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A Bride for the Season
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James Simpson’s rakish ways have finally caught up with him. Snared in a scandal that for once is not his doing, he is forced to do the honorable thing and offer marriage to the lady. But her father won’t agree to a dowry unless James can also find a suitable husband for the lady’s elder sister-quiet, reserved Lucinda Cardington. As James gets to know the vibrant, charming, and passionate woman behind Lucinda’s shy exterior, he comes to the distressing realization that he doesn’t want her in anyone’s arms but his own . . .
“Delamere weaves rich historical detail into a lovely, poignant romance of faith, trust, and second chances.” — Katharine Ashe, author of When a Scot Loves a Lady, on An Heiress at Heart
Table of Contents
An Excerpt from An Heiress at Heart
An Excerpt from A Lady Most Lovely
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As an avid reader of history, it's no wonder that I would set my historical romances against the background of real places and events. An Heiress at Heart has several scenes set at the Great Exhibition of 1851. A Lady Most Lovely includes the Duke of Wellington's funeral and also a cameo appearance by a police detective of the time named Inspector Field.
When writing A Bride for the Season, I took a slightly different approach. It would be more accurate to say this book was inspired by the people and culture of the time. For example, Lucinda Cardington's school to help "fallen women" was based on a similar project developed by wealthy heiress and philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts and the author Charles Dickens. Like Lucinda, Miss Coutts objected to the subject matter of the opera La Traviata from both moral and social standpoints, believing that it glorified prostitution and was overly harsh in its judgment of women. Miss Coutts always insisted her box at the opera house be kept empty whenever La Traviata was performed. (One minor liberty I took with the historical record was setting the London premiere of La Traviata in the summer of 1853; in fact the real date was in May 1856.)
Daniel Hibbitt's statements regarding cholera and the need for better sewage systems in London are an accurate reflection of what was known at the time. Although design and planning efforts were under way by 1853, the project did not become a reality until the 1860s, when the problem had grown so bad it could no longer be ignored.
Everything about photography in this book is as accurate as I could make it. In 1853, photography had been around for only about a decade. The wet plate method used by James Simpson was the newest advancement in the technology at that time. James's custom-built wagon for carrying his photographic supplies was inspired by Roger Fenton, who designed just such a wagon and took it to the Crimea in 1855, where he became one of the very first war photographers.
James Simpson's favorite sport is rackets (also spelled racquets), a game played with a ball and a strung racket in an enclosed court. The game had initially gained popularity in Fleet Prison and taverns, but by the 1850s it was moving to indoor courts and had become a gentleman's game as well. In 1853 (the year A Bride for the Season takes place) the Prince's Club opened with two rackets courts and two tennis courts. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, "The building of old Prince's Club in London in 1853 is regarded as marking the beginning of a new era in which rackets became the game of the clubs, military services, and universities." In this, as with photography, James was on the cutting edge!
I love weaving these historical tidbits into my stories, and I hope you've enjoyed this taste of life in mid-Victorian England as well.
James Simpson sent a smile and a wink across the ballroom to Miss Emily Cardington and was pleased, as he always was, to see her reaction.
Emily blushed prettily and leaned in to whisper something to her friend. She had been watching the dancing with a little cluster of debutantes who were almost as charming as she was. There was a lot to be said for ladies whose primary aim was to look pretty, please the gentlemen, and have a good time while they were about it. James had adored the company of such women for years, and he had yet to tire of it. Plenty had fished for a marriage proposal, too, but their hints had been easy enough to dance around.
Emily detached herself from the females giggling behind their fans and began to thread her way through the crowd. She paused to smile and return greetings from those she passed, so that her movement in his direction would not be noticeable to a casual onlooker. What a delight she was. She was beautiful and vivacious, but she also knew how to be discreet when necessary. Tonight, under the eagle eyes of her elder sister and her parents, who disapproved of James on the somewhat plausible grounds that he was an untrustworthy rogue, was just such a time.
James remained by the open French doors, leaning casually against the wall as he watched Emily's approach. From this vantage point he had a good view of the ballroom. It was crowded tonight. A mild evening after scorching-hot weather had lured many people out tonight. No doubt it would have been heavily attended anyway—invitations to Lord and Lady Trefethen's balls were always highly sought after.
James's gaze traveled across the glittering scene, taking in the dancers, the wallflowers, the matrons chatting by the punch table, and one young couple who were quietly slipping behind a large potted palm for a private tête-à-tête. He loved these large affairs. There must be two hundred people in the room, yet it was not simply one block of people. Groups large and small collected, broke up, and then re-formed, each taking a different dynamic from the people who were in it. For James it was a continual feast. He always craved something new, and tonight was no exception.
