One of Book Riot's "9 Not-To-Be-Missed Romances Hitting the Shelves this Summer"
Can a woman who’s down on her luck find love with a dashing Duke-to-be? Find out in The Luck of the Bride, the next Regency romance in the Cavensham Heiresses series from Janna MacGregor.
She's leaving nothing up to chance. Not even love…
March Lawson is an orphan who, for the past eight years, has struggled to raise her siblings on a meager allowance. Most women March's age would be picking out ball gowns for the upcoming season. But March's focus is not on finding a husband. First, she must devote her energies to just one man: the coldhearted skinflint who refuses to release her inheritance.
Michael Cavensham, the Marquess of McCalpin, is not a heartless man. When he learns that Miss Lawson has been forging his name to procure funds, he can't bring himself to have her arrested—not when the bold-faced embezzler is so enchantingly beautiful. Instead, McCalpin agrees to visit her home to assess the situation more closely. March has no choice but to accept. But how can she manage the handsome trustee who controls her purse strings—when he tugs at her heart strings as well?
About the Author
Janna MacGregor was born and raised in the bootheel of Missouri. She is the author of The Bad Luck Bride. She credits her darling mom for introducing her to the happily-ever-after world of romance novels. Janna writes stories where compelling and powerful heroines meet and fall in love with their equally matched heroes. She is the mother of triplets and lives in Kansas City with her very own dashing rogue, and two smug, but not surprisingly, perfect pugs. She loves to hear from readers.
Read an Excerpt
Eighty years later
"Miss Lawson, you're relieved of your duties as housekeeper." The viscount squinted and lifted his chin. The attempt resembled the sour face he always made when he drank an unsweetened glass of lemonade. "Immediately."
This was simply rich. March summoned thoughts of dirty laundry to keep the hilarity of his pronouncement from overtaking her in a bout of laughter. If only his words were true, she might get a much-needed rest. An image loomed before her of lazing in bed with a tower of the latest gothic novels on the nightstand, but she pushed it aside. There was no use to wish for things that won't happen.
Her responsibilities were endless today. This morning, she'd already taken inventory of the pantry, planned the meals for the week, paid the butcher, and balanced the weekly housekeeping ledger. She still had to assess the damage from the newest leak in the roof. Where those funds would come from was anyone's guess.
The viscount steepled his fingers on the desk, then regarded her with an attempt to lift one haughty eyebrow skyward. The effort failed miserably when both eyebrows shot up and delivered what could only be described as a look of surprise.
March pretended to cough. Otherwise, a bubble of laughter would burst from her chest. The viscount could always lighten the moment. She leaned back in her chair and decided to enjoy the interview as best she could since the afternoon promised to be even more hectic than the morning. She had to go through the attic and sort through the old clothes. The dressmaker planned to stop by tomorrow to determine if any of the gowns were fit for alteration. Since Parliament had convened early this year, the start of the London Season was only several weeks away. She needed to see Mr. Willingham about a delivery of wood and coal. They'd already run through the budgeted allotment for the next six months.
"My lord, I can leave at the end of the week, but I expect my full weekly pay and fare for transportation back to London." Her even, dulcet tone was quite remarkable considering he was discharging her from her duties. "May I ask the reason for my dismissal?"
With a tug of his neckcloth, the viscount met her gaze. The shock on his face better resembled a wide-eyed trout flapping on a riverbank seeking an escape back into the water. He schooled his expression quickly, but an odd hint of something, perhaps disappointment, replaced his look of surprise.
"Very well. You're entitled to an explanation." When he swallowed his discomfort, the tiniest hint of an Adam's apple bobbed up and down. "I've repeatedly asked that the weekly menu not include ham and beans."
"My dismissal is over ham and beans?" March almost choked on the words. She bit her tongue in order to keep from guffawing. Her effort to hide her humor failed miserably. Stains of scarlet mottled the viscount's face.
"Last night made the third time this month it's been the main course for dinner. I despise the lumps and the congealed mess. Why isn't there any sweets on the menu, I ask you? Your replacement, Miss Faith, has agreed to take your position with the assurance I'll have more desserts. You may finish the week as you train her."
March let out a sigh. Her heart squeezed at the pain of her failure. "Bennett, first, it's 'why aren't there any sweets on the menu' instead of 'isn't.' Second, this is the best I can manage under the circumstances. Third, picking Faith as my replacement? What about her —"
"Her injured leg has no impact on her ability to do the work. You've repeatedly told us that she's capable of anything and can do what she wants," her nine-year-old brother challenged. The young viscount drew a deep breath and blew his unruly black locks out of his face. The startling green of his eyes was a welcome sight. His face appeared to change daily with hints of the man he would become. Every day he favored their father more and more.
"Sweetheart, that's very kind of you to say. I'm sure if Faith heard it, she'd be pleased, too. However, dearest, please don't kick the desk. It'll mark the wood," March gently chided.
With a huff of disgruntlement, Bennett turned and stared out the window. It had to be difficult growing up as the only brother to three older sisters. He had no older male to emulate or teach him how to be a proper young lord, much less what his responsibilities would entail when he reached adulthood. He needed a proper tutor, and an education befitting a viscount.
"I'll try my best to serve more sweets. That's all I can promise." She'd bruised his pride. It wasn't the first time and wouldn't be the last. Not that she wanted to, but they had to face realities in the viscount's household. There weren't any extra funds for sweets.
Abruptly, he faced her, and his voice held a rasp of challenge. "March, how many times must I ask? Please address me as 'my lord' when I'm in my study. Besides, it's my desk, and if I want to kick it, I will." Suddenly, a charming lopsided grin broke across his young face. "Are you willing to change the menu? You really will try to have more sweets?"
"I'll see what I can do, but no promises." The eagerness in her brother's face provided another reason to fix what was wrong with their household. She desperately wanted to grant his wishes, but the steady gnaw of guilt weakened whatever resolve she called forth. She would have to do the unthinkable again if they were to survive the next couple of weeks and make it to London.
For over the past year, their family had struggled financially without any household or estate allowance. The year before, the amounts were so minuscule, they would not have purchased enough grain and hay for the two horses they owned. Lord Burns never answered her letters or explained why he cut off the estate's allowance.
Thankfully, she had prepared for a rainy day and set aside funds in case of emergency. The roof repair last autumn had consumed most of the money — and it still leaked. To say their life was a soggy state of affairs was an understatement. There was never enough. Now, she was down to their last five pounds. Their tight-fisted guardian, Lord Burns, had disappeared without a word where to reach him. That had been over a year ago. There'd been no explanation from anyone that he'd died.
To make matters worse, her father's solicitor had retired with no one to take his place. There was no replacement guardian. However, there was a successor trustee, who managed the money set aside for the Lawson sisters.
March had been the one to contact the Marquess of McCalpin, the successor trustee. He'd sent a lovely letter of introduction and had informed her that his personal solicitor would lend assistance in his successor trustee responsibilities. That had been over two months ago. To date, neither the marquess nor his solicitors had deemed her requests for money worthy of much attention.
She'd been horrified to discover the marquess was the brother of her banker, Lady Emma Somerton, who was a dear friend.
Tired of scrimping and saving, March wanted her money, the funds her parents had set aside for her well-being. Desperate times called for desperate action. Somehow, she'd find the money they needed.
"Lord Lawson, I'll try my best."
* * *
After everyone had retired, March sat at her brother's desk and smoothed the expensive sheet of vellum for the fifth time, the movement a nervous habit. With a slight hand, she dipped the quill in the inkwell. The simple movement caused a tremor to run through her limbs, and the effect was severe enough she had to replace the writing instrument in its stand. She leaned back in the chair.
The effort to write the money request caused her stomach to roil in defiance. This was what she'd become over the last several months — a forger, an embezzler, a thief, and a liar of the worse sort. Her family and Hart had no idea she was stealing. She swallowed her apprehension and picked up the quill again.
Circumstances required bold moves. If she must suffer remorse, let it be for something big. She was tired of shuffling and scurrying around the bills that demanded her attention daily. She had little choice if she wanted to stop her siblings' hellish existence.
There was no advantage to waiting. Once the letter was finished, the funds would become available within five days. Over the last several weeks, she had mastered the simple process. With a deft hand, she would sign the directive as the Marquess of McCalpin.
Not once had anyone questioned the marquess's signature, or more accurately, her signature. The marquess's solicitor had completely ignored her previous letters seeking additional funds and help, which obviously meant the marquess didn't care what she did.
With the marquess's signature, the funds would be deposited in her account at E. Cavensham Commerce. The bank was the creation of the Countess of Somerton, the marquess's sister. The institution, a bank for women by women, was a wildly successful enterprise in operation for less than year. Lady Somerton had personally sent March an invitation to bank with her. For March, it had been a godsend. She had little funds invested there, but used the institution for small loans when the need arose.
The stopgap measure had ceased to meet her family's needs over the last several months when their remaining tenant had suffered devastating damages during a horrid winter storm. March had nothing else for collateral to offer E. Cavensham Commerce. The only real valuables she owned outright were a pair of her late mother's earrings, and they currently resided in Lady Somerton's bank vault. How ironic that March's most trusted financial advisor was the sister of a man who apparently didn't have time for her family.
If she lost the tenant, the entire estate would be in bankruptcy by year's end. Forced to take greater action, March did the unimaginable. Her family's position of weakness had left her no choice but to embezzle from her own dowry, aka her trust fund.
Like an imaginary box full of pencils, her trust was full, but instead of pencils, it contained money. Until the marquess signed it over to her, the money belonged to the trust or the pencil box as she liked to think about it. Though it was for her benefit, only the marquess had the power to release money to see to her needs.
The marquess had ignored her polite but insistent request for the release of funds. Her money still sat in that pencil box.
She and her two sisters each had a twenty-five-thousand-pound trust, a handsome amount specifically intended for their dowries. However, once a sister married, or as in March's case, once a sister reached the age of twenty-five, the trust would cease with the monies distributed to either the sister's husband upon marriage or the unmarried sister at the age of twenty-five.
March straightened in her chair and cleared her throat. She had no other options if she wanted to protect her family. Her trust should have ended with the money under her authority. She should be able to spend the funds on anything including sweets for her little brother without anyone else's approval.
The crucial time had come to take her sisters and brother to London. The need had turned dire when their only cousin from their father's side, Rupert Lawson, had started to drop in unannounced. His sly purpose was to pursue Julia's hand in marriage.
Though he spouted how advantageous such a union would be for Julia and the rest of the family, March knew the truth. He only wanted Julia as a way to gain control of their fortunes.
March's embezzling proved she would do anything to keep Julia, Faith, and Bennett safe from their cousin. They were too vulnerable at Lawson Court. A move to London was their safest option.
To afford the move, March had to take money from her account. Ever pragmatic, she had kept the marquess's single letter stating that he'd prefer if she directed all requests to his personal solicitor. She'd followed the marquess's directions. However, when little resulted from her requests for money, she took matters into her own hands. It had been relatively simple to write the withdrawals and sign the marquess's name.
So far, no one had noticed the withdrawals. If by her actions, she faced charges for embezzlement, her only hope was that the magistrate would understand her quandary. The funds were rightfully hers and her withdrawals had been relatively minor until now.
The quill scratched noisily against the paper. When she considered the requested amount, she lifted the writing tip from the vellum. As the local vicar, Mr. Nivan, had proclaimed from the pulpit last Sunday, whether you steal an apple to satisfy your hunger or a diamond necklace you covet makes little difference. In God's eyes, it's the same sin with the same result, a fiery banishment to Hell.
With a bold flourish, she finished the amount of one thousand pounds and signed the missive. If it made little difference whether it was a penny or a pound, she might as well make the trip to Hell worth her while. She folded the letter and lit the candle. Carefully, she melted the wax over the letter, then set the marquess's seal, the one she'd secretly commissioned a retired engraver to make. The engraver, a longtime family friend, had insisted he not take any payment for his deed.
She dismissed her remaining disquiet. Tomorrow, the Marquess of McCalpin would direct a deposit of one thousand pounds from Miss March Lawson's trust into her account at E. Cavensham Commerce for immediate withdrawal.
The fireplace suddenly hissed and snapped with a new vigor. She sat back in Bennett's chair and stared at the theatrics offered by the flames. Lucifer must be personally preparing the fires for her arrival.
She summoned the energy and stood. It was time to go to the kitchen and prepare the old slipper tub. With everyone asleep, the kitchen offered her privacy for a long soak. She needed it tonight.
Every time she wrote one of those letters, her actions dirtied every inch of her soul.
Even if she bathed until morning, she'd never feel clean againCHAPTER 2
McCalpin House London
A dozen penguins, perhaps two dozen, stood as Michael Cavensham, the Marquess of McCalpin and the heir to the Duke of Langham, entered. The supposedly docile creatures possessed an aggressive bite. The ones in front of McCalpin could tear him into shreds if he wasn't careful.
Christ, it was always the same.
He had absolutely no idea how many men sat before him, but they all looked like formally dressed flightless birds. Black breeches, black waistcoats, black morning coats, and white shirts with matching neckcloths.
Oh, he'd be able to figure out their number if he had ten minutes. However, the sharp minds in front of him would recognize something was amiss after a couple of moments. Particularly if he had to use his fingers to count. They'd be horrified if the calculation required he take off his boots so his toes could lend assistance.
McCalpin stiffened his body and allowed a slight sneer to tip one corner of his mouth. In some perverse way, he relished the challenge to guard his secret. He was a master at it. The years at Eton had taught him that he could do no wrong. He'd never been questioned why he was always ill when a mathematics exam was scheduled.
No one expected much effort from a ducal heir anyway. The fact he'd made high marks in his other subjects thrilled the provost, but more importantly, had appeased his father's desire that McCalpin perform well in his studies.
Indeed, he'd learned his lessons and flaunted his success in other subjects to his advantage.
One audacious penguin actually sighed and checked his pocket watch.
By McCalpin's own rudimentary calculations, he was only a half-hour late today. Not a single soul would question why he never made an appointment on time. Everyone presumed a ducal heir to be haughty, vain, and seasoned with a healthy dose of an inflated view of one's importance. He made certain the group of men before him were never disappointed in their expectations.
They'd be shocked if they knew that a clock was an instrument of torture for the Marquess of McCalpin. Calculating the precise minutes he had before attending a meeting with his staff took a Herculean effort on his part. One he had decided long ago wasn't worth the effort. If he was ten minutes or two hours tardy, they'd wait for him.
Simply because he was the powerful Duke of Langham's heir and needed their assistance to keep his estate running smoothly and profitably.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Luck of the Bride"
Copyright © 2017 JLWR, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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