GABRİELLE BROMLEY’S dress felt stiff with dust from all her traveling. The voyage from America had taken its toll, and then there was the journey by carriage from Portsmouth to Norfolk. And now, for the last leg, yet another carriage ride to Fenmore Castle, her final destination. Final destination. That sounded so . final. Who knew where this little adventure would lead? She liked the sound of that word. Adventure. For this was what it was. And that was why, despite her hem being stained from travel, the creases of her skirt so pronounced, her hair probably in shambles with her hat askew, and all sorts of travel inconveniences, she felt more alive than she had felt in a long time. She was in her mother’s birthplace, England. What a blessing this was. Raised to be God-fearing by her parents, she said a prayer of thanks that Heavenly Father kept her safe on her voyage, never mind that prolonged storm that had turned everyone in her cabin seasick.
That was all in the past now. She had so much to look forward to. How grateful she was also for her mother’s intercession. She didn’t need to pull out the letter from her mother’s friend, Amelie, in her portmanteau to imagine the words that were now imprinted in her memory. Dearest Serena, I received your letter with pleasure. How wonderful that your daughter has taken after you in her love of horses. Yes, I still ride and have children who appreciate our wonderful four-legged friends—in various sort of ways, not necessarily riding all day like we did when we were young girls. As for your inquiry about a potential household where your daughter could be employed as a companion, coincidentally, we have been wanting to secure such an individual for our daughter, Daphne. Would Gabrielle be interested in joining our household? If so, please let me know so I can send a little token to help with her passage from America. Love, Amelie Details on Amelie, and Mother’s friendship with her growing up, were sparse. Mother kept mum about things like that, not wanting to say much in her adorable British accent. “Someday,” she promised Gabrielle, “I will tell you more.
But it’s not time yet.” Really, Mother was mum on everything else about her childhood. All Gabrielle knew was that she had fled England due to a major disagreement with her family—over what, Gabrielle didn’t know, but it must have been quite distressing to drive her away to America. Gabrielle gazed out the window, her heart full of appreciation for the countryside, so green in the late spring. This was the county of Derryshire, as Mother explained, and Fenmore Castle was one of the grand estates in the Glennis area. A castle. Ever since Mother told her the good news, her imagination had run away with her. Would she meet her prince here? But of course not. Gabrielle chastised herself once again for being fanciful. She was here to be employed as a companion to a young lady who was just a year younger than her.
Mother observed that the arrangement was rather extraordinary. Often, companions were older and of genteel birth. Gabrielle was nearly the same age and certainly not of genteel birth, as Americans went. Would she be able to pull off this responsibility, which was to guide her charge through courtship with suitors—in a castle, no less? Gabrielle squared her shoulders. She would be fine. She learned hard work and a determined attitude from her parents. She was American. Once again, her eyes feasted on the forest and rolling hills of the countryside. The air had a wet chill to it that felt cooler than that in New York’s boroughs. She could breathe freely out here compared to the cozy but crowded spaces of her hometown.
She could already picture herself riding a horse across this landscape. Her family had owned horses all her life, and she’d been allowed to roam on Ginny as she and her filly grew up together, but she’d never ridden in a place quite as fancy as this. Gripping the top of the carriage door and leaning out, she caught the first glimpse of trees obscuring a massive building. A fortress. Something like out of a fairy tale, with buttresses and aged stone. If a dragon would have descended upon the edifice at that point, Gabrielle wouldn’t have been surprised. So this was Fenmore Castle. She knew she would love it here. The hooves of the horses pulling the carriage clopped on the dirt road. Such a melodious sound to herald the approach to this castle.
They veered off onto a private driveway, the trees opening up now to a sanctuary of elegance, leaving Gabrielle to gape at this amazing building, which would be her home for at least three months, if everything worked out with Amelie’s daughter and the family. It had to work. She would make sure it would work, even if it meant reining in her rambunctious and opinionated self, as Mother had warned. The carriage kept on its light progress along a graceful driveway, as though the horses were mincing it with their hooves, like ballerinas. The driveway led on to a wood bridge over a romantic moat that had swans in it. Gabrielle looked out over the swans, her imagination taking flight that one of them could be a swan princess who would have to fight for her prince, and then the horses’ hooves were thundering over the wood. The bridge fed into a spacious inner courtyard, which followed the contour of a circle, where two other carriages and two men—one dark-haired, almost black, and the other sunnier, a blond—on horseback were congregated. Company, today? Gabrielle took a deep, nervous breath. She had hoped that her initiation to everyone’s company would be more gradual, less on display. But here she was.
