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His Unexpected Heiress E-Book

His Unexpected Heiress E-Book

Devoted Hearts Series: Book One

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An unexpected fortune falls into a tradeswoman’s lap, a gentleman insists it rightfully belongs to him, will falling in love make matters better or worse?

Adam, third son of an earl, accepts his only hope of an inheritance is through his great-uncle. Shock ensues when the Will is read: most of the wealth left to a complete stranger—a seamstress! To recoup, Adam's choices are to help the attractive new heiress, or scheme to have her declared unfit. If only she wasn't so beguiling...

Elaine Chapple, as a simple seamstress, isn't accustomed to standing out. Running her dress shop hasn't prepared her for inheriting a fortune from a man she met only once. The fortune is surprising; the help of the accompanying gentleman is puzzling. Does Mr. Gillensford want her to prosper or to make a fool of her?

With a greedy family urging Adam to act for his own good, and Elaine’s difficulty in adapting to her new life, only love could possibly untangle this mess.

Main Tropes

  • Rags-to-Riches
  • Single Parent
  • Duty vs. Desire

Synopsis

A third son to an earl, Adam Gillensford knows his only hope of an inheritance is through his great uncle. But when the Will is read, Adam learns most of the wealth has been left to a complete stranger, and a seamstress at that. If he hopes to salvage any kind of funds for himself, he has two choices: adhere to his late uncle’s wishes and assist the new heiress in finding her way, or sabotage her so the courts will find her unfit to inherit. Deciding his course would be easier if the heiress wasn’t so enchanting. 

Elaine Chapple, a woman in trade, is rather used to being seen as unusual. But running her own dress shop is far different from discovering a man she barely knew left his entire estate in her care. As unexpected as the fortune is, the help of the gentleman attached to it is even more perplexing. Does Mr. Gillensford mean to make her a success, or a fool? 

With a greedy family urging Adam to act for his own good, and Elaine’s difficulty in adapting to her new life, only love could possibly untangle this mess.

Intro to Chapter One

Pushing her needle through the blue satin cloth, Elaine tried to keep her focus on the stitch rather than the scene outside her shop window. The completed gown had been commissioned by one of her most particular patrons and she had only one more day to finish the work. 

Despite those facts, Elaine lifted her eyes again to peer out the rain-spattered window, between the artfully arranged bolts of cloth and trailing lace curtains, to the man standing on the other side of the glass. The rain had started ten minutes before, and he took up residence beneath the awning over her shop window almost at the same moment. He huddled there, bent over with his arms wrapped around himself, his back to her.

Poor old fellow. White wisps of hair stood out from under the brim of his hat, and though the cut of his coat might have been considered fine once, it was terribly out of date and certainly not warm enough for the spring deluge. 

Elaine sat behind a long table, the dress spread out across its length. A small stove in the corner kept the area in which she worked warm, and through the door behind her in the living quarters another fire blazed to keep the children and the tabby cat cozy. Despite this, she shuddered when she looked past the man to the dark storm clouds. The rain would not let up anytime soon.

He had stood there long enough to catch a chill. 

Removing her needle from the loose thread, Elaine tucked it into the ivory case where she kept her best sewing equipment. She folded the dress carefully, then went around the table to the front door. When she opened it, the bell above her head jingled merrily, but the man did not so much as look over his shoulder at her. 

Elaine cleared her throat. She had little practice with addressing people on this side of the shop door. At least fully-grown people. The children of Ipswich were far easier to converse with than the people of greater heights and expectations. 

The old man turned slightly, barely peering over the upturned collar of his coat. His eyebrows were as white as his hair, and his forehead bore deep creases from years of wrinkling above his narrowed blue eyes. 

“Pardon me, sir,” Elaine said. “Will you not step inside? I should very much hate to be left in this sort of weather myself when there is warmth and shelter nearby.” 

He turned a little more in her direction, enough so she could see the flat line of his lips and the hollowness of his face beneath angular cheekbones. 

“I have just made the most delicious apple pastries this morning, too,” she added without thought, tempting him as she would one of the neighborhood urchins in order to give them at least one decent meal when they were half-starved. 

