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The Wedding Chase
By Kasey Michaels Gayle Wilson Lyn Stone
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn His Lordship's Bed by Kasey Michaels
Eleanor Oglesby could be a dreamer.
She could dream about palaces and princes, fairy godmothers and magic spells.
She could lose herself in a fantasy and forget that the real world existed.
But not, alas, today.
Today, Eleanor Oglesby was most reluctantly being driven away from London at the height of the Season, trapped inside a badly sprung rented coach, forced to attend her older sister, who was traveling to her husband's ancestral home for her coming confinement because she "Couldn't bear, just couldn't bear it if the infant arrived early and Walter missed the birth."
At least Francesca would come out of that "confinement" with a brand new son or daughter - No, definitely a son. Walter Fiske had decreed it, and so it therefore must be.
Eleanor, on the other hand, would merely be released from her own "confinement" just in time for the King's birthday, the end of the Season, and yet another coach trip back to her ancestral home.
Not that Eleanor didn't love her sister, or babies, for that matter - but she definitely was not enamored of the top-lofty and rather bossy Walter. And not that the Season had been running along that smoothly, seeing that Eleanor was petite, brunette and brown-eyed, and the favor this Season ran to tall, blond and blue-eyed.
She was not in fashion, and the saddest part was knowing that gentlemen she might have otherwise considered handsome and appealing were all competing like fools for the honor of drooling on the shoe tops of all the tall, blond, blue-eyed debutantes, just because they were in fashion. Half of these females giggled and the rest could be dumb as red-bricks. But fashion was fashion. That knowledge had not only depressed Eleanor, it had depressed her admiration for the supposed smarter sex.
Still, she liked London. Adored London, in fact. And this was to have been her first Season. Wasn't it just like Francesca to pick now to give silly Walter Fiske his heir? She might even have done it on purpose, counted out the months on her fingertips - Francesca had never been accomplished at sums - just to be sure she would be delivering that heir smack in the middle of Eleanor's first Season.
Francesca could be like that.
With their mother long dead, it had naturally fallen to Francesca to take over the rearing of Eleanor, four years her junior. The secret pinches, tickles and nasty remarks Francesca had employed to torment her sister for this added burden were still not quite a distant memory.
But they had both grown up, eventually. Francesca, now three and twenty, had been married for two years. And those two years, which Eleanor had spent alone with her father in Kent, had probably been the happiest of her life.
That was because her father was hunt mad, and mad for fishing, for billiards and for gallons of port shared with male friends - all of which kept him away from their home for months on end, leaving Eleanor to her own devices.
But she had to be chaperoned for the Season. Oh, yes, quite definitely, and a woman must monitor her wardrobe, her hair, her deportment. Some man of sense must vet all of her invitations so that the fool child wouldn't innocently accept an invitation to stroll the Dark Walk at Vauxhall, or to attend some risqué masquerade where disguised ladies of the evening mingled with the ton.
Who better, their father had said before haring off to Scotland, to take his dear Eleanor in hand than his so-sensible Francesca and her fine, upstanding husband? Which had brought Eleanor and Francesca back together again, neither of them exactly overjoyed by either the prospect or the reality.
So Eleanor had been tutored in the dance, her manners had been frowned over, much to her frequent embarrassment, and she and Francesca and the ever-frugal Walter had been installed in the Oglesby town house in Mayfair, Eleanor champing at the bit to be out and about, and Francesca repeatedly complained about her altered shape, her swollen ankles and the fact that her dearest Walter had been unexpectedly summoned to his father's estate because of something to do with poor field drainage.
Since Walter had deserted the theoretical ship, it had been left to Eleanor to do the entirety of the care and feeding of Francesca. Francesca, who quite obviously believed herself to be the first woman on earth to give birth, stated - again, repeatedly - that Eleanor "owed" her for the years she had helped raise such a wild, contrary and perpetually ungrateful brat.
"Does this mean I get to pinch you when nobody is looking, then say I have no idea why you're crying?" Eleanor had asked with her sweetest smile.
Francesca hadn't spoken to her for three days, which had suited Eleanor straight down to the ground.
But now Francesca was speaking to her again. Repeatedly. Incessantly. The hair-witted woman never shut up!
Even as they rattled and bounced their way through the countryside in Walter's idea of a "fine, closed carriage," Francesca was running her tongue nineteen to the dozen, when all Eleanor could do was close her eyes and hope her stringy mutton stew partaken of three hours earlier at a most inferior inn wouldn't come rushing back up for an encore.
"You will, of course, defer in all things to me, Eleanor, while we're at Fiske Hall, and during the worst hours of my confinement, to Mrs. Thistle-down, who has been with the family for eons, and brooks no nonsense from flighty young girls, let me tell you."
"Yes, Francesca," Eleanor said, then bit her lips together, because the mutton was knocking on the back of her teeth.
"And you will not refer to Walter as 'Fiske-the tight-fist' behind his back, the way I heard you muttering under your breath last week when Walter forwarded our travel arrangements to us. This is a perfectly fine coach."
"It smells like moldy hay and sweat," Eleanor said. "I feel it only fair to warn you, Francesca, that if you don't soon let me drop a window I could be very, very ill. Messily ill."
"Oh, for pity's sake, stop your whining. Drop the window. But if I catch cold, it will be on your head. I carry the heir, remember?"
"How can I forget?" Eleanor sniped. "You remind me every five seconds." She removed boxes and bags from beside her on the worn velvet seat in order to scoot over and drop the window, only to find that it was stuck shut. "And why should I have expected anything else?"
Excerpted from The Wedding Chase by Kasey Michaels Gayle Wilson Lyn Stone Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.