The Brantford Series, Book 1
Is Clara Vincent ready to risk it all for love?
Clara Vincent is “the artful dodger” when it comes to marriage, especially when her father is bent on match-making. Will her attitude change when she meets two eligible suitors and is drawn into the lives of intensely competitive families? Clara falls unexpectedly in love, but when fortunes are reversed and relationships up-ended, she needs to decide whether to trust James Brantford, who is seeking retribution, or accept the love of the man everyone else believes is her ideal match.
As the Brantford wagers unfold and lay bare the history of past relationships, will Clara be able to learn the truth and finally follow her heart?
From Chapter 11 – A Surprising Discovery
‘Who is it, Mama?’ asked Catherine.
‘Mr Brantford and that Mr Hangtree fellow—come to see you again, Catherine, my darling daughter.’
‘The name is Langley, Mother,’ said John. ‘But where is Mr Ashton? Why is he not with them?’
‘I take no mind what he calls himself, so long as he is good enough to call here.’
‘Langley! Do you know his full name—is it Mr Robert Langley?’ asked Clara.
‘You may ask him in a moment,’ said Mrs Stancroft, startled. Surely, they could not be known to one another. Clara had already met Mr Brantford before anyone else (not, Mrs Stancroft fervently believed, that it did Clara much good, since the man was surely sweet on Catherine), and now it seemed she might claim an acquaintance with the other gentleman.
‘They will be at our doorstep any moment. Make haste!’ she urged.
Clara rapidly considered the possibilities. She was alternately excited and distressed, and tried to account for it. The idea of Mr Brantford coming here to pay a visit delighted her. If the other gentleman happened to be her acquaintance from home, unexpectedly visiting her, it would, in the absence of Mr Brantford’s company, also delight her. The wild notion that these two knew one another, and were coming to visit at the same time, threw her feelings into complete turmoil.
The men were coming into the room and, in the flurry of greetings, it was Catherine who first drew Mr Langley’s interest, and it was she who finally called his notice to her cousin. ‘Sir, we are all attention to see if you are of Somerset. Are you, by chance, at all acquainted with our cousin, Miss Vincent of Wellsmere?’
‘Miss Vincent, here!’ he cried, looking quickly around the room. A glow of pleasure spread over his features. ‘Good Lord, how delighted I am to see you!’ he stammered, hurrying to Clara’s side, taking up her hands. ‘I had not expected—I had no idea—it was you who have been ill, then! My word! Had I but known!—to think I did not know you were here! Good grief! I am shocked! And I am thankful to see you recovered—you are recovered?’ He looked at her searchingly. ‘Mr Brantford, I am indebted to you for sending your physician to care for Miss Vincent.’ He took both her hands in his, and said to Clara: ‘How could I answer to your father had you suffered, while I was so close at hand?’ He gripped Clara’s hands tightly.
It was difficult for the others in the room to determine who in the party was more taken aback. Clara blushed, distressed as much by Mr Langley’s actions as by Mr Brantford’s surprise. Mr Brantford was scowling deeply. Mrs Stancroft and the others look dumbfounded.
Mr Langley was unable to calm himself. He remained highly agitated, quite unlike his usual, confident self. His mind, by this point, was racing furiously along.
‘Was that her at the river, then?’ was his first awful thought.
He recollected his various remarks about the Lady at the River—Ashton’s insinuations, his own laughing comments, some unfortunate references to fur-bearing forest animals; perhaps the word vixen had been used. Ill-advised jokes about the child’s illegitimate parentage came floating back to him. He struggled to recall the direction of the wind and the distance between his position and hers. Had Clara heard it all? Perhaps recognised his voice? Had she seen his face? His colour deepened.
‘Had it been Clara who hollered during the race from the ridge and spooked the horses?’ was the next, equally unwelcome, idea. Whether he was more appalled at the idea of her yelling or of her cheering, perhaps for Brantford, he could not say.
Words of his own, spoken when he left Wellsmere— ‘I have important business in the north’—popped unbidden into his head. The gentlemen would all agree, a few weeks of sports and card-playing with the lads was important business, indeed, but would she see it in that light?
The conversation with the uncle, so amusing at the time, about a relative coming to Finstead to escape the attentions of some low-life in her hometown, came next. This woman, the one he intended to court on returning to Wells, was in fact the cousin Mr Stancroft spoke about during their game of billiards. The old man clearly said the aim was to avoid an unfortunate pairing at home and have her be married off here. How was he to untangle all of this? He stared at Clara, bewildered, and stunned into silence.
Brantford shifted his weight from one foot to the other and cast a dark look at Langley.
Following Mr Langley’s dissatisfying recollection came the sudden realisation that here before him was the woman who had caught Brantford’s interest. He understood the situation at last. The Lady at the River was no ordinary country maiden. It was Miss Vincent—attractive, charming, bright, well connected, and not in the least lacking in financial resources. Good grief, that uncle fellow was completely clueless.
Langley’s emotions were a mingled mess of high distress, surprise akin to shock, and sudden happiness. He felt triumph at the look on Brantford’s face.
Brantford was indeed taken aback. He disliked the familiarity and ease with which Langley greeted Clara Vincent, and he was not alone in this.
A surge of resentment pulsed through Mrs Stancroft’s veins. ‘How is it,’ she dragged her brother-in-law aside, ‘that Clara has managed to meet both men before my own daughters? And, pray, why are they smitten with her, while she cares nothing for them?’ Her knees were buckling. She needed to sit.
Clara felt all eyes on her. She wanted to stop the speculation to which Mr Langley’s familiar greeting and words gave rise, but knew it was beyond her ability in this moment to do so. Still, seeing Mr Brantford look towards her hands, held tightly within Mr Langley’s, she found a way to slide her hands free of his hold.
As the visit wore on, Mr Langley, thrilled to discover that Clara was here in this part of the country, and happy to be the centre of so much attention, slowly recovered from his feelings of confusion.
Thank you, Nadine Kampen and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Author
In her début novel, The Brantford Wagers, Nadine Kampen draws on her passion for stories that bring a smile and warm the hearts of the reader. The author immerses the reader in the fictional world of traditional historical romance, set in the memorable Regency England pe-riod, sharing the hopes, schemes, and antics of her characters.
Prior to her career as an author, Nadine served as a regional marketing manager with an inter-national consulting firm and as a communications and marketing director on university cam-puses. Earlier in her career, she worked in public relations and journalism, and was co-author and project lead for five non-fiction books comprising The Canadian Breast Cancer Series, published in 1989.
A resident of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, Nadine loves relaxing with family and friends, reading and walking, playing tunes on her 1905 Bell piano, and gardening.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/Nadine-Kampen-and-The-Brantford-Wagers-107540071714536
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Nadine-Kampen/e/B09GS6975W
Universal Link (Amazon): https://books2read.com/u/mddA55