The Cinderella Spinsters
Endowed with average looks and modest dowries, three school friends vow not to be trapped into loveless arranged marriages, but to remain independent and devote their passion and commitment to bettering their world. They will become...THE CINDERELLA SPINSTERS.
THE AWAKENING OF MISS HENLEY
After five seasons…
She was still on the shelf!
Part of The Cinderella Spinsters. Miss Emma Henley knows she’s neither pretty nor rich enough to land a husband. Instead she’s thrown her passion into good causes. But this season she’s tempted by a flirtation with Lord Theo. The dashing rake is just as determined to stay unwed as she is. It’s scandalous…but if she’s never to marry, perhaps an affair with this unrepentant rogue is just what an independent lady needs!
"Character growth makes this sensuous and witty romance a balm for the soul."—Monique Daoust, Fresh Fiction
"THE AWAKENING OF MISS HENLEY is a romantic and enjoyable read."—Rose Blue Reviews
"5 stars - Marvelous! This a such a wonderful love story. It 's mature, but sexy, smart, emotional, with well—drawn characters, and I truly enjoyed the artistic backdrop. The beautiful happily ever after for a well deserving couple, is the cherry on top. I enjoyed every single minute of it!!"— The Book Review
"5 stars - Mrs Justiss constructed an incredibly wondrous slow-burn romance, with flawed and lively characters. I so enjoyed this brilliant tale of giving character a chance over appearance, that next year is far away to wait for the next story."— Elodie 's Reading Corner
"Julia Justiss delivers again... and the outcome is delightful."— All About Romance
Running a hand over the stubble on his chin, Lord Theo Collington turned his horse down one of the pathways bordering Rotten Row. Despite not returning home until morning, he’d been too restless and out of sorts to seek his bed, deciding instead to order his gelding and head to Hyde Park for a ride while the park was still thin of company. He needed to think and he didn’t want to encounter anyone who would require him to play the increasingly wearying role of the devil-may-care man-about-town.
Not that he had any viable alternative to evenings of gaming with his friends or nights spent visiting the opera, the theatre, or whatever select society entertainment he expected to be amusing. But of late, a vague discomfort had begun to shadow his pleasure in those activities. A long-suppressed sense that there should have been something more to his life.
Not the ‘something more’ his mama continually urged on him—which was marriage and the setting up of his nursery. Though he very much enjoyed the female form and figure, he hadn’t yet encountered a woman out of bed who didn’t, after a time, grow tedious.
Well, perhaps one, he thought, smiling as he recalled the sharp verbal fencing that occurred whenever he encountered Miss Emma Henley. Fortunately, however, that lady was as little interested in marriage as he was, so he might indulge in the delight of her company without raising expectations in either her or society that he had matrimonial leanings in her direction.
When it came to ladies, though, one thing he did know for certain. After the contretemps at the opera last night, his liaison with Lady Belinda Ballister was definitely over.
That resolution was the easiest of the conclusions he’d needed the crisp morning air to clear his head enough to make. Still, forcing himself to give up the admittedly exceptional pleasure the skilfully inventive Belinda had given him the last few months was a sacrifice heroic enough to deserve a reward. He’d allow himself a gallop before returning home.
Gathering the reins back in both hands, he signalled his mount to start.
Ah, now this pleasure truly never would pale, he thought as the gelding reached full stride. His heart exulted with the rapid tattoo of the hoofbeats, the thrill of speeding over the ground, while the rush of wind blew the last of the brandy fumes out of his head.
This pleasure of another sort was, in its own way, nearly as satisfying as a rendezvous with the tireless Belinda. Maybe he ought to take up racing horses.
That nonsensical idea had him smiling as he rounded a corner—and almost collided with a rider galloping straight at him.
Both horses shied, fortunately to opposite sides of the path. It took him a moment to control his startled mount and bring him to a halt before he could turn to check on the other horseman.
Or rather, horsewoman, he corrected, noting the trailing riding habit. Noting also the expertise of the rider, who had quickly brought her own plunging, panicked horse back under control.
Straightening the shako on her head—the only damage she seemed to have suffered—the lady turned towards him. ‘Lord Theo,’ she said, the tone of her musical voice sardonic. ‘I should have known. Who else could I have expected to almost run me down in the park?’
His spirits immediately brightening, he felt his lips curving back into a smile. ‘Thank you, Miss Henley, for your solicitude in enquiring whether my mount and I sustained any harm in the shock of our near-collision. But then, what other lady might I expect to find galloping through the park like a steeplechaser?’
‘Temperance Lattimar,’ she tossed back. ‘Although now that she’s wed, she’s generally too occupied with the business of being an earl’s wife to have time to gallop in the park. One more good reason to remain single.’
‘I agree with you there. But isn’t it a bit late for your ride? You usually come earlier if you intend to race like a Newmarket jockey.’
He waited in anticipation, but she didn’t rise to the bait, merely replying, ‘True. Whereas you, Lord Theo—’ she gave him a quick inspection ‘—appear to have not yet found your bed. Carousing late again?’
‘As would be expected of the ton’s leading bachelor,’ he replied, his smile deepening.
What a singular female she was, he thought, captured anew by the force of the intense hazel-eyed gaze she’d fixed on him. She was the only woman of his acquaintance who, rather than angling her face to give him a flirtatious look or a seductive batting of her eyes, looked straight at him, her fierce, no-nonsense gaze devoid of flattery.
‘If I rode close enough, I suppose I would catch the scent, not just of horse, but of your latest lover’s perfume.’
Grinning, he shook a reproving finger. ‘You know a gentleman never gossips.’
As she tilted her head, studying him, he felt it again—the primitive surge of attraction of a male for a desirable female. He’d been startled at first to have the plain woman society dismissively referred to as ‘the Homely Miss Henley’ evoke such a reaction. But though she possessed none of the dazzling beauty that had made her elder sister, ‘the Handsome Miss Henley’ a diamond of the ton, there was something about her—some restless, passionate, driving force he sensed just beneath her surface calm—that called out to him, as compelling as physical beauty.
Unfortunately, he reminded himself with a suppressed sigh, it was also an attraction quite impossible to pursue. A gentleman might dally with willing married ladies, but never with an innocent.
He’d have to content himself with indulging in intellectual intercourse. A delight in which Miss Henley was as skilled as his former lover was in dalliance.
