The Serpent's Kiss
A turbulent white-hot entanglement! Madelynne Ellis always gives us delicious book hangovers with her sizzling historicals.Ainsley Booth & Sadie Haller, USA Today Bestselling authors of Prime Minister.
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Bella Rushdale has returned home still unwed having eloped with Viscount Marlinscar, and she's now engaged in a scandalous liaison with the Marquis of Pennerley. Remote Yorkshire society is outraged!
Something ought to be done.
Even the untrained observer can see there's something deliciously perplexing about the relationship between Bella and the two rascals responsible for her disgrace. As rumours of unnatural activities, forbidden pleasures and the inevitable repercussions abound, Bella vigorously resists her brother's attempts to strong-arm her into wedlock. But, all too soon everything gets out of hand, putting Bella at risk of losing far more than her reputation. Can three people whose lives and hearts are so inexorably bound forge a lasting bond? Or is their love as ill-fated as society would have them believe?
The Serpent's Kiss is a Regency-set historical romance with a high heat including M/F, M/M and M/M/F interactions. Those of a timid or nervous disposition are advised against indulging.
Don't miss any of the enthralling Scandalous Seductions series:
A GENTLEMAN'S WAGER | INDISCRETIONS | PHANTASMAGORIA | THREE TIMES THE SCANDAL | HER HUSBAND'S LOVER | THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST | THE SERPENT'S KISS
And look out for the equally enticing Forbidden Loves series by Madelynne Ellis:
THE KISSING BOUGH | PURE FOLLY
Release date: March 21, 2019
Publisher: Incantatrix Press
Print pages: 507
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The Serpent's Kiss
21st July, 1801, Yorkshire, England.
Oh, Lord! “Stop the carriage. I’m going to be sick!”
Miss Annabella Rushdale slid across the cushioned leather seat towards the door as Lord Pennerley’s carriage jerked to a decisive stop. It was not a moment too soon. Rather than await the aid of a footman, she flung open the door, and if the ground had been a little closer, she would have jumped. As it was, she buckled at the waist and promptly cast up her assets. In hindsight, neither tansy nor caudle had been wise choices when they’d stopped for nuncheon some hours back. The one left her mildly intoxicated and the other, contrary to her memory of it, tasted rather like warm, gargled phlegm.
Only dimly aware of the movement around her, Bella waited for her head to clear a little before opening her eyes. Both liveried footmen were now down from their respective perches and attending to the carriage steps. The taller of the two, Patrick she thought it was, offered her his assistance in descending onto terra firma, although after hours of being jogged about, it seemed almost as though the road jumped to meet her.
Devilish things, carriages—she’d never liked them. In times past, she’d always eschewed such ungodly modes of transport, preferring the feel of the wind in her hair as she rode, to being jerked and jostled inside a claustrophobic leather-lined box. And this particular example, despite its sumptuous fittings, was particularly airless and hot.
“How very considerate of you to miss the interior, Miss Rushdale.”
She turned in time to see Vaughan, the Marquis of Pennerley, descend the steps behind her. He looked eerily immaculate; his dark ringlets resting gently on his shoulders, and not a crease in sight on his black pantaloons or charcoal-grey coat despite the many miles they’d travelled. He’d spent most of them stretched across the rear-facing seat with his head supported by a mound of coloured squabs. She’d believed him asleep, except he’d stirred quickly enough at her prompt.
He fluttered a handkerchief before her nose, which she gratefully accepted. The linen smelled of his rosemary and bergamot pomade. “We’ll take the air awhile. And Patrick, fetch Miss Rushdale a drink instead of gawping.”
Now that the world was no longer rocking, and she had a lovely fresh breeze blowing in her face, Bella’s nausea quickly receded. She offered Vaughan a meek smile as he handed her a glass of Madeira brought to him by Patrick. It did nothing for her stomach, but the sweet, rich liquid did take away the horrid taste in her mouth.
“I think it’s the caudle I drank earlier.”
“Fool you for drinking such muck.” Vaughan had already expressed his distaste when she’d first requested the beverage, but the drink, like the land around them, was part of her welcome home. Three and a half years had passed since she’d last seen Yorkshire.
“Shall we?” Vaughan offered her his arm to lean on. He led her along the grassy verge away from the carriage and the team of chestnut horses. To their right, a ditch bordered the rolling country road, at the bottom of which a narrow brook tumbled over a bank of pebbles.
