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The Marquess Tames His Bride

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‘You don’t really mean that, do you?’ She lifted a tragic face to his.

He hadn’t. Not to begin with. Announcing she was his fiancée had simply been the only thing he could think of, on the spur of the moment, that would both extricate her from her immediate difficulty and thoroughly annoy her at one and the same time. But now that he’d considered carrying through on his threat, the advantages were becoming clearer by the second.

Especially since he’d kissed her.

Because he’d been longing to get her into his bed for years. Even after she’d rejected him, she’d continued to fascinate him. He’d watched, with mounting frustration, as she’d blossomed from captivating girl to alluring woman. Always dancing just beyond his reach.

But now she was sitting on his lap. And once he got that ring on her finger, she’d have no excuse for refusing him. Not considering the vows she was going to make, in church. Vows which she, with her heightened religious conscience, would consider binding.

‘Don’t I?’

She peered at him as though trying to understand him. Really understand him, rather than jumping to conclusions based on the lies and half-truths fed to her by the likes of Clement.

‘Well, I rather thought,’ she said, ‘that you only said it because it was the one thing that would guarantee getting me out of hot water. And while I appreciate the, um, brilliance of your quick thinking—’

‘Trying to turn me up sweet?’

‘No,’ she said with exasperation. ‘I was trying to give credit where it is due. But since I know you cannot really wish to marry me—’

‘Can’t I? And just why would that be?’

‘You are going to make me spell it out?’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘Very well, then. Since you seem determined to amuse yourself at my expense today, then I will freely admit that you ought to marry someone who is all the things I am not. Someone beautiful, for a start.’

And Clare was not beautiful, not in the conventional sense.

‘Someone with all the social graces.’

She certainly didn’t have any of those.

‘Someone with a title and money, and, oh, all the things I haven’t got. But because of my temper, my awful temper, you have told people you are going to marry me.’ Her eyes swam with regret and penitence. ‘But I’m sure, if we put our heads together, we can come up with another plan, an even better plan, to stop you from having to go through with it. We could perhaps tell everyone that we discovered we do not suit, for example, or—’

‘Put our heads together?’ Everything in him rose up in revolt. If he thought she could wriggle out of this, she had another think coming. There was only one way he wanted their heads close together. ‘Do you mean, like this?’ he said, before closing the gap between their mouths and stopping her foolish objections with a kiss.

She made a wholly feminine sound of surrender and fell into his kiss as though she was starving for the taste of his lips. With a sort of desperation that made him suspect she intended it as a farewell. As though she was giving in to the temptation to sample what she considered forbidden fruit just one last time.

At length, she pulled away and turned her face into his neck. She was panting. Her cheeks were flushed.

But when she eventually sat up, her face wore an expression of resolve.

‘That was not what I had in mind,’ she said, unnecessarily. Though it was pretty much all that was in his mind and had been from the moment he’d pulled her onto his lap.

‘Poor Clare,’ he murmured, without a shred of sympathy. ‘So determined to escape my evil clutches...’

She went rigid, as though his words reminded her she’d been making precious little attempt to escape him from the moment he’d taken her in his arms. And bit down on her lower lip, the lip he’d been enjoying kissing so much not a moment before. And with which she’d kissed him back.

Her expression of chagrin made him want to laugh.

She nearly always made him want to laugh.

It was a large part of why he’d proposed to her that first time. He’d just endured one of those days that were such a factor of life in Kelsham Park. His mother barricaded in her room. His father out shooting. The staff tiptoeing around as though scared of rousing a sleeping beast. Life had seemed so bleak. And then there she’d been, so full of life, and zeal, and all the things that were lacking in his. And she’d made him laugh. When he’d thought there was nothing of joy to be found anywhere in his life.

And he’d wanted to capture it. Capture her. So that he could...warm himself at the flame that was her spirit.

The proposal had burst from his lips before he’d thought it through. But then, as now, the moment he’d spoken he’d wanted it to become real. Wanted her by his side. In his life. Keeping the chill of Kelsham Park at bay.

He cleared away the lump that came to his throat, so that his voice would not betray the swell of emotion which had just taken him unawares.

‘So determined to escape me. Yet you are the only woman to whom I have ever made an honourable proposal.’

‘What?’ She looked completely flummoxed by that.

‘Yes. All the others,’ he put in swiftly, before the conversation could turn to that first proposal and all the hurt that had ensued, ‘were quite happy to receive dishonourable ones.’

