I am releasing “Lord Radcliffe’s Best Friend” TODAY!!! I particularly liked this story because the idea behind it is not simply the “boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again,” which we see in many romances. There is something more elemental between Hendrake Barrymore, Earl of Radcliffe, and Miss Adelaide Shaw’s relationship, for they grew up together on neighboring estates and were, at one time, each other’s best friend.
Now, we all know the experience of losing a “best friend,” especially one from one’s childhood. I have lost several, and I still feel the void in my life from their absence; yet, I am fortunate one of those childhood friends is still a part of my life, even though we live several hundred miles apart. Such does not mean all went well for the two of us over the last seven decades (Yes, I will be 74 years of age next Friday, so it has been nearly seven decades since she and I met in second grade.). We experienced our tiffs. We had our moments of “not speaking to each other.” Yet, trumping such stubbornness, more importantly, we have “history” together. We share a common knowledge of the world.
Having a “best friend” means perfection is not required, and is that particular fact not a relief in itself? A good friendship requires “mutuality.” A good friend is not only one’s supporter, but also a “reality tester.” Good friends are the people who, for better or for worse, get under our skin, and they are the ones in whom we choose to invest. Because of that, they bring a certain stability and normality to our lives. The loss of a friend, whether permanently or temporarily, is life-changing. We do not always understand the emotions tied to this loss.
In the case of Drake and Addy, their separation stirs up complex emotions. Some anger. Lots of frustration. Sadness. Confusion. Regret. It has also left them with more than a few unanswered questions, especially as the “loss” did not come from a death, but rather from a choice the friend made which caused the relationship to crumble. Yet, who is at fault?
Hendrake Barrymore, Lord Radcliffe, is a typical male, a bit daff when it comes to the ways of women, especially the ways of one particular woman, Miss Adelaide Shaw, his childhood companion, a girl who plays a part in every pleasant memory Drake holds.
Yet, since he failed to deliver Addy’s first kiss on her fifteenth birthday, his former “friend” has struck him from her life just at a time when Radcliffe has come to the conclusion Adelaide is the one woman who best suits him.
This tale is more than a familiar story of friends to lovers for it presents the old maxim an unusual twist.
Excerpt from second half of Chapter One:
[You can read part one of Chapter One HERE.]
When news had arrived at the manor of Sultan not be located, Adelaide knew exactly where the horse had gone. She had quickly changed into her riding habit and set out for the border between her father’s property and the land belonging to Lord Radcliffe. Addy suspected Sultan’s natural instinct to mate might be the needle’s prick in the continuing estrangement between the earl and her family.
She reached a gloved hand down to pat her gelding’s neck. “Might as well face the Devil while the sun is up,” she murmured. She motioned to the grooms, who had accompanied her, to fetch Sultan. “Take him home. I will speak to Radcliffe and discover what restitution will be required. Do not mention any of this to my father. I shall discuss the matter with the baron upon my return. Also, send men out to repair our side of the fence. It appears someone has removed the rails we set atop of the brick wall. For what purpose, I have no idea. Yet, the removal permitted Sultan an easy jump.”
“Yes, miss,” the men chorused.
Looking to the opposing ridge, she spotted Radcliffe studying her. Without even a nod of her head in greeting, she nudged her horse forward. Quietly, she questioned, “Why must the man be the handsomest man of my acquaintance?”
Alcon shook his head as if in response.
“I know,” she said softly. “I should ask the opinion of another female. Perhaps the mare below has taken note of his lordship’s appearance. Mayhap she holds an opinion of her owner which could prove mine in error.”
She made her approach as Radcliffe had descended his side of the ridge to meet her in the middle. If only they could again find a similar “middle territory” in their relationship, then, she could, perhaps, go on with her life. Yet, Adelaide knew it would take more than this brief meeting to make her whole again. Bringing Alcon to a halt, she schooled her expression before greeting the earl. “Your lordship.”
“Miss Shaw.” Why did the sound of his voice do odd things to her composure? It had been six years since she had displaced him from her world, and so much had changed within both their lives which should have made a difference, but hadn’t. However, anytime her eyes fell upon the man or someone mentioned his name or her father complained about the expense of having a well dug to use for the stock and the crops, she was right back where she always had been: in love with Hendrake Barrymore.
If she could discover another man she could tolerate for more than an hour, maybe, then, she could marry and move away to her husband’s home. Distance, she had reasoned often, would aid in forgetting the ease which once had existed between her and the young man who had been her best friend when they were children.
“I apologize for Sultan, my lord,” she said through tight lips. “I shall speak to my father regarding restitution to Lord—”
“Shelton,” he supplied.
“To Lord Shelton,” she continued. “I realize Sultan’s actions cost you the sale of the foal, and in these trying times, such business can assist in maintaining the land.”
“Your father requires the fee, as well,” he said, keeping his steady gaze upon her and making Addy want to fidget.
“I assure you, my lord, Sultan’s presence here today was not purposeful,” she argued, completely ignoring his gesture of goodwill.
“Beyond nature and what God designed for him, I did not think the stallion’s actions purposeful,” he corrected. A frown marked his brow. “But certainly inconvenient.”
She made to concentrate on the task at hand, rather than the bluest eyes she had ever beheld. “It appears someone has removed the wooden rails my father had placed on the brick wall marking the border between our properties. Sultan can easily clear the brick one without the railing.”
His lordship eyed the wall suspiciously. “Like you, I would not name what remains of the wooden barrier a detriment to a horse of Sultan’s stature.”
