April 1810, Piccadilly Street, London
“Vanessa! So this is where you’ve got to! Mama is beyond vexed with you for slipping away during my fitting!”
Vanessa’s head jerked back as she slammed the book shut with a definitive smack and gaped at her younger sister, whose pixie-like appearance was contradicted by the sharp tone of her voice.
“I’m so sorry. I only meant to find a new book. What time is it? Surely I haven’t been here more than ten minutes or so.”
Eugenia rolled her emerald green eyes, her arms crossed over her chest. “We’ve been searching for you more than half an hour. Mama had to reschedule your fitting since Madame LaFleur had another appointment.”
She dropped her arms and reached into her reticule for a handkerchief. “Really, Vanessa, I know it must be difficult for you to look forward to my wedding in view of the fact that you are my older sister, but can you not at least make the effort to avoid antagonizing our mother? You know how she gets when things don’t go her way. The entire house will be in an uproar and there will be no peace for anyone.”
She dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief, and Vanessa, overcome with contrition for her behavior and compassion for her sister, rose to embrace her, the book carefully laid on the bench.
“I am so sorry, Genie. I don’t mean to be so ungenerous. Of course I am delighted at the news of your betrothal. You and Reese are perfect for each other, and you deserve a magnificent wedding. Please forgive me for being so thoughtless! It’s just that—you and Mama were busy with the modiste and I thought I could just slip out for a moment to see if Hatchard’s had any new novels.” She swallowed. “The time got away from me.”
Eugenia stroked her hair gently. “I know this can’t be easy for you, my dear. Not after what happened in the past. I almost feel guilty for finding my own happiness so quickly and unexpectedly when you have had to endure so much.” She stepped back and grasped Vanessa’s shoulders, looking at her directly. “Wedding aside, it’s time for you to move ahead with your life. Find some worthwhile occupation… a charity, perhaps. Something to get you out of the house before Mother’s constant carping makes you fit for Bedlam.”
Vanessa wanted to argue that she was doing well enough without her sister’s advice, but the lie just wouldn’t fall off her tongue. Slinking off to her bedchamber at every opportune moment to bury herself in books and write bad poetry was not really much of a life. Especially not with having to endure her mother’s constant nagging about her appearance, her unmarried state, and her bluestocking tendencies. Eugenia and their mother’s obsessive devotion to her had made life at Sedgely House bearable; once Eugenia was whisked off to Hertfordshire with her gentleman-farmer husband, Mrs. Sedgely’s attention would be focused entirely on remaking her disappointing older daughter.
She leaned in and kissed her sister on the cheek. “You constantly amaze me, little sister. Just seventeen and not only are you about to become a bride, but you have the maturity and wisdom to offer your spinster sister some excellent advice. If I involve myself in some worthwhile charity, perhaps Mama will give up pestering me to find a husband.”
Eugenia threw back her head and laughed. “I assure you she will never give up that particular pleasure. But at least you will have the opportunity to escape the house and her badgering, and at the same time do some good for the unfortunate.” She chuckled, her eyes twinkling with mischief. “No doubt you will meet a great deal of interesting ladies—and gentlemen—and who knows what will happen from there?”
Vanessa grinned, aiming a playful swat at Eugenia’s upper arm. “You mustn’t hold your breath. No doubt any gentlemen involved in such schemes are stout, white-haired solicitors old enough to be my father.”
“But they may have eligible sons,” her sister suggested with a smile. “In any case, you will make the acquaintance of many worthy individuals that you might never have encountered in the ballrooms of the ton. People who value more in life than simply wealth and titles.”
“Mother will hate that. You know she has always aspired to have lofty connections.”
“My Reese is a squire’s son, a gentleman farmer. No title. No more than moderately well-to-do. Besides, she can’t but recall the mess that occurred with your betrothal to a baron’s son.” Seeing Vanessa’s face whiten, she grasped a hand and squeezed it. “Now don’t keep berating yourself over it, Vanessa. It was years ago, and it wasn’t your fault he ran off to Scotland with a milkmaid. You didn’t love each other. You agreed to the betrothal only to please Mama.”
