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"Are you certain I will not get hurt?" Sam glanced up at her big brother, George, with a dubious expression on her face. "I have not forgotten the time you had me out on this very hill in a storm with a kite and a brass key, so as to test Mr. Franklin's notion of electricity. Papa said I could have been killed." Even her indulgent parent had been upset at this outrageous incident.
"I am more careful now," the inventive George Mayne assured the slight figure standing so defiantly before him. "If you follow my instructions, there is no way in which you can get injured. According to my calculations the glider will not carry anyone heavier than you. So you see, I need you, little sister. It will fly, never fear. If Sir George Cayley can do it, so can I." He hoped his confidence was catching.
Sam, otherwise known as Lady Samantha Mayne, nervously brushed her hands down her nankeen breeches, fatalistically shrugged her shoulders beneath her soft cambric shirt, and climbed into the slight craft resting on the curve of the hill. To her, it resembled nothing more than a wee boat with a rudder aft and a peculiar horizontal sail above. With impatient fingers she tucked a stray curl beneath the ridiculous jockey cap perched atop her head before looking once again at her brother. Intrepid she might be, but this was beyond the experiments she had helped George with in the past. Yet he seemed so certain that they would not fail. She had adored her older brother from the time she could toddle after him, watching with fascination as he had devised variations on a Chinese flying top. Now she could not think of disappointing him by a refusal to assist.
"Just remember that Sir George onlywrote the theory, he hasn't tested it himself other than in models such as you have done," she reminded. "Although you have flown all those models--and lovely they looked, too--it does not follow that I shall succeed with my part of this test." She turned from the frowning face of her dear--and only--brother to study the elevator-cum-rudder hinged to the back of the craft and wondered if it would really work, or if she would crash into the gentle valley stretching out beyond where she waited. She had no wish to end her brief life, although George seemed determined to do his best to accomplish this deed one way or another.
In the distance Sam could see a flock of Scarborough gulls wheeling and soaring. Would she join them? Her heart raced at the very thought. To be the first woman to join the birds! She glanced to the far side of the valley where Aunt Lavinia, dressed in her usual white, fluttered a handkerchief with maidenly enthusiasm. She had read the tea leaves in Sam's cup this morning and pronounced this "the" day to go.
That was all George had needed. Drawn at first to Sir George Cayley's theories because of the shared first name, Sam's brother had become obsessed with the notion of manned flight. He had the silly idea that these guided gliders might be used in the war against the French. George thought that once he got his flying machine to fly, it could be lifted high in the air beneath a balloon, then released to soar over enemy lines to observe troop movements. Obviously an absurd notion. But one had to humor these genius types.
It seemed to Sam that all her life she had indulged her brother. She had dressed in breeches to please him and help him with his fantastical schemes. As time had passed, Sam became interested to the point where she would not give up her assistance. "To think I passed by the wonder of a Season in London for all this," she murmured, unheard by George. She was certain this was far more exciting, although at this moment she wondered if a dance floor might not be safer.
Sam looked up at the diagonal bracing, running a finger along the wire to check its tautness. The thin tension wheels the family coachman had clucked his tongue over began to roll along the ground while George and four grooms ran down the hill pulling the ropes that would drop away once Sam was aloft. Sam braced herself, keeping a steady eye on the rudder as she gently bounced over the ground. A breeze blew up the southeastern slope giving lift to the slight craft.
She was flying! No longer could she feel the bump of the wheels as they rolled over the grassy slope. Instead, the soft warm wind caressed her face, rushed past her ears, and the canvas over her head gave a very faint flutter. She had joined the birds! Sam swallowed with care, darting a swift glance at the trees marching up the slope across the far side. She caught a quick glimpse of white--Lavinia, no doubt--and farther along, a slash of blue--perhaps one of the grooms.
The long valley ran between two slopes rising toward woods on either side. Her brother had explained that the valley was ideal for testing his glider in that it was so similar to Cayley's own terrain.
Sam's earlier fears fell away as she exultantly glanced to where she could see George below, capering about and waving his Belcher handkerchief. She was actually soaring like the gulls! She gave an experimental nudge to the rudder and observed how the craft altered direction a bit. Then she tried the elevator control. It seemed slow to respond.
She saw the ground of the opposite side coming closer and closer. She was going to land. Recalling George's instructions, she tried to raise the nose of the craft. This was the part of the flight that was truly dangerous, no matter how reassuring George might be. Sam had watched countless of those little model gliders George had tested crash into bits and pieces when they dived into the ground. She tried to ignore the flutterings in her stomach and maintain the calm needed to minimize the damage. Control the rudder-elevator, she reminded herself. The elevator failed to respond as it ought.
