Excerpt for What Tempest Wants by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This book is a work of fiction.

Names, characters, locations and events are either a product of the

author’s imagination, fictitious or used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to any event, locale or person,

living or dead, is purely coincidental.


What Tempest Wants

Copyright 2017 by Jerrica Knight-Catania


All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any format.

Cover by Covers by Lily

Table of Contents


One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-One

Twenty-Two

Twenty-Three

Twenty-Four

Twenty-Five

Twenty-Six

Twenty-Seven

Twenty-Eight

Twenty-Nine

Thirty

Thirty-One

Thirty-Two

Thirty-Three

Epilogue



For Eric—


For looking upon this tempest and never being shaken.

I love you always.

ONE


Oh, wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in’t!”

-William Shakespeare, The Tempest



Tempest Manning stood at the edge of the ballroom, her mouth agape, hardly able to gain her composure with the man of her every dream, whether awake or in sleep, so near. Never mind that he currently twirled another girl about the ballroom—she’d not fault him for that. After all, he had no idea he and Tempest were destined to be married. But as certainly as the sun rose in the sky, they would be.

Duchess of St. Helens…Her Grace, the Duchess of St. Helens…Tempest Wright, the Duchess of St. Helens…

Whatever way she said it in her mind, it sounded regal and romantic and absolutely perfect. Far better than Tempest Manning, daughter of a poor Shakespearean scholar. Not that she didn’t love and respect her father and his brilliance, but…

She sighed as the duke twirled his partner one last time and then bowed to her, a lock of his dark hair falling over one eye. Then he straightened and headed for the doors that led from the ballroom out to the great hall. This was her moment. Her chance to accidentally bump into him. Her opportunity to make him notice her and, of course, fall madly in love with her.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Tempest turned on her heel, fleeing her spot at the edge of the dance floor and making a beeline for the exit at the other end of the ballroom. She would cut him off somewhere in the corridor, hopefully far from prying eyes. Or perhaps she wanted prying eyes. Especially if they were wont to spread gossip, thereby forcing the duke’s hand. Sure, it sounded somewhat nefarious when one looked at it so plainly, but the fact of the matter was that His Grace and Tempest were meant to be. Like Romeo and Juliet. Antony and Cleopatra. Samson and Delilah. Never mind that not a single one of those relationships ended terribly well. She and the duke would be the exception.

Even if he was angry with her for trapping him or frustrated that he had not been able to choose his own bride, he would surely be over it quickly, for Tempest was quite lovable and most certainly marriageable. If she did say so herself.

She was about to step out into the corridor, and she was going at quite a pace, so when a bony hand grabbed her arm and yanked her backward, she nearly fell onto her bum.

“Where is it you’re going, my dear?”

Blast! “Nowhere, Mama,” Tempest said, trying to keep her heartbeat steady and her tone just as even. “I was merely…taking a stroll.”

“A stroll? At such a pace?” Mama raised a brow, and her grey eyes pierced straight through her. “And…alone?”

Tempest gave a nervous giggle. “Of course not, Mama dearest. I knew you were right behind me.” You always are.

Mama shook her head and then turned her attention to the dance floor. “Is your card not full?”

Tempest took a deep breath in through her nose. There wasn’t a single name on her dance card, and she preferred to keep it that way. She’d turned down every gentleman who’d asked her to stand up with them tonight in favor of tracking the duke’s every move and planning the moment when she’d have him alone.

The look in Mama’s eyes told her she already knew the answer—and why wouldn’t she? She spent every moment looking over Tempest’s shoulder.

“No, it is not,” Tempest replied, feeling the need to stand up straighter and stick her chin into the air. It seemed as if an argument was in the offing.

Then Mama surprised her. She simply closed her eyes and shook her head. Again. “Come along,” she said, looping her arm through Tempest’s. “You shall stand with me while I keep an eye on your sisters.”

Tempest fought the urge to snort. There was little need to watch over Verona—she would sit against the wall all evening, waiting in earnest for the moment she could go home and get back to her books. And Robin was most certainly a lost cause. No man wanted a reckless hoyden for a wife. Although, she supposed one must keep an eye on the girl anyway, so as to keep her from engaging in arm wrestling contests or shooting matches with the few gentlemen who found her boyishness amusing.

Tempest spotted her youngest sister on the other side of the assembly hall, guzzling down a cup of lemonade. Her posture was that of an ill giraffe, and even from across the room, Tempest could see there was a stain on her dress, right in the middle of her rather large breasts. The poor dear. Of all the people to have a large bosom. She complained constantly of how they slowed her down when climbing trees or racing the neighbor boys. Of course, she always won the races anyway, just not by as much as she’d like.

A quick glance down at her own unsoiled dress and small, pert breasts, made Tempest wonder, once again, how she could be related to her sisters. They were all different as night and day. Yet, there was no one on earth Tempest would defend more fiercely than the two of them. Oh, and Bianca, of course, but she was the eldest and long gone from the house. Though in looks and personality, she was the closest to Tempest.

“How will I ever get your sisters married off?” Mama muttered, clearly observing the disaster that was Robin.

“Oh, Mama,” she returned. “You mustn’t worry so. I’m certain Verona will find a nice boy in the village who appreciates how learned she is, and Robin…well, even if she doesn’t marry, I’m certain she will somehow turn the world upside down.”

“And you?”

I’d be halfway to the altar by now if you hadn’t stopped me. “What about me?”

“Denying gentlemen the right to dance with you is not going to win you any points on the marriage mart, my dear.”

“Yes, well, there is nothing wrong with being discerning. I’ll not dance with every Thomas, Richard or Harrison who comes my way.” There was only one Harrison she wished to dance with.

“Then with whom will you dance?”

Tempest shrugged. “I will know when the right one comes along.”

