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Authors: Mary Nichols

The Husband Season

BOOK: The Husband Season
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To catch a husband!

Miss Sophie Cavenhurst wants a husband with whom she can fall head over heels in love. But London is full of traps for an unwary country miss. And when this headstrong beauty is rescued by the maddeningly superior Viscount Kimberley, she is certain he’s the last man she would ever consider!

Adam has no intention of marrying again, least of all an outspoken girl who cares nothing for propriety! But this handsome widower soon realizes that a touch of impropriety may be just what he needs…

“What are you playing at?” Adam murmured in Sophie's ear, startling her; she hadn't realized he was so close.

“Playing at, my lord?” she said sweetly. “What can you mean?”

“You know very well what I mean. You maneuvered Miss Malthouse to sit beside me at supper. It was so obvious I wondered others did not notice it.”

“Now, how could I, a mere slip of a girl, maneuver you, of all people? And why would I?”

“I do not know, but it was unkind of you. I had to endure her idle chatter throughout supper and afterward while we walked. Listening to her is exhausting. I am persuaded you must have some motive.”

“My lord, I have been accused of being a hoyden and a flirt, and Cassie is convinced that I am trying to put her out with you. I had to make her see otherwise.”

“And you wouldn't be doing anything of the sort, of course.”

“Certainly not. I should be wasting my time, would I not? Have you not declared you are not looking for a second wife?”

“Indeed I have.”

“And I am not prepared to be one, so let us be friends.”

He laughed. “Oh, Sophie, if anyone could make me change my mind it would be you.”

Born in Singapore,
Mary Nichols
came to England when she was three and has spent most of her life in different parts of East Anglia. She has been a radiographer, a school secretary, an information officer and an industrial editor, as well as a writer of some sixty novels and a biography. She has three grown-up children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Books by Mary Nichols

Harlequin Historical

Linked by Character

Scandal at Greystone Manor
The Husband Season

The Piccadilly Gentlemen’s Club

The Captain’s Mysterious Lady
The Viscount’s Unconventional Bride
Lord Portman’s Troublesome Wife
Sir Ashley’s Mettlesome Match
The Captain’s Kidnapped Beauty
In the Commodore’s Hands

Stand-Alone Novels

Rags-to-Riches Bride
The Earl and the Hoyden
Honorable Doctor, Improper Arrangement
Winning the War Hero’s Heart

Harlequin Historical ebook

Royal Weddings Through the Ages
“With Victoria’s Blessing”

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

Mary Nichols

The Husband Season

The Husband Season
features characters that
also appear in Mary Nichols's
previous novel.
If you enjoy this book, make sure you
don't miss
Jane Cavenhurst's story
in
Scandal at
Greystone Manor
.

Chapter One

1819

M
iss Sophie Cavenhurst was not renowned for her patience or tact. Nor, come to that, for her common sense. This lack was balanced by a comely face and figure, a soft heart and a sunny disposition. Young gentlemen frequently proposed and were as frequently turned down. ‘You see,’ she would say with a smile meant to soften the blow, ‘it just would not do.’ Which, according to her fond papa, showed she had more sense than she was generally credited with.

The trouble was that Sophie measured all prospective husbands against the husbands of her two older sisters, and her swains had always been found wanting. Mark, Lord Wyndham, who was Jane’s husband, was gentle and kind and dependable; Isabel’s husband, the recently knighted Sir Andrew Ashton, was dashing and exciting and was always taking Isabel off to foreign climes to have adventures. They were both wealthy, though their wealth came to them in very different ways: Mark’s through inheritance, Drew’s through international trade. None of the suitors who had asked for her hand in marriage came anywhere near them.

One thing she did not want was a scapegrace like her brother, though she loved him dearly. It had taken a really bad shock and a spell in India for him to come to his senses. To give him his due he had saved the family bacon when it looked as though they would lose everything, including their home, and for that she would forgive him almost anything, even the way he teased her.

‘Sophie, you have exhausted all the eligibles in the neighbourhood,’ he told her one day in April. ‘You are fast earning a reputation for being hard to please.’

‘What is wrong with that? Marriage is a big decision. I don’t want to make a mistake like Issie very nearly did.’

‘And as a consequence will likely end up an old maid.’

‘That’s why I want a Season in London. I would meet new people there.’

‘A Season?’ he asked in surprise. ‘When did you think of that?’

She could not tell him she was afraid she was falling in love with Mark and that simply would not do. She had decided that the best cure was to leave Hadlea for a time and try to find a husband to equal him. What better way than a Season in London? ‘I have been thinking about it for a long time,’ she said. ‘Lucy Martindale is having one this year and she talks of nothing else.’ The Martindales had an estate ten miles from Hadlea and Sophie had known Lucinda since they were at school together. They corresponded frequently and often visited each other.

‘I can quite see you would not want to be left behind, but what does our esteemed father say to the idea?’

‘I haven’t asked him yet.’

‘I doubt you will persuade him to take you. You know how coach travel always makes Mama ill, and he would not leave her behind.’

‘I know that,’ she said with a sigh. ‘But if Papa won’t take me, you will, won’t you?’

‘Good heavens! Whatever gave you that notion?’

‘Well, who else will?’

‘Ask Jane.’ No one in the family seemed to have given up the habit of saying, ‘ask Jane,’ whenever a problem raised its head.

‘Jane is too wrapped up with her baby to leave him, you know that, and Issie is on the high seas somewhere. If you agree to take me, then Papa can have no objection, can he?’

‘Ask him first.’

She found her father in the morning room reading the newspaper, sent down every day from London. He liked to keep abreast of the news, though very little of it was good. There was unrest everywhere, especially in the industrial north, and frequent demonstrations for parliamentary reform, not to mention the unpopularity of the Prince Regent and rumours that he was about to divorce his wife, from whom he was separated. Such a thing was unheard of and set a very bad example to the populace. There was a rumour that, since the death of his daughter and her baby, he was anxious to marry again and produce a legitimate heir. His brothers, none of who had legitimate heirs but plenty of illegitimate ones, were all hastily trying to marry and have children. So far only the Duke of Kent had made any progress in that direction; his duchess was
enceinte.

He laid the paper aside when his youngest daughter tripped into the room, all winning smiles. ‘Papa, dear Papa,’ she wheedled, ‘I have a request to make.’

He smiled. ‘And I have no doubt it will cost me money.’

She squatted down on a footstool near him. ‘Yes, I suppose it must, but I know you would not like to disappoint me.’

‘Go on,’ he said patiently.

‘I should like a Season in London.’

‘A Season,’ he repeated. ‘I expected to be asked for a new gown or some such frippery, but a Season! Where did you get that idea?’

‘All young ladies of any standing have come-out Seasons. It is how they find husbands. You would not wish me to be an old maid, would you?’

‘I doubt there is any fear of that.’

‘It is what Teddy said. He said there were no eligibles left hereabouts, so I must look farther afield. He will take me, if you cannot.’

‘I would not lay such a burden on his shoulders, Sophie.’

‘Then, will you and Mama take me?’

‘Sophie, there is no question of you having a Season this year or any other,’ he said. ‘We are not so well up in society as to aspire to such heights. It would cost a prodigious amount of money, which I am afraid cannot be spared. Neither of your sisters had a Season...’

‘But they did go and stay with Aunt Emmeline in Mount Street.’

‘Sophie, they stayed with her for two weeks, and the purpose of the visit was not a come-out as you know very well. They both found their husbands without recourse to balls and assemblies and tea parties.’

‘Yes, but where am I to find another Mark or Drew if I don’t go where I might meet them?’

‘Mark and Andrew are estimable young men, but why would you want a husband like them?’

The reason was her secret, so she simply said, ‘They are my ideal.’

He laughed. ‘Sophie, you will find the right man for you, all in good time. There is no hurry. You are but nineteen years old. Indeed, too much haste could very well end in disaster.’

‘So you will not let me go?’

‘I am afraid not. Now leave me to my newspaper.’

Drooping with disappointment, she left him to find her mother. Lady Cavenhurst was in the garden cutting daffodils from the hundreds that grew there. Sophie poured her woes into her mother’s ears. ‘You will persuade him, won’t you, dearest Mama? You know how important the right connections are to a young lady. There is no hope that I will find a suitable husband in a backwater like Hadlea.’

Her ladyship continued to cut the flowers and lay them in a trug on her arm. ‘Why this sudden urge to be married, Sophie?’

‘It is not sudden. I have been thinking about it ever since Jane and Issie were wed and I felt I should make a push to find a husband like Mark or Drew.’

‘You have set your sights very high, child.’

‘Why not? Is that a fault?’

‘No, dear, of course not.’

‘So will you speak to Papa? Aunt Emmeline would have me, would she not?’

‘Your aunt Emmeline is old, Sophie. I doubt she goes out and about very much nowadays.’

‘Teddy said he will escort me, so you will speak to Papa?’

Her mother sighed. ‘I will talk to him, but if he has made up his mind there will be no shifting him and I will not press him.’

‘Thank you, Mama.’

Having obtained that concession, which would have to do for the time being, Sophie went back indoors. If the answer was still no, she would have to marshal further arguments. She hurried to her room, put on a bonnet and shawl and set off to call on her sister at Broadacres.

Broadacres was a magnificent estate about three miles’ distant from Greystone Manor. It was not as old as the manor, but much grander. A long drive led to a carriage sweep and a truly magnificent facade with dozens of long windows. Cantilevered steps led to a massive oak door. The vestibule had a chequered marble floor and a grand staircase. She was admitted by a footman. ‘Her ladyship is probably in the nursery,’ he said. ‘Shall I go tell her you are here?’

‘No, I will go find her.’

Sophie was perfectly familiar with the layout of the house and soon found her way up to the nursery suite, where her sister was playing on the floor with her ten-month-old son, Harry. She scrambled to her feet when Sophie entered. ‘Sophie, what brings you here? There is nothing wrong at home, I hope.’

‘No, everyone is well. Can’t I visit my sister when I feel like it?’

