Read A Talent for Trouble Online

Authors: Jen Turano

Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042040, #FIC027050, #Life change events—Fiction, #Man-woman relationships—Fiction

A Talent for Trouble

BOOK: A Talent for Trouble
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© 2013 by Jennifer L. Turano

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

www.bethanyhouse.com

Bethany House Publishers is a division of

Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

Ebook edition created 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-6333-9

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by John Hamilton Design

Author represented by The Seymour Agency

For Al . . . just because.

All my love,
Jen

1

N
EW
Y
ORK
C
ITY
, 1881

M
iss Felicia Murdock was wallowing.

She did not normally have the propensity to wallow, but given the trying circumstances of the day, she felt she was entitled, at least for an hour or two.

Leaning her forehead against the cool pane of glass, she stared out her bedroom window, watching the traffic that paraded past the Fifth Avenue mansion she called home. Carriages sporting liveried servants jostled for space amongst delivery wagons, while well-dressed ladies and gentlemen strolled down the sidewalk arm in arm, all of them apparently enjoying the lovely spring day.

Her nose wrinkled at the sight of so many cheerful people, and when one of the couples stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and shared a quick embrace, Felicia jerked her head from the glass and trudged across the oriental carpet, coming to a halt in front of her bed.

Normally the sight of her whimsical bed, with its frothy bit
of blue silk scooping gracefully from the canopy and comfortable quilted ivory coverlet, brought a smile to her lips, but on this particular day, smiles were difficult to produce.

Feeling the need for a dramatic gesture in order to continue with her wallowing, Felicia turned, held out her arms, and fell backward, anticipating the moment her bed would cushion her in a soft cocoon of luxury and allow her to descend into a much-needed bout of self-pity.

As she landed, a sharp stabbing of her behind sent all thoughts of self-pity disappearing in a split second. She bolted upright, beat down the voluminous skirt of the putrid pink gown tangled around her legs, struggled to her feet, and permitted herself the indulgence of releasing a good grunt.

Acts of a dramatic nature were clearly not advisable when one still had the required fashion accessory of the day, the dastardly bustle, attached to one's backside. Disgruntlement now flowing freely through her veins, she reached around and twisted the dreaded contraption back into place.

Kicking off her shoes, she eyed the bed once again and, unwilling to abandon her dramatic gesture, took a few steps back, hitched up her skirt, and lunged forward. She flung herself into the air and landed on top of the coverlet with a resounding bounce.

Air was difficult to come by, as her tightly laced corset protested such strenuous activity, but determination to continue with her wallowing had her breathing in shorter breaths as she cushioned her head with folded arms. She was hardly comfortable, but at least she was in an appropriate position to sink into misery. She closed her eyes and forced herself to recall the horrors of the day.

Reverend Michael Fraser, the gentleman she'd held dear to her heart for over four years, was now married.

Unfortunately,
she
had not been his bride of choice.

That honor had gone to Miss Julia Hampton, a young lady Felicia might have actually liked if the lady hadn't absconded with the man Felicia adored—the man she'd for so long believed God had selected for
her
to marry.

It appeared she and God had experienced a slight misunderstanding of late. Quite frankly, she couldn't help but be distinctly put out with Him.

She'd been so certain He would intervene today—with a bolt of lightning or something equally impressive—right in the middle of the wedding, which would have proven once and for all that she was meant for Reverend Fraser, not Miss Hampton. But even though she'd kept a sharp eye on the ceiling throughout the ceremony, no such divine intervention had occurred.

A trickle of unease caused her eyes to flash open.

Good heavens, if God would have intervened, Miss Hampton, or rather Mrs. Fraser now, would have been devastated. All of Julia's hopes and dreams would not have come to pass, and . . . The sheer selfishness of what Felicia had hoped for hardly spoke well of her character.

It was little wonder God hadn't answered her many and varied prayers regarding Reverend Fraser. She was a sad excuse for a self-proclaimed woman of faith.

