The Enticing of Miss Standish
A meeting of minds...
But a most unsuitable match!
When lady’s companion Sara Standish meets Cameron Fitzallen, he has his jacket off and he’s mending mill machinery. He is manly, capable—though it’s most improper for him to set her heart aflutter! He is a mill owner—trade—after all. They share the same aim to help impoverished children, but in the eyes of the ton, she must not mix with him. That doesn’t stop her craving his company, or his touch...
"Historical Romance done to perfection…The Regency is Julia Justiss’s world and nobody does it better."
~Sandra Wurman Fresh Fiction
‘Act as a companion?’ Sara’s aunt echoed, her horrified voice rising. ‘Do you want to send me into a decline and be the death of your poor invalid mother? Why, society would think the Standish family had become indigent, like your poor friend Miss Overton!’
Sighing, Sara Standish gazed over at Lady Patterson, who occupied the other end of the sofa in the small back salon at Standish House where they were taking tea, Sara’s mother, as usual, being laid down upon her couch.
Sara supposed it wasn’t worth mentioning that her friend’s sudden loss of fortune had turned out to be a blessing, since it had led her to find the man she would fall in love with and marry. ‘Assisting a marchioness by accompanying her to meetings and society events would hardly suggest a sudden lack of funds.’
‘Perhaps not,’ Lady Patterson allowed. ‘But you might as well put on a cap and announce yourself a spinster, beyond all hope of marriage!’
‘Since I’m about to complete my fifth Season and have reached the advanced age of three-and-twenty, I expect society already considers me one.’
‘You needn’t have been. If you’d made just a little more push to engage one of the gentlemen who have shown interest in you,’ Lady Patterson argued. ‘Mr Ersby or Mr Berwicke. Or that charming baronet’s son, Mr Harlande.’
‘Mr Ersby, who talks of nothing but hounds and hunters. Mr Berwicke, who merely wanted some gently born female who wouldn’t baulk at residing year-round in the depths of Yorkshire and married Miss Woodward within a month after I politely refused him. And that charming baronet’s son lives with his mother and intends on remaining with her, even if he weds.’ Sweeping her hand down to indicate her plump, rounded figure, she said wryly, ‘He probably thought I resembled his mama.’
‘Not every man wants a tall, sylph-like beauty,’ her aunt retorted. ‘Some prefer a lady with a bit of flesh on her bones. True, you’d never be taken for an Incomparable, but your figure is elegant, your pale blonde hair is lovely and I’ve overheard several gentlemen describe your blues eyes as “very fine”.’
‘Be that as it may, I prefer a gentleman with a bit of sense in his head and a great deal of purpose in his heart!’
‘Then why haven’t you endeared yourself to one of those politicians you’re always talking about? It’s not as if you don’t spend the vast majority of your time working with Lady Lyndlington’s Ladies’ Committee, writing letters in support of Parliamentary bills, or some such vulgar thing.’
A politician she could admire.
Sara pressed her lips together, trying to keep her countenance from betraying her as the unhappy memories escaped. After heady weeks of having consulted and encouraged her, handsome, dashing Member of Parliament Lucius Draycott asking her for a private interview. Her nervous jubilation, her certainty he meant to offer for her. The humiliation of discovering that all he wanted was her opinion on which of two well-dowered, crushingly conventional young ladies he should court.
She’d never shared that pain and didn’t intend to divulge it now, since the resolution it produced—that she would never marry—would only prolong the argument with her aunt.
‘No activity sponsored by a viscountess could be considered “vulgar”,’ Sara countered after a moment, keeping her tone light. ‘I suppose you’d prefer me to devote myself solely to afternoon calls and shopping trips, and my evenings to soirées, routs and balls, meeting and talking with the same people about the same things I have for the last five years.’
‘Of course I would. They are your peers, the elite of England, society’s leaders.’
‘Most of them lead rather pointless lives,’ Sara retorted. ‘I prefer to spend my time among the small segment of that elite who are working to change the nation and make life better for all England’s inhabitants.’
‘But to bury yourself away as a companion? After all the time and effort I’ve expended, trying to get you respectably s-settled!’ Her aunt’s voice breaking, she drew a handkerchief from her reticule and dabbed at her eyes.
‘I know,’ Sara said quietly, putting a placating hand on her aunt’s arm. ‘I’m grateful that you were willing to take over sponsoring me after Mama decided that going about in society was too…taxing for her delicate health. And I do appreciate all the opportunities you have tried to create for me—even if it appears as if I don’t. I know you want the best for me. It’s just—your view of what that is, and mine, are so very different.’
‘You truly think you’d be happy living the rest of your days as a spinster, assisting some high-born lady to work on behalf of that orphan school and those legislative committees?’ her aunt asked. ‘Left behind, while your peers are raising their offspring, and left alone, with no child to comfort you, when your mother and I and the Marchioness pass? For I can’t imagine you could abide living with your brother and that silly featherhead he married!’
Perhaps she was making progress, Sara thought. Her aunt’s usual refrain was to recommend marriage—any marriage. Perhaps Lady Patterson was finally coming to see that wedding a typical society gentleman—a man with whom she had nothing in common—just wasn’t right for Sara. Such a man would almost certainly disapprove of her opinions, try to limit or forbid her political activities and probably leave his modestly attractive, quiet wife to run his home while he took his pleasure with a prettier, more dashing woman.
As her father had.
Whereas, though a political gentleman might encourage her opinions and applaud her activities, when it came to marriage, he usually chose a conventional society maiden as his bride.
Which pretty much swept the field of matrimonial prospects.
Was it any wonder she now yearned only to live an independent life?
‘I think I could be happy, yes. I have friends—and their children to coddle and love. I would be able to devote myself to working on causes that truly matter to me. I know I’m a sad disappointment to you, Aunt Patterson, but the usual rounds of entertainments and dinners and routs that delight most well-born ladies simply don’t interest me at all.
Her aunt sighed. ‘So you’ve been telling me these last five years.’
‘Perhaps, now, you’re finally listening? Besides, both you and Mama had already agreed that at Season’s end, you would allow—if not give your blessing to—my moving with Emma and Olivia to the house on Judd Street, where we would all pursue our political activities.’
‘Except that Miss Henley and Miss Overton, quite sensibly, opted to marry instead,’ her aunt pointed out, a triumphant gleam in her eye. ‘Despite previously claiming, as you are now, that they preferred to remain unwed and devote themselves to good causes.’
‘If I were to capture the affections of a gentleman whose mind, heart, and purpose captivated me, as Emma did with Lord Theo and Olivia with Colonel Glendenning, I wouldn’t be opposed to marriage. But as you noted, I’ve encountered both society gentlemen and political gentleman over the years, without any such miracle occurring.’
‘But such a “miracle” will never happen unless you remain in society,’ her aunt countered. ‘Don’t hide yourself away as a companion and resign yourself to spinsterhood!’
‘Then perhaps we can make a bargain. If I agree to continue to forgo spinster’s caps and continue to conduct myself like a marriageable maiden, will you allow me to assist the Marchioness? As you may remember, she still suffers from that fall she took riding two years ago and is often in pain. It’s not as though I would be a paid companion—more a friend and assistant. To have someone to write out her correspondence for her, help her when she entertains and assist her to attend such meetings and social engagements as she wishes, would be a kind, Christian thing to do. For the present, when in London, I could still reside here with you and Mama. And assisting her would hardly mean hiding myself away! Despite her injuries, she moves in the first circles of society. Indeed, accompanying her might give me an even better chance of meeting that sterling young man who could tempt me into marriage.’
‘Oh, very well,’ her aunt said. ‘I suppose you’d talk me around to it one way or another eventually anyway. Goodness, for all that you scarcely say a word in company, you can be persuasive when you want to be!’
‘Then I may call on Lady Trent and let her know I can begin?’
‘I never thought I’d see the day…my darling niece, a companion?’
‘A kind, Christian assistant,’ Sara substituted.
Lady Patterson shook her head, that gesture telling Sara the change in wording didn’t make the proposition any more palatable to her. ‘But…yes, you may call on her.’
‘Thank you, best of aunts!’ Delighted, Sara jumped up to give her Lady Patterson a vigorous hug.
‘Goodness, now,’ that lady grumbled, ‘careful of my cap!’
‘I’ll go out at once,’ Sara said, walking towards the door. ‘Lady Trent has invited the members of the Parliamentary Committee who are to oversee the newly appointed Factory Inspectors to stay at Brayton Hullford, her country estate in Derbyshire. They will be touring the manufacturers in the region to check their compliance with last year’s Factory Act. Lady Lyndlington and the other committee members were as concerned as I was about the Marchioness taxing her limited strength, trying to manage such a large house party on her own.’
‘Why, you sly thing!’ Lady Patterson said reproachfully, shaking a finger at Sara. ‘Securing my approval of your proposition before informing me that taking up the position will send you out of London before the Season ends!’
‘The Season will be ending soon anyway. And you know you never stay in London after July. So I shall probably see you next in Kent.’
‘Not until we’re settled in Kent?’ Lady Patterson wailed. Then, shaking her head again, she said, ‘Oh, get on with you then, before I change my mind!’
