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 5 & 6
A Despoiler of Maidens
As he turned away, her yearning mounted to desire, she suddenly had the longing to feel those strong arms clasped around her, her head nestling on the broad chest, his lips on her hair. She gulped; she had to attract his attention. ‘My lord, we are indebted to you. You saved us from such a mortifying situation.’
He turned his head to look at her, his dark sapphire blue eyes holding hers. ‘Dear girl, I would entreat you to stay well away from Baron Hawsley, be not beguiled by his sly ways.’
She nodded, her breath coming in short bursts, her mouth opening, but with nothing to say, as he looked at her mother and sister. ‘We’re off now, ladies. If you need me, just tap on the roof, and we will stop immediately. Have a good journey now.’ He slammed the door shut.
Climbing aloft with the coachman, he frowned, for all her dull attire, the girl was a beauty, more so close up. Indeed, her hair dragged back in a tight bun actually served to accentuate her fine features, the pearlite skin with a hint of rose, the delicacy of high cheekbones. He was mesmerized, the huge eyes and arched eyebrows and a pert retroussé nose. Those full lips that begged to be kissed. Her ebony hair shimmered a shade of silvery blue in the moonlight, her eyes glimmering a pale jade, not unlike the carved statuettes in the East. Intrigued, he pursed his lips and turned to the coachman. ‘Do you know these ladies well, John?’
‘Err … I know as their father was the vicar, but he passed away some six years ago now. They have had it, hard milord, living on a stipend as the Baron says. He has his eye on Miss Sophia now; he did have a thing for Lady Vale, but she fobbed him off. However, he has summat up his sleeve for Miss Sophia.’
Jake frowned. Dammit it all, he knew instantly what it would be. He gritted his teeth; there was no way, the brute would get his hands on that sweet young girl, not whilst he was around anyway.’
‘Do they frequent the Manor often?’
Nah, I’ve never seen ‘em attend a dinner afore. But, what surprised me was the way they dressed, tis not like em. They don’t have much blunt as I said, but they do wear a decent dress, not bawdy, but sweet and pretty like. So it got me thinking, maybe they woz tryin’ to put him off like, but I don’t think it would have worked. He was out to ruin them.’
‘You are sharp-witted John.’
‘I’ve been told that afore milord. Talkin’ like this, I know the Baron would throw me out on me arse if I was ter go against him, as far as the young lady is concerned, but I would have summat ter say if he tried to ruin young Sophia. Out on my arse or not.’
‘Aye, I can understand your situation John, and I admire your principles.’
The coachman straightened up, puffing out his chest. ‘I would not allow him to touch a hair on that young lady’s head milord.’
‘Really.’ The Earl turned to him. ‘So you would ruin your life for her sake?’
‘Aye milord, one thing I can’t abide is a young lady molested by an evil rake.’
The Earl fell silent for some moments, as he reflected over the man’s brave words. ‘Then I have a job for you, my man. In fact, I shall make it permanent. But for the present, if the Baron manages to lure these ladies again to the Manor, I want you to drive the carriage straight to my estate and tell me.’
‘Your estate milord?’
‘Yes, I open Breckonbridge Castle in the winter months, tis only half an hour’s ride from here. That cur has designs on Miss. Sophia and her sister, and I must safeguard their virtue.’
‘Then I shall do that milord. As I said, I do think that he has lewd designs for Miss Patience as well, that is, once he’s finished with Miss. Sophia.’
‘Damn villain. It’s time he visited Newgate.’
‘Botany Bay more like milord.’
As the carriage trundled along the earthen track, he mused on a young woman with eyes the colour of pale jade. Dressed in fine clothes with an expert hairdresser, she would grace any grand ball; indeed, the bucks and dandies would queue up to fill her card. In fact, the more he mused on those lovely features, the more morose he became. Dammit it all, he felt the urge to pluck this rose within seconds of seeing her. No other man would get his hands on her; he’d never been so aroused, so eager to lay claim to a woman. God’s teeth he would even offer for her now, twas not often one had the chance to capture a diamond of the first water. But, he could not forsake his family, five sisters and three brothers, and an estate that came with massive debts. His bloody pater was one selfish bugger with no thought of his offspring or of his loyal wife. No, upon rising, from a stupendous hangover, his afternoon would begin at White’s. As the day progresses, it would fast sink to the meanest of gaming hells. He gritted his teeth; in one night, the bastard lost fifty thousand pounds. He could even beat the Duchess of Devonshire’s gambling with his enormous debts. Faro was the gaming man’s executioner, which broke up many families, started countless duels, and precipitated suicides. On his demise, his pater left Jake with a title, castle, and enormous debts, besides his sisters and brothers and a mama, delicate through years of abuse. He was also heir to millions of pounds and the estates of the Marquess of Brindlehurst. His uncle, entering his eighty-fifth year, was in failing health and no longer the renowned Corinthian.
