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The Arrangement

The Arrangement, September 2013
Survivor's Club #2
by Mary Balogh

Dell
Featuring: Sophia Fry; Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh
336 pages
ISBN: 0345535871
EAN: 9780345535870
Kindle: B00985DYEC
Paperback / e-Book
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"A story of misfortune and compassion"

Fresh Fiction Review

The Arrangement
Mary Balogh

Reviewed by Lee Erin Berryhill
Posted August 4, 2013

Romance Historical

Needing to escape his loving, yet smothering, mother and her matchmaking, Vincent, Viscount Darleigh, flees to his childhood home. When another martial trap almost snares Vincent, he finds himself beholden to Sophia Fry, who is sent away by her guardian after helping Vincent escape. He sees only one option to fix both their problems: marriage. Sophia, at first, is unsure, but she says yes knowing there is nowhere else for her to go. Vincent and Sophia find it easy to be friends and lovers. Will this easy friendship lead to love?

Mary Balogh has written a compassionate love story with a unique hero and heroine. Vincent is handsome, arrogant, and blind. His blindness is also his vulnerability, and throughout the story his independence and confidence grows. With Vincent being so unusual, Balogh needed to create a one of a kind heroine, and Balogh succeeds with Sophia Fry.

Sophia starts as the quiet mouse in the corner, and becomes the Viscountess Darleigh as her self worth returns. Sophia's back-story is surprisingly heartbreaking, and Sophia grows more in THE ARRANGEMENT than some characters do in multiple books. The dialogue is snappy, and the climax, though not filled with action, is exciting and helps bring about the blissful ending. THE ARRANGEMENT has an exceptional theme about being accepted by one's family, and sheds light on the blight of the titled, but not rich, unwanted relative. The uniqueness of THE ARRANGEMENT makes for a must read, and readers will want to read all the books in Balogh's Survivors' Club series.

Learn more about The Arrangement

SUMMARY

A mesmerizing story of passionate awakening and redemption, Mary Balogh's new novel unites a war hero consigned to darkness with a remarkable woman who finds her own salvation by showing him the light of love.
 
Desperate to escape his mother's matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry's intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian's home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.
 
At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent's proposal. But when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees. Her alternative is too dreadful to contemplate. But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and erotic pleasure, dare they believe a bargain born of desperation might lead them both to a love destined to be?

Excerpt

Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh has just arrived at his old home in a country village, having run away from the large home and estate he inherited with his title and from the matchmaking schemes of his mother and sisters. He hopes to keep his arrival a secret:

Chapter 2

Vincent's arrival had not gone unobserved.

Covington House was the last building at one end of the main street through the village. To the far side of it was a low hill covered with trees. There was a young woman on that hill and among those trees. She wandered at all times of day about the countryside surrounding Barton Hall, where she lived with her aunt and uncle, Sir Clarence and Lady March, though it was not often she was out quite this early. But this morning she had woken when it was still dark and had been unable to get back to sleep. Her window was open, and a bird with a particularly strident call had obviously not noticed that dawn had not yet arrived. So, rather than shut her window and climb back into bed, she had dressed and come outside, chilly as the early morning air was, because there was something rare and lovely about watching the darkness lift away from another dawning day. And she had come here in particular because the trees housed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of birds, many of them with sweeter voices than the one that had awoken her, and they always sang most earnestly when they were heralding in a new day.

She stood very still so as not to disturb them, her back against the sturdy trunk of a beech tree, her arms stretched out about it behind her to enjoy its rough texture through her thin gloves—so thin, in fact, that the left thumb and right forefinger had already sprung a leak. She drank in the beauty and peace of her surroundings and ignored the cold, which penetrated her almost threadbare cloak as if it was not even there, and set her fingers to tingling.

She looked down upon Covington House, her favorite building in Barton Coombs. It was neither a mansion nor a cottage. It was not even a manor. But it was large and square and solid. It was also deserted and had been since before she came here to live two years ago. It was still owned by the Hunt family, about whom she had heard many stories, perhaps because Vincent Hunt, the only son, had unexpectedly inherited a title and fortune a few years ago. It was the stuff of fairytales, except that it had a sad component too, as many fairytales did.

She liked to look at the house and imagine it as it might have been when the Hunts lived there—the absent–minded but much–loved schoolmaster, his busy wife and three pretty daughters, and his exuberant, athletic, mischievous son, who was always the best at whatever sport was being played and was always at the forefront of any mischief that was brewing and was always adored by old and young alike—except by the Marches, against whom his pranks were most often directed. She liked to think that if she had lived here then, she would have been friends with the girls and perhaps even with their brother, even though they were all older than she. She liked to picture herself running in an out of Covington House without even knocking at the door, almost as if she belonged there. She liked to imagine that she would have attended the village school with all the other children, except Henrietta March, her cousin, who had been educated at home by a French governess.

