His Contract Bride (Banks Brothers Brides 1)(4)

By: Rose Gordon

“Still dreaming your prince—or should we say a gentleman who answers to the name of Edward Banks—will come and rescue you from another Season?”

Regina couldn't stop the heated blush that swept her face. “I should never have mentioned him.”

“But you did.” He uncorked his flask and took a quick swig of his whiskey. He grimaced and recorked his flask before slipping it back into his pocket. “And now I get to remind you about him for all of eternity.” Reaching up to remove his powdered wig in one swift motion, he added, “It's my right as your older brother.”

He was right, of course. Had she been thinking with her brain and not her heart, she wouldn't have told the truth when her aunt asked her if there was anyone she'd set her cap on. Now it was too late, and she had to endure Toby's not-so-gentle teasing about the first gentleman she'd come to care for.

Regina put her stockinged feet back into her cream slippers. She wouldn't mind his teasing so much if not for the bit of truth that laced his words. She did still dream of him; and more than anything, she wanted him to swoop in and rescue her from having to endure another torturous Season. But alas, as the number of days that preceded the start of this Season diminished, so did her chances of another meeting with Edward Banks. For it would seem the man had all but disappeared after their meeting last year.

“Don't be so glum, Regina. There's always a chance to rekindle your love for him after some stodgy old lord has made you a widow.” Toby frowned and brushed the white hair powder from the brown sleeve of his coat. “By then he'll have forgotten you tried to woo him with your insufficient knowledge of amphibians.”

Regina would have thrown a decorative pillow at his head for that remark if not for the fear he'd tattle on her to Father. Yes, he was that sort. Toby could tease to the point of outright cruelty, but if she were to so much as defend herself, he'd get angry and complain to Father. Nothing good came from being tattled on to Father. Ever.

“Why did you really come by today?”

Toby idly scratched his head where his wig had sat only moments before. “Nothing that concerns you.”

“Oh.” She lowered her lashes. Like Father, Toby often treated her as if she were a featherbrain who couldn't understand anything other than how to fan herself and curtsy.

“Where's Father?”

“He's in his study with one of his clients.”

“Who?” Toby barked, startling her.

Regina licked her lips to stall for time. She didn't know or care who his guest was; she'd been in her room when he'd arrived. “I—I don't know.”

“Well, it had better not be Lord Hogshead,” he said with a pout.

Regina closed her eyes so she wouldn't roll them. Lucas Harris, her father, was one of the most prominent businessmen in London. Regina was embarrassed to admit it, but she didn't know his exact title nor where his office was located. He'd never seen fit to tell her, claiming it wasn't for her to worry about. What she did know from bits and pieces of conversations she'd heard was that he was a banker, of sorts. He lent money and advised his clients, which mainly consisted of titled peers, on business matters. One day, he'd pass his business down to Toby—who'd run off all the clientele if he didn't stop his pouting, whining, and all around being a weasel.

Toby's heavy pacing, complete with arms crossed and an excessive amount of huffing and sniffing pulled Regina from her woolgathering. “He said he'd wait for me to talk to Lord Hogshead,” Toby whined before sweeping his open palm across the mahogany game table, sending all the stone pieces to the floor.

“You'd better hope you haven't lost any of those chess pieces, Toby,” Father thundered, entering the door. “Those were expensive—about a week's worth of wages, for you.”

Toby gulped and started picking up the pieces from the floor. For as much money as Father had, he was reluctant to part with a shilling if he could help it and often found reasons to deduct from her allowance or Toby's wages.

“You didn't meet with Lord Hogshead without me, did you?” Toby asked when he'd found—and replaced—all the scattered chess pieces.

Father waved him off. “No. I know he's your client.” An odd look passed between them before Father cleared his throat and turned his attention to Regina, grinning. “Lord Hogshead will not be here until six; and as it would happen, I have something of great import to discuss with Regina just now.”

Regina and Toby exchanged looks. While Father wasn't what most would consider to be unlikable, he rarely smiled. In fact, the only times she'd ever seen him do so was following the meeting with a very important client or on the few occasions when they'd received a highly coveted invitation to a social event hosted by a prestigious member of the ton.