Grand Central’s Forever line of romance titles is on a web tour, featuring five historical authors whose books are pubbing September and October. The challenge to these “historical hookups” is that each of the authors (Anne Barton, Lily Dalton, Eileen Dreyer, Jennifer Delamere, and Elizabeth Hoyt) was tasked to write a 300- to 500-word piece based on the same general description of a character following “criteria” chosen by fans that would showcase how each author’s style varies so distinctly from one another’s, even with the same basic story elements. The readers chose these must-haves: a young heiress heroine who is a mysterious brunette; a titled gentleman hero whose usual expression is a dark scowl; the couple have never met before; and the scene takes place in a bedroom. Hmm. Sounds decidedly delightful. Library Journal is honored to feature Jennifer Delamere, whose A Lady Most Lovely is available now.
THE HEIRESS TRAP
By Jennifer Delamere
Clara stared at the painting for a very long time. She did not dare light a lamp, but she didn’t need to. Moonlight spilled into the room, softly illuminating the faces of two laughing young girls, deftly painted in watercolors. It had been 15 years since Clara had seen the face of her friend. It seemed a lifetime.
She could steal the painting, of course. After her family’s descent into poverty, thieving had become as natural as breathing. It would be a simple thing to tuck the picture into her rough woolen coat before climbing over the balcony and leaving exactly as she had come. Even if she were spotted while running away, they would never find her, for she would melt into the alleyways and they would search in vain for a young lad in corduroy trousers.
But Clara decided to leave the painting where it was. She wanted no one to know she’d been here. It was enough to see it once more and savor the memories it evoked. Their friendship was the only joy either had found at that terrible school. Then Betsy’s father had come and taken her away.
With one last sigh, Clara turned to leave. At that moment, a movement from the dim corner of the room caught her eye. A man suddenly emerged into the shaft of moonlight.
Clara turned and bolted, but the bed was between her and the balcony. The man caught up to her and seized her around the waist. He clapped a hand over her mouth. “Don’t move,” he commanded. “Not one sound—unless you fancy spending Christmas in Newgate.”
Having no other option, Clara nodded in agreement. Tentatively, his hand left her mouth. Keeping an iron grip on her wrists, he turned her to face him. Her cloth cap had fallen off in the struggle, and a lock of hair now partially obstructed her vision, but she could see his face clearly enough. She had only ever seen him once before, and from a distance, but she recognized him. It was Betsy’s brother. His gaze traveled over her, taking in her appearance, from tousled hair to men’s boots.
And then he kissed her.
Clara’s protests were stifled as his lips covered hers, warm, insistent, confident. She was shocked as the thought struck her that despite the circumstances it was not unpleasant….
She wrenched herself away, breathless with confusion. “You, sir, are no gentleman!” she gasped.
“Neither, it would appear, are you. Despite the trousers.” He studied her intently. “The thing is, I’ve wanted to do that for months—ever since I first laid eyes on you in the King’s Crown.”
“What? How can that be? I never saw you there—.” She eyed him closely, and now, too late, she understood. The ugly scar on his cheek was gone, as were the hunched shoulders and scraggly beard. Now he was impeccably dressed and clean-shaven, looking every inch the earl that he was. “You’re the scowling Belgian who always sat drinking alone in the corner!”
“The very one,” he said proudly. “I became quite adept at disguise when I was a spy in France. However, I think this was one of my best efforts.”
“You were spying on me?” Clara said indignantly.
He shrugged. “Let’s call it research. I wanted to see what kind of woman my sister regarded highly enough to bequeath her fortune to.”
“Money she’d inherited from our mother. When Betsy knew she was dying, she wanted to give the money to you. She begged me to find you, but that bit of business with Napoleon intervened. After I returned it took ages to unearth you.”
“How did you know I would come here tonight?”
He laughed. “My dear girl, who do you think hired the man who casually passed you the information about this painting’s whereabouts—and the fate that was about to befall it? I surmised that if you truly cared for Betsy and were worthy of the inheritance, you would seek out this painting. I think that despite your occupation, you understand that something with sentimental value is worth more than gold.”
Clara had come here to close a chapter of her life, but now, seeing in this man’s face the same warm blue eyes as her friend, she sensed that a new page was about to be written. He grinned, and she realized why he had always frowned while in disguise. His smile was a beacon that could light up a room.
“Betsy always said she wished I could meet you. She was certain we would get on famously.” He took hold of her coat and pulled her close. “As always, my sister was absolutely correct.”