include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Her Caprice by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


A MOST PRIVATE BATTLE

Since Beatrice Thornton was 13 years old she’s been living with a secret that could ruin her family forever. Her parents are the only ones who know, and now, seven years later, they are forced to put on a sham for Beatrice’s late first Season. The plan, make Beatrice as mousy and ill-clothed as possible so no suitor would consider her. Then they can all escape back to their country home in Dorset to keep the terrible secret safe. But the unthinkable happens... Beatrice meets a man who gives her hope of a normal life, and Beatrice dares to love with horrible consequences.

Captain Henry Gracechurch has resigned his commission after living through the horrors and waste of war. Recently returned from Spain, he is cajoled by his formidable godmother to make an appearance at one of her famous balls. When he sees a young woman abandoned on the dance floor, honour commands him to save the day. Nothing could have prepared him for meeting the person who is a balm to his soul and gives wings to his heart. But winning Beatrice Thornton will take every ounce of courage he has, and this is a war he will win, no matter the cost.


HER CAPRICE

Keira Dominguez


www.BOROUGHSPUBLISHINGGROUP.com

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, business establishments or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Boroughs Publishing Group does not have any control over and does not assume responsibility for author or third-party websites, blogs or critiques or their content.

HER CAPRICE

Copyright © 2019 KEIRA DOMINGUEZ

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved. Unless specifically noted, no part of this publication may be reproduced, scanned, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Boroughs Publishing Group. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or by any other means without the permission of Boroughs Publishing Group is illegal and punishable by law. Participation in the piracy of copyrighted materials violates the author’s rights.

ISBN 978-1-948029-60-5

E-book formatting by Maureen Cutajar

www.gopublished.com


For The Uncrushable Debbie West


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank the Klickitat Writers – Christine Sandgren, Afton Nelson and Marianne Monson – for pounding the table and shouting, "It’s a romance! Where is the romance?!", when I needed them to. I would also like to thank an army of beta readers, particularly Mandy Dominguez, Kylene Grell, Amanda Wanner and Donna Lessard, for going over every line and giving me priceless feedback. Finally, I offer my deepest gratitude to my husband Nathan, who, like LeBron, is the greatest of all time.


CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

About the Author


HER CAPRICE


Chapter One

“She’s ready,” Mama stated, and the two young women fell to work at once. One of them stretched a measuring tape between the points of Beatrice’s shoulders and the other wrote the numbers down in a slim black book.

Scratch went the pencil as the women took more measurements—bust, neck, the length of her back, the span between her neck and her heels, hips, waist—until the page titled “Miss Beatrice Thornton, April 18, 1812” was filled.

They left as quickly as they came, and Mama busied herself sorting the pile of parcels into a more correct order, her nervous energy making her daughters as silent as a graveyard. Penny shot Beatrice a cross look. “Liar,” she mouthed.

Beatrice ignored it, longing to reach for the woollen shawl she’d discarded with her dress. She was sick of freezing on the fitting room platform in a thin shift. She was sick of pretending that chartreuse was her favourite colour. She was sick of her little sister calling her a liar because of it.

She would be far sicker by the Season’s end.

Beatrice took a deep breath. She was in London, and in the hallowed shop of Madame Durand, no less. There was magic here—possibilities unfolding with every tinkle of the bell over the front door—and she felt an unformed prayer press against her lips, conflicting with the dutiful course she had decided upon. If a miracle could come to pass, then surely—surely—it would be at the hand of Madame Durand.

Beatrice wanted such small miracles. A closet full of lovely things to liven her time in London and friends to attend lectures and parties with. To be free of Mama standing quite so close, to dance with a young man… Her lips twisted and she finished her list with things as likely to happen: to part the Red Sea and turn water into wine.

She ought to be long past hoping for miracles.

A shiver went through her and she wished again for her shawl. Thankfully, the proprietess did not keep them waiting.

“Madame. I wish to—” Mama began, commanding in her elegant walking dress. Her honey-blonde hair, threaded lightly with grey, was neatly tucked under a scrap of lace. Not even the smallest whiff of rural Dorset clung to her hem.

But Madame clicked her tongue and held up an imperious hand.

“No. I will need a moment,” she said, in a light Gallic accent. Mama made her displeasure evident by using excessively good posture. Madame ignored it, turning to study Beatrice.

