on November 21st 2016
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
***Previously published in Evading the Duke (When the Duke Comes to Town Book 1)
Colin MacBride, Earl of Blackwood, is well aware that only a fool would answer the Duke of Danby’s summons. But with many mouths to feed, poor fields, and a failing flock that might not survive winter, he sets aside a decades’ old feud with his neighbor and calls on him to make a proposition. If Blackwood sheep are allowed to winter on the duke’s land, Colin will share the profits when they are sheared in the spring. Naturally, the duke has a better idea, and it involves a lovely young lady who is dear to his heart. Colin can make use of the duke’s land if he agrees to hire Meredith Halliday to be his nieces’ governess and convince her to quit before the man the duke has chosen for her to marry arrives in Yorkshire. Oh, and if Colin would flirt with her a bit to build her confidence, that would be splendid, indeed. Appalled to be labeled a Lothario for hire, Colin storms from the duke’s study and straight into the old curmudgeon’s trap—and she is every bit as beautiful and charming as promised.
Meredith gaped at the chaotic scene just inside the front door. “Wh-what h-happened?”
James MacBride beamed at her from the first step of the stairwell while all five of her students giggled from their places at the gallery overlooking the foyer. Mrs. Browning, the nanny, held a hand to her forehead as if trying to ward off a headache. A couple of upstairs maids peered over the railing with wide-eyed horror.
“These are sheep.” Mr. MacBride fanned his arms over the flocks’ wooly heads.
“Yes, I—I can s-see that well enough.”
The black and white faced creatures were everywhere, and a musty odor hung over the room. She knew very little about sheep, but they seemed like docile creatures. That a herd might storm a castle was too outrageous to consider. Yet, she couldn’t imagine they were meant to be inside.
One of the sheep accidentally bumped her with its curled horn and knocked her into the entry table. She braced her weight against it to keep from falling. “How did they g-get inside?”
“I herded them through the door, of course.” Their uncle’s incredulous tone set off another round of giggles from the girls. “Sheep are the MacBrides’ livelihood. They are part of my nieces’ heritage. I’ve brought them inside for your lesson.”
Good heavens. The man must be mad. That could certainly account for the trouble with maintaining a governess. Mrs. Browning had mentioned yesterday that Meredith was the third one to be hired in the last four months, and she hoped Meredith planned to stay. Meredith didn’t see that she had much choice. She had only gotten the position because the duke had secured it for her. If she resigned, she would likely be giving up her only chance to teach, and she would be back on the marriage mart next year.
“I see,” she said, injecting as much diplomacy into her voice as she could muster.
She understood his position to some degree. Learning about one’s heritage was important. It could help form the girls’ sense of belonging to something solid and unchanging. Even as members of the MacBride clan were buried or marriages brought new ones into the fold, it would forever be a family—their family.
Despite the importance of studying one’s heritage, however, crowding sheep into a foyer was the mark of insanity. “P-perhaps we should move the lesson outside. W-where there is more room.”
The front door opened behind her. “What is going on here?”
Lord Blackwood’s baritone voice rumbled through her, filling her with pleasant tingles. His steel blue gaze narrowed on his brother as he pulled off his riding gloves. The color was high in the earl’s cheeks as if the cooler morning air had kissed them. She couldn’t look away from the picture of vitality he presented.
“James, I asked you a question.”
She decided to come to Mr. MacBride’s rescue. “Good morning, my lord.” She curtsied to the earl to remind herself of her position as much as to show her respect. “Mr. MacBride has rightfully pointed out that I should be teaching my students about their heritage. We were just discussing how to move the lesson outdoors.”
The earl’s eyes flared. “You can tell us apart.”
Heat flooded her face. She hadn’t given it any thought when she’d walked through the door and identified the earl’s brother at a glance, but they were different in ways she couldn’t miss. Lord Blackwood was more refined in his dress, and it was reflected in the way he wore his cravat. A simple cascade with a cravat pin. By comparison, his brother was showy with his elaborate knot and colorful waistcoats, although James MacBride would hardly be called a dandy.
There were subtle differences in their voices and eyes, too. Mr. MacBride’s sparkled with mirth—or perhaps madness. She wouldn’t rule out the possibility. Lord Blackwood’s eyes, however, vacillated between intense interest when she spoke and kind acceptance. His response to her had a tendency to knock her off kilter, as did the smile he aimed at her now.
