I was asked to participate in Ramblings from the Chick’s annual historical Christmas event, and wrote a special proposal scene featuring two of the new Lady Adelaide series’ characters. If you’ve read Nobody’s Sweetheart Now, you’ve been introduced to Maeve Beckett, Lady Adelaide’s cheeky and cheerful maid, and Jack Robertson, Addie’s young gardener. We’re jumping ahead a year. Here’s a little romance with your mystery!
Compton Chase, Compton-Under-Wood, Gloucestershire, England
December 24, 1925
Maeve would make him.
Oh, who was she kidding? She’d never met anyone more stubborn than the Scotsman, and she was Irish on both sides. Jack Robertson had his priorities. And she, apparently, wasn’t one of them.
Maeve Beckett worked as a lady’s maid to Lady Adelaide Compton. Lady A was generous to a fault, and not at all draconian. So Maeve had a pretty easy life and a pretty penny saved up, even after she sent some of her wages home and spent too much on lip rouge and cinema tickets.
Jack had come to be head gardener at Compton Chase the summer before last, as handsome as one of the movie stars Maeve watched on the flickering screen. He might have left a leg behind in France, but he was a hard worker, and had the greenest fingers she had ever seen. The flower beds had flourished under his care, and he’d been rewarded accordingly. He had a sweet little cottage on the estate, perfect as a honeymoon house.
If only Jack would ask Maeve to marry him.
They’d pussyfooted around the idea. Maeve knew Lady A had no objections—she wanted everybody around her to be happy, since she herself wasn’t always. But Jack was old-fashioned—he wouldn’t touch Maeve’s nest egg. Wanted everything to be “proper.” What he meant by that, Maeve wasn’t sure, but he’d not once tried to take her into his ground floor bedroom in that sweet little cottage to test out his bed.
Oh, he’d kissed her—how he’d kissed her—until her head spun and her heart beat right out of her modest chest. Rudolph Valentino himself couldn’t have done it better, and Maeve had seen him kiss for years in the dark, never imagining she’d fall in love herself.
Was Jack afraid what she’d think when his prosthetic leg came off? She didn’t care about that a bit. She knew he’d had a lot of trouble after the war getting used to his disability—brave, he’d gone when he was underage, and got unfairly punished for it. If he’d only stayed home—
Well, if he had, Maeve would never have met him, and wouldn’t that be a terrible shame?
So, tonight was the night. Maeve was going to propose to him, and make him say yes. And why not? Life was too short to be old-fashioned and “proper.” Put things off until everything was just right, like that Goldilocks story. Not use the good dishes or wear the fancy knickers. Look at all those poor dead people stopped in their tracks that Lady A had mixed herself up with. Murder! Maeve might be a maid, but was not going to die in her bed an old maid. Just in case someone tried to put a period to her existence, she was going to have some fun beforehand.
Lady A was off to the midnight Christmas Eve service at Compton St. Cuthbert’s in her Lagonda, and told her not to wait up. So Maeve took off her uniform and climbed into her own tub. A dozen stars twinkled outside the window, and she thought about the brightest star all those years ago. If a baby born in a stable could grow up to be the King, anything was possible.
Warm and clean, she put on her best dress, a plain pleated navy jersey, and ruffled up her dark bobbed hair. She had plenty of cosmetics, but decided to go to Jack as she was, a little pale, freckled, and very determined.
Coat, boots, scarf, torch. The house was quiet, the tree in the front hall shimmering under the bright electric sconces left on for Lady A. Maeve slipped out the door, her feet crunching on the frozen grass. The path through the garden was familiar, even as the torch revealed odd and ominous shadows. But she wasn’t afraid, not of bare bushes anyway.
Jack’s cottage was not far past the formal plantings, and stood alone surrounded by a grove of trees. Lady A had fixed it up for him, and the work crew had knocked down the two neighboring cottages that were past saving. So Maeve wasn’t worried about anyone snooping. She was just worried that Jack wouldn’t let her in to protect her unwanted virtue.
What if he was asleep? It was late, and he’d been busy the past few days. He’d brought the giant Yule log in single-handedly, and the tree and greenery and mistletoe to decorate the house as well. Everything looked beautiful indoors, thanks to him.
Light spilled from a window into the inky night. She balled up her small fist and knocked, while her booted feet were poised for flight. A minute passed, then two. Perhaps she was being foolish.
The door opened. Jack was fully dressed in his good suit, right down to the new necktie that she’d given him for Christmas—he’d opened his present early. His brown hair was slicked back neatly, and he smelled of Blenheim Bouquet.
“What…what are you doing here?”
Maeve dropped to one knee, no easy feat on the cold stone step. She angled the torch at his face and he blinked. “I’ve come to ask you to marry me.”
“You can’t! I mean, I was about to come to you! Toss pebbles at your window.” He shook his coat pocket, and Maeve heard rattling. “Lure you out under the stars. Be, uh, romantic. Get up, Maeve. Please.” He extended a work-roughened hand.
“You haven’t answered my question.”
“It wasn’t a question, was it? Besides, I’m doing the asking—I’m the man. I can’t get down on one knee, though. I’ll never get up. You don’t mind, do you?” He pulled her to her feet as if she were made of feathers.
“No.” She still had to look up at him. “Go ahead.”
“Maeve Rose Beckett, will you be my wife?” He reached into the pebble-pocket and drew out a small box. Inside was a silver ring made to look like a band of roses. “F-for your name. It’s not much, but Lady A said—”
Maeve didn’t care what their employer said. She stood on tiptoes and kissed her answer in a very improper way, leaving no doubt that he might be the man, but she was definitely the woman.