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To be or not to be—in love…
As a ward of the Duchess of Dorset, Harriet can hardly expect more from a match than the ringing endorsement of “from what I’ve heard, the man is financially secure and his teeth are quite regular.” After all, she’s only the lowly daughter of traveling actors, not the actual daughter of the duchess.
William Talbot, Earl of Abingdon is set to marry the duchess’s daughter. After his elder brother’s scandalous death, his family’s reputation is paramount, and he’ll allow nothing to damage it again. But when Harriet disappears to save her father from debtor’s prison, the scandal threatens William and his intended’s family.
The simple task of fetching the duchess’s runaway ward turns complicated when Harriet insists on traveling with her father’s acting company. William’s forced to tag along, and finds himself entranced. The stage transforms Harriet into a free-spirited, captivating beauty. But someone’s been sabotaging the theater company, and instead of facing scandal, William and Harriet discover a threat not only to their growing passion, but to their lives…
“From what I’ve heard, the man is financially secure and his teeth are quite regular,” announced Eleanor, Duchess of Dorset.
Harriet Farley, the duchess’s ward, smiled wanly, trying to be as polite as she could under the circumstances. The ballroom brimmed with young women coiffed and adorned to perfection and men whose gazes darted toward the prettiest. Although normally Harriet preferred lingering along the perimeter, tonight she was to be introduced to a promising suitor, handpicked by the duchess herself. For the first time, she’d take part in the ritual of courtship instead of observing from the duchess’s side. Her moment had come.
Then why did she feel like a hare caught in a trap?
The aroma of Pear’s soap and perfume wafted through the crowd. Harriet dabbed her handkerchief under the lace trim of the neckline of her gown but stopped when the duchess furrowed her brow. After six years of living under the same roof, Harriet was keenly attuned to the woman’s slightest sign of irritation.
“I’m sure he’s lovely, Your Grace,” said Harriet. “I trust your judgment when it comes to these matters.”
The duchess shrugged and snapped open her fan, obviously pleased. Harriet’s guardian had a regal profile as would befit the wife of the Duke of Dorset, even though his sudden death three years earlier had taken its toll on the duchess’s loveliness. The family’s recent financial woes had no doubt exacerbated the deep lines etched on her forehead. Harriet could never repay their generosity, taking her in when she was twelve years old, yet now she could do something to help. Or so she hoped.
The duchess scanned the room like a sea captain looking for signs of land. “We’ll wait until Marianne’s betrothal is settled, and you’ll be next.”
“Of course, Your Grace.” Harriet wiggled her toes and winced. The first order of business once she was married would be to buy slippers that fit, not ones intended to make her too-large feet appear dainty.
“You’ve been an agreeable companion to Lady Marianne, and now, if luck has it, you’ll be an agreeable wife to the sixth son of a baron.”
“I’m excited to meet Mr. Hopplehill.” Harriet swayed back slightly, so her heels, not her toes, supported her body weight.
“Act at ease, my girl. You stand so stiffly one would think you’re a marble sculpture.”
She shifted her weight forward, trying to comply.
“Now you’re slumping. Oh, for heaven’s sake. You must have picked up some semblance of proper conduct from Marianne.”
Tears stung her eyes and she took a calming breath. She hadn’t been born into the ton, and evenings like these only reinforced her sense of inadequacy. The other girls were like lap dogs, brushed and pampered and pirouetting for biscuits, while she was more of the loyal hunting dog, happier loping across fields and braying.
The heat must be affecting her thinking.
Julia Tagan lives with her husband and goldendoodle in New York City. A journalist by training, she enjoys weaving actual events and notorious individuals into her historical romances. Her favorite activities include walking her dog in Central Park, scouring farmers’ markets for the perfect tomato, and traveling to foreign cities in search of inspiration.
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