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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.
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An Undomesticated Wife
A Regency Romance
By Jo Ann Ferguson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Jo Ann Ferguson
All rights reserved.
Marcus Aurelius Octavius Whyte, third Marquess of Daniston and heir to His Grace, the Duke of Attleby, woke, gazed at the smooth shoulders of his mistress, then cursed loudly.
Today was the day he had to meet his wife!
He leapt from the bed and rang for his manservant. Where was Andrews? The man should know that today was important.
Glancing back at the bed, he could not help smiling at the comely face of his convenient. Dear Jocelyn! What a find she had been! Not that her last lover had been happy to see her leave him only to welcome Marcus to her bed, but Marcus had convinced him during a meeting in a dawn-swept park beyond Mayfair that he was serious about becoming Jocelyn's new lover. Pride swelled through him at the memory. He had heard the rumors that no one had bested Captain Stapleton when he gave the challenge to name one's friends. Honesty compelled Marcus to own that the many bottles of wine the captain had consumed that night might have had more to do with Stapleton's humiliation than anything else, but that mattered little. Marcus had wanted Jocelyn, and she was his.
Everything was perfect, save for this wife who was being foisted on him. His family had been worried that he would never marry and have a son to inherit his father's title after him, so they had arranged this marriage.
"I am sorry to disturb you, sweet one," Marcus murmured, bending to kiss her bare shoulder. Her skin smelled lusciously of the sweet unguents she kept in a row of bottles on the dressing table by the window.
When he had found her this small townhouse, conveniently situated near Berkeley Square, he had allowed her free rein to decorate it as she wished. He deplored this room with all its lace and frivolities, but it fit Jocelyn perfectly. She was the epitome of femininity, eager to be adored and adoring, exactly what he wished for in a woman.
"It is barely dawn," Jocelyn whispered. "Where are you off to at such an hour?"
"Go back to sleep. I shall return to you as quickly as I can."
Marcus reached for his breeches. Where was that blasted Andrews? He needed a clean collar before he returned home to his father's house on Berkeley Square.
"I may not be able to return tonight," he said with studied nonchalance as he buttoned his breeches.
"But tonight is Lady St. Giles's soirée, and you know how much I wished to go, my love."
"Tonight may not be possible."
"But I had planned to wear my new gold gown, the one you have been anxious to see."
Marcus was glad he had his back to her. He was pleased that Jocelyn always looked so elegant when she wore the collection of gowns that cost him dear, but he could not imagine being anxious to see a new one. Quietly he said, as he drew on his boots, "I must postpone that delight until another night."
"I fear I shall be otherwise engaged this evening, my dear."
Jocelyn sat, holding the blanket just low enough to her voluptuous breasts to give him a good view of enticing curves. No sleep softened her face, and he wondered if she had been only pretending to be sleepy to draw him back to bed. Other days that game had worked, but not today.
"She is coming today, isn't she?" Jocelyn cried.
"My dear, I have warned you that this day was quickly approaching."
"Will you come back to me?" Her wide blue eyes looked at him, so appealing and filled with such promise of pleasure that he considered staying a hour or two longer.
He ran his fingers down the dark tresses that curved along her back. "You worry yourself too much, my dear Jocelyn. She is only a wife."
"A wife who may have little understanding of what you need."
"But I shall have you still." He drew on his shirt and grimaced when he saw a stain on one sleeve. He hoped Andrews would be able to remove the stain from the wine that Jocelyn had tipped on him last night. His valet would complain, then would work a miracle—as he always did.
She smiled. "How happy I am to hear you speak those words! I have been beset with anxiety that you would set me aside now that your wife is arriving in London."
"She is but my wife. She shall be what a wife should be."
Jocelyn sat straighter and drew her feet up beneath her as she folded her arms in front of her. With a half-smile, she whispered, "And what is that, Marcus?"
Grimacing as he slipped his arms into his waistcoat, he sat on the stool by the foot of her bed. He rested his hand on her knee as he looked up at her. "You need not remind me of that uncomfortable fact. When my father insisted that I wed with no delay, I insisted that the only wife I would accept must be of good breeding and well-trained to manage Attleby Court while I tarry in Town."
Jocelyn did not answer as a tentative rap sounded on the door. With a scowl, she drew the blankets to her chin.
Marcus sighed. There was no hope of affection between his man Andrews and Jocelyn. Andrews acted too much like the duke when they were here at Jocelyn's house, thinking only of the need for an heir to the Attleby title. If Father—and Andrews—had had their way, Marcus would have been married long before he celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday last month. But he would be damned to suffer in the deepest pit before he surrendered his will—and his life—to them. Then he would become as boring as Father was. He could not recall the last time his father had been to his club in St. James's or when Father had done anything more reckless than cheating at a hand of whist.
Andrews's thin shoulders were bent as he came into the room. Without looking at the bed, he held out the collar that Marcus had been about to ask him to find. His posture made it clear that he would rather be anywhere than in this room with Jocelyn Simpson.
"We are leaving, my lord?" he asked.
