Did you ever have a secret crush when you were younger? One that you were so embarrassed by that you never even told your best friends about it? I had one. And I got so tongue-tied around him that I could not even speak to the guy. Me! Star of school plays, an unabashed choir geek, solo singer, and cheeky flirt! I did not dare to even attempt to be his friend. We had multiple classes together every year and I probably conversed with him for a grand total of fifteen minutes throughout all four years of high school.
How does this relate to my work-in-progress? Well, what would happen if I used one of my favorite Regency tropes--the marriage of convenience--and threw a relatable heroine in with HER super-embarrassing "high school" crush?? That was the thought experiment that started this WIP. Where would you want a story like that to go? What outrageous, hilarious, or swoon-worthy places could we take it? The first several pages' worth of the story are pasted below. What do you think?
May 24, 1810
“You’re going to accept him, aren’t you?” her mother asked.
Beatrice looked out the window at the impossibly cheerful floral scene in their front garden. The bright pink rhododendrons formed a sharp contrast to her current mood. “It doesn’t appear I have much of a choice.”
Mrs. Saynsberry did not answer for a long moment. “I am sorry, dear. I know that your sister’s scandal was not your fault and it isn’t fair you need to suffer for it. But let us focus on the positive, shall we? Mr. Dixon is a kind young man, and he is a great friend of your father’s.”
Mr. Dixon appeared in Beatrice’s mind. He was of an outrageous height and his eyes were always open just a little too wide, giving him a permanent look of mild shock. She grimaced and closed her eyes. Being physically attracted to her husband was something of a luxury that she couldn’t afford right now.
“He is a good man,” Beatrice admitted. “But he is regrettably dull.”
“He does not lack intelligence.”
“Depending on what sort of intelligence you are speaking of.” Beatrice could not quite bite back her response.
Beatrice’s mother heaved a weary sigh. “Beatrice . . .”
Her insides squirmed within her. “I am sorry, Mother. I was not clear before. If he offers for me, I will accept him. I recognize that he is a decent person and I have precious few other options right now. He will treat me with respect and I’ll have a household of my own. My happiness is about as secure with him as it would be with anyone else.”
Mrs. Saynsberry seemed heartened by this. “And perhaps you two may grow more affectionate toward one another, given enough time.”
A great deal of time . . . Beatrice thought to herself, but forced herself to quietly smile at her mother. She took a deep breath. It was time to grow up and leave her petulance behind her along with the schoolroom. Her sister’s imprudent marriage to a carpenter without her parents’ permission had made her happy enough, but there were already starting to be whispers and titters behind the hands of the members of the congregation at church. Beatrice could not safely remain single for much longer. It was even worse for Mr. Saynsberry than it was for Beatrice–a vicar ought not to indulge in gossip, and could do precious little to defend himself or his daughters from ugly rumors.
Mr. Dixon rounded the corner and started up the walkway to the parsonage. Beatrice took a deep breath in through her nose and out through her mouth, standing in preparation to welcome her future-husband into the parlor. She tried not to notice the odd sort of springing gait of his long legs and how they made him look like a grasshopper.
After what seemed both an age and an instant, Mr. Dixon was introduced into the parlor by the housekeeper and bowed, his features even more stiff than usual.
Mrs. Saynsberry welcomed him warmly. “Mr. Dixon, it is good of you to come. Shall I send for some tea?” she stood as if to leave the room for this little errand, but Mr. Dixon stopped her.
“No, thank you, ma’am, for my visit must be brief.”
Beatrice’s mother still did not sit down. “I understand. Would you prefer a private audience with Miss Saynsberry, sir?”
“That will not be necessary, ma’am. I merely wanted to express my condolences on the loss of your elder daughter . . .” Beatrice frowned at this. It wasn’t as though her sister had died, after all, but Mr. Dixon continued on. “. . . And in the reduction of prospects your younger daughter will suffer as a result.”
Beatrice’s stomach dropped. Her hands and feet felt like ice, and she very nearly shivered. A proposal would have been bad enough, but mere condolences? Her breaths began coming a little more quickly than before, despite her best efforts.
“She only needs one good prospect, sir,” Mrs. Saynsberry said quickly. “One good, understanding young man.”
Beatrice closed her eyes. Her mother’s desperate efforts only added a humiliating heat to her paralyzing discomfort.
“And I wish you luck in finding one, ma’am,” Mr. Dixon said shortly. “But for now I fear I must bid you good day. I again express my most heartfelt condolences.”
He bowed, and Beatrice barely managed to bend her stiff knees enough for a curtsy before he disappeared back out the parlor door. The entire encounter could not have lasted longer than half a minute, but Beatrice was reeling.
