<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <i>London, 1885</i> <p> "... and I would therefore be most delighted to publish your great-grandmother's memoirs." Benjamin Cadwallender's voice rang in Lady Julia Winterset's small parlor as if he were offering eternal salvation and choirs of celestial angels would appear at any moment to accompany his words. <p> She raised a brow. Eternal salvation was not what she sought from Cadwallender and Sons, Publishers but rather rescue of a more down-to-earth nature. Financial salvation as it were. "I must confess I am surprised, Mr. Cadwallender, that you would make such an offer on the basis of what little I allowed you to read. No more than a chapter if I recall." <p> "Yet what a chapter it was." He chuckled. "If the rest is even a fraction as interesting as what I have already read, <i>The Perfect Mistress, the Memoirs of Lady Hermione Middlebury</i>, shall be a rousing success." <p> Julia considered him. "Do you really think so?" <p> "Oh, I do indeed." He nodded vigorously. "I have mentioned this project, in a most discreet manner, mind you, to a few trusted colleagues and they concur. Do not underestimate the appetite of the public for works of this nature, especially if they are factual." <p> "By 'this nature' do you mean scandalous?" <p> "Well, yes, to an extent. But as Lady Middlebury has been dead these past thirty years, and the incidents she reveals are older yet, it is not nearly as disreputable as it might be if she were alive today and in the midst of—" <p> "Her adventures?" Julia said with a smile. <p> "Exactly." Mr. Cadwallender's handsome face flushed. "Admittedly, the writing itself is not as fine as Mr. Trollope's or Mr. Dickens's or even Mrs. Gaskell's or Mrs. Carik's but, as it is written in your ancestor's own words and in a remarkably engaging and enthusiastic style, a certain lack of polish can be overlooked. Particularly given the nature of the, er, adventures she relates." <p> "And you think it will sell well?" <p> "Lady Winterset." He lowered his voice in a conspiratorial manner. "Scandal sells books. I predict this will be a book that will be the subject of a great deal of discussion, which will only make those who haven't read it wish to do so." <p> "I see. How very interesting." <p> "And profitable," he said pointedly. <p> "That too," she murmured. <p> There was a time, not so long ago, when she would have considered the word <i>profitable</i> in a conversation somewhat distasteful. Proper ladies did not discuss matters of a profitable nature nor did they discuss finances with anyone other than their husbands. Indeed, if anyone had asked her before her husband's death three years ago, if she had a head for finances, aside from administering the household accounts, she would have laughed. But everything had changed since William's death. Thus far, she had managed to stretch the little savings her husband had left with frugal living and an eye toward a bargain. Nonetheless, if she did not take action soon, she would be penniless. She had far too many responsibilities to permit that to happen. Life had changed and so had she. <p> Three years ago, the eminently proper wife of Sir William Winterset would have been shocked at the very thought of making public her great-grandmother's scandalous remembrances, even if she had no idea of the work's existence until recently. The woman she had become was different, stronger hopefully, than the woman she had been. That woman was dependent upon her husband. This woman depended on no one but herself and would do what she must to survive. Even though she had not finished her reading of her great-grandmother's memoirs, what she had read thus far, as well as odd dreams triggered by her reading, convinced her that her great-grandmother would not only approve of Julia's plan but applaud it. <p> She drew a deep breath. "I assume you have a sum in mind for the rights of publication." <p> "I do indeed." Mr. Cadwallender pulled an envelope from his waistcoat pocket and placed it on the table between his chair and hers. <p> Julia picked up the envelope, pulled out the paper inside, unfolded it, and stared at the figure written in Mr. Cadwallender's precise hand. Her heart sank but she refused to let disappointment show on her face. <p> "That figure does not take into account continued royalties which I expect to be considerable," Mr. Cadwallender said quickly. <p> She refolded the paper and replaced it in the envelope. "It does strike me as rather meager, Mr. Cadwallender." She cast him her most pleasant smile. "For a book you expect to be a rousing success." <p> "Yes, well ..." Mr. Cadwallender shifted in his chair. "Might I be completely candid, Lady Winterset?" <p> "I expect nothing less." <p> "As well you should." Mr. Cadwallender paused, his brow furrowed. "My grandfather began the publication of <i>Cadwallender's Weekly World Messenger</i> nearly eighty years ago. When he began publishing books as well, he named the firm Cadwallender and Sons, overly optimistic as it turned out as he only had one son and several daughters. That son, my father, surpassed his father and sired six sons as well as two daughters. My two older brothers, myself, and my next younger brother joined in the family business as was expected." He directed her a firm look. "Do you have any idea what it's like to be in the position of a middle son in both one's family and one's business?" <p> "No idea at all. I imagine it could be somewhat awkward." <p> "Somewhat? Hah!" He snorted and rose to his feet to pace the room. "My voice is heard only after my father and my two older brothers have had their say. I am consistently overruled in any matter