The beautiful Miss Amelia Snow is not accustomed to being snubbed by the gentlemen of the ton. But when her mother dies unexpectedly, forcing Amelia to take employment as companion to a wealthy cit's daughter, she quickly learns to play down her looks or risk losing her position. When her employers, the Smithsons, decide to throw a country house party, she is determined to fade into the background. But how can she when the Smithson's guest of honor is Lord Quentin Fortescue, the childhood friend who stole her heart?
Younger son, Lord Quentin Fortescue, is far more interested in his host's cotton mills in the north than he is in courting the man's dim-witted daughter. But it's the girl's companion who makes him look twice. Years ago, Miss Amelia Snowe rejected his proposal without a backward glance. Quentin has molded himself into just the sort of man she'd have wanted back then, but is Amelia still the smug beauty who broke his heart? And can either of them risk their newfound positions to indulge the fiery attraction that burns between them?
The Perks of Being a Beauty is an Ugly Ducklings book from Manda Collins.
About the Author
Manda Collins spent her teen years wishing she'd been born a couple of centuries earlier, preferably in the English countryside. Time travel being what it is, she resigned herself to life with electricity and indoor plumbing, and read lots of books. An affinity for books led to a graduate degree in English, followed by another in Librarianship. By day, she works as an academic librarian at a small liberal arts college, where she teaches college students how to navigate the tangled world of academic research. A native of coastal Alabama, Manda lives in the house her mother grew up in with three cats, sometimes a dog, sometimes her sister, and more books than strictly necessary.
Manda Collins grew up on a combination of Nancy Drew books and Jane Austen novels, and her own brand of Regency romantic suspense is the result. An academic librarian by day, she investigates the mysteries of undergraduate research at her alma mater, and holds advanced degrees in English Lit and Librarianship. Her debut novel, How to Dance with a Duke spent five weeks on the Nielsen Bookscan Romance Top 100 list, was nominated for an RT Reviewer's Choice Award for best debut historical romance, and finaled in the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence contest. Both How to Entice an Earl and Why Dukes Say I Do were selected for inclusion in Eloisa James's Reading Romance column. Her latest book, Why Earls Fall in Love, a February 2014 release, was called "sparkling romance" by Publishers Weekly and is set in Bath, England, one of her favorite cities in the world.
Read an Excerpt
The Perks of Being a Beauty
By Manda Collins
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Manda Collins
All rights reserved.
"Amelia, do hurry," Miss Harriet Smithson wailed to her companion, who was trying desperately to keep the girl calm. "The gentlemen will be gathering for before-dinner drinks any moment now!"
The Miss Amelia Snowe of last season would have sliced the demanding young woman to ribbons, but among the many changes wrought upon Miss Snowe's behavior was an ability to hold her temper.
"Patience, Harriet," she told the girl as she settled a pretty sapphire-and-diamond circlet over her mousy brown curls. "It will be much better for you to arrive just a few minutes later than your guests. That way you can make an entrance."
After years as the reigning beauty of the ton, Amelia knew whereof she spoke. Even if her mother's sudden death had left her destitute and forced her to seek out a position as a young lady's companion — to the daughter of a family she'd surely have turned her nose up at had she encountered them in London before her step down on the social ladder — she still knew better than anyone just how to turn a gentleman up sweet. It was the only perk of being a beauty she still retained.
"Pooh," her charge muttered. "You always want me to curb my enthusiasm. How on earth am I supposed to catch a husband if I never put myself in the way of any gentlemen?"
Unable to stifle her laugh, Amelia squeezed the other girl's shoulders and stepped back. "Somehow, I think you'll manage," she told her. And not just because she was quite pretty in her own way. No, Amelia had a sneaking suspicion that Harriet's oversized dowry would see to it that she found a husband soon enough, even if her looks did not.
Had she ever been as young and eager as Harriet? she wondered.
Unbidden, a flash of memory overtook her. Of a rainy summer afternoon. Of waiting desperately for one gentleman in particular to arrive at a country ball. Of stolen kisses and broken hearts.
Yes, she'd once been just as young and just as eager as Harriet. But hopefully Harriet would never, ever be as foolish as Amelia had once been. Harriet, she felt sure, would not allow herself to be persuaded from accepting a gentleman she truly held in affection. At least she hoped not.
