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  • The Transformation of the Bashful Lady

Chapter 1

Lady Sarah Davenport, only daughter of the late Viscount Davenport, Earl of Chester, stared at her wan reflection in disappointment. She sat at her vanity, cluttered with creams and combs. The implements of beauty she had accumulated over the last few years went mostly unused, however, as Sarah had never been instructed on how to use them. Try as she might, the results of her experiments often ended in tears of frustration. How was it possible that the daughter of one of the most beautiful women in London had turned out to be such an ugly duckling? She pinched her cheeks and tried to get some color to rise in them. It only made her look like she had been embarrassed by something. Thanks to her mother, Sarah seemed to be in a constant state of embarrassment.

Her mother, Caroline, had ignored her only daughter after the death of her husband. Sarah had been only eighteen when her father had passed away. For years afterward, she had felt the pang of loss, retreating further and further into herself until there seemed to be little else left of her but quiet misery. Her mother’s rejection had only deepened the sense of loss.

Caroline’s lack of interest in her daughter had not sprung from malice, Sarah was sure of that. Her mother was selfish by nature and her ambitions often clouded her vision and the care for her child.

Sarah sighed and let her gaze fall on the framed silhouette of her father, a project they had completed together when they had been traveling in France for her tenth birthday. She had inherited his strong jaw and straight nose, but the silhouette failed to capture his spirit and generosity. He had indeed been a man that any girl would be proud to call Father.

She returned her attention to her reflection. The early morning light streamed through the curtains and fell on her back, creating a sort of halo around her visage. Dressed only in her nightdress, she relished the warmth of the bright summer morning and wished for the hundredth time that she was a bit prettier. Her face was pale, her hair frizzy. Her eyes were perhaps the only feature she admired about herself. They were a deep green, the same color as her father’s. Thick, chestnut curls cascaded down her back and reached all the way to her waist. She was not thin, and at five feet, eight inches tall, she stood a few inches above most women of her class. This made her feel like an outsider even more. Anytime she went out in public, she felt that she was the bumbling, clumsy adolescent with whom people were ashamed to be seen.

The London season would be starting soon. She dreaded her entry into society, having never been instructed in the etiquette required of her station. But she would have to be introduced into society at some point. She was in danger of becoming an old maid if she waited any longer.

If only her father were still alive. She had always confided in him. He had taken her on many trips throughout France and Italy. Sarah let her mind wander back to the first time her father had taken her to the ballet. They had been in Venice when he had taken her to her first opera, ‘La Vestale’. She remembered him smiling over at her as she watched with rapt attention. The music seemed to touch her very soul and she found she could not hold back the tears of joy. But the part that had impacted her the most was watching the ballerinas. They were so graceful, so free.

“I want to be a ballerina when I grow up,” she had said.

He’d pondered her words for a moment before commenting on her revelation.“You will make the most beautiful ballerina, my angel.”

The memory brought tears to her eyes. She would always be grateful to him for fostering her dream. Unlike many of his class who would have been mortified to have their daughters become ballerinas, he had always encouraged her.

Women were for marrying, not for parading themselves on the stage. That was the attitude her mother had always taken towards the idea, even if her protestations had been quiet while her father had been alive. It was unbecoming of a lady of Sarah’s station to become a ballerina. What Sarah needed to focus on was becoming a proper young woman that a wealthy young man would want to marry someday. And after her father’s death, Caroline had tried to quash any fantasies of her daughter becoming a dancer.

Needless to say, Sarah and her mother did not get along. About a year after her father’s death, her mother had become obsessed with remarrying, and to a man of an even higher station in life. She threw herself at men in the most brazen of fashion, causing Sarah no little embarrassment. For the last seven years, Sarah had had to fend for herself as her mother flitted between London and Bath, trying to attach herself to another wealthy husband. Her mother’s actions caused her to rely on no one but her governess, Barbara Middleton.

Barbara had been with her ever since she was a small child. She was now a plump woman of forty-seven years. She had always been kind to Sarah and had shown her the love of a mother when her own mother had failed her. She had always been one person she knew she could rely on. Barbara had even kept Sarah’s deepest secret.