Mama shook her head again. She always did when Tempest turned romantic, which was rather ironic since she herself had married Papa for love. There wasn’t much else to marry him for, unless she was so very impressed with his knowledge of The Bard. Which she wasn’t. As a matter of fact, she rolled her eyes every time he quoted one of Shakespeare’s plays or sonnets. It was a wonder her eyes hadn’t rolled completely out of her head by now, for Papa rarely opened his mouth without a quote coming out.

“Why, ’tis a happy thing/To be the father unto many daughters.”

Speak of the Devil…

“Papa, you know that’s not how it goes,” Tempest said, as her father came up beside her, and Mama rolled her eyes again, this time with a rather loud sigh.

Papa shrugged as he always did when Tempest corrected him. “’Tis my privilege to take liberties with Mr. Shakespeare’s words.”

“Perhaps he is spinning in his grave right now,” Tempest pressed.

“’Tis a chance I’m forced to take, since I was blessed with daughters and not sons.”

Mama shifted. It always made her uncomfortable to speak of her inability to give Papa a son. Not that he cared. He loved his four daughters fiercely, as well as his wife. It was his decree, after a difficult confinement with Robin, that Mama would not bear another child. It was rather romantic, if you asked Tempest.

“I see your sister is making quite a splash in the ballroom this evening.”

“If you’re speaking of the splash of lemonade across her dress, then yes, you are correct.”

Papa laughed. He found Robin amusing, much to Mama’s chagrin. Mama would prefer her youngest to behave with decorum and propriety, but Papa wouldn’t change a single thing about her. As a matter of fact, he wouldn’t change a thing about any of his girls. It was a lovely thing to know one’s father cared for them just as they were.

Tempest tucked her hand into the crook of Papa’s elbow. “She is lucky to have such a father,” she said to him, but the twinkle in his sky blue eyes told her he knew she meant she too was lucky. “Now, I’m afraid I must excuse myself to the ladies retiring room.”

Mama didn’t hesitate. “I shall join you,” she said, turning in tandem with Tempest.

“Be not so hasty, my lovely,” Papa said, cutting her off and taking her by the hand. “You’ve yet to dance with me tonight, and I’ll not leave here until you do.”

“Oh, heavens, Marvin,” Mama said, her cheeks turning a bright shade of red. “I’m too old to dance.”

She said this every time, and Papa always replied, “Yet you’re even more beautiful than the first time I danced with you all those years ago.”

Of course, Mama couldn’t resist his charms, and off they went onto the dance floor, giving Tempest the perfect opening to make her escape.


~*~


Harrison Wright, the Duke of St. Helens, could not stand a single moment longer in the company of his overbearing mother. She meant well, he knew that. But damn and blast, he wouldn’t be forced into marriage with some dim-witted ninny just because she came from a prestigious family. Truth be told, he wouldn’t be forced into marriage at all—dim-witted ninny or otherwise.

Which was precisely why, as soon as he was able to disentangle himself from the dim-witted ninny he had been forced to dance with, he made a beeline for the ballroom exit. He didn’t know where he was going, neither did he care. He just wanted to get away. Away from Mother, away from the ninnies, away, away, away.

His shoes clicked along the marble floors of the corridor, but once he was a safe distance from the ballroom, he leaned his back up against the cool stone wall and breathed a sigh of relief. He’d done it. He’d escaped. Too bad he couldn’t escape for good, but it would be badly done to leave his mother behind without telling her. With any luck, she would tire soon and he’d be able to take her home and then be left to his own devices. Perhaps he’d go to the club, enjoy the company of his male comrades. Or maybe a trip to see Edith. He much preferred the earthy smell of a woman who had been treading the boards all evening to that of a debutante bathed in perfume. At the very least, she didn’t smell of marriage-mindedness, and that was of utmost importance.

Harrison pushed off the wall with a loud sigh, knowing he couldn’t stay there forever, hiding away from his mother. Which, when one thought about it, seemed awfully childish. He set his feet back in the direction of the ballroom, praying fervently that his mother would be ready to go home upon his return. As he approached the first set of doors, he made the decision to take the long way around so that he might reenter at the furthest possible point of entry. That was his plan anyway. Unfortunately, some black-haired chit came barreling out the doorway, nearly bowling him over when she ran smack into his chest. The force of their collision knocked her back a step or two. He felt, of course, obligated to keep her from falling to her bum.

However, due to another bout of misfortune, he missed her arm by a hairsbreadth, and she careened to the marble floor.

“Oh, my!” she exclaimed. “I am so very sorry!”

Harrison looked down to see her legs, clad in white stockings, on display for him and any passersby to admire. Damn and blast, this wouldn’t appear proper should anyone come upon them.

He shook his head and turned away. “Your dress, madam,” he said, clearing the desire from his throat, for what man wouldn’t be aroused by the sight of a young maiden’s exposed legs?

“Goodness,” the woman said. “How very humiliating.” Though if Harrison hadn’t known better, he might say she didn’t sound humiliated in the least.

“No need to be embarrassed,” he said, his eyes still fixed on the grey, stone wall.

“You may turn around now.”

He did, only to find the young lady with the wild, black hair still lying stretched out on the floor. Her legs were covered now, but that did little to ease his lust. Especially when she looked at him with those piercing grey eyes. Or were they green? It was hard to tell in the soft glow of the candlelit corridor, but…

Damn and blast, what the devil did it matter what color her blasted eyes were? He had to get her up off the floor and away from him as soon as possible, before they were discovered here, alone.

He reached his hand down and she placed her petite fingers against his. He ignored the jolt he felt at her touch. It was merely the after-effects—or continued effects—of seeing her exposed legs, nothing more. He hauled her up gently, knowing that if he used too much force, she’d smack into him again, and the last thing he wanted was to be caught with an eligible young lady in his arms.

Of course, that didn’t stop her from pretending he’d used too much force. She gave a little hop and pitched herself forward, forcing him to catch her. In his arms. Cunning little wench.

“Thank you,” she breathed as he set her away from his person. And then he took two steps back, just to be safe.

