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Because they have promised their father that they will both marry or neither will, lively optimist Catherine Everley sets out to find a husband for her shy and serious sister, Elizabeth, never expecting that her matchmaking schemes will go so hilariously wrong. Original.
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Victoria Malvey lives in Clinton, New Jersey, with her husband and two young sons. She is currently working on her next novel for Pocket. Victoria would love to hear from her readers! Please write to her at Victoria Malvey, P.O. Box 5069, Clinton, NJ 08809 or e-mail her at Victoria@victoriamalvey.com. Be sure to visit her Web site at www.victoriamalvey.comExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Comfortably ensconced within the soft cushions of the library chair, Elizabeth studied da Vinci's theories on astrology, the same theories that had caused the Church to declare him a heretic. Feeling slightly nervous that her father might discover her reading such controversial information, Elizabeth glanced around the brocade-covered wing of her chair...and caught sight of Catherine, tiptoeing across the floor toward the door that connected the library to their father's study. "Cat?"
Catherine skidded to a halt. "Shhhh," she whispered testily as she moved the last few paces to the door.
Elizabeth might have managed to ignore her sister's odd behavior if Catherine hadn't then leaned forward and pressed her ear against the door. "What are you doing, Catherine?" Elizabeth exclaimed, unable to believe her sister would eavesdrop upon their father.
Twisting around, Catherine pressed a finger to her lips. Even from across the room, Elizabeth could see annoyance brightening her sister's eyes. "Do you want me to get caught?" Catherine hissed.
"Of course not, but still, Catherine, it's not right to listen to Papa's private conversation," Elizabeth protested softly.
"It most certainly is when Papa's discussion concerns me." She waved her hand. "Now quiet down, Elizabeth, so I can hear what they're saying."
Her curiosity now overriding her disapproval, Elizabeth set aside the astrology charts. "To whom is he speaking?"
It took a moment of thought, but Elizabeth finally placed the name. "Is he that foppish dandy with reddish hair?"
Catherine shot her an exasperated glance. "Only you would describe one of the most eligible gentlemen of the season in such a despicable fashion."
Elizabeth rose from her chair with a decidedly unladylike snort. "If he's considered one of the most eligible gentlemen, it is little wonder I have yet to find someone who interests me."
"That's not the reason at all, Elizabeth, and you know it." Catherine shook her head. "You're far too busy burying your head in all of your books and silly experiments to even consider entertaining a suitor."
"The gentlemen of the ton aren't exactly beating down the door to court me," Elizabeth pointed out.
"Only because you don't give them a chance to get to know you."
"I do so," Elizabeth protested. "Why, just last evening I spoke with Lord Connor about the complications I was encountering in designing a catapult."
Glancing over her shoulder, Catherine rolled her eyes. "Good heavens, Elizabeth, gentlemen don't wish to discuss gadgets and gears at a ball!"
"Then what do they want to discuss?" Elizabeth asked, genuinely at a loss.
Catherine shrugged. "Most gentlemen don't really require actual conversation. If you simply look fascinated with whatever they're saying and add an occasional nod, they find you fascinating."
"How could that be?" Elizabeth countered, even more confused than before. "Are gentlemen really interested in an empty-headed miss who does nothing more than hang on their every word?"
"For the most part," Catherine agreed with a firm nod.
"If that's what gentlemen really want, then I fear I am doomed to spinsterhood," Elizabeth predicted.
"Pshaw," Catherine said, waving her hand dismissively. "All you need is to find the perfect gentleman who appreciates all of your fine qualities."
No, what she needed was a miracle. Elizabeth dropped her book onto the chair she'd recently abandoned. "What I need is someone who can help me to fit into society, someone who loves me, someone who can teach me how to successfully converse at parties, someone who can help me belong."
"You belong now," Catherine countered. "After all, you're the daughter of an earl."
Shaking her head, Elizabeth continued, "That's the only reason I'm accepted. It doesn't help me to feel a part of society. It's as if everyone simply sees me and dismisses me as a brainless, vapid lady. Worse still, I don't know how to dispell their mistaken beliefs. Even you have to admit, Cat, that I'm woefully bad at conversing with people or thinking up those witty replies you toss out with such ease."
"Carrying on polite conversation is a skill like any other," Catherine pointed out. "Which means it can be learned."
"I've been out two seasons, Catherine, yet I am no closer to mastering that particular skill than I was on the eve of my debut," Elizabeth said, trying not to allow the panic she felt to come into her voice. After seeing her parents' marriage, Elizabeth wanted to marry, to have children, to achieve the happiness her parents had found. "I doubt I shall ever find a suitable gentleman in town. They are all far too sophisticated, too glib, to ever take an interest in a country girl like me. Perhaps I'd be better off returning to our country estate and searching for a husband there. I know I'm far more comfortable in the country than I've ever been in town."
"But then I'd never see you," Catherine cried. "I couldn't bear that, so we shall simply have to find a suitable gentleman here in town."
"How?" Elizabeth asked. "It's not as if I haven't tried to find a husband here, but apparently it is not meant to be."
Catherine sighed deeply. "If only Mama were still alive, she would have helped you find the perfect husband."
Mama. Her name alone brought the familiar ache to Elizabeth's chest. Memories of Mama growing weaker and weaker, until she became bedridden, assailed Elizabeth. In her mind's eye, she could still see her mother wasting away, fading slowly, then finally, after a few months, simply giving in to the consumption.
Mama's death had devastated their family, destroying them all. Even now Papa was a shadow of his former self, while she and Catherine tried to negotiate the difficult waters of polite society unscathed.
"Perhaps that is true," Elizabeth conceded, "but even if Mama were still alive, it wouldn't change the fact that I'm pitiful at traversing the social world."
"Not pitiful, merely inexperienced."
Smiling at Catherine's protest, Elizabeth shook her head. "If I haven't gained any experience in two years, then I hold little hope for the future. I think it best that I resign myself to the fact that I shall be the loving, old maiden aunt to your children."
"My goodness, Elizabeth, you can't give up hope that..." A loud burst of laughter came from behind the closed door to their father's study. "What's going on in there?" Catherine mused softly before lifting a finger toward Elizabeth. "Hold on a moment, Elizabeth, while I try to figure out what Papa's saying." And with that, Catherine turned and pressed her ear against the door once again.
Elizabeth didn't see the point of returning to their conversation, as she knew that Catherine -- with her rosy outlook on life -- would never acknowledge the hopelessness of her situation. But before Elizabeth could bid her sister a swift farewell and leave the room while Catherine was distracted, the door to Papa's study opened, sending Catherine stumbling forward...and right into Papa's chest.
"I thought I might find you here," he remarked dryly as he grasped Catherine's shoulders and steadied her.
"Why, Papa..." Catherine began, her voice altering as she smoothed down her skirts. "I was just coming in to see you."
Papa lifted a brow in reply, causing Catherine to shift beneath the pointed look.
"Well, I was," she protested. "While I know it might appear that I was trying to eavesdrop upon your private conversation, that's not the case at all. I was simply, er, trying to ascertain if you were alone or not before I entered your study."
"A knock would have sufficed."
Catherine bit her lower lip. "Perhaps, but it still would have been interrupting you if you were engaged with a visitor."
"You, my darling Cat," began Papa, leaning forward to tweak Catherine's nose, "have always been an abominable liar."
"I'm not lying," Catherine replied weakly. "Elizabeth was here; she can tell you that..."
Laughing, Elizabeth lifted her hands. "Oh, no, Cat. Leave me out of this mess, thank you very much."
With her back to Papa, Catherine scowled at Elizabeth's refusal to cover for her.
"Then again," Elizabeth began softly, unable to keep from teasing her sister, "perhaps I should tell Papa that you were..."
"...about to inquire after his guest," Catherine interjected, cutting off Elizabeth's confession as she spun about to face Papa once more. "Who called upon you this early, Papa?"
"As if you didn't hear each and every word I said," Papa replied with a laugh.
"In truth, Papa," Elizabeth began, finally coming to her sister's aid. "I doubt if Catherine overheard more than a few moments of your conversation before you opened the door."
Catherine nodded quickly, immediately latching onto Elizabeth's explanation. "It's true, Papa."
Their father's lips twitched, but he didn't argue the point further. Instead, he clapped his hands together. "So, Catherine, would you like to hear what Lord Dunham had to say?"
All assertions of innocence were immediately dropped as Catherine stepped forward eagerly. "Yes, Papa."
"He offered for your hand."
"I graciously declined his offer."
Disappointment warred with annoyance upon Catherine's face. "Without even discussing the matter with me?"
"I believe that is my right," Papa said smoothly, clasping his hands behind his back.
Catherine shook her head fiercely. "Since I'm the one he offered for, I believe I should be the one to decide if he is refused or not."
Papa tilted his head to the side. "You seem more upset that I didn't consult with you first than over the loss of a match with Lord Dunham."
"Well, of course I am," Catherine retorted. "I would have refused him as well...but it should have been my choice."
