In case you haven't come across Jocasta and Richard's romantic journey, here's a little taster:
Lost in a glorious memory of twinkling smoky-flint orbs and a heady masculine scent, Jocasta drifted off to sleep. She dreamed she was in an enormous ballroom with full-length mirrors along one wall and two rows of marble columns supporting the ceiling, which was adorned by a Renaissance painting of Venus and Cupid in a meadow, surrounded by bright flowers. At the far end of the room, opposite the heavy oak doors through which she had entered, arched glass doors opened on to a paved terrace. An orchestra was playing and a dozen couples were performing the steps of La Chaine Anglaise.
Jocasta hesitated, surveying the scene. A gentleman was walking towards her. Attired in a maroon coat of watered silk, pale cream breeches and white clocked stockings, he was the picture of elegance. At first she did not recognize him, for his dark wavy hair had been tamed into a fashionable style. He bowed with perfect grace, but as he straightened, she saw the glint of humour in Richard’s slate-grey eyes. He held out his hand.
“Do you care to dance, my lady?” he asked.
Dropping a deep curtsey, she laid her hand in his. Even through her thin white silk gloves, the heat of his touch tingled in her fingers and prickled in her veins.
Then the scene changed and she was on a stretch of moorland which in an odd way appeared familiar. She was wearing breeches and in the distance a man was riding in her direction...
Jocasta awoke in a rush and flapped the covers on the bed. She was too warm. Sticky perspiration had gathered in her armpits and her heart was pumping faster than it should be doing. It was that strange dream. Had this sort of thing happened to her before? Was this how it felt when one found a gentleman attractive? She searched her memory, but still discovered no answers. With a sigh, she flopped back on the linen covered pillow. Who would have thought lying in bed could be so exhausting?
Two days later, bored to distraction and feeling guilty for causing Meg extra work—she had not seen Richard again—she begged to get up. It was a fine autumn evening with a warm glow on the horizon from the setting sun, which she could just see from the small square window of her room. She washed her face and hands in the spotless bowl in the satinwood washstand and then dried them on a towel, which was a little bit rough but had a lovely wind-blown freshness and made her skin tingle pleasurably.
Having been made for a fuller figure than hers, the outmoded calico gown Meg had unearthed from a chest in the attic was a rather loose fit, but at least she was respectable. It was fashioned in a shade of green which almost matched her eyes. Guilt pricking her conscience, she glanced at the clothes she had worn during her escapade, folded in a neat pile on an oak chest at the end of the bed. What kind of a girl behaved in such a wicked fashion, to so publicly wear boy’s clothes? She studied her reflection in an old, spotted mirror. Her temple was swollen and the back of her head was sore, but the nausea had gone and she felt considerably better. She pulled her fingers through her tangled curls and headed downstairs.
The staircase rose to the upper floor from the entrance hall. Pausing with one hand on the banister, she looked about her. An archway opened into the coffee room, and a narrow hall led to the back of the house. The entrance door was a wide oaken portal with a heavy iron latch. Hearing voices, she padded across the dun-coloured flagstones past a large crockery cupboard which stood against one wall. At the end of the passage was the door to the yard and close by, she presumed, those to the kitchen and scullery. Taking a deep breath, she eased open what proved to be the kitchen door. Richard and an older man sat at the large wooden table, and Meg was busy at the burnished range. A girl of about sixteen was washing utensils at a stone sink.
“My dear,” Meg exclaimed, coming forward. “Come into the parlour. We were just about to eat. I will fetch you some dinner there.”
“Please let me join you,” Jocasta begged. “It would be so much more comfortable than to be on my own in the parlour.”
“But it wouldn’t be fitting, miss.”
“Why ever not? I could be a…a weaver’s daughter.”
Meg smiled. “I hardly think so. You are Quality-born, I would stake my life on it.”
“In that case, please indulge my whim and allow me your company.”
“Let her be, Mother,” Richard put in at that point. Muttering that it was inappropriate, Meg concurred with a frown and laid another place.
The girl, Alice, bobbed a curtsey. Quite a plain girl, she had a somewhat vacant look about her, which made Jocasta suspect she might be not too bright, but she smiled at the girl, who gave her a cheerful response. Richard and the ostler, Ned—a dour Yorkshireman of uncertain years—had both risen to their feet, and the former hastened to pull out the vacant chair. A strange quiver fluttered over her skin when his fingers brushed her back—by accident?—as she sat down. Their eyes met. His eyes crinkled at the corners as if amused… and also something more. She felt rather hot.
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