After years of tolerating her late husband’s rowdy friends, Honoria, Lady Twisden, has escaped to York where she can paint, investigate antiquities, and enjoy her freedom. Then her stepson appears with a long-lost cousin in tow, the perfect image of an ancestor whose fierce portrait made her shiver with mad imaginings.
Promised York’s marriage mart and the hospitality of his cousin’s doddering stepmother, Major August Kellborn is shocked to find that his fetching hostess is the one woman who stirs his heart. To win her heart and hand, however, he must convince her he’s not just a perfect image of his ancestor, but her perfect match.
Previously published in the Desperate Daughters Bluestocking Belles Collection
Publisher: Havenlock Press
As she crossed the battered black and white tiles of the hall, the knocker resounded.
Her blood spiked with a mix of apprehension and anticipation, and just a tad of annoyance. She had callers. Her painting must wait—and thank heavens they’d made the house presentable.
Meg was upstairs dusting. Mrs. Dunscombe was below stairs. Honoria smoothed her hair, ran her hands down the sides of her old day gown, and heaved the heavy door open.
Wes was here, on her doorstep. Unexpected.
“Good heavens.” She mustered a welcoming tone. “What a surprise.”
“A pleasant one, I hope.” A grin split his handsome face.
He had his father’s blue eyes and dark blond hair, and none of his corpulence. She shoved the uncharitable thought aside and extended her hands.READ MORE
He reached her first and lifted her, planting a kiss on her forehead, with all the exuberance of the six-year-old she’d taken into her heart.
Laughing, she told him to put her down.
“Why ever are you answering your own door?”
Here comes the scold. Having reached his majority and taken over the responsibility of the estate, the dear lad had begun trying to manage her. That was but one of the reasons she’d left Twisden Manor.
“Where is the footman? We need him to fetch in our trunks.”
Looking past the broad shoulder she saw another figure approaching and…
Good God. Heat swamped her and flamed in her cheeks. Dark eyes shot darts at her over a grimly set, thin-lipped mouth. The palpable sternness of Wes’s companion sent a shiver of awareness through her. It was a familiar shiver, one she’d indulged during her tedious days at Twisden Manor when she’d found herself fighting off mad imaginings.
Wes’s laughter shook her tongue loose. “My goodness, sir,” she said. “You bear an uncanny resemblance to—”
“Old Ebenezer Twisden,” Wes said. “Yes, it is as if the old Warden has come back to life, Mother. As soon as I laid eyes on him in Brampton, I knew he must be a relation. And do you know who he is, Mother?” He laughed again. “I’ve written to Granny to tell her. She’ll be in alt when she reads the news.”
A man of perhaps forty, he was about the same age as Wes’s ancestor, the Warden in the painting at Twisden Hall who’d been in the King’s service for many years when that portrait was done. This new incarnation of Ebenezer wasn’t a particularly tall man, not as tall as Wes, but he still towered over her.
Old Ebenezer cleared his throat.
“But of course,” Wes said. “Where are my manners? Mother, may I present my cousin, Major Augustus Kellborn. Gus, this is my dear stepmother, Lady Twisden.”
While she curtsied, managing not to wobble, he dipped his head, never taking his gaze away.
Good holy heavens.
“We had a good meal at the last inn stop,” Wes said, “but a cup of tea and a few biscuits wouldn’t go amiss while the servants ready our rooms.”
“Your rooms.” She blinked. Wes expected her to take in him and this handsome cousin who made her skin tingle but... There is no way. This was her home. It was true that Wes had stepped in and helped her with the estate agent when he fussed about leasing the house to a widow living alone, but she’d made it clear to Wes that she paid the rent. He knew, too, that she wanted…needed some time away. She’d explained all that when she concocted this plan to spend the season in York.
Sighing, she led them into the drawing room. “I fear I have no spirits to offer you, but I can bring up some of my elderberry wine, or if you have a flask, you must feel free to imbibe. Make yourself comfortable and I shall return directly.”
Fleeing the parlor, she paused on the backstairs, pressing a hand to her pounding heart. Augustus Kellborn was the stuff of every naughty dream she’d entertained about Ebenezer Twisden. Attired in his flowing dark wig, long coat, breeches and high boots, Ebenezer Twisden had pinned his gaze on her through countless dinners with Sir Melton and his endless stream of tiresome, rowdy guests. Long ago, Ebenezer had served one of the Border Wardens, rounding up rievers and imposing the Crown’s law. Family legend said he was a fierce and brutal warrior. One could see it in his eyes.
She had, at first, been intimidated by Ebenezer’s image, and then intrigued, and then she’d begun imagining the virile fighter stepping out of the painting and shoving his sword into Jeremiah Ripton’s belly. Repeatedly.
One could see a similar strength of will in Major Kellborn, and she knew of his heroism from tales told by her mother-in-law.
What a ninny she’d been, and what a ninny she was being now. She’d give the men tea and the names of the best inns in York. Cousin to her late husband though he may be, Major Ebenezer could not give her household of women countenance, and she’d rather he took his skin-tingling, heart-hammering, cheek-heating virile male presence elsewhere. It would be harder to turn Wes away, but she must at least try.COLLAPSE