Copyright © 2011 Marianne Stephens
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Summer Nights of Delight Excerpt:
For Love of Lance
by Jean Hart Stewart


For Love of Lance

Lance noted the fear in both women’s eyes as soon as one answered the door, the other directly behind her. Strange not to have a servant to at least open the door.

“Ladies, I’ve brought my aunt, Lady Anstruthsen, as I have promised. May I present you to each other?”
He smiled, hoping he hadn’t committed a breach of etiquette but he didn’t know which aunt was the older and should be presented first. It seemed to him a bit clumsy, as of course his aunt took precedence and he sent his aunt an apologetic smile.

His aunt rose to the occasion, as he fully expected.

“I’m so pleased to meet you both. Of course I expect you to visit me at Anstruthsen Manor after we get our dear Shannon settled. Will you send for her now, please. I’m so anxious to meet the daughter of one of my dearest friends.”

Lance saw the almost panicky look on both the aunt’s faces, as well as one slipping from the room. Even more alert than he had been, he smiled sweetly.

“Is she packed to stay with my aunt a while? If not we would be happy to visit with you and her while we wait for her maid to finish.”

To his disgust the daughter walked into the hall, coming up to him and trailing her fingertips down his arm. “You are so heroic, Lord Ponsonby. Can we discuss your incredible bravery? I’d so like to know you better. I’m Belinda, by the way.”

The remaining aunt took the bold chit by the arm and frowning blackly, jerked her away.

“There is no time for such nonsense, Belinda. Lord Ponsonby and Lady Antruthsen will not be staying. It is time they knew Shannon is unavailable to go with them. Although of course we hope she will soon recover from her illness. I am so sorry the Baron is not here to greet you.

The patent insincerity was not concealed by her forced and sickly smile, nor could she meet Lance’s eyes.

Lance’ every instinct told him his girl was in even more trouble than he’d suspected. “I am not afraid of disease, ma’am. I lived through much contagion when in the army. Would you be so kind as to show me to her room so I can reassure myself of how long I must wait to collect her?”

The harpy looked a little frightened, but stood her ground.

“I am afraid the doctor has forbidden her company, my lord. She needs complete rest. Perhaps if you return in a week? My husband would so enjoy meeting you then.”

“I would like to see her now, ma’am.”

Just then a rhythmic pounding sounded overhead, and at a rapid glance from her mother Belinda looked horrified and then slipped from the room.

Lance’s glare would have terrified most women into obedience, but the harpy held firm. To be sure, she blanched and trembled, especially when Lady Anstruthsen humphed and snorted her disbelief. Aside from physically forcing the woman, Lance could see nothing at present to do.

“Come, aunt. You and I will discuss what to do in the face of such ridiculous intransigence. Goodbye, ma’am. You will see me again, and soon. Please inform your husband of my intentions.”