The nose of the little bird dropped, there was a loud bang as she hit the ground, then the tail fell off. Total silence followed. Not even the gulls could be heard.
Sam sat still for a moment, then she took a deep breath before checking each limb to make sure she was all there--in one piece. She began climbing over the edge of the boat-shaped craft, eager to meet her brother for a celebration. Her nankeen breeches caught on a splinter and she exploded with a fluency picked up from George.
The sound of crashing through the brush brought her head up. It had to be George. "Don't just stand there like a looby, get me out of here!" She twisted around and found it wasn't George after all. A blue-clad stranger--a tall, dark-haired, and much too handsome stranger--stared up at her as though she were an apparition. He could hardly be blamed, she supposed. After all, how often did one see a white bird of this size come sailing across a valley almost to one's feet? Those gray eyes gazed at her with such disbelief. Well, she was real enough. She would feel it come the morrow.
Charles Winford, Marquess of Laverstock, had stopped to watch. He had been heading purposefully toward Mayne Court when he had caught sight of this fantastic vision, this enormous white bird soaring high in the air across the valley. Fascinated, he sent his valet and carriage on to the estate and turned his horse off the road to discover more. Drawing closer, he had seen it was a peculiar craft with a slim figure, a young boy, steering a rudder-like extension as he sailed across the dale. When it became obvious the young lad would crash to the ground, Charles jumped from his horse, pushing through the underbrush to reach the remains, whatever they might be.
Charles frowned at the language, hurrying forward to lift the lad from the boat-shaped affair where a splinter had well and truly snagged him. Only it wasn't a him. Charles caught his breath in amazement as a jockey cap fell from her head.
Her strange golden eyes framed by sooty lashes were far too large in that little heart-shaped face, and that mouth, now split in an engaging grin, was too wide for perfect beauty. Why the chit even had a dusting of freckles on her pert little nose. Worst of all was her hair. Spilling over her shoulders in sensuous abandon, the wealth of golden-red silk now released from the silly cap was most certainly out of fashion this year--or any year, for that matter. Shades of red were always suspect for some odd reason.
Yet his hand itched to touch her petal-soft skin, and he couldn't help but admire that enchanting figure so dashingly revealed in those disgraceful breeches she ought not to be wearing. The urge to thread his hands through that glorious hair was incredibly strong. Against the deep green of the woods she looked like a tiger flower in the wildest of gardens.
She was utterly scandalous! Yet he was extremely intrigued with this unusual beauty. Weary with his efforts at the War Office, he had come for a change of scene ... for that and another reason no one need know about.
And now he felt as though someone had dealt him a blow to his solar plexus. A hard blow.
"Well, are you not going to help me? Can you not see I am caught?" Samantha's voice was alive with annoyance touched with humor. Why was it she had this particular effect on gentlemen?
Charles was jolted from his preoccupation with this shocking young woman. He moved swiftly to her side and lifted her slight body from where she was snagged, disengaging her successfully from the splinter without further damaging those clinging breeches he tried--unsuccessfully--not to look at. She was delightfully curved in such delicious places. Charles drew himself up. No matter what her dress, a young lady was not to be ogled as though she might be a maidservant. For as sure as he breathed, her speech proclaimed her as a member of the gentry. He set her gently on her feet, then watched as she jumped up and down with obvious happiness.
Samantha danced about in glee, then enthusiastically threw her arms about the stranger. "We did it! We did it! I flew with the birds!" Her hug was not returned. Sam dropped her arms, suddenly aware of her impropriety as she glanced up at the bemused face of the man who had retrieved her from the glider.
At that moment George, followed by two of the grooms, came crashing through the brush to join Samantha and the stranger. At last Samantha was able to hug and kiss her brother with great delight at their accomplishment. George grinned with a masculine embarrassment at this, meeting the glance of the amused stranger with male understanding.
In his usual forthright manner, George nodded in greeting after disengaging himself from Sam. "Hullo." He bestowed a puppy-friendly look on the newcomer, extending his hand.
"I'm Laverstock." Charles stood looking expectantly at poor George, who had never been known for his polish in social niceties.
"Uh ... George Mayne, and this is my little sister, Samantha." George had remembered to include Samantha, for which she was most grateful this time.
"Lady Samantha. Sir." Laverstock's bow was exquisite in polite courtesy. He addressed George. "Do forgive me for trespassing. I must confess that I was terribly curious about this thing your sister was piloting. However, I was on my way to your home, so perhaps it is as well."
Samantha's heart did another lurch, but quite different from the lurches of excitement she had felt in the glider. "You were coming to our home?" she echoed, then edged behind George as she recalled her most unorthodox and unladylike attire.
