Gentlemen Prefer Spinsters(4)

By: Samantha Holt

“Yes.” Arabella tugged her hand away and pulled a handkerchief out of her sleeve to wipe her hand. “If you ever tell anyone we did that, I shall disown you all as friends.”

Bella chuckled and sat. “You wouldn’t dare. You love us too much.”

“Perhaps,” Arabella conceded, lowering herself onto the chair.

“Arabella has a point though. We must keep these vows a secret. No one can know of our Spinster Club,” Merry ordered.

“Is that what we are now? A spinster club?” Sophia asked.

“Yes.” Merry gave a decisive nod. “We are the Spinster Club. And we do not talk about the Spinster Club to anyone, do we all understand?”

Chapter One

Smiling to himself, Harcourt took long strides up toward the large expanse of grassland that surrounded Whitely Grange. Trees dotted the land at random intervals, but he was only interested in one tree.

Or to be more precise, one woman who happened to be sitting underneath said tree. She did not notice him approach even though he made no secret of striding up the slope to join her. Merry’s head was dipped low, a book clasped in her hands, her knees drawn up to act as a book rest. He had no doubt there would be furrows between her brows as she studied the words with precision. He’d never met a woman who could get so lost in books.

He came to a stop only a few feet from her. Sure enough, there were the furrows. He grinned to himself. Her lips were pursed, and she chewed on the end of her thumb. He could not make out the title of the book but no doubt it was some Greek myth or tragedy. If he did not know better, he’d have assumed Merry was born with a book in hand. Her obsession with Greek myths had given him plenty to tease her over these past years.

When she did not lift her head, he moved himself deliberately, sidestepping until his body blocked the sun and cast a shadow across her book. She ignored him, her focus entirely on the book. He studied her boldly, hands clasped behind his back.

At around eighteen, Merry had grown into a fully-fledged woman. He still recalled her birthday and the strange awakening it created in him. Merry was no longer his closest friend’s sister. She was a woman. The realization had sent him reeling. He’d grown a little more accustomed to it now and at the age of twenty, so had she. Gone were the awkward braids that made her look like a child, and she dressed with a subtle feminine flair that he doubted was deliberate. With her inky black hair twisted up, delicate curls escaped and touched her neck. When she unpinned it, it would be a riot of curls—something she complained about frequently. His fingers twitched. What would she do if he just leaned in and plucked those pins away to send it spilling all over?

Shoot him a look that would kill probably.

He coughed and rocked on his heels. Merry flicked a page and he saw her gaze whisk over the words. He pressed his lips together. She must have seen him by now. Even she could not be that absorbed in a book. The minx was simply playing with him. He coughed again.

Her gaze remained on the book. “That’s a terrible cough you have there, Harry. I think you should see a doctor.”

“I could probably drop dead right here, and you would not notice.”

She lifted a finger for silence, read for a few more moments, then snapped shut the book. “What do you want, Harry?”

“I was thinking the fine company of a friend, but from that tone, it seems there is no fine company to be had.”

Merry stood and brushed down her skirt. “Forgive me, I was determined to finish that chapter. The housekeeper has insisted that every ounce of silverware must be polished today and there wasn’t a single room that was not occupied.”

Harcourt looked over at the house, nestled in a dip between the gentle rolling hills. Though smaller than his own house, Whitely was probably the second finest home in Dorset with elegant cream columns and squared off corners that left one in no doubt money had been spent on the design and creation. It was hard to imagine there was not a single room left unoccupied, but he knew Merry could not bear the slightest disturbance when studying.

“It’s too nice a day to be inside anyway.” He looked pointedly at her book. “Or to be reading.”