In about eight weeks, the first book in a Lady’s Wish series, An Unexpected Wish, will be released upon the world. Here’s a chance to read a sample of it before it’s available. Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter. I’ll have a special give away for my newsletter subscribers.
Here’s the opening chapter:
“I hereby decree the word spinster be stricken from all manner of speech.” Anne Townsend waved her makeshift wand from her perch at the top of the Fairy Steps. She cleared her voice in her most royal manner. “Furthermore, the word shall be stricken from every document in my fair kingdom!” The small village of Beetham shimmered in the gold cast of the late autumn sun, completely unaffected by her pronouncement.
Typical. She threw the stick down the uneven stones she’d just climbed.
Plain, practical, boring Anne
Was too plain to catch a man.
If she caught the eye of one,
To her sister he would run.
The truth of the stupid childhood taunt stared back at her every blasted day. She was plain. She’d never attracted any man she deemed suitable. It wasn’t as if she was being picky. He just had to be reasonably wealthy, reasonably handsome, reasonably witty, and not stupid.
Therein lay the difficulty. No man had met all the requirements. If he was handsome, he was either poor or witless. If he wasn’t handsome, he had funds and was as old as the Fairy Steps.
It was of little matter. A modern woman made the best of things. Modern women didn’t settle for some old shriveled-up man. And she would be a modern woman if it killed her.
Five years ago, the lure of magic in the Fairy Steps had stirred her romantic heart. A wish could fix anything: poverty, loneliness, and love. God, what a ninny she’d been.
The only thing that fixed poverty and loneliness was money.
Daily her sisters, Sophia and Juliet, whined about their lack of funds. They argued over stupid ribbons. They complained about their old, unfashionable dresses. Her sisters had no inkling of the trouble they were in.
They needed fuel for the approaching winter, food for larder, and coins to pay the two servants Anne couldn’t do without. It took blunt. Blunt was what she needed more than anything.
If the confounded fairy showed up today, Anne wouldn’t hesitate. She’d wish for the ready. Pots of it.
Anne closed her eyes and embraced the rare moment of peace. No arguing, whining, bickering, nagging, tormenting, or complaining. Just beautiful, glorious silence.
A cold gust of wind blew the tendrils of hair from her face and chased a shiver up her spine. Dried leaves rattled behind her as they skated across the rock. A twig snapped behind her.
Her eyes flew open. She wasn’t alone.
Anne’s heart pounded so hard she could hear it thumping in her ears. Hair lifted on the back of her neck. Anger warred with fear. Anger won.
She picked up a good-sized limb from the ground and gripped it with both hands. “Show yourself, coward.”
“Speak your heart’s desire, my lady.” An odd, otherworldly voice filled the air. The breeze kicked up again.
Anne tightened her grip on the tree limb. She threw her shoulders back and stood taller. She wasn’t going down without a fight.
“You climbed the steps properly and earned a wish, you have.” The voice cackled.
She lowered her arm. Blast, this was nothing but a prank. Probably some child bribed by Sophia. She’d box the child’s ears and send him on his way. She’d deal with her sister when she got home. “The joke is over. Come on out.”
“’Tis a magical place you’ve found, as well you know for the many times you’ve climbed these steps.” The crackling voice sounded old, not childlike.
“Enough!” Anne was sick to death of being the whipping boy.
A wizened, bent old woman with a twisted cane shuffled out of the trees at the foot of the stairs. “Always you must see to believe.”
“You must think me dicked in the nob, madam. There are no fairies.” Anne threw the limb into the bushes behind her. “Be gone now, and tell my sister Sophia to try harder next time.”
“How hasty and untrusting you young people are. Make your wish, child.”
Anne studied the old lady. She looked like one of the gypsies who came around at harvest time. How much coin had she bilked out of Sophia for this prank? “Fine. I wish you to be gone.”
The old woman cackled. “I should take you up on that, but your heart speaks differently. It speaks of struggle and loneliness.”
What did this woman know of her life? “I’m sick of this game. Good day, ma’am.” Anne turned toward the path.
“Wish for anything, my lady. Wish grandly.” A gleeful, wicked light gleamed in the old woman’s eyes. She lifted her cane and jabbed it toward Anne. “Little wishes are for little souls. They are not for the likes of you. Now wish. You are wasting my time.”
