Jilted three times, a down-on-her-luck bride may find love in a charming seaside town in this Victorian romance by the author of The Spinster Bride.
As if being left at the alter for the third time isn’t bad enough, Lady Alice Hubbard has now been dubbed “The Bad Luck Bride” by the London newspapers. Defeated, she returns to her family’s estate in St. Ives, resolved to a future as a doting spinster. After all, a lady with her record of marital mishaps knows better than to dream of happily-ever-after. But then Alice never expects to see Henderson Southwell again. Her beloved brother’s best friend disappeared from her life soon after her brother’s death. Until now . . .
Alice is just as achingly beautiful as Henderson remembers. And just as forbidden. For the notorious ladies’ man made one last promise to Alice’s brother before he died—and that was never to pursue her. But one glimpse of Alice’s sorrow and Henderson feels a powerful urge to put the light back in her lovely eyes, one lingering kiss at a time. Even if it means falling in love with the one woman he can never call his bride . . .
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: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 224
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The Bad Luck Bride
If only her fiancé had died five minutes after the ceremony instead of five minutes before, Alice wouldn’t be in her current, unfathomable, situation.
A terrible thought, yes, but there was never a truer sentiment to go through her mind.
He was late. Her current and very much alive fiancé was terribly, horribly, embarrassingly late, and the vicar was giving her sad looks and the congregation was whispering, and Alice felt like she might scream for them all to just shut up. Harvey Reginald Heddingford III, Viscount Northrup, whom she actually liked (the first of her three fiancés whom she actually had liked) had apparently grown ice cold feet.
It wasn’t much of a surprise, actually.
The night before he’d seemed…off. Distracted. Overly nice. Guilty. That’s when the first niggling feeling of doubt touched her but she forced herself to ignore it. Certainly three men couldn’t leave her at the altar. Though to be fair, Bertram Russell, her second ill-fated fiancé, was ousted by her enraged father long before she’d set foot in the church. Bertram had been found out—not one week before their planned nuptials—to be a complete fraud. He made ordinary fortune hunters seem like innocent children dabbling at seducing marriage out of highly placed, rich women.
One dead. One fraud. One very, very late.
This could not be happening again. She stood in the vestibule with her father and sister, dread slowly wrapping around her like a toxic fog, making it almost impossible to breathe. As she waited for her groom to make an appearance, knowing he would not, Alice vowed she would never, ever, be put in this position again. When she saw Vicar Jamison coming toward the spot where she stood with her father, Alice knew it was over. She couldn’t seem to gather the energy to cry and in fact had the terrible urge to laugh, something she sometimes did at the worst possible moment. Actually, other than feeling a bit off kilter and extremely humiliated, she felt nothing at all. Certainly not heartbroken.
“Lord Hubbard,” the vicar said, giving her father a small bow. “It may be time to address the congregation.”
Her dear, dear, papa looked at her, his eyes filled with sorrow. “I think I must.”
Alice nodded and pressed her hands, still holding her silly bouquet, into her stomach. God, the humiliation. This was far worse than Bertram and, well, poor Lord Livingston was deemed a tragedy, not a humiliation. People at least felt sorry for her when her first ill-fated husband-to-be dropped dead waiting for her to walk down the aisle. Just five more minutes and she might have been a widow, and a widow was a far better thing to be than a jilted bride.
It was all her sister’s fault. Christina had been fussing with her gown, fixing something in the bustle, insisting that Alice would never get the chance to be a bride again (what a lark) and everything must be absolutely perfect for that most important day when Alice would have become a baroness. And then Lord Livingston died, right then, right as he walked toward the front of the church. Dropped like a stone without warning and was dead before he hit the hard marble floor with a sickening thud.
Instead of Lady Livingston or Lady Northrup, she was still Miss Hubbard and it looked like she would be Miss Hubbard for the rest of her days.
Christina stood, eyes wide with horror, as their father walked slowly to the front of the church. The large room became deathly quiet, and Alice turned, grabbed her sister’s arm, and walked out the front door of the church. She couldn’t bear to see the pity in their eyes, nor the tears in her mother’s. Certainly Mama had never suspected her eldest daughter would once again be abandoned by her groom. Thank God they’d decided to get married in London and not St. Ives, where the villagers would have likely gathered to celebrate her marriage. No one was about except for the normal crowds.
