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Authors: Harper Alibeck

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BOOK: The Water's Kiss
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He pulled back, a deep reservoir of love reflected back at her, his eyes safe and excited. “We have engineered it, have we not?”

“You were right,” she sighed, shaking her head as they dashed for his carriage. “I had to lose all control in order to gain it.”

The End

Meet the South American Triplets

In 1783, in the wake of His Majesty’s loss in the New World, sisters Katherine and Felicia Bonham diverged in more ways than one when choosing husbands. While the
ton
was rocked by Lady Katherine Bonham’s decision to marry young Spanish army officer Manuel de Vargas and move to the savage jungles of New Granada in Spain’s South American colonies, Lady Felicia Bonham worked to secure the attentions of the more staid, dependable Christian Hanscombe, heir to the very established Earldom of Landsdown, and produced four daughters in five years, but never an heir.

Meanwhile, in South America, the English rose topped her sister splendidly, producing triplets shortly after arrival, a feat that still, twenty-five years later, yields whispers and chants from the locals as the three daughters, Anastasia, Sofia, and Maria, work to bridge the two worlds of English nobility and South American society. With their father a viceroy, Spain in turmoil as creoles fight for independence, and the Spanish army working on two fronts – at home and in the colonies – to maintain the peace, alliances old and new are stretched to the brink.

Andrew Wessington, Earl of Framingshire in England, offers a convenient solution to Vargas’ need to marry off two of his three daughters, but the price – both in pride and coin – may be too high.

Read on to learn more about Lady Claire Hanscombe’s South American cousins...

A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE TO SAVE HIS EARLDOM

Andrew Wessington, the Earl of Framingshire, has a most vexing problem: no woman will marry him. Strong, rugged, with sensual good looks and a proclivity for sexual escapades that make the fathers of the most eligible young women on the continent blanch (while turning the women’s heads), the earldom’s financial ruin pushes Framingshire to seek the hand of a wealthy woman.

With the earl blacklisted for matrimony in Europe, his steward, John Stoneham, suggests an intriguing solution: his estate in Venezuela, currently bleeding money, might help save the earldom if he marries the daughter of his neighbor, the Viceroy of New Granada. The question: which daughter? Though Andrew is known for his very public liaisons with three women at once, triplets aren’t exactly his idea of a proper marriage. Stoneham explains he must pick just one. But which?

The answer: Sofia, the daughter who will inherit the land that gives Framingshire’s estate port access, to make money once more from his orange groves. Trapped, Framingshire agrees to marry, and the month-long journey proves as tiring as the demons from his troubled past. When he arrives, he finds himself in yet another mess, as he appears at his own engagement party and falls in love at first sight.

With the wrong sister.

A HEADSTRONG REVOLUTIONARY WITH EVERYTHING TO LOSE

Anastasia Vargas, daughter of the Viceroy of New Granada and Lady Katherine Bonham, has known no life other than that lived among the orange groves of her father’s estate in Venezuela. One of the famous triplets who rocked colonial society twenty-five years ago, her world has fallen apart in stages, starting seven years ago, with her sister Maria’s banishment, and two years ago when her beloved mother died.

Now clinging to her remaining lifeblood, her sister Sofia, the news that their father made a match with an English earl – and that Ana will be married off to a Spanish noble twice her age – means that everything is about to change. As the world shifts beneath her feet, she must find a way to overcome each hurdle and persist even as Sofia is about to leave for England and to join the
ton
of their mother’s youth.

For Ana carries a treasonous secret, one that would ruin the family, a disgrace far greater than the one that led to Maria’s removal. And when she meets Sofia’s fiancee, a deeper betrayal brews – this one, of the heart....

An Inconvenient Fortune
is a Regency romance novel that takes place in England and in South America in 1810, as Spain’s king is deposed, Napoleon controls much of Europe, and the Spanish colonies in South American threaten revolt. Here’s a sample:

An Inconvenient Fortune (The Viceroy’s Daughters, Book 1):

London, England

January 4, 1810

 

The satchel held all the papers Stoneham could think to use to explain the situation. He laid them out in neat piles on a rickety table, then settled a weight on top of each tidy stack. The room’s windows were open now, a strong breeze floating the sheers into the room as if spirits entered on the wind. The last thing he wanted was a mess that might further infuriate his old friend, now an unstable noble who could, at a whim, have him hanged.

