Excerpt for Miss Millie's Groom by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


By Catherine E. Chapman

Published by Catherine E. Chapman at Smashwords

Copyright 2017 Catherine E. Chapman

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Also by the author

All the Trimmings

Braggot Park

Brizecombe Hall


Collected Romances

Danburgh Castle

Elizabeth Clansham

High Sea


Opening Night


The Beacon Singer

The Family Tree

The Hangar Dance

The Laird’s Right-Hand Lady

The Office Party

The Ramblers

Three Medieval Romances

Three Romances

Chapter 1

“Millicent, I assure you, if the horse could have been saved we would have saved it–”

“You could have saved it – you should have! Nothing should have been done without my consent–”

“But my dear, the horse was in agony. To have delayed in taking action would’ve been sheer cruelty–”

“I ask you again, Father, who fired the shot?”

Sir Randolph Awbridge remained reticent, saying calmly, “It makes no odds Millie–”

“I demand to know,” the girl persisted, adding, “If you don’t tell me, one of the housemaids will,” when her father’s silence had lasted too long.

Randolph looked upon his daughter forlornly. “It was Ryan–”

“The stable lad!”

“Now, Millicent, do not react rashly. The boy only acted upon my orders!” But by the time Randolph had finished his speech, the girl had fled from the drawing room, bound for the door. She was now out of earshot and Randolph knew there was no point in pursuing her.

* * *

Millicent Awbridge ran along the long corridor of Glassnest Hall until she reached the kitchens. Narrowly avoiding a collision with Effie, the housemaid, she tore through the scullery and headed for the back door of the grand house. She ran through the stable yard, where a fleeting glimpse of the empty stall that had been her own beloved Charger’s home brought a tear to her eye and reminded her of her purpose. She sped up; she had an account to settle.

Beyond the yard, Millie followed the track that meandered into the woodland of the estate. There, she knew, in a small hovel of a house, Ryan O’Flynn resided with his grandmother. Ryan, whom her father had brought back with him from a trip to Ireland some ten years ago, when she herself had just been old enough to hold still a memory of the small, pale, blonde boy.

“Whatever were you thinking, Randolph?” her mother had complained when the boy had been taken away to be washed and more suitably clothed.

“He was an orphan. They had no place for him on the estate where I was staying. He’s such an endearing little chap and has a wonderful way with horses. He’ll make a fine stable lad.”

Amelia Awbridge had laughed incredulously at the suggestion. “Randolph, the boy is a runt. You say he’s nine but he’s barely any bigger than Millie–”

“With a good diet, he’ll grow strong and if he stays short then he’ll no doubt make a decent jockey. That boy’s an investment, Amelia, you mark my words.”

But he hadn’t stayed short, Millie reflected with satisfaction as she picked her way along the woodland track. Ryan was now approaching six foot – far too tall to be a jockey. However, to Millie’s chagrin, this fact didn’t seem to impede her father’s affection for him.

Millie had reached the cottage. She walked up to the door and banged on it three times with her clenched fist. When there wasn’t an instant response to her knock, she thumped her fist against the old wooden door again, perversely glad at the pain the action caused her: it just made her feel angrier, which must be good.

The door opened. “What on earth are you doing? The old lady’s just got off to sleep.”

“How dare you take that tone with me. I shall be telling my father.”

Ryan stepped outside the house and closed the door after him. “Will you keep your voice down, young lady,” he said, doubly aggrieved, first by her rudeness and then by her indignation at his response. “And will you be telling Sir Randolph that you came round here causing trouble, upsetting my ailing grandmother?”

Ryan stood close to Millie, who had been reluctant to give up her post on the doorstep. He towered over her, trying to edge her away from the threshold but finding her resistant.

“Don’t you touch me,” Millie cautioned when she found that her refusal to budge had caused them to make contact.

“Believe me, Miss Millicent, I have no desire to do any such thing.”

“You killed my horse – you shot Charger dead,” she said, pushing the stable lad back against the door but discovering that her force was futile against his strength and stature.

“There was nothing else could have been done, Miss Millie.”

“Yes there was. He needn’t have died,” she protested, her face erupting into tears and her fists now beating against Ryan’s chest. She found that they were swiftly arrested by firm grasping hands.

Defeated, Millie bawled into the rough shirt of indistinct colour that she saw in front of her. To her surprise, she soon felt the sensation of those strong hands that had apprehended her, stroking her hair and caressing her shoulder, and, in response, Millie found her own arms clinging to the detested horse-murderer.

“There, there, Miss Millicent,” he said, seeming only to remember their respective positions upon utterance of her name.

Millie felt Ryan withdraw from the embrace. She looked up from his chest and into his blue eyes, which she now realised portrayed fear. The fearless Irish lad, who had not balked at confronting her on his doorstep, was fearful, she could tell, that his display of affection would be relayed to her father. He stood awkwardly, apart from her now, his arms folded. “I’m sorry Miss,” he said, raising his hand to brush a blonde curl from his face.

