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Authors: Barbara Metzger

The Bargain Bride

BOOK: The Bargain Bride
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Table of Contents
 
 
“A doyen of humorous Regency-era romance writing.”*
Raves for
Barbara Metzger's Romances
 
“Metzger's gift for re-creating the flavor and ambience of the period shines here, and the antics of her dirty-dish villains, near villains, and starry-eyed lovers are certain to entertain.”—*
Publishers Weekly
(starred review)
 
“An extraordinary book that commands the reader's attention and lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned.”—
Booklist
(starred review)
 
“Funny and touching—what a joy!”—Edith Layton
 
“Lively, funny, and true to the Regency period . . . a fresh twist on a classic plot.”—
Library Journal
 
“A vivid backdrop for a fast-paced, sometimes funny, always rich romance of rare quality.”—
BookPage
“Barbara Metzger is a true artist with a palette of words.”—Romance Reviews Today
“Witty, spicy dialogue, and intelligent characters.”
—
Romantic Times
 
“The complexities of both story and character contribute much to its richness. . . . [It is] exciting when the layers are peeled back and savored.”—
Affaire de Coeur
 
“Remarkable. . . . An original, laugh-out-loud, and charmingly romantic read.”—Historical Romance Writers
 
“A true tour de force. . . . Only an author with Metzger's deft skill could successfully mix a Regency tale of death, ruined reputations, and scandal with humor for a fine and ultimately satisfying broth.”—The Best Reviews
Also by Barbara Metzger
The Wicked Ways of a True Hero
The Scandalous Life of a True Lady
Truly Yours
The Hourglass
Queen of Diamonds
Jack of Clubs
Ace of Hearts
The Duel
A Perfect Gentleman
Wedded Bliss
SIGNET ECLIPSE
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First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
First Printing, November 2009
Copyright © Barbara Metzger, 2009
All rights reserved
 
SIGNET ECLIPSE and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
 
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
 
PUBLISHER'S NOTE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
 
 
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eISBN : 978-1-101-14927-0

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In memory of Edith Layton—
a great writer, a better friend
Chapter One
Lord and Lady X were wed in a match arranged by their parents. They have been blissfully ecstatic ever since the wedding . . . an entire month ago.
 
—By Arrangement,
a chronicle of arranged marriages, by G. E. Felber
 
 
 
T
hree years was a long engagement. Thirteen years was ludicrous. It was an insult, an error of judgment, an affront to good manners and good sense, but, damn, it was thirteen years of freedom.
And it was over now, blast it to hell.
West regretted the loss of his liberty almost as much as he regretted the supposed slight to Miss Goldwaite, but he would not take the blame for the entire decade's debacle.
He had not chosen the bride.
He had not chosen all the delays. The bride was too young; then she was in mourning. Soon after, West joined the army, where he wished he was now. He resigned his commission when his father and brother died, after which he spent years trying to restore the family's fortunes. He'd thought that if he could repay the settlements, he could rescind the agreement between his father and Mr. Gaspar Goldwaite.
Hah! The banker was as tenacious as a bulldog, and twice as ugly. West shuddered to think what the daughter looked like now. At thirteen, she had been sunburned, scrawny, and had scraped knees. She had been pale, still scrawny, with swollen eyes at sixteen, at her mother's funeral. He had not seen her since.
He had not chosen to see her today.
Likely she was a skinny, sour-faced spinster at twenty-six, he thought, with her father's spectacles, if not his sparse hair. She'd be purse-lipped and prunish, saints preserve him, countrified and coarse. Just look where she and her grandfather lived, he considered as he read yet another signpost to Little Falls. Lud, he lived in London. What could he have in common with a common-born rustic female? Not that he was a snob, but he was a titled gentleman of university education, worldly-wise, politically minded, and socially accepted. Zeus, what had his late father been thinking?
The previous viscount, God rest his gambling soul, had been thinking that he had nothing but leaking roofs, debts, and spare sons. Gaspar Goldwaite, on the other hand, had everything except entrée to the polite world for his only daughter, Persephone. It was a match made in heaven . . . thirteen years ago.
West, Kendall Westmoreland, was well aware that he had to marry. With his father's passing, and then his elder brother's, he was Viscount Westfield. He had never expected or coveted the succession, but he had stepped into his father's shoes vowing to be a better holder of the venerable title. He was thirty-two years of age, and the sense of duty weighed heavily on his shoulders. He liked his bachelor existence, but he knew he owed his patrimony more than leaving the estates and obligations to his younger brother, Nicholas, a scapegrace pleasure-seeker with pockets perennially as empty as his head. West sighed as he passed through Little Falls—which was little more than a church, an everything store, and a smithy—on his way to Littleton Cottage. He'd rather be facing French cannon fire.
He had to marry, and it seemed he might have to marry Miss Persephone Goldwaite. The banker had made it abundantly clear that his choice was a proposal or pistols at dawn.
Shoot at a balding banker with bad eyesight? Impossible. Almost as impossible as wedding the man's daughter. Damn. West knew he should have settled the whole matter earlier, repaid his debts and convinced the female to cry off years ago. He'd always thought—when he thought about the engagement at all—that Miss Persephone Goldwaite would have found another poor chap to marry. Hell, she was an heiress. There were scores of men with titles and debts eager to make such a match, even if they had to compromise the girl or kidnap her. Instead his betrothed was rich and unwed at the age of six and twenty. The woman must be as ugly as her father.
West almost turned his horse back the way he had come, but he was no coward. He might refuse a ridiculous challenge, but he could not ignore his own conscience. Honor, not a dawn meeting, had him up early this morning, and desperation drove him forward, seeking out his fiancée before her financier father was out of bed at the inn six miles south. He could have driven with Goldwaite to this village in the middle of nowhere later this afternoon and listened to his prospective father-in-law plan the wedding and his forthcoming children's lives. West chose to ride ahead, alone, early, on a hired horse from the inn's stable.
At least he got to make one decision for himself.
Penny scrubbed as hard as she could as she tried to get rid of the stains and smells of paint on her skin. Or else she was trying to rub away the stench of her father's message. They were arriving this afternoon.
He
was coming, the cad who had ruined her life. Penny reached over the side of the copper bathtub for another can of hot water. No amount of soap and suds was going to wash away that stain, but heaven take it if she wouldn't try.
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