Juliana giggled as Yvette ran beside her. They were crossing the grass towards the church at a fast pace. Juliana could feel her skirts, soft white muslin, rustling around her ankles, and she could hear the whisper of Yvette’s silk bonnet ribbons as they ran across the lawn towards the marketplace.
“You’re so fast!” Juliana called. Yvette grinned, green eyes sparkling.
“Not as fast as you.” She chuckled.
Juliana gave her a bright grin, scraping red hair back from her eyes. Her auburn hair was fastened back with pins under her bonnet, but some of it always fell onto her forehead, the strands so fine that she couldn’t keep it arranged for long.
“What a run.” She gasped as they stopped, the crowd at the edge of the church too thick for running anyway. She glanced around, looking to where James, Yvette’s brother, stood, his pale brown hair bright and his head a good inch or so above the rest of the crowd who gathered by the pathway.
“There is James!” Yvette pointed out. She had spotted him too, and the pair watched as he grinned and waved at them. The press of people was so thick around him that it would have been hard to walk across. James bent down to the table, picking something up from its top.
“They’re getting to the starting line,” Yvette said excitedly. Juliana nodded, noticing too that the young men in the group were making their way to the front of the field. She grinned, the atmosphere expectant. It was springtime and running outdoors on the grass was new and different. But watching the race made the outdoors even more fun than usual.
James walked casually to the front of the crowd, grinning broadly. Juliana had known James and Yvette almost all her life since their manor, Averley House, was just next door to her own family seat, Neavesbury Manor. She had played with the pair when they were children, and she felt as though they were family. She had no brothers and sisters herself, so Yvette and James were the closest she had to siblings. She watched as James shouldered his way to the front, then stood, frying pan in hand, waiting to start running.
“All right!” the vicar, Mr Wellford, called. “Are the contestants all in the marked area? I saw you, Henry – get back there.” He chuckled, waving one of the village men into line. A flurry of laughter went about the assembled people as Henry – a big man with vast shoulders – beamed appreciatively at the audience and stepped back onto the track with the rest of the contestants, who waited.
The atmosphere was tense. Juliana felt her stomach tighten, palms dampening, and wished she could join the fun. She was a fast runner, as was Yvette.
“Well, then,” Mr Wellford continued. “Since we’re all in line, we can start. On your marks!” he yelled. “Set!” He cleared his throat, holding a handkerchief that he could wave to indicate the start of the race. “And … let’s go!”
Everybody yelled, excitement gripping the village as the young men set off, running easily across the green. James, who was taller than almost all the other contestants, was drawing ahead easily, gripping the frying pan with a still-warm pancake in it; his arms almost fully stretched.
“Go! Go! You can beat them!” Yvette shrieked as James raced ahead. He was tall and strong, and Juliana was sure he would be able to beat the rest. The tall, broad-shouldered man who had pretended to cheat in the beginning was far behind – he might be tall, but his weighty muscles made him slow.
The young men ran past where they stood, then headed around the curve marked out with stones, racing around the green. Startled by the shouts, birds flew tweeting overhead, and a horse snorted where someone’s cart waited in the marketplace. The young men were running down across from them now, James second.
“Go, James!” Yvette shouted. “Overtake him!”
Juliana giggled, watching as James ran beside the other man, his pancake still in his frying pan. Some of the other men had already lost their pancakes and were still running.
The joyful ceremony made Juliana chuckle. It was Tuesday, and the pancake race was in honour of the Shrove season, the period during which people confessed their sins to prepare for Lent. It was also a time of indulging since only plain fare would be available during Lent. Pancakes, iced cakes, and delicious food were tradition now, and Juliana looked forward to looking about the market. She had always loved this best out of all celebrations, the outpouring of joy and goodness pleasing her. She might be two-and-twenty now, but she had loved this celebration since she was just four and able to understand what it was about.
She looked across the green to where the men were about to reach the starting post. The vicar stood, cheering, his handkerchief clutched in his hand. Luke, his son, was leading the race.
“Go! Go!” the vicar screamed. Juliana laughed to herself. She had never seen the vicar so undignified. She smiled as the men raced past, Luke far ahead of the others.
“James!” Yvette said as he walked over. “You came second.”
He grinned. “I did!” he agreed. “And I have a pancake for my efforts.” He flipped it triumphantly.
