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Available October 18

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Excerpt from

The Wallflower's
Christmas Wish

(The Brides of Bath, Book 8)

 Chapter 1

“I’m going to get married.” Sir Elvin Steffington had never in his nine-and-twenty years uttered such a statement.

His twin looked up from the desk where he’d been surveying a stack of papers, his eyes wide. “I didn’t even know you had formed an attachment to a lady.”

“Oh, I haven’t.”

Melvin looked perplexed. “I’ve always deferred to your superior experience where women are concerned, but does one not wish to marry after one has found a prospective mate one cannot live without?”

“I may have a great deal of experience with those of the opposite gender, but I have no experience with women whom I cannot live without.” Elvin frowned. “Fact is, my latest mistress has rejected me.”

“Have you not always been the one doing the rejecting?”

Elvin nodded. “Must be losing my touch. Mrs. Pratt left me for a green grocer who offered marriage. It seems everybody wants to be married.”

“Everyone except you. Until now.” Melvin set down the pen he’d been using and gave his brother his full attention. “You should have no difficulty finding a mate. Catherine says you’re unquestionably the most eligible bachelor in Bath.”

“Very good of your wife to say that.” Catherine, indeed, was a very good wife. She adored Melvin, made him happy, and had presented him with a son who was indisputably the finest little lad in the kingdom—if being nearly two qualified as a lad. “However, there is the fact that I’m the last remaining bachelor of our crowd. Sedgewick, Blanks, his brother, you, and even Appleton have all wed now and abandoned me.”

“Ah! So that’s why you wish to marry. You’ve lost your mistress as well as all your friends to matrimony.”

Elvin rose and moved to stand in front of the roaring fire in his brother’s cozy library. He still had not thawed from riding over here on this raw, blustery December day. “That’s one of the reasons.”

“And the others?”

“You know I’m not good at words like you.”

“How can you say that when you know what a poor conversationalist I am?”

“Because you express yourself uncommonly well with a pen and paper.” Elvin’s gaze went to the papers and pen on his twin’s desk.“It’s hard for me to explain what’s swimming around in my head. I only know that it’s like the joy’s been stripped from my life. No one needs me anymore.”

“That’s understandable. You’re missing our sisters.”

“I don’t know why Annie couldn’t have remained in Bath once she married. You wouldn’t believe how dull your old family home is now that Annie’s gone—and taken Lizzy away.”

“Oh, but I would. You must own, a bachelor under the age of thirty who’s known to be a rake is not the right person to be responsible for a young maiden.”

“Be that as it may, I still miss Lizzy—and Annie, too.” But he did not miss either or both of his sisters as acutely as he missed his twin brother. Melvin’s marriage had been a crushing blow. Elvin had hoped the two would always live together. It mattered not that they were as different as the sun to the moon, Melvin was the person Elvin had always loved first and most.

In spite of his own aching loss upon Melvin’s marriage, Elvin was genuinely happy for his brother. It had taken Catherine Bexley to bring fulfillment to Melvin’s life. Because of her, all of Melvin’s hopes to publish those boring books on classical philosophers had come to fruition, and the lovely Catherine and their much-beloved little Geoffrey brought Elvin’s twin great happiness.

“Any more reasons contributing to your new-found desire to wed?” Melvin asked.


Melvin’s brows elevated. “What the devil does my son have to do with such a decision?”

My son. Those words encompassed so much more than the physical being. Having a son brought a man incalculable pride and a certainty that all those ancestors who had come before him would continue to live on. “While I cannot believe any lad could be more . . . well, more precious than Geoffrey, being with the little fellow makes me long to have a lad of my own.”

Elvin detected the sadness in Melvin’s eyes as their gazes met, and his twin nodded. “There’s no greater pride. I do wish that for you.”

Smoke from the fire must be making Elvin’s eyes water. “Speaking of your son, what can I get him for Christmas?”

Melvin shrugged. “I haven’t a clue. He’s not really old enough for a lot of things lads play.”

“It might help if he could talk.”

“Speaking of tots talking, do you recall how late you were in talking?”

“I have no recollection of being a tot.”

“Nurse teased for years about your inability to express yourself to anyone—except me—until you were five or six.”

“Oh, I do recall. Nurse claimed you and I had our own language and communicated quite well in that silly tongue.”

