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THE LOVE KNOT
by Elisabeth Fairchild
NOW AVAILABLE FOR eBOOK READERS! BUY IT NOW
ISBN # 0-451 18281-2
At Tom Coke's annual sheep shearing, a strange bargain is struck between a finicky aficionado of fine art and a formidable young woman whose gambling brother "Rakehell" has brought her family to the brink of ruin. Miles Fletcher will teach Aurora Ramsay how to woo Lord Walsh, the wealthy landowner she intends to marry, if she will teach him how to manage the property he has just inherited. Awakening desires and unshared secrets create a tangled mess of their well-laid plans, a knot only love can unravel.
What the critics say:
4 1/2 STARS -- "Elisabeth Fairchild writes enchanting tales with lovely, appealing characters. THE LOVE KNOT is no exception. Don't miss this delectable offering."
- Rickey R. Mallory, AFFAIRE de COEUR
4 STARS -- "...an unsual love story with a wonderfully different hero..."
- Melinda Helfer, ROMANTIC TIMES
"Larger than life characters. I found THE LOVE KNOT exciting and suspenseful."
"This is a great Regency romp. Highly recommended."
- Kimberly Borrowdale, UNDER THE COVERS
THE LOVE KNOT, or countryman's favor, is an intricate knot woven of plaited cornstalks, in a loose doubled loop resembling a heart, bound at the bottom with a twist of ribbongrass to several stalks of golden grain. A fertility symbol, the number of stalks indicates the number of babies to come to a couple. The handwoven love knot was offered by a young man to his beloved as a blessing.
LONDON in the spring of 1817
Miles Fletcher suffered not the slightest premonition that a page in his life quietly turned in the hands of Fate. Sunk in one of the comfortable leather chairs at the Travellers' club, blissfully unaware, he was leafing through a book of maps, making careful notes--Hertfordshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk--a seasoned traveller preparing for yet another journey. Miles liked to be prepared. He liked his travels, his very life, to go according to plan.
It was a quiet, mild, rain-scented evening perfumed by the promise of spring, but Miles had closed the door on the smell of freshly-turned soil and green things. Here, no matter the season, the odor that met one's nostrils was that of cigar smoke and colza oil, traveller's pie and a strangely piquant blend of exotic colognes from every corner of the globe. It was a comforting and familiar bouquet.
The languages of at least five different nations could be heard drifting from the card room, but this evening #106 Pall Mall was neither crowded nor noisy. In fact, the bas relief characters in the Roman frieze that encircled the ceiling evidenced more animation than was to be witnessed between the rows of stylish Corinthian columns in the library.
One of the waiters bent to whisper discreetly. "Lord Ware, sir, is here to fetch you."
Miles quietly closed the book of maps. Unhurried, he returned the volume to its proper spot in the shelves that lined the walls. His calm, collected expression evidenced no trace of alarm. Ware had come here to fetch him--here, where he knew he would not be admitted because club members were required to have traversed at least five hundred miles from London in a straight line before they were allowed into the inner sanctum. Ware had never set foot outside of the British Isles. A good and tactful man, he never bothered to 'fetch' Miles unless Lester was become quite unmanageable.
"I hope I did not keep you waiting," Miles said politely, his manner deceptively unruffled as he joined Ware in the entry to the club.
Ware had a worried look. "Sorry to interrupt."
"No need for apology," Miles calmly accepted assistance from a porter in sliding into the fashionably confining coat he could not have donned otherwise. "I daresay my uncle is enjoying a far more lively evening than I am."
Ware's lips tightened. He refrained from answering until the door was opened for them and they had stepped out onto the gaslit steps. There he waited until the door was firmly closed behind them before, with customary verbal economy, he confirmed Miles's worst fears.
"The damned fool is bent on killing himself."
Brooks's Club, Lester Fletcher's favorite haunt, was a livelier, less orderly spot than the somnolent Travellers'. Smoke and conversation hung almost as thick here as the refined air of expectancy one might always encounter in a club where the stakes ran high. Whist, faro, macao and hazard were the games of choice. There were, of course, clubs where one might more speedily dispose of a fortune, but at Brooks's one might do so in the elegant comfort of what appeared to be a rich relative's country home. The Whigs who played here were serious about the gaming that went on in the Great Subscription Room. No Roman friezes enlivened the swagged simplicity of the ceiling at Brooks's. Cavorting gods and goddesses, after all, might distract one from one's cards.
