Please enjoy the final chapters of my romance novel, Sleigh Ride . Set in Regency England, and including some authentic language of the times, the reader is taken on a magical journey. Miss Sophia Vale faces poverty. Enter the Earl of Breconbridge, renowned as a rake hell with a conscience.
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 13, 14, & 15
Bribes and Presents
Sophia raced to the window with Freddie leaping at her skirts; he was near; the dog always seemed to sense when Jake would arrive. She clapped her hands as minutes later, her beau arrived at the picket fence.
True to his word Jake, visited every day, bracing snowdrifts to see his love. As it snowed almost non-stop, they were trapped inside the house or the barn. Lady Vale seeing their dilemma and realizing it was such a brilliant match for her daughter, was wily enough to give them time together. Of course, she made there was not enough time for naughty capers, but sufficient to fire their desire for each other. Augusta was somewhat tired of playing chaperone but deferred from procrastinating, as Jake brought her gifts with each visit;, small boxes of confits or sweets from his chef, or novels by her favourite author Ann Radcliffe. In return, Augusta would spend a few shivering moments in the shed adjoining the barn and secretly out of view from their mama. Jake had no intention of despoiling his ladylove but hoped the long passionate kisses and sweet words would persuade her to an early wedding. With Augusta keeping a beady eye on the Manse, they lay on the straw in each other’s arms. Jake tickled Sophia’s chin. ‘So my love, what say you to a Christmas wedding? We have met numerous times now, and I have not swerved from my initial intention: to marry you. We could hold the wedding at Breckonbridge, t’would be a grand time for you to meet all the family, as we have relatives visiting over the festive season.’
Sophia stiffened. ‘How many will be there?’
‘Oh, about thirty, I would say.’
‘Oh Jake, I couldn’t, I don’t know any of them, and I am not titled; I have dowdy clothes, and oh dear no; I couldn’t.’
Jake laughed. ‘Darling, on that day, you will become the Countess of Breckonbridge, and when you greet the guests, I will be at your side. Besides, a glass of champagne will soon banish your nerves. And, d’you think I would allow you to appear in anything but exquisite gowns and ermine capes? Also, I hasten to add, you will wear silken slippers on your slender feet and jewels adorning your lovely neck and bosom. Come now, you must accept my offer, and then I can arrange everything; indeed, I shall employ the best Modistes and milliners for you. Say yes, my darling, say you will marry me.’
Sophia bit her lip; she’d held back to gain his respect, to show him that she was not some chit rushing to catch a title and his fortune. But, she fell in love with him the very evening they met. Her heart sank every time they parted, for she could not forget his amusement as he lifted the near-naked Cyprian from what he called a kitten fight, nor the way he joked with them. Indeed, she worried some exquisite belle would steal him from her. No, she dare not hold back anymore. ‘Yes, oh, yes. I will marry you. I love you so much, so very much.’
Laughing, he rose, pulling her up with him. ‘Come, we have been here long enough. We must get back to the Manse.
Puzzled, she followed him begrudgingly to the house; he appeared eager to leave her. Her mama met them at the door, a mischievous grin lighting up her face. Jake led Sophia into the small withdrawing room with his arm around her waist and guided her to the window. Lifting the curtain, he said, ‘come, my love.’
Peering through the window, Sophia cried out in delight. There in the lane, stood two horses in front of a lovely sleigh. ‘Oh Jake, tis beautiful – beautiful.’
‘Tis yours my love. My wedding gift to you.’
Lady Vale put her hands to her face, overjoyed, ‘Wedding gift? Oh my darlings, I wish you happy.’ She glowed inside; her daughter made a splendid match.
Gazing at the sleigh, Sophia actually jumped for joy. ‘Oh, Jake – Jake. I love you.’ Going on tiptoe, she hugged and kissed him soundly. For once, her mama did not talk but stood quietly beaming and wiping her eyes.
Sophia suddenly frowned, ‘But how, how can we keep the horses? We have no—’
‘Tis all arranged, my love. Your mama agreed to the horses being housed in the barn until we marry, whereupon we will take them to Breckonbridge. Furthermore, until we wed, for their safety and also yours, I shall leave an able groom, and more guards with you.’
‘But we already have a footman, and the constant gardener, who only sweeps the snow from the garden path.’
‘Well now, you will have more retainers, especially as the news goes abroad that we are to wed. Hawsley is on the secretly wanted lists; he’s a dangerous villain and a smuggler. I have to ensure the safety of you and your dear family.’
Jake then turned to her mother. ‘Lady Vale, can we now discuss your future?’
Lady Vale looked at him, her eyebrows raised in sheer surprise. ‘My future my lord?’
‘Yes, you and your family. May we speak privately?’
‘Of course, my lord. Just a moment if you please.’ Lady Vale ushered the girls from the room as Jake and Sophia sat down on the settee near a blazing fire. Swiftly, Jake kissed Sophia and ruffled her ebony curls. ‘My darling, I am the happiest man in the world.’
Sophia grinned, ‘And I am the luckiest girl. ‘
On returning, Lady Vale took a place on the faded brocade chair opposite them and waited for Jake to speak.
He felt his heart jump, for what he had to say was important to both families. His mama had already agreed to his plans, but he had yet to apprise Lady Vale of his decision.
‘Lady Vale, I would be honoured if you and your family made your home at Breckonbridge. We would be so —’
‘Oh no, my lord, tis very kind and generous of you, but we number eight in our family beside Sophia.’
‘Room is of no consequence Lady Vale; we have over a hundred and forty bedrooms, besides the living quarters. You could have your own apartments in one of the wings, which will give you all the privacy you wish. Please say, you will?’
Lady Vale bit her lip. ‘My dear Jake, I am overcome with your generosity and goodwill, and your love for my precious daughter, but how can I say this…?’ She paused. ‘I came to the Manse, as a new bride with a man who I married, not because it was a good match, but because we were in love. We spent many happy years here; this is where I bore all my children, watched them grow and watched some of them ….’ She stopped, unable to say the words, as she alluded to her dead husband and children. But choking back those sad memories, she said, ‘Even in grief, the Manse sustained us, we fell on hard times and do still struggle, but it is a good and sweet life.’
Sophia felt her heart fall, gripping Jake’s hand as her mother continued. ‘All my memories are here.’ She waved to the portraits on the walls, some done by well-meaning amateurs and a couple that held the gaze. Nary was professionally painted, but they were the likenesses of her beloved husband and children. ‘Everything in the Manse, my husband and I collected together … I cannot leave it behind.’
Where Lies Happiness
Sophia felt her tears rising. She never realized just how much mama missed her papa and how much she loved the home where she came as a bride. Nevertheless, her sisters and brother would lose a great deal if they stayed. Jake could give them all a future of promise. ‘But mama, my sisters and brother would have such a wonderful life, such luxury.’
Lady Vale lifted her head. ‘I know it sounds selfish, my love, but this is our home, our way of life. Maybe we could benefit from a new carpet and furniture, and maybe a fuller table, but not only did we survive, but we have also been happy here. We have a rich life with lifelong friends and neighbours.’ She lifted her head, gratitude in her eyes.
Patience flew into the room; she’d obviously listened at the door. ‘Mama, don’t get upset, we love you, and we want to stay with you here. You’re so right; this is our home; it’s not just a house; it’s a home.’
‘Yes, it is; it’s our home. Mama, we’re happy here.’ Augusta said, joining them,
Patience looked at Jake. ‘You are so kind and generous, and we love you for it. But, we love this house, and this is where our mama is happy.’
Jake nodded, overcome with the love shown to him by this family. He was almost overwhelmed. They should choose the near-poverty of this home over the luxury of a castle. Stunned, he could hardly find the words, for he realized this was the love he’d yearned for in the lonely years of his boyhood. Those years of fear and trepidation flooded his mind, waiting late at night for the dreaded bellow of his drunken father as he stumbled home. He still remembered his father’s voice echoing in the massive stone hall, the tears of his beloved mama in the early hours.
Feeling the warmth of Sophia’s hands in his, he almost choked. ‘I realize I cannot match what you have here, Lady Vale. I am privileged you shared your feelings with me. But – but please allow me to help you financially. I can see your girls each have a come out, and Benjamin is presented to the King. I don’t really know what—’
Lady Vale got up from her chair and came over to him, putting her arms around his shoulders. ‘Dear Jake, I would be grateful for your help, but I do not want my girls to have the pressure of entering a society for which they are not equipped. I know just how cruel the ton can be. However, if the girls wish to come out, I will not stand in their way. I will allow them to choose their destiny.’
Jake nodded, lost for words; all his allusions on wealth and status turned on its head.
