No new gowns. No garden parties or musicales. Not as an invited guest, anyhow. Perhaps by default, she would attend as an older woman’s companion, but it was time she gave up her hopes of finding a husband and having a home and family of her own.
She huffed and then most unfortunately, when her foot next landed, it shot right out from under her. With a most unladylike squeal, arms swinging wildly in the air, she sent her valise flying and then landed hard on the road—her backside stinging as a result.
The dirt wasn’t quite frozen, and when she went to push herself up, her beautiful new gloves sank into the mud.
If she weren’t the perpetual good girl, she’d be cursing up a storm. “Drat,” she huffed instead. And then, “Fiddlesticks!”
All the genuinely offensive obscenities eluded her when she needed them most.
Turning carefully onto her knees, covered in sludge now, Delia managed to find her feet again. As she glanced around in search of her valise, a gust of wind lifted her bonnet, which must have come untied sometime between there and the inn.
Delia reached for it, but the cruel wintery gust was quicker than she, sending her bonnet soaring across the meadow, white ties floating behind like a kite in spring. It hovered, giving her pause to consider taking chase, but then disappeared over the trees.
Under any other circumstances she might have found the whimsical spectacle entertaining, but not today—not with the cold air biting at the tips of her ears and a snowy squall undoing her coiffure.
She closed her eyes. “One, two, three, four.” She didn’t want to be emotional about her predicament. It was her own fault, after all, for not paying close enough attention to the mail coach driver’s announcement, and also for spending most of her money on her new gloves.
Which were now covered with mud.
Delia brushed her hair away from her face, finding it hanging loose, and did her best to weave it into a single thick braid. If she allowed it to continue thrashing about her face like this, she’d never see where she was going.
And darkness wasn’t far off. Trying not to panic, Delia retrieved her belongings and redoubled her efforts along the road.
Should she turn back? But there was no guarantee the innkeeper would take pity on her this time. And since she couldn’t afford to pay, she continued.
Meanwhile, the wind increased and she was beginning to question if she was even walking in the right direction.
She should have turned back.
For as long as Delia remembered, she’d been an optimistic person. She’d hoped for the best, found silver linings in rain clouds.
And recently, upon hearing that her brother had squandered their family’s fortune, she’d determined to view her position as Lady St. Vincent’s companion to be no more than a new challenge.
Trudging through what was quickly turning into a blizzard, Delia felt her face turning numb while ice formed in her hair. And as if that wasn’t discouraging enough, her spectacles had fogged to the degree that she could barely make out where she was going.
Was this to be her life now?
If she were one of the heroines in the romance novels she enjoyed reading, right about now a handsome prince would drive up in a fantastic carriage. He would scoop her into his arms, place her inside of his luxurious conveyance, cover her with a quilt, and set her feet on his heated brick.
He would, of course, fall madly in love with her at first sight.
Because he wouldn’t notice the mud on her gown—nor would he notice that her hair was straggling down her back. And he would think that her spectacles were charming.
This honorable gentleman would see past her plain-looking nose and her too-rounded figure and recognize that she was beautiful inside.
And then he would take her to his castle on a hill, make her his princess, and eventually pay off all of her family’s debts. Although, Delia paused in her most delicious ponderings, her handsome prince would insist that Bartholomew, her brother, atone for having ruined their family so selfishly. Nothing too horrible, mind you. But Bartholomew would have to face some unpleasantness that would teach him a lesson.
Her prince would have golden hair and eyes the color of a summer sky. He would be charming to her mother and father and kind—but not overly so—to her sister Rachel.
Delia even allowed herself to imagine that her sister, who wasn’t always the most pleasant of persons, might find herself feeling slightly jealous of her younger sister.
Of whom she’d demeaned at least several times a day for as long as Delia could remember.
A biting gust whipped her out of the fantasy that had almost begun to warm her. And realizing that moisture had seeped through her well-worn half-boots, genuine fear struck her.
Her coat, although made of warm wool, hadn’t been designed to protect a lady from such dire conditions. And it didn’t help matters that she hadn’t thought to wear a scarf—or that she’d lost her bonnet.
Hopelessness swept through her. There was no silver lining in these predicaments.