Book 1a WONDERFUL HARRIET

Hi, Everyone!
When I first started thinking about releasing my backlist, I thought it would be fun to occasionally create companion stories for the original novels, the real point of inspiration for WONDERFUL HARRIET.  I had a terrific time building in the bumbling-but-soon-to-transform Cornelius, who bungles a kidnapping at the outset of the book. 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00040]

WONDERFUL HARRIET was an absolute joy to write.  I captured the heroine, ‘Harriet’ from WICKED AND WONDERFUL by asking the question:  How would Judith’s journey, in WICKED AND WONDERFUL, change Harriet’s life? I answered the question thematically first, that Judith’s choices would have inspired Harriet to take her future into her own hands.  In that way, WONDERFUL HARRIET was born.

***Reader Alert: WONDERFUL HARRIET is an original story, never before published.  It is also exclusively a Regency romance.  There are no paranormal or contemporary elements in this story.

And now for the story:  When Viscount Hardwick’s incompetent cousin, Cornelius, attempts to kidnap Harriet Banwell, Harriet demands that the viscount atone for his neglected cousin’s misdeeds and make her the hit of the London season!

But it’s Lord Hardwick who gives shape to the story, a typical alpha hero, dominating his world, unaware of the hearts he steals and breaks, and generally headed down the wrong path until Harriet intrudes with her solid common sense.  Her transformation, however, sets all the wheels in motion for change, for brighter futures, and for love.

I hope you enjoy Harriet and Hardwick’s journey as they each engage with life and with each other in a way that lets a forever kind of love blossom in the world of Regency London.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00040]He never thought to look beyond her shabby gowns…

Hardwick has known Harriet for ages, but the unfortunate figure she makes in society has never allowed him to see the woman that she is.  When his cousin attempts to kidnap her, Harriet suddenly seems to change as she demands that he take her around in his circles.  The woman desires a husband, a man she can love, and with a newly transformed appearance Hardwick thinks he could get the job done.  But who is this daring, new Harriet and why does Hardwick no longer enjoy presenting her to his available bachelor friends?

She never hoped to engage his elusive heart…

Harriet Banwell has never been the toast of London, but all that changes when she takes her future, her love-life, and her unfortunate wardrobe strongly in hand, though not necessarily in that order.  Undergoing a personal transformation and determined to find love, Harriet demands that Lord Hardwick make amends for his hapless cousin’s absurd behavior by taking his cousin, Cornelius, under his wing and by introducing Harriet to the beau monde.  But the demands she places on the viscount soon puts her in his company far more often than her vulnerable heart can manage.  Will her plans bring about the changes she desires, or does she risk losing her heart forever to a man who can never see her true worth?

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And now, here’s the first chapter of WONDERFUL HARRIET!

Chapter One:

The wilds of Somerset, 1818

“She will not give you the money, Cornelius. She had rather die first. You know how my mother is.” Harriet could not credit that in her supremely ordinary life, adventure had finally come to her even if from the most absurd man in the world.

“Everyone says she’s rich as Croesus,” Cornelius said. “I…I shall make her give me the money.”

Harriet stared at the pistol leveled at her bosom. The barrel shook. She would have been worried at an accidental firing, but given the sad manner in which Cornelius had actually loaded the weapon, she could only sigh.

Her uncle had taught her the use of firearms from the time she was very young, and from what she could perceive, the only danger she faced right now was that her captor would accidentally drop the weapon on her foot. The pan had no powder and she could hear the pistol ball roll in the barrel, which of course caused Cornelius to keep the pistol aimed upward at a rather strange angle.

She unloosened the already loose knot that held her wrists together in front of her and bunched the now unencumbered rope on her lap.

She knew Cornelius well. She had grown up with him since his family was one of many that her parents visited in any given year. Later, she met him at the local assemblies in Bath. He had been hopeless then but she feared that he had actually grown worse.

