• A Regency Romance Novel

    Amanda Sinclair is forced into a loveless marriage with a handsome but brooding earl. James Cavendish is in love with another woman, but no matter how hard he tries, he is unable to resist Amanda's charms. The morning after their wedding night, James returns to London, leaving Amanda at his Sussex estate. Taking the reigns in her hands, Amanda follows her husband, determined to win his heart and claim her status as his wife.
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  • Storm over Sussex Gainsborough Woodcutter's Cottage Sussex Woods in Spring Downsley Hall South Downs Rosewood Manor Rosewood Manor's Drawing Room Ancient Roman villa, mosaic tile floor, Sussex South Down Sheep Bottle feeding lambs

12 – Chapter Twelve

“Good afternoon, my lord,” Rosewood Manor’s butler said in a dignified voice. Soames’s respect for Lord Downsley had increased each time he encountered the earl.

In Soames’s estimation, the Earl of Downsley was Quality with a capital Q. Miss Amanda’s careless treatment of him ruffled the staid butler’s sense of propriety. Blood will tell, and Miss Amanda simply lacked breeding from her father’s side of the bed. This subversive thought had often entered Soames’s mind, though the loyal manservant would rather be drawn and quartered than publicly voice such a thought. The butler held a grudging respect for his employer. Michael Sinclair might have married an earl’s daughter and he might be the richest man for miles around, but the world would always view him as just plain Mr. Sinclair from the carriage trade.

“Please tell Miss Sinclair I have arrived, Soames.”

“I regret to inform you that she’s not in at present, my lord. An emergency has detained her and she sends you her apolo­gies.”

Soames watched Lord Downsley’s reaction with the relish of a true connoisseur. Only a slight tic in the earl’s left temple betrayed his annoyance as he took the news with aristocratic aplomb.

“Pray, where is she?” The earl spoke in a soft but dangerous tone.

“In the central barn, my lord. The girl in charge of the orphan lambs has taken ill, and Miss Amanda has gone to su­pervise their feeding.”

“I see.” James had never heard a more lame-brained excuse. If Miss Sinclair thought she could fob him off this easily, she had another think coming.

“Please direct me to the barn, Soames. I’ll join her there.”

A few minutes later James strolled past Rosewood’s bustling stable yard and a carriage house designed to accommodate six vehicles, and walked through a small copse of woods that served to divide the main house from the barns. The manor’s effi­cient operations extended to its barnyard, where order and neat­ness reigned.
Three wood and stone structures stood in the center of a large clearing. James found Miss Sinclair kneeling in the middle barn, holding a newborn lamb who was ravenously sucking from a bottle. Her head was bent down at an angle, and she didn’t notice his entrance. A slim girl of ten or eleven was observing her intently and hanging on to her every word.

“Do you see how I am holding the bottle at an angle, Millie? And grip it tight. The greedy creatures suckle with such force that, unless you grasp the bottle firmly, it will fly out of your hand. Be sure you don’t feed it overmuch, as that will create another set of problems. Now, would you like to give it a try?”

They exchanged places. Amanda kneeled in the straw to supervise her young charge. Wearing an apron and a simple gown she looked scarcely older than her tiny red-haired assistant. Her honey blond hair had worked itself loose from her cap, framing her face in a tangle of curls, and softening her features.

James’s loins tightened at the sight of his betrothed looking so sweet and natural. Good Lord, he thought, here she was intent on her duties and he was lusting after her like a goat in rut. He coughed and she looked up. Her wistful half smile deep­ened into one of genuine welcome. “I see that Soames has given you my message.”

“Tell me what happened,” he said gruffly.

She wiped her hands on her linen apron. “The girl in charge of our orphaned lambs has the fever. Those who might oth­erwise have helped are occupied with other duties, including the shepherds, who are bringing in the sheep from higher pastures. Since it is already past feeding time . . .”

A chorus of fifteen bleating lambs interrupted her to under­score the point.

Amanda laughed. She rose and walked over to a milkpail, and expertly poured goat’s milk into several bottles. “We’ve had an uncommonly difficult lambing season this spring and sustained more loss­es than usual. Normally we find substitute mothers for the orphans, using the ewes who have lost their own lambs. But this year not enough ewes survived the harsh weather.”

She deftly capped a bottle with an artificial nipple, placing a hard ring between the bottle and soft nipple to prevent its collapse during feeding. Handing the bottle to the little girl, she introduced her. “Lord Downsley, this is Millie. I’m training her to take over until her older sister recovers. Millie, Lord Downsley.”

The tiny girl bobbed her head and mumbled a courtesy, and continued to concentrate on her work.

Amanda capped a few more bottles, then settled back in the straw to feed more lambs. As she held a bottle aloft, James asked, “May I help?”

She smiled. “Are you certain, my lord? Your clothes . . . ?”

“. . . are not worth the consideration.”

