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A gentleman‘s impulsive wager to marry a stranger. A young woman’s determination not to marry the man she wants.

Main Tropes

  • Fake Engagement
  • Unrequited Love


When Isabel Cosgrove is informed by her father that he lost her hand in marriage while playing cards with Charles Galbraith—the gentleman she’s been admiring from a distance for years—she is filled with dismay. How can she agree to wed a man whose reason for marriage is part-revenge, part-indifference? Intent on avoiding a painful union where her regard cannot be returned, she concocts a plan.

Charles Galbraith didn’t intend to become engaged as a result of a drunken wager at cards, but after the woman he loves spurns him, what does it matter whom he marries? But even Miss Cosgrove, the fiancée he won by wager, seems intent not to marry him—a fact that both relieves and piques him. She instead suggests a plan that has the potential to temporarily appease her father’s demand of marriage while also winning back the love of the woman Charles truly wants.

But when Charles and Isabel are thrown into the midst of a brewing scandal and another man’s potential disinheritance, their plan begins to unravel thread by thread, challenging what Galbraith thinks he wants—and just how much more time with him Isabel’s heart can stand.

Intro to Chapter 1

Isabel Cosgrove fanned herself rapidly, lending only half an ear to the gossip being relayed by her friend Mary, who stood at her side.

A long queue of people stood in the entry hall of the Rodwell’s London town home, waiting to be announced—waiting to intensify the oppressive heat which made Isabel’s gloves cling to her arms.

Her younger sister Cecilia stood at her other side, listening intently to each morsel of hearsay transmitted by Mary.

Whatever her own indifference to ton gossip, Isabel could never have avoided it, surrounded as she was by people who thrived on it. She forgave Mary the weakness, as she knew she had acquired the habit from her mother.

Cecilia had less excuse for indulging.

“So, he did follow her to town,” Mary Holledge said with a self-satisfied smile. “I expected as much.”

“Who?” Cecilia said, turning and craning her neck to follow Mary’s gaze.

Mary shot a sideways glance at Cecilia and pursed her lips. She clearly hadn’t been speaking to Cecilia. But as Isabel rarely paid her gossip any attention, it was unclear to whom she had been addressing herself.

Isabel smiled at her friend’s reluctance to enlighten Cecilia. In another world, Cecilia and Mary might have gotten along quite well.

But Mary was not fond of Cecilia, despite their shared love of gossip. She tolerated her for Isabel’s sake, but Isabel stood in little doubt of her true feelings. Mary often referred to Cecilia as “the minx” when she was not around.

“Charles Galbraith,” Mary finally answered in a reluctant tone.

Isabel stilled and her pulse quickened, her eyes moving about the room. They landed on a dark-haired gentleman with an ethereal beauty on his arm.

She hadn't seen him in years, but she had no trouble at all recognizing the brooding countenance—it was more rather than less pronounced than it had been during his childhood. And yet somehow it enhanced his attraction.

She had wondered time and again over the years what it would be like to finally be introduced to Charles Galbraith during her Season; what it would be like to encounter the gentleman rather than the callow youth who had been an infrequent visitor to her family’s home in Dorset years ago.

True, Isabel had not then anticipated that he would be absent from every gathering she attended, or that her own Season would be delayed a year in order to bring out Cecilia at the same time. As it was, Isabel had been introduced to the ton in the shadow of her sister’s unrivaled beauty and charm. And Charles Galbraith was nowhere to be found.

Until now.

“Julia Darling is a vision, isn't she?” Mary sighed. “Effortlessly reminding us all that we stand no chance at all against her in the struggle for Galbraith’s hand.” She raised her brows and inclined her head. “Not that there ever was any chance for the rest of us.”

Cecilia made a noncommittal sound. “Mr. Houghton only said the other night that I am the better favored between Miss Darling and myself.”

Mary sent a forbearing look at Isabel. “Your humility is affecting, as always, Cecilia.”

Cecilia’s head whipped around, an affronted look on her face. “Surely it is not prideful to simply relay someone’s stated opinion.”

“Oh,” Mary said with a look of faux-interest, “do you also relay opinions that are less than complimentary? I could enlighten you if you stand in any need.”

“Please don’t, you two,” Isabel said, feeling unaccountably irritable.

Cecilia’s chin came up, and her eyes went back to Galbraith. “He is very handsome, isn’t he?”

Isabel felt her jaw tighten. Cecilia often spoke of the gentlemen she admired, and she always managed to contrive an introduction not long after. It had never bothered Isabel much. Until now.

What was this silly possessiveness she felt for Charles Galbraith?

“I am determined that he shall ask me to dance tonight,” said Cecilia, the self-extended challenge sparkling in her blue eyes. She sent a sideways glance at Mary. “If only to prove you wrong, Mary.”

Isabel gripped her lips together. If it was what Cecilia wished for, she would likely find success.

A gentleman approached the three of them, bowing and then requesting a dance with Cecilia.

Mary let out an annoyed sigh once she was gone. “Is it wrong that I very much hope Mr. Houghton treads on her dress during the set?”

Isabel suppressed a smile. “I think it is wrong, Mary.”

“She is maddening, though, you must admit.”

Isabel said nothing, but the way her body felt tight was a testament to Mary’s statement.

She had watched Cecilia gain the attention and affection of countless men during the Season. But to think that she might succeed in doing so with the one man Isabel had been watching for in vain at each and every social event …it provoked uncharitable thoughts within her that she thought she had succeeded in ridding herself of.

It was all silly, anyway, and she knew it well. To spend years reflecting on a simple interaction that happened when she had been six years old?

Of course, it hadn’t felt simple at the time.

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