“Well done,” Juliana said, resting her hand on his shoulder. James looked at her fondly.
“Thank you, Juli,” he said warmly. “Now, I reckon I could do with some food. All that running …” He waved a hand as if overheated.
Yvette giggled. “It was fast,” she replied.
Juliana thought Yvette seemed disappointed that James had come second and not beaten Luke in the race. She wondered at that, but then, Yvette was like that – she tended to aim high. Juliana walked with them towards the market. She had a purse with her, the drawstrings in one hand, and she had some money that she intended to spend on food and ribbons and other good things at the market.
“Look there,” Yvette commented. She gestured towards a stall. Juliana looked, noticing it was selling iced buns. She felt her stomach twist. She had not eaten much for breakfast, intending to make space for indulging at the market, and she was hungry.
“They look delightful,” she agreed. There were raisin buns, sugary icing drizzled on them, cinnamon-flavoured ones, and cake in slices. She walked towards the stand, stepping around the vast crowd who gathered to sample pancakes. She would have one later when the crowd was not so dense.
“Look at him,” Yvette commented. She was gesturing at a young man, who, like James, was tall. He had paler hair, though, and a nice, oval-shaped face. Juliana glanced over at Yvette, who was watching the fellow and had clearly been impressed.
“He’s quite tall,” Juliana commented, teasing Yvette a little.
“He’s rather handsome; what say you?” Yvette said.
Juliana giggled. “I suppose he is,” she replied. Juliana wasn’t that taken with the way he looked – he was undeniably handsome, but she thought he seemed a bit quiet as if he wasn’t interested in the festivities. He stood a little on the crowd’s edge, and she wondered if perhaps a village festival was beneath him.
She looked over at the stall as the stallholder shouted out a price, and she was distracted, checking her bag to see if she had enough to buy two iced buns.
“That’s tuppence,” she said to herself. She could feel the coins – she had more than sixpence in her bag, so she could happily afford them. She walked to the stall, intent on buying something.
“Oh!” she cried out as she slammed into something. Startled, she stepped back, realizing that she had walked into somebody. She’d been so intent on the stall that she hadn’t been aware of anybody on the field’s edge. “Sorry.”
As she looked up, feeling shy, she recognized the tall man she and Yvette had seen just a moment or two ago, the one she thought was stuck-up. He had been wandering around behind the stall, and as he walked back to the market, she’d walked into him.
He smiled. He didn’t seem that stuck-up this close, though he hadn’t yet said anything. As she cleared her throat to explain, feeling a little annoyed with him for not spotting her either, he bowed low.
“My Lady,” he said politely, “I am mortified. Please accept my deep apology. You are unhurt …?”
She nodded, blushing. “Yes, sir,” she said courteously. She felt shy, and his extravagant apology was nice. She smiled up at him. “I am unhurt.”
“I am glad,” he said. “I am so sorry. I didn’t see you.”
“I didn’t see you either,” Juliana said, cheeks warm. She looked at her feet, feeling awkward. She didn’t know why, but he made her feel shyer than she’d ever felt with anyone. She didn’t even think he was that handsome. She looked up at him, feeling annoyed at her reaction, and gentle hazel eyes looked back at her.
“I’m glad I didn’t hurt you,” he said. “Are you enjoying the market?”
“Yes, thank you,” Juliana said, swallowing hard. “I am.” She looked around, noticing that the crowd at the stall with iced buns was thinning. “I was going that way.”
“To that stall?” he asked her, indicating the iced buns. “Mm. Those look nice.”
Juliana felt irritated as he fell into step, going along with her towards the stall. She was glad when Yvette walked over, and they wandered to the stall together. She glanced up at the young man, who seemed to have attached himself to their group.
As she took out her coins to pay for the buns, she wondered who he was and why he had seemed so shy, yet now he was following them around the marketplace in a friendly way.
Glendon stood at the stall, feeling a little dazed. He glanced at the beautiful young lady who had walked into him and looked away shyly. It wasn’t just her long red hair that had tumbled down during the morning and framed her delightful, long face, but her smile and how she laughed and joked with her friends that interested him.
He stood back from the crowd around the stall, watching her as she selected the wares.
“Tuppence, please,” the woman behind the stall said, wrapping two buns in a sheet of paper and passing them across.
“Here you are. And wishing you Lenten blessings.”
