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Ann Brighton is determined to be more than the debutante daughter of a brash American millionaire. Foiled in a bid for her independence and jilted by her fiancé she reluctantly accepts her father's offer: a stipend to buy the horse farm she covets if she accompanies him on a grand tour of Europe. Skip Brighton hopes to unravel some suspicious business dealings and match his daughter with any eligible British nobleman. Ann intends to cling to her freedom until a stranger asks for her trustin more ways than one....
Rhys Kendall, the sixteenth duke of Carlton, is nearly bankrupt for which he blames Skip Brighton. But now he wants Ann as his lover and his wife; together, Rhys and Ann must conquer their bitter pasts amid the colorful whirl of London's drawing rooms and ballrooms, where they encounter gossip, greed and murder. To win a love like never before, Rhys must persuade Ann to surrender her hand and her heart for safekeeping and to follow the spirit of an unexpected passion.
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"The world is his who has money to go over it."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
He had lost her! He beat his hat against his thigh as he emerged from the clubhouse stands. Lost her! For the sake of money! Broad chest. Strong legs. A lustrous mane and gorgeous tail. To have mated her would have brought him the greatest delight he'd had in a decade. And for want of fifty more miserable pounds, she now belonged to another.
Ah, hell. Why was he surprised?
In the last ten years, he had lost his savings. His hope. But not his friends or his determination to lead a respectable existence. He couldn't lose those, too.
He plowed a hand through his hair and plunked his derby back on his head. Such silliness to expect intelligent people to wear stuffy day clothes to horse trials and sales.
In a fit, he yanked the damn hat from his head and sent it sailing across the yard. Missing milling members of the crowd inspecting the next set of horses for sale, the black felt spun toward the nearest trash barrel and dropped in.
Rhys Kendall grinned.
His expression died as he spied the new owner of the horse. She emerged from the other side of the clubhouse, fishing in her reticule, no idea she stood beside him. He bent close, the fragrance of magnolias sweetening the acid of his disappointment.
"Congratulations." His words held more sarcasm than cheer, and she startled. "I hope you enjoy her."
"Thank you." She took a better look at him, while her hand paused inside her purse. Wary, she registered that he had been her opponent in the bidding. "You gave me a hard run for my money. She's beautiful."
She walked off, taking his breath away with her.
"An understatement," he muttered.
She marched over to the bursar and pulled open her reticule. From its abyss, she brought forth two eyepopping items. The first was a pistol that looked like an American derringer. Its partner was a roll of bills so large he would have trouble putting his fist around it.
But she was more arresting. He had suspected she was a woman of consequence when he'd seen her across the show ring. During the ten-minute auction, she had become increasingly animated as their contest over the Irish draught horse dwindled to a battle between the two of them. She'd cast him an evil eye when he'd upped her bids and doubled his raise. He admired her pluck. Women of class allowed men to do their bidding. Not this one.
He noticed, too, that she was unescorted. Oddly alone. A bright sprig of green amid a somber plain of men, she was attired sensibly for the sale in a riding habit, as if she intended to mount her purchase immediately and ride off into the sunset. Most ladies came to the Dublin Spring Horse Trials and Sale dressed to impress, unless, of course, they were unmarried, and then they came dressed to lure.
He wished this one had not dressed at all. He scanned her lithe body, mentally snipping every stitch she wore. She had without a doubt the noblest conformation he had seen on any track or off. Nor did she walk, but floated.
Her height and leanness gave her presence. Her curves granted elegance. Her legs would match his in length, but he was certain that when he lifted her an inch and pressed her close, she would fit him, tight and moist.
He shifted, his appetite surging at the sight of her firm breasts. Delicacies to fill his hands and mouth...
He dragged his eyes to her rosewood hair. The same color as the bright bay she'd bought, her unfashionable fat braid was topped with a pert but slipping straw hat. His fingers rubbed together, itching to unwind her hair and wrap it around his wrist. His waist.
