Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 146 pages
Heat Level: 2
eBook Price: $.99
Print book: $10.99
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 146 pages
Heat Level: 2
eBook Price: $.99
Print book: $10.99
Caroline "Kitty" Tyndall is tired of being overlooked, considered a child by the man she desires. He likes worldly, more experienced women – something she’s not. So she convinces the new groom, Hugh McCollum, to teach her how to kiss the way a man likes to be kissed…
All kinds of trouble could result from young Lady Caroline's request to teach her how to kiss. But Hugh had never been one to run from trouble... or a challenge. Besides, if no one found out, nothing would come of it, and it might prove an enjoyable distraction.
After all, he was only supposed to teach her how to kiss.
Rose Hill Estate
Kitty slipped down the back staircase, sneaked through the pantry, and let herself out the servants’ door at the rear of Rose Hill Manor. Oh, how she loved being home. London was exciting and wondrous with its hustle of activity, the countless elegant balls, and fashionable social events. She’d never known a moment of boredom during her seasons in Town. But she’d always experienced a connection with the country, always felt welcomed by the estate itself whenever she returned home. Casting a furtive glance over her shoulder, she scanned the bank of windows on the second floor for any sign of someone in the parlor looking out onto the grounds. No pale faces could be seen lurking behind the windowpanes. Though it was unlikely anyone in her family was still abed, the draperies remained closed against the chill of the December morning. A smile tugged her lips upward, and she set her sights along the path to the stable. She had made it out on her own once again.
If Mama or Papa had spotted her, she would have been sentenced to an interminable time in her rooms with an embroidery hoop or a crochet hook. Such activities were fine for Ellie and Jenny. They enjoyed sitting for hours discussing the latest fashions or gossiping about who would marry whom. And after all, Ellie would become Eleanor Talbot, the Viscountess of Lisle, when she married Walter Talbot come spring. Soon after that, she would undoubtedly be fashioning lace for nursery dresses. And Jenny… well it was expected that as soon as Ellie was married, Post Captain Stephen Davies of the Royal Navy would seek out their father and ask after Jenny.
That left Kitty, the last Tyndall sister, unattached and with no prospects. Not that she minded. She frowned and kicked a pebble out of her path. At least she hadn’t minded until that night at Lord Pennington’s ball the prior season, when his insufferable daughter, Penelope, had implied that a young lady of nearly eighteen years without one prospective suitor was destined for spinsterhood. Then she and Cicely Halpern had tittered behind their lace fans and seductively swayed their way past the eligible bachelors lining the walls in the dance hall. The two had spent the entire evening dancing with every man present, but not one gentleman had invited Kitty to dance.
Well that wouldn’t happen at her parents’ holiday assembly. When she’d assisted her mother with crafting the invitations to the small gathering, one name in particular had stood out on the guest list: Roger Scriven, Eighth Baron of Strathern. One of the ton’s most eligible — and elusive — bachelors. Kitty had been watching him for more than a year, but he seemed to have no time for the refined young debutantes presented every season. His tastes apparently ran to slightly more… mature and sophisticated women. A sudden blast of cold air whisked across the meadow and sent icy fingers licking at her neck beneath the wool muffler. She shivered, but whether the chill was the result of the wind or if it was excitement over the plan she’d concocted the previous night, she didn’t care to consider.
The earthy scent of horse and hay greeted her as she pushed open the stable door. Patty, the gentle mare that had been Kitty’s best friend for the past seven years, nickered a greeting. Annoyance was replaced by delight as Kitty paused to stroke the thin white stripe that dipped between the chestnut horse’s eyes.
“Good morning, Patty. Would you like a treat today?”
Blowing softly through her nose, Patty nuzzled Kitty’s palm.
“Very well, here you are, just as promised.” Kitty held out her other hand, revealing the carrot she’d pinched from the larder on her way out the door. As the mare took the offering with soft snorts and snuffles, Kitty glanced around the dimly lit stables. Where on earth was the groom, Hugh?
“Hallo? Mr. McCollum?”
