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The Social Tutor

The Social Tutor

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Devoted Hearts, Book 1

Christine Devon, eager to make her mark in London society, lacks the refined grace expected of her. In search of guidance, she crosses paths with Thomas Gilbert, a man struggling to save his family's estate and pursue his passion for horse farming. 

Their fortuitous encounter offers a solution to both their dilemmas: Thomas teaches Christine proper etiquette while gaining access to prized equine bloodlines. Yet, as their connection deepens, their arrangement becomes a matter of the heart. Will they recognize their love before Christine is enticed by the allure of London's high society?

Main Tropes

  • Friends-to-More
  • Forbidden Love
  • Duty vs. Desire


After years of escaping etiquette lessons in favor of the stables, Christine Devon’s grand debut in London is only weeks away. However, her deportment lacks the sophisticated polish she needs to achieve her father's demands for a lofty marriage. Desperate to take her place in society, she needs someone to instruct her in proper behavior.
Thomas Gilbert, newly returned from Italy, has long dreamed of founding a horse farm. But during his time away, his estate's finances have dwindled to almost nothing. Unless he finds a way to save his family from ruin, he will be forced to sell his horses and give up his dreams entirely.

A chance meeting between them may solve both their problems. Christine gains a tutor in the finer arts of polite behavior, while Thomas is given access to the finest equine bloodlines in England. But as time passes, the arrangement is less about their mutual need, and more about love. Will they see it in time, or will Christine leave Thomas behind for the splendor of London’s ballrooms?

Intro to Chapter One

November 1st, 1811

Christine Devon slumped in her chair in a most unladylike manner. “Waiting on a letter one knows to be full of exciting news is an excruciating experience.”

“Are you waiting for the post again?” Rebecca glanced away from her book and offered a teasing smile as only a little sister could. “Whatever for?”

“I hope the letter will come today to save us all from your anxieties on the matter.” Julia, the eldest of the three, did not even look up from her stitching as she commented. This meant she didn’t see Christine’s glare.

“You ought to try reading, Christine,” Rebecca said with her customary softness. “The news sheets are here on the table. I know you enjoy them.”

“I do find them interesting; there is something particularly satisfying about knowing what goes on in the world outside this house.” Christine glanced at the papers but did not pick them up. “Father says I ought not to spend too much time on them, though. They are meant for gentlemen.”

Julia made a noise which sounded suspiciously like a snort. “He will never know, Christine. If you like them, read them.”

Checking out the window once more, Christine darted to the table to snatch the Times, a week old now, and went back to her seat. 

“There. Now you needn’t be so anxious.” Rebecca settled more deeply into her chair and lifted her book again. “Reading helps to pass the time better than any other pursuit.”

There was truth in her sisters’ encouragement, but no matter her effort, Christine could barely read a full sentence without looking out the window in search of the post. Even an opinion piece on the state of the King’s sanity couldn’t fully capture her attention. The proposal of naming the Crown Prince as Regent did interest her, however, so she vowed to read through the pages again, after the post arrived.

Christine had waited in this manner every day for the last three weeks. Her aunt, Lady Cranley, the widow of an earl, likely didn’t know how much her niece longed for the missive. Or perhaps she delayed the letter on purpose, to teach Christine the virtue she spurned most often: patience. When it finally came, Christine knew the esteemed lady’s letter would be positively full of instructions and lists for the coming London Season. Because it was, at long last, Christine’s turn to make her debut into society. At nineteen, she was on the older side when it came to the hopeful young misses stepping out for the first time, but she that her father granted her a season at all made it difficult to feel anything other than gratitude, especially after her sister Julia’s spectacular failure four years prior.

Christine did not actually know what Julia’s spectacular failure consisted of, as no one in the family had ever told her the whole story outright. All Christine knew of the matter consisted of her father’s sharp-edged comments muttered at family dinners, her aunt’s vague mention of the “unfortunate affair,” and Julia’s slow withdrawal from her sisters. 

Whatever the past mistake or embarrassment, Christine determined long ago that her triumphant season, as one of the most sought-after young women in London, would elevate the family to new heights.

“You ought to stop straining your neck like that,” Rebecca commented, bringing Christine out of her thoughts. Her younger sister watched from behind her book, dark eyes twinkling merrily. “You might overstretch it and then where would you be? I doubt goose necks are in fashion in London.”

A small chuckle escaped from Julia, and Christine could not help smiling as well. “We cannot have that, I suppose.” She pulled her shoulders up and tucked her chin down against her chest. “Do you think a turtle-like posture more the thing?”

Rebecca pretended to consider, and Christine laughed until Rebecca joined in the merriment. It always surprised Christine to see her own features mirrored on her younger sister’s face, though they had always looked the most alike of their siblings. They both took after their father with their dark, waving hair and brown eyes. Julia looked more like their mother, her hair a lighter shade of brown and her eyes flecked with copper. Their younger brother, away at school, had light, curly hair and dark brown eyes. Their features differed enough that only when they all stood together did they look related.

Christine often wished she looked more like their late mother. In at least that way, she might remain close to the woman who’d left them far too soon.

