Lydia Beresford felt as though she had never run so fast in her life. Having received important news from her best friend, nothing could have stopped her from racing across the street to the duke’s home, where his daughter, Dorothea Sinclair, resided. As she moved, her golden hair stuck out at odds and ends pulled by the breeze.
Sinclair House was like a second home to Lydia, so she wasted no time in letting herself in, flitting from room to room, greeting the staff as she went. They acknowledged her as they always did, with a wave and a nod or a roll of the eyes, all of them used to her charging about the place. And today, of all days, how could they blame her? Dorothea’s betrothed would be arriving earlier than planned, and the place was sure to be a hub of activity. Lydia could just imagine how excited her friend must be to finally meet the man she had been betrothed to for only two weeks, though it felt to them both like a lifetime.
“Be careful, Miss Beresford!” the housekeeper warned when Lydia very nearly crashed right into a mop bucket that one of the maids was using to hurriedly make the tiles in the entryway sparkle.
“Sorry, Mrs Barnes!” Lydia called over her shoulder to the grey-haired woman, though she did not stop, wafting the letter from Dorothea that she still had firmly clamped in hand. “I need to find Dorothea immediately!”
She did not wait to hear the housekeeper’s response, already certain that she knew exactly where her best friend would be, doing her morning sewing in the second-floor parlour as she was forced to do every morning by Lady Bramwell.
That would all be over soon. Once Dorothea was married to a gentleman associated with the French royal family, she could do whatever she pleased, and Lydia was certain that sewing would not be on that list. Her friend abhorred it. Lydia could only be glad that whenever she joined them, Lady Bramwell did not force her into sewing as well. She was much happier with a book in hand. Though today she had forgotten to bring one due to her excitement.
The moment she charged into the sun-bathed parlour, Lady Bramwell began to scold her. It was quite the usual occurrence in which Lady Bramwell reminded her that ladies did not run right before Lydia offered the older woman a kiss upon her cheek and the flash of a smile that awarded her another roll of the eyes.
“Really, Miss Beresford, it is time you started listening,” Lady Bramwell announced as Lydia dropped herself down onto the couch beside Dorothea, who looked quite pale and numb as if she had been sewing for an age. She quickly discarded the fabric she’d been working on and turned to Lydia with a brilliant smile.
“You received my letter then?” Dorothea asked, turning in her seat to look at Lydia.
“I have it right here!” Lydia announced, holding up the paper she’d clutched tightly in her mad dash across the road.
“When I received it, I feared I might be too late and that he was already here!” Lydia panted, clutching her hand to her chest, trying desperately to catch her breath so that she could ask, “Oh, isn’t this wonderful? You’re finally going to get to meet Lord Wramington.”
Though the man had no royal title, his connection to the French throne had been admired by Dorothea’s parents, and she was set to be a very rich woman. It was clear from the barely veiled smug smile on Lady Bramwell’s face that she was pleased he would be arriving early.
“Is all prepared?” Lydia asked, unable to stop herself from interrupting whatever Dorothea had been about to say. “I would hate anything to go wrong because of the changed plans. Do you think it shall be as romantic as we hoped even though he is arriving early?”
Lydia was almost bursting with excitement for her friend. But beneath that there was something else, something horrid that clawed at her stomach and made her feel a little nauseous. She stomped it down, determined not to give it any weight.
“I am sure that everything is well in hand,” Lady Bramwell announced. She did not stop her sewing as her daughter had. The lady had stuck to the same routine for what appeared to be her entire married life, and very little could sway her from it. She only glanced away from her work to fix Lydia with a stern expression as she added, “I do hope the two of you shall be on your best behaviour while he is here.”
“Why ever wouldn’t we be?” Dorothea asked, her voice soft and innocent, though they both knew that the lady’s gentle warning was aimed mainly at Lydia and her forgetfulness, which often made her mildly inappropriate when it came to important functions. She was always so excited, so tied up in the romance of everything–especially now that she and her best friend were of an age to marry and a romance of her own was within reach. A part of her was a little jealous that Dorothea’s match had been made so quickly. Dorothea, who was so cool, calm, and collected about the entire thing and merely appeared to be doing her duty, while Lydia would have revelled in the idea of meeting her match and falling head over heels in love. She did not allow herself to think about the other path that these things so often began to travel down.