in which my opinion differs from theirs. My ideas are scarcely ever considered." He paused in midstep and met her gaze. "And I have ideas, Lady Winterset. Excellent ideas. The world is changing. We are a scant fifteen years from the dawn of a new century. Progress is in the air and we must seize the opportunities for change and advancement. Don't you agree?" <p> "Yes, I would think so," she said cautiously. <p> He stared at her for a moment then recovered his senses. "My apologies. I should not allow myself to be carried away in this manner. <p> "Nonsense, Mr. Cadwallender. There is no need to apologize for the passion of one's convictions." She smiled. "But I fear I don't see what this has to do with my great-grandmother's book." <p> "Lady Winterset." Mr. Cadwallender retook his seat and met her gaze with a fervor akin to that of a missionary converting heathens. "I think this book will be a very great success. The sort of success publishing houses are built upon. That establishes a publisher as a legitimate force in the market." <p> "I don't understand." She pulled her brows together. "As you mentioned, Cadwallender and Sons has been in business for a very long time. Its reputation is well known." <p> "It is indeed. However, the reputation of Cadwallender Brothers Publishing has yet to be established." He grimaced. "Not unexpected as the company has yet to publish a single book." <p> She shook her head. "I still don't—" <p> "My younger brother and I have started our own firm. We have experience, funding, and investors confident of our future. Neither of us are averse to the hard work that lies ahead and I have no doubt as to our ultimate success." He met her gaze. "I would very much like <i>The Perfect Mistress</i> to be our first offering." <p> "I see." She studied him for a moment. "You're going to compete against your father?" <p> "My father has decided to turn over the management of the company to my brothers. I do not wish to spend the rest of my life engaged in battles I cannot win. Furthermore, the publishing of books is of far less importance to them than the <i>Messenger</i>, which has always been the primary focus of the firm. My brothers are intent upon launching additional publications as well." He squared his shoulders. "I do not see this as competition as much as the development and expansion of a field they have little interest in. A field, I think, that is the way of the future." <p> "Your enthusiasm is commendable, however—" <p> A knock sounded at the door and immediately it opened. <p> "Beg pardon, my lady," her butler, Daniels, said with his usual air of cool competence. "Lady Smithson and Lady Redwell have arrived." <p> "Oh dear." She glanced at the ormolu clock on the overmantel. "I didn't realize the time." She rose to her feet, the publisher immediately following suit. "Mr. Cadwallender, my initial inquiry was predicated on the upstanding reputation of Cadwallender and Sons. I am not at all certain I have the ... the courage required to trust the fate of this book to a new venture. I fear, therefore, I shall have to query another publisher and—" <p> "Lady Winterset." Mr. Cadwallender clasped her hand in his and met her gaze directly. "I beg you not to make a hasty decision. Please give me the opportunity to further plead my case. I assure you, you will not regret it." <p> She stared into his earnest, hazel eyes. Very nice eyes really that struck her as quite trustworthy, even if that might be due as much to his fervor as anything else. Still, there was no need to make a decision today. <p> "Very well, Mr. Cadwallender." She smiled and withdrew her hand. "I shall give your proposal due consideration." <p> "Thank you," he said with relief. "Perhaps I can arrange for a higher advance as well. May I call on you again in a day or two to discuss it further?" <p> "Of course." <p> "Again, you have my gratitude." He smiled and his eyes lit with pleasure, very nice eyes in a more than ordinarily handsome face. "I am confident, Lady Winterset, this is the beginning of a profitable relationship for us both." With that, he nodded and took his leave, offering a polite bow of greeting to her friends who entered the parlor as he left. <p> "I can see why you are late," Veronica, Lady Smithson, said in a wry manner, her gaze following the publisher. "I would certainly forgo tea with my friends for a liaison with a man like that." <p> "It was not a liaison," Julia said firmly. <p> "Still, he is quite dashing, isn't he?" Portia, Lady Redwell, craned her neck to see past the parlor door and into the entry hall. "If one likes fair hair and broad shoulders ..." Her gaze jerked back to the other women, a telltale blush washing over her face. "Not that I do. Although, of course, what woman wouldn't? That is to say ..." She raised her chin. "One can appreciate art without being in the market for a painting. That's what I meant." <p> "Yes, of course you did," Veronica said in an absent manner, her attention again on Julia, much to Portia's obvious relief. <p> Of the three widows, Portia was the most concerned with propriety. Veronica had, on more than one occasion, observed privately that it was those who walked the narrowest paths that were the most likely to plunge over a cliff when the opportunity presented itself. Fortunately for Portia, or unfortunately in Veronica's view, Portia had yet to so much as peer over the edge of a cliff. <p> For that matter, neither had Julia. But she had discovered a great deal about herself since her husband's death. Her character was far stronger than she had imagined. One did what one had to do to survive in this world. As for propriety, while she had always considered herself most