‘Of course, anytime. You know that.’ She rescued Harry from a cupboard he had crawled into to investigate. ‘I was thinking of wheeling Harry out for a little fresh air. Shall you come, too?’

‘Yes, I should like that.’

Instructions were given to the nursemaid to put warm clothes on the infant and bring him down to the back hall where his baby carriage was kept.

‘Now, tell me what goes on at Greystone,’ Jane said as they went to her room for her to put on outdoor shoes, a shawl and bonnet.

‘Nothing. It is as boring as ever. I want to go to London. I asked Papa for a Season.’

‘And you think that might relieve your boredom?’

‘Well, it would, wouldn’t it? And I might find a husband.’

‘So you might. You might find one here in Norfolk, too.’

‘Teddy says I have exhausted all the eligibles from here.’

Jane laughed. ‘How many proposals have you had?’

‘Well, there was Mr Richard Fanshawe, who is as ill mannered as anyone could possibly be and stormed off in a huff when I rejected him. Then Sir Reginald Swayle, who affects to be a dandy but only succeeds in looking ridiculous, and Lord Gorange, who is positively ancient and has two motherless children. I wonder at Papa even allowing him to speak to me. I can’t marry anyone like that, can I?’

‘I can see your point. What did Papa say about a Season?’ Jane had finished putting on her shoes and was looking in the mirror to tie the ribbons of her bonnet, and her remarks came to Sophie through her reflection.

‘He said no.’

They left the room and went downstairs to where the nursemaid waited with Harry, who was sitting in his carriage beaming at everyone. ‘He will soon be walking,’ Jane said as she wheeled him out of doors and down a path that led into the surrounding park and gardens. ‘He can already pull himself up on the furniture. And I heard him say
papa
the other day when Mark came into the nursery. Mark is a doting father, you know.’

‘Yes, I do know, and you are a doting mama. I declare that nursemaid has too little to do.’

‘I love being with my son, Sophie, and would be with him all day, but I do have duties which require me to be from him, and then Tilly has plenty to do.’

Sophie knew one of her sister’s abiding passions beside her husband, child and home was the orphanage she had set up in nearby Witherington. She often spent time there herself, helping with the children. ‘You would not leave him to come to London for a while?’

‘No, Sophie, I would not. Is that the reason you are here today—to persuade me to take you?’

‘I guessed you would not. Teddy would take me, but Papa says he is not up to the responsibility.’

‘Papa has a point.’

‘I don’t know why you are all so against Teddy. Since he came back from India, he has been the model of decorum.’

Jane laughed. ‘Hardly that. He seems to have dissipated most of the money he had left after he saved Greystone.’

‘At any rate, he has done nothing untoward, and if we stayed with Aunt Emmeline...’

‘You have worked it all out, haven’t you? What do you want me to do?’

‘Persuade Papa that Teddy can be trusted to look after me. Mama said she will do what she can, but if you spoke to Papa, too, it would help.’

‘Why this sudden urge to go to London?’

‘It is not sudden. I have been thinking of it ever since you and Issie first went, but there were always reasons why I could not. First there was that business over Lord Bolsover, and then the court was in mourning for Princess Charlotte and her baby, and last year old Queen Charlotte died, but I cannot see why I shouldn’t go this year. I have never been to London. You have been several times and Issie has been all over the world. It just is not fair. I shall end up an old maid.’

‘Oh, Sophie, that is highly unlikely,’ Jane said, laughing. ‘There are not many young ladies can boast of having turned down three offers at your age.’

‘But not from the right man.’

‘So, tell me, what would the right man be like? Bear in mind perfection is unattainable.’

‘I don’t want to him be perfect, that would be boring, but he must love me and I must love him, just as you and Mark love each other.’

‘That goes without saying, but what will make you love him, do you think?’

‘He must be tall and handsome and have a fine figure...’

‘That, too, goes without saying.’

Sophie was well aware that her sister was teasing her, but carried on. ‘He must be kind and generous and dependable.’

‘Admirable traits. I commend your good sense.’

‘But on the other hand, I should like him to be exciting, to make my heart beat faster, to take me by surprise sometimes...’

‘Surprises can sometimes not be pleasurable.’

‘I meant pleasant surprises, of course. You are not taking me seriously, Jane.’

‘I am, indeed I am. But you might well find that when you do fall in love, he will be none of those things or perhaps only some of them. Falling in love is not something you can order, like a new bonnet or a new pair of shoes, it just happens.’

‘I know that, but it is never going to happen in Hadlea, is it?’

‘It did to me.’

‘Yes, but there is only one Mark.’

‘I know that.’ Jane smiled. ‘You are quite set on this, I can see. I will ask Mark’s opinion and if he says he can see no harm in it, then I will speak to Papa.’

‘Oh, you are the best of sisters. Thank you, thank you.’

Confident of success, Sophie turned to other subjects: gossip and clothes, Harry’s newly acquired accomplishments, the latest doings of the children at the Hadlea Home and speculation on where Isabel might be and how long before they would see her again.

BOOK: The Husband Season
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