Laura Lee Guhrke

New York Times Best Selling Author of Historical Romance

The Trouble with True Love

 

Dear Lady Truelove,

   I am a girl of noble family, but I am painfully shy, especially in my encounters with those of the opposite sex . . . 

   For Clara Deverill, standing in for the real Lady Truelove means dispensing advice on problems she herself has never managed to overcome. There’s nothing for it but to retreat to a tearoom and hope inspiration strikes between scones. It doesn’t—until Clara overhears a rake waxing eloquent on the art of “honorable” jilting. The cad may look like an Adonis, but he’s about to find himself on the wrong side of Lady Truelove.
 
   Rex Galbraith is an heir with no plans to produce a spare. He flirts with the minimum number of eligible young ladies to humor his matchmaking aunt, but Clara’s the first to ever catch his roving eye. When he realizes that Clara—as Lady Truelove—has used his advice as newspaper fodder, he’s infuriated. But when he’s forced into a secret alliance with her, he realizes he’s got a much bigger problem—because Clara is upending everything Rex thought he knew about women—and about himself. . . .

From Chapter One:

       Clara Deverill was twenty-two years old before she discovered in herself a flaw she hadn’t even known she possessed.

     It wasn’t her shyness, for she was already quite familiar with that aspect of her character. It was something she battled on a daily basis.

     Nor was it her unremarkable looks, for she’d long ago accepted the fact that brown hair, a round face, and a freckle-dusted button nose were not characteristics that set the average man’s pulses racing, particularly when combined with a figure that was more reminiscent of a young girl than a fully-grown woman.

     And it certainly wasn’t her traditional views and values, for though her bold, very modern sister Irene often teased her about her hopelessly old-fashioned outlook, most people, including Clara herself, regarded the desire to find a good man, get married, and become a mother as a perfectly reasonable goal in life. No, Clara admitted as she cast a gloomy eye over the pile of letters on her desk, procrastination was her greatest flaw, and a facet of her character she had only begun to appreciate a mere ten days ago.

     She plunked an elbow on the desk and her chin in her hand, staring at the telegram that rested atop the pile of envelopes before her. There was no need to read it, for she’d done that so many times already that the words were engraved on her memory.

Glad papa is well Having wonderful time Want to extend trip eight weeks seeing greece and egypt You can manage lady truelove until jonathan arrives cant you darling Dont worry You will be splendid Respond via cooks venice by 07 may Irene

     Clara was glad her sister was enjoying her honeymoon, but she couldn’t summon any enthusiasm about Irene’s plan to lengthen the trip, for things here at home were not going quite as smoothly as her letters to her sister might have implied.

     Their father had always had a fondness for brandy, a fondness that had only increased since his eldest daughter’s departure for the Continent. As for Jonathan, their brother had agreed to come home from America and take over management of the family newspaper business, but nearly two months after his promised arrival, he had still not appeared, and Clara’s letters to him inquiring on the subject had been answered only with vague promises. Her cable a few days ago demanding a specific date had not yet garnered a response.

     Clara had no intention of worrying Irene with any of that when she was on her honeymoon, and she had cabled her sister a positive reply about Egypt at once. There was nothing else to be done. Irene had always taken care of her and provided for her, never once asking for anything in return until now, and Clara would rather have cut off her arm than object to her sister’s once-in-a-lifetime trip.

     Still, as she stared down at Irene’s cable and the pile of correspondence beneath it, she appreciated that sisterly loyalty did have its drawbacks, for now she was stuck with Lady Truelove until her brother arrived or her sister came home.

     Don’t worry, darling.

     Clara wasn’t the least bit encouraged by those words. All very well, she thought darkly, for Irene to say such a thing.

     Her sister never worried about anything, and why should she? Irene was beautiful, accomplished, and filled to the brim with self-confidence. After their mother’s death ten years ago, she had taken over the household and managed it on nearly nothing a year. She’d reinvigorated the family’s deteriorating newspaper business by producing a profitable society paper, and in doing so, she had also created Lady Truelove, London’s most popular advice columnist. She’d then capped those triumphs by marrying the handsome and very eligible Duke of Torquil, and upon her return to England, she intended to use her influence as a duchess to help achieve the vote for women. Clara had no doubt her sister would succeed there, too. Irene succeeded at everything she touched.

     Clara bit her lip, staring down at the telegram, more aware than ever before that she’d never possessed Irene’s gifts, looks, or blithe confidence.

     You will be splendid.

