The Rise of Miss Notley (Tanglewood Book 2)

By: Rachael Anderson

Miss Coralynn Notley stood on the steps of Langtry Park, directing a pleading glance at the stately butler. "Forgive me for arriving at such an early hour, Sims, but I must speak to Lady Harriett at once." There was a chilly bite in the morning September air, and she hugged her arms to her chest, wishing she had taken the time to don her warmer gloves. The walk had nearly frozen her fingers.

The elderly man's reply seemed to come ages later. "I am afraid she is still indisposed, Miss Notley. Perhaps you could return—"

"I will wait," blurted Cora, for she could not return home now, not when her life had turned on its end. Lady Harriett was really the only person she felt comfortable confiding in, and confide she must. "Please, Sims. This is a matter of great urgency."

Sims hesitated. His gray, almost nonexistent eyebrows cinched together tightly, making him look a bit like a prune. Cora might have laughed if it were any other morning on any other day. But she was in no mood to laugh, so she clasped her reticule tighter in her hands and implored him with her eyes. Please do not send me away.

"Sims, what on earth are you doing?" a feminine voice sounded behind the man. He blinked twice before turning around, using his large body to block Cora's view into the house.

"Lady Drayson," he said. "You are up and about early."

"I could not sleep," she answered. "This little one begins pounding my insides the moment the sun peeks through the windows. The only thing that quiets her is a walk around the house and a warm glass of milk."

"I see." Sims turned his head to the side and cleared his throat. His wrinkled cheeks had a pink hue to them as though embarrassed by the frank way Lady Drayson spoke of her unborn child.

"Pray tell, why must you keep the door ajar?" Lady Drayson asked. "There's a rather cold draft coming through the crack."

Sims cleared his throat again and stepped aside, revealing Cora. "We have a visitor, my lady. Miss Notley insists on speaking with Lady Harriett at once. I have told her that—"

"Heavens, Sims, let the poor girl in. She is going to catch a chill standing out there in the cold."

"Yes, my lady." He stepped aside and opened the door wider, nodding for Cora to come inside, which she did.

Cora could have hugged Lady Drayson for her kindness but settled on a grateful smile instead.

The Countess of Drayson stood at the foot of the stairs wearing a pale pink dressing gown and matching slippers. Her beautiful, long hair was woven into a braid that draped elegantly over her shoulder and a small bulge protruded from her once-small waist. Though Cora was not so well acquainted with Lady Drayson as Lady Harriett, she knew Lady Drayson to be both kind and genteel.

"Thank you, my lady," said Cora, dipping into a quick curtsy.

Lady Drayson dismissed the formality with a wave of her hand, her expression becoming concerned as she searched Cora's face. "I hope you are well, Miss Notley."

"I am," Cora rushed to say, feeling awkward for descending on the family this way. How unrefined she must appear. "That is to say, I am in body, my lady, but anxious in spirit."

Lady Drayson gave Cora's hand a comforting squeeze and smiled sympathetically. "Sims, please show Miss Notley to the drawing room. I shall undertake the task of rousing Harriett."

"Oh no," protested Cora. "I will wait for her to arise. I just… well, I did not wish to remain at home, is all."

"I understand," said Lady Drayson. "But Harriett will wish to be awakened, I assure you."

Cora felt a moment's relief. She had been pacing the floor of her room all night, ever since she'd overheard the conversation between her father and Sir Gowen. Even now, her stomach roiled at the memory. Cora had always known that she was of little worth in the eyes of her parents, but now she understood exactly how little that was.

"Thank you, Lady Drayson. I am most grateful to you."

Lady Drayson nodded before lifting the skirts of her dressing gown and ascending the stairs. Even in her increasing state, she appeared poised, graceful, and happy. Cora thought of the few times she had seen Lord and Lady Drayson driving or walking the grounds of their vast estate, their heads bent in conversation or smiling and laughing. They seemed so well-suited to each other. It made Cora long for the same even though she knew it could never be.