A Suitable Match, Serial Story Section 4 and a Chance to Win

MatchCoverTo kick off our second year of celebrating Inspirational Regency fiction, we are presenting the serial story, A Suitable Match. At the end of the month we’ll be giving away a fabulous prize package filled with items tied to the story. For a chance to win, find the item mentioned in this section and leave a note in the comments. Details and a list of prizes can be found here. 

Missed an earlier section? Read it here: 1 2 3

The George and Pelican Inn, somewhere between Somerset and London
April 1818

Cressida was momentarily stunned. Lord Twiford was the only one who knew she was here. Had he decided to finally give her a piece of his mind? She rose and went to the door, opening it slowly with one hand, holding her night rail close to her neck with the other. She felt the pearl necklace she always wore there.

Her shock was palpable. “Chard!”

At the same time she heard him say, “Cressy!”

Why hadn’t Lord Twiford warned her that Lord Chard was included in his party?  “I beg your pardon, Lord Chard. I am afraid in the surprise of seeing you my manners fled.” She bowed her head, feeling ridiculous, following drawing room protocol while in her night clothes in an inn. “I did not expect . . . know you were here.”

“What are you doing here, Miss Blackstone?” he asked, more reserved now.

“There was an accident with my carriage and Lord Twiford was kind enough to take us up and bring us here.” Funny, after missing Chard for so long, she could think of no other words to say.

***

What the devil was Cressida Blackstone doing at the George? He had rehearsed and rehearsed what he would say to her if he ever saw her again, yet here he stood dumbfounded. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. No! He would not think on that. She had ended their engagement without one thought for his feelings: he would not fall prey to her just because her beautiful hair hung loosely around her shoulders and she stood in a thin night rail ready for bed.

“Lord Chard, is there something that you wished to say to me?”

Indeed there was, but now was not the time. “I beg your pardon, Miss Blackstone, I thought this was Lord Twiford’s room.” Blast! but he was as nervous as a schoolboy.

“My lord, we left many things . . . unsaid when I . . . left London three years ago.” Her voice was small and questioning, the opposite of her normal confident air. “If you would give me a few moments to dress, perhaps we should talk.”

“I assure you, Miss Blackstone, we have said all we need ever say to each other.” He bowed and turned back toward the stairs. He skipped most of the steps in his hurry to get to their private drawing room downstairs. He fought hard against his instinct to turn back and see if she remained in the doorway. He needed to think.

He had needed to marry money, but he had not expected to fall in love with her. He knew she would have been given the cut direct by the highest sticklers of Society. But he believed when they saw her gentle kindness and ladylike manners, they would come around. He would not have thrown her to the wolves, even had he not fallen in love for the first time in his life.

But she left him; disappeared, leaving only a note saying she knew he would not want her without the dowry she was supposed to be bringing to the marriage. She had not cared enough to face him, to hear his views on the matter. And he thought he was over her; he told himself so often that he was.

But the  shock at seeing her also affected his heart and he realized he was not over her at all.

He turned around at the sound of footsteps.  “Twiford, what is the meaning of this? What is she doing here?”

“My, my, word travels fast. What was I to do, leave her on the side of the road with an overturned carriage and a wounded driver? She wishes to make her own plans from here. I asked her to join our party, as London is her direction, but she seems quite adamant about not going with me. I don’t think I made a good impression on the chit.”

“Stow it! You did nothing but malign her at every turn.” He thought he noted a bit of hesitation before Twiford had switched to irony. What was afoot? “Well, she should not hire a carriage and ride all of the way to London on her own. You will need to convince her.”

Twiford went to the table and poured himself a brandy and downed it in one swallow. “I must convince her?

“You know I cannot. She made her feelings for me quite clear when she left me in. . . London.” How fortunate he now remembered all of the things he wanted to say to her for breaking his heart. “What is she doing traveling to London alone in any event?”

