Tempting Miss Daisy – Tammy Andresen

Early spring…. Daisy watched her sister’s wedding, tears pricking at the back of her eyes. She was extremely happy for Abigail, who’d leave her position as a housekeeper in the Duke of Devon’s country estate to begin a new life with the handsome horse breeder, Mr. Ableman. Next to Daisy, her little charge, Lily, tugged on her hand. “It’s so pretty,” the girl sighed. “What is pretty?” she whispered. Lily was the daughter of the Duke of Devon, who had graciously allowed the girl to attend the wedding with Daisy. “The wedding,” Lily replied softly. Daisy smiled, stroking the girl’s blonde hair. “It certainly is.” “Do you think I’ll marry someday?” Lily sat straighter, looking about the small family chapel. “I’m sure you will. In fact, I imagine you’ll wed in this very church.” “Oh,” Lily breathed, clapping her hands once.

“That shall be fun.” “Indeed.” But Daisy’s smile slipped from her lips. She’d been dreaming of her own wedding since she was likely Lily’s age. Now, as a servant in a duke’s home, becoming a wife probably would never happen. Marriage was possible, of course. Her sister had managed it. As the housekeeper, she’d met the temporary stable master and had quickly accepted his proposal. Soon she’d be moving to a home of her own. “Will you marry?” Lily asked.

For the first time, Lily’s brother, Michael, who was six and considered himself much older and wiser, frowned at his sister. “Of course, Miss Daisy will marry.” That made her grin again as she tussled the boy’s hair. “Why do you say that?” “Because you’re very pretty,” Michael announced. “Everyone says so.” “Everyone?” She raised her brows. “Who?” “The men in the village, John the coachman, Mr. Hamstead the butcher.” “I know who Mr. Hamstead is,” she answered, patting Michael’s hand.

Heat had surely flushed her cheeks. She’d had no idea any of those men found her comely. “They’re about to say, I do. Let’s be quiet now. It’s not polite to talk during a ceremony.” But she could barely listen as she considered Michael’s words. Granted he was six, but had he really overheard men discussing her attractiveness? And if they found her attractive, would they be open to courting her? She shook her head. Nonsense. Whether they would, or they wouldn’t, was irrelevant. Daisy was happy with her life.

She loved the children, her job, the family she worked for. Wasn’t she? She caught herself questioning her own happiness as she sat in this pew. A quick glance up to the front of the church made her catch her lower lip between her teeth. Her sister held hands with her soon-to-be husband, Rex Ableman. Tall and broad, he held her sister’s gloved fingers in his like they were rare jewels. A treasure to be guarded and protected. She sighed. In her heart of hearts, she knew she wanted love too. But in all honesty, she wasn’t certain it mattered. Servants rarely wed, no matter how attractive they were.

The ceremony concluded, and everyone exited the church. His Grace had arranged a small wedding breakfast for her sister and Rex. Though Rex was a temporary stableman in the House of Devon, he’d started his own breeding program for prize horseflesh and the duke was about to be Rex’s partner. Abigail would soon step down as the housekeeper. Daisy’s heart twisted. Her sister would still be close, of course. But things would change when they no longer lived under the same roof. Abigail and Rex stood just outside the doors and she kissed her sister as they passed through the line. “I am so happy for you.” Abigail gave her sister a wide smile.

“Be happy for us. This means changes for you too.” Changes? What sort of changes? But she didn’t have a chance to ask before the next guest stepped up to Abigail. Still, Daisy’s thoughts were full as she and the children walked back to the main house. They could have taken the carriage, but in her time working with them, she’d learned that exercise made for well-behaved children and so they followed a path along the river that would wind its way back to the Devon estate. They’d arrive in plenty of time for the breakfast and merriment. Daisy stopped as the children ran ahead, looking at the blue sky above. It had rained two nights prior, the sort of torrential downpour that had the river running quickly, bubbling and gurgling as it traveled through the countryside. But her eyes were cast up to the sky as she said a silent prayer. “Help me find my future, please.

” In answer, she heard a splash as though something heavy had landed in the water. It was followed almost instantly by a scream. Her gaze snapped back to the river, her breath seizing in her chest as her heart raced. Lily still stood on the bank, but Michael was nowhere to be seen. “Michael?” she screamed, lifting her skirts and racing toward the bank. Lily pointed a silent finger toward the water where Michael’s head popped out of the surface. But he was fifteen feet or more from where Lily now stood, and the river carried him faster than Daisy ever imagined possible. “Michael,” she yelled again, racing past Lily. “Don’t move,” she cried to the girl as she pushed herself to accelerate her pace along the bank. She could barely keep up as her lungs and legs burned with the effort.

The boy’s head bobbed in and out of the water, his eyes wild with fear. She was gasping for breath but if she could just get ahead of him, she might be able to jump into the water. Surely, she could touch and be able to pull them both out. Normally the water only came to her knees. But just before she jumped, the sound of pounding horse hooves drowned out even the river and a giant stallion whooshed by her. Her hair blew in the breeze the huge beast created and she froze again, staring in disbelief at the powerful animal and the man holding the reins. The rider looked larger than life seated atop the great beast with his broad shoulders and dark hair whipping in the wind. The horse jumped headlong into the water and when both rider and animal emerged, the man held Michael by the scruff of the collar, the boy dangling from one massive fist. She let out a scream of her own, relief and lingering fear stilling her feet as the animal turned in the water and all three made their way back onto the bank. Tears pricked at her eyes and words of thanks bubbled on her lips as she reached for Michael.

