Romancing Lord Ramsbury – Ashtyn Newbold

Looking up from the pages of her novel required great self-discipline, a quality which Grace Weston had always claimed with pride. But self-discipline was also a quality that her sister desperately lacked. Collapsing on the grass with frustration, Grace’s elder sister Harriett scowled, the expression reminding Grace of another moment, just days before, when her sister had returned from town with yet another bag of purchases. Harriett’s honey-blonde curls flew back from her face as she blew out a puff of air, tossing aside her new parasol. “Why must the shops be so alluring, Grace?” She stroked the brim of her new bonnet which she wore, the blue ribbons twisting with the breeze. Grace shrugged, studying her sister. “The bonnet is very becoming. The blue does much to complement the color of your eyes.” With a sigh, Harriett tucked her legs under her. “Yes, but it is the third bonnet I have purchased this month, and with the parasol, all my pin money is spent.” “And it is only the fifth of April.” Grace tried to hide her smirk, but Harriett saw it. “You take pleasure in my suffering,” Harriett said with narrowed eyes. “I have a genuine addiction to the Brighton shops. Mama said I would grow out of it, but each time I venture to town there are new creations in the windows to tempt me.

And our pin money has been decreasing each month.” She chewed her lip. “Have you noticed?” “You might consider avoiding the shops altogether,” Grace said thoughtfully. “Then you shall not be so tempted.” “But I have very few pastimes I enjoy so much as shopping.” Harriett gave a dramatic groan. Grace licked the tip of her finger, turning the page of her book. The story had almost taken her to a romantic proposal, and she had been eager to discover the heroine’s response. “Please pay attention,” Harriett said in an irritated voice. Grace raised her eyes, meeting her sister’s blue ones with a scowl.

“I believe it was you who first interrupted me.” “That is true, but this is more important than a silly novel.” Grace snapped the book shut. “A novel is much more important than discussing your hundredth bonnet.” Harriett touched her new piece of headwear, indignation spreading over her features. “One can never have too many bonnets.” “One can never have too many books.” With one eyebrow raised, Harriett shook her head. “Only if she hopes to be deemed an unmarriageable bluestocking.” Grace bit back the harsh retort that hovered on her tongue.

It was impossible for her not to rise in defense when her reading habits were questioned. Yes, she loved books, but why was it deemed a less worthy pastime than obsessing over headpieces and parasols? Or stitching a boring piece of embroidery? Why should it make her unmarriageable? Grace took great care in studying the heroes of the novels she read, taking note of their agreeable qualities, determining which she would seek in a husband. She enjoyed reading romantic stories and poetry the most, which would serve her well in a courtship. But whenever she tried to convince her mother, or even her sister, of the merits of reading novels, they simply did not understand. She blamed their poor sense on a lack of the very thing they censured her for. Reading. Her mother claimed Grace would never marry, as she seemed to prefer fictional men over real ones. But her mother never seemed to worry over Harriett, even though she was the eldest, unmarried at the age of twenty-one. If either daughter were in danger of spinsterhood it was Harriett. And so Grace’s own marriage wasn’t her primary concern.

Eventually she would give it greater thought, but she was the younger daughter. As a benefit to her constant reading of romantic stories, and the observations she had made of her own parents, she had learned what made two people well-suited to one another. She enjoyed making matches in her mind of the residents of Brighton—yet another of her pastimes that was frowned upon. She had the perfect match in mind for her sister. If only Harriett would listen. Grace exercised her self-discipline once again, setting her book far away on the grass. “If I am to be an unmarriageable bluestocking, then you are to be an unmarriageable shopper. If you continue on in this way you will not be able to marry Mr. William Harrison.” Harriett’s eyes rolled back in annoyance as she leaned on her hands.

“Will you please stop with your attempts to match me with him?” “I cannot. To do so would be abandoning hope for your future happiness.” Grace sighed as she stared at the branches above her. “I do wish for you to be happy. William always made you smile.” As children, Mr. Harrison had often played on the beach with Harriett and Grace. It had not escaped Grace’s keen notice that he fancied her sister. But one day Harriett had stopped coming to the beach, stopped having an imagination, and shut herself away to decorate hats and stitch embroidery. The memory of the imaginary games they played, the joyful friendship they all had shared, filled Grace with melancholy.

Harriett had claimed that it was time for her to grow up and prepare herself for a match of esteem. Grace suspected Harriett had developed feelings for their friend, feelings she knew would lead her away from her dreams of wealth and prestige. But Grace had not given up hope for the match. There was much to recommend it. William dressed in a modest fashion, a needed contrast to Harriett’s extravagant style. He possessed a fine intellect and valued literature, which Grace hoped would transfer to her sister. Humble and genuine, with a friendly disposition, he would serve well to reduce Harriett’s often extreme temperament. His only fault was that he was not in possession of a large fortune, a needed quality in Harriett’s husband if she did not overcome her addiction to purchasing new accessories. A sadness entered Harriett’s eyes, perhaps a yearning for those days that Grace had just recalled in her own mind. But Harriett quickly shook it away, an accusatory look replacing it.

“You speak of him so much, I would suspect you fancy him yourself.” “I do not.” Grace laughed under her breath. The idea was ridiculous. Mr. Harrison was the perfect match for Harriett, not herself. “Besides, I’m not well suited to him like you are.” “I’m not well suited to him! You know how I have always dreamed of managing a large estate and obtaining a title. And to be called Harriett Harrison?” She grimaced, smoothing her palm over the grass. Grace laughed.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Harriett frowned. “Who said that?” “Shakespeare!” Grace tried to hide her dismay, but couldn’t. How could her sister not recognize such famous words? Grace could argue that even Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet were less compatible than her sister and Mr. Harrison. Harriett’s scowl deepened. “In any case, I disagree that Mr. Harrison and I are well suited to one another. I have known him since I was a small child, and I have never sensed that he holds any attachment to me. And how would he be able to provide me with the pin money that my happiness so depends on? He is not wealthy.

” Her voice carried a hint of teasing, but Grace sensed truth behind her words. “His attachment to you is clear; I would venture to call you blind to have missed it.” Grace widened her eyes to emphasize her words. “William is well established in his profession as a barrister, so there is no reason that you should not have a comfortable living. At any rate, wealthy men are all so scoundrelous and arrogant.” Grace’s upper lip curled with distaste. “I dislike the lot of them. You should not sacrifice a good man for one of wealth and title.” Harriett raised a finger in accusation. “You cannot say that of all wealthy men.

The only man of wealth I know to fit that description is Lord Ramsbury.” Grace’s heart stirred with anger at the mere mention of the man’s name. Lord Ramsbury. Scoundrelous and arrogant did not even begin to describe him, and the word dislike could not describe her distaste for him. As the eldest son of the Earl of Coventry, Lord Ramsbury was the most desirable bachelor in all of Brighton. He flaunted his wealth and status in the public eye, and his reputation for outrageous flirting had certainly spread through the bulk of England. He was adored by society because he was handsome, charming, and would soon be inheriting his father’s earldom. Women flocked to him, yet he was notorious for turning them away. But not before stealing their hearts with an array of insincere flattery and other disreputable things. But these reasons were small factors, small annoyances contributing to Grace’s distaste for the man.

She had been despising Lord Ramsbury for almost as long as he had been shamelessly flirting with women, which was a long while indeed. Three years before at her first ball, he had been there. All her romantic heart had seen were his striking blue eyes, athletic figure, and deep golden hair. He had sought her out at her place against the wall, offering a string of flattery that she had believed. Three dances later, and she had considered herself to be madly in love with him. Three dances, after all, signaled to the party an interest of courtship, of marriage. She could scarcely believe that Lord Ramsbury had chosen to pursue her. Foolish as she was, she had spent the next four months thinking of him constantly, pining for him. Until the next ball, when he had forgotten her name. Grace shook herself of the dreadful memory.

