Swim naked in the moonlight
Play in a high stakes card game
Ride an elephant
Be painted sans clothing.
Take a lover. . .
Lucy Merryweather has inherited a fortune--and her great-aunt's list of unfulfilled wishes. What better way to honor her memory than by accomplishing as many of them as possible? And with Lucy's family an ocean away in New York, nothing stands in her way--if one ignores the private investigator hired to spy on her.
Yet Cameron Effington is infuriatingly difficult to ignore. . .
As a reporter, Cameron is always looking for a good story. An American heiress running rampant between Millworth Manor and Mayfair is the perfect subject. Not to mention captivating. And extremely kissable. And if Lucy believes he's a detective? Well, the truth should never get in the way of a good story--or hinder delicious, impetuous passion. . .
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The Daring Exploits of a Runaway Heiress
By Victoria Alexander
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Cheryl Griffin
All rights reserved.
Cameron Effington, the youngest son of the Duke of Roxborough, resisted the urge to clench his teeth and instead adopted his most cordial expression and met his father's disapproving gaze at the far end of the dining table. "Yes, Father, my work is most satisfactory. Thank you for asking."
His father's eyes narrowed. "Well, as long as it's satisfactory."
"Father," Cam's oldest brother, Spencer, the Marquess of Helmsley, said in a low, warning tone. As the next duke, Spencer had long seen himself as the diplomat in the family.
His father had been less than pleased when Cam had taken a position with Cadwallender's Daily Messenger more than a year ago. But aside from the occasional disgruntled comment, the duke usually refrained from discussing his youngest son's work. Tonight, however, there was an undercurrent to his words that did not bode well.
Cam's twin brothers, Simon and Thaddeus, traded glances but wisely kept their mouths shut. It would not do for Father to turn his displeasure toward them, although admittedly they had done nothing of late to incur his ire. At least nothing Cam was aware of. His widowed sister, Grace, Lady Watersfeld, continued with her meal, completely ignoring the potential for a family squabble that hung over the table along with the aroma of roasted beef. Two years older than Cam, Grace too had long ago learned the wisdom of not distracting Father and thus bringing her own misdeeds to his attention.
Admittedly they were more often than not quite a congenial group unless the subject arose of Cam's choice of profession—indeed that he chose to have a profession at all. Or the discussion turned to the fact that none of them was currently married, none of them had any particular prospects for marriage, and none of them seemed to be making any effort to alleviate that situation. Or the occasional indiscretion and mild scandal any of them might be involved in raised its head. Still, Cameron did give his siblings credit as they were usually most discreet. At those times, one would have thought Father's entire life had been above reproach, which was far from the truth. Although his offspring were usually wise enough not to bring up Father's less than stellar behavior in his youth.
"Jonathon," his mother said in her best Duchess of Roxborough voice, which had long struck fear into the hearts of her children and husband alike. "It is all I can do to entice my children here once a week. I shall not allow you to spoil it."
Father gasped. "I would never—"
"We agreed this was to be a cordial evening," Mother continued.
Cordial or not, dinner every Thursday at Effington House when Cam's siblings were in London was in the nature of a command appearance. While all the Effington offspring had their own private residences, a constant source of annoyance to the duke, Mother insisted her children present themselves for dinner once a week. Legitimate reasons for absence from this ritual were accepted, but woe be it to anyone who missed more than two consecutive dinners. Nonetheless, this was the first time in more than a month that all of the duke and duchess's children were seated at the table together.
Father's eyes widened in a show of feigned innocence. "I was being cordial."
"For the moment perhaps." Mother's eyes narrowed. "But I know you, Jonathon Effington. I know exactly how you think and I certainly know that look on your face."
"I don't have a look on my face," Father said under his breath, and speared a piece of perfectly cooked beef with far more vengeance than was necessary. "I don't know what's wrong with a father asking a son about his avocation."
