The Viscount's Bride
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He Was A Formidable Adversary. . .
A devoted champion for the less fortunate, Hannah Whitmore passionately pursues improvement of the dangerous working conditions in the textile mills--especially for the children. She is stunned, then outraged, when a handsome new laborer turns out to be a gentleman in disguise, an heir to a local mill testing the mood of the workers. Yet their heated debates cannot conceal the fierce attraction they share. . .
. . .But Love Always Finds A Way
Theo Ruskin, Viscount Amesbury, is caught in the middle of a dangerous controversy-- accused of sedition by his peers and threatened by agitators for reform. Struck by Hannah's fiery courage and certain she is treading dangerous waters, he becomes her champion--a move that finds them both with enemies who plot their ruin. Forced into a compromising position, they must marry. And though each yearns to speak words of love, they have yet to realize that adversaries need not be enemies. . .especially in affairs of the heart.
Release date: August 1, 2013
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 320
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The Viscount's Bride
The Duke and Duchess of Rollente were hosting the ball following an important civic event. Hannah knew she would enjoy the afternoon’s ceremony of the dedication of a new bridge over the Thames. She admired the architecture and engineering skills that had gone into this new transportation marvel. She also heartily approved of having it named for the Battle of Waterloo. The name seemed a fitting honor for the men who had been lost in that costly victory. In part, Hannah wanted to attend the bridge dedication out of a sense of duty—attending would be a small way of expressing gratitude to those who had paid for victory with courage and blood.
An air of celebration always imbued such affairs. There would be a military band and grand speeches, as well as enterprising tradesmen to offer souvenirs, drinks, and food from various kiosks and carts. She anticipated an atmosphere like the country fairs she often attended at home. Hannah loved events that brought people of all walks of life together in a common purpose.
However, the Rollente ball was another matter entirely. The Duchess of Rollente was said to be a high stickler and very aware of her position as one of society’s leading arbiters of who was who in the ton.
“Are you absolutely sure I must attend this ball?” Hannah asked yet again at breakfast one morning a good two weeks before the event.
Claudia, Baroness Folkeston, laughed. “Yes. For the tenth time—or is it the twentieth?—I am quite sure. You are turning into a true recluse, Hannah—and I will not have it! Besides, how else are you to meet an eligible gentleman? You cannot find a husband stuck away as you are in Derbyshire.”
Hannah smiled in genuine amusement at her friend’s stubbornness. “My dear Claudia. You never give up, do you? At six and twenty, I am quite beyond the stage of husband-hunting. Surely, you remember what a disaster my two seasons were. Two. Both failures.”
Claudia’s blond curls bounced as she shook her head. “You were not ready, that was all. And that aunt of yours managed to dress you like a veritable frump. Then, she kept harping at you so about the behavior expected of a vicar’s daughter that you were afraid even to smile!”
“I was rather green and gauche, but it was not all Aunt Hermione’s doing. She did her best and I was most grateful to her. I still am.”
“Well, that feeling is all that is proper.” Claudia reached for another muffin, then clearly thought better of it, and took another sip of coffee instead. “But that is all in the past—and you are still unwed. We simply must remedy that situation.”
Hannah laughed at her persistence. “Has it not occurred to you that—contrary to what the gossips might make of it—I am quite satisfied with my life as it is?”
“Oh, Hannah—how could you be?” Claudia’s usual optimistic gaiety gave way to earnest sincerity. “People are meant to go through life as couples—not as singles. Do you not want children?”
Moved by her friend’s genuine concern, Hannah reached to touch Claudia’s hand. “You must not worry about me. Try to understand that not everyone follows the same path through life. I am very happy for you and Folkeston. But this is not the journey Providence has planned for me.”
“What about children? I know how much you love mine.”
“I have the children of my school.”
Claudia waved her hand dismissively. “Other people’s children—and some of them mill children who may or may not benefit from your efforts on their behalf.”
“They benefit,” Hannah said firmly. “Any amount of education for them is better than none.”
