Authors: Julianna Blake
The Brahmin Ball
“Everyone heard. They’re looking at us!” hissed Madeline.
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Grace soothed.
But there were unmistakable whispers and glances in their direction as they made their way through the crowded edges of the ballroom. Eliza’s display hadn’t been that loud, which could only mean the unthinkable.
The rumors had already spread.
Clara vibrated with anger. “That stupid Eliza. She’s so vulgar! I would never have been so cruel.” Tears sparkled in Clara’s eyes.
“Don’t let them see you cry,” Grace whispered. “We’re Barstows. The behavior of others doesn’t affect us. Let them gossip. We will hold our heads up high.”
“What’s the matter?” Miriam appeared before them. “Clara looks distressed.”
Clara blinked away the tears and morphed her lips into a strained, pleasant expression. “I’m fine, Mother.”
“She’s not fine,” Madeline muttered. “Nothing will ever be fine again. They
“Oh, Madeline, stop with your paranoia…” Miriam sighed.
“She’s not paranoid this time,” Grace whispered. “She’s right. Everyone knows. Look around you.”
Their mother’s eyes flitted about the room. Though most people were still engaged in lively conversation or dancing, there were, sprinkled throughout the room, several people who were staring in their direction, speaking in hushed tones.
The Brahmin Ball
Brahmin Brides, Book 1
a sweet historical romance novella
Mail Order Regrets
by Julianna Blake
Copyright 2015 Julianna Blake
Published by Timeless Hearts Press
This novella is a prequel to
Mail Order Regrets
, Book 1 in the
Montana Mail Order Brides
series. However, it is a
, and can be read either before, during, or after reading the books in the
Montana Mail Order Brides
The Brahmin Ball
contains no spoilers.
This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to an authorized eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Julianna Blake’s books are sweet historical romances. They do not contain any explicit or descriptive scenes of intimacy. Though the storyline is
Christian-based, it is clean and sweet, some characters may happen to be Christian, while others are decidedly not, and all characters are complex and imperfect.
The carriage bumped slowly along Beacon Street, coming to a halt at intervals as one by one, the carriages at the head of the line stopped in front of the Dwight residence to allow its passengers to alight.
Grace looked up at the long row of multi-story Beacon Hill mansions, all attached together as if part of one long building, rather than a union of a multitude of homes. Only small variances in the architecture here and there delineated the differences between each of them. The tall, skinny connected residences lined the street, standing as one solid bastion of exclusivity. Only the Brahmin, the crème-de-la-crème of Boston society, resided there.
Grace’s own family would soon have to leave their home on the most reputable street in the city. How long after that would their secret become known? Would they be shunned in society? She shuddered to think of it. Her mother had only revealed the impending loss of their home a week prior. This would be their last event attended before they would be forced to accept the charity—and public shame—of living with their uncle.
“Ugh, what an awful night for a ball,” Madeline complained. “We’re sure to drag our hems through the filth and slush when we exit the carriage.”
“Enough of your complaints,” their mother, Miriam, sighed. “You’ve made your opinions on tonight’s festivities clear, and I’ve tired of it, Madeline. Edgar Dwight’s Winter Ball is the grandest social event of the winter season, and I’d drag you out even if there was a blizzard. You’re too spoiled to be grateful that we still have a chance to marry the three of you off, before anyone discovers our shame.”
“I wish you’d have told us just how extreme our situation was, sooner. Then we wouldn’t have put off courtship so long,” Madeline grumbled, risking their mother’s ire. “It was you, after all, who told us for years we must choose a husband wisely. You’ve chased off a dozen suitors for me alone, and at least that many for Grace as well.”
Miriam pursed her lips, narrowing her gaze. “That was before things changed, as you well know. Perhaps I should have said something sooner. But what was I to do? Isn’t is bad enough that I’ve forced your re-entrance into society so soon after we’ve come out of deep mourning for your father’s death? How could I have rushed it any sooner? And if I revealed the truth, would you have sulked any less at the last ball? If you want to resent someone, my dear, resent yourself. If you girls had been obedient, and put yourselves out in society the moment a year of mourning had passed, you could be engaged already, and would not be at risk.”
Grace noticed the tension of her sister’s jaw, though her expression remained stoic. In truth, she resented Madeline’s posturing. They were all still mourning the sudden loss of their father thirteen months earlier, but only Grace herself was feeling the weight of a dual loss at the hand of death.
I mustn’t think that way,
she chided herself.
The extra weight of my own grief doesn’t diminish Madeline’s suffering one bit. And we all deal with grief in our own way.
Rather than chastise Madeline, she attempted to smooth things over. “It may feel disloyal to think of weddings so soon, Madeline, but Mother is right. We can’t afford to miss such an important social opportunity, poor weather or not. If I can move on, and put myself out in society, can’t you?”