As he finished his survey of the ballroom, James was happy to see that Lord Cardington, Emily's father, was nowhere in sight. No doubt he'd retreated to the large library to enjoy a cigar and brandy with the other old men who had no penchant for dancing. Lady Cardington was hard to miss, though. Her corpulent frame was perched precariously on one of the chairs near a food table, and she was deep in conversation with the tall and shrill Mrs. Paddington. Clearly Lady Cardington was not concerning herself at the moment with the whereabouts of her younger daughter.
Oddly enough, the only person he could not account for was Emily's sister. Lucinda tended to stick to the edges of a crowded ballroom, and James usually had no trouble locating her. She was not among the dancers, but that was no surprise. Lucinda rarely danced, which was good news for the men whose toes she invariably trod on. But neither was she to be seen with the other spinsters-in-training who were whispering together along the far wall. Perhaps she had joined her father and the other ancients in the library. Lucinda was always more comfortable conversing with gloomy old men about science and politics than in partaking of any real fun.
Emily had made it halfway across the room by now, and she sent James a quick, apologetic smile as she was intercepted by Lady Trefethen's nephew, a tall, lanky fellow who had spent much of the season trying to win Emily's favor. Poor fellow never stood a chance. Emily was this season's bon-bon, and she could have her pick of the men. Naturally, she had made James her favorite. She was his favorite too, for the moment. He enjoyed these innocent flirtations with debutantes, although he found greater satisfaction in very different dalliances with far less innocent ladies—and far from well-lit ballrooms.
He knew it would not take long for Emily to politely separate herself from Lady Trefethen's nephew, and then it would be a matter of mere moments before she reached James. So he stepped out the French doors and walked toward the balcony railing in order to wait for her, and to gauge whether his favorite seat in the arbor—the one perfect for admiring the moonlight with a willing companion—was available. What he saw instead as he looked out over the garden surprised him. A lady was walking along one of the well-manicured paths. Her face was shrouded by shadows, but she moved with a furtive air, as though she'd been doing something naughty and was afraid of being caught. James leaned on the railing, admiring her slender figure as she approached the house, trying to figure out who she was. It wasn't until she'd reached the steps leading up to the balcony that James realized with great astonishment that the woman was Lucinda Cardington.
On a night like this, the garden was the perfect place for a few stolen kisses—exactly what James had planned for himself and Emily. James tried to picture Lucinda in a lover's embrace, but gave it up instantly. It was impossible even to imagine, and in any case she was clearly alone. Why then, was she here? What could possibly lead her away from the ball and into the lonely shadows? Suddenly, James had an irresistible urge to know.
He noticed she kept her hands behind her, as if she was hiding something. When she reached the top of the steps, she pulled up short when she saw James. Even in the flickering light of the torches he could see a furious blush begin to spread across her cheeks. When she turned beet-red like that it was impossible to miss.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded, as though James were the one being caught doing something untoward, and not her.
He looked at her askance. "It is I who should be asking that question. Why are you sneaking about in the dark?"
She drew herself up. "I am not sneaking about. I merely went for a walk. It's terribly hot inside and I needed some fresh air."
"You went out to the garden alone?" James did not bother to hide his disbelief.
"Of course," she replied defensively. "What did you think?"
"A moonlit summer night is much more enjoyable with company." He was amused to see her eyes widen and her blush spread down her neck—which, he suddenly noticed, was not slender in a gangly way but was pleasingly delicate. "Come, now," he chided. "I know you're hiding something."
He took a wide sidestep in an attempt to see what was behind her. She moved too, trying to keep her back hidden, but James was too quick for her. She was holding a book, which he deftly plucked out of her hands.
"Mr. Simpson!" Lucinda cried out, affronted.
James tilted the spine toward the light in order to see the title. "Elemental Photographic Methods," he read aloud. "Did you tiptoe out to the garden to read this?" He was torn between confusion at her actions and admiration at the book's subject matter. Photography had become a passion for him.
She snatched the book back. Her hands were icy cold as they brushed his, sending a small wave of shock through him. She hugged it close, sending a cautious glance around to be sure no one was watching. As though it were illegal to be found at a dance with a book in one's hands. In her case, it probably was. Given the way Lady Cardington was pushing to get her elder daughter married, she'd be livid if she knew Lucinda was reading in a hidden corner instead of luring some gentleman into the velvet noose. "You can't have been able to read very well," he observed. "That quarter moon isn't providing much light."
