Fortune hunters and fools. Those are the gentlemen Fanny Rivers has endured since her husband's passing. Men who believe women too feeble-brained to manage a fortune, much less help it grow. So for her sister's upcoming wedding festivities, she's combined her business acumen with her habit of collecting strays—hiring an actor to play her besotted beau. And it's working marvelously. Too marvelously. Before long, her attraction to Jeremy makes it difficult to discern fact from fiction, and Fanny herself is in danger of falling for her own scheme.
Jeremy Dawes can scarcely believe his luck when Fanny Rivers agrees to be his patroness. Despite learning he's the latest in a long line of charity cases, he willingly takes on the most complicated role of his fledgling career—that of a proper gentleman. She'll never need know of his unsavory beginnings, though the closer they become, the more Jeremy wishes he could be what she deserves. It's only after a thrilling moment of intimacy—and a regrettable decision by Fanny—that Jeremy finds unexpected allies in the negotiation for his savvy lady's heart.
Saints and Sinners series:
Book 1: The Duke and I (Nicolas and Gillian)
Book 2: A Gentleman's Vow (Gideon and Jessica)
Book 3: An Earl of Her Own (Adam and Rebecca)
Book 4: The Lady Tamed (Jeremy and Fanny)
Release date: April 6, 2021
Publisher: Heather Boyd
Print pages: 270
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The Lady Tamed
Fanny Rivers fixed a diamond necklace about her throat and then dropped her hands to consider the effect in the mirror. The style was perfect for the gown she wore but perhaps not so for the coming gathering. “A little too much for a luncheon, I think.”
“Any would be my choice,” declared Mrs. Jessica Whitfield, Fanny’s younger sister.
“No.” Fanny removed the necklace and chose instead a long gold chain with a teardrop pearl hanging from it. She fastened the chain about her neck and settled the pearl between her breasts. She smiled. Perfection.
“Come on, Fanny. There’s got to be steam coming out of her ears by now,” Jessica warned with growing impatience from the doorway of Fanny’s old chambers at Stapleton Manor, her father’s home.
Fanny was visiting her father’s country estate for the second time this year, to attend the wedding of her younger sister. Her first visit had been for Jessica’s wedding to neighbor Gideon Whitfield in June. The second wedding would be for Rebecca’s marriage to Lord Rafferty a week from now—and that announcement had come as quite a shock.
“We’re not late, and besides, it doesn’t hurt to make the man Rebecca is marrying a little anxious for her whereabouts,” Fanny promised.
Jessica uttered a wicked chuckle. “He’s anxious for the wedding night.”
“And all the ones after, too,” Fanny promised and then laughed along with her sister. Rebecca and Adam, Earl of Rafferty, made an unlikely pair. But having come across them together in an unguarded moment Fanny should never have witnessed, she understood. Her sister had finally been swept up in a grand passion. “Have you ever seen a more smitten man?”
Jessica grinned. “Yes, my husband looks at me like that every morning.”
Gideon Whitfield, Jessica’s husband, at least tried to keep his passionate regard for his wife off his face at mealtimes. “And are we not all happy about his constancy. Rivers was much the same, too.”
“I hardly remember your late husband now,” Jessica admitted.
Fanny missed Rivers still, especially at family gatherings. “Well, he adored you. Thought you would grow up and break hearts.”
Jessica blushed a little.
Fanny, deciding she was as ready as she’d ever be, collected her shawl and reticule and swept toward the door. She did not dislike the institution of marriage. She had enjoyed a happy, if brief, one herself. But the urge to take the plunge a second time was not appealing. She had been left with a vast fortune when her husband had died. Fortune hunters had come out of the woodwork the day she’d cast her mourning aside. And that was five long years ago now. She had learned to do without a husband, if not a man in her bed from time to time.
She tweaked Jessica’s nose. “Are you ready?”
“An hour ago.”
“Come on, we’re very late,” Fanny murmured.
“You made us late,” Jessica grumbled as she darted out to wait for Fanny to secure her bedchamber door and pocket the key. There were many guests staying at Stapleton Manor for the wedding, and Fanny liked knowing her papers and possessions were always secure.
