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Captain Fawley's Innocent Bride

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‘You have admitted to me that you do not expect to receive any proposals of marriage,’ Captain Fawley ploughed on with brutal candour.

‘And that at the end of the season, because of your straitened circumstances, you will have to seek paid employment. You will be quite miserable.’

Deborah’s heart was pounding hard. She could not remember any man ever insulting her so comprehensively. Even though all he had said was true, it was cruel of him to fling it in her face. How dared he taunt her with her wish to marry, having told her she stood no chance of snaring a man?

‘I do not think I wish to continue with this conversation,’ she said, rising to her feet and turning her back on him.

‘Miss Gillies, do not turn me down before you hear the whole.’

Turn him down? She froze. What was he trying to say?

‘The…the whole?’ Reluctantly, she looked at him over her shoulder.

‘Yes.’ He got to his feet, reached for her upper arm, and spun her to face him. ‘I thought you, of all women, might overcome your revulsion for such a man as I am in return for lifelong security.’

‘You are asking me to marry you?’

Annie Burrows has been making up stories for her own amusement since she first went to school. As soon as she got the hang of using a pencil she began to write them down. Her love of books meant she had to do a degree in English literature. And her love of writing meant she could never take on a job where she didn’t have time to jot down notes when inspiration for a new plot struck her. She still wants the heroines of her stories to wear beautiful floaty dresses, and triumph over all that life can throw at them. But when she got married she discovered that finding a hero is an essential ingredient to arriving at ‘happy ever after’.

Recent novels by Annie Burrows:





Annie Burrows

To Viv

For introducing me to the works of

Georgette Heyer

Chapter One

‘Oh, no,’ Susannah grumbled to her friend, Miss Deborah Gillies, snapping open her fan and raising it to conceal the lower part of her face. ‘Here comes Captain Fawley, hobbling over to ask me to dance again. And I cannot. I simply cannot.’

Deborah compressed her lips to hide her own revulsion—oh, not at Captain Fawley. The poor man could not help the way he looked. He had lost the lower part of one leg, and his left hand in the same explosion which had so badly disfigured his face. His left eyelid would for ever droop into the scarring that covered his whole cheek, twisting his mouth into a permanently cynical expression. No, she could feel nothing but compassion for him.

It was Susannah’s behaviour that upset her.

Captain Fawley bowed over her friend’s hand, his dark eyes raised to hers with dogged determination.

‘Good evening, Miss Hullworthy, Miss Gillies.’ Though he included Deborah in his greeting, he shot her only the briefest glance. ‘I was hoping I might prevail upon you to dance with me this evening.’

‘Oh, dear,’ said Susannah, with just the right amount of regret in her voice to sound convincing. ‘I am afraid my dance card is already full. And here comes my partner for the quadrille.’ She looked over Captain Fawley’s shoulder, a smile stretching her lips into a pretty pink bow as Baron Dunning came to claim her hand.

Deborah supposed it was not Susannah’s fault that the rules of conduct required a lady to repress her true feelings under a cloak of civility. But surely it would be kinder to Captain Fawley if she could just tell him how he made her feel. Then he wouldn’t keep on approaching her, and being rebuffed so prettily that he had no idea that the very thought of him touching her made Susannah feel nauseous.

She flicked him a soulful glance as he watched Susannah walk to the dance floor on the arm of her portly young partner. Captain Fawley must have been strikingly handsome once, she sighed wistfully. Dark haired, as well as dark eyed, with features that were still discernibly pleasing, even under that horribly reddened and puckered skin.

Whereas there was nothing handsome about Baron Dunning.

He had a weak chin, made more noticeable by a mouth full of prominent teeth, and his skin was a greasy broth of suppurating pustules.

‘Many people suffer from spots,’ Susannah had remonstrated when Deborah had pointed out that Baron Dunning’s complexion was no better than Captain Fawley’s. ‘He cannot help that!’

Besides which, he had a title. All the poor Captain had to offer was his devotion. And Susannah might protest that she would hate to look ridiculous hobbling about the dance floor with a man who had a false leg, but she never worried what it looked like to dance with the doddery Earl of Caxton. The on-dit was that the cadaverous widower was on the lookout for wife number three, and Susannah was plainly ready to stifle her squeamishness for the sake of a coronet.

The impecunious Captain Fawley could expect no such consideration.