     Would she? Clara couldn’t share her sister’s faith in her abilities. A woman who was shy and plain, who stammered when she was nervous and had never caught a man’s eye in her life, could hardly be splendid at advising people about love and romance.

     That was the gist of the problem, of course, and the entire reason she’d spent over a week with the letters stacked, untouched, on one corner of her desk. But now, she was running out of time, and she did not have the luxury of procrastinating any longer.

     Reminding herself of all that Irene had done for her, Clara took a deep breath, shoved aside her sister’s telegram, and reached for the first letter on top of the pile. A knock on her door gave her pause, and Clara felt an irrational wave of relief. The emotion was short-lived, however, evaporating the moment the door opened and Mr. Beale entered her office.

     Augustus Beale was the editor of the Weekly Gazette. Before her marriage, Irene had been both the newspaper’s editor and publisher, but before leaving on her honeymoon, she’d hired Mr. Beale to take over the editorial portion of her duties. It had proved a surprising and rather uncharacteristic error in judgement. Despite substantial experience and laudatory letters of character, Augustus Beale was, at least in Clara’s opinion, an odious man. At this moment, she noted, he was also a very angry one.

     “Miss Deverill.” He ground out her name as if its utterance took great effort. “Is there any word of your brother’s arrival?”

     A question the man asked every day, and one to which she gave the same answer she always did. She tried to give it with cheer. “I’m afraid not. But,” she added, crossing her fingers under the desk, “I’m sure he’ll be arriving any day. In the meantime, can I be of help?”

     He frowned, his thick dark brows coming together over his nose in a shape rather reminiscent of an over-grown yew hedge. “I doubt it.”

     “I see. Well, then . . .” She paused, casting a hopeful glance at the door. Sadly, Mr. Beale did not depart.

     “I still do not have Lady Truelove’s column.”

     “It hasn’t arrived?” She worked to put an expression of innocent surprise on her face, for Lady Truelove’s real identity was a closely-guarded secret, one even the Gazette’s editor wasn’t allowed to know. “Oh, dear. I can’t imagine what is causing such a delay. Lady Truelove is usually most reliable.”

     He strode to Clara’s desk and dropped the layout of Monday’s edition on top of the letters on her desk. It was opened to a page bearing the typed headline, Dear Lady Truelove.

     “Do you see this?” he demanded, stabbing a finger at the vast expanse of white space below the headline. “It’s blank,” he added, as if she couldn’t see that for herself. “The blasted woman is two days late now. You and I seem to have very different definitions of reliability, Miss Deverill.”

     Clara grimaced, guilt pricking her conscience. She might not like Mr. Beale, but he had every right to be frustrated. “I shall pay a call upon Lady Truelove immediately and see what—”

      “Do,” he said, snapping out the order as if she were a hired member of the newspaper staff. “Tell her she has until four o’clock. If her silly advice column isn’t here by then, I’ll choose something to take its place and your Lady Truelove will be out of a job.”

      Have Irene come back to find the Gazette’s most popular feature had vanished from its pages? Appalled by the prospect, Clara jerked to her feet. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary, Mr. Beale. We don’t go to press until tomorrow night. There’s still plenty of time for me to fetch her column myself, and for you to edit it. The word count might differ slightly from what you’ve allotted here, but I’m sure you can—”

     “My working week comes to an end at five o’clock on Fridays, Miss Deverill, and that’s three hours from now. My wife puts dinner on my table an hour after that, and I’ll not be kept from it because of silly women who would rather have careers than be at home making dinner for their own hardworking husbands.”

     Clara had never longed for a career, nor had she ever been the sort to march in the streets for women’s rights as her sister had been known to do, but nonetheless, Mr. Beale’s words stirred within her some of her sister’s suffragist sympathies. Any other time, she might have taken issue with his disparaging ideas of what constituted a woman’s place, but at this moment, she was in no position to defend Lady Truelove’s tardiness. “I’ll edit it myself, and ensure it fits the space you’ve allotted before Mr. Sanders begins the typeset- ting.”

     “See that you do,” he barked, and without another word, he turned and walked out, slamming the door behind him.

     Though glad he was gone, Clara found her mood decidedly worsened by her encounter with him, and instead of getting on with her task, she scowled at the door instead, feeling a sudden wave of resentment that included not only him, but also Jonathan, Fate, and even her beloved sister.