She preferred to think of pleasant things. “I hope Lord Ramsbury finds himself beneath the wheels of a carriage,” Grace mused, tapping her chin with one finger. “Or under the hooves of a stallion.” Harriett gasped, dismay contorting her pretty features. With a grin, Grace reached for her book again. Her sister lunged forward on the grass, slapping Grace’s hand away, recalling her eyes. “Why do you hate Lord Ramsbury so very much?” Grace pursed her lips in annoyance, abandoning her book once more. “I will answer you that if you explain to me why you stopped coming to the beach when we were children. Why did you stop being William’s friend?” Grace had always wondered what had brought about such an abrupt change in her sister. Harriett had been at the beach with Grace, William, and their friend, Rose Daventry, playing joyfully like any other day, and the next she had remained at home.

Grace had found her inside with her bonnet strings pulled tight, expressing a rigid disapproval of their games. She refused to ever venture to the ocean, and grew tense at every mention of William Harrison. Harriett’s expression closed off, leaving her emotions to flounder inside. “I realized how dangerous it was. The ocean, such close friendship with a boy… we were growing older. It was no longer proper.” “Twelve is not so very old.” “William was fourteen.” Grace closed her lips against further questioning. She had received the same vague answer for years.

The romantic within her clung to hope that one day Harriett and William would come together again, but it was a distant hope indeed if Harriett refused to speak to him. Grace released a dramatic sigh, one she reserved only for talk of unscrupulous men. “You already know why I despise Lord Ramsbury. Need I endure the torture of relaying it again? He spurned me, Harriett. He told me I was the most beautiful girl he had ever beheld. He compared my eyes to the night sky, and my hair to a bronze picture frame, as it ‘outlined the beauty of my unrivaled features.’ And then he tossed me aside like a sullied napkin. He is odious and egotistical and… infuriating. How dare he toy with a young girl’s heart in such a way? And I am not the only one he has fooled.” Harriett scoffed, apparently unsatisfied.

It bothered Grace that men of wealth and title received a closer examination of their character—a determined search for any sign of honor—while men of lower station were scrutinized from the condition of their gloves to the alignment of their teeth. Grace did not require that her husband be wealthy, although she was certainly not opposed to it. But from her experience in society, she had observed that the men most lacking in character seemed to be the least lacking in wealth. It inspired arrogance and superiority, which Grace could not stand in the least. Harriett pressed the subject further. “Surely Lord Ramsbury has a redeeming quality or two. A person cannot be entirely bad.” “He may be the exception,” Grace grumbled. Her sister looked up at the clouds, deep thought evident in her features. “I can think of many redeeming qualities he possesses.

” Grace raised an eyebrow in doubt. “His firm jaw, his blue eyes, and his devilish smile to begin.” It was Grace’s turn to scoff. “May we speak of something else? Or rather, someone else? She gave a wide smile. “William Harrison. If you would only make an effort to reacquaint yourself with his character, then you would see how perfectly designed you are for one another.” Harriett cast her eyes heavenward. “Your romantic notions are too much.” “And yours are not enough.” Harriett pinched her lips together before speaking.

“I am not interested in Mr. Harrison.” “But I suspect he is interested in you, and he always has been.” “What has led you to that conclusion?” Grace shrugged, rolling a blade of grass between her fingers. “I have a sense for things like this. For… things involving the heart.” “You act as if you are an expert in love.” Harriett waved her hands in the air in a dramatic fashion. “As if you are Aphrodite herself.” “Perhaps I am an expert.

My reading has taught me much on the subject. Please say you’ll consider it.” “Consider what, exactly?” Grace flashed a bright smile. “Courting Mr. Harrison.” “He has not made any indication that he wishes to court me!” “I suspect it’s because he is afraid. He doesn’t know if you’ll accept him. You must encourage him into a courtship. Charm him, flirt with him.” “I’m certainly not going to encourage such a thing.

” Harriett stood from the grass in one swift motion, setting off toward the house. “And I don’t wish to discuss it any longer.” Grace threw her book onto the grass, jumping to her feet. She tripped over her skirts as she hurried after her sister. “Please! It would be so delightful if you did marry him.” Harriett turned around, her brow furrowed. “Why? Only so you can prove you are this ‘expert in love?’” As Grace puzzled over it, she found some truth behind her sister’s words. So many young ladies engaged their time in sociality, flirting, and pursuing the men of their choice. Grace wanted a way to prove to her own family that her reading was not a waste of time. She was learning many things that would help her one day catch a husband.

