When the prestigious Brandons, finally fed up of their defiant disgrace of a son, decide to wed him off to a nice, respectable girl who can take him down a peg or two, it's unfortunate for non-identical twin, Leticia Ramone, that Dear Grandmama believes she's just the girl to do it. Too bad everybody else in Delle seems to think they're perfect for the Brandon Son too.
Now, not only has she got to learn how to be a nice, respectable girl, but she must also impress the finicky Brandons and make them believe she's perfect for the son she's never met and never will meet unless she becomes the next Mrs. Brandon.
Lucky for the scheming Leticia that she just so happens to know whom the mystery son could be…or so she thinks.
And then there's the rest of the jealous, conniving competition to contend with, along with that annoying pest of a servant who won't leave her alone.
Becoming the Brandon Bride
Growing up in Delle, I was always forced to take an avid interest in the Brandon Son's conquests overseas and the latest scandal that always sent Madame Elise Brandon into a melodramatic fainting fit in the middle of the town square. The woman had the most horrible timing – it seemed to me that she only ever had those melodramatic fainting fits when there was a large, sympathetic audience nearby.
Quite strange for somebody who claimed that she wanted to keep her son's disgraces private.
The Brandon Son was only ever referred to as just that – the Brandon Son. I don't suppose anybody in the whole county of Delle knew what his real name was, besides the immediate family, but we all pretty much knew what any mention of the Brandon Son meant.
"Goodness," Grandmama tutted as Freida Fairchild handed her a basket of freshly-picked apples – all of which I knew had been taken from our own orchard anyway. Grandmama only ever used the apples in our orchard when she wanted to impress guests, but it had given me a sense of satisfaction, when I had struck a deal with Freida early in the month, to know that Grandmama was being outwitted by her Demon Grandchild. Oh, cackle, cackle. I could feel a wart growing on the tip of my nose already.
"Poor Elise," Grandmama sighed sympathetically, though I could sense a kind of sadistic pleasure coming from her at the thought of the 'Insufferable Finicky Witch' being disgraced yet again.
By the eldest son, no less. Oh, horror. The scandal!
It seemed the Brandon Son was at it again.
Freida nodded vehemently – she was always so passionate about these things – and the two gossips parted ways, no doubt to spread the word.
"What did he do this time, Grandmama?" I sighed in exasperation, plucking an
apple from her basket and taking a large bite. I could taste the deviousness in
the tang and it was all I could do to prevent myself from cackling to myself. "Wear
the wrong colour attire? Forget how to breathe the proper way?"
Grandmama plucked the apple from my hand and dropped it into the lap of a sleeping beggar. He jolted awake with a start and eagerly consumed the delectable fruit with great gusto as if he were the luckiest man on the earth.
"Heavens, child," Grandmama fussed, ignoring the beggar as, apple long-gone, he gazed at her hopefully. "You'll ruin your appetite. And really, Leticia. Could it hurt you to show the tiniest smidgen of interest in this county's most prominent family? Why can't you be more like your sister?"
Every conversation between Grandmama and me almost always ended like this, no matter how it had begun. This, as much as I loved my non-identical twin sister, always made me try harder to be less like Alyssa than before.
Grandmama doted on Lyss like she would a puppy, and coddled her so lovingly that it made me sick just to watch. I thanked the gods that I was always spared these often-public displays of affection but Lyss didn't seem to mind spending some of her time with the Domineering Old Hag.
My words, not hers. Never hers.
That was the thing with my non-identical twin sister, I suppose. She never
seemed to dislike anybody and was always willing to contribute her time to
those I deemed unworthy of mine.
The Heavenly Blue-Eyed Angel and The Flaming Demon Child.
My, my. We did make quite a pair.
If it weren't for the same family name nobody would have deemed us related at all.
"So," I started, steering the subject away from what I knew was going to be yet another blow-out. It didn't pay to bicker with Grandmama, especially when I wanted something so badly as a new set of paints. "What did he do? Oh, I'm positively dying to know!"
She ignored the latter comment, choosing to let my sarcasm slide. A rare occurrence.
"If you must know -" she always began like this, sticking her nose in the air as if she were telling something of great importance, even when she was only commenting on the colour of Freida's socks at the dinner table. " – the Brandon Son was caught with a harlot a week before his wedding. We all thought he had settled down at last. Poor Elise has finally decided to bring that rebellious son of hers back to Delle in the hopes that he finds a nice, respectable girl here. And it's fortunate for us that I have just the right girl in mind."
"Who?" I asked, not out of curiosity, but out of habit. Grandmama always wanted to make sure that her audience was listening attentively to whatever she was saying.
