"Yours Sincerely, Rose" Sample
***Horses, Hounds, & Happily Ever After is a compilation of twenty historical romance novellas. All proceeds go to support All Seated in a Barn--a not-for-profit that rescues horses and other animals intended for slaughter. It releases May 3rd, 2022.
March 28, 1811
Town is not the same without you. And though I understand your reasons for remaining at Berkley Manor for the Season, I cannot help but wish you were here. Despite your generosity in letting us stay in your London house, it feels strange being in Town without you, my most beloved friend, to keep me company.
It does not help that the soirees and assemblies Mother forces me to attend are an utter bore, and yet the ennui of these events is nothing to the gentlemen she presses me to dance with. What I wouldn’t do to sit with you instead, creating stories of the lives of those in attendance. The one you imagined for old Mr. Clayton still makes me laugh each time I see him. Oh, how desperately I miss you.
Though, in truth, I am not certain you deserve to remain in my high opinion. I have not received one letter from you during my time in London! If it is because of my parents, perhaps you might conceal a message in one of your correspondences with Mrs. Kempt. She sings your praises without reserve, to my mother’s chagrin and my endless amusement. I am certain she would not betray us.
But enough of my woeful condition. What of you? How is your sweet mother? How is your leg? I hope Doctor Munro is no longer demanding you remained sequestered you in your room. He is perfectly medieval in his practices, and I do not only say that because I despise the man. Which I admittedly do. Two nights ago, I was at a dinner party where a young doctor spoke about new medical research in treating patients with chronic maladies. Though I regret I could not hear the whole of the conversation from where I was eavesdropping, I did overhear him say the benefits of fresh air and sunshine cannot be overstated. Perhaps you could do your afternoon readings out of doors now that the weather makes it permissible. It would likely do both you and your mother good.
Give my love to her. Only three more months and I shall be with you both again.
April 26, 1811
From your lack of correspondence, I’ve concluded that you disapprove of my writing to you. Five letters sent during my stay in Town and not a word in return. Your silence may be well intentioned, but I cannot help but be honest with you: I think it odd that you would care to follow Society’s expectations now, after a lifetime of notes and letters being passed between us. But as there is no other logical explanation, I am forced to think you a ninny.
Unless something is amiss. Is all well with you and your mother? I pray it is.
May 2, 1811
I am writing to you only because I could not allow you to think there is anything amiss with Mother or me. We are both well, all things considered. But, since it seems wasteful to leave it at that, I must also mention that though I have always adored your unabashed honesty, I’m less inclined to appreciate your thinking me a ninny when I am employing every bit of restraint to adhere to your parents’ request of letting you alone for the Season. You are in London to make a grand match. Remain focused on the task at hand, for I would be remiss if I were to stand in your way to a lifetime of marital bliss . . . yet again.
Your obedient servant,
P.S. Mother asked me to thank you for the suggestion of doing our afternoon readings out of doors, despite Doctor Munro’s orders. It has improved our spirits greatly, as you knew it would.
May 14, 1811
How good it was to hear from you despite the briefness of your letter and the irony of how you signed it—your obedient servant. A truer statement would have been: your parents’ obedient servant. I must say that I’m glad to hear that your health is unchanged. That, and that the secret delivery of your note seemed to thrill your housekeeper. I do believe we have a champion of our clandestine correspondence in Mrs. Kempt. Do utilize her support.
As for me, Mother has again set her sights on a gentleman for me to marry. Mr. Reeves is one of Father’s contemporaries in the House of Commons. He is kind, but I have no interest in him outside of friendship. And yet, Mother’s efforts are relentless, considering he has a large estate in Sussex and he is a Whig. I try not to find offense in the idea that Mother would wish her only child to settle several days’ travel from Havencrest. If it were up to me, I should like to remain much closer to home. Perhaps you might know of a suitor at a neighboring estate upon whom I might place my affections? I hear the owner of Berkley Manor is a superior catch and not yet married.
We shall be visiting the Royal Menagerie with Mr. Reeves today. I’m assuming Mother suggested the venue as a tactic to get me to agree. If only animals were not my weakness! But I heard they have a Bengal Tiger on display, and I would be loath to miss seeing it. Speaking of animals, how is your little farm at Berkley Manor? Have you procured any new additions in my absence? Are the horses being well tended or do you still sneak them carrots when you ought not? And what of Hector’s training? Has he learned any manners or should I expect to be pounced upon on my return? Only two months more and I can see them all again. And your mother. And, most especially, you.
