Love Beneath a Lady’s Pride (Preview)

Chapter One

Lady Clarissa Westcott stood in a far corner of the magnificent ballroom in their exquisite London home. Twice the size of most noble ballrooms, it boasted plush red carpet, three crystal chandeliers, and a polished wooden dance floor the same size as some other nobles dining rooms. Packed with the most important socialites her mother and father, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, knew, the room was filled with boisterous conversation, laughter, and beautifully played music for those enjoying themselves on the dance floor.

‘I can hardly believe how many people your mother invited, Clarissa,’ Susan said as she stood to her right, observing all that was happening before them. ‘There is hardly enough room for a quadrille with all the guests currently squashed together.’

‘Well, we do know how the duchess enjoys organising such events,’ Viola agreed, standing to Clarissa’s left.

Lady Susan Holland, daughter of Lord Rigby, and Lady Viola Spencer, daughter of the Earl of Morley, were Clarissa’s two closest companions. Susan was the quieter and more timid of the three, whereas Viola, like Clarissa herself, was confident in her desires and had no trouble expressing her opinions. They had been friends from little girls and Clarissa’s only companions, given she had no siblings at home growing up. Not desiring Clarissa to miss out on such friendship and worried that she might become lonely, her mother and father had always ensured she had company to entertain her.

Growing up and spending much of their youth and adolescence doing many things together, they were so close that no other who attempted to join their little group was able to infiltrate it. And many had tried.

Clarissa knew well that being friends with the daughter of a rather wealthy duke, as her father was, would get them invited to the more sophisticated events of the Season. She had felt suspicious of the intentions of those who had leaned themselves toward them, and in that way, no other lady had quite made the mark. Clarissa was extremely fussy with whom she kept company, for she would not be seen with any lady that was not already well respected and held in high regard. Lady Susan and Lady Viola were of the same mind.

‘My mother always outdoes herself, for while she does throw this ball every year, I do believe there are even more here than last year,’ Clarissa replied.

‘Well, I suppose all the fun is over now.’ Lady Viola sighed. ‘Your mother’s end of Season ball always makes me a little sad.’

‘Why ever are you sad, Viola?’ Clarissa frowned. ‘You of all people ought to be quite deliriously happy. Your wedding is only months away; surely you have much to be happy about.’

‘Oh, I do,’ Viola agreed with a swift nod, ‘it is just that I will miss all the wonderful events of the Season that we have enjoyed together. It is always such fun seeing everyone all in the same places again.’

‘I agree,’ Susan said with a nod. ‘There is nothing quite like the frivolity and good spirits of everyone gathering in London. It is like the town comes alive.’

‘I do wish you could come to Bath this summer and stay with us,’ Clarissa said, turning to Susan. ‘Viola and I are going to miss you dearly.’

‘And I will miss you both.’ Susan smiled with a little sadness. ‘But Charles has insisted that we stay at his countryseat in Cambridge.’

Susan had not long been married to the marquess, and their love was still young and fresh. Softly spoken with dark eyes and hazel-brown hair, Susan had captivated Charles when they had first met. It was only a year after their first introduction that they were married. While Susan used the word insisted, Clarissa knew well that she could hardly leave her new husband’s side for a minute without missing his company.

‘I am certain you will have a wonderful summer …’

‘Do not look now,’ Viola muttered, interrupting Clarissa as she had been speaking to Susan. ‘But your secret admirer is staring at you.’

‘Do not tell me.’ Clarissa heaved a sigh, not moving her gaze from Susan. ‘It is Baron Wedgeshire, is it not?’

Susan suddenly giggled. ‘He is approaching this very minute.’

No sooner had Susan finished her sentence than the baron had reached the ladies and had come to a definite stop before them.

‘Good evening, My Ladies,’ he said, bowing toward Viola and Susan before turning his attention to Clarissa. ‘It is a pleasure to see you again, Lady Clarissa.’

Susan and Viola had already nodded toward him, leaving Clarissa to continue in reply. ‘Good evening, Lord Wedgeshire,’ she said overly sweetly. ‘Are you enjoying the festivities?’

‘I am indeed, My Lady. Your mother has done another very fine job organising such a wonderful event. My evening would be complete, however, if I could have the honour of your presence in one of the dance sets. Perhaps you have room on your dance card for me?’

