Are you ready for a sneak peek at Louise? I'm so excited for you to read it!
Southampton, United Kingdom, April 1912
Louise forced her tapping fingers to still. The anxiousness she felt kept bursting out, and so she looked for a distraction. Luckily, her younger sister, Mathilda, could be one. Louise couldn’t help but smile at how enthusiastically her sister was reading the newspaper.
After Mathilda had discovered the mail-order bride advertisements yesterday, she’d hardly stopped giggling. Since the hotel had so many newspapers—ones from all over the world—there had been almost a never-ending supply for her to pore over.
Nearly rolling her eyes at the one her sister was currently reading, Louise let her gaze roam the hotel room, lingering on the window where people scurried past in a never-ending stream. How busy it was here.
Inside, the sisters enjoyed a luxurious suite of rooms, whose comfort far surpassed any place the two of them had been for a long time.
It was obvious the hotel was used to travelers from all over, as the newspaper her sister was browsing was from the United States, and the state of Kentucky. Louise marveled at the fact the hotel had hundreds of newspapers for their guests, from every state, several countries and, of course, from all over England. When she’d rung for newspapers to be brought up to give them something to do, she hadn’t expected so many to be delivered.
Some of the mail-order bride advertisements were quite sad. Louise felt sympathetic toward those as her sister read them out loud. It was a terrifying thing to put your future in the hands of someone you didn’t know. The women placing these ads were brave. How did one find the courage to become a mail-order bride? In truth, she felt little more than one herself, though she’d never admit it to Mathilda.
Her eyes landed on one of the ad headlines. Seeking a man of wealth.
Aren’t we all, Louise thought dryly.
Dropping a few sugar cubes in her tea, an indulgence which had long been denied as sugar was expensive, she leaned close, pretending to read along with her sister. In reality, she was trying to calm her nerves.
At any moment, the man she was to marry would walk in. She’d never met Mr. Hillcock. They’d exchanged a few letters, but that was it. She wondered if he’d be the same as his letters. Bland. Short. Uninteresting.
When each envelope arrived with a new one, it didn’t fill her with the feelings she had always imagined as a young girl. Instead of being eager and excited and in love, she was filled with dread. The only good thing was she had been promised Mr. Hillcock was a man of means, and would provide generously for her, and perhaps her sister. That’s the only reason she had agreed.
Mathilda said something, and Louise forced herself to pay attention. “Mm?”
“Not every woman can be as successful in marriage as you will be,” Mathilda said, slumping in her chair with a dejected expression. “Do you think I’ll ever be, Lou?”
Louise studied her for a moment. Dear one, it’s all I pray for, and why I’m doing this. You deserve happiness.
However, instead of voicing her thoughts, Louise raised an eyebrow, something she was quite good at, and replied, “Not if you don’t improve your posture and your attitude. Really, Mattie. You’d think you never had a governess.”
Her sister sighed deeply and straightened in the chair, then peered at the paper, her face brightening. “This one is terribly amusing, Louise. I suspect it will make you laugh.”
“I doubt that,” Louise said, though she hoped it would. “Try me.” She leaned forward slightly, trying to spot which advertisement her sister was referring to.
“Wanted,” Mathilda read in a solemn, theatrical voice, “a wife who can skin a hog and pluck a chicken faster than I can.”
Louise’s lips twitched and she lowered her tea before giggles took over and she spilled it. The image the advertisement created was quite hilarious. Would the man really be auditioning women to see who could pluck a chicken faster than him?
“I almost made you smile!” her sister said happily, her eyes bright.
Together, they read a few more. One was incredibly sad and made Louise feel melancholy. It had read, “I am young and have no fortune other than that of my good looks and disposition. In me you will find a loyal wife, should you treat me kindly.”
Though she didn’t know the young woman who’d written the ad, Louise felt she understood her well. Life could be terribly unfair sometimes.
There was a knock, and Louise’s body tensed. A lump formed in her throat and traveled its way down to her stomach, where it sat as heavily as the plum pudding she’d tried to make last Christmas. It had turned out quite badly. Just like this marriage might.
She drew in a sharp breath. Thinking like that would only get things off to a poor start. Be positive, Louise.
The parlor door opened, and a maid from the hotel walked in. “Miss,” she said, dropping a curtsy to Louise. “Mr. Hillcock is here.”
“Thank you,” Louise said, and waved the maid away. She stood and looked at her reflection in the large mirror over the hotel suite’s mantle. Adjusting the ribbon at her throat, her only adornment as the last of her jewelry was sold the year before, she turned this way and that, then nodded to her sister.
A strange heaviness had settled over the room, and it was obvious Mathilda felt it as well. Her sister bore a serious expression as she watched her anxiously. Louise raised both brows this time, giving her sister a pointed look.
“I’ll show him in,” Mathilda said, rising from her seat.
As her sister left, Louise perched on one of the overstuffed chairs set around a small table. Swallowing hard, she tried to ignore the flutter of fear swirling around in her stomach.
I’m doing this for us. I’m doing this for Mattie.
That’s what she’d done for the last several years—all she could, so that her younger sister would have a better life. Things had been difficult and she was tired of the struggles and sacrifices they’d had to make. So why, when this opportunity had presented itself, did she not feel more at ease with it?
After Mama died, Father had drunk himself to death. Somehow, he’d also gone terribly into debt, his lawyer told them at Father’s funeral. There was the house, but not much else.
