In April, authors Nancy Kelley, Kimberly Truesdale, and I challenged each other to write in a genre that we weren’t comfortable with. For me, that’s straight historical. Because I was working so intensely on Atone I was only able to write what amounts to the first chapter of this story idea. It’s set in the Regency and is a bit like my short story In Her Service except without the frog or the magic.
Here is the first chapter for your reading pleasure. Please keep in mind that this is a rough draft. I’d love to know what you think!
A Little Bit of Regency – April Challenge Project
Lady Augusta Sinclair was bored.
Most young ladies of her acquaintance would be shocked that she should find herself bored in the middle of Lady Chissop’s grand fete. But then, reflected Augusta, most young ladies of her acquaintance were insipid ninny hammers who would be hard pressed to string together two complete sentence concerning subjects other than dancing, fashion, or the latest on-dit.
If her fellow debutantes every hit upon a morsel of truth in their gossip it was completely unintentional. They only repeated what they’d heard their mothers say. Except for having extensive knowledge about every eligible bachelor’s inheritance, prospects, and current financial standings, the Marriage Mart mothers had proven to be woefully uninformed. Her own mother had warned her forcefully before they’d come to town that debutantes and their mother’s alike, and most especially eligible gentleman – would not approve of Augusta correcting their misperceptions about their fellow members of the ton – or, God forbid, having Augusta point out a bit of information about themselves that they’d endeavored to keep a secret.
Augusta had fought against rolling her eyes and had merely answered with a humble, “yes, mother.” She’d learned the lesson that no one – except for her father who occasionally asked what her thoughts on some bit of news or her impression of this or that member of the House of Lords – was interested in her thoughts about pretty much anything. The fact was, she saw things other people didn’t. Most likely because she was almost always bored. If she could have sufficiently occupied her mind she might not have noticed that Lady Worthington left her hand for just a bit too long on Lord Drebble’s sleeve, or that Miss Fredericks had quietly snuck back into the ballroom with her hair in a completely different style than it had been done in before after an absence of no less than fifteen minutes.
It’s not that Augusta cared one twig for either Lady Worthington or Miss Fredericks. She might be able to hide her brain – or at least keep quiet about it – but she could not quite manage to turn it off. And in spite of involving a series of intricate steps, this dance was not sufficiently occupying her mind. Nor was the insipid blather of Mr. Thornberry. Augusta made a valiant attempt to keep from yawning as Mr. Thornberry again mentioned the new waistcoat he was expecting any day now from his tailor. Why in heavens the man thought she’d be interested she had no idea.
She let her eyes drift away from Mr. Thornberry’s artfully tousled dark curls. Her mother gave her an encouraging smile and nod from where she stood off to the side with a few other matrons. Augusta quickly directed her gaze in the opposite direction, no reason to give her mother false hope that she’d be making any effort to secure Mr. Thornberry’s affection and five thousand a year. Not that the money mattered, Augusta’s own dowry was quite sufficient. In fact, she could likely aim much higher than Mr. Thornberry, but for some reason that Augusta could not discern the man was considered quite a catch.
“He is only a younger brother, but those eyes! And those curls! They make me quite breathless!” Abigail Darling had confided once to Augusta. “Of course, he also has the best sense in fashion! How lovely would it be to marry a man who understood one’s need to keep up with the latest trends!”
Augusta had been exceedingly underwhelmed by both the eyes and the curls, but rather overwhelmed by Abigail’s excessive use of exclamation points. “You could almost see them,” she had declared to her mother later, “as clearly as if they’d appeared mid-air and floated over her vacant blonde head as as gushed over Mr. Thornberry.”
“The man is considered to be very fashionable,” Lady Sinclair had replied.
“Miss Darling and her exclamation points are most welcome to him.”
Augusta had not changed her stance on Mr. Thornberry one bit. Of course, her mother had no way of knowing that Augusta’s heart was already engaged to another man – an entirely inappropriate man. Perhaps, Augusta admitted to herself, entirely inappropriate might be an overstatement. Society would assuredly have no objections to the match. They were both from good families – in fact, their families were close friends. They were both of age. Both smart, capable people…not the society cared about the brain inside Augusta’s head.
But he did.
Or he had.
She wasn’t sure if he still did as she hadn’t seen him for over two years.
