The Reasons for Marriage (Lester Family Series #1)by Stephanie Laurens
A favorite Regency romance from #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens
Lenore Lester was perfectly content with her quiet country life. She took steps to remain inconspicuous and tried her best to show indifference, but Jason, Duke of Eversleigh, could easily see behind her disguise. Though the awkward lady hid behind glasses and/p>/b>… See more details below
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A favorite Regency romance from #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens
Lenore Lester was perfectly content with her quiet country life. She took steps to remain inconspicuous and tried her best to show indifference, but Jason, Duke of Eversleigh, could easily see behind her disguise. Though the awkward lady hid behind glasses and pulled-back hair, she couldn't cover her beauty. Persistent in his affections, the notoriously charming Jason was determined to loosen the hold she had on her heart.
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The Reasons For Marriage
By Stephanie Laurens
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe door of the Duke of Eversleigh's library clicked shut. From his chair behind the huge mahogany desk, Jason Montgomery, fifth Duke of Eversleigh, eyed the oak panels with marked disfavour.
"Impossible!" he muttered, the word heavy with contemptuous disdain laced with an odd reluctance. As the sound of his cousin Hector's retreating footsteps dwindled, Jason's gaze left the door, travelling across the laden bookcases to the large canvas mounted on a nearby wall.
Expression bleak, he studied the features of the young man depicted there, the impudent, devil-may-care smile and mischievous grey eyes topped by wind-tousled dark brown hair. Broad shoulders were clad in the scarlet of regimentals, a lance stood to one side, all evidence of the subject's occupation. A muscle twitched at the corner of Jason's mouth. He quelled it, his austere, chiselled features hardening into a mask of chilly reserve.
The door opened to admit a gentleman, elegantly garbed and smiling amiably. He paused with his hand on the knob and raised a brow enquiringly.
"I saw your cousin depart. Are you safe?"
With the confidence of one sure of his welcome, Frederick Marshall did not wait for an answer but, shutting the door, strolled towards the desk between the long windows.
His Grace of Eversleigh let out an explosive sigh. "Damn it, Frederick, this is no laughing matter! Hector Montgomery is a man-milliner! It would be the height of irresponsibility for me to allow him to step into the ducal shoes. Even I can't stomach the thought - and I wouldn't be here to see it."
Pushing back his chair, Jason swung to face his friend as he sank into an armchair nearby. "More to the point," he continued, stretching his long legs before him, a somewhat grim smile twisting his lips, "tempting though the idea might be, if I introduced cher Hector to the family as my heir, there'd be a riot - a mutiny in the Montgomery ranks. Knowing my aunts, they would press for incarceration until such time as I capitulated and wed."
"I dare say your aunts would be delighted to know you see the problem - and its solution - so clearly."
At that, Jason's piercing gaze focused on his friend's face. "Just whose side are you on, Frederick?"
Frederick smiled. "Need you ask? But there's no sense in ducking the facts. Now Ricky's gone, you'll have to wed. And the sooner you make up your mind to it, the less likely it will be that your aunts, dear ladies, think to take a hand themselves - don't you think?"
Having delivered himself of this eminently sound piece of advice, Frederick sat back and watched his friend digest it. Sunshine shone through the windows at Jason's back, burnishing the famous chestnut locks cut short in the prevailing mode. Broad shoulders did justice to one of Schultz's more severe designs, executed in grey superfine, worn over tightly fitting pantaloons. The waistcoat Frederick espied beneath the grey coat, a subtle thing in shades of deeper grey and muted lavender, elicited a twinge of envy. There was one man in all of England who could effortlessly make Frederick Marshall feel less than elegant and that man was seated behind the desk, sunk in unaccustomed gloom.
Both bachelors, their association was bound by many common interests, but in all their endeavours it was Jason who excelled. A consummate sportsman, a noted whip, a hardened gamester and acknowledged rake, dangerous with pistols - and even more dangerous with women. Unused to acknowledging any authority beyond his own whims, the fifth Duke of Eversleigh had lived a hedonistic existence that few, in this hedonistic age, could match.
Which, of course, made the solution to his present predicament that much harder to swallow.
Seeing Jason's gaze, pensive yet stubborn, rise to the portrait of his younger brother, known to all as Ricky, Frederick stifled a sigh. Few understood how close the brothers had been, despite the nine years' difference in age. At twenty-nine, Ricky had possessed a boundless charm which had cloaked the wilful streak he shared with Jason - the same wilful streak that had sent him in the glory of his Guards' captaincy to Waterloo, there to die at Hougoumont. The dispatches had heaped praise on all the fated Guards-men who had defended the vital fort so valiantly, yet no amount of praise had eased the grief, all the more deep for being so private, that Jason had borne.
For a time the Montgomery clan had held off, aware, as others were not, of the brothers' affection. However, as they were also privy to the understanding that had been forged years before - that Ricky, much less cynical, much less hard than Jason, would take on the responsibility of providing for the next generation, leaving his older brother free to continue his life unfettered by the bonds of matrimony, it was not to be expected that the family's interest in Jason's affairs would remain permanently deflected. Consequently, when Jason had re-emerged, taking up his usual pursuits with a vigour which, Frederick shrewdly suspected, had been fuelled by a need to bury the recent past, his aunts became restive. When their arrogantly errant nephew continued to give no hint of turning his attention to what they perceived as a now pressing duty, they had, collectively, deemed it time to take a hand.
Tipped off by one of Jason's redoubtable aunts, Lady Agatha Colebatch, Frederick had deemed it wise to prod Jason's mind to deal with the matter before his aunts made his hackles rise. It was at his urging that Jason had finally consented to meet with his heir, a cousin many times removed.
The silence was broken by a frustrated snort.
"Damn you, Ricky," Jason grumbled, his gaze on his brother's portrait. "How dare you go to hell in your own way and leave me to face this hell on earth?"
Detecting the resigned undertones in his friend's complaint, Frederick chuckled. "Hell on earth?"
Abruptly straightening and swinging back to his desk, Jason raised his brows. "Can you think of a better description for the sanctified institution of marriage?"
"Oh, I don't know." Frederick waved a hand. "No reason it has to be as bad as all that."
Jason's grey gaze transfixed him. "You being such an expert on the matter?"
"Hardly me - but I should think you could figure as such."
"Me?" Jason looked his amazement.
"Well, all your recent mistresses have been married, haven't they?"
Frederick's air of innocence deceived Jason not one whit. Nevertheless, his lips twitched and the frown which had marred his strikingly handsome countenance lifted. "Your misogyny defeats you, my friend. The women I bed are prime reasons for my distrust of the venerable bonds of matrimony. Such women are perfect examples of what I should not wish for in a wife."
"Precisely," agreed Frederick. "So at least you have that much insight." He looked up to discover Jason regarding him intently, a suspicious glint in his silver-grey eyes.
"Frederick, dear chap, you aren't by any chance possessed of an ulterior motive in this matter, are you? Perchance my aunts have whispered dire threats in your ear?"
To his confusion, Frederick blushed uncomfortably. "Damn you, Jason, get those devilish eyes off me. If you must know, Lady Agatha did speak to me, but you know she's always been inclined to take your side. She merely pointed out that her sisters were already considering candidates and if I wished to avert a major explosion I'd do well to bring the matter to your mind."
Jason grimaced. "Well, consider it done. But having accomplished so much, you can damn well help me through the rest of it. Who the devil am I to marry?"
The question hung in the calm of the library while both men considered the possible answers.
Excerpted from The Reasons For Marriage by Stephanie Laurens Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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