Today is release day for Suzan Lauder’s The Reluctant Chaperon, Book 2 of Cecilia’s Mismatches. If you preordered it should have been sent to your eReader and in your hands to enjoy! If you didn’t preorder, get your copy!
Let’s hear from the author!
The story continues, and we will finally get to see how Lexie and Mr. Charington interact, but not before we are privy to a little gossip! Cassie’s attraction continues as well, and now she will be the chaperon to Lexie and Mr. Charington. Goodness! I do hope that these chapters have intrigued you enough to want to read more, and to go out and buy this stand-alone novella with nods to Jane Austen and a style reminiscent of Georgette Heyer, with no sex scenes.
Two weeks later
Dinner was ending when Mama took advantage of a lull in the conversation. “So, we are to have a new gentleman caller Monday morning.” Her voice was animated. “Along with his family, of course.”
“Are you tiring of my presence? I do not have to call so frequently.” The Duke of Alderton appeared more fretful than Cassie had ever seen the man. She was becoming more acquainted with his expressions since he had called on Audra late in the day every second day and had attended a number of family dinners. He was a pleasant gentleman with a dry wit and, if Cassie read his cues correctly, an overflowing of passion for her younger sister. When the two had publicly declared themselves in June, his father had just died, so they were quietly spending time together whilst the duke avoided the social scene and wore black buttons and a black arm band for six months.
Cassie gave Alderton an earnest smile. “Do not mistake my mother’s exuberance for this particular new face as a slight towards you, good sir. We will be pleased to entertain both of you for as long as you desire to grace our mornings.”
“That is a relief because my threat was a false one. I do not believe I could miss a visit if I tried.” His eyes were for Audra alone, who lowered her lashes and blushed.
“You could be here for our anticipated gentleman if you can manage the earlier hour,” Audra said. “He is the one Cecilia—Lady Hoxley—is matching with my sister Lexie.”
“Since it is your desire, and I have been given the advance notice, I shall do what I can to clear my business duties Monday and arrive earlier than is my wont.” Hmm. More cow eyes. He returned his attention to the table. “Who is the gentleman?”
“Lady Hoxley’s own brother, Mr. Reeve Charington,” Mama said, quick to take up the response. “A fine gentleman.” She preened for the duke.
Lexie was less impressed than Mama. “What am I to say? How am I to act?”
“My question, based on Lady Hoxley’s success at matching Miss Audra, is does he have a genial elder brother?” said Alderton. Everyone at the table had laughed, since it was true. In the spring, Cecilia had tried to match Audra to Lord Garner Tremaine, Alderton’s younger brother. However, somehow, the courtship failed and the wrong two became interested in each other.
With the alarmed expression on Lexie’s face despite her laughter, Cassie cleared the question. “No, just one sister—Cecilia, who fancies herself a matchmaker.”
“I am familiar with Lady Hoxley and her machinations.” Alderton reached out and took Audra’s hand. Both had crinkles around their eyes.
Lexie leaned towards the back of her chair and raised her brows slightly. “A Season in town has prepared me for any level of gentlemen’s attentions, so I suppose I must simply sit back and make the assumption that because of my own experience with meeting the fellow a week ago, and the excellent reviews he gets from all and sundry, that it will be an easy interview.”
It was exactly the advice Cassie would have given her. “That is the spirit you need. Now, perhaps if we retire to the music room, you can soothe your heart by playing something pious.”
“That would be a suitable idea.”
They had no requirement to separate the sexes since Alderton was the only gentleman, and it was unnecessary to go to the drawing room after a family dinner, so all five made their way to the music room where the Hales sisters took their turns playing and singing. The three of them were accomplished enough to demonstrate well in any drawing room in London. The small audience was appreciative of music, and no one flagged one bit due to the later hour. When the time came, Cassie called for tea and cakes, and they sat and discussed various items of interest to their entire party.
Cassie was able to report that finally, after trying to gain the attention of Lord Farlane for an apology to her household and the maid, Leonie, she met with the man. She was unable to persuade an apology from him, though she determined the reason was Farlane’s intense anger towards Leonie; he still expected Cassie to dismiss the girl.
Enquiries were made, and Cassie discovered Leonie had sharply jutted her knee between Lord Farlane’s legs to protect herself. She swelled with pride at the maid’s initiative and told her so. In addition, she asked Leonie to ensure that the female servants be aware of this method of protecting themselves from men who could possibly harm them. She also planned to tell her sisters and friends, even though those discussions would be embarrassing.
