Genre: Historical Romance
Summary: Book 2 of the Spinster Series
After the death of her parents Harriet Hughes devoted herself to a life free of temptation. Any activity that could lead to an excess of emotion was strictly avoided. She never questioned her way of life until a chance encounter with a dashing young naval officer who may turn out to be just too much temptation to resist...
This novelette is approximately 13,000 words.
If someone had asked Harriet Hughes on Monday to imagine all the possible situations she could be in at the week’s close, what she was doing right now would have been last on that list. The small bouquet of freshly picked wildflowers didn’t stand a chance under the force of Harriet’s death grip.
For the umpteenth time that hour her sister, Mabel, came up to her side and whispered, “Are you sure you want to do this, Harriet? You know that I would always take care of you, your reputation be damned.”
“Mabel!” Harriet hissed through her teeth, quite shocked. “You’re not supposed to swear in church! In fact a lady shouldn’t be swearing at all!”
“Well not every lady’s sister is forced to marry a complete stranger against her will!”
“I’m not marrying Captain Fletcher against my will. You said it yourself that this is the only option.”
“Yes, but that was yesterday. I’m having second thoughts today and I think you should too!”
Harriet’s featured softened as she met her sister’s gaze. Mabel had every right to be worried. Six years Harriet’s senior, Mabel had automatically assumed the role of mother when their parents had died of consumption. Mabel was also extremely jaded when it came to men after having her heart broken by a scoundrel. So it was only natural that she would question Harriet’s decision.
“I’ll be fine, Mabel. I’m twenty-two, certainly too old to be swept away by childish fantasies. Captain Fletcher is merely a solution to a problem. He seems to me to be a reasonable sort of man and we both will go our separate ways when this is all over. Then life can go back to normal.”
Mabel gave her a skeptical glare then squeezed Harriet’s hand reassuringly before taking her place to one side as witness for the ceremony. The only other person in attendance was Harriet’s best friend, Jane, who also happened to be married to Bibury’s pastor, John Cooper.
Harriet glanced nervously at her friend and Jane tried to give her an encouraging smile. Just slightly over one year ago Jane took a chance and married the man that everyone had thought she couldn’t stand. Theirs had been a love match with emotions that Harriet knew she could never hope for with her own marriage.
Her gaze shifted to her intended. At least Bryce Fletcher was not an eyesore. He had thick brown hair and was well muscled from his years of military service. He was average in height but still several inches taller than Harriet. Though in the past Harriet never had any intention of ever getting married, Captain Fletcher seemed to be the embodiment of what she would consider physical perfection in the male form.
Not that she had ever had such thoughts. To think about a man in such a way would be wrong and against everything her parents had ever taught her. And she refused to soil their memory with a stray moment of lust.
“Are we ready to begin?” Mr. Cooper asked while giving Harriet a pointed look.
Harriet didn’t miss the inflection in his question. Mr. Cooper was a good man and wanted to make sure his wife’s friend was not being forced into an unwanted situation. “Yes,” she said with more calm than she really felt. “You may begin at any time, Mr. Cooper.”
She felt her hands shake and she gripped her bouquet even tighter. She didn’t even really hear what the pastor was saying as he read the vows from his book. Through all the haze a warm, steady hand slipped under the bouquet and gently held her fingers. Harriet looked suddenly at Bryce and he smiled at her. It was not a mocking smile or an insolent grin. It was a caring smile, the kind that would pass between two friends that were going to get through this ordeal together.
Harriet’s hands stopped shaking and she felt the knot in her stomach begin to unravel. Maybe… just maybe this marriage really wouldn’t be so bad after all.