Her puzzled frown turned to a veritable scowl. And she made her first real attempt to get off his lap.

Since he’d already decided they’d been starting to venture rather too close to territory he would rather not revisit, he let her go. All the way to the table where she seized the teapot with what looked like relief.

But the expression faded as she set the pot down after pouring herself a cup of tea, as if she’d realised that, although she’d scored one point in escaping his lap, there was still a major battle to fight. And the look she darted him as he got to his feet and followed her to the table was one of outright desperation.

‘I, um, should thank you, then, for doing me the honour of...though actually, you didn’t propose, did you? You just informed the world that I was your fiancée.’

‘Nevertheless,’ he said, pouring himself a glass of ale, ‘you will become my wife.’


‘And you will make the best of it. In public, at least,’ he added grimly. Even his own parents had managed that. ‘In private—’

‘There isn’t going to be any in private.’

‘You mean, you wish me to make love to you in public?’

‘Don’t be...oh! You provoking man! You know very well what I mean. That there isn’t going to be any making love, anywhere, since we are not getting married. You know we are not.’

‘But, Clare, what will become of you if I don’t make an honest woman of you?’

She flung up her chin. ‘I will be fine.

I will...well... I will work something out.’

He couldn’t help admiring her stance, even though he still felt rather insulted by her determination to survive without his help. She was so brave. So determined to stand on her own two feet. No matter what life flung at her.

‘There is no need to work anything out. This solution will do as well as any other either of us could come up with. And it saves us the bother of racking our brains for an alternative.’


‘Really, Clare, this is getting tiresome. I am offering you a position amongst the highest in the land. Wealth you have never been able to imagine.’

‘I don’t care about your money, or your position,’ she retorted. ‘Worldly vanity, that is all you have to offer me—’

‘Have you never considered how much good you could do, as a marchioness? You will be mixing with the people responsible for making the law. You will be able to preach your beliefs to their faces, whenever they eat at our table. You will be able to use your wealth to make a difference to the lives of very many of the poorest and most deserving, should you care to do so.’

She froze. Like a hound scenting prey. ‘You would let me spend your money however I wish?’

‘I will give you a generous allowance,’ he corrected her, ‘which you may spend however you wish.’

Her eyes went round and she stared right through him, as though she was imagining all the ways she could spend that allowance. For a moment or two. Before she lowered them to the table and bit down on her lower lip, as though chastising herself for indulging in some extremely mercenary daydreams.

Time to put some steel in her spine again.

‘However,’ he said sternly, ‘I shall expect you to look the part whenever you appear at my side in public. I most certainly do not wish to see you out and about wearing garments that make you look like a bedraggled crow.’

Which served to put the mutinous look back on her face.

‘How dare you! I am in mourning for my father—’

‘Which is no excuse for looking shabby.’

Her eyes flashed. She took a deep breath. He cut in, swiftly.

‘I can see I shall have to engage one of those abigails who do nothing but take care of clothes. A top-notch one,’ he said, running a deliberately disparaging look over her complete outfit.

‘You don’t need to—’

‘I always expected whomever I married to cost me a pretty penny,’ he cut in again, deliberately misconstruing whatever objection she’d been about to make. ‘Though unlike most husbands, instead of dreading the bills flooding in from the modistes, I may have to curb your enthusiasm for supporting beggars and cripples.’

‘Now, look here...’ she began, indignantly. And then petered out. Lowered her head again. Fiddled with her teacup.

‘Damn me for being right?’

She nodded. ‘It’s terrible of me, isn’t it? But, the thought of being able to do some good, real good, for once. It is so terribly tempting...’

Clare Cottam must be the only woman alive who would regard the opportunity to do good in the world as a temptation. It was all he could do to keep a straight face.

‘Then let it be a consolation to you. For the terrible fate,’ he said drily, ‘of having to marry me in order to be able to do so.’

‘Look, I never said it would be a terrible fate to marry you. You mustn’t think that. It’s doesn’t seem fair you have to marry the likes of me just because I...’

‘Struck me?’

She hunched her shoulders. Lifted her teacup and took a large gulp, as though hoping it could wash away a nasty taste.

‘It is true,’ he said, provocatively, ‘that you are obliging me to enter a state I would not willingly have walked into for some considerable time—’

‘I am not! I am trying to think of a way out for you. While all you are doing is—’

He cut through her latest objection. ‘But I would have had to marry somebody, some day. Because I must produce an heir.’