“Thank you, My Lady. And you too, for you and your family.”
The lady with the auburn hair gave him a dazzling smile, and Glendon felt his head spin. He was still watching her as James, his friend, shouldered a way through to him.
“Had pancakes?” James asked him. He had spice on his chin, and melted butter. Glendon wanted to chuckle. James didn’t look like the heir of Averley House just then – he looked like a naughty child. Glendon shook his head.
“You left some pancakes at the stall?”
James laughed. “I did, as it happens. They’re preparing them this moment. Or else, I am sure, I would buy the stall out. I’m half-starving.”
“I saw that,” Glendon said, unable to hide a smile.
James shoved him, and they both laughed as Glendon almost fell. James, his best friend since university days together, was the only person with whom he had ever been involved in teasing, playful exchanges. Glendon had no siblings, and his parents had passed away when he was a child. He had been raised by tutors and by his uncle Alfred. He had few friends and was glad for James, who had always treated him like, he imagined, a brother would.
“Let’s go over there,” James said, gesturing to a stall selling sweets. There was a stand set up where children stood to throw hoops at a board, trying to net pegs with numbers written on them. Glendon assumed the pegs indicated prizes of some sort. He smiled at the children’s giggles. The excess before Lent was usually children’s favourite time of year. He had not had the same easy, carefree childhood as they had, and it pleased him to see how light-hearted and fun it could be.
He followed James, who stood in line, waiting to buy sweets.
“A quarter pound of toffee, please. And a quarter pound of sweet mints.”
Glendon shook his head, wondering at his friend. How could he still eat such sugared foods? The thought made his stomach pain, and he hadn’t even sampled the food yet. He raised a brow, amused, as James emerged, two paper packages held under one arm.
“The toffee is for my sister.” He chuckled. “She always liked toffee.”
Glendon nodded. He followed James across the field. He vaguely remembered the younger sister of James since he’d met her once or twice when he visited in the countryside. He recalled a pretty young lady with blonde hair and green eyes, though in his memory, she was just sixteen years old. He was surprised when James walked across the field towards two young ladies who stood buying ribbon. The one was standing with her back to him, but he recognized the pale hair of the other from earlier.
“Yvette!” James called. “Sister! A surprise.” He gestured, showing the bag off.
The young woman laughed. Glendon recognized her from when he had waited at the bun stall with the red-haired young lady, and his heart thumped. He recalled, belatedly, that the red-haired young lady had been wearing a white dress and a bonnet with brownish-coloured ribbon, and that, then, was her, with her back turned to them. He swallowed hard, shyness flooding him.
James, seeming not to notice, called him. He gestured with his hand, and Glendon blushed. What would they think of him? He hadn’t even recognized Lady Yvette. He felt shy and embarrassed.
“Glendon!” James yelled. “Come on! Yvette is here. And you must meet Juliana, too. This is our neighbour, Lady Juliana. She’s like a sister.”
Glendon flushed. Juliana – beautiful name, he thought at once. She was beautiful, too, so it matched. He was surprised at himself for thinking that.
“Lady Juliana,” he said, bowing. His throat felt tight as if he’d swallowed something lumpy. He coughed, trying to get words out. He looked up at her, and she smiled, the same delightful smile that had caught his imagination when they met. “An honour, My Lady.”
She grinned. “I am pleased to meet you,” she said. She curtseyed, and Glendon realized that James hadn’t introduced him to her yet. He glanced over at his friend, who walked across.
“Juliana, this is Glendon Grantham, my best friend.” He glanced to Glendon, who smiled at her. “He’s a duke.”
Juliana smiled. “Good day, My Lord.”
Glendon flushed. He wished James hadn’t revealed his title. He knew he’d done it so Juliana would know what title to use, but he always felt shy. His father, the Duke of Cobham, had been exceptionally wealthy, and Glendon had inherited that wealth. His family was richer than most noblemen.
At least, he thought, as Juliana smiled up at him warmly, James hadn’t told her which duke he was. She might be shy or take against him, as many did, because of his wealth. It hadn’t helped him when he was at Cambridge, when people found out, as they tended to feel covetous of his riches. But James had never been like that – his friend had accepted him for who he was. He hadn’t known for a long time, and when he’d found out, there was no difference in how he treated Glendon, for which he was grateful. He smiled at Juliana shyly.
