Previously on Mistaken Identity- In order to avoid the attentions of Mr. Tierney and Lord Ian. Jes is forced into the library where she encounters Mr. Oscar Easton. The two are paired together for a poetry reading, where Jes resorts to a Shakespeare comedy to avoid any poems about love. Conrad is summoned back to Somerstone in order to secure the affections of Miss Standish.
Jes felt smothered. The air inside the house was stale and muggy, the walls seemed to be closing in on her. She had been roaming the house for nearly a quarter hour trying to find something to occupy her mind. Unfortunately, Mr. Tierney or Lord Ian seemed to find her wherever she went. Now she found herself in the hallway outside the nursery.
Memories from that night crashed over her. Her hand went to her earlobe as she remembered Lord Ian’s warm breath when the ghost had appeared. Jes sagged against the wall, as the air sucked from her lungs. How could she stand to be here four more days? Every room, every view, every part of this estate held memories she wanted so badly to forget.
She looked out the window as she passed by on her way to the stairs, a sigh raising then dropping her shoulders. The leaves on the branches of a tree outside fluttered in the breeze. She needed that wind— needed to feel it pick up her curls and carry them away from her cheeks. She needed to feel it dance across her skin and tease the hairs on her arms and neck; to smell the lavender and honeysuckle wafting through the gardens.
Her decision made, Jes returned to her room and collected her bonnet and short gloves. She reached for her spencer, but changed her mind and left it hanging in the wardrobe.
She headed for the staircase, bumping into Miss Graystock at the first landing. The lady looked positively forlorn.
“You look as if you are in need of some air. Come, Miss Graystock and join me on a walk.” Jes pushed her own melancholy aside for the moment. It was not as if it was doing her much good, anyway. “There is a little path to the rear of the gardens. It looks very diverting.” Jes hoped the young woman would come along, but if not, she intended to make the journey on her own. The thought of doing anything without certain gentlemen following along behind her pretending to be besotted fools, was inviting.
A relieved sort of smile softened Miss Graystock’s features. “That would be lovely, Miss Standish. Let me fetch my bonnet and gloves. I will meet you in the Statuary Hall.”
Jes waited, observing the statues without much interest. This house held too many memories— hurtful memories she was anxious to put far behind her. The ball was only three days away and then she and her mother could quit this place for good and return to the estate of her cousin.
Thoughts of Morley Park brought feelings of peace. Even though her mother had been raised on the grand estate, Jes had not seen the place until after her uncle’s death only five years prior. But since her cousin had become duke, they had been invited several times. He had also made the journey to Hartlepool— something neither her uncle nor grandfather had ever done. That she adored Tad and Violet was simply the top of the trees. Yes, living at Morley Park would be wonderful.
Miss Graystock entered the room, tying the ribbons of her bonnet under her chin. “I am ready. Shall we be on our way?”
They went through a set of French doors, leading out to the terrace. Once down the stairs, they moved towards the back of the formal gardens, leaving the estate grounds through a discrete hole in the hedgerow. A narrow animal trail serpentined up a small hill a dozen or so rods ahead. The two began to climb, slipping slightly in the mud. A breeze took hold of the loose tendrils at the back of Jes’ neck, sweeping them back and forth. She stopped in her tracks, breathing in deeply, allowing her soul to be renewed.
Miss Graystock turned back. “Did you change your mind about a walk? Is the path too muddy?”
Jes shook her head. “Oh, no. I am only enjoying the crispness of the air. Let’s continue.”
The path ran between two rock fence lines, both green with moss. In some spots it was grassy while others were thick with mud. Puddles pooled in the tracks of the most recent cattle to have wandered along the trail. They tried to step around the puddles, but only succeeded in creating new ruts as their boots sunk into the wet earth.
Miss Graystock wrinkled her nose. “It does not appear we will come away from this walk without a fair amount of mud on our hemlines.”
Jes pulled her left boot out, making a great sucking sound as it broke free. “Yes, and our dresses are not the only thing to suffer.” A smile stretched across her face as she looked over at Miss Graystock. “If you prefer to turn back, I understand.” Jes did not know the young lady well. Miss Graystock and Miss Townsend had seemed to form a ready friendship, while Jes had spent more time with Lord Ian in the beginning. She glowered at the mud. A lot of good that had done her.
“I am not afraid of a little mud, Miss Standish. But if you would prefer to return…”
Jes smiled at her. “Then we are of one mind. I have heard there is an interesting rock formation just at the top of this hill.”
A set of stone steps sat before them, grass and moss growing between each stone. At the top the trail split into two. The first was interrupted by a gate, while the other side continued on and followed along another rock wall. They followed the second path and before long came to the top where it leveled off onto a plain.