His mouth watered. He told himself to walk away, but cool reason was not talking down a hot erection. He muttered rueful words, unable to stop his eyes from nibbling away, feeding a hunger for what was forbidden to him. And she most certainly is beyond your means, old man. Because from her purse and her clothes to her independence, she was a woman with money. Buckets of it.
No match for a man of modest means.
His eyes snagged on a movement to his left. From a tight group of people, a short, thin man pushed through to halt at the sight of the same woman Rhys admired. The fellow checked his timepiece and snapped it shut.
Suddenly, the lady clapped at a remark of the bursar. "Oh, wonderful!" she said, and her hat fell over her eyes. She silently swore and ripped the thing off. Her braid unraveled. A few pins scattered. She shook her hair free of more, and Rhys could imagine combing through strands of dark red silk. But she turned, and, amid all those people, she gazed into his eyes.
She paused, bewildered that he had been studying her. But, dismissing the issue, she trudged to her left and deposited her hat in the trash barrel. Though she didn't dust her hands, Rhys noted the little flick of her chin as if to bid the tiny bit of trouble good riddance. Then she peered into the trash. She frowned, turning her face toward him to examine his empty hands and his bare head.
She reached in and retrieved his hat. Nose wrinkling, she held it up by two dainty fingertips. The remains of a watercress sandwich dripped from its brim. "Yours?"
"No longer," he replied, shoulders shaking in laughter.
She opened her fingers and let the hideous thing fall back inside the barrel. This time, she brushed her hands off and tossed him a grin that made him wish he were a rich man.
She retraced her steps, got her chit for her horse, and walked toward the stable block. With every step, her rippling hair tapped against her trim derriere.
Rhys wrestled with the temptation to follow her and introduce himself. They shared an admiration of good horseflesh and a hatred of hats. What's more, he needed to get close to her. Learn her name and the reason she could make him chuckle when no one had in God help him years.
Into his reverie darted the little man who had found her so intriguing before. Rhys watched him trail after her.
Rhys felt a stab of fear and began to track the sway of emerald green, followed by the little man's brown coat weaving through the crowd like a garden snake. But, unexpectedly, the man paused, jerked around, and flattened himself against the stable wall. As if he recognized someone he feared, he ran in the opposite direction.
Rhys memorized his needle mustache, his hooked nose. Rhys turned to check on the lady and bumped into someone.
"I apologize " Rhys offered, but further words died on his lips. He was face-to-face with the one man who was responsible for everything he had become. Angry and poor.
"Rhys." Skip Brighton's face went white with shock. "Hello. I never thought to see you here in Ireland."
"I will say the same."
"I come to Europe at least once a year."
Skip sighed, looking sad and definitely older than his forty-five years. "We arrived last week."
"I will inform my solicitor he is flagging in his duty to inform me well in advance about your travel plans."
"He's not remiss. I came to Dublin unexpectedly."
"All the more reason to be vigilant. I claim the droit de seigneur to shoot all wolves invading my territory."
"Or attempting to buy it?"
"That, too." Why in hell a pirate like Brighton would try to purchase Kendall Manor baffled Rhys. In the fourteen years since Skip began to amass his fortune by smuggling cotton and artillery between England and southern ports during the American Civil War, Skip Brighton had never endeavored to buy property in London. When Rhys's solicitor had said Skip approached him to buy Kendall Manor, Rhys had rejected the offer immediately. Yes, he had given word out that he would sell his three-hundred-year-old home on the banks of the Thames for a decent price to the right person. But he'd rather keep Kendall Manor, even if it meant not having enough money to invest in a new venture like Guardian Shipping's new cruise line.
Rhys's pride demanded he keep the rarest jewel of his family from the man who had taken most else from him. He'd never give Skip the satisfaction of possessing the Kendall family London residence. It was irksome enough to Rhys that he was considering joining a group of ten men in a new company to develop a transatlantic cruise line a group that would include Skip, once his friend, now his nemesis.