“Are we close?” she asked, quite certain they must be. They were high up on the rolling moorlands of England’s backbone, and now that she’d revived a little, she could taste the special quality in the air that told her she was almost home. She’d almost forgotten the smell in her time away—first in London, and then at Pennerley, Vaughan’s estate on the Welsh border—but she recalled it now, the miasma of ancient rock, grass, and earth, of iron-tainted water and heather and ferns. It was quite different to the scent of Shropshire with its glittering quartzite stones and huge hummock like hillsides. “We are,” she concluded, as the startling familiarity of the environs finally sunk in. “Why, that’s Grinton Church over there, and the river… That’s the Swale. We’re almost at Grinton Bridge. I had no idea we were so close.” She clapped her hands in delight, only for her brow to immediately furrow. She had not anticipated the view around her, because this was not where they were supposed to be. “We’re almost at Wyndfell,” she laughed in puzzlement. “I thought you said we were stopping at Middleham, but that must be miles back. Whatever are you up to, Vaughan?”
She did not anticipate a direct answer.
Vaughan idly swung his silver-topped cane. “Joshua was most insistent I return you home.”
“My brother did?” She had been unaware the two maintained any kind of correspondence.
“Honestly, Bella. You needn’t look so horrified. I thought you’d be pleased to see him. He is your only family.”
True. She was dearly looking forward to seeing her brother again, and all of her old haunts, and the people who had once been her whole world, even though it was unlikely they’d be nearly so eager to see her. One didn’t run off to London with a viscount and return, still unwed, on the arm of a marquis, without sustaining a few black marks against ones name. Quite likely, Joshua would be the first to remind her of that fact, though she prayed not in front of Vaughan. A marriage wasn’t on the cards. She couldn’t even properly lay claim to the title of mistress. There was no official accord between them, nor any sort of financial arrangement. She wasn’t even certain Vaughan liked her all that much.
For her part, the possibility of life without Vaughan was unfathomable. She was besotted in the worst possible way, for she knew he would never return her affection. Vaughan’s heart belonged to someone else. It always had, and it always would. Nothing she could ever do or say would change that.
“Is my brother expecting us?”
“Of course.” Vaughan graced her with a wan smile, which tweaked the edges of his sensual lips upwards but failed to ignite any sort of fire in his violet eyes.
And Lucerne? Is he aware of our proximity too?
She supposed he must be. Even if Joshua had not made him aware of the visit, he would be well acquainted with the arrangements for the christening. He would know that she was to be godmother to the little mite. It had been Louisa Wakefield’s dying wish, though Bella was hopelessly ill-suited to the role of moral guardian, unless to act as a warning of what not to do. At least the child would have two other godparents to deliver sensible guidance.
“If your head’s clear now, we might press on.”
Bella’s gaze drifted towards the flock of sheep dotting the hillside. “Another moment or two. I still feel giddy.” This second wave of stomach cramps wasn’t due to travel sickness, but anxiety. There wasn’t only her brother to face on the road ahead. Once they crossed Grinton Bridge, they’d climb again, pass through Reeth, and head high into the Pennines above Swaledale to reach Wyndfell Grange, but to get there they would first have to pass the gates of Lauwine Hall.
Eight months had passed since Lucerne walked out of their lives and severed the bonds that had once united them. The hurt remained as fresh as ever. And while she appreciated they might pass by the gates today unhindered, there would be no avoiding Lucerne indefinitely amidst such a small community.
Of course, rekindling his acquaintance with his dearest friend was Vaughan’s primary motivation in accompanying her to the christening of little Louisa Wakefield. It was certainly not out of any sense of duty or affection that he’d travelled over two hundred miles to watch the squalling babe have its head wetted.
“Did you wish to walk a while?” Vaughan offered, drawing her out of her thoughts. “I can have the carriage go ahead and meet us at the bridge.”
“You’re being awfully solicitous today.” A fact that made her wary. For certain, it implied that something was afoot.
Vaughan acknowledged the remark with a brief lowering of his eyelids. “I have to at least be seen to be taking good care of you.”
His remark surprised a smile from her. “You do take good care of me.”
He shook his head. “That, we both know, is an outrageous lie. I’m almost always vile to you.”
