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Authors: Elizabeth Boyce

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Once an Heiress

BOOK: Once an Heiress
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Once an Heiress
Elizabeth Boyce,
author of
Once a Duchess

Avon, Massachusetts

This edition published by

Crimson Romance

an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.

10151 Carver Road, Suite 200

Blue Ash, Ohio 45242

www.crimsonromance.com

Copyright © 2013 by Velva George

ISBN 10: 1-4405-6193-1

ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6193-1

eISBN 10: 1-4405-6194-X

eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6194-8

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.

Cover art © 123rf.com

For Sarah, who loves it when my girls get hardcore domestic

and

For Aunt Minnie, who forgot.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to superwoman Jennifer Lawler, and the whole team at Crimson Romance. To my sister Crimsonistas, thanks for the laughs and support. You ladies are the very best.

If one can thank entities rather than people, then I must thank PBS and Wikipedia for a great many reasons. I’m going to keep donating, and you should, too.

As ever, Michelle and Sarah, I couldn’t have done it without you.

Kids, thank you all for reaching school age, so Mama has time to work.

Berkeley, no one keeps my notes warm like you do.

Finally, thanks to my wonderful husband for reading this behind my back — and liking it.

Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Epilogue

About the Author

More From This Author

Also Available

Chapter One

Lily Bachman squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, and drew a deep breath. Behind the study door was another dragon to slay — or perhaps this one would be more like a pesky dog to shoo off. Whatever the case, one thing was certain; in that room, she’d find a man after her money. He was the fourth this Season, and it was only the end of March.

She smoothed the front of her muslin dress with a quick gesture, and then opened the door.

The Leech, as she dubbed all of them, halted whatever nonsense he was blathering on about and turned at the sound of the door opening, his jaw hanging slack, paused in the action of speaking. Her father sat on the sofa, situated at a right angle to the chair inhabited by the would-be suitor.

“Darling.” Mr. Bachman rose. “You’re just in time. This is Mr. Faircloth.”

Lily pressed her cheek to his. “Good morning, Father.”

Mr. Bachman and Lily were close in height. He was of a bit more than average height for a man, while Lily was practically a giantess amongst the dainty aristocratic ladies. She stuck out like a sore thumb at parties, towering over every other female in the room — just another reason she detested such functions.

The man, Mr. Faircloth, also stood. He was shorter than Lily and lacked a chin. The smooth slope marking the transition from jaw to neck was unsettling to look upon. He wore mutton-chop sideburns, presumably an attempt to emphasize his jawline. They failed miserably in that regard, serving rather to point out the vacant place between them where a facial feature should have been.

“My … ” Mr. Faircloth wrung his hands together and cleared his throat. “My dear Miss Bachman,” he started again. “How lovely you look this morning.”

Lily inclined her head coolly. She settled onto the sofa and folded her hands in her lap. Mr. Bachman sat beside her and gestured Mr. Faircloth to his chair.

Mr. Faircloth cast an apprehensive look between Lily and her father. “I’d thought, sir, that you and I would speak first. Then, if all was agreeable, I would speak to Miss … ” He lowered his eyes and cleared his throat again.

Good
, Lily thought viciously. He was already thrown off balance. She knew from experience that when dealing with fortune hunters and younger sons, one had to establish and maintain the upper hand.

“When it comes to my daughter’s future,” Mr. Bachman said in a rich baritone, “there is no such thing as a private interview. Miss Bachman is a grown woman; she’s entitled to have a say in her own future. Would you not agree?”

Mr. Faircloth squirmed beneath the intense gazes of father and daughter. “Well, it’s not how these things are usually handled, sir, but I suppose there’s no real harm in bucking convention just this — ”

“Mr. Faircloth,” Lily interrupted.

The man swallowed. “Yes?”

“I don’t recognize you at all.” She raised her brows and narrowed her eyes, as though examining a distasteful insect. “Have we met?”

“I, well, that is … yes, we’ve met.” Mr. Faircloth’s head bobbed up and down. “We were introduced at the Shervington’s ball last week. I asked you to dance.”

As he spoke, Lily stood and crossed the room to her father’s desk. She retrieved a sheaf of paper and a pen, and then returned to her seat. She allowed the silence to stretch while she jotted down notes: name, physical description, and first impression.
Younger son
, she decided,
a novice to fortune hunting
. She glanced up with the pen poised above the paper. “And did I accept your invitation?”

Mr. Faircloth gave a nervous smile. “Ah, no, actually. You were already spoken for the next set, and every one thereafter.” He pointed weakly toward her notes. “What are you writing there?”

She leveled her most withering gaze on him. “Are you or are you not applying for my hand in matrimony?”

His jaw worked without sound, and then his face flushed a deep pink. “I, yes. That is why I’ve come, I suppose you could say.”

“You suppose?” Lily scoffed. “You’re not sure?”

“Yes.” Mr. Faircloth drew himself up, rallying. “Yes, I’m sure. That’s why I’ve come.”

So there is a bit of spine in this one, after all
, Lily thought. “That being the case,” she replied, giving no quarter in her attack, “it is reasonable for me to keep a record of these proceedings, is it not? You are not the first gentleman to present himself.”

Mr. Faircloth sank back into himself. “I see.”

“Tell me, what prompted your call today?” Lily tilted her head at an inquisitive angle, as though she were actually interested in the man’s answer.

Mr. Faircloth cast a desperate look at Mr. Bachman.