The match was entirely inappropriate because only her heart was engaged. In fact, she was quite sure that he thought of her as nothing more than his best friend’s little sister.
If she was like Abigail Darling, Augusta would have found the whole thing tragic and indulged in all of the melodramatics of a broken heart…possibly eaten twice her weight in chocolate and cream puffs. But she was not like Abigail. She knew exactly why Weston Braddock was not interested in her.
Firstly, he had known her since she was a baby and in his mind she was most likely still a baby. Or possible frozen somewhere between the overly curious child with dark braids that followed him and her older brother Paul around asking millions of questions and frequently getting them into trouble when she reported their doings to mother and the awkward, coltish, and still overly curious girl of seventeen that he had last seen.
Secondly, he might appreciate her quick wit, but when it came to love, he preferred empty headed blondes like Abigail Darling.
Facts were facts and Augusta was very good at facing them. She was never going to be empty-headed or blonde, and therefore Weston Braddock was never going to be interested in her. So while she may love him, she wasn’t going to waste time mourning over the plain as day truth that he would never love her. However, she also wasn’t going to do something as completely muffin-headed as become engaged to a man who’s ultimate concern in life was a new waistcoat.
Augusta’s roving eye fell on the large french doors at the end of the ballroom. If only she could escape the inane Mr. Thornberry and make her way out into the cool night air for five minutes – just five minutes – to herself. Perhaps then she’d feel up to dancing with whatever duplicate of him was next on her dance card. Of course, mother would faint dead away if she found out that Augusta had sneaked off – alone – again. That is why mother must never find out, thought Augusta with a quirk of her full lips. Luckily she could be very stealthy when she put her mind to it. She gave one last longing look at the double doors, and then turned a brilliant smile to Mr. Thornberry as she began plotting her escape.
Weston Braddock was annoyed.
He glared at the back of Catherine Warwick’s head for a moment indulging in his bad temper. She turned back to face him with a coquettish smile and a wicked gleam in her slanted green eyes and he arranged his features into a more suitably interested seeming leer.
One of the primary reasons he had decided to join ______’s intelligence venture after leaving the Home Office was because he’d hoped to avoid swimming in the shallow pool of the endless social events the ton so enjoyed. The same events his grandfather had been pressing him to start attending since he’d returned from the Continent. Weston found society life as frustrating as his grandfather and father had found it fascinating. The parties, the theater….the married women and widows who moved like predators through the crowd, the men – both married and otherwise, who’s lives were consumed with drinking, whoring, and gambling…or worse, politics. They were all interchangeable in Weston’s mind. And if one got caught up too much in said drinking, whoring, gambling, or politics, one could fine oneself stripped of all dignity, humanity, and a hefty chunk of the family fortune as Weston’s father had discovered twenty years before.
Weston ground his teeth together and banished all thoughts of his father. Mrs. Warwick tapped her fan against his jaw while making a tsking sound. “Really, Weston, you look quite fierce.”
“I was just wishing we had less of an audience.” He gave her a lazy grin. Women seemed to love when he smiled at them like that. Mrs. Warwick seemed to approve of it as well. She tittered and waved her fan in the air. Weston considered ducking out of it’s way as it swung a bit too close to his nose for comfort, but he supposed that would ruin the illusion.
“Lady Chissop has quite a crush on her hands. I am quite overheated in this ballroom, the air is oppressive.” Mrs. Warwick switched from waving her fan in Weston’s face to pretending to fan her own. She didn’t look overheated at all, in fact, he would bet that amount of bared skin would leave her feeling chilled even in the warmth of the ballroom.
“Would you care for a stroll on the patio?”
Mrs. Warwick tittered again. Weston was quite certain if she didn’t stop soon he might crack a molar. He was surprised she couldn’t hear the renewed grinding of his teeth over her patently fake laugh. “Well, as long as it is only a stroll you have in mind…” she trailed off with an eyebrow raised in such a manner that suggested if a stroll was the only thing he had in mind she’d be declining.
“Of course.” He graced her with the lazy smile once more. “I always endeavor to be careful with a lady’s…” he imitated her eyebrow raise, “reputation.”
“Oh, Weston,” she thwacked him on the arm with her fan. Weston briefly contemplated relieving her of it permanently.
