I will be releasing “Lord Radcliffe’s Best Friend” this Friday, September 10. I particularly liked this story because the idea behind it is not simply the “boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again,” which we see in many romances. There is something more elemental between Hendrake Barrymore, Earl of Radcliffe, and Miss Adelaide Shaw’s relationship, for they grew up together on neighboring estates and were, at one time, each other’s best friend.
Now, we all know the experience of losing a “best friend,” especially one from one’s childhood. I have lost several, and I still feel the void in my life from their absence; yet, I am fortunate one of those childhood friends is still a part of my life, even though we live several hundred miles apart. Such does not mean all went well for the two of us over the last seven decades (Yes, I will be 74 years of age next Friday, so it has been nearly seven decades since she and I met in second grade.). We experienced our tiffs. We had our moments of “not speaking to each other.” Yet, trumping such stubbornness, more importantly, we have “history” together. We share a common knowledge of the world.
Having a “best friend” means perfection is not required, and is that particular fact not a relief in itself? A good friendship requires “mutuality.” A good friend is not only one’s supporter, but also a “reality tester.” Good friends are the people who, for better or for worse, get under our skin, and they are the ones in whom we choose to invest. Because of that, they bring a certain stability and normality to our lives. The loss of a friend, whether permanently or temporarily, is life-changing. We do not always understand the emotions tied to this loss.
In the case of Drake and Addy, their separation stirs up complex emotions. Some anger. Lots of frustration. Sadness. Confusion. Regret. It has also left them with more than a few unanswered questions, especially as the “loss” did not come from a death, but rather from a choice the friend made which caused the relationship to crumble. Yet, who is at fault?
Hendrake Barrymore, Lord Radcliffe, is a typical male, a bit daff when it comes to the ways of women, especially the ways of one particular woman, Miss Adelaide Shaw, his childhood companion, a girl who plays a part in every pleasant memory Drake holds.
Yet, since he failed to deliver Addy’s first kiss on her fifteenth birthday, his former “friend” has struck him from her life just at a time when Radcliffe has come to the conclusion Adelaide is the one woman who best suits him.
This tale is more than a familiar story of friends to lovers for it presents the old maxim an unusual twist.
Excerpt from Chapter One:
Tuesday, 14 September 1819, Kent, England
“I am going to kill him!” Hendrake Barrymore, Lord Radcliffe, growled as he looked down upon where his neighbor’s stallion was doing his best to bring another of Drake’s prized mares to foal.
“Dost ye mean to kill the horse or its owner?” Jack McGuyer asked with a grin.
Drake required no prompting from his steward to bring forth an image of Lord Bernard Shaw nor of the baron’s daughter, Adelaide. Drake had never understood his attraction to the woman. As an earl, he could have his pick of the crop of beauties making their Come Outs for the Season, but none of them could hold a candle to Adelaide. She had inherited the best of both her maternal and paternal ancestors. Her hair was a chestnut brown, rich with hints of gold, and her eyes were a coppery-brown, sparking with fire. She was tall enough not to appear petite when standing beside him, which she rarely did these days unless they both exited the Sunday services at the same time. Then she would acknowledge him before excusing herself to speak to anyone but him.
There had been a time when they were inseparable, roaming the hills and valleys making up their fathers’ estates. Then he had been sent off to school and had returned home full of himself—too concerned with arrogance at being the future earl to find time to spend with the one person he had always considered as important to his self-worth as were his parents. It was only later that he suspected he did not seek her out because he did not want to hear what she would say regarding the road he had been traveling, and Drake held no doubts, Adelaide Shaw would have had an opinion—she always did, and it would be one he did not want to hear.
Yet, soon, everything changed for both of them. It had been her fifteenth birthday. He, or rather, he should say, his mother, had presented Adelaide with two song birds in a cage, a gift from his family, and Addy had seemed so pleased to have them. She kept giving him looks, that, at the time, he did not understand, but would be thrilled to receive today. Then he had made a colossal error. Drake could remember the moment as if it had occurred yesterday. His friends Lord Randolph French and Mr. Charles Scott had accompanied him to Cliffe House, and, unlike his previous holidays at the manor, he had ignored Adelaide completely until the evening of the celebration of her birthday.
