A Lady at Willowgrove Hall

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E Ladd

Book: A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E Ladd Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sarah E Ladd
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Cecily’s eyes open.
    The previous night’s storms had given way to a brilliant blue sky, with two fluffy white clouds visible through the window.
    She sat up slowly, wincing at the pinch in her back and side. Today, the effects of riding in the jostling carriage and pulling the trunk behind her pressed upon every limb, and she stretched her sore, tired muscles, reaching her arms above her and wiggling her fingers.
    In the light of morning, she finally got a good look at the room around her. White wainscoting met pale-blue walls. A small rosewood stand stood tucked between the window and the adjacent wall. On it was her candle from the previous evening, along with three books piled in a tidy stack. She stood from the bed and stepped to the books, picking up one volume. The Romance of the Forest. She knew the story well. She leafed through the pages and then set it down. She lifted her attention back to the view. Beyond her window was the stunning landscape of Willowgrove Hall.
    Just as the family had indicated, the field bordering the cottage courtyard was indeed flooded, shining like glass in the morning stillness. She turned the latch on the window and pushed it open, allowing the cool, fresh morning air to swirl around her. It smelled clean, as it should after a rain, and its soft kiss on her cheeks invigorated her senses. The sound of a cow lowing drew her attention, and she leaned to her left. The cowhouse was on the other side of the courtyard wall. Two brown cows moved about a small pen.
    Without warning, Mr. Stanton rounded the corner—tall, the sunlight highlighting his high cheekbones and black hair. His gray greatcoat emphasized how his broad shoulders tapered to his waist. At the sight, her heart lurched, then pounded. She pulled the window shut and stepped back. The last thing she wanted was to be discovered staring at a man from a window in only her nightclothes.
    But it was more than that.
    The memory of his intense gaze had stayed with her, tempting to awaken a part of her heart that she had determined must remain closed.
    She would not allow her heart to feel such an inclination for any man ever again.
    As she retreated from the window, she forced her mind to another topic. Today was the day. Her new life was spread before her, an unspoiled page, a story ready to be written. At the thought, a little wave of nerves coursed through her. Would Mrs. Trent be fond of her? Could she be a suitable companion?
    As she turned toward her chest, her gaze fell on her traveling gown, draped neatly over a chair in the corner. Her fingers traced the gown’s elegant velvet trimming and the scalloped hem. It was damp. Someone had washed it. Gone were the traces of mud that had marred the hem. The dress, the repair to her trunk, the meal, and the camaraderie . . . what kindness she was finding at Laurel Cottage.
    Cecily only hoped she found the same reception at Willowgrove Hall.
    She lifted her trunk’s lid. All of the carefully packed contents had been shuffled, no longer in the orderly stacks and folds Cecily had so painstakingly prepared the night before she departed Rosemere. Although the outside had been cleaned, Mr. Stanton had left her personal belongings alone, for which she was grateful.
    With a sigh, she lifted one muddy gown, then another. They were far too dirty to be worn, and now her traveling dress was clean, but wet.
    As she was contemplating her dilemma, a soft knock sounded at the door.
    Rebecca popped her head inside. “Oh, good, you’ve awakened. I’ve no wish to disturb you, but I thought I heard you rustling about.”
    Cecily could not help but notice Rebecca appeared different by the light of day. Her smooth, blond hair was parted down the middle and swept off her long neck. Her skin appeared much fairer in the white light of dawn, and blond eyebrows and eyelashes framed her dark eyes.
    How dissimilar she looked from her brother.
    Cecily smiled and motioned for her to enter. “Please, Miss

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