BOOK DETAILS

Too Hard to Forget

Too Hard to Forget

by Amanda Balfour

ASIN: B01JV90HNU

Publisher The Wild Rose Press, Inc

Published in Romance

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Book Description

$4.99

Abandoned by her father and her fiancé, Nicole Waltham is forced to seek employment with Lady Scott when she has nowhere else to go.

Notorious rake Lord Brandon Montagu needs a bride in order to collect his inheritance but is determined to remain independent, not letting marriage complicate his lifestyle.

Love blossoms between the reluctant lovers, but betrayal follows close on its heels. Her heart broken, Nicole flees to France into the middle of the French Revolution. Brandon must rescue the woman who is too hard to forget. Will he succeed, or will the guillotine claim both their lives?

Sample Chapter

A poorly sprung mail coach lurched and rattled into the yard of the White Bear Tavern and Inn near Fiddler-on-the-Sea, a tourist destination on the coast northeast of London in 1792. The driver swung to the ground, opened the coach door, and lowered the steps. Lone passenger Miss Nicole Waltham peered out of the darkened coach. The morning’s molten sun burnt through the clouds in streaks.

A low-hanging ground fog surrounding the inn did nothing to lighten her mood. She gave her hand to the driver as she stepped to the ground. Her gaze wandered over the surrounding bleak landscape with growing dread.

“Miss, it’s been raining, and there’s mud puddles everywhere. Be careful. If ye’ll wait where ye are, ye can follow me into the inn after I fetch your corded trunk and valise from the boot.” The driver disappeared in the fog.

She wrung her hands and waited.

The driver called from the back of the coach, “I’ll soon have yer baggage sorted out and take ye into the White Bear. It’s respectable. No need to worry. I’ll introduce ye to Mrs. Carter, and ye can wait there until yer people come for ye.”

He came around the coach carrying her baggage.

“There, that’s sorted. I’ll just leave yer baggage here.

I’ll be back quicker than a cat can lick its whiskers.” He turned and went behind the coach again.

“Thank you,” Nicole called after his disappearing backside.

Still standing next to the carriage, now with baggage at her feet, she stared off into the distance. A short six months ago, she had servants to command and never knew a time when she wanted for anything.

Today told a different story.

Her fiancé had abandoned her. Her father, whether through his bout of melancholia or shame, deserted her on the last stop into London. Aunt Helena had agreed to take them into her home but not before writing to her father in which she lectured him on his sins through a five-page missive. Nicole’s pride refused to let her remain in her aunt’s house any longer than necessary.

Aunt Helena had made it obvious she took her in as a charitable act but did not appreciate having an impoverished relative foisted upon her. Nicole shook her head trying to be rid of her gloomy musings.

She had agreed to be a companion to Lady Annis Scott, a widow in poor health from an apoplexy. Her son Lord Robert Scott had procured the services of Miss Nicole Waltham from the Melrose Agency in London. She expected her employer to send a cart to meet her, and at the sound of someone coming around the bend in the road, she turned and craned her neck in anticipation. To her dismay, a speeding curricle and four were bearing down on her. Stunned, she did not have the presence of mind to move. The curricle continued at its reckless pace, missing her by inches.

The vehicle ran through a large mud puddle in front of her sending a shower of dirty water, drenching her from head to toe.

Her mouth opened in surprise. “O-o-o-h, mercy me, of all the…” Words failed her as she held her dripping hands away from her clothes. She stomped her foot and stared after the rapidly disappearing curricle.

“Just look at my clothes! They’re ruined. Of all the harebrained creatures… Oh, what am I to do?” she called to no one in particular, looking heavenward.

The driver came from the direction of the inn and glimpsed the young woman. “Upon my soul—just look at ye. Well, I’ll be a jiggered. This way, oh, my, miss.

Let me take ye into the inn. Mrs. Carter will look after ye. She’ll know what to do. Now don’t ye fret none.

She’ll have ye cleaned up in no time. I’ll take yer trunk in, and ye can change yer clothes.”

The coachman hurried through the hall of the inn to the back parlor with Nicole trailing. She looked over her shoulder and saw a woman come out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron. Mrs. Carter hurried after them and called to the coachman as they entered the parlor.

“John, what’s the meaning of this? And be quiet. I have people sleeping. Just look at my floors. There’s mud all over my clean floors.”

Nicole turned toward the woman stepping into the parlor.

The portly innkeeper stopped short when she took in Nicole’s condition. “Well, I hope I never. Whatever happened to the young lady?”

“Sorry, Mrs. Carter. I had to take the young lady somewhere.”

