Authors: Bianca Blythe
The Perfect Fiancé Copyright © 2016
The Perfect Fiancé
is a short prequel novella to Bianca Blythe’s
Matchmaking for Wallflowers
series. It contains 15,000 words.
Rosamund Amberly is overjoyed.
And soon, she’s certain, she’ll start feeling the emotion.
Rosamund prides herself on her matchmaking skills. After meeting Marcus Worthing, Earl of Somerville and her older sister’s childhood best friend, she knows she’s found the perfect fiancé . . . for her reclusive sister.
Unfortunately, she’s spending far too much time thinking about the man.
Includes the first chapter of
How to Capture a Duke
which starts at the 80% point.
Thank you so much to my wonderful editor, Allison Wright. My cover artist is the amazing Angela Waters.
Marcus Worthing, Earl of Somerville, marched into the woods that bordered Sir Seymour’s home, undeterred by the constant, cold breeze and the conviction that the gust was shaping his hair in a fashion London’s dandies would declare most undignified.
His feet slipped in a thick sludge of mud, coating his Hessians with something rather less proper than the polish his valet slathered on early every morning.
Not that he cared.
Right now the rain had ceased, and he’d jaunted from his host’s manor house, attired in the only pair of buckskin breeches he possessed that he wouldn’t mind seeing destroyed should another downpour occur. Wet wildflowers clung to his Hessians, speckling them all manner of improper colors, and a musky scent pervaded him.
Light glistened from the trees, the effect amplified by the generous sheen of rainwater that still clung to the bark and leaves. The grass, when it was visible in the thicket, remained a deep green shade, one that could only be achieved by a steady, months-long downpour.
Everyone had warned him that of all the ideas he’d ever had, the very worst was visiting Yorkshire. They’d all said the intelligence he possessed that had caused his book on zoology to be lauded by Oxford’s most persnickety intellectuals did not extend to holiday planning.
Obviously they were all wrong. But then, the
tended toward inaccuracy.
A quiet retreat. Something to clear his mind from the matchmaking mamas who roamed London’s ballrooms with more vigor than their military-trained husbands. That was all he’d desired.
And he’d found it. His lips stretched up again.
A shot fired through the countryside, and the sound thundered in his ears.
The thought of quiet was what had sustained him to travel in the jostling carriage over the narrow, muddy lanes Northerners called roads, and had spurred him to reject crimson-sealed invitations to manor houses located in tamed areas.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
He tightened his hand around the basket he’d crammed with a blanket and scientific articles.
This was not quiet. This was not even
Marcus inhaled and forced his shoulders to relax. After all, this was local color. A sound to be savored. He wouldn’t hear this back in Grosvenor Square. Indeed, the fact that bullets were blaring about here was only a sign of the pleasant change of pace from the constant magnificence of London’s best ballrooms.
Really, it was an ideal holiday.
Shots exploded through the wilderness and pheasants thudded to the ground, as if testing Galileo’s experiment on gravity.
Except even the greatest proponent of Sir Seymour, Marcus’s host and the self-designated most important person in all Yorkshire, could not attribute the baronet with scientific inclinations, much less a desire to duplicate scientific experiments that stemmed from the continent.
Marcus headed deeper into the wooded area that encircled the estate, lest his host invite him to take part in the man’s macabre hobby. Marcus’s feet padded over the deep moss, and his eyes grew accustomed to the shadows cast from the tall trees. This couldn’t vary more from the manicured lawns of Hyde Park, which rumbled with the sounds of trotting horses and giggling chits.
Stillness pervaded this place. Sunbeams fanned through the leaves and the forest glittered. He spread his blanket over the ground and settled down.
Marcus wasn’t here for festivities or hunting, Scotch reels or lengthy teas. He craved nature and quiet. And by George, he’d found it.
He let out a sigh, the lengthy, blissful kind London’s rogues would disapprove of.
A twig crunched in the distance, and he scrutinized the sound.
An animal. Probably. After all, that’s what they had outside London. They couldn’t just have people with charming, outrageous dialects.