“That’s a fair question,” her father said. Lily loved many things about her father, but the one she appreciated more than anything was the way he treated her like a competent adult. Most females were bartered off to the man who made the highest offer, either through wealth or connections. When he spoke up for her, supporting her line of questioning, Lily wanted to throw her arms around his neck and hug him. Later, she would. Right now, they had to eject the newest swain from their home.

Mr. Faircloth grew more and more agitated with every passing second. He fidgeted in his seat and finally blurted, “I love you!”

Lily drew back, surprised by the tactic her opponent employed. She waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“It’s true,” Mr. Faircloth insisted. “From the moment I saw you, I thought you were the most beautiful woman at the ball. Your gown was the most flattering blue — ”

“I wore red,” Lily corrected.

Mr. Faircloth blinked. “Oh.” He rested his elbows on his knees, his head drooped between his shoulders.

He was crumbling. Time to finish him off.

“Let’s talk about why you’ve really come, shall we?” Lily’s tone was pleasant, like a governess explaining something to a young child with limited comprehension. “You’re here because of my dowry, just like the other men who have suddenly found themselves stricken with love for me.”

“A gentleman does not discuss such matters with a lady,” Mr. Faircloth informed his toes.

“A
gentleman
,” Lily said archly, “does not concoct fantastical tales of undying affection in the hopes of duping an unwitting female into marriage. Tell me, sir, which son are you?”

“I have two older brothers,” he said in a defeated tone.

Lily duly made note of this fact on her paper. “And sisters?”

“Two.”

“Ah.” Lily raised a finger. “Already an heir and a spare, and two dowries besides. That doesn’t leave much for you, does it?” She tutted and allowed a sympathetic smile.

Mr. Faircloth shook his head once and resumed his glum inspection of his footwear.

“I understand your predicament,” Lily said. “And how attractive the idea of marrying money must be to a man in your situation.” She tilted her head and took on a thoughtful expression. “Have you considered a different approach?”

The gentleman raised his face, his features guarded. “What do you mean?”

She furrowed her brows together. “What I mean is this: Have you considered, perhaps, a profession?”

Mr. Faircloth’s mouth hung agape. He looked from Lily to Mr. Bachman, who sat back, passively observing the interview.

“It must rankle,” Lily pressed, “to see your eldest brother’s future secured by accident of birth, to see your sisters provided for by virtue of their sex. But do consider, my dear Mr. Faircloth, that younger sons the Empire ’round have bought commissions and taken orders, studied law or medicine, accepted government appointments. The time has come,” she said, pinning him beneath her fierce gaze, “for you to accept the fact that yours is not to be a life of dissipated leisure. Instead of hoping for a fortune to fall into your lap, your days would be better spent pursuing a profession.”

Mr. Faircloth wiped his palms down his thighs. “Miss Bachman, you’ve quite convinced me.”

She blinked. “Have I?”

“Yes,” he said. “I am well and truly convinced that marriage to you would be a nightmare from which I should never awake until I die. Sir,” he turned his attention to Mr. Bachman, “I see now why you offer such a large dowry for your daughter.” He stood. “It would take an astronomical sum to make the proposition of marriage to such a controlling, unpleasant female the slightest bit appealing.”

Lily’s mouth fell open. “Why, you — ”

Her father laid a restraining hand on her arm. Lily exhaled loudly and pinched her lips together.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Bachman.” Mr. Faircloth inclined his head. “Miss Bachman.” He hurried from the parlor. A moment later, the front door closed behind him.

“Well!” Lily exclaimed. “Of all the sniveling, puffed up — ”

“You wore blue,” Mr. Bachman cut in.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The Shervington’s ball. You wore blue, just as Mr. Faircloth said.” He stood and crossed to his desk, where he poured himself a brandy from a decanter.

“Did I?” Lily murmured. “I could have sworn I wore red.” She tapped a finger against her lips.

“No, darling,” Mr. Bachman said with a sigh, “you wore blue. I’m quite certain, because your mother fretted that the color washed you out and no gentleman would notice you.”

“Ah, well,” Lily said. She rose and briskly rubbed her palms together. “It doesn’t signify. One more Leech gone.”

Mr. Bachman’s chest heaved and heavy, graying brows furrowed over his dark eyes. “My dear, you cannot continue in this fashion. You know I’ll not force you to marry against your will. But marry you must, and it
is
my desire that your marriage elevate this family’s status.”

Lily straightened a pile of papers on the desk as he spoke; her hands paused at this last remark. Indignation mingled with hurt slammed into her like a physical blow. She idly slid a paper back and forth across the polished desk and kept her eyes studiously upon it as she recovered, hiding the force of her emotions behind a casual demeanor. However, she could not fully suppress the bitterness in her voice when she spoke. “Fortunate, then, that Charles died. A mere ensign and son of a country squire would not have provided the upward mobility you crave.”

Mr. Bachman’s glass boomed against the desk. “Young lady, guard your tongue!” Her eyes snapped to his mottled face. His own dark eyes flashed rage, and his nostrils flared. “Had poor Charles returned from Spain, I would have proudly and happily given you in wedlock. Indeed, it was my fondest wish to unite our family with the Handfords.”

A humorless laugh burst from Lily’s lips. Turning, she twitched her skirts in a sharp gesture. “A fact you made sure to educate me upon from the earliest. I spent the whole of my life with the name of my groom and date of my wedding drilled into my head.”

BOOK: Once an Heiress
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