William Montclair, Baron Montclair, returns from the war with France and Napoleon Bonaparte determined to find a bride of a certain sort—one who will tolerate his beloved mistress who has returned with him to London. Georgiana Janson, a widow who had married a family friend and followed the drum to avoid a forced marriage, must decide if she can accept what Will offers—love without marriage. When Georgiana’s circumstances change and Will returns to war after Napoleon escapes, both must weigh their duties to their families against the love they share. CLICK COVER TO BUY.
HIS DESIRE, Book 2 of the Montclair Chronicles
London, March, 1815
“It is time to fill my nursery.”
William, Baron Montclair, winced when his father’s pool cue missed the ball entirely and skidded along the rich-green felt of the mahogany pool table.
Father cleared his throat, glanced over his shoulder toward the bar, then turned his attention on him. “Did I hear you correctly, Will?”
“You did, sir.” He had always felt uneasy when his father’s piercing blue eyes pinned him like an insect in a display case.
“Do you have a mother in mind for these children?”
“Not at this time.” He had hoped the conversation would be less difficult. He had always had a close relationship with his father, ever since he and his mother had moved toEnglandfrom his childhood home in theBahamas. “I plan to begin my search this season and to have the deed done within a month or so.”
“Let me understand this.” His father stood to his full height and faced him, eye to eye. “You plan to marry an as-yet-to-be-identified young woman because you want children?”
“Yes, sir. It is past time.” He would not dwell on the horrors he had seen as an officer during the late war with Napoleon. He had come to appreciate life when his own had been at risk daily. His command of the French language and knowledge of the culture had made him a natural choice for missions when General Wellesley, now the Duke of Wellington, required a presence behind the French lines.
“I, too, had concerns about the succession when you were on thePeninsula. God forbid that your drunken cousin inherit. He would have bankrupted the earldom in a few years.”
His father draped an arm around his shoulders, a rare display of affection since he had grown into adulthood. “Knowing for three years that our only child and heir was in constant danger was a great burden on your mother and me. But we were proud of you, son.”
“A man could do no less, sir, after Ciudad Rodrigo.” It had not been an easy decision when he was but twenty-two to leave all he held dear for a war on foreign soil, but Napoleon had been a threat to his country and his family. Now it was time to fulfill the rest of his responsibilities, however distasteful.
His father laid his pool cue on the table, settled in one of a pair of comfortable leather chairs in front of the fireplace, and indicated that he take the other one. He removed cigars from the humidor, clipped the ends, and handed one to him. They lit up and smoked in silence for a few moments.
His father finally broke the silence. “What are you not telling me, son?”
How honest could he be? His mother had been only seventeen, a student at an elite Parisian finishing school, when his nineteen-year-old father had swept her off her feet and married her. They had been cruelly separated by his grandfather, the old earl, before he was born. When they had reunited, he was already seven years old. His father was as much a friend as a parent. But to this day, his parents remained so deeply in love that his father would probably not understand his dilemma.
“I am very aware of my responsibilities to the title, sir. Many would suffer needlessly if I fail to produce an heir. I am determined to do my duty.”
His father shook his head. “I cannot believe that you plan to enter into a ton marriage, Will. When I thought your mother had died, I mourned her loss those seven years. I did not even consider remarrying. We are too much alike for you to enter into a loveless marriage. It is not in our nature.”
That was true. Except for the golden eyes he had inherited from his mother, he and his father were uncannily similar in looks, build, and temperament. When he looked at his father, still youthful and agile well-past forty, he could see himself in twenty years or so. And, yes, he understood profound passion and love but they would have no place in his destiny as heir to the Earl of Ashford.
He rose and walked, cigar in hand, to the liquor cabinet, then poured two snifters of his father’s favorite French brandy. It was legal now, one of the benefits of the peace that his sacrifice and that of his comrades had helped secure. He handed one to his father who waited until he was settled before continuing.
“You cannot be serious about your intentions unless there is something you are hiding, something so horrific you will not tell me.”
His father, who usually sipped his brandy, savoring its rich flavor, drank deeply and exhaled.
“Are you a lover of men?”
The brandy burned as it spewed out his nose and sprayed his spotless cravat. He gasped for air, then choked, laboring to catch his breath.
It was several moments before he could speak. “No, Father, I can assure you that I am not. You yourself have chastised me for my exploits as a young man.” Some of the Ashford Hall staff and the village women had been very open to his attentions, indeed, had even seduced him. But his father had held him responsible and punished him accordingly.
“No offense intended, but your mother and I had noticed your lack of attention to the young ladies since your return. Before you left for thePeninsula, you were a favorite of the ton. The matrons practically threw their daughters at you. Since your return, you are seldom at home and never at the ton parties.”
