David Woods, 27th Baron Mayfield, has been deaf since the age of five. Now approaching his majority, he faces a competency hearing filed by a greedy cousin wanting his inheritance.
His sister hires Anna Leighton, a teacher of the deaf, to instruct him in sign language so he can testify in his own behalf. Unfortunately, the things David wants to learn from Anna aren’t on the usual curriculum.
Even worse, Anna finds herself responding to his undisciplined advances. Is she betraying the trust of a naïve student placed in her care, or is David more knowledgeable than even his sister suspects?
“David, come in,” His sister didn’t appear to notice. She raised a hand, beckoning. “Let me introduce you to our guest.”
His Lordship’s eyes widened. His head whipped around immediately, looking from Anna to his sister. Dark brows scowled.
Standing, Eleanor took the little slate from the desk, scribbling a few words upon it and holding it out to him.
He glanced at the slate, then back to Anna, and the scowl deepened. A hand went to his riding pocket, bringing out a small rectangle similar to Lady Eleanor’s. A chalk pencil was attached and he pulled it loose, writing a couple of words and turning it so his sister could see.
Anna saw also.
He thinks I’m a servant? Anger sputtered then died. I am, aren’t I? In a way.
Shaking her head, Lady Eleanor proceeded to write more. “She’s here to teach you the deaf language.”
On the slate Anna could see the words, teach you…deaf language…
Something she could only call fury flashed across his face. His lips tightened, pursing into a pout. He shook his head, glanced at Anna again and repeated the movement even more violently, making curling strands of hair escapes from its club. One hand shook in a decidedly negative gesture, then clenched into a fist.
“There’ll be none of that. She’s here and that’s all there is to it.” Lady Eleanor wrote on the slate, held it up.
He read what was there and… the fist relaxed. Biting his lip, Lord Mayfield forced away his anger with a visible effort. He wrote a single word.
Miss Anna Layton. Lady Eleanor turned to Anna. “I’m spelling your last name as it sounds. He hasn’t been able to grasp the gh concept in spelling.”
Anna smiled. “I understand. English can be a very difficult language even for those of us with hearing.”
Nodding, Her Ladyship added another word. Manners.
His Lordship reacted to that by turning to Anna so quickly she nearly jumped. Bowing deeply so his hair fell over his face, he straightened to look her directly in the eye.
“Your Lordship.” She bobbed a curtsey and held out her hand.
He stared at it in a way making it appear he’d never seen a female hand encased in a white kid glove before. Replacing the slate into his pocket, he stepped toward Anna, took her hand in his own and bowed over it.
Briefly, the scent of horse, dust, and leather was almost overpowering. Anna’s nose crinkled. She took a deep breath and held it, fearing she was about to sneeze. He raised his head, eyes meeting hers. At her inhalation, mischief danced in them. The corners of his mouth twitched as if he found her distress amusing.
Releasing her hand, he stepped back. Lord David smiled, writing a final message to his sister. Go now…See you…dinner…
“You’re excused, David.” She wrote rapidly on her own slate. “Dress for dinner tonight.”
That brought another scowl, much as his reaction to the announcement of Anna’s identity, as well a shake of his shaggy head.
“We have a guest.” Lady’s Eleanor’s voice was adamant though he couldn’t hear. Anna imagined her handwriting was just as firm. “Dress for dinner….shave.”
He stared from her to the slate. One hand brushed against his jaw. There was a single jerk of a nod and an equally stiff bow. He spun on his heel and stamped out.
“I apologize for my brother’s behavior,” Lady Eleanor said quietly. “I’ve spoiled him, as you can see, and he doesn’t like not getting his own way. I’m afraid he doesn’t want a teacher.”
“I assure you I’ve had more reluctant pupils,” Anna assured her. He didn’t want to dress for dinner, either. “That little show of temper…”
“I’m afraid that wasn’t a show of temper, Miss Leighton—”
Through the still-opened doors came a loud crash and a liquid splashing, then the sound of someone running up the stairs.
“—that was.” Lady Eleanor showed no other reaction, except to say, “Drat. I particularly liked that vase. I thought it went perfectly with the décor in the foyer.”
This past December, Toni V. Sweeney celebrated her 73 birthday. This month, she’s celebrating the release of her 70th novel.
Toni V. Sweeney has lived 30 years in the South, a score in the Middle West, and a decade on the Pacific Coast and now she’s trying for her second 30 on the Great Plains. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and a diploma in Graphic Art and also produces book videos. Since the publication of her first novel in 1989, Toni divides her time between writing SF/Fantasy under her own name and romances under her pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone. In March, 2013, she became publicity manager for Class Act Books (US) and also Double Dragon Publishing (Canada). She is also on the review staff of the New York Journal of Books.