Patience broke the silence. ‘Well, I, for one, would love to have a tutor. I could learn languages, study Greek philosophy, even mathematics. Why I could train to be a schoolmistress.’
Augusta interrupted. ‘And I would love to learn how to paint in oils, have a proper easel, canvasses and —’
‘I’d give anything to have riding lessons.’ Jennet said, her eyes sparkling.
Jake couldn’t help chuckling, as the girls excitedly clapped their hands, each relating to him in their different ways.’
Lady Vale sat back a winsome smile on her face, tears filling her eyes if only Stuart were here to see this, but then he may well be looking on from heaven.’
Jake rose to his feet and looked at them all. ‘Then the lessons you shall have. Some, I will arrange at the castle tis only half an hour’s journey from here. I will arrange a carriage to pick you up and take you home. ’
Lady Vale beamed. Come now, I have heated the bricks and have the rugs ready for the sleigh.’
Jake leapt to his feet. ‘Well then, Sophia, let me lead you to your snow carriage.’
Once settled with her feet on the hot bricks warmed with the rugs, Sophia sat beside Jake as the groom lifted the reins. Soon they chortled with laughter as they sped along the snowy track. She knew he’d arranged for the carpenter to build a new sleigh, but she never dreamt it would be so sumptuous. It took her back to the happy times of her childhood with her papa, but now she sat cuddled by the love of her life, the man she’d always yearned to meet.
Later, with the horses safely stabled in the barn with an able groom. Jake stood on the doorstep, his face solemn. ‘Darling, I fear I will not be able to see you for a few days now.’
‘Oh? But why?’
He smiled at her direct ways. A titled lady would have demurred and not prevailed upon him, for further explanation. However, this was his naturally inquisitive Sophia. ‘Well, tis to do with my work; I know not how long it will take, but it will definitely be only a few days.’
‘Christmas is only four weeks away.’
‘I know, and we must make plans. Make a list of your guests.’ Enfolding her in his arms, he kissed her deeply, murmuring, ‘take care now, my love.’
Watching him ride away, picking through the snowdrifts, she turned to her mother and sisters. ‘I am sure he has gone to arrest the Baron. Tis dangerous work he does.’
Lady Vale put her arm around her shoulder and led her back to the withdrawing room. ‘Come now, sweetheart, don’t fret. You know not what he does, really. Besides, Jake is a very able man.’
‘Yes, but I fear for his safety if anything should—’
‘Hush, child, do not despair. Surely he is not alone in his work, be assured he is safe.’
Numbly, Sophia allowed her to lead her to the settee whilst Patience handed her a hot cup of tea. ‘Come now, Sophia, all will be well.’
Sophia bit her lip and tried to smile at her sister, but her heart filled with foreboding.
He smiled grimly; every window was alight, which would make it easier to round up the culprits. His officers were stationed in a circle around the Manor; there was no room for escape. Some men stayed on the outer perimeter in the cover of trees; others formed an inner perimeter ready to attack. More officers now crouched behind the ground floor kitchen windows waiting to scour the cellars for contraband. He’d done an earlier reconnaissance whilst at one of the Barons debauched gatherings, parties that went on for days. He grimaced, but for his intervention, Sophia and Patience could well be sex slaves to any rakehell’s lowest whim.
He and his officers perfected a rook’s caw as the signal to advance. They would take as many prisoners as possible, sorting them out later at the holding cells.
He raised his hand and softly gave the signal upon which the officers sprang into action. Luckily, the main doors and entrances were open, but not for those officers who knelt outside the ground floor windows; they would have to smash their way through the glass.
Amidst the frantic haste of fleeing guests, Jake searched for the Baron; he had to be somewhere. His officers followed him to the first floor, booting open doors to find naked tangled bodies. Women shrieked, and men cursed, fruitlessly, trying to cover themselves, with sheets strewn on bed and floor. But Fiend’s’ teeth, where was the Baron? Surely he wouldn’t be on the second floor? Upstairs, he heard a wail of distress. God’s teeth it was that of a young female. Taking the stairs two or three at a time, he ran down the narrow carpeted corridor, as his men smashed open doors until they reached one solidly locked.
Standing back, he lunged, using all his strength to kick the door open. Sure enough, the wretch had a young woman pinned beneath him. She screamed for help, her large eyes terrified, her tender young body tied to the bed. Snarling, Jake charged at the Baron, lifting and throwing him across the room, whilst one of his men hastily covered the sobbing girl. Botany Bay wasn’t good enough for this varmint; he would fight to see him hung. Yes, it looked like Jake could have him charged with abduction of a minor and act of depravity. Oh, yes, he would hang.
