EXCERPT – LORD BENTLEY NEEDS A BRIDE
1820 – June 30 – The London townhouse of the Marquess of Fremont
Giggles. Whispers. More giggles.
Lord Bradford Hamilton, soon to be Earl of Bentley, turned. Behind him, confound it, they were laughing at him.
Three of the most striking women he’d ever had the pleasure of viewing stood in their ball gowns murmuring to one another and giggling. At him.
Blast! He wouldn’t even be here had not Father insisted. He adjusted his crimson cravat. He could best any man present at fisticuffs, sword, and pistol, but women….
He yearned to be in love. Many of his acquaintances reported that each had each fallen in love with a woman at a glance, thought about her from afar, and once married, spent his life protecting her. Thus far, he had been denied that experience.
Yet, Father insisted he take a wife. This season. He must wed no later than September or October. If he failed, Father would pass the inheritance to James. And his younger brother by ten and one-half months did everything in his power to prevent him from marrying.
James was ambitious, and he desired the Townhouses, the estate, and the money. Bentley frowned. Not that he would mind sharing, but British law remained steadfast and unchangeable. To protect estates from being parceled out, when the owner died the eldest son inherited everything.
But Father could and would deed his land money to James if he so desired, leaving Bentley with nothing but the inherited title. From birth, the Law of Primogeniture had been a thorn in James’ side, rendering him jealous and prone to pranks that verged on hurtful. And left James cool in his brotherly relationship.
Bentley had tried all his twenty-three years to mend the lack of good will between them, but still his only sibling, or as Father called James—the spare—, remained distant. Except for his prankish schemes.
Bentley shifted his feet, too warm encased in his new tall riding boots which also served as formal dancing boots, as he stood next to the long, white-clothed refreshment table. He clasped his hands behind his back, hoping that posture made him look attractive to the ladies present. The pressure of securing a wife kept him awake most nights. Surely, he had bags beneath his eyes. More likely trunks.
He had glanced twice at one particular lady before he noticed the small square of black fabric she wore under her cap, the corner pointed down over her smooth, oval forehead. Father had forbidden him to take a wife who was a widow. Too much difficulty with the dowry and the acquisition of her lands. Far too many lords died in duels defending such lands from younger brothers of the widow.
He’d not been attracted to any of the eligible ladies at the balls and soirees he’d dutifully attended during the season. And the ton had paraded all their ladies-on-the market before his eyes. He’d entertained high hopes for this last and very late ball of the season. But so far, he’d definitely not met a lady who was to his taste. One not frightened off by the rumors James spread of his being a rogue of the worst sort.
Apparently the most beautiful lady heiresses with the most lavish fortunes steered clear of rogues. Plus, he’d decided he wouldn’t settle for a plain lady. And Father wouldn’t settle for a lady without an enormous fortune and title.
Really narrowed the field.
Bentley shrugged his shoulders inside his confining maroon velvet frock coat and sighed.
“So, Bentley, see any damsel to your liking?” Lord Sebastian Somerset, his closest friend, reached down and snagged a tart from the table.
“The ladies are laughing at me.”
“Yes, they want you to notice them. You are tonight’s most eligible bachelor. Fortunately for you I’m not in the running, or you wouldn’t stand a chance.” Sebastian winked a bright blue eye and tossed his thatch of blond hair. He thrust a proud thumb beneath the lapel of his brown velvet frockcoat.
Bentley blew out an exasperated breath. “No, you are free to choose any woman you want. You don’t have an aging father anxious to dandle a grandson on his knee.”
“Right, as second son I am only pressured to enter the military. Which I won’t.” Sebastian popped the sweet into his mouth, and didn’t look at all concerned about his future. He licked raspberry from his lips.
“If I were free I would not marry. Women are rather tedious, don’t you think?” Bentley raised an eyebrow.
Sebastian threw his head, that women no doubt thought quite handsome, back and laughed. “You only say that because you are afraid of the fairer sex.”
“I fear nothing.” Bentley growled. Except this crème de la crème of society, he’d seldom made time for. He pulled a snowy handkerchief from his lace cuff and wiped beads of sweat from on his brow.
“Then walk over there and select one of those lovely ladies as your bride.” A smirk lit Sebastian’s face. “I’d choose the one in the white dress. Lady Camilla Merriweather. But I know for a fact that she’s holding out for a marquess or an earl. Why else do you think she’s standing where you can’t escape seeing her?”
Bentley glanced at the ladies, one a blonde, one with a head full of red curls, and one a shimmering brunette, and then turned his back. His cheeks burned.
“Whom shall I introduce you to? Lady Camilla, Lady Nicola, or Lady Elizabeth?”
“My father would ask which is the richest heiress?”
“That would be the small, slender, blonde, Lady Elizabeth. And she is painfully shy.”
Bentley shook his head. “I fear marriage to that one would be a mere shadow. I think I might prefer a woman with more zest.”
“Lady Nicola has vibrancy, but I’m solicitous for you since she is most outspoken.”
Bentley nodded. “I think I might prefer a woman with a soft voice and a soft touch.”
“You’ve never kept company with a woman in all the time we’ve been friends. How would you know what you want?”
“Well, yes. That is a problem. I don’t know what I want. And if I show the slightest interest in a female, she thinks I’m proposing. The entire ton knows I must select a wife before winter.” He cupped his hand and smoothed his lush beard. “And what are Lady Camilla’s attributes?”
