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Authors: Rebecca Connolly

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BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
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Geoffrey shrugged. “That’s what you are here for, Cassie. I’m here for support and approval, you to decide and dictate. I don’t care about gowns and finery. I only wear what my valet tells me to.”

“Ugh, men,” Cassie groaned and turned to Mrs. Farrow, who gave her a sympathetic look.

“I don’t know about this,” Mary said as she bit her lip. “What will people say?”

“Why should they say anything?” Geoff asked with a shrug of one shoulder. “It’s not as though you’re indecent. Or will you be later?” He looked between the ladies, his face a mixture of teasing and curiosity.

“No!” Mary immediately said.

“Yes!” Cassandra and Mrs. Farrow chimed in at the same time.

“No!” Mary said again, glaring at the other two women.

Geoff chuckled and sat back. “This is going to be entertaining. Get on with it, Mary.”

She huffed and turned back to the mirror. “Very well. But you make any snide comments, Geoffrey Harris, and I swear I will…”

“Yes, yes, you will plague my heart out and stuff my entrails with cabbage, I know,” he said with a dismissive wave. “I accept your terms. Now get on with it, Goose!”

A small smile ticked at Mary’s cheek, which was quickly snuffed out when Mrs. Farrow came up behind her and patted her sides. “Now, my dear, let me show you how it would look with alterations.”

“Oh, no, Mrs. Farrow, it’s just…” Mary tried, but there was no stopping the woman.

She took at the sides of the dress and pulled tight, revealing the slim waist Mary had never thought much of. “If we do this, can you see what it does for that marvelous figure you are hiding?”

Mary couldn’t say anything. She did see. She could not
not
see.

“Good heavens, Mary. I had no idea you had that figure,” Geoff commented.

She glanced at him in the mirror and saw the arrested look on his face. “It appears that I do,” she said slowly, uncertain as to what he meant.

His eyes flicked to hers and he nodded slowly, smiling a little. “So it does. It suits you well.”

She returned his smile, relieved. “So you think I should cut the gowns like this, then?”

He immediately sat back again and shrugged. “If you like it, then yes. I told you before, Mary, I’m not going to tell you what to do. I like you just as you are.”

She was torn between screeching in aggravation at his lack of help, and giving him a hug for being her loyal friend. Then she heard Mrs. Farrow and Anna give matching fluttery sighs and she frowned. Aggravation it would be.

“Fine, you unhelpful louse,” she growled, which made him grin. “Cassie. You tell me.”

Now it was Cassandra who looked surprised. “Really, Mary? There is no question. Absolutely yes.”

“Then I suppose I will,” Mary sighed. What was the point?

Anna and Mrs. Farrow clapped their hands and Cassie grinned.

“Excellent,” Mrs. Farrow squealed. “Let us pull some more, shall we?”

With that, Mary was yanked from her pedestal and thrust out of sight as they went to work. Geoff waved to her as she left and she made sure to stick her tongue out at him. He should not be enjoying himself as much as he was.

Four more dresses were forced on her, and each time she would be paraded back out to look at herself in the mirrors, and for Geoffrey to see. Time after time he either nodded or shrugged, neither of which told anybody anything. But he continued to smile, no doubt thinking this all a very fun game. As for Mary herself, she was moderately pleased. Some of the dresses were quite simple and elegant, and she thought she could bear being seen in them.

But the day was still young. Who knew what else she would endure?

As she stepped out in her fifth dress, there was a commotion from the front of the store. Mrs. Farrow sent Anna off to investigate, and she returned with three women, one of which was so large with child, it was amazing she was still with child at all.

“Mary!” Moira, countess of Beverton, called out with a wave, her other hand protectively shielding her incredibly swollen abdomen as she made her way towards them. “So sorry we’re late, we meant to be here sooner, but here we are at last!” She nearly knocked over a mannequin, but thankfully, Kate, the marchioness of Whitlock, was right behind her and caught it.

“Steady on, Moira,” the dark haired beauty teased. “You’ll leave nothing standing if you don’t sit down.”

Moira scoffed and shook her fiery hair even as she nodded to Geoff. “It’s not my fault I’m this large. Blame that husband of mine, you’ve seen what a massive beast he is. Good morning, Geoffrey.”

“Moira. Kate. Lady Beckham,” he said, nodding to each in turn.

The third woman laughed and helped Moira sit, and then did so with Kate, who also had a suspiciously swollen abdomen, but hid it well. “Really, Geoffrey, after all these years you still won’t call me Diana?”

He smiled and bowed. “My apologies. Good morning, Diana.”

She nodded and took her own seat, then glanced up at Mary. “Hello, dear.  That is a very pretty color on you. I love what it does for your eyes.”

“Oh, Mary, you must get that one,” Kate agreed with a nod. “Truly, you look splendid.”

Mary was still staring at the three of them in shock. “What are you three doing here?” she finally managed, knowing she sounded rude.

“Helping you find your new dresses for the season, of course,” Moira told her with a laugh. “Really, Mary, I think this is the best idea in the world. I hope to be able to see you as a debutante, but if not, I know the girls will tell me everything.”

Mary looked over at her sister, who was grinning. “Cassie…”

“Surprise,” she said again, in a small voice.

Mary closed her eyes and breathed through her nose very slowly.

“She doesn’t want us here,” Moira whispered loudly to the others.

“We knew she wouldn’t,” Diana whispered back, “but we’re staying anyway.”

“It’s not that,” Mary said, opening her eyes. “I just… I already feel ridiculous, and to have people see me…”

“Mary,” Kate said kindly, “we are not people. We are your friends. And Moira was driving Nathan mad, so she needed to do something, and sitting here with you is much better than sitting at home with a worrying Nathan.”

