The Spinster Bride by Jane Goodger
Mr. Charles Norris needs help finding a wife…
For he has the unfortunate habit of falling for each Season’s loveliest debutante, only to have his heart broken when she weds another. Surely Lady Marjorie Penwhistle can help him. She’s sensible, clever, knows the ton, and must marry a peer, which he is not. Since she’s decidedly out of his reach, Charles is free to enjoy her refreshing honesty—and her unexpectedly enticing kisses…
Lady Marjorie Penwhistle doesn’t want a husband…
At least not the titled-but-unbearable suitors her mother is determined she wed. She’d rather stay unmarried and look after her eccentric brother. Still, advising Mr. Norris is a most exciting secret diversion. After all, how hard will it be to match-make someone so forthright, honorable, and downright handsome? It’s not as if she’s in danger of finding Charles all-too-irresistible herself…
Excerpt: The Spinster Bride
Marjorie Penwhistle came to the startling realization, on the fifth of May in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred seventy-four, that she was destined to be a spinster. That she was, in fact, already a spinster. She had been overlooked.
Marjorie loved her mother dearly, but often found herself disliking her. The burden of always being the good child, the beautiful one, the charming and special one, grew tiresome. If she were the golden child, her poor brother George was the pariah. George, with all his wonderful imperfections, bitterly embarrassed their mother.
Sweet George, who didn’t have a mean bone in his lanky body, was the object of Lady Summerfield’s scorn. And so, as much as Marjorie loved her mother, she disliked her, too. Disliked the way she treated her beloved brother, the way her eyes turned cold when he walked into a room.
Marjorie wished her brother were here. Instead, he was out with their cousin, Jeffrey, a nice enough chap if you liked sullen men who constantly complained of their lack of funds. Ironically, the two were playing cards at their club. Marjorie gazed around the room, then halted when she saw the familiar shock of her brother’s bright red hair. Next to her, her mother stiffened, and Marjorie’s stomach twisted, to see the object of her thoughts walking toward them.
“Good God, he’s not even dressed,” Dorothea said with horror.
“He’s dressed, dear Mother, just not properly.” Marjorie gave George an affectionate smile. He was wearing an informal suit with a bright green vest and mustard-yellow cravat. His hair, never truly tamed, was particularly messy, as if he’d been out in a windstorm. Marjorie left her mother’s side to intercept him and lead him away from their parent. “I wasn’t expecting you this evening, George,” she said, looping her arm affectionately around one of his. “And from your dress, I don’t believe you were, either.”
“Mother is going to be so angry, Marjorie,” George said, swallowing thickly. He sounded frightened to death.
Marjorie felt the blood drain from her head, and she pulled him into a hall for even more privacy and to get away from her mother’s prying eyes. “What’s happened, George?”
“I like playing cards at school. I’m good at it, too. I almost always win because I know what cards there are. I keep track of what’s left, you see.”
“You gamble, George?” Marjorie asked, dreading what was to come.
“Only for a few pence at school. But I went to the club—it’s Wednesday, you know.”
Yes, Marjorie knew what day it was and also knew that on every Wednesday George went to his club without fail. However, she’d never known him to join a card game.
“I saw Lord Hefford and Lord Pendergast and asked if I could join their game. A Mr. Norris was there, too.”
“Charles Norris?” Marjorie asked, with the feeling of dread growing. She’d met Charles Norris during a house party. The boisterous Mr. Norris had briefly pursued her dear friend Katherine Wright, now the Countess of Avonleigh.
“Yes. Charles Norris. He won a lot of money from me.”
Marjorie could feel sweat forming along her hairline as her trepidation grew. Surely Mr. Norris would not take money from George.
Then again, perhaps he hadn’t noticed that her brother was slightly . . . off. Oh, she adored George, but she worried about him in social situations. He was brilliant researching law, which was why he was a solicitor, but he’d never be an effective barrister. He was, to say the least, awkward. “How much money did he win, George?”
“Twenty-four thousand, five hundred and thirty-two pounds.”
What little blood was left in her head drained away and Marjorie actually swayed. “Oh, no, George.” She knew it wasn’t the loss of money that was the most important thing, it was that George had lost the money. If it had been Marjorie, her mother would have forgiven it, would have even laughed at her daughter’s silly folly. But this was George and he would never be forgiven. It was simply another flaw that would never be overlooked, another reason for her mother to claim he was not worthy of the title. How many times had her mother said aloud that she wished she could petition the House of Lords to remove his title? Even Lady Summerfield knew that was a nearly impossible task. But losing such a sum? It would simply add fodder to her claims of incompetence. Poor George would not fare well in any public hearing.
“It’s all right, Margie. He said he’d forgive the debt. He gave me this note to deliver to you.”
The relief she felt was nearly as strong as the fear she’d experienced just moments before. Perhaps Mr. Norris was a good, fair man who realized George likely didn’t understand the enormity of what he’d done.
Marjorie took the note, suspecting it was simply an explanation of the evening’s events.
Please meet me at my townhouse 25 Bury St. immediately so that we may negotiate the terms of the dissolution of your brother’s debt. Yrs. Charles Norris.
The dread came back in force. Immediately? It was nearly one in the morning. She couldn’t possibly . . .
Oh, she would have to, drat it all. Marjorie looked up at George, angry with her brother for putting her in such a situation. And frustrated that he seemed so completely oblivious to this fact. “George, I am very, very angry with you.”
