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Along Came Duke by Elizabeth Boyle
May 29, 2012
“A young lady with a fortune is subject to all sorts of untoward attentions by the worst sort of vagrants.” ~Aunt Allegra
A lesson, Tabitha Timmons, a penniless spinster, has never needed to heed. That is, until she is left a vast fortune payable only upon her marriage to the very respectable Mr. Barkworth—a match that offers little chance of discovering exactly what her aunt means by “untoward attentions.”
But the same can’t be said when the Duke of Preston happens along Tabitha’s path. He spies a rebellious streak in her that matches his own, and he makes it his mission to save her from such a passionless match, interfering in her life at every turn. All too soon, Preston–whose very name spells ruin–has Tabitha caught between the good fortune that guarantees her security, and his kiss, which promises an entirely different kind of happily ever after.
Why do you need to read this book?
Other than the obvious reason – Elizabeth Boyle wrote this book!!! It is a thoroughly delightful romp. Tabitha and the Duke of Preston are a wonderful combination that shouldn’t be missed!
The day dawned like it always did in May in the village of Kempton, with a bright sprinkle of sunshine, a hint of dew on the grass and the birds singing happy choruses in the garden.
There was no indication whatsoever that on this day, Miss Tabitha Timmons would not only find herself betrothed, but fall madly and deeply in love.
And not necessarily with the same man.
More about this unfortunate turn of events in a moment.
No, the only thing on Tabitha’s mind as she stepped out of the vicarage that afternoon, closing the door quietly behind her on her way to the Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Society for the Temperance and Improvement of Kempton, was that she was escaping her aunt’s demands and her uncle’s complaints for the next blessed three hours.
“Ho, there,” Miss Daphne Dale called out cheerily from the garden gate where she had been waiting for Tabitha. (Yes, she’s one of those Dales, but this is Tabitha’s story and Daphne’s inevitable adventures will have to wait.)
“I was beginning to fear she wasn’t going to let you come,” Daphne continued in a loud whisper as she reached down and gave Tabitha’s ever present dog, Mr. Muggins, a scratch behind the ears.
“Then Aunt Allegra would have to attend,” Tabitha said, glancing over her shoulder and thankful that the curtains were all still drawn–which meant her aunt wasn’t there peering after her, trying to come up with some excuse to call her back.
“Wretched notion that,” Daphne declared, linking her arm into Tabitha’s and towing her friend away from the vicarage that had once been Tabitha’s happy home.
It should still be such a place, sitting as it did, stubby and content in the shadow of St. Edward’s church, a large and ancient relic from the Norman times with its high stone walls, long nave and a bell tower that was only dwarfed by the heights of Foxgrove, the Earl of Roxley’s nearby estate.
Instead, with her father’s death two years ago of a heart ailment and the installation of her uncle as the new vicar, Tabitha’s beloved childhood home was naught but a dreary, dreadful place.
At least, Tabitha mused, she was still allowed to attend the Society meetings, if only because her aunt found the mission of providing charity baskets to Kempton’s many spinsters a tedious chore.
They ambled along Meadow Lane, the narrow track that led from the vicarage to High Street, while Daphne chattered on as if nothing had ever changed.
“–Lady Essex will never allow Louisa and Lavinia to have their way on this matter. The buntings for the Midsummer Ball have always been lavender. Apple green, indeed!”
Tabitha smiled and let the idle talk wash over her like a great balm, for when she was with Daphne or at the weekly Society meetings, it was easy to believe that nothing about her once idyllic life had changed.
For this was Kempton, one of those agreeable English gems, hidden away in a small, verdant valley where a tidy little river cut a winding path through meadows and fields alike, lending the mill just enough current to turn its ancient wheel.
“–I even called on the twins yesterday and tried–most politely–to explain how they will only raise Lady Essex’s ire if they persist.” Daphne huffed a sigh. “Oh, how Louisa and Lavinia love trouble!”
Tabitha eyed her friend and grinned. “You honestly thought you could deter them?”
“I had hoped,” Daphne confessed. “And if that failed, I thought my new bonnet would distract them.” She tipped her head to show the green silk bonnet with its grey ribbon off to advantage.
Tabitha was used to Daphne’s preening and laughed. “You convinced your father to advance your allowance, didn’t you?”
Her friend grinned unrepentantly, blue eyes alight, her gloved hand rising to touch the jaunty brim. “Yes, and worth every shilling,” Daphne declared, “I was afraid Papa wouldn’t relent before Miss Fielding discovered it and snatched it up for herself and you know how ill she looks in green!”
