Chapter One

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Chapter 1

A young lady, properly so called, should not require to have allowances made for her. Well brought up, her address should be polite and gentle, and it will, soon after her introduction to society, become easy “to be civil with ease.”

~ The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen (The Last London Editor; 1860)

 

Victoria let off a very unladylike hoot of delight before pumping her fist in the air.

“Don’t get yourself too excited, Victoria Colton!” her grandmother, Lady Colton, sniffed disdainfully while wagging a gnarled finger in her direction. “We haven’t finished with either of you yet.”

Victoria stilled but continued to smile smugly at the insolent man who had plagued her for ten years. Gabriel Sinclair, Fourth Duke of Hawthorne, had just been told that he must marry or else. The dark, brooding young man did not looked pleased at this announcement.

Lady Colton turned to Lord Sinclair, Gabriel’s belligerently rude grandfather. “Now, Gabe, we’ve agreed that it is necessary for you to marry because I would like to see the title passed on to a suitable heir before I die,” Henry explained gruffly before turning his startling green gaze on Victoria. “That leaves you, Victoria.”

She gave him a wide-eyed smile, believing outright that Gabriel’s predicament could hardly concern her at all. Why, surely they had finally given in to her beleaguered complaining about taking her out of the season and shipping her off to Africa. Surely they had enough of the whining, the tormenting, the outright rebelliousness behind the besmirching of her family’s good name?

“You’re driving Delores to an early grave with this unthinkable, idiotic notion you’ve wormed into your head,” Henry snapped, eyes flashing. Victoria straightened her shoulders, smile vanished. A sudden knot of foreboding settled heavily in her gut. “You don’t know your limits, young lady, and unfortunately for you, you’ve pushed us too far. You, Victoria, have to find a husband by the end of this season.”

She snorted dismissively- an inelegant sound that no gently-bred female would ever utter. “You can’t force me to marry-”

“Oh, yes I can!” Henry growled. He straightened and smoothed back an immaculately groomed silver streak of hair. “I can force both of you two to marry and, by God, it will be done before the season is out. Victoria, you will have no access to those funds you’ve so eagerly been waiting for. Africa, indeed! I’ll see to it that you won’t even step foot out of Surrey!”

What?” Victoria fumed, her cheeks flaming with indignation. She stomped around Henry Sinclair’s stately study in a right fury, cursing blithely as she went. “How dare you? You have no right-!”

We,” Delores Colton said implacably, indicating to both her and Henry, “have every right. As both your guardians, we have decided that is in both your interests to marry.”

Menacingly silent, Gabriel stalked over to a service behind his grandfather’s desk and thunked into a tumbler a hefty amount of brandy.

“Of all the archaic, idiotic, medieval-”

“Victoria, please,” Henry drawled dryly, “you’ll hurt yourself.”

Vicky tossed him an utterly venomous glare before stamping angrily to the same service where Gabriel stood and threw some brandy for herself into a tumbler. “You have no right to force us to do this,” she clipped furiously. “It’s not fair.”

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