“I would have been quite the cad to leave you lying there,” he said, not wanting to give her the wrong impression of their encounter.

She blinked several times, as if his words had smarted. He was a cad in actuality, and she’d be better off leaving him be.

“Well, thank you for coming to my rescue,” she said again. “And forgive me for causing you delay. I’m certain your wife is waiting eagerly for your return.”

Cunning little wench indeed. He narrowed his eyes on her, but he’d not give her the satisfaction of playing her game. “Indeed, I’m sure she is.”

The girl’s grey-green eyes widened in surprise. A-ha! She was a temptress of the worst sort. She probably knew exactly who he was—she’d probably even orchestrated this little rendezvous. She wouldn’t be the first chit to do something like this. Harrison needed to get out of there as quickly as possible before he found himself leg-shackled to the little shrew.

He tipped his head with a curt, “Good evening,” and then went on his way, back to the safety of the ballroom.

TWO

A ministering angel shall my sister be…”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet


“Oh, there she is, Emil!”

Tempest whirled on the spot there in the middle of the corridor, surprised by the sound of her elder sister’s voice at the other end. But there she was, racing toward her, leaving her gypsy husband in her dust.

“Bianca?” Tempest blinked several times, at a loss for anything else to say, especially in the wake of her encounter with the duke.

“Tempest, what on earth are you doing out here alone? You ought to be inside, dancing. Victoria isn’t sponsoring you to stand out in the corridor all evening.”

Tempest cocked her head sideways. “What on earth makes you think I’ve been out here all evening?”

“Haven’t you?” Bianca asked as she looped her arm through Tempest’s. “Well, never mind. Come with me. I want to say hello to the others. Is Robin behaving herself? Has Verona danced with anyone? Do tell me what I’ve missed.”

Tempest glanced sideways at her older sister. Every time she saw her, there was a little more sun in her cheeks, a slightly wider smile on her lips. Tempest was both thrilled for her sister that she’d found a husband who made her happy, and equally nervous for her own fate where husbands were concerned. She hoped one didn’t have to marry a poor gypsy in order to find true love.

She shook her head. But, of course, that wasn’t true. Victoria had found Lord Leyburn, and he wasn’t a gypsy.

“When has Robin ever behaved herself?” Tempest replied. “And when have you ever seen Verona move from her spot against the wall? You haven’t missed a thing.” Except my clandestine rendezvous with the Duke of St. Helens.

“And you?” Bianca stopped just before she reached the entrance to the ballroom and turned her piercing blue eyes on Tempest. Blast those eyes. They knew all of Tempest’s deepest, darkest secrets—even the ones she’d never shared out loud. “Have you danced this evening?”

Tempest turned away and began walking again. “I have danced attention on one gentleman in particular, but—” she held up a hand— “do not ask for me to reveal his name to you, for it will be in vain. Once I have confirmed his affections in return, I will tell you, but not a moment sooner.”

A sly smile came to Bianca’s lips, and she narrowed her eyes. “You offer me a challenge?”

“No!” A bit of panic settled into Tempest’s belly, and she wished she had kept her mouth under lock and key. “Not a challenge. A request to not pester me.”

Bianca squeezed Tempest’s hand. “Oh, sister dear, you know me better than that. And now I am an old married woman, I must revel in my little sisters’ Seasons.”

Then she dragged Tempest around the corner into the ballroom, and smack into a broad chest. It took her a moment to gain her composure, but when she heard the familiar voice say, “We have to stop meeting like this,” she lost her composure all over again.

Hell and damnation. This wasn’t part of the plan. Running into him once in an attempt to acquire his notice was one thing. Running into him a second time, only minutes later, would make it seem as if she were tracking him like a hound. Which she was, in some ways, but she didn’t want him to know that.

“Er, yes…of course…my apologies, Your Grace.” Tempest curtseyed, but didn’t dare look him in the eye.

“Why, Harry, I didn’t expect to see you here tonight,” Bianca said from beside her, and Tempest nearly lost her footing. Again. Harry? How on earth did Bianca know the duke? And when did she become so very close to him to call him Harry? There were too many questions boggling her mind just then, and all she wanted to do was escape back to Verona’s side for the rest of the evening. But Bianca had a vice grip on her arm. Blast her.

“Why, Mrs. Carroll, what an unexpected surprise. Is Mr. Carroll in attendance this evening?”

Tempest stared up at the duke like a gaping fish. She tried to force her mouth closed, but it wouldn’t listen, and continued to hang there in shock.

“He is indeed.” Bianca pointed across the room to where Emil stood with Mama and Papa. “Right over there.”

“Then I shall accompany you two to say hello.”

No. No, no, no, no, no.

“Your Grace, may I present my sister, Miss Tempest Manning,” Bianca said.

He took Tempest’s hand for the second time that evening, sending yet another spear of desire through her heart, and bowed over it. “A pleasure to be formally introduced.”

“Then you’ve met before?” Bianca asked.

“Indeed, I came to your sister’s rescue when she fell in the corridor.”

Bianca turned her gaze on Tempest. Her blasted knowing gaze. “I do hope you weren’t hurt, dear sister.”

If Tempest could have wrestled her sister to the ground, she would have. But all she could do now was smile through gritted teeth. “Thanks to His Grace, I appear to be unscathed.”

“Such a relief,” the duke said, seemingly oblivious to the sibling rivalry going on. “Shall we?”

The three of them weaved through the ballroom together until they came upon Emil. The duke and the gypsy shook hands and clapped one another on the back, as if they were the best of friends, which was quite surprising to Tempest. How had she not known they were acquainted?

Tempest wanted to run away and join Verona, but every time she tried to pull away from Bianca, her sister tightened her grip. She knew her secret, and she wasn’t going to let her escape.

While the gentlemen spoke, Tempest turned to her sister, and asked, as casually as she was able, “H-how are you both acquainted with His Grace?”

