I've been out of town a lot this month and when I've been near the computer, the Internet has been down! Ach! But it's up for now. So what have I been doing? I've read quite a few books over the last several weeks. Most of them have been pretty good, but I'm ready to start another book. I go through different phases. Sometimes I can't write and have to just read. So I read, and read, and read, and read. Then I get sick of reading and have to write. I guess it's good all the way around. I've just started a new book that is a sequel to one I'm sending off to the publisher in a couple weeks. I'm excited about it! So I thought you might enjoy a little teaser! Unfortunately, I can't come up with a title. I'm terrible at titles and so, if you have a title idea let me know. Who knows? It might pay off to make a suggestion!
Lord Sterling Bennett stood in the dress shop with his arms extended as the women measured, pinned, and tugged at the fabric about his body. Ivy worked at his feet while Mrs. Simmons measured for sleeves. Ivy found she was incredibly tired. Though her sister had recovered from her illness and was now quite well, her mother had only worsened; perhaps only slightly but Charlie and Ivy had noticed. As a result, Ivy had not been sleeping well as she contemplated the fate of the Lewis family if her mother were to pass away.
“I hear that Miss Eleanora Key is expecting a proposal for marriage from you, Sterling,” Mrs. Simmons commented casually as she worked, bringing Ivy back to the task at hand. Ivy had almost forgotten that Eleanora had been in only days before, bragging about Lord Bennett. Furthermore, Ivy had nearly forgotten that it was the latter of the two whom she labored to fit now.
“Is that so?” Lord Bennett replied with little expression.
“Yes,” the woman said with a knowing smile. “I take it, the rumor is a falsehood?”
“You are an insightful woman, Mabel.” Mabel Simmons blushed slightly at his comment. “Still, I have no doubt that a proposal is expected.”
“You will be attending her mother’s ball a week from Friday though, no?” Mrs. Simmons continued in her interrogation of the young Lord.
“Sadly, yes. Mother is most insistent upon it. It is her grandest wish that I take a wife before the end of the season.”
“Your mother’s desires are well founded I am certain, lad.”
“Perhaps, but…” he stopped as the pin in Ivy’s hand slipped and pricked his ankle.
“I am most sorry, my lord,” she mumbled with lowered eyes. Clumsy as she was, she had never before let a pin slip and stick someone. Humiliation consumed her and she could not meet his gaze.
Though she had never met the man before, the rumors surrounding Sterling Bennett’s character preceded him and he proved them correct as he stooped down and gently lifted her chin until her eyes found his. “I would assume that in a profession such as yours, such a thing occurs from time to time. And while I accept your apology and give you my complete forgiveness, there is no need for you to feel like a bug under my shoe for such a simple slip.”
Sterling smiled genuinely at her and she could not help but return the gesture. He stood again, looking very handsome even in his state of dress, with fabric hanging around him this way and that. She wondered what it might be like to be a lady and have men such as he smile at her on a regular basis. What it must be like to be seen as someone other than an ugly duckling. But quickly she turned her gaze back to the task at hand, embarrassed that her mind would entertain ideas of being seen as anything but a servant in the eyes of a lord.
As he continued his conversation with Mrs. Simmons, Ivy tried to steady her hands as she went back to pinning his pants. “It is my mother’s desire that I marry but only so that she may die knowing I will be well taken care of.”
“Well,” Mrs. Simmons began, “certainly there are many qualified young ladies around here that would be more than willing to apply for the position,” she finished with a teasing smile.
“Is that what people think? That marrying me would be a job?” he asked.
“I suppose it all depends upon on the woman.”
“Yes, indeed,” he responded.
“Now, in the case of Miss Key, I think she is more than eager for the position, whether you prove satisfactory or not.”
“Hmm. That is an interesting insight, Mabel.” Then stooping down, he looked again into Ivy’s eyes and asked, “What do you think, miss? Would you consider it a job? Being married to me?”
“Um…I um…I certainly don’t know what you mean, sire,” she stammered.
Chuckling he said, “So then, you wouldn’t want to marry someone like me?”
“It’s not that, it’s just that…” she felt the crimson blush touch her cheeks from his direct attention. She looked up briefly at Mrs. Simmons for support from such an embarrassing situation but the woman seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the conversation at hand and would not be offering a reprieve. Looking back to Lord Bennett, Ivy tried to utter a reply. “I…I would never be qualified for a man such as…I mean to be saying, sire, that you deserve to be loving someone so much more than me in both beauty and station.”
“But that is not the question I asked,” he stated with a satisfied smile.
“No,” she whispered casting her eyes downward briefly before looking back at him again. When he continued to gaze into her eyes, she found acceptance and understanding. Amid those things, she found voice enough to answer his question as honestly as her timid heart could. “I would not find it a chore to be married to someone such as yourself, though if I marry it will be for love instead of money,” she finished and turned her eyes away from his probing ones.
He beamed and stood. “See here, Mabel. This is a woman worth marrying. Honest and delightful. She would even gladden the sorrowful heart of Mother.”
Mrs. Simmons laughed delightedly while Ivy blushed with further discomfort that he would say something so brazen with her sitting at his feet. “Now don’t be speaking ill of your mother, Sterling. She’s a good woman. She’s merely…lonely.”
“I know,” he said with a heavy sigh. “Yet another reason she wishes me to marry quickly. To give her grandchildren and take her mind off my late father.”
The woman smiled sympathetically. “Be patient with her. She only wants what’s best for you, I’m sure.”
“Yes. And in the meantime, I am resigned to attend the Keys’ ball under the pretense that I will shortly be asking for the hand of the esteemed Miss Eleanora.”
“You could let her know those are not your intentions, lad,” Mrs. Simmons said.
“Only if I want to take on my mother’s wrath. Besides, it is only a pretense. I can certainly carry that for quite a while before anything need be done,” he stated.
“But that’s a lie,” Ivy said softly, without realizing it. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, however, both Mrs. Simmons’ and Lord Bennett’s eyes were upon her. Casting her eyes downward, a deep shade of crimson rose quickly to her cheeks at the realization that her thoughts had actually been spoken aloud. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.
“Why are you sorry, miss?” Lord Bennett asked.
“It is not my place to intrude,” Ivy whispered as her hands folded in her lap and her eyes remained downcast.
Lord Bennett stooped so that his face was once again level with hers. “First of all, there is nothing wrong with reminding someone of moral values, so I thank you. And second, please, do not feel as though you are merely the servant at my feet. For you are a woman and a kind woman at that. There is no need for you to feel inferior in my presence.”
Ivy looked up hesitantly and she noticed his charming smile as his gazed penetrated her. A timid smile graced her lips before her eyes returned to their previous position. The blush on her cheeks made her warm and she felt embarrassed to receive intimate attention from such a man. Still, when he did not stand, she raised her eyes to him again to see him still smiling and she wondered if perhaps he had been in earnest in his comments. With all her heart, she wanted to believe that she was more than a nobody and in that instant as she looked into his eyes, she was almost convinced that she was.
“Stand up, Sterling Bennett and quit embarrassing the girl. We need to get you fitted so that you will not be late for that appointment you mentioned earlier,” Mrs. Simmons reminded.
“I’m sorry, Mabel. You’re correct. Business awaits me. I am always so loath to do some of my business. But some of the land owners around here are simply ridiculous in their requirements of their tenants. In fact, when I quit here, I am bound to acquire some more property from a man who is most absurd in his demands it makes me sick.”
Continuing in her work, Ivy did not hear much else Lord Bennett said to Mrs. Simmons. Her own land owner was one of those terrible men of whom Lord Bennett spoke and she preferred not to think on the man. Instead, she allowed her mind to linger on her brief moments with the noble lord who stood before her now. His manner toward her had not been sympathetic to her plights or position. No. He had treated her as an equal – someone who had reminded him of the moral values that were so easily forgotten in the world. While she knew she would never be able to associate with the likes of him on a normal basis, he had shown her a glimpse into what such an association might be like.