“This stack,” he placed an open palm over the top, “represents your mother’s invoices for the London house. And this,” he pointed to a much larger stack, with ragged, torn pages, many smeared with what appeared to be dirt and, in one instance, dried blood, “is the stack of...requests for payment from your activities.”

“My activities?”

Stoneham bit the corner of his upper lip, contemplating. “Yes, sir. The cost of bedding as many as three women at once, four to five times per week, over the course of years, along with the inn expenses and alcohol consumed at pubs and such is...” His voice trailed off and he gestured to the unseemly pile.

Rolling his tongue in cheek, Wessington appeared to hold back his words, then said, “But my
activities
can’t have depleted the Wessington fortune! What is that larger group of invoices?”

“Those are for the late earl’s activities.”

Wessington’s eyebrows shot up. The elder earl’s stack was twice the size of his.

“And that one?”

“Fees from Don Vargas, Viceroy of New Granada, for port access for shipments from your family’s estate in that land.”

“What is the sum we are bleeding?”

“As of this month, the Wessington income from all lands and rents comes to less than the expenses created.”

“How much!” The Earl slammed his fist on the desk, toppling the largest stack.

“The Wessington accounts are more than two thousand pounds in debt.”

A stray, torn sheet of paper with scribbling caught the Earl’s eye. He reached down and plucked it from the floor, then puzzled over it. “I wasn’t at Martin’s last year. Never set foot in the place until a few months ago. What’s this invoice about?” The accusation was clear. Stoneham held back his outrage at the Earl’s suspicion. He was the least likely source of any theft or fraud.

“That, Your Grace, was your father’s expense.”

Eyebrows shot up. “My father?”

“Yes.” Stoneham had been trying to avoid the topic, but to clear himself, he must comment. “Your father was rather fond of the women at that establishment.”

“My father was...” A groan echoed through the room, reaching the roof and nearly etching itself in written form.

“And my mother’s spending?”

“Her recent journey to Paris involved four new gowns and an elaborate ruby necklace.” Tapping her stack, Stoneham let out a small sigh. “That was her least expensive shopping excursion.”

“So within a year of my father’s death, his final bills, my mother’s spending, my,” he chuckled without mirth, “
activities
, and an unethical Spanish colonist threaten the fortune.”

“Yes.”

“And what is your solution?” A wolfish grin spread across his old friend’s face. Stoneham knew that grin; it was the same look Andrew had given him when he put him in check on the chessboard. He assumed there was no remaining legal move.

“Well, there is the estate in New Granada.”

“You think I should sell it?”

“No, Your Grace, there is no market for it right now. The revolutionaries in the Spanish colonies make all merchants nervous, and no one wishes to buy in the region until the issue of the Spanish throne is resolved. There is strong fear that soon the Spanish colonies will go the way of her northern neighbors.”

The Earl shook his head, a rueful smile on his lips. “So I am stuck.”

“No, sir. About the estate....”

“What about the graftings! Our orange groves are among the best in the New World. We ship out oranges that are favored around the world. We could strike a deal with the port owner –”

“Sir, your seed is far too precious to be planted in that woman’s fertile valley.”

Wessington went still. He turned his head slowly, with eyes like a hawk, head swiveling with the practiced movement of one accustomed to surveying prey. “Pardon?”

Undeterred, Stoneham continued. “Your family’s estate in South America is less profitable by the day. When your father was alive he made provisions for your products to have cheap port access.” Spreading a large map on the bed, the only surface large enough to manage the scroll, Stoneham pointed to the Wessington land. “As you see, your holdings are landlocked, entirely trapped to the north by land held by Vargas, the Viceroy. For years your father maintained a delicate business arrangement with Vargas, gaining land access to the port for shipping. During the past year, since your father’s death, that arrangement has disintegrated, and Vargas’s new price for access is destroying profits.”

