The coachman's daughter

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The Coachman’s Daughter

 

Gayle Eden

 

 

 

Copyright © 2013 Gayle Eden

All rights reserved. No part of thispublication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, ortransmitted, in any form or by any means mechanical, electronic,photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior writtenconsent of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any formof binding or cover other than that in which it is published andwithout a similar condition being imposed on the subsequentpurchaser.

The right of Gayle Eden to be identified asthe Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance withthe Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First e-Edition 2012

First Edition

All characters in this publication are purelyfictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead ispurely coincidental.

 

Published for Air Castle Books by Smashwords.Smashwords Edition.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

“Are you going to wallow in that stall allday?”

Demetrius (Deme) Willingham, 4th Marquis ofFielding did not open his sooty lashes yet, though he certainlyheard and recognized the sarcasm in that voice. It was HavenMulhern, the Coachman’s daughter. She was likely the one who haddumped him in a horse stall, again.

“It’s nearly three in the afternoon. The ladsneed this stall for Samson. They’re mucking today.”

“I own this bloody stable and stall. They canbloody well take him outside to the yard.” He finally lifted hislashes, showing green eyes that were smarting as an arc of fall suncame through from the left side of the stable.

As he pushed himself to sit up, Deme gazedwith his usual disdain over Haven’s male clothing—usually hisfather’s green livery, but just as often, buckskin trousers, linenshirt, boots.

“To my knowledge, your father, his Grace,owns the stables. Though, you are his heir, true. It still doesn’tmean it is all right to inconvenience the lads that keep them.”

“Don’t chasten me, Mulhern. I’m not in themood.”

She grunted at that.

“Is that coffee?” He gestured to a cup in herhand where she leaned casually on the stable door.

“It is.”

She was not offering it to him and heregarded her face while he shoved back his raven hair. It wascurly, falling over his brow. It had never been tamable.

Hers—was a scandal, blood red, cut to herchin.

Her tawny gaze was steady in what would be anattractive face—if he liked her one bit, and he did not. From thetime she was a lass, given the run of his father and mother’shouse, the estate as well as in London, schooled with his siblings,Haven Mulhern was a pain in his arse. He often told his father he’draised her above her station, to which his father replied he hadbetter think his lucky stars Haven was around all these years tomake sure he hadn’t gotten himself killed, foxed as he wasusually—raking and slumming being his favorite pastimes.

Considering the not so subtle tilt of herpink lips, he groused, “How long have I been in here?”

“Since we returned from your friend theMarquis of Wolford’s to welcome him and his bride, Lady Juliette.About 12 hours.”

“Twelve!” He did not believe her.

She shrugged and pushed away, taking a fewsteps and reaching the cup down to him. “It’s not yours. It ismine. So consider how generous I’m being, since I had to lie to theDuke again for you.”

“Why bother. He’s not stupid.” He took thecup and drank half, shuddering a bit because his guts were raw. Hemust have lost whatever he’d drank—likely due to her hell forleather driving, which he would swear was deliberate.

Leaning against the stall door again, she waslooking over his dishevel, wrinkled white shirt, the snug trousersthat had dirt on the knees—he must have wretched somewhere betweenthere and here, a his scuffed Hessians, which his valet, Mossley,would be in a dither over.

Her eyes moved up to his face again. Hedeliberately held them—and finished drinking all of the coffee.

“I didn’t lie about your being foxed. It’syour normal state; I lied about the detour you had me take to thetavern.”

Deme got to his feet. His jacket and cravatwere draped over the stall. He smelled the earthy scents, heard thedistant sounds of the horses, groom and lads working. She bloodywell had a habit of rolling him out into the stables, even inLondon.

Haven and her father, Patrick, a celebratedwhip, who had won many prizes and purses, lived in well-appointedapartments over the carriage house, which was further back and tothe left. He may not care for Haven but everyone respected Patrick.He could work for any house he chose and was much coveted.Wimberly, his father’s ducal estates, held coach races every yearand Patrick never failed to win the prize. He was also a friend tothe Duke. They played chess and cards together.