“She’s a lovely girl. But I fear she has no money. She is the daughter of a viscount, and hopes to marry wealth.”
“So not one of those lovely ladies can I approach as they do not meet my criteria.”
Sebastian slapped him on the back. “I’ve have a solution for you my friend.”
Bentley swept the ballroom with his eyes, turning his head to take in the whole candle-lit scene, polished wood floor, musicians in the corner, clumps of ladies eyeing him behind their fans, and other gentlemen moving among them as easily as if they’d been born to navigate that danger-filled terrain. He was sorely out of his element in this glittering splendor. “I need help. What do you say?”
“My Aunt Honore is a matchmaker. Through no fault of her own, she’s confined to spinsterhood. So, pairing up eligible bachelors with qualified ladies is how she makes her living. She will provide you with the best catch of the ton.”
“Not bloody likely! I won’t have someone else choose a bride for me.”
“No. No.” Sebastian shook his head. “You don’t understand. Aunt Honore will provide a list of appropriate ladies, along with their pedigrees, their likes, and their dislikes. She will show you a miniature likeness, and offer you a lock of their hair. You have only to meet them and make your choice. It’s quite simple really.” Sebastian grinned. “And each lady will parade a lovely set of her own teeth.”
“And what if the lady I chose decides she doesn’t care for me at all?”
“You really have been secreted at your country estate too long. There are other pastimes than training horses.” Sebastian made a wry face and shook his head. “Ladies really have no choice, or very little, about whom they marry. Their papas make the decision. First the prospective husband must be incredibly rich.” Sebastian held up his index finger. “You are.”
“Then the prospective husband must not be too old to provide an heir.” Sebastian held up another finger. “Obviously you are extremely virile and able to father a son.” Sebastian chuckled, “I think you can navigate that route, old boy.” Sebastian held up a third finger. “The prospective husband must follow the Rules of Love.” Sebastian frowned. “You do know the Rules of Love?”
“Never heard of such a bloody thing.”
“No fear. Aunt Honore will provide you with a handbook.”
“Why haven’t you told me all this before?”
“You were busy. I realize training all those Arabian horses takes time. When you weren’t expanding the lands and holdings of The Oaks, you spent your time in London at The Trophy Club, playing billiards or cards.” Sebastian’s eyes twinkled. “Or gaming or at the horse races. Hiding from the ladies I expect.”
“They do plague a fellow.” Be so much easier if women flirted with him as they did with Sebastian. But the mysterious and lovely gentler sex seldom wandered into his stables or onto the race track.
“So, you will give one of those plaguing women relief from her cares. You will ask her to be your wife, and she will be ever so happy to comply.”
“Dastardly!” The very thought of taking a wife in that manner made him quake in his boots.
How about you?
If you could stay a week in any time or place in history, where would you choose to go?
Do you believe in “The One and Only Man” or do you believe there are any number of men, one of which you could fall in love with as your soul mate?
Anne is giving away an autographed copy of Avoiding The Mistletoe, and an autographed copy of Keara's Escape, and an autographed copy of A Groom for Christmas. Answer one of the questions above to be entered in the giveaway!
ABOUT ANNE GREENE:
My home is in the quaint antiquing town of McKinney, Texas, just a few miles north of Dallas. My dear husband is a retired Colonel, Army Special Forces. My little brown and white Shih Tzu, Lily Valentine, shares my writing space, curled at my feet. I have four beautiful, talented children, and eight grandchildren who keep me running.
I’ve traveled in every location of each book I’ve written, and each book is a book of my heart. Besides my first love, writing, I enjoy travel, art, sports, reading, sailing, snorkeling, movies, and way too many other things to mention. Life is good. Jesus said, “I am come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.” Whether writing contemporary or historical, my books celebrate the abundant life Jesus gives.
I’ve written several other novellas. AVOIDING THE MISTLETOE, is included in the Mistletoe, Jingle Bells, and Second Chances Collection. My novella KEARA’S ESCAPE is included in the Orphan Train/Spinster Collection. DAREDEVILS is included in the North Carolina, 50 States Collection. SPUR OF THE MOMENT BRIDE is included in the Wyoming, 50 States Collection. A CHRISTMAS BELLE, is included in the Christmas Mail Order Angels anthology. THE MARRIAGE BROKER AND THE MORTICIAN is included in The California Gold Rush Romance Collection. My novellas, A FOOL FOR LOVE, A GROOM FOR CHRISTMAS, and A TEXAS CHRISTMAS MYSTERY are stand-alone novellas.
Moody Press published my first book, TRAIL OF TEARS. I love writing about alpha heroes who aren’t afraid to fall on their knees in prayer, and about gutsy heroines. My Women of Courage series spotlights heroic women of World War II. You might want to begin with the first book ANGEL WITH STEEL WINGS. Read my private investigating series, Handcuffed In Texas. The first book is RED IS FOR ROOKIE. Enjoy my award-winning Scottish historical romances, MASQUERADE MARRIAGE and MARRIAGE BY ARRANGEMENT. I hope my stories transport you to awesome new worlds and touch your heart to seek a deeper spiritual relationship with the Lord Jesus. Buy my books on http://www.Amazon.com. Anne Greene.