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Marrying The Major
By Maitland, Joanna
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Emma Fitzwilliam settled herself high in the branches of her favourite oak, glancing only a little ruefully at yet another tear in her cotton pinafore. She was not usually so clumsy. She would be well scolded for that when she returned to the house, but her punishment would be much worse if they discovered she still climbed trees. Her old governess was still trying vainly to make a lady of her. And Papa - dearest Papa - had lately said one or two things to suggest he was less than totally happy with the way she behaved.
Dearest Papa. For him, if he asked, she would try to become a lady, but it would be terribly difficult - and terribly boring. Ladies had to walk sedately instead of romping around the estate, they were never allowed out without an escort, they certainly could not go swimming in the lake, or fishing, or climbing trees - and they weren't even supposed to laugh out loud. Emma frowned at that last thought. Gentlemen were allowed to laugh - and frequently did - but ladies were supposed to smile demurely or, at most, give a melodious tinkle to signify amusement. It wasn't fair. Nor would it be fair to make her spend all her time at ladylike pursuits. Emma could play and sing pretty well, and even set a neat stitch, but she could not imagine doing so all the time, with only slow, boring walks for exercise, accompanied by a stony-faced groom. Ugh.
She wriggled about until she could reach into her pocket for her book and her apple. Then she settled down to read, munching blissfully. This was one of the pleasures of not being a lady - and she would not give it up.
"Young Lord Hardinge and his friend have called to see Miss Emma, sir," intoned the butler gravely from the study doorway, "but ... no one is quite sure where she is. Shall I -?"
"Show them both in here, Godfrey," said Sir Edward Fitzwilliam, rising from his deep wing-chair with a welcoming smile already on his cheery features. "No doubt my daughter will appear soon enough. She seems to have some kind of sixth sense about welcome visitors - and unwelcome ones, too." He laughed at his own wit, wondering, none the less, how it was that his mischievous daughter was never to be found except when it suited her. For Richard Hardinge, who was like a big brother to her, she probably would appear. She had been trailing him for years, after all, and Richard had never once rejected her, no matter how demanding she had become. Soon, it would all have to stop. Emma was fast maturing into a young lady - and young ladies did not cavort around the estate with male friends, no matter how trustworthy they might be, nor how indulgent her father. No - soon it would be necessary to find a proper female companion for his only daughter, to give her the polish that a young lady required, the polish that her dear mama would have provided if only she had lived.
Sir Edward sighed slightly at the sad memory, but assumed a polite smile when the door opened again to admit his two guests. The young men were remarkably alike, both tall and dark-haired, with open features and merry eyes. They seemed to have been laughing at some shared joke.
Richard Hardinge bowed politely to his host. "I collect we have lost her again, sir," he said with an ironic shake of the head. "And Hugo was so anxious to make his farewells in due form, too." Richard grinned at Hugo, who seemed to be unmoved by his friend's sly jibe.
"I suggest you both sit down," said Sir Edward placidly, nodding in the direction of the old-fashioned sofa on the opposite side of the huge fire-place. "She will appear, sooner or later." He turned to Hugo Stratton. "But I'm sorry to learn that you are leaving, my boy. I had understood from Lady Hardinge that you were to remain at Harding for a month or so yet."
"That was so, sir," said Hugo. "Lady Hardinge was kind enough to invite me to stay for the summer - until my commission came through. The thing is ... well, sir, the fact is that my regiment is ordered to Deal next week - the rumour is that we are preparing for embarkation for north Germany - and unless I join them now, I'll have to wait for months, besides missing the chance of a crack at Boney." His grey eyes were shining with enthusiasm as he spoke. "I really do have to go, you see, sir. I'm leaving for home this afternoon."
Sir Edward nodded sagely. He had seen enough of Hugo Stratton these past few weeks to recognise the makings of a good officer in him, in spite of his youth. "I understand your haste, my boy. I was much the same at your age. In the circumstances, it's good of you to make the time to call on Emma. You must have a host of more important things on your mind."
Hugo was still young enough to be able to blush. He stammered a little. "After all your kind hospitality, sir, it is ... the least I could do."
"Think nothing of it," said Sir Edward, "nothing at all." He rose and paced to the window, pulling back the heavy velvet curtains to gaze out on the deserted terrace and the sweeping lawns beyond. "Drat the girl," he said quietly to himself, "where on earth is she?" He turned back to his guests, smiling apologetically. "I can understand that time is pressing for you, so I will not attempt to detain you. Since Emma has not condescended to put in an appearance, she will have to make do with second-hand farewells. I will tell her you called, and why. Perhaps now she'll learn not to disappear quite so often."
Hugo and Richard had risen politely with their host. Hugo took a step forward. "I still have half an hour, sir. May we not go and look for Miss Emma? She's bound to be in the garden somewhere - and Richard probably knows where to look. He should, after running tame round your estate for so many years." This time, it was Hugo's turn to grin at his friend's discomfiture.
Sir Edward smiled indulgently at them. "Very well, if you wish. But do not, on any account, allow that little minx's pranks to delay you beyond your time."
The two young men were already making their way into the garden. Watching them, Sir Edward gave a weary shake of his head, "Heaven help me. Whatever shall I do with such a hoyden?"
Excerpted from Marrying The Major by Maitland, Joanna Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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