For your reading pleasure… A sweet Regency that was first published in the Australian Woman’s Day
Miss Beauchamp Meets Her Match
Miss Sophie Beauchamp watched the mole above Lord Spofforth’s mouth jump and twitch as he offered her his hand in marriage.
It was not a clearly delineated mark like a beauty spot or the black silk patches she’d found in old Lady Merton’s silver pounce box one day. More like a smudge of chocolate, really, or a splash of gravy. It clung to his lordship’s long upper lip, expanding and contracting as his mouth formed those hackneyed phrases she’d heard too many times before.
Spofforth collapsed like a lanky marionette to one knee before her and she leaned toward him to examine the blemish more closely. Was it gravy? She had the strongest urge to whisk out her handkerchief and wipe the offending spot clean.
But no. On closer inspection, she confirmed her original assessment. It was a mole, an ‘ever-fixed mark’, as the sonnet said. Poor Spofforth. Perhaps she might suggest—tactfully, of course—that he grow a nice, bushy, military-style moustache?
Sophie drew back and surveyed his thinning, sandy hair.
Hmm. Perhaps not.
Spofforth worked to a crescendo of simulated passion. “Dearest Miss Beauchamp, I have admired you from afar…”
Oh, dear. She hoped he wouldn’t try to kiss her.
She supposed she ought to listen to his addresses, pretend she trusted the false sincerity in those protuberant blue eyes. But Spofforth was the twenty-third gentleman who had proposed to her since her début, and the properties of his peculiar lip blemish interested her far more than a speech she’d heard twenty-two times before.
They all wanted her inheritance, of course. Uncle Henry turned gazetted fortune hunters away—drove them from his library with the force of his sour expression, most likely—but he didn’t discourage impoverished peers with sound lineage or needy gentlemen with social éclat. He’d hustled her out to the terrace to hear Lord Spofforth’s offer with all the finesse of a farmer driving cattle to market. In the middle of a ball, no less.
So, here knelt another candidate hopeful of stealing her wealth with little more effort than it required to stand before a parson and say ‘I do’. After an ill-fated attempt to repair his fortune at the gaming tables the previous evening, word had it Spofforth was ruined.
Rolled up. Pockets-to-let, as her cousin Charlie would say.
“Darling Miss Beauchamp…” Shifting his weight from one bony, satin-clad knee to the other, Lord Spofforth beseeched her to be his.
Recognising her cue, Sophie launched into her own speech. “Lord Spofforth, sensible as I am of the great honour you do me, I fear I cannot marry you.”
The mole quivered. “M-may I ask why?”
Why did they always question her? As if her answer could ever appease them. As if they might argue the point and convince her she was wrong.
“Well…” Sophie took a deep breath. “I am running away to become a nun. Tomorrow. Or perhaps tonight, I am not entirely certain.”
“Ah.” Spofforth abruptly sat back on his heels, his long-fingered hands clasped between his bony knees.
“Ah.” He swallowed, but his delightfully energetic Adam’s apple could not quite compete with the fascination of the mole. “A commendable ambition, I’m sure.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “Of course, I shall donate all my worldly goods to the poor.”
The mole danced frantically. “All?”
“All,” she said firmly.
“Even Montague Hall?”
“Particularly Montague Hall. The Sisters plan to convert it into an orphanage, you know.”
Spofforth’s eyes goggled, then narrowed, and his thin, hooked nose twitched with suspicion. Sophie kept her face bland and serene, an expression more suited to Bride of Christ than Bride of Spofforth, she hoped.
His lordship unfolded his long limbs and rose with dignity to his feet. She waited, half hoping he would challenge her, expose her ridiculous bluff, but it seemed he was too much of a gentleman.
Gentlemen often disappointed her that way.
“I will leave you, Miss Beauchamp.” He gave a crack of sardonic laughter. “Perhaps you might pray for my soul. I’m off to blow my brains out.”
He turned on his heel and stalked away. In the direction of the refreshment parlour, she noticed. An unusual choice as a setting for suicide. Perhaps they kept duelling pistols there along with the tea and ratafia cakes.