“Are you sure? Does it not concern you that you may make them discontented with their station in life?”
“That is certainly the view of many mill owners,” Hannah said dryly. “But my students should be discontented. They should strive to better themselves.”
Claudia sighed. “I did not mean to get you off on that again. Come now—what gown will you wear to the Rollente ball?”
“My lavender is suitable, I think.”
“We have time to have new ones made up,” Claudia suggested.
“Do you know how many books for my school I could purchase for what the mantua-maker charges for one gown?”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Claudia responded. “Let me buy you the gown.”
“No. Absolutely not. I shall wear the lavender, and if it is not good enough...” Hannah knew she sounded inordinately stubborn.
“Oh, all right. I take that as your agreement that you will go.”
Hannah nodded and changed the subject, glad to have Claudia distracted, however temporarily, from one of her favorite topics—Hannah’s state of singleness.
Hannah loved Claudia dearly. They had been friends since their days at Miss Strempleton’s School for Young Ladies. Now, Hannah customarily spent a month-long holiday each year with the Folkestons. Usually, the visit took place late in the summer at Folkeston Manor in the country, but this year, Claudia had insisted Hannah join them in town.
It had been a pleasant visit, despite Claudia’s determined efforts to play matchmaker. Hannah had enjoyed seeing the sights of London again—one never tired of the city even if some of her citizens were less than fascinating. However, she hated the pretentiousness, the hypocrisy of much of the “social scene.” Remembering all too well the tears and soul-wrenching pain she had suffered during her two seasons, she could not put aside her reservations about this ball. She admitted, if only to herself, that her reluctance to throw herself into such affairs came partly from cowardice. Perhaps there was a bit of hypocrisy on her part, for Miss Whitmore simply had not “taken” during her two seasons. Now, she was content to enjoy from the sidelines the musicales and an occasional rout. She had especially enjoyed trips to museums and the theater during this visit. But if this ball was so very important to Claudia, surely Hannah could exert herself to please her friend.
Theo Ruskin—Theocritus Euripides Ruskin—the Viscount Amesbury, and, until recently, a major in His Majesty’s Army, strolled into the lounge of the very superior gentleman’s club known as White’s. He did so with as much aplomb as his slight limp and slightly outdated evening attire allowed him. Nothing has changed in three years, he thought. The same deep leather chairs, the same hum of voices, the same odor of cigar smoke, and the same clink of glassware.
Theo had fully expected to encounter two or three men with whom he was acquainted in this establishment. He had not expected to discover three of his dearest friends the moment he walked in. Trevor Jeffries, Samuel Jenkins, and David Moore were seated comfortably in a corner near a window. Judging by the level of liquid in a decanter near them, the three veterans of the wars with Napoleon had been there for some time. Trevor noticed the newcomer first.
“Theo! Are my eyes deceiving me? Is that really the intrepid major?” He waved Theo over.
Theo crossed the room, uncomfortably aware that Trevor’s loud summons had brought every eye in the room to focus on his entrance.
“So!” Moore sounded a shade too hearty. “You’ve returned safe and sound.”
“Safe, anyway,” Theo said as he shook hands with each of them and awkwardly took a seat.
“Jenkins here told me you caught a French bullet at Quatre Bras,” Trevor said. “So what kept you across the channel? Good God, man, Waterloo was nearly two years ago!”
“Wellington asked me to stay on with the Army of Occupation,” Theo stated simply.
The three nodded and Theo knew they understood fully. None of them would have refused the duke’s request either.
“Despite your injury?” Trevor asked.
“The wound healed quickly enough. I still have the limp—always will—but as you well know, we officers spend most of our time in the saddle. It was not a serious problem.” A problem, yes, but not a serious one, he thought.
“I wager that will curb your forays onto the dance floor,” Jenkins said sympathetically as he handed Theo a glass of port.
“Don’t wager too much,” Theo warned. “I still manage a passable waltz.”
Trevor raised his glass. “Here’s to your return.”
