the first order, embarked on a life of debauchery, spending his fortune on the horses, gaming, dinners. The guests were not mentioned in Polite Society, or the riotous balls filled with Cyprians and their masters. Her husband struggled through this disastrous time, but tragedy hit the family. When the Reverend Thomas Vale succumbed to the fever and two of his three sons, only Benjamin survived.
Due to the charity of the Reverend Vale’s father, the Earl, Benjamin could attend Oxford. Woefully, his charity did not extend to the girls, although she quite understood, as there were six daughters. However, he was gracious enough to bequest a modest stipend that allowed them to live in some comfort. Lady Vale was an intelligent and educated lady who tutored the girls as befitted any gentle born daughter. Not wishing to pay for another minister, the Baron allowed her and her family to stay for a high rent that enabled them to continue living with friendly and lifelong neighbours.
Late that afternoon, as they prepared for the dinner, Lady Vale gathered her daughters around her. ‘I know that the Baron is a treacherous man, and therefore, we must make plans to avert his dastardly designs upon us. I have come up with a list to ensure we stay only an hour at the most. So listen carefully. Firstly, his usual female companions wear lewd and gaudy attire, so we shall dress in the most sombre mode, which will be sure to dampen his mood. Now for the next items on my list.’
As she finished her list, the girls clapped their hands in glee. They were well aware of the danger they faced. However, he would be hard done by to ravage three ladies. Yet, there was some danger, as his staff was renowned in giving a deaf ear to the rousting of their master, heeding no cries for help or pleas for mercy. T’was more than their jobs were worth, the very least they could expect was a flogging.
Sophia picked out a plain grey dress with a high neck and violet trimmings. She dressed her hair in a chignon primly caught at the base of her neck. Her only adornment was a chain of jet beads usually worn in the mourning period.
Her mother and sister were similarly attired. Patience wore a dusky mauve whilst her mama favoured her black bombazine widow’s dress. Some ladies took to widows’ weeds for the rest of their lives on losing their husbands, but her mother discarded hers within three years. It was only last year, she laid the gloves aside, but Sophia noted, she wore them tonight. Seeing each other’s appearance, they grinned. Beatrice’s eyes glittered; she was prepared for battle; he was a demon of the first order.
Hearing the carriage halt outside, they donned their black and grey capes, putting the finishing touch to their gloomy garb.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: