Anita Birt A Very Difficult Man


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Anita Birt A Very Difficult Man

  1. 1. A Cerridwen Press Publication A Very Difficult Man ISBN 9781419907913 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. A Very Difficult Man Copyright© 2007 Anita Birt Edited by Helen Woodall. Cover art by Syneca. Electronic book Publication: February 2007 With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc., 1056 Home Avenue, Akron, OH 44310-3502. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously. Cerridwen Press is an imprint of Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.®
  2. 2. A VERY DIFFICULT MAN Anita Birt
  3. 3. Dedication For Bill, my wonderful husband, for his encouragement and unfailing good humor. And my critique partners: Jo Beverley, Naomi Bellis, Solveig McLaren, Lee McKenzie-McAnally and Shereen Vedam.
  4. 4. A Very Difficult Man Chapter One England 1855 Her shoulders hunched against the storm, Catherine wiped her stinging eyes with a gloved hand. Gale force winds swept drenching rain through the bare branched trees bordering the drive to Glenmore Manor. Why had no one met her at Abbeyleigh station as promised? She hadn’t mistaken the day. Her duties were to commence on March first. Lady Glenmore’s letter had confirmed the arrangements. She was too fatigued to climb the wall again and return to the road. The village, three miles distant, might as well be thirty or three hundred—there’d be no shelter this late in the day and no London train until morning. Her mother had begged her not to accept employment as a companion. “You’ll be spurned by society, gossiped about at parties. You’ve been out for a year and you’ll not find eligible gentlemen in a country parish. I don’t know what’s to become of you.” A sudden gust snatched Catherine’s bonnet and hurled it into a puddle. She swooped down, grabbed the bonnet and battled the weather to save it from total ruin. The pretty violet posy she’d pinned under the brim before leaving London flew across the grassy park and disappeared into a rising mist. Huddled into her sodden coat she trudged on. Freed from the bonnet her tangled wet hair dripped chilly water down her neck. Wretchedly unhappy she peered ahead into the gathering gloom. Distant lights flickered in the manor windows. A hound bayed in the distance, joined by another close by. Terrified they might attack she picked up her feet and ran, praying the storm would throw them off the scent. Close to collapse, gasping for breath she stumbled up the stone steps to the manor and pulled the bell. Within minutes a liveried footman opened the door. Nose twitching, lips pursed, he studied her. “Yes?” The last of Catherine’s strength gave way and she burst into tears. “I’m Catherine Thurston, engaged as a companion by Lady Glenmore. No one met me at the station. The manor gates are locked. I had to climb the wall to get in. I’m wet and cold and I want to go home.” “Oh dear, oh dear. What is this?” A white-haired elderly gentleman with sparkling blue eyes peeked around the vestibule door. “The young lady says she is Miss Catherine Thurston.” Stepping around the footman, the gentleman approached Catherine. “Are you really Miss Thurston?” 5
  5. 5. Anita Birt Too shivery to speak, Catherine nodded. Tears and dribbles of rain trickled down her cheeks. “My goodness child you are dreadfully wet. Come inside at once. We must dry you off.” Shaking with cold Catherine followed her savior across a huge entry hall. Ahead was a magnificent staircase sweeping up to the second floor. Scarcely conscious of her surroundings she faltered and almost fell. “Oh dear, oh dear, let me take your arm. You are in a bad way.” He tugged her into a brightly lit room its walls lined with book-laden shelves. A fire blazed in the hearth. Flickering sparks whirled up the chimney. Seated in a chair close by the fire a lady worked at her embroidery. Startled by Catherine’s sudden appearance, she removed her spectacles and leaned forward to study the intruder. Her beautifully coifed hair gleamed red gold in the firelight. “Who is the young lady, Edward?” “You’ll never guess, Marie Claire. This poor child was left out in the rain. Just look at her. She’ll catch her death of cold if we don’t dry her off and find some warm clothing.” Catherine peeled off her wet gloves, dropped a small curtsy and offered her hand to the lady. “I am Miss Thurston. No one met me at the station. I left my trunk at the Goods Office and walked here.” Eyes blurry with tears, her gaze drawn to the crackling fire and its life-giving heat, Catherine edged closer to the hearth. “Miss Thurston, your hand is icy cold. Edward, please ring for the housekeeper.” The lady stood and helped Catherine out of her coat. “My dear girl, you are almost soaked through to the skin. Warm yourself by the fire lest you catch a chill. I am Lady Glenmore. It seems there’s been an unfortunate mistake. Did you not receive my letter canceling the arrangements?” Canceling the arrangements. Catherine sank to her knees on the rug in front of the fire and held out her hands. Chilled to the bone, her teeth chattering, she shivered uncontrollably. Surely she’d not heard rightly. Lady Glenmore had confirmed the arrangements. The Glenmore solicitor had assured her all was well. Catherine struggled to speak. “I have your letter in my reticule. I am engaged for three months as a companion to a young person injured in a riding accident. You’ve kindly paid my wages. The arrangements are very clear. I don’t understand what has happened. Are my services not required?” Her mouth dried. She had read Lady Glenmore’s letter offering her employment twice on the train journey from London. It spelled out her duties very clearly. “I am very sorry, Miss Thurston.” Catherine’s thoughts spun dizzily around the dreadful words. Canceling the arrangements. 6
  6. 6. A Very Difficult Man How could it be? The room faded into strange darkness. She tried to rouse herself. “But…” “The poor child has fainted.” Fainted? She had never… ***** Catherine heard a man’s voice. What was he saying? “She’s caught a severe chill, my lady, a near brush with pneumonia if I’m not mistaken. I want her to have complete rest for a day or two lest the fever return.” Catherine puzzled over the words. Who was he, and about whom was he speaking? Forcing her eyes open she gazed at a gray-haired gentleman hovering over her. “Who are you?” she croaked. “Bless my soul, Miss Thurston, I am pleased to see you awake. I am Dr. Bentley.” He turned to address a beautiful woman standing at the foot of the bed. Dressed in an emerald green gown, her titian hair was smoothed away from her face and coiled in an elegant chignon at her nape. “We are happy our patient is on the road to recovery, are we not, Lady Glenmore?” “Indeed we are.” Lady Glenmore smiled at Catherine. Catherine licked her dry lips. She’d only a vague recollection of arriving at the manor but Lady Glenmore’s devastating announcement had burned into her soul. Dismissed on her arrival. Three months’ wages had to be returned. How? She’d used the money settling household accounts for her mother, purchased two simple dresses suitable for her role as a companion and paid her train fare to Abbeyleigh. Virtually penniless, what was she to do? “My lady, why am I in bed? I’m not ill. If you no longer require my services, I must return home at once.” The doctor shook his head. “There, there, don’t go upsetting yourself otherwise you’ll bring back the fever and we don’t want that, do we?” Lady Glenmore sat on the bed beside Catherine. As she straightened her skirts a light flowery scent wafted from the silken folds. “Do not fret, Miss Thurston. You collapsed upon your arrival two days ago. We’ve been very concerned.” She touched Catherine lightly on the hand. “Unfortunately, the letter I wrote canceling our arrangements was mislaid, that is why no one met you at the station. I am deeply troubled you had the misfortune to be caught out in the storm.” Catherine struggled to sit up. “Two days! I must leave immediately. My mother will be frantic wondering why I have not written.” 7
  7. 7. Anita Birt Lady Glenmore hushed her. “I sent word to your mother immediately about your illness and have written to Lady Thurston daily assuring her you are in good hands.” Dr. Bentley tucked a light shawl around Catherine’s shoulders and gently settled her back on the pillow. “You are to rest in bed today. I may allow you up tomorrow.” He bowed to Lady Glenmore. “I’ll be on my way and will call around in the morning.” He closed the door as he left the room. “Thank you for your kindness, my lady. I regret causing you such an inconvenience. As you no longer require my services, I will repay the wages you advanced.” Brave words. Where was she to find the money? Would they have her arrested and thrown into the debtor’s prison? “You are not to fret about the wages. I’ve changed my plans again. You will remain with us for three months as agreed. Let us hear no more about leaving.” Lady Glenmore rose gracefully to her feet. “Are you hungry, my dear? You’ve eaten nothing since you collapsed—only water has passed your lips.” Safe from debtor’s prison Catherine’s spirits lifted. Her stomach grumbled. “May I have a pot of tea and buttered toast spread with honey? It’s my mother’s favorite remedy to alleviate the miseries, whatever the cause.” “You certainly shall.” Catherine’s employer paused at the door. “I’ve assigned one of the upstairs maids to attend you. Anna will be along with your tea. Should you require anything else, please send word to me.” She closed the door quietly. Catherine studied her luxurious surroundings. The deep rose silk bed draperies had been looped back. Brilliant sunshine beamed through slightly open French doors leading to a small balcony. A light breeze drifted into the room bringing with it the smell of damp earth. A small fire burned brightly in the grate of the pink marble fireplace. Arranged in front of it was a small gate-leg table, two wing chairs and a chaise longue covered in white and gold brocade. To the side under the window were a finely polished walnut escritoire and a matching chair. A large oak wardrobe occupied much of the far wall, next to it a Cheval glass. On a table beside her bed, a pretty lamp with a lustrous pink shade caught the sun’s rays. Mystified by the opulence surrounding her Catherine sank back on the pillows. As a paid companion in the service of the wealthy Glenmore family she had expected a room in a remote wing of the manor reserved for servants. Perhaps they intended to move her when she had fully recovered. The rose room, so she’d named it, was much too grand for a servant. A maid bustled into the room with tea on a tray with folding legs and placed it across Catherine’s lap. “I’m Anna. I’ll just plump up your pillows and help you sit up. Enjoy your tea, I’ll return later with hot water for you to bathe.” 8
  8. 8. A Very Difficult Man “Thank you, Anna,” Catherine said. Left alone with her comfort food, Catherine immediately drank two cups of tea to quench her thirst and slowly ate every morsel of toast. Within the half-hour Anna reappeared through a door on the far side of the room with a large china bowl of hot water, a tablet of soap and towel. She removed the tea tray and assisted Catherine to wash her hands and face. "This will do for now. We have a proper bathing room for you when you're feeling better. I’ll fetch your brush and comb from the wardrobe and tidy your hair.” Catherine reveled in the luxury of having Anna comb out the tangles. No one had brushed her hair since she’d left the nursery and her nanny’s gentle hands. “Such pretty blonde curls, you have.” Anna examined her work. “Quite a scare you gave Lady Glenmore and Mr. Edward when you fainted. Do you faint often, Miss?” “I’ve never fainted and regret causing everyone so much trouble when there’s an invalid requiring companionship.” Anna frowned and raised her brows. “An invalid?” Catherine wondered why the maid seemed puzzled. “I’m engaged as her companion.” Anna smoothed the rose silk comforter on the bed, gathered up the bowl and the damp towels and arranged them on the tray. Before leaving she closed the French doors. “The weather changed after the storm. It’s lovely and warm today but the evenings are cool. We don’t want you taking another chill.” She crossed the room. “I’ll fetch your supper at eight o’clock. If you require anything tug the bell rope beside your bed.” Alone with her thoughts Catherine considered her future duties. Read to the invalid and discuss current events as requested. She’d studied the Times before leaving London and wondered what a young lady might enjoy discussing. Tomorrow would be soon enough to gather reading materials. She smothered a yawn and closed her eyes. A quiet footstep wakened her and she peered into the darkened room. “I’ll light the lamp, Miss Thurston. Cook has sent up small portions of dinner for you. Try to eat a little. It will help you regain your strength.” “Where is the commode, Anna?” She could not remain in bed and drink more tea without using it. “Bless me, I neglected to tell you.” She held out her hand. “I’ll assist you.” Feeling slightly woozy Catherine clung to Anna as they crossed the room to a door on the far wall. It opened into a luxurious bathing room with a marble tiled floor, a fine tub and a French porcelain washbasin. “There’s a flushing water closet in the corner cubicle. I’ll step outside while you use it.” Catherine had read about the newly invented water closets but had never used one. Pleased to have her immediate problem relieved she washed her hands in the basin and returned to bed with Anna’s assistance. She ate a morsel of meat and some potato 9
  9. 9. Anita Birt before her stomach rebelled. Grateful for the large pot of tea she quenched her thirst with three cupfuls. “Goodnight, Miss.” Anna trimmed the lamp until the flame flickered and died, removed the tray and left. Catherine reviewed her situation and resolved not to rest in bed another day. She’d been employed as a companion and intended to fulfill her duties. Lying in bed, waited on hand and foot, did not suit her. Tomorrow she’d rise early, write a brief letter to her mother and prepare to meet her patient. She closed her eyes and snuggled under the covers. Three months in the country away from the city smells and the cholera plaguing London, what could be more pleasant? She’d not be expected to work every hour of the day and night. There’d be time to explore the gardens and fill her lungs with fresh air. Dreamily happy she anticipated meeting her young charge on the morrow. A loud crash jolted Catherine from a deep sleep. Her heart thudded against her ribs. Quaking with fear she held her breath and sat up in bed. A man’s agonizing cries shattered the night. “No. Go back. Go back. We’re lost.” Thoroughly alarmed she tried to stay calm—impossible with her heart racing and panic squeezing her chest. Icy tendrils of fear surged up and down her spine. Goose bumps shivered along her arms. Too frightened to stay huddled in bed waiting for more blood-curdling shrieks, she swung her legs over the side, stood and promptly fell back. Feeling lightheaded she sat quietly until her head cleared. Footsteps hurried past her room. “Coming, milord.” A nearby door opened and closed. Wrapped in her shawl Catherine stared into the shadowy dark. The man’s room must be close to hers. What if he walked in his sleep? What if he wandered into her room and cried out as he had minutes ago? She would surely die of fright. Did her door have a lock and key? Taking one slow step at a time she walked across the room to the door, grasped the handle and felt for a key. Nothing. Her legs wobbled. Without a key she was at the man’s mercy. He might… Do not imagine what he might do. Think. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dark she made out the vague shapes of the wing chairs. Tiptoeing over she seized the nearest one and pushed, shoved and bumped it across the carpeted floor and barricaded the door. Exhausted from the effort she returned to bed and curled up under the eiderdown. Afraid to close her eyes she gazed at the windows praying it would soon be dawn. With the sun in the sky the night’s events might be less frightening. A sound in the corridor revived her fears. A narrow shaft of light flooded under her door. She held her breath. No more shrieks, she pleaded silently. “I’ll not be long, milord. Hot water and brandy should do the trick.” 10
  10. 10. A Very Difficult Man “Bring the whole damned bottle for God’s sake and be quick about it. I don’t give a tinker’s damn for the doctor and what he thinks is good for me. Brandy and water is for females with the vapors.” “Very good, milord.” A soft click and the light disappeared from under Catherine’s door. It was him, the man demanding the brandy. His voice she’d heard after the crash. He’d shrieked as if all the devils in hell chased after him. Catherine propped pillows behind her back and sat up. She could not think clearly lying down. Not for a minute had she imagined her position as a companion would be a bed of roses, but surely Lady Glenmore did not expect her to sleep in a room so close to a man not right in the head. Perhaps he was insane. Suddenly a blackbird burst into song outside her window. Already the sky lightened. A rosy dawn promised a fine day, a day when she had to decide whether to stay at the manor or return to London. She could not carry out her duties if her sleep was disturbed at night, nor did she relish waking to screams and cries terrifying enough to freeze the blood in her veins. Safe now that daylight had come Catherine settled on her pillows and dozed. A sharp knocking awakened her. The door handle rattled. “Do let me in, Miss Thurston. I’ve come to help you bathe and dress.” It was Anna. Catherine slipped out of bed, padded slowly to the chair, tugged it away from the door and opened it. “Why ever did you shut yourself in, Miss? No harm will come to you in this house. Are you feeling poorly again?” Catherine shook her head. “I’ve had a shocking night. A wonder I’ve not had a relapse. Who is in the room across from mine?” Anna had fresh towels over her arm. “Across from you, Miss? That will be the young master, Lord Glenmore.” She bustled ahead of Catherine. “Now you’re on your feet, I expect you’ll want to bathe. Come along.” Catherine followed the maid into the bathing room. Anna draped the towels on a brass rail. “The fire’s been lit under the boiler next to the tub, there’s plenty of water for you. I’ll away and fetch your breakfast. Lady Glenmore had your trunk brought up from the station while you were ill. I’ve arranged your clothing in the wardrobe. I doubt you should be up and around. Dr. Bentley expects you to remain in bed.” Catherine smiled. “I’ll be very careful not to upset Dr. Bentley.” She had to be dressed with her wits about her to discover the identity of the madman occupying the room across the hallway. Surely Anna was mistaken. It could not possibly be Lord Glenmore causing such a disturbance. Refreshed after a relaxing bath Catherine found her undergarments neatly put away by Anna. Gowns, skirts and blouses hung on wooden hangers. She chose her plain gray dress with the white collar—a dress she deemed suitable for a companion. 11
  11. 11. Anita Birt Silver-backed hairbrush in hand she worked her curls into a semblance of order and tied them back with a black ribbon. Feeling a trifle weary she rested on the chaise longue. Draped over the foot was a cobweb-fine pale blue cashmere shawl. Still shivery from the fearful events of the night, she wrapped it around her shoulders. Anna arrived with Catherine’s breakfast tray and placed it on her lap. “Lady Glenmore will be along shortly. She’ll be cross not to find you in bed.” “I am in excellent health, Anna.” Her mouth watered as she inhaled the delicious aroma of a thick country sausage, its skin crisped dark brown. She cut a small slice and ate it. Delectable juices rolled around her tongue. The savory meat flavored with onions and herbs restored her strength. She finished the sausage, buttered two scones and spread them with thick strawberry jam. Having cleaned her plate she poured a cup of tea from a cozied pot, sighed contentedly, and settled back on the chaise as Anna tidied the bed. Sunlight streamed into the room. Her stomach comfortably full, the strange events of the night seemed less frightening. The madman had not hammered at her door nor threatened her. She set the tray aside and waited for her employer. When the mysterious happenings were explained to her satisfaction she’d not be alarmed. However, she’d ask to be moved to a different room. If that were not possible she’d insist on a key to lock her door. Lady Glenmore knocked and entered. “Miss Thurston, you are supposed to rest in bed today.” She rested a cool hand on Catherine’s forehead. “You are feeling much better then?” Her slight French accent charmed Catherine. Lady Glenmore radiated elegance, true Parisian élan. Next to her employer Catherine felt like a plain little grey sparrow. “I am very well, my lady. Will you stay awhile? I wish to discuss a disturbing experience I had during the night.” “Of course. What is troubling you? Not concerned about your duties, I hope.” She sat in one of the wing chairs opposite Catherine. “Perhaps I should explain them more fully.” “My duties are clear. You engaged me as a companion to a young lady injured in a riding accident. The duties are not onerous. Reading will not tire me.” Lady Glenmore lowered her eyes and studied her hands. Diamond rings glittered on her fingers. “I prefer you rest another day before meeting my son, Lord Glenmore. You will be his companion.” 12
  12. 12. A Very Difficult Man Chapter Two “Your son!” Catherine gasped. “I assumed my charge would be a young lady close to my age. I have been misled. Your solicitor should have informed me.” A sick feeling invaded her stomach. Lady Glenmore’s expectations were beyond reason. “Please try to understand why I misled you. I advertised for a companion to read to a young person injured in a riding accident. That is partially correct. I particularly wanted a young lady to cheer Richard. He’s alone too much. Does not leave his rooms and sees no one but Edward and me, and his valet, of course.” Almost too shocked to speak Catherine stood. Her heart skipped a beat. “How can I be a companion to a gentleman without a chaperone? I know nothing of masculine pursuits. I will leave at once and return my wages.” The sunny day darkened. Her prospects faded. Debtor’s prison loomed. “Please sit down, Miss Thurston.” Catherine sat. “Richard was seriously wounded in the Crimea. He will not speak of it. The little we know is horrifying. His horse was ripped apart by cannon fire. Richard was thrown on to a blood-soaked battlefield. Since returning home he has isolated himself from his friends. I have engaged young gentlemen at various times to amuse him but he made their lives so miserable they refused to stay.” “Surely you do not expect me to act as your son’s companion when he has a penchant for making people unhappy?” “Forgive me. I was at my wit’s end when I placed the advertisement. I am gravely worried about Richard’s state of mind. I thought an attractive young lady would cheer him, make him want to live again. My solicitor was quite taken with you and chose wisely. Richard will not be unkind to you.” Catherine hugged the shawl around her shoulders to stop the shivers. The situation was going from bad to worse. Her reputation was at stake. If London gossips learned of this, she would be ruined. Her mother would be devastated. “Do you mean I am supposed to lure your son into…?” Dare she say the words? “Lure him into a close relationship with me?” “Not at all, Richard is betrothed. You will be with us for three months, nothing more.” Relieved her reputation would not be sullied Catherine weighed her options. Stay and make the best of a bad situation, or leave immediately and confess she could not repay the three months’ wages until she found other employment. She had no choice. Lady Glenmore had hired a companion for her son, not a companion with a chaperone. 13
  13. 13. Anita Birt “Very well, my lady, but I will not allow your son to abuse me.” “Richard would never abuse you.” Lady Glenmore stood. “Stay for a month, Miss Thurston and if you find the situation impossible, you may leave and not be obliged to repay your wages.” Catherine breathed a sigh of relief. She could put up with miserable Lord Glenmore for a month. He’d not drive her from the house. She rose to her feet. “The matter is settled then, my lady. One month, unless I find your son too difficult in which case I will return to London.” A dreadful thought crossed her mind. “Where are Lord Glenmore’s rooms?” His mother walked to the French doors, opened them slightly and turned to Catherine. “Directly across from yours. I will introduce you tomorrow.” Catherine’s heart sank. “My lady, he is insane. He terrified me last night shrieking like a madman and shouting for someone to bring him a bottle of brandy. I dragged a chair against the door fearing he might invade my room.” Lady Glenmore returned and sat at the foot of the chaise longue. “Rest assured Richard will not harm a hair on your head. He suffers from recurring nightmares from his experiences in the Crimea. His eyes have been affected, that is why I engaged you to read to him.” Catherine was not convinced the young lord might not stumble into her room at night during one of his screaming fits. “I must have a key to secure my door. Lord Glenmore’s shrieks made my blood run cold.” “Very well, the housekeeper will find a key. Thank you for understanding my dilemma.” Catherine decided to take a stand. “I wish to meet your son today, my lady.” Better to encounter the maniac sooner rather than later and decide whether to stay or go. “Is that wise? You’ve had a severe chill. Dr. Bentley prefers that you rest today.” “I am perfectly well and prepared to carry out my duties immediately.” Lady Glenmore had misled her. She could not deny Catherine’s request. “If you are quite sure, I will speak to Richard and arrange a meeting this afternoon before tea.” She rose from the chaise. “Richard’s great-uncle Edward is anxious to make your acquaintance.” “Edward?” “Edward met you at the door when you arrived. He’s been very concerned.” Catherine smiled. “I would like to thank him for taking me in when I looked and felt like a drowned rat.” “Excellent. Edward is very amusing and enjoys a game of cards.” “That’s splendid. I look forward to seeing him again.” His visit would while away the hours until she had to meet Lord Glenmore. All her life she'd been carefully chaperoned at public functions or riding in the family carriage. This new venture 14
  14. 14. A Very Difficult Man changed all that. Companions do not require chaperones. A heavy feeling of dread settled like a stone in her stomach. All the same she wished she had one by her side. Catherine closed the door after Lady Glenmore and mulled over the situation. She had to survive a month as companion to a man who shut himself in his rooms, shunned his friends, abused previous companions and shouted for bottles of brandy in the night. Her confidence wavered. She did not relish becoming his next victim. ***** Lord Glenmore’s uncle called on her after the midday meal. “Good afternoon, Miss Thurston. I am The Honorable Edward Delisle, Richard’s great-uncle but you may call me Mr. Edward, if you like. I thought you might need a diversion so I fetched some books from our library. I have the complete works of Shakespeare, in one volume. Devilish heavy stuff, I should think. Perhaps you fancy The History of Beekeeping in the Cotswolds or would you prefer the latest novel sent down from London?” A merry smile tipped his lips. He set the books aside on the table, reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cards. “Or what do you say to a game of piquet?” His bright-eyed presence lifted Catherine’s spirits. “Thank you for the books and the offer to play piquet. Regrettably, I’m not able to concentrate today.” “Because you’ve been poorly?” She shook her head. “No, I’m perfectly well but am nervous about meeting Lord Glenmore this afternoon. What is he like?” “A fine fellow. Had a bad time in Crimea—his body and soul took a beating. He’ll come round. Needs to get out and attend to the estate. Never leaves his rooms. Not good for him. Not good at all. Lives more like a hermit than a healthy young man.” Catherine quaked inside. Lord Glenmore’s strange attitude disturbed her. “I fear I shall be of little use to him.” “The thing is, be tough with Richard, not like the wishy-washy chaps Lady Glenmore employed to cheer him. No fight in them at all.” “What can I do that his male companions could not?” Her fighting spirit quailed. How could she succeed where men had failed? “You’re the prettiest creature to enter this house in years. Richard is a gentleman. Just the sight of you will act like a breath of fresh air in those bleak rooms of his.” Bearding the lion in his gloomy den was a daunting task for which she was unprepared. She should have asked the Glenmore solicitor pointed questions about the injured young person. She’d made a terrible mistake and must pay for it. Mr. Edward stood as Lady Glenmore entered Catherine’s room. “I believe this is as good a time as any for you to meet Richard, Miss Thurston. A brief visit will suffice. I don’t wish to tire you.” 15
  15. 15. Anita Birt Catherine’s stomach turned over. Determined to show no fear she drew in a deep breath and rose to her feet. “Thank you, my lady. Shall we go?” She smiled at Mr. Edward. “I’d enjoy a game of piquet another time.” Like a prisoner facing execution she followed her employer across the hallway. Lady Glenmore tapped lightly on the door and opened it. “Richard, this is Miss Thurston, the young lady I’ve engaged as your companion.” She placed her hand on Catherine’s back and gently propelled her into the room. “I will leave you to become acquainted.” The door clicked shut. Catherine was alone with him. She sidled to one side hoping to catch a glimpse of the monster. The room was dimly lit. A single lamp glowed on the mantelpiece. Blurry images were reflected in a mirror hanging above. As her eyes became accustomed to the gloom she made out a table, a bookcase, a chair by the fireplace, and opposite from where she stood, a high-backed chair, facing away from her. Suddenly the chair swiveled around. A second later a book flew across the room. Catherine ducked as it crashed against the door. He’d almost hit her! Furious at him, she picked up the volume. “How dare you throw a book at me?” Taking aim at the shadowy figure leaning back in the chair she hurled the book. Instead of striking him as she’d intended, it sailed past and thudded against the wall. Hands clenched against her sides Catherine edged toward the door and safety. “So this is how you comfort me,” he snapped. “Comfort you, my lord? No indeed, I am not paid to comfort you. I am paid to read to you. Good afternoon, Lord Glenmore. I shall call in the morning. Perhaps you will be in better humor. In the meantime I intend to stroll in the garden.” “You are my paid companion, Miss Thurston. I expect you to obey me. Put up with my ill humor or leave.” “That I will not do, I am engaged to read to you. If you insist on throwing books at me I will sit outside your door and read loudly enough for you to hear every word.” She grasped the doorknob and turned the handle. “Good afternoon, Lord Glenmore.” “Return at once, Miss Thurston. I have not finished with you.” Catherine fled to safety and slammed the door behind her. She leaned against it until her heart stopped hammering against her ribs and her knees stopped shaking. This was worse than she’d imagined. Much worse. She’d not allow Lord Glenmore to use her as target practice. She’d outwit him. She’d fulfill her contract by sitting outside his door. He was quite mad. Little wonder his previous companions had fled from the house. She returned to her room, collected her warm woolen shawl from the wardrobe, wrapped it around her shoulders, ventured into the hallway, tiptoed past the madman’s door and like an explorer in a strange land, made her way through a maze of corridors 16
  16. 16. A Very Difficult Man to the magnificent staircase leading to the marble tiled entrance hall. In an alcove, an armored knight, visor down, stood at attention. A family relic, she thought, and nodded at the silent figure as she passed. A stroll in the garden breathing fresh air would restore her fighting spirit. Lord Glenmore was a formidable opponent. ***** Richard seized his crutches and hopped across to the bell. “Bloody woman,” he muttered and tugged the rope almost ripping it from its moorings. He felt around the floor for the book she’d thrown at him. His eyes had improved enough for him to see her outlined in the door before she stepped inside and his mother closed it. She must have worn something dark. He hadn’t intended to hit her, but a glancing blow might have driven her straight back home, wherever that was—very likely a residence for single ladies past their prime. His valet hurried into the room. “You rang, milord?” “Of course, I rang. Bring me a brandy and don’t pretend there’s none in the house. I haven’t drunk my way through the cellar yet.” He threw himself into his chair. “And inform my mother to dismiss the young lady she has engaged to read to me.” “Very good, sir, I will speak with her ladyship.” “Bring the brandy at once. My leg pains me.” He waited for the valet to leave. Damned stump acting up again. He massaged his left thigh and worked below the knee. The muscle cramp eased. God, he hated being a cripple with everyone fussing over him. He’d lost part of his leg not his wits. His mother’s insistence he have a female companion was the last straw. Companion! He’d rid himself of the last two in short order, scared the hell out of them, and they were men. This female had to go. He couldn’t stomach a woman feeling sorry for him. If he allowed her inside his rooms the spinster would moon over him, pat his hand and offer up a prayer for his deliverance from the demon drink—like as not she belonged to a temperance movement. “Your brandy, milord.” His valet placed the glass on the table by the chair. “Your mother is on her way. Is there anything else?” Richard shook his head and dismissed Pickens with a brusque wave. Gloom descended on him. He tipped some brandy into the palm of his hand and rubbed the stump below the knee of his left leg. Alcohol soothed some of the lingering pain and helped toughen the skin but it failed to blot out the nightmare memories haunting him. Warming the glass in his hands, he sipped the drink. Second of the day. Another at five. Another at nine. Another if he couldn’t sleep. The damned doctor had rationed his drink! His mother knocked on the door and entered. “I know what you are going to say and I refuse to dismiss Miss Thurston.” She crossed the room and sat down. 17
  17. 17. Anita Birt “Then I shall make her miserable. I do not require someone to read to me. My eyes are recovering.” “Richard.” His mother tapped the arm of her chair. “It’s not only to read that I engaged Miss Thurston. I thought having a young lady in residence would bring new life into this house and brighten up your days. At least give her a fair trial. “You have shut yourself up in these rooms for months, refusing to see anyone, refusing even to allow a visit from Madeline. She will soon tire of your neglect and wish to be free from her promise to marry you.” Fingering her long strand of pearls, she leaned toward him. “You must think of the future. You are twenty-eight years old, time you settled down and raised a family. It is your duty to provide an heir.” Richard groaned and dragged his fingers through his hair. “Mother, please leave me alone. I have no desire to see anyone. I have nothing to say to anyone, especially Miss Thurston. I do not wish to marry. Not now. Perhaps never. It might be best if I wrote to Madeline and asked her to release me. She can do better than tie herself to a cripple.” “Please don’t say that. Madeline still cares for you.” Sighing, she rose to her feet. “I wish Dolly were here. He’d know what to do. I’ve a mind to write to the war office and ask for him to be sent home. Surely his regiment can do without him in India.” Richard shook his head. His younger brother, Randall, was the last person he wished to see. Much as he loved Dolly, his brother had the sensitivity of a charging bull. Dolly loved army life. Being out in India to keep the peace between warring tribes on the North West frontier suited him perfectly. His letters home described forays into the hills, the fighting qualities of the Indian troops and the crack of rifle fire echoing off rocks. The carnage during the Crimea campaign had sickened Richard of the army— sickened his soul and wounded his body. “Mother, do not send for Dolly. All I want is to be left alone. Why is that so difficult for everyone to understand?” “I am trying to understand but could you not be a little polite to Miss Thurston? She’s come down from London. I have paid her three months’ wages. The poor girl caught a chill when she arrived and has suffered greatly. We owe her something.” He gritted his teeth. “We owe her nothing. I haven’t the faintest desire to be polite to this spinster you’ve hired. Send her home.” His mother raised her brows. “Miss Thurston is hardly a spinster. She is a very pleasant young lady and has agreed to stay at least one month. I cannot turn her out.” She picked up the empty brandy glass. “You are drinking too much.” “Good morning, Mother.” He waited for her to leave before sinking back in his chair. With any luck he’d fall asleep and spend the rest of the afternoon unconscious. He closed his eyes but the scene with his spinster companion occupied his thoughts. 18
  18. 18. A Very Difficult Man A pleasant young lady indeed. Miss Thurston was more like a shrew. If her aim had been better, she’d have struck him. Striking him would be grounds for dismissal. A violent companion was not what his mother had in mind. He dismissed the idea of luring her into throwing something at him. Something less extreme would do just as well. A plan formed in his mind. Pleased with himself, he smiled. Miss Thurston would be gone within the week. ***** Catherine enjoyed her walk in the grounds. There was much to admire. She had seen only a small part of the splendid park surrounding the magnificent house. Drawn to the stables, she examined the horses. In a stall at the far end, humming quietly, a man currycombed a chestnut mare. “Good morning.” Catherine rested her arms on the half door. He straightened up and touched his cap. “Afternoon, Miss. I’m Pip Jones, head stable boy.” Dressed in smock and leggings, his face nut-brown and wrinkled, gray hair straggling underneath his cap, he looked anything but a boy. “I’m Miss Thurston come to stay at the manor. That’s a pretty mare. Who rides her?” “No one. I mean none of the family. The grooms exercise the horses. Lady Glenmore used to ride but hasn’t this long time.” He patted the sleek chestnut hide. “A right shame it is. There was a time when all the horses were saddled and out at the hunt. Deer hunting it was, up in the hills. Now Misty here is tearing to go. Likes a good run, takes fences like a bird, so I’m told.” Catherine stepped into the stall. Misty raised her head. Her neck tensed, and her ears flicked back. Not to alarm the mare further, Catherine waited before moving any closer. She spoke quietly. “I’d like to ride her when we become acquainted. I won’t rush her.” “She’s right frisky, Miss, and takes a bit of handling. You’d best talk to George Parsons, the head groom, if you want to take her out.” Catherine studied the mare. “You are a lovely little lady, aren’t you? I’ll come by every day until you are ready to let me ride then we’ll explore the park.” Pip shook his head. “Best not to enter the stall alone unless I’m here or Mr. Parsons. Misty is known to kick when it suits her.” “Very well, I shall be careful until she knows me.” The mare lowered her head and relaxed her neck. Her ears flicked forward, listening. Soon, Catherine thought, Misty would recognize her voice and accept her. She longed for a good run on the back of a spirited horse. But even if Misty tolerated her and she had permission to ride, she hadn’t packed her riding habit. It was stored in a trunk in London with moths likely feeding on the fabric. 19
  19. 19. Anita Birt Catherine hurried away from the stable. Not quite ready to face the formidable Lord Glenmore, she walked briskly along a gravel path leading to a hillock. At the top, she drew in a quick breath. Below was an orchard. Buds on the trees still sheathed in their winter coats were fat almost to bursting. In one sunny corner a single tree rushed the season. A few tiny blossoms radiated spring. She had a whole month to spend at Glenmore Manor. The country air smelled of sweet new life. So different from the smoky pall that sometimes hung over London. No matter how badly Lord Glenmore treated her, she expected to have some time to herself. With the windows in her room open to the air, she’d sit on the small balcony and enjoy the sights and scents of spring. Making her way back to the house she met Lady Glenmore in the entrance hall. “We’ll be having tea within the hour. I would like you to join us.” Coming in from the bright sunshine, Catherine had to wait a few seconds in order to see properly. “You will have to show me where to find the dining room, Lady Glenmore. I fear I shall get lost in all the corridors, it took me a while to make my way from my room.” “The house is a rather formidable challenge. The place is much too large. Forty rooms. It was built a century ago when the family entertained large parties and also had numerous children, now we rattle around in it like walnuts in a china cup. I’ve had most of the north wing closed off. The maids air the rooms, spring and autumn.” She tucked Catherine’s arm in hers. “Come, let me show you where to go. We’ll expect you to take all your meals with Edward and me. Breakfast at eight, luncheon at one o’clock, a light tea at four and dinner at eight. We are very informal. Since Richard returned from the Crimea, I no longer entertain. He shuts himself… But there, Miss Thurston, you’ll soon find your way around the house. The small dining room is here.” She paused, a look of concern in her eyes. “How was my son? Have you become acquainted?” Catherine suppressed a smile and lowered her gaze. “Acquainted” hardly described their meeting. “He was not exactly welcoming but another time he may be more amenable.” She’d not tattle about the miserable brute and the book he’d thrown. It was her problem and she’d deal with it. Lady Glenmore sighed. “I have done what I thought best for him, but at times I feel quite without hope. Please do not abandon him yet.” “I do not intend to abandon him, my lady. I agreed to stay for one month and I shall do so.” Catherine mentally mapped the way to the dining room and ran upstairs to freshen up before tea. She walked quickly along the long hallway, heels clicking smartly on the oak floor. “Miss Thurston!” 20
  20. 20. A Very Difficult Man Catherine stopped in her tracks. Lord Glenmore’s voice thundered through his closed door. Using the door as a shield against another attack, she opened it slightly and peered around the side into the gloom. “Yes, Lord Glenmore.” She fought to keep her voice steady. “Come here.” “I prefer to stay where I am. I do not like having books thrown at me.” “Come here! I wish you to read to me.” “Now, sir?” Her stomach grumbled. The long walk had sharpened her appetite. “Do you dare question me, Miss Thurston? You are paid to do as you are told, not to question my orders.” Catherine held her ground. “Do you promise not to throw books at me?” “I promise you nothing. Now step inside that I may look at you while you read.” “Not until you give me your word not to…” A book thudded against the door. Catherine stooped, picked it up, stepped out of range and left the door open. Breathing hard, her heart beating double time, she studied the book. “I see this is Boswell’s Life of Johnson. I will fetch a chair from my room, and read to you from here.” Richard heard the scrape of her chair and suppressed a wild desire to laugh. He hadn’t laughed in months. Miss Thurston was fair game. She sounded young, but many a spinster kept a girlish voice. Standing up to him the way she had promised good sport. He’d have her out of the house in less than a week. “Very well, read me all of Chapter Four.” It would take her the best part of the afternoon. He’d tire her until her voice failed. “Do not read too quickly. I may want you to repeat some passages.” Richard settled back in his chair prepared to doze off while his companion droned away. When she began reading, he came fully awake. Miss Thurston did not sound the least bit agitated as he’d expected. Her voice had a rare musical quality, very pleasant to listen to. An hour into the reading, footsteps echoed along the hall. “Miss Thurston, the mistress and Mr. Edward are waiting for you to join them for tea.” “Thank you. Would you inform Lady Glenmore I am reading to her son, perhaps you will have a tray sent up later. I shall have tea in my room.” “Damnation woman, why didn’t you tell me my mother expected you?” Richard shouted. His conscience pricked him, not a lot, but enough to unsettle him. “It’s not my place to refuse your orders, my lord. If you will excuse me, I shall return later and continue reading.” “Very well. Blewett, send me up a tray. I am inclined to eat a little. Miss Thurston’s reading has given me an appetite. I need strength to continue listening to her.” 21
  21. 21. Anita Birt Catherine bit her tongue. She longed to tell him exactly what she thought of him and his wretched manners. No one should treat the hired help in such a cruel fashion. She paused briefly to wash her hands and face before descending the staircase and vowed not to allow Lord Glenmore to upset her. If he chose to act like a discourteous boor, she’d refuse to lower herself to his level. As long as she remained outside his door, safe from harm, she’d survive the month with her health intact. Lord Glenmore would not get the better of her, but come March 31 she’d shake the dust of Glenmore Manor from her feet. 22
  22. 22. A Very Difficult Man Chapter Three The butler ushered her into the dining room. Lady Glenmore waved her to a seat opposite her at the table. Mr. Edward stood until she took her place. “I am sorry I kept you waiting, my lady.” “Perhaps Richard was unaware we expected you to join us. Blewett tells me you were reading to him. I am pleased. You must be making progress.” “He allows me to read to him, my lady, but since he has twice thrown books at me, I sit outside and read through the open door. Is he always so difficult?” “Capital, capital!” Mr. Edward twinkled at Catherine. His blue eyes sparkled under bushy white brows. “You stood up to him. That’s just what he needs. He played merry hell with the last two comp…” “Hush, Edward, Catherine is not interested in past history. You may serve the soup now, Joseph.” Lady Glenmore nodded at the young footman. Although she was bursting with curiosity about what had happened to previous companions, Catherine was too polite to inquire and much too hungry to waste time talking when she could eat. At the end of the meal she excused herself. “I promised Lord Glenmore to continue reading.” It wasn’t exactly how she had imagined being a companion, sitting outside the door of a madman because she was afraid to tempt fate and enter his rooms. Maligning her with words was one thing, hurling books at her was quite another. She proceeded quietly along the corridor illuminated by lighted candles in bronze sconces. “Is that you, Miss Thurston?” His voice had mellowed from a bark to something like normal speech. Civil. The door was still ajar. Catherine did not trust him. He was trying to lure her into a trap. She waited in the hall. “Yes, my lord. Shall I continue reading?” She looked around for the book. “The book’s not here.” “I had my valet return it to me. I am tired of Mr. Johnson. I desire conversation.” “Conversation?” Catherine tensed. “You heard me, Miss Thurston. You are paid to keep me company, to discuss world affairs, inform me of the latest London gossip, what books are recently published, where one goes to take the waters, the efficacy of sea bathing, and so on.” 23
  23. 23. Anita Birt Catherine pulled her chair close to the door. “I shall begin with world affairs. There are reports of warships built by the United States—one in particular, the U.S.S. Constellation, is a twenty-two-gun corvette. There is cholera in London…” “Is that the best you can do, Miss Thurston? I’m not in the mood for bad news. What is the latest London gossip?” Catherine shifted in her chair. She knew nothing of London gossip. How could she? She’d not been to an evening soirée or a tea for weeks. As for riding in the park, stopping now and then to chat with friends, all that was behind her. “I am sorry, Lord Glenmore, I do not move in fashionable circles in London. My mother and I live a very quiet life.” “Then tell me about your quiet life.” To Catherine’s ear, his voice had softened. Was he making a fool of her to laugh at her expense? If she stayed the month as companion to this strange, boorish man, she’d have earned every penny of her wages. “I have nothing to relate that might interest you.” Catherine squeezed her eyes shut. She would not tell him about her father’s illness, how he’d changed from a cheerful family man to a sharp-tongued, gambling fool leaving her and her mother virtuously penniless. “Ha! How clever of you to know what interests me? It is for me to decide what I want to hear. It is not up to you. I wish to hear about your quiet life. Begin.” Catherine could not bear it another minute. The man was impossible, ordering her around like a servant girl as though she were a kitchen skivvy! “I refuse to tell you about my quiet life! I came here to be a companion to someone whom I thought would be a sensible person not a madman. You, sir, are a cruel, insensitive monster. You have no right to torment me because I am poor. I will speak to your mother and leave this house. I’d rather go hungry than remain here to be mocked.” She grabbed the doorknob and slammed his door, rattling the hinges. Angry tears trickled down her cheeks. Picking up her chair, she crossed the hall to her room and locked herself in. Delving into her pocket for a handkerchief, she swiped at her face. “I will not cry! I will not cry! He will not make me cry.” Sorely tempted to invade the lion’s den and whack him over the head before he could retaliate, Catherine thought better of it. Short of rendering him unconscious, how was she to survive? A few hours with Lord Glenmore had shaken her confidence. Questions overwhelmed her. Would Lady Glenmore allow her to leave without working out the month? Did the two days she was ill in bed convalescing count as work? Perhaps she could feign a relapse and return to London. She’d require train fare and money for a hackney carriage from the station. 24
  24. 24. A Very Difficult Man She emptied her purse and counted the shillings and pence. She had enough to purchase her train ticket but she’d have to walk from Waterloo. In her rush to leave home and take up her duties, she’d left herself short of money. ***** Richard stared at the door. Perhaps he was cruel for taking out his ill humor on her. The poor thing was probably in her room having the vapors. He hopped over to the bell rope and tugged. Within minutes his valet hurried into the room. “Yes, milord?” “Go to the conservatory and cut one of the orchids. My uncle tells me there are several in bloom. I want a crystal goblet as well. Bring the orchid and goblet here.” “Very good, sir. Will that be all?” “Help me over to my desk and turn up the lamp.” He blinked at the flame. His eyes were still sensitive to light but had improved in the past fortnight. He’d have a valid reason to dismiss his companion when his sight returned to normal. One of her duties was to read to him. Soon he’d be rid of her unwelcome presence. It was beyond reason that his mother expected a weepy spinster to cheer him up. When Pickens left the room, Richard drew his crested writing paper from the desk drawer and dipped his pen in the silver inkwell. What to say to her? Not enough to make her think he wanted her to stay. Dear Miss Thurston—I apologize for upsetting you. Please accept this orchid. My Uncle Edward grows them for a hobby. He’ll not miss this one. That wouldn’t do. Even to his useless companion he could not be so churlish. He crumpled up the paper and started a fresh sheet. Dear Miss Thurston. He paused. What was her first name? From listening to her voice, he thought Mary might suit her. No. Mary was too timid. Miss Thurston was not timid. She had probably won her spurs in a schoolroom of unruly children before retiring to take on less onerous duties as a companion. Elizabeth? Hmm. Possibly. Grace? No. A Grace would not have yelled at him. A Grace would never be a shrew. A Grace would not slam doors. He dipped the pen. I apologize for my boorish behavior. Please accept this orchid. What now? He blotted the paper. 25
  25. 25. Anita Birt What harm would it do if he put up with her for a month? She’d been paid three months’ wages and the poor woman obviously needed the money. He signed. Richard. Folded the note and sealed it. Pickens returned with the orchid. It nestled in a little water in the center of a large crystal brandy glass. “Where shall I put it, milord?” “Take it and this note to Miss Thurston’s room. Before you go, light the lamp on the table by my chair. If there’s a copy of Punch downstairs, bring it to me. I’ll read awhile.” Richard heard Pickens knock on her door. A key grated in the lock. “I’ve a note for you, Miss.” Since he’d been near blinded, his hearing had become acute. “A note?” She sounded sniffly. Surely to God he hadn’t made her cry. He could not abide tearful women. “From Lord Glenmore, Miss. He asked me to give you this.” “Thank you.” Catherine closed the door. The orchid was beautiful, its petals pale rose edged with a hint of green. Tiny brown speckles led into its heart. She placed the goblet on the table by her bed and opened the note. He had apologized! Perhaps the orchid was a peace offering. Not one to bear a grudge, especially when it involved not having to pay back her wages, Catherine cheered up. Perhaps the month would pass quickly—a few hours a day reading to him, even conversing… A frown creased her brow. She knew nothing about him other than he’d been wounded in the Crimean War. What might interest him? When no ready answer came to mind, Catherine put on her dark blue coat and tiptoed past his closed door. Lord Glenmore had not asked for her. Catherine strolled through the formal rose garden under a clear blue sky. Overhead a pair of buzzards circled. It was too early for blooms but the roses were beginning to leaf. A robin hopped along the path ahead of her picking up tiny bits of straw. Finding a bench in a sheltered corner where afternoon sunlight bathed the garden in warmth she sat down to think about Lord Glenmore. What did he look like? Until she could actually see him clearly, he was more like a ghostly figure than a real person. He probably had red hair. Every person she’d ever known with red hair had a temper to match. If he was drinking a lot of brandy, he might have a red nose to go with his hair and temper. Why did he shut himself away in those dark rooms? Was he physically deformed? That couldn’t be. If he’d soldiered in the Crimean War, he must have been fit and healthy at one time. She guessed at his age. His mother was still a beauty although there were telltale signs of age at her neck, very much like her own mother. Lady Glenmore was probably fifty. Her son had to be in his twenties or early thirties. An ugly, cranky, disagreeable man with whom she had to match wits. 26
  26. 26. A Very Difficult Man Returning indoors, Catherine met one of the servants leaving Lord Glenmore’s suite. Fingers to his lips, he hushed her. “Lord Glenmore has a visitor. He will speak with you in the morning.” Catherine hung up her coat and hat. An empty feeling settled in her stomach. She had looked forward to thanking Lord Glenmore for the orchid even if meant venturing into his den. ***** Cradling the crystal goblet in her hands, she studied the flower and remembered the first posy she’d ever received. She’d been thirteen when a lad from the village thrust a bunch of violets at her. “For you, Miss,” he’d said and, blushing furiously had dashed off. Catherine smiled at the memory. Seven years ago. Her life had been so different then. No money worries. Their large country house had been staffed with servants. They had a stable of fine horses and a trout stream where she’d fished with her brother, Johnny. They’d captured Riena Stanley, a gypsy girl, netting fish. She’d begged them not to hand her over to the gamekeeper and promised her father would reward them if they freed her. Half afraid of going to the gypsy camp, but tempted to do something forbidden by their parents, they’d followed Riena to the colorful caravans ranged in a circle on the nearby common. Riena’s father had given them each an amulet, a charm against sorcery, he told them, his dark eyes gleaming. “They will bring you good luck.” The amulets were similar. Highly polished thin wooden discs delicately carved with crescents and linked dots. He had laced fine leather thongs through tiny holes in the wood and tied them securely. Saying a few words in Romany, he hung an amulet over Catherine’s head before doing the same for Johnny. “Do not lose them,” he’d warned. Catherine still wore the treasure around her neck tucked beneath her bodice or hidden in a pocket. Although luck had deserted her, she kept the amulet. It reminded her of Riena, her gypsy friend, whom she’d not seen since they were children. The sound of an angry female voice in the hallway outside her door startled Catherine. It wasn’t Lady Glenmore but someone younger. “Come to your senses, Richard. I have missed most of the London Season because you refuse to travel. I cannot go about unescorted. Our friends know we are betrothed. Gossip would fly behind my back if I appeared on the arm of another man.” There was a pause. Catherine heard Lord Glenmore say something but couldn’t make out the words. “Very well. I journeyed here especially to speak with you. Send word within a fortnight. I expect you to be more reasonable for my patience is running out.” 27
  27. 27. Anita Birt Heels clicked rapidly away down the hall. Lord Glenmore was betrothed. Why did his fiancée not spend time with him? He would not require a companion then. The woman’s voice had an unpleasant sharp bullying edge as though trying to force Lord Glenmore to jump to attention. Catherine instantly disliked her. At tea and again at dinner Catherine expected Lady Glenmore or Mr. Edward to comment on the visitor but neither did. Catherine had placed the crystal goblet on the table beside her bed. Perhaps she should send a note to Lord Glenmore thanking him for the orchid. What if he decided to dismiss her? After her tirade, he had every right to send her away. Perhaps the orchid was a peace offering to soften the blow when he discharged her. She’d thank him for the flower in the morning. ***** Richard frowned at the fire flickering in the grate. He wasn’t being fair to Madeline but he did not choose to play the wounded hero in London society, to be flattered and made much of by men and women who knew nothing of war except what they read in the Times. They knew nothing of the horrors. Nothing of the smell of blood, or the pitiful moans of dying men, or the terrible screams of horses torn apart by cannon fire. “But you are a hero.” Madeline’s insistence had grated on him. Crimea was an unmitigated disaster. There was nothing heroic about it. The incompetence of three generals had sent hundreds of brave men to certain death against the Russian guns. The carnage haunted him still. A trooper, riding next to him had his head blown clean off his body. His warm blood had spurted like liquid fire into Richard’s eyes. Half-blinded, he remembered shouting at his men to go back. A burst of shellfire had smashed into his left leg below the knee and torn a gaping hole in his horse’s neck. Staggering like a drunk, the blood- drenched animal had gone down on its knees, screaming. Thrown to the ground, he’d crawled through dead and dying men. In agony from the splintered bone in his leg, he’d hoisted a wounded trooper on his back and struggled to a grassy verge. Out of his mind with pain, not knowing what he was doing, he had set his burden down, crawled back into the melee and dragged one of his men to safety. The lad, no older than eighteen, had perished in his arms. Hundreds of men had died that day. The Light Brigade had suffered terrible losses. His regiment, the 11th Hussars had been decimated when Lord Lucan held back the Heavies until it was too late to assist the Lights. He’d spent months in a wretched field hospital until he was well enough to travel to England. He tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair. He had to think of Madeline. They’d been betrothed before he’d left for the Crimea. He wasn’t fit company now and had no desire to take part in social chitchat or consider marriage. 28
  28. 28. A Very Difficult Man Better to stay at home and deal with the devils invading his dreams at night— dreams that turned into nightmares of remembering. Madeline’s latest ultimatum, either he come up to London for the final weeks of the season or she’d break off their engagement, did not sit well. Her voice had grated. He’d had difficulty controlling his irritation. At least he hadn’t thrown a book at her although he’d been sorely tempted. Using his crutches he hobbled to the bell rope. “Bring me tea, Pickens,” he said when his valet arrived. “Find out what Miss Thurston is doing.” “Miss Thurston is having tea with your mother and Mr. Edward, then I believe they are going to have a game of piquet.” “Are they now?” Richard grinned. “Very well. Tell Miss Thurston I expect her in the morning at nine o’clock.” So she plays piquet. Not what he expected of a paid companion. After the difficult interview with Madeline, it was a relief to think of nothing more demanding than a game of piquet with his companion. He almost sent for her then changed his mind. Tomorrow would be soon enough. ***** She knocked on his door precisely at nine. “It is Miss Thurston, Lord Glenmore.” “Come in. I promise not to throw anything at you.” He swung around in his chair to observe her. For the first time in weeks, he had ordered the window curtains opened slightly. He remained in the shadows all the better to have a look at his spinster. She stepped into the room. Pinned in a narrow shaft of sunlight, Miss Thurston appeared like an angelic vision. He’d not expected this. Not golden blonde hair with soft curls framing her serious face and blue eyes the color of cornflowers. She was tall and slender and wore a simple gray dress. Her shoulders squared, she waited quietly. And waited. Richard finally found his voice. “Please sit here.” He beckoned her to a chair close to the window. She remained by the door. “I prefer to stand here. Thank you for the orchid, it is very beautiful.” “It was a peace offering. I owed you something for my boorish behavior.” “You owe me nothing, Lord Glenmore. I expect you have your reasons for being…” She put her fingers to her lips. Richard finished the sentence. “For being an ill-humored madman and a monster. I think those were a few of the terms you used to describe me yesterday.” Even from across the room, he could see the blush coloring her cheeks. Miss Thurston was a very beautiful young woman. 29
  29. 29. Anita Birt “Forgive me, I regret my quick temper.” “Very well, all is forgiven. Now come and sit there by the window. If you are to be my companion for the next three months, it is time we became acquainted.” She angled across the room, staying as far away from him as possible. Taking the chair he indicated, she folded her hands on her lap, remained still, and stared at the floor. The tip of her tongue moistened her lower lip. “What shall we converse about this morning, Miss Thurston?” She raised her eyes. Like limpid pools, Richard decided, being in a poetical frame of mind. “The topic is up to you, Lord Glenmore.” “Good. We shall talk about you. Why are you a paid companion? You do not look like a companion. You do not speak like a companion. You have a hasty temper, not an attractive characteristic for a companion and you threw a book at me.” “You threw it first. I will not be abused.” “When I am ill-humored I have every right to throw books at you.” Sparring with Miss Thurston was a pleasant way to pass an hour or two. “Then you must warn me, my lord, when you are out of sorts. I have a steady arm and a keen eye. Now that the light is brighter in your room I may take aim at your head.” For the first time, Catherine could see him clearly. He had black hair, not the red she’d supposed earlier to match his bad temper and his equally bad manners, but black would do just as well. Despite the suffering etched on his face, he was very handsome with deep-set, dark brown eyes. Doing her best not to stare, she studied him covertly. A rather nice mouth. Taut jaw line. Still uneasy in his presence, she shifted her gaze away from his face to his legs, one crossed over the other. “Oh. No one told me. I didn’t know you were…” “A cripple, Miss Thurston. Does that dismay you?” Bitterness edged his voice. “You’d not take aim at a cripple, is that it?” Catherine winced. All the pleasure drained from the morning. “Please, Lord Glenmore, do not mock me. I did not say you were a cripple, those are your words.” She lifted her chin. “If I have hurt you, I am sorry. Do you wish me to leave?” “No. Stay where you are and converse.” He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “Begin.” Catherine breathed deeply and began. “I have walked around some of the estate. The gardens are very fine. One apple tree has a few blossoms. It grows in a sheltered corner of the orchard. I do hope it will survive if we have a frost. Your stable of horses is impressive. One of the lads was currycombing a pretty little mare. He said her name was Misty.” Swallowing hard, she continued. “Do you ride, Lord Glenmore?” 30
  30. 30. A Very Difficult Man “Ride? With this?” He straightened up and folded back his left trouser leg. The leg had been amputated below the knee. The scarred stump, the flesh newly healed and still very pink, shocked Catherine. Not knowing what to do or where to look, she clenched her fists and remained locked in misery. “Well, Miss Thurston, does that answer your question?” He rolled back his trouser leg. Catherine rose to her feet and walked to the window, her heart knotted in her chest. She looked over the long avenue of trees for several seconds to regain her composure before turning to face him. “I did not mean to upset you. May I leave now? I shall not trouble you further.” Lord Glenmore grasped his crutches and stood. She had not expected him to be so tall. Although he stooped slightly he was taller than her brother who was six feet. In a swinging, awkward gait, he walked to the door and opened it. “Please leave. I am in no mood to talk.” Wishing she had never answered the advertisement in the Times, Catherine crossed the room. Were all men so difficult? Her father had been good-natured until the last year of his life when something had gone wrong inside his head. “Am I dismissed then? No longer in your employ?” “You are not dismissed. I expect you to work out your three-month contract as my companion. I am not done with you yet.” Catherine glowered at him. “I have no desire to have things done to me. I shall pack my trunk and leave. You cannot force me to stay.” He threw one crutch aside and grasped her around the waist. “I will decide when you may leave this house.” Catherine tilted her head back and stared into his eyes. “No, you will not! I am not a kitchen maid under your control. Release me at once.” He was too close. Much too close. He lowered his head and kissed her. Boldly. Frightened, she parted her lips to call for help. A low moan escaped from Lord Glenmore as his tongue skimmed into her mouth. She threw back her head to free her mouth from his, flattened her hands against his chest and pushed. “My lord, stop at once.” Staggering backward, he released her. In a hop and a skip, he careened into a table, bounced off it and sprawled on the floor. Her heart beating wildly, Catherine flew to where he lay and dropped to her knees beside him. “Please say you are not mortally injured. Say I haven’t harmed you.” Lord Glenmore opened his eyes. “Those are ridiculous requests. How can I answer if I’m mortally injured?” He rolled on his side, grasped the table leg, and hauled himself up. “You may leave now, Miss Thurston.” 31
  31. 31. Anita Birt Catherine scrambled to her feet and smoothed her skirt. “Am I dismissed, my lord?” She prayed he would say yes. Surely his mother didn’t expect her to remain with this unpredictable man. “Only for the time being. Please tug the bell rope before you go. I expect you tomorrow morning at nine o’clock.” ***** Catherine locked her door and paced the floor. Lord Glenmore frightened her. He was moody and difficult, and she did not want to remember his arm around her waist, nor his mouth on hers, but the more she tried not to remember, the more she remembered. No man had ever kissed her like that. The truth of the matter was no man had ever kissed her lips. She had no experience of such kissing but knew full well Lord Glenmore should not have kissed her, not the way he had as though he wanted to eat her. Throwing books at her, insulting her that—she could cope with, but kissing… His kiss made her hot. Made her heart race. Made her jumpy. Perhaps this is how he intended to frighten her into leaving. The bright sun and a warm breeze drifting into her room through the open French doors drew her outside to walk in the grounds and clear the scene with Lord Glenmore from her thoughts. Free until tomorrow morning when she had to face her tormentor again, she visited Misty, and tried to think how to cope. She could move more quickly than he. If he tried to touch her again, she’d beat a hasty retreat. Being set upon by the lord of the manor was not part of her role as his companion. If he persisted in his actions, she would definitely speak to Lady Glenmore and leave without repaying her wages. 32
  32. 32. A Very Difficult Man Chapter Four “Shall we have a game of dominoes?” Edward escorted her into the library after dinner and laid the tiles out on a table. “I am very good at dominoes, very good indeed. You keep score. I’m not very good at adding up.” He handed her a sheet of writing paper and a pen. “The inkwell is behind you on the desk.” Lady Glenmore followed them and stood at Catherine’s elbow. “How was Richard this morning? He seemed in a better frame of mind yesterday evening when I popped in before I retired for the night.” Catherine chose her seven dominoes and arranged them in front of her. “He… You did not tell me about Lord Glenmore’s injury. He said he was a cripple, but he is very active.” His mother sighed and settled in a chair close to the fireplace. “Richard was wounded in the Crimea. He had a dreadful time and spent many months in a field hospital. My husband, Lord Glenmore, died while Richard was on active service. When our son returned home, he had changed. “Even Lady Madeline, to whom he is betrothed, is not always a welcome visitor. I did hope someone other than Edward and me would cheer Richard, bring him back to life, but it seems I was mistaken.” Catherine played a five and three. Edward promptly laid a double three across hers. “Ha! Count that up,” he chortled. Distracted by the revelations about Lord Glenmore, Catherine hesitated before playing. “Why is he not fitted with an artificial limb? I have seen men…” Oh dear, she was about to say she had seen men begging on London streets, showing off their wooden legs to gain sympathy from passersby. “I mean, Lord Glenmore might return to society if he could walk properly.” She frowned at her tiles, wishing she had never embarked on this conversation. “It would be better, my dear, not to suggest such a thing to him. He refuses to discuss the possibility. I hoped your coming would brighten his mood. It’s not your fault he prefers to stay in his suite. You have been very patient. Should you wish to leave before the month is up, I will understand.” Catherine was not concentrating on dominoes and Edward won the game. “This morning, Lord Glenmore mentioned that he expected me to stay the full three months.” His mother studied Catherine over her spectacles. “Did he then?” Catherine lowered her gaze and hoped the warmth flooding her cheeks would be attributed to the fire in the hearth. “Perhaps I misunderstood him. He seemed angry with me when I asked if he rode. You have a fine stable.” 33
  33. 33. Anita Birt Edward put away the dominoes. “Do you ride? I like a turn around the grounds. Would you join me?” “I would enjoy that but my habit is in London.” “Then we shall send for it! Capital idea. When you’re not reading to Richard, you and I will explore the countryside.” Catherine waited for Lady Glenmore to object. Perhaps a paid companion was not expected to ride. “Do I have your permission, my lady?” “Of course you do. I’ve not ridden for years and Edward enjoys a canter about the grounds. Write to your mother and have her send your habit.” “May I also have her put in my sketching materials? My fingers have been itching to draw your beautiful home and gardens.” “My dear child, I have everything you require here. Open the door to the right of the desk, you’ll find everything you require in there.” Catherine discovered a treasure trove of sketching materials along with an easel and a folding chair. “You are wonderfully kind. When I am not reading to Lord Glenmore or riding with Mr. Edward, I shall sketch.” Happier than she’d been since she arrived, Catherine knew exactly what she would draw first—a view of the house from partway down the drive. Smiling to herself, she bid her companions good night and hurried upstairs. She’d write to her mother at once. Although her riding costume was no longer fashionable, there’d be no one, other than Mr. Edward, to remark on it, and he was much too polite to comment on it. She hoped the moths had not been at her dark green wool skirt and black jacket since it had been folded away two years ago after their horses had been sold. Velvet was all the rage now. Maroon was particularly popular with the gorgeously costumed girls riding in London parks. She’d remind her mother to put in her boots and hat. They were still fashionable. Catherine slowed her pace when she reached the wide hallway leading to her room. A light shone under his door. Holding her breath, she tiptoed past his room. Her right elbow bumped against the wall and she dropped the sketching pad. “Is that you, Miss Thurston, making that dreadful noise?” Catherine sighed. “I am sorry, my lord, I dropped my sketching pad.” Surely he would not ask her to read to him. Not this late. It was well after ten o’clock. “Please come here, I have something to say to you.” She picked up the pad and very slowly opened his door. Several well-placed lamps flooded the room. He swung around in the wing chair and motioned her to step closer to him. “I wish to speak to you without having to shout across the room.” 34
  34. 34. A Very Difficult Man “You’ll not throw anything at me?” Catherine still did not trust him. His moods were too unpredictable. She had no desire to be so close he might reach out and put his arm around her. He smiled and shook his head. “No more books. Your aim is too good.” The smile lit up his face. Catherine could scarcely stop staring at him. A lock of black hair fell across his forehead. His mouth was attractive. To her artist’s eye, it was a generous mouth. A square cut chin… “Well, Miss Thurston, when you are through studying me, please step closer.” “Please excuse me, I did not mean to stare. It’s just…it’s just I didn’t expect…” “Didn’t expect what?” She could not tell him she thought him exceedingly handsome and blurted out the first thing that came into her head. “I’m surprised you have black hair.” “Surprised? Why?” Catherine backed toward the door and safety. “Because you are so bad-tempered and throw books at me, I was sure you had red hair. Everyone I know with red hair has a quick temper.” Lord Glenmore threw back his head and burst out laughing. “Miss Thurston, I think you and I will get along well together. I promise not to throw books at you nor threaten you with my bad temper.” “Thank you, my lord. May I take my leave? I am rather tired.” His eyes held hers. “I regret treating you in such a boorish fashion earlier. It was not my intent to frighten you.” Remembering his kiss, Catherine strove to remain calm. “Then we shall say no more about it. Do you wish me to read to you in the morning?” “I think not. Instead, you and I will take a turn about the grounds. Meet me downstairs at nine o’clock.” “But how…but how will you get around?” “My mother ordered a wheeled chair for me some time ago hoping I would make use of it. I have decided to take the air. You will push me along the paths.” “Perhaps you will allow me to sketch you.” “As a cripple in a chair? No, Miss Thurston, you may not sketch me.” He turned his back on her. “Please leave. I am fatigued.” ***** After a fairly restful night Richard used his crutches and assisted by Pickens made his way downstairs. He’d not left his suite in months, and could not believe how weak he felt. His right leg quivered under the strain and his hands and arms, gripping the crutches ached by the time he reached the front door. It had been one hell of a struggle to get that far. 35
  35. 35. Anita Birt “I’m as weak as a robin, Pickens. Where’s the damned chair so I can sit down?” “In the cloak room, milord, I’ll fetch it at once.” He wheeled the chair over to Richard. God he felt awful—lightheaded like a girl with the vapors. Perhaps this was not a good idea. He’d have Pickens help him upstairs. The grandfather clock chimed nine. With luck, he’d be back in his rooms before Miss Thurston appeared. “Good morning, Lord Glenmore,” she called out and ran down to meet him. “I see you have your chair.” He groaned. He was mad to suggest this ridiculous excursion. Miss Thurston fairly bloomed with good cheer and looked as healthy as a trout. Her cheeks glowed and her blue eyes sparkled under the brim of her straw bonnet. She was remarkably pretty. Why had she not found a husband? London did not lack young men eager to find brides. “Miss Thurston, I have changed my mind and do not wish to go out.” “My lord, it is a glorious day. Spring is really here. You must come out, even for a little while, and smell the air. Let me assist you into the chair.” Helped by a female? Not likely. “I do not require your assistance, Miss Thurston. Pickens, hold the chair steady.” He tossed the crutches aside and dropped into the padded seat. “Now, Miss Thurston, we shall take a turn outside for a few minutes. Down the drive for a short way and back will be sufficient. Pickens, help Miss Thurston take this damned chair down the front steps. She might tip me out.” They started down the drive. The air, full of the scents of spring and bird song, energized Richard. He breathed deeply enjoying the moment. Enjoying the feel of the warm breeze. Enjoying Miss Thurston. She pushed the chair slowly and leaned over to speak to him. “There’s a wren building a nest in the hedge over there. I watched her yesterday. If we stay quiet, she might show herself.” In absolute silence, they waited. Richard rested his head on the back of the chair. Far away, a dog bayed, likely one of the hounds out coursing the grounds searching for rabbits. In a small stand of trees off to the side, a chaffinch burst into its cheeky song. “There,” Miss Thurston whispered into his ear. “Do you see her?” Richard nodded though he’d not seen the wren. Tendrils of hair from under his companion’s bonnet brushed his cheek. Without thinking he raised his hand and threaded his fingers through her feathery soft silky curls. She jerked upright and swung the chair around. “Shall we return to the house, my lord? I do not wish to tire you.” Richard glanced over his shoulder to observe her. She straightened her bonnet and retied the ribbons under her chin. A pink flush colored her cheeks. His touch had alarmed her and alarmed him into desiring her. 36
  36. 36. A Very Difficult Man Desire Miss Thurston? He cleared his throat. The spring air had addled his brain. “I am not yet ready to return. Please take me toward the stable area. There is a pleasant stretch of lawn nearby and a bench under a beech tree. I shall sit there while you have one of the grooms fetch Misty. It’s time I became reacquainted with her. She’s a favorite of mine. I raised her from birth. She’s full of spirit and hard to handle.” Catherine trundled the heavy chair along the winding path that circled the house. Arriving at the lawn, she blanched at the prospect of wheeling him over to the tree. “My lord, I doubt if I can push you across the grass to the bench. Shall I run back inside for your crutches? Perhaps you can make your way…” “No.” He snapped. “I shall stay here. Be careful around Misty. Let one of the grooms handle her. She’s not at ease with strangers.” Catherine hurried to the stables. “Hallo. Is anyone here?” A horse nickered. Catherine searched up and down. Where were the grooms? The stalls were empty except for one. Misty poked her head over the half door and pricked her ears. “Well, Misty, what do you think? Lord Glenmore is anxious to see you and the grooms must be out exercising the other horses.” She smoothed her hand over the mare’s nose and rubbed under her chin. Misty nuzzled her head against Catherine’s shoulder. “Will you let me take you?” Nervous about entering the stall without one of the grooms present, Catherine slipped the bolt, opened the door, and stepped inside. The mare flicked her ears, muscles rippled at her shoulders, her neck tensed and she backed away. Catherine paused—waited for the mare to relax her neck before speaking to her. “There now. No need to be afraid. I like horses, and I especially like you.” Remaining still, she shifted her gaze away from Misty and waited for the mare to make the first move. Misty sidled toward Catherine and snuffled at her. Whatever she smelled seemed to please her. Confident the mare had accepted her, Catherine unhooked a braided leather lead rope from the side of the stall, clipped it to Misty’s bridle, and walked her outside. Jogging along with the frisky mare, Catherine ran up to Lord Glenmore, laughing. “What the hell do you think you are doing, Miss Thurston?” He tried to stand up and fell back in his chair. “The grooms must be out exercising the other horses so I…” Catherine wilted under the anger blazing in his dark eyes. She halted Misty and whispered, “Behave yourself or he’ll blame me if you don’t.” “So you decided to risk injury instead of waiting for one of the grooms. You are a fool, Miss Thurston.” “And you are bad-tempered, Lord Glenmore. I am not a fool. I have been around horses all my life. Misty is no more difficult than any other skittish animal. I’ve visited her almost every day. She and I are friends.” Catherine stood her ground. Lord 37
  37. 37. Anita Birt Glenmore would not intimidate her. “Now, do you want me to return her to the stable or will you stop frowning and speak to her?” He clucked at the mare and she trotted toward him. Seeing them together, Misty nuzzling his neck and Lord Glenmore rubbing his hands over her flank, Catherine forgot her ill humor. A picture captured her imagination. Tonight she would set up the easel in her room and sketch. She’d show the sun glinting on the mare’s sleek chestnut hide, Lord Glenmore in profile, his dark head resting against her flank. She’d not draw him in the chair. The sketch would have him sitting at an angle on a stone wall with the horse beside him. A groom ran up the path toward them, skidded to a stop, and removed his cap. “My lord, how did Misty come here? I was exercising Kip, came back, and found her missing.” “My companion, Miss Thurston, seems to have a way with horses. She brought her to me.” The groom smiled at Catherine. “I mind you, now. You’ve come by a few times, like as not Misty remembered you talking to her.” “She’s a lovely creature. I would dearly love to ride her someday.” Catherine bit her tongue and hoped she had not overstepped herself. Lord Glenmore was in a testy mood. “Take Misty to the stable, Tom. I’m returning to the house.” Lord Glenmore nodded at Catherine. She grasped the handles of the chair, turned it around and began the slow push back to the house. He remained silent. Her arms trembled from the effort of wheeling the clumsy chair. She sighed with relief when they reached the front steps of the manor. If these excursions were to continue she’d require assistance with the chair. “If you’ll excuse me, my lord, I’ll send for Pickens and one of the footmen to lift your chair into the house. I fear my arms are not strong enough to move you safely.” She started up the steps. “Come back, Miss Thurston. Please sit down.” He motioned to a stone bench at the side of the steps. Grateful to sit she waited for him to speak. Discomposed under his intense scrutiny, she lowered her gaze and concentrated on the activity of an ant dragging a dead wasp across a flagstone. She wished he would say something. The ant disappeared into a crack under the steps. “Do you wish to ride?” Catherine raised her eyes. He was not exactly smiling, but he was not frowning either. More like he was thinking. “If it is convenient, my lord, and does not encroach on my time with you. Mr. Edward suggested he and I might take a turn around the grounds. Lady Glenmore agreed. I have written my mother asking her to send my riding costume.” 38
  38. 38. A Very Difficult Man He studied her closely. “What experience have you had with horses?” “We had a small stable at my home in Dorset. I’ve been riding all my life. My brother and I used to…” Catherine paused. Lord Glenmore raised his brows. “Your brother?” “He has gone abroad, my lord. I’ve not heard from him for…” She swallowed the lump in her throat. Johnny had been away for so long, and she missed him. “We used to take half wild ponies and teach them good manners. When we finished our work, they were easy and gentle, perfect for the neighbors’ children to ride.” “Very well. If you are confident you can handle Misty, you may ride her. But take care. When you are in the saddle, she’ll try to bend you to her will. She’s not a rough pony but a very fine thoroughbred with a temperament to match. Only Parsons, the head groom, exercises her. She was one of my favorite mounts before…before…” His face hardened. “Call Pickens, I am weary of your company.” Stung by his last remark, Catherine chose to ignore it. “My lord, why do you not try to ride? You have a good knee on your…on your wounded leg, and there’s nothing wrong with your arms and hands. Surely if riding gives you pleasure, you…” “Miss Thurston, you become too familiar. You are my paid companion not my advisor. I do not wish to ride, is that clear? Do not mention the subject again.” Put firmly in her place, Catherine rose to her feet, straightened her back, and walked up the steps. Seething with anger, she paused under the portico and stared down at him. “Lord Glenmore, I do not enjoy being your companion. God help me, had I known I would have to spend my days with an arrogant, ill-mannered boor I never would have come. You sit in that gloomy room feeling sorry for yourself because you were wounded in the Crimea. “You are one of the lucky ones. You have wealth, a magnificent home, the comfort of a family, and are a privileged member of society. The wounded soldiers I see begging on the London streets put you to shame. They have nothing. No hope. Nothing. And you have everything to live for. A fiancée who cares for you. A wonderful loving mother. And you have responsibilities to your tenants, to your land, to your…” He glared at her. “Have you finished, Miss Thurston?” Catherine gasped. She had gone too far. “I am sorry, my lord. Please forgive me.” She turned on her heel. “I will send for Pickens. Good morning.” She passed Pickens as she hurried to her room and gave him Lord Glenmore’s message. Whatever had possessed her to speak like that to his lordship? She agonized over what she had said and longed to take back every word. But he had been very rude, taking his bad temper out on her because of her innocent remark about him attempting to ride. 39
  39. 39. Anita Birt If he wanted to stay shut up in the house for the rest of his life, what business was it of hers? When he reported her behavior to Lady Glenmore, she’d dismiss Catherine on the spot. Anxiety tightened her throat. Her mother had taken it into her head to purchase an expensive gown for evening wear instead of settling the account with the coal merchant. Her last letter had shocked Catherine. “I simply had to have something new. An invitation came from Lady Newberry to attend an evening function and I did feel the need for a little company. Since you left, I have been quite bereft…” Either she had to go down on her knees and apologize to Lord Glenmore or risk dismissal. Dismissal without a reference at that. She had to apologize. Still angry with him and his bad manners, she changed her mind about painting him with Misty. Instead, she set up her easel, pinned on a piece of sketching paper, and began a charcoal drawing of bad-tempered Lord Glenmore. With a few swift strokes, she had him down perfectly. Black hair, glowering dark eyes, a frown on his brow, and his mouth in a tight, disapproving line. Catherine grinned at the sketch. She loved cartooning. Inspired, she printed a line below his face. “Miss Thurston. You are a fool who does not know her place. Kindly speak when you are spoken to.” She added a small drawing of herself in the lower right-hand corner. She was on her knees, hands clasped in prayer, head bowed. Circling her humble figure, she scrolled. Forgive me, Lord Glenmore. I will remain silent, unless ordered to speak. Having rid herself of her antagonism to Lord Glenmore by taking it out on the sketch, she picked up a book she’d laid aside earlier and sat outside on the small balcony to read. She’d wait awhile before apologizing. Wait until his anger cooled or he might throw something at her. 40