Overview"A writer of incomparable magic."
SHE WAS A SIMPLE COUNTRY MISS-CAUGHT UP IN A WORLD OF DANGER AND ROMANCE!
Zoe Grainger arrived in London for a Season under the auspices of her dreadfully vain and disagreeable sponsor, Lady Clara Buttershaw. But even the awful Lady Buttershaw could not spoil Zoe's chances for love, especially when a chance encounter threw her in the way of Lieutenant Peregrine Cranford.
And as love embraced Zoe, so did danger. For when Zoe discovered that her brother had become the target of the nefarious League of Jewelled Men, she courageously endeavored to protect him-and the man who had come to claim her heart. . . .
Patricia Veryan is a winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award
from Romantic Times
About the Author
Patricia Veryan was born in England and moved to the United States following World War II. The author of several critically acclaimed Georgian and Regency series, including the Sanguinet Saga, she now lives in Kirkland, Washington.
Read an Excerpt
Never Doubt I Love
By Patricia Veryan
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1995 Patricia Veryan
All rights reserved.
"Mrs. Garter is adventuring again." Zoe Grainger narrowed her clear green eyes and peered down the emerald sweep of hillside to where one sheep had drifted from the flock and was trotting purposefully down the slope and towards the River Windrush.
Aaron Bleckert glanced at the girl who sat on the stone wall beside him on this warm October afternoon, and his lined and leathery countenance twitched into what was almost a smile. "Now then, Miss Zoe," he said in his soft west country voice, "she be a fur piece off from we. How can ye be so assured 'tis Mrs. Garter? Ye'll never be saying as ye can see the band on her leg, or I'll know surely as ye're at yer fancyings again."
Zoe's gaze sparkled at him briefly, then returned to the sheep. "You would be surprised by how far I can see, Aaron. But I do not have to see her garter to know 'tis her. She's the only one will go off alone like that. And how strange it is. Sheep always stay together. I wonder why she does it — and where she thinks she is going."
"Sheep doan't think, Miss. They got nothing in their heads but wool." Aaron knocked the tobacco from his clay pipe, then stuck it between his teeth again. "Most stupid creatures the Almighty ever made. Begging His pardon."
Miss Grainger's smooth brow puckered. "Then you had best send Hops after her else she'll run right into the river."
The sheepdog lying beside them wagged his tail at the sound of his name, but did not turn his head.
"He's watching," said the old shepherd. "He'll go when he sees fit. Mayhap he knows how she likes to have her little escapes, and lets her go as fur as he allows."
The dog sprang up then, and, running with the swift but bouncing gait that had given him his name, was down the slope after the wanderer.
Zoe watched as the sheep was encircled and herded, protesting loudly, back to the safety of the flock.
"Poor thing," she said. "Thwarted again. I wonder if she longs to see far-away places, as my brother did."
"Aye." Aaron chuckled. "She be determined to get to The George in Burford, and take coach fer Lunon Town!"
"Silly creature! They'd never let her inside, and she'd fall off the roof, certainly." They laughed together at the picture this conjured up, then the girl went on, "But only think how narrow her world is, Aaron. There are so many lovely things to be seen. She knows nought of the rest of our countryside — Wychwood, for instance, and its great trees. Or the King's Men and the Whispering Knights —"
"She'd think them no more than old hunks of rock. As they do be," he put in prosaically.
"No, she wouldn't! I've told her all about the king who left his knights for a minute, and how they at once plotted treason and were turned to stone for their wickedness."
"And a waste of breath it were, Miss Zoe. Mrs. Garter bean't one for imaginings, like you do be, and she doan't listen. And if she did would know not a mite more at the end than at the start of it."
"Marplot," said Zoe merrily.
The old shepherd watched the sunlight awaken a shine on her tilted little nose, and strike coppery glints from her luxuriant auburn hair, and a sadness came into his rheumy eyes. "Ye love this west country," he observed.
"Of course I do." She threw her arms out, as if to embrace it. "I was born here. I hope 'twill never change. Do you think it will, Aaron?"
"Nay. Never. Allus were like this. Allus will be, I rackon. Ye'll be the one as changes, Miss Zoe. Ye'll be marrying soon, and going off wi' yer man, and having yer babes, and —"
"Pish! Who would marry me? Men want either a beautiful lady, or a rich one, and I have no fortune and a very ordinary face. And do not be telling raspers and saying I'm a beauty."
"I'll not." He said slowly, "But ye've beauty inside, Miss Zoe. A man with eyes can see it. Nor ye bean't plain, neither. Yer pa should've give ye a Season in Lunon Town so ye could —"
"And so he would have," she said, at once defensive of her father. "If — if Mama had lived." She pushed away the image of her new "Mama," with the tight little mouth, and the lovely eyes that darted malice, and said hurriedly, "The men are reaping the corn today. Do you smell it?" She put back her head and closed her eyes. "Delicious. I only wish ..."
"What d'ye wish, Miss Zoe? To see Lunon Town, as ye should oughta?"
"No. I wish I were ... a little more like one of the knights of old. Brave, and unfearing, even when facing mortal combat with great roaring dragons." She sighed. "I'm afraid I —"
"So this is where you vanished to! I might've known I'd find you here, instead of working at your 'broidery as you were told!"