‘Then I shall not press you for details, but send you off to your bed,’ she said after a moment, the trace of heat in her gaze sending another wave of awareness through him.
Did he only imagine it, or did that comment imply that she, too—virginal maiden though she was—envisaged beds and a pressing together of flesh when she focused so intently upon him?
‘I shall resume my interrupted gallop,’ she continued as he sat speechless, distracted by that titillating speculation.
‘This late in the morning?’ Dragging his mind from its lecherous thoughts, Theo turned his attention back to the lady—and frowned.
Miss Henley’s face, normally a long, pale, unremarkable blank, was flushed. Her jaw was set and those exceptional hazel eyes glittered with more than usual fire.
Even more unusually, he realised, she was completely alone. Though Miss Henley often scoffed at society, she usually followed its conventions, which forbade an unmarried lady of quality from going anywhere unaccompanied.
‘Something happened this morning, didn’t it?’
Though she shook her head in denial, her quick huff of frustration and a clenching of her teeth belied that response.
‘Come now, give, give! Your groom is nowhere in sight, which means you must have outridden him, and no one attends you—not even the very attentive Mr Null.’
Her flush heightened. ‘It wasn’t well done of me to have dubbed him that. And I should never have let you trick that name out of me!’
‘Ah, but the description is so apt, I would have tumbled to it myself, had you not beaten me to it.’
To his surprise, she lifted her chin and glared at him. ‘You shouldn’t mock him, just because he is not handsome and clever and irresistible to women, like you are,’ she cried, her tone as angry as her expression.
‘I don’t mean to mock,’ he protested, surprised by her vehemence. ‘But even you admit he has the personality of a rock.’
‘Even a dull, ordinary rock has feelings.’
‘I imagine it does—and has as much difficulty expressing them verbally as Mr Nu-Nullford. Why this sudden concern? I thought you’d been trying to avoid the man! Surely you haven’t suddenly conceived a tendre for him!’
‘No, of course not.’ The fire in her eyes died, leaving her expression bleak. Breaking their gaze, she turned her horse and set it to a walk—away from him.
‘You should know you can’t be rid of me that easily,’ Theo said, urging his mount to catch up with hers. ‘Come now, finish the conversation. If you haven’t inexplicably become enamoured of Mr Nullford, why this sudden concern for his feelings?’
As she remained silent, her face averted, an awful thought struck, sending a bolt of dismay to his belly.
‘Has your mama been after you again to marry? Surely you don’t intend to give in and encourage his suit!’ When she made no reply, he prodded again. ‘Do you?’
‘No, of course not,’ she snapped, looking goaded. ‘If you must know, he made me an offer this morning. I refused it.’
‘Ah,’ he said, inexplicably relieved. ‘That’s the reason for the ride. Avoiding what will doubtless be your mama’s attack of the vapours once she learns you’ve turned down another offer. How many will that make?’
‘Far fewer than the number of women you have seduced,’ she retorted.
He laughed. ‘Probably. Although, I should point out, I’ve never seduced a lady who didn’t wish to be seduced.’
‘Why do I let you trick out of me things I should never admit? And cajole me into me saying things I shouldn’t?’
‘Probably because you know I will never reveal the truths you—and I—see about society to anyone else.’
She sighed. As if that exhale of breath took with it the last of her inner turmoil, she turned back to him with a saucy look. ‘You deserve the things I say that I shouldn’t, you know. Like the very first time you deigned to speak with me.’
He groaned, recalling it. ‘Very well, I admit, you showed me up on that occasion—which was most unkind of you!’
‘You shouldn’t have pretended to remember me when clearly you didn’t.’
‘One could hardly admit to a lady that one doesn’t remember her. I was trying to play the Polite Society Gentleman.’
‘No, you were playing Ardent Gentleman Trying to Impress a Dazzling Beauty by Pretending to Know her Plain Friend,’ Miss Henley shot back.
‘Well, even so, it wasn’t nice of you to embarrass me in front of the dazzling Miss Lattimar.’
She chuckled—a warm, intimate sound that always invited him to share in her amusement, even when it was at his expense. ‘It did serve you right.’
‘Perhaps. But it was a most unhandsome response to my attempt to be chivalrous.’
‘If I am so troublesome, I wonder that you continue to seek me out and harass me. Why not just cut the connection?’
‘Don’t tempt me! But every time I contemplate giving you the cut direct you so richly deserve, I recall how singular you are—the only woman in society who doesn’t try to attract my attention. Who says the most outrageous things, one never knows about what or whom, except that the remarks will not adhere to society’s polite conventions—and will be absolute truth. A lady who, most inexplicably, appears impervious to my famous charm. I’m always compelled to approach you again and see if you’ve yet come to your senses.’
‘Why, so you may add me to your harem of admirers?’ she scoffed. ‘I shall never be any man’s property. But all this begs the question of why, if you were merely returning from a night of pleasure, you felt the need for a gallop.’
He hesitated, knowing it would be better to say nothing. Yet he was drawn to reveal the whole to perhaps the one person with whom, over the last few months, he’d inexplicably come to feel he could forgo the façade and be honest.
‘Come, come, bashful silence isn’t in character! You bullied me into revealing my secret. You know I won’t stop until I bully you into revealing yours.’
‘You are a bully, you know.’
‘And now who is being unkind?’ she tossed back, grinning. ‘So, what is it? Have the Beauteous Belinda’s charms begun to fade?’
He gave her a severe look. ‘You know far too much about discreet society affairs about which an innocent maiden should be completely unaware.’
‘Oh, balderdash! Even innocents in their first Season gossip about your exploits. Besides, I’d hardly call the liaison “discreet”. The Beauteous Belinda was boasting at Lady Ingraham’s ball just two nights ago about what a skilled and devoted paramour you are.’
‘Was she now?’ he asked, feeling his jaw clench as fury smouldered hotter. He should have broken with the wretched woman weeks ago. ‘Then you haven’t yet heard about the most recent incident. Last night, at the opera.’
Her teasing expression fading, she looked at him with genuine concern. ‘That sounds ominous. Did she finally try to demonstrate her supposed control over you too outrageously?’
