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Four Dukes and a Devil
"But what about love?"
Miss Susan Rogers had anticipated Lady Theresa Alberth's question. It was the mental inclination of young women nowadays. She understood because she'd also once believed love was the only true concern when it came to marriage. But now, at six-and-twenty and firmly established as a spinster, she knew differently.
Lady Theresa was Lord and Lady Alberth's only child. They sat on chairs next to their daughter and turned to Susan as if they, too, needed an answer.
Susan set her cup and saucer on the side table next to her chair. She knew her role. It was to convince Lady Theresa to obey her parents' wishes.
"Love is important," Susan agreed, very certain of herself and her message. After all, she'd given this lecture numerous times over just the last week as anxious parents with willful daughters had sought out her services. "But is it more important than compatibility? Than security? You will have children someday, Lady Theresa. What do you hope for them?"
A small frown line appeared between Lady Theresa's brows.
"I'm not going to tell you," Susan continued, "that it is as easy to love a wealthy man as it is a poor one. Or that you have obligations to your family line. I'm certain your parents have already told you all that."
Lady Theresa nodded, her expression tense. Lady Alberth had confided in Susan earlier that their daughter believed herself in love with their land steward's son, a Mr. Gerald Grover. They were hiring Susan to convince her differently. They wanted a good family for their daughter, and a title.
"Whatthey say is true," Susan said matter-of-factly. "However, that doesn't change how one feels when one is in love."
"Yes," Lady Theresa agreed, half-sobbing the word.
Susan leaned forward, reaching for Lady Theresa's hand. The girl gave it to her. "I'm going to advise you to remember that love must be tested. It can be a liar, a thief."
Lady Theresa shook her head, but Susan pressed on. "Let me tell you my story. I was once in love. I would have willingly sacrificed everything for him. He said he loved me, too, and we were to marry. One week before the wedding, both of my parents died in a coaching accident."
"Oh, dear," Lady Alberth said. Her husband's expression had gone grim. Lady Theresa listened, that frown between her brows deepening as she placed herself in Susan's position.
"My two younger sisters and I were alone," Susan said. "The estate went to a cousin, who did not want the responsibility of us. My betrothed had told me he loved me. It was only natural I turned to him in this difficult situation. He said everything would be fine, but on the day of our wedding, he didn't appear for the ceremony." "You were left at the altar?" Lady Alberth asked.
Susan nodded. "Publicly humiliated." The words no longer embarrassed her. She'd said them too often... to other girls... in front of other parents. "You see, my gentleman had been informed an hour before we were to be wed that my cousin refused to pay my dowry. He had other plans for the money." She gave Lady Theresa's hand a squeeze. "Don't be foolish as I was. Is it so much for your parents to ask you to participate in one Season? Is your love so fragile it would not survive a few parties, a -couple of balls?"
Lady Theresa looked to her parents. "Does that mean I may marry Gerald if I go through a Season?"
"The lad is unsuitable—" her father started.
"You must follow my guidelines," Susan said, directing her comment to Lady Theresa but boldly cutting her father off. No good came from arguing with a young woman who thought she was in love.
To his credit, Lord Alberth shut up.
"If you believe in love, then this young man—what is his name?"
"Gerald," Lady Theresa said.
"If Gerald is the one, nothing will sway your love for him, but you will be certain," Susan assured her. "There is much at stake. I'm certain you wish to please your parents. And you don't want to look back in life and wish you'd had the fun and excitement of at least one Season. Just one."
Lady Theresa nodded solemnly. The frown line was still there.
Susan smiled. "So, will you join me? Just for this Season?"
Again, Lady Theresa nodded.
"You will enjoy yourself immensely," Susan promised.
"I shall endeavor to try," she said, directing her vow toward her anxious parents. "I will."
"That's all we can ask, kitten," her father said.
Lady Theresa stood. "If you will excuse me?"
Her parents nodded. Lady Theresa gave a graceful nod to Susan and left the room.
"Well done," Lord Alberth said, when his daughter was out of earshot. "We've been attempting to bring her to this conclusion for weeks."
"She is very much 'in love,'?" Susan observed.
"They all are at this age," Lady Alberth said. "I blame myself for not having been more vigilant over her when she was around Gerald Grover."
"They played together as children," her husband said dismissively. "You couldn't have seen it coming. After all, we thought we'd raised her better than this."
"Is Mr. Grover a bad sort?" Susan asked.Four Dukes and a Devil. Copyright © by Cathy Maxwell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.