“I have no memory of that special language, but I’m pleased to say that since the age of six, you’ve had no difficulty talking.”

“Then we need not worry about Geoffrey.”

“I was worried about Geoffrey not talking, but Catherine talked to Felicity Moreland, who has three sons, and she assured Catherine that boys speak much later than girls. She said her firstborn did not speak in sentences until after his second birthday.”

“Does that mean our little fellow will start speaking in sentences this month when he turns two?”

“That’s exactly what I asked Catherine. She said after was the key word.”

“Perhaps Felicity Moreland will have some suggestions for a Christmas present.”

“You really don’t have to get Geoffrey a gift. He doesn’t understand things like Christmas and birthdays yet.”

“I couldn’t not get him something. It’s both his birthday as well as Christmas, and I’ll not have him denied by his favorite uncle.”

“Do you not think it’s awfully smart of him to know you’re not his father, given that we look exactly alike?”

“Of course, he’s brilliant. He’s your son.” Everyone agreed about Melvin’s brilliance—in book learning.

“He is excessively fond of his uncle, though, even though he knows you’re not his father.”

“Another reason why I must get him a wonderful gift. And you won’t believe what Annie’s demanded of me for a Christmas gift.”


“The silly woman wants me to have my portrait painted for her.”

Melvin grimaced. “Can’t imagine anything duller than sitting there for an artist.”

“I don’t even know how to go about finding an artist.”

“You’ll figure something out, old boy. But back to this business about you getting married. . . how do you propose to meet this future bride of yours? It’s not as if you’ll find one at Mrs. Starr’s gaming establishment—or at Mrs. Baddele’s’. . . well, you know.”

House of prostitution. “Of course I know that. I believe I’ll start at the Upper Assembly Rooms.”

A quizzing look clouded Melvin’s face. “But I thought you didn’t like going to the assembly rooms.”

“I don’t, but I’m prepared to make the sacrifice for my future happiness.” He hadn’t been to the assembly rooms since before Jonathan Blankenship had married, and that was around Christmas two years ago. Around the same time Geoffrey was born.

It had been easier to go to the assemblies when bolstered by his bachelor companions—all of whom had now wed. It would certainly feel strange to enter those chambers alone. He couldn’t ask Melvin and Catherine to come with him. Melvin had spent most of his adult years avoiding social gatherings in favor of pouring over ancient Greek and Latin manuscripts.

“Have you decided what qualities you’re going to seek in a wife?” Melvin asked.

Actually, he hadn’t. He pursed his lips in thought. “Breasts. She’ll need to be well endowed in that respect. You know I’ve always fancied buxom women.”

“I may be wrong, and I generally am where women are concerned, but it seems to me such a qualification should signify very little. There are more important attributes a woman—a lifetime companion—should bring to a marriage.”

“Of course, you’re right. Always are.” Elvin began to pace in front of the blazing fire. “I am trying to determine if she should be possessed of blonde hair or black. I tend to like them both.”

Melvin cleared his throat. “Again, old fellow, the color of one’s hair has no bearing upon one’s suitability.” He shrugged. “As one ages, that hair color is subject to change, you know.”

“There is that.” Sir Elvin Steffington commenced to his pacing in front of the fire again. “I’ve got it!”

“What, pray tell, is it?”

“You and I have always been exceedingly compatible. I attribute it to the fact we’re vastly different.”

“Go on.”

“So I shall require a wife to embody many qualities you possess. She should be better read than me.”

“Everyone’s better read than you.”

“There is that. But I believe she should be, well, smarter than me.”

“Yes, I can see that would be a valuable trait.”

“You’re not going to say everyone is smarter than me?”

“Of course not! You’re highly intelligent—perhaps not in many of the subjects found in books, but I daresay there’s no one in England better than you at evaluating horseflesh, and look at how extraordinarily talented you are at games of chance. Your mind has an uncommon grasp of the theories of probability.”

Sir Elvin blew out a breath. “I don’t even know what a theory of probability is, but my mind does seem to understand the workings of numbers, even though I can no more explain it than I can understand Geoffrey’s jabberings.”

“I believe now your compass is pointing in the right direction, as far as the selection of a wife goes. Compatibility is far more important than the color of one’s hair.”

“While that’s true enough, I must be attracted to the woman.”