She glanced out the window to her left. She could see her mother’s coach across the street. A fresh team had already been harnessed and the coachman held the reins firmly in hand, ready to be going.

Cornelius had at least achieved the hiring of a private parlor here at the Swan just across from the Crown. Although, given his intention of demanding a ransom from her mother for Harriet’s safe return, she wasn’t certain how he had paid for the accommodations in the first place.

Cornelius, it would seem, was deeply in debt and needed funds instantly to extricate himself.

The trouble was, Harriet could have easily escaped since she wasn’t in the least danger and could overpower Cornelius merely by yelling at him.

She had arrived with her mother, en route to London for the Season, to enjoy a very fine nuncheon at the Crown. Having taken a few moments to walk up the High Street and back before returning to the coach, she had been waylaid by Cornelius who asked to speak with her on a matter of some urgency.

Once within the parlor, he had produced a pistol and after having settled the firearm on a nearby table which Harriet could have easily grabbed, he had set about binding her. She had even assisted him in tying the bow. Then he had thanked her for her help.

For reasons she could not quite explain to herself, she had almost from the first decided to let the very strange and inadequate kidnapping play out.

Yet, as she stared at the coach awaiting her, she released a heavy sigh. She was deeply discontent, for many reasons she supposed. But if she had to set a date as to when her general dissatisfaction began, she believed it was summer last when she was in the company of the Earl of Kelthorne at his castle in Somerset, during a visit that lasted several weeks.

She was friends with Kelthorne’s sisters and had been invited to enjoy the newly inherited castle. The married women had been plotting to get the quite roguish Earl of Kelthorne betrothed at last.

They had achieved their goal, but only because fate had stepped in and provided exactly the right woman for Kelthorne and not the one of their choosing.

It had all been so romantic for among the group was an extraordinary young woman, Judith Lovington, who had been hiding in a traveling troupe of performers for some eight years, from the time she was fourteen. She had escaped a damaging situation that somehow involved the Marquess of Stolford, though given her maidenly status, Harriet had been prevented from knowing many of the details. An attempted abduction was all that she’d been told.

In the end, Kelthorne had managed to find Miss Lovington before harm was done and a few weeks later, after having fallen violently in love, they were married.

Yes, very romantic.

Judith Lovington had therefore dominated Harriet’s thoughts for months now. She was happily married and was said to be with child. Harriet sincerely hoped that Lady Kelthorne would be in London, despite her delicate state. She wanted to see the young woman again, two years her junior, who had overcome such tremendous odds to have love transform her life.

Love. That elusive state in which Harriet had never once found herself, never known even a moment’s fluttering of the heart. Well, perhaps one man had made her heart flutter, possibly even throb horribly on occasion, but he had been so far beyond her reach that she had ignored the occasional plucking of her heartstrings when he but entered a room.

As for her mama, Mrs. Banwell cared only that Harriet stop disgracing herself and finally take a husband. However, at four and twenty, Harriet’s unwillingness to marry the numerous fortune hunters who had sought her hand, had made her a confirmed ape-leader.

She was woefully on the shelf.

The problem, however, seemed to be fixed on the terrible fact that Harriet was simply not up to snuff. Yes, she might have more natural intelligence than Cornelius, but she seemed lacking in some essential quality that Judith Lovington possessed in abundance. But what that quality might be, she was not sure.

Yet somehow, in this moment, as Cornelius once more set the useless weapon on the table, again within Harriet’s reach, and searched around in his pocket for something, she felt that above all things, her life must change.

She just didn’t know how to go about the business.

Cornelius drew a rumpled sheet of paper from his pocket. “I say, Harriet, would you listen to my ransom plea? I should like your opinion.”

Harriet bit back her smiles. “Of course, Cornelius. You are my very good friend. I would oblige you in anything.”

Cornelius smiled. “You were always a right ‘un, Harriet.”