A very small allowance had been given to Louise and Mathilda, but for two girls who had been raised with the best, it wasn’t enough. Louise had been forced to leave finishing school when Mama had died, and Mathilda’s governess had been dismissed, as had their staff. The sisters had to learn to care for themselves, but it was one thing learning to manage with one parent still around to seek advice from, and another when suddenly all on your own.
It was nearly impossible to provide anything more than the essentials on that meager allowance. Louise reflected on how it had been a long time since either of them had a new dress or shoes, or even something frivolous. When the lawyer suggested she marry a wealthy man, and offered to introduce her to one of his clients, Louise had felt an immense rush of gratitude.
Of course, immediately afterward it was followed by an intense fear, but each time she looked at her younger sister, Louise pushed that aside. If she pretended all was well, perhaps it would turn out to be that way. Mattie was younger than her and deserved happiness. That was something that she could provide with a good marriage. Having wealth would allow her to find a husband for Mattie, and potentially even a love match.
Love was something that Louise could never afford to have, and she knew it. Survival came before love. There had never been warmth in any of the letters sent to her, though she’d tried to give affection she didn’t feel. She knew it was unlikely there would be any romance in this marriage.
As a twenty-five-year-old spinster, she should be grateful for this chance, their father’s lawyer had said. Louise was, though it didn’t mean her pride wasn’t bruised. If things had been different, she’d have surely been married before now, with a family and a home of her own, and perhaps even children.
Louise looked up and saw her sister standing in front of the closed parlor door, lost in daydreams. She gave a small cough, and Mathilda startled, gave a sheepish grin with a shrug, and disappeared through the door.
Biting her lip, Louise allowed herself to wonder, not for the first time that hour, what Mr. Hillcock would be like. He couldn’t be all bad. They were honeymooning on the Titanic after a small wedding in the hotel before embarking. Any man who could manage to get tickets for this ship, as well as plan a prestigious honeymoon aboard it, must care about comforts and appearances.
Wistfully, Louise thought of her wedding dress. It wasn’t at all what she’d dreamed about as a girl, something frilly with a long train. No, this was simple. As the wedding would be. But she’d make sure that her sister had everything she desired for hers.
The whole thing had happened so rapidly, there had been no time to plan. She supposed that was fortunate, but it wasn’t long at all after the lawyer had made the introduction by mail that Louise and Mathilda had found themselves in Southampton, England. Mathilda had gone as a chaperone, but would return home once Louise was married.
Louise hoped it wouldn’t be long before she found someone suitable for her sister. She worried about her being alone in the crumbling house, filled with memories and trophies from their father’s explorations.
Faint voices drew closer. Nervously, Louise waited, but not for long. A tall man with a scar on one side of his face stalked in the room, gave her a brisk nod of his head, and said, “Louise. We meet at last.”
A practiced smile forming, Louise rose and held her hand out. As damp lips kissed it in welcome, she saw Mathilda sit in a chair across the room, holding her book and pretending to read. Louise knew it was pretend; the book was upside down. She wondered if Mathilda would notice.
“How was your journey?” Mr. Hillcock asked, taking a seat near her.
Louise settled back in her own. “It was tiresome, but this hotel is restoring my comfort and I feel much more rested. Thank you for providing the suite for Mathilda and me.”
“It was my pleasure,” Mr. Hillcock answered. “The two of you will join me for dinner in the hotel restaurant tonight. My business associate will also join us.”
“That sounds lovely,” Louise said.
He reached into a pocket. “I’m also entrusting our tickets to board the Titanic to you.”
“My goodness,” Louise said, surprised he was handing her something so important. “I will take care of them.”
Perhaps she’d been worried for nothing. Mr. Hillcock was a little stiff in his way, but they hardly knew each other. It was to be expected. A tiny flicker of hope formed.
Then she looked at the tickets and frowned. “These aren’t the correct names. Is there a mistake?”
The look he gave her was one of pity. “No one travels using their real names,” he said, condescension in his tone. “It isn’t fashionable.”
“Oh, of course not,” Louise said, laughing lightly. “You must forgive me. It’s been quite some time since I’ve been in proper company. My sister and I have kept to ourselves for far too long.”
Mr. Hillcock rose and the scent of his overly strong hair tonic assaulted her nose. “It’s understandable. Your life will be much different now.” He gave her a severe look. “You are expected to know how my class lives, but until you do, keep quiet and don’t say foolish things.”
Louise’s breath caught. She ducked her head and nodded. “Of course,” she murmured. “Forgive me.”
Mr. Hillcock’s dark eyes seemed to bore into her. “You’ll learn soon enough,” he said, his voice so low it would not carry beyond the two of them. “I expect perfection. I will rid you of your lower-class habits, even if I must beat them out of you.”
He looked at her once more, and her skin crawled as she met his soulless eyes. “Don’t be late for dinner. I’m sure you can manage that?”
He turned, and Louise closed her eyes for the briefest of moments. The hope that had sparked was now snuffed out. Mr. Hillcock was not what she’d expected. He was much, much worse.
Not going to spoil it...but if you've not read Mathilda, you're going to enjoy seeing the other side of this story. Sweet Mathilda has no idea how terrible Mr. Hillcock is, and how desperate her sister is to protect her. That's a blessing, as she gets to meet the man she's destined for. You can click right here to read her first chapter free on my blog.
Ready to read all of Louise? Available April 17th, 2023. Preorder the eBook from Amazon by clicking this link. Or, stop by this link on the 17th, to get your paperback. She will also be available in large print.
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