How to Marry a Highlander
Falcon Club - 3.5
To all ladies who dare to dream big and then chase those dreams.
Miss Teresa Finch-Freeworth lived in unenviable circumstances.
She did not suffer in penury or even teeter upon the edge of it. She was not the poor ward of a cruel or vindictive guardian and she had not been reduced by circumstances to servile status. She was not unutterably plain or painfully shy. She had not lost her fortune to a gold-hunter or her virtue to a rake.
Instead, the lands of Brennon Manor earned her family above two thousand per annum, sufficient to support Mr. Finch-Freeworth’s four hunters and a kennel of no fewer than ten hounds, treatments for Mrs. Finch-
Freeworth’s frequent invented ailments, too many visits to the track for their three sons, and Teresa’s ten weeks in London with Aunt Hortensia the previous year. Teresa’s parents were neglectful of her and unsympathetic but not unkind. She was reasonably pretty and possessed of a genuine smile.
She had a curious mind and despite her tendency to invent outrageous stories that had all the appearance of veracity—or perhaps because of it—she was well liked in Harrows Court Crossing where she had lived her entire life excepting those ten weeks in London. Her father had set aside for her a marriage portion that was enough to recommend her to a respectable suitor.
And finally, at two-and-twenty she still maintained her virtue.
Therein—that last bit—the problem lay.
Teresa had dreams of kissing a man. Many dreams. Vivid dreams.
And not only of kissing.
These dreams were encouraged by her amorously adventuresome maid, Annie, who shared with her mistress more details of her adventures than an unwed lady should ever hear.
In London, however, Teresa’s dreams had been augmented by the replacement of an anonymous kissee with a real man: the Earl of Eads. This had left her remarkably frustrated and not a little despondent. For good reason: Lord Eads had once seen her, stared at her across a ballroom with great intensity and admiration and perhaps even longing that left her breathless, then promptly left London without seeking her acquaintance; he now resided on his estate in Scotland; a lady could not kiss a man from 300 miles away; and she was beginning to forget what he looked like.
The details she did remember of him nevertheless continued to inspire her dreams: very tall, very broad, and very masculine, with long dark hair, intensely feeling blue eyes, a square jaw, and calves the sight of whose musculature had turned her knees to jelly. He was largely unknown to polite society, and Teresa had learned little more during her time in London: He was a widower; he had lived in the East Indies for many years; he spoke like a barbarian (this information was from Aunt Hortensia, who was a ninny and a snob, so Teresa mostly discounted it); he had seven younger half-sisters, all unmarried; and he was penniless.
It isn’t to be wondered at that eighteen months later and no closer to kissing a man than she had ever been, a young woman of spirit and grand dreams would find her current situation intolerable.
That was not, unfortunately, the worst of it.
The worst of it now stood on the threshold of Mrs. Biddycock’s parlor, hands clasped behind his back, gazing upon the assembled company of morning callers as though he believed that in order to breathe they had been waiting only for him.
The Revered Mr. Waldon—one part shepherd to his flock, one part youngest son of the youngest brother of a baronet, and three parts conceit—
was the most eligible bachelor in Harrows Court Crossing, and everybody expected Teresa to marry him. Mr. Waldon himself expected Teresa to marry him, although he had not yet actually offered for her. But it was generally understood and Teresa was meant to anticipate the event with gratitude and joy.
Now Mr. Waldon surveyed the cluster of ladies gathered about Mrs.
Biddycock’s tea table with a benevolent eye.
“Good day, Mr. Waldon,” exclaimed their hostess. “I’ve received a letter from my dear cousin in London.” She held up several pages. Mrs.
Biddycock’s cousin’s letters were the only news of town that came to Harrows Court Crossing other than the London papers to which Teresa’s father would not subscribe because he considered nothing but the Journal of the Hunt worthwhile reading.
Mr. Waldon gestured with his hand in an exaggeratedly courtly manner that struck Teresa as incredibly silly for a local vicar to affect, however exalted of pedigree he was.
“Read on, Mrs. Biddycock,” he said, “and I shall attend to your cousin’s news with all appearance of interest.” He finished this statement with an invasive smile at Teresa and seated himself beside her.
She wished she could inch away. He smelled of eau de cologne, which she did not like—at least not on him. But aside from his elevated opinion of himself he was a decent man and she was reasonable enough to admit that she didn’t like him because she felt no desire whatsoever to kiss him.
When the Earl of Eads had stared at her across that ballroom in London she’d gotten hot and unsteady inside, and he hadn’t even glanced at her bosom. Mr. Waldon looked at her bosom when he thought she wasn’t paying attention. Most men did. Her breasts were ample and her vain mother employed a talented seamstress who knew how to cut gowns for Teresa that were both modest and becoming on her figure.
That night at the ball in London had been no exception; she’d worn maidenly white sparkling with tiny beads and fitted to her bosom to great advantage. But the earl had not given her bosom even a flicker of interest. He had stared at her face.
She liked that about him.
Nevertheless, in her dreams she imagined him looking at her breasts. She imagined letting him touch them and she got hot all over again. Raised to modesty and obedience, she was now nearly desperate to break free of the confines of Brennon Manor and Harrows Court Crossing. Her brief sojourn in London had released all the longing inside her. I am like flame trapped in a fireplace with the chimney flu shut tight and with piles of kindling a stone’s throw away, she had written to her dearest friend, Diantha Yale. Suffocating and starving, I will surely die.
She had a flare for fictional prose. But she felt this acutely.
Now Mr. Waldon stole a glance at her bosom when everybody’s attention went to Mrs. Biddycock brandishing the pages. It made Teresa feel nauseated.
“‘My dearest cousin Fanny,’” Mrs. Biddycock read. “‘I needn’t tell you that town is simply bustling with society.’” But I will anyway, Teresa thought.
“‘But bustling it is indeed! You will be delighted to hear that the Misses Blevinses have come down from Shrewsbury with their rascally young nephew, Mr. Pritchard, who—’” Isn’t a day under fifty.
“‘—has impressed all the ladies of our acquaintance with his—’” Remarkably strong aroma of compost.
“Balancing a ball upon his nose.” Teresa’s eyelids were heavy and Mr.
Waldon’s cologne was making her nose itch. She’d fallen asleep far too late the previous night, worrying over her father’s latest hint.
The situation had become dire.
At two-and-twenty, he’d said, his daughter was well past the age at which she should be doting upon her mother at home, by which he meant that she should instead be doting upon Mr. Waldon in his home. Mr. Waldon was not fond of hunting. Since neither was Teresa, her father considered them a perfect match.
“Waldon is the perfect match for you,” he’d said, which could not be any clearer, really, and proved how poorly he knew his daughter.
Alongside the nausea and desperation, panic had set in. Sleep was nearly impossible of late.
Mrs. Biddycock had ceased reading. The parlor was silent. Teresa snapped her eyes open. Everyone was looking at her.
Apparently, she had spoken aloud.
“Don’t you all recall?” she said. “Mr. Pritchard did that trick with the ball on his nose last Christmas when he was a houseguest of Mr. and Mrs. Kirtle.”
This was complete invention. “He even got down on his knees like a performing seal. It diverted the children to no end.”
“Oh,” said one of the ladies sitting opposite, “I remember it now.”
“Yes, indeed,” Teresa warmed to her story. “Little Sarah found it so amusing that she spit orangeat through her nose, and Mrs. Kirtle”—who was not currently present in Mrs. Biddycock’s parlor and was therefore safe material—“was obliged to call upon Doctor Leeds who dosed little Sarah with tonic and put her to bed with a ginger biscuit.” A tale woven from whole cloth.
She was adept at it. Inventing tales was often the only thing that kept her from running stark naked down the high street singing marching songs. Often she scribbled down her stories to relieve her desperation. To protect the innocent she had invented a fictional town, Harpers Crest Cove, and used false names for her very real characters. But she only ever shared the stories with her younger brother, Freddie, who roared with laughter, and her elder brother, Tobias, who’d read them to his battalion mates during the war.
“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Biddycock said. “What a shock for poor Mrs. Kirtle.”
“Oh yes. It was horrid. And it did not end there. Mr. Pritchard found that he so much liked little Sarah’s excessive hilarity that he joined a traveling show and made a fortune in commissions from local doctors. He came to see the error of his ways eventually, of course,” she added somberly, “and gave it all up. I believe he is to visit again at Michaelmas.”