She was Sophia Fry, though her name was rarely used. She was known by her relatives, when she was known as anything at all, and perhaps by their servants too, as the mouse. She lived at Barton Hall on sufferance because there was nowhere else for her to go. Her father was dead, her mother had left them long ago and since died, her uncle, Sir Terrence Fry, had never had anything to do with either her father or her, and the elder of her paternal aunts, to whom she had been sent first after her father's passing, had died two years ago.

She felt sometimes that she inhabited a no man's land between the family at Barton Hall and the servants, that she belonged with neither group and was noticed and cared about by neither. She consoled herself with the fact that her invisibility gave her some freedom at least. Henrietta was always hedged about with maids and chaperons and a vigilant mother and father, whose sole ambition for her was that she marry a titled gentleman, preferably a wealthy one, though that was not an essential qualification as Sir Clarence was himself a rich man. Henrietta shared her parents' ambitions, with one notable exception.

Sophia's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of horses approaching from beyond the village, and it was soon obvious that they were drawing some sort of carriage. It was very early in the day for travel. It was a stagecoach, perhaps? She stepped around the trunk of the tree and half hid behind it, though it was unlikely she would be seen from below. Her cloak was gray, her cotton bonnet nondescript in both style and color, and it was still not full daylight.

It was a private carriage, she saw—a very smart one. But before she could weave some story about it as it passed along the village street and out of sight, it slowed and turned onto the short driveway to Covington House. It stopped before the front doors.

Her eyes widened. Could it be...?

The coachman jumped down from his perch and opened the carriage door and set down the steps. A man descended almost immediately, a young man, tall and rather burly. He looked around and said something to the coachman—Sophia could hear the rumble of his voice but not what he said. And then they both turned to watch another man.

He descended without assistance. He moved sure–footed and without hesitation. But it was instantly obvious to Sophia that his cane was not a mere fashion accessory but something he used to help him find his way.

She sucked in a breath and hoped, foolishly, that it was inaudible to the three men standing some distance below her. He had come, then, as everyone had said he would.

The blind Viscount Darleigh, once Vincent Hunt, had come home.

Her aunt and uncle would be over the moon with gratification. For they had made up their minds that if and when he came, Henrietta would marry him.

Henrietta, on the other hand, would not be gratified. For once in her life she was opposed to her parents' dearest wish. She had declared more than once in Sophia's hearing that she would rather die a spinster at the age of eighty than marry a blind man with a ruined face even if he was a viscount and even if he was even more wealthy than her papa.

Viscount Darleigh—Sophia was convinced that the new arrival must be he—was clearly a young man. He was not particularly tall and he had a slight, graceful build. He carried himself well. He did not hunch over his cane or paw the air with his free hand. He was neatly, elegantly clad. Her lips parted as she gazed down at him. She wondered how much of the old Vincent Hunt was still present in the blind Viscount Darleigh. But he had descended from his carriage without assistance. That fact pleased her.

She could not see his face. His tall hat hid it from her view. Poor gentleman. She wondered just how disfigured it was.

He and the burly man stood on the driveway for a few minutes while the coachman went striding off to the back of the house and returned with what must be the key, for he bent to the lock of the front door, and within moments it swung open. Viscount Darleigh ascended the steps before the door, again unassisted, and disappeared inside with the larger man behind him.

Sophia stood watching for another few minutes, but there was nothing more to see except the coachman taking the horse and carriage to the stables and coach house. She turned away and made her way back in the direction of Barton Hall. Standing still had thoroughly chilled her.

She would not tell anyone he had arrived, she decided. No one ever spoke to her anyway or expected her to volunteer any information or opinion. Doubtless everyone would know soon enough, anyway.

* * * * *

Unfortunately for Vincent and his hope for a quiet stay at Covington House, Sophia Fry was not the only person who observed his arrival.

A farm laborer, on his way to milk cows, had the distinct good fortune—of which he boasted to his colleagues for days to come—of witnessing the arrival of Viscount Darleigh's carriage at Covington House. He had stayed, at the expense of the waiting cows, to watch Vincent–Hunt–that–was descend after Martin Fisk, the blacksmith's son. By seven o'clock in the morning he had told his wife, having dashed back home for that sole purpose, his baby son, who was profoundly uninterested in the momentous news, his fellow laborers, the blacksmith, the blacksmith's wife, and Mr. Kerry, who had come in early to the smithy because one of his horses had cast a shoe late the evening before.

By eight o'clock, the farm laborers—and the original farm laborer's wife—had told everyone they knew, or at least those of that category who came within hailing distance. Mr. Kerry had told the butcher and the vicar and his aged mother. The blacksmith's wife, ecstatic that her son was back home in the capacity of valet to Viscount Darleigh, Vincent–Hunt–that–was, had dashed off to the baker's to replenish her supply of flour and had told the baker and his two assistants and three other early customers. And the blacksmith, also bursting with pride even though he spoke with head–shaking disparagement of his son, the valett, told his apprentice when that lad arrived late for work and for once did not have to recite a litany of excuses, and Sir Clarence March's groom, and the vicar, who heard the news for the second time in a quarter of an hour but appeared equally ecstatic both times.

By nine o'clock it would have been difficult to discover a single person within Barton Coombs or a three–mile radius surrounding it, who did not know that Viscount Darleigh, Vincent–Hunt–that–was, had arrived at Covington House when dawn had barely cracked its knuckles and had not left it since.

Though if he had arrived that early, Miss Waddell observed to Mrs. Parsons, wife of the aptly–named vicar, when the two ladies encountered each other across the hedge separating their back gardens, he must have been traveling all night and was enjoying a well–deserved rest, poor gentleman. It would not be kind to call upon him too early. She would inform the reception committee. Poor dear gentleman.

The vicar rehearsed his speech of welcome and wondered if it was too formal. For, after all, Viscount Darleigh had once been just the sunny–natured, mischievous son of the village schoolmaster. He was, in addition to everything else, though, a war hero. And he did now have that very impressive title. Best to err on the side of formality, he decided, than risk appearing over–familiar.

Mrs. Fisk baked the bread rolls and cakes she had been planning in her head for weeks. Her son, her beloved only child, was back home, not to mention Viscount Darleigh, that bright and happy boy who had used to run wild with Martin and drag him into all sorts of scrapes—not that Martin had taken much dragging. Poor boy. Poor gentleman. She sniffed and wiped away a tear with the back of her floury hand.

At ten o'clock the young Misses Granger called upon the equally young Miss Hamilton to discover what she planned to wear to the assembly, which would surely happen now that Lord Darleigh had come. The three of them proceeded to reminisce about Vincent–Hunt–that–was winning all the races at the annual village fête by a mile and bowling out every cricketer on the opposing team who had the courage and audacity to come up to bat against him and looking so very handsome with his always over–long fair curls and his blue, blue eyes and his lithe physique. And always smiling his lovely smile, even at them, though they had been just little girls at the time. He had always smiled at everyone.

That last memory drew tears from all of them, for Viscount Darleigh would never now win any race or bowl at any cricket game or look handsome—or perhaps even smile at anyone. He would not even be able to dance at the assembly. They could conceive of no worse fate than that.

Vincent would have been horrified to know that, in fact, his arrival in Barton Coombs had been expected. Or, if that was too strong a word, then at least it had been looked for with eager hope and cautious anticipation.

For Vincent had forgotten two overwhelmingly significant facts about his mother and his sisters. One was that they were all inveterate letter writers. The other was that they had all had numerous friends at Barton Coombs and had not simply relinquished those friends when they moved away. They might not be able to visit them daily, as they had been used to do, but they could and did write to them.

His mother had not been reassured by the two notes that had arrived, scrawled in the inelegant hand of Martin Fisk. She had not sat back and waited for her son to come home. Rather she had done all in her power to discover where he was. Most of her guesses were quite wide of the mark. But one was that Vincent might return to Barton Coombs, where he had spent his boyhood and been happy, where he had so many friends and so many friendly acquaintances, where he would be comfortable and would be made much of. Indeed, the more she thought of it, the more convinced she became that if he was not already there, he would end up there sooner or later.

She wrote letters. She always wrote letters anyway. It came naturally to her.

And Amy, Ellen, and Ursula wrote letters too, though they were not as convinced as their mother that Vincent would go to Barton Coombs. It was more likely that he had gone back to Cornwall, where he always seemed to be so happy. Or perhaps to Scotland or the Lake District, where he could escape their matchmaking clutches. All three of Vincent's sisters rather regretted the aggressive manner in which they had pressed Miss Dean upon him. She obviously was not for him—or he for her. It had not escaped their notice that rather than looking mortified when it was discovered that he was gone, she had been hard pressed not to look openly relieved.

However it was, long before Vincent actually did arrive in Barton Coombs, there was scarcely a person there who did not know for a near certainty that he would come. The only question that had caused any real anxiety was when.

Everyone, almost without exception, was enraptured as the news spread through the village and beyond that the wait was at an end. He was here.

* * * * *

The most notable exception to the general mood of rapture was Henrietta March. She was horror–struck.

"Vincent Hunt?" she cried.

"Viscount Darleigh, my love," her mother reminded her.

"Of Middlebury Park in Gloucestershire," her father added. "With an income of twenty thousand a year, at a conservative estimate."

"And two blind eyes and a deformed face," Henrietta retorted. "Yeeuw!"

"You would not have to look at him," her father told her. "Middlebury Park is big enough, or so I have heard. Far larger than this. And you would need to spend time in London as a fashionable viscountess. It would be expected of you. He would hardly go with you, would he? And you would want to visit here. He will not want to come too often to be subjected to that Waddell woman each time, not to mention the vicar and all the other sycophants who live in the neighborhood."

The mouse, who sat in her corner of the March drawing room, darning pillow cases, looked sharply and incautiously across the room at him. Sycophants? Other people? Had her uncle not looked in a glass lately? But she lowered her head quickly before he noticed her. She certainly did not want to be caught staring, especially staring incredulously. Besides, she needed her eyes for her darning.

She did not particularly mind being the mouse in the corner. She had, in fact, cultivated invisibility for most of her life. While her mother had still lived with her and her father, a time she remembered only dimly, there had been almost daily and nightly arguments and even fights, from which she had withdrawn into the dimmest corner of whatever rooms they had happened to be occupying at the time. And after her mother left, never to return, when she was five, she had kept well clear of her father when he came home in his cups, though he had never been a violent man and it had not happened with any great frequency. More often, it was his boisterous friends from whom she had hidden when they had come home with her father to carouse and play their card games instead of going elsewhere. They had had a tendency to chuck her under the chin and bounce her on their knees when she was young—and she had always looked younger than her years. And then there had been landlords to hide from when they were slipping away from yet another set of rooms for which they were in arrears on the rent, and merchants and bailiffs who came looking for payment of various debts. She had spent most of her childhood, in fact, trying to be invisible and silent so that no one would notice her.

Her father, the younger son of a baronet, had been one of those gentlemen who had looks and charm and even intelligence to spare—he had taught his daughter to read and write and figure—but who lacked any ability to cope with life. His dreams had always been as big and wide as the ocean, but dreams were not reality. They did not put a permanent roof over their heads or a regular supply of food in their stomachs.

Sophia had adored him, occasional drunken sprees and all.

She had been content to be invisible to Aunt Mary, her father's elder sister, to whom she had been sent after his death, even though she was fifteen at the time. For Aunt Mary had raked her from head to toe with one contemptuous look upon her arrival and pronounced her impossible. She had proceeded to treat her accordingly—she had virtually ignored her, in other words. But at least she had allowed her to stay, and she had provided her with the basic necessities of life.

And being ignored was actually better than being noticed, experience had taught her during those years with Aunt Mary. For the only friendship she had ever enjoyed, the only romance that had ever stirred her heart, had been brief and intense and ultimately soul–shattering.

And then Aunt Mary had died suddenly after Sophia had lived with her for three years, and Sophia had been taken in by Aunt Martha, who had never pretended to look upon her as anything more than a glorified maid who must nevertheless be suffered to dine with the family and sit with the family when they were at home. Only very occasionally did Aunt Martha call her by name. Sir Clarence did not call her anything except, sometimes, the mouse. Henrietta seemed unaware of her very existence. But she did not want to be visible to any of them. She did not like them even though she was grateful to them for giving her a home.

Sophia sighed, careful to make no sound. Sometimes she might almost have forgotten her own name if it were not for the fact that she was the mouse only to the depth of her skin—not even so deep, actually. Inside, she was not a mouse at all. But no one knew that except her. It was a secret she rather enjoyed hugging to herself. Except that she worried sometimes about the future, which stretched long and bleak ahead of her with no prospect of change—the lot of poor female relatives everywhere. Sometimes she wished she had not been born a lady and could have sought employment on the death of her father. But it was not considered genteel for ladies to work, not while they had relatives to take them in, anyway.

"Viscount Darleigh will no doubt be more than happy to marry you, Henrietta," Sir Clarence March said. "He is not quite a marquess, heir to a dukedom, as Wrayburn was, it is true, but he is a viscount."