“Mrs. Carter, can you help me? An idiot whipster flying over the rise in the road splashed mud over me from head to toe, as you can see. Today is my first day as Lady Annis Scott’s companion. I can’t go to her looking like this.” On the verge of tears, Nicole sniffed and took a deep breath.

“Of course, you can’t, my dear. Now calm yourself. I’ll bring hot water so’s you can clean up. You can change your clothes in here. There’s a lock on the door. We’ll have you neat as nine pence before you know it.”

Nicole touched her auburn hair and felt the sticky mess. “My hair, oh my hair. It must have a bucket of mud in it.”

“Now, dear, we’ll wash it, and you can dry it by the fire. It’s so thick that even if Lady Scott’s man comes for you before it dries, we can make a bun at the nape of your neck. No one will ever guess what happened. You get out of those muddy clothes, and I’ll get the hot water.” Mrs. Carter hurried away.

Nicole looked at herself in a tarnished piece of a mirror leaning on the fireplace mantel, and her heart sank. At her wit’s end and with nowhere else to go, she could not lose this position. “I’ll not go crawling back to my aunt. That is not an option.” She crossed her arms and stomped her foot, then brushed a tear away and paced the floor. The drying mud was making her clothes stiff and sticky. If Mrs. Carter did not hurry, she soon would be unable to move.

****

A short way past the bend in the road, the curricle and four pulled to a stop. The reckless whipster turned his rig and headed back to the inn. A tall, inebriated man stepped lightly from the curricle and entered the inn. Swaying somewhat once inside the door, he glanced around the darkened room. Nothing but the ghost of old ales greeted him.

Dressed in a careless fashion, his once mirror polished hessians were mud splattered. He draped his many caped greatcoat in a slapdash fashion over a chair and threw his gold trimmed hat on the table. A diamond pin held his loosely tied cravat in place. Shaking loose the ribbon that held his dark hair away from his face, he stumbled into the hallway leading to the inn’s parlors.

“Innkeeper! Innkeeper! Where the devil is everyone?” the young man called and pounded his whip handle on the table in the hall. Not one to wait long, he sauntered down the hallway in search of Mrs. Carter.

Glimpsing her with a brass water can and a towel going through a doorway, he followed down the hall and pounded on the door.

“Mrs. Carter, do you have the young lady I splashed? Is she hurt? Very careless of me. Open this door. Where is everyone?” He continued to rattle the door with his whip handle.

“Get away from the door. How dare you? You cannot come in here. I’m not decent. You have a nerve showing your face after you nearly killed me.” The young woman’s angry words penetrated the closed door.

Mrs. Carter quieted the young lady. “S-sh, my dear, that’s Lord—”

“I don’t care who he is. Someone should take a whip to him!”

The coachman stepped out of the shadows and sidled between the door and the young man. He cleared his throat and removed his hat. “Begging yer pardon, my lord, but Mrs. Carter is attending to the young lady you splashed. They’re trying to repair her outfit. I’m afraid it looks hopeless. She can’t attend ye now.” The coachman blocked the way between the young man and the door.

“I want to apologize. Dashed awkward. I didn’t notice her until it was too late. Why the deuce was she standing in the middle of the road? On my way to Southend, trying to break Woodrose’s record. Is she hurt?” He sighed and all of a sudden slouched on the nearest bench.

The coachman continued to stand with his hat in his hands staring at a point on the floor. “No, sir, just angrier than a swarm of bees. She wasn’t in the road but standing beside the coach. Ye missed her by inches.”

“Well, what’s to complain about? A miss is a miss, after all. A little dirt hurts no one. May I at least speak to the innkeeper?”

“If ye wouldn’t mind going back into the tavern, my lord, I’ll get her for ye.”

The young man watched the coachman depart before he returned to the tavern. He chose a table nearest the bar and sat with his long legs sprawled out and his head resting on his uplifted hand. While he waited for Mrs. Carter, he dozed and then awoke with a jerk when he heard her clear her throat. He looked up from under half-closed eyes.

“Lord Montagu, how may I help you?”

“I wish to apologize to the young woman whose costume I muddied. I must make amends for this unfortunate accident.”

“Your lordship, with respect, now is not a good time. She’s dreadfully upset. She’s trying to make herself presentable. You understand, she’s going to your aunt’s as her companion, and this is her first day. I recommend waiting until she calms down before approaching her.”

“Yes, I understand. If you would be so kind and oblige me, please secure the young lady’s soiled clothing on the pretense of having them cleaned. Give them to me, and my man’ll take care of the chore.”

“Very good, my lord. I’ll take care of it.” She bowed and hurried back to Nicole.

