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 9 & 10
A Lady Trust a Duke
Taking Sophia into the small sitting room, she closed the door. ‘Dearest, I must needs be quite sure of the Earl before I allow him to court you.’
‘Court me?’ Sophia felt her heart jump within her breast. ‘But you have blown this out of all proportion; next, you will be telling me you have demanded the wedding bans be called.’
‘Nay, sweetheart, it appears he is serious and has even confided to me that he has a tendre for you already. But, there are things to clear up before I allow him to proceed.’
Sophia plopped down on the chair, ‘Goodness, I was not aware his intentions were so serious.’
‘Well, my dear, once we have seen the Marquess, and he has declared the Earl to be all that he claims to be, then I would not be surprised if he offered for you.’
‘But Mama, we’ve just met and only had a few words. How on earth could he be serious? Honestly, Mama tis you, pushing like this; I would not be surprised if he runs with his tail between his legs. You are worse than Freddie; you bite with words.’
‘Dearest, there is something I am not at liberty to tell you at the moment, but upon my return, I hope the matter will be cleared up.’
Patience came to Sophia’s side. ‘Mama, I fear your standards are too high, even the most angelic of men could not reach them, and I am not sure I wish to marry a puritan, why life would be a bore. None of us will ever wed or even receive an offer. Your standards are far too high.’
Augusta nodded. ‘Yes, I hear that tis quite in order for a gentleman to have a mistress; the wife just pretends she has no knowledge of it, and would certainly not upbraid him for such, as she could be punished.’
‘Augusta, enough, I do not wish to hear the word “mistress” or any allusions to it, uttered in the Manse. What would your dear papa have said?’
Augusta raised her eyes to the ceiling. ‘Really, I think we must prepare ourselves for the nunnery.’
‘That is enough, Augusta. The Earl has been kind enough to send for the Physicker and a nurse, who will attend to Emily in my absence.’
Seeing her daughters’ faces drop, she added hurriedly. ‘Tis just in case there is an emergency beyond your caring abilities. So I would like you to treat them with the greatest of respect. The Earl has kindly offered to reimburse Physicker Moreton and the nurse who will accompany him. So now, I must hasten to get ready, as the Earl will return any minute now.’
Sophia looked aghast. ‘You mean you are really serious; you will meet with the Marquess?’
‘Yes, my dear, I intend to meet the rules of propriety in this matter. I must have an impeccable reference from the Marquess, as to the Earl’s good character and standing in the ton.’
‘Why all this palaver about the ton? We have had naught to do with it before.’
‘My dear, I know we are far below the status of any member of the ton. That is beside the point; you, your sisters, and your brother are of the first importance in my life. I will fight for your safety and happiness now and in the future. After the Earl’s behaviour last night, you must appreciate my apprehension about his suitability as a suiter.
Sophia nodded. ‘Yes, I do realize that, mama, but I fear I will lose him before I have the chance to even meet him properly. He is indeed so handsome, so debonair, and I am over the boughs with him, but you are not giving me a chance to experience even courting with him. He will flee before your draconian demands.’
Lady Vale laughed. ‘You underestimate your charms, my love.’
Augusta frowned. ‘But mama, he cannot be sincere in his intentions to wed; the ton will give him the cut; he is marrying a commoner.’
‘You are all the grandchildren of an Earl and a Viscount, and as such, you are entitled to membership of the ton; it’s just that I did not have means to present you at Court or pay for a come-out ball. So rest assured, my darlings, you are all very precious, and with sweet manners, so you will be embraced by Polite Society.’
Sophia raised her eyebrows. ‘Mama, you are too optimistic.’
‘Our only set back is, you have no fortune, the Earl; however, is heir to a fortune; his uncle is the Marquess of Brindlehurst and resides at the Abbey. It has over eight hundred acres, can you imagine that?’
She beamed. ‘So I shall leave you all now. However, I’ll return by early evening.’ Without further ado, she rushed to the door and, opening it, disappeared down the path.
Sophia ran after her; she just wanted a glimpse of the Earl; it was all happening so fast, and they had not even exchanged two sentences.
As Jake helped Lady Vale into the carriage, he turned to see Sophia, her skirts flying, run towards them. Walking towards her, he grinned, his heart lifting. Each time he saw her, he was impassioned with her beauty, her vitality, and most of all, those eyes, the colour of pale jade.
Trying to catch her breath Sophia curtsied, speaking softly, ‘my lord, I know not what is happening here. Do forgive my mother; she is inclined to be dramatic of nature.’
Lady Vale, now seated in the carriage, poked her head through the door. ‘Sophia go back – at once, d’you hear? At once.’