Their mother passed when Christine was fourteen years old, leaving it to their father’s elder sister to turn the sisters out in style for the season. Lady Cranley had immediately taken charge of sponsoring Julia into society, chaperoning her to all the important events, with a promise of doing the same for Christine and Rebecca in their own time. Until then, they had a governess assigned to look after them. A governess whose memory inspired both younger daughters to wrinkle their nose in distaste.

Their father paid the bills for the modiste, seamstress, millinery, and whatever else their aunt deemed necessary, and he complied without question. After all, as he said time and again, a woman’s first season was an investment poised to benefit the entire family.

At last, Christine saw the footman assigned to retrieve the mail. Every day, he fetched it from the inn, where the mail coaches stopped as often as they passed on the road. Upon his return, the poor young man always came the long way around the house to avoid the smells of the stables. Apparently, he had a serious aversion to horses. 

Nothing struck Christine as more tragic than imagining a deprivation of horses and daily rides for something as absurd as a damp nose.

Christine hurried from the morning room and across the whole house, taking the servants’ stair instead of the main staircase in order to catch the young man more quickly. Today simply had to be the day that her aunt’s letter arrived. There was much to do to plan for the season ahead, and Christine could not move forward without her aunt’s instructions.

Christine’s father planned to remove the family to London immediately following the Earl of Annesbury’s annual Christmas ball, and it was already November. That left Christine precious little time to prepare herself for a grand entrance into London Society.

She flew into the kitchen at the same moment the footman entered from outside, and she dove at him to retrieve the post.

The startled servant jumped backward as Christine snatched the letters from his hands. She clutched at the two folded missives and looked at their direction with great anxiety. The first was to their father in a hand she thought belonged to their man of business; the second was addressed to her. 

“Ah, Miss Christine.” The butler greeted her dryly from his place at the table. She blushed as she looked at him but made no apologies. She ought to have waited for him to bring the post to Julia, rather than pouncing upon the footman. The servant had turned pale in the face of her enthusiasm. 

“I’ll take my letter now, thank you.” Christine tossed the unwanted letter back to the footman and dashed out of the kitchen as fast as she could, making a path to the garden. 

One of Julia’s shawls, hastily thrown over Christine’s shoulders in her dash out of doors, kept her from feeling the chill. Or perhaps it was merely her excitement that warded off all signs of the cooling weather.

She stopped at the first sun-warmed bench she came to, sat, and tore the seal on the letter with abandon, nearly wrinkling the paper in her haste. 

My Dearest Niece,

It is with great pleasure that I write to assure you of my determination to sponsor you this season. While it is no secret that I dearly wish to give you this opportunity, your father expressed concern when last we spoke that you might have use of another year of experience before entering Society. I reminded him that nineteen is more stylish an age and sounds better than twenty to future beaux. If we wait until you are twenty, people will wonder why we hid you for so long. I daresay most have forgotten about Julia’s unfortunate season, but there is no reason to dredge up curiosity in any who recall those events…

Her aunt went on to give a detailed list of Christine’s needed purchases before her arrival in Town and made suggestions as to the colors and styles a country seamstress might employ to Christine’s advantage. The bulk of the shopping would be done in London, of course, but she would need a few dresses to wear upon her arrival. 

Christine clutched the letter to her chest, her elation filling her with hope until she knew she must glow. At last, her Season! Her chance to prove to her father that she was worthy of his trust, worthy of his pride, and his rarely expressed affection. Her chance to step onto the stage of the world and make a match of such societal importance that other debutantes would positively wilt in comparison. 

Her match would be brilliant, no doubt. She hoped for a title, and certainly for wealth, but also to give her father contacts in the upper echelons of society, thus ensuring her family’s success in the years and even generations to come. 

While her father, and indeed the whole family, benefited from his sister’s marriage into the nobility, he remained on the fringes, an untitled gentleman only noteworthy because of business interests shared by titled property owners. 

Christine sailed back into the morning room to share the wonderful news. Julia still sat in her favorite chair, stitching something in a terribly practical shade of gray, likely for one of their tenants. Rebecca was engaged with her novel once more.

Christine finally interrupted the quiet, making her announcement cheerfully. “Lady Cranley has written at last.”

Rebecca looked up from her page. “Oh Christine, how wonderful for you.” 

Julia raised her eyebrows, not even pausing in her work.

Christine stared at her elder sister, perplexed by the complete lack of attention. “I am very excited,” she added, still enthusiastic. “She has given me a list of things to purchase before we remove to London.”

Julia nodded and this time deigned to speak. “If you will write it out for me, I will make an estimation on the expense for Father to look over.”

Rebecca closed her book and stood, coming to peer at the letter over Christine’s shoulder. 

“What else does Aunt say?” Rebecca asked. “Does she tell you what to expect when you make your curtsy?” 

Highly irritated by Julia’s lack of enthusiasm, Christine deliberately turned her full attention to her sixteen-year-old sister. “She does. She writes all about it; the dress I will wear and who will make it for me, the ceremony at court. She has included the most wonderful itinerary, though a great deal will depend upon the invitations we receive after we arrive in town.”

