Enjoy an excerpt from Romancing the Rogue!
“You cannot mean to toss me out on my ear,” Rebecca begged.
“I intend to marry you off, girl. I daresay that’s hardly ‘out on your ear.’” The new earl stared at her as if she’d gone mad.
No—it was perhaps worse than madness. It was sanity. The bleak loss of freedom. Up until now, she had been mistress of herself. As a wife, however, she would lose all autonomy. Her independence would be gone forever.
A flash of lightning lit the corridor, followed by a crack of thunder that shook the very walls. As it always did on nights such as these, the icy ocean wind shrieked through the castle turrets like the high-pitched wail of a madwoman.
Lord Banfield’s cheeks blanched at the eerie sound. “Honestly, child. You cannot wish to stay here. No reasonable person would.”
Rebecca swallowed. Castle Keyvnor had been the last place she’d wished to visit when her parents had first proposed the idea five years ago. Back then, her life had been full of laughter and joy. Seventeen years old and the light of her parents’ eyes, her first London Season had been everything Rebecca had dreamed.
Until her childhood friend and the love of her life—the delectable and devilish Daniel Goodenham, Viscount North-Barrows—had given her the cut direct at the height of the Season. After leading her to believe that between them was something more.
She’d been too distraught from his cruel rejection to even consider putting herself forward with other men. When her parents despaired, she’d reminded them there was always next Season…
Except next Season never came.
Lord North-Barrows might have been the first to forget about Rebecca, but it had taken no time at all for everyone else to do the same. Day by day, she’d faded from everyone’s memories.
Now that the new earl had been reminded of her existence, she was nothing more than a problem to be fixed. An error to scrub away as quickly as possible.
“I’ve nothing with which to attract a husband,” she said dully. If her own family could forget her, attracting a suitor was impossible. “I haven’t so much as a ha’penny. And every frock I own is five years out of style.”
“Piffle,” Lord Banfield scoffed. “I’ll give you a dowry, of course. Five hundred pounds should do. Plenty of men would wed a sack of grain for less.”
How complimentary. Rebecca pressed her lips together. Her attractiveness as a wife was comparable to marrying a sack of grain. Was it any wonder she preferred to be left alone?
And yet…that much money could completely change her life.
“If I were to live very simply,” she mused aloud, working the financial details out in her mind, “five hundred pounds might be enough for me to live on my own as a woman of independence.”
“You don’t get the five hundred pounds,” the earl reminded her impatiently. “It goes to your husband.”
“You could give it to me instead,” she said hopefully. Such a neat solution would grant her the independence she craved without causing her to be a burden on anyone else.
“And have you spend the entire sum on tiaras and fur muffs?” He laughed. “Come now, child, I’m far too practical to blunder that badly. You would be penniless in a fortnight. Have you forgotten I live with six ladies of impeccable taste? What you need is a strong hand, I’m afraid.”
“There has to be another way,” she whispered.
Lord Banfield brightened. “If you don’t want a Season, we can have the thing solved in no time. Surely a village like Bocka Morrow must have at least one bachelor in want of a wife?”
Rebecca’s stomach churned. She would have no more chance for happiness with one of the local fishermen or wayfaring smugglers than she would with the London crowd. She didn’t fit in anywhere.
What she wanted was her independence. Not a husband. Just the freedom to be herself.
“Please, Uncle.” She clutched her hands to her chest, fully prepared to beg. “Could you please give me the money outright? I promise never to return, asking for more.”
He laughed jovially and gave her a kind pat upon the shoulder. “Of course I cannot. The very question proves how silly women are. How would you pay your bills? Everyone knows females aren’t good with figures. I take care of my business myself. Starting with you. If you wish to make your own decisions, then turn your pretty head to selecting a husband.”
“And…if I can’t find one?” she stammered with dread.
“If you aren’t wed before the start of the Season and cannot bring anyone up to scratch before your portion runs dry, then you leave me no choice but to do the selecting myself. If you haven’t chosen a husband by the end of January—I’ll choose for you.”
She tried to hide her shiver as a chill went down her spine.
He nodded at the solicitor. “Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve invitations to address, and then I must collect my wife and daughters. Dozens of guests will be arriving for the reading of the will. Lady Banfield will wish her family to be settled first.”
Rebecca stepped back as the two men swept past her. When they disappeared down the corridor, she sagged back against the wall and tried to calm her heart.
Three months. She had only until the end of January to find a sweet, not-too-demanding suitor delighted to have her dowry—and happy to leave her alone. She swallowed.
Perhaps Bocka Morrow would be a fine pond to fish in. She could stay in the country, far from London. And her husband would be gone all day, doing whatever it was country husbands did.
Such a marriage could be bearable after all. Provided she could arrange one within three short months.
Her fists clenched. She could not allow her uncle to choose for her. He’d pick some dreadful London fop, or an ancient roué, or a self-important, fickle rakehell like that arrogant Lord North-Barrows…who undoubtedly topped the guest list for the reading of the will. Not just because he was related to the prior earl’s sister. But because everyone who knew Lord North-Barrows, loved him.
Once, Rebecca had too.
She leaned the back of her head against the wall in despair. What hope had she of even attracting a country gentleman? Even her alleged friends had turned from her ever since the moment of Lord North-Barrows’ public cut.
In fact, Rebecca had been hurt so badly that she was relieved at first when her parents didn’t have the funds to give her a second Season. But they loved her too much to give up.
They’d trekked all the way to South Cornwall in the hopes that her mother’s distant uncle, the Earl of Banfield, might be impressed enough with the gentle manners and pleasing face of a young Rebecca that he might be coaxed into sponsoring her second Season.
It worked. Banfield had agreed to fund her second Season. Rebecca’s parents had been ecstatic.
They’d begged her to join them on a pleasure boat to celebrate their financial success in Cornwall before returning to London.
Rebecca had declined to join them. She’d discovered the castle’s soaring library, and meant to inhale as many books as possible before returning to their barren rented cottage on the outskirts of London. ‘Twas both the best and worst decision of her life.
She had never seen her parents again. Only bits of wreckage ever drifted ashore.
When her year of mourning had concluded, Lord Banfield no longer recalled his promise to sponsor another Season. He had forgotten she was under his roof altogether.
And the new earl would be rid of her three months hence, come hell or high water.
Rebecca rubbed her temples in frustration. What was she to do? She had no fashionable clothing. No knowledge of whatever was popular at the moment. No skill at flirtation—or even conversation. She had spent the past lonely years haunting the library, the billiards room, and the hedge maze behind the castle, should the sun chance to peek through the omnipresent clouds.
How would she possibly attract a promising bachelor’s attention, much less his hand in marriage?
Especially with Lord North-Barrows under the same roof, right there to see her fail.
She cringed at the imminent humiliation. Saints save her. He was the only person likely to remember her name—and thus the only one who might be able to help a reclusive spinster without the slightest talent at coquetry obtain a marriage proposal before time ran out.
That settled it. She lifted her chin in determination. Swallowing her pride would be well worth the chance to attract a better man.
Who better than a rakish viscount to teach her how to snare a true gentleman capable of appreciating her charms?