A flat, grassy area lay below them to one side and to the other Somerstone Village was visible in the distance. Jes turned in a circle, her arms stretched out to her side. She wished she had her paints. It would be difficult to get them up here, but the views would make the effort worthwhile.
Miss Graystock came up beside her. “This is magnificent.” She placed a hand on Jes’s arm and gave it a light squeeze. “Thank you for asking me to join you. It is just what I needed today.”
Dozens of huge boulders were scattered about the ground, as if the Lord had just dropped them from Heaven. Jes laughed as she scampered from formation to formation. Wind and rain had battered several of the rocks causing them to be worn at the bottoms, appearing as though the large rocks were perched precariously on top of the head of a pin. Jes squinted, cautiously putting a hand out, wanting to touch it. She pulled her hand back at the last minute, afraid it would topple over at the slightest touch.
They were all so incredible, so different but yet the same. She came to a flat rock with half a dozen deep indentations along the top. Water from the rain had filled each one making tiny little ponds in the boulder. Jes ran her hand along it, her fingers dropping into the water and then popping back out again.
Her hand stilled as his voice came into her mind. “This is called the Lord’s Rock Garden. It is famous because Spartacus and George Washington signed the Treaty of Westphalia right on this very rock.”
Jes stomped her foot. Now she was hearing Lord Ian say things he had never said.
Miss Graystock came up beside her again, her brow creased. “I did not even know this place was here. Do you know what it is called?”
Jes took in a deep breath. While she did not like his voice intruding into her thoughts, she had to admit the name was appropriate. “Heaven’s Rock Garden— or that is what it should be titled. I do not believe I was told the actual name.”
Miss Graystock looked about. “How do you suppose these stones came to be here?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps it is as the boulders at Stonehenge. They just appeared and no one knows for sure how it happened.”
Miss Graystock lightly touched one of the rocks. “Do you believe they have magical powers as well? Not that I believe such nonsense.”
Jes gave a quiet laugh, shaking her head. “It is a lovely thought, though. Is it not?”
They wandered about the plateau until reluctantly, Jes moved towards the path leading back to Somerstone Manor, a heavy sigh indicating her regret. “We should be getting back. I am sure you have duties for the Countess to attend to, as I am sure my mother will be getting anxious over me.”
Miss Graystock joined her at the trail. “I think the way down may be more difficult. Be careful to watch your footing. I am sure the rain has made it very slippery.”
Jes took one last look at the plain. She had hoped to find someplace which would not conjure memories of Lord Ian. But it was not to be. He had invaded this haven, as well.
If only he had been cruel from the beginning, she could be done with him entirely. But he hadn’t. He had been sweet and kind and funny. Whether those moments had been false or not, she was finding it difficult to rid herself them. And it was those sentiments that were continuing to break her heart.
Conrad had nearly finished his second all-night ride in less than a week. It was no wonder his body felt tense and sore. On this ride he had not even stopped to rest his horse, pushing both of them to exhaustion. He slowed Bard to a trot, leaning forward, he pulled one leg up and rested it over the saddle horn. Twisting from side to side, he stretched out his back and neck muscles. He was still several miles from Somerstone, but he was close enough to take it easy the rest the way. Dismounting, he allowed the reins to hang slack, giving Bard a chance to graze along the roadside. He didn’t mind the slower pace, happy to stretch his legs for a moment.
The sound of women’s laughter floated on the breeze, making it difficult to pinpoint the direction of it. He looked around, until he spotted two of them, walking slowly down a set of stone steps. Conrad smiled at the obvious enjoyment they were sharing. He watched them absently from beneath a crop of trees. By the time they reached the bottom of the steps they were not too far off. One of the women turned in his direction and he recognized Miss Graystock, Lady Du’Breven’s companion. She did not appear to notice him— most likely because he was hidden in the shadows.
His chest tightened as he recognized Miss Standish. The graceful lines of her neck and the elegant way she walked was not something he would forget— at least not in this lifetime. She stepped off the last step and her foot slipped on the muddy trail. Her arms swung around wildly, as she tried to regain her balance.
Miss Graystock reached out to help, but only succeeded in losing her balance as well. Both woman fell into the mud, sliding several feet down the path.
Conrad dropped the reins in a panic, running from beneath the branches straight up the hillside, stopping just a few feet shy of her as she came to a stop. Her head was down, looking at her mud caked gloves. A laugh broke free as she shook her hands, sending bits of mud flying in all directions.
Miss Graystock gasped as a glop of mud stuck to her cheek. Then she too began to laugh.
