Born of Persuasion

Born of Persuasion

3.7 55
by Jessica Dotta
     
 

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The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan,

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Overview

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly. Tyndale House Publishers

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Rich with period detail and full of intrigue and deception. . . .Fans of Philippa Gregory and Sarah Dunant will fall in love with this arresting story.”
—Tasha Alexander, best-selling author of And Only to Deceive
Library Journal
09/15/2013
In 1838 England, 17-year-old Julia Elliston has lost everything: her home, her mother, and her future. An anonymous guardian plans to send her to Scotland to serve as a widow's companion unless Julia can find a husband quickly and secretly. Her plan to marry her childhood sweetheart backfires when she discovers Edward has joined the same ministry that had vilified her family on account of her father's atheism. Heartbroken, Julia accepts an offer from Lady Foxmore to find a husband, not realizing she has been drawn into a game with dire consequences, going back many years. But to survive, Julia must participate, even while everyone around her harbors secrets worth killing for. VERDICT This Victorian historical evokes a gothic atmosphere with its dark plots, brooding hero, and innocent heroine (Jane Eyre, anyone?). With crossover appeal for mainstream historical romance fans of Victoria Holt, Dotta's debut novel will have readers demanding book two immediately.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781414375557
Publisher:
Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date:
09/01/2013
Series:
Price of Privilege Series, #1
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
287,397
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

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BORN of Persuasion


By JESSICA DOTTA, Kathryn S. Olson

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Jessica Dotta
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4143-7555-7


CHAPTER 1

LATER, WHEN I ALLOWED MYSELF to confront the memories, to dwell on the particulars, I realized my arrival at Am Meer marked the beginning.

Not the mysterious letters that drained the life from Mama.

Not her suicide.

And not the two men arriving at dusk, stomping mud from their boots in the foyer, bearing ill tidings.

Nay—not even the disconcerting news that I had a guardian, one who intended to keep me sequestered.

For those happenings were not my story. I was sinless there. They were the end result of events set in motion long before I arrived at the cottage. I could no more have stopped their unfolding than I could have prevented my own birth.

Those of you who were alive that year might well remember the early frost of 1838. My arrival coincided with the hardship faced by the farmers that August. Though harvest hadn't quite begun, an overcast sky stretched over the rolling farmlands bringing a reminder of winter's cruel bite. How well I remember the coach jostling down the familiar lane, its wheels grinding through the familiar ruts. I felt no premonition of danger, only relief, sharp and undefiled. At Am Meer, home of my dearest childhood memories, I hoped to find that which I needed most—a respite between the past and my uncertain future.

The cottage stood beautiful as ever at the end of the pebbly drive. A thick, thatched roof covered grey stone walls with Breton blue shutters. Sleepy sunflowers nodded over amethyst larkspurs. Ivy and roses cambered over the sides of the house, rambling into holly bushes. For the first time in months, happiness swelled within my breast as I spied Mrs. Windham bustling about her herb garden.

Above her, Elizabeth pushed open wooden shutters and leaned over the planter boxes filled with begonias. Her reddish-blonde hair glinted in the sunlight as she watched the coach. Uncertainty passed over her features before she disappeared, leaving the window open.

There was scarce time to notice her dismay, much less interpret it, for the coach braked, swaying me forward. Without waiting for the coachman, I attempted escape and ended up clinging to the nickel-plated handle as I tripped upon layers of petticoats. I hastily wiped away the tears that wet my cheeks.

"Oh, Julia! Oh dear!" Mrs. Windham tottered down the stone pathway, holding scissors aloft. Beneath the crook of one elbow she clutched an oversized basket, and with her free hand, she clutched an apron full of clippings. Breathless, she reached over the wooden gate and unlatched it. Scatterings of rosemary and lavender fell about her feet, scenting the air. "Julia dear, what on earth? Tomorrow, tomorrow, not today. Depend upon you to come early. Oh, and I had such a lovely dinner of stewed pigeon planned, too. Now we shall have to eat rabbit pie and cold beef. Oh, it's all been ruined."

Talc filled my senses as she clutched me to her overlarge bosom. I shut my eyes and forced back tears. Too soon, she held me at arm's length and surveyed me. Wrinkles creased her forehead and her mouth pressed into a firm line. While I had never fulfilled her ideal of beauty—only Elizabeth, a younger version of herself, measured up in that regard—I knew why she frowned. Months of pacing empty rooms stagnant with grief had taken their toll on me.