“We met earlier, My Lady,” he said.
She nodded. “We did.”
She seemed shy now, and he felt awkward. He looked at his feet, then back across the field. A cart had arrived, and he watched as people got in, some children being lifted into the back by their father. His heart twisted. He wondered what it was like to feel that.
“He didn’t run this morning,” James said, making Glendon chuckle.
“I’m not fast, like you,” he said. “And I could be relied on to drop the frying pan and embarrass myself.”
James laughed. “Like the Cambridge race-day. I’ll never forget.”
“He and I entered a race at Carnival time,” James told Yvette. Glendon looked away uncomfortably, knowing that Juliana was also listening. It was a funny story, but it was also embarrassing – especially for a young lady like her to know. “It was one of those where you tie your ankles together, you know?”
“A three-legged race?”
“Absolutely,” James explained. He had his bag of peppermints in one hand, the fragrant smell reaching James where he stood beside Yvette. She had the bag of toffees supported on her arm. “So, we were at the starting line, and this big fellow has his ankle strapped next to me.” He pointed over to Glendon’s side. “So, we start running, and somehow – I still don’t fathom it – he wraps his own leg around our two legs and trips himself up. Bam! Flat on the field, right in the middle of the race. I, of course, fell too, and there we were, all tangled up, tripping the other contestants who were kicking and yelling.”
Glendon laughed, recalling the afternoon.
“You would have won, otherwise,” Yvette said. Glendon felt one brow lift, surprised. It was the kindest thing anyone could have said, and he bowed, feeling touched.
“Thank you, My Lady,” he said. “Truly, I am glad.”
Juliana smiled at him. “It must have looked silly.”
He nodded. “I can’t tell you, My Lady, how silly it felt.”
Juliana laughed, and Glendon chuckled. He didn’t often laugh about that – it had been so embarrassing, and the other young men had teased him for months, but it felt good to chuckle.
“I imagine it hurt, too.”
“My pride suffered more than the rest.” He swallowed.
They both laughed.
Glendon walked beside her, feeling more at ease. He had felt desperately shy, but James and his story had put him into a more comfortable state of mind. Juliana’s laughter made him smile.
He didn’t often feel comfortable being laughed at, but seeing her grin made his heart thud. He was happy for her to laugh at him, just to see her dark eyes light up with friendly humour.
“So,” James said, his voice indistinct as he sucked a peppermint, “shall we look around?”
“I think so,” Glendon agreed. “Ladies? What stalls have you seen?”
“The bun seller, the ribbon stall, and the hairpins.”
“I see,” James replied. “I want to look at the buckles. I need a belt buckle for my new trousers.”
“Of course, brother,” Yvette agreed. “We’ll come over with you. The scarves are next door, and I need a shawl as well.”
Glendon was relieved. He had wanted to walk with them longer, but it would be awkward without James to chaperone them, even if they were in the middle of the marketplace. He walked with the group, joining the ladies at the crowd’s edge around a stall with bright kerchiefs.
“Look at that!” Yvette was saying. She addressed Juliana, who stood with her. “The cream and yellow at the back. It would be just right for matching my ball dress.”
“You’re right,” Juliana replied. She gestured to a dark cherry pink. “I like that one.”
“Is it not bright for your hair?” Yvette asked.
Juliana shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
Glendon breathed out, wishing he knew them well enough. He would buy it for her, but to do so right now would seem overly friendly. He watched as they talked with the stallholder, and she passed them the scarves to give them a close look.
“It’s beautiful,” Yvette said warmly as the stallholder draped the yellow and cream scarf about her shoulders. It had tassels, and Glendon could imagine her at a ball, the short shawl around her over a low-necked ballgown. She was, he thought, rather beautiful.
“Look at you!” Yvette said as Juliana tried the reddish scarf. Glendon drew in a breath. It was bright cherry silk and flowed around her shoulders; her long hair had escaped her bonnet – the warmth of firelight on it.
She was the most beautiful young lady he’d ever seen.
He shook himself, looking away.
“I like it,” he heard her say and smiled to himself.
He still felt staggered by how delightful Juliana was as they fell into step, going towards where James was walking back from the buckles, a happy look on his face.
“Finally!” he announced. “I managed to find just what I sought.”
