The Promise Rose [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Joan Vincent
eBook Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
eBook Description: When Lady Barry danced with a masked gentleman at Raneleagh Gardens, she felt a surprising tingle of pleasure. This was no stranger, but the now Earl of Prideau, who had broken his pledge of love. Lady Barry was struggling to free her late husband's estate from his debts, and now attempts were made on her stepson's life. Was Prideau the villain, or would he solve the mystery? Georgian Romance by Joan Vincent; originally published by Avalon
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, Published: 2003
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2012
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The two young ladies on the garden path walked as closely together as the wide hip hoops beneath their Watteau-style gowns permitted. Their huge sleeve bows dancing a minuet to their whispered confidences. Near a small pool at the end of the garden they rested upon a stone bench, shaded from the afternoon sun by a huge beech tree, ancient as the estate upon which it stood.
"Oh, Glenna," Barry tisked as one of her friend's burnished gold curls sprang free from its pin and bobbed free beneath the delicate lace morning cap. She refastened the lock, then carefully ran a hand over her own dark brown hair, meticulously dressed in close, tight curls.
"What is a loose curl?" Glenna laughed, her bright blue eyes sparkling. "Must you be so very serious about everything?" she chided her friend. "Mr. McDowell is not so grim." She paused, and then clapped her hands in delight. "If he and I happen to be alone this evening, I must contrive for a curl to fall free so he can pin it for me."
"You would not!" gasped Barry. She blushed fiercely. "Why he--he could take advantage of the moment and--and kiss you."
"Oh, I do hope so," Glenna sighed. "Barry, you needn't look so shocked--he and I are to be wed."
Both young ladies giggled nervously.
Glenna studied her companion curiously. "Have you truly never been kissed?"
"You know I have not been in society as much as you," Barry said, her brown eyes darkening in reflection. "Father does not often call me home from school. I do thank you for having me come home with you so often."
"After you saved me from that horrid Mrs. Mumpkin? Such a nasty scolding and all over a little mouse. How was I to know she would take such a fright? I could do no less for you. We shall always be friends. When Mr. McDowell and I are wed you shall come often to visit."
"Do you 'care' for him?"
"I suppose I must, since we are to be wed. Mother says it does not matter. She insists marriage is so much more agreeable when one's affections are not involved," Glenna prattled. "But let us speak of you. What of Prideau?" She watched Barry's cheeks turn a soft rose red. "Ah, you do care for him then. You must allow him to walk with you in the gardens this evening."
"I do not think he is interested in that way. He only likes to discuss Mr. Pelham's programs with me and speak of his work. He intends to enter the Commons." Barry raised her eyes from the pool's glossy surface.
"I cannot believe that is all," Glenna assured her. "He watches you whenever he thinks no one may notice it." She grimaced, and then shrugged. "Prideau would be far too serious for me. But, well, you seem well matched. I shall speak--"
"Oh, Glenna," Barry protested, taking her hand. "You would not, could not be so forward. I could never forgive you. There is not hope that such as I can attract Prideau."
"Melloncourt," chirped Glenna. She laughed gaily at Barry's consternation. "Lady Melloncourt. Don't you remember? The scandal two years ago. Well, there were those who said she had no looks and no dowry, but still she wed a duke. You are vastly more handsome." Glenna took in Barry's statuesque height, the clear, rose-petal complexion and luxurious chestnut curls. "If only you did not persist in being such a bluestocking. Mrs. Montague might be pleased to hear that you read such things as Swift and Pope, and that you speak of their work with understanding, but really, Barry, that is what deters any man from approaching you. You know I have not a single feather to fly with for a brain and I am to be wed to Mr. McDowell."
Barry rose to continue their walk, saying nothing. The truth of Glenna's words was too well verified by her lack of suitors. Even had there been many, she was wise enough to know that as the daughter of a minor gentry family of merely adequate means her chances of a "good" match were small. But Prideau had shown a lack of concern for such matters and hope had tenaciously woven a tentacle about her heart.
Barry released a soft, lengthy sigh as she watched the graceful curtsies of a rainbow of satin and silk gowns in the movements of the stately minuet. She had escaped Glenna's latest effort, the elderly Lord Gromley, a widower from the Cotswolds who had brightened visibly when introduced to the young but serious-minded miss.
It was very warm in the ballroom, and Barry fanned her face, wishing she had not consented to wear the heavy satin gown Glenna had brought to her chamber that afternoon. Glancing down at the much-furbelowed golden skirt draped over the wide whalebone hoop, however, she smiled. It was an exquisite gown and she did feel beautiful. If only it were not the elderly gentlemen who noted it, she thought. Her eyes flickered across the company of dancers, seeking a tall, thin gentleman with a quiet, subdued presence.
At the sound of a voice at her side, Barry started; then, seeing it was Prideau, smiled. "Yes?"
"It is quite warm, what with the candles and the great crowd. That is, I was wondering if you might wish a walk in the gardens." He hurried his words, suddenly nervous. "Near the lantern light, of course," he added hastily when she hesitated.