"I believe you mean vocation, Father," Grace said in a deceptively pleasant manner. There was nothing Grace liked better than throwing fuel on the fire. As long as it was someone else's fire. "An avocation is a hobby, a vocation is a profession."
Father's brow furrowed in annoyance. "I know—"
"Grandmother is not joining us tonight?" Thad asked in an effort to change the course of the conversation. Cam cast him a grateful look. Thad too thought of himself as a peacemaker.
"I'm afraid not." Mother sighed. "She was going to retire early as she was quite done in. Some of her friends came by this afternoon and they spent a great deal of time visiting."
"And compiling lists of eligible matches, no doubt," Grace said under her breath.
"I believe all their plans and plots and schemes may well keep them young. They do have a grand time. And you, all of you"—Mother's pointed look circled the table—"should be most grateful for their efforts. One never knows where one might find a match not only suitable but perfect." Mother smiled at her husband. "Don't you agree, Jonathon?"
Father cast her a look that might well have been considered wicked if, of course, he wasn't, well, Father. "Cupid's arrow strikes without warning, when one least expects or desires it. And often in the most unusual manner." His gaze lingered on his wife and true affection shone in his eyes.
None of the Effington offspring knew the exact details of Mother and Father's courtship save that Mother's cousin was one of Father's oldest friends. Cam had long suspected there was more to it than that as it was obvious theirs had been a love match and just as obvious that it still was. Father cleared his throat. "Your mother is right. The efforts of your grandmother and her cronies should not be dismissed without due consideration, even if you view those efforts as meddling and manipulative."
Grandmother, the dowager duchess and matriarch of the Effington family, had recently passed her ninetieth birthday. Whereas before reaching that milestone she had often said how she looked forward to joining her beloved husband, Thomas, in the next life, now she was determined to cling to this life until she reached one hundred years or had seen all her grandchildren happily wed, whichever came first. Judging by the way her daughter-in-law was enthusiastically engaged in the same pursuit, one would have thought Mother was eager to see the old lady go.
Unfortunately, as most of Cam's cousins were older and already wed, and Grandmother resided with her only son and his wife, her matchmaking efforts focused almost exclusively on those grandchildren now seated around the table.
It wasn't as if they hadn't tried. Spencer had been engaged to the lovely Eleanora Matthew, the daughter of an earl and eminently suitable to be a future duchess. But Eleanora had succumbed to measles five years ago and it had taken Spencer some time to move on with his life. Cam was fairly certain no one else in the family, except perhaps Simon, knew that Thad had been in love with the young woman as well. Both brothers' hearts had broken when she died, although Spencer could mourn publicly and Thad's sorrow was private. This was what love did to a man.
In spite of the example set by his parents, Cam was glad he had never succumbed to that fickle emotion. Nor did he wish to. And no matter how many prospective brides Grandmother and her friends herded in his direction, marriage held no particular appeal. Fortunately, Grandmother concentrated most of her efforts on his older brothers and sister, but Cam was under no illusion that she did not have him in her sights as well.
Grace had dutifully married Henry, Lord Watersfeld, a nice enough sort, who was liked and approved by the family and most importantly the dowager duchess, who was notoriously hard to please about prospective matches regardless of how much she wanted her grandchildren to wed. While Grace did appear to care for him, it also seemed to Cam that she relished being a widow far more than she had being a wife. Grace avoided most attempts to find her a new match by declaring, as it had only been three years since Henry's death, she was still mourning, when in truth she used the freedom accorded her as a widow of independent means to pursue her own interests. Interests of an artistic nature. Something Mother knew and Father did not. Father was not overly fond of artistic endeavors.
"Being manipulative and meddling is one of the few joys left to me." Grandmother's voice rang from the doorway.
"Mother." The duke and his sons jumped to their feet. "Fiona said you had retired."
