Book: A Husband for Hire
Author: Patricia A. Knight
Release Date: 31st January
Genre: A Regency Historical Romance
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Excerpt of A Husband for Hire by Patricia A. Knight
© Patricia A. Knight
London, late February 1814
hese are the best marital prospects you can discover? In all of London?”
The Lady Eleanor Constance Russell, sole offspring of The Right Honorable Earl of Rutledge and The Right Honorable Countess of Rutledge slapped the sheet of paper she’d been reading down on top of the mahogany desk and bestowed on her London barrister the look of a woman at her wit’s end. Grief for her dying parents and a sense of utter desperation had driven her to actions she considered borderline insanity. If she accepted any of the names on this list, she might as well rent rooms in Bedlam. Eleanor fought the hysteria surging in her breast and tried for a more cajoling tone. “Surely you can come up with more worthy candidates?”
The barrister who had served her family for the last forty years sat immobile in his great chair, hunkered down behind his great desk, his hands steepled in front of his narrow-lipped mouth. “This was no small task you set before me, Lady Russell. We are at war with France. Many of our most eligible men fill our army and navy.”
Her troubled gaze swung outward. Outside the windows of Elsington & Elsington, the London hansom cabs clopped past in the traffic-clogged street. Everyone had business to conduct it seemed. With a heavy sigh, she returned to the issue that had torn her away from the bedside of her failing but beloved parents and the celebrated stud farm into which she’d poured twenty-plus years of her life.
Her eyes flicked to the sheet in front of her, and she jabbed at it with an index finger. “Sir Clive Wellery. Fifty-six years of age, just interred his fourth wife, has no property of worth, eleven dependents ranging in age from two months to twenty-two years, known for a propensity to overindulge in spirits and gambling, currently renting a six-bedroom house in Bloomsbury.” She shuddered and whispered, “Eleven children.” Her eyes rose and gazed at the gentleman across the desk from her then dropped back to the paper.
“Lord Hilary Vance. Sixty-four years of age, of no property or spouse. No dependents, an unfortunate victim of the ‘China disease.’” She cleared her throat. “I understand there is no opium den he does not frequent.”
The barrister sat motionless in his chair and gave her a disapproving frown. She rolled her eyes. “I am thirty-years-old, sir. I’m not an ignorant debutante.”
“I disapprove of your unorthodox education, Ma’am. It did you a great disservice, and so I told your father.”
You old fusspot. Eleanor swallowed her retort and returned her gaze to the page on the desk. “And then there is Sir Aubrey Dedham… really, Mr. Elsington? Really? The fellow lives at the molly houses.” She frowned as her barrister stirred awkwardly in his high-backed chair. “Did you think I didn’t know the meaning of the term? How am I supposed to persuade a sodomite into marriage with a woman when he is not inclined toward women in the first place?” She scowled. “Though perhaps my possessing no feminine attributes is a recommendation.”
“Lady Russell, please…”
Eleanor held up a gloved hand. “Stop. I know what you are going to say. £30,000 will make any man blind. And this last entry.” She sighed and relaxed her upright spine for one moment before resuming her erect posture and folding her hands in her lap. “This last marital candidate.” She could feel the heat climb her neck into her cheeks at the thought of a man that elegant ever giving her a second look and if he did… she’d probably turn and flee.
“The Lord Miles Everleigh, twenty-five, the third of four sons, whose eldest brother is the new Duke of Chelsony. I understand Lord Miles lives on the charity of “friends” in return for his convivial companionship and educated guidance on the purchase of fine bloodstock. What could induce…”
She closed her eyes and fought back the tears that threatened. How had she come to this? Was she going to go through with an action that in her more rational moments caused her to lose the contents of her stomach? In short, yes. The alternative was even more appalling.
One thought of the manor house with its 100,000 acres of attached properties and villages all peopled with men and women who relied on her family for their livelihood... the thought of all this reverting to the Crown because of some quirk in the laws of primogeniture? Accompanying the loss would be the upheaval and complete displacement of the lovely Thoroughbred mares and stallions of impeccable breeding whose pedigrees she could recite to the nth generation and all their offspring, in short, the entire racing stud she’d helped her father make so fabulously successful. Well, it was enough to make anyone cry.
Despite having three torturous seasons on the marriage mart ten years ago, no eligible man—there’d been numerous made ineligible by virtue of being unacceptable to her parents or unacceptable to her—had stepped forward with an offer to make her his wife. All the wealth and property she would bring with her was insufficient incentive to overcome her plain features, awkward deportment and utter lack of the slightest feminine attribute, so… she’d have to buy a husband—and soon. With no male heir, upon the death of her father, the estate, and all its entailed properties would be subject to the peregrinations of escheat.
“Mr. Elsington…please. What could possibly recommend me to Lord Miles Everleigh? Even rusticating as I have been, I hear the on-dits about the ever-so-handsome and sophisticated Lord Miles Everleigh. There will always be other options for a man like this, much better options than a gawky plank of an ape-leader with shriveled social skills who reeks of the stables and is his senior by five years.”
The man across from her cleared his throat. “My lady…if I may be allowed…” He looked over his pince-nez. “The marriage agreement that you have required me to draw up demands a gentleman of a certain …” He shifted uncomfortably. “Ah…”
“Let me assist you. The word you want is desperation. It wants a gentleman who has reached a point of desperation. Well, Mr. Elsington, find more candidates. This week. I’m running out of time.”
“Err, yes, Lady Russell. Quite.” His eyes softened. “How is your father, my lady?”
Eleanor dropped her eyes and fought for composure until she was sure she could speak without succumbing to tears. “The physicians tell me, ‘at most a few months’. He could go at any time.”
“My sincere regrets, ma’am. Lord Rutledge is a fine gentleman.”
With a murmur of thanks, she inhaled and rose to her full height. Mr. Elsington was not a short man, but as he stood to escort her out, she topped him by a full head, reminding her yet again of her abysmal lack of any physical feature possessed by an even a moderately desirable woman. She hardened her jaw as she marched out of the law offices to her waiting carriage. There was no point in dwelling on a source of immense hurt that her adoring parents and formidable fortune hadn’t protected her from, nor the reasons for her present desperate action. She decided on the instant to go to the one place in all of London where she’d always felt at home regardless of the strictures of polite society and Richard Tattersal’s distinct lack of welcome for those of her sex.
“Take me to Tattersalls, John. They have advertised some young breeding stock I want to inspect. We need some outside lines to cross on Dare To Dream.”
“Yes, your ladyship.” With a tip of his beaver brim, he helped her into the carriage and climbed onto the box. At John Coachman’s instruction, the groom stepped away from the leaders, sprang to the back of the carriage and the team of beautifully matched bays stepped smartly away.
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