Lady Charlotte Featherington is destined for great things on the marriage market. After all, as the beautiful daughter of a marquess, she should have her pick of the eligible nobility when she debuts. She, however, has love at the top of her list of marriageable attributes. And her romantic heart falls hard for one particularly dashing, attentive suitor. Sadly for Charlotte, her noble father intends her betrothed to be someone far more dull.
William Hartwell may be a duke, but he knows he was Charlotte's father's pick, not the young lady's own choice. And the captivating Lady Charlotte does not strike him as a woman who will be wooed by his wealth or title. While she has captured his heart, he has no idea how to win hers in returnand the betrayal and scandal his first wife put him through makes it difficult for him to believe that love can ever be trusted. His only hope is that Charlotte's sense of responsibility will win out over her romantic notions.
Can a widowed duke and a romantically inclined lady negotiate a future and discover love beyond duty? Will they be able to find healing and hope from the legacy of grace?
Poignant and charming, this is another beautifully written, clean and wholesome Regency romance from Carolyn Miller in the tradition of Georgette Heyer and Julie Klassen. Fans of The Elusive Miss Ellison will meet compelling new charactersand a few old friends.
Enjoy the entire Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace series!
1. The Elusive Miss Ellison
2. The Captivating Lady Charlotte
3. The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey
And don't miss Carolyn's new series Regency Brides: A Promise of Hope, coming in 2018!
About the Author
A longtime lover of Regency romance, Carolyn's novels have won a number of Romance Writers of American (RWA) and American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) contests as well as the Australian Omega Christian Writers Award. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Australasian Christian Writers. Her favourite authors are classics like Jane Austen (of course!), Georgette Heyer, and Agatha Christie, but she also enjoys contemporary authors like Susan May Warren and Becky Wade.
Her stories are fun and witty, yet also deal with real issues, such as dealing with forgiveness, the nature of really loving versus 'true love', and other challenges we all face at different times.
Her books include:
Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace
The Elusive Miss Ellison
The Captivating Lady Charlotte
The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey
Regency Brides: A Promise of Hope
Winning Miss Winthrop
Miss Serena's Secret
The Making of Mrs. Hale
Regency Bride: Daughers of Aynsley
A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh
Underestimating Miss Cecilia
Misleading Miss Verity
Read an Excerpt
St. James's Palace, London April 1814
The room glimmered with a thousand points of sparkling light, the bright glow from the enormous crystal-dropped chandelier glinting off heavily beaded gowns, ornate mirrors, and the desperation shining in dozens of pairs of eyes.
Lady Charlotte Featherington glanced at her mother and smiled. "Truly, Mama, there is no need to look anxious. We shall not disgrace you."
Her mother drew herself up, as if the very idea of even appearing concerned was an affront. "I am not concerned about you, dear girl, but ..." She made a helpless gesture with her hands and glanced at the young lady accompanying them.
"I assure you, Aunt Constance, I have no intention of disgracing you, either," said Lavinia Stamford, Charlotte's cousin and recent bride of the seventh Earl of Hawkesbury.
"You remember everything I told you?" Mama said worriedly.
"I cannot promise to have remembered everything, Aunt Constance, but I have no wish to embarrass you — or my husband." This was said with a sidelong glance at the earl, Nicholas Stamford, that caused a pang in Charlotte's chest. How lucky Lavinia was to have found such a perfect match.
Charlotte smiled as her mother bit her lip, no doubt torn between sharing her oft-stated opinion about the Stamfords and not wishing to offend Lavinia on such an important day.
She turned her attention to the front of the room, as the Lord Chamberlain called the name of the next young lady to make her presentation. Butterflies danced haphazardly in her stomach. Only two to go, then it was her turn. Pushing to her toes, she peered around the rather large pink-swathed matron in front, whose ridiculous confection of a headpiece held no less than eight — or was it nine? — ostrich feathers. She reached up a hand to pat her own far more modest hairstyle, with the obligatory five white ostrich feathers.
"Yes, Mama." Charlotte fought a sigh and assumed the more correct stance of a gently bred young lady.
"I will rejoin you shortly, my dear." With a press of his lips to Lavinia's cheek, and a bow and good wishes for Charlotte, the earl exited, doubtless to join the other new husbands and fathers waiting in the chamber next door.
