Sarah Jardin has been quite dreadfully in love with David Rochester her whole life. As the youngest of five daughters, her family and society neglect her. She's outspoken, brash, and terribly ungraceful. In short, not at all a lady...until she's taken under the benevolent wing of Lady Lancaster and invited to join the Young Ladies Garden Society.
But Sarah's new life-filled with the mysteries and intrigues of high society-is interrupted by an unexpected scandal. Her scandal. In a moment of kindness, David comforts her...and they are discovered and forced to marry. Even as the newlyweds must come to terms with their new arrangement, they find themselves drawn into the investigation of a dangerous conspiracy.
With life and love on the line, their unexpected marriage will either end in rapture...or ruin.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.57(d)|
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Enticing Her Unexpected Bridegroom
A Lady Lancaster Garden Society Novel
By Catherine Hemmerling, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Catherine Hemmerling
All rights reserved.
That is what is known as a "happy accident ..."
— The Duke of Lancaster
With a long sigh, Sarah admitted that she was experiencing more than a bit of déjà vu. She was once again standing in a corner of a grand ballroom utterly alone and wondering why on earth she was there.
The Devonshire ball was a popular event, and as far as Sarah was aware, at least two of her friends were meant to attend, but as of yet she had seen no one of her acquaintance.
Well, that was not quite true.
She had seen many people with whom she was vaguely familiar, people she had been introduced to once or twice, and she knew that somewhere her father and a sibling or four were in attendance. However, none of the people she had seen had showed her the slightest interest. She was, as always, except to a small handful of discerning people, invisible.
And while being invisible was certainly something to which one became accustomed, it never quite stopped hurting.
Sarah had been virtually imperceptible for as long as she could remember. She was the youngest daughter of the Viscount Clarendon's five children. Her four older siblings, a sister and three brothers, were all many years older than she; the closest in age being her brother Solomon, who was fifteen years her senior.
Sighing, Sarah had to concede that such age differences were common enough when one's father loses his first wife to illness and remarries, but it did not make her life any less lonely. It always struck Sarah as sad to have a plethora of brothers and a sister, but no real familial companions.
And to make matters worse, her own mother died in childbirth, leaving Sarah's upbringing to her father, a man more involved in outside interests than his youngest daughter. At times Sarah was convinced he didn't even know she existed, let alone love her. Therefore, Sarah's care fell to the servants of the Clarendon house; in particular, the butler and housekeeper, who were married but childless and more than willing to take young Sarah into their care.
Unfortunately, though, with Sarah's care out of Lord Clarendon's hands, her needs as a young lady of society were often forgotten. That was how it came to pass that she was wearing such an outdated and ill-fitting dress the first time she met her best friend Hannah and for most of the years that followed.
Now, however, Sarah was in a perfectly lovely ensemble of dove gray, that brought out her unusual eye color, and white ribbons. Her hair was simply but elegantly done in a sleek bun set atop her head with a few curls left to hang about her face and over one shoulder.
This new and fashionable Sarah was a result of her association with the estimable Lady Lancaster, the dowager Duchess of Lancaster, and the founder of the Young Ladies Garden Society.
The Garden Society was, by all appearances, an opportunity for young influential debutantes to get together and learn all the wisdom and decorum they could from a paragon of polite society, the dowager duchess. However, only the members of the Society and a few close friends knew the real reason the ladies got together — and that was to solve mysteries, intrigues, and right the wrongs done to good people.
It was an unusual pastime for a well-bred young lady, but one that was of vital importance to Sarah and the other members of the Society. Sarah had always longed to be more than just a simpering husband-seeking nodcock, and working with Lady Lancaster gave her a sense of accomplishment and pride beyond anything for which she could ever hope.
Additionally, the Garden Society had greatly widened her circle of friends. Now, she was not only close with Hannah, also a member of the Society, but Sarah happily counted three more exceptional women as her dear friends.
There was the exquisite Emily, this season's incomparable; Rose, the shy, bookish girl who recently solved the greatest of the Society cases; and proper, well-mannered Hope, who was true to her name and gave Sarah hope that dreams do come true (Hope had just married the man for whom she had pined for years, and Sarah prayed that if it could happen for Hope, it very well might happen for her, too).
Of course, Hope was especially pretty with a smile that could light up a room. Sarah had always known it was only a matter of time before Michael Ashmore, the Viscount Lichfield, would fall for her friend. How could he not? Hope was kind, intelligent, and had a wicked sense of humor when given the chance. All that, plus true beauty? She was unable to be resisted for long.
Sarah, on the other hand, never considered herself much of a beauty. With her plain brown hair and equally plain gray eyes, she felt there wasn't much to commend her.
