Authors: Lara Blunte
Tags: #love, #revenge, #passion, #war, #18th century
"There will be a race!"
The girl who made this announcement would
have kept running through the lawn of Halford Castle, if Miss
Georgiana Blake hadn't grabbed her by the arm, "A race?"
"A horse race!"
The girl managed to free herself, and ran on.
Several other girls and children, who had been holding a picnic on
the lawn at the Earl's invitation, were rushing towards the river
bank, where the ground was flat.
But how utterly absurd! Of course John
She quickened her pace in as dignified a
manner as she could, so as not to be taken for a foolish girl or an
eager child, when she was a woman seventeen years of age. The older
ladies walking alongside her were already voicing their concern
that some back, leg, or neck would be broken, while by the river
ten young men were in their shirtsleeves, holding their horses and
mares by the bridles.
Georgiana could see that John was not among
She did see John's half brother, Hugh Stowe,
Viscount Montrose, leering openly at her with a glint in his pale
eyes that seemed to say that she would be his, whether or not she
She did not like it, and she would not be
Georgiana looked away and kept walking, her
parasol and the large brim of her hat hiding her annoyance at
Montrose, and her impatience as she scanned the crowd for the only
man she cared to find.
It was Ned, Montrose's younger brother, who
addressed her as she passed. At fourteen, he wouldn't be riding,
but he had a mischievous smile for her. "Are you looking for
"Why ever would I be?" Georgiana replied
Ned ignored her denial and motioned with his
head in the opposite direction.
Georgiana didn't turn back, feigning
unconcern over John's whereabouts. But she did eventually make a
circle and change direction, pretending to be following a child,
and then a dog. She knew, however, that it wouldn't be long before
the race began, and again she quickened her step.
And there he was, John the bastard, looking
as handsome as the day as he lay under a tree while his black horse
His eyes seemed to be closed, but as she
approached she heard him say, "If you think I am going to race with
your silly ribbon around my arm, Miss Georgiana, you are
Georgiana stopped and looked at the man she
loved, wondering if he did not love her. But then he opened his
eyes, and his smile told her that he was teasing her.
"I don't suppose you will, with that poor old
horse, and you so slow. Montrose will win, anyway."
His smile deepened. "You will have to do much
better than that."
He had stood up because she was near him now,
and courtesy demanded it. She had approached his horse and was
caressing its muzzle. "I don't know what you mean," she told John,
her small nose in the air.
"I mean that if you want me to win the race
for you, this false disdain won't be enough to tempt me."
She looked at him with her fine dark eyes,
made more beautiful by her elegant winged brows. "What will be
enough, then?" she asked in a sudden businesslike tone.
"For first place?" he asked, leaning against
"By the length of a horse!"
He laughed. "You never want to win by just a
"No, I want it to be splendid!"
John was looking at her in a way that made
her breasts rise and fall quickly under the sheer white muslin that
was covering them. She loved how he wore his hair, almost
carelessly, tied with a simple black ribbon, a dark lock falling
over his eye. She sighed: the bastard John was an irresistible
"I will win by the length of two horses if
you pay me with the length of two lips," he told her.
"You're mad!" she cried, trying to hide a
He shrugged, "Then go, and watch Montrose
Her face fell. "You won't ride at all?"
"What amusement would it afford me?" He took
the bridle of his horse to lead it away. She walked alongside
"Why, all the men are racing, and it's good
"Both your lips on mine and I win by the
length of two horses, and the girls will titter all afternoon about
it and envy you."
"They do that already." She threw him a
naughty look. "Why would I need…"
"Good afternoon, Miss Georgiana."
"Oh, no, but wait!" She put her hand on his
arm to detain him. "What if you win by the length of one horse, and
I kiss your cheek?"
He laughed in derision. "My mother kisses my
cheek every day."
"Oh, but John, you know well I can't kiss
you! Not on the lips!" she told him with sudden childish
"I am going to war, you know," he said, with
an air of feigned tragedy. "I would take the feeling of your lips
to my grave."
"Don't talk of graves!" she frowned. "Don't
talk of war!"
"I was talking of kissing," he said.
And then he suddenly took her by the waist,
tilted her parasol so no one would see them, and gave her a kiss
like nothing that she had expected.
She didn't know how long his kiss lasted, she
only knew that when he let her go she stood with her eyes closed
and her body bent backward, a tear of delight running out of the
side of her eye.
"Have you not heard that I am an impatient
man?" John asked, and grabbed the lace handkerchief from her
"You took your reward before the conclusion!"
she managed to say. "And if you lose?"
"I will have to give your kiss back!"
He jumped on his horse with a smile and rode
towards the other young men. After a moment she followed, her heart
beating wildly for many contradictory reasons. This time she shut
the parasol, tucked it decisively under her arm and, gathering her
skirts, began to run in earnest, leaping over tree trunks and
roots, and only slowing to a walk when she approached the site of
There were wagers being made by the girls,
promises given to the men on their horses, handkerchiefs and favors
handed over. Georgiana stood with the others, a pink flush making
her more beautiful than usual, something that Montrose noticed. He
also saw that she had eyes for no one but his bastard brother, and
marked the lace handkerchief that John had tied around his arm.
Scowling, Montrose bent to take the flower bracelet being offered
by the second prettiest girl in the group, Georgiana's own sister
The men were ready, the sign was given by
Ned, and the riders urged their horses forward. Grass and earth
flew in the air as they thundered away.
John, John, John,
They rode fast, so fast they made the ladies
gasp and cry out, and Montrose bent as low as he could over his
saddle to catch up with John, his face as determined as if his life
depended on winning.
It was no good: John won by the length of
more than two horses, and Montrose couldn't find enough
sportsmanship in himself to hide his fury. He threw the reins of
his horse to a groom and Bess' bracelet on the ground, stomping
towards the castle.
Bess looked humiliated, but all Georgiana
could think was that John had won for her. Furthermore, he had
kissed her, and he wouldn't have done so lightly, because he never
did anything lightly.
He had kissed her, and that meant that when
he returned from the war they would be married. And she could not
wait to be his wife, and to be kissed again.
Georgiana wrote a note to John the next day,
and had it delivered at the house where he lived with his mother,
within the Earl's vast estate.
In it she said, with impish humor and
imaginative spelling (since she much preferred the outdoors and
dancing to studying) that he had
she was now
to all because he had kissed her,
and that he was a
She waited for an answer with the whole of
the little patience that she possessed, shaking her foot as she
drank her tea, running to the door at every noise outside, and
pacing in front of the window.
"Pray be still!" her older sister Virginia
said in a shrill voice from the sofa. "Or take yourself elsewhere.
You are giving me a headache!"
"Why don't you take your headache elsewhere?"
Georgiana asked, never one to back down before her ill-tempered
"She is out of countenance," Bess said with a
malicious smile. "Because John does not send word before going
"While Montrose has been so attentive!"
Georgiana replied, knowing that Bess was still smarting at the way
the Viscount had thrown her favor on the ground, and all but
stomped on it.
They stuck their tongues out at each
"Both of you are ridiculous," Virginia said
with disdain. "And you should know better than to wait by the door
for a man's note, Georgiana!"
Georgiana might have had much to say about
this, as she knew that Virginia encouraged notes and even long
letters from Christopher O’Malley, a penniless but handsome Irish
schoolteacher, when she was engaged to marry Henry St James, a more
wonderful match than the Blake girls might have expected. It was a
good thing that they were all pretty girls, in the absence of
But just then the bell rang, and Georgiana
flew to the door past the maid.
It was a note for her, from John. She took it
from the messenger with hurried thanks, shook it in Bess' sour face
and climbed the stairs two steps at a time to lock herself in her
room. In spite of their relative lack of money, their house was
large and comfortable, and each daughter had her own room, thus
slightly decreasing the reasons for conflict among them.
Georgiana tore the note open. There was only
the drawing of a circle on it.
Puzzled, she frowned over it until she
understood, and when she did she leapt up from the bed with a cry
of joy, and kissed the paper a hundred times.
It was the drawing of a ring: John was asking
her to marry him!
At least -- at least that is what it must be!
Her mind feverishly sought another explanation, some piece of
mischief from him: perhaps the circle meant a cipher, but what
would that signify? And John was the last man in the world who
would play with her emotions.
It was a ring, and he was asking her to marry
She rushed to her little desk and took up the
quill, and thought of how she could answer him. Finally she started
to draw the figure of a man, and gave it a little paunch, a hat, a
wig and a walking stick.
Underneath it she put a question mark.
When will you ask my
Her impatience only increased once the note
was sent off, and she scowled so much at her sisters that none
dared tease her in the slightest, not even arrogant Virginia or
She did prepare herself with care as she
waited, for John was capable of simply appearing and she must look
her best. She curled her hair and topped it with a flirtatious
white cap, and wore a dove grey gown with pink flowers which she
knew especially flattered her complexion.
However, John didn't come, and the messenger
only brought a note that said:
When I come back alive and
She almost wept at this, but turning the note
And only if you come and kiss me goodbye.
Georgiana beamed. She was not the weeping
kind of girl, and John had made a promise. He was a more serious
man than the fashionable fops who bowed and paid her a million
compliments, and meant nothing but to dally and play. She might be
young, but she had always been too wise to be tempted by any of
She folded both of John's notes and put them
between her chemise and her dress, against her heart, and when her
father came out to the garden, where she was walking and dreaming,
he said, "I have a daughter who sulks inside, another who smiles
outside. What is happening?"
Moving towards her father, Georgiana put her
arms around his neck, and her cheek against his. Mr. Blake looked
much like her drawing of him, a man of medium height with a little
honest paunch, obtained through eating too many potatoes with his
roast beef or lamb, and drinking a small glass of wine with every
meal, and being somewhat fond of tarts. He also did have a walking
stick which he used to help him on his daily walks over the rolling
countryside, and a hat to shield him from the sun. He was only
missing a wig, which he rarely ever wore. Though a gentleman, Mr.
Blake did not like to give himself airs, and wigs were expensive.
He had five daughters to care for, three of them at the age of
needing finery, so he was happy to do without any for himself.