A Tangled Affair
Garrison Ford needs a wife and son before his 35th birthday. He goes to London to find a bride and falls in love with a debutante’s elder sister, Sara. Unfortunately, Sara considers herself “ruined and unfit” to be his wife. Desperate to keep the woman he loves in his life, Garrison marries her younger sister, Dana. Returning home with both sisters, Dana, his untouched wife, and Sara, his beloved mistress, Garrison learns that a young lady in town is rumored to be carrying his child. As if this is not tangled enough, Garrison’s best friend is determined to free Dana from this tangled knot and take her as his bride.
Garrison Ford stared at the room of young debutantes with little enthusiasm. “They look like frightened children.”
“Of course, they look frightened.” Lady Castel snapped her fan with a hint of agitation. “They are young and fresh. This is their first season. They will become more polished with exposure to society.”
“I hoped for more character, not polish.”
Lady Castel’s fan fluttered with more than a little impatience. “You are the one who came to me for help.”
Garrison sighed and ran a hand through his dark curly hair. “Yes, I apologize. I just hoped they’d be…” his hand waved about as he sought the words to express his extreme dissatisfaction with the selection of potential brides without insulting his friend, “...not so young.”
“What did you expect? The best of these girls will enter an engagement within the next six months. If you are slow to the mark, you’ll have to wait another year to search for a suitable bride.”
Garrison’s stomach tightened into a knot. His need to marry could not wait until next year. He must acquire a wife and a son as soon as possible. Steeling his nerve, he perused the silly girls for the least objectionable.
His gaze roamed the room and stopped on one that at least wasn’t stiff with terror: a pretty brunette with a heart-shaped face. She appeared most animated in her discussion with another young woman, who, based on the similarities, might be her older sister. The resemblance of the two girls was quite marked, although the results quite different. The younger one was full of joy, which gave her beauty an internal glow. The elder, who could not be more than twenty, had almost the same features and should have been just as beautiful, yet there was sadness in her eyes that hinted of some great tragedy.
He nodded towards the young woman. “Who is that?”
Lady Castel’s eyes fell on the younger girl. “Dana Hawkens. She won’t do for you.”
Her certainty prevented him from correcting which sister he meant. “Why ever not?”
“Well, the family has suffered an embarrassment of grand proportion this last season. And they do nothing to contain the damage. My heart goes out to the poor girl. If not for the scandal, she’d be the catch of the season.”
“Is the family incurring financial difficulties?”
“Heavens no!” Lady Castel coughed at the thought. “The Earl of Rottengale, Samual Hawkens, seems to grow wealthier by the day.”
“A financially sound Earl? Pray tell, what has the poor girl done to ruin her chances?”
“Oh, it’s not her. She’s perfectly lovely, has manners like a princess, and always appears remarkably poised. No, it’s her older sister, the one beside her.” Lady Castel sighed and fluttered her fan. “I don’t understand why they didn’t send her away. They must realize her presence destroys poor Dana’s chances. I’ve considered writing her Grace, but I cannot conceive of a way to phrase my advice without risking insult, and I would rather not fall into disfavor with the Earl.”
He studied the elder’s smile that could not hide the misery within. Whatever occurred, she evidently paid a terrible price for it. He watched her smile fade once her sister accepted a dance partner and left her side. “What did she do?”
Now alone, the elder sister moved to a far corner out of everyone’s view.
“What did she do?” Lady Hawkens softly exclaimed. “If you ever left that estate of yours, you would know the story! Five years ago, Lady Hawkens claimed the girl had been sent to a finishing school in Switzerland. Then this summer, she returns with a shipload of young women rescued from a harem. A harem! I don’t know what they thought they were doing‒trying to bring the girls home.”
Garrison’s sympathy for the young woman and his anger at Lady Castel rose in unison. “I suspect they thought they were returning them to the welcoming arms of their families.”
“No doubt that was the good intention of Admiral Jackson when he rescued them. But the man should have known better. You cannot bring unchaste, unmarried girls back into society!”
“It seems someone is trying.” Garrison looked at the sad young woman. Only society was too dogmatic to allow the girl a chance to reclaim her life.
“Well, we have little choice. The Earl has significant influence and let it be known he’d seek revenge on any who slights his daughters. So, we suffer Sara’s presence, but I assure you, no one associates with her.”
He noticed the unwanted Sara was no longer alone. Carlton Jennings had her cornered. By the stress in her eyes and her rigid posture, Garrison thought she did not appreciate the company, thus, he was surprised when she allowed Carlton to escort her from the room. It was not until they crossed in front of him and Lady Castel, that he noted how Carlton’s fingers dug into her arm. Garrison was certain by the defeat in her eyes, that Sara Hawkens accompanied the gentleman against her will.
“Introduce me,” he said to Lady Castel.
Her eyes rounded in horror while her fan fluttered at the speed of a hummingbird’s wings. “I will do no such thing. You have no idea what you are asking. She is …. well, let us just say she takes too many walks with our young men.”
Garrison watched Carlton push her out the door. “Where are her parents?” he asked in quiet fury. “Why are they not protecting her?”
Lady Castel flicked her fan closed in agitation. “They remain in the country, evidently in total oblivion. They pretend nothing is the matter.”
He had heard enough. The Earl could pretend all he wished, but Garrison could not stand by and watch a young lady in torment. “Excuse me, Lady Castel, but I am in need of a bit of fresh air myself.”
The first novel of a Two Book Series.
Just click on this link
Just click on this link
Available at the following sites:
Barns & Noble, Hoopla, Kobo, Overdrive, Apple, Baker & Taylor, Scribd, Tolino, 245