She was still blushing, which, against the backdrop of her defiant look, made an arresting picture. "There is a small lamp near the rear of the garden, by the back gate. I came out here because I did not want my father to see me. He does not believe photography is a suitable pastime for a young lady."
"Really? Why ever not?" He took a step closer to her as he spoke, closing the distance between them to mere inches. Something about her crisp starchiness always amused him, and he enjoyed seeing her squirm.
"The dangerous chemicals, the darkroom…" Her voice trailed off.
"Ah yes, the darkroom," he said, bemused. "I can see why he'd object to that. Heaven forbid you find yourself alone, in the dark, with a man."
She tried to take a step back, but James had her effectively pinned against the railing. Instinctively he took a quiet inhaling breath, for he was always curious to discover the scents used by the ladies he encountered. Lucinda seemed to favor almond and lilac—an agreeable combination. "So am I to understand that Miss Lucinda Cardington is not above breaking a rule now and then?" He was enjoying the idea of this prim young lady as a covert rebel.
She straightened under his scrutiny and even lifted her chin. "I'm fascinated with photography. I know you understand its appeal. We've—we've discussed this before."
"Ah yes, so we have." James could now dimly remember a conversation they'd had on this topic some months ago. Somehow he'd forgotten about it.
She was still blushing. Two bright red splotches seemed to have taken up permanent residence on the apple of her cheeks. "I hate being forced to do these things behind my father's back, but he simply won't listen to reason. When I saw this book in Lord Trefethen's library, I thought I'd just borrow it for a few minutes to see if it's worth buying."
"Buying?" James thought ladies never spent money on anything other than clothes or jewelry. Lucinda was becoming more intriguing by the minute. "Do you mean to say you've bought other books—despite your father's ban on them?"
"I've got a good hiding place for them at home." She said this with an air of triumph, but this quickly dissolved into anxiety. "Please don't tell him!"
He held up a hand in an appeasing gesture. "Rest assured, I am the world's best keeper of secrets. When I want to be." This was perfect, he thought. Lucinda would be in his debt, and he could get her to keep quiet if he were to take a harmless foray into the garden tonight with Emily. But suddenly he wanted to gain more than her grudging acquiescence. He wanted her entirely on his side. She'd hitherto been immune to his charms, but perhaps he'd at last found a way to breach her wall of staid seriousness. He leaned toward her and said with a confidential air, "This book is not nearly as good as Alderson's New Photographic Methods and Applications."
He had been right in his guess, for she brightened immediately. "I have that book!"
"Well, then, you have no need of this one. The instructions for the wet plate process are faulty, and some crucial steps are not well enough described. However, I don't understand why you need either book. Without the materials to actually take photographs, what's the point?"
"I have every intention of buying my own equipment very soon, and building a darkroom too, when I have a home of my own."
"Is that so?" Now his interested was really piqued. "Does this mean you've found someone who will allow you to indulge in this hobby after you are married?"
She scooted away, putting a yard or so distance between them. "Marriage is not the only way to obtain a home. There is money in a trust that I shall receive on my twenty-sixth birthday. Then I shall set up housekeeping on my own."
"On your own!" Was this woman really planning to go against one of society's most stringent dictates? Perhaps there was more to her than met the eye. James found himself grinning in approval. "How delightfully scandalous."
She clutched the book closer and gave him a cold look. "I'll have a companion—Miss Parsons, my former governess. It will all be quite respectable."
"Oh, I see." Apparently this woman's rebellious streak only went so far. James found it hard to believe he was spending this lovely night chatting with a woman who was planning her spinsterhood with such zeal. She was so unlike her sister, whose aims lay in an entirely different direction. "Perhaps when Emily is married, you might live with her?"
Lucinda made a sound that was suspiciously close to a snort. "I have no desire to subject myself to that. She's bound to mismanage her home, and I shudder to think what living there will be like. I pity the man who marries her. Oh!" The red blotches on her face began to stand out again. "I shouldn't have said that. I'd hate for you to get the wrong idea about her."
James did not like the implication behind her words. He enjoyed flirting with Emily and indulging in the occasional stolen kiss, but that was the limit of his interest. "Why should it matter to me?"
"It's just that—I mean, well…"
James sighed. Lucinda's habit of stammering when embarrassed could be trying at times. At last she gave up and stared at James, unable to speak and clearly mortified about it.
"See here, Miss Cardington. There is nothing serious between Emily and me—"
"James! There you are!" Emily's high little voice pierced the night air as she slipped through the door. "Why did you duck out here? You had to have known I was coming for you—" She cut herself off when she saw her sister. The playful smile that had been lighting her features sank into a pout. "Lucinda! I never thought I'd find you on the terrace. Shouldn't you be inside, haranguing some Member of Parliament about a public works project or something?" Her eye lit upon the book in Lucinda's hand. "Don't tell me you've been reading! Papa will have a fit if he catches you!"
