When dashing Fitzhenry Lovelace escorted sensible Mary Elizabeth Parker to a once in a lifetime meeting with her estranged grandfather, an unexpected romance bloomed that had nothing to do with her grandfather’s immense wealth. Throwing caution to the wind, sensible Miss Parker said a wholehearted yes to Fitz. But before they could finalize their nuptials, a family emergency called Fitz away. Then he stopped answering her letters.
Months pass and the Yuletide arrives, and Miss Parker faces the fact that her impetuosity has led to a Dilemma. Then word arrives that her ruthless mother and stepfather, suspecting a possible inheritance, are descending upon her with a horrid replacement for Fitz in tow. Miss Parker bolts, but her meddling cousin plans an unexpected stop on the journey.
Having made a hash of his finances and neglected the lady he still loves, Fitz, now Lord Loughton, realizes he must make amends with the woman he still loves. But before he can act, Miss Parker arrives on his doorstep. He soon senses more is amiss with her than just his careless courtship. Can he uncover her secrets and win her back before he loses her altogether?
Previously published in the Christmas Kisses Holiday Regency Romance Anthology
“No, no, no, Mary Elizabeth.” Gregory Sawley’s cane hit the floor with each no, though the thick Turkey carpet rather muffled the dramatic effect. “It is not enough for you to have a knowledge about markets, compounding interest, and commodity futures, and a dependable stock jobber. The key is to have access to reliable information. The key is for you to make a proper marriage.”
“Marriage, sir?” Mary Elizabeth Parker—Mel to her late father and her cousin, Hermione—took in a quelling breath. “And hand over my inheritance to a nodcock of a husband who’ll dismiss all my ideas?”
She pressed her lips closed on an even sharper retort. If she wanted to be nagged and prodded about matrimony, she might have remained at Lady Clitheroe’s house party for today’s activity, a picnic, with her much older widowed cousin, Lady Hermione Gravelston and the other guests.READ MORE
Hermione had wangled their invitations to the Michaelmas marriage mart Lady Clitheroe was hosting, convinced that at five-and-twenty, there was still hope for Mel. For her part, she’d been glad to attend, but not for the purpose of meeting marriageable men. She’d escaped this day for the once in a lifetime chance to visit one of Lady Clitheroe’s not-too-distant neighbors, one of England’s most successful bankers, Gregory Sawley. Her grandfather.
After the solicitor managing her money bungled an investment, she’d decided that if her grandfather could rise from humble beginnings to become as rich as Croesus, she ought to be able to manage her own small inheritance herself. She had a plan, and it didn’t include matrimony, a risky endeavor even in the most optimistic of circumstances. After months of exchanging letters with her grandfather, she’d jumped at the chance to meet him and be tutored in person.
And he’d been altogether welcoming this day. He’d answered all her questions, and provided a very good luncheon, and then, having more to say, he’d escorted them to his expansive library. Two fireplaces, one at each end, warmed the room against the autumn chill. Above the nearby mantel, the late Mrs. Sawley, Mel’s grandmother, gazed lovingly at the golden-haired babe on her lap, the child who would grow up to be Mel’s headstrong mother. Amazingly, the artist had caught the willfulness in the wide blue eyes and bowed lips of his younger subject.
Outside, the day was advancing, heavy clouds obscuring the late afternoon sun. If they didn’t leave soon, they might have to stay the night.
Was that why her grandfather had required this parting lecture? Did he want her to stay? Pain lurked in his eyes, and his gray pallor and gaunt frame belied the strong voice, putting her in mind of her father’s last illness. She might never see him again, and though their acquaintance was short, she’d miss him, as she still grieved for her father, dead these two years.
“I said a proper marriage, one with proper contracts and settlements, to a man in the Commons, or a lord would do. Your stepfather likely has contacts, but you will not want to be under his thumb, I think.”
A shiver went through her. Upon Papa’s death, she’d dodged that thumb, and Mother’s broad hints at a betrothal to her stepfather’s nephew. She’d fled to Hermione in Hampshire while her mother returned to her husband-to-be in Kent. And the man her mother married would be no help at all to her financial plans. He was far too indolent to take up his seat in the Lords. He’d be nothing but her mother’s tool, and an utter hindrance.
“Aren’t such men often rather pompous and foolish, sir?”
Across the room, a throat cleared loudly.
Grandfather’s lips quirked and he tipped his head toward the interruption. “What about him?”
The him in question was seated on the far end of Grandfather’s spacious library, and apparently had perfect hearing.
Oh, he met Grandfather’s requirements in some ways. He had a seat in the Commons, and someday he would inherit and move on to the Lords. He was also unmarried, his wife having died in childbirth the previous year.
And breathtakingly handsome with rumpled golden hair, soulful blue eyes, and a wide-shouldered, narrow-hipped, long-limbed form that had at first sight sent her blood pounding. Fortunately, she’d had many years following the drum with Papa, and had seen enough well-formed men to master her baser urges.
She shook her head. “It is not that way between us, sir. In truth, I’m rescuing him today from marriage-minded mamas and their daughters.”
“What way must it be? You are a female. Your financial plans require social connections, ones that in your case can only be achieved by marriage. If you don’t believe me, ask Mr. Lovelace.”
Grandfather pointed the tip of his cane at the overstuffed wing chair placed near the opposite fireplace. Mr. Fitzhenry Lovelace, eldest son and heir of Baron Loughton, had retreated there and waited at his ease, allowing them a modicum of privacy whilst imbibing every word.
Mr. Lovelace wasn’t likely to agree with Grandfather on this subject, having that morning accosted her in Lady Clitheroe’s stables, begging the honor of conveying her here in order to escape two doe-eyed misses vying to be the first to be compromised by him.
Mel squeezed her hands together to prevent them from rubbing at the ache between her eyes. After forcing his presence upon her today, Lovelace might as well come and defend her desire to remain unmarried. “What say you, Mr. Lovelace?” she called.
He put aside his book and stood.COLLAPSE