"Come," she told her charge, stepping back and allowing the girl to rise from her seat at the vanity. "Let's go downstairs and watch the ladies' eyes light up with envy and the gentlemen's with admiration."
In a demonstration of why Amelia held the girl in affection, Harriet linked her arm with her companion's and giggled. "You always make me feel better about things, Amelia. I simply do not know how I'd manage all this social nonsense without you."
"Then it's a good thing you do not need to," Amelia responded, pausing to survey her charge one more time before pronouncing herself satisfied with her appearance. "You look as lovely as spring roses. And I have little doubt that you'll charm all the gentlemen tonight."
"If I manage to stand apart from my companion," Harriet retorted with a wry smile. "No matter how Mama attempts to make a silk purse out of this sow's ear, I will never be as lovely as you are."
"Hush, you silly creature," Amelia said with a laugh. "You are as fine as five pence. And you have something that I ceased to possess long ago."
"What's that?" the younger girl asked, her eyes puzzled.
"Youthful enthusiasm," Amelia replied wryly. She was only three and twenty, but at times she felt as ancient as Methuselah. That was what five unsuccessful years on the marriage mart would do to a girl.
"Funny," Harriet said, closing her bedchamber door behind them as they made their way into the hall. "I suppose you are getting a bit long in the tooth, aren't you? Shall I fetch you an ear trumpet and a shawl for your aching bones?"
"Impudence does not suit you," Amelia responded. "Now hush your nonsense and tell me again about the gentlemen your mama has invited."
Obediently Harriet recited the names of each of the five gentlemen who had been invited for the weeklong house party, followed by a brief description of their properties and interests. Amelia had made it clear to Mrs. Smithson that the gentlemen chosen for the entertainment should be carefully selected from among the most likely to find Harriet and her dowry attractive. And Amelia had spent the past week schooling her charge on the best ways of making herself agreeable to them. Naturally, she'd make a choice among them based on her own preferences in the end. But at the start of the party, she'd need to present herself in as positive a light as possible.
"Do you really think one of them will find me enticing enough to marry, Amelia?" Harriet asked, her worry over her prospects overshadowing her giddiness for a moment. "What if none of them likes me? What if they think I'm pudding-faced? Or worse, gauche?"
"They won't think you're pudding-faced," Amelia chided. "You are a perfectly lovely girl and this party will go off without a hitch. And if there are hitches, we will simply deal with them as they happen."
Before Harriet could respond, Mrs. Smithson entered the hallway just ahead of them and hurried forward.
"Harriet! There you are," the reed-thin matron said, the ostrich feather in her turban bobbing up and down. "All of our guests are gathered in the drawing room, waiting for your arrival. I told you not to be late." She glared at Amelia, clearly blaming their tardiness on her daughter's companion.
Ever since Amelia's arrival in the Smithson household, the lady of the house had made it clear through her words and actions that though she needed Amelia's help to launch her daughter in society, she resented the gentility and good breeding that made her a valuable companion to Harriet. Amelia could hardly blame the woman — after all, in order to mark her own superiority, Mrs. Smithson needed to keep a social distance between herself and her employees — but the constant derision from her charge's mother was becoming tiresome.
Not wishing to engage the other woman in a confrontation that would simply make Harriet more nervous, Amelia squeezed her charge's hand and allowed Mrs. Smithson to lead her away.
Keeping a few paces behind, as her employer had instructed her to do when they were in public, Amelia could hear the chattering of the Smithsons' guests within the drawing room as they neared the gathering. To her satisfaction, she noticed that Harriet was walking with her head held high, rather than the slope-shouldered posture she'd adopted before in an effort to diminish her height.
Pleased at that little demonstration of her influence over the girl, Amelia took up a position just outside the drawing room door, waiting for Harriet to make her grand entrance before she slipped into the room and took up a position on the periphery. As Mrs. Smithson and Harriet stepped into the chamber, Amelia heard the conversation within the room quiet for a moment as they doubtless took in the appearance of their hosts' daughter. She winced as she heard Mrs. Smithson's braying laughter over the other voices in the room. Money didn't make for gentility, she reflected, not for the first time since she'd taken a position with the Smithsons' household.