Sophia felt the impulse to climb into the carriage with her; after all, it was her life, her beau. She was one and twenty and could legally pick and wed her own suiter. It seemed the Earl read her thoughts, for he came up to her and held her hand. ‘Bear with me; we shall have that stroll.’
Sophia whispered, ‘I wonder you have not run for your life. I know mamas can be overbearing, but mine is turning into a dragon.’
Her mama called out, ‘Sophia, go back to the Manse now, d’you hear me?’
The Earl kissed the air above Sophia’s knuckles. ‘Never fear dear girl, I will sort this and return to you within a short while; yea, even in time for us to have the infamous stroll.’ Bowing, he turned and made his way to the carriage, where her mama sat irritated, fanning her face with a lace handkerchief.
Watching the carriage trundle away, Sophia, with glum visage, turned back to the Manse and her sisters.
Augusta came forward. ‘Oh, Sophia, how could she, how could mama ruin it all for you?’
Shutting the door behind them, Patience said, ‘I shall make sure I have clandestine affairs at night when mama is abed.’
August said, ‘you know you would not be allowed to do that, Patience, you would be ruined.’
‘Yes, but better ruined than becoming an ape-leader. I can imagine all six of us becoming spinster aunts doting on Benjamin’s offspring.’
Sophia nodded glumly. ‘I wonder whether the Earl will return with her. I would never have thought this of Mama; she has always been fair and sweet with us all. I know she reprimanded us at times but only when necessary. Now, she is truly turning into a dragon. The Earl may think he could not bear the prospect of spending the rest of his life under the auspices of such a domineering mother-in-law.’ She felt tears spring to her eyes. ‘Damn the Baron, he is the cause of all of this. He ruins anything we do. Will, I ever see the Earl again?’
A distinguished butler of some fifty years or so met the Earl and Lady Vale at the gothic portico of Brindlehurst Castle. He bowed a welcome, looking elegant in dark coattails, black satin breeches, white silk stockings, and black buckled shoes. Lady Vale, aware of her faded velvet maroon cloak and worn brocade gown followed him, almost overwhelmed by the castle’s wealth and elegance. Coats of arms covered the vast stone walls, interspersed with ancient tapestries and heraldic flags, going back through the centuries. Here and there, she caught the liquid stare of a stag, its magnificent antlers towering over a majestic head.
The Butler led them into a spacious reception area furnished with Jacobean oak mule chests and chairs with triangular seats, the arms, and legs, a mass of turnery. Elizabethan farthingale chairs were lost in the vast space, with Turkish rugs covering a huge flagstone floor. Fragile Hepplewhite chairs sat by the grand fireplace, a massive stone carved mantel with gargoyles leaping out.
It was such an impressive room but bitterly cold when too far away from the enormous logs’ flames. As Lady Vale put her hands out to the warmth from the hearth, the butler announced the Marquess. Her heart pounded as she turned to see an elderly gentleman walk towards them, his back somewhat bowed. But he exuded an air of elegance; a kindly smile softened his face’s hard aristocratic planes.
She gave a deep curtsey, murmuring, ‘my Lord.’
Taking her hand, he raised her up and led her to a chair. ‘Come warm yourself by the fire, my lady; these rooms can be somewhat draughty.’
Lady Vale nodded, relieved to feel the warmth from the flames. Draughty was not the world; icy would be more appropriate. She noticed he wore a single-breasted fine worsted herringbone tailcoat with a high cutaway and peak lapels, twill breeches, and thick woollen stockings. On his head, he wore a soft velvet cap with a tassel. He was so different from what she anticipated. Indeed, his whole demeanour gave an aura of homeliness.
Seated, he leant on his cane. ‘So m’dear, you have some reservations on this whippersnapper here heh?’
Lady Vale nodded; even with his grandfatherly stance, she still felt embarrassed and somewhat flustered. It wasn’t every day one met a Marquess, and for many, it wasn’t once in a lifetime. However, she took a deep breath, thinking only of her dearest Sophia. This was such a critical time for her. If her mama did not protect her, she would be on the threshold of a terribly unhappy life, married to a debauched rakehell. Not that the Earl looked anywhere near debauched, but from the way he behaved last night, he soon would be.
Seeing her discomfiture, the Earl said softly, ‘Lady Vale is somewhat dismayed that I am interested in her daughter. Sadly, uncle, she found me at the Baron’s manor in my assumed role of a rakehell.’
The duke raised his eyebrows. ‘Pon rep, not a word to utter in the presence of a lady. Hey, what madam?’