"Heaven save me," Papa muttered under his breath. "You've received at least two dozen proposals since your debut, Catherine. Did you actually expect me to consult you on each and every one?"
Papa rolled his eyes. "Then you'd best become used to disappointment, for I have no intention of doing that."
"You're being so unreasonable, Papa!" exclaimed Catherine, looking toward Elizabeth. "Please help me reason with him."
It was all Elizabeth could do to hold back her smile over Catherine's dramatic plea. "I don't hold much hope to sway Papa in this matter, Cat. After all, you know how he is when he sets his mind to something."
Glumly, Catherine nodded. "An unmovable force."
"Precisely." Lifting one shoulder, Elizabeth added, "Besides, I don't see why you are so upset about this, Catherine. Not one of the gentlemen Papa refused was someone you would have actually considered marrying. If I remember correctly, you said that you found Lord Dunham to be a bit of a bore."
With typical flair, Catherine threw her hands up in the air. "Well, you know that, Elizabeth, but I never told Papa how I felt about Lord Dunham." Dropping down into a chair, she looked up at Elizabeth. "For all he knew, I could have considered Lord Dunham my perfect mate."
"With his preference for outlandishly bright jackets, his affected lisp, and his habit of using snuff until you weary of the snorting noise he makes, I highly doubt anyone would think him a perfect mate, much less a man of intelligence like Papa," Elizabeth assured her sister.
"Thank you for coming to my defense, Elizabeth," he said before turning his attention onto Catherine. "As for you, my youngest, I shall continue to do what I consider best for you."
Elizabeth could tell by Catherine's expression that she was biting back a remark.
"And you need to socialize more, Elizabeth," Papa continued as he turned his sharp gaze onto her. "If you became more interested in town life, you might find you actually enjoy social outings."
"I hold little hope for that, Papa," murmured Elizabeth.
His expression let her know he didn't believe a word of her denial. "Then I think you underestimate yourself. At the ball tonight, I don't want to see you off by yourself in a corner or chatting with the elderly ladies." He leveled a finger at her. "You are to dance, laugh, and generally enjoy yourself with other young ladies and gentlemen."
"No 'but,' Elizabeth." Leaning forward, he pressed a kiss upon her forehead. "Why don't you show the ton how special you truly are?"
Elizabeth bit back her groan. "Yes, Papa."
"Thank you." Stepping back, he gestured toward the door. "Now why don't the two of you go prepare for our evening at Almack's?"
"With pleasure," Catherine said, wrapping her arm through Elizabeth's. "I'll even help Elizabeth choose her gown."
Alarm flared within Elizabeth as she remembered the deep bodices of the gowns Catherine had insisted upon ordering for her. Having learned her lesson, it had been the first and last time Elizabeth had sought her sister's fashion advice. "I'm perfectly capable of choosing my own attire, Cat."
"Of course you are, silly," Catherine replied with a knowing grin. "But it will be much more fun if I help." Turning wide eyes onto Papa, she asked, "Don't you agree, Papa?"
"I most certainly do." He patted Elizabeth's arm. "You won't regret allowing Catherine to help you."
Oh, but she already did, Elizabeth thought, as Catherine tugged her out of the room. "I'm not going to wear one of those indecent gowns you ordered without my approval," Elizabeth warned her sister. "And you won't be able to change my mind."
Catherine laughed brightly. "We'll see, Beth."
Elizabeth scowled at her sister. "You don't fight fair."
"Not when your happiness is at stake, Beth."
"Happiness?" Looking down at her gown, Elizabeth adjusted the fichu she'd put around her shoulders to help hide her low décolletage. "What on earth would make you believe I'd be happy standing here in Almack's with my..." Unable to voice the word out loud, she merely waved toward her bosom. "...exposed."
"You're hardly exposed," Catherine returned. "Especially not since you insisted upon wrapping that horrid shawl around your shoulders."
"A fichu is a perfectly acceptable accessory to any gown."
"Perhaps when you're an elderly matron, but not when you're trying to attract a husband."
"I believe I've made my feelings on that subject very well known."
"Come now, Beth," Catherine began, concern darkening her eyes. "Surely you don't wish to be alone when you're..." She broke off her sentiments as Lord Hutton joined them.
"Pardon the interruption, Lady Catherine, Lady Elizabeth," he murmured politely, bowing to each of them in turn, "but I've come to claim my dance, my lady."
Holding out her hand, Catherine graciously accepted his proffered arm. As she watched her sister walk away, Elizabeth bit back a sigh...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Pocket, 2001. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0743418840
Book Description Pocket, 2001. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0743418840