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Praise for Bride to Be:
"The humor flows, the characters sparkle, and the enjoyment is abundant."—Rendezvous
She Thinks She...
Praise for Bride to Be:
"The humor flows, the characters sparkle, and the enjoyment is abundant."—Rendezvous
She Thinks She's Bought a Compliant Husband...
Although Clare Greenough has inherited an unexpected fortune, her money is in the hands of a trustee until she marries—everyone knows a woman is incapable of managing funds. What she needs is an easygoing husband, right away...
They're Both in for a Shock
She makes a deal with impetuous young James Boleigh, seventh baron Trehearth: they will marry, Clare will get control of her money, and Jamie will get the funds he desperately needs to restore his lands. To stave off ruin, Jamie agrees, believing Clare will soon become a proper, submissive wife. But to expect a serene, passionless marriage was only their first mistake...
Praise for Once Again a Bride:
"A romance that shouldn't be missed."—Library Journal
"A superbly crafted story."—Fresh Fiction
The schoolroom of the Benson household was agreeably cozy on this bitter winter afternoon. A good fire kept the London cold at bay, so that one hardly noticed the sleet scratching...
The schoolroom of the Benson household was agreeably cozy on this bitter winter afternoon. A good fire kept the London cold at bay, so that one hardly noticed the sleet scratching at the windows. In one corner, there were comfortable armchairs for reading any one of the many books on the shelves. A costly globe rested in another corner, nearly as tall as the room’s youngest occupant. Scattered across a large oak table, perfect for lessons, were a well-worn abacus, pens and pencils, and all the other tools necessary for learning.
“I am utterly bored,” declared seventeen-year-old Bella Benson, sprawled on the sofa under the dormer window. “I hate winter. Will the season never start?”
“You could finish that piece of embroidery for…”
“You are not my governess any longer,” the girl interrupted with a toss of her head. “I don’t have to do what you say. I’ve left the schoolroom.”
And yet here you are, thought Clare Greenough. But she kept the sentiment to herself, as she did almost all of her personal opinions. Clare’s employer set the tone of this household, and it was peevish. All three children had picked up Mrs. Benson’s whiny, complaining manner, and Clare was not encouraged to reprimand them when they used it. “It’s true that you needn’t be in the schoolroom,” she replied mildly. She sorted through a pile of paper labels marked with the names of world capitals. The child who could correctly attach the largest number of these to their proper places on the huge globe would get a cream cake for tea. Clare had an arrangement with Cook to provide the treats. It was always easier to make a game of lessons than to play the stern disciplinarian, particularly in this house.
“I won’t do what you say either,” chimed in twelve-year-old Susan Benson, as usual following her older sister’s lead.
“Me neither,” agreed ten-year-old Charles.
Clare suppressed a sigh, not bothering to correct his grammar. Charles would leave for school in the spring. Only a lingering cough had kept him home this term. He was hardly her responsibility any longer. Bella would be presented to society in a few weeks, effectively disappearing from the world of this room. And Clare would be left with Susan, a singularly unappealing child. Clare felt guilty at the adjective, but the evidence of a year’s teaching was overwhelming. Susan had no curiosity or imagination and, of the three children, was most like her never-satisfied, irritable mother. She treated Clare as a possession designed to entertain her, and then consistently refused to be entertained. The thought of being her main companion for another four years was exceedingly dreary. Surely Clare could find a better position?
But leaving a post without a clear good reason was always a risk. There would be questions that Clare couldn’t answer with the simple truth: My charge is dull and intractable. I couldn’t bear another moment of her company. Inconvenienced, Mrs. Benson might well refuse to give her a reference, which would make finding a new position nearly impossible. Clare wondered if she could… nudge Susan into asking for a new governess? Possibly—if she was very clever and devious, never giving the slightest hint that it was something she wanted. Or, perhaps with the others gone, Susan would improve. Wasn’t it her duty to see that she did? Clare examined the girl’s pinched expression and habitual pout. Mrs. Benson had undermined every effort Clare had made in that direction so far. It appeared to be a hopeless task.
Clare turned to survey Bella’s changed appearance instead—her brown hair newly cut and styled in the latest fashion, her pretty sprigged muslin gown. At Bella’s age, Clare had been about to make her entry into society. She had put her hair up and ordered new gowns, full of bright anticipation. And then had come Waterloo, and her beloved brother’s death in battle, and the disintegration of her former life. Instead of stepping into the swirl and glitter of society, Clare was relegated to the background, doomed to watch a succession of younger women bloom and go off to take their places in a larger world.
Stop this, Clare ordered silently. She despised self-pity. It only made things worse, and she couldn’t afford to indulge in it. Her job now was to regain control of the schoolroom. She shuffled her pile of paper labels. “I suppose I shall have to eat all the cream cakes myself then.”
Susan and Charles voiced loud objections. Clare was about to maneuver them back into the geography game when the door opened and Edwina Benson swept in. This was so rare an occurrence that all four of them stared.
Bella jumped up at once and shook out the folds of her new gown. “Were you looking for me, Mama?”