He envisaged the scene again, struck as much on the raw by the succession of disbelief, then discomfort and then rage as he’d been when the episode unfolded. ‘All right, I concede that I probably should have reined in Lady Belinda long ago. It…amused me when she boasted of having me “captivated”. I thought, apparently erroneously, it was a mutual jest, both of us knowing the connection was as convenient as it was pleasurable, with no serious commitment on either side. But for her, on one of Lord Ballister’s rare forays into society, to desert her husband, track me down in the box I was sharing with friends and remain there, hanging on my arm, trying to kiss and fondle me in full view of the audience—and her husband! It was outside of enough!’
‘Oh, dear,’ Miss Henley said, her gaze surprisingly sympathetic. ‘That was not at all well done of her.’
‘I can appreciate that she wasn’t enthused about wedding a man thirty years her senior. A discreet affair, quietly conducted, is understood by all concerned. But though he may be elderly and often ill, Lord Ballister is an honourable gentleman of excellent character. He didn’t deserve to be made to look the cuckolded fool so blatantly and in so public a forum.’
‘No, he did not. But honestly, I’m surprised it took you this long to notice how flagrant she has become. She’s been singing the aria of your enslavement at full voice for months now.’
‘Have I truly been that blind?’ At her roll of the eyes, he sighed. ‘I shall have to be much more observant in future.’
She gave him a thin smile. ‘In my experience, the acuteness of a gentleman’s observation varies in inverse proportion to the beauty of the lady.’
‘And a lady’s observation is so much more acute?’
‘It is—and it isn’t. A lady always, always has much more to lose than a gentleman. And having few options, with marriage normally the only way to secure her future, she may…overlook quite obvious deficiencies.’ She sighed. ‘I just don’t think that anyone should be judged solely on the basis of their looks—or lack of them. Character should count for something, shouldn’t it?’
Picturing Lady Belinda, he said acidly, ‘I’m afraid society is usually more impressed by flash and dash.’
‘Which is why I’d rather eschew marriage and devote my life to good works.’
‘What sort of good works? You’re not going to become one of those dreary Calvinists, warning sinners of fire, brimstone and destruction?’
‘No, I prefer building to destroying. I should like to do something useful. Unlike some I could mention, who seem to think all that’s necessary for a satisfying life is to seduce silly women, drink other men under the table and win at cards.’
‘I can’t imagine to whom you refer,’ he said with a grin. ‘I do ride horses rather well, though.’
‘Perhaps your only noteworthy skill.’
‘Oh, no! I drive quite well, too. You’ve seen me handle a high-perch phaeton.’
‘Excellent. You can look forward to life as a Royal Mail coachman when you run through all your money.’
Laughing, he said, ‘I’d still have my charm. Isn’t charm useful?’
‘For cozening the unwary, perhaps. I’m too downy to fall for that.’
Their teasing gazes collided—and once again held, something undeniable, and undeniably sensual, sparking between them.
‘Ah, that you were not,’ he murmured, regretting her innocent, unmarried state more keenly than ever.
Her pale face colouring, she looked away. ‘Well, enough banter. Thank you for helping me restore my equilibrium so I may return and face down Mama. I’ve half a mind to tell her I am done, absolutely done, with society. No more Season. I’ve had enough!’
He shook his head doubtfully. ‘A noble resolve! We’ll see how long it takes for your mama to squash it.’
‘Thank you so much for the encouragement,’ she said drily. ‘Good day to you, Lord Theo.’
‘And to you, Miss Henley,’ he said, watching her ride off to meet her belatedly approaching groom. Remembering the unwelcome proposal that had prompted the gallop that had left her servant eating dust, he had to smile again. Thank heavens Miss Henley was so resistant to being forced into the usual female role.
Thank heavens, too, that most men were too dull-witted and dazzled by bright and shiny society beauties to recognise the quiet gem among them. Meaning Miss Henley was unlikely to be pursued by a man she might actually want to accept.
Although…if she were married, especially to someone she couldn’t possibly admire, like Mr Null, he might actually be able to indulge this annoyingly strong urge to pursue her.
Damn, but she was unusual! The woman drew him far too strongly, on too many levels. More and more frequently, he found himself struggling between two polar opposite desires: to throw caution to the wind and see if she truly possessed the passion of which he caught tantalising glimpses. Or the much more prudent course of avoiding her completely.
THE TEMPTING OF THE GOVERNESS
His new governess...
Is getting under his skin!
Infuriating, impertinent... just some of the words Colonel Hugh Glendenning could use to describe Miss Olivia Overton! She's insisting he spend time with his orphaned wards–which has forced him to admit he's been keeping the world at arm's length since losing his wife and baby son. That's not all that's disturbing him. It's the new temptation Olivia's sparking in Hugh to enjoy life again–with her!
“A charming, character-driven romance...The Temptation of the Governess is an enjoyable read and one fans of historical romance should definitely consider checking out.” – All About Romance
“The Tempting of the Governess is a beautifully written and emotional romance.” – Roses are Blue, Book Blog
“Insightful...Recommended.” – Historical Novel Society
I am very sorry, Miss Overton, but…you have no more money.
Numb with shock, Olivia Overton walked slowly back down the stairs from the solicitor's office, his unexpected and horrifying news still echoing in her ears.
Reaching the pavement, she hesitated. The prospect of returning home to Upper Brook Street brought back all the unhappy memories of two weeks earlier, when she'd come in to discover her Mama expired upon the drawing room sofa.
Adding in the unpalatable fact that the home she'd occupied for more than twelve years now belonged to someone else, and she knew she couldn't bring herself to cross that threshold again just yet.
She'd go visit Sara Standish–and reveal her drastically changed circumstances to her best friend, the one person in London who would understand her shock, pain, and distress.
Thinking with gallows humor that she'd better enjoy the luxury of traveling by hackney before her few remaining funds ran out, she walked down the street and found a jarvey to convey her to Hanover Square.
A short time later, the butler escorted her to the Standish townhouse's small back parlor. "I'll send Miss Standish down immediately,"he whispered, his cautious glance toward the grand front salon letting her know that Sara's mother, who had long enjoyed being an invalid, must be reclining on her couch there, receiving friends conveying the latest ton gossip.
A ripple of anguish went through as she realized that the next likely topic of gossip would be her. Have you heard? That Overton girl has lost all her money! A shame she's so odd–and plain. No chance of her getting some gentleman to rescue her with an offer of marriage.