Yet another drawback to being left to her own devices growing up, Sarah was never taught etiquette or deportment, and with her unusual height, such lessons would have been invaluable as she grew into her long legs and arms. As it was, Sarah considered herself lucky if she could navigate a room without bumping into fewer than three objects in a night. That number increased dramatically if any of the objects were, in fact, mobile.
She was universally known to tread on the toes of any dance partner and, as such, received very few invitations anymore; however, recently Lady Lancaster had begun schooling her on the finer points of dance and basic posture and carriage. Already Sarah could see a difference in her dancing and in her conveyance in general. She had far fewer bruises at the end of the day than she used to, that was certain.
Still, despite her newfound role in the Garden Society and with her friends, Sarah still felt alone and out of sorts much of the time. She knew that her flaws went deeper than being tall and clumsy and uneducated in the ways of being an acceptable young lady of the ton.
She had absolutely no control over her mouth.
For some reason, at the age of four and twenty, no less, Sarah could not stop herself from speaking whatever thought sprang into her head. Just a few months ago, Sarah felt sure she had ruined her friendship with Hope over a thoughtless response that slipped unbidden from her mouth. Luckily Hope, and, truthfully, the rest of her friends, was used to her tactless or unthinking comments, and she forgave her almost immediately, but Sarah didn't want to risk such a loss again.
"I really must learn to control my tongue!" Sarah said adamantly to herself.
"Oh now really, Sarah-dear," said a familiar, and not especially welcome, voice next to her, "perhaps you should start with controlling your feet. I saw the way you trampled poor David Rochester's toes at the Allendale ball last week. Truly a travesty to the quadrille."
A number of people in the area tittered with laughter at the over-loud comment, and Sarah had no choice but to turn and face her nemesis, Lavinia Brudenell.
"Hello, Lavinia." Sarah sighed, resigned to the fact she was going to be subjected to any number of painful minutes in the other girl's company until Lavinia grew bored with flogging a dead horse and wandered away to look for fresher meat. Some people were just like that ... feeling their best only when making others feel their worst.
"Notice that she didn't even argue with me, girls," Lavinia said triumphantly to her small gaggle of followers — mostly younger girls, new to the season and trying desperately to fit in with the "popular" crowd. "That shows great character, Sarah. After all, the first step to correcting a problem is acknowledging that you have one."
"Oh, I am very aware of what my problem is, Lavinia," Sarah replied, and she looked at the petite girl meaningfully.
Lavinia flushed when some of the other ladies present snickered at Sarah's thinly veiled implication and she snorted. "Oh, that's rich. As if I could be your biggest problem ... Long Meg!"
Sarah gasped when she heard Lavinia use her hated nickname. Long Meg was a common enough name for a very tall woman but was not heard much in polite society.
Long Meg of Westminster was a notorious woman from the time of Henry VIII about whom a number of ballads and stories were written. But beyond height, the reference also meant a hoyden and a coarse woman.
For Sarah, the name conjured up unfathomable pain, partly due to the tone in which it was flung at her, but also because she feared her likeness to the infamous woman was, in fact, true.
And standing there alone, not able to turn to her friends for support, Sarah found she could not brush aside the comment like she had so many others. It was a direct hit and, to her mortification, Sarah felt tears begin to well in her eyes.
Unwilling to subject herself to further ridicule, Sarah spun on her heel and ran blindly out of the ballroom.
David Rochester was just entering the Devonshire's ballroom when a blur of a woman that looked suspiciously like Sarah Jardin rushed past him, nearly knocking him over.
"Sar —" David started to say, but the girl was gone before he could even finish.
Looking around for some explanation, David saw something that made his blood boil. Lavinia Brudenell ... standing there, surrounded by all her little sheep, laughing. He could just make out the name Sarah on her lips as she held her disdainful court, and instantly David knew that the shrew had been teasing her favorite plaything again.
David didn't know what it was about Sarah that entertained Lavinia so, but the chit was always picking on his sister's friend, and it was more than he could stand. He couldn't believe her game of cat and mouse stemmed all the way back from when they were children and her bloody figurine was broken, but David wouldn't put it past her.
"Conniving little witch," David muttered as he turned to go after Sarah.
David would never admit it, but Sarah, much like a sister, held a little soft spot in his heart. He wasn't sure why, exactly. It could have been the loyalty she displayed all those years ago when his sister decided Sarah was to be her best friend and asked her to help with the gift opening or, in the interim years, the way Sarah valiantly attended every ball, soiree, and concert knowing she would be ignored, laughed at, or very likely insulted.
And yet she always held her head up with a quiet sense of obstinacy that no one could quite understand.
And the things that came out of her mouth when she did speak!
Lord, but the girl spoke her mind, anything that popped into her brain, with absolutely no filter. Those who knew and cared for her found it strangely charming; others just thought Sarah was a bit touched in the head. David was somewhere in the middle, but he defended Sarah as if he were the former. And as a result, he had taken his own fair share of ribbing from his friends.
