An Escape to Love combines two of my most recent novellas into one volume. On Friday, I shared an excerpt from “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst.” Today, I bring you “Lord Radcliffe’s Best Friend.”
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.
Tuesday, 14 September 1819, Kent, England
“I am going to kill him!” Hendrake Barrymore, Lord Radcliffe, growled as he looked down upon where his neighbor’s stallion was doing his best to bring another of Drake’s prized mares to foal.
“Dost ye mean to kill the horse or its owner?” Jack McGuyer asked with a grin.
Drake required no prompting from his steward to bring forth an image of Lord Bernard Shaw nor of the baron’s daughter, Adelaide. Drake had never understood his attraction to the woman. As an earl, he could have his pick of the crop of beauties making their Come Outs for the Season, but none of them could hold a candle to Adelaide. She had inherited the best of both her maternal and paternal ancestors. Her hair was a chestnut brown, rich with hints of gold, and her eyes were a coppery-brown, sparking with fire. She was tall enough not to appear petite when standing beside him, which she rarely did these days unless they both exited the Sunday services at the same time. Then she would acknowledge him before excusing herself to speak to anyone but him.
There had been a time when they were inseparable, roaming the hills and valleys making up their fathers’ estates. Then he had been sent off to school and had returned home full of himself—too concerned with arrogance at being the future earl to find time to spend with the one person he had always considered as important to his self-worth as were his parents. It was only later that he suspected he did not seek her out because he did not want to hear what she would say regarding the road he had been traveling, and Drake held no doubts, Adelaide Shaw would have had an opinion—she always did, and it would be one he did not want to hear.
Yet, soon, everything changed for both of them. It had been her fifteenth birthday. He, or rather, he should say, his mother, had presented Adelaide with two song birds in a cage, a gift from his family, and Addy had seemed so pleased to have them. She kept giving him looks, that, at the time, he did not understand, but would be thrilled to receive today. Then he had made a colossal error. Drake could remember the moment as if it had occurred yesterday. His friends Lord Randolph French and Mr. Charles Scott had accompanied him to Cliffe House, and, unlike his previous holidays at the manor, he had ignored Adelaide completely until the evening of the celebration of her birthday.
His friends had teased him, egging Drake on until he maneuvered one of Lord Shaw’s maids into what he thought was an empty room so he might steal a kiss. He had never treated a servant of his father’s house or Shaw’s as such, but French and Scott had kept saying it was all a “lark” and expected of young lords. As the maid quickly agreed, Drake had foolishly thought them correct. Stealing a kiss from a female servant was part of proving one was a man.
Unfortunately, Addy was in the room he had chosen. It was not until days later that he had wondered why she had been lurking in the shadows of her family’s library. Had she planned an assignation of her own? The idea bothered him more than he would care to admit at the time, but not enough to consider his pursuit of the maid as being any more than proof he could seduce a willing miss. He meant to demonstrate to his friends his “way” with willing women.
He had just tugged the maid into the room behind him and closed the door, positioning the girl along the wall, when Adelaide showed herself. “What do you think you are doing?” she demanded in sharp tones, which she had rarely used with him in the past.
He had searched for an explanation, but none came to him readily enough to satisfy Adelaide. Angry, she had struck him then—not a simple slap, but rather a solid punch to his side. If the blow had not made him wince, Drake would have known pride: He had taught her how to punch so as to deliver a powerful blow while not breaking her thumb or any of her fingers. “You derelict!” she charged. “I thought you above such manipulations, but you are no better than those two coxcombs who accompanied you to my father’s house this evening!”
“Now, Addy,” he began, finally finding his voice.
She punched him a second time, this one landing against his bicep. “Do not ‘Addy’ me, Hendrake Barrymore! I am ‘Miss Shaw’ to you, as you are ‘Lord Chadwick’ to me.” She turned her venomous tone on the maid. “If I were you, Iris, I would return to my ‘assigned’ duties and pray my mistress has a poor memory.” The girl curtseyed and scampered quickly from the room.
He and Adelaide stood in silence for a few brief moments, eyeing each other in a manner he had never thought to consider. When had Adelaide Shaw become such a fetching female? She stood there, chest heaving in anger, and he felt his manhood come to life. Regrettably, Addy did not appear to know the same awareness of him as he had experienced for her. “You do not mean to offer me an excuse for your behavior?” she demanded.
Although Drake was not proud of his intentions, he was not about to admit himself in the wrong, especially to her. She was not his parent. It was not necessary for him to answer to her. “It was only to be a simple kiss, Miss Shaw,” he said with a hint of authority, after all, he was the son of the Earl of Radcliffe.
