Her troop was finally assembled. It was how Lady Cora Heathman had come to think of her small family. Angela, her eldest daughter, had secretly served in the army as a lieutenant for three years while pretending to be her dead brother. Her new husband was Captain Ricarda Dorko, a retired cavalry officer who had saved Angela’s life the year before. And her youngest daughter, six-and-ten-year-old Patricia, or Patty as she preferred, was General Devlin to everyone that had experienced her domineering ways.
Right now, they were all gathered several yards from their farmhouse, preparing for a trip to Yorkshire in the far north. Or more precisely, her two daughters and son-in-law were preparing for the trip. Cora was staying home so she could watch over the major renovations to their new home. At least, that was the reason Cora had given her family for not accompanying them on the trip from Cornwall to Yorkshire. The truth was she had plans of her own and didn’t want any of her family interfering with them.
“Mother, are you sure you don’t want to go with us to meet Ricarda’s family?”
By Cora’s accounting, this was the tenth time one of her daughters had asked the same question that morning. Ricarda had asked only once. And that had been last week when they had first gotten the invitation from his grandmother, the Countess of Carliston, to come visit for a fortnight.
Angela, or Angie as ever one called her, had grudgingly agreed to the invitation. Not because she disliked the countess or the earl- in fact she had never met them. None of them had. It was why his grandparents had extended the offer.
“If you need us or anything please do not hesitate to send a message to the earl‘s immediately,” her eldest daughter said, pulling her out of her musings.
“Angie,” Cora said, exasperated with her daughter’s overprotectiveness. “You have given me directions to the Carlistons’ estate four times. And you have given me the address of every one of the inns the three of you will be staying in on the way there. Trust me, if I find myself in need of you, I will know how to get ahold of you. And Jamie, Mr. Malcomson, has agreed to ride to you with all due haste if the need should arise.”
Mr. Jamie Malcomson was in truth, Jamieson Gavin Malcomson, a retired army surgeon as well as an accredited medical doctor. He was also her new son-in-law’s best friend. However, for reasons only the good doctor and Ricarda knew, the man had quit practicing medicine of any kind at the end of the war.
Jamie was three and forty. The same age as Cora. It was one of the few private things she had been able to learn about the man. Outwardly, he was everything she had once dreamed about in a husband. At just under six feet tall, he was a full head taller than her five-foot-four inches. His hair was a sable brown with silver wings on the side, making him look extremely distinguished in her opinion. And where her eyes were nearly the same shade as her own brown hair, his were a light blue. A blue so light as to look like a frozen lake in winter. Yet they weren’t cold, emotionless. No, his eyes were alive with emotions and usually a bit of bedevilment. Something that was more often than not turned on her since his arrival two months ago.
It had been his rather odd sense of humor that had infuriated her at first. Then he had been wounded protecting her and her family, and her feelings toward the Scotsman started to change. Cora now saw his warped humor in the same light as Angela’s and Ricarda’s rather odd sense of humor: Products of their time in the army.
Once Cora stopped hating him, she began to notice other things about him as well. Jamie was just as honorable as her new son-in-law. She had also discovered that he was a very caring and compassionate man.
Since she had met him, he had broken his vow not to practice medicine on two occasions. He had helped Ricarda when he had been ambushed and shot in the back. He had also help Ernie Tuttle, their cook and house keeper’s son when he had been wounded during the kidnapping of Angie several weeks later. And that had led to her noticing other things about him as well.
Her eyes darted to the back of the traveling coach as the man on her mind came around the corner. Jamie had been helping with the last of the luggage and was now walking over to stand beside her. He had obviously been listening to their conversation.
“Lassie,” he said to Angie, “you need to be gettin' on with yourself. Your mother and I have everythin’ well in hand. There is naught for you to be doin’ until the carpenters and roofers are through fixin’ the east side of the house.”
Cora shuddered. The house was their new home, Litton Moor Farm in Cornwall. The land and manor house had been given to Angie for saving the Prince Regent’s life the year before. Unfortunately, unlike their former home, Litton Moor was not a prosperous farm, and the house was in need of major renovations due to lack of care for years. Work that by necessity was being done while they lived in the house.
“And you can stop worrying about your mother’s health,” Jamie continued. “I may not be practicin’ medicine anymore but I ken how to care for a person if the need arises. Get on with yourself, lassie. The lot of you, afore you find yourselves gettin' to the first inn in the middle of the night.”
Jamie’s light Scottish brogue washed over Cora in waves of sensuous pleasure, something she had not expected to ever feel for another man after surviving the horrors of her late husband. It was a wonderfully scary emotion she still did not know how she felt about.
“Mother, are you absolutely sure you do not want to come with us?” Patty asked from inside the coach.
It would be the first time since her youngest had been born that they would be apart. Because it was the first time since her birth that Cora felt safe allowing her out of her sight. The yawning emptiness of being separated from Patty was almost enough to make her relent. However, Cora had plans of her own. And having her daughters or son-in-law under foot would make those plans harder.
“No, sweetheart,” Cora replied. “You and Angie need to spend some time together.” That was true. And it was something she knew her two girls needed in order to reconnect after Angie’s three-year absence. “And you need a chance to know Ricarda better as well.” Which was also true, just not the whole reason Cora wanted them out of the way. “Besides, as Jamie said, there is nothing any of you can do until the men are through with the roof and renovations on the east end of the house. The only two bedrooms that are inhabitable are mine and Jamie’s. So, go. Have fun. And we’ll see you in about a month.”
Cora hoped they would be gone for a least the full thirty days that were planned. With five days to a week to get there, it would give Angie a fortnight to get to know her new in-laws before heading back to Litton Moor. Knowing her eldest as she did, Cora was afraid they would arrive and turn around and return home the next day. Which meant at best she had a month, maybe more to see her plans through. At worst, a fortnight as that was how long it would take her daughter to travel by coach to Yorkshire and back.
Angie was contemplatively gazing at her, making her a bit uneasy, especially with her recent thoughts and plans. Hopefully neither of her daughters suspected what she was planning. It would be too mortifying. She just smiled back and waited until Angie had bussed her on the cheek and awkwardly climbed into the coach with Ricarda’s help. Cora shook her head and wondered if her eldest would ever get used to having a man help her do anything.
She and Jamie took several steps back and waited as the coach pulled away and headed down the drive toward the main road. They stood there waving at Patty as she hung out the window like the hoyden she was, waving at them until the coach pulled through the gate and out of sight.
Unconsciously, she took a step after the coach as she wiped away a tear sliding down her cheek. Jamie’s strong, reassuring hands grasped her shoulders and held her in place.
“Lass, let them go. Your bairns need a chance to get to ken each other again. With your Angie being gone for so long, your girls are no’ but strangers now.”
“I know,” she replied harsher than she intended. “It is why I insisted they go without me.”
Of course, it wasn’t the only reason. Unfortunately, the other ones were making her feel even more like a neglectful mother than she already did. But she wouldn’t give in to her desire to lean back against the reassurance Jamie was offering. She determinedly wiped away another tear and straightened her back. Once she was sure she had her composure under control, Cora pulled away from his grasp and turned to face him. The chaos of the house renovations enveloped them and the deafening pandemonium forced her to step toward him.
Cora eyed the house then glanced up at his concerned face. She might as well put the first part of her plan into motion.