Vanessa drew a deep, calming breath and smiled shakily. “True. I’m so glad that you were able to find and fight for your true love, Genie. Your Reese is a fortunate man to have won so wise a wife.”
Eugenia flushed. “Just between you and me, I haven’t the faintest idea how to be a wife. I shouldn’t want Reese to become disappointed with me.”
Vanessa shook her head. “That man loves you, Genie. I’m sure he worships every part of you, right down to your toenails.”
“My toenails?” Eugenia’s giggles reverberated through the shop, and the slender gentleman behind the counter sent them a stern look.
“Along with the other parts of you he hasn’t seen yet,” Vanessa continued. “He hasn’t, has he?”
Eugenia tilted her head as she reflected on it. “No, I don’t think so. Not my toenails, at any rate.” She bit her lip. “But seriously, Vanessa, I do have some concerns. Not about Reese, but about a childhood friend of his, the earl’s daughter from a neighboring estate. When we went to call upon her the other day, I could see that the news of our engagement was a devastating blow to her.”
“Ah yes, Lady Theresa Granville. She had her presentation the year before mine. I heard about her, but she’s been absent from the social scene since.”
“That’s because she’s completely fixated on farming, maybe even more so than Reese is. They’re constantly together talking about agricultural nonsense, and the truth is, I’ve done nothing more than arrange cut flowers from the garden. I could study farming every day and never have as much knowledge as she has in her little finger.”
“Ah, but Reese chose you. He’s had years to propose to her and chose not to do so. I’m quite sure he doesn’t expect you to turn into Lady Theresa.”
Eugenia smiled shakily. “I hope you’re right. I know he loves me. I just hope I can persuade Lady Theresa to accept me as Reese’s wife. Her friendship is important to him—to both of them, really—and I should really dislike to be the reason it came to an end.”
Vanessa squeezed her sister’s hand. “She’ll learn to love you, my dear. Everyone does, when they get to know you.”
The shop door opened noisily, and a scowling gentleman peered in.
“Excuse me, ladies, but is that your carriage holding up traffic in the street? The lady inside has been waving her umbrella out the window for quite some time.”
Both girls stared at each other in horror before they raced to the door of the bookshop and shakily boarded the carriage, mumbling apologies that went unheard as Mrs. Sedgely railed at them relentlessly.
Vanessa leaned her head against the squabs and closed her eyes.
Genie is right. I need to take charge of my life. Now… how shall I go on from here?
About Treasuring Theresa
Lady Theresa despises London society. What’s worse is that she has to attend the betrothal ball of the young man she expected to marry. To deflect all the pitiful glances from the other guests, she makes a play for the most striking gentleman there—who happens to be her Cousin Damian, who is everything she despises.
Damian, Lord Clinton sees a desperate young lady with no social graces, and it solidifies his opinion that country folk are beneath him. But it so happens that he is the heir to that young lady’s father’s title and estate, and the time comes when he finds himself obliged to spend some time there.
Thrown together, both Damian and Theresa discover each other’s hidden depths. But are their differences too much to overcome to make a successful match?
Treasuring Theresa is Book 1 of The Hertfordshire Hoydens series. Originally published in the Blush Cotillion line at Ellora’s Cave, Treasuring Theresa has been re-released with a brand new cover by the fabulous Mari Christie. Book 2, Cherishing Charlotte, will be coming in the autumn, and Book 3, Valuing Vanessa, will appear in the Bluestocking Belles’ next holiday anthology.
Treasuring Theresa was a finalist in the 2013 EPIC Awards.
About the Author
Susana has always had stories in her head waiting to come out, especially when she learned to read and her imagination began to soar. Voracious reading led to a passion for writing, and her fascination with romance and people of the past landed her firmly in the field of historical romance.
A teacher in her former life, Susana lives in Toledo, Ohio in the summer and central Florida in the winter. She is a member of the Central Florida Romance Writers and the Beau Monde chapters of RWA and Maumee Valley Romance Inc.