BOOKS

 

AN IMPROPER ENCOUNTER

     He stretched his arm along the back of the sofa and leaned even closer. "Don't worry. I remember the things that are important, Miss Arabella Swann."
     Good heavensl A rush of heat surged through her.
     "Speaking of important things," he continued, "who is Raphael? "
     Raphael? She blinked at him.
     He shrugged as if it were of no importance, but the line of his strong jaw tightened. "Raphael. Your aunt mentioned him when we sat down. She hoped you would think I was as good as he."
     Arabella resisted a fleeting urge to invent a fictitious beau to insert between herself and the Duke of St Fell, the way one would throw a hunk of meat at a tiger to distract it, so one could escape out the door. "He is the duke in Aunt Ophelia's Minerva Press romance," she said.
     "And am I as good as Raphael?" the duke asked in a voice that was as close to a purr as a man could get.
     His hand was barely twelve inches away from her shoulder. Ten, if she swayed toward him. It was quite improper.

Order Courting Trouble

 

IT WAS A RELIEF THE ENTIRE MISADVENTURE WITH LADY NOLA WAS OVER

     Now that he was free of her distracting demands for his warehouse, he could concentrate on interviewing the women recommended to him by his tenants. By the time Lady Nola returned to London he would have found and married the ideal bride.
     Who was not most certainly not Lady Nola.
     He opened the door to the breakfast room.
     Lady Nola was seated at his place at the table.
     Bartlett hovered behind her with the coffee pot.
     “Good morning, sir.” The butler reached past Lady Nola’s shoulder to pour coffee into her cup. “We did not expect you back until tomorrow.”
     Gabriel stood rooted in the doorway, the blood roaring in his ears. His gaze swivelled from the sideboard heavy with all the makings of an old-fashioned English breakfast to the dog under the table, gobbling a ham slice off a Swann china dinner plate, back to the table where Lady Nola returned his stare, her mouth open and her eyes wide.
     She blushed so fiercely her face turned as red as her wild curly red hair.

Order The Ideal Bride

 

From Chapter 1 of The Ideal Bride:

At exactly twenty-nine minutes past the morning hour of nine o'clock, Mr. Gabriel Carr, immaculately groomed in sober blue superfine with simple cravat and blameless collar points, inspected his reflection in his bedchamber looking glass. The cut of his tailored jacket did nothing to emphasize his broad shoulders. His buff breeches were too slack to reveal his muscular calves. The dignified style of his raven hair lent no special charm to his cheekbones. Nor did it call attention to his eyes, even when he peered carefully at his reflection to ensure no twinkle sparked them to a deeper blue.


He gave his valet a satisfied nod, taking care not to smile. Smiling only encouraged his dimples.


Precisely one minute later, he marched down the wide staircase of his elegant Brook Street townhouse.


He nodded once to Bartlett who stood at attention in the foyer and proceeded down the hall to the breakfast room.


He took his seat at the head of the table. As always, the silver gleamed, the china sparkled and his morning business correspondence lay neatly stacked beside his plate.


A place had been set for his mother. Excellent. He had been obliged to repeat the order twice to Bartlett last night. The butler had been of the opinion the only time Eleanor Carr would arrive downstairs before noon would be on the sad day her lifeless body was carried down feet first.


Normally, Gabriel would have agreed. But not today. Not after she read the note he had left for her last night. He would wager a pony she would search him out this morning, if he was a gambling man, which, of course, he was not.


The only question was what her attitude would be when she did appear. In normal circumstances, his mother had the disposition of a kindly mule – she always smiled gaily as she did exactly as she pleased.


He selected a slice of ham and a bun from the warming dishes on the oak sideboard. He declined to sample a third dish, the gelatinous contents of which he could not identify. No doubt Chef had been prompted to be creative by Mother's anticipated attendance this morning. Gabriel frowned. He was not fond of innovation at breakfast. There was nothing wrong with ordinary stirred eggs and herring. He would have to speak to Chef again about keeping a firmer rein on his artistic tendencies, though at least this dish was not aflame.


When he had arranged his napkin to his satisfaction, he picked up his fork in one hand and his pencil in the other and began his breakfast.