The Wimberly’s, being a high spirited andeccentric lot, were made up half siblings, aside from the wholeones, himself and Lady Lisette, his sister, who were born to hisparents before they divorced. There was a set of twin girls inschool, who were his mother’s with her lover, and a lad who livedwith a countess and her husband up north, fathered by his sire.There were also the ones born during their on again off againrelationship.

James, and Aiden, and Jude (called littleJohn,) who lived here at Wimberly—a menagerie of his mother’s pets,rooster, rabbits, various breeds of dogs and cats, peacocks, andtwo parrots. So one heir, who was more often than not foxed, wasnot anything out of the ordinary for the Duke and Duchess.

“Is the family about?” he asked, reaching herthe cup before collecting his jacket and pulling it on, draping thecravat around his neck, and leaving it dangling.

“Lisette and James are playing tennis. Yourparents are in the courtyard, and Little John is fishing.” She methis gaze. “In case you have forgotten, this is James and Aiden’slast week here.”

Deme cursed. He remembered the conversationin the study when his younger brothers told him they had joined themilitary, James the army and Aiden the navy. They jested aboutbeing younger sons, having to make their mark on the world, butAiden had muttered, “At the rate you’re drinking yourself to death;we may yet be a Duke.”

He had laughed and muttered something aboutnot getting themselves killed. The fact that they were old enough,nineteen and twenty, to go off to war, certainly shook him. He hadlooked at their handsome faces, their height and brawn, and he hadrealized that for eight years or more, he had been in a haze. Hehad stopped being a part of their lives, their older brother, and apart of the competitive games they played. While he climbed intobeds and bottles, they had turned into men.

“Sobering, isn’t it?”

Deme glanced at Mulhern, who annoyinglyseemed to read his mind. “Very.”

He motioned for her to step back, and shedid, opening the stall door in the same motion. His body must passclose to hers, and he had the unwelcome thought that even introusers, there was not any doubt Haven was a woman. She was nottall, but was leggy. She was not full figured, but had a feminineone, no matter what she wore or how boyish her hair cut.

How old was she now? Twenty-one or two….

He had unconsciously looked her over andpaused, so when he met her gaze on the trip up her body, Demerealized how closely she was observing him.

“If you’d bother to wear a dress and stopacting like a man, you wouldn’t be half bad, Mulhern.”

She retorted, “I like my trousers, and I havebeen known to wear a dress when it mattered. As to your half badremark, rest your mind on that score, I have plenty of suitors, inmy trousers or out of them.”

“Do tell.” He arched his brow, his smilemeant to mock.

“Unlike yourself, I value discretion.” Shereached and plucked straw from his hair and had her own bitinggrin. “You should know by now, my lord, that I don’t give a bloodydamn what you think of my dress, or my looks. But as we’re beingfrank, you have reason to be glad I do have some less than ladylike traits.”

“Not that again.” He rolled his eyes andpassed by her. “I fear I shall hear of your heroics on my behalftill my dying days.”

“Which will be sooner than later, if you keepup your current habits.”

He ignored that and her, and proceeded to theentryway.

Haven watched him walk out of the stable. Herstride a bit slower following, she arrived at the entry doors intime to observe his walking to the sprawling white stone manor. Itwas a shame; she thought for the millionth time, that he wasblessed with such exquisite looks and natural lean muscled grace.That hair was curly, soft, wild, she knew from having held his headwhile he spilled his guts in a ditch. His body she’d felt againsther, half carrying him when he was foxed, and more often than shewanted to remember, she’d seen most of it exposed. It was abeautifully sculpted body, for a beautiful man—who was wastinghimself on drink and women he could not remember. He was spoiled,too wild, and had been blessed unfairly with the kind of visagethat made women flock to him. His wit could be biting, bitter, andhis attitude pricked her like a brier most of the time.

She should be getting on with her own life,as her father oft reminded her these days. She had an excellenteducation, thanks to the Duke and Duchess. Her father had plenty ofmoney saved for either her dowry or whatever she wanted to do withher future. Yet, here she was, unable to walk away—.

Muttering, she headed toward the manor. Sheneeded distraction.

Lady Lisette was by the courtyard andmotioned her over after putting away the tennis racquet. “Come andsit with me.”

Haven strode over, and they poured glasses oflemonade before sitting on the lawn.

Lisette had opposite looks of her Marquisbrother. She was lithe, but a petite five foot even, like theDuchess. Her hair was long, blonde, straight, and she had aquaeyes. Attractive, as all the siblings were, Lisette had more thanmade up for early years spent in a sickbed, and was full of spirit.They were as close as sisters, shared confidences, and she was gladthat Lisette made friends with Lady Juliette, because for all theDuchess and Duke traveled in fast circles, Lisette found little incommon with London ladies, and had made no friends. Now Juliettewould be there for her.

An expert archer, rider, game for any sport,Lisette had a restlessness since she had gained full health. Shewas fearless, bold, and though they were close, Haven could not andnever would, be of the same society.

No matter how close they were, she was still,the coachman’s daughter. Though everyone but Deme in this householdseemed to ignore it, Haven did not forget that fact.

“Do you know mother is planning a gatheringbefore the brothers leave at week’s end?”

“No.” She looked at Lisette. “But they willenjoy it, I’m sure.”

Lisette nodded but winced. “She’s invitingElisha Roulle, Viscount Marston.”

Haven arched her brow. “Should I knowhim?”

Shuddering, Lisette muttered, “He’s a bloodysnob. I doubt he will condescend to mix with the wild Wimberly’s.No matter how rich and titled my family. His bloodlines are veryold and his family is known for their arrogance.”

Studying her, knowing her well, Havenchanced, “Why then, is the Duchess inviting him?”

“Guess.”

“You mean—”

“Yes.” Lisette put the glass down and layback on the grass, rubbing her eyes. She was dressed in a pair oftrousers, shirt, boots, and her hair was in a braid. It was herleisure attire at Wimberly, for hunting, fishing, riding, playingwhatever sport the siblings got up to. Yet in London, she couldtransform herself as easily as any wealthy heiress. At her heartthough, she was a Wimberly, through and through.

She said, “I was shocked. I would never thinkit of Mama. She is an unconventional woman herself, and has livedher life as she pleased. I am not happy that she suddenly has it inher head I need to be settled. And with someone like Marston!”

“Have you met him?”

“Briefly, but it was enough. He is tall,dark, with silver—cold eyes. He’s arrogant and rarely condescendsto speak to anyone.”

Haven chewed her lip. “Regardless of how theDuke and Duchess lived their lives, they take their obligation toeach of you seriously.”

“Oh, Haven. I would suffocate with a man likethat. I told Mama so. She knows me. She knows I would never behappy being dressed up like a doll, hiding my brains andspirit—because some prig of a husband—”

“Do you think she discoveredyour—er—adventures in London?”

Lisette sat up and pursed her lips, thenshrugged. “I haven’t a clue. It was harmless fun. She herselfattended the masque balls and everyone in our crowd is consideredfast. Though I daresay, they are not the debauched group thoseprigs like Marston makes them out to be. Anyone would go daft ifall they could attend were stuffy teas and the balls; everythingyou do is under someone’s eye. I do not understand why she wouldinclude him.”

“Perhaps he spoke to her?”

Lisette’s eyes grew round. “Oh, No. Never sayso.”

Laughing, Haven offered, “I’ve no clue. Justask her.”

Curling her lip, Lisette muttered, “I wishJuliette would hurry up with her honeymoon. I could flee there, toWolford. At least she would be here. I do not want to do the prettyfor any man, let alone Marston! I am exactly as I wished tobe.”

“The Duchess loves you, Lisette. Talk to her.“

Lisette got to her feet, and when Haven didtoo, she said, “Yes she loves me. But let us be honest, My Mama iseccentric. She gets things in her head, and though she and papahave given us everything, every freedom, and she has no great envyof the sticklers in London, she can be stubborn if she thinks oneof her “ideas” is brilliant. Besides that, she is all sad and weepythat James and Aiden are going off. I wish she would focus on Deme;he is the heir after all. And as papa oft says, there needs to be asuccession.”

“I don’t have an answer there either.”

Walking a bit on the lawn, they headed roundto the gardens that were fading in the fall but smelled earthy,bearing a fall show of orange and yellow flowers and quaintvines.

Plucking a dry leaf off one, Lisette turnedto regard her when Haven sat on a bench, knowing her friend wellenough to know that she would fret endlessly over this ViscountMarston, and whatever her mother planned.

No, it was not like the Duchess. She was amodern woman, a force all her own, no matter how petite or titled,she never had given in to dictates. However, Haven had no clue whatshe was thinking.

“What was your mother like?”

“Mine?” Haven sat up, but cast her eyestoward a bush, birds were picking berries from.

“Yes. You have never spoken of her. We neverhave, not even when you told me stories those long winter nights Iwas confined to bed.”

Haven tried to sound casual, “I don’t knowmuch about her. Mrs. Mafy would not talk of her, and father getssuch a look on his face, I just stopped asking.”

“But surely, you are curious?”

“I was.” Haven nodded and watched those birdsstill though she felt Lisette looking at her. There were fewsecrets between them, but there were some things Haven founddifficult to share. What she did murmur was, “The six years I waswith the Mafy’s, I learned not to ask. Everyone would getuncomfortable. You sense things. And with Papa, it’s such a look, Ican’t describe it.”

She turned her head and met Lisette’s curiousgaze. “I wasn’t very happy with the Mafey’s. He was a vicar. Theywere very dour and strict people. Coming here was a dream. I havebeen given more than I had a right to expect. Schooled, taught thearts, dancing, and manners, everything your family and all of you,so graciously afforded me. Mostly, being with Papa, I felt the lovehe has for me. I just stopped—asking.”

“I understand.” Lisette held her gaze amoment. “Mother thinks of you as one of her own. We all feel closeto you.”

“As I do, all of you. We’re friends, Lisette,but I’m still the coachman’s daughter.”

Dryly Lisette offered, “So what? Do you thinkMama cares, or the Duke? Even my brothers—well, except for Deme—whocares for no one, not even his self. Everyone loves you.”

Haven was warmed by that. She murmuredsomething, more for Lisette’s benefit. Wed to a lofty male or no,Lady Lisette would eventually be in a position where theirfriendship would be an inconvenience, and frowned upon.

“I must find a way to avoid Marston.”

Haven laughed. “I’m sure you’ll think ofsomething.”

“I shall. I’m very good at slipping off whendetermined.”

Haven looked toward the stables. “It’s almostdinner time.” She stood. “I’ll let you know if I overhear anything.But I still say, talk to the Duchess.”

They parted. Haven headed for the apartmentsto see to dinner for herself and Patrick. She had much on hermind.

* * * *

Patrick Mulhern was a fit and handsome man.He was weathered in the way a man who spent his years out of doorswould be, and stood over six feet tall and careful in his dress.When he was not wearing his black coachman’s coat and trousers,white shirt and cravat—usually a caped coat and the top hat,pristine white silk scarf—he was in well-made dun trousers,polished knee boots and crisp shirt, and tweed jacket. Haven haddiscovered his love of books, chess, and his passion for coaching,when she had come to live with him. It was not just his employmentwith the Duke of Wimberly that made him a coveted coachman; it wasan expertise and skill, something he excelled at. He had been sentto one of the best driving schools at a young age. His trophies andprizes graced the apartment sitting room, six engraved gold platesrested on the mantle. There was even a painting done of him at somelofty pavilion, sitting on his perch, handling the ribbons to ateam of six matching grays. But—he seldom talked of his youngeryears.

