When a haughty Lord meets a determined Miss the only winner is love.
Captain Nicholas Price is a man with a plan. As the newly minted Lord Stafford, he is determined to have the best of everything. Clothes, horses, women. He is well on his way with a well-born fiancee and an estate in the country.
Miss Emeline Wilson is a woman on a mission. Forced into penury by the cruel estate manager of the indifferent Lord Stafford, Emeline is determined to confront the new Lord with his callous ways.
When they finally meet, sparks fly, and Nicholas finds himself knocked for a loop by the feisty, intelligent, and definitely not high-born Miss. But what's an already engaged Lord to do when the plans he's so perfectly laid out for his future suddenly seem so wrong?
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August 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Nicholas by Cheryl Holt
Copyright (c) 2011 Cheryl Holt
All rights reserved -- a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
London, May, 1814...
"Are you sure about this?"
Emeline Wilson forced a smile as she leaned across the wagon seat and patted Mr. Templeton's hand.
He was an older gentleman, an acquaintance from her rural village of Stafford. He'd offered to drive her to London as he brought a load of hides to the tanner. Since she hadn't had the money to travel any other way, she'd accepted.
The trip had been bumpy and lengthy and fraught with uncertainties. She was worried over whether she should proceed with her plan, and still hadn't convinced herself that she was doing the right thing.
Nervously, Mr. Templeton pointed to the ostentatious mansion that towered over them. It belonged to Nicholas Price, the new Lord Stafford, a mysterious personage who'd been earl for a year and who no one at the Stafford estate had ever seen or met.
"The house is awfully grand, isn't it?" he said.
"Not as grand as Stafford Manor."
"How will you gain entrance?"
"I'll simply knock on the door."
"Do you think his staff will admit you?"
"Why wouldn't they?" she firmly replied.
Two days earlier, when they'd left home, she'd been brimming with indignation, aggrieved on her neighbors' behalves, and prepared to slay any dragon as she sought a paltry crumb of justice for them.
But now, with their having arrived, her confidence was flagging.
Why had she assumed she could make a difference? Why was she always so eager to carry the burdens of others? Perhaps she should have stayed in the country and kept her mouth shut.
Unfortunately, it wasn't her nature to be silent or submissive. She was forever arguing when she shouldn't, fighting unwinnable battles, and cheering on the less fortunate. Usually to no avail. There were few rewards to be gleaned by heroics, but she couldn't stop herself.
Life was so unfair, catastrophe so random and typically heaped on those least able to withstand the onslaught. If she didn't comment on inequity, who would?
Her dear, departed father--the village school teacher and best man she'd ever known--had educated her beyond her needs. She saw problems and the obvious solutions too clearly, and she couldn't comprehend why the easiest remedies were the hardest to attain. Especially from someone as rich and powerful as Lord Stafford.
His tenants were suffering egregiously. Crops had failed and conditions were desperate, yet he couldn't care less. He'd never bothered to visit Stafford. Instead, he'd installed Mr. Mason as his land agent. Mason was a bully and fiend who had been given free rein and unfettered control.
His sole objective was to put the estate on a sound financial footing, by any means necessary. He implemented his draconian measures without regard to the human cost. Families had been thrown out on the road. Acreage had been confiscated.
No one was safe from his harsh edicts, not even Emeline. Despite her father's three decades of loyal service, she--and her two sisters, ten-year-old twins, Nan and Nell--were about to be evicted.
Mr. Mason had already forced them to relinquish their comfortable house, located next to the manor, in which Emeline had been raised. They'd been relegated to a dilapidated cottage in the woods, and they had to start paying rent or leave, her dilemma being that she had no way of paying the rent and nowhere to live if she didn't.
"Should I wait for you?" Mr. Templeton asked, yanking her out of her furious reverie.
"There's no need," Emeline said. "Go make your deliveries, then pick me up at four o'clock as we planned."
"It doesn't seem as if anyone is at home."
Emeline studied the mansion. The curtains were drawn. No stable boy had rushed out to greet them. No butler had appeared.
"Someone will be here," she asserted. "I have an appointment, remember?"
It was a small lie, but she told it anyway. She'd written to the earl three times, requesting an audience, but hadn't received a reply. Finally, in exasperation, she'd written a fourth time to inform him that she was coming to London--whether he liked it or not.
She couldn't abide snobbery or conceit, and considering Lord Stafford's antecedents, why would he exhibit any?
Twelve months ago, he'd simply been a captain in the army. When the old earl had died without any children, it had been a huge shock to learn that title would pass to Nicholas Price. In an instant, he'd gone from being a common soldier to a peer of the realm. What reason had he to act superior?
"You asked for an appointment," Mr. Templeton counseled, "but that doesn't mean the earl will keep it. His kind doesn't have to be courteous."
"Maybe he should recall that he's not all that far above us."
"Oh, Missy, be careful with your disparaging talk. If you're not here at four o'clock, I'll likely be searching for you at the local jail."
"Don't be silly. He wouldn't have me...jailed merely for speaking out."
"He's dined at the palace with the king. That sort of experience tends to alter a fellow. He might do anything to you."
"He won't. He's an officer in the army. He wouldn't harm an innocent woman."
"You just never know," he ominously warned.
"I'll be fine," she insisted as a shiver of dread slithered down her spine.
Afraid that her courage might fail her, she leapt to the ground before she could change her mind.
"Good luck," he said.
"I don't need any luck," she boldly retorted. "I have right on my side, and right will always prevail over injustice."
She marched off, and he clicked the reins, his horses plodding away. As he departed, she felt terribly alone, as if she'd lost her last friend.
She gave in to a moment of weakness, to a moment of doubt, then she straightened with resolve.
"You can do this, you can do this," she muttered over and over.
There had been a neighborhood meeting, and in a unanimous vote, she'd been elected to present their grievances to Lord Stafford, to seek some relief from Mr. Mason's oppressive decrees. She would not return to Stafford without garnering concessions from the earl.
She climbed the steps and was about to knock, when suddenly, the door was jerked open.
"It's about bloody time you arrived," a man barked. He grabbed her and yanked her inside.