Lord Montagu received the wrapped bundle from Mrs. Carter a short time later and left the inn.

****

A carriage arrived a short time after the reckless whipster left. It surprised Nicole to find a coach waiting to take her to Lady Scott’s home. Usually, an employer sent an ordinary cart to fetch an employee, but Lady Scott sent her old-fashioned traveling coach, a much more comfortable conveyance. She’d made Nicole wait nearly two hours, but this did not annoy Nicole. In this instance, it had given her time to make herself presentable and catch her breath.

Lady Scott’s servant led her to the coach and helped her inside. When she sat on the bench, he put a traveling rug made of sheepskin over her knees. This unheard of consideration eased a few of her fears. She pulled the rug closer around her and enjoyed the little luxury. The servant tipped his hat, put up the steps, and closed the door. As the coach moved away from the inn at a neat pace, Nicole leaned back and sighed. She let her mind wander into the past when she would not have considered this a luxury.

The coach brought Nicole to Lady Scott’s door a short time later, apparently only a short distance from the inn. She looked out the window of the carriage at a large, square, three-storied home with dormers and a huge bay window. The house was an off white with blue shutters. Ivy curled around an ornately carved oak door at the entrance. Rose bushes in full bloom punctuated the large well-maintained gardens surrounding the front of the house. Nicole gazed at sea gulls soaring overhead in the gentle breeze.

A groom appeared and opened the door of the carriage, then lowered the steps. Nicole stepped out and walked to the door.

The butler answered her knock at once and looked her over. “May I help you?”

“I’m La…er…Miss Waltham to see Lady Scott. Lord Scott sent me. I’m to fill the position of companion.”

“I’ll tell Lady Scott you’re here. Please remain in the foyer,” the butler said in clipped tones, then allowed her to step inside and retreated down the hall.

Nicole looked around the foyer with its high cornice ceilings. A dogleg staircase rose to the first floor landing just below a large stained-glass window. Not sure what else to do, she sat on a bench and waited.

She wondered idly if all butlers were related. Lady Scott’s butler could have been a relative of her old butler, Biggers. They had the same straight as a poker posture and were full of dignity, giving the impression no one coming to the door was worthy to enter. They always seemed to go bald for some unknown reason, and one never could decide what color their eyes were.

The waiting played on her nerves. Nicole bit her lower lip and looked around the hallway. Everything appeared clean and well appointed, and the smell of the sea breeze coming through the open windows was comforting. She hoped she could get on with Lady Scott. If she lost this position, she had no choice but to return to Aunt Helena’s home. Neither of them wanted that. She took a deep breath, let it out to the count of five, and turned when she heard the butler’s footsteps approaching.

“Lady Scott will see you now.” The butler motioned for her to follow him down a narrow pine paneled hallway darkened by age.

When they entered the sitting room, Lady Scott sat by the French doors gazing out on the garden. She sat awkwardly upright in an invalid’s chair with two large wheels in back and one small wheel in front. There were hand cranks attached at the front of the chair, and it had a reclining back and adjustable foot rests. When she turned her chair around, Nicole saw someone she recognized. High cheekbones, piercing eyes, and sharp nose reminded her of Aunt Helena.

The light of recognition dawned in Lady Scott’s piercing blue eyes at the same time. She looked to be in her late seventies, and her gray hair was pulled tight in a bun at the nape of her neck. Her skin looked paperthin, and her gnarled left hand lay in her lap.

Nicole swallowed hard and wondered if she had jumped too soon at this offer of employment. She had been to parties at Lady Scott’s in London with her father and aunt when she had her first season.

“That will be all, Corbin.” Lady Scott waited for the butler to close the door and motioned with her finger. “Come here, young lady, and let me get a look at you. My eyes are not what they used to be.”

She looked Nicole up and down before nodding.

Her intense blue eyes found Nicole’s face before she crossed her arms over her chest. “Just as I thought. What flummery is this? Are you not Lady Nicole Waltham whose father is the Marquess of Beverley?”

Lady Scott’s eyes flashed in demand of an answer.

“Yes, ma’am, but there is no flummery. I am here to be your companion. Lord Scott hired me from the Melrose Agency in London.”

“Why are you taking a position so beneath you?”

Lady Scott observed her with narrowed eyes.

Nicole had no trouble telling from her demeanor that she would be satisfied with nothing but the unvarnished truth. “I’m forced to seek employment out of necessity. I find myself charged with providing for my personal welfare.”

“How can that be? Are you in disgrace, or on the outs with your father? A love affair gone wrong, no doubt. Your father is one of the wealthiest men in England.”