Bella waved the remark away. “If I didn’t care for your actions, I wouldn’t stay. After all, I’m not obligated to do so.”
“Yes. There’s no denying you’re an oddity.”
She smacked at his fingers, an act that in times past might have led to a tumble. Now he merely gazed at her, faintly amused.
Twenty or so minutes later, Vaughan drew the curtains across the carriage windows as they neared the entrance to Lauwine. Bella wasn’t fooled by the display, nor did she require any sort of visual clue to know the precise moment they tramped passed the great wrought-iron gates. Nearing four years was nothing compared to the twenty-three she’d spent living here. She could not pretend she didn’t know every curve in the road, or that part of her wanted to lean out of the window and find Lucerne waiting for them. Instead she bit her lip and looked at the floor until they were almost at Wyndfell Grange, and Vaughan opened the curtains again.
Things were about to become uncomfortable, she could sense it with every fibre of her body, but there was nothing to be done save to endure it. She would not turn tail and run from the clouds ahead, but would do her duty to her deceased friend.
Geese squabbled in the lane that led up to the house. The Dalmatians running alongside the carriage sent them waddling off in a panic. Wyndfell itself hadn’t changed a bit. It still perched at the top of the valley, a weathered grey refuge, surrounded on all sides by fields full of ling. The garden was neat, but lacking in variety, for only the hardiest plants survived the rains and winds. Still, it was home. Her old swing still hung from the ash tree to the left of the house as it had done since she was a very small child, and the juniper by the front door still encroached upon the threshold.
“It’s as if I never left.”
Even her brother, standing on the driveway, looked exactly as he had always done; hawk-like in his brown and buff clothing, with his brown hair and beady eyes. On second thought, his jawline was no longer quite so sharp, and he did appear to have expanded a little around the middle. The first signs of grey streaked the wings of his hair.
“Brother.” She curtseyed, holding his hand, which made him shake his head. When she stood again, he raked his gaze over her appearance. Her pelisse had been discarded inside the carriage in a feeble attempt to mitigate the early summer heat, and the wind nipped at her bare arms and tugged at the sheer muslin of her dress.
“Bella,” Joshua replied, after an insufferably long pause. “I was beginning to fear you wouldn’t arrive in time. I’ve been expecting you all week. What’s been the delay, or oughtn’t I to ask?” He shot a foul glance over her shoulder at Vaughan, who remained at the top of the carriage steps.
“Ill-maintained roads for the most part.” The journey north had been long, dull, and deeply unpleasant. It had not, as Joshua so clearly supposed, been relieved by numerous bawdy games, or in fact, any sort of sexual congress.
“Well, I guess you’re here now. I sent word over to Lauwine when I saw you coming up the lane.”
The boy would have run the direct route over the fields, which was why they had not passed him. “I expect Wakefield will be along presently. He wants to go over the details with you. I’m not sure what the fuss is. Plenty of bairns get christened every day.”
“But not his daughter.” Almost a year had passed, but the poor man was still mourning his wife, Bella’s one-time dearest friend. “I expect he simply wants to make sure everything adheres to Louisa’s wishes.”
Focussing on Wakefield’s plight meant she didn’t have to think about how the message detailing their arrival would be received by Lucerne. “Shall we go in? I should dearly like the opportunity to revive myself before he arrives.” She turned towards the house, and Joshua followed her to the door.
“I’ve put you in your old room. I thought that’s where you’d want to be.”
Joshua came to a halt. He wet his lips and looked at her. “The marquis isn’t staying here, Bella. I assumed you knew that and had said your goodbyes.”
No, actually. She hadn’t realised that.
Hellfire, she’d known there was something brewing.
Bella pivoted on the spot to find her trunk had been unpacked onto the gravel drive, but Vaughan still remained at the top of the carriage steps. At least his expression was one of boredom, rather than maliciousness. For once, perhaps he had not done this out of spite or to cause an upset, but rather to avoid one. That did not stop her words trilling out, “When were you going to tell me?” she demanded. “Were you even going to tell me? If you’re not to stay here, then where are you staying?”
Vaughan tilted his head a fraction. The tip of his tongue ticked against one eye-tooth. “I’ve rooms arranged at the Inn.”
“You mean in Reeth? Why would you choose to stay there? Why not here?”
