A Radical Arrangement

A Radical Arrangement

by Jane Ashford

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Overview

Classic Regency romance from beloved author Jane Ashford

Brash and Handsome
Sir Justin Keighley is all wrong for a proper young lady like Margaret Mayfield. Everyone knows he is shocking in his opinions, arrogant in his manner, and completely without respect for the common decencies of civilized society. Margaret absolutely will not marry him-no matter what her parents say.

Beautiful and Shy
Margaret was everything Sir Justin detested in a woman-timid, sheltered, and obedient to a fault. It's not until she runs away from him that he finds he must give chase. Margaret is discovering she can be bold and rebellious-intrepid enough to do what she must, and more exciting than Justin ever imagined possible. She's the last woman he would have expected to lead them both into uncharted territory...

Praise for The Bride Insists:
"Perfectly delightful Regency romance." -Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Deft writing. An engaging cast of characters... a charming plot. " -RT Book Reviews
"Marvelously engaging...richly nuanced, impeccably crafted." -Booklist

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402276965
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 08/04/2015
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 335,872
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was captivated by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. That delight was part of what led her to study English literature and travel widely. She's written historical and contemporary romances, and her books have been published all over Europe as well as in the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. Find her on the web at www.janeashford.com and on Facebook. If you'd like to receive her monthly newsletter, you can sign up at either of those sites.

Read an Excerpt

A Radical Arrangement


By Jane Ashford

Sourcebooks, Inc.

Copyright © 1983 Jane LeCompte
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4022-7697-2


CHAPTER 1

"Now, Margaret," said Mrs. Mayfield, leaning forward to adjust one of her iron-gray curls before her dressing-table mirror, "you must remember that the party invited for dinner tonight is a rather unusual one."

"Yes, Mama," replied the thin, pale girl standing behind her chair.

"Your father's position as member of Parliament for the district requires him to receive a number of people who are not quite, er, our sort. And when we come down here to Devon in the summer months, he must see all the major landholders, whether they support him or not. Now that you are out, you will be joining these gatherings."

"Yes, Mama."

Mrs. Mayfield eyed her reflection critically, turning her head to observe the new lace cap she had set upon it. "Tonight," she continued, "we will have Sir Justin Keighley. His estate is the largest in the neighborhood, and we cannot afford to ignore him, much as we should like to. I believe I have mentioned him to you before."

Margaret nodded, her large blue eyes widening even farther. She had received a great many instructions from her mother before her debut in London last season, but none had been so explicit or vehement as the warning against their neighbor Justin Keighley.

"The man is thoroughly unsound," added her mother with a certain relish.

"Not only is he a gambler and a libertine, his political views are shocking. He is more radical than Lord Holland. You will scarcely credit it, Margaret, but he has expressed sympathy for those Yorkshiremen who smashed a factoryful of power looms last month."

Margaret drew in her breath. She had been very strictly reared in a religious family, but no sin she knew of was worse than this. In the conservative Tory circles her parents illuminated, the merest hint of radicalism caused shudders and references to France under Robespierre. Sir Justin Keighley was not far removed from the devil himself in Margaret Mayfield's mind.

"You will, of course, keep out of his way," finished her mother, rising and shaking out the folds of her lavender silk evening dress. "I simply wished to alert you to his presence. I daresay it won't signify, with Philip here." She smiled benignly, without really altering her rather harsh-featured face. Margaret had fulfilled all her parents' expectations by becoming engaged in her first season, at nineteen, to the very eligible, and eminently sound, Philip Manningham. Their families had been acquainted for years and had similar habits and interests. Margaret had received Philip's addresses without surprise, and he had taken her acceptance as a matter of course. To all observers the couple seemed as satisfied as their elders with the arrangement. Margaret, a belated and solitary offspring of two strong-willed people, brought the promise of a large inheritance and her father's political connections to the match. Philip possessed an equal fortune and even larger ambitions. And he found Margaret's well-schooled timidity exactly to his taste.