Tabitha laughed. The rivalry between Daphne and Miss Fielding grew deeper with each passing year.
“I think it would look perfect on you,” Daphne said, in an off-handed way. “You could try it on when we get to Lady Essex’s.” She glanced over at Tabitha, her gaze filled with kindness, her teeth holding her lower lip as she waited.
Knowing exactly what her friend intended, Tabitha shook her head. “You know I cannot consider such a thing. You recall how my aunt was when you gave me those gloves last winter.”
“They weren’t charity,” Daphne declared, her brow now furrowed. “And neither would this be. ‘Tis only that you haven’t had a new hat in . . . ”
“Two years,” Tabitha replied. Nor a new gown. Or shoes. Or stockings. “Truly, I don’t mind.”
“Well, I do!” Daphne shot back. “Your aunt and uncle should be ashamed of how they begrudge you even scraps.”
What could Tabitha say? It was all true–her aunt and uncle had been more than happy to gain the elevated position of her father’s living when he’d died, but the guardianship of his penniless daughter? Not in the least. Aunt Allegra even liked to complain that her niece took up too much space in the corner of the attic they’d graciously allotted for her to sleep in.
“Every time your uncle gives a sermon on charity, I want to stand up and call him an overbearing hypocrite,” Daphne said.
“You’re incorrigible,” Tabitha scolded, though only half-heartedly–for if anyone had her best interests at heart, it was Daphne.
“Who is incorrigible?” Miss Harriet Hathaway asked as she joined them where Meadow Lane met High Street. In true Harriet fashion, her hem was muddy, her gown slightly rumpled, her bonnet askew and on one of her pink cheeks was a smudge of something. She’d probably realized the time and come dashing out of the Pottage stables without a second glance toward a mirror.
Lady Essex was guaranteed to be put out by her protégée’s untidy appearance. Her ladyship had high hopes of taking Harriet to London and finding her a grand match, though hardly anyone in Kempton put much stock in such notions.
After all, this was “Harry” Hathaway they were talking about.
“I am,” Daphne told her and then deftly changed the subject. “I bought a new bonnet.”
Harriet spared it a glance. “Oh, yes, so you have. Isn’t that the one you showed me last week in Mrs. Welling’s window?”
Daphne nodded, which showed off the hat to its best advantage.
Taking another look, Harriet asked, “But I thought it had that feather trim on it?”
“I removed it,” Daphne said quietly, tipping her head nonchalantly at Mr. Muggins.
Tabitha cringed. She loved her dog dearly, but he had no notion that a feathered trim on a pelisse or a jaunty quill tucked in the brim of a hat was not attached to an actual bird.
When he’d ravaged three of Aunt Allegra’s hats, not long after they’d arrived, the lady had threatened to have him cast out—only to find the entire village of Kempton and a good portion of the population from the surrounding villages refused to take him in, much to Tabitha’s relief.
Finally, the indignant lady had done as Daphne had and removed the remaining feathers from her all hats. Even the indomitable Lady Essex removed the feathers from her favorite turban before she would wear it to a Society meeting.
No feather was safe when Mr. Muggins was close at hand.
“You look tired, Tabitha,” Harriet remarked. “And thinner. You are working too hard.”
Tabitha glanced away. “I had to have the scrubbing done before I left, so I got up early.”
Daphne slanted a look at her. “And I suppose you also polished the silver and washed the dishes and got the table laid for supper and the vegetables cut for Mrs. Oaks.”
That was nearly all of it, but she’d also done the ironing as well. Still, she rose up in the face of their concern. “Don’t look at me so. The work is nothing.”
Harriet’s jaw set. “Someone needs to remind your aunt that you are a lady and not the charring girl.”
“I would prefer they didn’t,” Tabitha said. At least she had a roof over her head, a point her aunt and uncle liked to point out on a daily basis.
“You can always come live–” Harriet began, but Tabitha stopped her with a sharp shake of her head.
You can always come live at the Pottage.
Just as Lady Essex had offered her a place at Foxgrove, and Daphne a room at Dale House, but her uncle and aunt had refused to allow Tabitha to move out, convinced she would turn wanton and licentious without their ever-present protection.
That, and they would lose a free maid.
But there was also the simple fact that Tabitha loved the vicarage–it had always been her home, and though she now had naught but a small corner under the eaves and ate in the kitchen, at least she could still tend her mother’s flowers in the gardens and gaze upon her father’s sure handwriting as she made entries into the parish record.
