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Authors: Lucy Monroe

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical

Annabelle's Courtship

BOOK: Annabelle's Courtship
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eBooks are
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transferable. They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an
infringement on the copyright of this work.

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

512 Forest Lake Drive

Warner Robins, Georgia 31093

Copyright © 2007 by

Cover by Scott Carpenter

ISBN: 1-59998-539-X

www.samhainpublishing.com

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: August 2007

Prologue

Graenfrae, Scotland 1818

Laird Ian MacKay, Earl of Graenfrae, wanted to slam his fist into the gray stone wall of his study. “Ye’re telling me that my stepfather left me a fortune, but I canna get it unless I marry?”

Ian impatiently watched the elderly solicitor, Eggleton, as he removed his spectacles and carefully cleaned them with a cloth. Replacing the eyeglasses on his face, the solicitor shuffled the papers before him. He cleared his throat. “Precisely speaking, milord, if you marry within the year.”

A year. Ian clenched his hands and pivoted away from the other man.
Bloody hell
.

The tenants on Graenfrae’s farms needed seed and farming implements. Many of their homes would not last another winter without new thatch on their roofs. Ian needed blunt. Money that was only available if he wed within a year.

The urge to slam his fist into something grew stronger. Ian’s chest constricted with anger and another emotion. Betrothal and marriage would make him vulnerable to betrayal.

Again.

He had a difficult time believing that the late Earl of Lansing would take such drastic measures to see his wishes fulfilled. “Did my stepfather tell you why he placed this restriction in his will?”

Again the white head bent as the solicitor went through the ritual of cleaning his spectacles. Ian wanted to tear the wire frames from Eggleton’s hands. Were na the man’s eyeglasses clean enough?

“Lord Lansing believed that after the unfortunate incident with your broken betrothal you might hesitate to marry. He wanted you to secure your line, so to speak.”

“Then why did he no just add another rider requiring I set up my nursery?” Ian asked with disgust, ignoring the issue of his ended engagement.

Eggleton appeared to take his sarcastic question seriously. “He did in fact wish to do so. I convinced the earl that these matters are uncertain. It would be difficult to predict, ah hem…” Eggleton coughed delicately. “When your wife might begin increasing.” Things were not as bleak as they could be. Without the requirement for an heir, nothing would stop him from finding an obliging woman and entering a paper marriage.

An annulment could be secured in due time. Feeling better than he had since the solicitor had begun reading the will, Ian sat down.

A look of relief passed across the Eggleton’s face. “There is one final matter regarding the inheritance.”

What could be worse than marriage?
Ian raised his brow in question and Eggleton continued. “Your wife must be English.”


Bloody hell
.” Ian shot from his chair. “You canna be serious.” Eggleton looked offended. “I assure you, I would never make light of the last wishes of one of my clients.”

An English wife.

“How am I supposed to find an English wife and marry her in the next year?” Were he looking for a proper wife, he knew it would be easy. He could think of several ladies who would be thrilled at the opportunity to be Lady MacKay. He could not envision any of them going without new dresses and fripperies while he made necessary improvements on his tenants’ properties, however. Finding a wife would not be hard.

Finding a woman who would sacrifice for the good of Graenfrae might be impossible.

Far better to plan a paper marriage.

“The London season opens in less than a month, milord.” Of course his English stepfather’s lawyer would think in terms of London. It was a fair distance away, but the season attracted many ladies. One of them would surely be practical enough to fit his purpose. He needed a plan of action.

Ian moved toward the desk, amused when the lawyer hastily retreated toward the window. Grabbing paper and a quill pen, Ian dipped it in the inkwell. He started writing.

Several minutes later he blotted the paper. Blowing on it, Ian read again the words he had written.

Requirements for a wife:

Plain.

Modestly dowered.

Older.

Eggleton cleared his throat once again. Ian looked up from his paper. The solicitor said, “The late earl instructed me to give you a message when I told you the details of the will.”

Ian felt a premonition of disaster on the horizon. “Aye?” The solicitor shifted from one foot to the other and repeated the process of cleaning his glasses, this time taking an inordinate amount of time to wipe the lenses. “He wanted me to remind you…” The man let his words trail off.

Ian prompted him, “Aye?”

Eggleton coughed. “He said to tell you that when a man takes the holy vows of matrimony, he is giving his word to the woman he takes to wife. The earl wanted you to remember that honor demands the gentleman in question keep that word for a lifetime.” Ian could no more deny the honor demanded by his stepfather than he could deny the responsibility to his tenants he had learned at his da’s knee. Feeling like a man facing the gaol, Ian accepted that there would be no paper marriage.

After the solicitor had left, Ian settled against the dark leather of his favorite chair and studied his surroundings with a critical eye. A man’s room, his study fit his need for stark simplicity. Bookcases on either side of the massive fireplace relieved the unending gray of the circular stone walls.

Multiple windows high in the walls of the turret’s chamber bathed the room in the fading light of evening. A scarred oak table served as his desk. Only two other items of furniture had made it into his sanctuary, another chair and small round table.

