BVC Announces All a Woman Wants by Patricia Rice

All a Woman Wants by Patricia RiceAll a Woman Wants

by Patricia Rice

“Mac” MacTavish impulsively steals his late sister’s neglected children, only to discover it’s easier to handle a clipper in a hurricane than steer two ornery brats. What he needs is a nanny until he can take the children back to his parents in America.

Knowing herself to be too plain and large to attract a husband, Bea Cavendish has settled for a quiet life of feathering her father’s nest—until he dies, and she’s left with an estate she doesn’t know how to manage. Alone and terrified, she doesn’t know what to make of the very big, very angry man appearing at her door with two adorable hooligans in tow.

Does she take in this ill-tempered stranger and his children in exchange for learning what she needs to know? Or is she in danger that this recklessly ambitious man might teach her more about life than which fields to plant?

Prologue

“Not that way, ye keelhaulin’ son of a sea serpent!” Lachlan Warwick MacTavish shouted, jumping to the dock ramp to grasp the rigging on a crate of cotton in danger of a watery fall. Holding the heavy crate in position, he waited while one of the crew hastened to right the ropes and swing it to a safer landing.

Below, his father’s new London business agent appeared mildly startled by Mac’s sudden, ungentlemanly leap into action. The man drew the frill-bedecked maiden who stood at his side to a more appropriate distance while she covered her ears with gloved hands to avert any further depredations on her delicate sensibilities.

Swearing beneath his breath, Mac shifted the heavy crate to show the inexperienced cargo man the ropes, yelled at his first mate to keep a closer watch on the unloading, and, stretching his muscles against the unusual restraint of a coat, grudgingly returned to the elegant pair waiting out of harm’s way.

Gulls screeched, men cursed in the rigging as they brought down a storm-battered sail, and Mac thought he would far prefer being on his ship than here, discussing pleasantries with a money counter and his fashionable daughter. He had no use for ladies, and they had no use for him once they had his measure.

That seldom took long. This one already wore the look of distaste he generally encountered on feminine features. He’d never quite managed the languid, fastidious elegance of a gentleman.

Brushing at the cargo dirt now smeared across his fancy coat, fingering his one good neckcloth, which was now loose and askew, he hid a grimace as he bowed an apology to the waiting couple. “Beg pardon, but some of the crew are a bit green.”

The delicate lady in her many petticoats edged away from his overlarge presence. Impatiently, Mac balled his fists and ignored her, leaning down to hear the prattle of his father’s agent as they traversed the dock toward the safety of the street.

His mind, though, took flight to a dock not far from this one, a dock at a shipyard boasting a spanking-new clipper with masts raised, fittings and final coats of paint ready for installation at the new master’s command. His command. Finally.

“Your father says you have a canny head on your shoulders when you’re inclined to use it,” the agent was saying.

“Aye, well, we have a wee bit of disagreement on those uses from time to time.” With iron determination, Mac tempered his impatience to see the ship he’d commissioned. He had a dozen duties ahead, and one was humoring this old man. He needed all the goodwill he could summon to obtain the agent’s aid in stocking the new vessel Mac would be sailing home.

“Well, you’ve brought me a fine shipment, from all reports. Have you a list of goods you’ll be wanting to take back?”

“And I’d be a fool not to, wouldn’t I?” Eyeing the fine horse waiting for him at the curb, Mac paid no heed to the female swaying beside him. Women—ladies, at least—weren’t on his current list of priorities.

Later, when he had time, he would divert his restlessness with the company of a tavern wench.

This time next year, it would be his own ship cutting across the ocean, carrying profits to his own bank account, rather than his father’s. It was all very well and good to know he’d someday inherit his father’s wealth, but not if the wealth depended on an enterprise that was expiring of old age and moribund thinking. His father couldn’t see that the future of shipping lay in speed.

“You say your sister’s here in London?” Cunningham inquired congenially, satisfied that he was dealing with a sensible businessman. “I’d thought you Americans stayed to the other side of the pond.”

“We’ve family up and down the coast on two continents. Safer than keeping all our eggs in one basket.” Mac didn’t mention that far from being a close-knit family, they were a closemouthed, stubborn, cantankerous lot on the whole. The MacTavishes thought the Warwicks, the maternal side of his family, were a lot of foppish ne’er-do-wells; the Warwicks thought their Scots relations by marriage were mere shopkeepers. And their American relations—well, they’d never been forgiven for the Revolution.

He didn’t intend to call on any of them except his sister. Eight years his junior, she’d followed him like a little lamb through childhood, tormenting him in front of his friends, making him laugh like a simpleton in private. He adored the little brat, when she didn’t annoy the devil out of him.

The little brat hadn’t written in nearly nine months.

As Cunningham and his daughter climbed into their carriage. Mac offered his hand to his father’s agent. “It will be a pleasure working with you, sir. Shall we meet tomorrow to discuss purchasing?”

“Aye, and I’ll look forward to it.”

The lady nodded stiffly and looked away. She had no doubt come hoping for an aristocratic, wealthy gentleman. She’d found an uncouth, bulky American instead. Accustomed to the reaction, Mac waited to be rid of the pair. He needed to get back to the unloading, try to clean himself up again, and then make his way to Marilee’s London town house.

Mac turned and strode back to the dock, shouting a curse at one of the men lollygagging in the rigging. The idea of joining Marilee and her viscount husband for a stilted evening of polite conversation galled him, but family came first.

***

From the back of his restive mount, Mac eyed the impressive edifice of the viscount’s London home with disfavor. No lights lit the upper-story windows. He’d sent word of his arrival, but the family didn’t seem to be at home.

Annoyed that he’d donned a fresh dress coat for nothing, Mac easily held the tossing head of his nervous horse while contemplating his next move. He could leave his card—no, he’d burned them one cold night in a fit of drunken amusement. Well, hell, he’d leave his name with a servant. They’d know to look for him at the docks.

Not being a worrier by nature, Mac hadn’t thought anything of his sister’s lack of communication until his parents had pointed it out before he’d set sail. They’d never forgive him if he didn’t at least attempt to check on her. He might love his sister, but at times she could be a damned nuisance, like most women.

Muttering about thoughtless chits with nothing in their heads but fripperies and fashion, Mac tied the horse to a post and took the front stairs two at a time, already feeling confined by the city’s tall buildings and narrow streets.

He wasn’t built for the boundaries of city life. He needed the ocean around him, or perhaps the grand prairies of the West. Once he had his fortune securely in hand he could explore the possibilities.

His thoughts drifting to the fortunes to be made should railroads ever cut across the American continent, he sounded the door knocker and waited.

A piercing childish scream shattered his complacence. Frowning, he glanced around, seeking the source of the racket. It sounded more like fury than terror. Since he had no offspring and didn’t spend time around anyone else’s, he couldn’t be certain.

The door stayed firmly closed in his face.

Damn and blast it, where were the servants?

The scream shrieked again from overhead. He glanced upward at the windows opened to the warm May evening, although the oppressive stench of coal, horses, and raw sewage that permeated even this fashionable part of London couldn’t precisely be called fresh. A child’s sobs blended with the shriek, clamoring over the outside noises of clopping horses and the cries of a distant fishmonger.

If Marilee couldn’t control her children any better than that, then the servants probably rode roughshod over her as well. Where the devil was her husband? He couldn’t expect a gentle soul like Marilee to manage a full household of servants on her own.

Turning the knob and finding the door unbolted, Mac simply strode in. Nervous energy surged through him, but he wouldn’t release it by bellowing at the staff. Just because he was large enough to charge through these civilized halls like a raging bull didn’t mean he had any need to do it. Moderation, patience, and methodical planning were much better substitutes for irrational emotion. He’d learned his lesson the hard way: sitting in one too many jail cells after a brawl.

