Elisabeth Fairchild
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Valentine's Change Of Heart

by Elisabeth Fairchild
Signet Books
ISBN # 0-451-20772-6
February 2003

Nominated for the ROMANTIC TIMES Best Regency Romance of 2003 Reviewer's Choice award.

"Mesmerising, romantic fiction at its best... exquisitely written, heartwarming, utterly satisfying. Add Elisabeth Fairchild to my list of must-read authors! I couldn't put this one down."

"VALENTINE'S CHANGE OF HEART is an absorbing and moving tale, one that amuses and delights at the same time that it burrows deep into your emotions. Very highly recommended."
--- JANE BOWERS / Romance Reviews Today

"The entire cast of characters will steal the reader's heart away. Wales comes to vibrant life in Ms. Fairchild's lyrical prose and this adds it own atmosphere to the emotional nature of the book. This uplifting tale of love and redemption will long live in the reader's memories....."
--- RASHMI SRINIVAS/ Road To Romance

Road To Romance review it here!

Writers Unlimited review it here!

Chapter One

A wall of mist pressed in on Valentine Wharton, hemming in the landscape of intent into which he rode, wetting his cheeks, dripping from hat brim and limp locks on this, his birthday. His rebirth day. A thin white flag of mist flew from his mouth when he loosed a laugh. Not surrender. Never surrender. Dragon's breath.

His best friend Cupid had dubbed it so on the battlefields of France, the fighting spirit of the dragon in each of them, drifting from noses and mouth in the chill rains. The notion had bolstered their courage, fired their imaginations.

Val was in need of a bit of bolstering this Valentine's Day. He missed Cupid's company, his quiet, good cheer. He had not seen much of him since the wedding, since the night his fellow marksman had shot him in the leg. The old wound ached from the damp, reminding him of a dark night, a harder rain. With gloved hand he rubbed at the knot in his right thigh. Cupid's arrow. His enemy not the French but a friend.

No! My enemy is the drink, mock courage. Mustn't forget. Mustn't let down my guard.

Would it always trouble him? Always serve to remind him? Cupid's best shot, the one that had turned his life--and his thinking--inside out.

The bay's neck gleamed in the pearly morning light, it's mane, flung against his face by the wind, stung like the memory. Behind him, an embodiment of the past that meant to catch up with him, the carriage rumbled and splashed.

Val remembered another grey Valentine's Day, and on the road a young woman in a violet cloak. Penny.

"Val!" Joy in her voice. A spark of light in her eyes. How in Heaven had she found it within her to be glad to see him when he had left things so badly?

Penny. Pretty Penny. I thought to pocket you again, my misspent coin. He closed his eyes, shut out the vision, sadness permeating him like the mist, a chill that seeped down to bone. He longed for a drink, with sudden, gut-wrenching, mouth-souring urgency. Something to put fire in his belly, warmth in the cracked stone of his heart. He did not want to recall all that he had done, and said, and ruined.

Her words haunted him still. "How much of your life is forgotten, Val?
Lost? Remembered falsely?"

He tipped his head, a rivulet of water dousing his neck. He shook wet hair out of his eyes, raking it under the hat with a resolute sweep of his hand. Blast the past! He was intent on building a fresh future.

I make this journey in search of freshly minted coin, in search of. . . the spirit of the dragon. Penny Foster, now Penny Shelbourne, is spent. Lost. Like the trees in the mist. Like the tenderness in me. His own fault. He had gone about it all wrong--not realized the implications of his own actions, his dagger sharp tongue. He and the damned spirits.

He spurred the horse through the gateway to the old Elizabethan manor. Gargoyle dragons, imbibing too freely, spewed rain rather than fire. Heads and stomachs of stone. That's what it takes. I am not made of stone. I only thought I was.

