Elisabeth Fairchild
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by Elisabeth Fairchild

Signet Books
ISBN # 0-451-19029-7
August 1996

Named as one of the "Top Three Reader's Favorites" in the 1996 Under The Covers website awards

What the critics say:

"Gracefully written, tenderly nuanced." -DIANA GABALDON

4 STARS -- "Wrought with exquisite delicacy, this elegantly crafted tale by Elisabeth Fairchild builds to an intense, wonderfully satisfying finale." - Melinda Helfer, ROMANTIC TIMES

4 1/2 STARS -- "Fresh characters, excellent plot and loads of proper Regency fun. I really enjoyed this fun-filled romance." - Laurel Gainer, AFFAIR de COEUR

"Miss Fairchild's new tale... is full of vivid scenes and humor. Excellent auction scene at the end." -MANDERLEY


The sight of Symonds Yat, ocher-tinted, through the lens of his new Claude glass, held Reed spell-bound. Leaning his elbows on the windowframe of the coach he established a foreground on one of the elms that lined the road, carefully framed the copper green glint of the River Wye snaking around the base of the crag and fixed the sky-raking bulk of the Yat itself asymmetrically on the horizon of his view.

"Do you know, Mr. Mollit, I believe the Yat is worthy subject for a watercolor."

"The Yat?" Mollit yawned. Mollit had yawned often throughout the course of his tenure as Viscount Talcott's tutor. He had, in fact, just yawned his way through the wonder of Reed's first Grand Tour of Europe. The man's talent for boredom never ceased to astonish.

"Strange how I grew up in the shadow of this crag and never once did I think to paint it. It is only in coming back to it that I recognize it's beauty. Strange! Do you not find it strange?" Reed did not wait for an answer. Any answer Mr. Mollit might make was bound to spoil his mood. Mollit had little appreciation or patience for the picturesque. Reed wondered if any sight had ever fired the older man's soul with artistic sensibility. Certainly none of the wonders they had witnessed in Europe had moved him. Perhaps all trace of the romantic within the man had long since been expelled, along with Mollit's wind, in the exhalation of a thousand yawns.

Teacher-teacher, the clear, ringing call of a tit from the nearest tree, reminded Reed of Megan. Megan could mimic the call perfectly. She recognized beauty everywhere, in everything. He almost expected her to dangle bare feet from the tree as she had once been wont to do. Lord, how she would have been knocked breathless by the sights he had witnessed in Europe! How much nicer it might have been to examine the Sistine Chapel with the Nutmeg open-mouthed with wonder beside him. Instead, he had been forced to endure Mr. Mollit, open-mouthed, but not with wonder.

Reed sighed, his breath fogging the four by five inch glass before his nose, adding a mystical beauty to the four hundred foot crag known as Symonds Yat.

"You do not intend to commit the thing to paper just this instant do you, Master Talcott?" Mollit's raised right eyebrow discreetly expressed his distaste for such a scheme.

"Paint it now?" The idea had definite appeal. Reed squinted at the sky. "No. The lighting is all wrong. Besides, mother would have my head."

"As you say. Shall we proceed?"

Reed directed the coachman, "Drive on until you come to the bottom of the hill. I mean to stop at the rectory."

The carriage lurched into motion before Mollit could contradict him. Reed lunged involuntarily out of his seat his knees banging Mr. Mollit's.

"Ow!" Mollit cried.

Reed's left elbow came down hard on the one crate he had insisted must travel inside the coach. Wood snapped. Sawdust packing material flew.

Concerned, Reed peered into the broken crate. No damage done. The bronzes had been carefully packed. He had seen to that. He held his Claude glasses: clear, rose, ocher and umber, to the light for inspection. "Jove, that was lucky."

"Lucky?" Mollit scowled, nursing his kneecaps. "Nothing broken. I should hate to have smashed anything this close to home."

They hit another rut in the road. Half the pile of ledgers Lord Talcott had entrusted to Reed in London slid from the carriage seat to the floor, banging toes, shins and ankles as they went.

"Ow! Ow!" Mollit complained. "I cannot say I am at all fond of smashing things this close to home, myself."

