A Blooming Love for the Apothecary (Preview)


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Claudia looked out of the window, brushing a strand of dark hair out of one eye while looking out over the garden. She heard Ettie come in and turned back to the room, grinning.

“We have time to ourselves – let’s go and read!”

“Capital!” Ettie chuckled. Her curly hair tumbled from its usual severe style onto the black shoulders of her maid’s uniform, giving her a rebellious look. Claudia grinned at her. She and Ettie had been firm companions for the last six years since Ettie joined the household when Claudia turned eighteen.

It was, after all, the norm for an earl’s daughter to have a lady’s maid, not that, Claudia thought, grinning, she had much use for one out here at Winley Hall.

Winley Hall was a tiny manor – just the bedrooms for the family, the drawing room, a ballroom, and three or four unoccupied rooms upstairs, and one more that was a portrait gallery. It was isolated in the countryside, and as a result, they hardly ever had visitors. Claudia was sure the last time the place had been decorated was before she was born. The wallpaper was old, flocked silk with designs that would have been fashionable in her grandparents’ time; the furniture was dark wood and with the elaborate style of the previous era.

“Let’s go! Hurry!”

Claudia, yelling as she realised how little time they actually had, rushed out of the room and into the small anteroom she had turned into her workshop. Ettie hurriedly followed her, and the two of them settled down to reading books about her favourite hobby – plants. Claudia turned the pages of the big herb book she had bought from the parson for a favourable price. Collecting books for her hobby was more difficult than just gardening since her father kept a strict eye on the finances.

It was, Claudia thought, leaning back, the only thing he did keep a strict eye on.

Her father seemed to have largely forgotten her, talking to her occasionally over breakfast or dinner, barely noticing her at other times of the day. She didn’t mind; he had always been distant, but she did not experience him as unkind, and his frequent absences in London gave her time to exercise her interest in botany.

“My Lady? When will your father return?” Ettie asked, looking up from the list of ingredients she studied. Ettie could also read, which made it even more fun for Claudia, who wouldn’t wish to miss sharing her favourite pastime.

“He should be back by dinner,” Claudia said, grey-blue eyes crinkled with frowning. “He is back from London for a month at least.”

“I see,” Ettie agreed. “Well, we ought to keep an eye out, then.”

Claudia shook her head. “We’ll hear him come back; the coach will make a noise in the drive.”

“That’s true, My Lady!” Ettie giggled.

Claudia settled back down to reading. She had found a fascinating list of herbal properties for peppermint that she didn’t know about. She reached for her pen to underline something. They were her books; after all, nobody even knew she had them. She had acquired her father’s permission to have the use of this room, but he probably thought it was for a dressing room, she reckoned, because he had never visited it.

Claudia leaned back in the chair, looking around. She had managed, with the assistance of Ettie, to bring a work table and shelves inside, and since this space had been unused before she occupied it, there had been nothing to clear out. It was wood-panelled, and there was a tiny fireplace she had designs on – they could use it to boil water. As yet, she hadn’t managed to acquire any cooking equipment, and Ettie had to make tea downstairs.

She ran a hand through her hair, feeling relaxed. She loved it here. The earldom was sufficiently unprosperous for them never to have parties, and that suited her well. Her friends, besides Ettie, consisted of Aunt Alexandra, who lived a day’s ride away in a modest home, and the fellow who cared for the horses.

She jumped as they heard the sound of a coach in the drive. Ettie stood up hastily from her chair.

“My Lady! What should we do?”

“We’ll go through to my bedroom.  Hurry!” she said, giggling as the pair rushed out, shutting the door behind them and racing to her room. Both of them had let their hair down, and Ettie hurried to pin Claudia’s thick, dark hair into place, but the style was only just staying up. Claudia laughed.

“I’m sure that will do,” she agreed. She looked at her hands, checking them for dirt or dust. She was just standing up to reach for a shawl when the butler knocked on the door.

“My Lady?” he called through the wood. “You’re asked for in the drawing room.”

“Oh! Yes, I’ll be down directly.” She grinned at Ettie, who was giggling. Her friend tucked her scarf into place and then stepped back.

“See you in a moment.”

“I will definitely be back to dress for luncheon,” Claudia said. She did make an effort, sometimes, to put on a nicer dress for mealtimes, but she was sure her father didn’t mind.

She hurried downstairs to the drawing room, where her father was at the window. He turned to face her, pale blue eyes meeting hers. He was a compact man with grey hair and steely eyes, his face careworn. He had been briefly with the army but had come back to take up the management of Winley when he was in his thirties, after his father’s death. He had managed it since then, and the tension of that showed on his face and the tight set of his body. He raised a brow as Claudia came in.