Since no one noticed his entrance, he laid his tall beaver hat on the hall table and followed the screams.

He’d had temper tantrums in his youth, but he didn’t think they’d been allowed to reach this scale.

Taking the stairs two at a time, he heard the murmur of voices as he reached the third-floor landing. No one appeared to greet or question him, and Mac fought a surge of irritation. Marilee was obviously not at home, and the servants were shirking their duties. He would sack them all if they were his.

A babe’s wails joined the screams of outrage, growing louder as he approached a closed door at the back of the hall. Even the babe seemed to be having a tantrum. Why the devil did anyone want children anyway? Screaming nuisances, the lot of them.

Turning the key still in the lock and opening the door, he would have entered, but a grubby gremlin shot through the doorway and bounced off his knee before fleeing down the corridor. Before the mite scrambled down the banister and slid out of view, Mac judged the escapee to be a half-naked little savage with overlong dirty curls of an indeterminate color.

Astonished, he sought the source of the continuing wails. A naked babe sat in the middle of what could politely be termed a potty accident. At his appearance, her wails diminished to a hiccup and a sob as she regarded him hopefully. Wrinkling his nose at the stench, Mac stared into trusting blue eyes beneath a mop of golden curls, and his heart cracked open.

Rage erupted close behind the weaker emotion.

Patience, he reminded himself firmly. Logic. Control. There must be nursemaids to handle this matter.

Not daring to touch so frail a creature as the tiny babe with his big, clumsy hands, Mac backed out—and bumped into a solid, indignant virago.

“And what the devil do you be doin’, I ask? This be no place for gen’men. Be you some kind of pervert? Out with ye!”

Though she easily carried two hundred pounds of fat—half in her jowls, Mac calculated—she didn’t budge him any farther than he cared to be budged.

Calmly balling his fingers into fists instead of grabbing the front of her filthy apron, he scowled down at her. “Where are the nursemaids? And when will Lady Simmons return?”

“A lot ye know,” the woman spat. “And hasn’t the lady been dead near this year and you just askin’? Hmph.”

Shocked into immobility, Mac remained blocking the door as she tried to shove past him and enter the nursery.

A nasty lump stuck in his throat, paralyzing his ability to speak. Striving for control before he broke into grief-stricken sobs like those coming from behind him, he choked.

Marilee couldn’t be dead. Not the sweet, sunny sister who sang through his childhood. She was too vivid, too alive. The hag had to be referring to a different Lady Simmons.

A neat maid wearing a clean apron and a worried expression appeared on the back stairs, towing the half-naked demon who’d raced past him a moment ago. Mac determinedly fought back the moisture in his eyes to grasp the moment.

“What the hell is going on here?” he roared, eyeing the lot of them with disfavor.

The demon, which he now recognized as a boy, scowled and attempted to tear free of the maid’s hand, but she merely grasped him tighter and twisted a fist in his shaggy hair.

“I found his lordship in the kitchen,” the maid murmured, her gaze darting back and forth between Mac and the nurse as she pushed the tot ahead of her.

His lordship. Mac’s lip curled at the title. Marilee and his mother coveted titles. If this bundle of rags and rage was a lord, Mac would pay money not to be one.

“Are you the nurse?” he demanded, deliberately shoving aside thoughts of Marilee to focus on what had to be her children. He wouldn’t—couldn’t—believe the slut’s lies. Where the hell could his sister and her lordling husband be?

“No, my lord.” The little maid bobbed a curtsy while keeping a firm hold on the boy’s long, frilled shirt. He wasn’t wearing trousers. The maid glanced apologetically at the massive woman with hands propped on hips. “Mrs. White is.”

“That’s right, and this is me territory. Now bugger off. Ye don’t belong here.”

