The Highwayman's Letter
The Highwayman's Letter
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- Enemies to Lovers
- Robin Hood Hero
- Secret Identity
By day, Reginald Sinclair works in the post office, but by night, he is the increasingly infamous Paladin, the gallant highwayman making young women swoon all over Somerset. With a vendetta against the wealthy that spans both past and present, Reggie's escapades allow him to take justice into his own hands while helping his uncle avoid insolvency.
Joanna Carmichael's father has finally chosen her a husband. While she is not thrilled with her father's selection, Joanna understands it as a business arrangement, something which suits her practicality perfectly. Her father hopes her good sense will exercise a beneficial effect upon her younger sister, Frances, who is regrettably prone to romantics. Frances's preoccupation with reports of the Paladin threaten to overshadow Joanna's coolheaded example, but Joanna is determined to show her sister how foolish and unworthy of admiration the outlaw is.
During their encounter, though, the maddening highwayman takes an item of Joanna's—then has the audacity to send her a letter with instructions on how to recover it, beginning a battle of wills that brings Reggie within reach of the people responsible for his family's ruin and forces Joanna to reconsider the desirability of her business arrangement.
Intro to Chapter 1
Intro to Chapter 1
“Praise the heavens! A bee!”
Joanna Carmichael raised a brow, watching Sir Leonard Elkins clap with a childlike glee that belied his three-and-thirty years as a bee emerged from the nearest primrose.
“Spread your wings, little one,” he said as it hovered for a moment. “Your time has finally come.” He smiled with a look of deep satisfaction as he followed its zig-zagging progress away from them and toward the wickets being placed in the sprawling field in front of Briarwood Estate, where the cricket match would shortly be played.
“Splendid, my dear,” said his mother, Lady Elkins, in the most matronly tone Joanna had heard used with a full-grown adult. “Cause for celebration, I am sure. But let us not forget the introduction.”
Sir Leonard had stooped to sniff the cheddar pink the bee had been visiting, but he stood straight at his mother’s words and, blinking, faced Joanna, who stood beside her younger sister and parents.
Joanna didn’t dare glance at her sister, Frances. She could already imagine her sister’s expression. It would betray everything she was feeling, just as it always did, and once Frances’s face showed her emotion, her mouth was never far behind.
On the journey from Bath to Briarwood, that mouth had filled the carriage with talk of the infamous highwayman plaguing the roads of north Somerset, until their father had been unable to bear the silliness, as he called it, any longer. Joanna might have been grateful for her father’s intervention except that it was followed by Frances’s whispered speculation on the hair color and height of Joanna’s intended. It had been the last thing Joanna needed as she fought her own anxiety at the prospect of meeting the man she would likely marry.
So, Joanna strategically avoided Frances’s eye now that Sir Leonard stood before them in all his glory: an inch shorter—and a few inches narrower—than Joanna, with a jaw that hung somewhat slack and blond hair that was swept forward in a manner Caesar himself would have envied. He seemed like the sort of man to take himself far too seriously, and Joanna felt misgiving settle into the pit of her stomach.
Sir Leonard’s nose twitched suddenly, and Joanna bit her cheek at the sight of yellow pollen on the tip. She couldn’t decide whether it was endearing or ridiculous.
She ignored the elbow Frances nudged into her side and smiled at Sir Leonard. He returned a smile of his own, and Joanna felt herself relax at its genuineness. She could abide a bit of eccentricity as long as it was not accompanied by arrogance.
“Sir Leonard and Lady Elkins,” Joanna’s father said, “you are already acquainted with my wife, Lady Sandford, but allow me to introduce you to my daughters, Miss Joanna Carmichael and Miss Frances.”
Lady Elkins’ gaze was fixed on Joanna as she greeted both of them, and Joanna had the distinct feeling of being measured up. That was normal. It was natural that Sir Leonard and his mother should be as curious about Joanna as she herself was about them.
When she rose from her curtsy, a significant look from Lady Elkins at her son was followed by his shuffling forward and putting out a hand in invitation for Joanna to give him hers. Trying not to betray her surprise, she did so, and Sir Leonard placed a chaste kiss upon the back of her glove. It might have been a romantic gesture if not for the rehearsed nature of it—and the way Sir Leonard’s eyes jumped to his mother for approval. There was no need for the gesture. Joanna didn’t aspire to a love match, and she certainly hoped that was not Sir Leonard’s expectation. She glanced at her father questioningly, but he himself was blinking in surprise.
An awkward silence followed the kiss, and Joanna clasped her hands before her, clearing her throat. “How wonderful it is to see sunshine after a spell of gray and rain.” It was an admittedly desperate reach for any conversation; Joanna was partial to cool weather and a sky covered in clouds.
“Indeed,” Sir Leonard said, apparently pleased with her weak attempt at conversation. “Warm enough to coax our treasured Apis mellifera from its cozy hive.”
“My son takes a special interest in bees,” Lady Elkins explained unnecessarily. “He has been looking for their emergence for some weeks now.”
Sir Leonard nodded, his eyes on the nearest flowers again, and he rocked from side to side as he peered at them hopefully.
“How dull your winters must be,” Frances said.
“My dear,” Lady Elkins said with a hint of condescension, “surely you are aware that winter is a time of pivotal importance for the honeybee.”
Frances’s brows rose. “I was not aware.”
Apparently sensing his knowledge was required, Sir Leonard’s attention returned to them. “Oh, yes. They remain in the hive, huddled together and fluttering to keep warm, clustered, of course, around the queen.” His eyes flitted to Joanna, and she was immediately aware that Frances had not missed the brief glance, for she emitted a laugh, which quickly turned into a cough.
Joanna grasped for a new line of conversation, looking to the wickets in the background. “Do you play today, Sir Leonard?” He did not look like the sort of man who engaged in any type of sport.
“Leonard is an excellent cricket player,” Lady Elkins said, as though the suggestion that he might not be playing was one that needed to be addressed and routed immediately.
“Mother says I am an excellent cricket player,” Sir Leonard repeated.
Joanna smiled. “I do not doubt it.” Lady Elkins was not thus far a likable woman, but Joanna was determined not to let that deter her. Some people needed to be won over, and Joanna was confident that she was capable of it. This was the match her father wished for—a desirable connection between two well-established families—and she would do everything in her power to ensure its success. It was the sensible thing, after all, and Joanna was nothing if not sensible.
“I do my best,” Sir Leonard said humbly. He straightened suddenly, his gaze locked on something behind Joanna. “Ah! There is Lord Ryecombe. I must speak with him before the match begins.” He leaned toward his mother. “With a willow or two on the estate, he might attract both Andrena cineraria and Andrena fulva.” He turned toward Joanna. “I shall hope for the opportunity to speak with you after the match, Miss Carmichael.” He bowed to her and then to the rest of her family.
Lady Elkins gave a slight nod of the head and took her son’s arm, accompanying him in the direction of Lord Ryecombe.
Joanna could feel her family’s eyes on her, the air thick with silence, and she hurried to fill the pause. “I rather think we should find some seats before they are all taken. Do you not agree? I imagine you are tired, Mama.” She certainly looked it. She hadn’t said anything beyond her initial greeting to the Elkinses. Joanna and her father were hoping her mother’s time in Bath would strengthen her after the particularly fierce period of fever she had experienced a few weeks since.
“A bit tired,” her mother admitted, her quiet but shrewd eyes upon Joanna.
“Mama and Papa can find us seats,” Frances said, taking Joanna’s arm, “while we find some refreshment.”
Joanna allowed herself to be pulled toward the tents, resigning herself to her sister’s determined conversation. Joanna would have liked more time to mull over the implications of the last few minutes—they were certainly far-reaching. And full of bees. But Frances would not be able to contain herself after the encounter with the Elkinses, and she was not one to wait. She was nearly six years Joanna’s junior, but she had always been the sort to take charge and pursue exactly what she wanted.
“Well,” she said significantly as they made their way toward the tents, “that was enlightening, was it not? I would complain about what a bore the day is likely to be, but now that I see what your entire life shall be like, I would never dare.”
“Oh, hush, Frances,” said Joanna, feeling suddenly snappish as they reached the shade of the tents. In truth, she was feeling a bit deflated after meeting Sir Leonard. She had taken such a firm stance on making a sensible match that she hadn’t truly considered the type of personality Sir Leonard might have.