“Bella.” He descended onto terra firma and rested one gloved hand against her bare arm. “You know perfectly well why. Don’t pretend otherwise, or at least, if you must argue, then do so with your brother. It does no harm to me to have folks know I’m bedding you.” He squeezed slightly. “I expect you and Mr. Rushdale have plenty to say to one another, and I will only get in the way. I’ll see you on the morrow. Should we need to discuss anything, we can do so then.”
He pressed a kiss to her knuckles, thus prompting her to hold onto her waspish remarks. Mr. Rushdale? Since when had they reverted to such formality? She’d feared this return to her childhood home would result in developments she didn’t care for, but not that she would be abandoned so soon.
She held tight to Vaughan’s hand, refusing to let go.
“We’ll see one another at the christening, Bella. I’m sure you’re overdue for a break from me, and they do say that distance makes the heart grow fonder.”
Yes, that was what she feared. Eight months had passed since he’d last set eyes on Lucerne. Their parting, for all it had been fuelled by anger, had been impassioned, and their reunion, she didn’t doubt, would be equally intense. To return to Reeth, Vaughan would have to drive past the gates of Lauwine again, and what was to stop him turning in instead of carrying on? She did not want the two men to meet, and especially not when she wasn’t there to witness what was said.
“Until the morrow then.”
She relinquished her hold, blinking hard to relieve the stinging of her eyes. She was not the sort of pretty miss who bawled over a brief farewell.
“Pennerley.” Joshua acknowledged Vaughan’s departure with a tilt of his head. “My thanks for the return of my sister.”
A darkling smile stretched across Vaughan’s lips, accompanied by a black glint in his eyes. “Oh, I’m not returning her, Rushdale. I’m not in the least bit done with her yet.”
The remark startled a squeak of laughter from her, and dampened some of her darkest thoughts. Still, she hated being unceremoniously deposited home like this. Joshua’s incredulous expression didn’t quite make up for the lump of anxiety embedded in her chest. She watched the handsome black and gold carriage roll away with a sense of foreboding and only turned towards the house once the carriage had become a minute dot on the horizon.
“Is this your doing?” she demanded of her brother. “Did you tell him he had to stay elsewhere? Why would you do that? You know what he is to me.”
“Aye, I know it.” Irritation dug deep furrows into Joshua’s brow, but still he extended a hand towards her. “Come inside, Bella. We can discuss it further in comfort.”
Her fists clenched. “I’m not altogether sure I want to come inside. What other nasty surprises do you intend to spring upon me? Do you intend to lock me up?”
“Bella—for all the good it would achieve. Lock you up, good heavens. The window sash would have to be nailed shut from the outside and iron bars installed, and even then, you’d no doubt climb the chimney and shimmy out onto the roof. Oh, do stop pouting and come in. Believe it or not, I am actually pleased to see you, and I prefer not to have such discussions out-of-doors.”
Pleased? He had a strange way of showing it. Only, of course, she was being unfair. He was welcoming her home. He hadn’t disowned her or disassociated himself from her despite the disgrace she’d brought the family name. Though what difference it made whether they quarrelled in the garden or the parlour she couldn’t fathom. The servants would hear regardless. Servants universally knew everything, and the gossip would spread hereabouts in no time. Not that she cared for the opinions of their neighbours. Still, she supposed they may as well sit in comfort. And the prospect of tea and pastries was appealing.
If the exterior of Wyndfell Grange hadn’t changed a bit, then the parlour had changed even less, unless it was to appear shabbier and ever more dulled with age. Soot stained the walls around the chimney breasts, and the cushions she’d badly embroidered as a girl were in dire need of a good beating. Likewise the heavy drapes that covered the bay window and her favourite seat of old.
Her former home looked as weary and brown as her brother. The years she’d been away had not been kind to either, it seemed. She supposed Joshua’s concerns had been focused upon the mine, and worrying over her behaviour—the latter being entirely unnecessary—and not on the state of the household. He needed a wife, that much was very clear, a topic she would tackle at some point during her stay, but right now, they needed to iron out the riddle of Vaughan’s departure.
“If you’ve driven him away… If he truly leaves—”
“If he meant to turn you out, he would not have gone to the effort of delivering you home. In any case, he made his intentions quite plain to anybody listening.” Joshua shook his head solemnly, gaze downcast towards the hearth. “If there’d been any doubt over the nature of your association, he’s spelled it out for everyone to hear.”
