Though this story can be read on it's own, there are more about the Stapletons, Parkers and Westmans in the stories Written in the Rain, Unbreak My Heart and Brighter than the Sun - links in my profile!
By the way, this story is set around 1875-ish!
Thanks to everyone and happy reading
Rain fell in cold, wet sheets from the quickly darkening sky and Samuel, Lord Stapleton had no other choice but to slow down his horse, it didn't matter much to him as he was already wet and he had been unhappy for quite sometime now. Of course, it had to rain, he was in England after all, and rain was a given. Still, he thought savagely, if his father hadn't insisted on his going to this stupid house party none of this would be happening.
Sam would be at his London lodgings, enjoying some whiskey in front of the fire, or perhaps he would be at his best friend's house enjoying good food and the company of two of his favorite people in the world – his best friend and uncle, Rob and his wife Susie, the most sickening happy couple ever to exist - but no, oh no, he was currently in the middle of the road trying to find his way to Rosedale Park before he caught pneumonia and died.
He should have been there this morning, and if he hadn't stalled so much in leaving his good friend the Reverend Lord Alexander Stanford – who had just settled into his vicarage some twenty miles south - he would have been there. He had only intended to stay for one night with his friend, but he ended up staying almost a week until Alex finally kicked him out saying it was not gentlemanly to ignore one's engagements. Alex was right, of course, infuriatingly so, and Sam had no other choice but to take the road... and then he had stopped in practically every town between Alex's home and Sam's current location.
Sam tried to feel ashamed but then he remembered this was nothing but a blatant attempt on his father's part to make him marry and marry the 'right sort of girl' – over the years, father and son had had many an argument over what exactly constituted the 'right sort of girl', and never had they agreed – while he was at it.
Apparently, for his father, the right sort of girl currently was the eldest daughter of the Earl of Wakefield, a chit named Maria or Amelia or something like that which Sam couldn't bring himself to remember. Oh, he was going to this house party but he was going to hate every single minute of it.
As the rain let a little, Sam began to ride faster though he still kept a wary eye on the muddy road. This was going to be one hell of a ride.
It was almost midnight by the time Sam reached Rosedale Park, he had taken a couple of wrong turns and his horse had gone lame almost a mile back, so he had to walk. But, luckily for him, as he reached the actual manor house, he saw that some lights were still on even though it was quite late by county hours. As it was, a bleary eyed stable hand came to take his horse when he dismounted and the door was already opening as he climbed the stairs.
"Pardon for the hour," he began to say as he reached the doors and began to remove his hat. "But I am expected."
Then, Sam heard a small grunt and noticed that whoever had opened the door wasn't a footman or the butler, for the person's hands were small and feminine and she was having trouble handling the heavy oak door.
Trying to be chivalrous – or maybe just because he didn't want to stand in the cold more than he had to – he reached out and gave the door a shove. The door opened at the same time he heard a distinctive squeak and then the distinctive thud of someone hitting the floor.
"Ow!" The woman exclaimed, making feel Sam vaguely like a cad for shoving the door quite so hard (he had thought it was stuck).
"My apologies," he said hastily and bent to retrieve the small slipper that the woman had lost.
She was still half sprawled on the floor as he approached her. "Here miss,"
The girl – for now that he was closer and inside the well lit hall, he saw the woman was youngish, and black hair and what looked to be a fine complexion – snatched the shoe away and put it on.
"Was it entirely necessary to push the door?" She asked vexed and her voice struck something inside of him that made the hair on the back of Sam's neck stand.
It was such a familiar voice, a voice he had never forgotten and which still taunted him in his dreams. Sam's eyes slowly went from the tip of the woman's slippers up her serviceable gray gown and to her face, still shadowed by her sable hair, he noticed her hands were trembling as was her chin – both things did not bode well with him. Out of impulse he reached out and lifted her face.
Startled honey colored eyes met his blue ones.
Everything inside Lord Samuel Stapleton went still for a second, then it went cold and he uttered only one world but his tone made perfectly clear how he felt – and he was surprised he could pack so much derision into one syllable, for all he said was:
End of Chapter ONE