It was the closest thing to a home she would ever have.
“If only we weren’t from Kempton,” Daphne said, sighing loudly. “Then you could marry and escape your aunt’s demands.”
“Let us think of something more merry,” Harriet proposed as if she’d spied the shadow crossing Tabitha’s face. “Such as how scarlet Lady Essex’s cheeks will be when the Tempest twins make their ridiculous motion–yet again–to changing the color of the Midsummer’s Eve buntings.”
They all three laughed and continued contentedly along, for which Tabitha was glad. At least some things never changed.
They were approaching the smithy, where Mr. Thury’s hammer rang sharp and clear as he worked steadily at some task. The sound was familiar, but nonetheless, Daphne came to an abrupt halt.
“Oh my!” Her gasp was followed by Harriet stumbling to a stop, the heels of her boots digging into the gravel.
She let forth with an oath most obviously learned from one of her five brothers and finished with a rather unladylike, “That’s a demmed fine rig!”
Tabitha stopped and glanced back at them and then put her hand to her forehead and squinted into the sunlight, until she was able to focus on the sight that held her friends captive.
For indeed a fancy carriage, a phaeton she believed it to be–but she’d leave that designation to Harriet who was far more informed about such matters. Whatever it was, it now sat lopsided with one wheel removed and most likely being repaired by Mr. Thury.
The oddity was unlike anything usually seen in Kempton.
For while Kempton had quite the abundance of spinsters and unmarried ladies, it rather lacked a population of gentleman–so much so that such masculine trappings were a rare sight indeed.
“Goodness, have you ever seen anything so admirable?” Daphne whispered.
Tabitha slanted a glance at her friend. “I doubt even your father would cozzen such a conveyance.”
“I wasn’t looking at the carriage,” Daphne confessed. “Rather at the gentleman in that splendid jacket.” She slanted her glance toward a tall, elegantly attired man standing under the smithy’s awning, holding a large pint in his hand–and worse yet, grinning in their direction. “Whoever could he be?”
“Oh, that’s just Roxley,” Harriet supplied. Then much to Tabitha’s horror, her friend waved at the nobleman like one might hail the grocer or a passing peddler. “Ho, there, my lord. Have you come to visit your aunt?”
Without any propriety or thought for good manners, Harriet plowed on ahead, extending her hand to Lord Roxley–the-all-too infamous and ruinous Lord Roxley–so very rarely seen in these parts that it was no wonder he could arrive and not be recognized.
“He’s the earl?” Daphne whispered under her breath, her gaze fixed exactly as Tabitha’s was on Lady Essex’s nephew.
“I didn’t know you were coming to Kempton, Roxley,” Harriet said with comfortable familiarity. Then again, Tabitha was always a bit awed at Harriet’s easy manners with the opposite sex. She supposed it was because her friend, having grown up with six brothers, saw them not as mysterious and dangerous practitioners of ruin, but good company.
Odd notion, really, to Tabitha’s way of thinking.
“Chaunce wrote me just this week and didn’t mention you were coming down from town,” Harriet continued to scold.
“Sssh, Harry! ‘Tis a devilish secret that I’m here.” The handsome fellow winked at her.
The girl straightened and shook her head. “You know you musn’t call me that! You will have your aunt in horrors! I am Miss Hathaway now.” She struck a pose that would have made even Lady Essex proud.
But Roxley appeared unimpressed. He leaned closer, like a conspirator. “Miss Hathaway, indeed! Not to me, Harry. Never.” He reached over and tweaked her cheek.
Harriet shooed his hand away and laughed. “You never change, Roxley.”
“I hope not. I fear I would disappoint my family utterly if I turned up one day all stodgy and straitlaced like your brother Quinton.” He laughed again and then glanced over at Tabitha and Daphne, before giving Harriet a pointed look.
Remembering her manners, Harriet said quickly, “My lord, may I present Miss Timmons and Miss Dale.”
“You most certainly may,” he said.
Tabitha gave the man some credit, for having heard his character lamented over and over again by his great aunt, Lady Essex, he then made an elegant bow as she and Daphne dipped into proper curtsies.
“And who is this?” he asked, reaching out a hand to give Mr. Muggins an amiable pat on the head.
The dog replied with a low growl.
“I am so sorry, my lord,” Tabitha rushed to say, “I fear he is uneasy around strangers.”
“Noble beast,” Roxley managed as he drew his fingers back warily.
“‘Tis the feather in your brim,” Harriet told him.
