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Authors: Susanna Fraser

A Marriage of Inconvenience

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A Marriage of Inconvenience
By Susanna Fraser

 

Lucy Jones is a nobody. As an orphan she was reluctantly taken in by her wealthy relatives, the Arringtons, on the condition that she be silent and obedient, always. When her lifelong infatuation with her cousin Sebastian is rewarded by a proposal of marriage, she’s happy and grateful, even though the family finds excuses to keep the engagement a secret.

 

James Wright-Gordon has always had the benefits of money and a high station in society, but he is no snob. He’s very close to his sister, Anna, who quickly falls for the dashing Sebastian when the families are brought together at a wedding party. Meanwhile, James is struck by Lucy’s quiet intelligence, and drawn to her despite their different circumstances in life.

 

Lucy suspects that Sebastian has fallen for Anna, but before she can set him free, a terrible secret is revealed that shakes both families. Will James come to her rescue—or abandon her to poverty?

 

95,500 words

 

Dear Reader,

 

A new year always brings with it a sense of expectation and promise (and maybe a vague sense of guilt). Expectation because we don’t know what the year will bring exactly, but promise because we always hope it will be good things. The guilt is due to all of the New Year’s resolutions we make with such good intentions.

 

This year, Carina Press is making a New Year’s resolution we know we won’t have any reason to feel guilty about: we’re going to bring our readers a year of fantastic editorial and diverse genre content. So far, our plans for 2011 include staff and author appearances at reader-focused conferences such as the RT Booklovers Convention in April, where we’ll be offering up goodies, appearing on panels, giving workshops and hosting a few fun activities for readers. We’re also cooking up several genre-specific release weeks, during which we’ll highlight individual genres. So far we have plans for steampunk week and unusual fantasy week. Readers will have access to free reads, discounts, contests and more as part of our week-long promotions!

 

But even when we’re not doing special promotions, we’re still offering something special to our readers in the form of the stories authors are delivering to Carina Press that we’re passing on to you. From sweet romance to sexy, and military science fiction to fairy-tale fantasy, from mysteries to romantic suspense, we’re proud to be offering a wide variety of genres and tales of escapism to our customers in this new year. Every week is a new adventure, and we want to bring our readers along on the journey. Be daring, be brave and try something new with Carina Press in 2011!

 

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected]. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

 

Happy reading!
~Angela James

 

Executive Editor, Carina Press
www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Acknowledgements
 

Thanks first of all to the Monday night Starbucks critique group: Jennifer Diamond, Mary Ann Gonzales, Beth Weir and Alan Wood, who’ve been following
A Marriage of Inconvenience
since it was a 150,000-word first-person traditional Regency with love scenes that decorously faded to black. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Thanks also to the ladies of the Demimonde: Karen Dobbins, Alyssa Everett, Vonnie Hughes and Rose Lerner. I couldn’t have asked for a better support group through all my ups and downs on the long road to publication.

I’m also grateful to the wonderful Carina crew, especially my editor, Melissa Johnson, for believing in my work and generally being an author’s Dream Team.

And—saving the best for last—thanks always to my husband and daughter for laughter, patience and love.

 
Chapter One
 

Essex, May 1809

 

“Marry you?” Lucy stared open-mouthed at her cousin Sebastian for a long moment before she remembered that she must always be ladylike and self-controlled. She closed her mouth and looked down at her clasped hands. She could not stop her heart from trying to gallop its way out of her chest, but she could and did force herself to breathe slowly and steadily.

This was the very thing she had always wanted most, the thing she would have dreamed of had she permitted herself dreams. It could not possibly be real. Someone as golden and perfect as Sebastian could not
possibly
intend to marry anyone as plain and insignificant as she was. “Surely you cannot be serious,” she said in the calmest, steadiest voice she could manage.

“Lucy.” Sebastian reached across the small gap that separated them on the stone bench in his mother’s garden and covered her small hand with his large one. He hadn’t held her hand since she was a little child, newly orphaned and come to live with her mother’s fine, aristocratic relations. “When have I ever spoken in jest to you? Of course I am serious.”

That much was true. Unlike her other cousins, Sebastian had never teased or mocked her, and he would never joke about something so momentous as his own marriage. But it made no sense. He was the younger of the two Arrington brothers, a cavalry lieutenant who needed to make his own way in the world. He ought to marry a woman with a fortune or connections, not a penniless orphan like her whose only claim to gentility was her kinship to the Arringtons themselves. “But, why, cousin?” she asked. “I offer you nothing.”

He squeezed her hand. It felt…pleasant, just as it had when she had been a frightened child and he had been the only one of the cousins to show her any kindness. “You offer yourself,” he said.

Lucy gazed unseeing at the blooming roses. She had come out to pick a bouquet for her aunt when Sebastian had waylaid her with…this. It still made no sense.
Offering herself
would be all very well if he was in love with her, but he wasn’t. Of that Lucy was sure. She might be young, just turned eighteen that winter, and she might have lived a sheltered life in the country for the past nine years, but she knew enough to know what was missing in Sebastian’s proposal. There was no ardor there. He did not look at her the way the second footman did at the upper housemaid—nor how Lucy remembered her own parents looking at each other when they weren’t quarreling about too many babies and too little money. “How could I marry you?” she asked. “You do me too great an honor.”

