Not until her husband dropped dead, that is. He had
been horrible enough to Christiana during their short
marriage, and she was not going to allow the traditional
period of mourning to ruin her sisters’ debuts
as well. So Christiana decides to put him on ice and
go on as if nothing’s happened…
Until the real earl appears. Richard Fairgrave had
every intention of confronting his villainous twin who
robbed him of his name and title…only to discover
that he’d died. Quietly assuming his identity,
Richard must now deal with a maddening desire for his
ravishing inherited “wife”—certainly
a gold digger and possibly a murderess. And Christiana
must deal with an unwanted new “husband”…and
they both must figure out what to do before the ice
Christiana remained curled on her side in her cocoon
of blankets. She merely opened one eye to peer at
the older woman bent over her. Grace, her maid. “Hmm?”
“Your sisters are here.” Those four words
and the urgency behind them brought her other eye
open at once.
“What? My sisters in London?” Christiana
rolled over, thrusting the blankets and linens away
to sit up. “And here at this hour? There must
be some sort of emergency for them to be calling so
“That was my thought when I saw them getting
out of the carriage,” Grace admitted as Christiana
got out of bed. “So I hurried up here to fetch
you. If you’re quick we can have you dressed
and downstairs before your husband sends them away.”
“Dicky wouldn’t send them away,”
Christiana said with surprise, and then tacked on
an uncertain, “Would he?”
“He’s done so with others.”
“Who?” Her horror and surprise came muffled
from inside the cloth of her nightdress as the maid
dragged it off over her head.
“Lady Beckett, Lady Gower, Lord Ollivet and
Lord Langley . . . twice.” Grace turned away
to trade the night dress for a pale blue gown that
matched Christiana’s eyes. As she began to help
her don it, she added, “And I can tell you Lord
Langley didn’t like it the first time, but was
absolutely livid the second.”
“I can imagine,” Christiana said with
a sigh as the dress dropped to cover her body. The
Langley estate bordered her childhood home, Madison
Manor. Robert, the only son and heir, had grown up
with her and her sisters. He was like family, the
big brother she’d never had. He wouldn’t
have appreciated being sent away like some sort of
undesirable. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Grace snatched up a hairbrush and began to drag it
through her hair before saying, “What good would
it have done?”
“None,” Christiana admitted unhappily.
Her husband had every right to turn away whomever
he wished from his door, while she, as she’d
come to learn, had few to no rights at all in this
marriage. She sighed, and then grimaced as Grace tugged
at her hair, pulling it into the tight, matronly bun
Christiana had worn since marriage, a style she absolutely
abhorred. Aside from being ugly, having her hair pulled
so tight all day resulted in terrible headaches, but
Dicky insisted it gave some sophistication to her
“What could have brought my sisters here?”
Christiana asked worriedly.
“I do not know, but it must be something important.
They did not send word of their arrival in the city
ere arriving,” the woman pointed out, and then
stepped back. “There. I have finished with your
Christiana barely managed to swipe up her slippers
before Grace took her arm to urge her to move. “Come,
we must hurry. Haversham will have found and fetched
Lord Radnor by now. Let us hope we were quick enough
and your husband has not yet sent them away.”
Grunting in agreement, Christiana hopped on first
one foot and then the other to get her slippers on
without the necessity of stopping as the woman rushed
her to the door.
Christiana could hear both Lisa’s and Suzette’s
high anxious voices from the entry below as she hurried
along the upper hall and immediately frowned at the
rudeness of keeping her sisters in the entry rather
than showing them to the parlor. She couldn’t
blame Haversham, however, the butler would only be
following Dicky’s orders regarding guests.
Dicky’s voice sounded next, loud and pompous
as he announced, “I fear my wife is still sleeping.
You really should have sent a messenger around with
a card had you wished to see her. I could have responded
with an appropriate time for such a visit. As it is,
I fear you shall simply have to return to your father’s
townhouse and send that card now.”
“Can we not just slip up to speak to her, Dicky?
