Home > A Seduction in the Stars

A Seduction in the Stars
Author: Jess Michaels

 

Chapter 1

 

 

London, December 1814

 

 

“Lady Evangeline, you should smile more! There is peace!”

Lady Evangeline lifted the corners of her lips in only the barest sense as one of the diamonds of the previous season spun by her on the arm of some duke or earl or one of their sons. What did it matter? The lot of them were the same, they even dressed in identical style.

She sighed as she turned back to the table and drew another ladle of wassail into her cup. It seemed her enthusiasm for the season would not be found until she had drunk some more. And she supposed she did need to find that enthusiasm. After all, it was true—for the first time in over a decade, the world teetered on peace. There had been a terrible cost, which hadn’t seemed to occur to most of the titled, rich fops around her.

Of course, it was a cost most of them had not paid. They and their sons and grandsons were too important to fight in wars. They only benefitted from them.

She sighed and shook her head. No, this sour mood would not do. She couldn’t even place the cause of it. Normally she didn’t hate a party. She was often the center of them. But tonight it all felt so very…stale. Like this year that was circling the drain with 1815 looming large behind it.

Would the next year be any different for her? She feared the answer was no. And perhaps that was the cause of the dreary malaise she couldn’t seem to shake.

The noise of the crowd behind her lifted, and she turned in time to see a group of men bringing out a bowl brimming with brandy. She let her eyes come shut as someone shouted out, “Ah yes, it’s about time we played Snapdragon! Dim the candles there!”

She folded her arms as the silver bowl was placed on a low table that had been dragged to the center of the room. The lights went down and, with great pomp and circumstance, one of the men brought over a candle and laughed as he lowered it to the liquor. Flames leapt from the brew, nearly singeing off the man’s hair as he yelped in surprise.

“I suppose a game of Snapdragon can’t be counted a success until at least one idiot has lost an eyebrow.”

Evangeline jerked her head to her right. She had been so caught up in the foolishness going on around her, she hadn’t noticed that another lady had stepped up near her. She recognized her. Miss Thomasina Lesley, eldest daughter of Colonel Lesley. She was a pretty enough girl, with an air of reserve that was put down to modest country manners. But with her wide blue eyes, fair hair and petite features, she had been proclaimed a diamond just as Evangeline was.

And right now she had as judgmental an expression on her face as Evangeline felt down to her soul.

“Sometimes two,” Evangeline added.

Miss Lesley jumped and pink lifted to her cheeks, as if she hadn’t realized Evangeline could hear her. “I do beg your pardon,” she said. “I fear I should not be so critical of the fun, especially at this time of year.”

Evangeline snorted out what could only be described as a very unladylike laugh. “Do not go back now, I need an ally. You are utterly correct that they are all idiots. They’re not the sort of fellows one wants for a husband, are they?”

“Heavens, no.”

They watched in silence as those very idiots now stood around the flames, faces dancing in shadow and light as they tossed raisins into the cauldron. Evangeline had never liked this game. Her older brothers had made her play as a little girl and she’d always known it was foolish. Who thought it fun to toss perfectly good fruit into a flaming bowl of hell, then snatch them out with bare fingers and toss them into one’s mouth? Her tongue had never fully recovered, she was certain of that.

And yet here was a group of adults—titled, supposedly respectable men—doing just that. One by one they reached into the fire, forever shocked that they were getting burned.

“Lord, grant me the confidence of a man of supposed education who knows absolutely nothing in truth,” Evangeline sighed.

“Indeed. If this is what’s on offer, I don’t think I want any sort of a husband at all. It seems a devil’s bargain at best.”

“True, but what sort of life can one have without one?” She asked the question sarcastically, for that was the established mode of thinking, after all. That a lady could have no future without a man to bind herself to.

“An independent life,” Miss Lesley said. “I had rather entertain myself, not with silly parties with flaming punch bowls, but with intelligent salons where ideas and ideals might be exchanged. Where books might be discussed or poetry recited.”

Evangeline turned to face her a bit more directly, and her smile went wide and very true. “You’re a secret bluestocking.”

“It’s no great secret. I would be a true bluestocking if I were allowed, like my aunt Dahlia—she has her own establishment here in London and has the most elegant salons, full of the most interesting people.” Miss Lesley’s face was lit up with a passion that only increased her beauty. Still, her smile fell as she continued, “But the sad truth is that if I don’t marry one of them, I’ll only be married off to my odious cousin who is to be a baronet someday but cares nothing for books or ideas, unless they’re to do with beef cattle or crop rotation.”

Evangeline shook her head with a shudder that wracked her entire body. “Great God.”

She could sympathize with the woman beside her. After all, such had been the lot of many a lady she’d known in her life. Including her mother, including her sister and her sister-in-law. Marrying well was what one did when one was a woman of a certain stature, whether or not one wished for it.

Even Evangeline, who had what anyone would describe as a preposterous level of independence, was not immune to the possibility in her own future. Her father mentioned it from time to time, that she would be married off to some gentleman who was nearly his same rank. He spoke of it more often than ever, truth be told.

Just that morning, actually.

“Might you be able to manage him into thinking better?” Evangeline pressed, seeking any kind of solace, not just for her new friend, but for herself. “A good woman can often make a mediocre man into something more.”

“I doubt it.”

Evangeline shivered despite the heat of the close room. What Miss Lesley was facing was not so very far from her own worst fear.

“Lady Evangeline?”

“Yes?”

Miss Lesley shifted. “I was only saying I wish we were truly allowed to choose, don’t you?”

She forced herself to attend and ignored the question. “I’m sorry, Miss Lesley, I was just woolgathering. Thinking of your situation. So you do not wish to marry this dreadful cousin?”

Miss Lesley shook her head, faint tears glistening in her eyes.

“What is it you do want, then?”

The other woman drew a long breath, and from her expression Evangeline could tell this was not a question she was often asked. But it was one she had an immediate answer to.

“I’d rather be a spinster, like my aunt Dahlia. My mama does say she ruined herself coming to London on her own, but she’s left to live in peace with books and cats and no men. It’s heavenly.”

It did sound the stuff of dreams. And for a lady like Thomasina Lesley, Evangeline could see how that might work. For herself…her father would never allow it. He was too important a man, too important a duke to have his daughter adopt an eccentric lifestyle of cats and Gothic novels. Ruined or not.

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