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Authors: Elizabeth Hanbury

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Midsummer Eve at Rookery End

BOOK: Midsummer Eve at Rookery End
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Midsummer Eve at Rookery End

 

Elizabeth Hanbury

 

E-scape Press Ltd, England.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organisations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Midsummer Eve at Rookery End. Copyright ©2009 Elizabeth Hanbury, Second edition Copyright ©2013

ISBN: 978-1-908629-11-1

Cover design :Sheyna Watkins www.sheynawatkins.com

 

All rights reserved.

 

The moral right of Elizabeth Hanbury to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

 

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission of E-scape Press.

 

eBooks are not transferable. They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.

 

Published by E-scape Press Ltd, England.

 

www.escapewithabook.com

 

About the Author

 

 

Elizabeth Hanbury’s historical romances combine humour, emotion, great characters and engaging plots. She lives in a village in the heart of England and writes whenever she can sneak away to her desk.

Elizabeth is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novel Society.

To find out more, visit her website at
www.elizabethhanbury.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

For Tim

with love

 

Acknowledgements

 

 

Special thanks go to …

 

 

E-scape Press for their advice and support.

Julia, Glenda, Wendy, Helen, Pip, Jo, Mags, Gilly and Eve for their invaluable feedback.

My friends at C19 for their encouragement and friendship.

Adam and Andrew for brightening every day with their laughter.

 

 

… And to you - thanks for reading.

 

Author’s note and foreword

 

The original
Midsummer Eve at Rookery End
short stories were published in 2009. They proved very popular and in 2011, I wrote a prequel story -
The Virtuous Courtesan
- which featured in the
Brief Encounters
anthology.

Now, for the first time, the revised and updated complete collection of Midsummer Eve at Rookery End stories, including a brand new tale called
Love’s Thorne
, are brought together in this new edition.

For those of you new to the series, here’s a quick primer on the background:

Midsummer Eve at Rookery End came about after reading a book given to me by a friend (thanks Gilly!) on old English customs, folklore and festivals.

Midsummer in England was the highlight of the festival year in medieval times and continued to be celebrated in various ways, including bonfires, processions and parades. Midsummer Eve and Midsummer Day were also cited as times when particular divinations could be successfully carried out.

Love divinations were the most popular and many were chronicled in old texts. These included girls throwing hemp seed over their shoulder and the baking and eating of a ‘dumb cake’ on Midsummer Eve, both performed in the hope of seeing the form of their future husband appear.

The most widespread love divination was referred to as Midsummer Men, where orpines (a native wild flower of the British Isles, Sedum Roseum Crassulaceae, commonly referred to as Midsummer Men) were placed in pairs, one representing a man, the other his sweetheart. If the orpine reclined from the other, it indicated that there would be aversion; if the plants inclined towards each other, it indicated love.

Given this history, the idea of a midsummer ball to celebrate these ancient customs, and romance in general, seemed a very appropriate one.

Lord and Lady Allingham’s country mansion - Rookery End - is an imaginative fusion of my favourite English country houses and gardens. These great estates with their elegant architecture and beautiful gardens provide the perfect stage for these little tales of magical midsummer love and passion.

Here’s more about each one in the order they appear in this anthology:

In
The Virtuous Courtesan
(2010) a valuable portrait sparks a series of events that culminate in Lord and Lady Allingham’s extraordinary first meeting.

Siren’s Daughter
(2009) is about a lost love regained, one of the most appealing romance themes. There is something particularly poignant about love being given a second chance.

Blue Figured Silk
(2009) features the redeeming properties of love and proves that even a rake is not immune from its influence. This story is also partly inspired by the wonderful Savage Garden song ‘I Knew I Loved You’.

In
A Scandal at Midnight
(2009), misunderstandings and misconceptions abound, but love is still able to conquer all obstacles.

Love’s Thorne
(2013) is a new story for this edition. A wily valet lends a helping hand when Captain Simon Russell’s future happiness is at stake.

 

 

The Virtuous Courtesan
is set a few years earlier than the other stories. I leave it to you to decide whether
Siren’s Daughter, Blue Figured Silk, A Scandal at Midnight
and
Love’s Thorne
all occur on the same Midsummer Eve or on separate occasions!

These tales feature swoonworthy heroes meeting their match in sparkling heroines amid a romantic setting. To finish, I’ll just highlight that they deliberately hark back to the original legends – which means on Midsummer Eve at Rookery End, people meet their future partners, experience
coups de foudre
and fall in love more quickly than they might otherwise …

I hope you enjoy reading about these characters as much as I enjoyed creating them.

 

 

 

 

With very warmest wishes,

Elizabeth

The Virtuous Courtesan

 

-1-

It was a perfect night for housebreaking.

The moon, sailing across a sky of deepest sapphire, cast a silvery hue over the landscape, the air was heavy with the scent of roses and the sounds of summer drifted on the breeze.

Rookery End, ancestral seat of the Earls of Allingham, stood serene and somnolent under the starlight; no candles burned in the windows. At this hour even the servants would be in their beds and as Leonora peered through the bushes to survey the elegant architecture and gardens before her, she too wished she was asleep.

In fact she wished she was anywhere
but
here and about to embark on the most idiotic venture of her life.