Lady Bramwell did not deem her daughter’s question worthy of an answer and silently turned her attention back to her work. How can they both be so calm? Lydia thought. She was sure that if she received word that her betrothed would arrive several days earlier than planned, she would be a nervous wreck, rushing around like a headless chicken. She had been bad enough receiving the news about Dorothea’s betrothed. “So, when is he to arrive?” she asked, unable to wait any longer for more information. Why am I the only one who is excited about this?
“He shall arrive just before dinner,” Lady Bramwell announced. The grandfather clock on the other side of the room began to ding upon the hour, and the lady immediately refrained from sewing. Dorothea let out a heavy and relieved sigh, shoving her own work further away, allowing it to drop from the couch into the basket beside her feet. She leaned back and brushed a stray strand of black hair back from her face. She was quite the opposite to Lydia. Where Dorothea was raven-haired and charcoal eyed with flawless skin and a tall, slender frame, Lydia was much shorter with a curvaceous figure, golden haired with forest green eyes and a splattering of freckles upon her nose and cheekbones. The two couldn’t have been more opposite in appearance, and yet they had always been the best of friends, a most unlikely pair indeed.
“Oh, what a delightful dinner that shall be!” Lydia announced excitedly. She watched Lady Bramwell out the corner of her eye, hoping and praying that the woman might take the hint. She seemed not to as she gestured over her lady’s maid to request their usual mid-morning refreshments. Still, the woman was acting as though this was just another day. Nobody would ever be able to tell that a gentleman connected to the French royals would be attending their home that very evening. Lydia could imagine that even her own mother would have had her feathers ruffled by now.
“It is a shame everything has been brought forward,” Lydia continued, hoping she might be able to install herself at the dinner. “My parents were so hoping to be in attendance when Lord Wramington arrived.”
“Yes, I have already sent word to your dear mama,” Lady Bramwell responded once the maid had removed herself from the room. “Shall you be staying for refreshments, Miss Beresford?”
I do not wish for refreshments! Lydia wanted to scream. I wish to be invited to dinner!
She was sure she could see the corner of Lady Bramwell’s lips twitching with amusement. Could the woman possibly be toying with her? If she were, then it was a cruel game, and Lydia most definitely did not like it.
“It would be much appreciated, Lady Bramwell, for I shall be on my own for the rest of the day and most of the evening besides,” Lydia replied, hoping once more.
“Mama, ought Lydia not be at the dinner this evening?” Dorothea put in finally, and Lydia felt her heart soaring with excitement. “After all, Lord and Lady Beresford would have been in attendance if everything had gone to plan.”
Lydia’s hand instinctively moved towards Dorothea, and she need not look to know that her best friend was reaching back. They kept their gazes fixed on Lady Bramwell, both hopeful. Lydia fluttered her lashes, knowing that although Lady Bramwell often scolded her and called her unladylike, she loved her as though she were her own. She was no stranger to unruly young women, having mothered three of her own.
With a deep sigh, Lady Bramwell finally conceded, “Miss Beresford, you are well aware that you are always welcome at our table.”
The two young women squealed in excitement and began to gush to each other, wondering aloud as they had so often what Lord Wramington would be like and whether he would be as charming as they expected him to be.
“Make the most of this, ladies,” Lady Bramwell announced, voicing the fears that Lydia had been trying to stomp down for a while now. “Soon, Dorothea shall be off to France.”
The day passed much too quickly, and Lydia was forced to hurry around, trying to prepare Dorothea for her first meeting with the man who was to be her husband. She would not allow her best friend anything less than a perfect first meeting, and so she arranged and rearranged Dorothea’s raven hair until it was flawlessly placed atop her head and decorated with rubies that matched her silken gown. For her own outfit, she had chosen a forest green and gold gown to match her eye colour, choosing hair pins with little green butterflies in order not to shine too brightly beside her best friend. Everything must be perfect, she told herself repeatedly, thinking of all the romance novels she had buried her nose in over the years, much to the dismay of her parents. She had a very strong view on how these things ought to be, perhaps even too strong.
