“Lord Radcliffe’s Best Friend” was originally part of the anthology A Regency Christmas Together. The idea behind the stories in the anthology was the hero and heroine are “trapped” together at Christmas. The “trapping” could be anything from being snowed in to being in a dangerous situation. My story “Lord Radcliffe’s Best Friend“ is something of the latter nature, for those who regularly follow me know I adore a bit of drama in my tales.
To write the tale, I did my usual LOADS of research, but I also spoke to experts near my home to learn the “do’s” and “don’t’s” of what I was thinking of putting my hero and heroine through.
Lord Radcliffe’s Best Friend
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.
from Chapter Three
Wednesday, 6 October 1819
Drake waited in Lord Shaw’s study to speak to Adelaide’s father. Before the window was the cage with the birds he had presented her for her fifteenth birthday. He wondered when she had moved the cage into her father’s sanctuary. Had it been the night which had marked the end of their relationship or later? Perhaps she realized the gift had been his mother’s inspiration, rather than his. He had arrived upon her father’s threshold with nothing more upon his mind than to steal a kiss from a willing female. Obviously, the songbirds were a poor replacement for what she had asked of him: He had failed to present Adelaide the one gift she thought was indicative of their friendship.
Thinking upon how much had changed between their families since that disastrous evening, Drake was not certain what he would say to Shaw. Drake just knew he could not spend another day obsessing over the baron’s daughter.
He wanted to walk over and look upon the birds. He realized, belatedly, his mother had been correct in her choice: The birds would have been a thoughtful gift for a girl of Adelaide’s nature. Yet, he remained perfectly still; even so, his emotions churned as if he were a duck upon a crystal-clear lake. He hoped he appeared composed on the surface, but beneath the proverbial water, his mind raced to know what he could do to change Adelaide’s opinion of him.
“My lord,” her father said in the terse tones the man often used when they were forced to converse over business. “How may I be of service, Radcliffe?”
Drake rose to his feet and presented the man a bow. “I have come on a mission of which I expect you, initially, will disapprove, but I pray you provide me time to persuade you otherwise.”
Shaw pointedly closed the door. “You have piqued my interest, Lord Radcliffe.” The man crossed to a table in the corner of the room and poured himself a drink. “Might I interest you in a brandy, my lord?”
Although Drake would have enjoyed several drinks to bolster his resolve, he politely refused the offer. “I am satisfied, my lord.”
Shaw claimed the seat across from Drake. The man’s desk separated them. “Is this another issue with Sultan? I have spoken to Lord Shelton and a reimbursement has been settled between us, as he will no longer receive the stud fee from you for your mare Everlee. Obviously, I will not require a like fee from you for Sultan’s efforts. You may sell the foal with no complaints from me.”
“It is not Sultan.” Drake nervously straightened the line of his coat. “My business is of a more personal nature.”
Shaw’s eyebrow rose in question. “More personal, you say?”
Drake swallowed hard before announcing, “I am seeking your permission to court Miss Shaw.”
Shaw’s frown deepened, and Drake’s heart plummeted to the pit of his stomach. He would be refused. “You wish to marry our Adelaide? Have you spoken your wishes to my daughter?”
Drake switched his legs to cross the left over the right, seeking a more comfortable position, but it was no use. “I thought it best to approach you first, sir.”
Shaw folded his hands to rest them on his desk. “As Adelaide is of age, or will reach her majority in three weeks’ time, my daughter would take offense if I chose to speak for her.”
“I see,” Drake said shakily. He had hoped to convince her father first, allowing the baron to soften Adelaide’s regard. “Then I must speak to Miss Shaw.” He sucked in a steadying breath. “Might I tell your daughter you hold no objections to my suit.”
Shaw leveled a serious expression upon Drake. “I did not say I possess no qualms regarding your joining. I said Adelaide would have something to say to the acceptance or rejection of your proposal.”
There was a rush to silence. At length, Drake asked, “May I inquire as to why Miss Shaw would refuse to accept my courtship? We have known each other most of our lives. At one time, we were quite good friends. As my wife, she would be a countess, and she would remain near you and her brother, eliminating her removal to another part of England if she chose another.”
“All true,” Shaw said, “but I doubt Adelaide will consider any of those points when deciding whether to accept your attentions or not, my lord.”
Swallowing the dryness in his throat, Drake asked, “Then you suspect Miss Shaw wishes to claim a husband she could love and know affection in return?” Drake held Adelaide Shaw in deep affection—they shared so many common interests, and he was more than just a little attracted to her; yet, he had never thought he would marry for love. His parents’ marriage had been one of convenience, although he knew, for a fact, for he had walked in on them more times than he cared to count, the late Lord and Lady Radcliffe had a satisfying physical marriage.