Blowing her a kiss, Sara couldn’t help grinning as she walked out. For the first time since her friends’ unexpected marriages had ended for good any hope of leaving her mother’s house to live independently, she had the possibility of finding another way to take up the life the three of them had dreamed of since they’d met, bookish girls of serious natures, at Mrs Axminster’s Academy for Young Ladies.
She would miss her friends, of course. And happy as she was for their happiness, going to assist Lady Trent wouldn’t be like setting up a household with the two people dearest in the world to her.
With determination, she shook off the melancholy that always seized her when she thought of them, both now so far away, Emma with Lord Theo on their Grand Tour of Europe and Olivia back at her husband’s estate in Somerset. Though she couldn’t expect Lady Trent to be a replacement for her friends, she hoped the lady would turn out to be as congenial and interesting a companion over an extended period as she had been the short duration of the Ladies’ Committee meetings.
If they should prove to be incompatible—one couldn’t blame a woman who suffered constant pain from being querulous, after all—after the trip to Derbyshire, Sara could gracefully bow out of any further commitment.
But in the meantime, there was Derbyshire. Her spirits rose again and excitement tingled her nerves, just thinking of it. Living independently at Judd Street would have allowed her to spend as much time as she liked on her Ladies’ Committee work and assisting with Ellie Lattimer’s school—but it would be political work at a distance. In Derbyshire, she and Lady Trent intended to accompany the committee members on their factory tours, giving her an unparalleled opportunity to see with her own eyes, rather than reading about it second-hand in a journal or Parliamentary report, the working conditions of the factory children whose plight so touched her heart and whose best interests she was determined to advance and protect.
As she mounted the stairs to her room to collect her pelisse, she had to chuckle. If Aunt Patterson had any idea that during the visit to Derbyshire, her darling niece would be visiting factories employing pauper children and indigent females, she would lock Sara in her bedchamber.
Instead, she would shortly be on her way to inform Lady Trent she had her family’s permission to assist her on the journey. She couldn’t wait to begin.
But despite Aunt Patterson’s fondest hopes, she sincerely doubted that among the members of the Parliamentary committee or the inspectors Parliament had appointed, she would discover any discerning gentleman interested in enticing her into wedlock.
In the afternoon two weeks later, Cameron Fitzallen stood by his desk in the manager’s office of the Hughes Cotton Works near the village of Knively, trying not to grimace as the owner, Mr Hughes, informed him about the Parliamentary Committee that was to visit the mill later that afternoon.
‘Shouldn’t be anything to worry about, Cam my boy,’ Mr Hughes said. ‘We run a model mill and the working conditions here already surpass the standards established by the Factory Act.’
‘Oh, I’m not worried about what they will find. But I can’t help resenting the obligation to nursemaid yet another group of ignorant outsiders through the mill while they gather tales to amuse their London friends. A waste of my time! Only those who work in the business have the expertise to change things for the better.’
‘Aye, I know you’ve little taste for visiting committees,’ Hughes replied. ‘But sometimes, a nudge from outsiders doesn’t come amiss. In fact, I believe Mr Pennington, the committee member who represents Derby, wanted to bring the group to Hughes first for just that reason—so that they would see how a mill should be run, before they visit others that may need...improvements.’
‘We’re certainly proud of the establishment you’ve built,’ Cameron replied, looking at his mentor with admiration and respect. ‘Everyone from the over-lookers to the newest piecer will be happy to show off their work.’
‘And I’ll hear no more protest about having you do the tour, or the speech to them afterwards. Not for nothing did I insist you be trained up to talk like a London nob! They’ll listen a deal more attentively to you than they would to me, with my thick north-country speech.’
‘They ought to listen to you,’ Cameron retorted. ‘You’ve got as much expertise as I do. And a great deal more experience.’
‘Well, as so often in life, it’s the appearance that counts. Looking fine as five pence, and speaking as though you was one of them, always helps. Today, and when you’ll be on the hunt for more investors for those expansion schemes of yours.’
Cameron smiled. ‘I’ll let you take care of investments. I’ll concentrate on machinery. I might look and speak like a gentleman, but I wasn’t born one.’ The ugly memories of his time in London threatened and, with a dash of anger, he pushed them away. ‘Not that I care one whit about their opinions, but those who were born gentlemen will never forget I wasn’t.’
‘Aye, `tis the way of the world,’ Hughes acknowledged. ‘May we live to see the day when a man is recognised for his achievements, rather than his birth! True, I started the business and kept the capital flowing. But it’s the improvements you’ve made to the machinery, your study of the work and techniques of others, that have kept Hughes Works so profitable.’
‘Thank you, sir. I appreciate the vote of confidence.’
Mr Hughes chuckled. ‘I should hope I have confidence in the man to whom I will be turning this operation over! The first of several mills you mean to direct, eh, my ambitious young lad? Aye, I expect you’re itching to try out some of those novel new techniques you’ve been reading about! Well, keep the mill profitable is all I say. I’ll handle any grumbling from the investors over your changes.’
