Kathleen Fuller is a novelist and freelance writer. Her next three-book series takes place in the beautiful Amish settlement of Middlefield, Ohio. The first novel in the series will release in 2009 from Thomas Nelson. To learn more about Kathleen and her books, visit her website at www.kathleenfuller.com.
Trouble always seemed to follow Miss Isabella deLancie with dogged determination. Tonight was no exception. Although she’d been invited to the Earl of Kenneway’s spring soiree with the express purpose to meet her future husband, she had vowed to make an early escape. However, her stubborn grandmamma thwarted her plans by catching her just as she’d taken a step over the balcony, denying her the opportunity to shimmy down the trellis unseen. Not only had she torn the hem of her dress, but also she had to endure a fifteen minute dressing down from the elegant deLancie family matriarch, followed by a list of repercussions that were sure to follow. Her ears were still burning from the ordeal.
With a sigh she leaned against the wall in the earl’s lavish ballroom, praying for the Almighty to get her through the night. She had no desire to meet the man her grandmamma had proclaimed “your perfect match.” She could think of a thousand more fulfilling things to do, such as counting every blade of grass in Hyde Park.
Surveying the scene before her—the festive gowns, happy couples, and lively music—Isabella realized she was the only guest not having a good time. Numerous couples swirled happily around the ballroom, while those not engaged in dancing were having spirited conversations on the perimeter of the dance floor. She longed to melt into the flocked wallpaper and disappear. Alas, all she could do was pray for the party to end.
Then she spotted him. Adjusting her glasses, she spied a man standing a few feet away from her. Leaning against the wallpaper. Appearing absolutely miserable.
She stiffened and stepped behind a potted palm to study his handsome face, his tall slender body. She’d never seen him at any other gatherings. If she had, she surely would have noticed him. Also wearing glasses, he scrutinized the room. He withdrew his pocket watch, checked the time, then frowned as he clicked the lid shut. Isabella knew exactly what he was thinking: Would this evening ever end?
Curiosity overcame her and she inched her way closer to the mysterious man, trying to appear completely casual. She almost succeeded until she stepped on the torn shred of her dress. Losing her balance, she fell sideways, directly against him.
“I say.” He caught her before she fell to the floor, then righted her with ease. “Are you all right?”
Heat suffused her cheeks. “Perfectly fine.” With as much nonchalance as she could muster, she said, “Lovely party, wouldn’t you say?”
“I certainly would not.” He cast her a sidelong glance. “I don’t believe you think so, either.”
Lying had never been her forte. “Am I that transparent?”
“Afraid so.” He turned and looked at her. “If you aren’t enjoying yourself, why don’t you leave?”
“I suppose I could ask the same of you.”
“That you could. Since you were honest with me, for the most part, I can be honest with you. I’m here to meet my ‘true love.’ At least that’s what my overbearing mother has arranged for me.”
Panic struck Isabella. She’d spent the evening hoping to avoid her grandmamma’s matchmaking machinations, and instead she’d stepped right into them. Briefly she thought of feigning ignorance, but he wouldn’t be fooled. “Funny you should mention that.” Although she found her situation anything but funny. “I’m here to meet my future husband, courtesy of my grandmamma.”
“Yes, really. And I am unable to leave the party, try as I might, until I have met him, danced with him, then sent him on his merry way.”
“But if he is your true love, why would you send him away?”
“Because I don’t believe in such nonsense.”
He chuckled. “More brutal honesty. I like that.” He faced her and bowed low. “Allow me to introduce myself. Mr. Ewan Simmons. Your true love.”
“Isabella deLancie. I guess I’m your true love.”
“According to our relatives, anyway.”
Isabella smiled. “I still think that love at first sight and all that rot are silly, bubble-headed notions, but we should probably make our families happy by indulging them with a dance.”
“My thoughts exactly. Only to make them happy, of course.” He reached for her hand. “Shall we?”
They both turned to see a lovely older woman heading toward them, a young ingénue in tow.
“There you are, darling. I’ve been looking all over for you. Straighten your shoulders, dear, you’re slouching.”
Isabella muffled a laugh. She wasn’t the only one who had been brutally honest. His mother was overbearing in the extreme. To his credit he ignored her command.
“Here’s the young lady I wanted you to meet, darling. Miss Pandora Ramsey. Isn’t she perfect?”
Ewan’s eyebrows shot up. He looked to Isabella, who silently echoed his shock. “But I thought . . .”
“I promised her the next dance, on your behalf,” his mother said. She turned to Isabella, as if noticing her for the first time. “Excuse us, please.”
Isabella watched helplessly as Ewan’s mother dragged him and Pandora to the dance floor. In the next moment her grandmamma approached, accompanied by a nervous looking young man.
Bother, she thought as she watched Ewan and Pandora together. Just her luck to meet the most intriguing man at the party only to lose him to another woman in a matter of minutes. A most prime-looking woman, at that. Isabella knew she couldn’t compete. She wouldn’t even try.
Yet she continued to watch the couple. Ewan said something to Pandora, bowed, then walked away. A tiny thrill traveled through Isabella as he strode toward her.
Before Ewan could reach her, Grandmamma approached, accompanied by a young man. “Isabella,” her grandmamma said when she arrived, shoving the young man in front of her. “Love, I want you to meet the man I told you about.” She leaned over and lowered her voice. “I’m positive he is your ‘true love.’”
Meeting Ewan’s gaze, Isabella smiled. “You’re too late, Grandmamma. I’ve already met him.”