"Let me look at you," commanded Mrs. Mayfield, turning from the mirror to survey her daughter. "That gown is pretty. You always look sweet in white." She examined Margaret's very pale blond hair, dressed in languid ringlets about her head, the modest single strand of pearls encircling her thin neck, and her white satin evening dress. "Your waist is hanging loose again," she commented sharply. "Have you been eating properly, Margaret? How many times do I have to tell you that you are too thin?"

The girl hung her head. "I do try, Mama. But I am never very hungry."

"Nonsense." Mrs. Mayfield cast a complacent glance over her own well-padded figure. "You picked at your luncheon in the most annoying way. You do not make the least effort. You must do better at dinner tonight. And try to show a little animation."

Margaret swallowed nervously. "Yes, Mama."

"We may as well go down. Our guests will be arriving in half an hour. Don't forget what I've told you."

"No, Mama."

Mrs. Mayfield looked up sharply, half annoyed at her daughter's listless tone, half suspecting irony. But Margaret was gazing vacantly at the carpet: her pale cheeks showed no hint of guilt or excitement. Mrs. Mayfield shook her head. Her only child had been a model of obedience and propriety since her earliest years; it was only her mother's exposure to a very different sort of girl in London, an exposure that had left Mrs. Mayfield reeling with scandalized outrage, that had awakened such ridiculous suspicions in her breast. Margaret had never, and never would, exhibit anything but gentle acquiescence. It was a measure, thought her mother, of her own and her husband's sound principles.

Ralph Mayfield and Philip Manningham were already in the drawing room when the ladies entered. They stood on opposite sides of the fireplace, engaged, as usual, in political debate. Though they agreed on every important point, they never tired of rehearsing their opinions and reviling their opponents'. Mrs. Mayfield moved eagerly to join them, but Margaret drifted over to one of the long windows and gazed out at the garden. The July twilight still lingered, and she could see the military rows of her mother's roses stretching to the wall. She sighed softly, but none of the others noticed.

The first of the guests to arrive was the local squire, Henry Camden, with his wife and daughter. The Mayfields greeted them cordially, and the talk shifted from politics to farming without a pause. Mrs. Camden was as absorbed as her husband in this topic, and at least two of her hosts were astute enough to appear interested. Alice Camden, the squire's eighteen-year-old daughter, came to sit beside Margaret. "I have not yet wished you happy," she began. "We saw the announcement of your engagement in the Morning Post."

"Thank you," replied Margaret.

"When is the wedding to be?"

"I'm not certain. Mama thinks perhaps in the autumn."

Miss Camden stared. She and Margaret were not particularly well acquainted. Though they had grown up within two miles of each other and were nearly of an age, Margaret's mother had always kept her close and Alice had been more than satisfied with her own sisters and brothers as playmates. But they did know each other, and Alice could see no reason for the other girl's lack of enthusiasm about her wedding date. In Miss Camden's view, the question ought to arouse intense emotion in any young woman so blessed.

Margaret, gazing at the Turkey carpet, did not notice her frown, however. And the entrance of two more dinner guests effectively ended their exchange.

The new arrivals were John and Maria Twitchel, important residents of the nearby market town. He was a solicitor and she the daughter of a Devon clergyman, and both were very conscious of the solemnity of the occasion — their annual dinner at the Mayfield house. Mr. Twitchel at once shifted the conversation back to politics, local this time, and the possibility of an election in the coming year. The Mayfields and Philip Manningham responded passionately, feebly seconded by the squire, leaving Mrs. Twitchel to the other women. The talk had grown somewhat heated, and the volume a bit loud, when the butler announced the final guest in a penetrating tone. As one, the group fell silent and turned.

