Authors: Megan Bryce
ameson Pendrake, the fourth Earl of Nighting
and one of the finest catches in all of England, lay supine on
his sofa watching his best friend defend Jameson’s dignity. Jameson’s
honor had fled some years back, but Robin was supremely
confident that there was still something left to defend. Robin’s
sister, Amelia, knew better and she stuffed a pillow
unnecessarily hard under Jameson’s head as she argued.
“Of course he let her. He deserved it.”
He had tried to do the right thing. Fix a
mistake that should never have been, but was he thanked for it?
No, he was unmanned for his efforts. Kneed by his dainty
bride-to-be and left groaning on the floor. How,
could a woman who weighed less than one of his hunting dogs have
felled him so effectively? So embarrassingly.
He could only agree with Amelia. He had
Robin, ever-faithful, disagreed. “No man
deserves that, and not a one would allow some chit to do that on
purpose. She surprised him.”
Jameson interrupted their conversation.
“Amelia, dear. Perhaps the pillow would help more somewhat
closer to the injury in question.”
He received a slap on the arm for that
impudence. In truth, she shouldn’t be privy to his injury at
all, but it was hard to keep secrets and adventures from her. It
always had been and he was unsurprised to learn she hadn’t grown
out of that talent.
“When was the last time you were able to
surprise Jameson? Never would be my guess.”
“And I am not a petite blonde to whom he was
engaged. I would tend to think the company would put him at
“A woman who he’d just left at the altar? I
personally think he should have expected a lot more.”
Jameson stirred, shifting the pillow into a
more comfortable position and belatedly worrying that Amelia
might indeed think he deserved more. She could do much more
lasting damage than Miss Underwood.
“To be accurate, Amelia, I didn’t leave her
standing at the altar.” Which was why he’d reacted much too
slowly when his gently-bred bride had gone for the jewels. In
truth, he’d figured she hadn’t even known what went on in a
man’s pants, but then he’d forgotten she had four brothers. Who
would come a-calling sometime this afternoon, he was sure.
Amelia’s eagle-eyes snared his. “To be
, one day before the wedding is not
sufficient notice for a soon-to-be ex-bride. The only silver
lining in this cloud is that she’ll realize you did her a favor
before too long.”
Jameson saluted her with his glass. “With
friends like these...”
A tribute to her mood that she didn’t smile.
“You know it as well as I. The only one unwilling to face the
fact that you would make a lousy husband was the poor girl.” She
surveyed his prostrate form and clapped her hands. “Well, no
real harm done. I shall make a call on her this morning. No
doubt she’ll realize how close she came to disaster. By this
afternoon she’ll think it was her idea to call it off.”
Robin sputtered, “No real harm done? Just
look at the poor boy!”
Jameson personally agreed with Robin. He did
feel rather ill.
Still, if anyone could fix this predicament
it was the dragon. Amelia had a way of making even the most
resolute fellow change his mind. And resolute had never been a
term he would have described Miss Underwood as. Even so, he
feared she would not easily come to see his desertion as a
kindness. “Good luck, my dear.”
She took his glass from him and handed
it to Robin. “Luck? My dear, you’re a wastrel. I just need time.
Robin, please keep him at least halfway sober. He’ll need what
little wits he has to keep out of a duel.”
She swept from the room, a hurricane on a
mission. He was fortunate indeed that she was on his side.
Robin sat slowly, a frown marring a perfectly
good cravat. “I say, she treats you very ill. Why do you keep
“Why do you bring her? I haven’t the energy
to keep her away. Besides, it’s quite refreshing having someone
around not blind to my faults.”
“Oh, I say. You may have a few
eccentricities, but I wouldn’t call them faults.”
“You have proved my point, old chap. Now, if
you would please refill that glass for me. There’s a good
Lady Amelia Delaney had never been clear on
why they thought they were in charge. She would rectify that if
she wasn’t so busy with the two she had. Point in case, today’s
little adventure. If anybody had asked her, meaning Jameson and
he hadn’t, she’d have told him long ago that Clarice was not the
right girl for him. She did remember saying something about that
but since he hadn’t bothered to mention his intentions until
after he’d proposed, it had done little good. And if he had
thought at all, he might have asked her the best way of ending
the engagement. She would have suggested ending it a little
earlier and perhaps would have included a horrendous carriage
accident that left him out of commission for a few weeks. With
the right persuasions, Clarice would have ended it herself.