Skip shot him a fleeting smile. "It's true, Rhys, that I never stayed anywhere for long, but I grow older and I need stability. I knew you considered investing in our cruise line, and I thought any profit you earned on the sale of Kendall Manor might make that investment a reality."
Rhys balled his hands in frustration. "It is kind of you to be concerned for me, but if I join Guardian Shipping, it will be with money I think I can readily invest. I will not sell my family's assets."
"And certainly not to me?"
"Your money was gained from my people's loss, Brighton. I'll never take a bloody penny from you."
Skip tightened his jaw, his tone melancholy. "Old resentments die as hard as old habits. The bigger tragedy would be to die without making amends." He smiled. "I was pleased to hear from my friends that your factory in Lancashire is producing fabric up to its full capacity."
Rhys's guard went higher. Skip's shift in topic was subtle and intentional. Rhys couldn't resist the need to brag. "We'll earn a profit this year for the first time since your Southern states seceded from your Union. I'm importing Indian cotton now."
Skip's hazel eyes faceted in unreadable shades of gold. "I'm glad to hear it."
Damned if Skip didn't sound sincere. But Rhys would never forget that the ruin of Rhys's textile business after the fire in his largest Liverpool mill had
much to do with Skip's greed during the American Civil War. Rhys was already stepping away. "Excuse me."
"I look forward to seeing you again at our next investors' meeting," Skip called after him.
The feeling is not mutual, Rhys, told himself. But he noted that his ancient anger against Skip was not as wild as it once was. Wary of that decline, Rhys forced his mind to a finer topic. He focused on the way his blood had heated when he'd admired the woman in green. He had to find her and assure himself that the slimy creature who followed her hadn't decided to do it again.
He'd bet his meager monthly income that he knew where she'd be. With her new possession. He turned in the direction of the stable block where the animals were housed in preparation for their departure with their new owners.
When he found her, she was at the far end of the stable in a loose-box, crooning to her Irish bay. Rhys strained to hear her voice, low as a June breeze and just as sultry.
The mare liked it, too. Rhys watched in fascination as the animal drew in the woman's scent, whiffling over her hair, nudging her hands in invitation to stroke her.
Rhys felt the fires begin again in his body as the horse nuzzled the woman's breast. The material of her riding jacket hugged her torso like a kid glove. She didn't wear a padded bust improver. Who would ask her to?
Not me. He'd want her free. Hair, breasts, legs.
What was the matter with him? He did not permit himself to want any woman. He could not afford to desire anyone for any time longer than an evening, and certainly not one with any breeding or style...or money. He straightened.
At the opposite door, a shadow moved.
Something small glinted in the man's hand. If it was his watch or a gun, Rhys didn't take time to note.
Rhys charged forward. But he was too late. The culprit hurled himself through the door.
In the same second, the woman whirled, astonished.
The horse shied, whinnied. Straining at her tethers, the animal tried to rear and defend her new mistress.
Rhys halted at the threshold. The worm had vanished amid the throng.
Rhys spun with the need to find the woman, comfort her.
Instead, he heard the cock of a hammer. A hard circle of steel bored into his coat.
"Don't move," she ordered him, her voice steely.
"I wouldn't dream of it. Put that away, though. I'm not the one you want to use it on."
"No, no, of course not." He could feel the pistol wavering as she began to breathe and tremble.
He placed his hand atop hers. "Give it to me."
"I'm sorry. I don't like to be surprised." Her body swayed with terror. It was the most natural act in the world to wrap her in his arms.
His brains became mutton when his loins registered what a prize he held in his embrace. "You're safe. You're unhurt. He's gone, and I've got you." He speculated that were he to keep her, he'd soon put her in a bed for nights and days or more. "Very wise of you to have your pistol at the ready," he whispered into the thick glory of her hair.
She gulped. "I'm usually a quicker draw."
"No need for that. My liver is already quivering." He smiled when she laughed. "If I were a pickpocket or a highwayman, I'd be impressed and change my profession."