“And to absent friends,” Theo said.
“Hear! Hear!” the others responded and they all drank deeply.
“What are your plans?” Trevor asked.
“Plans? I have no plans,” Theo said emphatically. “And believe me, that is just the way I want it.”
Theo saw the three exchange puzzled, somewhat embarrassed looks.
Moore spoke with a longtime friend’s teasing bravado. “Is this the conquering hero who came home from the Peninsula ready to take on the English world?”
“No. This is the would-be soldier who lost over a hundred men at Waterloo. That conquering hero nonsense is for schoolboys.” Theo was aware that his voice was harsher than he intended. “Over a hundred good men,” he added in a softer tone.
Jenkins raised a hand to signal a halt. “Hey! Moore and I were there, too—remember? It was not your fault. The order came down—we all followed it.”
“But we—I—should have countered it or ... or something.”
“Come on, Major. We all know what the chaos of a battle is like,” Jenkins argued.
“Not to mention the consequences of disobeying orders,” Moore said in a rueful tone that silenced them. Theo knew the others, too, remembered watching painfully as Moore was flogged in Spain for just such a dereliction—despite the fact that officers, even very junior officers, were rarely subjected to such punishment. They also remembered tending to his wounded back afterwards.
“Well, it is over now.” Trevor refilled the glasses. “And I, for one, am very happy all three of you survived.”
Trevor Jeffries, had served in the Peninsula, but a growing horse breeding business and other family interests had kept him—reluctantly—out of Napoleon’s final debacle two years ago.
“Theo, if you’ve no plans,” the darkly handsome Moore said in a tone of clearly changing the subject, “you must join me in upholding the dignity and grandeur of the state of single men. Trevor, as you know, has long been a lost cause, and Jenkins here joined his ranks six months ago.”
Theo looked at the redheaded, freckle-faced Jenkins, who was blushing. “You got yourself leg-shackled?”
“That I did,” Jenkins said. “And I have to say ’tis a very happy state indeed.”
“Actually,” Moore offered in a tone of mocking mournfulness, “our friend here is as moonstruck as Trevor still is.”
“Congratulations!” Theo said to Jenkins. Then he turned to Moore. “However, despite pressures to the contrary, I believe I’ll wait to join their ranks.”
Moore grinned widely. “Excellent!”
Theo gestured to a group of three younger men who stood near the fireplace at the other end of the room. “I may even join that lot.” The three were dressed in the first stare of fashion with high shirt points, intricately tied cravats, and ostentatious waistcoats. They occasionally drew attention to themselves with a loud guffaw or a showy display of taking snuff.
Theo’s group observed them silently for a moment, then Trevor said, “Uh ... I don’t see you joining that set quite yet...”
“Still,” Jenkins said, “dashing hero like you. Heir to an earldom—every ambitious mama in the realm will have her eye on you.”
Trevor set his glass down. “You should cut quite a swath through the field of beauties in the marriage mart.”
Theo groaned. “Not you, too. My mother is already planning to parade a gaggle of females before me—and I’ve not yet been home a week!”
They commiserated insincerely with each other over the mysterious ways of women. As he joined their banter, Theo thought how grateful he was for these friends—and grateful, too, that, indeed, they had all four survived excruciating hardships. He also marveled at how quickly—despite prolonged absence from each other—they had fallen into the easy camaraderie that had marked their adventures as soldiers.
During a lull in their conversation, Theo and his companions became aware of a heated discussion in another section of the room. There were five men in the group: one appeared to be an octogenarian; two were in their mid-fifties; and two were younger—Theo judged mid-thirties or so.
One of the younger ones was saying, “Sidmouth is simply going too far. The man sees revolution writ large with the merest whisper of desire for change.”
“And with good reason!” one of the middle-aged men said in an authoritative tone. “Just look what happened in France—that should show you what peasant demands can lead to. Chaos and regicide—is that what you would have here?”