Soon a woman, an English woman, would be living in his home. A wife. He did not have time to cater to the needs of a woman, especially the romantic ideals so many ladies seemed plagued with. Taking a sip from his brandy, he thought of another requirement to add to his list for a wife.

Practicality.

The list would do him well in selecting a woman to wed for a lifetime. He would not make the same mistake he had with Jenna. He would find a woman as unlike her as possible, a woman who would be faithful.

Chapter One

Hyde Park - London, England 1818

Perfection wore a simple gray gown and unadorned poke bonnet.

Ian turned in his saddle toward his companion. “Who is the lady in the gray carriage yonder?”

Finchley, a longtime friend, was one of the few boys Ian had been able to stand at the English school his stepfather insisted he attend. Ian had no doubt the other man, an unrepentant gossip, would know the identity of the vision of plain perfection sitting with an elderly woman in the gray carriage.

Finchley rotated his entire body so that he could look where Ian indicated, the points on his collar too tall to allow him to turn his head. “That’s Lady Annabelle. Known each other this age, don’t you know? Her father, the late Earl of Hamilton, had estates that bordered ours.”

Ian felt his first surge of satisfaction since arriving in London the previous day. This lady was exactly what he needed. Her plain appearance spoke for itself and Ian had to assume that if she were of more than moderate means her clothing would be more elaborate. Ladies liked that sort of thing. Even from a distance, he could tell that she was past the blushing age of most debutantes. Not that she looked old, but her composed expression as she spoke to other members of the
ton
clearly indicated a woman beyond her first comeout.

Nightsong tried to prance sideways. Ian reined in the huge black stallion, not without some regret. Neither he nor his horse enjoyed the slow pace maintained during the social hour on Rotten Row in Hyde Park.

Finchley asked, “Shall I introduce you?”

Ian’s eyes locked with those of his lady of perfection and he could not look away from their hazel depths. His insides tightened in an unexpected way. “Aye. Introduce us.”

Without breaking eye contact with her, Ian guided his mount toward the carriage. He enjoyed the way she gave no indication that she found his interest unusual other than her eyes growing wide. She did not blush, or look away. In fact, her shoulders stiffened and he had the sense that she was challenging him to do so first. Unusual behavior for a gentle lady, some might even think it forward. Ian reveled in the strong will that emboldened the plain spinster to meet him look for look. He did not want a mouse for a wife.

Was she married? Ian’s mind rebelled at the possibility. Then he remembered that Finchley had called her Lady Annabelle. That indicated an unmarried daughter of the upper nobility, not a woman leg-shackled. He and Finchley drew abreast of the carriage.

She finally broke eye contact to acknowledge Finchley. “Ceddy, this is a pleasant surprise.” Her smile sparkled with mischief. “I thought you would be staying in the country helping your family prepare for your sister’s wedding this season.” The dandy visibly shuddered. “Not my cup of tea, eh what?” She laughed and Ian had an amazing and potentially embarrassing reaction to the melodic sound. He shifted in his saddle, uncomfortably aware of the tight fit of his riding breeches.

The older woman seated next to his lady spoke. “Cederic, I would expect you to show more family support than that, though I will admit a young gentleman underfoot is the last thing a mother needs when preparing for a wedding.” Sighing, she looked sideways at Annabelle, her expression speaking volumes. “Not that I would be averse any manner of annoyance were I given the opportunity to plan one myself in the near future.” The older woman gave Ian a pointed look before turning back to Finchley. Ian’s friend might be a dandy, but he was far from stupid. He introduced them. “Lady Beauford, Lady Annabelle, may I present to you, the Earl of Graenfrae, Mister Ian MacKay?”

Turning his head toward Ian as far as his high shirt points would allow, Finchley said, “MacKay, this is Lady Beauford and her niece, Lady Annabelle.” The older woman smiled and Ian found that he liked her frank regard. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord.”

Annabelle said nothing, merely inclining her head. The coolness of the action amused, rather than irritated him. Was she embarrassed by her companion’s thinly veiled hint at her unmarried state? If so, she gave no indication. Still, her aunt’s words implied the courtship should be an easy one.

Finchley asked a question of Lady Beauford and soon the two were engrossed in Town gossip.

Annabelle smiled at Ian, her hazel eyes lit with warmth and genuine interest. “Are you new to Town, my lord?”

He once again had to rein in Nightsong. “Aye. ’Tis no my intention of staying any longer than necessary either.” His irritation at having to control his mount in the park came out in his voice.

A small smile twitched the corner of her lips, making them look very kissable.

Demme. Had he been so long without a woman that he could not hold a conversation with a lady and not think of kissing her? Other images had popped into his head as well, images that would undoubtedly shock the plain spinster to her dainty toes.

“I see,” she said. “I assume you are not in Town to enjoy the Season, then.”

“I’m here to find a wife,” he said, agreeing silently that his task was not an enjoyable one and then added honestly, “Though I look forward to discussing the new theories in sheep breeding and crop management with members of the local natural sciences club.” He could have sworn she stifled a laugh. “You have a great deal in common with my brother, the Earl of Hamilton.”

BOOK: Annabelle's Courtship
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