Authors: Christi Caldwell
Tags: #Fiction, #Regency, #romance, #Historical
Copyright © 2015 by Christi Caldwell
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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On this journey we call life, I am so thankful that you are my partner. These stories wouldn’t be, if you didn’t allow me the time to disappear into my writing cave to tell them. You are the world’s best husband, father, chef, housekeeper, and teacher I know. You wear many hats. But the perfect one for you is—hero. I love you with all of my heart.
Other Books by Christi Caldwell
That terse one word utterance filled the otherwise quiet of Gabriel Edgerton, the Marquess of Waverly’s office.
His sister was handling this a good deal better than he imagined she would. Gabriel sat back in his seat. “Chloe,” he began, but wisely closed his mouth at the furious stare trained on him. He shifted with the slightest trace of guilt.
Chloe settled her palms on the edge of his desk. “I said nothing when you turned over the responsibility of chaperoning me to Alex.”
“He is your favorite brother,” he reminded her.
Her eyes narrowed. “That is neither here nor there.”
His lips twitched with involuntary amusement. He hardly blamed Chloe for favoring their brother, the once roguish, now wedded Lord Alex Edgerton. He’d long been the entertaining, charming brother. Not at all like Gabriel’s stodgy self, committed to his responsibilities. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “You need a companion.”
“No, I need a chaperone.” She gave him a pointed look until he shifted at the recrimination there.
“I have chaperoned you.”
She leaned forward. “You chaperoned Philippa.” His other, thankfully wedded, less difficult sibling. Or rather the
undifficult of all three of the Edgerton siblings. “Me, you eventually foisted off on Alex.”
“Of which you appreciated,” he felt inclined to point out.
Fire flashed in her eyes. “Not. One. Of. Mrs. Belden’s. Dragons.”
And this was what he had been anticipating. Gabriel scrubbed a hand over his eyes. He was glad Philippa was expecting her second child, he really was. Only after complications with her first pregnancy, Philippa wanted their mother at her side, which now left Gabriel to deal with his still unwed sister, Chloe. He made one last desperate bid at reasoning with her. “The woman will not be a chaperone. She will serve as a companion.” Who would
serve as a chaperone. The knowing glint in his sister’s eyes indicated she knew as much, too. He laid his hands down. “It is but for two months.”
“Two months?” Her brow shot up. “And then, pray tell, what happens at the end of the two months?”
Well, for one the Season would be over. But not nearly soon enough. He waved a hand about. “You’ll wed.”
Ah, so now the repeating back what he said business. This usually preceded the cool effrontery. He interlocked his fingers. “I expect you’ll be wed by the end of the Season.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You expect I’ll be wed by the end of the Season?” Her tone remained remarkably even.
Gabriel tugged at his cravat and eyed the sideboard littered with crystal decanters. His mouth went dry with a sudden need for a drink, craving the liquid fortitude. He’d long known the reservations carried by all his siblings about the bonds of matrimony. Knew because he shared them, too. Having grown up the secretly abused children of the powerful former Marquess of Waverly, they’d all learned the perils of trusting oneself to another. He squared his jaw. As the eldest of the Edgerton siblings, he’d had an obligation to protect, and yet had failed—abysmally. Himself included. That failure drove all his efforts to see his siblings happy.
Clearing his throat, he then shoved back his chair and stood. “I pledge to help guide you as I did Philippa,” he said walking over to the Chippendale sideboard. “You are now on your fourth Season and, as you are getting on in years, time is of the essence.” He reached for a decanter and snifter. “But rest assured, the gentleman I select will be a kind, caring, and honorable man.” Gabriel splashed several fingerfuls into the glass then downed a healthy swallow. He stared into the amber brew while swirling it in a slow circle.
Then, the absolute silence registered.
He turned around and nearly collided with his sister. A curse escaped him as he backed into the sideboard. “Bloody hell, you startled me.” The remaining contents of his glass spilled over the rim. God, she’d always possessed a remarkable talent of sneaking up on a person. Then, years of hiding from their brute of a father had ingrained certain unwanted, but certainly warranted, lessons into each of them.
His sister stood not even a foot away with her hands planted akimbo, her eyebrows knitted into a single, dangerous line. “Getting on in years?” she repeated back, drawing out each of those four words in a “you-are-in-deuced-trouble-tone” that would have made her the envy of any stern mama.
“Yes, but you’re rather focusing on the least important aspect of what I—”
“You think to wed me off to a—”
“Kind and honorable gentleman,” he cut in. And
was the essential part. He set what remained of his brandy down hard on the sideboard. Droplets splashed his coat.
This again. And this is why he required someone of the female persuasion, because where Chloe was concerned, she’d never done anything if it had come at his bequest.