‘How could I let him touch me, with that false hand?’ Susannah had whined only the previous night, when they had been preparing for bed at the end of an arduous day of husband hunting. It had occurred to Deborah, as her friend applied pineapple water to her skin, that it was most apt to refer to the early weeks of spring as ‘the Season’. Débutantes stalked their prey as ruthlessly as sportsmen on a grouse shoot, flushing unsuspecting bachelors from their covers with a swirl of silken skirts, then bagging them with a volley fired from a pair of sparkling eyes. Or lured them into traps baited with honeyed smiles and coaxing words.

‘It is very hard to tell it is a false hand, it has been so well made,’ Deborah had pointed out. ‘It looks just like any other gentleman’s hand, covered with an evening glove.’

‘I would know it was a dead thing, resting on my arm.’ Susannah had shuddered. ‘Eeugh!’

As the orchestra began to play, Captain Fawley came back to himself. Turning to Deborah, he inclined his head and held out his arm. His right arm. She had noticed on previous occasions that if he offered a lady his arm, it was never what remained of the left one.

‘Shall we take a turn about the room?’

Deborah smiled, and laid her hand upon his sleeve. As she glanced up, it occurred to her that placing her on his right side also had the effect of presenting the unblemished side of his face to her scrutiny. A pang of sympathy smote her. He was sensitive enough to his appearance, without girls like Susannah rubbing his nose in it. He had even grown his hair longer than was fashionable, sweeping part of his fringe over the left side of his forehead, in an effort to conceal the worst of the scarring.

They set out along the edge of the room, in the area behind the pillars that marked the boundaries of the dance floor. Captain Fawley’s gait was a little uneven, she had to admit in fairness to Susannah. But by no means did he hobble! And though she had never danced with him, she was certain he would look no worse than many of the men here tonight, lumbering about with straining waistcoats and florid faces.

‘I can see you would much rather be on the dance floor,’ said Captain Fawley, noticing the direction of her gaze, ‘than bearing me company. I shall escort you to your mother, and—’

‘Oh, please do not!’

He eyed her curiously.

‘I would m…much rather be promenading, than left to wilt on the sidelines.’

Her dance card, unlike that of her friend, bore very few names. If Captain Fawley abandoned her, it would be humiliatingly obvious that she had no partner.

She felt as though the only time she ever got to dance lately was when one of Susannah’s admirers took pity on her, as Captain Fawley was doing now.

And unlike some of those gentlemen, Captain Fawley was invariably attentive and polite, almost managing to make her believe he was enjoying talking to her.

And what was more, she was sure he would never take part in the kind of conversation she had overheard not half an hour since. Not that she could blame Baron Dunning for comparing her unfavourably with Susannah. Although both of them had dark hair, Deborah’s curls would have gone limp by the end of the evening. Her eyes, though as brown, were more often lowered bashfully than sparkling with wit. Her complexion, thanks to an inflammation of the lungs she had suffered over the winter months, might, she accepted, by candle-light look somewhat sallow. And when she stood next to the shorter, shapelier Susannah, she supposed she could see why Mr Jay had scathingly likened her to a beanpole.

Not that knowing they had said nothing untrue made their comments any less hurtful, which was why she felt so grateful that Captain Fawley was deigning to spend these few moments with her.

When she thought of the adventures he must have had, in his soldiering days, she was amazed he could talk to her so kindly about the trivial concerns of a plain, provincial miss like her.

He gave her his wry, lopsided smile, which somehow always managed to make her own lips want to rise in imitation.

‘Then let us go and sample the refreshments,’ he suggested, turning her towards a door at the far side of the room from where the orchestra was playing.

‘Thank you, I should like that.’

She hoped very much that he would linger while she drank a glass of lemonade. Conversation would be limited, for after her initial burst of pleasure in securing his attention, she would doubtlessly become tongue-tied. He had experienced so much, when she had scarcely set foot outside her father’s parish before this trip to London. Not that he had personally related how he had fought his way across the Peninsula before suffering the horrific injuries at Salamanca that had left him hovering between life and death for months. No, that information had been gleaned from her mother’s friends, who made it their business to know everything about everyone.

They had shaken their heads, expressing pity as they related what they knew of his history, but she could only admire the determination with which he had clawed his way back to his present state. He did everything an able-bodied man did, though it must take him twice the effort. Why, he had even learned to ride a horse. She had glimpsed him on a couple of occasions, cantering through the park in the early morning, before many other people were about. He seemed to her to be so much more manly than the fashionable fops who lounged their languid way through London’s drawing rooms. He had overcome whatever life had thrown at him, which you could see, just by looking at him, had been a great deal.