Sir Justin Keighley stood in the doorway, looking them over with a slight, satirical curve of his lips. He wore, like the other gentlemen, conventional evening dress, but this superficial similarity was their only common ground. Ralph Mayfield, Philip Manningham, the squire, and John Twitchel were none of them unattractive men or negligible personalities. Each, in his own sphere, had a certain dignity and authority, and all had the confidence that respect engendered. Yet somehow, the moment he entered the room and before he spoke a word, Justin Keighley eclipsed them. It was not charm. Indeed, the newcomer did not look at all pleasant or ingratiating. And it was not mere social position. Keighley held an ancient baronetcy and a substantial fortune, but any of twenty men his hosts were accustomed to meeting ranked above him. Ralph Mayfield could not have said why he felt subdued as he came forward to greet his final guest.

The squire's wife might have enlightened him. As she had told a friend at a Bath assembly two years ago, "Justin Keighley is a vastly attractive man, my dear. And not just to women. All the young men ape him, my son among them. I don't know just how it is, but he has a great influence without appearing to seek it in the least. Indeed, sometimes I think he dislikes the idea. But it goes on. It's something in his manner. No doubt you've noticed it yourself. He makes you look at him." Mrs. Camden had been embarrassed by this speech, but it was quite true. And Keighley's attraction was the more mysterious because he was not conventionally handsome. Though tall and well made, with broad shoulders and a good leg, his features were rough — a jutting nose and heavy black brows that nearly obscured expressive hazel eyes. And he took no care with his dress, a rarity in an elegant age. His coats were made so that he could shrug himself into them without help; his collars did not even approach his jaw; and he had once been observed in White's with a distinct thumb mark on his Hessian boots, giving one of the dandy set what he described as "a shuddering palpitation."

But these sartorial eccentricities were outweighed by Sir Justin's political influence and sagacity. He was an intimate of the Prince Regent and Lord Holland, and important in the Whig Party. These facts did not explain how he fascinated a great number of women who hadn't the slightest interest in politics, but they amply justified the Mayfields' attention and suppressed antipathy.

"Good evening," Keighley said to Mr. Mayfield in a deep, resonant voice. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting."

"Not at all, not at all. Come in. You know everyone, I think."

Sir Justin bowed his head with a sardonic smile. He always met precisely the same people at his yearly dinner with the Mayfields, presumably those they were certain he could not "corrupt" with his aberrant opinions, and he always felt the same infuriated boredom. For the fiftieth time he wondered why he came. There was no hope of amusement or chance of advantage here. The Mayfields and their friends were just the sort of smug, resolutely conventional people he despised. They held to the views their fathers had bequeathed them and attacked all others. If one tried to make them change even a fraction, they shook their heads and muttered of treason.

He looked around the room. The only addition this year was the Mayfields' daughter. He had forgotten her name, but he remembered that she had come out last season. She looked as one would have expected: a pallid, simpering creature. Keighley shrugged. Politics forced him to endure fools occasionally. The Prince would want to know the climate of opinion here in Devon. He supposed he could get through this evening as he had previous ones, through a combination of stoicism and bitter inner laughter.

Margaret watched him with awed apprehension as he settled beside Mrs. Camden and began to chat with her about London. She had never actually spoken to Sir Justin; her mother had seen to that. But she had heard him talked of so many times that she felt she knew what he would say in response to a wide variety of remarks. It would always be shocking. She gazed at him in an effort to understand how any man could be so utterly depraved in thought and action, almost expecting his rugged face to contort in a grimace of malevolence and his chiseled lips to emit some horrifying revelation.

Suddenly Sir Justin looked up and met her eyes from across the room. He seemed at first startled to find her staring, then his mocking smile appeared again, and he raised one black brow, holding her gaze. Embarrassed, Margaret tried to look away, but something in his hazel eyes prevented it. A spark glinted there, and she felt a kind of tremor along her nerves. It was utterly unfamiliar and unsettling, like a violent thrill of feeling. How could a stranger affect her so? This must be fear, she thought; I am afraid of him. She began to tremble, but still she could not turn her head away. He seemed to understand her reaction and, amused, to prolong the contact on purpose.