“Do you think he shall be a real prince charming?” Lydia asked, stepping back to admire the black choker with its ruby droplet she had just fastened about her best friend’s pale throat. She hoped that the stark contrast might attract Lord Wramington to notice just how slender and graceful her friend was. Dorothea’s neck had always been so pale and long, and she was often complimented on the fact, though she and Lydia had often chuckled to each other at how silly a compliment it was. Now Lydia wanted to be certain her friend used everything to her advantage. You only get one first meeting.
“I am sure he will be, though we both know he is not truly a prince.” Dorothea shrugged her slender shoulders, adjusting her silken gown as she did so. It was clear from the way she wriggled on the stool that she was already uncomfortable in the double stay her mother had insisted upon her wearing for the occasion to ensure her womanly figure was seen in all its glory. Lydia was glad she was not the one about to meet her betrothed. Her own single stay was uncomfortable enough.
“He had better be princely towards you, or I shall have something to say about it,” Lydia insisted, glaring at her friend affectionately in the mirror. The women smiled at each other and chuckled a little. Lydia tried to force down the lump in her throat that formed whenever she came to remember that this might be one of the last times they got ready for dinner together.
“You’ll be the closest thing there is to a French princess soon!” Lydia insisted, squeezing her friend’s shoulders and giving her one final once over.
“Don’t, Lydia, you are making me quite nervous!” Dorothea protested. She pushed herself to her feet and turned in Lydia’s direction. “How do I look?”
“Like French royalty,” Lydia assured her. Her best friend’s gown had been made for just this occasion, using the latest French fashions to assure Lord Wramington that his bride would fit in perfectly when they returned to his rich estate in the rolling hills of the French countryside. “Lord Wramington would be a fool not to fall for you the moment he sees you!”
Though Dorothea’s face was covered with a layer of powder and rouge, her cheeks flushed redder still.
At a knock on the door, the two women almost jumped out of their skin. Dorothea’s maid, who had been sidelined due to Lydia’s insistence on doing Dorothea’s hair herself, opened the door discreetly and shared a word with whoever was on the other side before pulling back into the room and offering the two women a curtsey.
“Miss Sinclair, Miss Beresford, your presence is requested downstairs.”
The two women glanced at each other, excitement and apprehension sparking between them. This was it, the moment they had both been preparing for their entire lives, the day when Dorothea would meet the man who was supposed to sweep her off her feet and carry her off into the sunset.
Lydia did as best as she could to trample down the mixed feelings she had begun to have as the day drew closer. She tried her hardest to focus on the romance of it all, following Dorothea down the hall and descending the townhouse staircase to the entryway where the Duke and Duchess of Sinclair were already awaiting their guest.
“Your father looks positively out of control with excitement,” Lydia hissed under her breath to Dorothea, and the two chuckled. In truth, it couldn’t have been more different. Lord Bramwell His Grace looked as he always did, stern and sour-faced. “Anyone would believe we were attending a funeral.”
“Hush! Both of you!” Lady Bramwell Her Grace glowered at them, eyeing them both down the stairs. She looked just as grim-faced as her husband, and Lydia could only hope their expressions would change when Lord Wramington arrived.
Excitement still fizzed between the two young women as they fell in beside Lady Bramwell, the duchess. Both pursed their lips to keep themselves from laughing anymore while the front door was opened to show that Lord Wramington’s carriage had arrived at the townhouse’s front steps.
Lydia waited with bated breath, standing back a little from Dorothea to allow her the moment to shine. Footsteps on the marble porch made her heart skip a beat with anticipation.
The man who appeared in the doorway was even more than Lydia had expected. She and Dorothea had often gossiped about how handsome people stated Lord Wramington was, but this man was beyond even Lydia’s wild imagination. In the dying light of the day, the man’s pale brown hair was turned golden, glowing like a halo atop his head. His sun-kissed skin suggested he spent much time out in the fresh French countryside. Wearing an outfit of fine green silk with gold accents, he was every bit a royal, even if he held no title of his own. With his connections, wealth, and appearance, he may as well have been a prince.
