Every Saturday I feature a first meeting from the book of a guest author. This week Linda McLaughlin shares an excerpt from her sweet Regency romance Lady Elinor’s Escape.
SETUP OF SCENE: Lady Elinor Ashworth always longed for adventure, but when she runs away from her abusive aunt, she finds more than she bargained for.
There were too many women in Stephen Chaplin’s life. He had just gotten rid of one, and the last thing he needed was another.
He set his mug of coffee on the breakfast table and closed his eyes. Not again.
Though he tried to ignore the agitated female who had just burst through the doorway to the Horse and Cart Inn as if the hounds of hell were after her, he could not help overhearing her conversation. She was in trouble. He’d wager his last shilling on it.
“Was that the mail coach that just passed?” she wailed.
“Yes, madam, not three minutes ago,” the landlord replied, a worried look on his kindly face.
“Why did it not stop?”
“Oh, madam, the mail coach don’t stop ’til it gets to Chippenham.”
“When is the next coach to London?” she asked, a tremble in her voice.
“This afternoon, madam.”
“Oh, no, I cannot wait that long. I must leave for London as soon as may be.”
Hearing the desperation in her voice, Stephen opened his eyes and debated whether or not to offer to help. He had never been able to turn away from a distressed female, and this lady, for lady she must be to judge by the cultured tones of her voice, clearly required assistance. She was probably a widow, since she was dressed in black from head to toe. Her plain bombazine dress and cloak appeared to be at least two years out of fashion and the half boots peeking from under her skirt were scuffed. She sounded young, but it was difficult to tell, for a veil fell from the brim of the most hideous poke bonnet he had ever seen concealing her face. He could only conclude she was running away from something. Or more likely someone.
As he pushed away the remnants of his breakfast, the landlady approached. She was an older version of Nancy, with the same pale blue eyes and graying blonde hair under her white cap.
“Can I get you something more, Mr. Chaplin?”
“No, thank you, Mrs. Wainwright. I’ve eaten my fill and then some.”
“Well, sir, me and Mr. Wainwright can’t thank ye enough for bringing our Nancy home to us.” She dabbed her eye with the corner of her apron.
“I am very pleased I could help out,” he said with a slight bow of his head. “And I do thank you for the accommodations and meals.”
The Wainwrights had been so glad to have their daughter restored to them, they had ensconced Stephen in their best room at no charge.
“Tell me, Mrs. Wainwright, what do you know of the lady who just walked in?”
“Never seen her before,” the landlady said with a sniff. “But then, she could be me own sister and I’d never know it, dressed like that. Up to something, she is, I’ll wager.”
“Or very much in need of aid, like your Nancy a few weeks ago.”
Mrs. Wainwright gave him a startled look. “Oh, Lord bless ye, Mr. Chaplin, ye’re likely right about that. Shall I go talk to the poor lamb?”
“You have work to do,” Stephen said. “Why do I not see what can be done?”
He pulled on tan leather gloves, then stood and walked toward the lady in black. “Excuse me, madam, but I could not help overhearing you say that you must leave for London immediately. Allow me to introduce myself. Stephen Chaplin, Esquire, at your service.”
Elinor turned to face the gentleman who had suddenly appeared. She stared at him through a haze of black, taking advantage of her veil to get a closer look at this tall, dark-haired, seemingly well bred gentleman. He was above average height, with finely chiseled features, and while he could not, strictly speaking, be deemed handsome, there was something in the intense scrutiny of his light brown eyes that drew her to him. By the cut of his bottle green Superfine coat, which emphasized his broad shoulders but was not so tight as to hamper movement, and his casually tied neckcloth, she surmised he was no society dandy.
“How do you do?” she said politely, extending one black-gloved hand.
“Fine, thank you.”
As he took her hand and bowed over it, Elinor savored the warmth of his touch for a moment. It had been a long time since someone had touched her out of kindness. Suddenly realizing she was clutching his hand, she withdrew hers. He studied her, his gaze seeming to penetrate the veil, and she could only stand like the veriest lump under his scrutiny.
“I beg your pardon, madam, but what did you say your name was?”
“Eli—” Elinor broke off and feigned a cough, panic bubbling up inside. Her name. Dear heavens, she needed a new name. If she told him who she was, he would never agree to take her to Mimi. She stared down at the gentleman’s yellow nankeen trousers and shiny brown boots. “Brown,” she stammered. “Ellie Brown.”
“Mrs. Brown, may I offer my assistance? I’m heading for London myself and would be pleased to convey you as far as Chippenham, where you may pick up another stage coach.”
Relief flooded through her at his offer, but could she trust him? No proper young lady rides in a closed carriage with a gentleman who is not related to her. The words of her governess rang in her ears. “I do not think—”
“Of course, you are cautious,” he interrupted smoothly. “Any genteel lady would hesitate to trust a strange gentleman.”
END OF EXCERPT
To celebrate the reissue of Lady Elinor’s Escape, I’m giving away a $10.00 gift certificate of the winner’s choice: Amazon, BN, Starbucks, etc. Winner will be notified on May 6. There are several ways to enter.
1) Leave a comment here. If you are commenting anonymously, please leave an email address so I can find you if you win!
Linda McLaughlin aka Lyndi Lamont.
Thank you for visiting today, Linda!