If any of you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will know that recently sent in my manuscript for Sweet Ivy. I received a letter from my publisher yesterday telling me they didn't want it. Rejections are always hard. So, to help buoy myself up, I'm posting the first part of Chapter 2. If you want to read more, the prologue is on the sidebar of this blog and another scene is here. I'm posting this scene because it's one of the first scenes in this book I wrote!
(Note, this is completely for self-esteem purposes! So please, leave me a comment with GLOWING praises! I could use them if I'm going to keep going!) :)
Lord Sterling Bennett stood in the dress shop with light streaming in upon him, accentuating his muscular build. His arms were extended as the women measured, pinned, and tugged at the fabric about his body. Ivy worked at the earl’s feet while Mrs. Simmons measured for sleeves. Ivy endeavored to make the appropriate measurements and adjustments. Though her sister had recovered and was now quite well, her mother had worsened, only slightly, but Charlie and Ivy had noticed. Ivy had not been sleeping well as she contemplated the fate of her family if her mother were to pass away. Trying to stay focused on the task at hand, she was surprised to hear Mrs. Simmons conversing with the earl.
“I hear Miss Eleanora Key is expecting a proposal for marriage from you, Sterling,” Mrs. Simmons said casually as she worked. Ivy had almost forgotten that Eleanora had been in only days before, bragging about Lord Bennett. Ivy’s stomach churned at the thought of Eleanora.
“Is that so?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Simmons said with a knowing smile. “I take it your suit is a falsehood?”
“You are an insightful woman.”
Mabel Simmons blushed at his comment.
Ivy shook her head in dismay at the Earl of Oakly speaking so casually to the woman who had worked in the Bennett household for so many years. She didn’t know all the circumstances surrounding Mrs. Simmons’ decision to quit Red Oaks before the boys left for school, but she knew the Bennett boys would do anything for the woman. Only last month Lord Bennett had replaced the shop’s roof after a large rainstorm had torn it to shreds.
“Still, I have no doubt that a proposal is expected,” Lord Bennett said.
“You will be attending her mother’s ball a week from Friday though, no?” Mrs. Simmons continued her interrogation.
“Sadly, yes. Mother is most insistent upon it. It is her grandest wish that I take a wife before the end of the summer.”
“I’m certain your mother’s desires are well founded, lad.”
“Perhaps, but….” He stopped and looked down at Ivy.
“I am sorry, my lord,” Ivy mumbled with lowered lashes, chin quivering. Clumsy as she was, she had never before let a pin slip and stick someone. Her cheeks burned with humiliation as he turned to look down at her. She could not meet his gaze.
“I would assume that in a profession such as yours, this sort of 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.”
She glanced up. He smiled and she could not help but return the gesture. He turned toward the mirror again, looking very handsome even in his state of dress, with fabric hanging around him this way and that. His style was immaculate though he wore his trousers almost scandalously tight, revealing every muscle in his legs. His dark, curly hair hung wildly about his well chiseled face, and his eyes were like molasses on a hot day. A simple glance at him started her heart thudding within her chest.
She wondered what it might be like to be a lady and have handsome men smile at her on a regular basis. What it must be like to be seen as someone worthy of admiration instead of forever invisible. Quickly she turned her gaze back to where it belonged, embarrassed that her mind would entertain ideas of being seen as anything but a servant in the eyes of an earl.
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 she may die knowing I will be well taken care of.” Bitterness tainted his words.
“Well, certainly there are many qualified young ladies around here that would be more than willing to apply for the position.”
“Is that what people think? That marrying me would be a job?”
Ivy lowered her head to hide a smile. His innocence was endearing.
“I suppose it all depends upon on the woman.” Mrs. Simmons moved to adjust his collar.
“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.”
Ivy smiled again, noting his accidental slip of using the woman’s given name. Mrs. Simmons had once explained that the Bennett boys called her Mabel when they were younger. With another Mrs. Simmons who worked in the kitchens at Red Oaks, it simplified things. Though others may see disrespect in such a casual address, Ivy found it refreshing that Lord Bennett felt so comfortable with Mrs. Simmons.
“What do you think, miss?”
Ivy’s head snapped up, her gaze met with his.
“Would you consider it a job? Being married to me?”