He picked up the pistol once more, but the weight of it, being a larger, older sort of firearm, wavered around a great deal. The pistol ball continually threatened to roll out the end of the barrel. Struggling as he was to keep the crumpled page unfurled so that he could read it, he finally handed the pistol to Harriet for her safekeeping.

She chuckled softly, took the gun, settling it sideways on her lap, on top of the rope.

“Very well.” He cleared his throat and read: My most esteemed Mrs. Banwell. I beg you will forgive this extreme impertinence on my part but I must have two hundred pounds from you today because my cousin demands that I settle my debts myself from now on and I had forgot a certain amount I had lost at one of the East End hells. You see, I have gambled my quarterly allowance away yet again and Hardwick, my cousin, told me three months ago that he would no longer pay for any debts of mine, that I must budget my money more wisely, or suffer the consequences.

All well and good for him to tell me that, when he has eight thousand a year and can pay all the debts he could ever incur, but what am I to do on only a tenth of that amount per annum? I’m sure you see my difficulty and must sympathize with me. To that end, my dear most honorable Mrs. Banwell, I beg you will send two hundred pounds to the Swan by half past one if you ever hope to see your daughter, Harriet, alive again.

Yours, etc. Cornelius Sibford.

He lifted his hopeful gaze to her and waited for her response.

Harriet rubbed a gloved finger along the polished wood stock of the pistol. “I must say, that was beautifully done. You have an excellent manner of writing.”

“I do?”

“Indeed, you do.” She absolutely refused to comment on the content.

“But will it serve? Will your mother send the money? I am most desperate. Hardwick expects an accounting by two o’clock.”

“It is a hard case, there can be no two opinions on that score. But Cornelius, though I do not like to mention it because I can see that you are very determined–”

“Most determined,” he nodded, then began to chew, as was his dreadful habit, on the cuticle of his right index finger.

“Yes, as I was saying. The problem is that your plan will probably get you hung at Tyburn Tree. Kidnapping is a terrible offense against the King’s Law.”

“Eh? What’s that? But I only want two hundred pounds.”

She lifted the gun slightly. “Yet, you’ve held me at gunpoint.” She lifted the rope. “And you bound me. Although, I believe the note will probably send you to prison before anything else.”

He looked so cast down, so hopeless, that she actually felt for him and his ridiculous scheme. He sat down in a chair adjacent to her, planted his elbow on the table and let his head fall into his open palm. “I suppose I must let you go after all this trouble.”

Harriet almost rose from her seat to hand him back his rope and his pistol, but something inside her shifted and demanded she do no such thing. She thought of Judith and the courage she had shown her entire life. She thought of Hardwick, whom she had also known for many years, the very one who had occasionally caused her heart to throb almost unbearably.

She glanced at Cornelius. Hardwick might have several advantages over Cornelius, including size and intelligence, but she rather thought that the occupations of Hardwick’s life, as in going from mistress to mistress, were hardly better than Cornelius gambling away his allowance throughout the year.

And now she heard her mother calling to her from across the street. “Harriet, my girl, where are you? Tis time to depart.”

Bystanders turned and stared at her, but Mrs. Banwell gave a fig for nothing except her own interests.

She didn’t even really care about her daughter, which was why Harriet turned to Cornelius and asked, “Where is Hardwick right now?”

“Not far. He should be returning any moment. He was to have his nuncheon here.”

“Would he be in the public room do you think? Even now?”

“Probably. I do not wish to face him though. He gave me until two to square my debts. Apparently, one of my creditors approached him.”

“Please go see if he is there and if he is tell him I wish to speak with him and you are to tell him that it is a matter of some urgency.”

Cornelius lifted up his head, his arm falling away. “Harriet, what are you about? Whatever is wrong? Good God, is that your mama shouting your name in the street?”

“Yes. Now please, go fetch Hardwick.”

Cornelius looked perplexed. He glanced at the door then back at Harriet, at the rope and the pistol.

