Copyright © Katy Walters Mauris di Serif.
Watching the solicitor’s carriage vanish through an arch of trees, Miss Cassandra Whitney’s head spun. What incredible news. She hastened back past the lavender bushes bordering the narrow garden path, and through the front door, to the living room and kitchen area. Flinging open the door to the back garden, she startled the white and black rooster into crowing noisily, scattering the hens from Cassandra’s path. Raising her voice above their hectic squawking, she cried out, ‘Belle – Belle. Come quickly. I’ve inherited a title – Countess of Rucrofts.’
Belle appeared, carrying a basket of apples; putting them down, she ran towards her. ‘Oh Lord, a countess, I can’t believe it.’
Cassie hugged her. ‘And guess what? A castle – land and villages. I am so excited; I can hardly breathe.’
‘Truly? We’re saved – saved.’ Belle danced on the spot, clapping her hands.
‘Yes, isn’t it exciting? Mr. Caddick said we can move there when it suits us. He warns the castle is almost a ruin, but some of the rooms are habitable. And, there is more, I have an annuity of two thousand pounds a year, so we can renovate some of it.’
Excitedly, Belle spun her sister around. ‘Oh Cassie, we are saved. But who—?’
Reaching her door, he determined to see her inside possibly even more. However, he did understand she was fatigued. Yet, she looked so desirable, her usual defiance or reserve paling into vulnerability. ‘Here, let me,’ he murmured, lifting the heavy latch. Seeing her inside, he led her to a chair. ‘Shall I ring for the maid?’
‘Oh no, not yet, I want some time to myself.’
‘Then let me at least undo those tight laces, he said, a wicked smile on his lips.
Her heart beat a tattoo. Should she turn him away now? In the split second she debated, he swung her around and deftly began undoing the numerous buttons on the back of her dress.
‘Really Max, I can see to the—’
‘Can you?’ he muttered, as he opened the back of her gown, his breath quickened, as he realized she wore no corset.
‘I’m surprised you do not have the usual underwear.’
‘Why should it? I cannot get my breath in tight corsets. Besides, many women no longer wear them. The Empire line has freed us to some extent.’
‘Good show, ugly looking things.’
‘I would have thought with your mistresses you would know such things.’