“For you, perhaps, it was a simple kiss,” Adelaide had countered. “However, your actions have likely cost Iris her position in my father’s house. Her regrets will fall on my mother’s deaf ears, for the baroness does not tolerate such foolishness from her household staff. It will be considered by both Lady Shaw and Iris as more than a simple kiss before this evening knows an end.”
Drake had not considered the ramifications of his actions in those terms; he had only thought of proving his manhood to his friends. “What do you wish of me, Adelaide? I have apologized. If you wish me to speak to your mother in Iris’s behalf, I will. I do not wish Iris to lose her position because of me.”
“What do I wish from you?” she repeated in what sounded of frustration.
“Yes,” he answered in equal dismay.
“I shall tell you what I want, my lord,” she accented each of her words by poking him in the chest with her index finger. “I want the return of my friend—the young man who was good and kind and thoughtful. I want that man to return to his sensibilities. I do not much care for the man you are becoming. I fear the earldom is doomed if this is the type of man you have designed for yourself.”
He caught her finger and forcibly held her hand against his chest. He said softly, “I am the same Hendrake Barrymore you have always known, Adelaide. I promise.”
“No, you are not,” she said as tears filled her eyes. “The Hendrake Barrymore I know would have recalled what he promised me on my twelfth birthday.”
Drake searched his memory as to what she referred. At length, it dawned on him. “On your twelfth birthday, when you attempted to kiss me, I told you we would share your first kiss when you were fifteen.” He would not have minded that kiss, for she was, in his estimation, suddenly very desirable. “You wished a kiss when you were twelve and I was sixteen, but I told you you must be closer to becoming a woman to appreciate fully such a kiss.” Belatedly, he realized he had always been fascinated by Adelaide Shaw: She had been more than a valuable friend; she was his truest companion, the one who provided his life the perfect balance. The one who kept him on the straight and narrow. The one who wanted only the best for him. “I would still be willing to share your first kiss, Addy.” His breathing hitched higher, anticipating the possibilities.
She shoved away from him then. “I fear you are too late, my lord. My first kiss, or should I say, the echo of one, occurred in this very room not ten minutes prior. I found it quite dissatisfying! As to my second kiss, I would prefer it came from a man who held the same values as I. Enjoy your pursuits, my lord, wherever they may take you.” Then, she walked from the room and, essentially, from his life. Afterward, he had made multiple overtures to return to what they once had shared, but six years later, they were no closer than they had been when she left him standing alone in a dark room and regretting his choices. The one woman he wished to court—the one woman he thought might bring satisfaction to his world—despised him.
His late father had complicated the situation by enacting his Inclosure rights when after two years of wet summers, they had experienced one of the driest springs and summers in the history of the area. The previous earl, who had gladly shared a stream on Radcliffe land with his neighbors, had chosen, first, to place a fence around the open area where others had watered their livestock and, then, diverted the water to save his own crops. It had been a hard decision for Drake’s father to make, but one with which Drake had essentially agreed. Their first responsibility had been to the hundred and twenty families who depended directly upon the estate.
Consequently, the move had infuriated many, especially Lord Bernard Shaw, Adelaide’s father. The move had laid the grounds for a rift between Drake’s and Addy’s families: A move for the survival of the earl’s estate and Drake’s foolish attempts to prove himself a man.
“What do you wish me to do about the mare?” McGuyer asked.
“Move her back to the small pasture behind the barn. Keep all the mares there until I can settle this with Lord Shaw. Contact Lord Shelton and inform his lordship we must wait before we match his stallion with our Everlee. Ask Shelton if he wishes to choose a different mare or to wait. Offer his lordship our deepest apologies.”
“Shelton shan’t be happy. Everlee’s blood lines were what interested the viscount.” McGuyer cautioned. “He wanted to purchase the foal for his own line of horses.”
Drake shook his head in acknowledgement of the truth. “I will make amends to Shelton. Meanwhile, send some of our men out to repair the fence. Evidently, Shaw’s people did a slipshod job. It appears part of it is down. Likely how Shaw’s horse crossed into my pasture.”
“Aye, sir,” McGuyer said as he took up the reins again to chase down the mare. Before the steward rode away, though, he nodded to the opposing hillside. “Trouble approaching, sir.”
Drake looked up to view Addy Shaw looking down upon the horses below. Other women would have been embarrassed by the scene of nature taking its expected course, but not Adelaide. Instead, she motioned the two grooms who accompanied her to fetch the stallion, before setting her horse on a slow, ambling descent to the valley below. Although she had presented him no form of acknowledgement nor a request for him to join her, Drake recognized her intent and gently nudged his gelding into motion. A long overdue confrontation awaited him.
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.
Now for the giveaway. I have THREE eBook copies of An Escape to Love available to those who comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EST on Thursday, February 10, 2022. I will contact the winners through email.