Chapter OneBlythe Hall, Suffolk
Four Years Later
"Garrick, you must tell me -- who is that beautiful lady I met at the train station?"
Lifting his attention from the row of figures, Garrick Throckmorton stared at Ellery. His younger brother stood framed in the doorway of the study, his clothing exquisitely cut, his blond hair styled perfectly, his tanned cheeks flushed with becoming color.
Throckmorton had hoped to finish writing instructions on the accounting to his secretary before putting in his first appearance at the reception, but as he studied his over-excited, excessively handsome younger brother, he realized that would not be possible. He recognized trouble when he saw it, and in this family, trouble almost always came in the shape of Ellery Throckmorton. "A beautiful lady?" Throckmorton blotted his pen. "Your fiancée, I would hope."
"No, no. Not Hyacinth." Ellery waved off his intended with a sweep of his elegant hand. "Most certainly not Hyacinth."
The sound of violins, cellos and French horns drifted in from the terrace and the drawing rooms along with the babble of guests, arrived just this afternoon for five days of festivities celebrating Ellery's betrothal to Lady Hyacinth Illington. Therefore; Throckmorton realized,their own voices could be heard -- not that such a paltry consideration would occur to Ellery. "Shut the door," Throckmorton instructed, and waited until Ellery had complied. "Hyacinth is quite a handsome girl."
"She's handsome enough." Ellery glanced at the cutglass decanter of brandy onthe sideboard. "But this was a woman, and what a woman! She --"
Determined to halt this liaison before it started, Throckmorton interrupted. "Starting an affair at your betrothal celebration is in extremely poor taste."
"An affair?" Ellery's long, elegant face grew longer. "I couldn't start an affair with that girl! She's dewy with innocence."
If Ellery didn't want an affair, what did he want? Marriage? To a girl whose name was unknown to him?
Oh, yes. Such a romantic flight of fancy was bound to appeal to Ellery. Handsome, frivolous, light-hearted Ellery, who wanted nothing so much as to remain an available bachelor forever.
Removing his glasses, Throckmorton rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Dewy. Hm. Yes. But, as I'd like to point out, so is Lady Hyacinth -- and she's your betrothed."
In a daring rush of words, Ellery said, "My betrothed, not my wife."
Damn. Throckmorton should have known this whole arrangement had gone too easily. He'd been waiting for the other shoe to fall, and by God, it had -- not surprisingly, in the form of a woman. "You didn't object to the engagement before."
Ellery stiffened. He stalked forward. Placing his hands flat on the desk, he leaned toward Throckmorton and glared, his blue eyes narrowed. Only the length and sweep of his eyelashes detracted from the menace he projected. "Object? I most certainly did object, but you had high-handedly put the announcement in the Times without consulting me."
"Pah. You could have raved and shouted until I withdrew my offer on your behalf. You didn't." Throckmorton neatly corked his ink, placed his pen in his desk drawer and started to slide it closed. Something caught his eye, and he opened it again. A pen was missing. Two pens. "Have the children been playing in here again?"
"I don't know, and don't try and change the subject!" Ellery rapped his knuckles on the desk.
The governess couldn't get here too soon, Throckmorton reflected. The girls were running wild...or rather, Kiki was running wild and half the time dragging Penelope with her. The loss of his pens were the least of the problem.
Ellery said, "I didn't object because you never gave me a chance."
"And because Lady Hyacinth is a very handsome female, and anheiress, and the daughter of the Marquess of Longshaw. And because you know it's time for you to settle down, "Reflecting bitterly on the fate of his pens, Throckmorton shut the drawer. "An aging roué is an ugly thing."
"I'm only twenty-six."
"I married at twenty-one." Throckmorton waved his paper briefly to dry it, then placed it in the wooden box on top of his desk. Locking the box, he dropped the key into his packet.
Ellery observed his every movement. "Father married at forty."
"He had to make his fortune first so he could afford to buy an aristocratic bride."
"Mother would tack your ears to a slateboard if she heard you talking about her like that."
"Probably." Throckmorton pushed back his chair. The plain brown leather furniture slid on a thick Oriental rug of rich azure and peach on a background of winter white. The stripped drapes, accented with gold, echoed the azure and peach, as did the Oriental vases and the flowers they held. Each artifact, each knickknack, each ornament was placed with taste and gave the chamber a sense of tranquility, which belied the chaos of Throckmorton's business life.
For the refined touches he could thank his mother. Lady Philberta Breckinridge-Wallingfork had been but twenty years old and the daughter of one of England's oldest earldoms when she had been forced by her family's impoverished circumstances to wed. Yet she had been a dutiful wife to Stanley Throckmorton and a good mother to the boys. Because of Lady Philberta and her family's prestige, the Throckmortons were able to circulate among the ton, to give parties like this one and see London's finest in their drawing rooms. The ton might whisper about them behind their fans, but never did those whispers reach Throckmorton's ears, as the Throckmorton males had a reputation for swift and righteous retaliation. "Lady Hyacinth will add just as much luster to the Throckmorton name as Mother did when she married Father."
Turning, Ellery leaned against the massive desk, crossed his arms, and gave his impression of an ill-used man brooding. “It doesn't hurt..." In My Wildest Dreams
. Copyright © by Christina Dodd. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.