Since Mama's death, I'd warded off callers, withstood Sarah's fears that our crime would be discovered, and endured endless hours with the parish vicar, who gobbled up a day's worth of food in one sitting as he lectured me on the danger of my eternal damnation.

"Shame on you, Elizabeth." Mrs. Windham twisted and looked over her shoulder as Elizabeth approached. "Hiding Julia's intentions to arrive today. I thought you had outgrown such pranks."

"Mama, surely you don't think I had an idea of this?" Elizabeth laced her fingers together.

I gripped Mrs. Windham's sleeve and silently entreated Elizabeth for news. Words were unnecessary. She knew the information I sought.

Her gaze, however, shifted downwards and focused on a clump of woundwort, which she bent to harvest.

"But, what on ...? Julia, where's your carriage?" Mrs. Windham pulled me close and glared at the coachman untying the cords which held my trunks, as if he were to blame for my humble arrival. "Mercy! Tell me you haven't travelled alone. And by coach! I cannot conceive it. Where is Sarah?"

I shook my head. A lump in my throat rendered me unable to speak. Earlier that week, my guardian had discharged the woman who'd first been Mama's nursemaid and then mine.

Elizabeth noticed and took my hand. "How selfish we are. Poor Julia must have travelled through the night. You must feel exhausted."

"Selfish?" Mrs. Windham's chest swelled. "I'll have you know that I instructed Hannah just today to air my best wedding linens for her room and—"

The driver approached, removing his hat, clearly expecting a tip. Color rose through my cheeks. Though I'd managed my fare yesterday, I had nothing left.

"Harry," Elizabeth called to the manservant who arrived to carry my trunks. "Run along and fetch a crown for the driver." Her eyes widened with questions she did not ask. "Come, dearest."


* * *

"I am quite vexed with you." Mrs. Windham placed a slice of lard cake on a plate. She eyed my dress hanging loosely over my frame, then added another sliver alongside a gooseberry tart. "Why did you not tell us your mother was ailing? Had I knowledge, I would have visited before she passed; indeed, I would have."

My hand faltered as I reached for the plate. While I'd known the topic of Mama's death was unavoidable, I had not expected it so soon.

"Mama." Elizabeth cast her mother a disapproving look over the rim of her teacup. "You can scarcely blame Julia for it."

"Blame Julia?" Mrs. Windham dabbed her eyes with the corner of her gardening apron. "What a notion, child." Then to me, "Did she linger in much pain? Did she send me remembrances? Did she call for me in her deep despair?"

Tightness gathered in my chest as I sought for an explanation, knowing full well the Windhams wouldn't be fooled into believing Mama had pined herself into an early grave over my father's death.

I placed the plate on my lap, then set about tearing the cake into bite-sized pieces. "She called for no one. The cholera took her quickly."

Elizabeth froze, midsip, as if detecting my lie. Mrs. Windham frowned, but I wasn't certain whether she sensed deception or simply disliked being robbed of the notion that Mama had died crying out for her.

Mrs. Windham turned toward the window, pressing her lace handkerchief against her mouth. "Well, if you're going to try to spare me, I am sure there is nothing I can do." Her voice trembled. "I have lost my dearest friend, but why should anyone consider me?"

A long silence ensued, during which Elizabeth frowned and I twisted my cup in its saucer. We both knew trying to start a new conversation would be useless until her mother had been properly indulged.

After a minute, Mrs. Windham's mouth puckered. "Humph. Well, do not think yourself cleared on all accounts. I am even more outraged you agreed to have this ... this guardian. I scarcely believed my own ears when I heard the tidings. Nothing, no, nothing, could have made me believe you would choose this person over me. Whatever are you thinking?"

I tore the cake into yet smaller pieces.

Elizabeth darted an apologetic look at me, wrapping her hands about her cup. "Mama, you can scarcely blame Julia for whom her parents selected as her guardian."