Something flitted between the trees.
A figure in a gray dress strode over the mossy ground, unperturbed by the jagged rocks and gnarled tree roots that impeded her path. Crimson curls fell from her bun.
Perhaps it was a poacher.
Yorkshire’s remoteness lessened in appeal, and Marcus shifted his legs.
He resisted the urge to confront her. The penalty for poaching was hanging, and despite the splendor of Sir Seymour’s estate, he didn’t want to sentence a person to death for grabbing a few foxes from it.
If there were any foxes.
Estates culled predators before the hunting season, all the better to ensure sufficient pheasants for the aristocrats to shoot.
And he doubted his host wanted to share his catch with anyone.
He removed a pair of binoculars and cast his gaze upward. Perhaps he might see an interesting bird. A spotted flycatcher, or perhaps even a black grouse.
Another twig snapped, and another woman flitted between the Wyche elms and sycamores. Lord, he may as well have attempted to work in the center of Piccadilly Circus.
This chit wore a green dress, not that the color succeeded in camouflaging her. She flickered her glance between the trees, and if the notion weren’t absurd, he’d almost think she were following the other woman.
But such actions were for spies, not—
Sir Seymour’s gun fired again.
That blasted baronet.
should be around now. Not with Sir Seymour’s vigorous gunfire. He knew the direction of the baronet’s shooting, but not everyone would.
Marcus prided himself on his concentration, but his overwhelming emotion now had nothing to do with the categorization of species.
Marcus returned his gaze to the chit. No doubt the onslaught of bullets would have deterred her from her path.
And yet—she continued to stride toward the clearing, despite the fact that a casual bullet might collide into her, were she to venture farther.
Marcus’s nostrils flared, and he hollered. “I say.”
His voice boomed, and he cursed the rough edge.
Not that it mattered. The woman’s stride didn’t waver, and he scrambled up. He shouted again, bellowing like some hackney driver forcing his coach through a torrent of swiftly moving curricles and phaetons.
This time the woman’s eyes widened.
“Halt,” he thundered.
The woman hastened in the very direction he was warning her against. Perhaps madness was indeed common in Yorkshire.
“Halt,” he repeated.
She scampered away, and her chignon collapsed into a cascade of long, bronze locks.
He swallowed hard.
She was headed straight in the direction of the gunshots. He followed her, and his feet pounded over the soil, crushing the grass and wildflowers.
“Wait,” he called.
The words failed to dissuade her, and the woman’s steps quickened. She seemed to have no fear as she wound her way through the narrow groupings of trees.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Shots fired from the baronet’s estate. They were approaching the shooting range. No way would he permit this woman to risk her life.
Sir Seymour tended to speak ill of people roaming his estate. The man had a fierce temper, and right now he had a gun in his hand.
Sweat prickled the back of Marcus’s neck, and he scuttled after the stranger, thanking the athletic inclination that had compelled him to continue his racketball and cricket playing even after he had left Oxford.
His muscles burned. The woman had a head start on him, and clearly she possessed superior knowledge of the area. Was she an off-duty governess? A lady’s maid?
The answer didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was making certain he reached her in time.
Finally he gained on her, and he was conscious of a forest-green dress and bronze curls.
His host continued to fire shots.
Marcus cursed and leaped after the woman.
His body soared, and he stretched out his arms as if he might actually fly.
In truth, he
succeed in stopping her relentless pace, and he
attempt to steady them both.
Yet the force of his weight and the unevenness of the ground were a ruinous combination.
Marcus toppled, clutching the stranger as they both slammed against the ground, the wildflowers serving as an imperfect cushion. Galileo could have predicted the outcome, likely with a smirk over his wizened face.
Pain seared him, but then a delicious vanilla scent pierced his consciousness, and silky locks fell against him.
An outraged cry interrupted his musing, and the figure scrambled up.
Marcus clutched her ankle, stopping her before she might decide to continue her path into the unspeakable danger. “Do not move.”
“Get your beastly hand off me.” The woman’s voice came out in pants.