"So you are telling me Ireland is not safe for women?"
"The leprechauns protect them usually." He drew back, brushing soft tendrils from her cheeks. "But the day before yesterday was Saint Patrick's Day, and the little fellows had a pint too much, so they're a wee bit under the weather."
She brought her face up. Their gazes locked, and he discovered her eyes were a mix of brown and green and gold nuggets, bright with fear. "I'm glad to see you took their place. Leprechauns are supposed to be ugly little elves with pointed cars. You're definitely not small." Her hands drifted across his shoulders, building fires in his blood. "You're far from ugly, and you have very symmetrical ears."
"I think yours are passing fair, too." He grinned. "I'm thrilled you're safe," he told her, suddenly serious. "Do you have any idea why that man followed you?"
Her eyes darted toward the paddock door and back up to him. "No. Was he?"
"I saw him watch you at the bursar's post. Then he must have tracked you here. Did you recognize him?"
She frowned, glancing at the door. "I didn't get a good look at him."
"He was short, thin, with a mustache. No? Not familiar? Well, I will tell you that I am very glad you carry a gun in your handbag."
"I learned to keep one with me during the war."
That jarred him. Suddenly, so did the cadence of her speech. She was American, and the conflict she spoke of had to be their War between the States. She would have been so young then, too young to carry a weapon. "How old were you?"
"Nearly six when the Southern states seceded. Almost ten when Lee surrendered to Grant."
Rhys chastised himself heartily for being attracted to this charmer who was therefore no more than twenty years of age. He didn't fall for women. Rich, poor, smart, not pretty or drab, they could not matter to him. He'd sworn himself off involvements to protect his heart from pains, his reputation from stains. Five years ago, he'd removed himself from the endless circuit of balls and dinner parties, as much to declare publicly that he was not husband material as to protect himself from finding a woman whom he might want but could never keep. Not in any style which her hope or his affection might wish he could afford. He wanted to hoot in irony that he'd condemned himself to eternal bachelorhood because he never thought to earn more than a middling income, only to be tempted by this golden-eyed girl who was twelve years his junior.
She stepped backward from his embrace. "Thank you for your help." She put her hand out. He took it and swore it was no compensation for the lack of her in his arms. "I'd like to ensure your safety. Are you with someone? May I escort you back to the clubhouse?"
"Yes, I'd like that. Should I address you as 'my lord' or 'sir' or "
"Rhys Kendall." He eschewed all formalities. "Just Rhys will do."
She repeated his name, and he longed to hear her say it often in secluded dark rooms. "That's unique."
"It's Welsh. Traditional name for boys among my mother's family. The Kendall is a wee bit of Scots. We hail from the northern borders of England." Instinct told him that he needed to be able to find her, call on her. Common sense shouted that he ask nothing of her. He should, if he were smart, run the other way.
"And I am Ann "
He laughed. "Well, of course. Full of grace." He was floored by the aptness of her name.
"Full of grace. It is what Ann means."
"I never knew."
"I did. I saw it in the way you seem to glide."
She did not breathe. "You are very complimentary."
"It's an act I perform with utmost discretion." He grinned at her, marveling at her ability to cheer him and thus unwittingly blot out years of somberness. "Come along. I'll see you out. You've made friends with your mare, and you can send your stable hands to come fetch her."
"Yes, thank you. My party are having tea before the next round of bidding. Perhaps you would like to join us." He readily accepted, wishing to stay longer in her company and view the easiness of her smile, so contagious a condition. She hooked her hand over his arm, and the effects of her frightening experience vanished as they walked into the sunshine and her hair caught the rays like flame.
"Where do you stay in Dublin?" Who are you with? Your parents? Your husband?
"We're at the Imperial Hotel."
"A fine place, but it has no stables."
"I'll keep her two streets away at Rooney's."
"Tim Rooney will take great care of her."
"Good, because I intend to keep him busy. You see, I have a long shopping list for Ireland and England."