He recognized the puzzlement, the awakening in those innocent eyes, as Miss Sophia met his gaze, the tip of her pink tongue moistening those rosebud lips. She was for the taking, but he would not stoop to harm her; she was too pure, too precious, rather he would become her benefactor. However, lustful thoughts raced through his mind. As his mistress, he could have this lovely girl, keep her and her family in comfort, but these were wild pointless reckonings. No, as a spy for HM Revenue and Customs, his record must perforce be spotless, above suspicion, as it was his only source of income. At such lustful thoughts, guilt swept over him/ He was no better than those scurrilous rakehells scouring the balls and assembly rooms.
It was the duty of every gentleman, lo; all men to care for the weaker sex, and in this light, although he may not have her, he would make damn sure she met a suitable suitor. He smiled wryly; at least he’d saved her from the licentious Baron. Soon he would reel the lecher in, now he had proof of the enormity of his smuggling; port, cognac, tea, coffee, cigars, and fabrics. Of course, Jake turned a blind eye to a lot of smuggling, for it was the only way the poorer classes could afford tea, coffee, chocolate, or wine. However, the Baron was an evil personage who despoiled innocent girls, corrupted wives, and destroyed families. For this, he would pay. Oh yes, Baron Hawsley would do well to enjoy these last few days, for soon he would be bound for Botany Bay.
On reaching the Manse, he escorted the ladies to the door, bowing and kissing the hand of each. On bussing the air above Sophia’s gloved knuckles, he smiled, a twinkle in his eye. ‘Mayhap, I will have the pleasure of seeing you again? I pray you will permit me to accompany you on your morning stroll in the woods?’
She lowered her eyelids, murmuring, ‘I have not told you of that, my lord, how come you know my habits. ‘Well, tis there you saw our scheming baron.’ He winked. ‘But you will be quite safe with me; I can assure you.’
He turned to Lady Vale, ‘If it is not an intrusion, may I call upon you and Miss Vale tomorrow afternoon?’
She bit her lip; although he had rescued them from such bizarre dinner companions, he too was of their ilk. Her tone was even, polite with a tinge of coolness.’
My lord, I am grateful for your chivalrous assistance, but we are rather busy at this time of the year. However, I thank you again for your kindness.’
He bowed. ‘My apologies for being so bold as to ask my dear lady. I should have sent my card, but as the Manse is such a distance, I thought to take this opportunity, to ask personally. My profuse apologies.’
‘Pray, do not take it to heart, kind sir, it is just there is much to do; the winter is upon us, and we must prepare. Now I bid you good night.’
Bowing once more, he glanced over to Sophia and gave a surreptitious wink. She started back in surprise but could not resist a smile and a delighted shiver. Turning abruptly, he made his way to the gate, closing it gently behind him.
Sophia glared at her mama, a pout on her full lips. ‘Mama, how could you? You did not even consult me. Now I have lost the most handsome of men. And he showed an interest; how could you?’
Lady Vale hugged her. ‘My dear girl, he will be here tomorrow, begging to see you. Jump not at his first approach; you must needs lure him with your diffidence.’
‘He won’t come; you’ve sent him off with cold words.’
Dearest, he will be here; he is a strong natured man and will not be thwarted by a protective mama. Come now; be happy, for like the eagle, he will pursue his mate.’
‘That’s rather brown, mama.’ Watching the carriage depart, she saw his lordship turn and blow a kiss. Blushing, Sophia grinned, too shy to return the gesture.
Lady Vale opened the front door to be greeted by Freddie, who bounced off his feet with joy, his tail wagging furiously. Sophia laughed and bent to stroke him. ‘Dear Freddie, the things we do for you.’
Lady Vale smiled, fondly patting him. ‘He’s worth it, but I do not wish to undergo such trials again, Sophia. You must keep him close to heel in future.’
‘I know, mama, but he has such winsome tricks. If I try to put him on the lead, he just throws himself on the ground and pants, his tongue lolling, his eyes so doleful. It fair touches my heart.’