June 8, 1811
Despite my better judgment, I could not forego writing to inform you that I shall have a surprise awaiting you when you return. I am certain I shall forever remain your favorite person after this.
Your parents’ (mostly) obedient servant,
P.S. Hector has taken well to training. That being said, I cannot promise his excitement will not get the better of him when he first sees you. But I can hardly blame the pup.
June 18, 1811
Why must you tease me so? What an awful, heartless thing to do, dangling the idea of a surprise before me without any hints as to what it might be—particularly when I still have five unbearable weeks before my return. But, knowing you, that is precisely what you hoped to achieve: diverting even more of my thoughts in your direction. Well, I must congratulate you, for you have done an ample job.
Mr. Reeves has been spending far too much time with us and, in my opinion, far too much money on flower arrangements to fill the entryway to your townhouse. The smell is overpowering and makes my nose tickle incessantly. Though I will admit I had a splendid time witnessing the ascent of a hot-air balloon at Mr. Reeves’ insistence. What it must feel like to be an aeronaut—above the world like a bird—free and without cares. If only it could have been you there with me.
July 10, 1811
The surprise you mentioned had best be extraordinary if you wish to be spared my vexation over the oath of silence you’ve maintained during my stay in Town; for, at this point, I am planning on not speaking to you for well over a fortnight when I return. No—longer!
Alas, if I had other friends, I would not even be writing to you now. But as I must tell someone of my frustrations, I am forced to surrender my own newly formed oath of silence. Mr. Reeves has proposed. And as much as you deserve to stew in anguish over what my answer was, I know all too well the pangs of uncertainty. That, and I am obviously a far more charitable person than some.
Therefore, I will inform you that I have denied him. My mother has not spoken to me since my refusal, as you can well imagine. I overheard her attempting to convince Father that, instead of returning to Havencrest next week, we should remain in London until I change my mind or another suitable marriage has been arranged for me. As though I am so weak-willed as that. My mind is made up, and I will not be swayed by any of you.
Please, I beg of you, inform my parents that you will not allow them to extend our stay in your townhouse. Give whatever excuse you must. I want to come home. I want to be in the place I love best—with you.
July 19, 1811
While I’m sworn to indifference regarding your courtships, I must admit I am grateful you are of a more charitable nature than myself. I did not deserve the kindness of knowing your answer to Mr. Reeves’ offer, but, regardless, I thank you for it.
As for my townhouse, it was no easy feat to find someone to rent it on such short notice, but, for you, I accomplished the task and informed your parents of the unfortunate situation. I shall see you one week from today, and I hope that my surprise is grand enough to prevent the miserable prospect of your not speaking to me.
Your obedient servant,
July 23, 1811
All has gone terribly amiss. As we are leaving this very day for Havencrest, I don’t have time to write of all that has transpired these past few days, nor am I certain I have the strength to reflect on it at present; yet, I could not forego sending a letter ahead of my arrival to prepare you for the bitter news: I am betrothed to Mr. Reeves. Oh, Colin, what am I to do?
The carriage rumbled up our drive, and I tensed in anticipation of the freedom I so desperately needed. Two days of travel had never felt so long, and I was nearly as eager to be rid of the oppressive cab as I was to escape Mother’s never-ending comments about my impending nuptials. Nuptials I had no intention of allowing to take place.
Mother glanced out the window before returning her focus to me. “There is much to do before your father and Mr. Reeves join us next week, but with your assistance, I am certain we can manage it. I have already written to the rector about reading the banns.” Mother’s words floated in the space between us, and I left them there. “Rosalind, dear? Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
The passing scenery outside the window slowed, then came to a halt. My saving grace. I threw the door open.
“What in heaven’s name?” Mother reached for me, but I was too quick.
I cleared the doorway and landed with a thud on both feet. A jolt of pain surged up my legs, but there was no time to stop. “I must speak to Colin.”
“You are a betrothed woman,” Mother called from the open door. “It is no longer proper for you to speak with him unchaperoned.”
I glanced over my shoulder, knowing an argument about such a preposterous notion would only delay me. “Very well. His mother will likely be there.”
“Likely? Rosalind. Stop this instant!”
I continued forward at a quickened pace, not sparing a backward glance.
“Rosalind Elizabeth Durnham!” Mother’s shrill call followed me as I maneuvered over the dry-stone wall of the pasture that separated Havencrest Hall from Berkley Manor.
I should have felt remorse for my blatant disobedience, but such an emotion failed to appear. The way Mother had carried on about Mr. Reeves these past few days was unforgivable. Especially when not one word had been uttered as to what she expected me to sacrifice in order to save our family from scandal. I would not give up Colin for anything.