She strolled along the hall at an unhurried pace, despite Jessica’s attempt to hurry her along. At the top of the stairs, she paused to look down. Rebecca was standing at the foot of the stairs sixteen feet below, arms crossed under her breasts. “Good morning, sister,” Fanny called as she started down the grand mahogany staircase to meet her.
Rebecca punched her hands to her hips and glared. “I was about to leave without you.”
“You would not dare,” Fanny murmured soothingly. Rebecca and Jessica were matched in impatience today. “Not without your favorite sisters by your side.”
“My only sisters,” Rebecca shot back just as quickly. “Come on, Ava will think we’ve forgotten about the party.”
Ava was Lord Rafferty’s only daughter and quite excited to have a new mother soon.
“As if we could,” Jessica exclaimed. “I am very much looking forward to spending time at your future home. I’ve visited Gable Park so rarely.”
Rebecca hooked her arm through Jessica’s and strolled out the front door, nodding to the Stapleton butler as she passed. “Well, that will not be the case after I wed, I hope.”
“No,” Jessica promised.
“Of course, we will visit.” Now when Fanny came to the country, she’d have to extend her stays by almost two weeks in order to visit three homes instead of just her father’s.
Rebecca climbed into the carriage first with an audible huff and immediately started fiddling with the fit of her gown’s bodice, and not for the first time this week, either. Her clothes had apparently and suddenly become snug. Fanny observed her sister discreetly, seeking more confirmation that Rebecca might be in the family way before she embarrassed her by asking. Always highly strung, Rebecca had cast up her accounts that very morning though blamed it on nerves. If there was a babe coming, her marriage to Rafferty couldn’t come a moment too soon.
Jessica settled into the seat beside Fanny. “When can we expect to meet your beau?”
“He is not really my beau,” she reminded her youngest sister.
Rebecca huffed. “Fanny didn’t want Lord Letterford to think he stood a chance, so what does she do but hire a paid companion to come between them.”
“He’s an actor,” Fanny corrected. “And a very good actor.”
Rebecca’s nose wrinkled with distaste as she mouthed “actor” as if the profession was offensive. “An unknown. Could you not have found someone more believable? Someone feted and familiar with our circle would have been my preference.”
Fanny thought she’d been rather clever. She’d hired a talented man to pretend to be her most ardent admirer, and therefore, always by her side—between her and any fortune hunter’s intent on wooing her. Of course, no one would believe for a moment that she’d ever seriously consider a marriage to someone who trod the boards for a living, but they might believe she’d engage in a bit of scandal with one…therefore scaring off her most ardent suitors.
“I think it is a brilliant idea,” Jessica enthused. “Lord Letterford is always asking Giddy if he’s seen or heard that you would be visiting us soon. I don’t want him for a brother.”
Fanny shook her head. “My opinion of him hasn’t changed since I was a girl. If he proposes again, I will refuse again.”
“I think he must be very lonely,” Jessica suggested.
Fanny caught Rebecca’s eye. “Is there anything left for me to do for you before the wedding takes place?”
“I shouldn’t think so. We just need the last guests to arrive,” Rebecca replied with a heavy sigh. “Most have come, but there are a few stragglers. Your beau, for example, since you insist he be placed beside you at nearly every meal.”
Fanny inclined her head. “Mr. Dawes arrives today.”
Complete with a new wardrobe Fanny had paid for to make his presence among the wedding guests less of a talking point. The young man she’d singled out for her patronage would make a perfect companion for all the dinners and balls and such amusements that had been arranged to celebrate the marriage of Rebecca and Lord Rafferty. Father had been adamant that no expense be spared—most likely because he’d been allowed to do so little for Rebecca’s first celebration.
The trip from Stapleton to Lord Rafferty’s home, Gable Park, lasted a good long while, and Fanny talked with her sisters about everything and nothing, the way they had as girls.
By the time they reached the mansion, Fanny was feeling the need to speak with other people. Her sisters took too much of an interest in her unmarried state, and she was feeling the pressure to conform.
Thankfully, Lord Rafferty and his daughter were waiting for their arrival. The pair swept open the carriage door and hustled the blushing bride-to-be out. They exchanged greetings and then Rafferty drew Rebecca aside. When she heard kissing behind her, Fanny didn’t bother to turn and chide the pair for their behavior. They were always locked at the lips of late, as they should be in her opinion.
Fanny caught Jessica’s eye. “We had better find our own way inside without them.”