Charlotte followed Lavinia's gaze as she watched him leave. Such a handsome man, who wore so well the embroidered velvet coat and silk knee breeches demanded by court. She nodded to herself, heart dancing. She would marry a man who looked so well — perhaps even this year! For as Mama had said so often, after Charlotte's presentation the doors of every noble house would be open to her, and the offers to her father for her hand would pour in. Drawing in a breath, she braced her shoulders. If only she could find love among the eligible —
"Lady Anne Pennicooke," the Lord Chamberlain called, before gesturing forward the next young lady.
"Amelia has done well enough for the girl," Mama said with a sniff. "Though I do think the size of those diamonds veers toward the vulgar. One should hint at one's wealth, not trumpet it like the king's herald."
"Very poetic, Aunt Constance," Lavinia said, a smile lurking in her eyes as she glanced at Charlotte.
Mama sniffed again. "I'm pleased to see you took my advice about wearing the coronet, Lavinia. Your grandmother would be pleased to know it was getting some use again. It's such an elegant piece."
"Oh, I agree. It is very elegant," Lavinia said, touching the pearl-and diamond-encrusted band across her copper-blond waves. "But this is the Hawkesbury coronet."
"Are you sure?" Mama said, brows lowered, peering with an expression of suspicion.
"It appears very similar, but yes, I am sure. Nicholas assures me this is the coronet each new countess has worn."
"Last worn by your mother-in-law?" Charlotte murmured.
Something flickered in Lavinia's eyes, but her tranquil expression did not change. "Yes."
Charlotte inwardly applauded her cousin's fortitude. Her marriage had come with a very high price — that of a meddling older woman whose love for her son had been soured by his insistence on marrying a woman she despised. It must be so hard, Charlotte thought, to be at the receiving end of constant sniping and bitterness, but Lavinia bore it well. She possessed a measure of grace that seemed to permit her to smile and turn the other cheek, even as she must surely writhe inside.
Charlotte smoothed down her elbow-length gloves, surreptitiously watching her cousin as she continued waiting patiently. Why the dowager countess felt entitled to be so rude was a mystery, especially when her eldest son had proved responsible for the death of Lavinia's mother, the Aunt Grace whom Charlotte had never known. But fault seemed of little consequence. Probably it was the Duchess of Salisbury, Charlotte's grandmother, and her frequent avowals of the Stamford family's decidedly inferior connections — and cutting them in public — that had fed such bitterness.
Of course, Lavinia had never shared any of this, but it was there, evidenced by the dowager countess's not-so-discreet comments and the flushed cheeks and angry-looking flash in her eyes whenever Lavinia entered the room. The fact Lavinia had to rely upon her aunt for sponsoring her presentation to the Queen, and not her mother-in-law as other new brides might expect, said enough. No, while Charlotte might envy her cousin's good fortune in marrying such a handsome man, she did not envy her the cost. A family who could not esteem the son's chosen bride would be anathema to her — and yet another thing of which to be aware as her father presented young men as potential suitors.
"Miss Emma Hammerson."
The large lady in pink urged her sweet-faced charge forward, leaving Charlotte at the head of the line. Now she could see the royals, the Prince Regent and his sisters standing either side of the elderly Queen. The butterflies grew tumultuous.
She turned to Lavinia. "Are you sure you do not want to go first?"
"And precede your mother's moment of triumph in her beautiful daughter?" Her cousin smiled. "I am happy to wait."
"She does look beautiful, doesn't she?"
Mama's rare compliment pricked warmth in Charlotte's eyes, the fond expression one she had not seen terribly often of late. Perhaps it was the pressure of organizing so many things for her court presentation and upcoming ball. She eyed Lavinia's gown, so similar to hers, save it was a pretty peach color, unlike Charlotte's white. But the hoops, the large bell sleeves, the requisite ostrich feathers were the same as those worn by the other ladies present. During their shopping expeditions to acquire such necessities, she'd often heard Lavinia's disapproval about the folly of hundreds of pounds spent for a gown worn only once. But then, Lavinia had grown up in rural Gloucestershire and had, until recently, little idea as to how things were done in society.
"I believe you the prettiest lady here today," her cousin continued.
"You exaggerate," Charlotte said, never too sure in her appearance.
"Not at all. You are quite in your best looks."