But she never got the opportunity to utter them. “Are you in charge of this boy?” The man’s voice was strikingly deep and full, booming over the land. It made her shiver as though she’d been cast into cold water. “I am his tutor.” Her voice sounded so much smaller by comparison. He grimaced, as he dropped Michael into her waiting arms. “Is this one of Devon’s children?” She wrapped the soaking boy in her arms as he sobbed against her dress, his arms clutching at her neck. “Yes,” she answered as Lily ran toward them. Without a word, she knelt onto the grass, her legs hardly able to hold her as Lily tossed her little arms about her and Michael. “What happened?” he demanded, climbing down from his stallion, his fine wool coat completely drenched.

She swallowed. Now on her knees, he looked miles taller than her, rather harsh and imposing. His dark hair was now plastered back, revealing his near-black sparkling eyes, strong jaw, and prominent cheekbones. Irritation and stern judgment rolled off him in waves. “We were walking home from my sister’s wedding. It was part of a lesson. The river is high.” “You’re a tutor?” His voice was sharp. Disapproval dripping from every word even as water soaked through her clothing from the soaking boy. Clearly her answers weren’t doing a thing to stem his annoyance.

“What do you tutor them in?” Why did she feel like a child next to this man? “Decorum.” His eyebrows rose. “You ought to be more careful allowing children to play near fastmoving rivers. I’ll have to speak with the duke about this.” There was nothing she could say to refute the charge. Though it grated her, he was correct. She nodded, closing her eyes. Would the duke fire her for such a gaffe? Perhaps she ought to see if one of those men Michael had mentioned was truly interested in courting her after all. Chapter One Nine months later… Lord Cole Hartwell sat atop his horse, once again staring at the Duke of Devon’s residence. The façade was the same.

Large and imposing, the stone structure rose from the surrounding landscape like a force of nature. The river was still there, though bits of ice bobbed down its surface. But everything else looked different. No longer lush and green, the brown and grey landscape of winter stretched around the property. It was nearly Christmastide and Cole had returned here to procure a gift for his prospective bride. His gift, a new stallion. He’d yet to propose. The stallion was part of his plan to ask for her hand. She was a headstrong, willful sort of woman, which might not have suited him, but her bloodlines were excellent, and her social connections beyond compare, the sort he needed to lift up his family’s name. Thus, he needed his proposal to be truly spectacular.

Hence the horse and a long journey to procure the animal. Devon was a well-known horse enthusiast and he had a stable full of excellent prospects. The duke had also paired with an up-and-coming breeder and England was abuzz with the potential of the partnership. He grimaced as he glanced down at the very spot where he’d dove headlong into the water the last time he’d been here. It was hard to imagine now, the water looked so ominously cold. Cole wondered what had happened to the tutor…what had her name been? Marigold? Lily? He grimaced. Likely, the answer didn’t matter, she’d surely been sacked. He did remember that she’d been a pretty little thing. Blonde hair, thick and full and barely contained after her run. Large brown eyes and a pert little nose.

Flushed cheeks and full lips had rounded out her features. Even after he’d had to dive into the water, and emerged soaking wet, he’d noticed her beauty. Which surely meant she was uncommonly so. He shook his head. Why was he even thinking of her? As a baron, he’d have to wed soon enough, but surely the staff of a duke was not the best place to look. Besides, he was done searching Hence his return. Still, he’d found himself thinking of the Duke’s tutor more than once over the past several months. Would he see her today? She might have been sacked. He’d been obligated to tell the man about his son’s dunk in the water. Cole had arrived at their first appointment soaking wet.

But he’d wondered more than once if the pretty blonde was still in the duke’s employ. There was only one way to find out. Kicking his horse forward, he started toward the house once again. After plucking the child from the river on his last visit, he’d managed to procure a contract to possibly purchase one of the yearlings in Devon’s stable. A debt he’d come back to collect. As he moved closer to the house, a biting wind picked up, and he urged his own steed faster, noting that several people stood outside, awaiting his arrival. He nearly drew his horse short when he noted his little tutor, standing next to the two children. So, she’d retained her position after all. Not that she was his concern. Silly thing to even think about her situation.

But something pleasing slid down his spine at the sight of her in her smart pelisse and handwarmer. Her thick hair was tucked under a bonnet, but he could see the elaborate coif that came out the back of its confines. Her eyes were hidden by the bonnet’s brim but he could see the lush curve of her lips and the rosy tint to her cheeks. The Duke of Devon stepped forward. “Greetings. It’s a pleasure to see you again.” Cole swung down off his horse, dropping into a bow of respect. “Your Grace.” He straightened, gazing at Devon’s tutor again. “I’m glad to see your children are well.

” Devon’s eyebrows rose. “Thanks to you, they are.” He’d like to ask about the tutor, though the questions that came to mind surprised him. He wished to know less about why she wasn’t sacked and more about… well…about what she did with herself. “You remember Michael and Lily, of course.” He inclined his head toward the children. A little nudge from the tutor and Michael bent in a bow. “Thank you again, my lord.” “You’re welcome.” But his eyes weren’t on the boy but on the woman who stood behind him.

“You remember Miss Frank, of course,” Devon said. She tilted her chin so that their eyes met. Hers a startling bright shade of blue that made his insides clench again. “Of course.” “I also owe you a debt of gratitude, my lord,” she murmured, dipping into a curtsey. “Fortunately for you, Miss Frank, his lordship is a horseflesh enthusiast, which means he’s most eager to meet your brother-in-law. I’m sure he’d consider the debt repaid if you would arrange a dinner with your family.” Brother-in-law? Miss Frank was related to Rex Ableman? How had he missed that detail the last time he’d been here? “I’d be happy to. I’ll write to my sister and Mr. Ableman directly.

” He saw her lips tilt up into a tentative smile, both sweet and endearing. He pressed his gloved fingers against his thigh.

.

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