“Oh, it’s quite an interesting story,” Bianca returned. “You see, Emil came upon the duke when he was en route to his country estate. His horse had spooked for reasons unknown, and Emil happened to be traveling into town when he saw the duke struggling to control his stallion. Well, you know Emil has a way with horses—rather magical, if you ask me—and he saved His Grace from perhaps an unsavory fate. His Grace unnecessarily feels indebted to Emil for his heroic action, and so he has granted our tribe some protection against the authorities, who might otherwise force us off our current land.”

Tempest turned her gaze to the duke. As if she hadn’t been enamored enough of him before, she now found herself falling quite in love with his character. How wonderful to use his status to protect her sister and her new family.

His eyes shot to hers, and she was helpless to turn away. But he broke the connection almost as quickly as he’d made it.


~*~


Harrison was happy for yet another deterrent from his mother’s company. Running into Mrs. Carroll and her sister—quite literally—was a welcome interruption. Of course, Mother would have to wait a bit longer for her refreshment, but Harry couldn’t be bothered to care. She would chastise him whether he flew with the speed of a thousand angels or at the pace of a tortoise. It was her way.

“Mr. Carroll, I have need of your services again,” Harry said to his new friend, Emil. He might seem an odd choice for a friend, being a Rom, but the man had practically saved his life, and there was no better friend than one who was willing to brave danger for his fellow man. “I’ve a filly in need of training so that she might be ready for my niece’s birthday in a few weeks. She’s turning eight, and I can’t think of a more appropriate gift for the girl.”

“Anything for you, Your Grace,” Emil replied, his accent exotic-sounding to Harry’s staunch English ear, but his words sincere. Harrison had spoken to the local magistrate on behalf of Emil’s tribe to ensure the safety of their small camp on the edge of town.

“Wonderful!” Harry’s eyes wandered for a mere moment, and he found himself locked in what could only be described as an uncomfortable gaze with the young lady with whom he had now collided twice this evening. The flutter in his chest was most disconcerting, so he refocused upon his comrade. “Come to Windemere on Thursday and I’ll introduce you. Now if you will excuse me, I promised my mother a glass of lemonade.”

He bowed out of their company and then set off to find the refreshments. With lemonade in hand, he steeled his spine and made his way back to his mother’s side.

“Did you have to squeeze the lemons yourself?” she asked upon his return, her sagging cheeks jiggling with every word. “Jonathan never would have kept me waiting that long.”

“Yes, well, Jonathan isn’t here, is he?” Nor will he ever be.

“And Aidan. He would do anything for his mother.”

“Where is my dear little brother this evening?”

“The poor dear is nursing an aching head, otherwise you know he’d be at my side.”

Right. More like he was seducing a woman somewhere. Mother, however, was just as charmed by her youngest son as the rest of the world was. She either had no idea Aidan was a known rake, or she chose to ignore it.

“So,” Mother said, obviously about to change the subject. “You seemed rather taken with Lady Belinda. Lovely girl, isn’t she?”

“She was very nice.” Harry didn’t care to engage his mother on the topic of women, though Lord knew it was the only topic she wished to discuss with him.

“She comes from a good family.”

“Yes, I know.”

“And her hips—”

“Enough, Mother.”

“I was just going to say—”

“I know exactly what you were going to say, and I would ask that you not say it.”

“I don’t see what the matter is.”

“Are you ready to go home?”

She turned her midnight blue eyes on him, large and round amidst aged skin. “But it’s early yet, and you’ve yet to make a connection.”

He wanted to growl or put his fist through the wall, or both. But he merely sucked in a long breath and let it out slowly before he spoke through slightly clenched teeth. “Let me rephrase for your benefit, Mother. I am going home. I will make certain you have a way home, should you choose to stay. I, however, will be leaving imminently.”

Mother huffed, and after a moment, said, “Jonathan never would have been so rude.”

Guilt. It was her most valuable weapon. “Does that mean you’re staying?”

“May I at least say goodbye to Lady Chatham?” she asked, making a show of being put out.

Harry smiled. “Certainly. I shall meet you at the door.”

As his mother walked away to find her friend, Harry looked out onto the dance floor. Mr. and Mrs. Carroll were there, twirling about, laughing, sharing such a happy moment that Harry was certain everyone in attendance, married or not, was jealous of them. Even if no one would ever admit such a thing on account of Emil being a Rom.

Harry ignored the stab of emotion that shot through him. Of all people, he shouldn’t be envious of them. It was nothing to pine for—being leg-shackled was indeed something to be feared. An unavoidable duty for most.

Unwittingly, he found himself locked in a gaze with Mrs. Carroll’s sister. She stood on the opposite side of the dance floor, her dark curls softly framing her face, the glow of the candles gently illuminating her features. He didn’t mean to stare. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until she gave him a little wave that he realized he was staring. But he couldn’t very well turn away now. She’d waved, and it would be rude not to acknowledge. So he waved back, erstwhile thinking that his mother was wrong about him. He wasn’t rude at all.

THREE

“Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.”

-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night


“What are you doing?”

Verona started at Tempest’s words, and immediately threw herself over the papers that sat on the desk before her. Hmm. Her little sister was up to something, but what she didn’t know. Of course, if she didn’t already have a mission to snare the Duke of St. Helens, Tempest would make it her mission to find out what her sister was hiding, but as it stood, she didn’t have time for such a thing. Perhaps once she was married, she would meddle in Verona’s life, as Bianca did in hers.

“Nothing,” Verona stuttered. She only stuttered when she was nervous these days. Of course, as a child, she had stuttered something terrible, but she’d mostly grown out of it. Thank goodness. She would never catch a husband with such a horrific affliction. Not that she had high hopes for her anyway, what with her lack of interest in bettering her appearance.

Tempest shrugged. “All right. Care to join me for a walk? It has finally stopped raining, and look,” she gestured toward the window. “The sun has even come out.”

Verona looked out the window and then back at Tempest. “Is Robin coming?”

“What difference would that make?”