‘I know he is such a sweet dog and a brave protector.’
‘Oh mama, I am so sorry you had to go through this evening’s monkeyshines.’
‘Sophia – language – language.’
‘Mama, that was quite discreet.’
‘Not in this house; we do not suffer slang here. Pray, I wonder where you hear such abhorrent language.’ Lady Vale took off her cloak, hanging it on the hall tree; she entered the small withdrawing-room and poked the embers of the fire. ‘Brr; tis such a cold room, we really must chop up more logs.’
Sophia smarting from her mother’s reproach, said tartly, ‘I will see to it in the morning.’
The lady sank gratefully into her chair. ‘Dear Lord, what an experience, thank goodness tis all over now.’
‘Mama, twas dreadful, and those awful women.’ Patience said, taking off her cloak. Twas not that they were ladybirds; it was—’
‘Patience, never – never again say such a vile word in my presence d’you hear me?’
Patience nodded, ‘Oh mama; you must get up with the times, tis a decorous term for ladies who—‘
‘Enough, I say. Why, would you have spoken thus, if your dear papa was alive? Pray, answer me.’
Patience lowered her eyes. ‘No, mama, I apologize.’
‘Hmm, it seems everyone’s apologizing this evening. What a night, vile company, unspeakable people thrust upon us, that I should be even in their company. Dear Lord, I feel faint.’
Sophia rushed to the chest of drawers, pulling out vinaigrette. ‘Come Mama, breathe it in.’ She waved the hartshorn under the poor woman’s nose. ‘Tis much too much for you, mama.’
Patience nodded, ‘Yes, did you see those golden leaves on that woman’s—’
Lady Vale shrieked, ‘Patience – don’t speak of it. Leave the room – leave the room, I say, go see how Emily is.’
Patience raised her eyebrows at Sophia and bit back a giggle as she left.
After seeing her mother revive somewhat, Sophia pushed down the vial’s crystal cap and replaced it in the drawer. ‘I am so sorry; I should never have put you through all this. Just because Freddie—’
‘Twas not our dear dog’s fault Sophia, he was just protecting you, and thank God he was there. Heaven knows what would have happened. After seeing those odious creatures this evening, my heart almost fails for the worry of it all.’
‘Mama, it won’t happen again; I will keep Freddie close to heel.’
Patience said tersely, ‘their manners, and their dresses were quite bawdy, if I may use the word.’ She turned to Sophia, ‘Did you see those golden leaves covering that woman’s —’
‘That’s enough, Patience; I do not wish you to refer to such people in this house. Please go and see how Emily and Augusta are.’
Patience turned but then said, ‘their behaviour and manners were so lewd. I know that many women are forced into prostitution. Still, those ladies were beyond the bounds of even the lowest morals. Why did you see—?’
‘No – no Patience, do not refer to that obscene behaviour in this Manse.’
‘Now we will have to make one rule from now on. None of your girls can leave this house alone. You must go in pairs.’
‘Oh Mama,’ Sophia wailed. ‘Patience and Augusta hate going for walks, and they just refuse. I can’t just stay in. You never allow us to attend the Assemblies or go to the country balls; I’ll never meet a beau – never.’
‘Come now, Sophia, don’t get hysterical.’ Lady Vale sighed in exasperation. ‘Now you must sort it out amongst yourselves, but on no account will any of you go abroad alone. The Baron is an evil man, and we have been warned of his wickedness by the Earl.’
Amidst the groans of the girls, she turned back to Sophia. ‘Remember, Sophia, no solitary walks.’
‘No, I do not want to hear anymore. I forbid you to go out alone, is that clear?’
Sophia gritted her teeth. She’d planned to walk in the forest in the morning, for she hoped to see him there. Although he hadn’t exactly said he’d be there, perhaps he would look out for her. He suggested a stroll in the forest, so he may well be waiting.
After breaking their fast early, Sophia said, ‘Mama, I’m just going out to chop up some more logs.’ Sophia tied her heavy duty apron around her waist. It was at times like this, she missed Benjamin. His particular duty was to gather fallen branches from the forest and chop them up for logs and kindling. Now he was away at University, it fell to her. Patience was only eighteen months younger than her. Still, she was very slight of frame with delicate wrists, so her domain was the kitchen and the hearth in the withdrawing room. This was much dirtier but lighter work and entailed cleaning and blacking two grates, besides scrubbing the oven and the kitchen floor.
