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Acknowledgments

 


Thanks to Lori Pacourek for naming Delia’s cat, Flossie, as part of the charity effort of Authors for Cats. Your grandmother Florence (Flossie) would be so proud!

 

 

One


London

August 1830

When Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, arrived at a Venetian breakfast thrown by the Duke and Duchess of Lyons, he regretted having stayed out until the wee hours of the morning. Last night he’d been so glad to be back among the distractions of town that he’d drunk enough brandy to pickle a barrel of herrings.

Bad idea, since the duke and duchess had decided to hold the damned party in the blazing sun on the lawn of their lavish London mansion. His mouth was dry, his stomach churned, and his head felt like a stampeding herd of elephants.

His best friend, Edwin, had better be grateful that Warren kept his promises.

“Warren!” cried a female voice painfully close. “What are you doing here?”

It was Clarissa, his cousin, who was also Edwin’s wife—and the reason Warren had dragged himself from bed at the ungodly hour of noon.

He shaded his eyes to peer at her. As usual, she had the look of a delicate fairy creature. But he knew better than to fall for that cat-in-the-cream smile. “Must you shout like that?”

“I’m not shouting.” She cocked her head. “And you look ill. So you must have had a grand time at St. George’s Club last night. Either that, or in the stews early this morning.”

“I always have a grand time.” Or at least he kept the night at bay, which was the purpose of staying out until all hours.

“Which is precisely why it’s unlike you to be here. Especially when Edwin isn’t.” She narrowed her eyes on him. “Wait a minute—Edwin sent you, didn’t he? Because he couldn’t be in town for it.”

“What? No.” He bent to kiss her cheek. “Can’t a fellow come to a breakfast to see his favorite cousin?”

“He can. But he generally doesn’t.”

Warren snagged a glass of champagne off a passing tray. “Well, he did today. Wait, who are we talking about, again?”

“Very amusing.” Taking the glass from him, she frowned. “You do not need this. You’re clearly cropsick.”

He snatched it back and downed it. “Which is precisely why I require some hair of the dog.”

“You’re avoiding the subject. Did Edwin send you here to spy on me?”

“Don’t be absurd. He merely wanted me to make sure you’re all right. You know your husband—he hates having to be at the estate with your brother while you’re in town.” He glanced at her thickening waist. “Especially when you’re . . . well . . . like that.”

“Oh, Lord, not you, too. Bad enough to have him and Niall hovering over me all the time, worried about my getting hurt somehow, but if he’s sent you to start doing that—”

“No, I swear. He only asked that I come by if I were invited to this. I had to be in town anyway, so I figured why not pop in to Lyons’s affair?” He waved his empty glass. “The duke always orders excellent champagne. But now that I’ve had some, I’ll be on my way.”

She took him by the arm. “No, indeed. I so rarely get to see you anymore. Stay awhile. They’re about to start the dancing.”

Uh-oh. Clarissa had been trying to find him a wife for years, and lately both she and Edwin’s sister, Yvette Keane, had doubled their efforts. Probably because they were both now happily married and thought it just the thing for a bachelor.

He was in no mood for such machinations today. “Why would I dance with a lot of simpering misses who think a marquess the ideal prize? I’m too cropsick to deflect veiled questions about what I’m looking for in a wife.”

Her frown revealed her intentions as fully as if she’d spoken them. “Fine. Be an old grump, if you must. But you could dance with me. I can still dance, you know.”

No doubt. Except for during her disastrous debut, Clarissa had always been a lively sort, who wouldn’t be slowed by something as inconsequential as bearing the heir to the reserved and eccentric Earl of Blakeborough.

Clarissa and Edwin were so different that Warren occasionally wondered what the two of them saw in each other. But whenever he witnessed their obvious affection, he realized there must be something deeper than personalities cementing their marriage. It made him envious.

He scowled. That was absurd. He didn’t intend to marry for a very long while. At least not until he was much older. Even then, he would prefer a lusty widow who could endure his . . . idiosyncrasies. Certainly not some coy chit eager to use him as a ladder for climbing the ranks of high society.

Or worse yet, a sanctimonious female like his mother, chiding him for every attempt he made to enjoy himself. To forget.

Clarissa stared off into the crowd. “As long as you’re here, I . . . um . . . do need a favor.”

Damn. “What kind of favor?”

“Edwin would do it if he didn’t have to be in Hertfordshire helping my brother settle the family estate, you know,” she babbled. “And Niall—”

“What’s the favor?” he persisted.

“Do you know Miss Delia Trevor?”

Miss Delia Trevor? God, would Clarissa never stop trying to match him up? “Fortunately, I do not. I assume she’s some young debutante you’ve taken under your wing.”

“Not exactly. Although Delia was just brought out this past Season, she’s nearly my age . . . and a friend. Her brother died last year in a horrible accident, and she and his wife, Brilliana Trevor, have been left without anything but a debt-ridden estate to support. So Delia’s aunt, Lady Pensworth, brought the two of them to London for the Season.”

“Agatha Pensworth, wife of the late Baron Pensworth? The woman who used to be great friends with my mother?”

“That’s her. I suppose you’ve met?”

“Years ago, before Mother died. As I recall, she rarely minced words.”

“She doesn’t suffer fools easily. And she has a fondness for her niece, which is why they’re all in town.”

“So her ladyship can find husbands for the two young ladies.”

“Yes, although I think Lady Pensworth is more concerned about Delia, since the late Mr. Trevor’s wife has already borne him a child who will inherit the estate, such as it is. To make Delia more eligible, Lady Pensworth has bestowed a thousand-pound dowry on her, which ought to tempt some eligible gentlemen.”

 
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