Suzette is not like other heiresses; she wants a poor
husband. A gentleman who will be so grateful for her
dowry that he will allow her access to her dowry so
she can help pay off her father’s gambling debts.
When this alluring beauty encounters Daniel Woodward—handsome,
titled, single…and even more impoverished than
she could have hoped for—it seems Suzette’s
wildest dream has come true.
But Daniel has not been truthful. Tired of being accosted
by an endless stream of vapid coquettes and their fortune-hunting
mothers, Daniel has decided to plead poverty to stop
them in their tracks. Yet here is a most refreshing
and delectable lady who claims to be thrilled by his
penury. Now all Daniel has to do to find true happiness
is to keep a little white lie alive…while avoiding
a dastardly villain who’s determined to prevent
this union by any means necessary.
barely dawn and yet already so busy.”
Suzette Madison nodded silently at her sister’s
comment as she peered out the carriage window at the
bustling activity on the streets they were passing through.
London was fascinating and exciting in comparison to
the sleepy village outside the estate where they had
been born and had grown up. Or it would have been if
Suzette’s thoughts weren’t preoccupied with
worry for her father.
“Do you think we will find Father at the townhouse?”
Lisa asked as if reading her mind.
Suzette sighed and sank back in her seat, her gaze skipping
over the other two women in the carriage. Suzette’s
maid, Georgina, was older by a decade, which was reflected
in her silent composure as she peered out the opposite
window at the passing buildings. Lisa’s maid,
Bet, was as young as Lisa herself and in comparison
the girl was practically vibrating in her seat with
excitement. Her freckled face reflected animated awe
as she too looked out the window.
“I hope so,” Suzette said finally, her gaze
sliding back to her sister.
Lisa sank wearily back in her own seat and Suzette frowned
as she noted the small dark smudges around the girl’s
eyes and the pallor of her skin. Lisa had been favored
with their mother’s pale hair and coloring, her
skin always a fine porcelain that Suzette had often
envied, but she didn’t envy the way the skin around
her eyes would darken, making them appear sunken when
she hadn’t had enough sleep. And between their
worries and the discomfort of travel, neither of them
had had enough sleep of late.
“What if he isn’t there?” Lisa asked,
her gaze moving dully out the window on their side of
Suzette felt her mouth tighten at the thought. They
hadn’t heard from their father since he’d
left for London more than a month ago. Lord Cedrick
Madison had headed to town to sign some business papers,
and had assured them he would return by week’s
end. He could have returned sooner, but intended to
check on their sister Christiana as well while there.
The oldest of the three, Christiana had married Richard
Fairgrave, the Earl of Radnor nearly a year ago and
the pair had moved to his townhouse in London.
Suzette missed her older sister. She was also a touch
worried because, while she and Lisa had been writing
Chrissy regularly, they hadn’t received responses.
That hadn’t concerned them too much at first.
They understood that Chrissy would have many changes
to adjust to and no doubt had a busy, exciting life
in London now with little time for correspondence. But
as the time had lengthened with still no response, they’d
begun to fret, so it had been a relief that their father
would have this opportunity to check on her.
However, their father hadn’t returned at week’s
end with tales of Christiana’s well-being and
happiness. He hadn’t returned at all. Neither
had there been a message from him. After two such weeks,
Suzette had sent a letter enquiring after his wellbeing
and asking what word he had of Christiana. At the three
week point without an answer, she’d sent another
message, along with one from Lisa. When they’d
reach the month point with still no word, Suzette hadn’t
been able to stand the worry and strain of wondering
anymore. It was starting to seem like London was swallowing
up her family members one at a time. She’d decided
she would follow their father to town and find out what
was happening. It hadn’t been very surprising
when Lisa had insisted on accompanying her.
The two had set out, taking along their maids and four
footmen to ward off any highwaymen who might see them
as easy pickings. It appeared to have worked; they’d
arrived in London unaccosted and would soon arrive at
the family townhouse. Hopefully, they would also soon
learn what was going on.
“If he is not there, we shall find out where he
is,” Suzette finally answered, and was glad Lisa
didn’t then question her as to how they would
manage that because she really had no idea. This was
the first time either of them had visited London and
she hadn’t a clue what to expect. So far it wasn’t
very impressive. It seemed a world of endless buildings
all crowding together under a thickening cloud of sea-coal
smoke which she assumed was from so many hearths being
lit this cold morning. Suzette preferred the quiet,
tranquil life in the country where she was able to at
least see the sky.
The only way Suzette knew they had finally arrived at
the Madison townhouse was that the carriage stopped.