“Oh, do sit down, Bella.”
Joshua flopped into his favourite armchair.
Bella did not sit as instructed. Instead, she craned over the arm of her brother’s chair. “If everyone is aware of our relationship, then why pretend otherwise. Why send him to the inn? Folks are hardly likely to imagine he’s going to swive me right under your nose.”
Her brother made a distasteful clacking noise with his tongue. “I’d prefer nobody thought of him swiving you at all. Nor is it something I want to discuss with you. Please, Bella, curb your tongue. I know he’s a rakeshame, but that is no excuse for you to speak like one. And before you torture me with a continuation of your tirade, I did not send him anywhere. I expressed the opinion that it might be more appropriate if he were to reside elsewhere for the duration of the visit, but I did not force him to do so. I doubt very much that I could force Pennerley to do anything he didn’t wish to do.”
“You could have extended an invitation.”
“For what earthly reason would I extend such a courtesy to a man who hasn’t even the decency to make you his wife? You’re no common chit. You’re a gentleman’s daughter. You can’t honestly believe that this is what I wished for you. Or that Mama and Papa would have wished their only daughter to become the mistress of such a devil? I cannot think it’s even what you want for yourself?”
“He’s no devil, Joshua. And I love him.”
The admission only intensified her brother’s scowl. “What happened, Bella? You tore off with one man, a decent one I thought, and now you return on the arm of another. Years I’ve wasted, awaiting the promised letter announcing your betrothal to Lord Marlinscar. Imagine my surprise last November when he finally appeared on my doorstep, but instead of the conversation I hoped we were about to have, he informed me you’d parted ways, and there was no bloody sign of you.”
“We did part ways.” Though she didn’t see why Lucerne had thought it necessary to inform her brother of that fact. She’d written herself and informed him she was residing at Pennerley. “Things became complicated and uncomfortable between us.”
Joshua was only half-listening to her. He straightened himself up, so that his chin jutted out at an angle towards her. “Do you know what Marlinscar had the temerity to tell me when I enquired about your whereabouts?”
Bella glued her lips together and shook her head. She did not need to hear it. She could well imagine.
“That he’d asked you to come home with him, but you’d refused. That it pleased you to take up with Pennerley instead. What the devil are you doing, Annabella? I thought you damn near hated the man, but now, you apparently love him? Is this what you want out of life, to be one man’s mistress and then another’s? What happens when Pennerley tires of you? Will you find yourself another lord? Or maybe a tradesman, or a chimney sweep? You’re no young chit anymore to go fluttering your eyelashes and imagine it’s enough. Who is going to keep you when I’m gone?”
“Oh, stop it, please. You’ve no grounds to lecture me. You may criticise, but you’re hardly virtuous. How many times did you prick my maid while I still lived here? How often have you tupped her since, with no intention of making an honest woman of her?”
“I have… I have urges,” he blustered. “And it’s altogether different. You’re the daughter of a gentleman.”
“It’s not different. It’s the same, Joshua. It’s exactly the same. As to your question, there won’t be anyone else. I don’t know that Vaughan loves me now, or that he ever will, but that changes nothing. I don’t want anyone else.” She quietened, with her arms folded, but her toe still tapping angrily. “Also,” she sniped. “I have urges too, and Vaughan happens to satisfy them all. That wasn’t necessarily so with Lucerne.” She closed her eyes briefly and rallied her thoughts together. “I do hope you’re not cross with him. My decision was not his fault. He tried. He asked…”
“But you fancied you’d win a marquis instead of a mere viscount.”
“Do you honestly think a title matters to me? Oh, Joshua, nothing good would have come of it. It was not a choice I made to be difficult. Vaughan and I…” She shook her head. There was no easy means of explaining their relationship. She didn’t entirely understand it herself, only that to be without him was unthinkable, and that was why she’d turned Lucerne down. In the end, she’d known she would never be satisfied as Lucerne’s wife. They might have made a good go of it, but there would forever have been a part of both of them that craved what they’d abandoned. Lucerne might deny that Vaughan’s name was etched across his soul, but she knew the truth. Like her, a part of him would always be enslaved to Vaughan’s will.
“I hear that Pennerley and Marlinscar are no longer friends. Was that your doing?”