I knew just whom she was talking about of course, and felt a small pang of pity for my twin.
Close-to-perfect as she was, there was just one small problem with that idea: she was taken and entirely besotted with her secret beau. Secret because we both knew Grandmama and Daddy had higher prospects in mind for Lyss than Sonny Barber, our illiterate, uneducated stable hand.
How was I supposed to break the news delicately to her? My twin was always sensitive when it came to affairs of the heart and to think that she would have to leave dear, sweet, stupid Sonny Barber (whom she dreamed of having millions of dear, sweet, stupid children with) for the Brandon Son was a horrid prospect.
"Why, my dear Leticia," Grandmama exclaimed, clapping her hands gleefully. "You, of course."
¤ - ¤ - ¤
Alyssa Ramone had been asleep, dreaming wonderfully of her future with the pleasant, charming Sonny, when she awoke with a start to the sound of bickering and tearful exclamations, countered by the soothing, authoritative tone of their Grandmama.
Her twin claimed that she was oblivious to their Grandmama's domineering ways, but, in fact, it was only that Alyssa welcomed her grandmother's interfering in consolation for their mother's absence, whereas Leticia was used to, and unwilling to give up her independence and freedom.
There was the sound of furious pounding as her twin angrily thumped up the staircase and slammed her bedroom door behind her.
Another quarrel with Grandmama again, Alyssa noted, sighing. Those two never seemed to get along.
Alyssa peeked through a crack in her doorway, not wanting to get in the middle of yet another argument, as Grandmama appeared at the top of the staircase, looking distressed.
"Leticia, darling!" she called, rapping upon her sister's door in earnest. "Don't be like that, dear!"
There was the sound of something breakable hitting the wall and she winced, inching away from the doorway carefully. Unfortunately, Grandmama caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to grace Alyssa with a pleading look.
"Could you have a word with her, dear? She's seems upset – goodness knows why! I'm sure the Brandon Son is a lovely boy – very lovely. Yes, lovely, lovely." Grandmama didn't seem convinced by her own words and wandered off down the stairs, muttering to herself.
That left Alyssa with the unfavourable task of trying to calm her sister down – something she did not recommend to anybody, specially trained or not.
"Leti?" She knocked on the door gently, and then peeked a cautious head through her sister's doorway, as if afraid she might mistake her for Grandmama and fling a vase at her.
"Leti, darling, are you okay?"
She was the only person in the whole of Delle who had the right to call her that – any male so daring would find themselves castrated faster than they could say 'sorry' and Leticia could make anything – even being choked to death – look like an accident.
"She's punishing me, I know she is," Leticia mumbled glumly, staring listlessly at the wall. "I knew those apples would come back to haunt me one day."
Alyssa chuckled and Leticia shuffled over to make room for her sister on the bed.
"What did Grandmama do now?" she probed gently, wrapping her arms around her sister to comfort her. Nobody else, as far as Leticia was concerned, was allowed to hug her either – not since their mother had left in search of a romantic, quixotic life with their younger, spry gardener.
Leticia had never forgiven their mother for leaving them and loathed Grandmama just as much for saving them from poverty and homelessness.
Subsequent to their mother's desertion, their father had fallen in a bout of despair, alternating between anger, denial and recklessness. He'd become a vicious unsociable hound in his anger, emotionally detached in his denial and had squandered away their money in the wee hours of the morning in his recklessness.
It was Grandmama who had taken them away from the home and county they had once known and shipped them all off to Delle where she could keep an eye – and a leash, Leticia often grumbled - on each of them soundly.
"She wants me to wed the Brandon Son."
"But why?" Surely Leticia, although not as bad as the Brandon Son, could not be a good influence on the already-disobedient man. The two would either drive each other to the brink of insanity, or the people around them. Where was Grandmama's reasoning in that? The woman was usually so level-headed about these things.
Leticia didn't seem to mind the shock in her sister's voice. In fact, she actually seemed gratified to see that her non-identical twin sister was just as taken aback as she had been. At least she had nice, sensible Alyssa on her side. Eat dirt, Grandmama.
"Because - " and here she threw herself back onto her bed dramatically "- Grandmama is a sadistic, old hag who seeks pleasure in causing me such pain. That, and she thinks the Brandon Son and I will get along so shoddily that we'll cure each other of our wicked, wicked ways."
Alyssa didn't think it wise to openly display her admiration for their grandmother's clever plan and chose instead to let her sister expend all her energy into ranting, while all the while smiling secretly to herself.
Maybe, for once, her non-identical twin sister would meet her match.
And, if that didn't work, it would still give her some peace and quiet from all the bickering Leticia and Grandmama always seemed to get into.
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