Book 3 in the >The Theodosia Sword Series
Only For Their Love
Miss Carol Cresswall bore witness to her parents’ loveless union and is determined to avoid that same miserable fate. Her mother has altogether different plans—plans that include a match between Carol and Lord Gregory Renshaw. Despite his wealth and power, Carol has no interest in marrying a pompous man who goes out of his way to ignore her. Now, with their families coming together for the Christmastide season it’s her mother’s last-ditch effort to get them together. And Carol plans to avoid Gregory at all costs.
Lord Gregory Renshaw has no intentions of falling prey to his mother’s schemes to marry him off to a proper debutante she’s picked out. Over the years, he has carefully sidestepped all endeavors to be matched with any of the grasping ladies.
But a sudden Christmastide Scandal has the potential show Carol and Gregory that they’ve spent years running from the one thing they’ve always needed.
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Miss Carol Cresswall would never marry Lord Gregory Renshaw.
Not, if she was unwed still, ten years from now.
And not even if the king decreed it.
Even if her mother, the Viscountess Fennimore, alternated between pleading with her to encourage the gentleman’s suit and cursing Carol for her bluestocking obstinacy.
“He would make you a splendid match.” Her mother’s imploring tone cut into the quiet of the carriage, calling Carol’s attention away from the passing snow-covered countryside.
As no prelude had been made with mention of the gentleman in question, Carol would stake the funds coming to her upon her twenty-fifth birthday, on his identity. She forced her features into a perplexed mask. “He?”
From the opposite side of the carriage, her brother, Herbie, glanced up from his copy of Robert Huish’s The Mysteries of Ferney Castle. “I believe Mother is speaking about Lord Gregory,” he supplied, in a bid to be ever-helpful.
“You’ve always been a smart boy, Herbie,” the viscountess said, her displeasure briefly receding as she beamed at her son.
Carol made her eyes go wide. “Ah,” she replied, stretching out that syllable. “Of course.” Then, Herbie had long been the dutiful one and she had been the one responsible for all the silver in their mother’s once blonde hair. “That he.” As in one of the Duke of Devlin’s younger brothers. For somewhere along the way, her flighty mama had determined that Carol would suit the gentleman. And never were her efforts to throw them together more pointed and forceful than they were at the holiday season when their families retreated for the Christmastide festivities.
It made Carol wish away the whole yuletide season, which was rather unfortunate. As a small girl, it had been one of her favorite times of year. Sledding in the snow, skating on the frozen lakes. Pelting her brother with snowballs as they’d battled.
Mother stitched her equally silver eyebrows into a line and studied Carol with the same intensity of a constable questioning a thief in the streets. “You are unwed,” her mother said as though she spoke to a child of four. “And you are four and twenty,” she went on and then dropped her head into her hands.
So her mama did remember Carol’s age. Then, she wasn’t likely to forget that precise detail, given the horrors that came in having a spinster for a daughter, as she so often lamented. Carol almost took pity. Almost. “Nearly five and twenty,” she pointed out. Woman old enough to know her mind and that mind included no interest in a husband who’d once remarked within her hearing about rather being saddled with a belle than a bluestocking who spoke entirely too loud, and oftentimes too much.
“Well, you needn’t worry anymore.”
Carol stilled. Oh, bloody hell on Sunday. She eyed her mother with an increased wariness.
“I have it on the authority of the dowager duchess that Lord Gregory has, at last, been brought around.”
This again. For the previous four Seasons, her mother had attempted to secure a familial connection to the esteemed Renshaw family with Carol as the proverbial bait. “Brought around?” she asked, lowering her brow.
Herbie swallowed audibly. The book tumbled from his shaking fingers and he swiftly retrieved it. Lifting the upside down volume, he brought it close to his nose.
Mother clasped her hands at her throat and grinned like the village lackwit. “He is amenable to the possibility of marrying.”
Carol curled her toes into the soles of her slippers. Amenable to marrying. “Marrying me? Or marrying anyone?” By the dull flush that stained her mother’s cheeks, it was invariably the latter.
“The latter,” her mother mumbled under her breath and then she rubbed her temples. “Or is it the former, I’m always confounded by the—”
“Mother,” she said tightly.
The viscountess gave her head a shake. “Yes, yes, right. As I was saying…Lord Gregory will marry.” She clasped her hands close to her chest and beamed.
“When is the joyous occasion?” she asked dryly. The last thing she cared about was who Lord Gregory married—as long as that someone was not her.
Her mother lowered her hands to her lap. “When?” A little giggle escaped her lips. “You silly girl.” She leaned over and swatted Carol on the knee. “He’s not made his selection, rather, he’s been amenable to making a match with…” The immediate cessation to that reveal and the viscountess’ sudden interest in the passing scenery set off warning bells.
“Mother?” she asked slowly. With obvious reluctance, her evasive mama looked back.
“I do not understand why the dowager duchess would have the Quigleys for the holidays while she invited our family,” her mother mumbled.
Because, the dowager duchess had not. Carol’s sole friend in the world, Lady Theodosia Renshaw, the Duchess of Devlin, had. Her poor mother was too proud and optimistic to see that the sole reason they’d been invited for the holiday season was because the new Duchess of Devlin had wished for their attendance.
“Mother?” she repeated warningly.
“You’d make a far grander match for Lord Gregory than Lady Minerva Quigley,” her loyal mama muttered. “Isn’t that right, Herbie?”
“Er…” Herbie shifted his gaze between mother and daughter. “That is…” He yanked at his cravat.
Carol took pity on him. “I value truthfulness over empty flattery, Herbie,” she said with a reassuring smile.
He straightened in his seat. “Thank—oomph,” his words trailed off on a noisy grunt as their mother kicked him in the shins.
“I’ll not have you stating, suggesting, or hinting that Lady Minerva is lovelier than our Carol,” she scolded, her eyes glittering with maternal fire.
“Suggesting is really the same as hint…” At their angry mama’s ferocious glare, Herbie wisely returned his attention to his book.
Though Carol appreciated her mother’s devotion, she was very well aware of who she was. When she had made her Come Out, she’d been praised in the papers for having an uninspiring English beauty. Though Mother had carried that page around proudly for much of the Season, Carol had read between the more than clear lines. She was ordinary. Whereas, Lady Minerva? Well, she was not only a duke’s daughter with a hefty dowry, she also possessed an otherworldly beauty.
Like Carol, with her crooked teeth and brown eyes, never would be.
“Lady Minerva was expected to wed the Duke of Devlin.” In the end, the young duke had wed Carol’s closest friend leaving Lady Minerva unmarried. Now it would seem the dowager duchess’ matchmaking plans had shifted to include a pairing of Lord Gregory and the flawlessly elegant Minerva.
“That hardly matters. You would also make him an excellent match.” The viscountess jabbed a forceful finger into the air. “A better match.”
No doubt, the dowager duchess quite disagreed.
Regardless, the other lady was welcome to him.
She’d never bind herself to an honorable gentleman who’d marry a woman he didn’t love, just to join two noble families. Just like her own parents’ union. Carol balled her hands into tight fists. Those empty unions that invariably found a discontent lord taking his pleasures with other women, as her own father had.
Mother clapped her hands once. “Do attend me, Carol.”
“Should you not be more intent on Herbie making a match and securing the future line?”
Herbie gulped audibly.
She stole a glance over at her brother and mouthed a silent “sorry”.
The viscountess opened and closed her mouth like a fish plucked from the Thames. Then she lamented, “I am more concerned with you and your advancing years.”
An audible sigh left Herbie.
“Lord Gregory would not be so snobbish as to simply choose a duke’s daughter over you because she’s lovelier.”
“And because the dowager duchess wishes it,” Herbie reminded, flipping a page in his book.
“Precisely,” their mother said, accentuating that unintended double insult with an enthusiastic nod.
Those two ducal families shared a history that went back to William the Conqueror. Did her mother truly believe Her Grace would sever that close bond for a friendship that only went back ten years or so? “I’m incredibly,” horrified, “honored Lord Gregory might even consider me for a match, however—”
“All you need do,” the viscountess carried on over Carol’s droll reply, “is demonstrate how dutiful and obedient you might be.”
Alas, her mother still clung to the hope that she would be and could be like every other lady. “Like a dog?”
Herbie emitted a low groan as the book trembled in his hands.
Their mother folded her arms. “Do you find this to be a matter of amusement, Carol Sandria?”
