"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
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 reputedAmerican
heiress who seemed blessedly naĆ¸ve 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 amasseda 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,"
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
He strode to the window and gazed out on the well-
Loneliness was watching respectability stripped away bit
by agonizing bit. Isolating himself so others would not
witness his fall from grace. Projecting a false image 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
"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.
Shaking off the well-worn cloak of resentment, he forced
his thoughts to return to Miss Georgina Pierce. Georgina.
He didn't fancy the name, but in truth he wasn't overly
concerned with compatibility. He had married once for love
and had no intention of repeating that ghastly mistake ...