She smiled. “Trust me, all will be well, but I must speak with your cousin.”

He took one more bite off his cuticle. “Oh, very well. I suppose now you will be angry with me.”

“No, Cornelius, not at all.”

Harriet had spoken the truth. She wasn’t angry with Cornelius, just very disgusted, and not only with him. She had many objects in mind, one of them being herself. The other objects were all around her, including the tall, handsome man that Cornelius brought back with him.

Of course it was all very well and good that the plan she had been forming made perfect sense in her mind, but the moment her gaze fell upon the viscount, a strange muddling took place in her head.

He was quite tall, a full head above Cornelius. He had the clearest blue eyes she had ever seen and wore his dark brown hair in soft waves flowing away from his face, very different from the usual a la Brutus that most men she knew wore, with the hair cut short and swept forward in the Roman manner. Hardwick’s style was singular. She had even heard Cornelius refer to it as a la Hardwick.

His shoulders were broad, filling out his coat of blue superfine without the smallest hint of buckram wadding. Cornelius’s tailor charged extra for the amount he used in any of his coats and not just the shoulders. His sunken chest was apparently a monumental problem, or so Cornelius had confided to her once.

Hardwick wore buff pantaloons and elegant snug top boots. In his gaze, there was always a distinct expression of humor as though he’d been born laughing at the world.

He was so much her ideal that she had to work to keep a blush from rising on her cheek.

He glanced at the pistol and rope on her lap and lifted one brow, still apparently quite amused. “You wished to see me, Harriet?”

“As it happens, I do. Your cousin is in the basket and is in need of funds.”

“I have spoken to him about his debts but I have no idea why he would trouble you with them.”

“Indeed, Harriet–” Cornelius began. His face had darkened but Harriet was not to be moved.

She lifted a hand in his direction. “Enough, my friend. I will have my say.”

Cornelius resumed chewing on his finger.

Hardwick frowned. “What the devil is going on here?” His gaze once more fell to the pistol and rope.

“Your cousin tried to kidnap me for the purpose of forcing my mother to pay two hundred pounds for my release.”

Since at that moment, her dearest mama once more bellowed on the street for Harriet to return to the coach, Hardwick glanced out the window. “That woman would never pay two hundred pounds for anything.”

“Precisely.”

He moved into the room a little more to stare down at her. He then scowled at Cornelius. “What the deuce were you thinking?”

“I was trying to pay off my debts so that you wouldn’t come the crab.”

“By committing a hanging offense?”

“Eh? That is what Harriet said, but I think it must be a hum. I would have released her. What harm would there have been then?”

Hardwick glowered now, putting his hands behind his back. His jaw hardened. “I could thrash you for this absurd situation. You do understand that, do you not?”

“But why should you?” Harriet intervened. She now rose to her feet and settled the pistol and rope on the table, not far from Cornelius. “I am convinced tis not your cousin’s fault at all, but rather yours.”

“What?” He was visibly offended. “How can you lay this at my door?”

“Oh, I am so happy you asked since I mean to tell you. Because you have neglected Cornelius all these years when it is clear to even a shatter-brained piglet that he worships the ground you walk on. If you had made the smallest attempt to harness some of his unfortunate habits, he would be doing better in the world. And shall I point out that a man who loses five hundred pounds in one game of cards is not fit to call the kettle black?” She gestured toward Cornelius.

Cornelius looked around. “What kettle?”

“I could not disagree with you more,” Hardwick retorted. “I never gamble but what I am able to pay.”

Harriet lifted her chin. “Actually, Hardwick, I have no interest in listening to your rationale, and I certainly don’t give a fig whether you agree with me or not, but I do blame you for this absurd situation. So, unless you wish your crimes and your cousin’s attempted kidnapping laid before the local Constable, I have several demands.”

“Indeed?” His tone now carried a frosty edge, but she did not care.

“Yes. I do.”

