“Have you taken leave of your senses?” Margaret’s
eyes widened and her mouth gaped open. “How could you possibly consider
marrying Lord Brockton when you’re in love with Christopher Perry?”
Lady Caroline Ponsby sighed. “Over the course of a
year and a half Mr. Perry has yet to proclaim his affections for me.”
“But he loves you. We all know it.”
“I thought Mr. Perry loved me,” Caro said with a
sigh. “But I was mistaken.”
“You are not mistaken! He rarely goes a day
without seeing you. He’s no longer interested in any woman except you.”
“But being wed is as disagreeable to Mr. Perry as
the pox. I’m tired of being the pitiable spinster. It’s been four years
since I came out, and I have failed most deplorably to attract a
“You most decidedly have not failed most
deplorably! Have not eleven men sought your hand in marriage?”
Caro’s gaze narrowed. “That was before
“Before you fell in love with him at first sight.
Trust those initial instincts.” Propped up on a mound of frilly pillows,
Margaret sipped at her chocolate. “I shouldn’t be telling you about so
indelicate a subject—you being a maiden. But John—who never speaks of
things like feelings—said he believes you’re the reason Mr. Perry
dismissed his mistress.” Margaret’s lashes lowered and a smile curled
her lips. “Dear John said a man in love could not wish to lie with a
woman other than the one who’s engaged his affections.”
Caro had a very good idea why her sister smiled.
She was thinking of lying with that husband over whom she was so
besotted. She eyed the sister who looked so much like her. Even the
colour of their flaxen hair was identical—as was the blue of their eyes.
Still swaddled in fine white linen sheets and framed by the opulence of
the turquoise bed curtains of rich silk, Margaret was finishing up the
last of her morning chocolate.
Margaret had the good fortune to have most happily
wed the man of her dreams, and a year and a half later she still
continued to glow like a newlywed bride.
Caro’s chest tightened. I will never experience
such bliss. She diverted her comments. “I flirted with Lord Brockton
at the Hawkleys’ ball last week, and he was most receptive.”
Margaret rolled her eyes. “Then I daresay he’ll be
“If he does offer, I’ll accept him. I want a home
of my own.” Her voice softened. “I want to have children. Do you know
how painful it is to be with my family and to know I’m the only one
without a child?”
“I know how much you love children. You will have
them. But, pray, don’t wed a man you cannot love in order to become a
mother. Do you want to be trapped in a marriage like Lady Kate and her
“I would never bring such shame upon our brother as
she’s brought to Lord Haverstock with her incessant affairs.”
“Speaking of our brother, I shall beg him to not
permit you to wed Brockton—if Lord Brockton should ask.”
Caro shook her head most emphatically. “I beg that
you do not. I’ve wasted nearly two years on a man who’s never going to
come up to scratch. Lord Brockton is a good enough catch, and he’s
certainly as handsome as Mr. Perry.”
“One does not marry a man simply because he’s
handsome. You know as well as I that Lord Brockton’s a libertine. And a
Caro laughed. “You of all people should know how
easily rakes are reformed. Your Lord Finchley—and I will own, Mr. Perry,
too—had a raucous reputation.” Even when the immature Finchley first
married her sister, he had continued with his hedonistic pursuits.
Then he fell in love with Margaret, and love
changed him profoundly.
Would Caro ever be able to stop loving Christopher
Perry? She had loved him for so long now and so passionately that the
very contemplation of severing ties to him was rather like losing a
Even as she stood there in her sister’s turquoise
bedchamber, Caro’s breath grew short when she thought of him. She could
almost feel his scorching black eyes peering into hers with a sense of
possession. If only she could feel herself in his arms one last time—one
last time before she marched out of his life forever.
For weeks now she had endeavored to spend less and
less time with Mr. Perry. She had come to need him as an opium eater
craves opium. And like an opium addict, she had to withdraw from him in
She wondered if she could ever love Lord Brockton
so fiercely. Could she even love him at all?
Margaret’s gaze dropped to her crumpled white
coverlet as she whispered. “Some rakes can be reformed by the
love for a wife and child.”
Even though she was fully dressed for morning calls
in a soft cream-coloured muslin dress, Caro flung herself on the bed
beside her sister. “Do you have any idea how fortunate you are?”
“I give thanks every day that I’m married to the
only man I have ever loved, that my dear John loves me, that we are
blessed with the most perfect child.” She peered at the sister who was
almost her twin. “Yes, I am well aware of my good fortune.”
“La! I shall never be loved as you are. I’m
schooling myself to accept that.”
Margaret’s pitying glance made Caro uncomfortable.
She rose from the bed, forced a bright smile, and spoke cheerfully.
“Just think. If I can capture Lord Brockton’s heart I shall be the envy
of every lady in the ton!”
“And if you loved him, I’d be most sincerely happy
for you. But I know you too well. You cannot make me believe you’re
not still in love with Mr. Perry.”
Caro strolled to her sister’s writing table and
fingered the ink pot, her back to her sister. She had never been able to
tell a falsehood without Margaret detecting it. Therefore, she could not
face the sister to whom she‘d always been closest—not when she was going
to tell a lie. She let out a little laugh. “I will own, I once was
completely potty over the man, but as time has worn on and I’ve come to
see his flaws, I fancy a change.”
“You’re lying. I know you love him.”
Ignoring her sister, Caro moved to the dressing
table and peered at her sister in the looking glass as Margaret came to
her feet and moved toward her.
Caro whirled around. “I’m of age. I will marry Lord
Brockton with or without my brother’s consent. Just as you did with Lord
“I pray you’d be half as happy.”
Caro took up her muffler and spun it about her
neck. “I go back to Aldridge House now to beg that our brother invite
Lord Brockton to Glenmont Hall for Christmas.
* * *
She tried to recall if Lord Brockton had ever been
to the ducal townhouse in which she’d spent most of her life. She
thought not. When she reached her home on Berkeley Square, dear, deaf
Barrow admitted her. Aldridge had ordered that the doors be locked at
all times after a rash of burglaries in Mayfair in recent weeks.
“Hello, Barrow. Where’s my brother?” She allowed
him to assist in removing her muffler, frosty cloak, and hat.
The white-haired butler nodded and spoke in his
shaky voice. “The duchess has already asked that we cover the furniture
in Holland cloths before we leave for Glenmont.”
Oh, dear. Barrow must have thought she asked
for covers. Did he not know she would never try to usurp the authority
of the home’s true mistress, her brother’s adored wife? Caro must try
again. This time she spoke louder. “Aldridge? Where is his grace?”
“His grace is in the library, my lady.”
As she moved along the opulent entry corridor
beneath a massive, glittering chandelier, she wondered how Lord
Brockton’s townhome compared to this. All she knew about it was that it
was heavily mortgaged and that it was one of the largest houses on
She fancied being mistress of a fine West London
home—her own home. She could be the one to order servants to bring out
the Holland cloths when they were leaving for the country.
The door to the library was open. Even with a fire
blazing, the wood-paneled room was very dark. It took a few seconds
before she saw her brother. He sat on a crimson damask sofa in front of
the fire, reading, his back to her.
She padded along the Turkey carpet toward him. He
looked up, and their gazes locked. “You’ve been to see our sister, Lady
Finchley?” he asked.
Nodding, she came to share the camel-backed sofa.
It felt good to sit near the fire. It was beastly cold outside. “We are
greatly looking forward to spending the Yule at Glenmont. Speaking of
which . . . I beseech you to invite Lord Brockton to join us for the
His dark brows shot up. “Brockton?”
She nodded. It had always puzzled her how three
relatively small-boned, fair-complexioned sisters had come from the same
womb as her tall, dark-haired brother.
“Because I wish it most profoundly.”
His eyes squinted as he peered at her in much the
same way he would if she had just turned bright purple. “You wish
“What about that Perry chap? I thought . . . well,
I thought there must be an understanding between you two.”
She shook her head most vigorously. “Nothing could
be further from the truth. He’s merely a friend—the best friend of
Margaret’s husband, so we’re thrown together a great deal.”
He was silent for a moment. Finally, he nodded. “If
you wish, I will invite Lord Brockton, but I beg that you make no rash
decisions regarding the fellow until we get to know him better. His
reputation is not what I would have hoped for a suitor for my sister.”
“You could have said the same about Lord Finchley,
and look at what a strong marriage they’ve forged, how devoted they are
to one another.”
He chuckled. “If Finchley had asked me for
Margaret’s hand, I would certainly have forbidden the match.”
Caro shrugged. “She was of age.”
“As are you now.” His dark eyes locked with hers.
There was a stern look on his face when he spoke. “Oblige me by taking
“You speak as if I have all the time in the world.”
She stood and stared down at him. “I don’t. I’m disgusted with being a
spinster.” She stalked to the door, then turned back. “I’m grateful that
you’ll invite his lordship.”
