A Breach of Promise

By: Victoria Vane

Acknowledgments



My heartfelt thanks to my family, and special friends Jill, Jerelyn and Deanna, for their support and encouragement in this new endeavor. Most of all, my gratitude to my great editor, Kahli Reid, who saw the promise in the first draft of this story and gave me the guidance I needed to make it shine.





Prologue

Derbyshire, England—1742



Lydia Albinia Trent was giddy with anticipation as her new abigail Molly slid the fine silk over her petticoat and stays. Lydia ran her fingers over the luxurious fabric with sheer delight. It was a custom-made confection of soft, petal pink with white bows and matching pink, satin slippers specially ordered for this momentous occasion and her first silk gown.

Now dressed, Molly put the finishing touches to Lydia’s hair, pinning her usual braids into a ladylike coronet atop her head and ornamenting the coiffure with pink ribbon and white roses.

A soft tap sounded at the door. “Are you ready, my dear?” her father called through the wooden panel. “The guests are nearly all arrived.”

“One minute more, Papa!” Lydia called. With a deep intake of breath, she stood and turned to the pier glass, expecting to behold a young lady of sophistication, one who would prove to Marcus she was now a woman grown. To her chagrin, the image that greeted her fell short of her expectations. Beribboned and bowed in pink and white, Lydia was struck by the ludicrous thought that she more closely resembled her birthday cake.

She exited her room and dipped into her well-practiced curtsey. “Do you approve, Papa?” she asked with uncertainty.

His warm, dry lips brushed her cheek. “You are the image of your dear Mama.” He pulled her hand to the crook of his elbow. “Shall we, my dearest treasure?”

Lydia had looked forward to her engagement party to Marcus Russell since…well…since as long as she could remember. She had thought herself the happiest girl in the world to know that such a dashing, young man would one day be hers. Now, with the arrival of her seventeenth birthday, it would become official at last.

Although the event was an intimate gathering with only family and close friends in attendance, Lydia was still a bundle of nerves, descending on her father’s arm with a tremulous smile and a racing pulse. As she reached the bottom of the staircase, she bit her lip and her gaze flickered over the assemblage of well-wishers, seeking the one who made her heart race and knees quiver.

“Where is he?” she whispered. “Where is Marcus?” She had expected him to be first to receive her. Seized with trepidation, she looked to her father for reassurance.

Sir Timothy covered her small hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Have no fear, child, he will be here. Any number of things might have delayed him in London.”

Though her father’s words and manner were confident, she could detect the anxiety behind his eyes. “Of course you are right, Papa,” she replied with a serenity she could not feel. In this nightmare daze of distraction, Lydia moved about the room to greet her guests.

“Lord and Lady Russell.” With heat stealing into her cheeks, Lydia made her deepest obeisance to the parents of the elusive groom-to-be. Pasting on a false smile, she fought the nervous churning of her stomach and grappled the powerful urge to flee back to her chamber.

“My dear girl, how lovely you look!” Lady Russell kissed both of her cheeks and gushed, “Your mother would have been so very proud.”

“Enchanting, simply enchanting,” Lord Philip Russell agreed, all the while stealing anxious glances to the doorway. In obvious embarrassment, he conjured several possible, if unlikely, scenarios for Marcus’ delay. Lydia murmured an appropriate reply but refused to meet their discomfited gazes.

After waiting nearly two hours for the missing bridegroom, the elaborate dinner proceeded in an awkward but telling silence. Too mortified to raise her eyes from her plate, Lydia picked at each course, fighting back tears and wishing with all her heart that the earth would just swallow her up.

At the meal’s conclusion, after all had given up any hope, the antechamber echoed with the sound of raucous laughter. With glazed eyes and drink-induced affability, Marcus Russell burst into the dining room to execute an unsteady and over-flourished bow.

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