Well, rats, she might as well wish for something. It would shut the woman up, everyone would have their fun, and Anne could go home.
“Perhaps a prince? Grand properties? Great beauty?” the old woman teased.
Anne dropped her hands and glared at the old hag. “You are bamming me.”
“Anything is possible, miss.” The old lady cackled. “You’ll never know, if you don’t believe.”
Anne had the old woman now. She’d make the wish so impossible, so farfetched, that it couldn’t be fulfilled. No fairy magic could conjure love. Everyone knew that. The mad woman would look like a fool. “Very Well. I wish for a handsome man so rich that will be able to provide a Season in Town for my sisters. He must also be passionately in love with me.”
“Done!” the old lady crowed.
“You cannot be serious!” Anne turned to glower down at the old lady who had just taken the fun out of the game, but found no one there. “Well, rats, where did she go?”
Dried leaves danced where the old bat had stood. Maniacal laughter echoed in the wind. The old witch probably knew the game was up.
“How stupid do they think I am?” Perfect. Now she was talking to herself. Her sisters were going to drive her crazy. “Wishes, indeed.”
“Were you granted a wish? Or are you the fairy?” A deep male voice, filled with laughter, echoed up the stone steps.
So much for peace and tranquility. Suddenly the Fairy Steps were the most popular place in Beetham.
With a huff, Anne leaned over the edge of the steps. Her mouth fell open. At the foot of the steps, seated on a large black horse, was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Gorgeous, dark wavy hair curled around his high collar. Blue eyes danced with laughter. A navy blue coat had been tailored just right to fit his broad shoulders. Tight-fitting buckskin breeches outlined muscular legs. Thank you, Providence, for buckskins, thought Anne.
She swallowed to ease the dryness in her throat. “Excuse me, sir, did you pass an old lady on your way up the path?”
He smiled and those crinkles appeared around his blue-blue eyes. Anne fought the urge to swoon. Seriously? No man made her swoon. She looked down at his face again and fought the urge to gape.
“Depends. Are you the wisher or the fairy?” The elegant tone of his voice echoed a bit against all that stone.
Anne was done with being the ball for the bat. It was outside of enough. She crossed her arms over her chest. “Sir, if you didn’t pass her, then just say so.”
His smile fell and he shook his head. “An unbeliever.”
“There is nothing wrong with being sensible.”
“You are right, of course. Perhaps the fairy will grant you a wish for some fun in your life.”
Good Lord, Anne hoped the fairy didn’t hear that statement. She’d probably take it on as a challenge. Sophia was forever accusing Anne of extracting all the fun out of life. “Who are you?”
She cursed her propensity to speak before thinking. His face grew hard at her rudeness. Anne pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. Her embarrassment aside, no one came to Beetham without a reason for being here. It was ten days from London and so far off the main road, it rarely showed up on a map of the area.
“Nathaniel Matthews, at your service, ma’am.” He touched his hat.
Oh no, he definitely had a reason. Anne’s heart tripped in her chest. Her stomach clenched. He wasn’t here for pleasure. He was here to stop the engagement.
“You’re Lady Danford’s grandson.”
“Yes, ma’am. She is my maternal grandmother.”
His tone hit her like the cold November wind blowing off the steps. She shivered and wrapped her shawl a bit tighter around her.
“Why are you at the Fairy Steps?” She narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re lost.”
He had the grace to blush. “It’s been a while since I’ve been here.”
What man couldn’t find his way home? Men were supposed to be good at directions. It was probably more likely he was too busy to call on his grandmother. Did he not know how lucky he was to have her? “Take the path back to the lane. The Lodge is down farther, to the right.”
His dark eyes flashed. “Thank you, Miss—You didn’t tell me your name.” His tone, saber sharp, cut through her skin to the fear she buried deep. This was not a man to cross.
“Anne Townsend.” She dipped a curtsy.
“Thank you, Miss Townsend.” He tipped his hat again. “Perhaps we shall see each other again?”
“I’m sure we will, sir.” He reined in his horse and turned toward the lane. Anne watched him disappear into the woods. Blast. As if things couldn’t get any worse, she’d just angered the one man who could make or break the match that would save her family. She just couldn’t keep her mouth shut.
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