Austenland Page 14

Of course, she returned Mr. Nobley’s silent treatment. Something about the way he looked at her made her feel naked—not naked-sexy, but naked-embarrassed, nakedhe-sees-through-myidiocy-and-knows-what-a-silly-woman-I-am. And she was still straddling the real world and Austenland too precariously to meet his eyes again that day.

The colonel made her laugh and forget, and so despite feeling slightly sticky and foolish and wrapped in a potato sack, Jane had a pretty nice afternoon. She did keep looking out for the tall gardener, hoping he wouldn’t see her pretending to be a lady with two costumed gentlemen. Then once, for a moment, hoping that he would.

JANE DID GET HER BATH and felt the sexier for it, empire waist and all. So, clean and sexy, and fiercely clutching her fake Austenland self, she waited that afternoon in the drawing room for the much-anticipated visit from the denizen of Pembrook Cottage. Jane was wearing one of those small, sheer scarves around her shoulders and knotted at her chest, properly acknowledging that Regency br**sts should be veiled during daylight hours. Miss Charming’s lacy neck scarf barely covered the recesses of her cle**age, daunted as it was by the tundra expanse of the woman’s chest.

Miss Charming was fanning her neck with a hand. Jane did the same. Her dress was of light muslin, but beneath lay chemise, corset, and stockings gartered to her thighs, and the autumn sun was vigorous that day, pounding through the windows and flooding the room. Jane waited faintheartedly for the sound of air- conditioning clicking on. No such luck.

At the sound of the bell, Jane and Miss Charming rose from the sofas, straightened their skirts, and listened for the maid to admit the visitors. The men were elsewhere, of course. Aunt Saffronia was waiting in the hall.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Miss Charming said with no trace of her faux British accent.

“I’d be very impressed if you did.” Just at that moment, Jane had been fantasizing

about chocolate soup, a dessert she’d once inhaled at a spiffy restaurant in Florida. There

was no chocolate in Pembrook Park, though Jane couldn’t figure if that lack was helping

or impeding her attempt at make-believe.

“You’re hoping that Amelia Heartwright is an old, unattractive thing and that the

boys won’t like her at all. Am I right?” Miss Charming bobbed on her toes. ‘Actually, now that you mention it...” Miss Charming made an excellent point.

Jane gave her a sheepish smile.

They were both disappointed.

“Girls! Look who is here at last. Miss Amelia Heartwright. Miss Heartwright,

may I present Miss Elizabeth Charming and my niece, Miss Jane Erstwhile.” The three ladies curtsied and bowed their heads, and noticed how natural and

elegant Miss Heartwright’s curtsy seemed. She had clearly been here before and come

back more, one of Mrs. Wattlesbrook’s ideal clients. She would know the system, the

players, the language and customs. She would be formidable foe.

And she was lovely. Her (natural-looking) blond hair long, twisted up with plenty

of curls around her face. She had open, honest face (heart-shaped even, as those old

writers migh have said), pink cheeks and lips, and darling blue eyes. She slender and tall

and not a day over thirty-nine. Forty-three, tops.

Jane scratched her ankle with a toe beneath her skirt. Mist Charming scowled. “Mama sends her regrets, Lady Templeton, but she is fatigued today,” Miss

Heartwright said in an infuriatingly British accent. “She bade me bring these apples from

our tree.”

Aunt Saffronia took the basket. “Lovely! I will give them the chef and we shall

see what splendid treat he can make out of them. You must stay for dinner, Amelia. I

insist.”

“Thank you, I will.”

Jane and Miss Charming exchanged frowns.

The four ladies sat and chatted, or mostly Miss Heartwright and Aunt Saffronia

chatted while Jane and her unhappy ally listened, glumly plucking at their embroidery.

But among her other qualities, Miss Heartwright was also generous in her attentions. “Miss Erstwhile, do you enjoy novels?”

“I do, yes.

“I know they are naughty things, but I devour novels. The Castle of Otronto had

me in chills.”

“Yes, how can I forget that giant helmet?” Jane had done her homework on gothic

romances a few years ago, thank goodness, in an attempt to appreciate Northanger

Abbey. “But Mrs. Radcliffe’s writings are my favorite, particularly The Mysteries of

Udolpho.”

Miss Heartwright clapped her hands with delight. “Wonderful! We’ll have so

much to talk about. I hope you will call on the cottage often during your stay.” Jane was spared an answer when the maid announced that the gentlemen had

returned from the fields.

“Show them in, thank you,” Aunt Saffronia said.

The gentlemen entered, looking smart in their sporting attire, rough and handsome

in grays and browns, redolent of grass and animals. Jane stood before them, thinking

about whether an 1816 woman would arise for men, and then fumbled her embroidery,

sending it to the ground. Colonel Andrews bent to pick it up. On his breath she caught a

whiff of tobacco, which only slightly damaged the pleasing effect of his charming smile

up close.

The gentlemen remembered Miss Heartwright from last year, of course, and there

was a cordial reunion. Cordial? Jane admitted that they both seemed awfully pleased to

see her. Well, the colonel was effulgent and Mr. Nobley was polite—but wasn’t there a

knowing look that passed between them? Did they, the enchanting Miss Heartwright and

cold Mr. Nobley, have a history?

“You are looking well, Mr. Nobley,” Miss Heartwright was saying. Jane nearly

gasped. Who said such things to that man? “I hope your arm is quite recovered from the

accident last year.

And Mr. Nobley nearly smiled! His eyes did anyway. “You remembered. One of

my less graceful moments.”

Colonel Andrews guffawed. “I had forgotten!” He turned to Jane. “Nobley here

was trying to show off on the ballroom floor— for some lady, no doubt—and he slipped

during the minuet and broke his arm! Or was it a sprain?”

“Not a break,” Mr. Nobley said.

“Do not be so hasty to spoil it, Nobley. A broken bone makes the better story. “Indeed you are right, Colonel Andrews,” Miss Heartwright said. “And I am near

Prev Next