Despite the circumstances she and her father had endured over recent years, creeping around a large country house under cover of darkness was not something she had anticipated doing.

How had things come to this? She pushed the thought aside. She had one aim and to be distracted from it could bring disaster.

Besides, it was no use worrying about what could not be altered. Her father had committed a grave error of judgement, but he had done so with good intentions and in a fit of remorse had soon confessed.

Of course it was too late by then, yet seeing the desperation in his eyes and knowing he was ill, Leonora had not had the heart to censure him. Instead she had arranged for him to go abroad while she tried to sort out this mess.

The breeches, oversized greatcoat, riding boots and muffler she wore felt strange but deliciously liberating. Earlier, when examining her reflection in the mirror in her room at the Angel inn, she found the disguise endowed her with a peculiar thrill of anticipation. She looked mysterious, even threatening; a villain indeed, albeit one of slight build. Her long dark hair was concealed under a battered old tricorn hat. In her left hand she gripped an iron bar. Her paint-stained hands were hidden by gloves and the black muffler covered most of her face. Only her eyes had been visible and they had gleamed back at her, apprehension lurking in their dark blue depths.

Now it was well after midnight and she was within reach of her goal. She made sure her horse Raphael was tethered securely and memorised where she had concealed him. A quick, soundless escape was vital. Raph snorted softly as she stroked his nose, being careful not to disturb the boot blacking she had used to cover his white markings.

She was almost ready; only two more details to check. Thrusting her hand into the pocket of her overcoat, she hunted for the small-bladed knife. Still there. In the other pocket, her fingers closed around the smoothly wrought handle of pistol. It was an old-fashioned piece, a relic from her father’s youth, and its presence reassured her even though she had no intention of using it.

Leonora exhaled slowly to steady her nerves. She had planned as much as she could – it was time for action. Thankfully the fine weather had held. A gloriously sunny afternoon had given way to a perfect midsummer eve and that, together with her research on the layout of the house and her disguise, meant everything was perfectly placed.

All she had to do now was commit the perfect crime.

She ran across the lawn until she reached the shelter of a high yew hedge. After a moment’s pause to check there were indeed no candles still burning in the house, she crept closer.

A cloud skittered across the moon, leaving just enough light for her to pick her way forward without stumbling. She tiptoed through the neat gardens marking the edge of the terrace and, narrowing her eyes, peered through the gloom until she saw the doors which opened out from the library, situated at the back of the house.

Her fingers tightened around the iron bar. Leonora inched forward, flattening herself against the smooth stone wall of the house and praying the sound of breaking glass wouldn’t wake the servants. She was almost upon the doors when she saw that one of them was already ajar.

Behind the muffler her mouth fell open in astonishment. She had not expected easy access. Could it be a trap? She had heard tales of owners who didn’t bother locking their doors and windows because their dogs roamed free at night, ready to rip any unsuspecting burglar to shreds. Still, the absence of snarling guard dogs made this improbable.

Had another burglar been here before? That too seemed unlikely – there were no signs of forced entry. She frowned, straining her ears to listen for unusual noises.

Nothing.

Only the soft sounds of a summer night filled the air. How odd. The door must have been left open by one of the servants. Perhaps because Rookery End was situated in the Surrey countryside, locking doors was not as important as it would be in London.

Relief swept through her. Whatever the reason for the door being ajar, it made her task simpler. Now there was no need to smash her way in. Feeling light hearted at this, the first stroke of luck to come her way for months, she dropped the iron bar in a nearby bush and headed for the doors.

It would not take long to remove the painting. Afterwards she could leave Rookery End forever.

 

-2-

His head ached like the devil.

Despite the pain throbbing in his temples, Miles, sixth Earl of Allingham, forced himself to open his eyes. His mouth was as dry as the disgusting sherry his Aunt Maud served up at Christmas. He needed a drink, preferably coffee – the thought of more of the brandy he had imbibed earlier made his stomach lurch. He made a silent vow never to touch another drop of that vintage.

He blinked then winced; even that slight movement set off hammer blows in his skull. God, he was a fool! At thirty he ought to know it was useless to try and drown one’s sorrows – they always floated to the surface.

Gradually fuller consciousness began to return. The room was in darkness apart from the moonlight shimmering through the windows. The candles Beacham had left on the desk had expired long ago and Miles judged it to be well past midnight.

He must have fallen asleep. He couldn’t blame the butler for leaving him here, fully clothed apart from his cravat and stretched out on the library chaise longue. He recalled being irritable as well as extremely drunk and ordering Beacham out when that venerable retainer, aware of the amount of brandy his master had consumed, had surveyed him with a knowing eye and suggested he should seek out his bed.

With a groan, Miles pulled himself to a sitting position and clasped his aching head between his hands. He glanced filmily at his surroundings. When his gaze fell on the painting, his mouth twisted in a grim parody of a smile. There, in all her glory and still smiling her enigmatic smile, was the reason for his earlier excesses: The Virtuous Courtesan.

The portrait - a full length study of a lady in a low cut, shimmering gold silk gown - was an image of haunting beauty. With her riot of dark ringlets, provocative smile and slumberous eyes, the Virtuous Courtesan seemed a presence in the room rather a mere painting. Her expression had the ability to draw onlookers’ gazes and hold them in rapt contemplation.

BOOK: Midsummer Eve at Rookery End
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