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When you read a period romance, and a young, impressionable girl is led astray, don’t you just wish someone with sense had seen it happening and stepped in? That’s the premise behind my upcoming novel, Ruined Reputations.
Of course, saving someone from their own bad behavior is more demanding — and entertaining — than anyone with such good sense could ever expect.
Since the back cover blurb is still being finalized, I’m going to be sneaky and release one of my favorite passages, which also tells a lot about the story. I’ll set the scene.
The heroine, Eleanor, discovers impetuous young Bitsy DeMontrey at an inn eloping with her French tutor. Rather than allow the girl to destroy her future, proper Eleanor takes responsibility for her.
Headstrong, Bitsy is unwilling to confess where she’s from and resists all Eleanor’s efforts to help. Eleanor is relieved when Mr. Stinson appears in pursuit. They dance around discussing such a delicate topic, since both want to protect Bitsy’s reputation and fear revealing too much.
Sensing an ally in the mysterious Mr. Stinson, Eleanor leaves the inn to take him to where she has stowed Bitsy.
However, Eleanor has an uncomfortable secret to confess:
Together with Mr. Stinson, she slipped out the door. Eleanor gestured down the street. If he were surprised, he hid it. He merely switched arms, so he walked closest to the rumbling carts. They were silent a long moment, both locked in their thoughts as they battled the wind. A few stinging drops joined the tempestuous breeze that whipped Eleanor’s skirts against her ankles.
As they neared the private house where she had rented a storage room, the only option besides the inn in such a small village, Eleanor’s hands tightened on her purse. Cold hardness within seemed to burn against her fingertips. She swallowed thickly, glancing at the implacable face of the man beside her.
His firm jaw and hard eyes gazed into the distance, but when she slowed, he matched her pace, glancing down with a question. Seeing her shamed expression, his gaze softened, and he waited with seemingly infinite patience.
Words eluded her. She lifted her limp purse, opening it to show him the dark interior.
He drew back in vague distaste. Icy refinement replaced it as he nodded at her hands. “Naturally, you will be compensated for Bitsy’s expenses.”
“Oh, no,” A blush suffused her cheeks. Her hands jerked the purse closed, sending the lace back from her wrist where bruises lay beneath scattered scratches. She dropped her purse, letting it swing by its cords and hide the shameful item within once more.
“You misunderstand,” she gasped, aware her guilty expression had led him to worse conclusions and greater contempt.
He detained her with an arm, pushing both of them off the busy street into an alleyway. His breath was hot against her cheek. “I do not know you, but the DeMontreys are decent people, and I will help them. I would be loathe to think ill of you.”
Gasping at his rough handling, indignation released her tongue.
Eleanor had already decided on her story, feeling that its depiction was closer to truth than a flat recital of finding Bitsy on the threshold of the inn’s bedroom door in her would-be lover’s embrace.
She spoke in a furious whisper, her face covered by the brim of her hat. “I am a widow and not entirely unfamiliar with the ways of the world. While Bitsy took her refreshment, I overheard the scoundrel making plans at the front desk. Making a point to speak with the girl, I quickly discerned that she believed they were continuing on across the border where they would reach Gretna Green and surprise her family with marriage. I had heard the scoundrel accompanying her seek a room, midday, quite contrary to the girl’s understanding.
“Convincing her to accompany me was problematic, however I gave the gentleman an earful and took her away.” The girl had been an unwitting innocent. Or very nearly.
Eleanor bit her lip. Having recited the embellished story nearly flawlessly, the bare truth seemed more difficult to speak. She swallowed, reaching the crux of her story.
“She remains entirely oblivious of the ruin she so narrowly avoided. For some time she sought to return to him, and I had to restrain her. The scratches on my wrist are from her.” Her eyes swam in tears that pride refused to let fall. “In my purse I have the key I used to lock her into her room.”
Saying it aloud, she trembled. She could never have conceived of such behavior, of fights or imprisonment, yet she was guilty of both.
Her conscience clawed at her and a haze of tears threatened. She stared at her toes. No one who knew her would believe that she’d interrupted a tryst and kidnapped a girl, even if it was to protect her. To lock her in went against all the Eleanor believed about herself. She was genteel and solved problems with witty conversation. However, Bitsy wouldn’t be swayed with persuasive words, and the consequences of her impetuous actions were too great to allow. Eleanor’s more advanced years, a decade more than the child’s, told her of the great ruin facing Bitsy. So she had acted. Her ladies’ maid had fled, rather than be an accomplice.
Would Mr. Stinson judge her as harshly?
Naturally Eleanor and Mr. Stinson are allied in making Bitsy see sense and trying to get her home before her reputation is irreparably ruined.
Eleanor is left trying to behave with all propriety, since Bitsy’s reputation rests on hers as chaperone, but traveling with Mr. Stinson makes that more and more difficult. He came chasing after Bitsy, but is he noble hero or thwarted suitor? And what if it is Eleanor who wishes to be pursued?
I look forward to sharing the blurb and release date with you soon!