While it had been in the family for generations, she’d
never actually seen the Madison London residence before
and found herself peering curiously over it as she stepped
out of the carriage. It was rather large and grand looking,
but then it had belonged to their mother’s family
the Seftons and they had been notoriously wealthy. Her
grandfather had actually been called “Old moneybags
Sefton” due to the wealth he had both inherited
and increased himself. The man had left that wealth
to his granddaughters on his death, dividing it three
ways to give each of them a dower that would surely
have the fortune hunters after them when they debuted.
Or, it would have had he not insisted it be kept a secret.
“It looks very grand doesn’t it,”
Lisa murmured as she paused beside her. “Though
a little run-down.”
Suzette nodded silently, not surprised at the small
signs of neglect here and there. There had been little
money this last year thanks to her father and she had
no doubt he’d cut back on servants and whatever
else he’d felt wasn’t absolutely necessary
in an effort to save money. After a quick word with
the maids to ensure they oversaw the unloading of their
chests, Suzette led Lisa up the front walk.
One of the heavy double front doors was opened before
they’d reached it. A sleepy-eyed butler peered
out, his gaze sliding with some irritation over Suzette
and Lisa, There was no doubting his annoyance at such
an early call, at first, but then his gaze slid to the
carriage. Apparently, recognizing the family crest of
the Madison Barony, he immediately straightened, his
expression becoming much more welcoming. Well, as welcoming
as a British butler’s face got, Suzette supposed
as the man allowed just a hint of a curve to touch the
corners of his mouth.
“My ladies Suzette and Lisa,” the man greeted.
Suzette nodded, forcing a small smile of her own as
she led Lisa past the man and into the house. Pausing
in the entry, she turned back to him, removing her gloves
as she asked, “Where is our father?”
. . .” The man looked nonplussed for a moment,
his eyes sliding toward the stairs and then along
the hall before he suddenly relaxed and offered, “I
believe he is in his office, my lady.”
Suzette glanced up the hall in that direction, spotting
the crack of light coming from under one door, and knew
at once it must be the office. Leading Lisa that way,
she said, “Thank you. Our maids shall be following
directly. Please have someone show them to rooms we
can use while here and have servants help to prepare
“Of course, my lady.” The man was moving
off up the hall, no doubt in search of the requested
servants even as Suzette reached the door to the office.
Too anxious to bother knocking, she opened it at once
and started in, only to pause abruptly at the state
of the room. The first thing of note was the smell,
the acrid scent of stale pipe smoke and old booze permeated
the air and struck her like a fist. Suzette wrinkled
her nose with a disgust that only increased as her gaze
slid over the empty glasses and plates strewn about
the room. Most seemed concentrated around two chairs
set by the fire, though there were nearly as many covering
the desk’s surface around their father’s
slumped form. While the glasses were all empty of liquid,
each plate held a half-eaten or untouched meal left
to spoil. It was apparent their father had spent most
of this last month in this room. Judging by the smell
and state of things, he’d spent most of that time
drinking and puffing away on his pipe and very little
time or energy eating.
“Oh dear,” Lisa breathed. “Something
must be terribly wrong.”
Suzette grimaced at the vast understatement. This just
was not like the Cedrick Madison who had raised them.
Obviously, there was something terribly wrong. Their
father was without a jacket, his shirtsleeves rolled
up, and his hair a ruffled mess. He also lay with his
head on his arms on the desktop, obviously asleep, or
passed out. She couldn’t be sure which.
Swallowing the lump that worry had lodged in her throat,
Suzette pushed the door closed and moved toward the
desk, saying softly, “Father?”
“He is just sleeping, isn’t he?” Lisa
asked worriedly as they paused at the front of the desk.
Concern growing at the question, Suzette leaned forward
to nudge her father’s arm and was immediately
sorry she had. He did respond to it, rearing upright
and then dropping back in his seat, but the man they
were now confronted with was even less the Cedrick Madison
they knew than they’d first thought. This man
had bloodshot eyes, a sallow complexion, and a couple
weeks worth of facial hair that held bits of food caught
in it. He also wore a shirt that obviously hadn’t
been changed in a while, but was a wordless menu of
the meals he’d half eaten lately. He smelled atrocious.
Suzette retrieve a hanky from up her sleeve and held
it to her nose so as to avoid the smell.
“Papa?” Lisa breathed with disbelief.
Cedrick Madison blinked at them owlishly, confusion
on his face. “Damn me, what’re ye doin’
here?” he asked, his voice faint and bewildered
as his bleary gaze slid from Suzette to Lisa, and then
he peered around with uncertainty. “Where’m
I? Did I come home, then?”
Suzette’s mouth tightened grimly. Every word the
man spoke was accompanied by the scent of spirits, and
he was very unsteady in his seat. It was Lisa who gently
said, “You are in your office in the London townhouse.”
Cedrick Madison’s shoulders slumped slightly with
disappointment. “Then twasn’t a dream? It
Suzette felt her heart stutter in her chest and dread
begin to gather at the last question. “What happened
again? What the devil is going on, Father?”
