"The June Bride Conspiracy" in Be My Bride
Originally published May 2001 in the three-author anthology His Blushing Bride (ISBN 0-8217-6815-8, Zebra Regency Romance)
Allister Fenwick, Baron Trevithan, is the Regency's equivalent to James Bond. How does a girl compete with the excitement of espionage? Can Britain's number one spy settle down in marriage? His betrothed, Joanna Lindby, certainly hopes so!
Top Pick! From the premier industry review magazine, RT Book Reviews of the print version, His Blushing Bride. "Three first-rate tales to savor...the last by long-time Regency star Regina Scott."
Lady Abigail Lindby took one look at the selection of roses in the florist's shop on New Bond Street and burst into tears for the third time that morning.
Joanna Lindby smiled indulgently, tucking a stray black hair back under her fashionable chip bonnet before reaching out to give her mother's plump hands a squeeze.
"I'm to be married," she explained to the deferent and dismayed florist, "in June."
The florist, a tall man as thin and pale as the cala lilies in his shop window, understood immediately. "Many happy returns, my lady," he warbled. "And may I say that roses are an excellent choice."
"No, no," Lady Lindby fussed, sniffing back her tears and shaking her head so vigorously that she set the ostrich plumes on her broad-brimmed bonnet to quivering. "Roses are so ordinary. Mrs. Winterhouse had them for her daughter Belinda and the two of them never slept together."
The florist blinked in obvious confusion.
"What she means," Joanna put in quickly from long practice, "is that unless one puts as much planning into a wedding as a marriage, the husband and wife may not be as congenial toward each other as they ought."
Now her mother blinked. "Isn't that what I said? There is no need to belabor the issue, dear. Now, as I was saying, something more exotic. What do you think of India, young man?"
Joanna's smile deepened. Her mother was notorious among the ton for her unique brand of conversation. Her round face and equally round frame, along with small, wide-set eyes and a rosebud mouth, combined to make people think she was dim. In reality, Lady Lindby was quite intelligent. She simply couldn't stop the rapid flight of her thoughts long enough to put together coherent conversations. After years of practice, Joanna found it easy to guess what was on her mother's mind. Now she managed to order several simple arrangements for the wedding breakfast from the befuddled florist and extract her mother from the shop without further ado.
As they rejoined their already laden liveried footman and continued their walk up New Bond Street, they had to stop every few moments toaccept additional congratulations from various acquaintances. The weather was chill for early May. Joanna hugged her blue satin pelisse to her and wished she'd thought to wear a shawl over the top as her mother had done with her own serpentine satin pelisse. Yet as she was forced to smile and offer her thanks for each fervent wish for her happiness, she began to wonder whether it was the weather or her situation she found uncomfortable. Surely this uneasiness she felt was only the pre-wedding jitters of any bride. She nodded at Lady Wentworth's advice on household management and promised Genevieve Munroe that she would be one of the bridesmaids. Her mother managed to call everyone by their correct names and remember to thank them for their kind thoughts. It should all have been very endearing but by the time they reached the dressmaker's several shops down, Joanna could feel her smile becoming strained.
"And how might we serve madame today?" the heavy-set dressmaker sang out, rushing forward in a cloud of lilac perfume.
"Yellow," Lady Lindby pronounced. "Though not a bright shade. I would not want Joanna to blind the fellow before she got him home."
"That is to say," Joanna supplied hurriedly as the dressmaker frowned in confusion, "my mother would like a gown in an understated tone. I am to be married, in June."
Of course more congratulations followed, but Joanna was glad when the woman led her to a velvet upholstered seat before a mirrored dressing table.
"Cream is all the rage," the dressmaker confided, removing Joanna's bonnet, "but with your coloring, I'd try for something more dramatic."
She draped a swatch of silver white satin over the shoulders of Joanna's pelisse. The color complimented her pale skin and brought out the shine in her thick black hair. Above the swatch, her dark eyes glowed.
"I have just the lace for it," the dressmaker continued. "In the finest Brussels rose pattern with silver embroidery. It will match that lovely diamond ring of yours. You'll be more regal than a queen. He won't be able to take his eyes off you."
As her mother stepped forward to discuss design and fittings, Joanna glanced down at the heavy diamond engagement ring, twisting it about her finger. She had been so happy when Allister had slipped it on her hand. Yet somehow in the days that had followed, clouds had crossed the sunshine of her delight. She was now certain that the design of her wedding dress would make little difference. Allister found it all too easy to take his eyes off her. She was afraid the wedding would not change that.
Walking back to their carriage with her mother, she scolded herself for her lack of confidence. She should be thankful. No one had ever expected her to make such a brilliant match. Oh, she had had suitors. Her dark coloring and elegant figure had guaranteed that she would be sought out. But that same composure, coupled with a shy nature, had deterred close connections. Her widowed mother had begged her to try harder, but she couldn't seem to do so. Consequently, she had earned the reputation of being cold.
Yet she knew nothing could be farther from the truth. A passionate heart beat in her breast. She had simply waited for the right man with whom to share it.