Sheep dotted the green pasture that led up to the light stone house with ivy creeping up the sides. Berkley Manor. What a welcome sight. And yet, with each step, my chest grew tighter. Instinctively, my fingers settled on the familiar gold ring, roving over the intricate pattern and turning it mindlessly. What would Colin say when he first saw me? Would the news of my betrothal finally help him see the error of his stubborn pride? Either way, I was glad I had prepared him. I could not bear to witness his excitement at our reunion only to have it dashed by the upsetting discovery.
I stepped through the gate and secured it, when a movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention. Hector bounded toward me, tongue hanging from his mouth and his hefty, black form gleaming in the sunlight.
“Hector.” I braced myself for impact, but, to my amazement, he came to a stop just before me. His thick tail wagged rapidly, and his eyes were bright with excitement. “What a good boy.” I took hold of his large head and rubbed the spot behind his ears that I knew to be his favorite. “And look how big you’ve grown. You must weigh nearly as much as me now.”
My gaze shot toward the sound of the voice I loved best in all the world. Colin had emerged around the rear of Berkley
Manor with his mother at his side. He paused, raised his crutch, and waved it. The genuine smile that lit his dark, handsome features filled me with undeniable hope.
“Come, Hector.” I gave a sound pat on my thigh, and without a second thought, I lifted my skirts and ran.
Colin positioned his crutch on his good side but moved it in rhythm with his lame leg, making his movements considerably more fluid than when last I’d seen him walk. His steps were still careful and his left foot dragged on the ground, but it was a vast improvement. Was this his surprise, then? And if so, did it mean that he intended to retract his refusal to marry me? Such news would certainly strengthen his position as my favorite person.
I ran faster, my legs and my lungs burning at the effort. When I drew near Colin, I lunged forward, wrapping my arms around his middle and nearly sending him off balance. He recovered with a laugh, and I buried my head in his chest, breathing him in.
“Oh, Colin! How I’ve missed you.”
He wrapped the arm not supporting his weight tightly around me and leaned his cheek onto my forehead. “You returned earlier than I expected. Not that I’ll complain, mind you, but I thought you were to arrive the day after tomorrow.”
I pulled back, craning my neck to look up at him. “Did you not receive my letter?”
He gave a sideways grin that very nearly distracted me from my exasperation. “To which letter do you refer? I received several.”
I blinked, taking a step back and dropping my arms. “The one I sent two days past. The postmaster assured me it would arrive before I did.”
He gave his mother an uncertain glance when she stepped up next to us. “The post has not arrived today, has it?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Not as of yet.”
My heart dropped. Colin’s excitement at seeing me was simply that and nothing more.
His eyes skimmed over my sober expression with far too much discernment. “Has something gone awry?”
Unwilling to let him discover the truth in my eyes, I dropped my gaze to where Hector sat watching us. The pup breathed heavily from the exertion of running, yet his tail wagged, pushing aside the gravel as it swept over the walkway. What would it be like to find happiness so easily?
“Rose?” Colin brushed his fingertips down my arm. Electricity pulsed through me, drawing my attention back to him. “What is the matter?”
How was I to tell Colin? This was exactly why I had written him of the betrothal. I could not find the words. Not here. Not in front of his mother. “I . . . well, it is that . . .” I glanced at Mrs. Stewart’s concerned expression, then back at Colin’s, before giving a dismissive wave of my hand. “We can discuss it later.” I forced out a smile and turned to Mrs. Stewart. “And how are you? You look very well indeed.”
Her cheeks turned pink, and she tucked some loose strands of hair into her low-set chignon. “That cannot be the truth of it, but my spirits are much improved now that you are here.” She leaned in to place a kiss upon my cheek. “I have missed you immensely, my dear. Nearly as much as Colin.”
Colin sent his mother a disapproving glance, but she only smiled.
“Are you ready for your surprise, Rose?” Colin took care in pivoting back toward the direction from which they’d come and ensured his footing was sound. “I fear it must be now or I will surely give it away in my excitement.”
I quirked my head to the side. “Is not the improvement in your walking the surprise? I am all astonishment at how well you look.”
Colin lifted his left arm to me. “As though I would get your hopes up for such a trivial matter as that.”