The first report was from his clerk about the new merchant tenant in the Bridge Street building. Londoners' enthusiasm for bisque-colored porcelain had made Swann's Fine China Emporium a brilliant success. Gabriel smiled at the figures at the bottom of the page. His decision to accept a percentage of the profits in lieu of a fixed sum for rent had already paid off to advantage.


When he saw the subject matter of the second report, he poured himself a cup of coffee to better savor the experience. Garrard House in Pall Mall was his most recent acquisition and his most ambitious venture to date. According to the construction manager's account, the refurbishment of the building was proceeding according to schedule. By the end of the month, five of the most prestigious merchants in London would move into their shared premises.


Gabriel permitted himself a small smile, dimples notwithstanding. A client could visit the dressmaker, the tailor, the milliner, buy gloves and shoes and furs and fans, even furniture and fabrics, all within the same elegant building. There was even a restaurant to serve refined refreshment on the third floor.
Every fancy furbelow ladies and gentlemen of good breeding needed to make their lives complete, under one roof. His roof. His soon-to-be very profitable roof.


He leaned back in his chair and crossed his hands behind his head. At times like these he regretted he no longer drank brandy. Not that the pleasure of a sound business transaction could compete with an idle nasty habit like drinking brandy, of course, but the near completion of Garrard House needed to be marked by some kind of celebration. He poured himself another cup of coffee and added twice his normal amount of cream.


As he raised the brimming cup to his lips, the door slammed open.


"Good lord, Gabriel, what the devil do you mean you don't need my help in finding yourself a bride?"

Eleanor Carr lurched to the table in her billowing purple dress like a round grape rolling down a matron's heaving bosom. She collapsed in her chair, leaned her elbows on the table, clasped her head in her plump hands and moaned. The plumes in her headdress bobbed in waves of purple sympathy.


"Good morning, Mother." He wrapped his napkin around his scalded fingers. "I apologize for making you rise so early. I would have spoken to you last night, but you had not yet returned home when I was ready to retire."


"Are you saying I stayed out later than your bedtime?" she asked without lifting her head. "Do you have a bedtime now, Gabriel? The thought fills me with despair."


He pursed his lips. Of course he had a bedtime. He could hardly gallop around London all night and make clear-headed business decisions the next day. Unlike his mother, he had other responsibilities besides frivolous self-indulgence. She had only arrived in London yesterday afternoon and nevertheless had managed to find a party to go to last night. She had a genius for finding the party. Despite it being September when none of her ton cronies were supposed to be in town.


A glance at the morning's third report increased his irritation. Another complaint from the latest tenant in the Soho Square warehouse. This time, Smith the wine merchant was demanding better lighting on the outside of the building to discourage night thievery. Gabriel drummed his pencil on the table. The warehouse had been the first property he had acquired, yet in five years, not one of its tenants had prospered.


"In any event, you're not waking me up." His mother squinted in the sunshine streaming through the bow window. "I should hope even a man as hellbent on becoming a monk as yourself would recognize an evening gown when he saw it. I have just returned from the Goodacre's rout. I came down as soon as I read your note."


"As I have always maintained I would set up my nursery at age thirty," he said absently, as he calculated the cost of Smith's new gas lamps, "I should think you would be pleased to know I was ready to acquire a bride."


She slammed her hand down on the tablecloth. "There is no need to remind me of your pigheaded adherence to the schedule you have devised for your life! It is your perverse way of meeting it that oversets me." She extracted a sheet of paper from somewhere on her person and read aloud. "‘Dear Mother. I am ready to commence my search for a bride. I shall notify you as soon as I have found a woman who meets all of my specifications. Sincerely, your loving son Gabriel.'" She wadded the note and hurled it across the table. It landed in his cup.


He gritted his teeth and dabbed at the drops of coffee spattered on his papers. His letter succinctly and accurately explained the situation. He could hope for nothing better from any of his clerks and managers when they wrote their daily reports.


She jutted out her chins. "Your birthday is in less than three months. There isn't time for your usual intransigence if you want to marry by then. I shall make a list of my friends who are firing off females this year."


