The Lost Heiresses Run though they might, love will find them... Lady Rose Dunford is shocked--and titillated--by the number of female visitors coming and going from her mysterious new neighbor's Manhattan brownstone. Recently widowed by the death of her very sweet, but not very exciting husband, Rose finds it difficult to imagine just what the attraction could be. And then she meets the bachelor in question. Not only is Charlie Avery dashing and outrageously good looking--she knows him! He is none other than the man who once helped her escape the dreary matchmaking plans of her father, the man she once dreamed she could love. Can Charlie's presence next door be an accident? Or has he come to show her everything he has learned about... How To Please A Lady Praise for the novels of Jane Goodger "Fun, delightfully romantic--and sexy." --Sally MacKenzie on The Spinster Bride "A touching, compassionate, passion-filled romance." -- RT Book Reviews on A Christmas Waltz
Release date: March 29, 2016
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 400
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How to Please a Lady
“My lady, you look beautiful.”
Lady Rose Dunford gazed at her reflection and smiled. She did not look like the same girl who had tumbled out of bed that very morning, dressed in her simplest gown and shabby old boots so she could rush to the stables to see if her favorite mare had begun foaling. The mare hadn’t, of course. Charlie, their head groom, had assured her that Moonrise, so named for her lovely silvery coat, wouldn’t produce a foal for at least another day.
But wouldn’t it have been perfect, on this most perfect of all days, for the foal to arrive?
“Thank you, Sarah,” she said, giving her hair a critical look. “You’ve done a wonderful job. Though I do hope the tiara my mother insisted I wear isn’t overdoing it.”
“Oh, no, my lady. It’s quite befitting a future duchess.”
A future duchess. She wanted to pinch herself to make certain she was awake. Rose Dunford, former hoyden and only girl in a family of males, was to reach the highest levels of the peerage in June, in just three months’ time. Her poor mother had always bemoaned the fact that she had shown little interest in anything feminine, and yet she had attracted one of the most sought-after men in the ton.
Sarah took her ball gown from the bed where it lay and held it for Rose to step into. For some reason, this act seemed to finalize everything that had happened in her life in the eight months since she’d met Josiah Hartman, third Duke of Weston, at her come-out ball during the little season. Rose stepped into her ball gown and stood patiently as Sarah took up the tedious task of buttoning dozens of tiny seed pearls that held her shimmering pale peach gown together. Though not a bit vain, Rose had to acknowledge the gown did look rather well with her coloring—pale, unblemished skin, dark brown eyes, and nearly black hair. She was not au courant with her style or her looks thanks to a Spanish great-grandmother, but such things had really never mattered to her.
Rose touched her fingertips to the daring expanse of skin that showed above her bodice, frowning slightly. Barely out of the schoolroom, Rose was unused to wearing gowns that revealed so much flesh, though her mother reassured her the dress she now wore—indeed all her dresses—were perfectly modest. Still, Rose felt uncomfortable looking down and seeing mounds of flesh looking back up at her.
“It’s not at all immodest, milady,” Sarah said, clucking her tongue, having accurately interpreted Rose’s frown.
Smoothing down skirts that had no need of smoothing, she thanked Sarah again and walked out of her room, her stomach feeling the effects of her nerves.
For a long moment, Rose stood atop Hallstead Manor’s grand staircase and smiled at the hubbub below her. The house was brilliantly lit, and even from where she stood she could smell the heady scent of dozens upon dozens of roses, all white but for a single red rose in each arrangement. Roses. How ironic that Rose didn’t much like her namesake flower, preferring the whimsical poppy, but in this choice her mother ruled and she had no say. Servants moved back and forth, making last-minute changes to the decor, wiping away imaginary dust from the furniture (her mother never allowed as much as a speck to remain for more than a day), and making certain each vase, each decoration was precisely placed.
Perfect. Like her life. For at eighteen years old, Lady Rose Dunford had managed to attract the pinnacle of society, the Duke of Weston. A widower, he had been the most coveted prize among all the single ladies of the ton for years. It was almost, her mother said coyly, as if he had been waiting for her come-out so he could finally make his interest known. Indeed, it was at her come-out that he’d made his intentions quite clear, asking for his first dance (a waltz), and then the next day showing up with a ridiculous bouquet of roses. Not altogether original, given her name, but she’d been thrilled nonetheless. Her mother had been beside herself with glee, trying and failing to hide just how thrilled she was that His Grace should show her daughter special attention.
The only daughter and youngest child of the Earl of Chesterfield, Rose would become a duchess in just three months. She was the envy of all her friends, and Rose could hardly believe her good fortune herself. She had no delusion that the duke had fallen in love with her. She knew it was because her father’s property abutted the duke’s and part of her dowry included a bit of unentailed land along their border. Still, it was lovely that she’d be so close to her family when they were a couple and visiting their country estate, and what girl in her right mind would be anything less than ecstatic that the Duke of Weston had singled her out?