“In truth, my daughter and I have never held a discussion regarding what she would or would not expect of her future husband. It was the late Lady Shaw in whom Adelaide confided.” Lord Shaw sighed heavily in honest regard. The muscles along his jaw bunched in obvious disapproval. “On her death bed, my Claire shared what occurred on my daughter’s fifteenth birthday.”
“I swear,” Drake began, while a flush of color rushed to his cheeks. “My actions that evening were not indicative of the man I have become. I promised Miss Shaw I would confess my ‘sins’ to your wife, and I did so despite Miss Shaw’s disbelief regarding my honesty. When Lady Shaw saw the necessity to dispense with Iris’s services, I spoke privately to my mother, apprising her of my poor choices and asking Lady Radcliffe to offer Iris a position at our Cornwall estate. I did not think then, nor do I now, think the maid should be punished for my lack of judgement.”
Some nameless emotion crossed Lord Shaw’s features, and Drake felt a sense of dread creep up his spine. “All admirable behavior,” his lordship said through tight lips. A long pause held between them. “Did you believe such would soften Adelaide’s disdain?”
Drake’s temper flared, but he reined it in quickly. Even so, when he spoke, his tone remained biting. “Am I to be held accountable forever? Am I permitted no forgiveness?”
Obviously, from the man’s expression, Lord Shaw neither agreed with nor appreciated Drake’s tone. Shaw inclined his head as if seeing Drake for the first time. Despite that fact, his tone remained cold when he spoke. “Are you not aware of what occurred that evening? Of how my daughter’s world was turned upon its head?”
Drake could not imagine how his forgetting to present Adelaide with her first kiss could have altered Addy’s life to the point she held him in contempt. He stiffened. “You offend me if you suggest my poor choice that evening has kept Miss Shaw from reaching her full potential as a woman of Society.”
Shaw rose and came around the corner of his desk where he propped a hip upon the edge and looked down upon Drake critically. “You will not approve of what I will share, but it is important you know it all.”
Drake felt his entire body grow taut, as if in preparation for a blow of the magnitude to bring him down in defeat.
There was an uneasy pause before Lord Shaw began to speak in flat and uncompromising tones. “When Lady Shaw shared Adelaide’s tale, it was all I could do not to race to London, but as my lady wife had sworn me to keep her confidences, I had no choice but to protect Adelaide with my silence. However, perhaps it should be you who protects her, especially if you mean to make her your wife, and, more importantly, it was your foolishness which ruined Adelaide’s chances at happiness.”
Fearful of what he would learn, instinctively, Drake’s shoulders hitched higher, and his chin jutted out in defiance against the blow he was to receive. “Please speak whatever it is you believe I should know, my lord,” he pleaded. In reality, if he would not be judged cowardly, he would have exited immediately, as fast as his legs would carry him. He was certain what Lord Shaw was about to disclose would change Drake’s life forever, and he wondered if he were man enough to bear some of Lord Shaw’s trials. Unfortunately, for Drake, he possessed many faults, but cowardice was not among them: He would hear, and he would act upon the tale.
A brief moment of resignation crossed the baron’s features. “This is my wife’s tale, and I will attempt to provide her credit for all I must share. I know nothing beyond the words she provided me, for she did not permit me the liberty of answers to the string of questions rushing to my lips at the time. Therefore, I may not be able to respond responsibility to all of yours.”
“Fair warning,” Drake said softly.
Shaw sucked in a breath. “I must have your word of honor you will never tell Adelaide I allowed her story to go beyond these walls.”
Drake did not wish to look upon the worried expression upon Shaw’s countenance, but he did, nevertheless. “I swear on the honor of all my ancestors, my lord.”
Something dark settled in Lord Shaw’s eyes as he began the tale. “I understand my daughter had hoped her first kiss would come from a young man she trusted as a friend.”
Drake meant to protest, but Shaw waved off Drake’s words of regret.
“Evidently,” the baron continued, “some time or another, you shared Adelaide’s secret with Lord French and Mr. Scott.”
Drake frowned as he searched for a memory of speaking so intimately of Adelaide to his former friends. Although he did not recall doing so, he knew he had often shared much of his life in Kent with the two in order to impress his good fellows and be taken into their confidences and their companionship. “I did not do so to make light of what I shared with your daughter,” he said because he felt he must voice some sort of defense. “I have always cherished my time with Miss Shaw, even when she was simply ‘Addy’ and I was ‘Drake.’”
Lord Shaw nodded his acceptance before continuing. “On the night of Adelaide’s birthday celebration, your friends convinced you to solicit a kiss from Iris. Am I correct?”