“I’ll murder him,” Christina said feelingly when they reached their carriage. The startled footman hurriedly dropped the steps and then handed the sisters into the carriage, which was meant to carry the happy couple to their wedding breakfast.
Alice tore off her veil then gave her ferocious sister a weak smile. “I think he was in love with Patricia Flemings.”
“No!” Christina said with the conviction of someone who cannot accept the fact that anyone could choose a Flemings over a Hubbard. Their father, Lord Richard Hubbard, was the third son of the fifth Duke of Warwick, and though he held no title, his connection to the great duke had put their family firmly in the lofty realm of the ton. Christina adored working “my grandfather, the Duke of Warwick” into as many conversations as possible, no matter what the topic. At eighteen, Christina was looking forward to her first season and was no doubt wondering how this latest wedding debacle with her sister would hurt her chances of making a good match.
Alice realized she was officially a hopeless case, and would no doubt become the terrible punch line to jokes told from Nottinghamshire to Cornwall. You’ve heard of Alice Hubbard—or is it Miss Havisham? Charles Dickens had done her no favor by portraying a jilted bride as such a bitterly tragic character. Alice didn’t feel bitter, at least not at the moment, but she suspected she could not escape the label of ‘tragic.’
Now she would have to hide away for a time at their country estate in St. Ives, which wasn’t such a sacrifice, as St. Ives was her favorite place in all the world. Perhaps in her elder years she could be chaperone to her sister’s beautiful daughters. She would be known by them as “my poor spinster aunt who never found love.”
Three fiancés and she had hardly tolerated any of them, never mind loved them. She’d only loved one man in her life but he, of course, did not love her. And that, perhaps, was the most humiliating thing of all. Henderson Southwell, entirely inappropriate and devastatingly handsome. She called him Henny, which irritated him hugely, and that, of course, was why she did it. To say he was her one love was a bit of an exaggeration, for she now recognized her feelings for what they had been: youthful infatuation. But goodness, her heart had sped up whenever she heard his voice and nearly jumped from her chest when she actually saw him. Ah, the tall, lean, dark, handsome glory of him. She’d known Henderson for years and had fallen in love with him when she was seventeen or perhaps even before. Perhaps she’d fallen in love with him on those quiet nights when they would talk in the library while the rest of the house was sound asleep. He was her brother Joseph’s closest friend, which delegated her immediately to that invisible moniker of little sister.
She hadn’t seen him in four years. He’d disappeared from society and no one, not even her other brother, Oliver, had seen or heard from him in years.
“He’s not the same as you remember, Allie,” her brother Oliver told her when she’d asked if Henny would be invited to her wedding—the first one. “Even if I knew where he was and could invite him, I don’t think he’d come.”
And he hadn’t; Alice hadn’t even known if he’d received the invitation. Nor had he accepted her invitation for the second hastily cancelled wedding. As for this last, Alice still had no idea where Henderson was, but as this was to be a small affair, he hadn’t been on the guest list at all. Just as well.
The carriage moved forward and Alice closed her eyes, relief flooding her that this day was over. When the carriage stopped with a startling jerk, she opened her eyes and gasped as Henderson Southwell, whom she hadn’t seen in more than four years, burst into her carriage and sat across from her and next to her sister as if he’d been expected.
“Shall I kill him for you?” Henderson asked blandly as he settled himself into his seat and crossed his arms over his chest. His skin was tanned and she could see white lines that fanned out from his eyes from either smiling or squinting in the sun. His brown hair was nearly blond at the tips, and he was thinner than she remembered—and far handsomer.
“Henny. You weren’t invited, you know.” It gave her a small pleasure to not react to his completely unexpected appearance, other than that small gasp, which she wished she could have stifled.
“No. You were not. You were, however, invited to the first two of my weddings.”
His dark brows rose as if in surprise. “You’ve been married twice already?”
“Oh, do stop teasing my sister, Mr. Southwell,” Christina said. “Hasn’t she been through enough this morning?”
Henderson turned to his right as if surprised to see someone sitting next to him. “Do not tell me this is little Christina.” He looked over to Alice as if for confirmation.
Christina beamed and Alice gritted her teeth. Henderson had always been able to charm; it was his greatest talent. When she was younger, she’d heard things, unsavory things, about Henderson that an unmarried girl should not hear. Affairs with married women, with widows, opera singers, actresses. Those rumors had nearly killed her when she’d been in the deepest throes of her crush on him. More than one of her friends had been warned away from him, and not just because of his lowly birth. His mother was a member of the landed gentry who’d had the misfortune of getting pregnant without the benefit of a marriage. This small fact had been quite titillating when Alice was a girl.