“I have not come to any conclusions about that myself. She seems inordinately interested in the coachman who was driving her carriage. He was injured; mostly cuts and bruises and a wonderful lump on the side of his head. She needed to hear that he is now sleeping peacefully in the quarters over the stable. It did not seem to ease her mind.”

“Leave him or bring him, I care not, but we leave for London after breakfast and you make sure she is with us.” He stomped out of the room, hoping he hadn’t let the feelings he now knew were not gone show in his manner. What would he do?

 ***

After a fitful night’s sleep, Lord Chard prepared himself to be cool and distant to Cressy . . . Miss Blackstone during the drive. Indeed, he intended to ride next to the carriages so he would not be put in a situation where he must be in close confinement with her.

“Twiford, we must push on if we are to reach London today. Can you not hurry the party along?”

“Yes, I will tell Godfrey he must not worry about how his cravat looks, when we all know it takes him two to eight neckcloths each and every time he gets dressed.”

Chard was immune to his sarcasm.“What about the ladies?” He looked off in the distance, trying to be nonchalant. “Is Miss Blackstone convinced to go with us?”

“I have only now sent a servant up to her asking her to join us in the breakfast parlor. Perhaps between the two of us we can overpower her scruples.”

Lord Chard noticed the servant approaching, but placed no importance on it until he heard him mutter “Blackstone.”

The man bowed and stepped back from Miles in subservience.

“I am sorry, Chard, but the landlord informed my servant that the lady is gone.”

*Section 4 was written by Mary Moore, www.marymooreauthor.com *

Did you find the hidden item? Note it in the comments below for a chance to win. 

Don’t forget that the readers will ultimately choose who truly loves Cressida, and whom she loves in return. Already have a favorite? Go vote for him! Want everyone else to vote for him too? Grab a voting badge from the Suitable Match Extras page

Where do you think Cressida has gone? Read the next installment!

THE CONTEST AND POLL ARE NOW CLOSED. Feel free to continue to enjoy and share the story.

A Suitable Match, Serial Story Section 3 and a Chance to Win

MatchCoverTo kick off our second year of celebrating Inspirational Regency fiction, we are presenting the serial story, A Suitable Match. At the end of the month we’ll be giving away a fabulous prize package filled with items tied to the story. For a chance to win, find the item mentioned in this section and leave a note in the comments. Details and a list of prizes can be found here. 

Missed an earlier section? Read it here: 1 2

The George and Pelican Inn, somewhere between Somerset and London
April 1818

Pretending to be groggy, Cressida let her eyes fall closed. ‘My dear’ indeed. She’d take him to task later for disobeying her wishes when she didn’t feel as though her head was full of cotton. Allowing him to assist her down from the carriage, she gave her clothes a few half-hearted swipes, and when she woke a bit more, she raised a gloved hand to her nose and mouth. The inn yard reeked above the scent of her spilled perfume.

Twiford held his arm out toward her, and she leaned on it a bit heavier than she’d been willing to in the aftermath of the upset on the road. No need to reveal her hand. He’d find out soon enough her antipathy toward him would not be discarded with ease. He’d conducted himself today in a manner that she couldn’t find fault with, but she’d not forgotten the way he’d tried to befoul her engagement. The whispers, the disapproval, the outright snubs, and insults.

The door opened as they approached and the small group of travelers moved into a narrow hall. Twiford rapped out a series of instructions and the servants flew into action. Wraps were taken, bandboxes were swept up the stairs.

“I’d like my maid to share my room. Her health has been delicate, and I’d not have her in some drafty attic room.” Cressida lifted her chin, half fearing this request would be ignored as well.

“I’ll make sure the innkeeper has a truckle bed moved into your room. It will only be a short wait. Meanwhile, I’ve ordered a private dining room. Will you join me?” The brow above one blue, sparkling eye lifted in inquiry.

“I must rid myself of travel dirt, my maid is ill, and the hour is late. I must forego that pleasure for another day.” The day pigs fly, she thought to herself. If only she’d been less groggy, she’d have swept up the stairs and avoided this convenient invitation. How she longed to reach Great-Aunt Ainsworth’s townhouse. Her own house for now, and longer if she managed to wed in the three months remaining before the will would be null and void.