Addy kept her gaze upon the sad state of the wall. Such was safer where interactions with Radcliffe were concerned. From where she sat, the wall was in worse shape than she had originally thought. “It appears someone required . . . required the wood . . . to warm their cottages.”
He dismounted, crossed to where she sat and lifted his hands to her to assist her to dismount. Obviously, he meant to make more of this encounter than was necessary. The fact she could not dismount or remount, for that matter, without his assistance, was something she was reluctant to admit, even to herself, for she did not want to consider the exquisite warmth of his hands upon her, for if he was to touch her, she would not be responsible for her actions. Despite his having betrayed her, even after six years, the man still held a power over her.
“May I assist you down?” he questioned, but he did not step away from her.
Reluctantly, she nodded her agreement. “Step back so I might release my foot from the stirrup.”
“With your permission, I will do it,” he suggested with a slight lift of his brows, as if he meant to challenge her, something he had always done—something she desperately missed from having him in her life.
Biting her bottom lip in frustration, she nodded her agreement.
The subtle warmth of his hand on her leg above her half boots did crazy things to her most private place; yet, she swallowed her desire by reminding herself of his betrayal. Instead, she carefully shifted her weight to lift her right leg from around the pommel without exposing more of her person to him or tumbling off the saddle into his arms. A woman without the experience upon a horse she held would have not been able to release her leg and swivel in the seat without a spill.
Both legs free, she leaned forward to place her hands on his broad shoulders and permitted him to assist her to the ground. The process was quite awkward, not the way one reads of it in the novels she adored, but possible, nonetheless.
At length, he set her before him, catching her hand in his. “We will inspect the wall together.”
Using his hand for support, she bent to catch the loop on the skirt of her riding habit to avoid tripping upon it and to provide herself a few extra seconds to control the sudden racing tempo of her heart. “Such is not necessary, my lord,” she said tartly as she rose. It was important for her to keep her resentment in place, for she was too susceptible to this man.
“I insist,” he said, setting her hand upon his arm.
Addy reluctantly fell into step beside him. “I assure you, my lord, my father is capable of seeing to the repair without your input.”
He stopped suddenly, causing Addy to stumble. His hand again caught her about the waist to prevent her from falling, and Adelaide felt her heart jump with the same pleasant surprise she had known when he had been her best friend in the world and thought to share something with her.
“Why is it you continue to despise me, Adelaide? I made a foolish mistake. Have you never erred in your judgement?”
The fact her body still touched his in two places—her hand rested upon his arm and his hand rested upon her waist—made it difficult for her to concentrate fully. She purposely stepped back to break their connection in order to clear her thinking. She retorted, “Most assuredly I have erred in my estimation of more than one ‘so-called’ gentleman.”
“I refuse to apologize for my actions of six years past,” he growled. “I am not the same callow youth I was then.”
“If I recall correctly, you refused to apologize then, as well. You offered your excuses, but no honest apology,” she countered.
“This is ridiculous, Addy. We are wasting our lives arguing over something which cannot be changed,” he insisted.
“As you say, my lord.” She walked away toward the wall. Purposely, studying it, she said, “Evidently, my father must ask Mr. Bowden to design a better barrier.” She fingered the two boards left behind. “This is unacceptable. Someone will take up the task in the morning. You have my word on the matter, my lord.” Without waiting for his opinions, she returned to where Alcon stood munching on the grass. Knowing she could not mount without Radcliffe’s assistance, she caught the animal’s reins to lead it home. “Come, Alcon.” She gave a little tug. “We must return to the manor.”
Radcliffe stood where she had left him by the wall. From the corner of her eye she noted how he shook his head in what appeared to be disbelief. “You are the most stubborn woman of my acquaintance!”
She kept walking, slowly climbing the hill. It was a good mile to the house, but it would not be her first time walking that distance, nor would it likely be her last, although, she would admit, if only to herself, she wished she had worn more comfortable boots. Yet, she would never voice that particular complaint aloud.
“You do not mean to allow me to assist you to the saddle?” he called. “Be reasonable, Addy!”
“Miss Shaw!” she declared without looking back to judge his reaction. “I am Miss Shaw.” She hid the pain such a declaration caused her. “My father will be in touch, my lord.”
“Hendrake!” He stormed toward her, but thankfully did not attempt to prevent her retreat. “I am Hendrake! Drake! Not ‘my lord’ or ‘your lordship,’ not even ‘Radcliffe’! Say my name, Adelaide,” he demanded.
Tears filled her eyes; yet, she did not slow her pace, nor did she look back to him. Instead, she stiffened her resolve, pulling her posture straighter and lifting her chin. She had a mile to allow herself another good cry. She had had plenty of them in the last six years, and, each time, she prayed it would be the last tears she shed over a man who had allowed his friends to attempt to deliver the kiss he had promised her—who had not thought to protect her from such manhandling—who had not even noticed the redness marking her cheek from where Lord French had slapped her when she had used a fireplace poker to fend off the man’s advances—who had only thought of the kiss she had denied him from a mere maid when Addy had been prepared to present him her whole heart.
GIVEAWAY: I have 3 eBook copies of “Lord Radcliffe’s Best Friend” to share with readers. To enter, tell me something about your best friend. No names are necessary, unless you wish to share. Perhaps it could be about someone no longer in your life. Or about someone you recently claimed to friend. What is it about your friendship that is so special? The giveaway ends at midnight EST, Tuesday, September 14. The winners will be announced on Sunday, September 19, 2021. GOOD LUCK!!!