Another member of the BacklistEBook group, please welcome Kelly McClymer as the guest poster today.
bit feathery and Victorian, for my historical romance writing. The
other is young and in your face, for my YA writing. I don’t, however,
wear two names, so life gets a bit confusing when I’m not sure which
hat to put on. Today I’m putting on the feathery creation, to get in
the mood to share a little sample of The Next Best Bride,
book 5 in the Once Upon a Wedding historical romance series.
This series began with The Fairy Tale Bride
which was first published in 2000. It has been out of print for over
seven years now, and I’ve been fortunate to recently get the
opportunity to release the ebook version of the first five books in
the season (which have been updated and revised a little, too, as a
bonus). The stories revolve around the seven Fenster siblings (six
sisters and a brother). The Next Best Bride features Helena, a quiet
artist who lives in the shadow of her independent-minded twin
Rosaline. When Ros decides to take off for America and jilt her
fiance, Rand Mallon, the earl of Dalby, she proposes that her sister
take her place at the altar. Both are dubious about the switch. Rand
had specifically chosen Ros to be his bride because she didn’t really
want a husband and was happy to give him his much needed heir, and
leave him to his drinking, gambling and rakish ways as long as he
didn’t interfere with her desire to dress up in disguise and do the
same. But he is desperate for an heir, and so he agrees when Helena
consents to a loveless match. Both are shocked and dismayed when it
becomes clear that a loveless match is simply not in the cards.
There are two things to know about Rand when you read this scene: he
likes to wager on almost anything, including that his wife will give
him a son within 10 months of their marriage; and he tends to fall
asleep after a bout of lovemaking. Enjoy!
He managed to find excuses to put off an investigation of the dower
house for nearly a week. He showed her the gardens, the stables, a
fishing stream, rode out with her to the nearby village. He pointed
out a dozen scenes worth capture by her talented eye. And always she
watched him, as if she wondered why he could show her the world
outside the house and not the few rooms within.
But, at last, he could put it off no longer. As they took a light
breakfast in the parlor, she said, “I have asked Mrs. Robson to take
me through every room in the house, since you find the chore too
unpleasant to manage.”
“The house is small enough.” He sighed. “Have you not seen it all by now?”
She stared at him, implacably. He knew her well enough to know she
would not be put off any longer.
He thought of what Mrs. Robson could tell her, and sat back, glancing
around the parlor, remembering. “My parents moved here after their
“Just as we have done,” she remarked encouragingly.
He shuddered, hoping they were not doomed to the same fate as his
father and mother. “They quickly added me to the family.”
“Within ten months?” She smiled.
“Eight, actually.” He thought of his parents for the first time as a
young, eager and passionate couple. It was truly disconcerting. “That
is my mother.” He pointed to the portrait above the mantel behind him.
“And that is my father.” He pointed to the portrait that hung over the
matching fireplace at the other end of the room.
He didn’t care for the discerning gaze trained on him. “What a tragedy
that they died so young.”
“Yes.” A tragedy he did not want to revisit. But it was impossible to
avoid it here. He had shared these quarters with his parents in his
While Helena studied the portrait of his mother as if she might pull
the secrets of his past from the image, he thought of the evenings
Nanny Bea would bring him down fresh from his bath for a visit with
his parents — when they were not traveling. He had tried to be the
very best boy he could, so that his mother’s eyes would shine with
love and his father would pat his head proudly.
His mother would hug him, give him a peppermint and he would go away
happily to bed, the scent of verbena and lemon still with him. That
had all ended when his parents had been killed and he and Nanny Bea
had gone to the big house to live with his grandfather.
Rand rose, restless. He would give her a short tour and a heavily
edited story of his childhood. Every room had memories he could not
escape. Even the entry hall, with the chipped marble tile. He had done
that himself in a childish fit of curiosity.
“However did you make such a gouge?” Helena murmured.
He could not help the grin that spread across his face. “With my
mother’s favorite diamond ring. In order to test my father’s assertion
that diamonds are precious because they are the hardest substance in
“Whatever did she do to you?”
“She kissed me and said I was not to indulge my curiosity with her
valuables again.” Restless at the memory, he moved up the stairs,
Helena trailing behind. “And then she showed me how the diamond would
carve my initials in the mirror above her dressing table.”
“Do you suppose your initials are still there?”
“I don’t know.”
