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Her Officer and Gentleman
by Karen Hawkins
Avon, 2006

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Chapter One

Good manners do not necessarily prove good breeding. Oddly enough, this is true of both gentlemen and horses.

A Compleat Guide for
Being a Most Proper Butler
by Richard Robert Reeves

It all started with Lady Findercombe's rather impressive bosom.

Born of rather common parents and less than passable beauty, Miss Lucilla Trent was delighted when, at the tender age of sixteen, she developed what can only be described as "a woman's figure."

Lucilla, never a romantic sort, was overjoyed when her womanly figure caught old Lord Findercombe's rather jaundiced eye. The jaded bachelor was entranced enough to toss caution to the winds and beg for Lucilla's hand in marriage without regard for either her lack of dowry or the fact that her left eye had a rather disturbing tendency to wander.

Naturally, Mr. and Mrs. Trent were enthused. Though Lucilla found Lord Findercombe both old and dull, he was well connected, was invited everywhere, and was willing to set her up with an indulgent amount of pin money. They were, many said, a perfect match.

Once married, Lord Findercombe bestowed a wealth of heavy decorative brooches and necklaces on his wife that drew attention to her finest features. The combination of bountiful bosom and jaunty jewels soon became an accepted sight in society.

All was well and good until the night of the Hearsts' Grand Ball. The ball was held every year two weeks prior to the beginning of the season. Located only a half day's ride from town, the event was a stopping place for all the best of the best on their annual move to their London town houses.

It had become something of a tradition; the large sitting rooms and the impressive ballroom crowded to the fullest. Every year, Lady Hearst flitted from guest to guest, gathering and passing on gossip like a bee pollinating a colorful garden.

Normally, the Hearsts' Grand Ball was held up as an example of a well-thought-out and unique entertainment, a fact that delighted Lady Hearst no small amount. However, this year things were not going as planned. Within an hour of beginning, the ball was, in fact, in dire danger of falling apart.

The wonderful orchestra Lady Hearst had hired had come down with the ague. At the last minute, she'd been forced to replace them with a smallish local quartet, which was hardly the thing for a large, crowded ballroom. Then she discovered that the long sheers she'd ordered draped around the ballroom to add an air of gaiety had an odd smell -- rather musty and barn-like -- a fact she did not discover until too late to order their removal. But the worst disaster was the ices.

A spate of unusually mild weather had caused the front hallway to be far warmer than usual, and all the lovely ices she'd ordered specially from London had begun to melt before the first guest had arrived. She'd been so excited about those ices, too. They had been shaped to look like Admiral Nelson on board the Victory to commemorate the glorious Battle of Trafalgar, a topic much on the minds and tongues of the ton.

As the ices melted, hundreds of small Admiral Nelsons began to shrink. Worse, his left arm, extended and holding a sword to the throat of a panicked Frenchman, fell off completely and landed on the upturned face of his vanquished foe, giving the entire scene a rather cannibalistic air.

The real Admiral Nelson had indeed lost an arm in battle, and Lady Hearst feared her guests would think her insensitive or, worse, unpatriotic. Her fears were quite justified when she caught not one but three spiteful women whispering just such a thing to one another during the evening.

All in all, the ball was filled, which made it acceptable, but the rooms languished with yawns and desultory small talk. The guests were bored, which was the worst thing that could happen to a society hostess, even over the advent of a fire or a fatality of some sort. At least that would have been interesting.

Into this listless event came the noisy entrance of Lord and Lady Findercombe. It was well past midnight, and Lady Hearst had long since abandoned her post by the door, but at the suddenly animated bustle, she and her husband hurried to see who had just arrived and in such an excitable state. Lady Hearst reached the entryway first and found the Findercombes standing amid a rapidly growing crowd.

"We," Lord Findercombe said, his voice trembling in outrage, "were robbed!"

In a flash, the ennui that had held the company at bay for the past four hours disappeared.

"Good God," said Lord Hearst over the noise of the now-buzzing crowd. "Lord Findercombe, how did this come to happen?"

His Lordship turned to his wife. "Lucilla, show them!"

Lucilla untied the bow at her neck, tossed open her cloak, and exposed her low-cut gown. Her magnificent décolletage was framed for viewing, the object of all attention.

For a moment, the busy hum of voices abated.

Lady Hearst's cheeks heated, while a rather inebriated gentleman by the door leaned forward and squinted. After a moment, he said, "They look just fine to me! Both of 'em!"

A wave of laughter arose from the crowd.

Lord Findercombe glared at the young buck. "Not her bosom, you fool! Her jewels! Gone, all of them! A highwayman stopped our carriage and stole everything!"

"You don't say!" Lord Hearst exclaimed.

"Yes, and the ruffian had the audacity to tell Lucilla that she might keep one of her brooches did she give him a kiss!"

Lady Hearst gazed anxiously at Lucilla. But the younger lady did not appear at all outraged. A faint, very secretive smile touched her lips. For a moment, Lucilla's rather plain features assumed a very attractive and somewhat sensual look.

The gathering swarmed with excited whispers. More people tried to crowd into the narrow entryway, many craning their necks to . . .

Excerpted from Her Officer and Gentleman by Karen Hawkins. Copyright © 2006 by Karen Hawkins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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