Something heaved in the pit of his stomach. The woman thought him a threat. He was frightening her.
But this was about protection. “Sir Seymour—you must know—the baronet at Elm Hall is shooting.”
Her head tilted, and he allowed himself to exhale.
Even the most eccentric local couldn’t escape knowing Sir Seymour.
“He won’t be happy that there’s an intruder,” Marcus continued.
“He’s hunting,” Marcus said.
“With a weapon,” he added.
Her lips twitched. “Pheasants, I believe.”
“Tis the season. I suppose you are informing me,” she continued, “that he has chosen a cannon as his weapon.”
“I—” Marcus’s stomach twisted, and he scratched the back of his neck.
Dark eyes sparkled. “You don’t spend much time in the country, do you?”
He shook his head.
“You should ask Sir Seymour to demonstrate the distance achieved by his bullets.”
She shrugged. “Perhaps men in possession of aristocratic accents are not acquainted with the limited capabilities of guns.”
Marcus was rarely mistaken, but he sensed he’d succeeded in adding to those infrequent occurrences. Somehow the thought of his foolishness being discovered by this woman seemed particularly rankling. “Sir Seymour
shooting in the direction of the forest.”
“I didn’t know pheasants had taken to wandering instead of flying.”
“It would be a healthier pastime for them,” Marcus muttered. He’d envisioned being thanked just about now. Lauded. Praised. Perhaps promised that she would name her first-born after him. Not—laughed at.
Normally he only reserved this amount of irritation for particularly trying problems of biology. He fought to keep his expression placid. His heart hadn’t stopped its frantic beating, and he was conscious that his hair clung to his brow in a manner more befitting an athlete than an earl.
“You were trying to rescue me?” Her alto voice was far too melodic to despise.
“Of course I bloody was.”
She gasped, and he clamped his lips firmly together. Perhaps it wasn’t exactly appropriate to curse before a lady. No matter what activities she adopted. “Forgive my language.”
She stared at him for a moment more, and then a smile played over her face. “You were trying to rescue me.”
“Mostly people desire my help.”
He blinked, and her lips arched up farther. A strange urge to categorize their exact shade of dusty rose overcame Marcus.
His face warmed. “Perhaps I was overhasty in my assessment of the danger. Forgive my—impulsivity.”
She shook her head, still smiling. “You were heroic.”
“Oh.” No one had ever uttered that word to describe him before. They’d called him
was a term frequently ascribed to him, though clearly the people who’d extolled him thus had never foreseen his behavior here.
No one had called him heroic before. His eyes flared, and he scrutinized her.
The woman’s skin was more tanned than the ladies’ of the
and her hair tumbled down into soft curls. Long, dark eyelashes flickered over warm brown eyes.
She stiffened. “I—I should return,” she said.
He nodded. “Wait—What’s your name?”
She tilted her head. “Rosamund Amberly.”
Warmth spread from his neck to his cheeks. “You’re Sir Seymour’s niece.”
“I see you are in possession of some acumen.” Rosamund smiled, and somehow the mere raising of her lips caused his heartbeat to escalate.
“I remember you.” His tongue felt thick in his mouth. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been about four, following him and her older sister about.
That had been the last summer his grandparents had been alive, and his father had seen no more need to indulge his mother’s desire to visit the far-removed county of her girlhood after they’d died.
He’d thought the time had been a lifetime ago, but staring into the woman’s amused brown eyes, he wasn’t as convinced. “I’m—”
“Marcus Worthing, Earl of Somerville?” A flush darkened the golden hue of her face. “Forgive me. I suppose you must rather enjoy saying that. I remember you too.”
“I—” Somehow he struggled more for words in her presence.
“You have an admirable sense of duty, my lord.” She smiled. “Though now I must return home.”
She gave a cheerful wave and strode back toward a thicket of trees.
His heartbeat remained elevated, and Marcus told himself it was because of the exertion of running over the new terrain.
It wasn’t anything about the woman herself. A man who had left the capital to escape the onslaught of females did not go about musing on one woman’s charms.