Tempting Taffy (House of Devon #8) - Meara Platt


Hartland Abbey

Yorkshire, England

January 1819

“WHO ARE YE, lass?” Gavin Carstairs, Marquis of Falkirk, demanded of the maid who was busying herself about his guest chamber shortly after his arrival at Hartland Abbey. She was going through his bags to unpack his clothes and stack them neatly in the massive wardrobe that took up a corner of the large room. But he was still on edge and did not want anyone fussing with his belongings just now.

A fire had been lit in the enormous hearth, casting the room in a warm, golden glow that made this girl look almost ethereal as she turned toward him in surprise. When she approached to bob a quick curtsy before taking her leave, he felt an unexpected warmth flow through him.

He dismissed the response. Surely, it had nothing to do with the girl. His body was merely warming to the welcome heat of the room, for he’d traveled long on this cold, winter’s day and was half frozen upon arrival.

“His Grace assigned me to tend to your guest quarters, my lord,” she said while staring at her toes.

“The Duke of Devon?” This was his home and Gavin was not so much a guest as a man on the run and needing a safe place to hide. “Leave the rest for my valet and get out,” he said, irritated with himself for his body’s inexplicable response to the girl.

“As you wish, my lord. And what of your son’s belongings? Shall I leave those for him as well?” Her head remained bowed as she spoke. Indeed, she appeared to be modest and obedient, as any good servant ought to be.

But Gavin sensed her irritation.

It was nothing he could point to exactly. Her tone was demure and there was no defiance in her expression. She was not even looking at him as she cleared her throat and added, “Although I’m not certain your valet will be able to attend you any time soon considering his leg was broken during last week’s attempt on your life and you left him to recuperate in York.”

He frowned. “Ye heard about that?”

She nodded, still not looking up at him. “Everyone here at Hartland knows of it by now. News travels fast. Bad news especially. Thank goodness you and your little boy were not injured.”

He studied her more closely. “What’s yer name, lass?”

“Taffy, my lord.”

He knew it was quite forward of him, but he needed to have a look at her face. She appeared fairly young, perhaps no more than twenty. Certainly not beyond her early twenties. She had a nice figure, that much was obvious, even though her maid uniform was unremarkable. It was of plain homespun, black wool and shapeless. The white linen apron over it was tied in a neat bow at her waist and gave the only hint of her slender figure.

He reached out and tucked a knuckle under her chin to raise her gaze to his. The splendor of her aquamarine eyes took him by surprise. They were lovely, shaped like a cat’s, and there was a surprising gleam of intelligence behind them.

Her lips were also nicely shaped, their color a natural, deep pink, and she had an aquiline nose that tipped upward to a point at the end. She had good cheekbones and a firm chin, not one of those weak ones that disappeared into one’s throat.

No, Taffy had well defined features, and he suspected she also had well defined opinions to match.

“Will that be all, my lord?”

“No.” He had an urge to tug the unsightly mobcap off her head and gain a clear view of her hair. The few curls peeking out from under it were the color of dark fire. “Tell me what ye have heard. We were attacked in York last week, but we only arrived here less than an hour ago. How can ye possibly know what occurred?”

“Well, your coach driver is related to one of the maids in service here and he told her what had happened. We all realized at once that something was wrong because you were missing your valet. The very one you just mentioned.” She arched an eyebrow and regarded him dubiously. “He with the broken leg. Which is why I took on the added role of putting away your clothes. I’ve done the same for your son.”

She pointed to the wardrobe. “You’ll find your little boy’s belongings neatly stowed in there. I’m almost done with yours, but I can put it all back so that one of the