Conrad reached a hand forward, “May I help you up, miss?”
Miss Graystock looked up first, her brow furrowed in question. Miss Standish looked up as well, an irritated grunt escaping from her mouth.
Her eyes were wide, her lips parted. She struggled to stand, refusing his hand, so Conrad reached forward, grasping her arms and pulling her to her feet. “Je… Miss Standish. Are you alright?” His voice came out rushed and strained. He had not anticipated seeing her so soon upon his arrival. Indeed, he had hoped to be introduced to her as himself and then begin the task of trying to explain the truth.
The daggers in her eyes as she pushed away from him, caught him by surprise. “I did not ask for your help, my lord, and you need not volunteer it.”
Unable to bear the contempt he saw there, he turned his attention to Miss Graystock. “I beg your pardon, Miss Graystock. You are well?”
She nodded her head, her gaze darting between the two of them. Her brow knit in concern.
He returned his scrutiny to Miss Standish, disappointed to see her demeanor had not changed. If anything it had grown stormier. Taking a step back, he tilted his head to one side. Apparently, the Countess had understated the situation. Miss Standish did not appear to have even a spark of affection for Ian. The contrary seemed more accurate. He would have smiled at the notion had he not been afraid she would slap it right off his face. However, it was wiped away on its own once he realized when he told her the truth, she would likely look at him as she did now— like she wanted nothing more than to claw his eyes out.
He offered his arm to both women, hoping to ease the tension suddenly surrounding them.
Miss Graystock took it, but Miss Standish moved down the trail. The mud kept her from progressing too quickly. Her feet fell heavy and angry, her head held high.
Conrad and Miss Graystock fell instep behind her.
Miss Standish had only gone four or five rods when her foot slipped again. Instinctively, Conrad reached out a hand to steady her. She jerked her arm out of his grasp and whirled around to face him.
“I believe I have made myself clear on several occasions, my lord. Please leave me alone and do not ever touch me again.” With that, she turned on her heel and sloshed down the path, mud splattering up the back of her dress each time her foot dropped onto the path. Surely, hell itself would part to let her pass today.
Miss Graystock kept her eyes focused on the ground in front of her.
His chest tightened and stomach turned sour. His hand moved up, rubbing the back of his neck. He did not know what had happened, but it was painfully obvious he needed to speak with his brother. What could he possibly have done to warrant such a reaction? There was only one possibility Conrad could think… no, he wouldn’t. Ian was a lot of things, but certainly would not be so brazen as to force himself on a lady. Miss Standish in particular.
They reached the grassy part of the trail, which only made Miss Standish increase her pace until she reached the bottom of the path. There she halted, with her back to him, waiting for Miss Graystock to join her.
Conrad released Miss Graystock and offered a small bow. “I believe the path is safe now. If you will excuse me, I should see to my horse.” He walked only a few steps before he stopped and watched Miss Graystock work her way down the trail.
He was torn somewhere between anger and confusion. Taking a halting breath, he chastised himself. How had he gotten himself into this position? The woman he loved— for he knew it was more than affection he felt for her— hated him. Or rather who she thought he was. And if the fire in her eyes was any indication, it was a deep, loathing hatred. How was such a thing to be overcome? Would the truth be enough or would it simply fuel the fire burning within her? A lump formed in his throat which he was unable to swallow away.
Miss Standish turned suddenly. Her brows raised. “Don’t you mean Mr. Tierney’s horse? I understood he won the wager.”
Conrad ran a hand through his hair. This was getting better and better. If the accusation was true, which Conrad didn’t doubt but it was, this was the third horse Ian had gambled away this year. And the year was not yet half over.
He gave her a sad smile. “As you say Miss Standish. I would be in a great deal of trouble if I should lose him when he is no longer mine.” He bowed to each them. “Ladies.”
Miss Graystock curtsied. “Lord Ian.” She took hold of Miss Standish’s arm and they continued on through an opening in the hedgerow, where they both disappeared from view.
Conrad walked back, finding Bard grazing under the trees where he had left him. Taking up the reins, Conrad mounted and headed for the stables. He allowed his anger towards his brother to build, not sure he could stand the weight of his disappointment at her reaction to him.
He was in need of fresh clothes before he presented himself to Lady Du’Breven. If the Fates were on his side, he would run into his brother before meeting with her. Conrad clenched his hands into fists as he thought about what he wanted to do to his brother. Bard slowed and tossed his head a few times in response. Loosening his hold, he clicked his tongue, setting the horse back into a canter. He and Ian had a great many things to discuss, the least of which was what the devil had he done to lose his horse?