“I don’t mean to be troublesome,” Madeline murmured as she gazed at the dark expanse of the Boston Common, to their left. Little could be seen of the snow-covered community lawn, beyond the dim circles of light from the gas street lamps that lined the brick sidewalk. She shifted her gaze toward Grace, guilt filtering into her expression. “I know you have the right to dread this, more than any of us. I just dread the day when we walk into a social event and all eyes turn to us, filled with either pity or disdain. I cannot tolerate it. I think I should rather become an old maid than subject myself to such humiliation.”
Grace knew Madeline would feel the shame the keenest. She’d always been so concerned over the opinions of others, almost more than their mother. “Dear sister,” she patted Madeline’s hand, “we have no reason to believe anyone has discovered the truth yet. Let’s think of happier things, shall we?”
Madeline didn’t respond.
“I think tonight will be fun!” Clara exclaimed. “How can one not be thrilled to attend a ball? It is the perfect distraction from our problems. I would go, no matter what the weather. Even though I can’t wear
bright colors yet.” She pouted, smoothing a hand over her wine-colored silk dress.
Clara, who was sixteen, had only come out to society the month prior. The ball where she had been presented had been the Barstows’ first social event since Chandler Barstow had died. Clara was thrilled just to finally be able to wear a color other than black, and to be able to resume the normal social activities than any girl her age normally enjoyed.
Grace glanced down at her own dark royal blue dress. It felt odd to wear something other than black. She’d work nothing else for the last fourteen months—since she’d first had to don it, the month before her father died, when her family had to join her in mourning. Though part of her was glad to shed the widow-like garb, she couldn’t help but feel disloyal for switching so readily to darker jewel toned silk, rather than a brown or gray wool. But then, it was a ball, and for a young woman to wear anything akin to mourning attire was to resign herself to sitting with her mother all night. And that would never do.
If Miriam Barstow had her way, at least the eldest two of her daughters would be receiving calling cards from multiple suitors within a day or two.
When their carriage at last reached the front of the Dwight residence, a footman opened the door, and assisted the ladies in alighting.
Grace watched as Madeline picked up her hem, casting a disdainful glance at the slushy street before assuming a pleasant mask and ascending the steps to the entrance. They clung to the cast iron railing, lest they slip. The four ladies entered, shedding their wraps for the waiting servant, who directed them up the staircase to the second floor, where the large library had been transformed into a ballroom for the evening.
Furniture had been pushed to the walls or removed, and the rugs rolled back, to make room for refreshment tables and to give room for dancing. In the corner the musicians played a lively tune, while small clusters of attendees already gathered here and there, making small talk. Grace’s mother led the way to find the host and hostess, and make their presence known.
He spied her through the crowd, catching mere glimpses as people moved about, but there was no doubt it was her. The woman he’d met four years before.
She’s even more beautiful than I remembered.
There was no mistaking that lovely figure, the slender curve of her neck, the graceful manner in which she held herself at all times. Her full, pink lips didn’t smile—and that truly was a shame—but those sparkling blue eyes that set off her creamy cheeks and glossy chestnut hair were etched in his memory. In a room full of elegant, beautiful women, she put them all to shame.
His heart pounded, surprising him with the exact same rush of emotion that he’d had when they first met.
How is it possible to feel more for a woman who is essentially a stranger, than I’ve ever felt for anyone before?
She’d occupied his thoughts often in the intervening years. More times than he cared to remember, he had chastised himself for his cowardice. His lack of confidence had resulted in watching other men vie for her attention—and win it—while he sat on the side, furious with himself for not acting.
Not this time.
He wasn’t that same young man anymore. He was twenty-eight years old, four years older and wiser, and with those years had come success, experience, and confidence. He’d always been a confident man, but a woman of her standing and beauty had the tendency to make a man doubt himself.
If he could argue a case before a judge, how could he fear asking a woman to dance? The very worst that could happen is being declined. That was far better than regretting his cowardice for four years.
This time, he’d take the situation in hand, and work it to his advantage. This time,
would be the one dancing with Grace Barstow all night.
Madeline watched Clara sneak off to speak with a group of her friends, leaving Grace and Madeline behind to do battle with their mother.
I’m not sure which is worse, being forced to socialize or standing here enduring Mother’s endless matchmaking.
“There’s Arthur Baldwin,” Miriam announced. “He’d make a fine catch.”
And so it begins,
“He’s engaged to Coraline Endicott,” Grace murmured. “I heard they’ll be announcing it this week.”
“Oh.” Miriam cast a sympathetic glance toward Grace before resuming her predatory search.
Seeing the pained look on her sister’s face made Madeline feel small for being so grouchy. Coraline Endicott was the younger sister of Winston Endicott, Grace’s deceased fiancé. She knew the Winter Ball must have reminders everywhere for her tenderhearted sister. Grace and Coraline had become fast friends, but had grown apart after Winston’s death. Seeing Coraline must have been hard enough, but knowing Coraline would be marrying soon, when Grace herself never attained that happy state of life…Madeline could only imagine the pain.