Charles caught the movement and almost smiled. "I have a letter from your father in London. He suggested I come up here to get away from the War Office for a bit. Thought the sea air might do me good."
The poor man must have been ill. Samantha's caring heart went out to him. She sidled around the sturdy body of her brother to offer her sympathy just as Aunt Lavinia drifted up to join them.
Lady Lavinia Mayne had never married, devoting her life to raising the children of her brother, the Earl of Cranswick, after his wife died giving birth to a boy, who also died shortly thereafter. Her white hair escaped from her hat in wisps around a much-lined face. Faded blue eyes assessed the situation with shrewd accuracy. Garbed in an outdated dress of white muslin and an enormous hat of questionable vintage, she peered up at the newcomer. George murmured his name to her.
She nodded in polite greeting. "I am Lady Lavinia Mayne, my lord. We are pleased to welcome you to Mayne Court. Though not precisely, because we aren't at the Court at the moment, are we? But we shall be shortly, for it is just over there beyond that grove of trees." Lavinia waved a vague hand in the direction from which she had come while thinking rather hard. "Samantha, why don't you hurry along and change for tea, my dear? Those clothes must be vastly uncomfortable for you."
Aunt Lavinia knew full well how Sam loathed wearing dresses and that she considered breeches to be by far the more agreeable. Sam could only conclude that her aunt had decided Lord Laverstock made her feel uncomfortable in breeches--which he did, with his sidelong glances at her. The expression in those gray eyes of his was indecipherable.
Sam sketched a curtsy, awkward to do while wearing breeches, then marched off to the Court. Aunt Lavinia would rely on Sam to alert the staff that a guest was arriving. Tea would be prepared and a room would be whisked into readiness.
While she hurried along the narrow path Sam considered the guest her father had sent up to them from London. In addition to those inscrutable gray eyes, he had dark brown hair and a slash of a mouth, which when not disapproving might be nicer in shape. He possessed a firm jaw, something of which her father was bound to approve. He always declared--on those infrequent visits from town--that Samantha would need a firm hand.
Sam stopped in her tracks as she considered the thought that now struck her. Had her dearest papa sent this London lord especially for her? She gave a skip of joy as the notion slowly whirled about in her brain, then settled down to take root. That was it. Her precious papa must have cleverly persuaded this gentleman to take a rest from the rigors of his work at the War Office while all the time intending to send him to his dear daughter Sam as a present!
But Lord Laverstock seemed a bit of a stuffed shirt. Such dignity and ruffled feathers at the sight of Samantha in her breeches--it was nigh unto laughable. Only, Sam sighed, it was nothing to amuse one. She really must do something about herself.
A rustling not far away brought Lady Emma Fanshawe into view. She was impeccably dressed and seated upon her horse in a manner Sam could only admire. Sam much preferred to ride astride. How Emma could manage the side saddle was marvelous to behold.
"Hullo, Cousin Emma. Did you know we have a guest?" Then Sam had an awful thought. Suppose Lord Laverstock didn't know he had been sent up here for Sam and took a notion to admire Emma instead. With her soft brown eyes, appealing brown curls, and a feminine manner much liked by Aunt Lavinia, Emma could be competition.
Not observing the narrowing of Sam's large golden eyes, Emma nodded graciously. "I had occasion to greet them. Lord Laverstock and George are assisting the men with righting the flying machine. Tell me, did you really soar in that contraption? How I wish I might have seen it."
Samantha shrugged, then walking alongside Emma, continued on her way to the house, suddenly desirous of a bath and fresh clothes. Next to Emma she felt positively horrid. "George thought it might be bad luck to have a lot of people watching. Aunt Lavinia came, of course." Sam struggled with her manners, then bowed to the inevitable. "You will be joining us for tea, will you not? Since Aunt Lavinia does not hold with nuncheon, it is bound to be a generous one."
Emma gave a gentle smile, and nodded with her usual grace. Really, no one had a right to be so ... so dainty and feminine. Sam failed to recall that they were of similar height and build--only, one girl had grown up to be all genteel woman, the other, a saucy hoyden.
"I would be very pleased to join the group. Is not your Cousin Alfred due to arrive as well?" They had arrived at the tall red brick house, a fine example of baroque architecture, while she spoke.
Sam paused at the entrance to the house to look over her shoulder at her cousin Emma as the lovely girl gave the reins of her horse to a groom. Emma and Alfred were of no relation. Emma was her mother's niece while Alfred was on her father's side of the family. The two had fought as children. The youthful Alfred had declared that little Emma was the worst sort of female. Now Sam cast a worried glance up the staircase, then looked at Emma.
