Lord of Endersley
This is book one in the The Endersley Papers series, see the full series listing here
Will the passion ignited during a violent uprising survive the rigid confines of Victorian society?
Jacob Endersley is glad to escape the confines of his family home for the exotic and dangerous beauty of India during the glory days of the Raj.
Marcus Billington, an Army officer, is tired of the stifling social mores of life in a British enclave. When the Sepoy Uprising o 1857 leads to chaos and bloodshed, the two men seek the safety of Agra and find refuge in each other.
Once the rebellion is quashed, Jacob returns to England while Marcus remains in India. They have no hope of a future together until Jacob learns that Marcus has returned to England. When they meet again, Marcus makes it clear there can be nothing between them and Jacob returns to Endersley resigned to a solitary life until Marcus arrives out of the blue and then everything changes.
Balls were meant to be held in the cooler months, in candlelit rooms in ancient mansions. We men weren’t meant to be standing and perspiring in our finery, desperately seeking the faintest of breezes. I stared into my empty punch glass and wondered how soon I could decently leave. My cousin Harold had disappeared into another room in pursuit of a card game, leaving me with the cheerful suggestion to ‘eye up the young ladies’.
As a visitor to this remote, godforsaken corner of India, it was more a case of the young ladies casting hopeful glances in my direction. New men were a talking point among the cantonment’s matrons, anxious to marry their daughters off before the withering heat reduced them to wilted echoes of English roses. There was one now, Amelia-or-Emily Winthrop, giving me the glad eye over the frantic fluttering of an ivory fan. I envied her the fan.
I hated to be rude. I glanced past her, caught by the glint of candlelight on gold. The women were fine enough in their silks and satins, but the soldiers were peacocks to their peahens, resplendent in their dress uniforms, trying not to look miserable in the stifling heat.
“Hellishly hot, isn’t it?”
I turned at the sound of a familiar voice. “Ah, good evening, Cooper, yes it bloody is.”
Septimus Cooper propped himself up against the wall, dabbing his scarlet face with a handkerchief. “Where’s Fanning?”
“Stupid question really.” Cooper studied his empty glass. “Left you to your own devices, did he?”
“He advised me to consider the ladies of the station.”
He laughed. “Ever the attentive host.”
“My cousin can be very attentive, but he can’t resist the lure of the gaming tables. I’m grateful that he’s been kind enough to look after a cousin he’s never met before. He keeps a decent table and doesn’t demand much in return, except for a bit of conversation. Once he realised I hadn’t come here with the intention of seeking involvement in his business he was very accommodating indeed.”
“He does look after his guests well…when he’s not at the tables.”
“There’s not much else to keep a man entertained out here. I’ll be glad to get back to England.” I thought of Endersley in April, the cool wind blowing across the Downs, the slowly greening hedgerows and meadows alive with newborn lambs. Two more weeks and I would be on my way back there, in time for late summer, for long days and soft, cooling rain.
“I don’t blame you, man. Things are getting devilishly uncomfortable here and I don’t just mean the weather.”
I watched Amelia-or-Emily Winthrop take to the dance floor in the arms of an officer. He caught the eye more than she did with the gold braid of his dress uniform.
“Poor Billington.” Cooper shook his head. “Nabbed by the predatory Miss Winthrop. I reckon you owe the good Captain a drink, Endersley. He’s saved you from having to dance with her.”
“He has indeed.” I watched Billington, his back rigid as he led Amelia-or-Emily in the waltz. She smiled at him, fluttering her eyelashes at the same frantic speed that she’d fluttered her fan. Her dance card dangled from her wrist, no doubt waiting for my scribble. Billington never smiled, though a muscle twitched in his jaw. It shamed me that I found him more pleasing on the eye.
The waltz trailed to an end of jumbled notes and the rustle of skirts as couples parted or departed the dance floor. Amelia-or-Emily retreated to her mother and Billington headed in the opposite direction, towards us.
“Good evening, gentlemen.” Billington wore the expression of a man who’d escaped a terrible fate.
Cooper glanced across the room. “Oh dear, the wife beckons. I’d better go and see what’s irked her now.” With a nod to us, he disappeared into the melee on the floor.
I spied Mrs Cooper, her lips pressed together, dark eyes glittering with disapproval, and felt more than a little sympathy for her husband.
“So, Endersley, I should think you’ll be glad to be away from all of this.” Billington leaned against the wall. The muscle still twitched in his cheek.
“I will. I was just thinking how much I’m looking forward to a rainy English summer.”
Billington sighed. “I’ve been out here that bloody long I can’t remember what summer rain feels like.” His voice trailed away, and his eyes looked beyond the stifling confines of the large room.
We fell silent, me thinking of green grass and a sky full of familiar stars, Billington thinking of God knows what. I stole a glance at him and didn’t envy him his uniform. Even his proximity to the window and the hidden punkahwallah’s efforts couldn’t erase the sheen of perspiration from his face.
“You’ll do well to get out of here as soon as you can,” he murmured, without prompting.
“I beg your pardon?”
“If you think it’s hot now, in a few weeks’ time it’ll be unbearable. There’s this hot wind that blows dust into every bloody crevice. It’s miserable. You can’t do anything much between sunrise and late afternoon.”
“So I’ve heard. I’d planned on visiting Simla before heading down to Bombay.”
“That’s a very sensible notion.” He glanced towards the veranda. “As is escaping this room before I suffocate. Are you coming?”
S.A. Meade has recently returned to England after 8 years in Arizona, where she learned to love air conditioners and realised that rain wasn’t such a bad thing after all. She lives with her husband, son and two cats in one of the most beautiful villages in Wiltshire and is partial to gin and tonic with loads of ice and lemon.