“I do believe that Cecilia is in a family way,” said Audra. “Her letters indicate an illness many mornings, and she blamed the kitchen at Lord Remington’s home. She also cannot stand eating foods she once loved, yet cannot get enough of kippers morning, noon, and night.”
Lexie clearly liked this as a stifled appearance of amusement covered her pretty face. “Kippers at tea and dinner?”
“And as a snack at bedtime with chocolate.”
The group was generally not in favour of Cecilia’s food choices but agreed that the symptoms were those of a woman who was enceinte.
“Then I need not call too early Monday,” said Alderton, “for the ailments of the stomach tend to go away in the later day.”
“How do you know this?” asked Audra.
Alderton grinned. “My sister is not one to keep secrets.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Did Cecilia mention a time that they expected to call?” asked Lexie.
Audra nodded. “It would make it easier on Everett if he knew when to arrive.”
“Unfortunately, no,” Cassie said. “So His Grace will have to assume to be here before eleven if he wishes to observe this game.”
“Pray, do not tease,” said Lexie. “I do not have the patience to be the centre of attention for such purposes. I should hope that you are all respectful and treat this as a customary call and nothing more.”
Oh, she should not have made light of the situation. She had expected that Lexie was stronger due to her earlier statements of resolve. As it turned out, she was agitated. Her body became frozen as she struggled for an idea of how to calm Lexie’s nerves. She set her teacup down beside her while Mama spoke.
“We do want you and the young man to have some time to speak together, though, Alexandra. It is the whole reason for the call.”
“That is precisely what concerns me. I will feel like I am called upon to make some sort of performance of the perfect match.”
Mama tilted her head, leaned forward, and put her hands together. “Like your sisters, I believe I have taught you the graces well enough that you will manage. Do not fret. Besides, you had a fine time speaking with Mr. Charington at Cassandra’s dinner party. There is no reason that tone of discourse should not continue.”
“We did not have a dozen sets of eyes upon us at dinner!” Lexie’s brow was furrowed. “And besides, this is like starting anew.” The way she was responding, Mama had not helped at all.
“They are friendly eyes, and besides, they all have faith in your ability,” said Cassie in a soft yet firm tone. “You must remember how well spoken you are, Lexie, dear one. You have a gift that way, and I always appreciate how well you put words together when you need to. Because of this gift, I, for one, know you will succeed.” There. Was that enough to placate her sister’s misgivings?
Her sister reached out and took her hand. “Oh, my thoughtful Cassie. You are always the one to work so hard to make everything right for us. Thank you for being the voice of reason.”
The tightness in her chest abated somewhat with Lexie’s words. Lexie would perform well in terms of amusing Mr. Charington, but would her sister would mind her manners and keep hold of her brash views during this call? One half-hour was not usually long enough to offend a young man, yet Lexie could be strong-willed enough to intimidate. Of course, she would not do so and embarrass her family—would she?
“But do you not think it is difficult to find extraordinary servants?” Cecilia had been complaining about her suspicion that someone in her household had been pilfering silverware even though Hoxley kept reminding her that the butler’s counts indicated that none was missing.
“Hoxley is fortunate to have had Bryce for many years,” said Mr. Charington, referring to said butler. “He can be trusted.”
“Cassie has faith in all her servants,” said Lexie, “even the ones who pinch silverware from her.”
With the pace of the conversation, Cassie had no time to consider the situation. “I do have faith in them—every one of them.” Mama and her sisters laughed. Of course, Lexie would find a way to tease her. She was such a lively lady—she was gifted as such.
Lexie turned to their guests with a cherubic smile. “You see, my sister has a propensity to look on the bright side of everything. Where there is good and there is evil, Cassandra will delve to find the good in both.”
“An admirable trait,” replied Mr. Charington. “It leaves one with a sense of contentment rather than worry about the wrongs in the world.”
“One might think so, but she does fuss while she resolves the inconsistencies she sees.”
Mr. Charington offered a soft smile in Cassie’s direction, causing her to nearly melt. “Then I would suggest offering Lady Reddener alternatives framed in as helpful a manner as possible.”
Audra nodded. “Our family has become accustomed to have a care when we speak of difficult situations to Cassandra. But Alexandra is often contrary and tries to see what excitement she can stir up by a mere statement.”
Said sister broke into a grin. “I do admit to a tendency towards controversy.”
“Talking of controversy, do you want to hear of our house party with Lord Remington?” Cecilia’s brows were lifted and her eyes sparkled. When encouraged by the group, she took a deep breath, as though the tale would last the entire call. “Well, the sensation in the air was as warm as a winter in the arctic. That couple is one of the most mismatched I have come across. Of course, it is too late for them to escape the arrangement.” She turned to her brother. “Reeve, how would you characterise your friend Lord Remington?”
“That is difficult to address. He has been known as a rather fast sort of fellow, definitely a buck and a Corinthian. I knew him from Cambridge and did not see him a great deal of the time over the last few years because of this reputation in case it rubbed off on me, but he is an exceptional friend.”
Cecilia pursed her lips the exhaled a heavy breath. “Oh, tell the truth! He is a known rakehell, and she is a mouse.” Oh, no! Could Mr. Charington possess such a friend?
“Rakehell is phrasing it rather strongly, sister. I do not think he is such a debaucher as the broadsheets describe. Would he be my friend if he were so?” He turned to the rest of the room. “He is a good man, an excellent master to his estate. You would be pleased to be acquainted with him.”
Cecilia held her hands up in the air and looked to one side with wide eyes. “Who am I to judge? I merely know what I have heard. In any case, the lady is diminutive and unattractive, the man is handsome and virile, and they do not give any indication that they have any particular interest in spending any time together whatsoever—in fact, they seem to feel quite the opposite.”
“That is terribly sad. They were to unite two great estates.” Mama shook her head.
“Indeed,” said Mr. Charington, “for my friend stands high in the upper ten thousand, and his betrothed has inherited a large estate where there was no entail, making her one of the richest women in England. In fact, I noticed that the majority of the guests at the house party were among the very rich, though most were married couples.”
“If the lady is so rich, then why marry? Her husband would get everything that was now hers. I suppose she wants children.” Cassie held out one palm as she spoke. “Otherwise, it is not in her best interests to marry.”
“That part is a mystery to me,” said Cecilia, “for she is the sickly sort, and may not carry a child all that well. However, every young woman wants a husband. You have had your chance; you know what contentment marriage can bring.”
Cassie could do no more than offer a tranquil smile to the room, whether it was heartfelt or not. She really could not say whether or not marriage was the best idea for anyone. Perhaps Cecilia had happiness enough for all. Cassie had not achieved children from her marriage, so that was not a benefit that could be counted upon. As for other pleasures, well, the comfort of the money was not so bad. She had not been so well off in her youth as a minor gentleman’s daughter, and Sir Cyril was excessively rich for a baron.
“This is why Lady Hoxley is bound and determined to marry off her friends,” said Alderton.
“Not everyone can be as fortunate as me to have been swept off their feet at a ball,” Cecilia said.
Hoxley placed his hand upon his chest. “Nor as fortunate as me that a young flower would say yes to an ineligible bachelor.” While Cassie opened her mouth to protest that he was rather eligible when he was single, the room burst into laughter. Of course, it was true, even if it was deprecating to the kind gentleman. He had been over forty years of age when he married the seventeen-year-old Cecilia. She brought a generous fortune, and he had a title as well as an unencumbered estate. Both were handsome enough to match each other, if not the best looking of the ton.
“And what a wonderful husband you have turned out to be,” said Mr. Charington.
At her husband’s comment, Cecilia began to rise. “Well, on that note, we seem to have overstayed our welcome.”
Mr. Charington followed his sister’s lead then stepped towards Lexie’s chair. “Miss Hales, I was wondering, and I hope you do not think it too presumptuous, if you would like to go for a carriage ride Thursday in Hyde Park during the fashionable hour.”
“I should like that very much. Perhaps my sister, Lady Reddener, could accompany us.”
Cecilia spoke first. “It will be an open carriage—”
However, Mr. Charington would not allow his sister to speak on his behalf. “Do not worry, Cecilia. Are you available, Lady Reddener?”
“I most certainly am.” Something about his tone made her short of breath, but she managed a most polite response, if a little quietly spoken.
“I shall collect the two of you here.” His solemn eyes as he gazed at Cassie were in contrast to the gaiety of the excursion, but he quickly recovered and gave a winsome grin to the others.
And with that, the visitors donned their outer garments and went off to any other calls they had planned to make for the morning.
What do you think so far? It seems that a dilemma is ahead for Cassie. What about Lexie and Mr. Charington? Are your ready to grab this quick read and give it a chance? The romance and the story will captivate you. Pick you your copy on Amazon.