How in the world could she have convinced herself she was destined to become the wife of a minister?

It was ludicrous—that's what it was. And now, since she'd spent so many years pursuing Reverend Fraser, she'd reached the ripe old age of twenty-four and couldn't help but think she'd landed herself in a bit of a pickle.

None of society's eligible gentlemen would want to court a lady so long in the tooth, which meant she was destined to remain a spinster forever.

An image of herself ten years in the future sprang to mind, and it did absolutely nothing to calm her nerves—especially
since the image she'd conjured had her wearing a ratty old shawl with dozens of cats slinking around her feet.

She didn't care for cats. They made her sneeze. They also seemed to spring out at her when she least expected it.

Groping out with one hand, Felicia yanked a velvet pillow of periwinkle blue toward her and pressed it against her face, trying to force her thoughts away from anything to do with cats. To her dismay, trying to push cats out of her mind only caused more cats to prance through her thoughts. Pushing the pillow aside, she began to whistle a jaunty tune she'd picked up from one of the grooms, and thankfully, images of cats disappeared, replaced with sailors walking on bowed legs down at the dock.

It wasn't much of an improvement, given that she wasn't terribly familiar with sailors, but at least it was better than cats.

“What in the world are you whistling?”

Pressing her lips tightly together, Felicia glanced out of the corner of her eye and, much to her dismay, saw her mother striding determinedly across the room. She squeezed her eyes shut and summoned up what she hoped was a credible snore.

“I know you're awake.”

“I'm not.”

A chuckle was Ruth Murdock's only reply before Felicia felt the mattress shift and then shift again as her mother went about the business of getting comfortable, apparently intent on a bit of a chat.

“It was a beautiful wedding, wasn't it?”

The last thing she wanted to discuss was the wedding. The disappointment of it was still too fresh, but her mother had no way of knowing her daughter had suffered a blow today. Felicia had never admitted to anyone the troubling fact that she held Reverend Fraser in high regard.

“I thought Miss Hampton looked lovely.”

Felicia forced open her eyes, pushed herself up and then off the bed, shook out the folds of her gown, and summoned up what she hoped would pass for a smile. “She did.”

“You looked lovely as well.” Ruth's eyes began to gleam. “I noticed the marked attention Mr. Zayne Beckett was sending your way.”

Felicia looked past her mother and caught sight of her reflection in the full-length mirror that stood next to the entrance of her dressing room.

Lovely
was hardly the term she would have chosen to describe her appearance.

White-blond hair was pulled ruthlessly away from her face, the tightness of the chignon causing her deep blue and heavily lashed eyes to tilt up at the corners. Her cheekbones were high and her nose slim, but her face looked strained and pale, and she resembled a lady of forty instead of twenty-four. Her eyes skimmed over plump lips that were entirely too full and settled on her gown, the sheer volume of it hiding curves she knew perfectly well were considered voluptuous. She winced when the sun took that moment to stream through the window, the beams of light causing the pink tulle she was wearing to glow.

“Are you planning on seeing Zayne again soon?” Ruth asked, causing Felicia to pull her gaze from her appalling reflection and settle it on her mother.

“Mother, honestly, the only reason Zayne was paying me ‘marked attention' was because I knocked him over that pew after you shoved me a little too enthusiastically in his direction. Zayne, being a most considerate gentleman, was concerned for any embarrassment his rapid plunge to the ground might have caused
me
.”

She blew out a breath. “Besides, you're forgetting the pesky little fact that he's firmly off the marriage market, given that he's practically engaged to Miss Helena Collins.”

Ruth's eyes turned shrewd. “Reverend Fraser was firmly off the market as well, but that didn't seem to stop you from continuing to hold the man in affection. Really, Felicia, the manner in which you were staring at the ceiling throughout the ceremony today was somewhat disturbing. Why, I was convinced you expected a bolt of lightning to disrupt the service.”

