Miss Ruth Middleton stepped out onto the street, tightening her gloves. The carriage was already there awaiting them. She felt a sharp pang of nerves, making her heart race uncomfortably. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself.
“Ruth,” scolded her mother, rushing towards the carriage. “Why are you standing there gaping? We are already running a little late.” Mrs Middleton cast an anxious glance down the street. “I do hope the traffic is light, or else we shall arrive after all the other guests, and that would not do at all.”
Ruth smiled tremulously. “Yes, Mama. I am coming.”
Her mother stood behind her as she stepped into the carriage and sat down, making sure Ruth’s gown was smoothed out for the trip. Mrs Middleton gave a harrumph of satisfaction before settling herself down opposite Ruth. The older lady rapped on the top of the carriage. It gave a sudden lurch before heading off down the street.
“Remember to only speak when you are addressed,” said Mrs Middleton, frowning slightly. “A true lady is always demure. You are a stranger to all these people and do not have the connections to approach them.” She paused, gazing out the carriage window. “Miss Poldark has bestowed a great honour upon you in even inviting you to this afternoon tea party.”
Ruth bit her lip. “Yes, Mama. I do realise that.” She took a deep breath. “I wonder why she even bothered. I only spoke to her briefly at the charity event. It is most inexplicable.”
Mrs Middleton smiled complacently. “Well, Miss Poldark is an amicable young lady. She must have decided to take you under her wing.” She paused. “The Poldark’s are a great family, Ruth. Mr Poldark has noble connections, you know. I have heard that they are distantly related to the Earl of Montbatten.”
Ruth squeezed her hands together. She hadn’t realised that, although she was of course aware that Miss Patricia Poldark was very far above her on the social ladder. So far above that it was amazing indeed that Ruth had received an invitation to this afternoon tea at the Poldark’s fashionable townhouse on Grosvenor Square.
She sighed heavily, trying to quell her nerves. Miss Poldark had seemed lovely when they had spoken briefly and appeared to genuinely like her. But Ruth was mindful that the invitation to today’s event was probably only a token gesture, given out of momentary kindness to the daughter of her father’s solicitor.
She sighed again. It wasn’t as if she was ashamed of the fact that Papa was a solicitor and that the Middleton’s lived in a modest house in Cheapside. Not at all. But it was quite another thing to be socialising with such high company. She was painfully aware of her inferior connections and the fact she was hardly a wealthy, fashionable debutante.
Ruth ran her hands down her gown, smoothing out the creases. It was one of her very best day gowns—a white muslin with charming green embroidery along the bodice and sleeves—but she knew it would look cheap beside the gowns of all the other ladies who would be attending today. She was bracing herself for the cold, patronising looks she would receive. But perhaps she was thinking too much; being too self-conscious. The grand ladies and gentlemen at this afternoon tea party probably wouldn’t even glance at her, never mind notice her gown.
“A lot is riding on this tea party,” continued her mother, as the carriage turned down a busy street. “This is your chance, Ruth. If you continue cultivating this blossoming friendship with Miss Poldark then you may rise. Who knows what could happen? You may make a very advantageous marriage indeed.”
Ruth bit her lip again. “Mama, it is too much pressure. I am only the daughter of a solicitor. I have no real dowry nor any connections.” Her chest heaved. “I think you are aiming too high for me. And I do not want to disappoint you.”
Her mother frowned. “Ruth, you are too modest. Yes, you are the daughter of a solicitor, but you have a natural genteel air. You are also very lovely, in a fresh faced way.” She gave a bark of laughter. “A far cry from the sophisticated charm of these high society ladies. But you can use that to your advantage, my dear.”
Ruth didn’t respond. She gazed out the carriage window. It was a busy Tuesday afternoon in London. There were street stalls lined up along the street they were travelling along, selling everything from pork pies to bouquets of flowers. A cacophony of colour and sound. There were shouts from the street sellers, spruiking their wares, and a ragtag collection of people walking the streets, ranging from street urchins to middleclass gentlemen, heading back to their offices.
Her stomach flipped over. It was colourful and vibrant, but the streetscape would soon change. They would be travelling into the wealthy and fashionable districts of London. The streets would become wide and tree lined with high class ladies and gentlemen promenading along them. It was a world away from where she lived. A world away from where she came from.
Could she bridge those two worlds?
She flushed with mortification. Her mother desired her to, very much. Mama had always been mindful of bringing up her only daughter to aspire higher. There had been private pianoforte, dancing and drawing lessons, so that Ruth might look and act like a real lady. Lessons that Ruth knew her family could barely afford. But her parents considered the money well spent. They thought of her as an investment in their future.
She took a deep, ragged breath. What if she failed them? She was only middleclass Ruth Middleton, after all. She preferred books and solitude to socialising. Even stepping into these high society events made her tremble with fright. She always felt like a startled bird about to take flight, painfully conscious that she was merely a sparrow compared to the vibrant peacocks around her.
Ruth’s nerves had taken full flight as she and her mother walked into the fashionable drawing room in the tall townhouse on Grosvenor Square. There were at least a dozen ladies and gentlemen milling around the room. She spotted her hostess, Miss Poldark, seated in the middle of the room, laughing as she sipped tea.
Ruth bit her lip. Miss Patricia Poldark was so very elegant. She was dressed in a simple teal green gown, but the quality of the dress was obvious, from the material to the cut of it. Her golden hair was swept back into a chignon at the nape of her neck, with curls framing her face. She looked like she had stepped straight out of one of those fashionable ladies magazines.
Ruth knew that Miss Poldark was only eighteen, merely a year older than herself. But she seemed at least five years older in sophistication. Ruth felt like a country mouse by comparison. Or a drab middleclass girl, trying to be something she was not.
“Stand up straighter,” hissed her mother, into her ear. “You are slouching, Ruth.”
Ruth took a deep breath, attempting to do what her mother wanted. But all she wanted to do was turn on her heel and flee as fast as she could.
Suddenly, Miss Poldark saw them. Her eyes lit up. Hastily, she stood up, sweeping towards them, her face wreathed in smiles.
“You came, Miss Middleton,” she cried, taking Ruth’s hands in her own, and gazing at her fondly. “How lovely you look, my dear. The embroidery on your gown is quite charming.”
Ruth smiled faintly. “Miss Poldark. You are too kind.”
“Not at all,” said the young lady. She turned to Ruth’s mother. “And Mrs Middleton. I trust you are well?”
“Very well, I thank you, Miss Poldark,” replied the older lady. “We are very honoured you invited us here today! What a beautiful home you have!”
Miss Poldark laughed dismissively. “Oh, it is rather too cold for my liking! It takes my dear mama an age to heat all the rooms adequately in winter. She is always complaining about it.”
Ruth’s smile widened. She didn’t believe it for a moment. Grosvenor Square was one of the most exclusive addresses in London. Miss Poldark’s mother would be able to afford enough firewood to keep fires burning constantly in every room of this large house. But the comment showed that Miss Poldark was not trying to lord it over them. Her first instincts about the young lady had been correct. Miss Poldark wasn’t pretentious and did not put on any airs and graces.
“Oh, there is Mrs Poldark,” said Ruth’s mother, her eyes lighting up as she spied the lady of the house in a corner, chatting with some other older ladies. “I should go over and pay my respects.”
“Of course,” said Miss Poldark, taking Ruth’s arm firmly. “I shall take this little gosling under my wing. Please enjoy, Mrs Middleton.”
Mrs Middleton headed off to the group of older ladies. Miss Poldark turned to Ruth, smiling brightly.
“I truly am so happy you came today,” she whispered. “These tea parties are usually such dull affairs. I swear I was nodding off with boredom before you came.” She paused. “Let us sit down and chat privately before I introduce you to the party. I want you all to myself for just a little while.”
Ruth nodded, stifling her amazement. Why Miss Poldark had taken such an immediate shine to her was beyond her, but it was pleasant. It made her feel so much more comfortable.
They settled down in a window alcove. Miss Poldark took her hand as she spoke.
“How have you been, my dear?” she asked gently. “I thought that you might enjoy some time away from your dear mama. She is rather protective of you, is she not? Rather like a hawk guarding its baby chick.”
Ruth laughed. “That is a very apt likeness, Miss Poldark! Mama is indeed protective of me. But then, I am my parent’s only child. They worry about me.” She bit her lip. “It can sometimes feel like I am being smothered, just a little, but I am mindful they just want the best for me.”
Miss Poldark sighed heavily. “It is so very tedious, is it not, being a young lady? I thought that I would enjoy my first London season so much more. But my own mother watches me like a hawk as well.” She paused. “It would be simply wonderful to go off on an adventure, like a young gentleman. They are allowed to cavort around the countryside and even go abroad.”
Ruth gazed at her, astonished. “Well, I suppose you are right. But I have never thought of it that way before.” She shrugged her shoulders. “This is what we must do. All that we are allowed to do, Miss Poldark.”
The lady smiled warmly. “Please, call me Patricia. I already feel like you are a friend, rather than simply one of many acquaintances. And may I call you Ruth?”
Ruth was touched. “Yes. I would be honoured… Patricia.”
“Very well,” said the young lady, nodding with satisfaction. “I just know we are going to be the best of friends! I felt it the moment I set eyes upon you.” She paused. “I am speaking the truth, my dear. I am very much disillusioned with London already. But it seems I am stuck here for the season. You shall make it so much brighter.”
Ruth stared at the young lady closely. She simply could not believe that she did speak the truth. Patricia Poldark had London in the palm of her hand. She was a wealthy, fashionable young lady, possessed of charm and beauty. She could go anywhere she wanted to and probably did. So then why would she prefer the company of a middleclass girl who was so below her and want to be friends with her?
“I miss Sussex,” continued the young lady, with a heavy sigh. “Our country home. It is so beautiful and tranquil there.” She wrinkled her nose. “London has been a whirlwind of engagements since my debut. Mama insists I accept every invitation. She is trying her hardest to get me engaged to every eligible bachelor she sees. I find it trying in the extreme.”
Ruth sighed too. “Yes, my dear mother wants to get me safely married as well. The more advantageous the match the better.” She hesitated. “But she is trying for naught, I fear. No eligible bachelor would deign to look upon me. I am poor and obscure…”
“Fiddlesticks,” declared Patricia firmly. “You are one of the most genteel ladies I have met, Ruth. Your air and manners are simply lovely. And you are so very beautiful as well, my dear. Any young gentleman would be lucky to secure you for a wife.”
Ruth smiled wryly. “That is very kind of you, Patricia. But the fact remains I have no connections and no dowry. It might not matter to you, but it does to a lot of people, I am afraid. It is simply the way of the world.”
Patricia frowned. “Well, then the world is wrong, if they cannot see what I see in you. I have never cared for such things as connections and wealth. I would much prefer to be with genuine people who I get along with.” She paused, her eyes suddenly bright. “With my help, Ruth, you could go very far indeed. I can introduce you to many people in my circle if that is what you truly want.”
Ruth smiled faintly. “I am not as ambitious as my parents. I do not have a grand plan for my life. I simply want to marry a man who I love and who loves me in return. Is that so very wrong?”
Patricia’s eyes misted with tears. “It is not wrong at all. It is what I want for myself, as well.” She frowned. “My parents would arrange a marriage of convenience if they could for me, but I am trying to delay it as long as possible. If only I was free to do as I want…”
“What do you want to do?” asked Ruth gently. “What is it that your heart desires?”
Patricia coloured, biting her lip. “Oh, it does not matter! I have spoken too much! Let us go and join the party, my dear. I should not monopolise you in such a manner.”
Ruth nodded, feeling a little disappointed. She had been enjoying this private conversation with the young lady so very much. She had almost forgotten that they were in company at all. But Patricia spoke the truth. They should socialise. Ruth’s mother would give her a tongue lashing in the carriage home if she thought that Ruth hadn’t made an effort today.
They stood up. Patricia took her hand again.
“I have very much enjoyed our talk,” she said slowly. “And my instincts were right about you. You are indeed a kindred spirit, Ruth.”
Ruth’s eyes filled with tears. Miss Patricia Poldark was so very kind and amicable. It seemed that she had made a friend. A true friend. And that was a very good thing to have in this world. Even if Patricia was so very high above her.
At dinner that evening at home, Ruth smiled, thinking about the afternoon. It had been as awkward as she had imagined it would be after she had started socialising. None of the fine ladies and gentlemen took one skerrick of interest in her after they had ascertained her position on the social ladder. But strangely, it hadn’t bothered her.
She had made a firm friend in Patricia Poldark. And that was more important to her than a hundred superficial acquaintances.
“And how was the afternoon tea, Ruth?” asked her father, looking at her keenly.
“It was very fine, Papa,” she said, smiling at him widely. “Miss Poldark is charm itself. And she was so very kind to invite me.”
“Indeed,” said her father, picking up his wine glass. “The Poldark’s are a fine family, my dear. They have been clients with our law firm for many years now. Miss Poldark showed great condescension in inviting you.”
“Oh, it was simply wonderful,” enthused her mother, turning to her husband. “Their house on Grosvenor Square is magnificent, George. Beyond anything you can imagine. There seemed to be a hundred rooms in it, as well as a grand ballroom. I have never seen the likes of it in all my life.”
Mr Middleton smiled. “Yes. They are very wealthy. The Poldark’s own a country estate in Sussex as well.” He beamed at Ruth. “To think, my own daughter, being invited to one of their homes! I am very proud of you, Ruth. You must take advantage of Miss Poldark’s interest in you. It could lead to great things if you play your cards right.”
Ruth smiled tightly. “I am happier with the fact of making a friend, Papa.” She hesitated, then plunged onwards. “But just because Miss Poldark likes me does not mean that any of her ilk will. Most people I spoke with today took no interest in me whatsoever…”
“It takes time, my dear,” said her father, waving a dismissive hand in the air. “Cultivate the friendship and others will slowly become receptive towards you.” He winked at her. “I did not spend a small fortune trying to make you an accomplished lady for nothing, you know.”
Ruth’s face coloured. It sounded so mercenary. As if she were a prize pig being tarted up for auction day. But then, her heart softened. Her parents were only trying to improve her lot in life, after all. They loved her dearly and wanted the very best for her. She must always remember that. And they were no different to most people. Every class aspired to rise in any way they could.
The dining room door opened and Claire, their one servant, walked in. She was carrying a letter in her hand.
“What is it, Claire?” asked her mother.
Claire smiled. “A letter just arrived for Miss Ruth, ma’am.” She handed it to Ruth, before walking out of the room.
Ruth gazed at it in astonishment. She hardly received any mail. Especially not of an evening. The post usually arrived in the morning. Which meant that this letter had been sent by special delivery.
“Well, go ahead and open it, Ruth,” smiled her mother.
Ruth broke the red wax seal. It was from Patricia Poldark. She read it quickly, before sitting back in her chair.
“Who is it from?” pressed her mother.
“It is from Miss Poldark,” she said slowly. “She would like me to have tea with her at some tearooms on Regent Street tomorrow.” She paused. “She said there is something she wishes to discuss with me immediately.”
Mrs Middleton clapped her hands together in delight. “Oh, it is happening! You are in her good books, dearest. A private invitation to take tea? I wonder what she wants to discuss with you?”
Ruth shrugged her shoulders. She was wondering the same thing.
“She does not say,” she said slowly. “I guess I shall find out tomorrow.”
Her father beamed at her. “Miss Poldark is a very good friend to have in London,” he said, sipping his wine. “A very good friend indeed!” He turned to his wife. “Clear all your engagements tomorrow, my dear. The carriage must be made available for Ruth. Nothing else is more important.”
His wife nodded. “Of course. I shall do a spot of shopping on Regent Street while Ruth takes tea with Miss Poldark. We did not have anything much planned for tomorrow anyway…”
Ruth tuned her parents out, as they kept discussing the Poldark’s, and the great favour they were bestowing upon her. She smiled slowly as she stared down at the letter. She was looking forward to seeing Patricia again. What was she going to tell her?
Patricia was already waiting for her as Ruth walked into the tearooms the next day. Her new friend waved excitedly. Ruth smiled back, taking a seat opposite her, gazing around. There were probably about a dozen ladies in the rooms, sipping tea as they chatted.
“Welcome,” said Patricia, her eyes shining. “I am so glad you could make it! I was a bit worried that I had given you too short notice…but I simply had to see you again immediately to ask you!”