Millie feared he might tug his forelock. “No, I’m sorry, Ryan,” she hastened. “I’ve behaved like a child. Of course you had no choice but to do as my father instructed.”

“It was for the best, Miss Millie,” Ryan said quietly.

She realised he wasn’t going to look at her again.

“I’m sorry I disturbed you – and your grandmother. Please forgive me and give her my regards,” Millie said, turning, reluctantly, to leave him in peace.

As she walked away from the cottage Millie heard the front door close shut. She turned and gazed at the humble dwelling, not caring whether he saw her do it.

Something had changed today, Millicent knew. The loss of Charger had seemed unbearable. Unbearable, that was, until she’d felt Ryan’s arms about her; until some stronger bond of affection had been awakened by his tenderness.

Millie turned back and continued on to the big house, feeling the strangest of sensations. If only it were possible to capture that one perfect moment when Ryan had held her like it was possible for them to behave like that towards one another all the time. If only. Because, from the look on his face, she knew he wasn’t going to do it again.

And all Millie could think about for the rest of that day was Ryan. Nobody worried about the fact that she cried all night because everybody thought she was crying about the horse.

Chapter 2

“Millicent, I don’t find it easy to talk about these things. It’s at times like this when I lack the necessary sensibilities of a mother…”

Why, Millie pondered, could her father never just say, “It’s now that I miss your mother.” He managed always, somehow, to negotiate awkwardly around the fact of her mother’s death.

“I’ve asked your Aunt Rose to come and stay with us for the duration of the house party, with the intention that she will act as something of a chaperon towards you.”

“It’s quite unnecessary, Papa–”

“On the contrary, my dear, I think at this juncture in your life a chaperon is quite necessary.” He paused. “You know, of course, that Mr Windham is among the guests.”

Millicent squirmed at the mention of his name. “Father, I believe I have explained before that I do not wish to look upon Benjamin Windham as a suitor–”

“But my dear you do not know the young man. He has prospects, breeding–”

“He has not breeding,” Millie was quick to correct.

“He has far better prospects than many with far better breeding, that’s the point, my girl. And he has expressed a keen interest in you.”

“But Papa–”

“So I would ask that, under the watchful eye of your Aunt Rose, you seek to become acquainted with Mr Benjamin Windham whilst he is staying in our home. I am confident that, upon better acquaintance with that young man, you will find him a most agreeable suitor, Millicent.”

Millie could see that opposition was futile. The house party was all arranged and, moreover, her father’s mind was made up. There was nothing to be done but go along with it.

* * *

Millie sat at the long dining table, opposite her Aunt Rose. Beside her sat Ben Windham. Having tried fruitlessly to engage Millie in conversation, he had now turned his attention to Miss Arabella Price, who was seated to his right. This transfer of interest had not escaped the notice of Aunt Rose, who now shot Millie piercing glances of disapproval.

The house party was rapidly becoming too much for Millicent. Initially she’d tried to be agreeable and accommodating towards Mr Windham but as soon as she had given him any encouragement, he had overstepped the mark and tried to take advantage.

“He asked to kiss me,” Millie had complained to Aunt Rose, in the belief that the grand dame would surely see how inappropriate the request had been.

But Rose had only laughed, saying scornfully, “With the signals your father has been giving him, I’m surprised he asked so little.”

“It’s not so little,” Millie had insisted.

“Granted, Millicent, in my day such a request may have been viewed as precocious but times are changing, girl,” was all her aunt had replied. Millie interpreted this to mean that her chaperon thought she should grant Mr Windham his wish. But she wouldn’t.

“I’m nipping out for a breath of fresh air, Aunt Rose,” Millie said across the table, rising and vacating her seat before Aunt Rose had a chance to detain her.

Millie wandered to the back of the house and through the busy kitchens, dodging the servants who scurried in the opposite direction to serve the dinner of many courses.

“You shouldn’t be in here, Miss,” young Effie complained, as Millie walked through the scullery, bound for the back door, “You’ll spoil your new dress.”

But Millie just smiled blithely at the girl and carried on. She cared nothing for the dress.

When she was out in the stable yard, Millie looked about but could see no one; all the staff had been called into the house to help with dinner, it seemed. But then she spied lamplight from the furthest stall. She headed for it.

It was as Millicent had hoped. Of course, Ryan had managed to resist the call to wait on the gentry for the evening. Millie leant against the stable door, hoping the fabric of her dress would catch on it and be ripped to shreds. He was examining the hooves of her father’s favourite stallion. He had his back to her. She smiled to witness his broad shoulders, his shirtsleeves rolled up, as, bent over, he scraped at the horse’s hoof.

It was not until Ryan set the hoof back down and went to examine the next one, that, from the corner of his eye, he noticed Millie. He started. “I didn’t see you there, Miss Millicent,” he said.

Millie just smiled at him and, pushing open the stable door, entered the stall.

“That’s a pretty dress,” Ryan observed. “Be careful you don’t get it dirty in here.”

“You too!” Millie complained.

“Sorry?” Ryan asked.

“I’ve already been cautioned by Effie,” Millie explained.