Marcus had not been able to prove that Andrews listened at doors, but he could not guess how else the man always knew what he planned. "Have the horses brought," he said as he buttoned up his waistcoat. "We shall be returning to Berkeley Square posthaste."
"Yes, my lord. Posthaste is always the best speed."
Marcus glanced at him, but Andrews had served him too many years to let more than a hint of relief creep into his voice. What did Andrews find so amusing today? Dash it! Marcus was doing as his father wished and had buckled himself to a woman he had never met. They should expect no more from him on this matter than the eventual appearance of a healthy heir.
It was purely a business arrangement. That was what he had told himself when the sheaf of papers outlining his obligations to his wife was presented to him by his father's barrister. A quick read had told him that Regina Morrissey was advancing herself well with this marriage. Her father had been a younger son and had sought a life in the service of the Crown. That life had kept him far from England's shores since shortly after the birth of his only child. Marcus suspected that his wife—although he found it difficult to think of any woman in that way—would be very grateful to have escaped the heathen world of Algiers, her father's current posting, to return to London. Marcus did not want her gratitude, only an end to his grandmother's looks of dismay when yet another of his friends chose to leg-shackle himself to some young miss.
As Andrews closed the door behind himself, Marcus looked about the room for his beaver. He had thought he had left the tall hat on the round table by the door, but it was not in sight.
"Will Lady Daniston be exactly as you wished?" Jocelyn asked, drawing his attention gladly back to her.
"I have been assured that she will be so." His grin returned as he set himself on his feet. He kissed her cheek. "Pray she is everything I have hoped. A wife who is well-bred and will be well-breeding, for once she is in an interesting condition, I shall be assured of the heir that Father worries I might never have. Then I can return to your side, my dear, and these delicious interludes."
She rose to her knees as her finger traced a lazy path up the front of his waistcoat. "I shall rue every second we are apart, Marcus."
"As I shall, but I vow to you that this shall all come to rights for us. This is only a temporary separation, for she will soon be able to relieve Grandmother of many of her duties of managing our household."
Jocelyn's nose wrinkled. She could not hide her dislike for the Dowager Duchess of Attleby, because his grandmother had slighted her in public by refusing to greet Jocelyn. "I trust so." As Marcus turned to go in search of his hat—mayhap he had left it in the hall below—she added, "And I trust I can continue to count on you to help me manage my household."
He slid his arms into his navy velvet coat and adjusted it around the fresh collar rising above his hastily tied cravat. "My instructions to Bryson to send your weekly allowance will not change, my dear."
"Thank you, my love," she whispered with the husky warmth that always sent a flame rushing through him. Today was no exception, but he resisted pulling her into his arms. "I like Bryson. Most solicitors are stuffy chaps, but Bryson actually smiles when he calls."
"On business, I collect."
Her eyes slitted as she glanced up at him coquettishly. "Can it be that I hear jealousy in your voice?"
"Mayhap, if Bryson was swimming in enough lard to satisfy your immoderate desire for new baubles." He laughed as he reached for the latch. "I bid you a good day, my dear."
As he started to raise the latch, she called, "What kind of woman is she?"
"Why are you obsessed with Regina?" he asked, looking back at her.
Jocelyn pulled her blue silk wrapper around her. She got out of bed and came to stand beside him. "I cannot help being interested in your splice, Marcus. After all, she is taking you from me."
"Only temporarily." His arm encircled her waist as he kissed her playfully. She was, he noted as he had last night, thinner than before. He preferred softness next to him rather than hard bones, but the time to discuss that matter was not now. All his attention should be on her lips against him. When she did not respond, he drew back to look at her frown. "Jocelyn, you are worrying needlessly."
"Tell me about her, and I might feel better."
"I have little time. I must be at Berkeley Square when she arrives from Dover."
Marcus looked into the glass and adjusted his cravat. It was unlike Jocelyn to be so persistent. Her usual way was to tease before relenting. He had thought that she, of all people, would be unwilling to speak of his wife. That was why he had sought a haven here last night.
"Regina is," he replied, "so I am told, of excellent character."
"Have you seen a likeness of her?"
"Only this." Smiling, he reached beneath his coat and pulled out an oval locket of engraved gold. He snapped it open.
Jocelyn leaned closer, her hair flowing over his arm as its light scent brought fantasies to life in his mind. He clenched his teeth and dismissed those pleasurable thoughts. There was no time to remain here when his wife would be arriving this afternoon.
"I can see little of her face," Jocelyn complained. "She looks very young."
"Her father wrote to mine that this was the most recent miniature he had. Apparently she has never sat for another." He tilted the pendant so he could see the tiny portrait.
The face belonged to a child, wide-eyed and looking no older than twelve. Pale hair was pulled back severely from her cheeks, but the painter had not been a master of his skill. Or mayhap the ocean journey bringing it to England had injured the portrait, for the features were indistinct and could not be brought clearer with anything short of a good imagination.
