Authors: Juliet Chastain
A PROPER LADY’S GYPSY LOVER
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A PROPER LADY’S GYPSY LOVER
Copyright© 2012 Juliet Chastain
Cover Artist: Mina Carter
Editor: Spencer Freeman
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in reviews.
For ELM. If it hadn’t been for you…
“Liberty,” she screamed. “Liberty, help me!” She couldn’t believe it. Her own papa had taken tight hold of her arm and was dragging her to the carriage where the two old ladies, her aunts, sat waiting.
“Papa, let me go! I want to stay here with you! Please let me stay.” Lucy-Ann pulled desperately against her father’s firm grip as she struggled to dig her heels into the ground.
“No,” The Honorable Joseph Taylor said gruffly as he huffed and puffed. “Come on, Daughter, be a good girl now. Your aunts are going to teach you to be a young lady; they’ll help you catch a good husband.”
“Really, Lucy-Ann,” said Lady Louisa Langdon from the window of the coach. “You are making a terrible display of yourself. What will the servants think?”
Mr. Taylor kept only three servants. The housekeeper and the cook were both weeping loudly and the gardener was coughing and sighing. Although Mr. Taylor had ordered them to drag Lucy-Ann to the carriage, they all stood immobile, their mouths agape.
“Joseph, this is the result of your negligence,” Lucy-Ann’s Aunt Louisa said through gritted teeth to her brother. “For almost eighteen years you have let her run around like a wild thing, allowing Gypsy children as companions, never teaching her how to be a proper young lady. I told you years ago to remarry and to get a governess for the child. I told you no good would come of it if you continued as you were. But all you could think about were your ridiculous beetles and writing those books that heaven knows not a soul reads.”
Mr. Taylor stopped pulling although he kept an iron grip on Lucy-Ann’s arm. “May I remind you, Louisa, that the Geographical Society invited me to lecture and two of the members said they had enjoyed the observations in my books. Why the president himself said…”
Aunt Louisa sighed. “My dear Joseph, get the child into the carriage.”
“I am no child!” Lucy-Ann cried. “I do not want to go with you. I do not want a husband. I already know whom I want to marry.”
“My dear!” Aunt Louisa sounded appalled. “There is no one in this neighborhood of sufficient social standing. You are, after all, the granddaughter of an earl.”
“I don’t care. Let me go, Papa. I’ll marry Liberty and be no bother to anyone.”
“Joseph!” Aunt Louisa sounded very annoyed now. “Who is…?”
Mr. Taylor waved his free arm. “He’s a Gypsy lad. A band of them comes every August to help with the harvest. They’re in the field right now. Intelligent boy, knows a lot about beetles actually.”
Aunt Louisa frowned deeply and turned quite pink. “Completely unsuitable company for a young lady of good breeding. I am shocked. Come, dear Lucy-Ann, Aunt Emily and I are most anxious to be back in London before sunset.”
“No,” Lucy-Ann cried wildly. “No, no, no.”
But Mr. Taylor pulled and finally the cook, still weeping copiously, took her other arm, and Lucy-Ann was shoved into the carriage. The footman quickly fastened the door behind her while her aunts held on to her and the carriage rolled off.
“Good-bye,” Mr. Taylor called. “I’ll write when I have the time.” He’d rarely have the time, of course, just as during the fifteen years since his wife had died he’d rarely had the time to enjoy a meal with his daughter, or to inquire how she had spent her day.
“Do sit down,” said Aunt Louisa.
“Oh darling, don’t be upset,” said Lucy-Ann’s other aunt, The Honorable Miss Emily Taylor. “I have some sweets in my reticule…”
But Lucy-Ann scrambled to the window, tempted to climb out had the carriage not been moving so fast.
“Liberty,” she screamed. “Liberty, help me!” She leaned out as far as she dared while her aunts cried out to her to be careful. Aunt Emily took hold of her waist.
Lucy-Ann saw him, Liberty Wood, on his brown mare with the white forelock, riding hard after the coach.
“Liberty,” she called, leaning out yet a little farther, causing both aunts to shriek. Aunt Louisa took hold of her legs and called to her to come back inside. Lucy-Ann watched Liberty slowly close the distance between himself and the carriage.
“Halt!” she called to the coachman. “Halt!” The coachman pulled on the reins, slowing the horses.
“No!” cried Aunt Louisa. She stuck her head out of the opposite window. “No,” she called to the coachman. “Move on as fast as you can, Elijah. You must outrun that highwayman or beat him off.”
The carriage picked up speed again, swaying precariously, but Liberty had caught up. He’d always said the mare was the fleetest thing on four feet.
Leaning on the neck of his horse, his black hair flying behind him, Liberty smiled grimly at Lucy-Ann as he passed the carriage. The mare pulled up beside the carriage horses. Lucy-Ann realized his intention was to come up beside the lead horse, take hold of the beast, and bring the carriage to a halt.
“Actually,” she heard Aunt Emily say, her voice quivering, “I’d prefer to go more slowly. This is dangerous.”
“You’ll have to beat him off, Elijah,” Aunt Louisa ordered loudly. Lucy-Ann saw the coachman nod and reach for his long whip.
“No!” Lucy-Ann screamed. “Please, no.”