"I have no intention of marrying a daughter of one your friends." He fished the soggy paper from his cup with his fork and poured himself a fresh cup of coffee. One could never have enough coffee when faced with his mother in a mulish mood.


"Certainly not." She reached for the silver coffee pot and filled her own cup to the brim. "The daughters gave up on you long ago. We shall have to resort to nieces and second cousins now. I will begin making calls this afternoon."


"No, you will not." He leaned forward to emphasize his point. "Your assistance is not needed because my first requirement is that my wife come from a family whose background is in trade or commerce."


Her eyes bulged as her round face froze in her best expression of horror. She clutched both hands to her heart for added effect.


He sighed. "Come now, Mother. It is not so unusual for a gentleman to look for a bride amongst the merchant class. I could name any number of dukes and earls who have done the same."


"They married for money! Surely you have all the blasted money you need by now! Besides, you are not a peer. You are only the second cousin of a baronet."


"Nevertheless, I am still a gentleman and I believe this holds considerable attraction for a family wishing to move beyond its connections to trade."


"A gentleman? Ha. Your life is so dull, no one would know it. The only thing you bother with is your buildings. It is bad enough you insist on rising at this ludicrous hour every morning. But to sit there and read about business all through breakfast is the outside of enough."


He smiled triumphantly. "Which is precisely why I need a bride from a family involved in trade. This is the way I live. My wife must understand that. A young woman from a merchant family would be proud of my business interests, but the same thing would inspire nothing but disgust in a well-brought up girl from the ton. She would forever be longing for the day when I could be an idle gentleman again." He tried not to gloat too overtly. That always made her more stubborn.


She plucked one of her plumes and fanned herself with it. "Could you not look for a well-bred girl who would not object to your preoccupation with business? You would be surprised what a woman is willing to overlook if her husband does not resemble a toad."


"I have no intention of using my appearance to procure a wife." He felt his cravat contract an inch.


"Why the devil not? There isn't a man in England who wouldn't give his right arm to look like you."


"I do not care for fusses," was the best he could croak out as he ran his finger under the noose around his neck. How on earth had he gotten trapped in this idiotic conversation? It was absurd. He had no intention of discussing with his mother the wearying siege of tearful scenes and swooning dramatics women had plagued him with since he hit puberty. All because of his appearance.


"Fusses? Is that what young men call it nowadays?" She tucked the plume back into her headdress at a combative angle. "There is nothing wrong with making a fuss if one is doing it with the right person. Why, your father and I often enjoyed making a fuss, especially when – "


"Mother!" He slammed his cup back into its saucer. "My list of requirements provides a sounder foundation for marriage than whether or not a woman is overcome by the cut of my jacket."


"I do not believe it is the thought of you wearing your jacket they find so affecting," she muttered.


He glared at her as she heaved herself to her feet and tottered over to the sideboard. Marriage was a very serious matter. He could buy and sell buildings as he pleased, at a loss if he had to, but marriage was forever. He was going to acquire a wifely asset that would profit his life in every respect and he would not relinquish control of the process to anyone. Not to his mother. Not to any woman, especially based on mindless admiration of his –


"Well, are you going to tell me about your precious list?" she demanded. "Or are you too embarrassed to discuss it?"


"I am not the least embarrassed. Each one of my requirements has been carefully selected to ensure a successful marriage. I devoted the summer to studying the matter."


She heaped her plate with Chef's surprise. "That is exactly the kind of mischief one would expect from someone who insisted on spending the summer in London, instead of going off to the country like every other gentleman."


He frowned. "I hardly think careful deliberation about the features one requires in a bride is mischief. Surely it is essential before one considers embarking on the state of matrimony."


"Piffle." She flapped her fingers under his nose on her way back to her chair. "Furthermore, if you are going to use the phrase ‘embarking on the state of matrimony' when you propose to the girl, I cannot guarantee your suit will be accepted. Unless henwitted is one of your requirements."


"My requirements are perfectly reasonable," he said in his most longsuffering tone.


She balanced a dab of Chef's substance on her fork, raised it to her nose and sniffed.


"For example," he continued, "in addition to the expected criteria of superior character and agreeable disposition, I have specified that my wife-to-be must have a calm and deliberate temperament, with a natural dignity and composure."


