When Miss Flora Hartington bumps into a handsome traveling apothecary, she sees her chance at adventure, a brief escape from the shackles of propriety, and she jumps at the opportunity. It doesn’t hurt that he’s incredibly attractive, and kind in his own way. But it’s a temporary solution to her very big problem––namely her family trying to control her entire future.
Kidnapped by traveling folk as a child, Lawrence Campion yearns to be a real doctor, which means earning passage to America. The last thing he needs is to be saddled with the beautiful and feisty Flora. However, he’ll do whatever it takes to protect her, and then be off to fulfill his dreams. But Lawrence has a past that is quickly catching up with him. And he carries a secret that could destroy both their plans.
Each book in the Wanton in Wessex series is STANDALONE:
* A Perilous Passion
* A Potion for Passion
About the Author
Elizabeth Keysian felt destined to write historical romance due to her Cornish descent, and an ancestral connection to the Norse god Odin. Being an only child gave her plenty of time to read, create imaginary worlds, produce her own comics, and write sketches and a deplorably bad musical for an amateur dramatics group.
Three decades spent working in museums and archaeology fired Elizabeth's urge to write, as did living on a Knights Templar estate, with a garage full of skeletons, a resident ghost and a moat teeming with newts.
Elizabeth lives near Bath in England with her partner and cats.
Read an Excerpt
The Isle of Portland, England
Miss Flora Hartington rarely had the chance to admire a handsome man openly, so she was making the most of it. Her position at the back of the crowd on East Town's village green gave her an excellent view of Dr. L. E. Campaign, an itinerant physician touting his remedies from his portable wooden stage.
Campaign — who some of the locals unkindly called a 'quack doctor' — was no stranger to her. The previous year, Flora had purchased bottles of his Universal Remedy, his Revitalizing Tonic, and his Certain Cure for the Tertian Ague, amongst many others. She was so certain his cures worked that she'd even corresponded with the man, ordering items via the local carrier. Typically, this had earned her a sharp rebuke from her shrewish older sister, Lucinda.
Flora was ashamed to admit she wasn't missing Lucinda at all. When Flora's niece Charlotte married the Earl of Beckport, Lucinda had moved into the dower house at Beckport Park so she could keep an eye on her daughter. This meant Flora had her small cottage to herself again.
Alas! The longed-for freedom from disapproval had not materialized. Apparently, the aunt-in-law of an earl was expected to behave with even greater propriety than the aunt-in-law of a commoner. Thus Flora's sister had set the Reverend Daniell and his family as spies to watch over her lest she do something terrible. Which was somewhat ironic, considering Lucinda's own shady past — a past so shady, in fact, that Lucinda and Charlotte had had to change their surname.
Luckily, the least able of said spies, the reverend's daughter Thea, was on duty today. The girl had lingered to listen to a ballad singer at the crossroads, giving Flora a few welcome moments to herself.
What would Society say if they knew how Flora's heart beat faster at the sight of Dr. Campaign's covered wagon, with its gaily painted magical symbols and Evil Eyes? She'd fallen ever-so-slightly in love with him last year when he'd helped the family — and the Earl of Beckport — out of some awkward situations.
But then, as the autumn leaves began to fall, the self-proclaimed healer had vanished. Not just from Portland, but from the entire region. Some said it was to avoid moneylenders, others that he'd been involved with various women on his travels and had become a person of interest to some powerful aristocratic husbands.
Flora could see how quickly such entanglements might happen. A sigh escaped her as she gazed in mute admiration at the prime specimen of manhood on the stage. The quack doctor had always reminded her a little of Frank.
Frank Mullen, the only man she'd ever truly loved, whose ship had gone down four years ago, with all hands.
Her dead fiancé had sported the same dark eyes, eyebrows, and sun-browned skin as Campaign. The doctor, however, wore no officer's powdered wig, as Frank had. He wore what God had given him — his own thick, glossy hair, black as a raven's wing, tied at the nape of his neck. His deep, resonant voice was perfect for the stage. Maybe he'd once been an actor — such skills would be useful in convincing his audience of the power of his remedies.
