Clara looked up. Her lady’s maid, Davis, had been standing in the corridor by the door during the marriage proposal. Though the door stood open, though any number of large footmen lurked in Warford House’s corridors, and though none of Clara’s infatuated swains would dream of uttering a cross word to her, let alone attempt to harm her, Davis remained ever vigilant. People said Davis looked like a bulldog, but looks, Clara very well knew, weren’t everything. Not many years older than her charge, Davis had been hired immediately after one of Clara’s many childhood contretemps, this time at Vauxhall. She protected Clara from fractures, concussions, drowning, and—most important to Mama—Clara’s becoming A Complete Hoyden.
“Where is Mama?”
Her mother usually entered close on the heels of rejected swains to wonder Where She’d Gone Wrong with her eldest daughter.
“Her ladyship is in bed with a sick headache,” Davis said.
This was probably because she’d had a visit earlier from her poisonous friend Lady Bartham.
“Let’s go out,” Clara said.
“Yes, my lady.”
“To the girls,” Clara said. A visit to the Milliners’ Society for the Education of Indigent Females would give her a chance to do some good instead of brooding about men. “Please order my cabriolet.”
Clara drove herself whenever possible, partly to reduce servants’ spying and tattling, but mainly to feel she was in command of something, even if it was one horse pulling a small, two-wheeled vehicle. At least it was a dashing vehicle. Her eldest brother, Harry, the Earl of Longmore, had bought it for her.
“We’ll stop on the way and buy some trinkets for the girls.” She glanced down at herself. “But I can’t go in this. They must see me in my finest finery.”
When a proposal could not be avoided, she dressed as unflatteringly as she dared, to make her rejection sting less.
The girls were another matter. The Milliners’ Society’s founders were London’s premier modistes, the proprietresses of Maison Noirot. They made Lady Clara’s clothes, and they had taught her that dress was a form of art and a form of manipulation and a language in itself.
Twice they had saved her from what would have been catastrophic marriages.
And so, for their girls, she dressed to inspire.
America’s Rita. For more about her past, her books, and what she does and doesn’t do on social media, please visit her website www.LorettaChase.com.