She took a deep, steadying breath. Ton gossip would soon be the least of her worries. Whatever she decided to do next, she would have very little time to figure it out–before her cousin Sir Roger and the new Lady Overton arrived in London to take possession of her house.
Too restless to take a seat, she paced back and forth in front of the mantel, halting when Sara appeared on the threshold. Taking one look at her face, her quiet, gentle blond friend came over and pulled her into a hug. "My poor dear! Have you been missing your Mama badly today?"
For a moment, Olivia clung to Sara, to the person who seemed her last safe haven in a suddenly chaotic and threatening world. "No more than usual,"she said, releasing her to take a seat beside her on the sofa. "Isn't it strange how you can live with a person for years, finding them an indifferent companion, sometimes even an annoyance, and yet miss them quite dreadfully when they are gone?"
Sara cast a glance toward the front parlor. "I understand completely. And Mama isn't even much involved in my life, having taken to her couch and delegated all responsibility for me to Aunt Patterson years ago. Whereas your mother actually dined with you and took you into Society with her."
Olivia laughed wryly. "A Society I never appreciated and whose rules and expectations I could not wait to escape. Ah, how I longed to leave the Marriage Mart for good, to set out upon our independent lives, and finally, finally be able to pursue what we feel is important."
"Praise Heaven, we won't have to wait much longer,"Sara said with feeling. "The Season is nearly over. Soon, we'll be able to move to our house on Judd Street and begin those new, independent lives! At least, when we do, your unfortunate loss means you won't have to suffer any further tears or lamentations from your family about having made a choice that will 'doom your matrimonial prospects and see you exiled from Society forever.'"
Enthusiasm shining in her eyes, Sara continued, "Only imagine, no longer being dragged out on pointless afternoon calls or having to attend endlessly boring evening entertainments! We shall be able to devote all our time to supporting Ellie Lattimar's school and working with Lady Lyndlington's Ladies' Committee. Think of all the letters we'll be able to write, urging support of the reform legislation Lord Lyndlington and his party are pushing forward in Parliament! Issues so much more important than the cut of a bonnet or the style of a sleeve, the only pressing topics being discussed by the ladies at the Emersons' ball last night. Ah, here's our tea. Thank you, Jameson."
"Lady Patterson asked that I inform you that she will join you in a few moments,"the butler said as he set down the tray.
Sara nodded, then rolled her eyes at Olivia as the butler walked out of the room. "If you have something important to say, better tell me before Aunt Doom and Gloom arrives."
Olivia uttered a laugh that sounded a bit hysterical, even to her own ears. "I'm afraid I do. Something of rather major importance. I visited Mr. Henson this morning to inquire about transferring funds for my part of the maintenance of our Judd Street house. Only to discover that…I have no money."
Sara angled her head, her expression puzzled. "You have no money? I thought that, though the trustees retained the management of them, you could draw on your funds at will, once you reached one–and–twenty. Indeed, I thought you had been doing so these last two years."
Olivia's smile turned bitter. "So I had. Except now, it appears, the trustees have 'managed' me right out of my inheritance. They invested both interest and capital in a canal project that has just gone bankrupt. All I have left in the world, apparently, is one hundred pounds in the London bank."
For a moment, fury consumed her that, while she, as a single female, had not been considered competent to manage her own funds, the supposedly wiser and more experienced male trustees had been free to gamble her money on a risky project.
The solicitor might be apologetic.
She was destitute.
Sara's eyes widened and her mouth opened in shock. "That's… all? One hundred pounds?"
"Between me and penury. And to make the situation even sweeter, Mr. Henson said that Sir Roger, who now owns the Upper Brook Street house, wants to take possession–immediately."
"Oh, Olivia,"Sara whispered, taking her hand and squeezing it. "I'm so sorry. What are you going to do?"
"That's what I must figure out. All I know for certain–and I am sorry, too, Sara–is that I will not be able to join you in the Judd Street venture."
Sara sat silently a moment, her expression growing more and more appalled as the implications of Olivia's changed circumstances registered. "No, of course you can no longer contribute. But perhaps all is not lost. Perhaps I could–"
"No, Sara, we discussed this. The expense of maintaining a separate establishment wouldn't be possible without an equal contribution from both of us. And even if you could manage the finances without me, I couldn't let you do that."
"Hmf,"said the stout dowager entering the room. "You'd do better if you both abandoned that foolish idea and got yourself husbands, like sensible females! As for you, missy,"she said, turning her gimlet stare upon Olivia, "I heard you recently turned down Lord Everston. Silly girl! Don't you realize how rich he is?"
"There should be more to life than having a rich husband whose money you can spend,"Sara objected.
"You're going to give me some drivel about mutual respect and intellectual companionship?"Lady Patterson said. "I guarantee you, a handsome income and a steady supply of fashionable gowns and bonnets is far more lasting."
"Lord Everston is pushing fifty and only wanted a wife to watch over his household and seven children,"Olivia retorted. "Preferably a plain, older spinster who would be grateful enough for his proposal that she'd overlook his gambling and his mistresses."
"As long as the settlements guarantee the wife a good income, she'd probably be happy to leave intimate matters to his mistresses,"Lady Patterson said.
"That may do for some, Aunt,"Sara said in her soft, placating voice. "But not for us."
"The more fool, you,"Lady Patterson retorted.
"I should probably leave you…and go do some hard thinking,"Olivia said with a sigh.
Sara pressed her hand again. "If there is anything I can do…"
Her brows creasing, Lady Patterson looked from Sara to Olivia. "What is going on, if I may ask?"
Much as Olivia hated to confess her private tragedy to anyone but Sara, Lady Patterson had been kind to her, and in truth, a much more careful chaperone than her own mother. Nor was she a tale–teller. And in any event, gossips would get ahold of the news soon enough anyway. After all her efforts on Olivia's behalf, Lady Patterson might be offended if she learned of it second–hand, rather than from Olivia herself.
"To reduce it to the bare essentials, Lady Patterson, Mr. Henson informed me today that I am penniless, my inheritance lost by my trustees in a risky investment. He'd known about the bankruptcy for several weeks, but wanted to give me some time to recover from the sudden loss of my mother before he told me. However, as my cousin, Sir Roger, who now owns the Upper Brook Street house, wants to move in with his new bride immediately, I must decide in short order what to do."