Glendon chuckled. The young ladies walked over to join him, and he fell into step behind, feeling shy. He couldn’t shake from his mind the image of Juliana, laughing, the red shawl around her shoulders.
He hoped he would be invited to a ball soon, and he hoped he would be there when she used it first.
Juliana looked warmly over at her mother, sitting opposite her at the table. It was teatime, relaxed and peaceful. Juliana stirred her tea idly with a teaspoon, feeling too full to eat anything, though there were cake and sandwiches on offer. It was nearly an hour since she had returned from racing.
“So, the market had lots of goods on offer?” her father asked. He was sitting at the other side of the table, an old London Gazette propped up in front of him. Juliana nodded.
“So much, Papa. I bought ribbon and some iced buns, and Yvette bought toffees – well, James bought them for her – and we all ate pancakes.”
“Lots of good fare, then.” Her mother smiled. She had a softer face than Juliana, who had her father’s longer, more angular face shape. Mama had curly blonde hair going grey in places and lively brown eyes.
Juliana looked fondly at her. Juliana was their only child, though she knew they had prayed earnestly to have children before her. She was finally born, somewhat unexpectedly, almost a decade after they moved from London to the countryside.
“It was delightful,” Juliana agreed. “Though I feel nauseous.”
Her father chuckled. “A good walk is what’s needed.”
“Frederick, dear, her feet are sore from walking,” Mama reminded fondly. Juliana looked over at her father as he peered out from around the top of the newspaper, brown eyes merry.
“I will go walking later,” Juliana replied. “When my feet stop hurting.”
Her father laughed . She was close to both her parents, though being so much older than most other parents, it sometimes felt as though they didn’t fully understand her. She twisted in the chair, looking out of the window. The sky was pale, almost turquoise, and she could see birds hopping from branch to branch of the pine tree that grew outside the window.
“I might go for a walk later, too,” her father commented, though Juliana knew he would rest for an hour after tea – he always took an afternoon nap at around four o’ clock then walked at five, an hour later.
“I’ll go in half an hour,” Juliana commented. She felt restless, despite being tired and having aching feet. She found that, no matter how hard she attempted to put him out of her thoughts, the duke kept drifting into mind. She felt annoyed with herself for that – she didn’t even like him much. James was merry and amusing, while he was aloof and uninteresting – at least, she felt so.
“That sounds grand,” her mother commented absently. She reached for some sugar for her tea, the dish piled with tiny sugar loaves, which she carefully lifted out.
Juliana sipped her tea, casting an affectionate look at her mother. She tried to focus on the market that morning rather than thinking about the duke. She was just managing to get him out of her thoughts when her mother spoke again.
“I wonder what we can have for the Easter festivities this year?” she speculated. “Of course, we shall have to prepare painted eggs for the cottagers and their children. But that will be fun to prepare.”
“Quite so,” Juliana agreed. She usually enjoyed that part of the proceedings – carefully painting eggs with different plant dyes to surprise their tenants’ children – but she felt oddly disinterested this year. She was sleepy, and no wonder. After so much walking and all the food she had eaten, she needed a rest.
“We need to procure enough eggs from the farm, then,” her mother continued, still thinking about the preparations for the Easter celebrations. “I’ll talk with Mrs Mulham this afternoon.” She oversaw the kitchens and the supplies in the household.
“Of course,” Juliana replied.
She drank another cup of hot, sweet tea and excused herself, thinking to go and rest for half an hour – her feet really did still hurt, and her head felt a little confused after all the morning’s events. The tea had revived her somewhat, hot and scalding and sugared, but she still felt drained.
“Rebecca?” she called as she went into her bedchamber. Rebecca was her maid – three years younger than her and a good friend as well as a helper, Rebecca had been part of Juliana’s life for the last five years. Juliana was pleased when she heard her in the little room adjoining her own.
“Afternoon, My Lady. I was just tidying in the boudoir,” Rebecca explained. Her heart-shaped face was friendly, a warm expression in her gaze.
Juliana gave her a warm glance as she settled down on the bed and took off her shoes, small indoor slippers made of silk. She sat and rested her head on the headboard, sitting at an angle on the cover. “You must have gone to the market too, Rebecca?” she asked her.
“I did, My Lady! For a few hours over luncheon. It was grand, was it not? And the lads were all talking of the race this morning.”