Sarah had been taking ballet lessons in secret for the last couple of years, having hired a private tutor, a woman that had been a ballerina for many years on the London stage, and paid her out of her allowance. Thankfully, her mother had been too busy of late to notice, having set her sights on a recently widowed Duke in need of a new wife. Caroline was determined that she would be able to fit that position.

She had come to see her mother’s indifference towards her as a blessing in recent years. Her only regret was that she had received no instruction on how to dress or act in polite society. With the Season’s opening ball approaching, she lamented having no one to present her or guide her through this important event.

Sarah rose from her vanity stool and padded barefoot over to the window and threw back the curtains to let in the full brunt of sunshine. The view of the cobbled street below was not her favorite. She would have much preferred to be looking out at the English countryside, far away from the bustle and stench of London. She longed to be back at their family estate, where she had spent her childhood, but her mother had closed up the house long ago and they had not been back in three long years.

Sarah’s attention was caught by a flower cart traveling slowly up the lane. Few people were about at this time of the morning. She smiled as the man whistled to himself and whispered quiet encouragement to his horse. He looked up at her as if he had felt her gaze on him. He smiled up at her and lifted his hat in greeting. She raised a hand and smiled back at him. He continued on his way, passing by their front door with his cart laden with brilliant colored flowers, no doubt destined for the markets a few streets down.

She turned from the window and rang for her maid. The young girl, Millie, was new to the job and had little experience in arranging hair, causing Sarah a further dilemma. They would bumble through her toilette, doing the best they knew how. When Sarah became inspired by a new hairstyle she had seen when out on the rare visits she took with her mother to call on other ladies, she would try to describe them to Millie. She tried her best, but the result was anything but pleasing. Their efforts usually ended in frustration. One or both of them were usually reduced to tears or laughter at the ridiculousness of it all.

Millie soon appeared carrying a tea tray. She set it down for her mistress on the table next to the vanity.

 “Good morning, Ma’am,” she said. “How are you this morning?”

 “I am well, thank you. And you, Millie? Were you able to find a paper for me?” Sarah asked. She liked to stay up-to-date with what was going on in the world. Her mother thought it vulgar for a young lady to read the newspapers, but Sarah didn’t care. Her mind was one that craved knowledge. If she could not be pretty, then at least she would be well-read.

 “Yes, Ma’am,” Millie replied. She lay the newspaper on a round table, moving a vase of flowers so that Sarah could sit and read without touching the pages. The ink would bleed onto her hands if she handled the paper, so Millie had come up with a system to keep her lady’s hands free of black smudges. When Sarah was ready for the pages to be turned, Millie would turn them for her and then go about her tasks of getting her lady’s clothes ready.

Sarah poured herself a cup of tea and placed two sugar nips into the brown liquid. She then took her cup and saucer over to the table and sat in front of the paper. Millie brushed Sarah’s hair as she read and drank her tea. Millie pinned it back with a simple comb, letting the curls hang down her back. There was little else she knew how to do.

After half an hour, Sarah stood and began to dress in a simple, white cotton day dress. The style was at least ten years behind the current fashions. Instead of purchasing new clothes, her mother had simply handed down her old gowns to her daughter as she had come into womanhood.

Sarah did not allow Millie to pull her stays too tight. She would rather breathe than have an hourglass figure. Sarah had no illusions about her figure. She was not overweight. She just did not know what kind of clothes would best flatter her figure.

When she had finished getting ready for the day, she stood in front of the full-length mirror. The result of her preparations was disappointing, as it was every day. She resigned herself to the notion that she would never be beautiful, destined to always be the ugly duckling.

Chapter 2

Andrew Clayton, Marquess of Somerset, drummed his fingers against the table in the crowded tearoom. He tried to keep from rolling his eyes, but at the look on his aunt’s face, he realized he had failed. She gave him a knowing smile and turned again to the pair of young ladies that made up the rest of the party.

“And did you hear the latest about Sir Anton? He has taken Lucille Dunby as his new mistress.”

 Andrew averted his eyes and turned towards the window. He disliked gossip. The rumors that were spread around London were ridiculous at best and downright vicious at worst. London’s social elite, especially the ladies, had little to do but to sit around wagging their tongues about each other. The whole sordid cycle of the rumor mill made Andrew sick.