Lady Patterson stared at Olivia thoughtfully for some minutes, then nodded. "Then I will waste no words telling you what a tragedy that is or how sorry I am, both of which are obvious. If you want my opinion, I think you should approach Lord Everston. I'm sure he'd renew his offer. Granted, marrying him isn't the solution you would have wished, but it will guarantee you a handsome income and a respectable position for the rest of your life. Perhaps even an enviable one, since Everston will almost certainly predecease you."
"So after avoiding a marriage of convenience these last five years, I should now marry a man I neither like nor respect, hoping he will stick his spoon in the wall soon enough that I will have time left to do what I want with my life? That's assuming, since I no longer possess even a modest dowry to bring to the union, he would be willing to settle a 'handsome sum' on me."
"Your solicitor would insist on it, and Everston would agree,"Lady Patterson replied. "He's well–enough off, even with all those offspring to fund, and he's Everston. Since he insists on wedding a gently–born lady of good family, he doesn't have many choices."
"That's true,"Sara observed. "Practically every female he considers worthy of bearing his name has already refused him."
"At least you'd have a home and money of your own,"Lady Patterson argued. "With your inheritance gone, you'll have to abandon that Judd Street scheme anyway. Marrying Everston is better than going begging to Sir Roger, leaving you always dependent on his charity. Or canvassing your distant relatives for a home, sinking you to that worst of lowly situations: an indigent, unmarried female, shuttled from household to household to care for sick children or querulous elders."
"Couldn't she stay with us?"Sara said, looking to her aunt.
"Please, don't even ask, Sara,"Olivia said before Lady Patterson could answer, tears pricking her eyes. "Your are a darling to want me, but…but I don't want to become your dependent, any more than I wish to rely on Sir Roger or some other relative."
"Then it must be Lord Everston,"Lady Patterson said. Her voice softening, she continued, "I understand you have your pride, dear, and I respect you for it. But you have few alternatives."
"If the choice is between tending sniveling brats or drooling centenarians,"Olivia said, thinking rapidly, "I'll take the brats. And if tending them is to be my lot, I'd rather make use of my elevated education and become a governess. Oh, I know, I'd only earn a pittance–but the money would be mine. Not available for trustees to lose or a husband to spend on his fancy women. And I wouldn't have to become intimate with Everston to earn it."
"Please, don't do anything hasty!"Sara said. "Couldn't you reconcile it with your conscience to stay with us, just until Emma and Lord Theo return from Italy? I'm sure, among the three of us, we could work something out. Become a governess in some out–of–the–way manor in the back of beyond, and you may be lost to us forever."
"It's always possible I could find a position here in London."
"In London–where you would inevitably run into the friends of your employers, all of them well aware of your humiliating loss of status?"Lady Patterson said. Olivia sighed. "Not London, then." Having her acquaintances looking down on her with scorn and pity would be intolerable.
Her mind whirling, Olivia felt driven to halt the dizzying, out of–control spin of her life by making a decision, here and now.
It wasn't as if her options would change upon longer reflection.
A lady's only other alternative was to become some genteel female's companion. Not being much given to taking orders, it would probably be preferable to earn her pittance as a governess, where she would be giving them.
So, it appeared, a governess she would be.
She'd always longed to be independent, in charge of her own destiny, not forced to depend upon a father or brother or husband. Well, this ironic twist of fate had certainly granted that wish, she thought blackly. Just not at all in the way she'd envisioned.
"A position as a governess in an out–of–the–way manor might be preferable,"she said, pulling herself from those reflections to confirm her decision. "Lady Patterson, do you know of an agency to which I could apply for such a position? And would you be kind enough to write me a character?"
Lady Patterson sat quietly for a moment. "I suppose there isn't time for me to inquire among my friends and relations to discover someone in need of a governess."
"Lady Overton could show up on the doorstep of Upper Brook Street tomorrow."
"Surely you could stay with us long enough for my aunt to find you a position with someone she knows,"Sara pleaded. "Somewhere we'd be assured you would be treated with kindness and respect."
Though touched by her friend's concern, Olivia said, "Sara, I know you mean well. But can you even imagine how it would be? Everyone in Society would know. I wouldn't be invited anywhere. I'd have no funds to borrow books or even for the paper and ink we use to write letters for the Ladies' Committee. I'd have to hide myself here just…existing. Suspended in some awful void between the life I've always known and the reality of my life now. I…I don't think I could bear it. Since the break must happen, I'd rather it be swift and clean."
Her eyes filling with tears, Sara nodded. "I suppose I can understand. I just…hate to lose you."
Unable to respond without giving in to tears of her own, Olivia pulled her friend close for a hug. For a long moment, they clung together.
Pushing away the friend who, for the first time in their lives, was unable to help her solve a dilemma, seemed to symbolically echo today's events in her life.
"Well, I'd best go and pack up my things. Lady Patterson, if you would be so kind as to give me the name of that agency?"
Even Sara's gruff aunt had tears in her eyes. "I'm afraid I've forgotten. Let me go to my sitting room and ask my maid, and I'll send you a note. I am sorry, my dear." After rising to give Olivia a quick, most unusual hug, the older woman walked out.
"Promise me one thing,"Sara insisted as she escorted Olivia to the door. "Don't accept a contract for more than six months. You know the three of us–you, me, and Emma–have always been able to solve whatever problem has arisen in our lives. I don't expect that will change just because Emma married Lord Theo. Promise me, when they return from their Grand Tour, you will come back to London and let us all reexamine your situation, together."
Olivia knew that, unless some unknown benefactor had left her funds of which not even the family solicitor was aware, nothing about her circumstances would change in six months. Nor would she be any more able to accept charity from Emma than she could from Sara. But her friend looked so distraught, silent tears slipping down her cheeks, that Olivia didn't have the heart to refuse her.
"Very well. I'll not sign a contract for employment that lasts longer than six months, and I promise to return to London and speak with all of you when Emma and Lord Theo come back from Italy."
In the hallway, the two clung to each other, Olivia fighting back tears once more after being informed by the butler that Lady Patterson had ordered the family carriage to bear her home.
Perhaps her last journey as a well–born member of Society.
