She’s always been different…
Amaryllis Gibson is an unlikely debutante. She favors fact over fashion, cares not for “proper” conversation and is haunted by ghostly visions which could land her in the madhouse! Marriage is definitely the last thing on Rilla’s mind…
But when she’s caught in a compromising position with Viscount Wyburn, suddenly she finds herself betrothed! And worse, his powerful presence only increases her visions. By shedding light on the viscount’s past, can Rilla gain his trust and win him round to her more…unconventional traits?
‘This sounds like yet another of your ill-advised schemes,’ said Paul Lindsey, Viscount Wyburn, with as much patience as he could muster.
‘Piffle,’ his stepmother retorted, shaking her grey ringlets. ‘It would be a crime to allow such delightful girls to languish in the country.’
‘But hardly incumbent upon you to rectify the situation.’ Paul stood by the mantel. His gaze drifted from the china figurines to the requisite pink, dimpled Cupids depicted across the drawing-room ceiling.
‘Who else will take them in hand? Their dear mother is dead, and Sir George has a predilection for horses and cards. Very sad.’ Lady Wyburn bent with apparent diligence over her needlework.
Turning, Paul sat across from his relative and studied her more closely. He drummed his fingers on the low rosewood table. Lady Wyburn was the only person on God’s earth he gave tuppence for, and he’d not allow some sticky-fingered squire to rob her blind.
‘Stepmother.’ He leaned forward on the ludicrously low sofa. ‘People tend to take advantage of you. If you recall, your young nephew—’
‘Not the same thing.’ She fluttered her hand in front of her face as though shooing a non-existent pest. ‘Rilla and her younger sister, Imogene, are charming. Imogene’s looks are exceptional and Rilla is refreshing. Not beautiful exactly, but exotic and interesting.’
‘Admirable attributes in a book or a flower.’
‘Don’t be flippant, dear.’ She waved her needlepoint, a colourful object of pinks and purples with no discernible pattern. ‘Anyway, Sir George hasn’t a clue how to find them suitable husbands and lacks the funds—’
‘And sees you as a lucrative prospect, I suppose.’ Paul shifted his legs, moving them away from the fire’s warmth, again drumming his fingers. He stopped. The noise irritated and revealed an emotional response he would not allow.
‘Nonsense. Sir George is an academic of repute. The only prospects that interest him involve ancient Greeks or Romans.’
‘Except for the occasional English racehorse. What about their dowries? Will you contribute to that charity?’ he questioned.
‘Dear Sir George would not agree. Besides, Rilla would create a rumpus. She is proud and not at all keen on marriage.’
‘That will be a change. Rilla? An unusual name.’ ‘Short for Amaryllis.’
‘How unfortunate. Her mother was in a botanical mood, I presume.’ But the name was unforgettable. He’d heard it before.
‘Not that girl who rode the pig through Lady Lockhart’s garden at that party we attended before I went to the Continent?’ he asked with dawning comprehension.
‘A goat, actually. And she was younger then.’
‘You plan to present this…urn, young lady?’ A smile tugged at his mouth.
‘Rilla is much improved. And we all fall into scrapes in our youth.’
‘I do not remember riding stray barnyard animals.’
‘You were always a responsible youth. Besides, as I recall, you said it was the best part of the day.’
‘That was a long time ago.’ Paul stood and walked to the window, stifling a yawn.
‘You’re tired.’ Lady Wyburn spoke sharply. ‘You did not sleep well.’
Of course he had not slept well. He’d been at Wyburn, hadn’t he? He never slept well at his estate. Or within a ten-mile radius of that cursed lake.
He rolled his shoulders. ‘It is more likely the heat in this room and not my sleeping habits which make me yawn. Might we return to the subject of your neighbours?’
‘Generally people you find delightful prove unscrupulous.’ He turned from the window with sudden decision. ‘I will pay my respects to the Gibsons this afternoon. I trust you will take note if I am dissatisfied with their character.’
‘I always listen to your insights. Ride over now, dear.’ Lady Wyburn waved a hand in the direction of the French window as if expecting him to leap through it on his mission.
Paul preferred a more conventional exit. ‘Goodbye, Stepmother,’ he said, kissing her cheek. ‘Enjoy yourself.’