"Papa," Henrietta wailed, "it would be intolerable. Even apart from his wrecked face and his blind eyes, the very thought of which make me feel bilious and vaporish, he is Vincent Hunt. I could not so demean myself."

"He was Vincent Hunt," her mother reminded her. "He is now Viscount Darleigh, my love. There is a world of difference. It still amazes me that his father lived here all those years as the village schoolmaster, the not very well–to–do schoolmaster, I might add, and we never suspected that he was the younger brother of a viscount. We might never have known it if the viscount and his son had not been obliging enough to die and leave Vincent Hunt the title. Why they stood up to a gang of highwaymen instead of simply relinquishing their valuables, I will never understand. But it is your good fortune that they did and were shot. This is a perfect opportunity for you, my love, and will enable you to hold your head high in society again."

"Again? She never had to hang her head," Sir Clarence said sharply, frowning at his wife. "That dashed Wrayburn! He thought to cut our Henrietta in the middle of a crowded ballroom. Well, she showed him!"

Sophia had not been present at that particular ball. She had never been present at any ball for that matter. But she had been in London, and she had pieced together what she believed to be the real story about Henrietta and the Marquess of Wrayburn. When Henrietta and her mama had approached him at the Stiles ball, he had turned his back and pretended not to see them coming and had made a loud remark to his group to the effect that it was sometimes near impossible to avoid determined mamas and their pathetic daughters.

After Henrietta had spent half an hour in the ladies' withdrawing room with her mama, where the latter had had to be plied with smelling salts and brandy, she had emerged in order to slink off home—several people had heard that remark, and doubtless by then everyone knew of it—she had had the misfortune to come face to face with the marquess himself. To her credit, she had stuck her nose in the air and asked her mother if she knew the source of that nasty odor. Unfortunately for her, because it might well have been a splendid setdown, the marquess and his cronies had seen fit to find her remark uproariously funny, and doubtless the whole ballroom found it hilarious within a quarter of an hour.

Sophia had felt almost sorry for her cousin that night. Indeed, if Henrietta had told the full truth of the incident—which Sophia learned from listening to the servants—she might have felt all the way sorry for her, at least for a while.

"I shall call at Covington House without further delay," Sir Clarence said, getting to his feet after consulting his pocket watch, "before anyone else gets there first. I daresay that bore of a vicar will be there before luncheon with one of his speeches and that fool of a Waddell woman will be there with her welcoming committee."

And you will be there, the mouse commented silently, to offer your daughter in marriage.

"I shall invite him for dinner," Sir Clarence announced. "Have a talk with the cook, Martha. Make sure she puts on something special this evening."

"But what does one serve a blind man?" his wife asked, looking dismayed.

"Papa." Henrietta's voice was trembling. "You cannot expect me to marry a blind man with no face. You cannot expect me to marry Vincent Hunt. Not after the way he always played the most atrocious tricks on you."

"Boyish high spirits," her father said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Listen to me, Henrietta. You have just been presented with this wonderful opportunity as if on a platter. It is as if we were brought home early from London for just this purpose. We will have him here this evening, and we will look him over. He won't be able to see us doing it, after all, will he?"

He looked pleased with his little joke, though he did not laugh. Sir Clarence March rarely did. He was too puffed up with his own consequence, Sophia thought with unrepentant malice.

"If he passes muster," Sir Clarence continued, "then you will have him, Henrietta. This year was your third Season in London, my girl. Your third. And somehow, though not through any fault of your own, it is true, you lost your chance for a baron the first year, an earl the second, and a marquess this year. A Season does not come cheap. And you do not grow younger. And pretty soon, if it has not happened already, you are going to be known as the young lady who cannot keep a suitor when she has one. Well, my girl, we will show them."

He beamed at his wife and daughter—and ignored the mouse—and seemed totally oblivious to the devastated look on Henrietta's face and the mortified one on his wife's.

And off he went to net a viscount for Henrietta.

Sophia felt sorry for Viscount Darleigh, though perhaps, she conceded, he did not deserve her pity. She did not know anything about him, after all, except what she had learned about his alter ego, Vincent Hunt, when he had been just a boy. Though she did know that he was neat and elegant and was independent enough not to have to be led everywhere by his servants.

At least this evening promised to be a little less tedious than life usually was. She would have a viscount to gaze upon even if seeing his face should make her want to vomit or faint, like Henrietta. And she would be able to observe the early progress of a courtship. It should be mildly entertaining.


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