“Au revoir, then,” Sophie said.
Despite her levity, Spofforth left her feeling strangely forlorn. With a shiver, she rose from the cool stone bench and drifted to the balustrade, her slippers hushing over the terrace floor.
Coloured lanterns glimmered through the gardens below, bobbing and winking like fireflies in the breeze. The night was fine, and a scattering of couples strolled together along gravelled paths.
How she wished…
The muted clap of a pair of gloved hands made her spin around. At the far end of the terrace, a tall, dark gentleman stepped out of the shadows. Clearly, he had overheard that abominable exchange.
Moonlight picked out his pearly white shirt points and cravat as he moved toward her. Then it illuminated the strong, handsome lines of his face.
Lord Alistair Charters. Sophie’s heart bounded into her throat then plummeted to the soles of her feet.
“You,” she said. “What are you doing, lurking out here?”
His eyebrows shot up. “Eavesdropping, of course.”
Leaning against the balustrade, he allowed his gaze to sweep over her. “You know, Sophie, I don’t think you’d be suited to a nunnery.”
“Don’t you?” she said dryly.
“Of course not. But then, you refused young Bentley because you had some sort of wasting disease, didn’t you? And poor Osmond was quite bewildered when you couldn’t marry him for reasons of national security.” He tilted his head. “What an arrant little liar you, are, Sophie. I’m sure they have rules against such things in convents.”
His words stung, but she didn’t wish to examine the reason. “That’s none of your concern, is it?”
“I could make it my concern.” The smile he gave her did strange, melting things to her insides. Softly, he said, “If you must run away, run away with me.”
She gasped. “Are you mad?”
“No madder than you, my love.” He took her hand. “I do love you, you know.”
She could scarcely breathe for the thrill of hearing those magical words. Did she only imagine she could feel the warmth of his palm through their gloves?
Sophie stared up into his deep, dark eyes. How could such a magnificent creature have fallen in love with her? Plain-featured, plain-spoken Sophie Beauchamp?
He drew her hand to his lips. “Marry me, Sophie.”
Those fatal words killed her delight. Everyone knew Lord Alistair needed a rich wife. But he’d never tried to fix his interest with her, merely stood back with that cynical curve of his lips and watched her fortune-hunting suitors parade by.
She’d thought he was different. She’d been wrong.
“No. Please don’t,” she whispered, her voice wavering. “Please. Not you, as well.”
His smile faded, and a hard, intent look took its place. “I see I’ll have to convince you.”
Swiftly, he leaned in and kissed her.
His lips clung to Sophie’s, gentle and hot and insistent, and the most startling and unprecedented sensations flooded her being. Her hand drifted up to touch his face.
When the kiss ended, it was he who drew back.
“There,” he said, his voice a little husky. “Think on that before you go to sleep tonight.”
Sophie’s knees wobbled as she watched him stroll back into the ballroom. She felt around behind her to grip the balustrade for support.
“Dear Lord!” she whispered. Could he really want her and not her cursed fortune?
“Sophie!” Uncle Henry hurried toward her. He always looked as if he had a bad taste in his mouth and a foul smell under his nose. “Where’s Spofforth? What are you doing out here, all alone?”
“I…” Words failed her. Utterly. She couldn’t take her eyes off Lord Alistair’s tall figure as he paused to greet someone near the entrance to the ballroom.
Uncle Henry said, “I passed Lord Alistair Charters going in. Did he speak to you at all?”
When Sophie remained silent, her uncle shook his head. “No, I daresay he didn’t. Now, there’s a splendid catch! Came into a pile of money last week, you know. Rich enough to buy an abbey.”
“You mean…” Sophie’s silly heart leapt up and did a step-dance. “Uncle! You mean Lord Alistair Charters is a wealthy man?”
“Dear me, yes! I daresay he can look as high as he likes for a bride now.”
“Really?” Warmth spread in her chest. He didn’t need her money! “How… fascinating.”
Lord Alistair turned, then, and their eyes met, and her heart flipped over.
Perhaps she would not run away to that convent, after all.