‘As I would a visit to the tooth extractor,’ he muttered, striding from the room.
Miss Amaryllis Gibson sat on the wooden swing that hung from the lowest limb of the chestnut tree. She scuffed her feet. This was her favourite spot on the estate. She liked the view of their solid red-brick house. She enjoyed the ramshackle shapes of the dairy, wash house and stable. She even appreciated the smell, a sweet mix of soap, grass and horses.
But today, none of this helped. She poked the toe of her shabby black-buttoned boot into the earth.
She’d woken with one of her feelings.
Rilla hated her feelings. No, hatred would be a far preferable emotion. She feared them. They made goosebumps prickle her arms and her shoulders tense. She wanted to run or gallop, as though with enough speed she could escape from her own mind.
Pushing the swing higher, she breathed deeply. Her petticoats billowed as she stretched too-long legs, gaining height and speed. Loose strands of hair tickled her face and the fields blurred.
Briefly, her stomach lurched as she hung at the highest point, only to fly down in tumultuous descent. Momentum, it was called. Momentum fascinated her.
Many improper things fascinated Rilla: Roman aqueducts, force, gravity, Sir Isaac Newton’s theories and her mechanised butter churn. Unfortunately, no one appreciated such items, and her water-powered churn had only succeeded in flooding the dairy.
Rilla frowned. Of course, in London she’d have little time for her inventions. Proper ladies did not develop churns.
Or flood dairies.
Or have feelings.
Sliding to a stop, Rilla jumped from the swing. Even thinking about London bothered her. She had no desire for the city with its meaningless social niceties and the constant pressure to find a husband, which was, of course, the one thing she must not do.
How she’d always loved this tree. She liked its thick, sheltering canopy of green and the feeling of her own strength and invulnerability as she pulled herself, branch by branch, through its foliage. It was even the site of her first pulley. She could see it now, the wooden wheel and rope partially entangled within the twigs and leaves.
Could she? Just once more? After all, the rope should be removed for safety’s sake. With a thrill of forbidden pleasure, she looked about the still garden and drive.
Nothing and no one.
Stepping forward, she touched the trunk. The bark was rough under her fingertips. She inhaled. The air smelled wonderful, of wood, and earth, and mushrooms.
Scooping up the loose cloth of her skirt, she tucked it into the sash around her waist and grabbed the lowest branch. With strong, quick movements, she reached the pulley and, leaning forward, untangled the rope and tossed it to the ground below.
Done. She exhaled, allowing herself a moment to relax in this world of green light and dappled sun. A late-spring breeze touched her cheeks and the leaves rustled.
She would have stayed longer if she hadn’t heard the rhythmic clip-clop of a horse’s hooves. She stiffened. They seldom had guests, unless they were of the card-playing variety, but Father had given that up two months since.
Bending, she squinted through the leaves.
A gentleman approached along their rutted drive. He stopped his horse under her tree and dismounted with elegant, long-limbed grace. He was tall and lean with hair so dark it looked black.
Then it came.
The sensation was of loss and pain so intense her world spun. Branches and leaves joggled in a blur of green. Rilla gulped for air.
The world turned dark, as though night had descended.
Dimly she saw a lake, ink black and spattered with raindrops. So cold her fingers numbed and her grip loosened. She reached out, snatching a twig.She missed and, with a cry, fell through the sharp, splintering branches to the ground below.
She landed with a jarring jolt and gasped in shock and pain.
‘What –? Miss, are you all right?’ The voice came as if from a distance.
She opened her eyes. Daylight reappeared.
A man bent over he, a man different than any she had met before. The straight dark brows, unyielding jaw and mouth gave her the confused impression of harsh strength. Briefly, his stark silhouette seemed mythical – Hades searching for Persephone.
TO WIN AN eCOPY OF NO CONVENTIONAL MISS ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eleanor Webster loves high-heels and sun, which is ironic as she lives in northern Canada, the land of snowhills and unflattering footwear. Various crafting experiences, including a nasty glue-gun episode, have proven that her creative soul is best expressed through the written word. Eleanor is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology and holds an undergraduate degree in history and creative writing. She loves to use her writing to explore her fascination with the past.