"MAMA, ARE WE REALLY expecting Mr Lynch-Blosse of Balla House this afternoon?" Sibella Cottle asked as she twirled a russet curl.
"Indeed, we are," replied Louisa Moore, the Mistress of Ashbrook, County Mayo as she joined her foster-daughter and niece at the breakfast table.
"Is he the young man with the broken heart?" Sibella asked, all wide-eyed.
Louisa merely nodded in response.
"I have seen him at the Maidenhill Ball surrounded by a bevy of Big House damsels." Sibella's green eyes were twinkling. "They say he's a right womanizing rogue."
"You should not gossip, my dear." Louisa returned to the table with bacon and egg from the chafing dishes.
"Why is he visiting us?"
"He may feel the need to remove from home for a time."
Sibella was intrigued. Unaccountably, she could feel herself blushing. Was it possible that the twenty-four-year-old heir would stay at Ashbrook? If so, she might cast a spell on him, she thought impishly.
"I expect you to be on your best behaviour, young lady," Louisa admonished while buttering her toast.
"May I be excused?" Sibella asked as she gulped down the last of her milk. She was up and away before Louisa could even answer her.
Sibella commenced her welcoming preparations in a welter of excitement. One minute, she was racing upstairs to check her appearance and then down again to inspect the drawing room. The white-panelled room of the modest two-storey house featured a portrait of Sir Thomas More above the fireplace. She softened the stern image by arranging fresh daffodils on the mantelpiece and sideboard. Would Mr Lynch-Blosse notice the subtle shades of yellow, gold and white in the sweet-scented flowers, she wondered?
Later in the day, Sibella was at the window straining her neck to get a better view. "I can see a young man cantering up the hill," she called. Sibella had one last look around the room. She had heard that Mr Lynch-Blosse was a great hunter and rider. He would surely feel at home in a room with hunting, shooting and racing prints even if the daffodils eluded his attention.
After the butler escorted him into the drawing room, Louisa Moore extended the hand of friendship. "Mr Lynch-Blosse, welcome to Ashbrook; allow me to introduce my foster-daughter, Miss Cottle."
"You are surely welcome, Mr Lynch-Blosse." Sibella curtsied as her heart began to beat a little faster.
"I am delighted to meet you, Miss Cottle."
Sibella admired the sensuous lips on his rugged face, his blue eyes, and brown hair tied in a queue. How elegant his fine clothes were, she thought, a red riding jacket worn over a dark waistcoat and tight beige breeches.
Doctor Moore, the Master of Ashbrook, joined the company. "Mr Lynch-Blosse, please excuse my late arrival. I was in the stillroom preparing some medicine."
"Not at all, Doctor Moore. What a splendid location you have here, overlooking the Ashbrook River."
"Lady Lynch told me you would like to spend some time away from home," Moore said.
"I need to get away for a while. Grandmamma thought Ashbrook might be the place for me."
"I hope Lady Lynch is keeping well," continued Doctor Moore, sipping his ale. "I shall escort you around the estate after our refreshments. You should become familiar with our modest property before reaching a decision."
"May I ride with you, Papa?" Sibella asked. Anticipating that they might go riding, she wore a full-length maroon habit with a white bow at the neck and black boots.
Moore nodded and then escorted Harry to the stables, accompanied by Sibella.
As they progressed through the fields, Sibella noted how well Harry handled his gelding; that added to his appeal. She wondered if he was showing off to impress her. Perhaps he would teach her some new tricks were he to stay for a while.
At the end of the tour, Harry thanked the Moores while Sibella glanced at her foster-parents. "If Mr Lynch-Blosse comes to stay, mayhap he could give me some riding lessons?"
"Certainly," Harry said. "I have previously given instruction to my younger brother, Francis. I should be delighted to do so if your father were agreeable."
"We shall consider that in due course." Moore raised his eyebrows.
Sibella was disappointed at the cautious response but relieved that Harry appeared unperturbed.
"Thank you again for your hospitality." Harry bowed ever so slightly. "I really must return home."