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Let It Be Love
By Victoria Alexander
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Victoria Alexander
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Six days later . . .
"What am I to do, Oliver?" Miss Fiona Fairchild paced the width of her cousin's parlor and ignored the amused, or perhaps bemused, expression on his face.
Fiona and her sisters had arrived at Oliver's home a scant hour ago accompanied by the ContessaOrsetti, who had graciously agreed to chaperone them on their journey from Italy. She was traveling to England anyway and said it was certainly no bother. Aunt Edwina had greeted the party with an enthusiasm that quite warmed Fiona's heart and provided a significant measure of relief as well. For one thing, Aunt Edwina was thankfully nothing like the contessa, who could be both overbearing and presumptuous. For another, her aunt and cousin had had very little warning as to their arrival and it had been more than a dozen years since they'd last seen one another. After sending the contessa on her way, Aunt Edwina had spirited the younger girls off to settle them in their accommodations. Fiona had preferred to wait in the parlor for Cousin Oliver to return home.
His greeting had been just as warm as his mother's, but Fiona had had no time for idle pleasantries. In truth, she had no time to waste at all. She had a crisis of immense proportions confronting her and Oliver might well be her only salvation.
"I refuse to marry a man I've never seen, let alone met, and an American at that. He would probably wish to live in his own country and I have spent far too many years away from England already. This is my home and I have missed it more than I can say."
Oliver leaned casually against the fireplace mantel and studied her. "But you are not averse to marriage in and of itself?"
"Of course not. I wish to marry. Whatever would I do if I did not marry? I am rather a good match, you know." She turned to him and ticked the points off on her fingers. "I am of good family. I can run a household. I am an excellent hostess. I speak three languages fluently and several others adequately. And the mirror tells me, as have any number of suitors, that I am pretty as well."
"You are not as . . . round and speckled as you were as a child," Oliver murmured. "You have turned out nicely. Quite nicely."
"Surprisingly so." She grinned with the satisfaction of a woman who was indeed pleased with the way she'd turned out. "Thank you, cousin." Her smile vanished. "What am I to do?"
Oliver's brows drew together. "I cannot believe Uncle Alfred would leave you in such a position."
"He was, unfortunately, doing what he thought was best for me. He had encouraged me to marry for years before he fell ill."
"I assume there were offers?" Oliver's gaze traveled over her in an appreciative manner.
She was well aware of precisely what he saw: a figure no longer plump but curved and appealingly lush, hair that had deepened from a bright, almost orange color to a rich mahogany, intelligent green eyes that tilted upward slightly at the corners and a porcelain complexion marred only by an annoying smattering of pale freckles across the bridge of her nose that men oddly enough seemed to find enchanting. Fiona Fairchild had become a true beauty and she well knew it. Why, hadn't men compared her to a Renaissance painting?
Still, she could be as ugly as sin, for all it mattered.
"Yes, of course." She waved away his comment. "Aside from the aforementioned attributes, I am heir to a significant fortune. At least I was. When Father realized he would not recover . . ." A wave of sadness passed through her and she ignored it. She had mourned for her father upon his death nearly four months ago, and would mourn and miss him for the rest of her days, but at the moment she had the pressing matter of how to resolve the circumstances he had left her in to consider. "He took matters into his own hands.
"In spite of his urgings, Father felt my failure to wed was in part his fault. It wasn't, of course. I simply never met a man with whom I should wish to spend the rest of my days." She shrugged. "You must understand that after my stepmother died, I took over her duties in regards to running the household, acting as Father's hostess and helping with my stepsisters."
"There are three, aren't there? And two are twins?"
Fiona nodded. "And I could not care for them more than if they were my own flesh and blood, which in itself compounds my dilemma. Father knew if I had only myself to consider I would never marry a man I had not met."
"What would you do with your life, then?" Oliver asked mildly. "I cannot see you becoming a governess."
"Nor can I." She wrinkled her nose. "Or a lady's companion or anything else of that nature. I would probably do exactly what I have done."
"Throw yourself on the mercy of your closest living relative?" He grinned.
"Most certainly." She flashed him a blinding smile. "You and dear Aunt Edwina would never abandon me and throw me into the streets. Still, I -- or rather we -- cannot impose on your hospitality forever."
"You are certainly welcome to do so. I daresay my mother is beside herself at the idea of having four young women under her wing. She has long bemoaned the fact that she had no daughters and only one son who has not yet done his duty and provided her with a daughter-in-law."
Fiona laughed. "That does seem to be a constant theme in her letters." She sobered and shook her head. "Regardless, we cannot live here for the rest of our days as . . . as poor relations."
"You most definitely can," Oliver said staunchly.
Excerpted from Let It Be Love by Victoria Alexander Copyright © 2005 by Victoria Alexander. Excerpted by permission.
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