Jane Eyre meets Prince Charming in two enchanting Regency love stories! Loyal Rebecca Beaton and gentle Grace Ellerby became lifelong friends while enduring the hardships of childhood at a harsh charity school. Now employed as governesses, they care for other people’s children, never expecting to know the blessings of loving marriages and families of their own. But when Rebecca and Grace encounter two special gentlemen who have suffered their own misfortunes, these humble governesses may become Cinderella brides!
The Cotswolds, England, 1814
“Miss Leonard, I presume?”
The question, posed in a rich, firm baritone voice, startled Rebecca Beaton as she stooped to pluck a fragrant purple hyacinth in the garden at Rose Grange. Had Hermione Leonard decided to abandon her sketchbook and venture outside to help gather flowers?
Rising, Rebecca scanned the garden. But she saw no sign of her former pupil, to whom she now served as companion. The only other person in sight was a well-dressed gentleman, presumably the one who had spoken. He was tall and broad-shouldered with dark brown hair, a high brow and a proud, jutting nose. His piercing slate-blue eyes fixed on her with a mixture of surprise and disapproval.
But that was ridiculous. How could he possibly disapprove of her when he did not even know who she was?
Realizing he must have mistaken her for Hermione, Rebecca was about to correct him when he rushed on. “I beg your pardon for presuming to address you without a proper introduction, Miss Leonard. But since we might soon be quite intimately connected, I hope you will permit me the liberty of introducing myself.”
How was Hermione going to be intimately connected with this gentleman?
Again he refused to give Rebecca an opportunity to inquire, but continued speaking as if he did not care whether she objected. “I am Sebastian Stanhope, Viscount Benedict. I have just come from London after learning, to my considerable dismay, that my brother has gotten himself engaged to you.”
So that’s what this bewildering visitation was all about! Rebecca felt on firmer ground at last, though it grieved her to learn that the viscount was displeased with his brother’s betrothal. She must explain his mistake at once and fetch the real Hermione to speak with him, though she feared such an interview would distress the dear girl.
But Lord Benedict would not let let her get a word in. “I am certain you have many fine qualities, Miss Leonard. Indeed, I can understand how your beauty must have secured my brother’s admiration.”
Her beauty? Even if his lordship had paused just then to let her speak, Rebecca doubted she could have produced a sound. Her teachers at school had always impressed upon her and the other girls their deficiencies in that area. Whenever she peeped in a looking-glass long enough to check that she appeared neat and tidy, all she saw was an unattractive square jaw, unmanageable hair of a commonplace brown shade and brows far too full and dark for beauty.
Was the viscount trying to mock her?
He sounded sincere enough in spite of his brusque, imperious manner. “I am pleasantly surprised to discover you are not some green girl barely out of the schoolroom.”
That must be a polite way of implying she was so firmly “on the shelf” it amazed him that she’d managed to secure any marriage proposal. Even if his lordship had expressed himself in so blunt a manner, Rebecca could not have disputed it. With her lack of fortune, she’d never held out much hope of securing a husband. Perhaps if she had possessed the golden loveliness of Grace Ellerby or the vivid dark beauty of Evangeline Fairfax, it might have made a difference, though neither of her friends made matches either.
Each passing year had only whittled away at whatever unlikely dreams she might have had. Dreams of a poor but kindly curate, perhaps, or a widower who needed someone to care for his motherless children and could not afford to be particular.
Firmly turning her thoughts from such modest romantic fancies, Rebecca forced herself to concentrate on what Lord Benedict was saying. “Your manner of dress suggests a character not afflicted with frivolity and I approve your reticence. It is refreshing to meet a woman who does not chatter on like a magpie.”
Rebecca barely stifled a hoot of laughter. Though no magpie, she would have had plenty to say for herself, if only his lordship would give her an opportunity. The viscount was certainly talkative enough, though she could hardly compare the mellow resonance of his voice to that of a squawky bird.
“My brother’s taste in women has clearly improved.” The viscount swept a glance from the toes of her shoes up to the crest of her bonnet. “Still, I fear it would be a terrible mistake for him to marry you.”
“Why is that?” Rebecca managed to squeeze in the question when Lord Benedict paused for breath, though she wondered why she hadn’t used the opportunity to reveal her true identity.
His lordship started at the sound of her voice. Had he begun to think she might be mute? Or was he not accustomed to having his pronouncements questioned?
Whatever the cause of his surprise, he quickly recovered from it. “For a number of excellent reasons, I assure you. Though my brother is a fine young fellow in many respects, he is impulsive and changeable in his affections. You are not the first woman with whom he has fallen in love. Fortunately I was able to end his other dalliances before they reached the troublesome stage yours has.”
Lord Benedict was a fine looking gentleman of great consequence who had paid her more compliments in five minutes than she had received in her whole life. Yet Rebecca found herself forming a decidedly poor opinion of him.
For one thing, it sounded as if he was trying to run his brother’s life. For another, she did not care for the way he dismissed Mr. Stanhope’s feelings for Hermione as a meaningless dalliance without ever having seen them together. She had seen the way the young gentleman looked at Hermione and spoke to her. Though admittedly no expert in matters of the heart, Rebecca believed she could recognize the difference between a transient fancy and true love.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Deborah Hale spent a decade tracing her Canadian family to their origins in Georgian-era Britain. In the process, she learned a great deal about that period and uncovered enough fascinating true stories to fuel her romance plots for years to come. Since winning the Long Historical Golden Heart in 1997, she has published over thirty books with Harlequin Historical, Luna and Love Inspired Historical. Deborah’s books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and sold over 3 million copies worldwide. http://www.deborahhale.com/