“Lord Wramington, I do hope the journey from Bluebell Cottage was not too traumatic for you,” Lady Bramwell said as soon as her husband had greeted the man.
“No, thank you, Your Grace,” Lord Wramington responded with a respectful bow of his head, stooping to kiss the hand that she offered him as though he were any other gentleman. “It was quite a pleasant journey, not too far outside London.”
“Good, good.” Lady Bramwell smiled. She actually looks pleased! Lydia thought. It was exceedingly difficult to please the old lady, though Lydia was certain that anyone would be a fool not to be charmed by the man who stepped up to be introduced to Dorothea.
“Lord Wramington, may I introduce you to my daughter, Miss Dorothea Sinclair,” Lord Bramwell announced, gesturing Lord Wramington down to the young lady he had come to meet. Lydia’s heart stopped for her best friend, watching as the gentleman stepped up to stand before her and bowed, offering her his hand. Dorothea blushed artfully, placing her palm in his and smiling when he kissed her hand just like he had her mother’s.
“Miss Sinclair, it is my greatest honour to finally meet you,” Lord Wramington assured her, and Lydia couldn’t help thinking how odd it was that although the man’s voice was peppered with a French accent, he wasn’t nearly as difficult to understand as she had imagined.
Well, he’s polite and definitely not ugly, Lydia thought, relieved for her friend. Though she did have to admit that she had been expecting a little more from their first meeting. She wasn’t sure what she had expected, but it had most certainly been more than this.
“I assure you the honour is all mine, Lord Wramington,” Dorothea announced, removing her hand from his to gesture him to Lydia. “Please, allow me to introduce you to my dearest friend, daughter to the Earl of Sutton, Miss Lydia Beresford.”
Lydia was surprised by the shock that rushed up her arm when she placed her palm in his.
“I am pleased to meet any friend of Lady Sinclair’s,” he assured her, and Lydia noticed for the first time that his eyes were a pale olive green that danced with darker flecks of green and brown. He never took them off hers, leaning down to kiss her knuckles.
“Pleased to meet you, Lord Wramington,” Lydia said, curtseying and forcing her gaze away from the man’s, reminding herself this was Dorothea’s betrothed, not her own. She couldn’t afford to get lost in the romance of it all, not now.
Dinner was a pleasant affair just as Lydia had expected it to be, though she noticed that the Duke of Sinclair and Lord Wramington carried most of the conversation. They talked about how the duke had been friends with William Wramington’s father for as long as William had been alive, how the last time Lord Bramwell had seen him, William had been little more than a babe in leading strings, and that was a terrible shame on the duke’s part.
The Duchess of Bramwell often tried to interject her daughter into the conversation, encouraging Dorothea to talk with her betrothed, yet seeing her friend’s discomfort, Lydia had been forced to intervene more than once.
She still remembered how Lord Wramington had smiled at her intently whenever she had answered, speaking into the silence caused by Dorothea’s stumbling. She couldn’t help worrying that her friend might be ill, perhaps coming down with a fever. It was most unlike her to be speechless.
Yet Lydia had no trouble stepping into the conversation. In fact, she had quite enjoyed herself, learning of Lord Wramington’s love for reading and nature, his affection for riding through the French countryside on horseback or taking in the sea air. She watched the way his olive-green gaze sparked as he spoke of his hobbies, how he had been so content to talk of such mundane things, how he had made the French countryside sound so pleasant and romantic and how a part of her longed to ride through it on horseback herself.
By the end of the dinner, she was quite enamoured with the man who would be her best friend’s husband, and she was most shocked when Dorothea announced the moment they were alone, “I do not like him!”
Lydia stood in the first-floor parlour where Dorothea dragged her when the elder Sinclairs went to see their guest out.
“You … you do not like him?” Lydia gaped at her friend, who dropped down onto the nearest couch with her head in her hands, looking absolutely beside herself.
“Oh, Lydia, what am I to do? This is dreadful!” Dorothea exclaimed. Her shoulders trembled, and her knees were bouncing with anxiety beneath the skirts of her gown.