They entered a large hall arm in arm and were directed toward the drawing room, where guests were milling about talking in small groups. The Duchess of Stapleton, Gillian, was on the far side of the room talking with a couple Fanny didn’t immediately recognize.
She turned to Jessica. “How about we take a turn about the room?”
But Jessica had caught sight of her husband standing across the room, and her face lit up with love. “Would you excuse me?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No.” Jessica kissed her cheek, then abandoned Fanny with a laugh, meeting Gideon Whitfield halfway across the room. They didn’t kiss, but it was clear they were thinking about it, given how they smiled at each other’s lips.
Fanny felt a tiny pang of envy.
“Ah, young love. Isn’t it wonderful?”
Fanny winced inwardly and then turned to face the man she’d most hoped to avoid today. “Lord Letterford.”
He rubbed his hands together. “Now it really is a celebration. But her grace was just telling me that your father will not be joining us today. Surely that cannot be true.”
“Yes, I’m afraid it is,” she promised, eying the crowd in the hope of rescue.
Letterford drew closer. “Nothing seriously wrong, I trust.”
“No.” Fanny waved her hand about, discreetly shifting her body farther away from his. “A matter on the estate required his attention, I believe.”
Letterford sighed. “I’m glad to hear it, for it wouldn’t do to have two estates in distress.”
Fanny frowned at him. “What other estate is in distress?”
“All is not well with Hawthorne, I hear,” Letterford whispered.
Fanny hadn’t heard a word of it from anyone at home. “I’m sure that is not true.”
“I hope you are right,” Letterford said. “But my servants say otherwise. Bad health might yet take one of our dearest neighbors.”
Servants often knew there was trouble before anyone else. She would have to squeeze in a visit to the Hawthornes’ tomorrow, confirm all was well, and put an end to any rumors.
Jessica and Gideon strolled past, arm in arm, and Fanny frowned when they disappeared outside together.
“Now, don’t begrudge the pair their happiness,” Letterford murmured. “You and I know love is all too fleeting. Let her have this happy time, for we both know it ends all too soon.”
Unfortunately, that was true.
Letterford offered his arm, and Fanny, seeing no chance of diversion, resigned herself to being stuck with him for a while. Rebecca, Rafferty, and Ava hurried past, laughing together, and Fanny wished she might follow, but Letterford was as slow as an ancient drake. “I never thought there was a man brave enough to take on Mrs. Warner and smile about it.”
“He knows her nature very well.”
“Yes, practically grown up together,” Letterford said.
“Hardly that,” Fanny chided. “But he has been a regular visitor to Stapleton and my father for some years, like yourself. I’m sure he’s well prepared to make a second match.”
Rafferty would be her father’s second friend to end up married to one of his daughters, too. Fanny vowed not to be the third to fall foul of that dangerous trend.
Fanny wished she’d arranged for Mr. Dawes to travel with her instead of waiting for his new wardrobe to be delivered to him. She’d not known the extent of the wedding festivities until after her arrival. “Lady Rivers, I wonder if I might consult you on a matter of grave importance to me.”
Please do not propose to me for a second time, I beg of you!
Fanny winced but then out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Gillian, Duchess of Stapleton, watching her and Letterford talking. Gillian beckoned Fanny to join her, and it appeared to Fanny imperative that she go. “Forgive me but it seems I am being summoned by the duchess. Would you excuse me?”
Lord Letterford’s shoulders sagged. “Of course, perhaps we might talk again later.”
Not if I can help it. Fanny smiled politely. “I look forward to it.”
But she fully intended to go out of her way to avoid the earl for the rest of the day so he could not finish asking a question that he’d only receive a negative answer to. She would not marry Letterford to cheer him up, restore his fortunes, or fund any improvements to his estate or back an unwise investment.
Fanny caught up her friend and new mama’s outstretched hands and held them. “What is wrong,” she murmured.
“The babe is kicking again, and I’m in danger of laughing out loud.” Gillian squeezed her fingers. “Lord Thwaite’s eyes kept dipping to my stomach as the babe moved. He seemed horrified and kept asking if I needed a chair. Do children not know there’s a time and place for this sort of thing?”
“Apparently not.” Fanny looked down at Gillian’s stomach. “Quiet, infant. Your mother is supposed to be composed and regal today.”