She entered the apartments via stairs insidethe coaching house, pushing open the door and arriving into themain parlor. It was a warm room, lots of shelves and books, thefireplace, his chess set on a table before it, and a bay window—herfavorite spot. It smelled of leather and comfort. It felt likehome.

“Am I late?” She saw him in the smallkitchens, already setting their table.

“No. I decided to make stew. Master Judebrought us a brace of hare he had snared.” He smiled at her.

She returned his smile and crossed to the tworooms off the parlor, one was hers. She entered, going pastwardrobe, bed, and her vanity, to a small bathing chamber. Thereshe stripped, refreshed, and padded back into the bedchamber,plucking a clean shirt and pulling it on, before the trousers. Thewardrobe was full of fashionable clothing, some she purchased forherself, many her father bought her, with all the trappings. On hervanity were perfumes, jewel boxes and hairpins.

There was everything in the chamber for aLady of quality, along with unique gifts her father had given herevery year, six she had brought with her from the Mafey’s—whichwere in those days, the only tangible evidence of a father whoreally existed. He sent money there but the Mafey has made her wearthe most plain and well-worn clothing and cover her hair... besilent and invisible…

In her bare feet, her damp hair behind herears, Haven went out and into the kitchens. “Thank you.” She tookthe chair he held and sat, watching Patrick sit across from her.Beside her stew was bread and fresh milk.

She closed her eyes while he said grace, andthen they were eating. In the Mafy household, prayers were aconstant thing and eating was quiet and quickly done. She and herfather, most of the time, used their meals to converse, share alaugh, go over their day.

Haven looked at him on and off, seeingherself perhaps in the hue of his dark red hair now threaded withsilver, though his eyes were a dark sapphire blue. There was not alot there that she could draw herself from, but it was more theenigma of his past, of hers, that always made her search.

He caught her looking and said, “Any troublelast night?”

“With the Marquis, you mean?” She smileddryly and took a sip of milk before shaking her head. “No, otherthan getting him into the coach.”

His eyes went over her face. “You’re twentyand two, Haven.”

“I am aware of that.”

“You should be getting on with your ownlife.”

They had discussed this before.

“I will,” she said, while scooping up anotherspoonful, eating, swallowing.

He sat back. His own hands fell idle by hisplate. “You can’t save him.”

“I’ve done so, more than once.”

“You know what I mean.”

“The Duke and Duchess depend upon me.” Sheset her spoon down and wiped her mouth, looking at him and findinghis brooding gaze discomforting.

“The graces—are an unconventional pair. Wehave reason to be grateful for the things they have provided you.However, you are not employed by them, daughter. You can have alife, a future, of your own.”

She fiddled with the napkin and dropped hereyes from his, watching her fingers folding the edge of the cloth.“I like it here. I mean, I like living with you, with them.”

“We all feel the same. Nonetheless, you spendyour time babysitting the Marquis, driving him, rescuing him. It isnot the life I planned for you. If you had an interest in one ofthe young men who have shown an interest in you….”

He meant the tutor who came in the off-seasonand tutored Jude, Nigel—who had shown an interest in her. Or, Mr.Bentley who was the vicar. Nigel was nice enough, but he was a softman, gentle and though his intelligence was attractive, she felt“stronger” than him in the way that prevented an attraction. TheVicar… she had no quarrel with Mr. Bentley; it was the professionshe could not overcome. Having grown up in a dreary cottage withjoyless, pious people, she could never go back to that. She hadcertainly lied to Deme about her suitors. Nigel may not mind hertrousers, but Mr. Bentley certainly disapproved.