Jocelyn laughed with glee. "You have wed a child, Marcus. Will you wait until she is of age before you bring her to your wedding bed?" Clapping her hands as she continued to giggle, she sat on the bench at the foot of the bed.
"I am assured this miniature was done several years ago."
"Several? Even so, she may be barely out of the schoolroom."
Irritation pinched him. It was not Jocelyn's way to badger him like this, and he wished she had chosen another time to begin such an disagreeable discussion. Her words mirrored his own thoughts when his father had presented him with this pendant on the day the papers for the proxy wedding were signed and sent by courier to Algiers.
Dash it! He did not have so much as a clue to which day Regina Morrissey had become his wife. That information would be arriving with her this afternoon. If his father had more of a sense of humor, Marcus would have accused him of orchestrating this idiotic match in retribution for Marcus's refusal to select one of the other women who had been paraded before him.
Thin arms swept around his shoulders as Jocelyn cooed, "Oh, forgive me, my love. I have distressed you."
"What distresses me is not you," he said honestly, but untangled her arms from about him. "I must go, Jocelyn, for it would be unthinkable to be late for my first meeting with my own wife."
"Do come back as soon as you can." Her lips became a full pout. "I do not like being alone."
"I know." He gave her another swift kiss before opening the door. He knew as well that her words were a warning that if he did not call regularly, she would find another protector. Having fought one duel for her, he did not relish the idea of another.
Marcus was pleased to see Andrews standing at the bottom of the stairs in the round foyer. In his valet's hand was the missing hat. "I thought I left that upstairs."
"You did, my lord, but I thought it better here closer to the door."
"Did you? Why?"
"I did not wish you to leave without it if Mrs. Simpson gave you your congé."
"Always hoping, aren't you?"
"Always." He did not smile, but Marcus saw the twinkle in his aged eyes.
Setting his hat on his head, Marcus led the way out to the street where two horses were patiently waiting. He patted the neck of his brown gelding. A wry smile tilted his lips. For just a moment, he could envy the beast, which need not worry about begetting an heir or satisfying the whims of two women.
Summer breezes swept across his face as he followed the traffic along Bruton Street toward Berkeley Square. Behind him, Andrews was uncharacteristically silent. On most days, when they left Jocelyn's house, his man chattered like an African monkey.
"You need not be so bleak," Marcus said over his shoulder.
"The dowager duchess had hoped you would be home last night for the final preparations for Lady Daniston's arrival." That was as close to an admonishment as Marcus had ever had from Andrews.
"Neither my grandmother nor you need worry that I shall be absent when Lady Daniston arrives. Even with this excellent weather, she shall not be reaching Berkeley Square much before midafternoon."
Andrews muttered something under his breath.
"What did you say?" Marcus slowed his horse so he was riding evenly with his valet. "I would as lief hear your opinions as hear your grumbling."
The thin man hesitated. Because Andrews had been with the family since before Marcus's birth, he often spoke his mind. "I said only, my lord, that it was unfortunate that you could not meet her ladyship when her ship arrived."
"I could have been left sitting for days waiting for the ship to sail into the harbor. Even Grandmother finally relented when I made her realize that it was more sensible for Lady Daniston to take the mail coach to London after sending a messenger to let us know of her arrival in England. Of course, I did not want my wife to be lingering in Dover while I rode to meet her. This made the most sense."
"As you say, my lord."
Marcus slapped his hand on his horse and sped along the street, leaving his valet to follow. Blast that man! He had thought that, at this eleventh hour, Andrews would have a bit of sympathy for him, given this ridiculous situation.
Riding into Berkeley Square, which was certainly not square, Marcus was glad to see that none of his neighbors was out at this unfashionably early hour. He remembered that Lord Moore had had a party to announce the betrothal of his nephew to the daughter of Mrs. Jonson last night. Most of the square would have been present and would now be sleeping off the consequences of the festivities.
He heard the call of the street vendors who came to the square at this hour to sell their produce to the cooks in the terrace houses. His stomach grumbled. A good breakfast would set him to rights and help dispel this apprehension at what the day would bring. Reading the newspaper and enjoying the gossip laced through the columns would help him forget about the wife he did not want.
A shadow moved near the statue of George III in the middle of the garden at the heart of the square. Marcus loathed the statue, which in addition to its ungainly base, was supposedly the king dressed as Marcus Aurelius from ancient Rome. More than once he had suspected that upon his birth, his father, after being queried what name his heir should receive, had simply glanced out the window and been inspired to give such a classical name to his son. Marcus squinted into the sunshine at the statue, his curiosity aroused. He was certain the motion had been more than a trick of light beneath the plane trees.
As he rode toward his father's house on the west side of the square, he glanced toward the center again. The shadow was a man. Marcus had seen the man the day before. The dark-haired man had been standing in the same spot, smoking an identical cheroot.
Excerpted from An Undomesticated Wife by Jo Ann Ferguson. Copyright © 1994 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not my fav. Of this author. Manly cause the hereo didn't want to give up his misstress and couldn't be bothered to take his wife out. Still 181pgs it fast moving.