Read A Useful Woman (Rosalind Thorne Mysteries #1) - Darcie Wilde

PROLOGUE

When the Dance Finishes Early

LONDON, FEBRUARY 15, 1812

When she told the story afterward, Rosalind would say the noise woke her. The truth was, however, she had never actually been asleep.

She’d come home unusually early from the Wednesday ball at Almack’s. She’d been tempted to stay, but if she did, she knew she’d have blurted out her secret. As it was, she feared she’d given herself away.

No. That is not possible. No one noticed anything. They would have spoken out.

Her acquaintances among the assembly would just assume her high color and her breathlessness came from the dancing. Who wouldn’t be excited? It was every well-bred girl’s dream to be allowed to waltz in Almack’s famous rooms.

Perhaps I should have stayed. Rosalind tiptoed into her own, far more modest chamber. Annie, the upstairs maid, trailed behind with the lamp, yawning and blinking. No. Leaving looked odd, but staying would have been far worse. Rosalind wasn’t sure whether she should laugh or cry at her own lack of discretion and discipline. She’d been unable to keep her eyes from Devon. She smiled and blushed every time he glanced toward her, and that was a countless number of times. Worse, she was tripping over everybody else’s feet because she kept looking for him in the crowd instead of paying attention to her partner. She’d needed to have a headache and leave before someone said something out of turn to Mother. She’d write to Devon later, probably through his cousin Louisa, and explain the reason for her sudden departure. He would understand.

Mother had been put out, of course. Mother never left any party early if she could help it. She did, however, agree that Rosalind could take the carriage and her maid, as long as she sent both straight back as soon as she got home.

Rosalind peered into the boudoir she shared with her older sister, Charlotte. Charlotte had stayed home with her own headache, which might or might not have been real. Rosalind was inclined, this once, to believe that it was. Despite the fact it was barely midnight, Charlotte looked to be asleep in bed, wrapped up tightly in her covers.

It’s just as well. Rosalind closed the door so as not to disturb Charlotte while Annie, fumbling, and still yawning, got her ready for bed. I have to think. I have to plan.

Because tonight Devon Winterbourne had made his intentions perfectly clear. He hadn’t gone so far as to actually propose, of course, but he nearly had. Rosalind felt her blush rising again, and was glad the room was dim enough that the maid couldn’t see her color.

I must calm down.

She also must decide exactly how to tell Charlotte about Devon. She couldn’t be giggling and girlish when they spoke. Depending on her mood, Charlotte was as likely to laugh in her face as she was to help, and Rosalind was going to need help. Neither Mother nor Father was going to look favorably on an alliance with Devon Winterbourne, certainly not at first. Mother had ambitions for Rosalind as well as for Charlotte, and Father was determined the girls should marry into fortunes, not just titles.

“My bright stars are not to be hidden out on fusty old estates!” Father cried. “They are meant to shine in the heights of heaven!”

Father was fond of making speeches like that. But he truly meant this one, and therein lay the problem. Devon was the son of a duke, but he was a scorpion, a second son, with limited prospects of his own. By prospects, of course, everyone meant money. His brother, Hugh, was young and strong, if profligate. Hugh Winterbourne also had women trailing after him in long strings, any of which he might marry at any moment. So there was next to no chance of Devon ever inheriting the title. Worse, Devon had a reputation of being under the thumb of his devout, reclusive mother. This wasn’t true, of course, but it was the gossip.

But if Rosalind could get Charlotte on her side, she’d stand a much better chance with both parents. Charlotte had Father’s ear, and she always knew best how to manage Mother.

Rosalind climbed into her bed and let down the curtains, but she lay awake with her blood fizzing in her veins and her mind tumbling over every detail of the moment: Devon’s hesitation, the way his hand felt in hers, how they’d danced and they’d laughed and stepped on each other’s feet. Neither one of them could waltz worth a ha’penny,