We are her sisters and it’s important.”
Suzette’s tone was a combination of desperation,
anger and something like shock. The anger was no doubt
at Dicky’s pompous words. Probably the shock
was as well, Christiana acknowledged and knew the
man her sisters now faced was a far cry from the one
they’d encountered prior to the wedding. She
had no doubt they were just as confused and startled
by the change in him as she herself had been for the
first six months of their marriage. However, it was
the desperation that worried her. Something was definitely
“It’s all right, husband. I am awake,”
Christiana called out as she reached the stairs and
Dicky immediately turned to peer up at her, his face
like thunder. Whether his anger was over her sister’s
words or her own, she didn’t know. Dicky preferred
to be obeyed, and promptly; he wouldn’t appreciate
Suzette’s insistence. However, he also wouldn’t
be pleased with her arrival before he could send Suzette
and Lisa away as he apparently had others.
a soothing smile to her lips, Christiana stepped off
the stairs and moved to his side. The man had a terrible
temper and could say the cruelest things when angered.
She had to live with the insults and criticisms, but
her sisters shouldn’t have to face the rage
she found so frightening. It wasn’t the anger
itself that unsettled Christiana so much as the depth
of it. Fury swirled around him at all times like a
dark cloak. When provoked, his face flushed red and
twisted into a tight, cruel mask, and he would begin
to snap and snarl with such rage and venom that spittle
actually flew from his lips, and gathered at the corners
of his mouth like a rabid dog. He also tended to tremble
with the depth of his feelings as if they were barely
contained and might explode at any moment. It was
that explosion Christiana wished most to avoid. He
was a strong man and she didn’t wish ever to
see the wreckage his anger would leave in its wake
were it completely unleashed.
“Good morning, Dicky,” Christiana breathed
nervously as she reached his side. She leaned up to
kiss his cold, hard cheek as if all were well and
she wasn’t fighting the urge to flee the seething
fury she could sense simmering in him.
Dicky did not even respond to her greeting, snapping
instead, “I was just explaining to your sisters
that it’s quite rude to arrive uninvited so
early in the morning.”
“Yes, well, family is allowed some leeway, aren’t
they?” Christiana said, and winced at the pleading
she could hear in her own voice. There was no mistaking
that she was begging him not to make a scene and she
could tell by her sisters’ expression that they
recognized it, which was just humiliating. Even more
humiliating was that Dicky chose to ignore the plea.
“My family would never arrive uninvited and
without any warning,” he snarled, sneering at
her sisters as if they were beneath contempt.
“Of course your family wouldn’t. They’re
all dead,” Suzette snapped in response and Christiana
glanced at her with alarm. Her gaze then darted worriedly
back to Dicky, who was sucking in air through his
teeth and puffing up.
Recognizing the signs of an approaching explosion,
she quickly took his arm and tried to urge him away,
saying, “Why do you not go enjoy your breakfast
and leave me to deal with my sisters?”
Dicky didn’t move. Feet planted solidly, he
ignored her tugging and scowled at Suzette who merely
glared defiantly back.
Christiana closed her eyes briefly and fought the
urge to slap the stupid girl. Oh yes, Suzette was
being brave enough, but then she had little to lose
in this battle. Dicky couldn’t hit her or even
penalize her in any way. It was Christiana he would
punish for the girl’s bravery. . . and probably
in several different ways. It wouldn’t be enough
for him to rant and rave at her for half an hour about
her unruly and uncouth family. He would also most
likely insist Suzette was a bad influence and order
Christiana not to see her again. Then he would add
various other little unpleasantries to the punishment
such as ensuring that all meals served were ones she
disliked, having her woken early with some excuse
or other, and then either insisting she retire early
when she was curled up with a good book, or keeping
her up late when she was exhausted. Where Dicky had
started to leave her to her own devices lately, he
would probably force her to suffer his company for
the next several days as he ranted and raved about
everything and everyone in London in a manner sure
to leave her disheartened and depressed, and then
he would insist on taking her out to aid him in purchasing
some item or other, only so that he could announce
that her choices were poor ones and select something
else instead in a show of how little taste she had.
