A Daring Arrangement
by Joanna Shupe
Four Hundred #1
Publication Date October 31, 2017
Set in New York City’s Gilded Age, Joanna Shupe’s Avon debut introduces an English beauty with a wicked scheme to win the man she loves—and the American scoundrel who ruins her best laid plans…
Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match—leaving her free to marry the artist she loves. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course….
Julius is intrigued by Nora’s ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora’s horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancé, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own—one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.
Thirty-Seventh Street and Fifth Avenue
New York City
The pressed tin ceiling was about to cave in on their heads.
Lady Honora Parker glanced upward once again, fascinated by what was taking place on the second floor of Sherry’s, one of New York’s most exclusive restaurants. Each raucous thump and horrific crash from above shook the huge gold and crystal chandelier in the main dining room and caused the black-coated waiters to wince. It sounded as if a herd of elephants were up there.
From what Nora had seen and heard of the reckless Americans in the last month, she would not be surprised if it were elephants. Nothing seemed off limits here, no idea too big or too wild. Giant houses, like English country estates, lined Fifth Avenue. Imported marble, bright limestone, and shiny gilding blinded from every street corner. Tall buildings stretched high up into the sky. There was a sense of urgency in New York to buy more, build more, do more. It made her long for the dirty, crowded, yet civilized streets of London.
“Nora, dear,” her aunt’s gentle voice interrupted her thoughts. “Mr. Van Rensselaer asked you a question.”
She turned to the older, heavyset man on her right. Her uncle had arranged the dinner, one of many meetings designed for her to find a “suitable” man. But the idea of marriage to a man old enough to be her father made Nora’s skin crawl. Even her aunt disapproved of Van Rensselaer, saying he was, “a set of heavy eyebrows with a stick up his behind.”
It must be said that Nora adored her aunt.
More importantly, Nora did not desire a suitable American man, not when a perfectly suitable artist awaited her back in London. Her father hadn’t approved of said artist, unfortunately, which is how she now found herself in America, being trotted around New York like a prized thoroughbred up for auction. That’s the earl’s daughter, they whispered behind her back. Here to find a husband.
No, she absolutely would not. Nora had no intention of marrying anyone here. “I apologize,” she replied to the eyebrows. “You were saying?”
“Perfectly understandable.” Mr. Van Rensselaer smiled tolerantly at her, as if Nora were some flighty nitwit incapable of following a conversation. Commence additional skin crawling. “I asked if your ladyship missed London.”
Yes, I miss Robert terribly. Her heart squeezed in a tight grip, an ache settling in her throat. A young painter, Robert Landon had no money or title to speak of, but she didn’t care. He’d been the first person to see Nora for who she truly was, not just her father’s daughter. He was sweet and romantic and all she desired in this world. After they married, they planned to travel across Europe so Robert could hone his craft. She would keep him company and continue to serve as his “muse,” as he often called her.
Her father, the Earl of Stratton, hadn’t approved. He’d been horrified when Robert and Nora were caught together—a scene orchestrated for the earl’s benefit at a dinner party—and from there, things had taken a disastrous turn. Instead of forcing the young lovers to marry, as she’d hoped, her furious father rushed Nora off to his sister in New York. “No one there will have heard of the scandal yet,” he had said. “Your aunt will help you find a proper husband in America. Do not return without one. Now, do not disappoint me, Nora.”
Was that not what she’d been doing her entire life, disappointing him? He’d wanted a boy; she’d been born a girl. She had studied, practiced, and tried to be the perfect daughter, and he’d only ignored her. She’d smiled through her debut, eager to make him proud, and he hadn’t bothered to attend any of the balls or dances.
Attempts at playing the good daughter, the proper society young woman, had gotten her nothing. Worse, they’d resulted in a trip to a strange city to be dangled in front of every fortune hunter and insufferable snob twice her age.
