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- Forbidden Love
- Class Differences
Kate Matcham needs a fortune or a husband. She wants neither. With a tainted inheritance in the balance, she receives one offer to become a scoundrel's mistress and another offer of a marriage of convenience. Before resigning herself to a choice, she accepts the invitation to visit a childhood friend, considering it a last hurrah before embarking on a bleak future.
The visit goes sideways when she falls for the gentleman her friend intends to marry, a man well out of Kate's league--and one who seems to be hiding something. Smuggling has overtaken the county, and it seems that everyone is complicit in the trade that killed her father.
One by one, her options dwindle as she struggles against her strengthening feelings for a duplicitous man, a determination not to hurt her friend, and keeping the promise she made long ago: to stand up to the people who killed her father.
Intro to Chapter 1
Intro to Chapter 1
Kate Matcham thumbed the threadbare crimson reticule sitting on her lap, feeling the reassuring presence of the letter inside. Her eyes shifted to the numerous ball guests surrounding her and her aunt Fanny.
“For heaven's sake, Fanny,” she pleaded, “keep your voice down.”
Nearby, Charlotte Thorpe whispered to the woman next to her, and Kate’s jaw clenched. If Charlotte Thorpe overheard, all of London would know in a matter of days. Kate was already regretting telling her aunt of the letter.
Lady Fanny Hammond guiltily covered her mouth with a hand, but she couldn’t dampen the excitement in her eyes. “Do you even know your stepfather’s worth?” she half-whispered, leaning over in her seat toward Kate.
“No,” Kate admitted, rushing on before Fanny could enlighten her, “but it is immaterial. His brother stands to inherit, and I am certain that he will be found alive and well.”
It was certainly what Kate hoped would occur. It would be much easier if the choice not to accept the fortune was made for her. She smiled and inclined her head at a passing acquaintance.
“But he might well be dead,” Fanny said optimistically, smiling at the same acquaintance. “People die in the West Indies quite frequently, I believe.”
Kate looked down at her young aunt with a mixture of consternation and amusement. “How very morbid you are.”
“Perhaps,” Fanny said, her wide, blue eyes scanning the room, “but a little morbidity might not be uncalled for when twenty thousand pounds are at stake.”
“Twenty thou—” Kate’s eyes widened. She took a steadying breath.
Whether it was twenty pounds or twenty thousand pounds, she could never accept money from her stepfather, Mr. Dimmock. Nor did she believe he would give her the chance.
“It’s neither here nor there,” she said. “My stepfather detests me and always has. He would surely find a way to ensure that his fortune couldn’t pass to me.”
“Well,” Fanny huffed, “I’m sure I don’t see why. Hateful man.”
Kate smiled at Fanny’s offense on her behalf. She had long since ceased trying to curry favor with her stepfather. Nor did she waste energy trying to understand the dislike for her which he took no pains to hide.
Fanny continued, “I’m sure you are the most unassuming and pleasant stepdaughter one could wish for.”
Kate leaned over to kiss her aunt’s cheek. “And you are the most wonderful chaperone one could wish for—not to mention the most beautiful and young and charitable and long-suffering.”
“The most beautiful?” Fanny said, ignoring the other epithets in favor of the one she most prized. “Do you really think so?” She touched her honey curls with a cupped hand in the gesture Kate had come to know well.
“Without question,” Kate said with feigned gravity, hand over her heart. Hoping to keep Fanny’s mind off the letter, she continued, “In truth, you are more in need of a chaperone than I.”
Fanny scoffed. “I need no chaperone. I am a widow, besides being fully two years older than you, my dear.” She stretched herself high in her seat, though Kate’s tall figure still eclipsed her.
Kate smiled and shook her head as she looked off into the groups of people dancing and conversing. The brightly lit ballroom was peppered with Fanny’s admirers. “I have tried my best to keep the fortune-hunters at bay, but one can only do so much, you know.” She sighed melodramatically and then turned to wink at her aunt.
Fanny collapsed her fan and rapped Kate’s knuckles with it. “Nonsense,” she said, but her blush-tinged cheeks betrayed the pleasure she took in flattery.
Kate spotted Mr. Walmsley on the other side of the room, making his way over to them in his characteristic waddle. “Not all of them are fortune-hunters, thankfully,” Kate said pointedly.
The portly but kind-hearted aspirant to Fanny’s hand was sweating profusely as he tried to navigate his way through the crowd holding two drinks. His plump figure made him look all at once older and younger than his thirty-three years.
“No,” Fanny said. “Walmsley is decidedly not a fortune-hunter. He is more likely to be hunted for his own fortune, you know. But I am not at all sure if I shall accept his offer.” Fanny bit her lip as she tracked his movement toward them. She turned to Kate with a conscience-stricken expression. “The truth is, I have so much enjoyed being widowed.”
Kate’s eyes lit up with laughter, and Fanny rushed on, “I know it is an awful thing to say, but I married so young. I never had a real Season. Naturally Lord Hammond was very good to me,” she added quickly, “and I had no reason to complain of my treatment at his hands. But he preferred spending most of the year in the country.”
She said the last word with a touch of revulsion and then looked around the room with an air of melancholy. “London is my home, and I’m not sure that I’m ready to give this life up all over again.”
Kate could readily believe that Fanny would be loath to abandon her current lifestyle. Her schedule consisted of one social engagement after another, and her wealth and widowhood made her an object of gallantry.
Mr. Walmsley came before them, handing one drink to Fanny and the other to Kate. “Too many people here, I tell you.” The skin under his chin trembled as he shook his head. “I could barely get my hands on these drinks. Was nearly obliged to call a fellow out! The jackanapes tried to cut in front of me for these last two.”
“Oh dear,” breathed Kate. She lowered her head and turned it to the side, hunching her shoulders and hoping to avoid the attention of the gentleman heading in their direction.
“Not to worry, Miss Matcham,” Walmsley reassured her in ignorant bliss. “I didn’t actually call him out. Only tempted me for a moment. I’m afraid my dueling days are long past. My circumference, you see, provides much too wide a target for my taste.” He looked down at his belly and rubbed it with fondness.
“No, not that,” Kate hissed, biting her lip to keep from laughing at Mr. Walmsley’s words. But it was too late. She had been recognized. She straightened hastily in her chair, pretending that she had been picking something up, and contrived a smile at the man approaching them.