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Authors: Elizabeth Hanbury

The Cinderella Debutante

The Cinderella Debutante

 

 

Elizabeth Hanbury

Published by E-scape Press Ltd, England.

ISBN: 978-1-908629-06-7

The Cinderella Debutante. Copyright ©2012 Elizabeth Hanbury.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organisations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

All rights reserved.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of these authors.

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Dedication

 

For all the girls who’ve ever been overlooked

Author Bio

 

Combining humour, emotion, great characters, engaging plots and historical detail, Elizabeth Hanbury writes Regency-set novels and short stories that appeal to a wide range of readers. She lives in a village in the heart of the English countryside and writes romance whenever she can sneak away to her desk.

She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novel Society. To find out more, visit Elizabeth’s website at
www.elizabethhanbury.com

 

Also by Elizabeth Hanbury

Novels

The Paradise Will

Ice Angel (Cavanagh family 1)

A Bright Particular Star (Cavanagh family 2)

Short Story collections

Midsummer Eve at Rookery End

Brief Encounters (with Phillipa Ashley and Nell Dixon)

Novella

Christmas at Rakehell Manor (coming soon)

Acknowledgements

 

As always, I have to thank my family for (a) listening to me talk about this book and (b) putting up with me writing and editing this book while domestic chaos reigned. The other Coffee Crew members – Phillipa Ashley and Nell Dixon – deserve thanks for their relentless support and supplying cake at regular intervals. To my friends at C19, thank you for the encouragement and the laughter. Thanks to E-scape Press for being brilliant to work with and most of all, to the readers who have discovered my books I’d like to say thanks so much for reading.

Chapter One

 

A reason to travel

 

“Marry? But you can’t!” An embarrassed flush crept up to the roots of Lord Ashe’s hair. “I-I mean, you can’t just go to Hampshire and inspect the girl for marriage.”

The other occupant of the room looked up from the letter he was writing. Alexander Caspian Weston, Viscount Devlyn, leaned back in his chair and watched his friend striding back and forth.

“On the contrary, scrutiny before marriage is carried out by many although most are too lazy to look beyond Almack’s.”

Lord Ashe continued his pacing. He had no right to question Devlyn’s motives and even less right to offer advice, but he felt compelled to question a visit that was so out of character. Devlyn’s cynical attitude toward marriage was well known.

“Look, I know your sister’s been trying to marry you off since your brother died, but you don’t usually—” Lord Ashe hesitated; Devlyn might be one of the wealthiest men in England, but many a fortune had been lost overnight at the gaming tables. “Confound it, you don’t have to marry for money, do you?” he demanded.

“No.”

Devlyn sealed his letter and stood up. A tall man, he displayed little regard for fashion. His coat was well-cut but not stretched tight across his shoulders. His dark hair was cropped close to his head and he wore no jewelry. His tanned complexion was in striking contrast to the scar that cut a jagged path from his left cheekbone to jaw. It lent a sinister cast to his features, but his eyes glittered with amusement now.

“Toby, if you will stop wearing a hole in my carpet, I will enlighten you as to my reasons for visiting Miss Sinclair.”

“Oh, very well!” Lord Ashe sighed as he flung himself onto a chair. “Still believe it’s all moonshine though. Word is she is not long out of the schoolroom.”

Devlyn smiled. “And naturally a person of your advanced age will have some sage advice.”

Toby gave an answering grin. A sporting gentleman of only twenty-two years, his father had sent him to London to acquire some town polish from Lord Devlyn, notable Corinthian and the son of his old friend. Toby had been enjoying his stay. He didn’t want to see it interrupted by his mentor dashing down to Hampshire to weigh up some young woman with a view to marriage.

Devlyn’s expression became serious again as he admitted, “I have no wish to marry a schoolroom miss. I don’t want to marry anyone at present—”

Toby’s grin widened.

“—But,” Devlyn added, “My Godmother, Lady Gainsford, is a friend of Miss Sinclair’s grandmother. She wants me to pay my respects when I visit my property in Hampshire; Sinclair House is only six miles from there.” He threw Toby a wry glance. “While I am aware my sister would like to see me married, no lady has yet tempted me. As head of the family since Jack’s death, it will be my duty to marry eventually and produce an heir, a fact my interfering sister constantly reminds me of. Lord knows how her husband tolerates her abominable manners!”

Toby nodded in agreement with this crushing description of Devlyn’s older sister. He found Lady Fanthom a proud, disagreeable woman.

“Besides which, finding a lady who does not want me solely for my worldly goods, who possesses a grain of sense, and who is not offended by the sight of this,” continued Devlyn, flicking his scar with one finger, “seems unlikely.”

Lord Ashe’s expression brightened. “I knew it was a mistake! Perhaps then we can arrange that trip to your hunting lodge before the Season begins—”

“I should add that I ignore my sister’s demands, but usually obey my godmother’s requests,” interjected Devlyn. “Lady Gainsford thinks Miss Sinclair and I would suit; she met Miss Sinclair five years ago, but the lady’s season was cut short when her father died.”

“Five years ago?” muttered Toby. “But Gil Fernihough and George Armytage told me she was only seventeen!”

Devlyn raised his brows. “How gratifying that you and your friends show a keen interest in my affairs.”

“But if Miss Sinclair was in London five years ago, she can hardly have just left the schoolroom,” argued Toby.

“I believe you and your friends are referring to Miss
Belinda
Sinclair. She is but seventeen, inherits a fortune of £40,000 on her marriage and is, by all accounts, a beauty,” explained Devlyn wearily. “I am talking about Miss
Lucy
Sinclair, the divine Belinda’s step-sister who is three and twenty.”