“Not at present. Though why you are here in the schoolroom, Bella, I cannot imagine. I thought you were practicing on the pianoforte. Have you learned the new piece so quickly?”
“Uh…” Eyes gone evasive, Bella sidled out of the room. She left the door open, however, and Clare was sure she was listening from the corridor.
Mrs. Benson pursed narrow lips. “You have a visitor, Miss Greenough.”
This was an even rarer event than her employer’s appearance in the schoolroom. In fact, it was unprecedented.
“I do not recall anything in our arrangement that would suggest you might have callers arriving at my front door,” the older woman added huffily.
Only humility worked with Mrs. Benson. She was impervious to reason. “No, ma’am. I cannot imagine who…”
“So I am at a loss as to why you have invited one.”
“I didn’t. I assure you I have no idea who it is.”
Her employer eyed her suspiciously. Mrs. Benson’s constant dissatisfaction and querulous complaints were beginning to etch themselves on her features, Clare thought. In a few years, the lines would be permanent, and her face would proclaim her character for all to see. “He was most insistent,” Mrs. Benson added. “I would almost say impertinent.”
You did say it, Clare responded silently. “He…?”
Mrs. Benson gave her a sour smile, designed to crush hope. “Some sort of business person, I gather.” Her gaze sharpened again. “You haven’t gotten into debt, have you?”
It was just like the woman to ask this in front of the children, who were listening with all their might. She was prying as well as peevish, and… pompous and proprietary. “Of course not.” When would she have had the time to overspend? Even if she had the money.
Mrs. Benson’s lips tightened further. “I suppose you must see him. But this is not to happen again. Is that quite clear? If you have… appointments, I expect you to fulfill them on your free day.”
Her once-monthly free day? When she was invariably asked to do some errand for her employer or give the children an “outing”? But Clare had learned worlds about holding her tongue in six long years as a governess. “Thank you, Mrs. Benson.” Empty expressions of gratitude no longer stuck in Clare’s throat. Mrs. Benson liked and expected to be thanked. That there was no basis for gratitude was irrelevant. Thanks smoothed Clare’s way in this household, as they had in others before this.
Clare followed her employer downstairs to the front parlor. The formal room was chilly. No fire had been lit there, as no one had been expected to call, and obviously no refreshment would be offered to the man who stood before the cold hearth. Below medium height and slender, he wore the sober dress of a man of business. From his graying hair and well-worn face, Clare judged he was past fifty. He took a step forward when they entered, waited a moment, then said, “I need to speak to Miss Greenough alone.”
Edwina Benson bridled, her pale blue eyes bulging. “I beg your pardon? Do you presume to order me out of my own parlor?”
“It is a confidential legal matter,” the man added, his tone the same quiet, informative baritone. He showed no reaction to Mrs. Benson’s outrage. And something about the way he simply waited for her to go seemed to impel her. She sputtered and glared, but she moved toward the door. She did leave it ajar, no doubt to listen from the entry. But the man followed her and closed it with a definitive click. Clare was impressed; her visitor had a calm solidity that inspired confidence. Of course she would endure days of stinging reproaches and small humiliations because of this visit. But it was almost worth it to have watched him outmaneuver Edwina Benson. “My name is Everett Billingsley,” he said then. “Do you think we dare sit down?”
Clare nearly smiled. He had noticed her employer’s attitude. She took the armchair. He sat on the sofa. Clare waited to hear what this was about.
For his part, Billingsley took a moment to examine the young woman seated so silently across from him. Her hands were folded, her head slightly bowed so that he couldn’t see the color of her eyes. She asked no questions about his unexpected visit. She didn’t move. It was as if she were trying to disappear into the brocade of the chair.
Despite her youth, she actually wore a lace cap, which concealed all but a few strands of hair the color of a fine dry champagne. Her buff gown was loosely cut, designed, seemingly, to conceal rather than flatter a slender frame. A shade too slender, perhaps, just as her oval face and pleasantly regular features were a shade too pale. Here was a female doing everything she could to remain unnoticed, he concluded. She even seemed to breathe carefully. Everett Billingsley certainly understood the precarious position of genteel young women required to work for their bread. He could imagine why she might wish to appear unattractive and uninteresting, to remain unobtrusive. Her attempt to impersonate an ivory figurine made his mission even more gratifying. “I have some good news for you,” he began. “I represent the estate of Sebastian Greenough, your great-uncle.” This won him a tiny frown, but no other reaction.
Clare sorted through her memories. Sebastian Greenough was her grandfather’s brother, the one who had gone out to India years before she was born. She had never met him.
“Mr. Greenough died in September. It has taken some time to receive all the documents, but they are now in place. He left everything he had to you.”
Clare couldn’t suppress a start of surprise. “To me?”
Billingsley nodded. “His last will was made in the year of your brother’s death. In it, he expressed a wish to ‘even things out.’”
Clare sat very still. Mention of her brother still hurt, even after seven years. It evoked a cascade of loss—from the pain of his death, to the callous eviction from the home where she’d lived all her life, to the speedy decline in her mother’s health in their new, straitened circumstances. How did one “even out” a catastrophe?