Sparing no thought for Simpson’s handiwork, James kneeled beside her. She placed a bleating lamb at his left side, and handed him a bottle. In demonstrating to him the correct feeding angle, a tendril of her silky hair brushed his cheek. He felt a shiver of sensation go through him.Striving for control, he concentrated on his task even as he observed Amanda. Her efficiency was a revelation. This purposeful woman in no way resembled the willful creature he’d been courting in recent weeks. He’d thought her flighty and forgetful, but in this barn she was all business as she showed Millie how to fill the remaining bottles.

Before long, all the lambs were fed. He watched Amanda demonstrated to the child how to tidy the stalls, add hay to a low-hanging man­ger, pour grain in the trough for the older lambs, and clean the bottles and pails. Since the lambs were fed a mea­sured amount every four hours, Millie would have to live with them and sleep on a pallet in the loft.

“Call me if you need help, Millie,” she said, rising from the straw in graceful movements.

The little girl gazed at her mistress with adoring eyes. Few had shown her such patience, and she longed to prove her worth.

Amanda took off her apron and shyly thanked James as she hung it on a hook. “I know you expected to go riding, my lord. I hope you weren’t too bored?”

James assured her he hadn’t. In fact, he’d enjoyed himself immensely. He had learned more about his betrothed in this short hour than in all the other days put together, and liked what he’d discovered.

“It’s kind of you to help out like this, Miss Sinclair.”

“It was out of necessity not kindness, my lord. I’ve been managing the sheep for four years, and training Millie was simply part of my duty.”

On hearing her words, James felt a keen sense of disappointment. Michael Sinclair’s Southdown sheep were renowned. His success in breeding champions was unrivaled. He doubted that Sinclair would have turned his highly profitable ranching operations over to his daughter, regardless of his confidence in her. “You mean to tell me that you’re in charge of overseeing the shepherds, the lambing, the breeding, the rotation of the pasture lands, the shearing, the marketing of wool and mutton . . . ” he began, his tone incredulous.

Amanda whirled on him, her eyes flashing. “What exactly are you implying, my lord? Would it help you to know that my father’s success with the sheep has continued under my direction? That I regularly consult with my father and Mr. Kingston, our stewart? That I was apprenticed to my father and Mr. Kingston for six years before I began to manage this small portion of my father’s estate on my own? Or is this beyond the scope of your antediluvian thinking?”

He felt himself bristle. “I don’t doubt your father has given you many responsibilities, Miss Sinclair …” he began, but he did not complete his sentence.

“But?” she challenged, not noticing a change in his expression. The earl’s silence was all the proof she needed of his disbelief.  Wordlessly she spun on her heels and marched toward the house, leaving him behind without a backward look.

A few hours later, Amanda surveyed herself in the cheval mirror, and pinched her pale cheeks to give them some color. It would not do to show the earl how much his obvious doubt of her responsibilities had affected her. As she descended the stairs to the drawing room, she could hear the genial bantering between Lord Dowsnley and her father. The growing friendship between the two men was another matter that rankled. As Amanda entered the drawing room, her father called out to her in his jovial voice. “Mandy, my dear, Lord Downsley tells me you saved the day with the lambs.” Giving her an exuberant hug, he enveloped her in his arms.

“Millie’s a very quick study, Papa. We should consider keeping her, even after her sister gets well.”

“Do what you please, love. I trust your instincts implic­itly.”

Amanda remained at her father’s side, her eyes averted from the earl.

Since she was avoiding him, Lord Downsley crossed over to her. “Will you accept my apology for not quite believing you, my dear? Your father quickly put me in my place, though I assure you I understood my mistake the instant after I expressed my doubts. Your talents continually surprise me. I meant nothing more.”

Still hurt, she coolly studied the earl’s repentant face. “It is accepted, my lord,” she said curtly.

His expression hardened. Her acceptance had been a mere formali­ty, and they both knew it.

As they waited for her mother to arrive, the earl continued his friendly discussion with her father. The silver tea tray was brought in, and Amanda busied herself with
pouring and serving. Only two days remained before the engagement ball. Even now, Rosewood Manor was being readied for the grand event. Floors gleamed with a spit polish shine. Furniture and wood paneled walls smelled of beeswax. Aromas of deliciously prepared food wafted through the open windows.

Amanda’s mind was in a whirl. After their verbal exchange, she had begun to realize that once they were married, the earl would most likely prohibit her from pursuing any worthwhile occupation, including her oversight of the sheep. Time was running short. Unless she came up with a plan, her papa would formally announce their engagement tomorrow evening. Once the deed was done, there would be no turning back, and her life would be irrevocably altered.

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2 Responses

  1. […] Click here to go HOME                                      Click here to read the next chapter […]

  2. Enjoying your story tremendously!

    Thanks for the reading.

    All your rights respected.

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