Houghton Park, Lincolnshire, May 1819
Every young lady dreamed of a proposal from the heir to a
dukedom. Especially when the heir was rich, feted, in
possession of his wits, and still young enough to have all
Every young lady except, apparently, Penelope Thorne.
From the center of her father’s library, Camden Rothermere,
Marquess of Pembridge, eyed the girl he’d known from the
cradle and wondered where the hell he’d slipped up. He
straightened and summoned a smile, struggling to bridge the
awkward silence extending between them.
Damn it. He never felt awkward with Pen Thorne. Until now.
Until he’d spoken the fatal words.
Until, instead of radiating delight at the prospect of
marrying him, Pen’s black eyes sparked with the rebellious
light that always boded trouble.
“Why?” It wasn’t the first time this afternoon that she’d
asked him the question.
Stupidly he couldn’t summon an adequate answer. He’d
blundered into this halfcocked. It was his own fault.
Knowing Pen as he did, he should have prepared a
comprehensive list of reasons for their marriage before
broaching the subject.
Right now, he wished he’d never broached the subject at
all. But it was too late to retreat, or too late if he
hoped to salvage a shred of self-respect from this dashed
“Devil take you, Pen, I like you,” he said impatiently.
Despite her inexplicable and irritating behavior today, it
was true. There wasn’t a girl alive that he liked so much
as the chit currently regarding him as if he’d crawled out
of a hole in the ground.
He knew her better than any other girl too, even his sister
Lydia. Through their childhood, he’d rescued Pen from a
thousand scrapes. She’d been a hellion, riding the wildest
horses in her father’s stables, climbing the tallest trees
in the park, throwing herself into brawls to defend a
friend or mistreated animal. Cam had long admired her
spirit, loyalty, and courage.
Those were qualities he wanted in his duchess. And if she
needed some guidance in deportment, he was perfectly
prepared to teach her proper behavior. She was a Thorne and
Thornes weren’t renowned for their prudence, but while Pen
might be impulsive, she was intelligent. Once she’d become
the Duchess of Sedgemoor, he was sure she’d settle down.
Or he had been, until her unenthusiastic response to his
“I like you too,” she said steadily, regarding him with
Cam wondered why her admission didn’t reassure. Inhaling
deeply, he strove for forbearance. “Well, there you have
That bitter note in her laugh was unfamiliar. He could
hardly believe it, but the possibility of failure hovered.
Pen was clever, determined, headstrong—he’d get that out of
her soon enough—and stubbornly inclined to take a positive
view of events. Or at least so he’d believed until today.
He’d also believed that she’d leap at the chance to marry
Clearly he’d been wrong.
He wasn’t used to being wrong. Confound her, he didn’t like
Her voice remained curiously flat. “I’m sorry, Cam. ‘There
you have it, then’ won’t pass muster. You’ll need to do
better than that.”