“Oh, that goes without saying.”

Elvin stopped pacing. “Wish me luck. I go to the assembly rooms tonight.”

“You always have my best wishes.”

* * *

“I don’t see why Diana has to come with us to the assembly rooms tonight,” Frances said to her mother. “It’s not as if anyone ever asks her to dance.”

“It’s all about how things look,” Mrs. Marian Furness replied. “Never let it be said that I ever slighted my stepdaughter. I have always tried to treat Diana the very same as I would my own two daughters.”

It mattered not to the two that Diana sat within hearing range, madly drawing at the sketchbook that was as much her constant fixture as her nondescript brown hair. She was accustomed to being treated as one who was invisible. Not since her Papa had died when she was ten had anyone ever deferred to her.

She dared not even contradict Marian’s statement that she was treated the same as her stepsisters. The modiste knew Diana was never the recipient of new dresses, for it was the modiste who altered Frances’s and Alice’s discarded dresses to fit Diana.

Were Diana to point out such a difference, she would be accused of ingratitude and sent to her bedchamber without dinner, and Diana did not wish to be denied tonight’s roast beef. It was her favorite meal.

Were she asked—which was a non-existent occurrence—she would have begged not to go to the assembly rooms that night. Any money that had been spent on dancing lessons had been wasted on Diana. She could count on the fingers of a single hand how many times a man had asked her to stand up with him since she had come out six years previously.

Attending assemblies ranked highest on her list of dreaded activities. What young woman would wish to subject herself to such persistent humiliation? It was little consolation that neither stepsister fared much better. And they were older!

Marian was not to be deterred from her grandiose dreams that at least one of her daughters would marry well.

“It’s most important, my dear Frances, that you spend extra time on your toilette tonight,” Marian said to her eldest daughter.

“Why?” Frances asked.

Indeed, Diana, too, wished to know. She looked up from her sketching. Marian’s green eyes sparkled, and her mouth was screwed up with the unmistakable look of smugness. “I have it on the best authority that Bath’s most eligible bachelor will be in attendance tonight, and I’ve always thought a baronet would do very well for you, my dear. After all, we are connected to a baronet ourselves.”

Frances’s eyes flashed, and a smile tweaked her lips. “Indeed. Sir William Grimley. But tell me, Mama, do you mean Sir Elvin’s to attend tonight’s assembly?”

“I do.”

“How did you learn this? The man hasn’t stepped one foot inside the Upper Assembly Rooms in at least two years.”

“Cook told me. She found out from Sir Elvin’s cook while at the butcher’s this morning. She said her master wasn’t dining in tonight because he was committed to going to the Upper Assembly Rooms.”

Were Diana at liberty to ask, which she was never permitted to do, she would have asked how Marian could possibly have pried such an intelligence from their cook. As she pondered this, though, Diana realized that Marian’s quest to find husbands for her daughters must have prompted her to alert her servants to forward any promising leads.

Marian cast her gaze at Diana. “You must fashion Frances’s hair tonight. You artistic types seem most capable in that respect.”

Had her stepmother just complimented her? Was this not the same woman who always found fault with Diana’s art? It had pained her stepmother when the former drawing master she hired for the girls effusively praised Diana’s work while being incapable of finding a single thing to admire in her stepsisters’ creations.

Upon further consideration, Diana understood why she’d merited this begrudging praise from Marian. Though Marian could spend money lavishly on finery for her daughters and for prestigious lodgings in this watering city, she tightened the purse strings in other areas.

She kept a plentiful supply of lead coins to drop into the Poor Box at church. Cheap tallows for the servants’ chambers were rationed as if they were gold coins, and while the best cuts of meat were served to the family, Marian insisted the butcher’s scraps were adequate for those in her employ.

Diana had often thought that were the Admiralty to put Marian in charge of procurement for the Royal Navy, she could save enough to pay for a new man-of-war.

It was to be expected that this parsimonious woman would deem the expense for hairdressers unnecessary when Diana could be enlisted for such a commission.

“If that’s agreeable to Frances,” Diana said.

“Where’s the Ackermann’s?” Frances raced to the table where their favorite periodicals were kept. “I must find a hairstyle I wish to emulate.” She paused to glare at Diana. “If only you’ll be up to the task. I must attract Sir Elvin’s attention tonight.”





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