For as long as she can remember, Bethany Swafford has loved reading books. That love of words extended to writing as she grew older and when it became more difficult to find a ‘clean’ book, she determined to write her own. Among her favorite authors are Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Georgette Heyer.
When she doesn’t have pen to paper (or fingertips to laptop keyboard), she can generally be found with a book in hand.
Twenty-year-old Diana Forester, a country-bred young woman, fears that her inexperience and uncertainties have discouraged the charming Mr. John Richfield.
On arriving back home from London, she learns that he has already arrived, ready to continue their acquaintance and explore whether they are suited for each other.
If Diana thought that deciding her future marriage mate was difficult in London, courting takes on a whole new aspect when Diana’s younger siblings become involved. She finds herself dealing with her own feelings, her sister, her younger brother, jealous members of a house party, a jilted suitor, and a highwayman as she falls in love with the charming Mr. Richfield.
To my surprise, Sarah was already in our bedroom. I thought she would have been with her friend for most of the day. “You’re back early. Did you and Miss Sandwood not have a great deal to discuss?”
“I thought you’d never get here!” Sarah said, ignoring my question completely as she spun to face me. I frowned at her as I put my outside garments away. She wrung her hands together and tapped her foot. Agitation was a state which I had seldom seen her in. “Diana, I must speak with you!”
“About what?” I asked calmly. Sarah took up pacing and seemed disinclined to continue with whatever she wanted to say.
“You must listen to me for once in your life!”
Sinking onto our bed, I tried to hide a smile. “Then come out and tell me what has you in such a state.”
“I think Mr. Richfield is the highwayman!”
My smile faded instantly as I stared at her. How had she come up with this ridiculous idea? “You what?” I asked in astonishment.
“There, I’ve said it!” Sarah collapsed into the chair at the dressing table. “I’ve considered the matter carefully, Diana, and as your sister, I could not let you become attached to such a black-hearted criminal!”
I couldn’t help but laugh in response to that absurd notion. “‘Black-hearted criminal’? You cannot be serious, Sarah. I have never heard anything so outlandish. You’ve been reading too many of those books you are always teasing me about.”
“Diana, I am completely serious! Stop laughing!”
“How can I take you seriously when everything you say is utter nonsense? Why would you possibly think Mr. Richfield, a true gentleman if I’ve ever met one, is a common criminal?”
Sarah leaned forward, her eyes wide. “Don’t you remember what Aunt Forester said at dinner yesterday?” she asked, lowering her voice for some reason. She acted like she was about to disclose some deep secret to me, and I found myself leaning closer. “About the highwayman being around the Bath area?”
Thinking back, I did, in fact, remember the conversation and our aunt’s comment. “Yes, of course, I remember. What about it?”
“Mr. Richfield was there!”
I failed to follow her line of reasoning. “I’m sure a great many people were in Bath at the same time, Sarah. Aunt and Uncle Forester, for example, were there for two months, I believe.”
Shaking her head, Sarah groaned. “Don’t be obtuse, Diana! You have to see the connection here. Mr. Richfield was in Bath when a highwayman terrorized innocent people. And now, he’s here, where a highwayman has mysteriously appeared to threaten our peaceful home!”
Taken aback, I frowned as I considered her logic. “No, you’re taking things far out of context, Sarah. Mother sent me a letter while I was in London and she wrote about the highwayman. And, for another thing, what reason would Mr. Richfield have to rob ladies of their jewels? There is none!”
Crossing her arms, Sarah scowled at me. “Charlotte and I have discussed this in detail, Diana,” she told me. Perfect. Now the tale would be spread to everyone we knew. “She has no idea how the Richfield family came by their money, only her father and Mr. Richfield’s father were friends at school. Mr. Richfield is posing as a gentleman and supporting himself on ill-gotten gains!”
Again with her over dramatics. “Sarah, this is silly. I don’t want to hear another word.”
“You just don’t want to admit you admire a criminal!”
“That is not the reason I object to this ridiculous theory!”
“You just don’t want me to be right!”
“You’re making things up that have no basis in fact!” We were both on our feet, and I had my hands on my hips. “You’re still mad Mr. Richfield is interested in me and not you!”
“Hardly! He’s a criminal, and I will prove it to you!”