It was the most incredible night of her life, but Daisy Huntingdon-Cross never expected to see her Valentine fling again. Except six weeks later Daisy's world is turned upside downshe's pregnant! She just needs to tell the father
Yet the man she knew as "Seb" has a few revelations of his own. He's Sebastian Beresford, Earl of Holgatehe doesn't just work at Hawksley Castle, where they met, he owns it! And with Daisy's news, Seb's determined to claim his heir starting with a wedding!
About the Author
As day dreaming is her very favourite hobby and she loves a good happy-ever-after Jessica can’t believe she’s lucky enough to write romance for a living. Say hi on Twitter at @yrosered or visit sprigmuslin.blogspot.com
Read an Excerpt
Déjà-vu rippled down Daisy's spine as she rounded the path. It was all so familiar and yet so different.
The last time she had been at Hawksley the castle and grounds had been covered in snow, a fantasy winter wonderland straight out of a historical film. Today the courtyard lawn was the pale green of spring, crocuses and primroses peeking out at the unseasonably warm sun. The old Norman keep rose majestically on her left, the thick grey stone buttresses looking much as they must have looked nearly one thousand years ago, a stark contrast to ye olde charm of the three-storey Tudor home attached to it at right angles.
And straight ahead of her the Georgian house.
Daisy swallowed, every instinct screaming at her to turn and run. She could wait a few weeks, try again then. Maybe try a letter instead. After all, it was still such early days
But no. She straightened her shoulders. That was the coward's way out and she had been raised better than that. Confront your problems head-on, that was what her father always told her.
Besides, she really needed to talk to somebody. She didn't want to face her family, not yet, and none of her friends would understand. He was the only person who this affected in the same way.
Or not. But she had to take the risk.
Decision made, smile plastered on and she was ready to go. If she could just find him that was
The castle had a very closed-off air. The small ticket office was shut, a sign proclaiming that the grounds and keep wouldn't be open until Whit-sun. Daisy swivelled trying to find signs of life.
There was a small grey door set at the end of the Georgian wing, which she recognised from her earlier visit. It was as good a place to start as any.
Daisy walked over, taking her time and breathing in the fresh spring air, the warm sun on her back giving her courage as she pushed at the door.
'Great.' It was firmly locked and there was no bell, 'You'd think they didn't want visitors,' she muttered. Well, want them or not she was here. Daisy knocked as hard as she could, her knuckles smarting at the impact, then stood back and waited, anticipation twisting her stomach.
The door swung open. Slowly. Daisy inhaled and held her breath. Would he remember her?
Would he believe her?
A figure appeared at the door. She exhaled, torn between disappointment and a secret shameful relief. Unless Seb had aged twenty-five years, lost six inches and changed gender this wasn't him.
Daisy pushed her trilby hat further back and gave the stern-looking woman guarding the door marked 'private' an appealing smile. 'Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find Seb?'
Her appeal was met with crossed arms and a gorgonish expression. 'Seb?' There was an incredulous tone to her voice.
The message was loud and clear; smiling wasn't going to cut it. On the other hand she hadn't been instantly turned to stone so it wasn't a total loss.
'Yes.' Daisy bit her lip in a sudden panic. She had got his name right, hadn't she? So much of that night was a blur
'The handyman,' she added helpfully. That she remembered.
'We have an estate maintenance crew.' The gorgon sniffed. Actually sniffed. 'But none of them are named Seb. Maybe you have the wrong place?' She looked Daisy up and down in a manner that confirmed that, in her eyes, Daisy most definitely did have the wrong place.
Maybe it was the lipstick? Real Real Red wasn't a shade everyone liked. It was so very red after all but it usually made Daisy feel ready for anything. Even today.
It was like being back at school under her headmistress's disappointed eye. Daisy resisted the urge to tug her tailored shorts down to regulation knee length and to button up the vintage waistcoat she had thrown on over her white T-shirt.
She took a step back and straightened her shoulders, ready for war. She had replayed this morning over and over in her mind. At no point had she anticipated not actually seeing Seb. Or finding out he didn't exist.
What if he was a ghost after all?
Surely not. Daisy wasn't entirely certain what ectoplasm actually was but she was pretty sure it was cold and sticky. Ghosts weren't made of warm, solid muscle.
No, no dwelling on the muscles. Or the warmth. She pushed the thought out of her mind as firmly as she could and adopted her best, haughty public schoolgirl voice. 'This is Hawksley Castle, isn't it?'
Of course it was. Nowhere else had the utterly unique blend of Norman keep, Tudor mansion and Georgian country home that ensured Hawksley remained top of the country's best-loved stately homes listaccording to Debutante magazine anyway.