More than a few of them thought he had a bit of a tendre for the girl, but David vehemently denied that notion. He was just being kind. Just as he would be to any of Hannah's friends. Sarah wasn't any more special than, say, Rose or Emily.
Shaking off his attempts to justify why he was chasing after Sarah now, David accepted his actions as those of a gentleman of good breeding and as one with more than just a passing acquaintance with the girl in question.
Anyone would do the same, he assured himself as he entered what appeared to be a ladies' sitting parlor just down the hall from the ballroom. The room seemed to be empty, and he turned to leave, vowing he would only look for another five minutes before abandoning the woman to her own devices. It was then he heard a loud sniff and a shuddering kind of breath ... like a person trying desperately to stop crying.
"Sarah?" David called softly from the doorway. "Is that you?"
Looking around the edge of the high-backed chair in which she was seated, Sarah said, with some astonishment, "David?"
Smiling briefly, David nodded and entered the room farther, taking a seat across from Sarah on a ridiculously small settee.
"What ... what are you doing here?"
Shrugging, David replied, "I saw you run out of the ballroom, clearly upset, and I wanted to ensure your well-being."
"Thank you, but I am fine. Please return to the party. I'm sure your friends are expecting you."
"They can wait. Besides, are you not also my friend?" David found himself saying with a warm smile.
"Well, ah, yes ... yes, I suppose I am," Sarah replied haltingly, clearly taken aback by the idea.
David mentally smacked himself. What had he been thinking to say such a thing? From where had such a notion come? But it was out there now, and there was nothing for him to do but accept that somewhere within him he felt Sarah Jardin was his friend. And despite the danger that lay in that direction, he was well aware that Sarah harbored some feelings for him, he found he was rather pleased to have defined her place in his life.
She was his friend ... but that was all she was.
Sarah could not have been more shocked by the sudden turn of events. She had never once thought that David considered her as more than just the best friend of his sister. And it was only that connection that explained his rather odd tendency to be nice to her.
When Sarah had first come out into society more than six years ago, she had been initially quite popular with the marriage-minded gentlemen. She was the daughter of a wealthy and respectable viscount, and while she thought herself rather homely as a child, she had grown into something not too hard to look at once you got past her attire, and at first blush she appeared very quiet and docile — all great attributes in a wife.
However, all the interest quickly waned after her penchant for blurting out whatever was on her mind was discovered and, of course, after her absolute lack of grace on the dance floor left any number of men temporarily crippled.
David, on the other hand, never stopped asking her to dance. Sarah had trampled his toes so many times over the years, it was a revelation to her that he could still walk, but he always asked for a dance anyway. One dance at every event at which there was a dancing area established. Always with a kind word and a blind eye to anyone who would comment or snicker.
Sarah had never gotten up the courage to ask him why he favored her so, but she rather thought it was out of pity — much like a brother would feel toward an unpopular sister. Still, better to be pitied and held in his arms for a scant few minutes than to never feel such warmth again.
"Why do you dance with me at every event?" Sarah asked suddenly, apparently unable to stop her mouth twice in one night.
Now it was David's turn to look shocked.
"Ah, I suppose because we are friends, as we just, er, established."
"Not out of pity, then?" Sarah replied, cocking her head to the side thoughtfully.
Well, yes, David thought instantly, but very wisely did not utter aloud. That was probably what he would say if someone else had asked that question, but under no circumstances would he admit such a thing to Sarah. First of all, it would be quite cruel to say so, but also, somewhere niggling in the back of his brain, he knew that was not the reason he procured a dance with Sarah at the various balls and such.
Not the only reason, in any case.
Somewhere, deep inside, David knew that he always enjoyed his dances with Sarah, not his toes certainly, but she was a funny thing; her commentary on the party guests was always amusing and, of course, uncensored; she was tall enough to dance with and speak to without developing a crick in one's neck; and she just felt nice in his arms, damn it. An added bonus was he didn't have to worry about what he said to her. Sarah was the last person on earth he would ever court. That knowledge relieved all sorts of pressure the other ladies of the ton put on him.
"No, Sarah," David found himself answering quite sincerely. "I do not dance with you out of pity."
"Oh," Sarah said, smiling. "Thank you, David."
"For what, exactly?"
Echoing his shrug from earlier, Sarah replied, "For being my friend, I suppose. One can never have too many friends, wouldn't you agree?"
Laughing, David stood and offered his arm to his new friend. "Yes, Miss Jardin, I completely agree. Now then, shall we go have our dance now?"
"Oh yes, please!" Sarah accepted joyously, jumping up from her chair with a happy bounce and taking David's arm.
Excerpted from Enticing Her Unexpected Bridegroom by Catherine Hemmerling, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2016 Catherine Hemmerling. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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