“Ah. Daughter. I am glad you were so prompt. I wanted to advise you that we are having guests around for luncheon and until teatime.”

“Guests?” Claudia stared. “But … where from?” The nearest manor was far away! Who could be here to visit?

“From London,” her father said with the air of someone pointing out what was obvious. “I invited them to stay. Which reminds me – if you could have the housekeeper air the guest rooms, it would be very helpful.”

“What?” Claudia stared. They had three spare rooms, but she had never been in them, and they were hardly ready! She couldn’t imagine what had inspired him in this. “I mean, pardon? There is hardly time to get them ready for guests!”

“Yes, there is,” her father said. “The guests will be arriving at lunchtime.”

“It’s ten o’ clock in the morning, Father!”

He shrugged. “Well, you’ll have to get them ready. I invited them, and they will be here in two hours. I also ordered some new dresses for you; they’re downstairs, and I suggest you wear one of them. Your own wardrobe has been much neglected.”

Chapter One

Claudia sat down heavily on her bed, feeling exhausted. She looked up at the white-painted ceiling, her stomach clenched with nerves. She had organised the cleaning of the three bedrooms with the housekeeper, Mrs Murray, and they were ready in record time. Now, she thought, sitting up, she had to get dressed. And that, for someone who had hardly ever had to dress for a social event, was worse than cleaning rooms could be.

“Ettie?” she called. Where was her friend now? She needed her urgently! She took a breath to calm herself, straightening the faded silk cover on her bed as a gesture to slow her thoughts. She was being silly. There were only a few guests, probably friends of her father’s. She should not let that throw her like this. She had no reason to be frightened!

“My Lady?” Ettie appeared from the room next door, her bonnet pulled on over her dark hair, hands dirty from working. “You have need of me?”

“I do,” Claudia replied. She hastily explained to Ettie. “If you could go downstairs?”

“Of course.”

Ettie hurried down, and a few moments later, returned. She had an armload of muslins – white, patterned, and green. Claudia looked at the dresses, eyes wide.

“Wherever did he get them done?” she asked aloud. Her father had never paid any attention to her clothes, mostly giving her a pound a year to be spent on fabric. She bought cheap linens and muslin and had the dresses made by the village seamstress. These dresses, though, were made of fine silk-soft cloth, patterned and coloured and bright.

“London, I guess.” Ettie frowned. “What about that?”

Claudia looked at the dress, which had bright pink flowers on it. She shuddered. “I can’t wear that!” She giggled. “Actually … let me try. It is so strange that I have to see what it looks like!”

She stood still for Ettie to unbutton her dress – a nice linen one in a soft grey – and slipped the pink one on. She looked in the mirror.

She and Ettie looked at each other and giggled. The dress had a low-cut bodice, puffed sleeves, and a high waist. The bright flowers were the perfect colour for her hair, Claudia noted; the pink seemed to bring out the auburn tinge. She stared at her image in the looking glass and realised that, far from ridiculous, the dress actually looked lovely.

Her pale skin seemed paler, her face – a long oval with delicate bones – seemed more well-carved. Her lips, which were a dusky rose, looked nice, and her eyes, with their strange grey-blue, stared back with a reserved hauteur.

“Is that me?”

Ettie giggled. “Actually, it is. My Lady! These aren’t bad! Try another.”

Claudia had to laugh. “Ettie! We will be in here all day. All right, I’ll try the cream-coloured one. But then we’ll need to arrange my hair.” She pointed to her hair, which had tumbled down from its bun already.

“Yes, My Lady.”

Claudia slipped into the cream dress, which had a square neck and sleeves that reached her elbow. She felt overheated. She had to admit that it looked good and blushed at her reflection. She slipped hastily out of the dress and sat down so Ettie could do her hair. She was just finished when the housekeeper called her.

“My Lady?”

“Yes, yes!” Claudia said, springing up from the chair. “I’m dressed! Is it lunchtime?”

Mrs Murray smiled. “Yes, it is, My Lady. And your father wishes you to be downstairs to meet the guests.”

“Grand. I’m ready.”

Claudia could see softness in Mrs Murray’s expression, and she felt herself smile back. She thought that Mrs Murray was pleased to see her in a fine dress. She blushed and hurried downstairs, where her father was in the hallway. He was wearing a suit, his grey hair combed back, and was ready to greet his guests.

“Come, Claudia. They’re almost here.”

“Yes, Father.” Claudia stood beside him, and the butler waited with them in the hallway. They all ignored each other – at least, her father ignored the butler, and the butler did his best to look around. Claudia caught his eye, and he grinned.

“What, Harroway?” her father barked.

“Nothing, Lord Winley.”

“Good.” He looked to the door, where the noise of a carriage had just sounded, the clatter of wheels on stone. The butler straightened up, and Claudia took a breath, feeling fearful.

They are just people, Claudia! You wouldn’t be scared of going to the village, would you? she chided herself.

She straightened up, and the butler hurried to open the door. He bowed as two people came in.

“Lord and Lady Alton,” he announced them. “And their son, Lord Benjamin.”

Claudia curtseyed as the three guests came in. She mentally counted the bedrooms, hoping her father hadn’t overextended himself. All thoughts of bedrooms were put aside when Lord Benjamin – who had thick dark hair and wide eyes – took her hand, bowing over it.

“Honoured, My Lady.”

“Thank you,” Claudia murmured in a small voice. He was looking at her in a way that she couldn’t place; he seemed to be admiring her. She went pink. She had never received a glance like that! She had no idea how to respond, and so she looked away, nervous.

“Harroway! Show the guests to their rooms, please. They will doubtless like to rest before they sit down.”

“Yes, Your Lordship.”

“We only have four rooms,” Claudia whispered. Had her father hit his head? Surely only that would account for this!

He nodded. “I am aware. We have only two more guests.”

“Grand.” She let out a sigh of relief and was so relieved that she barely noticed when the new guests arrived.

“Lord Merroway, Your Lordship, and Lord Acton.”

Claudia stared. She was starting to feel sick. The guests her father had invited all had some similar features – they were, she thought, except for his friends, all about her age. And none of them were ladies.

What was he doing?

She glanced sideways at her father, but he was bowing to the two men who had come in. One had sandy hair and a long, smiling face, and the other was pale-haired with a long oval face. He had blue eyes, and he took her hand, bowing low. “Lord Merroway, My Lady. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“And me as well,” Claudia said, though she did not feel that. She looked down into his eyes, where they studied her. She felt sick. Lord Benjamin had looked at her admiringly, but this fellow was looking at her in an assessing way. She looked away.

“Your Lordship, the butler will return shortly. He will take you to your room.” Her father smiled at Lord Merroway, who raised a brow.

“Capital. It was a long journey, and I am sore in need of rest. I shall come down for luncheon after washing and dressing.”

“Of course, Lord Merroway.” Her father smiled, inclining his head.

Claudia looked away, to where Lord Acton greeted her. He smiled easily. “Pleased to meet you, Lady Claudia. Fine weather.” He inclined his head towards the door.

Lord Merroway looked pained as if he had a headache. “You never stop, do you, Acton?”

“No, not really.”

Claudia looked from one to the other, thinking that she liked Acton already – he was easygoing and open-handed. She didn’t like Merroway at all.

She looked at her father, who was carefully looking away. She thought that he was uncomfortable too. She also realised that she was almost certainly right – he had invited these guests to meet her.

She felt ill.

“Um, Father?” she said as the butler arrived, conducting the guests to their rooms. “Do you think I could go upstairs a moment? I feel a bit unwell.”

“You can come to the dining room at once,” her father said. “Claudia, you’re four and twenty years old. It’s past time you socialised.”

He sounded annoyed, and Claudia felt hurt. It wasn’t her fault! She couldn’t socialise when she was at Winley, and the nearest person to talk to was her aunt.

She followed her father into the dining room. The table had been laid, a fine white tablecloth settled over it. She looked around the room, admiring the clean windows. The staff had taken care of everything so well! She glanced at Mrs Murray, but she was already hurrying out.

“Well then,” her father said. He seemed suddenly awkward. “I reckon we just sit and wait for our guests, then. They’ll be taking time upstairs.”

“Yes, I suppose.”

Claudia stood beside him, looking out of the window. She felt uncomfortable, her fingers twisting the tablecloth. She made herself walk to the windows, trying to find something to do. She stood at the window and stared out.

The garden was bright, the sunshine sparkling on the lawn. Claudia wanted to work on her herb garden, which was around the side of the house, near the kitchens. Her father had no idea that she and Ettie gardened – they did it in secret when he was away. She heard footsteps.

“Ah! Henry, old chap.” Her father greeted Lord Alton, who had entered with his wife. “Greetings Adeline. Sit down, do.” Her father gestured to the butler, who drew out a chair on her father’s right. Lady Alton, smiling cheerily at Claudia, sat down.

“Lady Claudia! Do come and sit beside me. I declare! I want to learn all about you. We have heard of you from your father, but it is different to meet you in person.”

She smiled. Lady Alton smelled of roses, her pale hair piled up on her head. She had soft blue eyes with smile lines around them. Claudia thought she liked her; she seemed simply friendly.

“Thank you, My Lady.” She coughed. “I am delighted to meet you, as well.” This was so awkward! She hadn’t socialised for so long that she’d forgotten how to do it. As it was, Lady Alton was a good person to start with; she had a way of making people feel comfortable.

She listened while Lady Alton told her about the coach ride, the streets in London, and how glad she was to spend some time in the country. “Only two weeks, but so charming!”

“Yes, it’s grand.”

Claudia tucked that piece of information into her mind and then looked up as Benjamin entered, followed by Lord Acton. Benjamin bowed low and seated himself beside his father, opposite Claudia.

“My Lady! I have the honour of sitting opposite you.”

“Thank you. I am pleased to have your company.”

Claudia wondered where the phrases were in her mind, that they came so easily. She had no idea about socialising! Yet, somehow, words were in her mind, and she was managing well. Lord Acton sat down beside Benjamin and smiled.

“Lady Claudia! A fine property you have here – it’s grand for riding – if you ride?”

“I do not,” Claudia admitted. That wasn’t entirely true, on reflection. She did take lessons, but since they only had two horses in the stables, and her father mainly used one of them, she didn’t ride often. In fact, aside from once when she rode to visit Auntie, she didn’t ride anymore.

“A pity! You have a fine path going up the hill there. I would dearly love to accompany you there.”

Claudia heard someone cough, and she turned to see Lord Merroway. He had changed his riding suit for a dinner one. He bowed low.

“This place is available, I take it?” He gave Acton a cold stare and pulled out the chair beside Claudia, who nodded.

“Yes, it is.”

He raised a brow, and Claudia looked away. She felt deeply uncomfortable around him. She didn’t like the way he looked at her. She glanced at her father, who was standing now at the head of the table, one seat down from her.

“Well, yes,” he said, staring at them. “Harroway, the luncheon can be brought. If you are ready, of course.” He smiled at his guests, who nodded.

“Of course, Alexander. Bring it in. We’re all hungry,” Henry said.

Claudia shot a quick glance at him. She already liked the Altons. She thought they were nice, relaxed individuals. She glanced at her father, who seemed as nervous as she felt.

He drew out his chair and sat down, and Mr. Harroway came in, setting plates of food before them all. She lifted her spoon, feeling hungry. It was pea soup, which surprised her – the cook usually just made a broth with whatever vegetables she had to hand.

Her father really was making an effort.

She put her worries aside and settled down to eat, enjoying the meal. It was, she thought, rather nice to have people there. She mostly took lunch in her workroom, while her father was either out or took his meals in his study. She focused on the pleasant aspect of having people about.

When luncheon was over – a delicious grilled main course, followed by crème caramel – her father coughed.

“If you would all like to rest for an hour after luncheon? Perhaps we could meet for a walk on the grounds later, or in the drawing room for tea. I will have to attend to business in the village.”

“Of course, Alexander,” Henry said. “We’ll be glad to keep ourselves occupied for an hour or two.”

“Yes. I want to go riding,” Lord Acton said. Merroway snorted.

“You always talk about riding!”

Claudia glanced at him, thinking that the contempt-filled way he talked to Acton was most unpleasant. She felt her instincts against him strengthen. She glanced down the table to her father, registering what he said. He would be away for hours.

She settled back in her chair while Lord Alton and his wife left, followed by Benjamin, who smiled uncertainly.

“My Lady? If you would take me for a walk about the grounds, I would be very glad to see them.”

“Yes, Benjamin,” her father interrupted before Claudia could answer. “I must speak to Claudia first.”

“Oh! Of course, Your Lordship. I apologise. I will, of course, wait until you have concluded your business.”

“Good. Yes.” Her father nodded disinterestedly. Claudia glanced at Benjamin, feeling guilty, but he had already gone, followed by Acton, who was still talking about exploring the grounds. She looked at her father as Merroway, too, stood to leave. He bowed to her.

“My Lady, I’ll rest for an hour.”

Claudia stared. “Yes,” she agreed, not knowing what to say. What sort of statement was that? She felt baffled. She waited until the guests had gone, and her father gestured to her.

“Claudia? I need to discuss something.”

“Yes, Father.”

She followed him into the reading room. He gestured to her to come in. She shut the door and sat down.

“Now, Claudia,” her father said. He looked at her, and then down at the desk, studying the play of light on the backs of his hands. “I suppose I don’t need to tell you why I brought these guests here.”

“You assume more insight than I have, Father,” Claudia said swiftly. “I am afraid I need an explanation. What are they doing here?”

Her father breathed out through his nose. “It should be plain to you, and I think it would be to any other young lady. But I suppose I have to explain.”

“Yes,” Claudia said, feeling hurt. Was she not good enough for him? Is that why he spoke to her like that, as if she were slow-witted, needing matters explained? She looked up as he cleared his throat.

“Claudia … It has been drawn to my attention that you need to find a home. My estate will pass to my great-nephew, your cousin Allory, and you will need to find a place.”

“Yes,” Claudia murmured. She knew that already; she couldn’t inherit anything. She had known that vaguely, and she pushed the thought away. She wasn’t going to focus on the thought of losing her home.

“Well, then,” he said, shifting where he stood as if it discomforted him. “I suppose, then, you should guess why these people are here. Why, particularly, these young men are here?”

“You want me to wed one.”

Her father blinked, nodding. “Quite so.”

Claudia swallowed. She felt light-headed, as though she had been breathing in too much of her sweet lavender. “You really mean that?”

“Of course. Why else would I host house guests?” He laughed. “You think I suddenly came into money? Now, go and rest. I will see you at tea, where I expect you will make an effort to make the acquaintance of one of them. I particularly favour the idea of Merroway, but you needn’t take that as a command.”

“Yes, Father.”

Claudia left, feeling sick. What could she do? She felt her fear settle into anger. How dare he? How could he just march in here, having barely spoken to her for ten years, and order her life? How could he expect her to do this, just like that?

She went to the workroom in search of Ettie, and as she sat with her, discussing the problem, a thought came to her mind.

“We could go gardening.”

“Now?” Ettie frowned. “It’s too late, My Lady. If your father returns at teatime, we won’t have much chance for any serious progress.” She shook her head.

“Ettie, I have to!” She felt suddenly rebellious. Here was her father, newly returned after his trip, trying to force her to make a life-changing decision as if it were as simple as deciding the week’s meals! She needed to do something to remind herself of who she really was and that she still existed.

Ettie nodded. “Very well, My Lady. Let’s get dressed and be sure to stick to the kitchen garden, where nobody’ll spot anything.”

Claudia grinned and stood while Ettie unfastened her dress, slipping into her comfortable work clothes. She unpinned her hair and tied it back with a ribbon. Ettie was tugging off her uniform, stepping into a comfortable dress.

“Let’s go!” Claudia agreed.

Giggling, they raced to the garden.

“A Blooming Love for the Apothecary” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Lady Claudia has spent her childhood at the isolated manor of her father, the Earl of Winley. Even though she didn’t have many people in her life, she never felt the lack of company, as she always had an overwhelming interest in plants and herbs. Unbeknown to her father, Claudia has created a small secret garden on the estate, dedicating most of her time to her peculiar fascination. Little did she know that a rash on her hands would soon lead her to an encounter with the man of her dreams… From the very first moment she sees the attractive apothecary, she simply cannot stop daydreaming about his charming smile. With growing feelings overpowering her, will she manage to give love a chance to flourish without ending up with a broken heart?

Lucas Highgate is a man who knows what he wants from life. Although he is the youngest son of a baron, he has an overarching longing for one thing; to become an apothecary and learn how to heal with plants. Determined to follow his heart, he will refuse a stable life at the estate of his father and proceed with opening the apothecary shop of his dreams. When Claudia appears at his shop in need of a quick-healing tonic for rashes, her astonishing beauty makes his heart skip a beat. He is deeply impressed by the mesmerising woman’s passion for herbs, and the sparkles of pure love instantly start appearing between them. Despite never thinking love was on the cards for him, will Lucas let Claudia bring sunshine to his life and heart?

With every passing day, the love between Claudia and Lucas steadily grows through ingeniously-contrived visits to the shop. Thrown together by destiny, neither of them can deny their special connection for long. However, Claudia’s father will force her into a marriage with a dangerous man that she’s scared of, a decision that will threaten to tear Claudia and Lucas apart forever. With the odds stacked against them, will the two of them fight for their emotions and choose the path of their own life? Can their love truly overcome it all, or are their hearts doomed to break into million pieces?

“A Blooming Love for the Apothecary” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Regency Hearts Entwined", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

One thought on “A Blooming Love for the Apothecary (Preview)”

  1. Hello my dears, I really hope you enjoyed this small surprise! I am looking forward to reading your wonderful comments. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! 💖

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