Juliana giggled. “It was grand,” she replied. “Lord James ran very fast.” She recalled how James had almost won the pancake race, coming solidly second.
“I heard so, My Lady,” Rebecca said with a smile. “But Mr Wellford’s son – he was a fine runner.” She had a particular faraway expression, and Juliana wondered why she had a distracted look in her eyes. She would have enquired, but she found that thoughts of the race brought her to thoughts of the duke, and that was annoying since she was determined to dislike him.
“I feel a little sleepy,” Juliana commented as her maid dusted the dressing table. She couldn’t really describe the feeling she was experiencing – mainly exhaustion, but also that strange resistance to thinking about Glendon Grantham while all the time drawn to thoughts of him.
“Mm. I’m sure, My Lady. It’s all that fresh air and exercise. It makes you sleep well, so it does,” Rebecca commented, moving the bottles on the dressing table aside with a soft clink as she cleaned the surfaces.
“It could be so,” Juliana said. “But I feel restless, too. And – there’s this fellow I met at the market. Lord Cobham. He seemed a bit distant, I thought. I didn’t like him much.” She felt a strange tingle, just speaking of him.
Rebecca frowned. “He wasn’t uncouth?”
“No, not at all,” Juliana said, thinking that was something she absolutely couldn’t accuse him of. “I just didn’t like him much. He was kind enough, but, well – he struck me as a bit standoffish. You can’t be like that at the market.” She wanted to laugh at that statement herself – she was being unfair to him. She knew that.
“You’re right, My Lady,” Rebecca said. She bent to put the bottles back on the corner of the dressing table where she’d just polished. “One can’t be out of sorts at the Shrovetide festivities. It’s supposed to be a time when you have some fun!” She sounded as cross with the fellow as Juliana felt.
Juliana laughed. “I’m glad you say so too. I might go for a walk in the gardens,” she added, swinging her legs to slip into her shoes. “I think it will clear my head.”
“Don’t be out too long,” Rebecca observed as she dusted around the fireplace on the east-facing wall. “I reckon you still need a rest after the market and all the morning’s excitement.”
“Thank you, Rebecca,” Juliana said warmly. “I won’t stay out long – just long enough to stop feeling restless.”
“Of course, My Lady.”
Juliana slipped her shoes on and went to the door, pausing to take a shawl off the hook by the doorway and wrapping it around her shoulders. The grounds were still bright with sunshine, but in the shade, it was chilly. She went downstairs, changed her slippers for outdoor boots, and went down the path, the driveway gravel crunching under her feet as she headed for the stables.
“Afternoon, Mr Staveley,” she greeted the old stable hand, busy forking hay out of the stalls. He grinned and touched his forehead in salute.
“Afternoon, young lady! And what a delightful day it is.”
“It is indeed,” Juliana agreed. She stopped to pat her horse on the nose. She snorted. She felt the dark, soft fur of her nose in her hand, and she looked into her eyes like black lakes of water. She snorted again, and she stroked down the muzzle, where an irregular mark of white showed, the only white patch on her steed’s body besides a fleck on the leg.
“Had fun at the market, My Lady?”
“I did, thank you, Mr Staveley,” she answered, stepping back as he swept the path with his yard-broom. “And I hope you took time off, as well.”
“I did, My Lady! Ate pancakes until I could barely stand. A grand market it was! A grand afternoon.”
“I’m glad,” Juliana replied fondly. She liked the staff, all of whom had been there since she was a child. She turned left at the end of the path, going up towards the pond and the rose arbour.
The rose arbour was her favourite part of the garden. It was drowsy and fragrant with the blossoms in summertime, and now it showed the first signs of life on the bushes and the scent of warm earth. She sat down on the bench at the end of the garden, set under a trellis where clambering roses scrambled over a wide framework overhead, and shut her eyes.
Glendon Grantham came into her mind, and she chuckled as she tried to push him out of her thoughts.
“Stop bothering me,” she told him aloud as if his vision was in the rose garden, where she could address him. She laughed at the image of herself doing it. But she did feel as though he was haunting her thoughts and she needed to expel him. She wondered why he had made such an impact on her.
