Title: Miss Mayfair's Dilemma
Author: K. G. McAbee
Genre: Regency Suspense
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
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Miss Patricia Mayfair is a wealthy, orphaned Regency bluestocking. While in London for the Season, Miss Mayfair spends more time buying books than ribbons, to the despair of her more conventional friend. Begrudgingly attending a dinner party, Miss Mayfair meets Lord Andrew Aragon, who fancies himself tired of London and the ton and never expects to fall instantly head-over-heels. But Lord Andrew is a notorious gambler, and Miss Mayfair has vowed she will never marry a man who indulges in such a vice. Can the leopard change his spots or the rake his habits?
"My dearest Patricia, you must allow your hair to be done, I vow, or you will never be ready in time, and I don't know what Sir Everard will say," muttered Leticia Warren around a mouthful of hairpins that threatened to impale her plump cheeks with every word. A silver-backed brush hung from one delicate, rounded hand, shining bright against her pale green silk skirts.
Patricia Mayfair looked up from the book that engrossed her to the exclusion of all else--a most common affair with Miss Mayfair, as any of her friends would swear--and gave a distracted smile in the general direction of her companion.
"My dear Leticia," Patricia replied with a cheerful, mocking grin, "as I have been invited to the beautiful Lady Christabel Russell's house, no one will notice whether I have hair or not, much less how it is arranged. So settle yourself, do, Letty, and let me finish this chapter, I pray you."
Leticia gave a sniff which spoke volumes then waited with exaggerated patience, tapping one tiny, slippered foot on the rosy Aubusson carpet. A cheerful fire burned in the grate, warming the high room, even though two windows were open to the fresh air. As fresh as one could expect, at least, in London, Leticia thought with another metaphorical sniff.
As if hearing this unspoken comment, Patricia said, without lifting her eyes from her book, "Letty, we've only got another week in London. Do try to enjoy it, won't you? Why, any other girl your age would be in raptures over the experience."
Leticia cast a glance out the open window, where the setting sun was casting its last benevolent glow upon the great capital city, and gave a slow, sad shake of her head. Her dark brown hair was smoothed back into a tidy bun, with no tendrils allowed to escape from their careful bondage, and her bright brown eyes suffused for an instant with unshed tears. She pulled a dainty lace handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at one moist eye in an irritated and peremptory fashion. The desired effect was somewhat ruined, sadly, by the cluster of hairpins still in her mouth. She removed them with what dignity she could manage.
"He's probably missing you as much as you're missing him, you know, my dear," said Patricia, her eyes still on her book. "And he couldn't leave, not while the corn needs getting in, nor would you wish him to, so there now. Do dry your eyes, my dearest, do."
Leticia Warren wandered across the room and plumped down on the low settee that stood before the window. She cast a wondering glance towards Patricia, still reading--how does she always manage to know what I'm thinking, she wondered idly--and gave herself up to thoughts of the stalwart young gentleman farmer who would soon claim her for his bride.
Some moments passed in glorious silence, as each young lady was engrossed in that which pleased her most.
At last, Patricia shut her book with a satisfied nod. "There now, Letty, chapter all done. My head is at your complete and total disposal, to do with as you will."
Letty rose gracefully from the settee and pattered across the carpet to pounce on the proffered head. She spent some enjoyable moments running the horsehair bristles through the shining masses of dark auburn curls and twining them about each other, jabbing hairpins in place with a determination that would have graced a general.
"It is a fascinating book, I take it?" Letty asked as she maneuvered a particularly recalcitrant curl into proper position with the ease of long practice.
"Letty, you're as little interested in books as I am in having my hair done," Patricia laughed up at her companion and friend. "A good thing for your Thomas, no doubt, since you'll be a treasure for him about the house. Indeed, you'll be as useful as I would be a burden to a husband."
Letty smiled at the mention of her betrothed, dropping a hairpin onto the thick carpet as an evidence of her delight. "Well, I do know a bit about running a house, and that will be of benefit for him," she simpered to herself and her friend in the silver-backed mirror. Then the expression on her pretty face changed to one of concern. "But I'm sure that you'll find a man who is reasonable about your books, truly, Patricia. Do not worry about it, my dearest."
Patricia laughed as she regarded her friend's intent look in the dressing table mirror. "Do not let it put you into a pother, Letty, my dear. As you know, I have all the money I'll ever need, and a husband is the last thing on my list of bits and bobs to acquire."
"But, Patricia," said Letty, stopping her ministrations in mid stroke, "of course you must marry. Why, what about children?"
"Children! Why, what about them, Letty? Useless, puling, distracting things, and besides, they'd get in the way of my studies," said her friend then relented at the expression this remark drew on the rosy face above hers in the mirror. "Now, Letty, don't frown at your old school chum so, pray. Why, look at what it does to your pretty brows, dragging them together like a witch's. Thomas will give me a sound thrashing for vexing you, you know, and more importantly, you'll get wrinkles."
Letty allowed herself to be cozened out of her frown. Then, finishing her hairdressing in record time, she stood back to admire her work. "There, Patricia, I'd vow you couldn't have received better from a professional hairdresser, be he French at that."
Patricia eyed herself in the wavy glass. She knew herself to be no beauty in the current fashion, which was all for slender elegance, golden curls, trailing draperies and pink cheeks. Still, the dark reddish tints in her thick hair brought out answering tints in her deep brown eyes, and her olive complexion looked well against her simple, white, Empire-style dress, with its low cut neck, short, puffy sleeves and long, narrow skirt.
"Well, Letty, once again you've worked your miracle. I shan't make anyone run screaming in terror, at the least, though I would far rather be wearing my riding habit or some comfortable dressing gown. And perhaps I'll be lucky enough to have someone to talk to at a private dinner such as this, instead of these endless balls full of vapid young lords or bluff army men with ruddy faces and thick hands, all talking at the tops of their lungs about horses and shooting."