He laughed, a soft chuckle with just a hint of teasing in it. “Surely not so great an honor that you cannot accept it.”

As much as she adored Sebastian, Lucy wanted to refuse, or at least plead for further reasons behind this extraordinary and completely unexpected proposal. Of course she wanted to marry him, but this was all so sudden and odd. In her experience, blessings always carried a hidden trap.

But then a voice within her mind whispered,
Don’t be a fool.
She would never receive such an advantageous offer again. Sebastian was not rich. He was a younger son and almost all the Arrington estate was entailed on his older brother. But he was also a cavalry officer and a gentleman of impeccable breeding and connections. With his patronage as their brother-in-law, her two younger brothers’ futures would be secure.

Everything Lucy had done for the past nine years since her parents and her four younger sisters had died had been for the sake of caring for Owen and Rhys, as she had promised her father when he lay dying. She couldn’t shrink from that promise
now,
simply because she didn’t understand what Sebastian was about. Even if he didn’t love her as she loved him, at least marrying Sebastian would not be a struggle against her natural will and inclinations, as so much of her everyday life after her parents’ death had become.

“Yes.” It came out as hardly more than a whisper. “Yes,” she repeated. “I will marry you.”

Sebastian sighed. He sounded relieved, and Lucy’s bafflement grew. Even if he had, improbable as it seemed, developed an affection for her, he could not be so deeply in love with her that a refusal would have broken his heart. “Good,” he said. “I believe we shall deal very well together.”

Lucy stared at him, waiting for something more—some explanation, some sign of his thoughts. He was such a handsome man, tall, golden-haired and perfect, with shining light blue eyes that matched the spring sky above them. For cousins, they looked nothing alike. Lucy was little, dark and Welsh, like her lowborn father, and from the day she had come to live with the Arringtons she had wished she were tall, fair and English like them. She had fallen in love with Sebastian when she was nine years old for being the only one who never made her feel badly because of her differences.

After a moment, he leaned over her, his shadow blocking the bright spring sunshine. He kissed her, on the lips, then straightened. It lasted no more than a second or two.

His lips were so very soft, nothing like the rest of him. Lucy had never been kissed before and hadn’t known what to expect. She raised a hand to her mouth and tried to make sense of the odd sensation. Sebastian watched her, now looking calm and…satisfied.

None of this made sense. Everyone, especially the rest of the family, would think he had run mad. “What about your mother?” she asked. “She won’t like this.” Her Aunt Arrington had always reminded Lucy that she must not get ideas above her station in life simply because she had been brought up in a baronet’s family. She had been educated to earn her living as a governess or a lady’s companion.

“Leave my mother to me,” Sebastian said. “When have I ever not been able to persuade her to give me what I ask? Also, consider—now that Portia is marrying the Marquess of Almont, I think Mama has all the glory she needs for now.”

“I hope so.” Sebastian’s sister Portia had become betrothed to her great lord while in London for the Season under the auspices of a distant cousin, since Aunt Arrington’s delicate health did not permit her to accompany her daughter to the metropolis herself. The family was about to depart for Lord Almont’s home in Gloucestershire for a house party culminating in the wedding. Lucy could hardly wait for the journey. After having spent the first half of her life entirely in London and the second entirely in Essex, to Lucy the other side of England seemed almost as distant and mysterious as India or Africa.

“Trust me,” Sebastian said. “Why don’t you go about your morning routine and leave her to me? Pick your flowers, make your sketches, and I promise that within the hour Mama will be ready to welcome you as a daughter.”

He pressed her hand, stood and walked toward the house, his long, purposeful strides marred by a slight limp, the sole remaining legacy of the broken leg that had delayed him from departing for Portugal with the rest of his regiment earlier that spring. Would they marry before he sailed to join them, Lucy wondered, or would he ask her to wait for him?

She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, then took up her shears and began cutting the best blossoms from her aunt’s favorite white rosebush. Lucy was
safe
now, and she had made her brothers safe, too. She was marrying the man she had always loved. She simply wished she understood why he wanted
her.

Gloucestershire, June 1809

 

James Wright-Gordon, Viscount Selsley, knew that the lady standing on the other side of his desk was angling for a compliment. He recognized the preening, expectant air of a woman who had just admired her reflection and wanted confirmation of what the mirror had already told her. But he saw no need to further inflate his little sister’s vanity.

“Joining the cavalry, are we?” he asked.

He thought military trimmings on ladies’ riding habits absurd, but Anna managed to carry the fashion off with aplomb. The severe, masculine cut only emphasized her feminine figure, and she had always had a good eye for color.

“Cavalry wear blue, not green,” she said mildly.

He shrugged. “If we ever form a regiment of hopelessly vain green-eyed lady dragoons, I’m sure that will change.”

