England, 1820. To gain a certain marquess
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To Win a Viscount
The Daughters of Amhurst
By Frances Fowlkes, Robin Haseltine
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Frances Fowlkes
All rights reserved.
The Marquess of Satterfield was in love with Lady Albina Beauchamp.
He was simply unaware of the fact.
With his broad chin, sculpted cheekbones, and silver-gray eyes, he was a man besotted, pricked by the arrow of Cupid himself.
Of this, Albina was certain. She had only to muster her way through the highly spirited crowd of Plumburn's oversize ballroom to verify her claim, declare it to all and sundry, and capture the affections she knew to be directed toward her.
If she could make it within a stone's throw of the man. And if he would deign to look in her direction.
For the past year she had set her cap for the marquess and his glossy black curls. And for at least two-thirds of that time, he had not acknowledged her in conversation.
That, however, was by no fault of her own. She had tried to engage him in some sort of discussion, politely (if not dreamily and a bit overly enthused, if her twin sister, Sarah's, account of events was to be believed), but the marquess was a man of few words, and even fewer moments for unwed daughters of the peerage.
At least since the Countess of Amhurst, who happened to be her eldest sister, Henrietta, had chosen the earl as her husband instead of the marquess.
Prior to her sister's rejection, however, the few moments Albina had spent in the marquess's company, were, why, heaven itself, and she had made it her goal to repeat them. For surely, if she could only place herself at the center of his attentions, he would come to realize that she was the only thing he could ever hope to dream, breathe, and think about.
As he was to her.
Despite his prior lack of judgment in selecting Henrietta over someone more suitable. Like herself.
Albina brushed aside Lady Isabella's dainty elbow to wedge her way past an inebriated lord and his ward (and rumored paramour, scandal of all scandals).
"I beg your pardon," Lady Isabella exclaimed.
"My apologies," said Albina. She shot Lady Isabella an apologetic look. At least as apologetic as Albina could muster, given that she would do far worse than nudge an elbow to make herself accessible to Lord Satterfield. And the bevy of compliments he no doubt had waiting to dote upon her — should she ever make her way through the revelry.
Albina straightened her gown of the softest sable green, a hue that brought out the mossy tones of her forever shifting hazel-colored eyes. Were the marquess to notice the lengths she had gone to make certain the dress not only showcased her eyes but also her svelte figure, she would swoon right there in the center of the ballroom.
But as of yet, the man had failed to notice her. She was certain it was due to the crush and not from any failure of his own.
Thrusting her chest forward, Albina jostled her shoulders between the horde of people come to engage in the celebratory fete and, at long last, found herself near the narrow table of refreshments where Lord Satterfield and his company had settled to converse. With a great inhale, Albina skirted toward the entourage, only to have the wide girth of Lord Dalton block her path.
"I say, fellows," said the rotund, yet towering, viscount. "What creatures take your fancy this fine evening?"
Albina turned, glancing over her shoulder at the assortment of women gathered in clusters around the gilded and well-lit room. Lady Isabella, easily spotted with her pale, golden hair, stood off to the side conversing with the ever-poised Miss Saxton. While both women were suitable for the role of marchioness, Albina, however was the best candidate for the position, if only for the simple fact that she held him in the highest regard. Certainly he noticed her devotion. She snatched a lemon tart off the nearest silver platter and took a bite.
The rich, sensuous voice of the marquess answered the viscount. Lord, she would know that voice anywhere. Though, in her dreams it was directed toward her and not at Lord Dalton.
"The fine set of bays Lord Colwyn had mounted to his carriage," the marquess said with a laugh. "Now those could make a man's mouth water."
Albina choked on the flaky crust.
"Ah, yes. The bays," said Lord Dalton. "They are quite impressive. I fear, however, they pale in comparison to his hounds."
"I care not about the man's hounds, but his horseflesh. He is set on entering one into Waverly's Emberton Derby — against my gray stallion."
"And you fear he will win, Satterfield?"
Horses? The man was set on horses? And not on the abundant spread of women, namely her, who were in attendance? Albina peered around Lord Dalton to see her beloved's aristocratic chin lifted ever so slightly.
"I do not believe Lord Colwyn's horseflesh is on the same level as my own," he huffed.
"Agreed." Another lord sipped his ratafia and nodded toward Lord Dalton. "It would behoove Satterfield to be far more concerned with the black stallion Amhurst recently acquired from Lord Stanley."
"A black stallion?" The marquess's bewitching eyes flashed.
"Oh, yes," Lord Dalton said. "He is quite exquisite. Though the chestnut filly and the bay mare he also purchased are equally impressive. Amhurst seems quite determined to fill his stables with the best money has to offer. I wouldn't be surprised if he somehow acquired an Arabian to complement his Thoroughbreds." Lord Dalton's gaze settled on her, his brow lifting ever so slightly.
