The Ugly Duckling DebutanteBy: Rachel van Dyken
To my grandma, who says, “Nothing beats a bad flight like a good romance novel.”
And also to my unsuspecting husband who endured many long nights watching me type away on my computer. I love you, babe!
“It’s a girl, my lady! A fine girl!” the midwife exclaimed, holding out the small bundle in her hands. It seemed nearly impossible she had given birth to such a small and perfect little gift. Obviously, the midwife wanted her to take possession of the child she had laboriously brought into the world.
Without thought, she pulled the bundle to her chest and wept. The salty tears slipped down her cheeks as she mourned all the love that would be lost on her new baby and all the reasons she couldn’t keep her.
“Take her away from me!” Her shriek seemed to bounce off the bare walls of the room.
Hiding her face in her hands, she continued to weep, knowing the situation was completely hopeless. Her aristocratic parents wouldn’t allow the scandal. She knew the only answer lay in giving the child away to distant relatives. If the ton were to discover why she had been sent into hiding, she would be ruined.
The father of the child wanted nothing to do with the baby, even if she did. Hopefully she could convince him to marry her when she went back into London; the season would be starting soon. She closed her heavy eyes and prayed the feeling of loss would leave her.
But it didn’t. There was no way to escape the choices she had made, except to move on with life, and hope the Duke would still find her attractive after a twenty-four hour childbirth. He hadn’t even contacted her—had he even cared for her health at all?
Although young, she wasn’t stupid. He was probably out getting foxed with his friends, while she went through the worst pain imaginable.
It was better this way. Better the infant girl remain in the country. Better she be raised far away from society.
“Her name, miss?” The maid urged softly, looking at her with expectant eyes.
“Sara,” she whispered. “Her name is Sara.”
The English Countryside
Miss Sara Ames had no desire whatsoever to extend a greeting to her Aunt Tilda. Greetings were natural assumptions of welcome, and Sara did not want her aunt to get the wrong impression. She was most certainly not welcome.
Soon enough she would be encouraged to extend said welcome to her aunt, but naturally, she was in no mood to rush the first step into the inferno, as she so delicately thought of the situation. No. She would greet her soon, but not too soon. Not until the time was forced upon her—much like the current situation had been thrust upon her.
At least she could spend these last few hours in solitary lamentation, mourning the life she once dreamed for herself. A life filled with nights sitting by the fireside reading novels. After all, she wasn’t pretty enough for a debut, a fact of which she was reminded daily by her sisters and her mother.
Debuts were reserved for comely, dewy-skinned girls; not ugly girls, as her father had often so delicately put it. She hadn’t even been provided with a dowry. And according to her father, the main reason for that being, “No man in his right mind would take you, even if I offered him the blunt of the ton.” He’d repeated such sentiments to neighbors on many occasions as well, the first time on Sara’s sixteenth birthday, when during the middle of her party he drunkenly announced to all her friends she was worthless..
At least novels provided the escape she desperately needed, a diversion into a world where she felt loved, cherished, and desired—the most scandalous of all the emotions, or so she thought.
Men would never desire her; even her own father despised her for how she looked.
For one thing, she was straight where all the other women had curves. Her skin was dark olive, but that was to be expected when one spent hours contemplating books in the fields. Her lips were too large, her eyes too big, and her nose—well, she didn’t know much about noses, but she figured something had to be wrong with it, too. It always seemed too invisible next to her lush mouth, which her father had often called sinful.
How was it that her sisters were both gifted with angelic faces and soft bodies, while she was cursed with a hard-muscled body and a long mop of black hair? She was nearly convinced her mother had taken a lover of some sort, or at least had an affair while her father was away on business. It was the only explanation for her looks; certainly, her own father must have thought as much as well, because she received the most despised spankings as a child, and allotted the most horrid of all chores.
Her parents meant well, her beautifully gifted sisters often told her, but she had her doubts. As of a few days ago, she accepted her lot in life was to be a spinster; to spend the rest of her days longing for something she’d never had to begin with…love.
“Sara!” Her mother’s impossibly loud voice never ceased to carry for miles on end.
“Coming!” she called, although not at the same decibel. It was nearly impossible to reach the same frequency as her mother on any given occasion. A gift is what her mother called it, but her father called it a curse behind her mother’s back.