For a moment it looked as though Clare’s tea was in danger of going down the wrong way.

‘Yes,’ he drawled. ‘That is one very real function you could fulfil just as well as a titled, wealthy, beautiful woman.’ He reached across the table and stroked the back of her wrist, where it lay beside the plate of bread and butter.

‘Oh!’ She snatched her hand away.

‘Yes, Clare, you could be the mother of my child.’ And what a mother she would be. He couldn’t see her taking to drink when she didn’t get her own way. Nor taking lovers, nor only visiting the nursery when she wanted to complain about his behaviour and telling her child that he was the spawn of his father and that the sight of his face made her sick to her stomach.

‘Oh,’ she said again in a rather softer voice, her eyes taking on a faraway look as though she, too, was imaging a child they could create together.

And then her face turned an even deeper shade of red and she began squirming so much he decided it was time to give her thoughts another direction.

‘Possibly, I should have looked for a woman with all the qualities you listed. And a very tedious business,’ he said, with a grimace of genuine distaste, ‘it would have been making my choice from all the many candidates for the privilege.’

She gasped. ‘How can you be so arrogant?’

He raised one eyebrow at her. ‘You yourself have already pointed out that I could have had my pick of society’s finest specimens of feminine perfection. I was only agreeing with you.’

‘You—how typical of you to turn my own words against me like that.’

‘Indeed,’ he said affably. ‘And you should have expected it, knowing me as well as you do. I have no shame, have I?’ He’d added that last when she opened her mouth as if to say it. ‘But never mind. There is no point in us quarrelling over this. Just accept that I am relieved that you have saved me a great deal of bother.’


‘Yes, and now I come to think of it,’ he said, leaning back in his chair and looking her up and down speculatively, ‘I may as well tell you that I don’t mind having to marry you as much as you seem to think.’ Not at all, to be truthful. But whenever had being truthful got him anywhere with Clare?

‘Rubbish,’ she said. ‘I know full well that I am not fit to become your marchioness.’

‘Why not? You are the daughter of a gentleman. Besides, I have known you all my life.’

‘Exactly! You know we are not at all suited.’

That was only her opinion. ‘On the contrary. With you there will be no surprises. You could never fool me into thinking you would be a compliant wife by being all sweet and syrupy whenever we meet, then turning into a shrew the minute I got the ring on your finger. Which could happen with any woman I got to know during a London Season. No,’ he said, smiling at her in a challenging way as her little mouth pursed up in the way it always did when she was attempting to hold back a scathing retort. ‘I already know that you are a shrew. That the last thing anyone could accuse you of being is compliant.’

Her hand tightened on the handle of her teacup.

‘Are you planning on throwing that at my head?’

She deliberately unclenched her fingers and tucked her hands into her lap.

‘Good, then, if we are finished here, may I suggest we get on our way?’

‘Our...our way?’ Once again, she looked slightly lost and bewildered. ‘Where to?’

‘London, of course. It is where I was going when I stopped here for a change of horses. I have pressing business there.’ He had to report back to his friends on the progress he’d made so far with investigating the disappearance of some jewellery from not only Lady Harriet Inskip’s aunt, but also from the family of his chaplain, Thomas Kellet.

‘Oh, but...’ She twisted her hands in her lap. ‘I thought you were trying to avoid scandal. If you take me to London and parade me about the streets...’

‘I have no intention of doing anything so fat-headed,’ he said, ‘since I know full well that nobody could parade you anywhere you did not wish to go.’

She shot him a narrow-eyed look, one with which he was all too familiar when attempting to pay her a compliment. As though she suspected him of concealing an insult behind his comment, one that she hadn’t immediately perceived, but would discover on further reflection.

‘I shall, instead, take you directly to the house of a respectable female, where you will stay while I arrange our wedding.’

She frowned. ‘A respectable female?’

‘Yes. A lady who has recently become...a friend.’

‘I see,’ she said, glowering at him. And bristling all over.

If he didn’t know better, he’d think she was jealous. The irony was, that Lady Harriet, the lady to whom he was referring, would probably have applauded if she’d seen Clare punch him on the nose, since she’d often shown signs she’d like to do something very similar.

They would, when Clare had climbed down off her high horse and realised Lady Harriet was indeed respectable, get on like a house on fire.


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