Sinful Persuasion of a Lady in the Making – Ava MacAdams

Miss Jenny Jones, seven-and-twenty years old and full of nervous energy, was getting ready to attend her first-ever society ball. “I’m shaking,” she said, watching her reflection in the looking glass as the lady’s maid fiddled with her long, straight, raven-black hair. “I’ll be with you every step of the way—every second, if you need,” Mrs. Alison Jones replied. Jenny let out her breath in a long, wistful sigh. “All right,” she said, but she still didn’t feel all right. No matter how much her sister-in-law reassured her, she didn’t think she’d ever feel all right. Jenny was a slender young woman, tall and tanned and with a smile that could win the world over. Her eyes, a warm chocolate brown that twinkled often, told of a quick intelligence and a life of hard work, and they whispered of a distrust of those around her. “But I am too old to have a debut,” Jenny said, the shake in her voice clear. “And certainly not the right type. Whoever heard of a maid attending a ball as anything other than a servant!” “But you’re no longer a maid, are you, My Dear?” she said. She was ready, having been aided by the lady’s maid before she started on Jenny. “And don’t consider it a debut, as such. It’s a ball—your first—don’t fret about it.

” “How can I not fret?” Jenny asked, not taking her eyes from her reflection. Jenny reached up to the twist of hair the maid had secured at the back of her head, and she slid out one of the pearl-tipped hairpins, sliding it in somewhere else. The maid patiently returned it to where she had originally put it, saying not a word. Even after a year of her new life, Jenny was unused to being coddled by a maid, and she wasn’t sure she would ever accept being dressed by someone else everyday—even if her new wardrobe required it. “Let poor Fanny do your hair and stop fussing,” Alison reprimanded, her voice calm but firm. She had brought her lady’s maid with her when she had left her the house of her father, the Duke of Salsbury, and she helped both Alison and Jenny to dress now. “And yes, your situation is admittedly a little… unusual, but really Jenny Dear, that’s what makes it all the more special.” Lady Alison had married Jenny’s twin brother, Luke, just a year before, and their baby girl, Elizabeth, was a tender four weeks old. At seven-and-twenty years, Alison herself was old by society’s definition, but she was married with a babe. She had done her duty, in their eyes.

She did not care because she had fought for what she had wanted, and she had won. Her golden-blonde hair tumbled around her face in tight curls, and her eyes were marbled with blue. She was the epitome of a society beauty, and Jenny looked longingly at her. Alison seemed to just belong, with seemingly no effort whatsoever. But I shall never be one of them. “You are so naturally beautiful, though,” Jenny said, “and—” “Well, that’s very flattering,” Alison said, eyeing her sideways, “but we both know that is not true. You are sure to woo many a gentleman this evening.” “You are too kind,” Jenny said softly, moving yet another pin. Fanny simply slipped it out of her hair and replaced it, again without complaint. Jenny had been a maid to Alison’s family, and Luke had been the favored head groom.

The groom before him, Jack Jones, had kindly taken them in after his own wife and child died, and he brought them up as his own. When he died, they had gone in search of their mother, hoping to find out more about their origins—and they found out more than they expected. It was when they discovered the heir of the Duke of Carrington, Thomas Denninson, was their brother that things changed—and Luke and Alison could finally marry, despite her father’s reticence. Luke, now a businessman and working for his brother, had bought a London townhouse in which the three of them lived, and it had taken Alison and Jenny a long time to become friends. Jenny mistrusted Alison for a long time, and Alison hadn’t been able to accept Jenny’s change of status as easily. Now, though, they were the best of friends. Both filled with love for Luke, they had reluctantly agreed to spend time together. He had been kind and gentle with them, guiding them toward each other and making them realize that neither was what the other thought. With time, their afternoon teas and their walks in the park became less like a chore and filled with more laughter and joy. “Regardless,” Alison said, taking a step toward Jenny, her lady’s maid scuttling behind her.

“It is possible to find a husband at this late stage. Love does not have a deadline and although you may not have the choice you once would have, late marriage does happen. All the time, in fact.” “Perhaps,” Jenny said, shrugging, although marriage was not her true concern. It was acceptance she craved above all else. “But even you have to admit that a late marriage and a beggar’s upbringing is something of a challenge. I am a servant at heart, as you well know.” “I disagree entirely,” Alison said firmly. “You may have been—incorrectly—raised as a servant, but you are not a servant at heart. And besides, you have worked extremely hard in the previous months.

