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THE INCONVENIENT MARRIAGE OF CHARLOTTE BECK
by Kathleen Y'Barbo

Genre: Historical Romance, Inspirational

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A lady carries herself with great poise and the sense that an egg sits atop her head.
—MISS PENCE
 
June 9, 1887
London
 
What Charlotte Beck wanted, Charlotte Beck generally got.
 
Thus Charlotte stood on the doorstep of Fensworth House, poised to make her unofficial debut into proper society despite the fact that she’d not yet reached the age of introduction nor been presented to the queen. Won’t Gussie be surprised when I write her about the evening? The thought of her best friend, Augusta “Gussie” Miller, bolstered Charlotte’s courage and reminded her why she’d insisted on being included tonight. After much pleading, Charlotte had convinced Gennie, her stepmother, that she needed to practice her social graces before her first official events of the New York and London seasons.
 
As the door opened, Charlotte swallowed a flutter of nerves. A uniformed servant nodded at her, and she worried she would forget the litany of instructions on proper decorum that Gennie had again gone over with her on the carriage ride here.
 
Charlotte slid a glance that she hoped conveyed thanks to the man whose duty it had been to escort the Beck ladies tonight. The same man who’d successfully lobbied on her behalf. Colonel William F. Cody, who was not only her father’s business partner but also practically family, responded with a wink, then adjusted his lapels.
 
Her gaze swept past the colonel to the room a level below them, which glittered as much from the chandeliers above as from the jewels the nobility wore. The light was perfect for painting. She closed her eyes to memorize the scene then opened them quickly when Gennie touched her arm.
 
Had she any breath left, Charlotte might have sighed at the loveliness of it all. But under Gennie’s instructions, the maid had pulled her corset strings so tight that even mild exertion would likely send Charlotte plummeting to the floor.
 
Perhaps rushing her debut was not such a wise move after all. The combined effect of nibbling at almost nothing all day and then squeezing into the lace-covered instrument of torture was not Charlotte’s idea of a grand time.

Colonel Cody shifted positions to move beside her, and she glanced up to see him giving one last swipe to his well-tended mustache. A fellow clad in the livery of the Fensworth household stepped in front of them and cleared his throat. “The distinguished Colonel William F. Cody, Lady Eugenia Cooper Beck, and Miss Charlotte Beck.”

A hush fell over the room as Gennie allowed Colonel Cody to take her arm. “Show time,” he whispered to Charlotte before linking arms with her as well.

The name of the famous American showman had caught the crowd’s attention, and several dozen men and women moved toward them. The famed “Buffalo Bill” released Charlotte and escorted Gennie down the stairs to greet their hosts.

Left alone at the top of what seemed an impossibly high vantage point, Charlotte reached for the banister then thought better of it. A lady carries herself with great poise and the sense that an egg sits atop her head, said Miss Pence, the tutor who’d spent the last few weeks whipping Charlotte into some manner of good form. Find a focal point and walk toward it, looking neither up nor down.

Easily done in her grandfather’s drawing room, but not here with half of London watching her performance. Charlotte took a shallow breath and focused on a lovely Adams mantel across the room. Leaning against the mantel was a much more interesting focal point: an impossibly handsome, dark-haired gent who appeared quite amused at her plight. He had the audacity to lift one corner of his mouth in a taunting grin.

A child might have stuck her tongue out at him, but a lady did no such thing. Shifting her focus back to the fireplace and, above it, a rather lovely Watteau painting of an idyllic countryside setting, Charlotte took her first successful, if halting, step. And then another, and another, keeping in mind the wobbling imaginary egg, until she’d reached Gennie’s side. Only then did she brave a look at her one-man audience, who applauded.