A Perfect Gentleman -
A Tenacious Trents Novel
Matthew Trent always knew what was expected of him and that was to become the Perfect Vicar and a Perfect Gentlemen. When Grace Cooper enters his life he is forced to face what he really wishes to become.
Grace Cooper has three options for marriage available to her in the small village where she resides. However, Grace would rather be placed on the shelf than enter into a miserable union.
When someone threatens her father and then makes an attempt on her life, it is Vicar Trent who vows to protect her and brings scandal to her doorstep, upsetting the delicate balance of both of their worlds.
Yorkshire, England, October, 1813
Grace Cooper ran across the field of wildflowers, one hand on her bonnet to keep it in place. The church bells tolled in the distance and she picked up speed. A lady would have taken the carriage, or at least traveled upon the road. But, as she was simply the daughter of landed gentry, lady not attached to her name; Grace reasoned a simple miss could do as she pleased – almost.
The new vicar was to give the sermon today. She had not yet met him, but rumors and gossip claimed him to be quite young, and handsome. Not that it mattered. Grace just didn’t like to leave a poor first impression. She frowned. Which was exactly what would occur when she entered the sanctuary several minutes late.
Perhaps he wouldn’t notice. The church was sure to be full, if not over packed. Everyone would come to see and hear him. Oh, how she wished she could recall his name. She was certain several people had told her, but the information was no longer in her mind.
Grace crested the hill and looked down at the simple parish church. Curricles, carriages, landaus and horses crowded along the circular drive. She had never seen so many show for Sunday Services. Perhaps there wouldn’t even be a seat available. It would serve her right. If she hadn’t tarried in the dairy, she would have arrived on time.
Gaining more momentum than she planned going down the hill, Grace had to force herself to slow before she lost her footing and rolled the rest of the way. Arriving late was one thing. Arriving late and disheveled was another matter entirely.
Grace reached the front of the church and skidded to a halt. A quick tap of her head fixed her hat, a pat across her dress smoothed the material, and a stomp of her foot loosened a chunk of dirt stuck to her shoe. After a deep breath, she smiled as she opened the door and stepped in. The parishioners were seated and she stopped short. The minister pinned her with a look and frowned. Heat infused her face. Yes, a very bad impression, indeed. But, it could not be helped.
The rumors were correct. He was young, and handsome. She couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, but his hair was a rich brown with a hint of red. Few lines marred his face, and his lips were firm.
Instead of walking further up the aisle to her regular pew, Grace attempted to slide in to the last bench next to Mrs. Montgomery. The woman harrumphed and refused to move so Grace had to step around her to the empty space.
The new minister glanced over his notes and she studied him. Vicars were usually older, with thin or graying hair. This one couldn’t be over thirty. Of course, most ministers probably started out young. She had just never met a vicar this young before.
Grace glanced over at Mrs. Montgomery and noted the narrowing of her eyes. She was probably imagining her daughter marrying such a pillar of the community right now. Too bad Audrey wasn’t here to dissuade her mother.
Matthew, Vicar Trent to his parishioners, tried to ignore the knot in his stomach, paused in his sermon and looked at those gathered in the pews, staring at him. They appeared attentive, for the moment at least. This was the most important sermon of his life. Or at least it seemed that way. The dozens who looked up at him were the very ones who would now seek his guidance. He could not make an error. This message had to be perfect, just as he was required to be perfect. So far, the sermon had been.
The door opened and beams of sunlight bathed the newly polished wood floor. A young woman stepped into the back of the sanctuary. Her smile lit the room and for a moment all his thoughts fled. Deep mahogany hair shone from the sun and arranged curls fell to her shoulders. Her smile was crooked, the left side higher than the right, which he found endearing. One eyebrow was slightly elevated, as if she knew something nobody else did. He could not take his eyes off of her.
Someone cleared their throat and Matt’s face grew warm. This was not the time, or place, to be dumbstruck by a pretty girl.
He gritted his teeth and glanced down at his outline. He’d just finished with the poor in spirit. Next was blessed are those who mourn. Matthew looked up and out the windows to the right of the church. A cemetery lay just beyond. How many in this room had a loved one resting under the neatly clipped grass beyond these walls? He knew about mourning all too well. First his mother, then his step-mother and half-sister, all before the age of seven.
Matthew closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had been doing well until the young woman walked into the sanctuary and now he couldn’t seem to concentrate on what came next. He had been nervous, no to be honest, he had been scared before delivering the sermon in the first church he had been assigned. He wasn’t ready for this. After years of training he still wasn’t prepared for the vocation assigned to him. As long as he could remember he had been told he would be a vicar, and that is what he became. And, even if he could do something else with his life, Matthew didn’t know what that would be, so he would be the perfect vicar, as was expected.
