Tuesday, 5 April 2011
The Reluctant Marquess by Maggi Andersen
A country-bred girl, Charity Barlow never expected to become a Marchioness. Nonetheless, she is determined to make her marriage of convenience into the ton work. Yet despite the strong attraction between them, and Charity’s bold attempts at intimacy, the rakish Lord Robert does not believe a husband should be in love with his wife. Can she ever make him love her?
The footman knocked on a solid oak door.
She stepped with trepidation into the room to be embraced by warmth. A fire blazed in the baronial fireplace where a liver-spotted spaniel lifted its head to study her. After a thump of a tail, its head sank to its paws again, lulled back to sleep by the heat. Above the fireplace, the painting of a hunting scene featured several dogs. Two tall china spaniels flanked the fireplace mantel. The heavy oak beams across the ceiling, and walls covered floor to ceiling in shelves of tomes made the room seem snug. Charity rushed over and crouched on the Oriental rug beside the animal, giving it a pat. The dog’s tail thumped harder. ‘You’re a nice fellow, aren’t you?’ Her stiff cold muscles loosened, and the icy pit at the base of her stomach began to thaw. Maybe she could be happy here. She loved dogs.
‘Welcome to Castle St. Malin.’
A man rose from behind a massive mahogany desk strewn with papers in the corner of the room. He crossed the room to greet her. He was not her godfather. She caught her breath. He was tall, his dark hair drawn back in a queue, and there was something of the marquess’ haughty demeanour about his handsome face, but she doubted he’d yet reached thirty.
‘Thank you.’ Charity could only stare at his attire, her gaze locked on his gold silk waistcoat as he bowed before her. He was in mourning, for black crepe graced the sleeve of his emerald green coat. With a sense of foreboding, she curtseyed on wobbly knees. ‘Where is the marquess, if you please?’ She looked around hoping her godfather might pop out of somewhere, but the room was otherwise empty.
‘I am the Marquess of St. Malin. My uncle passed away a short time ago.’
‘Oh. I’m so sorry.’ What she feared was true. Charity had an overwhelming desire to sit and glanced at the damask sofa.
He reacted immediately, taking her arm and escorting her to a chair. ‘Sit by the fire. You look cold and exhausted.’ He turned to the footman. ‘Bring a hot toddy for Miss Barlow.’
Charity sank down gratefully, her modest panniers settling around her.
‘I find the staff here poorly trained,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what my uncle was about.’
‘Why did you send a carriage for me?’ she asked, leaning back against the sofa cushions. ‘I wouldn’t have come had I known.’
‘I thought it best to sort the matter out here and now.’ He rested an elbow on a corner of the mantel and stirred the dog with a foot. ‘Shame on you, Felix. You might accord Miss Barlow a warm welcome.’ He looked at her. ‘My uncle’s dog; he’s mourning his master.’ He raised his brows. ‘Notice of my uncle’s passing appeared in The Daily Universal Register.’
‘We don’t get that newspaper in my village.’
‘You don’t? I wasn’t aware of you until the reading of the will. Then I learned of your parents’ death from my solicitor. I’m very sorry.’
‘Thank you. I’m sorry, too, about your uncle.’
‘My uncle fell ill only a few months ago. He rallied and then …’ The new marquess’ voice faded. He sighed and stared into the fire.
‘You must have been very fond of him,’ Charity said into the quiet pause that followed. Though, if she were honest, she felt surprise that the cool man she remembered could have provoked that level of affection.
He raised his eyes to meet hers and gave a bleak smile. ‘Yes, I was fond of him. He always had my interest at heart, you see.’ He sat in the oxblood leather chair opposite and rested his hands on his knees. ‘I am his acknowledged heir, and the legalities have been processed. I’ve inherited the title and the entailed properties. The rest of his fortune will pass to another family member should I fail to conform to the edicts of his will.’
'His will?’ Charity gripped her sweaty hands together, she couldn’t concentrate on anything the man said. Her mind whirled, filled with desperate thoughts. With her godfather dead, where would she go from here? Her heart raced as she envisioned riding off along the dark cliffs to join a theatre troupe, or become a tavern wench.