Lady Vale nodded, biting her lip. ‘Yes indeed, your lordship, I … I … forgive me, my lord, but I question the Earl’s suitability for my gently raised daughter. I found him in … in questionable circumstances with … err … oh dear how can I say it?’
‘Say it, my lady. I will not be offended.’
‘No, but I will be, so instead, I shall say ladies of dubious character and also an odious man known as Baron Hawsley. ‘
‘Hah, I see, can’t say as I blame you, madam. Would have many dear ladies reaching for their vinaigrettes.’ He glanced at his nephew. ‘Darned bad show Jacob. We have to protect our ladies, can’t be disturbing their fragile brains. Told you before about this. Treat ‘em with the utmost gentleness, so delicate y’see.’
‘Yes, uncle, I am well aware of our duty to protect our fairer sex—’
Lady Vale jumped at the word ‘sex.’ Oh dear, oh dear, Lord Wells – please.’
The duke growled. ‘Forgive the whippet madam, pon rep., don’t know what’s wrong with this generation, wasn’t so in my day. Knew our “p’s and q’s” as Caxton would say, hey what?’
Jacob coughed to interrupt him. ‘Uncle, can you assure Lady Vale that I take on an assumed role when I am abroad on my business.’
‘Hmm? Err – yes madam, the whippet leads a double life, all for king and country you know. Ye see, sworn to—’
‘Uncle, I think the lady has heard enough.’
The Marquess beamed. ‘Quite so, quite so. Tis through the work of my nephew and other brave fellows like him, you can sleep quiet of mind in your bed, madam. But as Jacob says, I can say no more.’
Lady Vale nodded, but she was indeed a dragon when on a quest for the safety of her child. ‘Yes, but does it entail such ribald behaviour, my lord? Cannot this work, of which you speak, be done with delicacy?’
‘Don’t think there’s any delicacy in cutting off a varmint’s head – same thing my lady.’
‘Oh – oh. Cutting … head.’ Lady Vale pushed back in her seat. ‘My lord, I think I have need of my hartshorn.’ Rummaging in her large reticule, she pulled out the vinaigrette and waved it under her nose. ‘Oh dear, I do believe I am about to faint.’ At which she toppled from her chair, landing sprawled on the floor at the feet of the marquess.
‘Deuce uncle didn’t have to be so bloody about it; twas you who said they are such delicate creatures.’ Gathering the lady up in his arms, he carried her to the Hepplewhite sofa, and knelt fanning her face with his own lacy handkerchief. Within seconds, her eyes fluttered open. Weakly, she whispered. ‘My lord, I think; I must return home, tis all too much for me.’
Jacob smiled wryly; she was indeed a dragon. She knew well how to act; her fall to the floor was effected with aplomb, her way of controlling both men, young and old.’ Weakly she said, ‘So even now you or your uncle cannot assure me you are….’
Dryly he said, ‘my lady would you like to speak to the King. I can arrange an interview?’
‘Oh – oh, err no of course not; I…oh dear. I think I do believe you.’
Jacob nodded, stung with a fleeting thought, if this was how the mother behaved, would the daughter grow to be like her? The thought gave him momentary grief; he envisaged the years stretching ahead with a younger version of Lady Vale. Would she acquire the same domineering manner, ruling and ruining his life?
He shook his head; no, he thought of Sophia’s gentle smile, her delicate whispers, those beautiful eyes the colour of jade. He looked at Lady Vale. ‘Madame, I am enthralled with your daughter. I do not have to court her; I fell in love with her the moment I saw her in that plain little gown, and even with the drab hairstyle, she sparkled. Nothing could hide her beauty and gentle nature. I intend to claim her.’
Lady Vale sat up sharply. ‘I am convinced my lord – and will be happy to allow you to pay court to t my daughter.’
Jacob smiled politely and forgave her; after all, if Sophia had been his daughter, he would do the same. Probably even worse, he’d have banned her from seeing him ever again. After all, he’d behaved like a dirty dish, a bounder of the lowest order. He couldn’t say it was all in the cause of duty; he’d rather enjoyed it. A wave of guilt swept through him, but the Cyprians appealed to his basic instincts, as would any man. It was so unfair really, gentlemen could misbehave and be forgiven without even a slap on the wrist. However, ladies were imprisoned behind the bars of propriety that forbade them to be alone with a man. Ruination was so easily had for the slightest mistake in a young girl’s life. For the most minor mishap, she faced not only ruination, but a cut from Polite Society, a life alone, as no man would have her. As for his lustful behaviour, maybe it was time to call it a day. Brandy, loose women and gaming were slowly debasing him; it was time to settle for the sweet Sophia, a diamond of the first water.
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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: