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To Marry an Heiress
"Huntingdon, I do think it would be prudent for you to reconsider this nefarious scheme of yours."
Sitting in the lavishly decorated library, Devon Sheridan, the seventh Earl of Huntingdon, was amazed to discover himself capable of sipping his cousin′s port without smashing the delicate crystal glass held within his grasp. He damned well wanted to destroy something.
But he had learned at an early age to always project a veneer of civilization, regardless of his true feelings, particularly when his emotions bordered on the barbaric. As they so often did of late.
Slowly he lifted his gaze to the man seated in the leather chair behind the immense mahogany desk.
"I′m not the first nobleman to marry an heiress in order to refresh the family coffers," he reminded Christopher Montgomery, the Earl of Ravenleigh. "Nor do I expect that I shall be the last. Marrying money, after all, is considered a perfectly acceptable and reputable undertaking."
Unlike his endeavors of recent years, which would be perceived as dreadfully appalling by those of his acquaintance should they hear of them. Even his cousin would be horrified if he learned the depths to which Devon had plunged in an attempt to save all he held dear.
His ancestral estate was deteriorating, and the land that had once supported tenants was becoming barren. For some time now hopelessness had gnawed unmercifully at him, while he′d gradually slipped off the mantle of a gentleman to become little more than a common laborer.
Then nearly a fortnight ago possible salvation had arrived in the form of Miss Georgina Pierce -- a reputed American heiress who seemed blessedly naIve regarding her worth.
He′d learned of her family′s riches quite by chance when he′d encountered Ravenleigh at White′s. His cousin had mentioned he′d welcomed Miss Pierce and her father into his London home. Their roots were strongly embedded in Fortune, a small town in Texas where Ravenleigh had met his present wife and her brood of daughters. Her eldest, Lauren, and Miss Pierce had been childhood friends.
Devon′s circumspect investigation into Nathaniel Pierce′s financial situation had revealed he′d amassed a small fortune during America′s civil war. That he had done so by defying the blockades didn′t matter. Following the war, he′d sold much-sought-after items at what some people considered exorbitant prices. He′d also dabbled in land speculation, and it was rumored he′d recently taken an interest in railroads. Apparently he was a jack of all trades with a golden touch.
"But American women, especially those from Texas, particularly those from Fortune, are not always ... malleable," Ravenleigh stated.
Devon quirked a dark brow. "Had a bit of trouble taming the little wife, did you?"
His cousin narrowed his pale blue eyes in warning. Devon knew it was a foolish man who taunted his benefactor. As a rule he tended not to be foolish. Proud, yes. Beyond measure. But foolish, no.
Pride was a dominant family trait, and true to form, Ravenleigh would not add sparks to the dying embers of gossip. Although Devon readily admitted Ravenleigh seemed more than content now, he had heard the rumors bandied about that his cousin′s Texas bride had not initially adjusted well to life in her new country.
"These women were forged in the fires of a difficult life. They are accustomed to independence," Ravenleigh informed him in a tightly controlled voice.
"My next wife shall have all the independence she craves. All I desire is her wealth, in exchange for which she will become my countess. I understand these Americans long for the respectability our titles afford them."
Although he′d yet to be introduced to Miss Pierce, he could not help but wonder if she was aware that her father had let it be known that he was eager to purchase a titled husband for her.
"Although our society is fraught with marriages of convenience and political alliances, I can imagine nothing lonelier than being married to someone you do not love," Ravenleigh said.
Not wishing to crush his glass as the dark emotions roiling through him took a firmer hold, Devon carefully placed it on the polished marble table beside the chair and stood. "Then you possess a deplorable lack of imagination, Cousin."
He strode to the window and gazed out on the well-manicured garden.
Loneliness was watching respectability stripped away bit by agonizing bit. Isolating himself so others would not witness his fall from grace. Projecting aimage to the world so no one would know his true sorrow, his immense fears, his incredible woes. To face everything alone. To desperately want to weep only to discover he no longer possessed the comfort of tears.
Now he was precariously balanced on the precipice of losing all he loved. His family′s estate. The dwindling respect of his peers. His own self respect and his damnable pride. Seeking Ravenleigh′s help in his quest for deliverance had gouged his vanity, and the wound continued to fester.
"Huntingdon, I could see my way clear to loan -- "
"Don′t!" Devon clenched his hands until his forearms ached with the effort to restrain himself. He wanted neither pity nor magnanimity from the man. "I refuse to become a charity case as long as I possess the means by which to avoid it. I have but one thing left to barter: my title, in exchange for an heiress. It will have to suffice."
Closing his eyes, he imagined Huntingdon as it should have been: grand, bold, majestic. Not as his father had left it: strongly resembling an aging dowager who spent far too much time drinking. To Marry an Heiress
. Copyright © by Lorraine Heath. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.