But Daisy wasn't interested in the historical significance of the perfectly preserved buildings.
She simply wanted to gain access to the final third of the castle, the Georgian wing marked 'private'.
'Yes, this is Hawksley Castle and we are not open until Whitsun. So, I suggest, miss, that you return and purchase a ticket then.'
'Look.' Daisy was done with playing nice. 'I'm not here to sightsee. I was here six weeks ago for the Porter-Halstead wedding and got snowed in. Seb helped me and I need to see him. To say thank you,' she finished a little lamely but there was no way she was telling this woman her real motivation for visiting. She'd be turned to stone for sure.
The gorgon raised an eyebrow. 'Six weeks later?'
'I'm not here for a lesson in manners.' Daisy regretted the snap the second it left her mouth. 'I've been . busy. But better late than never. I thought he was the handyman. He certainly' seemed good with his hands flashed through her mind and she coloured 'seemed to know his way around.' Oh, yes, that he did.
Nope. No better.
'But he definitely works here. He has an office. Tall, dark hair?' Melting dark green eyes, cheekbones she could have cut herself on and a firm mouth. A mouth he really knew how to use.
Daisy pulled her mind firmly back to the here and now. 'He had a shovel and snow chains, that's why I thought he was the handyman but maybe he's the estate manager?'
Unless he had been a wedding guest putting on a very good act? Had she made a terrible mistake? No, he hadn't been dressed like a wedding guest, had known his way around the confusing maze behind the baize door in the Georgian wing.
She was going to have to get tough. 'Listen,' she began then stopped as something wet and cold snuffled its way into her hand. Looking down, she saw a pair of mournful brown eyes gazing up at her. 'Monty!'
Proof! Proof that she wasn't going crazy and proof that Seb was here.
Crouching down to scratch behind the springer spaniel's floppy brown ears, Daisy broke into a croon. 'How are you, handsome boy? It's lovely to see you again. Now if you could just persuade this lady here that I need to see your master that will be brilliant.' She couldn't help throwing a triumphant glance over at her adversary.
'Monty! Here, boy! Monty! Here I say.' Peremptory tones rang across the courtyard and Daisy's heart began to speed up, blood rushing around her body in a giddying carousel. Slowly she got back up, leaving one hand on the spaniel's head, more for strength and warmth, and half turned, a smile on her face.
* * *
It had been a long morning. It wasn't that Seb wasn't grateful for his expensive education, his academic credentials and his various doctorates but there were times when he wondered just what use being able to recite Latin verse and debate the use of cavalry at Thermopylae was.
Business studies, basic accountancy, and how to repair, heat and conserve an ancient money pit without whoring her out like a restoration actress would have been far more useful.
He needed a business plan. Dipping into what was left of the estate's capital would only get him so far. Somehow the castle needed to pay for itselfand soon.
And now his dog was being disobedient, making eyes at a blonde woman improbably dressed in shorts and a trilby hat teamed with a garish waistcoat. Shorts. In March. On the other hand Seb's eyes raked the slender, long legs appreciably; his dog had good taste.
'Monty! I said here. I am so sorry ' His voice trailed off as the woman straightened and turned. Seb felt his breath whoosh out as he clocked the long blonde hair, blue eyes, tilted nose and a mouth that had haunted him for the last six weeks. 'Daisy?'
'Hello, Seb. You never call, you don't write.' An undercurrent of laughter lilted through her voice and he had to firm his mouth to stop a responsive smile creeping out. What on earth had brought the wedding photographer back to his door? For a few days afterwards he had wondered if she might get in touch. And what he would say if she did.
For six weeks afterwards he had considered getting in touch himself. 'Neither did you.'
'No.' Her eyelashes fluttered down and she looked oddly vulnerable despite the ridiculous hat tilted at a rakish angle and the bright lipstick. 'Seb, could we talk?'
She sounded serious and Seb tensed, his hands curling into apprehensive fists. 'Of course, come on in.' He gestured for her to precede him through the door. 'Thanks, Mrs Suffolk, I'll take it from here.' He smiled at his most faithful volunteer and she moved aside with a sniff of clear disapproval.
'I don't think she likes me,' Daisy whispered.
'She doesn't like anyone. Anyone under thirty and female anyway.' He thought about the statement. 'Actually anyone under thirty or any female.'
Seb led the way through the narrow hallway, Monty at his heels. The courtyard entrance led directly into what had once been the servants' quarters, a warren of windy passageways, small rooms and back staircases designed to ensure the maids and footmen of long ago could go about their duties without intruding on the notice of the family they served.
Now it held the offices and workrooms necessary for running the vast estate. The few staff that lived in had cottages outside the castle walls and Seb slept alone in a castle that had once housed dozens.