Despite the agonizing reminder of Frank, Flora couldn't look away. Nor could she help speculating on how such a young, good-looking, and well-spoken man had come to be an itinerant healer. He couldn't be more than eight-and-twenty, surely, barely older than herself. His astonishingly white teeth showed to good effect when he grinned.
"Now this, ladies and gentlemen," he boomed, "is as efficacious a remedy for nervousness as you'll find in all of Europe. Those great lords and ladies on the other side of the Channel swore by it in their time of trouble. Indeed, 'tis well known that Queen Marie Antoinette herself sipped it from a silver teaspoon on her way to meet with Madame Guillotine!"
Flora smiled knowingly. Campaign would have been a mere youth at the time, hardly likely to be supplying the French royal family with nostrums. She looked around, enjoying the crowd's reactions to this ludicrous claim, but when her gaze returned to the stage, she found the man was looking straight at her.
Her equanimity tottered. Then collapsed.
Did he remember her from last year? Presumably, as she'd been one of his best customers. But ever since Frank's death four years ago, she'd disappeared into a twilit world, neither craving, nor expecting, the attention of any man. The likelihood of some gentleman seeing her as a potential wife and mother at the age of seven-and-twenty was slim. Not even her slight connection to an earl could make up for her unexceptional looks and mouse-colored hair.
Even so, no gentlewoman like herself should welcome an enticing glance from an itinerant. Even if he did have a reputation as a superlative lover ...
Her cheeks pinked. Lucinda had told her time and again not to listen to gossip, and not to involve herself in the affairs of lesser folk — except when bringing them charity, of course. Dr. L. E. Campaign didn't look like a man in need of charity.
"Do you feel fatigued?" he asked his listeners. "Do you feel as if the sky is made of lead and weighing you down? Does every conversation feel like a battlefield?"
Yes, every conversation did feel like a battlefield. She just couldn't shake off her spies, and knew that if she put a foot wrong, her misdemeanor would be reported back to her sister posthaste. Flora still felt just as stifled as she had when Lucinda and Charlotte had invaded her tiny cottage in the neighboring village of Fortuneswell and taken over her life.
There was just one hope of escape, which was to move away altogether. She could set up a hat shop. Designing and trimming bonnets was the only skill she had to offer the world, and she loved doing it. Not even her stodgy sister's disapproval could dent her enthusiasm for millinery. Flora had secretly saved up enough to go into partnership so she could learn how to actually make bonnets, and she had her eye on a milliner's right here in East Town.
A partnership wasn't her ultimate ambition. But it would be a step in the right direction. And, surely, millinery was a respectable enough profession for someone whose niece had married an earl.
There was another advantage to this plan. East Town was a bracing distance from Fortuneswell and would severely reduce the ability of the Daniell family to spy on her. Admittedly, they had a carriage, but it was a bother, and expensive, so they rarely used it. Only young Thea would have the energy to walk regularly to East Town, but Flora was fairly certain she'd soon tire of the task of shadowing a respectable spinster.
Which reminded her ...
Flora looked around, but Thea was still entranced by the balladeer. Good. And now that Campaign had cast his mesmeric gaze elsewhere, Flora could allow herself the deliciously wicked treat of admiring him once more. What a square, determined jaw he had, and such firm but generous lips. His slim, muscular figure exhibited the steely strength of a man living an active life on the open road.
Life on the open road. How terrifying that sounded! Such an existence would be full of troubles and worries — moving from town to town, running the gauntlet of footpads and highwaymen, meeting and trying to impress strangers every day to make one's living. It must be exhausting.
Glory be! He was looking directly at her again, the dark slashes of his eyebrows raised in inquiry. She quivered and swallowed hard, then nodded — though totally unaware of what he'd asked. For a brief moment she feared it might have been something utterly improper.
