Home > A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(2)

A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(2)
Author: Tessa Dare

Susanna gave a sympathetic nod. From what she could gather, Diana Highwood had suffered bouts of mild asthma from a young age. With flaxen hair and a shy, rosy curve of a smile, the eldest Miss Highwood was a true beauty. Her fragile health had delayed what most certainly would be a stunning ton debut. However, Susanna strongly suspected the many doctors and treatments were what kept the young lady feeling ill.

She offered Diana a friendly smile. “I’m certain a stay in Spindle Cove will be of great benefit to Miss Highwood’s health. Of great benefit to you all, for that matter.”

In recent years, Spindle Cove had become the seaside destination of choice for a certain type of well-bred young lady: the sort no one knew what to do with. They included the sickly, the scandalous, and the painfully shy; young wives disenchanted with matrimony, and young girls too enchanted with the wrong men . . . All of them delivered here by the guardians to whom they presented problems, in hopes that the sea air would cure them of their ills.

As the only daughter of the only local gentleman, Susanna was the village hostess by default. These awkward young ladies no one knew what to do with . . . she knew what to do with them. Or rather, she knew what not to do with them. No “cures” were necessary. They didn’t need doctors pressing lancets to their veins, or finishing school matrons harping on their diction. They just needed a place to be themselves.

Spindle Cove was that place.

Mrs. Highwood worked her fan. “I’m a widow with no sons, Miss Finch. One of my daughters must marry well, and soon. I’ve had such hopes for Diana, lovely as she is. But if she’s not stronger by next season . . .” She made a dismissive wave toward her middle daughter, who sat in dark, bespectacled contrast to her fair-haired sisters. “I shall have no choice but to bring out Minerva instead.”

“But Minerva doesn’t care about men,” young Charlotte said helpfully. “She prefers dirt and rocks.”

“It’s called geology,” Minerva said. “It’s a science.”

“It’s certain spinsterhood, is what it is! Unnatural girl. Do sit straight in your chair, at least.” Mrs. Highwood sighed and fanned harder. To Susanna, she said, “I despair of her, truly. This is why Diana must get well, you see. Can you imagine Minerva in Society?”

Susanna bit back a smile, all too easily imagining the scene. It would probably resemble her own debut. Like Minerva, she had been absorbed in unladylike pursuits, and the object of her female relations’ oft-voiced despair. At balls, she’d been that freckled Amazon in the corner, who would have been all too happy to blend into the wallpaper, if only her hair color would have allowed it.

As for the gentlemen she’d met . . . not a one of them had managed to sweep her off her feet. To be fair, none of them had tried very hard.

She shrugged off the awkward memories. That time was behind her now.

Mrs. Highwood’s gaze fell on a book at the corner of the table. “I am gratified to see you keep Mrs. Worthington close at hand.”

“Oh yes,” Susanna replied, reaching for the blue, leather-bound tome. “You’ll find copies of Mrs. Worthington’s Wisdom scattered everywhere throughout the village. We find it a very useful book.”

“Hear that, Minerva? You would do well to learn it by heart.” When Minerva rolled her eyes, Mrs. Highwood said, “Charlotte, open it now. Read aloud the beginning of Chapter Twelve.”

Charlotte reached for the book and opened it, then cleared her throat and read aloud in a dramatic voice. “ ‘Chapter Twelve. The perils of excessive education. A young lady’s intellect should be in all ways like her undergarments. Present, pristine, and imperceptible to the casual observer.’ ”

Mrs. Highwood harrumphed. “Yes. Just so. Hear and believe it, Minerva. Hear and believe every word. As Miss Finch says, you will find that book very useful.”

Susanna took a leisurely sip of tea, swallowing with it a bitter lump of indignation. She wasn’t an angry or resentful person, as a matter of course. But once provoked, her passions required formidable effort to conceal.

That book provoked her, no end.

Mrs. Worthington’s Wisdom for Young Ladies was the bane of sensible girls the world over, crammed with insipid, damaging advice on every page. Susanna could have gleefully crushed its pages to powder with a mortar and pestle, labeled the vial with a skull and crossbones, and placed it on the highest shelf in her stillroom, right beside the dried foxglove leaves and deadly nightshade berries.

Instead, she’d made it her mission to remove as many copies as possible from circulation. A sort of quarantine. Former residents of the Queen’s Ruby sent the books from all corners of England. One couldn’t enter a room in Spindle Cove without finding a copy or three of Mrs. Worthington’s Wisdom. And just as Susanna had told Mrs. Highwood, they found the book very useful indeed. It was the perfect size for propping a window open. It also made an excellent doorstop or paperweight. Susanna used her personal copies for pressing herbs. Or occasionally, for target practice.

She motioned to Charlotte. “May I?” Taking the volume from the girl’s grip, she raised the book high. Then, with a brisk thwack, she used it to crush a bothersome gnat.

With a calm smile, she placed the book on a side table. “Very useful indeed.”

“They’ll never know what hit them.” With his boot heel, Colin tamped a divot over the first powder charge.

“Nothing’s going to hit them,” Bram said. “We’re not using shells.”

The last thing they needed was shrapnel zinging about. The charges he prepared were mere blanks—black powder wrapped in paper, for a bit of noise and a spray of dirt.

“You’re certain the horses won’t bolt?” Colin asked, unspooling a length of slow-burning fuse.

“These are cavalry-trained beasts. Impervious to explosions. The sheep, on the other hand . . .”

“Will scatter like flies.” Colin flashed a reckless grin.

“I suppose.”

Bram knew bombing the sheep was reckless, impulsive, and inherently rather stupid, like all his cousin’s boyhood ideas. Surely there were better, more efficient solutions to a sheep barricade that didn’t involve black powder.

But time was wasting, and Bram was impatient to be moving on, in more ways than one. Eight months ago, a lead ball had ripped through his right knee and torn his life apart. He’d spent months confined to a sickbed, another several weeks clanking and groaning his way down corridors like a ghost dragging chains. Some days during his convalescence, Bram had felt certain he would explode.

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