"So you'll purchase more than one mare? I'm glad you told me. I care not to bid against you a second time. It's humiliating for a man to lose to a lady with so much money," he teased her. "But why do you carry cash? That fellow who followed you probably wanted to relieve you of it. That's a choker of a roll, and bank drafts would be better, you realize." They took the dusty lane toward the two-story clubhouse. He hated to come to the end of the road.
"Maybe. But I like the feel of currency. Makes me think I'm secure. That's a result of what happened to us during the war, too. When you're tired and hungry, you take what money you have and spend it before it disappears."
That urge Rhys knew too well. He pressed his hand to hers in sympathy. "Did you live in the South?"
Skip Brighton hailed from Virginia. Odd to meet two people in one day so far from their home and at the same event. Unless they knew each other. Unless this lovely woman had become Brighton's second wife. Riled by that thought, Rhys patted her hand again, but it was her right hand. If she wore a wedding ring, it would be on her left.
"My grandparents were farmers." She was reminiscing as if she and he had known each other for decades. "They owned one hundred and twenty acres of the finest cornfields and fruit trees you have ever seen, until the Yankees moved in after the declaration of war. Then everything changed. We saw battles almost every day." Her tone went hollow, her body taut as when she'd become frightened and drew her pistol on him. "I'd like to raise my horses on my own farm in peace. I never want to see violence of any kind again."
"A solid goal."
"I think so," she murmured, and then inhaled, suddenly drawing herself up and away from her memories. "I'm here in Ireland to find fresh blood to breed a new type of horse. In Tennessee, they call them walking horses."
"If these horses come from Tennessee, why do you search for stock in Britain?"
"Walkers are a mix of Thoroughbreds, Morgans, Standardbreds, and pacers. Unfortunately, American horse breeders have not kept records of their stud activities and refinement of walkers has become, like so many other breeds, a guessing game. My thought is that many walking horses are too skittish and too fineboned for the work they must do. The stallion I keep stabled back home at our house in Alexandria is like that, and...I am running on. If I'm boring you "
"Not at all. I know a bit about horses. Tell me more."
She beamed. "Well, he has many wonderful qualities, but he's very nervous. I'd like to put him to stud with a mare who has heavy bones and a gentle disposition."
"Ah, yes. A woman to tame him."
"Precisely. And the Irish bay is tall and strong and beautifully colored. She'll bring out the best in him."
Rhys's eyes swept from her hair to her lips. "What any good partner should do."
"But in case she can't provide the total answer to my needs, I want to take home another mare. A Thoroughbred who's a fast pacer. And if my inheritance money stretches that far, I'll buy another stallion with strong bones to strengthen the line."
"Perhaps then you'd permit me to advise you on where to look for the best selections. Tattersall's in Newmarket is an excellent auction house, but they run a stable in London, too. Their sale every Monday morning is without peer. I also have a number of books I could lend you to read up on lineage in Britain. Two of them were written by my father, who was considered an expert on breeding and equitation. He owned a sizable stud farm and raced more than a dozen Thoroughbreds before he died."
"Thank you. I have limited funds and can't afford to make any mistakes in the quality of the stock I send home."
Rhys smiled wistfully. "I'll have my books sent to you. How long do you stay in Dublin?"
"Two weeks. Then we go to London."
"Not Paris? Most American ladies begin their grand tour by going to the dressmakers."
She wrinkled her nose. "Yes, but I insisted we come to this sale to begin my purchases. My father and my aunt didn't mind that we waited until June after we're settled in London. My father has business meetings scheduled in London, and he's eager to get there."
Rhys felt a rush of panic. Did Skip Brighton have a daughter? He could remember him mentioning only a son named Taylor. Rhys forced himself to listen to Ann as she talked about her cousin and two friends who had traveled with her father and aunt.
"Raine isn't very interested in gowns but in classical art. But our friend Colleen was disappointed because she wanted to start the London season with new clothes. I promised to make it up to her, which means I owe her big favors. Including introductions to anyone I meet."