Bella sagged at the shoulders. She turned away from her brother and drifted from the fireside to the window seat. The intricacies of the relationship between the three of them were not easily unravelled, nor did she want to unpick them for her brother’s analysis. It was difficult enough to get it all straight in her own head. In any case, Joshua was, no doubt, already acquainted with all the bawdy rumours regarding the two men, and their relationship with her, and even if he dismissed it all as hearsay, he had to realise there was far more to this than a quarrel over which man’s bed she preferred to frequent.
A deep sense of weariness drove her down onto the cushioned window perch. As far back as the winter Vaughan’s thoughts had turned north to Lucerne. He wasn’t here to watch the blessing of Wakefield’s daughter. He’d come knowing that his presence would force a confrontation between himself and Lucerne. What the outcome of that would be was anyone’s guess. She couldn’t predict it. Hell, she feared most of the possibilities… perhaps all of them.
“Bella, whatever’s wrong?”
Joshua appeared right before her and turned the back of his hand to her brow. “You’ve gone quite pale.”
“It’s nothing. It has been a long journey that is all. You know how much I detest carriages. If you’re done reprimanding me now, please may we have some tea?”
As if the help had been loitering outside the door awaiting a cue, the maid bustled in carrying a tray of china and a freshly baked fruit loaf. Joshua poured. He had always been immensely practical. “I don’t wish us to row while you are here, but I do wish you’d show a little understanding of the situation you’ve put me in.” He passed her a cup of tea. “You must realise I’ve been roundly criticised for my handling of things. There are plenty hereabouts who believe I ought to have galloped straight after you when you first left, horsewhipped Marlinscar, and dragged you home by your hair. The only reason they’re not here expressing their outrage that I’ve allowed you back under my roof without renouncing your sins and swearing a vow of chastity is that they’re terrified your wickedness might be contagious. You know how the world works. So much as a whiff of scandal, and everyone is blessed with an opinion on how it could all have been handled properly.”
“I don’t care what they think.”
“Evidently. I, however, have to live among these people. They’re my neighbours. Do you think isolation in this place is what I wanted for myself? No decent woman will let me within twenty yards of her person, let alone allow me to court her. The Rushdale name is so soiled that even the Hayes sisters avoid me.”
“I should have thought that was a blessed relief.” She flashed him a quick smile, which Joshua surprisingly returned.
“Aye, well maybe there are a few benefits to my notoriety, but far more discomforts. I should like a companion to grow old with, and a flock of bairns to pass on my name and the mines to.”
Bella curled her hand over her brother’s. “I’m sorry. I ought to have made the connection.” She’d somehow assumed that he’d simply chosen not to wed, not that he’d failed to attract a wife because of her behaviour. Really, it was hardly fair to blame Joshua for that. “Perhaps it’s as well that Vaughan isn’t our guest. Although, knowing how fickle the locals are, his presence is just as likely to attract them as see them cowering behind their drapes. People do love a good scandal to give their tongues some exercise.”
“True enough. Though I pray he doesn’t cause any upset. Really, if you must associate with him, it would probably be best for all if you only remain here in Yorkshire a day or two. Attend the christening, keep your promise to Louisa, and then return to the hellhole you’ve been hiding in with him.”
“You mean his castle,” she said.
Joshua squinted at her, probably thinking her fanciful.
“He really does own one, and that’s where we’ve been cossetted, as you well know. Pennerley is the most extraordinary place. You would love it, Joshua. I just know you would.”
“Would I? Well, it’s not very likely that I’ll see it, for reasons that are too obvious to state. In a moment we’ll drop this matter, and set it aside until after Wakefield has made his visit, but I beg you before we do that you’ll promise me one thing. If Pennerley does offer for you, swear you’ll accept. I’ll not stand before another peer of the realm and hear him report my sister blithely dismissed his suit. It was hard enough to hear the once.”
Bella lowered her cup back to the saucer balanced upon her lap. “It’s irrelevant, as he won’t, but very well, should such a miracle occur, you have my promise that I’ll accept.” Vaughan was not inclined towards marriage. He had one true love in the world, and it was not her. However, if for some unfathomable reason his opinion changed, she would readily accept. Her heart would not trouble her over the prospect of marrying Vaughan as it had over the possibility of accepting Lucerne. If Lucerne had proposed in the early days of their acquaintance… Well, things would be different now. Though not, she was unreserved in admitting, necessarily better.
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