The only problem, and it was such a small one, was that she hardly knew the duke. They’d shared two dances, one dinner (with two hundred other guests), and two well-chaperoned carriage rides. He seemed a nice enough man, rather too old for her (he was thirty-nine!), but he was handsome enough. Rose felt quite out of her element when she was with him; she hardly knew what to say to the man as he had little interest in the things that interested her. Besides, her mother had admonished her that talk of horses and breeding was not a topic of conversation for the drawing room.
Instead, Rose had said things like: “What a lovely day.”
To which the duke would respond with such things as: “Nearly as lovely as you.”
She’d nearly burst out laughing the first time he’d uttered such rot (her mother would chastise her if she knew she’d even thought the word rot to describe someone’s speech). Rose intended to get to know her fiancé a bit more between the announcement of their engagement tonight and their wedding in June. It wouldn’t do to marry a complete stranger, even if he was a duke.
“You look lovely, my dear.” Her mother’s eyes gleamed with pleasure as she walked toward Rose. “And I knew that tiara would be perfect against your dark hair.”
“Is His Grace here?” Rose asked, looking down toward the entryway.
“I suspect he is. He said he would arrive at eight o’clock and as it is half past, he is surely here. He seems to be quite punctual. No doubt he’s sharing a bit of brandy with your father in his study.”
Rose began walking down the long and curving staircase, liking the way her train flowed behind her, whispering softly as it fell from one step to the next. She didn’t often wear trains—or tiaras for that matter—but tonight was special. Given that she would soon be a duchess, she figured she ought to get used to such finery.
“Moonrise may foal tonight,” she said to her mother, who followed behind her. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
Lucille tsked. “You and your horses, Rose. Honestly. Please do not discuss your foaling mare tonight, I beg you. I wouldn’t like to think we wasted our time and money on Mrs. Potts’s finishing school.”
Rose gave her mother a cheeky grin, which earned her a scowl. “I’ll behave, I promise. I daresay I can act like a lady when the moment demands it. And I won’t bring up Moonrise.”
“See that you don’t. It would hardly do to have His Grace change his mind at this late hour. The engagement hasn’t been officially announced, my dear. And even when it is announced, you must be on your absolute best behavior and try to please His Grace. I don’t want happening to you what happened to poor Penelope Dwyer.” Penelope Dwyer, now known exclusively as “Poor Penelope,” had been on the verge of nabbing His Grace not one year ago when something went awry. Her mother lived in fear that the same fate awaited Rose.
Rose looked down at the large sapphire on her left ring finger, recalling how three weeks ago, the duke had placed it there. As proposals went, it wasn’t particularly romantic, for Rose’s mother and father were in the room. They’d all decided a formal announcement would be made at an engagement ball that her mother could hastily put together. It wasn’t such a difficult task, for the moment His Grace had shown Rose particular attention, her mother had begun planning the event. Her mother was positively in her glory with all the preparations; it was all she could speak of. Rose simply went along for the ride, like a leaf swirling in a stream, unable to control where it ended up.
Perhaps what made Rose most happy was that for the first time in her memory, her father had asked for a private meeting with her. Rose, the youngest and the only girl, was something of a curiosity to her father. He didn’t quite know what to do with her, what to say. It seemed to Rose that her father hardly knew she existed. Until the duke first requested permission to court her. The way her father had looked at her then, it was almost as if he hadn’t realized she’d been living in the same home as he all these years. And just that morning, he’d kissed her cheek and told her how proud he was.
Even though Rose felt she hadn’t actually done anything at all, except perhaps been lucky enough to come of age before the duke found another wife, her father’s words still made her swell with emotion. All her life Rose had felt a bit like an afterthought. Her brothers, so strapping and rambunctious, had garnered all the attention—good and bad. Rose had simply . . . been.
Now, this night, and for the rest of her life, Rose would be something special in the eyes of her father. Goodness, she would actually outrank him! This was not something she’d neglected to remind her brothers of, on more than one occasion, since the duke had proposed. They all agreed she’d been acting quite insufferable. Rose grinned at the memory. She had never felt like an afterthought with her brothers, particularly Stephen, who was closest to her in age. Marcus, Nick, and Adam tolerated her, but Stephen always included her in their adventures. Alas, he was at university and would be unable to attend the ball, though he’d written a very nice note wishing her well, then ending it with: No matter whom you are married to, you will always be my favorite sister.
Being the only sister, Rose was aware that the comment hadn’t meant quite what it would have if there had been more females in the family, and though she recognized the joke (one oft-spoken), it still made her eyes prick with tears. She’d missed Stephen terribly since he’d gone away to Cambridge, and would miss him even more when she was a married woman.
