The Marquess and the Maiden(3)

By: Robyn Dehart

Well, he would not marry a woman for her money. He would rebuild the family fortune himself. His gaze moved back to Catherine and her husband. He had no intention of marrying anyone, ever. He didn’t give a damn if the title died with him or went to some distant cousin who lived in the country with pigs and sheep.

He’d never subject himself to that kind of rejection again, which meant he had to end this ridiculous plan of their mothers before it went too far.

Harriet was finally quiet for several moments before she spoke again. “It would appear that our mothers are doing a bit of matchmaking.”

“Indeed.” He grabbed a flute of champagne off a footman’s tray and drained the glass. Then he turned and faced the attractive, yet annoyingly cheerful, woman before him. “It won’t work.”

“Sorry? What won’t?”

How was it possible for her eyes to be that round and that blue? “This.” He motioned at the space between them. “I am not interested.”

She opened her mouth to speak, then stopped, leaving her rosebud lips in an O shape. And his disinterest wasn’t the entire truth. She was far too attractive, boasting curves that a girl of ten and nine should not possess. In fact, he’d found that most women in London lacked such lush curves. But the things he’d want to do with Harriet Wheatley involved her mouth being otherwise occupied; the only sound emitting from her lips would be cries of pleasure.

“I realize I am not your first choice. I’m certainly not beautiful in the fashionable way, but I do have a hefty dowry. And you are in need of funds. It seems as if we could solve each other’s problems.”

“No,” he said flatly.

“Don’t you want better for your mother?”

“Even that isn’t enough to tempt me.” He leaned in slightly, not too close, but enough that she could hear his lowered voice. “I don’t want your money, and I don’t want you.”

Harriet fell backward onto her bed. Humiliation burned in her stomach. Tonight was supposed to be a guaranteed match, a union     brought about by two people who couldn’t find anyone else to marry. Yet he’d rejected her. It was official—no man wanted her. Well, she wouldn’t ever do that again. She would rather die alone than feel like this again.

She certainly didn’t want to marry the Marquess of Davenport, either. He was far too bleak and taciturn for her tastes. It mattered not that he was so handsome, she’d had a difficult time formulating coherent sentences when she looked at his face. Instead, she’d prattled on about the weather. He must think her the silliest of females.

That was the most humiliating thing she’d ever endured. She’d practically begged him to marry her. He had been horribly rude coming right out and saying he wasn’t interested in her. All the while his eyes had slid over her entire person so thoroughly she’d felt exposed, felt every last flaw in her flesh. She’d always been a plump girl, but her mother had assured her that she’d grow out of it. Instead, it had gotten worse, since she’d never grown much taller than she’d been when she was ten and five. And shorter than average meant that her body couldn’t spread out as much as others could. What resulted was a more than ample bosom, but also a soft belly and too round of a bottom.

She didn’t need an arrogant man to remind her she wasn’t attractive. No, she’d never endure again what had happened tonight. Tomorrow she would tell her mother, in no uncertain terms, she would only ever consider marriage for love. If there ever was a next time, she wanted to be certain the man truly wanted her.

Chapter One

London, May 1851

Oliver stepped into the smaller dining room they used for breakfast and informal dinners, and his mother nearly choked on her eggs. He ignored her reaction and made his way over to the sideboard and fixed himself a plate. He’d learned long ago how to balance anything with his left hand while keeping his right hand on his cane so as to not fall over. It had taken practice, and he’d stumbled many times, not always in private, either.

“Good morning,” she said, not hiding the surprise in her tone. “I had thought you’d forgotten breakfast was a customary task.”

“I do eat breakfast, Mother,” he said, taking his seat adjacent her at the table. “I tend to do so after you.”

“Because you are out so late.”

He shrugged. “Benedict’s doesn’t open until later in the evening. You left me a note last night expressing a desire to speak with me, so here I am.”

“And so compliant.” She frowned at him. “What has gotten into you this morning? Are you ill?”

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