She rolled the morsel of food between her fingers and held it up to her eye.


He crushed his napkin into a ball. "Not only will this ensure my household is run in a calm and orderly fashion, it reflects my belief that a husband and wife must be in harmony in their essential nature."
She spiked the morsel back onto her fork and placed it gingerly into her mouth and chewed, eyes closed, moving the food from cheek to cheek like a squirrel with a newfound nut. Finally, slowly, with pained concentration, she swallowed.


"Because a restrained and dignified manner of deportment," he continued grimly, "is a fundamental characteristic I like to think my wife and I would share."


She remained motionless, her head tilted to one side, her eyes still squeezed shut.


"Well, what on earth is it?" He could not stop himself from shouting.


She blinked once and smiled before she answered. "Eggs a la Portugese. Or perhaps a la Russe. You know how Chef enjoys paying homage to all of the participants in the war."


He clutched the table and forced himself to draw a slow steady breath through his clenched teeth. Fifteen minutes with his mother or fifteen rounds with Gentleman Jackson. He had done both. It was debatable which was worse.


He snapped open the cover of his pocket watch. Nearly ten o'clock. The carriage would be ready. He bundled his papers into an orderly pile and stood to take his leave.


His mother scrambled to her feet after him. "But you have not told me the rest of the requirements you have for your bride. Surely you want more in a wife than being docile and boring –"


"– calm and dignified," he gritted his teeth, "do not mean boring." They did mean a soothing and restful home, something his mother couldn't possibly understand. "My wife must also be reasonable in figure and face and be skilled at household management." He swung open the door. "I am, however, willing to be flexible about whether she is blonde or brunette."


"How broad-minded." She linked her arm with his as they stepped into the hallway. "But I still do not understand why you refuse my help. I am one of the most well-connected women in town. Perhaps I could locate some young women whose families are in trade and invite them to an afternoon entertainment."


His house full of chattering chits and motivated mamas, with every eye on him to see which of their darling chicks he would cull from the flock? He shuddered.


"I have a better plan," he said. "I have made a list of my most successful tenants. Today I shall ask each if they have any suitable family members for my consideration."


She ground her heels into the marble floor. "Have you gone mad?"


He batted aside a particularly quarrelsome plume. "My tenants are among the most prestigious and successful merchants and tradespeople in London. This is the most efficient way to obtain a bride who meets my specifications."


"Specifications!" Her shout made the Swann urn in the foyer chime on its plaster pedestal. "You speak as if finding a wife is exactly like buying another one of your blasted buildings!"


"But it is." He began to mark off the points on his fingers. "First I identify the area in which I propose to make my investment. In this case, it is the City, metaphorically speaking. Next, I investigate each of the available properties in the chosen area, carefully inspecting the soundness of each, the structure, the foundation, the upper stories..." he tailed off, his face burning. His wretched cravat began to throttle him again.


"Do continue, darling." She looked up, her blue eyes wide in an innocent expression.


"Never mind." He lowered his voice in an attempt to dampen Bartlett's fascination. "You know perfectly well what I mean."


"Yes dear, you were examining the girl's foundations." She patted his arm. "I may have misjudged you when I accused you of having become dull."


Bartlett stood at the front door, holding Gabriel's beaver hat and gloves and avoiding his eyes. Gabriel snatched his beaver and jammed it on his head.


"Of course," his mother added as she trailed him down the front steps, "I am comforted by the knowledge that all gentlemen make lists of requirements they wish to have in a bride. Then they meet a nice young girl, fall in love, and the list goes out the window."


"The selection of my bride is not a matter to be left to whim and windows." He climbed into the carriage and slammed the door. The woman was impossible. A man would have to be dicked in the nob to want the kind of wife his mother's help would get him.


He thumped on the roof and fell back against the leather squabs as the carriage jolted forward into the morning traffic. Every requirement on his list was essential to a perfect marriage and he would never yield a single one. Compromise was the refuge of the weak-minded. It was a pity his mother was too stubborn to see it.

Like It?  Buy it!

Home -- Books -- Reviews -- Craft -- Site