Her Secondhand Groom

By: Rose Gordon

Chapter 1

August 1815


Patrick Ramsey, Viscount Drakely, sank his fingers into his thick black hair, curled them tightly around the silky strands, and then nearly pulled it all out. Why did his daughters have to choose right now to start singing? And of all the songs for them to pick, why did it have to be the one about that confounded London Bridge being broken down? Suppressing the groan that wanted to escape his throat the best he could, he settled for a quieter noise of aggravation: a sigh.

“All right, girls,” he began quietly, “that’ll be enough of that song for the day.”

“But Papa, we just started,” five-year-old Kate protested.

“And now you’re done,” he informed her quickly before jerking his gaze away. He loved his daughters, he really did. But as much as he loved them, they needed a mother, and they needed one in the worst way.

“You look like a porcupine,” Kate stated, reaching up to run her fingers through his out-of-sorts hair.

Patrick smiled thinly at her. “Thank you, poppet. I do what I can to expose you to the sights you may not otherwise get to see.”

She giggled, and Patrick’s smile grew bigger and decidedly more sincere.

Pulling Kate onto his lap, he leaned back against the blue crushed velvet squabs and looked at Helena and Celia. They’d both been unusually quiet today. Not that he was surprised they were so quiet. Before they’d gone to London for the Season, they’d spent a considerable amount of time with Miss Emma Green, now Lady Sinclair, a long time friend who was considering the post of governess. However, her marriage to Patrick’s friend, Marcus, put an abrupt end to any chance of Miss Green becoming the girls’ permanent governess, and condemned the girls once again to the insufferable Mrs. Jenkins’ care.

Not that Patrick and the girls weren’t happy for Marcus and Emma, they were. But, they were also disappointed. No one was more so than Patrick. His girls needed a decent governess. They also needed a mother. And to be honest, he had no idea which of the two they needed more.

He sighed again and set Kate back on the seat beside him. Just as he set her down and closed his eyes in deep contemplation, the carriage jolted with so much force he and Kate were nearly ejected from their seats, and would have been if Patrick had not planted his foot firmly on the floor to keep his seat and simultaneously grabbed Kate to keep her from sliding forward.

“Botheration,” Patrick mumbled under his breath. The carriage was completely stopped and leaning decidedly to the left. “Wait here, girls,” he said, moving to the door of the carriage. Briefly he wondered if they’d actually be safer outside the carriage. Dismissing the thought, he stepped out and looked to Cruxley, his coachman. “What the devil’s going on?”

“It’s this rut here,” Cruxley said, gesturing down at the deep rut in the middle of the road where the carriage wheel was lodged and looked to be splintering.

Patrick muttered a curse and slung the carriage door open. “Why don’t you girls come on out here, it looks like we’ll be here for a while.”

One by one, Patrick helped his three girls down and watched as they started chasing each other around the dusty road, kicking up enough dust to rival a fog cloud. Coughing, Patrick waved his hand in front of his face in an effort to clear the dust and find his way back to where the wheel was wedged in the rut.

“Are ye sure those gels should be runnin’ ‘roun’ like that?” Cruxley asked him as he wiped his brow with an old dingy handkerchief.

Patrick glanced back at the girls. Nobody was around, besides they weren’t hurting anything except the new gowns they were wearing. That seemed like a small price to pay for having them otherwise occupied while he helped Cruxley with the wheel. He shrugged. “They’re fine.”

“Aye,” Cruxley agreed, moving to unhitch the horses.

While Cruxley went off to go tie the reins to a nearby tree, Patrick eyed the wheel and silently prayed they had a spare. If not, it was going to be a long walk to the nearest place that was likely to have one. Sure there were houses close by, they were on the outskirts of a village, but this side of the village didn’t have the type of tenants who were likely to have a spare carriage wheel―if they had one at all.

Cruxley came back, folded his arms across his chest, and stared at the wheel. “I says we jist break it,” he suggested with a shrug.

Patrick shook his head and refused to roll his eyes at his coachman’s wasteful suggestion. He reached forward and grabbed onto the carriage, gently rocking it to see if the carriage could rock to the side or roll forward at all. It couldn’t. He didn’t like the idea of intentionally breaking the wheel more than it already was though. The wheel was broken, but not beyond repair. He might be a viscount, and a wealthy one at that, but he had no intention of purposely being wasteful when so many others had far less than he did. He knew how fortunate he was to be titled and wealthy. After inheriting his title at two and being forced at thirteen to take over the running of his estate to ensure its profitability, he took nothing for granted.