Rhys felt relief there seemed to be no husband in the bunch. He cocked a brow.
"Do you mind?"
"I do," she confessed. Then, unlike an English girl who would have lowered her lashes to cover her fluster, Ann grinned up into the sky. "Am I blushing?"
"Where is a hat when you need it?"
"I'm glad you threw it away."
"I amused you."
"You reminded me that laughter does exist. Only I must look for it."
r"Something I should remember myself." She gave him half a smile.
"We both need a little more fun, it seems." They had reached the entrance to the clubhouse.
"We have a box in the second tier," she told him, and they began to climb the steps. She glanced up at him, her gaze drifting to his lips with an appreciation that fired his imagination of how he'd kiss her first. "Would I be too forward to ask if you live in Dublin?"
"I own a home north of here in Dundalk and another in Lancashire, England. I came to the horse show today to buy an animal for a large farm I own in England."
"Do you go to London often?"
"Not unless I have good reason."
"I see," she said as their eyes held and someone called to her.
Rhys sensed people stirring within one box. He looked up, and one buxom young woman with black hair waved at Ann. Beside her stood a silver-haired older lady who squinted at him through a lorgnette. Next to her was an extremely shocked and suddenly pleased Skip Brighton.
Rhys felt a gush of sorrow sweep through him. Ann's expensive little derringer, her wealth, her confidence all indicated she belonged to Skip. But in what way?
Ann's gaze trailed Rhys's. "The lady in ivory is Aunt Peggie, our chaperone, and that man is my father. Do you know him? He's smiling at you, but...is something wrong?" She became concerned. Almost angry.
"I know him well." Too damnably well. Rhys pressed her arm to his torso and picked up their pace.
Rhys watched Skip Brighton work his way past the older lady and the three younger women, each as distinctive as a feather from a different bird. Aunt Peggie seemed like a snowy owl in a ball of white plumes. The well-endowed one looked like a flamingo in rose ruffles, the blonde was an egret in tailored gray, while the last girl resembled a pudgy raven in a froth of peach sateen. Every one was the epitome of fashion and enormous wealth.
"There you are, Ann," Skip greeted her as he came upon them, his attention fastening on Rhys as if they were warm friends. "You two have met. Nice to see you again."
Rhys resisted the urge to grind his teeth. He turned to Ann, unwinding her arm from his. "It was the highlight of my day to have assisted you, Miss Brighton. I will send round to your hotel a list of the best horse sales establishments in Britain and the books I promised. I wish you well in breeding walking horses. Rely on leprechauns from now on," he advised so sweetly she might have missed the sorrow in his last two words. "Good day."
Good-bye was what he'd meant. Ann knew she would never see him again. She was certain the reason was that Rhys and her father did not get along. Or, to be precise, Rhys hated Skip. While part of her was not surprised because so many men distrusted the man who had made millions rapidly and ruthlessly, Ann added this grievance to her resentment for his abandonment of his family in time of war.
"Who was that?" Colleen came to Ann's side.
"His name is Rhys Kendall." He was so tall that she could watch his departure easily. His broad shoulders in the charcoal frockcoat were rigid. His gait was swift, sure.
She felt the urge to run after him and knew she could not bring him back. What had her father done to Rhys? She would not ask him. Her father never spoke to her about his business or his personal conflicts, only about his successes. But Aunt, Peg might know. She'd ask her.
Colleen hummed. "Divine-looking man. Is he married?"
"I don't think so." Ann remembered the tenderness of his touch and wondered if he held many women in his arms.
"Fair game, then."
Raine watched Rhys go. "Mam'selle VanderHorn, you had best kill your admiration. I think my cousin has her cap set for him already."
"Raine," Ann admonished, "I've lost my hat, not my "
"Then do stop watching him, darlin'." She put up her parasol as raindrops began to fall. "Lord, the weather is unpredictable here. Let's go back and sit under the roof."