At Lavinia's comment, Mama assumed a look of complacency, nodding to the dark-haired Lord Chamberlain, as if expecting him to agree.
From the image greeting her in the mirrored door Charlotte thought she looked well, despite the ridiculous hooped petticoats doing nothing for anyone's figure. Her dark blond hair had been expertly styled by Ellen, Mama's lady's maid, whose skill in dressing hair far surpassed that of Sarah, Charlotte's own maid. The diamond drops in her ears, an early birthday present from Father, were of a beautiful cut and brilliancy; the pearl necklet everything expensive yet modest.
The dress itself, though of a style fashionable half a century ago, did suit her curves and tiny waist a little more than some others. Elegant silver embroidery embellished a petticoat of crêpe, trimmed with wreaths of white roses, with a double flounce at the bottom, fringed with silver. The train and body were of white crêpe and silver tissue, the short sleeves trimmed with blond lace and pearls, tied in two parts with a silver band. A laurel tippet, silver girdle, and white kid shoes topped with tiny rosettes completed her grande toilette, although standing for so long had made the ensemble weigh far more than one expected. But everything was in order, and enough — she hoped — to make her acceptable to the Queen.
"Lady Charlotte Featherington," the Lord Chamberlain called, unnecessarily loudly, considering they were standing so close.
Charlotte bit back a grin as Mama mumbled something about not being deaf, and returned the gentle pressure in Lavinia's clasped hand before moving forward, careful not to step on the lacy flounces of her bulky petticoats.
Mama's grasp held nothing of gentleness, rather a feeling of determination. Charlotte kept her smile fixed in place as she walked to where the elderly Queen Charlotte sat, surrounded by the prince and princesses, with various attendants standing just beyond. Moisture lined her hands. She wished she could wipe them; thank goodness she wore gloves. "Glide like a swan," Lady Rosemond, the specialist on court etiquette, had cautioned. Since her lessons on gliding and curtsying appropriately, Charlotte had practiced studiously. Today would not be the day for any form of inelegance.
As she drew closer, she saw the lines marking the Queen's face, which elicited a pang of sympathy. She appeared very weary, which was not a surprise considering how many young ladies had been presented already today. Plus, the burden of her son's antics, which filled so many a hushed conversation, must prove a trial. Heart soft, she drew close, stopped at the marked spot, and inclined her head.
"My daughter, Lady Charlotte Featherington," Mama intoned.
Now was her moment. Lifting her gaze, she met the pale blue eyes gazing steadily in her direction. She smiled wider, and then bent her right leg behind her left before slowly, carefully, bending her left leg as far as she could, until her right knee almost touched the floor. Holding her upper body as straight as possible, she then forced herself to slowly rise, before finally, finally, she was fully upright again.
"Yes, Your Majesty."
The Queen nodded before shifting in her seat slightly. "Come here, child."
Charlotte moved closer and knelt. Lady Rosemond had instructed her for this next stage, too. Leaning forward, she bent her head, and felt the cool lips of the Queen press her forehead.
A kiss on the forehead for the daughters of nobility; an outstretched hand to be kissed by anyone else.
After what she judged a sufficient amount of time had passed, Charlotte pulled back, and resumed the posture Lady Rosemond had insisted upon. Straight back, chest out, chin up, but not looking like a soldier standing on parade.
"Charlotte." The Queen's gaze connected with hers, her stilted voice betraying her Germanic ancestry. "Such a pretty name, do you not agree?"
"Yes, ma'am." Stiff cheeks relaxed at the twinkle she saw in the blue eyes.
"Your namesake, your majesty," Mama asserted.
"I rather believe I am hers."
Charlotte swallowed the giggle at the chagrined look on Mama's face.
"Only daughter of the marquess?"
Charlotte could almost feel Mama's relief at such queenly approval. The tightness encasing her chest eased a fraction. She hadn't failed. She hadn't disappointed —
Oh, but wait. Now to exit according to tradition.
Taking the tiny nod to be the sign of dismissal, Charlotte executed another heart-pounding deep curtsy, then backed away from the throne. One tiny careful step after another, praying desperately that she'd not step on the ridiculously long train the dress contained. She could not look behind her; to turn one's back on the Queen was an act of such rudeness one might never live it down.