Mrs. Saynsberry took a deep, shaking breath and hurried from the room, leaving Beatrice very much alone. She sat back down on the sofa, bringing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. If her mother’s emotions were such that she needed to leave rather than comfort to Beatrice, she knew her situation was even more dire than they had begun to fear.
Mr. Dixon was certainly not her first choice. He had awkwardly sought her out at every local assembly for years, but had not dared pursue a courtship until only a few weeks ago, when Lucy had gone off to visit their aunt in Bath and had used the opportunity to become overly familiar with a carpenter who had been installing shelves in the library. The rest of their courtship and secret elopement was history, and was already becoming gossip fodder from Bath to Swindon, rapidly spreading beyond their own modest acquaintance.
Angry tears stung at Beatrice’s eyelids and she covered her face with a couch cushion to unleash a frustrated groan. If even the staid and respectable village attorney, a good friend of her father’s, weren’t willing to offer for her, who would be?
Lord Peter Augustus Mead, Viscount of Elcombe and heir to the Earldom of Beaufort, was a single man of large fortune, and he was in want of a wife.
He blew air out through his lips as he scowled at the household ledgers in front of him. He had been too long in London. Nearly two years had passed since he had been settled at Overton Manor, his family’s seat, and things had already gotten somewhat out of hand since his parents had begun spending all of their time in Bath the year before.
Several servants had left their positions, having little or no work to do, the tenants were growing irritable, and even he could tell that the decor in his old family home was several decades out of date. What he needed was a wife. He hadn’t been looking for marriage during his seasons in Town–he’d been having far too much fun to bother with that–but perhaps he ought to have been. The estate’s coffers were healthy enough, but without a bit of economy and a woman’s touch managing the home, the home and tenant affairs had suffered.
His parents had never said anything against his London bachelor lifestyle and habits and his quarterly allowance had remained generous, but after seeing one too many friends do poorly at the faro tables and suffer accordingly, he had been somewhat anxious to see that his future affairs were in order. Given the way the estate was limping along, it was a good thing he had returned when he had.
A soft knock sounded at the door and Mrs. Haddon entered. “Tea, Lord Peter?”
The old housekeeper had known him since he was a child, and he could not help but smile. “Yes, of course. Thank you.”
She smiled in response as she arranged the tea things on the desk for him.
Lord Peter leaned back in his seat and stretched, giving an almighty yawn. “How long have I been at it, Mrs. Haddon? It can’t be afternoon already.”
“It is, my lord. Nearly four. I figured you might be in need of a bit of refreshment.”
Peter nodded. “Thoughtful of you. May I ask . . . what do you think most needs doing around here? You know–to bring the estate around and back where it ought to be.”
Mrs. Haddon pursed her lips in thought, and Peter could tell that she was searching her mind for a tactful response.
He continued. “I know that my parents were not known as the most . . . gracious hosts, I suppose you could say.”
“They were not accustomed to much entertaining,” the housekeeper agreed with a nod. “If you plan to change that, now that your father expects you to see to the estate’s affairs on your own, I could recommend several changes. However . . .”
“Yes?” he pressed, pushing her reticence aside like a bothersome curtain.
“Well, if it’s isn’t too bold of me, my Lord, many of these decisions would ideally be made by the lady of the house.”
Peter took a sip of his tea, nodding slowly. “You’re absolutely right.” As I thought. A wife, a wife . . . his mind flipped through the faces of the ladies of his acquaintance in Town like so many playing cards. There were several that had seemed interested in him, and he mentally riffled through these, closing his eyes. Fortune hunter, title-seeker, notorious flirt, proud as a peacock . . . he opened his eyes and shook his head. His own mother was very little like any of the women he tended to meet in town. She was soft-spoken and gentle–she listened before she spoke and she cared little for fashion or fortunes. She was one of the most contented people he knew, and he felt a sense of calm pass over him just thinking about her. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to find a similar sense of peace with any of the young ladies of his acquaintance.
“Did you need anything else, my lord?”
He glanced back up at Mrs. Haddon, surprised out of his reverie. “I . . . no. Thank you again.”
Mrs. Haddon bobbed a curtsy and swept out of the room. She likely had much to attend to and he barely knew half of it. He sighed again, leaning back in his chair and staring at the ceiling, his hands supporting the back of his head.
His father was one of his favorite sources of advice, but he was a terrible correspondent, and Peter had little desire to travel all the way to Bath for an audience with his unusual father. The next best thing, he decided, was the vicar. Mr. Saynsberry had been a loyal friend to the family and a trusted counselor for as long as he could remember.
Peter took a last swig of his tea and slipped his arms back into his jacket. It was already too warm to wear one when unnecessary, and he’d already grown accustomed to wandering the manor in his shirtsleeves–yet another symptom of his bachelorhood that Mrs. Haddon and the other servants likely balked at. He smiled at the thought and hurried to his rooms to have his valet see to his appearance before he left the house.
