Ready Set RogueBy: Manda Collins
The Marquess of Kerr was having a very bad day.
As if breaking an axle on his ancient family traveling carriage on the most deserted portion of the drive from London to the south coast hadn’t been inconvenience enough, there was also the fact that his favorite horse was miles back, tied behind the coach carrying his baggage and valet. To compound his situation, after instructing the coachman and outriders to wait for help, he’d set out on foot for the coaching inn some three miles up the road only for the skies to open up and release a deluge not felt on Earth since the Great Flood, he was convinced.
If it hadn’t been for a chance meeting with his cousin the day before, he’d not have been traveling to the downs at all. But the news that his late aunt Celeste had done what she’d always threatened—left her estate to a bevy of blue stockings—had meant beating a hasty path to her manor house near the village of Little Seaford before any of her hangers-on arrived. At least that had been the plan when he set out. At this rate all four harpies would have descended upon Beauchamp House before he had a chance to so much as hide the silver.
Thus it was that when he reached the Fox and Pheasant he was not only wet, muddy, and exhausted, he was hungry. Which, as his old nanny could attest, made for a very grouchy Torquil, indeed.
Despite the rain, the inn yard was bustling with activity, as the bright yellow mail coach, which had just arrived, released its passengers into the already crowded doorway of the hostelry.
Cursing beneath his breath, Quill elbowed his way through the crowd until the quality of his garments seemed to register with them and, despite their own fatigue, the passengers began to defer to him. All save one.
Had he been in a better mood, he might have noticed the auburn-haired lady’s curvy figure or her warm brown eyes behind her spectacles. But he was too annoyed by her blatant disregard for him as she shoved in front of him carrying a small, but obviously heavy, trunk. And as if that weren’t enough, she had the bad manners to drop the aforementioned trunk directly onto his booted foot as he attempted to slip around her.
“Hell and the devil!” he cursed as the weighty box landed. Despite the thickness of his boots, they were no match for whatever it was she traveled with.
“Oh dear,” the woman said, crouching at once to clutch the handles of the offending thing. “I am so sorry. I should have waited for the coachman, but I was so afraid to leave them, you see. They’re quite valuable.”
But when she heaved on the trunk, it was obvious that she’d need a bit of help lifting it. Wordlessly, Quill pushed away her hand that gripped the handle and took both sides in his own grasp and lifted it.
“What are you carrying in this, madam?” he asked as he jostled it up close to his chest. “It feels as if you’ve weighted it with gold bars.”
It was only then that he took a moment to really look at her. And was intrigued despite his annoyance. She really was quite pretty despite the spectacles and the obviously dated gown.
Before she could respond to his question, however, the innkeeper rushed over. “My lord, I am so sorry you were accosted by this”—he waved his hand in the direction of the lady, as if unable to come up with a suitable description for her, finally settling upon—“person. I’ll have our finest room made up for you at once. Be gone with you, madam. His lordship has no wish to be bothered by the likes of you.”
Wordlessly he gestured to a footman, who stepped forward to take the trunk from Quill, wincing as he did so.
“There’s no need for rudeness, Stepney,” Quill chastised the innkeeper. “It was an accident, nothing more. Please have your man carry the lady’s trunk wherever she has need to take it.”
“Oh that is too kind of you, my lord,” the young woman said with a bright smile. “I would have left them in the coach, but one hears such tales about the mail coach and the thievery that takes place even amongst the passengers. I simply could not risk them. My books are so necessary to my work, you understand.”
As she spoke, Quill noticed that her eyes were a clear green. And at her confession, something clicked into place. Of course. She was a governess. That would explain the spectacles and the books. She was likely on her way to a new position.