Shrill neighing from the paddock at the rear of the building was followed by a warning shout and then the clatter of hooves against wood. Dougal McCollum must be working with Maleek, her father’s new prized Friesian. Maybe the groom was out there with his older brother.
After giving Patty a final rub on the nose and the promise to come back soon, Kitty squared her shoulders and strode with renewed purpose toward the sounds of tetchy horse. The rear door of the stables stood open. As she stepped from the dimness into the early morning sunshine, Kitty’s gaze was instantly drawn to a flurry of activity off to her right.
A flash of reddish brown, so dark it resembled purple, streaked by on the other side of the fence then circled behind the man standing in the center of the paddock holding the long lead. Kitty nodded as she recognized the wild thatch of red hair poking from beneath the bicorner hat. According to her father, Dougal McCollum was the best horse trainer he’d ever met.
Maleek towered over the man. He seemed a brute of a big horse from Kitty’s perspective, and a little scary with his fiery temperment. His coat gleamed with just a hint of chestnut in the sun, but when he entered the shade of the building, he seemed to turn coal black. His silky mane and tail flew out behind him in his self-created wind. As the powerful horse passed a figure lounging against the fence across the paddock, he tossed his head and let loose with a sharp neigh.
He wasn’t showing a bad temper at all, Kitty realized, but giving Hugh McCollum a noisy greetings. She giggled. It all really was too much. Since the brothers had arrived at Rose Hill two months before, neither had shown any interest in the company of women. Perhaps it was fitting that a horse had apparently taking a liking to the younger McCollum.
After all, he was a fine specimen if a little unconventional. Her eyes drifted to the man leaning on the fence. He wore no hat, leaving his black hair a perfect target for the wind to wreak havoc on. The cut was as unfashionable as the absence of a hat, and as the wind toyed with the thick waves that reached below his collar, Kitty chewed her lip, trying to figure how she might broach her proposal.
Then he looked up and pinned her with dancing blue eyes, and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. His gaze lingered a fraction longer than was proper before he pushed himself off the fence and began a leisurely stroll in her direction. Dougal flicked a glance toward her but quickly returned his attention to Maleek.
“Good day to ye, Lady Caroline,” said Hugh McCollum as he drew close. His soft voice was gently tinged with the brogue of his highland home. “Ye’ve nearly beaten the sun. Will yer sisters be joining ye for an early ride?”
Kitty chuckled and gave a wry shake of her head. “I’m afraid not. Lady Eleanor stays far away from horses, and Lady Jennifer has declined to ever join me at what she refers to as an ‘uncivilized hour.’” Now, why had she told him all that? She forced her teeth away from her bottom lip. The moment had arrived, but the words she’d practiced so diligently seemed to evade her tongue.
“Well then, how might I assist you?” Once again his eyes wandered downward, and this time, heat sparked in them before he quickly shifted has gaze back to her face.
“Here now, none o’ that,” Dougal said when Maleek stalled his trot.
Kitty looked around. Joseph, one of the young stablehands, pushed a cart across the yard on his way to muck out the stalls. Without a lick of privacy to be found, they were hardly in the place to be discussing delicate proposals. Very well, she’d make her own privacy. “Erm… I have an errand to run. I’ve a… a message from my mother for… for Vicar Pratt’s wife, actually.”
One of Hugh’s dark eyebrows arched in obvious surprise. “Do ye plan to travel alone, then?”
“Yes. Well, that is…” She sighed and straightened the dark green tweed of her favorite riding coat. “I shouldn’t like to go riding alone, no. So I thought…” Oh, just ask the man.
“Oh! Of course.” Understanding dawned in his eyes. “Ye’d like me to ready the phaeton and call on Mr. Jenkins.”
Panic flared at the mention of the carriage driver. “No!”
In the paddock, Dougal glanced their way again.
Kitty lowered her voice and continued. “That is, the curricle will do nicely, but I wondered… I thought maybe… would you have time to drive me?”
