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Authors: Cathy Maxwell

All Things Beautiful

BOOK: All Things Beautiful
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D
ear
R
eader—

All Things Beautiful
was my first book and is very dear to me. It really is the classic “Beauty and the Beast” story, a theme I believe is common to most romances, but I tried to give it my own twist. Back in 1994, when it was first released, it received wonderful reviews and was nominated for numerous awards, including Romance Writers of America’s RITA for “Best First Book.”

However, it is not the book’s accolades that stick with me but the characters. I wrote Lady Julia Markham with Hemingway’s quote in mind—“Life breaks us all, but in the end, we are stronger in the broken places.” She’s made mistakes. She’s paid a price. Now, even though her life has gone off course in ways she hadn’t anticipated, she’s ready to go after what is important to her, even if it means once again risking scandal.

On the other hand, the very wealthy and very proud Brader Wolf has always known exactly who he is and what he wants. He dictates his own terms and usually gets his way—until he meets Julia.

She’s more than a match for him.

And I hope you enjoy every word.

All my best,

All Things
Beautiful
CATHY
MAXWELL

To Kevin, Chelsea, Andrew, and Samantha. Thank you for your love, your support—and your patience.

To the VRW, especially my critique partners, Pamela Gagne, Sandra Greenman, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Donna Whitfield. With y’all behind me, how could I fail?

To my agent, Elaine Davie, and my editor, Christey Bahn. Each of you made a telephone call that changed my world.

And to the friends and neighbors who have covered at school, community, and soccer meetings and helped life go on while I sat in front of a computer screen scratching my head and plotting.

I am wealthy in my friends.

Contents

One
She stood poised in the doorway, the late autumn sun…

Two
Dressed in her best green wool day dress, her hands…

Three
Nothing was going as planned, Julia thought, as she stood…

Four
Feeling cold and alone in the musty vestibule of the…

Five
All Julia needed was for the butler—the same one…

Six
After she heard the last door close, Julia opened her…

Seven
“Julia?
Julia, is that you?”…

Eight
Julia’s reflection, sophisticated and elegant in the dark blue velvet,…

Nine
Brader kissed her, then…at the juncture of her thighs…

Ten
Emma’s answers to her questions did not bring Julia any…

Eleven
She was going to be thoroughly charming to Brader Wolf…

Twelve
Julia woke in stages. Her head felt heavy, her tongue…

Thirteen
Julia stumbled out through the cottage doorway. Her breath came…

Fourteen
Her heart stopped beating. Mesmerized by his laughing dark eyes,…

Fifteen
“I’m out,” Geoffrey answered simply, opening his palms to her,…

Sixteen
Brader met her before she could take a second step.

Seventeen
Julia threw open the sitting room door, genuinely glad to…

Eighteen
They gave the majority of the staff the holiday off,…

Nineteen
“What are you talking about?” Julia asked carefully. She didn’t…

Twenty
Julia closed the valise with a sense of finality. Night’s…

Epilogue
“No, I will not speak to your father for you.”…

About the Author

Romances by Cathy Maxwell

Copyright

About the Publisher

Danescourt, England
October 1811

S
he stood poised in the doorway, the late autumn sun streaming through Danescourt’s mullioned windows highlighting the curves of her silhouette and the shine of her glorious dark hair. Suddenly, in that very second, Peter Jamison realized how much he had been in love with her, might still be in love with her. The thought shocked him.

Ethereal. Graceful. Even in a sadly threadbare dress, Lady Julia Markham had the bearing of a duchess.

But she was different from his memories. In the depth of her dark blue eyes were shadows.
Maturity. No longer the girl but a woman. A stunning woman.

Peter rose from the sturdy but utilitarian chair, his ready smile plastered to his face. For the briefest of moments he allowed his eyes to search
for the faint scars at her wrists. So! The rumors were true. She had attempted to take her own life.

A rush of shame for the incident that had ostracized her from polite society ran through him. His smile felt strained, but he held it while moving his gaze ever so slightly to avoid hers and studied the faded wallpaper behind her. At one time a painting of a Markham ancestor had hung on that wall, a painting sold off long ago to pay the debts of the present Markhams.

Her mother’s sharp tone called his attention back. “Well, Julia, don’t stand there dallying in the doorway. I detest staying in the country for one moment longer than I must. Come and let us have a look at you. It has been, what? Three years?” Waving a multi-ringed hand at Peter, Lady Louisa Markham added, “You do remember Peter Jamison, Lord Carberry?”

Peter forced himself to look directly at her again. Neither of her parents had offered their hand or even spared their daughter a glance since her appearance in the doorway. Her reception in the room was colder than the breeze racing down the hillside outside—or whistling through the house, Peter amended, wishing a small fire had been laid in the reception room. He didn’t say a word. Everyone knew the Markhams were done up.

But then, he too was starting to learn a thing or two about taking drastic economies.

Julia hesitated. Lord Roger Markham was far more interested in the sparse selection of biscuits
on the tea cart than in his daughter. Her fingertips touching the door handle shook slightly. Peter suddenly understood the emotional courage Julia needed to face these uncaring persons who were her parents.

Help came from an unexpected source. A slight rattling of china drew Julia’s attention from her parents to Chester Beal, the family retainer. Chester had been with the Markhams as long as Peter had known them, well over twenty years. Even then, he’d been an old man.

Almost imperceptibly, a silent communication flew between Julia and Chester, who stood silent, waiting to serve his master and mistress. From him, she gathered strength. Her chin lifted; her eyes regained their flash. Here was the woman who had had London at her feet when only a chit of a girl fresh from the country.

Gracefully, Julia came forward, a hand outstretched. “Of course I remember Peter. How is Arabella? I was so pleased to read the announcement of your marriage.”

Peter took her hand, surprised at the slight roughness of calluses. Arabella would never have allowed her hands to be in this condition, nor would the Julia Markham he had known. The old Julia would have also been conscious that he and Arabella had given her the “cut direct” by not sending her an invitation to their wedding and by pointedly ignoring her note to them expressing her best wishes.

An uncomfortable heat stole up his face as he answered in his best manner. “She is very well. Thank you for asking.” He hid himself behind the safety of small talk, uncomfortable with the role he was being forced to play. “It appears that life in the country agrees with you.”

Again, Julia looked past his shoulder to Chester, and her eye took on the sparkle of a jest, reminding him of the Julia of his memories. “Yes. Yes, it does.” She smiled. Did anyone have a smile lovelier than Julia’s?

“This is not a social visit,” Lord Markham snapped irritably, “so sit down and let us get this matter settled. I want to be back on the road to London within the hour. Here, Chester, let me have one of those biscuits. Tell Mrs. Beal she’s setting a poor repast, from what I remember. Where is the Madeira?”

Chester floundered a moment before Julia’s quiet, firm voice answered. “The Madeira, along with any other amenities around Danescourt, has long been gone to pay your gaming debts.”

Gray eyebrows flew together in an angry frown as Markham scowled at his daughter, apparently truly seeing her for the first time since her entrance into the room. “You always were an impertinent child. Seems three years in the country hasn’t helped to sweeten your disposition.”

Peter glared. He’d never liked Markham. The man owed his mark to half the world and had been in dun territory for as long as Peter had known
him. Definitely bad
ton
…and one of the reasons Peter had been unable to bring himself to make an offer for Julia. For with the lovely Julia’s hand came four lazy brothers and their father, all hardened gamesters. His mother had said that Julia, too, possessed the Markham streak of corruption, and if her family didn’t ruin a man, her selfishness would make his life miserable.

And mayhap she would have. Julia had appeared vain and often imperious…except he sensed this woman in front of him was definitely different from that Julia. Nor could he imagine another woman more the man-eater than Arabella, the wife he had chosen.

“I am also willful, unfeeling, and stupid,” Julia added capriciously. “All epithets you hurled at me the last time I saw your person—and all equally true. Tell me,
Father,
to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit now?”

Lord Markham ignored her. “What about port, Chester? I know it’s not quite the thing this early in the day but, damn, a man has to have
something
for his constitution after a journey from London in a brisk wind.”

Julia answered for Chester, her voice sharp. “There is no port, no Madeira. The tea we are offering you is old, scraped from the bottom of the tea drawer from months past and hardly better than boiling water.”

“Oh.” Lady Markham looked up from her teacup. “I wondered why the tea is so watery.
Roger, I can’t be expected to drink this. Please send for something else. But I will have a few more of those biscuits, Chester.”

Julia ignored her mother. “Indeed, Father, there is barely food in the house or anything left to sell in order to purchase it. The Beals and I exist by the grace of our tenants, all of whom you have ignored or taxed to the fullest, or we would have starved to death a year ago.”

“And a good riddance to you, too! You haven’t been worth a shilling to me since you became soiled goods.”

“Lord Markham—” Peter started, but Julia’s voice, painfully intense, cut him off.

“Then why didn’t you let me die?”

Lord Markham snorted. “It wasn’t my doing you lived but Chester’s.” He shot a glance at the servant. “Still trying to make me the lamb, eh, Chester?”

The aged retainer shrugged and hung his head, mumbling something unintelligible before leaving the room.

“ ’Tis a wonder he is still alive,” Lord Markham said to his back.

“And myself, for all you care,” Julia retorted. “Chester Beal truly cares for you, although I’ve told him a number of times his devotion is misplaced.”

“Oh! I knew this would be bad,” her mother whined. “You and Julia have always carried on so. Please, Roger, I do not like family confrontations
while I eat. I’ll develop indigestion, and I do need a bite of something.” Lady Markham began nibbling her third hard biscuit.

“Yes, Father, please tell me to what honor I owe this visit so you can remove yourself as soon as possible from my presence for at least another three years.”

“Ha! Same hoity-toity manners even after all this time. How do you like that, Carberry? She could be Queen of Bali Rue for all her airs. Let me impress upon you, me girl, that you are not the reigning Incomparable that you were three years ago. Breeding always tells, my mother used to say. Many’s the time I’ve wondered if you are mine or not.” Lord Markham directed his last sly comment toward his wife.