Shaking her head, she started toward the side door of the drawing room and began to pull on her gloves in preparation for her own entrance, when she heard Mr. Smithson's study door open just down the hall. And before she could hurry away, she was faced with her employer and another gentleman, whose back was toward her. She was in the process of slinking away when, to her frustration, Mr. Smithson called out to her.
"Miss Snowe, excellent! Wait for just a moment, if you please. I was just about to take Fortescue to the drawing room before dinner," the man barked.
Though upon her first meeting with him Amelia had cringed at her employer's rough manner, she had since come to realize that he was possessed of a kinder heart than his lady wife. He'd made his fortune in cotton mills in the north of England, and as soon as he was able he'd moved his wife and daughter as far away from industry as possible, to this little manor house on the South Downs. He himself was not possessed of any sort of gentility or breeding, but he was determined to see to it that his daughter married a man with both. Which was why he'd instructed his wife to hire a lady's companion for Harriet.
Amelia had come to hold the man in some esteem, but at the moment she wished him at the devil. Not only would he make her later entering the drawing room than she'd wished — a circumstance she was quite certain Mrs. Smithson would note and scold her for — he was also accompanied by a gentleman who had not been on Mrs. Smithson's guest list for the house party. Knowing how carefully the mistress of the house had planned the numbers for the event, Amelia was annoyed both on that lady's behalf at the new addition, but also for herself. The addition of another gentleman to the party would mean that Amelia would be forced to participate in the activities of the party to make the numbers even. Which she had hoped would not be necessary.
"Mr. Smithson," she said in the calm, quiet voice she'd adopted since taking up her position. She knew already that hiring a girl with her looks had been against Mrs. Smithson's better judgment. As such, she did what she could to diminish those looks as much as possible. Thus, her golden curls, which had been much admired in London, were scraped back over her head in a severe chignon. Her blue satin gown, which had been low-cut and daring in London, was now made more reserved by the addition of a lace fichu to the bodice. And her manner, which had been flirtatious and engaging in London, was now polite but distant.
"Fortescue," her employer said to his companion, "this is Miss Amelia Snowe. My daughter, Harriet's companion, don't ye know. Not a bit of social business that this chit doesn't know. Only the best for my Harriet."
It was still a little painful to hear Mr. Smithson boast about her social prowess like that. No matter how grateful she was that he'd chosen to pay her for it.
A short year ago Amelia had been the most sought-after lady in the haute ton. Her wit, her fashion sense, and her breathtaking beauty had secured a position for Amelia in the highest circles of fashionable London. But with the death of her mother, all of Amelia's successes had proven to be as precarious as a house of cards. The gorgeous gowns had been bought on credit — from businesses who now demanded payment. The people she'd snubbed, now that the tables were turned, shut her out of the ton gatherings where she'd once reigned.
If she'd been a nicer person, or a more gracious winner, she might have survived by relying on the kindness of her friends. But the realization that she was fast becoming a thoroughly unlikeable person had come too late to save her from ostracism once her mother was gone. And even the friendship of the well-connected Duchess of Winterson, Viscountess Deveril, and Countess of Gresham — once known as the Ugly Ducklings for their status as wallflowers — could not save her.
Where once she'd have looked Mr. Smithson's guest in the eye and allowed him to kiss her hand, now Amelia kept her eyes downcast, as befitting someone who lingered in that in-between space between upstairs and downstairs.
Still, there was something familiar about that name. Fortescue ... Fortescue ... her mind turned the word over and over again as she dared to look up.
"Miss Snowe," Smithson continued, as if he had not just set the cat among the pigeons, "this is Lord Quentin ..."
"F-Fortescue," Amelia finished, her eyes wide as she took in the presence of the gentleman before her. Though he'd filled out though the shoulders, and if she wasn't mistaken he'd gained a few inches in height, there was no mistaking the dark wavy hair, or the blue of his eyes. "Lord Quentin Fortescue," she repeated.
"You know one another?" Smithson said, his eyes wide as he looked from one to the other.
"Indeed," Lord Quentin said, his voice just a shade deeper than she remembered it. And just a shade cooler as well. "Miss Snowe," he said, bowing over her proffered hand. "I cannot say that I expected to see you here."