"Why, yes. That would be pleasant." Barry took his arm, a tremor running through her under his warm smile, the gentle appeal of his dark eyes.
They walked silently for a pace, moving away from the other strollers. Barry glanced at him and wondered at his lack of words, for they usually conversed freely.
"May I ask you a question of a most personal nature?" Prideau blurted.
His simple earnestness struck her heart a fatal blow. "If you wish."
"Has anyone--has your father been approached--that is, are you promised in marriage?" His firm lips tightened, bracing for the reply
Barry's cheeks paled. "No," she breathed, her heart hammering in her ears.
"I see," he said with a sigh of relief, then pressed her to walk forward, taking the time to choose his words carefully as they moved beyond the veranda. "I am but two and twenty, far too young to wed," Prideau gravely told her. "But I believe the selection of one's lifelong companion to be a most serious matter. Do you believe arranged marriages, such as that of Miss Adden and Mr. McDowell, are for the best?"
"I--I had not thought on it," she stammered, trying to puzzle his meaning. "It is the usual manner of betrothal and both seem pleased."
"But is the mutual enhancement of families, their security, the only goal of marriage?" His eyes darkened, his somber demeanor intensified.
Barry frowned. She struggled to defend Glenna's choice and yet answer honestly.
"I mean no insult to your friend," Prideau assured her. "But to my thinking, happiness in one's choice of wife or husband should never rest on an assessment of his or her worldly possessions."
Prideau gazed at the tall beauty, bathed in the pale moonlight gleamed. The young man drew a deep breath. "I am but a second son and, as such, have little to offer. In a month I must go to visit my father's lands in the American colonies. I may be gone for some time, a year, perhaps even longer. But while there, I hope to advance myself." An intense hope shone in his eyes. He took her hands in his. "Do I dare too much to hope that--could we not exchange letters during this time?"
She had not dared to hope that he cared for her. "It would be an honor," Barry breathed.
"If I can manage it, I shall visit your home before I go. I would not want your father to think ill of my forwardness in speaking to you."
"I am certain he shall not, but it would not matter," she assured him, the knowledge of his feelings emboldening her.
The stubborn rise of her chin brought a smile to his lips. "May I use your given name?"
Barry leaned forward to catch the softly spoken words. Her closeness proved too much for the young man's resolution. His arms slipped about her, his lips closed gently on hers. They parted slowly, gazing in wonder at each other. After a long moment, Prideau spoke. "This shall be our pledge. It shall not be broken by time or distance," he murmured.
"As you say it," Barry said, wishing to laugh and cry at the same time, for she saw all he wished to say in his eyes even as he read a like reply in hers.
Raising her hand to his lips, he kissed it lightly then drew her to him. "I have never said this to anyone before. "I love you."
"And I--I love you," she answered shyly, raising her face to receive his kiss.
Moments later Prideau reluctantly pulled back, his gaze lingering on her face, then he turned, placed her hand upon his arm and glanced about. "We must return to the ballroom," he said regretfully.
On the veranda elderly Lord Gromley stood frowning into the dimly lit night. He watched the young couple slowly returning, an aura of happiness surrounding them as it had not done before. He resolved to act at once.
"Barry! Barry? Why are you hiding here?" Glenna scolded, entering an arbor she and her friend frequented. "Mother's seamstress wishes to give your gown for the wedding a fitting." She paused. "Have you--are you crying?" Glenna hurried to her.
Barry wiped away her tears with her kerchief and stood. "It is--nothing." An object fell from the folds of her skirt.
"What a beautiful rose," Glenna said, retrieving it. "A red rose, la rose d'amour." She arched a brow teasingly. "Prideau?" A squeal of delight escaped at Barry's nod. "Oh, do tell me what has happened."
"Four days ago--the night of the ball, we went for a walk in the garden. He asked if we might exchange missives while he is in America," Barry reluctantly told her. Her color rose. "He repeated his request when you left us alone on the picnic yesterday."
"Is he to call on your father before he leaves?"
"He spoke of visiting my home but we did not speak of marriage--not directly. There has been so little time." Barry blinked back tears, reached out, and gently took the rose from Glenna's hand, cradling it tenderly.
"A walk in the garden," Barry murmured. "A magic moment during a picnic. And now there is no time." Her face began to crumble. "He has been summoned home--departed this morning." A tear fell on the fragile rose petals. "A maid brought this to me," she caressed the rose, "with a note that he would come the next time I was given such a rose. That he would then be free to speak its--message."
Glenna blinked several times then beamed. "Oh, my. I never would have believed it of Prideau."
"I can hardly credit that he loves me."
Seeing the wonder shine in Barry's eyes, her deep vulnerability, Glenna wished to caution her. "You must remember that men are rather strange creatures. Mother says they often say things they do not mean--and that is true. Two months ago Mr. Retrand was swearing his undying devotion to me and now he is betrothed to another."
"But Prideau did mean it," Barry returned vehemently. "My heart will break if he did not. It will."