Heroes Always Tempt Ladies – Catherine Mayfair

Miss Charlotte Dowding needed a husband. But at the age of twenty, she had yet to find a suitor with whom she could imagine spending the remainder of her life. If she did not want to become a spinster, she had little time to find a man to marry. Not that one and twenty was considered a spinster, but it was becoming all too close to the age of spinsterhood in her mind. The task in finding the right man to marry should have been simple. She did not lack beauty, for many men often gave her wide, appreciative smiles. Nor did she suffer from too few suitors, for numerous cards arrived every month followed by calls from eligible gentlemen at least once a week. She never told any man outright that she would never choose him for marriage, so oftentimes the guests were on their second or later call. The fact of the matter was that men tended to be quite boring. If the way the men who called on her spoke was to be believed, they lived mundane lives that lacked a whit of adventure. What woman wanted to hear about business dealings, land acquisitions, and hunting? Such talk always threatened to put her to sleep. Whenever she suggested topics such as travel and the discovery of new lands, they were dismissed as irrelevant to the discussion, and her guest would revert to the boring. Then there was her inheritance. The wealth of Pinewood Estates was great, and many men wished to marry her for that reason alone. That worried her.

A man should want to wed her based on his view of her and not for what she could provide him! Letting out a heavy sigh, her gaze turned to Henry, the family gardener, who went about pruning the hedges with a smile. Now, that man led a simple life. He would not spend his days talking of mundane topics, she mused. Then again, he would more than likely relegate the discussion of the best methods for tending flowers or cutting grass. “Has your desperation grown so great that you are considering taking your gardener as your husband?” Miss Anna Gilding, a dear friend and Charlotte’s closest confidante, said as she came to stand beside her. “There are more worthy suitors if you are patient.” Charlotte laughed. “I am not considering Henry, silly. Though, if I do not find a husband within the next six months, I may have no choice.” Charlotte’s mother had died while giving birth to Charlotte.

Her father, having loved his wife to the point of distraction, had never remarried and had doted on his only child all her life. Then her beloved father had died two years ago. It was at the reading of his will when Charlotte learned that if she married before reaching the age of one and twenty, the inheritance would be hers. He had given her the opportunity to become an heiress in her own right, and she could not have loved him more for it. What bothered her was the added stipulation. If she failed to marry by the aforementioned date, the estate and all its holdings would be given to the church. Oh, she would receive a generous allowance and a cottage in which to live, but her childhood home would become some sort of sanctuary for a gaggle of nuns! In her opinion, Pinewood Estates was much too wonderful to be resigned to such a fate. One might believe that finding a husband would be an easy task, but Charlotte tended to be particular in her choices. The most particular was that she had to love the man before they married. “Lord Walsh has indicated a great interest in you,” Anna said, always willing to do what she could to lend Charlotte her aid.

“He is handsome and would make a fine husband.” Charlotte snorted. “He is only interested in my inheritance,” she said. “I will not marry a man for convenience nor as a means to supply him with wealth, which in all reality is a marriage for his convenience. What of mine?” Of the many men she had received since the passing of her father, Charlotte was surprised how many mentioned the estate – and thus her inheritance. And of those who did not mention it, Charlotte could not help but question their motives. It seemed everyone knew of this condition of her father’s will, so why not make it a part of the conversation? It had become a spiral of worry, and perhaps a bit of wariness, whenever she spoke to a gentleman. What she wanted was to marry for love, but with each passing day, that hope dwindled. Soon there would be no hope, for did a man exist who loved her for the woman she was and not for the wealth she could give him? Based on her experience thus far, she had high doubts. “Miss Dowding,” Crandall said from the doorway, “Lord Pernhope to see you.

” Charlotte turned to see her oldest friend walk past the butler. Lord Matthew Pernhope was three years older than Charlotte with round cheeks and a hearty smile that always brought warmth to even the coldest of days. “Shall I bring a tray?” Crandall asked. “Yes, please,” Charlotte said. She went to Matthew and gave him a quick hug. “I am pleased to see you.” She ignored his reddened cheeks. “What news do you bring me?” “I’m afraid my cousin Thomas has already found a bride,” he said. “And Lord Torington inquired after your holdings, so he is no match, either.” Charlotte shook her head.

Was there not a decent man to be found anywhere? Perhaps she would have to marry the gardener after all. Matthew looked down at the floor. “I have failed you once again.” Charlotte’s heart went out to him. “You are a wonderful friend,” she said, pleased he smiled at this. “I am thankful you have helped me in my endeavor to find a proper suitor.” She directed him to a chair and joined Anna on the couch. Anna could nearly pass for a twin to Charlotte. Though their hair color differed – Charlotte’s was as blond as Anna’s was dark – they had much in common with their blue eyes, slender noses, and pouting lips. Well, twins may be a far stretch.