He most certainly did not. If he were master here, he wouldn’t have allowed this mountain of filth into the house. Instead, he pointed toward the back stairs and spoke in his calmest tones. “Out,” he ordered. “Leave these premises immediately.” He turned to the young maid, ignoring the furious Mrs. White’s gasp. “Where are the other servants?”

“Well, I never!” the nurse fumed. “And who do ye think ye be, ordering about a respectable widow?”

The unmistakable scent of gin tainted her breath, and Mac had to clasp his hands behind his back, prop his booted feet apart, and glare down at her as if she were a wayward cabin boy to keep from strangling her. “I am the children’s uncle, and if you do not remove yourself at once, I shall heave you out the window. Understood?”

His threat must have finally been communicated. The woman’s jowls turned a mottled purple, but she huffed and puffed and finally swung ponderously around, muttering curses. He was under no illusion that she would follow orders, but she’d learn. If he had to bring a cat-o’-nine-tails with him, she would learn.

Two mobcapped heads peered around a nearby door, and Mac pointed at the space vacated by Mrs. White. “You—out here. Explain yourselves.”

“They’re the undernursemaids,” the little kitchen maid whispered. Even the squirming tot in her hand had grown still and wide-eyed as the scene unfolded.

“Why is that babe in there alone and crying?” Mac tried not to shout, though his patience hung on a rapidly unraveling thread.

“She ain’t had her milk?” one guessed aloud.

“We’s out of laudanum,” the other said helpfully.

God, give him strength. As he glanced down and realized the small boy with the grimy face had one arm in a sling and the same blue eyes as Marilee’s, the frayed thread snapped.

One

Somehow, all these bills and invoices had to be paid.

Beatrice Cavendish neatly entered them in her household accounts, tallied them, and placed them on her father’s desk, as always.

Except that her father was no longer there to perform whatever magic made the bits of paper go away.

Frowning away tears, wishing she could retreat to the solace of her piano and forget the desk existed, she stared at the stack of sorted bills.

She knew to a ha’penny how many coins remained in the strongbox. It wasn’t sufficient for that entire stack. And quarter day was almost upon them, so she owed the servants’ wages as well. The desperation that had been building for nearly six months threatened to swamp her now.

“You need Mr. Overton, Miss,” Cook said gruffly, standing with hands behind her massive back. “The grocer worrit none about what’s owed when Mr. Overton was about. A lady shouldn’t be worriting over such.”

“Papa sacked Mr. Overton.” Miserably, Beatrice counted out the coins for the grocer’s bill. They had to eat. Surely that bill was a priority. “Mr. Overton wanted to enclose the fields. What would happen to all our tenants if we did that?”

“The lazy no-goods would have to git off their arses—beg pardon, miss. It’s not my place to say.”

No, Beatrice thought, it wasn’t. Mrs. Digby would never have said such a thing, but her former housekeeper and butler had taken the small inheritance Squire Cavendish had left them and set up housekeeping in the inn they’d purchased in town. Bea was relieved she didn’t have to worry about the Digbys’ large salaries any longer, but the established chain of command had disintegrated with their parting.

The bankers and lawyers had not explained how her father’s once vast reserves of cash were to be replenished once they were all dispensed.

Perhaps, if the Earl of Coventry were ever in residence, she might discuss the problem with her father’s best friend. But the Earl spent little time here.

“Miss.” From the study doorway, Mary wadded up her apron. Something must be wrong for her to intrude. The sole provider for an invalid mother and six younger siblings, she anxiously held to the proprieties of her new position as upper parlor maid. Mary knew that parlor maids should not be seen or heard by any of the family.

Not that there was any immediate family left besides Beatrice—unless one counted Aunt Constance. She swept in once a year, turned life upside down, then absconded for another eleven months. Bea suppressed a momentary lapse into self-pity.

“Where is James?” she asked, referring to the footman who had joined the household shortly before her father’s death.