This time both eyebrows shot skyward as his jaw dropped, and he stood as though he’d been turned to stone. “Lady Caroline, I don’t — that is, you shouldna’ be traveling alone with—” He seemed to scrabble frantically for words as he backed a couple of steps away from her, then ended with a strangled, desperate plea. “Let me see to the phaeton.”
Oh, no, that wouldn’t do at all. “Look, if you must know, I have a matter that I wish to discuss with you once I’ve delivered the message to Mrs. Pratt. It’s a matter best not broached…” A stolen look at Dougal revealed his focus still on Maleek. With a feeble sweep of her hand, Kitty gestured around the stable yard. “…here.”
Hugh McCollum stared at her hard, and for a moment Kitty wondered if he could see directly into her black soul. But she stood her ground without flinching under his scrutiny.
After a time, he gave a curt nod. “Verra well. I’ll ready the carriage.”
Elation made her heart pound. Now all she needed to do was concoct a suitable reason for visiting Mrs. Pratt, since no message from Kitty’s mother actually existed.
Hugh hadn’t a notion what the youngest daughter of Lord Strickland was up to, but he had the distinct impression she was about to complicate his life. To be sure, he admired the lass. With her fiery spirit that often reflected in her warm hazel eyes and her outspoken nature, she reminded him of the young ladies back home. No shrinking violet, that was certain.
She accepted his hand into the curricle with a light grasp. Once she was aboard, she smoothed her skirt then folded her hands in her lap while he climbed onto the seat next to her. Even in the chill of the day, the warmth radiating off her traveled the length of his arm and reached out to his thigh, which rested indecorously close to hers. When one wheel bounced into a rut, he used the jerking motion to cover shifting his weight. Blast the carriage for being so tiny. He should have readied the phaeton as he’d originally suggested.
But then he would have been on a different seat entirely, and part of him had rebelled at the thought, so when she had suggested the curricle as an alternative, he’d jumped at the prospect. Fool that I am!
A wisp of hair had escaped the rather severe confinement she’d affected, fluttering and twisting in the chilled air as they drove along the narrow road toward St. John’s Church. An insane urge to tuck the loose strand behind her ear had him tightening his hands on the reins, and Alexander, the spirited bay gelding on the right, tossed his head in protest. Before the normally staid and sturdy Jerome could follow suit, Hugh eased his hold and returned his gaze to the road ahead.
As they pulled up before the vicar’s house, he scrambled from the seat and rounded the rear of the curricle to assist Lady Caroline.
“I shall be but a moment,” she murmured. Then she walked, head held regally high, across the yard toward the simple stone cottage. The dual tails on her tweed riding coat stirred with each step, and her green velvet riding dress swished around her feet until she reached a patch of wet ground. With nary a pause in her steps, she gripped her skirt, lifting it slightly as she edged around the worst of the mud.
A brief glimpse of one petite ankle above her half boot tightened every muscle in Hugh’s body, and he forced himself to turn away, looking instead across the cemetery, with its pale headstones standing guard over the dead.
He shouldn’t have come, shouldn’t have succumbed to the temptation. Though the matter she wished to discuss intrigued him, he was well aware of the difference in their stations, so doubtless any fruit to be gained from the “matter,” would be ill-gotten indeed. He tapped his fingers against his thigh. What was she about?
At the sound of the cottage door, he jerked himself back from his musings and glanced up. Lady Caroline picked her way carefully back through the yard and met him at the side of the carriage. Barely able to breathe, Hugh extended a hand to aid her onto the seat. Offering a shy smile, she set her fingers against his palm, the ivory of her glove standing out in stark contrast against his worn leather work glove. Nonetheless, his fingers tingled where they met hers. Odd… that twinge of awareness hadn’t seemed so powerful when they’d first set out.
Gather your wits, man. She isn’t just a bit of easy fluff.
With erratic movements, he stepped away from the curricle and rounded to the other side. By the time he climbed in, the band around his chest had eased, allowing his lungs to draw breath again. He clucked his tongue and set the horses in motion, allowing them to set the pace. Abruptly, Hugh had no desire to hear about the matter Lady Caroline wished to discuss. Best he just return her home and then make himself scarce until she forgot whatever was on her mind.