     This wasn’t how things ought to have gone. They had all agreed that Jonathan would become the publisher after Irene’s marriage. Jonathan was supposed to be the one sitting behind this desk, managing Mr. Beale and worrying about Lady Truelove, while she was supposed to be with the duke’s family, working to overcome her shyness and learning to move in good society. The season was officially set to begin next week. With Jonathan’s defection and Irene’s delayed return, how would she ever be ready in time?

     Panic rose up inside her, mingling with her resentment, but she forced both emotions down, along with any inclination to feel sorry for herself. None of those feelings would be of any help to her now. She had work to do. Resigned, Clara reached for her letter opener, but before she could resume her task, she was again interrupted by a knock on the door, and Annie, the family parlor maid, came into her office.

     “Begging your pardon, Miss Clara, but your father wants to know if you’ll be joining him for tea upstairs this afternoon.”

     Since it was after two o’clock, her father was probably well on his way to being drunk by now, and she had no desire to watch him get any drunker. “No, Annie, give him my regrets and apologies, but I’m far too busy to break for tea. I shall come up to bid him farewell, though, before I return to the duke’s house this evening.”

     “Yes, miss.” With that, Annie departed, but the door had barely closed before there was yet another knock. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Clara muttered under her breath, tossing down her letter opener and rubbing a hand over her forehead. “What is it now?”

     The knock came again, and Clara lifted her head with a sigh. “Come in,” she called.

      The door swung wide, and the Gazette’s secretary, Miss Evelyn Huish, entered the room. “I’ve sorted the afternoon post,” the auburn-haired secretary said as she approached Clara’s desk. “Lady Truelove’s column still hasn’t arrived.”

     Clara wrinkled up her nose. “Yes, so Mr. Beale has taken great pains to tell me.”

     Evie might have noticed the acrid tone of her voice, but since her secretarial duties were divided between the editor and the publisher, she wisely made no comment. Instead, she shifted the bundle of correspondence she carried onto one forearm and plucked an unopened letter off the top. “Nothing from Lady True- love,” she said as she held out the envelope, “but there is a letter from your brother.”

     “Jonathan?” she cried, relief welling up inside her as she jumped to her feet and took the letter from Evie’s outstretched fingertips. “At last!”

     But when she glanced at the return scrawled across the back of the envelope, her relief faltered. He was still in Idaho, a remote part of the American wilder- ness nearly five thousand miles away. No closer to London, in other words, than he’d been when he’d last written a month ago.

     Fearing the worst and cursing his name, Clara tore open the envelope and scanned the words written in her brother’s careless, nearly illegible script.

     “Not bad news, I hope?”

     Evie’s voice had Clara looking up. “Awful,” she replied in dismay. “The worst news possible. He’s found silver.”

     “Silver?” Evie laughed in surprise. “He’s a miner?” “My brother,” she muttered in disgust, “transforms himself into whatever will enable him to avoid his responsibilities at home. Silver?” She rustled the letter in indignation. “Now, after seven years of roaming around America chasing every wildcat scheme possible, now, when I need him, he finds a mine with silver in it? That scoundrel!”

     Evie laughed, much to Clara’s chagrin. “But if he’s found silver, that means he’s rich,” she pointed out.

     “Damn it, Evie, you’re missing the point. He’s not home, and now, he has no intention of ever coming home. That is the point.” She groaned. “And Irene’s surely halfway to Greece by now. What am I going to do?”

     But even as she asked that question, she already knew the answer. She was stuck, stuck with the paper, Mr. Beale, and Lady Truelove until Irene came home. “Miss Huish?” called the irate voice of Mr. Beale from the outer office. “When you’ve stopped rattling on with Miss Deverill, I need you out here.”

     “Go,” Clara said as Evie hesitated. “Just put the rest of my correspondence on the corner of my desk.” Turning, she reached for her leather portfolio from the shelf behind her. “I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”

     “You’ll be coming in on a Saturday?”

     “I have to, I’m afraid. With that wastrel brother of mine ducking out on his promises, I’ve no choice. Right now, however,” she went on, reminding herself of her most immediate priority as she stuffed letters into the portfolio, “I must go and deal with Lady True- love. If I don’t return with her column in hand, Mr. Beale will probably have apoplexy. Hmm . . .” She paused. “Upon reflection, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.”

     Evie gave a chuckle of laughter and set Clara’s correspondence on her desk. “Is there anything else you need, Miss Deverill?”

      “No, Evie, you go on. But I would ask you not to tell Mr. Beale the news about my brother. If it becomes necessary to inform him, I will decide when and how to do so.”

     “Yes, ma’am.”