Ruth laughed. Her new friend’s excitement was infectious.
“Ask me what?” she said slowly.
“All in good time,” beamed Patricia. “First, let us have a grand tea. I have already ordered, and they are just waiting for you to arrive.” She turned around, waving a hand at the attendant.
Ruth smiled, as the tea started arriving. Patricia had ordered enough to feed a small army. A three-tiered dish laden with cucumber sandwiches, delicate eclairs and freshly baked scones. A large rose patterned tea pot arrived along with matching teacups. Patricia picked up the pot, pouring.
“It is a lot of food,” laughed Ruth, picking up a sandwich. “I do not know if I can do it justice, Patricia. It is not so long since I broke my fast.”
Patricia laughed, handing her a cup. “I know I have probably gone overboard. But I could not help it. I wanted it to be a celebration tea.” She paused, her eyes shining. “Remember how I was saying yesterday that London bored me to tears and I longed to escape it?”
Ruth nodded as she sipped her tea. “I do.”
Patricia took a deep breath. “Well, I might just have found the very thing! For both of us!”
Ruth smiled cautiously. What was her new friend going on about? It was most mysterious indeed.
Patricia picked up an éclair, popping it into her mouth, before continuing. “Oh, they are so divine,” she enthused, swallowing it. “Anyway. After that tedious afternoon tea party ended yesterday, I received a letter, Ruth. From a distant relation of mine. The Earl of Montbatten, no less.”
Ruth gaped at her. “Yes, I heard you are related to the Earl of Montbatten.”
Patricia smiled. “A very distant relation,” she continued. “A third cousin or something, on my father’s side. I have only met him once or twice in my life. I barely remember him.” She paused. “It is most peculiar. The Earl has invited me to his estate in Essex for an extended stay.”
“How wonderful,” said Ruth, trying to mask her disappointment. She had been looking forward to spending more time with Patricia. But it seemed that their newly formed friendship must be put on hold—at least until she returned from her stay.
“Yes, it is,” continued Patricia, picking up a sandwich. “The best of it is that he said I can invite anyone I want to accompany me.” She took a deep breath, gazing straight at Ruth. “And I choose you, Miss Middleton! What do you have to say to that?”
Ruth was so gobsmacked she couldn’t speak. Surely, Patricia must be teasing her? She was only plain, poor Ruth Middleton, the daughter of a solicitor. She had never even met an earl. The thought of staying with one was simply beyond her.
“Say something, Ruth,” begged Patricia. “You look as if you have lost a guinea and picked up a shilling.”
“I…I do not know what to say,” she replied slowly. “It is very kind of you, Patricia, to think of me. But I cannot possibly stay at an earl’s estate.” She paused. “I am sure he meant someone from your own circle. He would not welcome me into his home for an extended stay.”
“Ruth, stop it,” said Patricia firmly. “He told me I can bring anybody. And I want to bring you. It is as simple as that.” She stared at Ruth closely. “You must stop feeling as if you are undeserving, my dear. The Earl entertains widely at his home. He shall not judge you because of your connections. And if he did, I would censure him soundly.”
“It is not as simple as that,” said Ruth, feeling tears hovering at the back of her eyes. “I do not have the wardrobe to stay in such a grand place. All would be judging me because of my clothing, and everything else about me. I would stick out like a sore thumb, Patricia. I felt out of place at your afternoon tea yesterday…”
Patricia reached out a hand, closing it over Ruth’s. “I want you there because you are my very favourite person. The most enchanting person I have met in London. I do not want you there because of your clothing. It means nothing to me.”
Ruth bit her lip, keeping the tears at bay with difficulty. She was very mindful of the honour Patricia was bestowing upon her. If her mother was sitting beside her, she would be over the moon. She would insist that Ruth accept immediately. Ruth supposed she was lucky that her mother was perusing bonnets in a millinery at this very moment, otherwise she wouldn’t have a chance to think at all.
Because it wasn’t as simple as her parents believed it was. They thought that because they had brought Ruth up to be a lady that it was only a matter of her seizing opportunities that came her way. It was all so very black and white to them.