Carefully closing up the stiff folio that protected his Claude glasses, each one framed in leather and conveniently hinged that they might be carried as one, Reed tucked it safely into the inner pocket of his coat. The lane always got bumpier in the last stretch toward Talcott Keep.

The rough condition of their progress meant that he was almost home. That pleased him. The ruts in the road, in an odd way, pleased him too. They were the familiar. Reed had been longing for the familiar of late, no matter that it might be an uncomfortable familiarity.

Mr. Mollit saw nothing admirable in the state of their progress. Like a disgruntled mole, he clutched at his spectacles with one hand and at the strap by the window with the other as they bounced through several teeth rattling trenches. "I see your father has not seen fit to improve the roads during our absence," he said with a cough. Their passage raised a cloud of choking white dust that powdered them both, head to foot.

Reed nodded, blinking owlishly. He meant the move to be circumspect. As a rule, his movements were always understated and gentlemanly. However, as the coach lurched into another deep rut in the road at that very instant, his head jerked up and down as if he were a marionette and someone else held the strings. "Father rarely travels this way. He sees not the need for improvements."

"Lady Talcott cannot be pleased." Mr. Mollit had a talent for understating the obvious.

"No doubt," Reed said tersely. His mother was as rarely pleased by his father's actions as his father was pleased to please her with them.

His tutor was frowning. "Neither will Lady Talcott be happy you choose to stop at the Breech's before coming home to her."

Reed shrugged--a gesture he had mastered in Italy. Reed liked the shrug and all that it stood for. He had taken care to master the movement with panache. He considered the gesture an appropriate indicator that he had reached the age of his majority, that he might now and again summarily dismiss the wishes of others. He patted the seven flapped pockets in his greatcoat, which bulged with small paper wrapped parcels.

Another lurch of the carriage and the last of the ledgers slid from the seat. "Best leave them," Reed said, as Mollit bent to retrieve the stack of books. "They are safer on the floor. Do you mean to step down? Or will you go on and announce our homecoming at the keep? I can walk up when I am done here."

"Yes, you can, young man." Mollit perversely continued to right the fallen ledgers. "I have no intention of getting down. I have not the energy, after such a trip as we have suffered, to face the brawling Breech clan. Why you should wish to do so is beyond me."

The coach slowed. The ledgers obeyed the laws of gravity once again.

"Ow!" grumbled Mr. Mollit, his efforts undone. Subduing a smile, Reed stepped neatly to the ground before the books had resettled themselves. A barking beagle darted from the door of the honeysuckle draped cottage across the road from the rectory. Three children followed close on the dog's heels, shouting, "Reed! Reed! You've come home! Mummy, mummy! Reed is back."

Mr. Mollit was shaking his head and clucking his tongue in disgust as the coachman urged the horses onward. Reed knew he considered the Breech children completely lacking in discipline and manners. He had, himself, never been allowed to express such happy abandon as a child, not with Mr. Mollit and the stinging flat of his ruler ready to leave stripes of reprimand in his palm.

"How are you Erin? Is that really you, Lottie? My how you have grown. Have you lost a tooth, Cessy?"

Cecily, nodded and grinned broadly that he might examine the blank spot. "A new one is coming in. See?" "Let's have a look." He cupped her chin in his palm and examined the emerging tooth.

Three expectant faces smiled up at him. Three set of small hands tugged at the tails of his greatcoat.

"What did you bring us?"

"Can we see?"

"Did you miss us?"

He smoothed Lottie's wayward curls out of her eyes. "Yes, I missed you, poppet. I have missed Blythe Corners and everyone in it more than anything else this past year."

"Are those our prezzies in your pockets?" Erin regarded the bulges in Reed's coat with unabashed interest.

"Indeed they are, Erin. Can you guess which pocket holds yours?"

Pointing gleefully, they dragged him toward the cottage, where Mrs. Breech stood watching. "So glad you are come home again, Reed."

"It is good to be home, Mrs. B." To his delight, she kissed his cheek. Pressing one of the parcels into her hands he emptied several pockets for the children. "Is Nutmeg in the back garden?"