Cousins perhaps? Yet, they had one more difference. Anna wore a ring on her finger that symbolized the love she had for her husband where Charlotte did not. “I can see as plain as day that you want to give up,” Anna said. “You will find a gentleman, but it will take time.” “Thank you,” Charlotte said. “I will keep searching, though I fear I will need a great deal of luck to see it happen.” Guilt overtook her. She had not meant to make such a fuss over her problems. Her friends had not called over to hear her complain. “Forgive me for my wretched behavior,” she said with a sigh.

“You came to enjoy conversation not to hear a sorrowful tale.” Crandall entered with a tray ladened with a silver tea set, teacups with saucers, and tiny sandwiches. Once he had served the tea, he bowed and left the room once more. “Your tale is not sorrowful,” Matthew said once the door closed behind the butler. “And we do not mind helping you. In fact, we enjoy it, do we not, Anna?” Anna echoed her agreement. “Now that we have settled that, I have a wonderful idea.” “And what would that be?” Charlotte asked, bringing her teacup to her lips. “We will travel to London to find you a gentleman,” the young woman said. Charlotte nearly choked on the tea and quickly set the cup on the table.

“London?” she asked with a gasp. “I will not go to London. It is much too far, and what if I meet a gentleman who does not wish to leave the city? I do not want to live there.” “What about Cornwall?” Matthew offered. “Perhaps you can marry a man with property near the ocean.” Though his suggestion was kind, Charlotte shook her head. “There must be a gentleman near here,” she said, looking at the sky through the window. “One who is handsome and brave, kind but assertive, one who will understand how important my memories of Pinewood Estates mean to me. Surely I will find such a man.” Though her words sounded confident, she did not feel it, but she had burdened her friends long enough.

They drank their tea in silence, and Charlotte began to consider the advice her friends had given her. Perhaps she should travel to find a husband. Though she did not wish to live in London, if she fell in love, would it matter where they chose to reside? What was more important, love or remaining in her current home? Plus, they could retain Pinewood Estates as their country home, where they would live during the hot summer months. As she thought on these things, a wonderful melody came to her ears, the words to a song she had never heard before. Come day or night, fair maiden, do not cling to despair. For the Man in Black will save you and take away all of your fear. The door opened, and Matilda entered the room, a dust rag in her hand and a smile on her lips. No more than thirteen, the young maid continued with her song. He is handsome, he is brave, and… Upon seeing Charlotte and her guests in the room, the girl cried out and covered her mouth. “Oh, Miss Charlotte, forgive me!” Matilda said, her eyes wide, “It was so quiet when I listened at the door, I didn’t know anyone was here!” She appeared ready to burst into tears, but Charlotte hurried over to her.

“There is no need to worry,” she said. “You only want to finish your chores, do you not?” The girl nodded her head, and Charlotte brushed back a strand of red hair that peeked out from under her mob cap. Matilda’s mother had passed on two years earlier, and having experienced the loss of her father that same year, Charlotte felt a certain kinship to the young maid. They shared a pain many could not fathom, and though it was frowned upon being seen embracing a servant, or even acknowledging them, Charlotte cared not. “I’ll come back later,” Matilda said. She bent down to retrieve the dust rag she had dropped. Charlotte, however, caught the girl before she could leave. “Matilda, you have a lovely singing voice.” Beaming, the girl curtsied. “Thank you, Miss.

” “But that song you were singing? I have never heard it before. Would you please tell me about it?” “Oh, it’s sung by many of the servants, Miss,” Matilda replied. “Or rather the women servants.” She giggled. “The men just grow jealous, especial the married ones.” She tilted her head, her cheeks as red as her hair. “Haven’t your heard of the Man in Black, Miss?” Charlotte shook her head. “I have not. Who is he?” “He’s a hero, Miss! He rescues women who find themselves in all sorts of troubles. It don’t matter if they’re rich or poor, neither.

He don’t care one bit as long as he helps those who need it.” Fascinated by the tale, Charlotte smiled. “Help how?” A look of excitement crossed the young girl’s features. “If they’re kidnapped, or robbed on the road, he rescues them. He can fight with both blade and fist! And whether it be one man or ten, he can’t be bested.” Her grin widened. “He’s said to be awfully handsome, and any woman who looks upon him falls in love with him.” Charlotte thought the tale sweet, but no man such as this Man in Black existed. Not today. The song was probably at least a hundred years old, for gallant men lived back during that time.