“Oh,” he sighed the word on another waft
of whiskey-soaked breath and ran one hand wearily through
his hair. “I’m afraid I may have got us
into another spot of bother.”
“Not gambling again, Papa?” Lisa asked with
alarm, and he nodded miserably.
“How bad is it?” Suzette asked grimly. The
last time, he’d gambled them to the edge of ruin
and only Christiana’s marriage to Dicky had saved
them from falling into that sad pit of shame.
“Bad. As bad as last time or maybe worse,”
he admitted, shamefaced, and then sounded bewildered
as he added, “I dunno how‘t happened. I
didn’t mean to. I just--” He shook his head
in misery. “But I did, and then I tried to fix
it. I’ve approached everyone I can think of who
wouldn’t let the secret out. I’ve begged
to borrow. I’d even steal if I could. I just can’t
seem to fix it.”
Suzette stared at him, horror, betrayal and fear rising
up in her like a wave, and all churning up a foamy topping
of rage that roared through her. Hands clenching, she
dug her nails into her palms and growled, “You
never had any papers to sign at all, did you? You’ve
never had to come to town to sign papers before. It
was all just a ruse to get you to town. The truth is,
you came here to gamble. That was why the sudden trip
to London. Wasn’t it?”
“No,” he protested at once, standing on
obviously shaky legs. “Langley wrote. He was concerned
about your sister. He said he suspected Dicky was mistreating
her. He said he had been turned away from the house
three times and was worried about her. He knew Dicky
couldn’t turn me away and wanted me to check on
her. I swear.”
Suzette merely stared at him with disbelief. Robert
Langley was a neighbor and family friend, and usually
a trustworthy source of information, but it was hard
to believe Christiana’s husband, Richard, would
treat her poorly. The man had seemed to adore her when
they’d married just a year ago.
It was Lisa who made this protest aloud, saying staunchly,
“Dicky wouldn’t treat Chrissy badly, he
“He seemed to,” their father agreed on a
sigh. “But Robert wouldn’t lie and if Dicky
is treating her badly . . .” He shook his head
and sank wearily back onto his chair. “Anyway,
that was the reason I came to town. I swear I never
intended to gamble. I’m not even sure how it happened,”
he repeated with a frown.
how are we supposed to believe that?” Suzette
asked, biting out the words in her fury. “How
can we believe anything you say? You promised us you
would never ever gamble again and yet here we stand
on the verge of ruin for the second time in little
more than a year!”
“I know,” Cedrick Madison moaned and covered
his face with his hands. His next words were muffled
as he said, “I don’t understand how it happened.
I really don’t recall gambling, I must have had
too much to drink or something.”
“How convenient,” she snapped coldly, and
then asked, “And how exactly did checking on Chrissy
land you drunk in a gaming hell?”
His hands dropped away from his face and he said wearily,
“She wasn’t in when I arrived at their townhouse,
and Dicky took me for a drink at the club. I recall
going there and his suggesting a quick stop at the gaming
“Dicky took you to the gaming hell?” Lisa
asked with a combination of dismay and disbelief.
“I think so.” He didn’t look at all
certain. “I mean, I said no when he suggested
it, but I also recall being at the gaming hell, so--”
“Oh, so you do recall that much do you?”
Suzette asked grimly, and then screeched, “You
shouldn’t even have been there! Obviously you
intended to gamble or you wouldn’t have gone.
How could you do this again?!” She sucked in her
breath and then hissed, “Gambling your own daughters
to the edge of ruin not once, but twice. I’m glad
Mother is not around to see the useless, drunken wastrel
Suzette didn’t wait to see how he reacted to the
words, but promptly whirled on her heel and stormed
out of the room, too sickened by the sight of him to
stay any longer.
Lisa followed quickly, pulling the door closed behind
her. She then asked worriedly, “What are we going
“I don’t know,” Suzette admitted,
coming to a halt. Her throat was tight and she felt
lightheaded, as if something had been cinched around
her chest and was preventing her breathing. She forced
herself to take a deep breath in an effort to calm herself,
and then began to pace, and muttered, “I need
Lisa nodded and fell silent, simply watching as she
strode the length of the hall from the office to the
front door and back.
It didn’t take much thinking for Suzette to realize
what she had to do. They were in the same position they
had been in the last time their father gambled, just
a year ago. They had only saved themselves then by Chrissy
marrying, claiming her dower, and paying off the debt.
It seemed obvious that was what had to happen again.
Only this time it was Suzette who would have to marry,
claim her dower and pay off the debt. The thought had
barely struck her when the front door opened and the
Madison footmen appeared, carrying their chests.
“Wait,” she said, hurrying to block their
path. “You need to put those back on the carriage.
