CHARLOTTE Palmer woke long before dawn and lay in the not-quite-dark of
midsummer listening as the night sounds were gradually overlaid by the
birds stirring and trying their early morning voices.
She had toured the house the evening before when everyone had gone and
it was quiet, saying goodbye to the past.
Now, in the dawn, she would walk through the gardens and up into
the woods to the special place she had always gone when she was unhappy
or life was difficult. A place where she could see the house nestling in
its hollow and the river beyond.
The one thing that had always been a constant in her life.
She finished plaiting her hair and picked up the miniature portrait of
Harry Beaumont — painted when he was a favourite at the first
Elizabeth’s court — from the table beside her bed. She could almost hear
the laughter promised by bold blue eyes that glinted with a wicked
merriment. She would need a friendly face to see her through this day
and on a sudden impulse, she slipped it into her pocket.
‘Daisy,’ she called softly, when she reached the stables. The
horses had long since been sold, but RichardBeaumont would never have a
dog in the house and her spaniel had slept there ever since she’d been
forced to move into the Court.
Last night she would have welcomed the comfort of Daisy’s soft warm body
on her bed, but now that Richard was dead and she could have done what
she liked it would have felt like a betrayal to take advantage.
The small liver and white spaniel needed no second invitation, but
bounded joyously to heel, then ran on ahead, giving short excited yelps
as she snuffled at trails in the grass.
‘No, this way, girl.’
It was a long walk to the top of the hill and the church clock had
chimed six before she finally sank onto the dew-soaked grass of the
clearing. She hugged her knees and gazed down into the valley.
Swathed in the golden mist rising from the river the house — built by
the same Harry Beaumont who smiled from her precious miniature — had an
ethereal, magical quality. It was easy to imagine him pausing here as he
caught his first glimpse of its tall brick chimneys after the long ride
from Elizabeth’s court at Richmond. Easy to imagine him spurring his
horse on, eager to hold his beloved Maria, see his children.
He had been the first in a long unbroken line of Beaumont men to hold
the house against the world. Today the latest to be given that trust
would arrive at Beaumont Court.
He was late by any standards.
MatthewRyan had, it seemed, been too busy with business commitments in
the Far East to come home to be with the dying Richard. To come to his
funeral. It was nearly two weeks since RichardBeaumont had been laid to
rest with his ancestors in the family vault below the church and only
now had his heir found some time in his crowded schedule to come and
take control of his inheritance.
‘Daisy, be quiet.’ The spaniel was barking at something in the
woods, drawing her mind back to the clearing, away from disturbing
thoughts of the changes that were bound to be made with his arrival and
how they would affect her. The dog, intent on her quarry, ignored her.
‘Daisy!’ she called again, more urgently, scrambling to her feet as she
disappeared into the thicket well aware that if she took off after a
rabbit she would be gone all day.
But Daisy danced backwards into the clearing letting out excited little
yaps. Narrowing her eyes against the slanting sun,Charlotte took a step
towards the copse, halted uncertainly, her breath catching in her throat
as she saw the shadowy figure of a man astride a large black horse, at
the edge of the clearing, the low slanting sun giving him a halo about
his dark curls.
The trees began to retreat giddily and, as her legs buckled beneath her,
the man threw his leg over the animal’s head and slid to the ground
moving swiftly to catch her, his shadowed expression so familiar that
she whispered his name.
He eased her gently to the ground. ‘Are you all right? You look as
if you’d seen a ghost.’
His voice, low-pitched, full of concern, dispelled the mist of
uncertainty and she managed a faint smile. ‘For just a moment I rather
thought I had.’
His forehead creased in the slightest frown. ‘As you can see I’m
plain flesh and blood.’
‘Yes…’ The colour flooded back into her cheeks as she realised
that this flesh and blood man was cradling her in his arms, holding her
close against him, so that she could feel the strong beat of his heart,
the warmth of his body. Definitely not a ghost.
She should move.
As if sensing her disquiet, Daisy bared her teeth and uttered a
low warning growl. The man tore his gaze from Charlotteto glance at the
dog and said, ‘Quiet, Daisy.’
To her chagrin the dog immediately obeyed, flinging herself down in
traitorous supplication, wagging her tail in the hope of being forgiven
for her bad manners.
She turned to look at him again and caught her breath. Her first
impression had been right. It was as if her thoughts had conjured
HarryBeaumont out of the mists of time and instinctively her fingers
sought the miniature, through the thick cord of her trousers.
This man had the same black curls, the same long, straight nose and firm
jaw, the same lines creasing deeply around his dark, laughing eyes. The
likeness was disturbing.
Then the smile died from his eyes, to be replaced with something
altogether more searching. Everything seemed to stop, the clamour of the
birds, the gentle sound of his horse cropping at the grass and in that
brief moment, as the world held its breath, he bent his lips to hers.
There was nothing of the ghost in his kiss. His mouth was warm, vibrant,
thrilling and her body quickened with an instant meltdown. This was it,
this was the man of her dreams, the man who, like Sleeping Beauty, had
come to wake her.
She moaned softly into his mouth, wanting more and he raised his head to
look at her, the flare of desire reflected in those bright blue eyes.
His own shock at the sudden flare of desire…
The illusion faltered and then evaporated and she saw the intruder for
what he was; not an Elizabethan courtier, but a twentieth-century man.
Taller than average it was true, with hair that curled overlong at his
neck. He had a fencer’s figure, broad-shouldered, narrow at the hips and
strong wrists that could control a wayward horse. Or woman. The words
dropped into her mind unbidden. But he was clean-shaven and, rather than
fine lawn and brocade, he wore a white polo shirt and a pair of
‘Who are you?’ she whispered.
Daisy whimpered softly and he turned away to fondle the spaniel’s
ear. ‘Not your ghost, whoever he might be.’ No, he was not a ghost, but
his appearance had been every bit as unsettling. She pulled away from
him and he stood, helping to her feet.
‘Your horse is straying.’
‘He won’t go far.’ But he let go of her hands, gathered the reins
and placing his foot in the stirrup rose in one smooth movement to the
saddle. High above her now, he extended a hand. ‘Come with me.’
Her heart rolled over as the temptation to do just that, to take his
hand and let him pull her up before him, ride away with her, almost
overwhelmed her. Where would he take her? She shook her head. This was
no time for questions. "Where" didn’t matter. It was an act of faith.
In the magic of a golden dawn she would surrendered without a thought
but the moment was over. He was a nameless stranger and overcome with
embarrassment at what he must be thinking, colour flooded into her
cheeks and his mouth curved into a wry smile.
‘Don’t wait too long for your ghost.’
‘There are no such things as ghosts.’
‘You think?’ He glanced briefly at the house below them and for a
moment the world was quite still, then the horse threw up his head,
impatient to be off and a second later she had only the sound of hooves
pounding along the bridle way to convince her she had not imagined the
She touched her lips. No. She hadn’t imagined the warmth, the
potent charge that had caught and held her for that brief moment when
he’d kissed her. Flesh and blood he had said. He was certainly that.
She took the miniature from her pocket and held it in the palm of
her hand, trying to ignore the racketing of her heart.The likeness she
told herself, her breast rising and falling much too quickly, was
superficial. The early morning light and her own stupid flight of fancy
had done the rest and returning it
to the safety of her pocket she whistled Daisy to her and raced down the
path, away from the
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From the book
A SUMMER'S LEASE by Liz Fielding
Copyright © 2016
by Liz Fielding