"As a matter of fact, this belongs to Mr. Simpson." Lucinda thrust the book at James with such force that it winded him as it hit his chest. "He was simply showing it to me."
"Really?" Emily's eyes narrowed as she studied James. "I didn't see you with that earlier."
James playfully tweaked her chin. "I desperately needed something to occupy my mind. I was pining away, waiting for you."
As a rule, Emily always fell hard for James's compliments. It didn't work this time, however. She turned her distrusting gaze back to her sister. "You still haven't answered my question. Why are you out here?"
"I've a perfect right to be here," Lucinda huffed. "I needed some air, that's all. You know the closeness of crowded ballrooms makes me lightheaded." She took Emily's arm and tugged her several feet away from James. "If I've prevented you from stealing into the garden with Mr. Simpson, I am glad for it," she said in a harsh whisper. "You know what Papa told you about such acts of impropriety."
"And you know what Papa told you about this photography nonsense," Emily retorted. "It would appear we both have something to answer for. Besides, you're the one who has just been caught in the shadows without a chaperone, not me."
The two sisters stared heatedly at each other. It was actually rather comical to watch them. James saw something flash across Emily's face that could only—absurd as it was—be described as jealousy. Why Emily should fear her spinster-like sister he could not imagine. He knew he ought to say something to defuse the tension, but he was too absorbed in watching them to try.
In the end, someone else interrupted the sibling feud. "Here he is," a jolly voice rang out. Bob Chapman and his fiancée spilled out onto the balcony, followed by two other couples. "We've been looking all over for you," Chapman said. "We need you to complete the set for this next dance." He slapped James on the back and winked at Emily. "Come on, then, you two. The music's about to start!"
James could see Emily's emotions warring between anger at having her clandestine meeting prevented and relief at leaving her disagreeable sister behind. It didn't take long for the latter sentiment to prevail. She pushed away from Lucinda and took hold of James's hand. "Yes, let's dance!"
James could see he wasn't going to get any private time with Emily after all. "It seems I am outnumbered," he said with a showy sigh of resignation. "Very well, I shall accept my fate. But only if Emily and I are allowed to start out as top couple. If we leave it to Hopkins, the set will fall hopelessly out of order before we're ten steps in."
Hopkins, a contentedly buffoonish sort, laughed heartily at this jab. "Too true, my good fellow."
For his part, James was glad to see the pert smile return to Emily's face. She had always been tagged as the "pretty one," but James observed that neither sister was very fetching when they were wearing angry frowns. Especially not Emily. She was like a perfect little china doll, and unless her smile was painted on just so, the whole effect was ruined. "Let's go!" she urged, tugging at James's hand.
No one spared a word, or even a glance, at Lucinda. Nor had she encouraged them to do so. She had taken several steps back and was now half-obscured by shadows. It appeared she was retreating to her usual spot away from the limelight. Or perhaps she feared repercussions for being caught reading at the ball. This he could not allow. Having now plenty of witnesses handy, James extended the book to Lucinda. "Miss Cardington, I have been reading this, but now that I have been called upon to dance I'm worried that it might get misplaced. Would you be so good as to return it to Lord Trefethen's library for me?"
A look of gratitude passed across Lucinda's face, and a hint of a smile. Both were quickly gone, however, to be replaced by the stoic expression she normally wore. "I shall be happy to return this for you, Mr. Simpson."
As she grasped the book, James tugged at it in order to pull her close enough to whisper in her ear, "I like it when you stand up for yourself. You should do it more often."
Her brown eyes opened wide and her mouth fell open to a tiny, delicate O. She closed it, swallowed, and said nothing.
James could feel Lucinda's gaze on his back as he led Emily into the ballroom. He'd been unaccountably disarmed by tonight's encounter. He wondered whether she would try to read more of the book before returning it. For the briefest of moments, he half-wished he could accompany her and point out another excellent photography book he'd seen in Lord Trefethen's library. But as he and Emily took their places on the dance floor, James decided to dismiss it from his mind. He was bound to see Lucinda at some future event, and he would be sure to tell her about it then.
Come along, Emily," Lady Cardington admonished. "We shall catch cold if we stand here dawdling."
