Chance Encounters

I met my husband on-line. This was many years ago before the internet was such a big deal. We both belonged to a bulletin board system, a BBS, that specifically wanted people to get to know each other and make matches. I’d been on there for a couple years, and Mike had been on before that. He just happened to log on again, and we played in the nightly trivia game.

Many other things had to happen, and did, and we are still happy together, but I sometimes marvel that the chances of a moment brought us together.

I’m sharing most of the first chapter of my Regency Romance, The Dandy’s Wager. The chance encounter of Lady Elizabeth Underwood and Lord Robert Coleman in an old church yard sparks an attraction neither looked for. They are both there for a wedding, following which Elizabeth sneaks away in her quest for Roman artifacts and ruins. She is behind a hedge when Lord Robert and his friends come out to the yard. I hope you enjoy it.

The Dandy’s Wager

Voices from the other side of the hedge startled her out of her meditations. Smoke, too, drifted past the leaves. Some gentlemen had come out to the churchyard to smoke cigars. She shrank back to the wall, thankful for the lush coverage and concealment.

“Thank your brother for us, Rob,” one man called. “This wedding has inspired our mothers to push us toward parson’s mousetrap.”

A chorus of laughing agreement and ridicule followed. Then a different voice answered, “You know I tried to talk him out of it, Will. Being the last unmarried child, both my parents are on me now to settle down.”

Yet another man chuckled. “Perhaps we should just pick one of the pretty girls here today. None of them are hard on the eyes, and none too silly. If we have to marry, we can do worse than these, and we can make it interesting.”

A fourth man, at least Elizabeth thought this one had not spoken before, said, “We court then, wed them, and bed them–”

Shouts and comments interrupted him, mostly things she could not understand. Then Rob, the first speaker, said, “We must have heirs. Then our parents will be satisfied, and while the woman takes care of the child, we are free to return to normal life.”

“Gilbert, what say you? How can we make this interesting beyond the eventual bedding?”

“That’s simple. As long as we can each agree to which female we wish to pursue, the first one to marry will win the wager.”

Rob laughed. “A marvelous plan. Pick your intended bride and the first of us to wed will have twenty pounds from each of us.”

“Twenty pounds? And we still need to be leg shackled?”

“Indeed, Toby, a high price.” She thought this was the first speaker again, Will. “Surely 20 schillings would do?”

“Miss Twigg for me!” one of them called out. “And twenty pounds that she will marry me in three months!”

“Lady Elizabeth,” Rob pronounced, making her jump. “The only title in the bunch, and therefore my match.”

Elizabeth could not stop a gasp at this, but she covered her mouth in the next instant. The arrogance of the man!

“I will gladly try for Miss Sebastian. That leaves Miss Preston for you, Will.”

“She will do as well as any.”

A noise from the church put an end to this conversation. Elizabeth waited for the footsteps and comments to fade away. One more glance at the Roman well, and she hurried toward the gate.

She collided with something firm and unyielding as she rounded the end of the hedge. Her eyes traveled up several inches. Somber gray eyes studied her.

“Lady Elizabeth,” Lord Robert Coleman steadied her with a hand on her arm, but did not let her step back from contact with him. “You are in the habit of eavesdropping?”

“No! I wanted to see the well. Excuse me.” She managed to get her hands up to his chest and push herself away. She took a step back, and straightened her gown. Anything to not meet his disturbing gaze.

“If I promise not to court you, would you–” he hesitated and reached to take her chin in his firm grip. “Promise to not reveal what you heard?”

“I don’t know what you mean, my lord.” Elizabeth returned his look steadily. His hand, ungloved, burned against her skin, with heat and with steely strength. “But I vow I will not repeat a word of it, no matter what you do.”

He grinned and let her go. She walked around him, but before she passed the hedge, she looked back. A smile escaped her. “Perhaps I wish for you to court me.”

His eyebrows rose, causing a flutter in her chest, and giving wings to her feet as she hurried away.

***

The little vixen! Rob watched until the last flash of her peach muslin skirts were gone from his view. God, what a delicious pocket Venus she could be. Did she have any idea of the danger she flirted with?

He chuckled and glanced back at the well. Antiquities seemed an odd interest for a titled young woman. Intriguing.

Footsteps in the yard drew him out from behind the hedge. William St. James, his closest friend, had come back to look for him.

“Did you scare off the chit?” he asked, looking around.

“Apparently I did.” Rob clapped Will’s arm. “Come, let’s go wish the happy couple well and proceed to drink ourselves blind.”

They walked to the front of the old church. Rob’s brother, Viscount Miles Coleman, and his new viscountess Cassandra, nee Jennings, continued to talk to family and well wishers. The coach waited in the road, the flashy pair of bays showing signs of restlessness.

“Robert,” Miles flashed a strained smile while giving him a firm handshake. “Can you distract the crowd so we may leave? Cassie can’t stand much longer without collapsing.” He nodded amiably to William.

Rob looked at Will, smiling. “I don’t doubt we can think of something.”

“I know just the thing,” said Will, and he hurried off toward the church. He returned in a few minutes with his arms full of very young orange tabby kittens.

The women in the crowd sent up oos and ahs and moved in on Will. This shift opened the path to the carriage. Cassie smiled and took the arm of her husband.

“Thank you, brother.” She stretched up to kiss his cheek.

“I wish you both joy, sister. And if he does anything you do not like, be sure to send word to me. I will thrash him soundly.”

Bride and groom laughed, with Miles adding a low-voiced, “You would have to stand in line behind her uncles, you know.”

Rob managed a thoughtful look. “I suppose I will have to settle for thrashing whatever they leave of you, then.”

He watched them step into the carriage, watched the crowd realize the couple were making an escape, and watched the shower of flower petals follow the dust of their departure. An arm extended out of the carriage and coins rained down on the crowd.

William appeared, still clutching a kitten. “One left. Does she not touch your heart, Rob?”

He looked at the animal in horror. “Do you think I would allow orange fur on my black velvets or silks? Surely not!”

“I suppose I will take her, then. Perhaps Miss Preston likes cats.”

With a theatrical shudder, Lord Robert pulled a lace-edged handkerchief from his pocket and dusted the arms of his coat. But his thoughts turned to Lady Elizabeth and what sort of things she liked. With a surge of anticipation, he decided he would find out soon.

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