“No, has he? Everyone knows she has been with Lord Chelmsford for ages. What made her leave him for Sir Anton?”

“Well, it’s rumored that…”

“Excuse me, Aunt, but I must be going,” Andrew interrupted. He stood abruptly and bowed to the ladies, who could not keep the disappointment from their faces. He knew they both had designs on him. As a wealthyman of respectable fortune and expectation, any girl would be lucky to catch him for a husband. But he was not interested in marriage, resolving never to enter into such an arrangement. His aunt nodded and took his hand in farewell.

“Will we see you at the opening ball of the season?” Lisette asked. She was the eldest of the sisters. Lisette put forth her hand gracefully, and he took it out of obligation. She was all smiles and cordiality in public, but he knew from many sources that she was a scheming, jealous debutant that had little going on between her ears.

“You will not, Lady Lisette. I see little use for the season and can spend my time much better in furthering my business pursuits.” He let go of her hand without kissing it, as she had no doubt hoped he would do. She let her hand fall back into her lap, disappointed.

“But surely a man cannot be all work and no enjoyment?” the other sister piped up. Louise was younger by a year, even though many people thought them to be twins. She copied everything her older sister did, including falling in love with the same men. “Even a marquess must enter society some of the time to further his business pursuits, is that not so?”

“I take my enjoyments elsewhere. And as for increasing my holdings, I find that balls are the last place to do so. Balls are for women so that they might ensnare a husband. I am not in the market for a wife, nor will I ever be,” he replied with finality. Louise’s face fell. He returned his attention to his aunt. “I will see you later,” he said.

“Yes, of course,” Isolde replied. She pursed her lips to keep the smile from them. The girls had asked her to set up this meeting, and Andrew had dashed their hopes completely. Isolde was not offended, although she hoped that someday he would find a wife worthy of him, Lisette and Louise were not the kind of women who would tempt him out of the bachelor life he had chosen for himself.

He left the tearoom and began his trek back to his home. The busy streets of London were a haven for him, giving him energy as he mingled among the men of commerce in the most magnificent city in the world. He made his way to the markets, listening to the shouts and din of voices rising above the clattering of wooden cartwheels and the braying of horses. To others, the noise might be deafening, but to him, it was life.

He sat on the steps of a brick building, watching the people pass by and allowing his mind to wander. He had recently acquired another ship for his merchant business, a fast-square rigged brig that would carry cargo from his family’s holdings to America in half the time.

He and his father had made an excellent team in these ventures ever since his mother’s death. His father had taught him all the finer points of being a man: riding, hunting, and fencing. He had also instilled in him his own keen business sense, and Andrew relished every moment they spent together. But there was a finer side to them both. Andrew’s father, Albert, had raised him to appreciate the arts as well as the more manly pursuits. He loved opera, ballet, and art galleries. Unlike his peers, he went to the theater for the love of watching the play, rather than engaging in gossip and seeing who was the best dressed. For that reason, he and his father often went alone, accompanied only by his aunt and uncle.

After his mind had settled from his thoughts following the tea-room episode, he got up and returned home, taking his time on the sun-filled streets. He returned home late that afternoon; his father greeted him as he was about to walk into the drawing-room. He was a man of fifty, but still as fit as he had been in his thirties.

“My boy, I’m glad you’re home! Isolde has come to call.” He grabbed his son’s shoulder and herded him into the drawing-room where his aunt waited.

“Aunt,” he nodded in her direction. “I hope you are not too upset with me for leaving you with the ‘Two L’s’.” Andrew smirked. The sisters had gained the nickname ‘Two L’s’ because they were rarely seen apart.

“I realize you are set on resisting every advance thrown at you for finding a suitable wife. And I agree that the ‘Two L’s’ are sorely lacking in both brains and charm. But surely a man of your stature and abilities cannot honestly think to remain single for the rest of his life?” Isolde said. “I only think of your happiness, Andrew, and I am sorry for having sprung the visit on you. But the Two L’s set upon me with such fervor, I could not refuse them. Better that they should see for themselves that you are not interested in either of them. Am I wrong?”

“No, Aunt. I suppose you are right. But I will never marry, no matter who tries to cajole me into it. I am happy as I am,” Andrew said.

“Very well,” Isolde let the matter drop. She smoothed her skirts and changed the subject. She and Andrew were only eight years apart. Isolde and he had been close, her comfort and care after his mother’s death had brought them together. She had an easy manner about her and an independent spirit.

“I suppose I should be going. Charles will be wondering where I am,” she excused herself after half an hour and departed. The two gentlemen saw her off and waved as her carriage pulled away from the front door.

“So, the ‘Two L’s’?” his father asked, raising an eyebrow.

 Andrew nodded. “Silly, scheming girls that have no better thought in their heads than to trap a wealthy husband. I will not be caught by them or any other woman!” Andrew turned and went back into the house. His father followed him in a pensive mood. He did not understand his son’s vehement refusal to settle down and find a wife.

“Son, you know that your mother was the best thing that ever happened to me.” His father followed him into the study, where Andrew planned to get a little more work done before dinner.

“I know, Father. I just don’t think marriage is for me. You have been so happy these past years, had the freedom to do as you please. A woman only adds grief, as many of my friends have found out for themselves. I do not plan to be dictated to by a woman.”

His father rubbed his full beard in thought. “Yes, but not every woman is a schemer, my boy. There are women out there with superior minds that would make an excellent partner for you. I worry that when I am gone, you will have no one except Isolde. But life is not certain. I do not want to think that I have been the cause of your choice to remain single. Perhaps I should have married again, given you a mother…”

“No, Father, don’t think that. In a way, you have been my inspiration as far as remaining single goes, but not the only one. Three of my friends were married last year, and all have come to regret their choices in wives. Marriage changes a man.” Andrew laughed, trying to make light of the conversation.

His father laughed as well, shaking his head. “You have become quite the cynic over the last few years, I can see. But don’t close your heart off to love yet, my boy. You may miss out on one of life’s greatest blessings. I am not saying go out and marry the first woman you find, but I am encouraging you to simply have an open mind to the idea.”

Andrew smiled. “Alright. If it would make you happy.” Even though he had no intention of marrying, he said what his father wanted to hear so they could get back to work.

Chapter 3

Sarah walked with her cape drawn close. Although it was warm, a light drizzle had begun to fall as she and Barbara made their way to the theater. Her dance instructor had insisted they meet at the theater so she might have the room to practice her ballet. Her instructor, Madame Cecile Deluque, said she had a natural grace that many ballet dancers would kill for.

Sarah and Barbara entered by the side door of the theater and made their way to the stage. Madame Cecile was already waiting for them, along with a young woman named Elisa, who lived at the theater. She was also a ballerina. Sometimes Elisa would dance with Sarah to show her the steps. Other times, she would play the piano so she would have music to practice to.

“Ahh, my dear. How lovely you look today!” Madame Cecile greeted her, kissing her on both cheeks.

“It is lovely to see you, Madame,” Sarah replied. Madame Cecile always made her feel welcome. Indeed, she felt more at home in the theater than in her own home.

Barbara went to sit in a seat that had been provided for her next to the piano. She pulled out a book and began to read, as was her custom.

Sarah took off her cloak and slung it over the piano. She had dressed in a dance costume purchased from the theater, one of the old ones that they no longer needed. It did not fit her perfectly, as she was quite a bit larger than most ballerina’s, who tended to be extremely thin. Sarah knew that if she were ever able to really go after her dream of becoming a ballerina, she would slim down quickly with the added exercise. Even so, Madame Cecile was always kind, not picking out her faults when it came to her practice attire.

Sarah had pulled her hair up into a tight bun on the top of her head. Madame Cecile counted as the music swirled around them, and Sarah began to dance a routine that they had been working on for many weeks. She was a vision, executing the moves with precision as well as passion and emotion. Madame Cecile looked on proudly. If only she had not been born a viscount’s daughter, she would have made a superb dancer on the London stage, or even in Paris or Rome.

Their dance practice lasted for an hour. Sarah felt as if she were truly alive when she danced, and the time passed much too quickly for her. Madame Cecile applauded when they were finished.

Sarah and Barbara spent a few minutes chatting and then said their goodbyes. They would need to be back home before Sarah’s mother returned from her usual round of visits.

They left through the side door and made their way into Argyll Street. They had not gone far when Sarah heard her name being called. She turned, fearing her worst nightmare had come true, thinking it was her mother for a moment. But when she saw who it was, she did not breathe any easier.

“My dear, what are you doing coming out of the theater at this hour?” Lady Allan was one of her mother’s closest friends and was well known for collecting the latest gossip and then sharing it with the whole of London.

Sarah’s mind blanked, unable to come up with a convincing lie to tell her. She stuttered and fell over her words.

“That’s what I thought,” Lady Allen replied suspiciously. She then turned and left Sarah standing in the middle of the street. Barbara came to her aid, grabbed her arm and gently led her away. But Sarah knew that that was not the last they would hear about the confrontation. Lady Allan was a vicious gossip.

Sarah returned home and had to rush to change out of her dancing costume. She stashed it under her bed in a large white box, along with her satin slippers.

She dressed quickly, and her heart almost jumped out of her throat when she heard the front door slam shut. She closed her eyes, and Millie patted her shoulder as if to say that everything would be alright. Sarah let out a breath and allowed herself to hope that perhaps Lady Allan had kept her mouth shut for once.

“Sarah!” she heard her mother call, noting the angry tone. She closed her eyes again and let out a fearful breath.

She opened her bedroom door and peeked out. “Yes, mother?”

She could hear her mother climbing the stairs to the second floor, barreling towards her like a tidal wave seconds from crashing onto the shore. Caroline’s face became visible as she came to the top steps. She was anything but happy to see her.

“I have just seen Lady Allan, who says she saw you coming out of the theater!” She brushed past her and entered her room, turning on her with her hands on her hips. “What could you possibly be doing at the theater at this time of the day?”

Sarah again froze, unable to come up with a convincing lie. She had never been good at lying. Her mother’s eyes traveled up and down her person. Sarah hoped that she could not see how nervous she was.

“So, I see. Have you been taking ballet lessons?” her mother asked.

Sarah looked to her maid and then back to her mother. “Yes,” she said simply.

Her mother flew into a rage then. “After I expressly told you that you were not to? How have you been able to pay for them?”

“I have an allowance from Father—” Sarah began.

“You stupid girl!” her mother yelled. “And how long have you been throwing money away?”

Sarah swallowed. “A year. Mother, I want to be a ballerina. I have an excellent teacher, and she says I’m good. She says I could have a future as a ballerina on the London stage, maybe even in Paris!” She tried to reason with her, but she would not hear it.

“I forbid it. I forbid you to continue your lessons! I am cutting off your allowance,” her mother said. She then began searching her room, and quickly found her ballet clothes stashed under her bed.

“Mother, please. You don’t understand…” Sarah tried again to plead with her.

Her mother held up her hand to silence her. “You have been lying to me for the last year, and you think I’m going to listen to anything you have to say? No! I told you that proper young ladies do not dance like cheap performers on the stage. I am putting a stop to this nonsense once and for all!” Her mother took the white box to the window, and before Sarah could stop her, dumped everything out into the street. It had begun to rain, and Sarah watched in horror as her ballet costume and shoes fell into the muddy roads. She ran downstairs, her mother in hot pursuit. Sarah opened the door and ran out into the rain, not caring that she would be soaked. She tried to gather her things up before they were damaged beyond repair, but a passing carriage ran over them before she could reach them. She waited for the carriage to pass, its occupants staring at her as if she were a crazy woman.

She bent down and picked up her things, turning to go back into the house to try and salvage them.

Her mother stood in the doorway, barring her entry. “You will not bring those things back into this house. Throw them away,” she instructed coldly.

“But mother, please. This is my life. What am I to do if I don’t have this?” Sarah pleaded.

“You are to be presented this season to find a husband. That is your duty. Ladies of our station do not parade themselves on the stage,” her mother replied. She ripped the clothes and ballet shoes out of her hands and threw them back into the street. Sarah watched, letting the tears fall down her cheeks.

“Now come inside and go change. Lady Allan is coming for tea,” her mother said.

Sarah returned to her room and allowed Millie to help her change. She took down her long curls and brushed them out. Her hair would be frizzy after the dowsing in the rain, but Sarah didn’t care.

