When Lady Daphne Battencourt’s uncle arranges for her to marry a wealthy, but vulgar, tradesman, she is resigned to her fate as the token wife of a heartless man. But after she realizes she would rather spend her life in service than marry without love, she finds herself in the role of lady’s maid to the mother of a very handsome gentleman. Unfortunately, Mr. Mattingly is already betrothed. Only Daphne’s rekindled faith can help her find her way.
“Maid to be a Bride by Jan Wallace Reber is a captivating romance that contrasts the best and worst aspects of England’s Regency period. Modern readers will savor this story in which courageous Lady Daphne Battencourt and chivalrous Jules Mattingly battle cultural pressures, unfair inheritance laws, and evil manipulators to affirm their faith and their love.”
– Rachael Phillips, Author of Guilty Treasures, Recipe for Deception, and several biographies.
Read an excerpt of MAID TO BE A BRIDE
The heavy, ornately carved door of the study was closed. Ever since Uncle took her father’s place as the Earl of Claremont, many rooms of her home were now closed to her. Lady Daphne Battencourt tried to calm her nerves, but it was never good when Uncle summoned her. She reached toward the doorknob, then shrank from it. What if Uncle was cross for her question at dinner when saw him three days prior? What if he was drinking?
She tried not to even think about the possibilities. There was nothing to be done for it, now. She wanted a London season. She’d been preparing her entire life for her presentation to society, for her chance to be admired and courted. For her turn to take the stage before the ton and make her mark.
All of the dancing and music lessons and—goodness, yes, the etiquette training that had been drilled into her from the age of five—would all be for nothing if she wasn’t launched into society. So, she’d taken the risk of asking for his permission to go to Great Aunt Persephone.
The old woman was as mean as a snake, but loved nothing more than to show off her connections to the beau monde. She’d gladly ensure that the daughter of her nephew, the Earl of Claremont, made a good showing in the London social scene. If he was angry about it, she would have to bear his retribution. There was no way to retract the request.
She put her hand on the crystal knob but pulled it back yet again, and bit her lower lip. She could not simply walk into his sanctuary as she always had with Papa. She tried, in vain, to force herself to relax, and knocked twice.
“Enter,” commanded the gruff voice on the other side of the door.
She took a deep breath, then turned the knob and pushed the door open as silently as its massive hinges would allow. Uncle was standing in front of a blazing fire with a half empty glass in his hand.
Daphne eyed the glass warily. “Hello, Uncle.” She gave him the deep curtsy he expected of her. ”You asked to see me?”
His eyes swept over her, lingering on her bodice, and she pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders, hoping he didn’t feel the power he had to make her shiver under his gaze. Without answering, he went to the small sideboard and wrapped his stout fingers around the neck of a crystal decanter, then pulled off the glass stopper and refilled his glass of brandy.
“How old are you?” He drained the glass in only two gulps.
“I’ll be eighteen in just two months, in July,” she stammered.
“Tell me, Daphne, what is the purpose of a London season for a young woman such as yourself?”
“Excuse me, sir?” her voice faltered and she swallowed hard. “I do not understand the question, Uncle.” She clenched her hands together until her fingertips began to go numb. He was provoking her. Again. Must she always be on guard in her own home?
“Come, now. You’re supposed to be a bright young woman. What is it young women want from their first season?”
She tried to ignore the growing slur in his speech. “Well, I suppose a young lady would like to make a good match.” Or so mother had always instructed her.
“To find a suitable husband, then, hmm?” He turned to look at her with brows raised.
Should she should simply agree?—or add that the season was also about the balls and the gowns and being admired and dancing and being presented at court…and that if she did find a husband, she could leave Uncle for good—.
He cut into her train of thought. “But what sort of match would a girl like you hope to make, hmm? A girl whose family is hiding a nasty little secret?” He squinted one eye at her.
“I cannot know what you mean, sir. We have no secret.” Her mind raced to find some hint as to what he meant, but there was nothing. She had always been close to both of her parents. What sort of secret could possibly be unknownto her but known to Uncle?
“Surely you know about your father, do you not?”
Papa? Papa was perfect in every way. What could Uncle know that she did not? “Still, sir, I don’t understand what you mean. What about my father?”
“Perhaps you should have asked your mother that question before she died and left you to wonder.”
“Wonder about Papa? Do you imply that she—that my father—“ The idea was too absurd to voice it. Of all possible revelations, that one she could not, would not, accept.
“I am simply saying that your mother had many admirers and that, well, you know how it can be when a beautiful woman gets lonely. When her husband is gone for days or weeks at a time.”
No words came to her. She just stood there with her mouth open in shock, drawing quick, shallow breaths. Uncle’s implication was inconceivable!
“You remember your mother’s dear friend, Duncan, do you not? He visited quite frequently, as I recall. Did he ever stay with you and your mother while your father was away on business?”
“Yes, but Uncle Duncan—“
“And what about your mother’s cousin? Her French cousin? What was his name?”
“Roland Thierry, but he was the same age as mother. Of course they were close.” This entire conversation was preposterous. Uncle must surely be mistaken.
“Her cousin? Really? Or did she just call him cousin, like you called Duncan ‘uncle’ when you know very well that I’m your only uncle? It’s almost as if the man wanted to hang around and see you grow up.” He used a fingernail to pick at his tooth, then sucked his tongue against the spot.
Daphne put her fingers to her lips and gasped. “No! That cannot be true. Mother loved Papa very much. She would never—” Her throat went suddenly dry and she couldn’t choke out the rest of her thought. How could any of this be true? How could Papa not be her papa?
“We all want to believe the best about our family, Daphne. But sometimes the truth is our enemy. That being the case, you should be quite glad to know that I have taken care of the matter and have, in addition, saved what is left of your poor departed papa’s fortune from all of the frivolous frippery that goes with a debut season.”