Elisabeth Fairchild
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by Elisabeth Fairchild

Signet Books
ISBN # 0-451 18233-2
July 1995


A French noblewoman, her entire family eradicated in the bloody Terror, leaves her war-torn homeland to make a fresh start in the peaceful English countryside as cook for Julian Endicott, whose appetite has been spoiled by the recent death of his wife in childbirth. An error has been made, however, a male is wanted to fill the cook's position, not a female. Jeannette Saincouer can keep her job only if she is successful in tempting Lord Endicott's appetite.

What the critics say:

4 1/2 STARS -- "Elisabeth Fairchild weilds a pen (or computer keyboard) as deftly as her heroine Jeanette weilds a spoon. She cooks up an excellent repast of humor, poignant charm and romance for her fans whose numbers will surely increase with this latest offering. Find a comfortable chair, because you won't want to move until you've devoured this morsel ."
- Rickey R. Mallory, AFFAIRE de COEUR

"The unique voice of Elisabeth Fairchild strikes another original note."
- Melinda Helfer, ROMANTIC TIMES

"Ms. Fairchild has written a warn, touching chronicle of a man's return to living and the woman who brought it about, as timely today as it was in 1802. "- RENDEZVOUS

"Ms. Fairchild's latest is as unique and excellent as her previous offerings. "

"Readers rejoice! An Authentic and original new voice in Regency romance." - Laura Parker


SUMMER, 1802
The wind blew fitfully, out of the east, as the carrier let Jeannette down, hot, tired and dusty, in front of the house, instead of at the rear as he should have. A large, bedraggled mourning wreath, like a tear on the grey, ragstone face of the Elisabethan manor house, drew Miss Saincoeur to the wrong door. That, and habit. She was not yet used to thinking of front doors as a piece of her past.

The wreath beckoned in the bright sunlight, a mute expression of a grief so deep it had been left hanging for all who passed to see. The black silk ribbons were wind-tattered and gray with dust, the paper flowers tired, the dingy paper gloves upon which had once been written the name and age of the deceased, faded into illegibility. This evidence of a grief, not yet dimmed enough to see clear to removing such an eyesore, touched upon a tender place deep within Jeannette's heart, a tender place that still made her wince on occasion. Here, was kinship with the man who was to be her master, before even they were met. Here, in the wilds of Kent, of all places, for the first time since crossing the Channel, was a connection with home-- the thin thread of grief. Weary, but hopeful, she put down her heavy valise, turned her face into the breeze, which smelled richly of sun-drenched growing things, lifted the ring in the brass door knocker's lionine mouth, and banged it smartly against solid English oak.

The hollow pounding echoed the rhythm of her troubled heart as she looked down at dusty shoes and remembered herself. Jeannette Saincoeur should not be banging on the front door at all! She was not a visitor here, to be welcomed by the butler. She was a servant, whose proper mode of entry was through the rear entrance.

The door swung open. It was dark inside, dark and cool, with the closed-in smell of candle wax and unaired spaces.

A severe looking gent with a stiff collar and even stiffer enunciation, peered down the length of his rather remarkable nose. "May I help you, miss?"

His tone was as cool as his unruffled appearance. Jeannette felt hot and blowsy by comparison. She was fluent in English, but every word flew right out of her head.

"Excusez-moi, monsieur! Je arriver..."

The butler held up his hand. "Pray speak the King's English if you wish to be understood."
Jeannette took a deep breath. With a slight inflection she said, "Pardon. My name is Jeannette Saincoeur. I am the new French cook. I believe I have come to the wrong door. Can you tell me the direction of the servant's entrance?"

Her mistake offended him. He raised his eyebrows as though it pained him, and pointed. "If you will be so good, Miss Saincoeur."

Hefting her valise, in one sweating, gloved hand, Jeannette bobbed her head. Her neck felt stiff. "Merci, monsieur."

Before either of them could move, an authoritative, female voice froze them in their tracks. "She says she's the French cook, does she? But, that cannot be!" The door flew wide and a starchy, middle-aged female in black bombazine and a spotless white apron and mobcap stood glaring at her, skirt kicking aggressively in the breeze. "I did not hire a female!"

Jeannette looked to the butler for some explanation of such an outburst. His coolly austere expression had grown even more remote.

The woman pulled a bit of paper from her apron and brandished it like a weapon. The breeze tugged rudely at the paper, as though to tear it from her hand. "I did not hire a female! I asked especially not to be sent a female! Who are you?"

Jeannette blinked in the face of such vehemence. "You are Mrs. Gary, the housekeeper?" She drew forth her own documentation, the letter from the hiring service in London, encouraging her to travel far into the wilds of Kent, here to this lovely Elizabethan home called Idylnook, and the widower who lived here, Lord Julian Endicott. The wind snapped her letter to life.

"They have requested that I come," she said.

"Well, I'm sorry for it. You have but to go back again. I'd no intention of hiring a French female for the kitchen. It was my understanding you were a man."

Jeannette felt as if the mischievous wind meant to whip her very position from her grasp. Disappointment bruised her patience. "But, I have no money to return to London," she protested, slipping in her distress, into her native tongue. "I have here, a directive to come, and a great many miles have I traveled in order to oblige." The wind whipped the letter about like a standard.

"What does she say, Simms," Mrs. Gary implored of the butler. "I cannot understand a word. Do make her go away. The dratted wind is blowing all manner of dust in the door. Half the candles in the house have gone out, I'm sure, and she'll be upsetting the master with all the Frenchified noise she's making."

Freed from the constraint of good manners by the knowledge that her native tongue was not understood, Jeannette unleashed a barrage of angry French, battering the two who blocked the door, with the same nagging intensity as the wind. "This is an abominable affront! Have you no honor? It is scandalous to turn a penniless female away without so much as a chance to show you what she can do."

"An atrocity," a cool, masculine voice, also speaking French, silenced Jeannette from somewhere deep in the shadows of the entryway.

"Master Endicott..." the housekeeper began.

"Invite the young lady inside," the gentle voice wearily interrupted in English. "I do not care to have the crowd of you hashing it out on the front step."

Jeannette picked up what seemed to be the growing weight of her valise. The housekeeper scowled. "The young miss has airs, coming to the front..."

"Enough, Mrs. Gary." The emotionless voice seemed to grow less animated as Mrs. Gary's grew more shrill. "Simms, relieve the young lady of her burden."

Jeannette stepped into the darkness of the entryway, blinking against the sudden change in light as Simms took the bag from her hand and closed the door on the wind. It was cool here, cool and still, and she was met by the image of what seemed not so much man as wraith.

A figure as gentle and weary as the voice that had addressed them, was supported by the wall beside a door that led off the entryway. There was a sepulchral quality to the man's motionless stance, for the walls and ceiling were draped in black cloth, and the young man, clad in the matte, unrelieved black of deep mourning, became a part of the shrouded darkness, like some grim, hollow-cheeked angel, carved from the wall.

The candlelight from the room behind him, illuminated an unusually pale face framed by wings of equally pale hair. The face, the hair, thus seemed the only animated parts of him as he stood so quietly before her. This fine, fair, floating hair, which fell sleekly to his shoulders, rather like the feathers on a dove's back, lent his weary face an airy, almost youthful look, a tenderness of years that was not reflected in the shadowed, solemn gray eyes that regarded her.

"I am Julian Endicott," he said. "And you are?"

Jeannette dipped a low curtsy. "Jeannette..." Bouille', she almost said, out of long lost habit, but caught herself. "Jeannette Saincoeur, Monsieur Endicott."

"Saincoeur," he mused with a flicker of interest. "Sound heart? An unusual name. Can you tempt my appetite I wonder, Miss Sound Heart? I have not an easy palate to please."

Julian gave her one week-- the fiesty, dusty, little squab of a French female with the great, dark eyes that flashed with anger when told she must be going-- seven days in which to convince him that his appetite had not gone to the grave along with his wife, Elinor. She had seemed pleased. The angry fire in her eyes had died down. She thanked him prettily, in the French he was used to hearing in the drawing room and not the scullery, and dipped a graceful curtsy despite the encumbrance of her dusty, white, drab cloak. The vague notion Julian had been harboring, that this young woman was one of the numerous French aristocrats fleeing France with nothing but their lives, seemed more likely than ever.

"But, Master Julian, what about Danny?" Mrs. Gary had hissed. "It was on his account I was set on hiring a man for the cook's position."

Julian shrugged. His head was hurting. This morning's adventure involved too much noise, and light, and decision making for his taste. "We shall see if she can cook first, and then worry about Danial." He waved Mrs. Gary away, convinced this morning's charity would amount to naught. She would be gone in seven days, the dark-eyed little bird whose feathers had gotten so ruffled. Without a squawk, she would fly away when she found she could not convince him to eat. Her going would not pain him, could not pain him. He was too numb with anguish to care what became of anyone, male or female, now that Elinor had slipped away. He was dead to all feeling but the great chasm of hurt into which her passing had plunged him.

Detaching himself from the wall, he withdrew to his study, closed the door, shoved the trouble of Danny and female cooks to the back of his mind, and fell to brooding over the letter from Margaret.

His elder sister informed him she was on her way to visit. She had word that he was still moping over Elinor, still traipsing about in full mourning, with the house still shrouded to the eaves and lit by no more than candles. She had heard that he refused to eat even so much as would keep a sparrow alive. She meant to put an end to it, she said. It was time to put the past behind him. More than a year was gone by, and in all that time his face had not been seen among polite society. Enough was enough. People had begun to talk. It was time to cast off his blacks.

She suggested they go together to Tunbridge Wells Spa, so that he might drink the waters. It was clear he suffered from the melancholy. The minerals of the spring was touted for its restorative qualities, despite the foulness of their smell.

The prospect of both his sister, and foul waters, Lord Endicott found rather daunting. There was, in fact, something about Margaret's letter that made Julian want to laugh and cry at the same time. He chose to laugh. A bitter, flat sound, it chased the birds away from the draped windowsill, where they had been fluttering amongst the ivy, searching for bugs. The birds reminded him of the French woman. His laugh sounded again. A ridiculous thing for any cook to upset herself over, cooking for him. He would not eat, no matter how delicious her recipes. Food was nothing to him, now. It tasted of nothing. He had no hunger in him.

Sorrow deadened one's appetite. It deadened all of the senses. Those who suffered not the loss of their most beloved, had no understanding of such matters. Sorrow could not be turned on and off like the mechanics of a clock. It sat beside one, all the time, only briefly forgotten until unexpectedly a sound, sight, smell, or feeling roused it from slumber, and it reached out with malicious indifference, to squeeze one's heart again.

The new cook would cook for him, and his sister Margaret, would come and try to coax him away to Tunbridge Wells. He knew there was no stopping either woman's efforts. But, it was all for naught. The only woman whose efforts he had cared about, was dead and buried, and he held himself responsible. He wondered if he would ever reach a point of caring again.

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