“I was just a child when we last saw you…” Christina’s voice drifted off as she realized when that was—her brother Joseph’s funeral. It was a terrible reminder of a dreadful time. The eldest of the four Hubbard children, Joseph had been the light of their family, the one who would sing loudly and purposely badly in the morning to wake everyone up. One couldn’t get angry with Joseph. In fact, the only time Alice had ever gotten angry with Joseph was after he’d died. Why had he been so reckless? Why had he left them alone?
Four children, two boys, two girls, Joseph the first born. The three younger children adored Joseph to the point of hero worship. When he died, falling off the roof of a school chum’s carriage house when Alice was just seventeen, he’d left an endless hole in the Hubbard family. Nothing had been the same ever since. Joseph used to play the piano, make his mother stand by his side to sing a duet. The joy in their house, the music, all ended the day Joseph died. Her father, his face filled with fathomless pain, had the piano removed from their home the day after his funeral.
Looking at Henderson made Alice’s heart hurt, for the two young men had been inseparable—except for that faithful night. Even though Alice had been wretched the day of her brother’s funeral, when she’d looked up and saw Henderson, eyes red-rimmed and staring blinding at the casket, she knew he was feeling the same pain as she. And then he’d disappeared. Until now.
Henderson shifted, the light in his striking blue eyes dimming momentarily before he grinned at her again. “You didn’t answer my question. Shall I kill Northrup or just make him suffer?”
Alice sighed. “Neither, I’m afraid.” She looked out the window at the row of elegant and neat houses that told her she was nearing her father’s home on St. James Square. “He was following his heart and I can hardly blame him for that.”
“Of course you can,” Christina said, and Alice gave her a grateful look. “Besides, his heart should have led him directly to you, not that miserable girl. Honestly, Alice, you cannot just let people take complete advantage of you.”
Alice stared at her sister until Christina began to squirm. “I simply do not inspire men to love. I have come to accept this. As for Northrup’s actions today? Yes, they were unforgivable and humiliating, but how would I have felt years from now knowing he loved another all along? Better a few moments of humiliation than a lifetime of regret.” She nodded her head to make her point, and was exceedingly annoyed when Henderson laughed aloud.
“I fail to see anything amusing in what I said.”
“Had you no feeling for this man at all?”
Alice gave him a level look. “Should I have?”
He seemed stunned by her words, and inside Alice felt a small bit of discomfort. She should love the man she would marry. She wanted to, but life had shown her a different path, or perhaps she had just meandered onto the wrong path. Her first fiancé, the baron, was kind and handsome and seemed to truly enjoy her company. Spending time with him had been mostly tolerable and the man had seemed to delight in everything she said—to an annoying degree. She’d been just nineteen years old and, frankly, flattered by an older man’s admiration and attention. So she basked in the novelty of having a man court her, was gratified that her parents seemed so pleased with the match and were smiling as they hadn’t since Joseph’s death. Here was something good, something that could make her parents happy. Somehow it hadn’t mattered that he was in his fifties; he hadn’t acted old nor seemed a man ready to keel over and die. When he did die, Alice had felt oddly devoid of emotion. Though sad, she hadn’t cried, hadn’t truly felt much of anything until, when standing by his casket at his funeral, she looked up and saw real grief in the eyes of the baron’s children. They had clearly adored their father, and she’d felt like a fraud, unworthy even to be standing at his graveside. When she’d finally cried, it had been from a deep and cutting shame.
Her second fiancé was an unmitigated mistake, a man with about as much substance as a wisp of smoke. Charming, flamboyant, and the finest actor Alice had ever seen, Bertram had fooled nearly everyone he met. He claimed to be distantly related to the Queen herself, third cousin twice removed or some such stuff. Dressing and acting like a man of means, moving with ease among the ton, Bertram hardly caused suspicion. It wasn’t until Papa insisted on meeting his relatives that it all fell apart. Just six days before their wedding, he was gone, leaving behind a note that said, “Sorry, love. I think it would have been grand.”
