A Match for the Marquess

By: Lillian Marek

Excerpt

She was utterly still, staring at him for a moment, and then flew to her feet so quickly that Philip was not sure he had actually seen her move. One moment she was sitting, the next she was not. The movement must have startled him enough to make him jerk his head—fortunately, because the cup she threw at him smashed harmlessly against the wall instead of against his face.

He felt the breath knocked out of him. No, she was not made of ice. She was blazing with fury—and she was breathtakingly beautiful.

“How dare you, you contemptible rake! You may be sure I am quite aware of the situation in which we find ourselves, and I do not need your sulks and ill temper to remind me. You may resent the prospect of wedding me, my lord,”—she was fairly spitting out the words and pointing her finger at him—“but I am the one who is about to lose her chance at freedom when it was almost within my grasp. Am I supposed to be pleased at the thought of wedding you simply because you are a marquess? Do you assume a marriage such as this fulfills all my girlish dreams of love and romance? Do you think I look forward to being trapped this way? To spending my life being ordered about, under the control of a man with neither sense nor morals? Am I supposed to think that your title makes all other considerations unimportant? How dare you take that tone with me! You might remember that neither of us would be in this fix if you had had the decency to stay in your own bed!”





In memory of my mother,

the inspiration for Lady Anne





Chapter One


In which our heroine receives a letter

1828

Lady Anne Milhaven looked at the letter lying upon the salver as if she had never seen such a thing before. She looked up at the butler who was proffering it to her and raised her eyebrows in query.

“A letter for you, my lady,” said Jeffries.

She could swear there was the ghost of a smile on his face.

“Thank you,” she said, offering a ghostly smile of her own.

She reached out hesitantly and picked it up. It had been so long since she had last received a letter that she had almost forgotten what to do. Uncle Craddock required that all mail be given only to him, and in this house, his word was law. If there had been letters for her—and there must at least have been letters of condolence after her parents’ deaths—she had never received them.

But at the moment, Uncle Craddock was away from home.

This letter was clearly addressed to her, in what looked to be a man’s writing, and franked with an illegible scrawl. Her fingers caressed the letter, enjoying the smooth texture of the expensive paper. She did not recognize the seal on the back, but it had been too long since she had needed to pay attention to such things.

She stiffened her spine and told herself to stop shillyshallying. She was not some faint-hearted ninny. Her father would have laughed and reminded her never to hesitate before taking a fence. With a quick smile for the memory, she opened the letter so she could read it before Aunt Craddock and Cousin Corinne arrived at the breakfast table.

The signature first. It was from the Earl of Greystone, her godfather. That was a surprise. Was he no longer in India? Since she had never heard from him, she was not even certain that he knew of her father’s death.

She read the letter through quickly, and then again slowly. There were more surprises. It was clear from the letter that not only was he in England but he had been back for some time—and he had written before. Her fingers clenched around the paper. Here was proof positive that her uncle stole her mail.

Forcing her fingers open, she smoothed out the letter and read it again. It was an invitation to stay at the earl’s country house. To stay for weeks, perhaps. A door was opening for her, a chance for something, a chance for something more.

If she went and Uncle Craddock found out—no, when Uncle Craddock found out—he would be furious. But he was not here, and the invitation was in her hand. For a moment, she had control of her life. She could hardly believe it. She closed her eyes and reminded herself to stay calm and to keep breathing. This was her chance, and she would seize it!

The sounds of her aunt’s approach recalled her to the moment. She pulled herself together and by the time her aunt arrived, she was once again a subdued creature in a mousey grey gown, eyes down in seeming modesty to keep her thoughts safely hidden. Fearing that if she looked up for a moment the blaze of hope in her eyes would be obvious, she stared down at the grey bombazine of her dress. Once I am free, I will never wear grey again.