Haven met his gaze again. “Can you see mewith either of them?”

“No. I can see you leaving here, traveling,and having a life that is more fulfilling. Using some of thoseadvantages. You have plenty of money to do so.”

She finished her milk and stood, taking herbowl to the wash pan. Lingering a moment by the kitchen windowwhile Patrick got up from the table too. Haven felt him behind her.She felt his hand affectionately on her arm.

He said above her, “I’m proud of you, nomatter what you do.”

Her heart filled. She reached to cover hishand, her mind going to her conversation with Lisette. “Would shebe?”

“Who?”

“My mother?”

His hand slipped from her. It did notsurprise Haven. She sensed he was walking into the parlor, likelyto fetch his pipe from the mantle.

“Yes. I think so.”

Turning, she went into the parlor too, butsat in the window seat of the bay, while he packed the pipe and litit, remaining by the mantle. His profile to her was remote. It gotthat way, when she mentioned her mother. She thought it somehowtugged him back in time. It certainly made him distant.

“Was she a bad person, father?”

“No.”

“Then why won’t you speak of her. Whywouldn’t the Mafy’s speak of her?”

He puffed a plume of smoke, went to the wingback chair, and sat. “It’s a—painful subject for me.”

She could hear the sounds from below, one ofthe stable lads running to fetch something, and the Duke’s mastiffbarking, which meant his grace was likely coming to play chess withher father.

Haven got up and went to fetch her boots. Shepulled them on, and then sat there a moment, her eyes holding herfathers. “Do I look like her?”

“Very much, so.” He swallowed. His eyes werefilled with emotion.

She always felt she was on the brink ofdiscovering everything, of being able to ask questions and getanswers. Nevertheless, when he looked like that, so in pain, sotorn inside, she could never probe the wound further.

Hearing a sound below, and the Duke’s deepvoice, she got up and went to kiss Patrick’s forehead.

“If you go out tonight, with the Marquis.Take your derrick.” Patrick uttered gruffly, “Make sure thosepistols are primed.”

“I always do.”

On the stairs, she met the Duke, robust,tall, his black hair now snow white. He wore his mane long and tiedback, and he was dressed more the country squire than Duke, inbuckskin jacket, linen shirt and well-worn trousers and boots. Hewas a strong and robust man, but a real softie with hischildren.

She pat the Mastiff’s shaggy head aftergreeting the Duke.

“You keep Deme in line, my girl.” he gave heran affectionate hug. “You are the only one of us not swayed by hischarm.”

“He hasn’t any charm.”

His grace guffawed at that and nodded, hisgreen eyes twinkling,

Haven grinned, then said before passing him,“You should have warmed his bottom more often as a boy, yourGrace.”

“True. However, Deme was a good lad,spirited, but good hearted, a joy. His charm and wit were entirelydifferent before…”

At the bottom of the stair, she looked backto see him merely standing there, looking down at her.

“I know, your Grace.” she did know, at leastwhat started him down the road he was on. Though Haven did notthink it was the catalyst anymore. Deme had entangled himself withmarried lover who tricked and lied to him. He had called herhusband out for supposedly abusing her. He’d shot and killed him.How he discovered her truth, no one knew, but he’d holed up in hishunting box for six months, and was never again the same. Hisfriend, Montgomery, the Marquis, had been in Egypt already. Therewas no one who could reach him. That—was eight years ago.

Haven said, “He’ll come round, yourGrace.”

He nodded, and smiled slightly, giving her awink before knocking on the door, which Patrick answered.

Haven stood there a bit after it closed. Sheand the Duchess had talked of it, though the Duchess had her ownway of coping with Deme’s habits. She pretended it was temporary.All these years, she would put on a brave face, for the Dukeperhaps, or for herself. She had spoken of it with Lisette, whohandled it with humor. Haven did battle with him. She provoked him.She was blunt with him.

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