Ruth knew it was different. She was highly conscious of the cold glances, the contemptuous sneers, or the downright snubs she received whenever she was forced to attend high society events. She felt as if she was an imposter, as if she were pretending to be something she wasn’t. Everyone could see through her immediately, and if they did not, they soon did once she told them who she was and where she was from.
It was exhausting and it was dispiriting. Patricia had been the only high society person who had been kind to her and extended the hand of friendship. But Patricia was unusual. How could Ruth stay in a grand earl’s home for an extended period? Everyone would despise her and snub her. And she would have no retreat from it. She would have to smile and bear it and feel like she was dying inside from the humiliation.
Her face flushed with mortification, just thinking about it. They would all assume she was a fortune hunter, a poor lady from Cheapside, trying to ride on the coattails of Patricia. The poor little friend who Patricia had condescended to befriend. How could she bear it?
“Just think about it,” said Patricia, patting her hand kindly. “But do not think too long. I have accepted the invitation and shall be heading to Sandhurst Hall before the week is out.” She smiled faintly. “The sooner I can get out of London the better.”
“Tell me about Sandhurst Hall,” said Ruth carefully. “It is in Essex, you said?”
Patricia nodded. “Yes. The Earl owns over two hundred acres there. Sandhurst Hall is his ancestral estate. I believe it was built centuries ago—perhaps during the War of the Roses.” Her smile widened. “I have been there once, when I was small. It looked like something out of a storybook to me. So very large and grand, with a moat and turrets, no less.”
Ruth’s eyes widened in alarm. “Oh dear. It sounds very grand indeed.”
Patricia laughed. “Do not be intimidated by it, Ruth. It is just someone’s home, when all is said and done. And the nobility are just the same as anyone else. They have the same faults, failings and fears as the rest of us. Even if they sometimes like to think they do not.”
Ruth frowned. “Patricia, I am very honoured,” she said slowly. “And does the Earl have a family? Who would be there?”
Patricia sighed. “The Countess passed away years ago. He has two children. His son and heir, Lord Solton and a daughter, Lady Isabella.” She paused, frowning. “Lady Isabella married last year and lives away now. I think Lord Solton is still in residence but is rarely there. And even if he is, he will not eat you alive! No one will.”
Ruth smiled awkwardly. “I daresay you think me as timid as a church mouse, but I am unused to such grand house parties,” she said slowly. “I have never been to one. In fact, I have never stayed with anyone. Except my Aunt Lydia in a boarding house in Brighton when I was only eight.” She laughed awkwardly.
Patricia picked up her cup of tea. “I understand, my dear. It is daunting but that should not stop you.” She hesitated. “Do you not want to experience more of life than boring old London? This is your chance, Ruth. There shall be dinner parties and balls, but also visits around the countryside and I daresay we might go riding, as well. It will be great fun!”
Ruth smiled weakly. She had only been on a horse once in her life and it had terrified her. She wasn’t used to riding at all. It was the one thing that her parents could not manage for her. The expense of keeping a horse for pure pleasure, on agistment, had been beyond them.
“Just think about it, as I said,” continued Patricia. “Now, let us finish all this food, before it spoils. I can see the sandwiches curling as we speak!”
Ruth laughed, picking up a sandwich. Patricia was so very kind. Not only had she extended this invitation when they barely knew each other, but she had paid for all this food and tea as well. It would be churlish to refuse her. She knew that. But she still couldn’t bring herself to say yes.
It was all so sudden, she thought. She hadn’t expected anything like this. She had really only just met Patricia and even though they got along so well it was daunting in the extreme. She felt out of her depth entirely.
After dinner that evening, Ruth’s family sat around the fire. Mr Middleton was reading a book, as was his habit. Mrs Middleton was working a cross stitch patch. Ruth tried to concentrate on her own book, but the lines were swimming in her vision. She couldn’t focus at all.
Her mother put down her patch, frowning. “You have been very quiet all day, Ruth. You have barely said a word since your outing with Miss Poldark.” She cleared her throat. “What did she wish to talk to you about so desperately?”
Ruth smiled weakly. “Oh, it was just to catch up…” she sighed, putting down her book. She couldn’t not tell her parents, now that she had been asked directly. It would be akin to lying. “Actually, that is not quite the truth. She asked if I would care to accompany her on an extended house stay in the country.”