"I had but I changed my mind. I'm allowed to do that, you know." In spite of her age, her voice was strong and determined, but she leaned heavily on a carved, ivory-headed cane. She frequently complained that her mind was as sharp as ever but the rest of her was falling apart. "After a most refreshing nap I found I would rather be in the bosom of my family than in my bed. Besides, I was hungry and I hate eating alone in my rooms. It makes me feel even older than I am." Her brows drew together. "Now, are you going to make me stand here all night or are one of you boys going to come help me to my seat?"
At once the brothers moved toward her, but Simon reached her first and assisted her to a chair even as expertly trained footmen prepared a place for her.
"You needn't grin like that, Simon." Grandmother cast him a chastising look. "You haven't won a prize, you know."
"Oh, but I have, Grandmother." Simon's unrepentant grin widened. "Escorting you to the table or anywhere is both a delight and a privilege."
"Do not waste all that charm on me. It will do you no good as I am immune to it. You are so like your grandfather. He too was a charming rogue." Grandmother settled into her chair. "Beware of that, my boy. It is both a blessing and a curse."
"I shall keep that in mind, Grandmother." Simon chuckled and retook his seat.
"See that you do." Grandmother's gaze wandered around the table and Cam wondered exactly what she saw when she looked at each of them. Or perhaps whom she saw. "I intend to send each of you a long note tomorrow listing the assorted possibilities for suitable matches."
Grace winced. Cam and his brothers traded resigned glances. It would not be the first such note Grandmother had sent them and probably not the last.
"If you continue to make faces like that, Grace, you will be wrinkled before your time." Grandmother signaled for a footman to fill her glass with the sherry she preferred with dinner. A glass that would be kept discreetly filled until she left the table. "Marital relations are also excellent for keeping one's youthful looks and one's mind sharp."
Mother coughed back a laugh.
Father choked. "Mother!"
"Good Lord, Jonathon, when did you get so stuffy? You certainly weren't like this when you were their age." Grandmother huffed. "I have earned the right to say exactly what I want and I don't intend to curb my tongue simply because you have become something of a stick in the mud."
"I am not—"
"Besides ..." Her eyes twinkled behind her spectacles. "One of the few thrills I have left in life is saying something shocking." She picked up her glass. "Lord knows, I can no longer do anything shocking."
"I'm certain you could if you tried," Thad said staunchly.
"What a delightful thing to say to an old woman. You, my dear boy, have become every bit as charming as your brother, although you are far more intelligent."
Simon gasped in indignation. "Not far more."
Grandmother raised a brow.
"I just prefer to keep my intelligence to myself," he added in a lofty manner.
"And you do it so well," Grace said under her breath.
"Intelligence coupled with charm is a potent combination." Grandmother nodded at Thad. "Use it wisely. As for whether I could still do something shocking at my advanced age ..." She took a sip of her wine and thought for a moment. "One can only hope. I am certainly willing to try."
Laughter washed around the table, skipping over Father, who simply rolled his gaze toward the ceiling.
"Unfortunately, those opportunities for shocking behavior grow rarer as one gets older." Grandmother shook her head. "Pity really."
"Thank God," Father muttered.
"Now then." Grandmother beamed at her family. "It's not often that Fiona manages to have all of you here at once. So let us make pleasant conversation about nothing in particular while we indulge in this lovely meal Cook has prepared. Has anyone heard any interesting gossip of late?"
Mother bit back a grin. Grace choked and took a quick sip of wine.
"Mother." Father heaved a resigned sigh. "That's somewhat inappropriate, don't you think?"
"Absolutely, Jonathon." Grandmother's voice was cool but laughter lurked in her eyes. "That's what makes it so much fun." Grandmother turned toward her oldest grandson. "Spencer, I would ask you if you have heard anything of interest but you are entirely too discreet."
Spencer raised his glass and smiled. "Thank you, Grandmother."
"It was not entirely a compliment." She studied him for a moment. "But a good quality in a future duke nonetheless. I fear from Grace we may learn far more than we should. You do seem to hear all sorts of fascinating things, my dear. Things probably best discussed without the presence of gentlemen. We would hate to shock their fragile sensibilities."
