Below is a behind-the-scenes peek at Alfie's (raw & unedited) story. Enjoy!
Alfie Kimbrell lowered his straight razor with a curse as the house vibrated beneath the rumble of cloven hooves. His youngest brothers weren’t truly sheep, of course, or cattle for that matter, for all that their manners resembled the beasts as they charged down the stairs. When the din eased, he cautiously lifted the razor to his neck once more.
One would have thought rising at such an unholy hour would have been sufficient to gain an early place at the breakfast table. One would have been wrong, and Alfie would count himself fortunate to find a single sausage awaiting him.
“Your shoes are shined,” Ben began with a furrowed brow. “You’ve laid out your best coat . . . and didn’t you shave your whiskers yesterday?”
Alfie eyed the eldest of his brothers in the mirror as he scraped the blade over his skin. At five and twenty, Ben was two years his junior and, Alfie reflected, oddly calm about missing his breakfast.
“Aye,” he responded, “but lo and behold, they’ve grown again.”
“So, who’s captured your interest this time?” Ben asked as he reclined on the bed. Alfie stretched his upper lip and applied the blade to it, and his brother continued into the silence. “Let’s see . . . You’ve already loved and lost the Stanton sisters and Miss Steward. Then there was Miss Carew. In a town with a lamentable shortage of eligible females, you’ve managed to fall in love with nearly all of them.
“’Taint such a feat. As you say, the numbers are woefully small,” Alfie said mildly.
“Aye, but you don’t leave any for the rest of us.”
“Ladies are not the same as sausages.” Alfie was aware but uncaring that his thoughts were firmly fixed on the breakfast he was missing. “And besides, our cousins should be receiving your censure, not me. First Jory earning Miss Pepper’s hand and now Gryffyn . . .”
“To be honest, all of us were betting on you to turn your attentions to Miss Moon,” Ben said.
“Everyone knows Miss Moon has—had—no intention to wed.”
“Aye, but the banns our vicar called last week would say otherwise. ’Twould seem you’ve missed your opportunity, which still leaves my initial question unanswered. Who’s the lady this time?”
Alfie sighed. What Ben said was true. None of them had been more surprised than he when their cousin Gryffyn—the most reserved of them all—had secured the unsecurable Miss Moon.
He examined his jaw in the mirror. Satisfied, he took up a linen towel to dry his face while Ben waited expectantly. With a sigh, he said, “If you must know, the vicar’s niece was expected on yesterday’s stage. I overheard Mrs. Pentreath say to Mrs. Clifton some weeks agone that she’s a pleasant thing and quite unattached.”
Pleasant and unattached. A rare combination for the females of Newford. The former was not so hard to find as the latter, but the combination was a heady thought indeed.
Ben crossed his arms behind his head and studied the ceiling. Smiling, he said, “The vicar’s niece, you say?”
“Aye.” Then, because he recognized Ben’s smile for a smirk, Alfie asked, “Have you seen her then?”
Ben nodded. “I passed the Feather when the vicar met her coach last evening.”
The smirk remained and Alfie frowned. “And? Is she as Mrs. Pentreath says?”
Ben pressed his lips in thought as Alfie stared impatiently. Finally, his brother said, “Aye, she’s a fetching miss, to be sure. And, I would wager, quite unattached as you’ve heard.”
Alfie would have sighed his relief but for his brother’s hesitation. “But?” he said.
Ben’s eyes bored into his and he said, “But perhaps you should let love happen where it will. You try too hard, brother, and ’tis some painful to watch.”
Alfie grimaced. As irritating as his brother could be, he wasn’t incorrect. Alfie did have a tendency to fall top over tail for every tempting smile, every thick-lashed miss. As there were so few to be found in Newford, he was merely improving his odds. At least, that was, until the passage of time dampened his ardor—invariably, the young lady would prove too tall or too thin or too flaxen when he’d discovered a sudden preference for dark curls. At which point, he’d become obliged to make a friendly but swift retreat.
But what Ben saw as a failing, Alfie viewed as optimism. He remained convinced the very next lady would be the one. And he had a good feeling about the vicar’s niece.
“Kindly remove your boots from my bed,” he said, pulling his braces onto his shoulders.
“’Twill be mine soon enough,” Ben replied without moving.
Alfie snorted. His brothers couldn’t wait for him to go, not that he blamed them. The house was comfortable enough for four or five, but they were nine in total, counting his father. And at twelve years, his youngest brother was fast taking up more than his share of space.
“When did you say you’re removing to Penhollow?” Ben asked.
“I didn’t.” The property Alfie had acquired in the hills above Newford wasn’t fit for the mice that inhabited it, much less a man. Or the vicar’s niece, if it came to it. Alfie must suffer his brothers for some weeks to come, cloven feet and all.
He shoved Ben’s boots aside as he sat on the end of the bed and pulled on his own shoes. He’d normally have worn his boots as well, but he wished to make a fitty impression on the niece. It had been more than a decade since he’d enjoyed his mother’s guidance, but he could hear her voice clear as bells urging him to leave off the dust of his boots and make a proper greeting.
Although he had no reason to think it, he imagined the vicar's niece to be a fine Cornish rose with pale, creamy skin, the hint of a blush and shining curls. A ready smile that belied a spirit as prone to kindness as to humor and a voice that was pleasant on the ears. She probably had a liking for poetry as well as a number of feminine pursuits at which she excelled, such as embroidery or watercolors. The lady of his imagination was not the sort to appreciate rough whiskers or boots in church.
He opened his mouth to ask his brother for more details of her arrival then closed it with a snap. He didn’t wish to dampen the anticipation of their first meeting with what was sure to be an incomplete, if not irreverent, accounting from his brother.
As he tucked the ends of his neckcloth, Ben reached into his own coat and withdrew a linen-wrapped bundle. He unfolded it to reveal two pasties, and Alfie’s mouth watered. He took back every unkind thought he’d ever had for his brother and reached for one of the flaky handhelds.
Ben lifted it beyond his reach with a wagging finger. “Only if you and the vicar’s niece promise to name your first born after me.”
Alfie climbed over Ben to snatch the pasty, enjoying his brother’s low grunt of pain as Alfie’s elbow found a rib.
Alfie tossed the reins to one of the ostlers at The Fin and Feather as his brothers climbed from the back of the cart. The day was a fine one, with a crisp bite to the early autumn air and a vivid blue sky that met the darker hue of the sea beyond their small harbor. It was a day ripe for new beginnings.
His father strode ahead, intent on checking a newly-poured order of ships’ bells in his foundry while Alfie and his brothers continued on to the parish church at the end of the high street. They were early by the market clock, but a sizable crowd had already gathered before the church’s squared tower entrance. Their vicar’s sermons were thoughtful but rarely so anticipated, so Alfie was left to assume he hadn’t been the only one to have overheard Mrs. Pentreath.
He cupped a hand beneath his nose and exhaled, certain the lady must appreciate sweet breath as much as any gentleman. Not that he’d be so very close—they would meet at the church doors in full view of the entire town, after all—but it never hurt to be prepared. Perhaps he could persuade her to walk with him after the service, at least to the lychgate. Satisfied with the success of his cinnamon tooth powder, he marched on, ignoring the perpetual antics and jostling of his brothers behind him. They could be such children at times, with little appreciation for the weight of life’s significant moments.
As they neared the crowd, he craned his neck to catch a glimpse of the vicar and his visiting relation but was unsuccessful. Alfie was taller than average, but many of his cousins had arrived as well, and they were of equal stature, forming a wall of Kimbrells he was unable to see past. Merryn and Gavin joined him near the lychgate and together they moved toward the front of the crowd.
“What’s the to-do, d’you suppose?” Merryn asked.
“The vicar’s niece has come for a visit,” Alfie explained as he straightened his cuffs.
“Aye,” Gavin said, “I encountered her coach late last night when it arrived at the Feather. But I’m not certain why all of Newford has turned out so early. Last week’s sermon on the advantages of marriage was well ordered but hardly one to warrant such eager attendance.” A crease marked his brow as he twisted his head one way then the other to survey the crowd.
Alfie, who was normally prone to woolgathering during the vicar’s sermons, had paid particular attention to the man’s words last week. It had been as if the vicar were speaking directly to him and the yearning that burned in his chest: Let us consider some of the advantages which a man derives from a good wife . . . She will help to educate his children, to improve his fortune, to augment his joys, to ease his sorrows . . . Alfie wasn’t so concerned about the fortune bit, although a few extra coins couldn’t hurt his efforts at Penhollow. But . . . Augment his joys. Ease his sorrows. He sighed his longing for something softer in his life than a houseful of men. Was it any wonder the town’s bachelors had come out in force today?
“I would think their interest should be rather obvious,” he said to Gavin, then he added, “I wonder if I should have worn my grey coat instead of the brown.”
His cousin eyed him as if he’d sprouted a third ear then, tugging his own ear, he said. “Alfie, you don’t think—”
Alfie didn’t hear the rest of his cousin’s words as the crowd thinned near the church entrance, and he got his first eyeful of the vicar’s lovely niece. His breath stopped in his chest and he slowed his steps. She was indeed a fine and delicate miss with burnished locks and skin that glowed beneath a rosy blush. A ready smile curved her lips, declaring her a lady of uncommon good humor.
But beyond these fine attributes, the niece had the distinction of being rather . . . short. Exceptionally short. Too short. Alfie supposed that must be due to the fact that she couldn’t be more than eight years of age. Quite unattached, indeed.
His lips curved in a tight smile as the vicar introduced his sister’s youngest, Miss Althea, and her governess. Alfie—ever the optimist—perked up at that, until he peered behind the vicar and estimated the governess must be closer to forty than thirty. Not that he had a problem with that per se; he enjoyed all women, but the governess didn’t look as if she enjoyed much of anything.
He sighed. Ben caught his eye as he entered the church and mouthed, First. Born.
Excerpt © 2022 by K. Lyn Smith.
This title will be available in paperback and e-Book on Kindle Unlimited.