Lady Vale helped lift the dress over Sophia’s head, letting it fall in drapes over her slender body. She did up the silk covered buttons and then stepped back as her daughter gazed at herself in the long mirror. Sophia gulped with delight as she saw the shimmering folds of silk embroidered brocade, the Valenciennes lace edging the puffed sleeves, and the hems of her skirts. She turned to see the attached train some six feet in length, trailing the floor.
Sophia gasped. ‘Oh goodness, mama, how am I supposed to walk in this?’
Her mama clapped her hands. ‘Jake has exquisite taste, my love. With those adjustments, it fits like a glove.’ Sophia adjusted the low décolletage of the simple bodice. ‘I still fear this is still too low; they will think I am a brazen hussy.’
‘No dear, display your bosom, tis the height of fashion to do so. And you are blessed with a lovely figure.’
Sophia gave in; the bodice did emphasize the pearl white beauty of her plump breasts. She twirled to one side; the bodice embroidered with exquisite silks had a wide silken band at the high waist, with silk ribbon bands underneath the ruffles of lace on the puffed sleeves. She picked up a box delivered early that morning, with a note from Jake, not to open it until she was dressed. Sophia’s heart fluttered as she opened it; she’d found it hard to obey his request. Still, now her heart fluttered as she pushed aside the tissue paper to reveal a crown embellished with dozens of cut crystals. A tulle veil of the most delicate embroidered netting flowed to the floor. ‘Oh goodness, mama, look, it’s so beautiful.’ She choked, ‘Oh, isn’t he just wonderful?’
Her mama beamed, the tears brimming. ‘Dearest, you look every inch a princess. I just know you will be so happy together, and his family are so kind; I am thrilled we could arrange for the banquet at Breckonbridge; it’s only half an hour away.’
Slipping into the satin slippers, she turned to see one of her mama’s mischievous smiles as she whipped out a box she’d been hiding behind her back. ‘Now look, another surprise from Jake.’
Sophia’s fingers trembled as she picked up the card with a message in a strong masculine script.
This is an heirloom worn by the brides of Breckonbridge on their wedding day. Please wear them for me. I love and adore you.’
Sophia held her breath as she opened the velvet-covered jewel box. ‘Oh my God, mama, I can’t – I can’t wear them. I’d be terrified; I’d lose them. They are so beautiful.’
As they gazed at the parure of three rows of diamonds cut in glorious shapes and fashioned on delicate silver strands, Lady Vale joined her. Beside them lay matching drop earrings and a delicate bracelet.
Her mother held her breath, placing the necklace around her daughter’s neck, as Sophia put on the drop earrings and adjusted the bracelet.
‘There, you are indeed a princess. Your papa would have been so proud of you. But now, are you ready? I think the carriage should be here at any moment.’
Sophia heard a whine and looked to see Freddie lying in his basket, with his nose between his paws. ‘Oh Freddie, we wouldn’t leave you behind, come on sweetheart.’ The sheepdog stood up with bright eyes, a wide satin bow on his collar, his long bushy tail wagging, as Sophia leaned over to stroke him, ‘Now you are a good boy, no biting anyone’s bottom. Promise?’
Sophia trod carefully down the narrow stairs, helped by her sisters now dressed in pale blue gowns of the finest satin embroidered with flowers. Each wore a wreath of fresh flowers with matching bouquets. Sophia looked out, ‘Oh dear; the carriage is not here yet.’
She paused, and then gasped, her eyes wide. ‘Oh – oh my goodness.’ She looked at a long sleigh coming into view, bedecked with forest greenery, red berries, and covered with an arched canopy covered in Christmas roses. To her astonishment, another followed, equally festooned after that Patience and the girls almost jumped up and down with excitement. ‘Is that for us?’
Sophia laughed with delight as Jake handed the reins to the coachman and sprang down into the snow.
Swiftly, he came to her side. ‘My dearest dear. You are a vision, an angel in the snow.’ He held out a cloak of heavy pale blue velvet with ermine trim, draping it around her slender shoulders. ‘I have flung convention to the winds; I insist on taking you to the church myself, and what better way for my bride than a sleigh ride?’
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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: