Miss Harriet Peabody dreams of the day she can open up a shop selling refashioned gowns to independent working women like herself. Unfortunately, when an errand for her millinery shop job goes sadly awry due to a difficult customer, she finds herself out of an income.Mr. Oliver Addleshaw is on the verge of his biggest business deal yet when he learns his potential partner prefers to deal with men who are settled down and wed. When Oliver witnesses his ex not-quite-fiance cause the hapless Harriet to lose her job, he tries to make it up to her by enlisting her help in making a good impression on his business partner.Harriet quickly finds her love of fashion can't make her fashionable. She'll never truly fit into Oliver's world, but just as she's ready to call off the fake relationship, fancy dinners, and elegant balls, a threat from her past forces both Oliver and Harriet to discover that love can come in the most surprising packages.
About the Author
Jen Turano, author of five books, is a graduate of the University of Akron with a degree in clothing and textiles. She is a member of ACFW and lives in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. Visit her website at www.jenturano.com.
Read an Excerpt
After a Fashion
By Jen Turano
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2015 Jennifer L. Turano
All rights reserved.
New York City, 1882
Miss Peabody, I do so hate to interrupt your work, but an urgent message has just arrived that requires immediate attention. Would you join me for a moment so we may speak privately?"
Setting aside the feather she'd been about to attach to a delightful monstrosity of a hat, Harriet Peabody rose to her feet and hurried after her employer, Mrs. Fienman, who'd disappeared through the office door. Realizing that what Mrs. Fienman needed to disclose was unlikely to be of a pleasant nature, Harriet stepped into the office and pulled the door firmly shut. After dodging numerous hats lying about the floor, she stopped in front of the desk and resisted the urge to fidget when Mrs. Fienman simply stared at her.
"Would you like a cup of tea, dear?" Mrs. Fienman finally asked, causing sweat to immediately bead Harriet's forehead.
Mrs. Fienman had never offered her tea, not once in all the time she'd worked for the lady
"Thank you, but I'm not actually thirsty," she managed to get out of a mouth that had turned remarkably dry.
"I insist." Mrs. Fienman nodded toward a tea set.
"I'd love some tea." Harriet moved to the teapot and poured out a cup, wincing when droplets of tea splashed onto the table, a result no doubt of hands that had taken to trembling. Brushing the droplets aside with a corner of her sleeve, she picked up the cup, turned, and noticed the odd circumstance of Mrs. Fienman thumbing through a copy of the latest fashion magazine. She cleared her throat. "The urgent message, Mrs. Fienman?"
"Ah, yes, quite right." Mrs. Fienman stopped thumbing and nodded to a chair stacked high with hats. "Have a seat."
Harriet edged gingerly down on the very front of the chair, desperately hoping that no hats were being squashed by the fashionable bustle attached to her backside. It truly was unfortunate she had not yet perfected the collapsible bustle she'd been attempting to create. Such a bustle would have come in remarkably handy at that particular moment.
"Now then," Mrs. Fienman began, "I need you to make a delivery for me."
Pausing with the teacup halfway to her lips, Harriet frowned. "A delivery?"
"Indeed, and I must state most emphatically that it's a very important delivery, one that I wouldn't trust to just anyone."
Setting the cup aside, Harriet rose to her feet, taking a brief second to collect her thoughts before she dared speak. "I do hope you won't take offense at this, Mrs. Fienman, but I wouldn't be comfortable delivering anything of a ... shall we say, shady nature."
Mrs. Fienman's jowls began to quiver, she turned an interesting shade of purple, and then, to Harriet's amazement, the lady gave a loud hoot of laughter. Mrs. Fienman chortled for a full minute before she finally gave a last hiccup of amusement and motioned Harriet back to the chair. "How amusing to learn you find me capable of 'shady' dealings, Miss Peabody, but I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth." She tapped a finger against one of her many chins. "Although, I have often thought that if I did possess a mysterious attitude—which again, I don't—it might be helpful for drumming up business."
Unable to summon up a suitable response to that peculiar remark, Harriet moved back to the chair, sat down, and immediately sucked in a sharp breath when she heard an ominous crunch. Knowing without a doubt she was sitting on top of what had to be a ruined hat, she couldn't help wonder how much Mrs. Fienman was going to insist she hand over to compensate for the damage done. Harriet did have a few extra dollars at her disposal, but they had been painstakingly saved with the intent of splurging on a lovely birthday dinner—not a crushed hat.
She didn't really need a savory steak to celebrate the day of her birth. No, enjoying the company of her friends would suffice, but ... a steak would have added a nice touch of extravagance to the evening, and she hadn't savored a tasty piece of beef for months.
"... so I need you to take the carriage and see to it that Mr. Addleshaw's fiancée is satisfied with the hats we've created for her."
All thoughts of tasty beef evaporated in a split second. "Am I to understand the urgent situation you're facing is due to your need for a delivery of hats?"
"Too right it is, and not just any hats, but hats specifically created for Miss Birmingham. She has only recently arrived in town, and is newly engaged to Mr. Oliver Addleshaw, one of the wealthiest gentlemen in America."