Funny though, Clarice’s last act had shown
she was made of sterner stuff than Amelia had first thought. Not
the best way of making a man change his mind, but it did make
him stop and think for a moment. Of course, Jameson would never fall twice
for that trick. Pity. His injury would give her a few hours of
knowing where he was and limit the damage he was inflicting on
the world at large.
Amelia arrived at the Underwood household at
the best of time. By the exhausted look of the butler she gathered
the explosion had already occurred. All that was left was to
sweep up the pieces.
The butler informed her that Miss Underwood
was out, and Amelia informed him that if he wished sanity to
rule the household anytime soon, he would show her in.
She was, of course, shown in to the small
breakfast room where Clarice and her mother sat, dejected and
red-eyed. Clarice’s light green day-gown was rumpled and a
multitude of handkerchiefs littered the table.
Clarice’s eyes widened and she jumped to her
feet when she saw Amelia. Hope and anger warred on the girl’s
face and Amelia sighed at the callousness of men and the
delusion of women.
“Has he sent you to get me back?”
Amelia appraised her coolly. “My dear, you
floored him with one smartly-placed knee. I believe the furthest
thing on his mind is how to get you back.”
Her mother’s sobs burst free from her
handkerchief. Clarice sniffed mightily but kept her face in
line. “Then why are you here?”
“To commend you on your forthright action.
Indeed, I believe many men will think twice about jilting their
brides in the future. And for your extraordinary luck in ridding
yourself of an unsuitable husband.”
Her mother sputtered into action.
“Unsuitable? Unsuitable! Lord Nighting is one of the most
eligible bachelors in all of England. He would have made Clarice
an excellent husband if she hadn’t
“It was an accident! I was angry!”
Amelia sat comfortably and poured herself a
cup of tea. “Ah. Well, I would keep that bit of information to
myself if I were you. An intended kick to a gentleman’s nether
regions is entirely different from an accidental one. You
wouldn’t want your dance partners afraid you had no control over
Her mother hiccuped a laugh. “Dance partners?
Why would they take the chance.”
“My point exactly. Since most of the
knows Lord Nighting, it shouldn’t be too hard to convince them
he deserved it. What we don’t want is for other men to be afraid
they’ll get the same treatment. It would be quite distressing
for them, and unnecessarily ruin your chances for a good match.
By the by, dear, I think from now on we should say the kick was
intended, the location was not. It will be much easier for
everyone to forgive a dainty kick to the shin that went
Although she would not care to wager how long
that delicious bit of gossip would circulate. Jameson was a
particularly virile specimen and Clarice’s unmanning of him
straight from a comedy.
“It is no good, Lady Amelia. I have been
jilted, ruined. No man will want to marry me now, let alone
dance with me.”
“I disagree. First of all, no one knows that
he jilted you. And if we work this right no one will ever
believe it. Despite what your mother thinks, Lord Nighting is
not fit for marriage. At least to a sweet, beautiful girl like
you. He is enough to break anyone and the fact that you attacked
him will only prove what the
has known all along. A
woman must take matters into her own hands when dealing with
“No, my dear. After tonight’s festivities,
where you will be happy and Jameson will be in hiding, the
will embrace you and place the blame where it is due.”
Clarice sat slowly, eyeing Amelia. “I thought
you were his friend.”
Amelia paused with her cup half-way to her
mouth. “Of course I am. Once he hears my plan he will thank me
kindly for alleviating the pain he so carelessly created.”
After she persuaded him, of course. Jameson was
no more fond of being made a fool than any man. However, he
would not be going anywhere today to contradict the rumors she
would be starting. If his injury did not keep him at home, she
Clarice stared down at the table. “Is there
Amelia stifled a sigh. Despite his
reputation, Jameson was not insensitive. He would not have
wanted to hurt the girl and he’d done what he thought was best.
In this instance, Amelia agreed with him; if not, she would have
marched him to the altar herself. But Clarice was much too
demure to ever be able to handle him; their aborted marriage
would not have been a happy one for either party.
“Do you love him?”
“I thought I could. Someday.” She looked at
her mother out of the corner of her eye and blushed. “He is very
Her mother’s sobs continued noisily. No doubt
she had pictured her golden-haired grandchildren in detail.
“There are other handsome, less aggravating
men, Clarice. Life with Jameson would be one frustration after
another and you deserve someone gentler. Someone who will put
your wishes ahead of his own, and who would not need to be hit
over the head to see your point of view. I’m afraid Jameson
thinks he always knows best.”
Clarice’s eyes flashed. “Did he think this
was for the best then?”
Amelia said gently, “Yes, he did. Else he
would not have hurt you so.”
“I would not like to think I was so wrong
about him. That he hadn’t cared for me at all.”