“Yes. You are never to gamble again, do you understand me, George? Never.”
George ducked his head, his pale, freckled cheeks turning scarlet. Marjorie instantly felt remorseful, for she couldn’t remember the last time she’d raised her voice to George. Using a softer tone, she said, “This was very bad of you, George. He has not forgiven the debt but has requested a meeting. Thank goodness he’s asked to see me and not Mother.”
George couldn’t know how very improper such a request was, and if she felt she had a choice, she would have refused. But how could she? If Mr. Norris did not forgive the debt, her mother would surely take steps to remove George from society. Why would any gentleman demand to see an unmarried woman in his townhouse at such a dis- reputable hour? For all his flaws—and Marjorie had noted quite a few in their brief acquaintance—she had thought him to be a gentleman.
She tried to remember what she did know of the man, but came up with a woefully small amount of information. If she remembered correctly, he was the second son of Viscount Hartley, and a diplomat of some sort who’d recently returned from somewhere. She gave an inward shrug. She’d no doubt find out more about his motives in a few minutes, for his home on Bury Street wasn’t far from where she stood now. If it weren’t for the hour, they could have walked. “You will accompany me to his townhouse, George, but wait in the carriage. If I do not return outside in twenty minutes, you are to knock loudly on the door and demand entrance.” George, with his head still down, nodded.
Once in the carriage, seated across from her brother, Marjorie tried to remain calm. Those words in the cryptic note nagged at her— “negotiate the terms.” What on earth could he mean by that? Her imagination suggested every scenario from her hand in marriage, to her virtue, or one of her family’s properties. But if he wanted a property, couldn’t he have negotiated that with George? Her brother was the head of the family and quite capable of such a negotiation.
Oh, God, would he want . . . favors? Her stomach twisted as she tried to recall anything she could about Charles Norris. He was a gentleman—at least he had been raised that way. His brother, heir to the viscountcy, was a highly respected man with an excellent reputation.
In short order, the carriage pulled up in front of the townhouse on fashionable Bury Street, not far from St. James’s Square. The streets were deserted, but well lit by gas lamps hissing in the quiet of the night. With a deep sigh, Marjorie stepped down from the carriage, ignoring the concerned look of their footman, and walked up the steps to the front door. Twisting the bell, she stepped back, clutching her fists to her stomach in a desperate attempt to squelch the sick nervousness settling there. She barely had time to collect herself when the door opened to a tall Indian man wearing a traditional dhoti and white turban.
“Lady Marjorie, please come in. Mr. Norris is expecting you.”
“Lovely,” Marjorie said, stepping into the dimly lit entry hall.
“This way.” The servant walked down a long, dark hall, which only added to the trepidation in her heart. She thought she heard a strange grunting sound coming from the direction of their path, and she stopped dead.
The man turned toward her inquiringly.
“I . . . Are there no lights?”
“Ah, forgive my rudeness. I am used to walking these halls in the darkness and quite forgot you are not familiar with this house.” He pulled a match from his pocket and lit a wall sconce. “Better, no?”
Marjorie smiled. “Much better, thank you.”
“Now we can contin—” His sentence was interrupted by a very loud and very foul curse. “Nighttime can be difficult for Mr. Norris,” the Indian said cryptically, before continuing down the hall.
“Perhaps another time would be better?” Marjorie called after him.
He turned again, smiling pleasantly. “This way, my lady.”
With a sigh of resignation, Marjorie began walking toward the end of the hall, stopping when the man knocked softly at a door, which showed a dim light underneath. Here they would no doubt find the loud and foul-mouthed Mr. Norris.
“Goddamnit, Prajit, if she ain’t here yet, leave me the fuck alone!”
“Perhaps I should come back at a more respectable hour, sir?”
Charles spun around from his spot by the fire where he’d stood, hoping the warmth of the flames would soothe the agonizing pain shooting through his leg. He muttered yet another curse, clenched his jaw, and forced a smile, which even he knew probably made him look like a madman.
“Lady Marjorie, I apologize for the lateness of the hour, but I wanted this resolved as soon as possible.”
Through the haze of pain, he was aware the lady was dressed for a ball, and he had enough wits about him to realize she’d been pulled from said ball to attend him. “And I apologize again for taking you from what I imagine was a pleasant evening.”
“Perhaps more pleasant than this,” she said, raising one brow in her lovely face.
Now that she was in front of him, he realized he remembered her quite well. It was rather difficult to meet Lady Marjorie Penwhistle and not remember her. She was, in fact, every Englishman’s fantasy of what an English woman should look like—if one preferred darkhaired beauties as opposed to blondes. Her complexion was near perfection, creamy and smooth with the slightest blush along her delicate cheekbones. Her nose was small, her chin perhaps a bit strong (a gift, no doubt, from her mother), but she was in no way mannish. Her eyes were dark, and in this light, he couldn’t tell if they were dark blue or perhaps brown. Her entire countenance gave her an air of authority and intelligence—and coldness. No, he wasn’t the least bit attracted to her.
She would be perfect for him.
Jane Goodger started her writing career as a journalist. She worked for several small, community papers before covering crime at a Connecticut daily, where she discovered life can be cruel and doesn’t often have a happy ending. Taking mattered into her own hands, Jane decided to recreate a world where all women are successful and brilliant, all men are kind, sexy, and gorgeous, and every story ends happily. She likes this world much better. Jane lives with her husband and three children in New England. You can visit her at www.janegoodger.com.