Home > A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(3)

A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(3)
Author: Tessa Dare

And now he was so close—just a mile or so—from Summerfield and Sir Lewis Finch. Just a mile from finally regaining his command. He bloody well wouldn’t be thwarted by a flock of gluttonous sheep, whose guts were likely to burst if they weren’t scared off that corn.

A good, clean blast was just what they all needed right about now.

“That’ll do,” Thorne called, embedding the last charge at the top of the rise. As he pushed his way back through the sheep, he added, “All’s clear down the lane. I could see a fair distance.”

“There is a village nearby, isn’t there?” Colin asked. “God, tell me there’s a village.”

“There’s a village,” Bram answered, packing away the unused powder. “Saw it on the map. Somesuch Bay, or Whatsit Harbor . . . Can’t exactly recall.”

“I don’t care what it’s called,” Colin said. “So long as there’s a tavern and a bit of society. God, I hate the country.”

Thorne said, “I saw the village. Just over that rise.”

“It didn’t look charming, did it?” Colin raised a brow as he reached for the tinderbox. “I should hate for it to be charming. Give me a dank, seedy, vice-ridden pustule of a village any day. Wholesome living makes my skin crawl.”

The corporal gave him a stony look. “I wouldn’t know about charming, my lord.”

“Yes. I can see that,” Colin muttered. He struck a flint and lit the fuse. “Fair enough.”

“Miss Finch, what a charming village.” Diana Highwood clasped her hands together.

“We think so.” Smiling modestly, Susanna led her guests onto the village green. “Here we have the church, St. Ursula’s—a prized example of medieval architecture. Of course, the green itself is lovely.” She refrained from pointing out the grass oval they used for cricket and lawn bowls, and quickly swiveled Mrs. Highwood away, lest she spy the pair of stockinged legs dangling from one of the trees.

“Look up there.” She pointed out a jumble of stone arches and turrets decorating the rocky bluff. “Those are the ruins of Rycliff Castle. They make an excellent place to paint and sketch.”

“Oh, how perfectly romantic.” Charlotte sighed.

“It looks damp,” Mrs. Highwood pronounced.

“Not at all. In a month’s time, the castle will be the site of our midsummer fair. Families come from ten parishes, some from as far away as Eastbourne. We ladies dress in medieval attire, and my father puts on a display for the local children. He collects ancient suits of armor, you see. Among other things.”

“What a delightful notion,” Diana said.

“It’s the highlight of our summer.”

Minerva peered hard at the bluffs. “What’s the composition of those cliffs? Are they sandstone or chalk?”

“Er . . . sandstone, I think.” Susanna directed their attention to a red-shuttered façade across the lane. Wide window boxes spilled over with blossoms, and a gilt-lettered sign swung noiselessly in the breeze. “And there’s the tea shop. Mr. Fosbury, the proprietor, makes cakes and sweets to rival any London confectionery’s.”

“Cakes?” Mrs. Highwood’s mouth pursed in an unpleasant manner. “I do hope you aren’t indulging in an excess of sweets.”

“Oh no,” Susanna lied. “Hardly ever.”

“Diana has been strictly forbidden to indulge. And that one”—she pointed out Minerva—“is tending toward stoutness, I fear.”

At her mother’s slight, Minerva turned her gaze to her feet, as if she were intently studying the pebbles beneath them. Or as if she were begging the ground to swallow her whole.

“Minerva,” her mother snapped. “Posture.”

Susanna put an arm about the young woman, shoring her up. “We have the sunniest weather in all England, did I mention that? The post comes through two times a week. Can I interest you all in a tour of the shops?”

“Shops? I only see one.”

“Well, yes. There is only one. But it’s all we have need of, you see. Bright’s All Things shop has everything a young lady could wish to buy.”

Mrs. Highwood surveyed the street. “Where is the doctor? Diana must have a doctor nearby at all times, to bleed her when she has her attacks.”

Susanna winced. No wonder Diana’s health never fully returned. Such a useless, horrific practice, bleeding. A “remedy” more likely to drain life than preserve it, and one Susanna had barely survived herself. Out of habit, she adjusted her long, elbow-length gloves. Their seams chafed against the well-healed scars beneath.

“There is a surgeon next town over,” she said. A surgeon she wouldn’t allow near cattle, much less a young lady. “Here in the village, we have a very capable apothecary.” She hoped the woman would not ask for specifics there.

“What about men?” Mrs. Highwood asked.

“Men?” Susanna echoed. “What about them?”

“With so many unwed ladies in residence, are you not overrun with fortune hunters? Bath was teeming with them, all of them after my Diana’s dowry. As if she would marry some smooth-talking third son.”

“Definitely not, Mrs. Highwood.” On this point, Susanna need not fudge. “There are no debt-ridden rakes or ambitious officers here. In fact, there are very few men in Spindle Cove at all. Aside from my father, only tradesmen and servants.”

“I just don’t know.” Mrs. Highwood sighed, looking about the village once again. “It’s all rather common, isn’t it? My cousin, Lady Agatha, told me of a new spa in Kent. Mineral baths, purging treatments. Her Ladyship swears by their mercury cure.”

Susanna’s stomach lurched. If Diana Highwood landed in a spa like that, it might truly be the end of her. “Please, Mrs. Highwood. One cannot underestimate the healthful benefits of simple sea air and sunshine.”

Charlotte tugged her gaze from the ruined castle long enough to plead, “Do let’s stay, Mama. I want to take part in the midsummer fair.”

“I believe I feel better already,” Diana said, breathing deep.

Susanna left Minerva’s side and approached the anxious matriarch. Mrs. Highwood might be a misguided, overwrought sort of woman, but she obviously loved her daughters and had their best interests at heart. She only needed a bit of reassurance that she was doing the right thing.

Well, Susanna could give her that reassurance truthfully. All three of the Highwood sisters needed this place. Diana needed a reprieve from quack medical treatments. Minerva needed a chance to pursue her own interests without censure. Young Charlotte just needed a place to be a girl, to stretch her growing legs and imagination.

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