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About the author:
Quick-witted. Smart. Funny. Brave. Christina J Michaels refuses to live inside the box.
An award-winning professor of political science and women’s studies, Christina writes historical fiction with believable characters. Temporally, her work focuses on England's Elizabethan and Regency period, as well as the American Revolutionary War. She has two cats, a love of the color purple, and a clandestine identity as a mermaid.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Brenda was bored beyond reason. Lady Whitehall had sixty-three silver beads on the left sleeve of her dress, Madam Bartlet had twenty-seven glass rubies on her left slipper and Baroness Linder had forty-two golden flowers embroidered on the hem of her gown. Normally, Brenda walked around the gardens to escape such tedium, but Lady Donahue firmly blocked her first attempt at flight. Brenda decided she actively disliked Amelia. The countess was proof of why Alison needed to be reminded what fun and excitement was. Otherwise, she might end up a dry, crusty matron like Lady Donahue. That was a fate to be prevented at all costs.
Brenda started counting the pearls in Lady Whitehall’s hair – she was up to seventeen – when a maid approached her. “Pray pardon, miss, but Miss Brooke requests your company.”
Brenda restrained herself from tackling the maid in appreciation. “Of course.” She curtsied to the assembled group. “By your leave?” Lady Donahue gave her an absent nod and Brenda followed the maid over to a remote part of the yard with alacrity.
“Oh, Ali, I could kiss you.” Brenda rushed to her friend’s side and grabbed her hand with a smile. She could not help but notice Alison’s distress, but decided to see if she could cheer her friend up before discussing what upset her. “Do you know Madam Bartlet has twenty seven glass rubies on her left slipper and only twenty four on her right? Her cobbler must hate her!”
Alison gave Brenda a wan smile. “I am sorry I left you with them.”
“Oh, rubbish, it was fascinating. I heard all about Madam Bartlet’s middle son’s latest progress at Oxford and the scandal her of her eldest losing their fortune at the tables.” Brenda wrinkled her nose. “I do not know how that woman is so heavy. I do not think she stopped talking long enough to breathe, much less eat.”
A laugh involuntarily escaped Alison’s lips. “Oh, Brenda, whatever will I do with you?”
“Let me push Lady Donahue off something very steep?”
“Oh, please no, I fear I might be stuck with her!”
Brenda sat on the grass next to her friend’s pushchair. “You have decided to marry Lord Charmaine, then?”
“Duchess Castlemire gave me little choice.” She sighed, choosing to ignore Brenda sitting directly on the grass. Bigger problems were afoot. “I do not know what I am going to do about my father. He will, inevitably, refuse Charmaine’s suit.”
“Even if it means your social ruin?”
Alison nodded. “Yes. You know my Father.”
“He is rather determined.” Brenda considered. “You are of age. There is nothing he can do to stop the two of you from wedding.”
“He will withhold my inheritance. The will is written in such a way if I do not marry with his approval I will receive not a whit of it. That seems like plenty he can do.”
“Will Lord Charmaine care?”
“Brenda, I know nothing about this man. I believe I have only met him once.”
“Well, that will soon be twice.”
“What?” Alison looked surprised.
“A select group of gentlemen will be joining us during the House of Lord’s break. Lord Charmaine will be among them.” Apparently listening to endless hours of chatter had its uses, Brenda thought.
“I do not know if I am ready to meet him.” Alison was still reeling from all the recriminations Castlemire laid upon her. “I do not have a plan.”
Brenda smiled. “You do not need one, Alison. Just smile and be yourself. He cannot help but be charmed.”
“Yes, but I am not worried about charming him.” In a rush, Alison relayed the conversation with the duchess. Brenda’s disregard for the laws of polite society did not make her blind to the intricacies of the tons machinations. In fact, Alison thought to herself, Brenda was likely the smarter of the two of them. “So, you see, I am worried about how to best handle society.”
Brenda frowned. “I do not see.” Alison started to expound, but Brenda waved her to silence. “No, wait. Society views you as a horrid shrew for what you did to Lord Charmaine. In their eyes, you already did it. Now they expect you to keep being a horrible shrew, but, as long as Charmaine favors you, Castlemire seems to indicate they will accept you. But if you turn out to be a really nice person, they will accept you regardless. So, either way, it is the same result.”
“So why do not you take a risk and be yourself?”
“I am always myself, Brenda.” Alison sounded slightly vexed.
“No, you are not.” Brenda smiled at her friend, trying to take any sting out of her words. “You oft care more about what someone thinks, or more about what you should do than what you want to do. Now you have a chance to throw that all to the wind and be yourself.”
“Brenda, I like all of the stuff and nonsense you hate. I enjoy my pointed slippers. I know the rules of the fan, I enjoy the dances, and I even like gossip. I am good at the games of the ton and I am happy partaking in them. You make it sound like I am trapped in a world I do not love. Well, I do love it, and there is nothing to throw to the wind!”
“Perhaps.” Brenda did not seem convinced. “I am sure some of that is true. But sometimes it is not. For example, think about going to the play. What do you truly love to do? Watch the play. Society does not go to the play to watch the actors or the performance. Perhaps you should watch the play?”
“I…” Alison sighed. “If I do marry Robert, I will have to make him an excellent countess.”
“Viscountess,” Brenda corrected with a wave. “He is not an earl yet. Regardless, you could no more be a bad countess than you could be out of fashion.”
“Or be the center of a scandal?”
“Well, that is beside the point. Everyone has a bad day. Ali, you are beautiful, elegant, and genuinely nice. How could you make a bad viscountess? This is an absurd worry!”
“Castlemire told me I had to save Robert from the gossip saying he is a fool ‘or else.’”
Brenda hid a smile at her friend’s apprehensions. “The duchess is worried gossip might be right. She knows it is not, but you are a stranger to her. Worse, you are a stranger she is extending an umbrella of respectability over.” Brenda leaned in and took Alison’s hand. “I mean it, be you! Who could not fall madly in love with you?”
Alison smiled at her friend, starting to perk up. “You make me sound like Helen of Troy. I am really not all that irresistible.”
“Or improper.” Brenda smiled at her. “I suppose you are right about it being an unfair comparison. I bet Helen knew how to have fun.”