Her Mistletoe Promise – Jaye Peaches

The heavy weight of her wet skirts rubbed against her frozen thighs. She shivered and drew the hood of her cape over her tangled hair in a futile attempt to keep her ears warm. What a fool she was to think it would be an easy task to walk ten miles in the worst fog she had ever encountered. Rupert pulled on his leash, his low-slung belly hidden in the grasses of the meadow. His fur was matted, and he kept staring at her with his pathetic black eyes. She should have left him at home. Her misadventure was due to her lust for a rakish man she had only met a week ago, and it seemed she was intoxicated by the rogue officer with his tufts of golden hair and sharp eyes. On Christmas night, he had lain between her bare legs, touched her breasts with his lips, and sought sanctuary in the core of her being. By the firelight, she had allowed him to do as he pleased for the sheer pleasure of knowing she had seduced him into bed. Now, a day later, she wanted nothing more than to be under him again and felt not a morsel of regret for pursuing him. If she could only reach him and explain to him what had happened in London, then she might encourage him to act upon the naughty things her imagination conjured up. The meadow was blanketed in fog. She thought she knew the way and now realised she was quite lost and had been for at least an hour. Soon it would be dark, and then she would be at the mercy of the bitter December night. She could not even turn back as she had wandered off the path home.

The swirl of white was as dense as a blizzard, and it brought with it a dampness that reminded her of rain. Rupert yapped and without warning tugged so hard on his leash he broke free. The dangling lead followed him as he disappeared into the fog. “Rupert, come back here!” The yaps grew distant. The wretched dog had abandoned her, too. What now? She slumped against a tree. If only she had taken a carriage, but then her deceitful plan would have been revealed by a groom, and her grandparents would have summoned her back. She could not endure their disappointment at second time. Once was unbearable. “Please, please,” she prayed softly.

“I need you, my love.” However, her lover was probably still miles away, sat in front of a warm fire, eating plum pudding and content to let her go. He had, after all, said as much in his letter. He was not a good choice, he had implied, but therein was her problem: she was hardly the gentile lady. She needed to persevere. Something, a little voice of reason in her head, told her they were probably perfect for each other. Jenny picked up her skirts and strode in the direction Rupert had taken. The dog probably had better sense than her. Chapter 2 16th December 1809 Jenny Templeton stabbed the linen with a needle and pricked her finger. “Ow,” she muttered before sucking hard on her fingertip.

The morning sunlight filtered through the windowpane and landed on her lap, illuminating the white cloth and blackwork. A tiny spot of blood had spread itself over the last few stitches. “Oh bother,” she exclaimed, tossing the embroidery onto the window seat. From across the room, her grandmother bellowed, “What’s that, my dear?” Jenny rose to her feet. “Nothing, Grandma,” she shouted back. Susannah Templeton’s face creased into a multitude of disapproving wrinkles. “There’s no need to shout.” Jenny rolled her eyes to the ceiling fresco—adorned with chubby cherubs and large oyster shells— and ignored the remark. There was every need to raise her voice when speaking to her grandmother. The copper horn, which Susannah used to augment her hearing, was grasped in her bony hand, and although it assisted, it remained nothing more than a rudimentary aide and hardly a decent replacement for loss of hearing.

Before Jenny could reach the couch where her grandmother sat, there was a thump at the door. The footman, who never bothered to wait for an answer on the basis he would never receive one from Susannah, swept into the room holding a silver platter that bore a single letter. “This has just arrived from Bockhampton House, ma’am,” he yelled into the horn. “Bockhampton?” Susannah’s face lit up, and she snatched the letter off the tray, dismissing the servant with a cursory nod. “Aunt Kitty?” Jenny had a soft spot for her mother’s sister. She handed her grandmother the letter opener and waited impatiently for Susannah to retrieve the letter, fumble to balance her spectacles on the end of her nose, then read the lengthy missive. Jenny perched on the edge of the couch and attempted to catch sight of the flowery lettering. This had to be good news, she thought. Only that morning, Jenny had dispatched a letter to her friend, Lydia, in London, bemoaning the lack of entertainment at Bereworth Hall, and the sorrowful state of wintery malaise surrounding Weymouth and Poole. In a few days’ time it would be Christmas, and she had yet to be invited to a single party or ball.

