Once Upon a Vow
Shadowing London Book 2
A Victorian Romance
It was only the invariably delightful personality of Madame LeFevre that had Jane discarding ideas of burning down the woman’s dress shop as a means of escaping another season.
Or more specifically, the Marquess of Evanshire.
Unfortunately it was the dreadful incident at the Brownlow ball that had saved her from the previous season. And then it had only been a temporary reprieve. One captured at too great a cost.
Her eyes roamed over to her new sister-in-law, sitting as straight as her ever increasing stomach would allow as she surveyed the gowns Jane modeled. It was just short of a year since her brother, Samuel, had wed Penelope Paiget while the two had chased after the also invariably delightful Professor Xavier Mesmer after the professor’s assistant was murdered by an unknown entity attempting to steal the professor’s telescope discovery.
And Jane had been left in the care of the Marquess of Evanshire for safekeeping.
She blinked and ducked her head into her shoulder as heat swarmed her cheeks. She darted a glance at her mother and Penelope, sure they saw the blush caused by her traitorous thoughts, but they chattered on about the Gigot sleeves and whether there should be covered buttons or pearl buttons gathering the cuffs. Jane heard none of this as the forbidden name ran around her brain.
Austin. Austin. Austin.
She believed she had done a rather fine job feigning disinterest in the man. Or at the very least, a polite amiableness. But her true thoughts had her pushing a hand to her stomach and ducking her head into her shoulder again.
“Miss Black!” Madame LeFevre snapped. “I cannot fix this sash if you will not stand still. Young ladies, isn’t it so, Mrs. Black?” This to Jane’s mother, Nora, who was momentarily distracted from her conversation with Penelope. “They are all atwitter for their young beaus.”
Jane squeaked, all eyes in the small sitting room turning to her. She pressed her hand to her stomach again, dipping her eyelashes in false demure.
“It’s just a little tight,” she said, running her fingers over the sash Madame LeFevre was so ardent about fixing.
Madame huffed. “Too many lemon squares at the balls, Miss Jane?” She tutted a finger at her. “You mustn’t let yourself get carried away. You must win a fine young man this season, no? It is your second season after all.”
Jane closed her mouth and looked away. It was her second season. Two seasons too many, but no one had asked her for her input. Or rather, they hadn’t listened when she’d given it without invitation.
She had already picked out a suitable man to marry. Mr. John Smith, a perfectly reasonable second son of the country baron who made his home not more than three miles from Eaton Park, her father’s estate in Kent. Mr. Smith had always been kind to her at the local assemblies. Asking her for the first dance. Fetching her lemonade. He had extraordinary insight on crop rotation and fertilizer that he planned to use when he became of age and inherited the parcel of land his grandfather had left him.
Jane had grown so comfortable around the man, she’d even revealed her terrible secret to him. That it was, indeed, herself who kept the accounts at the estate and not her father. Such an untoward thing for a woman to manage, but there was nothing about Mr. Smith that would suggest he would find disfavor in the thing. So she’d revealed it to him.
It was all very comfortable and…known. There was nothing about Mr. Smith and his agriculture ambitions that Jane could not surmise at the outset.
Not like when she looked at the Marquess of Evanshire.
Not when he cast that grin at her. The one that lit his brown eyes until the delicious pain in her stomach became too much to bear.
Not like when his hand slipped into hers, leading her onto a dance floor. Not like when he pulled her close. Not like when she could smell the vanilla of his soap. The mint on his breath.
She squeaked again.
“Really, Miss Jane, it is not at all that tight,” Madame LeFevre admonished, sitting back on her heels with another huff. “I should think that will do for today.”
Jane trailed a hand down the skirts of the gown, their luxurious fabric reminding her that this was all a terrible, unneeded expense. The money for her gowns could have gone into the building of Eaton Park’s gristmill, which would have been a far better investment. She eyed her mother but was met with the same stern expression she had since the first time Jane had balked at the idea of a season.
For Jane’s seasons were not at all about Jane. They were about her cousin, Lady Emily Black. Emily was beautiful and refined. Everything a gentleman would seek in a wife. Not at all like Jane.