Gentleman of Her Dreams, страница 1
© 2012 by Jennifer L. Turano
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Jennifer Parker
Author Represented by The Seymour Agency
Excerpt from A Change of Fortune
NEW YORK, 1880
Miss Charlotte Wilson had made a decision.
She was going to marry Mr. Hamilton Beckett.
The fact she’d never actually made Mr. Beckett’s acquaintance was a bit concerning, but . . . she had a plan.
She finished buttoning her gown and moved to the floor-length mirror, eyeing her reflection with a critical eye. She tilted her head and released a sigh.
She was not what anyone would call a classic beauty.
No, her hair was a nondescript brown—although it did have some lovely golden streaks running through it due to the unusual amount of time she spent in the sun—. Her eyes matched her hair, her cheeks were a touch plumper than current fashion demanded, and her mouth was a tad too full.
Mr. Beckett’s first wife, God rest her soul, had been a raving beauty.
She brightened when the thought came to her that although Mary Ellen Beckett had been blessed with perfect features, she’d also been cursed with a temperamental personality, and perhaps Mr. Beckett was searching for a wife who wasn’t causing mayhem on a regular basis.
Charlotte bit her lip.
She caused mayhem on a regular basis, not that it was intentional, but mayhem had been her constant companion ever since she was a little girl.
Deciding there was no use dwelling on that particular subject because there was absolutely nothing she could do about it, Charlotte turned from the mirror and moved to her closet, smiling when she pulled out a darling hat that would complement her outfit. She strode back to the mirror, plopped the hat on her head, and maneuvered it to a jaunty angle.
There, she didn’t look too hideous.
Now all that was left to do was put her plan into action and hope for the best.
She knew she would be successful, knew it just as she’d known she’d master the feat of riding a bicycle. Not that riding a bicycle had been easy. The first time she’d attempted it she’d only traveled a mere ten feet before the fabric of her skirt got tangled in the chain and then . . . disaster descended. The bicycle came to an abrupt stop, tipped forward, and she’d catapulted over the handlebars, breaking her arm in the process.
She was all too familiar with their family doctor.
Breaking her arm hadn’t dampened her determination. She’d created a gown that was more suitable to riding, coerced her friend, Penny, to stitch it up for her, as Charlotte was less than proficient with a needle and thread, and headed for her family’s country house where she’d hopped on the seat, set her sights down the road, and finally, after numerous attempts, taken flight.
It had been exhilarating.
Landing Mr. Hamilton Beckett would be exhilarating.
She grinned, confident she’d be able to pull off the task of securing him as a husband because she’d made a special request in her nightly prayers a week before. She was incredibly stingy with her requests, believing God had more important things to deal with than her trivial matters, so she knew He’d grant her prayer this time.
She’d asked Him to send her the gentleman of her dreams, and He’d never failed to grant her requests before, hence the reason she was certain she’d get her man.
When she’d quite literally bounced into Mr. Beckett at a charity event the very night after she’d made her plea, she’d realized God had already answered her prayer.
Unfortunately, bouncing into a hard, unyielding male body while traveling at a somewhat rapid rate of speed, something she did rather frequently, resulted in her propelling backwards, straight into a tightly knit huddle of lovely young ladies, which caused them to tumble to the ground. Shrieks were emitted, limbs flew, and by the time Charlotte was able to pull herself from the midst of tangled bodies and extend all the ladies her most abject apologies, Mr. Beckett was already moving away with one of the young ladies, weeping quite dramatically, on his arm.
Not deterred in the least that she’d been unable to secure an introduction, she’d retreated to her home where she began to devise a plan which would allow her to become known to Mr. Hamilton Beckett.
A knock on her bedroom door pulled Charlotte from her thoughts. She moved across the room and opened the door, finding Tilda, one of the downstairs maids, standing on the other side.
“Cook wanted me to tell you your picnic lunch is ready,” Tilda said.
“Wonderful,” Charlotte exclaimed.
“She also wanted to make certain you really needed that much food because apparently the picnic basket is remarkably heavy.”
“If luck is with me today, there will be four people sitting down to dine,” Charlotte said. “Two of the people are children, and since I’m not certain what children eat, I requested a wide variety of food.”
Tilda tilted her head. “How old are these children?”
“Hmm . . . I have no idea, which does pose a dilemma,” Charlotte admitted. “I didn’t realize I’d neglected something so important, but if these children are going to be my step-children, I should definitely learn their ages.”
“You’re getting married?”
She should not have let that slip.
It wouldn’t help her cause if word got out amongst the servants. They were notorious gossips, and the last thing she needed was for Mr. Beckett to hear rumors she was stalking, er . . . pursuing him.
