Book 1 in the Mischief in Mayfair series
Miss Ann Pearson has spent years learning the difficult art of the professional cook, and jealously guards her position in the kitchen of the fancy Coventry Club. When Colonel Sir Orion Goddard asks her to take on a young apprentice, Ann would rather refuse. But Orion is respectful, gruffly charming, and looking out for a girl whom others have neglected, and that is a combination Ann cannot resist.
Lingering scandal has taught Orion to make his way along the fringes of polite society without allies or entanglements. Then he meets Ann, who is fierce, passionate, and warm-hearted, and also worth fighting for. If Orion and Ann are to forge a new love, they must first learn to trust each other, and find the courage to overcome old enemies who will do anything to keep the cook and colonel apart.
Enjoy An Excerpt
Colonel Sir Orion Goddard has raised self-reliance to a high art, but when one of the boys in his household falls ill, and demands that Rye summon Miss Ann Pearson to tend the patient, Rye has no choice but to ask for the lady’s help…
“She’s here!” Louis’s shout nearly startled Rye out of his boots. “I brung the lady!”
“Good work,” Rye said, going to the top of the ladder and peering down into the shadowed stable. “Miss Pearson if you could join us up here? Louis, fetch the lantern and then see to your supper.”
The stable had grown dark while Orion had waited, and memories had crowded in. How many hours had he spent in the infirmary tents, listening to a dying man’s final ramblings or writing out the last letter the fellow would send home? How many times had he refused a fallen soldier’s entreaty for a single, quick bullet?
“Colonel,” Miss Pearson said, arriving at the top of the ladder. “Good evening.”
Orion took the basket from her and waited while Miss Pearson dealt with her skirts and climbed from the ladder into the hayloft. Louis passed up the lantern and tried for a gawk. He climbed back down when Orion aimed a glower at him.
Benny clearly did not want an audience.
“Miss Ann has come,” Orion said to the boy curled in the straw. “You will do as she says, my lad, and if she says to send for the surgeon, we send for the surgeon.” No soldier ever wanted to fall into the surgeon’s hands, much less commend another to that torment.
“I ain’t ’avin’ no bloody sawbones,” Benny muttered. “Go away, Colonel.”
“You’re insubordinate,” Orion said, brushing a hand over the boy’s brow. “Mind Miss Ann, or you’ll be scrubbing pots for a week.”
Miss Pearson watched this exchange with an air of puzzlement. “Where is the injury?”
“He won’t tell me,” Orion said, straightening. “Won’t let me move him, won’t stir from his nest, but there is a wound or ailment of some sort.”
“If you will give us some privacy, I’ll see what I can do.”
Orion regarded the miserable child. “This boy is dear to me. Please spare no effort to bring him right.” He would not embarrass Benny with a closer approximation of the truth: Loss of the child would unman him and send the other five boys into paroxysms of grief.
“We need privacy, Colonel.”
“I won’t go far.” Rye could not go far, could not leave a man downed on the battlefield. “Holler if you need anything, and I do mean anything.”
“I understand.” She made a gesture in the direction of the ladder, her gaze calm and direct. Be off with you. I have the situation in hand.
He’d forgotten how petite she was, how serenity wafted about her like a fragrance. “Benny was right to have me send for you, and thank you for coming.”
“I will render a full report as soon as I’ve examined the patient, but I cannot do that until you remove yourself from the immediate surrounds.”
Orion made himself descend the ladder and busied himself tidying up the horses’ stalls while soft voices drifted down from the hayloft. Benny was holding a conversation, not merely moaning out orders, an encouraging sign.
Darkness fell. Summer had departed and autumn had arrived. Rye’s hip told him as much on the chilly evenings and chillier mornings. Still, Miss Pearson remained in the hayloft, speaking quietly. Benny responded, and the cadence was that of a normal chat, though Orion could not make out the words.
“Here.” Orion left off scratching Scipio’s neck and returned to the foot of the ladder.
“The patient will make a full recovery, but I need a set of clean clothes, warm water, and some rags. Also a sewing kit if you have one.”
“Stitches?” The poor lad. “I have some laudanum if that will help.”
“Let’s start with the clean clothes.”
“But that—” Made no sense. Orion’s protest died aborning as Miss Pearson’s skirts appeared at the edge of the hayloft, followed by her person climbing onto the ladder.