She leaned toward her granddaughter. "Perhaps after dinner ..."
"Perhaps." Grace's smile was not as innocent as her tone.
"Simon." Grandmother smiled in a conspiratorial manner. "Surely you've heard something worth sharing?"
"Grandmother!" Simon gasped in feigned indignation, then grinned. "Well, I did pick up something at my club the other night. It seems a viscount, well known for his ..."
Simon launched into a tale of good romantic intentions gone awry that would not have been nearly as entertaining had someone else been telling it. Simon was a natural storyteller, which often came in handy as he was the brother who most needed to be able to twist an incident to show himself in the best light. Although he and Thad were mirror images of each other, with the exception of Thad's need for spectacles, Simon was the more adventurous of the twins and tended to skate on the edge of scandal in direct contrast to his brother. Thad was the intellectual in the family and, if he and Simon had not taken over management of most of the family's business and investment interests, might well have become a scholar. Together, they formed a formidable team and Father was pleased.
Spencer was following in Father's footsteps, as was expected, and had a hand in everything from management of the family's estates to politics. There had never been so much as a breath of scandal about Spencer, but Cam often wondered if, like Thad and Grace, Spencer had secrets no one else knew. But Father was pleased with him as well.
Unfortunately, he was not as happy with his youngest son. Cam had dutifully negotiated the hallowed halls of education, then traveled the continent and wandered through Egypt and India. He had tried his hand at business with his brothers but it was not to his liking. He had toyed with the study of law but thought it rather dull. He had even briefly considered the church but realized almost immediately that his character was not suited for a life of unquestioned upright behavior. Indeed, for several years, he had done little more than enjoy being the youngest son of a duke with no responsibilities, no expectations, and nearly unlimited funds. Still, it wasn't particularly satisfying, which was odd as it was rather fun.
It had grown on him slowly that his greatest joy in life was putting pen to paper. Much to his surprise, he found the writing of stories to be far more enjoyable than the frivolous life he led. For the first time, Cam gave serious consideration to his future and realized if indeed he wanted one day to be as well known as Mr. Dickens or Mr. Trollope, he was going to have to have a serious plan. After all, he knew nothing of real life outside the rarified world of England's upper ten thousand. His first step toward the future was to take a position as a journalist with the Daily Messenger. Even though the editorial direction of the Messenger was still evolving and it was for the most part more inclined toward gossip and lighthearted fare than the more serious causes taken up by newspapers like the Times or the Gazette, Cam found it suited him. Not that he hadn't reported his share of murder, mayhem, and corruption. In the year since he'd begun, he been shocked and appalled, amused and amazed by the follies and foibles of man, and every story he wrote became fodder for his fiction. For the works he would one day write.
Cam still didn't understand why his father was so adamantly opposed to his choice of profession. After all, Grandmother had written a series of stories for Cadwallender's Weekly World Messenger and went on to write nearly a dozen novels of romance and adventure. Indeed, the Cadwallender and Effington families had had a close relationship since then. A few years ago, two of the Cadwallender brothers had formed their own book publishing enterprise, the Weekly World Messenger had become Cadwallender's Weekly Ladies World, and Cadwallender's Daily Messenger had been launched. Still, in an effort to placate his father, and avoid undue prominence and any suggestion of favoritism, Cam used his mother's maiden name, Fairchild, instead of Effington. Even James Cadwallender, publisher of the Messenger, called him Fairchild. For the most part, father and son now had a sort of unacknowledged truce and simply avoided any discussion of Cam's employment.
Until tonight when Father had asked about his work. Something had obviously triggered his father's wrath and Cam suspected they were headed toward a long postponed confrontation.
When the family had finished dinner, his mother drew a deep breath. "Cameron, your father has something he wishes to discuss with you."
Father's brow furrowed. "I had planned to have that discussion privately."
Excerpted from The Daring Exploits of a Runaway Heiress by Victoria Alexander. Copyright © 2015 Cheryl Griffin. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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