His friends had teased him, egging Drake on until he maneuvered one of Lord Shaw’s maids into what he thought was an empty room so he might steal a kiss. He had never treated a servant of his father’s house or Shaw’s as such, but French and Scott had kept saying it was all a “lark” and expected of young lords. As the maid quickly agreed, Drake had foolishly thought them correct. Stealing a kiss from a female servant was part of proving one was a man.
Unfortunately, Addy was in the room he had chosen. It was not until days later that he had wondered why she had been lurking in the shadows of her family’s library. Had she planned an assignation of her own? The idea bothered him more than he would care to admit at the time, but not enough to consider his pursuit of the maid as being any more than proof he could seduce a willing miss. He meant to demonstrate to his friends his “way” with willing women.
He had just tugged the maid into the room behind him and closed the door, positioning the girl along the wall, when Adelaide showed herself. “What do you think you are doing?” she demanded in sharp tones, which she had rarely used with him in the past.
He had searched for an explanation, but none came to him readily enough to satisfy Adelaide. Angry, she had struck him then—not a simple slap, but rather a solid punch to his side. If the blow had not made him wince, Drake would have known pride: He had taught her how to punch so as to deliver a powerful blow while not breaking her thumb or any of her fingers. “You derelict!” she charged. “I thought you above such manipulations, but you are no better than those two coxcombs who accompanied you to my father’s house this evening!”
“Now, Addy,” he began, finally finding his voice.
She punched him a second time, this one landing against his bicep. “Do not ‘Addy’ me, Hendrake Barrymore! I am ‘Miss Shaw’ to you, as you are ‘Lord Chadwick’ to me.” She turned her venomous tone on the maid. “If I were you, Iris, I would return to my ‘assigned’ duties and pray my mistress has a poor memory.” The girl curtseyed and scampered quickly from the room.
He and Adelaide stood in silence for a few brief moments, eyeing each other in a manner he had never thought to consider. When had Adelaide Shaw become such a fetching female? She stood there, chest heaving in anger, and he felt his manhood come to life. Regrettably, Addy did not appear to know the same awareness of him as he had experienced for her. “You do not mean to offer me an excuse for your behavior?” she demanded.
Although Drake was not proud of his intentions, he was not about to admit himself in the wrong, especially to her. She was not his parent. It was not necessary for him to answer to her. “It was only to be a simple kiss, Miss Shaw,” he said with a hint of authority, after all, he was the son of the Earl of Radcliffe.
“For you, perhaps, it was a simple kiss,” Adelaide had countered. “However, your actions have likely cost Iris her position in my father’s house. Her regrets will fall on my mother’s deaf ears, for the baroness does not tolerate such foolishness from her household staff. It will be considered by both Lady Shaw and Iris as more than a simple kiss before this evening knows an end.”
Drake had not considered the ramifications of his actions in those terms; he had only thought of proving his manhood to his friends. “What do you wish of me, Adelaide? I have apologized. If you wish me to speak to your mother in Iris’s behalf, I will. I do not wish Iris to lose her position because of me.”
“What do I wish from you?” she repeated in what sounded of frustration.
“Yes,” he answered in equal dismay.
“I shall tell you what I want, my lord,” she accented each of her words by poking him in the chest with her index finger. “I want the return of my friend—the young man who was good and kind and thoughtful. I want that man to return to his sensibilities. I do not much care for the man you are becoming. I fear the earldom is doomed if this is the type of man you have designed for yourself.”
He caught her finger and forcibly held her hand against his chest. He said softly, “I am the same Hendrake Barrymore you have always known, Adelaide. I promise.”