Saying nothing, the man regarded her carefully, studying her in a manner that made her feel as she had when she attended Mrs. Harper’s School for Young Ladies. Everyone had stared at her there, too. The daughter of a tailor, she had not belonged at a school with the daughters of wealthy gentlemen and minor nobility. Yet the lessons the school matron continually hammered into her head were what kept her from meekly lowering her eyes and begging the old man’s forgiveness for disturbing him. Instead, she lifted her chin as she had been taught. 

“Sir, do come in from the cold. I should enjoy having a visitor in my quiet shop this afternoon.” A proper lady took command of such situations and did not whisper out invitations. Of course, Mrs. Harper likely never imagined Elaine using her lessons to play hostess to strange men from the street. The thought nearly made her lose her serious composure. 

“I would be pleased to keep you company, madam, but you must allow me to introduce myself.” When he spoke, his voice surprised her, deep and cultured rather than scratchy and dry as one would imagine. Then he bowed, and though his movements were slow they were well-practiced. “I am Peter Gillensford.” 

Though she half-stood in the doorway, Elaine dropped into her best curtsy, the one reserved for her most important patrons. “I am Elaine Chapple, seamstress. Please, do come in Mr. Gillensford.” She stepped aside, holding the door open wide. 

He shuffled inside ahead of her, his movements slow and precise. Mr. Gillensford removed his hat once inside, his eyes taking in her shop. Elaine closed the door behind them and brushed a wayward red curl back into her white cap. 

“A beautiful gown, Mrs. Chapple,” he said, nodding to the table. “Your handiwork?”

“Yes. It is meant to be worn at a ball in a few days’ time.” Elaine walked around the table to the door going to the back. “Mr. Gillensford, please come into my parlor. It is just through here. You may sit by the fire and I will fetch those delicious apple tarts.” 

The wrinkles in his face softened, smoothing enough to make him appear a few years younger than he had moments before. He likely had been a handsome man many years before, especially with those rather brilliant eyes of his. Perhaps, given his fine manners, he had been an upper servant or a younger son of someone important. It hardly mattered, of course, but Elaine could not help wondering what his story must be. 

“Yes, your apple pastries.” He chuckled and followed behind her. Elaine went through to the parlor and found it much as she had left it a quarter hour before, when she checked on the inhabitants of the room. 

William laid stretched upon the old Persian rug, his stockinged feet toward the fire and his hands holding a book. He glanced up when she entered, saw Mr. Gillensford behind her and hastily jumped to his feet. Nancy had been sitting in a chair, embroidering a handkerchief-sized cloth as practice. She tucked her work behind her and stood, immediately lowering her eyes to the ground rather than stare at their guest. 

“Mr. Gillensford, this is William Thackery and Nancy McComb. Children, this is Mr. Gillensford. He is our guest while the rain is falling.” She gestured to the more comfortable of the two mis-matched chairs. “Your chair, Mr. Gillensford.” 

He nodded to the children and made his way to the chair, stepping carefully over the tabby cat still stretched before the fire. Cats never stood on ceremony, of course. 

Connected to her parlor was a small kitchen, with only the barest of essentials for running a household. It was only the work of a few minutes to put a kettle on and arrange her pastries on a plate for her unexpected visitor. William, bless him, moved a small side table to Mr. Gillensford’s elbow and then took up a seat next to Nancy. Elaine brought the plate of treats to set upon the table and then went about arranging tea. 

Mr. Gillensford said nothing, though the strength of his stare remained upon her as she moved. There was nothing unkind about it, at least, though Elaine easily sensed his curiosity. 

At six and twenty, Elaine was well used to people regarding her with mild confusion. Her fine manners from finishing school, and her attempts to appear unassuming in serviceable clothing and aprons, were something of a contradiction. 

Finally, she settled in the chair across the rug from Mr. Gillensford. The chairs may not match, but they were at least comfortable and tidy. “There you are, sir. I hope it was worth your time waiting. I have no sugar for your tea today, but there is honey if you would like it.” 

“No, thank you.” He raised his cup to his lips, at last looking at something other than her. “You have a very comfortable home here, Mrs. Chapple. Is there a Mr. Chapple about somewhere?”

“No, sir. I am afraid my name is really Miss Chapple,” she admitted gently, though she normally allowed people to call her by the more respectable title, given her place as a woman of business. “I do rather enjoy our home.” 

The furniture was old, and nothing was particularly fine, but she and the children kept everything free of dust. There were not many baubles to decorate the mantel or the single shelf of books, but the few things they had were lovely. Bits of sea glass. A framed picture of a castle William particularly liked. A vase of flowers Nancy gathered from the park. 