The earl sized up the map, studying the broad lines that separated his family’s land from Vargas’s. He cared nothing for business. His mind was suddenly occupied by the three women he’d enjoyed the night before, their attentions imprinted on his ears, collarbone, belly, and in places farther south on his body. Places that now began to rise north as he remembered the evening. Discussing his father, and family business in a Spanish colony he’d not set foot, on made matters turn south.

“And what, pray tell, does any of this have to do with my seed and a woman’s valley?”

“Years ago the elder Earl discussed the prospect of selling your family’s orange seed and tree graftings to Vargas for one of his daughter’s orange groves, but decided against it. I do not think it wise. Vargas will simply take the seed and use it for future plantings without providing fair compensation.”

“He is that ruthless?”

“Yes – that, and more. We suspect now that some of the ’pirate attacks’ on our export ships were farces. Vargas may have been behind them.”

“And your solution?”

“Marriage.”


Marriage
!” Outrage rang through the room. “You want me to make this man my father-in-law?”

Stoneham paused, contemplating his words carefully. “Your Grace, may I speak freely?”

Wessington arched one eyebrow. “I thought you were! You wish to approach me as an equal? When I’m still not certain you aren’t the source of my family’s ruin?” A smile twitched along his lips, the effect remarkably exotic and beautiful. The elder earl had often poked fun at Andrew’s lush mouth, the top lip curling up like a woman’s, though on him the full impression was less coquette and more satyr.

Stoneham bit back a retort, and instead gave a more prudent answer. “One of Vargas’ daughters stands to inherit the very land that connects your family’s estate to the port. She receives her lands upon marriage.”

Wessington arched an eyebrow. “That is a unique arrangement.”

Stoneham shrugged. “Spanish law gives women of the age of five and twenty and beyond the right to own land if they are not married. Upon marriage the land would revert to you.” This did not seem to impress the earl, so he added,“Her mother was Lady Katherine Bonham, from Northumberland. His daughters are half English.”

That caught Framingshire’s attention. “He married the daughter of a marquess and moved her to the savage New World?” His voice dripped mockery, though Stoneham was not certain who, exactly, was the target. “That is quite a feat for any man.” He frowned. “So you wish to marry me off to a Spaniard’s half-English daughter, whose lands will save my earldom?” Bitter laughter replaced his outrage.

“You have little choice. The Wessington fortune hangs in the balance. If you cannot find a way to make the estate in the colony of Venezuela profitable again, you will need to sell the London house and move your mother to Whitemore.”

“Sell property!” Andrew shouted. “You are mad! Peers do not sell property like bankers and merchants!”

“Yes, I agree it is a rash move. However, given that the New World estate is bleeding money, your mother’s spending, and your father’s...choices with funds, you have few options.” He paused. “But a timely marriage could solve everything.”

“An expedient marriage will fix my inconvenient fortune?” Andrew’s friendly grin startled Stoneham, relaxing him in spite of the heated tension, reminding him once again of the earl’s well-buried good nature and power. An impulse to smile back plagued him, the need for connection clear in Andrew’s smile.

Not now
.

“What about marrying the daughter of some man in commerce here in England or on the continent? Surely one of them has a suitable woman that does not involve traveling halfway across the world?”

Treading carefully, Stoneham replied, “I’ve made subtle inquiries, Your Grace.” He sighed and bit his lip, unsure how to explain that Andrew’ reputation as a consumer of women of ill repute had traveled farther than anyone could imagine. No wealthy merchant father wanted to marry a daughter off to him – not even for the tremendous connection to an earldom.

“Your sigh tells me everything I need to know,” Andrew responded with a rueful laugh. He seemed to want to say more, but Stoneham did not pry. Not now.

Instead, he let silence do his work for him, shuffling papers and sliding them into his carrying case.

Andrew threw himself onto the three-legged stool, nearly toppling over before finding his balance. His thickly-muscled hands ran through his hair, ruining the smooth queue and releasing waves of auburn hair onto the chair’s back. He looked like a twelve-year-old boy again, but a foot taller and with the resigned carriage of a man being handed the world to carry on his shoulders.

BOOK: The Water's Kiss
10.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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