“It’s not because he’s handsome,” she told herself, wanting to laugh. Yvette had clearly thought he was handsome, but Juliana didn’t. He was nice to look at; she couldn’t argue – he had smooth cheeks, a clean-cut jaw, and pleasant eyes – but she didn’t usually find such smooth looks attractive. She chuckled, blushing. She didn’t often see young men her own age besides James. Her parents had taken her to London for the Season since she was sixteen, and though she enjoyed dancing and got a little dizzy with all the stares she attracted, she had never really heeded men all that much. James was like a brother, and she could see he was handsome, but being attracted to a man was something she hadn’t felt yet.
She wondered if Yvette felt it, and if she could help her to understand this strange feeling. But then, she thought with a grin, Yvette was attracted to Grantham. She didn’t want to mention he annoyed her since she didn’t want to make Yvette think she disliked the man.
She giggled to herself. She didn’t really have an opinion on him – after all, she’d spoken a few words with him. She had walked straight into him, so maybe she was just suffering from the shock. She decided that that was what it was and resolved to push aside her thoughts about him. It was a delightful afternoon, and it was much more fun to contemplate the upcoming festivities or just enjoy the sunshine. She stretched, leaning back against the seat behind her, the bright rays warm on her skin.
She sat in the warm springtime garden until she was almost asleep, the drowsy sound of birds and a distant fountain lulling her into a deep, sleepy rest. She blinked, realizing she was quite warm and almost sleeping, and got up to walk back to the house slowly, resolving to spend some time reading upstairs for an hour before dinner, when she almost walked into a maidservant on the stairs.
“My Lady!” the maid said, gesturing up at the house. “There are visitors. Would you like to talk with them in the drawing room?”
“Yes, of course.” Juliana nodded, smiling at the maid. She wondered who was there and hurried to speak with them, walking up the stairs.
When she got to the stairs outside the drawing-room, she paused on the carpeted stairway, hearing voices. She could hear laughter, and she thought she recognized Yvette’s voice. She smiled to herself, glad her friend had walked over to visit, though surprised she had the energy. She had half-expected Yvette to be sleeping too.
“My Lady, it’s delightful to be here,” James said politely to Lady Neavesbury, and Juliana felt affection for him. James was always so gentle with everybody.
“Yes. I am delighted to meet you,” another voice replied. It was a male voice, soft and pleasant, and Juliana felt her heart thump.
It was Glendon Grantham!
She felt confused and delighted, and then even more confused because she didn’t like him, and she should be angry to have him here in the house. She went the last few steps to the doorway, pausing inside.
“Ah! Daughter, come inside! Look whose here from next door,” Lady Neavesbury said to her, gesturing for her to come inside.
“Mama,” Juliana said, blushing furiously. She had been outside in the garden, and her hair had tumbled down about her shoulders, almost loose from the bun. She hadn’t known Grantham was here – if she had, she would have gone upstairs and pinned it. She felt shy and was surprised when his eyes widened, seeing her.
“My Lady,” he said, bowing low. “Delighted to see you here. We were walking in the woods, and James suggested we stop by.”
“I see,” she said. She looked at James, feeling surprisingly annoyed with him. He might have guessed that she was sleepy and decided not to bring his friend to call!.
“I hope it is not an imposition, My Lady …?” Glendon Grantham said. “We were all weary after the morning festivities and wished to sit down for a few moments.”
“Of course,” Juliana said quickly. She hadn’t noticed that his eyes were pale brown, with greenish specks in them. He really was handsome, and she felt a flush of heat creep up into her cheeks as he smiled warmly in her direction.
“I ought to introduce my friend to you,” James said, addressing Juliana’s mother. “This is the Duke of Cobham.”
“I see,” Juliana’s mother replied. Juliana thought she looked unruffled by the name. She watched as James took a seat beside her mother, and the butler came forward to set out the tea.
“We were walking up to the fields,” Yvette commented as Juliana went to sit on the chair next to her mother’s. “It’s such a fine day; we thought we might walk to the stream. It’s too delightful an afternoon to spend in the house.”
“Quite so,” Juliana agreed. She was relieved when Lord Cobham turned to Yvette – having his eyes on her was disconcerting.
“It would be delightful, My Lady,” he agreed. “Though I am glad we could rest here a moment, Lady Neavesbury,” he added to Juliana’s mother, who smiled.
“I’m glad too, young man. And please, help yourself any moment with tea and cake.”