“I have no immediate plans to marry, Tilda,” she settled on saying, “but I’m not getting any younger, and I really should consider the idea. I’ve finally realized that I’ve somehow managed to become an old spinster.”
“Twenty-one isn’t that old,” Tilda said.
And didn’t that exactly sum up why she needed to find a husband?
She was a spinster and she was growing older by the second.
How she’d achieved this unpleasant state, she really couldn’t say, but she couldn’t ignore the facts or the idea that all of her friends, except for Miss Agatha Watson, were firmly off the shelf while she lingered there.
It was becoming downright embarrassing.
Her circumstances wouldn’t have gotten nearly so dire if only some of the gentlemen she’d met over the years had possessed a zest for life. She only knew one gentleman who was as curious as she was and thrived on new experiences, but . . . he’d made it clear theirs was to be a relationship based on friendship only, so she’d tucked her longings for him deep into the recesses of her heart and never allowed herself to wonde
And that led her back to the predicament of being a spinster, which led back to Mr. Hamilton Beckett.
He was a gentleman who fairly oozed suppressed energy, and that energy was the reason she’d decided he would suit her very well indeed.
He was handsome, possessed muscles of steel which she could attest to— seeing as how she’d careened right into them—and he owned a railroad company.
He traveled those railroads on a frequent basis, and because of that, she knew he was going to be her match.
Her thoughts were interrupted when Rose, another maid, stuck her head in the room. “Begging your pardon, Miss Wilson, but Mr. St. James has arrived. He’s waiting for you in the drawing room.”
Every single one of the deportment lessons she’d learned while attending Miss Godwin’s Finishing School for Young Ladies flew out of her head as she hefted up her skirts, sent the maids a grin, and bolted from the room.
Henry was here.
She raced down the hallway and to the stairs, leaping down them two at a time as excitement rushed through her veins.
Henry St. James had been her very best friend since she’d been four years old. He was two years older than she was, and they’d first met when he’d come to play with her older brother, Charles. Unfortunately for Henry, Charles was a rather somber and serious boy, and Henry’s mischievous nature had made the two less than compatible friends. Charles had retreated to the library in search of a good book, apparently put out at Henry for not wanting to join him. Charlotte had found Henry sitting by the side of their small fountain, his shoes abandoned as his feet dangled in the water. She’d hopped down beside him, pulled off her shoes, and they’d been fast friends every since, spending every possible second together until he’d left almost two years ago on matters concerning his family’s shipping business.
It had been the longest two years of her life.
She’d missed his humor and his company.
Missed having someone around who didn’t judge her antics but was more than happy to participate in them with her.
She jumped over the last remaining step and barreled down another long hallway, her anticipation increasing along with her stride.
Before she reached the drawing room, her feet got tangled in her skirts, most likely because she’d forgotten to keep them above her ankles, and the marble floor suddenly rushed up to greet her. She slid a good five feet along the slippery surface until she finally skidded into the wall, letting out a loud humph as the impact knocked the breath from her body.
The sound of running feet came to her and the sight of highly polished boots met her gaze. She lifted her head and felt her mouth drop open.
What had happened to Henry?
Gone was the slightly lean friend of two years before, replaced with a big, brawny gentleman with broad shoulders, a narrow waist and . . . were the arms that currently strained the confines of his shirt as he held out his hand to her really his arms?
She ignored the offered hand as she allowed herself another minute to linger on a face that was no longer thin but was now comprised of sharp cheekbones and a straight blade of a nose. Her perusal moved to his eyes, and she discovered that they somehow seemed to have deepened in color and resembled nothing less than the exact shade of the ocean right before a storm came in.
She felt rather lightheaded and realized she’d neglected to breathe.
She drew in a deep breath, released it, and then smiled as her attention settled on his hair. Here, at least, was something that was completely the same. Strands of untidy black hair stuck out at odd angles around his head, although the look had always appeared rather attractive on Henry, for some strange reason
He’d always been careless when it came to his appearance, and his hair had always been rumpled, along with his clothing, although . . . she narrowed her eyes. He was impeccably dressed at the moment, not a wrinkle to be found, and his trousers were perfectly pressed and didn’t sport a single smidgen of dirt.
Who was this gentleman, and why, for heaven’s sake, did her brain feel all fuzzy? And what was causing her to remain lounging on a cold, uncomfortable floor?
“I know you’re active in the suffrage movement, Charlotte, but you could accept a hand up.”
Good grief, Henry was still holding out his hand to her. She forced her mouth shut and took his hand, the breath leaving her once again when he hefted her to her feet as if she weighed no more than a child and then steadied her when she wobbled. Before she could get a single word out of her mouth, not that she was certain she was even capable of speech, Henry drew her into a crushing hug.