Enter Allister Fenwick, Baron Trevithan. One could not ask for a more likely hero. His hair was as dark and thick as hers, and wavier, swept back from a square-jawed face. His deep-set eyes were chips of sapphire that warmed with his mood. His figure was trim; he prowled with the grace of an African predator. To top it all off, he was something of a mystery, having been on assignment to the War Office since graduating from Oxford ten years ago. That this dark and dangerous lord should show interest in her was beyond anything she could have imagined. Yet the first time she had danced with him she'd known he could unlock the door of her heart, and after a month of courting she had been willing to hand him the key. The day he had proposed had been the happiest day of her life.
Except . . .
He had yet to introduce her to any of his friends. While it seemed many people knew of him, few knew him. She could not help but wonder whether there was something amiss that so perfect a specimen of manhood would have so few intimates.
Except . . .
She could not seem to keep his interest when discussing wedding plans. A certain reticence on the part of the groom was to be expected; in her experience gentlemen seldom cared about the details of decoration and deportment the way a lady did. But she couldn't help noticing that there were moments when she was talking to him about more serious subjects and his eyes would dim. If she questioned him he could answer readily enough, but she had the impression that his thoughts were elsewhere.
Except . . .
He hadn't told her he loved her. She'd been so brazen as to ask him outright once, but his smile and wink in response had only been momentarily satisfying. Oh, it wasn't that he was indifferent. He demonstrated a kind consideration whenever they were together. And certainly she had no complaint for his romantic abilities. He sent her flowers, he took her for long walks and held her hand, he waltzed with her more often than was strictly proper, and he stole kisses at flatteringly frequent intervals. In fact the touch of his lips to hers raised a tempest inside her that usually resulted in a swollen mouth, tousled hair, and a satisfied smile on his lordship's handsome face. But not once had he seemed so affected.
As they alighted from the carriage and climbed the stairs to the cheery red door of their small stone townhouse off Grosvenor Square, Joanna sighed. Perhaps she had no confidence in his devotion because they had only known each other a short time. He had only courted her for three months before proposing after all. Three months was a very short time to feel comfortable with a situation. She'd lived in the trim three-story townhouse since her father had died eight years ago and it still felt stiff and cold to her, for all that her mother had decorated it in shades of yellow and bought many fine paintings and porcelains to enhance it. If she took so long to welcome change, she could not expect Allister to change his bachelor ways so quickly. She had to remember that he had proposed--that was the important thing. While he may not love her as deeply as she loved him, they had time. She had every confidence that she would make him a good wife. Perhaps, with time and proximity, he would lose his heart more fully.
"So much to do," her mother lamented as they entered the marble-tiled foyer. "We've only gotten out the first batch of invitations. The family is already sending presents. My friends are clambering to know if they may throw parties for you. This wedding will be the death of me as long as I live."
"I promise I'll be right there to help, Mother," Joanna assured her. Pausing by the half-moon hall table, she thumbed through the stack of cards and invitations that had arrived in their absence. One cream-colored note stood out from the others on the brass tray. It was addressed to her mother, and the sealing wax bore no signet.
"What could this be?" she asked her mother.
Lady Lindby handed her reticule and spencer to the waiting elderly butler and crossed to her daughter's side. Raising an eyebrow, she took the note and opened it. As her button brown eyes moved down the page, all color drained from her face. Joanna watched in alarm as her mother collapsed into the Hepplewhite chair beside the table.
"Mother!" she cried, kneeling in front of her. "Dames, get the smelling salts from my mother's dressing table.
As the butler hurried away, her mother moaned. "Oh, my poor heart." She stared off into the distance. Tears sparkled again, but Joanna knew they could not be from joy. Her mother focused on her with difficulty. "Oh, my poor Joanna!"
"Mother, what is it?" she begged, taking the nearest hand in her own. The short fingers were cold in her grip.
Her mother held out the note with her other hand. "I'm so sorry, dearest."
"Allister?" Joanna gasped in realization. "Has something happened to Allister?" She snatched the letter from her mother's trembling fingers, rising to scan it.
"Lady Lindby," it read in a firm masculine hand, "it is with great distress and after many hours of consideration that I must rescind my offer for your daughter. I find I am simply not ready to embark on the sea of matrimony. I wish you luck in the future." It was signed merely "Trevithan."
Joanna felt cold to the center of her being. How could he? Had she been so uninteresting that she could be summarily dismissed? How could he end their engagement with this disgustingly inadequate note? How could he send it to her mother, like some coward afraid to face her? How could he offer no reason, no excuse for putting them through such embarrassment, such pain? Did he think she was without sensibility, without feeling?
"Oh, my poor dear," her mother moaned, gazing up at her with tears staining pale cheeks. "What will we do?"
"Do?" Joanna asked with a cold fury. "Do? Oh, I promise you, madame, we will do something. This is insufferable. Unthinkable." She drew herself up to her full height and glared at her mother, the gaping footman, and the butler who had just returned with the smelling salts.
"I will be married," she swore, "in June."
Lord Trevithan makes a cameo appearance in Eloquence and Espionage, book 4 of the Lady Emily capers.