What foolishness. How could she imagine he had any particular interest in her? He'd styled himself to appeal to all the females in the audience, cultivating a wild look and an air of danger to tickle their fancy and fire their imaginations. By making eye contact and flirting with every woman in the crowd, he'd make more sales.
Having scolded herself to stop woolgathering and listen properly, she had a stroke of brilliance. Dr. L. E. Campaign's Nerve Tonic was exactly what she needed, the perfect antidote to the effect he had on her. And it might also ease the tension she suffered while under the watchful eye of the Daniells.
But how embarrassing to own up to having a nervous disposition in front of all these people! Some folk she knew wore their ailments like badges of honor, proud to announce their suffering to the rest of the world. But not Flora. Besides which, Lucinda would use Flora's head for a pincushion if she found out she'd bought a quack remedy so publicly.
She glanced around, but no one was spying on her. She must do it. She must buy some. Her scalp prickled at the thought of her own daring.
Campaign's voice broke in on her thoughts. "Don't look so crestfallen, madam," he advised. "It's within my power to make you a particular offer today. As I have excess stock, I can provide, for this afternoon only, a second bottle of this miraculous nerve tonic for just a shilling. Surely, that must bring a smile to your pretty lips?"
She suddenly realized she was surrounded by silence, and that all heads were turned in her direction.
"Madam! Yes, the lady with the delightfully silky curls, I'm addressing you. No need to be shy. Everyone here will agree you can't afford to miss this opportunity."
Her face heated up like a boiled lobster, and she wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. But his choice of words shot through her head and bounced back and forth, flattering and terrifying at the same time. Pretty lips? Silky curls?
He couldn't mean that. He was just being a good salesman. And how could he tell she was considering the nerve tonic? Was he a magician as well as a self-styled physician?
"Go on, Miss Hartington," said a voice beside her. "At only a shilling for the second bottle, I'm sorely tempted myself." The widow Sally Matthews, proprietress of Matthew's Milliners — the very shop in which Flora hoped for a partnership — smiled at her encouragingly. "If you buy some," Sally added, "I'll get some too. I just don't want to be first to step forward."
Flora didn't want to step forward at all. But with everyone looking at her, she'd feel as much a fool if she did as she would if she didn't. "Let's go up together," she whispered to Sally. "If you insist."
Sally nodded, and the doctor clapped his hands as they jostled their way through the crowd. "Ah, you must be my lucky charm, madam," he enthused at Flora, leaping lightly down from the stage, "for you bring with you a second customer. Thank you!"
Grateful that her bonnet hid her blushes, Flora accepted the two bottles of nerve tonic in trembling fingers, and bestowed them immediately in her reticule. Sally smiled broadly, looking at the crowd over her shoulder as she handed over her shillings. East Town's hat-and-bonnet maker and purveyor of decorative trimmings was loving the attention. Indeed, no one observing Sally's behavior could imagine she needed a nerve tonic.
Flora caught a significant look passing between the doctor and the milliner before Sally turned to face the crowd, announcing, "I'll take this remedy dutifully for a whole week. I promise anyone who comes into my establishment during that time will be given a free sample, until the first bottle is quite empty. My regular customers can try two teaspoonfuls if they wish. I declare — it's quite in my own interest. I don't want anyone to feel nervous about buying a bonnet from me!" A surge of laughter rippled through the assembled watchers, and Sally marched off looking pleased with herself.
Flora was left standing in front of the crowd, flushed and awkward, and unable to shake the impression that she'd just been used. And shown herself a gullible fool in front of everyone.
If Lucinda ever found out, she'd have a field day.CHAPTER 2
"Forgive me, Miss Hartington," an amused voice whispered in Flora's ear. "I wasn't expecting that. I think we've both been made use of as an advertisement for hats. To make amends, please accept a free bottle of Dr. L. E. Campaign's Ethiopian Hair Tonic. It will save you hours of wrestling with the curling tongs and aid your hair's natural curl."