“A great deal, actually. I can talk you out of doing something harebrained, but the odds are always against me if the two of you are together. I’d rather not get caught up in one of your scrapes or schemes today.”

“Oh, do not be such a spoil sport,” Tempest said.

“What on earth does that mean?”

For once Tempest knew something her sister didn’t. She’d heard someone say it while she was shopping with Mama in the arcade and thought it was a fetching phrase. She’d been waiting to use it ever since. “It means,” she began, though she wasn’t entirely certain what exactly it meant, “don’t spoil our fun.”

“Your fun is always at the expense of others…usually me.”

Tempest grabbed her sister’s hands and pulled her from the chair, causing her to stumble over a bump in the rug. “Verona, you mustn’t take everything so seriously. We love you more than words can wield the matter.

“Isn’t it enough that Papa speaks in Shakespeare quotes all the time? Must you succumb as well?”

“I’m surprised at you, dear sister. You’re the most scholarly of all of us.”

“Yes, but I prefer to keep my knowledge to myself, so as not to be made fun of.”

“And yet here you are, doing the same to me.”

That seemed to alarm her. “Oh. I’m sorry, I…”

“Goodness, Verona!” Tempest exclaimed. “I am only teasing you. Now please, may we go for our walk before the sun disappears again?” And while I still have a chance of running into the duke.

Robin appeared in the doorway of the drawing room wearing a frilly pink day dress and matching bonnet, her blonde ringlets peeking out from underneath. She certainly dressed the part of debutante, but they all knew by the end of the day, her hem would be torn, her hair would be askew and she’d more than likely have dirt smudged in the strangest of places.

Verona was quite the opposite, never doing anything that might cause bodily harm or soil her clothes. But she insisted on wearing drab colors and necklines that hid her assets. Not that she had much to show, but still…one could always enhance, as Tempest did. It was not about what God gave you, but what you did with it that mattered.

“Are you ready?” Robin asked as she tugged on a pair of white gloves.

Tempest looked to Verona, who sighed and slumped her shoulders. “Fine,” she said at last. “I shall join you.”

It was windier than Tempest had anticipated, which made walking to Hyde Park rather difficult. Her skirts kept getting tangled in her legs, and she was forced to tie her bonnet so tightly, it was nearly choking her. But it would be worth it, she just knew it. The Duke of St. Helens would be traversing Rotten Row this very afternoon. She didn’t know how she knew that, she only felt it in her gut. And she was certain that the more he saw her, the more he would fall in love with her.


~*~

If Harrison had to listen to his mother for one moment longer, he would most certainly pull every last hair from his head. She was insufferable and unrelenting in her quest to marry him off. Oh, how he missed his elder brother. If Jonathan hadn’t died, he’d be the one getting badgered about a wife right about now.

“I fail to see what you’re getting so worked up about, St. Helens,” his mother said, her voice grating and setting his every hair on end. “’Tis only a house party.”

Harry growled. “A house party intended to find me a match.”

“Well, for what other reason would an old woman like me throw a house party? Of course it’s to find you a match. It is high time, Harrison. You’re thirty now. You need an heir, and preferably a spare.”

“Good God, mother.”

“Well, you do!” The duchess reared back as if offended. “What if your father and I had stopped at Jonathan? There would be no one to carry on the title.”

Harry sat back and crossed a leg over his knee. “Oh, I’m certain you could have dug up a distant cousin to assume the title.”

“I’ve already made a list and set the date. The invitations go out this very afternoon.”

If Harry didn’t fear the noose so much, he would send his mother to the grave right now.

“What invitations?”

Harry’s younger brother, Aidan, stood in the doorway, decked out like a damned dandy. His hair was just long enough to be girlish, his neckcloth tied to make Beau Brummel beam with pride, and his cheeks rosy with youth. Not that he was that much younger than Harry, but he carried far less burden. For instance, Mother didn’t pester him daily to find a wife. And the irony in that was Aidan truly loved love. He wrote poetry about women, sang them songs from below their windows and delivered flowers and sweets to their doors. It was a wonder he wasn’t already married with a brood of children. But perhaps it was his love of the female species that kept him from choosing just one to spend forever with.

“The invitations to my funeral,” Harry said, which earned him a painful jab from his mother’s cane.

“Don’t listen to him,” Mother said. “We are having a house party in a couple weeks, specifically to find your brother a bride.”

“What a novel idea!” Aidan crossed into the room and popped a lemon biscuit into his mouth.

“You’re not invited,” Mother said.

“He most certainly is!” Harry wouldn’t dare traverse this blasted house party alone.

“Wonderful,” Aidan returned. “I wouldn’t miss it, invited or not. How I love a good house party.”

Mother harrumphed, but Harry didn’t want to hear another word from her. “Where are you off to, brother?” he asked before Mother could even open her mouth.

“Rotten Row, of course. ’Tis the fashionable hour, after all.”

“Of course.” And then, against his better judgment, but out of desperation to get away from the duchess, Harry said, “I shall join you then.”

“You shall?” The shocked outburst came from both Mother and Aidan.

“Is it so hard to believe I’d like to take a walk?”

“No,” Mother mumbled. “But a walk down Rotten Row at the fashionable hour? Most certainly.”

“Never mind all that,” Aidan said, putting his arm around Harry and pulling him to his feet. “I’m just glad to have you join me.”

“Be back for supper, both of you.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, Mother dear,” Aidan returned, and then before Harry knew it, they were on the street, headed for Hyde Park.

FOUR

A fool’s bolt is soon shot.”

-William Shakespeare, Henry V


Tempest was feeling rather torn between her two sisters as they walked along Rotten Row. Robin bounced along with the eagerness of a new puppy, rushing them along the path at a pace that nearly took Tempest’s breath away. Verona, on the other hand, had been complaining the whole way that they were going too fast, and why weren’t they simply strolling, and weren’t they here to socialize, anyway? Truthfully, Tempest wanted to slow down and have a leisurely walk, but Verona’s complaining was grating on her nerves, so she was tempted to force her to keep a pace with Robin, just to spite her.

