If ever i should love yo.., p.1
If Ever I Should Love You, page 1
This one is for
I am wealthy in my friends.
A Match Made in Bed
About the Author
By Cathy Maxwell
About the Publisher
March 10, 1813
“Marry?” Roman Gilchrist, newly named tenth Earl of Rochdale, stared at his solicitor and godfather, Thaddeus Chalmers, as if the man had just suggested he cut off his own right arm.
They were in Thaddeus’s office. Thaddeus, a mild-mannered man of Roman’s stepfather’s age, sat behind a huge mahogany desk. Roman had not yet taken the chair offered him. Instead, he threw down the pieces of paper with the ninth earl’s hastily scribbled signature upon the desk.
Roman continued. “I come to you with a stack of gambling chits that I do not believe I should have to pay and your only suggestion is that perhaps it is time for me to marry?”
“What other solution can there be?” Thaddeus asked. He was well respected amongst the loftiest circles of the ton. Roman usually valued his opinion. Now, he feared his godfather had gone senile.
“You can tell me that I don’t have to honor them,” Roman answered. “My uncle owed everyone. But he is dead. If they wanted their money, they should have petitioned him before he croaked—not lay in wait on my first day taking my seat in the House of Lords and then delivering these to me. It was a scene. Everyone was there. They all couldn’t help but overhear what Erzy and Malcolm were saying to me, and then they handed me these. I wanted to wipe the smirks off their faces.”
Thaddeus pushed aside the ledger he had been writing in before his godson had stormed into the room. “How much do you owe?” He spread the chits out to read them over the spectacles on his nose.
“Just under ten thousand pounds.”
“Their presenting the debts to you publically is bad form.”
“Damn right it is.”
“You will have to pay it.”
Roman slammed his hand down on the desk, hard. “No. It is not my debt. A man’s debt should die with him.”
“They do if they are to his tobacconist or bootmaker and if there is no money in the estate—”
“There is no money in Rochdale’s estate. You of all people know that.”
“I do, young Roman. I do . . . but those notes there represent something more than a jacket or a pair of boots, or even the bread that graces a table. No, these are debts of honor. As the Earl of Rochdale, you are ‘honor bound’ to pay them.”
“They are not mine—”
“They are Rochdale’s and you are now Rochdale. See? The name Rochdale is on each slip.”
“But that isn’t me.”
“Yes, you are correct and most men would not have given the debts to you to pay. Unfortunately, Erzy and Malcolm are hardened gamesters who have no thought for anyone but themselves.”
“If they are not honorable men, then I see no ‘honor’ in paying gambling debts that aren’t mine.” It all made perfect reason to Roman. “Especially since I don’t even have the money to repair the leak in Bonhomie’s roof let alone buy a pair of boots for myself.” Bonhomie was his recently inherited estate in Somerset and the first home he and his family had ever had.
“Exactly,” Thaddeus said in triumph, stacking the gambling chits. “Which is why I suggested marriage. I mean, you could sell off a portion of the land. The last earl had not seen to the entail—”
“Absolutely not,” Roman interrupted. “The land will not be sold.” He’d been overjoyed to discover that Bonhomie boasted six hundred acres of forests and fields waiting for him to turn them into something meaningful.
“Very well, then.” Thaddeus reached for a decanter from a tray of them on a table behind his desk. He uncorked what Roman knew was a very fine whisky and poured generous portions in two glasses. “Sit,” he told Roman. “Be reasonable and hear me out.”
“I have no desire to take on a wife.”
“Posh, of course you do,” his godfather said. “You will need an heir or what will become of your plans for your estate, eh? Do you want all your fine work to go to a nephew that you didn’t know? Just like what happened to the ninth earl with you? Besides, a man needs something to poke at night. If he doesn’t have it on a regular basis, his balls shrivel.”
“I don’t believe that is true.”
Thaddeus pointed a finger at him. “How do you know? Have you been going without? Are you saying you don’t have anything to poke with anymore, Roman?”
“I have balls a’plenty.” He was no monk, but he was no lothario either.
Thaddeus cackled at his own jest. “I knew you did. All your years in the military should have made you a man of the world.”
Roman sat and picked up the whisky. “It did. But I have very high standards.”
“Then marry a wife who meets them. Because, lad, the way matters are going . . .” He tapped the small stack of gambling debts. “You could lose everything you inherited with the title. Erzy and Malcolm could force you to sell, and then the old earl’s tobacconist and bootmaker would be right behind them. It is never wise to stir a pot.”
He was right. Except . . .
“What heiress who isn’t lame or hideous to look upon would settle for penniless me? Or are you going to tell me, Thaddeus, that it doesn’t matter? That I should leg-shackle myself to a woman and then live apart?”
“Well, that is one solution.”
“So much for heirs,” Roman muttered.