Flora felt a shock of heat when Campaign's fingers brushed hers as he slipped the small bottle into her hand. Startled, she gazed up into a pair of eyes twinkling with humor, with irises so dark they were almost as black as the pupils. His smiling mouth was close enough for his breath to feather her cheek. She detected a smell of clove oil, evocative of fascinating foreign realms she'd only ever read about in journals.
The man exuded an air of mystery, which drew her in, making her hold his gaze much longer than she should. Much longer than was proper.
Pulling free of that hypnotic look, she stammered her thanks and retreated to the back of the crowd. As soon as she felt herself no longer the focus of everyone's attention, she looked around for Thea.
Oh, no. Miss Dorothea Daniell had been joined by her parents. And all three were headed straight toward Flora.
"Miss Hartington." Mrs. Daniell greeted her crisply, while Thea looked sheepish. "I'm disappointed to see that you're not with my daughter. I'd hoped you would act as her chaperone when she offered to accompany you."
Flora almost snorted at this. They both knew well enough who was supposed to be chaperoning whom, though no one had yet dared say it openly.
Mrs. Daniell continued, "What if my Dorothea were to find herself wandering alone on the heath, where footpads and highwaymen lurk? What if she were to get lost in the back streets, where off-duty soldiers slouch around in the taverns? It doesn't bear thinking about."
The temptation to say it would be Thea's own fault if she did such things, was resisted.
"I can assure you," Flora said, wishing she'd had time to take a sip of the nerve tonic, "that I have barely taken my eye off her. There's no need for alarm." Besides which, the fort with its soldiers was miles away, as was the heath. Mrs. Daniell's ability to make a mountain out of a molehill was second to none.
"Very well, then," huffed the other woman, shooting a look at her husband. "I can see there's no harm done. But it's time to leave for Fortuneswell now. Your sister tells me you always visit the Emburys on a Thursday."
Flora repressed a shudder, as she did whenever that particular family was mentioned. Her last experience with the Emburys had not been one of her finest moments. "Well, I used to," she muttered. "But not anymore."
Until her sister and niece had joined Flora in the cottage left to her by Frank, she'd been more than happy to be charitable by knitting socks for sailors with a small group of friends around the tea table. However, Lucinda — keen to make her mark in Fortuneswell society — was full of zeal for good causes and insisted they all take succor directly into the homes of the needy and the sick.
Flora had been browbeaten into visiting the Emburys, a family of wild, motherless children watched over by their grizzled drunkard of a father. One particular visit involving flea bites, child vomit, and an attempted kiss from Mr. Embury had sent Flora scurrying for the door, vowing never to enter that horrid hovel again.
Declaring her a coward, Lucinda had undertaken the task of visiting the Emburys herself. She'd scrubbed the children to within an inch of their lives, bombarded Mr. Embury with so much prune juice he no longer had any stomach for drink, and given out helpful advice about the children's diet — as well as further prune juice — which would prevent them from ever being sick again.
This episode had the effect — no doubt intended — of making Flora feel a failure. But despite her sister's assurances that all was now resolved, she never offered to revisit the Emburys. Now it looked as if her hand might be forced.
"Miss Hartington! Madam!"
She was shaken from her reverie by Campaign's voice. As one, she and her companions looked in the direction of the stage.
"You've forgotten your change." The nostrum seller waved her forward.
Blushing furiously, she went, but not before seeing a look of utter distaste cross Mrs. Daniell's features.
"What change?" she whispered, as soon as she reached the stage.
"There is none," he whispered back. "But you looked as if you needed rescuing."
"Not at all," she answered primly, pretending to take a coin from his hand. "They're my friends."
"Enemies, more like," he said, staring at the Daniells through a gap in the crowd. "The lady looks as if she's been sucking lemons."
There was no denying that, but how wicked of him to mention it! Flora hid her smile and replied, "I fear the reverend and his wife don't much approve of itinerant medicine men."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Potion for Passion"
Copyright © 2018 Elizabeth Keysian.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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