‘I am so very flattered at your attention, My Lord, and I would be delighted to tell you that I do have a dance yet available.’ Clarissa smiled sweetly as she lied through her teeth. ‘However, I cannot, for it is an unfortunate circumstance that my dance card is already full.’

‘Oh,’ the baron said, the smile falling from his face with his sudden deflation. ‘That is indeed unfortunate, My Lady. Well, I suppose it is hardly a surprise. I likely ought to have come and spoken to you far earlier.’

Clarissa, still smiling at him, while on the inside, wishing he would hurry along, only nodded in reply. An awkward silence ensued, with none of the group speaking. Clarissa’s silence was in the hope of ending the conversation. She knew that Viola and Susan would know that was her desire, and in such knowing, did not engage any further either.

‘Well,’ Lord Wedgeshire began after clearing his throat. ‘I suppose I will take my leave.’ He bowed toward all three ladies. ‘Good evening to you all,’ he said finally, before turning on his heels and walking away.

No one spoke a word until he had once more been lost in the crowd, but when it appeared certain their conversation could no longer be overheard, Viola turned toward Clarissa and frowned. ‘I cannot believe you have turned down yet another gentleman, Clarissa. You have turned down so many offers of marriage already. At this rate, you are going to end up a spinster.’

‘Viola is right, Clarissa,’ Susan added. ‘You are indeed beautiful with your soft golden hair and blue eyes, not to mention that gorgeous porcelain-like skin, yet you do need to be careful. You are not yet twenty and likely already have a reputation of being unattainable.’

‘Good.’ Clarissa nodded as she smiled at Viola and Susan. ‘Perhaps with such a reputation, those not worthy of my hand will stop trying. You both know my rule. I will not marry any that ranks lower than an earl. No other lady in my family has done so, and I will not break such a tradition now.’

While Viola and Susan looked uncertain, Clarissa held her smile and turned her attention back to the crowd. She had not worked so very hard all her life to keep her status, simply to marry the first man who asked. She had a reputation to consider, not to mention her standing as a duke and duchess’s daughter.

Clearly, Susan had married for love. It was written all over her face, and of course, Clarissa was quite happy for her. Susan had a glow about her that Clarissa could not say she had ever witnessed before she met the marquess. That being said, love was not everything. What good was the love of a man if one suddenly found oneself no longer in the throngs of the elite?

‘I do believe you are quite spoilt, Clarissa,’ Viola said with a knowing grin.

‘And what if I am?’ Clarissa shrugged without a care. ‘Should that not be the case for a lady in my position? Besides, you can hardly talk about me when you yourself are no different, Viola.’

‘You are both as spoilt as each other,’ Susan added, rolling her eyes. ‘Intelligent and highly proper you both may be, yet you have always looked down your noses at people beneath you.’

‘Well, that is where they belong,’ Viola said, suddenly bursting into laughter.

Susan smiled and shook her head while Clarissa joined Viola in her giggling. ‘You do make me laugh, Viola,’ Clarissa said as she laughed along with her friend.

The rest of the evening passed in a blur for Clarissa. Asked to dance by many gentlemen, she went through the motions, for none of them had any chance of winning her hand in marriage. While they looked at her with expressions of interest and sometimes endearment, Clarissa hardly held their gaze, for they did not impress her one bit.

Perhaps Susan was indeed right. Perhaps she was spoilt and, in that way, more than usually fussy with her aims of whom she would agree to marry. Yet, Clarissa did not see that as anything bad. From a child, she had been given all she desired. Her doting mother and father had met all her needs. It only made sense to her that her husband ought to treat her similarly. She was in a position of privilege, and if she married well, she would maintain such a position and more.

Later in the evening, as the excitement had died down and many of the guests had left, Clarissa found herself draped across a lounging chair, quite exhausted and her feet sore. These balls were all very well, but she would likely need to lie in bed until after noon on the morrow to regain her strength.

‘Well, my dear. Did you enjoy your evening?’ her mother asked as she lowered herself gracefully into a chair opposite her.

‘Of course, I did, Mother. You always do throw the most fabulous events.’

‘And, what of any prospects? It seemed on each occasion I raised my head, there was a man who seemed to be delighted that you were accompanying him on the dance floor.’

Clarissa heaved a heavy sigh. ‘Oh, Mother, but they are all the same. Dull and pretentious and overly full of themselves.’

‘And none an earl.’ Her mother smiled knowingly.

‘Well, yes. That too.’

‘Are you certain you want to hold out for an earl only, my dear? Perhaps there are just as suitable gentlemen without such a title.’

‘You cannot be serious in that question, Mother,’ Clarissa said, frowning at the soft expression on her mother’s face. ‘It has been my desire since I was old enough to know I wanted to marry. If I cannot have a duke, then only an earl will do.’

‘Well, as long as you are sure, my darling. I only want you to be happy. That is all I have ever wanted for you. Marriage is no simple decision, nor is the man you choose to spend the rest of your life with.’

After her mother had departed to see the remaining guests, Clarissa was left with her own thoughts. She was already nineteen years old, and the pressure to find a husband sometimes felt quite overwhelming. In fact, it seemed to be the only thing anyone ever talked about when they conversed with her, as though there was no other part of her life that held any interest for them. As she sat there and thought about it, there were times when it felt that there was not. Yet, deep down, she knew that could not possibly be true.

If anything, she desired to live a life similar to her own parents. They were happy and yes, very much in love, but more than that, they were of great standing in the community and Clarissa wanted her mother and father to be proud that she would follow in their footsteps. Her mother, of course, was the perfect example of an ideal wife, and more than anything, Clarissa wanted to be as proper, pristine, and loved by society as her mother was. They were large shoes to fill, and there were times when Clarissa wondered if they were not just a little too big.

 

Chapter Two

Justin Bentley regarded his father with a keen eye as the two sat opposite each other in the small office of their linen draping business. Hamish Bentley had his head bent, intently looking at a ledger that sat open on the desk. He had been poring over the same page for nearly an hour, his eyeglass held in one eye as he examined the small, neat entries on the pages before him.

From his position across the desk, Justin had a good view of the top of his father’s head. Something he had become well used to over these past weeks, with the older man’s studious tallying of incomings and outgoings. Unlike Justin’s thick chestnut hair, his father’s, which had always been black, was now thinning, revealing the soft skin at the back of his scalp. Obvious streaks of white ran through what remained of it.

Hamish had been more than usually perturbed over the last couple of months. Justin had noticed darkness under his father’s eyes, no doubt due to the long hours he was putting in at the office. Not to mention the business he attempted to garner up at the marketplace and the hours he spent calling on the upper-class houses with samples of fine fabric. Their business was struggling, and they both knew the reason for it.

‘Everything will be all right, Father,’ Justin eventually said, no longer able to remain silent.

Hamish slowly lifted his head and looked intently across the desk at Justin. Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly and dropped his back against the support of the chair. Without speaking, he took the eyeglass and placed it on the still opened ledger.

‘While I do appreciate your words of assurance, Justin,’ Hamish began. ‘They are only words, my son. Since Harper’s opened, business has dwindled greatly. Henry Harper is importing rare silks from India, and you know how easily impressed the ton are with such things.’

‘They will return to us, Father. We have served them for many years,’ Justin pressed.

Hamish smiled sadly at his son. ‘I do love your enthusiasm and positivity, yet I am afraid even now, at six and twenty years old, you still do not understand the ways of the world.’

‘I understand more than you realise, Father. I just cannot believe that your loyal customers will not return to you when they have had their little flutter with Harper’s.’

‘We simply cannot compete with such fine cloth, Justin.’

‘Yet, we have served them for far longer …’ Justin reasoned with a little more enthusiasm.

‘And what?’ his father suddenly shrugged, leaning forward and placing his arms on the desk. ‘You believe these people from the upper classes have some loyalty, do you? Come now, Justin. They are easily led. Always looking for the next fad or trying to keep up with the most affluent of the ton. They care little for anyone other than themselves.’

Justin could not really argue. His previous words had been for Hamish’s benefit only, for he knew well the way of the upper class, and his father had summed them up succinctly. They did like their beautiful things, which had been to their benefit over the years, yet they were like sheep, always following the guidance of another and hardly able to think for themselves.

‘I am only glad your mother is no longer here to see my demise. It would destroy me to see her pity,’ Hamish said sadly.