Lady Markham, well used to being baited, finished off her biscuit and answered sweetly. “Quite true, my lord, breeding tells. And Julia must undoubtedly be yours, since she has the same penchant for ruining herself as her sire.”

Peter wished himself anywhere but in this room, listening to Julia’s father speak first of her attempt at suicide and then announce she was no longer a virgin. He removed a fine lawn handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his brow. Julia sat on the edge of the settee next to her mother, allowing Peter to sink back thankfully onto his own unyielding chair.

Julia lifted a haughty eyebrow. “You have yet to explain yourself, Father, and the hour grows on.
Certainly you want to be back on the road to London in good time.”

Lord Markham studied her a moment before giving a bark of laughter. “You would have made a great duchess. If you’re mine, then I’ve stood you in good stead. Better the Markham look than those washed-out features of your mother and brothers.”

Lady Markham ignored this sally, paying more attention to choosing another biscuit. “Tell her why we are here, Roger.”

“A chance to redeem yourself.”

“Redeem myself?”

“Aye. It’s common knowledge that the duns will be knocking down our door at any time. The bank even plans to foreclose on Danescourt. In fact, they probably will before the end of the week.”

“Foreclose on Danescourt?” Julia stood, the color draining from her face.

“Three of your brothers have already decided to take their chances on the Continent and have fled the sinking family ship, so to speak. Can’t blame ’em. Your mother and I would have left long ago if we’d a feather to fly with and the duns weren’t watching us like hawks. They send men knocking at the servants’ entrance on a regular basis. Once the bank has us, their henchmen will be knocking on our front door, too.”

Lady Markham shuddered. “Please, Roger. I can’t stand the thought of it.”

“How can you lose Danescourt?” Julia’s demand cut through her mother’s words.

“What do you think paid for your come out?” her father asked. “Everything we had, we risked on you.”

“And your
gambling
has nothing to do with it?”

The smile Lord Markham gave her wasn’t nice. “Ah, but you seemed to be a sure thing. I lost a pretty penny on that wager, didn’t I?”

Julia sat down without comment, giving her back to her father, who continued brutally.

“I should have married you off to the marquis the first year of your come out, but you were all the rage. You had London at your feet, and your mother and I thought to give you another year and see what you’d reel in. Ah! The second year, a rich baron and two plump-of-pocket lords asked for the Elegant Julia’s hand. And it was you,
you
who convinced us to wait. Do you remember?”

“I felt I was being sold—”

“You
were
being sold. To save the family,” he interrupted, his features harsh. “And you would have, if you had married the duke.”

“He was so old. I couldn’t reconcile myself to him.”

“So you thought you would take a lover before the marriage.”

“We were eloping—”

“Listen, me girl, you could have had your pick of a thousand lovers and no one giving a care, if you had waited until after the marriage. Why, the old duke cocked up his toes and passed from this world to the next not a year later.”

“Lawrence said he loved me.”

“But you couldn’t wait, could you? You had to rush your fences. Destroy your chances.”

A headache began pounding in Peter’s brain. A better man would tell Lord Markham to shut up…but Peter couldn’t. He could only watch in shocked silence. The Markhams were more ram-shackled than he’d imagined. And yet Julia held her own with the beast that was her father. Perhaps his mother had been right. The Markhams would have made his life hell.

“So why are you here?” Julia asked coolly, regaining her composure. “To tell me that I’m soon to be evicted?”

“To give you another chance. Carberry has a marriage proposal for you.”

Julia’s mouth dropped open. “Peter? Nothing has happened to Arabella? She is all right, isn’t she?”

Lord Markham waved a dismissive hand. “His wife’s fine. Carberry is here representing Brader Wolf.”

“Brader Wolf?” Julia repeated blankly.

“Don’t expect to recognize the name, daughter. He’s a cit, in trade and richer than Croesus.”

“A-a cit?” Julia turned and stared hard at Peter. He could feel the burn of her eyes and forced himself to face her in spite of the sting of hot color on his ruddy face.

Peter cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Yes, Brader Wolf is in trade. Your father has the right of it. The man is quite wealthy—”

“A nabob!” Lord Markham crowed.

“—and he has asked for your hand in marriage.”

“Does he know me? I mean, a
tradesman?
Do we know any tradesmen?”

Lady Markham entered the discussion. “Now, Julia, don’t be alarmed. Peter knows him and offered to speak to us on Mr. Wolf’s behalf.”

Julia turned wide eyes on Peter. “But a tradesman?”

“No one who is anyone in London will accept you now anyway,” Lady Markham reminded her daughter, her tone as reasonable as if discussing the chill of the wind outside. “You are already dead to the
ton.
You might as well bring in some money to the family.”

Peter’s breath hissed as he drew it in between his teeth, stunned by Lady Markham’s casually cruel words. He hated the sight of tears welling in Julia’s clear eyes, but she fought them back. She lifted her chin slightly before replying. “Yes, Mama, you are right.”

“If you marry this Brader Wolf, you will at least help your family and, as your papa has pointed out, redeem yourself somewhat in this life.”

“In this life,” Julia repeated, before fixing her disconcertingly direct gaze on Peter. “Is he a good man, Peter?”

BOOK: All Things Beautiful
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