“Oh, Thea, it can’t possibly be that bad,” Lydia insisted. She crossed the large parlour, relieved that the drapes had been pulled closed and they were protected from the outside world, who would judge Dorothea harshly for her words. “Did you not find him handsome?” I did.
“Oh, yes, he was handsome,” Dorothea admitted with a nod. She lifted her head from her hands and looked at Lydia with tears in her eyes. “But I didn’t … I didn’t feel …”
Even before her friend could find the words, Lydia responded, “You didn’t feel a spark.”
She had read enough romance novels to know exactly what her friend was talking about. From the moment Dorothea and William Wramington had locked hands in the entryway, Lydia had sensed that something was missing. Perhaps it was due to how quiet her friend had been, unable to make conversation.
“Oh, Lydia, what am I to do?” Dorothea wailed. “I am to marry a man I am not attracted to!”
Lydia’s stomach clenched. She could think of nothing worse.
“Do not lose hope, Thea,” Lydia said. She placed a hand on Dorothea’s shoulder and squeezed. “I am sure that once you get to spend time with him, you will find him much more agreeable.”
Lydia closed her eyes and pictured the man with his pale brown hair and olive-green eyes, the way he had looked at her so intently across the dinner table, and how he had smiled at every word she spoke in place of her best friend. She found him quite agreeable, so why was Dorothea so against him?
“Do you think so?” Dorothea asked, sniffling. It was clear that she was struggling to hold back tears.
“I do. Will you at least try to give him a chance?” Lydia suggested, her heart squeezing for the man who Dorothea had already set herself against. Lydia was nervous. Once Dorothea had her mind set on something, it was almost impossible to change. Poor Lord Wramington.
“Do you believe I should?” Dorothea asked, “I mean, you believe him to be worth it, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course!” Lydia exclaimed quickly, “I do believe the two of you would make a fine couple.”
Even as she spoke, Lydia felt something clawing at her stomach. It had to be her anticipation at the thought of losing her best friend. It couldn’t possibly be anything else.
“Then I will try my best,” Dorothea assured her, cupping Lydia’s hand in her own, “For you.”
The knot in Lydia’s stomach tightened.
Dinner had gone off without a hitch. Bluebell Cottage was entirely silent upon the gentleman’s return home. Yet it did not remain that way for long. He practically barrelled into it the moment he let himself through the front door.
“Well, how did it go?” The heavy French accent reminded Colin how dreadfully poor his own had been during dinner. “Did they believe you to be me?”
Colin didn’t answer right away. Instead, he pulled off the uncomfortably thick green and gold dinner jacket he had been forced to wear and hung it up on the nearest peg beside the door, knowing it would be gone by morning once one of the servants found it.
“Colin, do not keep me waiting any longer!” William whined, and Colin turned to the French nobleman with a brilliant smile upon his sun-kissed face.
“The evening went off without a hitch,” he assured the man, who looked as though he was positively ready to burst with anticipation. True to his usual self, William stood in the entryway looking quite like a frightened mouse, clearly second-guessing the rebellious notion he’d had to send Colin in his place. “Don’t look quite so frightened, William. All was well.”
“And the woman?” William asked, “The woman my father has chosen for me?”
Pity for William clawed at Colin’s stomach. The two had been friends for as long as he could remember and knowing just how controlling and manipulative William’s family were, Colin had jumped at the chance to have a little fun at their expense.
“She is quite beautiful,” Colin announced, thinking for only a moment of the raven-haired beauty he had been sent to meet before his mind stole away to thoughts of a forest-green-eyed woman who had sat loyally at the duke’s daughter’s side all evening. The golden-haired earl’s daughter had been all too happy to step in whenever Lady Dorothea Sinclair appeared lost for words.
“What else?” William insisted, and Colin was forced back to reality.
“She was nice and very quiet. Perhaps one might even say she was shy,” Colin announced, and with a smirk, he added, “I do believe the two of you would get on handsomely.”
William appeared horrified at this, his mouth gaping open before he began to shake his golden head.