Beatrice’s eyes hungrily traced the lines she had drawn on the page. The strong nose, the chiseled cheekbones, the piercing, thoughtful eyes. At least, she had tried very hard to make them piercing and thoughtful, but no matter how hard she tried, her drawings paled in comparison to the glory that was the reality of Lord Peter. Lord Peter Brimhall, heir of the Marquess of Kingston, was a vision of perfect beauty and grace.
And oh, how she hated him.
As she flopped backward onto the soft, mossy green grass beneath her, the sun warming her eyelids until she saw red, she tried to imagine that she was something wonderful. The sort of beauty that would inspire artists with far more talent than she had. That would inspire rich, handsome men to offer for her despite her unfortunate circumstances.
Her neatly-pinned hair had gotten mussed from the afternoon’s activities, and she hoped it was in a beautiful way–like one of those romantic, windswept paintings of charming peasants in the French countryside. But she more likely looked like Mrs. Phelps, an elderly woman who’d fallen asleep on one of the pews during a dull sermon one Sunday. She had awakened when the organ began playing the closing hymn and had stood and greeted the congregation with all the placid dignity of one who clearly did not notice her hair looked ridiculous.
Surely Beatrice’s hairstyle was already ruined. She would need to fix it before supper anyway. So what was the harm if she . . .
With a mischievous smile, Beatrice pulled pins from her hair until her long, pale reddish brown locks rested around her shoulders. With her eyes closed and her hair softly fluttering in the spring breeze, it was far easier to pretend that she was irresistibly lovely. Surely anyone happening by could not possibly help but fall in love with her–even the stubbornly uninterested Lord Peter. She’d been attempting–and failing, if she were honest with herself–not to like him for as long as she could remember.
“Bea? Is that you?”
Beatrice could feel her cheeks burn, but remained as still as a stone while she deliberated what she ought to do. It was bad enough she had been caught with her hair down by a man, but he sounded rather like an old man. She wrinkled her nose and sighed.
She glanced up to see her family’s gardener, Norman Jenkins, watching her curiously.
“Yes, Norman,” she finally said, snatching at the loose tufts of her dignity and pulling them about her like a cape. “Did you need something?”
“Not exactly, miss. Only I was about to trim the shrubs just yonder. Hate to disturb you while I work.”
Whatever silly spell she’d been trying to cast on herself with her daydreams disappeared and she forced a smile. “Of course. I am sorry to be a bother.”
Beatrice gathered her things, her arms full of books and her soft, cream-colored picnic blanket slung over her shoulder. She took a deep breath of the last of the season’s apple blossoms and closed her eyes, allowing a final daydream to overtake her before returning to the house. She could hear hoofbeats in the distance and pretended that Lord Peter himself were charging up the lane on his black horse, his thick, tawny hair tousled by the breeze and the gaze of his intense blue eyes riveted on her. He’d climb off his mount, walk directly to her, and say–
“Ah, Miss Beatrice. I hope I find you well? Do you know if your father is in?”
The voice was unfamiliar.
Lord Peter. Beatrice’s eyes snapped open to see Lord Peter standing there in the flesh, holding the reins of his horse and watching her expectantly.
She blinked. He was so much taller than she remembered. He towered at least seven or eight inches over her and she had to tilt her chin to meet his eyes. She hadn’t seen him in years and was chagrined to realize that he had only grown more handsome since the last time they had met at a local assembly. She scowled before she could help herself, but a moment later he cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows.
“Oh!” she said, forcing a polite, neutral expression onto her face, “yes, my father is in. He ought to be in his study. Mrs. Milner can show you in.”
Lord Peter smiled politely and gave a half bow of acknowledgement, tipping his hat. “And my horse?”
Beatrice glanced about, eager to end the awkward encounter as swiftly as possible, and when their groom did not readily present himself, she offered to take the reins.
“I can take your horse to the stables. Mr. Greene ought to be there.”
“Oh, I can take him there. I hate to trouble you.”
“‘Tis no trouble!” she said quickly, eager to make an escape.
Lord Peter smiled again, politely bobbed his head, and turned to walk into the house, leaving Beatrice with a leather strap in her sweaty hands and a pounding heart trying to jolt itself right out of her chest.
To be continued . . .
who am I?
My name is Mary-Celeste, but my friends call me M.C. I am a writer, wife, mother, amateur gardener, sourdough bread baker, n00b video gamer, Austen enthusiast, tabletop gamer, Trekkie, and generally cheerful human being. I write Regency romances and I post about it here (among other things). Thanks for stopping by!