Miriam’s eyes scanned the room without giving away her intention. “Over there. By the punch bowl. Mr. Bradlee.”
“Gaspar Bradlee?” Grace asked, eyebrows raised in surprise. “Remember, he has a limp.” She exchanged surprised glances with Madeline.
They endured more of their mother’s cataloging of society’s most eligible bachelors in the room. Grace and Madeline watched enviously as their sister Clara flitted about, chatting with friends and being asked to dance by handsome young men. Clara always delighted in social events, and it was easy for her to lose her troubles in the throng of a ball or dinner party.
If only it was as easy for me to forget,
“Oh dear me, who is that Clara is dancing with?” Miriam gasped.
“Isaac Chaffee,” Madeline replied, holding back a smile.
Grace had a twinkle in her eye. Both girls knew what would come next.
“But…but…” sputtered Miriam, “…his family is from
“Some of them reside in Boston,” Madeline said mildly. “And they own quite a bit of land.”
“The Barstows have resided in Boston since the Revolution. I will
have my daughter living outside Boston.” Miriam fanned herself, fit to be tied over Clara’s dance partner. The room was filling up, and the temperature soaring, despite the cold outside.
“Mother,” Grace said, laying a hand on Miriam’s forearm, “it’s just a dance. You know as well as I that she’s too young to expect a serious proposal from anyone, anytime soon. Let her enjoy this time, before she’s under the same kind of pressure that Madeline and I are.”
“Very well,” her mother sulked. “But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Grace leaned over to Madeline. “Save yourself!” she whispered, stifling a giggle. “There’s no need for both of us to suffer.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Madeline whispered back. “I’d almost rather endure Mother. I just can’t help worrying that someone here might already know. It makes me reluctant to speak with anyone.”
“Stop being paranoid until there’s reason to be. Go on. Make the rounds. You might enjoy riling Mother up by dancing with Dalton Ashby.” Grace nodded toward the refreshment table where Dalton, Madeline’s longtime admirer, stood.
Miriam had often complained about his relentless attentions toward Madeline. His family’s fortune wasn’t estimable enough in Miriam’s eyes, and his father’s reputation, though solid, wasn’t high enough to tempt the likes of Miriam Barstow.
Madeline grinned. “Don’t tempt me. Given my mood tonight, I’m likely to push Mother too far, if I start toying with her. Besides, by now, she may regret her attempts to thwart Mr. Ashby’s overtures. I might accidentally make her happy if I talk with him.”
Grace giggled, drawing a scathing look from Miriam.
“You really should go and dance, Grace,” came Miriam’s stern reproof.
“Someone has to ask me, first,” Grace muttered.
Madeline noticed the tears shining in her sister’s eyes before she blinked them away.
“Miss?” A silver tray appeared to Grace’s right.
Grace looked over her shoulder as a thin man in livery, one arm tucked behind his back, presented a single rose on the silver tray. “This is for you. I’m to tell you it’s from a secret admirer.”
“An admirer?” Grace’s eyes widened in surprise and confusion.
“Are you sure you have the right person?”
“You’re Miss Grace Barstow, are you not?”
“I am.” Grace’s shocked expression melted into one of curiosity.
“How mysterious!” Madeline said, happy to see the gleam in Grace’s eyes.
At last, something to lighten the mood.
“It is, indeed.” Grace lifted the rose from the tray and inhaled, enjoying its sweet aroma. “Please thank whoever the sender, for the kind gesture.”
“Of course.” The servant nodded and withdrew.
Miriam looked around. “I don’t see any young men looking this way. Whom could it be from?”
“I’ve no idea, Mother.”
“Oh dear.” Miriam appeared perplexed.
Grace knew that Miriam’s instinct would be to question the eligibility of a bachelor who sent a rose anonymously. She’d say he was likely unattractive or a poor match, otherwise he’d have been more direct. But given their impending decline in society, Miriam couldn’t turn up her nose at any suitor…at least, not until she knew she had reason to.
For once, Mother is silent!
Madeline pursed her lips, trying to keep hidden the smile that wanted to erupt. She loved her mother dearly, but the nagging had become unbearable, of late.
Grace attempted to remain impassive as she held the gifted rose in her hand, but she couldn’t keep the corners of her mouth entirely down.
Madeline nudged Grace’s elbow. “It looks like someone may ask you to dance after all.”
“Speaking of…” Miriam lifted her eyebrows. “It’s time you girls mingled. You’ve been out of society for a year. The young men need an indication that you’re truly ready to move on from your grief. Otherwise you’ll be wallflowers all night.”
Grace handed her mother the flower to hold, and the two of them reluctantly made their way into the sea of people, pasting smiles on their faces to hide their true feelings.