How sad that such bravery could not be found today. A snort erupted from Matthew, but Anna clicked her tongue at him. “The girl speaks the truth,” Anna said. “I have heard the same said concerning the man. Apparently, he roams the woods not far from here. I overheard one of my servants speaking of how he rescued her sister.” Her heart picking up several beats, Charlotte had to click her jaw shut. She had to look a right goose standing there with her mouth hanging open! “Are you jesting?” she demanded. “Is this man real?” “From what I understand, he is,” Anna said. “I will tell you what was told to me.

” “Go on, then,” Charlotte said, settling back into the seat beside her friend. Anna shifted to face Charlotte. “Well, according to my maid, her sister was spirited away with promises of marriage only to find herself sold into prostitution!” Charlotte gasped. “No! Surely these things do not happen in this day and age!” Anna nodded. “I am afraid they do. If it were not for the Man in Black, her life would be ruined today.” Matilda, who had remained behind at Charlotte’s behest, nodded agreement. “You see, Miss! It’s true! I knew it was!” “And what do you think, Matthew?” Charlotte asked. Matthew responded with a dismissive wave of his hand. “They are all simply rumors, in my opinion.

Does this man, according to the servants anyway, operate in secret?” Matilda and Anna both shook their heads. “Then how is it that everyone seems to know about him?” It was a fair question as far as Charlotte was concerned, but Anna simply shrugged. Matilda, however, stared with wide eyes as if she did. “Do you have an opinion, Matilda?” Charlotte asked. When the girl’s widened further, this time in embarrassment, and maybe a bit of horror at being asked to respond, Charlotte added, “It is all right. You may tell us what you have heard.” The girl swallowed visibly, her cheeks well beyond the red in her hair. “Well, from what I’ve heard, that’s how he’s able to help people. When criminals believe he don’t exist, he’s dismissed as legend. But that’s why they can’t escape his wrath! They’re jealous because women love him.

” She paused to tilt her head. “I guess that don’t make much sense, does it?” Matthew sighed, but Charlotte nibbled her lip. “So, this man may very well exist,” she whispered. The idea brought a smile to her face. So, there was a handsome and brave man, a hero to those in distress, out there somewhere. He was exactly the type of man for whom she was searching! “Matilda, you may continue with your dusting if you would like or return later if you prefer. I may have more questions for you, however.” The girl curtsied and moved to a shelf of porcelain figurines that lined a shelf along the far wall. They had belonged to Charlotte’s mother, and neither Charlotte nor her father could bear to remove them. Charlotte tapped her lips with a finger.

“I must meet this man,” she said firmly after several moments of silence. “Are you serious?” Matthew asked. “But you have not been kidnapped,” Anna said. “How do you propose to do that?” Nibbling at her lip once more, she began to pace the floor. Then an idea occurred to her. “I know!” she said with an excited gasp. “I will stage a robbery! When he hears my cries of distress, he will appear and rescue me. Then I will see for myself who this man is!” Her heart raced with anticipation as these events unfolded in her mind. He would arrive upon a great stallion. Maybe he would even pull her into his arms and kiss her.

Was such a brave deed not worthy of such a reward? Her joy was short-lived when Matthew rose from his chair in a huff. “Charlotte, we have been friends for many years now, and I have stood by you in every decision you have ever made. But I cannot allow you to go through with something that could possibly jeopardize your honor.” He came to stand before her and took her hands in his. “You are a lady. What you propose is nothing short of madness. I will not allow you to ruin your name in such an absurd manner.” His words pricked her as readily as any thorn. “You are wrong,” she said with a jut to her chin. “It is not madness.

It is desperation. If I do not find a man to wed soon, I will lose everything I have ever cared about. You must understand my dilemma!” Matthew sighed. “I do understand, but as a lady you must remain as such. Having yourself carried off into the woods in hopes of meeting some fabled man is beneath you.” He dropped her hands and turned on his heel. “Good day to you.” Charlotte’s heart hurt as she watched her friend walk out the door. “What have I done?” Anna walked up to her. “He is hurt,” she said in a quiet voice.

“It is obvious he views you through the eyes of more than just friendship.” Charlotte could only sigh. She, too, had noticed the changes in him over the past months, and though she still loved him as a friend, she had no interest in him beyond that. “I suppose I should speak to him about where we stand when he calls next,” she said. “For now, though, I want to try to find this Man in Black.” “And if you cannot?” She could not help but to heave another heavy sigh. “Then I am off to London to find a husband.”

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