Sometimes her mother knew her just a touch too well, but . . . Her eyes widened. “You knew?”

Ruth scooted back on the bed and took a moment to plump up some pillows behind her. “Of course I knew, darling.” She folded her hands over her stomach. “It is my fondest hope that, now that he's well and truly married, you'll finally be able to put the gentleman behind you once and for all. I also wouldn't mind if you'd set aside the rather demure attitude you've assumed over the past four years.”

“You've taken issue with my ‘demure attitude'?”

Ruth bit her lip. “Oh dear, that might not have come out exactly right.” She tilted her head. “I certainly expect you to be ladylike at all times, my dear, but ever since you made the acquaintance of Reverend Fraser, you've ruthlessly pushed aside your exuberance for life. That is what I long for you to embrace again. I also wouldn't be opposed to seeing a dramatic change in the fashions you choose to wear. Your rather outlandish sense of style, while always a topic of conversation at every society event, has bothered me for years.”

“You're the one who bought me my first ‘outlandish' gown.”

“I truly do love you, darling, but I'm not going to take responsibility for the manner in which you've been dressing. Did I, years ago, purchase you a somewhat hideous gown bedecked in ribbons? Yes, I did, but I only did so because the designer assured me it would make you appear years younger. If you will recall, at that time you'd almost reached the ripe old age of twenty and did not have a suitor to call your own.”

“Only because my coming out was delayed due to Grandmother's death and Grandfather's ill health.”

Ruth's lips curled into a smile. “It was truly commendable, your diligence to your grandfather, but . . . that has nothing to do with the horrible dress I bought you.” She gave a delicate shudder. “The moment you stepped out of your room garbed in that ridiculous creation, I knew I'd made a horrible mistake. Unfortunately, we were running late. There was nothing to do but tell you how charming you looked and pray you'd someday forgive me.”

“You never told me you thought I looked ridiculous.”

“I had every intention of doing so, dear—after the ball, of course—but you made the acquaintance of Reverend Fraser that very night. He rather foolishly, yet out of kindness, I'm sure, proclaimed you looked delightful . . . and charming.”

“He sounded sincere.”

“I'm certain he was, since he's a lovely man. But he is woefully deficient in the matter of fashions. I cannot tell you how appalled I was when the very next day you asked me to go shopping, ordered an entirely new wardrobe comprised of questionable styles, and discarded your old wardrobe. You haven't worn anything remotely fashionable since.”

Something that felt remarkably like regret swept through her. “I was trying to impress Reverend Fraser, and I thought I was on the right track because he did compliment my appearance quite often.”

“Again, he's a kind man and probably came to the conclusion you needed extra compliments because you always looked so peculiar.” Ruth released a sigh. “I've never understood why you decided he was the right gentleman for you.”

“I thought God had sent him to me.”

“Because . . . ?”

Felicia walked over to a settee, sinking down on it as her
skirts billowed up around her. “I knew perfectly well after I returned from Grandfather's house that I was rapidly approaching spinsterhood, so right before the Patriarch Ball, I had a talk with God. I told Him that I wanted to find a suitable gentleman that very evening, and then, much to my delight, Reverend Fraser turned up.”

“Did it never cross your mind that you might have been mistaken? Surely you must have considered, given your slightly mischievous nature, that you were hardly suited to a life as a minister's wife.”

Felicia leaned forward, earning herself a faceful of pink tulle in the process. She brushed it aside. “I would make a fine minister's wife.”

“You've done an exceptional job helping the needy and attending church, but tell me, have you done those things because you desire to do them, or was it simply a means to spend time in Reverend Fraser's company?”

The answers to those questions weren't something Felicia cared to delve into at the moment. She'd already come to the conclusion she was a horrible person for wanting a bolt of lightning to end Miss Hampton's dreams. The last thing she wanted to contemplate was whether or not actions she'd told herself were selfless had actually been done in an attempt to further her appeal to Reverend Fraser.

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