“Was the wealthiest. I’m embarrassed to tell my story. Since I will dwell under your roof, I understand you wanting the whole sad tale of our downfall. You must have heard of my father’s misfortune?”

“No, I have not. I live here instead of in London for that very reason. I do not wish to listen to the latest.

Come, sit, and tell me why I may boast of my good fortune in engaging a marquess’s daughter as my companion.”

“I’m sorry. I thought everyone knew. As you may or may not be familiar with my family history…my mother died in childbirth along with the child, a boy, nearly five years ago. After she died, my father did outlandish things. He went through over a year of deep depression. At first, he slept most of the day and night.

Then he went the other direction and suffered from insomnia. He refused to leave the estate or even go outside our home. When he rode to the hounds once again, I hoped his depression had lifted. He became more outgoing, appearing to enjoy life again. Aunt Tess agreed to sponsor me in my first season, and my father brought me to town. I still had a few concerns regarding him, but the parties and excitement of my first season carried me away. When I realized he had run amok, it was too late to do anything. Until that time, he had a well-run, prosperous estate. He’d inherited a fortune and made another.

“After I became engaged, everything went from dire to worse. Inexplicably, he gambled in notorious gaming hells and threw money at worthless investments. He never gambled before this time, but in doing so, he forgot about running his estate. And he forgot about me. I imagine he just wanted to forget everything.” Nicole shrugged and stared out the window a few moments.

Turning back to Lady Scott, Nicole said, “To make matters worse, he bet recklessly. He lost fantastic sums of money at a single sitting. I, along with his friends, tried talking to him. He refused to listen to anyone. He drank to excess and lost more and more money until he even began sponging off his friends. That is, what friends he had left. He was forced to sell our townhouse in London. To avoid debtor’s prison and further embarrassment, he signed over everything to the men holding his gambling chits. The men he owed money to confiscated the houses and land. They sold or auctioned off everything to pay his debts. They even took the jewelry my mother gave me. I narrowly escaped with the clothes on my back, and what few clothes I convinced his creditors to let me keep.

“We didn’t have enough money between us to cover our passage on the mail coach or for traveling necessities. I was forced to swallow my pride and borrow twelve pounds from my old governess before we could travel to London. At the last stop into London, my father abandoned the coach and left me to travel to Aunt Helena’s home alone. He never said good-bye. He just vanished.” Nicole’s eyes brimmed with tears. She took a deep breath to control her emotions.

“Aunt Helena didn’t appreciate my coming to her.

She told me I might stay until I found a position, but she could not afford to take me in for an indefinite time.

I accepted the only position offered, and here I am.”

She shrugged and looked up to find Lady Scott scrutinizing her. “I prefer that no one be told of my title. I plan to go on as Miss Waltham.”

“It appears you’re unlucky in your choice of relatives. Was there no one else you might turn to in your time of need?”

“I could have gone to my Aunt Tess. A warm welcome would have been mine. She lives in Italy, however, I lacked the money to travel there. My mother’s sister lives in York. I could have gone there if I had asked. She has six children under the age of fourteen, and my going there would have posed a hardship. I can’t blame my Aunt Helena over much. No one wants the responsibility of a female with no prospects.

“At any rate, I prefer to pay my own way. I don’t want to be beholding to anyone, let alone a relative. I have often observed the plight of impoverished relatives. If I must work for my room and board, I prefer to be paid for it.”

“I admire your sentiment and spunk. How old are you?”

“Two weeks ago I turned one and twenty.”

“I didn’t imagine you were that old. You appear much younger. It doesn’t signify. I didn’t ask for a companion. This is my son’s doing. I had no way of knowing you were coming until I received my son’s post yesterday with instructions to pick you up today.

My son is acting as he always has: without consideration for anyone else.” She frowned and shook her head.

“I hope the scandal doesn’t turn you off my coming here. I’m truly sorry to be thrown at you without your consent. It never occurred to me.”

“On the contrary, it makes you interesting and warms my heart that I can pull one over my son. I will be so annoying to two of my other servants that they will give notice. My son will be called upon to provide me with two more, which will inconvenience him. It pleases me to keep him busy and be one up on him.”

She looked at Nicole and chuckled.

“Have you seen your father since he left you?”

“No, I tried to find him in London, but no one I asked knew where he was. He must be in London somewhere. One day, I believed I glimpsed him, but the man ran away from me before I could be sure. My time was occupied with obtaining a position, so I had to give up the search. I’ve been beside myself with worry.”

Nicole wrinkled her brow and looked at her clasped hands.