Albina spun around. Grabbing another tart off the platter, she shoved it into her mouth. She had not heard about the Earl of Amhurst's recent equestrian purchases, but then, whenever her sister spoke of her husband, she waxed poetic over his personality, or his mannerisms, or some physical feature that had her overflowing with a happiness Albina wished to experience, too.
A happiness she was certain existed in the marquess's arms.
"An Arabian?" the marquess asked, his deep voice an octave higher.
"You could ask for a tour of the stables."
"And you'd more than likely be denied." Lord Dalton's wide shoulders shook with laughter. "Amhurst is no fool. The race is but a few short weeks away. Were I in possession of such prized beasts, I would not allow anyone, friend or foe, near my potential champions. I'd wager even the chap he has acquired to jockey has to petition for time alone with the horse. Everyone knows whoever wins Emberton is a lead contender for Newmarket and the 2,000 Guineas Stakes."
Music floated past. The skilled quartet her sister had selected for the evening's entertainments bowed the first notes of a waltz. A dance Albina had hoped to share with the same marquess who seemed more intent on discussing who had the finer horse than on which woman he would like to select as his partner.
She chewed animatedly, her third lemon confection disappearing down her throat. He was supposed to notice her standing there alone, with a hopeful expression on her face, and be the gentleman, offering her at least the courtesy of his conversation.
Of course, he could not see her because of Lord Dalton's considerably large shadow and the position of the table. If she skirted around —
She coughed, the tart's buttered crust still on her tongue, and lifted her gaze to the scrutinizing glare of her twin sister, Sarah.
"I did not know you were partial to lemon." She nodded toward the crumbs scattered across Albina's white silk gloves.
Albina brushed her hands together. "Yes, well, tonight they are my favorite."
"I imagine that is due more to their proximity to Lord Satterfield than to their taste."
Albina shot her sister what she hoped to be a quelling look and nodded toward Lord Dalton's thick backside and the group of men beside him.
Sarah rolled her eyes but stepped closer, her long, gloved arms reaching for one of the lemon tarts clustered on the table. "They are deaf to female conversation. Their interest lies not with us but on the derby and how much they should wager."
"You've been eavesdropping?"
"It is not eavesdropping if one can hear their voices over the din — and a string quartet." She took a bite of the tart as the marquess spoke over the viscount's laughter.
"The achievement of winning the races is not set on the horse alone, but also on the rider who guides the beast to victory. I know the talent of my own stables, Dalton, but I am not so prideful to boast of winning before the race has been won. My admiration will be bestowed on the champion who claims the title — both man and beast."
Albina's ears rang so loudly she failed to hear whatever raucous words Lord Dalton offered as his reply.
His admiration. Captured by the winner of the races. Both man and beast.
The stars had aligned. Her course made clear.
Sarah's hand clamped down on Albina's arm. "No."
"Unequivocally no," Sarah ground out. "I know you, and the look of hopeful vindication glinting in your eye. You must rid yourself of such a foolish notion. Now."
Albina threw back her shoulders. Why should she not possess such a glimmering aspiration? To prove to all and sundry that the marquess had made an error in his original selection of a wife — her sister now married to Lord Amhurst — and that she was, in fact, the one to whom he should cleave?
That Sarah sought to so thoroughly discourage the notion ... Well, it was obvious she was misinformed.
Albina wrested her arm from Sarah's grasp. "How can you claim to know what I am considering?"
"Though we may not bear identical features, we are twins, Albina. I know you, and the direction of your thoughts, and I strongly advise you to consider another way to earn the marquess's attentions than through any nonsense involving horses and races."
Albina blinked. Perhaps her sister was not misinformed. Sarah was, however, misguided. Confused. And in need of a strong push in the correct direction. Preferably toward Albina's way of thinking.
"Ah, but then you already know I will ignore your advice and instead insist on your aid in achieving my prize." Sarah had to listen. To see, to understand what the universe had so clearly handed Albina in her quest to secure the marquess.
To gain not only the attention of the Marquess of Satterfield, but his admiration. She could hardly allow the good fortune to slip through her ringless fingers.
"And you already know I will counter and decline." Sarah's tone was firm. But Albina was well aware of her sister's weakness for logic and had no qualms about using it against her.
"You assisted Henrietta in her scheme to win the earl."
Indeed, her sister had gone to great lengths to ensure Henrietta's match, even slipping noxious teas to the other women in consideration for the role of countess. An act of loyalty that now tainted their family's name. Surely, she would side with Albina and see reason.
"Henrietta's goal was to ensure our father's home remained within our family," Sarah ground out. "You, on the other hand, have no such aspirations."