"Don't you dare leave London without saying goodbye!"Sara said, giving her one last hug.
"I will let you know my situation as soon as everything is arranged,"Olivia promised. Then, as the butler held open the door for her, she walked out of her past and grimly set her face toward the future.
THE ENTICING OF MISS STANDISH
A meeting of minds...
But a most unsuitable match!
When lady’s companion Sara Standish meets Cameron Fitzallen, he has his jacket off and he’s mending mill machinery. He is manly, capable—though it’s most improper for him to set her heart aflutter! He is a mill owner—trade—after all. They share the same aim to help impoverished children, but in the eyes of the ton, she must not mix with him. That doesn’t stop her craving his company, or his touch...
‘Act as a companion?’ Sara’s aunt echoed, her horrified voice rising. ‘Do you want to send me into a decline and be the death of your poor invalid mother? Why, society would think the Standish family had become indigent, like your poor friend Miss Overton!’
Sighing, Sara Standish gazed over at Lady Patterson, who occupied the other end of the sofa in the small back salon at Standish House where they were taking tea, Sara’s mother, as usual, being laid down upon her couch.
Sara supposed it wasn’t worth mentioning that her friend’s sudden loss of fortune had turned out to be a blessing, since it had led her to find the man she would fall in love with and marry. ‘Assisting a marchioness by accompanying her to meetings and society events would hardly suggest a sudden lack of funds.’
‘Perhaps not,’ Lady Patterson allowed. ‘But you might as well put on a cap and announce yourself a spinster, beyond all hope of marriage!’
‘Since I’m about to complete my fifth Season and have reached the advanced age of three-and-twenty, I expect society already considers me one.’
‘You needn’t have been. If you’d made just a little more push to engage one of the gentlemen who have shown interest in you,’ Lady Patterson argued. ‘Mr Ersby or Mr Berwicke. Or that charming baronet’s son, Mr Harlande.’
‘Mr Ersby, who talks of nothing but hounds and hunters. Mr Berwicke, who merely wanted some gently born female who wouldn’t baulk at residing year-round in the depths of Yorkshire and married Miss Woodward within a month after I politely refused him. And that charming baronet’s son lives with his mother and intends on remaining with her, even if he weds.’ Sweeping her hand down to indicate her plump, rounded figure, she said wryly, ‘He probably thought I resembled his mama.’
‘Not every man wants a tall, sylph-like beauty,’ her aunt retorted. ‘Some prefer a lady with a bit of flesh on her bones. True, you’d never be taken for an Incomparable, but your figure is elegant, your pale blonde hair is lovely and I’ve overheard several gentlemen describe your blues eyes as “very fine”.’
‘Be that as it may, I prefer a gentleman with a bit of sense in his head and a great deal of purpose in his heart!’
‘Then why haven’t you endeared yourself to one of those politicians you’re always talking about? It’s not as if you don’t spend the vast majority of your time working with Lady Lyndlington’s Ladies’ Committee, writing letters in support of Parliamentary bills, or some such vulgar thing.’
A politician she could admire.
Sara pressed her lips together, trying to keep her countenance from betraying her as the unhappy memories escaped. After heady weeks of having consulted and encouraged her, handsome, dashing Member of Parliament Lucius Draycott asking her for a private interview. Her nervous jubilation, her certainty he meant to offer for her. The humiliation of discovering that all he wanted was her opinion on which of two well-dowered, crushingly conventional young ladies he should court.
She’d never shared that pain and didn’t intend to divulge it now, since the resolution it produced—that she would never marry—would only prolong the argument with her aunt.
‘No activity sponsored by a viscountess could be considered “vulgar”,’ Sara countered after a moment, keeping her tone light. ‘I suppose you’d prefer me to devote myself solely to afternoon calls and shopping trips, and my evenings to soirées, routs and balls, meeting and talking with the same people about the same things I have for the last five years.’
‘Of course I would. They are your peers, the elite of England, society’s leaders.’
‘Most of them lead rather pointless lives,’ Sara retorted. ‘I prefer to spend my time among the small segment of that elite who are working to change the nation and make life better for all England’s inhabitants.’
‘But to bury yourself away as a companion? After all the time and effort I’ve expended, trying to get you respectably s-settled!’ Her aunt’s voice breaking, she drew a handkerchief from her reticule and dabbed at her eyes.
‘I know,’ Sara said quietly, putting a placating hand on her aunt’s arm. ‘I’m grateful that you were willing to take over sponsoring me after Mama decided that going about in society was too…taxing for her delicate health. And I do appreciate all the opportunities you have tried to create for me—even if it appears as if I don’t. I know you want the best for me. It’s just—your view of what that is, and mine, are so very different.’
‘You truly think you’d be happy living the rest of your days as a spinster, assisting some high-born lady to work on behalf of that orphan school and those legislative committees?’ her aunt asked. ‘Left behind, while your peers are raising their offspring, and left alone, with no child to comfort you, when your mother and I and the Marchioness pass? For I can’t imagine you could abide living with your brother and that silly featherhead he married!’
Perhaps she was making progress, Sara thought. Her aunt’s usual refrain was to recommend marriage—any marriage. Perhaps Lady Patterson was finally coming to see that wedding a typical society gentleman—a man with whom she had nothing in common—just wasn’t right for Sara. Such a man would almost certainly disapprove of her opinions, try to limit or forbid her political activities and probably leave his modestly attractive, quiet wife to run his home while he took his pleasure with a prettier, more dashing woman.
As her father had.
Whereas, though a political gentleman might encourage her opinions and applaud her activities, when it came to marriage, he usually chose a conventional society maiden as his bride.
Which pretty much swept the field of matrimonial prospects.
Was it any wonder she now yearned only to live an independent life?
‘I think I could be happy, yes. I have friends—and their children to coddle and love. I would be able to devote myself to working on causes that truly matter to me. I know I’m a sad disappointment to you, Aunt Patterson, but the usual rounds of entertainments and dinners and routs that delight most well-born ladies simply don’t interest me at all.
Her aunt sighed. ‘So you’ve been telling me these last five years.’
‘Perhaps, now, you’re finally listening? Besides, both you and Mama had already agreed that at Season’s end, you would allow—if not give your blessing to—my moving with Emma and Olivia to the house on Judd Street, where we would all pursue our political activities.’