She turned toward the stairs and without warning, the shock of the carriage accident swept down on her. A sob escaped her throat. Tremors shot through her chest and tears slipped down her cheeks. How could God allow this to happen? Her mind protested against the reality that brought her to this place in the company of a sworn enemy. And Ross. She must ascertain his condition.

Turning back toward Twiford, she made inquiry, “What arrangements have been made for the injured driver of my coach?” She hated the way she sounded. Like a whimpering schoolgirl. But it couldn’t be helped. The combination of exhaustion and shock had taken a toll on her composure.

“He’s been lodged in the stable living quarters. He’s in good hands.” Twiford moved over to Cressida’s side and put a tentative arm around her shoulders, and began to guide her toward the stairs. Knighting shambled along behind, clutching two disheveled bags.

Now that his arm was hovering around her shoulders, she was taken aback by the feeling of protection that washed over her. This enemy, this man who’d done everything he could to discourage Chard’s ardor, now gave her the soothing sense of being shepherded up the stairs. At the door to her room, down a dim hall, he bowed to her.

“Good night, sweet lady.” He turned away and strode down the hall.

The shock of being bereft of the unwanted anchor he’d been shot through her and she sagged against the door frame.

“Miss Blackstone, let’s go in now.” Knighting’s maternal instincts were well-known to her and she complied, not wanting to cause hurt feelings in the faithful retainer. After all, in her orphaned state, Knighting was her closest companion. Cressida roused herself to enter the low-ceilinged room, and the maid closed the door after them.

The maid, though suffering a cold, offered her mistress needed comfort. Knighting helped Cressida out of her cloak and took her hand, guiding her to the pitcher and bowl on a side table. “There you are, miss. That’s right. Warm water does do wonders. Ooh, that bed looks like heaven to me, and here they already brought up a steaming pot of tea.”

As she poured the tea, Cressida told her maid, “Open the bags, let’s get our nightgowns on and go to sleep. Tomorrow is soon enough to deal with tomorrow’s problems.” It didn’t seem fair. Departing the cottage this morning, all had seemed so clear. They’d get to London, she’d secure a husband, she’d come into her inheritance. But then Ross had arrived, forcing her to accept his escort. Next, the accident, and being in essence made off with by Miles, Lord Twiford, her nemesis from the days of her engagement to Chard.

She sat on the edge of the bed, clutching her bowed head. Lord, please guide me. I need Your fatherly hand. In Jesus… Her prayer was cut off by a sharp series of taps on the door.

*Section 3 was written by Susan Karsten, graciouswoman.wordpress.com *

Did you find the hidden item? Note it in the comments below for a chance to win. 

Don’t forget that the readers will ultimately choose who truly loves Cressida, and whom she loves in return. Already have a favorite? Go vote for him! Want everyone else to vote for him too? Grab a voting badge from the Suitable Match Extras page

Who do you think is outside the door? Read the next installment!

THE CONTEST AND POLL ARE NOW CLOSED. Feel free to continue to enjoy and share the story.

A Suitable Match, Serial Story Section 1 and a Chance to Win

MatchCoverTo kick off our second year of celebrating Inspirational Regency fiction, we are presenting the serial story, A Suitable Match. At the end of the month we’ll be giving away a fabulous prize package filled with items tied to the story. For a chance to win, find the item mentioned in this section and leave a note in the comments. Details and a list of prizes can be found here. 

Somerset, England
April, 1818

With his black hair drawn back in an old-fashioned queue and a scar running from his ear to his chin, as though someone had tried to slit his throat and missed, all her prodigal cousin needed was a cutlass swinging from his belt to complete the impression that Ross Ainsworth was really a pirate. Then again, Miss Cressida Blackstone decided, with his eyes as black as obsidian and possessing a gaze as penetrating as tempered steel, he didn’t need a cutlass to skewer his prey.