Light pressure on his left arm startled him, and he glanced down to see her hand resting just below his elbow. His jerk of surprise led an equally startled Alexander to veer sharply to the right, hauling Jerome and the carriage with him.
“None o’ that,” Hugh growled under his breath as he brought the horse under control again.
Lady Caroline snapped her hand back. “I’m sorry. It was only I’d called your name and you didn’t seem to hear me.”
She’d called his name?
“It’s nothing. Ye startled me is all.”
“There’s a track.” She pointed at the lane ahead. “Just a ways farther along here. It’s a bit difficult to see, but it shoots off to the right.”
Hugh angled his head to get a better look at the lady. “Aye — yes, I know the trail ye mean.” It led to the rear of the formal gardens and was sometimes used by the groundskeepers. But how did she know of it?
“Please…” She returned her hand to his arm and squeezed. “When we come to it, will you take the cutoff?”
Whether it was her words or her touch that did it, Hugh found himself powerless against her beseeching. Unable to speak or even protest in silence, he nodded.
The track was little more than two ruts, barely wide enough for the curricle’s wheels. As they traveled along, the horses were forced to a slower pace. Even so, the little carriage rocked back and forth on its two wheels, tossing Hugh and Lady Caroline against one another with each bounce. Ahead, the trail ended at an overgrown boxwood hedgerow. Hugh pulled the horses to a stop. If they were to go any farther, they’d have to do so on foot.
The silvery sparkle of an oval reflecting pool beckoned through a gap in the bushes. Rimming the water on one side, a semicircle of wide stone columns rose, connected by heavy stone beams across the top. The first time he’d seen it, Hugh had decided the garden folly resembled a lady’s necklace the way it hugged the banks of the pond. Just beyond the structure, flat slabs of dark slate had been laid into the hill to form a natural terrace, off of which stood a smaller building crafted of brilliant white marble with pillars and trim in a distinctive Roman architectural style.
Lady Caroline didn’t seem inclined to speak, nor to exit the carriage, so Hugh waited. Some small animal rustled in the brush at the edge of the track, and Alexander stomped his foot. The late autumn sun beat down upon them, but any warming benefits were lost to sporadic stiff breezes.
In a blur of motion and a whisper of fabric, Lady Caroline twisted in her seat and faced him straight on, holding his gaze with her intense stare. “Have you ever kissed a woman?”
The reins slipped from Hugh’s boneless fingers. He returned her stare, all rational thought having somehow vacated his mind. “I-I beg yer pardon?” he managed to sputter.
Deep crimson rose from beneath her collar until it engulfed her face as she regarded him through feverishly glazed eyes. “I… that is… of course you’ve kissed a woman — several of them, I imagine. Unless you don’t like them, I suppose.” A sudden frown creased her fair brow, and she leaned toward him. “You do like women, don’t you?”
“What?” Hugh blinked at the crazed lady before him, trying to figure out what she was asking.
He wouldn’t have thought it possible for the red that had spread over her face to darken, but it did. Her frown deepened, and she seemed to struggle for words. “You’re not… er… you like women, not…”
The meaning behind her question struck him like a blacksmith’s hammer and heat swamped his entire body. “Aye,” he mumbled, bending and retrieving the reins. Unable to meet her excited gaze, he stared out over the reflecting pool instead. After a moment, he recovered enough to look at her again. “Yes… I like women.”
Heaving a loud sigh, she sagged, a wide smile curving her lips. “Good. Perfect.” The redness ebbed from her face, leaving just a trace of pink in her cheeks. “I need you to teach me how to kiss the way a man truly likes it.”
The reins slipped from his slackened fingers again.
Kay Springsteen makes her home in Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains. In addition to having written five full-length contemporary romance novels and one Regency romance, she works as an editor. When she's not editing or writing, Kay is busy with her hobbies of reading, photography, gardening, hiking in the mountains with one of her rescue dogs, spending time with her terrific family. She is a firm believer in happily ever after endings and knows one is out there for everyone; it just may not be exactly what was expected.