“Well, you should be careful,” Ryan said.

“It’s just a dress,” Millie replied dismissively.

“But you look beautiful in it,” Ryan continued, adding involuntarily, “You look like a woman.” Immediately he said it, he regretted his foolish admission.

The dress was full-length, white and lacy; chosen by Millie’s father, on the advice of Aunt Rose, no doubt. The dress was, Millie suspected, intended to make her look like a bride.

“What are you doing?” Millie asked Ryan.

“Checking Wellington over before Sir Randolph’s hunt tomorrow.”

“Is he fit?”

“He’s due a trip to the farrier. That’s why I’m concerned.”

“Aren’t you clever, Ryan. It’s probably the only excuse Daddy would accept to get you out of serving tonight.”

Ryan laughed dismissively but didn’t deny her suggestion.

“You hate all that, don’t you – all that ceremony,” Millie mused.

“I just like working with horses,” Ryan returned simply.

“What do you think of Mr Windham?” Millie found it irresistible to ask.

“Windham? I’m not sure which of the gents you mean. They all seem much of a muchness to me,” Ryan replied casually, to Millie’s delight.

“Mr Windham has asked me to kiss him,” Millie divulged rashly.

Ryan laughed rather nervously. “Have you been drinking Champagne, Miss Millie?”

“Buckets of it,” she replied.

Ryan laughed again.

“You’d hate that as well,” Millie observed.

“I’ve never tasted it–”

“You don’t want to; you’d hate it.”

During the discussion, Millie had closed in on Ryan, whilst he had attempted, somewhat vainly, to continue inspecting Wellington’s hooves.

“What would you think if I asked you to kiss me?” Millie blurted over Ryan’s lowered head.

At that, he dropped Wellington’s leg and stood upright.

“You’d think it quite rude, wouldn’t you?” Millie pursued.

Ryan’s expression animated, he replied, “It’s a dilemma I’m unlikely to face, Miss.”

“But why?” Millie asked plainly. “If Benjamin Windham can ask it of me, why shouldn’t I ask it of you?”

Ryan’s amusement subsided. He looked at Millie intently. “Please don’t play games with me, Miss Millicent. I think you’ve just had too much to drink tonight.”

“But I haven’t, Ryan – and I’m not.”

Millie edged forward and pressed her fingers gently against Ryan’s strong, broad chest, recalling how she had buried her head in it on the day he’d shot Charger. “If Benjamin Windham –for whom I care so little– can ask it of me, then why shouldn’t I ask it of you, Ryan? You, for whom I care a lot,” she qualified unguardedly, looking up into his eyes.

With his expression still so very serious, Ryan leant forward and, very gently, placed a kiss on Millie’s brow. “I think you should get back to your party now, Miss,” he said.

But Millie leapt to embrace Ryan, demanding, “Hold me.”

“I can’t Miss Millie,” Ryan replied, drawing himself upright to escape her grasp and holding his own arms apart.

Why?” she complained.

“For one thing, my hands are filthy and I’d spoil your dress and, for another, your father would have me hanged if he found out,” Ryan explained, trying to remain light-hearted in tone and convince himself it was just the Champagne talking.

“Then kiss me properly,” Millie insisted, “on the lips. Kiss me properly and I’ll leave you in peace. We’re quite alone; nobody need ever know,” she added.

“You promise?” he said, looking down at Millie and involuntarily smiling into her eyes.

“I promise,” she said.

And so he kissed her. Not a transient peck but a lingering kiss that left an imprint on Millie for the rest of the evening and beyond. The soft warmth of his lips; the gentle pressure he exerted on her own lips, and how he stood still, his arms still free of Millie, but didn’t resist her efforts to press the blasted dress against him and soil it with his stable-grime.

When he finally ceased Millie just stood before him, speechless.

“We had an agreement,” Ryan said softly but firmly.

“I know,” she replied in a whisper, reluctant to leave his side. “Thank you, Ryan,” Millie said humbly before taking leave of him.

“It was my pleasure, Miss Millie,” the stable lad replied, trying hard to stifle any elation he was feeling in the aftermath of their encounter.

Back inside and onto a sweet course of Baked Alaska that Millie was glad she hadn’t missed, Aunt Rose looked upon the girl dubiously and announced, “You took your time.”

“It’s this dress, Aunt Rose,” Millie responded immediately. “It’s hell. I went to the powder room and had a devil of a time adjusting it once I was done.”

Aunt Rose raised her eyebrows at this disclosure and, out of earshot of Benjamin Windham, cautioned, “Millicent, don’t talk so or you will never make a society wife.”

Millie smiled sweetly at her chaperon, took a mouthful of the pudding and savoured the taste of the sugary meringue and the sensation of the cool ice cream slipping down her throat. Downing a sip of the sweetest dessert wine, Millie registered Aunt Rose’s disapproval of what had, by Millie’s standards, been a considerable intake of wine that evening.

How marvellous! She’d only really drunk the wine to stave off the boredom of a dinner sat next to Ben Windham but it had given her the courage to approach Ryan.