Oh dear, she’d gone and included Carol’s middle name. As a girl, that had been the very useful indicator to seek out a place to hide on their family’s rolling grounds, until the viscountess had otherwise reined in her disappointment. “Never,” she assured in placating tones. After all, she was wise enough to know when she’d crossed the proverbial line in terms of baiting. “I do not doubt,” she lied. She highly doubted. “Lord Gregory would save me from my circumstances.” Circumstances she’d rather remain unchanged until she, herself, determined. “However, he needn’t do so on my behalf.”
“Are you placating me? You do know I can never quite sort out when you’re being dutiful or attempting to mollify me.”
Most young ladies would have, no doubt, let the matter rest and retreat in the face of that confusion. “I do not believe you are one who could be placated, Mother.”
Herbie made a strangled clearing sound with his throat and Carol stole another look at her poor, often fretting brother. “Do turn your book over,” she whispered and he promptly flipped the, until then, upside down copy of The Mysteries of Ferney Castle over.
Their mother let loose a small cry. “You do not know the gravity of your situation.”
Carol furrowed her brow.
A long, beleaguered sigh escaped the viscountess’ lips and she proceeded to tick off on her fingers. “One, you are no longer in the first bloom of youth. Two, you’re very nearly a spinster.” With each perfunctory disparagement, Carol’s frown deepened. Yes, she was now on her fifth Season, but she wasn’t…old. “Four…”
“You missed three,” Carol interjected.
“You did, Mother,” Herbie supplied, dropping his book, once more. “Though I might have missed it because…” Their mother frowned him back into attending his reading.
Herbie otherwise distracted, had the viscountess retraining all her efforts back on Carol. “Do you wish to be dependent upon the charity of your brother and his wife?” her mother finished, pulling Carol back to the moment.
Herbie spoke from around his leather-bound book. “Quite free to live with me and my wife…” with one hand he scratched at his brow, “that is, when I take a wife,” he mumbled.
At that loving devotion, Carol flashed a smile in his direction. Perhaps, that unintentional reminder would properly divert the viscountess’ attention to her son’s unwedded state. “I’m sure you will find a wife soon, Herbie. Very soon. Mayhap at the Dowager Duchess of Devlin’s Christmas—”
“Your wife will not want a sister underfoot, Herbie,” the viscountess cut into that pointed reminder with far more pragmatism than Carol had come to expect. Then, if anything could transform a flighty mama into a battle-seasoned warrior, it was matchmaking an unwed spinsterish daughter.
Herbie peeked over the top of his book at them. With a sheepish look, he returned to his reading.
“I do not know why you’re being so difficult about this, Carol. Your father’s family and my own were longstanding friends, joined together through our marriage.”
It had been a marriage that had been perfunctory and not at all passionate. And certainly not one where there had been any grand love between the late viscount and his wife. Sadness turned over in her heart. Had her mother simply ignored her husband’s infidelity? Or worse, had she simply not cared?
The carriage hit a large bump and Carol winced, rubbing her lower back. The discussion of a match between Lord Gregory Renshaw and her had carried on long enough. “Mother,” she said in a bid to mollify, “I’m not opposed to marrying,” she continued.
“Why would you be opposed to marrying?” their mother asked with all the confusion of the first person to be told the earth was, in fact, round.
Because in doing so, a young woman, in the eyes of the law and Society, became property. As would her offspring. The late viscount, though unfaithful, had at least been kind and caring to his children. Carol was not so naive that she was unaware of the plight of too many miserably wedded ladies.
“I wouldn’t be,” she said matter-of-factly. “However, I’ve very specific requirements in the gentleman I shall marry.”
“Requirements?” their mother parroted.
Herbie made a tsking sound. “It’s in bad form to make a list about a chap.”
Placing her palms on her knees, the viscountess leaned over and peered at Carol. Did she search for the answers in her face? “And just what manner of items are on this list?” she asked with suspicion underlying that question.
Clearing her throat, Carol warmed to her topic. “He shall encourage me to speak freely. He will allow me to retain full control of my dowry. He shall make me laugh and, of course, he shall be hopelessly in love with me and only me.” A man who’d never keep a mistress, because he’d no desire for anyone but her.
Silence descended on the carriage, broken only by the rumble of the carriage wheels as it kicked up gravel and dirt. “But…but…” Mother stammered. “You wish for a paragon,” she cried, tossing her hands up. “No such man exists. None.”
“Then I will be quite content with my spinster status.”
With her mother’s groan reverberating around the confined space, Carol turned and looked at the passing countryside and smiled.