James’s family connection to her was so distant as to be invisible, but she didn’t know what she’d do without his enthusiastic—if somewhat eccentric—support. It was typical of him not to be around when he was needed, rather like a younger, irresponsible brother.

She’d often wondered if her father had suffered some premonition of his death that he’d brought James home to help her out, but her father hadn’t been a very imaginative man. No doubt he had thought just as he said—her cousin wished to earn his living as a footman, and they could pay better than the miserly Earl of Coventry, for whom he’d been working.

Though she knew that affluent households often employed impoverished relatives, she had some difficulty adjusting to a male servant who was also a distant relative—especially one who spoke his mind, and knew her so well that he feared no reprisal.

Her life was filled with many oddities these days.

“James is…off to see a man about a dog?” Mary whispered nervously.

Which meant James was in the privy. Cheeks flaming, Beatrice attempted to assume an air of authority, knowing she failed miserably. “What is it, then?”

“Mr. Dobbins’s goats do be eating the laundry, miss, and the hounds has got loose again, and they’re chasing after the Misses Miller. Jemmie is after them, but there’s none to mend the hole in their pen.”

How could any one person do it all? She had a houseful of servants who performed their duties when instructed, but someone had to direct them. She’d never thought to order about gardeners and stablehands and tenants and—She couldn’t even think of all that on top of managing her nonexistent funds. How had her father done it?

Not very successfully, if the threatening letter from the bank meant anything at all.

She would sell the silver epergne. No one would miss such a thoroughly useless piece. The proceeds would pay the staff, if not the bank.

“Thank you, Mary. Give Jem a hand, would you?” Remaining seated so as not to tower over her staff, Bea nodded stiffly, mimicking Mrs. Digby’s manner with the underservants. A lifetime of shyness paralyzed her tongue.

When Mary had curtsied and departed, Beatrice pushed the small stack of coins across the desk at Cook. “Give these to the grocer, if you will. And best have the scullery maid chase the goats out, or they’ll be in the kitchen garden next.” She’d said that sensibly and with some degree of authority. She could learn. Must learn.

“Right you are, miss.” Cook hid the coins in her apron pocket and bobbed an awkward curtsy, then hesitated. “Miss, is all well? I’ve got my Robby to think of, and if anything was to happen to my position…”

“You have a place here for life,” Beatrice assured her. Cook had always been there, like family, for as long as she could remember, as had most of her servants.

She might seldom talk with her staff, but she knew Robby was Cook’s crippled youngest boy, just as she knew the twelve-year-old scullery maid was an orphan with no other home to turn to. This was a small village, and a poor one. Opportunities for employment were limited, and every one of her servants had some connection holding them here. If she couldn’t pay them, they and their families would go hungry. Most of the town depended on her apparently nonexistent income.

Relieved, Cook nodded. “Speak with Mr. Overton,” she dared to add, before hurrying back to her usual haunts.

As the study door closed, Bea shut her eyes, and a single tear trickled down her cheek. She’d wept until she couldn’t weep anymore these past months after her father’s death, and again with Nanny’s passing last week. She had few tears left in her, and at the moment, they were all for herself.

She’d never thought of herself as a selfish person.

Pulling the embroidered pillow from behind her back, she punched it into shape again. She’d made this for her father the Christmas before last, and he’d sworn she was the best daughter who’d ever lived. He’d died only a few weeks before this past Christmas. She’d never had a chance to give him the matching footstool she’d worked on all year. She’d thought her many gifts and accomplishments were important to him, and that was all that mattered in her world.

Stupid her. The cold, cruel facts of life faced her now. No one had ever pointed out to her that she was an ignorant, overindulged spinster, beyond a prayer of changing. Of course, who was there to point out such things? No one. Her father had liked her just the way she was, so it simply hadn’t occurred to her that she was singularly useless.

