First Chapter of HIS OUTRAGEOUS PROPOSAL (Historical Romance)

We’re two weeks away from the general retail release of His Outrageous Proposal, which is book 4 of the Scandalous Family–The Victorians historical romances series.  (Or 1 week away if you pre-order directly from me, or buy it once it’s released next Thursday).

That means it’s time for an excerpt.  🙂


Great Aunt Annalies’ Boarding House for Young Ladies. Grosvenor Square, London. March 15, 1891.

Alice attempted to turn about in the wing chair so that her right side was presented to the fire. Everyone had pulled up their chairs as close to the fire as half-a-dozen chairs could get and still leave room for Great Aunt Annalies to see the flames from her favorite position at the end of the sofa. But that put Alice’s left flank to the fire, and her right side abandoned to the chill in the room.

Alice wriggled about in the chair, her corset digging into her hips, then gave up and sighed. “Jennifer Jane, let me have your chair. You can have mine. I must toast the other side of myself, or my right arm and leg will turn to ice and drop right off me.”

Jennifer Jane looked up from the society gossip sheet she was studying. Her green eyes narrowed. “It isn’t that cold, sister.”

“My right side disputes that,” Alice replied. “Come along…it won’t hurt you to exchange chairs. We’re both on the side, here. Everyone else is evenly bathed by the fire because they’re facing it.”

“It is a wee bit chilly in here,” Beatrice Rose said, in her lovely Irish accent. She spoke absently, for she was crocheting a new collar and cuffs, her crochet hook flying. Alice had presumed that someone who spent all day of every week crocheting lace for their living would not want to do more of it when they arrived home, but Beatrice Rose had been promoted to floor supervisor several months ago and now crocheted only at home. “I suppose I miss doing the work, now I must watch others do it,” she had told them, the first time she settled in a chair with her crochet hook and a ball of finest white thread.

Alice had been happy to buy a collar from Beatrice Rose, for her work was lovely.

“There? See, sister?” Alice said to Jennifer now. “It is cold. Beatrice Rose says so.”

“I believe four days of blizzard might have something to do with that, Alice,” Great Aunt Annalies said, from the sofa. She was reading a newspaper, her spectacles perched upon the end of her nose. A dozen more newspapers were piled next to her hip, for there had been no newspaper deliveries for nearly a week, until today.

The blizzard had afflicted most of the southern part of Britain, with Cornwall and the southern coast being very badly affected. This morning, Great Aunt Annalies had called out the names of ships that had been lost because of the storm. The number of people who had died was shocking.

London had not suffered as badly as the coastal lands, but no one in the house had gone to work on Thursday, the last day of the blizzard, or Friday, for the snow had piled so high it was impossible to walk out of the square.

For the same reason, the milkman, the grocer, the butcher, and the coal cart had failed to arrive. Wilde, Aunt Annalies’ butler, had been challenged to keep the household running smoothly but in her usual stiff and proper style had managed it.

This was the fourth day the occupants in the household had not moved far beyond the drawing room and the big fire there.

“It isn’t snowing anymore,” Alice pointed out. “Even the wind has stopped. It is perfectly still outside, with not a cloud in the sky. I can understand it being this cold while the wind howls and the snow flies, but surely it should be warmer now the sun is out?”

“Still, clear conditions can make the temperature drop,” Annalies said calmly. “And this old house does have a few drafty spots here and there.”

“Oh, all right, then, I will change seats with you,” Jennifer said with a sigh and got to her feet. “Although you should be thankful you are not required to sweep snow from the footpath. Then you might have reason to complain about your limbs falling off.”

Alice rose, eager to warm her right flank.

“Blimey, yes, those poor blighters out there with their shovels, when I walked to the factory on Wednesday, were standing in snow up to their hips,” Maud said, lifting her head from the book she was frowning over. Alice didn’t blame Maud for frowning as the book was one of Aunt Annalies’ complicated texts.

“‘Blimey’ is not a word to use in the drawing room, Maud,” Lynette pointed out. Lynette sat beside Maud on the double chair. Both of them had their bottom hems turned back and their boots toward the fire. “Neither is ‘blighters’.” Lady Lynette Pamela Bryan was the third daughter of a penniless earl. She was wise in the ways of society and upper class Britain, but little else, and often found herself floundering to cope with her sudden forced independence.

Maud accepted the correction of her grammar with a nod. Her accent and language occasionally slipped back to pure Benthal Green, but she worked hard to elevate it. Everyone in the house offered suggestions when no one else could hear them do it, for everyone understood that Maud was one of Aunt Annalies’ “projects”.

Maud had come to live at the faded white house on Grosvenor Square about a year ago. No one knew very much about her but what they could guess from her accent. Yet Maud had a good position in a boot factory and when she was at home, she studied the other ladies of the house, copying their mannerisms and their refinements. She had gradually smoothed out the worst of her Cockney and while her accent could not be called ‘refined’, it no longer made everyone wince.

Alice settled into Jennifer’s abandoned chair and rubbed her right leg, encouraging it to feel warm once more.

Priscilla, in the third of the six chairs about the fire, lifted the garment she had been working upon. “Darn it…Maud, what have I done? It’s all gone wrong again.”

Maud put down her book and took the shirtwaist from Priscilla. Maud was a superior seamstress. Priscilla…was not. She was American and a graduate of Aunt Annalies’ ladies’ college at Oxford. “I guess all the feminine stuff just sailed on by me,” Priscilla had once explained. “Comes from being an orphan with no mother to teach me.”

Priscilla’s parents had brought her to England when she was ten years old. They had been touring the Continent but when they reached London, they had contracted bronchitis in the damp and smoggy air of the city and had died within days of each other.

No one had known what to do with Priscilla. She didn’t know of any relatives back in Boston and letters to authorities in Boston had not uncovered any. In the end, Priscilla had simply stayed where she was, working in the kitchen of the great house where her parents had been staying.

The lady of the house, one of Annalies’ friends, had paid for Priscilla’s education with Great Aunt Annalies’ encouragement. “I proposed that with a good education the child will be able to take care of herself, instead of being dependent upon the good will and fortunes of others,” Great Aunt Annalies had explained to the residents of the boarding house when Priscilla had moved in, late last year. “And I was right,” the old Princess had added with a touch of pride.

Alice mildly envied Priscilla for her education and her subsequent independence, for Priscilla now worked for The Times newspaper and had actually written a small article which had appeared on the inner pages of a Sunday edition. However, the article had been about a woman’s right to vote, which had made Alice uncomfortable. Priscilla did have strong opinions about a great many things and women’s suffrage was of deep and abiding interest to her. She would talk loudly and angrily whenever anyone raised the subject.

Learning to repair her own garments to further her independence was Priscilla’s current pre-occupation and Maud was patiently untangling the messes Priscilla made with needle and thread.

Annalies folded the newspaper she had been reading, removed her glasses and rubbed her nose. “What is the time on the carriage clock, Alice? I feel in need of a cup of tea.”

“It is close enough to ten o’clock to call it morning tea time,” Alice said, with a glance at the clock.

“Jennifer Jane, would you mind…?” Annalies began.

Jennifer stood, took a step closer to the fireplace and pulled on the bell.

“Thank you, my dear,” Annalies said. She put her spectacles back in place and looked over them. “Elizabeth’s train should have arrived at nine-thirty, if the lines were clear of snow…. Ah! Wilde, thank you.”

Klaudia Wilde had been Aunt Annalies’ butler since Alice’s cousin, Anne, had run away to the Continent, abandoned a Norwegian prince at the altar, then married Adam Davies of Paris…who was also technically a cousin. The affair had scandalized all of Europe for weeks but Great Aunt Annalies had been more vexed about the loss of her butler.

“Those two girls!” Aunt Annalies had raged. “They had such a wonderful idea—lady butlers! And it worked! Then they had to run off and marry the first handsome man to smile at them. Where am I to find another?”

“You could employ a butler within the hour, Aunt Annalies,” Alice pointed out. “Although finding a good butler might take a bit longer.”

“I don’t want just any butler,” Aunt Annalies replied. “Anne and Elise have utterly spoiled me. I want a lady butler.”

“I don’t think there is such a thing anywhere in England,” Alice replied.

“Then I will take any woman with the ability to think clearly and work hard,” Aunt Annalies tossed back. “She will soon learn how to run a house, if she has those two qualities.”

Less than a week later, Klaudia Wilde had arrived at the house with a small valise and travel-worn clothes and a letter with Aunt Annalies’ name on the front. After a short interview with Aunt Annalies, Wilde had accepted the position as butler—a paid position, instead of the room-and-board arrangement Anne and Elise had had with Aunt Annalies.

Alice had to admit that Wilde had become an excellent butler. Perhaps her personality helped. Wilde rarely smiled and when she did, it was a small expression that barely reached her eyes. She was very tall and very slender, with golden hair always pulled back into a looping bun at the back of her head. Not a single hair was permitted to escape the bun. Wilde’s face was thin, which made her high cheekbones appear to be even higher. Her blue eyes were always cool, always watching.

She wore a black gown which Maud had designed to appear as much like a butler’s garments as possible. The skirt was narrow, with barely room for a single thin petticoat, and the hem lifted above the floor by an inch. The jacket was nearly identical to any butlers’, with lapels that came down almost to her waist. Beneath the lapel points, three shiny brass buttons ran down to the bottom of the jacket, on each side. The tails of the jacket laid over the back of the skirt. There was also a waist coat, and after Wilde had been in the house for a few days, Alice noticed that a watch had been added to the fob pocket, with a gleaming chain running to the other side. As Wilde consulted the watch at multiple times throughout the day, Alice concluded that the watch was a necessary item, not simply an affectation.

The white shirt beneath the jacket was as stiff and pristine as any butlers’ in London, and stiff cuffs peeped out from beneath the jacket sleeves.

The one concession to womanhood, beside the skirt, was the ribbon at Wilde’s neck. Instead of a man’s stiff bow tie, the black silk ribbon was tied in a bow and rested upon the white shirt with gentle ruffles.

Alice rather liked the outfit. And after not too many days, Alice had also become accustomed to the conveniences a very good butler provided.

As the rooms in the house became occupied with new boarders, new staff were added to the back of the house. Alice noticed only in hindsight that dust had stopped piling up in the corners of rooms and that chair cushions were plumped up when she sat on them.

Meal times became regular and the serving of them without incident. Dishes with stains and cracks were no longer placed upon the table.

Fireplaces were always cleaned daily. It was never an issue to ask for hot water, which was provided quickly. The candles in hers and Jennifer’s attic room were always properly trimmed and ready to be lit.

Wilde had become the indispensable lady butler that Aunt Annalies had craved.

Wilde came into the drawing room, moving silently, her chin slightly up. “Yes, Your Highness?” she asked of Annalies.

Annalies had given up asking Wilde to call her Lady Annalies. She smiled at Wilde and said, “It is a few minutes early, but could we have morning tea now? The chill is settling into our bones today.”

“I asked the cook to put on the kettle before I came upstairs, Your Highness,” Wilde replied. She had a mild accent that Alice suspected was German, but Wilde’s origins were as mysterious as Maud’s. “Would Your Highness prefer the ginger cake, or the sultana scones and the last of the cream?”

“Oh, let’s use up the cream, by all means,” Annalies replied. “There’s no point in letting it go to waste.”

The front door bell chimed.

“That would be Lady Elizabeth,” Wilde said. “Excuse me, Your Highness.” She turned on one heel and moved out to the front foyer, her chin still up.

Alice got up and stretched. “I haven’t seen Elizabeth in simply ages,” she told the room and followed Wilde into the foyer.

Wilde was just opening the big front door. A frigid wave of air washed over Alice and she shivered. Suddenly, her chair by the fire seemed like a tropical retreat in comparison. “My goodness!” she breathed, wrapping her arms around herself.

“Lady Elizabeth, welcome,” Wilde told the young woman standing in front of the doorway.

Elizabeth Wardell wore a travelling gown, a thick overcoat, and an enormous wool shawl that enveloped her shoulders and neck. Her hat was fur and pulled down low over her ears. Her gloves were thick. Despite the layers, her nose was pink, while the rest of her face was white and clear.

Elizabeth smiled at Wilde. “You must be Wilde. I’ve heard quite a bit about you.”

“The reports about me were positive, I trust?” Wilde said.

“Goodness, yes.” Elizabeth stepped into the house. “Papa wouldn’t have allowed me to come here if they hadn’t been. He’s rather protective, you know.”

“I do believe many fathers are,” Wilde said diplomatically.

The two maids, who acted as footmen when required, scurried through the door to retrieve Elizabeth’s trunks.

Wilde added, “May I take your things, Lady Elizabeth? Morning tea will be served in the drawing room in just a few minutes.”

“Oh, tea that doesn’t slop into the saucer with every jerk of the train would be heavenly,” Elizabeth said, unwinding her great shawl. Then she saw Alice and smiled. “Cousin Alice! I made it at last! That dreadful snow really did jam up everything, didn’t it?”

“Come away from the open door, Elizabeth,” Alice said. “It’s freezing.”

Wilde patiently followed Elizabeth over to the spot where Alice was standing between the drawing room doors and the library door, with Elizabeth’s shawl in one hand. Deftly, Wilde helped Elizabeth out of her coat and managed to drop neither coat nor shawl.

Elizabeth’s travelling gown was a cheerful note in the white, cold morning, for it was a deep red tweed with flecks of blue and green and pink. Alice ran her eye over the details. Maud had made her aware of the broad range of possibilities in the design of gowns. Elizabeth’s had barely any suggestion of a bustle, which a great many new gowns were missing, this year. Instead, the skirt was pleated and very full at the back. But it did appear that she wore nothing but petticoats beneath the dress. That had to be…freeing.

The bodice was not a bodice at all, but a jacket and shirt, just as Wilde was wearing. Only the jacket was of the same tweed as the skirt, and the shirt was a pretty pink cotton with lace at the collar.

Alice realized she was tugging at her own bodice and let her hand drop. “You’d best get Cook onto the morning tea, Wilde,” Alice told the butler. “I’ll take Elizabeth in.”

“Thank you, Lady Alice,” Wilde said.

From beyond the open front door, a man’s shout sounded. The maids who’d hurried out to pull Elizabeth’s trunks off the cab called out something, their voices rising in alarm.

A slender, dark grey creature raced through the open doorway, its nose to the ground.

“Oh my Lord!” Elizabeth said, whirling around to face the invader.

“It’s a dog,” Alice exclaimed. “Only, he’s covered in mud.”

“I believe some of the mud is actually ice, Lady Alice,” Wilde said, examining the dog as it sniffed at the puddles on the tiles.

The dog whined, looking around with large eyes.

“He’s so thin!” Alice said, for she could see individual ribs outlined by the thick mud. “Stop him, Wilde! He can’t go into the drawing room!”

Something had beckoned the dog—perhaps it was the waves of warmth coming through the doors. Or the scent of humans. It whined piteously and limped eagerly through the doors.

“Perhaps it’s looking for its master,” Wilde said, hurrying after it.

Alice and Elizabeth stepped into the drawing room in time to see everyone leap from their chairs, except Maud, who leapt onto her chair and crouched, her skirts around her ankles. The dog circled the room, whining and sniffing and pawing at chair legs.

Great Aunt Annalies moved away from the dog, taking off her glasses. “Don’t touch it,” she warned the ladies. “God in his Heaven alone knows where it has been.”

“He’s looking for someone,” Jennifer Jane said, edging toward the door.

“‘e ‘as no collar. I doubt anyone owns ‘im,” Maud said, from the safety of her perch upon the chair.

The dog reached the fireplace and paused, its nose in the air, sniffing eagerly. It shivered, the movement shuddering through its whole body.

“Wilde, can we shepherd the thing out of the house?” Annalies asked the butler.

Wilde looked about the room. “I believe I can do better than that, Your Highness. May I use a newspaper?”

“What? Oh, yes. Go ahead.”

Wilde moved swiftly over to the sofa, while the dog lingered in front of the fire, turning about in slow circles. The creature was so clearly warming itself that Alice felt a pang of sympathy for it.

Wilde spread one of the Times newspapers out across the sofa. It was a large broadsheet. Wilde rolled the corner of one sheet over itself, then continued to roll the sheet up into a tube. As the tube formed, she added the sheets beneath to the roll, so that the tube grew longer and longer.

She flattened the tube and folded it in half, then turned toward the dog, the tube in one hand.

“Be careful Wilde,” Annalies called softly. “It might have rabies.”

“It most definitely will have fleas,” Alice added.

“Perhaps lice, too,” Jennifer Jane said with a shudder.

“It isn’t rabid, Your Highness,” Wilde said with conviction in her voice. She moved toward the dog, who stopped moving as it grew aware of her approach. It shied backward but the warmth of the fire slowed its retreat.

“It looks frightened,” Priscilla said. “Poor thing. It was probably out in the storm the whole time.”

Wilde stopped three paces away from the dog then crouched so that she was almost at the same level with its head. “Hello, hund,” she said in a very soft, gentle tone utterly unlike her usual crisp and efficient one.

The dog stopped retreating.

“You’re very cold, are you not?” Wilde held out her hand.

The dog whined a little. Alice’s breath caught as she saw its tail move. It wasn’t quite a wag but it looked as though it could become one.

Wilde kept her fingers hanging out in the air. The dog didn’t move toward them. It was too wary for that. But it did lean closer to sniff at them, which exposed its neck.

Wilde dropped the loop of tubing over its head and closed her hand around the two sides of the loop a few inches above its neck. She stood, holding the other end of the tubing in her other hand. “I will deal with the dog then have morning tea served immediately, Your Highness.”