“It is wonderful to find you still the same,” he said.
Charlotte wasn’t quite certain that was a compliment. She eased out of his embrace, ignored the strange tingling that was coursing over her body, and lifted her chin to meet his gaze.
What she discovered there caused the small amount of air still left in her lungs to disappear in a split second.
His eyes were filled with laughter and warmth, and she hadn’t realized until just this moment how much his leaving had affected her.
“I’m so glad you’re home,” she finally managed to say.
Henry grinned. “So I gathered from your incredibly graceful rush to get to me.”
Charlotte returned his grin. “I don’t know about graceful, but I was anxious to see you.” She took his arm and pulled him into the drawing room. “I wasn’t expecting this visit.”
Henry walked with her over to the settee, waited until she took her seat, and then sat down next to her. “Didn’t you receive my note?”
She nodded. “I did, but quite frankly, Henry, you were a little sparse with the details. All you mentioned in your note was that you would be home soon. You gave me no specific date, which was beyond annoying, although I suppose I can be charitable and forgive you for that oversight, seeing as how I’m thrilled to have you back. I’ve missed you quite dreadfully.”
Henry picked up her hand and gave it a kiss before he dropped their entwined hands down on the settee and shifted closer to her.
They’d always held hands and sat closely to one another.
It wasn’t as if it was untoward; it was natural, natural except for the fact that for some unknown reason, his touch on her hand was causing her to fidget.
She wasn’t normally prone to fidgeting. Maybe she’d suffered some type of injury when she’d landed on the marble floor. Maybe she was in the throes of a fit and . . .
“What did you want to do today?”
She blinked out of her thoughts. This would never do. Henry seemed to be under the impression she was free to spend the day with him, but that certainly wouldn’t work, given the fact she’d gone out of her way to learn Mr. Beckett’s whereabouts for the day. She couldn’t very well abandon her plan now.
Before she could think of a suitable reply, Henry leaned closer to her, his nearness causing a wave of something alarming to shoot straight through her body. “My mother told me B. Altman is having a sale on shoes. I would be more than happy to escort you there and lend you my expert advice.”
She was immediately torn. She loved shoes, adored them in fact, and Henry was the only gentleman Charlotte knew who was perfectly content to accompany her shopping. His patience was endless, his tastes impeccable, and his company . . . amusing.
She’d missed shopping with Henry, but shopping wouldn’t put her into close proximity with Mr. Beckett, so she pushed the longing aside and took a deep breath. Her breath caught in her throat when Henry began rubbing his thumb along her knuckles, his action causing little jolts of what felt like flames to lick up her hand.
“I would prefer going on a picnic,” she said, her words tumbling out of her mouth in a rush even as she resisted the urge to tug her hand away from Henry, but really, the tingling was becoming a bit distracting.
What was wrong with her? This was Henry for heaven’s sakes and . .
“If your heart is set on a picnic, I’m more than willing to oblige you, but I must point out that it does look like rain, and I, for one, think shopping would be a better option, at least for today,” Henry said.
It seemed as if she’d just inadvertently extended him an invitation to go on a picnic with her.
If her information was correct, and she was fairly certain it was, Mr. Hamilton Beckett was expected to be at Central Park today with his children, and he certainly wouldn’t understand what she was doing there with another gentleman.
He might not even take notice of her, and then her plan would be for naught.
How to disinvite Henry without hurting his feelings?
An intriguing thought flashed to mind. She lifted her gaze. “Would you, by chance, happen to be acquainted with the Beckett family?”
Henry frowned. “That’s an abrupt change of topic, but yes, I am acquainted with Mr. Hamilton Beckett and his brother, Mr. Zayne Beckett.”
This was perfect.
He could perform an introduction.
Now all she had to do was convince him to help her, but first, she needed to reformulate the entire plan.
He could introduce her to Mr. Beckett and then . . . he could suddenly remember urgent business he needed to take care of and leave her alone with her future husband.
Fingers snapping in front of her face caused her to blink back to reality.
“What are you thinking?” Henry asked slowly. “You have a very interesting expression on your face and one, I might add, I’ve seen all too often. You’re scheming about something, and I have to wonder what it has to do with the Beckett family.”
He knew her far too well.
She drew in a deep breath, slowly released it, and summoned up a smile. “Although shopping sounds delightful, I’m afraid I must decline because, you see . . . I have to go to Central Park today.”
Henry arched a brow. “You have to go?”
Charlotte nodded. “It’s all part of a plan.”
“Heaven help us.”
Charlotte grinned—she couldn’t help herself. “Now, don’t be like that. You love my plans.”
“Charlotte, the last plan I helped you with resulted in me landing in jail.”