     The secretary departed, and Clara finished putting Lady Truelove’s correspondence into her portfolio. She then added Irene’s telegram, a stack of notepaper, and a fountain pen, and left her office, ignoring the editor’s malevolent glare as she departed. On the sidewalk, she turned left and started up Belford Row as if she knew just where she was going, though in truth, she really had no idea.

     It had to be somewhere quiet, she decided as she walked, a place with no distractions or interruptions or cranky editors, where she could compose the ad- vice column in peace.

                She paused at the corner, and as she glanced to her right to check for traffic, she spied a sign for Mrs. Mott’s Tea Emporium halfway down the block.

     Mrs. Mott’s, she decided, would suit her purpose admirably, for at this hour, it was bound to be empty and quiet. She turned her steps in that direction, and when she entered the tiny shop a few minutes later, she found that it lived up to her expectations. The place was empty, but for a pair of gentlemen who didn’t even look up from their tea as she came in.

     The waitress led her to a table beside that of the two men, but with a thick cluster of potted palms between them and herself, their presence wasn’t likely to prove a distraction. She sat down, ordered a cream tea, and pulled out the letters and stationery supplies from her portfolio. Bracing herself to finally conquer the task she’d been putting off all week, she chose an envelope from the pile in front of her and pulled out the letter.

 

Dear Lady Truelove,

I am a girl of noble family and strong social position, and I wish to marry, but though my parents provided a sizable dowry and launched me into society last season, I was unable to find a husband. I am painfully shy, you see, and be- cause of that, I proved a social failure.

At every ball or party, I stood against the wall, agonized because I was being overlooked and yet terrified that some young man would no- tice me. And whenever I was presented to any member of the opposite sex, particularly one I found attractive, my shyness overwhelmed me.  I stammered, I blushed, I could think of nothing to say, and I ended up making an utter fool of myself at every turn. This, I hardly need add, did not make a favorable impression on any of the young men introduced to me.

Another London season is about to begin, and I am terrified that I will fail again. What if I meet no one? What if I die a lonely spinster? I am writing to you, Lady Truelove, in the desperate hope that you can suggest ways I might become more attractive to gentlemen and overcome my shyness with them. Can you help me? Signed, A Devastated Debutante.

 

     Clara was more sympathetic to this girl’s plight than the girl herself could ever have dreamed. With only a few changes, this letter might well have been written by her own hand, and she would have dearly liked to assist this girl, but what assistance could she give? If she knew any method for overcoming shyness and transforming from wallflower to shining social success, she’d have employed it on herself, found a husband of her own, and been off on her own honeymoon long before now. With reluctance, she set aside the letter from the Devastated Debutante and picked up another from the pile.

 

Dear Lady Truelove,

Having reached my twenty-fifth year, I have decided it is time for me to choose a wife, and since I have very specific requirements, my search for a bride will require your assistance. My circumstances are straitened, so she must possess a substantial dowry. In addition, she must be very pretty, for it would be unthinkable that I should have to wed a plain girl—

 

     Clara stopped reading with a sound of disdain. Having been deemed a plain girl herself by most of the men who met her, and having had no dowry at all to offer until very recently, she was not the least bit sympathetic to this shallow young man’s predicament. She ripped his letter in half, set it to one side, and tried again.

 

Dear Lady Truelove,

I am in such desperate straits that I don’t know if you can even help me. I am in love with a young lady, but she takes no notice of me, for I am not, sadly, the most eloquent or handsome of men. I am writing to solicit your advice on how I might gain her attention, initiate conversation, and begin my courtship. I would be grateful for any suggestions you can offer. Yours, Speechless in South Kensington.

 

     Clara stared down at the inked lines before her, lines that once again demonstrated why putting her in charge of Lady Truelove was laughable. What advice could she offer any of these people?

     She looked up, staring across the empty tables of the tea shop, thinking of the countless times she’d stood to the side of a ballroom with the other wallflowers, of the parties where she’d lingered unnoticed in a corner of the room. What did she know of gaining the attentions of the opposite sex? Of initiating conversation? Of courtship?

     She shoved aside the pile of letters and leaned forward, plunking her elbow on the table and resting her forehead on the heels of her hands, swamped by inadequacy. She couldn’t do this, at least not alone.

     “Dear God,” she whispered, desperate for a bit of divine guidance. “I’m in over my head, and I could really use some help.”

     “Indeed?” a male voice murmured, a voice that was deep, low, and quite obviously amused. “How might I be of assistance?”