Jayne Fresina - The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine + Contest
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The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine
by Jayne Fresina / NOR Author Page
I started writing Sophie Valentine's story after I had a sort-of dream involving a scarred woman opening the door to a dark stranger. I say it was a "sort-of" dream, because it was at that time when I was almost awake but still not completely. It's amazing what a person's mind can come up with when they're dangling between reality and the world of dreams. I've never actually had a dream that led to a manuscript, so this was the closest I've come to that kind of inspiration.
At the time I was working on edits to another manuscript that had been my baby for the last few years. But when Sophie's story crept its way into my brain that morning, I put my other work aside, sat down at the computer, and began to type out her story right away. I knew who she was and that she was feeling trapped. She opened her door with such a flourish I knew she was longing to get outside and she wasn't opening it because someone knocked. She was racing to get out. The man standing there took her by surprise. I had a clear picture of Sophie in my head. All that remained was to put a face on the mysterious "stranger" who came to her door, because in my sort-of dream I'd only seen the back of him. I knew he had very dark hair, a little unkempt and on the long side. I also knew he was younger than Sophie and the heels of his boots were very worn down. That was about it.
I wanted to set their story in the English countryside and since I was already writing about life in a fictional village called Sydney Dovedale I chose that as their location. I knew the layout of every cottage and just about every resident. Sophie and her somewhat eccentric collection of relatives soon fit right in. Then I was back again to thinking about her stranger. Who was he and why had he come to her door? She seemed startled to find him there, in her way on the doorstep, and yet it was almost as if she recognized him too. As if she'd been expecting....someone. Sooner or later.
His heels were worn, his boots dusty. He must have travelled a long way on foot. Perhaps he didn't have money for carriages and horses. Something very important had brought him to her door, made him determined enough to find her that he walked a great distance. Clearly he was unstoppable once he made up his mind.
As I was reading through my notes that evening, sitting in bed with one eye on the television, I happened to catch a commercial for an online dating service. I dropped my book and watched the people skipping across the screen, pulling sappy faces. Suddenly I knew. That was what Sophie did. She placed an advertisement for a husband.
At almost thirty she was already an old maid by the standards of her day. She was also scarred. She lived with her brother and a sister-in-law, who reminded her every day that she was a burden. No wonder she felt trapped. And with her sense of dry humor, an ad in the local Farmer's Gazette would surely be her way of retaliation. A little turn up of the nose for her haughty relatives and the gossiping neighbors. In all likelihood she wasn't expecting anyone to answer the ad.
Aha! And there he was. Poor Sophie. Be careful what you wish for, Miss Valentine!
From that moment everything else came together. Lazarus Kane turned around and winked at me, so I got a good look at him. Then he went back to his seduction of Sophie Valentine, the woman who summoned him with a mischievous advertisement. As I guessed from the beginning, he was extremely determined, just as stubborn as Sophie, and not the sort to let a few obstacles get in the way of his dream.
I had a lot of fun writing their love story and I hope you get as much of a thrill out of reading it. Thanks for stopping by!
THE MOST IMPROPER MISS SOPHIE VALENTINE BY JAYNE FRESINA – IN STORES JUNE 2012
"Wanted: one husband, not too particular. Small dowry, several books, sundry furnishings, and elderly aunt included. Idlers, time-wasters, and gentleman without other attachments need not apply.”
A SCANDALOUS LADY
Sophie Valentine knew placing an ad for a husband in the Farmers Gazette would bring her trouble-and she was right. When the darkly handsome, arrogantly charming Lazarus Kane shows up on her doorstep, the nosy residents of Sydney Dovedale are thrown into a gossiping tizzy. After all, it's common knowledge that Sophie is a young lady In Need of Firmer Direction. But even Sophie isn't so scandalous as to marry a complete stranger. .. is she?
SEEKS HANDSOME STRANGER
Lazarus Kane has been searching for Sophie half of his life. She may not remember him, but he could never forget her. But the past is a dangerous thing, and it's best if his remains secret if he wants to tempt Sophie with... A MOST IMPROPER PROPOSAL
In the cooler months of the year, the residents of the fortress spent most of the day and evening in the cookhouse for the sake of economy. The fire must be lit, in any case, to warm water and cook food, so the family gathered here too, saving all the coal otherwise required to heat the drafty tower keep with its dank walls and icy-cold stone floor. Lavinia had ordered this button-tufted couch moved into the cookhouse, because she found the other chairs and benches insufficient cushion for her delicate posterior. “At the very least,” she’d complained to her husband, “I might be permitted the comfort of a cushioned seat, even if I must be reduced to a life in the servants’ quarters.”
This morning, Lavinia wore yet another ostentatious new gown, although she intended to do nothing in it but lie on her couch: a well-fed sow napping in the warmth of the fire, eyes closed, and multitude of chins trembling like a naughty child’s slapped buttocks.
By midday—or sooner should it become stained—that gown would be changed for another similarly ugly garment, made with an excess of expensive material and trimmings. Sophie, having quietly observed this extravagance on several occasions, suggested the need to budget a little better, as well as consider the burden of laundry.
“I wear what I please, thank you very much! I shall be glad when I’m treated with the respect I’m due in this house! Never have I been so put upon. If Henry had any care for my comfort, he would be rid of you once and for all! Scratching at me with your scornful comments. It’s jealousy, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if you tried to poison me, and that’s why I feel so ill today. Henry ought to send you away.” Her mean little eyes caught sight of Aunt Finn giggling under her quilt. “And that wretched, old crone can go to the workhouse with you!”
Sophie bowed her head to hide her expression and continued her sewing. She should have known better than to raise the subject of economy, for any advice she tried to give Lavinia dropped into small, ineffectual ears muffled by ringlets and attached to a very small brain incapable of understanding any will but its own.