And there he was. The dark-haired gentleman on horseback. His horse had caught her eye at first. A black beauty, with a star on his forehead, his mane glossy and his body well-toned. A Thoroughbred, by the looks of it. And then Gabrielle looked up to study its owner, who was staring at her with unhidden interest. He had glossy, dark hair that curled around his ears and nape. He was bareheaded, with a healthy tan from being out of doors, perhaps on a hunt or a ride. Who wouldn’t, on a marvelous creature like that? And he was laughing at her. His eyes held an amused expression at her frank appraisal.
She told herself she was only intrigued by the horse, and not the handsome cut of his riding coat nor his chiseled jaw. But she smiled back nonetheless, before leaning back and allowing the carriage to deliver her to a stop. The driver hopped down and helped her out, with Gabrielle acutely aware that the gentleman on the black horse and the others were watching her progress. Servants met her at the steps leading up to the castle, now even more imposing up close. Her throat seemed to close up at the prospect of her being swallowed whole by this edifice. How small she and everyone else were, standing here. Once again, she glanced over at the congregated party on the driveway near the steps. It was an awkward moment, for they obviously were not her hosts, but she was also a new arrival. Luckily, she didn’t have to figure out for long how to deal with them, for a lady came out of the castle, welcoming her with open arms. “Lady Fenmore,” Gabrielle said, curtsying on the steps as gracefully as she could, as her mother had taught her.
Lady Fenmore put a finger under Gabrielle’s chin and lifted it, her eyes glittering with a happy welcome. “It is such a pleasure to meet you. You are your mother’s spitting image.” “I take that as a high compliment.” Her hostess tucked her arm in hers, while a servant followed along with her trunk. “You shall meet everyone properly in good time,” Lady Fenmore said, casting a glance at the congregation watching their every move, and announcing it loudly enough so that they understood that to be the case as well. Gabrielle obstinately did not look over her shoulder at the man on the black horse. She would meet him later, soon enough. Two servants brought in her belongings. They went one way, while Lady Fenmore led the way past an elegant foyer and a drawing room, where her husband met them.
Lord Fenmore was tall and imposing, handsome as his wife was beautiful. After introductions, he turned to Lady Fenmore. “Have you told her yet?” Gabrielle looked from the husband to the wife. Lady Fenmore’s eyes glimmered with excitement, putting her a little at ease. Her news couldn’t be too terrible. Gabrielle hoped so, anyway. “Initially,” Lady Fenmore said, “I had agreed to having you come as a companion. However, my husband had reservations about that arrangement. He didn’t think people would look kindly upon it. A companion from America, not familiar with our customs, would simply not be appropriate for the situation.
” What was she telling Gabrielle? And why was she smiling? Was this not disastrous? Gabrielle held her breath, expecting to be dismissed with her next words. “Therefore,” Lady Fenmore continued, “we have decided to host you as our guest.” “Your guest!” Gabrielle gasped. Lady Fenmore nodded. “Yes, isn’t that wonderful? That way, you can go to everything that the family attends, and have what I hope is a wonderful experience.” Her brow furrowed. “You would be amenable to that, wouldn’t you?” “Would I?” Gabrielle stammered. “But of course. That is so generous of you.” “That is the least I could do for the daughter of my childhood friend.
” Her teary-eyed thanks could not adequately convey her gratitude to this couple. CHAPTER TWO ALEXANDER SMİTH, Earl of Glassford, tore his gaze away from the new arrival as his sister spoke from the carriage. “That must be Lady Daphne’s rumored American visitor,” Chloe declared. “Miss Gabrielle Bromley.” Her two new acquaintances—their neighbors Miss Lansdowne and her younger sister, Miss Penelope—craned their necks after the subject of their conversation. His friend from the wars, Lord Damon Hormsby, leaned forward on his chestnut mount. “I don’t doubt it.” “And how would you know that to be the case?” Alexander challenged. “She has that frank way about her, as I have noticed in Americans,” Damon said. “Did you all see how she gazed at us in such a direct manner?” “I didn’t know that you had an overabundance of American friends,” Alexander said dryly.