Beatrice wanted to shift on nervous feet but made herself stand, tense and frozen. She wasn’t used to scrutiny. Nobody ever looked at her. Not the neighbours who hardly took note of the part she played as the colourless, sickly Thornton girl. Not her parents who took her compliance for granted. Not even herself. When she wasn’t really looking, it was much easier to ignore the fact that her life had become as constraining as a too-tight shoe.

Beatrice gave her head a tiny shake. This restiveness would disappear in the hurricane of activity that would soon pluck them up.

Madame walked slowly around the platform and began, her assistant scribbling in her book as she spoke. “Tall for a girl. Nice figure. Nothing serious we have to hide….” Beatrice found her hand picked up and turned over. “Good hands, slim wrists”—the dressmaker twitched up her shift a couple of inches—“and ankles.” Madame looked square into Beatrice’s face. “Green eyes—leaf green. Light brown hair, like a, like a…” Her hand whirled in the air for a moment and then she snapped her fingers. “…camel.”

Beatrice’s eyes crinkled at the image, sudden laughter lighting her face.

“A sense of humour, too. A pity your hair could not decide whether to be blonde or brunette. Is it long?” she asked, and Beatrice nodded.

“Older than our usual debutantes….” Her voice contained a faint question.

“Twenty,” Beatrice replied, determined not to sound apologetic.

Madame’s eyebrow flicked up and Mama explained, “We were in mourning for two years. Her grandfather and then her aunt.”

“A whole year for an aunt?”

Beatrice darted her eyes to Mama, who only lifted her chin.

“My condolences, of course.” Madame dipped her chin. “But it makes it easier since there is no puppy fat to manage. Not a raving beauty, but we can make a good deal of your daughter. Better than has been made.”

She turned disgusted eyes to the hook holding the old blue gown Beatrice had come in. Beatrice was surprised at the protective feeling she had for the thing.

“Madame—” Mama broke in.

Madame paid no attention. “But at least the colour was correct.” She half-turned her head, calling out to the assistant, “Blues and greens for her—small patterns are acceptable. Soft whites, like cream on the top of a fresh pail of milk—”

Beatrice could not stop the word when it came on a delighted breath of sound. “Yes.”

Mama’s eyes shot daggers and she gave her head a tiny, furious shake. Beatrice blushed hot and swallowed her words.

“Rich pinks. No light yellow. No brown. It would ruin her.” Madame clapped her hands, almost conjuring the dresses out of thin air, and Beatrice felt her heart beat like an ocean in her chest.

“Madame,” Mama called, not quite shouting. “A word, if you please.”

Madame Durand turned with exaggerated patience and raised her eyebrow again, communicating the right mixture of inquiry and rudeness that her people had mastered.

Madame dismissed her assistant and Mama sent Penny to the front of the shop to select a few of her own things. As her little sister left, Beatrice envied the jonquil muslin that graced her girlish figure. It had all the hallmarks of Mama’s excellent taste, and made her look exactly what she was, fresh and fourteen.

“What is it you wish to say, ma’am?” Madame Durand asked. Beatrice felt a flush crawl over her skin and began an earnest prayer that Mama, for all her authority, would not be able to bend the formidable dressmaker to her will.

Into the silence, Mama dropped a small conversational pebble that sank and rippled out in waves. “We wish to hire you on a limited basis.”

Madame’s superior eyebrow crept higher. “Limited? The people who can afford me do not do so for my limited service.”

“Thorntons pay their bills on time,” Mama scoffed, looking grander than Beatrice had ever seen her. “Though we want your service to be limited, I am prepared to pay the full sum.”

That got Madame’s attention. Mama pulled a sheaf of papers from her reticule, handing them over to the Frenchwoman.

Madame leafed through them, moving her lips over the lines as she read, shuffling them back and forth as a sharp, vertical line formed between her brows. “Your own designs?” she asked politely, the promise of payment, no doubt, colouring her tone. “They are not—” She pulled one of the papers loose and stabbed at it with a finger. “This is most unorthodox. I do not know what they are doing in Dorset, but if it is this, it is a wonder they are still breeding.”

Money would only go so far with Madame.

The famous dressmaker moved her arms wide, hardly encompassing her disapproval. “No flounces or trim anywhere, and that the neck is to be cut—cut nowhere at all. Has Miss Thornton become a leper that one should shroud her so fully?” She smacked the pages with the back of her hand.