Her mother called for her to come down when Lady Allan arrived for tea. Sarah went down, her face red from crying. She sat with her mother and Lady Allan, tortured by the fact that the visitor had destroyed her dreams. She sat for as long as she could bear.

“You should really be thanking me, Sarah,” Lady Allan said smugly. “I have saved you from a life of ruin.”

Sarah turned to her but kept her retort to herself. She stood abruptly and left the room. Her mother called after her, “Sarah, come back here this instant!”

But she would not listen. She grabbed her cloak from the front door and wrapped it around her shoulders as she ran out of the house. The rain had ceased, and the sun was peeking through the clouds. Steam rose from the cobbled streets. But Sarah did not notice. She walked for a long time until she came to a small park. She made her way to a bench and threw herself down, wiping her eyes with her cloak. Barbara sat down quietly beside her and wrapped her arm around her shoulders and let her cry. Sarah had not even realized she had followed her.

“It will be alright, my dear,” Barbara said, trying to comfort her.

“It never will,” Sarah wept, “Mother will not budge. How am I to be presented properly to society if she will not even help me? She is selfish and conceited. How could someone so different to me be my relation?”

“Your mother is a special kind of woman, used to having her own way. Her only care is for remarrying, and to a wealthy man, and she wants the same for you. But I have always told you that there is more to you than that. Don’t give up on your dream, my dear,” Barbara rubbed her back and tried to calm her.

“Excuse me, but are you alright, dear?” a voice startled them.

Sarah’s eyes shot up and came to rest on a lady standing in front of her. She must have been well off, for she was dressed in a lavish silk gown and had her hair done in the latest fashion. Sarah sniffed and tried to stop her tears. The lady kindly handed her a handkerchief and sat down on the opposite side of her.

“My name is Isolde Cromwell. I don’t mean to pry, but I couldn’t help overhearing your distress. What is troubling you?”

Sarah hesitated. How did she know she could trust this person? But she was so upset, and the woman was kind enough to ask if she were alright. She swallowed her pride and decided to confide in her. “My mother has refused to allow me to take ballet lessons, but I have been taking them in secret for the last year. She has only found out today and she’s cut off my allowance and thrown my ballet costume and shoes out into the rain. They are ruined. She wants me to find a husband, but she is too concerned with her own life to even help me with my entry into society.”

Isolde listened politely, nodding as she told her woes. “Well, my dear. I know we have just met, but I have some experience when it comes to court. I would be happy to lend my expertise to you and help you with everything concerning your coming out.”

Sarah wiped again at her eyes. She was no longer crying, but her eyes and face remained puffy and red.

“I’m afraid you will have quite the project on your hands if you decide to help me. I know I am ugly, and I don’t know the first thing about conversation or dancing with a man. I’ve only ever had experience with ballet,” Sarah replied.

“You are far from ugly, my dear. I can teach you how to dress for your figure and how to converse with men. The dancing will come easily enough to you, I believe. Come to my home, and we can discuss everything over tea,” Isolde said. She stood and waited for her reply.

“I would be delighted, Madame. Thank you,” Sarah said and stood as well. Barbara nodded her approval, having listened quietly as the two ladies talked.

Chapter 4

Lady Isolde’s home was not far from the park. Thankfully, the rain did not start up again, and the clouds allowed the sun to shine through and warm them. Sarah felt her whole outlook change. Perhaps if she could show her mother that she was making efforts to do well on her coming out, she would allow her to continue her ballet lessons after all.

They entered the Cromwell home with lavish French furnishings. Sarah felt as if she were on the Riviera, the place reminding her of the places she had visited with her father all those years ago.

“I am a great supporter of the arts, as you can see,” Isolde stated, coming up next to Sarah, who was admiring an exquisite painting. The butler took her cloak and hung it up by the door. Sarah nodded, taking it all in.

“Thank you again for your kindness, Lady Isolde,” Sarah said, in awe that a stranger was treating her with such care.

“Please, call me Isolde. There is no need for formalities here,” Isolde replied, smiling. “Come into the drawing-room, and I’ll ring for some tea. Please join us, Miss…” Isolde turned to Barbara.