A bit puzzled by her continuing silence, Billingsley added, “Because the entail gave everything to your cousin. He wished to make up for that.”
After he was dead and could not be inconvenienced in any way, Clare thought but did not say. Sebastian Greenough hadn’t expressed the least interest in her while she was struggling to survive her losses.
“It is quite a substantial estate,” Billingsley went on. “There is some property in India still to be liquidated. But the funds already transferred, and conservatively invested, will yield an income of more than five thousand pounds a year.” At last the girl looked up. Her eyes were a striking pale green. She looked stunned. As well she might; it was a fortune.
“Five thousand a year,” Clare murmured. It was more than fifty times her current salary. It was unbelievable. “Is this some kind of… confidence trick?”
Everett Billingsley smiled. “Indeed not. I have not brought all the documents here. I would ask that you call at my office to look them over. But I did bring this as a token of the change in your circumstances.”
He took an envelope from the inner pocket of his coat and held it out. Clare accepted it and looked inside. The heavy cream paper bulged with banknotes.
“Five hundred pounds. For expenses until all is in place,” Billingsley added. She could leave this oppressive household, purchase some pretty gowns, he thought. He was glad to see more animation in her face when she looked up again. “I should explain the arrangement. The legacy has flowed into a trust. It is to be overseen by me and your cousin Simon Greenough, as trustees, until…” He paused as all the dawning light in her face died.
“Simon.” Her cousin would never let her touch any money he controlled.
Billingsley cleared his throat. “It seems that Mr. Simon Greenough wrote your great-uncle to say that he was watching over you. Making sure you had what you needed in the wake of his inheriting.”
“He has never given me a penny,” Clare responded through gritted teeth. He’d even refused to lend them money to purchase medicine and other necessities for her mother when she was ill. As far as Clare was concerned, he had killed her.
“So I have learned,” responded Billingsley dryly. “I believe he also argued, quite forcefully, in their correspondence that your great-uncle’s money should be left to him.”
“I’m sure he did.” Her cousin—the son of her father’s younger brother, who had married early and unwisely—had been reared to resent Clare and her brother, to want revenge for their very existence. His greed was fathomless.
“But it was not,” finished Everett Billingsley. “And you can be sure that he won’t get his hands on it. I will see to that.”
Clare believed him. Something about this man inspired trust. “But Simon will be in charge of what I can do with the money?”
“Partially. Along with me.”
Clare’s fingers closed around the envelope Billingsley had given her. Simon would move heaven and earth to ensure that she saw no more of the legacy than this.
“Until you are married, of course,” her visitor added.
“On the occasion of your marriage, the trust is naturally dissolved. Your cousin will have no further say in any matters pertaining to the estate.”
“Because the control will pass to my husband.” Clare knew that was the law. Married women couldn’t own property; anything they had automatically went to their husbands as soon as the wedding vows were spoken.
“Correct,” replied Billingsley. For the first time, the young woman met and held his gaze. A startling fire blazed in those pale green eyes. Her face seemed altered, too. The visage he had marked down as merely pleasant now shone with a spirited beauty, a patent intelligence. Miss Greenough had arranged to be thoroughly underestimated, he realized, like an actor inhabiting a role wholly unlike himself. There was far more to her than he had been allowed to see at first.
Clare felt as if parts of her were springing back to life after years of dormancy, like unused rooms when the draperies are pushed back and the sun streams in. Her mind raced. Cousin Simon would do anything to thwart her. Everett Billingsley didn’t begin to understand the depth of that man’s enmity. She would have no real control of this amazing windfall, or of her life, until her cousin was removed from the picture. Fleetingly, Clare wondered if one could hire murderers with a great deal of money. Not that she would, of course. The idea was morally repugnant. And unlikely to succeed, for any number of reasons. She would have to explore more conventional paths. But one thing was certain—Simon would not best her this time. He would not beggar her again.
“Ashford establishes a union made for all the wrong reasons until trust and love can set things to rights... For all historical romance fans.” - Library Journal Xpress...
“Ashford establishes a union made for all the wrong reasons until trust and love can set things to rights... For all historical romance fans.” - Library Journal Xpress
“A nice love story with satisfying twist and angst and ultimately a happy ending.” - Minding Spot
“A delight to read... vivid descriptions and details” - Head Stuck in a Book
“Well-developed, fabulous characters!” - Fresh Fiction
“Excellent writing... Check out this book! It is well worth the read.” - Bodice Rippers, Femme Fatales and Fantasy
“A marvelously engaging marriage of convenience tale, and Ashford’s richly nuanced, realistically complex characters and impeccably crafted historical setting are bound to resonate with fans of Mary Balogh.” - Booklist
“A sweet historical romance that one can enjoy over a hot cup of happy and a warm blanket! Most assuredly a warm and fuzzy read!” - The Reading Cafe
“Perfectly delightful Regency romance... Remarkably executed.” - Publishers Weekly
Length: 6.875 in
Width: 4.1875 in
Weight: 0.00 oz
Page Count: 416 pages