Married woman. She still could hardly believe it.
She would join the ranks of the married. Of her four brothers, two were married and two remained steadfastly single. Stephen, of course, was still at university and far too young to contemplate marriage, and Nick had only just finished his studies. Marcus, the oldest at twenty-eight, had been married for two years, and Adam, still head-over-heels in love with his bride, for one. Rose had begun to tease Nick, reminding him that for the last three years a wedding had occurred and next year would be his turn.
“I think it’s time to form the receiving line, my dear,” Lucille said, returning from the ballroom, where she’d been making a last-minute check with the small orchestra they’d hired. “Sutton just informed me that our guests are beginning to arrive. Are you ready? You look ready. You aren’t nervous, are you? I must confess I am. To be in such a spotlight. Did you see our guest list? And they all accepted. Even the prince. The prince, Rose. I can hardly credit it.” Rose feared her mother might faint from excitement. Indeed, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, was expected to make an appearance at the ball. Her mother had been struck dumb when she received his acceptance.
Nervous and rather giddy to be the center of attention, Rose stood next to her mother as their guests began arriving. It did seem strange the accolades they were expressing, as if Rose had done something magnificent rather than simply said yes. Lady Worther, kissing each cheek, told Rose how “absolutely happy” she was for her.
“She’s so jealous she could spit,” her mother whispered when the older woman was out of hearing. “She’s been talking about Suzanna attracting the duke’s attention for years, simply because the duke asked her to dance once.”
Rose stifled a laugh and tried not to think about how her feet were beginning to ache. The duke, because of his lofty rank and position as guest of honor, led the receiving line, so Rose hardly had a chance to exchange more than a few words. He looked rather dashing in his evening formals, but Rose hadn’t realized until that evening that His Grace was shorter than her own father. His slightly thinning brown hair was slicked back with pomade, and when he did look at her, his intense light blue eyes drifted down her person in a possessive way that made Rose feel slightly uncomfortable. Rose was completely unused to having a man look at her in such a strangely disconcerting manner.
While Rose had spent time with males, mostly her brothers, she had little experience flirting with men; it hardly seemed important to learn the art when the duke had begun his pursuit at her come-out ball.
“His Grace can’t keep his eyes off you,” her sister-in-law teased, her eyes twinkling with good humor.
Rose felt her cheeks redden. “I’m not used to such blatant male attention,” she whispered. “I think it’s this dress.”
“It’s what’s in the dress,” Georgette said, laughing lightly. “I think His Grace is impatient for his wedding night.”
Rose gave her sister-in-law a quelling look, then ruined the effect by laughing. Rose adored Adam’s wife. They’d just learned she was increasing and Adam was over the moon with happiness. After watching Marcus’s disappointment at remaining childless, Georgette and her brother had been secretly worried they would suffer the same fate. Rose couldn’t wait to meet her niece or nephew. Soon, she realized, she’d be having children of her own. It seemed impossible that she could be grown up enough to have children.
“I’ll talk to you once the dancing starts. I have such gossip to tell you about one of our guests.” Georgette, who at three months along showed no signs of her increasing, adored a good tidbit, and Rose could tell she couldn’t wait to impart whatever it was she knew.
After nearly an hour, the receiving line dwindled and her mother went off to tell the orchestra to be ready to play the Grand March, a solemn and rather old-fashioned way to begin the ball, but her mother had insisted. Rose walked in on the arm of her intended, feeling everyone’s eyes on her.
“You do me proud, my dear,” Weston drawled as he pressed her hand, which rested in the crook of his arm.
“Thank you, Your Grace.” She could feel his cool gaze on her and resisted the temptation to look into his light blue eyes, for she did have a tendency to blush hotly every time she did so.
“If you would do me the honor of dancing the first waltz.”
She dared look up at him, and did indeed feel her cheeks instantly heat. “Of course, Your Grace.”
Charlie Avery stood in the shadows and watched her, his heart aching as it always did whenever he looked at Rose. How could that woman in the stunning ball gown with her hair all done up pretty be the same little girl who had rushed headlong into the stables, braids flying behind her? He’d been ten years old, a stable boy and son of the head groom, when he first saw Rose, and even then he’d thought her the most adorable creature on earth. He ought to have been annoyed by her constant questions about the horses, about what he was doing, about why horses couldn’t eat pudding.
Too many questions. Too many long hours while she watched him rub down her mare or help a foal into the world. Too many happy memories of them riding about the estate, often in the company of her brothers, who tolerated their little sister’s sense of adventure. Years and years of memories. One day, when she was seventeen, he realized little Rose had grown up.
It had been the worst moment of his life.
