Seduced by His Touch(2)

By: Tracy Anne Warren

Danvers was right. Most aristocratic marriages were based on practicalities, such as the accumulation of wealth, land or social position. Love, even liking, was a matter of scant consideration, expected to be found with someone other than one’s spouse.

In general, Jack considered himself a cynic. But perhaps there was more of the romantic in him than he cared to admit, since he didn’t fancy the idea of wedding for money, or without affection. As for love…well, he would leave such sentimental folderol to the poets. Perhaps that fellow Lord Byron, who shared nothing in common with Jack and his family save a name, might enjoy trying his hand at the subject.

“You do realize I am a third son and will never inherit anything of significance, certainly not the title,” Jack offered, feeling the noose growing tighter around his neck by the second. “Your grandchildren will never be more than ordinary misters and misses.”

“Not ordinary at all. They’ll be the nieces and nephews of a duke, and for that they’ll marry well when the time comes. In the meanwhile, my girl will be a lady. Lady John Byron, sister-in-law to the Duke of Clybourne—one of the most powerful men in the realm. I like the sound of that, and she will, too, once you convince her to marry you.”

“What do you mean? Convince?”

Danvers waved a dismissive hand. “Grace has these notions in her head, but never mind that. She’ll come around. All you’ve got to do is make her fall in love with you. That and persuade her you return the feeling.”

“That might not be so simple.”

The older man’s face hardened. “Make it simple. You’re good at seducing women, so seduce her. Otherwise, there’s a little matter of one hundred thousand pounds outstanding. I presume, my lord, that you are not in possession of such a sum.”

No, by God, Jack had thought, silently grinding his teeth. I most certainly am not.

One hundred and twenty thousand pounds, plus his debt cleared. For that kind of money, one might expect that Miss Grace Danvers would have married long ago. Perhaps it was simply a matter of her father protecting her from unscrupulous predators, but he sensed there was more.

What if there’s something amiss with her? he considered with a queasy swallow. According to her father, she was five and twenty years of age. No dewy-eyed ingénue but instead a woman full-grown, who was close to earning a permanent place on the shelf.

But no matter Miss Danvers’s potential faults, what real choice did he have? If he didn’t agree to marry her, he faced the unenviable option of going to debtor’s prison. Or worse, applying to his brother Edward for the funds.

Frankly, he’d rather take his chances in Fleet!

“Oh, and one more thing,” Danvers had warned. “Grace must never learn of our arrangement. In fact, I’d advise against her even knowing you and I have met. If she ever gets wind of the truth, well, the whole plan will go up like a cannon blast. See you take care to remember that.”

And so, here he now stood, caught firmly beneath the sword of Damocles. He supposed there were worse things than marriage, although right now he couldn’t seem to think of any. Cade looks happy enough, Jack reasoned, as his attention returned to the ceremony. Why wouldn’t he though, when he is marrying an angel?

His brother’s bride, Meg, certainly looked the part, dressed all in white, with her blond hair swept upward in soft waves beneath her lace veil, her lake blue eyes aglow with unconcealed joy. Her love for Cade was clear, as was her gentle sweetness and caring ways. Cade is a fortunate man, he thought. I should be half so lucky.

“And now for the ring,” the bishop intoned.

Jack waited, along with the nearly one hundred other guests gathered to witness the marriage. Someone coughed, the sound echoing through the church, followed by a faint rustling as people shifted in the pews.

Suddenly, he began to notice the stares, especially those of the rest of the bridal party. Edward, who had given the bride away, furrowed his dark brows from his front-row seat next to their mother. His sister Mallory and the other bridesmaids started nodding and mouthing things at him from the bride’s side opposite, while his brother Drake nudged him none too gently in the ribs. Even Cade and Meg turned their heads to see what was the matter.

Abruptly Jack’s mind cleared. “Oh, the ring!”

Light laughter floated through the hall as he patted his pockets, disremembering in which one he’d placed the engraved gold band. His irreverent seventeen-year-old twin brothers, Leo and Lawrence, began to snicker from their places in the line of groomsmen.

Seconds later, Jack located the ring, his fingers brushing briefly against a note tucked next to it. Ignoring the missive, he extracted the jewelry. “Exactly where I left it,” he announced with a smile. “Thought I’d give everyone a little extra excitement.” With an apologetic glance at Cade, he handed over the ring. Cade, however, was far too ebullient to do more than shake his head with good humor and turn back to his bride.