“Yes,” Drake said reluctantly. “But, in truth, I had forgotten the promise to share a kiss with Miss Shaw. I had had more than one glass of champagne, attempting to shore up my courage to steal a kiss from a servant, something I had never considered doing in the past. Naturally, such is no excuse, but I was well on my way to being in my cups, for I was never much of a drinker.”
Shaw said in reproof, “It appears you were easily persuaded by your companions. I pray you are not so quick to allow others to lead you about by the ear now as you were then. If so, this conversation will know a quicker ending than either of us would wish. I will not place Adelaide’s confidences in the hands of a man who permits others to navigate his life when he should be in charge.”
“I assure you, sir,” Drake said in honest tones. “After the incident with Iris, my father was quick to rein in my foolish steps. I broke ties with French and Scott and a few others at school. My life at university those last few years was lonelier, but infinitely better than my previous years away at school.”
Shaw nodded his understanding. “Such is a hard lesson for men, especially those in titled positions, to learn. I am glad some good came from that evening.” The baron claimed the seat beside Drake. “Then you should know the rest. Unfortunately, unlike you, Lord French and Mr. Scott did not forget the intimacies you shared with the pair of your and Adelaide’s relationship. Scott took Adelaide to the side and told her you awaited my daughter in the library. I do not approve of Adelaide’s actions that evening, but I was not blind to my daughter’s fascination with you. Your parents, Lady Shaw, and I often expressed our pleasure at the idea of you and Adelaide forming an affection for each other.”
Shaw sighed heavily before continuing. “After speaking to Scott, during the evening, my daughter rushed to the library to meet you, but it was your friends who awaited her. French attempted to force himself upon my sweet innocent child. When she refused to cooperate, the reprobate raised his hand to her and slapped her hard on the cheek, leaving a bruise.” Lord Shaw’s voice hardened, and Drake realized his own hands fisted into tight knots. “Thankfully,” Shaw bit out the words as if they tasted sour, “you had shown Adelaide something of how to use a sword. She elbowed French’s ribs and caught up the fireplace poker as her weapon.” Shaw chuckled ironically. “It is my understanding Adelaide managed to stab French in the man’s private parts.”
Drake did not know whether to laugh or to curse. He, too, thought it quite appropriate Adelaide had thought to strike French where the man thought himself the strongest; yet, he wished he had known something of what had occurred, at the time. He would certainly have enjoyed beating French into a pulp, for, after his confrontation with Adelaide over Iris, Drake would have enjoyed a bit of fisticuffs to ease the pain of Adelaide’s withdrawal. “Mr. Scott and Lord French departed my parents’ house early the next morning and without an explanation,” Drake shared. “As they were aware of my apologies to Lady Shaw and of my speaking to my mother regarding Iris, I assumed they did not wish to be called to task by my father. Most assuredly, they were the last thing on my mind when I stood to the accounting before the earl.”
Shaw’s gaze settled upon Drake again, and Drake knew there was more to the tale than the birthday celebration incident. With dread, he watched as his lordship pressed his lips together in a tight line. “If that incident had been the end of it,” the baron said in cold tones, “it would have been enough, but French and Scott were in London when Adelaide made her debut. They made a nuisance of themselves, but, what I consider to be most reprehensible, they told others of how they had seduced her.”
Drake could not breathe. He had delivered the vehicle for Adelaide’s destruction to her door. He had failed her in every means possible. No wonder she despised him.
“Lady Shaw’s tendency toward first one illness and then another proved a balm for Adelaide’s misery. They were able to leave London with a proper excuse. However, Adelaide blames her own weakness for causing my dear Claire’s death. Although my baroness’s constitution was a weak one, Adelaide believes if she had stayed in Town, then her mother might still be with us. I do not see it as such, but you are aware of my daughter’s nature to fret over her shortcomings.
“Moreover, you are intelligent enough to know such stories of a woman’s lax morals never go away. They are spoken again and again, true or not, despite the source of the tale.” Tears formed in Shaw’s eyes. “And there is nothing I can do beyond calling French out to defend my daughter’s honor. I have thought of doing just that more times than I care to admit. Each time I look upon my daughter’s woebegotten face, I wish I had done so. I admit I was never a crack shot or so handy with a sword, but it would be satisfying to see that particular pair of scoundrels brought to account. Yet, as my dear Claire pointed out, a duel would not only confirm Adelaide had something to hide, but if I lost, and I would surely expect to do so, there would be no one to oversee the care of my dearest child. I would resign her to becoming a spinster in her brother’s house when her brother Robert comes of age. At least, in this path I have chosen to follow, my silence provides her the glimmer of hope for Adelaide to claim a country gentleman to husband—a man who would gladly accept her dowry despite the whispers of her suitability.”