He stepped down from his horse, splashed through puddles, burst through the door, wet boots slipping on the flagstones, unsteady on his pins, as he had been many a time before, throat wet, feet dry. An oath slipped his lips, entirely inappropriate in this learned atmosphere. He laughed at the thought, a dry, sardonic laughter that echoed in the empty hallway. Children sang in one direction, a young girl recited poetry in the other. The place smelled of wet wool, chalkdust, moldy book leather. He closed his eyes and drank it in.

Different dragons here, the dragons of innocence. He could remember in some distant past his own innocence. The odors brought it rushing back without fail, the same way the smell of rain, gunpowder, and wet horse brought back France, the singing state of heightened awareness that had ruled his every waking moment there, until the burn of too much rum allowed him to forget the anguished cries of the dying.

He brushed a gloved hand across his moisture-beaded mouth, reaching, out of habit, for the hip flask no longer carried, the silver dragon, embossed tail wrapped around a castle's turret. No more warm burn of forgetfulness to fire his veins. No more false courage. He would need the real kind to do what he had set out to do.

It was harder than he had anticipated. Saying no, and no, and no while need raged, and anger rose, scalding, to the back of his throat. He licked his lips, and swallowed the ragged edge of thirst, once more, with renewed resolve.

Felicity. His daughter. His castle.

The headmistress's office looked the same: green blotter upon the desk, striped aspidistra in porcelain pots by the window, a painting of two children and a pained looking spaniel behind her, an outdated globe near the door--the realm's horizons expanding--as did his own. A new world, a new Valentine Wharton. Something larger than the wing-backed chair Mrs. Northgate bade him sit in, the leather gone scaly.

"You are certain you wish to take her with you, my lord, on such a long journey? A child her age may prove a burden."

A burden too long shirked. He veiled his sarcasm, "I've no doubt."

The headmistress blinked at him, as if unclear what part of her remark he met with such certainty. With a wave of her hand, she summoned passing footsteps from the hallway.


"Yes, Mrs. Northgate?" The voice was that of a young woman: gentle, subservient, agreeable. With the words came a cool whiff of almond-scented soap, and the vibration of a presence immediately behind his chair.

Val turned to look into dark, guarded eyes, soot dark hair pulled severely away from porcelain pale cheeks. A face dominated by huge dark eyes, and darkly arching brows, her lips pressed tight. Those eyes seemed in that quickly averted glance, fearful or shy, he could not be sure which. Here was a background sort of creature. Timid tabby.

Not at all the sort of woman he was drawn to. He might have passed her by a half dozen times without noticing anything but those eyes.

He recognized evidence of intelligence there, a spark, as if a fire lurked in the depths of her. Recognition? Disapproval? He blinked, surprised. Do I know you, puss?

"Miss Deering will fetch Felicity," Mrs. Northgate assured him.

He knew the name at once, stared at her a moment longer than was polite. She bowed her head, dark hair parted down the middle, raven dark wings pulled over her ears, plaited in a neatly woven braided style that confined it in a tidy knot at the nape of her neck.

"Yes, of course," she murmured as she turned to leave.

Her every movement was carefully contained, understated, designed to go unnoticed. She avoided eye contact, and yet she knew he stared at her. The faintest bloom of raspberry stained her cheeks. She slid a wary look from beneath a dark fan of lashes. "If you will be so good as to wait," she suggested.

I am neither good, nor patient, and I do not care to wait.

He rose from the wing-backed chair and briefly clasped the headmistress's hand. "A pleasure. I shall just tag along if you do not mind."

Before Mrs. Northgate could object he was out the door and discreetly following Miss Deering, two ees. Not Miss D-E-A-ring always mentioned in Felicity's letters, but dearest Miss D-E-E ring. Her stride was almost soundless, and swift.

A deering on the run, a younger doe than imagined. She will do, Miss Deering. I've a proposition for her.

"Miss Deering reminds me of Penny," Felicity had written. And then she had crossed out the Penny, and written in above it, Mrs. Shelbourne.