“Never heard of her! Gil and George don’t know of her either and they hear all the latest gossip.” Toby shook his head. “Lay you odds she’s a miserable creature with a squint.”

“My godmother assures me otherwise. I know nothing of her character, however, and have no doubt she is as empty-headed as she is pleasing to the eye. I’ve had many beauties thrust under my nose and not one has engaged me. Their beauty seems to be accompanied by affected manners or a selfish demeanour, or both, and I don’t expect Miss Sinclair to be any different. If I must offer marriage, it will be to a lady with a little more wit and understanding than a toasting iron. Still, I shall go to please my godmother and stay at my estate for a day or two before continuing on to Leicestershire.”

“But how can you think of leaving when you cleaned out Julius Sneyd last night? Your luck is in.”

“Your information gathering amazes me,” said Devlyn. “Pray tell me how you know of my dealings with Lord Sneyd when you visited that new gaming hell with Gil and George?”

Toby was unabashed. “No harm in that; none of us bet too deep.”

“Glad to hear it. Perhaps I have taught you some principles after all, so allow me to offer another lesson in your education. Lord Sneyd challenged me directly last evening and I was forced to oblige him. There is no point in detailing his history, suffice to say it is disreputable. Most of the
ton
accept him because of his address and charm in spite of the rumours that follow him. With his funds at low ebb he will blame me for worsening an already uncomfortable situation. He has always been an unpleasant man; he may now be a dangerous one. You would do well to avoid Lord Sneyd and his cronies.”

“You’re right. Never liked the fellow anyway. Bet he’s as sick as a dog just now. How much did he lose?”

“Too much” said Devlyn laconically.

“I enjoy a game of chance as much as the next man, but it’s a damn foolish thing to bet everything on the roll of a dice.”

“He is a reckless man and an inveterate gambler. He has been losing money for months and is desperate to satisfy some of his creditors.”

As Devlyn rang for the butler, Toby pronounced gloomily, “I hope you won’t be away too long – I’d like your opinion on those match bays George is selling.”

Devlyn’s mouth twitched. “Always willing to give you the benefit of my humble advice. But I would like your assistance on another matter.”

“Lord, Dev, anything I can do for you is a pleasure,” said Toby, staring absently down at his boots.

“I’ll be driving my greys down to Hampshire and wondered if you’d care to accompany me and take the reins?”

Toby started, his features alight with anticipation. “Do you trust me to handle the ribbons? They’re a capital set of horseflesh - admired all over town.”

“So I believe,” observed Devlyn, “and yes, much as it grieves me to praise you too highly in case your head swells, you’ve become an excellent whip.”

Toby glowed with pleasure; Devlyn was one of the most notable whipsters of the day and this was music to his ears. “Perhaps this trip won’t be so awful after all!”

“I’m pleased it has suddenly become more palatable,” replied his friend, laughing.

 

***

 

The Dowager Lady Gainsford lived in a mansion in Eaton Square that she often claimed was too large for her since her husband’s death. Her family ignored these outbursts as they were usually followed by her ladyship organizing one of her famous parties, which the
ton
clamoured to attend and which were always a success because of the people who squeezed into the ballroom on the appointed evening.

Despite her blunt, outspoken manner, she was still an influential and well-liked figure. She was candid but honest, uncompromising but unfailingly kind to those she approved of. That she did not always conform to accepted behaviour was, in her case, considered a positive attribute. She knew everyone and was known by everyone, and her standing was such that even Mrs. Drummond-Burrell, the Almack’s patroness who was a stickler for the proprieties, described Maria Gainsford’s eccentric habits as charming.

Later that same March morning, she sat in her withdrawing room, flamboyantly attired in crimson silk. Her matching turban was adorned with feathers that bobbed up and down as she read the letter in her lap. When Lord Devlyn’s arrival was announced, she looked up sharply. “About time too, Alexander! It must be a month since you paid me a visit and I was beginning to despair.”

Alex kissed the gnarled hand held out to him. “You are looking in great beauty, ma’am.”

“Hmph! Utter rubbish, my boy, and you know it but a prettily-turned compliment is always welcome to a woman, whatever her age. Do sit down; some sensible conversation is what I need after receiving this letter from my daughter-in-law.” She held up the sheet she had been reading. “Why, the woman’s head is full of nonsense! Two crossed sheets containing nothing more interesting than the delights of Leyton’s Restorative Powders which have cured her latest bout of the vapours!”

“Ah, yes,” said Alex gravely. “I understand Lady Elizabeth’s health is delicate on occasion.”

“Not so delicate - she commands her household to do her bidding at all times, including my son. What Peter married her for, I will never know. Like most supposed invalids she shows remarkable tenacity when she encounters opposition.” She put the letter aside. “But onto more important matters. Have you given consideration to the subject I mentioned?”

“Yes, and I will be happy to pass your regards onto Miss Sinclair.”

Lady Gainsford nodded her satisfaction. “Pleased to hear it since I have already written to Lady Sinclair about your visit.”

His eyes opened wider. “You were very sure of my agreement.”

“Oh, come down from the boughs! I merely believed you would not be so ill-mannered as to refuse me this small request.”

She chuckled and Alex hid a smile: Lady Gainsford was notorious for getting her way in matters she applied herself to.

“I would travel there myself were it were not for my accursed rheumatism. You must convey an invitation to Lucy to visit me; I understand her stepmother intends to visit London for her step-sister’s debut, and Lucy is to accompany them. Lucy’s grandmother is concerned about her situation.”

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