Beatrice dreaded these gowns, never mind the lies she told Penny. But this was what Mama—what she, herself, had planned. While the dressmaker became more voluble, Beatrice forced herself to stand silent.

“And this. You have written that it should be made in a colour you’ve named ‘old jellied salmon.’ The mind reels. The stomach revolts.”

Mama turned with rebuking calmness to the table behind her. “I anticipated your difficulty in finding what I wished. I took the liberty of shopping for fabrics at Grafton’s before coming.”

Madame glowered at the pile. “If they carry rotting salmon silk, my estimation of that establishment will plummet like a rock.”

It did plummet like a rock.

Mama unfurled the salmon silk and the boiled yellow velvet and a brown muslin stripe that Mama insisted should be cut width-wise, and many other less awful fabrics whose only sin was that they were not flattering to her daughter in the least.

Beatrice looked longingly at the faded blue cotton dress. Had she really hated it only last week? She remembered that it felt tired and drab and made her blend into the walls, but now she imagined herself pulling it down and banging past her mother and a shocked Madame. She would charge through the door with the bell jangling after her and sprint into the street with it, pinning it closed as she went.

She looked away and swallowed, repeating the litany which had borne her though the last six months. The British Museum and the Royal Gallery… and Astley’s Amphitheatre… and Gunter’s ices, and all the books I could want from Hatchard’s.

“Show me the next outrage,” Madame instructed, dropping the brown muslin stripe. Mama continued unwrapping parcels, not finished until an entire wardrobe’s worth of horrors lay on the table looking as discordant as the contents of a rag-man’s cart.

Madame fell into a chair and leaned against the table, her head in her hands. “We shall have to call a priest to bless this room when you go. Those horrors are surely proof that le bon Dieu did not create everything. I will not lay those at His door.” She scrubbed her face and slapped her hands on her thighs, coming to a decision. “I cannot do it. I won’t.”

Le bon Dieu, was this a reprieve? Beatrice wanted to throw her arms about Madame’s neck and weep. For how could the monstrosities be made if no one would make them?

“Let me speak plainly. Those fabrics are ruinous, Mrs Thornton,” Madame stated. “Do you want her Season to be a failure?”

Silence reigned in the tiny fitting room and Beatrice made sure not to look Mama in the face. Madame had actually spoken the words aloud, but she didn’t know—couldn’t possibly—that a failed Season was exactly what she was planning. She and Mama and Papa.

Mama gathered her composure. “I will not accept your refusal, Madame,” she sniffed.

Madame pinched the bridge of her nose. “This is not how it was with your eldest daughter”—she snapped her fingers several times, searching for the name—“Miss Deborah. No expense was spared in that case. Her clothes were some of my best.”

Mama’s lips thinned.

“You stayed in Dorset, if I remember,” Madame said, her look shrewd. “And left the whole of it to her godmother. Perhaps you should—”

“You do not need to involve yourself in my personal arrangements, Madame.”

“I agree. I do not need to involve myself at all. You could hire a rough needlewoman mending sails down at the docks to execute those….” Madame left the rest unsaid and gave the shudder that Beatrice had been holding.

Mama held up a firm hand. “Throughout London, your establishment is famous for discretion. Gossip is said to come in these doors but does not come out. It is a rare quality, and one I will pay handsomely for.”

Madame’s eyes narrowed. “How handsomely?”

Beatrice stared hard at her toes.

The number Mama named made Madame suck in her breath and still her mouth. A curt nod and the bargain was struck. Beatrice’s lip shook before she captured it between her teeth. Why be upset now? She had known this day was coming for a long time.

Mama smoothed her hair and Madame smiled a tight, sour smile. The fittings proceeded in the regular fashion—if one ignored that Madame sounded like an angry bull, breathing in furious gusts. The assistants, when they joined the room, fluttered nervously at the sight of the fabrics and gave one another speaking looks over Madame’s bent head.

Standing as still as could be, Beatrice swallowed. Madame had been her last bulwark. It was going to unfold just as Mama said, and she went hot and cold at the thought. However, she was in London. Beatrice became pliant, letting her arms be raised and then lowered as the women manipulated the fabric on her body.

Gunter’s. Hatchard’s. Astley’s. The British Museum…. She blew the sting of tears away with slow and steady breaths as she was turned this way and that.

While taking the last fitting for a walking dress in the hated chartreuse, Penny entered again, settling onto the chair.

“Looser, Madame,” Mama instructed, repeating a phrase that had become a litany. “More fullness in the bust and sleeve.”

Madame glared. “You should go to the fabric emporium and throw a bolt over her shoulder, my lady. Maybe tie a rope around her waist.” She waved and Mama, possibly feeling her luck running out, subsided to a spot near the wall.

Penny’s mouth dropped open. “Ooh, it’s dreadful.”

Beatrice blushed, but was quick with an answer. “No, it isn’t. I’m sure Mama knows what would suit me best.”

Simple. Plausible. Beatrice almost believed it herself, which, as Mama had instructed, was the best way to tell a lie.

She danced a little farther out on a limb. “I’ve been buried so long at Thorndene that I can hardly be expected to know the fashions.”

The words jostled against the careful fiction Beatrice had been constructing, threatening to topple it. Seven years in Dorset and still Beatrice kept copies of La Belle Assemblee squirreled away among more worthy periodicals at her bedside. Beatrice stifled a sigh. If those fashionable pages could know what she was doing, the paper would curl up and burst into flame.

It took every ounce of willpower to smile and say, “It will look different when the needlewomen begin.” Madame, her mouth full of pins, snorted.

Penny blinked. “But I got such beautiful things. Why—”

“Penelope.” Mama snapped, managing to threaten the loss of Penny’s Hatchard’s subscription and to send her back to Dorset without even saying the words.

Madame smiled and stirred the pot. “This one has taste, huh?”

She secured a pin under Beatrice’s arm and said to Mama, “If you would care to finish Miss Penelope’s order, you may do so now. I have only a few more minutes with this. The mademoiselles,” she nodded to her assistants, “will attend you in the shop.”

When the door clicked shut, Madame pinched Beatrice on the arm. “Ouch,” she yelped, rubbing the spot and casting a wounded look at the dressmaker.

“Listen, girl. I am being paid enough to be profoundly incurious. You are trying to smile for your sister and trying to smile for your mother. A girl should smile a little for herself, non?”

Beatrice stared, her eyes like saucers.

Madame leaned close. “Not one of these dresses will suit you. I am sorry, but your Mama is a genius in her own way.” She spread her hands. “Her taste is terrible, but her money is good. When you can, use a scarf—a pretty scarf in blue or green—or a hat that frames you.” She spread her fingers across the crown of her head indicating the type of hat. “A gentleman, despite what pains we take, won’t notice the horrors of the dress if you give him something else to look at.”

Beatrice nodded and then her eyes were caught by her figure in the looking glass. She had none of Deborah’s vivid colouring to carry off such a shade. Her quiet looks were well and truly eclipsed by the difficult green.

Madame followed her eyes. “Heaven knows how you will manage to make a match. I will light a candle for you, mon petit.”

Beatrice’s smile faded as Madame departed. A hundred such candles would do her no good. Scores of girls would be descending on London for the Season, all of them looking about for a husband, and each of their mothers would be as anxious to make them good marriages as the girls were themselves.

But Beatrice’s mother was praying for failure. Marriage, as Beatrice had been told from the time she was thirteen, was not for her.

In the coming weeks, they must navigate the Season as quietly as possible and enjoy the pleasures of London. Mama had told her she was lucky not to have any other distractions. Beatrice blew a clean breath and shook her head. Mama was right.

But alone now, Beatrice allowed the voice at the back of her mind to speak.

Liar.


Chapter Two

Beatrice swallowed past a sudden lump in her throat as she watched a vision in pale blue and gold thread make her way up her godmother’s grand stairway. It would be easier for her to leap across the English Channel than to bridge the gulf that lay between that gown and her own.

She gripped the handle of her fan as Mama’s eyes roved over her person. What did she see? Hair bristling with hairpins. A face made sallow next to the uncompromising whiteness of the dress. A figure hidden by yards of unnecessary fabric. Mama ran proprietary hands along a seam and pulled out a loose thread, adjusting the neckline of Beatrice’s gown.

“Best get it over with at once,” Mama said, confronting the stairs like Saint George addressing the dragon. Beatrice felt a giggle bubble to the surface. This was ridiculous.

“What?” Mama snapped, as brittle as kindling.

“Nothing,” Beatrice replied, tucking her smiles away. They would not be needed tonight. “We have nothing to fear. I’m well practiced at failure.”


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-13 show above.)