Setting down his cup, Mr. Gillensford leaned forward. “Miss? And I noticed the children do not share your surname.” At least he spoke without judgment. The children had learned to keep quiet in the parlor when she had visitors in the shop, in order to avoid these sometimes-awkward conversations. 

Sensing the man’s curiosity was harmless, Elaine allowed her affection for the children into her conversation. 

“We are something of a patchwork family, Mr. Gillensford. William has been with me since before my father passed away. He is an intelligent young man, going on twelve this year. And Nancy is the cleverest little girl you may ever meet. I was fortunate to make her acquaintance two years ago. I have taken her on as an apprentice.” At only six years old, no one would ever consider Nancy for such a position. 

Mr. Gillensford regarded the children seriously a moment, then looked down at the cat. “And has your cat a story as well?”

“William found Tabby and brought her home. She has proved to be quite handy at keeping away the mice.” Elaine did not add that William had found her tattered and torn, left for dead, after a carriage struck her in the road. 

A knock at the back door brought Elaine to her feet once more. “Please excuse me, Mr. Gillensford. You are not the only one to whom I have promised apple tarts.” She went to the door in the kitchen, not at all surprised to see a tiny, dirty face looking up at her. 

“Miss Mary,” she greeted brightly, though her heart ached to see the waif-like child out in the rain. “Have you brought me more buttons?”

The little girl wordlessly nodded and reached into a grubby apron pocket to produce a single yellow button. Elaine had arranged to trade lost buttons Mary found for bites of food. The child had sharp eyes, so she visited with frequency. 

“Oh, what a lovely color. That is a rare one indeed. I think it merits a special treat today.” Elaine took the button and made a show of placing it upon the cutting board beside the dry sink. “One moment.” She took up one of the baskets beneath her small kitchen table and added three pastries to the food already inside. She handed the basket to Mary, momentarily concerned it might be too heavy for the child, but Mary took the handle into the crook of her arm and grinned up at Elaine. 

“Thank you, miss,” she said in her angelic little voice. 

“You are so welcome, my dear. Thank you for the button. Give your mother my regards.” Elaine waited until Mary had walked back into the rain before closing the door. She had tried, many times, to invite the child inside but Mary refused to set foot even into the kitchen. 

She took up the bright yellow button again. Wooden buttons were normally quite simple, and fabric-covered buttons would be made to match the article upon which they were sewn. Wondering what had ever possessed someone to paint the wood such a color, she went back to her chair and her company. 

“I hope you are enjoying your tarts, sir.” Elaine settled in her seat. “Is there anything else I might do for your comfort?”

“No, Miss Chapple.” He lowered his teacup to its saucer, his blue eyes piercing hers. “Except, perhaps, you might pass the time by telling me more about yourself. I know now of Master William, and Miss Nancy, and the tabby cat. What of you? How have you found yourself in this place, looking after so many?” 

The impertinent question, coming from a stranger, might have unsettled other women. The fact that no one had ever asked her such a thing before, despite many noting the oddities of her situation, said well enough it was not mannerly to discuss. But there was something in his fierce gaze, as though he truly saw her and not just a seamstress in a very small shop, that made her lean toward him as she spoke of her life. 

“My mother died when I was very young, and my father was a tailor to fine gentlemen in London.” Anyone might know that much with ease. “Father sent me away to a school for the daughters of gentlemen. He wanted me to have the manners of a lady, as that would help me to obtain better clientele for us both. My father, he was very business minded. He thought we could have a shop together, patronized by gentlemen and their wives.” 

“A clever enough idea,” Mr. Gillensford said with a sharp nod. He did not appear as tired as when he had entered through her shop door. His blue eyes glittered with interest, the dim sorrow having retreated some time before. “Yet you are here.”

Elaine lowered her voice as she continued, reverence for her father’s memory undiminished by time. “My father passed away a few years ago, sir. Our landlord had no wish to continue leasing the shop, and our rooms above it, to a seamstress with no experience.” 

Never mind that she had been vastly experienced by that time. She could sew a straight hem in the dark, piece together fine gowns out of scraps of material if needed and had an eye for fashion thanks to her years of studying the magazines the girls at school had loaned her. “London rents were quite expensive. Ipswich is more easily managed.” 

