SHE HAD ALWAYS DONE AS SHE PLEASED--WITH NARY A THOUGHT TO THE CONSEQUENCES.
Indeed, Sally Mallory's great success throughout the ton as a fine portrait painter had been aided by spirited independence--along with wit and extraordinary talent. But now it seemed she had gone too far.
Impetuous Sally had compromised her reputation, and now was to be forced into a marriage of convenience with the most distinguished art critic in London, the cold and arrogant Duke, Ian Frobisher!
Ian was proud, unbending, quick to anger--and though Sally sensed the hurt beneath his disdain, she was desperate to escape a loveless union. Impulsively, she accepted the disreputable Sir Percy Badham's shocking proposal. . . .
When Sally awoke the following morning, feeling much refreshed after the first good night’s sleep she had enjoyed in almost a week, she lay in a sleep-induced daze for several moments before she remembered where she was.
Then, as realization came to her, she quickly slid out of bed and ran to the windows. The view from her bedroom had always been her favorite, overlooking as it did the verdant Cotswold countryside. The sound of water, rushing down between the gates of a nearby weir greeted her ears as she opened the windows to inhale the fresh air. And that, mingled with the excited chatter from the birds was all the music she wanted to hear. She stretched languidly as she marveled how, in some miraculous way, Woodstock had escaped the vulgarities of the age. By London’s standards the village appeared old-fashioned, but her artist’s eye reveled in the quaint picture it presented and she knew she would hate to see it changed in any way. As she had driven through the village last night she had been filled with a sense of calm and for the first time had been able to recall the unveiling without agitation. Time had stopped for her for a while and she was filled with a determination not to brood. Now was not the moment to think of how she could revenge herself on Frobisher. For today, at least, she was going to abandon herself in childhood memories and draw comfort from the fact that something so familiar as the old house had remained unchanged.
Mrs. Osbourne, the lady Carolina had retained to look after the house, was responsible for this phenomenon, for she had been meticulous in her care of it. When Sally had arrived yesterday it was as though she had never been away. The only thing that had marred her return had been the attitude of Ferris. He had not stopped grumbling from the moment he had discovered that the stables were shabby by comparison to the ones at Broadlands, until he had finally departed for Mrs. Lacker’s. Sally had been glad to see the back of him and she could only hope that he would temper his tongue when he arrived in London. He had been useful. That she couldn’t deny. He had taken a message to Mrs. Osbourne, summoning her to the house, and on the way back had procured some essential provisions that would see her through the next few days.
Mrs. Osbourne, a discrete, elderly lady, knew better than to question the odd ways of the Mallorys. Indeed, if she was curious to know why Sally had decided to come to Woodstock unchaperoned, she gave no evidence of it. She merely installed herself in the kitchen and had managed to produce a very respectable dinner last night. She had reappeared again early that morning and after insuring that Ferris had partaken of a substantial breakfast, had brought Sally’s to her in bed.
But now the day stretched ahead of Sally and she had no idea what to do with the time on her hands. The unaccustomed luxury of not having to do anything was something to be savored at leisure. However, the countryside, bathed in brilliant sunshine, was enough to cause her to forget her troubles and she went in search of Mrs. Osbourne.
“Ah! Mrs. Osbourne,” she said when she had finally located the lady in the vegetable garden. “Would you be kind enough to ready me a small picnic? I thought to cross the fields to Ditchely.”
“Very good, Miss Sally,” Mrs. Osbourne replied, as she wiped her hands on her apron. “I’ll have it ready for you in a trice.”
Mrs. Osbourne disappeared into the house, only to reappear some fifteen minutes later carrying a picnic hamper.
“This should help stave off your pangs of hunger, Miss Sally,” she said as she handed the basket over. “I’ve put a nice ham pie in there and some fresh fruit.”
“And a few other little bonbons to nibble on, I see,” Sally remarked with a smile as she sifted through the contents. “This looks lovely. Thank you very much.”
“Mind you keep off the main roads,” Mrs. Osbourne cautioned. “’Twould never do for some stranger to see you all by yourself. They…they might mistake you for a serving girl and then there’d be no saying what could happen.”
Sally’s smile broadened into a grin as she thanked Mrs. Osbourne for the advice. “I’ll bear that in mind,” she promised, “for this old dimity of Caro’s is most certainly not the proper attire of a young lady of standing.” An unhappy sigh escaped her and the grin faded from her face. “But sometimes, Mrs. Osbourne, I wish I were a domestic. Then I wouldn’t have the problems that face me now.” She turned away slowly and hooking the basket over one arm set off across the garden to the lower field.
Mrs. Osbourne stood where she was for several moments, watching Sally. Then, giving her shoulders a faint shrug, she knelt down and resumed her gardening. “Poor dear,” she murmured, “I wonder what’s up with her.”