Sophia threw on a light Spencer, as although there was a frost, she would soon be perspiring with the heavy labour. Later, she planned to take her younger sister Jennet with her for a stroll, as mayhap, she would chance upon the handsome Earl in the woods. He hinted he would see her, but maybe it was just her romantic yearnings. Nevertheless, she was determined to find out. Lady Vale put down her teacup and looked at her third eldest daughter. ‘Augusta, would you nurse Emily? She needs cheering up. Play Fox and Geese with her; she does love it so.’
‘Oh, mama, I hate board games; they are so boring.’
‘Yes, dear, but it’s not about you, is it? So go along now, Goodness knows the child has suffered.’
‘But mama, you know she doesn’t put all the pegs in the lattices; they’ll get lost in the bed as usual; Patience said, pulling a face. ‘No, I shall go with Sophia; Jennet and Lark love the game, so she shall play with one of them. ’
Sophia nodded, ‘Yes truly; I must gather some more lungwort for Emily’s chest; it is still crackling. I wish we could afford a Physicker; I am very worried about her.’
Lady Vale arched her eyebrows. ‘The Baron may be prowling the woods even as we speak. He is well aware you take a morning walk. For want of repeating myself, I must say you should both stay very near the Manse; he may have one of those rakes with him.’
‘Oh mama, please, we can’t remain prisoners for the rest of our lives, just because of one odious man. Besides, Emily needs more healing herbs.’
‘But, he is not to be trusted, however persuasive he may be.’
‘Persuasive? Mama, he’s an ogre; his jowls hang over his three chins, and he’s quite odious in his speech, let alone his body odour.’
‘Well, you may go, as long as you take Augusta with you as well. Now, do not stray far from the Manse, and stay within calling distance.’
‘You are making too much of this; after all, he did not harm us or in any way suggest any—’
‘Sophia, please, he … he … oh dear I have to say it, he is a dirty-dish.’
Sophia raised her eyebrows and tried not to giggle. Twas the first time she’d heard her mama talk slang, and with such venom.
Lady Vale continued. ‘He exposed you and Patience to those … those lightskirts; to my gently born girls of tender years; he is an odious nincompoop, a bacon-brained twit. There, you have me cursing, Sophia. Why I have never in my life experienced anything like his guests, as you may call them.’
Augusta said with some bravado, ‘Papa would have landed him a facer.’
‘Augusta – watch your tongue. No, as I was saying, if your dear papa were alive, he would have used his cane against them, or more so—’
‘Mama, he was a Reverend, a man of the cloth; he would never—’
‘Sophia, don’t be high in the instep with me. You know your papa had a hot temper, and you take after him. He would have been horrified, indeed, if he….’ She paused, ‘But then, it would never have happened with papa here; the baron would not have dared behave so. I know for a fact your papa would have set about him with his cane, or as I said, called him out.’
‘Really mama, we’re only some minutes away from the Manse and—’
‘Yes, and it was Lord Jacob, who saved us; he knows the baron is capable of exposing you girls to unspeakable horrors. Indeed, he is capable of absconding with you.’
‘Mama, now you’re making him out to be a villain in one of the penny dreadfuls. But he—’
‘He is a villain, caught up in all sorts of havey-cavy behaviour. If you girls do meet him, do not allow him to engage you in speech. Be polite and demure in your demeanour, but give an excuse to slip away.’
Patience went to her mother and hugged her. ‘Mama, we will be very careful and will not give the detestable creature a chance to speak to us; we will make an excuse.’
‘Hmm, still I loathe letting you out alone. Oh, if only Benjamin were here.’ She took a lacy handkerchief out of her skirt pocket and wiped her brow. ‘I know you children think I am fussing, but I have something to tell you, and then you will understand my huffing and puffing.’
She moved in her chair, straightening her back, and beckoned them to her side. ‘Now, dearest girls, do not interrupt, for I only wish to tell you this once.’ Seeing the girls settle at her feet, she took a deep breath. ‘Some years ago, when your dear papa was alive, I used to love to stroll in the forest, especially as the wildflowers appeared. I would always pick enough for a posy for the drawing-room windowsill. One day … I … was bending to pluck some, when the Baron came upon me. He slapped me on my bottom, and then … and then … he lifted my skirts and threw them over my head.’
Sophia looked at her. ‘Oh my God, what happened?’
‘He wished to have his evil way with me. I was too far away from the Manse to call for help, and unlike you, Sophia, I did not have a dog with me.’
The girls waited with bated breath for her to continue.
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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: