Ah, a Regency house party! What better place to snare a husband than at a grand estate where there could be several very marriageable gentlemen in attendance? That’s how Miss Grace Love sees it. To her, going to a house party is the equivalent of going to the marriage mart shopping mall!
“These chaps were miles behind me,” Shelton continued, looking at Graeme and raising a taunting brow while a smirk played at his lips. “I had half expected to be done with my breakfast before either of them rounded the tree and turned back to Heathcote.”
“I should think not!” Max argued. “Graeme nearly overtook you at one point, and I was not so very far behind him.”
“How exciting!” Grace chirped. “To the victor must go the spoils; therefore, Mr. Shelton shall have the first muffin!” She hurried over to the table that had been set out and lifted the cloth from the bowl of muffins, keeping the bowl in her possession until Shelton had seen Bea seated and then had taken his own seat. Only then, Grace held out the muffins to him with a bit of a flourish, and after he had selected a nice plump cake from the top of the pile, she replaced the cloth and seated herself next to him.
Bea’s lips twitched, and she shot a knowing glance toward Graeme. Grace had been arranging things so that she could be seated near Shelton ever since the day after their picnic — the day when she had played shuttlecock with him. It was obvious to anyone who was paying the smallest amount of attention that Grace was interested in capturing the gentleman’s notice.
“Mr. Everett Clayton has been invited to the Abernathy’s house party. Is that not the best news?” Grace said as she carefully sipped tea from her cup.
A breeze tugged at the cloths covering the food on the table as if it wished to make a plate of breakfast for itself. Bea looked at Everett, whose cheeks had grown the faintest bit rosy.
“Is this good news?” Graeme asked his brother pointedly, not caring that it flustered him. His heart did not know whether to rejoice at the news or be saddened. If his brother was gone, he could have Bea all to himself and perhaps convince her of his worth. However, he also knew that if Everett was delighted to attend a house party, he was very likely fully lost to Felicity and such news would make Bea unhappy, and he could not bear the thought of her being unhappy even if it would lead to his own happiness.
“It is not bad news. A house party is always a good time,” Everett replied.
Graeme glanced at Bea and was relieved to see that she did not appear to be distressed by his brother’s reply.
“Yes,” Shelton agreed with a sly smile, “house parties can be a grand time as long as you avoid the true purpose of them.”
Grace blinked. “Whatever do you mean?”
“He means he enjoys flirting but not enough to be leg-shackled,” Graeme supplied.
Bea hid her smile behind her cup.
“You do not wish to marry?” Grace asked as if such an idea was the most ridiculous one in all the world.
“Grace,” Felicity chided softly.
“It is not that I do not wish to marry. I just do not wish to marry now,” Shelton said, picking a morsel of cake off of his plate and popping it into his mouth. “There is plenty of time for marriage when I am older.”
A bird song rang out from a branch of the tree overhead.
Shelton looked up. “Even the creatures agree, you see,” he said with a smile.
“Do you fear it? Or is it just the giving up of freedom that keeps you from the marital state?” Bea’s hand flew to her mouth. “Forgive me. That was most improper.”
[from His Beautiful Bea]
For Roger Shelton, they are not as fun. He does not relish the idea of being confined to an estate with several marriage-minded young ladies and their matchmaking chaperones. However, Mr. Shelton is going to be attending the Abernathy’s house party — even if he is not broadcasting that fact to the people gathered at Heathcote in the excerpt above.
If you wish to read more about Regency house parties, I found these two articles to be interesting and informative: The Delights of a Regency House Party (Regina Scott) http://www.reginascott.com/houseparty.html Regency House Parties (Donna Hatch) http://donnahatch.com/regency-house-parties/
So why exactly is Mr. Shelton going to a house party if he does not enjoy them? Well, for a couple of reasons…
Roger Shelton slumped down on the cream-coloured settee in the far corner of the Abernathy’s drawing room next to a pretty young lady whom he knew would not bat her lashes at him or smile coyly as all the other eager young women at this house party seemed wont to do. Not that he blamed them, of course. He would make a fine catch if he were ready to be caught.
“Why must we attend these things?” The petite blonde next to him whispered.