In fact, she was fully confident that she could catch one if she set her mind to it. And she could help her sister secure the perfect husband for herself, using her own knowledge and expertise. Grace stopped, planting her hands on her hips. “Perhaps I am an expert. You can become a master on any subject by reading extensively on it.” “But experiencing it in reality would provide much greater enlightenment.” “Not always.” Grace smiled. “And it is hardly proper to seek out experience in romance, is it? Unless you mean that you will try it by romancing Mr. Harrison.

I would approve of that venture.” Harriett huffed a breath. “I would rather see you try.” “Me? Harriett’s eyes grew wide, an idea growing within them. Her lips pursed in a smirk. “I would like to see you try to woo Mr. Harrison. If you can manage to catch his attention, I will believe that you are this expert you boast of being.” Grace shook her head hard. “No.

That would be detrimental to my plan for Mr. Harrison’s match with you.” Harriett shrugged one shoulder, the motion scrunching the fabric of her layered blue sleeve. “I knew you were not capable of it.” Irritation welled up inside Grace, her entire body tightening. “I most certainly am. But I simply refuse to romance Mr. Harrison. He is yours.” Harriett gritted her teeth.

“He is not mine.” “One day he will be.” “Grace!” Harriett released a long breath through her nostrils, straightening her posture. “Very well, if you will not accept my challenge, then I extend a different one. After all, wooing Mr. Harrison would be all too easy for an expert.” Grace’s heart pounded in anticipation, and her feet bounced within her slippers. She never could resist a challenge. “What is it?” Her sister pressed her lips together, amusement striking her eyes. “Let us make it a wager.

” “A wager? I don’t think Papa would approve.” Grace strived to please her parents, to always respect their wishes. Her father rarely noticed her efforts, but she extended them all the same. The only wish of her mother that Grace remotely rebelled against was her reading habits. How could she abandon the stories that thrilled and enlightened and so thoroughly entertained her? She chewed on her lower lip in hesitation. “Papa will not know of our wager.” Harriett’s eyebrow lifted along with her mischievous smile. Grace fidgeted with the lace of her skirts. “You must tell me what it is before I will agree to it.” She did not like the devious twinkle in her sister’s eye.

“Lord Ramsbury,” Harriett said. The name crawled over Grace’s skin, deepening her scowl. “What of him?” Her sister leaned forward, lowering her voice. “If you can manage to woo Lord Ramsbury into a proposal, I will believe you are indeed an expert in love, and I will trust your counsel to court Mr. Harrison.” Grace gasped, pulling away. “I would never marry Lord Ramsbury!” “I did not say you had to marry him, only coerce him into a proposal.” Harriett’s smile, broad and wicked, showed that she felt the odds were in her favor. “No doubt he has dozens of women seeking his hand. It would indeed require an expert to catch his eye.

” The idea sat heavy and sharp in Grace’s stomach, filling her with dread. She could never face Lord Ramsbury again. And she could certainly not romance him. “If you are successful,” Harriett said, “I will surrender all my pin money to you for the next three months, and agree to court Mr. Harrison. I will even declare to Mama that your reading should be condoned, giving you full responsibility for the match. But if you fail, you will give me your pin money and never mention Mr. Harrison again.” Grace narrowed her eyes. “I see you have great confidence in me.

You would never offer your own pin money if you had even the slightest fear of losing it.” Harriett gave a loud laugh. Grace’s breath came quickly, catching in her chest like fire. She had never put into practice the advice she so readily gave to her sister. How could she succeed? Why would a man like Lord Ramsbury pay her any notice? He had once before, but it had been a game, a trap. He had used her young heart like a plaything, cruel and unforgiving. A thought struck her. But if she could manage to win his proposal, she could have the pleasure of offering him the rejection he unwittingly gave her three years before. A slow smile touched Grace’s lips. Aside from being well-read on the subject of courtship and romance, she was also well-read on the subject of revenge.

“Do you agree to the terms?” Harriett stepped forward, propping her parasol over one shoulder.

.

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