“No, of course not,” the first speaker insisted, “but we are likely to see chaos here, too, if the government continues to act in a repressive manner.”
“In my day,” the oldest member of the group said in a querulous voice, “we knew how to deal with revolutionaries.”
“In your day,” one of the younger men said flatly, “we lost the American colonies!”
The old man merely grunted in reply to this.
“What is that all about?” Theo asked of his own group.
“The old man is Lord Parkington,” Jenkins said. “The others are Stremple, Marchand, and one of the younger ones is Wilkes. I think the other one is Ferguson.”
Moore twisted in his seat to look. “Yes, it is.”
“All three of the older fellows are members of Parliament,” Trevor explained. “Parkington is one of those Toriest of Tories.”
“So what is the fuss about?” Theo persisted.
Moore shrugged. “Who knows? Catholic emancipation, perhaps. Or, could be another bill against sedition and rioting.”
“Welcome to a new kind of battlefield, Major,” Jenkins said.
“Oh, no. I am having none of this,” Theo said. “I intend to hunt and fish. Attend a few lectures, go to the theater. And dazzle the ladies at frivolous social affairs. No more battles for me.”
Their little party broke up soon afterwards with Trevor and Jenkins going home to their wives and Moore off to an appointment with his current mistress. Theo drifted into the card room and played a few hands of whist before tossing down his cards and going home—more bored than he cared to admit, even to himself.
With luck, though, he might have drunk enough to keep the nightmares at bay.
Luck was not with him.
The dream had minor variations, but it was essentially the same, night after night.
He lay on a battlefield, pinned beneath his dead horse. What had been a rain-drenched field of waving grain was now a pool of mud and blood. Death and carnage were all around him.
He twisted his head in an effort to get a clearer view. In doing so, his gaze locked with the death stare of the youngest soldier in his regiment, a boy of thirteen years. Theo could not wrench his eyes from that astonished look.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
He was cold and could not feel his legs. The horse’s body was positioned so that breathing was difficult. He felt he was suffocating. Every breath brought pain. Then, suddenly, he felt a sense of release, of peacefulness, and he was floating high above the scene of death and devastation.
He did not want to look down. He struggled against doing so. He knew what he would see. He had seen it nearly every night for months now. Some power greater than himself forced him to look. It always forced him to look.
The dead lay sprawled where they had fallen. They stared vacantly at him—accusing him. Sergeant Cooper. Private Davies. Lieutenant Henderson. Miller. Edison. Morgan. Stevens. And many, many others. He could name them all. He did name them all. Over and over, he recounted their names.
Then there were voices.
“Why, Major? ”
“You shoulda done somethin’, sir.”
“’Tis all your fault.”
“You killed my friend.”
“You—you—killed them all.”
A warm hand was shaking his shoulder.
“My lord. Wake up! You are dreaming again.”
His eyes flew open. Burton.
He raised himself on one elbow and wiped a hand across his face. He felt the dampness of cold sweat. “Thank you, Burton. I . . .”
“The same dream, sir?”
“The same.” He sank back, suppressing a shudder. “Go back to bed, Burton. I’ll be all right now.”
“Are you sure? I don’t mind sitting with you.”
“It usually comes only once a night. I’m fine. Go back to your bed.”
“As you wish, my lord.”
Burton returned to his bed in the dressing room adjacent to Theo’s bedchamber. Both he and the viscount were aware that it was unusual for the valet not to have a bed in the servants’ quarters, but both agreed that there was no sense in waking the whole household with these events.
Theo had told the truth—the dream usually did come only once a night. But he was not “fine.” He sometimes wondered if he would be ever again. He would sleep no more this night. He rose, lit the lamp near his bed, and picked up a magazine, The London Review. Surely something here would numb his brain.
Some writer calling himself “Gadfly” was carrying on about inequities in Parliamentary representation. That ought to serve as a proper inducement to sleep, Theo thought. However, he found himself caught up in the writer’s argument that the nation’s legislative body was far from representative of the people it was supposed to serve.
Interesting, he thought, but nothing to do with me.
In the next few days Theo prepared for the life he had described to his companions at White’s. His years of army experience—over a decade—forced him to view his foray into society much as he would have viewed a military campaign. First, one reconnoitered the territory, observed the situation, and planned strategy. Only then could one take action.
His first step was to outfit himself in a new “uniform”—attire befitting the heir to a wealthy earl. He opted for less ostentatious garb than he had jokingly threatened, but there was no denying that he was now costumed for the part of his new station in life.
“You are looking quite handsome, my son,” his mother commented in the drawing room before dinner one evening. Theo was wearing a fine new jacket that had been delivered just that day.
“Why, thank you, Mother.”
“Do you not agree, Edward?” The Countess of Glosson addressed her husband, who was busy at a sideboard preparing drinks.
The earl turned to hand each of them a glass of sherry. “Of course, my dear. After all, I married you to have beautiful children and you did not disappoint me.”
“Really?” Her tone was mock surprise. “And all these years I have labored under the mistaken notion that you married me for my dowry.”
“Well, there was that,” the earl said. “Second sons are often forced to seek out rich heiresses. I was merely extremely lucky in the one I caught.”
Theo sat sipping the sherry and only half-listening to his parents’ banter. Everyone knew the Honorable Edward Ruskin, whose looks and status would have recommended him to an heiress of substantial means, had, instead, married a woman of good, but by no means rich, family. It had been a love match—and the love had not diminished with passing years.
The countess addressed her husband in a more serious tone. “So—tell us what went on at Westminster today, darling. What is Parliament up to now?”
“A great deal of talk—as usual,” the earl replied. “The Irish—or perhaps it is the Chinese—have a curse. ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Let us merely say we live in very interesting times.”
“Surely things cannot be that bad,” his wife replied.
“They may be,” he said grimly. “But come—we’ve more pleasant things to talk about and Morton is hovering at the door, trying to announce dinner—eh, Morton?”
“Yes, my lord,” the butler said.
Theo was glad to see the large dining table was laid for a leisurely meal with three places at one end. The conversation centered first on family concerns—the countess had attended her daughter’s latest lying-in and she oozed grandmotherly pride over the new addition. Then the talk turned to the earl’s favorite topic—one shared by his wife and son—classical Greek literature.
“You have, of course, read that poem by Mr. Keats honoring the Chapman translations of Homer?” his mother asked Theo.
“Only recently,” Theo admitted.
His father gave a derisive snort. “Hmphf! Misplaced accolades, if you ask me.”
“Your father is a purist,” the countess said. “He objects to what he calls Chapman’s ‘embellishments’ of Homer, but I personally do not find them so very offensive.”
Theo relished this discussion. Although his scholarship was inferior to his father’s, Theo was well-schooled in the subject. With a name like Theocritus Euripides, he had felt he had little choice in that matter. He remembered complaining bitterly about his father’s saddling him with a name certain to be the cause of schoolboy taunts.
“’Tis a wonderful name,” his father insisted. “A great philosopher and one of the world’s finest dramatists.”
Later, his mother explained, “I think your father gave you that name to please me.”
“To please you?” Theo had asked accusingly.
“Yes. I admired Theocritus, and when you were born I had just reread the plays of Euripides and loved them anew. Both men provide very positive views of women and the power of romantic love.”
The child Theo had responded somewhat resentfully. “But he gave Francis a perfectly ordinary name—Francis Fitzwilliam.”
“Francis is your father’s heir,” his mother had replied. “We were too young to give our imaginations free rein when he was born. We did what we wanted with you and your sister. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Cassandra, the doomed princess of Troy.”
The adult Theo had long ago accepted the name. Not since he was twelve had he resorted to fisticuffs over it. Indeed, he had been “Ruskin” and then “Major Ruskin” for a good many years—and “Theo” to his friends. In recent months, since his brother’s death, he had, often as not, been simply addressed by his title, “Amesbury.”