The carefully scribed words had left him thirsty. He had stood a long moment considering the craving, his hand clawlike, crimping the page. Just one glass of wine, just one to take the edge off. He had rung for Yarrow. The old man had met his request with baleful eyes.

"There is no wine in the house, my lord. No spirits at all, not even for cooking. As per your request, my lord."

A request made the night the not-so-well-mannered Cupid had shot him in the leg.

The night you almost killed your daughter. The unspoken truth hung in the air. Yarrow would never say it, but the thought had to have crossed his mind as clearly as it had crossed Val's.

Val's heart ached to think of her. Penny, his bright Penny, who had not given up hope when hope was, he had been convinced, lost forever. He had forsworn both--Penny and drink--for Felicity's sake--sweet Felicity--the careless mistake of a child he had been ready to die for. He had sent her away to school, this child he barely knew. While he battled spirits, and memories, his daughter better left to another's care, another's instruction. Her own personal dragons.

A sweetness had marked her every letter home to him--dutiful letters--written because he had asked her to, not because she longed to communicate with the stranger who was her father. In those letters Miss Deering had often found mention.

"Clever Miss Deering. She speaks five languages fluently, plays three different instruments, and knows the most interesting details about the farthest flung places."

"Miss Deering makes Gatehouse feel like home," Felicity had confided, reminding him how far away he sent her, how great her homesickness must be. Miss Deering, he was told, knew when students were bullied and intervened. She took time to counsel each of her girls individually. Val suspected Felicity had confided in this woman much of her troubled history. And thus she knows the worst of me.

He quietly followed in her wake, certain she held him in low esteem. It ought not to have bothered him--a mere governess. He had been scorned by far better, far more important and influential people in his life, and yet, in watching the demure sway of her hips, in studying the gleaming twists of tightly braided hair, he did not want this young woman to despise him, as Penny Foster had grown to despise him. He did not want any woman to ever again have equally sufficient reason to revile him.

Besides, she meant too much to Felicity.

There was, deep within him, a reluctance to offend anyone who in any way reminded Felicity of Penny Foster. Too much offense had already been generated in that quarter.

The resemblance was not physical. Miss Deering's backside had a less pronounced curve than Penny's, her shoulder blades were sharper, her waist smaller, indeed her entire frame was slighter, more delicate. Could there be something similar in the quiet, self-possessed stride? The tilt of her chin? The fluid grace of her movements? No stray curls tempted a man's gaze to linger, and yet his did, searching for glimpse of Penny, whom he should have married, could have married, would have married. Had you been a different man, a wiser man, a more sober one.

Miss Deering shot a quick glance over her black clad shoulder, an impression of guarded concern. Concern that he followed her? But no, her dark brows furrowed at the sound of a woman scolding, the voice like an unoiled hinge.

"Willful child! You must put it back on."

With a horrible clanging of iron came a second voice from the same distant classroom door, one that made him hasten, the voice of a child.

"I will not. It pinches. I cannot breathe, and my neck and shoulders go all stiff."


Miss Deering passed through the doorway as the woman gave a contemptuous laugh, saying, "How else are you to obtain regal bearing, stupid child?"

And here was Felicity's voice again, sharp, strong, completely uncowed. "There is nothing whatsoever wrong with my posture."

Just as it had been the day he had introduced himself.

"You are not my father. My father is dead!"

He was her father. They two, cut from the same cloth. He had never denied her that, once he was aware of her existence. Val stopped just outside the doorway, head cocked to listen. Did his daughter regularly misbehave at school? Was she always so wayward and headstrong? As her mother had been wayward, as he had been headstrong?

"Unmanageable! You are an entirely unmanageable young man! I've no idea what to do with you."

His quiet, even tempered mother. How sorely he had tried her patience. How many times had she wrung her hands over his behavior? Did it explain why she had never sought to care for Felicity in his absence? Her only granddaughter. Her illegitimate granddaughter. She had to have turned a blind eye on the resemblance, a deaf ear to the gossip. They had never spoken of the matter. Would they ever?

