His Contract Bride (Banks Brothers Brides 1)(3)

By: Rose Gordon

Edward gave what had to be an exaggerated sigh. “Alas, no. He says it often enough, if that were the case, he'd be practicing nevermore honesty.”

Regina shook her head. “Just so you know, I don't find you boring in the least.”

“That's good.” The laughter that previously lit his eyes faded slightly, a serious glint taking its place. “That's actually very good, indeed.” He shifted on the bench and flickered a quick glance just beyond her left shoulder before meeting her eyes again. He ran a hand through his hair and blew out a breath. “May I talk to you about something important?”

Her heart hammered wildly against her ribs. “Important, you say?” She immediately coughed, then prayed he'd think her impending cough was the reason for the way her voice had squeaked.

“Yes,” he said, his voice low and slightly uneven.

Excitement built up in Regina's chest. In less than a month, she'd have her come out and formally be allowed to be courted. Was he about to ask if he could court her when the time came? Although the ladies at the school had repeatedly told their students not to choose a gentleman suitor until they'd had a chance to meet all the eligible gentlemen, she was certain she'd agree immediately if he were to ask. There was just something about him. Something about the way he looked at her and spoke to her. The way they'd talked without hesitation—

“Regina,” he said on a ragged breath. “I've really enjoyed spending the afternoon with you, and I think we—”

Whatever the rest of his sentence was, Regina would never know as it was drowned out by a loud and not-so-distant cry.

Regina’s and Edward's wide eyes locked, then no more than a split-second later, they were both to their feet and running in the direction from which they'd heard the cry—being led by the sound of loud sobs.

“Sophie,” Regina gasped as her eyes landed on her sobbing roommate.

Sophie sat on the ground with her knees up and her forehead pressed against them. Her long dark hair was down, covered in twigs and leaves.

Heedless to her own appearance, Regina sank to her knees and wrapped her arms around her friend. “Sophie, what's happened?”

Sophie said something, but it was drowned out by her sobs.

Regina squeezed her tighter. “Sophie, what happened?” she repeated.

Sophie lifted her mud-covered face a little and said something, but once again her words were inaudible over her sobs.

Regina dropped her gaze to the front of Sophie's gown and gasped. Just like her face, the fabric was covered in mud and split right down the middle of her bodice, exposing a good portion of both of her breasts to the air.

Sophie, still sobbing uncontrollably, seemed to pay no mind to her state of undress and shook violently as the sobs continued to wrack her body.

Regina was still looking at her friend and trying to puzzle out exactly what had happened to her when suddenly something soft, but heavy, hit the outside of her hand. She turned her head and blinked.

Edward Banks, forever the ideal gentleman in her mind, was running, not walking, in the direction of the school to seek help—sans coat. It was at that moment she knew for certain he'd captured her heart and would hold it captive until the moment she took her last breath.

~Chapter One~

One Year Later

Regina closed her father's copy of Debrett's with a sharp snap.

It was no use. The Season would start in only a week, and she had no more desire to land a husband now than she’d had at her come out.

With a sigh, Regina set the book on a nearby table and pulled her knees up against her chest. She leaned her head forward, resting her forehead against her knees, then wrapped her arms around her legs and squeezed. She hated attending balls and musicales, and the longer it took her to find a husband, the more she'd have to attend.

“Dreaming about him all the time won't make him reappear.” a familiar voice called.

The hair on the back of Regina's neck stood on end and she squeezed her eyes tighter, willing her wretched older brother, Tobias Harris, to go away. “Stop.”

“Stop what?”

She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of answering that. “What are you doing here?” she asked, lifting her eyes to look at him.

Toby shrugged and pulled a flask of whiskey from his breast pocket. “Just came to see you.”

“You mean annoy me?”

“Watch your words, Regina.” Toby sat down in the Italian leather chair closest to her and propped his feet up on the settee right next to her.

She cringed at the sight of his filthy shoes, caked with dirt and grime from walking through the slums of London, so close to her freshly pressed morning dress and resisted the urge to push them away.