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 7 & 8
If You Say a Word …
Lady Vale took a deep breath, yet her voice was thready. ‘Well, I screamed and tried to pull my skirts down, but the Baron just ripped them from me until I stood before him in my – my chemise. And then he put his hands on my person; I knew he intended to … so I gathered my courage and punched him in the face. I heard his nose crack, and a spurt of blood landed on my chest.’
The girls gasped almost in unison, their eyes wide.
Lady Vale paused, placing a trembling hand across her bosom. ‘He wiped off the blood from his face and swore such filthy words, words I’d never heard before. Then the scoundrel leapt at me, dragging me into the forest. I yelled and screamed, but he paid no heed and threw me to the ground. He tried to stifle my screams by putting his hands over my mouth; I thought then I was undone; he would have his rotten way with me, to this day I shudder; I could have borne a bastard child of his. As he lowered his odious body upon me, I saw him lifted up in the air like a struggling turtle. Twas Old Tobias, the woodsman. He was certainly an elderly man, but he was so tall and strong; indeed, he had the Baron dangling, his toes barely touching the ground.’
She stopped and wiped her forehead. ‘Patience, please get my vinaigrette.’
Hastening to the sideboard, Patience pulled open the top drawer, took out the vinaigrette, and hurrying to her mother’s side, waved it under her nose.
Lady Vale sniffed and sat for some moments quite still. To their relief, she took a breath. ‘Hah, that’s better.’
In hushed tones, Augusta said, ‘What – what happened, mama?’
‘Tobias gave the Baron a beating. I rose to my feet to stop him, for I thought he would kill him, and then the poor man would be hung from the nearest tree because he saved me. Anyway, he dropped the Baron, who lay panting in the ferns. Hawsley cursed Tobias threatening to have him hung for attacking him. I then interrupted, saying I would reveal all to papa. He stopped, for he knew papa would call him out; being the third son of an Earl, he was highly trained in fencing and such. He turned to me and leered, saying he would execute Tobias if I uttered a word of it.
Tobias was furious and shouted, he would tell the Reverend. However, I hushed him, saying, for all our sakes, twas better left. I knew it would be difficult for papa to secure a living, and so it was settled.’ Tears fell as she lowered her eyes. ‘So you see why I am afeared for you all.’
As the three girls rose to comfort her, there was a knock on the door. Startled, they turned as one, fearing it was the Baron. Sophia went softly to the window and looked out to see a tall man of maybe seventy years, with a long solemn face beneath a top-hat. He appeared composed as he saw her looking at him. He kept his solemn expression, bowing to her and raising his hand politely.
Reassured, she went to the door, but after her mother’s revelation thought it fit to ask who he was. She did so, and he answered promptly in an elderly and kind voice. ‘Mr. William Thorn, butler to the Earl of Breckonbridge. She looked out to see the Earl leaning nonchalantly against his carriage, the coat of arms embossed in gold on the carriage door.
‘Mama, tis the butler to the Earl.’
Lady Vale’s face tensed, her eyes lighting up. ‘Well, open it, child – open it.’
Sophia threw the door open to the genteel smile of the butler. He bowed and handed her a small silver tray upon which lay a card headed with a coat of arms.
Taking the tray to her mother, she said excitedly, ‘Why mama, tis a request, I believe.’
Reading the card, Lady Vale flushed. ‘Oh my goodness, I thought the man was lying last night; I thought he was an imposter.’
‘Anyway, dear girls, he requests a private audience with me, so I wish you to leave and don’t listen at the doors.’
‘But why would he wish to speak with you alone?’ Sophia asked.
Her mother’s mouth tightened. ‘You will know soon enough.’ She clapped her hands. ‘Sophia, I bid you open the door and allow him entrance, but then you must leave immediately.’
She breathed deeply. What did the Earl wish to say? She would at least listen to him, but nothing would induce her to leave him alone with Sophia. The man mixed in the most demoralized company, engaging in evenings of sinful behaviour. What horrors lay in wait for her virtuous Sophia if she became his wife? Twas quite unwise to give him any leverage.
As he entered, Jake felt the lady’s unease. She would, of course, be suspicious of him, and quite rightly so, who wouldn’t, after finding him in the company of a salacious baron, rakehell’s, and ladies of the night? He was fortunate; she even conceded to see him.
Crossing over the small withdrawing room, he bowed and bussed the air above her proffered knuckles, her gloved hand stiff beneath his touch.
He backed away, murmuring. ‘I am honoured to be granted an audience, my lady.’
Lady Vale waved him to the settee on the other side of the fire. ‘Please, my lord, I cannot say I am without misgivings.’
He realized he had a tough interview ahead. Clearing his throat, he said, ‘first, my lady, I wish to apologize profusely for the lewd behavior you were subjected to last eve. Had I known you and your daughters were to be present, I would have made it my business to ensure we did not come near the Manor. However, as it was, we had no prior warning.’
He looked up at her, at the narrowed emerald eyes. She was indeed extremely wary of him. It would be hard to convince her of his sincerity.
Sworn to Secrecy
‘We’ll ma’am, I know not how to proceed; I beg your sensitivity and charitable indulgence in this matter.’ He felt his heart beat rapidly. This startled him, as he was not one to suffer fear or trepidation. However, at the moment, this dainty lady was the most important person in his life. She held the key to his future. It was all important he impressed her with his honesty, and good standing, without revealing his true profession. He was sworn to secrecy, an oath of allegiance as a spy, to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. ‘My lady, I fear I cannot reveal the truth of my true status. Notwithstanding, I swear I have only the greatest respect and highest regards for your daughter Miss Sophia.’
