What A Lady Wants
By Victoria Alexander
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2007 Victoria Alexander
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780060882631
What a lady really wants is a man who will make every day an adventure.
Lady Felicity Melville
"You should know, before I go any further, that this is contrary to everything I have ever believed in, be that God or science or nature itself." Lady Felicity Melville braced her hands on the stone balustrade of the tiny balcony off her bedchamber and stared up into the night sky. "Still, desperate times and all that. Not that I am precisely desperate, mind you, although I will admit that when one reaches the age of three-and-twenty and is still unwed, desperation begins to nip at one's heels like an ill-mannered spaniel.
"I'm really quite sensible, you know. I don't believe in superstitious nonsense; I never have." She straightened and crossed her arms over her chest. "Fairies, elves, spells, those sorts of things. It's all absurd, and under other circumstances, I would never think of placing my future, my fate, on the ridiculous notion of wishing upon a star."
Felicity stared at the star she had selected for the aforementioned ridiculous notion. Certainly, if this had even the vaguest possibility of working, it would require the perfect star. Not one that was overly bright. Obviously a too bright star would attract no end of attention and, therefore, no end of wishes, and would be--Felicity cringed atthe absurdity of the thought--rather used up, as it were. On the other hand, a star that was scarcely noticeable might not have the strength needed for a wish of this magnitude.
She had resisted the urge to use her telescope, positioned as always in her room directly behind the open balcony doors, to select a star. It didn't seem quite in the proper spirit to use the telescope for this purpose, although the spyglass that she'd discovered as a child in her father's desk, the very instrument that had begun her study of the stars, might be acceptable. The spyglass had apparently once been used by a sea captain or sailor or perhaps even a pirate, something of that nature, and therefore carried a sense of romance that might suit this endeavor. Even now, the instrument was within reach on the table beside the doors to the balcony. Still, this wasn't science, and science should have nothing to do with it. This was magic or perhaps faith or even--she grimaced--desperation.
"I should perhaps explain the situation before we continue. I am, well, the last of my kind." Felicity sighed in an overly dramatic manner. But then this did seem to call for an excess of drama. "Who would have imagined that I would be the last among those girls I shared my first season with to remain unmarried? If I had been unkind enough to have wagered--although I would never have done such a thing, but if I had--I would have placed my money on Mary St. James."
Mary was a quiet, unassuming girl with an unexceptional appearance and a dowry to match. But Mary had snared the heir to a dukedom--a distant heir but an heir nonetheless--when their first season had barely begun. Now she had two children and a third on the way.
Felicity shook her head. "What on earth happened to the years between then and now? This will be my sixth season." She thought for a moment. "No, my fifth, I missed last year. Grand tour, you know. Quite lovely, really. And I am ever so much more cultured and polished now." She wrinkled her nose. "Not that I expect it to make much difference."
Still, she had noticed an increase in attention from the gentlemen present at the handful of social events she had attended thus far this season. Perhaps the polish acquired in travel did indeed matter. She certainly felt more assured and confident than she had in the past. And her Italian was much improved as well.
Felicity rested her back against the doorjamb. "Eugenia says"--she glanced at the star--"Eugenia Went-whistle, or rather Lady Kilbourne now, my dearest friend in the world, says my expectations are entirely too high. And if I truly wish to marry--and have no doubt of that, I do wish to marry--I shall lower my standards. I will concede her point, but I really don't think I am particularly difficult to please."
The star twinkled down at her in silent disbelief.
"I admit that I have met any number of pleasant enough gentlemen who would serve adequately in the position of husband, but regardless of title or wealth or appearance, none has ever struck me as anything other than ordinary and really rather dull. Even when, on occasion, I have allowed one to steal a kiss"--she glanced at the star apologetically--"which one would have thought would have been exciting by the very nature of the illicitness of the act itself, it was never the least bit exciting, nor was it particularly interesting."
Worse yet, when she had looked into the eyes of these pleasant enough but unexceptional prospective husbands, she saw nothing but years ahead of a pleasant enough but unexceptional existence. Precisely like the unexciting, staid, and dull life that oddly enough seemed to well suit her parents.
"Sometimes I wonder if I am truly their child," she said ruefully. "If perhaps explorers or adventurers or at the very least dreamers deposited me as an infant on their doorstep. Not that I don't love them with my whole heart," she said quickly. "They're quite wonderful, all in all. Why, they've never pressured me to marry, whereas Eugenia's parents were quite beside themselves at the thought of having a spinster daughter on their hands for the rest of her days. So I am extremely fortunate. Still, they are content with their lot in life." She blew a long breath. "Their terribly ordinary, eminently forgettable, and not the tiniest bit exciting lot in life." It was a lot Felicity saw herself heading directly toward. Continues...
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