He put his hand in his pocket to caress the familiar foolscap. He did not need to read it to know what it said. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:45.
Matthew cleared his throat and focused once again at his parishioners. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. What Jesus is telling us is that no matter how deep the sin or how unbearable the loss, He is here to comfort us. The Lord God will soothe your pain, take away your sin, bring you comfort. You only have to trust in Him.”
The words he rehearsed and memorized came back to him and he no longer looked at his outline, but focused on those in the pews. He had to reach them. Each and every one. Even the tardy young woman in the back. Yes, his purpose was to be perfect for God, a perfect gentleman, a perfect vicar, and thus, make sure each of them was as perfect as they could be. It was a duty instilled in him from a very young age and he could not fail.
Though Matthew tried to look to those in the front as well as the back, he did not glance in the direction of the very last pew. He could not afford to be distracted again. By the time he said the final prayer, his hands no longer shook. He nodded to Mrs. Phillips, and she played the last Psalm of the morning. Matthew took a deep breath and moved to stand by his seat. He’d delivered his first sermon in his very own church. Singing the song from memory, he looked at his flock. The room was packed but he didn’t deceive himself into thinking it would always be this way. He was new and positive several of those in attendance came simply to judge him. Though he wished it were different, he wasn’t so naive to believe otherwise.
There were older people, some with canes that sat by themselves or with an equally aged spouse. There were younger couples with children settled between them, some becoming more fidgety as the morning grew long, and every age in between. He remembered having to sit through church as a small boy when the weather was perfect for running and playing. He used to stare longingly out the window while Vicar Hinrich rambled on about one lesson or another. Though he should have paid attention to each and every word, by the time Sunday arrived, Matthew already knew what the sermon was by heart. Vicar Hinrich had practiced it in front of him and as he got older, Matthew had even helped him write a few.
He glanced to the tardy woman in the back. Her face shone in happiness as she sang. Why did he look in her direction? An older woman stood next to her. When she noted his focus, she glared at the younger one. Matthew was not sure what to make of it. Was she piqued because the younger one was late? Or, perhaps the young woman couldn’t sing at all and it appeared she sang loudly by the joy on her face. It was difficult to appreciate an off key voice blaring in one’s ear. Perhaps it was the woman’s joy. A person should show respect and be serious and repentant in a church, not glow with happiness as if she were attending a party.
There was no point in speculation. Matthew knew nothing about the people in this parish, but would soon enough. Then he would be able to know who liked and disliked who and why.
When the last verse began, he placed his Bible on the pulpit and made his way down the aisle and stepped out into the bright sunshine. Soon the parishioners would exit the church and he would greet most of them for the first time. His palms began to sweat anew and he swiped them against his robe.
They came out of church in single file, waiting in line to meet him. Nobody skipped out through the wide door to avoid an introduction. Instead, the line continued all the way down the aisle. How many people were here? The names and faces swam in his brain. How long would it be before he could remember each and every one?
After an eternity, the end was in sight and the older woman from the back stepped forward.
“It was an invigorating sermon, Vicar Trent. I am so glad you joined our parish.” The woman practically gushed.
“Thank you, um, Mrs . . . “
“Mrs. Montgomery.” She beamed. “You must come by for tea. Or better yet, dinner. As a bachelor, I am sure you would appreciate a nice meal in the company of others. It is not good for the digestion to eat alone.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Montgomery.” Each wife and widow, old and young, had invited him to dinner. At this rate, he would not have to eat alone for six months.
“Is tomorrow too soon?” she asked.
“I am afraid it is. I am still trying to get settled.”
A look of disappointment crossed her face.
“Might I call on you later in the week, Mrs. Montgomery? We can discuss a convenient evening then.”
Her smile returned. “I look forward to it.” She stepped away and glanced at the young woman behind her. Mrs. Montgomery stopped. “I promise that not all of the young, available women in this parish are as inconsiderate as you might have witnessed. Why my Audrey would never be late to a service.”
Matthew bit the inside of his cheek. So, the woman had a daughter. Why did every mother think a vicar needed a wife? No, he amended his thoughts. Every bachelor needs a wife. “I don’t recall meeting your daughter. Did she come through earlier?”
“Oh, no.” The woman waved her hand. “My Audrey is visiting with her aunt, Lady Hartley. The countess. She will return from London this afternoon, now that the little season is coming to a conclusion.”
He wondered what Mrs. Montgomery would think if she knew his father had been an earl until his death back in January. Until recently, he had been third in line for the title. But now that Clayton had married, Matthew would move further down the list, as he should, once Clayton’s heirs were born. No doubt Mrs. Montgomery’s opinion of him would increase but in truth, titles meant nothing to him. Souls however did.