She felt that first betraying blush sweep up her cheeks, which always assailed her at about this point in their meetings. For what could she say that might be of interest to a man like him, a man who had really lived? Though she knew that, whatever she said, he would never give her one of those condescending looks, which so many eligible bachelors seemed to have got down to a fine art. He was so kind, so magnanimous, so…

‘Tell me,’ he said, as they sauntered towards the table on which a large punch bowl sat, ‘just what a man has to do to secure a dance with your friend?’

Deborah’s flight of fancy exploded in mid-air, plummeting to earth like a spent rocket. He had not sought out her company because he wished for it. She was only a means by which he might be able to approach Susannah. Of course a man like him would not willingly spend time with a drab, nondescript, foolish, ignorant, penniless, plain…and let us not forget shy, awkward, dull…

She pulled herself together with effort, and pasted a polite social smile upon her face, as Captain Fawley continued, ‘I purposely arrived early tonight, and still her dance card seems to be full.’

‘It was full before ever we arrived,’ Deborah temporised. It was not her place to tell him that, no matter what he did, Susannah would rebuff him. Not only did she find him physically repulsive, but she had her sights set on a title. Forming an attachment with an impecunious commoner was not part of Susannah’s plan at all.

‘Before you arrived?’ Captain Fawley signalled a waiter to pour Deborah a glass of lemonade.

‘Yes,’ she confirmed, her heart plummeting as the waiter handed her a drink in a tall glass. It would take for ever to drink it down, and, for some reason, she no longer wanted to spend a moment longer with Captain Fawley than she had to. There was an acid heaviness in her stomach, her throat ached, and, to her annoyance, her eyes had begun to prickle with what she was afraid were burgeoning tears. She did not want him to see her cry. Lord, she did not want anyone to see her cry! What kind of ninny burst into tears at a ball because every man there wanted to dance with her friend and not her!

She took a gulp of the drink, appalled when the glass rattled against her teeth. Her hands were shaking.

‘Are you quite well, Miss Gillies?’ Captain Fawley looked concerned.

Her heart performed a peculiar lurch as she thought how like him it was to be so observant. ‘I…’ Lying was a sin. She would not do it. And yet, she desperately wanted to escape. If she was to twist the truth, just a little…there could be no harm in that, could there? ‘I think I would like to return to my mother, and sit beside her after all, if you do not mind?’

‘Of course.’ Captain Fawley took her glass and placed it on a convenient window ledge. He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm, pulling her hard against his body so that he could support her wilting form as he ushered her towards the door. She had never been held so close to any man before, except her father. It made her heart race to feel the heat of his body seeping through his uniform jacket. She could feel the flex of his muscled frame with every step he took, and a slight change of pressure every time he breathed in or out. And if she could feel him, then he must be aware she was trembling. Oh, pray God he would put it down to physical weakness, and would never guess that he had devastated her with his careless remark.

Her mother was sitting on a bench with several other chaperons, ladies whose task it was to ensure their charges maintained that delicate balancing act between doing their utmost to entrap an eligible bachelor into matrimony whilst simultaneously behaving with sufficient decorum to avert scandal.

‘Mrs Gillies,’ said Captain Fawley, executing a polite bow, ‘I fear your daughter is feeling unwell.’

‘Oh, dear!’ Her mother’s eyes shot past her, to where Susannah was twirling merrily around the floor with Baron Dunning. ‘We have only just arrived, and Susannah is having such success…she will not wish to leave. Do you really need to go home?’ She shifted to one side, so that Deborah could sit next to her. Taking her hand in hers, she gave it a squeeze. ‘Deborah was so ill over Christmas, I almost decided to put off coming to London at all. But Susannah was so keen…’ she explained to Captain Fawley.

‘I shall be fine, Mother. If I may but sit quietly for a while….’

‘Perhaps a turn about the garden, to get some fresh air?’ Lady Honoria Vesey-Fitch, an old friend of her mother’s suggested with an arch smile. ‘I am sure the Captain would oblige.’

Oh, no. It was bad enough that he did not wish to dance with her, never mind dragging the poor man round the garden on what would be a fool’s errand. For no amount of fresh air was going to make her feel any better. On the contrary, knowing that Captain Fawley would wish himself anywhere rather than with her would only serve to make her feel ten times worse.

