The Perks of Being a Beauty
Beautiful Miss Amelia Snow is not accustomed to being snubbed by the gentlemen of the ton. But when her mother dies unexpectedly, forcing Amelia to take employment as companion to a wealthy cit’s daughter, she quickly learns to play down her looks or risk losing her position. When her employers, the Smithsons, decide to throw a country house party, she is determined to fade into the background. But how can she when the Smithson’s guest of honor is Lord Quentin Fortescue, the childhood friend who stole her heart?
Younger son, Lord Quentin Fortescue, is far more interested in his host’s cotton mills in the north than he is in courting the man’s dim-witted daughter. But it’s the girl’s companion who makes him look twice. Years ago, Miss Amelia Snowe rejected his proposal without a backward glance. Quentin has molded himself into just the sort of man she’d have wanted back then, but is Amelia still the smug beauty who broke his heart? And can either of them risk their newfound positions to indulge the fiery attraction that burns between them?
“Miss Snowe, excellent! Wait for just a moment, if you please. I was just about to take Fortescue to the drawing room before dinner,” the man barked.
Though upon her first meeting with him Amelia had cringed at her employer’s rough manner, she had since come to realize that he was possessed of a kinder heart than his lady wife. He’d made his fortune in cotton mills in the north of England, and as soon as he was able he’d moved his wife and daughter as far away from industry as possible, to this little manor house on the South Downs. He himself was not possessed of any sort of gentility or breeding, but he was determined to see to it that his daughter married a man with both. Which was why he’d instructed his wife to hire a lady’s companion for Harriet.
Amelia had come to hold the man in some esteem, but at the moment she wished him at the devil. Not only would he make her later entering the drawing room than she’d wished—a circumstance she was quite certain
Mrs. Smithson would note and scold her for—he was also accompanied by a gentleman who had not been on Mrs. Smithson’s guest list for the house party. Knowing how carefully the mistress of the house had planned the numbers for the event, Amelia was annoyed both on that lady’s behalf at the new addition, but also for herself. The addition of another gentleman to the party would mean that Amelia would be forced to participate in the activities of the party to make the numbers even. Which she had hoped would not be necessary.
“Mr. Smithson,” she said in the calm, quiet voice she’d adopted since taking up her position. She knew already that hiring a girl with her looks had been against Mrs. Smithson’s better judgment. As such, she did what she could to diminish those looks as much as possible. Thus, her golden curls which had been much admired in London, were scraped back over her head in a severe chignon. Her blue satin gown, which had been low cut and daring in London, was now made more reserved by the addition of a lace fichu to the bodice. And her manner, which had been flirtatious and engaging in London, was now polite but distant.
“Fortescue,” her employer said to his companion, “this is Miss Amelia Snowe. My daughter, Harriet’s companion, don’t ye know. Not a bit of social business that this chit doesn’t know. Only the best for my Harriet.”
It was still a little painful to hear Mr. Smithson boast about her social prowess like that. No matter how grateful she was that he’d chosen to pay her for it.
A short year ago Amelia had been the most sought-after lady in the haute ton. Her wit, her fashion sense, and her breathtaking beauty had secured a position for Amelia in the highest circles of fashionable London. But with the death of her mother, all of Amelia’s successes had proven to be as precarious as a house of cards. The gorgeous gowns had been bought on credit—from businesses who now demanded payment. The people she’d snubbed, now that the tables were turned, shut her out of the ton gatherings where she’d once reigned.
If she’d been a nicer person, or a more gracious winner, she might have survived by relying on the kindness of her friends. But the realization that she was fast becoming a thoroughly unlikeable person had come too late to save her from ostracism once her mother was gone. And even the friendship of the well-connected Duchess of Winterson, Viscountess Deveril, and Countess of Gresham—once known as the Ugly Ducklings for their status as wallflowers—could not save her.
Where once she’d have looked Mr. Smithson’s guest in the eye and allowed him to kiss her hand, now Amelia kept her eyes downcast, as befitting someone who lingered in that in-between space between upstairs and downstairs.
Still, there was something familiar about that name. Fortescue . . . Fortescue . . . her mind turned the word over and over again as she dared to look up.
“Miss Snowe,” Smithson continued, as if he had not just set the cat among the pigeons, “this is Lord Quentin . . .”
“F-Fortescue,” Amelia finished, her eyes wide as she took in the presence of the gentleman before her. Though he’d filled out though the shoulders, and if she wasn’t mistaken he’d gained a few inches in height, there was no mistaking the dark wavy hair, or the blue of his eyes. “Lord Quentin Fortescue,” she repeated.
“You know one another?” Smithson said, his eyes wide as he looked from one to the other.
“Indeed,” Lord Quentin said, his voice just a shade deeper than she remembered it. And just a shade cooler as well. “Miss Snowe,” he said, bowing over her proffered hand. “I cannot say that I expected to see you here.”
“Nor I you,” she said, regaining some of her composure in the face of his chilly greeting. Desperate to get away from him, she grabbed at the first excuse she could think of. “Has your wife accompanied you, my lord? I know Mrs. Smithson will be eager to see her settled. In fact, I’ll just go fetch her . . .”
Before she could turn away, however, Lord Quentin’s words stopped her. “I’m afraid my wife died two years ago when we were in New York.”
The declaration hung in the air between them.
Amelia could not help a frisson of relief at the knowledge he was unmarried. Not that it made any difference to her. She was hardly in a position to tempt him. Even if he had forgiven her for her betrayal all those years ago. Which he clearly had not.
Even so, she had not wished death upon his wife. She’d envied the other woman. Indeed she’d wished her away dozens of times. Despite her own decision not to wed Quentin when he’d asked her. But she’d not wished her dead.
“I’m sorry, my lord,” she said, surprised that she actually did feel sorry for his loss. “I hadn’t heard.”
“It was quite sudden,” Lord Quentin said with a slight shrug. “And as we were away at the time, I am not surprised that the news didn’t circulate much here.”
“Sad business,” Smithson said with a gruff nod. “But life goes on, eh? And I’ve little doubt you’ll find another wife one of these days, what?”
Mortified at her employer’s quick dismissal of the other man’s bereavement, Amelia was somewhat relieved to see that Quentin did not take offense.
“If you gentlemen will excuse me,” she said, still in a state of shock over her childhood sweetheart’s arrival, “I must make sure that Miss Smithson has everything she needs.”
“We’ll come with you,” Mr. Smithson said, to Amelia’s disappointment. “I’d like to introduce Lord Quentin around. He’s agreed to stay with us for the house party. The more the merrier, I say.”
Though Amelia suspected his wife would not agree with him, she had little choice but to stifle her dismay and accompany the men into the drawing room. To her surprise, Lord Quentin hung back as Smithson stepped forward and offered Amelia his arm.
She knew that if she entered the drawing room on the arm of a duke’s son Mrs. Smithson would have an apoplexy, but Amelia was sorely tempted to do it anyway. But, she was no longer in a position to make decisions without regard for the consequences.
“Thank you,” she said with a polite smile. “But, I’d better not.”
He looked as if he would argue, but after a moment’s hesitation, gestured for her to precede him into the room.
Squaring her shoulders she stepped into the crowded chamber, the question beating like a heartbeat within her.