“I suppose I can tell you apart, my lord.”
“Amazing,” Lord Blackwood murmured. “Well, it appears James and I should move the flock outside, so you can begin your lesson.”
He opened both doors and urged her to step aside. Meredith shuffled further into the foyer and pressed her back against the wall. He yelled for someone in the castle yard to gather a couple of men to help drive the sheep back to the paddock.
“Yes, milord,” a gruff voice answered before muttering something she couldn’t decipher. She could only guess that the speaker thought the situation was as odd as she did.
Lord Blackwood maneuvered behind one of the sheep and gave its rump a tap with his boot. “Go on. Outside with you.”
At first, the animal didn’t budge, but with persistence and a harder shove to its hindquarters, it nearly jumped on its neighbor’s back. This set off a round of anxious bleating as they flailed about on the marble floor. Eventually, the sheep nearest the open doors tumbled outside. The others began to follow, calling out to each other.
A few stragglers tried to break away, but there was nowhere for them to go when Lord Blackwood spread his arms wide, creating an imaginary barrier. Wisely, all other doors leading from the foyer had been closed, blocking alternate routes of escape. Mr. MacBride discouraged the ones that tried to dart up the stairs by clapping his hands and making a racket that would scare the devil himself.
Meredith pressed her body further back against the wall, praying her toes wouldn’t be trampled. In the end, she suffered no ill harm. She couldn’t say the same for the foyer floor, which was smeared with muddy hoof prints. Lord Blackwood surveyed the damage and sent a scolding look in his brother’s direction. Mr. MacBride simply raised his eyebrows as if he was oblivious to what he’d done wrong.
Meredith glanced up at the girls. The youngest had their faces pressed between the railing slats. “Are you wearing boots?” she asked.
Rebecca shook her head while her sisters called out, “No.”
“Then you should don them before we go outside.”
The girls scrambled to do as she’d requested. Mrs. Browning followed, assuring Meredith that she would hurry them along. Their excited laughter could be heard from the corridor, fading as they moved further away.
Mr. MacBride grinned. “It looks like you have everything well in hand, Colin. I am planning a trip into the village this morning, so I will excuse myself.”
She and Lord Blackwood dumbly watched him as he picked his way across the foyer and walked out the front doors. They stood in silence a few moments until Meredith couldn’t bear it any longer. She cleared her throat.
“I am afraid I know nothing about sheep,” she said. “Your nieces are unlikely to learn much from me today, but if you have books I could borrow, I could educate myself soon enough.”
His full lips eased into a smile. “I thought perhaps you would tender your resignation after my brother’s antics. I don’t know what he was thinking.”
His comment rang false. She had a strange feeling he knew exactly what Mr. MacBride had been thinking, and she didn’t find it reassuring.
“Does your brother often engage in such…?” Madness? Unpredictability? “Um, capers?”
“No.” Lord Blackwood’s dark brows veered toward each other. “On second thought, yes. All the time. Does his behavior worry you?”
“Not at all.” Surely, she had imagined the hopeful inflection in his voice. “Now, about those books.”
“I am happy to lend you a few from the library, but may I offer my assistance today? The girls are expecting a lesson.”
Her smile was restrained, and somewhat stiff. Otherwise, she would be beaming, and the earl would realize how giddy his offer made her. “I think that would be wise. Thank you, my lord.”
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Obviously, this scene is meant to be lighthearted and silly. Lord Blackwood’s brother is doing his best to convince Meredith to resign her position as governess to meet the Duke of Danby’s demands. However, I do think he’s on to something about many of us following in our families’ footsteps when it comes to professions. I come from a family of medical providers. My mom and dad met in x-ray school. (It has a fancier name now, radiology.) My grandmother was a Licensed Practical Nurse, and my aunt was an emergency room nurse. My baby sister became an ICU and medical flight nurse, and I am super proud of her. I chose to go into medical social work and married a psychologist who has nurses, social workers, and another psychologist in his family. Plus, his grandfather was a medic during WWII! Now our kids want to go into the medical field.
For a copy of One Less Lonely Earl, Samantha is curious….
Does your family gravitate toward a certain profession? (BTW, I consider being a homemaker a profession, too.) If so, did you follow in your family’s footsteps?