All of which were petty punishments, but when added
together and carried on for long periods of time would
leave her exhausted and despairing of a life of such
steady, small tortures.
On top of all of that, Dicky would also be spouting
criticism after criticism of her looks, her dress,
her speech, her comportment, her family members, her
intelligence, her naivety, her friends or her lack
of them. It would be a steady trickle of abuse that
slowly eroded every last vestige of self-esteem she
possessed until she longed for nothing but the escape
of sleep. There was no other escape available to her.
Suicide was out of the question, as was divorce.
“Where is your father?” Dicky barked suddenly,
drawing her attention back to the matter at hand.
“What kind of man leaves two young unmarried
women to gallivant about the city without his escort?”
“Visiting us is hardly gallivanting about the
city,” Christiana protested quickly to forestall
Suzette doing so. “Please husband, your breakfast
will be getting cold. Why do you not--”
“Our breakfast,” Dicky corrected sharply
and then smiled in a way that made her sigh inwardly.
He had thought of a way to punish someone. “But
you’re right. It is getting cold while we waste
our time on uninvited guests.”
Christiana found her hand suddenly caught up in his
as Dicky began to drag her up the hall, “Show
my wife’s sisters to the parlor, Haversham.
We shall attend them after we have enjoyed the breakfast
cook has worked so hard to produce.”
Christiana cast a glance that was half apologetic
and half warning to her sisters and then she was in
the breakfast room and Dicky was slamming the door
closed behind them.
“Your father should be ashamed of raising three
such unruly creatures,” Dicky snarled as he
led her to the sideboard and the food waiting there.
“A little discipline would have gone a long
way toward making better women of you all. But then
he has little discipline himself, does he not?”
Christiana remained silent, merely picking up a plate
and beginning to select food from the offerings. She
had learned long ago that to try to argue her case
merely ensured an even longer, more furious rant,
so simply chose a piece of toast and some fruit and
started to turn away.
“You will eat a proper breakfast, wife,”
Dicky snapped, bringing her to a halt. “Give
me your plate.”
Christiana bit her tongue as he snatched the china
away, and managed to swallow the sigh that tried to
escape as Dicky began to pile kidneys and kippers
on her plate. She hated both kidneys and kippers and
he knew that. It seemed the punishment was starting
“There. Now you may sit.”
glance at the plate Dicky shoved under her nose showed
that he’d added scrambled eggs to the kidneys
and kippers. She preferred boiled eggs, but merely
took the plate and turned to take her place at the
table. But she was wishing the whole while that she
had the nerve to toss the plate, food and all, in
his face. Unfortunately, she never did anything so
bold, ever. She might have, had he dared to treat
her like this before they were married, but he had
been all charm and compliments then. This behavior
hadn’t started until after the wedding, and
Christiana had been so startled and taken aback by
the sudden transformation in his attitude that she’d
been slow to stand up for herself. It had left her
feeling as dazed as if someone had hit her in the
head. By the time she’d got over the shock and
even considered standing up for herself it was too
late, the criticisms and abuse had already taken effect
and rather than argue, she’d found herself wondering
if perhaps the dress he was criticizing wasn’t
cut too low, or that the shade might clash with her
coloring. Her self-confidence had been shaken, and
as time had passed it was shaken more. Now rather
than even consider that he might be wrong, she simply
tried to appease him, soothe his temper and please
him if possible. Somehow she had become a slave with
less rights than the servants who worked for them.
“You’re not eating your breakfast,”
Dicky said as he joined her at the table.
Christiana cleared her throat. “I am not very
“I don’t care. You’re too skinny.
Eat,” Dicky said firmly, and then added, “Your
diet is atrocious. You don’t eat enough meat.
Eat your kidney and kippers.”
Christiana bowed her head and began to eat, doing
her best not to taste what went into her mouth. That
was impossible, however, and she was more than grateful
to finish the last bite and stand up.