“No, you are not,” she said as tears filled her eyes. “The Hendrake Barrymore I know would have recalled what he promised me on my twelfth birthday.”
Drake searched his memory as to what she referred. At length, it dawned on him. “On your twelfth birthday, when you attempted to kiss me, I told you we would share your first kiss when you were fifteen.” He would not have minded that kiss, for she was, in his estimation, suddenly very desirable. “You wished a kiss when you were twelve and I was sixteen, but I told you you must be closer to becoming a woman to appreciate fully such a kiss.” Belatedly, he realized he had always been fascinated by Adelaide Shaw: She had been more than a valuable friend; she was his truest companion, the one who provided his life the perfect balance. The one who kept him on the straight and narrow. The one who wanted only the best for him. “I would still be willing to share your first kiss, Addy.” His breathing hitched higher, anticipating the possibilities.
She shoved away from him then. “I fear you are too late, my lord. My first kiss, or should I say, the echo of one, occurred in this very room not ten minutes prior. I found it quite dissatisfying! As to my second kiss, I would prefer it came from a man who held the same values as I. Enjoy your pursuits, my lord, wherever they may take you.” Then, she walked from the room and, essentially, from his life. Afterward, he had made multiple overtures to return to what they once had shared, but six years later, they were no closer than they had been when she left him standing alone in a dark room and regretting his choices. The one woman he wished to court—the one woman he thought might bring satisfaction to his world—despised him.
His late father had complicated the situation by enacting his Inclosure rights when after two years of wet summers, they had experienced one of the driest springs and summers in the history of the area. The previous earl, who had gladly shared a stream on Radcliffe land with his neighbors, had chosen, first, to place a fence around the open area where others had watered their livestock and, then, diverted the water to save his own crops. It had been a hard decision for Drake’s father to make, but one with which Drake had essentially agreed. Their first responsibility had been to the hundred and twenty families who depended directly upon the estate.
Consequently, the move had infuriated many, especially Lord Bernard Shaw, Adelaide’s father. The move had laid the grounds for a rift between Drake’s and Addy’s families: A move for the survival of the earl’s estate and Drake’s foolish attempts to prove himself a man.
“What do you wish me to do about the mare?” McGuyer asked.
“Move her back to the small pasture behind the barn. Keep all the mares there until I can settle this with Lord Shaw. Contact Lord Shelton and inform his lordship we must wait before we match his stallion with our Everlee. Ask Shelton if he wishes to choose a different mare or to wait. Offer his lordship our deepest apologies.”
“Shelton shan’t be happy. Everlee’s blood lines were what interested the viscount.” McGuyer cautioned. “He wanted to purchase the foal for his own line of horses.”
Drake shook his head in acknowledgement of the truth. “I will make amends to Shelton. Meanwhile, send some of our men out to repair the fence. Evidently, Shaw’s people did a slipshod job. It appears part of it is down. Likely how Shaw’s horse crossed into my pasture.”
“Aye, sir,” McGuyer said as he took up the reins again to chase down the mare. Before the steward rode away, though, he nodded to the opposing hillside. “Trouble approaching, sir.”
Drake looked up to view Addy Shaw looking down upon the horses below. Other women would have been embarrassed by the scene of nature taking its expected course, but not Adelaide. Instead, she motioned the two grooms who accompanied her to fetch the stallion, before setting her horse on a slow, ambling descent to the valley below. Although she had presented him no form of acknowledgement nor a request for him to join her, Drake recognized her intent and gently nudged his gelding into motion. A long overdue confrontation awaited him.
GIVEAWAY: I have 5 eBook copies of “Lord Radcliffe’s Best Friend” to share with readers. To enter, tell me something about your best friend. No names are necessary, unless you wish to share. Perhaps it could be about someone no longer in your life. Or about someone you recently claimed to friend. What is it about your friendship that is so special? The giveaway ends at midnight EST, Monday, September 13. The winners will be announced on Sunday, September 19, 2021. GOOD LUCK!!!