Lord Tennyson said “In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts
of love.” But there was nothing light about Richard Bandon’s early courtship of
his ladylove. Below is a teaser from my short story “The Beast Within”, a
prequel of sorts to my best-selling novel AHunt by Moonlight.
had meant well. He could almost forgive her for the untenable position she’d
put him in.
Fairchild’s maid opened the impressive tall doors of the Fairchild ancestral
home. The maid led Richard across the marble threshold and into the presence of
oil portraits of Miss Fairchild’s parents, now deceased. Richard swept off his
top hat and explained his business.
curtseyed. “This way, if you would, sir. My mistress is in the garden.”
well-ordered garden, groomed white gravel paths wound between well-tended beds
of roses and lavender. The floral scents crowded in his sensitive nose. He
fought a sneeze.
tower of gears and levers stood incongruously in the center of the garden. Miss
Fairchild sat in the sunshine at an easel, painting roses, her walking dress
the same pale pink as the flowers.
“Miss Fairchild, good morning. Thank you for allowing me the grace of your
in question looked up briefly and went back to her oils. “Mr. Brandon. Come to
make your excuses?”
was as sharp as her nose. A witch’s nose, his friend Pemberton had called it
when they had discussed the lady over cards and good port. Rather unfair; the
admittedly sharp feature complimented her delicate cheekbones and her chin,
which was rather like the lower half of a valentine heart. If he could fault
anything, it would be her eyes—a pretty shade of gray, but cold and
been staring in silence. Most rude, and he had no excuse for lacking in
gentleman’s manners. Not now that the moon had set.
a non-existent bit of lint from his gray frock coat. “I was... indisposed.”
raised an eyebrow. “Indisposed.”
was for the best that his aunt had unwittingly made an engagement on his behalf
for a night on which he couldn’t possibly keep it. Catherine Fairchild was
beautiful, yes, and from an appropriate family, but was that enough to spend
his life bound to a woman so harsh and unforgiving? He could imagine it now.
Separate bedrooms, separate lives. Proper to their class, but he somehow hoped
mention that he had a particular need for fellow-feeling and understanding in a
wife. Any woman who lived with him so closely would surely discover his secret.
at the far end of the garden caught his eye. A plain girl in a homespun dress
and an improbable set of goggles came running out of a small ivy-obscured hut
in the corner of the garden. “Cat! Come quick! It’s boiling over. I’m afraid
it’s going to explode again.”
Fairchild leaped to her feet and without bothering to excuse herself hiked up
her skirts and dashed into the hut. The girl followed close at her heels.
shifted from foot to foot. A gentleman did not follow where he was not invited,
but a gentleman also did not leave the fairer sex to face apparent danger
alone. The breeze changed direction, carrying the acrid smell of unknown
chemicals. From the hut came crashes and bangs, a hiss like hot metal quenched
in cold water, and Miss Fairchild’s voice cursing like a London hansom-cab
driver cut off by some toff’s horseless carriage.
Fairchild appeared a moment later, overskirt singed and soot smudged on the
point of her nose. Her elaborate hair had come undone. The biggest change was
in her eyes—no longer cool and uninterested, they flashed like lightening.
she was captivating. She reminded him of a lady explorer he had met once at a
reception, a woman full of ideas and fascinating tales, a woman who might have
been unconventional enough not to be put off if she learned the truth about
him. A woman he might have loved, had she not been married. Miss Fairchild was
unattached, and he very much regretted that they had started off badly. He’d
have to work hard to correct—
Bandon, I apologize that I must cut our social engagement short.” Her words
were drawing-room proper, her tone anything but. “You apologize for being
unavoidably absent at the dinner party your aunt arranged so that we might
meet. I accept your apology and pretend to hope another dinner will be arranged
soon. Which we both know will not happen, because you have by now been in
London long enough to hear about crazy Catherine, fancies herself a scientist.
Shame, you would think an heiress like her would be able to snare a suitable
husband and settle down into a suitable life.”
just agree that all polite protestations and acknowledgments were exchanged so
I can salvage what remains of my experiment? My maid will see you out. Good
day!” She turned and stalked off.
watched until she disappeared into the ivy-covered building that doubtless held
not gone well. He’d simply have to persuade his aunt to arrange another dinner
party. Hopefully this time not on the night of a full moon.