Mrs. Fienman sent Harriet a wink. "Word about the city has it he's made an obscene fortune through some manner of finance. It's my dearest hope to grab a piece of that fortune through return business from the gentleman's fiancée." She picked up a letter lying on her desk and began fanning her face with it. "This note from Miss Birmingham, while being somewhat hysterical in nature, states that the lady is concerned the hats she ordered might not complement some of the pieces of a wardrobe she had delivered to her this morning."
Harriet's mouth dropped open. In her world, urgent meant someone had died, the rent was overdue, or dinner could not be served due to lack of funds. It never meant one was anxious for a delivery of hats.
"I've sent Timothy off to get the carriage," Mrs. Fienman continued briskly, "and he'll be back directly. All you need to do is help Miss Birmingham sort through the hats, and soothe any ruffled feathers she might have if some of the styles don't exactly complement her gowns."
"I do beg your pardon, Mrs. Fienman, but I must inquire as to why you're not personally seeing to this situation, considering it seems to be of a delicate nature."
Mrs. Fienman's expression turned a little shifty. "I thought it was past time we got you out of the back room and mingling with clients."
"And you believe my 'mingling' should begin with the fiancée of one of the wealthiest gentlemen in America?"
"You, Miss Peabody, are made of stern stuff, which is why I've chosen you for this unpleasant ... or rather, delightful task. I cannot send Gladys or Peggy because Miss Birmingham is possessed of a slightly tumultuous personality. She would have those two in tears within minutes. Why, I wouldn't imagine you'd even cry if your dog died."
"I don't have a dog."
"Well, no matter. I'm certain if you did own a dog and it tragically died, you wouldn't shed a single tear, would you?"
Harriet forced a smile. "While I certainly appreciate your confidence in me, I must remind you that, when you hired me, you specifically told me I was to keep to the back room and not mingle with our clients. Because of that, I am not being modest when I say I'm not exactly equipped to deal with a member of the quality."
"My reasoning behind banishing you to the workroom was not because I ever doubted your ability to mingle with clients, Miss Peabody. It stemmed more from the fact that with your all-too-pretty face, unusual violet eyes, and luscious black hair, you'd cast our customers in the shade. However ..." She released a dramatic breath. "Miss Birmingham is not one of our usual clients. She apparently took issue with my rather large figure, and has specifically requested her hats be delivered by a person possessed of a pleasant and slender appearance." Mrs. Fienman waved a hand at Harriet. "Since you're the only person available with those qualifications, you'll have to make the delivery."
Alarm began to ooze from Harriet's every pore. While she was perfectly aware she possessed a slender figure, brought on by a distinct lack of food on a regular basis, she was fairly sure she'd detected a faint trace of glee in Mrs. Fienman's voice. She had the sneaking suspicion the glee was a direct result of her employer hoping she would cast this Miss Birmingham in the shade, which certainly wasn't going to help her deal with the lady. Before she could voice a protest, though, Mrs. Fienman leaned forward.
"I must admit I've been most curious about where you obtained such stellar good looks. Do you take after your mother or your father?"
"I never met my parents, Mrs. Fienman. My mother died giving birth to me, and my father, well ..."
Mrs. Fienman's eyes turned considering. "Do forgive me, Miss Peabody. I should know better than to ask questions of a personal nature, especially from a lady forced to make her own way in the world. But, ancestry aside, you're a lovely young lady, which is exactly what Miss Birmingham requested and exactly what I'm going to give her." She wrinkled her nose. "A word of warning, though, before you depart—Miss Birmingham seems to make a habit of throwing things when she's annoyed, so watch out for flying shoes."
A droplet of perspiration trickled down Harriet's back. "While this Miss Birmingham sounds like a charming sort, I honestly don't believe I'm equipped with the social rules and expected manners to deal with her."
"Your manners are perfectly adequate for this appointment. It's not as if you should expect Miss Birmingham to invite you to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea with her."
"What if she goes beyond shoe chucking and attacks me? Am I allowed to defend myself?"
"Certainly not." Mrs. Fienman shook a plump finger in Harriet's direction. "Defending yourself against a society lady would definitely sully the good name of my business. If that were to happen, I would terminate your position immediately."
"But ..." Harriet began as she struggled to come up with a plausible reason not to take on what was surely going to be a daunting task. "What about Mrs. Wilhelm's hat? I've only put on ten of the fifty feathers she's requested, and she's expecting delivery of that hat tomorrow."
"You'll have plenty of time to finish Mrs. Wilhelm's hat after you get back from dealing with Miss Birmingham."
Harriet glanced at the clock, saw that it was after two, and felt a sliver of disappointment steal over her. By the time she got back from making the delivery and finished Mrs. Wilhelm's hat, there would be no time left to celebrate her birthday.
Drawing in a steadying breath, she decided to throw caution to the wind and appeal to what little kindness Mrs. Fienman might actually possess. "I wasn't going to mention this, not wanting anyone to feel compelled to make a fuss, but today is my birthday. While I normally don't mind working extra hours, I was hoping I wouldn't have to work those hours today, since my two best friends have made arrangements to have dinner with me."
"Ah, your birthday. How marvelous!" Mrs. Fienman exclaimed. "Why, I adore birthdays, and if I'd known today was yours, I would have ordered you a pastry." She rooted around the papers strewn across her desk and pulled out a crumbly piece of dough that might have, at one time, been a tart. "Here, have what's left of the pastry I got this morning."
For a second, Harriet remained frozen in place, but since Mrs. Fienman was now waving the pastry determinedly at her, she had no choice but to rise to her feet and accept the woman's offering. A sticky mess of frosting immediately coated her fingers. "Thank you. I'm sure this will be delicious."
Mrs. Fienman beamed back at her. "You're most welcome. Now then, you'd best be on your way" She put a finger to her jowl. "Tell you what, don't bother coming back to finish Mrs. Wilhelm's hat today You can come in early tomorrow morning and finish the job. Won't that be lovely?"
Not giving Harriet an opportunity to respond, Mrs. Fienman gestured toward the door. "Timothy should be out front by now. Remember, be pleasant, and duck if you see shoes flying your way"
"No dawdling now, Miss Peabody. Unpleasant matters are best dealt with quickly Enjoy your tart."
Harriet couldn't find the incentive to move. She looked at Mrs. Fienman, who was once again thumbing through the magazine, then at the mess of a pastry clutched in her hand, and swallowed a sigh when she remembered her prayer only that morning.
It was a tradition, her birthday prayer.
Every year—well, for the past six years—she'd asked God to send her something wonderful. He hadn't always sent what she asked for, but one year He'd sent her unexpected money to pay the rent when she'd thought she'd be out on the streets. Another year, He'd led her to Mrs. Fienman, which had given Harriet stable employment. Last year, when she'd turned twenty-one, she'd asked for a gentleman, and while she hadn't received that particular request, her aunt Jane had given her—rather grudgingly, of course—a gown that had once belonged to her mother. Since she'd never met her mother, had never even seen a portrait of her, the gown had afforded her a glimpse of her mother's slender figure. The fact that the silk was a delicate shade of violet had given Harriet no small sense of delight, given that violet was her very favorite color.
This year she'd decided to keep her prayer simple and had only asked God to send her something of His choosing, something she would find wonderful.
Surely His idea of wonderful couldn't constitute a half-eaten tart and dealing with an overly emotional society lady, could it?
"Miss Peabody!" Mrs. Fienman suddenly yelled, raising her head from the magazine and causing Harriet to jump. "Oh, you're still here ... Good. Although I would have thought you'd gone to fetch your reticule, but ... no matter. I almost forgot something."
She pushed aside some papers, extracted one and held it up. "I need you to present Miss Birmingham with the bill—unless, of course, Mr. Addleshaw is in residence. He wasn't in town when I met with his fiancée last week, but was off doing whatever it is important gentlemen do to earn their vast amounts of money Make certain you make it clear that full payment is expected in a timely fashion."
"You want me to give this bill to either Mr. Addleshaw or Miss Birmingham and inform them to pay it promptly?"
"Neither one of them will take issue with the request, if that's your concern." She glanced at the bill, smiled, and then lifted her head. "Good heavens, you'll need to change that hat."
"Change my hat?"
"Indeed. Not that there is anything remotely wrong with the hat you're wearing, other than it's entirely too tempting a piece to be anywhere near Miss Birmingham. I wouldn't put it past the lady to snatch it right off your head, and we wouldn't want that, would we? Especially since it's your birthday." Her expression turned calculating. "I'll tell you what we'll do. You may give me your hat in exchange for the one you so carelessly sat on. That way, I won't be forced to extract your hard-earned money from you. You may think of it as yet another birthday treat."
Pushing aside the pesky notion that the day was quickly turning disappointing, Harriet turned and eyed what remained of the hat she'd squashed. "Are those ... birds?"
"They were," Mrs. Fienman corrected, "before you sat on them. Now I'm afraid they resemble mice, and sickly looking ones at that."
"And you believe it would be for the best if I dealt with Miss Birmingham while wearing sickly looking mice on my head?"
"Miss Peabody, you're stalling again."
"Too right, I am," she muttered before she set down the remains of the tart on the edge of Mrs. Fienman's desk. Reaching up, she pulled out a few hat pins, lifted her hat off, handed it to Mrs. Fienman, and turned and scooped up what remained of the bird hat. Plopping it on her head, she made short shrift of securing it, refusing to shudder when a mangled bird dangled over her left eye, obscuring her view.
"I don't believe you'll need to worry about Miss Birmingham snatching that hat o" your head," Mrs. Fienman said as she began twirling the hat Harriet had been forced to part with. "This really is a creative design, Miss Peabody. It's the perfect size for a lady who wants to look fashionable, yet it won't hinder a lady as she goes about her day. Tell me, would you happen to have other hats crafted in this particular style, ones that might be put up for sale here at the shop?"
"I'm afraid that even though I do have an abundant supply of hats at home, none of them would be appropriate to sell here. The materials I use are scavenged from hats society ladies have abandoned to the poor boxes in churches throughout the city."
Excerpted from After a Fashion by Jen Turano. Copyright © 2015 Jennifer L. Turano. Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers.
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