My Sister's Intended (Serendipity Book 1)

By: Rachael Anderson

FOR JEFF

MY CONFIDANTE

MY FRIEND

MY HERO





A SHRILL VOICE grated from across the room. “Prudence Edith Gifford!”

Prudence quickly snapped shut the book she had been reading and tucked it beneath the pillow sitting on her lap. Over the years, she’d learned to discern her mother’s mood from the sound her skirts made. A slow and airy swish meant she had nothing to fear, but a hasty scroop, as Prudence heard now, was another matter entirely.

Drat.

Her mother stepped into view wearing her orange taffeta with yellow lace around her pale neck. Combined with her flushed face and blonde curls, she looked very much like the large dahlia growing just outside the study’s window. Prudence’s father was away from home for a week, and she had thought this room the safest place to read without discovery.

She had been mistaken.

“Good morning, Mother.” Prudence managed a bright smile.

In answer, her mother’s eyebrows formed a displeased V. Without a word, she snatched the pillow from her daughter’s lap and revealed the book Prudence had procured only yesterday. The title, The Romance of the Forest, seemed to rise from the cover in an accusing fashion, as though saying, Yes, this is the nonsense that is sullying the mind of your daughter.

Prudence scowled at the book until it, too, was snatched from her lap.

“You are supposed to be practicing the pianoforte, not corrupting your mind with this… this rubbish.”

Prudence nearly blurted, “It is not rubbish,” before she had the presence of mind to clamp her mouth shut. Her mother’s stern expression would become thunderous indeed if her daughter defended such a book. This was not the first time a conversation of this nature had occurred between them—or probably the last. It was a sorry plight indeed to be born the imaginative daughter of the most unyielding stickler alive.

“Have you nothing to say for yourself?” shrilled her mother’s voice again. She shook the book as though it provided the proof needed to convict her daughter of some dastardly deed.

Prudence glanced sorrowfully at the book, knowing it would be the last time she saw that particular copy. Her mother had learned ages ago that she could not return such books to the library or they would eventually find their way back into her daughter’s hands. Instead, she would toss it into the fire and require Prudence to pay for its loss with her dwindling pin money. A petition would be made to the proprietress—again—not to lend Miss Prudence Gifford any more novels.

What her mother didn’t know, however, was that Mrs. Clampton had not loaned Prudence that book. She had loaned it to Miss Abigail Nash, Prudence’s dearest friend, and it was Abby who had passed it along. Unfortunately, her mother would most likely discover Abby’s involvement, and that would be the end of that arrangement. She was nothing if not thorough.

Prudence blew a puff of air from the side of her mouth and frowned. After today, she would have to find another co-conspirator, but who? Her sister, Sophia, had attempted to borrow a book for her the previous summer, but she had been found out and had promised never to do so again. Perhaps one of the Calloway twins? Did she dare ask such a thing of them?

Goodness. Ever since her mother had seized control of Prudence’s life, things had been a great deal more complicated. How she missed her governess! The woman had not only been a wonderful teacher, but when Prudence had been a young girl and the sun went down and dark shadows, creaks, and imaginings threatened her peace of mind, Miss Simpson would sit beside her and invent story after story. Happy stories, adventurous stories, romantic stories—stories that helped Prudence forget her worries and drift off to sleep.

As she grew older, the fears subsided but her yearning for a good tale did not. When Miss Simpson’s services were no longer required and she left the family, Prudence lost both a dear friend and a master storyteller. To ease the sadness, she’d begun to borrow books and create her own stories. It soon became a bit of an obsession.

“Please do not burn it, Mother,” she pleaded. “It is Mrs. Clampton’s only copy, and she would be greatly saddened to learn of its demise.”

“She will be greatly saddened?”

Too late, Prudence realized she ought to have at least pretended to be more concerned with her mother’s feelings than Mrs. Clampton’s. She braced herself for the scolding that would surely come.

“Do you have any idea how saddened I am to learn that you have disobeyed my wishes yet again?” It was a question Prudence wisely refrained from answering. “I cannot account for it—or you. Honestly, child, I do not know what to make of you. You embroider the loveliest creations I have ever beheld, you sing like an angel, play beautifully, and you speak nearly flawless French. Once Sophia marries and you make your come out, you have the potential to outshine every other debutante. Yet you continually persist in filling your mind with nonsense. You are a child no longer, Prudence. It is past time to start behaving like the well-bred young lady you are.”

She gave The Romance of the Forest an angry shake before casting it into the fireplace.