He narrowed his eyes and stared at her. “What has gotten into you, Harriet? I have never seen you like this before.”

What had gotten into her? She knew, or thought she knew. She had somehow reached her limit of the general stupidity and thoughtlessness of the people around her and she meant to set a few things to rights.

“Will you sit down, or do you prefer to remain standing while I tell you what it is I require of you?”

*** *** ***

Frederick Audley, sixth Viscount Hardwick, removed his snuffbox from the pocket of his coat and took a pinch. He touched just the sides of his nose and breathed in sharply. He liked this particular blend and would use it again.

He returned the box to his pocket. His gaze drifted over Harriet Banwell and as always, he had some difficulty seeing her beauty past the ugly pelisse she wore in what appeared to be a very worn navy wool. It hung oddly as though too large for her.

She wore no bonnet at present, carried no fashionable muff, no parasol, not even a reticule. She wore no jewelry either.

Her gloves were dirty, perhaps from handling the absurd firearm.

None of these unfortunate circumstances were Harriet’s fault. Given her mother’s habit of pinching every tuppence, he doubted Harriet had ever had a proper gown in the course of her life.

Beyond that, however, her features were quite lovely, a small retroussé nose, light brown arched brows, full lips. She had strong cheekbones as well.

He could have easily overborne her in this moment. He knew that, but something in her stubborn manner sparked a light in his jaded chest. The woman was after something. What would it hurt to let her take the lead, and hear her demands?

“Very well, what is it you want?”

She dipped her chin once quite firmly. “First, you will pay Cornelius’s debt without a word of argument.”

“Eh?” Cornelius chimed in again, his brows lifted hopefully.

But Harriet turned toward him. “And you will remain silent, do you understand Cornelius?”

He twisted his face in an expression of distaste, but nodded. He then looked at his index finger, examined it, and shifted to chewing on his middle finger.

Hardwick shook his head. Like watching a rabbit eating a carrot.

He reverted his attention to Harriet. “And, what else?”

At this point, Harriet drew a deep breath. He felt certain that what was about to follow would be even less pleasant than paying off one more of Cornelius’s debts.

“You are to take your cousin under your wing, offer him the sort of guidance all young men need. You are to introduce him to your tailor and provide him with several suits as befits the cousin of a viscount, and not the ones he would normally choose for himself. A tutor must be provided him as well, and I would suggest you take him with you from now on to Jackson’s. He needs a great deal of exercise.”

Hardwick glanced at Cornelius whose eyes now had a glazed look. He could not imagine a stupider fellow to exist on the face of the earth. But as he considered his cousin, he realized that Cornelius had been saddled with an impossible situation when he was growing up. His mother had been overbearing and his father sickly. Hardwick’s experiences had been quite different, though not entirely pleasant, but he had certainly had more opportunities.

He reverted his gaze to Harriet. “So you insist that I repay my cousin’s debts and that I transform him somehow into a gentleman of fashion?”

This time Harriet glanced at Cornelius. He watched a certain amount of doubt cross her features as well. He saw her now in profile. Yes, she was lovely. A diamond perhaps that had never been properly cut and polished. How unfortunate that she had been birthed to the worst nipcheese he had ever known.

When she turned back to him, she lifted her head a little higher. “Yes, a gentleman of fashion, capable of dancing the quadrille–”

“Oh, now, I might draw the line there. The quadrille is very complicated.”

Her chin rose again. “The quadrille, Hardwick. Nothing less. You probably had dancing lessons from the time you were young.”

“True. Very well. I shall think on it.”

“Oh, we are not finished, you and I. And there will be no thinking upon anything. These are not requests or suggestions. I demand these things of you.”

Something in his chest began to spark with interest. Was this Harriet, indeed? She had always conducted herself politely in society, if not with a flourish. And he had always admired that while she knew herself to be gowned so poorly, she had carried herself with confidence. She had always managed to carry on an intelligent conversation no matter what circles she found herself in.

