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The end of the season
A marriage-minded girl could overcome practicallyany obstacle, except the lack of a dowry.
Annabelle swung her foot impatiently beneath thefrothy white mass of her skirts while she kept herexpression composed. During her past three failedseasons, she had become accustomed to being a wall-flower. Accustomed, but not resigned. More thanonce it had occurred to her that she deserved far betterthan to sit at the side of the room in a spindlychair. Hoping, hoping, hoping, for an invitation thatwould never come. And trying to pretend that shedidn't care -- that she was perfectly happy to bewatching others dancing and being courted.
Letting out a long sigh, Annabelle fiddled with thetiny silver dance card that hung from a ribbon on herwrist. The cover slid open to reveal a book of neartranslucentivory leaves that spread out in a fan. A girl was supposed to pencil the names of her dance partnerson those delicate slips of ivory. To Annabelle, thefan of empty cards seemed to resemble a row of teeth,grinning at her mockingly. Snapping the silver caseshut, she glanced at the three girls who sat next to her,all endeavoring to look similarly unconcerned withtheir fates.
She knew exactly why they were there. Miss EvangelineJenner's considerable family fortune had beenmade from gambling, and her origins were common.Moreover, Miss Jenner was painfully shy and possesseda stutter, which made the prospect of conversationa session of torture for both participants.
The other two girls, Miss Lillian Bowman, and heryounger sister Daisy, had not yet become acclimatedto England -- and from the looks of things, it wouldtake them a long time. It was said that the Bowmans'mother had brought the girls from New York becausethey hadn't been able to get any suitable offers there.The soap bubble heiresses, they were mockingly referredto, or occasionally, the dollar princesses. Despitetheir elegantly angled cheekbones and tip-tilteddark eyes, they would find no better luck here unlessthey could find an aristocratic sponsor to vouch forthem and teach them how to fit in with British society.
It occurred to Annabelle that in the past few monthsof this miserable season, the four of themherself,Miss Jenner, and the Bowmanshad often sat togetherat balls or soirees, always in the corner or against thewall. And yet they had rarely spoken to each other,trapped in the silent tedium of waiting. Her gazecaught that of Lillian Bowman, whose velvety darkeyes contained an unexpected gleam of humor.
"At least they could have made the chairs morecomfortable," Lillian murmured, "when it's obvious that we're going to occupy them all evening."
"We should have our names engraved on them,"Annabelle replied wryly. "After all the time I've spentin it, I own this chair."
A muffled giggle came from Evangeline Jenner, wholifted a gloved finger to push back a vivid red curl thathad fallen over her forehead. The smile made herround blue eyes sparkle and her cheeks turn pink beneatha scattering of gold freckles. It seemed that asudden sense of kinship had temporarily caused her toforget her shyness. "It m-makes no sense that you're awallflower," she told Annabelle. "You're the mostbeautiful girl here -- men should be f-falling all overthemselves to dance with you."
Annabelle lifted her shoulder in a graceful halfshrug. "No one wants to marry a girl without adowry." It was only in the fantasy realm of novels thatdukes could marry poor girls. In reality, dukes and viscountsand the like were burdened with the massive fi-nancial responsibility of maintaining large estates andextended families, and helping the tenantry. A wealthypeer needed to marry into money just as badly as apoor one did.
"No one wants to marry a nouveau-riche Americangirl, either," Lillian Bowman confided. "Our onlyhope of belonging anywhere is to marry a peer with asolid English title."
"But we have no sponsor," her younger sister,Daisy, added. She was a petite, rather elfin version ofLillian, with the same fair skin, heavy dark hair, andbrown eyes. An impish smile touched her lips. "If youhappen to know of some nice duchess who would bewilling to take us under her wing, we would be muchobliged."
"I don't even want to find a husband," Evangeline Jenner confided. "I'm merely s-s-suffering through theseason because there is nothing else for me to do. I'mtoo old to stay at school any longer, and my father... " She broke off abruptly, and sighed. "Well, Ihave only one more season to go, then I'll be twentythreeand a confirmed spinster. How I'm looking fforwardto it!"
"Is twenty-three the measure of spinsterhood thesedays?" Annabelle asked with half-feigned alarm. Sherolled her eyes heavenward. "Good Lord, I had noidea that I was so far past my prime."
"How old are you?" Lillian Bowman asked curiously.Annabelle cast a glance to the right and left, to makecertain they were not being overheard. "Twenty-fivenext month."
The revelation earned three rather pitying glances,and Lillian replied consolingly, "You don't look a daymore than twenty-one."
Annabelle clutched her fingers around her dancecard until it was concealed in her gloved hand. Timewas slipping away quickly, she thought. This, herfourth season, was drawing rapidly to a close. Andone simply did not embark on a fifth season -- it wouldbe ludicrous. She had to catch a husband, and soon.Otherwise, they could no longer afford to keep Jeremyat school ... and they would be forced to move fromtheir modest terrace and find a boardinghouse to residein. And once the downhill slide began, there wasno climbing back up ...Secrets of a Summer Night. Copyright © by Lisa Kleypas. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas
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