Her mother gasped. Her father put down his book, staring at her.
“Where is this house stay?” he asked carefully. “Who would you be staying with?”
Ruth took a deep breath. “The Earl of Montbatten’s estate in Essex. Miss Poldark was invited there and told she was free to bring anyone she desired as a companion.”
Her father sat up straighter in his chair. “The Earl of Montbatten? Do you mean to say you have been invited to stay at Sandhurst Hall?”
Ruth nodded slowly. “Yes. That is the name of the house.”
Her parents exchanged looks. They both looked jubilant.
“Oh, this is glad tidings indeed!” cried her mother, her eyes shining. “To think, my own daughter, staying as a guest of an earl!”
“That is a very great honour,” said her father, smiling widely. “Why did you not tell us straight away?”
Ruth gazed down at the floor. “I guess I was conflicted about it,” she said slowly. “I am very mindful of the honour, Papa, but I feel unworthy of it. It is a rather intimidating thought.”
“Poppycock,” said her father firmly. “You are more than worthy of it! We have raised you to be a proper lady, after all! When would this visit take place?”
Ruth sighed. “At the end of this week. Miss Poldark says she wishes to leave London as soon as possible.”
“There is no time to lose then,” said her mother quickly. “We must go shopping. There is no time to order you any new gowns but we could buy you some new bonnets and gloves. Perhaps a parasol…”
“Mama, no,” said Ruth, biting her lip. “We cannot afford it. You already spend too much on me. I will not allow it.” She took a deep breath. “If I do go then I shall just have to go as myself and be done with it.”
“What do you mean, ‘if’ you go?” asked her mother, looking thunderous. “You have not already accepted Miss Poldark then?”
Ruth shook her head. “I would never accept an invitation like that without your permission. That is not the proper thing to do, Mama.”
Her mother looked indignant. “Well, you should have told us straight away! I do not understand your reticence about this, Ruth. It is a glorious opportunity for you. How can you not see that?”
Ruth’s eyes filled with tears. She had already just told her parents that she felt unworthy, and it intimidated her. But they had brushed her worries aside as if they meant nothing. And now, they were going to force her to accept. Perhaps she shouldn’t have said anything about it. How would they have ever known otherwise?
Instantly, she felt ashamed of herself. She couldn’t keep anything like this from her parents. And really, she knew she had only been biding time by not telling them. She knew they would force her to go once they were aware of it.
“I do see that it is a good opportunity,” she said carefully. “Of course, I do.”
“I want you to write a letter to Miss Poldark now,” said her mother. “Accept the invitation. We shall put it in the first post tomorrow morning.” She clasped her hands together again. “A house stay! At an earl’s home! Who knows who shall be there, and who you shall be introduced to? It is a dream come true!”
Ruth smiled weakly, standing up. She was glad that her mother was sending her upstairs to write a letter. She didn’t think she could endure much more of this. She was starting to get a blinding headache and solitude would be welcome.
Upstairs, in the privacy of her room, she sat at the window, gazing down at the street. There was only one gaslight down there and everything was shrouded in darkness. She knew it would be different on Grosvenor Square and the other fashionable streets of Mayfair. The rich areas had many gaslights. Patricia would be able to walk her street at night comfortably if she was so inclined.
Ruth leant her head against the window frame. It was all so difficult. She couldn’t stop feeling like she was a hothouse flower, being constantly groomed. She didn’t want to hobnob with the wealthy, fashionable crowd. She just wanted to be left alone. Why couldn’t they see that?
She sighed heavily. Patricia couldn’t understand her feelings of insecurity either. To her new friend, it was a simple matter. She liked Ruth and wanted her there. But Patricia had always belonged to that world and didn’t know what it was like to feel outside of it. She could never understand what it felt like.
She got up, walking to her desk to write the acceptance letter. She couldn’t put it off any longer. Her parents were insisting she accept. She might as well just get it over and done with.
By Friday afternoon, she was ready. Her one small trunk was packed, waiting in the foyer, to be hauled onto the back of Patricia’s carriage. Ruth stared down at it, biting her lip. It was such a small, battered looking thing. She could just imagine the many expensive trunks Patricia would have.
