Barnes & Noble.com
Country girl Ariana Forsythe must navigate the season among the rich and titled in this early 1800s regency romp/romance, while keeping her religious upbringing intact.
Book Excerpt from, Before the Season Ends, by Linore Rose Burkard
copyright2009 Linore Rose Burkard
Mr. Mornay took the opportunity of their being alone to say, “Miss Forsythe I called upon you to see how you are getting on.”
“Thank you for your thoughtfulness,” she replied. He seemed doubly tall and imposing from where she was near the flowers. She came to her full height and added, “Unless Mr. Pellham refuses to recover, I may still look forward to his taking me about.”
“He is still abed?” He looked surprised. “Perhaps he lacks the right medical man. I will send my doctor to see him.”
Ariana started to speak her approval, but before she began, he was speaking again. “More to the point, Ariana, I’ve been stricken with guilt on account of my hasty departure from you. If I had not abruptly abandoned you there would have been no rumour about a decline.” He paused, searching her face. “Be plain with me. Have you been distressed?”
Ariana was taken aback by his sudden question, and by the fact he had used her Christian name. And yet it seemed quite natural for him to do so and she liked it a greast deal, but it made her flush. “I was indeed sorry.” She hesitated, wondering whether to hazard the whole truth. Well, why not? Honesty had always been her policy.
“I thought I should never see you again and I was distressed on that account.” She took a quick peek at his eyes. “I was not overly distressed; I do not think one could call it a decline. But I did miss your company.” She couldn’t help blushing furiously.
“I have prayed for you often.”
“Prayed for me?” He looked astounded.
“Yes, for your salvation. All of mankind needs salvation.”
He thought, She thinks I am the devil himself! There was a silence then, which he broke by saying, “Then I have distressed you; I am sorry for it.”
“My dear sir, you needn’t be sorry.” She looked up at him. “I am indebted to your kindness, and happy to pray for you. I promise you there is no one I pray for more often than you.”
His brows furrowed. But any words he might have said had to wait. A voice was approaching, exclaiming, ‘Miss Forsythe! What a happy meeting!”
It was Mr. O’Brien coming their way in the company of a young woman and an older one.
“Did I not tell you about Miss Forsythe?” The threesome stopped near them and nodded, smilingly, at Ariana.
“Allow me to present Miss Forsythe to you, Mama!” The older lady was smiling amiably at Ariana, but Mr. Mornay broke in. In a lazy voice that belied the substance of what he spoke, he said to Mr. O’Brien: “I daresay your mama should be introduced to Miss Forsythe.” His voice was lazy and light but hit its mark. There was an awkward silence during which Mr. O’Brien recognized Mr. Mornay and paled; the women lost their smiles, and Ariana felt an uncomfortable alarm. With a glowering look at her companion, Ariana said, “Do, I pray you, Mr. O’Brien, introduce me to your mama! I should be honoured to know her!”
Mr. O’Brien glanced at Mr. Mornay. “Perhaps another day, Miss Forsythe. It was an ill-timed meeting, I see. Good day.” He took each lady by an arm and hurried them off.
Anticipating Ariana’s reaction Mornay said, “He was thoroughly improper. You are by far the social superior and should be treated as such.”
Ariana could not remain silent. “I am beyond words, Mr. Mornay! How will I face Mr. O’Brien again? How can I meet his family? They are bound to think I am the most pretentious…odious--!”
“You mistake the matter,” he interrupted. “It was a simple enough blunder on your young friend’s part, but I fail to understand why you should be the least flummoxed by it. It was their mistake, not yours.”
“No! It was your mistake!”
The raised brows were his only response. They had reached the others and Mr. Hartley asked if they would be agreeable to a gondola ride.
Mr. Mornay searched the sky a moment. “The wind is picking up.”
Ariana looked around at the sky and there were indeed gray clouds scudding in, bringing a chilling breeze. She was happy for her warm spencer.
Mr. Hartley scoffed. “What’s a little wind? Miss Dorset has never been on a gondola ride and I am determined to give her the opportunity! Come, Mornay, be sporting!” He looked at Ariana who instantly offered, “I have never been on one, either!”
“Then you ought not to miss this chance. There are costumed boatmen in Venetian-style barks,” Hartley explained, to which both ladies expressed delighted anticipation. Even Mr. Mornay could not be impervious to this and he reluctantly agreed.
“If we go directly,” Mr. Hartley said, “I think the weather will hold for a quick outing.”
At the river they were told in stilted English that only two people per boat was the preference.
“He is a thief,” warned Mr. Mornay. “I have been on one with four people, in the past.”
Mr. Hartley, ever pleasant, said, “We shall have to enjoy ourselves separately. Miss Dorset and I will go in one and you two in the next. We’ll meet back on shore afterward.”