Antonia Locke longs to be slender like her pretty sister, but she is too plump for the ton. That is why she is shocked when Patrick Fairchild, the Duke of Exton, suddenly seems interested in her. She has no idea that he wants to seduce her . . . into posing au naturel for one of his paintings. No one, beyond his household, knows of his love for painting, which is hardly a proper pastime for a duke. But if he can finish this one, he will be happy. All he needs is for Antonia to pose for him, but how can he convince the proper daughter of the village's schoolmaster to agree? Marriage. He will marry her, paint her portrait, and then live separately from her once she has given him an heir. After all, many men do that, but one thing he can't imagine being in the picture—falling in love with his model—turns his plans toward a model marriage.
|Publisher:||Open Road Distribution|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||364 KB|
About the Author
Jo Ann Ferguson is a lifelong storyteller and the author of numerous romantic novels. She also writes as Jo Ann Brown and Mary Jo Kim. A former US Army officer, she has served as the president of the national board of the Romance Writers of America and taught creative writing at Brown University. She currently lives in Nevada with her family, which includes one very spoiled cat.
Read an Excerpt
A Model Marriage
A Regency Romance
By Jo Ann Ferguson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Jo Ann Ferguson
All rights reserved.
"A curse on the head of whoever invented this dashed contrivance!" Antonia Locke tugged at her corset, trying to adjust the straps to make them more comfortable. Impossible, she discovered when they refused to move. Dropping to sit on the tufted chair in the bedchamber she shared with her sister, she sighed.
"Do not be cast down, sister dear," murmured Mignon as she toyed with the front of her blue sprigged muslin gown, brushing the ribbons into a perfect pattern along her slender body. "Wearing a corset is worth the discomfort when you see the admiring eyes aimed in your direction."
"Not in mine." She rested her chin on her palm and watched her sister, who was older by a year, finish her toilette in preparation for Lord Carrier's call.
"You have your admirers as well, although you seem loath to own to that." She piled her brown hair up around her face and examined herself in the glass that was set by the wide bed they shared in the cramped room.
"Reverend Mr. St. John always greets you with rare warmth."
"He greets everyone warmly."
"But not as he greets you. I swear, he lingers by the church door every Sunday in hopes of seeing you."
"In hopes, you must own," Antonia said with a smile, "that I will come to play music for the services, so he does not have to suffer through young Miss Gardener's playing—although she has improved much of late."
"Most likely because of the attentions of her teacher. I believe you could teach a donkey to play the pianoforte."
"I was unable to teach you."
Mignon laughed. "Which proves my assertion." Turning back to the glass, she gathered her hair into place and asked, "How does this look?"
Antonia stood and took a ribbon from the table by the cheval glass. Tying it into a lazy bow, she draped it over her sister's hair and stepped back to admire her handiwork. Mignon Locke epitomized all that was pretty. Her slender hands were as light as a country tune, and her hair did not resist, as Antonia's did, any styling except falling into a rhapsody of curls. "Lord Carrier will be overmastered by your loveliness this evening, Mignon, not mine."
"Antonia, you must not think of yourself as undesirable." She winced and smiled as she pulled at the side of her gown. "Nor are you the only one who must suffer the indignities of a corset."
"But you wear it to keep you up, not to hold you in."
Mignon stepped away from the glass and pushed Antonia in front of it. "Look at yourself, Antonia. I may be more slender than you, but I would trade my very soul to have your thick, golden hair. Mine is a most common brown and does not have your wondrous curls." Her smile softened. "And you know as well as I that what resides within means so much more than what lies without."
"I know that." Antonia turned away from her reflection to collect her pink muslin gown and draw it on. She did not enjoy primping in front of the glass like her sister did. In fact, she tried to avoid any glass.
True, she was not as round as Mrs. Raye, the lady who led the choir at church, but Antonia knew she never would be mistaken for one of the svelte creatures who populated the pages of Ackermann's Repository. Her limbs were a bit too full, and her bosom, when pressed up stylishly by her corset, resembled a spacious shelf. No, she more closely took after one of Cruikshank's caricatures.