Thaddeus gave a sharp bark of laughter. “And here I thought you were a realist.”
“I am,” Roman assured him. “And I know that any heiress worth her weight in gold can attract a man with more to offer than empty pockets and a ramshackle estate.”
“Ah, but then there are the Spinster Heiresses. They are three young women, all marriageable, very attractive, and wealthy beyond your dreams.”
“Then why are they called spinsters? Why hasn’t someone snatched them up?”
“Because their fathers are very particular, just like yourself. They wouldn’t let a Captain Gilchrist near them, or even a Baron Gilchrist, or a Sir Roman, and very few earls—but Rochdale is one of the oldest titles in England. Before the last three holders of that title, blast their gambling souls, they were respected statesmen, the sort historians praised and the world never forgot. I want you to be that sort of earl, Roman. I want you to do me proud.”
“I will try . . . if I’m not in debtors’ prison.”
“Which is the reason I believe you should shine yourself up and call on one of the Spinsters. Their fathers will not look down their noses at one of their daughters becoming the Countess Rochdale, I can promise you that.”
“And how can you make such a promise?”
“Because this is their third year on the Marriage Mart.” He referred to the round of social events, balls, and routs where marriageable young women hunted for suitable husbands. “They are becoming a bit long of tooth. Their fathers will have to lower thei
Thaddeus poured himself another drink. He offered the bottle to Roman, who with a shake of his head refused it. He needed to keep his wits about him right now and he wasn’t one to see a virtue in overimbibing.
However, he was intrigued with Thaddeus’s plan. “What is wrong with them?” he asked, settling back in his chair. There must be a hidden cost.
“They are all decent young ladies,” Thaddeus assured him, putting the cork back in the decanter.
His godfather eyed him. “You’re not in a position where you can be choosy.”
“Granted. However, does one of them limp or the others have pox marks? I’d rather be forewarned.”
“First, three Seasons does not a hag make. And they aren’t hags,” Thaddeus hurried to add. “They are each actually lovely.”
“Lovely and rich and unmarried?” Roman made a dismissive sound. “Spill it all, Thaddeus. Spare nothing.”
“Well, if there is a drawback they are each just on the border of being unacceptable. Not one could gain vouchers to Almack’s. However, most of the concerns are about their families. For example, Cassandra Holwell’s grandfather made his money in the mines. He started off as a miner and ended up by dint of hard work owning the mine. Her father is currently in the Commons.”
“That is not such a shabby thing.”
“Aye, but his manners are atrocious. He eats like a bull who has been starved for days. Throws food all around him.”
“And his daughter? Is she covered in food as well?”
“I’ve never seen her eat but I’ve not heard a complaint. She has yellow hair, rosy cheeks, and, from what I’ve heard, is very educated. She is a book lover as yourself.”
“A bluestocking?” Roman liked to read, but he did not like to debate.
“She is known for being outspoken, which isn’t a terrible thing if one is in your circumstances and needs the Holwell fortune. However, if a man has his choice of ladies to choose from, and perhaps a mother who is a stickler for family bloodlines, Miss Holwell and her mining ancestors will not stand a chance. She is also rather tall. Of course, that is not a problem for you. You’re over six feet.”
“Is she six feet tall?”
“I don’t believe she quite is.”
“An Amazon bluestocking.”
“You are putting a bad slant on this. Last I saw her, all I could think about were her breasts, which were just about to my eye level.”
Thaddeus was short for a man, short and clever. Roman also knew he liked breasts since that is usually what he commented upon about women.
“So, the powers of Society don’t like Miss Holwell because she is a tall miner’s daughter who likes to read.”
“That is the gist of the matter. The families with sons her father would approve of her marrying believe they can do better than Miss Holwell. Or their sons are my height. So, she languishes on the Marriage Mart.”
Roman set his empty glass on the desk. “What of the others?”
“There is Miss Reverly. I believe she is the loveliest of the lot and the wealthiest. However, she is very petite, a mite of a woman.”
Roman shrugged. “I like petite women.”
“Don’t we all. But she is truly tiny. Perfectly formed but just barely five feet, perhaps an inch more, and fine boned. There are whispers amongst the mothers of eligible sons that she might not bear a child, and since for those families an heir is all important—as it is to you, my lord—well, Miss Reverly is not a first choice. Mind you, both of those young ladies would be snatched up by would-be husbands if their fathers would accept an offer from lesser titles or just decent gentlemen. Those like me who are called to the bar do not stand a chance. Reverly has made it clear he will not settle for anything less than a duke or a marquis for his daughter.”
“That leaves me out.”
“I thought I should at least mention her.”
“And you did. What of the third?”
“Ah, now she is the one I believe would interest you. Her father is with the East India Company. He is an officer in the Company, but from what I hear, not as clever and successful as his grandfather and father. His money comes from the family. He wishes his daughter to be married to an old and distinguished title because after generations of service to the Crown, the best his family could earn is a knighthood, and not one that could be passed down. Earl of Rochdale will meet his needs nicely.”