Thank God his father was not the meddling sort. He could not say the same for his mother who gloried in gossip and intrigue with her friends from her school days inParis. For that very reason, he had decided to approach his father in the one place in the house his mother refused to enter. By tradition and mutual consent, his father smoked only in the pool room where he and his influential friends and acquaintances were free to gather, smoke, and determine the fate of the world.
“I am aware of that, sir. Rest assured that you will see me out at every opportunity. I do not plan to take an inordinate amount of time to make my selection. This is a case of if it is to be done then let it be done quickly.”
His father laughed, one of those deep laughs where he had have been holding his belly if he had had one. “I believe that when Shakespeare wrote that he had in mind an assassination, not a wedding.”
“And I am no Macbeth, sir, only a determined groom in search of a bride.” Maybe this might be easy after all.
“What, may I ask, are you looking for in a prospective bride? Your mother would be the best judge. She and her circle of friends will know every likely candidate, her family, and her family’s history.”
He shook his head. If Mama knew of his quest, his business would definitely not proceed so easily. She would not be nearly as tolerant of his intentions as his father. She would likely stick her nose into his business and, given her skill and determination, would discover things he would rather keep hidden.
“I would prefer that my quest remain private between us. When I have narrowed my choices to a few young ladies, I will certainly discuss the final selection with her.” She still would not be satisfied with his candidates. He knew they would not be what she wanted for him, but they would be what he needed.
His father set his snifter on the table with a thump. “I asked, Will, what you are seeking in a bride. I assume you have given some thought to it.”
“Certainly, Father.” He had devoted hours to considering the kind of girl that would best suit his needs. He was quite proud of his results. He pulled the crisp paper from his pocket and presented it to his father.
He sipped his brandy while his father examined the list. It was short and to the point, simple really. What was taking him so long?
His father, usually very amiable, muttered a curse, wadded up his list, and threw it into the fireplace.
He leaped out of his chair, grabbed the poker, and frantically began pulling the crumpled paper from the flames. Gingerly smoothing the list flat, he was relieved to discover that his list, though scorched around the edges, remained legible. But now he had to calm his father who, for some unfathomable reason, appeared very upset.
“I perceive, sir, that you do not find the contents of my list agreeable.”
“Agreeable!” His father puffed hard on his cigar. “Have you lost your wits?”
“No, sir, I have not. I believe my criteria to be rather well thought out.”
His father stood abruptly and started pacing, all the while sucking on his cigar, harder and harder. “Then you have no idea what makes a good marriage. Have you learned nothing from seeing your mother and me and her friends and their husbands together? Your list is a sure route to one of those unhappy ton marriages. Just look at it!”
His father made to grab his precious list but he jerked it away in the nick of time.
“I do not have to see that list to recall what is on it, Will.”
His father raised a finger. “Comely. Not beautiful, but comely. What is wrong with beautiful? Your mother was magnificent, still is. Why should you settle for less?”
“Frankly, sir, even now you must guard against eager swains who seek her favors. How many duels have you fought or threatened over her?” His mother was a beauty. A golden-haired, pocket Venus who attracted men like flies to honey. It did not matter that she was madly in love with his father and offered them no encouragement. They still pursued her—even his own friends.
“How many friends have I lost because I have had to step in when they made advances toward her?” He realized that, at some point in their discussion, he had risen from his chair and his voice was as loud as his father’s. He forced himself to lower his voice.
“I do not want a wife who, however virtuous, I must guard constantly. I watched you do it, sir, for years. That is not for me.” He needed to bring their conversation to his concerns. “What about the rest, Father?”
“It only gets worse. You want a wife that is young and biddable?” His father snorted. “What is the appeal of that? You are over twenty-five and do not need a child bride, especially one that is biddable. A green girl just out of the schoolroom would bore you to death inside of a year. And if you want biddable, buy a dog.”
His father paced faster. “By the way, do not think young will get you biddable. My Emmy was only seventeen when we married and she was far from biddable. Her spirit was what attracted me to her. And, frankly, son, spirit begets passion. Do you want to bed a cold fish? This is the rest of your life we are discussing.”
“I will take that under consideration, sir.”
“You had better, young man. As for the rest of your list—capable of running your home, meeting your social obligations, and bearing your children. You want a housekeeper, a secretary, and a brood mare. Do not do this to yourself, Will, or to some unsuspecting young chit who craves a title.”
Will knew he would do what was needed to meet his obligations to his family and the title. Perhaps confiding in his father had been a mistake. The conversation had left him in turmoil, ready to be away. He sat his glass on the table, stood up, and walked to the door
“Thank you for your advice, Father. As I said, I will take it under consideration.” He bowed and left the room, closing the door with a bang.
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