We are not staying here.”
“We aren’t?” Lisa asked with surprise,
moving to her side as the men began to back out of the
door with their burden. “Where are we going?”
“To Christiana and Dicky’s,” Suzette
said firmly, catching Lisa’s hand and pulling
her along as she followed the men out of the house.
“I shall have to marry like Chrissy did to take
care of matters,” she whispered the last word,
not wishing to be overheard by the servants. Though
they probably already knew, she supposed on a sigh,
and continued, “Father spends all his time in
the country, but Christiana and Dicky are here in town
with invitations to balls and such. They can introduce
us to society, which is imperative if I am to find a
“Oh Suzette,” Lisa said and sounded almost
pitying. She then suggested, “Perhaps Dicky would
be willing to pay again.”
Suzette smiled wryly at the doubt in Lisa’s voice.
Apparently she didn’t really think it likely,
and Suzette understood that fully. Dicky had already
paid a huge sum the first time around. Though he’d
gained it back via the dower, it wasn’t really
reasonable to expect him to pay again . . . especially
if he was now treating Christiana badly. If that was
true, it suggested to her that he hadn’t really
been in love with their sister at all as he’d
claimed, which left only the dower to bring about the
proposal. If that was the case, he’d hardly want
to give up any more of it, but she merely said, “Nay.
Christiana paid for father’s first little adventure
in the gaming hells in London. Dicky would be very angry
to be expected to pay again and rightly so. Besides,
she shouldn’t have to pay again. Tis my turn.”
They had reached the carriage by then and Suzette moved
to the driver to tell him where they were going next.
She then urged Lisa back into the carriage they had
so recently escaped. It was a lot roomier with just
the two of them and Suzette wasn’t surprised when
Lisa said, “What about our maids?”
Suzette sighed and glanced out the window toward the
house. No doubt the maids had gone above stairs to help
ready their rooms while they waited for the chests to
be brought up. She considered going in to fetch them,
but then shook her head. “Perhaps it is better
to leave them here for now. At least until we are sure
we are welcome at Christiana and Dicky’s.”
“Of course we are welcome. She is our sister,”
Lisa said at once, seeming startled at the suggestion
they might not be.
“Yes, well, but she hasn’t written us since
leaving, has she?” Suzette pointed out gently.
“I’m sure the letters were just lost,”
Lisa said at once.
“Or Dicky won’t let her write us,”
Suzette murmured, biting her lip.
Lisa frowned, but then said reluctantly, “I suppose
he could have. Father did say Robert claims Dicky treats
“Exactly.” Suzette frowned and shook her
head with bewilderment. “It is so hard to believe.
It has only been a year and he was so charming and loving
when he courted her.” In truth, the man had been
the perfect romantic hero, sweeping in to save them
from ruin, professing undying love for Christiana and
courting her with such verve and charm that all three
girls had been half in love with him.
“Robert wouldn’t lie,” Lisa pointed
“No,” she agreed with a sigh. “Which
means all that charm and verve he showed in courting
Chrissy was probably for show, to bait the trap and
get her to fall in love with and marry him.”
“Why?” Lisa asked with a frown.
“What else? The dower,” Suzette said dryly.
“If he didn’t truly love her that could
be the only reason to want to marry her.”
“But no one knows about our dowers,” Lisa
said at once. “Grandfather insisted on it so we
could avoid fortune seekers.”
“Well, Dicky must have found out,” Suzette
said reasonably. “Besides, nothing is ever a secret.
You know that. Servants talk and secrets get out.”
“I suppose,” Lisa said reluctantly. She
grimaced. “And it was all rather sudden, a whirlwind
really. It was only a couple of weeks between when father
came home with the news of our impending ruin and Christiana
and Dicky’s wedding. I suppose Dicky could have
pretended his adoration for a couple of weeks.”
“Yes, he could have,” Suzette agreed grimly.
if you are stuck with a bad husband too?” Lisa
Suzette felt her lips tighten. There was little
chance to meet a man she could love and be sure loved
her in two weeks, and she was damned if she was going
to spend her life being treated shabbily by her own
husband. So she wouldn’t look for love, Suzette
decided and announced, “I shall look for a husband
I can control, or at least one I can insure won’t
“How?” Lisa asked uncertainly.
“I shall find a husband who needs coin,”
Suzette said grimly. “One land rich and desperate
enough for money to run that land that he’ll agree
to a marriage contract that allows me half my dower
and the right to live my own life.”
“Oh, that’s—” Lisa paused and
glanced out the window as the carriage jerked forward
and they set off. She then glanced back to Suzette and
asked uncertainly, “Is that even possible?”
“If we both agree to it,” Suzette said,
but wasn’t as certain as she tried to sound. The
only thing she was certain of was that she was going
to do her damnedest to achieve that end.