“Thank you, Auntie Grace,” James said to Lady Neavesbury – both he and his sister had referred to Mama as “aunt” for around a decade, though she was no blood relation. James smiled at her fondly. “We will be glad for the tea, but we are all full of food from morning. Please don’t take offence if we cannot partake of any refreshment.”
Her mother poured tea for them all, and the butler wheeled the trolley out again. She saw Lord Cobham sip his tea and looked away, wondering at herself. Why was she watching him, anyway?
She looked at her own teacup, its pink designs intricate and bright in the sunlight. She would absorb herself in looking at that instead of wondering about Lord Cobham and his presence in her house.
“Will you walk with us, Auntie Grace?” James asked her mother, who shook her head.
“No, thank you, James. I’d rather stay. I’m a bit tired.”
“Of course,” James agreed instantly. “Well, when we’ve partaken of some tea, we’ll set off. Shall we go back to the manor or continue to the stream?” he asked the other two. Lord Cobham shrugged.
“Whatever you think best.”
“Shall we return to the manor?” Yvette suggested. James nodded.
“As you wish, sister. I am also suffering – my feet ache, after all that standing and walking.”
“And eating,” Yvette pointed out.
“And that. Yes.” James laughed.
Juliana giggled. She looked up from stirring her tea to find Lord Cobham’s gaze fixed on her. He was watching her with wide eyes, and she couldn’t really identify the expression in them. She looked down, feeling shy.
What was the wretched fellow thinking, staring like that? It was unnecessary.
She blushed and reached for her tea, sipping it and ignoring the man sitting opposite her on the chaise-longue. She was not going to look at him. If he was uncouth enough to stare, then she would show him how well-behaved people conducted themselves. She wanted to laugh at herself, still confused by her responses about him.
She sat and talked with her friends. Yvette was chatting about the market that morning and relating a funny story about something they’d seen on the way back to Averley House. It was pleasant to see them, but the brooding Lord Cobham distracted her and made it harder for her to enjoy the afternoon visit, as she was aware of his gaze.
“We should go back,” James said, stretching after they’d sat and chatted for a long while. “It’s almost six o’clock, and it still gets dark around seven.”
“That’s true,” the countess observed. Juliana smiled and stood as her friends stood, walking with them to the door. Her mama accompanied them, and Juliana curtseyed when James bowed, Lord Cobham bowing low beside him.
“We shall see you soon,” Lady Neavesbury said as James and Yvette waved. Lord Cobham lifted a hand in salutation, and Juliana blushed, trying to wave to James and Yvette without feeling inhibited by him.
She walked back to the stairs with her mother, trying not to feel disconcerted.
“What a delightful group of young people,” her mother said enthusiastically. “James is such a delightful young man. So polite. And of course, Yvette and Lord Cobham too.”
Juliana nodded, not wanting to contradict her. “Yes, that’s so,” she agreed quietly. In her heart, she countered it with the assertion that Lord Cobham was aloof and distant – she couldn’t accuse him of anything worse than that, as he was in all other ways well-mannered and solicitous of everyone he met.
She wondered again at her reaction and couldn’t help wondering when she’d next see him. She needed to learn more about him and find out why she felt so strange whenever she saw him.
“A Lady’s Easter Romance” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Juliana, daughter of the Earl of Neavesbury, loves her quiet life in the country. As the Easter Season begins, she decides to take part in the yearly festivities and enjoy herself with her friends. What she didn’t expect though is that during the pancake race on Shrove Tuesday, she would meet an intriguing man who would make her heart beat faster than ever. To her dismay, Juliana will not be the only lady interested in the charming gentleman…
What will happen when Juliana realises that she is desperately in love with the man her best friend has set eyes on?
Lord Glendon Cobham is a shy and reserved Duke, with a very painful past. Even though he is instantly captivated by Juliana, he will soon notice that his friend James tries to push him away from the red-haired beauty. Will Glendon manage to explain his friend’s odd attitude? Will he manage to claim the only woman who has filled his empty heart, despite the forces set against him?
A love that will be challenged in every possible way…
There will soon come a time that neither Juliana nor Glendon will be able to deny their strong feelings for each other. Little did they know that the arrival of an ambitious uncle, along with more unexpected hurdles, would perplex their lives even further. Will Juliana and Glendon manage to conquer this darkness and find true love this Easter? Or will their dream of a happy ending slip through their fingers?
“A Lady’s Easter Romance” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.