A shiver racing up her spine and out to her fingertips despite the mild April morning, Cressida narrowed her eyes at her childhood nemesis and swallowed so her voice would not croak with the dryness of her throat. “What are you doing here? I was told your grandmother’s coachman would arrive to drive me to London.”

“He cannot drive with a broken wrist. But since I enjoy driving and am headed to London, I assured him I would do the honors.” The smooth, aristocratic drawl issuing from a man with Ainsworth’s piratical visage never failed to startle Cressida.

Since he arrived in Bath for the reading of his grandmother’s will three months ago, a great deal about Ainsworth surprised her—surprised her and raised her suspicion hackles. They had been best friends as children. Then, when she grew old enough to let her hems down and put her hair up, he grew formal and distant with her and departed for foreign parts soon afterward.

He had returned to England in time for the reading of his grandmother’s will–the will that left him with nothing and Cressida, her great-niece everything. The only stipulation was that Cressida must marry within six months. And now Ross Ainsworth was anything but formal and distant with her. No doubt he was attracted to the money, like all the gentlemen who had courted her upon her come-out at eighteen, wanting to wed her for her father’s fortune regardless of the fact that fortune came from trade.

Money made up for a number of flaws in one’s birth if an old family needed an infusion of wealth.

Target for fortune hunters or not, Cressida needed to find a husband. With wealth at her fingertips, she was not about to live her life in the poverty in which her father’s error had left her. In a way, she, too, was marrying for money. Marrying for love was a childhood dream left behind with a broken betrothal, a damaged reputation, and no childhood friend to tease her out of her doldrums.

That childhood friend, Ross, now looked about him as if puzzled. “But I expected you to have a chaperone.”

Cressida flicked a glance at her middle-aged maid standing purse-lipped beside her on the steps of the cottage they had called home for three years. “Knighting is quite enough of a chaperone until we reach London.”

“Not when you are traveling with your cousin distant enough to make me eligible,” He purred, his dark eyes raking over her.

Cressida refused to be intimidated.“Why, Ross, I never knew you were such a high stickler.” She clutched her bulging reticule in one hand and her great-aunt’s jewel case in the other, and headed for the carriage. “Enough of this. We must be on our way.”

Ainsworth threw up an arm to bar her way. “My dear cousin, I would not wish to place you beyond the pale of respectability before you reach town.” He smiled. “Further beyond the pale than you already placed yourself, that is.”

“You.” Cressida ground her teeth. “You are scarcely one to be bringing up the past, Ross Ainsworth.”

Which wasn’t fair to him. He said he had repented of his behavior in Paris after Napoleon’s defeat. His grandmother must not have forgiven him for embarrassing her, though. But if he had truly set aside his scandalous behavior, she should be a lot kinder to him.

She held out her hand to him. “I am sorry. I should not have–”

Muttering something that sounded like, “You may walk to London for all I care,” he spun on his booted heel and stalked to the front of the carriage.

Her apology rejected, Cressida waited until he had climbed onto the box before she called out, “Cousin, you cannot take the coach and team without my permission. They belong to me now.”

He looked at her, and lightning flashed through his dark eyes. “Very well then. Get in. “You win. . .this time.”

Another one of those odd shivers raced along Cressida’s limbs, and she stood rooted to the flagstones with the scent of apple blossoms too strong in her nostrils and her mouth tasting of a copper penny. An invisible hand seemed to pluck at her, trying to draw her back to the haven of the cottage.

“I’ll get the steps down for you, Miss Blackstone.” Knighting’s quiet voice, roughened from a bad cold, snapped Cressida out of her momentary stupor.

“Let me help with the bandboxes since my cousin has not the courtesy to do so.” She set her jewel case inside the coach, then returned to the steps to retrieve one of the small cases that made up her luggage.

She must buy new clothes in London. She must purchase a number of things in London—like a husband if she wanted to keep her inheritance.

