If Ever I Should Love You by Cathy Maxwell
Series Spinster Heiresses Series
Genre Adult Historical Romance
Publisher Avon Books
Publication Date December 26, 2017
Once upon a time there were three young ladies who, despite their fortunes, had been on the Marriage Mart a bit too long. They were known as the “Spinster Heiresses” . . .
He’s inherited a title, but not a penny to speak of, so the Earl of Rochdale knows he must find a wife—preferably one tolerably pretty and good-tempered, but definitely wealthy, and willing to exchange her fortune for his family name.
His choice: Leonie Charnock, one of the season’s “Spinster Heiresses.” Years before, the earl had saved the dark-eyed beauty’s reputation, and she is still breathtakingly lovely, leading Rochdale to hope that their marriage will be more than in name only.
However, Leonie doesn’t want to be anyone’s wife. Nearly destroyed by the secrets in her past, Leonie agrees to their union with one condition: there will be a wedding but no bedding. But it’s a condition the new Countess Rochdale isn’t sure even she can keep . . .
March 10, 1813
“Marry?” Roman Gilchrist, newly named tenth Earl of Rochdale, stared at his solicitor and godfather, Thaddeus Chalmers, as if the man had just suggested he cut off his own right arm.
They were in Thaddeus’s office. Thaddeus, a mild-mannered man of Roman’s stepfather’s age, sat behind a huge mahogany desk. Roman had not yet taken the chair offered him. Instead, he threw down the pieces of paper with the ninth earl’s hastily scribbled signature upon them upon the desk.
Roman continued. “I come to you with a stack of gambling chits that I do not believe I should have to pay and your only suggestion is that perhaps it is time for me to marry?”
“What other solution can there be?” Thaddeus asked. He was well respected amongst the loftiest circles of the ton. Roman usually valued his opinion. Now, he feared his godfather had gone senile.
“You can tell me that I don’t have to honor them,” Roman answered. “My uncle owed everyone. But he is dead. If they wanted their money, they should have petitioned him before he croaked—not lay in wait on my first day taking my seat in the House of Lords and then delivering these to me. It was a scene. Everyone was there. They all couldn’t help but overhear what Erzy and Malcolm were saying to me, and then they handed me these. I wanted to wipe the smirks off their faces.”
Thaddeus pushed aside the ledger he had been writing in before his godson had stormed into the room. “How much do you owe?” He spread the chits out to read them over the spectacles on his nose.
“Just under ten thousand pounds.”
“Their presenting the debts to you publically is bad form.”
“Damn right it is.”
“You will have to pay it.”
Roman slammed his hand down on the desk, hard. “No. It is not my debt. A man’s debt should die with him.”
“They do if they are to his tobacconist or bootmaker and if there is no money in the estate—”
“There is no money in Rochdale’s estate. You of all people know that.”
“I do, young Roman. I do . . . but those notes there represent something more than a jacket or a pair of boots, or even the bread that graces a table. No, these are debts of honor. As the Earl of Rochdale, you are ‘honor bound’ to pay them.”
“They are not mine—”
“They are Rochdale’s and you are now Rochdale. See? The name Rochdale on each slip.”
“But that isn’t me.”
“Yes, you are correct and most men would not have given the debts to you to pay. Unfortunately, Erzy and Malcolm are hardened gamesters who have no thought for anyone but themselves.”
“If they are not honorable men, then I see no ‘honor’ in paying gambling debts that aren’t mine.” It all made perfect reason to Roman. “Especially since I don’t even have the money to repair the leak in Bonhomie’s roof let alone buy a pair of boots for myself.” Bonhomie was his recently inherited estate in Somerset and the first home he and his family had ever had.
“Exactly,” Thaddeus said in triumph, stacking the gambling chits. “Which is why I suggested marriage. I mean, you could sell off a portion of the land. The last earl had not seen to the entail—”
“Absolutely not,” Roman interrupted. “The land will not be sold.” He’d been overjoyed to discover that Bonhomie boasted six hundred acres of forests and fields waiting for him to turn them into something meaningful.
“Very well, then.” Thaddeus reached for a decanter from a tray of them on a table behind his desk. He uncorked what Roman knew was a very fine whisky and poured generous portions in two glasses. “Sit,” he told Roman. “Be reasonable and hear me out.”
“I have no desire to take on a wife.”
“Posh, of course you do,” his godfather said. “You will need an heir or what will become of your plans for your estate, eh? Do you want all your fine work to go to a nephew that you didn’t know? Just like what happened to the ninth earl with you? Besides, a man needs something to poke at night. If he doesn’t have it on a regular basis, his balls shrivel.”
“I don’t believe that is true.”
Thaddeus pointed a finger at him. “How do you know? Have you been going without? Are you saying you don’t have anything to poke with anymore, Roman?”
“I have balls a’plenty.” He was no monk, but he was no lothario either.
Thaddeus cackled at his own jest. “I knew you did. All your years in the military should have made you a man of the world.”
Roman sat and picked up the whisky. “It did. But I have very high standards.”
“Then marry a wife who meets them. Because, lad, the way matters are going . . .” He tapped the small stack of gambling debts. “You could lose everything you inherited with the title. Erzy and Malcolm could force you to sell, and then the old earl’s tobacconist and bootmaker would be right behind them. It is never wise to stir a pot.”
He was right. Except . . .
“What heiress who isn’t lame or hideous to look upon would settle for penniless me? Or are you going to tell me, Thaddeus, that it doesn’t matter? That I should leg-shackle myself to a woman and then live apart?”