Mary smiled and quirked a brow. “Moira, surely you ought to be resting…”

Moira took a sip of the tea that Anna had brought to them. “Nonsense. A bit of walking is good for me and for the child. Now, step on up there and take a look at yourself. The girls are right, that blue simply makes your eyes shimmer.”

Knowing it was pointless to resist all of the women in the room, Mary stepped on the pedestal and took a deep breath of resignation.

“I think that now would be a fine time for the man in the room to quit this soiree,” Geoff said as he rose from his seat. “I think you have all the help that you need here.”

Mary turned to face him quickly. “No, don’t go. Really, it won’t be that bad.”

He chuckled. “This coming from you? You are barely making it through, so great is your suffering.”

She bit her lip and waved him over to her.

He obediently came and tilted his head up at her. “What is it, Goose?”

“I need you to stay,” she whispered, feeling her heart race with a bit of panic.

His brow furrowed and he took her hand. “Are you all right?”

She nodded, but gripped his hand tightly. “I need you to stay, Geoff. I am very out of my comfort here. Everybody is telling me what to do and I just can’t…” She struggled for words and swallowed.

“You don’t have to go through with this, you know,” he murmured, knowing the others couldn’t see his face. “The whole season of this game, it isn’t necessary.”

“I know. But look at Cassie, Geoff. She is out in public, and she is glowing. She is holding up her end of the bargain we struck. I cannot back out. I won’t. I’ll do it, and will attempt to smile through the whole of it.” She took a steadying breath. “Just… just don’t go. Please.”

He looked at her for a moment, then smiled. “Very well, I’ll stay. But you will owe me.”

She smiled back at him, relief washing over her. “I will and I do, and I will gladly pay it.”

He lifted one brow, and his blue eyes twinkled a touch dangerously. “Oh, you shouldn’t say that before you know what I will require.”

She rolled her eyes and pushed at his chest with a laugh. “I am not afraid of you.”

“I think you should be, Goose,” he said, winking as he stepped back. “I think you should be.” He sat back in his chair and indicated that she continue her modeling.

Mary nodded regally and turned, then saw in the mirror the expressions on all three ladies’ faces. Suspicious, curious, and intrigued. Oh dear.

The rest of the morning passed rather the same for Mary, though each dress she tried or was fitted for was different and unique and certainly elegant, and not so very far out of her own tastes. At least, compared to what it could have been. Her friends had very distinct opinions about her gowns and even, saving Moira, rose on occasion to suggest various alterations to Mrs. Farrow, who simply delighted at having three such wealthy and respected ladies in her shop at the same time.  Moira merely voiced her opinion from her seat, which was quite enough.

But even Mary, reluctant though she was, had to admit that Mrs. Farrow knew what she was doing. Never had Mary felt so… pretty. There was no other word for it. Being fussed over and complimented was something she thought she could get used to, and when she saw what it brought her, she almost felt that she was worth being fussed over. She had never thought that something as simple as a dress could have that effect.

Geoffrey had been nearly silent the entire time, which suited Mary. She could see in his face if he especially liked something or not, but unless he was asked a direct question, he said nothing. It didn’t matter to Mary if he said anything at all. He was here, keeping her steady, and that was all that mattered to her.

“Oh, Miss Hamilton,” Mrs. Farrow gushed as she raced back into the dressing area and interrupted her thoughts. “I have found one more gown that is not entirely done, but the girl who had ordered it changed her mind or eloped with a stable hand or something. I think will fit you perfectly. Will you try it?”

Mary looked at the dress, a deep blue ball gown that was almost purple in its richness. It was a little more elaborate than the others, but tastefully so. She fingered the material, and found herself nodding. There was something about this dress that she loved, which was an entirely new emotion for her.

Mrs. Farrow and Anna helped her get it on, and Mary held her breath for their reactions. After all, they were the experts and she the novice. Her own thoughts counted for very little.

“It fits perfectly,” Anna breathed, her eyes wide.

“I knew it would!” Mrs. Farrow sighed. “As I said, it is not entirely finished, but it is quite good enough to show your sister and your friends.”

Mary let out a breath, then nodded. She closed her eyes, then stepped out into the room and heard a collective intake of breath from the girls, but no other sound. She looked at them all and found them all staring with open mouths.

“Well?” she asked a touch nervously.

“Oh, Mary,” Diana breathed, starting to smile. “You look incredible.”

Mary was stunned. Diana was never one for flattery. “I do?”

“You do!” Cassandra squealed, her hands covering her mouth as she very nearly danced where she stood.

“You have to take this one,” Moira said, dabbing at her moist eyes. “If it can make the emotionally unbalanced and very large woman cry, then it’s a sign.”

“You’re not the only one,” Kate laughed, pulling out her handkerchief. “It’s beautiful, Mary. Exquisite. I want one.”

Everyone in the room laughed, except one. Mary looked past the women to Geoff, who looked rather thunderstruck.

“Geoff?” Mary asked uncertainly, for once wanting him to say something besides his customary “if you like”.

He looked her up, and then down, his expression never changing. It seemed as if the entire room held its breath as he examined her. Mary felt her heart pounding furiously in her chest, and thought it very likely she would die before he said anything.

Finally, he met her eyes, his customary smile spread, and he said, “Mary, you have to get this one. Honestly and truly, you do.”

The room nearly exploded with cheers and Mary released the breath she had been holding, and allowed herself to grin. If all else failed her, if the season turned out to be a grand disaster for her, at least she had this one gown that made her feel the slightest bit magical.

Perhaps fashion was not so bad after all.

“Wonderful!” Mrs. Farrow cried again, coming over. “Now let us see what we can create for ourselves, hmm? And then we must find bonnets and gloves and coats and stockings and slippers and, of course, undergarments…”

Mary restrained a groan.

Never mind.

C
hapter
S
ix

BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
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