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Miss Hastings' Excellent London Adventure (Brazen Brides Book 4)

By: Cheryl Bolen

 
 
 
Chapter 1
 
 
 
 
A lady does not enter a tavern. If Aunt Harriett could see her niece now, she would surely perish of apoplexy. For Miss Emma Hastings not only was the sole lady—indeed, the only female—at the tavern at The George Inn, but she had also committed the most deplorable breach of decorum imaginable. She had no chaperon.
 
Emma should not be chastised for these mortifying transgressions. It was not her fault that her uncle had failed to meet the post chaise that had carried her from Upper Barrington to London.
 
When she'd disembarked from the vehicle and gathered her own portmanteau, she'd been too exhilarated to be alarmed that Uncle Simon was not there to greet her. Such a cacophony of sounds she'd never before heard. Conveyances ranging from pony carts heaped with turnips to grand carriages borne by four matched bays all rattled and pounded along the broad street. The laughter of ragged children, the snarling of hackney drivers, the hawking of flowers from ill-dressed women all fascinated her. Foghorns on the River Thames thrilled the young miss who'd never been farther south than Nottingham. This was a thousand times more exciting than the May Day Fair at Upper Barrington.
 
She continued to stand beside her portmanteau in the innyard whilst she waited for Uncle Simon. One hour passed. Had he not received her last letter telling him the time of her arrival? Perhaps he had mixed up the time. Perhaps he had misread her scratchy three for a five. After all, her penmanship was rather lamentable. That had to be it! Uncle Simon would claim her at five.
 
But five o'clock came and went, and still Uncle Simon had not come. It wasn't as if she would recognize him. She had never actually seen him. Therefore, every man of an age near that of Uncle Simon's five-and-fifty years had drawn her scrutiny. But the lone young woman dressed modestly in sprigged muslin and a hand-knitted red shawl standing beside a large portmanteau drew little scrutiny from any of them.
 
It was when the rain started to fall that she lugged her belongings behind her and took shelter within the tavern. She'd taken a chair next to a small round table by the window and far away from the taps, hoping none of these strange men would take notice of her. Never trust a man. All they're interested in is their vile needs. Or so Aunt Harriett had assured her—not that Emma exactly understood what those vile needs were. Nevertheless, Emma would not risk inciting her aunt's incendiary temper by even so much as making eye contact with any of these men.
 
She would continue to peer from the window in the hopes of spotting a middle-aged man who might be her uncle.
 
Though Miss Emma Hastings' knowledge of the world was extremely limited, within a few minutes inside The George, she knew from their voices these men were not from her class. It wasn't that she was nearly as high-and-mighty as Aunt Harriett, but Auntie had raised her to be cognizant of their close kinship to Sir Arthur Lippencott. They must always conduct themselves with propriety—and not be too familiar with sottish men such as those now sharing the chamber with her.
 
When darkness fell, panic set in. He's not coming. There had been some terrible miscommunication. What was she to do? She did not have enough money to pay for a night's lodgings. Or even a hackney ride to Uncle Simon's lodgings at 302 Curzon Street. She hadn't needed money. Uncle was a wealthy man.
 
With pounding heartbeat, she watched through the frosty window as the lanterns were lighted along the perimeter of the innyard. She knew enough of the world to know that London was its largest city. Thousands and thousands of people resided here. How would she ever find her uncle?
 
She did know that he lived in the West End and knew his address by memory. Perhaps she could try to walk to his house, though lugging a portmanteau behind her would be difficult.
 
Drawing in a fortifying breath, she stood and slowly approached the long bar. The man on the other side was talking and laughing with patrons but stopped when he saw her approach. The fellow turned to her, his manner reverent. She was struck over the white hairs threading his bushy black eyebrows. "May I 'elp you, m'am?"
 
"Indeed you can. Can you tell me if we're in the West End?"
 
All the men standing up to the bar guffawed.
 
He did not. He merely shook his head solemnly. "No, m'am. We ain't."
 
"How long will it take me to walk to the West End?" she asked.
 
His eyes widened. "A lady can't go about walking at night."
 
"You, sir, have not answered my question."
 
He drew a deep breath. "I suppose a body could walk to the West End in about an hour."
 
"And which direction would a body walk?" she asked.

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