Gus mused, "I like blond men, and he's got brown hair."
Chestnut, Ann corrected. Which curls abundantly.
"Hmph." Colleen would not be shaken. "Blonds are all right for other women, Gussie, but not you and me. With our dark coloring, we'd get children with dishwater looks."
Skip was chuckling.
Aunt Peggie was tsking, hands fluttering toward their seats. "Girls, please! Come back to the box. We mustn't gawk at each handsome brute who walks up. We want lots of invitations here and in London, and we won't get them if we act like we're buying bonbons at the confectioner's."
Raine winked at Ann as she turned away. Gus VanderHorn promptly followed.
But Colleen put a hand up to shade her view of Rhys. "I wonder if he's rich."
Ann pivoted. "I have no idea."
Her father stopped her with his gaze. "I do."
"Ann, wait. Don't you want to hear this?"
I want to know everything about Rhys Kendall and I fear if I do, I'll be more entranced.
Her father's voice, quiet and even, made her pause. "Rhys Kendall and his father were once friends of mine, Colleen. I met Rhys when he was ten. The family owned cotton mills on the west English coast. I shipped them raw goods until one night eleven years ago, the largest building burned down. Rhys has not recovered from the loss."
"What does he do now?" Colleen persisted, and Ann was silently grateful for her insistence.
"He still runs one cotton mill, and he owns a lot of land, collecting rents from his farmers. He also considers investing in the cruise line I'm opening with nine others."
"So he is wealthy," Colleen proclaimed.
"Well, Colleen, I'd say Rhys is careful how he spends his income."
Ann wondered if Rhys were struggling financially through any actions of her father. The possibility riled her, drowning the polite rapport that had developed between them during their ocean voyage the last six weeks.
Skip continued dispassionately, "If Rhys can see his way clear to contribute at least two thousand pounds, he'll become one of the founding directors of Guardian Shipping."
Colleen was stricken. "Is that virile creature poor?"
Skip pursed his lips. "Rhys thinks he is. He certainly lives on much less than what his father did."
"A pity. He could have been a great match. But Mother and Daddy wouldn't approve of me liking a poor man. I wouldn't approve of it myself." She laughed lightly.
"Nonetheless, Colleen, he is considered quite a catch."
"Stunning to look at, but if he has no wealth "
"Ah, but he has things. A rare twelfth-century tapestry, a few suits of medieval armor, and a collection of Van Dycks the Queen envies. He keeps them in one drafty castle or one noted London mansion."
"Well, he should sell them and make money."
"But he won't."
"That doesn't make sense."
"The man is part of an ancient but aging society. One that doesn't approve of its sons selling their heritage. You see, my dears, Rhys Westport Kendall is His Grace, the sixteenth Duke of Carlton and Dundalk."
"So if a girl had money," Colleen rhapsodized while Ann stared into her father's calculating eyes, "she might make the perfect wife for him and in the bargain become a duchess, twice over."
"An intriguing prospect, isn't it?" Skip asked, and Colleen agreed.
Ann did not bat an eyelash but headed for the family box. Her father's words rang warning bells in her head, bringing her to her senses, so addled by a charming man.
Skip wanted her married. He'd made that plain the day after her mother's funeral when he'd first proposed the trip to Europe. If he thought Rhys Kendall a viable candidate, good for him. She had her own goals and five months remaining to her stay abroad with him. According to their agreement that night at the VanderHorns', she was here in Europe visiting, earning a monthly income from him in exchange for being a congenial traveling companion and dutiful daughter. On September first, she would leave, taking with her eighteen thousand dollars for six months' services. Until then, much as she would enjoy Rhys Kendall's companionship, she didn't want to see him.
He was too attractive. Too debonair. She'd reveled in his company for less than ten minutes and found him utterly enchanting. Continue to see him, and she could find herself in the same circumstances as her mother once had been. Caring for a man more than he cared for her.
Copyright © 1998 by Jo-Ann Power