Had his unmanageable daughter battled wills with Penny throughout her youth, without his knowing?

"Felicity Wharton."

That sharp voice again! As mean-spirited and biting as the voices of his childhood. His lip curled.

"Would you live without benefit of stays, Miss Wharton, in an age of dumpling-shaped girls?" The woman's bark was sharp. "I think not. Your father has paid for the privilege of a proper education, and that includes proper posture obtained by the use of the proper posture device. Now put it back on, at once."

Val peeped inside the doorway in time to see Felicity, looking taller than when last he had seen her, arms folded obstinately across her chest, regarding with contempt a pile of metal bands and leather straps strewn upon the floor.

"It is torture, Miss Bundy," she stated belligerently. "I refuse to willingly succumb to such a device."

No surrender. No defeat, Val thought.

Someone sniggered. Val shifted position for a better view. In the row of desks behind Felicity the strangest sight met his eyes. Young women, children really, like Felicity, ten to twelve he guessed their ages, sat like stiff-backed, life-size automatons, trussed up in metal bands and leather straps that forced their shoulder blades together. Metal rods with semicircular chin props kept their gawky, girlish heads artificially high.

Clapping a hand over his mouth he stepped back out of the doorway. It would not do to simply burst out laughing at them. Vision of his Latin professor, Mr. Barrow, rose at once to mind, slapping a rule against his palm, frowning at him most severely.

"You take things far too lightly, Wharton. Another outburst of unnecessary laughter and I shall . . ."

His hands tingled with the thought of his ill-met response. "Risio, risor, risus."

Miss Deering said something he could not make out. He turned his head, the better to hear, stifled amusement shaking his shoulders.

What is this nonsense?

"Miss Deering, " Miss Bundy spoke with haughty disdain. "Can you not see I am in the midst of chastising a wayward pupil? As for you, Felicity Wharton, why when I was your age I was hung by a ceiling ring and straight-laced to the point of fainting. Our shoes were lead weighted to strengthen our legs, and we gladly swung by our chins to stretch our necks, that we might stand proud, recognized as ladies!"

Bloody nonsense! He was fully prepared to defend his daughter, but Felicity, his outspoken, sensible nine year old going on twenty, beat him to the punch. "How foolish!" she stated flatly. "I would rather forgo being a lady if neck stretching and chin propping are required."

Hear! Hear! he wanted to crow.

"Ill-mannered child! " Miss Bundy barked. "Pick up that posture perfector and apologize at once." Pikestaff stiff with a persimmon twist to her lips, the woman circled his child, cracking a rule against her palm.

Felicity stood her ground without cowering. Pride surged through him. Brave and beautiful, his wayward seed. It was time he intervened.

His daughter's silence infuriated Miss Bundy. "You do not belong here, Felicity Wharton, amongst so many well-bred young ladies."

Felicity took the words like a blow, body braced. Her chin fell. Her defiant gaze did not. Val 's blood rose.

"You did not think I knew of your disgrace, did you now, Miss High and Mighty? Well, I do know. We all know . . . "

Miss Deering interrupted. "Miss Bundy! Miss Wharton has a visitor. Can this reprimand wait for a more appropriate time?" Dark eyes, dark winged brows, a generous mouth above the sharp little chin. So serious she looked. Not a beautiful face, Miss Deering's, but aware, so very aware.

Bundy turned on her, spewing vituperative. "Appropriate? Your continued interference is most inappropriate and impertinent, Miss Deering. I do not know how you were allowed to behave in your last position, young woman, but as a governess at Gatehouse you must learn to demonstrate better manners.

"You are an example to these girls, Miss Deering."

The younger woman's cheeks flushed rosy. Hands clasped, a picture of demure reason, she murmured, "As are you, Miss Bundy."

Val cocked his head. An unexpected comeback from the not-so- timid tabby. Bundy's back went posture perfector rigid.