"Mama's right," added Lucinda, giving her sister a nudge. She wanted nothing more than to get home. They were in the front hall of the Trefethens' home and had gathered their cloaks in preparation for leaving. But Emily kept fiddling with her ties, and Lucinda knew she was deliberately stalling. She was looking for James. By the time Lucinda had quietly returned Lord Trefethen's book to the library and made her way back to the ballroom, she saw that James and Emily were no longer dancing together. James had, in fact, been waltzing with Miss Shaw, and Emily was none too happy about it. Lucinda never could make sense of the silly rivalry between those two for James's affections. He'd then proceeded to spend the next hour or more dancing with a dozen different ladies. At the moment he was nowhere to be seen, and Lucinda did not even wish to guess at what he might be doing. Or with whom.
"I don't know why we should be in such a hurry," Emily said petulantly. "It's barely midnight."
Lord Cardington came back inside. "The coach is here, my girls. Let's go, or you will all turn into pumpkins."
Emily rolled her eyes. "It's the coach, not the people, who turn into pumpkins, Papa."
But her words were unheeded, as Lord and Lady Cardington were already halfway to the carriage. Lucinda took hold of Emily's arm. "Come on. You've thrown yourself at Mr. Simpson enough for one evening."
"At least I make the effort to find a beau," Emily sniffed. "I don't hide in the library with fat old men."
"You're right," Lucinda snapped, tugging her sister down the steps. "I don't go chasing after gentlemen. I prefer to keep my self-respect instead."
"What a cross creature you are," Emily returned. "I think it's because you know no one will have you."
Lucinda did not reply. She was too inured to her sister's biting comments by now. Instead, she gave Emily a final shove to get her into the carriage.
Once inside, Emily took the seat by the window facing the Trefethens' residence—still hoping, Lucinda did not doubt, for another glimpse of James Simpson. If so, she was immediately rewarded because James came bounding out the door and down the steps. Emily gave a little cry of delight and suddenly, without intending to, Lucinda found herself watching him, too. It was hard to resist, for he had a jaunty, carefree air that easily drew attention. He was tall and lean, but well proportioned, always moving with a light step and athletic grace.
Someone called his name, and he strolled over to a hackney that was parked in front of them. "Don't forget, Simpson," said the man who had called out to him from the carriage. "The Gypsy Cave, in an hour."
"I'll be there," James called cheerfully. "Order me a bottle of their best, cheapest wine, and be sure to tell Mirela to save me a place at her table."
"Oooh," Emily whispered excitedly to Lucinda. "Did you hear that? He's going to the Gypsy Cave."
In fact, Lucinda barely heard James's words. She was captivated by his blue eyes, which sparkled in the torchlight, just as they had done earlier when he'd found her outside. She'd always known James was a handsome man. So did Emily and every other woman in London who kept dangling after him. But Lucinda had never been carried away by such shallow things as outward appearance. Therefore she'd been baffled by her response to him tonight, the way his laughing eyes and teasing smile had so completely riveted her. Equally disturbing had been her inability to stop thinking about him for the rest of the evening. She'd concluded with some embarrassment that having a man's full attention—however briefly—had been unexpectedly gratifying. "I like it when you stand up for yourself," he had said. What did that mean, exactly? Lucinda gave herself a mental shake. He could not have been serious. He never was. It had been a joke and nothing more.
Emily poked her in the ribs.
"What?" Lucinda asked distractedly, too caught up in her own thoughts to use the more polite I beg your pardon. She tore her gaze away from James.
"He's meeting Mr. Chapman at the Gypsy Cave! That's the café in Cremorne Gardens where the gypsy ladies dance." Emily was still whispering so she wouldn't be overheard, although there was little danger of that. Their mother was half deaf, and both their parents had already begun dozing off. Emily's eyes danced with excitement. "I wish I were going."
"How could you even think such a thing? You know how disreputable Cremorne Gardens is after dark."
"Indeed I do!" Emily replied with relish.
Lord, give me strength, Lucinda thought.
- "Delamere reaches out to readers yearning for a lovely story that is sensitive yet passionate. The power of love, second chances and even the joy of the holiday season combine to create the perfect atmosphere for this charmer." on A LADY MOST LOVELY—RT Book Reviews
- "Fans of inspirational romance will appreciate subtle references to Tom's Christian faith and the lack of explicit sex scenes, and the undercurrent of attraction between Margaret and Tom is a powerful force that keeps the story moving." (on A LADY MOST LOVELY)—Publishers Weekly
- "...a wonderfully sweet, faith-inspired romance that I truly enjoyed."—Romantic Historical Lovers
"Engrossing and heartbreaking. An Heiress at Heart is poignant, profound and lovely."
—USA Today HEA blog
- On Sale
- Nov 25, 2014
- Page Count
- 416 pages