To 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 4 5
The George and Pelican Inn, somewhere between Somerset and London
“I should have known.” Twiford rolled his eyes heavenward but hesitated to move, seemingly content to stand for a moment and marvel at Miss Blackstone’s usual craftiness.
Chard on the other hand, had no intention of allowing her the formality of wheedling her way out of the slight. Why, she’d fairly convinced the group of them that she’d taken it upon herself to travel to London on foot, and in the dead of night no less. That took some doing. Yes, and it also took about ten years off of his life when he thought of her traipsing around a toll road at night, with a sick maid and not enough sense to have known better.
He turned and stared up at the door, feeling that his eyes narrowed unconsciously. Cressy had better be in there, he thought. Now that he knew she was safe, he’d kill her.
Appearing all too jovial at the prospect of catching her in the makeshift lie, Twiford reached out and took the befuddled servant girl’s tray in hand.
“Allow me.” He cut over to the stairs. And though Ross was quick to take two steps up the stairs behind Twiford, Chard immediately side-stepped them both and bounded up to the second floor without looking back.
Muffled voices and creaking floorboards shifting behind the door signaled she must have known what – or who was coming.
Chard pounded on the door without any sense of decorum. “Open, Cressy. Now.”
The three men stood outside the door, Twiford doing his best to balance the tray in his hands and Ross, with his usual glower, staring back at the men as if extremely bothered by the very air they breathed. Chard matched him scowl for authoritative scowl and stood tall despite the bristling.
“I am her cousin.”
“Driver.” Twiford corrected immediately.
“I have just as much right to be here as either of you,” Ross protested as if he actually believed what he said. “And you will not enter that room.”
“You lost the right to voice any concern when you up-turned her chaise in a bog.” Chard’s retort was hardly a whisper and he didn’t care. She was what mattered, the bull-headed beauty behind the door that he’d have to convince to go along with them. That thought was uppermost in his mind.
He tapped his foot impatiently and stared back at the door, willing it to open.
“Open up Cressida, or I am coming in after you.”
“I’d listen to him, Miss Blackstone,” Twiford urged, his tone sarcastic to a fault. “The Viscount Chard seems a mite put out at present.”
That threat seemed to hold some weight, as it was but a moment more of the muffled noises before rusty hinges began their telltale squeaking. The door finally opened wide and there she stood, the most maddening beauty in the world, with her hands clasped demurely and a quite angelic look painted upon her face.
“Good morning, my lord.”
“Here,” Twiford said, offering the tray to her. “We thought you might fancy the orange marmalade.”
Chard didn’t hesitate. He didn’t even take the time to wave the tray off. Instead, he stormed into the room and slammed the door back in his friend’s face.
“Must you always pick up and leave in the dead of night?”
To the rather direct comment, Cressida took several steps backwards and sent a woefully helpless glance over at Knighting. The maid shrugged from the corner. She did not appear ready to contradict his authority.
Good, he thought. She’ll have no choice but to face me. “Yes, Miss Blackstone. I am speaking to you.”
“I didn’t leave in the dead of night.”
“Could have fooled me,” he muttered under his breath, both of them knowing full well that he referred to the last time she’d packed up her belongings and slipped out of his life. He didn’t intend to give her a second chance to attempt the same.
He crossed the room and in a veiled fury, began tossing things into her bags. A hair comb. A small, leather-bound Bible. Were those stockings? It wasn’t until he began wadding up dresses that Knighting lurched forward in response, the strict dictations of propriety too much to allow him to be up to his elbows in a lady’s linens. She took up the duty of properly folding her lady’s wares instead, freeing him to turn and face his problem once again.
“Can you give me one good reason why you shouldn’t be accompanied on the road to London? And before you try to pass another sweet-smiled lie on us poor, unsuspecting men, I’d caution you to think twice.” He stood before her with his legs braced apart and arms folded across his chest. When she didn’t answer but twisted her hands and furrowed her brow rather nervously, his anger began to dissipate.
“This is not the time or place to discuss it, Chard.”
Her whispered declaration cut to the heart immediately.
Though he’d been furious at the thought of her venturing out on her own, he had to swallow a bit of guilt at his attempt to reproach her for it. But how could he tell her? How would he find the words to explain that while Twiford and Ross had been arguing over who was at fault for their current predicament, his heart had climbed clear up to his throat and set to beating rather wildly.
He stood then, staring into those eyes he’d once known so well, and caved under her spell again. You fool, he thought. She’ll only hurt you again.
“I’ll be waiting downstairs. Be packed and ready to depart in ten minutes.”
Cressida didn’t much take to being hoisted into a traveling coach and plopped down on the seat like an errant toddler, but that’s exactly what had happened. After barging into her room, her former fiancé had insisted that not only was he accompanying her on the trip to London, but that she and Knighting would be riding in his coach for what remained of the journey.
Chard now sat across from her and peered out the window, his head bobbing as the vehicle sailed over the bumps and numerous ruts of the road.
Cressida watched him in silence, noting that he seemed quite austere and …older somehow. As if the past years had treated him coolly. As if he’d changed beneath the familiar façade that was taking such care to ignore her completely. It was off-putting that they had an opportunity to talk and yet he now seemed to earnestly avoid it.
Was he still so very angry with her? Could she believe that anything mattered to him once? That perhaps… she may have mattered to him more than a cache of money to line his pockets?
Cressida broke the silence before she could talk herself out of it. “Is there is no Viscountess Chard?” Her voice cracked slightly, causing her cheeks to warm with a blush.
He turned and stared back at her, the pointed gaze making her feel like melting down into her boots.
“No. There is not, Cressida. Were you planning on reapplying for the position?”
* This section contributed by Kristy L. Cambron, paris-mom.blogspot.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.
How do you think Cressida should respond? What do you think the other gentlemen think of Chard’s monopolizing Cressy’s attentions? Read the next installment!
THE CONTEST AND POLL ARE NOW CLOSED. Feel free to continue to enjoy and share the story.
Originally posted 2013-02-18 10:00:00.