‘Except that Miss Henley and Miss Overton, quite sensibly, opted to marry instead,’ her aunt pointed out, a triumphant gleam in her eye. ‘Despite previously claiming, as you are now, that they preferred to remain unwed and devote themselves to good causes.’
‘If I were to capture the affections of a gentleman whose mind, heart, and purpose captivated me, as Emma did with Lord Theo and Olivia with Colonel Glendenning, I wouldn’t be opposed to marriage. But as you noted, I’ve encountered both society gentlemen and political gentleman over the years, without any such miracle occurring.’
‘But such a “miracle” will never happen unless you remain in society,’ her aunt countered. ‘Don’t hide yourself away as a companion and resign yourself to spinsterhood!’
‘Then perhaps we can make a bargain. If I agree to continue to forgo spinster’s caps and continue to conduct myself like a marriageable maiden, will you allow me to assist the Marchioness? As you may remember, she still suffers from that fall she took riding two years ago and is often in pain. It’s not as though I would be a paid companion—more a friend and assistant. To have someone to write out her correspondence for her, help her when she entertains and assist her to attend such meetings and social engagements as she wishes, would be a kind, Christian thing to do. For the present, when in London, I could still reside here with you and Mama. And assisting her would hardly mean hiding myself away! Despite her injuries, she moves in the first circles of society. Indeed, accompanying her might give me an even better chance of meeting that sterling young man who could tempt me into marriage.’
‘Oh, very well,’ her aunt said. ‘I suppose you’d talk me around to it one way or another eventually anyway. Goodness, for all that you scarcely say a word in company, you can be persuasive when you want to be!’
‘Then I may call on Lady Trent and let her know I can begin?’
‘I never thought I’d see the day…my darling niece, a companion?’
‘A kind, Christian assistant,’ Sara substituted.
Lady Patterson shook her head, that gesture telling Sara the change in wording didn’t make the proposition any more palatable to her. ‘But…yes, you may call on her.’
‘Thank you, best of aunts!’ Delighted, Sara jumped up to give her Lady Patterson a vigorous hug.
‘Goodness, now,’ that lady grumbled, ‘careful of my cap!’
‘I’ll go out at once,’ Sara said, walking towards the door. ‘Lady Trent has invited the members of the Parliamentary Committee who are to oversee the newly appointed Factory Inspectors to stay at Brayton Hullford, her country estate in Derbyshire. They will be touring the manufacturers in the region to check their compliance with last year’s Factory Act. Lady Lyndlington and the other committee members were as concerned as I was about the Marchioness taxing her limited strength, trying to manage such a large house party on her own.’
‘Why, you sly thing!’ Lady Patterson said reproachfully, shaking a finger at Sara. ‘Securing my approval of your proposition before informing me that taking up the position will send you out of London before the Season ends!’
‘The Season will be ending soon anyway. And you know you never stay in London after July. So I shall probably see you next in Kent.’
‘Not until we’re settled in Kent?’ Lady Patterson wailed. Then, shaking her head again, she said, ‘Oh, get on with you then, before I change my mind!’
Blowing her a kiss, Sara couldn’t help grinning as she walked out. For the first time since her friends’ unexpected marriages had ended for good any hope of leaving her mother’s house to live independently, she had the possibility of finding another way to take up the life the three of them had dreamed of since they’d met, bookish girls of serious natures, at Mrs Axminster’s Academy for Young Ladies.
She would miss her friends, of course. And happy as she was for their happiness, going to assist Lady Trent wouldn’t be like setting up a household with the two people dearest in the world to her.
With determination, she shook off the melancholy that always seized her when she thought of them, both now so far away, Emma with Lord Theo on their Grand Tour of Europe and Olivia back at her husband’s estate in Somerset. Though she couldn’t expect Lady Trent to be a replacement for her friends, she hoped the lady would turn out to be as congenial and interesting a companion over an extended period as she had been the short duration of the Ladies’ Committee meetings.
If they should prove to be incompatible—one couldn’t blame a woman who suffered constant pain from being querulous, after all—after the trip to Derbyshire, Sara could gracefully bow out of any further commitment.
But in the meantime, there was Derbyshire. Her spirits rose again and excitement tingled her nerves, just thinking of it. Living independently at Judd Street would have allowed her to spend as much time as she liked on her Ladies’ Committee work and assisting with Ellie Lattimer’s school—but it would be political work at a distance. In Derbyshire, she and Lady Trent intended to accompany the committee members on their factory tours, giving her an unparalleled opportunity to see with her own eyes, rather than reading about it second-hand in a journal or Parliamentary report, the working conditions of the factory children whose plight so touched her heart and whose best interests she was determined to advance and protect.
As she mounted the stairs to her room to collect her pelisse, she had to chuckle. If Aunt Patterson had any idea that during the visit to Derbyshire, her darling niece would be visiting factories employing pauper children and indigent females, she would lock Sara in her bedchamber.
Instead, she would shortly be on her way to inform Lady Trent she had her family’s permission to assist her on the journey. She couldn’t wait to begin.
But despite Aunt Patterson’s fondest hopes, she sincerely doubted that among the members of the Parliamentary committee or the inspectors Parliament had appointed, she would discover any discerning gentleman interested in enticing her into wedlock.
In the afternoon two weeks later, Cameron Fitzallen stood by his desk in the manager’s office of the Hughes Cotton Works near the village of Knively, trying not to grimace as the owner, Mr Hughes, informed him about the Parliamentary Committee that was to visit the mill later that afternoon.
‘Shouldn’t be anything to worry about, Cam my boy,’ Mr Hughes said. ‘We run a model mill and the working conditions here already surpass the standards established by the Factory Act.’
‘Oh, I’m not worried about what they will find. But I can’t help resenting the obligation to nursemaid yet another group of ignorant outsiders through the mill while they gather tales to amuse their London friends. A waste of my time! Only those who work in the business have the expertise to change things for the better.’
‘Aye, I know you’ve little taste for visiting committees,’ Hughes replied. ‘But sometimes, a nudge from outsiders doesn’t come amiss. In fact, I believe Mr Pennington, the committee member who represents Derby, wanted to bring the group to Hughes first for just that reason—so that they would see how a mill should be run, before they visit others that may need...improvements.’
‘We’re certainly proud of the establishment you’ve built,’ Cameron replied, looking at his mentor with admiration and respect. ‘Everyone from the over-lookers to the newest piecer will be happy to show off their work.’
‘And I’ll hear no more protest about having you do the tour, or the speech to them afterwards. Not for nothing did I insist you be trained up to talk like a London nob! They’ll listen a deal more attentively to you than they would to me, with my thick north-country speech.’
‘They ought to listen to you,’ Cameron retorted. ‘You’ve got as much expertise as I do. And a great deal more experience.’
‘Well, as so often in life, it’s the appearance that counts. Looking fine as five pence, and speaking as though you was one of them, always helps. Today, and when you’ll be on the hunt for more investors for those expansion schemes of yours.’
Cameron smiled. ‘I’ll let you take care of investments. I’ll concentrate on machinery. I might look and speak like a gentleman, but I wasn’t born one.’ The ugly memories of his time in London threatened and, with a dash of anger, he pushed them away. ‘Not that I care one whit about their opinions, but those who were born gentlemen will never forget I wasn’t.’
‘Aye, `tis the way of the world,’ Hughes acknowledged. ‘May we live to see the day when a man is recognised for his achievements, rather than his birth! True, I started the business and kept the capital flowing. But it’s the improvements you’ve made to the machinery, your study of the work and techniques of others, that have kept Hughes Works so profitable.’
‘Thank you, sir. I appreciate the vote of confidence.’
Mr Hughes chuckled. ‘I should hope I have confidence in the man to whom I will be turning this operation over! The first of several mills you mean to direct, eh, my ambitious young lad? Aye, I expect you’re itching to try out some of those novel new techniques you’ve been reading about! Well, keep the mill profitable is all I say. I’ll handle any grumbling from the investors over your changes.’
‘I intend to keep it profitable, sir.’
At that moment, a knock came at the door, followed by the entry of a child who worked in the card room. ‘What is it, Jenny?’ Cameron asked.
‘’Scuse me, Mr Hughes, but Lennox sent me up to fetch Mr Fitzallen. He’s having some trouble with the oiling of one of the spinning mules.’
‘With the committee due here any time, you’d better get the machinery working at once,’ Mr Hughes said.
‘On my way,’ Cameron replied. ‘Let’s go, Jenny.’
As he followed the child out of the office, the noise of the machinery drowned out all other sound—and made him smile. Though the clatter had awed and intimidated him the first time he entered the mill as a nervous six-year-old, he’d loved the complex machinery at first sight and the thrill he felt every time he gazed upon it had never faded. The levers and pulleys, gears and wires, rollers, drums and bobbins fascinated him, their interplay an elegant language of motion and efficiency he’d been studying ever since.
He’d done pretty well for an orphan from the parish workhouse, he thought as he followed Jenny. Working his way up over twenty-five years from a scavenger cleaning lint and fly from the edges of the machines to overall manager, along the way looking for ways to improve both efficiency and safety. The small adjustments he’d made had first caught the eye of his supervisor, then of Mr Hughes himself. Recognising his potential, the owner had sent him away to school. And very soon now, he thought with a rising swell of excitement, Mr Hughes would turn over the factory to him, to improve and expand even more.
He mimed a goodbye to Jenny in the carding room and walked on to enter the larger space occupied by the mule spinners, the heat and humidity hitting him like a slap to the face. Lennox, one of the senior minders, must have been watching for him, for he waved Cameron over. Using hand gestures, he indicated the machine that was giving him difficulty. Though he’d shut it down, the problem had occurred on one of the least accessible pulleys, a place difficult to reach even with the machine not in motion.
Stripping down to his shirtsleeves in the heat, Cameron tossed his coat, vest and cravat to the minder. The skinny workhouse orphan he’d once been had grown into a tall, broad-shouldered, powerfully built man, so he could no longer slither under the yard sheet to access the part, as he had as a boy—nor could Lennox, which Cameron figured was why the man had summoned him. He’d have to reach through and around, a delicate process to avoid ruining the thread being made—or catching a hand in one of the shuttles.
But solving mechanical difficulties was the sort of puzzle he loved—applying angle and torque and finesse and an intimate knowledge of the machine and its workings to successfully make the repair. With a hand motion to Lennox to indicate he was studying the situation, Cameron dropped to his knees and looked up at the recalcitrant part from below, then stood and peered down at it from several different angles. Satisfied he’d worked out the best way to proceed, he motioned to Lennox for the oiler, got back down on his knees and set to work.
His concentration intensely focused on his task, it wasn’t until he’d finished and got back to his feet that Cameron noticed Mr Hughes leading a group of strangers into the room. The Parliamentary Committee, no doubt.
He’d just handed the oiler back to Lennox when he realised that, among the seven or eight individuals approaching him, two were female. He frowned at that discovery, wondering why the committee had brought ladies with them. One older woman in an elegant pelisse and turban was leaning on the arm of a second female, who seemed to be assisting her as she walked.
The second lady turned towards him and looked up. A shock ran through Cameron as he realised this lady was not only much younger, but very attractive.
She looked like the pictures he’d seen of angels, he thought disjointedly. A twist of golden curls framed the soft, pale face under her bonnet, large, beautiful china-blue eyes looked at him enquiringly—and her deep blue pelisse accentuated curves much too voluptuous to belong to one of the heavenly host.
As his body had its inevitable reaction to that observation, the lady’s eyes widened. Cameron suddenly realised he was standing there, gaping at her, coatless and cravat-less, his open-necked shirt revealing the top half of his bare chest. Which, to someone from the Polite World, was akin to being practically undressed.
His face heating, he grabbed his garments back from Lennox and hastily shrugged on vest and coat and wrapped the cravat around his throat. No time to tie it properly, but a quick knot would bring the edges of his shirt back together and render him decent.
What was a young, attractive, gently born lady doing at Hughes Works? Besides looking as out of place in this cotton mill as he would at a reception at St James’s Palace.
Pasting a smile on his face, he tried to shake off the strong sensual reaction she’d elicited. As he walked over to meet the committee, he hoped by the time they finished the tour and returned to his office, where he would answer their questions, she would cease distracting him, else he might not be able to remember the speech he’d prepared.
After all, he had about as much business admiring the physical attributes of a Lady of Quality as he would those of a celestial being.
- top -