“Well, that is one solution.”
“So much for heirs,” Roman muttered.
Thaddeus gave a sharp bark of laughter. “And here I thought you were a realist.”
“I am,” Roman assured him. “And I know that any heiress worth her weight in gold can attract a man with more to offer than empty pockets and a ramshackle estate.”
“Ah, but then there are the Spinster Heiresses. They are three young women, all marriageable, very attractive, and wealthy beyond your dreams.”
“Then why are they called spinsters? Why hasn’t someone snatched them up?”
“Because their fathers are very particular, just like yourself. They wouldn’t let a Captain Gilchrist near them, or even a Baron Gilchrist, or a Sir Roman, and very few earls—but Rochdale is one of the oldest titles in England. Before the last three holders of that title, blast their gambling souls, they were respected statesmen, the sort historians praised and the world never forgot. I want you to be that sort of earl, Roman. I want you to do me proud.”
“I will try . . . if I’m not in debtor’s prison.”
“Which is the reason I believe you should shine yourself up and call on one of the Spinsters. Their fathers will not look down their noses at one of their daughters becoming the Countess Rochdale, I can promise you that.”
“And how can you make such a promise?”
“Because this is their third year on the Marriage Mart.” He referred to the round of social events, balls, and routs where marriageable young women hunted for suitable husbands. “They are becoming a bit long of tooth. Their fathers will have to lower their standards if the daughters don’t make a match soon. One almost claimed a duke but he ran off with an actress instead. Bad bit of business. Delicious gossip though.”
Thaddeus poured himself anther drink. He offered the bottle to Roman, who with a shake of his head refused it. He needed to keep his wits about him right now and he wasn’t one to see a virtue in overimbibing.
However, he was intrigued with Thaddeus’s plan. “What is wrong with them?” he asked, settling back in his chair. There must be a hidden cost.
“They are all decent young ladies,” Thaddeus assured him, putting the cork back in the decanter.
His godfather eyed him. “You’re not in a position you can be choosy.”
“Granted. However, does one of them limp or the others have pox marks? I’d rather be forewarned.”
“First, three Seasons does not a hag make. And they aren’t hags,” Thaddeus hurried to add. “They are each actually lovely.”
“Lovely and rich and unmarried?” Roman made a dismissive sound. “Spill it all, Thaddeus. Spare nothing.”
“Well, if there is a drawback they are each just on the border of being unacceptable. Not one could gain vouchers to Almack’s. However, most of the concerns are about their families. For example, Cassandra Holwell’s grandfather made his money in the mines. He started off as a miner and ended up by dint of hard work owning the mine. Her father is currently in the Commons.”
“That is not such a shabby thing.”
“Aye, but his manners are atrocious. He eats like a bull who has been starved for days. Throws food all around him.”
“And his daughter? Is she covered in food as well?”
“I’ve never seen her eat but I’ve not heard a complaint. She has yellow hair, rosy cheeks, and, from what I’ve heard, is very educated. She is a book lover as yourself.”
“A bluestocking?” Roman liked to read, but he did not like to debate.
“She is known for being outspoken, which isn’t a terrible thing if one is in your circumstances and needs the Holwell fortune. However, if a man has his choice of ladies to choose from, and perhaps a mother who is a stickler for family bloodlines, Miss Holwell and her mining ancestors will not stand a chance. She is also rather tall. Of course, that is not a problem for you. You’re over six feet.”
“Is she six feet tall?”
“I don’t believe she quite is.”
“An Amazon bluestocking.”
“You are putting a bad slant on this. Last I saw her, all I could think about were her breasts, which were just about to my eye level.”
Thaddeus was short for a man, short and clever. Roman also knew he liked breasts since that is usually what he commented upon about women.
“So, the powers of Society don’t like Miss Holwell because she is a tall, miner’s daughter who likes to read.”
“That is the gist of the matter. The families with sons her father would approve of her marrying believe they can do better than Miss Holwell. Or their sons are my height. So, she languishes on the Marriage Mart.”
Roman set his empty glass on the desk. “What of the others?”
“There is Miss Reverly. I believe she is the loveliest of the lot and the wealthiest. However, she is very petite, a mite of a woman.”
Roman shrugged. “I like petite women.”
“Don’t we all. But she is truly tiny. Perfectly formed but just barely five feet, perhaps an inch more, and fine boned. There are whispers among the mothers of eligible sons that she might not bear a child, and since for those families an heir is all important—as it is to you, my lord—well, Miss Reverly is not a first choice. Mind you, both of those young ladies would be snatched up by would-be husbands if their fathers would accept an offer from lesser titles or just decent gentlemen. Those like me who are called to the bar do not stand a chance. Reverly has made it clear he will not settle for anything less than a duke or a marquis for his daughter.”
“That leaves me out.”
“I thought I should at least mention her.”
“And you did. What of the third?”
“Ah, now she is the one I believe would interest you. Her father is with the East India Company. He is an officer in the Company, but from what I hear, not as clever and successful as his grandfather and father. His money comes from the family. He wishes his daughter to be married to an old and distinguished title because after generations of service to the Crown, the best his family could earn is a knighthood, and not one that could be passed down. Earl of Rochdale will meet his needs nicely.”
Roman shifted his weight. “I am not fond of nabobs.”
“You will be extremely fond of the daughter. There is something striking and different about Miss Charnock, whether the rumors are true about her heritage—”
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