Dragged by her aunt for a season in Bath, the Honourable Miss Miriam Knightly promises to make herself agreeable to any unmarried man she meets. All in the hope that one of them will overlook her lameness and offer marriage.
Vincent, the Earl of Chantry, needs a wife in order to inherit the funds he needs to prolong his merry London lifestyle. What better candidate for a marriage of convenience than an unfortunate lady with little prospects of gaining a husband? Miss Knightly. He happily foresees planting her at his country estate while he returns to London.
However, Miriam, a lady of independent character and means, secretly refuses to fall at the feet of the gentlemen who do propose—including the handsome Earl of Chantry. His proposal couched in cold business terms, distresses her. For already, his very touch makes her pulse race. Can she accept his proposal and live in hope that one day he will come to care for her?
When Miriam returned to the entrance of the opera house cloakroom, she looked around to see if there was anyone who could assist her to return to her seat, but she did not recognize anyone.
Never mind, she thought. I will take it slowly and get back on my own. Thus resolved, Miriam started to walk and was progressing well until she reached the stairs. She rested for a short time at the bottom of the stairs before starting her ascent. She felt a little nervous because people all around her were hurrying to get back to their seats before the start of the second act. She managed the first step without problem, but just as she stepped onto the second, someone inadvertently brushed against her, causing her to lose her balance and begin to fall backward.
To her surprise her fall was halted before she hit the floor by two large hands that encircled her waist and steadied her back into a standing position. She turned her head to see who had rescued her and found herself looking up into the handsome face of Vincent Mount-Parker, who still held her in his arms. She could feel her face reddening with embarrassment at the same time her heart pounded in her ears. She could feel the heat of his hands through her gown and her body felt scorched where he touched her.
“Th-thank you,” she stuttered. “I appear to have lost my balance.” For goodness’ sake, talk about stating the obvious. He would think her a simpleton.
The earl did not release her. “I am glad I was here to catch you. If you take my arm, I will see that you get back to your seat without further mishap.”
“Oh, please do not trouble yourself,” Miriam implored. “I make very slow progress and I fear you would miss the start of Act Two.”
He shrugged. “’Tis no trouble. I do not think I will suffer too greatly if I miss the start of the next act.” Vincent frowned. Did she not consider the insult to him, as a gentleman, should she refuse his assistance? He purposely steered her upward.
Miriam was about to protest further but took one look at his face, which was set in a stubborn manner, and placed her hand on his arm.
“I am sure you cannot mean that!” exclaimed Miriam. “The opera is enthralling and the characters interesting. The sisters are played so well and the singing is beautiful.”
“In general, I do enjoy the opera. However, I think the first act of this opera may have more appeal to ladies than gentlemen.” A faint smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
Miriam found herself entranced by his mouth. What would it feel like, she wondered, to run her fingers over those well-defined lips? Would they be soft? Firm? Cool or warm to the touch?
Miriam caught herself with difficulty. What in heaven’s name was wrong with her? She brought her mind back to their conversation. Smiling up at him, she agreed that he might well be right, and they both laughed.
“Do you visit the opera house frequently?” asked Vincent. For some reason he found he really wanted to find out a little more about the mysterious Miriam Knightly.
“There is a beautiful opera house in Buxton, close to where I live, that I attend, but this opera has not played there as yet. Have you seen Venus and Adonis? I think it’s my favourite!” Miriam was finding Vincent very easy to talk to.
“I have seen more than one production of that opera. I enjoy it all the more for its being in English,” was Vincent’s honest observation.
In what seemed to be very little time they reached the top of the stairs. By now Miriam found she was having to lean quite heavily on the earl, but this did not seem to bother him in the slightest. In fact, he had shown great consideration; he had not rushed her and had allowed her to set the speed of their ascent. Miriam realized that the second act had indeed already started.
“Please do go ahead,” she begged him again. “You have already missed the beginning of Act Two.”
“It is you I feel will suffer for having missed it more than I, so please think no more of it,” Vincent assured her, knowing this to be the truth. “Do you want me to take you into your box or will you manage from here?” He had quite enjoyed her company and would have been happy to prolong the encounter.
“I can manage well and thank you again for your assistance.” She removed her hand from his arm and gave a small curtsy. He bowed in return before they moved apart.
Miriam slipped back into the box and resumed her seat beside her aunt. But she found she could not settle in to watch the opera. Instead, she kept remembering how it had felt to have strong arms catch her when she had fallen…
Helen A. Grant lives in the county of South Yorkshire, England.
Having been introduced to Jane Austen novels while in high school she developed a life-long passion for historical novels.
With two grown children who have now left home and a lots of storyline ideas Helen has now found the time to pursue her dream of writing historical novels. When she is not writing, Helen works part time as a community nurse with people with learning disabilities.
In Pursuit of Miriam is her first historical novel.
For updates on novels yet to come, visit Helen’s website at https://sites.google.com/site/helenannettegrant/home.
Readers can contact Helen via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.