‘I intend to keep it profitable, sir.’
At that moment, a knock came at the door, followed by the entry of a child who worked in the card room. ‘What is it, Jenny?’ Cameron asked.
‘’Scuse me, Mr Hughes, but Lennox sent me up to fetch Mr Fitzallen. He’s having some trouble with the oiling of one of the spinning mules.’
‘With the committee due here any time, you’d better get the machinery working at once,’ Mr Hughes said.
‘On my way,’ Cameron replied. ‘Let’s go, Jenny.’
As he followed the child out of the office, the noise of the machinery drowned out all other sound—and made him smile. Though the clatter had awed and intimidated him the first time he entered the mill as a nervous six-year-old, he’d loved the complex machinery at first sight and the thrill he felt every time he gazed upon it had never faded. The levers and pulleys, gears and wires, rollers, drums and bobbins fascinated him, their interplay an elegant language of motion and efficiency he’d been studying ever since.
He’d done pretty well for an orphan from the parish workhouse, he thought as he followed Jenny. Working his way up over twenty-five years from a scavenger cleaning lint and fly from the edges of the machines to overall manager, along the way looking for ways to improve both efficiency and safety. The small adjustments he’d made had first caught the eye of his supervisor, then of Mr Hughes himself. Recognising his potential, the owner had sent him away to school. And very soon now, he thought with a rising swell of excitement, Mr Hughes would turn over the factory to him, to improve and expand even more.
He mimed a goodbye to Jenny in the carding room and walked on to enter the larger space occupied by the mule spinners, the heat and humidity hitting him like a slap to the face. Lennox, one of the senior minders, must have been watching for him, for he waved Cameron over. Using hand gestures, he indicated the machine that was giving him difficulty. Though he’d shut it down, the problem had occurred on one of the least accessible pulleys, a place difficult to reach even with the machine not in motion.
Stripping down to his shirtsleeves in the heat, Cameron tossed his coat, vest and cravat to the minder. The skinny workhouse orphan he’d once been had grown into a tall, broad-shouldered, powerfully built man, so he could no longer slither under the yard sheet to access the part, as he had as a boy—nor could Lennox, which Cameron figured was why the man had summoned him. He’d have to reach through and around, a delicate process to avoid ruining the thread being made—or catching a hand in one of the shuttles.
But solving mechanical difficulties was the sort of puzzle he loved—applying angle and torque and finesse and an intimate knowledge of the machine and its workings to successfully make the repair. With a hand motion to Lennox to indicate he was studying the situation, Cameron dropped to his knees and looked up at the recalcitrant part from below, then stood and peered down at it from several different angles. Satisfied he’d worked out the best way to proceed, he motioned to Lennox for the oiler, got back down on his knees and set to work.
His concentration intensely focused on his task, it wasn’t until he’d finished and got back to his feet that Cameron noticed Mr Hughes leading a group of strangers into the room. The Parliamentary Committee, no doubt.
He’d just handed the oiler back to Lennox when he realised that, among the seven or eight individuals approaching him, two were female. He frowned at that discovery, wondering why the committee had brought ladies with them. One older woman in an elegant pelisse and turban was leaning on the arm of a second female, who seemed to be assisting her as she walked.
The second lady turned towards him and looked up. A shock ran through Cameron as he realised this lady was not only much younger, but very attractive.
She looked like the pictures he’d seen of angels, he thought disjointedly. A twist of golden curls framed the soft, pale face under her bonnet, large, beautiful china-blue eyes looked at him enquiringly—and her deep blue pelisse accentuated curves much too voluptuous to belong to one of the heavenly host.
As his body had its inevitable reaction to that observation, the lady’s eyes widened. Cameron suddenly realised he was standing there, gaping at her, coatless and cravat-less, his open-necked shirt revealing the top half of his bare chest. Which, to someone from the Polite World, was akin to being practically undressed.
His face heating, he grabbed his garments back from Lennox and hastily shrugged on vest and coat and wrapped the cravat around his throat. No time to tie it properly, but a quick knot would bring the edges of his shirt back together and render him decent.
What was a young, attractive, gently born lady doing at Hughes Works? Besides looking as out of place in this cotton mill as he would at a reception at St James’s Palace.
Pasting a smile on his face, he tried to shake off the strong sensual reaction she’d elicited. As he walked over to meet the committee, he hoped by the time they finished the tour and returned to his office, where he would answer their questions, she would cease distracting him, else he might not be able to remember the speech he’d prepared.
After all, he had about as much business admiring the physical attributes of a Lady of Quality as he would those of a celestial being.