Zoe jumped from the wall and turned a guilty face to the gentleman who came towards them.
Of no more than average height, Mr. Harvey Grainger was impressive in a superbly tailored blue velvet coat and a quilted blue and white waistcoat. There had been a time when he would have come across the meadows wearing a frieze riding coat, leathers, and top boots, instead of the satin knee breeches and high-heeled shoes that were so out of place in the country. And his thick hair would have been simply tied back, instead of having been cropped to accommodate the wig she knew he loathed. He was only one and fifty, and a handsome man still, but she thought, 'Poor darling. He looks so worn.'
"Oh, I could not stay indoors, Papa," she said, dancing over to seize his arm and beam up at him. "'Tis such a perfect afternoon. And we'll not get many more, I doubt, now that autumn is busied at painting the trees, so I simply had to bring out my sketchbook! See there by the river — the poplars are gold already. And only mark how bronzed the beeches are, and that dear little maple looks so shy I vow 'tis blushing amid —"
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Grainger, whose patience was already strained. "Then you will have some sketches to show your mama, I trust?"
Zoe's lower lip jutted a trifle. She said in a very different voice, "My Mama is —" But she stopped short of saying "dead." The shepherd's wise eyes were on her and of what use to wound her father, who had sufficient reason to repent his folly?
"I'll be off, zur," said Aaron, rising and taking up his crook.
"What?" Mr. Grainger looked at the old man as if only now becoming aware of him, and he added with rather forced affability, "Oh. How do you go on, Bleckert?"
"So sharp and spry as ever was, thankee Mr. Grainger, sir. And sorry if I kept Miss Zoe from her drawings, grousing at her 'bout the hole in me thatch." He touched his brow with grave dignity and, having succeeded in turning his employer's thoughts, limped away, Hops at his side.
Looking after him, Grainger muttered, "Blast!" He found his daughter watching him, her little face unwontedly sober, and he flushed and said testily, "Well, there is no call to look at me as though I were an ogre! The old fellow's roof — er, slipped my mind, is all."
"Of course, Papa," she said loyally. "'Faith, but I wonder you can order your thoughts any more with all Mrs. Mowbray's children clamouring and squabbling and racing about as they do!"
Grainger stifled a sigh. They did clamour. Indeed, they were the most noisy and quarrelsome brats he'd ever seen. The quiet old house was quiet no longer, and, as his bride said, not nearly large enough. If he'd but known — He blocked off such useless repining. "The lady's name is Mrs. Grainger," he reminded. "And you should show her more respect, Zoe. I know you loved your mama — as did I — but I was very — er, lonely after she went to her reward. And — and Mrs. Mow — I mean, Irene, is most solicitous and devoted."
He saw his daughter's mouth opening, and went on hastily, "But never mind that. You must come up to the house now. There is a lady arrived to offer you a great opportunity, and you will want to change your gown and — and do something with your hair. Really, child 'tis unseemly to be rushing about like any country wench, perching on walls, and with no cap on your head! You are a young lady now. Indeed, many girls have one or two children by the age of nineteen. Besides, 'tis past time for you to — to see some more of — er, the world ..."
Gathering her sketchbook and crayons, Zoe was silent, and suddenly she was also cold, and very fearful.
* * *
"Such a splendid thing for the gel, my lady," simpered Mrs. Irene Grainger, her most ingratiating smile pinned to her lips as she poured another cup of tea for her illustrious guest. "So good of you to even consider her. I would have taken her to Town myself long since but," she fluttered her lashes coyly, "I am newly wed, you know, and 'tis hard to break away."
Lady Clara Buttershaw, tall, gaunt, and harsh featured, was perfectly aware that the second Mrs. Grainger had "broken away" to London several times since her marriage, always accompanied by her own two eldest daughters. It went against the grain not to give this silly upstart the set-down she deserved, but my lady controlled her natural impulses, and said, "To say truth, Mrs. Grainger, I have been unable to find a companion for my poor sister. Not a companion who — suits, if you take my meaning. We are, as all London knows, of most distinguished lineage. Indeed, I doubt it could be surpassed — or even equalled throughout the realm. When one is well born one is bred up to standards quite beyond the understanding of less-favoured persons. I insist that those standards be maintained in all our establishments. When we met in Bath last month, and you mentioned your rather cramped quarters here, and the fact that your step-daughter would benefit from some Town — er, polish, why it seemed to offer the ideal solution for both of us." She frowned as the sound of a male voice upraised in anger could be heard. "On the other hand," she added, a glint coming into her hard dark eyes, "if Miss Grainger is for some incomprehensible reason reluctant to accept of my generous offer ..."
Mrs. Grainger practically gabbled assurances that Zoe was "fairly twittering" with eagerness. "She longs to visit the Metropolis, as all girls do, and she is besides, the very kindest creature," she went on, desperate not to lose this opportunity to be rid of the wretched girl. "She is not without accomplishments, ma'am, for she has been properly bred up. She knows her globes, plays the harpsichord adequately, sketches quite well, and has a rare eye for beauty. Though," she shook her pretty head sadly, "I must own it, she is far from being a beauty herself."