She put out her tongue at him. “Indeed, James. Had I inherited the Gordon eyes, I’m sure I
would’ve
ordered this habit in blue.” She leaned across his desk to brush the lapel of his coat. “Precisely this shade, in fact. I’m not the only peacock in the family, brother dear.”

He laughed. “Touché.”

“It’s a Gordon failing, I believe,” she said, taking a perch on the edge of his desk. “We’re determined to make ourselves conspicuous.”

James nodded. Any gathering of their maternal relations—the only family they had still living—was a noisy, raucous affair. All of them were just a little too flashy, from scandalous Great-Aunt Sophia who hadn’t let age quell her vocal appreciation of a handsome man, to James’s dashing officer cousins, now in Portugal risking their handsome necks for king and country, down to Anna, who in her two London Seasons hadn’t
quite
gained a reputation for being fast but had flirted with it. When he was honest with himself, he realized his own fondness for showy riding on fleet-footed horses, not to mention the oratorical flourishes he used to make his points in the House of Lords, proved that he too was a true Gordon.

“My theory is that it’s because we’re short,” he said. “We have to be as we are to ensure that no one will lose sight of us in a crowd.”

Anna laughed. “I do believe you’re right.” She reached up to better secure her hat, a tall shako in keeping with her martial costume, which had threatened to slip off her black curls. “I’m not so very short wearing this, though, am I?” She tapped its dark green plume. “Perhaps it goes a touch too far.”

“Not at all,” he said gallantly, having already satisfied his fraternal urge to tease her. “An ordinary bonnet would look utterly out of place. You look dashed pretty today.”


Thank
you,” she said, acknowledging the compliment as no more than her due. “Shall we ride now? I promise if we spot any of Bonaparte’s men lurking about your lands, I shall charge them directly and drive them off.”

“Of course. I’ve already ordered Shade to be saddled for you.”

“It’s so good of you to keep her for me when I’m only here a few months each year.”

He stood and offered her his arm. “It’s all a part of my plan to convince you to make your home at Orchard Park.”

She smiled but shook her head as she laid her hand in the crook of his elbow. “It’s delightful here, but Dunmalcolm is…home. You cannot imagine how I long for it whenever I’m away. The loch, the mountains, the wind whistling around the castle.”

“You mean whistling
through
the castle,” he corrected. “I know your heart is in the Highlands. I’m doomed to be the only Englishman in the family.”

“Until you marry and fill this place with children,” she said as they began the long walk to the door of the great library.

“Is that why you haven’t chosen a husband yet?” he asked. “You haven’t met a man worth leaving Dunmalcolm for?” Anna would turn twenty in a fortnight. While she was hardly on the shelf—and an heiress of one hundred thousand pounds never
needed
to marry—it surprised James that she hadn’t accepted any of the multiple offers that had come her way.

She considered. “Do you know, I suppose it might be. I’ve met any number of charming gentlemen, but the thought of spending the rest of my life with any of them! It’s too much.”

“You should marry soon, though.” The longer she stayed unwed, the longer she would remain a temptation to fortune hunters. James knew he wouldn’t feel truly at ease about her prospects for happiness until she was safely married to a man who saw more in her than her pretty face and prettier fortune. “If you can’t bear to leave Dunmalcolm,” he continued, “marry one of our cousins. You’d make our aunt and uncle very happy. They’d love to keep you forever.”

She shook her head. “After the way I grew up among them, I couldn’t. It would feel as wrong as marrying you. The only ones who don’t seem like brothers are Robbie and Alec, since they were already grown and gone away when Papa died, but they’re both already wed.”

“Too bad, in Alec’s case. He’ll be a colonel at the least, and maybe a general in due course. You’d be in your element as a general’s wife.”

“I would? Whatever makes you say that?”

“Because it would give you something to do. A clever woman has no business being so very rich. It’s bad enough for a man, but at least I can do something worthwhile in the Lords and amuse myself making more money.”

“You’re the only person I’ve ever met who thinks you’d be better off if you were poorer,” Anna said. “So what would you have me do? Marry some fortune hunter who’s up to his ears in debt, so I won’t be so dreadfully rich once I’ve fished him out of the River Tick?”

He rolled his eyes. “No. But marry an officer, a diplomat, a politician—only let him be a Whig, as you love your brother. Someone with a profession you can help to advance, someone who might show you a bit of the world.”

Anna paused by the mantel and studied a small portrait of their father as a young man. Father had lived in India from the time he was fifteen until he was forty, amassing a fortune and gaining a title for his commercial and diplomatic accomplishments. The portrait had been painted there, by an Indian artist, and was so stylized that but for his cat-green eyes you could hardly tell he was an Englishman.

“I miss Father,” Anna said. “I wish he’d lived long enough for me to see him with something other than a child’s eyes. And I wish I’d known Mother at all.”

“I miss them, too.” He had known them little better than she had. He had been four when Mother died bringing Anna into the world, fifteen when their father had succumbed to a lung complaint and made James the second Viscount Selsley.

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