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In My Wildest Dreams
by Christina Dodd
Avon, 2001


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Excerpt from In My Wildest Dreams

Blythe Hall, Suffolk, 1843

PROLOGUE

Adorna, Lady Bucknell, admired a man who thought honestly and spoke without artifice, but Garrick Stanley Breckinridge Throckmorton the Third gave new meaning to the term “tactless.”

“Milford,” he said, “it has come to my attention that your daughter is moping.”

Adorna pressed her fan to her lips to conceal her amusement. The sun shone into the old walled garden, displaying Throckmorton's lack of expression, his absolute stillness, giving proof to the popular theory that Throckmorton the younger was nothing but a calm, bloodless, self-serving merchant.

Adorna wasn’t so sure. Sometimes when she glanced at Garrick Stanley Breckinridge Throckmorton, she suspected she saw … more.

Milford, the head gardener of Blythe Hall and a dignified East Anglian yeoman of at least fifty years, turned his hat in his work-roughened hands as he watched his employer. Apparently he was used to such direct speaking, for he neither flinched nor cowered. “Celeste is young, Mr. Throckmorton, only seventeen years. Given time and the right man, she’ll settle.”

“Yes.” Seated on one of the wicker seats he had brought back from India six years ago, Throckmorton appeared unconvinced. “Perhaps.”

Of course, Throckmorton wasn’t handsome like his brother Ellery. He could never have been, for where Ellery’s blonde, blue-eyed allure oozed from every pore, Garrick was plain, dark and somber. Tall, but all Throckmortons were tall. Big-boned and strongly-muscled, betraying the common origins of the Throckmorton family. So conservative in dress and manner Adorna wished occasionally to shake him until he betrayed some real emotion. But if the birth of his much-younger and fatally captivating sibling had disturbed Garrick, that time had been long ago. Now the guarded gray eyes assessed events and weighed characters without revealing anything of himself, and to Adorna such caution seemed out of place in a twenty-seven year old man — unless he concealed depths within his soul.

But if depths were there, he hid them well, for she had no idea what treasures they hid.

He gestured to Adorna, her arm draped across the back of the love seat in a graceful curve. “This is Lady Bucknell, the proprietress of the well-respected Distinguished Academy of Governesses in London and a dear friend of my mother’s. She is visiting with her husband, and has observed your daughter. Lady Bucknell has expressed an interest in having Celeste return with her to the Distinguished Academy of Governesses in London and there be trained as an instructor.”

Adorna smiled at Milford. He didn’t melt, as most men did, at the application of her charm, but watched her steadily, weighing her with his gaze. The head gardener at Blythe Hall was an important personage, after all. He had to be a man of good sense.

“With all due respect, my lady — why Celeste?” he asked.

“Celeste would be an admirable governess. Children follow her about, and she is endlessly patient. She’s well-spoken and well-educated, thanks to the Throckmorton family, I believe —“

Milford nodded. “Grateful, I am.”

“She seems responsible, but aimless, with no goal in sight.” That was a lie. Celeste had a goal, and that goal was the love of Ellery Throckmorton. She followed Ellery about, speaking to him when she had the chance, spying on him from ill-concealed hideouts.

Indeed — Adorna's glance flicked to the wall behind Throckmorton — young Celeste seemed to have developed a penchant for spying.

Ellery never noticed Celeste was alive. Oh, he knew her name, but not that she’d grown from a knobby girl into a handsome young woman. Adorna planned to remove Celeste before Ellery did notice, and thoughtlessly take what was offered.

Opening her fan, Adorna moved it slowly before her face. The branches on the willow that grew beside the wall were swaying, yet no breeze ruffled any of the other trees. Pitching her voice a little louder than her normal, husky tone, she said, “Celeste speaks French well, I believe.”

Milford almost smiled. “Her mother was French.”

“Our cook,” Throckmorton supplied. “A master of sauces, and a way with fish that has never been matched. Even after six years, we miss her.”

Milford’s dignity grew to combat the dangerous weakness the mention of his wife invoked. “Aye, sir.”

With a tact Adorna hadn’t given him credit for, Throckmorton turned his head to inspect the hedge of roses nearby, giving Milford a chance to regain his composure. The bushes were in full bloom, a mighty explosion of pink and scent which Adorna had appreciated but which, she knew, Throckmorton had scarcely noticed. “First class work,” he complimented Milford.

“Thank you, sir. The rose is called Felicite Parmentier, and she’s a magnificent bloomer.”

The two men stared at the blossoms until Adorna rescued them. “At any rate, Milford, a woman with Celeste's gifts will make an admirable addition to the Distinguished Academy of Governesses.”

“She’s a scatter-brain,” her father said flatly.

The willow rustled violently.

Eyes narrowed, Throckmorton glanced behind him. Rising, he strolled around to lean against a low-hanging branch.

“Most girls are at seventeen.” Adorna watched him while she mused that Celeste would, with a little coaching, add luster to the reputation of the Distinguished Academy of Governesses. Most of the ton were waiting for Adorna to fail so they might chuckle at her folly in buying such a business. Indeed, Adorna’s own dear, pompous husband had been less than understanding about her desire to fill her days with something more than gossip and needlework. Her eyes narrowed as she considered the strong language Lord Bucknell had used to describe her purchase.

She would prove all of them wrong, most especially Lord Bucknell, and young Celeste would help her do so. “When I am done with Celeste,” Adorna said, “she will be polished, independent, and a force to be reckoned with.”

Milford looked to Throckmorton.

Throckmorton gave him a small nod, reassuring the anxious father.

Milford sighed heavily and displayed the wisdom that allowed him to take charge of dozens of undergardeners and acres of flowers and orchards with such success. “Very well. I’ll miss her sore, but if she stays, she’s going to get in trouble. So, my lady, take her.”

The willow swayed.

Eyebrows lowered in a fierce and violent fury, Throckmorton shook the tree.

The girl, Celeste, tumbled downwards in a silent confusion of faded skirts and lop-sided blonde braids.

Throckmorton caught at her, breaking her fall, but she landed hard in the flowerbed, mashing columbine and yellow alyssum. Her petticoats flew up to reveal black woolen stockings tied with a string around the knee. She gasped painfully as her breath left her.

Throckmorton looked thunderstruck. “Celeste!”

So he hadn’t known who was up there, Adorna realized, only that someone was spying on them, and he had reacted with rage and determination. Fascinating.

Milford didn’t appear surprised to see his daughter. He only shook his head mournfully. “Scatter-brain.”

As soon as she caught her breath, Celeste looked up at Throckmorton and with all the passion of her youthful fury, she said, “I won’t go. I won’t be polished, and independent, and a force to be reckoned with. You can’t make me.”

Excerpted from In My Wildest Dreams by Christina Dodd. Copyright © 2001 by Christina Dodd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.











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