Oh, what an uncharitable thought. The poor dear would be sick from exertion. “Robin, do slow down, won’t you? Poor Verona can hardly catch her breath.”

Robin turned to them, a pout on her pink lips. “But I feel as if I’ve been cooped up for months. I just want to run.”

“You’re not in the country,” Tempest reminded her. “There will be no running while we’re in London.”

“What if I’m being chased?”

“Chased by whom?” Verona asked.

Robin shrugged. “An unsavory character from a bad part of Town.”

“I do believe that would warrant a run,” Verona said thoughtfully.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, you two.” Tempest stopped and punched her fists to her hips. “No one is going to be chased by anyone.”

“Bianca had to run, remember?” Robin said. “And you helped her. It is not out of the realm of possibility.”

Verona nodded. “That’s a very good point, Robin.”

“Since when are you two on one another’s side?”

“Since when are you not?”

Tempest opened her mouth to reply, but came up short when she saw a certain gentleman riding up the row. He sat atop a stunning chestnut horse, his hair blowing in the breeze, his brow furrowed and eyes narrowed just a bit, most likely due to the bright sun. He ought to wear a hat, like his brother who rode alongside him. Lord Aidan Wright was the youngest of the Wright brothers, and a notorious rake to boot. He had a reputation for wooing women, both the suspecting and unsuspecting kind. It wasn’t terribly surprising—he was quite handsome and most charming. But Tempest was not the type to fall for flowery prose or a meaningful wink. She rather preferred a quietly confident man who was harder to win.

“Tempest, where on earth are you?” Robin asked, trying to get her attention.

Tempest snapped to, at once blinking back to reality and clamping her gaping mouth shut. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Did you say something?”

“We said a lot of things,” Verona laughed. “Who were you…?” Verona trailed off as she looked toward the duke and Lord Aidan. “Ah. I see.”

What do you see?” Tempest bit back. “I don’t see anything.”

“Oh, no?” Robin gave her a knowing smirk, having spotted the same two gentlemen Verona had. “Isn’t that the gentleman Bianca and Emil were talking with last night?”

Heat rose to Tempest’s cheeks, so she stared down at the ground as if she’d found something most interesting there in the dirt. “I…don’t know.” She cleared her throat. “I suppose it could be. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

“Ah, look,” Robin said, a bit too much excitement in her tone. “They’re coming our way.”

Tempest looked up to see that the duke and his brother had indeed angled their horses toward them. Goodness, why was she suddenly so nervous? Wasn’t this why she’d forced her sisters to come to the park with her? Wasn’t this exactly what she wanted to happen? Yet here she was practically shaking in her kid boots, wanting desperately to run in the opposite direction.

“Good afternoon, ladies,” Lord Aidan said, tipping his tall hat, which barely shaded his brilliant blue eyes.

All three girls curtsied and mumbled their Your Graces and Good afternoons as they did so.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he continued. “But I told my brother here that I absolutely must have an introduction to the three charming ladies in our path.”

Tempest sucked in a breath as she looked to her sisters. Verona squinted up at the gentlemen, a bit of suspicion in her eyes. Robin, however, batted her lashes and gave a nervous giggle. Oh, lud.

Tempest opened her mouth to begin the introductions, but the duke cut her off.

“May I present the sisters Manning,” he said, his voice a soft, genteel purr that reverberated throughout her body.

“I’m afraid I shall get confused if I’m forced to call you all Miss Manning.

Robin laughed and stepped forward. “Only Tempest is Miss Manning, of course. I am Robin, and this is Verona.”

“Your parents have a love affair with the Bard, it would seem,” Lord Aidan said, an amused glint in his eye.

“Oh, it’s only Papa,” Verona put in.

“Yes, Mama would rather he have a love affair with her

“Robin!” Tempest scolded. Goodness, that girl needed to be muzzled.

Both the duke and Lord Aidan seemed to find her candid demeanor humorous, though as with all the other gentlemen, amusement did not mean they saw her as marriageable. Quite the contrary, Tempest was certain. Robin was good for a laugh—for entertainment at dreary soirees—not for introducing to their mothers.

“Might we join you ladies for a walk?” Lord Aidan asked, but he didn’t wait for an answer before he dismounted his horse.

The duke didn’t seem terribly fond of the idea, but he slid off his horse anyway, as any polite gentleman would do.

Apprehension set into Tempest’s belly as Robin rushed to Lord Aidan’s side, and Verona retreated, positioning herself slightly apart from the group. That left Tempest to walk alongside the duke. It was perfect. Or it would have been if Tempest had been able to gain control of her faculties. She’d never had trouble carrying on a conversation before, but just then, in the presence of the man she wished most to fall in love with her, her mind was completely blank.

“Did you stay long at the ball last night?” Tempest asked at last, even though she already knew the answer. She knew the precise moment he and his mother had departed the ball.

“Blessedly, no. I was able to drag my mother from the place at a decent hour.”

“You don’t like to dance?”

“It’s not the dancing I mind,” he said. “It’s my mother.”

“Mothers can be insufferable at times.”

“Or all the time.”

Tempest laughed, all the while wondering about the dowager duchess. She’d only seen her from afar, and she seemed pleasant enough, though she knew full well how mothers could be one thing to the world and another to their own children.

“Speaking of Mother,” Lord Aidan interjected. “She plans to throw a house party at our country estate.”

The duke gave a low growl that Tempest was sure was only meant for his brother’s ears. She’d heard it nonetheless, and now she wondered at it. Was he disgruntled about the party itself or that his brother was mentioning it to Tempest and her sisters?

“Oh, a house party!” Robin exclaimed, practically bouncing along the path. “We hardly ever get invited to them, but I do so love it when we are! Don’t you, Tempest?”