As the three of them left the dining room together, the countess linked her arm with her son’s. “I am so glad to have you home at last!”
Theo chuckled and put his hand over hers. “Yes, Mother. You have managed to make that point daily now.”
“Losing Francis was very hard on us—both of us.” She glanced at her husband and then back to her son. “I hated your having to get that news in France—alone, with no family near.”
“It was pretty shattering news, I must admit,” Theo said, “but the routine of duties with the regiment helped.”
“I suppose we all cope with such changes—such losses—in our own ways,” she said. “Your father has virtually buried himself in Parliamentary matters. Cassandra, of course, is busy with her children.”
“And you?” Theo asked gently.
“I have taken up music—again,” she said brightly. “Francis always loved music so—and it makes me feel closer to him.”
“She has been taking lessons on the harp,” the earl put in. “And even with my poor ear for music, I can tell she has become very proficient.”
“Good for you, Mother.”
“It helped that I had had some experience with the harp previously.”
“You must play for me,” Theo said.
“I will. But not tonight.”
They had taken seats in the drawing room again. Soon, Morton brought in a tea tray. As the countess busied herself pouring, Theo quietly savored this time with two of his favorite people.
“Now that you have a proper wardrobe,” the countess said, having handed the men their cups and sipped at her own, “we must see to your being properly introduced—or reintroduced—to society.”
“Introduced is the correct word,” Theo said. “That brief period between Boney’s original exile and his escape from Elba did not afford me much exposure to the ton.”
“Good. Then you are not averse to taking your proper place in society,” she said.
“Whatever that may be.” Theo’s tone was guarded. “We have discussed this before, Mother—and let me tell you again that I will not be offered up on the auction block of the marriage mart! I am simply not ready for that.”
“But—in time you will be—and it will not hurt for you to survey what might be available in the way of a potential wife,” she persisted.
Theo sighed. He knew his mother would not let go of an idea or “project” once she set her mind on it.
His father chuckled. “Give it up, son. You know you cannot win.”
“All I am asking is that you meet some eligible ladies,” his mother said defensively. “After all, you will marry some day, will you not?”
“Some day,” Theo agreed. He then pointedly changed the subject and his mother seemed content to drop the matter, but Theo knew hers was only a strategic retreat.
When his mother retired, Theo and his father remained in the drawing room, each occupying a comfortable wing-backed chair. The earl had a keen interest in his son’s army experiences and asked probing questions.
After a pause the older man said in a regretful tone, “This country has not done well by her modern-day warriors.”
Theo merely raised an inquiring brow.
“Comes from that natural English distrust of a large standing army,” the earl continued. “As soon as we have no further use of them, we just turn them loose in the countryside to fend for themselves.”
Theo nodded. “Where they swell the numbers of people out of work”
“Or they are forced to take low-paying jobs ordinarily done by women and children.”
“I know,” Theo said. “I visited some of my men at Chelsea Hospital the other day. The lack of jobs is a genuine concern for them—especially for those who sustained crippling injuries.”
“Poor beggars,” the earl murmured.
“Beggars, indeed. There is something inherently unfair about it.”
“Yes. And that unfairness manifests itself in unrest—troubles in mines and manufactories—and in the mills.”
“Our mill?” Theo asked, surprised.
“So far all the Glosson Mill has suffered is some grumbling from time to time. But others have endured smashed machinery and ruined products. Taggert keeps a strong hand on the tiller in the Glosson Mill.”
“Is he not the same man Grandfather had as steward?”
“The very same. Knows his way around the running of the mill—which is more than one can say of the present earl.” The “present earl” rose from his chair and went to a sideboard. “Leaves me free to pursue other interests.”
“Such as the history of ancient Greece?”
“That—and Parliamentary concerns.” The earl waved a decanter. “Join me?”
They were both silent as the earl handed his son a glass, then sat down again. As they clutched their glasses to let the brandy warm in their hands, Theo spoke.
“So—you have taken up poli. . .
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