‘Oh, no!’ To Deborah’s immense relief, her mother instantly vetoed the suggestion. ‘The cold night air would be most injurious to her health, after the heat of this stuffy room. I do not want her to catch a chill on top of everything else!’

Everything else? Had her mother guessed that her only daughter had been smitten by a severe case of hero-worship? Though how could she, when Deborah had only just worked it out for herself? It could be the only reason why her heart twisted at the look in Captain Fawley’s eyes every time Susannah turned him down, the little leap it performed when he turned, albeit with resignation, to her.

‘Is there nobody who could escort Miss Gillies home?’ Captain Fawley said, then, looking pensive, he ventured, ‘Or perhaps you could take your daughter home, if you would entrust Miss Hullworthy to my care. I assure you, I…’

That did it. He would gladly think of an excuse to shovel her out of the way, so that he could have Susannah all to himself. Pulling herself upright in her chair, she said, ‘There will be no need for anyone to leave, or any alteration made to our arrangements. I will be fine, if I may but sit quietly, for a while.’

‘Oh, but thank you for your concern, Captain,’ her mother put in quickly. ‘Please do call on us tomorrow if you are still anxious over my daughter’s health.’

An arrested expression came over his face. ‘I shall certainly do so,’ he said, a gleam coming to his eye.

Deborah glared down at her hands as she clasped them in her lap. He did not care a fig for her health! He had just worked out that, if he called, he would be able to ascertain which social events Susannah might be attending the next evening. For all his manly attributes, he was clearly inexperienced at wooing society women. He often arrived at a ball quite late, looking flustered, as though he had searched several venues before hitting upon the right one. But now he had cottoned on to the mysterious means by which his rivals had stolen a march over him. They called during the day, and by means of cajolery, flattery or downright bribery, wrought promises from their darling before even setting foot in the ballroom.

Tomorrow, he would join the ranks of admirers who called to deliver posies and drink tea whilst vying for Susannah’s favours.

She rather thought she might have a relapse tomorrow. She did not think she wished to witness his humiliation.

There was a smattering of applause as the music ended, and the dancers began to leave the floor. Baron Dunning returned Susannah, very correctly, to Mrs Gillies. Flicking her fan open, she waved it briskly before her face, pointedly ignoring Captain Fawley.

‘It is so hot in here,’ she complained.

‘Indeed,’ he put in, in an effort, Deborah was sure, to draw her sparkling gaze in his direction. ‘Miss Gillies has been quite overcome with the heat.’

‘Really?’ Instantly Susannah dropped what Deborah thought of as her ballroom manner, and looked at her with concern. ‘Oh, don’t say you are going to be ill again, Debs.’

‘I am not going to be ill,’ she grated, flustered at becoming the centre of attention. ‘I will be fine, if everyone was to just leave me alone.’ To her mortification, the tears that had long been threatening welled up; despite blinking furiously, one spilled down her cheek. Hastily, she wiped it away with her gloved hand.

‘Oh, Debs,’ said Susannah, her own eyes welling in sympathy. ‘You really are unwell. We must go home at once.’

‘No, no, I do not want to spoil your evening.’

‘And you have so many distinguished names on your dance card,’ put in Mrs Gillies. ‘You don’t want to disappoint so many eligible gentlemen….’

‘Oh, pooh to that!’ said Susannah, bending forward and taking Deborah’s hand. ‘I can dance with them all tomorrow. Or the next night. But I would never forgive myself if Deborah sacrificed her health for my pleasure.’

Deborah was swamped by a wave of guilt. No wonder the men all preferred Susannah to her. Not only was she far prettier, but she was a much nicer person too.

Captain Fawley certainly thought so. His eyes were glowing with admiration as he organised a footman to bring their carriage round. He was falling deeper and deeper under Susannah’s spell with every encounter. Just as she, Deborah realised, stifling a sob, was growing more hopelessly infatuated with him. She had experienced an almost overwhelming urge to cling to him when he finally handed her over to her mother. To fling her arms around him and beg him to forget Susannah. In a ballroom!

She allowed Susannah and her mother to hustle her to the ladies’ retiring room while they waited for their carriage and she grappled with the revelation that she had carelessly lost her heart to a man who scarcely noticed she existed.

