Lady Everard's Easter: a Short Story Belonging to the Everard Legacy Series
By Regina Scott
Please enjoy this story set between The Captain's Courtship and The Rake's Redemption.
Easter Sunday, London, 1805
And wasn't Easter just a fine day for romance?
Samantha, Lady Everard, sighed contentedly as she followed Lady Claire Winthrop from St. George's Hanover Square, the church bells ringing above them. Samantha's lace-trimmed muslin gown had yet to form a wrinkle it was so new. Nearly everything she owned was new, in fact, as she prepared to start her Season. In her satin-lined bonnet, ostrich plumes waving over the crown, she could see heads turning her direction, the arched brows, the curving smiles.
And it certainly didn't hurt that she was flanked by such prepossessing gentlemen as two of her three cousins.
Russet-headed Richard strolled along in fawn trousers, the gold buttons on his bottle green coat winking in the sunlight. The sound of his ebony walking stick hitting the pavement kept time to their walk. On her other side, Vaughn moved more purposely, long legs wrapped in cream-colored breeches, scarlet on his back and lace at his throat. His platinum hair positively gleamed from under his top hat. A shame her governess Adele and oldest cousin Jerome could not join them, but they were on their honeymoon.
"And what shall we do today?" Samantha asked Lady Claire as they made their way through the crowds exiting services and headed back along the avenue toward Everard House.
"We've a lovely dinner planned later," Lady Claire said, giving her lace-edged parasol a swing, "and perhaps some music this evening."
Samantha made a face. Dinner and music? Lady Claire might be the daughter of an earl, and certainly looked it in her silk gown of dove gray trimmed in bands of pearl beading, but sometimes Samantha thought she'd forgotten how to have fun. Easter was a day for celebration, for delight! Look at the sun shining overhead after days of rain! Even London smelled good for a change, the stones of the fine houses wiped clean, the windows sparkling.
"What about a picnic instead?" Samantha suggested.
"I like the sound of that," Vaughn put in. He tipped his top hat back as if to soak up some of the sun himself. "Hyde Park, my chariot and horses. That's how you spend a Sunday."
"A Sunday perhaps," Lady Claire said, delicate nose in the air. "But an Easter Sunday?"
If she could not imagine a picnic, she would probably faint dead away to hear how Samantha generally spent her Easters. But then, life was a little simpler at Dallsten Manor, where she'd grown up in Cumberland.
Still, Samantha refused to give up. Life was calling! How was she expected to ignore it? "Are there any hills in Hyde Park?" she asked Vaughn.
Vaughn pursed his lips as if in thought as they approached the front of the house. He had nice lips, her cousin. And Lady Claire would be no more pleased with that thought than she would a boisterous Easter!
"I suppose we could find a slope if we must," he said, bowing Samantha ahead of him into the house as the footman held wide the door. "What did you have in mind, Cousin?"
They all stopped in the entryway to gaze at her, and she knew there was nothing for it.
"Egg rolling," she said. The words echoed against the pale walls, the high ceiling.
Richard removed his top hat with a frown. "Egg rolling?"
To Samantha's surprise, Lady Claire arched a golden brow. "Oh, indeed, a time-honored sport. I'm surprised a gentleman of your stature hasn't heard of it."
Richard grinned at her. "Do explain, my dear. You know I'm ready to learn anything you care to teach."
Samantha couldn't help smiling as well. Since her cousin Richard had proposed marriage to her chaperone Lady Claire, the two had been smelling of April and May. The only trouble was that Lady Claire had yet to set a date. She claimed she had her hands too full with launching Samantha into Society.
"I'll explain," Samantha volunteered. "You boil up a basket of eggs and give each person three. Then we line them up on the brow of the hill and release them at the same time. The ones that roll to the bottom unbroken win that round. The last one remaining from all the rounds is the grand winner."
Vaughn eyed her as he too removed his top hat. "And what do we win?"
Samantha blinked and glanced at Lady Claire for a suggestion.
"Kisses," Richard proclaimed with a wink before his love could respond.
"Fine for you," Vaughn said as Lady Claire blushed. "You have a betrothed. Who am I to kiss? You, Richard? I'd rather sing for my supper."
"If you sing I shall do you violence," Richard predicted. "If you kiss me, plan on swords at dawn."
"Kisses from a lady," Lady Claire qualified with a look that quieted them both. "And Samantha shall dole them out."
Vaughn grinned, smacking his gloved hands together. "Now, that's a prize worth winning."
Samantha felt her cheeks heating, but she couldn't demur now. "Then you'll all do it? We can picnic in Hyde Park and roll eggs?"
