Dutiful daughter Faith Baxendale just wants to please. Faith isn’t as adventurous as her younger sister, Hope, gadding about the Continent with their aunt, nor as rebellious as her elder sister, Honor, who planned to become a card sharp. And Faith couldn’t lose herself in her art like sixteen-year-old, Charity. Even Mercy, at fourteen, shows more backbone!
After Faith’s first Season ends, her father urges her to marry the man of his choice. But when Lord Vaughn Winborne, a neighbor Faith had a crush on while still in the schoolroom, arrives home for the Brandreth’s hunt ball, surprising even to herself, Faith is drawn again towards a man her father would never consider.
The youngest Brandreth male, Vaughn, is the black sheep of the family. His elder brother, Chaloner, Marquess of Brandreth, still looks upon him as a reckless youth, and Vaughn is determined to prove him wrong.
A chance comes in the form of a scandal not of Vaughn’s making, and he must learn to trust Faith, who, when all’s said and done, has always known her own mind.
Enjoy an excerpt:
Highland Manor. Sisters, Faith and Charity Baxendale are by the river.
“I can hear gunshot,” Faith said.
“Mm.” Charity stood at her easel on the riverbank. “I think I’ll work here, the light is perfect.”
“The Brandreth’s guests must be having a successful day’s shooting,” Faith said to her younger sister.
“Are you looking forward to their ball?” Charity asked, displaying little disappointment at still being too young to attend.
“Yes. Seeing Honor and Edward, especially.” Faith angled her lacy yellow parasol to block the late summer sun, which was surprisingly hot, and glanced at her sister with a sigh. Charity’s straw hat swung carelessly by its blue-striped ribbons. “Mama will have a fit if you get freckles on your nose.”
“Mm?” Charity murmured, lost to her.
Faith settled on a rug under a chestnut tree with a Minerva Press book her eldest sister, Honor, had smuggled into the house for her to read. Father had banned them, saying they filled a woman’s head with ridiculous notions. The story proved to be enjoyable, but Faith felt guilty every time she opened the book.
“I think I’ll paint that big oak tree over the river, I like the way the sun dapples the leaves.” Charity dabbed at her palette with a paintbrush, mixing paint.
The river bordered Brandreth Park, now linked with Highland Manor through Honor’s marriage to Edward. The eldest brother, Lord Chaloner, was Marquess of Brandreth, their father having died some years ago.
Faith closed the book, too unsettled to read. Her Season had been a whirlwind of soirees, balls, card parties, musical evenings and routes. She wrestled with her problem a decision eluding her. It was like wandering in a maze, one way looked promising, but led to a dead-end. It would not be long before her father’s patience wore thin, she suspected.
She sorely missed Honor’s wise counsel. As Honor and Edward had a farm in Surrey, they didn’t see much of them. They were coming tomorrow for the Brandreth’s hunt ball, however. Honor was an excellent sound board, she was sure to help Faith order her scrambled thoughts. Faith glanced at Charity, painting furiously, lost in her art. At sixteen, Charity was too young to discuss the important matters one faced in the grown-up world.
A gentle breeze carried the smell of pine and swayed the willow fronds dipping gracefully into the water. Another barrage of shots sent a flurry of birds into the sky. On the far bank, a dog barked. “Guinea fowl for dinner tonight,” Charity said. “Lord Chaloner promised to send us some.”
Faith sat up as a hound exploded from the bushes on the opposite bank, followed closely by a tall dark-haired man. He stopped and shaded his eyes to stare at them. “Good afternoon.”
Charity left her easel and walked to the river’s edge. “Good afternoon,” she called back.
Faith clambered to her feet, her heart racing, as he removed his hat and bowed. Lord Vaughn, a younger and more gorgeous version of her brother-in-law Edward, his thick, straight black hair gleaming in the sunlight. She had not seen him since, at sixteen, she’d watched him hunting with a group of men. That was two years ago. She had climbed a tree for a better view until Honor had come and dragged her home. Lord Vaughn was dangerous, her mother had warned. The most troublesome of the Brandreth men and to be avoided at all costs. Mama had expressed relief when he’d gone to live with his sister, Sibella, and her husband in York to manage the Marquess of Strathairn’s horse stud.
But here he was, standing legs slightly apart, shotgun over his shoulder, chatting to Charity across the water, and Faith, normally never lost for a word, mute as a swan.
“You must remember my sister, Faith?” Charity was asking him.
“My lord.” Faith stepped forward and dropped into a mindless curtsey.
A rich chuckle came across the water. “Don’t fall into the water, Lady Faith. You’ll ruin that charming parasol.”
Lord Vaughn looked different somehow, broader in the shoulder. He had been absent from all of the social events spent in the Brandreth’s company, since Honor and Edward had married. Thoughts flew through her mind, was he engaged? She hadn’t heard of it.
Charity stepped closer and gave her a nudge with her arm. “Say something,” she hissed.
Faith cleared her throat. “Has your shoot been a successful one, my lord?”
“Feeble,” Charity whispered.
Lord Vaughn put a hand to his ear. “Your soft voice carries away on the wind, Lady Faith.”
She raised her voice. “Do you intend to stay long in Tunbridge Wells?”
He frowned. “I’m not sure of my plans,” he shook his head. “Difficult to carry on a conversation while shouting.” He turned away.
Faith firmed her lips, annoyed with herself; she’d lost an opportunity to make a good impression. But Lord Vaughn wasn’t done with them; he walked further down the bank, backed up and took a flying leap over a narrow part of the river, landing on a rock mid-stream. He regained his balance and jumped again, landing a few yards away from them. Vaughn dusted his leather breeches and strolled over to them. He swept off his hat and bowed. “Ladies.”
