Home > A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(15)

A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(15)
Author: Tessa Dare

The group of young women had separated in two groups—those eagerly absorbing Sally Bright’s beautification advice huddled on the left. On the right, the remainder stood in a defensive knot, casting worried glances at their gloves and slippers.

She’d feared precisely this reaction. A handful of the young ladies in Spindle Cove would fall victim to scarlet fever, eagerly chasing after the redcoats. The awkward, demure majority would crawl back into their protective shells, like hermit crabs.

“Diana must have a new ribbon,” Mrs. Highwood decided. “Coral pink. She always looks her best in coral pink. And a deep green for Charlotte.”

“And for Miss Minerva?” Sally asked.

Mrs. Highwood made a dismissive wave. “No ribbons for Minerva. She makes a knot of them, removing and donning those spectacles.”

Susanna craned her neck for a glimpse of the bespectacled girl in question, anxious for her feelings. Fortunately, Minerva had migrated to the shop’s rear corner, where she seemed to be examining some bottles of ink. The middle Highwood sister was not what one could call a conventional beauty, but a keen intellect lived behind those spectacles, and it didn’t need a ribbon to adorn it.

“How do the men look?” Young Charlotte turned to Susanna. “Are they terribly handsome?”

“What has that to do with anything?”

Mrs. Highwood nodded sagely. “Charlotte, Miss Finch is absolutely right. It makes no difference whether these lords are handsome. So long as they possess a good fortune. Looks fade; gold doesn’t.”

“Mrs. Highwood, the young ladies needn’t concern themselves with the gentlemen’s looks, fortunes, or favorite colors of ribbon. I don’t believe they’ll be mingling socially.”

“What? But they must, surely. They can’t stay all the way up there at that damp castle.”

“They can’t stay far away enough for me,” Susanna muttered. But no one heard her uncharacteristically uncharitable remark, because at that moment Finn and Rufus Bright appeared in the storeroom door.

“They’re coming!” Finn shouted. “We spotted them just—”

His twin finished, “Just down the lane. We’re off to mind their horses.” The two disappeared as quickly as they’d come.

Education was anywhere a person sought it, Susanna believed. She learned something new every day. Today, she learned what it felt like to be at the center of a wildebeest stampede.

Every person in the shop thundered past her, pushing and pressing toward the diamond-paned windows for a look at the approaching men. She flattened herself against the door, holding her breath until the dust settled.

“Cor,” Sally said. “They are handsome as anything.”

“Oh!” said Mrs. Highwood, apparently too overset for multisyllabic words. “Oh.”

“I can’t see a thing,” Charlotte whimpered, stamping her feet. “Minerva, your elbow is in my ear.”

Susanna stood on tiptoe, stretching her neck for a glimpse. She didn’t have to stretch far. There were times her freakish height came in handy.

There they were. All three of them, dismounting their horses on the village green. The Bright boys eagerly accepted the reins.

Pressed around her on all sides, the ladies cooed over Lord Payne’s handsome features and debonair mien. Susanna couldn’t spare the man a glance. Her attention was drawn immediately and unswervingly to the horrid Lord Rycliff, who was looking more dark and medieval than ever with his unshaven jaw and that impudently long hair tied in a thick queue at his nape. She couldn’t stop looking at him. And she couldn’t look at him without . . . feeling him. His solid warmth against her chest. His strong grip on her elbow. His hot kiss brushing over her lips.

“My goodness,” Kate whispered in her ear. “They are rather . . . manly, aren’t they?”

Yes, Susanna thought. God help her, he was.

“And that dark one is frightfully big.”

“You should feel him up close.”

Kate’s eyes went wide, and a startled laugh burst from her lips. “What did you just say?”

“Er . . . I said, you should see him up close.”

“No. You didn’t. You said I should feel him up close.” Her hazel eyes lit with a mischievous twinkle.

Ears hot with embarrassment, Susanna fluttered a hand in weak defense. “I’m a healer. We assess with our hands.”

“If you say so.” Kate turned back to the window.

Violet sighed loudly. “I suppose this means we’ll have to cancel our afternoon salon.”

“Of course not,” Susanna countered. “There’s no need to alter our plans. Most likely, the men won’t trouble with us at all. But if the new Lord Rycliff and his party do see fit to take tea . . . We must do our best to welcome them.”

This statement was met with a flurry of enthusiasm and a cyclone of alarm. Objections rose up all around her.

“Miss Finch, they won’t understand. They’ll mock us, just like the gentlemen in Town.”

“To think, playing for an earl? I haven’t anything fine enough to wear.”

“I shall die of mortification. Positively die.”

“Ladies.” Susanna lifted her voice. “There is no cause for concern. We will go on as we always do. In a month’s time, this militia business will be over and these men will have gone. Nothing in Spindle Cove will be the different for their visit.”

For her friends’ sake, she must maintain a brave front in the face of this invasion. But she knew, staring through the small window in the door, that her words were false. It was too late. Things were already changing in Spindle Cove.

Something had altered in her.

After dismounting from his gelding, Bram straightened his coat and had a look about the place. “A fair enough village,” he mused. “Rather charming.”

“I knew it,” Colin said, adding a petulant curse.

The green was expansive, dotted with shade trees. Across the lane sat a neat row of buildings. He took the largest to be the inn. Narrow dirt lanes lined with cottages curved out from the village’s center, following the contours of the valley. Toward the cove side of the village, he spied a cluster of humble cottages. Fishermen’s abodes, no doubt. And in the center of the green loomed the church—a soaring cathedral, remarkably grand for a village of this size. He supposed it was a remnant of that medieval port city Sir Lewis had mentioned.

“This place is clean,” Colin said carefully. “Too clean. And too quiet. It’s unnatural. It’s giving me the shudders.”

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