"Nor I you," she said, regaining some of her composure in the face of his chilly greeting. Desperate to get away from him, she grabbed at the first excuse she could think of. "Has your wife accompanied you, my lord? I know Mrs. Smithson will be eager to see her settled. In fact, I'll just go fetch her ..."
Before she could turn away, however, Lord Quentin's words stopped her. "I'm afraid my wife died two years ago when we were in New York."
The declaration hung in the air between them.
Amelia could not help a frisson of relief at the knowledge he was unmarried. Not that it made any difference to her. She was hardly in a position to tempt him. Even if he had forgiven her for her betrayal all those years ago. Which he clearly had not.
Even so, she had not wished death upon his wife. She'd envied the other woman. Indeed she'd wished her away dozens of times. Despite her own decision not to wed Quentin when he'd asked her. But she'd not wished her dead.
"I'm sorry, my lord," she said, surprised that she actually did feel sorry for his loss. "I hadn't heard."
"It was quite sudden," Lord Quentin said with a slight shrug. "And as we were away at the time, I am not surprised that the news didn't circulate much here."
"Sad business," Smithson said with a gruff nod. "But life goes on, eh? And I've little doubt you'll find another wife one of these days, what?"
Mortified at her employer's quick dismissal of the other man's bereavement, Amelia was somewhat relieved to see that Quentin did not take offense.
"If you gentlemen will excuse me," she said, still in a state of shock over her childhood sweetheart's arrival, "I must make sure that Miss Smithson has everything she needs."
"We'll come with you," Mr. Smithson said, to Amelia's disappointment. "I'd like to introduce Lord Quentin around. He's agreed to stay with us for the house party. The more the merrier, I say."
Though Amelia suspected his wife would not agree with him, she had little choice but to stifle her dismay and accompany the men into the drawing room. To her surprise, Lord Quentin hung back as Smithson stepped forward and offered Amelia his arm.
She knew that if she entered the drawing room on the arm of a duke's son Mrs. Smithson would have an apoplexy, but Amelia was sorely tempted to do it anyway. But, she was no longer in a position to make decisions without regard for the consequences.
"Thank you," she said with a polite smile. "But, I'd better not."
He looked as if he would argue, but after a moment's hesitation, gestured for her to precede him into the room.
Squaring her shoulders she stepped into the crowded chamber, the question beating like a heartbeat within her.
* * *
Lord Quentin Fortescue stared across the Smithsons' enormous dinner table at Miss Amelia Snowe, who was engaged in conversation with a pleasant-faced young man at her left.
It had been nearly six years since he'd last seen her — since the day she refused his marriage proposal. All so that she could travel to London for the season and try her hand at someone with a "real" title. Someone richer and more important than a mere younger son.
He couldn't suppress a certain sense of satisfaction at seeing her as yet unwed and employed in a position so far below her former expectations. He hadn't wished her ill, but he was honest enough with himself to admit that seeing her brought low by the choice she'd made that day so many years ago was somewhat gratifying. Neither of them could have imagined that they'd meet again in these circumstances. But then no one in the first blush of youth could imagine anything untoward befalling them.
"Mr. Smithson tells me you are the youngest son of the Duke of Charingford, Lord Quentin," said the buxom blonde — Miss Hume if he recalled correctly — who'd been seated to his left. "Your family seat is in Cornwall is it not?"
Finding himself the object of many curious gazes, Quentin took a generous drink of wine before responding. "That is correct, Miss Hume. Though my father has spent little enough time there. He prefers to make his home in London."
"But that is true of any number of peers, is it not?" This question came from Miss Delaford, a sour-faced brunette seated across the table. "Such a shame when they neglect their estate duties. But that's the peerage for you."
"Well, I think it's jolly good fun to spend time in London," said Mr. William Leith, the fresh-faced youth seated to her left. "Much more to do in town than in the country." Then perhaps realizing that he was slighting his hosts by stating such an opinion, he flushed and continued, "'Course it all depends on the company. So long as there are pretty ladies to keep one company, any place is good fun."
Excerpted from The Perks of Being a Beauty by Manda Collins. Copyright © 2013 Manda Collins. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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