Alice hadn’t crumpled the note, hadn’t cried. She’d laid the note on the small rosewood table that she used for all her correspondence and sighed, thinking only that her poor parents would be terribly upset to realize they’d wasted money on yet another engagement ball. Part of her realized she should feel something more; she even tried to make herself cry, then gave up, laughing at her own foolishness. Since her brother’s death, Alice had changed, she realized. Joseph’s dying had scarred her in ways she hadn’t realized until recently. I should feel something, she thought, having just been jilted at the altar.
Now, sitting in the carriage after her third failed wedding, that hollowness grew until there was no room for anything else. The giddy feeling she used to get when Henderson walked in the room was missing. Everything was missing.
Henderson tilted his head and studied her as if he were trying to determine whether or not she was joking, wondering, perhaps, how it was possible a woman who’d just been jilted could sit in a carriage dry-eyed and perfectly calm. Had he thought she’d be in hysterics?
“I suppose I’m a romantic,” Henderson said finally, off-handedly. “I actually thought girls liked to be in love when they married.”
Alice gave him a stare, then turned to look out the window again just as the carriage stopped in front of their home. As soon as the step was lowered and the door opened, Alice stood and offered her hand to the footman. Christina followed, but turned to Henderson and said, “She may not show her emotions, sir, but I know she is terribly hurt.”
Alice heard her sister and stifled the retort that hung on the tip of her tongue. Oddly, she was not hurt. She knew she should be…something. Outraged, angered, distraught. But the only emotion she seemed to feel at the moment was humiliation. Her pride had been hurt, not her heart. And as her grandmamma always said, pride goeth before a fall.
* * *
Henderson hated that look in Alice’s eyes, that cool emptiness. As illogical as it was, he blamed himself for everything that had befallen her, including her brother’s death. That night, that terrible night when everything in his life stopped and irrevocably changed, Joseph had wanted him to join their Oxford friends for a house party. Henderson had been at their home in St. Ives, where he spent nearly all his free time. So much so, that he seemed a part of the family. As an only child, Henderson, especially when he was younger, had imagined he was part of the family. To a boy who lived alone with a mother who rarely spoke to him directly and a father of unknown origins, the Hubbard household seemed perfect.
“My God, Joseph, have you seen Mrs. Patterson?” Henderson had said to Joseph that night. Mrs. Patterson was a willing widow, and in Henderson’s experience, nothing trumped that.
Joseph had given him a look of disgust. “It’ll be a lark, Southie. Plus, he’s got one of the finest race horses in all of England and I’d like to see it. Come on, you can see your widow any old night. I really want you there.”
No one called him Southie, short for Southwell, except Joseph. They’d gone to Eton together, and by the time Henderson had got there, Joseph was already well-liked with a solid group of chaps and welcomed him into their fold quickly. Alone among all the men he’d ever known, Joseph had never judged him, never faulted him for who he was. Until Henderson had looked a little too long at Alice.
He still remembered that night, every detail, vivid and awful. They’d been bantering about whether Henderson should join Joseph’s friends when what Henderson truly wanted to do was climb between the legs of Mrs. Patterson. Of course Joseph knew what Henderson’s plans had been that night, and Joseph didn’t mind telling Henderson he was rather disgusted with his seemingly indiscriminate taste in women. Henderson was unapologetic about his affairs. He never seduced an innocent, never made promises he had no intention of keeping, never allowed his emotions to enter into his encounters. Pure pleasure and plenty of it.
“Just because you’re afraid of women doesn’t mean I have to pretend to be,” Henderson had teased. That’s when Alice had walked by. He hadn’t meant to look at her overlong, hadn’t thought to school his features. He’d been more than a bit in love with her for about two years now, but he’d never been stupid enough to let his emotions show. But in that moment, she was purely beautiful, with womanly curves, and by God, she was glorious. Walking past the pair as they talked in the library, she smiled at him and that smile, well, it did something to his heart. It always had, even though she was far too young for him to even contemplate.
“Southie.” His name, low and hard, and Henderson inwardly shook himself and tore his gaze away from Alice. “Do not ever look that way at my sister again.”
Henderson could feel his cheeks heat. He found he couldn’t meet his friend’s eyes and was deeply hurt that Joseph would get so angry over a simple gaze. “I wasn’t—”
“You were,” Joseph said, his tone sharp. “Promise me you will never touch my sister. Promise.”