He wished there were laws against tyrannical parents. He would like to see Mrs. Banwell put in stocks for these crimes against her daughter. At least the old goat wasn’t a hypocrite. Mrs. Banwell still wore her brocade gowns from twenty years past, even though the fashion of the day required the lighter fabrics of silk and muslin. Her penurious ways extended to herself as much as to her daughter.

“You said there was something more?” he inquired.

He didn’t think her chin could rise higher in the air but he was wrong. “As it happens, from this day forward I intend to make some changes as well. To that end, once we are in London, you will escort me to three prominent Mayfair events that I might broaden my circles. I fear mama’s are so limited that I have had very few occasions during which I might gain a larger acquaintance. May I speak plainly?”

“You have done nothing less thus far,” he said. “I see no reason for you to alter your course now.”

She tilted her head just so and drew a deep breath. “I intend to marry.”

“You do?” Now he was surprised. Harriet was all but on the shelf.

“What I mean is, that I do not intend to remain a spinster a moment longer. But I need to be introduced to a greater number of eligible gentlemen. Also, and this I say most sincerely, I wish to marry for love and that my husband would love me as well. Should my schemes fail, I had rather remain a spinster than marry without affection, without respect, without some sense of shared purpose. But I must make a push. Does that make sense?”

He stared hard at her. Her eyes were a soft shade of blue, something like cornflower, deeper than the usual, very pretty. He had never noticed before. “Perfect sense. I commend you.”

“I would not intrude on your pursuit of Lady Althea, of course.”

Ah, Lady Althea, the woman destined to become his wife. Althea of the thirty thousand pounds, hunting for a title and all but begging with her thin smiles, to take his.

Something inside his chest fell, like rocks tumbling into a deep well. His future had been predicted from the time he had inherited his estate and gotten a handle to his name. He would marry well, and increase the value of his property. No other avenue was in the least acceptable. His father had drilled these values into him from the time he was a young boy.

But as he met Harriet’s gaze, as he measured the angle and height of her chin, as he felt the strength of her determination, and as he once more noticed the beauty of her eyes, he made his decision. He might have set out to rebuff her, to give her a set down for being so presumptuous, but he actually admired her for her pluck, for her desire to right more than one wrong in this situation.

So he smiled. “Very well, Harriet Banwell of Somerset. I acquiesce and shall do all that you have said.”

She smiled in return. “Good.”

“Eh, what’s that?” Cornelius asked, turning startled eyes to Hardwick. “You will pay my debts and teach me to box? I’ve always wanted to, you know.”

But as Hardwick watched his cousin rise to his feet and begin to punch at the air in a hopeless manner, his wrists flopping about like limp fish, he restrained a sigh.

What the devil had he gotten himself into?

*** *** ***

Harriet returned to her mama’s coach and ignored her red-faced parent now screeching her complaints about her daughter’s selfish nature, how she had kept her standing in all this wind for hours.

As she climbed into the coach, Harriet said, “You could have taken your seat in here and been comfortable until I completed my walk. You knew I intended to take some exercise before we departed.” She had left the Swan by the back door and made her way around several cottages to return to her mother.

Of course her seditious remarks set off a not unexpected tirade.

Harriet merely sat with her usual composure staring out the window. As the coach moved forward, she had one last glimpse of Hardwick standing in the doorway of the Swan. He even waved.

Her heart squeezed up a little and the tendre she had always felt swept over her once more. The entire time she had faced him, she had worked hard to keep her head straight. And more than once he had looked at her as though really seeing her, perhaps for the first time. Most unsettling.

The coach passed the last cottages attached to the town and the countryside appeared once more. In early spring, the hedgerows were quite thin of leaves which gave an excellent view of the various properties and farms along the way.

She ignored her mother’s rant that lasted even until the next set of horses were changed. But it wasn’t difficult to pay her little heed since Harriet’s mind was greatly occupied with all the things she had to do once she arrived in London.