"What else am I to think? Especially when Lucy wrote me a mere month before her death begging me to care for Julia should this very thing happen. Well, all I can say is that Julia has certainly made it clear whom she prefers. Surely this person has no tie, no claim over you. I never heard of such an odd thing in all my life. Not give a name, indeed! And that man who came. That rude man! Is it so unreasonable to assume your guardian would have taken it into account that I have a daughter, and as such made allowances? Seen if I merit approval? Of all the insults." She snorted into her half-empty cup.

I shot Elizabeth a questioning look. She'd not written anything about my guardian sending someone to Am Meer. Instead of meeting my eyes, her gaze drifted to the open windows.

"I never met such a rude man as that Simon." Looking at my untouched food, Mrs. Windham fluttered her handkerchief at it. "Indeed, I wish we'd begun dining amongst higher spheres before I listed our acquaintances. That would have swept the smug look off that Simon's face."

Elizabeth let out a short sigh. "His name was Simmons, not Simon."

"I think I should remember better than you, missy. I tell you it was Simon, and I cannot imagine a more disdainful or trying butler."

"Butler?" I asked, more perplexed than ever. "Are you saying my guardian's butler came here?"

"He was no butler, trust me," Elizabeth said. "He dressed the part of a gentleman. I think he was a solicitor."

"You can hardly expect a butler to wear his black tie when travelling. Take my word, the man is a servant, one who holds much too high an opinion of himself."

"But, Mama, think upon it. What sort of person sends a servant to make those types of inquiries? Who would run the household during his absence?"

"Are you never to tell me of what you are speaking?" I finally said. "What does this man and his lists of acquaintances have to do with my guardian?"

Elizabeth gave her mother a look that plainly asked if she was satisfied now that I was upset. "Well, we were not supposed to mention the visit." She glared a second longer at her mother. "Three months ago he arrived, stating he'd come to make certain Mama was a suitable chaperone for a visit."

"Very rude, he was, too. I should not have thought there was such a rude man in all of England."

Elizabeth took a sharp, annoyed intake of breath. "He gathered the names of all our acquaintances—"

"He dared to ask what we required as compensation for keeping you here for a month or two. The very idea, expecting to be reimbursed for keeping Lucy's child! He made it sound as though you were living on—" Mrs. Windham stopped suddenly and eyed the patch on my threadbare dress. The tinkling of the wind chimes was the only sound filling the space for a half minute.

"I heard nothing about this visit," I said, forcing an even tone. "Pray, did he happen to mention the name of my guardian?"

"No, indeed. This is all very strange." Mrs. Windham spooned more sugar into her tea. "I think your guardian must be very ill-mannered. What sense can there be in keeping one's identity hidden, I ask?"

She paused, eyeing me for all she was worth. But I had no suitable answer. I no longer even wanted to know about the man who'd been sent here. His visit only increased my unease, making it harder for me to find the nerve to do what I must. If I succeeded in accomplishing my goal, then this Simon or Simmons person mattered little.

A soft knock on the door interrupted us.

"Yes?" Mrs. Windham sank back into her chair, glaring. "What now?"

"I beg pardon." Their stout housekeeper managed to open the door and curtsy at the same time. "Only the room's ready, and Miss Lizbeth asked me to come fetch her."

"Thank you, Hannah." With undisguised relief, Elizabeth stood. "Mama, poor Julia must be exhausted. Surely you will excuse her."

Mrs. Windham waved me away with her handkerchief. "I have no wish to talk further regardless, what with her upsetting the household. My poor heart is pounding after such a distasteful tea. When you wake, I insist you write your guardian. Tell him this whole affair upsets my digestion, and that you wish to be transferred into my care. For I cannot conceive he wishes such vexations upon me. And—"

"What shall we do about a lady's maid for Julia?" Elizabeth had the mercy to interrupt. "Betsy scarcely has time in the mornings to arrange our toilette, much less someone else's. What about that girl Nancy?"

"Yes, yes, anyone will do," agreed Mrs. Windham, picking up her teacup. "I am quite certain Julia shall not mind."


* * *

That night, I startled from my dreams to the sound of rain slashing against the window. I blinked at the tall furniture casting long shadows over the bed, trying to reorient myself. Then recalling I was safe at Am Meer, I turned over.

I'd slept long past the hour of dinner, evidenced by the plate of food next to my bedside. My stomach soured as I evaluated its contents. The hare had dried and shrunken from the bone. Granules of fat clung to the potatoes, and what looked like a petrified lump of dough served for bread.

I wrinkled my nose, sliding from the crumpled bed linens. My nightgown and hair were damp from perspiration, so I took up the heavy, woollen shawl draped over the end of the bed.

The dreams were always the same—wraithlike visions of Mama, tortured and frenzied in the netherworld, trying to warn me from across a vast chasm.

I sank before the expiring coals and rested my head against the cool fireplace tiles. Though I never heard what Mama was trying to tell me, I didn't need to. I tightened my shawl recalling my last visit to Am Meer, three years previous.

And how very different that trip was.

Mama had been with me, head high and erect. I suffered no anxiety for my future then, no fears or rejection. Instead, I felt certain of what was to come. I'd begun wearing stays, which decreased my waist size, enhancing my femininity. My hair was swept up and coiled in glossy, thick locks. At fourteen, I was old enough to be wed. Certainly old enough to enter a betrothal, which had already been promised me when I reached this age.

Poor Mama never suspected my exhilaration had little to do with Am Meer. How placidly she watched the sheep grazing over the windswept hills, her eyes seemingly fixed, her thoughts spreading far from me.

Our carriage had scarcely arrived before Elizabeth tore from the cottage and sprinted down the flagstone path. Crimson ribbons freed themselves from her hair as she ran.

"Julia! Julia! Oh, Julia!" She grabbed my hands, knocking me off balance, then swung me around and back to my place. Excitement flushed her cheeks as she bounced up and down on her toes. "Oh, you'll never guess. You cannot guess!"

With a slight smile, Mama shook the dust from her skirts.

My heart pounded, for I knew by the gleam in Elizabeth's eyes her news had to do with our favorite topic—Lord Auburn's sons. I gave her a slight, panicked shake of my head, which she failed to note.

"Edward ... learned of your arrival." She paused to catch her breath, and as she did, she grinned—a grin only achieved by youth unaware of how quickly hopes can be blighted.

With a look of horror, Mama froze. Until that moment, I'd taken great pains to keep her from suspecting my attachment to Edward, the younger son. Our lazy afternoons had been kept far from prying eyes in leafy, cool coppices. The hours had been private ones, dwindled away chatting, safe within haystacks, or with our bare feet dipped in the icy waters of gushing brooks.

Elizabeth pumped my hands to bring my attention back to her. "Edward postponed a visit to his aunt—and she's a viscountess, too—simply refused to go, to make certain he saw you. He said to tell you he had something important to discuss." Her voice rose with excitement as she said the last line. "Had you seen the look on his face, there can be no doubt, none whatsoever, what he intends to ask. If we go now, right now, I bet we can find both Henry and Edward in the village."

Doubtless, Elizabeth would have riven me from Am Meer and had me flying down the lane had not Mama's hands clutched my shoulders.

"My word," she said, sounding as if she'd been struck and could scarcely breathe.

The weight of my betrayal increased as I drew my eyes up to her, but she was not looking at me. Her face, emptied of color, turned toward Mrs. Windham. Though Mama kept her voice pleasing, an intense shudder rippled through her arms as she tightened her grip on me. "Edith, surely you knew nothing of this. The girls are far too old for such antics. There might be rumors, misunderstandings."

I could scarcely draw breath. My only hope lay with Mrs. Windham, which did not promise much. Poor Mrs. Windham. At that time, her highest ambition was to keep Elizabeth's name linked with the Auburns'. She looked nearly as dismayed as I felt.

"Well, upon my word, Lucy," was all she managed at first, tottering to join us. "Surely no one would mistake children ..." Ill-advisedly, she gestured to Elizabeth, whose panting chest filled out her dress rather well. Mrs. Windham must have thought so too, for she frowned and quickly turned in my direction. Her eyes darted up and down my flat bodice before fluttering the lace she clutched in her hand toward me. "They are mere children. Who could possibly mistake their capers for more than that?"

"Mr. Henry Auburn is nineteen now, is he not?" Mama's voice was steel.

Elizabeth, impatient to be off, rolled her eyes. Mama had never stood in her way; therefore she could not perceive the storm gathering above us.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from BORN of Persuasion by JESSICA DOTTA, Kathryn S. Olson. Copyright © 2013 Jessica Dotta. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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