He drawled acidly, "Would you hold the child guilty for her father's sins?"

Miss Bundy's head snapped round. Color flared in sunken cheeks.

"Papa!" Felicity turned, uncertainty in her eyes, in her demeanor. "You will not make me wear it, will you?"

It tore at his heart to see his defiant daughter lose backbone at sight of him. He eyed the proper young girls who stiffly stared back at him. They know my daughter's shame. My shame.

With a cynical bark of laughter he said, "In the Far East women's feet are bound in youth, that they might be small and dainty if completely deformed. We consider that barbaric."

With all the grace of lamp posts, the girls glanced from him to their governess, confused. They did not grasp his meaning. Miss Deering's manner remained as quiet as ever, hands clasped, fingers caged in her own grip, guarded amusement in the curve of her lip! Pretty lips. She was quite attractive, dearest Miss Deering.

Miss Bundy did not look at all amused. "This is quite different."

"Is it indeed?" His brows rose. The cynical bite of his voice deepened. "Well bred young ladies trussed up like Christmas turkeys?"

The turkeys awaited her response, wide-eyed. Felicity stood a little straighter.

"B-b-but, my lord . . . "

"Do not, I beg of you, waste time, or breath in trying to defend such a ridiculous contraption." He waved a negligent hand at the students.

Miss Deering bit her lip. Miss Bundy blinked at him in dismay.

He smiled at his daughter. "Care to go on holiday, poppet?"

She hesitated a moment, as he had known she would. Penny shouted at him, from the fells, from the past. "She does not know you, Val. I told her you were dead."

"On holiday, papa? Where? When?"

"To Wales. As soon as you apologize to your governess."

Doubt and rebellion hung like a cloud before the sky blue eyes. Like mine. She has my eyes. My temperament.

"Your teachers are due your attention and obedience." His father's words spouted from his lips. How strange the sound.

Miss Bundy's head rose abruptly in surprise. Miss Deering looked up, head cocked. His borrowed wisdom met with startled approval.

The language, the duty of fatherhood were unfamiliar to him--uncomfortable. Felicity stared at him belligerently, angry and resistant. He stared back, implacable and unyielding in his expectation. Her gaze fell. She frowned at her shoes, lower lip out-thrust. She might refuse. I would have refused, given such a come-lately, shirk-thy-duty father.

But his dear, illegitimately born daughter was blessed with a far more obedient heart than he. Fair head lifting, her blue-eyed gaze met his with a trace of angry, betrayed defiance for a long, silent moment, before swallowing her pride, she said, "I apologize for my rudeness, Miss Bundy."

The room held its breath.

"Back to your studies!" Miss Bundy curtly ordered her students.

Stiff-necked and wide-eyed the students directed their attention to pages that whispered their obedience.

Unappeased, Miss Bundy said curtly, "You had best go now."

Dreadful woman.

Felicity nodded, turning toward him, crestfallen, the pain of her disgrace written clear in every feature. He wanted to sweep her into his arms, to shout Bravo! to assure her all was forgiven, but she would suffer no such unexpected public display of affection. He clutched his hat and fell into step behind her. Like a dog. Like Penny's man-eating dog.

Miss Deering brushed past him, to tap Felicity upon the shoulder. "Well done, my dear. I shall miss you. Do you need any help in gathering together your things?" She held out her arms.

With a stifled whimper, Felicity fell against her bosom.

Have I only to throw wide my arms? Would she respond, or simply stare at him, uneasy, uncertain what he wished of her? As uncertain as he had been with his father's occasional stiff embrace, the pat on the shoulder, his mother's kiss on air.

Val licked his lips, mouth dry. For most women he had only to throw open his arms with a certain smile. This governess would be easier to conquer than his own daughter, a young woman he had no idea at all how to rule. The dragon stirred. Desire stirred. It surprised him. She was not the sort that usually caught his eye, Miss Deering.

Have I only to throw wide my arms?

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