“The what?” he said, eyeing the large dog, who was now watching him like a wolf might a lost lamb.
“The feather in your hat,” Harriet repeated, reaching up and plucking the white quill from his brim.
“Hey, that’s my souvenir–”
But whatever its meaning, the feather was gone as Harriet quickly dispatched it, tossing it to Mr. Muggins, who caught it deftly, and then looked up his mistress, an overly proud expression in his eyes at having caught his prey.
“You can thank me one day,” Harriet told Roxley, as if that was enough an explanation.
“Whatever happened to your carriage, my lord?” Tabitha ventured, changing the subject.
“Not my carriage, Miss Timmons. Preston’s.” The earl waved his hand over toward the smithy. “I warned him not to take the corner by the great oak at that speed, but would he listen?” He shrugged and grinned as if their dangerous and foolhardy misfortune was a badge of honor.
Harriet laughed. “My brother George did the same thing last spring. Hell bent he was, my father says.”
“Harriet!” Daphne gasped. “Remember what Lady Essex said about language! She’d double her lessons if she were to hear you say such a thing.”
“No, Harry!” Roxley lamented, glancing from Daphne back to Harriet. “You aren’t letting my aunt ruin you?”
“Not ruin, my lord,” Harriet told him. “Just round me out. My mother has given up. But Lady Essex is determined. She has plans to bring me to Town next month.”
“To Town, you say?” Roxley asked.
“Yes, didn’t she write you?”
“Never does,” he told her. “Just shows up and bedevils me for weeks on end.” He grinned at her. “Now I am forewarned and in your debt.”
“Yes, well you can dance with me at Almack’s.”
“Never!” he said with a shudder. “I shall be away all next month. Yes, away. Hunting.”
“It isn’t the season for hunting,” Harriet told him, folding her arms over her chest.
“It is somewhere,” he teased back.
“If you are so resolved to avoiding Lady Essex, whatever are you doing here in Kempton?” Harriet asked.
“Racing! We were trying to beat that coxcomb Kipps back to London, and I told Preston that we could use the Kempton road as a shortcut. Bet Dillamore a monkey we’d get to Town first.” He raked his hand through his hair and looked again at the lopsided carriage. “Always forget that corner by the oak,” he said with a rueful shake of his head.
“Dear me,” Tabitha said. “Five hundred pounds?”
Daphne’s eyes went wide at the amount. “I do hope Mr. Thury knows how imperative it is that you get your wheel repaired.”
“Oh, he does,” Roxley told her. “Preston has even pitched in. Prestigious fellow that he is. Though might be ’cause he’s got twice that wagered and he’ll be in the suds if we lose.” Lord Roxley craned his head toward the smithy’s forge and called out, “We’ll beat Kipps yet, eh Preston?”
There was a low growled muttering from behind the forge where a bent over figure worked.
The earl shrugged, a rather apologetic motion. “He’s in ever-so-foul a mood. Ho, there! Preston! Come meet some of the local ladies. There are few gentlemen in these parts and we are considered a rarity.”
On that, Roxley had the right of it.
Gentlemen left this sleepy, forgotten corner of England for school as soon as they were out of short pants and few returned–the lure of the army, the navy, and even the clergy offered far more exciting venues than the quiet meadows and green hills of Kempton. Hadn’t all of Harriet’s brothers–save George, her father’s heir–hied off to the four corners of the world rather than remain in the place of their birth.
And they did so because they could.
Tabitha had to wonder at this friend of Lord Roxley’s–for she knew well enough from his aunt about the earl’s licentious character–but this associate of his, this Mr. Preston? What sort of man would bet so much on a carriage race?
It was scandalous, but at the same time, Tabitha felt a frisson of envy that these men had the freedom to wager such staggering amounts and jaunt about the countryside at will, while she was . . . she was . . . trapped.
Trapped by her circumstances . . . by a lack of opportunities. Never before had she ever felt the lure of London, but looking at this swift carriage and the freedom it lent its owners Tabitha’s heart beat with a rare note of rebellion.
A few moments before she would have described herself as content–overworked, tired and slightly underfed, yes–but content, now suddenly she chaffed at the inequity of it all.
No hope of marriage. No way to leave Kempton. And while London was only a two day drive, whatever would she do if she got there. Her relations in Mayfair would only send her back to Kempton.
This time she looked at this carriage, this pair of carefree devils, and scowled.
Men! For once she was rather glad that Kempton was not overrun with them. They put the most impossible notions in a lady’s head.