"We cannot all be Toasts," my lady allowed. "I well remember my dear Mama warning me in my salad days that I must have compassion for those to whom beauty was denied. For I do not scruple to tell you that I was quite the rage of London. As you will have heard, I am assured."
Transfixed by a challenging stare, Mrs. Grainger had to restrain the impulse to shriek with laughter. She thought, 'Why, you hatchet-faced old crow! The only rage associated with you was — and is — your horrid bad temper!' But she smiled admiringly, and lied, "I have indeed heard of how you took London, and Paris I believe, by storm. My step-daughter will have much to learn from you, dear ma'am. And she is very quick, I promise you, so —"
Lady Buttershaw looked displeased, and her bony hand shot up in an autocratic demand for silence. "You do not say that she is clever, I trust? I cannot abide clever gels!"
Mrs. Grainger laughed merrily, saw disapproval on the austere countenance of her guest, and at once strangled the laugh. Zoe was far from clever, she declared. Indeed, she was quite stupid, for she had rejected several unexceptionable suitors. "Still, she is amiable enough and will, I am very sure, be deeply appreciative of the honour you do her, dear Lady Buttershaw!"
This opinion was not shared by her spouse, who at that moment was on the verge of losing his temper with his far-from-appreciative daughter. "Of course I love you," he reiterated, pacing nervously about Zoe's bedchamber. "Have I not said it? 'Tis because I care so much for — for your well-being that I have accepted Lady Buttershaw's very kind offer."
"A very kind offer to obtain an unpaid servant," argued Zoe, trying desperately not to cry. "You know how much I love you, Papa, and — and my home. You never minded in days past that I had not found a gentleman I cared for. You used to say you needed me here after dearest Mama went to her reward. But now, because that — that woman wants me gone, you have let her six nasty children come and turn out your own —"
"That — will — do!" Scourged by these home truths, Harvey Grainger took refuge in anger. "You have resented Irene since first we met. I know you were deeply attached to your mama, and I have tried to make allowances for your jealousy and — er, and sullenness. But it cannot continue. Irene is my wife now, and — and no house can have two mistresses."
Zoe wrung her hands, and pleaded, "But it is not true, Papa! You know I never have interfered with her changes — no matter how silly they were! I never have been rude or said one word, even when her ill-behaved brats were —"
"You have usurped her authority at every turn! The servants resent her for your sake. And if 'tis true that you say nothing, your manner, your very silence is — is a criticism, and she feels it, for she is sensitive and highly strung."
"But — dearest Papa, I —"
The tears that trembled on her lashes, the pleading in her green eyes were upsetting Mr. Grainger. Besides which, he was finding it hard to remember all the other accusations Irene had listed with such martyred pathos. He interposed with the force of desperation, "No, never argue, Zoe. You do but make it more difficult for both of us. I have kept you cooped up here much too long, when you should have been in Town learning to behave as a young lady of quality. And only look at the result! All your friends are wed and setting up their nurseries, while you moon over silly novels, and likely believe such romantic adventures really happen. Which I can assure you they do not! And even if they do," he added, weakening his position, "you'll not find them while you hobnob with farm hands and village people, or go riding in the rain and come home, as you did last week, looking like a drowned rat!"
"I suppose Mrs. Mowbray said that!" inserted Zoe rebelliously. "I doubt she could mount a horse even were three strong men to lift —"
"When I found you with old Bleckert this afternoon," her father over-rode, raising his voice, "you looked more like a common dairymaid than Miss Grainger of Travisford! Irene says — I mean — Oh, I'll not wrap it in clean linen — if you are unwed 'tis because no gentleman worth the name wants a madcap and unbridled country bumpkin for a bride!"
That barb went home painfully, and it was all Zoe could do to plead, "Then if you must be — be rid of me, let me go to live with Aunt Minerva, Papa! I do not know Lady Buttershaw, nor her sister. At least let me stay with my own family, I beg you!"
This had, in fact, been Mr. Grainger's intention. His Irene had been quick to point out, however, that if Zoe moved into her aunt's country home so soon after her papa's remarriage, people were bound to think she had been made to feel unwanted, and would likely blame the new bride for that circumstance. On the other hand, to be invited to stay at the Town residence of so proud a pair as Lady Clara Buttershaw and Lady Julia Yerville, the daughters of an earl, would be judged a notable achievement.
"The decision has been made," he said with finality. "There is nothing more to be said, save Godspeed, and — and take care little ... Zoe ..."
She stretched out her arms. Tears streaked down, and her ruddy lips quivered pathetically.
Mr. Grainger really was very fond of her. He hugged her briefly, and fled, pausing in the passage to tear off his wig and mop his perspiring head.
* * *
The portmanteau, the band boxes, and the valises stood in a neat row beside the door. Sitting on the bed, staring at them numbly, Zoe heard wheels on the drivepath. She went to the window and looked down at the great coach and the four matched chestnuts who snorted and stamped and fidgeted, eager to be gone.
Excerpted from Never Doubt I Love by Patricia Veryan. Copyright © 1995 Patricia Veryan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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