Blurb: The bride and groom cordially request your presence for a wedding at Millworth Manor...
Guests will include Jackson Quincy Graham Channing, New York City banker, and Lady Theodosia "Teddy" Winslow, wedding planner to the finest families in England.
Introductions shall be followed by light conversation, dancing, flirtation, arguing, reconciliation, and an impulsive kiss that both parties are quite certain they never will repeat.
Until they do.
A mutually beneficial fake engagement will be accompanied by all manner of very real complications, scandalous revelations, nefarious schemes, and one inescapable conclusion: That true love - unlike the perfect wedding - is impossible to plan...
Teddy gazed out over the crowd and wondered what these people would say if they knew this wasn’t just the eccentric hobby of the countess and her daughter. If they knew her father’s death four years ago had left them very nearly penniless and with debts still to be paid off. Only her closest and oldest friend, the bride’s sister Delilah, Lady
Hargate, knew the truth. But Dee would take Teddy’s secret to the grave if necessary. There were any number of sins the upper ten thousand would forgive. Poverty was not one of them.
“You do realize that you’ve missed someone,” an American voice said behind her.
She turned and adopted her most pleasant smile. “I beg your pardon.”
“You missed someone,” he said again.
She was tall but he was taller and she had to raise her chin to meet his gaze. His eyes were a rich blue that complemented the dark shade of his hair. His jaw was square, his shoulders broad, and while not shockingly handsome, he was certainly an attractive-looking man. There was the vaguest air of familiarity about him although she was sure they had never met. He was obviously one of Grayson’s American friends.
“I’ve been watching you and I couldn’t help but notice that you seem to be making sure everyone is dancing or otherwise engaged.”
“You’ve been watching me?” She raised a brow. “I’m not certain if I should be flattered or alarmed.”
He smiled, a charming, infectious sort of smile. “I assure you, my intentions are strictly honorable.”
“Then tell me.” She glanced around the room. “Who have I missed?”
“Me of course.” He paused. “And you.”
“I see.” She considered him for a moment.
It was not uncommon for Teddy to join in the festivities at an event. Indeed, one of the benefits of hiring Teddy was having Lady Theodosia present at a social event. She was from a prominent family, the daughter of an earl, and was once one of the most sought after marriageable ladies in the country. Of course, that was several years ago. She was twenty-six now and while her mirror told her she had never looked better, age was as much of a stigma in her world as poverty. Not that she didn’t wish to marry, the right man had simply never happened her way. And the one she had thought was right had turned out to be very, very wrong.
“One dance, that’s all,” he said quickly. “Save me from the dire fate of having only myself for company.”
“That does sound dreadful.”
“You have no idea.” His brow furrowed. “I don’t seem to be doing this well.” The American leaned closer in a confidential manner. “May I be perfectly honest with you?”
She smiled. “I much prefer honesty to dishonesty.”
“Good.” A decidedly uncomfortable look crossed his face.
“I accompanied my father here but he seems to have disappeared. And aside from him, I don’t know anyone else here to speak of. I feel both invisible and conspicuous, if that’s at all possible. I’m not used to feeling out of place and it’s, well, disconcerting.”
“And dancing will help?”
“I am considered a good dancer and I promise I won’t step on your feet.”
“The point I am trying to make is that I feel like a fish stranded out of water at the moment. A large American fish. Just flapping around in the sand.”
She bit back a smile.
“So please take pity on a fish and do me the very great honor of joining me for a dance.” He cast her a hopeful smile. “I would be forever in your debt.”
“Well,” she said slowly, “I have always been fond of fish. Although I usually prefer it with a dilled cream sauce.”
“Then you’ve obviously never had baked flounder stuffed with crab.” Amusement glimmered in his eyes. “Nothing is better than crab-stuffed baked flounder.”
“Unless perhaps it is a native American fish stranded on the beach?”
He stared at her for a moment, then laughed and held out his hand. “Shall we?”
She hesitated, then placed her hand on his. “You should know I don’t make it a habit to dance with men I have not been properly introduced to.”
“Understandable.” He nodded and led her onto the floor.
“Then this will be a new experience for you. For both of us really. We should think of it as an adventure.”
“As adventures go, I’m afraid this one is rather minor.” Although there was something to be said for dancing with a handsome stranger. “Surely you can think of something better?”
“I wish I could.” He took her in his arms and they moved to the strains of a sedate waltz. “But one has to start somewhere. With adventures, that is. One step at a time, you know.”
“I suspect you’re right.” She shook her head. “I’ve always rather fancied adventure although I’ve never been an especially adventurous sort myself.”
“You don’t need to be.”
She drew her brows together in confusion. “I don’t?”
“Of course not.” He skillfully led her through a turn. He was right—he was good. “You’re a beautiful woman with hair the color of fine mahogany, flashing emerald eyes, and an air of confidence and assurance about you. You are an adventure.”
“Oh.” She had no idea what to say. It was perhaps the nicest compliment she had ever received. And it had been some time since she’d had such a compliment. She wasn’t used to being at a loss for words and promptly changed the subject. “Forgive me but I am a bit confused. You said you didn’t know anyone here but your father. There are a great many American friends of the groom’s in attendance. I assumed you were one of them.”
“I’m afraid not.” He shook his head. “I have met him, the groom that is, but I didn’t realize that until I arrived.”
“Now I am even more confused.”
“As are we all.” He smiled. “My story is long and convoluted. One I promise not to bore you with.”
“But I do so enjoy a long and convoluted tale.” She tilted her head and studied him. “Is it a good one?”
“That remains to be seen.”
“Well then, does it end well?”
“The ending too is yet to be determined.”
“How very interesting,” she murmured. What an enigmatic sort this American was. “Will you be staying in England long?”
“I’m not sure.”
“My goodness.” She stared up at him. “Are you being deliberately vague?”
He laughed. “Not really. My life is something of a, oh, a question mark at the moment, I would say. I can’t answer your questions because I don’t have the answers.”
“I see. Well, do you have a name?”
“I do.” He smiled. “But, in the interest of elevating our dance from a minor adventure to something more interesting, maybe we should postpone introductions for now.” A firm note sounded in his voice. Whatever his story was, whoever he was, it was obvious he did not wish to discuss it further. How very intriguing. “And at the moment, I would much prefer to talk about you. You seem to be running things here. Are you a friend of the family?”
She nodded. “The bride’s younger sister, Dee, or rather Delilah, Lady Hargate that is, is my oldest and dearest friend. My mother and I organize social events including weddings although my mother is not here today. I planned this one.”
“It looks as though you’ve done an excellent job.”
“It has turned out nicely.” She couldn’t keep a note of pride from her voice.
“So this is, well, a business enterprise for you?” Doubt sounded in his voice.
“When my father died, my mother and I found ourselves at loose ends.” The well-rehearsed story flowed easily from her lips. “Mother was well known for the elaborate parties she gave and she trained me well. It began, and indeed it remains, more of a hobby than anything else. Something to fill our idle hours. Although we do charge for our services. There is nothing that says prosperity in society more than paying outrageous sums for something you could probably do yourself.”
He nodded. “Yes, of course.”
For a few moments they danced in silence but he was obviously pondering her comments. “It must be difficult work though.”
“Not at all. It’s quite enjoyable.” She shrugged as best she could in his arms. “Mother and I both enjoy entertaining but there are only so many parties one can give. Planning social events for others provides us with a great deal of variety and an extra bit of pin money.”
“I see.” There was a slight hint of disapproval in his tone.
“You think we should do this for nothing?”
“No, but it’s, well . . .”
“Somewhat unseemly, isn’t it?”
She narrowed her eyes. “What makes it unseemly?”
“You’re charging for your services which takes it out of the realm of an innocent pastime and into the definition of business.”
“Yes, I suppose one could look at it that way.” His attitude was nothing she hadn’t encountered before. Still, it was most annoying. She smiled and gazed into his eyes. “I prefer to see it as providing assistance to those ladies who can barely manage a household let alone a ball for two hundred people or an evening of music and cards for ninety or a grand, extravagant wedding.”
“And if we did not charge for our services, which as you said makes it perilously close to a business endeavor—”
“They would not be the least bit valuable. As much as I hate to admit it, especially to a foreigner, but the upper echelon of society here is frightfully shallow about things like this.” She cast him her brightest smile and changed the subject. “And are you in business as Mr. Elliott is? Another American entrepreneur? A captain of industry perhaps?”
“Not exactly.” He shook his head. “I’m engaged in banking, in the banking and trust founded by my great-grandfather.”
“I don’t believe I have ever danced with a banker before.”
“Yet another factor that makes it more of an adventure for you,” he said firmly. “Although bankers by their very nature are not adventurous men.”
“And yet you strike me as a man well suited to adventure.”
“Do I?” He executed another complicated turn. “Why do you think so?”
She considered him coolly. “For one thing, there is an air of assurance about you. You have the look of a man certain of himself and his world.”
“And yet, only moments ago, I confessed to feeling completely out of place.”
“Ah, but you hide it nicely. If you hadn’t said it, I would never have known you were anything other than completely at ease. I suspect you conceal your other secrets equally as well. Which are probably most shocking.”
“Oh, without question.”
She smiled. “Which makes you a man of mystery and intrigue.”
He laughed. “I’ve never been described as either mysterious or secretive and certainly not intriguing.”
“And I’ve never had gentlemen describe me as an adventure,” she said without thinking.
“Then they were unobservant fools.” He held her a tiny bit closer than was proper. “And are you a woman of mystery and secrets as well?”
“No, of course not.” She scoffed, then gazed up into his endless blue eyes. Her breath caught. “Perhaps.”
He smiled a slow, irresistible smile. A smile fraught with unspoken meaning or promise or something else completely absurd. Something absolutely improper. Something that held the vaguest, tempting hint of true adventure. The music ended and they drew to a stop yet his gaze still locked with hers. “Then I was right. You are an adventure.”a Rafflecopter giveaway
Author Bio: New York bestselling author Victoria Alexander was an award-winning television reporter until she discovered fiction was much more fun than real life. She turned to writing full time and has never looked back. Victoria grew up traveling the country as an Air Force brat and is now settled in a very old house in Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, two allegedly grown children and two bearded collies. She firmly believes housework is a four-letter word, there are no calories in anything eaten standing up, procrastination is an art form, and it's never too soon to panic.
Available for purchase at: Amazon
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