Lester Fletcher was in fine form. Miles was no more than halfway up the white marble stairs to the first floor when he was assailed by the carrying rumble of his uncle's phlegmy laugh. The laugh inevitably turned into a fit of coughing. Miles looked up as he took the risers with a nonchalant haste that left Ware puffing in his wake. Lester's cough sounded worse than usual.
A tall, handsome, freckled fellow with tousled red hair paused at the head of the stairs, as arrested by the cough as Miles had been. His scowling disapproval of the noise was more pronounced.
"Oh dear," Ware murmured breathlessly. "The game is finished."
The gentleman above turned his freckled face in their direction and started down the stairs, still scowling. Miles recognized him. 'Run-Amuck' he was called, 'Run-Amuck' Ramsay. Lester had lost many a hand of faro to the man. He was a serious gamester, a reckless better and a dangerous companion for Lester Fletcher in his current condition.
Ramsay ignored Miles as he passed, but to Ware he drawled with bitter sarcasm, "A pity your friend will not live to enjoy the fortune he has won tonight."
"Winning or losing, Uncle?" Miles said with a studied calmness when he had crossed to the table where his uncle sat laughing and coughing and puffing on a cigar.
"Harumph! Winning, my boy, winning. I would not have it any other way." As he spoke, Lester Fletcher, who knew how unhappy it made his nephew that he so consistently ignored his physician's direction that he stop drinking, gambling and smoking to excess, made a game attempt to hide his cigar and swallow the cloud he was puffing. The result was another coughing spell and a spiral of smoke that issued rather dangerously from the pocket of his waistcoat.
"Here." Miles swept a glass of water from a passing tray and held it above his uncle's pudgy, palsied hand.
"You do not expect me to drink that stuff, do you?" Lester blustered.
"Your pocket is thirsty," Miles coolly dashed the contents of the glass onto the smoking fabric.
"Oh my! Am I on fire then?" Lester began to laugh. The attendant coughing attack was more pronounced than before, but Lester was still smiling and wheezing, "Oh my," when its severity abated.
Miles summoned up a glass of brandy. "Here, take a sip, and see if you cannot still that nasty cough."
Lester Fletcher took the glass without comment. When he had swallowed a sip, as instructed, he smacked his lips in appreciation and tipped up the glass to drink it dry. The glass emptied, he wagged a finger at Miles. "You know my leech has instructed me to forgo brandy, my boy. There are those who will say you mean to claim your inheritance sooner rather than later."
Miles could not smile, though he knew it was his uncle's intention to provoke humor with his remark. "If you are done here," he said, "I would be happy to see you home."
"Home? So early? The night is too young to waste, lad." Miles drew forth his gold pocket watch and consulted the time. "Grace and I are off at first light."
Lester's bloodshot eyes widened. "Ah, yes, the shearing! Completely slipped my mind. Are you packed?" Miles nodded. The watch found its way back into his pocket. "The carriage stands waiting."
"I shall miss you, my boy." The brightness of Lester's smile dimmed. His face went slack, but only for a moment, and then the jaw beneath drooping jowls set itself with surprising firmness. "I've the strongest premonition I shall be setting off on my own unavoidable jaunt soon."
Troubled by the change of his uncle's tone, Miles allowed no hint of his feeling to evidence itself. Lester did not like to be fussed over, even when it came to the matter of his imminent demise. Mildly he suggested, "The trip to Holkham might best be postponed."
Lester would not hear of it. "Do not delay on my account! I would not stay any man's progress in the life I've left me, you know that."
"I do not like to think you so bold as to set off alone, uncle."
His uncle grabbed urgently at his hand. "Never mind tearful good-byes, lad, and bedside vigils. I do not care for them. There's more reason than ever that you should go to the shearing. I cannot set off comfortably either to Heaven or to Hell, until I am sure an innocent lamb has not been fleeced by this evening's good fortune."
"A lamb, sir?"
Lester winked at him. "A devilish pretty lamb, my boy, do not mistake me."