A gentleman did not watch a lady descend a ladder, even in the near darkness of a stable in the evening. Miss Pearson wasn’t strictly a lady—she labored hard for her bread—but Orion had at one time considered himself a gentleman.
He turned his back until Miss Pearson was standing before him in the gloom of the barn aisle. She’d taken off her straw hat, and her cuffs were turned back. She smelled good—flowery and fresh—a contrast to the earthy scents of the stable.
“Benny will be well,” she said with calm conviction. “Clean clothes are the first priority. Bone broth, chamomile tea, light activity, and the malady will ease its grip in a few days.”
“You’re sure?” Orion said, peering down at her. “You aren’t a physician, and the boy was clearly in misery.” Showed evidence of serious injury.
“I am as certain of my diagnosis as I am of my name, Colonel. Fetch the patient some clean clothes, and you and I will talk.”
Orion’s relief was unseemly. He’d worried for his sister Jeanette when food poisoning had brought her low, but Jeanette was an adult, and she’d clearly had Sycamore Dorning to fret for her too. These boys had nobody and nothing, and life had already been brutally unkind to them.
“Thank you,” he said, taking the lady’s hand and bowing. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Miss Pearson ambushed him with a hug—a swift squeeze, followed by a pat to his shoulder. For a small woman, she hugged fiercely. The embrace was over before Orion could fathom that he was being hugged, and that was fortunate.
He’d sooner have taken another bullet than withstand Ann Pearson’s affection.
“The child is lucky to have you,” she said, stepping back. “I gather Benny is one of several children in your care.”
“They are hardly children anymore. They eat like dragoons and grow out of clothing almost before it’s paid for.” Orion cupped his hand to his mouth. “Watch the lantern, Benny. I’m off to find you clean togs and scare up the tisanes Miss Pearson has prescribed.”
Benny’s head appeared over the top of the ladder, bits of hay cascading down. “You won’t tell the others?”
Tell them what?
“You are suffering a brief indisposition,” Miss Pearson replied. “Perhaps something you ate disagreed with you. The colonel and I will discuss what’s to be done.”
Some silent communication passed between Miss Pearson and the patient. Benny shrugged and withdrew from sight.
“No more piking off,” Rye called up to the loft. “I don’t care if you have consumption, the Covent Garden flu, and sooty warts. You don’t desert the regiment just because you feel poorly.”
“Yes, sir.” The resentment Benny packed into the two mumbled syllables was reassuring.
“Come, Colonel.” Miss Pearson gathered up her basket and marched down the barn aisle. “I daresay Benny could use some sustenance, and I want a look at your medicinals.”
Orion followed reluctantly. “You’re sure the lad will come right?”
“Benny will be fine. Have you eaten supper?”
“No, and now that I know we’re won’t be measuring Benny for a shroud, I admit I am famished. The cook/housekeeper usually leaves me a tray on the hob before she departs for the night. You’re welcome to share.”
“Your help doesn’t live in?”
Rye crossed the alley and escorted Miss Pearson into the garden, where crickets sang a lament to winter’s approach. A cat skittered up over the garden wall, and fatigue pressed down on Rye like the darkness itself.
“My housekeeper lives around the corner with her daughter and son-in-law. I believe Mrs. Murphy has a follower and would rather see him on her own turf. My maid-of-all-work and man-of-all-work are a married couple—he also serves as my coachman—and they dwell over the carriage house.”
Miss Pearson moved through the night with the same easy assurance Orion associated with her in other contexts. She’d been comfortable in Jeanette’s sick room. In the Coventry’s kitchens, she’d been thoroughly at home.
“You have married servants, Colonel?”
“My former batman and his wife. I value loyalty over convention.”
“I suspect you value loyalty over almost every other consideration. My gracious, your roses are lovely.” Miss Pearson made her way down the cobbled path to the overgrown roses along the stone wall. “These are not damasks, and yet…” She sniffed. “They are marvelous.”
“Careful,” Orion said, pausing on the path. “That one is French and has serious thorns. A gardener at the Château de Neuilly traded me a pair of bushes for a few bottles of my wine. Said that rose originated on the Île Bourbon.”
“Perfumiers would pay you a fortune for these roses.” She bent closer and took another whiff of pink blooms.