Finally Keighley laughed and bent to answer some question of Mrs. Camden's. Margaret jerked back in her chair and clasped her shaking hands so tightly that the knuckles whitened. He was a dreadful man. She would not speak to him, and if she ever saw him again, she would run away.

Dinner was announced a few minutes later, and the party went into the dining room. Margaret, safely seated between the squire and Mr. Twitchel, each of whom found his opposite partner more engrossing, was free to toy with the food on her plate and try to recover her composure. This was made difficult by the fact that Sir Justin was almost opposite, but he did not look at her again. Indeed, he spent most of the meal flirting with Alice Camden, whom Mrs. Mayfield had ruthlessly sacrificed to a man she had more than once stigmatized as "unfit to speak to young girls." But as she had told her husband the previous day, one of the girls must sit beside him, and it was not going to be Margaret.

They had reached the dessert course without mishap when the squire, who had partaken rather too freely of Mr. Mayfield's excellent claret, leaned forward and addressed his host down the length of the table. "I say, Mayfield, I understand you have a very promising heifer in this season's group. Championship lines, eh?"

Mrs. Mayfield frowned at this breach of dinner-table etiquette, but her husband could not restrain a complacent smile. "Indeed, yes," he replied. "A fine animal. My cowman is extremely pleased."

"I'd like to see her."

"Certainly. Come round any day and I'll —"

"Leaving for m'sister's place tomorrow morning," interrupted the squire, clearly feeling the effects of the wine.

"Ah," responded his host. "Too bad."

"What say we see her tonight? Daresay the whole company would enjoy it."

Mrs. Mayfield looked stunned. The squire's wife said, "Now, Henry," and his daughter's lower lip trembled. The Twitchels' faces froze in the look that respectable people assume when one of their number begins to make a fool of himself. Margaret hunched in her chair and stared at her plate.

"What a splendid idea," drawled Sir Justin Keighley, drawing the astonished gaze of every other diner. His own hazel eyes were twinkling, and he obviously enjoyed their response as much as the squire's suggestion. "I should like to see this exceptional animal."

"Told you so," said the squire owlishly. "Everyone would." Doubt seemed to shake him for a moment. "That is, perhaps the ladies —"

"I shall certainly come," interrupted his wife, clearly determined to ride herd on Camden.

He merely grinned at her. "'Course you will. Always pluck up to the backbone."

"And I'm sure Miss Camden will wish to join us," added Keighley smoothly, smiling at the girl.

"I ..." Alice Camden looked as if it were the last thing she wanted, but she hadn't the social address to demur politely.

Mrs. Mayfield was another matter. "Nonsense," she said. "It is pitch-dark. We cannot go to the barns at this time of night in our evening dress. Anyone who wishes to see the, er, cow can come back another day."

"There is a full moon," answered Sir Justin. "It is quite light outside." Mrs. Mayfield glared at him with the full strength of her formidable temper, but he merely continued to smile.

"Full moon," echoed the squire, nodding. He pushed himself unsteadily to his feet. "Let's go, then."

Keighley also rose, offering his arm to Alice Camden with a quizzical look. She, after one helpless, appealing glance at her mother, stood and took it.

"Very well," said Mrs. Mayfield through clenched teeth. "We shall all go and look at the wretched creature." And, pushing her chair back abruptly, she swept out into the hall. The rest of the party followed with varying degrees of uneasiness.

At the back door, their hostess met them with cloaks for the ladies. She did not speak again as they put them on and, one by one, stepped out into the mild July night. There was indeed a full moon, and it shed a surprising amount of silvery light, though the group also took three lanterns. Mr. Mayfield led the party through the garden and onto a gravel drive that led to the outbuildings. The squire strode happily along beside him, chatting about cattle breeding and seemingly oblivious to the violent emotions he had aroused in more than one of the females behind them.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from A Radical Arrangement by Jane Ashford. Copyright © 1983 Jane LeCompte. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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