You’ve had all the lessons on etiquette and behavior. You know how to be a lady, now.” Jenny snorted, trying not to laugh too loudly at Alison’s outlandish statement. She could learn all she liked, but no amount of lessons could ever make her a lady. “As soon as I open my mouth, they’ll know,” Jenny said. “We’ve been through that, too,” Alison said. “ Think about what you want to say before you say it, and then speak slowly, clearly enunciating each sound.” “I know,” Jenny said, nodding her head sadly. “You’re right. Of course.

” This new way of life felt incredibly restrictive, with rules for every tiny thing she did—even what she thought. She may not spend her days scrubbing pots and pans or clearing fireplaces or even delivering food. But it seemed her life was even more confined than it ever had been. “But—” she began, turning to look at Alison, who looked back with a bright and encouraging smile. “But what, Darling Sister?” Alison asked. “But it matters not how I speak, nor how well I behave. Heavens, it wouldn’t even matter if I were eight years younger and the right age to be introduced to the ton.” “What do you mean?” Alison asked, carefully watching her. Jenny put a hand to her stomach, tightly restrained by her stays, so different to her uniforms as a maid, and she looked away, not wanting to face Alison for fear her eyes would well up with tears. “Jenny?” Alison asked gently, placing a careful hand on Jenny’s bare arm.

“What is it?” Jenny turned back, her lips in a tight, thin line of pain. “It matters not because they all know.” “Don’t talk nonsense,” Alison began, her voice forcibly bright and undoubtedly false. “It’s not nonsense,” Jenny snapped. “Don’t think I haven’t heard the rumors, the whispers. Every time we go out, be it the dressmaker or the tearoom or the marketplace, I hear them making snide remarks and discussing my unfortunate past.” Alison sighed, but she looked at Jenny with such sadness in her eyes that Jenny felt herself soften. She was not ashamed of her past, but she knew others would not approve, and she so badly wanted this to work—for her brother’s sake, if nothing else. “Yes,” Alison admitted. “I have heard the rumors, too.

But really, Jenny, rumors and gossip are currency among the rich, where money means nothing. And once it is spent, it is gone, and then it is done. They need to find new tales to tell to keep up with their friends, and then they will no longer be talking about you.” “Do you honestly believe that?” Jenny asked. “I do,” Alison said. “Remember, I have been that currency. That I married the groom— whether or not he had become a businessman by that point or not—was quite the talk of the town.” “I hadn’t forgotten,” Jenny said, smiling. “You are so strong, Alison. To have fought for what you wanted against this tide of people and their seemingly arbitrary rules.

It’s quite something.” “And you are strong too, Jenny. Of that, I am certain.” Alison flashed Jenny a smile and then leaned forward, kissing her quickly on the cheek. “Now, come along, get your gown on. We need to leave shortly. I shall go and check that Luke is ready and not lost in some business papers—you know how he is!” Jenny chuckled as Alison glided out, the taffeta of her baby-blue gown rustling softly as she went. She was right. Luke had a tendency to lose himself in his work, and he always had. Where before, he would spend long hours brushing down horses and building a rapport, now he locked himself away in his study, piles of papers in front of him.

He would pore over the words for hours, having finally discovered the true joy of reading and writing. “Fanny,” she said, calling out to the lady’s maid who seemed to be lost somewhere within the wardrobe, “do you have my gown?” “Of course, Miss. Arms up.” Fanny came out of the wardrobe with a brand new and pristine ivory gown draped over her arms. Alison had wanted her to wear white, but Jenny had been horrified at the idea of wearing a color that signified innocence and youth. She would be made a mockery of, she was certain. Jenny had wanted emerald green, instead, but they finally settled on the ivory, with the emerald green already made for the next ball. Jenny held her arms in the air and bent over as Fanny slipped the gown over her head. The silk shimmered in the light. It was a simple gown, but all the more beautiful for it.

The short sleeves were frilled and puffy, but other than that, the ivory silk was left to shine on its own. The bodice was short and tight, but the skirt flowed freely, a gentle femininity added by the way in which the fabric swung around her legs. “All set, Miss,” Fanny said, smiling at Jenny’s reflection in the mirror. “And very beautiful you look, too.” “Are you sure?” Jenny asked, the fluttering of her stomach almost too much to bear. “Certain,” Fanny said.

.

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