The Dazzle of Innocence
David Santiago has no interest in acquiring a wife. He came to England in a desperate attempt to save his sisters from being sold into white slavery.
Meriden Ford is searching for an interesting, educated young husband who will recognize her superiority and become her decoy, while she runs the family fortune.
At their very first dance, they promise not to fall in love. However, their mutual admiration ensures a strong friendship. When bombarded with tribulations that would destroy most people, they survive by pulling strength from each other. Yet even as they realize their true feelings, others work to tear them apart forever.
A Victorian Romance thriller bringing the characters of A Tangled Affair and the Xavier Thorn series together for a delightful, nail-biting tale. A definite read!
The young lady captured David Santiago’s attention the moment she entered the ball. While a beauty, there were several others just as attractive. Yet this one radiated with such confidence, yet innocence and something else… glorious expectations perhaps.
He was not the only one to notice her. In fact, all eyes seemed to have turned to the elegant brunette. In less than a minute, she managed to bring the ball to a momentary stutter, something David had never seen occur before, neither in his home country of Spain, nor here in London.
The topic of everyone’s interest seemed completely comfortable with the effect she had on the crowd as if it were only natural everyone would find her intriguing. Oddly enough, he didn’t perceive an ounce of vanity in her assumption, only innocence, as if such notice was nothing uncommon.
Somehow, she dazzled so bright that everything else dimmed in comparison.
Surrounding her were four similar-looking young men. They reminded him of a finely set of matched horses. He sensed their intent was to protect rather than court her.
“Has England acquired new royalty since I was last here?” David asked his friend, Jonas Quibb.
Jonas pulled out his spectacle and held it to his eye, squinting. A faint smile came to his lips. “If I am not mistaken to the identity of the young lady, I believe she is Meriden Ford. I deduce this solely by her surrounding guard. They are Garrison’s boys and his nephew. And while I am familiar with the boys, the young lady has never stepped foot into London before today.”
“She does not look like a young girl in her first introduction.” She had far too much confidence for a debutante.
His friend turned and faced him; his brow wrinkled in amusement. “And pray tell, what is the difference between the newly introduced young lady and those in their third year?”
“It’s the difference of terror fed by insecurities rather than determination fed by desperation.”
Jonas chuckled. “There is truth to that observation. However, Meriden is the grandchild of Samuel Hawkens, so you could hardly expect her to behave in a predictable fashion.”
“Samuel Hawkens…” David tensed in his own case of ‘determination fed by desperation.’ Only in his case, it was not marriage he sought, but the salvation of his four sisters. He had sent his card with a request for a meeting two weeks ago, but the request had been denied. Mr. Hawkens’ schedule did not allow for unsolicited visits.
“Ah, see the very lovely woman behind the girl, the one with the worried eyes? That is her mother, Sara Hawkens Ford. She hasn’t changed much since she was last in London seventeen years ago.”
“Seventeen years? What could she possibly do for society to ostracize her for seventeen years?
“I’m not certain whether society shunned her, or she shunned society. Even at her lowest point in life, the Hawkens name provided her and her sister invitations to all the balls. But after she married Ford, she never again stepped foot into London. And I can’t say I blame her.”
“But she is here tonight.”
“For her daughter. Nothing less would have brought her out.” He squinted into his eyepiece and smiled. “And there is the man, himself, Samuel Hawkens.”
David studied the wizened old man who entered through the doors and joined the group. He emanated power and strength as he took in the room, almost as if assessing a battle. The elderly but elegant woman who stood at his side must be his wife. The entire family had all come to protect their little princess, the dazzling Meriden Ford. “Any chance of an introduction?”
Jonas raised his right eyebrow in challenge. “As a suitor or investor?”
“Perhaps both.” He dared not leave any card un-played. He’d already been shot down once. He could not fail again. His sisters’ lives depended upon it.
“I am not well acquainted with Samuel Hawkens, but I can introduce you to Garrison and his wife, Sara. Garrison and I are good friends. But allow me to give you a bit of advice first. If you wish to get on with the family, then neither flirt nor ignore Sara Ford. You will be judged on how you treat Garrison’s wife.”
Never in his life had he received more ridiculous advice. “Why would I be anything but respectful?”
“Why indeed,” he agreed. “What happened was not her fault.”
“Perhaps you should tell me a bit of her past before my introductions?” While David would never intentionally slight a lady, clearly there was something in her past that left her open to insult.
“No, you are safer in ignorance.” Jonas straightened his white bow tie and started towards the couple. “Don’t ask for an introduction to the girl right off. And if you are discussing anything of intelligence with Garrison or Mr. Hawkens, include the women in your conversation. Chances are they’ll know more than you about whatever topic you’re discussing.”
David smiled at the warnings. He had not had half so many cautions when he had been introduced to the queen the prior day. In fact, the only advice he’d received was focused on the depth of his bow.
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