“God, Joseph, of course. Of course, I promise on my life. I will never touch your sister.” He hadn’t meant that promise, though his words had been spoken fervently. He thought he’d have years to court Alice properly, to get Joseph to understand that he was more than a little in love with her, that she would never be like those other women he only used to ease the ache in his body. Henderson knew when Joseph realized how much he loved Alice, he’d come around. He may not have known who his father was, but he was an Oxford man now with a promising future. Alice was far too young, wouldn’t even come out for another year. He’d be patient and in the meantime, could see her any time he wanted. Could dance with her and laugh with her and make her love him as much as he loved her. He’d thought he’d have all the time in the world to convince Joseph to allow him to break that promise.
But that night, Joseph died.
Alice tried to ignore Mr. Owens’s shocked face when she entered the front door, still in her bride’s dress.
“My groom was absent,” she said, and was touched when he flinched, as if her words had caused him pain.
“I am very sorry, miss.” Dear Mr. Owens had volunteered to stay behind whilst the rest of the staff had attended the wedding. He was likely glad he had.
“It’s all right, Mr. Owens. I shall live. My only regret is that you all will likely be stuck with me in perpetuity.”
“Hardly a sacrifice, miss.”
She gave him a tight smile and stiffened when she heard her sister and Henderson come up behind her. Giving Henderson a pointed look, she pulled off her gloves and handed them to Mr. Owens, who took them and bowed. “Tea in the parlor, miss?”
“That would be perfect. For two.”
“Three, Mr. Owens. There’s a good man. Miss Hubbard is so upset, she forgot I was here.”
Alice narrowed her eyes at him and for some reason found herself suppressing a smile. It wouldn’t do to give him any encouragement. It was difficult enough to maintain her dignity when he was grinning at her like a fool. The thing was, it was wonderful to see Henderson, and had it been any other occasion, she might have forgotten herself and fallen into his arms. Knowing he had witnessed this ultimate humiliation was, well, humiliating. Why, after being absent for four years, had he decided to come to her wedding, of all things?
He had changed a bit, grown older, of course, but though he smiled and acted as he always had, she sensed an underlying seriousness. Perhaps it was his eyes. His smile didn’t seem to completely fill his features as it had once. He was still tall, of course, and impossibly handsome. Debonair, one might say, with his carefully tamed dark hair and well-cut jacket, though she did notice his shoes were quite dusty, as if he’d been running in a field.
They settled, all three of them, in the parlor and waited for tea. Alice supposed she should be up in her room sobbing. Perhaps after she’d had some tea that’s exactly what she would do.
Christina gasped, but Alice waved her outrage away.
“Yes. Three. First Baron Livingston. Then a scoundrel. Then—”
“—another scoundrel,” he finished for her. “You really do have the worst taste in men.”
“Says a man who is known as one of the worst rakes in all of England.”
He looked shocked and hurt. Mockingly so. “Rake? Hardly. Well, perhaps in my younger years. You have noticed, haven’t you, that I’ve been gone out of the country these last four years.”
“Were you?” She pretended to think. “Yes, I do believe I haven’t seen your name in the Tattler in quite some time.”
The look he gave her nearly made Alice shiver. For just a moment, he seemed genuinely angry with her.
Christina sat silently, but it was never an easy thing for her to do, and apparently her sister also saw that glimmer of irritation. “Alice isn’t the only one who thinks you’re a rake. Since your return to London, you’ve been in the Tattler several times.”
Henderson raised one dark brow. Slowly. It really was quite fascinating to watch the control the man had over that muscle.
Turning to Christina, Alice said, “Has he really?”
Christina’s cheeks tinged a bit pink. Their mother had forbidden the girls from reading the gossip column, but they did manage to sneak a peek at friends’ houses now and then. Apparently Christina had been sneaking a peek more frequently than Alice. “Yes. Just last week there was something about a Mr. S, back from his travels, being seen with Madame L. That must mean Mr. Southwell and Madame Lavigne. She’s appearing at the Vauxhall Theater, you know.”
“You are mistaken,” Henderson said, his voice oddly flat, and Alice gave him a sharp look.
“It must have been Thomas Southwick, Christina. Or any other number of men who’ve been traveling and whose last names begin with s. Really, you should not listen to such gossip nor spread it.”
Christina looked horrified and her cheeks flamed even brighter. “I do apologize, Mr. Southwell. It’s just that—”
He held up a hand to stop her. “Please do not distre. . .
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