“I would be positively jealous if I wasn’t so happy for you. Think of all you will see and do in London.” Rebecca looked from Christine to Julia and her smile faltered. “Aren’t you happy for her, Julia?”

“Certainly.” Julia’s fingers nimbly moved the needle up and down, never looking up at either of them. “Christine has been dreaming of this for years.”

“Ever since your season,” Christine said, lifting her chin. An errant curl fell out of its pin, something her aunt might scold her for, but Christine only pulled herself up taller, her posture perfect. “Four years of dreaming.”

Julia paused and glanced up, her staid expression never betraying her thoughts. “A long time indeed. I hope all that dreaming won’t spoil the reality for you.”

Whether or not Julia meant the caution as a barb, it pricked Christine’s heart all the same. Why couldn’t her elder sister at least feign excitement for Christine’s opportunity? “As long as I end the season with a husband of means, I do not think it will be at all spoiled.”

Julia shrugged and went back to her sewing, as though completely unconcerned. “If that is your goal, you are likely right. But be careful, Christine.”

Christine’s tongue, sharpened by disappointment, made her words harsher than she intended. “Careful of what? Repeating your missteps?” 

For a brief moment, Julia’s posture stiffened, and Christine wondered if she’d rattled her sister enough, at last, to find out what those missteps had been. 

Alas, Julia, ever the master of her emotions, regained her poise.

“Father is an exacting person. He will expect perfection and, as a mortal being, you will fall short of that. I have no doubt you will do your best, but if you hope to gain his approval by marrying correctly, I am afraid you will be disappointed. His expectations will only grow with whatever consequence a good marriage brings you.” Julia kept her eyes on the work in her hands, her words falling from her lips carelessly.

It took Christine several moments to gather her thoughts. She hardly believed her sister uttered so many words regarding a topic she normally avoided, yet still managed to reveal nothing of her failures. “I do not think it is as impossible as you make it seem. I will succeed in a way that makes Father proud. In fact, I will exceed his expectations.” She punctuated her sentence with a sharp nod. 

“I suppose nineteen is more mature than seventeen,” Julia said, tone light and unconvinced. “The age when I attempted to do the same.”

“Precisely why Father made me wait those extra two years,” Christine said, crossing her arms before her. “Greater maturity of thought. A better understanding of his wishes.”

Julia shrugged, her disinterest in the conversation once more settling over her in an expression of calm composure. “Certainly. Father’s ambitions for you may not be entirely what you expect. I admonish you again. Be careful.”

While Christine loved Julia dearly, there were moments when she wished to throttle her sister for ruining things for the rest of them. Though it remained to be seen how Horace, their little brother away at school, might be impacted.

Rebecca interjected with an overly bright tone. “Will you send a reply to our aunt today?” 

Christine had nearly forgotten her younger sister was present, which had been happening with greater frequency of late. Though Christine could hardly be blamed, when Rebecca disappeared so readily into her books.

She ignored her younger sister and took a step toward Julia. “What need I be careful of, Julia? What sage advice have you to offer, considering your lack of success during your Season in London?”

Perhaps Christine had finally pushed Julia’s patience to the breaking point. Julia’s gaze snapped up and her eyes narrowed. “My lack of success, as you call it, happened for a reason. And the details do not matter. I only hope you take care that our father’s goals do not overshadow your happiness, Christine.”

“Our father’s goals are the same as every father’s when a daughter comes of age,” Christine argued, clenching the hand not holding the letter. “We should consider and respect his wishes in this matter, as dutiful children are expected to do.”

Rebecca darted forward to step between them. “We do respect Father,” she said calmly, facing Christine. “I think Julia means that she wants you to be happy with the choice you make this Season. In addition to gaining Father’s approval. Julia? Isn’t that what you mean?”

Julia rose, lifting her sewing basket with her. “Yes. Exactly that. I hope your choice makes you happy.” She hesitated at the doorway, not looking back as she said in a most unconcerned manner, “If you are given any choices, that is. Receiving an offer is never a certain thing.” With that final indelicate warning, she swept out the door.

“Why does she do that?” Christine asked, glaring at the empty doorway. “Why can she not at least pretend at some happiness for me?”

“Her Season was a failure, Christine.” Rebecca’s soft heart was evident in her gentle tone. “I think it hurts her to be reminded of it. Father brings it up so often.” 

“If she would tell us what happened, we could be more sympathetic to her,” Christine huffed, folding her arms across her waist. “Instead, we are left to guess, and she refuses to say a word unless to offer dire warnings.”

Rebecca laughed, though it sounded strained. “Come now. You know she loves us. How could Julia wish for anything other than your success? She cannot want us to end up as she has.”

“A spinster.”

“That is not kind,” Rebecca said, her voice gentle. “She is our sister, and still quite young.”

Christine barely refrained from saying more on the subject. Though she may regret her words later, at the moment, she wished for someone to be happy for her. She thrust the letter out to Rebecca, trying to regain her former excitement. “Here. Read our aunt’s letter. I must make a list of things to purchase.” 

Christine left the room, more determined than ever not to follow in the footsteps of their eldest sister.

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