Like every little girl, she had once entertained passing fancies of being beautiful and desirable, but the fact was, she was twenty-eight years old, tall and ungainly, without hopes of a suitor. She’d never been introduced to society, never been taught the social graces necessary for that introduction.

Her knowledge of the outside world came from London fashion magazines and her father’s newssheets. Nanny Marrow had written letters from all the places she’d stayed.

Nanny Marrow! Grief washed over Bea at the loss of the one friend who had taught her far more of the world than the alphabet. It had been only a year since Nanny had retired in the village and only a week since the lung inflammation took her. The hole in Bea created by her loss kept growing wider.

Tapping her quill pen against the desk, Bea gazed out on the lawn. If only she could find a book that would teach her how to manage an estate, then she might learn more about her father’s account books and figure out what was wrong. They’d never had debt collectors at the door when her father was alive. There must be something she wasn’t doing right.

She pulled out the bank letter again, unfolded it for the forty-ninth time since its arrival. The sum mentioned was so enormous, she couldn’t fathom it. Her household accounts for the year didn’t equal a twentieth of this amount, and she couldn’t pay them.

If she sold every piece of silver and bit of furniture in the house, she couldn’t pay this bill. She had searched her father’s desk, written to every bank and solicitor represented by crumbling documents dating back decades, with no success. Her father had obviously thought he’d live forever. The estate wasn’t entailed, and aside from James’s distant connection, her father had no living relatives outside herself, which was the sole reason she’d inherited without question.

Nervously smoothing the heavy fabric of her mourning gown, Beatrice desperately tried to think of another solution. She had tenants. She ought to have income. Surely she owned crops and sheep. Mr. Overton would know. She would have to eat crow and call on him.

No, she had to do this on her own. Life was too uncertain. Even if Mr. Overton got over his pique, he would never willingly teach her to run the estate. He was just like Papa, thinking women were incapable of more than tatting and sewing. And if she objected to his methods, he’d only quit and walk away again, and she’d be right back where she started. Every path she took brought her to the same conclusion.

A man would never believe she could manage an estate on her own.

Heaven only knew, she didn’t know if she could manage an estate on her own.

Pacing the room, her full skirt rustling as it brushed against the heavy furniture, she prayed for a miracle. She stopped to search her father’s shelves for the millionth time, hoping for some inspiration, but most of the books dated back to the turn of the century. Things had changed since then.

Her father hadn’t.

Wearily, she pulled out a volume on agricultural production and attempted to make head or tails of the lengthy lists of which counties produced which crops and when, but it was meaningless to her. She felt as if she’d been stranded in a foreign country with no coins and no means of speaking the language.

What she needed was someone to teach her by doing, as men were taught. Of course, that meant she would require a knowledgeable man who was not only willing to teach her, but also believed she was teachable.

Better to ask for a miracle.

The pounding of the door knocker resounded so loudly in the hall, she jumped and almost dropped the book. No one in the village knocked so forcefully.

Fear clenched her insides as she waited for the servants to answer the door. A bill collector? She should have instructed the servants to say she wasn’t at home.

James was in the privy. Mary was helping Jemmie chase the escaped hounds. Had the dogs caused some dire accident in the lane that had caused an emergency?

The knocker rapped again, with a slamming authority that would not be denied.

Shelving the book with a shaking hand, Beatrice smoothed her skirts again. Just the angry sound of the knocker immobilized her.

She had to grow a backbone.

When it became obvious that no one would answer, she clenched her teeth and swept out of the study as if she were master of all she surveyed.

She was master of all she surveyed. That was the problem. She was an incompetent master.

After fumbling with the massive door bolt, she cautiously swung the huge door open on the gloomy, threatening day. Amazingly, a dark green waistcoat and rumpled white neckcloth blocked her usual view of the lawn.

Being as large as she was, she didn’t think she’d ever looked a man in the waistcoat before. Gaping, she tilted her head back. Green eyes narrowing in grim resignation studied her as if she were the last thing on this earth that the visitor wanted to see. A lock of golden brown hair fell appealingly over a wide, furrowed brow, and, without thinking, Beatrice took a step backward.