The dog tried to pull away from the newspaper leash, but the leash was stronger than paper ought to be.

Wilde clicked her tongue and the dog looked up at her, startled. She tugged on the leash and it trotted after her.

Alice watched them go, marveling at Wilde’s quick thinking. “What will she do with the dog?” she asked Annalies.

Annalies shook her head. “Best not to know. There are too many stray animals in London, although the blizzard would have diminished their numbers somewhat.”

Alice felt sick. “You mean, Wilde will…will…do something to it?”

Annalies frowned. “I will not ask,” she said gently. “And nor should you.” She turned to Elizabeth, who still stood by the drawing room doors. “Elizabeth, my dear! But you look adorable! Is that one of your mother’s gowns? Kirkaldy tweed?” Annalies moved over to the door and embraced the newest member of the household.

Alice turned to Jennifer. “I had not realized I was having a perfectly lovely Sunday until now,” she said in a low voice.

Jennifer wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “Let’s go back to having a perfectly lovely Sunday. Please? It is already morning tea time, which leaves less than a day until we must return to that loathsome edifice, tomorrow.”

Alice stared at her sister. “The offices of Davies & Spearing and Associates are not loathsome. Papa Ben and Papa Stephen make sure of it.” She could safely use their proper titles in this house for everyone either knew the truth about their family, or were blessed with discretion enough not to pry. “How can you even say such a thing? They employ us, Jennifer, when they could have insisted we stay at home like old maids.”

Jennifer shook her strawberry blonde curls, for she had simply tied back her hair this morning, instead of putting it up. “I sometimes wish they had insisted we stay at home.”

Alice glanced at the gossip sheet in Jennifer’s hand. “It’s not as though you can enjoy the Season,” she pointed out.

Jennifer winced, for although they had both been presented to the Queen three years before, neither of them had been invited to a single Season event. The stain upon the Great Family was too large. Society had condemned them for being related to a bona fide criminal.

“It’s all very well for you, Alice,” Jennifer protested. “You like working.”

Which was quite true. Alice found her responsibilities at Davies & Spearing to be absorbing and always interesting. “To be employed is a privilege, Jennifer. It provides us with income and independence. One must see it that way, for what else could we do with our lives?”

Jennifer pressed the back of her hand against a temple. “Oh, never mind me. We’ve had four lovely days of lounging about like real ladies and it has affected me. I’ll be fine by tomorrow.” She dropped her hand. “I suppose I must be, mustn’t I?” she added bitterly.

Alice patted her arm. “Come back to the fire, darling sister. You can tell me all about the latest scandals on the ton over sultana scones and cream.”

Jennifer rolled her eyes. “You deplore society gossip.”

“I can withstand enough of it to see you smile once more,” Alice replied, although she wasn’t entirely sure that was true.

Oh, how she wished it was Monday!

Alice loves her family, but longs for independence…

Lady Alice Thomasina Balfour is the acknowledged daughter of Dane, Duke of Wakefield, but her real father is Benjamin Hedley, her mother’s secret and lifelong partner. Her third father is Stephen Spearing, Esq., who is Dane’s secret partner. Alice is torn between her beloved family and their expectations and her need for the independence young, modern women are beginning to enjoy, which she believes she can have if she opens her own shop. She needs funds to do so, but as a woman, cannot take a loan with any bank. Her family for once, are not supportive.

Garrick Lawrence Wortham is not a peer, but thanks to his family’s fortune and upper-class status, he is expected to marry into the peerage and solidify the family’s reputation. After refusing yet another debutante, Garrick feels obliged to bow to his father’s wishes to fund and manage a new, shocking project; the opening of a retail establishment by the daughter of the Duke of Wakefield, a peer whose family have fallen into disgrace and social ruin. But managing the willful woman’s new business venture is more taxing than he expected. It doesn’t help that the lovely Lady Alice is prickly, defensive and hiding secrets that, as he learns more, brings him to make an outrageous proposal…

This book is part of the Scandalous Family—The Victorians series. This is the second spin-off series to feature a new generation of the Great Family, who are now scattering across Europe and beyond in search of adventure…and love.

This story is part of the Scandalous Family—The Victorians series:
1.0 His Parisian Mistress
2.0 Her Rebellious Prince
3.0 Their Foreign Affair
4.0 His Outrageous Proposal
and more to come!

A Victorian Era Historical Romance

You can pre-order directly from me and get your copy next Thursday (or just buy it next Thursday from me and be reading it a week before you’ll get it anywhere else.)

Or you can pre-order on your preferred bookstore.  It’s available everywhere.

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