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The Price of Indiscretion
By Cathy Maxwell
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Cathy Maxwell
All right reserved.
"No, I absolutely will not do it," Miranda Cameron told her sisters, Charlotte and Constance. "I don't want to marry." She attempted to yank her arm away from her oldest sister's hold and hurry out the door, but Charlotte held fast.
They stood in the entrance hallway of Beardsley's, a popular but respectable inn located close to the New York docks, where Charlotte had caught Miranda before she could bolt out the door. A group of men had to squeeze by them on their way to the taproom. Aware of the curious glances, Charlotte pulled Miranda into a corner, so as to shield their conversation from prying ears, and replied, "You must go. If you don't, we shall never amount to anything. We are the granddaughters of an earl -- "
"One who drank and gambled his fortune away," Miranda shot back.
"As if the rest of them don't?" Charlotte said.
"How would you know?" Miranda challenged. "We've lived our lives in the Ohio Valley, not London. This is the farthest either of us has ever traveled."
"I listen to everything I can about the nobility," her sister answered. "I ask questions and remember everything Mother told us--"
"I remember, too," Miranda said, stung by the implied accusation that she could have forgotten their mother in any way.
"Then you know what she wanted for us," Charlotte said. "Constance was too young when she died, but you know."
Miranda did know. Their mother, who had died in an Indian raid fifteen years earlier, had never wanted them to forget they had the blood of the Conqueror flowing through their veins.
"She'd have wanted us to return to London, to find proper husbands," Charlotte said.
"But I thought Mother and Papa were a love match? I thought they were happy," Constance said. She was nineteen, the youngest. Charlotte and Miranda were twenty-six and twenty-five, and only ten months apart.
"They were," Miranda answered. "Although she didn't have many choices when our grand-father died. Being an earl's daughter with no family, no relatives, not even a farthing to her name didn't give her many choices. Everything had to be sold around her to meet his debts. She was lucky to have met Father."
"Who promised to make her wealthy," Charlotte said with a trace of bitterness.
"I don't think she was unhappy," Miranda argued. "They loved each other. I just don't believe she realized how hard it would be over here."
"Or how violent," Charlotte tacked on, reminding them all why they had chosen to leave the frontier. There had been another Indian uprising. A family no more than two miles from the Cameron Trading Post had been massacred. Having seen their mother and baby brother die the same way, all three girls were ready to begin new lives. They had nothing holding them there.
Charlotte gave Miranda's arm a squeeze. "We are the granddaughters of an earl. We have a chance to return to England, and I want it, Miranda. I want it for all of us."
"Then let us take the money and go," she countered, referring to eight hundred pounds they'd found hidden in a secret drawer under the counter where their father had counted pelts. "That's what we had planned to do."
The money had been a complete surprise. Their father, who had died suddenly the month before, had always pleaded poverty. They'd not expected to inherit anything and had thought themselves worse off than their mother had once been. When a German had offered to buy their small stake in the Cameron Trading Post, the girls had gladly accepted the pittance he'd been willing to pay, especially after the deaths of the William and Nell McBride and their children.
Then fortune finally smiled on the Camerons. While cleaning the one-room trading post for the new owner, Constance had accidentally hit her head on the counter edge when she rose from the floor. A secret drawer had slid open, and inside was eight hundred British pounds. Where it had come from, they didn't know. Perhaps their mother had had a dowry, and their parents had saved it for them. Considering the bitter man their father had become, it wasn't likely. However, this money gave them possibilities.
Excerpted from The Price of Indiscretion by Cathy Maxwell Copyright © 2005 by Cathy Maxwell. Excerpted by permission.
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