“No, no, I have decided. I am sticking to my gut instinct on this one,” William insisted, still shaking his head. “I shall not allow my parents to sway me this time.”
Colin bit back the urge to laugh. William had never been able to tell his parents no, and Colin was still amazed at the fact William had not already called off their plan to rebel against his arranged marriage.
Even sitting at the Sinclairs’ dining table that night, Colin had half expected William to burst in and mark him out as an imposter. The frayed edge of William’s shirt where he had been picking at the thread told Colin it had taken everything in him not to. The man was a bundle of nerves.
“If you do not like Lady Dorothea Sinclair, she has a rather interesting friend,” Colin announced, thinking of the golden-haired earl’s daughter once more. “A Lady Lydia Beresford. She is quite lovely.”
William rolled his brown eyes at that and crossed his arms over his chest. “Would you concentrate on the matter at hand?”
“Am I not?” Colin countered with a shrug. “An attachment to Lady Dorothea’s best friend would almost certainly end this whole charade.”
Horror again flashed through William’s expression. “You are supposed to be keeping a low profile, merely handling the situation until I can convince my parents that this marriage could never work!” William almost cried the words in his shrill, heavy French accent. “Do not get me involved in a scandal that might endanger any future prospect of marriage.”
Colin raised an eyebrow at his friend. They both knew there was little chance of that happening. William was a veritable recluse. This was the first time he had ever stepped foot outside of France, and ever since arriving in England, he had not set foot outside Bluebell Cottage, almost barricading himself in his study at the mere mention of the Sinclairs.
Unwilling to make his friend feel worse than he already was, Colin laughed and nodded, “I will try to be on my best behaviour.”
Though he had promised his closest friend to do his utmost not to cause any trouble, Colin found he could only think of one person as they settled into the library for a stiff drink. Though the conversation had been entirely upon himself and Lady Dorothea Sinclair for most of the evening, it had been Lady Lydia Beresford who had utterly caught his attention. She had captivated him with her forest-green eyes and how the candlelight from the sticks upon the table had danced in the reflection of her irises.
Lady Lydia is the one to watch out for, Colin decided, certain that even if it were not a case of getting close to the best friend, he was adamant that she would likely be his best bet for getting William the outcome that he desired.
Long after they had finished their conversation about the fairly mundane and even boring dinner, Colin asked, “Are you quite certain that the best friend is not the way to go?”
William looked quite confused but then understanding washed over his face, and his cheeks reddened, puffing up with exasperation.
“Colin, I am entirely certain that this entire plan was a bad idea from the very beginning!” William wailed, and Colin rolled his eyes at his friend’s dramatics. There was no way that William could ever marry when he was almost as hysterical as any woman Colin had ever met.
“Calm yourself, Willy. I am only jesting you,” Colin assured him, though the clenching in his stomach said differently. He forced down the feeling and drained his glass. It had been a long night, and he was more than ready for his bed.
“An Irresistible Lord in Disguise” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Lydia Beresford and her best friend have always yearned to live a passionate romance. The day her friend will meet her royal husband-to-be has arrived and Lydia is determined to ensure that nothing will go wrong. Except, everything will… The future bride does not seem to have any interest in her betrothed, but an intimate touch between Lydia and her friend’s seductive beau is enough to fulfil her fantasies/set her heart on for. She risks crossing the dangerous line between desire and friendship…
Will she realise that she is playing dangerously close with fire?
Lord Colin Carr knows that he must soon leave his wicked life behind and inherit his title as the new Duke of Carrington. However, when his close royal friend convinces him to change identities to help him destroy his arranged betrothal with a woman he does not know, he can not hlp but accept the challenge. Yet, while pretending to be the French Prince, his eventful encounter with Lydia will change his plans.
If only he could reveal his identity and learn what scandalous love is to Lydia …
Lydia and Colin find themselves trapped between lies and lustful feelings. When their passion grows irresistibly, revelations and jealous rivals will threaten to tear them apart, wiill Colin confess the truth? Will Lydia find the courage to show what lies deeper in her heart? Will they manage to save their sinful affair amid all the schemes and deceit?
“An Irresistible Lord in Disguise” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.