Page 1 of Earls Prize Curves


London, England 1821

“I hardly slept a wink last night in this drafty room. Are you sure you stoked the fire properly before retiring to your bed, dear?” Mrs. Netherfield shuddered under the heavy shawl blanketing her shoulders as if to punctuate her point.

It's the middle of June.

Clara bit her tongue before a snide reply followed her mother’s question. Of course, she’d stoked it properly. As the primary caretaker for her parents, it was Clara’s responsibility to ensure their comfort, whether feeding them plain oatmeal in the mornings or keeping their bed chamber hotter than Hades every night.

Typical duties of a nursemaid unless one had the misfortune of being born to Mr. and Mrs. Netherfield—a respectable older couple who’d been dealt an unexpected hand with Clara’s surprise birth decades into their marriage. As such, she’d grown up in a dismal home that lacked fresh air and sunlight due to her parents requiring an excess of heat and shadows.

Why else would the Lord give us a daughter after so many long years of barrenness?Her father would ask.

Because He wanted to reward our financial stewardship by providing a child to care for our needs.Her mother always answered.

As if they’d received the Lord’s personal stamp of approval for turning their only daughter into an extra servant.

“Yes, Mother. However, I’ll add another coal to the fire tonight, if you think it will help.”

Mrs. Netherfield vehemently shook her head. “No, no… We can’t afford such an extravagance. Perhaps another blanket will help.”

Clara nodded, expecting such an answer. While they came from a long line of blue bloods who had accrued a sizable fortune, the Netherfields were skinflints. Which was why she tended to her parents’ needs rather than a hired nurse.

If only I could escape…

But there was only one path in front of her, and she refused to trek further downthatrocky road before it became absolutely necessary.

“If there’s nothing else you require, the Covington ladies are expecting me. Shall I give them your regards?” Clara collected the leftover dishes from her mother’s breakfast and waited for the older woman’s response.

"The Earl of Covington's daughters? Nice girls, though it's a shame about their mother. They lost her too soon and will never know the joy of caring for her in her old age." Her mother patted a wrinkled hand on Clara's unblemished one in sympathy. "It builds a special bond between parent and child, doesn't it, dear? And builds your character doing the Lord's work. Honoring your mother and father."

Nausea slicked Clara's gut. She hated the use of religion to justify her servitude.

Nodding in placation, she shuffled away and fled downstairs to deliver the dirty dishes to the kitchen staff.

“Good morning, miss. How’s your mother feeling today?” Cook offered a kindly smile, aware of Clara’s unfortunate lot in life though helpless to change it. The best the robust woman could do was treat Clara to her rich pastries whenever the young miss needed a bit of cheering up, which occurred quite regularly.

“Same as always. She complained of being cold again, and Father voiced a similar concern earlier when I brought his breakfast tray to the study.”

“Goodness! Chilled at this time of year? And in this house? The rest of us are a bunch of biscuits baking in this heat!”

Grateful for the woman's cheerful humor after a dreary morning with her mother, Clara laughed at the comparison and patted her round stomach. “If only I could stop rising…” she teased.

Cook scoffed at the veiled criticism. “Oh, posh! You’re beautiful, Miss Clara. Any man would be lucky to call you his wife.”

Yet my choice of a husband has been narrowed down to one, despite my best efforts.

Men spoke to her at parties and offered to dance, but no one’s attention lasted for more than the requisite time. Clara attributed her lack of suitors to an insufficient dowry and an abundance of curves that pushed the boundaries of fashionable.

Pleasingly plump was acceptable.

Overflowing one’s gowns due to excess weight and ill-fitting dresses was most certainly not.

“Thank you, but you and I both know what man is in my future.”

Lord Evanston.

Bony, balding, and thrice her age, the gentleman maintained a long-standing friendship with Clara’s father and was the prime candidate for her future husband. A future that would be much like her current life except with an extra elder to care for, but she would stave off the unfortunate event for as long as she could.

Tags: Jemma Frost Historical
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