A face flashed through her mind, as she tossed boxes into the boot, the visage of the man her deceased father had thought his trade-earned wealth could buy. It would have been a suitable match all around, if Papa had not lost most of his money. Tristram, Lord Chard, needed her money at the time, and Cressida. . . Her heart had needed him.

She shook off the memory and settled herself in the carriage, preparing for a long, tedious journey with her quiet maid and her embroidery. She half expected Ainsworth to refuse to drive the vehicle, but once Knighting closed the door, the carriage lurched forward, then pulled out of the lane and onto the Bath to London road.

It was the best maintained road in England, thanks to the tolls. Ainsworth, however, drove so swiftly the coach swayed and bounced too much for Cressida to ply her needle without pricking her fingers. Nor could she read. Knighting engaged in a brief dialogue about how many gowns Cressida must order for her husband-hunting expedition, then fell asleep deeply enough for her snores to fill the coach. At their infrequent stops to change horses or collect some refreshment, Ainsworth did not speak to her at all.

As twilight drew near, Cressida tried to rest after weeks of sleeplessness. Each time she drifted toward sleep, Knighting’s snorting exhalations startled her awake. When she reclosed her eyes, Chard’s face swooped before her eyes, with its hurt accusation solidifying into anger when she broke their betrothal three years ago.

Then another face joined his, the cold contempt of his friend Miles, Lord Twiford. He had always been against her marriage to Chard, thinking the daughter of a cit was not good enough for a viscount.

A crack like a snapped tree branch resounded through the carriage. The vehicle pitched to one side, sending Cressida slamming to her knees. Pain shot up her thighs, through her body, and into her skull. She gasped and grappled for a handhold. Her fingers scored silky velvet, and she fell against the wall of the carriage. Knighting sprawled across her calves, pinning her in place.

That stupid knock-in-the-cradle of a cousin had landed them in a ditch. And her precious vial of violet scent had broken, soaking through her reticule and clouding the carriage with a choking haze of perfume.

“I. Am. Going. To. Kill. You.” Cressida gasped out each word. “If. I. Ever. Get. Out.”

And, of course, if Ainsworth had not fallen from the box and injured himself beyond repair.

Outside, the horses whinnied, and a number of male voices shouted. Inside, Knighting groaned.

“Are you all right?” Cressida asked her maid in a more temperate tone.

“Yes, ma’am, but I seem to be stuck.”

Not as stuck as Cressida. Her legs were going numb. Her left arm was already numb. And the carriage rocked and tilted further, threatening to turn turtle at any moment. Or worse, it could keep rolling and land them in the River Kennet.

Cressida could not swim. She doubted Knighting could swim. She doubted they could get out of the carriage before they drowned even if swimming were an option.

“Knighting, I apologize if I hurt you, but I must get us out of here.”

Since the men outside seemed more interested in shouting than being useful, Cressida rallied her strength and grasped one of the hand straps dangling from the canted roof above her. With supreme effort, she hauled one leg from under her maid. The leg felt like a wooden peg for all the sensation she experienced. She stomped her foot to bring back some life to the limb, and her heel smashed through the window.

The shouting outside ceased. The carriage door yanked open hard enough to send it crashing against the side and the vehicle tilting another five degrees down the embankment.

“No one told us there were passengers inside.”

The voice sent Cressida’s heart dropping through her stomach and onto an icy bath in the river. Head reeling, she brushed amber curls out of her eyes and stared into the countenance she had feared never to see again, and hoped she would encounter so she could prove him wrong about her.

* Section 1 written by Laurie Alice Eakes, www.LaurieAliceEakes.com *

Did you find the hidden item? Note it in the comments below for a chance to win. 

Don’t forget that the readers will ultimately choose who truly loves Cressida, and whom she loves in return. Already have a favorite? Go vote for him! Want everyone else to vote for him too? Grab a voting badge from the Suitable Match Extras page

Who do you think Cressida sees outside the carriage? Read the next installment now

THE CONTEST AND POLL ARE NOW CLOSED. Feel free to continue to enjoy and share the story.