Roman shifted his weight. “I am not fond of nabobs.”
“You will be extremely fond of the daughter. There is something striking and different about Miss Charnock, whether the rumors are true about her heritage—”
“Charnock?” Carefully, Roman said, “What is her first name?”
“Leonie. Leonie Charnock—her great-grandfather was one of the most important men in India.”
Roman straightened, stunned to hear spoken aloud the name he’d struggled to eradicate from his conscious for the last six years. Leonie Charnock. Ah, yes, she was beautiful . . . and the person who had destroyed his military career.
“Is something the matter, Rochdale? You have the strangest expression. Have I said something wrong?”
Roman faced his godfather. Should he tell him? Roman had not spoken a word of the incident to anyone. He’d been bound by a code of honor, his own code and one that had nothing to do with matters as frivolous as bad gambling debts.
He decided to break a portion of his silence. It could not hurt.
“You have never asked why my military career stalled. Were you not curious?”
Thaddeus sat back in his chair. His gaze shifted away from Roman’s. “I would not pry. I knew from your letters you were disappointed.”
“Disappointed” was such an understatement; Roman gave a bitter laugh. “Leonie Charnock destroyed my career. If it hadn’t been for her, I would have been able to leave service in India. I would have found myself fighting Napoleon on the Peninsula and be a full colonel by now.”
Instead, his fellow officers had branded him a disgrace. He’d been ignored for promotions and sent on countless excursions to battle the Marathas and pirates, the most dangerous tasks no one else wanted. Every time they sent him out, Roman knew they did not expect him to return.
“Good heavens.” Thaddeus leaned toward him. “I was aware that something had happened. I know you, lad. I believed you were a better officer than the way you were treated.”
“If not for Rochdale’s death and no other male heir between us . . .” He let his voice drift off. Military service appeared romantic to those who had no idea of how cheap life was in battle, especially when one couldn’t trust the men behind him.
“You are damned fortunate.”
“And, of course, Miss Charnock is unsuitable for a wife for you—”
Roman held up a hand to stop him, a new thought striking him. “How rich is she?”
“She’s a ripe plum. Charnock has no other children. The houses, the business interests, they will all go to her husband.”
Roman pictured Leonie as she’d been when he had first seen her all those years ago—coltish, tawny golden, full of life. But there had been something sensual about her as well. Even at seventeen, she made a man think of rumpled sheets and morning romps. Her dark eyes seemed to have more knowledge than they should. The pout to her full lips begged to be kissed away . . . and her breasts . . . God, her breasts. It was all a man could do to not stare at them.
And because of all her “attributes,” he’d been the fool to fall on his own sword.
“What is holding her back from landing a husband?” He could think of one very strong reason, but considering the lengths her parents had taken to protect her, it would be ironic if all of Fashionable Society knew.
“She has an exotic look to her.”
Yes, Leonie didn’t look like the other English roses.
“Her eyes are so brown, almost to being black,” Thaddeus said.
Roman knew they weren’t black but had flecks of gold in them.
“And there is a refinement about her,” Thaddeus continued. “An air of elegance.”
Aye, that was true. But what did Thaddeus mean? “Is that a bad thing?”
“Oh, no, except her father doesn’t look a thing like her. He is a blustery sort and the mother is all yellow haired and creamy skin. Charnock dotes on his daughter—or at least claims he does. Her mother is a different story. Apparently, she and her husband are not close and she is not always . . . what to say?”
“That is the word. There are rumors she was that way in India.”
The rumors were true. Mrs. Charnock had loved to prey on the young officers, especially when they first arrived in Calcutta. She’d chased Roman, but once he’d met the daughter, he had not been interested in the mother’s games . . . even though Leonie had still been in the schoolroom, but allowed to attend the dances held amongst what passed for civilized society in the British colony.
“You are suggesting there are those who do not believe Charnock is Leonie’s father?” No one had believed it in Calcutta either.
Thaddeus appeared almost relieved to confess. “Yes. There are whispers. I don’t give them countenance. Then there is talk of a scandal. I heard a duel was fought over her—” Thaddeus broke off and then said as if putting pieces of information together, “You wouldn’t know about that, would you?”
Oh, yes, the duel.
“I shot a fellow lieutenant over Leonie Charnock.” The words were bitter in his mouth.
“You dueled, Roman? I thought you had more sense.”
There was a moment of silence.
Thaddeus uncorked the whisky decanter and poured himself another drink. This time, Roman accepted one.
“Miss Charnock almost married a duke last year,” his godfather said. “Baynton apparently had no qualms about her heritage or the rumors. However, the match fell through.”
by Cathy Maxwell / Historical Fiction / Romance have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes