A Mistaken Identity [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Fenella Miller
eBook Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
eBook Description: When Emma Ellison met two unknown gentlemen in the plum orchard she guessed one of them was Lord Denver. She disliked his companion on sight. But Lord Denver improved on acquaintance and Emma believed that he returned her affections--until he treated her cruelly. She left the vicarage broken-hearted. Would Richard find a way to change her mind? Regency Romance novella by Fenella Miller; originally published by DC Thomson's My Weekly Pocket Novel
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, Published: 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2009
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15 Reader Ratings:
'Someone's coming. Em, what shall we do? Will we be transported if we're caught here?'
Emma Meadows smiled reassuringly at her younger sister knowing that if she reacted as dramatically as Eugenie, what would be merely an embarrassing encounter might well turn into an unmitigated disaster. She felt her sister pressing close behind and she straightened her spine, whoever it was, they had no more right to be in Lord Denver's orchards than they.
The sound of male voices approaching through the overgrown and neglected trees meant there was no time for them to hide; they would have to brazen it out. She shoved her hair more firmly under her dilapidated straw bonnet and whispered to her sister. 'Keep your head down, pretend we're village girls; with any luck they will ignore us.'
The branches parted and she was face to face with a smiling blonde Adonis who stood six feet at least, and was obviously a gentleman of some wealth, judging by his fine apparel. She couldn't see his companion clearly, only that he was a somewhat shorter and dressed in more sombre garb.
The blonde man spoke, his voice light and teasing. 'Look, Dolly, what do we have here? Two fair maidens up to their knees in stolen bounty.'
Emma felt her cheeks flush. She already had an inkling that this could be none other than the errant Lord Denver himself. Since he had inherited the property and the title from his uncle two years ago, he had been conspicuous by his absence. The grounds that become neglected and the once grand abbey, sadly dilapidated.
Remembering her decision to play the part of a simple country wench she kept her head down and dipped in a curtsy, the shallow basket she had hooked over her arm almost spilt its contents. She glanced from below her lowered lashes hoping to see more of the oddly named gentleman who accompanied Denver.
The man who stepped out from behind his companion was dark in every aspect - his clothes, his countenance, his hair and especially his expression. She had never seen a man so inappropriately named.
Looking down his aristocratic nose the man spoke, his voice a patronising drawl that sent a surge of anger around her and she was forced to bite her lips to prevent herself answering inappropriately.
'My dear Percy, these are not poachers as we thought, but thieves nonetheless.' She braced herself, almost expecting him to raise a foppish eyeglass and peer at her disdainfully. 'You have no right to be here, you are trespassers.'
Of course they were trespassing, and had been doing so with equanimity this past few years. The previous Lord Denver had had no objection to anyone helping themselves to his fruit, he had no wish to use if himself as he lived the life of a recluse. As long as no one disturbed him he was happy to ignore the intrusions on to his property and even turned a blind eye to the taking of game.
'Things obviously need to change. Come now, Dolly, let's not be harsh . The fruit is going to waste, we have no wish for the plums, so why not let the matter go?'
The supercilious gentleman shrugged as if bored with the whole scenario. 'On this occasion I am happy to be guided by you, Percy.' He stared hard and Emma was made to feel like a child standing in front of an irate parent. 'You may keep the fruit you have, but do not trespass here again, is that clear?'
The man turned his back, not bothering to wait for an answer and strolled off the way he had
come, leaving only the far more pleasant Lord Denver to face them. Emma was at a loss to know why his sour companion could feel it behooved him to offer his advice on the matter, but the ways of the aristocracy were unfathomable to her.
'Ignore him, I give you my blessing to help yourself to whatever is here. There will be no workmen employed in this part of the grounds for a while.'
Emma curtsied again. 'Thank you kindly, my lord.' She decided it would be safer not to say any more, it would be hard to disguise the fact that she was gently born if she spoke more than a few words. He nodded and smiled, his face open and friendly, quite unlike his taciturn companion, then he too, vanished through the overhanging branches.
'Well, imagine that? We're the first to meet the new Lord Denver. Papa will be glad he's finally come to take up the reins of the estate. Not before time, mind you, his tenants are in sore need of new roofs and the...'
'I beg you, Em, please don't start one of your political rants just now, I couldn't bear it. Quickly, as we've finished what we came to do, let's get home before the horrible one comes back and sneers at us again.'
'Aggie, look what we've got, we have four baskets of plums for you.' Eugenie burst into the large kitchen of the vicarage and dropped her baskets on the table in front of their cook-housekeeper, and dearest friend, Agatha Smith.
'Well, my love, you've both been very busy. I reckon there's enough here to make preserves and some wine and for the master.' The elderly lady beamed at the younger daughter of Mr Meadows, the vicar at St Margaret's.
'Now, Miss Emma, what ails you? You look as if you've swallowed a stone.'
Emma released the vice like grip she had on her baskets and forced her mouth to curve.
'Nothing is the matter, Aggie, those baskets were heavy, that's all.' She stepped back, rubbing her forearms were the handles had dug in so painfully. 'We met the new Lord Denver, Papa will be pleased to know he's finally here.'
She hurried out of the room, unwilling to discuss the unsettling encounter even with Aggie, who was more like a mother to them than a servant. As she hurried from the back of the house, along uncarpeted passageways, she met the only other indoor servant they employed, Jane, who acted as both lady's maid and maid of all work. At the vicarage they all helped with the domestic duties, even her father did his turn by fetching in the coal and logs for the fires.
'Oh, miss, the master has just returned and he's in a right old fluster; he says as you should go and see him right away.'
'Thank you, Jane, I'll go immediately.'
Emma had a shrewd idea what had disturbed her father, he must have heard about the arrival of Lord Denver. He had been, like the tenants, living in suspense for the past two years, waiting to know if his position as the vicar would be confirmed, or if the new Lord Denver would wish to replace him with his own incumbent.
It had been difficult for all three of them since Mama had died five years ago, the annuity she had received from her grandparents had ceased and the meagre amount they were obliged to live on made the fruit from Lord Denver's estate an essential part of their livelihood. They grew all their own vegetables, and had a house cow and fowl, but it was still hard sometimes to feed them all.
She paused outside the study, a large room to the left of the front door which made it convenient for parishioners who wished to visit. Remembering, at the last moment, that she still wore the apron and bonnet she had donned before her excursion in order to protect her clothes.
She glanced into the one mirror they possessed which hung beside the front door, in the draughty entrance hall, so that anyone entering or leaving the premises could check their appearance was satisfactory. Her hair, after being so rudely crushed under her hat was in total disarray. She quickly smoothed it down, tucking in the errant curls, and refastening the pins in the coil out at the back of her head. Papa had told her she was the image of her paternal grandmother, who also had sparkling green eyes and flaming red hair. It was most unfortunate, she had been told many times, that she had also inherited a temper to match her fiery locks.
She tapped on the door and went in without waiting for an answer. 'Here I am, Papa, and I can guess your news. Denver is finally in residence at the abbey.'
The man, who turned to face her, smiled, making him look younger than his three score years. 'So, my dear girl, you've heard as well; the whole village is atwitter. It seems an army of workmen is to be employed to repair and renovate the building and then a full staff is to be found for the house and grounds.'
'That's good news indeed, Papa. It will give welcome employment in the vicinity. Times are hard for all those working on the fields nowadays.'
'I shall not trouble him with a visit until after the weekend. I am hoping he will attend the service on Sunday and I can introduce myself.' He smiled fondly at his eldest daughter. 'I hope you and Eugenie have something a little more... well, a little tidier to wear at church.'
Emma laughed. 'You know we have. This gown is a disgrace, but remember we only have a few decent dresses so when we're working we must wear our oldest clothes.'
She prayed her father would not think to enquire how she had heard the news that the abbey was now occupied again; luckily he must have assumed Aggie had informed her and asked no further questions.
'It will be a relief to have the matter settled, my dear. As you know I have already written to your grandparents, Sir James and Lady Masterson, and they have expressed themselves willing to take you and Eugenie under their wing, if that should become necessary.'
'I've already told you, Papa, whatever happens we must try and stay together as a family. If Mama's parents had wished to be involved in our lives they should have taken an interest from the outset. I have no wish to be taken in as a charity case. Perhaps Eugenie and I could find employment somewhere, we are both well educated, you have seen to that. We could become schoolteachers or take up a position as a governess. Then you could go and live with Aunt May.'
Her father looked at her, his expression tender. 'If I am living with my sister and you two are working in separate establishments it would not be keeping the family together. My dear, surely it would be better for you and Eugenie to be together, and staying with blood relatives, rather than working with strangers?'
'You're right, I'm talking fustian. If we cannot be here together, then I must do my best to take care of Eugenie, even if it means going to live with our grandparents who have, as far as we are aware, no wish to accommodate us.'
'Please do not scowl, my love. It might not come to pass. Lord Denver might well allow me to continue here and then no-one will have to move.' He paused, waving to her to be seated and stop prowling around the room. 'However, I think, whatever happens, you and your sister must take up their kind offer to introduce you in society. You have little fortune to entice a suitor, but you are both so lovely, I'm sure you will receive a suitable offer.'
This was another bone of contention between them. Emma had no desire to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. She wanted to choose her own husband, as had her mother, and marry for love, not profit.