“Because neither you nor I are married, and our parents wish to be rid of us,” Roger replied.
How often had he heard his mother bemoaning his unmarried state to her mother, who would return her own tale of woe about having an unwed daughter? It seemed to be a frequent bent in nearly every conversation when their two families gathered for tea or a dinner or whatever excuse either her mother or his could conjure for themselves to be together.
“Perhaps your mother would like to see someone take over your care, but my father is not anxious to send me packing,” his companion retorted.
Roger chuckled. He enjoyed these moments of unfettered banter with his friend. She would speak openly to him, for she wanted nothing from him. Not a kiss, not a dance, not a marriage – with her, he was free to be himself. Even if that did often lead to her scolding him.
“Is that so, Vic? Then why do you suppose your father gave me this,” he withdrew a small packet from his pocket and handed it to her. “I was to deliver it to you here with the accompanying message that he trusts your decisions but would like to meet the chap before the vows are read.”
With a resounding thump, Victoria Hamilton’s right hand connected with Roger’s chest causing him to exhale quickly. She was not one to pull her punches as some chits might. She did not care one jot if Roger thought her less than delicate, and he liked that about her.
“He said nothing of the sort. You are the worst liar – no! I cannot say that. I know you to be a very good liar – but in this, you shall not deceive me.”
“It was worth a try,” Roger admitted, rubbing his slightly sore spot on his chest where she had hit him.
He had known she would not believe him. Her father was too kind to tease in such a fashion, and he was in no rush to see his darling daughter given away to anyone.
“Your father did give me that package for you. That is the truth. As is the fact that my mother suggested I take a good turn through the ladies of the room looking for more than pleasant curves and a willing smile.”
“You are dreadful!”
Roger placed a hand on his heart. “I promise you she said that very thing. Mother is not known for her delicacy when chiding me.” In that way, Victoria was a lot like his mother. “There was also something in the diatribe about grandchildren before she turned her toes up.” He shot a devilish grin at his friend.
“Do not say it,” Victoria hissed.
It amused him how her expression was appropriately appalled at the mere thought of what he was about to say. She did know him well. Of course, her expression would not prevent him from continuing.
[from His Darling Friend]
^^That’s one reason. He’s placating his mother. Another reason for his attendance has to do with the friend sitting next to him. It’s her birthday, and Roger would never miss Victoria’s birthday.
His Darling Friend is a Touches of Austen story. Touches of Austen stories are original sweet Regency romances with deliberate nods to a Jane Austen novel. (They are not variations or retellings.)
His Darling Friend pays homage to Emma, a Jane Austen novel in which two very good friends discover they love each other. There will be some attempts at matchmaking and likely some blundering along the way. I am not entirely certain how it is all going to play out just yet as I am still in the process of writing the story.
However, at the time of this posting, you can follow Roger and Victoria’s adventures at the Abernathy’s house party because this story is posting on my blogs on Tuesdays.
You are invited to attend the Abernathy’s house party!
(Grace would be so excited for you.)
Chapter one posted last week, and Chapter two, in which Miss Grace Love makes an appearance, posted today. I’d be very happy to have you join me in this story’s journey by reading along and leaving comments when you feel inspired to do so.
Did you know?
The title of this story — His Darling Friend — was selected based on the following passage from Emma by Jane Austen.
“My dearest Emma,” said he, “for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour’s conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma—tell me at once. Say ‘No,’ if it is to be said.”—She could really say nothing.—”You are silent,” he cried, with great animation; “absolutely silent! at present, I ask no more.”
That is, of course, part of the scene where Mr. Knightley wishes to know if he has any chance of ever being more than just Emma’s friend. (The Hugh Thomson illustration I used above is from this scene in the book.)
I considered using both the words dearest and beloved in the title for this story. However, since a Touches of Austen story only hints at the novel which inspires portions of it, I decided that using a different word not used here but having the meaning of beloved would be much more fitting.
His Darling Friend is the second installment in my Touches of Austen Series of stories. Book one, His Beautiful Bea, can be found on Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited. And book three? Well, that one is only a sparkle in this author’s imagination at present, but the plan is to release both books 2 and 3 in the fall of 2019. (So, I’ll definitely be writing that one soon!)