“What are you doing?”
Christiana stilled, her eyes shooting to her husband.
“I am finished, Dicky. I thought I would go
see what my sisters--”
“I am not finished.” When confusion covered
Christiana’s face, he snapped, “Is it
too much to expect my wife to keep me company while
She settled reluctantly back in her seat, but resentment
and anger were stirring within her again. They never
breakfasted together. From the first morning of their
marriage he had either risen early, breakfasted and
left the house before she had even stirred, or he
slept later than her and took his breakfast in his
room alone. At first Christiana had worried over that,
thinking a wife and husband should breakfast together,
but after a while she’d been grateful for the
respite. Now she was just annoyed with the man, knowing
he was simply using the demand for her company as
an excuse to make her sisters wait longer.
Dicky took his time about finishing his meal, but
finally pushed his plate away and rose. He then insisted
on walking her to the parlor and did so at a pace
that snails could have outstripped. Christiana was
gritting her teeth by the time he paused to open the
“Chrissy!” Suzette started to her feet
with relief when Christiana entered, but stopped abruptly
when Dicky followed. She then watched with obvious
frustration as he ever so slowly walked Christiana
to a seat and saw her settled.
“So?” Dicky arched an eyebrow as he took
up a position on the arm of Christiana’s chair
where he could loom over her like a bird of prey about
to pounce. He then eyed her sisters like they were
naughty children. “What was so urgent that you
had to arrive here at such an ungodly hour?”
Suzette’s gaze slid to Christiana and then to
Lisa before she forced a cool smile and sweetly lied,
“Nothing at all. We just missed Chrissy terribly.
It has been more than a year since your marriage and
you have not brought her back to visit as you promised.”
Christiana could feel Dicky stiffen at the chastisement
and sighed inwardly. Here was more he would punish
her for later.
“I am an Earl, girl, an important man who is
far too busy to waste time gallivanting about the
countryside when there is work to be done here,”
Dicky said stiffly.
“Ah, well, we are seeing each other now,”
Christiana murmured to forestall her sister saying
anything else. “And I am very happy to see you.
You must tell me everything that has happened since
I left home.”
Much to her relief, Suzette caught the hint and immediately
launched into tale after tale of life back on their
country estate. She actually seemed to begin to enjoy
the endeavor, devilment sparkling in her eyes as she
recounted who had married, who hadn’t, and every
bit of gossip she had heard no matter how trivial.
As for Lisa, she sat silent, her worried gaze remaining
warily on an increasingly impatient Dicky as Suzette
babbled on. It was a relief to all of them when he
suddenly stood to announce, “I shall leave you
ladies to your nattering then. I have more important
issues to attend to.”
On that pompous note, he left them, moving much more
swiftly than he had allowed her to on entering.
“Thank God,” Suzette moaned when the door
closed, her gay, trouble-free facade dropping away.
Anger immediately replaced it and she sat forward
to demand, “What the devil is going on, Chrissy?
Does he act like that all the time? My God he was
nothing like that when he courted you. He--”
“Hush,” Christiana hissed. Standing, she
moved swiftly to the door and knelt to peer out the
keyhole. When all she saw was empty hall, she released
a relieved breath and moved back to her sisters.
“How bad is your marriage?” Suzette asked
quietly as Christiana settled on the couch between
her sisters. “You look tired and miserable.
He’s not treating you right, is he?”
“Never mind that,” Christiana said wearily.
There was little anyone could do about her situation
and discussing it would merely bring her misery to
the surface. It was easier when she simply didn’t
think about it. “What is going on? Why are you
Suzette and Lisa exchanged a glance and then Lisa
finally spoke up for the first time since their arrival
and announced, “Father has been gambling again.”
“What?” Christiana gasped with dismay.
“But he promised never to gamble again after
Dicky paid off his last gambling debts.”
was how she’d ended up married to the man. Her
father had landed them in hot water with one aberrant
night of drinking and gambling. He’d raised
what money he could by selling family heirlooms to
meet the debt, but it hadn’t been enough, and
he’d been at a loss as to how to pay the rest.
