In a world where love was always a gamble, they meant to beat the odds
No longer in the first blush of youth and without a marriage portion, Miss Constance Woodley could scarcely imagine why one of the leading lights of London society should take an interest in the likes of her. But under her benefactor's guiding hand she was transformed into a captivating creature who caught the eye of the handsome, charming and ever-so-slightly notorious Lord Dominic Leighton. And before the shocked eyes of the entire Ton, the "nobody" and the rakish viscount showed that even in the heartless world of the marriage mart, when love was at stake, all bets were off . . .
Don't miss this charming Regency tale, the first in Candace Camp's new series, The Matchmakers.
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August 31, 2007
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Excerpt from The Marriage Wager by Candace Camp
Lady Haughston surveyed the throng of people below
her, one hand resting lightly on the polished black walnut railing. She was aware that heads turned to look at her. Indeed, she would have been disappointed if they had not.
Francesca Haughston had been a reigning beauty of the Ton for over a decade now--at thirty-three, she no longer cared to be specific about the number of years since her coming out. She had been blessed with a naturally beautiful combination of features--light golden hair and large, deep blue eyes, skin that was as smooth and white as cream, a straight, slightly tip-tilted nose, and well-shaped lips that curled up a bit at the ends, giving her a faintly catlike smile. A small mole sat low on her cheek near her mouth, the tiny blemish only accentuating the near-perfection of her features. She was of medium height, with a lithe, slender form and an elegant carriage that made her appear taller than she actually was.
But even with the natural advantages Francesca had been given, she was always careful to show her looks to the best advantage. One would never find her dressed in anything less than the best, or with a pair of slippers on her feet that did not complement her dress or her hair arranged in a style that did not frame her face becomingly. While always in the forefront of fashion, she was not one to chase after foolish fads but chose only those shades that best suited her coloring and the styles that flattered her shape.
She was dressed tonight in her signature color of ice blue, the neckline of her satin dress low enough to show off her soft white shoulders and bosom in a way that was just a trifle dashing but not at all vulgar. Silver lace adorned the scoop neckline and ran around the hem of her gown, as well as cascading down the demi-train in back. A simple but striking diamond necklace encircled her slender white throat, a matching bracelet was on one arm, and more single diamonds winked here and there in the intricacies of her hair.
No one, she was certain, would have guessed that she hadn't a feather to fly with. The truth was that her late, largely unlamented husband Lord Andrew Haughston, an inveterate gambler, had died leaving her with nothing but debts, a fact that she had been at great pains to conceal. No one was aware that the jewels adorning her were paste copies of the actual ones, which she had sold. Nor did even the most hawkeyed Society matron suspect that the kid slippers on her feet had been maintained with the utmost care so that they were now in their third season, or that the dress she wore had been cut from a different gown worn the year before and resewn by her talented maid into a newer style fresh off the most recent fashion doll from France.
One of the few who knew her true circumstances was the slender, elegant man beside her, Sir Lucien Talbot. He had joined the circle of her admirers during her first season, and though his romantic interest in Francesca was a pleasant fiction in which they both participated, his devotion to her was quite real, for over the course of the years, they had become fast friends.
Sir Lucien was both stylish and witty, facts that, given his perpetual bachelor status, made him a soughtafter guest at parties. It was well-known that his pockets were frequently to let, as had always been the case with the Talbot family, but that did not mar his reputation as being "of very good Ton," a quality that was held in far higher regard, at least by hostesses. He could always be counted upon to liven the conversation with an acerbic remark or two; he never created a scene; he was an excellent dancer and his stamp of approval could establish a party-giver's reputation.
"Egad, what a crush," he commented now, raising his quizzing glass to inspect the crowd below them.
"I believe Lady Welcombe adheres to the notion that a rout must have as many attendees as one has floor space," Francesca agreed lightly. She opened her fan and waved it languidly. "I dread going down there. I know I shall get my toes trampled upon."
"Ah, but is that not the point of a rout?" A deep voice came from slightly behind her and to her right.
Francesca knew that voice. "Rochford," she said before she turned her head. "I am surprised to find you here."
Both Lucien and Francesca turned to face the new arrival, and he sketched a bow to them, replying, "Indeed? I would think that you could reasonably expect to find almost everyone you know here."
His mouth tightened in that familiar way that was almost, but not quite, a smile. His name was Sinclair, the fifth Duke of Rochford, and if Lucien's presence was sought after by a hostess, the attendance of Rochford was the star in her crown.