So that proper society young woman was no more. A new Nora had emerged on the cross-Atlantic voyage four weeks ago, one who had decided to take matters into her own hands by concocting an infallible way back to London.
The plan was simple. If her father wanted her to find a husband, she’d find the most outrageous man in New York, a fiancé noteworthy and unsuitable enough to land in the papers. An actor? A politician? She hadn’t quite settled on how to achieve it yet . . . but she would. She had to. The news must become public enough to reach the earl’s ear across the Atlantic, horrifying him enough to summon her home.
Three sets of eyes were staring, so she returned her attention to the conversation at hand. “I do miss it. Certainly not the weather, however.”
Aunt Beatrice, Uncle James, and Mr. Van Rensselaer laughed, and conversation droned on until another loud thump sounded from above. Her uncle’s mouth flattened. “I cannot comprehend why that hullabaloo is permitted to continue.”
Mr. Van Rensselaer wiped his mouth with the linen serviette. “From what I understand, Mr. Hatcher is up in the ballroom. Some sort of exclusive dinner. This is why your country is superior to ours, Lady Nora, because the undesirables here have no idea how to conduct themselves properly.”
By “undesirables,” it was clear he meant men who had earned their wealth, not inherited it as he had. Had he any idea how pompous that made him sound? Though Robert had no money, he was a kind, decent, and loving man with brilliant wit and unshakable morals. That was the perfect man, not one like Mr. Van Rensselaer, who’d visibly sneered at the modest blue silk gown she wore tonight. While it might be conservative compared to the fancier American gowns throughout the dining room, she believed the color showed off her dark chestnut hair and golden-brown eyes.
“Mr. Julius Hatcher?” Aunt Bea asked. “The financier?”
“Indeed. The man’s a scourge on everything decent and upstanding in this city.” Van Rensselaer cut into his asparagus spears. “Do not worry, though. He doesn’t exactly run in the best circles. In fact, he’s tried numerous times to buy his way into polite society over the years, but they won’t have him.”
Though she’d only been in New York a month, Nora had heard of Julius Hatcher. A handsome, brash swell with more money than sense, he threw elaborate parties and associated with a string of high-profile actresses, at least according to the gossip pages. He’d even built a replica of a sixteenth-century French castle on Upper Fifth Avenue—complete with a moat.
Though the newspapers touted his exploits with glee, society thought him outrageous and improper. A society he’d apparently tried to buy his way into—and failed. And here her father had disapproved of Robert when there were scoundrels like Julius Hatcher running amok. However was that possibly fair? It would serve the earl right if she brought Hatcher home for—Her brain froze for an instant, stuck on the delicious idea. Oh, indeed, it would serve the earl right. Her father would never approve of Hatcher as a husband, a scoundrel who would bring shame to the venerable Parker name. Surely that would force her father to see Robert in a more favorable light. It would certainly prove that a hardworking, decent man like Robert was good enough to marry the earl’s only daughter.
Moreover, the second her father caught wind of her connection to Hatcher and the depravity of his reputation, he would undoubtedly bring her home posthaste.
Mr. Hatcher sounded like the answer to her prayers.
Another thud sounded from above. This is my chance. She had to find Hatcher and try to convince him to help her. Right now. Immediately. Before she lost this opportunity. She started to push her chair back and a waiter rushed over to assist her. “If you will excuse me, I am feeling a bit overheated.”
“Shall I come with you?” her aunt asked as the two gentlemen politely rose as well.
“No, please,” she rushed out a little desperately, then tempered her tone. “Enjoy your meal. I’ll put a cool cloth to my neck and return in moments.”
Joanna Shupe has always loved history, ever since she saw her first Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. While in college, Joanna read every romance she could get her hands on and soon started crafting her own racy historical novels.
In 2013, she won Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart® Award for Best Historical.
She now lives in New Jersey with her two spirited daughters and dashing husband. To connect with Joanna, visit JoannaShupe.com.