"I desire happiness, the same as our sister. Mine is simply embodied within the institution of marriage and not in the brick and mortar of the Plumburn estate."
Sarah lifted her chin into an all-too-familiar angle of stubborn disagreement. "Marriage is a noble idea, especially when both parties share interest in the notion. The marquess, however, has expressed opinions to the contrary. And quite vocal ones at that."
Albina stiffened. She need not be reminded of his declarations against marriage. He was a man who simply needed encouragement. And direction. To her.
"Yes, well, he is my choice, and one I wish to pursue, with or without your assistance. Though," Albina added with a small smile, "it would be much easier with your help than without."
Sarah narrowed her eyes. "But why him? Why the marquess? He boasts a title and a sizable fortune, but so, too, do half the men in this room."
A cool and welcome breeze fluttered in through the window, the candlelight briefly flickering and casting Sarah in a shadow. A shadow much like the one her faithful, yet misdirected, actions had brought to their reputation. Of course, Sarah's teas were not solely at fault. False rumors of the earl's less-than-idyllic past further soiled the Amhurst name.
Someone with great prestige was required to restore the polish to the family's slightly tarnished reputation. Someone very much like the marquess.
Albina licked her lips. "Half the men in this room are terrified we will poison their drinks should either of us find them disagreeable. The other half are married, over the age of forty, or missing both hair and teeth. The Marquess of Satterfield is second only to the Duke of Waverly in both rank and fortune. As the duke did with our cousin, gilding over her less-than-tolerable birthright, so, too, can the marquess lift us out of the mire. He, and only he, has the ability to return our name to its former luster. His friendship with Lord Amhurst is the fragile tie that yet holds us in his esteem."
Sarah let out a soft sigh and lowered her chin. "Are you absolutely certain this is what you desire? To be married to a man who has publicly and most recently stated he wishes to remain unattached?"
"I am." Albina gave a firm nod. "Minds can be swayed. He is the best candidate for the position of my husband. We do, after all, share a love of horses."
Sarah laid her hand on Albina's arm. "I want you to be happy above all else. But you must take into consideration past events. He ... he offered for our sister."
"Several months ago," Albina countered, her voice rising ever so slightly. "His heart has undoubtedly healed and his mind cleared of any notions he may have harbored. If any doubts remain, why, one could argue it is at our family's hand that his misery was borrowed, what with Henrietta's rejection and the pain she inflicted upon him. It is therefore our duty, nay, my duty, to restore him to his prior happiness. A task I shall endeavor to carry through to its completion."
Taking a step closer, Sarah lowered her voice. "Were I to agree to assist you in your quest to gain the marquess's attention — "
"I knew you would see reason."
"I see nothing other than an overly eager and presumptuous sister. I have not yet agreed to your scheming."
Both sisters snapped their heads to the side. Henrietta, her dark brows lifted, peered at them.
Albina was the first to break the silence, the dry crumbs on her tongue disappearing with a quick swallow. "Sarah and I were just —"
"Scheming, were I to guess. The two of you together are capable of no less. That, and Sarah admitted as much." Henrietta stepped forward to brush a trail of crumbs off the front of Albina's dress.
"Albina wishes to marry," Sarah replied.
"A worthy aspiration."
"The Marquess of Satterfield."
Henrietta's hand paused in midair. "Still? Oh, dear. I had rather thought you had given up the idea."
"I have not, nor shall I ever. I will not be swayed, Henrietta. I have made my decision." And she had. No one would convince her otherwise.
A look passed between her sisters, the two of them sighing as they returned their gazes to her.
"And how do you propose to gain the attention of a man who has, on more than one occasion, ignored persons of the female persuasion?" Henrietta asked.
Albina clasped her hands together, her eyes straying once more to where the marquess stood, deep in conversation with Lord Dalton. His very presence sent her heart racing. He possessed the soul destined to be forever bound to hers. She was certain of it.
Which was why she took a deep breath and said, "By racing. In the Emberton Derby."
Sarah's eyes bulged. "You wish to race?"
"You heard the marquess. It is the beast and the rider who will earn his admiration."
Sarah snatched Albina's elbow and led her away from the men, toward a darkened and empty corner of the room, Henrietta trailing close behind. "And what happens when you pass the finish line and seek to claim your prize? You are an unwed daughter of an earl — a lady."
Albina pulled away from Sarah's silk-covered hand. "It is not a lady the marquess wants."
"No, I daresay he does not. But as you are unlikely to sprout a tail, a mane, and an extra set of legs —"
"Don't be absurd." Lifting the fan dangling from her wrist, Albina splayed open its painted blades.
Excerpted from To Win a Viscount by Frances Fowlkes, Robin Haseltine. Copyright © 2016 Frances Fowlkes. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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