‘I am so sorry,’ she said when they got into the carriage. ‘I have ruined your evening, Suzy, and it is not as though I feel that unwell.’

Susannah grasped her hand. ‘I shall not mind having an early night myself, truly, I promise you. Just lately, things seem to have become a bit of a whirl. It was easier, in some ways, when we first came to London, and hardly knew anybody.’

That was before Susannah had become such a hit. Her success had astounded Mrs Gillies, who had warned her not to expect too much from society. For though Susannah was so pretty, and so charming, and had so much wealth, that wealth came from trade.

‘I can introduce you to a certain level of society,’ she had explained. It was the reason that Deborah’s mother was acting as chaperon, after all. Her own lineage was impeccable. Her only problem was lack of money. Since Susannah’s family had plenty, they had come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. Mrs Gillies would introduce Susannah alongside her own daughter, and Susannah’s parents would foot the bill for both girls. ‘But there is no guarantee you will be accepted.’

Indeed, for the first few weeks of the Season, they had stayed in more often than they had gone out. Now, they had so many invitations, they had either to reject some, or attend several functions each evening.

And naturally, since Susannah’s parents were meeting their costs, Mrs Gillies felt obligated to ensure that she had the opportunity to mingle with the sort of men she considered marriage-worthy.

They were not at all what Deborah wanted. She had hoped that she might meet a young man who did not mind that she was not very wealthy. He would be looking for a helpmeet. A girl who would not demand he keep her in splendid indolence, but be prepared to run his household on a tight budget, and raise his children with a cheerful demeanour. There must be many younger sons of good families who wanted a dependable, resourceful wife. When they had first come to London, she had held out hopes of meeting such a man. But not now they were beginning to mingle in somewhat higher social circles, to satisfy Susannah’s ambitions.

Deborah sighed heavily more than once as the carriage took them the few streets to their rented house. In the small market town where she had grown up, she would have scorned to ride such a short distance, when she was perfectly capable of walking. But in London, she was subject to all manner of ridiculous restrictions. A footman grasped her arm as she stumbled in the act of clambering out of the coach. Hired for the Season, naturally, just like the town house they had rented in Half Moon Street. She missed being able to hold a conversation without wondering if the servants, who were strangers she could not trust, were listening. She missed being able to go for a walk without one of them trailing behind, for the sake of propriety. And really, how silly was it to stipulate that a footman was necessary to knock on the door of whatever house they were paying a call at? As though a young lady’s knuckles were far too delicate for the task?

She barely restrained herself from shaking him off, but when, upon climbing the steps to their front door, she experienced a moment of dizziness, she was glad she had not. A little later, she blinked, to find herself sitting in the armchair in her pretty bedroom, a maid kneeling at her feet removing her slippers, and Susannah hovering over her, fanning her face. Her mother was behind her chair, hastily loosening her stays.

‘Did I faint?’ she asked, feeling thoroughly confused.

‘Not quite,’ her mother replied, ‘but your face was as white as paper. You must get straight into bed. Jones,’ she addressed the maid, ‘go to the kitchens and fetch Deborah a drink.’ When the woman looked a little put out, she continued ruthlessly, ‘Miss Hullworthy and I are quite capable of getting my daughter undressed and into bed. What she needs from you is a drink of hot chocolate, and some bread and butter. You have lost weight this last couple of weeks,’ she said, clucking her tongue at the sight of Deborah’s bony shoulder blades as she removed the stays and gown. ‘You have been racketing about, growing more and more tired, and only picking at your food….’

‘I am so sorry,’ Susannah put in at this point. ‘I should have noticed. Please say you forgive me for being so selfish. I have been so full of myself. My success has quite gone to my head….’

‘I think,’ said Mrs Gillies, raising her daughter to her feet, and supporting her towards the bed, ‘that it will do both you girls good to spend a few days at home quietly. We may put it about that it is on account of Deborah’s indisposition, but really, Susannah, I have been growing quite concerned about you too.’

‘Me?’ Susannah plumped down on to a bedside chair as Mrs Gillies rolled up Deborah’s nightdress and pushed it over her head, just as she had done when Deborah had been a little girl, back home in the vicarage. It was almost worth being a little unwell, Deborah decided, to be rid of that maid, and have her mother and Susannah to put her to bed as though she was herself, and not this prim débutante she had to pretend to be in order to trick some poor man into matrimony.