“So, you and William,” he glanced in the boy’s direction, “came here from London.”

“Yes, sir.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “And found Nancy and your cat shortly after.” 

“Indeed.” Elaine tucked her hands into her lap, remembering her lessons on proper posture with the ease of habit. “And we have been here ever since.”

Mr. Gillensford leaned back in his chair. “Letting old men in out of the cold and trading buttons for pastries at your back door.” He tilted his head slightly, a frown pulling at his lips. “You remind me of my late wife, Miss Chapple. She was a kind soul if ever there was one. She took in people who were lost, whether it was only a matter of giving them soup and directions or a home and position in our household.” 

Had the man once been a gentleman? His words implied such, for she could not think of anyone of a lesser status who might speak of giving positions to people. And he had lost his wife. Had it been recent? As no stranger to being left behind herself, when she offered condolences it was with the greatest empathy. “I am sorry for your loss of her, sir.” 

“I thank you for that. It was a few years ago.” His eyes grew distant again and he faced away from her, staring now into the fire. “She used to say, on days like this one, if we looked hard enough, we might still find a bit of sunshine.” The way he spoke, each word heavy with old grief, tugged at her heart. 

The button came to mind. “I believe she must have been right, Mr. Gillensford.” Elaine stood and retrieved the button from where she had placed it in the kitchen, where it stood out in bright contrast to the plain wooden surface of her countertop. She hurried back to the old man and held her hand out to him. “It is not a great deal of sunshine. Only a button’s worth. Perhaps this much is all you need?”

He turned slowly to stare down into her palm, silently gazing at the button long enough that she saw the foolishness of her gesture. Why would a man, gentleman or not, want a silly yellow button? Heat crept up the back of her neck and into her cheeks. The curse that came with her hair was the ease of her blush. She started to curl her fingers around the offering. 

He reached out a hand, his fingers trembling slightly, and picked the button up as delicately as if it had been a precious gem. “Dear me. Is this what that child at the door gave you?”

Elaine nodded mutely. 

“It is the exact color….” His voice trailed away as he studied the little bit of painted wood. “Miss Chapple.” He raised his eyes to study her. “I believe this is precisely the sort of sunshine my wife would have loved. I thank you for it.” Then he tucked the button into his coat and put both hands on the arms of the chair, pushing himself up. “I must be going. I have taken up too much of your time.” 

“Nonsense, sir. It has been a pleasure to meet you.” Elaine hurried before him, opening the door to the front room. The rain still fell against the glass. “Are you certain you need to leave? It is still drizzling, and I hate to think of you walking about in the cold.” 

He smiled, a warmer expression than she had seen from him thus far. “My dear young lady, you needn’t worry over me. I promise I will keep dry.” He bowed to her, then went out the shop door. 

Where might he go? It was too wet for anyone to be out in such weather. And she had let him leave, without so much as an umbrella. Elaine hurried back to her little parlor, where William and Nancy had begun to relax. 

“William, where is your umbrella?” she asked, trying not to sound too urgent. 

The boy released a deep sigh. “You’re going to give it to the old man?” He knew her well and did not always appreciate her gestures to others. 

Elaine hurried to promise, “You may have mine until I replace it.”

William disappeared up the steps to their bedrooms, two small connected rooms that were part of her rent. He came back down, not quite as swiftly as she wished, and handed it to her. She took up her own umbrella from its hook in the kitchen and hurried back out to the front of the shop, through the door, and into the street. She went in the direction Mr. Gillensford had walked, her umbrella open overhead and William’s tucked tightly under one arm. She was out in no more than a mob cap and her work dress, no gloves upon her hands, but it could not be helped.

Rushing down the walkway, her eyes swept up and down the street, in search of a faded dark blue coat. At last she saw him, approaching a carriage, his back to her. 

If her lessons had allowed for a lady to shout across a road, she would have called his name. As it was, she hurried forward, but stopped all at once when the carriage door swung open and a man dressed in fine livery handed Mr. Gillensford inside. She stood, quite frozen, at the edge of the street. 

The carriage was quite fine, with four matched horses stamping about as if impatient to be off. 

Someone shouted, startling her into jumping backward as they hurried by with their donkey and cart. When she looked again, the carriage across the road had started to move, servants atop its box. 

Mr. Gillensford, whoever he was, would have no need for William’s old umbrella.

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