“To be thus attacked and criticized in my own home. Me, a married woman of consequence and property, from good family and well brought up! To be lectured daily by a tight-lipped spinster who’s here only on my husband’s charity. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I am outraged that you think to tell me how to behave!”
The wisest course of action would be to ignore her. After all, Sophie should be accustomed to it by now. It was apparently her lot in life to always be in the way, unequal to anything and unwelcome to everybody. But even as her conscience politely reminded her she was almost thirty and ought to be darning stockings by the fire with her aunt, only occasionally discussing the ins and outs of her health with no one who cared, she simply must relieve her anger somehow.
She was supposed to be a reformed character these days. Alas, the same naughty, rebellious imp that once urged her to leap from a balcony, not knowing how far she had to fall or what lay directly below, thrived inside her still. It would not sit in a corner and be quiet.
She stood quickly, set aside her sewing, and walked out into the yard and round the corner. There she waited a moment, fists at her side, gaze darting back and forth.
“Put upon,” she muttered. “Put upon?”
She turned in a tight circle, bristling with anger.
Aha! There were two large sacks of chicken feathers and goose down against the wall, waiting for the pillowcases she and her aunt were sewing. Grabbing a stick from the woodpile, she ran up to the sacks and began beating them, imagining they were her sister-in-law.
“You should be put upon and often,” she hissed. “And if your husband dislikes the duty, I’ll gladly do it!”
A cloud of feathers flew up as the first sack burst open, and she found the sensation so satisfying she turned her wrath on the second sack, until the air was full of feathers. She swung that stick so wildly she heard the stitches ripping at her shoulder, but it felt too good to stop. When she tossed the stick aside, she picked up the sack and emptied the last of the feathers, shaking it hard overhead. “One of these days,” she gasped,
“I’ll clap the side of your big head with the bacon kettle!” Dropping the sack to the ground, she stamped on it, grunting.
“I beg your pardon, madam, I tried the bell by the gatehouse, but there was no reply.”
She spun around and found him right behind her, his hat under one arm, a pair of darkly curious eyes studying her in part bewilderment, part amusement.
Goose down drifted all around her, and her hairpins were falling loose, but she was frozen to the spot.
It was he: the man who’d stood under her tree earlier and undressed her with those same sinister eyes—the eyes of a barbarian. The man who’d made her kiss him. Shocked by it, she’d tried to put it out of her mind, as if it never happened. Now here he was again to remind her.
She puffed out a breath of surprise, along with several small feathers. When his fierce gaze moved to the torn shoulder of her gown, she felt the heat on her exposed skin, as if it were burned by the sun. She quickly placed her left hand over the tear, and her fingers fumbled to cover the ripped stitches. He’d made her kiss him before; what would he make her do next?
As if he’d read her mind, his smile widened.
She scowled, blew another chicken feather from the tip of her nose, and backed up a step. Face to face, yet again, with this black-haired, gypsy-eyed stranger, Sophie Valentine—the reformed version—sensed trouble. The untamable creature was still very much alive within her, however, and it scented something else. Something new and exciting.
Lavinia must have spied the stranger crossing the yard, for she finally ventured from her couch to see what he wanted. “I am Mrs. Valentine, sir,” she chirped as she waddled around the corner. “Can I be of assistance?”
He was still looking at Sophie, holding her trapped in his steady, thorough regard. “Then you are Miss Sophia Valentine?”
She held up her sleeve and backed away with as much dignity as her bedraggled appearance could allow. He followed her, smiling slowly, and she knew he too thought of earlier, when they’d met under the shade of the chestnut tree. He’d seen her book, her legs, and the Lord knew what else. If she was of a more ladylike constitution, she supposed she might have fainted. Instead, because she was a widely acknowledged, wicked hoyden, she felt remarkably well. Her heart was beating only a little faster than usual, because twice now he’d caught her doing something she shouldn’t.
Had he just winked at her?
She wore a stained apron over a blue gown, which had the appearance of something well loved, oft worn, and long past new. Her face was heart shaped, her eyes bright as a buttercup-sprinkled meadow, the two brows above them curved upward. When he looked into those eyes, he was pulled forward, every nerve and tendon in his body drawn to attention. Then she looked down at the cobblestones, dampening the hot spark that glowed under her lashes, and, for the first time in his memory, Lazarus Kane was unable to read a woman’s mind. Challenged, he searched her small, prim face for the clues that were usually so abundant, but she closed herself off like a hedgehog retreating under its prickles.
Earlier, when he kissed her under the tree, she had not been so defensive. But then, of course, they were alone, witnessed by no one. And she evidently enjoyed her secrets.
The other woman lifted on tiptoe, creeping back into his view. “Did my husband expect you, sir? He said nothing of any visitor.”
He looked down at her, vaguely irritated she was blocking his path. This one wore no apron. Her frock was arrayed lavishly with ruffles and bows. As if unable to choose between the many trimmings, she’d settled for all at once. Her dark hair was curled into ringlets so tight they shot out sideways from her head, their only movement a slight vibration when she twitched nervously.
“No, madam, I doubt your husband would mention me. I’m the new tenant of Souls Dryft. But it’s Miss Sophia Valentine I’ve come to see.”
“What on earth do you want with her?”
He looked over her head at the feather-strewn woman who, like a child knowing she’s about to be punished, tried slipping away around the corner. “I come in answer to her advertisement.”
“For a husband,” he said calmly. “I’ve come to marry Miss Valentine.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jayne Fresina sprouted up in England, the youngest in a family of four girls. Entertained by her father’s colorful tales of growing up in the countryside, and surrounded by opinionated sisters— all with far more exciting lives than hers— she’s always had inspiration for her beleaguered heroes and unstoppable heroines. Visit www.jaynefresina.com for more information.
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