Tempest turned her eyes to her sister, and all question that she was being overly oblivious and optimistic went away when she winked at her. The little rascal!

“Then my brother and I will make certain you are on the list of invitees.”

“Truly?” Robin gushed.

Lord Aidan laughed. “We must ensure our own amusement, Miss Robin, and I can’t think of any ladies better suited to entertain us.


~*~


Entertainment indeed. What the devil was his brother playing at, inviting a herd of country girls to the estate for the house party? Not that Harrison had anything against them, but Mother certainly wouldn’t approve. Even if Harry fell in love with one of them—an unlikely occurrence, for certain—or even thought himself compatible with one, he’d never be able to marry her. So why was Aidan so set on getting their hopes up?

The youngest—Miss Robin, was it?—giggled and then grabbed her eldest sister’s hand. The one who had crashed into him twice at last night’s ball. The one he’d been chatting with for the last few minutes. She was pretty, he supposed. No. More than pretty, if he was being honest.

Harry shook his head. He mustn’t go down that line of thinking. To become smitten with a girl he’d never take as wife was only begging for trouble.

“Thank you ever so much,” Miss Manning said. “We shall keep a lookout for the invite, but I’m afraid we must be on our way now. Mama will be expecting us home soon.”

Aidan flashed the same charming smile he flashed at all the pretty ladies. “We wouldn’t want her to worry now, would we?”

“Most definitely not,” Miss Verona said, pushing her spectacles up her nose. “Mama can be quite histrionic about such things.”

“It’s just that she worries so when we’re in the city,” Miss Manning put in, clearly trying to defend her mother. Something he would never do for his own.

“And rightfully so,” Harry said, glancing at his brother. “There are wolves in sheep’s clothing lurking on every corner.”

Aidan threw back his head of blond curls and laughed a little too loudly. “Indeed, my brother thinks I am one of the wolves, but I assure you, my intentions are nothing but sheepish.”

“Oh, we believe you,” Miss Robin breathed. “But it is the job of a brother—or sister, as it were—to tease, is it not, Tempest?”

Miss Manning gaped at her sister, the sun illuminating the flecks of green and grey in her wide hazel eyes. “How would I know such a thing?”

Miss Robin gave a sly smile to Harry and Aidan. “But never mind all that. If my sister says we must go, then I’m afraid we must.”

Aidan tipped his hat and Harry bowed his head as the sisters Manning curtsied their way out of their presence.

Once they were out of earshot, Harry said, “You know Mother won’t approve.”

Aidan shrugged. “She will if I suggest them. If you suggest them, well…”

It was true. For some strange reason, Mother valued Aidan’s opinions over any others, including those of the duke.

FIVE

We know what we are,

but know not what we may be.”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet


“Papa, please! You can’t know what this means for us!”

Tempest sat back, watching Robin beg on behalf of all of them to go to the duke’s house party. She, more than anyone, wanted to attend, but it wouldn’t help matters for her to get involved in the argument. At least not now. If Papa wouldn’t budge on account of Robin’s pleading, Tempest would go to him later, when all was quiet, and find some Shakespearian metaphor to convince him.

“Her ladyship is sponsoring you here, in London,” Mama put in. “You’ll not miss a week’s worth of events here in the city to go to a house party out in the country.”

“But it’s not just any house party!” Robin pressed, her voice nearing a shriek. “It’s the Duke of St. Helens! A duke!

Papa put up a hand. “Yes, my child. We have heard your argument and know full well of the titles involved.”

“Then why is the answer still no?” Robin plopped to the sofa, a pout of sheer defeat on her lips.

“We’ve already told you why,” Mama said. “Now, off to your room with you. I do believe you need a rest before this evening’s festivities.” Then she turned to Tempest and Verona, sitting quietly across the room. “You two as well.”

Verona stood first. “Yes, Mama.” And then she crossed to where Robin was sitting and pulled her to her feet. “Come, Robin. Let’s have a nap, shall we?”

Once her sisters had left the room, Mama settled her gaze on Tempest. “I suppose you’ll have an argument now?”

Tempest shrugged. “No,” she said. “I never wish to argue with you or Papa. I do think, though, that perhaps we should ask her ladyship what she would think of our absence. She is sponsoring us, after all, in the hopes that we catch a husband. I’m not entirely certain she cares whether we catch our husbands in London or in the country.”

Mama rolled her eyes. A clear sign that, for the first time in this argument, someone else had a valid point.

“She does make a good argument, Claire,” Papa said, his voice soft and all together soothing.

“Don’t you start, Marvin,” Mama warned, but not with much conviction. She knew she was losing the battle. She let out a loud huff. “Very well. I shall invite Lady Leyburn to tea tomorrow and we shall discuss the matter then.”

Joy swelled inside Tempest’s bosom, but she didn’t dare show such eagerness of emotion. She would remain calm, collected. So she merely smiled and said, “Thank you, Mama. I will be most interested to hear what her ladyship thinks of all this.”

Mama had already gone back to her needlepoint and gave a mumbled, “I’m certain you will.”

With that, Tempest fled the room to go and tell her sisters the good news. Not surprisingly, both girls were ecstatic.

“What did you say to her?” Robin asked, nearly knocking Tempest to the ground with the force of her embrace. “She seemed so unmoving only moments ago.”

“I merely spoke sense,” Tempest replied, setting her sister away from her and moving to her small bed near the window. She stretched out upon it, feeling satisfied and just a little sleepy.

“That would be a first,” Verona muttered.

Tempest smiled at her sister’s jab. “Either way, I’ve convinced Mama to invite Lady Leyburn for tea tomorrow. She shall be the determining factor on whether or not we can go to the house party.”

Verona plopped down upon her own bed, which sat between Tempest’s and Robin’s. “How can we be so certain Lady Leyburn will support us?”

“Excellent question, Verona,” Robin said, crossing her legs like a child.