* * *
Christopher Perry had come to White’s this evening
to mingle with his friends one last time before they all scattered to
their country houses to celebrate Christmas. As thin as company was
there, he began to suspect many had already left London.
At least Finch was there. The two of them sat next
to each other at a longer table where several gentlemen were taking a
repast beneath a pair of crystal chandeliers blazing with a hundred
Finch sighed. “I do wish you’d come with us to
Glenmont for Christmas. If you don’t, I’ll be forced to spend my time
with the two stuffiest fellows in all the kingdom.”
Christopher chuckled. “Haverstock and Aldridge?”
Lord Finchley nodded. “Both very fine men and all
that, but you know how dull they are.”
They might be dull now, Christopher thought, but as
younger men they’d cut a merry path. Aldridge even indulged in a long
affair with a beautiful Italian countess. Before he married. “Which is
one very good reason why I have no intentions of going to Glenmont.”
Finch’s brows lowered. “And your other reasons?”
“I cannot leave my mother at Christmas.”
“Bring her along! Maggie and I are taking my
Grandmere. Can’t leave her alone, either.”
Christopher shook his head as he refilled his glass
with wine and passed the bottle to his left. “I said I’d take my mother
and the girls to Somersham.”
Finch made a face. “What a pity.”
“You think your Christmas will be dull!”
His friend gave a mock shudder. “Four females and
not another male in sight. I don’t envy you.”
The three empty chairs across the table were soon
filled with Lord Dundee, Lord Brockton, and Robert Cuthbert. They were
all around the age of thirty but had a reputation for acting as immature
as youths just down from Oxford. There was nothing offensive about
Dundee or Cuthbert, but Christopher had never cared for Brockton—and not
just because he’d been hovering around Lady Caroline as of late.
He just could not respect the man. Brockton lacked
any semblance of honor. An honorable man did not boast about the married
women he’d bedded—especially not at the club where the cuckolded husband
was a member.
The three men nodded at him and Finch.
As Christopher and Finch directed their attention
to their kidney pies, Christopher couldn’t help but to overhear the
conversation among the three newcomers.
“I daresay, Brockton, you’ll be married to a duke’s
daughter before six weeks have passed,” Cuthbert said.
A smile spread on Brockton’s face. Christopher
attempted to determine what there was about the man that enraptured
females so. He supposed he was as fine looking as a woman could hope to
attract. Indeed, Christopher had been told that Brockton was considered
one of the most handsome men in the kingdom.
He was considerably taller than Christopher and
possessed of broad shoulders encased in finely tailored clothing. There
was a patrician countenance about his fair face, and his cork-coloured
hair was styled in the latest fashion.
Christopher should know. He himself had been called
the arbiter of good taste. Of course, Christopher had the fortune to
indulge his extravagant eye for finery. Brockton did not. It would
surprise Christopher if Brockton’s tailor had received a farthing from
his aristocratic client in these past two years.
“Indeed,” Brockton said. “A duke’s daughter with
thirty thousand.” The man’s self-assured cockiness bespoke pride of
accomplishment though he’d accomplished nothing by his own merit. Even
the goose that laid the golden egg could point to its achievement. All
this braggart had to recommend him was a handsome face.
“The duke himself has invited me to spend Christmas
with their family,” Brockton continued.
Lord Dundee slapped him on his back. “You lucky
bugger. And she’s beautiful too.” He shrugged. “She turned me down the
year she came out. I thought at the time she was holding out for a
“I daresay Brockton could be a mere mister like me
and still win the lady’s hand,” Cuthbert said. “Women do seem to flock
“When will you offer for her?” Dundee asked.
Brockton smirked. “Christmas, I think. What better
present could a woman seek?”
A more obnoxious man Christopher had never met.
“You’re incorrigible,” Dundee said with a shake of
Cuthbert sighed. “You’re a most fortunate man. I
suppose with a lovely wife like that, you’ll dismiss Mrs. Johnson.”
Brockton’s brows lowered. “Being wed will change
nothing—except my pocketbook.”
“You don’t fancy yourself in love with the lady?”
Brockton laughed. “I love all women. Never let it
be said the Earl of Brockton is in any woman’s pocket.” He glanced
across the table and spoke to Finch. “Say, Finchley, will you and that
wife of yours be spending Christmas at Glenmont?”
Finch nodded. “We leave tomorrow.”
“As do I. I shall see you there.”
Christopher felt as if the contents of his stomach
were going to erupt like a spewing volcano. Dear God, the duke’s
daughter is my Lady Caroline.