“I traded champagne fit for a king for that specimen. I was trying to sneak my best vintage into the cellars of the Duke of Orléans, but I suspect my wine met its fate in servants’ hall.”
Miss Pearson made a pretty picture, sniffing the roses by the light of a gibbous moon. Something of poignancy tried to gild the moment, with the crickets offering their slow song and the thorny roses perfuming the night air.
She’d hugged him, was the problem. Nobody hugged Orion Goddard, and he liked it that way. Needed it that way.
“Your champagne was well spent,” she said, straightening. “Do your boys maintain this garden?”
His boys. They were his, though he didn’t dare think of them in those terms. “They do, with some guidance from me. Shall we go in?”
“I suppose we ought to. Benny can’t spend the night in that stable.”
“I’m sure he has on many an occasion. Benny’s my best sentry. Likes his privacy and thinks deeply as a matter of habit. The other fellows don’t quite know what to make of him, but they worried at his absence.”
“You worried at his absence,” Miss Pearson replied as Orion ushered her into the hallway that led to the pantries and kitchen.
“Nearly panicked,” Orion said. “The lads have eaten. If you’re hungry, we’ll have to forage. Drew!”
The boy trotted across the corridor from the servants’ hall. “Sir?”
“Benny ate something that disagreed with him and needs a clean set of togs brought over to the hayloft. A basin of warm water and some rags wouldn’t go amiss either, though he’ll want privacy if he has to clean up. See to it, please.”
“Aye, sir.” Drew bowed to Miss Pearson—where had the lad picked up that nicety?—and scampered up the steps.
Miss Pearson began opening the kitchen’s cupboards and drawers. She was on reconnaissance, clearly, and because Orion knew only the basics of survival when it came to the kitchen—bread, butter, jam, cheese, that sort of thing—he let her explore.
The tray on the hob held a bowl of lukewarm soup, as well as bread and butter. Many a night, Orion had subsisted on the same, but he was truly hungry and for once wanted something more substantial.
“The chophouse will be open for another hour,” he said. “We can manage sandwiches if that will suffice.”
Miss Pearson left off pillaging and gave him the oddest look. “Sandwiches will do, and we begin by washing our hands. What is Benny’s full name?’
“Benjamin,” Rye scrubbed up at the wet sink and moved aside so Miss Pearson could do likewise. “The boys all choose their names when they come to live here. Drew, for example, is Andrew Marvell Goddard. Drew was smitten with the poet’s epitaph ‘the ornament and example of his age, beloved by good men, feared by bad, admired by all, though imitated by few; and scarce paralleled by any,’ or something like that. That Marvell stopped the crown from hanging Milton impressed Drew as well.”
Miss Pearson rummaged in her basket and set a tin on the worktable. “And you gave the boys your family name?”
“Goddard is the only name I have to give them.” The only name Orion had to defend, and he’d made a bad job of that mission, thus far. With Jeanette safely married and another good harvest all but complete, he’d see his name properly cleared.
“And the rest of Benny’s name?”
“Benjamin Hannibal Goddard, his middle name chosen for the famed Carthaginian of old. Why?”
Miss Pearson swung the kettle over the coals on the raised hearth that took up half of the kitchen’s outside wall. She’d made a pretty picture in the garden, and she made a different sort of pretty picture in the kitchen.
Rye should have tarried longer in France, where a call upon a certain good-humored and friendly widow in Reims could have figured on his itinerary.
“You had no idea, then?” Miss Pearson asked as she withdrew a loaf from the breadbox and took a knife from a drawer.
“No idea of what?”
She wielded the knife with a mesmerizing sort of competence, the slices perfectly even. “Not Benjamin Hannibal, Colonel. The child’s name is Benevolence Hannah.”
Orion was hungry enough to risk snitching a slice of bread. He tore a crust off and chewed. Reasonably fresh, probably made that morning.
“Strange names for a lad.”
Miss Pearson paused in her artistry and slanted him a look.
The bread abruptly stuck in Orion’s throat.
Benny’s indisposition that had visited last month and was back again a few weeks later. The use of grime as camouflage for cheeks that would never grow a beard. The reticence around the other boys, the knit cap worn in all weather…
Order your copy of Miss Delectable!