Tempest propped herself up on one elbow. “My dear sisters,” she began, “Mama and Papa are but simple country folk. They wish not to offend her ladyship. But logic would say that it is most advantageous for us to attend a house party, wherein the entire purpose is to secure a husband. Do not fear. The countess will most certainly be on our side.”

~*~

“Country girls!” The duchess clutched her chest and took several heaving breaths to emphasize her point. “For my sons? Your father is assuredly turning in his very grave.”

Harry snorted and sat back against the velvet sofa, his arms folded across his chest. He’d known Aidan would never get this past Mother, but now he was watching the battle unfold before him, he was glad his brother thought to bring it up. Quite entertaining it was, watching his brother beg. And for what? If Harry didn’t know better, he might think Aidan had taken an actual liking to one of the strange girls. Of course, they weren’t strange of looks. Except the middle one with the spectacles, but one could see that if she were to fix her hair in a certain way and put on a pretty dress, she might be somewhat attractive. Though never as attractive as her elder sister. Tempest.

He shifted in his seat at the thought of the young woman. Her bare legs flashed again in his mind. Her surreptitious smile. That thick, dark hair, and her hazel eyes shimmering with determination. She’d look like an evil temptress if not for the smattering of freckles across her nose and the sweet little dimples when she smiled.

Damn. When had he even noticed those things? Blast his brother for forcing him into their company.

“Come now, Mother,” Aidan was saying in that cajoling tone of his. “We don’t want to appear as if we are so high in the instep that we can’t include those of a lower social standing. As a matter of fact, it will make us appear charitable. Don’t you agree, Harrison?”

“Quite right, brother,” Harry said, warming to the idea of having the young ladies in attendance.

“Do not tell me you agree with your brother, St. Helens,” Mother said, which only made Harry want to agree with him even more. “This is your chance to choose a bride. You’re only setting those poor, impoverished girls up for disappointment.”

Harry shrugged. “Just so. I think Aidan has a point. Add them to the list, Mother.”

Aidan stared at him, mouth agape, his question in his eyes. Harry lifted an eyebrow and cocked his head to the side, as if to say, Do not look so surprised. Aidan shook his head in response, clearly finding it hard to believe that Harry had supported him so eagerly.

He shifted his gaze to his mother, who stared down her nose at him, her eyes wide with disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”

“When have you ever known me to be of a humorous nature, Mother?” he quipped. “I mean it. Add them to the list and do not speak another word about it.”

“But I—”

Harry held up a finger to stop his mother. “Uh-uh,” he said in a sing-song voice. “Not another word. If this party is, as you say, for me, then I should have a say in who is invited. The sisters Manning will make a delightful addition to the party with their wit and charm, whether I choose to marry one of them or not.”

“You most certainly will not choose to marry one of them!” Mother shouted.

“I do believe that decision is up to me, mother-dear.” He stood and tugged on his waistcoat. “Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve a great deal of work to do before I go out this evening.”

“And where are you going?” the duchess asked. “We’ve nothing on the calendar that I know of.”

“You are correct,” he said as he made his way to the door. “We do not have anything on the calendar. I, on the other hand, have plans.”

In truth, he didn’t know what those plans were. Except that he had a sudden desire to find out where one Miss Tempest Manning would be this evening, and then he would have plans.

SIX

If music be the food of love, play on.”

-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night


Tempest sat calmly and quietly in her seat as she listened to her friend, who stood at the front of the room, singing what was most certainly the saddest, most melancholy song Tempest had ever heard in her life. Goodness, would it never end? And was it really meant to go this slowly? Perhaps if they moved the tempo along a bit faster…

Tempest nudged Robin in the arm, and Robin, in turn, let out a loud exclamation of pain, drawing the attention of those nearby. Quite the opposite effect Tempest was hoping for. She rather wanted her to stop fidgeting and bouncing about. Tempest felt the same way—desperate to get out of this blasted room and do something other than listen to songs about lovers dying or unrequited love or whatever other melancholy topic Miss Lansing had chosen. But she had far more control than her little sister, who acted more like a babe in leading strings than a young woman in the middle of her first season.

But this time, instead of nudging her sister, Tempest put a hand on Robin’s bouncing knee. Robin shot her a glance, but Tempest refused to meet it. In Mama’s absence, it was she who had to look out for her sisters and make certain they were behaving in a proper way. So she simply faced forward to watch her friend sing, leading by example rather than chastising her sister.

They sat like that for a long moment, and then Tempest felt Robin’s hand settle on top of hers. How very sweet of her. Clearly, she appreciated Tempest looking out for—

Tempest shot a sideways glance to her sister as her hand was dumped unceremoniously back in her own lap, at which point Robin began her bouncing again. Blasted girl. How could Tempest have thought she was showing appreciation? Robin was as headstrong as they came, and the worst part was she didn’t really care what other people thought of her. She acted without regard for how others might see her. Or how they might view her sisters. Tempest sighed. They were all doomed to spinsterhood.


~*~


Harrison stood at the back of the small parlor as the quite talented Miss Lansing trilled out a lamentable tune while playing the pianoforte at the same time. He thought briefly of the years his mother had forced him to take lessons on the instrument. She thought it would make him a better-rounded person. In some ways it had, he supposed. He had an appreciation for music, an understanding of it that many lacked. Yet, he’d never mastered the instrument. His hands always insisted on working in tandem, which frustrated both he and his instructors immensely. After the fifth teacher failed him, Mother finally put a stop to the lessons.

But truly, Harry’s focus tonight was on the trio of young ladies who sat upon the settee toward the front of the room. Miss Manning had just made an attempt to stop her sister’s leg from bouncing about, but her sister—the youngest one—threw Miss Manning’s hand off and began her bouncing again. It took a great deal of strength for Harry not to guffaw out loud at the interchange. It somewhat reminded him of his relationship with Aidan. His younger brother was always pushing, testing, seeing what he could get away with, not just with Harry, but with Mother and the ton in general. He loved to step toe over boundaries and then sit back and enjoy the show.


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