Gillian sighed after a minute. “At last. Peace and stillness. You wield the voice of authority so well. Your father’s presence has the same affect.”
“I am the eldest.”
“When your brother Samuel arrived and spoke to me, I had to quickly seat myself. Obviously, the child is looking forward to meeting his stepbrother a little too much.”
Fanny laughed. “Poor darling. Not long now.”
“Oh, I do hope so.”
Jessica suddenly stopped in front of them. “You need to go to Rebecca, Fanny. She’s in the dining room on the verge of…well, you know how she can be.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Fanny promised.
She left Gillian and found Rebecca and a harassed-looking pair of maids stammering out repeated apologies. Fanny closed the doors behind her and raised her voice a little. “Mrs. Warner?”
Rebecca spun about, eyes wild. “Do you see this?”
“What has overset you?”
“The flowers. Can you not see? They just get taller and taller. It’s ruined the whole effect.”
Fanny glanced about the room. Rebecca was something of a perfectionist and obviously determined that the wedding be nothing short of spectacular. The flowers were cut much too tall for a seated dinner party. Not quite a disaster, but clearly Rebecca saw it that way.
Fanny sighed, took up her sister’s hands and held them tightly. “I’ll take care of it.”
Rebecca sagged. “Would you?”
“Happy to help. I can handle a pair of shears.” She steered her sister toward the door. “Now go back to the guests and that ridiculous man you love, and for heaven’s sake, stop worrying. Enjoy yourself.”
There’d be a pre-wedding dinner and a pre-wedding party as well, but each occasion would be unique. Today was merely a rehearsal for married life.
“What would I do without you.”
“Pray you never have to find out,” Fanny joked, pushing Rebecca out the door and closing it in her face.
Fanny turned to the maids and shrugged. “You’d never guess she’s been married before. Please forgive her. She wants so much to make everything perfect for Lord Rafferty.”
The pair nodded. “We understand, my lady. To be honest, we were afraid she’d burst into tears.”
“Well, let’s not have that. Now, we will each need a pair of shears. Quickly now.”
One raced off, and the other followed Fanny to a nearby vase as she studied the arrangements. “There really are just too many vases.”
One maid winced. “Lord Rafferty kept saying he wanted lots of Mrs. Warner’s favorite flowers, my lady.”
“Oh, dear. I’m sure he meant well but…well, let’s keep a few of the taller ones intact for his sake, but place them over there on the mantle above the hearth and another few about the permitter of the room on the other furniture. Then we must shorten the table arrangements.”
Working together, they found a better height and carefully trimmed all the table arrangements so that everyone would be able to see each other. It took about half an hour, and by the time they were finished, Fanny vowed never to cut another flower stem again.
She thanked the maids on her sister’s behalf and discreetly rejoined the party. Rebecca was standing across the room, hanging on to her betrothed’s arm. Fanny caught her eye and gave her a quick and hopefully reassuring smile that all was well.
Lord Letterford was suddenly at Fanny’s side. “Do you have a moment now, Lady Rivers?”
A footman announced the luncheon.
Fanny stood aside with him as Rebecca adroitly maneuvered her future husband and guests toward the dining room. “Not really at this moment.”
Letterford remained by her elbow as other guests sauntered past. “I understand from the duke that your visit to the country will be a short one again.”
“Yes, I am due back in London the week after next,” she confirmed. “I hope to spend a lot of time with my family.”
“A pity, for I had hoped for a chance to see more of you.”
She smiled. “I’m afraid that will not be possible. Do excuse me again, but I must find my seat for the luncheon.”
Lord Letterford beamed, throwing out his chest. “I have the happy honor of sitting by your side today.”
Fanny was taken aback. Rebecca had promised she’d not be placed beside Lord Letterford for any event.
Letterford smiled. “Rafferty obliged me and switched my place as a favor.”
“Is that so,” Fanny said, dying a little inside at the thought of being trapped with a man she had so little in common with.
But there was nothing she could do but make the best of it and hope he didn’t propose in front of so many witnesses.
She couldn’t wait for tomorrow, when she would have Mr. Dawes by her side again. He would not be bribed or tricked into leaving her side for any reason. There were compensations to being a widow with vast resources at her disposal. Loyalty could be bought.
“How lucky for me,” she managed to force out as they took their seats.
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