“Um…I um…I certainly don’t know what you mean, my lord.”
Chuckling he said, “So then, you wouldn’t want to marry someone like me?”
“It’s not that, it’s just that….” She felt a blush touch her cheeks from his direct attention. She glanced to Mrs. Simmons for deliverance from such an embarrassing situation but the woman seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the conversation 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, my lord, that you deserve to love someone so much more than me in both beauty and station.”
“But that is not the question I asked.”
“No,” she whispered casting her eyes downward before looking back at him again. She found acceptance and understanding in his eyes. His lips curved into a smile, neither mocking nor happy. Rather inquisitive and friendly. 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, without concern for duty or money.” She turned her eyes away from his probing ones.
“See here, Mabel! This is a woman worth marrying. Honest and delightful. She would even gladden Mother’s sorrowful heart.”
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 sighed heavily. “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 but shook her head. “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.”
“Only if I want to invite my mother’s wrath. Besides, it is only a pretense. I can certainly play the part of the doting beau for quite a while before anything need be done.”
“But that’s a lie,” Ivy said, without realizing it. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, both Mrs. Simmons’ and Lord Bennett’s stared at her. She cast her eyes downward; the familiar burning sensation rose to her cheeks again. “Forgive me,” she murmured.
“Whatever for, miss?”
“It is not my place to intrude,” Ivy whispered as her hands folded in her lap and her eyes remained downcast.
Lord Bennett knelt so that his face was level with hers. “First of all, there is nothing wrong with reminding someone of moral values, so I thank you. Second, 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 noticed his beaming face as his gaze penetrated her. A timid smile played over her lips before her eyes returned to their previous position. His nearness made her feel overly warm from embarrassment and pure delight at his attention. When he did not stand, she raised her eyes again to find his friendly expression focused on her. She wondered if perhaps he had been in earnest in his comments. With all her heart, she wanted to believe that she was someone special in the world. In that instant as she gazed into his eyes, she was almost convinced that she was.
“Stand up, Sterling Bennett, and quit embarrassing the girl.”
The bell to the shop rang and Ivy looked up to see a thin man with sparkling eyes enter the shop. Removing his hat, he gave a slight bow.
“Excuse me, my lord. I’m here to remind you of your appointment.” Ivy smiled as Mrs. Simmons cringed at the sound of the man’s thin voice.
“I’ll be along in a minute, Bradford. I’ll meet you at the livery.”
“Very good, sir,” Mr. Bradford said. “Good day, ladies.” A small incline of his head and he was out the door.
“How’s your brother?” Mrs. Simmons asked, adjusting the material around Lord Bennett.
He sighed again. “Bruce will be Bruce.”
“I saw him getting stitched up the other day,” Mrs. Simmons pressed.
Sterling shook his head. “He’s lucky he’s still breathing,” he muttered. “That pup has no more sense than a mule.”
“He hasn’t changed?”
Sterling’s heavy sigh was answer enough and Ivy’s brows puckered as she tried to think of what kind of trouble Bruce Bennett was causing. “The impending war does not help. He sees it as a free ticket out of all his problems.”
Mrs. Simmons patted Sterling on the back in a maternal manner. “Cheer up, lad. He will figure it out one way or another. Let’s get you finished up so that you can get to that appointment. I’m sure Bradford would gladly have my head if I make you late.”
Lord Bennett laughed. “Bradford is not as fierce as you remember, Mabel. But business does await me. Some of the land owners are simply ridiculous in the requirements they demand of their tenants. It’s enough to make me spit fire. When I quit here, I am bound to acquire some more property from a man who is so absurd in his demands that it makes me sick.”
“I’m sure your mother is thrilled with your new purchase.” A hint of sarcasm touched her tone.
Sterling chuckled. “Mother doesn’t know. She’ll be furious when she learns of it.”
Continuing in her work, Ivy did not hear much else Lord Bennett said to Mrs. Simmons. Her own landlord was one of those terrible men Lord Bennett spoke of, on whom she preferred not to dwell. Instead, her mind lingered on her previous conversation with Lord Bennett. 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 so easily forgotten in the world. While she knew she would never be able to associate with him, he had shown her a delightful glimpse into what such an association might be like.