Once more he lamented she was not just a little bit like Philippa. Not all of her, for that would fundamentally alter who she was. Just the difficult parts. About wedding that was.
So when presented with the prospect of either debating the merits and necessity of her wedding, one of those honorable, caring, gentle sorts or avoiding conflict altogether, he chose the latter. “Very well.” He’d allow Mrs. Belden’s esteemed instructors to handle the matter of this topic.
Alas, his sister was of an altogether different mind frame. “I’ve no intentions of wedding.”
His gut tightened. By the life they’d lived, the horrors she’d been subjected to, was it a wonder that she’d avow the marital state? “Surely you recognize you have to eventually wed.”
“No.” She shook her head. “No, I don’t. I’ll be quite content as the spinsterish aunt who bounces my nieces and nephews upon my knee.” Chloe folded her arms across her chest. “Perhaps we’d both be better served by focusing our attentions on finding you a match.”
He blinked. “Me?”
She gave a vigorous nod. “You.”
Within the confines of his gloves, his palms grew moist and he dusted them along the sides of his breeches. “I don’t care to discuss my marital state,” he muttered and grabbed his snifter, particularly because there was no marital state for him, nor would there ever be. He took another swallow of the remaining contents and then set down the empty glass.
An inelegant snort escaped his sister. “Of course you don’t.” She paused. “Any more than I do. But,” she held a finger up and wagged it under his nose. “You are in far greater need of a spouse than I am.”
“Am I?” he drawled, feigning nonchalance.
Alas, by the triumphant glint in her gaze, his astute sister had already gathered his disquiet and pressed her advantage. God, she was ruthless. All of Boney’s forces would have been hopeless under her dogged tenacity. She waved her gloved fingertip once more. “Oh, yes. There is the matter of you producing an heir.”
He pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. “I will not discuss the matter of an heir with you.” Or anyone. Wisely his sister fell silent.
Alas, Chloe had never been one to stay quiet for long.
“I am merely pointing out that it is far more important that you wed.” A twinkle lit her eyes. “Particularly with
For a long time he’d warred within himself about that obligation expected of him. To wed and produce an heir, he’d preserve a line once held by a monster. What an ultimate victory over that bastard who’d sired them, who’d loved the line more than anything and everything—to let it die and go to some distant, removed cousin. “There is Alex,” Gabriel pointed out. For with his brother wed, the line wouldn’t die with him.
She opened her mouth to continue her debate, but with glass in hand, he strode past her. “My marital state is neither here nor there,” he said in clipped tones, as he reclaimed his familiar seat behind his desk. He cradled his glass in his hands. “I am worried over your being alone since Imogen and Alex married.” Chloe had always been a rather lonely girl until she’d met Lady Imogen. Now since the wedding between her best friend and brother, Chloe had become that same solitary person. “Mother has written and is concerned about you and your Season.” Perhaps he had more of his bastard father in him than he’d ever suspected for he pounced on his sister’s weakness. “She will leave Philippa’s side if it means you require her presence.” It was a bold, blatant lie.
“No.” The denial sprung from his sister. Some of the fight drained from her shoulders. She stomped over to the desk and then sat in the leather winged back chair. A golden curl fell over her brow. “I would not dare take her from Philippa’s side.”
Guilt needled his conscience. He’d known that her unflinching sisterly devotion would quell all arguments on her behalf. He took solace in knowing he merely sought to do what he’d failed to do as a youth—protect her. “I expect one of Mrs. Belden’s instructors to arrive within a fortnight.”
Chloe groaned and sprawled in the chair. “Does it have to be one of Mrs. Belden’s instructors?” She flung an exaggerated hand over her brow. “I understand Imogen and Alex are otherwise pulled away from Society events,” she pointed her eyes to the ceiling to indicate just what she thought of her favorite brother and best friend’s subsequent abandonment. “But surely there is someone,
, other than one of those dour, frowning, miserable beings?”
Despite himself, his lips twitched with amusement. “I’m afraid not.” Seated thusly, she resembled more the dramatic girl who’d slipped from the nursery and sought sanctuary in hidden corners of this very home to craft magical kingdoms in which to escape. His smile withered. At what point had she ceased to believe in hope and magic? After all, a person dwelling in hell always knew that one particular moment to so shatter your illusions of hope and happiness.
A curl tumbled over her eye and she blew it back on a huff of annoyance. “All those dratted instructors speak on are matters of marriage and proper husbands and proper decorum and…” She waved her hand. “Everything proper.”
In short, the woman who’d be assigned to his sister for the next two months was bloody perfect and, God willing, would be able to rationalize with his sister when he’d never been able to. “It is temporary,” he assured her.