She’d gone away to finishing school and he hadn’t seen her in months. Hadn’t really even given her much thought other than a vague sense that he missed her hanging about. Then she’d come home and headed almost immediately to the stables to say hello to Moonrise, her beloved horse. Maybe it was the way the late-day sunlight hit her face, or the blue dress she wore, or the expression of pure happiness on her face, or the way she closed her eyes and breathed in the scents of the stable as if it were the most wonderful smell in the world. But in that moment, he realized she was a woman and that the casual brotherly love he’d had for her was suddenly something much more. Of course he’d fallen in love with her. Who wouldn’t?
She looked happy now, dancing with her future husband, no doubt charming the man the way she seemed to charm everyone. Holy God, she looks beautiful.
“You know, if she knew how you felt about her, she’d find it embarrassing. Or worse, she’d pity you.”
“Sod off, Harry,” Charlie said good-naturedly.
Harry, one of Hallstead Manor’s grooms, took a deep drag of his cigarette before tossing it to the ground and stamping it out with a heavy boot. “Just as well you’re leaving,” he said, his tone almost gentle, which made Charlie feel somehow worse. “She the reason? Just wondering. We’re all wondering.”
Was Rose the reason? Maybe falling in love with a woman he could never have was part of the reason he was going to America. But the bigger reason was that he didn’t want to end up like his father, old and broken down, living on a tiny pension in a rented cottage. His uncle had gone to America ten years prior, owned his own home, had a good-paying job. If Charlie stayed in England, he’d be working in the stables until he couldn’t work anymore. And he’d watch her marry another man, have his babies.
“No,” he said. “I would have gone anyway.”
Harry let him be, gazing in a window at a world so far removed, the dancers might as well have been on the moon.
“Gossip please,” Rose said, coming up to Georgette. She was exceedingly warm and taking a break from the dancing.
Georgette was standing next to her best friend, Lady Barrington, a woman whose seemingly dour appearance was in sharp contrast to her good humor and lively personality. Indeed, when Rose had first met Lady Barrington, she hadn’t been prepared for the older woman’s sense of the absurd.
“This is my gossip so I believe I should be allowed to impart it,” Lady Barrington said. Then she spoke directly to Rose. “Your sister-in-law says you are too innocent to hear this, but I said you’re to be married soon enough, and I daresay you won’t swoon.”
“My, this does sound titillating.”
“You’ve overdone it, Rebecca,” Georgette said, sounding cross. “Now Rose will expect something more interesting.”
Lady Barrington huffed, but otherwise ignored her friend. “Rose, do you see that dashing fellow talking to your brother? Tall. Dark. Exceedingly handsome.”
Rose looked across the room and immediately spotted the man Lady Barrington was talking about. He was the handsomest man she’d ever seen in her life. Strong jaw, perfect hair, clothes tailored to perfection on his tall, lean form. “I see him,” Rose said, trying to keep her voice neutral. She was engaged to be married, after all.
“He’s an American,” Lady Barrington said.
As gossip went, that wasn’t terribly interesting, but Rose had a feeling there was more.
“Apparently he has high political aspirations. Already he works for the State Department, and for a young man, his rise has been quite mercurial. But he has a problem,” she said mysteriously.
“Oh?” Rose asked, only because she knew she was expected to.
“He’s not married. A man with high political aspirations must have a wife.”
Rose wrinkled her brow. “Must he?”
“Not always,” Lady Barrington said with a telling emphasis on the word always. “But it is certainly prudent when unsavory rumors begin circulating.”
“Such as the one you are about to spread?” Rose asked, raising a brow.
Lady Barrington made a face, and Rose and Georgette laughed. “Don’t ruin her fun, Rose. Go on, Rebecca.”
She lowered her voice to just above a whisper. “It’s said he’s a sodomite.”
Rose leaned forward. “What’s a sodomite?”
Lady Barrington gave her a look, and Georgette said, “She’s only a child, for goodness sake.”
Georgette’s friend waved a dismissive hand. “She’s to be married in three months.” She turned to Rose. “It’s a man who prefers the company of other men.”
This did nothing to clear things up for Rose. “Don’t all men?”
Georgette looked like she was close to laughing aloud. “Not in the bedroom,” she said succinctly.
Rose looked at them in confusion until her face suddenly cleared, and the two older women laughed aloud.
“Truly? But he’s so . . .”
“And manly,” Rose said, tilting her head and looking at him. “I’m going over to meet him,” she announced, and as she started walking off, Georgette grabbed her arm.
“Rose, don’t say—”
“I won’t. Goodness, what kind of a person do you think I am? I’m far more curious about America than I am about what he does in his bedroom at any rate.” Rose had a bit of satisfaction at the stunned expression on the women’s faces before making her way over to where her brother stood with the other man.
When Marcus spied her, he smiled and held out one hand, welcoming her. “The lady of honor,” he said grandly. “Do you know, Mr. Cartwright, my sister in just a few short months will outrank me and will continue to do so even after the title becom. . .
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