‘My lord, you confuse me; why the mystery? I take it; you are indeed the Earl of Breckonbridge?
‘Of course, my lady, but I am sworn to secrecy. Let us say I serve my King and country. I cannot give you even the slightest hint of my profession, save you are aware of my family and the title’s good name. I have three vast estates and some more in Jamaica.’ He was not about to state that he was also in significant debt.
‘My lord, I am not aware of the standing of your family; I was proud to be the wife of a vicar, the Reverend Stuart Vale, or may I say The Right Honourable Stuart Vale. Sophia’s father was the third son of the Earl of Spaldingshire, and I am the daughter of Viscount Maidstock. We led a quiet life here in the country and did not frequent the ton’s social gatherings. Indeed, my husband ministered to the yeomen on this estate and three villages belonging thereto. When my dear husband passed away, my daughters and I led a tranquil and simple life. So no, I do not know you.’
Jake gritted his teeth. This was going to be doubly difficult. However, it did not surprise him that Sophia was the granddaughter of an Earl and a Viscount; she had that fine bearing, the delicacy of limbs. ‘Perhaps I may call upon a relative, who will vouch for my good name.’
Lady Vale sighed. How could he plead for his morals after last night? Why she’d seen him pick up the lady in the voile drapes? Indeed, the memory put her to the blush.
‘My lord, how can you expect me to condone your behaviour? Surely you don’t think that I am overcome with your title or your estates?’ she said stiffly. ‘The safety of my daughter is paramount in my understanding. How can you expect me to trust you with her safety, indeed her life? Would you wed her, and then desert for one of those women who appeal to your lower….? How can you even come here and seek my permission to court her, for that is your wish, is it not?’
‘Indeed, madam. All I can say is that what you witnessed last night was part of my work. I have to move in circles that I …. I find distasteful, but I am sworn to uphold….’ He stopped as he raked long elegant fingers through ebony waves.
Watching him, Lady Vale felt some pity; indeed, it seemed he was battling with his soul, but could not reveal the truth to save his honour.
He looked up, the sapphire blue eyes sincere; to her surprise, he rose from his chair and knelt on his knees before her. Taking her hand, he said, ‘my lady, I beg you to give me some hope; I have sworn fealty to our country and its welfare. My work takes me into areas where I am beholden to act the part of a loathsome character. I fear I can say no more than that without going against my oath. Can you just reflect upon what I have revealed?’
Startled, she swallowed. She wanted to believe him. The man looked sincere; she tried to see honesty in his eyes, hear it in his deep baritone voice, feel it in the grip of his strong hands.
‘Madam, I am heir to the Marquess of Brindlehurst, who is my beloved uncle. I can have him see you so he may reassure you of my sincerity without revealing my mission.
Lady Vale shook, the Marquess of Brindlehurst? Good lord, she almost choked, had her baby, her Sophia, captured the heart of the nephew of a marquess no less? Nay, it could not be he was trying to dupe her.
Feeling a withdrawal, he did not blame her, but his heart dropped. It seemed he’d have to gain his uncle’s assistance here. He’d only see the girl once, held her in his arms once, looked into the pale jade eyes once, and he was enraptured. He’d heard of falling in love at first glance, well it wasn’t exactly that, but it was damn well near it.
‘Madam, would you be prepared to meet with my uncle? I shall contact him immediately.’ He paused, ‘Better still, being a favourite nephew of his; I may call upon him at any time without notice. So, we could travel up to his estate this very day.
Lady Vale’s blood raced to her head. Good Lord, the man was sincere. However, even then, he could be playing a canny game. She decided to call his bluff.
‘Very well, but I cannot go just yet; my youngest Emily is recovering from a severe cold.’
‘Then, with your permission, I shall have a Physicker and a nurse to attend her. Do you know of a good Physicker near?
‘Why yes, Dr. Moreton, and I am sure he will know of a nurse to care for her. However, my Lord, you need not go now; we can leave it a few days.’
‘Nay. I would rather have it settled now. So please write a direction to your Physicker, and my rider can deliver it.’
Rising to her feet, feeling somewhat agitated, Lady Vale looked at him. ‘But he may be seeing another patient, he may be—‘
‘Then, I shall wait.’
‘But he may not wish to—
‘He will come when he knows who’s summoned him.’
Goodness, he showed his iron confidence in his imperious tone and the set of his chin. He was not one to be refused. She felt a megrim coming on; the man appeared sincere; she’d put him through the strictest testing. It seemed Sophia attracted an admirer of high standing in the ton. Pray God he was genuine and observed the rules of propriety. ‘I shall see to it straight away, my lord.’
He rose to his feet, kissing her hand. ‘Upon seeing my uncle, I hope the way will be cleared for me to court Sophia.’
Lady Vale looked at him, and then at the butler standing at the door, also the coachman and the postilion. She should trust him but fear still pulsed in her heart. She’d been attacked herself and would not allow Sophia to experience such terror. Why, even now, she had nightmares of the attack, awaking screaming, her sheets, and nightrail soaking. No, first, she had to see if this was some façade for darker intentions.
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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
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Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: