Warning: this is a total foodie book! I probably gained ten pounds when I wrote this! 😀 (And is also in British English).
Set up: The year is 1892 and Virginia â€˜Ginnyâ€™ Clark has won a contest that will allow her to serve as a pastry chef for an entire summer at a private party in France. Years have gone by and much to his chagrin, Rory Hughson, Ginnyâ€™s willing accomplice in the notorious carriage incident of 1880, still feels protective of his first love. He wonâ€™t allow Ginny to traipse off to France unchaperonedâ€”and more importantly, end up tossed into a house full of randy French artists! So Beatrice and Luke (the H & H from A Touch of Destiny) decide, after interviewing both Rory and Ginny and making sure that between them, the spark of romance has been put out, that Rory should go as Ginnyâ€™s chaperone. This is an excerpt from the voyage to France:
Virginia lounged on a deck chair in the sun, a book of recipes in her lap, a large straw bonnet and chiffon scarf protecting her face from the elements. The steam ship bound for France didnâ€™t pitch to and fro as badly as she thought it would.
â€œA fine day for a stroll, wouldnâ€™t you say, Miss Clark?â€
From beneath the brim of her hat, her gaze travelled the length of a pair of very male, trouser-clad legs, barely slipping past the midsection that sprouted into a luscious V, landing on the manâ€™s square, freshly-shaven jaw. Her tummy gave a bit of a flutter. Even with the breath of the Atlantic Ocean ruffling her skirts, she could smell his cedar and crisp-linen soap.
Her life had finally come together and now, the only man who could release her untamed heart from its socially enforced restraints had sauntered back into her life. She squinted at his face.
â€œArenâ€™t you supposed to be in steerage?â€
â€œI upgraded myself, thank you very much.â€
Virginia returned her attention to her book. Perhaps heâ€™d get the hint that she wasnâ€™t in the mood for conversation of any sortâ€”or to have her carefully laid foundation of societal manners shaken to the core.
The scraping of a chairâ€™s legs across the wooden deck made her teeth clench. Rory settled himself into the retrieved chaise longue at her right as if sheâ€™d invited him.
A server came by and offered them tall glasses of mint julep, which Virginia declined and Rory accepted.
Rory sat nursing his drink, not uttering a word, for a good quarter of an hour, and the entire time, Virginia contemplated if there could be a large enough pie crust made to encase him, a few hundred cups of mushroom gravy and a dozen or so bushels of root vegetables.
â€œHaving been charged with this duty, I am going to approach it with the utmost solemnity. I shall be there for you at every turn.â€
Her gaze snapped to his. â€œYou do, Rory Hughson, and Iâ€™ll draw and quarter you and serve you in place of a fish course!â€
His face reddened. â€œYou are choiceless in this matter. You will either accept my assistance or we sail back to New York.â€
When she couldnâ€™t find the words to do battle with him, her fingers strangled the book in her hands.
Virginia refused to further acknowledge his presence. Didnâ€™t he know that he wasnâ€™t needed here? She wasnâ€™t in any moral danger, for Heavenâ€™s sake. She shifted in her chair and tried for the tenth time to focus on the recipe before her. Damn if she couldnâ€™t think when he was near. This had better not set a precedent for her summer or sheâ€™d fail for sure.
Frustrated, she slammed the book shut and stood. Rory set down his empty glass and stood as well, but before she could escape, he placed a hand upon her arm.
She raised her gaze to his.
â€œYou are going to ruin everything. Why are you here?â€
â€œIâ€¦I beg your pardon?â€
â€œWhy are you here, Rory?â€
His jaw hardened like granite. â€œYou know precisely why Iâ€™m here.â€
â€œBut I donâ€™t need you.â€
He tipped his head slightly and an insolent lock of hair fell to dangle over his forehead. â€œDonâ€™t need me or donâ€™t want me?â€
She stared at him and realised only too late that her mouth had opened and closed a few times, like a carp pulled from a lake. How could the rat make her so nervous? â€œWhat is that supposed to mean?â€
â€œWhat does it sound like?â€
Loath to stumble over the slightest pause at this point in their conversation, she turned on her heel. â€œGo home, Mr Hughson,â€ she shot over her shoulder and turned the corner to take the stairs to her cabin.
Virginia slammed the door and sagged against it, hugging the recipe book to her chest. She didnâ€™t need a bloody chaperoneâ€¦ Wait, did he just hint that he wanted her to want him?
â€œImpossible,â€ she murmured over the sound of her pounding heart. A proper chaperone would never suggest such a thing. Then again, he wasnâ€™t, nor had he ever been very proper.
Her cheeks heated to a simmer as she recalled the fateful carriage ride. â€œNo. Not at all proper.â€
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