Fontaines always married Westburys, until the Twelfth Night Queen rebelled. Amelia Fontaine was betrothed to her cousin, Percy Westbury, while she was still in leading strings. When Percy and his family arrive for a long holiday visit, Amelia is dismayed by the prospect of the impending arranged marriage. With his estate in shambles, Percy flaunts his plans to use Fontaine Hall’s wealth to benefit his family’s fortunes. When Percy demands that Amelia end her friendship with her neighbor, Edward Thornton, will she choose to follow tradition or pursue happiness?
Edward Thornton, the Earl of Bridgwater, couldn’t remember a time he didn’t love Amelia. He didn’t believe her grandmother would insist on the arranged marriage, until the entire Westbury clan invites themselves to Fontaine Hall. When Edward discovers Percy’s secret life and his sinister plans for Amelia, he embarks on a campaign to rescue her. Will the Twelfth Night Queen help him save his beloved from her cruel fate?
Fontaine Hall, Somerset, 1809
Edward slid his booted foot forward and touched Amelia’s silk slipper. “You must tell your grandmother your feelings about Percy before they arrive.”
Amelia looked up from the board and frowned. “I can’t do that, Edward. Grandmama would be devastated. She’s raised me since I was three years old. Devoted her life to my welfare. She has spoken of the alliance with her family for as long as I can remember. How can I tell her I abhor Percy?”
He shrugged. Maybe the girl needed a taste of reality. “Consider your life if you marry a man you ‘abhor’ next year. He will become the master of Fontaine Hall, its people, and you. You will rely on him for the food you eat and the allowance he gives you. He could dismiss your staff and replace them with employees loyal to him. He could beggar your estates to build his own. He could even beat you without legal consequences.”
Amelia sat back in her chair and folded her arms. “Enough, Edward. Is it your intention to ruin our evening? It’s bad enough Percy and his family are coming to visit. You know he dislikes you intensely. What if he wishes to stop you from visiting Fontaine Hall or riding with me?”
She really didn’t understand the consequences of marrying Percy. “When Percy is lord here, I will not be welcome in his home. Our rides together will cease. Our chess matches will end forever. I doubt Percy is much of a chess player.”
Amelia brushed her hand over her eyes. “He doesn’t play at all, though he claims to like cards. He’s not a very good player. I beat him every hand after I learned the rules. Eventually, he cursed, threw the cards on the table, and left.”
Damn! The man had a temper and Amelia, as intelligent as she was, didn’t understand the affect that temper could have on their marriage. “Some men don’t like being bested by women in anything. Some men hurt their wives. You’ve never seen that. We don’t tolerate it in this county. You must tell me and your grandmother, if he hurts you. Promise?”
She nodded. “I’m not looking forward to their arrival. Will you visit often?”
Just the invitation he’d been angling for. “Better still, Grandmother and I will join you here for the holidays while your guests are visiting.”
Amelia bounded out of her chair and threw her arms around his neck. “Thank you, Edward. I knew you wouldn’t abandon me like a rat deserting a sinking ship.”
“I’ll never desert you, Amelia.” Edward held Amelia close for a moment before disentangling her arms from around his neck and gently pushing her away.