The creditors had been knocking on the door when fortune
had seemed to smile on them in the form of Dicky.
He’d arrived at Madison Manor with an offer
of marriage for Christiana, and on hearing of their
dire straits had offered to clear the remainder of
her father’s debts in exchange for Christiana’s
hand in marriage.
To her father’s credit, he’d refused the
offer until Dicky had convinced him that he loved
Christiana. Dicky had claimed to have seen her at
the local fair that summer and spoken to her briefly,
which she hadn’t recalled at all. He’d
also claimed he’d been fascinated and found
out all he could about her and that everything he’d
learned he’d found pleasing.
His words had been convincing and her father had been
swayed, but despite his dire straits, had insisted
that while he would give his blessing to the union,
it was only if she was willing. Unfortunately, Christiana
had been easy enough to persuade. Dicky was handsome,
well off and an Earl. Any girl would be flattered
to be courted by such a man. And what a courtship!
He’d been the sweetest of men, calling her his
little rosebud and romancing her with touching poems
and declarations of undying love. It had all been
rather heady to a simple girl who had spent her life
quietly in the country with only her sisters and one
neighbor boy for company, and in no time at all he’d
swept her off her feet and gained her agreement.
Christiana grimaced at the thought of the naïve
idiot she’d been, and now saw that she should
have questioned his motives and insisted on more time
to make her decision. But her father only had two
weeks to pay off his gambling debts, and she’d
foolishly believed every word Dicky had said to her.
She’d been sure he must love her and that there
could be no other purpose for his rapturous courting.
After all, what other reason could there be? It was
not as if he knew about the outrageously huge dower
that her mother’s father, Baron Sefton, had
bestowed on herself and her two sisters in his will.
That was a family secret.
Of course, once they’d married and his behavior
had changed so dramatically Christiana had begun to
suspect he’d known about the dower after all
and that gaining it had been the true target of his
courting. She just didn’t know how he could
have learned about it.
“Father said he didn’t mean to,”
Suzette said unhappily, drawing Christiana’s
mind back to this new problem. “He feels horrible
about what’s happened and has been scrambling
to try to figure out a way to pay off his debts, but
can think of nothing.”
Christiana grimaced. He’d felt horrible the
last time too. “When did it happen? And how?
He has not even been to London and there is nowhere
near Madison for him to--”
“He has been in London this last month,”
Lisa corrected quietly. “Didn’t you know?”
“No,” Christiana admitted with dismay.
“Why didn’t he come to see me?”
“He did,” Suzette assured her. “In
fact it was his original reason for traveling to London.
He was worried because Dicky hadn’t brought
you home to visit, and we weren’t getting responses
to the letters we were sending.”
“I haven’t received any letters, and I
have been writing faithfully every week,” Christiana
said quietly, anger beginning a slow burn in her stomach.
Not getting responses to her own letters had left
her feeling even more lonely and depressed. Now it
seemed Dicky had somehow been ensuring none of her
letters went out and that she didn’t receive
any in return. What else had the man been doing? She
“The bastard,” Suzette snapped, looking
ready to smack someone.
“You say father came here?” Christiana
asked, returning them to the topic at hand.
“Aye,” Lisa murmured, her worried gaze
on a still furious Suzette. “Dicky said you
were out at the dressmakers.”
“He didn’t tell me,” Christiana
“Apparently Dicky welcomed him and took him
to the club for a drink . . . and then on to a gaming
hell,” Lisa said.
Christiana sat back with dismay.
“Father was supposed to return home two weeks
ago,” Suzette continued the explanations in
a quiet voice. “When he did not arrive and we
heard no word we began to worry. I sent messages to
the townhouse but got no response, and then finally
decided Lisa and I had best come to London and find
out what had happened.”
When she fell silent, Lisa picked up the tale again.
“We arrived in London at dawn and went straight
to the townhouse. We found father there in the library.
He was in his cups and sobbing.”
Christiana let her breath out on a sigh and asked
with resignation, “How bad is it?”
“Worse than last time,” Suzette said tightly.
“Worse?” Christiana could feel the blood
rush out of her face.
“He owes less than last time,” Lisa said
quickly. “But the estate is still recovering
from his first misstep and there is no ready cash
or even much to sell. If father cannot come up with
the money, he may be forced to sell the family estate
to pay off the debt.”
Christiana sucked in a horrified breath. This was
worse than last time.
“We shall be ruined once this gets out,”
Lisa pointed out solemnly.
bit her lip, knowing that was true. “How long
does he have to find the money?”
“Two weeks,” Suzette answered.
“Two weeks,” Christiana breathed with
dismay. Her mind raced around like a rat in a larder
for a moment and then she straightened her shoulders
determinedly. “I shall talk to Dicky. We will
have to take some money from my dower and--”
“No. You paid last time. It’s not fair
that you should pay again,” Suzette argued,
and then added grimly, “Besides, it appears
that you are still paying for father’s last
Christiana waved that away, knowing Suzette was referring
to how Dicky treated her. Not wishing to discuss it,
she instead addressed her suggestion, “Suzette,
you cannot pay. You cannot claim your dower without
“True,” she agreed. “So I shall
“In two weeks?” Christiana shook her head.
“You cannot find a suitable husband in two weeks.”
“Who says he has to be suitable?” Suzette
asked dryly. “Dicky was supposedly suitable
and that hasn’t turned out very well, has it?”
“Do not fret, Chrissy,” Suzette interrupted.
“I have a plan. I just need a little help from
you to make it work.”
“What kind of plan? And what help?” Christiana
Suzette sat eagerly forward and took her hands. “There
are always Lords who are land and title rich and yet
in desperate need of funds. I intend to find one who
is desperate enough that he will strike a deal with
me. In exchange for marriage and access to three quarters
of my dower, he must agree to allow me access to one
quarter of it to use as I wish, as well as the freedom
to live my own life.” She smiled widely. “All
I need is for you to sponsor our coming out . . .immediately.
You have to get us to balls and teas and soirees and
anything else where I can meet and assess the men
available. I will do the rest.”
Christiana stared at her sister. Her plan seemed sound
enough. Three quarters of Suzette’s dower was
still a fortune, and certainly the arrangement should
leave Suzette happier than she herself was in her
own marriage. In fact, Christiana actually felt a
moment’s envy that her younger sister would
manage such an arrangement. As for Suzette’s
request, sponsoring her for a coming out was little
enough to ask, and certainly much easier than trying
to convince Dicky to allow Christiana access to her
funds. While the man was pleased to waste money on
food, wine, and his own pleasures, when it came to
giving her anything as small as pin money, his fist
suddenly spasmed and closed tight. Of course, Dicky
did seem pleased to say no to her when it came to
anything, so convincing him to sponsor her sisters
for a coming out might not be all that easy either,
she thought worriedly.
“Chrissy?” Suzette asked anxiously. “You
can do that, can you not?”
Christiana’s gaze returned to her younger sister.
Seeing the worry and desperation on her face, she
straightened abruptly. “Certainly I can. I shall
make Dicky do it . . . somehow,” she added in
a mutter as she got determinedly to her feet.
She would confront him at once, Christiana thought
firmly as she crossed the room, and found she wasn’t
afraid for the first time in a long time. It wasn’t
just because she was angry about Dicky’s part
in her father’s gambling either. Somehow just
learning that her family had tried to write her and
that she wasn’t as alone as she’d felt
this last year was resurrecting her spirit, as was
this short time basking in her sisters’ company.
The old Christiana was awakening inside her as if
from a long sleep, and she was ready for a fight.
“What if he says no?” Lisa asked worriedly,
bringing her to a halt as she reached the door.
Christiana paused just long enough to force a smile
to her lips, and then glanced back to say lightly,
“Then I shall just have to kill him, won’t