The coachman stood and, holding onto the thong, swung the long handle of the whip, catching Liberty in the face, causing him to somersault off the mare and into the mud at the side of the road. The carriage almost careened off the road as the aunts screamed and clutched each other. When it stabilized, Lucy-Ann tried to climb out of the window, but her aunts held her back. Eventually she collapsed on the floor of the carriage, weeping uncontrollably.
Miss Lucy-Ann Taylor threw her embroidery to the floor and stamped on it. She was no good at it—she never would be—and she hated every minute she spent doing it. Aunt Louisa said every proper young lady embroidered. This entire business of being a proper young lady was past enduring. She simply could not stand it. She would have liked to break something, maybe the grinning porcelain dog by the fireplace, but then there’d be an endless fuss. Besides, breaking stupid porcelain dogs wouldn’t release her from this infernal prison.
It was intolerable. She couldn’t go for a brisk walk because someone had to go with her and that someone—one of her aunts or an elderly servant—invariably crept along at a snail’s pace. She couldn’t ride except on a ridiculous sidesaddle with a bored groom leading the horse. She certainly couldn’t wade in the river, and she knew both aunts would faint if she said she’d like to swim or fish. To top it off, she had to wear these flimsy dresses that left her uncomfortably cold most of the time.
And she most definitely couldn’t see Liberty. Even though he’d been her best friend since she was a child, even though he’d become more than a best friend, even though she still loved him, even though all she really wanted was to be with him. None of that mattered. All that mattered was that a proper young lady did not receive young men who actually worked. A proper young lady never swam or fished or rode with a Gypsy or entered his
, the Gypsy wagon. A proper young lady certainly never cared for a man who was not a gentleman. And Liberty Wood was no gentleman.
She had the misfortune of being a proper young lady, a young lady of good breeding, doomed to rounds of unutterably dull social events and being civil to boring young men who wanted to marry her because one day she would inherit her papa’s money.
This was the second year since her aunts had “rescued” her from her negligent papa who’d let her run free and play with whomever she wanted so long as she didn’t disturb him and his beetle collection and his great thoughts. This was the second year she’d have to endure the London season. All the other young women she’d met were thrilled to be here in the city and could think of nothing but finding a suitable husband.
Lucy-Ann knew she’d never find anyone she’d want to marry among the pale, foppish young men she would encounter tonight and every Wednesday night at the balls at Almack’s, the meeting place for the highest and most respectable society in London. She knew from the previous season that all the young men would pale in comparison to her memories of Liberty. Liberty, with his black eyes, black hair, and tawny skin, who’d taught her to ride astride, to swim, to fish. And it was with Liberty that she had discovered the pleasures of making love, before she had been snatched away and forced to endure this dull existence. Now, two years later, it was still Liberty she dreamed of, Liberty she yearned for.
John Derbyshire stood before a tiny mirror hanging on the outwardly curved wall of his
, carefully tying his silk neckcloth. He’d been accepted by the socially prominent women—old dragons, he called them—who decided who would be allowed to enter Almack’s, turning away any they deemed socially unacceptable. He couldn’t help laughing. At first they’d looked at him askance, knowing somehow that he should not be admitted, but then they had read the letter from Prinnie, His Royal Highness The Prince Regent and that had convinced them. A personal friend of the Prince Regent was most welcome at Almack’s.
What old dragon could say no to a letter of introduction from His Royal Highness? There was no need to mention that His Royal Highness hadn’t actually written the letter personally. It was his stationery after all, and it had been quite the trick to get hold of.
John Derbyshire, in his foppish clothes, had smiled and flirted, and the dragons had smiled back and simpered until he could have sworn that they were all half in love with him. Every one of them promised to introduce him to her granddaughter or niece or goddaughter at the ball tonight.
Introductions to grandsons and nephews and godsons would be just as welcome, but if he didn’t meet them tonight, he would meet them at the card tables tomorrow evening or the next. They’d all jump at the chance to win money from Prinnie’s rich and stupid friend. He’d let them keep winning until the stakes were truly worthwhile, and then that dull fop, John Derbyshire, would make a killing.
It wasn’t easy work, but it was quite amusing and remunerative. What with land being enclosed and the damned machines taking good men’s jobs, where could an honest man make a living but off the rich? He needed to make a good living too, not only for himself, but for his whole extended family. Times were bad for those who wandered the land and toiled in other men’s fields, for now the new threshing machines did their work. No amount of fortune-telling and horse-trading could make up for the loss of seasonal farm work.
He untied the neckcloth and wound it around his neck again. He was nervous for tonight, as it was the first ball of the season and his first London ball. But it was more than that. He wondered if she would be there—Lucy-Ann. No doubt she’d be husband-hunting like the rest of the young ladies, he thought irritably. Unless she was already married. He liked that thought even less. He pulled the neckcloth off roughly, rewound it, and tied it again. There, that would have to do.
He’d loved her once, long ago, and after she was gone, he’d done his best to forget her. Since she’d left there’d been many lovers and even more offers. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, women liked him. His friends often chided him about it. But no woman suited him the way she had, no woman made him happy the way she had. He still thought of her, dreamed of her. But it had been a long time since they parted so painfully. It was absurd to think that he loved her still, yet his heart beat faster every time she entered his mind.
Best to forget about her
, he told himself. The likes of her did not socialize with the likes of him. Although he might play the gentleman for profit, and although he might envy the ease of the upper-class Englishman’s existence, he was not of that class. He never truly could be and would never want to be. When they could afford it, he and his family would depart for America where, it was said, a man was judged by his worth, not the class into which he had been born.