Up close, he was even more devastating. He’d turned from a boy into a man, Faith decided with a swallow. There was a new maturity in his face. He wasn’t like his elder brothers, Chaloner, Bartholomew or indeed, Edward. Edward had a sense of calm and order about him, perhaps because he was in the law, but Vaughn, who was now giving due attention to Charity’s painting, and commenting on her excellent capture of the light through the leaves, had a restlessness in the way he moved, his face narrower, his high cheekbones more prominent.
His smile widened in approval when he turned to her, and she warmed all over. His green eyes weren’t at all like Edward’s. They hinted at a wicked humor. “The last time I saw you, Lady Faith, you were inhabiting a tree.”
Faith’s cheeks grew hot. Did he find her much changed? “I was but a child and curious to see what men did on a shoot.”
“Honor was afraid Faith would end up bagged like the guinea fowl,” Charity offered.
Vaughn threw back his head and laughed. It was a rich, full bodied laugh. Faith smoothed her gown and glared at her sister. Impossible to offend, Charity merely shrugged and returned to her painting.
Vaughn’s gaze swept over her, taking in her lilac gown down to her yellow kid half-boots. “You are not a child now.” He somehow made it sound like an invitation. Faith sucked in a breath.
“Indeed not. I have had my first Season.”
Vaughn cocked his head to one side. “With men crowding around you in droves, I’ll wager.”
“Our house in London looked like a florist shop,” Charity said, unhelpfully. “And one beau wrote Faith a poem. He recited it from the pavement outside our house. The rhyming couplets were tedious, but Mercy thought it was good.” Charity grinned. “She’s been reciting it to our dog, Wolf, ever since!”
Vaughn’s smile deepened into laughter, and Faith thought his shoulders eased. He’d been like a coiled spring. “Breaking hearts, Lady Faith. Who is the lucky fellow?”
“I am not yet engaged, my lord.”
“Really?” His green eyes roamed over her again, making her fidget with the fringe on her parasol. “What is wrong with the current group of beaus? Don’t they measure up?”
“Faith wants to marry for love,” Charity said.
Faith glared at her. Really, would Charity ever learn social graces?
“Love, eh?” He prodded a rock with his shiny riding boot. “What would you be prepared to do for love, I wonder. Would you go against your father’s wishes?”
Faith opened her mouth and closed it again, finding she had no answer.
“I thought not.” Vaughn’s dark eyebrows slanted in a frown.
“I expect to marry a man who pleases my parents,” she said stiffly.
“A fine sentiment,” he said dryly.
How cynical he seemed!
A sudden gust of wind whipped the parasol out of Faith’s hands. It tumbled along the bank near the water’s edge with Lord Vaughn in pursuit.
He was extremely athletic. He caught the parasol as the breeze propelled it in the direction of the river, and turned with a laugh while Charity cheered him.
He returned it into her Faith’s. “Thank you, my lord.”
“My pleasure, it would have been a shame. Such a pretty thing.”
Faith blushed again. She wasn’t sure why, but the way he looked at her when he said it, made it seem he was complimenting her.
He turned away and strolled back to inspect Charity’s painting. They were soon in discussion about the shadows on the oak’s trunk.
Faith nibbled her bottom lip. Some years ago, Lord Vaughn had been sent down from Oxford. She would love to know the reason. Tunbridge Wells had been rife with gossip about him for years, how he had become a gambler, and got into debt. How he refused a commission in the army and lived an aimless life in London. There had been little fodder for the gossips since he’d gone to York, however. But something had happened there, she was certain, for his despite his smile, his eyes were shadowed. His rebellious ways had fascinated her, when she’d always been one to obey a command and never anger her father the way her sister, Honor had done.
Despite the apparent success of it, Faith’s Season had not proved to be as thrilling as she had hoped, and until this point she hadn’t understood why. Her childhood had been so uneventful. Safe. The so-called rakes she’d encountered seemed like tame tabby cats to her, she could wrap them around her little finger with a smile. She’d been safe from their charms because she didn’t want what they offered. But she did yearn for excitement, for thrilling passion and not to have her life mapped out so carefully. Somehow, if only in her dreams, for she hardly knew him, this man had represented something forbidden to her, something tantalizing, without her even being aware of it.
“I look forward to seeing you at the hunt ball,” Vaughn said, sounding polite, as if his good humor had deserted him.
“Honor and Edward are coming to stay,” Charity said.
“Will you promise me a dance, Lady Charity?”
Charity chortled and flicked a long, lock of fair hair over her shoulder. “I am not yet out, my lord.”
“I shall join the line of keen dance partners next year, then.” He turned to Faith, “And you, Lady Faith?” He cocked a dark eyebrow. “Will you save a dance for me?”
“I shall be delighted, my lord.”
Vaughn’s dog had taken to running along the bank, barking furiously. “I must go,” he said, with a bow. “Enjoy your pastoral pleasures, ladies.”
He jammed on his hat and returned the way he came, reaching the other side of the river with graceful ease. His dog jumped up at him with joyful barks, and with a careless wave, he disappeared into the trees.
Paintbrush poised, Charity watched her. “You always had a thing for him,” she said. “It seems you still do. I’ve never seen you so discombobulated.”
“I hardly know him. Perhaps it’s more what he represents,” Faith said.
“Ha!” Charity became absorbed in her painting once more, and didn’t require an explanation, thankfully, for Faith doubted she could have offered one.