‘This must be difficult for you to take in, and I regret having to tell you tonight before you have rested. But I’m compelled to move quickly as you have no chaperone and have travelled here alone …’
She raised her chin. ‘There was no one to accompany me.’ She would not allow him to make her feel like a poor relation, even though she was quite definitely poor. And alone. She hated that more than anything. What had her godfather left her? She hoped it would allow her some measure of independence and wasn’t just a vase or the family portrait.
The footman entered, carrying a tray with a cup of steaming liquid. Charity took the drink and sipped it gratefully. It was warming and tasted of a spicy spirit. She found it hard to concentrate on his words, as her mind retreated into a fog and her eyes wandered around the room. She finished the drink, which had heated her insides, and allowed her head to loll back against the cushions. Her gaze rested on her host, thinking he would be handsome if he smiled. She was so tired, and the warmth of the fire made her drowsy. What was he saying?
‘It’s the best thing for both of us, don’t you agree?’
She shook her head to try and clear it. ‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’
He frowned. ‘The will states we must marry. Straightaway, I’m afraid.’
‘I … What? I’m to m-marry you?’ Placing her cup down carefully on the table she struggled to her feet, fighting fatigue and the affects of whatever it was she’d just drunk. Smoothing her gown, she glanced at the door through which she intended to depart at any moment. ‘I have no intention …’
His lips pressed together in a thin line. ‘I know it’s perplexing. I didn’t intend to wed for some years. I certainly would have preferred to choose whom I married, as no doubt would you.’
Her jaw dropped. What kind of man was this? She had been raised to believe that marriage was a sacred institution. He made it sound so … inconsequential. She stared at him. ‘The will states I must marry you?’
‘Yes, that’s exactly what it states.’ He rose abruptly with a rustle of silk taffeta and moved closer to the fire. She wondered if he might be as nervous as she. ‘Unless I’m prepared to allow my uncle’s unentailed fortune go to a distant relative. Which I am not. As I have said.’ His careful tone suggested he thought her a simpleton. Under his unsympathetic gaze, she sank back down onto the sofa. ‘You are perfectly within your rights to refuse, but I see very few options open to you. As my wife, you will live in comfort. You may go to London to enjoy the Season. I shall give you a generous allowance for gowns and hats, and things a lady must have.’ His gaze wandered over her cream muslin gown, and she placed a hand on the lace that disguised the small patch near her knee. ‘What do you say?’
She tilted her head. ‘I shall receive an allowance? For gowns, and hats, and things a lady must have.’
‘Exactly,’ he said with a smile, obviously quite pleased with himself. ‘I see we understand each other perfectly. So … do you agree?’
What was wrong with this man? Slowly, Charity released a heavy sigh. She could barely contemplate such a thing as this, and yet he acted as though he’d solved all the problems of the world with fashion accessories. She had hoped for a small stipend, but marriage! And to a complete stranger. She couldn’t! Not for all the gowns and hats on earth. She straightened up in her chair and lifted her chin. Her words were clipped and precise, and she hoped beyond hope he would accept her decision gracefully. ‘I say no, Lord St. Malin.’
‘How disappointing,’ he said quietly.
She gulped as his heavy-lidded eyes continued to study her from head to foot. She was uncomfortably aware that the mist had sent her hair into a riot of untidy curls, and she smoothed it away from her face with both hands as she glanced around the room. She tucked a muddy shoe out of sight beneath her gown and then forced herself to meet his gaze. Might he like anything of what he saw? Her father loved that she had inherited her mother’s tiny waist, and she thought her hands pretty. His lordship’s gaze strayed to her breasts and remained there rather long. She sucked in a breath as her heart beat faster. When their eyes met did she detect a gleam of approval? It only made her more nervous.
Salt Publishing Buy link: http://www.saltpublishing.com/ebooks/reg
Amazon Kindle Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Reluctant-Marquess-ebook/dp/B004NBY2EW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=A24IB90LPZJ0BS&s=books&qid=1297546064&sr=1-1
Author website: http://www.maggiandersenauthor.com
Labels: Maggi Andersen