‘Yes, you. You know, Susannah, that I would never countenance any of those fellows making up to my Deborah.’

At this statement, both girls blinked at Mrs Gillies in surprise.

‘You may think you are doing well to attract the attention of several men with titles, but I have made it my business to find out about them, and the sad truth is that they are fortune hunters.’

‘Well…’ Susannah pouted ‘…I have a fortune. And I want to marry someone with a title.’

‘Yes, but I think you could show a little more discernment. Over the next day or so, I think it would be wise to consider the gentlemen who have been paying you attention, very carefully. Baron Dunning, for example, is only obeying his mama in paying you court. She wants him to marry, so that she will not have to make the drastic economies that his late father’s reckless gambling have necessitated. He will not be any kind of a husband to you once he has got you to the altar. Why, he is hardly more than a schoolboy!’

‘Don’t you think he likes me?’ said Susannah in a very small voice.

‘Oh, I think he likes you well enough. If he has to marry a fortune, of course he would rather it came so prettily gift-wrapped. But don’t you think,’ she said in a more gentle tone, ‘you deserve better than that?’

Susannah bowed her head, her fingers running along the struts of her fan.

‘And as for the Earl of Caxton…’

But Deborah was never to find out what her mother thought of the Earl of Caxton. The maid had returned, bearing a tray laden with a pot of chocolate, a plate of bread and butter, and a small glass of what smelled like some form of spirituous liquor.

‘Ah, just the thing for a faint!’ Mrs Gillies remarked cheerfully, startling Deborah even further. Her father, the late Reverend Gillies, had lectured his flock frequently, and at length, upon the evils of drink. And there was never anything stronger than ale served at his table. ‘That was very thoughtful of you, Jones, thank you. And now, Susannah, I think it is high time you went to bed, as well.’

She bent to kiss her daughter’s forehead, pausing to smooth back a straggling lock of hair before turning her full attention to her other charge. Susannah paused in the doorway to pull a face at her friend, knowing she was about to endure one of her mother’s patient, but excruciatingly moving lectures.

Under Jones’s watchful eye, Deborah consumed the plate of bread and butter, then, holding her nose, she downed what she had been told was brandy in one go, like the vile medicine she considered it to be, then snuggled down against the pillows to enjoy her chocolate.

A pleasing warmth stole through her limbs as she sipped the hot drink, and she could feel herself relaxing. She must have been quite wrung out, what with one thing and another, she reflected, yawning sleepily. Perhaps, after a day or two spent recouping her strength, she would be able to put the unsettling feelings she had towards Captain Fawley into proper perspective.

And the next time she saw him, she would be able to smile upon him with perfect equanimity. Her heart would not skip a beat, her breathing would remain orderly and she would not blush and grow tongue-tied. And if he took her arm, she would not succumb to the temptation to lean into him and revel in the feel of all that masculine strength and vitality concealed beneath the fabric of his dress uniform.

She was far too sensible to give in to the first infatuation she had begun to harbour for a man. Only a ninny would let her head be completely turned by a scarlet coat and a roguish smile, she told herself sternly. She must nip such feelings in the bud. She was the sensible, practical Miss Deborah Gillies, who could be relied upon to behave completely correctly, no matter what blows fate dealt her. Had she not stood firm when her mother had collapsed after the sudden death of the Reverend Gillies? Though she, too, had been grief-stricken and shocked to discover her loving father had left them with scarce two farthings to rub together, she had dealt with the legal men, assessed their budget, found a modest house and hired the few servants they could now afford. She had shaken hands with the new incumbent, who had wanted them to move out of the vicarage within a month of her father’s death, and even managed to hand over the keys of the only home she had ever known to his pretty young wife with dry eyes.

In comparison with that, this inconvenient yearning she felt for a man who was unattainable was nothing.

Yawning again, she pulled the covers up to her ears, reminding herself that she did not have the energy to waste on weaving dreams around the dashing Captain Fawley anyway. What she ought to be worrying about was what she and her mother would do once Susannah had bagged her eligible, and they no longer had any reason to let the Hullworthys foot their bills.

If tonight had taught her anything, it was that she might as well stop hoping to meet someone who would want to marry her and miraculously make everything right. And she had long since known that she could not simply return to Lower Wakering at the end of the Season, and continue to be a drain on her mother’s scant resources.

It was about time, she decided as her eyes drifted shut, to come up with some plan to settle her future for herself.

By herself.


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