"I believe he may be here already, or at least will be shortly. You won't quarrel with him, will you? It would never do for our other guest to find this a hornet's nest."
Emma was spending the year with Samantha while her parents, the earl and his countess, were abroad. George had sent her on an errand so the delicate nerves he feared would not send her into spasms while watching Sam glide through the air.
"I? Quarrel? Never!" The musical trill of laughter from Emma's perfect lips for the first time grated on Sam's nerves. "Unless he starts it first," Emma murmured.
"We had best get changed before the others arrive. Tell me, did you ever meet Lord Laverstock while you were in London for your Season?" Sam tossed out this casual question while the girls rushed up the staircase.
"Oh, yes. He is much admired. He is an excellent dancer and always displays the most elegant taste in his dress. His behavior is above reproach. I understand his home is simply divine," said Emma breathlessly as they turned the corner at the top of the stairs.
Samantha's heart sank a trifle. Elegant and divine were hardly words applicable to herself. Perhaps he might be attracted to an opposite? Her own behavior--gliding across the valley while wearing boy's clothing--was scarcely such as to appeal to a high stickler. Never one to brood before a looking glass, Sam placed little value in her unusual appearance, nor did she understand the impact of her rare beauty upon a susceptible masculine heart.
"Emma ... would you be so kind as to help me choose a gown? For once I would like to go down for tea and not have Aunt Lavinia scold me." Sam gave her cousin a pleading look. It was necessary to know more about Lord Laverstock and she might take advantage of the time to probe.
Emma smiled at her guileless cousin, so transparent in her desire to improve her dress. "Of course. Permit me to slip on something else first and I shall be with you directly."
Sam entered her room with a thoughtful frown. Hetty, the patient maid who continually tried to urge Sam into better ways, entered shortly after, casting a disparaging eye on the breeches being tossed on the bed by the absent-minded young lady.
"What your sainted mother would say to this if she but saw it, I canna' say." Hetty picked up the breeches, folding them to stow in a drawer. She knew better then to try to eliminate them from the wardrobe of her charge.
"Rubbish. And what might she say of my dear aunt? I can see how she would smile at the sight of Lavinia reading her tea leaves at the table. What I wear is not so very disgraceful. I would like a bath, please." Sam issued the order in a careful voice, conscious she would startle the maid.
Hetty rose up sharply, giving Sam a surprised stare. "Aye. A bath. In the middle of the day, no less." She started toward the door. "Best see to it right away afore you change that mind of yourn."
Left alone, Sam whirled about the room in her wrapper, a cream lutestring and lace confection brought up from London by her fond father in hopes it might stir his daughter to more ladylike behavior. She must plan. Something told her--that bemused look, perhaps--that Lord Laverstock would not care for a hoyden. Not everyone succumbed to Sam's questionable charm the way her doting parent did.
A gentle tapping at the door brought Emma, to Sam's relief. "What would you like to wear this afternoon, dear cousin?"
Sam's ebullience faded as she considered her wardrobe. She sighed with resignation. "You had best take a look. Goodness knows I have no idea as to what might be proper. Hetty would turn me out in a dun-colored gown with a neck up to here." She drew a line below her jaw and grimaced as she plunked herself down on the edge of her bed.
Hetty bustled in followed by a line of maids bearing pails of steaming water. While Emma searched for a suitable gown for her to wear, Sam slithered into the nicely hot water in the hip bath behind her screen. She lathered herself with freesia-scented soap, all the while furiously wondering how she might find out more about their guest. She hoped Papa had sent instructions for her along with Laverstock. What was the good of such a present without directions on how to capture him? It seemed she was strictly on her own in this.
"I believe this gown your papa sent up from London last month would be quite appropriate, Samantha," murmured Emma in her sweet manner.
Sam peeped around the screen where she now dried herself with a Turkish towel to discover an amber satin-cloth gown she privately thought insipid being displayed for her. It was excessively plain, ornamented in front with rows of white silk trimming, called frostwork, and in back with small pearl buttons. The full lace sleeves caught about the middle of the arm looked silly to Sam's eyes. She glanced up to see Emma's hopeful expression.
Unable to disappoint her cousin, Sam valiantly nodded with what she hoped was enthusiasm. "Just the very thing." The narrowness of the skirt gave her pause until she recalled she would be walking with Emma, who always tripped along in the most dainty and refined manner.
When Sam eventually studied her reflection in the looking glass, she was pleasantly surprised at what she saw. She looked ... almost elegant. Her hair had been pinned up in a Psyche knot and those sleeves did seem rather nice. Only the vast expanse of bosom displayed bothered Sam. She turned troubled eyes to Emma, her tutor.