And so, triumphing over adversity, Millie had resisted a kiss from a man she disdained and solicited one from a man she truly admired.

In Millie’s small and orchestrated world, this was an estimable victory: her first kiss, delivered by the man she’d chosen, rather than one who’d been selected for her.

Chapter 3

The morning after the fine dinner, Glassnest Hall was abuzz with preparations for Sir Randolph’s hunt. Millie’s absence was first detected at breakfast but it wasn’t long before Effie approached Sir Randolph, telling him that his daughter sent her apologies but was afflicted with a migraine and so wouldn’t be joining the hunt that morning. Upon overhearing this disclosure, Aunt Rose rolled her eyes.

Millie didn’t emerge from her room, on the top flight and in the furthest recess of the vast house, until she had watched –from the corner of her window– the horses depart from the courtyard, hounds swarming about their hooves as they set off.

Once the hunt was underway, Ben Windham was no longer a threat to her peace of mind. Millie sensed there would be a nip in the air and so, pulling on a cape, she quitted the bedchamber and, taking the least-trafficked route through the house, emerged into the crisp, fresh, morning.

Almost against reason, Millie headed straight for the stables, where she found a group of menservants taking advantage of the fact that the houseguests were now occupied for some time. Millie heard throats being cleared as her presence was detected. A couple of the young men instinctively threw down their cigarettes and stubbed them out with their feet. Millie felt a peculiar rush of power and had to stifle a smile. “Good morning, John,” she said brightly to the most senior man, “I wonder if you can tell me where Ryan O’Flynn is?”

“I believe you may find him in the barn Miss,” came the response from John, along with a few muffled chuckles from the other men.

A couple of minutes later, upon entering the barn, Millie soon discovered the source of the men’s amusement. Ryan lay, on a blanket spread out at the base of a stack of hay, sound asleep. Loitering in the yard and smoking was one thing but sleeping on the job would truly outrage Sir Randolph. Millie laughed to think of the men’s assumption that she would shop Ryan; to think of what they didn’t know.

Throwing her cape onto the hay, she sat down beside Ryan and gazed upon his handsome face. He looked angelic sleeping, his looks and his locks so fair. Hovering over him, she softly stroked his cheek with the back of her hand and then tangled her fingers in his hair.

He stirred.

“Shhh,” Millie whispered. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Sorry Miss Millie,” Ryan said, disoriented, “I don’t know what came over me. I’ll get straight back to work,” and he made to stand up.

But Millie pulled him back, saying laughingly, “No you won’t!”

Ryan fell back into the hay and gazed up at her. “I didn’t sleep a wink last night,” he admitted.

“Why?” she asked innocently.

“Why!” he replied incredulously, shaking his head. “Did you sleep?”

“Like a baby, thank you,” she replied, playfully.

“Word in the big house is that you’re the worse for drink–”

“Nonsense! I’m as fit as a fiddle. I just wanted to get out of the hunt. And I wanted to see you.” Millie stroked Ryan’s cheek again and smiled into his blue eyes.

“Miss Millicent,” he began soberly.

“Can’t you just call me Millie and drop the Miss? Effie calls me Millie – when we’re alone. I said to her one day, ‘How outrageous that you’ve seen me in my drawers but you still persist in calling me Miss’–” Millie remembered herself and saw that her rash talk had embarrassed the shy stable lad.

Ryan had turned his face away from her. “This can’t go on, Miss Millie,” he said.

“Why?” Millie replied softly.

“Because I’m not your kind; I’m not of your rank–”

“And what if I ordered you?” Millie announced with sudden imperiousness, reverting to the spoilt child she had not so long since been.

Ryan’s response was characteristically measured and adult. “Well then it wouldn’t be what you seem to want it to be, would it?”

She didn’t understand.

“You seem to want love.”

“Can’t you love me?” Millie asked with childlike simplicity.

“Oh I could love you, alright,” Ryan said earnestly, “but it could never be truly fulfilled–”

“Why not?”

“Can you see Randolph giving his only child away to an Irish peasant?” Ryan paused, looking intently up into Millie’s eyes.

She didn’t know how she could resist kissing him but, as she bent her head, Ryan said, “Miss Millie, don’t–”

Millie started and, tears in her eyes, tried to rise from the blanket.

“But please, let’s not part like this,” Ryan pleaded, reaching up and holding out his arm to her.

She knelt before him, trying hard to control her sobs. “Do you want me or not?” she asked forlornly.

Ryan sat up and, leaning on one hand, with his knee bent so as to encircle her body with his own, lifted his free hand to wipe the tears from Millie’s cheeks. “Millicent, are you sure you want me?” he said very earnestly.

“Yes,” she replied decisively.

“Are you certain you wouldn’t prefer your Mr Windham and all his finery?”

“No,” she said firmly.

“What do you see in me?” Ryan asked.

Millie smiled, encouraged that he seemed to be retracting his decision to end things, and endeared by his lack of self-confidence. “Have you looked in a mirror recently, Ryan?” she replied, with a twinkle in her eye.

He shrugged his shoulders dismissively and, shaking his head, said, “But I can barely read, Millie–”

She placed her finger on his lips and said, “Shhh.”

But he persisted. “All I know is horses.”

Millie shuffled closer to him and shook her head. “Horses and women,” she said, her eyes now glistening brightly, not with teardrops but expectation.

Laughing, Ryan collapsed back into the haystack. To Miss Millie’s delight, he pulled her down with him.

* * *

“And when I came to find you this morning, Millicent, I was informed by John that you were most probably with Ryan O’Flynn. What on earth were you doing with the stable lad?”

Groom, Aunt Rose; he’s a grown man, not a boy.”

“Do her up tighter, Effie, or we’ll never see her married to Ben Windham.”

Millie was leaning on the end of the bed frame as Effie reluctantly tightened her corset to extremity.

“But I don’t think she’ll be able to breathe, Ma’am,” Effie protested.

“Nonsense, do her up.”

Effie tied the cords, whispering, “Sorry,” to Millie as she did.

“I repeat, Millicent, what pray were you doing with Ryan O’Flynn?”

Millie, once Effie had finished tying the cords, pulled herself very slowly upright and answered dispassionately, “Talking about horses.”

“Turn to face me, Millicent,” Aunt Rose directed, dissatisfied with her niece’s response.

Millie did her bidding.

“And look at me, girl. This evening is your last chance to impress Mr Windham. If you don’t do better than you’ve done so far it is all but a foregone conclusion that he will propose to Arabella Price instead of you.”

‘If only he would,’ Millie thought but didn’t dare say.

“Put on her dress, Effie; the blue chiffon one this evening. Do we understand one another, Millicent?”

“I think so,” Millie replied equivocally.

Rose, in two minds whether to overlook her niece’s lack of total compliance, huffed dramatically and left the room.

When she’d gone Effie let out a sigh of relief.

“Believe me, Effie, I’d do the same if I could move,” Millie said.

Without asking, Effie undid the cords of the corset and loosened it.

“You’re such a sweetheart,” Millie said to the girl, sighing.

“We don’t want you keeling over, Miss,” Effie replied. She adjusted the garment so that Millie could breathe more freely and just about bend. Millie stood quietly, enjoying the sensation of being liberated.

As she tied the corset at the looser setting, Effie began tentatively, “If you don’t mind my asking, Miss, why don’t you like Mr Windham?”

“Effie, the man is a bore,” Millie replied. “I have literally nothing in common with him. I’ve nothing to say to him.” She paused. “And I detest his over-enthusiasm for hunting.”

“I thought they didn’t hunt in the summertime,” Effie said.

“Yesterday they went cub hunting–”

Baby foxes?” Effie asked, alarmed.

“Exactly. That’s the kind of man he is. My father would never have arranged the hunt if Windham hadn’t been here.”

There was silence for a moment as Effie lifted the sky-blue chiffon dress over Millie’s head.

“But he is handsome,” Effie pursued tentatively, once the dress was on and she was fastening it up.

“You think so?” Millie replied dubiously.

“I mean, he is generally considered to be handsome,” Effie qualified, growing, Millie noted in the full-length mirror into which she looked, rosy-cheeked at the mention of Ben Windham.

“Do you think him handsome, Effie?” Millie asked playfully.

“Yes I do Miss,” Effie admitted simply after a pause, hanging her head to hide her face in the glass as she spoke.

“Well,” Millie said finally, “so long as I carry on doing abominably, he’ll hopefully be engaged to Arabella Price by tomorrow morning and good riddance to them both; we can all get back to normal.”

Chapter 4

“Would you like potatoes, Miss?” Ryan asked Millie awkwardly.

“I would love potatoes, Ryan,” she replied enthusiastically, delighting in the look of disgust her exuberance elicited from Aunt Rose.

Millie was once again at table with Aunt Rose opposite and Ben Windham to her side. But tonight was different because even Ryan had not escaped being called upon to serve. One of the butlers had gone down with a bug so the stable lad had been forced to don trousers, tails, shirt and tie, there being no hunt planned for the morning to provide him with a reasonable excuse to get out of serving duties.

He leant over Millie and inexpertly attempted to serve her boiled potatoes. Millie smiled up at him inappropriately as he did.

“Is that enough Miss?” Ryan asked.

Aunt Rose tutted at Ryan’s lack of table etiquette.

Millie beamed and said, “That’s lovely Ryan. Thank you.”

Looking embarrassed, Ryan moved on to Ben Windham.

Rose glared at her niece.

“Yum,” Millie said, surveying her plate. “I do love partridge, don’t you Aunt?”

Rose shook her head. “I think you shall not be having any more wine this evening, Millicent. It has quite obviously gone straight to your head. I wish they’d hurry up with the vegetables and then we could start. Some solid food may bring you to your senses.”

* * *

“Ryan,” Millie whispered through a crack in the study door as he passed along the corridor. His attention secured, she reached out her hand and pulled him into the dark room. Closing the door behind them, Millie led Ryan over to the window, where, the curtains drawn back, the light of the moon offered some illumination.

“What are you doing?” Ryan asked, half alarmed, half awestruck by her behaviour.

“Come here,” she said, positioning him in the moonlit window.

“I’m expected in the kitchens,” he complained.

“But you’re needed here,” she insisted, reaching up and kissing his cheek.

“Millie,” he cautioned. “This isn’t the time or the place.”

“Oh you’re so dull,” she chided affectionately.

“So let me go,” he said.

“Not until you’ve tasted this,” Millie replied, lifting a glass of Champagne from the window ledge and raising it to his lips.

Ryan sipped it.

“What do you think?” Millie asked.

“Disgusting,” he replied.

“I know; have some more,” she said.

She raised the glass once more and, tilting it too acutely, spilt drink down Ryan’s chin.

Laughing, he stepped back and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his jacket.

“You’re the most handsome man in the dining room, by the way,” Millie said.

“Give over,” he replied modestly, adding, “You’re the most beautiful girl, it goes without saying.”

“Why, thank you Mr O’Flynn,” Millie said, curtsying to him and then returning the glass to the window ledge.

“Very curvaceous in that dress,” he elaborated.

“Oh don’t you dare,” she said. “If you had any idea of the pain I’m withstanding to carry this off – and that’s not the half of it. It’s only because Effie took pity on me that I can breathe at all.”

Ryan gazed upon her adoringly. Millie looked up at him proudly, saying, “But you really do brush up well, Mr O’Flynn,” and then standing on tiptoes to kiss him again.

“We must go,” Ryan repeated.

“Must we?” she whispered tiresomely into his ear, before placing a lingering kiss on his cheek.

Ryan turned his head so that their lips met. Taking Millie in his arms, he lifted her off the floor. She was suspended in mid-air for one heavenly minute before he decisively set her back down and said, “Enough, I have to leave.”

Without another word, he strode across the room and, once he’d checked the coast was clear, opened the door and slipped out into the passage, leaving Millie swooning in the dark.

She took up the glass from the window sill and drank the remains of its contents, smiling stupidly up at the moon as she did.

* * *

Later that same night Millie picked her way along the woodland track that led to Ryan’s cottage, the bright moon her only guide in the darkness. The winds were strong and the rain drove into her face. She struggled to hold the umbrella so as to shield her, yet manage to see what she was walking into, whilst keeping the long, blue dress hitched up off the muddy ground. She had, at least, changed her shoes before setting out from the house but she hadn’t thought there time to change into more appropriate attire – that would have required Effie’s assistance, anyway.

When she reached Ryan’s home, Millie, in stark contrast to the first occasion upon which she had knocked on the cottage door, tapped softly on the wood. She’d have to make herself heard above the wind but she didn’t want to disturb his grandmother, who would surely, by now, be sleeping. Millie was relying on a hunch she had that Ryan would still be up. She had learned from John that Ryan had been allowed by her father to go off duty earlier than the other staff, in view of the need for him to rise early to tend to any houseguests who wished to ride before breakfast. She’d taken advantage of the commotion of the aftermath of dinner, to slip away to find him. But he wasn’t expecting her so there was an element of doubt in her mind.

Millie knocked again, this time harder. A moment later the door opened. “You’re drenched, Miss Millie,” Ryan said, pulling her in out of the rain.

“Do you mind my coming over?” Millie asked.

“No, of course not,” Ryan replied, taking Millie’s umbrella and shaking it out into the night, before closing the door. “Come and sit down,” he said, ushering her over to a fireside chair.

“I’ll sit on the floor,” Millie said. “If I sit on a chair I’ll make it damp,” and she tried to get down onto the hearth rug but found that her corset restricted her movement.

“Millie, if you sit on the floor, that dress will get filthy.”

“I can’t get down anyway,” she explained, standing, frustrated, beside the fire. “Oh lord,” she mused, “by the time I get back Effie’ll have given me up for a lost cause and gone to bed so I’ll have to sleep in this insufferable contraption too.”

“The corset? Can’t you take it off yourself?” Ryan asked, perplexed.

“Not when she’s tied it so tightly.” Millie stood looking despondently into the flames dancing in the grate.

Ryan walked over to Millie and, standing behind her, began to undo the fastenings of her blue chiffon dress. “I think we need to get you out of the dress and out of the corset,” he said, in a tone that wasn’t purely practical.

Millie didn’t dispute the idea. She smiled as the fabric of the dress fell about her shoulders and gladly relinquished the garment once Ryan had lifted it up and over her head. He draped the dress carefully on the back of an armchair and then turned to face her.

Millie began to feel self-conscious, realising that she had never before appeared in her undergarments in front of a man. Ryan, sensing her discomfort, began jovially, “Now for the greater challenge!” referring to the tightly-drawn corset that Millie wore on top of her chemise. But as he gazed upon the challenge, he couldn’t help but register her bosom heaving gently in its lacy frills and take note of the accentuated curves of her waist and hips.

Millie, observing Ryan’s rapt attention to her form, felt a little bolder. She turned away from him to frustrate his eager eyes and said, “You need to undo Effie’s knots first.”

But Ryan, before stepping forward to grapple with the knotted cords, took his opportunity to survey Millie’s curves from the back.

“Get on with it please, Ryan,” Millie commanded, smiling to herself with the knowledge that he was probably on as unfamiliar territory as she herself was.

Ryan undid the knots almost instantly and began to loosen the strings of the corset. “Feel better?” he asked as he pulled the whalebone structure away from Millie’s torso.

“Oh yes,” she said and heaved a sigh of relief to be able to breathe properly again. Millie stepped out of the corset, which Ryan threw onto a chair. Looking back at her, still standing before the fire, Ryan suddenly realised that all that now came between his hands and her bare flesh was a thin layer of cloth. “I’ll fetch you a blanket,” he said rather awkwardly and left the room.

Millie was quick to make herself at home. She pulled up the old, wooden rocking-chair closer to the fire and sat down in it.

Ryan returned and, kneeling down beside her, draped a woven blanket about her shoulders. “Would you like some tea?” he asked. “There’s some in the pot.”

“Yes please,” Millie replied. She watched Ryan rise and top up the teapot with hot water from the copper kettle on the fire, before pouring her a drink.

“This place is like going back in time,” Millie observed, allowing her eye to wander over to the paraffin lamp that, apart from the firelight, was the only source of illumination in the room.

“Right enough, Sir Randolph hasn’t managed to get us electricity out here yet,” Ryan said. “Not sure my Gran would want it anyway,” he added on reflection.

“She’s asleep?” Millie enquired.


“I’ll keep my voice down.”

“No need to worry too much – she’s practically deaf,” Ryan said, handing Millie her mug of tea. “You warm enough?” he asked as he took his place beside her chair on the rug.

She nodded and drank from the cup.

Gazing up at Millie, Ryan reached a hand to push back the blanket from her shoulders, to reveal her flesh to his eyes.

She didn’t curb his action. She put down her cup and looked at him.

“You’re so beautiful, Millie,” Ryan said, beginning to stroke the soft skin of her upper arms, whilst gazing upon the pale flesh of her cleavage.

“You can touch me anywhere, Ryan,” Millie said boldly.

Ryan raised his eyebrows in surprise and Millie worried that she might have gone too far. But unaccountably she found herself continuing, “Arabella Price tells me there are times when a girl can’t get pregnant. She’s explained it all to me and I believe that, if we were to –you know– I wouldn’t get pregnant now.”

Ryan’s hand was stilled by these words. He looked into Millie’s eyes and raised his hand to her cheek, saying, “It’s not that simple, Millie.”

Millie was confused.

“I’m a Catholic,” Ryan explained. “We don’t have relations outside of marriage.”

“Oh,” Millie said.

“But that doesn’t mean I can’t touch you or hold you,” Ryan continued.

Kneeling, Ryan reached up to kiss Millie’s lips and it wasn’t long before she had slithered from the rocking chair onto the rug in front of the fire. Millie felt Ryan’s arms about her, all of his strength employed to hold her so tenderly. She didn’t really know what Arabella had been talking about but she trusted Ryan completely.

* * *

Millie left the cottage at an ungodly hour, her sky-blue chiffon dress now dried out; her corset abandoned and concealed at the cottage, to be returned to the Hall at some point the next day. Millie held the folds of her long cape close about her over her dress. Thankfully the rain had ceased and the winds had abated.

Ryan had been insistent he should escort Millie back to the house but she had resisted and, in the end, ordered him to stay at home. Discovery would be all the worse if he was found with her.

Millie made her way back along the woodland path by the light of the moon, her frame still shaking from the thrill of Ryan’s caresses. How did he do that? How did he know how to touch her?

When Ryan had pulled her to the floor and taken her in his arms, Millie had instinctively gone to unbutton his shirt, eager to feel his bare skin. But Ryan had stopped her, saying that he thought it was something they shouldn’t do.

“How can it be wrong when it feels so lovely?” Millie had questioned.

Ryan had shaken his head and, smiling at her innocence, kissed her again.

Millie regained entry to the house through the kitchens, having taken the key from the place where she knew the housekeeper kept it. Removing her shoes, she tiptoed through the long corridors and up the staircases, relying on her instinct and what moonlight invaded the Hall through its numerous windows, to guide her, until she reached her own room.

Once settled in her bed, she thought of Ryan: how she longed to touch him; how tender he was and yet how he must have the capacity to match that tenderness with passion.

But Millie felt sadness upon remembering what he had said to her; she would never know that passion because he could never be her husband. In the end she cried herself to sleep dwelling upon that thought.

Chapter 5

The morning after Sir Randolph’s grand dinner, Millie, sleep-deprived due to her nocturnal adventures, stood before her father and Aunt Rose, having been summoned to the dame’s temporary apartments in the house.

“And so, Millicent, your prospects have been irreparably damaged by your disgraceful neglect of Mr Windham–”

“To be fair, Rose, he did state the reason for his untimely departure to be his sense that a frivolously long weekend in the country seemed wholly inappropriate with a war looming–”

“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he, Randolph?” Rose insisted.

Millie wasn’t really attending. From the back windows of Aunt Rose’s rooms she had spotted Ryan, splitting logs down in the courtyard. It being a fine morning, he had removed his shirt.

“Millicent!” Rose snapped to recall the girl. “Have you no sense of remorse about this situation? Your father planned this whole house party with the express intention that it should culminate in an engagement between yourself and Benjamin Windham. Do you have any idea of the trouble and expense he went to?”

Millie looked at her father, rather than Rose. “I’m sorry,” she began simply, “but, to tell the truth Daddy, I don’t think Ben Windham is quite proper. I don’t trust him,” she clarified.

“Why, Millie?” Randolph asked.

“I can’t account for it really,” Millie replied. “I just don’t trust him.”

“Nonsense!” Rose announced scathingly. “If she were my daughter, Randolph, I should let her become an old maid and see how she likes it.”

* * *

Out in the courtyard, Rose having dismissed Millie and her father from her quarters in order to prepare to set out on her constitutional morning walk, Millie lingered in the shadows of the entrance to the scullery, watching Ryan at work. After a few minutes she walked quietly out into the sunlight, taking care to avoid disturbing him.

His skin, though fair, was tanned with the outdoor work he had been doing over the summer. You wouldn’t have said Ryan was slender but there was little spare flesh on his muscular upper body. Millie recalled the sight of him in evening dress and reflected, with a smile, that he looked almost as good clothed as unclothed.

He turned and saw her. “Are you spying on me, Miss?” he asked jovially.

Millie walked over to him, saying, “I was just admiring you,” when she was close enough to ensure that their exchange wouldn’t be overheard.

Ryan lay down his axe and went to pick up his shirt from on top of the woodpile.

“No need to cover up on my account,” Millie was quick to say, as she watched Ryan bend over in his roughly-woven trousers, the thickness of the leather belt around his waist catching her eye as he rose again.

“But if someone saw us, Millie, it wouldn’t look proper.”

Millie took one last, longing glance at his smooth and flawless chest before he concealed it from her eyes. “It’s tiring work,” he said as he buttoned up his shirt.

“Looks it,” Millie replied. “I thought the house staff dealt with firewood–”

“Listen, when Mrs Overton tells me to do something, I do it, no questions asked.”

Millie chuckled. Mrs Overton, the housekeeper, had a reputation that went before her.

“Miss Millie, we shouldn’t talk like this – someone might see us.”

“When can I meet you then?” Millie asked. “Tonight?”

Ryan shook his head. “Don’t you know I’m off with Randolph this afternoon to look at a racing horse?”

“He’s buying another one?” Millie remarked incredulously.

“Not outright, but he’s considering entering into a syndicate; the horse wouldn’t be kept here – it’s already in stables.”

“Oh,” Millie said. “When will you be back?”

“The day after tomorrow,” Ryan replied.

With a sigh of resignation, Millie said, “I’ll just have to wait till then, won’t I?”

* * *

The day that Randolph and Ryan went to look at a racing horse seemed like any other to Millie, apart from the fact that her Aunt Rose was still in residence at Glassnest, which curtailed Millie’s freedom somewhat.

In the morning she hung restlessly about the house, thinking of Ryan the whole time, wondering what he was doing – what conversation went between him and her father? She knew, however, that their only shared interest was horses.

If Millie had still had a horse, she would have gone riding on a day like this. But since she’d lost Charger, she had no stomach for it. Certainly, she could have had her pick of the horses in the stables – even Wellington, in the absence of her father, although he was a fierce brute of a horse; Millie never felt quite safe with him. But she just didn’t want to ride; not now her beloved Charger was gone.

In the end, in a bid to occupy herself and escape the beady eye of Aunt Rose, Millie slipped out of the house at eleven o’clock and embarked on a long ramble around Glassnest’s extensive grounds.

It wasn’t until two in the afternoon that she began to wend her way back towards the Hall, taking, irresistibly, the woodland track that led to Ryan’s cottage.

As Millie passed by the cottage garden, she spotted the old lady, wrapped, as was her custom, in her shawl, stooping over a vegetable patch.

“Hello there!” Millie called to her.

The old lady turned and slowly stood up straight.

“Why, Miss, it has turned out a fine day to be sure,” she called to Millie, who made her way over to the garden fence.

“I’ve had a lovely walk in the woods,” Millie said.

“You do right, Miss,” Ryan’s grandmother commented. “I would dearly love to walk, if only my old bones were up to it.”

“What have you got there?” Millie enquired, gesturing to what the old woman held in her hands.

“Oh just a couple of spuds for my tea.”

Millie suddenly felt concern that she might be struggling to look after herself in Ryan’s absence. “Is that all you’re having?” she asked involuntarily.

The woman laughed. “Oh no Miss, these are to accompany a very nice slice of salmon quiche that was left over from the party at the weekend.”

“Oh yes,” Millie said, relieved, “Cook’s quiches are the best!”

Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-30 show above.)