“I don’t, my friend, but I have met enough of them in London.” “I agree,” Miss Lansdowne said. “She certainly has a different air about her.” Alexander could sense a catty edge to Miss Lansdowne’s observation. He would never understand women fully, perhaps until his dying day, but he easily recognized jealousy when he heard it from the fairer sex. So. The new arrival’s name was Gabrielle. He liked the sound of it. Hinting of French. Unique.
Just like her beauty. He was drawn not only to her chestnut tresses and dark eyes, but that direct and curious stare which Damon had so rightly pointed out. He could sense the life—the joie de vivre—pulsating under that inquisitive gaze. The timing of her arrival was unfortunate. Distracting. After visiting Fenmore Castle, Alexander had already decided to woo Lady Fenmore’s fair daughter, Lady Daphne. His widowed mother had looked askance upon his plan to take up house in this peaceful little village with prosperous neighbors. A respite until the next Season, he told her, and then he could find his perfect match. Surely, he needn’t be casting his attention about on another beautiful lady. His horse pranced impatiently, as though trying to keep his thoughts on more important matters.
Alexander leaned forward and stroked his horse’s head under his mane, settling him. Samson was his favorite. Luckily, the gelding was only ten and would be with him for many years. Horses and hunting. Those were his first two passions. Women fell in there somewhere. He’d had his heart broken by at least one woman in recent years—he wasn’t keen on proceeding too quickly onto another. He would stay in safe waters and woo a suitable girl, and maybe, just maybe, this year would be the one to finally appease his mother. And ensure the continuity of the Glassford lineage. He should know about the importance of continuity; he’d been in the horse-breeding business for long enough.
An impeccable line trumped all else. The ladies were atwitter about Miss Bromley, so he listened once again. Miss Lansdowne began. “I heard that she’s of ‘questionable’ birth and that she has some connection to Lady Fenmore’s family line, so she’s giving her a chance for a do-over here in England.” Alexander couldn’t help himself, coming to the lady’s defense. “I would be careful bandying around such gossip, Miss Lansdowne, unless you are entirely sure of its veracity.” She fell silent, as he had hoped, and blushed pink. “You are too harsh, Glassford,” Damon said. “You must not be too severe upon our dear Miss Lansdowne.” Chloe jumped in, too.
“Now you toe the honorable line, brother, when I know very well that you welcome gossip over the breakfast table.” “That is slightly different,” Alexander said, not entirely sure of why he felt compassion for the newcomer, her beauty notwithstanding. “A lady’s reputation is easily marred, whereas a gentleman who gambles and tries to trick others into parting with their money is fair game for gossip.” He collected his horse. “At any rate, shall we proceed on to Brenton House?” It was a pathetic excuse to shut down the conversation that was increasingly making Alexander feel uncomfortable, but his friend and the ladies acquiesced until they were blessedly moving along. They had made a call on the Earl of Fenmore’s residence this afternoon, as was proper for neighbors, and had been received by the family, namely the Earl and Countess of Fenmore, and their lovely daughter, Daphne. The visit had gone off to a promising start, with him talking about his travels to Italy, but it became quickly apparent to Alexander that Lady Daphne had little interest in him, but rather in the art he had seen. A shame. She was a pretty girl, with unaffected manners. Well, maybe in time, he would be able to win her over.
They would be here for several weeks, during which he hoped their friendship could grow. Friendship. Was that all he truly wanted in life? How about passion and love? It would all come in good time, he assured himself. As their little caravan of horses and carriage went along down the country track, he gazed around, his spirits buoyed by the rusticity. So much space here to ride and gallop and enjoy the bounties of the earth. It was the perfect antidote to his heartbreak from the last Season—wrought upon him by a heartless and wealthy widow who lured him and spit him out for sport just to exercise some sort of power. To be quite honest, he was done with the London Season. He would much rather look for a wife in these parts. And Lady Daphne Cook was the perfect candidate. Then why, as he attempted to conjure up the image of the lady in his mind, did a certain brunette with a frank gaze enter his thoughts as well?