“You are such a flirt.”
He took her arm and tucked it firmly in his, hoping that would reduce any further maneuvers with the fan, and led her through the crowded ballroom toward the large double french doors that opened out onto patio. He nodded to a few people that he knew, stopping to talk to no one. They might ask awkward questions about his time on the Continent and why he was at Lady Chissop’s fete but had yet to attend any other events, or God forbid, they might inquire after his grandfather and Weston would be forced to lie or admit he had been avoiding the old codger since he’d come to London.
And that he’d been avoiding joining society since he’d returned as well. Yet here he was, attempting to arrange an assignation with a certain widow. It was as if his entire career in the army and with the Home Office had been magically erased and he was living the very life he dreaded.
He ushered Mrs. Warwick out onto the patio and away from the light spilling out through the door.
“I don’t believe there is anyone-“ before he could even finish the statement Mrs. Warwick had pressed her ample bosom to him, twined her arms around his neck and planted her lips on his.
“Mmmph-” he said. He wasn’t sure what it is he was actually trying to articulate. He’d known Mrs. Warwick was a quick worker, but this had surprised even him. She meant business if the thrusting of her tongue against his was any indication.
Weston loved his country, he loved his job, but he was damned if an aggressive widow was going to have her way with him on Mrs. Chissop’s back patio merely because his boss was convinced she had something to do with the recent string of thefts of important papers and other valuable items.
As her hand left the back of his neck and reached for the front of his breeches Weston took a decisive step backward, breaking the kiss. “We do not want to be gone too long from the dance,” he puffed out.
“Then you’d best hurry,” Mrs. Warwick flashed him a wicked grin reaching back out for him.
“My dear Catherine,” he let his gaze wander over her now even more exposed décolletage. “I don’t believe in hurrying when it comes to enjoying a beautiful woman. Besides, the stone is cold, we would be much more comfortable in your bed.”
“I’m sure a big, strong soldier like yourself would be able to make do against such cold…hard…” she reached for his breeches again and he took a small step back, “stone.”
“I’m sure I could,” he returned praying the note of dryness was merely in his head and not his voice. “But I’d rather a delicate flower like yourself be spared the discomfort.”
“Then you must come home with me. I’ll have my carriage brought around. I promise you that you shan’t regret it.”
“I’m afraid I cannot this evening. I’ve promised to keep an appointment with my grandfather…The earl,” he added helpfully. Mrs. Warwick was nothing if not fascinated by nobility.
“That is too bad.” She pouted. “You must come to my home tomorrow for dinner….and dessert.” She trailed a finger down his suit jacket. Weston caught her hand as it trailed lower and lifted to his mouth for a kiss.
“I cannot wait. But for now, you must return before any of your admirers miss you, and I must to my uncle.”
She tittered once more and then reluctantly turned to go back into the ballroom. “Until tomorrow then.” She waved her fan at him and he lifted a hand in salute.
As soon as Mrs. Warwick had disappeared back through the french doors Weston ran his hand through his dark blond hair in frustration. He wondered if the lingering scent of her cloying perfume would wash off. At least they would have access to her house tomorrow – and while he wined and dined her he would be able to slip a little something extra into her wine glass and search her private apartments unhindered. He probably should feel bad about drugging a woman, but she’d whacked him one too many times with her infernal fan for him to feel much compunction. Plus, it was entirely possible that she was not only a thief but a traitor.
“Catherine Warwick does not fit your usual type.” The voice was dry, matter-of-fact, and most startlingly – feminine. It was also completely unexpected. Weston would have sworn that he and Mrs. Warwick were alone on the patio. He turned around slowly.
There was a young woman leaning against one of the white columns, slender arms crossed. She looked a bit like a grecian goddess in a pale dress that shimmered almost silver in the moonlight. Dark, almost black, curls dripping artfully down to caress her slender neck. Not a goddess, more like a fairy, Weston thought as he took in her small, pert nose and the scattering of freckles across the bridge. She certainly looks fae, and apparently can appear out of thin air…
And then his mind stuttered to a halt as she fixed him with a piercing stare. Her eyes were an unearthly shade of light blue, almost too big for her face, and fringed with dark lashes. They looked as sharp as steel. And he knew the mind behind them was.
“Gus?” he asked in disbelief.