But you have such a lovely face. How many times had she heard those words, which were meant to be comforting but somehow added to her dismay? Friends hurried to laud the fact that she had had the good fortune to inherit her late mother's hair and features while they ignored that she might one day be as thick as Papa. The extra flesh that was accepted on a man as a sign of a successful life—and Papa had a reputation as the best schoolmaster in this part of England—would be denounced on a woman as overindulgence.
How she longed to be as lithe as Mignon! She knew it was want-witted to dream of such, for she had always been what Mama had called "pleasingly plump." If she were so pleasing, then why did all the gentlemen come calling for Mignon?
She chided herself. Nothing would make her happier than to see her sister married well and happily. And Mignon should be wed first, for she was the elder. It was simply, as Lord Carrier called more frequently, that Antonia was haunted by the nightmare of spending the rest of her days alone on the shelf. She could imagine nothing worse.
"Oh, here is Lord Carrier!" Mignon exclaimed from near the small room's sole window. "And, Antonia, he has brought his dear friend Mr. Lewis with him."
"Mr. Lewis?" Her nose wrinkled. After all her silent grousing, she deserved to be burdened with such a caller. Worse than being left permanently on the shelf was having to endure the long silences whenever Ellis Lewis called. They had nothing in common save that his best friend was courting her sister. He did not even like music, which to Antonia made him beyond redemption. "Mignon, I had hoped to spend the evening with Papa."
"Do not be skimble-skamble. Papa is lost in some textbook, and he will not wish to be disturbed. You know how he likes to have a quiet evening after his tutoring sessions with the McClain children." Taking Antonia's hands, she said, "I cannot receive Lord Carrier without you there to be a watchdog."
"You will have Mr. Lewis."
Mignon gasped in horror. "Antonia, to receive two gentlemen alone would cause talk throughout Extonbury. Do come with me."
"And do be kind to Mr. Lewis, Antonia."
"And do say more than two words in a row to him."
She smiled ruefully, wondering if Mignon could gauge her thoughts. "I shall endeavor to do my best, but it takes two to make a conversation."
"Mayhap Lord Carrier made the same suggestion to his friend," Mignon offered.
"We can only hope so."
"Antonia, please ..."
Giving her sister a swift hug, she said, "I was only funning you. You know I will have my most polished manners in place when we greet your beau."
"Do you think the baron considers himself my beau?"
Dutifully, Antonia soothed her sister's qualms and went down the stairs with Mignon to the small foyer that was walled in dark walnut. She said nothing as Mignon opened the door to usher in their visitors. When lean, lanky Lord Carrier stepped into the light from the lamp set on the table by the stairs, she gasped in unison with her sister. He was lathered with drying mud.
"What happened to you?" cried Mignon.
"We were nearly killed." Lord Carrier pulled a handkerchief from beneath his ruined waistcoat, which once might have been red-striped but was now a dank brown. He dabbed futilely at the filth masking his face. "I must ask you to excuse me from our planned conversation this evening, Miss Locke." He glanced at Antonia. "I had hoped to enjoy more of your music, Miss Antonia. Ellis is bereft at the idea of missing the opportunity to see you again."
"I am sure," Mignon said, glancing at Antonia.
Antonia knew silence was her best choice. Anything she said now would surely be inappropriate. Mr. Lewis was tone deaf, and he squirmed with boredom whenever she played the pianoforte. No doubt he was as grateful as she at the chance to put an early conclusion to this evening.
Lord Carrier gave Mignon a smile as he continued to clean his face. "You are the most gracious hostesses in the shire."
"Mayhap you may call again soon."
"As soon as possible." He reached for Mignon's hand, but paused and looked guiltily at Antonia. Squaring his shoulders, he said, "I trust Ellis and I may knock down your door Saturday next."
"A whole week from now?" Mignon's brown eyes dimmed. "It shall seem a lifetime, Lord Carrier."
"I regret the delay as well." Sighing, he gave up trying to get the mud off his face.
Just as well, Antonia decided. It was drying to a shade not so different from his hair. If he could pull off the mud without cracking it, he would have an excellent mold of his face. She struggled not to smile at the untoward thought. When Mignon flashed her a frown, she knew she had been unsuccessful at hiding her amusement.
"However," Lord Carrier continued, "it will take most of the week to oversee the repairs on my carriage."
"Did you upset it?" Antonia asked.
Mignon looked daggers at her as she hastened to say, "Antonia dear, you know that Lord Carrier is no lame-hand. You yourself remarked after our last drive how he drove with cautious skill."
She recalled mentioning the caution, but not the skill, for, to own the truth, Lord Carrier drove no faster than she could walk.
Lord Carrier's scowl flaked the drying mud off his cheeks. "It mattered little what my skills were when we were run off the road."
"Oh, my!" cried Mignon. "Are you hurt? Should I send for the doctor?"
"We are filthy, and my carriage has one cracked axle. We shall be able to limp home, but I would trust it to go no farther."
"We were driving into Extonbury and were almost at the bridge. Suddenly, as if riding on the wings of a hellhound hag, a vehicle sped toward us. I had no choice but to pull to the side. A wheel caught in the mud at the edge of the water, and we went over."
Antonia lowered her eyes. Dear God, if Mignon saw the amusement in them just now, her sister would be as mad as hops. But the thought of the proper Lord Carrier and the odious Mr. Lewis upended in the brook was hilarious.
"You are fortunate not to be injured," Mignon said with sympathy.
"My carriage suffered greatly." His voice softened as he added, "And I had just gotten new cushions for it, Miss Locke, so it would be more commodious for our next outing. Now they are ruined."
"Who would do such a thing?" asked Antonia. "The residents of Extonbury are, without fail, cautious and courteous."
Lord Carrier gaped at her as if he had forgotten she stood there. "There is one who is not."
"If I find out, you may rest assured the moonling will rue this evening as much as I do."
"You should go to the authorities," came a deeper voice behind her.
Antonia smiled as Papa came out into the foyer, filling the small space beyond comfort. Nearly as rotund as he was tall, Papa wore a quizzing glass over his rumpled waistcoat. The finish had worn off from years of holding it to his eyes as he perused one book or another. His balding head shone more brightly between the few wisps of hair that once had been as dark as Mignon's. With a bulbous face that could flash from laughter to fury in a single heartbeat, he was a man of strong passions, which his students learned quickly were best not aroused.
"I would have little to tell them, Mr. Locke," Lord Carrier said, shifting from one foot to the other as a puddle of water formed beneath him. "It happened so swiftly, and it was quite dark."
"You saw nothing?"
"Nothing, for the vehicle was being driven by a neck-or-nothing madman. I fear that we may not be his only victims before he is halted."
Papa sighed, his full belly bouncing on the motion. "It is too bad that the old duke is not still alive. He surely would deal with this want-witted chap without delay."
"Mayhap it was nothing but an accident," Antonia said quietly. "Mayhap the vehicle was out of control. No one in Extonbury would drive with such a lack of common sense."
"There was nothing common about this lack of sense," argued Lord Carrier, his jutting chin warning that he did not intend to be induced to change his mind on this matter. "You cannot ignore the truth. A man who would drive another off the road and not pause to check if anyone was hurt might stop at nothing to satisfy himself." His voice took on a decidedly melodramatic tone. "If this foolhardy fool is not stopped, someone shall be hurt."
Patrick Fairchild turned his blue-wheeled phaeton at an impossible speed onto the narrow country lane. When it tilted up on two wheels, he stood and shifted to force it back onto all four. He roared with laughter as one wheel bounced into a chuckhole, threatening to send the vehicle to disaster.
"Isn't this a tip-top spree?" he shouted over the thundering hoofs.
"Faster!" called Gordon Boswell, his best friend and coconspirator in their attempt last night to empty every bottle in the Drake's Mistress tavern. Gordon's red hair blew back from his ruddy face as he waved his hat high above his head. "Faster! There has to be more rum waiting for us in this backwater shire." Lifting a bottle, he tilted it back. He cursed.