“Preston, this will only take a moment,” Roxley was saying, still attempting to lure his friend away from his labors.
“Yes, well, you needn’t bother your friend, my lord,” Tabitha said as politely as she could, “we should be on our way. To our Society meeting.” Besides, who knew what sort of unsettling notions this Mr. Preston would inspire. “We would not want to keep you and Mr. Preston from your . . . your–”
Oh, bother, how did one describe a wager that was naught but foolish and a grand waste of time, money and effort?
“Oh, it is no trouble,” Roxley said grandly. “Would do Preston some good to meet some respectable ladies. His aunt is forever harping on about it.” The earl turned to his friend, arms crossed over his chest, his boot tapping impatiently. “Come now, Preston! Make your bow or word will spread that I keep uncivilized company–Lady Essex will never let me hear the end of it.” The earl turned and waggled his brows at Harriet.
Tabitha could only surmise that Lady Essex would not be happy to discover them in the company of this “Preston” person, no matter how prestigious Lord Roxley thought him.
Then she spied him, this Mr. Preston, rising up from beside the forge, bellows in hand and prestigious was hardly the word that came to mind.
Everything Tabitha suspected about him–that he was not fit company, that he was a scandalous dangerous rogue–ignited like sparks from the hot fires–bright and sure one moment and gone the next.
Oh, Mr. Preston might well be a gambler and a rake, and quite possibly as rapscallion as they came, but much to Tabitha’s greatest horror, he was utterly intoxicating to look at.
And no, the word that came to mind was definitely not prestigious, but rather something more simple and straightforward.
He rose up, no ugly Hephaestus, but like a very Adonis. This she knew for certain, for Lady Essex kept a statue of this legendary hero in her morning room, one her father had picked up on his Continental tour so many years ago.
At least this version had the decency to keep his breeches, boots and shirt on–though barely. The white linen shirt that might once have been fashionable, was open to his waist and plastered to his body, his smooth, muscled chest gleaming from his labors.
A gentleman would never appear in public so–without his cravat, without his gloves, without all the proper trappings. Why this Mr. Preston was nearly . . . Dare she even think it? There was no other word to describe the man.
Naked. Undressed. Unadorned.
Not that he needed anything to gild his form–for it was perfect.
Tabitha pressed her lips together in shock. Good heavens, what was she thinking? Wasn’t it bad enough her limbs burned as if she’d been dipped in the heat of forge? Her heart pounded with an odd twitter, and she knew she should glance away, not gape, not stare, and yet she couldn’t . . . didn’t want to.
He shook his head and his tawny hair fell about his shoulders like an unruly mane. His dark eyes flicked a glance toward her and for a moment, Tabitha had the rare feeling of being pinned in place–like one of her father’s specimens–as if this man’s very gaze could capture her. But his regard didn’t last very long, for he all-too-quickly looked away, dismissing her as hardly worthy of his attentions.
Not that she was the only one to witness his hasty regard.
“Don’t be such a curmudgeon, Preston,” Roxley complained, rocking on his boot heels, his hands now folded behind his back. “It is bad form. Besides you’re utterly safe from the advances of young ladies here in Kempton. Not one of these misses has a hope or prayer of ever finding a man to catch in the parson’s mousetrap.” The earl winked at the ladies. “Cursed the entire lot of them.”
Cursed. This brought the man’s gaze up, a flicker of interest in his dark eyes.
Tabitha, who was rather proud of the Kempton curse, nay tradition, suddenly felt rather embarrassed. Why Lord Roxley made them sound like country simpletons and nothing could be further from the truth.
“Cursed?” Preston asked, setting the bellows down, one of his dark brows tipping with amusement and his piercing gaze once again fixed on Tabitha. “Is that so?” He reached for a rag and began to wipe his hands clean.
“Very much so,” Roxley teased, winking again at Harriet. “Been that way for centuries. Can’t find a man to marry a one of them. Not and live to tell you about it. Why they still recount the tale of poor John Stakes, and he’s been dead nigh on two centuries. Named the demmed public house for him after his Kempton bride–”
Tabitha could take no more. “My lord! No one puts any faith in those old myths.”
Daphne stepped forward and added, “Certainly not! Why four years ago, Miss Woolnoth married Mr. Amison, and they are perfectly suited.”
Harriet’s eyes widened, and she looked about to reveal the truth.
That Mr. Amison drank shamelessly and had only married Miss Woolnoth because he had sought a cheaper means to buy her father’s best ram. He might have gotten the sheep, but he also got a wife that nagged endlessly.
So perhaps they were perfectly suited. However, the Amison’s marriage only seemed to fortify the last remnants of the Curse’s legacy that a marriage to a girl from Kempton would only end in tragedy.
“Indeed, my lord. We are certainly not cursed,” Tabitha rushed to say. Tucking her nose in the air, she added, “We simply choose not to marry.”
Of course, the general lack of marriage partners in Kempton, the dowry to tempt one or the opportunity to gain a man’s attention also factored into her bravado.
There was a moment of silence from the gentlemen, then Lord Roxley let out a loud laugh, but it was Mr. Preston’s reaction that set Tabitha’s teeth on edge.
The man actually let out a loud snort of derision. As if he had never heard such nonsense.
“Ladies who choose not to marry!” Lord Roxley laughed again. “Ah, if only the females of London would adopt such forward thinking, eh Preston? You might be able to attend a ball or a soiree without causing a complete stir.”
There was another snort from Mr. Preston, which only grated on Tabitha more so. And given what the earl had just revealed–that Mr. Preston was a source of scandal in Town–she knew him for the mean creature he was–the type of man who disavows marriage, yet spends his time ruining young, innocent ladies of their virtue as a matter of course, robbing them of any future chance of happiness–the very lowest sort of beast.
Roxley barked out a laugh. “Miss Timmons, you should know–”
“Now, now, Roxley, let the chit have her say,” Preston said. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Miss Timmons?”
Tabitha drew a steadying breath. “Sir, I will have you know, I never intend to go seeking a husband and am quite content with the notion.” There, she’d managed that much–it had been a long time since she’d spoken her mind and fortified by her first success she continued unabashedly, “Marriage offers no benefits to a lady, save leaving her a servant to a man’s fickle whims and his selfish demands.”
Her uncle would have apoplexy over such a brazen statement.
Much to her shock, this odious Preston looked more amused than annoyed, for he grinned at her, stalking forward like a lion, the king of the forest having discovered easy prey within his lazy reach. “Truly?” His gaze swept over her again and when he finished his quick appraisal, one brow rose in an arched bow, as if poised to strike.
She dug in her heels and gulped. “Yes.”
He nodded. “And you and your companions have no intention of marrying?”
“I cannot speak for Miss Dale or Miss Hathaway but I consider myself quite happily situated if I may be so frank.”
Then again, any woman foolish enough to marry a man like this Mr. Preston would most likely find herself abandoned and her heart broken.
Preston moved even closer to her until he stood before her, his bare chest just a hand’s width away from her wide eyed gaze. So close she could see the rivulets of moisture running down the muscled expanse before her, nearly feel his pulse as it raced from his heart. He smelled of his labors, of the charcoal in the forge and of something else, something so masculine that it wrestled with Tabitha’s better nature and left her bereft of common sense.
It left her wanting to inhale deeply and reach out and touch him, if only because suddenly she had the sense of the ground beneath her shifting.
Then to her horror, he leaned over and whispered in her ear, “If I might be so bold, Miss Timmons, what exactly do you know of men’s whims or for that matter the desire a lady feels?”
The implication of his words hit her with the same force as if he had struck her. Tabitha stumbled back, out of his reach, her cheeks flaming. “Ooooh! How dare you!”
The wretched fellow laughed and turned his back to her, stalking back to his work, dismissing her in much the same manner as he had earlier. “Miss Timmons, if you had ever dared, you wouldn’t make such a foolish statement.”
She stepped back and took a deep breath, her hand resting over her stomach which seemed to have filled with butterflies. Catching hold of what little bit of composure she still possessed, she let fly with a hot retort.
“We speak our minds quite freely here in Kempton, Mr. Preston. There is nothing wrong with a lady who knows her own mind and chooses not be ruled by a man and his arrogance.” Tabitha raised herself up to her full height and stood her ground.
“You do speak quite freely, don’t you, Miss Timmons.” Mr. Preston barely looked back as he tossed this remark over his shoulder. Yet then he paused and turned. “And do all the young ladies of this town share that trait?”
On either side of her, Daphne and Harriet nodded their heads in sisterly unity.
Lord Roxley began to chuckle, but when he found himself facing three outraged misses, and perhaps knowing that this furious trio would in all likelihood be reporting this encounter to his great aunt, he coughed and stepped aside, leaving his friend to bear the wrath of their fury all alone.
Preston picked up the bellows and then looked over at them. “Then I would say it isn’t the ladies of this village who are cursed, but every man within fifty miles.”