Beauty in Breeches - By Helen Dickson

Chapter One

Beatrice halted her horse beneath the spreading canopy of a great beech tree. The scene was like a little tableau to be viewed by any who passed by. The summertime smells of Larkhill wafted around her. She knew every tree, every meadow and bridal way and rutted track, and every stream where trout could be found. Everything around her was pulsating with life, except the beautiful old house where the squire, her father, had once ruled. The house sat like a queen in the centre of her domain. It faced due south so the sun, before it sank over the gently rolling hills in the west, shone on the mellow stone walls all day, making them warm to the touch.

From her vantage point she watched a happy group of fashionable society people stroll along the paths in the long-neglected gardens. The beautiful ladies wore high-waisted dresses, their fair complexions protected from the sun by delicate parasols, the gentlemen attired in the pinnacle of fashion. Her eyes were drawn to one of the gentlemen like metal filings to a magnet. He stood out from the others by his admirable bearing and heightened stature. She had never seen him before, but by instinct she knew who he was.

Lord Julius Chadwick—the Marquess of Maitland.

Her heart tightened with a long-held hatred and resentment. He was walking at a leisurely pace with his hands clasped behind his back. Making no attempt to hide herself from view, she continued to watch him as he strolled closer to the house. The sun’s rays caught his hair. It was thick and dark and curled into his nape.

As if he could feel her eyes on him he paused and waited a moment before he turned and looked directly at her. Surprised to see her there, he broke away from the party. His handsome face was set in lines which were quite unreadable, but his amber eyes danced as though he found their meeting and the manner of her dress vastly entertaining. Below a white silk shirt, skin-tight breeches clung to her long, shapely legs above black riding boots. Being buff in colour, from a distance the breeches gave the impression that she was naked from the waist down. She had tied back her abundant gold-and-copper curls with a bright emerald-green ribbon.

Beatrice sat on her horse unmoving, as if she were some stone goddess, insensate but powerful. She gripped the reins in her slender fingers and stared back at him, defiance in every line of her young body. She was seeing this man in the flesh for the first time in her life, but she had thought of him often over the years. He had appeared in her mind like some sinister spectre, a malevolent giant, with the power to do as he liked—as he had when he’d blotted all happiness from her future.

Her head lifted and there was no softness in her eyes, which had turned to flint. Her mouth hardened to an unsmiling resentment. She had no doubt that he was curious and wondering who she was and what she was doing trespassing on his land so close to the house. He made no attempt to approach her or speak to her. Neither of them moving, over the twenty yards or so that separated them they continued to watch each other until, with a casual toss of her lovely head, Beatrice turned her horse and disappeared as silently as she had come amongst the tall, shadowy trees.

At Standish House, just two miles from Larkhill, Lady Moira Standish was taking tea in the drawing room. She was a striking woman, tall and robust with iron-grey hair, good cheekbones and a square jaw. Her husband had killed himself when he had taken a tumble from his horse during a hunt three years ago, leaving her a very wealthy widow. With a twenty-five-year-old son and a nineteen-year-old daughter, she had much on her plate if she was to see them affianced before the year was out. Her son, George, had inherited Standish House on his father’s demise. The dowager Lady Standish continued to act as mistress. When George took a wife she would move into the dower house.

She had returned from London that very day, where she had been on a short visit with her daughter, Astrid. She sat stiffly upright on the green-and-gold brocaded couch. With a firm hand she fluttered a delicate ivory-and-lace fan before her heated face. Her grey eyes were narrowed with annoyance as she darted sharp