*Marriage of Convenience
*Spare turned Heir
*A Bespectacled Hero
His father died before turning forty. HIs older brother, the original heir, turned up his toes at the age of two and thirty. And this year, his last remaining brother--and the spare--was suddenly killed in a duel. Circumstances aren't looking good for this second spare turned heir. The new duke of Warwick needs a son... And quickly!
Lady Lillian Prentiss has learned that men are not to be trusted--particularly dukes. So when the very handsome but dying "Mister" Masterson offers her an opportunity for lifelong independence, it seems to be the perfect arrangement. And it would have been perfect...
If only she hadn't gone and fallen in love with him.
The Perfect Arrangement
Release Date: November 2020
Series: The Perfect Regency
Book Number: 4 in the series
Christian Masterson, the newest duke of Warwick, and youngest on record, swallowed a healthy pour of brandy in hopes of subduing the anxiety he’d been experiencing for the last eight weeks.
Alcohol had always had a pleasant numbing effect on both his body and mind, but on this occasion, the substance failed to do anything at all to combat the fear churning in his gut, especially not at one o’clock in the afternoon.
Even if the liquor was an excellent vintage and he was surrounded by his closest friends, at Whites, the perfect Gentleman’s haunt.
“My sister mustn’t be left unprotected upon my death.” Christian insisted. “I won’t allow my father’s cousin to take over her custody. I cannot. He’d make her life a living nightmare. I cannot allow that to happen. One would think the good lord might take this into consideration when calling me home.”
At the age of five and twenty, these unwelcome responsibilities had fallen upon Christian all too soon. Only three days after his twenty-eight birthday, the previous duke, his last remaining brother, had died rather suddenly.
“Why don’t you marry quickly and set up your nursery? Any number of the chits who came out this past spring would pounce on the notion of becoming a duchess.” Corny guffawed. “Even if the Grim Reaper is chasing you down.”
“Impossible,” Christian wouldn’t do that.
“Come now, you won’t have to exert yourself at all. Send a notice to one or two of the mothers, have them return to London with their chits, and then decide which of them suits you best. Better yet, flip a coin and only invite one,” Corny pointed out with no reverence at all. The second son of the Earl of Hastings, and one of Christian’s oldest friends, Cornelius White was the proverbial spare and had no such worries. Christian hadn’t either, until the passing of both of his brothers within a scant amount of years.
Christian pushed away the ever-present ache of loss and instead focused on the wellbeing of his last remaining sibling. Bernadette was only seven and ten and if anything was to happen to him, her only living brother, she’d be left to endure the bitter mercy of a distant cousin of his father’s. Christian had met the man but a few times and his revulsion had only grown upon familiarity. Great-uncle Liverman was an immoral blackguard of the worst kind.
Christian forced himself to relax the grip he had on his glass before it shattered. He would go to great lengths rather than leave his gentle sister dependent upon such a villain. What he wouldn’t resort to, however, was willingly hurting some other unsuspecting young lady just like her. What kind of a man would that make him?
He removed his spectacles and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Marry some innocent, have conjugal relations until she’s carrying my heir, and then abandon her when I meet certain death? How does that make me any better than Liverman?”
“Come now, this entire conversation is ridiculous,” exclaimed the third fellow in their party at White’s that evening—Oxley, the Marquess of Middleton. “Your fears are illogical at best.”
“What’s ridiculous is the life expectancy of the men in the Masterson line!” Christian snapped as he slid his spectacles back into place. “I need to do something. I can’t simply wait around to die without provisions for her.”
“You could always marry Bernadette off.” Cornelius shrugged.
“She’s just turned seven and ten,” Christian growled. Such an option was equally repugnant to him. “She’s still a child.”
Oxley rolled his eyes heavenward.
“By George, I’ve the perfect solution.” Corny snapped his fingers. “Place an ad in one of the broadsheets.” He pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Wanted: Independent woman willing to bear me an heir who won’t be devastated upon my death.”
If only such a woman existed. Christian could promise her lifelong security, not to mention nearly unmatched social standing as a duchess. If she married him knowing what was in store, Christian needn’t worry that she’d be overcome with grief when the Grim Reaper stole him away.
“Best not to use your title in such an ad though. That would stir up far too much commotion, I expect, and defeat the purpose all together.” Corny reached for a nearby piece of foolscap, pen, and inkwell.
“Which is?” Oxley queried with the lift of his left brow. Nicholas Oxley would one day make a fine duke. At the age of six and twenty, he’d already managed to affect more arrogance than most titled men in London.
“Haven’t you been listening, Ox?” Corny scoffed. “To set Warwick here up with a woman willing to bear him an heir. A woman without expectations of love and all that nonsense. A noble purpose, indeed.”
Christian smiled grimly as his outrageous chum thoughtfully dipped a quill into the ink and then allowed it to hover over the paper. The paper, as well as Corny’s fingers, would likely be covered in ink before he finished. Corny somehow managed to bring chaos into most situations in one way or another.
“Do you suppose she’d need to be one of the upper classes? I doubt her lineage ought to matter at this point.” He side-eyed Christian. “Beggars can’t be choosers, you know. You must, however, require that she be healthy and intelligent. You won’t want your heir to be born a simpleton.”
Christian winced even as he laughed at the details one would consider for such a ridiculous advertisement.
Better to laugh than cry.
“Merchant class,” Cornelius continued. “Nothing lower. And she must have some looks to speak of. You wouldn’t want your heir to come out looking hideous.” Cornelius crossed a line out and then added another to his nonsensical advertisement. “Remember, Christian, you will have to bed her… possibly several times. It would be a shame if you couldn’t engage your sentiments enough to… perform.”
Christian shook his head but laughed again and poured another splash of brandy into his glass. “Old enough to know her mind. That’s the trouble with all the debs who come to London… they’re essentially children dressed up as ladies.” Yes, if Christian could have a say in such a matter, he’d not marry some naïve little girl. He’d want a woman who understood the ramifications of her decision.
Cornelius held up his document and read it aloud: “Applicants are to present themselves for consideration, with references, at 312 Chesterfield Hill promptly at… Say, what time would you like these chits to start coming ‘round?”
“Very funny, Corny.” But Christian appreciated his friend’s attempt to cheer him up.
“I think ten in the morning is reasonable. Early enough that the chit will have to show some initiative but not so early as to force you out of bed at too ungodly of an hour.” He wrote some more before blowing on his handiwork and then dusting it with sand. “Here you go, Christian, the answer to all of your troubles.”
Christian accepted the mock advertisement and managed to read it through despite the crossed-out words and occasional ink droplets.
Wanted: Intelligent female between the ages of 25 and 32 in good health to perform task of a sensitive nature, in exchange for lifelong security. Present yourself for consideration at 312 Chesterfield Hill in Mayfair this Thursday morning at exactly ten in the morning. Squeamish ladies need not apply.