Nothing would do but that they check. The delicate engraving, hidden
by a bottle of scent, brought back a flood of memories he struggled to
suppress as his finger pressed against the flourish that finished the
“R P M.” Helena bent, to peer closely at faint but distinct initials.
“Randolph Philip Mallon.” She traced the letters. “She must have loved
you very much.”
She said it as if to love him was a good thing. He could not bear to
disabuse her of the notion. Tracing the delicate bones exposed by the
arch of her neck, he said, “Enough of this room. Come into the
master’s bedroom and I will give you an intimate tour, beginning with
the bed itself.”
She shook her head and escaped out into the hallway. “We should save
that room for last, my lord. I have a feeling that any time spent
there will leave you wishing for a nap.”
Recognizing that he would be better off indulging her, he followed
with a laugh and briefly recited the purpose of each room as they
climbed up all the way into the attics where he had ruled as a boy.
Feeling that his indulgence should be rewarded, Rand captured her in
the dark and dust of the attic and, amidst the discarded furnishings
of decades past, drew her to him. “Now, I think it is time for us to
return to a close and thorough inspection of the bedroom where the
lord and master rests.”
“As you wish,” she said meekly.
Feeling jubilant that the reward for his patience was at last at hand,
he led her swiftly down the stairs. But then, just as he thought he
had eluded the worst of his fears, Helena asked, “Is there a nursery,
or a place for children, if and when we have them?”
He said curtly, “Yes.”
He would have continued to his room, his bed, his well deserved
reward. But she resisted the pull of his hand, stubbornly and silently
questioning his swift change of mood. He kissed her, hoping that she
would forget her question.
She sighed. “The nursery first, my lord.” So he took her down the
small, easily overlooked hallway that he had hoped she would assume
was a little used closet and into the three rooms in which he had
spent his first five years.
He steeled himself for a view worsened by neglect and the passage of
time. The blow was greater, he found, when he saw that time had not
touched the room. Everything remained unchanged — no, worse —
everything in the nursery, from the oak cradle to the Birchwood horse
and carriage had been refurbished, polished, and left like new.
The nursery was exactly as it had been the day he left this house.
Rand struggled to maintain his calm as Helena moved freely about the
rooms, exclaiming in delight over each new discovery. He would not
have her know his distress. She would only ask why, and he could never
tell her. Never.
She returned to him after what seemed like hours but could only have
been minutes. She smiled up at him, oblivious to the blind panic that
surged inside him. “Our children will be happy here.”
“No doubt.” He took her hand and moved toward the door. Toward escape.
He hoped to get a child quickly. He could not spend much more time
Helena paused before they reached the doorway, ignoring Rand’s
impatient pull. “Why were you so reluctant to show me these rooms? I
confess I thought I would find a nursery so dank and dark I would need
to arrange other quarters. But these rooms are perfect.”
His smile tightened. “I’d rather think about what is required to make
a child than what must be done to raise it.”
“It?” She frowned at him. She was not insensitive to Rand’s distress,
but she could not understand the reason behind it. After all, having a
child was the very reason they were married. A nursery was not a
“Him, then.” He smiled more naturally, and dropped a kiss on the top
of her head. “Our son. The child that we must still make, may I remind
you, before you have need of these rooms.”
“True enough,” she conceded. She took one more look at the rooms her
children, if she were fortunate, might one day romp in. “Though it is
a comfort to know the rooms are ready for our child, whether son or
daughter. The only change I can see making is to remove those heavy
drapes. Natural light is best for a growing child.”
If there was a child, she cautioned herself. Wagers and open
speculation made her wary to assume that Rand’s plans would go as
sunnily as forecast. She smiled at him, and squeezed his hand as she
rocked the oak cradle gently.
Even if he were the kind of man to prefer his children bathed and
brought down only for a kiss at night, an empty nursery should not
make him weak in the knees. She wanted to share her own delight in
planning for a coming child. Wanted to know that the child was more
than a means to an end for him.
How awful for a child to be nothing more to his father than a pawn.
“Perhaps I should finish my sketch of the dower house. We could hang
it on one of these walls for our children.”
To her surprise, he showed the first sign of true delight she had seen
in him since she had asked him to show her the house and the nursery.
His grin was pure wickedness when he said, “Excellent idea. I will
have Dibby run up to the main house and beg provisions for a picnic
from the cook.”
“Sometimes you surprise me,” was all she could manage to say. The
transformation in his demeanor was truly startling. She had a strong
suspicion he had more than a picnic lunch in mind.