“Look at you,” said her mother, walking into the foyer and taking her hands. “My beautiful girl! I am so very proud of you!”
Ruth smiled. “There is no need to be proud of me, Mama. I have not done anything of note. All I did was accept an invitation to stay with a friend.”
“Oh, you are being modest,” said her mother, smiling widely. “It is quite an accomplishment to secure such an advantageous friendship, which has led to you being invited to stay with an earl! Most girls would give their eye teeth for such an honour, Ruth.”
“Indeed,” said Ruth, feeling as if she might faint. The nerves were almost overtaking her. Thank the Lord that it was quite a journey to the Earl’s country estate. Getting through London and its outskirts would take some time even before they reached the country. Hopefully, by the time they got there she might have calmed down a bit.
She bit her lip, trying to imagine the house. Patricia had said that it was truly grand, and her friend was used to fashionable, wealthy homes. Ruth hoped that the Earl of Montbatten was a nice man. Her father had told her that he was about sixty years and had a seat in the House of Lords in Parliament. He was probably formidable then. She quaked at the mere thought of him.
She held her breath. Patricia had told her that the Earl’s son, Lord Solton, might also be in residence. Her father had known nothing about him, only that he was the heir to the title and the estate. Patricia had said that he was often not in residence. She hoped it was true. The less people she had to deal with on a daily basis the better.
There was a sharp rap at the door. Mrs Middleton gasped.
“Here she is,” she said. “Oh, Ruth, what shall I do without you?”
“You will manage, Mama,” said Ruth dryly.
Her mother pecked her on the cheek quickly. The door was opened. A footman was standing there, ready to take her luggage. Ruth took a deep breath, walking out the door, followed by her mother.
The carriage was one of the grandest she had ever beheld. And Patricia was peering through the window of it, smiling brightly.
“Greetings, Mrs Middleton!” Her voice was high pitched with excitement. “Might I steal away your daughter for a little while?”
They both laughed. Ruth relaxed, just a little. Patricia was so vibrant and lovely. Perhaps it would not be so bad after all.
Her trunk was placed at the back of the carriage and secured. Ruth turned to her mother, staring at her.
“Have fun, dearest,” whispered Mrs Middleton. “And write to us. We shall be eagerly awaiting your news.”
And the next minute, she was in the carriage. It had plush green velvet seats. The coach driver cracked the whip, and they were away. Ruth stared out the window at her mother, who was waving, until they turned the corner and she vanished from view entirely.
She took a deep, ragged breath as she sat back. For better or worse, it was happening now and she couldn’t change it. All she could do was try her very hardest to charm everybody she met. God help her.
“A Lord’s Flaming Summer” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Miss Ruth Middleton, the daughter of an untitled solicitor finds herself caught between two worlds. When her noble friend invites her to the Earl’s estate for the summer, Ruth could never imagine the sinful days that are about to come… When she encounters the wicked son of the Earl, sparks will fly and Ruth will find herself unable to resist the Lord’s tempting seduction.
If only desire could overcome status…
Lord Hugh Solton, the son and heir of the Earl, is upset with his father’s decision to invite their distant relative Patricia and her humble companion to Sandhurst Hall. However, from the moment the enticing and innocent Ruth catches his eye, an intriguing, but forbidden romance starts to grow. Could he ever seriously consider a future by her side?
A cruel twist of fate…
Ruth and Hugh’s flaming passion is trapped between society’s necessities and a scandal that will turn their worlds upside down. When Patricia expresses her interest in Hugh, the revelation of a well-kept secret will challenge Hugh and Ruth’s lustful affair… Will the fatal events strengthen their tantalising romance or it will all burn vainly into ashes?
“A Lord’s Flaming Summer” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
3 thoughts on “A Lord’s Flaming Summer (Preview)”
Hello there, my dearest readers! I hope you enjoyed this little treat! I will be waiting for your comments here. Thank you 😊
I love Patricia and her take on things. Being from cheapside held Ruth back
but with Patricia as her champion it looks like a very promising relationship.
I’m very much looking forward to the rest of this story.
Thank you so much for your kind words and support my dear Christy. I truly appreciate it!
SI really hope you enjoy the rest of the book and I can’t wait to read your feedback!