"'Tis all the fashion in London, my dear. Your father always sends the very latest thing. Come now, or we shall be late for tea." Emma beamed a smile of pride at her achievement, and hoped Samantha would for once not rip the hem of her gown with her tendency to stride.
"Mind you," Sam confided as they walked down the stairs together. "I do not care for a mincing walk, but I shall try to shorten my usual stride, dear Emma. Gads, but 'tis a nasty bit of work to be a lady."
Emma shuddered and wondered if creating a lady might not be too great a task if Samantha was the raw material.
The others had assembled in the drawing room. George was staring out the window in an abstracted manner, then, at their entrance, turned to give Sam a sweet smile. "Well done, Sam."
Forgetting all her resolutions about being a proper lady, Samantha joyously hurried across the room, mindful of her skirt, to throw herself into her brother's arms, accepting his hug with contentment. She had pleased her big brother. She peeped up at him and scolded, "You must do something about that elevator. It did not respond as it ought, I believe."
Someone cleared his throat and Samantha recollected where she was and who else was present. A delicate flush stained her cheeks, much to Aunt Lavinia's amazement.
"Your brother is most favored to have a sister willing to assist him." Lord Laverstock bestowed a serious look on Samantha that quite subdued her.
At that moment a personage entered the room, ignoring Peters, who hovered behind him. The foppish dandy dressed in lilac and primrose made an elegant leg, then crossed to greet Aunt Lavinia, bowing low over her hand.
"Percival Twistleton, I declare," exclaimed Aunt Lavinia. "We have not seen your face in an age, it seems. I trust your parents are well?"
"Well enough." The newcomer gazed around with a puzzled frown. "I thought Alfred was to be here. I received a note from him just yesterday that he intended to visit." Percy's high voice was full of his bewilderment. "I decided to pop up for a visit."
A voice from the doorway spun the exquisite around. Another gentlemen entered as different from Percival as chalk from cheese. "I am late, I fear," answered Alfred Mayne ruefully. "Good to see you all once again. Laverstock, what brings you so far from London?"
"Fatigue." The deep voice seemed faintly amused, though Sam noted the gray eyes were keenly observant.
Sam gave her cousin Alfred a forgiving smile. "Papa sent Lord Laverstock up here to Yorkshire to see if the sea air might do him good. There is a letter, I believe." She fixed her golden gaze upon Laverstock, concerned at the reserved look she found on his face. My, he was a stuffy one. If she did not know better she would think he disapproved of her gown. He had certainly looked at her bosom hard enough. Perhaps she was a trifle full there, but that could not be helped in the least. If Papa thought the gown acceptable, it was fine with her.
Sam walked daintily to where Laverstock stood by the mantel. He gave her a narrow look, then extracted the thin epistle from a pocket to place in her outstretched hand.
She glanced at the letter, but there was not one word of direction as to how she was to capture this marvelous gentleman for her very own. Evidently Papa had confidence in her. She squared her shoulders at the very thought, and looked up at Laverstock with an utterly captivating smile. Not accustomed to making an effort to charm, she had no notion of how breathtaking the result could be when she chose to expend it.
Her large golden eyes seemed alight with inner fire and the mouth that was a trifle too wide enchanted the gentleman accustomed to far more expert wiles.
Samantha swung away from Laverstock to study Percival. Really, the man grew more preposterous every year. "You have missed the event of the day, Percy. I flew across the valley in George's glider. It was vastly thrilling." Her cheeks bloomed with faint color and her eyes sparkled with remembered excitement. "Only think, the silly man believes he can attach one of those gliders beneath a balloon so it can be used to spy on the French. They might shoot the person flying it, I should not wonder! Of course, if he could get that elevator thing working properly, he might be able to keep it aloft for some time, and then it could glide back to the other side of the lines. It is far more easy to manage than a balloon." Her voice was musing as she considered the problem aloud.
"Samantha," cautioned George. He cast a glance at Cousin Alfred, wondering what he was doing here this time.
"Oh, pooh, George. 'Tis not as though something will actually come of it ... is it? Besides, Lord Laverstock can be trusted, for Papa sent him. And the rest are family. Almost." She dismissed Percival. Still, it was odd he had turned up at this time of year when he might normally be found in town. The same might hold with Lord Laverstock. Or even Alfred, for pity's sake. She shrugged her shoulders, liking the feel of the delicate lace against her skin.
Gaily, she turned to Aunt Lavinia. "Tea, if you please, dear Aunt. I am famished."
Emma suppressed the moan that almost slipped out. Really, to turn Samantha into a lady was asking a great deal of a person.