“I suppose you mean to ignore me, selfish girl.”

Harriet wanted to respond that yes, she would ignore her. And not just her harsh words, but her advice on fashion, on which invitations to accept in the course of the Season and in which circles Harriet should move.

So she kept her peace. Her mother would not like the changes about to descend on her especially since Harriet planned to purchase a new wardrobe once arrived in the metropolis, gowns for the first time in her life of her own choosing. And at her own expense as well, which meant it was time to take the reins of her inheritance in hand. She had let her domineering mother continue to operate as though Harriet were still sixteen. But no longer. At her age, Harriet could have had the management of her fortune for the past three years.

Yes, all of this must change.

And her dearest mama was likely to have several fits of apoplexy within the next few days, so Harriet let her rant all that she desired.

Once arrived at the edge of London several days later, Harriet saw the metropolis as with new eyes. It was as though she began to see as an adult and not as a child even though she was fully grown. Her heart sang with something very much like hope and certainly an excitement for the plans she had laid out with Hardwick.

Later, when she stepped down in front of her mother’s large townhouse in Upper Brook Street, she smiled up at several rows of windows that used to glower down on her. How much more cheerful they all seemed.

The next few days became a whirlwind, of coming to terms with her truculent parent, of meeting with her banker, and of shopping in Bond Street. She even hired an abigail for herself, something she had never had before. She had interviewed several but had chosen Bridget in particular because the woman stated with some confidence that she particularly enjoyed experimenting with fashions for dressing hair. And Harriet had always wanted to do so.

One entire morning was therefore spent trying different styles. Bridget worked with quick, knowledgeable fingers and offered so much sound advice and was so creative that Harriet finally sat back and marveled. “I am almost as pretty as Judith.”

“And who might Judith be?” Bridget asked.

Harriet turned toward her. “Only the bravest young woman I have ever known.  She is now Lady Kelthorne.”

“The one wat sings like an angel?”

“Aye, the very one. I met her summer last at Kelthorne’s castle in Somerset. We could never understand how such a beautiful and well-mannered young lady could have ended up with a troupe of actors.”

“I heard she were with a vile group of gypsies.”

Ah, the rumor-mongering at its best. “Not at all. An acting troupe, although I suppose some would think that was worse.”

But Bridget laughed, bid Harriet turn back to the mirror, and said, “Nay, not worse. Equal, p’raps.”

“Our society is not gentle for all its gentility.”

“Very apt, Miss Harriet.”

The day the gowns arrived from the dressmaker, however, did place Mrs. Banwell on her chaise-longue for most of the afternoon. She moaned at the cost and that at such a rate, her daughter would perish both penniless and a spinster. She could only drink tea and eat macaroons for all her suffering. She had never thought to raise such a foolish daughter who would waste her inheritance.

But as Harriet savored the sight of all the pastel colors, in varying hues and shades and different textures of silk, cotton and muslin, she was persuaded that never had an investment in her future been more cheaply bought than the high price for such fine garments.

Even Bridget sighed and fondled the fabrics, the lace, the ruffles, the puffed sleeves, and the embroidery with seed pearls. She sighed over the walking dresses, and morning gowns and evening gowns. But it was a ball gown of the softest light green, covered in tulle that brought a rush of tears to Harriet’s eyes. She had always been grateful for her lot in life, that she was part of a level of society that rarely wanted for anything, that had all manner of education and information at its disposal. And yet, in this moment, she understood just in what manner her mother had deprived her of a place within her own world.

Clothes were important in her society.

For the first time in her life, Harriet would not wonder if the gentlemen who approached her, asking for the next dance, either felt great pity for her and danced with her from kindness, or wanted her fortune.

There was a chance, now, that Harriet might shine and be known for the first time ever.

And there was also a chance now for Harriet to become acquainted with more men than she had ever known.