“Well then, if you consider that a trivial matter, I should very much like to see what other surprise you have in store for me.” I threaded my arm through his, and we started forward at a slow, rhythmic pace. Mrs. Stewart stepped in next to us, and Hector lolloped ahead. “Besides, I do think your progress worthy of being called a surprise, considering it caused me to speak to you. I assure you, I was fully intending not to after the way you vexed me.”
He laughed. “Ah. So I must hope that my surprise is up to the mark, or I will be condemned to your silence for the rest of summer?”
“You would deserve it.” I gave an overdone sigh. “But you well know I could never follow through with such a threat. I simply cannot keep away from you . . . at least not when it is my choice.” Without permission, my thoughts drifted to what Colin’s and my relationship would soon be if I could not find a way out of this betrothal with Mr. Reeves. I tightened my grip on Colin’s arm, as though that would prevent my leaving.
“Rose?” Colin’s attention was on me again, his brows hanging heavily over his dark eyes.
“It is nothing.” Before he could decipher more, I set my attention forward. “And where are we headed?”
Colin leaned close. “Patience, my Rose.” My heart fluttered at his endearment. It felt like ages since he’d called me that. Ages since he’d allowed himself near enough for his breath to caress my skin. And yet, at the subtlest of reminders of the relationship we’d once had, my whole being awoke with undiminished longing.
I drew in a slow, steadying breath. “You know well that patience has never been my strongest virtue.”
He gave a hearty chuckle, forcing a reluctant smile from me. “And yet if I give in to your every request as I’m inclined to do, it will never grow in strength.”
My eyes widened. “What of all those letters I requested while I was in Town? You didn’t give in to me then.”
Colin dipped his chin, his smile lessening a touch. “You know I would have written if—”
“Mrs. Stewart,” I interrupted, looking past him to where his mother walked. “I cannot think that you were supportive of Colin’s refusal to write to me while I was in Town. Were you?”
Her eyes, brown and only a shade lighter than Colin’s, sparkled in the sunlight. “After all the letters the two of you have exchanged over your lifetime? I think not.”
I returned my accusatory gaze to Colin, though I kept my voice light. “That is two women you disappointed for the sake of my parents. Surely our happiness should take precedence over theirs, being that one is the happiness of your own mother and the other that of your dearest . . . friend.”
“And is my word to mean nothing?”
I met his apologetic gaze with fervor, my steps halting. “You should never have given it in the first place.” My tone had changed, and it took me several sharp breaths to collect my senses. In the embarrassment that followed my outburst, I again glanced at Mrs. Stewart. “Forgive me. I should not have . . .”
“There is no need to apologize, child.” She clasped her hands in front of her, her gaze moving between us. “In truth, I feel I have quite exerted myself for the day. And as it seems the two of you have some things to discuss, I will excuse myself and leave you here.”
She took a step away, and I reached out a hand toward her. “I did not mean to ruin the surprise.” Why did I always allow my emotions to dictate my actions? “Colin and I can discuss his lamentable choice later.”
She placed a delicate hand over mine. “Colin’s surprise will be more fully enjoyed after the air between the two of you has been cleared. Besides, I will hear all about your reaction when he returns. You know how Colin can paint a picture with his words.”
I gave a half-hearted nod, not feeling the least bit consoled by her kindness.
“There will be tea ready at the house when you have finished.” Mrs. Stewart patted my hand once more.
Colin and I gave our thanks in unison and, in strained silence, watched her depart. Hector caught sight of Mrs. Stewart and trotted after her, only pausing once to look back at us. When Mrs. Stewart called to him, he obediently followed.
“It seems Hector has taken well to his training.” I knew it was not the time for such conversation, but at this moment, trivial chatter seemed preferable to what needed to be said.
“He has.” Colin’s hand grasped mine, the intimate gesture stealing my breath. “Forgive me for not writing to you, Rose. I was simply trying to do what I thought best.”
With his all too familiar reasoning, my pleasure at his nearness turned to an irksome prickling sensation. “Why have you deemed yourself the person responsible for deciding what is best for me?” A swell of emotion bubbled within my chest.
“Despite what everyone thinks, I am capable of making my own choices.”
I shook my head, quieting him. Uninvited tears pricked at my vision—tears of frustration at not being heard for far too long. Not by Colin. Not by my parents. And not by Mr. Reeves. “And yet now, because of your stubbornness and unwillingness to accept my decision, I am to be married to a man I do not love.”
Colin’s hand fell to his side. His body swayed ever so slightly, and his face turned ashen. “I thought you had declined Mr. Reeves’ suit.”
A tear made its escape, and I brushed it from my cheek. “It turns out one has little choice in such matters if they are to prevent a scandal.”