“I’m sure he’ll turn up. Try not to worry, my dear. These things have a way of working themselves out. If he comes to your Aunt Helena, as he must, she can direct him here.” Lady Scott smiled at Nicole. “Did you enjoy a pleasant trip, my dear? I’m assuming you came by mail coach. By the way, do you realize there’s dirt or something on your left ear?”

Nicole reached up, and a piece of dried mud came away in her hand. She closed her fist around it and felt her face burn with embarrassment. She looked for a place to dispose of the dirt, and when she could see no options, resigned to hold it cupped in her hand.

“A most uneventful trip until I arrived at the White Bear Inn. A drunken whip splashed muddy water all over me. No one but a bubble headed brute drives his team in that manner. I had to change my clothes before I came. I caught a glimpse of his face, and if I ever run into him again, I hope to give him a piece of my mind.”

Nicole’s anger returned just thinking of the whipster.

“Well, I hope you don’t run into him again or the other way around. Tell me what shall we do? I’ve never had a companion before this.”

“I hoped you might guide me for I’ve never been one.” Nicole smiled and sensed a little of her tension leave when Lady Scott returned her smile with a twinkle in her eye.

“My health has affected my eyes, making it difficult for me to read. Do you care to read to me?”

“I’d love to. What shall I read?”

“My dear friend Elizabeth de Grey sent me a novel that’s all the rage in her circle. It’s The Old English Baron by Cara Reeve. If you don’t mind reading novels with a romantic and somewhat risqué turn, that is my choice.”

“I don’t mind at all. Shall we begin?” Nicole walked to the door and threw her dirt into the garden.

She came back to the seat beside Lady Scott, sat, made herself comfortable, picked up the book from the table, and opened to the first chapter.

The next time she looked up, Lady Scott was dozing in the early afternoon, and her rug had slipped onto the floor. After adjusting the rug across Lady Scott’s lap, she tiptoed from the room. She backed out the sitting room door and turned around to find Corbin lurking in the hall. He showed her to her bedchamber. The apartment was painted a pale yellow and trimmed in white. A bay window at one end filled the room with sunshine. The canopied bed had linens of pale yellow trimmed in antique lace. She was pleasantly surprised at such comfort. After exploring every nook and cranny, she put her clothes away.

Nicole fell into her chair to rest, leaned back, and as soon as she closed her eyes, nodded off into a restful slumber. A maid woke her and said she had less than half an hour to get dressed for dinner. It did not take her long to get ready with only one suitable, plain black dress to change into for dinner. She had been adding a scarf or a piece of costume jewelry to change the appearance each time she wore it. Nicole made haste to pile her hair in plaits on top of her head and hurried to the sitting room. She found Lady Scott waiting. “I trust you had a pleasant nap and are rested from your journey.”

“Yes, my lady. I only meant to rest my eyes for a minute or two, and the next thing I knew a maid was shaking me. I guess I’m more tired than I thought.”

“Well, my dear, I believe we did fine for our first day. Shall we go in to dinner?” Lady Scott smiled and took Nicole’s hand.

After dinner, Nicole and Lady Scott returned to the small drawing room. Lady Scott sat by the fire, and Nicole picked up her needle and thread. “Do you get many visitors?” Nicole asked while bending over her embroidery.

“No, I’m afraid it will not be awfully exciting for you. I prefer to be left alone. The only people I let visit me are my nephew and my doctor. My nephew, Lord Montagu, lives a short distance from here. He should return to the country soon. He’s exceedingly entertaining. I’m sure you’ll like him.”

“Is your nephew Lord Brandon Montagu?” Nicole looked up from her needlework.

“Why yes, that’s him. Do you know him?”

“Merely by reputation. I’m afraid we don’t travel in the same circles.”

“By the look on your face, I think you must be familiar with his reputation. I have to admit he is a bit reckless and head strong. I blame his father for that. He neglected the boy shamefully.” Lady Scott shook her head.

“I’m told he’s considered a nonpareil horseman. The way he races his curricle, I’m always afraid he’ll break his neck. He is forever doing something outrageous if you can trust gossiping opinion. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the boy. He’s more like my son than my real son is. Brandon visits me more often. He always brings me a box of Belgian chocolates, my favorite.”

“That’s most kind of him. I look forward to meeting Lord Montagu.” Nicole bent over her sewing again. She did not want Lady Scott to notice the disapproval in her face. She had indeed heard of his exploits. None of them did a gentleman credit.

Continues...

Excerpted from "Too Hard to Forget" by Amanda Balfour. Copyright © 2016 by Amanda Balfour. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Amanda Balfour

Amanda Balfour

I was born in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina. I met my husband, a Canadian, while skiing in Montana. We have lived in many different locations across the United States and Canada. We finally settled in West Virginia with our dog Wesley.

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