A whimper extracted her from a survey of clenched lips and square jaw, and her gaze dropped to the bundle the man held. A growing wet spot on the green waistcoat and a glimpse of wispy golden curls wrapped in a man’s short box coat so startled her, she almost closed the door in their faces. Rain began to pour.

With a whoop and a burst of energy, a small muddy form bolted past her skirts, skidded on the Oriental rug, and raced for the stairs. Tousled curls above a blue velvet coat disappeared around the landing.

“Excuse me, madam.” The stunning giant dumped his burden into Bea’s arms, shoved the door open, and, taking the steps two at a time, raced up the stairs after his small charge, leaving damp footsteps in his path.

Utterly distracted, Beatrice gazed down at the bundle she held, into beatific blue eyes in a cherub’s face, and almost forgot the savages invading her upper story.

She’d never held a baby before.

They stared at each other raptly. The infant popped a thumb into her rosebud mouth, but her gaze never left Bea’s. Caught in the study of tiny fingers and chubby cheeks above a lace-bedecked smock, Bea didn’t register the dampness spreading across her bodice until shouts overhead intruded upon her reverie.

A man’s roar followed by a childish scream of outrage abruptly brought her head up, and she grimaced as moisture sank through the fabric of her bodice and her chemise and chilled her skin. Heavy boots pounded down the stairs, coming into view first, followed by dirt-streaked trousers over massive…thighs. Bea gulped, flushed, and tried to look away.

It had never occurred to her to look at a man’s… limbs… before.

Narrow hips, a wide chest beneath an unfastened waistcoat and twisted neckcloth, and a squirming, shrieking toddler clasped under one masculine arm appeared next. The look of mixed resignation and rage on broad, chiseled features should have sent her fleeing. Instead, curiosity compelled her to remain, clinging to the smelly, sopping child in her arms.

If she did not mistake, a stranger and two children had just arrived on her doorstep on the brink of a rainstorm. In novels, did it not tend to be an abandoned mistress arriving with babes in arms during a howling snowstorm?

“I’m here to speak with Miss Cavendish,” the man said peremptorily, heaving the toddler over his shoulder. The boy loosed his bandaged arm from its sling and tried to climb down the man’s back, but his captor’s big hands firmly wrapped around small ankles, preventing escape.

Dressed as she was, he probably thought she was the housekeeper. She could say Miss Cavendish wasn’t at home and send this terrifying apparition away.

She could tell from his stance that he was entirely too certain of himself. His restless energy permeated the room and would stampede right over her if she admitted to her existence. His massive size reduced her elegant foyer to the size of the closet. But he had the most fascinating green eyes, and a bronzed, windswept look that no gentleman crossing these portals had ever possessed….

She could almost feel the hurricane winds of change sweeping through her cloistered walls.

She didn’t have a clue as to who he could be.

“My lady!” an effeminate male voice squeaked from the depths of the interior. “Shall I show this motley lot to the door?”

Bea closed her eyes and sighed as James finally appeared.

The stranger’s eyes narrowed again as her bewigged cousin, in a scarlet coat and gold buttons, hovered behind her. A growling terrier would offer more protection.

Donning her haughtiest demeanor, Beatrice raised her eyebrows in the stranger’s direction. “I am Miss Cavendish, sir. I believe you have mistaken me for someone else.”

Expressively, she held out the child for him to retrieve.

He glowered at her, glowered at her cousin, and holding the squirming boy firmly beneath one muscular arm, refused to take the babe. “I’ve been told you can tell me of Nanny Marrow.”

The bottom dropped out of Beatrice’s heart at this mention of her lifelong friend.

“Nanny Marrow passed away last week.” To hide a fresh spurt of tears, she swung on her heels and marched into the formal parlor.

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