‘We are not yet done, Father,’ Justin retorted. ‘And Mother would not have laden you with pity. She was far too clever for that.’

‘No, she would, just like you are doing now, encourage me not to lose heart. You are more like your mother than I, Justin. From the colour of your hair to the green of your eyes. I see her in you every day.’

‘Mother would have been proud of all you have accomplished in your life so far, Father.’

‘I know that, my son. I miss her dearly.’

Justin, too, missed his mother dearly. A fact of which his father was well aware. Being the only child, she had loved him immensely, as she had her husband. A beautiful, loving, and caring woman, Molly Bentley would have done anything for another, helping in any way she could.

When Justin was just a boy, she had patiently taught him how to read and write. There had been lessons on arithmetic, too, for she had told him he would need such knowledge to help his father with measuring the cloth. She had teased him about how lonely she would be when he was old enough to help his father. With them both in the office, the house would be so very quiet, and she would not know what to do with her time. Yet, that day had never arrived. Consumption had taken her when Justin was not yet an adolescent, and before his thirteenth birthday, Hamish and Justin had buried Molly Bentley.

‘I think we need to get out of this office for a while, Father,’ Justin said firmly, standing from the desk. ‘Different scenery will do us both the world of good. Let us go out for breakfast.’

‘We can hardly afford such luxuries, Justin. Did you not just hear all that I have said?’

‘Yes, I did. However, I have some coin saved for a rainy day.’

‘And yet, it is not raining,’ his father said with a smirk.

‘Well, with the sour expression on your face, you would think it was,’ Justin quipped back, grinning down at his father. ‘Come, Father. Please. Do it for me.’

Hamish heaved a heavy sigh and pushed himself to stand. ‘Fine. Fine,’ he muttered. ‘I suppose I could do with a hearty breakfast that I do not have to cook.’

‘Yes, especially when I am paying,’ Justin said with a smirk.

They left the office and walked down the street together. It had been a while since they had breakfasted at Winnie Mater’s establishment, and Justin wanted to treat his father, for her teacakes and bread were renowned to be the best in the whole of Mayfair.

‘I must say, I have missed that woman’s teacakes,’ Hamish said as they continued, passing people as they went about their business.

‘Then today will be an even better experience, Father, for your desires will be met,’ Justin said mockingly.

Checking up the street, they waited for a carriage to pass them swiftly by before venturing across the cobbled road. ‘Well, I have yet to find another tearoom whose teacakes taste as …’

‘Hamish! Hamish, is that you, my old friend?’ A booming baritone voice suddenly caught Justin and Hamish’s attention, and mid-sentence, Justin turned to see from where the voice came.

Hamish had turned at the same time, and as they reached the pavement on the other side, a tall and broad-shouldered man stood there, smiling widely as he regarded them. Impeccably dressed with his light brown hair perfectly in place, the man was about the same age as Hamish. Justin recognised him immediately as Ernest Westcott, the Duke of Devonshire.

The duke and his father’s friendship was the most unlikely of unions, yet the circumstances of their original meeting had hardly been usual. Justin knew of his father’s bravery and the duke’s eternal gratitude, for while Hamish had played down the incident at the time, the duke certainly had not.

Many years ago, Hamish had been walking home from the office alone. Justin had still been a small boy at the time, at home with his mother, awaiting his father’s return. Hamish had come across a great skirmish and though he had been frightened, realised that three others were attacking a man. Robbers, it turned out, who had grabbed the duke on his return from some place or other. Hamish would later discover that the duke had taken a wrong turn and had managed to wander into a warren of dark streets. Not one to see a man hurt or outnumbered, Hamish had launched at the robbers, and between them, he and Ernest had battled them off, but not before the seriousness of the situation had revealed itself, for the robbers had knives and would likely have used them on the duke had they overpowered him.

Hamish had brought Ernest home, and Justin’s mother had seen to both men’s superficial wounds as Justin had looked on in awe. Ernest Westcott had been amazed that Hamish had put himself in grave danger for a man he did not know. A stranger in the street. It had only been later that the family had discovered who Ernest Westcott actually was.

Since then, the duke had been indebted to Hamish, convinced that if Hamish had not arrived at that very moment, he would certainly have lost his life. While Hamish had played down his role, the duke would not hear of Hamish’s humble reasonings. Three men on one was certain to have ended in calamity.

Even with the huge class difference, the duke and Hamish became firm friends, meeting over the years in London to catch each other up with their lives. Ernest had been a great consolation to Justin’s father when his mother had sadly passed away. Paying for the funeral and organising the arrangements, he had taken a great weight off Hamish’s shoulders. Yet, they had not seen or heard of the duke in nearly two years.

‘Your Grace,’ Hamish declared, approaching the man with a broad smile. ‘My goodness. It has been so long since I have seen you.’

‘Oh, come now, Hamish. You know I hate it when you call me such. It is Ernest, and you know it. And yes, I have been travelling a lot over the last two years,’ Ernest nodded. He suddenly beamed another smile. ‘Yet, I can hardly believe we are here again, in such impromptu circumstances.’

‘We were just on our way to breakfast, Your Grace, if you would like to join us,’ Justin offered.’

‘I would indeed, young man.’ The duke clapped Justin affectionately across the shoulders. ‘We have so much catching up to do.’

‘Good day to you, Mr Bentley,’ Mrs Mater said as the three men settled themselves at a table in the tearoom. ‘It has been some while since I have seen you and young Master Bentley,’ she said, nodding toward Justin.

‘May I introduce his grace, the Duke of Devonshire,’ Hamish said, clearly not wanting Mrs Mater to make such a faux pas in public.

‘Oh, I do beg your pardon, Your Grace,’ Mrs Mater suddenly curtsied awkwardly toward him, evidently not used to doing such a thing in her tearoom. ‘It is a pleasure to have your custom, Your Grace.’

‘Thank you, Mrs Mater. I am merely annoyed that I have not made my way to your establishment sooner, for I have heard of the quality of your baking, especially your teacakes.’

Mrs Mater suddenly blushed and once more looked uncomfortable. Justin did feel a little sorry for her. Her small tearoom in Mayfair did not likely serve such esteemed nobility regularly.

‘Perhaps,’ Justin suggested quickly in an attempt to calm her discomfort, ‘we could order some of your wonderful teacakes and some bread and meats, Mrs Mater.’

‘And some tea, of course,’ Hamish added, smiling warmly towards the plump lady.

‘I will get that for you right away,’ she replied with a smile. ‘Your Grace,’ she said, bowing once more towards the duke, before turning and hurrying away as though her entire reputation hung upon serving their table.

‘So, Hamish,’ Ernest began. ‘Tell me how you have been? I know it is only a couple of years since we last met, but it feels like a lifetime. How is the business?’

It was the question Justin dreaded coming up in conversation, even though he knew it was likely the first thing that would be asked. Glancing over to his father, he noticed Hamish’s smile suddenly wane as he dropped his gaze. There was no need for his father to feel shame; he worked harder than most in his endeavours to ensure his customers were satisfied. And yet, it was shame that Justin witnessed in his father’s expression.

‘Whatever is the matter, Hamish?’ Ernest suddenly frowned. ‘It is not like you to look so forlorn. Are things not going well?’

‘I am afraid they are not, Ernest,’ Hamish replied with a shake of his head. ‘While I have tried with every effort to maintain the business we once had, there is a new business in town. Of course, there has always been competition in business, for we are certainly not the only drapers in London. That being said, many of our regular customers have been swayed by this newcomer, especially given their offerings of fine cloths from India. I simply cannot compete with that, Ernest.’

‘Oh,’ Ernest said, his frown deepening. ‘I am sorry to hear these words, Hamish. You are not in trouble financially, are you?’

His father would hardly admit it to the duke, but even Justin knew it was a question his father would not take any pleasure in answering.

‘I am certain things will pick up soon, Your Grace,’ Justin interjected, trying to smile through his doubt. ‘You know how people are. A new thing seems to take their fancy, yet I have no doubt they will return to us.’

Ernest tried to smile at Justin, but clearly, the man did not believe that Justin’s words held any conviction. Of course, the duke was right. His words were for his father’s benefit alone, for being in this business as long as they had, Justin was well aware how flighty customers could be.

‘It has been more than difficult, Ernest,’ Hamish continued, clearly not feeling the need for such platitudes or pretence in the presence of his dear friend. ‘My only solace is that Molly is no longer here to see what has become of us.’

‘Do not talk in such a way, Hamish,’ Ernest pressed. ‘Molly was a fine woman who would have stood by you no matter the circumstances. She was always so very proud of all you had accomplished. I do not think she would feel any different if she were still here.’

A sombre silence fell around the table for a long moment, broken only by the appearance of Mrs Mater and a young woman as they carried two trays laden with a breakfast fit for a king.

‘My goodness, Mrs Mater,’ Hamish gasped. ‘You have outdone yourself.’

‘Not at all, Mr Bentley,’ Mrs Mater replied a little breathlessly, taking each item from the tray she struggled with and placing them carefully on the table before them.

After a few more minutes of her fussing around them and ensuring they had everything they needed, Mrs Mater and the young woman left the men alone, once more.

‘I think I have the very solution to your problem, Hamish,’ Ernest said as he placed bread and teacakes on the plate before him. ‘We are taking up residence in Bath for the summer. Maria will be throwing dinner parties and balls, for you know how much she loves all that sort of thing.’

‘She is very good at it too, Ernest.’ Hamish nodded.

‘Then you and Justin must come and stay with us. You will be able to showcase all your wares to the ladies during the summer parties and events,’ Ernest said excitedly.

Hamish suddenly frowned. ‘Oh, I do not know about that, Ernest. To begin with, we could hardly impose on you for …’

‘Oh, nonsense!’ Ernest replied shortly. ‘Have you seen our summer home? It could accommodate half of London.’

Of course, he was exaggerating, but Justin, like his father, still suddenly felt a little wary at the suggestion. Bath was a great distance from London. The idea of leaving the customers they already had, not to mention trying to win back their old clientele to garner new business in Bath, did not seem like a good idea at all.

‘You know well that Maria has the most wonderful connections, Hamish. You would have a captive audience. Besides, you know what these ladies are like. Balls and parties are all very well, but they do like to spend their husbands’ money.’ Ernest beamed a grin.

Justin could hardly believe it when he saw his father nodding in agreement. Furthermore, his words seemed to agree also.

‘Perhaps you are right, Ernest. Perhaps a change of scenery might also do us a world of good.’

‘That is the spirit, my friend,’ Ernest boomed, clapping his friend vigorously on the back. ‘It is settled then. You will bring yourselves and your wares to Bath. I owe you my life, Hamish. This is the least I can do to repay you for what you did for me all of those years ago.’

‘Oh, Ernest, you cannot keep bringing that up …’

‘I can and I will, my dear friend. There is no price one can put on a man’s life.’

His father and Ernest continued in conversation, yet Justin heard little more for some time. His mind whirled as he tried to understand how they were to mingle with such elite as well as do business. The idea may have been appealing to his father, but Justin could only think of the few customers they still had in London. Surely, being in Bath for the summer would give their competition a chance to take away the few customers they had left.


“Love Beneath a Lady’s Pride” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Lady Clarissa Westcott, a powerful Duke’s only child, always had everything she wished and knew exactly what she desired in a husband. Like all women in her family, she was going to marry no less than an Earl. Yet, when a charming draper merchant visits her house, Clarissa’s class boundaries start to slowly crack. As her constant encounters with the daring commoner spark her heart with powerful feelings, her precious privileged world will start to sink before her eyes.

If only love could fully slide beneath her proud grace and into her heart…

As their drapery business struggles, Justin Bentley and his father accept the duke’s offer to accommodate his mansion, hoping to acquire orders from his noble guests. While Justin strives to fit in, the duke’s arrogant daughter is determined to make his summer stay miserable. However, as time passes, he will realise that he is the only one holding the key to unlock this haughty lady’s sparkly cage.

Will he dive into the intimidating world of the ton for the sake of love?

As Clarissa and Justin’s lives collide, they begin to explore a world where love can break the socially restrictive norms. When their tender feelings illuminate the possibility of a common future, the two soulmates will have to stand against a cruel society filled with lies and evil deceit. Will they unite their worlds into one despite the odds stacked against them? Will true love prevail over threatening schemes or it is doomed to fail from its very beginning?

“Love Beneath a Lady’s Pride” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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