Another step, then another, and finally a page gestured to the door on the right. With an inner sigh of relief, Charlotte exited the drawing room to find herself facing another door. This one opened to a room filled with men.
Her heart thumped, and she smiled, imagining the prospective candidates.
Now that she was presented, it would only be a matter of time before she found her husband. Perhaps she might even find him at the ball tomorrow night!
And with a quick prayer — let him be someone young and exciting, handsome and brave — she stepped across the threshold.
* * *
Bishoplea Common, London
The evening air held a thousand tiny water droplets, a dankness that filled his lungs and beaded across his skin. The starkness of the barren field stretched before him, echoing the cold emptiness inside. He shouldn't be here. He knew better. Taking vengeance like this was wrong. The only solace was that the remote location meant discovery was unlikely. Lord, keep us from discovery ...
"Gentlemen? Are we ready?"
"Yes," William Hartwell, ninth Duke of Hartington, muttered, though he felt far from prepared. Pride bade him stand straight, to remain expressionless, to not show fear, but already he could not but regret the folly that had led him here.
The madness of his vows four years ago rose again in all its ugly glory. Why hadn't he followed his head instead of his heart, instead of seeking approval from the dead? Such depths of stupidity, stupidity he now recognized as having been engendered by a heart made vulnerable by pain, when he'd exchanged the dignity of his parents for the sweet nothings of a jade. How could he have ever believed his wife's lies? His finger twitched on the trigger.
"One. Two ..."
Jerked from his contemplation, William forced his legs to move, to pace accordingly.
"Four. Five ..."
Fear churned inside. Peripheral vision found Lord Ware, his brother-in-law and reluctant second, looking anxiously on.
"Seven. Eight ..."
He gritted his teeth. Honor demanded justice. His pride demanded the truth. But —
But what if he had made a mistake, after all?
Shaking off the disquieting thought, he turned and faced his foe.
Nausea slid through his belly. Tall, blond, blue-eyed Lord Wrotham owned a handsome mien she had preferred. Disgust mingled with outrage, swelling hotly within until his chest banded and he could barely see.
Slowly he lifted the gleaming pistol, a relic from his father's day, something he'd thought he'd never need. But then, he had a bad habit of being wrong about things. Wrong about others. Wrong about himself.
Regrets churned inside. He studied the other man's face. Too handsome, but now holding a trace of fear in the puckered, glistening brow. Too handsome, but forever filled with lies. He still denied things. But William had seen him, had seen his figure depart from his wife's bedroom at an hour that could only mean one thing.
The last of his hesitations fled.
And at the word, he fired.
Exeter House Grosvenor Square, London
"Lady Charlotte, may I request the honor of dancing with —"
"Lady Charlotte, you look enchanting —"
"So beautiful tonight, my lady!"
"Lady Charlotte! Please leave me the quadrille!"
Charlotte laughed as the men standing two — no, three! — deep clamored and jostled for attention. Her heart filled with the delightful sensation of being sought and admired. With so many guests, the receiving line had taken over an hour before Mama had finally propelled her toward the ballroom. "For you know they cannot begin until you commence the first dance."
Papa had the opening dance, and Henry was obliged for one, too. And while Mama said those of higher rank must be accepted when they offered an invitation, so far she had not had to consent to dance with anyone monstrously ugly or old.
Viscount Carmichael stepped adroitly between two gentlemen who were glaring at each other. "I believe the cotillion is mine, my lady?"
She met his laughing hazel eyes and curtsied. "Of course."
He bowed before shooting a grin at the two men whose squabbling had rendered them unable to offer an invitation, as if to say, "There, that's how it should be done." She smiled to herself. To have one of London's most eligible bachelors request her hand; surely Mama would be pleased!
The strains of violin grew louder, and her father drew near, parting her suitors as if Moses himself walked through the Red Sea.
"My dear." He offered a hand, which she accepted, then drew her to the center of the room. What felt like a million eyes watched as he drew her to the top of the set for the first dance of her come-out ball.
"It would seem you are quite the success," Father said, when they finally had a moment to speak.
"Mama has not been backward in her issuing of invitations."
"Nor should she. Not when it is my daughter who is making her come out."
Excerpted from "The Captivating Lady Charlotte"
Copyright © 2017 Carolyn Miller.
Excerpted by permission of Kregel Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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