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By Jess Michaels
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Jess Michaels
All right reserved.
Three years later
"Mama," Miranda Albright said with a sigh as she watched her mother hold up yet another silken gown to her younger sister Penelope. "Honestly, you should not have purchased these things without speaking to me first!"
Dorthea Albright turned her rotund form on her eldest daughter with a harsh frown. "This is my home, Miranda! I do not ask my children for permission for anything I do."
Miranda shut her eyes and counted to ten in her head very slowly. The hesitation wasn't nearly enough to keep her anger and frustration in check. Still, she somehow managed to maintain a calm tone when she replied.
"But, Mama, the cost of all these things!" she said through tightly gritted teeth as she motioned to the pile of fabric and hats and . . . were those jewels stacked on the settee? "I have been managing the finances for six months and I know better what can fit into our budget and what cannot."
Her mother snorted as her eyes rolled heavenward. "You know better. Ha! You know how to keep us in rags."
Miranda gripped fists at her sides. "If you insist upon living beyond our means, at the very least speak to me so I can prepare for the additional cost. And perhaps togetherwe can find ways to be more frugal. Our debts—"
Her mother held up a hand and waved off Miranda's words. "You would be better served by finding a rich husband to solve our financial problems than to spend all your time fussing over ledgers! When your father was alive, he managed to give us all we wanted and needed and more! Why should that change simply because he has left this world?"
Her mother sniffled, and despite Miranda's frustration, she felt a pang of empathy for the feelings etched across Dorthea's lined face. Whatever her father's faults, their family all loved and missed him terribly.
Penelope shot Miranda a brief, understanding look before she placed a hand on their mother's arm. "Mama, you know Miranda is only looking out for us all. And I do not need three green gowns. Perhaps if we return two of them—"
"Green suits your eyes the best," her mother interrupted. "They make it less obvious that they are too close together." Miranda flinched. Good Lord, their mother had no tact. She'd spent a lifetime being picked apart. She could hardly stand to see that well-intentioned venom being turned on her sister.
"Penelope's eyes are perfectly spaced!"
Her mother glared at her. "She will need all the gowns when her Season begins. I won't have anyone saying my daughters are poorly dressed! That is the final word on the matter."
Dorthea gathered up the gowns and grasped Penelope's hand, shooting Miranda a glare before she swept out of the room with all the pomp and circumstance of a queen.
Miranda let out a moan as the parlor door shut behind them. If her mother was queen, it was over a shabby kingdom, indeed. Their father may have given them all they "wanted, needed, and more," but it had been at the expense of their financial stability. His gambling, coupled with a lifetime of poor investments and lavish living, had reduced their coffers to almost nothing. The upkeep of the house alone was putting them at the edge of ruin.
To make matters worse, as the third son of a not particularly wealthy Marquis, her father had no land to make up for their losses. All he had were bad habits, debts, and kind smiles.
"God rest his soul," Miranda murmured as she looked at the line of ciphers a second time. Nothing had changed. She rested her head against the desk edge with a sigh.
What the hell were they going to do?
"Miranda?" came a voice from the settee beside the window.
Miranda jolted up straight in surprise. Her middle sister, Beatrice, was staring at her, arms folded. She'd almost forgotten the girl was in the room. A rare occurrence, since the spoilt child rarely allowed herself to be anything but the center of attention.
"What is it, Beatrice?" Miranda asked on another sigh.
"You cannot deny us Seasons!" Beatrice declared, her slippered foot beginning to tap beneath the hem of her extravagant morning gown. "Just because you are determined to be a spinster doesn't mean the rest of us should be forced to follow in your footsteps."
Miranda flinched. "I can hardly be considered a spinster at twenty, Beatrice. And your Season will not happen for at least another year, so I wouldn't concern yourself yet."
"Ha!" Beatrice moved toward her in three long steps. "How can I not concern myself? You are already denying Penelope gowns! If you get your way, I will neither be fashionable nor desirable by the time I step into Society!"
Miranda opened her mouth to speak, but Beatrice extended a finger into her face and waggled it.
"And a spinster is made by her actions, not her age," Beatrice snapped. "You could have married a dozen wealthy men—"
"It was hardly a dozen," Miranda muttered.
Her sister continued, unhindered by the interruption, "—and saved us from this trial in the first place, but you refused. You don't want to be happy!" Beatrice's lip began to quiver and her blue eyes filled with tears. "And you refuse to let any of the rest of us be happy, either!"
Miranda sighed as her sister gathered up her skirts and flew from the room, slamming the door behind her with a jarring bang. If Beatrice didn't do the very same thing every other day, Miranda might have been moved, but today she was too tired to play her sister's childish games.
She stared at the financial figures again. God, by the time Bea came out, they might not have enough money for food, let alone gowns.
The door clicked and it took everything in Miranda not to set her head back on the desk and sob. She couldn't take one more tantrum. She simply could not.
Excerpted from Everything Forbidden by Jess Michaels Copyright © 2007 by Jess Michaels. Excerpted by permission.
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