proper in both behavior and manner, it was no longer as important as it once was. <p> "If it wasn't a liaison," Veronica continued, "which, I might add, is a very great pity as surely Portia agrees, given that she is an excellent judge of art ..." Portia offered her friends a weak smile. "Who was he and what sort of profitable relationship is he confident about?" <p> Julia narrowed her eyes. "How much of the conversation did you hear?" <p> "Not nearly enough." Veronica breezed farther into the room, settled on the sofa, and began taking off her gloves. "You should call for tea." <p> "I thought we were to have tea at Fenwick's?" Julia said slowly. <p> "We were." Portia moved past Julia and seated herself beside Veronica. The three women had first met several years ago at the reading room at Fenwick and Sons Booksellers, which did seem to attract young widows who had little else to occupy their time. Indeed, it had become something of a unofficial club for ladies, as well as the home of the loosely organized Ladies Literary Society. It was Veronica who had suggested to the elder Mr. Fenwick or perhaps one of the sons—as they were all of an indeterminate age, somewhat interchangeable, and nearly impossible to tell apart—that the reading room could prove profitable by simply offering refreshments. Although Veronica had never admitted it, Julia suspected her suggestion had carried with it financial incentive. It would not surprise Julia to learn Veronica was now a part owner of Fenwick and Sons. "But you failed to appear at the appointed time." <p> Julia glanced at the clock. "I am scarcely half an hour late." <p> "Yes, but while Veronica and I are rarely on time, you are always punctual." Portia pinned her with a firm look. "Your note said you had something of importance to discuss. When you did not appear, we were naturally concerned." <p> Julia folded her arms over her chest. "You were naturally curious." <p> "Regardless." Veronica studied her closely. "It was concern that compelled us to fly to your rescue." She raised a brow. "Tea?" <p> "Of course," Julia murmured and stepped out of the room to direct Daniels to have tea prepared. She would have much preferred to have had refreshments at Fenwick's rather than here. It wasn't that she did not like her modest home, it was simply not as grand as either Portia's or Veronica's. As such it pointed out the vast differences between her life and that of her friends. Now, as she often had in the past, she marveled that they had become friends at all. <p> At first it seemed the three women had nothing in common save that they were all of a similar age and their respective widowhoods had begun at very nearly the same time. Veronica's husband had been involved in the sort of financial dealings open only to those of great family wealth. Portia's had been a literary sort, something of a scholar from what she had said. And Julia's husband had been engaged in the practice of law. Three years ago, their husbands had died within months of each other of accident or illness or mishap. That they had forged a true friendship was attributable only to the whims of fate and perhaps the fact that they had met at a time when each needed a friend who was neither a relation nor considered them an obligation. And now they had come to rescue her. <p> Julia fetched her great-grandmother's manuscript from the library and returned to the parlor. She took a seat, keeping the memoirs on her lap. "This is what I wished to discuss with you." <p> Veronica eyed the stack of papers curiously. "And what, may I ask, is it?" <p> Portia sniffed. "It doesn't look very interesting." <p> "Appearances, my dear Portia, are often deceiving." Julia drew a deep breath. "Do you recall my telling you that my grandmother's brother died oh, about six months ago?" <p> Portia brightened. "And you have at last received an inheritance? Monies that will allow you to take care of the responsibilities that should have rightfully been his?" <p> "Yes, and no." Julia shook her head. "His property went to a relative so distant I was not even aware of his existence. As for money, well, it seems he had none to speak of." <p> "Of course not." Portia's expression hardened. "Vile creature." Portia could not understand a family not caring for its own. Her parents had died when she was very young and her aunt and uncle had taken her in. <p> "This"—Julia laid her hand on the manuscript—"is my inheritance. It was left to my mother by my greatgrandmother. For reasons unknown to me, although I have my suspicions, my great-uncle kept it in his possession." <p> "And now that it is rightfully yours, what—" Veronica paused to allow a maid to enter with a tea cart then take her leave. She waited until the door closed to continue. "Now, what is it?" <p> "These are my great-grandmother's memoirs." <p> Portia sighed with disappointment. "Oh yes, that is interesting." <p> "Julia, dear," Veronica eyed her thoughtfully. "Who was your great-grandmother?" <p> "Lady Hermione Middlebury." Julia held her breath. <p> "Oh my," Veronica murmured. "That is interesting." <p> "Why?" Portia's impatient gaze slid from one woman to the other. <p> Veronica chose her words with care. "Is this the same Lady Middlebury who was reputedly the mistress of—" <p> Julia nodded. "Yes." <p> "And involved in the scandal surrounding the prince of—" <p> "That too." Julia winced. <p> "And the rather infamous incident with a prime min—" <p> "Yes, yes, all of that." Julia waved away Veronica's words. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>The Perfect Mistress</b> by <b>Victoria Alexander</b> Copyright © 2011 by Cheryl Griffin. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.