It would make sense to convert a floor of unused bedrooms and offer overnight hospitality to those who booked the Tudor Hall for weddings rather than chucking them out into the nearby hotels and guest houses. But it wasn't just the expense that put him off. It was one thing having tourists wandering around the majestic keep, one thing to rent out the spectacular if dusty, chilly and impractical hall. The Georgian wing was his home. Huge, ancient, filled with antiques, ghosts and dusty corners. Home.
And walking beside him was the last person to have stayed there with him.
'Welcome back.' Seb noted how, despite her general air of insouciance, she was twisting her hands together nervously. 'Nice hat.'
'Thanks.' She lifted one hand and touched it self-consciously. 'Every outfit needs a hat.'
'I don't recall you wearing one last time.'
'I was dressed for work then.'
The words hung heavily in the air and Seb was instantly transported back. Back to the slide of a zip, the way her silky dress had slithered to the ground in one perfect movement.
Definitely no hat on that occasion, just glittering pins in her hair. It was a shame. He would have quite liked to have seen her wearing it when she had lain on his sofa, golden in the candlelight, eyes flushed from the champagne. Champagne and excitement. The hat and nothing else.
He inhaled, long and deep, trying to ignore the thrumming of his heart, the visceral desire the memory evoked.
Seb stopped and reconsidered his steps. The old estate office was an incongruous mix of antique desk, sofa and rug mixed with metal filing cabinets and shelves full of things no one wanted to throw away but didn't know what else to do with.
Now, with Daisy's reappearance, it was a room with ghosts of its own. Six-week-old ghosts with silken skin, low moans and soft, urgent cries. Taking her back there would be a mistake.
Instead he opened the discreet doors that led into the front of the house. 'Let's go to the library.' It wasn't cowardice that had made him reconsider. It was common sense. His mouth quirked at the corner. 'As you can probably tell, the house hasn't received the memo for the warmest spring in ten years and it takes several months for the chill to dissipate. The library is the warmest room in the whole placeprobably because it's completely non-modernised. The velvet drapes may be dusty and dark but they keep the cold out.'
Daisy adjusted her hat again, her hands still nervous. 'Fine.'
He pushed the heavy wooden door open, standing aside to let her go in first. 'So, this is quite a surprise.'
She flushed, the colour high on her cheekbones. 'A nice one, I hope.' But she didn't meet his eye. He stilled, watching her. Something was going on, something way beyond a desire for his company.
Daisy walked into the oak-panelled room and stood, looking curiously about her. Seb leant against the door for a moment, seeing the room through her eyes; did she find it shabby? Intimidating? It was an odd mixture of both. The overflowing floor-to-ceiling bookshelves covered two of the walls; the dark oak panelling was hung with gloomy family portraits and hunting scenes. Even the fireplace was large enough to roast at least half an ox, the imposing grate flanked by a massive marble lintel. All that the library needed was an irascible old man to occupy one of the wing-back chairs and Little Lord Fauntleroy to come tripping in.
She wandered over to one of the shelves and pulled out a book, dust flying into the air. 'Good to see the owner's a keen reader.'
'Most of the English books have been read. That's the Latin section.'
She tilted her chin. 'Latin or not, they still need dusting.'
'I'll get the footmen right on it. Sit down.' He gestured to a chair. 'Would you like a drink?'
'Will a footman bring it?'
'No.' He allowed himself a smile. 'There's a kettle in that corner. It's a long way from here to the kitchen.'
'Practical. Tea, please. Do you have Earl Grey?'
'Lemon or milk?'
Seating herself gingerly in one of the velvet chairs, the dusty book still in her hand, she raised an elegantly arched eyebrow. 'Lemon? How civilised. Could I just have hot water and lemon, please?'
It only took a minute to make the drinks but the time out was needed. It was unsettling, having her here in his private space, the light floral scent of her, the long legs, the red, red lipstick drawing attention to her wide, full mouth. The problem with burying yourself with work twenty-four-seven, Seb reflected as he sliced the lemon, was that it left you ill prepared for any human interaction. Especially the feminine kind.
Which was rather the point.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Daisy and Seb are drawn to each other from the moment they meet. She is a photographer that is working a wedding at his castle. What Daisy does not know is that Seb is an Earl. Being the child of a rocker and a former runway model was not always easy and Daisy is trying to stay out of the spotlight. That may not be possible when she discovers who he really is and that she is pregnant. Received this book for an honest review and I loved this story. Daisy had a lot of insecurities that she had to overcome and Seb had some of his own. I thought this was a cute and whimsical fairytale.
REAL READER Simple nice modern. Very easy read. I did find the cover odd As the hero was discribed several times (with hair an inch to long) I guess the editing missed that.