School Library Journal
Impoverished by her late husband's debts and needing money for her daughter's dowry, Lady Sabrina Winfield heads for Egypt on a treasure hunt only to be followed by the protective Earl of Wyldewood, with whom she shares a past, and assorted well-intentioned relatives in this lively, refreshing tale, first published in 1996.
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The Perfect Wife
Sabrina Winfield muttered under her breath and glared with distaste at the offensive paperwork spread before her.
Absently she drummed her fingers in a rhythmic tattoo on the worn, highly polished mahogany desk and scanned the papers littering the desktop once again, hoping to find something, anything that would make a difference. Already she knew full well that hope was futile. The accounting sheets and investment reports painted a dismal picture.
"Damnation." She groaned and glanced quickly at the closed door to her library. It would not do to have the servants or, worse yet, her daughter hear her talking like a common woman of the streets. But in all her years of living the proper life expected of someone of her social status, she had never found anything quite as satisfying as a good curse. Privately, of course.
Sabrina returned her attention to the documents before her. She had enough funds left to live a respectable, if somewhat frugal, life. Unfortunately, frugal was not a word she took to easily.
It was all that idiot Fitzgerald's fault. She should have known the little pig-faced man who slobbered all over her hand in lieu of a greeting would spell disaster. Why she had let him handle her financial affairs when his father died was beyond comprehension. Obviously a misplaced sense of loyalty.
The elder Fitzgerald had been a man with a solid business head and a shrewd eye. He had discreetly handled her affairs for nearly nine years before his inconvenient demise and had built her initial investment into a substantial,comfortable, and even excessive fortune. And in spite of her gender, he had listened to her suggestions and wishes and accepted her financial acumen. But in the short year since his death, his fool of a son had whittled her funds down to the meager accounting now laid out before her.
A nagging voice at the back of her mind pointed out that perhaps it was not entirely the junior Fitzgerald's fault. Oh, she'd taken a firm hand with her investments as usual at first, but her attention had slackened. Reluctantly she admitted she had not kept the close eye out she should have, distracted by her daughter's coming-out season. A season she had squandered far more on than was prudent.
Still, she thought stubbornly, it was money well spent. Belinda deserved the best. Besides, the gamble had paid off handsomely. Belinda was in love and wished to marry a charming young man from a well-respected family. He was heir to an impressive title, with a family fortune both immense and sound. Sabrina had made discreet inquiries just to make sure. She did not want her child's life ever to be threatened by the need for money and the lack of it. Not the way hers once was.
The marriage that would ensure her daughter's future was exactly what made her present financial difficulties so distressing. A wedding meant a dowry commensurate with Sabrina and her late husband's social position, a dowry worthy of the dowager Marchioness of Stanford. Hah! An impressive title, but that and half a crown would get her a hired carriage ride around the city and little else.
She had no idea how to raise the kind of funds necessary for an impressive dowry. There were very few acceptable ways for a woman to make money. Marriage for herself would, of course, solve all her problems. Most, if not all, of the women she knew married with wealth and rank in mind. Still, marrying strictly for monetary gain seemed somehow distasteful. She certainly hadn't married for money the first time. Life would have been much easier if she had. Her daughter would not marry for money either. Still, the presence of substantial wealth, while not a requirement, was most definitely a delightful bonus.
Sabrina sighed and pushed her chair away from the desk. There would be time enough to return to her vexing financial problems tomorrow. Time enough to deal with the panic threatening to rise within her. Tonight she and Belinda were to attend a soiree at her future son-in-law's. Both parents had already given permission for the match, even though it was yet to be formally announced. Sabrina expected tonight to finally meet the boy's father.
The elusive Earl of Wyldewood was well known in government and diplomatic circles, but he had never crossed Sabrina's path, and she admitted to a certain amount of curiosity about the man. Gossip told her he had a sizable reputation with women and was considered something of a rake. Sabrina refused to hold that against him. After all, her husband had been a well-known rake before their marriage, and everyone knew reformed rakes made the best husbands. She liked the son; surely she would like the father as well.
She cast one last disgusted glance at the pages littered over the desk and rose to her feet. Sabrina shook her head in irritation and prayed all would work out. Her natural optimism returned, and a slight smile played across her lips. All had certainly worked out the last time she had faced a financial crisis this severe. But the solution she'd found those many years ago would not serve now. Realistically she could not take up smuggling again.
Her reluctance had nothing to do with the illegality of the activity. It was not a question of morality or conscience. Sabrina was, above all, a realist. With the war over, and most goods flowing freely, there was no real call for smuggling.
A pity, really. Today there was simply no money in it.
Nicholas Harrington, Earl of Wyldewood, gazed around his ballroom with equal parts dismay and curiosity. He was usually more than comfortable in a social setting. But this was his own home, and the scale of preparation necessary for such an event seemed massive. Fortunately he had the able assistance of his sister, Wynne. The Perfect Wife. Copyright © by Victoria Alexander. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.