Since she had left the busy streets of Belgravia three months earlier, Jenny continued to lament her solitary confinement while Lydia filled her letters with gossip and excitement. In reply, Jenny had little to tell her friend. As for William, Lydia had made no mention of his name. She had skirted around the scandal with the exception of reassuring Jenny that London continued to view her situation with sympathy. Or pity, as Jenny saw it. She did not want pity. What she desired above all else was a fresh start in life after wasting three years in London hunting for a husband. She might as well wear black and pretend she was a widow. Lydia pointed out that nobody blamed Jenny, and that Jenny’s godmother, Lucretia, was at fault, something upon which Susannah agreed. “If a priest can be defrocked, then a godparent should be stripped of their responsibilities.

Your late mother would never have allowed her to represent your interests, Jenny.” Susannah had cast off Lucretia the day Jenny had arrived on the doorstep of Bereworth Hall in floods of tears. Tears not of grief or sorrow, but anger and embarrassment. However, that was three months ago, and now Jenny felt fully recovered and keen to acquaint herself with the tepid social scene of Dorset. “Well?” she asked her grandmother. “What does Kitty have to say?” “Your aunt is hosting an evening of cards and merriment.” Jenny clapped her hands together. “How exciting. When?” “Three days’ time.” “Oh, bless her.

She’s come to my rescue.” Jenny’s aunt lived six miles away at Bockhampton House, an old Jacobean mansion that belonged to her husband’s family. Richard Longleat was a naval captain and busy chasing pirates in the West Indies. He had not been home for nearly a year, and then only for a few weeks to witness the wedding of his daughter to a tedious parson and to ensure his son had not been sent down from Oxford University for highly unlikely lewd behaviour. Jenny really could not understand why her dizzy aunt Kitty had married into such a pious and pompous family. Jenny suspected that given Richard’s long absences, the arrangement suited them perfectly—she had provided him with healthy children and a well-run household, and he removed himself from her company as often as possible. Alone at Bockhampton, Kitty had nobody to refuse her request for a little soiree. “She’s inviting your cousin and her husband, the Lady Helena Bagshott, the honourable Timothy Squares and his wife…” Susannah rattled off a few more names of the local gentry, none of whom sounded the slightest bit eligible. Jenny’s enthusiasm waned. “And a Lieutenant Seton.

” Susannah’s lips formed a crumpled pucker. “Seton,” she repeated. “Do you know him?” “Pardon, my dear?” Susannah turned to face her granddaughter. Jenny lowered her fluttering fan and ensured her lips were visible. “Do you know Lieutenant Seton?” Susannah folded the letter. “I know of him. By reputation.” The tone of her voice was not promising. “I gather it is not a good reputation,” she yelled into the horn propped against Susannah’s ear. The white crest of Susannah’s hair tipped sideways as she craned to hear Jenny speak.

“He’s a cavalry officer,” Susannah explained. “He was in Spain fighting the Frenchies. From what I know, he was sent back in disgrace and is currently living at his cousin’s house.” “Whatever for?” Far from being put off, Jenny was intrigued by the mystery. “Cannot recall. A military matter. I gather his father is an important friend of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the general, and it saved him the ignominy of a court martial. I do not think it wise to associate yourself with him at your aunt’s until the dust has settled around his feet. As you well know, country folk can be such harsh judges. However, we must endeavour to keep an open mind.

” “Naturally, Grandma.” Susannah flicked open her fan and waved it before her face, covering her mouth. “I fully intend to keep an open mind. Lieutenant Seton and I could both benefit.” “What’s that, my dear?” “Nothing, Grandma. Nothing.”

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