Her final assault on her mother’s nerves occurred, however, shortly after the arrival of the gowns. Harriet had previously requested that the maids give her any invitations that Mrs. Banwell indicated were to be tossed in the rubbish, which meant most of them. Mrs. Banwell’s world was very small, indeed. She enjoyed soirees in which all her friends were present, even though only one of them had a son of marriageable age. And he only showed up because his mother forced him to do so.

So it was that when Mrs. Banwell discovered that Harriet was actually considering attending events other than the ones she had approved, she pulled at her hair, drank a very large glass of sherry and took to her bed.

But Harriet was not to be moved by a display of hysterics, gathered up all the invitations and took them to her own room for review.

Because Bridget had been in service some fifteen years, she was well-acquainted with all the houses of Mayfair. She lived for servants’ gossip and had many lively tales to tell, even confirming that though Lady Kelthorne was indeed increasing, ‘twas too early for anyone to tell.

“One of the upper maids in Kelthorne’s house says she is in a glow and that the earl kisses her all the time. They’ve all seen it.”

“Oh, indeed. We suspected he was tumbling in love with her all the while that we were together. He was supposed to be courting Miss Currivard but she fell in love with Mr. Doulting. Imagine, two love matches in one house.” She sighed. She wanted the same for herself. Well, not two perhaps. Just one. And if Hardwick could introduce her to a new circle, she might just have the chance.

If she wished Hardwick would be that man, well she knew that she was wishing for the moon and gave it no more thought. With the door locked, she sat with Bridget on the floor of her bedchamber, the fine sheets of vellum spread out around her.

She had never had so much fun.

Soirees, balls, masquerades. Bridget knew everyone in Mayfair and was incredibly useful in helping her make the selections, especially the three important ones that Hardwick would escort her to. But her wonderful abigail knew of the viscount, even which events he would prefer to attend, so that in the end she chose a very grand soiree, a ball, and at last a masquerade.

Harriet held the three in her hand as though holding her future. Once more, she smiled.

She also selected a number of minor events to attend and had only to determine if one of her friends would be attending as well. Over the years, more than one of her friends’ mothers had suggested that Harriet come along, but it was only now that Harriet finally decided to make use of the generous offers.

When she laid her plan before her mother, indicating that Hardwick had offered to make the introductions into his circle, Mrs. Banwell actually sat up from her travails and stared hard at Harriet. “You should marry Hardwick. Indeed, if he has agreed to escort you, then he must hold you in some affection.”

“I only wish that were true, mama, because I admire him very much. But he is in pursuit, as everyone knows, of Lady Althea. As the daughter of an earl, she brings great connections with her dowry, which is quite large at thirty thousand pounds. I could not possibly compete with that.”

Mrs. Banwell scowled at her daughter. “You never knew how to make a push.”

Harriet laughed. How typical of her mother not to see beyond what she wished to see. But Harriet’s spirits could not be dampened by her mother’s criticism.

She sent a note to Lord Hardwick and told him of the three events for which he was now obligated.

He responded in the manner she had come to expect of him: “My dear Miss Banwell, I am at your service, despite that you have me completely at your mercy. ‘These chains’ I bear chafe sorely.”

She could not help but laugh. She believed he spoke of Cornelius. She hoped both men were suffering wretchedly.

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I hope you enjoyed this journey into my sweet Regency world!

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00040]WONDERFUL HARRIET:

 1 Amazon-Buy Button-Small 2 Barnes & Noble-Buy Button-Small Valerie King has published over fifty Regency novels and novellas, primarily with Kensington Publishing Corp. and in 2005 Romantic Times honored her with a Career Achievement award in Regency Romance.  Currently, she’s working on a Regency Historical, Sweet Regency novellas, and self-publishing her extensive backlist.  She also writes paranormal and contemporary romance as Caris Roane

Valerie is a full-time author, lives in Phoenix, Arizona, enjoys playing solitaire, and has two cats, Sebastien and Gizzy.

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