"What is amiss?" asked Patrick, holding out his hand. The dust off the road had dried his throat, and he was eager to remedy that. "That bottle is from Exton Park's cellars, and it is one of our best."
"No longer." He held it upside down and caught the single drop that fell out. Licking off his finger, he groaned, "'Tis empty." He tossed the bottle out of the carriage. It shattered against a tree. Sitting straighter, he gripped the bouncing side of the carriage. "Damn! Did you see that? I hit a tree at this speed."
Patrick sat and draped an arm over his tie-mate's shoulder. "Doubt you could do that sober."
"Not now, when you are overshot."
"As you are." Gordon bellowed with laughter. "You drive better foxed."
"You don't. I swear I shall not let you hold the reins again after that near disaster last night."
"No one was hurt. Just a couple of the local bumpkins being sent for a bath."
Patrick let the horse slow. "That was unfortunate."
"For those two nickninnies. Next time they will know to clear the path for the one and only Duke of Exton." Gordon doffed his hat toward his friend. "Your grace, you look a sight."
Rubbing the whiskers on his chin, Patrick smiled. No wonder that saucy miss had winced when he gave her a lusty farewell kiss not more than an hour earlier. His smile faded. When he entered the tavern last night, he had suspected she—Blast! Had he forgotten her name already? Had he ever known it?—was the woman he was seeking. He had been wrong, he discovered, when he saw that beneath her simple smock she wore several layers of smallclothes to fight back the cool autumn nights. She had not been cold last night when he enjoyed her unsophisticated passions. But she was not the woman he needed to find.
He was beginning to wonder if such a woman even existed. He had searched diligently for more than two years. The search had not been without its rewards, for the lass last night was only the latest who had been willing to let him view her naked beauty and share a night of rapture.
But he had yet to find the woman he needed. He was not sure where else to look. He had sought in every theater in London and throughout the countryside. No seraglio had been overlooked, and he had expanded his quest into the homes of the Polite World, both above-and belowstairs. Although he had found many women eager to reveal to him what waited beneath their clothing, not one had been the woman he needed to find.
His friend's irritating voice tore him from his depressing thoughts. With his head as heavy as if the Tower of London sat atop it, he wished Gordon would refrain from shouting.
"What is it?" he retorted.
Gordon looked at him, then burst into drunken laughter. Trying to speak, he could not.
Patrick sighed as he turned his attention back to the road. Surprised, he realized the road led down into the hamlet that had taken its name from his long-forgotten ancestor who had first claimed these lands. Extonbury was an anachronism, a throwback to a simpler time. He suspected good King Hal himself would have been right at home among the stone and wood houses. The church set among the golden oaks at one end of the tiny common area was even older, mayhap as ancient as the reign of the first King Henry. While London and the rest of the world had hurled themselves into the nineteenth century, this small village remained happily in the past. Tradition was of utmost importance here. Stifling tradition that dictated what each person's role would be within the bounds of the village, a tradition that he had been happy to escape during his tour of the continent. Now it threatened to smother him again.
Thank goodness for Gordon Boswell! Patrick had invited his friend down from London simply to maintain an ironic perspective on the place where he had been born the only child of the previous Duke of Exton.
Since his arrival home, he had avoided the village, but it was too late to find another route. If he turned the carriage around, Gordon would ask questions he did not want to answer. His friend would be highly amused at a duke who was uncomfortable among his own tenants.
Steering the carriage at a decorous pace through the village in the hope he would not garner any attention on this quiet Sunday morning, he yawned. The fresh air was like a blanket, forcing him to recall how little sleep he had last night. If he could just find the woman he hunted for, then he could be done with this absurd quest and ... a form crossing the green caught his eye, and he jerked back on the reins.
"What are you stopping for?" muttered Gordon as he pushed himself away from the dash. "There are lasses to be courted and wine to be drunk and—"
"Hold hard!" He looked back over his shoulder. Could it be? Right here in Extonbury? "It's her!"
Excerpted from A Model Marriage by Jo Ann Ferguson. Copyright © 1998 Jo Ann Ferguson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.