"Where else? Go on through. She will be pleased you are home."

Into the house he went, into the welcoming smell of baking bread, roasting meat, brewing coffee and the familiar rattle and screech of the budgie that hung in the corner of the parlor greeting everyone who crossed the threshold with a squawk and the shrill admonition to, "Look out for the cat. Look out for the cat."

David Breech came thundering down the stairs to pump Reed's hand and clap him on the back like a peer. "Hallo! Home again are you?" His voice cracked on a wincing note. "How was the Tour? Was everything wonderful and strange?"

"Yes, marvelous and different. Everything different. I am glad to be back where nothing has changed so much as your voice." Reed laughed and stepped over the calico cat sunning itself in the doorway to the back garden.

"Dreadful, isn't it?" David blushed. "I sound like a broken bagpipe. The only compensation is that I've begun to grow a beard." He thrust forth his chin with pride.

"So Megan informed me in one of her many chatty letters." Reed squinted in the sunlight at the down that fuzzed golden the young man's cheek. "Perhaps this will come in handy."

Another present was plucked from the capacious pockets of his greatcoat. An ivory handled razor with a fine Italian blade, emerged from the tissue wrappings. With an appreciative whoop, David set off to test its metal immediately.

The garden was exactly as Reed remembered it: slightly overgrown, blowzy with roses and beautifully still after the turmoil and activity that was always to be found in Blythe Corner, which was named for the Mr. Blythe who built the cottage rather than any state of mind one might expect to find within its walls. This garden smelled like England, the England he had been longing for. Reed paused a moment to breathe it in. This was the scene he had pictured, when he had longed for home, right down to the chatter of the robins and the cry of the cuckoo.

Down the winding path he trod, to the back corner where Megan had planted a cutting garden in a sunny spot, that the Breech's might always have flowers at their table. Megan was a dab hand when it came to growing things. At the edge of the flowerbed, Megan liked to set up her easel, to capture the ever changing array of flowers against the backdrop of the river.

Exactly as Reed had pictured her for the nine months he had been gone, Megan bloomed along with her flowers. She stood at her easel, her hair fired with sunlight, the smock covering her dress as dabbled with paint as her face and hands were dappled with light and shadow filtering through the elms. He paused a moment, took the enticing set of Claude glasses from his pocket and held up the umber panel, that he might fix forever the image of her in his memory.

"Do not move," he said aloud.

Of course, at the sound of his voice, she did move. "Reed!" His name caught breathlessly in her throat. "Is

it really you, Reed?"

She came running at him, filling the Claude glass, spilling over its boundaries. He snapped the leather case shut, slipping it into his pocket before she could knock it from his hand. Megan had not changed. Never still for a moment, her energy was boundless.

"Let me look at you." She threw herself and the familiar cloud of her tuberose perfume around his neck that he might hug her and kiss her cheek. As swiftly, she pushed him away that she might, as she said, look at him, her eyes bright with joy, or was it tears? "Are you changed by your Grand Tour? Did you bring back sketches of all the places you have visited? Do you mean to stay to tea? You must stay to tea. We have so much to catch up on and so little time."

Before he could answer a single question she had thrown her arms around him again and was mumbling into the folds of his road-weary neckcloth. "Have you any idea how much I have missed you?"

Her enthusiastic embrace might have overwhelmed Reed had he not been used to Nutmeg and her ways. Her outburst pleased him. It was the welcome home he had anticipated. Her embrace was happiness itself surrounding him. He let himself get caught up in its warmth, even returned it with a hearty hug, a display quite uncharacteristic of him.

"Let me catch my breath," he said jovially. "You are squeezing the life out of me. Yes, I am staying to tea. As for my being changed by the Tour, I have had quite enough of change. Every day has seen change for this year and more--new vistas, new food, new hotel rooms and new languages to deal with. Do you know that every time I asked for something I lived in fear of what might actually arrive. I am ever so relieved to come home to the familiar, to that which has not, and never should, change."

Megan let go her hold on him. "Oh, but Reed, you are wrong. While you have been gone everything has changed."

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