“Oh, I do apologize. This is my companion, Miss Barbara Middleton,” Sarah introduced them. “I was so upset that I forgot to introduce you.”

“Not to worry, my dear,” Isolde linked her arm in Sarah’s as if they had been friends for years and led her into the drawing-room. To her surprise, a young man was sitting by the window. He turned as they came into the room. He wore a smile until he saw that there were strangers entering the room. He immediately turned cold, so much so that Sarah could almost feel it.

“Ah, Andrew. I was not expecting you. Please allow me to introduce my new friends.” Isolde turned to Sarah and grabbed her hand. “This is Lady Sarah Davenport and her governess, Miss Middleton.”

Sarah and Barbara curtsied to the gentleman, and he bowed slightly in turn. He wore a scowl and seemed displeased that Isolde had brought visitors. Was this Isolde’s husband?

“This is my nephew, Lord Andrew Clayton, Marquess of Somerset. Don’t be fooled by his demeanor. He really is a fine chap, a brilliant businessman, and supporter of the arts.” Isolde came to her nephew’s side and nudged him. “Be nice,” she whispered playfully.

Sarah said nothing as Isolde invited them to sit down. Barbara took a seat further away from her and Isolde so that they could chat, taking out her book to occupy herself. Sarah and Isolde sat beside each other on the sofa, and Andrew took a chair opposite them. Isolde and Andrew dominated the conversation for a while, speaking of various family affairs and business. Sarah listened quietly, taking the opportunity to watch.

Isolde’s nephew was very handsome. He was tall and well-built, and had the air of a working man, even though he came from a titled family. His short, curly black hair framed his face, which boasted a strong jawline and dark complexion, no doubt from spending much of his time outdoors. His dark blue eyes seemed to alight with fire every time he felt passionately about something. But he barely said two words to her during his entire visit. After a while, he excused himself, begging his aunt’s pardon for having interrupted her visit with Sarah.

“Not at all, Andrew. Our visit came up quite suddenly as I was walking in the park.” Isolde turned again to Sarah. “I am going to help her with her coming out in a few weeks.”

Sarah was shocked by Lady Isolde’s declaration, still taking it in herself. She did not know what to say, elated by Lady Isolde’s kindness.

Andrew nodded. “Well, I shall leave you to your ministrations, ladies. Good day, Lady Sarah.” He bowed and left the room after taking his aunt’s hand and kissing her cheek.

Isolde watched him leave, waiting to continue their conversation. “I apologize for his abrupt manner. He is a confirmed bachelor, and I must confess that I may have overstepped my bounds in the past by presenting him with eligible young ladies. He is wary of social climbers, as is only right in some cases.”

Sarah nodded. “I understand. My mother has been pushing me to find a wealthy husband ever since I turned fifteen,” she replied.

“There will be plenty of time for finding a husband. But first, we must transform you.” Isolde began, “As I said earlier, my dear, you are far from ugly, but from what I gathered from our short conversation earlier, you have not had someone to guide you in how to dress, or arrange your hair?”

“No one. I spent much of my time with my father when I was younger, but he died when I was twelve. My mother has been obsessed with finding a husband for herself ever since.”

“Well, I am here now. We shall need to get started right away if you’re to be ready in time for the Season,’’ Isolde replied. She stood and linked her arm with Sarah’s once again. They remained in Isolde’s private rooms and spent the afternoon looking through different dresses that would flatter Sarah’s figure.

“Of course, we’ll have to have some gowns made for you, but you can see how these designs would flatter your figure much better. Your clothes are so out of date, my dear. I’m surprised by your mother’s lack of attention to such details.”

“My mother is away much of the time. It pains me to say it, but we are not on good terms. We never really have been since my father passed away.”

“I am sorry to hear that. A daughter should be able to rely on her mother. I’m sorry she hasn’t been there for you.” Isolde patted Sarah’s hand. “But tomorrow, we shall go to my dressmaker and have you fitted for new gowns.”

“My mother will pay for them,” Sarah replied. That was the one thing her mother was willing to pay for.

Isolde waved her hand. “I’m not worried about the money.”

 Sarah smiled. For the first time in her life, she felt that she had finally found a true friend.

​”The Transformation of the Bashful Lady” is now Live on Amazon!

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