The gentlemen eyed Lady Claire, who cocked her head as if giving the matter due consideration. Samantha willed her to say yes.
Lady Claire smiled. "Certainly. If you'll excuse me a moment, I'll make the arrangements."
And so a short time later, Samantha found herself standing before the house, watching as the footmen stored a stuffed hamper of food into the boot of Vaughn's chariot. Richard had already ushered Lady Claire into the carriage, and Vaughn stood ready to take his place on the driver's bench, as usual. Samantha eyed the crowded interior and couldn't help pulling a face.
Vaughn offered her a hand. "Care to join me, infant?"
"Would I!" She took her cousin's hand and scrambled up beside him.
How fine it was to sit so high as Vaughn guided the snow white horses through traffic and toward nearby Hyde Park. Many of London's elite must have hit upon a similar idea, for the carriage ways were thronged. Samantha nearly cricked her neck trying to spy all the plumed bonnets and prime bits of horse flesh they were passing.
Vaughn managed to find a corner of the park where a small hill dipped toward the Serpentine. He drew the chariot to a stop and helped Samantha down onto the grass. Richard was providing a similar service for Lady Claire, but Samantha couldn't help noticing that her chaperone was blushing. What had they been discussing inside the carriage?
While the footmen who had been riding at the back of the chariot set about arranging the picnic at the bottom of the hill, Samantha joined her cousins and Lady Claire in climbing to the top. The breeze tugged at her bonnet, teased her skirts. Lady Claire handed her the small wicker basket she carried so Samantha could dole out the hard-boiled eggs. Richard knelt in the grass, gaze on the finish line at the base of the hill. Vaughn crouched as if he would leap after his eggs and carry them to victory. Samantha gathered her skirts and crouched as well, heart beat speeding.
"On my signal," Lady Claire said, excitement tinging her normally serene voice as she raised her gloved hand. "Three, two, one, go!"
They shoved their eggs downward.
The hill wasn't as steep as in the Lakes District where Samantha had been raised, but the eggs tumbled obligingly enough through the emerald grass. All Richard's eggs cracked in the first three runs, Samantha lost one, and Vaughn two.
"Lucky in love alone, it seems," Richard joked with a smile to Lady Claire, which set her blushing again.
"Is there something we should know, Cousin?" Samantha couldn't help asking.
Lady Claire fluttered her lashes. "Captain Everard has convinced me that perhaps the end of the Season is too long to wait to wed. We will be married in May."
That called for congratulations all around, and it was a while before they could return to the contest.
"Though why we should have to finish is beyond me," Lady Claire said, color still high from all their well-wishes. "I do believe Samantha will be victorious."
Her words proved true, for when all the other eggs had been laid low, one of Samantha's remained.
"The winner!" Vaughn declared, sweeping her a bow. When he straightened, he said, "And I do believe you have earned the right to kiss whom you please."
Whom she pleased? She glanced between Vaughn, whose smile was entirely too smug, and Richard, who looked a bit uncomfortable with the idea. Then her gaze was drawn to a carriage passing beyond them.
The driver was tall and golden-haired, with a commanding profile and an athletic body. The way he handled his team said he knew exactly what he was about.
Now, there was a gentleman. That's the sort of fellow she wanted to court her, someone in command of himself, someone who'd seen something of the world. Someone with dash and circumstance. He must have noticed her staring, for he tipped his hat to her and drove on.
"Wentworth," Vaughn said, as if the name were a disease.
"Wentworth?" Samantha seized on the name. "Lord Wentworth, the oldest son of the Earl of Kendrick?"
"The same," Lady Claire offered, looking after him with a frown. "I'm surprised you haven't met, with the two of you neighbors in Cumberland."
Samantha shook her head. "He's years older. I'm closer in age to his younger brother, although I haven't met him either."
"Ah, the adventurer," Vaughn said, turning away as if dismissing the earl's heir already. "Isn't he serving in the Ottoman Empire? You'd have better luck chasing after him, if he ever returns."
"And why shouldn't I, if that's what I want?" Samantha challenged.
"Time for our picnic," Lady Claire said, moving between them on the way toward the cloth spread on the grass. "It seems only right that now that we've pummeled our eggs we should eat them." She leaned on her parasol as she approached the repast of curled ham, crusty rolls, lemonade, and strawberries.
Samantha could only trail after her. Lady Claire was right--Easter was too fine a day to be quarreling. And now Samantha knew exactly who she would look for on her Season: a man with as much dash as Lord Wentworth and his brother, Lord William.
Hadn't she said it was a fine day for romance?